The CW's Supernatural finally delivered an episode heavy on the season's tablet mythology tonight with "Taxi Driver," but as enthralling as it was, I couldn't help but be somewhat distracted by the fact that this episode was going to be followed with yet another couple of weeks of a mini-hellatus. Just when the show was gaining real momentum for the season it was about to be stopped short in its tracks, this time through no fault of the narrative's own. It was unfortunate because it took some of the enjoyment out of an otherwise emotional and beautifully shot episode.
"Taxi Driver" started with an increasingly paranoid Kevin (Osric Chau) calling the Winchesters to his hideaway to let them know he deciphered the rules of the second trial, and they were a doozy: someone would have to go to hell to smuggle a human soul out and up to heaven. And since Sam (Jared Padalecki) was the someone who completed the first trial, he would have to embark on this one, too, even though he was in less than fighting shape. Kevin was twitchy as it was, believing Crowley (Mark Sheppard) was in his head, and that was with him only knowing half the story; if he was privy to just how manipulative things in heaven were, he probably wouldn't have been so eager to share this piece of news. It certainly seems like a good deed to get someone's soul out of hell, but their fate in heaven doesn't seem so great these days. And you know, usually those who get sent to hell deserve it.
But of course in true Supernatural fashion, there was a loophole so Sam wouldn't have to feel too badly about springing someone who maybe deserved to stay on the slab. Instead, the Winchesters learned that occasionally people get sent to hell simply for being on a list, like Crowley's "no fly" list. And naturally someone who achieved that honor was their own dearly departed Bobby (Jim Beaver). I admit it would have been much more emotionally satisfying for Sam to learn Bobby was in hell by stumbling across him while looking for a rogue soul to save, thereby giving this mission extra meaning when in the hot zone, but not going into it known already probably would have required many more scenes of talking and back-and-forth to convince the audience he should even run the risk of this trial. I have to thank the show for sparing us when it comes to that.
But here's the kicker: Sam trusted a rogue reaper aka "coyote" who was smuggling souls for extra freelance payment, but the reaper ended up leaving him in Purgatory, telling him simply to follow the stream to the special portal to hell. That certainly seemed like a scam-- like any other coyote who sells freedom only to leave his refugees locked in a truck in the desert to die. The coyote got his in the end-- they always do-- but though Sam had his knife with him, he had no expectations for what Purgatory would be like. Dean (Jensen Ackles) hadn't told him everything about the place, and with neither of them knowing that's where he'd have to pass through on his journey, there weren't even any last minute tips on how to survive and beat the ticking clock to finish the mission.
I wish the episode had taken more time to show Sam in Purgatory-- how he reacted, adapted, and maybe even doubted that the portal was there at all. But this episode needed to move quicker than such lingering would allow because he really was just "passing through" in order to get to the real part of the story. Even Sam's steps through hell felt quicker than they should have been considering for the first time in eight years, this was the only real glimpse into hell we had gotten. It was disturbing-- eerily reminiscent of an old insane asylum-- and yet, I wanted to see more, to explore more, to let Sam wonder how many of these souls, too, deserved to be sprung.
But again, there was no time, nor reason, as the real purpose here was to show what had become of our beloved Uncle Bobby who was killed so tragically and so beautifully in season seven, only to return as a ghost and threaten to become everything he always hunted. I am a big believer in letting characters go out with grace, even if it means saying good-bye permanently before I am really ready, but this was one instance in which I was more than glad to see Bobby again.
Sure, hell had done a number on him. It would do a number on anyone. He had deep circles under his eyes, and he punched and stabbed wildly out of pure survival instinct, never quite sure if he could trust what he was seeing. But he was still the same snarky, loving Bobby, and watching him team up again with Sam, for however short-lived and odd the mission, warmed my jaded heart. Even the rehashing of chatter around Sam not looking for Dean in their "lost year" was welcome and not as repetitive because it was coming from Bobby's mouth, and I just missed him so much, I wanted to hear every bit of wisdom he'd impart. Sam should have felt the same way; he may not have wanted to hear his admonishing words, but he damn well should have been smiling at being given the chance to hear them. He didn't seem to realize how lucky he was simply to be reunited with Bobby-- to have been able to beat all odds to find him and potentially save him from a life in the cage.
Grief does crazy things to people, and I never looked at it this way before, but maybe Bobby was right: maybe they did just go off the rails without him.
Meanwhile, back topside, Dean played babysitter to a kid so scared he couldn't see that hiding the tablet wouldn't buy him safety or time; it would just buy him more torture if and when Crowley caught up to him. Rather than just ransacking a crappy little safe house, he could actually cut off Kevin's fingers one by one until he told him the location of it. Maybe Dean should just take Kevin back to the Men of Letters bunker for a nap, a hot shower, and some vintage porn breaks to clear his head and get him thinking offensively again...
Interesting, though, Naomi (Amanda Tapping) showed up at Kevin's, where no one had thought to angel-proof the way they so carefully drew sigils to keep just about every other creature-- and living thing-- out. Dean wasn't really buying her concern for Castiel (Misha Collins) or claims that he misinterpreted her instructions on spying on and killing Dean. But she did give him the key piece of information that his brother had to pass through Purgatory to get to hell, so she was at least of some use to him, and subconsciously, that probably earned a little trust in his book. I guess it isn't common sense to ask if it's a straight ticket to hell or if there's a layover first, but I don't know, I would assume it's common sense to ask for some details when making a deal with anything other worldly.
But this way it prompted Dean to reach out to Benny (Ty Olsson), so I couldn't be happier about the turn in the story. Until I actually realized just what it all meant, anyway. Because with Crowley killing the reaper for the betrayal (even if he didn't fully understand why Sam needed to go to hell), Sam had no way out, dragging Bobby with him or not. It wasn't just about completing this second trial and getting closer to cutting Crowley's power off forever; it was about Dean's baby brother being stuck in Purgatory unfairly for potentially ever. So his "big favor" from Benny was that he had to send Benny back in-- so he could pull Sam out. Way back in the beginning of the season, I speculated that Benny might be looking for a way back into Purgatory because he couldn't adjust to life topside, with all of its differences and his usual vampire temptations, but this isn't like shoplifting on surveillance video to get sent back to jail because it's too hard in the real world. I didn't think you actually could willingly send someone to Purgatory. And just how damn convenient would it be if Benny wanted to go now, when it would benefit Dean anyway?
Well, those are exactly the lucky conveniences this show thrives on, and once again, because of the powerful performances, I didn't even care how "easy" the out in the story was. Benny didn't feel like he belonged with the vampires of today, nor the humans, and rather that sulk around for eternity, hoping that times would change again to a point where he would fit in, he put family first and helped Dean. There was a special kind of irony in the fact that Benny was being sent back to Purgatory to save the Winchester who actually wanted to send him back to Purgatory, but in the end, that should just make for a more strongly bonded threesome because Sam saw an ultimate sacrifice made for him. That's what brothers do: they save each other.
Though, I have to say, Dean's crazy little plan shouldn't have worked. And if there was a God in this story, I don't think it would have. Benny's big sacrifice shouldn't have sent him down to Purgatory at all but instead bought him a ticket to heaven, one-way, no stopping. I'll be so bummed if this is the last we see of Olsson and Benny, and yet at the same time, he had such a respectful end (even Sam came around in the end!), I don't want to see it ruined by a less than special but simply sentimental return.
Naomi was really fighting to earn that same blind respect-- or at least that trust-- tonight, though. And not just with Dean. When Sam returned from Purgatory only for Crowley to appear in the 100 Mile Woods in Maine and try to suck Bobby straight back to hell, Naomi appeared to help the Winchesters. Crowley warned her against the bigger picture of them probably locking her away, too, but she wanted to cross that bridge if and when they came to it. He fled before she could hurt him, and he ended up not on Kevin's doorstep but inside his hideout, claiming that he killed Mrs. Tran and that all people are just fleeting, while he is forever. And true to form, he began to torture and take Kevin to get what he wanted. Now what?
Naomi would make a great reality show contestant, by the way; she forms an alliance to get rid of her enemies and then worries about taking on or out her alliance members later. But be it a physical game like Survivor or a more social game like Big Brother, my money would be on the Winchesters every time!