The writers on Supernatural are awfully good at titling their episodes, so when I saw the title “Gimme Shelter,” I was excited. I could only think of the Rolling Stones song with its anti-war lyrics, and all its history and pop culture baggage. There’s lots of weight there. In the end, I felt like this episode was full of great moments. As a whole, though, “Gimme Shelter” was a disappointment for me; it felt more like connective tissue (weak connective tissue) in the larger narrative rather than a cohesive story unto itself. The title does have resonance for what’s to come, but it felt like work to get there.
BEWARE: This post is super-charged with spoilers for the episode, so if you care about these things, close your computer and find a safe space.
Sam and Dean, Cas and Jack hit the road
Sam’s looking for a case. He’s found news of a grisly murder in Missouri but he’s not sure it’s anything to really worry about—nothing a hunter would worry about anyway. Dean’s looking for Amara in preparation for their killing her and Chuck; signs point to Atlantic City.
After some deliberation, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) head north to the Jersey shore, and an irritable Castiel (Misha Collins), obviously disliking being a babysitter to an eager Jack (Alexander Calvert) when cosmic forces are at play, heads south to the Show Me State.
The first thing Cas does is summon a crossroads demon, Zack (the irresistible Adam Beauchesne), to see if the murder is infernal in nature. It’s a scene full of great moments. We get a misty tableau of Castiel digging a hole to plant his demon-summoning spell. We watch as Jack, researching the victim, signs up for social media. He asks Cas’ permission to create an account, and we get Castiel’s comment about his social media experience: “There were so many cat photos. It was just . . . there were too many cats.” We get a demon doing a great impression of Crowley—our long-lost and much beloved king of Hell—bored out of his mind and willing even to be Castiel and Jack’s driver just for something to do. It’s fun and beautifully shot but it’s 2:42 minutes in which very little actually happens.
Cas and Jack show up at the combination church and shelter where the murder victim, Connor, volunteered. Jack, in the guise of a volunteer himself, meets Sylvia (Nicole Muñoz), the daughter of Pastor Joe (Steve Bacic, last seen in the episode “Changing Channels” as Dr. Sexy), who runs the place. Castiel approaches the pastor and the first thing he does is inform Pastor Joe that another shelter volunteer, Valerie Jones (Sara Southey), has disappeared.
All I could wonder was how Cas knew about her disappearance. How did he know her name? Then I wondered where the police were with regard to that second missing person. Did they know about her? Did they tell Cas about her? Did they question Pastor Joe? Both the pastor and Sylvia’s friend, another volunteer at the shelter who is never actually named, seem remarkably unaffected by Connor’s death and the second disappearance. Turns out it was actually the third disappearance; the shelter’s IT guy disappeared a while back.
While I was distracted wondering about these details, Sam and Dean are on the road to Atlantic City and stop for gas. They don’t find Amara (Emily Swallow) ; Amara finds them. “You,” she says to Dean, “have a very distinctive musk,” Dean smiles, and all of SPN fandom has a moment.
Back at the shelter, Pastor Joe encourages Jack to tell his story. Cas steps up instead. He offers a sweet monolog about how he found himself and his purpose when he found family. It’s another lovely moment, the glance he exchanges with Jack. In the afterglow, the TV in the common room at the church flickers on. We see poor Valerie tied up, having her finger chopped off. Jack disconnects the TV. Who could do such a thing?
Over pierogis, Sam and Dean explain to Amara what they have in mind: they want her to help them kill her brother, God. She is, naturally, reluctant. She tells them that she and God are twins and she can’t betray him.
Dean then asks her why she returned his and Sam’s mother to life. She tells Dean that she did it in hopes of his learning that the present is always better than the past; obsessing about what might have been was pointless. And she hoped it would help to finally quench his anger.
“I’m not angry, Amara. I’m furious. To know that all my life, I’ve been nothing but a hamster in a wheel. Stuck in a story. And it ain’t just me. We’re all stuck. Sam and Cas and Jack and even you.” – Dean Winchester
She asks Dean if she can trust him. Cool as a cucumber, looking straight into her eyes, he tells her yes. Amara tells Dean she’ll think about helping them.
All the truths come out
Jack and Castiel investigate the shelter’s missing IT guy. They find him in his apartment, dead, clearly murdered.
In the meanwhile, Sylvia is freaking out. She’s out on the shelter stoop with her friend, who is tweeting about what she saw. Sylvia asks if her father called the police. When the friend tells her no, Sylvia turns and stabs her friend, and then takes off.
Pastor Joe arrives and shortly after, so do Castiel and Jack. The friend tells them to go to the storage room. Joe finds Valerie unconscious. Sylvia gets the drop on Joe, and the dialog implies that she’s angry because he let her mother die. She’s also angry because she doesn’t think he’s truly preaching the word of God. She’s about to slit her father’s throat when Jack comes in and tries to stop her. She stabs him and he heals himself. When Castiel comes is, he disarms Sylvia and puts her to sleep. Then he heals Valerie. An indeterminate amount of time later, the police arrive to take Sylvia away. The driver in the cop car is Zack, the crossroads demon; he’s finally got something to do.
On the way back to the bunker, Jack confesses to Castiel that when he kills Amara and Chuck, he’ll die, too. He’s a cosmic bomb and he won’t survive. Castiel is devastated. After they get back, presumably hours later, given that Dean’s been asleep, Cas is on his way out again. When Dean stops him, Castiel tells Dean that he needs to find another way for them to kill Chuck and Amara. And then he says, “Dean, in case something goes wrong and I don’t make it back, there’s something you and Sam need to know.”
Before I kvetch . . .
So what did I like about this episode? Many, many things:
- The Touched by an Angel jokes
- Amara’s love of Keno being her weakness
- Jack and Castiel having father-son moments throughout the whole episode.
- Castiel’s habitual exasperation
- Jack’s earnest efforts to be like Cas, Sam and Dean
- Jack’s honest enthusiasm about Marvelous Marvin the Talking Teddy
Basically, Alexander Calvert and Misha Collins steal the episode, along with Beatrice Zeilinger as Sheriff Adams and Adam Beauchesne as Zack. They’re all so good.
In fact, all of the actors rise above the material.
Gimme shelter . . . please
My impatience with this episode, despite its many wonderful moments, is the reason it took me quite so long to finish writing up this blogpost. I found the episode wildly uneven, with dramatic emphasis put in the strangest places. There are whole scenes that, with tighter editing, could have left time for things far more important to the plot. It’s a weak link in what has been, for the most part, a pretty strong season. I lay the blame firmly at the feet of first-time director Matt Cohen.
We get Sylvia stabbing Jack and Jack healing himself. But isn’t he supposed to be avoiding using his powers so Chuck won’t notice him? That’s the way it’s been in a couple of instances throughout the season: Jack uses his powers and there are no consequences.
At the end, after Sylvia stabs her friend, how does the friend know that Sylvia fled to the storage room? Did Sylvia say, “Hey, girl, this is crazy: I’m the killer. Tell them, maybe?”
Great actors but poor editing
We get the appearance of a throw-away demon . . . who then turns up later driving Sylvia away in the cop car. With all the air time given to Zack earlier in the episode, is his driving Sylvia away supposed to mean something? Is it a matter of great import? Why? I found myself wondering if Adam Beauchesne simply gives too good a performance to leave it on the cutting room floor. (I think he does, but that doesn’t lessen the issue.)
We get a great scene with Beatrice Zeilinger as Sheriff Adams. As good as she is—and she’s very good—her scene doesn’t need to be that long either. The sheriff finds speakers in the teddy bear and in a rock in the alley, but later, we hear a voice through speakers again. Were these not collected as evidence? Does Sylvia have an endless supply of tech with which to catch her prey?
We get no clear connection between Sylvia and the IT guy. And yet all evidence seems to indicate that something happened there. Sylvia didn’t magically understand the technology she uses to kidnap and kill her victims. And the word lust is scrawled in blood across the IT guy’s bedroom wall.
In conclusion . . .
We get all these holes in the plot—gaping, Mack-truck-sized holes—that are so big they still irritate me 24 hours later.
So, after a whole episode, we come away with two really important pieces of information: Amara may very well “help” Sam and Dean catch Chuck. And Jack is a cosmic bomb who won’t survive his encounter with Chuck and Amara. Well, and we get a third piece of information—or at least we get an inference: Castiel may sacrifice himself to keep Jack safe. We’ll have to wait and see.
Supernatural in the media
Janna Silverstein is a writer and editor, an all-round professional nerd living in Seattle with two cats, a really big TV, and lots of books. She wishes she could have applied her editing pencil to this episode in a really serious way.