This is a chewy episode for me. I wasn't as furious with it as many. I tend to like the writer Bob Berens' weightiness, the lethality of his world and the way he constructs an episode. He is NOT, however, a humorist. And I wish to pieces he stop trying.
A few things Berens is known for (or should be, if we're paying attention to what he gravitates towards) are: blood, gore, creating and writing for interesting female characters, and some serious Sam whump. Me likey.
He also gives us that rare creature in the SPN wilds: the Sam POV. Starting an episode with an acutal Sam dream? Are we dreaming?
No, but how heart-clenching is it that Sam dreams about everyone being safe and sound in the bunker, eating pizza! Because we know—WE KNOW—Sam has been struggling with maintaining optimism this season. When he lets himself think about it … he fears, he doubts. But obviously, Sam's subconscious is still wearing those hopeful, rose-colored glasses.
And btw, I ship Dean/his appetite. All his appetites. (My Dean is a hedonist. He loves creature comforts. Clearly, Sam's subconscious agrees.)
SPN prides itself on its black humor and mixing it with horror. But wow, is the comedy in this episode sophomoric. I cannot, for love nor money, see Rowena and Gabe picking that particular moment to get it on. Show, don't dumb down for us. Trust your audience. Don't go for the cheap yuks. (The Dumbing Down of the Show has been a thing for me, this season especially. Dabb, especially.)
Okay, so, Castiel.
Let's just get this out of the way. Cas, dude, you're a dick. In that kitchen scene? With your royal We's and Ours'? Check yourself, buddy. I get the whole warrior thing and Heaven's in a pickle so you've gotta get Jack back, but pushing Sam's buttons like that, leaning on Sam's penchant for guilt and big-picture, 'Greater Good' protocol, that's just shitty. And the fact Dean stands back there and agrees with Cas? Fun, great choice, guys. (The framing of the scene works faboo for the situation, though, with Sam sitting on one side, Dean and Cas standing over him on the other. Smart staging.)
On to Lucifer. The music cue, “Cat's in the Cradle”, is a bit on-the-nose. I far prefer a less broad, slap-sticky performance from Pellegrino, but he gets there eventually. When he stops pulling faces and reins in his shtick, he's so much more ominous.
Yeah, it's hot when Cas slices Lucifer's throat to get the grace flowing. (I do like me some bad-ass Cas, just not so much when it's used against Sam or Dean.) And yeah, the continuous grace-dripping is a very cool effect. Leaving Rowena alone with Lucifer, welllll, it's not that I don't think she can handle him, but he's such a murderous psycho, he'd kill her in an instant. Which he very nearly does.
I'm glad Rowena gets a jag of conscience and hangs around, after she inadvertently boots Luci into Apocaworld. I think it would've worked better to have left out the monologuing when she's on her way out the door—showing not telling—but finally, finally, one of Sam's decisions isn't punished on the show. Trusting Rowena is paying off, so I won't complain too much!
Once the Winchesters and their resident angels get on The Road, the episode improves, but some of the dialogue is a little … weird. It just doesn't seem like Dean to make note of Sam feeling “lighter, happier, more energetic”. Nor does it sound like Sam to spell out the plan before heading into the tunnel; that would be Dean, all the way.
But OMG, THAT UNDERGROUND SET. It is so friggin' creepy. Dank, claustrophobic, perfect for the ambush … cool as hell. The feral vampires are excellent too. Now, while I wasn't spoiled, there had been a lot of talk among some of my fandom buds predicting that Sam would die before season's end, so when it happened, I wasn't totally surprised. (And I suspect Sam's death will be a catalyst for a baaaaad decision on Dean's part very, very shortly.) It's a glorious death, though! The arterial spray? The wild vampires dragging Sam off down the tunnel, like a six-and-a-half-foot tall ragdoll? Dean's mortified face? DELICIOUSLY GRIM.
Then, after barely looking for Sam down the tunnel, asshole Cas pipes up again and convinces Dean to leave without Sam. Yeah, let me repeat that: CONVINCES DEAN TO LEAVE WITHOUT HIS BABY BROTHER. This seems to be the biggest bone of contention about the episode, split down shipping lines, unsurprisingly. I might be able to buy Cas unable to find Sam—the blood trail drying up, the tunnels a labyrinth—but Dean leaving without Sam? Yeah, no.
Dead!Sam is beautiful. Beautifully sad, eerily believable, I'm almost sorry he gasped back to life. (Okay, I kid. Really, I do.) His angular profile, the way the light gleams off his open, sightless eyes? Kill me now. And the scene that follows between Sam and Lucifer is simply masterful, punctuated by Sam's fearless, furious “What … do you … WANT?!” Pellegrino finally brings the devious, terrifying villain back. And it rocks.
The Travelling Willburys continue towards the rebel camp: Dean, shell-shocked and devastated; Gabriel generally useless except to drop the camp's angel warding (big whoop), and Cas looking constipated. They intercept a wandering band of rebels that happens to include Mary Winchester. Dean's eyes well with tears and goddammit, so did mine. Jensen Ackles, you brilliant monster.
Jack is angered they left Sam behind—thank you, Jack—and Dean shakes off his shock and readies to go back to the tunnel, when the absolute worst scene occurs, and by “worst” I mean the most fantastically devastating for me. Yep, worse than Sam's murder.
Sam stumbles into the camp, and his family's joy is immediately crushed by the fact he is leading Lucifer to the rebels. Themegalosaurus said it best, over on the ol' tumblr machine:
Sam (dreaming): and then Mom will say, “Sam, I always knew you would save me,” and I’ll see in her eyes how happy she is, and how proud
Sam (reality): drags himself into camp with Lucifer behind him, so heavy with shame he can barely meet people’s eyes
Is it next week yet?