Last spring, Supernatural fans were shocked by the very last frame of the Season 9 finale, in which Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) opened his eyes to reveal that they were perfectly black—the sign of a demon. After nine years of onscreen demon-killing with his brother Sam (Jared Padalecki), this was a significant change for both the character and the show. Tuesday’s premiere, “Black,” gave us a formal introduction to the being dubbed Deanmon, and it was …. okay. Truth be told, “Black” could have—no, should have—been a lot better. It’s not bad, not even by a long shot, but Supernatural is capable of so much more.
The episode opens with a young female demon being tortured by a Winchester who’s become “one of us.” “Whatever soul you had, whatever boy scout codes you cuddled up to at night, it’s all gone. Leaving what? Look at you,” she admonishes. However, when the camera whips around, it turns out she’s talking to Sam, who has embraced his darker side in his quest to find his brother. It turns out that Dean left quickly, with only a scrawled note—“Let me go, Sammy”—left behind.
The Winchesters are textbook examples of the inability to let go; they’ve torn the world apart to save each other. The twist of their relationship is that Dean, the elder and more outwardly confident of the two, is actually the needier one. His public persona has always masked a deep self-loathing, and in “Black” he shows that part of himself in full-force, drinking too much, having casual sex with waitresses, slaughtering ’80s power ballads at karaoke. He’s still highly codependent, but his partner is now Crowley (Mark A. Sheppard), the King of Hell, who’s unsubtly hoping to make Dean his co-ruler down below. The two have spent the past few months tearing it up in dive bars across the country. Crowley has also been sending demons to try to slaughter Dean every so often, feeding his bloodlust to keep the Mark of Cain from making him a full demon. One of these bloodbaths pops up on Sam’s radar as a possible lead, and a surveillance video of the attack gives away Dean’s new condition. A screenshot of the attack also ends up in the hands of a mysterious hunter (Travis Aaron Wade), who has a serious beef with Dean and will go to any lengths—including kidnapping Sam as hostage—to track down his prey.
The B-plot of “Black” concerns Castiel (Misha Collins), and the aftermath last season’s big shakeup in Heaven. He is slowly dying, losing his grace—the thing that makes him angelic—but unable to replenish it without killing one of his own. The subplot involves a road trip with fellow seraph Hannah (Erica Carroll) to investigate some rogue angels on the run. It’s plodding, slow and immensely frustrating. Angel politics have been done to death on Supernatural; they are a fussy and bureaucratic species, which was a great hook several years ago, but very repetitive to watch in action. Sadly, the writers can’t seem to figure out how to get Castiel out of this situation and back to fighting crime and cracking wise with the Winchesters where he belongs.
“Black” had some excellent moments. Sheppard is always wonderful as Crowley, and I’m thrilled that he’s now a series regular. His lines are always a highlight (“Who do you think you are talking to here? Does the Tin Man have a sheet-metal willy? Of course I lied”). Jensen Ackles is clearly having a lot of fun letting Dean’s id run wild for once, and I’m intrigued to see what’s in store. The new hunter played by Wade is a decent foil for the Winchesters, and his need for revenge is clearly tied to an event that occurred while Dean was still a human. This premiere sets up some great plot lines, but it’s far tamer than I hoped it would be. There’s definitely potential here, and we’ll see what the next few episodes have in store.