Supernatural – Season 14 Episode 1
“Stranger in a Strange Land”
Supernatural returns for a 14th season that picks up where the last one ended with Dean possessed by Michael and Sam trying to pick up the pieces.
Last season’s finale ended on a bleak note though viewers would be forgiven for disputing how serious Dean’s body being taken over by Michael is as there have been numerous examples of status quo shifts that barely last beyond a season premier. I must admit that i had my doubts but this episode put them to rest at least to some degree.
Michael doesn’t feature much in this episode though his presence is meaningful enough to be impactful. Jensen Ackles completely changes his performance and makes it believable that the man who looks like Dean isn’t actually Dean. Michael conducts himself very deliberately presenting the appearance of having a carefully formed plan that he is taking his time to execute. Most of his contribution to this episode is attempted recruitment. First he attempts to recruit a holy man who doesn’t measure up to his standards. His next stop is Anael who is less than enthusiastic as well though Michael doesn’t think very highly of her either. Given that she’s one of the few Angels left it’s easy to see why he would make the time to engage with her and he tries to get under her skin by picking on her sense of isolation and teasing that he could help her find a purpose outside of the materialistic existence she currently lives.. Even though she seems reluctant and enlists Sam later in the episode it’s still unclear if she’s working another angle based on her previous behaviour. On a meta level this scene has a lot of weight behind it as the two actors are married in real life. It’s a well acted scene on its own that works on another level due to that personal connection. Hopefully there will be more opportunities for them to cross paths in future episodes.
It becomes clear what Michael is looking for at the end of the episode. He enlists a Vampire into his army because his motivations are both simple and pure so he seems to be looking for soldiers that he can understand easily who don’t have any agendas of their own. This makes sense as it means Michael’s leadership will go unchallenged and he will have loyal soldiers who will obey him as long as he accounts for their simple requirements. The slow pace of this plotting suggests that Michael will be around for a while yet which I find encouraging.
In some ways Sam seems to have compartmentalised the loss of Dean to save himself some heartache. He hasn’t quite given up hope on getting his brother back but appears prepared for the possibility that Dean might be gone for good. After all he has been through it makes sense that he would push his personal feelings aside and not get his hopes up though I wonder if he should be considering that Dean has been thought lost only to return on several occasions. Either way Sam is being what he would consider to be a realist and doing everything he can to resolve the situation but not assuming that it can be resolved.
His conversation with Mary summarises this nicely. Mary is choosing to hope that everything will work out for the best because that’s what she needs to do in order to carry on. Despite being a conversation where two characters discuss what visual storytelling has already heavily implied it’s very well acted and really digs into the familial connection that has been building between these characters. As a mother, Mary is taking it upon herself to be the optimist where Sam is being the realist. Both are valid coping mechanisms and fit the characters as established.
Sam has also taken the role of leader to the group of Hunters from the alternate universe and it is something he has clearly taken to very naturally. His commands are clear, reasonable and take into account the skill level of those he is in charge of. It feels like a natural fit for Sam who has always been more patient than Dean and could be a sign of what Sam might become in the future. It was mentioned last season that the Hunter lifestyle is not one to be endured forever so coaching future generations and acting as something of a general could be the next logical step forward for the Winchesters.
Sam shows other admirable leadership qualities through how he relates to those around him. He takes the time to ensure that their emotional well-being is accounted for. This is most clearly shown with Jack who feels useless after the loss of his abilities. Training with Bobby is proving frustrating for him as he’s not used to being in a fight without his powers. Sam tells Jack not to give up and that he has faith in him which does improve his state of mind at least to some degree.
On the flip side of that he is shown dealing with more difficult situations. Lucifer may be dead but his vessel, Nick is very much alive. The Archangel blade is apparently designed to kill Archangels without harming the Human being inside. I find this a bit of a stretch considering how much punishment Lucifer’s vessel has taken over the years. It’s especially confusing because Lucifer’s most recent vessel wasn’t actually Nick’s body; it was a fabrication by Crowley so that Mark Pellegrino could stay on the show without worrying about how to keep him around. It seems obvious that their conversation is meant to foreshadow how Michael will be defeated and Dean will return.
So far Nick isn’t that interesting. All we really know is that he remembers fragments of what Lucifer did while wearing his body and that he otherwise seems to be completely Human. A flashback montage reminds him -and us- about how Lucifer tormented him into saying yes which sets the stage for all of the painful memories that Nick will have to deal with as time goes on. The most interesting thing about the scene that Nick and Sam share is that Sam can barely deal with being around him. This makes a lot of sense considering everything that face represents. It’s possible that part of this season will be Nick proving that he has nothing to do with what Lucifer did and Sam getting over his trepidation when around him.
Of course it’s possible that this is another one of Lucifer’s tricks. Pretending to be Nick until he regains his strength is consistent with how Lucifer might behave when he has limited options. Even though it’s consistent with previous behaviour I’d rather this wasn’t the case. As good as Lucifer is he has run his course as far as storytelling possibilities are concerned so it’s time to retire the character in favour of doing something else. Under the right circumstances Nick could be a valuable addition to the show and bring something new to the dynamics at play so I remain hopeful that this isn’t another trick by Lucifer.
This episode also reminds us that Crowley’s death has created a power vacuum in the Demon World with lots of contenders to take up the vacant role of King of Hell. The latest is Kipling (Dean Armstrong). He’s very much a one and done villain which is a relief as Crowley can’t be easily replaced so seeing repeated attempts to find the next Crowley would get tedious very quickly. It looks like this won’t happen after Sam’s speech warning other Demons against trying to take up that mantle. If any of them try it then they will be firmly in Sam’s crosshairs which definitely isn’t a good position to be in. The Winchester name carries some weight in Hell and I like that Sam uses that to scare the Demon population into abandoning their quest for a new King of Hell.
The action sequence where the Hunters attack Kip to save Sam is really well put together and acts as an excellent showcase of how effective a fighting force the group has become in just three weeks. Sam’s training as well as their own skills picked up in the other universe hold up well. It’s very well edited, makes great use of all of the characters and is able to be followed coherently. I’d definitely like to see a lot more of group dynamics in combat situations.
A strong opening to the new season that takes its time setting things up. Jensen Ackles delivers an excellent performance as Michael that is vastly different from the way he plays Dean. Michael doesn’t appear often in the episode but the deliberate plotting is encouraging as it suggests the Michael story will take some time to resolve. His conversation with Anael works really well because it shows his ability to appeal to what affects people most. The reveal that he is looking for loyal soldiers with simple motivations is an interesting one as it shows he doesn’t want to leave any risk of betrayal. As long as he meets the simple needs of his army then they will follow him.
Sam is struggling to hold himself together and has chosen to assume that things won’t work out for the best on this occasion. Things seem hopeless as far as he’s concerned and he’s internalised that to avoid the heartache that comes with having his hopes dashed. Mary is the opposite and has chosen to be hopeful because she doesn’t want to always assume the worst. The scene where this is discussed is really well acted. Outside of this Sam shows that he is a natural leader judging by how well oiled the group of Hunters are. He also takes the time to reassure Jack and deal with Lucifer’s vessel, Nick who has apparently been restored now that Lucifer is dead. This does strain believability but I like that Sam can’t stand to be around him suggesting that getting over that will be an arc for him this season. It’s always possible that it’s another trick on Lucifer’s part though I really hope that it isn’t. I like that the episode deals with the latest contender for the mantle of King of Hell in one episode as trying to replace Crowley is definitely a mistake. Sam using the reputation of the Winchesters to discourage further attempted power grabs makes for a great moment as well. I was also impressed by the action sequence featuring multiple Hunters fighting Demons.
- Jensen Ackles performance as Michael
- the slow and deliberate plotting where Michael is concerned
- Sam struggling to deal with what he has lost
- the different examples of how good a leader Sam is
- Sam using the Winchester name to put a stop to further Demon power grabs
- a well put together action sequence
- Nick being less than interesting so far
- not enough Michael
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