On last night's episode of Supernatural, "The Born-Again Identity," we got the all-star treatment. Showrunner Sera Gamble wrote the episode, veteran director Robert Singer was at the helm, and three (count 'em THREE) fan favorite characters showed up for special guest spots. And yet I was still left feeling restless and unsatisfied. Is it just me, or is it you, Supernatural?
Spoilers and a LOT of processing ahead.
A Story, B Story, C Story
No matter how bad things get, I can pretty much always depend on Gamble to whip up a story with more layers than a Russian honey cake. And this episode really delivered on that front.
Sam finally had the psychotic break we'd been expecting for the past several episodes. Lucifer's voice in his head kept him from sleeping for so long that he was basically hallucinating and he walked right into an oncoming car. From the ER, he got sent right to the locked psychiatric ward. By the time Dean finds him, Sam's been doped up enough to put a lion out, but he's still awake. The Satan in his head is still blasting at 4,000 lumens. Before Dean leaves Sam in the hospital, he vows to find somebody who can help.
After trying every faith healer in his little black sorcery book and getting nowhere, Dean finally feels a gust of what I keep thinking of as Bobby wind. A business card that's slipped out of the book leads him to a Hunter who says he's met a real healer — some guy named Emanuel. When Dean arrives at Emanuel's pad, he immediately has to gank a demon who is pretending to be the healer. Then real healer shows up. Guess who? That's right — it's a guy who looks exactly like Cas and has no memory of anything that happened before two months ago. Emanuel/Cas says he'll help Sam, in thanks to Dean for the gankage and rescuing his wife. As they zoom toward the hospital, Cas reveals that he met his wife when he emerged naked, wet and confused from the lake. She believes God sent him to her — which, yeah, he probably did.
During a pit stop, Dean has to gank more demons. He's nearly defeated when (surprise!) Meg shows up to help. Though I've never really understood the appeal of Meg as a character, she's at least got a coherent motivation right now. As a Lucifer loyalist, she'll do anything to unseat Crowley as the king of Hell. And now that all the demons are swarming around Emanuel, hoping to bring him in as a tasty surprise for Daddy Firepants, Dean is desperate enough to take her offer of help. So now Meg, Cas, and Dean are sitting awkwardly in the car, zooming toward a rendez-vous with Psycho Sam.
Meanwhile, Sam manages to help a fellow inmate at the hospital. She thinks she's hearing the voice of her dead brother in her head, but she's actually being haunted by his ghost. On top of all the other stuff going on, Sam manages to do a quick ghost removal dealie with some handy salt and a lighter he uses to burn an old bracelet from the brother. I loved this C Plot. Even when he's suffering horribly, Sam still manages to improve another person's life by doing his job as a Hunter.
From an interconnected plotlines perspective, this episode worked really well — it was tightly plotted and well-written. Still, there were problems.
The Return of Cas: Good, Bad, or Hrrrm?
We knew Cas was coming back, and the old amnesia trick seems as good a way to do it as any. We got a lot of good, old-school humorless Cas when he still thought he was Emanuel, and I really liked this scene (see clip) where Meg and Dean try to explain why it's horrible to be an angel. The moment when Cas remembers who he is while smiting the demons guarding the hospital is also great, especially with the proggy soundtrack. (Though the whole "I'm a creep and you should have killed me" speech dragging on while Sam is being electroshocked by a demon was a wee too much padding.)
Here was my main problem. The moment Dean arrives at Casa Cas, he's ganking. Pitstop? Gankage. Sam's hospital? A total gankfast. So there are a ton of demons who are sniffing around Emanuel and know that he's helping Dean and Sam. They've probably figured out that this "Emanuel" character is Cas, or at least Cas-related. But they haven't told Crowley, and the news hasn't leaked to the Leviathans? At the end of the episode, Dean asserts confidently that they've killed all the demons who know about Cas. Really? I'm just not convinced.
This all seems so random, from the demons suddenly going totally off the reservation and breaking Crowley's armistice with Dean, to the demons chasing down the guy who created Crowley's Big Enemy without telling Daddy Firepants. And the biggest random thing of all is Cas' final healing move with Sam.
At first, Cas tries to heal Sam with his angel touch, but he can't — as he tells Dean, the wall in Sam's head has been "ground to dust." This confuses me because I thought Sam was supposed to be run-of-the-mill insane, which should mean that he has a medical problem like blindness or a broken rib, and can be healed with a touch. But now we're talking about head dust? So craziness is head dust, not just a neurochemical disorder? I don't like the incoherence of this, and I also don't like the political implications that schizophrenia is not a physical ailment like all the other ailments that Cas has healed in the past (including when they were inflicted by angels).
OK, OK. I know what you're saying — Sam isn't really schizophrenic. He's soul-wounded. So it makes some sense that Cas can't fix it with a healing touch. The problem here is really that the show has used so many metaphors for what's wrong with Sam (soulless, soul-wounded, PTSD from the Pit, schizophrenia) that it's just impossible for us to understand what's wrong and how it can be fixed. As a result, there is no choice but to layer on yet another improbable and out-of-left field plot development. And that development is Cas' suggestion that if he can't heal Sam he can "divert" his ailment/soul-wounding/whatever.
This "diversion" allows Cas to use some scary red light effects to suck Sam's craziness into himself. At this point, due to mixed metaphor-itis, we have NO IDEA what the hell has happened. Has Cas absorbed the wounded chunk of Sam's soul? His schizophrenia? All we really know is that now Cas is now seeing Lucifer in his head — "Hello, brother," Lucifer says with a scary laugh. I guess this Head Lucifer is like a really good app that can personalize your experience of crazy based on who you are.
But this isn't the only giant "hrrrm?" I got out of Cas' heroic absorption of Lucifer.
Wait, Why Is Meg Doing Stuff?
I'd never entirely understood Meg's motivations until recently when she started doing the whole Lucifer loyalist shtick. I just don't get why she showed up now, and what exactly Dean has to offer her that she couldn't get elsewhere. Yes, technically she wants help in her one-demon war against Crowley, but Dean sort of has a deal with Crowley. Why does she help Dean, knowing that his truce with Crowley is about as solid as his truce with her? Which is to say — not very solid?
Throwing Meg into this episode felt like an "everything plus the kitchen sink" move that was totally unnecessary. I felt pandered to as a fan of the show, and not in a good way. That rescue in the convenience store didn't require a Meg — Dean could have been rescued by a confused Cas, or even just another Hunter.
And as the episode ends, Meg is doing something even more inexplicable. She's gotten a job at the hospital where Cas is sitting sadly with Lucifers dancing in his head. Soooooo . . . she's there to protect him? Even though all the demons who know about Cas are dead? Or something more nefarious? Honestly, if she's doing something tricky and nefarious I have no freakin' clue how THAT will be resolved given that we have about fifteen billion other complicated issues to resolve this season with the ever-expanding Leviathan plot. And that brings me to my final concern . . .
The Problem with the Arc
Bringing Cas back was crucial to resolving the Leviathan arc, since he was responsible for carrying them out of Purgatory in the first place. So good job everybody with moving that plot along. Except — no! Not a good job for moving the plot in a totally orthogonal, Meg-flavored direction that did nothing to resolve the Dick Plan, the Cancer Center Thing, and the Global Whatever! FILL IN YOUR FAVORITE ANGRY NERD ON THE INTERNET NOISE HERE!
I am starting to get Season 6 PTSD flashbacks as I contemplate the Season 7 ender that is approaching much faster than you think. How is everything going to be resolved here? Part of me just doesn't want to know. Not in a "bored now" way, but in a "I don't want to see one of my favorite shows get drunk and pass out in a pile of salt and blood glyphs again."
And Now It's Time to Process Our Feelings
Somehow Sam has gotten out of the hospital, Cas and Meg have gotten in, and the brothers are having their traditional end-of-show dialogue over the top of their car. Mostly they're just throwing in a bunch of comments designed to make me think that it makes sense that even though they've killed like ten demons in the course of the show, NOBODY KNOWS that Cas is back. Apparently the safest place for Cas is under Meg's care in the asylum where a ton of demons had their eyes burned out by an angel.
As I have already noted ad nauseam, I just don't get it. Why don't the Winchesters just bring the nutso Cas along with them? Yes, they're running into danger and Cas is crazy, but it's not like they haven't run into danger in the past with a crazy Cas. Plus, supposedly all the demons who knew about Cas are dead. So Sam and Dean might as well bring him along instead of leaving Cas in the care of a powerful demon who has basically 100% motivation to kidnap him and use his weirded-up angel powers to let her beloved boss out of the Cage.
So my reaction to this episode, in a nutshell, is that it was fun to watch while it was happening because I was given all my favorite candies in rapid succession. But as soon as it was over, I had a stomach full of regrets.