Supernatural season 9 episode 9 review: Holy Terror

Review Anastasia Klimchynskaya 6 Dec 2013 - 18:59

There's betrayal aplenty in Supernatural's mid-season finale. Here's Anastasia's review...

This review contains spoilers.

9.9 Holy Terror

It’s that time of year again: midseason finale fest, when shows come up with semi-climactic cliffhangers to keep viewers guessing over the winter holidays, without creating anything too Apocalyptic.

The problem of the latest Supernatural episode, Holy Terror, is precisely that it’s the midseason finale.

This problem lies mainly in the fact that this episode fulfills a very practical function: to establish the seasonal plot arcs that the past half-a-dozen episodes avoided. It was painfully clear that the lack of seasonal storylines in the past six episodes couldn’t bode well, and that turned out to be true: while Supernatural was re-hymenating the Winchesters, chasing Dorothy, having Dean talk to dogs and reminiscing about his past, it was painstakingly avoiding almost everything to do with a seasonal story arc. That means that this particular episode performs a task the last six failed to chip away at: to be a plot dump and an info dump. It isn’t really a coherent plot as an episode for precisely that reason; rather, it’s the conglomeration of a number of disparate elements that set up the rest of the season, and is best judged in terms of the storylines it sets up rather than as an episode in itself. That’s also the reason why it’s missing much of its human element, with only small nods to character amid all the plot.

It turns out that what’s been happening behind the scenes of the monster-of-the-week episodes is a war between factions of angels. Instead of watching over humans, as they were meant to, they fight each other for power and eventual control of Heaven. There is a strange and terrible irony in the fact that angels are, in a way, so human; after all, Lucifer himself was cast out of Heaven for considering humans inferior to angels, and yet now those angels kill and torture for human things like power and control. One of the factions is even led by an anarchist angel, Malachi, and the idea of an angel who wishes to bring disorder into the celestial order of Heaven is more than fascinating. The last time Supernatural touched upon this kind of major, Heavenly conflict was in the sixth season; I was immensely disappointed by a lack of focus on this Civil War in Heaven, and this time I’m very cautiously hopeful about the possibilities – even as I’m disenchanted with the way those possibilities appeared out of nowhere.

Besides the two Heavenly factions, though, there’s also Metatron, who’s finally back to be one of the big villains (and with Crowley locked up and Abaddon mostly absent, his return is long overdue). Still, I cannot help but feel that Metatron has been a rather poor villain so far: he only became one at the eleventh hour last season, as a quick replacement for Naomi, with the result that his motivations were spectacularly uninteresting. It still rather feels like the writers are working hard to catch up with what his motivations really are, or to give him some. Thankfully, they seem to be making some progress: instead of his dastardly plan to be all alone, he now desires to rule Heaven and remake it. Still, his villain speech to Gadriel lacked the pathos and characterization I’ve come to expect from antagonists on Supernatural, and I hope that in the future his monologues are not quite so bluntly informative.

While Heaven’s having its political issues, the former angel Castiel is having his own adventures. He’s left behind his human life of sales associate to venture into hunting again, offering us a return of the good, old, slightly-socially-awkward FBI-agent Castiel. He’s investigating the strange deaths of fellow angels, slowly following the trail of bodies to the root of the problem, and, in the process, trying out a few more human experiences. One of those is prayer, and though I must admit I was skeptical about Castiel’s choice to do so (I’ve always seen him as someone who has irrevocably lost his faith), the scene was nevertheless an interesting continuation of the church scene in I’m No Angel, which offered a contrast between human and angelic faith.

Castiel’s also hanging out with the Winchesters and drinking beer, just like in the good old days, but something about that scene rings false. Somehow, there was no easygoing connection between Dean and Castiel, replaced as it was by awkward expressions and strange facsimiles of flirting. Dean also evidently chose to keep Ezekiel a secret from Castiel, another eyebrow-raising choice: I’d always thought he’d trust Castiel with this information. It’s not like Cas is going to tell. The most off-putting thing about that scene, though, was the casual reference to April, a reaper who had manipulated, taken advantage of, tortured, and killed Castiel, as “hot,” which I found disturbing on a number of counts. In general, one does not reminisce about the attractiveness of someone who’s done one more than one kind of violence, and the casual nature of such a reference was both callous and deeply disturbing. Plus, Dean has a track record of not being attracted to evil supernatural beings – that’s Sam’s department, and a fact Meg and Abaddon revel in using against him.

However, it seems that Castiel’s human experiences are going to be short-lived: this episode sees Castiel regain at least some of his angelic “mojo” and leave behind his human experiences to head off to war. Even as a human, this episode yet again sees him become the formidable warrior and tactician that he’s been for millennia – he quite impressively talks his way out of torture and certain death before finding a way to regain some angelic Grace. I’ve always found Castiel most interesting as a warrior and an angel, and was never overly fond of his human storyline, so I am more than glad to see Castiel as a powerful warrior yet again.

Still, as thrilled as I am about the return of Castiel, Angel of the Lord, I wonder if perhaps his “angeling up” could’ve involved fewer plot holes. Taking another angel’s Grace raises a number of questions: for example, if it’s that easy to do, why is this something Cas didn’t do as early as I’m no Angel? It’s hardly likely that Castiel was so invested in experiencing homelessness and hunger as a human that he decided to forego his powers. In fact, considering that he’s been a target since the first episode, and, as a human, weaker than anyone hunting him, it would’ve made sense for him to take the Grace of the first angel who tried to kill him. For that matter, why didn’t he take Hael’s Grace in the first episode after he’d killed her? Not to mention, if Castiel can, at the very least, make do with another angel’s Grace, it rather takes away from the tragedy that Metatron’s spell is irreversible.

In other news, it turns out that Ezekiel was neither actually Ezekiel nor trustworthy. If you listen closely, you can hear the ear-shattering silence that is the sound of Supernatural fans all around the world not gasping with surprise. Aside from the fact that a non-evil “Ezekiel” would’ve made the midseason finale pretty boring, there’s also the fact that we learned our lesson with Ruby about five seasons ago. Either the Winchester brothers or the writers haven’t quite caught up yet, though, and so we get yet another predictable cliffhanger.

Still, I’m pleasantly surprised by the revelation that “Ezekiel” is actually Gadriel – that is, the angel that really tempted Eve in Paradise, a crime for which Satan was later blamed. We learn that Gadriel was locked up in a prison in Heaven – a celestial equivalent, perhaps, of Lucifer’s Cage in Hell, for those angels that have committed lesser crimes. Given that Lucifer has been Supernatural’s most interesting villain to date, as well as that Heaven has always been a fascinating parallel for Hell, this is a development I can get on board with. In particular, I’m excited because, canonically, Gadriel has been understood as a Prometheus of sorts who, too, was punished for offering humankind knowledge. I’m crossing my fingers really tightly that Supernatural’s writers draw on their own portrayal of Lucifer to make this character equally fascinating. The potential is there, and I sincerely hope that Gadriel isn’t over and done with next episode.

Nevertheless, at the moment I cannot help but have a slight love-hate relationship with Gadriel, for the unfortunate reason that is the murder of Kevin Tran. This is a plot development that I simply refuse to accept on a number of counts.

Mostly, it’s just completely unnecessary. Clearly, it was a death created to cause Dean Winchester some more guilt and pain, but the problem with that is that Dean is in a permanent state of guilt, depression, and self-hate. Nothing about this ever changes, because that would require character development, and it seems like the writers just take the easy route instead and portray Dean as the everlasting tortured soul attempting to amend for his mistakes by saving people. Kevin is just another addition to the long list of deaths he’s responsible for, the literal manifestation of the consequences of Dean’s desperate decisions. However, my prediction is that, like with almost every single other death on the show, nothing will change, Dean will continue to be guilty and tortured, the Winchesters will continue to make bad decisions, and no developments will arise. That, sadly, reduces Kevin Tran to a plot device for character development that will likely not even exist.

This seems more than disrespectful to a character as interesting and as well-developed as Kevin. In his time on the show, he’s had a journey almost as great as that of the Winchesters: being called into the world of the supernatural against his will, losing his mother to a demon, having a role he must reluctantly fulfill (sound familiar?). He’s adapted and even succeeded, growing and changing and showing strength and resilience in the process. He’s no longer the bookish Advanced Placement student, but a badass to rival the Winchesters. But, in all that, he made the mistake of trusting the Winchesters, and, as Kevin pointed out minutes before his death, “I always trust you. And I always end up screwed.”

I’m also honestly disappointed because it seems only so recently, at the beginning of this season, that the show had a real sense of family. That family included Dean, Sam, Castiel, Kevin, and Charlie. Now, that sense of family is all but gone. Kevin’s not part of the family; for all of Dean’s big words earlier this season, Crowley turned out to be right: the Winchesters used him when they needed him, and in the end he was just another corpse on the floor. When one considers how close Kevin’s experiences are to those of the Winchesters themselves, it casts our heroes in a darker light, too, for those very losses that drove our protagonists are ones that, in Kevin’s case, the Winchesters managed to brush aside so because it was convenient (consider, for example, the rage with which Dean killed Azazel, and the fact that Crowley is still alive). And now, on top of that, Kevin is also unceremoniously dead. Kevin Tran deserved better.

However, if we’ve learned anything from The Avengers, it’s that if the fandom’s loud enough, dead characters don’t stay dead. While awaiting the resolution of all the interesting plots this episode raised (and, hopefully, some character arcs to go with the plot), I’m also going to steadfastly believe that Kevin Tran is not dead. Not on this show.

Read Anastasia's review of the previous episode, Rock and a Hard Place, here.

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I really enjoyed your review as I agreed with everything you had to say especially regarding Kevin's death. Killing Kevin was a cheap way to inject some shock value into the storyline. On the otherhand, Metatron needed some proof of Gadriel's committment to his cause so he had him kill an important figure in Sam and Dean's life. Since Gadriel knew through Sam how important Kevin was, I guess it makes sense that Metratron chose him for his first test. I don't understand why Gadriel didn't try to kill Dean as well. He has got to know that Dean will come at him with all he has. According to the promos, he will regret this because Dean will make another desperate deal with Crowley. And around we go.

I could be mistaken, my biblical mythology is not perfect, but I got from the episode that Gadriel was the "angel with a flaming sword" who guarded the entrance to Eden, and was punished because he failed in his duty and allowed the demon who tempted Eve to enter, not tempted her himself.

Also I think that the reason Metatron targeted Kevin is because of another pet theory of mine, that Prophets are vessels for God. Metatron is one of the few Angels who has the juice to know this, and has had Kevin killed as a way of delaying God from stopping him.

WAsnt the reason he killed Kevin was so that nobody else can decipher the tablets?

I agree with another commenter, it was pretty obvious by the dialogue that Gadriel was some kind of guardian and not directly responsible.

As for stealing another angel's grace, before now I don't think any angels except metatron knew it was even possible, just look at the reactions of the angels that heard he Castiel had lost his, and the only reason Castiel was able to figure out how to do it was because it had already been done to him. It took a dire situation to force him into the mindset to even try. It definitely seemed like a shot in the dark for him, and it paid off.

Re: grace - If you watch the scene again, the look on Castiel's face is more of "will this actually work?" He even tells Dean he's not sure what taking another angels grace will entail, it may be temporary for all we know right now.

Plus he makes what did seem like a barbaric act, the last thing he wanted to do was hurt other angels (Hael and the pharmacist notwithstanding, those were kill or be killed circumstances), and taking ones grace seems like the worst thing that you could do, I mean it's exactly what happened to him.

Are you even paying attention while watching the show? So many misconceptions and misunderstandings in these reviews. One eye on the TV and one on the iPad perhaps?

Firstly - It's Gadreel, not Gadriel - a real name from folklore (... research!). In all tales he is the angel responsible for guarding Eden but not the tempter himself although he has been portrayed as the tempter in other tales. They explicitly stated the former in this in the episode.

Cybersteel is right - Kevin was target number one because he would eventually work out how to re-open heaven. He had become 'solution of the week' and, like the sonic screwdriver in the Davison era, he had to be written out because he was the 'solve-all' for all problems.

And with regards to the grace - Castiel is too noble to take an angel's grace - he only did it as a last resort because the circumstances were dire. Why didn't he take it after killing Hael? Isn't that blindingly obvious? The angel blade destroy the grace.

Den of Geek - can you please find a less miserable and cynical reviewer for Supernatural? These poorly researched reviews (getting a character name wrong ? Really?), which are full of contradictions and misunderstandings, are sucking all the joy out of the best season of the show for years.

Damn right Landerson. Couldn't they have got someone who actually likes the show? It's just one complaint after another.

You really think that fan pressure brought back Coulson? How sweet! Explains a lot about these reviews!

Oh noes! Supernatural is FUN again, how terrible.That's exactly how I like my Favourite Guilty Pleasure (TM). The leviathan series was a chore...I was really at the stage where I thought it was played out, but I've really enjoyed this return to witty whimsy.

Couldn't have said it better-especially concerning Kevin. Another incredible character stunted and reduced for a rise out of Dean Winchester. (If the fans wanted Dean to whine /more/ they could at least read some fanfiction). Poor Kevin...and what an undignified death it was. He deserves more respect than that horrible close up of steamy angel-burnt eyes.

We want character development, and after eight seasons, it's evident we will never get this out of Sam, Dean, or Cas. Every opportunity for a change is pushed aside for a blatantly overused plot: Sam/Dean is in danger of death or worse, Sam/Dean wants to save his brother, Sam/Dean goes to any means to save him against his desires (even trusts a Supernatural being!) and it bites them all in the ass.
Relationships with potential end due to more needless character deaths, Castiel "betrays" the Winchesters in order to save them and is suddenly the villain, /again/, (and suddenly he reverts to robot angel all over again? I mean let's not mention killing Balthazar!")

I think I'll just watch season five again. The apocalypse was the peak.

Sadly, I agree with everything in this review, and was glad to be able to read something honestly critical, that doesn't just skim over the show as 'another great episode'. (Commenter hate is seriously not cool by the way people, this is a well-thought out and eloquent article, and is author's opinion so if you don't deal explain why, don't just leave something horrid.)

I had such high hopes for this season, what with Jared's promises of Season 9 being "the best season in a long, long, long, time", but after a solid first couple of episodes (Sam's death-wish being particularly interesting and a very believable development in his character; I hope they return to it) every single week has been disappointment after disappointment. Sure, the odd filler episode is fine, even fantastic (Real Ghostbusters, Mystery Spot etc) but even then these fillers have been weak and forgettable in comparison. Even the boys' acting is struggling to keep me interested what with their characterisation apparently completely falling to pieces in the scripts. (Dean gambling away food money? Seriously? The shtriga attack when he was 9 years old still haunts him for failing Sam- I just don't buy it.)

This episode made a minor improvement on the season so far but I agree in that it was a major plot dump- too little too late if you ask me. The Cas scenes with Sam and Dean were almost cringe-worthy, the dialogue painful; but Kevin's death was the most frustrating and saddening thing. We haven't seen him in weeks, the writers relying on the fact we'll just accept he's 'somewhere in the bunker' out of shot, and he came on for 5 mins of screen time before being killed. Another believable, well-developed character wasted for the purpose of an added injection of drama. Not to mention Osric is a lovely guy, invested in the fans and loyal to the show in a way that would have made him a great regular.

I'm still going to watch the rest of the season but warily. I'm praying for some good old, accurate characterisation for Sam and Dean (Jared and Jensen are so talented they deserve better than the scripts they're currently getting) and a plot-arch that is built on week by week. Until then I'm going to go back and watch Seasons 1-5. Man it was good back then.

Yes, yes and yes again to all of the above. Sam actually *wanting* to die was a glimpse at something that might be development but I guess we'll have to see if they do anything about that next year (prays).

Dude love for referencing the Davidson era screwdriver..

Although I do agree with the reviewer thoughts on the death of Kevin, logically he would be the first to go, having said that doesn't the messenger of god jump from vessel to vessel?
Internet age. Everybody has a right to criticize and be heard. But..

Just watch and enjoy the show. It's a good one.

I agree with a lot in this review but have some ideas..
a) I think Cas kills angels as a last resort and was too 'noble' to take a grace before now, added onto by the fact he didn't want to do to another angel what metatron did to him, he also has no idea how it will actually work, and I also think he didn't want to jump right back in to being an angel because I think part of him thought he deserved to be punished after causing all the angels to fall. Also why did he kill ALL those angels, couldnt Cas have just killed the torturer and disappeared/apparated out of there?
b) while this part of Cas was well written I agree the chatting over beer scene was terrible.. I also think Dean should have told Cas about Sam/Ezekiel (or Gadriel) but I guess he thought if he couldnt even tell Sam he shouldnt tell Cas. What if Cas had worked out Sam was possessed and said something Sam worked out? He's not an idiot..
c) Re Kevin... surely another prophet will pop up in his place? Isn't that how prophets work? I think it was supposed to be a big shocker but instead felt undeveloped and disappointing, I felt worse about Cas killing all those angels than Kevin dying.. agree on Dean not caring about Kevin until this happens though- they really did just use him despite all their protests he was 'family' and I liked Kevin best when he was bitter and honest about the way he's been treated. The way they treated Crowley was just insulting to Kevin and I'm still waiting for there to be a reason Crowley isn't dead. I want him to break out so badly and leave the Winchesters dealing with demon and angel problems because it's when they clash that things can really get interesting.
It's disappointing there is so much potential in this season and they waited until this episode to even attempt to develop on it, building suspence works best when at least something happens to the main story every week..
Plus I knew it was Gadriel acting Sam when he was putting away the beers because Sam would have been like 'why have I been out so long?' instead of making a cover story because he would have had no reason to make up a cover story...
well that was an essay!!

Best season for years? I was really excited by the potential this season but apart from the first couple episodes and this one there has been very little evidence it's going anywhere exciting.
I agree with loads this reviewer points out and think they regularly point out good things about the episode but they also pick apart what could have been done better. Kevin's death may have been a reasonable course for Metatron in my view but he was someone well used to highlight how selfish the Winchesters can be and was really underused this season aside from the episode where Crowley messes with him and I don't think his death will be very game changing especially as surely another prophet will replace him?

I think the reviewers complaining because they like the show.. they are just holding it up to a high standard because it could be great television but I think its just missing the mark a little at the moment

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