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Supernatural "Black" Has a Great Hook That Doesn't Quite Stick

Marshall Lemon | 8 Oct 2014 14:00
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Making Dean into a demon is a stroke of genius. Supernatural has long implied that Dean is a great monster hunter because he's a failed human being, so emotionally damaged that he can't fit into normal society. "Black" takes this point to its natural conclusion, literally making Dean into a monster he'd usually hunt. Sam was the only thing keeping Dean from fully losing his humanity, and thanks to Crowley and Cain's Mark, now he doesn't even have that.

So what does Dean do with these newfound abilities? Become a prince of hell? Hunt monsters more effectively than ever? Or spend most of his screen time drinking, getting laid, and badly singing karaoke? Supernatural goes with the latter option, which starts off amusing, but quickly gets old. Dean still has a few brief fights with demonic rivals, but the overwhelming theme of the episode is that being a demon has made him more washed-up than a badass monster should be. Don't get me wrong, it's a great character moment and metaphor for Dean's well-established depression. But for a show about monster hunters fighting demons, it really slows the pace down. Supernatural is at its absolute best when it balances character developments with monster encounters, and this episode doesn't quite strike that chord.

Still, I'm not sure I can fault "Black" for that. Supernatural premieres tend to be the weakest episodes of each season, focusing on long-term plot points instead of self-contained stories. The concepts introduced here will probably have great payoffs later, but for a first chapter, watching Dean drink and misbehave gets weary after a while. The subplots are a little more balanced, such as Castiel tracking down rogue angels who want to be left alone. The episode also introduces a seemingly human villain with a personal beef against Dean, but doesn't take much time exploring why that is. It's almost like Supernatural planned a two-hour premiere where this all went somewhere, but only gave us the first half to watch. Since the episode ends in a cliffhanger, perhaps that's literally what happened.

Thankfully, everyone's performances help make up for that. Jared Padalecki convincingly throws himself back into the role of concerned brother after that awkward breakup Sam and Dean had last season. Misha Collins' Castiel finally seems to be coming to grips with humanity, but his illness and the violence of fellow angels now weighs heavier than ever. And Mark Sheppard continues to steal the show as Crowley... although I don't think I'll ever get used to watching Dean and Crowley hang out and play foozeball together.

Bottom Line: Supernatural's "Black" has a great hook, but spends too much time letting "the Deanmon" (ew) wallow in his own misery. Character developments and performances across the entire cast are top-notch, but the story really doesn't go anywhere, likely because payoffs are being saved for future episodes. Hopefully the next chapter will pick things up a bit, but until then, it's hard to say whether Supernatural is returning to its prior glory just yet.

Recommendation: "Black" will probably mean more to long-time fans than new viewers, but it's a perfectly adequate episode nonetheless. Here's hoping the others can build from it.

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