It's hard to believe that Supernatural is being forced to endure another long hiatus this season, but that's exactly what is happening. At least this episode manages to bring the season to a momentary pause with style. This story follows the Ben Edlund pattern to near perfection: starting with the absurd and ending with a crushing darkness.
When the show returned with "Sam, Interrupted", I noted that the message was a lot more negative and foreboding than at first glance. Dean's insistence that Sam bury his anger and focus on the mission was a reflection of his own crumbling defense mechanism, and it's obviously not working well for him. He's falling apart at the seams, and Famine's observation about the emptiness of his soul was not just a metaphor. Dean hasn't been whole in a long, long time.
Throughout this episode, I thought it was interesting how Sam's anger and resentment was beginning to boil to the surface again. It's always there to some extent, but it was a direct follow-up to "Sam, Interrupted" and the fact that Sam is even less likely to contain his negative emotions. For all that the Brothers Winchester look like they're holding it together and keeping up the fight, they are about as close to falling apart as it gets.
Dean, in particular, is a complete mess. He's not even trying to hide it anymore. All that exhaustion, both physical and spiritual, is killing him. The expression on his face throughout the final act of this episode was heart-wrenching. I don't think we've ever seen him so lost. When Dean Winchester, the once-proud atheist, is begging God for help, you know he's at the breaking point. It's not going to take much more for him to give up completely.
And that's exactly why I felt like the previous episode was all about Michael's bid to play on Dean's hopelessness. Michael all but tells Dean that he has no option left but to submit. And Dean is to the point where he's hanging on to resistance by one tiny thread. Michael wants Dean to believe that free will is an illusion, because once Dean accepts that there is no other option, it's just a matter of time.
Dean's supplication in this episode is also another sign that the writers are preparing to introduce the God factor before all is said and done. If Dean is meant to resist, and the writers aren't just dragging out the moment when Dean and Sam submit to their apparent destiny, then it makes sense that God would wait until both of them feel like there's nothing left. Otherwise, God just becomes one more authority telling the brothers what to do. Sam and Dean have to be at a point where they are ready to hear what their true role was always meant to be.
While I'm not looking for "Supernatural" to become a polarizing Christian commentary by any means, I think the writers have opened that door a long time ago. There's a certain endgame that has to play itself out now. And since the spiritual world of "Supernatural' plays by very different rules, it's not the standard approach.
Yet at the end of the day, this series has been about the characters and their deep psychological issues. And at this point, those issues are threatening to overwhelm them. Michael and Lucifer aren't promising to resolve those issues for Dean and Sam; they intend to use those issues against them. Even if Michael wins and lets Dean go, safe and sound, that crushing hopelessness is unlikely to disappear. And Lucifer wants Sam to be angry, because an angry Sam doesn't think things through all that well.
So this presents the perfect opportunity for God to step in and offer something the brothers can't find themselves: restoration. A chance to be healed of the wounds that are killing them from the inside. Even if God just comes along to tell the Brothers Winchester that it will all work out in the end, just to give them a sense of hope to work it out themselves, that could be enough. Because while I see God as a factor in the final equation that resolves this massive story arc, I also believe that the entire series comes down to the power of humanity's free will.
This is supported more and more by the nature of the demons, the angels, and now the Horsemen. Demons take individual control of humans, possessing them and forcing them to act against their will. Angels require that a human voluntarily hand over control. The Horsemen act on a much more substantial level, co-opting the masses towards self-destruction. All of these actions boil down to the same critical point: the elimination of the individual's ability to make a rational choice.
Famine's ability is particularly gruesome. Based on a clever interpretation of Scripture, Famine takes the hungers and vices of human beings, pushing them to lethal excess. As disgusting as the gorging of food was, time and again, the opening sequence is the most psychologically disturbing. I'll give Edlund credit for presenting common expressions of lust and taking them to a gruesome literal end.
The episode was not all darkness; the scene with the Cupid was hilarious and disturbing in one demented and brilliant stroke. Again, we see an example of an angel, however low-level, essentially co-opting human free will. It's presented as a matter of course, a matter of helping things along as they would naturally progress, but it still begs the question. As with so much of recent genre television, the debate between pre-destination and free will continues.