To stop the world's end,
Pagan gods in motel hell
Kidnap Sam and Dean.
A security guard making his night rounds in the rain in Muncie, Indiana stopped at the derelict, condemned Elysian Fields hotel. As he passed through the junk-strewn lobby, checking out a noise further in, a dead plant bloomed on the registration counter, and an odd crackling sound led him to a cracked mirror magically restoring itself. He spun around to find a dapper man in a bow tie standing behind him, who explained his presence by saying someone had to get everything ready because all of them were coming. He told the guard they each had their part to play, and the guard was dinner. He killed the guard.
Some time later, the Impala pulled into the motel’s neon-lit, well populated parking lot in the midst of a torrential thunderstorm that soaked the brothers just in their dash from the car to the door. Other refugees from the storm thronged the lobby and the adjacent lounge of a place several points up the scale from the brothers’ normal choice of lodging. The man who had killed the guard was the clerk who checked them in, hid fingers flying over his computer keyboard. The clerk observed a small cut on Dean’s neck, and offered him a tissue to dab the blood. When Dean asked about a coffee shop, he directed them to the hotel’s all-you-can-eat buffet, asserting it had the best pie in the tri-state area. As Dean tried to choose between multiple desserts, another man on the same errand referred to it as heaven, but Dean maintained the dessert buffet was better. Enroute back to their table, Dean tried to make a pass at a beautiful woman, but she shut him down cold and with more than a hint of menace.
At their table, finding Sam scrolling through information on his smart phone instead of eating, Dean tried to persuade him to relax and eat something, but Sam insisted they should get back on the road, observing the storm was of downright biblical proportions and they should be out trying to deal with the apocalypse. Dean countered by asking how much sleep Sam had gotten all week. Noting that Bobby had his feelers out and they had talked to everyone imaginable across twelve states, Dean insisted no one was giving up, least of all himself. Maintaining they would find a way to beat the devil and would find Adam and Castiel, Dean said Sam would be no good to him burnt out. Sam grudgingly agreed, and Dean said they should enjoy having the night off for once. A waitress passed their table and headed on into the kitchen, where a dismembered arm lay on a food counter.
Heading to their room, Dean was amused by the newlyweds next door, who weren’t waiting to get into their room to start making out. In the room, he was delighted to discover chocolates on their pillows and the latest installment of his favorite porn series on television. Sam was suspicious of a place this nice being in such a backwater. Their discussion was interrupted by the unmistakable happy noises of sex next door, which abruptly cut off when something massive hit the wall hard enough to crack the brick façade. They broke into the room to find the bed rumpled but no one there, and a diamond engagement ring dropped on the floor. When they asked the front desk clerk about their neighbors, the man claimed they had just checked out, and took the ring to put it in the lost and found.
The brothers split up, with Sam keeping tabs on the creepy desk clerk while Dean prowled the rest of the hotel with an EMF meter. Following the clerk, Sam lost him when the man went around a corner into a dead-end hall; he simply disappeared. Sam heard a metallic snick and felt a sting at his neck, and his fingers came away bloody from a nick twin to the one Dean had gotten earlier. Dean, meanwhile, got off the elevator on a higher floor and walked down the corridor looking at the meter, until he glimpsed from the corner of his eye an elephant with a bath towel through the open door of a room he passed; when he backtracked, however, he saw a big black man wrapped in a towel, who slammed the door in his face.
In another room in the hotel, a man refastened the necklace of the woman who had shut Dean down at the buffet, calling her sweet and kissing her neck. They were interrupted by the appearance of the clerk, who apologized for interrupting but announced that all the guests had arrived and the pantry was full, and said that while the Winchesters were suspicious, they were under control. The woman asked if he had their blood, and the man whisked across the room in the blink of an eye to stand in front of her, offering two vials and observing that he was quick. She thanked him, calling him Mercury.
The brothers rendezvoused in the hotel lobby, exchanging information, but discovered the lobby strangely deserted and the hotel doors locked. Sam guessed the highway detour and unnatural storm. Searching through the rest of the public areas and finding no one, they wound up in the kitchen, to discover a red soup containing eyeballs on the boil and the rest of the hotel guests locked up in panic in the freezer. Before Sam could pick the lock, two burly men appeared behind Dean, and the brothers were overpowered and hauled into the hotel ballroom, set up for a conference with a U-shaped table. The brothers saw the nametags on the other guests and realized it was a convention of gods. The Norse Baldur was chair with Hindu Kali at his side, and others present included Odin, king of the Norse gods; Hindu Ganesh, often depicted as having an elephant’s head; Mercury, the Roman version of the Greek Hermes, speedy messenger of the Olympian gods; Baron Samedi, the voodoo loa of the crossroads and death; Zao Shen, the Chinese kitchen or stove god; and three others whose nametags couldn’t be read. Mercury produced a platter with dinner: the roast remains of the security guard. A spotlight shone on Dean and Sam as Baldur announced the guests of honor had arrived.
After establishing basic ground rules for the meeting intended to keep a low profile and not attract undue attention from the surrounding world – no killing each other and hands off the local virgins – Baldur announced the purpose of the meeting being for the gods to determine how they were going to deal with the Judeo-Christian apocalypse underway, noting they had two valuable bargaining chips in the persons of Dean and Sam, the vessels for Michael and Lucifer. The gods bickered among themselves, with Zao Shen advocating killing them, Ganesh scoffing that the angels would just bring them back to life, and Odin wondering why any of them needed to be concerned about a slap-fight between angels because the world wouldn’t end until the events of Norse myth occurred. As the gods bickered about whose myth was more valid and which of them was older, the brothers turned to leave, but Kali made the room chandelier drop in their path and ordered them to stop. Kali maintained the archangels only understood violence and war was the only option. Mercury objected that they hadn’t even tried to talk to the angels, but Kali silenced him by choking him with a thought, until Baldur made her stop. Then the door opened and Gabriel entered, robbing the brothers of their voices when Sam began to say his name. Baldur greeted him as Loki, and the Trickster angel, after questioning why he hadn’t been invited, told the rest they couldn’t stop the apocalypse. Saying the adults had to talk, he zapped the brothers back to their room.
Trying to process what they’d fallen into, Dean proposed trying to break the imprisoned humans out of the freezer as their first step, but Gabriel appeared in the room. When Dean accused him of having set the whole situation up, Gabriel called himself the Costner to their Houston, saying he’d come to save them. He said the gods planned either to kill the brothers or use them as bait. Dean pointed out that Gabriel had tried to make them play their roles the last time they met, and Gabriel agreed that Michael and Lucifer were still going to have their throw-down, but not here and now. Asked why he cared, Gabriel claimed not to care, but said he and Kali had a thing and he was sentimental. Sam asked if the gods had a chance against Satan, and Gabriel answered it was a bad idea and Lucifer would turn them into finger paint. Dean advocated Gabriel spiriting them away, but the angel said Kali had their blood and used it in a spell to hold them there. He got set to charm Kali. Dean wanted to get the humans out as well, and when Gabriel said it couldn’t be done, Dean noted the other gods had called him Loki, meaning they didn’t know he was an angel. Dean threatened to reveal his identity to the gods unless Gabriel agreed to rescue everyone, and when Gabriel realized he couldn’t block them without raising questions from the other gods, he agreed.
Gabriel embarked on a seduction of Kali, revealing that Kali had been the one who had called and alerted him to the meeting. When she said she had thought he would take it seriously, he protested that he was; he advocated both of them leaving Earth, teasing they should check out Pandora. She said it didn’t have to be that way, but he turned serious and insisted it did, saying if the gods fought, they would die. He told her he had tussled with angels before and begged her not to do what she planned. While kissing her, he reached for the vials of the brothers’ blood he could see behind her, but she realized his intent and scratched his neck, getting his blood and binding him to her the same way she had bound the Winchesters.
The brothers, heading for the kitchen, hid from four of the gods out for a snack on the businessman who’d eyed the dessert buffet with Dean. Realizing the gods meant to kill him, Dean started to try a rescue, but Sam held him back, warning it was too late, and Dean watched the man die. In the kitchen, as Sam tried picking the lock on the freezer, Dean was attacked by Zao Shen and flung across the room. The god began to throttle Sam, but Dean stabbed him from behind with a wooden stake. As the god fell, the brothers wondered where Gabriel was.
Captured again, the brothers were dragged back into the ballroom to discover Gabriel already a prisoner there. Kali revealed to the rest that she had known Gabriel’s identity for a while, and said he had something she wanted: she drew his archangel’s blade. He tried to persuade her that he was a runaway, not a spy, and that he was trying to save her from Lucifer because the gods couldn’t beat him. He said he’d skipped ahead to see how this story ended, but she insisted that was his story, not theirs. Complaining about the arrogance of Westerners, she said his wasn’t the only religion, and his God wasn’t the only god. Saying there were billions of them and they were here first, Kali said if anyone was going to destroy the Earth, it would be her. She apologized, and then killed Gabriel with his own sword. Observing his body, she said angels could die and they could kill Lucifer. Dean stood up and proposed a distasteful partnership to help the gods ice the devil, after which they could all go back to killing each other. He said that he and Sam could get Lucifer to the hotel, but insisted the gods release the imprisoned humans first. He laid out that the gods could either agree, or eat him.
The gods capitulated, and Dean escorted the humans out of the hotel, telling them to get away from there. Gabriel, hiding in the back seat of the Impala, revealed he’d tricked Kali with a fake sword, and told Dean to use Kali’s liking for him to get close to her, steal back their blood, and they could escape. Dean refused, telling Gabriel to hand over the real sword or man up and join them, because allying with the gods seemed the best chance they had to kill Lucifer. Gabriel refused, claiming he didn’t care, but Dean said he saw through Gabriel’s attitude and knew he considered the gods his family and they would die without him. Gabriel protested that he couldn’t kill his brother, and Dean asked if he meant can’t or won’t. When Gabriel didn’t answer, Dean said that was what he thought, and went back into the hotel. Inside, Sam was telling Kali he needed her to squeegee the marks off his ribs and Lucifer would come running, but Dean said the plan wouldn’t work because the sword was a fake and Gabriel was still alive.
At the same time, Lucifer, wearing Nick, rang the bell at the front desk and said he wanted to check in. Mercury, who had taken his own initiative and called him, thanked him for coming. Lucifer said he’d never understood pagans, how they were always fighting and eager to sell out their own kind, and observed it was no wonder they had forfeited the planet. He said they were worse than humans, worse than demons, but claimed to be gods – and then he killed Mercury. On his way to the ballroom, he killed all the other remaining gods, until only Baldur and Kali, still in the ballroom with the brothers, remained, and Baldur admitted they couldn’t simply translocate away. Lucifer entered the room and Baldur challenged him despite Kali’s warning not to, and Lucifer simply put his arm right through Baldur’s body, killing him. Kali faced off with him, sheathing her arms in fire and hurling it at him as the brothers dove for cover, but Lucifer simply shrugged it off and slugged her. Gabriel appeared beside the brothers, observing it was better late than never. He gave Dean a DVD case, telling him to guard it with his life, and then he flung Lucifer away from Kali and advanced blade in hand. Standing between Lucifer and the others, he told the brothers to get Kali away, and the three left, taking the Impala.
Gabriel faced off against Lucifer, telling him to look at himself and ridiculing him for being a child throwing a temper tantrum, planning to smash all of God’s toys because Father God had been mean to him. Gabriel said Lucifer could play the victim all he wanted, but they both knew the truth: that God had loved Lucifer best, more than Michael or Gabriel, but Lucifer hadn’t been able to handle it when God brought humans – the new baby – home. Lucifer asked Gabriel why he was willing to die for a pile of cockroaches, and Gabriel said it was because God was right: humans were better than angels. When Lucifer scoffed that humans were broken, flawed abortions, Gabriel agreed they were flawed, but noted a lot of them tried to be better and to forgive. He announced he wasn’t on Lucifer’s side or Michael’s, but on the humans’ side. Lucifer asked him not to make him do this, but Gabriel noted no one made them do anything. Saying he knew Gabriel thought he was doing the right thing, but he knew where his heart truly lies, Lucifer turned abruptly away from the image of Gabriel he’d been facing to grab and twist the sword hand of the real angel who was striking from behind, plunging the blade into Gabriel. Observing Gabriel had learned all his tricks from Lucifer, Lucifer killed him. Saddened, he stood over Gabriel’s body amidst the ashes rising from his burned wings.
The next day, playing the DVD Gabriel had given them, the brothers saw cheesy porn with a mustachioed Gabriel in a starring role. Just as Sam wondered aloud what was going on, the onscreen Gabriel turned to look right out at them, saying they probably wondered what was going on. He said if they were watching the video, he was dead, and with him gone, they’d lost their only chance to kill Lucifer. He said they could trap him, however, because the cage he’d been imprisoned in was still down there. He warned it wouldn’t be easy: they’d have to get the cage open, trick Lucifer into going inside it, and avoid Michael and the God squad. He told them even Lucifer didn’t know the four Horsemen’s rings were the keys to the cage. Gabriel said Dean had been right: he had been afraid to stand up to his family, but he wasn’t any more. Knowing they already had two of the rings and needed only two more, the brothers finally had a plan, and hit the road in the Impala.
Meanwhile, the desk clerk at a rural general store was reading about the rapid spread of a new influenza virus, electrical storms causing huge power failures in New York City, and an earthquake in California when Pestilence, driving a beat-up old green AMC Hornet with Nevada license plates, arrived accompanied by flies to ask about non-drowsy flu medication. Coughing, sneezing, and spreading phlegm and mucus everywhere, he smiled on his way out, and a cloud of flies rose to fill the car as he drove down the road.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
I had a hard time writing this commentary because most of this episode disappointed me and provided little fodder for meta. Gabriel’s evolution and the emotional continuity in the brothers’ relationships – both Lucifer-Gabriel and Dean-Sam – were the happy things in the episode for me, but the gods were wasted in more ways than one. The episode was likely a fun romp for viewers who could turn off their brains and just roll with it, but I’m accustomed to doing some thinking with my watching when this show is on, and when I did that here, the episode just didn’t measure up to what this series can typically do. While I wasn’t expecting a theological treatise, I was hoping for some exploration of the roles of different belief systems in the apocalypse, but the moment we met the limited, shallow, inaccurately stereotyped gods in the room I knew that wouldn’t happen. In this discussion, I’m going to touch on the brother relationships and Gabriel’s choice, and mourn missed opportunities.
Before I start, one thing. This isn’t going to be a debate on the truth or value of different religious beliefs. For the purpose of Supernatural’s fictional universe and my commentary on it, all religions are equated with myth and legend and are treated accordingly, as contributors to the story. I’m a longtime and serious student of Joseph Campbell – The Masks Of God, Hero With A Thousand Faces, Myths To Live By, The Power Of Myth, and more are all dog-eared and worn in my personal library – and my personal approach to religion and faith is a humanist one.
No One’s Giving Up, Least Of All Me
What this episode got right was the tone of the relationship between Sam and Dean, which both carried over smoothly from Point Of No Return and harked back to the brothers’ consistent traits from earlier seasons. Sam’s exclusive, obsessive focus on the main mission and irritated impatience with anything that detracted from it strongly echoed his behavior in seasons one and three, when he also had very specifically defined goals of finding John and saving Dean, respectively. Dean’s big-brother insistence that Sam pace himself, take the time for basic needs, and let go of the constant mission anxiety – along with his insistence that he wasn’t giving up on the mission either – called back similar speeches in Wendigo, Dead In The Water, and Bloody Mary, just to name a few.
It was refreshing to see the brothers working smoothly together and being very open about talking through their disagreements rather than fighting about them. The lessons of the last two years were well learned, leading to more trust and equality between the brothers. Dean’s reckless and almost instinctive need to save people was balanced by Sam’s caution in assessing the odds. Sam’s uncomfortable season three and four willingness to consider previously unthinkable outside-the-box strategies – asking Gabriel if the gods could win, as he earlier thought in The Song Remains The Same about the brothers not being born – led straight into Dean’s proposal to work with the gods once Gabriel’s apparent death at Kali’s hands seemed to demonstrate the gods had more of a chance than Gabriel had intimated.
I’m On Theirs
We saw a wonderful evolution of Gabriel across the series, and knowing his story now puts a very different light on his earlier appearances. When we first met him as the Trickster in Tall Tales, his affection for the Winchesters made him dramatically different from any other adversary they had faced, as did his survival. His substantially darker turn in Mystery Spot – emotionally torturing Sam to teach him a lesson he refused to learn – hinted he had much more potential. His revelation as the archangel Gabriel in Changing Channels was a brilliant twist that truly paid off here.
Gabriel brought home the sense of this apocalypse story being a family dispute as none of the other characters really could. Lucifer and Michael each had their side of the fight; Gabriel was just caught in the middle, just wanting peace. He could criticize both sides.
I very much enjoyed the way that Gabriel incorporated aspects of both of the Winchester brothers. Like Sam with John, his initial reaction to conflict was to run away from it; to avoid the fight by going somewhere else and leaving it behind. Like Dean, he’d been caught in the middle of conflict between people he loved and hadn’t been able to bridge the gap, although he’d been battered by trying. He could relate to the Winchesters in ways that Michael and Lucifer, too locked into their own positions, never could, because he could see himself mirrored in both of them, not in just one or the other.
He also learned from them. Their defiance of destiny in Changing Channels, their refusal to do the expected thing and instead to try to find a way to forgive each other for past failings and work together to save the world, clearly made an impression on Gabriel. He told Lucifer in this episode that while humans were flawed, many of them tried to do better, to forgive; and that’s something he saw prominently on display in Dean and Sam.
From the beginning, Gabriel was shown as enjoying human things. Living in hiding among gods and humans for centuries and even millennia, Gabriel as a participant was far more conversant with human emotions than other angels, who – like Castiel – were distant watchers. Gabriel learned to appreciate humor, food, alcohol, and sex. Having him ultimately come down on the side of humanity made perfect sense.
I’m certain some will accuse Dean of hypocrisy in challenging Gabriel to be willing to kill Lucifer when Dean was never able to accept killing Sam, but I wouldn’t agree. Although Dean ultimately refused Michael in Point Of No Return, his conversation with Sam in the panic room revealed that he had accepted the idea he would ultimately have to yield to Michael and kill his brother when Sam seemingly inevitably gave in to Lucifer. While Dean came back from that brink and is genuinely willing to give his trust to Sam again, I think the switch he flipped in his brain really would let him kill Sam’s body if Lucifer truly did take it over. It would break him, but I think he would do it. So I believe his challenge to Gabriel was honest, and that Gabriel took it that way. And the further difference is that Lucifer, as the instigator of it all, truly is the actor with the power to change, but willfully chooses not to; Sam would only have been a pawn.
I loved Lucifer’s surprise that Gabriel would confront him, but was chilled at Lucifer’s chiding him for forgetting that Lucifer had taught Gabriel his tricks. The image of a long-ago past where both angels were brothers playing innocent pranks on each other was a heartbreaking echo of Dean and Sam in more light-hearted days. I hope it doesn’t foreshadow similar knowledge of each other bringing the Winchesters to a similar and equally regretful confrontation.
I’m Here To Talk About The Elephant In The Room – Not You
It was painfully obvious that no real thought went into the selection or philosophical purpose of gods used in the episode. Ganesh was clearly chosen purely in order to make the elephant joke (twice); Mercury was simply convenient for his renowned speed and for being a messenger; Baldur’s peaceable, likeable nature made for a bland meeting facilitator; and Kali just provided a female non-Western goddess with a reputation for violence to pair with Gabriel and face off against Lucifer. Having Zao Shen speak Chinese with subtitles while all the other deities understood him perfectly and spoke English – despite English not being a native language for any of them any more than for Zao Shen – was nonsensical. Given the many religions not represented at all, I found Mercury’s comment about all the gods coming and Baldur’s observation about how rare it was for so many gods to be in one room to be a bit hard to swallow. Further, all of the chosen gods bore vanishingly little resemblance to their depictions in myth, and had nothing even remotely approximating the power associated with them. Presumably the writers’ excuse is that, as Castiel observed of the bible, our human holy books all get more wrong than they do right, but it didn’t work for me at all.
These gods were wrong in so many ways. Odin, the All Father, had none of the aloof wisdom for which he’d famously traded an eye – and had both eyes. Baldur, Odin’s gentle and well-liked son, was in story the first of the Norse gods to die, slain by a sprig of mistletoe flung by his blind brother Hoder at the behest of Loki, who wasn’t a god but the son of the gods’ enemies, the giants; but in this meeting, Baldur was alive and chairing the meeting while his normally commanding father was a bit player, and Loki was simply a disguise of Gabriel. All the gods were depicted as consuming humans when none but some incarnations of Kali had ever even been associated with human sacrifice, and Ganesh in particular was as much an herbivore as the elephant usually depicted as the head on his otherwise human body. Associated with both creation and destruction, Kali was the dark mate and mirror of bright Shiva, not known for carnal dalliance with others, while here she was linked with both Baldur and Gabriel. Zao Shen by legend was a human raised to divinity by the gods after he committed suicide in his kitchen hearth over a tragic error, and became a household spirit tasked along with his wife with reporting on the fidelity and piety of families to the Jade Emperor of heaven; hardly one to delight in chopping up and dining on humans. While not all the gods were deemed immortal, given the Norse belief the gods were doomed to die in Ragnarok (not Armageddon, the word mistakenly put into Odin’s mouth), none of them could be harmed by humans; yet Dean dispatched Zao Shen with a simple stake. And while non-human power and strength are associated with virtually every deity, it took four of these gods to manhandle and kill one terrified businessman.
What irritated me even more than the bizarrely random selection and careless representation of the gods was the meaningless way they were used. The episode’s entire premise was simply that all of the gods except the Judeo-Christian one were insignificant in power when compared with Lucifer, a fallen archangel created by the Western God. The whole point was just to emphasize the impossibility of killing Lucifer and to make clear the Winchesters couldn’t look to any other powers for help.
That all fell flat because nothing was offered even to pretend any of it made sense. All the non-Judeo-Christian deities were simply lumped by Lucifer and the writers into a single class of supernatural being that called themselves gods, without even the distinctions made in earlier episodes such as A Very Supernatural Christmas or Fallen Idols, where at least varying levels in power and differences in vulnerabilities were recognized among lesser divinities no longer able to access a power base of believers. Perhaps Kali having perceptible aggressive power while the Norse Baldur and Odin seemed to have none was meant to suggest a god’s power was affected by whether anyone still believed in them or not, given that Kali is still deified by the living Hindu faith while the Norse gods have faded almost entirely into myth, but that wouldn’t explain Ganesh being impotent. None of the gods present were associated with controlling weather – well, one aspect of Kali is associated with natural disasters – and nothing explained the ability of the gods to find the Winchesters in order to divert them to the hotel, especially since those gods were even less powerful than a fallen angel who couldn’t see the Winchesters at all.
Supernatural could have done so many interesting things with the plethora of human faiths, but this episode squandered them instead. Given what Supernatural has done with other themes, I was expecting more depth here; perhaps an indication that the commonalities across faiths demonstrate connections between them (that world turtle exists not only in Chinese and Indian myth, but also in some Native American ones) and that the conflict being played out between Michael and Lucifer echoed through similar conflicts between primal players in other belief systems even though their names and forms were different. For example, I was halfway expecting to hear Gabriel point out that the Norse Elder Edda contained a prophecy of a new heaven and a new earth to follow the downfall of the gods, ruled by a One God higher than Odin and beyond the reach of evil, and liken Lucifer to the serpent gnawing on the roots of the world tree Yggdrasil that would bring the universe crashing down to its end and begin Ragnarok. Alternatively, the point could have been that since religions were created by humans in their attempts to explain the world, various supernatural beings with angelic, demonic, or trickster-type powers took advantage of the framework created by human belief to assume the roles of gods within those structures, but weren’t actually God-gods, while there was one supreme creative force that set things in motion and retained prime power. In that case, the point might have been simply that a monotheistic faith concept came closer to the show’s version of truth than a polytheistic one, and the names associated with the prime monotheism were simply adopted by the agents of that power to represent the action. Or whatever.
Instead there was nothing but Kali’s valid accusation to Gabriel that arrogant Westerners simply assumed their primacy. Kali pegged the writers of this episode, alas.
Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin are disappointingly uneven writers. When they’re good, they can be wonderful – witness Dark Side Of The Moon – but a lot of their shots have missed the mark for me, and Hammer Of The Gods in particular was much more miss than hit. To my mind, they got the brothers’ characterizations mostly right this time, and I enjoyed what they did with Gabriel’s evolution despite wishing he didn’t have to die, but their gods were a carelessly overcooked, apparently unresearched and utterly meaningless mess. Given the way Supernatural has always touted its use of things you could look up – even though the show’s writers always put their own distinctive stamp or twist on creatures of myth and legend – the failure of the gods either to be or do anything remotely resembling their source material or to serve any thematic purpose beyond uninspired cannon fodder spoke of embarrassingly lazy writing. So did simply dropping Kali out of the story at the end (and while the Star Wars reference to her as Princess Leia when Han/Dean told her to just get in the ship – I mean, car – was funny, it was a cheap laugh. A goddess in the back seat?). Sorry, guys: you’re still at the bottom of my list.
I’ll admit it didn’t help their cause that I got my copy of the latest issue of the Supernatural: Beginning’s End comic on Friday to discover Dabb and Loflin had totally ignored the clearly established series canon of Dead Man’s Blood and had written Dean hunting vampires in a pre-series story. For shame, guys: you’re not supposed to be writing sloppy fanfic. Basic research is important. And basic. (We care about continuity, you know.)
I expressed reservations back in my review of Good God, Y’All about linking the Horsemen’s powers to simple physical things. Now we know why the rings exist, although we still don’t know why or how they work. (Is whoever puts one on transformed into the avatar of the power? That wouldn’t track with War saying the real Roger was rotting in a ditch ... How do you put them together to be a key?) I’m reserving judgment to see how all of this works out – good execution can salvage an iffy premise – but this feels like a comic book or fantasy-gaming type of solution, not something plausibly dating back to the creation of man and the jealous, prideful rebellion of Lucifer.
Director Rick Bota is new to Supernatural, but he’s a long-time cinematographer and director of photography I recognize from Jericho, among many other television and film credits. He recently moved into the director’s chair on projects including Harper’s Island and some Hellraiser direct-to-video movies. His directorial style here relied on a lot of classic horror tropes and nothing really stood out for me. Given how claustrophobic and talky this story was, with all the characters trapped in motel hell and spewing expository dialogue everywhere you looked, there wasn’t much scope for him to play with, so I’ll grant him that. The one choice I really didn’t care for was the decision – whether written into the script or chosen by the director or the actor – to play Pestilence with such exaggeration in the final scene. Matt Frewer has always enjoyed not just chewing the scenery, but spitting it out, and while that worked well at appropriate moments in his classic Max Headroom and fits his offbeat character in quirky Eureka, too much of it isn’t necessarily a good thing. Famine certainly set the stage for Horsemen to be played broadly in My Bloody Valentine, but the grossly unreal proliferation of snot and phlegm here and Frewer’s evident relish in spreading it around took Pestilence straight into caricature. At least for me.
Even the set designers stumbled a bit in one spot on this episode, which really surprised me. The hotel sets were marvelous, but how was the wall behind the bed in the newlyweds’ room not caved in to match the damage in the brothers’ room next door? Oops. On the other hand, I loved all the work and care on both the condemned and restored versions of the Elysian Fields hotel, with classic horror under-lighting setting off the unusual retro opulence, and appreciated the irony that it was the Greek concept of the afterlife resting place of heroes, given that our heroes got no rest at all. The visual gag with the elephant was great, although I couldn’t help but notice the elephant was African, not Asian: it tracked with the actor playing Ganesh being black, I guess, but not so much with Ganesh – who’s only elephant-headed – being a Hindu deity. The effects crew rocked with both the storm and with Gabriel’s death; the water splashing around the motel sign sold the biblical nature of the storm, and the airborne ashes from Gabriel’s wings added a whole new dimension to the image. And watching that mirror mend itself in the teaser was amazingly scary. Pestilence driving a biblical plague Hornet with SIKN TRD license plates was a hoot, and I loved the door in the porn flick bearing the room number 69. This is me, lying down ...
Performance-wise, this episode belonged to Richard Speight, Jr., stepping up and lying down as Gabriel/Loki/Trickster. I loved everything he did with the character from his first unforgettable appearance in Tall Tales, and I am grieved to see him go. It was fitting that Gabriel, who most appreciated and emulated humans, ultimately came down on our side rather than on either of his brothers’, and I applauded his confrontation with Lucifer when he called out his oldest brother for throwing a temper tantrum born of pride and petty jealousy. Speight and Mark Pellegrino both delivered in that scene. Lucifer’s genuine sadness for Gabriel’s death was counterpoint to his pride in himself when he told Gabriel he was the one who taught him all his tricks; the Trickster was undone by the Prince of Lies, but that Lucifer could grieve made him more than a one-dimensional villain. And I’m glad that the last image we and the brothers got of Gabriel wasn’t him lying dead in the ashes of his wings, but content with his decision and indulging lustily in things that made him happy. I won’t be sorry to see the last of Lucifer, but I will nurse a hope that somewhere, Kripke’s God will smile on Gabriel’s courage and ability to learn and restore him as He restored Castiel, and that the Winchester brothers will learn of it.
Of the gods, the only one who made any lasting impression was Rekha Sharma as Kali. I had enjoyed her performance as Tory in Battlestar Galactica, and thought she brought a nice mix of power and presence to Kali even though her power was ultimately a bust.
Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki didn’t have a lot to do in this episode, but they made the most of what they had. Their honesty with each other as Sam and Dean brought us back to the very beginning of the series without losing any of the development they’ve experienced since then. The one spot that felt forced to me was their immediate overwhelmed reaction after Gabriel snapped them away from the gods’ meeting; I can’t put my finger on it, but it felt too ... OMG! ... for these two characters. As soon as they kicked back into action with Dean proposing they rescue the trapped humans, things got back on course. And Dean blackmailing Gabriel was hilarious.
I have to give Gabriel the last word, especially because I think he was right. He told Lucifer that God had been right to say humans were better than angels, because despite our flaws – our lack of marble angelic perfection, our doubts, our mistaken choices – many of us, hopefully most of us, try to do better ourselves, and as part of that, try to forgive each other our mistakes.
And that’s as true for this show, I think, as it is for us. As long as we all keep trying, we’ll make it in the end.
The icon on this is by ilaria84 . Thanks!
Sorry this one was a bit of a downer for me, and therefore for you reading it. Some things work for people, and some things don't -- but even when this show slips a little, it's still my favorite passion on television!