Supernatural has always been consistent in its approach to mythological beings. It's not the most imaginative take, and it's hardly what you'd call subtle, but whenever a character out of legend or divinity or what have you makes an appearance, you can count on two things: 1.) that character will be as big as life, but no bigger. We don't deal with much in the way of unknowable, Lovecraftian horror here. Michael gets a light-show, but that's as far as it goes. Even Luficer himself is, while impressive, still understandable, and his Horsemen operate more like Captain Planet villains than conceptual personifications. (Admittedly, they're all a million times cooler than anything Planet ever churned out. Although there is the ring connection…) While this can sometimes make confrontations that should be cosmic seem more like barroom brawls, there's a scrappy, low-budget aesthetic to keeping things quantifiable, a direct approach that has its own special charm. Plus, it leads directly to 2.) There will be blood. Oh my yes. Gallons of the stuff.
It's not surprising, then, that when "Hammer of the Gods" brings in a pantheon of pagan wonders, from Odin to Baldur to Baron Samedi to Kali herself, the gods don't do much in the way of being ineffable, and they have a thing for eating human meat. Really, though, this is the show working at its peak form, giving us forty minutes of B-movie with some great jokes, familiar faces, and enough pathos and plot movement that we feel like the popcorn we're scarfing down counts as a full meal.
The set-up: Sam and Dean find what looks like the world's greatest motel, Elysian Fields. (Heh.) But something's off. The guests are disappearing, and the desk clerk walks through walls or something, and there's an elephant in one of the room's that turns in a big black guy in a towel. Oh, and there's a pot of blood-and-eye-ball stew cooking in the kitchen, and a freezer full of potential main courses begging to be let out. This isn't just a case of cannibals with a bank loan, however. There are gods among us, specifically those who aren't involved with the Apocalypse to be, and they're getting scared. Their solution: kidnap the Winchesters, and try and bargain their way out of Doomsday. It's sort of like Neil Gaiman by way of Tobe Hooper.
I've complained before about how this season's lack of a bigger picture hurts its take on the end of the world, and "Hammer" is a terrific example of how much mileage a wider scope could've given us. Most of the ideas here are lifted from other sources, but that really isn't a problem. Supernatural has never been an innovator, and it's never really needed to be. What it does best is that scrappy, it-may-not-be-art-but-it-sure-is-loud aesthetic of solid rock and roll, and its willingness to challenge itself, to understand its limitations and try to reach just a little beyond them, has made it the sort of guilty pleasure where the "guilty" part really isn't worth saying. I think this whole season will probably play better on second viewing, but whether it does or not, "Hammer" will be a stand-out.
And hey, we even got to see Gabriel's last stand. He shows up after the Winchesters find themselves in waaaay over their heads, and tries to make nice with Kali, the leader of the group. Gabriel's under the impression that his cover as Loki is still in effect, but Kali manages to turn the tables on him, apparently killing him—but he's not going down that easy. It takes a lecture from Dean on how to give a damn, and an appearance from Lucifer (who's meat suit isn't looking very good at all) to finally make him a hero, and then make him dead. So it's a little pathos, some jokes, and some actual plot advancement. Finally we have a plausible way to stop Satan, and while the "you need all four rings to complete this mission" element makes me think of all those damn horcruxes in Harry Potter, at least the hunt for these means we get to see Matt Frewer as Pestilence.
There are only three episodes left this season, which is a little sad, but we at least have a sense of where we're headed. There were a few forced beats in this episode, and I kind of wish we'd seen more of the gods (also, didn't Odin have both his eyes? Sloppy research, guys), but that's nitpicky. This just made me happy to be a Supernatural fan, and watching Lucifer massacre his way through the assembled host had me itching for the main event.
- "All right you primitive screwheads, listen up." Always suspected Dean was a Bruce Campbell fan, nice to have it confirmed. (And why the hell hasn't he been a guest on this show, by the way?)
- "Lucifer, you're my brother and I love you, but you are a great big bag of dicks."
- The Gabriel-in-a-porno jokes were obvious, but well done. (And the reaction shots sold it.)
- The Spearmint Rhino that Gabriel mentioned is a strip club. Thanks, Roommate Dave!