It would appear, by the evidence of the first few episodes at least, that “Supernatural” is trying something new this season. While the show has always employed a fine mixture of serialized and episodic storytelling, they’ve typically had the majority of episodes come to a definitive end. This time, the episodes are flowing into each other more directly. Maybe it’s a technique that is only going to be applicable until the Brothers Winchester find a way out of their current mess, but it’s quite an interesting way to start.
Things are not doing well, to say the least. The episode begins with Castiel on the verge of being ripped apart from the inside out, and that’s exactly what happens. Of course, because this is “Supernatural”, it happens in the middle of a reservoir for the local water supply. And that means that the Leviathans are able to spread, “infecting” some of the population and taking control of the hospital. For better or worse, Sheriff Mills is recovering from surgery there.
For most of the episode, it looked as though Sam, Dean, and Bobby were going to struggle their way through another rescue, get away clean, and embark on a desperate crusade against the Leviathans for the rest of the season. The big spanner in the works appeared to be Lucifer. Hallucination or not, he’s playing one nasty game of Harvey in Sam’s head. Mark Pellegrino turns in one deliciously evil performance, with more than enough subtlety to make one wonder just how real he might be.
There are plenty of possibilities. The least problematic (relatively speaking) is that the breakdown of the “wall” in Sam’s mind is precipitating this effect. At least that would likely mean that Lucifer is an embodiment of everything that Sam needs to work through to keep himself sane. Of course, that’s a big assumption, because it could also be that Sam is going through a situation similar to John Crichton in “Farscape”: Lucifer could have left a “piece” of himself in Sam’s consciousness when Sam escaped the cage, just as he claimed. (At this point, it’s fairly clear that Sam is not, in fact, still in the pit.) There’s no telling how Sam could get free of that issue, and beyond having Mark Pellegrino around a lot more, I’m not sure there’s an upside at the end of that nasty little tunnel.
But as hard as it was for Dean to get through to Sam, the situation is far worse after that showdown. Bobby’s refuge is assaulted by the Leviathans, there’s no sign of Bobby anywhere, and even if he somehow has managed to survive, that pretty much takes away Sam and Dean’s support system in one fell swoop. Meanwhile, just fighting one Leviathan has left the brothers in serious trouble, badly wounded and on the way to the very hospital where the Leviathans have established their home turf.
One can assume that they manage to get out of the current crisis somehow, or this would be one rather short season with a nasty series-ending plot twist. But it’s also going to leave them with precious few resources in the middle of a fight with a foe that was locked in Purgatory, seemingly because neither God nor Lucifer were willing to take “ownership” of them. It renders the whole apocalypse arc of the fifth season a mere prelude, which is certainly one way to address the fact that the producers didn’t have the budget to make that work.
As bad as things are, I’m not so sure that Castiel is completely gone. We are, after all, talking about an angel. While there are ways to kill angels on “Supernatural”, as we’ve seen many times, this would be one rather anticlimactic for a character this popular and this important to the past three seasons. Just as I don’t see this to be the way Bobby is written out, I just don’t see this as the final statement on Castiel.
But I do think it paints a very bleak picture for the Brothers Winchester, and at this point, it’s probably safe to say that the odds are stacked pretty high against them. More than that, the story is panning out in a way that should keep the struggle personal, yet also on a small enough scale to work within the budget. All that said, I hope the writers are working to a definitive end to the season. I get the feeling this is likely to be the big finish, given that this episode was the lowest-rated ever, and I’d hate to see the show go out on a cliffhanger after getting an extended lifespan.