The CW's Supernatural had a lot of ground to cover in its penultimate episode of season eight, "Clip Show." Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki) were busy digging through the Men of Letters bunker to find a secret dungeon they somehow missed in their earlier search of their new digs, as well as boxes of research (Dean went on about how much he found, but really he only explained files B-C so that doesn't really scream "tons" to me) and even some old home movies of what went on in the walls years before them. It was nothing kinky like Dean would watch on Sam's laptop, but it was provocative nonetheless as an unorthodox priest conducted his own tests and trials of sorts on chained-up demons. Not only did the boys get a potential recipe for how to go about their own third trial, but they also found the perfect location to carry it out, presuming they could lure a demon to them, of course. And they got a glimpse at Abaddon (Alaina Huffman) before she was all "demon-y" and "kill-y" but simply a young woman interested enough in the occult to take part in one of the priest's experiments.
Go ahead and call me a skeptic, but nothing about that old-timey priest's attempt to "cure" a demon seemed like he succeeded; instead it seemed like he merely subdued the rather primitive demon within the man so he could exorcise it. Using vials of his own "purified" blood, injected directly into the possessed man, a healthy dousing of holy water, and then one final spurt of his blood to be ingested through the mouth provided a white light spewing from the vessel not unlike what happens when angels get killed. But the thing is, to believe that the demons were "cured" and not vanquished is to accept that the demon and the vessel fused somewhat-- at least enough for the demon to stick around in that person, presumably forever, but now with humanity restored and feelings again. I don't buy that. Maybe because I don't want to buy that. What happens to the person within? The person who already had humanity and feelings, not to mention a very real life and soul. Why wouldn't the priest worry about the demon inhabiting someone else's vessel permanently? Why would he consider that a success? Maybe the man who asked him "Why did I laugh?" wasn't actually a demon with restored humanity, but merely the man whose vessel the demon had been inhabiting when he devoured his children, damaged by the experience.
But the show doesn't want you to think that way. It wants you to take what you saw at face value because that was it's way of explaining to the Winchesters, and the audience by extension, how the third trial needs to be completed. Too many pesky logic questions shouldn't be asked; you want them to succeed and close the gates of Hell, don't you!? But Sam asks those kinds of questions, and after everything that went down with him tonight, I can only hope he doesn't second-guess but still finds a way to be the scholar that he is and take the best informed approach. Sometimes if things seem too easy, it's because they're sloppy, but sometimes it's because they're traps.
The episode started with a callback to a much, much earlier case for the Winchesters, as a former Wendigo victim who miraculously lived to tell about his escapades ended up back in the woods again-- this time in a cabin and with his current girlfriend-- only to be convinced he heard a Wendigo stalking him again. I can't tell you how happy I was that we got to revisit him, and other, upcoming characters in new scenes and present day, rather than some contrived, 1990s style clip show, by the way! And though he knew how to take it down, he never got the chance because he began to be eaten alive from the inside-- to the point where he exploded in front of his girlfriend. That was not kinky either; he literally exploded.
The episode dropped that portion of the story for awhile, to instead join the boys miles away in their bunker, and you had to draw your own conclusions on how the elements were connected. When listening to a priest speak of the experiments as often not ending well, with the subjects being ripped apart from the insides, I thought I saw the connection. It wasn't until the boys had Abaddon in the hot seat that Crowley (Mark Sheppard) called and prompted them to Google the recent "weird" woods death, though, screwing with momentum and changing their plans.
I have to point out that there is no way Dean and Sam should have remembered this "Tommy Collins" or the Wendigo case they were on over a decade ago (remember, this is season eight for us, but there have been years passed between seasons). But it was the end of the episode, and things needed to be sped up, and of course, there's no fun in watching two guys sit around and try to remember things. And despite relying on their Dad's journal, they never seem to write down case notes of their own to refer to later.
Left to her own devices, Abaddon was able to "connect" with her sliced off hand-- enough that she could control it to crawl out of a box for safekeeping and across the table to her (a pretty cool, Addams Family-style effect) to pluck the bullet with the devil's trap carved in it out from where it was lodged in her. So when the boys decided Crowley's tip was "whatever," they couldn't just continue with their interrogation as planned because Abaddon was gone.
And Crowley sent them another message, this time an address in Prosperity, Indiana, where the boys had much more recently been on a case of witchcraft. Convinced he was going after someone as a trap for them, they still needed a demon to complete the third trial, so they followed the trail of digital breadcrumbs, only to find they were too late, and another previous victim they had saved bit it before they got there. Crowley decided to kill everyone they ever saved, using the Carver Edlund books as research, of course, as punishment for taking his demon tablet away from him.
Crowley gave Sam and Dean just under an hour to get to the third would-be victim, and from the episode summary and guest star list, we knew this was the big one-- and the last one-- and we only hoped that since she wasn't so much a victim during her first go-around as someone who helped the boys on their case, her knowledge in the area of the supernatural would tip the scales in her favor so she'd still make it out of his clutches alive.
Luckily, Sam just happened to get to her first, before Dean, to knock on the door and see his former love Sarah Blake (Taylor Cole), who knew immediately from his presence that something was wrong.
It was years later, but Sarah looked pretty much the same, except thankfully the childish braid was gone. She was still working for her dad, in town to scout, and now she was married and had a young daughter. She knew the drill and didn't ask questions when Sam explained what they were doing. Somehow she managed to stay untouched by demons all these years (that first case was a spirit in a painting), but Crowley used her mutual attraction with Sam as part of her manner of death; he created a spell that would leave her gasping for air.
Sam and Dean tore apart the hotel room, looking for the hex bag, as Crowley continued to talk on the "666" line on the phone. His speech was poignant, but it was obviously put in through ADR, something that the guys were not asked to react to in the scene, instead focusing on their desperation at time running out for their old, innocent friend. There were a couple of times what Crowley said should have earned a "Son of a bitch!" aside from Dean, distracted momentarily from the task at hand, or at least a sneer. But we didn't get any of that. Crowley sounded like a radio personality, talking at the air.
Sadly, Sarah didn't make it, and Crowley promised to keep doing this "dance" until he had what he wanted. This episode brought up a great color for the boys, though, because they always talk about how they lost everyone close to them already, but Crowley going after even the acquaintances in their lives hurt them so deeply it proves they do still have strong connections out there. They don't see them after they save them; they probably never think about them; but they have a sense of comfort just knowing they're out there. And that makes them more vulnerable than they ever could have imagined.
Crowley started small with the people he went after, but by playing the Sarah card, he struck a nerve with Sam. It wasn't just that Sam had cared about her once, but seeing how well she was doing meant something to him greater than any puppy love feelings his younger self indulged. When he couldn't save her, he was ready to throw in the towel, quit on the trials, and give Crowley the tablet. He didn't want any more people to suffer. But Dean was more fired up than ever to complete the trials and send Crowley straight back to Hell once and (hopefully) for all. His "kick it in the ass" mention was all he needed to sat as a hype speech for this audience, yet Sam still had his doubts. What that means for his strength should they actually go into the third trial in the season finale, well, it can't be good.
Meanwhile, Castiel (Misha Collins) and Metatron (Curtis Armstrong) bonded a bit over lunch and discussion of the war upstairs that will all too-soon spill down below. Through their expository dialogue, it was gleaned that Naomi (Amanda Tapping) isn't actually in charge at all up there, and her actions need to be stopped just as much as Crowley's do. Hence why "God" built the fail safe in the tablets: when the kids get unruly, you lock them in their rooms.
Castiel being the one who has to complete the angel trials is a fascinating task for a character that has screwed up so royally in the past, but I just know this episode cued all of the anger that Dean won't get to complete any trials. Yet. There's really no reason to believe there are only two tablets out there, so I'm inclined to believe he'll have to be the one to tackle a "surprise" set of trials next season. I've hypothesized before that there has to be a human tablet out there, though somehow I feel like asking Dean to complete those trials-- regardless of where the humans end up after doing so-- would trigger the "free will" stance he had all throughout season four and therefore would cause a repeat of of commentary around actions he supposedly has to take. But something. I can't believe he'd just be asked to sit idly by when the only two people he has left loses themselves in something so serious.
Castiel's first trial was to kill the "abomination" that is the child of an angel and a human (who knew that was even possible-- and since it is, why doesn't Sam have to kill the child of a demon and a human, which also should be possible!?), but she, who came in the form of a waitress who flirted with Castiel even though she could see his true self, didn't go down without a fight. Proving he really is a pencil-pusher at his core, Metatron wasted no time getting shoved up against a wall and strangled by this woman, who Castiel was able to swiftly sneak up behind and stab. For all his initial concern about not wanting to kill her because it wasn't her fault what she was, her turning out to have some angry angel in her proved to be all he needed to turn on a dime. It felt a little rushed, and it would have made for a much more interesting character arc if she was just trying to live a normal life, and he had to resign himself to kill her anyway for the greater good. Instead, the scene was emotionless and over immediately, without any resonating after effects. We didn't even see Castiel struggle with the physical issues with which Sam has been grappling. Do the trials not affect angels? Shouldn't his vessel at least be susceptible?
I feel like bringing up the idea of an offspring of an angel and a human at this point might be setting up the probability that someone else from the Winchesters' past has a secret. Metatron thought there was only one on Earth, but he can be mistaken, can't he? He's been out of the game for so long, he didn't even know the apocalypse had happened, so surely he could have missed other things along the way. What if Anna (Julie McNiven) and Dean procreated that night they steamed up the Impala windows? It's apropos of nothing immediately, but chew on how that could affect the story down the line, won't you?