This season of "Supernatural" has been dubbed "Season Gr8" by fans, and it's not hard to figure out why. The show rebounded from its rocky beginnings to truly live up to its moniker. "Taxi Driver" is yet another example of this season’s ambitious strides in visual effects and sweeping, heartrending plots.
Grab your fourteen boxes of tissues, and let's dive in, shall we?
The old proverb "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" is the theme for Sam and Dean’s horrific lives. And for poor Kevin Tran's (the increasingly impressive Osric Chau) world-saving intentions have set him on the path to insanity. Crowley, borrowing a few of Lucifer's tricks, has manifested in Kevin's brain or at the very least his dreams. The opening sequence is a bloody one, in which the King of Hell tortures our poor prophet, hacking off chunks until he's just a screaming, bloody torso. A rule of thumb for "Supernatural," the bloodier the cold open, the better the episode, so I'm positively giddy about what’s in store for our intrepid heroes.
Sam and Dean arrive at Garth's safe houseboat to find a decidedly whole, but terrified Kevin brandishing a cast iron skillet and his best zombie costume, or wait, no, he's just impossibly rundown and/or hopped up on the bath salts Dean left him in "Trial and Error." He has been able to decipher the second trial despite the crazy, and it requires our beloved Sam to rescue an innocent soul from Hell and send it onto Heaven. No big, right?
Having both done separate tours of hell, Sam and Dean take a beat to silently freak out before they trying to figure out how they are would even begin to complete the penultimate trial. They summon a crossroad demon, and after a searing soak in a holy water, he ponies up the information that Sam could be "smuggled across hell's borders" by a "rogue reaper." They find one, a taxi driver named Ajay, who had escorted our very own Bobby Singer into hell himself, because he was on "The King of Hell's No-Fly List." Upon hearing this, Dean’s impulse is to abandon the trials and tear hell apart rescue Bobby himself. It is long overdue that Sam finally pushes back against Dean and shows his dedication as a son an his confidence as a hunter. He vows to bring Bobby back, right Crowley’s wicked wrong. Without so much as a second look, he follows Ajay into an alley that has been covered in awesome graffiti.
In what has to be the most breathtaking visual effect since the first sight of Castiel's wings in Season 4's “Lazarus Rising,” the colorful painting undulates and vibrates, swelling and shifting as a blue door grows taller and bigger so it’s almost three-dimensional. The music swells until Sam and Ajay are deposited into...a forest that is littered the skeletons and holds a and brutal starkness that’s eerily familiar. Yes, Sam is in Purgatory. Sammy always manages to follow in his brother's footsteps no matter how hellacious they may be.
Before I can clutch my pearls over Sammy being double-crossed, Ajay explains that Purgatory is "hell-adjacent," and Sam has to follow a stream to find the portal to hell, and rescue Bobby in 24 hours. Synchronize your watches! It's a little strange that Sam's watch works in the afterlife, right?
Topside, Kevin continues to splinter under the pressure. Dean is back to playing the mother hen; and it’s an adorable color on him. He brings Kevin food, coaxes him out of the closet, and offers some hardknock wisdom: "Other guys got it easy. It's all backyard barbecues and bowling teams. You and me gotta carry a little extra weight. You suck it up and you push through. When you get on board with that, the ride is a lot smoother." It's not surprising that Kevin snatches the food, including Dean's coveted pie, and barricades himself in his room with a mumbled, "let me know when there's a good day." At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hung himself with his filthy hoodie.
Down in Purgatory, Sam’s locked into full-on warrior mode, using a discarded weapon and his own combat skills to fend off a squirrelly little beast with bleached skin. Finally, he finds his way into hell. The Pit looks as one would expect: it's a meandering labyrinth of cages filled with tortured, mangled souls. There's a woman who appears to be freshly peeled, and a man in some kind of medieval stocks. It's gruesome, of course, but not nearly as treacherous as I’d hoped.
Call me a cynic, but I prepared myself for the notion of Bobby being in hell being one of Crowley's many tricks to a lure a Winchester into his turf. I didn't even believe that the figure Sam approached with desperate hope would be his surrogate father, so I was gobsmacked to discover that Jim Beaver had returned to “Supernatural,” and that it hadn’t leaked online.
Sadly, Hell has eroded all of the youth Bobby had stubbornly retained. His beard is scraggly and gray his eyes bruised and bloodshot, but he's just as feisty as ever, punching an arriving Sam in the face because he's been tortured with a stream of "endless Sams and Deans all wearing the same black eyes." Sam has to convince him that he's human by spilling a few intimate and hilarious secrets about Bobby's life: he's a huge fan of Tori Spelling and a free pedicure at the Mall of America "changed his life." I must point out that this is a secret he only told Dean and swore to secrecy, but of course, Dean had to gossip to Sam, because who would ever keep that to themselves?