The primary moods of classic film noir are melancholy, alienation, bleakness, disillusionment, disenchantment, pessimism, ambiguity, moral corruption, evil, guilt, desperation and paranoia. source
Kripke said this season could best be described as “noir”. So why were we thrown off balance by the premiere? It was an episode that left me unsettled and unsatisfied – but I mean that as a compliment. This is my episode reaction - the post about feelings. Meta post on the actual episode to come.
My initial reaction to the premiere was - WOW. That was...unexpected. I’ve seen many reactions where people say they well – weird, unsettled, unsure of how they feel after the episode. And me too.
First of course, this is a new start - things aren’t the same and this is obvious. Swan Song was such a farewell. I certainly felt sad after it, like the series had actually finished. From that point of grief, I wanted comfort, the return to the familiar but in this episode our characters are each in new environments, each surrounded by new people, each behaving somewhat differently than we’ve seen them before. As a viewer we feel exiled.
This episode was how it made you feel exactly the way Dean does – thrown off balance, with too much happening that you can barely process it, torn with so many emotions. Like those moments when wanting everything to stop for a moment so you can deal with one thing, but life just keeps on rolling over you.
There is so much tension in this episode, with nothing being simply good or bad. Every situation, every relationship has ambivalence and confusion around it. It’s discomforting. It reminds me of Ruby’s story line, and I think why so many people reacted so strongly. She was a demon, but she never did anything we could identify as evil. She presented as an untrustworthy ally, yet she wasn’t meant to be likeable (compare her to Crowley or early S4 Castiel). She unsettled us, and we didn’t like it.
Season openers for Supernatural set the themes for the season, as well as the major character and plot arcs for at least the first 10 episodes. They also have always featured Sam and Dean coming together after a crisis, but by the end of the episode something happens to put a new barrier between them.
S2 – Survive car crash, tender Ouija board moment/Dean finds out he might have to kill Sam
S3 – Survive Sam dying, kill the YED, Sam indulges Dean’s pursuit of cheeseburgers and sex/Dean tells Sam not to try and save him, and to let him go to hell
S4 – Dean back from Hell, big hug/Sam is hiding his special powers, and demon killing work with Ruby from Dean
S5 – Sam and Dean are back together/Dean tells Sam he can never trust him again
In Exile on Main Street we get this but darkly subverted. Sam and Dean are certainly reunited – but who ever thought it could feel like that? That a rare Sam and Dean hug would leave us feeling empty? I can only imagine the howls of evil laughter in the writers’ room when some bastard came up with the key scene – “oh the fans want a hug? Well we’ll give them the anti-hug!” And then the end is them being separated again, and even more than that, there’s a feeling of a real loss of connection between them. (and for that matter with Cas).
We got not a moment of happy resoultion anywhere certainly not between Sam and Dean, or Dean and Bobby or Dean and Lisa (or Ben) or with Grandpa or the cousins (note: i think it was a clear indicator of how unsettled people were that we got a whole bunch of hot new hunters and noone is slashing them - yet)
As a fangirl I want Sam and Dean to be happy and ride around in the Impala together, with Cas popping into the back seat to whisper sweet nothings in their ears. Some pain occasionally would be fine to feed the hurt/comfort. But that would make the show NCIS: Supernatural or Law and Order: Kansas. Our show has never been afraid to take us or the characters to hard or dark places, to set up something and then take us in another direction, to subvert our expectations.
As a viewer my need for a return to the familiar and expected, for a happy reunion, was not satisfied. But I am more than pleased to exchange that for what I got – an episode that really got under my skin. In her review, critic Maureen Ryan picked the feeling throughout of one of melancholy, and I think that fits perfectly. It challenged me, and made me think hard about what was going on, about how things had changed, and where the hell things were going. I didn’t come away with a warm satisfied glow, but something more akin to the emotional equivalent of sand in my underpants.
I've watched the premiere a few times now, and on each viewing get something new, and am even more impressed with how the Show has taken elements that have always been there - secrets and impossible choices and angst and the difficulty of love- and ramped it up to a new level. And I love it.
I still want a proper hug though dammit!