Friday, September 24, 2010

Exile on Main Street Recap and Review

Photo: Michael Courtney/The CW ©2010 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Supernatural has never had a bad premiere.

Season 1, the pilot, introduced us magnificently to the brothers (and their chemistry) as well as the premise of the show and the overarching mystery of the season.

All premieres after have followed suit. Season 2's "In My Time of Dying" flows directly from the finale and shocks by the credits. Season 3 is probably the weakest, but maybe I just say that because Isaac's death disturbs me so much. Season 4 brought Dean back from hell, with all attendant angst, and while Season 5's jumpiness at the beginning made it a little difficult to figure out, it threw us headlong into the war.

Bottom line: The Season 6 premiere had a lot to live up to. So let's see how it did...

First we get the new image (I like the blue) "One Year Ago" recap, followed by "Now" over Dean's new life. That stupid alarm that EVERY ALARM CLOCK SOUNDS LIKE goes off, but Dean's already awake. Wow, he looks young for some reason. And despite the coziness of the shot, you can tell by looking at him: Dean's not okay.

In classic Supernatural style, we get awesome music ("Beautiful Loser" by Bob Seger) with clips of Dean in his new life interspersed with comparable scenes from the past. It's fabulously done, amusing and poignant. I love seeing Dean happy, at the same time mourning what he's (and we've) lost.

I found myself thinking "that's Jensen, not Dean." There were subtle but powerful differences—the way he wears his hair, the now-famous tucked-in shirt. He moves easily, smoothly, not the always-alert stalker-Dean charging around, bent under the weight of his life and responsibilities.

Ahhhh, but there's the shotgun under the bed. He's not completely changed.

Despite the weapon, he seems fully immersed in his new life. A new friend ("pest control," he tells him when he asks about his past). A partner—he doesn't hesitate in his affection and cuddling with Lisa. Easiness with Ben, when in season one, he had no answer to Sam's "Name two kids you even know."

It's nice to see his normal reaction to a scream in an abandoned building, though. He doesn't hesitate here, either, and he's packing a gun in his beater construction-guy truck. The abandoned building yields ominous gouges and some blood, but no victim. A pretext call to the police gets him nothing but suspicion from Lisa. Uh, oh, he's lying to her. Not a good omen. Is it bad that I loved how smoothly he covered?

"It's eleven thirty."

"It is? That explains why he was asleep when I called him."

And now we see that his easy, comfortable, normal life has undertones. He checks outside again, makes sure the demon trap under the rug is intact. Now he's clearly uneasy, and we wonder if the routine had all that subtext before the scream, and we just didn't see it from the outside.

The next scene made me feel like I was watching a feature-length thriller. More gouges, in a telephone pole, a billowy sheet (loved that shot!), a shed door. Dean's flinching at the little yappy dog evokes memories of "Yellow Fever." But our moment of amusement is over when he finds sulfur.

Lisa catches him gearing up from the Impala's trunk, under tarp but at the ready. I like that Dean has clearly told Lisa all about himself. She asks if he's hunting something, doesn't question or argue against his desire to send her away and keep on the hunt.

Now, if you read the opening credits (or attended the July Salute to Supernatural in New Jersey), you know what's coming. After a few creepy teasers (flickering light, rolling ball—why is it always a rolling ball?), suddenly we have...

THE YELLOW-EYED DEMON, aka scenery-chewing Fred Lehne!

He tells Dean "you had to know we were coming for you." You know, I thought that, too, at the beginning, that just because the apocalypse was over didn't mean all the evil monsters stopped wanting Dean's head on a plate. But then I remembered the Enochian carvings in his ribs kept him hidden. That's why he's been safe for a year. Isn't it?

Shocking moment number one: As YED chokes Dean into unconsciousness, Sam stabs him with...milk? Yeah! But wait, then Dean gasps awake...and we go to commercial. Was it a dream? But no, when we get back (yay, Harry Potter trailer!), he's waking again, and Sam's still there.

Right off the bat, Sam bothers me. He's cold. Gone is the well of emotion Sammy drew from. He's flip and actually looks a little smug when Dean finally hugs him. He "proves" he's Sam by drinking salted holy water and cutting his arm, but that stuff doesn't work on angels, and Lucifer was an angel. I don't know if this is a hole or something that might come up somewhere along the line.

Now Sam reveals how long he's been out of the cage—almost the entire time—and we see the Real Dean again. "I wanted my brother!" Sam still sounds cold in his logic, and acts almost bored with the tedium of relating his story to Dean. I almost hate him. But on the other side of it, the old Dean would have punched Sam in the face. I wanted him to punch Sam in the face. He doesn't seem to have that bottomless pit of anger he's had since Dad died. Hmmmm.

Worse than if Sam had been hunting alone for a year, however, is the truth—he's been hunting with family. Campbells, who grew up as hunters, but who never knew about Sam and Dean. And here's "shock" number two (again, only if you didn't read the credits and managed to avoid all spoilers). Grandpa!

I wonder if Samuel remembered Dean's trip back in time. I was never clear on if that was real for those in the past, or only for Dean. Samuel sure treats Dean as if they'd met before. He's been returned to life, too, pulled from heaven. Even though he says he wanted to tell Dean everything but deferred to Sam's wishes, he strikes me just as cold as Sam.

So let's get to the monster of the week. It turns out Dean's hallucinations were due to poisoning by djinn, who can pass for human and kill with a touch. They came after Sam, apparently for revenge, so the hunters knew they'd go after Dean next. Realizing he left Lisa and Ben vulnerable, "Take me home!" Dean demands, and who would think that would be one of the strangest things ever said on this show?

The guard they had on Lisa and Ben is dead, and the house is empty, and we finally get a glimpse of the old Sam, torment on his face as he comes in and exchanges a despairing look with Dean.

Lisa and Ben were still at the movies, though, and come home safe. Dean tells them he's taking them to a friend's house. But before Ben goes upstairs, Sam comes in, and Lisa immediately recognizes him and the import of his appearance.

Suddenly we jump to Bobby's. He's sadly not pleased to see Dean. "if you're here, there's something wrong." He lets them in, sends Ben upstairs ("Don't touch the decor. Assume it's all loaded.")...and is totally unsurprised when Sam appears.

Poor Dean. They left him alone to be happy, to have a life and a family and a home, but he's far more alone now. He reveals how hard it was—he was out of his head with grief, drank too much, had nightmares...

Sorry, Bobby, but I'm with Dean. I guess they had good intentions, but I'm sorry, letting him believe Sam was in the cage could never be balanced by what he gained. Not even the love he clearly has from Lisa and Ben.

Dean takes a moment with Lisa, apologizing for bringing this stuff to her, for not knowing it would lead to this. And Lisa becomes my favorite person when she says "when a guy who just saved the world shows up at your door, you kind of expect him to have issues" and when she tells him it was the best year of her life. She turned out to be exactly the kind of woman Dean needed. Maybe when the show is over, he can wind up back with her. :)

Dean returns to the "family." I don't like them. They're patronizing and seem to be plan-less, and excuse me, but Dean's only been out of it for a year. Samuel was out, what, 35 years? More? Dean's far more professional. (And he responds accordingly!) That other cousin looks like Rick Schroeder, BTW.

"Nice house." Something about Grandpa Samuel is bothering me. He's too controlled. The Samuel we met in "In the Beginning" was passionate and protective. We get a flash of the old hunter as he describes the upheaval in the supernatural world, but his "we're blood, join us" speech still rubs me the wrong way.

The djinn are watching, not moving in, so Dean sends the Campbells away in order to be better bait. He and Sam talk a little. Sam doesn't want to talk about being in the cage. But if he was removed almost immediately, how much could he really have endured? Will they ever reveal it? If they follow pattern from past seasons, it'll come out eventually.

Sid and his wife are being killed next door, so Dean takes off, going to try to save them, while Sam yells that they're already dead. Dean gets attacked—the female reveals that the djinn killed was their father. They poison Dean and leave him for dead, joining their brother(?), against whom Sam is faring much better. I guess the differences in their fighting is supposed to illustrate that Sam's been doing it for a year and Dean's lost his edge, but I don't like the redundancy in the attacks on Dean.

Who's hallucinating again. Lisa and Ben in danger, YED after them. Lisa winds up on the ceiling, Ben drinking demon blood, all Dean's nightmares in vivid detail. YED says "This...something else...there's something coming for this one [Ben], and you can't stop it." Oooh, is that just the hallucination, or foreshadowing?

Sam fights like his old self, too, but is losing when Samuel gets the drop on the demon attacking him. But he sends Sam to get Dean, and instead of killing the female djinn, they capture her, hustling her to the van before the boys come back. Great. Secrets. Yeah, I trust dear old Gramps.

So Dean's okay, despite the double poisoning. Samuel and the cousins are gone, Sam's going to meet them, but Dean says no, he's not going. Sam's argument feels disingenuous or something. You know what it is? He has the same tone Meg!Sam had when he was talking to Jo, in "Born Under a Bad Sign." Then he says something that really gets to the heart of how much he's changed. Dean says he's a liability, he did something stupid, but Sam says no, Dean cares, and Sam wouldn't even have thought to try. That it's better with Dean around. But there's still not much emotion behind the admission, which makes me ache.

Dean tries to give Sam the Impala, but he easily declines. Okay, he has a sweet car, too, but it's no Metallicar. When he says, "It was really good to see you again, Dean," it sounds like any person who ran into a friend they hadn't seen in a while. Not a brother who'd given his life to save his only family, and been saved the same way.

Oooh, they got new promo shots! Sam looks hot in leather, with now!Sam hair (instead of season 2 hair). Dean's hot, too. The preview for next week looks awful (in a horrorific way, not a badly done way!). But Sam seems more like the guy we've loved for five years, and it looks like they'll be pulling Dean back to the life slowly. I like that. His year with Lisa and Ben has been significant. His fight to shed his old life was a true battle. It makes sense that he'd want to hold on to it, and it's more natural to ease into the new reality than to just abruptly change everything, as TV writers are wont to do.

So, let's analyze this. Obviously, this is just my take, and your mileage may vary. :)

My husband felt a lot of the episode was slow. I thought those slow parts were unnervingly tense. Production values were high—music and editing and scene and cinematography were excellent, and I think the writing was, too. I have no qualms about overall quality this season.

I LOVED the first third of the show (OH! Including the new title card, shattering glass!), and when I break down the new reality, I'm satisfied. All of what we writers call GMC (goals, motivation, and conflict) are there. It makes sense that Sam would be cold and closed off after his experience. When Dean came out of hell, he still had his brother to protect. Sam did, too, but his choice to protect him was to stay away, which removed Dean's influence on him and vice versa. Instead, he's been with these hunters who were raised to be cold and removed. Unlike the Winchesters, who hunted out of anger and pain and even love, the Campbells hunt out of legacy and expectation.

Dean's choice to stay makes sense, too. His brother isn't who he used to be, and he allowed Dean to be tormented for a year. He's fought for the life he created, and he's not ready to give it up. Besides the fact that he set up Lisa and Ben to be in danger, and can't leave them vulnerable to it.

The only thing that concerns me is the sense through two-thirds of the episode that everything was off. The entire world of Supernatural has changed, and it doesn't fit all that well. Shows that last this long often stagnate as they try to hold on to what made them great. Other shows try to evolve and fail. We can't really tell from one episode, but hopefully, Supernatural's evolution will be the rare success.

So now it's your turn! What did you think?