Perhaps the most obvious tell in this premiere episode that this is the end of Supernatural is the way “Back and to the Future” brings back those season one/season two horror elements. In a way, this could almost read as a clip show episode — Bloody Mary returns to haunt the mirrors of teenage girls, the woman in white from the pilot episode ruins more car upholstery, and Sam confronts more clowns. Not all of these elements work (the aesthetic isn’t the same, for one), but it does help define what this final season will be about. During all those hunts, during all those apocalypses, did Sam and Dean ever make a difference?
By the time Supernatural is all said and done, the answer to that question might not be as clear cut as Sam (Jared Padalecki) seems to think it is. He seems pretty sure the answer is yes. They’ve saved people, haven’t they? In just this episode alone, they herded a bunch of townspeople to the nearby high school to escape multiple ghost attacks. Not to mention there was an apocalypse in there at some point that they stopped. But the actual question, the one that’s most important, is the matter of free will.
Sam and Dean have always prided themselves on forging their own paths. But how much free will have they actually had, when God himself has been pulling strings they never once noticed? Just like Sam’s conviction that the brothers have made a difference in the world, he’s just as convinced there is freedom at the end of this road. The only problem is they have no idea what that freedom might look like and what the cost will be.
We start where last season ended: the zombie apocalypse. The episode actually lets this scene play out longer than expected, allowing the danger its time to settle. Cas (Misha Collins) grabs Jack’s body as the brothers fight off the spirit-possessed corpses, and the three run into a mausoleum, safe behind the iron-laden doors. There’s a great sense of urgency here, and the tight quarters work well in ramping up the drama. Padalecki, Collins, and Jensen Ackles all do great work in this scene, their confusion and anger at Chuck rolling off them in waves, fighting against their desperation to get out of this situation.
And then there’s the death of Jack, whose body Cas brought along as a stark reminder of what they just lost. Dean and Sam are obviously quite sad at this, but it’s Cas who’s the most interesting when it comes to Jack, especially when Jack rises again, possessed by the demon Belphegor. Alexander Calvert is delightful as this new snarky, laid back demon who offers his help in returning the souls to hell. He’s able to dispatch the horde outside by expelling the spirits from the corpses, which gets everyone out of the immediate danger, but there’s still the matter of all of hell’s souls roaming the Earth.
All of hell’s souls gives off implications that Sam and Dean don’t immediately pick up on. It’s not until they come across an abandoned car with blood coating the windshield that they realize there’s something familiar about the scene. They dealt with similar crime scenes in the pilot episode, 14 years ago, when the Woman in White was killing cheating boyfriends. Another familiar scene plays out across town, when two teenage girls are confronted by Bloody Mary. Next door, a clown spirit is terrorizing a birthday party. These elements certainly work in harkening back to Supernatural‘s roots, but it is rather ridiculous to think these are the exact same spirits they’ve dealt with before.
Bloody Mary haunted a very specific mirror in season one, and the Woman in White had very specific targets in the pilot episode. It’s a bit random in this context and Sam and Dean don’t necessarily react to them in anyway that would be considered worthy of their return. This premiere episode feels like a mix of the old Supernatural and the new. These urban legends fit the aesthetic of the early seasons a lot better, but they’re not entirely out of place. Still, instead of bringing back the exact same monsters, a return to the more simple, frightening monster hunts would work just as well.
Cas finds it difficult to be around Belphegor while he’s wearing Jack’s face (though his eyes have been burned out). This is a great bit of Cas’ humanity showing through. He’s still an angel, but the show has struggled a bit in the past in exploring just how human Cas is and when to show that humanity. His complete lack of compartmentalization regarding Jack’s death and the subsequent demon possession of his body is totally human in all the ways that count. Sam and Dean, having had their whole to life to deal with the sudden loss of loved ones, are quick to recognize Belphegor’s help for what it is, despite who he’s possessing. Collins does some of his best work in this regard.
Dean and Belphegor gather ingredients to do a spell that will contain all of the spirits in the vicinity in this one small town, while Sam and Cas get the townspeople to evacuate to the high school five miles down the road. They use a very flimsy excuse regarding a burst pipeline, but the town goes with it. There’s a nice sequence in which Sam and Cas save a mother and daughter from the clown spirit, and over the course of it, we learn that Sam being shot by God at the end of last season might have a more lasting impact on him than just a simple bullet wound.
Cas’ healing worked on the gash in Sam’s stomach, but not where he was shot. His attempt to heal it gave us some concerning flashes of a much darker Sam, scenes that felt similar to when Sam was possessed by Lucifer. It’s lovely to have the mother and daughter witness this, though. Cas tells them he’s an angel and they take that in. When they ask Sam what he is, and he replies with “I’m just a guy,” in a great delivery by Padalecki, they seem even more in awe. A prime example of Sam’s conviction at the end of the episode that they have made a difference. The world might be in chaos, but to these two people, hope exists in the people who fight for them.
The episode ends, but the danger doesn’t. They seal off the town with the help of Belphegor’s spell, but they still have a high school full of townspeople convinced there’s a burst pipeline the FBI is dealing with. Though Sam waxes poetic about how there’s a light at the end of this tunnel, there’s also this incredible sense of danger looming on the horizon. Dean’s angry about their place in the world, while Sam keeps finding ways to believe they’ll survive, even with the ticking clock that is his God-inflicted wound. Sam also says some pretty heavy famous last words: “It’s just us.” In a way, this is a perfect setup for this season — it’s time for Sam and Dean to finally confront everything they’ve ever done, the good and the bad. In time, however, they’ll realize they aren’t as alone in this fight as they may think.
This Week’s Wayward Thoughts:
Belphegor makes a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference when he calls the rift that let out all of Hell’s souls “the Hellmouth thing.”
Not quite sure how to take Belphegor’s musings on the attractiveness of humanity nowadays, so I’m just going to chalk this one up to Belphegor being bisexual, or somewhere else in the LGBTQ acronym and call it a day.
Some of the choreography and the editing of Sam and Cas’ fight against the clown spirit, Bloody Mary (that’s the third time I’ve said that in this article, if anyone was keeping count), and the others are a bit awkward in pacing. Sam doesn’t even comment on his fear of clowns. A missed opportunity.
Belphegor tells Dean he’s a fan of his from his torturing days in Hell under Alleister.
We know from casting announcements that Sam and Dean’s half brother Adam is making his long-awaited return this season. In a subtle nod to that, Dean asks Belphegor if it’s possible Michael escaped the cage when the rift opened. Not sure if Dean is thinking of Adam in this moment, though (no surprise).
“Well, I wouldn’t starve.”
“We are not twinsies.”
“Folks back then were, you know, ugly.”
“You shot me.”
“We got work to do.” Though, I could have done without the actual flashback to the end of the pilot episode. They were already imitating the scene. It was understood.
Follow along during Supernatural‘s last ride right here, every week!