Supernatural – S14E01 – Stranger in a Strange Land

Howdy strangers! It’s that time of year again, the end of hellatus! Yes, that’s right, Supernatural is back! Time to party like it’s 1999….oops, that was upside down, sorry, time to party like it’s 666!! Can someone please stop me from excitedly exclaiming things? Phew, that’s better, thanks! (Damnit!)

The Road So Far (Avocado Version):

So last year I tended to post my reviews on Saturdays (for the most part) and I plan on posting on Saturdays again this year. There wasn’t a lot of discussion on each episode last year, so I figure I’ll keep things the same format – leaning to a more thorough review rather than a discussion board post. But if you guys would really like a place to discuss on Thursday, let me know and I’ll do something like post a live chat for the show, then post the review on Saturday.

As some of you may remember from last year, I also talked about doing classic TV coverage of the show as well. I have thought a lot about what I wanted that to look like and in the course of all that thinking, I realized that I want to wait until the show is over before I go back and start at the beginning. As the end of last season showed, there are still things currently happening on the show that may colour how we view events from even the earliest seasons. I don’t want to write my version of the definitive reviews for the show…supposedly taking into account the entirety of the show…only to have to go in and change or update something a year from now.  Could you imagine season 5 reviews written even in the early days of season 13? You would think nothing at this point would change your mind on season 5. “And that is why Dean will never say yes to Michael”…oh, crap. So yeah, I think I’m going to hold off on those until it’s all said and done. But I would like to delve into some more writing here and expand some of the TV content on the site in the process. With that in mind, I’ve got two shows that I would like to eventually tackle. I’ll let you guys vote on which I tackle first.

Now, both are shows with a female protagonist, both are shows that have serious snark factor. Both have announced reboots/revivals recently too, which makes it the perfect time for me to do a re-watch. What are the shows? None other than Veronica Mars (a new season coming out on Hulu…and hopefully a Canadian service/channel) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a reboot). If you have any strong feelings about which I should tackle first, let me know in the comments. Or even just mild feelings. Or any feelings at all, even if they’re like the homeopathy of feelings, so watered down as to be essentially useless.

I’ve also been considering doing something a little different with these Classic TV entries. My computer is a desktop that I have hooked up to my TV. So, when watching anything, I can’t also work on the computer in any way. So when it comes to reviews, I make handwritten notes as I’m watching, then have to type up my notes on the computer, then go over it to edit/proofread etc. It’s a difficult process for me physically, and takes forever. Text to speech helped me not have to sit as much last year, but the process took even longer than just typing stuff in. And while I have a lot to say about the TV I watch, writing isn’t really my preferred mode of communication. I’m much more of a talker than a writer. So I’ve been toying with the idea of posting video or audio reviews instead of written articles. I’m not sure how people would feel about that, but if you’re going to vote on Buffy vs. Veronica, I thought you could also vote on which format you’d like to see them in: audio, visual or club…I mean written. If I use a new format and things go well, I may transition these Supernatural reviews over to that format as well, but I want to cut my teeth on the “new” show first. Classic TV means I can take my time with them, learn the ropes, and not start posting until I get the hang of it.

Okay, that’s all of the housekeeping out of the way for now. It’s time to get to the main event. Ladies and gentlemen, start your montage music!

The Road So Far (for realsies version):

Basically the episode’s “Then” segment was a great highlight reel of last season and should do a decent job of refreshing your memory. More specifically, you want to check out 13.23, “Let the Good Times Roll”, when Dean let Michael in to fight Lucifer, Lucifer stole Jack’s Grace to fight Michael, we had the big showdown of (in my opinion) really awkward looking wire work and Dean/Michael (or Dichael, as he’s been christened) came out on top and killed Lucifer, with a knife-throw assist from Sam and then Michael double crossed Dean and took over his body, then took off. So yeah, pretty uneventful episode. Other than that, there wasn’t really that much in this episode that called back to past episodes/events. This was a very forward-looking episode. That said…

Now:

We start with Dichael interrupting a Muslim man at morning prayer to a) let him know that his faith in God and the angels is justified and b) ask him what he wants. Apparently Dichael’s been doing that a lot lately – with a whole range of different types of people. I think the real question is what does Dichael want? “A better world” is just too vague to satisfy as an answer. And apparently Dichael isn’t impressed with the answer he gets from this man either. While we’re here…how is Dichael a thing? Not the name (though it isn’t the best portmanteau around) but how is Michael able to stay in there? Yes, Dean initially said yes, but wasn’t that “We had a deal” basically a no? Or is this a “letter of the law” situation where he has to say no and Michael gave him no chance? But does he need to say it out loud? I mean, Sam ejected Gadreel in his head. I can’t imagine Dean’s being all compliant in there. So the show needs to explain this to me more fully. Otherwise, I’m calling shenanigans. This also seems like a good time to note that Jensen Ackles is doing a fantastic job of playing Michael. He has really captured the voice patterns and gestures of Christian Keyes’ Michael to a t. I am also totally not surprised by this, the man is amazing at his job.

Back at the bunker we overhear this nugget:
“Maggie, can you hack the traffic cams on the freeway?”
“Um, no.”
I love that they aren’t just making the castaways from world B suddenly good at stuff they really shouldn’t be good at, just to fit in or serve the story better. That’s good for us, the viewers, but for the characters, it’s not so great. Many of the bunker inhabitants are really struggling right now. The episode title is “Stranger in a Strange Land” and there are a lot of those on display here. Many of our characters are learning to adjust to a new reality, a new “world” for themselves. Sam is overtired, overworked and pushing himself hard to find Dean. Though, what he expects to do when he finds him is still a mystery. He’s also adapting to being Team Leader (or “Chief” as one guy called him) to all the castaways. Though he’s very capable, leader isn’t a role Sam often takes on for himself. And the strain is showing. Having brought them over, Sam has a sense of responsibility for the castaways, making sure they are taken care of. And you know he’d never abandon that responsibility. And having all of these seasoned fighters here does make doing stuff like hunting vamps easier, but it makes it harder for Sam to do what he really wants to do, spend 100% of his time looking for his brother.

Mary is also struggling. She’s used to the castaways, having spent so much time with them. And she’s obviously comfortable fighting the monsters. But her firstborn  is missing, with an angel possessing him to boot. Yet she seems to be a regular Pollyanna about their chances of getting him back. I would be too, I think. The alternative is unthinkable. I do think though that Mary’s character is suffering from serve-the-plot-itis. I don’t buy that Mary would be here at the bunker rather than out tearing up the world for news of Dean. We know Sam wants to, but can’t and Cas currently is doing so, so why is Mary still here? Maybe it’s because of Bobby (d’awww!) maybe it’s because she also feels responsible for the castaways because of all the time she spent with them, maybe it’s because she wants to stay close to her other son and her surrogate son Jack, I don’t know, but I’m not buying her just staying at the bunker, waiting for news.

Jack is adjusting to being powerless. Eventually, he should get his Grace back, but when will it start to come back (I’m guessing mid-season) and how quickly will it regenerate to full power? (I’m guessing weak at first, back to full power for the finale.) Who knows? So in the meantime, he’s training with Bobby to learn how to fight human style. As someone who has lost physical mobility and had to relearn how to exist without it, I can relate to this storyline. Well…except for the part where Jack will get his powers back. But I imagine that Jack is having trouble because he’s feeling useless in this fight, a fight he played a part in getting them into. I’m not blaming him at all, but I think Jack may be blaming himself a bit and cursing his inability to fix things. Though they touched on Jack’s feelings this episode, I think there’s more there to explore and I’m expecting to see more about it in future episodes.

Bobby, Maggie and the rest of the castaways are adjusting because they truly are in a strange land. They have a whole society to get used to, with all its cultures and norms. They’ve run to this better land, thinking they’d be safe, but their problem has just followed them. Maybe it’s because they want to stop Michael before he ruins another world, maybe because they want to give back to this world that has taken them in and given them another shot at happiness, maybe because it’s all they know now, or it may be some combination of these factors, but it seems most of the castaways have decided to remain at the bunker and fight monsters. (I shudder to think of the amount of pool one must hustle to feed all of these extra mouths!) Though I imagine off-grid hunting would be an easier way to integrate into the new world, rather than deal with creating an identity that would stand up to this world’s need for “papers.” Sam’s Kinko’s skills can only do so much, after all.

Cas, well Cas is in the same boat as Mary. Nothing much has changed in his world, except for the one thing that has changed for all of them, and that’s the fact that Dean is gone. But like Mary (and of course Sam) this is more than enough to change everything for him. But unlike Sam (and perhaps Mary), Cas doesn’t need to stay at the bunker to take care of the castaways, so he is free to do what Sam can’t; spend all of his time looking for Dean. And after three weeks with no leads, Cas is finally desperate enough to go asking demons for help. “How did you lose Dean? I thought you were joined at the…everything.” Just…NO! show. Be better. (But don’t be best!) So, I’m not opposed to using the bad guys to help the good guys, but seriously Cas! You’re too gullible by half. I called the bartender as a demon the moment Kip revealed himself, and when he said “I think we can do better” revised that to include the bar. And I’m not a hunter who runs into these situations regularly. Don’t you even case a place before you go in, Cas? The boys have really done a crap job of teaching you how to hunt! Maybe, like Jack, you should spend some time learning how to fight without power, rather than depending on it to solve all problems. I mean, you lived powerless for quite some time already! Did you not learn any coping skills? So, surprise, surprise, Cas gets jumped. Now he’s adjusting to being a hostage.

Speaking of Cas depending on his powers, why didn’t he use them while fighting against the demons? He threatened to burn Kip, but then didn’t actually do it to any of his attackers. Or why not use his powers to heal himself or Jack or any of the other people who came to rescue him at the end of the episode? Did Cas lose his powers again in some way that I’m forgetting from last season? (I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.) Or is this a new, as yet unexplained thing that has happened in the three weeks since the finale? Or is this just a writing issue, more serve-the-plot-itis? Tell me!

Commercial Break! Okay, I’m the kind of person who hates spoilers of all kinds. Not just outright plot spoilers, but spoilers of expectation (Oh, that one’s a great episode! This next episode is renowned in the fandom for how bad it is. etc.) and casting spoilers (This guest star is appearing in these episodes. This one-off character’s actor is actually signed for three more episodes. This actor we haven’t seen in seasons has signed on to appear this year.) So unlike most fans, I don’t tend to watch con panels or follow cast and crew on social media or look for casting announcements. If something is happening, I’d rather find out in the story than in real life. I like to be surprised. So how mad was I that the stupid CW totally spoiled me by playing an as-yet-un-aired clip from later in the episode as a commercial break teaser to entice you to keep watching? (So, so mad!) I’M ALREADY WATCHING, CW! I’M NOT GOING TO TURN AWAY MID-EPISODE YOU SPOILER-FORKING SPOILSPORTS! So that’s how I discovered Mark Pellegrino was still on the show. Would have been so much better to find out like 10 minutes later, when it happened in the show! Especially after having gone this long without being spoiled. But, whatever, CW, ya idjits! Maybe I’ll go back to watching on Space. They never spoiled me.

Okay, break’s over, back to the show. “Sister” Jo seems to have adjusted just fine after her failed attempt to co-rule heaven with Lucifer. She’s just gone back to what she did before, healing for money. Michael shows up to ask her the question he seems so fixated on; “What do you want?” This scene was weird for me, for a couple of reasons. It was really hard for me to watch this without the thought that they are real-life husband and wife in the back of my head the whole time. It made me think of the actors rather than the characters and kept me from being immersed in the scene. Now maybe, if they spent enough time opposite each other onscreen, that would fade, but it seems the characters won’t be teaming up, and I admit, I was glad of that.

I also found the writing a little off in this scene. For example:
“You’re the archangel Michael, from another world, and you’re possessing Dean Winchester.”
“It sounds more complicated than it is.”
Umm, that actually sounded pretty simple to me, the way she said it. Unbelievable, yes, but simple. How did that sound complicated? Anyone? And would an angel really refer to him as “the archangel Michael”? Think back to season 5. All of the angels called him Michael. Never “the archangel Michael.” Did they think people had forgotten just what kind of angel he was, so slipped in that bit of exposition? Also the line “You’re the rebel, the angel who doesn’t like playing by heaven’s rules, or whatever.” Just total cheeseball cliché followed by “or whatever”. Seriously, does that sound like how “the archangel Michael” would talk? It doesn’t to me.

There was one thing I found interesting in this scene, and that was when Jo asked Michael why Dean said yes. He responds “love.” And here I thought it was to kick Lucifer’s never-loving ass! I mean, yes Dean did it to help save his family and the world, but rather than say that or “to stop Lucifer”, he says “love.” Is Michael just trying to be vague here, or is this a clue to Dean’s thoughts, or maybe a clue as to how Michael views Dean? We’ll see if more comes out on this.

So, Michael thinks Jo wants a family, to belong, to feel loved. (Does everything boil down to “yucky, human love” for this guy?) Given what we saw of her last season, I would have said that she wanted to be acknowledged for her ideas. To be recognized, instead of just angel clerk #446. She wanted a shot at ruling heaven and implementing her ideas. She also wanted to increase the angel population so that she would have a heaven to rule. Both of these Michael could give. Why wasn’t she clamouring for that once she realized Michael was serious? Where is this desire for love and belonging coming from? We either needed to see a lot more about Jo last season to justify this, or at least some exposition now. I’m just not on the same page as Michael right now. Michael does bring up the low angel numbers here, and how he could fix it, but then quickly dismisses the idea. He says if the angels are all like Jo, they aren’t worth saving. This is just your friendly reminder that if the angel population gets low enough that they can no longer power heaven, all of the souls there will be expelled back to earth as ghosts. Fun!

Back at the bunker, Sam’s heart-to-heart with Jack is interrupted by Mary coming to tell Sam someone’s awake. Hmmm, I wonder who that could be, CW? Who. Could. It. Be. Surprise! (/s) It’s Nick. Lucifer is dead and gone, leaving him behind. (And how, exactly, is that possible? Shouldn’t his soul have been kicked out to heaven {possibly hell..he did say yes to Lucifer?} like Jimmy Novak’s was when the host body was incinerated? I mean, Nick’s body has been destroyed several times over. So how is he still here? Not that I’m complaining too hard, I love Mark Pellegrino. But at least give me a token justification, writers. Please?) It seems the archangel blade only kills the archangels, not their hosts. Okay, so far in Supernatural, all the different knives kill what they were designed for, plus everything below them. The demon knife kills demons, angel blades kill angels and demons. So does the archangel blade also kill angels and demons? Without also killing the vessels? Interesting! Okay, first, let’s stab Dichael with this as soon as possible and get my baby Dean back. Second, now the guys can fight and kill demons (and the occasional “bad” angel) without harming any innocent people along the way! I’ll be interested to see how this is developed. Third, this would have maybe been important information for the boys to have in season five. I’m guessing a lot of things would have happened differently that season if the angels had just been forthcoming with all of the information at their disposal. Stupid, secretive angels!

Some strange writing choices in this scene too.
“It must be weird, you looking at me and seeing him.”
“Yeah, but I’m really glad it’s you.”
This is the type of dialogue you expect when the Hallmark channel/Syfy channel mashup version of Sam’s lover, sacrifices herself or himself (or just has a lab accident) and puts their consciousness into the body of their enemy/lab partner. So Sam gets to keep his love, but constantly has to see them in the body of his enemy/less attractive lab geek. (And you just know there will be an eventual battle inside that mind for who gets control! Or a scientific breakthrough to separate them.) Maybe I just have a vivid imagination. All I’m saying is that it just sounded off for me. I was expecting something more along the lines of “Yeah, but I know you aren’t him. He’s long gone and good riddance. I’m just glad you were able to be saved.”

Anyway, Nick remembers a few things, bits and pieces, of when he was possessed. Apparently Michael’s plan is to “do it right this time”, whatever that means. Maybe Nick will remember more as time goes on and he can help them get a lead on Dichael’s whereabouts.

The team finds out Cas has been taken and make a plan to go save him. While Cas is talking with Kip, we realize Michael’s been visiting both sides of the aisle with his “what do you want” question. Yeah, we know Michael wants to “do it right this time” and get “a better world” but what exactly is it that Michael wants? I’m not exactly trusting that an archangel’s idea of a better world will actually be a better world for the humans.

So Sam and company arrive and put their plan into action to get Cas. Sam comes in, lets Kip feel like he’s got the upper hand by having Jack and Maggie get “caught.” This allows Kip to feel comfortable enough to tell Sam the answer to Michael’s question. And what does he want? He wants to be Crowley. Sam’s like “Too soon!” and snaps the rest of the plan into action. Like most battle plans, it starts to fall apart almost as soon as it’s put into real world action…and things get a little hairy for our intrepid gang for a few minutes…but they’re (well, Sam’s) eventually able to beat Kip. Sam then lets the other demons know that if anyone dares bring up Crowley again, they’ll have to fight him and all the other demons are like “No, yeah, it was totally too soon.” and they all smoke out. Too bad, I rather liked Kip and I’m sad he’s gone for good. And while I get why Sam’s not big on replacing Hell’s king, I think Kip was right that Hell undergoing a leadership race may not be good news for the humans. How many demons may want to try to kill Sam to prove their prowess and skill to the other demons? How many may pull stunts like Kip in order to try to make a deal with Sam for his backing to rule Hell? It could end up being a distraction they really don’t need right now.

We find out that Ketch has been out looking for the device they used in season 12 to oust Lucifer from the President’s body. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to find it. I’m wondering if, when he gets back, we will see a Ketch/Mary/Bobby love triangle? I’m totally down for it! Though Ketch would have to spend some time and effort making amends with Mary before I’d be okay with her returning the feelings. All while Bobby’s laying on a charm offensive. Yeah, I’m totally down for this! You don’t often see this kind of a romance plot with middle aged characters and I’d love it if the show took advantage of this opportunity.

So, various characters in the bunker have the standard end-of-episode debriefs – Sam and Cas talk and Cas apologizes for getting involved with demons and Sam says he’d have done the same thing – Mary and Bobby share a beer and a smile (oh, so down for it!) – Cas and Jack talk about how Jack feels useless and Cas assures him he’ll be back in fighting shape in no time and in the meantime, has his family around to help and support him – and finally, Sam gets a call from Jo, with the requisite “we gotta talk” cliffhanger for next week.

Outside of the bunker, we get one more conversation. Seems Michael has finally found an answer that he liked to his ubiquitous “what do you want” question. And that answer was “to eat….blood”. Oh yeah, Michael is working with a vampire! How on earth this will help him “do it right” or create that “better world”, I have no idea, but I sure as hell want to find out!

This was a great season opener. After last season’s finale, we all knew we would be returning to a very different Supernatural than we’re used to. I’m not going to lie, it does feel weird to not have the boys riding around in Baby, looking to fight the new season’s big bad. And it feels weird to have the bunker full of strangers, working as a team to fight the monsters. But it also feels exciting BECAUSE it’s different. We’ve had 13 seasons of the same, if the show was to be serious about continuing, it had to change to avoid the traps it has fallen into before. One brother sacrifices himself to save the other, so the other brother has to find a way to save him back, rinse and repeat. Or one brother lies to the other and it causes a rift when the lie is discovered, they split up but reunite alarmingly quickly, without actually dealing with the underlying issues. Or, Dean is turned into a demon (or angel) and healed super quickly to make the 200th (or 300th) episode, even though a lot of us liked the Deanmon (or Dichael) plot. (Though we also loved “Fan Fiction”, soooo…) So yeah, I really hope this isn’t resolved quickly. In fact, I’d be okay if Dichael was the season’s big bad and Dean wasn’t saved until 14.20. (he he, 4.20!) Though if they do that, can you at least give me some scenes of Dean fighting the good fight against Michael in his head? Please? I need my Dean fix!
Now, I do understand that some people may have trouble accepting this new, more…populated?…Supernatural. So I think “Stranger in a Strange Land” is the perfect way to ease the transition. Most of the characters, like the audience, are also feeling the whiplash of adjusting to this new reality. We are all taking a minute to come to terms with Dean’s…loss?…and their new normal. Some are also dealing with some personal changes as well. “We’re all in this together” seems to be the message of the episode.

It may also interest you to know that the title of this episode is significant not just for events in the episode, but for its associations outside the episode as well. The phrase “stranger in a strange land” comes from the Bible, (Exodus 2:22) where Moses names the son he has while in exile, “Gershom”, meaning “stranger there”, because “I have been a stranger in a strange land.” Okay, so it’s related to the Bible, but that’s not the most interesting tie-in. The interesting fact is that Robert A. Heinlein named one of his science fiction novels using this phrase from the Bible. And in the novel (Spoilers ahead! You’ve been warned! Just scroll over to highlight if you dare!) Valentine Michael Smith, a human, comes to Earth in adulthood after being born on Mars and raised by Martians. “The novel follows his interaction with – and eventual transformation of – Terran culture.” (Wikipedia, emphasis mine.) So, Supernatural then takes this name from a novel with a plot so similar to their plot, and also they relate it to one of the show’s biblical characters, and it really brings it full circle. I haven’t read much Heinlein, as I tend to favour fantasy over sci-fi, but I have a feeling I’ll be picking this book up sometime in the near future! We’ll just have to see how much Michael is able to transform Terran culture before he gets his ass handed to him. Hey Michael, you never asked me what I want! And what do I want? Well, to paraphrase the great Inigo Montoya, “I want my Dean back, you son of a bitch!” *rams home the archangel blade*

The Road Ahead:

-What do you want?
-Do you want Veronica Mars or Buffy?
-Do you want articles, a podcast or vodcast?
-Do you want Dean back right away, or do you want them to give it room to play out?
-Do you want Jack’s Grace to come back sooner or later? All at once or a gradual return?
-Who do you want to see joining Team Dichael? Who do you want joining Team (expanded, but down a founding member) Free Will?
-Do you want to see a Ketch/Mary/Bobby triangle? Just Ketch/Mary? Just  Mary/Bobby? Just Ketch/Bobby? All three together? Or none of the above?
-Are you excited to see what’s in store this season?
-Do you want to see them keep changing it up? or
-Do you want to see them return to two brothers in a car?

Let me know what you think! There’s a lot to discuss with this first show back and this first post back. But that’s all I have to say for now. So, until next time, be good to each other. XO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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