Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 9.11: First Born


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It’s been a tough summer, so I’m way behind on my recaps and reviews. As of this review, I have 53 episodes left to finish for previous seasons, plus the 20 for the final (15th) season that starts on October 10. That’s 73 total by next April. I currently have 144 coffees at $3 each on Ko-Fi. If I get 300 coffees total, I will commit to doing one recap/review per week (retro or Season 15). If I get 400 coffees, I will commit to two. If I get 500 coffees, three reviews. If I get 600 coffees, four reviews. If I get 700 coffees, five reviews per week.

Other that that, any and all contributions are welcome! You can still find my reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my folklore research on Patreon.

My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are up (with a few extras) on Kindle. The Kindle version is available through Amazon. The print version is also up. If you buy the print version, you get a Kindle copy thrown in for free. I also get paid if you get it on Kindle Unlimited (for free), read the Kindle version, or lend it to a friend via the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Reviews also help with sales. Just FYI.

Scroll down past this review to find links to all of my recaps and reviews of all seasons up to this point.


[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]


Tagline: Dean is sidetracked from his revenge quest for Kevin’s death by Crowley asking him to hunt down a weapon that can potentially kill Abaddon. Meanwhile, Sam talks a reluctant Castiel into a reckless plan to track down Gadriel.

Recap: Pretty standard recap to this point of the season so far, with extra Sam whining and blaming himself for Kevin’s death, while somehow still managing to push it all off onto Dean.

Cut to Jasper Springs, MS in 1863, at night. A man in a Confederate uniform is riding hard toward a cabin. There’s a huge windstorm going on. He dismounts and rushes inside. Two other Confederate soldiers at an inner door of the cabin stand up and grab their rifles.

The man tells the other two, “He’s coming!” then adds that “the Knight must be protected!” The cabin shakes around them from the wind.

Suddenly, the two men at the inner door spot something that makes their eyes go black – they’re demons. They grab their rifles. The rider turns around, only to be lifted off his feet, one-handed, by a tall, bearded newcomer in civilian clothes who smites him with glowing red fire. He snaps the demon’s host’s neck to boot, before dropping the body.

The other two demons fire their rifles, but though he’s knocked back slightly by the bullets, the man is otherwise completely unhurt. With a low growl, he approaches them.

The scene cuts to outside the cabin. Red glow and the screams of dying men blast through the windows. Cut back inside to the demons dropping dead to the floor and the newcomer stepping over them toward the inner door. He pulls out an ancient knife that looks like the jawbone of an ass.

Cue title cards.

Cut to Dean at the bar where we previously saw Metatron waiting for Gadriel. Dean has tracked Gadriel here. This is pretty clever of him, actually, since Gadriel left no known signs of his destination after vacating Sam, but he has apparently lost the angel’s scent.

He looks really rough compared even to how we saw him at the end of last episode (and he wasn’t looking too good in “Road Trip,” either). He’s rocking some serious scruff. Despite the fact it’s also pretty clear he hasn’t showered in a while, he looks ridiculously hot. You’re probably wondering how Jensen Ackles could possibly look better than he usually does. Just trust me on this: He looks even better rode hard and put away wet.

The camera slides past a suspicious-looking guy in a dirty baseball cap and a rather muscular waitress who is exchanging a smile with Dean as she passes behind him with a tray (guess she approves of the scruff). Dean turns back, to his surprise and annoyance, to find Crowley sitting beside him.

Crowley tells him that Gadriel is long gone and the waitress a walking STD. The (ex)King of Hell shrugs it off when Dean goes for Ruby’s Spork and reminds Crowley that the last time they saw each other, Dean promised to kill him. Crowley instead goes into salesman mode, babbling on about a weapon that could kill Abaddon – the First Blade. Crowley really does lack the gift of fear, doesn’t he?

Dean: You wanna hunt … with me?
Crowley: I do love a good buddy comedy.

As Crowley blathers out a story about his henchdemon Smitty, who was tracking a protege of Abaddon, who claimed to know about the Blade, but then got grabbed by John, a weary Dean puts the Spork back in his coat (because even he’s not so feral as to kill a demon right in front of a bar full of civilians) and pulls out John’s journal. He knows this is gonna take a while and that Crowley will be spinning him some long, apparently random yarn in order to try to manipulate him into doing Crowley’s bidding. Dean knows Crowley well at this point. Crowley has, after all, spent quite some time in Dean’s dungeon and the trunk of Dean’s car.

Dean is very subdued compared to even last episode as he pulls out John’s journal (yes, he does have it in his coat) and finds the entry. As he does so, Crowley turns his head to his left and drops the cheerful act, indicating he sees something there that worries him or that he doesn’t want Dean to notice.

Dean finds the entry, but says that it only confirms what Crowley said before. Crowley notices some numbers on the side of the entry and asks about their significance. At first, Dean just grumps, “None of your business,” but then he reluctantly admits they’re numbers for John’s Magic Storage Locker, which we haven’t seen in a while. When Crowley asks Dean what the ‘T’ beside the numbers means, Dean claims he doesn’t know. Well, maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t.

Crowley gets impatient and “suggests” they go to the storage locker. When Dean asks how he’s supposed to know this isn’t a trap, Crowley just says he doesn’t and that’s why it’s fun. Then he leaves. With a rather disgusted sigh at himself, Dean does, too. They are followed by none other than the guy in the greasy baseball cap who is, you guessed it, possessed by a BED.

Cut to Castiel in the Bunker, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and looking disappointed, as Sam comes back from a supply run. Castiel admits to Sam that while he can “taste every molecule” of the sandwich as an angel, he enjoyed the taste more (it was less overwhelming) as a mortal human.

It turns out he has been giving Sam regular healings in stages. They’re almost done, but when he does this one, he stops, puzzled. When Sam asks him what’s up, Castiel pretends it’s “nothing.”

Sam: You’re a terrible liar.
Castiel [indignantly]: That is not true! I once deceived and betrayed both you and your brother.

Sam gets Castiel back on track from his flight of literalism and asks him, “What’s wrong?”

Rather hesitantly, Castiel admits that there is still something “resonating,” something “angelic,” inside Sam’s body. Three guess where that came from. Castiel’s first thought is to call Dean and ask him for advice. Notice how, even when Dean is gone, and has been for a while, he’s still TFW’s de facto leader.

Sam’s still mad at Dean, though, and doesn’t want to bring him in from the cold. Sam insists that Dean decided to leave, so he can stay gone (if Sam knew what Dean was currently doing, of course, and with whom, he’d be on that phone so fast, Castiel’s head would spin, but he doesn’t and hubris is the ultimate engine of Classic Tragedy, anyway). Wiser than Sam, Castiel has obvious misgivings, but doesn’t push it for the moment.

What Dean is currently doing is bringing Crowley into John’s storage locker, hooded and bounded by anti-demon sigils on the floor. Crowley snarks once Dean takes the hood off, but pushes too far when he talks about being Dean’s family. Slamming him into a shelf, Dean tells him coldly, “We’re pretty friggin’ far from family,” before going into the back for John’s files.

There, he discovers an account of John’s side of what happened to “Smitty.” John and another Hunter, named Tara (the T in the journal), exorcised Smitty. There’s a black-and-white photo of Tara, whom Dean says he doesn’t recognize. Though Tara is clearly attractive, Dean makes no comment about it or reacts in any way. She’s just a lead and as they head out, he says they’ll go find out if she’s still alive.

Back at the Bunker, Castiel has found an account in Enochian that says that angels leave behind a kind of “fingerprint” that contains grace. He then pulls up a paper called “On the Inner Workings of Angels” by James Haggerty. This is a Robbie Thompson Easter egg – Haggerty was the surviving Man of Letters from the flashbacks in “Slumber Party,” also written by Thompson, from earlier in the season.

Castiel says the paper devised a method of using grace extracted from a former vessel (with a specially designed and scary-looking hypodermic needle) to track angels. Thing is, they were never able to find a “guinea pig” to test it. Sam says they have one now. He’s all for tracking down Gadriel and killing him.

A much-older Tara is running a pawn shop. Dean and Crowley come in. She immediately pegs Crowley as a demon and assumes Dean is possessed, too. Seems she has a trick knee, since an injury in 1992, that alerts her of a demon’s presence. She’s confused, though, when she splashes Dean in the face with holy water and nothing happens. When Dean mentions he’s John’s son, she betrays knowledge of his and Sam’s existence when she asks which son he is and comments, “Well, didn’t you grow up pretty.” She asks if he’s still in the “Family Business” and Dean replies, “Born and raised.”

Dean explains that he’s working with Crowley (Crowley unhelpfully supplies the info that he’s the King of Hell and they are “besties,” which Dean firmly denies). Tara isn’t much impressed, even when Dean says he’s looking for the First Blade (turns out John was, too, for a while), until Dean tells her that a surviving Knight of Hell has popped up: Abaddon.

Cut to Tara showing Dean her journal. She and John didn’t believe Smitty, so they exorcised the demon with extreme prejudice. Then they “had a lovely weekend together.” Boy, does that bit of TMI get Dean’s startled attention. Tara also admits that she looked for the First Blade for a long time, which is how she wrecked her knee. All she found was a tracking spell, but she’s missing one important ingredient, Essence of Kraken.

Crowley insists that he can get them Essence of Kraken immediately. After Dean reluctantly vouches for him, Tara even-more-reluctantly, breaks the devil’s trap to let him go get it.

In the minute or so that Crowley is gone, Tara points out that buddying up with the King of Hell is a bad idea. Dean allows this, but desperate times: “Abaddon? Way worse.” He assures her that he will take care of Crowley in due time. When Tara points out that his father used the same tone when he said he’d call her again, Dean looks nonplussed. She has, after all, been hitting on him from the get-go.

Crowley pops back in with the final ingredient and then watches in rapt fascination as the two Hunters mix up the spell in a bowl. They then pour it on an old-timey-looking map of the United States and Dean sets it on fire (this is basically the same type of location spell as the one Ruby used in season four to locate Dean in “On the Head of a Pin”). Once the fire dies down, it leaves the state of Missouri, with a glowing ember in the middle. The Blade will be there.

Crowley [to Tara]: Care to join us?
Tara [nodding at Dean]: Him? Any time. You? Never.

Dean thanks her and Tara wishes him good luck, adding (with a pat on the shoulder) “You’re gonna need it.”

Off to Missouri the Impala roars. Dean and Crowley arrive on a misty, overcast day at a remote farmhouse. When they get out, Crowley insists he feels “something dark.”

Dean [sardonically]: What, darker than you?

Crowley nods in the direction of a man approaching them past an old-style beehive. He’s wearing a full beekeeper’s suit. But Crowley insists the man is “not a beekeeper. He’s the Father of Murder.” With a little prompting from Dean, Crowley clarifies that he means Cain.

Shivering melodramatically, Crowley insists they need to leave. But as he turns, Cain appears behind them, telling Crowley he’s not going anywhere and calling him by name.

Cut to a really nice stained glass window of a beehive inside Cain’s house. His living room, to be exact. Dean and Crowley are sitting on the couch. Crowley is all fidgety. After some hedging from the wiley demon, Dean quickly dopes out that Crowley hasn’t abandoned him simply because he can’t teleport out. Seems Cain has a way of preventing Crowley from leaving. As he gets up to case the room, Dean racks Crowley for more info on Cain. Seems that Cain, after killing his brother Abel (yes, he really did that), became a demon and “killed thousands.” Crowley calls him “The best at being bad,” but then he suddenly disappeared and everyone “hoped” he was dead.

Cain comes in with a tray of tea and honey. Dean, who has been looking at a live display of a hive in glass in the room, stands up with a very intent stare at Cain. Cain rhapsodizes a bit about bees, “noble creatures,” how they’re dying out (and that their disappearance will also kill off humanity – bit of an exaggeration, there, Robbie), and the greatness of honey.

Crowley’s hand shakes as he takes his tea cup, pinky up. Dean watches this intently and then takes his own cup. They all sit down.

Cain: So, What are the King of Hell and a Winchester doing at my house?
Dean: You know who we are?
Cain: I’m retired. I’m not dead.

Cain then demands (politely but firmly) to know why they are looking for him and how they found him. When Crowley starts in with his usual bullshit, Cain literally shushes him so that Crowley can’t speak. Impressed, Dean asks Cain to teach him that spell.

Cain repeats his question to Dean. Actually, come to think of it, it was really aimed at Dean the first time. Dean takes a breath and gives the spiel: He and Crowley weren’t looking for Cain. They were looking for the First Blade (hence, allegedly, why Crowley was so upset that they found Cain, instead) that the “archangels used to kill the Knights of Hell.” A Knight of Hell is on the loose, Abaddon, and Dean wants to kill her. Dean does not miss how Cain’s hand tightens into a fist at that name. Or the elaborately carved ring on Cain’s finger.

Dean allows that he and Crowley understand that Cain is retired. They just want the Blade so they can go kill Abaddon.

When Cain asks if anyone else knows they’re there, Dean says, “No.”

Cut to Tara. Yeah, this is gonna be bad. She’s coming out of her storeroom in the back when her trick knee nearly brings her down. And in comes the dude with the baseball cap, from the diner at the beginning. Warned by her knee, Tara pulls out a shotgun (salt gun?) and shoots him. But her demon trap is useless after she shot it to let Crowley out, so will a shotgun blast to the face be enough?

Back at Cain’s, the Father of Murder is ready to see his guests out. Dean demurs, insisting on leaving with the Blade. Cain comments on Dean’s bravery and that his (no doubt considerable) reputation precedes him. Brushing off the rather sarcastic flattery, Dean says he’s not leaving. Abaddon is a threat and he’s taking her out. Why should Cain care if Dean has the Blade or not?

Cain says that if Crowley could talk, he’d tell him that Cain was the one who “trained” the Knights of Hell and built that entire organization. Dean is irritated that Crowley kept this information from him. Cain then adds something no one else but Abaddon has known – the archangels didn’t kill the Knights. Cain himself did. When Dean asks why, Cain says he’s going into town and doesn’t expect them to be there when he comes back. “Goodbye, Dean Winchester, never return,” he says on his way out.

As they leave the farmhouse, Crowley says it’s best if they get gone. Dean says no. They’ll just wait until Cain leaves, then come back and case the house for the First Blade (“and take what’s ours”). Ah, Dean. Bless yer larcenous little heart.

Back at the Bunker (sigh, this B story again), Castiel is trying to figure out Sam’s current headspace. He asks why Sam didn’t go through with the Trials. He points out that Sam and Dean chose each other at the end of them. That’s why Sam didn’t go through with the final Trial (curing a demon, namely Crowley).

Sam admits this, but then claims that with Dean gone, it’s all now on him. He’s going to find Gadriel and “settle” his “debts.” Sam wants to expiate his own guilt with a reckless experiment involving a ginormous old-timey hypodermic needle. Don’t get too excited, though. Sam’s gonna find a way to blame this all on Dean, because Sam is still a big man baby at this point in the show. Crowley’s got nothing on him in the melodrama department.

Cut back to Dean and Crowley (the far, far more interesting A story) sneaking back into Cain’s house.

Crowley: This is, by far, the dumbest idea you’ve ever had!
Dean: Yeah, well, it’s early.

I legit laughed out loud at that little exchange.

They start looking around. Crowley wants to bail, but Dean tells him to “sack up and start looking.” As Crowley goes into another room, Dean sees a very old sepia photo (a daguerrotype, maybe? Doesn’t look like an ambrotype or tintype) on the mantle of a dark-haired woman. The name “Colette” is written across the bottom. Staring at the woman’s ring, Dean has a flashback to Cain twisting his own ring, which is similar. Yes, Dean is a very observant person.

Cut to greasy Baseball Cap Demon Dude rolling up in a car near Cain’s house. He’s sporting a massive shotgun wound to the face (well … as massive as the show could get away with on network TV) and telling someone on the other end of his cell phone call to “send everybody.” So, I guess Tara didn’t make it. That sucks.

Cut back to Sam and Castiel (ugh, now?). Castiel is inserting the ginormous hypo and extracting glowing grace from Sam’s neck. It really hurts and causes a lot of flashbacks to late season eight and early season nine.

Worried, Castiel removes the hypo and explains that Sam’s body is “regressing” to its condition before Gadriel’s possession. Which, as you all may recall, was not good. Sam asks if Castiel has enough grace, yet, for the finding spell. Castiel says no, so Sam tells him to keep … sticking.

Back at the house, Dean shows Crowley the photo. Crowley comments that the woman is “plain,” but doesn’t otherwise see the significance. Dean spells it out for him – she and Cain are wearing similar rings, wedding rings. Dean figures Cain “went off the reservation” those many years ago because he fell in love and got married.

When they try to leave, though, the doors are locked and Cain pops up, none too thrilled (Crowley hands him the photo, lying that he thinks Colette is “lovely”). Even so, he has a not-quite-reluctant admiration for Dean’s obstinacy and keeps commenting on Dean’s “bravery.” There’s something going on here between these two that’s a bit more complicated than Cain wanting to pull a Garbo.

This exchange is interrupted by Baseball Cap Guy revealing his presence outside, now that he’s got some reinforcements. He claims he tortured Tara into giving up Cain’s location by skinning her alive. This may … or may not … be true, since Tara struck me as quite resourceful, broken devil’s trap in her shop or not, and Baseball Cap Guy ain’t the sharpest tool in the Evil Dead shed. But either way, we haven’t seen her since this episode, so let’s roll with “She’s dead.”

To back up the idea that BCG is a definitely stupid, his “offer” to Cain is that he’ll leave him alone as long as Cain gives up “The Winchester” and Crowley. I don’t think anybody here quite understands what Cain is capable of, yet. But they, and we, are about to find out.

Dean starts barricading the doors, asking Cain if whatever he used to lock them can hold. Cain shrugs and says, “For a while,” but he’s more irritated that Dean and Crowley have accidentally brought demonic company to his doorstep.

“Boo-hoo,” Dean snaps back and Cain comments once again, almost admiringly, on Dean’s bravery. Honestly? I don’t think Dean cares at this point.

Cain, setting down his groceries, says he’s happy to cook them dinner if they “survive.” He’s about to disappear again, so he’s feeling magnanimous.

Back at the Bunker [sigh], Castiel tries to talk Sam out of trying to get him to shove the hypo in more and says “Winchesters” (in this case, Sam) are “pig-headed.” Cas, just pull the damned glowing needle out, already.

Sam deliriously mopes about Kevin, so Castiel reluctantly sticks the needle in further and Sam screams.

Back at Cain’s, Dean has barricaded the house and orders a compliant Crowley to go hang out in the living room. In the kitchen, Cain is sedately husking corn (like the bees, a nod to the myth, where Cain was a farmer and Abel was a hunter) for his dinner. Dean gets pretty sarcastic about this and says it’s not like Cain to run from a fight.

Cain: Since when does the Great Dean Winchester ask for help? Well, that doesn’t sound like the man I’ve read about on demon bathroom walls. Maybe you’ve lost a step. Let’s find out.

He snaps his fingers and the back door opens, pushing aside Dean’s fridge barricade as if it’s nothing. Two demons enter the kitchen, one of them Tara’s killer, BCG himself. He’s with a blonde woman in a jeans jacket and jeans. As a nonplussed Dean whips out the Sparkly Spork o’ Doom, a Neanderthal-looking demon (played by Jensen Ackles’ stunt double Todd Scott) in jeans and a plaid shirt smashes through the glass doors between the dining room and the kitchen. He spars with Dean before knocking him onto Cain’s table. Dean rolls across it right into a fight with Tara’s killer, whom he quickly dispatches after a few blocks and swings. So much for moving up the ranks for that one. Tara is quickly avenged.

Neanderthal Guy and Blonde Girl grab Dean from each side, kick his feet out from under him, and fling him onto the table. Cain calmly proceeds with making dinner, saying “You’re doing great” to Dean.

Dean manages to kick BG across the room and spars some more with NG, beating the crap out of him and knocking him down. He turns to see BG confronting him with the Spork. Grabbing a dish towel (yes, a dish towel), Dean uses it as a sling, as she charges, to grab her around the neck. He tosses her into the fridge and a cabinet.

NG gets up, briefly. Dean kicks him in the gut and brains him with a pan. NG grabs a knife from a block on the counter as he crawls to his feet, and Dean and BG scuffle off-screen (this is seen over Cain’s shoulder as he watches Dean with masked, but keen, interest). NG turns around to see Dean with BG in a headlock. Glaring at NG over her shoulder, Dean stabs her in the gut with the Spork. Two down.

In the living room (the bees have been safely packed away), the front door opens, thanks to Cain. A young, athletic-looking demon enters. Crowley is unimpressed at first, but gets a roundhouse kick to the head that knocks him down. Putting up a hand as if to surrender, he says, “You’re good … but I’m Crowley!” He stabs the demon to death with an angel blade.

Crowley then watches as Dean engages with NG, the one surviving demon. NG is proving very tough, which translates to Todd Scott getting some fun onscreen time playing his own character for once. At one point, the demon throws Dean, sliding, across the room, into the oven (one story has it that Ackles did this stunt several times; the first few takes, he bounced up, insisting he was fine, but he started to get up a bit more slowly after that). Dean gets up, looking pissed and winded, but as they engage again, he’s able to get the kitchen knife out of NG’s hand. Then he’s able to fling him down onto the table and stab him in the throat, right in front of Cain. The face he lifts toward Cain over the dying demon is shadowy with pure rage and killing lust.

Cain drinks a beer, considering, as Dean contemptuously yanks out the Spork and rolls the host’s dead body off the table. It’s a brief reminder that behind every redshirt BED with no lines, there’s a complete horror story about some poor human who got possessed and then dead.

Dean [pissed]: So, what was this supposed to be – some kind of test?
Cain: I felt connected to you from the very beginning. Kindred spirits, if you will. You and I are very much alike.

That admission is huge from such an ancient and powerful being, but Cain says it calmly, almost with satisfaction. I’ll bet he hasn’t felt this intrigued since he lost Colette.

Dean is unimpressed. “Yeah,” he retorts. “Except I didn’t kill my brother.”

“No,” Cain admits. “You saved yours. Why?”

Dean: Because you never give up on family. Ever.
Cain: Where’s your brother now, then?

Nice burn, considering the hows and whys behind Dean’s current hunt.

Dean’s suicidally defiant shell finally begins to crack in confusion. He realizes he is in some kind of deep water he’s never swum before. Hate, hostility, contempt he’s used to, especially from demons. Not respect and understanding. And not from this very unexpected source. Floundering, he backs away from the implicit offer of kinship and demands the First Blade again.

Cain gets up, looking disappointed, and turns away as he admits that he doesn’t have the Blade, anymore.

Back at the Bunker, Sam has a big old nosebleed. Glancing ruefully over at his pb&j sandwich, Castiel realizes what he needs to do. With a bit of warning to a semi-conscious Sam, he pulls out the needle. Then he heals him completely.

Sam wakes up upset. Castiel says they’ve got some grace, but it may not be enough. Either way, thanks to Castiel’s final healing, Sam now has no more grace inside him. Castiel says that being human has taught him about more than sandwiches. Now he can relate to Sam and other humans with actual empathy. He knows how they feel and hurting Sam to extract grace felt wrong.

Castiel: The only person who has screwed things up more consistently than you is me.

Castiel says that he understands Sam’s guilt now. Before he’d been human, he would have just “kept going … because the ends justify the means.” But if “angels can change, maybe Winchesters can, too.”

Or not.

Back at the house, Crowley is not responding well to the news that the Blade is gone. Why would the spell bring them here if it’s somewhere else?

Cain says that the Blade takes its power from him. He’s the source, so the spell led them to him. He rolls up his sleeve. There is a mark on his arm, like a stylized, Ancient Mesopotamian, raised tattoo in the shape of an ass’ jawbone. When Crowley genuflects at the sight, Dean is disgusted.

Dean: Really? Now?
Crowley: It’s the bloody Mark of Cain!
Cain: From Lucifer himself. The Mark and the Blade work together. Without the Mark, the Blade is useless. It’s just an old bone.
Crowley: Bone?
Dean: The jawbone of an animal. The jawbone you used to kill Abel. Because he was God’s favorite.
Cain: Abel wasn’t talking to God. He was talking to Lucifer. Lucifer was gonna make my brother into his pet. I couldn’t bear to watch him be corrupted, so I offered a deal: Abel’s soul in Heaven for my soul in Hell. Lucifer accepted, as long as I was the one who sent Abel to Heaven. So, I killed him. Became a soldier of Hell, a Knight.

Dean correctly guesses that Lucifer then made Cain create new Knights (though these, it seems, were notably weaker and did not bear the Mark). Cain confirms this guess. He says that he and his cadre of Knights wreaked destruction everywhere they went. Dean then also correctly guesses that this stopped when Cain met Colette (Ackles mispronounces her name as “Culotte”).

Looking bewildered, Cain says that Colette “forgave” him, knowing full well who and what he was. “She loved me unconditionally.” Well … she did have one condition. Crowley then guesses what her price was: “To stop.”

Cain explains that the other Knights took his retirement … poorly. They kidnapped Colette, so Cain took up the First Blade (“and it felt so good”) on the way to rescuing her and slaughtered them all. Except, as Dean notes, for Abaddon.

As Cain bares his teeth in barely suppressed rage (before looking down in apparent shame), we get another sepia-toned flashback that continues from the episode’s teaser. After killing the last demon soldier in the outer room, Cain enters the house’s bedroom. He finds Colette, but she is possessed by Abaddon. Gloating and acting like a jilted lover, Abaddon forces Colette’s neck in awful directions, causing her mortal injuries and making her scream in pain. When Cain, enraged, attacks her with the Blade, she smokes out just in time, leaving poor Colette to take the blow to her stomach. Devastated, Cain lowers her to the floor, apologizing and swearing retribution on her behalf. But Colette’s final wish as she dies is that he retire, instead. So, weeping, he does. “I buried her and I walked away.”

In the present, Dean points out that Abaddon is still killing people (he doesn’t mention that one of her victims was his own grandfather). It’s his mission to kill her. When Cain demurs and turns away, Dean grabs him and slams him against a wall, threatening him with the Spork. Unimpressed, Cain tells him, “You never give up on anything, do you?” and when Dean snaps back, “Never!” he’s shocked when Cain says, “Well, I do,” and uses Dean’s hand to shove the Spork into his own chest. As with Castiel when Dean first met him, the blade comes out with no blood and Cain is not at all hurt. What kind of demon is he?

Cain disappears, while more and more demons arrive, pounding on the windows and doors. Dean shouts after him, but it’s no use. Crowley says he’ll try to “stay as long as I can” and Dean is sarcastic in response. Not that Crowley can leave, anyway.

Cain has not gone far. He’s kneeling beside Colette’s grave (is this the same house? It’s much larger than the cabin in the flashback and is on more open ground. I guess he must have taken her home to bury her). He tells her that he’s tried to see himself the way she saw him, but he can’t. He knows she still watches him from Heaven, “but I need you to look away now.” Leaning down, he kisses the grave.

A moment later, he’s back in the house. Dean turns from the window to see him. Irritated, he demands, “The hell, man? You in or are you out?! I’m getting head spins!”

Cain then makes Dean a startling offer. He will give Dean the Mark, too, so that Dean can go use the First Blade to kill Abaddon.

Cain: The Mark can be transferred to someone who’s worthy.
Dean: You mean a killer like you?

No, Dean, I’m pretty sure that’s not exactly what Cain meant – that there is far, far more to being “worthy” of bearing the Mark of Cain – but Cain allows that’s at least part of it. “But you must know the Mark comes with a great burden. Some would call it a great cost.”

Dean: Yeah, well, spare me the warning label. You had me at “Kill the Bitch.”
Cain [grabbing Dean’s arm in a handshake]: Good luck, Dean. You’re gonna need it.
Dean: Yeah, well, I get that a lot. Let’s dance!

Cain grips Dean’s arm as the Mark bloodily transfers over to Dean. Dean nearly falls from the pain and Cain is also in agony, but neither one lets go until it’s done. Crowley calls Dean’s name and Dean quickly recovers, insisting he’s okay.

Cain then tells Dean that he threw the Blade “to the bottom of the deepest ocean” because otherwise, he’d never have been able to resist its power and it can’t be destroyed. He tells Dean to get the Blade and go kill Abaddon (to which Dean, obviously, agrees), but he has another condition. He also wants Dean to find him and kill him with the Blade. When Dean asks why, Cain just says, “For what I’m about to do” and he snaps his fingers.

The whammy on the doors and windows snaps off and the demons pour in. But before they can get near Dean and Crowley, Cain sends them both back to the Impala (either distracted or unable to see them, the demons run right past them into the house). The last we see of Cain is as he rolls up his sleeves (still bearing his own version of the Mark), surrounded by demons. The doors and windows are once again shut.

Outside, Crowley comments that the demons are trapped inside. As pink light and demon screams blast through the windows, Dean adds, “With him!” The two of them flee in the Impala.

Cut back to the Bunker, where Sam and Castiel are doing the Men of Letters finding spell with the angel grace. Unfortunately, there isn’t quite enough grace and the spell isn’t successful. Sam appears to take it well and hugs Castiel, which means he’s probably lying like a rug.

Castiel re-prioritizes things by reminding Sam that Metatron is the real Big Bad. He’s the one who ordered the hit on Kevin, so Castiel will go find him. He points out as he leaves that they need all the help they can get (i.e., Call Dean), but Sam just says, ambiguously, “We got this,” when they clearly don’t.

The Impala pulls up near a dock across a bay from a cityscape (which is probably the Downtown West Side of Vancouver in real life, but is some nameless city in the episode). Dean is driving, Crowley in Sam’s usual seat, riding shotgun.

In the scene in the house where Cain makes Dean stab him, Cain’s face is in normal lighting, while Dean’s (and even Crowley’s) is in a harsh, blue lighting that is sinister and almost deathly. That lighting continues in this coda scene, though there is now some faint normal lighting on Dean’s face that fights a losing battle with the blue. We saw a similar contrast in the coda in the last episode, with Dean in blue and Sam in orange, more natural-like lighting. Dean’s nature is changing.

In the coda, Crowley is saying that Cain was right – Dean is “worthy.” Dean isn’t impressed, not even when Crowley points out that “your problem, mate, is that nobody hates you more than you do. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

Dean cuts right to the chase. They need to find the First Blade. Crowley says Dean can’t search the ocean, but Crowley can (with all that salt? That’s gonna be tricky). But as the smarmy ex-King of Hell gets out of the car, self-satisfied with a plan in motion and a pawn on course, Dean closes his eyes, momentarily overwhelmed by the shame of how far down the supernatural rabbit hole he’s gone, and finally shows his cards. One of them, anyway.

You see, all episode, we know that Crowley has been playing Dean. And we also know that Dean probably knows that Crowley has been playing him, too. That’s always what Crowley does, or at least tries to do. Crowley plays games. He makes deals. He is the King of the Crossroads, after all. But Dean needed a way to kill Abaddon, so he took that carrot.

What we didn’t know, up until this moment, is that not only did Dean know Crowley was playing him, but he knew exactly what Crowley was doing and, a lot of the time, how Crowley was doing it. In point of fact, Dean has been playing Crowley as much, or even more, as Crowley has been playing him.

Dean tells Crowley that even as he was fighting for his life in Cain’s kitchen, he saw Crowley kill the demon in the living room and then stand by, watching Dean fight. He cites Crowley’s exaggerated fear, such as the quaking tea cup in Cain’s living room, as part of Crowley’s act. He guesses (correctly) that Crowley already knew the whole story about Cain and Abaddon and the First Blade when he first showed up in the diner to “recruit” Dean (something Cain himself pointed out back at the house while Crowley couldn’t talk). He even noticed that Crowley gave away their location so that Abaddon’s minions would track them to Cain’s house. He’s got the who, what, when, where and how figured out. He wants to know why.

Crowley admits that Cain would not have given up the Blade (and it’s not as though Crowley could have used it) to him. He needed someone … well … worthy. He needed Dean. And he also knew that he needed a way to prove Dean’s worth, quickly, to the Father of Murder: “You, plus demons, equals Fight Night.”

When Dean points out, almost plaintively, that Crowley and his plan got Tara killed, Crowley is dismissive. That’s just the price of business. You can’t make an egg without breaking omelettes.

Crowley then gets quite a shock when Dean punches him – and it really hurts. Hmm. Dean’s rage comes roaring out like a blowtorch: “After I kill Abaddon, you’re next!”

Crowley shows a strange vulnerability for the first time (“You don’t really mean that. We’re having too much fun!”). As Dean turns away in disgust, Crowley says they’re going to need more than the First Blade. They’ll need allies. When Dean just tells him, “Go find the Blade,” Crowley acts confused by Dean’s “drama” (he couldn’t care less about Tara) and vanishes.

Left alone, Dean looks down at his arm and pulls up his sleeve. The Mark is still there. And from the look on Dean’s face and sucked-in breath, it really hurts. The rather strange incidental music during his conversation with Crowley (a lone, sarcastic oboe) morphs into creepily ethereal xylophone-type chords, like ice cubes running down a fleshless spine. Something wicked this way comes.

Credits

Review: I’ll readily admit that I lingered a bit more on this one than I might on others. It’s an entertaining watch with a lot of subtextual meat on the bones, especially in the directing and acting. And it’s far more important to the overall series than you might think.

“First Born” is one of those episodes that didn’t seem terribly important at the time of its first release. Sure, it was fun and suspenseful, with muscular direction from veteran John Badham (his first go-round with the show, but by no means his first TV rodeo) of a reasonably tight script from Robbie Thompson. Timothy Omundson was a revelation as conflicted, but sympathetic, antihero Cain. Rachel Hayward as Tara was cynically entertaining for the thirty-some-odd seconds we got of her. Anna Galvin ably navigated the lines between Colette and Abaddon, also for a hot minute. Mark Sheppard got to have some serious fun delivering snarky lines like “You’re good, but I’m Crowley.”

Last, but definitely not least, Dean had one of his most iconic fights of the show, involving a vicious and exceedingly violent setpiece against three demons. Jensen Ackles has commented that this scene was especially difficult to shoot, since his stunt double, Todd Scott, was also playing a character and could not provide his usual backup.

But none of that was especially new. We’d seen Dean fight two demons quite ably right out of Purgatory in the season eight premiere. We’d seen him pick up potentially life-altering conditions and weapons that were dropped by the end of the episode or completely forgotten a few episodes later. The show’s had many memorable villains and antiheroes (though admittedly, Cain was way up there). And there wasn’t even any classic rock. Like, at all.

Still, I would argue that “First Born” is the most important MOTW episode in the entire show. Note that I didn’t say mytharc. I said MOTW. There are plenty of game-changing mytharc episodes, but while MOTWs may have sequels and follow-ups, they are notable for being self-contained. Things that happen to Sam and Dean inside an MOTW may continue an ongoing mytharc dynamic, but they do not change the entire dynamic between the Brothers themselves.

Yet, this is precisely what “First Born” does and so far (with only one season left), that shift has been permanent. This is the episode where Sam and Dean pass each other in opposite directions on the human/supernatural continuum. In this episode, Sam finally and fully becomes human, eight and a half seasons after beginning the show tainted by the supernatural. Dean, though he has always been a denizen of the supernatural world since age four, and has picked up and dropped many supernatural weapons and attributes over the years, has always been coded by the show itself as human.

In this episode, however, Sam has the final vestige of supernatural taint (in the form of residual grace from Gadriel) removed, while Dean receives the Mark of Cain, which will now taint him forever. Castiel doesn’t realize it when he says it, but this episode demonstrates that a Winchester can change — permanently.

It’s interesting that the show’s halfway point will now have been season eight’s watershed episode “As Time Goes By,” in which evil Knight of Hell Abaddon was first introduced — or “Trial and Error,” in terms of episode number for the entire show. We could acknowledge that extra half an episode to the true middle and pretend “Man’s Best Friend with Benefits” ever existed, but let’s not. What an irony that at the time, many fans believed that seasons seven, eight or nine were either the last seasons, or very close to the end.

Yet, even though these episodes are technically the halfway point, “First Born” is where we meet Abaddon’s creator (at least, as far as making her a Knight) and get a hint who will end up being her nemesis. If “As Time Goes By” (or “Trial and Error,” where Sam co-opts Dean’s attempt to take on the Hell Trials, with ultimately disastrous results that resonate still in “First Born”) is the literal halfway point, “First Born” is the thematic halfway point where Dean’s new mytharc starts to take off and pay off for real.

Dean is playing a very dangerous game here, as Tara warns him. He’s literally working with the devil he knows (or at least doesn’t hate quite as much) against the devil he doesn’t (or just hates a whole lot more). As his look of shame in the Impala indicates, Dean is well aware of this and as such, feels a lot of guilt over Tara’s death as one he “let” happen on his watch. He said about Kevin’s death last episode that he was “poison.” Now someone else has died.

What Dean doesn’t seem to understand is that he is playing the game at such a high level, with such major players, that even an experienced Hunter like Tara is in extreme danger working with him. That might be a surprise to the viewer, but only on first watch or if you’re not really paying attention.

Dean’s affect in this one is leaden, except in those moments when he is provoked into violence and his demeanor flashes over into sheer rage. If Sam is projecting his anger, Dean is internalizing all of his and it’s slowly killing him.

He looks deeply and severely depressed. He hasn’t shaved. It doesn’t look as though he’s showered or changed his clothes. He’s eating at the beginning of the episode, but it’s almost by rote. Kevin’s death hit him hard, but now that it’s sinking in, and he’s not getting the immediate satisfaction of finding Gadriel and “ending” him, the guilt and shame and pain and grief are getting worse, not better.

At first, it seems that Crowley’s mockery of him is correct, that Thompson is genuinely writing Dean as stupid (sadly, it wouldn’t be the first time). But it quickly becomes clear that the opposite is the case. Dean is playing Crowley even more than Crowley is playing him. Crowley is far more emotionally compromised than he thinks, certainly more emotionally compromised than Dean, who coldly manipulates him on the one hand while fielding Cain’s unexpected and almost fatherly interest on the other. The critical observation here is that while Dean may have no personal self-esteem and a whole lot of self-hatred, he is keenly aware of the transactional value of his body and soul, and sometimes even his knowledge and experience. We’ve seen him haggle like a horse trader over those.

So, are the decisions Dean is making reckless because he is depressed and suicidal, or is he, as always, running it close to the bleeding edge, using his own body as collateral for a goal he may not live to see? Both sound good.

Dean is almost literally sleeping with the enemy at this point. His speech to Sam at the end of last episode now sounds a bit like Bogart’s “Where I’m going, you can’t follow” speech at the end of Casablanca, except that Sam’s response is not nearly as positive and supportive as Ilsa’s. Dean doesn’t want Sam (or Castiel) involved in his plan because he’s going down a mighty dark path.

It’s also a path in which he is working with extremely powerful supernatural beings as an equal, or even leading them. Crowley wants to be his “bestie.” Cain calls him a “kindred spirit.” Abaddon’s demons refer to him as “The Winchester.” There’s also Sam, of course (as Castiel keeps pointing out in the B story), but Cain makes it pretty clear that Dean is the one demons are writing about on bathroom walls.

It’s not a real surprise that Dean isn’t impressed by all of this blatant attention, and is even a bit disgusted by most of it. He’s already seen the lifelong tongue bath Sam got from Lucifer and his minions, especially Ruby. He has no intention of letting Crowley snow him the same way and really, we’ve never seen Crowley really get the upper hand on Dean since the time he tricked Dean into working for him, under the impression that he controlled access to Sam’s soul in season six.

Further, Dean’s most recent experience with a Knight before Cain, Abaddon, was her sleazing over his looks and threatening to possess him, so you can’t really blame him for expecting more of the same from her former teacher. He’s quite shocked to discover that he and the Father of Murder share a bond and we see that he doesn’t know how to feel about that. We also see (though it won’t become clear until later) that Dean has finally bitten off more than he can chew and acquired a supernatural power (or array of powers) that he can’t just drop once he’s done with it.

Crowley insists he’s on top of things, and even seems to think so, but this episode demonstrates his blind spots – namely, his inability to understand selfless love. I know he has been turned partially human since the end of season eight, but that subplot doesn’t overtly crop up here. What we get instead is his casual misogyny (he struggles to grasp Dean’s immediate realization that Colette is the key to Cain’s psyche and couldn’t care less about Tara’s horrible offscreen demise), with the subtext that he really wants to replace Sam in Dean’s life … or even more.

This is the episode where it starts to become obvious that Crowley is gay for Dean and that Dean is starting to learn how to play on Crowley’s romantic obsession to get what he wants out of the (ex)King of Hell. It really amuses me that all the Dean-hating stans who claim Jensen Ackles is a homophobe and the show is queer-baiting, because Dean isn’t bi for his brother and has never kissed Castiel, completely missed his years-long, bitterly one-sided relationship with Crowley until recently. Y’all, this episode was way back in season nine. What took you so long?

Mark Sheppard has stated in the past that he didn’t like the “human blood” storyline. He liked it best when Crowley was “the smartest one in the room.” I don’t really think Crowley ever was the smartest character, but I also don’t think that was a good idea, anyway. It made Crowley boring and one-note. Crowley as a frenemy was better than as a Big Bad (he was severely underwhelming as a Big Bad), but in order to be a frenemy, he needed more depth than just to be the EVOL thorn in the Brothers’ sides. Otherwise, he’d just have been a male Ruby and that character went down like a lead balloon with the fandom. Sam and Dean are a lot of things, but stupid isn’t actually one of them.

Personally, I found Crowley’s obsession with Dean quite interesting and very noirish. Dean was Crowley’s weakness (even demons commented on this), a femme fatale to Crowley’s anti-hero, and likely the number one reason Crowley could never hold on to his crown for very long, even in season six. Yet, Dean never seemed to inspire Crowley to become a better person (not that Dean ever tried).

As a demon, I don’t think Crowley had the capacity to be a better person, even hopped up on human blood. In this episode, Crowley provides a strong contrast to Dean and Cain that highlights how Cain is more different than other demons than he is alike to them because Cain can love and love quite strongly. And that love is both deep and selfless. In addition, it is portrayed as more of a strength than a weakness. Cain is more like a human with superpowers than a demon. Demons do have emotions – we’ve seen this many times – but they are either negative emotions or twisted versions of what would normally be positive emotions.

I was rather less thrilled with the way both of the main onscreen female characters get fridged to motivate the men (the waitress and the female fighting demon are briefly entertaining, but they don’t even get any lines). Somewhat in defense of it, they are interesting characters in what little we see of them, but other than that, the episode is a bit of a sausage fest.

I also wasn’t hugely impressed by the way Abaddon was written while inside Colette. It wasn’t the actress’ fault (she juggled the two characters very well and distinctly, and was only playing what she was given in the writing). It’s just that after Abaddon’s being portrayed for a season as the baddest Alpha bitch who ever bitched, it was a little head-scratching for Thompson to give her this strange backstory where she was Cain’s vindictively Sub ex. That’s … not really how Abaddon was ever written, either before or after this episode, so I’m not very surprised the other writers never followed up on it.

Elsewhere, we get the not-so-hot B story of Castiel trying to talk Sam out of getting himself killed finding Gadriel. I get that this is supposed to be the mirror image of the despair that Dean feels when he decides working with Crowley is a grand idea, but it just plain doesn’t work. It’s all surface, no subtext (well … no appropriate subtext), with on-the-nose dialogue from Sam announcing over and over that he feels bad about Kevin and how Dean should just stay gone, and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, Castiel is saddled with equally on-the-nose dialogue in which he bemoans the suicidal tendencies of the Winchester clan, and finally just gives up and heals Sam to end the situation. Shakespeare it’s not.

I think this B story is intended to make Sam sympathetic, even as he is flailing around, declaring that he and Castiel can manage perfectly well on their own without Dean. Even if this were true (they’re pretty damned useless without Dean), it comes off as harsh in contrast to what Dean is getting himself into right in that moment. If Sam were there in that farmhouse, would Dean have said yes? Hard to say, but Sam’s obliviousness to the cost his brother is taking on right at the same time Sam is basically projecting all his guilt onto Dean is not flattering to Sam.

That telescope in the library is still really nice, though, so there’s that.

Next time: Sharp Teeth: Garth comes back (stop groaning out there in the Peanut Gallery) and he has a Big Secret that could tear the Brothers apart. Oh, whatever could it be?


The Kripke Years

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

The Gamble Years

Season 6 (with Kripke)

Season 7

The Carver Years

Season 8

Season 9

Season 10

Season 11

The Dabb Years

Season 12

Season 13

Season 14


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Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 9.10: Road Trip


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[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]


Tagline: Dean recruits TFW to get Sam out of his angel-possession in the wake of Kevin’s murder.

Recap: Medium-sized recap of Dean’s deal with Ezekiel/Gadriel (leaving out entirely the part where Dean promised Gadriel a favor, so don’t expect to see that brought up again. Ever) to save Sam from Trialberculosis, the whole Fallen Angels plot, Castiel regaining temporary angelhood via some stolen grace, and Gadriel killing Kevin last episode. We end on Dean’s plaintive “Kevin?” to Kevin’s dead body.

Cut to Now, where a stone-faced Dean is burning Kevin’s body … alone. Returning to the Bunker … alone, to find Kevin’s stuff and cell phone (with a wallpaper photo of himself and his mom on it) on the table where he left them. And having a massive nervous breakdown to Bob Seger’s “The Famous Final Scene” in which he tosses the cell phone and papers all over the place. And the lamp. And the chair. At the end, he looks completely lost and confused, as if he just came out of a fugue state – and devastated.

Cue season nine title cards with burning angel wings. Have a feeling those will be more-than-apt this week.

Cut to a rock star named Corey in a full-black shiny-leather suit walking down a hallway before a sold-out concert with his handler (this is where Amazon Prime’s thumbnail for this ep comes from and as you’ll see in a minute, it’s wildly misleading). She’s telling him his song lineup as he enters his dressing room. He’s supposed to keep it clean.

Gadriel is in there, still wearing Sam. When the rock star sees Gadriel, he sends the handler packing with a slurred “Bitch, did I stutter?” Charming.

Inside, Gadriel calls the angel wearing the rock star “Thaddeus” and Thaddeus recognizes Gadriel. No love lost there. Seems Thaddeus was one of Gadriel’s guards up in Heaven and enjoyed his job a wee bit too much. It even seems he tortured a close friend/lover of Gadriel named Abner.

Thaddeus is cocky and trash-talks a lot as he goes for his sword. Too bad Gadriel’s a lot smarter than Thaddeus gave him credit for and already found it in his guitar case. Thaddeus tries a last-minute heel-face turn and apology, but Gadriel kills him in the middle of begging for his life. Enjoys it, too.

Back at the Bunker, Dean is packing everything for all-out war when Castiel shows up. Being, as ever, a little slow on the subtext count, Castiel mistakes Dean’s smile (which has as many teeth as a Megalodon shark), and comment on Castiel’s reclamation of the trenchcoat, as warm and welcoming. Then he sees the smashed lamp and papers on the floor – and the absence of Kevin – and clues in that something is very wrong. Note that Dean didn’t clean any of that up.

Over a drink (when not?), Dean spills completely about his deal with Gadriel to heal Sam, and how it resulted in Kevin’s death. Unsurprisingly (in other news, the ocean is really wet), Dean blames himself completely, while wanting “Ezekiel” dead, deader, deadest. Castiel is sympathetic, but honestly? His response is a little too tepidly “I could have to you so” (since he never actually did) and therefore less-than-helpful.

Castiel does point out that if Dean kills “Ezekiel” (they don’t yet know Gadriel’s real name or backstory), he kills Sam. Dean allows that he knows that, but killing Sam is better than letting a possessing angel burn him out.

What little control Dean has over all that internal screaming starts to falter as he faces this hard reality. He starts to verbally flagellate himself, calling himself “stupid.” Castiel gets him to stop spiraling for the moment by pointing out that he was “stupid for the right reasons” (i.e., that he went with what limited options he had). This is actually pretty kind and it gives Castiel an idea – what if they could get inside Sam’s head and get to Sam directly? Then Sam could kick “Ezekiel” out.

Dean wonders how they could possibly do that with “Zeke” in charge. Castiel brings up Alfie (without mentioning that he’s the one who killed him) and what Alfie told him about “the demons” (i.e., Crowley) who were able to access his angelic programming. Oh, and guess who they currently have downstairs, chilling in the dungeon?

Dean and Castiel visit Crowley. They get straight to the point about what they want from him, in exchange for human blood (from Dean, to feed Crowley’s addiction), but that doesn’t mean they’re terribly forthcoming on anything else. Crowley has to guess from their ominous silences and the odd blurted-out statement from Castiel that Kevin is dead, Sam is in the wind, and a whole lot has been going on while he’s been stuck in the Hole (and he doesn’t even know yet that none of it has anything to do with Abaddon). As usual, he fields it all with a cocky smile as if he’s the smartest man in the room. But even though the script has Dean and Castiel act a bit plot-stupid just to get Crowley up to speed quickly, Crowley’s Smartest Demon shtick is already wearing a bit thin at this point in the show.

Case in point: When Crowley snarks that the reason Kevin is dead is because no mere human ever survives very long around Dean Winchester (and that he tried to warn Kevin to run), the pretty obvious subtext is that of late, the reason for that has been that Crowley’s the one who murders ’em. The pained scoff Dean makes indicates that even though the dart hits home emotionally because he’s so raw, intellectually he knows Crowley’s full of shit.

Even so, Dean’s patience is thin and he cuts the banter short, agreeing to a deal – Crowley can go on the road trip with them to find Sam, albeit in cuffs. But of course, “Zeke” has the Impala, so Dean has no car (um … what about the cars in the Bunker basement?). Fortunately, Castiel still has his wheels (a 1978 Lincoln Continental – a pimpmobile), which ran out of gas a few miles down the road. They head there with a gas can and as a suspicious looking woman and her dog watch from the sidewalk, they get in. Since the show is not subtle with its classic car/rock call-outs, they ride off to “The Royal Scene” by Dude Royal (thanks, Tunefind!), Dean driving, Castiel and Crowley bickering in the back. By the way, Crowley still has no idea that the angels have fallen or lost their wings, so he doesn’t understand why Castiel has a car. And neither Castiel nor Dean chooses to enlighten him.

Metatron is having a martini in a place where Gadriel’s former vessel is tending bar. The nameless vessel does a double-take when Gadriel walks in, wearing Sam, and Gadriel stares back at him uneasily. Metatron comments on how odd it is for an angel to encounter a “former vessel, like looking in a funhouse mirror.”

Gadriel gives him a bag containing the Angel and Demon tablets, and Metatron looks pleased. He claims that he gave Gadriel the assignment to kill Thaddeus because he knew Gadriel would enjoy it, so Gadriel doesn’t question it. Gadriel is more hesitant about having followed the order to kill Kevin. Metatron is all mellow as he says he turned off the mechanism in Heaven that creates Prophets, so no new ones with Kevin gone.

His mellowness evaporates when he finds out that Dean is still alive. Andrew Dabb wrote this script and his clumsy writing shows in this exchange. Upset, Gadriel rightly points out that Metatron never said anything about killing Dean. Metatron whines that “sometimes, you have to kill your darlings” and that Gadriel should have “shown some initiative” to prove he deserves to be Metatron’s second in command, but this makes Metatron look careless. The fact that Dean Winchester is still alive is clearly such a problem that it makes the other (quite large) things Gadriel has done already for Metatron pale in comparison. But if Metatron had wanted Dean dead that badly (and we’ll see later that he really did), he should have said so. There simply is never a good reason given in the story for why he was so coy and left it to chance like that, so it becomes a big plothole.

Needless to say after this display of ungrateful petulance from Metatron, Gadriel is not at all thrilled to hear he has to go kill someone else. But he’s already in too deep and he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, either, so Metatron’s guilt trip works on him. He can’t course-correct now.

Back at the house where Castiel’s car broke down, the woman who saw TFW leave has predictably been possessed by a demon. We see her lift a bowl of dog blood (ugh, Show, what is it with you and killing off cute little dogs?) to make a call to Abaddon. Alas, she isn’t terribly observant, only saying that “Crowley is on the move” and not noting the demonic handcuffs that were under his coat or anything like that. Or that Dean and Castiel were with him.

In the foyer of a business called Waldroff Financial, Crowley is sitting on a bench between Dean and Castiel, and bickering with them. He tells them that he has a plant there named “Cecily” who is a demon. Also, the firm is a front for the NSA. Cecily uses their listening devices to find marks for the CRDs.

Cecily is willing to see only Crowley, who walks into her office (hiding his cuffs), while Dean and Castiel are forced to wait outside. In the office, Cecily demonstrates immediately that she recognizes both Dean and Castiel (which makes you wonder how safe it was for them to enter an NSA front). She considers Castiel “hot,” but only now he’s an angel again. Crowley is taken aback. Once again, he’s brought up short by how behind the eight-ball he is. She tells him about how Castiel stole new grace and angeled up again, aside from not having wings. She also claims that she’s not a fan of Abaddon, who doesn’t care about anything but fire and brimstone. Crowley seems to buy it, which is rather odd.

Outside, Castiel is trying to listen in, but the room is warded. Cecily is telling Crowley that she learned what she did from finding a satellite to “tune into angel radio.” Don’t worry – we won’t hear about any more of that after this.

After trying to talk her into breaking his cuffs off (she says only a key will make it happen), Crowley finally gets down to business and asks about the Impala’s location. He also finally figures out that she’s playing both sides. Chagrined, she admits it, but gives him the info, anyway.

Crowley comes back out to tell Dean and Castiel that the Impala ran a red light in Somerset, PA. Off they go as Gadriel arrives in that town to kill his next target. That man turns out to be the vessel for Gadriel’s old friend Abner. Abner is playing the father to Alexander’s family. The vessel wasn’t a good dad, so Abner is making up for that. When his vessel’s little daughter comes out, he introduces her to Gadriel as his old friend (apparently, Thaddeus’ insinuation was just a homophobic insult). Then he asks Gadriel to come back later after the daughter and her mother go out.

Later, they sit in the living room. Abner has changed. He used to be angry and “petulant,” but since falling to earth, he’s gotten over it. He clarifies that the amount of time he spent in Heavenly prison was seven centuries, which doesn’t jibe terribly well with the whole “Garden desertion” storyline, but I guess he was imprisoned a lot later than Gadriel. Or something. Dabb’s not good with timelines.

Abner tries to tell Gadriel that he can use being on earth for a new start and Gadriel appears to think about it. But when TFW arrive at the house later that night (Dean looking relieved and upset to see Baby again), they find Abner dead on the floor with his throat cut. So, Gadriel made his choice. Again.

Gadriel is in the kitchen, washing Abner’s blood off his hands, when he senses Dean behind him. Dean has an angel blade. Gadriel is arrogant enough to tell Dean that he shouldn’t have come after Gadriel spared him. Dean coldly tells him that he shouldn’t have expected to kill Dean’s friend and walk off inside Dean’s brother, and not expect Dean to come after him.

Gadriel TK’s Dean into a bookshelf, knocking him out, but of course it’s a trap. Castiel is standing on Gadriel’s other side. When Gadriel turns around, Castiel cold-cocks him.

Back at Cecily’s office, she is telling Abaddon about her talk with Crowley and spilling everything. Cecily unwisely admits that she is playing both sides, so Abaddon kills her with an angel blade. Dead dog, dead cheeky female ally. Sounds like a Dabb script.

Somewhere in an abandoned building, Gadriel wakes up, chained to a chair. He is defiant, at first, and claims he can rip Sam apart from the inside. He even claims he has Sam locked in a happy dream of being on a hunt with Dean. He suggests Dean can just end this by putting an angel blade through Sam’s heart. Instead, Dean calls Gadriel out on betraying him and Kevin (Gadriel looks ashamed), and has Crowley stick big needles in Sam’s head.

Dean watches for a while, but then has to leave. Castiel follows him out. Dean admits that he’s struggling with watching Crowley lobotomize his brother and begs Castiel to talk about anything else. Castiel gives him the short version of how he powered up again. Dean apologizes to Castiel for kicking him out of the Bunker. Castiel apologizes to Dean for believing Metatron. Dean asks if that means they’re “dumbasses.”

Castiel: I prefer the term “trusting.”

At that moment, Crowley calls them back in. He twirls a needle and a catatonic Gadriel starts speaking Enochian. He says his name. Castiel recognizes it and realizes that he didn’t recognize Gadriel before because Gadriel has been imprisoned “since the dawn of time” for “letting Lucifer into the Garden.” Dean guesses he means Adam and Eve (even though Eve in this story is the mother of monsters), but it’s more likely “Garden” means “Creation.” But who knows? It’s a mystery. And a Dabb script.

Castiel gets mad at Gadriel and shakes him, but Dean pulls him off. Twirling another needle, Crowley wakes up Gadriel, who is still defiant. He claims he can hide Sam from them for years, if necessary. Dean’s next idea is to have Castiel possess Sam, too, but Castiel can’t do it without permission. Crowley points out that demons don’t need permission. Crowley renegotiates for his freedom, so Dean has Castiel burn off Sam’s anti-possession tattoo. Dean threatens him and then Gadriel threatens him, but Crowley is cocky about his chances. He blows red smoke into Sam’s mouth after Dean gives him his and Sam’s secret “go word – Poughkeepsie.” Castiel asks Dean what will happen if the plan doesn’t work. “It’ll work,” Dean says, with more determination that he seems to feel.

Inside Sam’s head, Sam is in the Bunker, researching a case. “Dean” is in the kitchen, getting beer. Sam is shocked when Crowley shows up, even more so that Crowley knows the Winchester safe word. Crowley tells him he’s been possessed by an angel and that in possession, even though the angel has Sam locked away in his mind, he can remember everything. Sam then has a quick set of flashbacks that ends with killing Kevin.

Crowley tells Sam that he has to cast the angel out. Unfortunately, Gadriel (in the form of his first vessel, the bartender) shows up at that moment and proceeds to kick Crowley’s ass. But not until after a big rant about how he’s going to be the Hero who leads the angels back to Heaven and demons like Crowley will always be cowards. Crowley stands his ground and punches Gadriel to gives Sam time to get up to speed.

Sam interrupts Crowley’s ass-whupping by attacking Gadriel. There’s a fight that Gadriel at first appears to be winning (pointing out that Sam might die if he leaves), even as Crowley exhorts Sam to cast him out. Abruptly, Sam gets the upper hand by clobbering Gadriel with a statuette and gives him his marching orders. Gadriel is forced to leave in white, glowing smoke and returns to the bar where Metatron is waiting and his vessel works. His vessel gives verbal consent again and is repossessed as all the glass breaks in the bar. Metatron recovers from his surprise to ask, “Let me guess – Winchester trouble?”

Back at the monastery/warehouse/whatever-it-is, Crowley blasts out of Sam, as well, and back into his usual host body (which looks dead without him). Castiel and Dean fuss over Sam, prompting Crowley to snark that he’s “fine; thanks for asking.”

There are headlights outside as Abaddon and several demons show up in a fleet of black cars (why didn’t they just teleport?). Crowley tells the rest of TFW to run while he holds her off. Dean makes it clear he still doesn’t forgive Crowley and will kill him on sight should they meet again.

Crowley: Yes. I know. I love you, too.

Yes, he really did say that. Yes, we know now he really did mean it, even if Dean didn’t know (then) or care (pretty much ever).

When Abaddon shows up, Crowley plays on the hesitation of her minions to attack him on her orders. The results are mixed, with Abaddon coldly telling him that Hell doesn’t care what he thinks. They can duke it out for the throne, if he likes.

Crowley disagrees. He says it’s more like a campaign for “hearts and minds.” He figures that many demons followed Abaddon because their King was missing and she’s strong (“and immortal, for the moment”). But he also thinks she’s stupid and he has a feeling Hell won’t all go her way with him back on the board. He then snaps his fingers and disappears, leaving Abaddon highly annoyed.

On a misty dock, Castiel heals Sam’s surface wounds and tells him it will take some time, and stages of healings, to fix the rest of his internal “burns.” Dean, who has been standing nearby, then approaches Sam and lets him cut loose.

And, unfortunately, Sam does. He’s a big ball of pissy manpain about being “tricked” and having had his body used to kill Kevin, and how he was ready to die half a season ago. He shows no sense whatsoever of how Dean might be feeling (at the very least, he should notice that Dean had to burn Kevin’s body all alone).

So, he’s a little discomfited when Dean cuts his rant off at the knees and repeats Crowley’s words about how he (Dean) is responsible for Kevin’s death, that he’s toxic to those around him, that anyone who gets close to him dies and horribly. He’s going to hunt down Gadriel and kill him, but it’s better if he does it alone. All of Dean’s self-loathing pours out and it upsets Castiel, even if Sam is pretty stony about it all.

Sam tells him to go, but cryptically says that’s not why … why what? Why Dean is leaving? Why Sam is mad at him? Don’t expect an answer because once again, it’s a Dabb script and it’s just there so Sam can be an asshole as Dean walks away and drives off in the Impala in the rain.

Credits

Review: “Road Trip” was originally the spring premiere after the Christmas hellatus for season 9, following on the cliffhanger of the Christmas “midseason” finale. The writing is somewhat better for this episode than “Holy Terror,” but that’s admittedly a pretty low bar. It suffers from all the usual problems that are now front and center with Andrew Dabb (who wrote the episode) as showrunner and even at this point in the series, it was clear that Robert Singer was phoning it in as director. The kindest word you can give for either the script or the direction is “workmanlike.”

Character arcs within the episode are often poorly set up. Gadriel and Sam’s actions and dialogue in particular frequently make no sense. Metatron doesn’t seem to know what he wants, even as he’s laying out his big manifesto lines (he’s an awful Big Bad). And Dean and Castiel are handed the Idiot Ball a few times in a lazy attempt to get Crowley up to speed. Abaddon is also … not quite as scary-impressive as she usually is. “Perfunctory” is the word that comes to mind for her practically-a-cameo two scenes. The show almost forgot her the last several episodes in its obsessive focus on the fallen angels storyline, which rapidly went nowhere.

What saved this episode was the acting (particularly Jensen Ackles and Mark Sheppard) and what makes it still important is that it’s the prequel to the really major mytharc plot that is launched the following episode. But yeah, “First Born,” it’s not. The hand-off from one mytharc (Sam’s angel possession arc) to the next (Dean’s grief and revenge quest) is clumsy and incomplete. It is there, though, especially on second watch.

Speaking of second watching, it’s fairly easy to miss on first watch (while you’re trying to get the plot points, and chuckling at Crowley and Castiel’s mutual sniping) how close to the bleeding, screaming edge Dean is in “Road Trip.” Sure, there’s the obligatory breakdown to a mournful tune by Bob Seger, but that is actually the high point of Dean’s stability in this episode. At the end of his burst of rage, he looks lost and devastated. It’s a brief of moment of clarity before he disappears down a rabbit hole of corrosive self-recrimination that ends in his going off on his own to take (continuing) brutal revenge on Gadriel after Gadriel has been forced out of Sam.

Internalizing Crowley’s nasty jibe earlier in the episode about being responsible for Kevin’s death (because Hell forbid Crowley ever take any responsibility for his own horrible actions), Dean says he’s going off alone because he is “poison” to everyone (everyone human, anyway) around him. But there’s got to be the factor in there that at that moment, he really can’t bear to look at the face of the person who killed Kevin, even if that face is his brother’s and Sam wasn’t in the driver’s seat. He’d never admit. It’s doubtful he can even think it, consciously, but that’s how his PTSD-driven reliving of Kevin’s death would work.

I said before that I wasn’t thrilled by how the show fridged Kevin to motivate Dean – and I’m still not. But it’s mitigated somewhat by how, even though Kevin was translating the Tablets for the Winchester Brothers, he also had his own special destiny, and his own storyline, as a Prophet. And Dean’s role in that storyline, up to when Kevin died, was the same as his role in Sam’s mytharc plots – to be the wind beneath Kevin’s wings. He essentially stepped into Mama Tran’s shoes and took care of Kevin – cooking for him, cleaning up after him, tending to him when he was sick, protecting him. So, it makes sense that Kevin would grump and chafe at Dean’s “smothering” the way he did with his own mother, yet ultimately trust Dean so completely that he never saw Gadriel coming. The Bunker was safe because Dean was there – until the moment it wasn’t.

And it therefore also makes perfect sense that Dean would blame himself for Kevin’s death, even though it came out of left field and Dean already knew how long the odds were for Kevin’s long-term survival. In that sense, Dean as a character was about supporting Kevin’s story and not the other way round. It wasn’t until Kevin died that Dean was left floundering, grasped onto rescuing (or being forced to kill) Sam from Gadriel, and finally went after Gadriel for revenge. So, aside from the legit complaint that PoCs usually get stuck with supporting and guest roles, rather than lead roles even in their own stories, the story is pretty solid in not following the usual fridging cliches for those two.

Dean didn’t grieve for Kevin because Kevin’s death bruised his ego (as usually happens with fridging, where fridged characters are something that the Villain takes away from the Hero, rather than people in their own right). He grieved for Kevin because they had a friendship in which Dean was protecting Kevin. Because you grieve for someone close to you when they die, especially through violence and especially right in front of you while you can’t do anything about it.

The same cannot be said for Kevin and Sam. Sam expresses a lot of upset about having his body used by Gadriel to commit murder, but that’s about the extent of his giving any size of a rat’s ass about Kevin. In making it all about his own manpain over being “forced” to kill Kevin (even though no one – literally no one, not even Crowley – in Sam’s vicinity is blaming Sam for it), Sam shoves Kevin right out of the story of his own death. It becomes all about Sam, not all about Kevin, and it’s quite irritating.

It’s not really that big a surprise. Sam has never been especially close to Kevin. He did abandon him for a year between seasons seven and eight, after all. I think Sam’s ditching Kevin and his own brother to unknown fates so he could “retire” for a year made it pretty clear to Kevin that whenever push shoved, Sam would always rank his own needs over Kevin’s safety.

Part of the problem is how half-assed Dabb is about the question of how much Sam was aware all season. Up through last week, the assumption was that Sam was aware most of the time and that the only time we saw Gadriel fake being Sam was right before he knocked Dean out to go kill Kevin. But the way Dabb writes (and Singer directs) the montage of Sam remembering being possessed by Gadriel, it indicates he’s been off in Gadriel’s dream world this whole time, since the hospital in the season premiere.

That sounds overly complicated. We’re supposed to believe that Gadriel, an angel so out of the loop for so long that he should have almost no clue how to deal with humans aside from the memories he’s gotten from his two vessels, was able to mimic Sam so well as to fool Dean from the jump? I don’t buy that. And I don’t think it’s great storytelling to have had Sam so completely absent for nearly half a season, either.

Regardless, neither Sam being usually aware or Sam being off with the fairies for ten episodes justifies his pissiness at the end of this one. I get that he’s shell-shocked and trying to get up to speed (a bit like Crowley earlier on in the episode), but acting as though Dean set him up to be magically violated (in future episodes, there are even hints it was like rape) is right out of bounds. There isn’t any evidence that Sam suffered from Gadriel’s possession until he kicked him out. And I think Dean having to juggle everyone else’s needs for ten episodes, being forced to watch Kevin murdered by his own brother’s hand (if not by his own brother), and then having to chase Gadriel down and neutralize him/rescue Sam by forcing him out are way beyond sufficient punishment for having “tricked” Sam into saying yes to an angel to save his life.

Then there’s Crowley. I was a bit surprised to find that Crowley’s obsession with Dean caught fire this early. I mean, yeah, there’s next episode and yeah, he was always more focused on Dean than Sam (he’s in rare form this week ragging on Sam the “Big Baby”). But it was less clear earlier on, more like his usual banter, which was quite harsh in, say, season six. We even get a bit of this early in the episode, when Crowley claims that people die around Dean.

But that line is also an indication of the transitional nature of Crowley’s relationship with Dean in this episode (as is Crowley’s snark at Abaddon that she’s immortal but only for now). Crowley wants Dean to himself. Trying to call shotgun on their road trip (so he can sit beside Dean), bickering with Castiel, the jibe about Kevin (whom Crowley himself tried to kill, because Crowley wants Dean for himself), and covering TFW’s retreat (ostensibly just to bait Abaddon and sow dissension in her ranks, but there’s far more to it than that) all bring attention to his desire to be around Dean, to be respected (if not loved) by Dean, even when it’s not the smartest decision at that moment. But this is really the first time Crowley gets out on a limb for Dean. Yeah, he’s desperate to get out of that dungeon, but still.

And it’s not really unwise for Dean to let him go, either. Crowley being out there, giving Abaddon trouble, is a good thing for TFW right now. Hell being distracted by a demonic civil war means a Hell that’s not at full capacity to wreak destruction on earth – and we already have a taste of how destructive Abaddon is. If Crowley’s willing to do that, then it’s not necessary for now to neutralize him again. Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war.

Now, I know that Mark Sheppard wasn’t thrilled by this new human blood storyline, as he felt it made Crowley weak. And it did. Dean became Crowley’s weakness. But I disagree that it was a bad storyline. Stuff that can be fun to act isn’t always good for the story. Crowley being a one-note villain who snarked at everyone and pretended to be the smartest person in the room (because he never actually could be within the context of the show) wasn’t good for the story. He was a weak villain on his own in season six and the story had to resort to his killing off (usually female) friends of the Brothers to stay a relevant threat.

That got old. If they wanted to keep him around, the writers had to do something different with him. This was it. And it worked because it gave him more dimensions and made him less predictable. It gave him growth (or decay, depending on your point of view). A Crowley who wasn’t always for Crowley, but who also had no idea about a healthy relationship or healthy boundaries, was a more interesting Crowley than the original version.

The irony here is that Crowley seems to believe that by helping Dean, he will win Dean’s trust and favor, if not yet his love and devotion. But Crowley has framed his help as a quid pro quo deal. The problem with quid pro quo deals is that they leave the relationship in the same position as before the deal – in this case, with Crowley still an enemy who murdered the Brothers’ friends, tortured Kevin, and once blackmailed Dean into working for him.

Crowley already negotiated the benefit he would get from the deal (his freedom) and it did not involve Dean liking or respecting him in any way. So, of course, Dean didn’t. He didn’t renege on any part of the deal (he did let Crowley go). Crowley had unrealistic expectations, whether because his mind was clouded by his human blood addiction from the Trials or because, as a demon, he’s just that narcissistic.

Technically, it’s canon (or it was while the archangels were in charge, Heaven had angels, and the Apocalypse hadn’t happened yet) that demons can only unleash their full powers with a deal. Azazel made this claim to Dean about Dean’s deal to save Sam in “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2” and Crowley posited it to Bobby in season five. But it doesn’t change the fact that Dean’s agreement with Crowley was still a deal, so from Dean’s point of view, no gratitude was expected or likely to be given. Dean can certainly be treacherous and cunning, especially if you back him into a corner, but he played it straight with Crowley this week, just as he played it straight with Gadriel for nine episodes. That’s why he’s pissed.

Finally, there was Castiel. I wish he’d had more to do before Dean went on walkabout, but I guess there was infodump to drop and mytharc to move forward. The demon crush thing was cute, but went nowhere due to her being killed off immediately after. I was hoping to see some exploring of Castiel’s human adventures with Dean, but even though Dean did explicitly ask Castiel to bring him up to speed, the writing itself didn’t dwell on it for very long. After that, Castiel mainly served as sidekick and Greek Chorus. I felt Dabb could have written him better, but hey, at least he was sympathetic in this episode.


The Kripke Years

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

The Gamble Years

Season 6 (with Kripke)

Season 7

The Carver Years

Season 8

Season 9

Season 10

Season 11

The Dabb Years

Season 12

Season 13

Season 14


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