Ok first note – if you’re going to call your episode “oh brother, where are thou?” you might as well spring for “art” and go for a full olde English route.
This episode finally upped the stakes on the whole Amarra storyline, far more so than we’ve seen so far. Ok, Amarra has always been powerful and kind of scary – through the King of Hell around and all that, but she was somewhat confined in her antics. Sure she killed people and ate their souls but it was hardly on scale of some of the big bads we’ve seen
Here, the stakes have been raised. The sister of god is bringing her divine wrath to her brother in an epic sibling on sibling fight. In a show that has repeatedly shown epic forces being well and truly epic, Amarra managed to still establish herself as at least on par with what we’ve seen before. She runs amok among churches and street preachers, challenging their faith and becoming increasingly enraged by what she sees as the callous manipulations of god, her brother and his egotistical need to be worshipped (which I really found interesting because “egotistical” is not an unreasonable reading of the Bible. A jealous, angry god who loses his shit at people not giving him proper respect is pretty much canon).
What is also interesting about this is that it does raise the question of how to deal with Amarra because her violence isn’t random and indiscriminate. Her slaughter was expressly to call out her brother. She only targets overt depictions of faith – not to say that’s even remotely good, but it does suggest that the theory that Amarra is going to destroy all of god’s creations isn’t accurate (or isn’t accurate unless god continues to hide behind his creations rather than face her outright).
It’s that theory that leads to another interesting plot line which has been kind of hidden but raising its head this season – the angel alliance. Not the big angels, not even the big names – but common grunt angels allying together. What I found interesting about this is not just their independent direction but also their disrespect of god and their leaders – I think that’s an essential point to raise, include and follow. Various factions, archangels et al have pretty much treated the angels as fodder for the last 6 seasons or so – they’ve had little guidance, less respect and the god they’re supposed to be personally serving is absent and silent even as they’re slaughtered, banished from heaven and generally face badness. The idea of angels stepping outside their hierarchy and doing what THEY think is best rather than what they think god wants them to do is a twist.
Though it is interesting to note that it is the slaughter of angels that actually compels god to finally intervene. It’s worth noting as well that the last (and to my memory only) time that god has directly intervened before was to save Castiel – so while they may be grunts to the slaughter there’s some truth to the idea that angels are special to god and gain his greater regard. I want to see that followed up – both the independence and the worth
Which kind of brings us to the visions. So Sam has been having these visions for several episodes now, happily declaring “it’s god!” while Dean points out it could be dreams, hallucinations or any number of supernatural shenanigans. Sam is insistent, he totally has to have a teta-a-tete with Lucifer in his hell prison because burning foliage told him so.
This has kind of annoyed me. It’s annoyed me that god has chosen now to actually get involved after repeated near-apocalypses and genuine badnesses – it would imply, again, egotism, that he decides to act when it’s his sister and directly aimed at him. But I also liked Dean’s scepticism, it fit the canon of the show that there are any number of other things that could be putting pretty pictures in Sam’s head (and certainly have before).
It also worked that they came up with a logical reason to consult Lucifer – he was there when Amarra was vanquished the first time round. Now we had a decision, a very difficult decision that, yes, went terribly terribly wrong, that actually had a logical pathway and wasn’t just based on Sam’s woo-woo. Equally, they took all reasonable precautions (and, yes, it says a lot that And, yes, I did like that it was all a plot by Lucifer – because even a reasoned decision with precautions can go wrong.) I like the fact that, yes, another decision made by the Winchesters has backfired but at least it was a reasonable decision to make! That’s a refreshing change
What they haven’t developed this episode are the themes they have touched upon all season – the Winchester’s moral compass. We’ve hit a lot of nice episodes touching on their origin, again bringing on themes from their childhood but one thing this season has basically promised us is that the Winchester’s are going to analyse what they do: saving people. Basically are they there to try and help and save people or are they there to kill the big bads? Increasingly we have seen less and less focus on saving people from the Winchesters in recent seasons – it has all been about killing things, often with little regard for whoever else would die. It has also excellently shown repeatedly how far Dean has gone, how dark he has become
I worry that we may be losing that this episode, that by focusing more on this super big-bad we may be losing sight of this really important character development that I really want to see.
Unfortunately the diversity of the series continues to be almost non-existent – even as Rowena (who is an immensely fun character) appears to destroy Crowley’s character and generally be awesome, she is all too often plagued by misogyny. We have Donna making another appearance suggesting she is reaching Jody level inclusion – but really this is it for the women, bit characters and occasional recurring characters every few episodes or once or twice a season. POC rarely see more than the slaughtered Black preacher in this episode – briefly appearing for an episode, background extras but not more – and there’s been no LGBT people or disabled characters.