Supernatural Episode Review: The Great Escapist
Castiel has had an interesting run on Supernatural. The writers seem to understand that they unexpectedly struck gold with him back in season four, but they’ve struggled with how to advance his characterization without his powers becoming a game-breaker. Their efforts have culminated in a pattern of Cas getting put on a bus (sometimes literally) for swaths of episodes, only to be brought back when convenient (often in ridiculously improbable ways). While this is narratively annoying, it sometimes works in the show’s favor: whenever Cas returns from a long absence, people take notice.
In other words, happy Casmas, everybody.
Unfortunately, Cas’s return wasn’t quite as explosive as it could have been. It was a perfectly good episode, it had some really fabulous moments, and it brought some interesting new elements to the mythology of the show. But the pacing was off. There was too much downtime and not enough tension, which made the episode plod. Maybe I’m judging The Great Escapist harshly, but next to Cas’s previous returns (like the emotional rollercoaster of A Little Slice of Kevin and heartbreaking, game-changing drama of The Born-Again Identity) it fell a little flat.
That’s not to say that there was nothing to love about this episode! Three separate storylines played out independently – Cas, the Winchesters, and Kevin – and only converged at the end. Each story had its moments, but Kevin’s was by far my favorite. Osric Chau has been an absolute blessing on this season. From his anguished email to the Winchesters containing a video to be played in the event of his death, to his quiet plotting during Crowley’s machinations, to his unbridled badassery at the climax, Kevin’s story didn’t miss a beat. I especially loved the contrast between Kevin’s rage and fear at being dragged into this mess, evident in the video message, and his smirking courage when facing down Crowley. He’d already proved himself to fans long ago, but I think by recovering the second half of the demon tablet and refusing to break under Crowley’s threats, he’s finally proven himself to himself.
The other storylines didn’t grab me quite as hard. With the Winchesters’ contractual immortality and the guarantee that Cas will be back next season, Kevin is the only one for whom I’m consistently terrified. But even though I knew Cas would make it through the episode, his storyline did get me a little worried. It’s not every day that one of my favorite characters gets tortured by two different factions back-to-back. But despite the very dramatic gore, Cas’s story was surprisingly dialogue-heavy. We got some cryptic hints about the current state of Heaven (not good), and it was implied that Naomi has been messing with Cas’s mind all through human history. I’m not optimistic about these tidbits getting any follow-through, but they were interesting fodder for fans to speculate upon.
And then there were Sam and Dean. Sam had a hilarious scene where he recalled an embarrassing family story, and a heartbreaking scene where he confessed that he hoped to be redeemed by undergoing the trials, but other than that the Winchesters’ story was the weakest of the bunch. It was strangely aimless. Turns out they could have solved the mystery by trying all the doors on their floor as soon as they arrived, and if they’d gone after Metatron earlier they could have even spared Kevin the work of translating the tablets. Huh, okay.
Speaking of Metatron, his scene with the boys was pretty well-done. I liked the little nods to the divinity of writing, and Sam’s utter indignation at not being recognized. But that whole plot element was soured for me by… well… Let’s see, Metatron is a Judeo-Christian figure being portrayed by a white guy. It’s shown that he supplanted the religion of a tribe of Native Americans centuries ago by claiming to be a messenger of their deity. Considering the historical mass genocide and cultural erasure of Native Americans by white Christians, there’s really no way around it – this was really, really racist.
But Kevin is safe and Cas is reunited with Sam and Dean, so all in all this episode ended much less painfully than it could have. As we approach the finale, I’m riveted to see which plot threads get picked up and which are left lying in the dirt.
And I’m still not convinced that Linda Tran is dead. I will fight you on this.
– Kevin Tran. Just, Kevin Tran.
– Castiel is back with the Winchesters
– Some serious mythology-expansion and callbacks to prior seasons
– Sam’s struggles with the trials are playing out wonderfully
– Did I mention Kevin Tran?
– Poor pacing
– Dean is stuck in a rut of reacting to everyone else’s trauma
– The racism
– When Crowley showed up with his angel-killing gun, for a second I really thought it was the Colt, and that’s just not a nice thing to do to a fangirl