Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.21: The Great Escapist

 

[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]

Tagline: After Kevin sends them a video indicating his demise, the brothers seek alternate means of finding out about the Third Trial at a casino.

Recap: Recap of the Angel Tablet, the boring-ass Trials and Kevin’s freakout/disappearance. Cut to Kevin waking up with a Post-It note on his head. He sticks it on his board of Post-It notes, indicating he wrote it. A banging on the door makes him all paranoid, until he hears Dean’s voice outside, telling him to open up.

Kevin squirts first Dean and then Sam with holy water, which has no effect, because Dean didn’t use the “secret knock.” They then barge in and show him what they found – the other half of the Demon Tablet.

Kevin takes it and immediately sits down to work on it. When they suggest he get the first half, he says he’s got all the information he needs on the wall, where we see photocopies of the first half of the Tablet. Oh, come on, now, show. That just makes Kevin look stupid. I mean, why didn’t he make photocopies of the Tablet when he had it for a year and hide them all over the place if that’s all it took?

After attempts to weasel info out of Kevin, and some pop culture refs from Sam, the brothers leave Kevin to it. Outside, they walk down the gangplank and through a doorway in what looks like an abandoned underground Egyptian temple. There, a bunch of demons work on a bank of computers observing Kevin 24/7, while Crowley sits in a movie director’s chair. Fake Sam and Dean also turn into a couple of dorks worthy of the episode, “Swap Meat.” In fact, the Sam demon looks like the kid from that episode all grown up.

Sure enough, it’s Colton James (who played Gary the Teenage Satanist) from that episode, though it’s never said whether it’s the same character. Kind of a sad-but-fitting end (and an irony that he’s playing Fake Sam in this one) for the little jerkwad, if it is. And the Dean demon is black, which is oddly cool.

Crowley proceeds to critique their performance, saying that the demon playing Sam used more pop references than Sam, who goes more for “basic” and “sincere,” would. Methinks Crowley never thought Sam was very bright. Crowley says that he’s going to be displeased if he has to “scrub Kevin’s short-term memory again.” He then shoos them off and lounges back in his chair, smug.

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Cue title cards.

At the bunker, Dean is trying to tend to Sam with “John Winchester’s Kitchen Sink Stew,” while Sam acts like a whiny toddler. We have two brothers completely at subtextual odds in this scene. On first watch, Sam’s OTT and operatic hurt/comfort feverishness is overwhelming and overwhelmingly annoying. On second watch, Dean’s obsession with closing the Gates, just in this conversation alone, is pretty disturbing.

I can’t say I feel sorry for Sam, considering he snatched the Trials right out from under his brother’s nose, but if Sam weren’t so focused on his own misery, he’d notice how dangerous and even sinister his brother becomes when he has to manipulate others toward a goal he desperately wants. Not even Sam being the center of Dean’s universe stops Dean ruthlessly pushing Sam toward the home plate.

Yes, Dean is taking care of Sam because he is Sam-centric and the writers are clumsily putting him in the June Cleaver role. But there is more than a little of Lady Macbeth (and even Iago) in Dean here, as well, and Jensen Ackles plays that subtext in a powerful undercurrent to Sam and Kevin’s overt hysteria. It’s just another example of how, when Dean plays god-like Character Chess, none of the other characters see it, or him, coming.

Kevin may appear to dimly sense it when he goes off on a tear blaming Dean, but it’s not likely. Kevin seems hung up on blaming anyone within reach and Dean (who is the only person besides Kevin’s mother who willing to stick around to listen to his whining) is just a convenient target.

This conversation is interrupted by Dean getting an email (in a sinister ringtone rather than his old heavy metal tone indicating, perhaps, his obsession). It’s from Kevin and is entitled, “****WATCH THIS VIDEO NOW****,” over another one from Mythology Weekly entitled, “This month we focus on Inca mythology.”

The video is one of Kevin melodramatically declaring that if they’re watching it, he’s dead. He was supposed to reset the video each week and the only reason not to do so would be that he’s dead (though we already know he just wasn’t thinking creatively enough). He goes off on a brief rant blaming them and everybody else in the SPNverse for his sad and premature demise. Then he says he won’t break if Crowley has him, so he has uploaded all of his notes to them.

During the video, Sam looks sad, while Dean looks guilty and near tears (“Out, damned spot!”). After it ends, Dean slams some books off the table and stalks out of the library.

Later, Dean is trying to reach Garth (who is off the grid) via another contact. When Sam, who is printing out and examining Kevin’s notes, asks him about the other prophets, Dean says he’s heard nothing. If one of them has been activated, nobody’s heard about it. Dean swings between bitterness over having no leads (despite Sam’s reassurance that they actually have quite a lot of info from Kevin) and guilt over not having moved Kevin into the bunker.

Cut to a Biggerson’s in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Castiel is looking at an old analog watch and appearing ragged. The waitress, Kara, pours him a coffee. Seems he’s getting a taste for it. He confuses her by telling the story of the discovery of coffee, which involves goats (Misha Collins sure has a thing for them).

After the waitress tells him he’ll need to order something, he orders the “heart healthy” special (which is anything but). Then he hears angel whine and realizes his pursuers are getting close. He disappears right in front of a young waiter, who tries to explain to his manager what he saw under the table, while two angels appear nearby, unseen, and comment on Castiel’s escape.

Back in Heaven, Naomi calls one of them “Ion” and tells him he’d better have something. He explains that Castiel is using the tactic of hiding out at various Biggerson’s all over the U.S. (as we see Castiel in Palm Bay, Florida; Denver; Pittsburgh; Portland; and St. Louis) because they look exactly alike, confusing his pursuers and making it difficult for them to foresee where he will be next. Naomi determines that in order to catch him, they have to make him stop. That sounds ominous.

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Back at the bunker, the brothers are going over Kevin’s notes when Sam has one of his “I went to Stanford” magic memory moments. He somehow remembers taking a Native American history course and a symbol Kevin has listed as being connected to Metatron’s notes on the Tablets. Yeah, I know. Just roll with it.

Sam insists that they have to go to the mountains of the group with the symbol (The Two Tribes) and find Metatron there. Dean, unsurprisingly, figures this kind of leap of logic is delirium, but the way this season has been going, Sam’s probably right. Sam then whines that Dean used the word ‘Indians’ instead of ‘Native Americans’ (yeah, ’cause this episode is such a bastion of Native American political correctness, otherwise, show, and the two Native American characters got so many lines and depth – oh, wait).

Cut to Bangor, Maine; Lincoln, Nebraska; Reno, Nevada; Tuscon, Arizona; and so on, as Castiel travels between Biggerson’s until he comes to one in Santa Fe where everyone is dead. Except for one waitress, the one who served him before. Her eyes are burned out and she’s begging him to “stop.” Specifically, she wants them to stop.

When he goes to heal her, Ion and the other angel flunky arrive, and capture him.

At a casino on Route 34 in Colorado, the brothers are checking into the hotel, which appears to be off-season deserted. Sam hears a ringing nobody else does and Dean passes it off to the stone-faced Native American desk clerk as the flu.

At the Biggerson’s, Naomi casually murders the waitress by snapping her neck, simply because her whimpering was annoying. When Castiel points out that the angels were supposed to be humanity’s “shepherds,” Naomi sneers, “Not always, Angel.”

She goes off on a rant about the plagues in Egypt, “and that was just PR.” When Castiel insists he wasn’t there, she says he was. In despair, he wonders how many times she’s scrubbed his memory.

This precipitates another rant from her about how he is defective and has been since the beginning. She tries to interrogate Castiel, but he just uses Dean’s words against her: “Bite me.” So, she decides to search all the Biggerson’s, thinking he’s hidden the Angel Tablet in one of them. Yeah, ’cause he’s got a whole world – a universe, even – in which to hide them, but let’s hide them in a fast food joint, instead.

To be honest, this whole scene is a big retcon of which I am not fond. For one thing, it’s been canon for years that Castiel was a good, solid, ordinary angel until Dean persuaded him off the rails. Now, we’re supposed to believe that he was always rebellious, which diminishes both Dean’s influence and the enormity of Castiel’s sacrifice in season four. For another, it implies that no other angel who isn’t defective like that will ever have a true ability to make free choices. It’s just plain problematical across the board.

The scene also makes Naomi uncharacteristically brutal in a way that doesn’t jibe with her behavior previous to this episode (or, for that matter, after it). By this, I mean that we first see Naomi willing to have Castiel slay another angel who’s been “compromised,” demon-possessed people, and even Dean. But after she fails to kill Dean by proxy, we see her shmooze up to him in an ostensible attempt to get to Castiel, by allowing Bobby to enter Heaven and facing down Crowley. However, there was nothing to stop her trying to murder Dean again, or hurt him mortally, in order to bring Castiel back that way (like the waitress but with higher stakes). It wouldn’t have even stopped the Trials, since Sam is supposed to be the one doing them.

So, there is a huge mystery here, an inconsistency in Naomi’s brutality that actually heightens it, that the show firmly establishes – and then utterly ignores.

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Cut back to the barge, where Demon Dean and Sam are getting some details right (Dean with a beer) but not others (Demon Sam botches the word “paté”). Kevin says he’s hungry, so they go for takeout. Keep in mind that the last time, Dean insisted on healthy food for Kevin and even cooked for him.

In the Egyptian tomb, Crowley mourns that he has to run the whole show, since he’d have liked to play Dean. One of his underlings (the one who played Fake Sam before) assures him that he would have been great at it.

At the hotel, Sam is lying on the bed and drinking water (in other words, being useless) when Dean comes in. It seems they’re the first patrons since 2006. Funny how good the hotel rooms look.

Sam starts musing about a mule trip they took to the Grand Canyon. Except it’s canon since season two that they never visited the Grand Canyon and the ages Sam cites are too young for the mule rides (I seem to recall being gravely disappointed about that when we visited the Grand Canyon back in the 70s). Dean looks confused and then says he barely remembers it, what with Sam having been four, but Sam remembers all about Dean’s donkey farting. Never mind. This story is just an interlude and will be explored no further.

Dean goes off to do some digging at the gift shop because Sam is too ill. There, an older Native American man tells him a story, in stilted tones, about why the Two Tribes came there. It seems the Great Messenger protected them with “blessings” in exchange for “offerings.” When Dean asks what the offerings were, the man says, “Stories.” Dean then sees an old (as in, over a century) photo of the desk clerk, looking not a day older. Dean figures he knows what the blessings were.

But never mind. That won’t be explored any further, either. Because we’re now with Sam, who has woken up and is following the desk clerk around. While Sam hides around a corner, the man leaves a big pile of boxes outside one of the hotel room doors.

Yeah. That’s what storyline we’re going with.

Sam, as obviously as possible, goes to the pile of boxes, opens one of them, and finds a copy of Oliver Twist. He then returns to his and Dean’s room, calls Dean, and passes out.

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Back at the Biggerson’s, Naomi is having Ion try to beat the location of the Angel Tablet out of Castiel, since Ion can’t find it in any of the other restaurants. As Naomi is declaring she’s “going to have to pull you apart,” one of the angel goons is shot through the neck and killed, while Ion gets shot in the arm. It’s Crowley, who has melted down angel swords into bullets and it using them in a gun. Never mind why that would be possible, or why the metal would retain its powers. Just roll with it.

Naomi, outgunned for the moment, flies off after a show of power. But Crowley isn’t interested in rescuing Castiel. It turns out Ion is on his payroll and he wants the Angel Tablet, himself. So, he shoots Castiel in the abdomen, figuring he will slowly bleed to death (except, again, that’s not how angel deaths work, show). From learning via Ion of Naomi’s theory that Castiel broke her programming by touching the Angel Tablet, Crowley figures out where Castiel has hidden it and digs it right out of Castiel’s chest, quite painfully. But his winning streak starts to fade when he gets a distress call from his minions. He leaves Castiel under Ion’s guard.

Everything is not quite going Crowley’s way now. Kevin tells Fake Sam and Dean that he needs the other half of the Demon Tablet and sends them to a storage locker. But whaddaya know – it’s a trap. Miffed, Crowley takes the bloody Angel Tablet to the barge and threatens Kevin.

Kevin just laughs at him. He made Demon Sam and Dean as fakes a long time ago. According to him, it was because they were too nice. Kevin, you are such a baby. No, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Real Dean cooking for you and giving you buck-up speeches. And the brothers could not possibly have balked at bringing you food because they had other things to do and, until very recently, were dirt poor.

Back at the restaurant, it turns out Ion is conflicted about his role in Naomi’s doings and couldn’t figure out any other way to express it but working with the King of Hell. After some taunting, Castiel proves not quite as wounded as he made out and finishes his traitorous brother off with the angel bullet Crowley shot into his abdomen.

At the hotel, Sam wakes up in an ice bath. Dean warns him that he had a temperature of 107 and Dean had to reduce it quickly (seizures? Nahh). Sam tells Dean he can sense Metatron and that he’ll lead him to the old archangel. When Sam mentions the books, Dean makes the connection to the offerings of stories.

The brothers go down the hall and Sam is rambling about Dean reading to him when he was a kid from a comic book of Arthurian stories about the Grail quest (I perk up, briefly). Sam talks about an image of Sir Galahad, “with light streaming down over his head.” He says that even then, he felt he could never be like that because he “wasn’t clean.” He wonders if he knew about the demon blood, even then, and – OH, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, SAM, IT’S BEEN EIGHT SEASONS OF THIS, NOW. LET. IT. GO.

Aside from the aforementioned tired old trope of Sam and his demon blood, and how self-absorbed it makes him look, it also seems like a fundamental lack of understanding on Sam’s part about Galahad. Galahad did not win the Grail because he was entirely pure in societal terms, but in spite of the stigma of being a bastard (and being a product of his mother roofie-raping his father, too, as it turns out). Someone persevering in doing good, in spite of a bad birth and upbringing, really fits Dean a lot better. But is there any discussion of this? Or of Dean finding the Spear of Destiny, Parsifal-like, a few episodes ago? Of course not.

Anyhoo, the upshot is that Sam feels the Trials are not about making the world a better place, or saving lives, or stopping the spawn of Hell, but his own purification. Which is just so monumentally self-absorbed that I can’t even ….

Movin’ on.

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At the hotel room, the brothers find no boxes. Sam insists they were there and – oh, look – the door is now slightly ajar. Can we say, “Trap”? Cautiously, Dean opens it and goes in, Sam following. Inside, they find piles of books stacked on the floor (which reminds me both of Ghostbusters and my own attic). They also find Metatron (whom Dean identifies out loud in disbelief), armed with a shotgun.

His ears ringing with being near the archangel (which Metatron later diagnoses as a result of Sam’s doing the Trials and therefore “resonating with the Word” and its scribe), Sam answers Metatron’s demand about who they are by saying they’re “the Winchesters.” Dean, cringing a bit at Sam’s hubris, just introduces them as “I’m Dean and this is Sam.”

Metatron claims to have no knowledge of them. He also claims to be just a lowly clerk that God picked out, not an archangel at all. At first, he sees to believe the brothers were sent by Michael and Lucifer, but the brothers set him straight. Dean just says that the two archangels are now in the Cage, while Sam brags that the brothers were the ones who “put them there.” Sam has a lot of trouble moving beyond the “How can you not know us?” part.

Dean, meanwhile, is more pissed off by Metatron’s refusal to get involved in the problems of the world, which he helped start by writing down the Tablets. In answer to Metatron’s rhapsody about how humans are really awesome because we tell stories, Dean goes off on a rant full of his own guilt and also anger at Metatron about Kevin having become a Prophet against his will, with his life destroyed. And now he’s dead, Sam finishes, insisting that Metatron go ahead and shoot him, too, if the angel’s going to be that useless. Dean moves Sam out of the line of fire, but stands up to Metatron himself. Metatron looks upset.

At this point, Crowley is choking Kevin to death when a bright light emanates from Kevin, burning Crowley and his meatsuit. Crowley is thrown across the barge deck, as both Kevin and the Tablets disappear. Kevin and the Tablets reappear in Metatron’s hotel room (though we only hear about the other half of the Demon Tablet), where Metatron heals Kevin in front of the brothers.

Dean is properly impressed. He follows Metatron into his kitchen and gives him his patented Team Free Will speech by way of dubious thanks, though he first asks how Metatron got past Crowley’s angel-shielding. Belying his supposed lowly status, Metatron just says he’s “the Scribe of God. I erased it.” Hmm. “Lowly,” my ass. That sounds a lot more like an archangel than an angel to me. Though, with all the retconning in this one episode alone, who can tell if it’s important?

Metatron then warns Dean about the wisdom of completing the Trials to close the Gates of Hell. Note that when he realized Sam was doing the Trials, he included Dean, as well, not referring to just Sam. Now, he makes it sound almost as though Dean is the only one really doing the Trials and, therefore, the one who can end or stop them. Which does not compute, but what else is new?

Metatron’s warnings don’t prevent him from anticipating Kevin’s answer about the Third Trial when he wakes up. It’s “to cure a demon.”

In the last scene, in the Impala on the road at night, Dean wonders aloud what that could possibly mean. He hopes that the Trials will end by healing Sam and Sam allows that he does feel a bit better. Sam adds that at least they know where they’re heading now: “The End.” In an episode set in 2013? Nah, that’s not ominous, or anything.

But we’ve got one revelation left as Dean slams on the brakes to avoid a body lying in the road. It’s Castiel. And he’s hurtin’.

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Review: I found this episode somewhat disappointing, considering the writing and directorial talent involved. Ben Edlund did once figure out how to tie together a very messy season (six) in a single episode (“The Man Who Would Be King”) that made it surprisingly coherent and satisfying for a brief, shining moment (before Sera Gamble and Eric Kripke collaborated in the two subsequent episodes to render it a hot mess once again). Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite manage that here. And, despite some very capable and energetic direction from Robert Duncan McNeill, “The Great Escapist” is no “Skin.”

I don’t quite know what to make of Metatron. As he’s an angel and is played by an actor who always plays slime, I’m not expecting him to remain benevolent. And the reference to himself as an ordinary angel, when the Demon Tablet clearly has him refer to himself as an archangel (in 8.07), instantly made me suspicious. Not to mention that he has powers an ordinary angel does not have, but Michael did have. Maybe that’s a canon fail…and maybe not.

Not to mention that the SPNverse has always gone in the direction that older is more powerful, especially when it came to angels and demons. And Metatron may well be the oldest angel we’ve ever met, with the possible exception of Joshua. So, color me suspicious of this dude.

Unfortunately, the rhapsodizing about storytelling sounded like indigestible and masturbatory Author Insertion. We get it, Ben. You know you’re hot stuff. Doesn’t make the Authors R Teh Boss rants any more palatable.

Crowley really crossed the line (assuming you weren’t already sick of his Evil Overlord act) this episode, mainly because he was such a douche about everything, gloating and smacking everyone around, ripping tablets out of Castiel and such. It wasn’t so much that he did eeeeevil things so much as everything kept going his way, which got tedious. Admittedly, that did make his last scene very satisfying, though. And on top of it all, he somehow had an angel in his pocket because … well, just because. I mean, I get that Ion, the stereotypical flunky in the suit, was tired of working for Naomi, but that doesn’t make Hell any prettier compared to Heaven.

I still think the writing for Kevin is all over the place. He went from hysterical to calm without a whole lot of transition. That said, watching him pwn Crowley and casually knock down the smug King of Hell’s house of cards was a good time had by the audience. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki also appeared to have fun playing Dean and Sam’s demonic counterparts. And who knew Crowley was a Dean fan? I just wish they’d made it clearer whether that really was Gary, now doomed to be a demon meatsuit, or just the same actor playing a new, minor character.

That said, I never quite bought the premise of Crowley having Kevin on a fake holodeck version of the barge. It went too far outside of what we’ve seen demons capable of doing – and, more to the point, what demons are inclined to do. Demons can erase short-term memories in humans? Since when? Demons can alter reality and create teleport-y doors to other places? Uh, no, that’s never been how demonic teleportation has been portrayed. And while one could fanwank (although the episode never bothers even once to make this connection) that Crowley had his angel spy do the “scrubbing” on Kevin and took the credit, even an ordinary angel cannot alter reality. It’s an archangel thing.

And don’t get me started on the angel bullets.

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The idea of Crowley as some big hellish innovator (in between disemboweling and beheading his enemies) has never worked for me and he remains underwhelming as a Big Bad. The shows gives him powers simply to advance the plot and then completely forgets about them in the next episode because, hey, that would make him too powerful! [facepalm] Why not, I dunno, give him consistent powers and then use them in a creative way that also makes sense for a demon? You know, the way you would in good writing that isn’t lazy? Or is that too hard for your nearly-thirty-thousand bucks, writers?

It doesn’t help that Crowley pulling a Cecil B. DeMille behind the scenes to get Kevin to decipher the Demon Tablet for him is about as menacing as Dick Roman poisoning some random cud-chewing Hot Chick in a boardroom – which is to say, not very. This is a horror show, writers. Therefore, the central metaphors for the Big Bads really ought to be horrific. Satirical is okay, too, but horrific is the main priority.

The thing is that ancient, Middle Eastern/biblical monsters like demons bring their scary imagery via, at the latest, the Reformation Era. Showing them acting like Donald Trump detracts from their menace and allure. Sure, the trope of the Devil as a salesman is not new (Both Reaper and The Devil’s Advocate have done it fairly recently by way of Faust, for example), but it’s also not terribly compelling. And there is always a point in those stories where the Devil drops the modern, corporate facade and gets medieval on his victim’s ass. Crowley … hasn’t been doing that. No matter how brutal he gets, it’s always in a very hands-off way. It feels detached, not visceral.

The whole scene also raises the question of why Crowley didn’t pull stuff like this before, if he was so clever.

Similarly, while Naomi was terrifying and sinister in “The Great Escapist,” it seemed a tad odd that she wouldn’t notice that Crowley had a traitor in her ranks, when she certainly had his number two episodes before in “Taxi Driver.” Crowley’s comment that she had a lot on her plate did not properly spackle that plothole. Also, it didn’t really fly (so to speak) that it took her so long to figure out Castiel’s Biggerson’s trick and how to counteract it.

The Biggerson’s trick itself was quite clever, though I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of that set or running joke. Okay, so it’s a family fast food restaurant. And? What’s so scary about that, show, that you have to keep inserting it into plots? Here, let me help you with that, since McDonald’s beat you to it in the creepy clown department by a few decades. Seriously, nothing in this episode is half as disturbing as early Ronald McDonald the Pedo Clown (with all due respect to Willard Scott, who I’m sure never intended to come off that way).

This kind of self-indulgence and lack of connection with the rest of the writing staff can be a big problem with Ben Edlund’s writing and is one reason why I’m not wringing my hands or rending my garments over his departure. He’s been getting visibly bored and increasingly detached for a while, which has resulted in some really weird story choices and inattention to canon (something you also see in his work on other shows). Yes, he’s a good writer, but it doesn’t matter how good a writer is when he/she won’t play in the same ballpark as the others.

I even find myself wondering if Edlund’s straying off the map has encouraged some of the newer writers (Robbie Thompson, especially) to write their own versions of the show, as well, rather than work on a team vision of the story. But it’s really hard to say from this vantage point whose fault (if anybody’s) it is. I just know that there were times when I wished the rest of the writers wrote in his vision of the show’s verse (“Blood Brother,” “The Man Who Would Be King”), but neither “Everybody Hates Hitler” nor this episode was one of those times.

The whole “resonance” thing with Sam and the Trials had me rolling my eyes. That was so cheesy that I kept expecting some kind of twist that showed it was lie. But nope. No dice. I did laugh, though, when Metatron was screwing with Sam (at least, I’m pretty sure he was screwing with Sam) about not knowing the Winchesters and Sam kept insisting on their being famous. For once, nobody gave a crap about Sam and his Special Destiny. Oh, dear.

Dean’s second-hand embarrassment (“He’s no idiot; He’s my brother!”) was especially amusing, in part because he didn’t push the issue the way Sam did. It was no skin off his nose if some old angel at a casino didn’t know him and his brother. And it was a nice counterpoint to Sam being a jackass about the Men of Letters deal, to the point of staring at Dean as if he had two heads in “Remember the Titans,” when Dean finally decided to feel proud about it. How’s the shoe feel on the other foot, now, Sam?

Curiously, Sam learned nothing of significance in this episode, once the brothers reached the Holy Grail, as it were, of Metatron’s book-lined hotel room. In fact, it was Dean who ended up having the “Grail talk” with Metatron. By this, I mean the part in the Grail story where the person who will find it in the end is quizzed on why he wants it. I’m thinking specifically of Indy’s insistence in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that he has no interest in the Grail, really, just finding his father safe and sound.

Here, despite the glaring fact that Sam is the one doing the Trials, Metatron quizzes Dean on why he wants to close the Gates of Hell and whether he understands what the cost might be. Oh, yeah, thanks for the reminder, show. Ever since the end of “Trial and Error,” the show has made who actually wants these trials to occur remarkably fuzzy, but Dean is the one who has pushed to close the Gates since the beginning of the season, goading both Kevin and Sam on (though, it must be said, they both had their reasons for going into the Trials and then got cold feet at awkward times that endangered others) when they got whiny, and was intent on doing the Trials himself, rather than sacrificing someone else to them. So, yeah, it does make perfect sense that Metatron would be asking Dean that question, huh?

Funny how having somebody else snatching the Trials out from under Dean makes that unnecessarily unclear, though. You gave them to the wrong brother, show.

I’m also not too wild about the incessant visual and verbal references to the Grail story that go precisely nowhere. Sam appears to be poised to become the Fisher King, with Dean becoming his unexpected savior, Parsifal-style, using the Spear of Destiny. But the total lack of connection between these various images and clumsy infodumps makes it very difficult to see a through-line for this, let alone where they might be on the plot. The images and the infodump just keep popping up and, aside from a few “I don’t think that character means what you think he means, Sam” moments, there’s no forward momentum, yet. Let’s move it along, show.

Another thing we saw in the episode (that, again, never went anywhere) was the Christ parallel in Dean “baptizing” Sam by dunking him in a bath when his temperature got high. As usual, we had some fans insisting that this made Sam the Christ figure and Dean a John the Baptist figure, while ignoring the fact that Sam can’t be Christ because the whole point of this exercise is to cleanse Sam of some serious mortal sins, but that Christ doesn’t have any sin, in the first place. Oh, sure, he has some minor human failings, but mortal sins like betrayal and bailing on other people in need? Definitely not Christ material. In fact, Sam’s getting so ill could be seen as a sign of his not being fit to do these Trials, rather than just a purification metaphor.

Which puts Sam in the apostle category, not the Son of God category.

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The casino angle of the story was, sadly, underdeveloped. We meet a young man, who apparently is a lot older than he looks, and then we never see him again. The idea of a Native American casino as a hiding place for an angel was intriguing, but it went precisely nowhere. Once we got to Metatron, Edlund seemed to forget all about it, as it turned into a neglected red herring. Exit a potentially interesting character and situation.

I also did not quite understand why Metatron was played by an Anglo actor. Nothing against Curtis Armstrong, but the set-up is that Metatron’s been spending a very long time with Native-Americans, so, uh, where’d he find the white guy for his vessel and why’d he bother? Surely, there are vessels available among Native Americans, seeing as how the show has managed to have every other major world ethnic group play goon angels. That struck me as a rather poor juxtaposition of actor choice with backstory. It’s not the first time (Both Ruby versions come to mind), but that doesn’t really make it better.

It’s like the whole mess with the kitsune. If you’re going to have a supernatural creature with a very specifically ethnic background, don’t then cast some random white actor as the character, show. Duh.

Fun lines:

Kevin [to Demon Dean]: You forgot the knock! What’s the point of a secret knock if you don’t use it?!

Crowley: I was born to direct!

Castiel [to the waitress]: You know, I remember when you first discovered [coffee]. Before you started brewing it, you just chewed the berries. The folk tale’s true, by the way – you learned it from the goats.

Naomi [to Castiel]: You’re the famous spanner in the works. Honestly? I think you came off the line with a crack in your chassis.

Crowley [to his trapped minions]: You jackasses – you’re ruining my streak!

Crowley: How’d you figure it out?
Kevin: It started when they forgot the secret knock. But really, it was the way they acted. I don’t think, on their best day, Sam and Dean would go into town and get me a barbecue dinner. Not when there are leftover burritos in the fridge.
Crowley: So … my demons were too polite?
Kevin: Yeah.

Next Week: Crowley races to stop the brothers from completing the Third Trial by killing off people they once rescued. Meanwhile, Metatron approaches Castiel to do a series of trials from the Angel Tablet.

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About Paula R. Stiles

Paula is not at all paranoid about government conspiracies after six years in EMS, two years in Africa for the Peace Corps, a few summers with the Park Service, and ten years studying the Knights Templar. She's seen governments in action. They couldn't cover up a toy picnic table, let alone evidence of alien visitation. Writes about science for fun, history for money, and zombies for the company. You can read her sober-as-a-judge book about Templars in medieval Spain, Templar Convivencia, on Amazon. You can find her homepage at: http://thesnowleopard.net.

Paula R. StilesColumn: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.21: The Great Escapist