In my attempt to gather a set of cohesive thoughts for this review of the very exciting “Two Minutes To Midnight,” a comment came through on my site that got me wondering how we watched the same episode. The commenter surmised that based on Death’s comments that Dean cannot intervene while Sam jumps into the fiery pit with Lucifer, and Dean will be left out of saving the world while Sam gets to be the hero. Sure, a lot happened in the episode that might confuse some people, but I had a hard time guessing how that obvious point was missed. Are there those out there who really don’t realize what's about to happen to Sam? I think this episode pretty much spells it out.
Sure, some things finally went Team Freewill’s way, which adds immensely to the entertainment value of this episode. The recent hopeless doom and gloom has been stealing some of the momentum. They bested Pestilence thanks to an almost human Castiel arriving by bus to save the day. Also, thanks to Bobby’s demon deal, not only did they find where Death is but because of Crowley's creative stretching of the rules, Bobby is walking again! How awesome! With Castiel’s return and Bobby’s newfound mobility they, along with Sam, are able to partake in their own act of “domestic terrorism” and destroy the Croatoan virus before it is distributed plus save innocents while doing it. On Dean’s side, he learns that Death happens to be card-carrying member of Team Freewill due to the fact that Lucifer is controlling him against his will. He gets the final ring without a fight, although he gets one big scare.
Much like The Empire Strikes Back, these victories can't be enjoyed. The big bad is still out there and must be defeated. There will be a deep personal cost. With all four horsemen rings in possession they now can open Lucifer’s cage. Death even gave Dean the “instruction manual.”
Now for the tragic part of the tale. No matter which way you look at it, Sam is going down. There is only one way to get Lucifer into his cage. That involves Sam saying yes to Lucifer, becoming his vessel, going through the deep personal torture of being possessed and hoping he’s able to wrestle control of Lucifer long enough to plunge THEM BOTH into the box. If that plan works, he’s either dooming himself to an eternity in a cage with the almighty Satan or, best case, burn up in the process. If he fails, Michael, in his new vessel of brother Adam, will kill him and Lucifer together, taking half the planet with them.
So, after that rundown, does that seem like that Sam is headed for glory while Dean is left out? No, that seems like a tragic setup for the finale that will destroy us all.
The true episode driver and best highlights show Team Freewill back in full force. Each member gets to play their part and even unexpected allies contibute. It's really awesome when a plan comes together.
Welcome back, Castiel! We only had to wait past the teaser to find out what happened to poor Castiel two episodes ago. He’s in a hospital bed feeling… what is this… pain? He somehow had landed on a shrimping boat outside Delacroix with very little left of his angel mojo. He’s forced to contribute by killing beings with knife and shotgun, but he looks awesome doing it. Needless to say, this doesn't do much for his confidence though. He does have a newfound faith in the Winchesters, marveling how Sam and Dean have so far exceeded his expectations. This evokes an apology to Dean and a vote of confidence to Sam about his plan.
But Castiel does have enough inside knowledge where he warns Sam of two very dangerous things to consider before saying yes. First, Michael has found another vessel — Adam. If Sam can't stop Lucifer, Michael will, and the results for the world will be catastrophic. Second, he will have to consume more demon blood than he's ever had to before to remain a viable vessel for Lucifer.
Bobby for once is given a reason to smile when Crowley uses a “subclause” in his demon deal to restore the use of this legs. The pure joy as he climbs out of the wheelchair is the big weepy moment of the hour and a darned good one too. Bobby follows Sam's lead in the siege on the warehouse and finds a new appreciation for the younger Winchester. He sees for the first time what Dean has only recently begun to see, Sam is stepping up on his own. Maybe he is strong enough to take on Lucifer. Bobby's new found faith in Sam is certainly something Dean needs to hear. Yes, he and Bobby have been rough on Sam lately by not giving him enough credit to make his own decisions. Now is the time.
Crowley is certainly the most unlikely member of the team, but he again manages to deliver. Forget the joy he brings Bobby. His info about Pestilence is good as is his trick to find Death's location. Still, his behavior is a bit strange when taking Dean to find Death. His hint about getting some pizza is the clue that he and Death covertly arranged for Dean to come to him. Interesting too that it had to be Dean but I assume that is the case so that death could get assurances that he wouldn't stop Sam. How else would Death know about about Sam's plan? Crowley is the only link I see, especially the slick way the sickle is returned. A bargain was made. That makes me wonder what Crowley is asking for in return.
Then there are the captains of Team Freewill themselves. These are not good times for the Winchesters. Both are trying to plug on with calmer heads, but the burdens they carry underneath are still too raw to share openly. They both know, as well as Bobby and Castiel, that this is all going to end very badly for them. They say it only with troubled expressions though. They find themselves with two grave predicaments, stopping the Croatoan virus from distribution and finding Death. Sam takes the lead on one, Dean the other. As the time comes for them to part, their weariness over the tasks ahead says it all.
“Alright, well, good luck stopping the whole Zombie Apocalypse.”
“Yeah, good luck killing Death.”
When Sam reminiscences about the good ole days when they only had to hunt Wendigos, that reminds us just how much these two have taken on since season one. It’s stunning.
Yes, Dean has a right to be really upset when he first hears of Sam's plan. He knows what the consequences mean. Its suicide or worse for his brother, but no one else can do it. Sure, it also means that Dean isn't ready to make the choice of the world over his brother, but he’s strong armed into it anyway by Death. By the end scene he’s actually contemplating what could happen if caught lying to Death. Now we're left to wonder if he'll make good on his promise when the time comes. I'm also wondering how he'll live with himself if he does watch Sam take on that horrible fate. It's a no-win for him as well.
Team Freewill got a surprise new member too in the form of Death, played brilliantly by Julian Richings. The very slick montage of Death’s arrival in Chicago via a 1960 Custom Cadillac Sixty-Two Hardtop is a testament to the creativity that still manages to blow us away with this show. With Phil Sgriccia’s great direction and the haunting version of Jennifer Titus’s “O Death,” it’s a piece that will be remembered for years to come. As Dean finds out firsthand, sharing pizza with Death is an extremely frightening proposition. Dean’s pins and needles tension through the entire scene with Death calling him “insignificant” and forcing him to eat pizza certainly doesn’t hint to the outcome that Death is willing to cooperate. Death no longer wants to be beholden to that "brat having a temper tantrum." He's so good at intimidation though, using it to assure that Dean understands the consequences of going back on his word. "You can't cheat death."
Oh, So That’s Why!
If there is any criticism, it's the quick way Pestilence is handled, but that issue isn't so much with this episode but with recent plotting in general. A lot of action and plot is crammed in here when the slower and sometimes awful presentation of the previous two episodes didn't assist much in this explosive apocalypse story line. Why is the defeat of Pestilence crammed into the first ten minutes? Matt Frewer plays one very appealing foe and deserves the same amount of screen time that the other horsemen, War and Famine, got. Would it have been so tough to have given him his own episode? His defeat came across too neat and tidy and the waste of a brilliant guest star. For what little we got though, it is very good.
We learn the main reason why Sam was tricked into drinking demon blood. The stuff is needed for Lucifer’s vessel to be viable. Now that does make sense, especially when Ruby told Sam he had the power in him all along and didn't need the blood. The question is, will drinking all that blood while possessed by Lucifer make him stronger? Strong enough to defeat him? We already know how powerful he is with it but how erratic he is too. This also explains why he had to be infected with the demon blood as a baby and now I wonder if Nick was too.
I love how it is Bobby that gives Castiel the talking to he so needs to hear. “Quit pining for the varsity years and load the damned truck.” I know recent times have been hard on Castiel, but he’s learning the most important part of being human. Overcoming adversity. Bobby is the perfect teacher, even better than Sam and Dean.
Overall, I give “Two Minutes To Midnight” an A. The only thing knocking it down was the hurried nature of Pestilence’s defeat. Onto the finale, the five years in the making climax. Make sure your boxes of tissues and bottles of whiskey are ready, not to mention the number of your therapist on speed dial. Just like Sam, I reminiscence for simpler times as well, when I didn’t need a survival kit to get through an episode.