Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 8, Episode 23 of The CW's "Supernatural," titled "Sacrifice."
Well played, Jeremy Carver.
While some "Supernatural" finales have been full of non-stop stress and heartbreak (I'm looking at you, "Devil's Trap" and "No Rest for the Wicked"), a large portion of "Sacrifice" was a calm, well-plotted affair, deftly written but light on tension.
Then, all hell broke loose -- or, more accurately, all heaven. As many of us suspected, Metatron was not quite as innocuous as he first appeared, and the "trials" he had Castiel undertake were actually part of a spell to expel all of the angels from heaven and make them mortal. This resulted in a truly spectacular final scene which saw hundreds of angels falling from the sky like comets, their wings dramatically burning away as they hit the ground. Kudos to the FX team for creating one of the most artful and striking images in "Supernatural" history. Now, Castiel and the other angels are human and trapped on Earth, a result of Castiel once again putting his trust in exactly the wrong person, albeit for the right reasons.
Thankfully, unlike past mistakes, he actually turned to Dean for help this time around, which certainly saved Sam's life (and Cupid's), if not Castiel's grace. While Naomi was undoubtedly a bad egg for much of the season, it was good to see that she had a change of heart before Metatron's Keyser Söze reveal. (That character description makes perfect sense now, doesn't it?) I can't wait to see how Castiel deals with the loss of his grace and quest to defeat Metatron next season, but it was mostly just a relief to see him and Dean on the same page again, communicating honestly and allowing Dean to call him out on some of the bad habits Metatron has been encouraging. ("Talk first, stab later.")
But while the new world order for the angels will undoubtedly drive some compelling stories next season, the real meat of the episode came from Sam and Dean's quest to close the gates of hell.
The beginning of the episode didn't feel rushed, per se, but it certainly didn't waste time, since Carver ably demonstrated the cardinal screenwriting rule of "show, don't tell" instead of getting bogged down in needless exposition.
It's sad that so much of this season has felt the need to spell things out for the audience to the point where efficient, concise storytelling seems more like an aberration than just good structure. I missed Carver's scriptwriting voice the most out of all of the show's departed writers after he left in Season 5, and watching his episodes only serves to highlight some of the other shortcomings in the writers' room, although there are still a number of writers who thankfully do have a great grasp on the show's tone and pacing.
In typical Winchester fashion, a lot has been left unsaid this season, but when the going got tough, we were treated to yet another gut-wrenching Winchester chick-flick moment, which no finale would be complete without. Sam's insecurities have always driven him to do questionable things -- as Dean pointed out: Ruby, killing Lilith, freeing Lucifer, not looking for him in Purgatory, it's a pretty spectacular list -- but at the end of the day, our overachieving younger Winchester has always been desperate for Dean's approval, just as Dean has always sought John's.
While the first half of this season seemed geared towards helping Dean rediscover his identity and sense of purpose after seasons of doubting himself and believing that he was worthless, the second half of the year has been geared towards doing the same for Sam, helping him to let go of his craving for a normal life (at least for now) and realize that the Winchesters have a destiny that goes far beyond fixing someone's air conditioner at a motel and pretending to be ordinary.
Crowley insisted that he always defeats the Winchesters because they put emotion ahead of common sense, but it's their humanity that ensures their victories, because neither of them can ever turn away from the family business when there will always be someone to save -- a sacrifice that's truly worth making for the greater good.
Right now, closing the gates of hell can wait because the brothers have each other, but clearly, Sam still had some lingering insecurities about his capabilities and his brother's faith in him (which were kind of valid, given some of Sam's past judgment calls). Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki played the hell out of that scene, as usual, and though it somewhat reaffirms their oft-mocked codependency, it seemed fitting, given that their relationship will always be the heart of the show. I'm glad that Sam acknowledged that he's let Dean down numerous times in the past (especially in terms of Purgatory), and though it's not quite an overt apology, the emotion was there. Now, it seems like the brothers are truly on the same wavelength again, and hopefully it means that all of the petty backstabbing and sneaking around will finally be behind them.
Mark Sheppard was once again at his scenery-chewing finest this week, with his spectacular ode to HBO proving one of the season's highlights, let alone the episode's -- but he truly excelled in Crowley's quieter moments, when it seemed that the demon's humanity was actually returning. His raw and understated desire for forgiveness was an unexpectedly poignant moment. I'm intrigued to see whether Sam's injections will actually have a lingering effect on him even though the trial wasn't completed, or whether he'll revert back to tyrannical form.
Alaina Huffman will be sorely missed as Abaddon, and I only hope that whoever the demon shows up in next will have even half her sassiness and snark. It was great to see the brief return of Kim Rhodes as Sheriff Jody Mills, too -- and even more of a relief that she actually survived. The fact that Sam and Dean met Crowley in Bobby's junkyard was a subtle but surprisingly affecting choice, also.
While the episode answered a lot of lingering questions about the motivations of the angels, the nature of the trials and the solidity of the brothers' relationship, it didn't address some of the inconsistencies that we've seen this season, such as the mysterious figure watching Sam in the premiere (I guess we're just supposed to assume it was Amelia's husband); the gaffe about the Grand Canyon; Sam not looking for Dean in Purgatory (Sam's reasoning on that one was always a little too murky); Kevin's description of Metatron as an archangel; and how Crowley actually managed to capture Kevin when he was so well-hidden (why weren't the windows broken?!). I know some viewers had grand theories about timeline resets and that Sam and Dean's perceptions were being altered, but at this point, it just seems as though these were common plotholes, mistakes or character choices, which is a little disappointing, but not altogether unrealistic for a show that's been running for eight seasons. Employ better use of the Superwiki next season, writers!
Overall, though, Season 8 lived up to its fan-made moniker of "Season gr8," and was a huge improvement over the sloppiness and depressiveness of Seasons 6 and 7. The brothers seem well and truly united and refocused on the family business, Castiel and Crowley both have a number of potential paths for character evolution next season, and we have a new and surprisingly creepy big bad in the form of Metatron. It'll be a long summer, but I can't wait for Season 9. What say you?