Supernatural, Season 8, Episode 1: “We Need to Talk about Kevin”
Written by Jeremy Carver
Directed by Robert Singer
Airs Wednesdays at 9pm (ET) on CW
Over the course of the show’s run, Supernatural is a series that has defied expectations, both by taking what was seemingly a simple show about two brothers chasing monsters of the week and making it a mythology-heavy serialized series, and by going five seasons and beyond despite unsatisfactory ratings for much of the show’s run. A major chapter in the show’s history was closed at the end of season five with original showrunner Eric Kripke’s departure, and the ensuing two seasons have seen mixed reviews from both critics and fans, as they have been pockmarked by unremarkable villains and story arcs that didn’t quite flow smoothly. Season 8, however, brings another new beginning, with fan-beloved former staff writer Jeremy Carver returning to assume the showrunner mantle from Sera Gamble. With Season 7 ending on a powerfully dark note, as Dean and Castiel found themselves trapped in Purgatory and Sam was left completely alone following a betrayal by Crowley, Season 8 promises a lot of potential, and the first episode sets that up in some interesting ways.
The choice to jump a year ahead of where the season 7 finale left off is a smart one on the part of the writers. While it would have been interesting to see the Winchester brothers hunting individually, seeing how they adjust without each other, moving forward in time to their reunion allows for some interesting parallels to be drawn. Dean’s disappointment at what he perceives as an abandonment by Sam is perfectly understandable in light of the sacrifice Dean made to bring Sam back in Season 2; at the same time, it’s an interesting parallel to Dean’s return from Hell in Season 4, where his first concern was that Sam had similarly made an ill-advised deal to bring him back. The Winchester brothers have made numerous sacrifices for each other and Dean’s pain upon the realization that Sam hadn’t done the same thing this time around is an interesting glimpse into his psyche that adds to the audience’s understanding of the character.
The opening scene also serves as a very effective way to drive home how many people the Winchester brothers have lost in the fight against the forces of evil. Dean’s first stop upon his last return to Earth, in the aforementioned trip to Hell, was to see Bobby, who has since passed on. Likewise, Dean could not turn to his father, or Ellen and Jo, or even Pamela Barnes or Rufus. Castiel seems to no longer be an option, and neither are Anna, Gabriel, or Balthazar. Crowley’s closing words to Sam in the Season 7 finale, “you are well and truly alone”, ring true in Dean’s instance as well, and it’s a very telling sign of the passage of time in the show as even Sam, two seasons ago, had a support system to lean on upon his return.
The flashback structure the show is using to reveal information on the missing year is also another reason the jump forward in time is effective. While it would have been nice to observe some of the action as it happened, the writers have clearly not lost sight of the importance of revealing what impact the year has had on each brother, and have thus moved forward a lot faster than previous seasons have done. The trauma inflicted on Dean, in particular, is very clear and credit also goes to Jensen Ackles for conveying that so effectively in his performance, as he brings in shades of Soulless Sam with enough regret and desperation to prove that his “keep moving” attitude is masking something deeper.
The seeming inclusion of Kevin Tran in the larger arc of the season is a very interesting choice. The show has, by and large, not explored how innocent bystanders have been affected by the knowledge that supernatural entities, both good and bad, exist, with Jimmy Novak being the most notable exception. As the season moves forward, it will be interesting to see if Kevin has some first-person flashbacks of his own, the way Sam and Dean have had, as he has essentially had a crash course in events, as well as, with Channing’s death this episode, suffered his first loss as result of his new life.
Overall, there is some exciting potential from this season that the premiere episode promised to follow up on. The use of the goblet by the demon to communicate with Crowley was a nice nod to prior seasons, as well as an indication of how powerful Crowley truly has become. Benny, a new character introduced in this episode, may be one of the more fascinating additions to the show, particularly due to the bond he and Dean seem to share, one that seemingly goes beyond the simple mutual benefit scenario that started their alliance. The introduction of Sam’s new partner, Amelia, seems somewhat ham-fisted, as she comes off more grating than confident, but how the show chooses to develop her, particularly in contrast to how Lisa was developed in Season 6, could also be interesting to watch. The burning question from the episode, of course, is what happened to Castiel in Purgatory; as the stalwart angel has come back from the dead once himself as well, the lack of confirmation with regards to his fate is definite proof that the audience has not seen the last of him. There’s plenty of possibilities for the show to return back to form, and if the resolution to the questions presented in this episode are even half as exciting as they promise to be, this will be an exciting season at the very least, which makes tuning in next week more than worthwhile.