It’s now been almost a week since the Winchesters were returned to us, both literally and figuratively, and the six weeks the boys were locked away from us were actual days we the fans have been separated from Show. Supernatural fans handle the hiatuses in a variety of ways: some see it as an opportunity for a rewatch, others as a sentence to Purgatory, others approach it with the calmness of Zen masters. The hiatus between seasons, appropriately called a hellatus, can be agonizing or merely frustrating, depending on the last image the viewer is left with. I would imagine those who were left hanging at the end of season three still have the twitches.
We learn that the boys are accused of trying to kill the President of the United States, something that gets them a one-way ticket to an off-the-grid pair of cells somewhere. As expected, they say absolutely nothing to the men that ask them questions, and refuse to even react in any way. They’re separated, put into solitary confinement by the “good cop” older Secret Service guy, who’s going to leave them alone until the solitary drives them insane enough to talk.
If you’re like me, you’re thinking “Dude, you have no idea who it is you’re dealing with.” And they don’t, just as Henriksen didn’t, just as Jody Mills didn’t at first, just as every authority figure through twelve seasons hasn’t had a clue. They think they know, in that authoritarian “I know everything worth knowing and you’re the one who doesn’t have a clue” way that puts the salsa in the dip when that authority inevitably gets shattered, when they find that they are in fact the ones who don’t have clue one. I’ve always admired Henriksen in season three, because when his world got turned inside out and he realized he wasn’t the big badass who’d seen everything, he didn’t try to cover it up with more macho shit, but dealt with it right out front. And I’m still sad that he was so quickly killed off because he would have made one hell of an ally. C’est la vie.
Then Sam and Dean are inexplicably found dead, both of them, lying in the morgue while the guys-without-a-clue try to figure out how and why. Then Sam and Dean come back to life, snag the doctor, and break out with an ease that still bothers me–if this is supposed to be some super-secret it-doesn’t-exist place, shouldn’t it be someplace you can’t just walk out of? (Yes, I am pragmatic enough to recognize that the show can’t afford to have them bust out of the place and find themselves on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean or on the moon or even on a ship a la the Stallone flick Escape Plan. It’s also possible that even though they are considered dangerous beyond belief, the Secret Service or NSA or whoever would still make a bumbling mistake and think that a maxi-cell security hold in the middle of Colorado would be sufficient.)
The bad guys realize they’ve escaped, and now we finally get to the reason for the title. The big mistake the supposed “authorities” made is not torturing Sam and Dean. Six weeks of solitary is no picnic, but they were fed, given time to sleep, we see Sam working out–these are not ragged prisoners making a feeble attempt at escape. These are the world’s most elite hunters turned loose with enough strength to put up one hell of a fight if you give them time.
The scenes that follow are magic for me (hey, laying my bias cards down all nice and pretty). Jensen and Jared look lean and intense, moving in sync in a way that sends shivers down my spine. We know that these are two men who have gone up against things so formidable and dangerous that even a squad of highly-trained soldiers is hardly a challenge. The soldiers don’t know that, and that’s the fun; the same gut-level thrill you get watching Stallone’s John Rambo take out a bunch of cops and weekend warriors in the film from which this episode takes its title is present here, watching Sam and Dean take out the soldiers one by one, without killing any of them, with an ease that shows just how far they’ve come.
They finish, informing the two heads that they’re the guys who saved the world, and leave, knowing they won’t be followed. The hints that have dropped throughout–mentions of ‘midnight’–finally drop when they reunite with Cas and Mary, who used the British Men of Letters’ help to find them. They made a deal with Billie the Reaper while imprisoned; she agrees to kill them and bring them back one last time, on the condition that she gets to take one of them for good.
That seems to be the crux of most of the criticism with this episode, and I can’t disagree. Two men who have endured decades (in Sam’s case, a century) in Hell, Purgatory, insane tortures of the kinds that should have snapped their sanity years ago, and six weeks in a cell breaks them? I would say this is a case of writers taking the easy way out and making do as best they can, since the show is not going to turn into a prison film, but it was done too sloppy here, with too many things that just don’t fit together. It’s slapping paint on a wall to try to cover a big hole. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and I’m nothing if not pragmatic. However, it still doesn’t remove the fact that a deal for one of them to die permanently is not, even at this stage, something they would agree to so easily, not without exhausting ALL other options first, and you cannot tell me that in six weeks they couldn’t think of any other way to escape. But again, that would probably require extra scenes, extra time, and they’re clearly needing to get them out and on their way in this 42-minute segment, so you get what you get.
Then comes the dramatic moment when Mary steps forward to offer herself, putting a gun to her head while her horrified sons look on. Billie is ready to take the offer, when she is stabbed from behind by an angel blade. Yep, Cas takes out the reaper, saying that he won’t let any more Winchesters die. As much as I enjoyed seeing the end of a character who frankly was getting on my last nerve, the whole denouement was a little too melodramatic to me, a little too ham-handed and blatantly setting up future angst. I’m not going to complain too much–Sam and Dean free YAY, Mary alive YAY (although she might be cozying up to the British Men of Letters BOO), Cas killed Billie BIG YAY, but it wasn’t the best writing even from this season. So all in all a solid episode, lots of fan service, but with some issues that are just too big to be ignored entirely.