A few days ago, I wrote about how Supernatural should probably be canceled. This doesn’t mean that I hate this season or even strongly dislike this season. But if the whole season was full of episodes like “My Heart Will Go On,” I probably wouldn’t have written that piece to begin with. This is a very, very good episode of Supernatural, one that mixes a whole lot different genres and tropes together, but ultimately hits a nice little emotional beat at the end. Of course, there have a handful of other stand-out episodes this season (most notably “The French Mistake” and “Weekend At Bobby’s”) and the rest of the season could completely continue to stumble around aimlessly, but I am really hoping that “My Heart Will Go On” is the kind of catalyst for a high-quality endgame.
For my money, the best episodes of Supernatural are the ones that start off with some sort of wildly cool, interesting gimmick that mixes in narrative complexity and humor, but eventually gets around to making more of an impact. When I read the logline for this episode and discovered that it was about Balthazar going back in time and saving the Titanic from sinking and therefore screwing up the subsequent timeline, I literally laughed out loud. That’s such a gloriously goofy premise that only Supernatural (and maybe Fringe) would try at this point and even though I was a bit troubled that the writers were still jam-packing the season with high concepts without discussing the larger concerns like the Mother of All Things, I was pretty convinced that this episode would be awesome. Thankfully, I was correct.
“My Heart Will Go On” feels like a familiar episode. In a lot of ways, it’s a mix of “Mystery Spot,” “Tall Tales” and “Bad Day at Black Rock” with a little bit of Final Destination mixed in but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. People start dying mysteriously and in shockingly elaborate ways that involve a lot of coincidence and serendipity, so the boys go to check it out. In their…Mustang? Meanwhile, Bobby stays at home, depressed over accidentally killing Rufus when he was under the spell of that creepy worm thing in the last episode. Thankfully, he has his wife Ellen to comfort him. WAIT WHAT?! Here’s the rub: Balthazar did in fact go back in time and stop the Titanic from sinking (he joined the crew as a first mate named I.P. Freely), which led to the survival of all the people and the subsequent births of somewhere near 50,000 new souls and screwing up certain parts of history, such as Ellen and Jo actually being alive. Now, one of the three sisters of Fate (of course they’re women!) is coming to collect and put the timeline back on track. Just that as a premise is enough to sustain an entertaining episode of Supernatural and throughout the first 25 minutes or so, this one was filling those requirements. Balthazar is such a fun antagonist to mess around with, and his childish, selfish demeanor makes the stupidity of his decision seem completely valid.
But this episode doesn’t stop there, as it’s revealed that Balthazar actually did all this at the behest of Castiel, who needs more souls for the war that’s going on in heaven. Souls are very, very valuable these days and the more he has, presumably the more firepower he can use in whatever capacity he needs them. Not only is this a nice additional layer of stakes to the episode, but it serves as fine beat for Cas’ development. We’ve heard all season about how terrible it is up there in heaven but seen very little of it, and although we still don’t actually get a direct view into the pearly gates, it’s nice to see a version of Cas who is willing to do some pretty sketchy things in hopes of winning a war. His move suggests that things are starting to get REALLY bad up there and this is a major, last resort sort of decision. Additionally, it seems that one of the Fate sister’s decision to try to take out Sam and Dean has less to do with their interference in her Titanic-related killings and more to do with the fact that they caused and then stopped the apocalypse, which has left her without much to do since the world, both upstairs and down, is still in major chaos. It’s always fun to be reminded of how much Sam and Dean have screwed up the world, but I was especially happy that this episode brings up the continued state of awfulness. That was a major theme at the beginning of the season when the series seemed more to be humming along a bit better, so I’m hoping that the general chaos and confusion that everyone, from Sam and Dean to Castiel to the monsters and demons, feel continues to permeate through the final five episodes. Even though the series doesn’t have the budget to actually show this chaos, it seems to be much better at telling those sort of larger-scale stories than they are the smaller stuff with Sam and his hell-wall or whatever you want to call it.
And finally, this episode had a nice emotional punch to it as well. Bringing back Ellen was an effective reminder of both how awesome she is and why they probably should have never killed her to begin with, but I liked that they paired her up with Bobby. That just feels right. Numerous times throughout the episode, characters talk about the difference between dying a horrible death and never existing in this form at all and that’s a really compelling question that I sort of wish Supernatural would explore across multiple episodes. Cas lets Sam and Dean remember the alternate timeline so they can see what it means to have free will and fight against fate and that only sort of works because it’s an underdeveloped beat thrown in to tie up the episode so Cas doesn’t have to tell the truth about his actions. However, what’s really important is that Dean and Sam remember Ellen and Jo being alive again and subsequently have to recall the circumstances at which they, and so many other people, have died because of their actions. They sure as hell save a lot of people, but they’ve watched a lot others die too. It’s a small, but effective beat that makes this good episode even better. Let’s just hope the rest of the season is as successful at mixing cool gimmicks with narrative importance and emotional impact.