Anyway, she inspired me to revisit my thoughts on 8x19 "Taxi Driver," which are legion and are, I recognize, very much in the minority. I got a bit carried away, so I decided to post my reflections here instead of wrestling with LJ's comment character limit. Shared here mostly for posterity, for the accuracy of the fossil record, and for anyone who might find this useful and/or inspiring for future fanworks.
I mean, I don't have any particularly strong feelings of love for the episode as an episode, because it's kind of like, well, it's nearly the end of the season! I guess it's time to start gettin' things done! But I have no strong antipathy towards it, either. I'm pretty willing--and in fact, supportive of the move--to believe that Hell and its relationship to the rest of the universe has changed considerably in the four years since S4.
Because it's not Azazel's Hell, or Lilith's Hell, or even Lucifer's Hell anymore; it's Crowley's. We know from 6x20 that he remodeled, and that Crowley's Hell is pretty, uh. Toothless. And unimaginative. XP A lot like his prisons on Earth, really. Which is potentially a critique of the writers, but infinitely more interesting to me as a critique of Crowley's aesthetic as well as his kingship. Given his campaign against Abaddon in S9 (and his ultimate interest, or lack thereof, in Hell by the end of S9) that critique is probably in order!
I mean, come on, they don't even have a Head Inquisitor anymore because Sam offed him, and therefore no School of Torture, and time passes in Hell very quickly! Entire generations of demons have been bereft standard demon education, and we know what that kind of long-term effects that level of social disruption can have on a population. Especially since demons appear to have a pretty high turnover rate to begin with. Poor demons!
As for Purgatory, I imagine that once you've found the door to something, or understood that indeed, there is a door to be looked for (once the Winchesters divined that there was a "stairway to Heaven," it actually wasn't that all that difficult for Castiel [to use Gadreel to] locate it) that legwork's mostly done. Once you crack that seal it's probably not that hard to wriggle through the fissures the next time. After Castiel opened Purgatory at the end of S6, Hell had plenty of time (that is, all of S7, the Hellatus year, and at least part of S8) to study the mechanism empirically or whatever boring thing Crowley had his minions do in Boring Hell. But of course it's not good business to push forward on your plans for colonization of a space if the Winchesters are working toward a way of irreversibly blocking your kingdom out of international trade/travel, so Hell tabled that shit during S8, only to have their king deposed. So they didn't actually get anywhere fun with it. XD
Whatever means Benny found of getting out of Purgatory, I'd be willing to bet that it tore through some pretty vital celestial tendons, so that was probably all kinds of screwed up after 8x01, too... (And if flocks of reapers have since wriggled their way into Purgatory, I'd imagine that the natural order over there, and the patterns and formations of Purgatory's monsters, has changed considerably, too. If there's a new apex predator in town, everything lesser might have gone to ground.)
Obviously this is all pure speculation, but I love love love this kind of thing. I find it helpful to me as a fan ficcer (specifically, of the kind of fanfic I write and the subset of writer I am, since obviously most of fandom is not down with this, and does not have to be!)--the notion of that sort of dynamism to said universe is exciting, because the planet does change--albeit generally on a timescale a human life can rarely comprehend. But when the celestial gets fucked over as thoroughly as it has in this show, the celestial tectonic plates shift a whole lot faster. Sort of like how anthropogenic activity expedites/fucks over Earth's natural climate changes--celestial activity would serve as the next step up. I was gonna make up some word that served as SPNland's Anthropocene, but I guess that word already exists, and it is "the Apocalypse." XD
Anyway, if there's this newfound porousness between Hell and Purgatory and Earth (and Heaven, if we're taking at face value the idea that reapers are a class of angel), then there are new channels of energy flow, and the instability of the universe just jumped an orbital. The universe itself's been thrown off its tracks, it's expanding and lurching and tailspinning, and it's only a matter of time before the whole thing goes to shit. (Which I guess, I'm realizing now, makes Metatron's sealing Heaven off from that not actually... a bad idea! Not a good idea, er, but at least not a purely petty one. XP Yay isolationism.)
Which sounds a lot like the Winchester's personal lives, especially given the end of S9 and where we seem to be headed with S10.
At that personal level, I feel like these shifts and this newfound hyperporousness between the realms does cheapen Sam and Dean's experiences of Hell, and Dean's of Purgatory, yes.
But not necessarily in a narratively damaging way.
Because how much would it hurt, and how hard would it be to deal with, the realization that these massive, traumatic experiences you've had in the past, and all these challenges you failed to surmount, did not exceed, and were crushed mercilessly beneath... have been clear-cut flat and neutered? The thing that nearly destroyed you, in ruins.
If you're all well-adjusted and have a strong self-concept and all of that noise, that might actually feel kind of good--because hey, it fell, you're still here, and that is sweet revenge.
If you're not any of those things, or don't have any of those things, then maybe you look at the perpetrator of your trauma, in ruins, and your mind can't account for the shift--you don't see, or you disbelieve, the temporal distance that separates past experience and now.
Your trauma, after all, is damage repeated and relived outside of time.
So when you look at the ruins of Hell, this tepid mess, all you can think is what the fuck is wrong with you, that that's the thing that hurt you. The thing that you will never really "get over." That thing.
(You look yourself in the mirror and you tell yourself: You're fucking pathetic.)
And when Sam finds himself on Purgatory's most peaceful nature trail, landmarks defined and terrain mapped, it's not the same place Dean lived, and it's without the harried uncertainty, unknowability that Purgatory boasted. Sam's probably not silly enough to believe that the Purgatory he saw is the same experience Dean's been turned up about all year, because lollll WHAT A PEACEFUL NATURE TRAIL IT WAS, IDEK, but this change keeps Dean's experience of Purgatory unknowable. Sam is able to better come to terms with Benny as an individual, and Dean's relationship to him, but he doesn't and cannot know Dean's Purgatory. Which for me stages (perhaps allegorizes) the idea that even if people have the same or similar experiences, the particularities of those experiences remain largely unknowable. Empathy has limits because experience is individual and to outsiders, often unknowable. So for instance, even if "the situation were reversed," to use 9x13's now-famous quote, you can't necessarily establish unity between those situations. This is something Sam kind of gets and something Dean really doesn't want to get.
Though thinking about this now, it occurs to me that Dean has no idea what Purgatory Take 2 was like--he probably thinks Sam knows exactly the same Purgatory that he left. So Dean thinks Sam knows his situation and his vantage point considerably better than Sam actually does (not just about Purgatory, but taking into account that same sort of assumption, compounded), and vice versa, which ends up driving a lot more about the end of S8 and S9 than either of them are likely to want to admit. :(
ANYWAY, that got really long. But those are my thoughts on 8x19 and its surrounding territories. I'm totally not trying to convince anyone of this rather intensive cartography, or suggesting that this is any more valid than any other reading of the episode! (It's not.) I know that 8x19 gives 99% of fandom absolute fits. But this is what I got out of that episode, and what it meant to me, and I think that deserves to be said, too. The puzzle is way too fun and the results are faaaar too up my alley for me to ever want to give this up by forgetting/erasing the episode, in any case! XD So maybe I do have strong feelings about it, after all. Not of love, really, but of productive creative partnership. <3
So 8x19, I feel you, bro. We coo'.