Supernatural Episode Reviews

Stranger in a Strange Land -- 14x01

by @CatherineinNB

Supernatural Review: S14E1, “Stranger In A Strange Land”

By Catherine McKenna (@CatherineinNB)


Episode Info (courtesy of @Nnja11):

Editor: @JamesRPickel
Assistant Editor: Kelsey Dolan
Composer: @jaygruska
Director: Thomas J. Wright
Writer: @andrewdabb


Season 14 of Supernatural has started with a bang, and if Twitter is anything to go by, the majority fans are HAPPY (yep, ALL CAPS happy).


It’s not hard to see why: there was a little something for everyone in Thursday’s episode. Bobby was back, Mary kicked ass, Cas was a beautiful rage machine, Jack’s adorableness only grew as he tried to find his (mortal) footing, Michael and Jo sizzled, the Bunker was hopping, and Sam had #GriefBeard. Plus, there was a definite Destiel reference (more on that later).


So, let’s break it down, shall we?


Episode Recap:


It’s the little things…

There were so many little moments in the episode that just took things up a notch. The recap song transitioning into the Impala’s music as Sam drives? Perfect. Jack opening the truck door for Maggie in the background as they all arrive at the bad guys’ bar? We didn’t think Jack could get any cuter. We were wrong. Michael speaking flawless Arabic? Um, did it get warm in here? Random dude bringing in soup for his hungry AU-turned-hunter comrades in the Bunker? In one simple moment we see that Sam is building a community based on kindness as well as badassery. Go, Sam.

I love the little things.


That title card, tho. And … angels.

One of the big fan reactions to Thursday’s episode was the new title card. And, I mean, come on. It’s a thing of beauty.

But what I got super excited about? Those wings.

Sure, we’ve had wings in the title cards before (S4). But there, and everywhere else, we’ve only seen the shadow of any angel’s wings, or their scorched-out remains after an angel has died. These wings showed us real feathers. Shadow and highlights. Definition where none was to be found before.

The most obvious reference: Michael. We know that we’re going to be seeing a lot of Michael this season, and that he’ll be pivotal to the overall plot, just like Jack was last season.

But I think these wings also hinted that we will see angels this season in new and different ways. We’re going to be seeing more of who and what they are.

This theory seems to be confirmed by the glimpse we got of Michael through Jo’s eyes: the very first time that we’ve ever seen an angel from the perspective of another angel. And yep, those wings were back in all their high-def glory—although they seemed to be white this time, which makes me wonder if it is indeed Michael’s wings we see in the title card. I mean … what if those were Castiel’s wings???

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see more.


The Surprises.

Oh, the surprises! This episode was positively loaded with them, but let’s start with the biggest one:


Nick!

Okay, okay, the fact that Mark Pellegrino was back was not a surprise, and was the source of much speculation and not a little concern prior to air. We knew he’d been to Vancouver for filming, but none of us knew what role he’d be playing in the upcoming season. There was a lot of angst on Twitter about the idea of bringing Lucifer back (again), and some fan theories were being thrown around about him possibly being the new representation of The Empty’s entity (formerly played by Misha).

But I don’t think any of us imagined him coming back as Nick. Nick, guys. Nick was so long ago and such a brief presence they had to do a whole montage to remind everyone of who the heck he is.

That being said, I’m actually more than a little hyped about Nick’s presence. I think he may serve as a great reflection character, giving us a taste of how people will relate to Dean after Michael is kicked to the curb. Demon!Dean may have been an asshole, but he generally seemed to keep himself busy with killing other demons, karaoke, booze, and sex. Let’s be honest, that wasn’t so different from regular Dean. But Michael—well, we already know that Michael takes sadism to a new level, and based on the previews, he ain’t gonna be holding back with anyone.

Hearing Mary say that she couldn’t even look at Nick, watching Sam steel himself as he opened that door, the fact that they stationed Nick in the freaking dungeon with a devil’s trap around his bed …

Yes, Dean is known and loved, whereas Nick is not, but this still gives us a hint of the work that Dean will need to do to reestablish trust in the aftermath of all that Michael is sure to bring.

In addition to all this, the mere fact that Nick is still alive after being stabbed with the archangel blade caused all kinds of speculation. No one has any idea how he’s alive, and there is some suspicion swirling around that perhaps this really isn’t Nick but a very weakened Lucifer pretending to be Nick. So much angst about that!

As a side note, since Nick is alive, does that mean that there might be some hope regarding our favorite Trickster? Gabriel’s death last season (right after they brought him back—don’t get me started) was a shocker, but he’s proven himself resourceful in the past. Adding to the speculation is the image that Jensen and Alex shared on Instagram that featured Gabriel right alongside Castiel, Dean, Sam, and Jack. Alex’s post was simply labeled “SPN14.”

Perhaps there is reason for hope.


Jo’s Back.

Again, we knew that Danneel would be back for S14 as Anael/Jo. I just didn’t expect that she would be featured so soon. Jo was seriously underutilized last season, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed with her overall character arc, or that her interaction with Dean was so … perfunctory. For a character that had such a promising entrance, and at one point was Lucifer’s right hand, I found her exit from the action last season a let down.

There was nothing disappointing or perfunctory about her appearance in Thursday’s episode, however. I’ve already touched upon the fact that it’s because of Jo that we get our first look at what an angel in their vessel looks like to another angel, and that alone would have been enough. But Michael’s soliloquy about Jo’s hidden depths, and her surprising humanity, was utterly at odds with the Jo that we’ve seen thus far.

Color me intrigued.

And, yep, the entire scene between the two of them sizzled, folks. Sure, Michael was being a threatening dick with wings, but that moment where he reached out and touched her face—I’m sure I’m not the only one who was worried about their screen catching fire. The chemistry, people. The freaking chemistry.

I would have been satisfied with these two (awesome) moments, but we got bonus Jo with her phone call to Sam. Her choice to let Sam know what’s up lends credence to Michael’s earlier assessment, and sets her up as a new potential ally. I’m hoping that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Jo this season.


The AU Refugees.

Another pleasant surprise was the return of all the folks who were rescued from the AU.

I loved the S13 moment with the Bunker chock full of survivors toasting to their escape. There was something really satisfying about seeing the Winchester brothers surrounded by a large group of people who just … get it. Get everything about who they are.

But the Bunker quickly seemed to empty out again, and I was concerned that, sans archangel grace and the unifying drive to return to the AU, everyone would disperse and be forgotten about. Which would sort of be about as logical as disbanding Seal Team 6 if they showed up on the Winchester’s doorstep. The folks from the AU are all warriors and survivors, and they bring with them knowledge and innovations that other hunters don’t possess. These men and women absolutely could and should be an asset that the Winchesters use—so it was really gratifying to see Sam doing exactly that.

And I am very, very glad that Sam isn’t in that bunker all alone. In the past, he would have retreated. Remember S4, when he left Bobby, shut off his cell phone, and drank himself into a stupor after Dean went to hell? But this time, Sam’s reached out. He’s invited people in. He’s leading, just like he did at the end of S12 during the raid on the British Men of Letters. Sam has grown, and I love seeing the difference in him.


Ketch!

Speaking of the British Men of Letters … Okay, I’ll just be up front and say that I am a Ketch girl, and an utter David Haydn-Jones fan. So I’ve been waiting anxiously for any news of Arthur Ketch’s return, and have (thus far) been disappointed.

For a character who didn’t appear on screen, however, Ketch got a lot of air time in Thursday’s episode—which I find very promising. We learn early on from Mary that he is in London, looking for resources that will aid in the search for Dean. Later, we come upon Sam as he wraps up a conversation with Ketch on the phone, and discover that Ketch is searching for the “Newton D Hyperbolic Pulse Generator,” which is the device that kicked Lucifer out of the President.

A few notes on this: first of all, I’m really glad that the writers are addressing this rather obvious plot point. There is totally a device out there that could kick Michael out of Dean, and it absolutely is being sought. Excellent. Little mentions like this can make a huge difference in how on board we are as an audience with the story’s current focus.

I also need to take a moment for some serious Ketch appreciation. He went to great lengths to make sure the BMOL stayed in the dark about his return from the dead. Who could blame him? He was basically conditioned from childhood to be a complete sociopath—their complete sociopath—and when his “death” granted him freedom from their control, and a chance to redefine himself, he had every right to take that freedom and run.

But Ketch is currently in London, aka BMOL central. And the device that he is searching for was very likely reclaimed by them after its use on Lucifer, which means that Ketch is probably working to infiltrate their freaking headquarters. So right now he is putting his freedom, and very possibly his life, on the line—all to help the Winchesters.

Ketch is definitely continuing his quest for redemption, and, after learning what he’s up to, all I can say is, “Well done, mate. Carry on.”


Castiel’s weakness.

One of the consistent reactions that I ran into regarding the episode was confusion regarding Cas’ weakness.

Not only was he taken down by a rather motley group of demons without even landing a punch, but he then failed to escape, showing a rather startling lack of resourcefulness, and spent the remainder of the episode unhealed.

Castiel’s increasing weakness has, I’ll admit, been a source of some annoyance for me. Cas was a commander of the legions of heaven, a warrior-angel. I understand the writers’ choice to have him lose his wings and thus limit his powers. What I don’t understand is the continuing deterioration of his skill set, with no explanation as to why it’s happening. Even if we’re to ignore the fact that his supernatural abilities seem to be on the fritz in this episode, he should still be able to leave a few demons bleeding.

A lot of other fans shared similar reactions. Did something happen to Cas? Why is he so weak? Did we miss something?

My suspicion is that Cas’ weakness is linked to the dwindling number of angels. If they are used to power heaven, and the power there is failing, is this a constant drain on their personal resources? And is it limiting their supernatural and physical abilities?

If this is indeed the case, it’s something that the show needs address, pronto. And it’s something that Sam should definitely have been alert to, even if he’s distracted by the hunt for Michael. Cas sitting across from him at the table with a black eye and blood everywhere—kinda weird, Sam.


That Destiel Reference.

Despite the complaints about Cas, there was one particular moment that definitely made a lot of fans very happy. I could almost palpably feel the collective gasp of Destiel shippers in the middle of Cas’s sit-down with Kipling:

How is it you lost Dean? I thought you two were joined at the … well, everything.

The pregnant pause. The pointed look, followed by that gesture.

The demons know, y’all.

Supernatural has never been shy about being self-aware of the homoerotic subtext between its characters. And, as we’ve been previously told, you can’t spell subtext without s—e—x. More recently, Misha has been much less restrained when it comes to the subject of Destiel and, ahem, Cockles. Which has made my Twitterfeed explode every. Single. Time.

There seems to be a real hope amongst shippers that S14 will be the season where Destiel goes canon. I have my reservations about it happening. We’ll have to wait and see, but E1’s Destiel reference, and Cas’s absolute lack of any kind of corrective response, thrilled a lot of people.


There Will Be No. New. King of Hell.

Arguably, Sam’s declaration was the episode’s Big Moment.

Ever since we became aware of its hierarchy, hell’s had a king. Apparently, if Sam Winchester has his way, things Downstairs ain’t gonna go on that way. This, combined with the ongoing instability in heaven, has the potential to completely change the game and leave things wide open in a way that we haven’t experienced since the series’ very early years.

It’s always exciting when a series as established as Supernatural shakes up the fundamental rules. I am psyched.

Especially interesting is that the demons come into this new season looking to Sam to help establish a king. Kipling tacitly acknowledges that without a similar relationship between him and the Winchesters as the one enjoyed by Crowley, his bid for kingship is pointless.

What’s crucial here is that this is the first time that any demon has gone to either Winchester in a bid for authority in hell. Sure, demons have looked for situational help from Sam and Dean in the past, and Crowley desperately wanted bromance with Dean, but that’s different from this. There has been a fundamental shift in the power dynamics here, a shift that I don’t think even Sam has yet understood.

This power shift is further emphasized by the remaining demons’ response to Sam after he kills Kip: they simply leave. Remember, they were winning the battle. Castiel was still sidelined, Bobby and Jack were down for the count, Mary was pinned, and Maggie had been incapacitated. But after Sam’s “Enough!” speech they all. Just. Left.

When’s the last time that a bunch of demons just … left when they were winning a battle?

Their retreat has more than one fan wondering who, exactly, might be the current power player according to hell. Might their initials be S.W.?

There are so many different directions the writers could take this, and the very broadness of the range available to them right now has this fangirl’s brain in overdrive.

I can’t wait for next week.



Catherine McKenna is a recent returnee to her home province of New Brunswick, Canada, after over a decade living in the States. She lives with her 16-year-old kitten, Velcro, and is enjoying her renewed access to ketchup chips, Tim Hortons, and people who understand why she says “sorry,” a lot. A recent addition to the Supernatural fandom, Catherine survived her first Hellatus, and is just a wee bit excited to be reviewing episodes from Season 14 for Changing Channels.



Bonus Review Content

Major Episode Theme: Presence … and Absence

Confession time. I have a Master’s in English literature, and so I love examining story themes. My inner nerd just blossoms when I notice thematic material in, well, anything. If that’s interesting to you, too, read on. If not—I really understand, and no worries.

So. I was really impressed with the push and pull between presence and absence in “Stranger in a Strange Land.” I thought it would be fun to examine what was going on in relation to this theme: how the presence and absence of different characters affected the story.


Dean/Michael:

We were warned ahead of time that Dean would not be in this episode, much to the chagrin of many fans. And of course, Dean wasn’t. But Michael sure as heck was.

Even though he didn’t interact with a single lead, Michael’s presence loomed large. He was the subject of nearly every conversation and he precipitated Kipling’s bid for kingship, and thus the major confrontation of the episode. The simple knowledge that he could show up anywhere at any time kept me on the edge of my seat for the duration of the hour.

I have a feeling that Michael is going to be the collective guilty pleasure of the season.

I mean, yeah, we all want Dean back. And to be serious for a moment, his absence was a palpable void not only in the Bunker, the character interactions, and the fight scenes, but also in all those moments where you just knew Dean would have something to say (“You’re my Beyonce,” anyone?).

Just look at the big Bunker scenes: the number of people in it just seemed to accentuate Dean’s absence. Even with them all there, the space felt … empty without him. Without his wisecracks, his beer and a pizza box tossed on some surface in the library, his feet up on the table in the War Room as people prepped and researched and strategized.

But on the other hand, Michael stalking around in that coat, and that hat, and those shoes, with those cold, mocking eyes, asking everyone what it is that they want? Um, yep. I think we all want us some more Michael.


Bobby and Jack:

With Dean gone, it’s fallen to Bobby to teach Jack how to fight now that he has no powers.

I loved the scene with the two of them. This may not be our Bobby, but he’s very close, and seeing him mentor Jack the way that our Bobby mentored Sam and Dean gave me all the feels. We already knew that Jack and Bobby developed a strong relationship in the AU, but it’s nice to see that continuing in a new context … and man, I missed Bobby.

I don’t think that it’s coincidental that, with Dean gone, Bobby’s mentoring role is being foregrounded. There’s a comfort and a familiarity there that I think we all just need right now.


Mary:

I’ll be blunt. Mary pissed me off in S12. Her boys, who’d always needed her, finally got her back, and she just freaking left them. It took me quite a while to forgive her for that. Sam and Dean themselves were nicer about it. Don’t get me wrong. I love Mary. She’s a straight-up badass, and I love her spirit and her independence. And I get her need to figure stuff out after coming back from the dead.

But as a mom, in S12, she sucked.

So I really appreciated how hard she was working in this episode to support Sam, to be a steady presence for him, and to, for lack of a better word, “mom” him. Her questions about whether or not he’d gotten any sleep, her concern about pushing himself too hard, her words of encouragement about finding Dean, her honesty in the Impala on their way to rescue Cas … Mary did good. Real good.


Sam, Jack, and Dean:

The scene where Sam tried to talk to Jack about losing his powers ripped my heart out of my chest. It is not coincidental in the slightest that this was shot in the same room and from very much the same angle as the last Dean-and-Jack scene:

Even when we’re strong, man, things are gonna happen. We’re gonna make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. Right? But we can get better. Every day, we can get better. So whatever you’re dealing with, you know, whatever … whatever comes at us, we’ll figure out a way to deal with it, together. You’re family, kid, and we look after our own.

This was one of my favorite moments from S13. We got to see just how far Dean had come in terms of accepting Jack; and I think because he was initially so suspicious, this kind of talk from Dean meant more to Jack than it would have coming from anyone else.

In contrast, Sam’s words to Jack in this episode about the loss of his powers felt … hollow. Forced. And it was a very interesting thing to see Sam floundering in the sphere of emotional support. That’s usually his jam. The whole scene highlighted, quite beautifully, the struggle that everyone is facing in Dean’s absence.


Castiel:

For once, even though he wasn’t with them, everyone in the Bunker knew exactly where Cas was and what he was trying to do. So often in past seasons, Cas has just been gone. He goes rogue, takes matters into his own hands, tries to “help,” and usually makes things worse. It was refreshing to see Cas leaving a trail of breadcrumbs so the people who love him would know what he was up to.

And I really, really loved the echoes of Dean’s S13 speech to Jack at the end of the episode, when Jack told Cas, “I can’t do anything. I don’t have anything.” Castiel replies:

Oh Jack, that’s just not true. You’ve got me. You have all of us. You have your family. And—and we are going to find Dean, and we’re going to beat Michael, and we’re going to do it together. Because that’s what we do.

The affirmation here is beautiful: even without Dean’s presence, Jack still has family, still has people who love him—with or without his powers. He is not alone.


Crowley:

He’s been gone for an entire season now. Crowley was a beloved character for good reason, but in addition to that, he had a huge role in the show’s universe. And he’s still being missed by a lot of different folks within that universe, for a lot of different reasons.

I love that we are still being reminded of the void he left behind.
Let me explain.

Kipling was the second character that might have qualified as a Crowley replacement. Last season, we had Barthamus, in “The Scorpion and the Frog” (S13E8). It was an interesting experience, watching him, knowing exactly what the writers were doing. I kept thinking, damn, I really want this guy to be Crowley. And we absolutely were teased with the similarities. That hint of a British accent, that tailored suit and overcoat (close to Crowley’s black, but not quite—charcoal grey), the fact that he was a freaking crossroads demon. But he just wasn’t Crowley. Couldn’t be Crowley. In the end, when Barthamus died, I thought, well, I liked him. But he could never be Crowley.

Kipling—Kip—took this play with Crowley’s legacy to an entirely different level. The affect, the very terms he used, those “darling” moments, were all an intentional move on his part to replicate Crowley, all to convince Sam to support his bid for king. Those moments where the real Kipling broke through: that dude was a very different demon. It was jarring, and it was brilliant. And when he died, I thought to myself, Yep. No one will ever replace Crowley.

I’m glad that the writers continue to acknowledge Crowley’s absence. He was part of the series for seven years. And I think the loss goes deeper for fans than other characters’ departures because, unlike other actors, Mark Sheppard has publicly stated that he will not be returning. He feels Crowley’s character arc is over, and that’s that. So we can’t cling to that hope that, gee, everyone comes back in Supernatural. Crowley’s absence is permanent, and continuing to refer to it lets us know that the folks at Supernatural are aware of its impact upon the people who love this show. There’s respect in that, and I’m glad for it.




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