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Analysis

Supernatural: “Gimme Shelter” Trips At The Start

Welcome to the second episode review in our series Supernatural: End of the Road. If you want last week’s review, check it out here. A full-season recap and finale predictions are available for you here

Supernatural continued its return on October 15th with the 15th episode of the 15th season (what a mighty coincidence!), titled “Gimme Shelter.” If last week’s episode “Last Holiday” burst out of the gate, then “Gimme Shelter” definitely tripped on a rock and fell. This late-season episode – only five more left! – felt exactly like the uncreative filler it was. Hey, as least I knew pretty early on what I was getting. So, let’s get to the recap!

“Gimme Shelter” opens with Sam and Dean casually discussing the main plot: if they have to kill God, the “light,” then they have to kill Amara, the “darkness”. Thank you for that exposition, I would’ve never known! Dean seems bothered by the idea of killing Amara – though he’s even more disturbed by the idea of lying to her (weird?). It’s as if the show thinks Dean and Amara have a special, close bond beyond friendship that they worked for seasons to establish, and is just beyond description because of how significant and profound that connection is. 

Why does that sound familiar…

As Sam and Dean prepare to leave for Jersey on the hunch that Amara is in Atlantic City, they encounter Castiel who just walks into the bunker like #YOLO. Team Free Will gets to talking and it is decided that while Same and Dean carry the main plot this episode, Cas and Jack will carry the monster-of-the-week story. The pairs accept their questlines and head to their respective arcs. 

Cas and Jack begin to investigate a few mysterious deaths, which they quickly realize are not monster-related. Cas summons a crossroads demon, Zach, to confirm that demons are not involved in the deaths. Interestingly, we learn from Zach that there are no more crossroads deals to be made, per the new Queen Rowena. I assume this is to close the possibility of the boys making any more deals to resurrect each other. Zach gets in a few funny lines, but is otherwise absent until later.  

Though this is a confirmed non-supernatural matter, our pair of heroes remain to help. And thank Chuck, Cas literally tells us the theme for this episode: “Humans can be the worst kind of monster.” Wow I would’ve never gotten that. Thank you for that wonderful exposition.

The investigation brings Cas and Jack to a charity house that preaches acceptance. Jack infiltrates as a new volunteer, while Cas plays the FBI agent. And here in this middle portion of the episode, the story really fails – it’s clear some real human is abducting and murdering people from this church, but there is no actual foreshadowing to allow the viewer to deduce the killer. The obvious person is the preacher, but it’s exactly that obviousness that deters a seasoned Supernatural fan. I feel they dropped the ball on storytelling in this portion of the episode, in favor of philosophical dialogue that, while neat, didn’t have much to do with the monster-of-the-week. 

The highlight of this plotline was the conversation between Cas and the preacher, when they discussed God. The preacher gave a beautiful line: “A saint is a sinner who keeps trying.” Now that’s what I call good writing!

In its normal course, Supernatural ruined that delicate and nuanced moment by then having Cas stand in a circle of church members and talk about blindly following orders versus thinking for yourself – DO YOU GET IT HE’S TALKING ABOUT BEING AN ANGEL???

One turn of events leads to another, and wow! Wouldn’t you know, the murderer is the preacher’s daughter! She kidnapped, tortured, and murdered at least three people because, uh… her dad made fun of her sick mom? Or something? The exposition on her motive literally happened in about two lines of dialogue while she held what was very clearly a prop knife to her father’s throat, so forgive me if I’m fuzzy on the details. Either way, they end up capturing her, and the preacher learns that Cas and Jack are angels. Cas’s powers to heal are also good now – so maybe he is getting stronger? The daughter is hauled away in a police car driven by THE CROSSROADS DEMON ZACH!! Damn I wonder if this is a plot that will disappear and never be revisited again?

On the ride back from their sidequest, Jack reveals to Cas that in order to kill God and Amara, Jack will have to die. Jack explains that Billie’s spell, which she’s been training him for, is making him into a bomb of cosmic energy. Cas says no, Jack, that was the plot of season 11, certainly there must be another ending planned! Cas is devastated and tells Jack there must be another way. Jack affirms that this is the only way, and that really, it isn’t Cas’s choice what Jack does.

Meanwhile, Sam and Dean discuss the difficulties of tricking Amara. When they take a pit-stop in Pennsylvania, Amara appears, indicating that she could smell their approach (weirdo). The three go to eat at a local restaurant, because Amara likes experiencing new things (???), and for a few minutes we have actual interesting things happening on our screen!

The first half of this conversation happens with Sam, Dean, and Amara. Dean tries to convince Amara to help them cage God, using the fact that he caged her against her. Amara denies the request and explains that one cannot live without the other – that she and God are not only twins, but when they initially separated, they caused the Big Bang.

What even is a retcon?

Interestingly, Amara also notes that she will not cage God because she knows how much that would hurt him, since she was caged; and she knows how much it would hurt her, emotionally, to cage him. This introduces a more subtle theme in this episode of compassion

Rebuked, Sam and Dean return to the Impala. Dean decides to go back and talk to Amara alone. Dean demands to know why Amara brought Mary Winchester back, and lets her know that Mary died. Amara spoon feeds us one major theme regarding Mary Winchester: that she brought Mary back to show Dean (read: the audience) that Mary was just a person, not someone to be idolized (Amara really dislikes the fridging trope). Amara tells Dean she wanted him to realize that “now is always better than then.”

Amara also explains that she thought bringing Mary back would release Dean from his anger. But Jensen Ackles, the glorious acting genius he is, acts his absolute face off when he tells Amara that he is now furious. Dean is able to convince Amara to reconsider helping them, and the human leaves with the promise that Amara will think about it. 

Team free will reconvenes at the bunker later on. Dean encounters Cas, who is on his way out. Cas indicates that he is going to “find another way.” Just before leaving, Cas approaches Dean and says that, if Cas does not return, there is something he must know….

Destiel shippers…

And then the episode ends! Darn cliffhanger!

Themes

“Gimme Shelter” put forward a few themes, most of which were series-long themes that were only mildly present in the episode proper. In comparison to “Last Holiday,” this week’s themes were weaker because it lacked that clear parallel between the microcosm of this week’s story and the macrocosm of the series. 

Castiel told us our first major theme: people are monsters, too. Multiple episodes of Supernatural have dealt with this theme directly. In fact, my favorite episode of the show, “Family Remains,” told the story of a suspected ghost haunting that turned out just to be people committing murders. These episodes are often the scariest because of the monstrosity within all humans. This is related to last week’s theme, the meaning of monstrosity and how free will affects monstrosity. 

Two additional, subtler themes came out in “Gimme Shelter.” The first was stated by the preacher: “A saint is a sinner who keeps trying.” This is part of the larger theme of free will, which is one of our major series-long themes. A viewer can easily see this directly applying to Sam and Dean who, regardless of losing and dying and being pushed down, constantly get back up and try to do the right thing. Indeed, Supernatural often teaches us that the intent to do the right thing is more important than the actual outcome. This may be because our free will allows us to control our intentions, though not always the result. Unfortunately, other than this mention, that theme had very little to do with this episode. 

The second theme came from Amara, in both her description of why she would not help cage God and why she brought back Mary: the meaning of compassion. Personally, I think the meaning of compassion, as a theme, is often the opposite of the purpose of revenge. Supernatural gives us plenty of revenge themes, especially in the first five seasons. Compassion is revenge’s lesser shadow – ironically, maybe, in the same way Amara is God’s darkness. As the series has progressed and (problematically) as the series gained more female characters, compassion became a more prominent theme. Amara hit directly on it in her refusal to hurt someone in the way she was hurt. Normally in this show, that would be a prime moment for revenge, which is what Dean tries to use to get Amara to act. Amara’s explanation for bringing back Mary also calls into question compassion. Was it really compassionate to revive Mary Winchester, and break the illusion for Dean of his saintly mother? Is reality better than the vision? I am curious to see if this thought process goes anywhere. And again, like the other subtler theme, besides Amara saying it, it does not come up in the action of this episode. 

Destiel Time!

Alright, let me get to my dessert: Destiel.

Friends. Family. Supernatural community. I am going to say something controversial: if you genuinely think Dean and Amara have a significant connection that is at minimum quasi-romantic or minimally sexual, but you do not think Dean and Castiel do, then your homophobia is showing. 

The “connection” between Dean and Amara is one of the show’s most informed of informed attributes. We have been told since season eleven that they have a connection, but otherwise, have not been shown it. It was neato for Amara to bring back Mary, but that obviously didn’t add to their connection, since Dean is not happy about it. Nothing on screen has supported this strong connection between Dean and Amara. 

So, I say again, if you genuinely think Dean and Amara have a strong, supernatural connection, then you must accept that Dean and Castiel have an even stronger connection. And if you think the Dean/Amara connection is remotely romantic or sexual, then the Dean/Cas connection is absolutely romantic and sexual. I’m not sorry if you’re offended – this is what the text supports. 

I stand by my original assertion that this is the time and place to admit a main character is LGBTQ+, and that Dean Winchester is the character to do it with. I noted in this episode Jack mentioned casually having “more dads than most” as his family unit. This is an extraordinary line for a television show that started in 2005, that was originally all about guns and hunting and killing and women, and other borderline toxically masculine traits. This show has grown far beyond its original outline, and the audience must – and the show must – recognize what it has developed in its own text. I’m interested to see how they fail to do this in the final five episodes. 

Overall Rating

Back to my arbitrary scale of one through ten, I’m giving this a solid 5. It wasn’t good. I also wasn’t embarrassed to be watching it. Right in the middle makes sense to me!

Does anyone know why this episode was called “Gimme Shelter”? If you have ideas, please drop them in the comments! And join us next week for a review of season 15 episode 16 of Supernatural.

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    Caroline is a lawyer by day, geeky media fan and critic by night, afternoon, and lunch hour. Caroline enjoys long walks on quiet beaches so she can mentally over-analyze fictional characters and settings, and candlelit dinners that don't cause a glare on her TV screen.

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