We’ve seen Supernatural hark back to past themes and adversaries this season, and “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” resurrected another old enemy in the form of an escaped Hell Hound with a vendetta. After tearing up an attractive young man on a camping trip, the invisible mutt came after his girlfriend, Gwen, who managed to fend it off with an axe. But this was no ordinary soul-collecting pup. This was Ramsey, the mother of all Hell Hounds, loyal only to Lucifer…
The opening sequence was a typical set-up, with young lovers out in the wilderness being picked off by a monster. But all was not quite as it seemed, because despite the cheesy romantic soundtrack, and an imminent marriage proposal, our “girl of the week” (as Dean called her in a meta reference later in the episode) was about to head off to pursue a career, intending to break up with her smitten boyfriend. Usually when the show mirrors what’s happening in the Winchesters’ relationship with tertiary characters, it’s about as subtle as a brick to the face, but this offering was pretty nuanced, and highlighted how much the brothers have matured over the years.
Gwen’s admission to Sam that she should have simply told her late boyfriend the truth, and that her taking the path of least resistance had gotten him killed, prompted Sam to come clean to his brother about working for the British Men of Letters. The image of Ramsey tearing Gwen’s boyfriend to pieces was a visual reminder of Dean’s deal for Sam’s life back in season 3, the glasses treated with holy oil recalled the season 8 trials, and tethering this episode to those events, set up an expectation of conflict once Sam’s secret was revealed.
But Dean’s reaction to Sam’s confession demonstrated something like growth. He wasn’t happy that Sam had lied, but he understood why. Though Mary was shunned automatically for working with the BMoL, Dean trusted Sam’s judgement enough to put his own misgivings aside. His language of ‘us’ and ‘we’ reinforced the intense bond the siblings have, but where it’s often portrayed as something unhealthy and damaging, “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” presented us with a relationship that, while still insular in the extreme, was more about emotional stability and mutual respect.
Sam and Dean weren’t the only characters demonstrating personal development this week. Crowley too, swallowed his anger about Gavin being sent back in time to his death and came to assist with the Hell Hound issue. His argument was that an escaped beast gave off the wrong signal to his underlings, but we all know he’s secretly quite fond of Moose and Not Moose these days.
Crowley’s disdain for the bureaucracy of the underworld which took him away from the more enjoyable task of making Lucifer’s life, well, Hell, did make me question why he continues with the status quo instead of causing havoc. With a tedious inbox which rivaled mine on an average Monday morning, The King was pleased to have an excuse to go hunting with his best frenemies. I worried that the banality of his kingdom was making Crowley lazy as he left Lucifer unguarded and able to lure some of his demons into setting him free, but I needn’t have. Crowley is smart, and although he played along with Lucifer’s power grab for a bit, The King retained his crown, having warded Luci’s vessel on a molecular level. Clever boy.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the same can be said of Castiel, who was still out tracking Kelly and her unborn spawn of Satan. While investigating a lead on angels being murdered, Cas ran into yet another celestial pal from way back, who convinced our hapless cherub to return to Heaven and petition the angels for help dealing with Lucifer’s kid. Apparently, Heaven is now being tended by Joshua, the gardener of Eden, since Chuck and Amara are off having a little family time. Maybe the show will surprise us, but Cas’ naivety seems to know no bounds, and I can’t help but think this is yet another disaster waiting to happen.
Certainly Castiel’s pursuit of Kelly and Dagon was the least interesting aspect of this episode, and it suffered all the more for being sandwiched between the excellent banter between Crowley and Lucifer, and the brothers. There was a real sense of fun and self awareness this week, something the show has been missing of late. There were high levels of blatant fan service too, from a gore-covered Dean announcing that “Dad would have loved this thing” while brandishing a replica of the baseball Negan wields in The Walking Dead (Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays both John Winchester and Negan), to Dean referencing the ‘Monster of the Week’ format, to the numerous nods to slash pairings: Sam knowing how many pairs of underwear Dean had packed, Crowley and Lucifer getting a little Fifty Shades of Grey in the throne room, and Crowley teasing Dean maybe he’d “rubbed off all over him”!
I’m genuinely stumped as to where this season is headed. There are no signs of the epic consequences Billie warned of, the MoL are still shady af, but with the Winchesters in their collective pocket for now. Crowley seems to have the upper hand over Lucifer, but how long can it last? And Cas appears destined to repeat his mistakes over and over. Perhaps with his son gestating nicely, Luci is set to exit the stage, making room for a new Big Bad? Here’s hoping Supernatural has some reliable directions for the next eight episodes, and isn’t simply spinning its wheels.
Final Grade: B-
+ It was great to see Lucifer getting to stretch his wings briefly. The shadow wings will always be one of my favourite VFX of all time.
+ Gwen was a really good character. I loved her visceral reaction to guilt (throwing up in the car with Sam), and I liked how the show dodged making her a potential lay for Dean. His cross-purposes exchange with Sam about Gwen and the Impala, and Gwen hugging Crowley were fun and refreshing touches.
+ Some great dialogue this week, from Crowley and Lucifer taunting each other, to Sam nagging Dean to clean up, to Dean admitting that working with Crowley was the same as working with the BMoL.
– The Hell Hound VFX were a little disappointing. I appreciated the interesting camera work, but for me the horror of the Hell Hounds lies in their invisibility. Loved the phantom paw prints, but the actual dogs are much scarier left to the imagination.
– Similarly, I will never be happy with the representations of Heaven and Hell. I loathe the playground sandpit portal to Heaven, and I really feel the show has painted itself into a corner with the ‘normalisation’ of these unfathomable realms.
– I love Castiel, but I feel like the writers have no clue what to do with him anymore, and that’s kind of sad.
Extra Thought: We’ve met some of the original princes of Hell. Last week, the alpha vampire was killed, and this week the boys dispatched the original Hell Hound. Could we be clearing the old world order to make way for a new wave of monster? With a thirteenth season on the cards, Supernatural might need a radical shake-up.
What did you think? Did you want to pet this episode to within an inch of its life, or did you want to have it put down? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter!