[This is a review of Supernatural season 11, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
As it moves into its second decade on the air, The CW's Supernatural is taking a page from the most successful horror television series of the modern era. Like something of a hybrid between The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later "The Darkness" has been unleashed into the world, and it is not pretty. At least the boys are still pretty (yes, we know a large percentage of the audience is watching this show for Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki).
Fan service done, it's time to get to the meat of this premiere, which involved a lot of stage-setting for the next big arc of the season. Season 10 wrapped with the darkness enveloping Dean's beloved Impala after Sam set it free into the world to remove the Mark of Cain from his brother. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it's going to be that easy, as The Darkness pulled Dean physically from the car so she could have a pow-wow with him about how they're linked -- and maybe to kiss him.
Sam doesn't know all of these details, as they were revealed to the audience bit by bit throughout the premiere. There may yet be more to reveal about that meeting within the black, swirling smoke, but that will have to wait for the next installment. Certainly we were left with more than one huge cliffhanger at the end of this hour. We have come so far from the monster-of-the-week, driving off into the sunset to another classic rock tune genesis of the show. Things have gotten darker -- pun intended -- in the past decade, so it was nice to see this acknowledged within the narrative.
Sam has always been the Winchester's conscience, with Dean the one willing to do whatever it takes. Unfortunately, it seems like elements of the callous "evil" Dean from season 10 still linger within him, as he was willing to mow down one group of people to save another. Granted, it looked like those people have some kind of incurable infection, but Dean wasn't even entertaining the idea of looking for a cure. He's going to have to change that tune in a hurry, though, based on how the hour ends.
As it turns out, the Darkness poured from the ground in the closing moments of season 10 and infected a nearby road crew, turning them into feral, rampaging monsters who seek out other humans to infect and attack. As we learned, they won't attack anyone else who is infected. It's good to know, it's just a shame we learned it's because Sam got himself infected.
During the early part of the episode, the Winchesters befriended a junior police officer and then saved a new father and his baby. Unfortunately, the father was infected, so he passed care of his baby to the officer. In order to save the child, Sam led the infected on a chase through the hospital before hiding in a supply closet. The problem was that he wasn't alone, and was attacked by an infected doctor (or maybe a nurse ... she was in scrubs, regardless) and got some of her blood on him when he was forced to kill her to save himself. By the end of the episode, the tell-tale infection signs of purple marks rising up the neck had begun to form on Sam.
By this point, Dean had managed to take the officer and the baby about 40 miles outside of the town, where they learned that the infection had not spread. Thankfully, it appears to be isolated to the community closest to the point where the Darkness erupted from the ground. Unfortunately, Sam is still there and is now infected with still no idea how to find a cure. Of course, there's no way Supernatural kills Sam (and keeps him dead), so it's more a matter of how they'll get out of this one rather than when.
Meanwhile, in the ongoing adventures of the other two main characters on the show, Castiel (Misha Collins) totally did kill Crowley (Mark A. Sheppard) thanks to that nasty spell Rowena cast when she double-crossed and betrayed them. But demons aren't so easy to kill, and Crowley was back in his body by the end of the hour. He had long enough to detour into a suburban housewife so he could experience the world's bloodiest four-way with the neighbors. We're given no reason why he did this, so I'm going to say it was just on a lark.
Maybe he was feeling carefree because he did not yet know that the Darkness had been unleashed. In fact, like most of the other supernatural beings on the show, Crowley seemed to think the Darkness was some kind of myth that didn't really exist. It's fascinating to think this is an entity that has been gone so long even veritable immortals have no true concept of what it is. On the other hand, it's kind of terrifying because it means no one is going to really know how to deal with this when it all inevitably goes horribly, horribly wrong. Remember when Bobby could just look something up in a book and tell the boys how to kill whatever they were facing? Simpler times, my friends. Simpler times.
After ten seasons, the stakes have been raised higher than ever. We don't know why the angels have strung Castiel up like they're going to torture him -- he is still under the influence of Rowena's violent spell -- and we don't know what the Darkness wants now that she's been unleashed. In fact, it got even more confusing at the end of the hour when the Mark of Cain was revealed to be on the newborn baby. This baby was born around the same time the Darkness was unleashed, so does that mean the mysterious woman from the black smoke has been born into this flesh-and-blood baby?
If so, I doubt we're going to have to wait until she can walk and talk for her to be a problem. Yes, this show looks like it's going to just keep going and going, but that would be unrealistic. Instead, we'd probably fall on the classic sci-fi/fantasy television trope of rapidly aging her so she can become a strikingly beautiful young woman hellbent on killing everyone and destroying the world. Then everything will be all wrong again, like it usually is on Supernatural.
Things are off to a strong start so far, with plenty of intrigue and new danger already surrounding the boys. This is a show that's found its groove and just keeps doubling down on what works for them. Surprisingly, it hasn't gotten stale or repetitive yet, as they manage to come up with crazy new problems for the boys to face each year. And while it faltered a bit after creator Eric Kripke's original five-year story completed, the last several seasons have seen a show that's showing no signs of running out of steam.
If the CSI and Law & Orders of the world can go on forever and ever, I see no reason an adventure series about two brothers fighting the good fight against the forces of evil can't do the same thing.
Supernatural continues next Wednesday with 'Form and Void' @ 9pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: