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TV Review: ‘Supernatural’ – ‘Road Trip’

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spn9x10-6This week’s episode of Supernatural gripped the fandom tight, and raised it from “hell-atus” in spectacular fashion.

Written by Andrew Dabb and directed by Robert Singer, “Road Trip” picks up within hours of the midseason finale. The episode opens with Dean (Jensen Ackles) giving Kevin Tran (Osric Chau) a hunter’s funeral. Newly re-angeled Castiel (Misha Collins) arrives at the bunker, and Dean finally – finally – tells Cas everything. After learning of Dean’s intention to “end Sam” (Jared Padalecki), Cas suggests that they instead capture Gadreel and manually override the angel, enabling a conversation with Sam. Dean agrees and subsequently makes a deal with Crowley (Mark Sheppard), trading a field trip for his angel-hacking prowess.

In the midseason finale, “Holy Terror,” Dean, Cas, and Gadreel each justify, respectively, angeling Sam, stealing grace, and killing Kevin, with, “I did what I had to.” The emphasis on motivations and choices goes in a slightly different direction in “Road Trip.” During his interrogation, Gadreel tells Dean, “I am doing what I have to do.” Giving Crowley the go-ahead, Dean responds, “So am I.” And Crowley, picking up a needle to drive into Gadreel’s head, repeats Dean’s statement verbatim. Cas, who’s already taken action by stealing Theo’s grace, echoes the same sentiment, telling Dean, “It wasn’t easy. But I didn’t have a choice.” Meanwhile, Gadreel’s control of Sam’s body speaks to the younger Winchester’s lack of choice. It will be interesting to see how this thematic Gordian knot is resolved.

The full consequences of Dean’s choices are being ever-so-slowly revealed this season. In “Holy Terror,” Dean realizes that he has enabled Gadreel’s hijacking of Sam’s body and smiting of Kevin. spn9x10-7Ackles continues the portrayal of that gut-wrenching grief in “Road Trip,” and in the particularly emotional beginning, which is set to Bob Seger’s poignantly perfect “The Famous Final Scene,” Dean’s desolation is palpable. Once Castiel joins him, we see Dean raise somewhat out of its throes, but his sadness lingers and erupts at key moments, like when Crowley is hacking into Gadreel’s operating system.

There are only two moments when Ackles’s emotional resonance pings as somewhat “off” to me: when he bemoans being “so damn stupid” and when he claims that he’s “poison.” Variations of these lines have been delivered in Show before, so perhaps repetition is to blame; however, Ackles also delivers the lines in an even lower vocal register than usual. I can’t imagine that his performance choice isn’t intentional, so perhaps it’s to call attention to Dean’s verbalization of his self-perception? (Sidenote: Can Dean’s voice get any lower?)

Dean and Cas’s reunion offers some touching moments, from the “sharing and caring” sessions that both willing engage in to Cas’s consistent offering of moral support. Cas’s presence also draws our attention to Dean’s state of mind and to the fact that while Dean is notoriously self-sacrificial when it comes to Sam, his actions are especially desperate now. For all of his familiarity with Dean, even Cas is surprised that Dean enabled Sam’s angelic possession and exhibits concern and shock at the younger man’s willingness to accept Crowley’s deals (to hack Gadreel and to temporarily possess Sam).

Though Cas’s re-angeling so quickly in the season surprised (and disappointed) many fans, this episode makes it clear that Cas’s humanity hasn’t been entirely erased. Cas is, quite simply, different. He observes, listens, and empathizes in ways that are very human. While he doesn’t endorse Dean’s choices, he assures the hunter that he was “stupid for the right reasons” and relates to Dean’s dismay over being “played” by Gadreel: “I thought I was saving heaven. I got played too.” Cas even re-frames their situation, telling Dean that instead of thinking they are “a couple of dumbasses,” he prefers to think they are “trusting – less dumb, less ass.” And at the episode’s end, when Dean and Sam are talking, Cas steps away. Since earlier in the episode we’re reminded that he has angelic hearing, we know that this is a gesture.  And when Dean leaves, Cas stands with Sam, ostensibly because he understands that Dean will want him to stay and heal his brother.

Road TripAs in “Holy Terror,” Gadreel’s portrayal suggests that we are to feel some degree of sympathy for the angel; I don’t, though. While being imprisoned since Lucifer infected the Garden of Eden surely had a negative effect upon the angel, as did the torture inflicted by Thaddeus (Wesley MacInnes), Gadreel’s internal struggles are all-too easily forgotten in his desire for heavenly glory. For example, he tells Metatron (Curtis Armstrong) that while it was easy to kill Thaddeus, it was difficult to kill Kevin, and we realize that he also chose not to kill Dean. However, when unexpectedly reunited with Abner (Dan Payne), his friend of at least 700 years, Gadreel violently carries out his assassination orders.

The scene between Abner and Gadreel is significant; they sit and converse as if they’re in a therapist’s office. Abner says, “I’m not a wise man, Gadreel, but the key to happiness is getting the one thing that you want most and never letting go.” Gadreel takes Abner’s advice a different way, and he chooses to pay the price (Abner’s life) for his personal happiness in order to gain what he wants most (reputation and glory). The choice to kill Abner seemingly kills Gadreel’s uncertainty, and the angel is noticeably less conflicted from this point forward. I’m very curious to see how Tahmoh Penikett portrays the angel in upcoming episodes.

“Road Trip” gives Sheppard his best material of the season, from his witticisms to his machinations. His calculated response to Abaddon (Alaina Huffman) reinforces just how dangerously cunning Crowley is, despite his confinement in the Winchesters’ dungeon. I would say that he still warrants Meg Masters’s warning in “Reading is Fundamental”: “When are you going to get it? Crowley’s always the problem” (7×21). Season eight further established Crowley’s status as a “big bad,” but his near-cure complicates his status in season nine. Is Crowley truly “bad”? He’s expressed human emotions, joneses for human blood, and he keeps his word to free Sam from Gadreel’s control. (And so far as we know right now, he did nothing nefarious while inside Sam.)

spn9x10-5However, Crowley manipulates Dean in “Road Trip.” In the past, Crowley’s response to Dean has vacillated between grudging admiration and irritation. He’s tried more than once to remove the elder Winchester; for example, he purposefully didn’t share the knowledge that killing Dick Roman would send anyone in the vicinity to Purgatory. I’ve always thought that the leviathan prophecy “cut off the head and the body will flounder” (7×22) applied also to the Winchesters since, without Dean, Sam was no longer a threat. Though Crowley willingly deals with Dean in “Road Trip,” upon learning of Kevin’s death, he tells Dean that he had told Kevin to run because “People in your general vicinity don’t have much in the way of a lifespan.” I just can’t bring myself to trust Crowley, especially since he purposefully feeds Dean’s self-loathing here. Maybe next week’s episode will prove me wrong, though.

So far this season, we’ve seen Dean, Cas, Crowley, and Gadreel grapple with their choices and identities. By contrast, Sam, because of his possession by Gadreel, had no idea that he was compromised. Now that he knows, I anticipate that Sam will claim a more active role in the narrative. We haven’t seen 100% Sam since the season eight finale, so it’s nice to have him back – assuming that he is, in fact, wholly himself. (Let’s hope so. I’ve missed “real” Sam.)

While Sam ejecting Gadreel is a cheer-worthy moment, the final scene of “Road Trip” is anything but euphoric. We’ve known, as has Dean, that Sam would not take the news of the possession well, and that’s confirmed during the brothers’ conversation. Sam reminds Dean that he was ready to die, and he rejects Dean’s rationale for not letting him do so. Dean says that he is leaving, and Sam tells him to “go,” setting the stage for the Winchester’s physical separation. According to spoilers, it lasts for at least one episode, so we’ll see how this plays out. The fact that Sam recognizes that Dean’s reasoning for leaving isn’t the problem gives me hope that the season-long narrative will, in fact, reconfigure the brothers’ relationship into a healthier dynamic. Even Ackles and Padalecki have said that Dean and Sam don’t necessarily comfort each other and are, instead, “pushing each other, killing each other, lying to each other…” It would be gratifying to see these thirty-something-year-old characters resolve their differences and forge stronger, healthier bonds with themselves and others, enabling fresh, nuanced storylines, particularly if Supernatural does run longer than ten seasons.

Road TripThe season premiere, “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” initiated a new era for Supernatural; however, while the ninth season has scored mostly strong ratings, episode quality has been inconsistent. My unreserved enjoyment of “Road Trip” gives me great hope for “First Born” – and if the back half of season nine sustains this momentum, perhaps crossroads dealings won’t be needed after all.

Next week’s “First Born” balances storylines split between Dean and Crowley’s encounter with Cain and Sam and Cas’s efforts to track down Gadreel. Watch the promo here and the sneak peek here. Supernatural airs Tuesdays at 9 pm on the CW network.

Other notes:

  • Anyone else so distracted by the episode’s beginning that they completely missed Tahmoh Penikett’s name in the opening credits and squealed in surprised at his appearance?
  • Despite the overarching plot’s seriousness, “Road Trip” has moments of levity too, from Castiel and Crowley fighting over “riding shotgun” (which neither gets to do) to Crowley calling Abaddon “the world’s angriest ginger.” Dean’s eyeroll when Crowley calls Cas a “flirt” is also great. And I laughed out loud when Crowley calls the impala Dean’s “phallus with wheels.”
  • spn-screenshotFor all of human Steve’s social awkwardness, “Captain Sexy” or “feathered Castiel,” as Cecily (Brenna O’Brien) calls him, is widely recognized as a heavenly hottie.
  • Cas has been working at a gas station – wouldn’t he realize that his car is out of gas?
  • Why doesn’t Dean have access to the Men of Letters’s cars?
  • What happens now that Crowley knows where the bunker is? Or should we assume that he was blindfolded until they left its vicinity?
  • The Supernatural fandom was out in full-force Tuesday night. On Twitter, #Supernatural, #ProfoundBond, and Gadreel all trended. (The attached screenshot was taken at 10:03 pm EST.)
  • Supernatural’s Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins, Mark Sheppard, Osric Chau (#KevinLives), Alaina Huffman, Kim Rhodes, Adam Glass, and Robbie Thompson also live-tweeted before and/or during the episode.
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About L. Scott

L. Scott is a freelance writer and editor, among other things. Follow her on Twitter @Lyda_Scott.
  • Lisa

    Wow. Wow. Wow. I’m so happy that I ran across a link to this review because I LOVED it! What a great review! I agree with so, so, so, so much of what you said about just about everything, but especially about Cas, Dean, and Sam. I’ve definitely found where I’ll be reading Supernatural reviews for the rest of the season now.

    Loved your opening taking me back to one of my favorite lines ever (“I’m the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition”).

    It was definitely great to finally-finally have Dean tell Cas everything! I really, really wish that those two would just sit down and talk more often on this show!

    I adored in the episode how Cas was able to make Dean smile and help him with his grief and guilt.

    I want to trust Crowley as well, but the past does tend to make one weary of ever trusting Crowley, and I also agree completely with you about wanting real Sam back, I’ve missed him too!

    I totally missed Tahmoh’s name in the credit too and was also pleasantly surprised to see him again!

    Thank you so much for bringing attention to the #ProfoundBond trend, as well as the other trends, from that night.

    • Lyda Scott

      Thank you! I couldn’t resist playing off the “raised from perdition” line – it was too perfect. I loved seeing fandom revive after 9×10 after such low-energy pre-hiatus (and, of course, the hellatus itself is tough to weather).

      There is so much good in “Road Trip” – I always watch eps more than once before I write my reviews, and this was an exceptionally enjoyable one to watch on repeat! Besides 9×10, I can only say that about 9×1, 9×4, and 9×6. The others were more work, less fun on repeat.

      I’m excited for tonight’s ep and hope we’ll all have more joy to share tomorrow! And here’s to #Supernatural and Team Free Will trending!

  • Ginger

    Road Trip was a great way to ring in the new year for our show. I actually liked the understated way JA and JP both played that last scene. By doing it that way, I thought it added just the right punch that was intended. I also think JA’s performance brought all of the intensity to the script that Dabb intended. I hope now that Dean’s emoting is out of TPTB’s system and from here on out we see a Dean Winchester playing for keeps.

    I had the same reaction to Dean and the MoL’s garage, but a nice fan told me that the cars in the bunker garage were a ’57 T-bird, an Austin-Healey Sprite (both two-seaters) and a Studebaker Commander and a Model T — all cherry cars, but none of them suitable for carrying three people across country. I’m giving that one a pass…except for the gas.

    Yep, I missed Tahmoh’s credit and was very surprised and happy to see him show up. I don’t like Gadreel any more, though. He has crossed the moral horizon and is a dead man walking…or should be, even if he decides to switch sides. He also came off looking like the dumbest angel ever made. He gets no sympathy from me.
    I also think Crowley long ago passed the moral horizon when he tortured Kevin (besides making his life miserable) and Mrs. Tran just for fun. He has a very ugly past with the Winchesters, and I hope the writers remember that. Witticisms are all very nice, and he should be a dead man walking, too. Bring on Abaddon and let Dean and her go head-to-head. That should be fun, as I find them pretty evenly matched.
    What leaves me intrigued, however, is that Sam seems to have figured something out about the brothers, but he was too worn out, weary, and ill to get into it with Dean, and Dean was in no mood to listen. I want to know what Sam has figured out about the two of them.

    • Lyda Scott

      Thank you so much for the info about the cars! I happily accept that rationale too.

      I’m wondering if the hints that might (depending on perspective) give Gadreel a sympathetic edge are actually meant to set him up as a symbol — His actions/etc do parallel some of TFW’s actions/etc. Maybe when he’s “resolved,” those other issues will be too? I want to see if Tahmoh plays him as relatable, though, because even if he is symbolic, right now, I’m not a fan!

      And I loved that last shot too — such a beautiful, emotional, symbolic scene. Here’s hoping that tomorrow’s ep is great too!

      • Ginger

        Oh, I think Tahmoh will play Gadreel very relatable. He and the character seem to have been an instant fan favorite. Having him kill his BFF and the first nice angel we’ve seen on the series was a bold move.
        There are so many paths the writers can take with this story, but I think both Gadreel and Metatron’s fatal mistake is under-estimating Dean Winchester. That’s something that always gets the bad guys killed, and even some of the ones who decide to be good guys in the end bite the dust for making that fatal mistake. Crowley is the only one who has not under-estimated the Winchesters; especially Dean. That makes him interesting this year; whereas, I had lost interest in him as a character a couple of years ago.
        I am most interested in the Cain/Dean thing in tomorrow’s episode. Everyone assumes that Dean and Cain have something in common, because they are first borns. I have always thought that Cain was more aligned with Sam; Cain being the “civilized farmer” and Dean was more aligned with Abel, the herder and the hunter. When God cast Cain out, he ‘marked’ him, like Sam was ‘marked’ or ‘cursed’ with the demon blood.
        Abel was favored by God. Dean was offered paradise in In My Time of Dying where he was called a “warrior” and having a “good death” (indicating he would go to Heaven) and his dream of ‘perfect’ life in What Is and What Should Never Be. Both times he turned it down to continue fighting evil.
        I don’t know if the current writers will recognize this, but the point is that any parallel between Dean and Gadreel was erased when Gad killed his BFF in a misguided selfish act to get back into Heaven and reclaim his name. Dean makes his choices out of love (the very thing Abner tried to tell Gadreel would offer him a second life and a way to start over. I think that boat floated for Gadreel with Abner’s murder.
        There are so many varied paths the writers can take the rest of the season. I just hope they don’t lose themselves in pointless, cutesy one-offs again (Garth and spa episodes) and continue to follow through on the really interesting points they have brought up now..

        • Lyda Scott

          Oh, yes – Tahmoh took fandom by storm, didn’t he? I really like him but am
          curious to see if he can make Gadreel relatable. (Should’ve been more
          clear with my phrasing earlier – sorry!)

          I’m anxious to see how Show handles the
          Cain/Abel lore too and how it’s connected to Dean and Sam. The season
          still has so much potential, though I think we’re rightfully wary about how the second half will be paced. I’m hoping for good things!

          Only a few hours left until we find out if “First Born” lives up to 9×10 – happy watching!