Supernatural Season 15, Act One: Abandon All Hope

We’ve got just two weeks left until Supernatural returns for its final bow. Between now and then, I’ll brings readers up to speed on where Season 15 has gone so far, and offer a little commentary along the way. If Season 15 is a multi-act play, then the first five episodes constitute Act 1. But first, let’s set the stage.

BEWARE: This post is super-charged with spoilers for the end of Season 14 and the first five episodes of Season 15.  If you care about that sort of thing, stop right here.

The end of season 14: Where were we?

At the end of Supernatural’s Season 14 (Episode 20: “Moriah”), Sam and Dean, Jack the nephilim (Alexander Calvert), Castiel the fallen angel (Misha Collins), and Chuck (Rob Benedict) are in a cemetery in Harlan, Kansas. Chuck (a.k.a God) finally shows his hand: Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam Winchester (Jared Padelecki) are his favorite show, nothing more. Their fight, their suffering is all for his amusement. When Dean tells him to go to Hell, Chuck snaps his fingers and immolates Jack’s spirit out of his body. Sam shoots Chuck with the Equalizer—a gun that will not only hurt its target but also its shooter–which wounds Sam as well. In a final move, Chuck declares the story over and says, “Welcome to the end.”

Suddenly our heroes find themselves in the dark. Chuck is gone. Poor Jack’s eyes are burned out and the shadows of his wings are scorched into the earth around him. Dean, disbelieving, observes that Chuck said the Equalizer was the only thing that could kill Jack. Castiel, devastated, says of Chuck, “He’s a writer. Writers lie.” (Well, fiction writers and television writers lie—not your trusty Supernatural commentator.)

Jack awakens to find himself in the Empty. Billie (the exquisitely lovely Lisa Berry)—also known as Death—scythe in hand greets him and says they need to talk.

As for Sam, Dean, and Castiel, the sky cracks with thunder above them. The Earth shakes. The ground splits open and souls erupt from Hell. As the season ends, zombies slowly surround Castiel and the Winchesters.

Hell’s a-Poppin’

Sam fights off zombies | The CW

And so begins Act One of Season 15, which we might call Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.

The first two episodes of the season,  “Back and to the Future” and “Raising Hell” show us Chuck’s idea of a  world after The End. The gates of Hell flung open, souls and demons rise from Perdition, including those whom Sam and Dean put down during the previous 14 years–and that may include the archangel Michael. We watch as a demon named Belphegor inhabits Jack’s body and offers his help, solving the zombie problem as a show of good faith. It’s eerie to watch Belphegor wearing Jack, jauntily donning a pair of white-framed shades to hide Jack’s poor, burned-out eyes.

Together, Sam, Dean, Belphegor and Castiel contain the ghosts around Harlan. In the meanwhile, they work to figure out how to reabsorb the spirits back into Hell and close the rupture God created to let them out. Arthur Ketch (David Haydn-Jones), the former British Men of Letters assassin, shows up to help them out. It turns out that Ketch, as usual, has his own agenda: to kill Belphegor on behalf of a client of his, a demon named Ardat (Sharon Taylor). Rowena the witch (Ruth Connell) comes when the Winchesters call. There’s more than a little chemistry between Ketch and Rowena, and I’m sorry we didn’t get to see where that might lead. The ghost of Kevin Tran the prophet (Osric Chau), who apparently went to hell mostly to serve the plot rather than because he deserved it, also turns up. Each work to solve the problem. Ketch is injured and taken out of the game. Kevin helps but is left to wander the Earth and eventually go mad. That poor kid never got a break. His story, overall, is a tragic one and I hate what the writers did to him (although I suppose it’s consistent with the fate of Biblical prophets).

In the end, it becomes clear that their efforts to close the rupture have failed. The shield they’ve erected around Harlan to contain the ghosts is weakening and our heroes are running out of time. Castiel tries to heal Sam’s wound but something’s wrong; his powers are faltering. The one ray of light in all of this is that it turns out the Chuck, too, is weakened. The wound from the Equalizer has taken his energy down and linked him with Sam. Could this link be useful?

The Turning Point

Sam, Dean, Rowena, Belphegor (wearing Jack’s body) and Castiel are on the case | The CW

From my perspective, Episode 3, “The Rupture,” is a key shift in this first act.

Rowena tries and fails to strengthen the shield cast over Harlan to contain the ghosts and demons; sooner or later they’re going to break free. Belphegor proposes a trip to Hell to retrieve a magical item called Lilith’s Crook to call all the souls back to hell while Sam and Rowena work on a spell to close the rift. Ardat kills Ketch for failing to assassinate Belphegor.

The trip to Hell goes wrong. Ardat tries to kill Belphegor, revealing Belphegor’s betrayal of Cas and the Winchesters. Belphegor wanted Lilith’s Crook for himself. With no option left, Castiel smites Belphegor and escapes Hell.

When Castiel returns with the bad news of his and Belphegor’s failure, only one option remains. Rowena casts a spell that will close the rift, but at great cost. She sends Dean to the rift with a magical bomb. She and Sam cast the necessary spell. That’s when she tells Sam that she will act in the role of Lilith’s Crook, absorbing the loosed souls and demons, taking them to Hell. But it’s Sam who must kill her to do it. Embracing her with genuine affection, Sam does the deed. Walking to the rupture, Rowena absorbs the many souls and demons who have escaped Hell. She then throws herself into the chasm and closes it.

In a fit of grief, Dean blames Castiel for everything that has gone wrong. Unsurprisingly, after abuse and mistreatment, loss of faith and heartbreak, Castiel decides to leave the boys and the bunker and go his own way.

Thoughts on The Rupture

All sorts of ruptures get cracked open in this episode and nothing is the same afterwards. We lose two characters, Rowena and Ketch, both of whom have attained some measure of redemption as well as Winchester affection. Rowena’s death is particularly hard; she is a complex character who has grown and changed in ways we couldn’t have expected. At the same time, the Winchesters lose a powerful ally. Ketch was always a chaotic figure, never 100% trustworthy but, in the clutch, he came through.

Dean and Castiel’s relationship may be irrevocably damaged. Typical Dean: he lashes out in anger at exactly the wrong person in the most hurtful way possible. Castiel looks so hurt, so tired when Dean attacks him. His departure is a healthy though painful choice. But that’s a third ally gone.

The first time I saw this episode, I was just gutted at the end. So much loss for our heroes. But there’s more yet to come.

Signs and Visitations

The fourth and fifth episodes of the season, “Atomic Monsters” and “Proverbs 17:3,” round out what I see as the first act of Season 15. Each episode features Sam having disturbing dreams. In each one, he and Dean are killing each other in some gruesome fashion.

In the meanwhile, they pursue missions. Their first, in “Atomic Monsters,” involves what turns out to be a vampire hunt. In what appears to be the B plotline of the episode, Chuck shows up at the door of an old girlfriend, Becky Rosen (Emily Perkins). Married with two kids, Becky wants nothing to do with him, but Chuck’s having none of it. He insists she help him with his writer’s block.

And here’s where things get interesting. Chuck writes a story—one of his Winchester adventures—and asks Becky to critique it. She tells him, among other things, that the stakes aren’t high enough. When the episode cuts back to the Sam-and-Dean story, the stakes suddenly skyrocket. Chuck’s stepping back into the game, playing with Dean and Sam the way he always has. When Becky’s family shows up, Chuck vanishes them, and when Becky becomes inconvenient, he vanishes her, too. He stays in her home and continues to write.

Sam’s bad dreams pit the Winchester boys against each other | The CW

In “Proverbs 17:3,” Sam continues to have bad dreams. Sam and Dean continue to work cases, but this time, everything seems a little too easy. The case turns out to be a set-up by none other than Lilith (Anna Grace Barlow) herself, on a mission from Chuck to find the Equalizer, last seen at the end of Season 14. The Equalizer can kill anyone or anything, including God–but it has an equal effect on its shooter. She immobilizes the boys, finds the gun and melts it down. Then she tells Sam and Dean that Chuck’s plan all along has been for the story to end with one of them killing the other. This grim news suggests to Sam that his dreams are actually Chuck trying to find his perfect ending. They might be able to use that connection. But Dean is bereft. The only weapon they had to stop Chuck is gone. How, he asks, near tears, can we fight God?

Proverbs 17:3

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
    but the Lord tests the heart.
–New International Version

There’s no question that the fifteenth season of Supernatural is all about free will, testing Sam and Dean’s faith, their relationships, and their loyalty to each other. At the end of this episode, it seems as though all hope is really gone. Act Two of the season starts with the sixth episode of the season “Golden Time,” and that’s where I’ll start my next blog post.

Also: Supernatural In the Media

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