Oh Supernatural, that’s so much more like it! My favourite show roared back into its ninth season on Tuesday with “I Think I’m Going to Like It Here,” an innocent sounding title that signals huge problems to come for the Winchesters. The kickass premiere generated kickass ratings by focusing on what matters: the bond between the brothers. Both Sam and Dean had tough choices to make, as Ezekiel the angel says, the best of a bad situation.
Jeremy Carver’s script does beautifully what was so lacking last season: create resonant links to prior seasons which help to illuminate the present. And he does so in a way that puts a fresh spin on what the brothers are willing to do for each other, while keeping each one in character. The contrast to the season eight premiere could not be greater.
The continuity with the season eight finale is just as striking. The episode takes place very shortly after Dean’s avowal of Sam’s central place in his life leads Sam to give up the trials in order to live. It seems Sam went too far down the rabbit hole to just climb out and resume his life. He’s dying and Dean, despite his denial, is grieving.
Dean tries to find a way to save Sam. Carver sets up several parallels in the episode, and how Dean and Sam handle the idea of Sam’s death is one of them. The story cuts back and forth between Sam’s internal debate and Dean’s external processing, showing what the brothers share and how they differ, in true Supernatural fashion.
When we first see Sam, he’s on the same wave length he was at the end of the finale, ready to clean up the angel mess alongside Dean, who we know just finished confirming that nothing and nobody comes before Sam for him. Sam has always needed to know Dean puts him before anyone else, for a number of reasons.
Dean carries heavy parental overtones for Sam, who still has that need to be the center of Dean’s attention, even as he struggles to keep his independence. But more than that, Sam needs to know his brother can love him no matter what he has done, and because he judges himself so harshly, he takes any sign Dean may see someone else as a brother as a rejection of himself.
Last season, he not only went against his own principles in how he reacted to Benny, in the finale he admitted he was also upset with how close Dean is to Cas, not because he doesn’t want Dean to have friends, but because he’s afraid Dean’s looking for another brother who doesn’t let him down.
Sam’s insecurity about his own worth has driven his arc since season one. He’s never been comfortable in his own skin, as we saw as recently as “The Great Escapist.” In “Sacrifice,” Sam finally admitted to Dean he doesn’t care if he dies because he feels like he lets Dean down over and over. The powerful ending to that episode had Dean convincing Sam he had a warped perception of himself and Dean’s view of him. But how well did Sam actually process that?
Sam personifies the part of himself that wants to fight to live as Dean, while Bobby takes on the role of accepting it’s time to go. Dean is the part of Sam that allows for hope, modeled on the brother who tells the grief counselor, “There’s always a way.”
Except this time, Sam can’t see a way. Over and over, he asks DeanSam, “What’s the plan?” He gets no answer, only the plea not to give up. And that lack of plan begins to leak away Sam’s hope, allowing him to rationalize why it may be time to go. If Dean is right and he is not fatally flawed and unlovable, then maybe he can allow himself to believe he did a lot of good along with some very understandable bad. And maybe that legacy is enough reason to cross over rather than fight.
That rationale does beg the question as to whether Sam really knows how to feel comfortable in his skin, even now. He’s heard Dean’s and Death’s reassurances on his worth, but he hasn’t actually figured out how it feels to live with that perception, and perhaps it feels easier to walk offstage than take on a new role, especially when he has no direction on how to go forward.
I loved the decision to have Death reaffirm for Sam he does not have to atone for anything, that in the eyes of the universe, he has not been found wanting. But does that mean it’s time for Sam to die? Death leaves that decision to Sam and he allows Dean to weigh in. Clearly, the answer to this question has not been predetermined.
Dean in his turn has been wrestling with the idea of losing Sam, and he moves through the first stages of grief: denial, anger and bargaining. Those stages lead to a state of mind sometimes described as magical thinking: the idea that if one makes some sort of bargain with a deity, death can be reversed. For most people, that stage eventually leads to an acceptance of the loss. But Dean Winchester is not most people.
Dean knows more than most people about the state of heaven and hell, and he doesn’t see any value to trying to bargain with God. But angels are another matter. Sam’s incarnation of Dean is not far off from the reality. To Dean, just because Sam’s dying does not mean he’s dead. Partly that’s because Dean has always represented hope. Partly that’s because he’s grieving for someone he’s put before anyone else all his life. Dean went against all his principles when he cut ties with Benny because his relationship with the vampire upset Sam. He was willing to sacrifice the good of the world to keep Sam safe. He’s not prepared to lose Sam now.
And that leads Dean to a decision sure to fuel audience debates for some time. He decides to use Sam’s trust in him as a way to manipulate his brother into allowing Ezekiel to possess him. Dean is well aware Sam, born to be Lucifer’s vessel, would never agree to be anyone’s vessel again. The thorny issue of informed consent is not glossed over and will come up with a vengeance at some point between the brothers. But at the same time, Dean’s motivations are relatable and believable, just as Sam’s were in season four. I may not agree with Dean, but I understand him.
Dean’s first step down his road of deception is to believe Sam’s loss of hope is an issue, not a calm place of acceptance. Just hours earlier, Sam wanted to survive, and in fact, Sam’s first response to hearing he is dying is that he stopped the trials to live. It’s not been that long since Sam insisted he would show Dean how to live with hope. Dean refuses to see Sam’s loss of hope as a good thing.
Is part of Dean’s reasoning selfish? Yes, just as part of Sam’s reasoning in demanding Dean put him first is selfish. But Sam and Dean are also good for each other, pulling each other back from understandable but self-defeating places. They give each other hope to carry on, to quote a song. I look forward to seeing how the consent issue plays out, as I think as always with this show, it is wrapped up in shades of grey.
The complexity of the relationship is beautifully shown as something as disturbing as lack of consent is wrapped up in Sam choosing to live for Dean. I would still like to see Sam tell Dean directly what he means to him, as Dean does for Sam, but at least this scene makes it easy to read between the lines.
Castiel’s story was also well done, as he too encountered an angel who wanted to possess him. Hael was more direct in over riding Cas’s consent and perhaps more honest about appreciating the power of his vessel than Ezekiel was with Sam. I expect these issues to continue to resonate throughout the season as Ezekiel gets a taste of possessing a vessel specially bred for Lucifer. I hope the writers don’t spend too much time on Cas as a fish out of water, because there’s no logical explanation for his complete lack of knowledge, given how much time he spends with Sam and Dean.
I also felt the constant cutting between stories was a little jerky, though not enough to lessen my enjoyment. I’m a little worried that the technique will wear thin rather soon and hope the writers will find a way to smooth the edges.
I loved Tahmoh Penikett as Ezekiel. He was powerful, otherworldly, earnest and had great chemistry with Jensen Ackles. I hope we get to see more of him as well as SamEzekiel.
All in all, a great start to the season. Well played, Supernatural.