I'm going to admit I don't read many others' coverage or reviews of The CW's Supernatural so please forgive me if I'm about to say something you all have already heard, or rather, read. After watching Sam (Jared Padalecki) get progressively worse, to the point where he had the sallow complexion, blurred vision, and general shakiness of an addict in withdrawal, I began to wonder if that's exactly what was going on here*. He certainly looked enough like an addict that the Native American gentleman should have been afraid to rent him a room. Not the full on repetitive of his addiction to demon's blood, but a linking of himself with the hell's gates nonetheless. What if they are able to close because they are sucking the strength out of him? And that in order to open them again, all the demons or monsters or horrible humans who have sold their souls will have to do (in a season or two) is kill him and break the link? Not only would his change affect his ability to do the job with Dean (Jensen Ackles), but it would also certainly make him more of a target for the things they hunt more than he ever has been in the past. Equally, this would amp up Dean's need to protect his baby brother at all costs.
* Yes, I know Sam believes the trials are "purifying" him, and while my initial, exact reaction to that line of dialogue was that he "sounds like a right wing, religious nut," let's play devil's advocate and say his brain isn't foggy but instead he's seeing things clearly and that line was actual a line of exposition to explain what actually is going on. Purifying is cleansing, and in a way, stripping a person down to their most basic. Maybe stripping a hunter of the strength needed to take on these things is a way to purge the violence from their system so that when these things are no longer walking amongst him, in need of hunting, he won't hunt something else. Maybe it just means putting him on a different path. But it's not mutually exclusive with what I just pondered.
Clearly Dean and Sam were going on their weekly hunt in "The Great Escapist"-- this time to find Metatron (guest star Curtis Armstrong) in order to make sense of the translations Kevin (guest star Osric Chau) left behind-- without all of their faculties. But honestly, it was on both of them; Dean was so distracted by the problems with his brother, he didn't stop to think of the obvious: that Crowley (guest star Mark Sheppard) has more use for Kevin alive, and that he was probably keeping him and torturing him somewhere, rather than outright killed him. Once again, the brotherly bond and the overarching theme of saving the world proved more important than those who lent help along the way. Dean and Sam didn't even bother to look for Kevin to confirm he was dead; they forged ahead on their mission for Metatron instead, leaving Kevin in Crowley's clutches to be mind-manipulated.
I have to admit, I was fascinated to see the modern approach Crowley was taken with Kevin. Maybe he thought a Prophet was worthy of something more than just his usual savagery, or maybe he was bored with his own barbaric techniques after relying on them for so long. But just as Dean and Sam now call a bunker home, Crowley created one, as well, complete with high-tech monitors to watch Kevin and a complex puzzle that included a fake Sam and Dean to trick Kevin into thinking things were normal, and he was hard at work helping to save the world.
But Kevin couldn't be tricked. He saw the little behavior modifiers in fake Sam and Dean and rather than freak out and expose himself, he played it cool and played along; he tricked those demon minions so they ended up in a devil's trap; and he smirked at Crowley, knowing what we, too, knew but which Sam and Dean didn't stop to consider at the beginning of this episode: he needed him. But more importantly, Crowley was also beginning to respect Kevin. Maybe that's why he didn't go for torture or sleep/food deprivation in order to get the answers about the tablets. This kid really has come a long way in this line of work.
Of course, respect or not, no one can backtalk the King of Hell, so Crowley did try to kill him anyway-- only to get burned as Metatron (guest star Curtis Armstrong), and we'll get to him in a minute, yanked him out of Crowley's literal clutches.
I'm not going to lie, watching Dean go to the Native American museum brought back flashes of that Saved by the Bell episode in which Zack learns he has some Native American ancestry in his blood, sets out to do research for a school project by interviewing an older tribe member, and then the guy dies, so Zack pays tribute to him by dressing in traditional garb to school. So long story short, I was both a bit more amused at his reactions to the boring history lessons Sam would have loved and constantly fearful that this guy would get killed, as collateral damage in the ongoing war between Dean and the things he hunts.
It was Castiel's (Misha Collins) portion of this story that so fascinated me. And not just because the angel minion sent to retrieve him was a cross between Jake Gyllenhaal and Rodrigo Santoro. The idea that he could stay one step ahead of the angels hunting him by transporting himself to a place so common it was nearly impossible to ensure they would match the exact location was not foolproof so it obviously had to be short-lived. But still, it was a nifty new trick he probably always knew how to do but never had any reason to show off. Until now. And it provided for fascinating visuals as he flipped between Biggersons' in various cities. And of course the fact that it utilized Biggerson's at all, a now recurring character on the show, was one of the better callbacks they've done.
Also, I just really want to learn Naomi's (Amanda Tapping) chair beckoning trick.
But Castiel's plight allowed for a confrontation between him and Crowley, something I have missed since they stopped working together. There's just something so special about simple scenes between two strong characters, sharing a dialogue, cutting back and forth to highlight the nuances of performance. It's a luxury not often taken on network television these days as everyone's afraid of "losing" their audience. And in this particular case, Crowley so clearly had the upper hand, it was a psychologically complex and interesting thing to watch unfold as he relished in the fact that he had the upper hand, swished it around as if it was a glass of alcohol, took his time toying with Castiel and the uneven power dynamic.
It was an unbalanced, unfair fight-- even if the only fighting to be done was with words-- because the angels attacked him first, reminding him who's in charge these days. Oh how the mighty have fallen; Castiel may have been humbled in Purgatory, but he has yet to return to full, fighting stance. Anything done to his vessel was still nothing compared to what Naomi was doing to his mind. It turned out she wasn't just scrubbing his brain of bad memories from recent days but from thousands of years past, too. It was a nice and easy trick to allow the audience to still have sympathy and likability for this particular angel, even after hearing all of the terrible things his kind also did. But he really isn't absolved of guilt simply because he doesn't remember, and we saw the realization already start to take a toll on him emotionally. I feel like that's why Crowley was able to read him so well, to figure out that he was guarding the tablet so closely, it was literally a part of him. Castiel was defeated once again, and it allowed Crowley to get the upper hand. This seesaw they're sitting on may be much more predictable than a roller coaster, but with these two such calculating, dynamic personalities, scenes between them prove to be just as thrilling. Still, this, too, had to be short-lived, the culmination actually something equally brilliant but quite graphic to snap the audience's attention back.
But Castiel held something back from Crowley, a little piece in a puzzle in which every piece is crucial. Admittedly, I thought the piece was literally a piece of the tablet, but then he shoved it into Naomi's minion's eye, so... I guess it wasn't as important for the bigger picture as he made it seem?
Now, the introduction of Metatron came much later in the episode than I initially expected, but it was just as bad-ass as I had hoped, despite having the moment completely spoiled by the episodic promotional photos the network released. He practically lived in a book fort (heaven!), and he didn't trust anyone, aiming a shotgun at the infamous Winchesters who he never heard of because he was carefully off the grid. In fact, he was so far off the grid or "head in the sand," as Dean said, he didn't know Michael and Lucifer fell in the pit or that Gabriel and Raphael (shout outs to old faves!) were dead. He had no idea what was going on because he was just a regular ole angel who ran and hid when things got rough before things got really rough. Supernatural has folded political commentary into the show before, but Metatron may just be the best stand-in for an uninformed American that I've ever seen; he was downright proud of his selfishness and ignorance.
Metatron spent countless years just reading-- that Native American motel manager dropping books at his door. Basically, he buried himself in fantasy worlds to escape what he didn't like about his own real world. It should sound familiar. So should the response from the Winchesters, who were disgusted enough with him to want him to "pull the friggin trigger." But that's a little harsh, guys. Not everyone has the disposition to run around saving the world and not everyone should try; some would just end up making things worse for those of you who can get the job done. Metatron wasn't really hurting anyone but himself by taking him off the battlefield and locking himself away. In fact, I'd argue that he's like anyone who hears a storm is coming and takes to an underground shelter or panic room. It's self-preservation. Running into the eye of the storm, or at an intruder, or towards the apocalypse is reckless.
I watch this show every week-- I have for years. I'm used to the darkness-- of events and of people. It's skewed my perception. The Winchesters were the ones who literally ran to stop the apocalypse and because they are the protagonists, we identify with them. But they are not the norm. It's only when I come across someone who isn't that I realize there's another way of looking at the world. It used to happen on Sam and Dean's early case of the weeks when they encountered innocent people that thought the supernatural elements were only subjects of stories, but pretty quickly, because the show was told from their POV, my mindset adjusted to theirs, and I was suspicious of everything and everyone, and I was always looking for the clues as to what the things they were hunting were. Somehow, Metatron managed to sneak up and take me by surprise, and his way of life, while certainly not ideal, was a presented option I actually stopped to consider. To the Winchesters, though, that mentality was dangerous because if one had it, so could thousands, and then we'd have armies of hiders instead of fighters.
But Metatron was an angel, and from everything we're seeing from the angels these days, I'm personally glad he didn't get corrupted or brainwashed or abused so that he'd turn into what Naomi and her crew have become. One person cannot save the world. Even with the Winchesters' experiences (they've always needed at least two!). Better one kind of useless but still "pure" guy than a lean, mean killer who will end up adding to humanity's suffering. And maybe that's something to consider on a larger scale, too. Sam, understandably, saw the comparisons and lashed out against them in a way I would have expected from Dean. Raw from Kevin's assumed death, they screamed at Metatron about how by staying out of things, he was still responsible for how bad they got-- simply because he had the power to do something and didn't. It's all about choices. And in that moment, he was able to reveal to them that Kevin wasn't actually dead at all and save their friend.
Metatron made the choice to finally come back into the real world, to get educated (in the blink of an eye) and choose a side by choosing to help the Winchesters and Kevin. But still, everything he saw years ago and everything he now knew to be true beyond made him caution the boys about the choices they were still to make. Everything had been the result of choices of human kind before, and look where that got them. The Winchesters had come too far to turn back now, especially because Kevin smuggled the other half of the tablet out without telling Crowley, and they now knew what Sam had to do to complete the third trial: cure a demon.
I know the question of how the hell is that even possible will be sitting with me for a long, long while. I wish that had been the closing moment of the episode to allow it to linger properly. Instead, though, the boys drove off, acknowledging that they were (hopefully) heading to the end-- which we know isn't really true because the end of this season isn't the end of the series so more turmoil will be imminent-- only to have to screech to a stop because Castiel was lying bloody in the middle of the road.
I just wanted to ask him how the hell you can cure a demon, but realistically, he probably shouldn't know. Metatron should be the one with those answers, since Metatron knew what the trial was before Kevin revealed it. Metatron may literally be the only pure one left, but that's not going to last long. My guess is that he's already tarnished simply by knowing what has gone on lately. And that makes me sadder than I ever expected.