Review: Supernatural, “Hello, Cruel World”

Sorry for the delay in this review folks. I’ll probably not be talking about Supernatural until Monday this season and I’m still not sure how often I’ll be able to write something at all. Fridays and the weekend are tough.

Holy crap. “Hello, Cruel World” is not only the best second episode in Supernatural’s run, it’s probably one of the best episodes ever. This kind of quality is expected when Ben Edlund pens the script, but “World” is full of the kind of intensity, drama and suffocating feelings of dread that typically define a penultimate episode or perhaps a mid-season finale. I’m very certain that season seven won’t be able to sustain this furious pace over the next 21 episodes, but that’s just fine with me. Putting Sam and Dean in such dire circumstances this early in the season should only mean more compelling storytelling as things progress.

Just for fun, let’s go over all the things that happen or appear to happen in these 41 minutes:

  • Castiel “dies” when his vessel is overtaken and subsequently blown up by the escaping Leviathan.
  • Said Leviathan make their way into the water supply, quickly take over bodies and start raising a whole lot of hell – of which, no one knows how to stop.
  • Sam really starts to lose his marbles and begins to believe that the Lucifer he is seeing is telling him the truth about still being stuck in the cage. Dean helps him regain control, but it’s only a momentary fix. By episode’s end, Sam’s losing it again.
  • Bobby seems to have been blown up inside his house by the Leviathan.
  • Dean breaks his leg while battling the Leviathan.
  • Sam and Dean are stuck on an ambulance headed to a local hospital, one completely controlled by the Leviathan.

Obviously, many of these things won’t stick. Castiel probably isn’t fully dead and at worst, there’s no question that Misha Collins will return in some capacity. I’m almost entirely sure that Bobby isn’t dead either. Dean’s leg will heal and Sam presumably won’t be crazy forever, so they’ll escape the Leviathan at the hospital somehow, some way. The nature of the series tells us that next week will not mean the end of all the lead characters on Supernatural. But great series or great episodes know how to establish and build the tension so well that we’re actually convinced that the terror and dread lead, basically unkillable characters feel is in fact real. This is one of those episodes.

In fact, this episode feels like a legitimate culmination of the entire series somehow. Dean and Sam have been through so many terrible things and somehow made it out the other side every time, usually with the help of Bobby and/or Cas and a series of spells or weapons. But at this point, Sam has lost his mind, Dean can’t walk and the brothers’ two support systems and allies are presumed dead. Meanwhile, an overwhelming foe awaits them and neither brother has any idea how to stop what’s coming. These guys have literally been to hell and back, but never have they seemed to so hopeless and weak. Sam and Dean pushed too hard one too many times and now it sure feels like they’re screwed.

Sometimes it feels like the series lets the characters off too easy, mostly because the narrative has to continue and there’s really no other choice. But for whatever reason, Ben Edlund, Sera Gamble and the rest of the writing staff are clearly interested in making the cumulative consequences of the Winchesters’ battles very real this season. And even if the total execution doesn’t work later, I’m very impressed with the attempt to explore these consequences and how they impact the characters.

And even before the amazing last ten minutes, “Hello, Cruel World” worked very well. As I said last week, I think the series has dramatically improved the visual storytelling representation of Sam’s psychological issues and that only continued here. Mark Pellegrino is clearly having so much fun playing a jovial, but stern Lucifer and the ways in which he screwed with Sam in this episode were very fun. Pellegrino’s work here makes me wish the series handled Lucifer better when he was actually top-side in season five. I also have to hand it to Jared Padalecki. Playing “crazy” isn’t the easiest thing to do and the first thought is to always go to place that is ultimately too showy. However, I like the way Padelacki is playing Sam during all of this. He is aware of his predicament, but can quickly be overwhelmed and confused by it. Jared was solidly intense and believable. As the only actor playing a character not dead or crazy, Jensen Ackles is being asked to hold down the fort and he’s of course up to the challenge. The scene with Dean calming Sam down from Lucifer’s mind-games was thrilling and intense, but also very moving in a way that felt very retro Supernatural. I like that Sam and Dean aren’t lying to one another and the honestly allows for more emotionally resonant scenes between the two of them.

I’m still not sure how to react to all of this. Creating such awful circumstances for the lead characters in episode two is an odd, but completely compelling storytelling choice and although I know the brothers are going to survive, I am very curious about how this impacts the rest of the season. In just two episodes, Dean has shown signs of wanting to give up, how is he going to push forward after he and Sam escape this mess? And Sam is legitimately crazy and short of finding some dumb spell or maneuver in a book, he could be that way forever. How does he push forward? I really can’t answer any of these questions and I literally have no idea what is going to happen next week. Supernatural is a great series and has been for a long time, but I know the rhythms and can usually point out the beats as they come. Right now though, I’m totally at a loss and for a series in its seventh season, coming off its worst overall work, that’s pretty damn impressive.

Other thoughts:

  • The Leviathan design is very simple, but effective. The series really needs a villain (or group of them) that has no real motivation but immediate destruction. Supernatural got away with delaying big moments with Lucifer or Lilith or the Mother because they were always scheming instead of acting. The Leviathan are just straight-up killers and for now, that plays well.
  • This is a weird observation but I kind of can’t wait for the jokes that come with Dean being in a wheelchair or on crutches. I know the severity of his injuries and I also know being handicapped isn’t a joke, but still.
  • I know people are upset about Cas’ “death,” but like I said, Collins will be back in some capacity. And if it’s not as Cas, I think I’m OK with that. I loved Cas a lot, but I’m not really sure what else the series could have done with him at this point. All indications are that the series is moving away from heaven-related storylines and having a super-powered angel on the brothers’ side only serves as a crutch. It’s probably for the best.
  • Bobby seriously isn’t dead, right? There’s no way they killed him off-screen. RIGHT?

 

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