The middle section of Supernatural’s last season has been a bit of a slow burn, with many fans chomping at the bit to get to find out what happened to Jack, to revisit Castiel’s deal with The Empty, and to lead up to the final showdown with Chuck. In the meantime, December brought us some unusual story arcs (for this show) and gave us a little more backstory on what fandom likes to call “the Stanford years”, when Sam was at college and Dean was hunting on his own. Or was he?
The maybe-romance part of the story has been the return of Eileen Leahy, played by the super talented Shoshannah Stern. There have been a few blatant mistakes that Supernatural has made over its long run which I’ve never been able to rationalize away (even though I’m pretty damn good at rationalizing blatant mistakes away at this point), and one of them was killing off Eileen. Offscreen no less. Not only was the character beloved by most of the fandom, but as a deaf hunter, Eileen was immensely important in terms of representation too. It would have been fine to have her off doing her own thing hunting, as she’d been doing successfully for so long, but it was another to kill her off for the emotional pain it would bring the Winchesters.
Similarly, the killing of Charlie, in terms of fan favorite Felicia Day and in terms of a queer character who many many fans related to strongly, was another of those mistakes that there’s really no rationalizing. As the show nears its end, there has been an effort to undo a few of those mistakes. Returning Charlie (and Bobby) as AU versions was a failure in my book, because they were not Charlie and Bobby. The thing that made them beloved characters to us was their relationship with the Winchesters; the AU versions had no Winchesters in their world, so there was no relationship to have.
This time, the show got it more right. Eileen came back as actual Eileen, having been freed from Hell when Chuck opened the doors. There was a little retconning needed to explain why she went to Hell instead of Heaven, but handwave. I was super excited to see Eileen back and to have Shoshannah on my tv screen again. I was, I admit, surprised that a maybe-romance immediately began between her and Sam considering the dire straits they’re in with Chuck right now. I liked their friendship in previous episodes, and there did seem to be a bit of a spark there, but it felt odd from a story line perspective to start up a romance story line now, halfway through the final season. It also makes me very nervous that Eileen will once again be killed; I would have felt better about her survival odds if she remained a hunter and ally and friend and did her own thing instead of moving in with the Winchesters.
The cast was ecstatic to have her back too, and have been learning more sign language between takes.
I’m not entirely sure the romance is an actual romance, thanks to Sam’s ambivalent response every time Dean tries to question him about his relationship with Eileen. That’s not the expression of a man who’s head over heels in love, though he looks like he’s reluctant to admit that to Dean. But when Dean says he tried the settling down thing, and found it wasn’t for him, Sam agrees.
What’s really going on?
It was also a pretty whopping coincidence that Sam picked up Rowena’s spell book and the spell to bring just one person back to life immediately fell out. When we left Sam and Eileen, they had been tricked into meeting up with Chuck, so…. I’ve got a bad feeling about all this.
Just don’t kill Eileen again, Show!
One of the most important outcomes of Sam being able to ‘cure’ Eileen was that it’s a rare win for Sam, who is still traumatized by having to kill Rowena a few episodes prior. This season, the Winchesters and Castiel have had precious little triumph in their lives, and Sam really needed this one.
The bromance part of the mid-season episodes came in the form of a guest star appearance for a long-time real life friend of Jensen Ackles, actor and singer Christian Kane. Many Supernatural fans are also Kane fans, so it was a treat for fandom – and clearly a treat for Ackles, who seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.
There’s fandom controversy over whether or not Dean Winchester can actually sing (we know Ackles is a bona fide rockstar in real life, with a brand new album out no less), but in this episode canon was that he can – and did. There’s no question that Ackles and Kane were having the time of their lives being able to sing together on Jensen’s show, with lots of grins and a butt slap for good measure. Some fans have been lucky enough to see Jensen and Christian sing together in real life back in the day, so this was an especially sweet merging of real life and television. The I’m-not-sure-I-can-do-this hesitation from Dean was straight out of Ackles’ own early onstage presentation, and it was frankly adorable.
The episode was made even better because the band backing up Lee and Dean is made up of actual long-time Supernatural crew members, who have performed at season finale parties with Ackles.
First-time Supernatural writer Jeremy Adams also tossed in some meta commentary, throwing in a reference to Ackles’ ad libbed performance of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ in an episode. I’m always grateful when we get a little backstory on our favorite characters, and ‘Last Call’ delivered on that front too. Seems when Sam was at Stanford, Dean and John did some hunting with Lee (Kane). The two not only respected each other as hunters and fighters, but they also shared some other experiences – including a wild night with triplets. Lee’s boast that they “split ‘em up, fair and square” seems to imply that there were threesomes (or fivesomes?) involved, and both Lee and Dean look pretty happy recalling that night. As were the triplets, I’m sure.
Adams blessed the fandom with lots of behind the scenes content, including a series of shots of Jared and Jensen “welcoming” him.
Of course, the reunion turns tragic, because this is Supernatural and Dean has to rediscover his motivation for hunting and get the hell back to it, so Lee turns out to be siphoning good fortune from a captive monster who he supplies with fresh blood. Dean’s included.
It was a heartwrenching scene when Dean is forced to kill his old friend, but it has the desired effect – Dean Winchester is back in the game. And not a moment too soon.
Sam and Dean have been on the same page most of this season, but Castiel and Dean are another story, which was the third arc playing out over the midseason episodes. Call it romance or call it bromance, depending on how you like to watch the show, but Dean and Cas have a dramatic spat. Cas leaves the bunker and goes off on his own, a scene that broke the hearts of many a shipper. He too realizes that he needs to get back in the game in this episode, however, returning to the bunker and attempting to cure Sam of his lingering wound from the God gun. That doesn’t go so well, but we got the return of truly badass take-no-shit Castiel, which is my favorite version.
Sam eventually recovers and Team Free Will is united, more or less. (As Queen Rowena points out from her newly acquired throne in hell, Dean and Cas still need to “get over it”).
The final episode before mid season hellatus was also a bromance of sorts. First we had the triumphant return of Rowena, which made me cheer and actually gasp when she reappeared because holy hell!
Then we had the return of the Winchesters’ half brother, Adam, who has been an ongoing joke in the fandom and with actor Jake Abel (“still in hell”…). Abel is an amazing actor, and he blew everyone away (including Ackles and Padalecki) in every scene. I loved the surprising twist that Adam and Michael had come to an understanding in the Pit and actually bonded – an atypical bromance, to be sure, but one that seems to be working for both the human and the archangel. Michael’s evident affection for Adam and their mutual respect was clear, and refreshing.
So, where does that leave us? As the show returns from its mid season hellatus (the last one ever…sob…) Sam and Eileen are confronted by Chuck, and Dean and Castiel are once again headed to Purgatory to try to find ingredients for the spell that will take Chuck out. And I think the slow burn is finally going to kick into high gear. Hang on for the final portion of this wild ride!