At the start of Supernatural‘s 12th season, it’s mere moments after the world was saved from certain destruction in the season 11 finale when Amara and God put their differences aside and made peace with each other. Dean (Jensen Ackles) is stumbling through the woods, looking for a cell phone signal, when he comes across his mother, who has been dead for the past 33 years. Mary Winchester’s (Samantha Smith) resurrection is Amara’s gift to Dean for helping her reconcile with her brother. And suddenly, in the wake of the apocalyptic stakes of season 11, Supernatural takes a turn for the personal.
Not that the show hasn’t been personal in the past. You can’t have your two main characters constantly saving each other from death and say that’s not personal. But ever since angels were introduced in season 4, the overarching conflicts have always involved Heaven and Hell in some way, with Dean and Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) not sidelined, but often dealing with things way over their head, even if the world said they had major parts to play. This more intimate start to season 12 lowers the cosmic stakes, but highly ups the emotional ones in a way that we haven’t seen before, and so far, I’m liking what I’m seeing.
“Keep Calm and Carry On” is a relatively quiet episode, in much the same way I thought the season 11 premiere was. Not a lot happens. Dean catches Mary up on what she has missed the past 33 years. Mary comes to terms with burning on a ceiling and then coming back to life. Once Mary is on board with what’s going on, the two head back to the bunker…only to discover blood on the floor and Sam and Castiel (Misha Collins) no where in sight.
While Dean is meeting his mother for the second time, the other Winchester brother isn’t faring so well. Sam has been shot and kidnapped by Lady Antonia Bevell (Elizabeth Blackmore), an operative for the British Men of Letters. Bevell wants the Winchesters to answer for how much they’ve messed up the world, from setting Lucifer free to letting the Darkness out of its cage, and every dead body in between. Bevell explains how the British Men of Letters works, and how well they operate, saying they hadn’t had a death-by-monster since the 60s. Excusing the fact the Winchesters weren’t raised as Men of Letters and grew up in the more brutal life of a hunter, the British way of doing things seems efficient, but also cold and stoic, with no room for errors. They seem like people who live in a black and white world, in a way the Winchesters, and especially Dean, once did but now no longer do. If the British Men of Letters are the main villain this season, I wonder if their two ideals will be the main driving force for their conflict. It’s a set up that I’m interested in exploring, especially after the numerous times the brothers have put their relationship before the world, and the countless mistakes they’ve made along the way.
Dean, Mary, and Castiel (who eventually makes his way back to the bunker after being sent away by Bevell) follow leads to figure out what happened to Sam. Their journey isn’t particularly interesting, although I did enjoy Castiel and Mary bonding about the jarring feeling of returning to Earth and not recognizing anything around you. I kept waiting for the meeting between Sam and Mary, another example of how personal this season is going to be, considering Sam and Mary have technically never met. The three don’t find Sam by episode’s end, but we do get to see how Mary is as a hunter when she guts one of the women who kidnapped Sam. She’ll be a fine addition to the Winchester’s many hunts this season.
The other major player in this premiere episode is Crowley (Mark Sheppard), who spends the entirety of the run time tracking down Lucifer. Lucifer was ejected from Castiel’s body at the end of season 11 and hasn’t been seen since. Crowley follows two demons as they pick up dead bodies, all of which have their eyes burned out. Lucifer is jumping meat suits, looking for the perfect vessel. I’m glad Lucifer is still in play, although I’ll be sad to no longer have Mark Pellegrino on screen and, even though I love Castiel, I’ll also miss Misha Collins’ portrayal of the Devil. Still, Lucifer’s continued presence could set the stage for the return of Chuck/God (Rob Benedict) and maybe Amara (Emily Swallow). But after season 11’s pretty much perfect ending, the trick would be to not over use those characters, and if we never see them again, I would understand (but still be really upset in my fandom heart).
I’m excited for this season. It’s completely crazy we have just entered a twelfth season of Supernatural, but even this far down the line, things are looking good. With the personal stakes raised like this, it’s looking like this season will go back to the good old days, when Sam and Dean would just be on the road and driving into random small towns to hunt monsters, circa seasons 1 and 2. Things will be different, but they’ll also be the same.
Supernatural airs Thursday nights at 8 p.m. CT.