Episode summary: Cole is back! Apparently he’s easy to run into. There’s a gross looking worm involved, the plot allows breathing room for us to access more human themes beyond the monster of the week (particularly mental health, suicide and support) and there’s an intelligent construction of character. I’m just not sure it was the right one. (Written by Jenny Klein. Directed by John Badham)
I finally watched it! And I feel like I have to eat my hat somewhat, this episode was a lot better than I expected, due to the writing (of this discrete episode – I’ll explain in a bit), the directing AND the sensible VFX. I’m so used to poking at those things either solo or in concert for being inappropriate or unskilled, and I am totally pumped that all of them came together so well.
I’d also like to link to /r/fandomnatural’s discussion on this episode, since there’s a tonne of great discussion going on there.
Good things first!
This MoTW episode felt more like season 5. The monster was gross (thanks, VFX!), and that grossness was enhanced by the directing (that one shot of the thing getting into Cole’s mouth with the light behind? JESUS. I rewound and grabbed my housemate to say ‘look at this!’). I’ll admit, the description of the episode had me saying how disinterested I was, but even so, I’m glad I watched it even if just to know that they are still capable of being Supernatural as I love it.
I have to include a shout out and a high five to the practical effects (BLOOD THAT LOOKS GOOD!! Be still my beating heart, I was ecstatic). I knew that well done, icky blood shots had been lacking recently, but I don’t think I realised how much they had been lacking.
In a similar vein, can we just keep director John Badham please? I want him to do everything from now on.
There was a roundness to Cole’s character that I don’t think I felt in previous encounters with him. I should note here that this doesn’t mean that I think Cole is a rounded and interesting character – one episode can only do so much – but he acted in a way that showed he had other concerns in his life, and pulled him away from being one track ‘fuck the Winchesters, Dean killed my Dad’ kinda guy. He had relationships outside of being hung up on that, he made contact with other characters, he took the initiative to go places alone, and he collaborated with other characters (namely Dean – I’m thinking that ‘I have an idea to make this work, tie me down’, rather than having Dean orchestrate the entire thing). Within this episode, I think Cole was the most compelling and relateable character we’ve experienced in a while. That said, I still have very low levels of interest in him, and if we don’t see him again, I’d be fine with that.
Also, did he steal Benny’s shirt?
And, the not so great.
I have to leapfrog from talking about Cole in this episode to the stuff that I feel like needs a look at, though. I don’t have any huge complaints about the episode, but it does raise a big old question in my mind, and…
I can’t keep it in. I need to ask. Are they incapable of writing Cas and Crowley in the way that they wrote Cole this episode? Like I said: Initiative, collaboration, communication, a (not totally Saturday morning cartoon level) life outside of their main objective.
Example: When was the last time we saw Crowley outside of his Dracula dungeon (which I talked about here), or caring about anything tangible? ‘But he’s paranoid about ruling, and he liked spending time with Dean’, I hear you say. Did he? Because his actions are never anything out of the snarky norm, and he’s really holed up to himself, being used as what I can only describe as a cardboard box in which the character of Rowena can be stored to be wheeled out as a big bad later on. It’s naff. Cas is the same. I’ll tone how I feel about this down as far as possible, because Cas is pretty much the reason I watch, but with how unskilled the handling of him has been, I feel like the Cas I know hasn’t been in the series since about season 8.
I feel like this episode could have had a lot more bang if you’d have transplanted him into Cole’s place. There’s a wonderful, complex friendship between the boys and him, and I thought that it was suffocating under piles of unskilled scripts that assassinate Cas. Now that I see Cole, a new character, written more carefully and interestingly than a character with depth and an actor with serious range that we know… It’s increasingly difficult not to be actually angry about it. And I don’t want to feel that way; it’s a TV show. xD
Writers, please have a come to Jesus meeting on this, because on a season size playing field you’re not doing yourselves or the show justice if this episode’s portrayal of Cole is anything to go by. This episode went to show that you are more than capable of interlacing complex, already established characters with what the boys are up to, and it reads with real flow, and gives the whole thing a nice depth. It wasn’t the acting that carried it, it was the writing and directing. Conversely, good acting from Mark and Misha will not carry the sub par characters you’re currently handing them.
One last thing to mention – for all that I’m praising this episode, I wasn’t particularly interested in it. It was a good watch, well put together, visually interesting and all that. But I don’t feel like I got anything particularly out of it, or even really registered ‘hey, Winchesters, I can connect with these characters’, because I couldn’t. That’s a symptom of the wider season though, not just this episode. I did like that in some scenes Cole allowed for temporally recent callbacks to the overarching plot, even though this was a MoTW, but there was a little bit of bang missing. I wish I could say what without being a broken record on established secondary characters that I’d love to see get Bobby-ish (coughCAScough).
My rating for this episode is: Half a chocolate birthday cake.