Season 11 of Supernatural is not supposed to be this great. With a sharper focus on the Winchester’s relationship, and a central foe that poses an unpredictable, frightening threat, we’re seeing a series take a look back at itself in small, yet deeply tangible ways. The bad guy stuff is surprisingly taking a slight backseat, but even in that case it’s working beautifully. All the gears are turning, everyone’s scrambling to play their part in the proceedings, and the endgame lurks in the shadows without forgetting to feed us with delicious new material.
Again, though: Season 11 of Supernatural is not supposed to be this great. How many times can the show continue to dive into the “Family Business/Brothers willing to do anything to save one another” well and come out singing? How much fresh substance is left here? And when will Castiel and Crowley take over like nature intended? Usually, these questions are far less ambiguous over time; most shows lose its initial allure, rely on repeated gimmicks or themes ad nauseam, or cave into the success of its supporting cast until the whole damn thing burns to the ground. That hasn’t happened here – at least not yet – and a huge reason for that is because, even after eleven years and over 200 episodes of “saving people and hunting things”, Supernatural understands its limits and sensitivities better than most any other television series still out there. And that’s exactly why “The Devil in the Details” always works.
You know you’re watching quality entertainment when its trappings are so non-linear, you can see it again and again and conjure up a multitude of interpretations. That’s an impression left on virtually every fabric of this week’s episode, but it’s most apparent through Mark Pellegrino’s continued perfection as Lucifer. He’s my favorite Supernatural baddie – perhaps even my favorite Supernatural character, ever – and every reason why he’s soared in this series is amplified here. The tongue-in-cheek nature he libels Sam; the lustful acknowledgment to Rowena’s thirst for true love; the startling shifts from strangely endearing to vengefully wrathful – all of it culminating in an Emmy-caliber work of art.
Even more tantalizing is his usage, whether he’s taking Sam down a trip through memory lane, or busting down fabricated front doors masquerading as Santa Claus. These moments define the immediate impact of his presence in various ways. With Sam, Lucifer’s calling bullshit on his “save the world” mentality, justifying it through flashbacks from earlier seasons where the welfare of Dean weighed more than the state of billions of other lives throughout the planet. Seeing the Season Five finale play out again brought back terse memories of a time where the series was on a pedestal I thought it’d never fall off of, but most important was the context behind it independent of the current happenings; there’s still everything to take away from the pivotal events of six years ago. We get Lucifer rubbing it in Sam’s face that those were the extremities he’s always ventured in to save his brother, but then we’re reminded of the reluctance that followed – particularly when Sam himself took a stab at settling down at Dean’s expense.
Both visuals do little to support Sam’s arguments earlier this year, but they speak so poetically to the fans who’ve watched the younger Winchester fight all these years. His older brother means so much to Sam, that he doesn’t know where he’d be if Dean perished right now. He’s willing to risk life and limb, soul and bounds, hell and earth to ensure the safety of this one individual. But the sadness is us realizing the costs; there are people who are being directly affected by these efforts, and he’s been too blinded in the pursuit of saving his brother to see that. Even when we’re treated to a teenage version of Sam, whimsically engaging in intimate behavior with a forgotten love, we’re reminded of how even that brief expression of adolescent innocence marked a day where the older Sam put his family before everything else. The girl in the flashback was simply a break from the action, an outlet for Sam to demonstrate the decisiveness he used to have – but worse yet is the underlining truth surrounding it. Like Lucifer said so poignantly and hilariously: “I don’t even recognize you anymore”, and to an extent, that’s a very truthful assertion many fans have of him today. Compare this season’s version of the character to the younger, bolder Sam from 6-7 years ago, and the difference is stark. There was fire in him that enabled him to take charge and run point, and all that’s left these days is the eagerness to live or die for his brother.
Anywho – back to Lucifer. Supernatural knows what it’s been missing with him locked up in the cage, and “Details” took every chance it had to make great use of him. By blending harsh truth with the character’s usual quirky demeanor, his time spent lecturing Sam provides tragedy through comedy, poking jabs at the big moments of the series’ past while providing a sort of crestfallen self-commentary. This nostalgia trip illustrates the best traits Lucifer always had to offer, without the episode forgetting that Sam’s plight has inflicted a myriad of changes to both himself and the complexion of the series itself. Better yet is how the second half segues this plot into those of Dean and Castiel’s. When the older Winchester finds out about Sam’s situation, and takes it upon himself to pluck him out of immense trouble, it’s impossible not to feel the least bit giddy over what’s bound to go down next. But a three-on-one cage match with Tavares’ “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” playing in the background for ambiance? That’s downright gluttony; we are not worthy of such perfection in one entire scene.
Even Rowena of all people gets some much needed fleshing out courtesy of Lucifer, with her back and forth with Crowley slowly but surely assembling into a moment of character development I’ve waited too long for. The blind love she has for the Devil is perpetuated in her unwavering anticipation for him to swoop in and save her, and it’s shocking how gut-wrenching it was to see her old habits get her killed by his own hand. A lot of that stems from the little background we get of her past love, and the end result that was the incarnation of Crowley himself. Rowena feared that she’d pay for loving anyone else again, which justifies her antagonistic relationship with her lone son. That need and reluctance to share affection dooms her in a position she can’t escape without consequence; she was never going to have the chance to be a true mother to Crowley and not be shunned for abandoning him before. The ray of light that was Lucifer in her nightmares was supposed to be the escape from all her past troubles – a recluse into a life where she’d have the Devil all to herself and not a single worry could rear its ugly head. Supernatural makes the right call here by ending her plight for good; Rowena bows out in a fitting, powerful fashion, while the plot holes her character conjured up can die in peace.
The trap Dean and Crowley collaborated to transport Lucifer to his original cage wound up becoming more than it was initially intended, and I’m extremely happy with how it all turned out. Not only did Castiel see it as an opportunity to switch bodies with Lucifer (incredibly ironic, considering that I called for him to take a backseat the minute I find out Lucifer pulled off the swap), but because through that we receive confirmation that the fallen angel has grown soft. The powers that be are leaving their grand stamps on earth and Castiel is just not the same x-factor he used to be. Even with his grace back, he couldn’t heal Dean when he succumbed to the smiting sickness of Amara, and upon confronting the Darkness himself there was nothing he could do to contest. It’s a decline I would’ve never imagined for him, but the series has carefully demonstrated it for a whole year up until this point. There’s no doubt he’s made a huge risk putting the fate of the world in the hands of a twisted S.O.B. like Lucifer, but even that is better than letting it crumble over a cause that’s well beyond himself.
For that, I thank Castiel, because now we have the prospects of a nasty showdown between the Devil and the Darkness. Since earlier scenes from the episode subtly illustrate the power that Amara is amassing (how creepy was that black void she left in the sky?), the danger of both parties now present on earth is undeniable. With all this evil looming over the brothers’ shoulders, I can imagine this season’s endgame getting dicier than anything we’ve ever seen before.
I must conclude with the fantastic work from this brilliant cast, and the top-notch writing that was on display. Mark Sheppard was predictably terrific, Ackles and Padalecki responded to the crisis at hand with a touching pathos, and Misha Collins nails the body-swap version of Lucifer to perfection. Besides Pellegrino, though – the real standout this week was Ruth Connell, in a performance I’ll have considerable trouble forgetting. She’s so nuanced here, showing us a hopeful, preachy Rowena before going for the throat in a gripping, heartbreaking splurge of anger, remorse, and regret. When she tells Crowley that she hated him because she couldn’t afford to love him, I felt the entire girth of the crushing blow influenced by the weight of her words. It’s powerful, spellbinding work throughout.
Various lines in this episode stand to go down with the best Supernatural has yet to offer (“I’m a bad thing. He’s a worse thing.”), and every slight stretch of comedy soared. The Christmas-themed intro? Hilarious. Sam’s voicemail hacked by Dean, followed by Crowley’s voicemail featuring a hateful jab at Rowena? Priceless. And don’t get me started with Dean singing “Camptown Races” as a password for entrance to Crowley’s backdoor gate to Hell. Keep in mind that none of these moments even include Lucifer, who’s responsible for nearly half of this week’s uproarious greatness (especially his offhand reference to FOX’s new series, Lucifer). Fewer episodes – even including the more satirical ones – have been as consistently funny, and that’s a helluva high praise.
“The Devil in the Details” is Supernatural at its absolute finest, molding humor, tragedy, death, incredible risk, and excellent performances together into one universally cohesive whole. It thrives off of the peak strengths of last year’s midseason finale, and somehow manages to tack on extra layers for which to build off of without a hitch. However, despite all of this, the episode works best by its connection to the past, painting a clear picture of how the Winchesters have influenced things and judging their decisions as the centers of this ensuing conflict. There’s still fun to be had in exploring the monsters-of-the-week and such, but when the show continues to pound out main plots that are this enticing, this savory; sometimes I wish it never circled back into routine.
+ Everything Lucifer
+ Rowena fleshed out beautifully before her demise
+ Trips down memory lane
+ Performances all around
+ Near-perfect script, writing