martes, 7 de diciembre de 2010

'Supernatural' Season 6, Episode 10 Recap

['Supernatural' - 'Caged Heat']

'Doing this is how the bad guys get us every time. It's our Achilles' heel.' -- Dean Winchester

The family business. Good guys versus bad guys. Winchesters versus demons.

That's how things worked when all was right with the world. But these days, everything is upside down. The Winchesters are working for and with the baddest of the bad, Samuel sold out his grandsons to the dark side, Sam may be better off without a soul, and an angel may have the hots for a demon.

The road to Hell isn't paved with good intentions. It's paved with the shards of the Winchesters' belief system.

It's a world gone mad, but given how expertly the 'Supernatural' powers that be are deconstructing the foundations of the show, given how well the writers are grounding all the mayhem in very real stakes and interesting dilemmas for the characters, given how much flair the cast is displaying as the show assaults everything the Winchesters had previously held dear, well, I don't know about you, but I. Am. Loving it!

Sure, individual episodes here and there have had some wobbly bits, but as a whole, I think the questions and themes being raised in Season 6 are bold, unpredictable and dramatically delicious. These days, the Winchesters have little or nothing to hold on to, when it comes to the old truisms and beliefs that used to motivate them. Back in the day, there were good guys -- hunters -- and they knew who the bad guys were. The brothers were on the side of the angels, even before they met Castiel. At least that was usually their assumption, even if they happened to be biding their time in Hell or making the occasional deal with unsavory types.

Well, goodbye to all that. The Winchesters of season 1 would freak if they saw what they were up to six years in the future.

Ever since he's been topside, Sam has been working with Samuel and thus working for Crowley, and soon enough Dean was sucked into demonic indentured servitude as well. But hey, family values will get you through any rough spot, right? Isn't that 'Supernatural' 101?

Well, er, as it happens, family stuff can be complicated. Sure, relationships in the Winchester family have had more than their share of difficult moments, but in 'Caged Heat,' Dean threatened to murder his own grandfather -- with good reason. That Winchester-Campbell Christmas party is going to be soawkward this year!

I know I haven't spent much time talking about the meat of the episode, as it were, but I thought it was necessary to take a step back and offer up a few thoughts on why the current season's overall arc has been so pleasing. The writers and actors have made us more invested than ever in the Winchesters' plight by changing the ground rules on the brothers in ways that make a lot of sense. All along, the show has stayed within the moral universe it has established over the past six years, but the questions have only gotten murkier and more difficult to unravel.

Since the middle of Season 1, the family business has not been about killing demons, not really. It's been about painful self-assessment and difficult steps along the road to maturity. It's about who you are and who's by your side when you try to do the right thing -- and examining whether what you're doing is actually right.

As we rolled into the sixth season, nothing was done melodramatically; what we've seen feels like a natural extension of what's come before, yet the writers aren't being complacent. So many shows coast into their sixth season either offering variations on familiar themes or becoming outrageous and silly in artificial attempts to "change things up." But 'Supernatural' has picked apart its own DNA and flipped quite a few familiar formulations on their heads, all while keeping the tone familiar and the focus on the characters. And damn, the show has even managed to stay funny, in its own dark and twisted way, even as it does yet another number on the tortured existences of the Winchester boys.

And without going into a whole digression about season 5, it must be noted that the current season is working on the macro level because the questions being posed have so many personal ramifications for the Winchester brothers. The Apocalypse was an Apocalypse. It wasn't necessarily their apocalypse. It took a few too many gyrations to connect it to Sam and Dean's fates as individuals and as a family.

This season's arc is entirely personal. It's all about: What price Sam's soul? What does it mean to be human? What values and beliefs will the brothers sacrifice to get his soul back? Should they even want it back, given its current status as Michael and Lucifer's chew toy?

All very gnarly dilemmas, all beautifully brought into play by the wonderful 'Caged Heat,' which was all mythology, all the time, It was surprising, dramatic, funny and expertly executed. Plus it had Castiel watching a porno. Does it get better than that? No, not much.

As I said, as a whole, Season 6 hasn't been afraid to methodically take apart the old 'Supernatural' formulas and question them or reconstitute them in new ways. What was impressive about 'Caged Heat' in particular was the way in which it blew apart a whole bunch of story threads that a lesser show would have milked for a much longer period of time.

Sure, it'll be sad not to see the snarktastic awesomeness of Crowley any more, but kudos to the show for not dragging out the "Winchesters working for the King of Hell" angle for an entire season. We got half a season of Crowley's delicious brand of evil, and the show cut bait before that got old.

So what happens to the plan for Crowley to snap up real estate in Purgatory? Does Purgatory become a battleground for Raphael and Castiel as the war in Heaven spreads? I've no idea what happens next in Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. Of course, we might be done with Purgatory for the season, and maybe the Alpha story line too. Though, as several of you have pointed out, there have been a few references to Dean's First Son status this season. That makes me think we're not quite done with the Alphas thread as yet.

Of course, the "Find Sam's Soul" story line is still around, but that whole venture is much more complicated now. Dean's the only one who isn't ambivalent about that quest at this stage, and I think Dean's probably far more doubtful about that goal than he pretends.

Oh, poor Dean. Come on, we have to go there. He has so much more self-awareness than he used to have, yet he's still not fully able to face reality, and maybe that one lingering shred of delusional hope is the only thing keeping him going. The irony is, Dean castigated Samuel for attempting to get his daughter back, not realizing that he (Dean) may well be making a similar mistake.

Dean has to believe that Sam getting his soul back will be a good thing, but why does he think that'll go any better than Samuel's attempt to get back Mary? It probably won't, but Dean has to believe in something. The brother he used to know is gone, his attempt at a normal life is over, he's spent weeks or months working for a demon he truly hates, and if he just gives up on Sam, then he's stuck with a soulless robot in the Metallicar beside him. No wonder he's desperate to avoid that grim fate. It's not just Sam's life he's trying to salvage, it's his own.

Dean is alone, and the war-weary Castiel isn't exactly much help. No wonder he has to make himself believe he can fix Sam. But can he? As Sam noted, when angels and demons agree that something can't be done, it's probably a lost cause. And of course it's easy to see the pathos of Sam's situation as well -- he's not fully human, and he's aware of his status as a freak, and he's unable to decide if the way he is is good enough or if it's just another form or hellish existence.

I didn't expect the season to go in this direction -- for 'Supernatural' to cast doubt on whether the heroes' quest is even a worthy one before we'd reached the halfway point in the season. I have no idea where things are going to go next, again, not because the writers are being arbitrary but because they're keeping things in flux in very intriguing ways.

From where I'm sitting, the quest for Sam's soul opens up a few possibilities, to wit:

1. They get Sam's soul back and Sam becomes evil, or insane or catatonic. Or something even worse happens to him.

2. They don't get Sam's soul back and Dean has to teach Replicant!Sam how to be a real boy.

3. They somehow find a way to fix Sam's soul, but there's a catch. This is 'Supernatural' -- there's always a catch. Maybe to save Sam's soul, Castiel will have to lose the war in Heaven once and for all. Or perhaps Cas will have to go downstairs and serve as den leader in Hell, now that Crowley's gone.

And those are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I'm sure much more twisted things are being bandied about in the 'Supernatural' writers' room.

If I have an ongoing quibble with the way episodes have been unfolding, they have tended to have a lot of information dumps during the last seven to 10 minutes, but that wasn't really a problem in Brett Matthews and Jenny Klein's script. The whole episode -- the dialogue, pacing, character moments and the overall momentum -- was very satisfying and enjoyable from beginning to end, and the Castiel vs. Crowley scene at the end was just the cherry on top.

Speaking of Castiel, Misha Collins did a great job of playing a nice range of different notes in the episode and Castiel was generally well used in 'Caged Heat.' (Having said that, the show often comes close to using Cas as a deus ex machina who solves all the problems with random bits of angelic magic. But given how little he's appeared this season, that hasn't been too much of an issue. Yet.). There was a war-weary air about Cas this time around. He looked so tired of battle that hanging with the Winchester almost seemed like a vacation for him.

The porn scene was of course a classic of Castiel comedy, and the way he used his newfound loverboy skills on Meg was hilarious ("I learned that from the pizza man"). Yet in his scene with Crowley, Cas was more decisive than we've ever seen him. He's clearly a battle-tested leader at this point. Given how driven Dean is, how pitiless Sam is and how powerful Cas is, Team Free Will is a pretty fearsome ensemble at this point.

It's too bad that we won't see more of Crowley and Cas together, but I certainly enjoyed Crowley's meta-comment about how scarce the angel has been of late ("Haven't seen you all season!"). And no doubt we'll see Meg again one of these days. One of the themes of the season appears to be unlikely alliances, and I'm sure we haven't seen the last of the Winchesters' strange and/or demonic bedfellows.

Not to mention unexpected enemies. We've seen the brothers in conflict before -- it's one of the cornerstones of the show, in fact -- but now there appears to be Winchesters vs. Campbells cage match brewing. I'm not sure what side Gwen would be on in that fight, but I hope to see her again too. She must be struggling with her part in the family business as well.

Just what is that family business these days? Ganking critters or doing business with them? Hunting demons or making alliances with them? Does the Winchester clan get to claim the moral high ground these days, or are they just one more family (human or otherwise) trying to get by while the powerful and greedy at the top of the flow chart battle it out?

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