Supernatural is no stranger to missing brothers or kidnapped friends. Hell, it’s done angel possession before. At one point, Sam is even kidnapped by an angel possessing him during the mid-season stretch of season nine. So it’s not like we’re in totally new territory during “Stranger in a Strange Land,” the season 14 premiere of Supernatural. What the episode does do is take all these familiar ingredients and mixes them up to put a new spin on what it means to lose someone even while they’re still within arm’s reach.
Last season’s cliffhanger ending saw Dean (Jensen Ackles) being possessed by the archangel Michael. It was a development that left much to be desired — after all, it’s a bit been-there-done-that. Instead of immediately jumping into big explanations and plot points, “Stranger in a Strange Land” paces itself well. Dean/Michael doesn’t get a lot of screen time, allowing the bulk of the episode to belong to Sam (Jared Padalecki). As mentioned, Sam’s lost his brother before. The times we’ve seen Sam after those losses, he’s usually been by himself, obsessing over the loss (season ten), living in denial (season eight) or being manipulated by forces he can’t control (season four).
Here, he’s got a team behind him. He’s not alone in his grief. It feels like much needed maturity for the show and for Sam as well, who we don’t often get to see in a leading role. Padalecki does some of his best work, bringing a lot of depth to Sam in this premiere episode as we watch him simultaneously deal with losing his brother, leading the group of Apocalypse World survivors in hunts, being a big brother to Jack (Alexander Calvert), facing the vessel of his abuser and, when baited by demons, lead the charge to save Castiel (Misha Collins). He’s even got one of the most badass Sam Winchester moments of the entire show when he declares to a group of demons that if anyone wants to be King of Hell, they’ll have to go through him. The demons disperse into black smoke with tiny, pathetic whimpers.
The little we do see of Dean/Michael also feels largely different from the other times there’s been angels on the show or brothers possessed by angels on the show. It’s not super clear what Michael wants as he goes around asking other people what they want. He seems to be playing some kind of judge, jury, executioner role, but to what extent we don’t know. He corners Sister Jo (Danneel Ackles) but ends up leaving her alone, giving her a chance to call Sam. The last shot we see of Michael, he’s recruiting vampires to his side. It’s all rather vague, but Ackles really brings it as Michael, giving each of these interactions an extra layer of unsettling to them. Whatever Michael’s got planned, it doesn’t seem to be anything we’ve seen before.
There’s not a lot of plot, but there doesn’t really need to be. Some past premiere episodes suffer from trying to rush the conclusions to the previous season’s cliffhangers, whereas “Stranger in a Strange Land” gives its time to the characters, allowing them to breathe. This also gives the audience a chance to see how everyone works together. With the arrival of the Apocalypse World survivors, the bunker is suddenly bustling with activity. Bobby (Jim Beaver) gives fighting lessons to a de-powered Jack while Mary (Samantha Hill) helps Sam organize everyone else. This sense of a full, lived-in bunker emphasizes how Supernatural is changing the way they tell the same story of family — by allowing that family to thrive, even at their lowest moments.
This Week’s Wayward Thoughts:
- A strange change in continuity brings back Mark Pellegrino as Nick, Lucifer’s original vessel whom we met very briefly in the season five premiere, “Sympathy for the Devil.” Not sure how to feel about this, except it feels like a way to keep Pellegrino on the show. Still need some convincing on this one.
- Hoping the energy of the bunker sticks around for the season.
- Kip the Demon was basically the show breaking the fourth wall about how hell can’t seem to keep a King of Hell, which I got a kick out of.
- Jack and Cas have a great moment at the end, but I’m eager for Jack to get his powers back.
- Again, I’ve got to give props to Jared Padalecki. Fourteen seasons in, and the guy still manages to bring new depths to Sam Winchester.
- Sam Winchester.
- “Enough! There will be no new King of Hell. Not today. Not ever. And if anybody wants the job, you can come through me. Understood? So what’s it gonna be?”
Thoughts, please share in the comment section below or tweet me @kateypretzel. Be sure to check back here for more reviews of Supernatural season 14. I’ll be here every week. Except next week. I’ll be in Spain next week. But every time after that, I’ll be here. Let’s talk Supernatural!