On Monday, Zap2it got a sneak peek at the first episode of “Supernatural” Season 8 — and we loved it. The emotional gravitas of the episode feels equally balanced between Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles), there’s a satisfying amount of mystery surrounding Castiel despite the fact that we don’t see him in the episode, and there are new characters who feel vibrant and complex.
Instead of wasting premiere time on a hunt-of-the-week, the episode focuses much more on reestablishing Sam and Dean’s relationship and introducing a myth arc that new showrunner Jeremy Carver tells us will be a season-long story. The brothers have a lot of long conversations in this episode, without telling each other much — but the audience learns plenty. It’s a really strong episode that has us more excited to watch than we’ve been in years. Here are five things to look forward to this eyear.
1. Sam has a lot to answer for. After Dean disappeared, Sam felt that he had no leads… so he fixed up the Impala and spent a lot of time just driving around, not knowing what to do with himself. It wasn’t until he hit a dog, took it to the vet, and met new love interest Amelia (Liane Balaban) that he found reason to settle down. (Though, on their first meeting, she’s not particularly impressed by him at all. It seems that while he was busy saving the world, Sam forgot that there are smaller ways to be a hero, too.)
Fans have been concerned that Sam’s abandonment of the hunt feels out of character, and in some ways, it does — but that’s acknowledged by the writers through Dean, who isn’t pleased to learn that Sam didn’t look for him. As for promising each other they’d try to be “normal,” Dean says incredulously, “We always ignored that because of our deep and abiding love for each other!”
He doesn’t let Sam off the hook easily — especially when he learns that Sam has ignored Kevin’s frantic calls for months since Sam ditched all his phones. Still, Dean doesn’t seem to take it as a personal offense, and though he’s disappointed in Sam’s actions, this doesn’t feel more damaging to their relationship than anything that’s come before. Emotionally, Sam is in a place that reminds us a lot of Season 1. He’s got a mission to fulfill, and then he wants to try to live a normal life. (Also on the subject of Sam — it seems Carver has brought back the brainiac we met in Season 1. Without Bobby to call for research, we’re reminded of just how smart the younger Winchester is. And we like it.)
2. Benny is fantastic. The most unexpectedly awesome part of this unexpectedly awesome episode is Benny (Ty Olsson), a vampire Dean meets in Purgatory who essentially rides Dean back to our world. When we see a flashback to his and Dean’s first meeting, they’re reluctant allies, but by the time they get back, they’ve become extremely close — even downright affectionate. (Dean’s goodbye hug with Benny feels way less awkward than his hello hug with Sam.)
It’s clear that these two characters care about each other and want to take care of each other. They’ve shared a foxhole and become true comrades, and though we’re not quite sure how they got there or what terrible things they had to do in Purgatory to get back, we can’t wait to find out.
3. Dean’s character journey is going to get juicy this season. While in Purgatory, Dean tapped into a primal instinct deep within him — and he was surprised to find that he liked it. We’d even go as far as to say that after being reunited with Sam, Dean even misses Purgatory a bit. He admits to Sam that he’s not the same guy who disappeared a year ago, and it’s nice to hear a Winchester admit that for once, instead of pretending all is hunky dory. Plus, some things never change — when Sam orders Dean a burger and fries, Dean is downright touched.
There’s some PTSD stuff similar to what we saw when Dean returned from hell, but it doesn’t feel like a rehashing of an old story. Dean is more like a soldier who returns from war and doesn’t quite know how to fit into his former life, and it’s quite clear that Ackles is truly relishing the role this season — he’s never been better. (And he’s always been awesome, so that’s saying a lot.) We don’t want to give too much away about Dean’s situation, because it’s simultaneously the most subtle and the most interesting part of a great episode, but we’ll say this — it’s ground we haven’t before covered with him, and it’s surprising and refreshing.
4. We love Kevin! Once Sam and Dean are reunited with our favorite mathlete (Osric Chau), we learn that through God’s word, he’s become a hunter in his own right, learning to fight demons. By the end of the episode, he’s essentially in the same place Sam was when we first met him in Season 1. He’s knowledgeable and can hold his own in a hunt, but he’d really rather be taking Psych 101 at Princeton — something raises the stakes for him and gives him a real reason to fight, the way that Jessica’s death did for Sam. Also, it’s worth saying that Kevin definitely gets the best joke of the episode. The entire room full of critics had a good chuckle.
5. The overall tone of the show has shifted back into familiar territory. The opening scene of the episode is a little like the openings we got used to in the early part of Season 1, with an old-fashioned horror story cold open that gets turned on its head and given a Winchester twist. The desaturated colors and classic rock have also made a comeback. (Yes, we’re planning on writing Carver a thank-you note for that.) Oh — and of course, we do have a new title card, which follows the “word of God” theme of the season.
Tune in Wednesday, Oct. 3 at 9 p.m. EST on The CW. Yes, Wednesday!