3.01 The Magnificent Seven: The Family That Slays Together
Seven Deadly Sins:
Hunters become the hunted,
Facing hell’s freed horde.
A week after all hell broke loose in the season two finale and demonic storm clouds appeared in the night skies over Chicago and sixteen other unnamed cities, no other signs or omens registered on hunter radar until Bobby noticed a crop failure and plague of cicadas outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. Investigating together, Bobby and the brothers discovered a family dead of starvation and dehydration on the sofa in front of the blaring television set in their living room. They weren’t the only hunters on the scene, either; married hunters Isaac and Tamara were also on the case, and while they knew and liked Bobby, they declined to team with the Winchesters, blaming the boys for having let the devil’s gate open and unleashing demon war on the world.
The next clue was the bizarre death in Lincoln of a woman killed by another shopper for a pair of shoes. Store security video showed a man talking to the killer moments before the event, and while Dean used his picture to try to find him, Sam tracked back to learn who he was, and found out that he had disappeared from a Chicago suburb one week before, on the night of the hell’s gate opening. It seemed clear that the man was possessed by one of the escaped demons, and when he showed up at the bar he was reputed to frequent, Bobby cautioned against approaching him until they could observe and understand his abilities first. The appearance of Isaac and Tamara at the bar made that impossible, however, for inside, the married hunters discovered that everyone in the bar was possessed, and eager to see hunters die. Touched with an irresistible craving, Isaac drank corrosive drain cleaner and died while Tamara was forced to watch, but before the demons could move on to her, Bobby crashed his car backwards through the bar’s wall. Sam rescued Tamara while Dean wrestled the demon they’d been tracking into Bobby’s devil’s trap-equipped trunk, and the hunters escaped.
Bobby put the clues together to realize that the demons in the bar were the personification of the seven deadly sins: Sloth (whose touch killed the family), Envy (the shopper), Gluttony (Isaac), Pride, Lust, Greed, and Wrath. Envy, confined under a protective circle inscribed on the ceiling, taunted the hunters that the demons were not “sins” at all, but something normal to humans, that none of the hunters themselves were without, and that humans were no better than the demons they hunted. Tamara exorcised Envy and his human host died. Knowing the others were coming and that they themselves were outnumbered and outgunned, Bobby, Dean, Sam, and Tamara prepared as best they could, laying traps throughout the house. One demon had swapped hosts to animate Isaac’s corpse, and Tamara staked him with holy wood. Bobby trapped another under a protective circle and exorcised the demon. Dean found himself in the grip of lovely Lust, but managed to both use and conquer his response in order to dunk her into a bathtub filled with holy water. The last three, led by Pride, went after Sam and would have killed him but for the arrival of a young woman armed with a knife that, like bullets fired from the Colt, destroyed demons whose hosts were fatally struck with the blade. The young woman vanished as mysteriously as she had appeared, and the hunters were left to exorcise the captured demons, free the two traumatized hosts who survived, salt and burn the night’s casualties, and contemplate the impossibility of winning so lopsided a war.
Pardon me for a moment as I simply revel in having the Winchesters back. The Magnificent Seven was magnificent, a great return for Supernatural. Bravo to Eric Kripke for the script, Kim Manners for the direction (I particularly loved the shot from Dean’s perspective, lying flat on his back on the porch, as Bobby walked up to save his ass!), Christopher Lennertz for the underscore, and Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Jim Beaver for a wonderful set of performances.
The best part of the episode, as usual, was the interaction between the brothers. With only a week having passed since the devil’s gate opened, since Sam died and Dean sold his soul to get his brother back, we find the brothers still adjusting to their radically changed world. Feeling guilty and sad, Sam is hitting the books looking for a way to save his brother, and is making a very deliberate, conscious effort to cut Dean some slack, repressing his usually blatant disapproval of Dean indulging his libido and borderline gluttony. Dean, however surprised to be spared the usual eye-rolling and caustic comments, is taking full advantage of the situation and playing the “dying” card for every possible ounce of sympathy and indulgence he can glean. That played for some marvelous laughs in the opening of the episode, with Sam first granting Dean his “quality time with the Doublemint twins” and then being appalled at walking in on Dean in the midst of sex (and that priceless reaction by Sam should put paid to any intimations of Wincest!), but it turned steadily darker as it became clear that Dean truly considers himself a walking dead man. Dean’s disregard of concern about cholesterol while eating a bacon cheeseburger for breakfast was a light grey shade of black humor, but there was no laughter at all in his offer to play rearguard in the hope of letting the others escape seemingly certain death, or in his automatic moves in each confrontation to place himself in the role of greatest peril, as he did investigating the sounds on the porch that turned out to be Isaac and Tamara and in capturing Envy in the bar.
My favorite scene, bar none, was the final confrontation between the brothers when Sam decided to stop pandering to Dean and instead challenged him with not caring about his life and even having a death wish. With only a moment’s consideration, Dean dropped the walls, met Sam’s eyes steadily, and told the bald truth: that the “no escape” clause in his contract meant that Sam would die if they tried to weasel Dean out, and that because of that, if Sam tried to find him a way out, Dean would stop him. Dean flat out admitted that he couldn’t live with Sam dead, and while he never outright said the reverse corollary – that he believed Sam could and would be able to live without him – the implication was openly there. He didn’t deny having been broken and twisted by realizing that his Dad had sold his soul for him, and he agreed and accepted that he had been selfish in choosing to put that same burden on Sam in order to have his brother back. This was more honesty and openness than we’ve ever seen from Dean without also seeing him broken to the point of tears at the same time. The one and only thing that Dean can’t accept is living while Sam dies. Knowing that he himself will die and go to hell at the end of a year is acceptable, as long as Sam survives. In a perverse way, it’s even a relief; Dean knows there will be an end to worry and speculation, to the fear of failing his brother, to the interminable round of fighting a war where he always faces the chance of losing Sam. The light at the end of the tunnel may be hellfire, but to Dean, all that matters is that the tunnel ends in light, not in the darkness of Sam’s loss.
Of course, Dean still doesn’t know the secrets that Sam is keeping from him. And not just the ones from last season, about having been fed demon blood as a baby and having seen Mary recognize the Yellow-Eyed Demon the night of her death; he hasn’t shared the new ones imparted by Pride, either. Sam’s confrontation with Pride was immensely disturbing not just because of what was said – that the demons all know Sam and the role he was supposed to play, and that with the YED dead, Sam is fair game – but also because of what he implied. The major implication was that demons who would have been under his command and, like Pride, would have resented it may be actively hunting him. Knowing that Sam is a specially marked target would likely change Dean’s perception of the overall war equation. But the ancillary implications are equally disturbing. What Pride said suggested that there are factions in the legions of hell, that there are other powers involved who had goals and aims different from the YED, and that his death has opened the way for them to seize the things they want. Some of that may include taking out the human who had been his “favorite,” meaning that even more demons may have Sam Winchester’s name inscribed on their dance cards.
But it also suggests a hope that the war may not be as overwhelming and un-winnable as it seems. Pride and Envy both implied that when the YED was in command, there was an organized structure and purpose to the demon army released from hell. With the YED dead, that command structure apparently disintegrated, which means that each of the demons may be out for its own goals. Envy said that the Sins had exactly what they wanted – they were out of hell and having fun. What made the Sins dangerous was that they were together, and together they outnumbered the hunters, who lacked weapons that would have let them handle numbers. Holy water and exorcism are all very well, but holy water doesn’t destroy (unless, perhaps, the demon was totally immersed?) and exorcisms take time and a stationary target. But what defeated the Sins was that, although they were gathered together, they didn’t fight together. They didn’t fight as a team, as an organized unit of an army, with coordination of effort and unity of purpose. And if the other demons released from hell are similarly not united, they become easier to take on and defeat individually, where they would have been unstoppable as an army under the YED’s unified command.
My guess, and it’s just a guess, is that while Dean and Sam will face many individual demons this season, they may also find bands like the Sins but more dangerous, because they have a leader and a goal beyond simply having a good time. Demons acting as a unit and equipped with the array of telekinetic and other demonic powers we’ve seen in the past would be very, very hard to defeat, especially if they have pretensions to the command that the YED exercised. Before human hunters could face a demon squad, they need better weapons.
And that brings me to the introduction of Ruby. We know her name even though the boys don’t, but we still don’t know anything about her other than that she is evidently stalking Sam, for reasons not yet clear. Even in the little we saw of her, her interest seemed focused specifically on Sam, not on the hunters in general. Sam doesn’t even know that much, since he didn’t have the experience we did of watching her watching him. Who is she? What does she know? What is her interest? Why did she choose to save his life, and then vanish? For that matter, how did she disappear so quickly? And what is the origin, history, and power of that seemingly enchanted knife? It seemed to behave very much like a bullet from the Colt, but it acted even faster. Weapons like that one would seem to be what the hunters need. I daresay that the boys and Bobby will be on the hunt for Ruby and information about her blade. They had thought the Colt was unique, but now they know that other potent weapons may exist. I would bet cash money that Bobby will be researching armaments now, to go with the charms against possession that he came up with last season.
I’ve run this on more than long enough, but I have a handful of final observations. I loved the AC/DC “Hell’s Bells” recap, and the new “protective circle to chromed-steel name and swirling demonic storm cloud and smoke” title card. I laughed out loud for Bachman-Turner Overdrive and “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” over Dean sowing his wild oats, especially with what poor Sam wound up seeing! And who’d have thought that Bobby would clean up so very impressively? Dean always looks out of place in his suits, but Bobby seemed perfectly, unexpectedly comfortable playing a lawyer; I cheered. Sam scaring Bobby and Dean and then mashing Dean into the dashboard as he climbed into the back seat of Bobby’s car was hilarious. For sheer power, the silent scene of Dean and Sam preparing for the fight, exchanging looks, and clearly wondering if they would hold courage and come out alive would be hard to top. And the tinny radio coming on with the gospel blues hymn “I Shall Not Be Moved” as the war came home to them was the perfect touch. I think the artist on that one was Mississippi John Hurt, but I can’t be sure; I hope that Kripke follows through on the suggestion he took at Comic-Con that they provide an official list of the music used in the episode.
Dean teasing Sam about being saved by a girl made me laugh. I suspect that some fans may go overboard complaining that Dean calling Ruby a better fighter than Sam is somehow demeaning, but anyone doing that is missing the point that such teasing was inevitable. Go back to season one, and Sam chiding Dean about being sidelined by a thirteen-year-old girl in The Benders. And in my head, I always heard postscript teasing to the final scene in Tall Tales. Could anyone really think that Sam would have passed up the opportunity to twit Dean about having been tossed around like a rag doll between the Trickster’s lady friends? Somehow, I always heard comments about that coming out as the Impala rolled away and the boys recovered their equilibrium together. ‘Nuff said.
My last note is the observation that the sun was shining on this episode: I couldn’t help but notice how bright it seemed, and how odd a contrast it made to the darkness of the situation. Whether the network suits were agitating for making it brighter or the location dates just worked out, it being summer in Vancouver, it was somehow fitting that Sam and Dean’s final exchange took place in the sunshine, as Dean came clean on his feelings and his thoughts.
“I got a year to live, Sam. I’d like to make the most of it. So what do you say we kill some evil sons of bitches and raise a little hell?”
Edited to Add: If you watch the streaming videos on the CW's website, they've added a little interactive information box feature below the video window. I'm guessing the real purpose is to check on whether real live human beings are actually watching and staying engaged with the video, but the fringe benefit is that one of the features is the identification of any pre-recorded music used in a scene. As a result, I can say that the artist on "I Shall Not Be Moved" was J.B. Burnett, and the country song playing in the demon bar was "Mean Little Town" by the Howling Diablos.