Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: Supernatural 8.21 "The Great Escapist"

“When you create stories, you become gods of tiny, intricate dimensions unto themselves.” I love this line to pieces and I kind of imagined Ben Edlund laughing maniacally after he wrote it, with lightning flashing across his face, accompanied by the sound of thunder! Then… he’d giggle.

“The Great Escapist” was peppered with that kind of dialogue. Lines that made my ears ring with joy and my heart bleed for the characters I love so much. The dimensions that Edlund creates truly are intricate. Here we have, not simply an experienced writer of the show “Supernatural”, but an experienced writer, an experienced, gifted writer. A writer whose talent for story telling allows an episode like “The Great Escapist” to exist and beyond that, to make sense, be cohesive, emotionally powerful, edifying and profoundly satisfying. We had 3 concurrent stories, all which managed to intersect, informing each other, connecting and ending in a flurry of wings and screeching tyres.

In thinking of this episode, I thought back to the last two seasons and Ben wrote the 3rd last episode both times. “The Man Who Would Be King” and “Reading is Fundamental” were both complex stories whose job seemed to be to get all the season’s ducks in a row for the final two episodes. Actually, throw in “The Devil You Know” from season 5! I can just see the writer’s meeting…”Don’t worry about it, Ben will pull it all together!” I’m being sarcastic of course, but it really looks like that! He’s the guy who can get all the threads, pull them together and weave a doozey of a story out of them.

I’ll freely admit I was a tad thrown by the beginning of “The Great Escapist”. I totally had to check I was watching the right episode! In a matter of seconds, my brain went…what, dream, flashback, wait, hang-on, that’s not Sam and Dean….ohhhhh. Ok, I’m good. It'd been a long assed day… Crowley’s little dog and pony show was pretty ingenious, but crikey is he one hell of a powerful demon. An alternative boat and some kind of portal thing? Demon lackeys that can shapeshift into Sam and Dean? This was all either Ion, or there's more to Crowley that meets the eye. Frankly, the more we see Crowley this season, the more he doesn’t seem like your garden variety crossroads demon made good.

I’m thrilled that Kevin beat him at his own game. If we could tell there was something off with Sam and Dean, Kevin would be able to, beyond the fact that they were a little bit too polite. Kevin’s play to catch them in a devil's trap and then blast Herb Alpert at them was fantastic. Kevin was certainly showing off his advanced placement brainpower. This was by far my favourite appearance by Kevin. He was pretty awesome.

I’m totally baffled by Naomi and to be honest, a little over her. I’m starting to think she’s not got any grand plan, more that she’s middle management who has screwed up and is now in a tight spot trying to sort it out. Sort of like Zachariah in season 5. She can’t control Castiel; the precious angel tablet is out of her reach. She’s getting more panicked and taking more extreme steps. Quite frankly, I’m hoping someone angel-blades her before the season is out. Preferably Cass. I don’t know if I believe anything she told Castiel about his history, she’s a nasty, manipulative cow. Except that he could never be controlled. I totally loved that.

This is why Cass has always struggled to follow the rules and has embraced freewill and humanity, because he’s always been a bit of a rebel. He’s never been like the other angels. We’ve seen him resist and fall and make mistakes over and over, just like a human would. Apparently the CIAngels have be wiping his mind as they do all angels, returning him to his factory settings, but something in Cass keeps returning to who his is and not who they want him to be. He has hope where as the other angels, like Ion, have none. It makes Cass even cooler. I loved that little nugget about him.

I also thought the mind wiping thing was interesting. There’s been a lot of mind wiping going on! Castiel and Kevin have both had their minds wiped and if you think about it, so have Sam and Dean, multiple times. Every time they died and went to Heaven, their memories were erased before they were returned to Earth. Was anything else lost along the way? Is this why Sam is starting to remember things from their childhood that Dean either doesn’t remember or only remembers when prompted? Because Sam is being returned to his factory settings by doing the trials?

When we first discovered the trials, the nature of them, that the reward was closing the gates of Hell, the primary reason the Winchesters were so gung-ho seemed to be revenge. Well Dean saw it as revenge, against all the demon SOBs that have made their lives a cavalcade of nightmares, who murdered their parents and friends, who manipulated Sam’s life and who tortured Dean for 30 years. Sam also saw it as their way out, a step closer to freeing them from “the life”, a step closer to the light at the end of the tunnel. I always thought, you know, when push shoves, if the payoff of closing the gates of Hell doesn’t balance against the cost, they could choose not to do it. I thought maybe Dean might say, “No more, Sam it’s killing you, it’s not worth it, we’re walking away.” Not that we know Sam’s illness would necessarily stop, in fact it probably wouldn’t if this week was anything to go by. But now, now… this feels like the most personal quest the Winchesters have ever undertaken…not because it will lock down Hell for all eternity, but for what it will do for Sam, or rather for how Sam feels about himself, how Sam perceives himself. This quest is desperately important to Sam.

Sam, through no fault of his own, has been marred by evil. The demon blood that runs through his veins has tied him to Azazel and to his destiny as the vessel of Lucifer. He’s felt like a freak his entire life. Even at school. I always thought in the early days he felt like a freak because of his lifestyle as a child of a hunter, because of his knowledge of what’s really out there in the dark, because of his training and skills, because they hopped from town to town, from school to school…but in this episode we find out it is, and always was, much deeper than that. Sam feels he’s not clean and here's the kicker, he always has. He always felt like there was something not quite right about him, that he wasn’t pure. Whether that was just his gut instinct telling him he was different, or whether he got that vibe from John? We don’t know when John cottoned on to Sam’s demon ties. We don’t know whether John treated him differently because of that. I’d always assumed John didn’t want Sam to go to Stanford because, 1. He wanted him with the family and 2. He couldn’t look out for him there. Well yeah, but now I’m thinking the looking out was for a whole different reason. John told Azazel that he’d known for a while that Sam was different. Now I’m wondering what that while was. Now I’m wondering if he wanted to keep such a close eye on Sam because of the demon blood, because he knew that Sam being alone opened him up to a whole different threat. Which of course we found out was the case. Because the demons got into Sam’s life and into his world and moved him like a piece on their chessboard to get him where they wanted him to be. But then, that had been going on his entire school life, before he went to Stanford. Maybe this knowledge, if gained early on, was also why John made such a point of telling Dean to look out for his little brother and was so harsh on him when he made a mistake. I mean, it wasn’t simply babysitting, even the times we’ve seen John tell Dean to look out for Sam, it seem to be beyond impassioned. It was so ingrained into Dean by his father, that he’s been doing it every since and he’s even said, it defines him, it’s who he is.

So, did Sam sense he was different because of what was inside of him, or did he sense he was different because John treated him differently (unintentionally I'm sure), because he knew the truth. Whichever way, Sam has had these feelings of being not clean since he was a child. Breaks my damn heart.

Sam believes the trials are purifying him. Whether this is metaphorically speaking or physically, I guess we’ll find out soon enough. I’m in the physically school of thought for now. I think the coughing up blood is the demon blood. I think he is so sick because his body is rebelling against itself, like antibodies (not literally) are attacking his blood from within and forcing a change. Like, say if you got the wrong blood transfusion, how ill you’d be because the antibodies in your natural blood would start to reject and attack the foreign blood. Actually you’d get a fever first, I looked it up. The question is; would someone who does not have demon blood in them have the same kind of reaction?

I went back to the script for “Trial and Error” to have a look at Kevin’s original words, "Whosoever chooses to undertake these tasks should fear not danger, nor death, nor... A word I think means getting your spine ripped out through your mouth for all eternity.” So, maybe this whole thing is tougher on Sam than it would be on anyone else, because of his blood? Or maybe other people would be cleansed in other ways? If Dean ended up doing the actual trial, how would he have been affected? On the flipside, because of Sam’s blood, should he complete the trials, the reward would be two fold, because the gates would be closed, and Sam would be cleansed of the demon element forever (maybe).

When Sam stood in front of Dean and told him that he remembered his brother telling him stories of Sir Galahad and how he always knew he could never be like that… “Because I'm not clean. I mean, I w— I was just a little kid. You think... maybe I knew? I mean, deep down, that— I had... demon blood in me, and about the evil of it, and that I'm— wasn't pure?” I felt totally devastated. That Sam had been carrying this with him all this time, along with everything else? I think my face was like Dean’s…I mean, what do you say to that? “Sam, it’s not your fault”. How much would it hurt to hear that sadness in your brother’s voice? See that pain on his face and those tears in his eyes and know he’s always felt like that? Jared delivered those lines better than I think he’s delivered any lines ever before. I felt those lines. Felt them. It was such an emotional and physical performance. It’s almost like in that moment Sam was totally redefined for me, or maybe defined. It’s like I got hit over a head with a hammer and there was Sam, telling me who he really is and how he really feels and it was unbelievably powerful and for me at least, felt long overdue.

I want Sam to be cleansed of the blood. For him. No one else is judging him on it, like Dean said, it’s not his fault, but it’s how he perceives himself and that’s worse. He doesn’t see himself as wholly human, even though he is so very human. It’s more than our blood that creates our humanity. But like Pinocchio, he wants to be a ‘real boy’ and this is something that’s haunted him since he was a child and probably the reason he's always craves the safe “normal” life.

When Sam said, “But we're heading somewhere. The end.” I felt like he wasn’t just talking the end of the life that they’ve been forced to live, or that light at the end of the tunnel he’s taking Dean to, or demons roaming the earth, I felt like he was talking about an end to his plight, an end to feeling like he does, an end to feeling like there’s evil living inside him, an end to the feeling of not being clean, however that end presents itself. Damn. Such good stuff.

All this got me thinking about the finale and the title, “Sacrifice”. I’ve been thinking and musing and writing it wherever for a while now, that maybe the sacrifice isn’t a death or isn’t only a death. Maybe it’s that the brothers have to make a choice because the cost of closing the gates is too high, either on a personal or Universal level. Metatron pretty much said they’d have to weigh the prize against the outcome, “Ask yourself: what is it going to take to do this, and what will the world be like after it's done?” I’ve been asking exactly the same thing. Why is the big picture and the possible ramifications not being considered? I think it’s because this quest is so personal to the Winchesters that they’re blinded to everything else and that’s where the sacrifice comes into play. With Sam’s plaintive speech about always feeling like he wasn’t clean or pure, I don’t believe Dean will try to stop his brother no matter what, because it’s obviously so important to Sam, maybe the most important thing he’s ever faced, on a personal level. But if the outcome of closing the gates is something that creates a bigger problem, or hurts innocents, or destroys the Universal balance, will Sam sacrifice his chance at being rid of the demon blood forever, for the greater good? Is that the sacrifice? Because now, that seems pretty huge, way bigger than just giving up the ideal life and the white picket fence.

Then there’s Metatron and how he plays into all this. I liked him. I like that “Supernatural” totally turns angels upside down. From nasty creatures like Uriel, Zach and Naomi, to Gabriel and his love of Casa Erotica and now Metatron who ran for it and holed himself up reading about the world instead of experiencing it. It was a cowardly thing to do, Sam was right. He could see humanity losing its way, but he chose to just sit back and simply read about it. Consequently, he missed the biggest story of all, the one with an Apocalypse, a couple of boys, an old dude in a trucker cap and an angel in a trenchcoat. He had no idea who the Winchesters were. How funny was Sam’s line! “What kind of angel are you? We’re the freakin’ Winchesters!” I laughed out loud!

It was Dean’s angry story of Kevin that made Metatron take stock and save the embattled prophet, just in the nick of time! He did some wicked damage to Crowley too. Pretty powerful for a secretary angel from the typing pool.

I’m most interested to see where we go with Metatron over the next couple of weeks, how his knowledge will play into the endgame of the season, how desperately the sides will try to get their hands on him. Crowley will want him for sure, to read that angel tablet. Naomi will want him for sure, because he would be a prize (and she’s a pill). By the way, do you think that was the real angel tablet Cass had shoved inside himself or do you think it was a stunt tablet?

There was so much to take onboard in “The Great Escapist” I loved every moment Sam and Dean were together. From the MoL and Dean trying to make Sam eat, to all the little nods to the brother’s history, John’s soup, the childhood memories, Dean reading Sam books and holidays neither could remember before Sam got ill. Beautiful stuff that further enriches their story and our understanding of them.

I loved that Sam used something he’d learnt at Stanford. Hey, if Sam had never gone to college, he wouldn’t have known about that symbol, they wouldn’t have tracked that tribe, (don’t say Indian, Dean), they wouldn’t have found Metatron... I love that Sam is now connected to the scribe and is resonating. That was super cool.

I loved that Edlund had Dean kick himself for not bringing Kevin to the bunker. I loved that Edlund had Crowley define the brothers, ”Your slang. Special K, nose to the God-stone, that's the way Dean speaks. Sam is... more basic, more sincere. Remember, I want two distinct, authentic characterisations.” Hilarious! It’s like the man is reading our minds…or our blogs!

I love that Dean is, at every turn popping out an arm or something for Sam, just in case he falls. It’s subtle, but it’s there, just a slight movement towards Sam when he stumbles. I love that he’s showing this support for his brother and that he’s staying so strong. I feel like he’s exuding strength right now, because he needs to appear steadfast for Sam and he needs to have the strength to be able to carry the emotional weight of what is happening. Plus, he also needs to be able to be there with Sam, physically to complete the trials…because as Sam’s passing out proves, he can’t do this with out his brother standing by his side, no matter how much he seems to be able to keep moving forward against the craziest of odds. The trials is and always was a two-man job.

Dean’s doing me in this season. He’s turned in to a remarkably, beautiful man. (Sorry…hey, my name is sweetondean, you gotta expect me to do this now and then I'm kinda in love with the guy!)

Look, I could go on and on and on about this episode because so much happened and so much was set up for the final 2 episodes of the season. The performances, as usual, were all top notch. Jensen and Jared continue to blow me away, week in week out. Mark Sheppard was chewing up the scenery like a, well like a demon! Misha’s Castiel…his face in that BigGerson’s montage, gah. Osric, Curtis…everyone.

I literally have no idea where we’re going, what’s going to happen or how I’m going to handle it! I’m with Dean,“Cure a demon. Okay, ignoring the fact that I have no idea what that actually means…” But I think they may be digging up someone’s head pretty soon! I also think Mr Edlund is a genius, a master at what he does. I have a wee bit of a crush on him…or I want to be him…I can’t decide which.

I’m going to leave you with something I never do, but… here you go.

I was kind of interested in the fact that Sam had a temperature of 107. That’s HIGH! (By the way, you know that meant Dean must have brought his new thermometer away with them!) I remember when I had a temperature of 104 and the doctor was on the verge of sending me to emergency and I was SICK. So I googled 107 to see what the cut off point is (108 = deadski) and well…I found a couple of things. None of us believe that anything in “Supernatural” is done by accident right? The first one is a pearler!

In Psalm 107, there was a line that interested me:

20. He sent his Word and healed them, and delivered them from their pits.

I have no bible knowledge to speak of, but I read this and then read up about how Psalm 107 (very basically) is in thanks of God’s forgiveness, in which he performs miracles and saved those that showed faith.

The Quran teaches that the people who are sent either to hell or to paradise will remain there forever. They will be there for eternity and never again leave these places.

In the Quran 11-107 discusses the nature of Hell.

They will dwell therein so long as the heavens and the earth endure, except as thy Lord willeth: for thy Lord is the (sure) accomplisher of what He planneth.

I kind of liked the bit about the heavens enduring…

The number 7 in numerology and numbers relating to 7 – as in 107 – represent God in the material world, the spiritual in the physical world. It is considered a holy number.

In the Urban Dictionary – 107 denotes a miracle

(one-oh-seven) Used to describe a miracle (from just unbelievable stuff to real miracles). It comes from the divine number 7. The one-oh in front of it is just used to make it easier to pronounce (unlike seven-seven-seven).

107 is also the atomic number of the radioactive element bohrium and is the atomic mass of silver! I was googling subatomic!

I also found an article about subatomic stuff in the Universe. The scientist measured the distance of the earth to the sun in orange diameters – imagining the sun is an orange and calculating the average diameter of a Valencia orange – the earth is approximately 107 orange diameters from the sun! This article was subtitled…wait for it… Abandon All Hope!

Is Edlund screwing with us?

But then again…Sam probably just had a really high temperature…

How did you like the episode? Let me know your thoughts. Mine of course, are just mine and I know I went out on a few wild tangents that may be complete rubbish, but this one got my brain working so I thought I'd throw it all out there…and if you got to the end of this review…thanks for sticking with it, I know it was a long one!


sweetondean is Chief Editor and a writer for The Winchester Family Business
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