So what happens when you’re trapped in the Cage with ole Scratch, nowhere to go and no one to get you out? For Sam Winchester, you get ready to endure some less than fun times with the Man himself, Lucifer. And just when you get ready for the worst, he throws you a curveball.
Now, before we get to the meat and potatoes of the first Supernatural of the 2016 calendar year, there’s also that Smite Bomb we need to talk about. Yes, after thorough warning, the Heavenly Host banded together and dropped their version of a nuke on Amara, aka the Darkness.
Moments before the explosion, Amara winked Dean away from ground zero but, after the boom he drives towards the fallout. It doesn’t take long before Dean becomes violently ill and, after Cas arrives, the angel tells him it’s smiting sickness; a bit like nuclear fallout, only a bit more heavenly. Cas volunteers to investigate the aftermath and Amara’s fate with Dean telling him, “If it did work and she is dead, bring her body out.” As the two part, Dean finally gets word on Sam’s predicament from Crowley, who gives Dean the location to Hell’s entrance. He gains entrance into the bowels of the underworld thanks to Reaper Billie, who reiterates her vow to make sure the Winchesters stay dead before opening up the gates and handing Dean a package with Crowley’s name on it. The two frienemies chat about their latest issue: the King’s dear ol’ ma, Rowena, has thrown in with Lucifer. Considering she’s the only one able to close the lid back on Lucifer’s Cage, they need to get her back under their thumb. Enter the Witch Catcher, a device used to control witches and, for Dean and Crowley, their only chance to box Lucifer back up and save Sam.
Back at the blast site, Cas runs into Ambrielle, another angel tasked with finding out if the Smite-of-All-Smites put Amara down. Despite being in the middle of the day, it’s black as night as the two search the woods. Ambrielle knows this is a suicide run and tells Cas the two of them are both expendable. Her words throw Cas for a loop but, after Ambrielle has the unfortunate luck of running into an alive and well Amara and becoming a snack for the Darkness, Cas gets an even bigger kick to the gut. Amara strikes Cas at his weakest point, his own doubts regarding his worth in this fight. Though she could kill him, Amara tells Cas that he’s not worth it and, before sending him on to Dean, carves the message “I Am Coming” into his chest.
Whereas the Darkness may be the season’s big bad, she takes a backseat to Sam’s frightening one-on-one with the Morningstar himself. But instead of torture, Lucifer takes a different approach. In fact, his initial words to Sam is “to make [him] an offer [he] can’t refuse.” But how will he prove that Sam—and the world—need him? He takes Sam on a tour of the latter’s memories, leading up to the Michael/Lucifer showdown from ‘Swan Song’. “You were willing to do the hard thing if it meant saving the world,” he tells Sam, even commending the Winchester at the strength it took to fight off Lucifer’s possession. “You used to be a hero, Sam. You beat me. Now? When I look at you, I don’t even recognize you.”
The power and truth behind the words makes Sam realize what some people have recognized all along: Sam and Dean are in this fight for each other, world be damned. Lucifer goes deeper into this, his perspective as to how they handled the Mark the ultimate display of selfishness when the world hangs in the balance. “Instead of choosing the world,” the devil tells him, “you choose each other. No matter how many innocent people die.”
After the trip through memory lane, the pair return to the Cage. It’s time for Sam’s decision and, after such an impressive case, Lucifer thinks he’s convinced Sam. But Sam says no. Not because he doesn’t want to make the sacrifice but because, no matter what, if Lucifer or the Darkness win, “everyone else loses.”
“We will find a way,” Sam continues, “I’m ready to die. I’m ready to watch people I love die. But I’m not ready to be your bitch.” Lucifer shrugs and realizes it’s time for Plan B: the Beatdown.
Still in the process of having Rowena complete the spell to re-imprison Lucifer, Dean and Cas come running when they hear Lucifer start laying into Sam. Their instinctive stupidity finds them in the Cage as well and Lucifer goes to town on the trio. At one point, he gets Dean separated and demands Sam submit or Dean dies. Cas is able to intervene and before Lucifer can put down his angelic brethren, Rowena completes the spell, sealing Lucifer up for good…
Except not quite.
After hanging back as the Winchesters leave, Castiel has the great reveal: he’s no longer Castiel but Lucifer. It seems our favorite angel believed that old saying ‘better the devil you know’ and gave Lucifer permission to drive his body. Lucifer moves to thank Rowena but, after ensuring she’s the only one who can re-open the Cage, he cuts the loose end, killing the red head witch. He then looks at the interim King and, with his Lucifer smile, says “let’s chat.”
- So much goodness, where do we actually begin? How about the fact that Dean’s still trying to figure out his connection/feelings for Amara. Even though he knows what she’s capable of, there is an ambivalence about his demeanor when he thinks she may have been taken out by Heaven. I personally look forward to more of the Amara/Dean dynamic being explored.
- For the last several seasons, we’ve seen Castiel become more human, including his feelings of doubt and self-loathing. It all comes to a head when he and Amara face-off, the Darkness hitting on every point of how he feels, something first pointed out by Ambrielle. “Maybe we’re not super-important,” she says, “but we do the job.” It’s this doubt and Amara’s biting words that propel Castiel’s decision to accept Lucifer into him. What does that mean for our favorite angel though? Will we see him anytime soon or will Lucifer be driving the entire time?
- It’s a tough task to take two utterly evil characters and create an empathizing moment between them but that’s exactly what the writers do with Crowley and Rowena. He may be evil but Crowley has shown there are heartfelt aspects of him, never more on display than when he asks his mum “why do you hate me?” Her reply is harsh but, underneath it, desperate. ““I hate you because, if I didn’t, I’d love you. But love, love is weakness. And I’ll never be weak again.” It pains Crowley to hear it but, based on Rowena’s point of view, he also understands it. It’s sad to think they will never be able to reach a common ground but, such is life.
- R.I.P. Rowena: we’ll miss your pep but not you deviousness. While I did not expect Crowley’s mum to bite the dust, one thing Supernatural does well is take lives when required. It will be interesting to follow just how Crowley deals with Rowena’s death—but first, he has to get through the interview with the true King of Hell.
- For the first time since falling into the Cage, Michael is mentioned in passing. Lucifer throws out how the former archangel hasn’t taken well to prison life. It’s disappointing such a powerful character is made an afterthought but, who knows, maybe that’s exactly what the writers wanted until the time comes for more Michael. Let’s hope so because, if not, it’s a waste of a great character.
- So many pop references and great dialogue in this one, starting off with Rowena’s recurring nightmare and Crowley getting a “Sam” Funko Pop! Figure.
- When Sam asks Lucifer what he’ll do if he defeats the Darkness, Luc replies “I’ll move to LA, solve crimes.” That’s a great nod to the upcoming FOX show Lucifer starring the titular character as he quits Hell and finds himself in LA…solving crime. Well done Supernatural writers, well done.
- Two very good musical selections in this episode, starting with “Changing Tracks” for The Road So Far and culminating in “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel” by Tavares during Lucifer’s rumble with Sam, Dean, and Cas. Because, to paraphrase Luc, you need to have that ambiance.