Here it is ladies and gentlemen: quite possibly the great episode of Supernatural I’ve ever seen.
You can say I’m being a prisoner of the moment, that there have been episodes of Supernatural far superior to this one and I wouldn’t argue with you. After nine seasons it’s easy to forget the glory days. All I know is that I haven’t felt stakes like that in an episode in a long time (if ever). This was old-school Supernatural in the best way. It was Dean working with allies both friendly and not-so-friendly to help save his brother. The writing crackled with energy, humor, and self-referential perfection. Both Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki had to put on an acting clinic in “Road Trip” to sell the devastating fallout of Kevin’s death and the angel possession storyline coming to a head. Jensen delivered in spectacular fashion, which is no surprise given how well he knows his character.
I don’t know that Jensen has ever been better than he was tonight as he conveyed Dean’s wide range of emotions. Jared was equally impressive as he was tasked with playing three characters: Gadreel, healthy Sam, and weak/recovering Sam. Seeing Gadreel return to his original vessel (the wonderful Tahmoh Penikett) reinforced that Jared nailed the mannerisms Tahmoh used to portray Gadreel. The slow, methodical manner of speaking, the inner turmoil, the wounded pride – Jared and Tahmoh have crafted a complex character that is shaping up to be one of the show’s best antagonists. Mark Sheppard and Misha Collins were amazing as usual, and it was so refreshing to see their dynamic play out again. It’s been too long!
This episode had two separate storylines that dovetailed beautifully at the end. While Gadreel worked to win Metatron’s favor by eliminating certain targets – including a Justin Bieber clone and a family man with an adorable daughter – Dean worked with Castiel and Crowley to track down Gadreel and convince Sam to expel his angelic parasite. What you saw in “Road Trip” was burning resolve from Sam and Dean to accomplish the same basic goal of setting things right. Sam (Gadreel) was so desperate to atone for his failures that he let Metatron play him like a fiddle.
Heaven’s slimy new ruler is shaping up to be quite a worthy adversary for the Winchesters and their allies. Dean, meanwhile, just wanted to do something right in the wake of Kevin’s death. Confronted with his greatest failure, Dean was so determined to kill Gadreel and save his brother that he jumped from one reckless plan to the other with almost no regard for Sam’s wellbeing. If it had a chance of success, Dean was game. He needed a victory no matter the cost. Saving Sam has become like a drug to Dean. So instead of turning to alcohol or women to soothe his ravaged soul, the eldest Winchester turned to his drug of choice. Only this time, it really cost him.
We’ve seen Sam and Dean split up before. Hell, at this point it seems like a yearly ritual. It stuck for a while in Seasons 4 and 6 but we always knew the brothers would end up back together. They were stronger together. They needed each other to survive and to live, of which there is a big difference. This time feels different. Dean has never screwed up this bad before and he knows that. His exile this time is self-imposed and it feels like there’s a chance things will never be the same. I’ve postulated in this space before that I think Supernatural will run for 10 seasons. If I’m right and we have a season and a half to go, this episode could very well mark a turning point for the series. In Eric Kripke’s original ending, Sam and Dean were separated by a gulf that Dean chose not to cross. He crafted an unhappy ending for the Winchesters. They were thrown back together out of necessity but perhaps that was just to keep the show chugging along for five more seasons. The writers could be circling back around to Kripke’s original ending, and if they are, “Road Trip” might be the beginning of their endgame.
Gadreel’s time with Abner raised some interesting questions that I hope the writers will take time to explore given that this season is focused on angels. Abner, a self-proclaimed lousy angel, was truly content living a human existence. He had a wife and a daughter that he adored. By possessing his vessel he made the world a better place for that wife and daughter. It would be difficult to argue that his intrusion into their world was a bad thing. But it does beg the question: Can angels start over? If they can – and Abner believed they could – what does their version of happiness look like on Earth?
Demons fell from grace because they wouldn’t bow to humans. Some of the fallen angels are content to live incognito lives as humans. This human-angel dynamic is larger and more complicated than we were made to believe when the show first introduced angels back in Season 4. With Heaven as their original home, what appeals to angels about living mundane human lives? Perhaps the option only appeals to damaged souls like Abner, who spent time in Heaven’s dungeons with Gadreel. Maybe human life is preferable because it’s simpler. Maybe the angels like the stability. I don’t know but I want to find out.
Along with getting Penikett back on the show, I was also thrilled to see Crowley’s shackles removed tonight. The best demon in the show’s history was wasted for the first half of this season. Sheppard made the most of his extended screen time tonight by stealing every scene he was in and delivering his razor sharp humor in that deliciously sardonic tone. He was as slippery as ever in his dealings with Abaddon, who’s content to slice and dice her way to the throne. Crowley, on the other hand, plays it cool by turning a fight into a campaign. He appeals to his constituents by telling them they’ll have a vote in his regime. Under Abaddon’s rule, he argues, it will be her way or the highway to Hell (sorry, had to). While I’m still disappointed that the gates of Hell storyline fizzled out last season, I’m intrigued by the looming showdown between the candidates for Hell’s top job. That intrigue will turn to downright giddiness if the writers continue to develop Abaddon’s character to the point where she isn’t a fraction of the character her opponent has become. On a show full of sinister villains, Crowley stands above them all. This recap has been full of hyperbole but you can take that sentiment to the bank.
One small note before we sign off and start the countdown until next week’s episode: I’m glad Kevin’s funeral was short and sweet. Bobby’s death was dragged out and that deflated the impact of his final goodbye. Kevin was an ant stomped beneath the boot of a “psycho angel.” He was there one second and gone the next. No coming back. Dean has learned his lesson when it comes to bringing people back from the dead. Thanks for all the memories Kevin. Tell your tiger mommy that she is missed, like all good female characters on this show.
Lines of the week
“The poor giant baby’s in trouble again, isn’t he?” – Crowley
“Customer support. Computers mostly. It’s like answering prayers but they pay you for it.” – Abner
“I prefer the word trusting. Less dumb. Less ass.” – Castiel
Next week on Supernatural
Dean and Crowley, together at last.