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. Ackles 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.
As 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.)
However, 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.
The 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.
- 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.”
- For 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.