I haven’t taken a full breath in an hour. Somehow, what I assumed was going to be yet another werewolf episode of Supernatural turned into one of the show’s most dramatic, most stressful hours to date. Just when you think you can predict what this show will do, it throws something new your way, and that’s why its 11th season will go down as one of its best.
For all intents and purposes, this was a classic case-of-the-week hunt with one of the most classic monsters: werewolves, which we’ve seen countless times on this show. And yet, by slowing down the action — literally, how long did that camera pan Sam’s “dead” body? — the show used that lack of momentum, paired with a lack of music, to build tension in an hour that almost didn’t even feel like an episode of Supernatural. It’s this kind of innovation that makes this show worth watching 200 episodes in.
We start off at a cabin in the woods, where Sam and Dean are fighting off a few werewolves, when one of them gets ahold of a gun and shoots Sam in the stomach. Jumping back 48 hours earlier, we witness Sam finding the case and convincing Dean that they need to stop worrying about Cas and clear their heads by getting back out on the road and working through everything.
If only he knew that would lead to his getting shot.
Once Dean gets the bullet out, he helps out the two hikers — Corbin and Michelle — who were captured by the werewolves. Just a bit of background on the happy couple: They’re the type of people who think hiking is the perfect activity to build a honeymoon around. (If Dean had known that, he might not have saved them.)
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Getting another flashback to the start of the case, we are introduced to the woman heading up the werewolf pack in the national park when she tells Dean and Sam where they can find their missing hikers. And conveniently, it’s a place where there’s no cell phone service.
With the threat of more werewolves finding them, Dean, Corbin, Michelle, and Sam start making their way back to Baby, where Dean remembers he last had a signal. The problem is that the car is a couple miles away, and when they stumble upon another cabin and Sam collapses, Corbin starts to panic.
Realizing that Dean is never going to leave his brother behind, Corbin takes matters into his own hands. When Dean steps outside to build something on which to carry Sam, Corbin suffocates the youngest Winchester. This moment made me think about how Sam and Dean will eventually go out (if they do die for good on this show). Part of me was so angry at the idea of Sam surviving the apocalypse, Lucifer, and everything else only to be taken out by a man with a hipster beard, but I’m not gonna lie: The other part of me loved both the irony and the humanity of it. Needless to say, if these Winchesters ever do really die, I’m torn on how it should go down.
(Also, let’s take a brief pause here to applaud the fact that we’ve seen these brothers die so many times, and yet after all these years, it still feels like there are stakes involved.)
And when Dean finds Sammy, well, that’s when the tears really start to flow. Another brief flashback shows Sam and Dean preparing to leave the Impala to look for the hikers while Sam convinces Dean that this case could be like the camping trip they never took. “It could be fun,” he says as the camera flashes back to his lifeless body.
NEXT: Dean has a chat with Billie
Dean agrees to get the couple to safety before coming back for Sam, but that plan gets interrupted when he assaults a sheriff and ends up tased and in a hospital bed.
Also in a hospital bed is Michelle, who realizes that her husband is an ungrateful monster — literally now that he’s been bitten by a werewolf — just in time to help Dean.
When Michelle tells him that “death is not the end,” Dean realizes what he has to do. Dean needs to talk to Billie, and that means he needs to die.
But just as Dean lays out a plethora of pills for himself to take, the camera cuts to Sam, slowly panning up his body until…HE WAKES UP! So Sam isn’t dead, and Dean is about to kill himself?! (Again, I’ve stopped breathing just writing about this moment.)
Simultaneously, we watch as Sam wakes up to realize the other wolves have found him, and Dean takes the pills and begins seizing.
While Sam fights off both wolves — even a mostly dead Winchester can take down a couple monsters — Dean meets with Billie. As far as Billie’s concerned, her answer to Dean “will always be no.” She’s not playing any games. “No more second chances, no more extra lives.” That’s her motto. But as she tells “Luigi” to say goodbye to his “Mario” — wouldn’t Sam be Luigi based purely on height? — Dean asks for the all-too-familiar-trade: His life for Sam’s.
It’s a deal we’ve watched Dean make before. It’s that exact deal that sent Dean to hell at the end of season 3. If Sam is brought back to life, Dean will fill his place. Only, as Billie informs Dean, Sam’s not dead. Trust her, “If the Big W bit it, I’d get a call.” (Interesting that Sam is the Big W, right?)
And thankfully, Dean’s not dead either. Well, he was, but the doctor is able to bring him back just in time to get a call from Sam, who’s found his way to the Impala. The problem? Corbin has gone full werewolf.
After Corbin kills the sheriff, he’s preparing to bite Michelle — so that they can live together as monsters, naturally — when Dean tackles him. And just before Corbin chokes out yet another Winchester, Sam shows up and shoots him.
Turns out, Sam didn’t die. When Corbin choked him, his body went into shock and his heartbeat slowed to almost nothing, so he was just “mostly dead.” Now, he just needs a bit of rest before he’s back to normal.
As to what Dean did when he thought Sam was dead? “I knew you weren’t dead,” Dean tells his younger brother, fooling absolutely no one.
The great thing about this show is that it can have episodes like “Baby,” which stretch every formula you could imagine. Then, it can turn around and have typical case-of-the-week episodes. And then it can invent something new, like this: something that technically isn’t as unconventional as “Baby” and yet feels like just as much of a risk. And once again, the risk pays off.