It is with minimal hyperbole and absolute seriousness that I make the following statement: “Lazarus Rising” is one of the best episodes of modern genre television. It’s a brilliant premiere to one of Supernatural‘s strongest seasons.
In my Season 2 episode review, I talked about the crossroads demon who makes deals. At the end of that season, Dean (Jensen Ackles) sold his soul to Hell in exchange for rescuing Sam (Jared Padalecki), and was given a single year to live instead of the usual ten. Then, despite their best efforts to prevent it, Dean was pulled into Hell in Season 3’s finale. “Lazarus Rising” opens with a genuinely frightening few flashes of Dean’s terrified eyes, lit red and scored with horrible screaming—a perfect demonstration that the best way to scare us is to let our imaginations do most of the work. But suddenly Dean snaps awake, back on Earth, and climbs out of his own grave. It’s been four months, so someone has pulled him out of Hell, and we quickly discover that that being is incredibly powerful and something we’ve never seen before. This being branded a palm print onto Dean’s shoulder, and causes electronics to go haywire and glass to shatter whenever it’s around.
Dean tracks down his father figure and ally, Bobby (Jim Beaver, a series regular), and together they find Sam. But the reunion is not as heartfelt as it should be. There’s a palpable distance between the two brothers, and you can tell that things are different. It feels very similar to when I came home from several years at college and realized that my kid brother had grown up while I was away. Dean is convinced that Sam made a serious deal to break him out of Hell, but Sam denies it. In order to get a little more insight, the boys visit a psychic named Pamela (Traci Dinwiddie). But when she tries to conjure the mysterious being, the mere sight of it burns out her eyes. The Winchesters are left with a severely injured woman and nothing but a name: Castiel.
The bulk of “Lazarus Rising” concerns the hunt for Castiel, and the steady rise in tension as the Winchesters realize just how powerful he is. Demons who encounter him are murdered or blinded. Dean is nearly killed when Castiel’s power causes a mirrored ceiling to crack apart and fall. Sam, meanwhile, has his own secrets–in Dean’s absence, he’s been working with a demon named Ruby (Genevieve Cortese) to hone his psychic powers, which have grown very powerful and made him more than a little reckless.
The last five minutes are the absolute best part of the episode. Dean and Bobby set up a trap for Castiel: a barn covered in the symbols to ward off everything they can think of, a bunch of salt and iron, and as many guns as they can carry. The roof begins shaking and the doors fly open to reveal a man (Misha Collins) in a tan trench coat. He walks slowly towards Dean and Bobby, as the lightbulbs above his head explode one by one; and no matter how many bullets they fire at him, he just keeps walking. A demon-killing knife does nothing, and when Bobby swings at him with a crowbar, the man disarms and knocks him out in seconds. “Who are you?” Dean asks. “I’m the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition,” Castiel answers.
This is Castiel. He is, in his own words, “an Angel of the Lord.” The ringing high-pitched tone that has caused glass to shatter is his real voice. The sight of his true form burned out Pamela’s eyes. He brought Dean out of Hell on God’s command, because the Winchesters have a massive role to play in the coming Apocalypse. Lucifer is about to rise up and declare war, angels and demons are prepping their weapons, and Earth is the battlefield. Welcome to Season 4.
It’s difficult to convey how fantastic “Lazarus Rising” is on paper, as so much of it depends on the tightly-written script by series creator Eric Kripke, and the direction by the famous and much-beloved Kim Manners. Dean and Sam’s reunion said so much in just a few words and awkward hugs. Ackles is also at the top of his game, changing Dean in subtle little ways all through the fourth season to convey just how much Hell has changed him, and how scarred his soul has become. His PTSD and guilt are a major theme throughout the rest of the season, and it’s set up really well here. The Castiel introduction scene is masterfully directed, full of tension and horror movie style shadows. Collins plays the angel as impossibly world-weary, someone who’s been a supernatural being for so long that he’s forgotten what it is to be human.
The scenes with Pamela are a highlight. While some of the dialogue is a little bit hokey, Dinwiddie has enough piss and vinegar to make them work, and make her subsequent mutilation even more horrifying. It’s chilling that a supposedly benevolent being could do something so incredibly destructive from just a mere glance, and it makes things quite clear: these angels are no chubby cherubs.
Together, Castiel and “Lazarus Rising” bring a brand new twist into Supernatural’s mythology, opening up an entirely new subset of creatures, beings, and subplots to play with.