It's the story of a divine object: A Chevy Impala, and two white trash boys who live in it. It's the story of God, Satan, and Detroit. It's about the shackles of goodness, and the tragedy of freedom. Spoilers ahead!
Last night's season ender "Swan Song" was also about an angel who says "assbutt." (Apparently Cas just couldn't think of anything better to yell when he hurled that holy oil Molotov at Michael.) And we even got a little rock 'n roll, too: Dean cranks up Def Leppard's "Pyromania" just as Lucifer and Michael are about to go all Tyson/Holyfield on each other. What I'm saying was that showrunner/writer Eric Kripke gave us a satisfyingly epic conclusion to the Apocalypse arc - but all the moral intensity was leavened with the show's trademark goofiness.
Farewell to Kripke
This episode was also showrunner and creator Eric Kripke's farewell to the show. He's stepping down as showrunner and executive producer Sera Gamble - who wrote many of the series' best episodes - will take the reigns next year.
For two seasons we've watched the Winchester brothers dealing with the Apocalypse, after they accidentally set it in motion. They've tangled with murderous demons, lying angels, a truthful prophet who writes fan fiction, and a God who saves them repeatedly from death but never actually shows up. They've lost faith in God, but much worse: They've lost faith in each other. And then regained it. Also, they got drunk, ate a lot of fast food, and tried to help their fallen angel buddy Cas get laid. Throughout their ordeals - and those ordeals have cut them to the bone - their greatest strength has been their human bonds with each other and their friends.
Last night Sam and Dean had one last chance to save the Earth from the scourge of Satan and the "planetary enema" promised by the angels. Sam is going to let Lucifer into his meatsack, Dean is going to open a door to Hell with his hard-won key, and they're both going to toss Sam/Lucifer back into the only cage that can hold them.
The Impala that binds us
Everything in the boys' lives has been leading up to this moment, and prophet Chuck's frame narration reminds us of this by telling the back story of their Impala. Where the car came from, how their dad bought it, the legos and action figures the boys stuffed into its nooks and crannies over the years. It's a touching and pitch-perfect homage to the brothers' relationship, which has always centered on the car where they spend most of their time. And the car winds up playing a pivotal role in saving the Earth.
The final phase of the Apocalypse begins in Detroit, which is Lucifer's headquarters. Nice bit of symbolism there, since the show has always been about how the midwest is the most haunted place on Earth.
When Sam accepts Lucifer into his fleshbag, things go wrong right away. Of course. Dean opens the door to Hell, but can't bring himself to kick Sam into the swirling darkness. So Lucifer takes over, teleports out of Detroit, and proceeds to make Sam murder a bunch of people from his past. Sure, those people were secretly demons send from Hell to "watch over" him. But one of them was his prom date! And killing them is torture for Sam. He and Lucifer have one of those "talking to the extra soul jammed inside your body using a mirror" showdowns where Sam swears to destroy Lucifer - but things are not looking good. Especially when Lucifer starts gearing up for his showdown with Michael (now in Adam's body) in an undisclosed location.
Luckily Dean calls up Chuck, who is busily writing all of this down in his latest fanfic novel while drinking booze and waiting for a hooker to come over. He's the only guy who knows where the showdown will be. In a graveyard right outside Lawrence, Kansas, where the boys were born.
It's better to burn out than fade away
Before Dean zooms up at the showdown, blasting Def Leppard on his car stereo, we're treated to a little angel-on-angel philosophizing. Lucifer asks Michael why they have to fight, why they have to always do exactly what their father wants. "He made me like this!" Lucifer says, suggesting that God wants evil in the world. Maybe if the two angels refuse to fight, they can finally throw off God's influence. Michael refuses to budge. He's "the good son," he says. No matter what, he's going to have this fight.
Except maybe he won't. When Dean, Cas, and Bobby arrive on the scene, things begin to go way off God's script. Cas beams "assbutt" archangel Michael with that holy Molotov. So Lucifer blows up Cas (yes, this is the second time the poor guy has exploded), breaks Bobby's neck (ack!), and starts beating the shit out of Dean. "Sam is going to feel every bone in your body break," he sneers. Covered in blood, Dean looks into Sam's Satanized eyes and mutters, "I'm not leaving you, Sam."
That's when Lucifer makes the mistake of glancing through the window of the Impala, where he sees that action figure Sam stuck in the ashtray when he was a kid. A whirl of images flash before his eyes - all the moments Sam and Dean have shared in that car - and Sam regains control of the meatsack. Long enough to pull the key to Hell out of his pocket, open the pit, and start backing into it. Michael, rematerialized from wherever he was, tries to yank him back to Earth for their fight. But instead Sam pulls Michael down with him, into the pit. It's where we've wanted to see all the dickish angels go right from the beginning.
A new regime in Heaven
What now? The story of Michael wrestling Lucifer in The Bible has been rewritten, with both fighters consigned to Hell. Humanity has won. And Dean is entirely alone, his body a shattered wreck. All he has left is his car.
Except God has chosen to spare Cas. The angel reappears suddenly, wearing a nice new tie, with all his powers restored. He heals Dean and brings Bobby back to life. After they drop Bobby off - he's going back to the lone Hunter life - the angel announces that he's taking over Michael's old role as the boss of Heaven. Dean can't believe it. Why would Cas do that, after seeing what a bogus deal Heaven is? Well, it's just what Cas has chosen - the way Dean chose Earth over Heaven and Hell.
"Would you rather have peace or freedom?" Cas asks. We already know the answer, but it's a dark one. It's the kind of answer that leaves Dean all alone on a country road, driving in the dark, having lost everything he loves. Except he's still got his old flame Lisa, and their son. That's where he winds up, sobbing, and asking if he can still take Lisa up on her offer - a few episodes ago - to give him a beer.
Through the windows of Lisa's house, we see Dean sitting down to dinner with her and the kid. And outside in the street, under a streetlamp that has suddenly burned out, we see Sam. He's looking through the window too, his face a mix of longing and - perhaps - wrath.
How did this episode manage to conclude a 2-year arc in a satisfying way, when so many TV shows can't?
As the episode came to a close, we returned to Chuck's narration. He's drunkenly finishing up his novel, admitting that endings are hard. No matter what you do, "the fans will argue about it." It's not this sly moment of meta that made this ending work, though it was a nice wink at the audience. Instead, it was Chuck's ability to justify the suffering and insanity we'd been through. "God was testing them, and I think they did pretty well," Chuck concludes.
This idea, which always feels like a copout when it happens in science fiction ("Oh the aliens were testing us for intelligence/morality/usefulness!"), is powerfully moving here. That's because it works perfectly within the mythology of the Judeo-Christian God, who is known for brutally testing those who follow him. Ever read the Book of Job, about the guy whose family and body are destroyed, his life reduced to wretchedness, before God pops out admits it was all a test? Sort of like the prequel to Supernatural. So Chuck's "moral of the story" moment just works.
Although the characters have never talked much about how their trials might be God's way of testing them, the whole armageddon arc makes sense when cast in that light. Everybody was being tested here: Lucifer, the angels, humanity as represented by Sam and Dean. The Apocalypse itself is a giant test. And the winner, as ever on this show, is Team Free Will. Only the characters who were willing to defy "destiny" and "God's plan" are favored by God in the end. Lucifer and Michael, determined to act out their God-given roles no matter what, are hurled into the Pit. But two plucky brothers, a powerless angel, and a sour old coot who keep fighting? God and even more powerful entities like Death choose them as their champions on Earth.
Still, it's a lonely thing. Cas admits that being good, living in Heaven, is a kind of bondage. And Dean's freedom from that bondage, his choice to keep fighting on Earth, leaves him bereft. It's weird that it takes a fantastical show like Supernatural to deliver such a bleak but realistic truth about our lives. Goodness does not always feel good, and freedom can be horrifying.
Bonus question: Who was God?
Though God's works were everywhere this season, we never actually met anybody who said, "Yep, I'm God." Some suspected the gardener Joshua, whom we met when the brothers went to Heaven. And after last night's episode, when Chuck grins and disappears, many will be wondering if the nerdy prophet was secretly God all along. Cas confirms that he's not God. But was it Crowley, the mysteriously nice demon? Perhaps somebody else we never guessed? All we know is that God has been absent for a really long time.
Maybe the answer to this riddle is that God is always absent. Because he's present, in everyone, at least sometimes. God's absence is the final proof that he's present, in everything on Earth, where we'll never see him.
Supernatural is the kind of show that leaves you with thoughts like that.