“Well, whenever there’s a world-ending crisis at hand, I know where to place my bets. It’s on you, you big, beautiful, lumbering piles of flannel.” — Crowley, “All Along The Watchtower”
If there’s one word that can describe Supernatural‘s twelfth season, it’s “surprising”. It was surprising how the show had not just one, but two major “big bads” to contend with, the unpredictability of who would get killed off and how, the difference between the worst of the seemingly slapdash “monster-of-the-week” episodes and the well-crafted, major plotline-heavy episodes, and now finally, it surprised us with this double-header season finalé that not only sufficiently resolved those main plots, but also opened a huge Pandora’s box that leaves us questioning the entire future of the series itself.
The first half of the finalé, entitled “Who We Are” picks up where we left off last week, with Sam (Jared Padalecki ) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) trapped inside of their bunker with Lady Bevell (Elizabeth Blackmore). Their most obvious option is to use some type of magic spell to get out, but the British Men of Letters (BMOL) apparently put some sort of “magic block” over the place, rendering any spells or the invoking of their magical superfriends null and void. So, upon discovering that one of the bunker’s back walls is made out of concrete instead of reinforced steel, and leads to a sewer pipe that goes up to the surface, the brothers start attacking it with pickaxes.
Their efforts use up too much of the already-thinning air, so Dean comes up with a wacky solution. He blasts their way out with a grenade launcher. (Let’s stop right here for a minute and appreciate how the show has teased the use of this rocket launcher throughout most of the season, including two weeks ago, when Dean stated that he was “dying to use it, but hadn’t found a use for it yet”.)
Upon leaving the bunker, Sam, Dean, and a handcuffed Bevell receive a phone call from Sheriff Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes). Apparently, Mary (Samantha Smith) has been on a mission to destroy all American hunters, but she’s no match for Jody and Alex (Katherine Ramdeen), who have her tied up in their living room.
The brothers have only kept Bevell alive up to this point because she told them that she’s the only person who can un-brainwash their mother, but she wasn’t completely honest. All she can do, in exchange for being allowed to live and return to her son, is hook a drugged Dean up to a machine that will enable him to enter his mother’s psyche, in the hopes that he can convince her to return to her old self. This isn’t the first time that one of the Winchesters has had to enter someone’s mind or an unconscious dream world, but if you think about it in relation to the rest of the finalé, it’s a hint that the show might go into a more fantastical, unconventional direction in season 13.
Mary’s mind palace, as to be expected, is the old Winchester home, with her tending to an infant Sam and a toddler Dean while wearing a white sundress. The actual Dean calls out to her, but she pretends not to notice.
Many viewers have criticized Mary’s personality towards her boys in this season as being cold or uncaring. We got some kind of insight into her behavior in “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox”, when she revealed that she missed the simulated life she had in Heaven and just wasn’t ready to deal with the fact that her sons were now adults. Still, her distant nature was especially disconcerting to long-term fans of the show, whose previous experience of the character was that of a tragically deceased saint.
Dean echoes these thoughts in his annual “emotional finalé moment of impressive acting” by stating that he hates her for making bad decisions and leading them into a sad, challenging life, yet still loves her for all she means to him, and is willing to put the past aside so they can all fight together as a family. She finally looks him in the eye, but Dean finds himself yanked out of her psyche by a gun-toting Mr. Ketch (David Haydn-Jones)!
Prior to this, Sam had his own “emotional finalé moment of impressive acting” by convincing a room full of American hunters — including Jody, Alex, Roy (Kerry van der Griend) and Walt (Nels Lennarson) (from the season five episode “Dark Side of the Moon”) and a handful of others either never shown on screen before or weren’t shown long enough for the average viewer to remember them — that they all need to band together and battle the BMOL to the death, if need be. (It’s a little weird that a lot of the hunters we’ve met in recent episodes like Claire [Kathryn Newton] and Garth [DJ Qualls] aren’t here.)
There’s even a moment when the brothers show some growth in their relationship, by having Dean give his blessing for Sam to lead the fight without him, supposedly because of his injured leg and the time he needs to revive Mary. Considering all of the time this series wasted on either one of these two being mad at the other for keeping secrets or doing something without permission, this is a sign of progress.
Castiel (Misha Collins) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) in “All Along the Watchtower” episode
Sam’s raid of the American outpost of the BMOL is surprisingly effective. There’s a quick shootout, a lot of running through flashing corridors, and few causalities. When Sam and Jody reach Dr. Hess (Gillian Barber), however, she tries to pacify them with supposedly exclusive knowledge on Lucifer’s (Mark Pellegrino) whereabouts, but thankfully, Sam doesn’t fall for it. Jody shoots her in the head, and the hunters victoriously leave the rather unimpressive-looking building before it explodes. There’s presumably many displeased BMOL agents and leaders back in Britain, but that will have to wait until next season (or even later).
Back at the bunker, while Dean and Mary were sleeping, Ketch slit Bevell’s throat, making her the first of seven major deaths in the finalé. Instead of just shooting the both of them right then and there, he makes the usual evil villain mistake of waking Dean up just to tell him about his nefarious plans, and Mary ends up vindictively shooting Ketch multiple times, thus killing him.
The reunited Winchester family hugs, but talk quickly turns to how to find and defeat Lucifer. Sam calls Rowena (Ruth Connell) for help but hears Lucifer boasting about how he has apparently turned her into a pile of ashes. Her off-screen death seems particularly harsh for such a well-known character, but it does also leave us with the possibility that she might not really be dead.
Her son, Crowley, appears at the bunker in his usual form and doesn’t seem to care. He’s angrier at the demons who stood by and watched him die. (As most viewers suspected, Crowley was able to transfer himself into a rat, and then dug himself, in his original body, out of the ground.) This time, he promises to not only help the Winchesters, but also close the doors to Hell, not just because it is in his own best interest, but also because he demands payback.
Meanwhile, Castiel (Misha Collins) has been busying himself by buying diapers, putting a crib together, and taking online doula classes. Kelly (Courtney Ford) plans on naming her son Jack and makes loving videos for him to watch when he gets older. This nice break from the action doesn’t last long, however, as a yellow trail leaves her body and forms into a mysterious floating streak of light in their front yard.
The Winchesters find this cabin in the woods because this streak of light causes various electronic problems that get reported in a local newspaper. (This is quite a big reach, but it does speed the plot along.) Castiel doesn’t seem possessed, as he’s happy to see them and quickly heals Dean’s leg. He’s even lucid enough to be concerned about the floating streak, describing it as “a tear in space and time”, and showing the brothers that it’s a portal to an alternate universe. In this case, it’s a world without Sam and Dean, in which the Apocalypse actually happened, and Uncle Bobby (Jim Beaver) spends his days dressed like a solider, shooting various winged demons and evil angels with a Calico Arms M-900 9-mm rifle that shoots bullets made out of “old angel blades”.
Now that the series has introduced the concept of alternate dimensions, anything is possible. The show has dabbled in some ridiculous scenarios before (one of which was even mentioned by Dean when he said, “You mean like that one where the supernatural wasn’t real and Sam is Polish?” [season six’s “The French Mistake”), but these were somewhat plausibly explained by pranks, dream sequences, or the work of mind-altering monsters. Could the show be headed in a more surreal, experimental direction? Considering that all we currently know about the upcoming season is that there will be a special animated crossover episode with characters from Scooby-Doo, we’re left wondering whether or not this will make the show better (by expanding its universe and giving us fresh material) or worse (getting too bizarre or hard to follow).
Inside of the cabin, Mary helps Kelly through her labor pains. Sensing the arrival of his son, however, Lucifer appears just as Sam and Dean return to the real world. He threatens them all, but before he’s able to do anything, Lucifer gets pushed into the alternate dimension. Dean attempts to shoot him with Alternate Bobby’s rifle, but it only momentarily stops him. Luckily, Crowley is on hand to assist with a spell that will close the door to this alternate world, leaving the devil locked inside. The spell needs a sacrifice, however, and in a completely selfless (and totally surprising) move, Crowley stabs himself to death with a demon blade in order to make it happen. Sam and Dean leave, but Lucifer somehow follows behind them and stabs Castiel to death. Just then, Mary, armed with her Enochian brass knuckles, beats the devil back into the alternate dimension but finds herself trapped in there with him.
Finally, as Dean grieves over Castiel, Sam discovers Kelly’s lifeless body, and a set of large, burning footprints. He follows the trail to a dark room, where someone or something with large yellow eyes growls (Alexander Calvert).
All in all, “Who We Are” and “All Along the Watchtower” made for a perfect Supernatural finalé. While I hope that we really didn’t lose such fan favorites as Castiel, Crowley, and Rowena, their deaths did make sense in the context of the plot. The episodes manage to address and close most of season 12’s main plots, yet offered enough interesting twists that leave us anxious to see what happens next.