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TV Review: Supernatural – “Sympathy For The Devil”

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It's a great day to be a fan girl. The show is back! Yep, it was all good, until I sat down to write this review. I mean, how do you summarize all that? We got a little of everything, and I do mean everything. I was half-expecting Kripke to show up at the end and toss in a kitchen sink.

Before I jump into the review, I should make note of a few relevant season five staff position changes. The obvious one is Misha Collins, who's now listed in the starring credits along with Jared and Jensen. Jeremy Carver is now a co-executive producer and Ben Edlund, Sera Gamble, and Phil Sgriccia are all now executive producers. Congratulations to all earning those well deserved promotions.

As for the directing and writing, for the first time the always solid Robert Singer gets the call to direct the season opener. Of course we all miss Kim Manners, but I definitely saw his influence, which is a nice homage. As with all the other openers thus far, the writer is the “keeps everyone on their toes” Eric Kripke.

Sympathy For The Devil

Picking up where we left off, Sam and Dean are being engulfed in Lucifer's white light. They try to escape, but those menacing convent doors close again, trapping them inside. Everything goes white and they're… on an airplane? Wow, I don't think anyone saw that coming, including Sam and Dean, whose shocked expressions said it all. So, only a minute into this and there's a new mystery to solve.

No time is wasted in getting to the core of these episodes, the brotherly drama that's laced throughout. Sam tries to apologize, but Dean brushes it off. He's focused on finding Lucifer. Sam knows something's up, we know something's up, but there are too many other messes to get to right now.

Like an exploded Castiel at Chuck's house. Zachariah and entourage waiting for Dean. An icky slash fan and avid Sam girl being called to duty to deliver a message about finding Michael's sword. Bobby arriving (with the Impala!) and responding to Sam's heartbreaking confession about starting the apocalypse by casting him out of his life. Bobby going black eyes and attacking Dean under the leadership of Meg demon. Bobby stabbing himself with demon knife to save Dean. Sam and Dean racing to the storage locker where Michael's sword is, only to find out from Zachariah that Dean is Michael's sword, aka vessel. A very pissed off Castiel showing up after Zachariah hurts Dean and kills Sam (yes, he dies again) and making Zack hit the reboot button while putting the fear of you-know-who into him. Castiel branding an angel-cloaking sigil into Sam and Dean's ribs and moving on. Bobby being paralyzed and apologizing to Sam after getting a pep talk from Dean that he didn't really mean. Oh, and in between all that Lucifer tempting his grieving-from-the-worst-possible tragedy vessel.

Whew, got all that? Yes, only after all that was there time to finally get to the heart of the matter. Dean can't forgive Sam and will never trust him again. Dude, that's harsh. Justified, but harsh.

A Deeper Look

Now that I got the short attention span portion of the review out of the way, time for deeper analysis. When breaking down this episode, this is a rare case where the parts are far greater than their whole. Every scene is strong but when they are put together, the pacing is thrown off. For example, the story of Lucifer's vessel, which is so well done, just doesn't fit in between the equally great drama of Bobby being possessed and stabbing himself to save Dean. That’s the risk though of cramming so much into such a short time space.

Putting that aside though, this episode is the ideal setup for the episodes to come. It definitely delivers the message that the apocalypse is a grossly out of control situation and just about anything can go wrong. You know, the stuff we crave.

For our four main heroes, there is plenty of peril for all of them. Bobby even gets a meaty story. We knew right away something wasn't right when he chewed out Sam after he honestly told him what happened. Bobby wouldn't be so cruel to Sam like that no matter what he did. For anyone who's watched this show, "out of character" means demon possession. Sure, endless debates can be triggered over how Bobby could have possibly been possessed since he's always been well protected, but for now, I'm just going to believe this is one tricky demon.

Bobby fighting off the demon within before killing Dean is a page out of "Devil's Trap" when John was possessed. Since that’s following continuity, I have no problem with it. Bobby took the chance to sacrifice himself for the sake of Dean. He deserves a medal indeed. I'm not sure if he bought into Dean's pep talk in the end, but he appreciated it. The burning question now is how long will they drag out the Bobby paralysis story? If Castiel heals him next week, I'll feel cheated. I'm dying to see Jim Beaver's take on the character shift.

Poor Dean, he's angry and looks like he just wants to kill something. Not that I blame him. How much can a man take? He's being hunted by both angels and demons. His surrogate father just drove a knife in his own belly to save him. Lucifer is free and going to destroy the world and he has no way to stop it. He finds out that his destiny is to be the vessel for the archangel Michael, the true slayer of Lucifer, thus giving up control of his free will. That's not something Dean will let go of so easily.

But the absolutely worse thing eating Dean alive right now is the one person who matters to him the most betrayed him in the worst possible way. He chose a demon over him. Forgive and forget for him doesn't come easy and in this case may never happen. In his mind, the Sam he knew and loved is gone. Of course we fans know better. What tears you apart only makes you stronger.

Dean's no compromise attitude serves him well and again we get another huge character defining moment. Sure, sending the angels away with the drawn-in-his-own-blood sigil is cool, but it's his second run-in with Zachariah that has us bowing at his feet. Zachariah tries everything to get Dean to agree that Michael take over his body. He breaks Sam's legs. Dean says no. He promises to heal Bobby. Dean says no. His gives Dean painful stomach cancer. Dean, blood drooling from his mouth, says no. So what's left? Attack Dean’s biggest weakness and kill Sam. He takes away Sam's lungs and as Sam slowly loses breath on the floor, Dean says no. Yes, our boy has learned his lesson well. He won't play games any more, no matter what the cost.

Of course that scene gets way better when one badass Castiel being armed with the angel-killing dagger and a new purpose storms in. Whatever brought him back from the dead was also responsible for Sam and Dean ending up on that plane. It wasn't angels. By the way Zachariah freaks out I'd say we're talking about God. If that's true, something tells me we'll have a new banished angel in the pit by the end of the season. Castiel gets the best line of the night. "Now put these boys back together and go. I won't ask twice." I'm liking this new rogue version of Castiel.

It can’t be Castiel without ambiguity though. After Sam and Dean are revived, he protects them by burning an Enochian symbol into their ribs and moving on before giving Dean any answers. I can’t wait to see where this is going. Something’s going on with our favorite angel, and it’s huge.

Then there's Sam. Oh Sammy. Let's face it, we knew he'd have it rough. Starting the apocalypse is something one can’t live down easily. He takes responsibility for his actions like a man, especially after Bobby's heart crushing tongue lashing. Sure it wasn't really Bobby and he does get his forgiveness in the end, but that isn't what Sam needs the most. He needs to clear things with Dean. Sam walks on eggshells the entire episode following big brother's lead, even though Dean shuts him down twice. He tries to be helpful by making up hex bags to protect them from being detected by angels or demons. His pride is short-lived though when Dean wants to know where he got them. He has to shamefully admit that he learned how to do that from Ruby, but that’s progress. Sam isn’t giving anymore lies, no matter how painful the truth is.

Ultimately, like he usually does, Sam manages to get the truth out of Dean. Sam has learned before though that when Dean is honest, it’s not pretty. What he gets is even worse than Dean calling him a monster in "When The Levee Breaks." Dean gives him no chance of making things right. He'll never trust him again. In a simple yet powerful expression of despair Sam completely crumbles inside when he hears that. The final shot intentionally shows the brothers divided, with Dean going to the Impala and a stunned Sam staying behind. Another great setup for coming episodes.

Even the guest acting stands up. Mark Pelligrino as Nick, the tortured man whose family was brutally murdered, conveys in a few short scenes the bad place he's in. Bring on Lucifer in the form of his dead wife and watch the master ace what other demons usually do well — twist human weakness and vulnerability to their advantage. Lucifer is tender, sympathetic, believable, and offers this man something no one else can — justice for his family. How could he refuse? The powerful exchange in the scene makes us thankful again that this show can attract actors of this caliber.

So, now that the apocalypse has been properly staged, it’s time to start the fight. Let's hope that all four of our heroes can overcome their personal obstacles in time to save the world. I’m sure that’s what the rest of season five will be all about.

Questions For Later

There was plenty in this episode that got fan debate going. First, how did Sam and Dean not notice that Bobby was possessed? The way I see it, Sam was still too guilt-ridden and self-loathing. Dean was still really distracted by everything and had no clue what to do. It was an honest mistake. A really bad one for Bobby, but an honest one.

Why did Sam lose his powers? I’m taking that to be an extension of the final scene in “Lucifer Rising” when he tried to kill Ruby and had no power. “You shot your payload on the boss,” Ruby told him. This could mean that the powers are gone permanently, or just temporarily. That’s for future episodes to determine. It makes sense to me he didn’t have them in this one. As for being healed from the withdrawal symptoms, it’s possible he may not suffer physically, but I’m taking bets that emotionally the cravings and the issues are still there. We haven’t seen the last of Sam’s demon blood issues.

A really interesting issue came up. How can Dean be a vessel for Michael if he couldn’t hear Castiel’s voice without suffering extreme pain? A theory thrown out there (which I like) is that maybe Dean can only hear the voice of the angel he’s supposed to be a vessel for. Also, if you remember, Jimmy Novak had issues with Castiel’s voice at first but adapted. Could be Dean could hear it now as well. Again, something to keep in the back of the mind for the future.

Stray Thoughts

This episode had my most favorite shout-out of the entire series! I’m talking about the almost exact recreation from one of my favorite scenes in Galaxy Quest when the mega fan was told that it was all real. It’s every bit as hysterical here too. Becky makes the perfect scary fan and Kripke again is sending us his reality check. I can't look at fanfic the same way again.

The Devil is in Delaware! That's my husband's home state and we often wondered when it would make an appearance in this show. I knew something about that place wasn't right. [That's the sound of my hubby smacking me right now — wink.]

Okay, admit it. Who took a sick pleasure in again watching Dean freak out over an airplane he's in going down? Continuity! No wonder he never flies.

I knew just by going through the AC/DC catalog that if any song serves as a barn-burning season opener that hasn’t been in the series yet, "Thunderstruck" is the obvious choice. I really hope they air in a future episode the montage of all four seasons shown at Comic-Con. That was to Judas Priest's "You've Got Another Thing Coming" and it was awesome.

My overall grade for "Sympathy For The Devil" is an A-. Uneven pacing prevents it from going higher, but I’m very happy with this season opener. Next week, a wild west showdown with demons. I see Jo, Ellen, and Rufus! Considering it's on opposite the Fringe premiere, I think a lot of DVRs will be busy.

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About Alice Jester

  • elle2

    Great review as usual, Alice.

    You nailed it in your recap, the pacing that trips me up the most and is the most jarring is the cut from the ending of the fight scene to the quieter ‘seduction’ of Nick by Lucifer. They should have continued with Bobby’s arrival at the hospital and then as the boys sped off cut to the Nick/Lucifer scene. Alas, that will go down like ITGPSW with Uriel and Sam’s scene coming before Dean’s and Castiel’s, reverse please.

    All in all, a great episode and the ending really got to the crux of the matter…You chose a demon over your own brother. I love that the shot has Dean getting to the Impala and opening the door and then looking back at a stunned and frozen Sam…all hope is not lost.

    Only 13 hours until tonight’s episode. Whee

  • Nitewoman

    Great comments and good review. Agree with most of what you said. Looking forward to Episode 2

  • Bethany

    Also – poor Dean he’s never going to get over that fear of flying is he?

  • Bethany

    I agree with Elle it is nice to see a more gentle Sam back!

    In defence of Bobby although it would be out of character for Bobby to get possessed if you think of all the things that had happened just before (Sam’s scary withdrawl and escape, Dean’s emotional breakdown after seeing Sam then disappearing right in front of his eyes – he wouldn’t have known where Dean was) you can’t help but think he must have been on the back foot and that’s what allowed the demon to find the chink in the armour to sneak in.

    Castiel justr rocked, that is a mystery i can’t wait to explore there was a steel and a determination about him that wasn’t there before, can’t wait to see what he is up to.

    Dean, Dean, Dean… can i get a “hell yes” for his stance against Zach! Strong, defiant and unwilling to bend or give up his free will ready to fight for what he thinks is right, just as i’ve missed a more gentle Sam, i’ve missed fiesty Dean too!

    I have to agree with Chris that Dean is hurt and feeling betrayed by the fact that Sam chose Ruby above him and that he feels that he has given so much for his family and this is what he gets.On the other hand I couldn’t help but feel hopeful, as painful as it was to hear, when Dean finally spoke about his feelings. So many times before they have kept their feelings to themselves, hidden their feelings away and let them simmer and fester beneath the surface until it all blows up in their faces. Not this time, i think in this one episode Sam and Dean were more honest about their feelings then in the entire last season (well almost) and i see this as a good thing as something has shifted. Although its awkward and painful and brutal they’re not hiding their feelings from each other, they’re being honest and that shows the barriers of the past season have been eroded. Yes it’s not pretty but sometimes you have to break everything down and hit the bottom before you can rebuild. Honesty is the best place to start. They can work back up to trust.

  • Great review, Alice! And excellent points raised by Chris and Elle. I agree – Dean isn’t angry and hurt because Sam killed Lilith, but because of the way it happened.

    And I also am happy to see the ‘nice’ Sam back.

  • Tina – Sam technically started the apocalypse, but no, he’s not in full blame for all of it. As Chris and Elle so wonderfully explained, it was Sam’s betrayal of siding with Ruby over him that is bothering Dean. He doesn’t take betrayal well.

    Chris – I agree definitely, I guess I meant that was Dean’s headspace right now with never trusting Sam again. Excellent clarification on your part, because what you wrote is correct.

    Elle – Hi there! I agree with everything, especially that Sam is already so much different. He’s gentler for sure and I loved the return of the innocent puppy dog eyes. He didn’t seem to be the darker Sam and seasons three and four. I’m also thrilled with Dean finally not willing to make deals. I think there’s so much more to come with those character directions. They will be challenged! Can’t wait!

  • Elle

    I’m so happy that there are new episodes that lead to fabulous new reviews! I have missed them so, Alice! I agree with pretty much everything you said here.

    I think people are confusing where Dean’s headspace is right now. I truly do not think he is “angry” about Sam and his role in releasing Lucifer. To me, it read more as hurt over (perceived or actual) abandonment on the part of Sam – it’s more about the personal than the global consequence of Sam’s choices last season. And no, I don’t think Dean is a saint, but I do believe Sam walked a very dark path and as happens with addicts, things get destroyed and damaged on that path. We know that Dean wants his family together over and above most else and many times now he has been left behind by his family – at least he did. And it wasn’t just physical either, there was an emotional detachment between the two boys in season four – Sam’s lack of faith in Dean (despite Dean’s own lack of faith in himself) had to be really painful to endure after one year prior, when Sam was talking about how he’d looked up to his big brother his whole life. I totally feel for Sam and understand that his guilt and apologies are genuine and from the heart – but who hasn’t had the experience where you just can’t forgive and move on because the hurt is too deep, at least right now.

    I am looking forward to the re-forging of the relationship between Sam and Dean as the season goes on.

    I am very please with how far Dean has come. I guess he’s learned his lesson about making deals – it doesn’t end well. I was very proud when he refused Zachariah no matter what was threatened. I can see the potential great leader in there and I hope to see that develop more as the season moves forward. That said, I also wonder if it isn’t a sign of Dean’s complete disillusionment with everything and his resignation to go down swinging. Regardless, it’s still a step up from last season when he was so consumed with his guilt and sorrow he could hardly function.
    Even though it’s only been one episode, Sam is like a breath of fresh air over last season- much more the Sammy we knew. Not the same, and certainly changed, but the gentler Sam is very much welcome. Poor guy has a long, long road ahead.

    Season five is off to a fantastic start!

    Thanks, Alice, for the great review!

  • Chris

    Very nice review, Alice. I really enjoyed this episode, although there was a lot going on, I think it was necessary to set up plot lines for the remainder of the season.

    I enjoyed getting some background on Lucifer’s meatsuit, Nick. I think MP will do a great job in the role. I also enjoyed seeing Meg again and hopefully she will return. Kurt Fuller continues to be amazing as Zach. And I’m VERY glad Dean stood up to Zach and doesn’t trust a word he says. It’s clear that Zach has no concern for humanity.

    To “tina” — I don’t understand why you believe that Sam is the only one being blamed for starting the apocalypse? Dean himself said “WE started this and WE have to clean it up.” The demons know Dean broke in hell and the angels know as well. Dean didn’t tell Bobby about what Sam did, but then Sam confessed. And Dean told Sam that he didn’t have to apologize for killing Lilith. That’s not the source of Dean’s anger.

    I thought the scene between Dean and Sam at the end was nicely done. Dean is clearly very hurt by Sam choosing Ruby over him all last season and he needed to be honest with Sam about what he’s feeling. Dean didn’t yell or hit. He was honest and open about his emotions (which kind of surprised me given how Sam used Dean’s emotions against him last season).

    I have to disagree with this, Alice: “He’ll never trust him again.” Dean said that he didn’t know if he would be able to trust Sam again. He said he was having a “hard time forgiving and forgetting.” Dean didn’t speak in absolute terms of “never”. He just doesn’t know *right now* if he’ll be able to trust Sam again. But certainly Dean is deeply hurt right now, and I don’t blame him a bit. I have every hope that they will be able to mend their relationship, but it’s going to be a long (angsty!) road, I’m sure.

    Thanks again, Alice.

  • maria

    really good review. summed it up completely, and the episode just took SPN to a whole new level. i can’t wait for the next ep.

  • tina

    Nice review Alice Just one thing Sam had help starting Armaggedon it was a team effort and I am not quite sure why Sam is the only one when Dean and the angels and demons were just has guilty.

  • Huppy

    Hi, Alice, I totally agree with your review, which covers the episode perfectly. I still am having trouble accepting that Bobby could have gotten possessed by a demon–that is so OOC.

    My favorite line was the one Dean said after Meg kissed him: “Is that peanut butter?”

    I also enjoyed the scene in Chuck’s house, with Chuck hitting Sam with a plunger. Yes, it’s been a stressful day.

    The fangirl was funny but got a little too meta for me. I did enjoy the cartoon snippet of the Devil and Yosemite Sam on the plane.

    There definitely was a lot going on in this episode. I’m looking forward to the next!