Some thoughts on the Supernatural Season 9 Premiere, “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here”
First off: SPOILERS EVERYWHERE, for everything in Supernatural up to and including this episode. Proceed at your own risk.
The Road So Far
The recap kicks off with the Impala zooming down a road and Charlie’s disembodied voice saying, “There’s pretty much nothing the Winchesters can’t do if they work together.” This is a sweet sentiment. Inaccurate, but sweet. The Winchesters have failed plenty of times and that’s why I love them.
After a few seconds, the music picks up. Oh, hells yeah.
It sounds like this “Road So Far” is set to the George Thorogood & the Destroyers cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.” Because I am an English major and not a rock star, it will forever bother me that the song does not go “whom do you love,” but I can’t have everything. And also, that would sound terrible.
Anyway, the song is good, and consistent with the tone of the show. The refrain of “Who do you love?” serves to remind us of how much the central characters have sacrificed, or at least tried to sacrifice, for their loved ones. There are also several moments when the line “Who do you love?” comes right before a cut from Dean to Castiel or a cut from Dean to Sam, which surely makes for excellent fodder for those dedicated Destiel and Wincest fans out there. There’s less grist for the Sastiel and Moosely mills, but slash fans can’t have everything, either.*
The song also makes incorporating Crowley’s big “I deserve to be loved” moment into the recap really easy. It’s like a call/response thing. The song asks, “Who do you love?” and Crowley screams, “I deserve to be loved!” Piece of cake. And you just know that this was a priority for the producers. If you have seen a single Supernatural interview between last season’s finale and this season’s premiere, you know that the showrunners, cast and crew cannot get over how awesome they think the Sam/Crowley church scene was. They pretty much went fanboy for themselves, really.
And hey, it’s not like they were wrong. It is a good scene, and it’s nice to see it here.
Fun fact: “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here” is a song from the musical Annie. (There’s also this version with Audra McDonald.) This continues the long tradition of Supernatural naming its episodes after song titles. This episode name, of course, brings with it the added bonus of referencing a Broadway show tune sung by (and to) Little Orphan Annie.
Also, like most of the SPN episode titles, this one has a nicely layered meaning, working as a potential reference for both Sam in Limbo, contemplating the afterlife, and Castiel–and his fallen brethren–trying to deal with being stuck on Earth. (This is especially appropriate for Castiel’s arc, considering his initial optimism regarding his siblings’ potential for assimilation.) But two layers doesn’t make for much of a layer cake, so of course the title also applies to Ezekiel taking up residence in Sam’s body.
Sadly, I cannot stretch the title’s meaning to apply to Crowley, who spends the episode in the trunk of Dean’s car.
And the rest of my reaction is under the cut:
Wow, we’re really going back to basics with you this episode, aren’t we, Dean?
Step 1: Dean does everything within reason that he could possibly do to help his brother.
Step 2: Dean realizes that reason never did him any favors, does some outside-of-the-box thinking, and starts looking for an unreasonable way to save his brother.
Step 3: Dean cannot find a reasonable way to save his brother, so he settles on a terrible, reckless way to save his brother that Sam would never approve of in a zilion years.
Step 4: Dean keeps a big secret that will create tension between the brothers and is likely to come out in a big way later on. They will eventually talk about it while sitting on the hood of the Impala.
So, this Dean looks an awful lot like soul-sacrificing Seasons 2 through 3 Dean. This time, however, instead of sacrificing something of his own, Dean has offered up Sam’s body as a vessel without Sam’s consent. Ezekiel and Dean do manage to trick Sam into “consenting,” but consent given under duress or acquired through deceit is not true consent. This brings up a lot of issues for me–about consent in particular, and also about autonomy and bodily integrity. It also makes it clear that, in this case, the choice that Dean is making is a selfish one, and he knows it. He knows that Sam would not accept being made into an angel’s vessel (even if that angel seems pretty willing to negotiate a time share), and that Sam would prefer death to the ‘quality of life’ that would entail. (Sam needs a living will and a way of getting Dean to respect it.)
In Seasons 2, Dean sold his soul because he “had one job,” which was to protect Sam. This was a kind of sacred trust handed down to Dean from his father, and Dean couldn’t get over failing in that role. This time around, though, he knows that he’s not going to be the one to pay the price for this save. Sam is. This time, Dean won’t be able to pretend that he was just looking out for his little brother. This time, it’s going to be pretty obvious to all involved that it wasn’t about the greater good, or even Sammy’s good. Dean brings Sam back this episode to benefit himself, because he doesn’t think he can survive without the emotional support his brother provides him.
This is all very interesting! I don’t have any clear guesses as to what will happen next with this plot, and I’m excited!
As far as Dean’s relationship with Castiel goes, one of my favorite Dean moments in the episode is (of course) when Castiel calls him and tells him about losing his grace. I love that even though Dean has big important Worrying About Sam stuff to do, he still takes a moment to think about Cas’s well-being. Dean even gives him some pretty decent advice: get to the bunker and stop messing around with fallen angels who mostly want him dead. Well, OK, it’s less advice and more telling him what to do, because that’s how Dean rolls. The guy still makes some valid points. You’ve been an inconsistent friend to Cas over the years, Dean, but–your habitual bossiness aside–your performance in this phone call gets my stamp of approval.
Hello, martyr!Sam. Or possibly suicidal!Sam.
Sam seems awfully eager to die, considering he has no proof that his death would accomplish anything. He never finished healing Crowley of being a demon (What happens to the human host when that happens?), so it’s not like Sam dying now would close the gates of Hell. Too little too late, and all that.
But hey, maybe Sam’s just sick of dying and getting resurrected and is ready to lay his burdens down. Furthermore, it’s made pretty explicit in the episode that Sam’s worried that if he doesn’t lock in his death this time, Dean will do something stupid and/or reckless to bring him back. Because Sam knows his brother.
And hey, look, Dean’s doing something stupid.
And now Ezekiel is in Sam. I guess that means we’re saying goodbye to Tahmoh Penikett? As far as Jared-Padalecki-as-Ezekiel goes, I am OK with Padalecki’s performance so far, with one exception. I like the voice and the facial expressions, and even the stilted tone of delivery kind of works for me. However! Does he have to hold his arms like that when he walks? (We see him walk as Ezekiel for all of a few seconds, so no worries if you missed it.) I mean, he looks like an action figure. And when he holds his arms so stiffly like that, all I can think of is Sam trying to play Sam in Season 6’s “The French Mistake.” (Padalecki’s strategy for playing a bad actor was to “not know what to do with his hands.”) Oh, well. Ezekiel-in-Sam’s movements and gestures are sure to get more natural over time.
So, Castiel seems a little slow on the uptake this episode.
I guess he’s still in shock. Or denial. Or both. Actually, definitely both.
Castiel being surprised by things hurting that didn’t used to hurt is pretty understandable. When your body changes for whatever reason, and starts reacting to stimuli differently, that’s always a surprise, even when you know it’s coming.
Castiel denying his need for food and drink reads more like stubbornness, though. He knows he’s in a human body and he knows human bodies need sustenance. Deliberately not eating and drinking because he thinks he’s somehow still above it all just seems like setting himself up for a fail. Dude, if you want to be ready for a fight, eat and drink now to keep up your strength. You made sandwiches for the Winchesters that one time. You know this stuff.
I like that Castiel has to choose between keeping his old costume and getting a drink of water, because he only has so many coins. Scarcity of resources is a very relatable thing. (But where did his folding money go?) I also like that the urge that Castiel is eventually unable to deny is thirst. The writers could have gone for a “funnier” scene of Cas going to town on the candy bars and granola, but that would have been less realistic. Cas is doing his damnedest to ignore his human needs, and you can ignore hunger much longer than you can ignore thirst.
Hey, it only just occurs to me, but I half-expect that when Castiel next sees Dean, Dean will ask him if it hurt when he fell from Heaven. Because rubbing salt in the wound in an attempt to lighten up the atmosphere with levity seems like a very Dean thing to do. Or maybe a Crowley thing to do. Or maybe an Abaddon thing to do. Hey, someone has to use this line. The writers aren’t going to be able to resist it forever. (Technically, they did use this line ‘ironically’ with Eve in Season 6, but it would just have so much more punch now.)
On a side note: nice jacket, Cas. You look adorable.
Crowley is in the trunk.
Bobby! We’ve missed you! It’s great to see Jim Beaver back in his element again. Even though Bobby turned out to be a facet of Sam’s dying psyche, this was still a much more emotionally resonant reunion than his retrieval from Hell in Season 8. (Mostly because, after all the hype, Season 8’s “Taxi Driver” made Hell look like a small-town jail with demon guards and Purgatory look like it was about the size of a postage stamp. What was that place, twelve foot square?) Anyway, psyche-fragment Bobby was cool. And having Bobby and Dean embody aspects of Sam was a natural next step after the Sam on Sam on Sam battle royale in Season 6’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Man, Sam’s brain is like Grand Central Station.
Death! We’ve missed you! Almost as much as we’ve missed Bobby! Even though it kind of bothers me that all four horsemen are white men even though they’re allegorical representations of arguably universal concepts! Still, it’s nice to have you. Welcome back, Death!
Ezekiel (played by Tahmoh Penikett–er, at first) seems like the most important of the new people in this episode, especially as he’s now sharing bodily real estate with one of the series’ two main characters. We know nothing about him but his name, and he could be lying about that. So far, he seems like a decent guy, and I’d actually be really happy if the rest of his season confirmed his decency. Surprised, considering that the show runs on conflict, but happy. The Winchester brothers don’t have the easiest time making new friends.
So, as I’m watching the episode, I’m starting to like this new fallen angel Cas takes up with, Hale (played by Grace Phipps). I like that she’s introduced as a frightened, lost angel and that Castiel tries to position playing himself as her mentor. I like that she’s revealed to be, well, a lost, frightened angel, yes, but one who’s lost and frightened less in the “Show me round the neighborhood” kind of way and more in the “Let me possess your body or I’ll call down the wrath of all the other superpowered people you pissed off” kind of way. And to be fair, Cas, if anyone deserves to be worn like a meat suit by a more powerful being, it’s you. Now, I’m not saying that anyone deserves that, because autonomy is important and people should be able to keep control of their own bodies. But if anyone deserves that, it’s you. Not your body in the first place, dude. Poor Jimmy Novak.
I knew from the previews that Hale was going to knock Cas out with that beam, but I did not anticipate that she would kidnap him and demand entry into his body. That’s a neat twist, especially considering how so much of the series is tied up in its human characters defending their bodies from possession. (It also makes the Cas/Hale plotline parallel the Sam/Ezekiel plotline quite nicely.) What could make Cas more aware of his new humanity than being forced to face a threat that up until now has never applied to him? Time to see how the other half lives, Cas.
So, as I was saying, I’m kind of starting to enjoy this Hale person. She’s an interesting combination of bewildered and ruthless, and–whoops, she’s dead.
OK, so, from a plot perspective, I have no problem with Cas killing Hale. He has motive, means and opportunity, with an extra dose of motive. I mean, she tries to blackmail him into giving up his body. (Er, Jimmy’s body. Whatever.) Killing Hale is essentially self-defense from Cas’s point of view, and I’d be disappointed in him if he didn’t kill her, as that would show a considerable lack of forethought. But still.
She’s one of only two female speaking roles in the episode. Does she have to die so soon?
Other new faces include the male angel who attacks Dean in the parking lot (and then fights Ezekiel) and the two angels (one male and one female) who attack Dean in the hospital. The first gets offed by Dean, and the next two we don’t learn much about. But they are only banished, not killed, so they might come back.
Oh, yeah. Let’s not forget the truck driver who gives Cas a ride and some money and calls him “kid.” Aww. The truck driver seems like a one-shot character, but it’s still possible that we will learn he was yet another an angel in disguise. Sidebar: several of the Season 9 fanfictions produced this summer featured Castiel getting rides from kind-hearted men in trucks. I imagine some fans were very pleased.
Finally, I feel that I should mention (so I am mentioning) Sam’s African American doctor, who brings the total of POC speaking roles in the episode to a whopping one.
Count them: one. Yeah, I guess you really didn’t have to count that.
Quick demographic breakdown of speaking roles in the episode: one man of color (the doctor), two white women (Hale and unnamed angel #1–though it’s three white women if you count unnamed angel #1 and the grief counselor as two different “roles”) and ten white men (Dean, Sam, Castiel, Bobby, Death, Ezekiel, the truck driver, that guy on the phone and the unnamed angel killed by Dean). Then there was that other angel with the axe, but as he had no lines, I am not counting him as a speaking role. I apologize if I have overlooked any other speaking roles played by white men in the episode. I think it’s safe to say, however, that the white male demographic is well-represented.
Missing in Action
1. Where the blankety-blank is Kevin? Dean doesn’t even call him.
2. DID SHERIFF MILLS SURVIVE???? IS SHE OK??? DID THESE YAHOOS EVEN THINK TO CHECK ON HER???
3. Where’s Abaddon?
4. How’s Metatron doing? I want to know what Heaven’s like now that it’s all empty of everything but saved human souls and the worlds that they create. And maybe a garden. Does Heaven require regular maintenance? Can it be run by one guy?
5. He’s not exactly missing, but we don’t actually get to see Crowley this episode.
Where do we go from here?
Well, according to this episode synopsis, Tuesday’s installment is is going to be heavily focused around Crowley, Abaddon and Kevin. Which is nice, considering their conspicuous absence (well, the conspicuous absence of our favorite prophet and Knight of Hell, at least; we all know where Crowley is) in the premiere.
I have always been fascinated by the conceit that angels need to acquire consent before they can possess a vessel, while demons can possess people for any old reason. In the past, we’ve had angels try to force Sam and Dean into consenting, so we’ve known that even consent-under-duress qualifies as “consent” in this universe. If you’re an angel. This is the first time we’ve seen that kind of consent obtained through outright trickery.
My brain has never worked so hard to unpack the problems of rape culture in direct relationship to the debates surrounding euthanasia-versus-life-support. Because it’s all tangled up in here, somehow. Dean takes the choice for how Sam will end his life out of Sam’s hands, even though Dean literally knows what Sam’s decision would be. He sees and hears Sam talking to Death, and Sam makes his wishes known in no uncertain terms. Dean also forces a form of recuperation upon Sam that he knows Sam would not consent to. Dean consents on Sam’s behalf without Sam’s input and helps Ezekiel obtain a “yes” from Sam under false pretenses.
Granted, Dean’s motivations are understandable, if ultimately selfish (and maybe more understandable because they are ultimately selfish): Dean loves his brother and does not want him to die. Hell, that’s practically Dean’s entire character. And a lot of us would probably do a lot of reprehensible things to keep our loved ones alive. Still, Dean basically gives Sam’s body to Ezekiel–as if Dean had some kind of say in its distribution. And maybe he has deluded himself into thinking he does have this authority, in a way, due to his self-identification as Sam’s older brother and long-time protector.
In a series whose central three characters occasionally call themselves “Team Free Will,” Dean’s trading Sam’s right-to-choose for Sam’s life is a potentially explosive development.
* * *
* For those of who have forgotten (and those of you who never knew this stuff in the first place): Dean/Castiel = Destiel; Dean/Sam = Wincest; Sam/Castiel = Sastiel; and Sam/Crowley = Moosely. Dean/Crowley slash, on the other hand, is called–actually, I have no idea what it’s called. It might only ever go by Dean/Crowley (or Crowley/Dean). On the other hand, it could be called Squirrelly. (Which is, let’s face it, significantly funnier.) Anyway, Squirrelly slash doesn’t come up as much, so you aren’t as likely to encounter it in your run-of-the-mill dealings with SPN slash fans.