Many of us are probably still reeling from last night's two-hour season finale of Supernatural, in which all the bad things we expected came to pass - but in a much more deeply disturbing way than one might imagine.
But this is Supernatural, so there was also quite a bit of fun, and clever tweaks of well-known myths, plus a brief appearance from H.P. Lovecraft. And the ending? Let's just say it was one of those rare cliffhangers that leaves you hanging in the most satisfying way imaginable.
This was a two-parter, with the first half written by showrunner Sera Gamble and the second half by former showrunner (and current producer) Eric Kripke. Taken as a whole, the episodes began by wrapping up loose ends in the world of hunters, demigods, and monsters, and concluded with a tight-focus psychological study of one character, Sam, whose whose identity has for the whole season been a mess of loose ends.
A little bit of Lovecraft makes everything better
We begin with a teaser bit, where we see H.P. Lovecraft working at his desk and drinking booze (FYI the real HPL was a coffee drinker, not a boozer), right before a scary something-or-other bursts through his window and kills him. I was a little disappointed that we didn't get a better dose of Lovecraft - there was no Cthulhu action at all, which was major bummage - but it set the major conceit of the episode up nicely. And that was that HPL was part of a dark magic cult who opened the door to Purgatory briefly in 1937, letting through Bobby's ex-girlfriend Elle, the professor who told Dean how to kill dragons at the beginning of the season.
A brief moment of H.P. Lovecraft fanwank
As other critics have already noted, this wasn't really the kind of thing HPL ever would have done - and moreover, it just seemed like a terrible waste of a fascinating figure who would make a terrific addition to the Supernatural universe. He ought to have been given the "Chuck the prophet" treatment, not just a stunt cameo.
Just how evil is Castiel anyway?
So yeah, Bobby dated a monster from Purgatory. And yeah, Elle embodies one of the main ideas this season, which is that not all monsters are evil. In fact, monsters seem to be as diverse as humans themselves. As Elle points out, she loves Earth and wants it to stay the way it is. That's why she gave Dean her dragon-slaying sword - or at least tried to, before he blew it up.
The flip side of the monsters-can-be-ethical idea, of course, is that angels can be evil. And these episodes offered us an intense (and ultimately fascinating) portrait of Cas' new evil side.
Everything starts going darkside when Crowley gets sick of the brothers meddling in his plans to build a Purgatory can opener, he has his minions kidnap Lisa and Ben. And given that he's in league with Cas, it's hard for Dean to believe that Cas isn't somehow involved in this evil distraction. So the brothers call on Balthazar for help, who gives them the old quirky grin and "I'll help you because it helps me" speech, even though it's pretty clear that he's as worried about Cas as the Winchesters are. As Cas gets more powerful, his decisions are getting morally questionable. "I'll be your double agent," Balthazar says, promising to let the brothers know what Cas is doing behind their backs.
It turns out that Cas wasn't involved in Crowley's kidnap plan, but he's also not willing to rescue them. He promises Dean that they'll remain safe as long as the brothers just stand back and let him crack Purgatory.
Who is family and who isn't?
Of course nobody is willing to stand by and let Cas eat a bunch of soul nukes and possibly go Chernobyl. Dean promptly starts torturing demons to find out where Lisa and Ben are, while Bobby works on finding out where Elle is so that he can get the 411 on Purgatory.
Eventually Dean learns why you shouldn't drink and torture demons - you might get sloppy, smear your demon cage diagram, and let the demon out. That's when Cas comes down and saves Dean from becoming demon chow. The angel is still trying to get Dean to just stand down and let him plunder Purgatory for souls and the who wind up having the kind of debate that Sam and Dean have had a lot over the years. What should you be willing to tolerate in the name of family?
Dean and Cas have a whole showdown where Cas points out that Dean once called him family, and then asks for Dean just to "have faith" in his Purgatory plan. When Dean refuses, Cas flutters off in a huff to continue his quest to track down Elle, the only creature around who knows how to pick Purgatory's locks.
As if it wasn't bad enough that Cas made a deal with the devil, the angel is now full-on devious and vengeful. He kidnaps Elle and tortures her with Crowley, then drains blood from her for their Purgatory spell (it requires the blood of a virgin mixed with the blood of a native of Purgatory). They basically leave her for dead next to a trash can, but not before she calls Bobby and tells him what's happened.
Then Cas comes to Crowley in his torture chamber and says, "I'm changing the terms of our contract. I get all the souls and you get nothing." When Crowley protests, saying (rightly), "Even I don't back out on a contract like that," Cas is unperturbed. His face stony, the angel clutches the bottle of blood and intones, "You can either flee or die." At that point, Crowley knows he has no options, and disappears.
But his words hang in the air as he look at Cas, alone in Hell with the key to Purgatory. It's true that the devil would never back out of a contract - and in fact, he even rewrote the terms of a contract to make things more favorable for Bobby, who subsequently got the use of his legs back. So the devil is evil, and selfish, but he has a sense of honor. He keeps his word. Cas isn't doing that. He has sunk lower than the devil, just as his power is elevating him to a position where he can defeat the devil and anyone else he likes.
Despite the downward spiral Cas is on, he doesn't interfere when Sam and Dean rescue Lisa and Ben from Crowley's warehouse. Unfortunately, Crowley stuck a demon inside Lisa and she stabs her meatsack before Dean can exorcise her. Along the way, Ben has to see a lot of awful things, including his possessed mom telling him she wishes he'd never been born, and Dean yelling at him to stop freaking out so they can get to a hospital and prevent Lisa's death.
At the hospital, it looks like Lisa is going to die. And Ben won't even talk to Dean. Dean's managed to destroy their lives even though he left them to prevent such a thing from happening. That's why, when Cas arrives to apologize and heal Lisa, Dean asks the angel for a final favor.
It turns out that favor is erasing Dean from Lisa and Ben's memories. Instead of Dean, all they remember is that they were in a minor car accident. There's a tearful moment when Dean visits them for the last time in Lisa's hospital room, and says he's the guy who hit them, and that he's glad they're OK and can get on with their lives. But not everything is OK. In fact, it's horrible.
Just to add extra awfulness into the mix, Cas decides to prevent the brothers from meddling in his plans by removing the wall in Sam's head that divides his memories of hell from the rest of his soul. This results in instant coma. So now Cas has betrayed his business partner, his "family," and just to top it off, he murders Balthazar for playing double-agent with Sam and Dean.
Sam vs. Sam vs. Sam
The second episode of the finale begins inside Sam's head, after Cas has removed the wall. Dreaming, he sees the world from the perspective of his innocent self - the one with a soul who remembers nothing of his year as soulless Sam. There's a long and fairly flabby scene of him running from the cops, and then meeting up with a bartender who helps him figure out who he is, and decides to come along with him to Bobby's house. The flabbiness continues as innocent Sam meets soulless Sam, who is trying to kill him.
It's possible that other people really like "confronting yourself" scenes, and I think sometimes they can work, but in an episode where a lot of things are at stake, I wasn't riveted by spending five minutes watching Sam chase himself through the forest with a gun. Eventually good Sam kills soulless Sam, and soulless Sam's memories shoot inside him. Now Sam is partially healed, and he realizes the bartender who came with him is a woman he killed while in soulless mode.
All that remains now, if Sam is going to wake up and help Dean and Bobby stop Cas from popping Purgatory, is to meet his Hell self. Which he does. Hell Sam looks amazingly similar to the kid in that movie Beastly, who is supposed to be horrific but really just looks like he has a lot of tattoos and cool scars. Hell Sam doesn't really seem all that bad. I'd expect him to be gibbering in terror, but instead he's just kind of bummed out and emo. "You don't want this," he says, shoegazing his way through a conversation with Semi-Integrated Sam. But Semi-Integrated Sam wants to be Fully-Integrated Sam, so he kills Hell Sam, swallows a little brimstone, and stumbles toward the angel-guarded warehouse where Cas is doing the dirty deed.
Cas' final trick
Of course, Crowley shows up just as Cas is about to pop Purgatory. And he's got a new friend: Raphael, who offered him a better deal than "flee or die." So basically all the angels are eager to make deals with the devil. Crowley and Raphael force Cas to hand over the blood, and then chase him out. Meanwhile, Dean and Bobby are sneaking into the place to stop the terribleness and get caught pretty much instantly. Crowley smashes them around and continues with the chanting and the blood diagrams. But Purgatory won't open! Raphael is starting to look annoyed.
And that's when Cas shows up, an empty jar of blood in his hand. He fooled them with a bottle of dog blood, and went off by himself to do the ritual. Now he's so packed with souls that he can kill Raphael with a snap of his fingers (which he does). Crowley flees, leaving Dean and Bobby feeling pretty creeped out.
Kneel before your God
Cas starts talking about how he can't believe how awesome it feels to have all those monster souls inside him. We see none of the old awkward Cas in him - he seems like a version of Raphael now, glowing with power and authority. But he doesn't have the good kind of authority: he doesn't seem to care that he's just stolen a bunch of souls from their homes, nor does he care that he's so unstable that he could blow up at any minute and take half of Earth with him.
Dean starts pleading with Cas to put the souls back, for the monsters' own sakes but also for the sake of Earth's safety. But Cas isn't having any of it. And that's when Sam stumbles in and stabs Cas in the back with an angel-killing knife. Which does nothing.
"You can't kill me with that because I'm not an angel anymore," Cas says serenely. "I'm your new God now. A better God. And you will kneel before me or die."
Whoa! I love the hell out of this scene because Cas isn't just being evil. He's also acting exactly like God does in the Old Testament. Remember the Old Testament God who says things like worship me or I'll kill you? The one who was obsessed with sacrifice and war? The one who called himself a jealous God, who would accept no polytheism because it was his way or nothing? Yeah, Cas has become that God.
And why shouldn't he? If you think of the Bible as a chronicle of the previous God's rise to power, then it seems like the previous God also went through an authoritarian phase too. Maybe he mellowed out over time, but he started out just the way Cas is right now.
As the episode ends, we zoom into Cas' eyes, burning scarily in his blank face. A new God is in town and who knows what will happen next? This is a cliffhanger that leaves you wondering whether next season's big bad will be God himself. But at the same time, I still have to wonder if perhaps it isn't simply in the nature of a new Judeo-Christian God to behave exactly the way Cas has. Maybe Heaven can never be a democracy, and God is inevitably an authoritarian military dictator. There's a lot to ponder, in terms of plot and philosophy, over the long summer as we wait for season 7.