The Supernatural giveth and the Supernatural taketh away. This week’s episode, “Soul Survivor,” did exactly what I hoped it wouldn’t do, curing Dean of his little demon problem. However, it also contained some fantastic callbacks to plot points that haven’t been talked about in years, and had so many good acting moments and setups for future conflict that I found myself in a surprisingly forgiving mood.
Most of “Soul Survivor” is spent in the Men of Letters bunker, which Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) call home. We find Dean tied up in the dungeon, enduring injections of blessed human blood, a process which will either make him human or kill him horribly (and it’s not clear which is happening). While they wait, the brothers trade barbs. Sam tries to find any trace of his brother still living inside his meat suit, and Dean growls like an animal and sneers at the futility of the whole endeavor. Ackles, who also directed the episode, plays Dean as a combination of Hannibal Lecter and Jack Torrence from The Shining. Sam is taunted about the body count he left in his wake while he tried to track down Dean and Crowley (Mark Sheppard). It turns out that Sam coerced a man into selling his soul at a crossroads solely so he could kidnap and torture the demon who came to make the deal—a callback to the very first time we saw Sam this season. “Which one of us is really the monster?” Dean asks.
Then Dean goes for the gut shot: the Winchester parents. Their mother Mary has always been a sore point; Dean misses her every day, and Sam was too young to remember her death (depicted in the series pilot). “That lie that we thought was so clear isn’t so clear. Is it, Sammy?” Dean taunts. He calls their father a brainwashing lunatic and accuses Sam of being Mary’s de facto murderer. This is the first time that Mary and John Winchester have been mentioned in literally years, which is awesome, and Sam later sifts through photos that Dean kept in his bedroom, a reminder of Dean’s deeply hidden sadness at the loss of their parents. After Dean escapes, the brothers hunt each other throughout the bunker, Sam grapples with the knowledge that he can’t bear to kill his brother, and Dean gets another great Shining moment when he busts through a door using a hammer.
Meanwhile, angelic Castiel (Mischa Collins) and his companion Hannah (Erica Carroll) are headed for the bunker to try and help Sam. Castiel is dying, and when they’re ambushed by a rogue angel at a gas station, he is helpless. Aid comes in the unlikely form of Crowley, who cures Cas on the condition that the angel “takes care” of Dean—one way or the other. Castiel arrives just in time to save Sam from a gruesome death, and together they finish the injections and Dean turns back into a real boy. The episode concludes on a shot of a strange red-headed woman, who sits pleasantly by a fire. The camera pans up to show two men pinned to the ceiling, bleeding from their stomachs. The exact way in which Mary Winchester died all those years ago.
While “Soul Survivor” disappointed me by curing Dean of his demonic aspects, there was still a great deal to like and it’s definitely one of the best episodes so far. Ackles is a talented director who uses classic horror movie elements to make the game between Dean and Sam very unsettling and tense. He also maintains a momentum through Castiel and Hannah’s scenes, which for once did not drag down the rest of the episode. Dean and Cas’ reunion was also a great scene, containing the best dialogue of the episode (“You’re brothers. It’ll take a lot more than trying to kill Sam with a hammer to make him walk away” and “Do you realize how screwed up our lives are that that even makes sense?”). I hope Castiel stays with the Winchesters for a while because the show is infinitely better for it. Crowley also got his usual few moments of scenery-chewing, showing that he may be losing control of Hell (turns out demons don’t take too kindly to their King taking a sabbatical to go drink with a Winchester). Even Carroll was bearable this episode, showing some actual emotion in Hannah and sparking just a little genuine chemistry with Collins. It seems that they’re setting her up as a romantic interest, which I’m not sure about, but if they can keep things interesting—i.e out of angel politics—then it may have a chance to work.
Overall, I’m impressed. With “Soul Survivor,” it feels like Supernatural Season 10 has finally landed on solid ground.