Supernatural season 9 episode 14 review: Captives

This week's Supernatural serves up the perfect combination of characterisation, humour and pathos...

This review contains spoilers.

9.14 Captives

Can Robert Berens please be the new writer for all of Supernatural?

A recent addition to the Supernatural writing team, Berens is responsible for the latest episode, Captives, and he’s more than outdone himself, combining excellent characterisation with both humour and pathos (the three perfect ingredients). Seriously, just about everything about this episode makes me really happy. Where do I even start?

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The episode begins with a lengthy and heart-wrenching flashback to everything unfortunate and miserable that has happened in the past few seasons (thanks, Supernatural), after which we zoom in on Dean, listening to music alone in his bedroom. It’s a shot whose cinematography emphasises loneliness as Dean listens to Billy Squier’s Lonely is the Night, (which was prominently used at the beginning of season four, when Dean returned from Hell) while lying on one side of a too-large bed. (Thanks again, Supernatural. The episode’s only been going for a minute and it’s already not okay).

But, okay, in their defense, after this heaping of emotion, the episode quickly transitions to some seriously creepy horror movie stuff – dripping faucets, creaking everything, a ghost that’s most definitely haunting the bunker. The lights are flickering, and we know what that means in Supernatural-land (we learned that very early on with the late and lamented Mary Winchester). Thankfully, the Winchesters are slightly better-fated than their mother, who just went “huh, that’s weird,” before burning up on the ceiling. These Winchesters know exactly how to deal with the big reveal of this episode: “the bunker is haunted.”

Having discovered this fact, the Winchesters get their hopes up that it might be the ghost of Kevin Tran. Dean’s clearly still grieving over Kevin’s death, thankfully not having added his body to the very tall pile of bodies Dean’s felt guilty over and then moved on from. Kevin’s been an important character for several seasons (last season, he was a great representation of the young Winchesters’ forays into the world of hunting), and Dean’s grief both gives Kevin his due and makes Dean a compelling protagonist. His remorse-laden monologue can go right up there with all the other really perfect monologues Jensen Ackles pulls off so well (then again, he’s had a lot of practice because Dean feels permanently upset and guilty).

It turns out the bunker is being haunted by Kevin, a fact that both Supernatural and Osric Chau have spectacularly kept under wraps, insisting all along that Kevin isn’t coming back. You’re getting almost as good as Steven Moffat at hiding plot twists, Supernatural.  In a return to a season seven storyline, in which it was Bobby Singer haunting the Winchesters by hanging on to a hip flask, Kevin is similarly clinging to an object despite being salted and burned. Thankfully, the episode mentions Bobby, acknowledging some sort of continuity in its ghost mythology – a small point, but it’s still somehow reassuring that, in a season laden with plot holes, at least the new writer did his homework.

Kevin seems to be dealing with being dead pretty damn well; in fact, he’s got absolutely no time for the Winchesters’ narratively-necessary self-pity, because he’s here to drop an information bomb: Heaven’s locked, and everyone who’s died since the finale is stuck in the veil. As usual, the supernatural world is in chaos (what’s new?). One wonders why exactly Heaven got locked to human souls as well, but presumably Metatron’s involved somehow. It’s good that Kevin brings this up, though, because the Winchesters’ priorities seem to have been all over the place lately (finding Metatron? Finding Abaddon? Finding Gadreel? It’s like they can’t make up their mind). This time, they seem to have a more clear-cut goal, which is nice, because we haven’t heard about any of the three for a few episodes.

Their more pressing priority, though, is finding Linda Tran, prompting a brotherly trip to the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, where Dean makes a few pining phone calls to Crowley. At least, presumably that’s what they were, given Sam’s absolute gem of a line, “Did you ever think, maybe he’s just not that into you?” Joking aside, the middle of the woods turns out to be conducive to obtaining more information, and – after some seriously creepy, horror-movie style scenes that Supernatural’s remembered how to do again (complete with helpless and then dead women), the Winchesters find Crowley keeping a handful of hostages in rented storage rooms, including Linda Tran. Why she’s here in the first place, and what exactly he’s been trying to get out of her for a year, remains to (hopefully) be seen (Supernatural, please give us this piece of information soon).

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Thankfully, Mrs Tran isn’t dead, Crowley’s insinuations to the contrary, which is another thing this episode gets right. She’s been presumed dead by much of the fandom, and deserved so much better than an unceremonious, off-screen death. Thankfully, she’s back to be as kick-ass as ever, having survived a year of torture and outdoing even Sam Winchester in getting them out of their predicament of imprisonment. They really should recruit her on a more permanent basis – she’d take down Metatron and Abbadon in time for dinner.

In the meantime, Dean seems to be a bit slow on the uptake, taking way too long to figure out that a storage cell full of stuffed animals probably doesn’t belong to Crowley (then again, Crowley makes cupcakes. Maybe he does have a nice little stuffed Hellhound). Dean gets taken out way too easily by an amateur demon for a guy who single-handedly killed three demons a few episodes ago, but, alas, plot necessities and all that.

The aforementioned amateur demon, Del, is one of the better additions to the episode. He’s Crowley’s latest intern (which sounds like, quite literally, a job from Hell. And probably unpaid, too). This leads to another humorous gem in this episode, as Del rants about the trials and tribulations of interning for the King of Hell. The scene also elegantly blends comedy with gravity, as his speech gives way to the scariest thing in the episode: a pissed-off Mrs Tran.

Mrs Tran has discovered the secret that’s been weighing down the Winchesters for weeks: that her son is dead. It’s where the episode leaves behind both the humour and the excitement to jump right back to the pathos, and to what has to be one of the more heart-wrenching moments this season. A mother outliving her son is already a cruel twist; coupled with Kevin’s reluctance to belong to the hunting world in the first place, and the almost ironic reversal that this scene is of Dean Winchester encountering the ghost of his dead mother seasons ago, it’s something that’ll stay with me for a long time.

In the meantime, Castiel’s off doing his own thing (again). Last we saw him, he was extracting angel grace from Sam Winchester, after which he disappeared without the slightest mention. He’s back this episode with no explanation of why he’s seems to have disapparated, and whether the Winchesters know what he’s up to. And thus the cycle of unexplained separations and reunions continues.

In any case, it looks like Cas is after Metatron (and still unaware, it seems, that it’s apparently impossible to reverse the spell). He manages to get captured (again), though this time, thankfully, it’s not so that he can get tortured as he’s been almost every single other episode this season. Instead, we get some more of Castiel’s backstory as a leader and angel, and his relationship with Bartholomew, the current leader of a faction of angels.

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Their relationship and conversation are an unexpected twist to the episode, revealing the loyalty Castiel had commanded as a leader when he waged a war in Heaven. And yet that reminiscence is a stark juxtaposition to this Castiel, who’s learned that the ends do not justify the means, and that compassion is not a luxury but a necessity. He’s made the long journey from a leader willing to kill and torture for the greater good to a leader by example, as he refuses to take a life even when threatened. It feels like the perfect culmination of Castiel’s journey over the past few seasons, from an unrepentant leader to guilt and repentance to a kind of moral certainty. His character in this scene is so perfectly balanced, as he refuses to fight, and yet stares Bartholomew down with a fierce, angelic glare, fearless even as an angel blade points to his heart; he fights Bartholomew and wins like the spectacular warrior that he is, and yet kills only as a last resort of self-defense. He’s certain of himself, certain of his values and what’s right, and willing to fight for it – but only if the way to do so is justified.

While Castiel’s putting into practice what he’s learned, though, the Winchesters are still learning, and very reluctantly. Kevin attempts to push them in the right direction, first insisting that they leave behind their guilt for his death. It’s a warm moment between them, though one does wonder why Kevin’s forgiven them for his own death so quickly (especially considering his reluctance to trust his life to the Winchesters so recently).

Just as importantly, though, Kevin pushes the Winchesters towards establishing a more functional relationship (a relationship towards which Sam’s already taken several steps in preceding episodes). Kevin insists that they reconcile their differences, which will hopefully lead Sam to forgive Dean’s choices – just as, hopefully, it’ll lead Dean to understanding Sam. It’s significant that it’s Sam we see hesitating at his door, between his own empty room and speaking to Dean. It’s up to Sam to come closer to Dean, and up to Dean to find a way to exist outside of Sam.

At the moment, though, they’re not there yet. The two boys are separated, alone, and, even more than that – lonely. The ending scene beautifully bookends the episode, returning to the episode’s opener of Dean listening to Lonely is the Night. In this episode, little’s changed – but many lessons have been learned. All three of our characters are lonely and separated –  Dean, Sam, and Castiel – but hopefully their personal journeys will lead them to each other, as their lessons will show them a way to be alone without being lonely, to be friends and partners on their own terms. 

Read Anastasia’s review of the previous episode, The Purge, here.

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