Supernatural Episode Review: The Great Escapist

Castiel has had an interesting run on Supernatural. The writers seem to understand that they unexpectedly struck gold with him back in season four, but they’ve struggled with how to advance his characterization without his powers becoming a game-breaker. Their efforts have culminated in a pattern of Cas getting put on a bus (sometimes literally) for swaths of episodes, only to be brought back when convenient (often in ridiculously improbable ways). While this is narratively annoying, it sometimes works in the show’s favor: whenever Cas returns from a long absence, people take notice.

In other words, happy Casmas, everybody.

great escapist cas
Things are going great for him, as usual.

Unfortunately, Cas’s return wasn’t quite as explosive as it could have been. It was a perfectly good episode, it had some really fabulous moments, and it brought some interesting new elements to the mythology of the show. But the pacing was off. There was too much downtime and not enough tension, which made the episode plod. Maybe I’m judging The Great Escapist harshly, but next to Cas’s previous returns (like the emotional rollercoaster of A Little Slice of Kevin and heartbreaking, game-changing drama of The Born-Again Identity) it fell a little flat.

That’s not to say that there was nothing to love about this episode! Three separate storylines played out independently – Cas, the Winchesters, and Kevin – and only converged at the end. Each story had its moments, but Kevin’s was by far my favorite. Osric Chau has been an absolute blessing on this season. From his anguished email to the Winchesters containing a video to be played in the event of his death, to his quiet plotting during Crowley’s machinations, to his unbridled badassery at the climax, Kevin’s story didn’t miss a beat. I especially loved the contrast between Kevin’s rage and fear at being dragged into this mess, evident in the video message, and his smirking courage when facing down Crowley. He’d already proved himself to fans long ago, but I think by recovering the second half of the demon tablet and refusing to break under Crowley’s threats, he’s finally proven himself to himself.

great escapist kevin
You are perfect to me.

The other storylines didn’t grab me quite as hard. With the Winchesters’ contractual immortality and the guarantee that Cas will be back next season, Kevin is the only one for whom I’m consistently terrified. But even though I knew Cas would make it through the episode, his storyline did get me a little worried. It’s not every day that one of my favorite characters gets tortured by two different factions back-to-back. But despite the very dramatic gore, Cas’s story was surprisingly dialogue-heavy. We got some cryptic hints about the current state of Heaven (not good), and it was implied that Naomi has been messing with Cas’s mind all through human history. I’m not optimistic about these tidbits getting any follow-through, but they were interesting fodder for fans to speculate upon.

And then there were Sam and Dean. Sam had a hilarious scene where he recalled an embarrassing family story, and a heartbreaking scene where he confessed that he hoped to be redeemed by undergoing the trials, but other than that the Winchesters’ story was the weakest of the bunch. It was strangely aimless. Turns out they could have solved the mystery by trying all the doors on their floor as soon as they arrived, and if they’d gone after Metatron earlier they could have even spared Kevin the work of translating the tablets. Huh, okay.

great escapist sam and dean
To be honest, after getting hit in the head with a plunger by God, getting held at gunpoint by the Metatron is par for the course as far as Sam is concerned.

Speaking of Metatron, his scene with the boys was pretty well-done. I liked the little nods to the divinity of writing, and Sam’s utter indignation at not being recognized. But that whole plot element was soured for me by… well… Let’s see, Metatron is a Judeo-Christian figure being portrayed by a white guy. It’s shown that he supplanted the religion of a tribe of Native Americans centuries ago by claiming to be a messenger of their deity. Considering the historical mass genocide and cultural erasure of Native Americans by white Christians, there’s really no way around it – this was really, really racist.

But Kevin is safe and Cas is reunited with Sam and Dean, so all in all this episode ended much less painfully than it could have. As we approach the finale, I’m riveted to see which plot threads get picked up and which are left lying in the dirt.

And I’m still not convinced that Linda Tran is dead. I will fight you on this.

Pros:
– Kevin Tran. Just, Kevin Tran.
– Castiel is back with the Winchesters
– Some serious mythology-expansion and callbacks to prior seasons
– Sam’s struggles with the trials are playing out wonderfully
– Did I mention Kevin Tran?

Cons:
– Poor pacing
– Dean is stuck in a rut of reacting to everyone else’s trauma
– The racism
– When Crowley showed up with his angel-killing gun, for a second I really thought it was the Colt, and that’s just not a nice thing to do to a fangirl

Author: Christina Kim


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  1. I hardly think Metatron being played by a white actor is racist – angels have human vessels, so it is not important what meatsuit they are wearing, in fact, you can see this as another paralell to Metratron spending his time reading about humanity, but doing nothing to help their suffering.

    1. You’re right that, in-universe, an angel’s vessel doesn’t represent their true self, and in that sense their physical appearance is unimportant. But it is important in terms of representation. Metatron didn’t just happen to take that vessel; the show-runners made the choice to cast a white man in that role and appropriated Native imagery and history as a backdrop for him.

      As for the presence of Native Americans highlighting Metatron’s apathy about humans, I think you’re giving the show too much credit. The two Native characters had barely any lines. If Metatron was meant to be called out for using them, then it didn’t come across in the text.

  2. My problem with the episode was that it was rehashed story ideas for the most, plus I have no emotional investment in Kevin. Sam is sick – again. Dean is nurturing and driving the car – again or still. Cas is captured and tortured, again and again. The writer is God, again (which is another way for the writers to imply that they are not accountable to the fans because of their god-status).
    Kevin’s story is too closely tied to an extremely “meh” tablet arc.
    Next week we get more found footage – in case you liked that in Bitten.

    1. I agree that Supernatural has been stuck in certain ruts for several seasons (and in some cases, the entire run of the show). Sam is at the center of the myth arc and it’s taking a toll on his. Bad things happen to Cas. Dean reacts to everything and takes care of everyone. It’s a problem.

      You could probably guess that I disagree with you about Kevin. I think the tablet arc has been a bit hit-and-miss, but as a whole I’ve enjoyed it.

      I think the theme of “the writer as God” is a wider statement about creation and writing – basically a love letter to all of fiction – and not necessarily the Supernatural writers showing their ego. But perhaps I’m giving them too much credit.

      And, well, I did like Bitten a lot! But we’ll see what happens next week.

  3. I agree with you about the Crowley’s gun. I was typing a reaction email to my friend while i was watching the episode (my laptop). I had it paused and the first thing I put was ‘is that the colt? or did Crowley just melt down an angel blade’ which was completely confirmed, I pressed play.

    1. Wow, you called that it was a melted-down angel blade? I am suitably impressed. I was too hung up on the possibility of them bringing the Colt back, haha.

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