The scariest thing about reality is how thin it is. Assumption and forward momentum serve to carry us through the day, and we accept that it all works and it's solid all the way through, because we have to. You start asking certain questions, there's the danger that you'll never stop, because there just aren't that many answers you can count on. And this is under ideal circumstances, too. Like, on a regular day, if you start wondering if there's any guarantee that you or someone you love won't get wiped off the road in a traffic accident, or hit by a heart attack, or succumb to cancer, you can get lost. Hell, it doesn't even have to be a question of mortality. Why not just try and determine if there's proof that the people around you don't all hate you, or that your relationships haven't all been built on psychological malfunctions, or that every negative comment anyone's ever said about you didn't have some basis in fact. The amount of faith—not religious, just basic, bull-headed belief—required to keep us functioning and (relatively) whole is staggering. And (and I'm making an assumption here), none of us have been to Hell. None of us were ever tormented by a very pissed off Lucifer in the Pit.
So Sam is really, really, really screwed in "Hello Cruel World," and what makes this episode work—what, in fact, is getting me very excited about this season as a whole—is that he's not the only one. The Winchesters and their fellow good guys have never had the best of luck when fighting the forces of darkness. Much like Whedon's famous "no happy endings" clause for Buffy, Supernatural has always resisted rose-colored conclusions, and the show's status quo is grim with a slice of horror pie. But this feels different, somehow. Not hugely different, no one's re-inventing the wheel, but even more so than last week's premiere, tonight's episode was focused, intense, and as dark as I think I've ever seen on the series before. We've had monsters possessing humans since season one, but something about how this all worked out, the ruthless efficiency with which the Leviathans started moving pieces on the board, made it stand out. Sam's going crazy, Bobby may be dead, and Dean knows he's getting sent to the last place on Earth he wants to go. So yeah, life's been better for everyone.
The key here is that the pressure never let up for the entire episode running time. We picked up right where we left off last week, with a possessed Cas standing over a defeated Dean and Bobby (Sam being temporarily incapacitated in the other room by a bad case of the phantom Devils). Before Cas can deliver consecutive coup de graces on our heroes, his physical form is overcome by the pressure of housing so many creatures, and he's force to retreat, black blood poor down his face. At first, this looks like a necessary, but somewhat cheap, out; there's no way Dean and Bobby were going to be able to stop Levithan Cas, but it's not like we could start the episode with the villain murdering the heroes. Only, instead of skulking off to recuperate in some abandoned warehouse, possessed Cas walks into a lake and dissolves. Turns out, the lake is a Public Water Supply. It's like that scene in Gremlins when Spike jumps into the YMCA pool, only worse.
From there on, the episode splits, as Sam, Dean and Bobby head back to the Singer house to take stock, and the Leviathans infest as many people as they can. As I said, some of this, we've seen before, and even the sight of a little girl going evil doesn't really shock me anymore, but there's a tension here that I didn't really notice clearly until the last act of the episode. Part of it is the sharp writing (Ben Edlund), and part of it's the fact that the baddies here, while occasionally over-eager to eat people, aren't idiots. Edgar (Benito Martinez, who seems to be in everything I watch these days), one of the top Levithans, is calm, profession—he has a boss (who we haven't seen yet; the actual Cas disappeared when he went into the lake, leaving his trademark coat behind, but I wonder if he's not still around somewhere), and he gives out orders which he expects to be obeyed. Better yet, they have a plan, and for once, that plan doesn't involve a lot of vague talk about the end of the world. I mean, I'm sure it will eventually, but for right now, the main focus is on finding a good place to feed, an by the end of the episode, they've found just such a place: Sioux Falls Hospital.
The hospital brings Sheriff Jodie (ie, "The Sole Surviving Female Recurring Character") back into play. We haven't seen here since the sixth season, and now she's stuck in the hospital for an appendectomy (which is a conveniently inconvenient ways to pull her back into the story, but let it pass). She observes a Leviathan-Doc ("Dr. Sexy") devouring her roommate, and calls Bobby in for some back-up. The character doesn't get a whole lot to do, but she's solid in what we see, and it's just nice to have a non-evil woman who gets more than a line or two before being eviscerated. Plus, she's necessary to get Bobby to the hospital, which leaves poor Sam alone at Bobby's place. Sam's been struggling with Lucifer's attempts to convince him that what he thinks is reality is really just an attempt to torment him. Once Dean and Bobby are gone, mind Lucifer (who is almost certainly just a figment of Sam's tortured mind) changes form, gets Sam out of the house, and nearly gets him to shoot himself in an abandoned warehouse. Only Dean's timely arrival manages to calm Sam down, and through an application of brotherly love and severe physical pain (I think I just inspired a slash fic), the two manage to temporarily exorcise the imaginary demon. Just in time, too, because when they get back to Bobby's, Bobby is gone, the house is a smoking crater, and Edgar is waiting to tear them apart. They manage to drop a car on the bad guy, but Sam passes out and Dean breaks his leg—and the ambulance that picks them up heads straight for Sioux Falls. Oh, and did I mention that Edgar isn't really dead? Although Bobby may be.
All of this may sound a little disjointed on the page, but it's not. Unlike last week's episode, which stalled slightly on familiar ground, "Hello" moved liked a rocket. It was intensely unsettling—the Leviathans casually devouring some hospital staff who've had their vocal chords shut, pure nightmare fuel—and even though Sam and Dean had their usual share of angst, it was angst with a purpose. The fact that Sam was stuck so long in Hell is a big deal, and it's exciting to see the show acknowledging it as a big deal and using his lack of psychological balance as a way of making everything just that much worse for the good guys. There's a great sense throughout this episode of the rug being slowly but steadily pulled out from under Dean's feet, and that final reveal was just a perfect, wonderfully nasty twist. Last season was plagued by the nagging sense that no one knew exactly what they were trying to accomplish; the ambition was laudable, but the results weren't always up to par. It's too early to tell yet if this season will pull together better, but if these two first episodes are any indication, we've got a dark, fun ride ahead. Here's hoping next week can keep up this pace.
- I highly doubt Bobby is dead, but keeping him out of sight right now doesn't come off as a cheap attempt at suspense; instead, it insures that those final moments, when Sam goes crazy and Dean realizes he's got nobody else in the world to turn to, work.
- I've ragged on the show's special effects and monster design in the past, but the Leviathan mouths are creepy, and a great way of making the possessed terrifying without going over budget.
- "Well, he was friends with us, wasn't he? Can't get much dumber than that."
- Another great element in this episode: Sam tells Dean everything that's going on with fake Lucifer.
- "You can kiss my ass, Dr. Monsterface."
- "I would love to grab us a good anesthesiologist."