Note: This article contains major spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Supernatural’s ninth season premiere jumpstarted a new era in the show’s universe. Between a broken heaven and a chaotic hell (per 9×02 “Devil May Care” previews), earth is no longer a middle ground – it’s a battleground.
As the “regular” world hears news reports of a global meteor shower, Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki), Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) and Castiel (Misha Collins) know the truth: The angels are falling.
The premiere revolves around this game-changing event and picks up within hours of the season eight finale “Sacrifice.” Three interwoven yet distinct narratives comprise the episode.
The episode itself begins with the familiar scene of Sam and Dean in the Impala, yet within moments, we’re told this is a simulacrum. A comatose Sam’s subconscious is processing what’s happened and is using projections of Dean and Bobby (Jim Beaver) to represent the facets of Sam that want to, respectively, fight and accept death. In true Supernatural fashion, the seriousness of this meta-madness still allows for levity when Sam yells at the arguing projections, “Enough, both of you! I can’t hear myself think.”
For a comatose Sam, the question of whether or not his part is done extends concerns expressed in season eight. And when he walks into the cabin to meet Death (Julian Richings), we know that Sam has decided; as he tells the projection of Dean, “It’s what I want.” Death and Sam’s fireside chat reveals the latter’s concern with the repercussions of him dying, specifically his desire to “stay dead” and to not let anyone else be hurt because of him. There’s also a nice moment where Death compliments Sam: “I consider it quite the honor to be collecting the likes of Sam Winchester.” (However, while Sam deserves the compliment, I question anything that comatose Sam’s point of view shares in this episode; he’s subjected to so many influences, internal and external, here.)
While Sam’s subconscious struggles, Castiel deals with the disorientation of being newly human. Though he recognizes the loss of his grace and immediately seeks out a phone in order to call Dean, there are moments when Cas seems to forget. His unsuccessful attempt to commandeer the payphone booth is a notable example. Despite this, Castiel’s past brush with depowerment assures that he is not completely “lost.” It quickly becomes obvious that the same cannot be said for all epelled from heaven.
An encounter with fallen sister Hael (Grace Phipps) initially offers Castiel a potential purpose: to help his fallen brethren. Hael serves as a foil for Castiel; at a glance, with the same dark hair and blue eyes, they could be taken for biological siblings. She looks wide-eyed and innocent, much as Castiel always has despite his angelic ferocity. However, Hael lacks the humanity that her brother has developed since he gripped Dean tight and raised him from Perdition. She forcibly kidnaps Castiel and, based upon the blood splatter across the front seats, violently hijacks a vehicle. The revelation that she plans to possess her brother ensures that this reunion isn’t going to end well. The striking scene of Castiel standing over Hael’s broken body before he kills her is one that resonates. And the parallel of Hael’s threat with the manner of Sam’s healing cannot be overlooked.
Ever the narrative lynchpin, Dean carries the weight of the episode’s intersecting stories. He grapples with the reality of Sam dying, Castiel’s (at first) unknown status, and the realization that, along with Castiel, he tops the angels’ most wanted list. When the doctor tells Dean that Sam’s fate is “in God’s hands,” the elder Winchester doesn’t take the news well, and the next scene shows Dean in the hospital chapel, not praying to God, but to Castiel.
Dean’s prayer was one of my favorite scenes in the premiere. The intimacy of the shot, the focus on Ackles’s facial expressions, the score, and the prayer itself all converged to create a truly emotional moment. Ackles emotes amazingly anyway; I firmly believe that the popularity of Dean Winchester lies in his complex portrayal. But this scene is particularly heart-wrenching and made more so because viewers know what Dean does not: Castiel cannot hear him.
Once Dean realizes that Castiel is not answering his call, his expression alters to one reminiscent of other times when Dean prepares to pursue a reckless course of action. Putting out an open prayer to all the angels – perhaps not the most strategic thing to do, all things considered – he begs for help. And, of course, angels answer; that most of them are seriously pissed off should be no surprise. That the angels Dean encounters are after Castiel and seek access to him through Dean underscores that, as in season eight, their arcs continue to progress in tandem. (Sam, of course, is not excluded by this continuing progression – far from it. There are many past examples of Castiel’s connection with the younger Winchester, and in this particular episode, the former angel directly tells Dean, “Don’t worry about me. What are you doing for Sam?”)
It’s through Dean’s storyline that Ezekiel (Tahmoh Penikett) enters the picture. Desperate for help, Dean accepts the supposedly fallen angel’s offer. The suggestion that Ezekiel is more than angel or, at the least, that his motives are not entirely pure, becomes apparent by episode’s end. He too-easily manipulates Sam into giving tenuous consent and essentially blackmails Dean into allowing Sam’s memories to be erased, with the statement – threat? – that if Sam ejects his “angelic pacemaker” he will die. Dean’s expression, as he agrees to deceive Sam on top of overriding his agency, reveals his awareness of the situation’s magnitude and his already-deepening guilt. The Sam/Ezekiel scenario, and Dean’s involvement, is problematic in so many ways, and I’m anxious to see how the writers resolve this storyline.
“I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” written by showrunner Jeremy Carver and directed by John F. Showalter, sets up the season well. From the narrative pacing to the camerawork and direction, the action-packed, suspenseful episode deftly balanced the internal and external struggles of the three leads. It had my complete attention for the hour’s entirety, and that’ s saying something. According to ratings, I wasn’t alone; it was the highest-rated Supernatural premiere since season six.
In numerous interviews, Carver has stated that Sam, Dean, and Castiel will explore the question “Who am I?” As each character decides what is important to him, he’ll also have to choose who he wants to be. Truly, there’s so much promise here.
The narrative has the potential to finally dismantle the Winchester brothers’ unhealthy codependency. It is a universal truth that Sam and Dean are the heart of the show and that should not change. However, they shouldn’t, to somewhat facetiously quote Zachariah, be “psychotically, irrationally, erotically codependent on each other” (5×18). When Sam agrees to let Ezekiel (whom he thinks is his projection of Dean) help him, and Dean agrees to Ezekiel wiping Sam’s memory, the two backslide from progress made in season eight. The consent/vessel storyline, however, has great potential for unpacking this issue once and for all.
The cues are also in place to explore the depth of emotion between Dean and Castiel. Regardless of how the relationship is categorized, the portrayal of their dynamic often employs tropes commonly identified as romantic. According to spoilers, Castiel will be separated from the Winchesters for at least a few episodes; it will be interesting – and telling – to see how the separation and reunion are handled. And once Castiel is reunited with the Winchesters, I’m curious to see if a true re-forging of Team Free Will occurs, and if so, what that reconfiguration will look like. After all, they’ve come a long way from being the “ex-blood junkie, [the] dropout with 6 bucks to his name, and Mr. Comatose” of season five (5×13).
As Carver’s second act unfolds and the show continues to explore themes and refine its evolving narrative structure, it consciously calls back to what’s come before. The last scene of “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” ends with Sam and Dean in the Impala – for real this time. It’s the only scene in this episode where the two actually interact; all of the previous scenes have either been Sam with projections or Dean with Ezekiel. Mirroring the pilot episode and the season two finale, (Sam says it the first time and Dean the second), Sam delivers the closing line this time:
“…we’ve got work to do.”
Symmetry like this simply makes me happy. Here’s hoping that the future episodes are as well crafted.
- The new title card is absolutely awesome.
- How Sam’s mind constructs his representations of Dean and Bobby are significant and indicative of the problematic class-coding common on the show. As an example, consider the linguistic implications of using “ain’t,” and how many times Sam’s version of Dean and Ezekiel’s version (which we can assume is crafted from Sam’s perceptions) use the term. Since Dean is a professional con man who can successfully present many different identities, Sam’s perception of his brother is telling.
- The irony that the trucker who helps Castiel is more “angelic” than the angels sets up what will most likely be a continuing parallel throughout the season.
- Dean gets some of the best lines. He remarks to the grief counselor who’s offering solace, “…I’ve got the King of Hell in my trunk.” The perplexed woman responds, “…is that a metaphor?” The fact that it’s not is part of what makes Supernatural great.
- While many embraced the scene of a Castiel clad only in boxers for aesthetic reasons, the laundromat scene is actually heartbreaking. A now-human Cas must decide between washing his clothes or purchasing food and water, and a superficially frivolous, potentially fan-service moment quickly took a serious turn.
- There are some well-placed parallels between “Lazarus Rising” (4×01) and “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” including Dean’s throaty, “Who are you?” to Ezekiel.