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.
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