Last night's season premiere of Supernatural was one helluva way — or should I say "one heaven of a way"? — to start the seventh year of this series about monsters, magic, angels and demons. The sixth season ended with the Winchester brothers' angel buddy Castiel swallowing every monstrous soul in Purgatory and turning into God. In this episode, "Meet the New Boss," written by showrunner Sera Gamble, we see exactly what kind of God our humor-impaired angel turned out to be. The results, shall we say, are not pretty. But they made for one incredible episode.
Spoilers ahead, my delightful protozoans!
I should say at the outset that this was an exceptionally good episode from many angles: the pacing was terrific, the set pieces were poignant and funny, and new kinks were added to the show's cosmology that were intriguing as well as making good sense. Of course it didn't hurt that Gamble's script pulled out all the stops, bringing in both Death (who ate some tasty pickle chips) and Crowley (the semi-deposed "king of Hell") to deal with Earth's little God problem.
When God starts smiting, why not throw in a little Michele Bachmann joke?
We began right where we left off last season, with the new God Castiel telling everybody to kneel down before him and start worshiping. Since he's already killed off Raphael and some of her hench-angels, that leaves only Sam, Dean, and Bobby on prostration duty. Unfortunately, their gestures of worship don't please Castiel — they don't love him, only fear him. So he zooms off to slaughter more of his enemies in Heaven and go on a rampage of righteousness down on Earth.
Oh and by the way, Cas has decided to punish Sam and Dean by leaving the wall in Sam's mind broken. So in between everything else, Sam is having crazy hallucinatory memories of being in the Pit with Lucifer and Michael. More on that later, though . . .
We get some mean, satirical satisfaction when we see Castiel's targets on Earth. You can't help but have a little self-righteous frisson when he says, in the scene excerpted above, "I am indifferent to sexual orientation," and then kills a minister for condemning others when apparently the minister has been indulging in a little of the gay himself. But of course the satire gives way quickly to ugliness: death is not the appropriate punishment for hypocrisy. And though even Dean admits he's OK with Cas killing so many members of the KKK that the organization has to disband, things go from darkly funny to simply horrific pretty quickly.
In between curing leprosy and blindness, Cas starts mowing down new age leaders, audiences at Madison Square Garden, and an office full of campaign volunteers for a Michele Bachmann-esque politician. He's taking his whole "I'm a just God" thing way too far.
You need a father
I want to call attention to the speech that Castiel gives his followers in Heaven. We see him in tight closeup, asserting that he tried freewill but now realizes that the angels need "a firm hand, a father." He's decided to take on the authoritarian role that the old God had, and as the camera pulls back from Castiel we see that he's surrounded by the dead bodies of angels he's killed on his full tank of monster souls. It's a gorgeous, haunting image and stands out precisely because it's drained of all the irony that saturates his scourges on Earth. This isn't political satire here. This is an earnest look at the horror of what it means to be God.
And you know what's the most horrifying part? Based on what we've seen of Heaven, we know Castiel is right.
The souls must flow
Cas is so nuts that he even recruits Crowley to work for him again. He's realized that he can't actually take every soul to Heaven, so he needs Crowley to return to his job as king of Hell again — on one condition. Cas will determine which souls go where, and Crowley has to take whatever is discarded from Heaven. "I control the flow," Cas tells Crowley, who has taken up residence in a trailer park with only booze as a companion.
With no other choice, Crowley accepts. Cas will get "the lion's share" of souls, and Crowley will torment the remainder because — as Cas puts it — he needs a threat. Again, our new God is basically just reinstating the old cosmological order, where God rules all with an iron fist, freewill is but a fantasy, and those who don't obey are tormented forever in Crowley's endless queue. (If you recall, last season Crowley came up with a "brave new" form of torture for people in Hell: waiting endlessly in a line that never moves.)
With a little lightning and fried pickle chips, you can stop God
So the point is: God must be stopped. But how? The only thing that Dean and Bobby can come up with is to try a spell that binds Death and ask that ancient creature to reap Castiel. We know he can do it, based on what he's told Dean before. After a short romp through suburbia in search of ingredients for the spell — including a crystal created by lightning strike — they manage to conjure up Death. Who promptly gets into a bitch fight with Castiel, even resorting to the old "I know God and you sir are no God" line.
Death also explains why Cas has been looking all scabby and weird since he attained God status. When he sucked up all those Purgatory souls, he got some things he didn't quite bargain for. Turns out the "first beasts," including leviathans, were stashed in Purgatory too. These giant monsters pre-date the creation of the world and humans, and they are so dangerous that God was worried "they'd chomp the entire petri dish." In fact, he created Purgatory to hold them, and it was only through usage creep that it became a destination for monster souls too.
Then things get really ugly and it looks like Death is actually going to kill God. But we're never entirely sure which entity could kick the other's ass, because Cas snaps his fingers and releases the chains on Death. Then he disappears. Munching on fried pickle chips that Dean has brought as an offering, Death tells the Winchesters and Bobby that their only hope is to get Cas back in front of the door to Purgatory. He needs to be "compelled" to give up those souls before things go seriously pear-shaped.
This is also our hint that perhaps, as Death suggests, Castiel is just "a mutated angel" and not really God. He may have Godlike powers, but that's mostly because he ate some protocosmic kaiju, not because he's been promoted.
Could it be Satan?
Death is also nice enough to arrange for there to be an extra eclipse the following evening so the boys can open up that door in Purgatory. Luckily, it turns out that the whole Cas compulsion thing is a lot easier than they'd imagined it would be. The mutated angel is starting to feel really bad about ripping the throats out of innocent Tea Partiers, plus the souls inside him are eating away at his body and soul. A blood-covered, apologetic Cas shows up for the eclipse right on time, shooting Dean homoerotic looks and admitting he was wrong.
But while Cas and Dean rekindle their bromance, Sam is having serious issues. When he goes to grab some blood for the spell, he runs into Lucifer, who greets him cheerfully with, "Long time no spooning!" Though Sam starts out by saying, "You're just a hallucination," Lucifer manages to pull the old "Actually this was all a form of mind game torture where I made you think you'd left hell but you really hadn't" trick. And so, by the time Dean comes looking for the blood Sam was supposed to get, Sam has disappeared. That's right, this is a setup for Sam to be suffering post-traumatic hell disorder in whole new way this season. I'll be honest: I was a little disappointed by that. Last season was all about broken Sam, soulless Sam, and a variety of other PTHD Sams. I'm ready for Sam to move on and deal with different issues now.
Is this really the new Big Bad?
Aaaand I have one other small complaint about what was basically a perfect episode. Is this leering Cas really going to be our new Big Bad? After the mutated angel does the old light-barf into the doorway of Purgatory, he's left with some leviathans who cleverly held onto him by a soul thread. Now they've supposedly killed Cas and taken over his body. Which we know because in this scene, Cas leers and cackles.
I love Misha Collins as much as the next Supernatural fan, but really? The Big Bad is going to be Cas with snark? I was already annoyed enough by last season of True Blood, where half the time the Big Bad was Lafayette being possessed by ghosts. I don't groove on the "create new Big Bad by making old beloved character act different" formula. Especially if this is going to be our season's arc.
That said, I have no idea if this is our season's arc or not. If the Supernatural writers keep up the same exciting pace as they did in this episode, Cas-as-leviathans may be neatly dispatched in our next episode and we can move on to the meat of the season. Or there may be something else going on that will make me eat my words about Cas-with-snark. Here's hoping. Certainly if this episode is any indication of how season 7 will unfold, we're in for a seriously good ride.