For me, Supernatural episodes fall into one of the following three categories:
1. Essential to the arc of the season
2. Monster of the week
3. Comedy/One-offs (ala "The French Mistake")
This episode was kind of, sort of, all three mixed up into one. It's thrown me for a loop a little.
First of all, THANK YOU TPTB FOR NOT SPOILING RACHEL MINER'S RETURN AS THE EMPTY. It was such a surprise for me to see her appear and it made me so happy. Also, I'm so proud of the show being willing to bring her back and be willing to work with her and her disability. It makes me think that the world isn't as terrible as it always seems. While we're on the subject of badass female characters, Danneel and Genevieve KILLED it so hard. Both Ruby and Jo were amazing and their appearances made the episode better. I'm sad that we won't get to see more of Ruby, probably, but I really loved how they used both of the characters in the episode.
Before we get to the meat of the episode, congrats to Jared and Jensen on world-beating performances as Alternate Sam and Dean. The look was enough to distinguish them, but it was incredible to see Jared and Jensen acting as a Sam and Dean we've never met before and who have wildly different experiences of the world than our Sam and Dean. Jared's man-bun stole the show and Jensen's comment about the car was an incredible thing. I just can't get enough of it.
Alright, now onto the meat of the episode. I had a feeling that when Billie first mentioned the Occultum at the beginning of the episode, it was going to be a major MacGuffin, i.e. a thing that would drive them but wouldn't turn out to be anything. I'm really glad that it actually turned out to be something, rather than just an object that they had to find. I'm thrilled by the idea that it was able to give Jack a soul again because I think soullessness was ruining Jack's ability to show growth and change. Alexander is such a fabulous actor and I'm happy that Jack has a soul so we can continue to see that amazing acting ability on screen.
Sam was present in the episode, but this one was really a Dean and Cas episode. I think Sam showed himself in the episode, but there isn't much for me to write about because there wasn't a lot of deep character work for Sam. He was there, and he had a few wonderful moments, the reaction to Ruby being one of them. The thing that constantly amazes me about Jared as an actor is the fact that because he knows Sam so well, he can remember Sam's history and react accordingly when he needs to. Lucifer is a good example of this. Throughout the remainder of Lucifer's tenure on the show, Sam was permanently terrified of him, and it's clear to the audience because of Jared's performance. The same is true here with Ruby. Sam remembers what happened with Ruby and he makes it clear to us that he still feels pain and trauma over what Ruby did to him. I think Jared is an incredible actor and even though Sam didn't get much to do in this episode, Jared nailed it.
Dean first. I think Cas said it best when he was talking to Jack about Dean's emotions. He feels things quite deeply and sometimes I think he wishes he could be soulless. It's clear from this episode alone that Dean has a lot of feelings. I think a lot of those feelings are wrapped up in those who surround him, namely Sam, Cas, and now Jack, so he doesn't really have a chance to let those feelings go. Because his circle is so small, he doesn't have people he can go to in order to complain about the people he spends his time with. I think this is what causes Dean to react so strongly. His circle is already small enough and he knows what it's like to lose those who are in that circle, so he holds all of his emotions in and doesn't allow anyone to see them. There was a lot to unpack with Dean this episode, not the least of which is his weird bickering with Cas. Dean and Cas have been at odds before and I think this is just a minor scrape in the grand scheme of things, but I do find it interesting how badly Dean reacts when Cas does something that is, as Meryl said last week, "Winchester dumb." If Dean truly sees Cas as family, why does he get so upset when Cas does something that any other Winchester would have (or has already) done? It makes for an interesting character in Dean, and I'm looking forward to seeing more.
What a conundrum Cas is. I think Cas is one of the most interesting characters because of how subtle his change has been. When you look at it from a big picture perspective, it's obvious, but from episode to episode, Cas seemingly hasn't changed at all. In other words, I think has changed the most of any of our characters, but his change has been the most subtle. Rather than big, sweeping, character arcs, Cas changes in smaller ways, but ways that are no less important than the ways that Sam and Dean change. This episode was an interesting one for Cas because he makes a decision to go to The Empty, knowing that there is a distinct possibility he might not return. He really is a Winchester in that regard. At the same time, when he comes back, he has no regrets or apologies. He makes his choices and takes responsibility, but does not make any apologies for those choices. If he made the wrong choice, he will make amends, but Cas experiences guilt differently than the rest of our characters. He experiences it, no doubt, but he either holds onto it for far too long, or he just lets it go and focuses on his task. This time it was the latter, and it was nice to see that in Cas.
This episode was really fascinating for me because as much as it was a Monster of the Week episode, it also had major plot stuff thrown in there with Billie and the Occultum, and some comedy for good measure with Alternate!Sam and Dean. I think it was blended together in a perfect way, making for a fascinating episode. And thank you for keeping Chuck out of there. I really think episodes like this benefit from his lack of presence. We still feel it in that the boys are being motivated by Chuck, but he doesn't need to be there in person.
I truly hope everyone is doing okay. These are crazy times and I know that it can be difficult to deal. The comments down below are always open, and I will check in often to see what's going on. Also, my DM's and mentions on Twitter are open, but I am only checking in there once a week. The news is crazy-making and I need the break. So, please keep practicing social distancing and remember that this is unprecedented for all of us. I'm thinking about all of you.
Enjoy more of Kate's seasons 14 and 15 character analyses and episode reviews by visiting her Writers' Page!