I’m so delighted with Supernatural right now, I’m doing the happy dance. Considering my reservations last season, I’ve been cautiously enjoying season nine, but with “Devil May Care,” I’m throwing caution to the winds. Season nine is firing on all cylinders and it’s only two episodes in. Mr. Dabb, you are officially chained to the Supernatural writing room. I don’t want to hear any nonsense about leaving to do a spin off. We need you.
“Devil May Care” continues to set up the character arcs and season themes introduced last week, and it does so while weaving together the various stories seamlessly. This episode had none of the jerkiness found in the premiere. Every scene fit and the story flowed. That may be in part because the story had fewer locations, tones and paces to juggle, as Castiel did not appear this week.
This episode focused on revealing different characters’ needs and how they satisfy them. Abbadon wants to be Queen of Hell and quickly organizes a ruthless army to stage a coup. Crowley wants to keep his crown and launches his long game as he uses words to ensnare, torture and manipulate Kevin. Kevin wants his family back. Dean wants to believe his continuing lies to his brother are the right thing and Ezekiel wants to protect Sam.
Sam remains the wild card. Sam’s needs have been all over the place since the beginning of last season. In the Amelia arc, he told Dean he just wanted to leave hunting and live the normal life he tried to have at Stanford. In “Trial and Error,” he told his brother he wanted to show him how to live with hope. In “The Great Escapist,” he was in tears at the thought of being cleansed of the taint of demon blood, and in “Sacrifice,” he thought he was so flawed he deserved to die.
Sam has layers he even hides from himself, and I think those hidden truths are going to prove very important when the brothers finally have to deal with the possession consent issue. Last episode, Sam’s processing of his impending death led him to decide he was ready to move on from his life.
The upside of his talk with Death, whether real or imagined or a little of both, was he was finally allowed himself to hear that he has done enough good to be proud of who he is. That’s huge for Sam. The downside is he didn’t see a way to live with that knowledge.
Given that just hours earlier he felt he didn’t deserve to live, I can’t help but wonder if Sam’s distorted thinking had really disappeared when he said he was ready to die. And if it hadn’t, if he wasn’t really in that calm place of acceptance he projected, then the issue of consent is especially murky and problematic.
No one would argue in the normal course of things, Sam should be the one to make decisions about accepting possession. Indeed, it’s built into the process that angels need consent. But there are very few black and white issues. If Sam’s death wish was actually based on his emotional damage and guilt, then did Dean have the right to overrule his distorted thinking and save his life? The bar for an involuntary hold is the patient must be a danger to others or to himself. Clearly, Sam was a danger to himself—but why is key to this exploration of consent.
Ezekiel tells Dean Sam knows his brother talked him out of dying to complete the trials because he loves Sam. And that’s something Dean needs to hear. But Sam reveals something even more important: he so appreciates being surrounded by family and friends, he’s happier than he can remember being in a very long time—perhaps ever. He’s happier than he was with Amelia, perhaps because he hasn’t had to run away from anything or deny who he is.
I think it’s clear Ezekiel’s possession has something to do with Sam’s happiness. Is he in some metaphysical way drugging Sam, so this happiness is not organic? Or is he healing Sam from the inside out not only physically but also emotionally? If so, does that impact the enormity of Dean’s manipulation of his brother? If we had a beloved family member damaged to the point of wanting to die, would we take the chance to heal him or her from the inside?
I don’t think the situation will resolve into an easy answer. Lack of consent is a huge issue and Sam will feel betrayed. Dean is already uneasy and knows he should be talking things over with Sam, not Ezekiel. The situation is complex and therefore very interesting.
The supporting players’ needs and dilemmas are also interesting. Crowley’s scene with Kevin recalls Ben Edlund’s “On the Head of a Pin” in all the right ways. Supernatural’s villains work best when they have a personal relationship with the Winchesters or their allies, so their scenes are layered with different power differentials. In Edlund’s episode, Dean tortured Alastair for knowledge and was devastated by what he learned.
In “Devil May Care,” Kevin responds to Crowley’s verbal prods by grabbing the nearest blunt instrument to vent his hurt and rage. Crowley then takes those emotions and tries to manipulate Kevin into distrusting Sam and Dean, arguing that the Winchesters use people until they have no further value and then abandon them, usually to their death.
It’s true that Winchester allies tend not to live long lives and it’s also true Dean was prepared to kill Mrs. Tran in order to kill Crowley. Kevin is tired and grieving his mother’s death. He wants his family back. Fortunately, he’s not prepared to release his tormenter, but he does pack up his backpack and head determinedly for the door, just as Dean tracks him down.
The scene between the two of them is very moving, as Dean tells Kevin he has to face he has lost his mother, but he’s not alone. Dean has the same need for family, and as far as he’s concerned Kevin is family, someone he will die to protect. Kevin finally gets a look past the gruff and tough warrior to see the man whose ability to love helped stop the Apocalypse. And that’s enough to persuade him to stay.
Last year, I felt Dean’s writing was unbalanced in the second half of the season. He had the love and support for his brother I expected, but somehow those emotions came at the expense of his agency in the story. But this episode got the balance right.
Dean’s love and desire to protect are clearly in view, but so are his leadership and hunting skills. This Dean is not cheering Sam on from the sidelines. He’s on the battlefield, juggling hunting goals with relationship issues, spitting insults at Abbadon, but also opening up to Kevin. This Dean is dynamic.
Speaking of Abbadon and Dean, their scene together almost melted the screen. The demon knight is riveting as she purrs into Dean’s ear how much she wants his body, caressing his hair as she details the terrible things she will make him do. Dean dishes out his usual give ‘em hell attitude, but the demon holds the upper hand until Ezekiel makes his entrance. I know this scene left me wanting more, just as EzekielSam leaves me wanting more.
The whole episode left me wanting more. Thank you, Andrew Dabb. Thank you, Jeremy Carver, for taking what worked last season and fixing what didn’t.