Supernatural: Season 11, Episode 1 - "Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire"
Despite the overly familiar villains and plotlines, the season premiere proves that Supernatural is still capable of a few surprises.
SupernaturalAirtime: Wednesdays, 8pm
Cast: Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins, Mark A. Sheppard
Subtitle: Season 11, Episode 1 - "Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire"
Air date: 2015-10-07
Supernatural starts its 11th season with an energetic montage set to Creedence Clearwater Revival's “Run Through the Jungle”, but then “Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire” slows way down, and pretty much maintains that narrative pace for most of the episode.
Season ten ended in a cliffhanger that didn't totally shock long-term fans, as Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) managed to remove the “Mark of Cain” from his brother Dean (Jensen Ackles), while Dean killed the Horseman of Death (Julian Richings), resulting in both brothers unleashing “The Darkness” -- a mysterious, most likely evil, force dating back to the beginning of time. Some fans have complained that this concept is too similar to ideas explored on series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the First Evil storyline of season seven) and Dominion (a series about archangels waging war on humans), but as the producers of Dark Shadows will happily tell you, there are only so many different “monster” plots a show can do.
Actually, Supernatural's main problem with this particular plot development is that so much of it seems ripped from its own previous seasons. The Darkness (Emily Swallow) appears as a young, dark-haired woman; much like seasons three and four's high-level demon Lilith and season eight’s “Mother of All Demons”. Like Ruby the demon (Katie Cassidy) in season three, the Darkness is initially friendly towards Dean, promising to help the brothers whenever possible and (likely) feigning ignorance about the death of Death and the battle of good vs. evil.
Besides the Darkness, Sam and Dean must deal with some mysterious infection turning people into murderous psychopaths before killing them (not unlike the Croatoan virus in seasons one and five). The angel Castiel (Misha Collins) finds himself severely injured and not in complete control of his actions (similar to the state he was in after absorbing all the souls in Purgatory and declaring himself “God” in season seven), due to the spell cast on him by the witch Rowena (Ruth Connell) in last season’s finale. When he calls out for help, he's kidnapped by not-so-well-meaning angels -- another twist that won’t surprise long-time viewers. Finally, King of Hell Crowley (Mark A. Sheppard), despite being attacked in the finale by the spell-possessed Castiel, is not dead, although he does briefly possess an unsuspecting woman’s body for an orgy/bloodbath jarringly set to Tom Jones' “It's Not Unusual”.
Near the end of the episode Sam tells Dean: “Hunting things? We're good at that, sure, we're great at that, but... that's only half of the bumper sticker, man.” For the first few seasons of Supernatural, one quote was almost always used in the “previously on” segment: Dean telling Sam that their job is “Saving people, hunting things. The family business” (“Wendigo” [1.3]). That’s the “bumper sticker” Sam refers to, repeated so often it’s practically a cliché. Supernatural has always been a show aware of its constructedness and limitations. Yet, in an episode with so many familiar elements, Sam unexpectedly says: “If we don't change, right now, all of our crap is just gonna keep repeating itself.” This subtle moment allows Supernatural to (yet again) break the fourth wall to remind its fans not to give up on being surprised and impressed by the show just yet.
Indeed, the episode does offer a few surprises. In its final moments, we find out that the Darkness has the same “mark of Cain” that nearly killed Dean; she tells him that she and Dean are “connected”. Further, just as we thought Officer Jenna (Laci J. Mailey) and baby Maura were one-off characters with a somewhat happy ending, we discover that Maura also has the Mark of Cain. Does this make her the Darkness itself, as Crowley suggests in the promo for next week? Plus, now that Sam's infected with the same black vein virus/condition that killed the others, what does this mean for his character's future?
Fans waiting for more than four months to see what happened after the Darkness escaped last season might have found the episode's slow pace and unresolved plot a little frustrating. The new direction foreshadowed by Sam’s words, however, raises my expectations for next week's episode, not to mention everything else the new season will bring.