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[lots o’ spoilers ahead]
I have a confession to make – yes, I was very busy this past fall, but the main reason I have been putting off reviewing this episode is that it was boring. Very, very boring. And on top of the previous episode (the season premiere, no less), I just couldn’t hack rewatching boring one more time, at least for a while.
Well, I’ve rewatched it now, so let’s buckle down and get to it. I’d like to review everything for this season up to this point before the show returns on January 18.
This was not a good episode. If anything, it was worse than the previous week, a bit like the Nepotism Duo’s take on the same themes Dabb had introduced. Yikes.
The pacing dragged and there was an endless amount of infodumpy dialogue that damned near put me to sleep. When one of the most intriguing parts is a scene you never got to see (Dean hallucinating sheep on the road), there’s a problem.
As usual with these two writers, the episode was overstuffed with characters and ideas, none of them developed beyond the thinnest of surface levels. Questionable racial overtones popped up in the one loyal demon having an African American host and acting in a servile manner (as if the writers watched Get Out and completely missed the point of the film) toward the new YED, but also in giving alt-Michael an African-American vessel. I’m all for diversity, but someone clearly didn’t think through the Unfortunate Implications involved in that casting (coughJefferson and Sally Hemingscoughcough) or just plain forgot all about the Very Important Bloodlines storyline from the first five seasons. And I don’t mean that terrible backdoor pilot.
Someone in the comments here (I think it was Eva) suggested that alt-Michael is using one of alt-Raphael’s vessels, which would be cool, if true. I doubt these writers are that subtle, but it would be fun if alt-Michael isn’t really alt-Michael but alt-Raphael or even an angel who got souped up the way Godstiel did. That would actually make him look pretty clever and devious. This storyline desperately needs some kind of twist. After all, if alt-Michael is looking for archangel grace (oops, that’s a bit later on), why not hunt down alt-Gabriel or bring in alt-Raphael? Where are they?
I also was suspicious of Lucifer not recognizing alt-Michael (or the angel squad not recognizing Lucifer). Angels and archangels are supposed to be able to recognize each other, just as angels and demons can see true demon faces. Being in an alternate timeline shouldn’t change that. But the writing was so messy that it was really hard to tell if this was a red herring or just a plothole.
I wanted to be impressed by alt-Michael, but something was off with him. Granted, the clumsy fist-fight between archangels didn’t help with either his or Lucifer’s gravitas. Who even thought that was a good idea? But I dunno. He just felt one-dimensional.
Speaking of archangels, what was up with Lucifer wandering around barren dunes with Mary in tow, complaining that she couldn’t keep up? He’s an angel. He still has wings. He can pick her up and fly all over the world multiple times in an eyeblink. I get that he was trying to stay under the radar a bit, but come on. Even that didn’t work out for him, or Mary.
I can’t even with what they did to poor Mary. She encounters a single human, who happens to be a male Hunter, who claims wimminfolk can’t be Hunters and he hasn’t seen a woman in who knows when. So, what does he immediately try to do? Rape her at gunpoint. And is she able to defend herself, this woman who was actually doing just fine on her own against all sorts of humans and creatures all last year? Nope. She needs Lucifer to come in and save the day by … punching the guy through the torso from behind. Eugh. I can’t believe this script was half-written by a woman.
But hey, this is also a script that demands Dean get yet another kickass fight in which he senses the demon behind him, thrashes it good and hard, but can’t land the final blow, so he needs to get saved by Sam who … stabs the demon from behind. I sense a theme.
Look, I get it. Jared Padalecki is in his thirties now and has suffered some pretty brutal injuries on set over the years. I don’t blame him for wanting to dial it back on the stunts. But the way the writers are choosing to write around this is not cutting it. Sam needs to be doing his own stuff, not stealing Dean’s wins at the last minute. Not even Dean getting the next demon with the thrown angel sword made that less annoying. It’s bad writing. Give Sam fights (or other important work) Padalecki can do without hurting himself. Leave Dean’s fights alone.
There’s this general trend of obviousness and over-explaining in the episode of things that need a little mystery, while enormous plotholes are left alone, reminiscent of other winners from this duo like the best-forgotten Ghost!Bobby-centric episode, “Of Grave Importance.” For example, why are we suddenly shown a demon like Asmodeus teleporting away, when before, a demon would just walk out of frame or smoke off whenever other characters turned their backs? Why are we now shown archangels, who can fly at the speed of light (or faster), as slow-arcing fireballs, when showing the look on the face of a human, and putting the sound of wings on the soundtrack as an angel flew off, was effective enough?
What’s with the stupid fistfight between two beings who can incinerate half the planet between them? We suddenly have the budget to show angels flying and demons teleporting, but we don’t have any money left over for some decent FX and fight choreography between two archangels?
I suppose we have to talk about the new YED, AKA the latest attempt to spit on both Azazel and Crowley’s memories with the fans simultaneously. Even Dean calls Asmodeus Colonel Sanders a few episodes later, but the fandom was way ahead of him.
Asmodeus (and, for that matter, Lucifer) is an obvious attempt to replace the departed Crowley. Now mind you, lots of characters have come and gone on this show. It is on its 13th season, after all. And I get that some sort of bad blood behind the scenes precipitated Crowley’s abrupt departure and Mark Sheppard’s absence from this past season’s gag reel. The character had been around a long time, probably well past his sell-by date. As I’d been telling people for years, he was as expendable as the rest of the supporting cast (except for Castiel because they already tried writing him out and it didn’t go well).
But the way they wrote him out and then completely ignored the character came off as simultaneously clumsy and mean-spirited. He had a lot of fans, Show. Respect that.
Adding to this, Asmodeus plain sucks as a character, let alone a major villain. He’s one-note and that one note grates. His powers don’t make sense. His motivation doesn’t make sense (I get he’s pretending to be Lucifer’s lackey to gain power and rule Hell, but why raise the Shedim?). And he lacks charm. Plus, constantly having him played by other actors reduces the audience investment in the main actor (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) and his performance. It’s a thankless task, poor guy.
The worst part is that if they hadn’t killed Crowley off, he’d be doing what Asmodeus is currently doing. Hell, he already did that poisonous father figure storyline twice – once with Kevin and once with Amara. Mark Sheppard even claimed at a con that Dabb had wanted to get rid of Crowley for a while, presumably because the character was played out, yet here we have a brand-new character and he’s got the same old tired storyline. He’s so freakin’ one-dimensional that he twirls (well … strokes) his mustache. I mean, come on.
Not to mention, what’s the deal with trying to spy on the Brothers by impersonating (not even possessing) other people? Why then leave just two demons from Central Casting to deal with the Brothers when it’s later shown he could just choke them out? Why would he even think Jack already had some kind of emotional connection to Team Free Will? It all makes him look weak and stupid, to the point where Sam has to be written like an idiot to build up this new baddie. Dean, at least, doesn’t trust the overly friendly bartender, even if he never finds out about her human doppleganger’s murder.
No wonder this new YED/Princes of Hell storyline doesn’t work (in stark contrast to the Knights of Hell/Mark of Cain plot, which did). The original YED, Azazel, was largely an unknown. He was creepy, unique, mysterious, fanatical. Even after we learned his agenda, we never learned much about him. He never lost his mystery.
The new YEDs are painfully overexplained, with too much Tell and not much Show. Why are we shown Asmodeus with shapeshifting powers and scars on his host body? Why would a demon even need shapeshifting powers when it can possess someone at will (so why cut the bartender’s throat or impersonate a Prophet when you can possess them?). How the hell does a creature consisting of black smoke manifest scars on the human it’s possessing? Speaking of which, why are the allegedly demonic Shedim solid monsters? Folks, that stuff belongs on the Makes No Sense shelf, not in an episode. It adds nothing to the show and contradicts previous canon.
And what’s the deal with the Shedim, who are about as scary as Care Bears? Why not – oh, I dunno – rewatch “Shadow” from season one and bring back the Daevas? They were scary. Ah, but that would involve having to set that very stupid scene in the middle of some random field in anything but broad, freakin’ daylight. Because nothing says “scary,” especially on this show, like making it look as though Keith Szarabajka’s about to race through the fields shouting, “If you dig it, they will come!”
Speaking of Szarabajka, while I’m thrilled to have him back (love me some 80s Equalizer nostalgia), what the hell was going on with Donatello? I can sort of see Dean not really reacting to Donatello’s revelation that Amara sucked out his soul a year past. As Sam points out to Jack, Dean’s not firing on all cylinders mentally right now. Already emotionally overloaded, he may just be rolling with the idea that if Donatello’s okay with his current situation, and isn’t hurting anyone (the Mr. Rogers reference), then that situation’s dealt with for the moment. Triage and all that.
Also, Dean is feeling lost after Chuck apparently ignored his prayer and has never felt comfortable with using his relationship with Amara, who is every bit as volatile and unpredictable as he is. He’s not likely to call on her if Chuck didn’t answer, even if it’s entirely possible she’d be more likely to show up.
But what’s going on with Sam? Sam’s had no soul in the past. He knows what it’s like. It’s always bothered him, seeing other people without souls. Yet here he is, shrugging off Donatello’s lack of soul as if it’s not a big deal. What do they mostly talk about when Sam is fooled by the fake “Donatello” (Asmodeus in disguise)? Jack, of course. Yet, Sam never twigs that maybe this obsession with Jack and his burgeoning superpowers is just a tad odd for a man who has no one else to talk with about the fact that he’s missing his soul, especially the only two people who might be able to help him get it back (not like Amara would miss it).
It’s funny that I’ve been seeing all these complaints about Dean being “mean” and “whiny” and cruel to puir Jack, but nothing about how Sam is way too calm about all this. In fact, I’m not terribly surprised that Jack is choosing to look up to Dean. Dean’s the only one being honest with him. It’s also possible that Jack imprinted on Dean a bit via his imprinting on Castiel (who is obsessed with Dean). Weirdly enough, Jack may only really feel safe with Dean. Look at how Dean was the only one who noticed he was repeatedly stabbing himself. Jack is desperately seeking boundaries, control, over his powers (not really to expand them) and only Dean offers those boundaries.
Dean’s promise at the end of the episode probably was intended to be reassuring on some level. It was exactly the promise Dean was begging to exact from Sam and Castiel when he had the MoC. Jack may be in a similar position (losing control to darkness and not wanting to hurt innocents, but also unable to die), so Dean offers him the only reassurance he thinks would be helpful. If Jack does go dark (as he fears), Dean will be the one who takes care of it. If Jack doesn’t go dark, well, Dean’s not going to let anyone else kill Jack but himself. So, if Jack turns out to be good, Dean’s got his back.
This is, of course, leaving aside all the stuff about how this is a perfectly natural reaction from Dean, and completely in character. Why wouldn’t Dean feel this way? From his perspective, Jack had a direct hand in Kelly and Castiel basically marching to their deaths (Jack may not have meant to, but they were definitely brainwashed to some extent). Jack also created the rift that took away or helped destroy Mary, Castiel and Crowley. Everything Dean has heard that’s remotely reliable indicates Jack will be a willing tool of his father, Lucifer, in wrecking the world (again), since that’s what he was created to be. Why wouldn’t Dean want to destroy Jack?
Dean’s grief-fueled madness, and Sam’s reaction to it, is also problematic for Sam’s characterization. Sam “reassures” Jack in an avuncular tone that Dean just has his wires crossed and doesn’t really want to kill Jack. Um … first of all, it’s painfully obvious that killing Jack is precisely what Dean does want to do, considering that’s the first action he goes for after his prayer to Chuck apparently fails. If Jack weren’t covered with thick plot armor – sorry, invulnerable to angel blades – he’d be dead, already.
Second, the way Sam frames it, in an almost jovial voice, makes it clear that if it comes down to Dean or Jack, Jack’s screwed as far as Sam is concerned. He won’t protect Jack if it really comes to it.
Now, Jack’s just a baby. How else can he be anything but freaked out by that lack of reassurance? No wonder he clings to Dean’s brutal honesty. At least, if he can win Dean’s affection and loyalty, he’ll know it’s real.
In fact, Sam sounds indistinguishable in his “concern” for Jack from Asmodeus or the angels. He only seems to want Jack around for Jack’s powers (showing a lot of rather creepy interest in them) and what those powers can do for him and Dean.
The thing is that Alexander Calvert (Jack) actually has a reasonably high amount of chemistry with both Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. Their characters’ adoption of Jack and attempts to raise Jack work because there’s actual affection there. That kind of chemistry doesn’t just happen, so I can see why the show would want to keep him around.
Alas, as a written character, Jack is a hot mess and he’s not fitting into the storyline at all well. He’s ridiculously overpowered and in his current state is an obvious deus ex machina. Adding to the suspension-of-disbelief carnage, convenient new powers pop up every week, aiding the writers a little too much in getting out of self-inflicted plot corners, to the point of making the situation a whole lot less scary than it could be. They need to power him down. They also need to play out this Lucifer baby-daddy-from-Hell storyline and move on.
The only actually interesting thing about the writing for this kid is that the Brothers are trying to raise him. Dean’s had parenting experience. Sam has almost none. So, it makes sense Sam is only able to relate to Jack as the young man he appears to be, whereas Dean understands better that Jack is just a baby. A super-powered baby, but still … just a child. Who needs a lot of guidance.
I can understand giving him a bit of power so he has enough plot armor to survive around the Brothers (unlike poor Kevin), but he’s got way too much right now and it kills the story tension. I mean, come on, that Impala ride to the rescue in Act Four was painfully slow. And I get that Jack is young, but the ruse to get him to let the Shedim out was so obvious it made him look stupid. Let’s stop doing that, Show.
One thing I will say is that the season began to improve considerably after this episode. “Rising Son” even looks a bit better in retrospect, mainly because some storylines that seemed to be going in a really annoying direction (and probably would have in earlier seasons) progressed or resolved better after this episode than I expected. But that doesn’t actually make it a good episode in its own right.
Next: Patience: We probably didn’t need Missouri Moseley to return at this point. But she does, in an episode that introduces one of the last two main characters for the upcoming spin-off, Wayward Sisters.
You can find my live recap of “Rising Son” here.
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