I was almost expecting season seven to begin with our intrepid demon hunters walking out of the warehouse they were trapped in at the end of last season and explain how they were sure glad that entire Cas situation sorted itself out. For those not in the know, although I’m going to work off the assumption that anyone reading reviews of a show just starting its seventh season is already a fan, the sixth season ended with our heroes trapped in a room with not just the new embodiment of god, but the new embodiment of god they had managed to piss off by attempting to murder not seconds after his ascension.
I love Supernatural, I really do, but I found the sixth season to be endlessly irritating. Whilst I thought the season had a bunch of great moments it just never really seemed to be a cohesive product. The problem I had with the sixth season was that it just kept introducing elements and then didn’t do anything constructive with them. The first half of the season burnt through three or four plots that could have provided the framework for an entire season each and it just created the impression that the writers were just making stuff up as they went along. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that season four and five had both had really strong season long narratives which had built up to an ending that felt like a finale to the show itself. The season course corrected in the last half dozen episodes and was able to wrap up a bunch of the loose ends caused by aborted or rushed arcs but it ended on a cliff-hanger that felt almost unresolvable.
Really how are you supposed to wrap up a cliff-hanger that posits that Sam and Dean have pissed off God himself? As it turns out the cliff-hanger wasn’t really much of a cliff-hanger and God-Cas simply sauntered off to make the world a better place. Whilst the episode nominally tried to deal with the Winchester’s reaction to his new paradigm you could tell that the main narrative thrust was how to deal with God-Cas. As such we spent a lot of time just following God-Cas around with the Winchesters sort of playing catch-up, even the stakes in the episode were more about God-Cas than anything else. If you consider what is happening in the episode then the real dramatic tension seems to be coming from the fact that God-Cas is destroying himself, it is the time bomb of ‘Meet The New Boss’ and as such much as Sam and Dean have their own problems we as an audience are supposed to be way more interested in the fate of God-Cas.
I think part of this is that after seven seasons what can you really do with Sam and Dean. This isn’t an ensemble show like Star Trek: The Next Generation, which lasted seven years, and it doesn’t have the ability to switch out one of its lead characters like The X-Files. It is essentially stuck with a core cast of two characters and two semi-regulars (Cas and Bobby) and the show has already put these characters through their paces. So when you have a major paradigm shift with one of your semi-regulars it makes sense to shift your focus for a while. The only reason it seemed odd in this episode was because it was a season opener which is usually where you establish the lay of the land for your characters and set up how they’re going to proceed. As such despite Sam having issues with his locked away memories it felt like the Winchesters were kind of operating in a holding pattern for the majority of this episode.
The other part of it is that the writers kind of wrote themselves into a hole last season and had to work out a way to deal with that. Having Cas become a god is troublesome for a number of reasons. If Cas is still friendly with the Winchesters then you can’t have him as a semi-regular as he’ll become a walking deus-ex machina, if Cas is antagonistic then you’ve got to deal with the logistics of how to even portray that and if Cas pulls a Poochie and disappears off to Heaven then you lose one of the more popular semi-regulars from the show. As such it felt to me that the Cas plot in this episode was more about damage-limitation than anything else. There was obviously a seed of an idea of Cas as an antagonist for season seven, but it would have been impossible for that to have occurred with Cas as god. As such trading God-Cas for Leviathan-Cas manages to keep that arc alive whilst ensuring that Sam and Dean aren’t spending the next 22 episodes trying to kill god.
I am still a little wary of the show but ‘Meet Your New Boss’ felt like a real return to form after the sixth season. The writing, plotting, characterisations all just clicked in a way they hadn’t done in a long time and the direction at times was really impressive. I’ve always felt that the Supernatural was a show with a strong creative ethos at its centre which was often let down by inconsistent direction and a claustrophobically tight budget. As such it was kind of nice to see the show seeming to splash a little cash for this opener with nice open shots and lots of nice gooey effects. In comparison to the opening to season six, which was muddled and shot almost like a soap opera, it was a nice return to the scale and scope I’d come to associate with Supernatural. It was also full of nice moments from God-Cas’ sermon to a field of fallen angels, to the Hellraiser inspired hell-visions.
Even if the Winchesters didn’t seem to have much overall plot progression they kept themselves busy this episode and played to their collective strengths. Jensen Ackles has become such a great comic actor that it is kind of fun just watching him react to stuff. The majority of this episode was suggested rather than seen, with God-Cas’ rampage relayed through news reports, Ackles managed to make the this work just by his reaction to the reports. Then again I feel like Dean is the easier of the two brothers to play, largely because he always comes off as a lot more rounded and a lot more amiable than this brother. Sam on the other hand has been stuck on Edgy Dark Guy mode for about three seasons now and it is a real shame because when Jared Padalecki gets the chance to go goofy or light he nails it and the few occasions where he has played a straight up villain have been really impressive. But Sam is consistently in this hinterland where he can’t be the all-around good guy like Dean, but he is only infrequently evil. As such Padalecki spends most of his screen-time just looking duplicitous and the one consistent character beat he has had since Season Three is that he keeps things from people. It is actually amazing to go back to season one and see a Sam and Dean dynamic where Sam was the ‘star’ of the show, because the character honestly feels like a second stringer to Dean most of the time now.
Meanwhile Misha Collins seemed to be having a lot of fun as Cas in this episode. Cas has been consistently one of my favourite characters since he debuted in season four and a big part of that was due to Collin’s wonderful deadpan performance. The change at the end of the episode from God-Cas to Leviathan-Cas is an interesting one because it seems that Collins is going to be going all out as a villain this season and his few minutes of screen-time felt appropriately wild eyed. In fact because Cas has always been such a stabilised and balanced forced the shock of seeing Collins all wild eyed and intense was actually palpable and it’ll be interesting to see if Collins can maintain that intensity. I must admit I would have liked to have seen a little more of Cas as god largely because Cas has always been conflicted, always had to fight to understand other opinions and be balanced and it would have been fascinating seeing a God who wasn’t wrathful, but was stridently, terrifyingly, good.
It is also interesting that they are going with Leviathans as the big bad of this season. It is actually probably a smart move because Leviathans feel like bad news but also don’t feel as intangible a threat as Lucifer, or God, or the Mother of All Monsters. In fact aside from a few references to Old Ones, which I took to be a Book of Genesis rather than Lovecraft reference, the Leviathans seem to be more of a manageable foe than what the Winchesters have faced these past few years. Then again I could be completely wrong and we could be seeing Misha Collins playing Cthulu, it is kind of hard to tell especially because Supernatural has always sort of picked and chosen from respective mythologies.
But whatever happens you’re stuck with me for the next twenty-two episodes and by the looks of things we have a Ben Edlund penned episode next week which is ALWAYS good news.