Three episodes in, Supernatural‘s sixth season is a mess. “The Third Man” brings our favorite angel Castiel back into the picture, and along with him comes some hackneyed new mythology about the archangels and more McGuffin-like weapons that may or may not be important in the future.
Here’s my problem: If the series wants to get back to basics by telling some monster-powered procedural stories with some new mythology on that front, fine. I was mostly sold on last week’s episode because I felt like the Alpha story could be compelling in a way that the series hasn’t really been before. But this episode suggests that the series also wants to keep telling stories about the ongoings in heaven and how the prevented apocalypse was really just a minor blip that’s turned into all-out civil war.
If “The Third Man” is any indication of how these two (and three, really, if you count whatever is up with Sam) stories are going to come together, we are in for a bumpy, disjointed ride this season. I understand the desire to keep Castiel around because people love him and he is a really great character. To do that, there probably has to be heaven-focused stories, I get that as well.
However, I’m not looking forward to a civil war that we don’t really see happen (this is a worse version of the apocalypse), particularly if it involves more goofy weapons that don’t have that much of an impact. Moreover, there is only so much mileage that the series can get out of the “dick angels” premise before it starts becoming a law of diminishing returns. We know that these beings suck and if nothing changes, well, what’s really interesting about that?
My assumption is that the angels story will somehow intertwine with what is happening on the ground with monsters to exist as some sort of post-apocalypse mess, but thus far, the series is having to work too hard to set all this stuff up that it doesn’t feel like it’s flowing organically from the stories that came before it in a way that the transitions between the other seasons and arcs did.
This episode personifies those issues in obvious ways. Castiel’s return is funny and action-packed in the way we expect it to be, but the episode spends way too much time trying to set-up the exposition of what’s happening in heaven. Some archangels want that douche Raphael to lead so that he can let the apocalypse happen, and others, led by Castiel, obviously don’t want that. In the middle of all the chaos is a Balthazar, an angel who has stolen some of heaven’s greatest weapons and is now selling them downstairs in exchange for souls.
And frankly, that paragraph I just wrote makes this episode sound much, much better than it actually was. The first half is heavy on exposition and set-up before the episode actually gets to Raphael’s return and Balthazar’s introduction, but then neither of these interesting characters is given much to do. Balthazar gets to rant on about how if heaven’s in shambles, there’s no reason to not party down on earth with some weapons and soul-getting. Then Ralph shows up just in time to be destroyed, but not permanently. And then Balthazar is pardoned by Castiel and Sam and Dean are left confused. Me too.
The whole episode felt like set-up or the first part of a great two-part episode, but that’s not the case. It goes a long way in trying to make us remember the situation in heaven, who Raphael is and what angels can/cannot do, but that’s about it. “Third Man” is all about introductions and refreshers, without a whole lot of quality character moments in between.
But even when there are chances for character moments, particularly with Sam and Dean, things don’t really go that well either. They’re back working together, but there’s a load of suspicion on Dean’s part while Sam just goes about his business as a calmer, colder version of his old self. At one point Cas has to unfortunately hurt a kid for information and while Dean is super upset about it because of his past year caring for Ben, Sam doesn’t have time to get caught up in that because it’s a job. And when Dean confronts him on it, Sam basically admits as much. Yeah, he’s been alone just working, with little connection to normal people and so paying for sex and being cold towards little kids is just how it is now.
It’s interesting, I could deal with these three stories being weak individually. I’m fine with some exposition-heavy episodes that explain to us what the Winchesters will be dealing with from heaven. I’m fine with the mysterious actions of the monsters and being dragged along until the purpose is revealed. And I’m even okay with the odd mystery surrounding Sam and his lack of urgency in trying to figure it out. But when you put all three of those mystery-heavy and poorly-executed stories together, they make for the kind of Supernatural that’s not very good. It could very well all some together very soon, but I’m not holding my breath.