“We Need to Talk About Kevin” really should have been titled, “We need to talk about Sam and Dean.” Things just didn’t feel right with them. That was probably intentional, but given this was a highly anticipated season opener, it didn’t win many accolades from the masses.
For the record, I loved season 8. However, it was a weird time. Expectations for the opener were really high. Season 7 was a big disappointment and Sera Gamble decided it was time to move on, thus allowing fan favorite Jeremy Carver to return as showrunner after a 3 season absence. Unfortunately, this premiere, written by him, didn’t deliver. Not that it was a bad episode. It did lay the ground work for season eight which eventually came out beautifully. But patience was needed for that payoff. This was not the episode that energized the fandom into a bold new era. It felt disjointed and lost.
Sam and Dean didn’t get off to a good start. They had about two seconds of reunion complete with brotherly hug and everything went off the rails fast. Why? I speculate that Jeremy Carver, after being away for a while, did not come back the same writer or producer. Jumping back onto this ship with a new writing team and lack of a smooth transition from the old regime had to be jarring. He was left with a doozy of a cliffhanger with no planned way out. When coming up with a creative direction, why wouldn’t the main characters feel off kilter after a year apart while their lives changed drastically because of their new life experiences? It made sense, things shouldn’t be the same, but fans aren’t known to embrace change too well.
(At least we got the hug)
Let’s Talk About Sam and Dean
The new direction was simple, tell more character based stories. After all, we’ve already had the near end of the world. The mythology comes second. This new Carver era came with a storytelling device to push the character drama more, flashbacks. That has worked superbly for Carver in his other shows, and even in his early Supernatural episodes like “A Very Supernatural Christmas.” In this episode, the flashbacks didn’t work. They disrupted the flow of the episode.
I do think that the flashbacks did work well in the upcoming episodes, but they were too much here. I know that Sam and Dean weren’t sharing much with each other and the audience needed exposition about what happened during their year apart, but there was already too much going on. We didn’t have to know about Dean’s deal in Purgatory with Benny in this episode. Their scenes together on earth were good enough to spark the mystery and keep us guessing for a little while. Ditto for Sam and the flashback with Amelia and that damn dog. We could have waited for that bit of information. Him leaving her was enough for now.
The brothers were definitely not the same as when we left them at the end of season seven. Dean was an insufferable asshole. There’s no other way to put it. Was it out of character though? No. We’ve seen Dean supercharged before and he tends to fly off the rails when he’s like that. I suppose if you were living in a high energy, high stakes survival situation non-stop for a year, you would not come back alright. Still, he was a bit much. When he was really callous with a grieving Kevin at the end of the episode, I wished Sam got out and punched him, or at least gave him a verbal thrashing with those trademark wide open arms of disdain. But no, this new zen Sam. He said nothing, just rolled his eyes. Fine, his passive-aggressive behavior plays out all the way to the season 8 finale, as well as into season 9, but it makes sense here. Hindsight wasn’t there in the first viewing.
Sam was really relaxed. His new life of not hunting clearly agreed with him. His longer hair alone proved that! Come on, admit it, that hair was a real distraction. At least it distracted me from the sideburns, until even Crowley noticed those:
Moose! Still with the pork chops. I admire that.
Bwah! For the record, I did a whole run about the sideburns in my Season Seven Enigma of Sam Winchester’s Hair and used ‘mutton chops’ instead of pork chops. I guess Crowley got one on me.
I liked how Sam wanted to at least talk to Dean and get him to understand his new lease on life. He hoped Dean would be happy for him, since having a life is something Dean always wanted for him. Heck, that literally became Dean’s dying wish at the end of the series (spoiler alert!). Yet Dean was anything but. He practically condemned Sam. The scene in the hotel room brilliantly accented their rift both verbally and visually. Dean was sitting on the floor, facing away, while Sam was standing in the doorway on the other side, hands in his pockets, silent and calm. They couldn’t be more apart right now despite being in the same room.
Sam accepted the cards he was dealt, asking why is this their fight? Why can’t others take on the burdens? He has moved on. Dean found that idea reprehensible. They have to save people. They are counting on them and that’s what Winchesters do. It’s that supercharged, over inflated sense of responsibility that Dean has carried his entire life, but now it’s in extremes. They are currently polar opposites.
It was an intriguing idea though, Sam and Dean spending a year apart, each sharing it with someone else. Dean found a blood brother in Benny, who just happened to be a vampire. That’s something that would have been unheard of in his younger years. Sam got involved in a romance. One big issue though is we hated Amelia. She wasn’t spunky, she was a wooden bitch and there was no chemistry between her and Sam. Honestly, the dog had more chemistry. Benny was more intriguing, but in the lens of this episode his intentions were nefarious at best. These two characters were meant to drive a rift between the brothers, but that hadn’t come to play here yet. We just found out they existed. Why are Sam and Dean at odds again? Yep, patience, there’s a lot yet to unfold.
Other Stray Thoughts
While Sam and Dean were out of commission, life did go on without them. Crowley worked effectively on pushing his King of Hell agenda while Kevin went into survivalist mode. I applaud Carver for remembering that Crowley was a formidable foe rather than the cartoon demon he was relegated to as the series progressed. I like that Kevin got to use those superior smarts that he was introduced with to stay ahead of the demons chasing him. Crowley among the goats was priceless! He’s a crafty kid! He got to be the comic relief though too. I laughed so much at the progression of his phone messages to Sam. This was my favorite:
Three months since you ditched my ass. Haven't slept for more than four hours a night. It's all good in the hood. Uh, if you're still alive, eat me.
This episode did setup exciting new possibilities with the introduction of the demon tablet and closing the gates of Hell forever. Dean was all about that! As they eventually learn though, like everything else, there are consequences for such actions. Season 8 definitely goes there. Speaking of season 8, here's the title card:
I did like that Jeremy Carver paid attention to continuity on his return. Best example of this was Sam and Dean’s reunion, the whole series of tests to make sure they weren’t something nefarious. The soapy water was a nice touch, a callback to the Leviathan from the previous season. I know we wanted to forget all about them, but it was a nice touch.
As for the music choices, for the record, I hate Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath.” What a terrible song to kick off a season. On the plus side, I was thrilled to hear “Man in the Wilderness” from Styx. I listened to the album “Grand Illusion” quite a bit as a youngster and that is a rather obscure track. I was very surprised to hear it, and it was so perfect for Dean’s travels back from Purgatory.
Favorite quote: “There is a demon in you and you're going to your safety school.” At least Kevin was able to provide some much needed comic relief in this one.
I also find it funny how Dean lost it over Sam having a dog in the car yet Dean is the one that eventually adopts a dog in the series finale (spoiler alert!). He came a long way.
Overall grade, a B-. The main failure of this episode was that it didn’t get us excited about what was coming next. I understood what was happening and it looked good on paper, but that didn’t make it fun to watch. When that final frame with Dean and Benny was over, I wasn’t rubbing my hands and going, “Bring on episode 2!” I didn’t even rewatch, something I always did until season seven came along. I guess I didn’t even write a review! I went on with my life and watched again the next week, still failing to write a review after that too.
Coming up next, “What’s Up, Tiger Mommy?” One of the worst names for an episode ever. I can tell you right now, Sam as Thor is about the only thing I remember about it. I’m curious what I’ll think about it watching again after all these years.