Supernatural season 9 episode 1 review: I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here

Supernatural's season 9 premiere leaves Anastasia feeling hopeful for what's to come...

This review contains spoilers.

9.1 I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here

According to Supernatural canon, the way that time passes in Hell is that for every Earth month, ten years pass in Hell. That would make it about forty-five Hell years between the season eight finale and the season nine premiere, and it’s felt like every second of that time.

This time the premiere picks up exactly where season eight left off: the angels have fallen, the trials are unfinished, and all hell is breaking loose (not in the metaphorical sense. Again.) That’s a lot of fallout and a lot of bases to cover, and this particular episode focuses on the angelic half of the problem, while next episode, it seems, will be concerned with the demonic side. Thankfully, there’s no skip ahead in time like there was last season, with the show plunging straight into action, dealing with the catastrophic consequences of Sacrifice.

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That action begins with Sam dying (again) while a frantic Dean attempts to save him (again). I’m not going to mince words here: I’m not particularly excited at this completely predictable and totally unremarkable turn of events. After all, Dean taking care of a dying Sam has been the storyline for the past three seasons, and this particular incarnation of this arrangement of things fails to evoke any kind of excitement from me. It feels a little too much like the usual reduction of Dean to his caretaking role and a removal of Sam’s agency.

At least this time, however, Sam’s agency becomes an issue in itself, infusing Sam with some much needed character development. It’s a nice continuation of the complexity we only began to see in his character in Sacrifice, where he revealed all the guilt he’s carrying around. This time, he’s also fighting for his very right to make choices: he wants to die and to stay dead, desiring the freedom of being able to choose death rather than having life chosen for him. It’s an interesting evocation of the theme of free will that’s so prevalent in Supernatural, and casts Dean’s one driving characteristic of taking care of Sam in a completely new light.

In fact, Dean’s desire to take care of his brother becomes outright manipulative, resulting in yet another secret between the brothers. If previous seasons are anything to judge by, this isn’t going to end well. The Winchesters keeping secrets from each other, well, it’s kind of like Sam dying: it seems to never get old. (You’d think they’d have learned something from the whole Ruby thing). It’s going to bring inevitable drama and conflict, and I sincerely hope that rather than rehashing old arguments, this conflict will take the brothers to a better, less codependent place in their relationship.

Still, the predicament provides for an exciting role for Dean. It’s too soon yet to tell if he’ll be getting any kind of seasonal story arc, but in this episode at least, his character is still full of complexity. In addition to being the usual caring older brother, he’s also dealing with the difficult decision of whether he has any right over Sam’s life and death. His pleas to Sam to stay alive are a heart wrenching evocation of that brotherly bond that’s been one of the prime attractions of the show, though tempered by the ultimate decisions Dean makes about Sam’s life.

Equally powerful in this episode is the portrayal of Dean as the faithless man who prays. It was perhaps one of the most powerful moments in the entire episode to see Dean Winchester, having adamantly insisted that God doesn’t exist, sinking to his knees in a chapel and praying to his angel, Castiel. It’s also another one of those scenes that makes me want to steal the statuettes from all the awards shows and send them to Jensen Ackles in a big box. Dean’s faith in his angel translates, in human terms, to a functional relationship, and his and Castiel’s concern and communication is a breath of fresh air after the conflicts of last season. It’s inspiring to see them together against the forces of Heaven and Hell again, with the narrative aptly balancing Dean’s affection for Castiel with his love for Sam.

And while I can’t speak for Hell, I can certainly say that Heaven is, so far, proving to be the gift that keeps on giving. When Supernatural first introduced angels and Heaven, it was perhaps one of the best additions to the story’s mythology. Since then, Heaven and its warriors have served as foils for humanity, while one of the major themes of Supernatural itself has been the importance of humanity. And if this episode (and its title card!) is anything to judge by, the angels are playing a big role on Supernatural again, providing a variety of perspectives on being human. There’s already the suggestion of limitless possibilities in the wide variety of angels we’ve encountered: the manipulative yet lost Hael, the revenge-driven nameless angels, and Ezekiel, an angel who, like Castiel, seems to have a good heart.

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The most exciting angel in the episode, though, is by far Castiel. He’s had one of the most epic journeys of any character on Supernatural, changing from a steadfast warrior of the Lord to a member of Team Free Will. It looks like this season will provide him with an even greater journey: discovering humanity from a different perspective. Castiel’s always been the angel that loved his Father’s creations and fought for them, and that’s the Castiel we see in this episode: the angel with too much heart, who talks about the wonders and possibilities of being human with a smile in his eyes. But he’s never been completely human, and this time, rather than watching humans from a park bench, he’ll have to be one. Foreseeably, it’s a journey where Castiel will hopefully dwell and reflect on whether being human is what he’s understood it to be.

His first few scenes in the episode see him in an almost-denial: he tries to smite, fly, and heal, and it pulls at the heartstrings to watch the former angel cling to what used to be an essential part of himself. Still, even without the episode itself, Castiel adapts and survives, accepting this change if not coming to terms with it. The final scene shows him shedding his angelic identity, in the form of his trademark trenchcoat, to put on the garb of a human and begin a new journey. It’s a brilliant addition to an already complex character, giving him a much-needed storyline instead of relegating him to the background where he’s been in previous seasons.

The only worry is whether the millennia-old angel will be portrayed as an incompetent human (something a number of spoilers have suggested). So far, it seems an unfounded concern: Castiel’s still the strong, clever warrior he was, adapting the simplest of human things (seatbelts) to get out of a tough situation. He was clearly paying attention for all those years of watching humanity, and my fingers are crossed that it continues in this vein.

The episode also saw the return of two much loved characters: Bobby and Death. Sadly, neither of their appearances was as meaningful as it could’ve been. Bobby, strangely enough, appeared as the side of Sam that wanted to die, a strange choice given Bobby’s steadfast fights to live in the last two episodes he’s appeared in. It’s almost disrespectful to the strength of his character. As for Death: while it’s intriguing that Death himself is Sam’s reaper, his role in the episode was so generic it could’ve been fulfilled by anyone: gone was his cold charm, his snarky wit, in fact, anything that made Death more than just a reaper.

Still, my hopes, if not high, aren’t low. While the experience of last season has led me to temper my expectations, I can still say that this episode makes me hopeful for what’s to come on a lot of fronts, especially in the development of all three characters and their relationships with each other.

I’m just left with one pressing question at the end of this episode: what happened to the trenchcoat?

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