That's much better. Sure, "The Devil You Know" sacrificed action and rich plot development for the sake of character tests and grand scheming, but given the awful mess of “Hammer of The Gods” I really like what is presented. They all can't be loaded thrill rides and upon closer examination "The Devil You Know" gives us plenty to consider and worry about.
If you're going to put the main focus on a cunning demon working a dastardly plan, you can't do better than Mark Sheppard's Crowley. There's no doubt about it, the guy is one colorful character. He is every bit as manipulative as the other demons that have crossed paths with Sam and Dean but way more entertaining. Sure, that entertainment comes from a stereotype, but a homosexual demon with some flamboyance and a diva-ish nature wins. He’s ruthless with a smile; a used car salesman in a designer suit. Not a new suit though. He's had to get by in life on the lam considering his foes ate his tailor.
Then there's Brady, the other "devil you know." Eric Johnson, who I know previously as goody two shoes Whitney in Smallville, is really good when he gets to be evil. He too is a used car salesman in a designer suit, but he's on the side of Satan. His purpose ends up to be a connection with Sam, which is why we’re likely dealing with him and not Pestilence himself. Enter a backstory of Sam's time at Stanford that was never hinted at before. Sam had a best friend in college and Azazel had an accomplice. When the two became one in Brady, Sam back then didn't know he was being played. He finds out now though and yeah, the already raging younger Winchester didn't need any more fuel added to that fire. He got it though and the results are downright chilling.
Time to Get Worried
Yes, I’m worried about Sam. This episode is a transformation for him and not in a good way. I am pleased to see Sam’s anger issues brought to the forefront again. Since the glaring appearance in “Sam, Interrupted” his internal fire has only been alluded to briefly. As soon as Crowley appears he’s raging, trying fruitlessly to kill the mischievous demon with vicious swipes of the knife. Dean has to hold him back and even though Dean doesn’t trust Crowley any more than Sam does, his cooler head and desperation to find Pestilence makes him willing to collaborate. This really bothers Sam, especially when Crowley will only take Dean along for the ride and Dean agrees.
It’s Bobby who gets through to Sam this time, pointing out that not only is his plan to say yes to Lucifer, take control and jump into the “box” insane but that the biggest flaw is he can’t control Lucifer if he can’t control himself. “Let’s face it. You’re not exactly Mr. Anger Management.” It doesn’t sink in right away, especially when Dean and Crowley bring back Brady. Once Sam finds out that his best friend at Stanford and the person who introduced him to Jess was a demon working for Azazel, he loses it. It’s only Dean’s intervention that prevents Sam from taking out Brady right there.
Sam gets the better of Dean though while Crowley is away and traps Dean in the bathroom. He takes his chance to have a confrontation and Brady pulls out all the stops. He taunts, he laughs, he pushes buttons, and every changing facial expression shown on Sam while he listens is key. He’s fighting hard for control and losing. The rage is too intense and he attacks Brady. When he holds the knife to Brady’s neck though he somehow pulls it together and only gives Brady a nick. He can control his anger after all. Well, sort of. We find that controlled anger is even more dangerous.
Enter the final confrontation. Crowley gets Brady to give up Pestilence’s location and goes off to find Death while Sam and Dean are permitted to do what they want with Brady. Dean makes it simple, a salt line trapping Brady in an alley and Sam staring him down with the knife. Mr. Anger Management is far more scary than Mr. Roid Rage. Sam’s actions change from manic and desperate to cold and calculated. It’s premeditated and done with no remorse. It’s the exact behavior we’ve seen thus far with Lucifer. There is an interesting exchange before Brady meets his gruesome end at the hands of Sam. Brady accuses Sam of practically being a demon himself. “Maybe the only difference between you and a demon is your Hell is right here.” After he crumples to the ground Sam says blankly, “Interesting theory.” I question if there’s more to this than showing just how sociopathic Sam has become. I wonder if that gives him an idea for his plan in trapping Lucifer. We’ll know in the next two weeks.
Dean’s behavior is really interesting as well. He decides to work with Crowley, even after Sam reminds him what happened when he trusted demons. Crowley even tricks Dean, giving him a story about how Brady wanted the rings and Dean finds out the hard way Brady really wanted ”his ass” for retribution. That doesn’t stop Dean though from continuing the alliance. Dean believes Crowley and likely finds the partnership necessary since they are out of options. This is a total switch between him and Sam from the past and we can only hope his dealings with demons don’t bite him as hard as they did Sam.
Dean is also acting the polar opposite of Sam. He may not be giving up the fight but some of that deep depression that’s been plaguing him lately still lingers. He’s not a fiery warrior with a give-em-hell-attitude but someone who solemnly knows the end is near. The most telling scene is after Crowley interrogates Brady for the first time. Crowley talks with Dean, who’s trying to relax and have a beer. Crowley tells him the plan with the rings better work and with one somber yet fearful look, a subdued Dean quietly acknowledges he holds the same hope. That one look shows that he’s carrying intense burdens but is coping far differently than his brother.
Then there’s Bobby. We only get a glimpse of his inner turmoil but I can’t help but think that’s he’s very tired as well. He yells at Sam not only because of the crazy plan, but because they just went through this recently with Dean. “We just got done talking your brother off a ledge and now you’re lining up to say yes?” How much longer can he be the solid rock for these boys when he himself is crumbling? He tries to be defiant with Crowley at the end but like Dean sees merit in the plan. He’s left considering the need to sell his soul to find Death, but for those of us that know him, that know the look in his eyes, he’s going to say yes. It’s not so easy to say no after all, especially when the end justifies the means. This is the exact reason why I think Sam and Dean will eventually say yes.
I did notice this time, which is usually true when established Supernatural directors like Robert Singer take the helm, more went into the storytelling with the direction and cinematography. The standout is Dean in the elevator after Brady attacks him. The camera does a half circle on Dean, who’s quietly freaking out, stopping when Dean waits with bated breath at the back of the elevator. The knowledge that a demon is looming out there makes that shot all that more powerful. Then Dean moves forward and the camera does another half circle, ending with Dean’s POV from the back of the elevator looking out into the lobby. That way, we don’t know what’s out there any more than Dean does. Of course Brady not being behind him one moment and behind him the next is really cool too.
Another great scene is Sam and Bobby having their pivotal conversation on the phone. They both are shown drinking alone in the dark. The parallel is fascinating for the conversation reveals that they both are indeed in bleak places emotionally right now too. My favorite touch though comes when Sam and Dean have their final showdown with Brady in the alley. There’s a shot in the background of the Impala, its silhouette accented by the faint street light. She’s there watching over them as usual, even in dark alleys. That’s a testament to the brilliance of cinematographer Serge Ladoucer. I also love the lighting in the first interrogation scene between Brady and Crowley with the window in the center. It’s simple lighting tricks like those that effectively contribute to the dark and desperate tone through the entire episode.
There Are Some Unresolved Issues
Sure, I read some complaints. The brothers are keeping secrets from each other. I didn't get that at all. Sam did what he always does when coming up with an idea, he's thinking it through. He is fully aware that Bobby could tell Dean, but he had a chance to discuss it and went for it. He knows Dean well enough that Dean won't even consider the idea. I for one am dying to see how Dean will react when he hears of the plan. Given is desperate move by trusting Crowley, I wonder if he’ll see merit to the idea.
Then there’s the issue of this sudden new best friend for Sam and the fact that someone other than Azazel killed Jessica when it’s never been hinted before. Hey, sometimes little reveals like this are needed to keep the drama alive for a show in its fifth season. I know its history rewriting itself, but it happens sometimes. As long as it’s not Sam stepping out of a shower a la Bobby Ewing, I’m cool with it. It’s flimsy but not totally implausible.
Castiel’s absence this time is glaring. Down to the wire like this and they’re missing the angel on their shoulder? They at least need one now to go with the demon that’s there. I see Castiel’s absence here a missed opportunity. Much like last year with Anna and Ruby, I like the idea of an angel and a demon being forced to work together. There are still two episodes to see that though.
The weakest part of the episode by far was the beginning. I get why we saw the gruesome scene in the lab and Sam and Dean playing their CDC parts. It’s to show the croatoan virus is near ready to be launched, but it really felt off from the rest. It did at least have an amusing “King of Pop” joke from Dean.
Overall, I give “The Devil You Know” a B+. It provides a great setup for the final two episodes of the season. The croatoan virus is much closer to reality and widespread distribution, Pestilence is spreading fear with swine flu, Bobby is about to get in over his head, and Sam is weighing desperate options. It’s a must see going into the final showdown. It’s also good storytelling as we’ve come to expect from Ben Edlund, has great acting from not only the usually strong leads but the guest stars as well, offers creative directing and cinematography, but the slower pacing did hurt it a little. Two more to go. I can’t wait to see how this all turns out.