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Supernatural: "The Man Who Would Be King"

Illustration for article titled iSupernatural/i: The Man Who Would Be King
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On one level, I'm glad Crowley's back. He's been one of my favorite guest characters of the past couple seasons, and Mark Sheppard is such a fun actor that it felt like a shame when he made his apparent exit back at the season mid-point. Back then, I was going to ridiculous lengths to praise the show for dropping the tighter conceptual plotting that had held together season 5; instead of "the Winchesters vs. the End of the World," we had "the Winchesters vs. a Bunch of Random Villains, At Least One Of Whom Presumably Has A Master Plan," and I dug the loose, anything-could-happen feel. Well, that's the problem with trying to get a feel for an entire season after only a handful of episodes. Turns out, that "loose" feel was less a show confident in its ability to wander off the path, and more a show flailing for purpose after basically pulling out all the stops in its previous season. But maybe… Maybe having Crowley back, maybe going for the Big Twist, might finally pull everything together in a way which, while not fixing everything, would at least give us a stronger sense of overall intent.

And y'know, it could've worked. I saw a few ideas during "The Man Who Would Be King" (which is a terrific movie, by the way) that could've been fascinating and powerful if handled properly. I love Cas to death, and I hate to see him go Darth, but the reasons he has for making arrangements with Crowley make just enough sense that they don't seem completely out of character. Well, okay, the do a little, but that's mostly because this is much too abrupt and whiplash-inducing. Conceptually, it works. Cas has never been portrayed as a great thinker, or a great warrior. He's a soldier in the army of Heaven with just enough of a conscience to stand against the more arrogant and dangerous of his kind. The idea that, with God out of the picture and the Devil off the table, he might be so overwhelmed by the responsibilities in front of him that he stumbles in his faith, has potential. After all, this show has been engaging in questions of fate and belief for a while now, and without any clear understanding of what the "right path" is, it's that much easier to take the wrong one, and feel righteous doing it.


This is muddled, though. About half of "King" is essentially exposition to lead us into the finale, as Cas pleads to a God who won't answer for some guidance. We get to see, briefly, what it was like in Heaven after the Winchesters beat the devil, and how Raphael's assumption of power and desire to once again get the Apocalypse ball rolling drove Cas to despair. (We also see that Cas brought Sam back from Hell, not Crowley, apparently before any of this craziness went down. This is a bit clunky, as it's the answer to a mystery that wasn't really a mystery any more. MY assumption was, Crowley had brought back Samuel Winchester and Sam-less. Sure, this makes more sense, in that Sam and Samuel arrived back on Earth at different times, but while the concept has a certain emotional appeal, it's mostly just distracting.) So Crowley shows up, and makes his pitch: help me get access to Purgatory, and we can split the souls, 50-50.

Cas, deep in his heart of hearts, realizes this is wrong, so he fails to mention it to Bobby or the Winchesters. Who now know that Crowley is still alive, and are getting a wee bit suspicious about Cas's repeated denials of any involvement. This leads to a big blow out in which Sam, Dean, and Bobby trap Cas in a circle, and get him to spill the beans. Then it turns into a "You can't do this!"/"I have to do this!" conversation. These are always fun, although, since it's not Sam and Dean doing the fighting, we miss out on the homo-erotic vibe that seems to please so much of the show's audience. In the end, Cas pleads to God for a sign, doesn't seem to get one, and going into next week, it looks like the Winchesters are squaring off against the Cas/Crowley match-up and, I guess, once that's resolved, they'll have to take care of Raphael somehow? I'm not really sure. It's hard to know what the stakes are here, beyond a general sense of "everything sucks."

Like I said, it could've worked. But it doesn't, not really. The actors do their best to sell it, but while I was excited to get an entire ep from Cas's perspective, the results were generally a lot of information we basically already knew, and a lot of angst that didn't really connect with the characters very well. This should've been the culmination of a season's worth of mysteries and growing unease. Instead, I have to keep reminding myself it's the second to last episode before the finale, and that doesn't excite me very much at all. In her review last week, Carrie made some excellent points that I think point directly to what's been the major problem with season 6. While I liked season 5 more than she did, it did often show a series reaching for more than it could hope to grasp—Supernatural isn't really designed to support the kind of grand apocalyptic hookum last year shot for. While I thought they actually did a good job with their limitations, this year, they're trying to keep up with those grand brush strokes without the budget or the scope to do them anything approaching justice. (Hey, you know what would be cool? If we ever saw one of these damn battles the angels keep having.) After S5, the series really needed to get back to its roots: Sam and Dean, stabbing things with sharp teeth and being snarky. All this sacrilegious soap opera is getting old.

Stray Observations:

  • Again, mad props to Carrie for her drop in last week. (For the record, my favorite season is either S3 or S4.)
  • "I remember the Tower of Babel. All 37 feet of it, which I suppose was impressive at the time."
  • For a Ben Edlund script, I didn't get a lot of good quotes here. Alas. His version of Hades (a perpetual line) was cool, though.

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