The best-rated episodes for the second half of season 4 follow. If we didn’t count my own personal ratings (the stars) the order of the episodes would have been different. “The Rapture” would have been #3, “When the Levee Breaks” #4, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” #5.
#1. The Monster at the End of This Book (418)
Dean and Sam discover a series of books by “Carver Edlund” (a mash-up of writers Jeremy Carver and Ben Edlund) which chronicle their lives. It’s the classic case of predestined destiny; even as the boys try to change the outcome, circumstances keep pulling them back on track.
The first 15-minutes contain some of Supernatural‘s most humorous moments as the Winchesters confront author Chuck Shurley (Carver Edlund’s real name) and realize their lives are literally an open book. The episode also provides an opportunity for Eric Kripke and company to poke fun at the fans, who, as Dean says “… for fans, they sure do complain a lot.” (That comment is still true today. Just read any episode thread at the Television Without Pity Supernatural forums.)
After that, however, the episode becomes darker. Chuck’s most recent story has Sam meeting Lilith in a motel room. Sam is anxious to have a showdown with the uber-demon, but Dean wants nothing more than to avoid the situation. Dean attempts to go “off-book” while Sam and destiny thwart him at every turn. Eventually Dean resorts to prayer (and threats) to successfully alter the outcome.
During much of season 4, Sam says that Dean is different after his time in hell, that he isn’t strong enough. It’s a line I never understood until Chuck points out that demon blood makes Sam feel stronger. Sam denies it, but it helps explain Sam’s hell-bent determination to undo Lilith and his relative lack of compassion this season.
#2 On the Head of a Pin (416)
The Supernatural writers have been known to be somewhat inconsistent with story-arc details (which fans are quick to point out), but in “On the Head of a Pin,” they introduced themes that carried forward into follow-on seasons.
We’d previously met Alistair, an upper-echelon demon (he had white eyes, just as Lilith) who’d tortured Dean in hell; Uriel, an unlikable angel who hated humans; and Anna, the mysterious young woman who turned out to be an angel. We learned that Dean remembered hell and what he’d done, leaving him emotionally weakened; and that Sam had a “special relationship” with Ruby who was helping him hone his “special powers.”
The episode opens with the death of an angel, and we see for the first time the wonderful special effect that marks an angel’s passing—the wings scorched into the background. The effect has been used several times since, and it still manages to fill us with awe.
Dean is forced (in a fashion) to torture Alistair in order to discover who is killing the angels. Dean’s physical torture combined with Alistair’s verbal taunting create an interesting play between the characters. Alistair knows exactly which of Dean’s buttons to push (most involve John Winchester), and culminates in the reveal that Dean broke the first of the “66 seals” needed to bring about the apocalypse.
Questions of ethics and God’s will arise. Anna asks Castiel if God would really condone torture. It forces Castiel to wonder if the orders they’d been given really came from God. His struggle to accept the idea of free will is key to discovering the real culprit.
Here and in the previous episode (“Death Takes a Holiday”), Sam is much less emotional than Dean. Dean rebels against the “natural order” of things (mainly death), while Sam pragmatically accepts them. Sam lies, without guilt or remorse, more than once. “On the Head of a Pin” shows us why. His ability to control demons is getting stronger, not through practice, but by drinking Ruby’s demon blood. Major ick factor!
#3. It’s a Terrible Life (417)
I love the alternate-reality episodes. Perhaps it’s because they’re filmed with such vivid colors. Supernatural‘s dark, dreary look has often concerned television executives. “It’s a Terrible Life” delightfully pokes fun at the issue when color drains from the film as Dean is bought back to his real world.
Other inside jokes abound. Sam scoffs at being psychic and bemoans that there’s “something in my blood.” Previous characters are given new identities. Even the boys’ surnames of Smith and Wesson are tongue-in-cheek alternates to Winchester.
Timing of the episode was excellent. It came after two very dramatic episodes which left Dean both physically and emotionally beaten. “It’s a Terrible Life” gave Dean’s psyche time and motivation to heal, and it gave the audience a lighthearted break. Plus, it introduced Zachariah. I can’t believe I actually liked him at first.
Did anyone else notice that all the employees called to H.R. for “attitude adjustment” were from Tech Support?
#4 The Rapture (420)
Aka, the episode where Misha Collins gets to show some emotion. Castiel is (forcefully) recalled to heaven for a reprimand, leaving his vessel Jimmy Novak to fend for himself. Jimmy agreed to Castiel’s possession because he thought he was doing something important. )Of course, in the Supernatural universe, it was important.; we met Dean’s savior without getting our eyeballs burned out of our heads.) However, having been ridden by an angel for nearly one year, Jimmy regrets having made that decision.
It takes battling several demons, having his wife demon-hijacked, his daughter kidnapped by said demon-mother, then being possessed by Castiel, and Jimmy being fatally wounded for him to say yes again. To Jimmy’s credit, he agrees not because it saves his life, but because he wants Castiel to let go of his his daughter.
Oh yeah, and Dean gets to witness Sam’s demon-blood-drinking habit, thus realizing this is where Sam’s demon-slaying mojo is coming from. Which leads us to our next episode.
I wonder, since Castiel lost his grace at the end of season 8 and apparently became human, will this human version be similar to Jimmy? Probably not. Human-Cass will be a new person, since Jimmy is effectively dead. (Besides, a wife and daughter would cause serious complications for the story, not to mention Dean/Cass fans).
#5. When the Levee Breaks (421)
The first half of the episode gets 5 stars; second half, 3 stars. So that averages out to 4 stars. Why only 3 stars for the second half when it’s so dramatic and well acted? Because it’s painful to see the brothers so at odds. Not to mention Sam in bed with Ruby. *shivers*
Dean and Bobby throw an intervention to detox Sam from his demon blood addiction. Locked alone in the panic room, Sam hallucinates all over the place. He feels guilty and fears he’s becoming a demon, as his younger self tells him. He rationalizes his actions by having his mother tell him he’s strong and is doing what’s necessary. (Samantha Smith must be damn tired of that white nightgown, especially when its torso is covered in blood.)
Worst of all is Sam’s hallucination of Dean saying he’s a monster. It plays on Sam’s guilt for disappointing his big brother and his life-long fear of not being normal. Interestingly, the scene is juxtaposed with the real Dean saying he’d rather die than let Sam become a monster, that if this detox kills Sam, at least he dies human.
It’s sad how Sam’s guilt colors his interpretation of what Dean is saying, and how far apart the brothers seem. The harsh words, the brutal fight, and especially Sam choking Dean are hard to take. I cleared my mind watching “Lucifer Rising,” an episode I don’t particularly like, because in it the brothers at least attempt to mend fences, although the angels and Ruby work against them.
– Written by Sera Gamble; directed by Robert Singer
– IMDB rating 8.5; TV.com 8.6