After Supernatural's terrific season premiere, I think we were all wondering how the Leviathans, our new big bads, could possibly be as good as their origin story was last week. As Supernatural has shown before, a good monster is all in the writing — you don't need much in the way of special effects. That's why last night's episode, "Hello Cruel World," delivered.
Given what we saw of the Leviathans making their way through the bewildering world of Earth, I am now officially psyched for what comes next. Plus, Sam's struggle to deal with his post-traumatic hell disorder was a strong counterpoint to the monstery action. Of course, it also didn't hurt that Ben Edlund wrote this episode. Spoilers ahead!
A monster made of goo and television
The Leviathans are basically a combination of zombies, Terminators, bodysnatchers, and mafia bureaucrats. We learn all this in a series of rapid-fire scenes right after Cass, his body stuffed with monsters, stumbles into the Idaho water supply reservoir and explodes into a million gooey black tentacles. We immediately suspect exactly what Dean and Bobby do — the Leviathans can now go everywhere, and into everyone. In a rapid series of scenes, we watch as black water gushes into the mouth of a little girl at a drinking fountain, splatters the face of an auto mechanic, and enters the bodies of a high school swim team. The Leviathans are able to access the memories of the people whose bodies they steal, and it seems that they can even jump from body to body. But that's not where the damage ends — they are also very, very hungry. They need to eat internal organs to survive.
Also, apparently, the Leviathans have a boss. We find that out in this scene where two of the Leviathan lieutenants discuss their next move. Luckily for them, the little girl monster has been watching TV. There, she has learned about a type of person called Dr. Sexy, who can "cut anyone open and remove any organs they want." I love that shows like Grey's Anatomy have basically helped the monsters figure out how to prey upon humanity. Armed with television knowledge and supernatural strength, the Leviathan lieutenants set out to take over a Sioux Falls hospital and turn its patients into their feedstock.
Lucifer wants to know how you're doing
Last week we learned that Sam is hallucinating, seeing Lucifer everywhere. Fake Lucifer says he wants Sam to think he's gotten out of hell so that Lucifer can take it away again and make Sam feel worse. in this episode, we actually start to believe that Lucifer might be telling the truth.
I wasn't sure how the show would make Sam's ongoing struggle with post traumatic hell disorder interesting again. Turns out they did it by acknowledging that he is basically just garden-variety insane. Bobby and Dean have to accept that there may be no quick fix, and certainly no spell, that can relieve Sam. All they can do is ask, over and over, "How are you doing?" Meanwhile, Sam's struggling to figure out what's real and what isn't, just the way people suffering from schizophrenia do every day. There are a series of darkly funny scenes where Dean is arguing that Lucifer is not real, while Lucifer argues that Dean isn't. Lucifer is convincing enough that I found myself wondering if perhaps the season would end with Sam dangling in hell, and us realizing that saving the world from monsters really was just a dream.
Sheriff Mills is on the case
While Sam walks on shaky psychological ground, the Leviathan case is getting worse and worse. The Leviathans who infiltrated the swim team have eaten their teammates, so Dean heads out to the school to follow up on that lead. Bobby is supposed to be watching over Sam, but then he gets a call from his old friend Sheriff Mills — the one he saved last season, and who knows he's a monster hunter. Mills just happens to be in the hospital that the leviathans have decided to commandeer. The little girl leviathan, as you can see in the clip above, has taken over a Dr. Sexy. And Mills is witness to Dr. Sexy's first feeding frenzy — she manages to catch a glimpse of him cutting open another patient and chomping on her liver. At that point, she calls Bobby.
For those of you just tuning in, it is impossible for female characters to survive on this show, so don't get too attached to Sheriff Mills.
For some reason, Bobby decides it will be a great idea to go rescue the sheriff and leave Sam alone back at the junkyard. Bobby sorts out the Leviathan situation at the hospital, learning about their taste for organs, their CGI mouths, and their immunity to buckshot, while Sam struggles with his inner demons. Literally.
Sam hallucinates that Dean has come back from his mission early, and wants Sam to come along with him to the hospital where Bobby is. We know almost immediately that it isn't Dean, because he saying things to Sam about how Sam will never get better, craziness is always permanent, etc. Fake Dean tricks Sam into going to an abandoned warehouse, where he morphs into Lucifer and tries to get Sam to shoot himself. Luckily the real Dean has set up Sam's cell phone to be a tracking device, and he shows up just in time.
In a brief but vital scene, Dean tells Sam that he knows what it's like to be tortured in hell — and he also knows that the pain of real life feels significantly different than the hallucinatory torments of the pit. Grabbing Sam's injured hand, he squeezes until blood flows. "This feels different," he insists. The trick works. The more Sam focuses on this mundane, real-life pain, the more Lucifer flickers out of existence. It's not that he's gotten rid of the hallucinations entirely, but Sam now has what Dean calls "the first stone" in a self-made wall between fantasy and reality.
There is nothing more terrifying than a hospital administrator
While Bobby is rescuing Mills and Dean is teaching Sam about reality, the Leviathans are taking over the hospital. Dr. Sexy has figured out that the best way to keep his friends fed is to take over the bodies of a couple of hospital administrators and turn the whole place into a fast food joint for monsters. So the swim team Leviathans morph into the head nurse and head administrator, then eat the originals. Dr. Sexy thinks the auto mechanic should become an anesthesiologist, but apparently the boss Leviathan has other plans.
That's why Dean and Sam find themselves face-to-face with a Leviathan at Bobby's junkyard. Their planned rendezvous with Bobby has gone very wrong — they've returned to find Bobby's house a smoldering ruin, and Bobby nowhere to be found. Then they have to fight off the auto mechanic Leviathan, who is only stopped after they drop a car on top of him. But by then the damage is done. Sam is knocked out with a concussion and Dean has a broken leg. And of course the ambulance that rescues them is taking them to the Leviathan hospital.
Just as you think that things can't get any more terrible and exciting, the auto mechanic Leviathan resurrects himself in liquid terminator style. All that black goo flows back underneath the car where he's been squashed, and his hand starts twitching. Awesome.
And now is the time when we process our feelings
I almost feel like season seven is the perfected version of season six. Season six started out by introducing a bunch of monsters who had a big boss and a mission. Theoretically, those season six monsters should have been awesome — there were even dragons, for shit's sake. But somehow it just never gelled. This season began with a somewhat similar set up, and everything is just going right. The monsters make sense, though they are still mysterious. They fit nicely into the show's cosmology but also build it out in a way that doesn't seem random. The Leviathans are, in a way, proto-humans. They are the thing that God made before figuring out that humans were really the direction he wanted to go. And so there's a nice metaphorical symmetry to the fact that Leviathans can take over humans.
In other metaphorical symmetry news, Sam's struggle to figure out what's real works well as a subplot in a season that's shaping up to be all about monsters who replace humans. I wouldn't want to push this point too far, since practically every monster on Supernatural has to wear a human meatsack. The monsters on this show always look like humans. The difference here is that the Leviathans almost were humans. They were the first experiment that God did with life, and presumably we are part of the second one.
Philosophical musings aside, I'm glad that Sam and Dean have finally had a moment to process their feelings about hell, and each other. I was getting sick of the whole thing where first Dean wouldn't talk about his feelings about hell, and then Sam wouldn't talk about his feelings about Lucifer . . .
Also, for the first time in a while, I feel like Supernatural is moving at a breakneck pace — fur is flying, chaos reigns, and everybody is screwed. In other words, the boys are back in town.