Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #4: Whispers from the Past: A Collection of Folklore by North Carolina Students

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Whispers from the Past: A Collection of Folklore by North Carolina Students. North Carolina Heritage Week 1990: “The Arts: From the Past into the Future.” North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Raleigh, 1990.

It’s funny that the quaintest and most dated part of this collection is the “future” part. One major conceit of the introduction is the idea that the students were collecting stories about the past and recording/submitting them on the media of the future – namely, floppy disks.

The mission statement reads:

As a part of the 1990 Heritage Week Celebration, all North Carolina schools were invited to participate in an innovative project known as “Tales and Technology.” Students were asked to talk with relatives and friends and to gather folk tales about traditions, family stories, names of places or tall tales that had been passed from one person to another.

One unique aspect of this project involved submission of the tales to the Department of Public Instruction through telecommunications or as text files on a computer diskette. This process gave students an opportunity to inform others about the PAST through the technology of the FUTURE. The invitation drew a response from 600 students, representing 77 schools and 43 school systems.

The project was a splendid example of integrated learning. Students gathered folktales (arts) on their past (history), wrote out the stories (communication skills), and relayed the information through technology (computer skills).

I try to remind myself that this was 1990, after all (our tech will look equally quaint three decades from now), and that I can hardly talk when I lived through that period and was already an adult in 1990. But reading this mission statement, my very first thought was Oh, that’s adorable! Which I’m pretty sure was not the intended effect. The “future tech” angle now feels like opening a time capsule. In a bad way.

There is, however, something timeless about kids from one generation interviewing their elders about the Way Things Were Way Back When. This isn’t the only such collection I’ve run across for this year’s folklore run and I hope to find more. There appear to be things that older people in a community are willing, even eager, to share with their cultural heirs that they would never tell an outside adult. At first, I wasn’t sure these collections would have much folkloric value, but I have definitely changed my mind.

The book is broken down into five sections: Horror Stories, Legends, Tall Tales, Place Names, and Personal Experiences (easily the longest at over half the book, with plenty of thematic overlap with the others). There’s a county index, but no table of contents for some reason. These stories were collected from all over North Carolina. There are even a few from my area. Some are familiar and well-known. Some are a little odd. Some you may not see anywhere else.

Some of these stories seem a tad advanced for the child writing them down, even allowing for the interviewing process. In one case from Morganton, it’s outright admitted that the child’s father, a Son of the Confederacy member, dictated it. That said, I’m here for the themes and the hints of new stuff.

And there is some new stuff. Yes, there are multiple versions of the Vanishing Hitchhiker, the Headless Railroad Conductor, and the Devil’s Tramping Ground, along with various lynchings and Civil War tales. But there are also several about otherwise-forgotten local colorful personalities, family ghosts (usually Grandma), an entire section on place names, and the odd creepy story.

For example, it’s an open secret in Edgecombe and Halifax counties that Seven Bridges Road (Edgecombe) and Thirteen Bridges Road (Halifax) are seriously haunted, including a roadside revenant or two, and a serial killer who may or may not have been caught a few years back. But details are generally lacking, aside from the often-repeated story of how you see seven bridges going one way and only six bridges coming back on Seven Bridges Road.

Fortunately, we get two from Halifax in this collection about Thirteen Bridges Road. One is about a homicidal roadside revenant of an accident victim and the other is a headless horse (which may derive from Scottish fairy folklore). The headless horse story harks back to very old versions of phantom revenants in which a ghost weighs down the traveler’s transportation until the traveler reaches a certain point in the road. In the old days, it was a horse or mule. In this version, it’s a car.

There’s even a witch story (one of only two from Nash County). I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this tale related in another local folklore book about Nash County. She must have left quite an impression.

The other story is about the ghost of a woman haunting Rocky Mount Mills, spotted by the storyteller’s grandfather at 3:30am (the Witching Hour) in 1965. The storyteller appears to mean the old cotton gin on Tar River (what local people generally call Rocky Mount Mills) rather than the old tobacco factory (now the Imperial Centre) on Church St. Both buildings are said to be very haunted.

There are also several ghost lights (usually, but not always, related the Headless Conductor legend). But not all of the more dramatic stories involve the supernatural. One girl claims to have survived a near-miss with a waterspout while her family was at the beach. There is also a section about old-time folkways in which the kids interviewed an elder in their family. There’s even a cute story about a frog in a church that ended a revival meeting early and one about an elastic-eating cat (folks, don’t let your fur-kids do this at home). In another story reminiscent of an urban legend supposedly from pioneer days, a blind grandmother is saved from a homicidal burglar by her watchdog, but no one realizes it until her daughter visits the next day.

In addition to the perennial state favorite, the Civil War, some stories talk about the Great Depression, World War II and more local events such as a 1916 flood of Clear Creek in McDowell County. Some of these stories see the past through rose-colored glasses. Others, however, have a grimmer, more hardscrabble view, especially of the Depression. Life in North Carolina back in the day could be very hard if you were an orphan, poor, black, or all three.

Curiously, the book does not discuss race at all. Nor does it discuss Segregration, which had only officially ended 16 years before the book came out. There are occasional accounts (such as one by a child whose great-something grandmother used to tell stories about being sold as a slave) that indicate the child is African-American, but no actual discussion of what it was like to grow up African-American in North Carolina back in the day.

I suppose that this was perceived to be too controversial a topic for a folklore book by children, but it’s still major blind spot. African-Americans are still the second-largest racial demographic in North Carolina, with nearly twice the national average at 21.48%. In some counties, the African-American population is over 50%. I’m not sure who ultimately decided to whitewash the book’s subject matter, but I think that was a mistake.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #3: Black Spirits: The Ghostlore of Afro-American Slaves


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Gorn, Elliot J. “Black Spirits: The Ghostlore of Afro-American Slaves.” American Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 4 (Autumn 1984), pp. 549-565.

As historian Tiya Miles notes in her book Tales from the Haunted South (reviewed here last year), ghost story books and the dark tourism industry in general tend to ignore African-Americans or, at best, use them as exotic scenery or set pieces. African-American ghost stories certainly exist, but you have to dig a bit to find ones that are actually told by African-Americans.

Elliot Gorn is white, but this is an important article in terms of discussing Antebellum slave ghostlore and I don’t have a copy of John Mason Brewer’s classic Worser Times and Better Days: The Folklore of the North Carolina Negro (1965), yet.

The first part of the article is mainly devoted to discussing the late Gladys-Marie Fry‘s then-recent book, Night Riders in Black Folk History (1975). Gorn disagrees with Dr. Fry’s thesis that Antebellum slave owners intentionally used ghost stories to terrorize and control their slaves, but agrees with her that they most certainly tried to do so with recently freed African-Americans during Reconstruction (one example may be the story of the old slave who killed his master in self-defense, buried him under a bridge, confessed on his deathbed, and now haunts the bridge, still beaten by his abusive master).

For the former, Gorn cites a lack of evidence, among the voluminous source material of methods of control slave owners used and discussed, of using “hant” stories as one such method. Obviously, this situation was different in the post-War period, when one reason the Ku Klux Klan dressed in white hoods and robes was to pretend they were Civil War ghosts to frighten African-American ex-slaves. Gorn is skeptical, however, that very many of the slaves were taken in by this charade. The actual violence the Klan freely engaged in was far more persuasive.

Gorn notes that part of the difficulty in collecting African-American ghostlore from ex-slaves was their general reticence in sharing pretty much anything personal with white interviewers. They had learned the hard way not to overshare with whites, although some admitted to WPA interviewers during the 1930s that slave owners had not encouraged beliefs in, or discussion of, such lore. Slaves learned not to trust their masters – or any white person – and to limit unnecessary contact (or even discussion) with them well beyond the point of death.

Also, while they were not necessarily taken in by living white men pretending to be dead, some slaves found some particularly brutal masters so terrifying that they imagined them coming back from the dead in a classic example of abuse-generated PTSD. But there is a humorous side to “hant” lore that sends up overly superstitious people who see everything as supernatural. Gorn also notes that a major function of ghostlore was to strengthen strained familial ties with helpful ghostly ancestors, since the institution of slavery did not legally recognize any bond save that between the slave and the master.

Much of the rest of his article is a review of the literature on the topic. He notes the theory that African-American slaves held a largely animistic view underneath an imposed, but superficial, white Christian theology. He also notes that slaves tended to perceive ghosts as restless unless placated by grave goods and largely malevolent. This was in contrast to Anglo-American white views of ghosts as largely benevolent. The article ignores the fact that slave owners also included whites from French, Dutch, Spanish, and Celtic backgrounds (despite several mentions of New Orleans ghostlore), and that these could have radically different views on ghostlore than the English.

Celtic lore, for example, freely mixes ghostlore with fairy lore (some sources claim that fairies were the unbaptized dead). The Colonial Era Dutch-American Ichabod Crane is terrified by the Headless Horseman specifically because that figure is a powerful death omen for anyone who sees it. In Celtic lore, headless men (and especially those on horses) were some of the deadliest members of the Unseelie (Dark Fairy) Court. African-American and Celtic lore are both full of headless men, black dogs, restless dead who must be pinned into their graves, and spirits/fairies who can’t cross water. There are differences to be sure (for example, black dogs are seen as helper figures in some West African lore, whereas they are terrifying demons in Celtic lore), but not all Antebellum white culture was diametrically opposed to black culture.

There are not many stories specific to North Carolina in the article, though the author does cite the Frank C. Brown Collection early on. One story does appear about the ghost of a man who was whipped to death, that returns to haunt the plantation where he died. In another, a black woman is beaten to death by two white men and returns to haunt their sleep with her screams.

Gorn puts these tales in the category of avengers who strike from beyond the grave, freed from all earthly bonds and consequences by death. Even though they did little beyond beg or stare in mute reproach, these ghosts could be as terrifying to those they were avenging as to the targets of their revenge. They had a tendency to return to their masters’/killers’ plantation houses and drive them out, effectively taking over the house for their own. In a few stories, however, slave spirits came back to kill their masters outright.

Since the article came out in 1984, it is inevitably a bit dated. Though Gorn tries to put his work in context with other folkloric research, he doesn’t mention Jan Harold Brunvand’s classic popular study of modern urban legends, The Vanishing Hitchhiker (1981). Obviously, there is no discussion of the internet or how these old stories might have spread on it, either, since the World Wide Web did not yet exist.

More puzzling is Gorn’s avoidance of any discussion of Lost Cause mythology. Since he spends a good part of his article discussing Dr. Fry’s book, this is a pretty big omission. Lost Cause mythology was a major attempt by Southern white elites to recapture the post-Civil War narrative. In the context of their trying to intimidate ex-slaves with ghostlore, it would have made sense to discuss how the Lost Cause narrative fit into that effort. Ah, well.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #2: Ghost Cats of the South

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Russell, Randy. Ghost Cats of the South. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2011.

This one comes from half of the duo that gave us Mountain Ghost Stories from last year. It’s exactly as advertised – supernatural stories of cats from all over the South, including photographic illustrations. The author did a similar one for dogs, as well.

It has many of the same strengths and weaknesses as Mountain Ghost Stories. There is basically no investigation of the folkloric background to these tales, despite an introduction by the author that discusses his work as a “ghostlorist.” In fact, it’s hard to tell the original legend in some of them (and some even sound like thinly veiled fiction). Russell claims that the South has older stories than any other region of the U.S. But even those two oldest that he claims for this collection (the Cherokee Wampus Cat and the 1740s San Marcos Cat of “Rose Perfume” from St. Augustine, FL) are not likely as old as those of New England and Eastern Canada.

Perhaps the most outrageous in folkloric terms is also the creepiest – an eternally hungry cat ghost called “Eat-Your-Face Cat” from Tunica, MS that haunts a 1956 Chevy Bel-Air. “Butcher Cat” from Tuscaloosa, AL sounds downright terrifying (albeit its story is told from the impossible viewpoint of a victim). So do the malevolent Voodoo haint “Chimney Cats” of Savannah, GA. And “Run-Over-Flat Cats” from Birmingham, AL gets downright metaphysical with its two Schrodinger-like cats, pet(s) of a lonely longhaul trucker.

The book is also pretty lacking in North Carolina content. There are only 3 NC stories out of the 22 in the book and they’re all from the Mountain region. One (“Camp Cats”) is from Black Mountain in the west and I was fairly disappointed at the lack of markers for further research in it. It is a sweet story, though, about a young girl who misses her dead cat so much that she brings the kitty’s ashes with her to summer camp. After she dies relatively young in a car wreck, she and the cat come back in feline form as a benign haunting of the place she loved so much.

Another from Hot Springs, “Wedding Cat,” is about a bridesmaid who makes an inadvertent stop in a holler after her car breaks down. In gratitude to the old widower who puts her up for the night, she agrees to take an old “Wampus” mask, that once belonged to his wife, with her to the nuptials. This has the unexpected effect of “birthing” a mischievous ghost cat at the service that figuratively gets the bride’s tongue.

The one from Sylva, NC (“Cat Cookies”) is also a tad vague in historical or folkloric detail, but is gentle in tone. In it, an old spinster (who may or may not be a witch), uses magic cookies to find homes for her many kitties on Halloween among the local children. This one got a “d’awww” from me.

Others deal with witches, too, but those tend to be rather misogynistic (whether the author’s writing or the original source material, I wasn’t sure). The one from Gatlinburg, TN (though most of the locations in the story are near Judaculla Rock in NC) is about the Native American legend of the Wampus Cat (“Slivers of Bone”). Taken from a story by Davey Arch, a contributor to Living Stories of the Cherokee, it involves a Cherokee woman who is cursed for putting on a cougar skin to spy on the menfolk during their night war meetings against the Colonial settlers.

In “Lightning Cat” from Baton Rouge, LA, a luckless witch caught in a storm is eventually forced to take shelter in a tree, where she is trapped (perhaps eternally) by a bolt of lightning striking the tree. Her attempts to escape cause a periodic discharge that locals mistake for ball lightning. I ended up feeling sorry for her.

If you don’t like feline fatality, this may be one to avoid. Almost all of the cats in the stories end up dead, some of them gruesomely in the manner of urban legends (though usually with a more tragic than comic spin to the storytelling, except in the case of the boisterous “Cat Shine” from Edgefield, SC). My favorite part of the book, though, was the collection of vintage black-and-white photos of cats (and their owners) interleaved with the stories. These ranged from adorable to gravely gorgeous. I wish there were more historical information on them.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #1: Dixie Spirits

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Coleman, Christopher K. Dixie Spirits: True Tales of the Strange and Supernatural in the South. Cumberland House, 2008 (2nd edition).

I decided to start out general, as this has given me a lot of insight into the difference between regional lore and stories specific to North Carolina. Dixie Spirits does have a North Carolina section, but (as is often the case with these regional ghost story books), it’s a bit thin and the lore obvious.

This is the second, revised version of the book (the original came out in 2002). Contrary to the image of the Antebellum plantation house on the cover, Coleman addresses a pretty wide variety of subjects and situations. There’s a good fair bit of outdoor campfire tales. Despite my misgivings that the book would turn out to be a tedious read through a Hoary History of Old Houses like last year’s The Haunted South (yeah, I’m still a bit salty about that), Coleman’s book is an entertaining and quick read for its length (nearly 300 pages). Admittedly, he’s not so hot at providing sources, and the stories I knew the best had some distinctly literary origins of the Victorian variety, but the book itself is a fun read. Especially for this time of year.

Easily my favorite chapter is the one on Marie Laveau (“The Witch Queen of New Orleans” in the Louisiana section). I was expecting the usual attention paid to Creole monster slave owner Madame LaLaurie. Actually getting a chapter-length bio on Laveau instead was a refreshing change.

I don’t know how many of Coleman’s “facts” are taken from contemporary sources, but he does a pretty even-handed take on her. He puts her in context in both the New Orleans overall culture of the 19th century, and her role in the growth and evolution of Voodoo culture in the American South.

She appears to have been quite the enigma in contrasts – a devoted wife and mother, and devout Catholic, who was also a feared witch queen (who died in bed rather than at the stake). A black woman who dressed the hair of rich white women, yet knew more about the affairs of her city than any of the rich elites and who ended up living alongside them as their equal. A ruthless woman who died wealthy, but beloved thanks to her decades of charity. I think she deserves more attention than just in ghost story collections at Halloween.

Another good chapter is the third (“Graveyard Shift: The Haunting of Sloss Furnaces”) about the post-Civil War iron works that grew up around Birmingham, AL. It’s a different kind of site for a haunting than the usual sprawling mansion or college or hospital (as Coleman himself points out in the chapter’s introduction). This setting has led to stories of some unsettling and even malevolent ghosts, especially a scorched and vengeful foreman who was much-hated in life and may have been hastened to his death. Equally disturbing is chapter one (“The Face in the Courthouse Window”) about a near-lynching that may have ended in a quiet murder. This story bears a remarkable resemblance to the contemporary accounts about the last hanging in Nash County (on March 15, 1900), despite the tale hailing from Columbus, AL.

The chapter about Natchez (“The Devil’s Backbone: Ghosts and Haunts of Natchez and the Natchez Trace”) is early Western history at its darkest and bloodiest. There’s surprisingly little about the infamous Harpe Brothers of the Early Republic, but Coleman gets into plenty of detail about other river pirates and dastardly deeds.

There are some inaccuracies in there, though. For example, while Big Harpe was known for killing at least two infants (one of them his own daughter), neither murder occurred in a Natchez, as one story claims. In fact, the Brothers appear to have avoided civilization (even what passed for it in Natchez), and mostly kept to Kentucky and Tennessee.

Another flub pops up in “Savannah Specters,” with that old time-traveling tale from Nancy Roberts of Blackbeard visiting a Savannah pub that wasn’t built into 16 years after his death. And, unfortunately, North Carolina is largely represented by Sallie Southall’s bathetic (and vaguely racist) invented story of Virginia Dare as a white doe. All of the Native American tales in the story suffer from similar levels of Victorian cheese.

Coleman is pretty sympathetic toward the Lost Cause, but he mostly keeps it on the back burner except for the chapter on Robert E. Lee (“The Haunted Homes of Robert E. Lee”), which turns into a Lost Cause paean to the Civil War general. Needless to say, we get no mention of Lee’s brutal pre-War treatment of his wife’s slaves or the blunders laid at his door by more recent Civil War historians. In the process, a nascent and potentially fascinating discussion of the origins of Arlington Cemetery gets derailed.

The previous Virginia chapter about accused “witch” Grace Sherwood (“The Devil’s Dominion”) is fun, though. She sounds like a spitfire along the lines of 19th century Yorkshire noblewoman Anne Lister.

Alas, the book ends with a serious turn for the weird – and not in a good way. The creepy Mothman mystery of West Virginia (“Cornstalk’s Curse: The Mothman Enigma”) is worth including, but a lot of this legend’s mystery stems from confusion over how to classify it. Reports of it were largely cryptozoological for years until the shocking and fatal collapse of the Silver Bridge to Ohio on December 15, 1967. After the disaster, the Mothman phenomenon essentially faded away and many later perceived a pattern of predictive warnings for the collapse in the Mothman’s appearances.

Unfortunately, Coleman then lets himself get mired in a discussion about UFOs, which continues in the next and final chapter. As some reviewers on Goodreads have pointed out, this is an abrupt change in tone from the rest of the book. Also, the incident the last chapter centers on sounds an awful lot like a meteorite paired up with mass hysteria and a general ignorance of astronomy. Not the best way to end a book on ghost stories.

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Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 9.12: Sharp Teeth


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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 now have 52 episodes left to finish for previous seasons, plus the 20 for the final (15th) season that starts on October 10. That’s 72 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: 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?

Recap: Recap of why Sam is mad at Dean about Kevin’s death and then of the last episode, where Dean got the Mark of Cain. We also get a quick recap of Garth and his greatest hits (which mostly remind me why I did not miss him at all) and his mysterious disappearance during season eight.

Cut to Now in Grantsburg, WI. It’s dark and there’s an old farmhouse and barn. We hear cows inside the barn making an ungodly noise. The farmer comes running out with his shotgun and chases a man who exits the barn in a hurry. The man runs through the woods behind the barn, the farmer in hot pursuit and firing, and then out into a road where he gets hit by a car. We see the man’s face as he lies unconscious in the road. It’s Garth.

Cue title cards.

Cut to Grantsburg Memorial Hospital. Sam enters in his FBI suit in the afternoon a few days later, asking about a John Doe (Garth, obviously). The receptionist/nurse (I swear Adam Glass has no clue there’s a difference, or that they don’t just let you walk in off the street and interrogate patients) comments that Garth is “popular.” Sam is confused.

He’s less confused when he walks in on someone in denim and plaid civilian clothes, whipping out a syringe in Garth’s room – it’s Dean. They confront each other over Garth’s unconscious body. Dean is still looking rough (though it appears he has showered, albeit still not shaved). Sam is pissy. Dean asks Sam where he’s coming from and Sam says a hunt in New Mexico. Dean allows that’s a mighty long drive, but that he’s got things in hand, so Sam doesn’t need to work this one.

Sam asks if Dean has talked to Garth, yet. Dean admits he hasn’t, since Garth has been drugged up since he got there. Yeah, pain killers aren’t what you put someone with a head injury on, but the medical lunacy gets even worse when Dean pulls out his ginormous syringe of adrenaline (worthy of the late Hunter S. Thompson) and Sam thinks it’s a better (and safer, I kid you not) idea to slap Garth awake. Really.

So, Garth wakes right up (which, again, is not how head injuries or being drugged to your eyeballs works, but I guess Glass has never heard of Narcan), screaming.

By the way, Garth is handcuffed to the bed rail because, according to Dean, he “killed a cow.” Sam did not know this. So much for Mr. Research.

As Sam uncuffs Garth, Dean asks Garth where he’s been the past six months and why he killed a cow. Garth claims he was on a hunt, but when Dean presses for details, Garth suddenly gets ill and rushes into the bathroom. This turns out to be a ruse so he can escape out the window (since when do hospital rooms have windows?).

In the time leading up to their realizing he has left (Sam notices the silence first), the Brothers bring each other up to date. Sam tells Dean about Gadriel’s lingering grace and Dean gives Sam the CliffsNotes about getting the Mark from Cain in order to kill Abaddon – Sam starts to tune out everything else when he hears Dean was working with Crowley.

So, after Garth escapes and they find he stole a car (pretty much naked), and Dean admits he didn’t “test” Garth because Garth was still unconscious, Sam visits the farmer who was shooting at Garth in the teaser. Turns out Garth has already killed a goat and some chickens. He ripped their organs out.

Sam calls Dean, who is holding a photo from the CCTV camera (which clearly shows far too much of a fleeing Garth getting into a car with a clearly marked license plate). Dean claims he got nothing from the CCTV and says that “Garth is a Hunter. If he wants stay gone, he’ll stay gone.”

He then rounds an ambulance and sees Sam on the phone, pissed off that Dean lied to him. Dean says he doesn’t think they should hunt together, that it isn’t safe (it sure wasn’t for Tara). Sam says fine, but they should clear up this situation with Garth first. Reluctantly, Dean agrees.

They track Garth (easily) to a motel nearby and burst in on him. At first, he tries to snow them again, but Dean picks up a bra and asks where “the girl” is. They start going through the motel room and initially come up with nothing. Then a young woman in a sweater and skirt ensemble comes out with werewolf teeth and attacks Sam from the closet just behind him that he did not check. Dean goes to shoot her, but Garth knocks down his arm, yelling at him not to hurt her. Sam, meanwhile, yanks out a silver blade and slashes her with it (she basically manages to slash herself).

Garth then tries to calm everyone down, even as Dean is pointing out that she’s a werewolf, by admitting he is, too. Um, okay.

Afterward, Garth introduces them to her as his girlfriend Bess. Then he introduces Dean and Sam to her in the most condescending and deeply inaccurate terms possible. Ugh. I so did not miss him.

Anyhoo, it turns out that Garth has been missing because he got bitten during a fight with a werewolf in Maine six months ago. He didn’t call the Brothers because he figured he had “messed up” and it was his problem to deal with. He was going to kill himself when Bess found him (she says she smelled him, but it’s never explained how she smelled him all the way from freakin’ Wisconsin) and convinced him not to. Now they’re married and Bess’ pack has accepted him. She is a second-generation werewolf, born to werewolf parents. They don’t eat humans and Garth only eats animal hearts because he is a first-gen werewolf and can’t totally control himself.

At that point, Dean says they need to talk to Garth – without Bess. Garth claims he’s checked out the pack and they’re as advertised. The Brothers can take his word for it. Dean points out that Garth already lied to them once, so “that ship has sailed.” They’re going to need more proof. Garth then suggests that Dean come “pray with us.” Oh, joy. Now we’re going to get Glass’ interpretation of Heartland Christianity.

So, Dean goes to the house, while Sam is off to meet with the town sheriff. As Dean walks up, they’re singing “Bringing in the Sheaves” because of course they are. The woman who greets him at the door calls herself Bess’ step-mother. Her name is Joy. She and Dean have a rather snarky exchange about Dean carrying silver and I don’t trust her syrupy sweet demeanor.

Dean gets introduced around by Garth to his in-laws, including Bess’ dad and Joy’s two redneck nephews Frick and Frack (sorry, Russ and Joba). Dean takes it all in with a grim and guarded expression, ignoring Garth’s attempts to lighten the mood. He does not shake the hand Dad-in-Law Reverend Jim offers to him. When Dad-in-Law suggests Dean eat dinner with them (“break bread with us”), Dean asks in honest confusion, “Why would I do that?”

At dinner, everyone is eating raw meat except for Dean, whose steak is cooked. Dean’s not eating, grossed out by the bloody chowing down around him. When Dean asks whether they’re going to say some kind of grace before eating, Dad-in-Law smarmily informs him they’re “more spiritual than religious” and references “the American Indians” as inspiration for the family’s belief system, “that nature and man are one.” Oh, how culturally exploitative of you, Rev. Maybe that would fly in California, but I don’t think that would go down too well in the Heartland, writers.

Dean then notices that everyone is wearing a silver bullet around their necks and asks why werewolves would do that. Garth tries to correct him that it’s “lycanthropes,” but Dad-in-Law rather sharply tells him that Dean “is entitled to his opinion.” Bess says the bullet is to remind them that their lives could be cut short at any time, that they aren’t immortal or invincible. And yes, it burns.

Dad-in-Law explains that Bess was born a werewolf (he was bitten) and soon after, a Hunter killed his werewolf wife, her mother. He decided not to seek revenge so that he could live to raise Bess. Soon after, he met Joy and Joy is all “Oh, pshaw.” It also turns out that she is a fourth-generation werewolf.

Meanwhile, Sam is interviewing the sheriff, who claims that the Reverend and his family are “clean as a whistle.” Sam subtly asks about “X-Files-y stuff,” but gets nothing on the sheriff’s radar.

Back at the house, Dean is being cornered at the fridge by the two cousins. They act all creepy with Dean, who gets a little feral, himself. Garth breaks it up by coming in and asking to talk to Dean alone. But it seems Garth still does not know how to read a room. He’s there to yell at Dean for being untrusting. Dean points out that Garth is being terribly naive not to look under the surface of what’s going on. Regardless of how it all turns out (and since there’s always a third act twist coming in an MOTW, you just know Dean will be right), Dean has an in-universe point. Hunters regularly check under the societal rug for monsters and usually find some. Garth is being willfully blind.

When Dean rounds on Garth and calls him out for going radio silence while guarding Kevin, Garth gets back on his high horse about how everyone was better off left in the dark … well, until he mentions Kevin and from the look on Dean’s face, he realizes something is terribly wrong. Dean confirms that Kevin is dead and immediately takes the blame, but Garth is shocked to the core. His actions had unforeseen consequences after all.

The Brothers regroup later that night. Sam wants to drink the Kool-Aid, too, and believe in “friendly monsters,” but Dean is still suspicious. Then Sam gets a call from the sheriff to come meet him. They get out there and find a very dead and mangled deer (lots of not-quite-off-stage animal abuse in this one that’s played casually, almost for laughs). As the Brothers check it out, the sheriff grows some claws and dime-store teeth (the kind that make it almost impossible for an actor to talk and emote without looking and sounding like an idiot). He pulls a gun on them, just as Dean realizes the deer is still warm, which means the sheriff killed it himself.

The sheriff appears to have the drop on them, but Dean is hiding a knife behind his back. A silver knife. As soon as the sheriff levels his gun at them, Dean (with amazing reflexes) throws the knife and kills the sheriff with a blade to the heart before he can get off a shot. This makes me kinda wonder why Sam didn’t do his own surreptitious tests on the sheriff during their interview, after calling Dean out (rightly) on not doing them on Garth at the hospital. He is, after all, in a town with werewolves. Everyone’s potentially a monster. That lapse nearly gets him and Dean killed.

Sam searches the body and finds a silver bullet, which Dean mentions is part of Dad-in-Law’s family shtick. Sam then finds the word “Ragnarok” (the pagan Norse end of the world myth, which Dean actually recognizes). Whatever is going on, it’s not nearly as benign as advertised so far.

The Brothers argue over whether to investigate more or just start killing. Dean temporarily agrees to go with the former. He suggests they “grab Garth” and get some answers. He says he’ll go “check out the church.” I’m sure this will end well.

Dean arrives there at night and lets himself in (possibly by picking the lock). As he looks around what seems like a perfectly ordinary church with a flashlight, Sam is picking the lock to Garth’s motel room and finding the place ransacked.

Dean soon finds an odd book containing a flyleaf with early medieval Celtic designs. Inside, it’s a book on Norse mythology (with Celtic designs? Okay) and Dean tags one word at the bottom of a page – Ragnarok.

So, Dean decides to do research on the word right there in the church office (as you do). In an even more brilliant move, Sam calls Dean from the motel room and tells him Garth and Bess are missing. Dean reports on the internet research he did – how the great wolf Fenris kills Odin at the end of Norse days. There are apocalyptic cults that worship the wolf god and call themselves the Maw of Fenris. Sam then says, oh, yay, a cult for werewolves.

Dean has an even more sinister revelation. The cultists in question don’t just see this as mythology, but as “an action plan: human extinction, total and complete werewolf domination” (what the werewolves would eat if humans were extinct is not clear). Not sure how nobody else stumbled across this on the internet when Dean found it just using a word and the idea of werewolves, but okay.

Dean figures it’s time for Reverend Jim to go down with the ship and Sam agrees. Sam asks if Dean needs any help with it. Dean says no. He’s “got this.” He tells Sam to go find Garth and Bess, instead.

Well, in a manner of speaking, Sam gets right on that. As soon as he gets off the phone and comes back out into the hall, he’s cold-cocked by Frick and Frack, the Werewolf Cousins. Ah, Sam. You and your third-act concussions ….

Dad-in-Law arrives at the church unexpectedly. He smells Dean and hears his heartbeat, but Dean still has the drop on him. When the Rev notes that Dean’s heart rate is a little up, Dean coolly says, “Nothing wrong with a little fear.” Not sure that’s really fear, but moving on.

Anyhoo, Dean decides to ask some questions first and shoot later, as it happens. It turns out that Dad-in-Law is aware of the book and the Fenris cult, and that it was once part of his church, but insists he “eradicated it” after he became the pastor. He is therefore willing to let Dean look at his bullet (which, to Dean’s surprise, does not have “Ragnarok” on it), but is shocked to hear that not only did the sheriff try to kill Sam and Dean, but that his bullet did have the word on it. Dad-in-Law is even more shocked to hear that his daughter and son-in-law are missing.

Dean bursts out of the church, trying to call Sam, and roars off in the Impala.

Cut to a barn, where Garth is waking up, chained to a ladder. Bess is chained to the wheel of a nearby wagon. Frick and Frack come in, dragging an unconscious Sam, and chain him to some more farm equipment.

Mother-in-Law comes in and slaps Bess when Bess pleadingly calls her “Mom,” then proceeds to Evil Overlord Monologue. Seems Joy’s little brother got killed by a Hunter last year and she’s tired of her husband preaching peace. As far as she’s concerned, Bess isn’t really her daughter (even though she raised the girl as her own), and she wants to go back to the old ways of trying to rule the world. Because they’ve been so bang-up successful to this point, you know. So, she’s going to … ah … do that by killing Bess and Garth (whom she blames for bringing Hunters to their doorstep, even though it seems that Hunters have been picking at the edges of the cult for decades) and then Sam, framing Sam for the murder. This will inevitably lead to Dad-in-Law freaking out and declaring war on the humans.

Someone pointed out elsewhere that the fact that born werewolves can control themselves, but choose not to, is actually worse than if they don’t have self-control because then it’s a choice to do evil. Joy plays into this by being a total bigot – not just against full humans, but against bitten wolves like Garth and Dad-in-Law and even first-generation born werewolves like Bess. It’s wacky, but sadly, people that bigoted do exist in this world and they are not werewolves.

Dean only tangentially comes up in her rant (her plans for him are pretty vague), which is rather unfortunate for her. Outside, Dean is picking off Frick. Easily.

Dean comes in, gun raised and aimed, just as she’s about to hurt Sam bad for kicking her gun out of her hand and Garth is fruitlessly wolfing out in his own bonds. Joy (busy gloating over how she’s going to stage her own stepdaughter’s murder) doesn’t realize Dean’s there until he’s jumped by Frack, from the hayloft. There’s a brief struggle and then Dean pulls out a silver blade and knifes Frack. Bye, Frack.

She just finished ranting about how her line will die with her (it’s never explained why she never had a child of her own). Yet, Joy doesn’t seem all that broken up over her nephew Frack’s death right in front of her, even after realizing that Frick must be dead, too, because Dean masked his scent by wearing Frick’s coat.

Dean: Oh, I’m full of surprises.
Joy [in a weirdly sultry tone]: As am I!

She goes for her gun and Dean goes for his. As confident as Joy is in her werewolf speed, Dean is faster and shoots her through the heart. With a surprised look, she falls over, stone dead. Thank God. She was really annoying.

The next day, back at the house, as Dean watches from nearby, Sam hugs Garth and tells him to “be good.”

Sam leaves and Garth comes over to talk to Dean. Bess is in the kitchen with her father (so Dean didn’t kill him). Dean says Dad-in-Law is “a good man … considering,” and asks how he’s taking the whole My wife went psycho and tried to kill my daughter deal. Garth says he’ll get over it eventually, but it’s going to take a while.

Garth mopes about deserting Kevin. Dean insists on taking all of the blame for Kevin’s death on himself. Garth doesn’t quite buy that, but sees that arguing with Dean isn’t going to help, so he lets it go.

Garth still wants to redeem himself by hunting with the Brothers. Dean says no. He thinks Garth should retire for good and stay with his new family (note that Sam’s the one who will later drag Garth back into the fight). Dean hugs Garth. Bye, Garth, for several seasons.

The final scene is a daylight Impala scene. Sam gets out and Dean does, too, to talk about the night he left two episodes ago. Dean says his head wasn’t right after Kevin’s death and he’s still not sure what was going on with him, but he’s sorry he took off like that. Sam is still sore (“something’s broken here”), even though Dean apologizes. Dean says he now realizes that it’s better when they hunt together.

Sam agrees, but is still pissed off about the whole Trialberculosis and Gadreel thing. He doesn’t think he can “trust” Dean. Dean says okay, but “we’re family.”

Sam then says that “everything that has ever gone wrong between is because we’re family.” (With the implication that this is all Dean’s fault. Boy, will that come back to bite Sam in the ass next season.) So, they can hunt together or they can be Brothers, but they can’t be both. Those are his terms. Dean looks lost as Sam walks away.

Credits

Review: Woof. Well, this one was a bit of a dog, wasn’t it? If it hadn’t come immediately after “First Born,” and been our first glimpse at the sequel to those events – the first glimpse at Dean’s New World Order, as it were – “Sharp Teeth” would have been completely forgettable. It was quite the letdown from “First Born” and was pretty confusing at the time. Had even a big storyline like the Mark just been dropped like every other dropped plot for Dean? Well, that’s an Adam Glass script for you. Continuity-shmontinuity.

It’s not just the combination of arguably the least successful recurring MOTW on the show (werewolves, ugh) with one of its dodgier recurring characters (who may or may not be a fan favorite, but he sure gets on the nerves of some fans, including Yours Truly), Garth. It’s not the bog-standard silly nonsense about “Ragnarok.” It’s not even that this is the first episode in which we see Sam act like an utter shithead toward his brother in the wake of Dean’s disappearance, or that Sam’s bitchy speech at the end is the most memorable thing about the episode.

No, it’s that it made no sense on first watch because it was impossible to tell where the show was going with where they’d just been. If anything, “Sharp Teeth” has improved a bit on rewatch after knowing how this all turned out. Only now can we see that the hints about something being “off” with Dean and his sudden strength and speed were actual foreshadowing, rather than the usual inconsistent writing for the Brothers in MOTW eps (that dinner scene with the werewolves sure looks different with who’s dangerous and who’s not). But boy, did the episode writing bury that lead.

Now, I get that Sam has a legitimate reason for being angry with Dean – at least on paper. If, say, this were a series where the POV had been a female lead and we saw from her viewpoint how secretive Dean was being with her, how he’d tricked her into letting an angel inside her to heal her, it wouldn’t be that hard to write her as sympathetic. But the show doesn’t write this episode (or this season) from Sam’s POV, not at all. In fact, in the previous episode, we saw what Dean did, from Dean’s POV, and we can’t now unsee that or see it completely the way Sam does.

Even worse, Sam shows zero real interest in what Dean was up to in the two weeks they were separated. They meet by accident over Garth’s bedside. Even after Sam spots the Mark and asks about it, and Dean gives him the CliffsNotes of what happened with Cain, Sam shows no particular interest in following up for more details. Not only is that lousy hunting technique, but it’s also pretty unloving. Even if you leave out the final speech in the coda, Sam is a total asshole toward Dean much of the time.

Sam digs himself in even deeper by whinging the entire episode about how Dean wants to kill Garth because he thinks Garth is a monster and that maybe Dean thought Sam was a monster when he had Gadriel inside him (or should have thought that, because a lot of this “new” brotherly loathing is projection). Never mind that Dean has a chance to kill Dad-in-Law and ends up saving the good guys, in large part, by not doing so.

Even when Dean absolves Garth at the end of the episode of guilt for Kevin’s death, and tells him to go retire and make little werewolf babies with his fiancee, Sam is not willing to let it go. That’s because Sam is actually making Garth’s situation all about himself, which is pretty much what he’s always done when it came to “sympathetic” monsters.

Now again, one could argue that it’s only been two weeks and that Sam is still struggling with the fact that he is now completely human (something he doesn’t really feel like sharing with Dean). But the episode also shows that Sam is more than a little freaked out by Dean’s quick and brutal reflexes (even more than when he came back from Purgatory), and how Dean single-handedly takes out the bad werewolf nest with almost no help from Sam. When Dean kept saying “I’ve got this,” he wasn’t kidding.

Sam does not respond well to that. He demands that Dean be completely tolerant of anything monstrous in Garth (and, by extension, Sam), but won’t give Dean even the smallest bit of such tolerance when Dean does potentially monstrous things that scare him. Sam is afraid of Dean, so it’s “Burn the Witch.” He’s not even willing to bring it out in the open, how he’s freaked out by the (literal) marks of Dean’s recent adventure with Cain the Father of Murder, or that he’s insanely jealous that Dean went on that adventure with Crowley. So, he lets it fester, instead.

This makes Sam something that rhymes with “hypocrite.”

And then there’s Garth. Wow, as if he couldn’t be any more obnoxious. He’s basically an ersatz version of Bobby, right down to co-opting Bobby’s catchphrases. This isn’t necessarily a major problem (though it is a bit disrespectful), but when he tries to talk down to the Brothers, that crosses a line.

The fact that only Dean calls him on it is troubling because Garth doesn’t have even a reasonable fraction of the knowledge and experience Bobby had or, for that matter, what either of the Brothers has. So, his trying to act like a mentor toward them, or mediator for them, particularly when it’s uninvited, starts to become a safety issue after a while. He simply should not be talking down to two experienced Hunters like Sam and Dean (especially Dean because ye gods, man, he’s been in the game for over three decades at this point in the show). They do know better than he does. They are legendary for a reason and it’s not because the show is giving them the plot coupons writers like Adam Glass and Robbie Thompson drop in the laps of their newbie favorites like Garth or Krissy or Charlie.

About the only good thing “Sharp Teeth” does with Garth’s character is force him to come down off his smug cross and use the wood to come to terms with the fact that he is still an amateur. First, his getting bitten is something he admits was his own fault. He got cocky in his “optimistic” worldview and he got bitten. That was when he made his second mistake, which was that he disappeared on the Brothers instead of telling them what happened. Which led to his third mistake, which was bailing on Kevin at a critical moment.

Now, the Brothers are kind about these major blunders and forgive Garth at the end. After all, both of them are floating in a lot of self-imposed guilt, themselves, about Kevin. But while Garth isn’t directly (or even indirectly) responsible for Kevin’s death, his blunders did lead directly to a lot of pain for poor Kevin that could have been avoided and certainly left him less safe in the long run.

The stuff with Garth becoming a werewolf family man, though, is icky. The whole werewolf family thing is a hot mess of new canon that syncs poorly with the old canon. Just consider, for a moment, how this generational purity angle is never followed through when it comes to vampires (who are walking dead), or skinwalkers. And it’s only shakily followed with shapeshifters.

Not helping are Glass’ clumsy attempts to paste an anti-prejudice metaphor over the situation. The idea of monsters as metaphors for gay people or people of color, while it’s been done before and with success, is fraught with problems on Supernatural. Here, it’s more of a metaphor for pedophiles or serial killers and that’s a whole other ballpark.

On the show, all Eve-born monsters (as opposed to angels or demons) and even pagan gods share an important characteristic – they’re predators. There is nothing benign whatsoever about their natural state because in their natural state, they eat human beings. Worse, in their natural state, they feel entitled to prey on humans, whenever they bother to think about the morality of it at all. Therefore, anything humans do to kill these monsters can be construed as self-defense.

Now, sure, some of the monsters, including in this episode, just want to live peaceably alongside humans (so, sort of like humanoid wolves or lions). But ultimately, it’s the humans’ choice whether or not to go along with that because if the monsters “lose control” or actually choose to kill again, it’s humans who will be doing the dying, at least until some Hunters like Sam and Dean show up. Wolves and lions eat other creatures as their primary fare, not humans, and are more sinned against than sinners. That’s really not the case with werewolves, who are literally humans in wolf’s clothing.

The show has always cast Dean as the prejudiced hard-ass who needs to learn a lesson in tolerance, while Sam lays out whatever is the current Hollywood Liberal Straight White Dude line on the subject is, even though Dean actually leans a lot more left in his views than Sam. Dean’s first girlfriend, for example, was biracial, while Sam is quite robustly pro-law enforcement and didn’t give a hoot about the prisoners in lockup during the season two episode “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Curiously, what this has ended up doing is show Dean as the more tolerant one. In many episodes, Dean encounters some new situation that forces him to re-examine his belief system, his values, his prejudices, whereas Sam rarely gets the same shakedown. Instead, you get Sam smugly spouting lessons in tolerance that, in the breach, he doesn’t always follow through on because they’ve never been tested. I don’t think that’s what the episode intended with his speech at the end, but I do think that’s why it sounded like something he would say and do, even as he came off sounding like an intolerant jackass.

I don’t think that Glass really had this subtext in mind, but it’s funny how this blonde, perky, creepy Midwestern clan is engaging in a racist, genocidal religion under the guise of mainstream Protestantism that looks an awful lot like the Nordic nature pseudo-religion the Nazis engaged in under the same cover. Not that I am arguing that modern Nordic paganism is fake or any more inherently racist than any mainstream religion like Christianity, just that there are currently alt-Right Nazi-inspired movements in it that are threatening to take it over and those movements look like the one in this episode.

That may be why the whole “We follow the religion of the American Indians” thing sounds so appropriative and false. Even if Native Americans all had the same religious beliefs (which, of course, they do not), that’s not at all what even the “nice” whitebread werewolves believe in. Dean does make a snarky comment (“Look how that turned out for [the Native Americans]”), but I think that’s in large part because he recognizes how fake the whole thing is. It’s just a cover for genocide.

There was even a last-ditch Nazi resistance plan toward the end of WWII called “Werwolf,” a creature with which Hitler and others in the Nazi leadership identified strongly. Like Garth and Bess and her dad, a lot of Germans ignored the dark cost and concentrated on the bright, shiny, warm and fuzzy of family and fatherland.

Dean gets berated for not trusting Garth’s adopted family of “lycanthropes.” Yet, why should Dean trust even Garth when even Garth lies to Dean and Sam almost nonstop in this episode? While it does turn out that he is basically engaging in wishful thinking of his usual type (taken to a rather frantic extreme), Garth could be brainwashed or even have fully gone over to the monster side for all the Brothers know initially. He wouldn’t be the first Hunter to look too deeply into the abyss.

So, while Sam has a point in theory about trusting Garth long enough to figure out what’s going on, with the way things pan out, this turns out to be a reckless plan indeed. If Dean hadn’t take the Mark just the episode before, the body count among the good guys may have been a lot higher, and it may well have included Sam and Garth and Bess.

Next time: The Purge: The Brothers encounter Sheriff Donna Hanscum, while investigating shenanigans at a weight loss spa. And Sam overshares something with Dean.


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 9.11: 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.

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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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Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 9.09: Holy Terror


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[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]


Tagline: Castiel is captured by one of the angel factions and tortured, while Kevin hits a major milestone in his translation of the Angel Tablet.


Recap: Quick recap of Metatron’s spell to cast all the angels out of Heaven, which includes taking Castiel’s grace and turning him human. We also get a quickie of Dean’s deal with “Ezekiel,” Kevin working on the Angel Tablet, and the boring plotting of the fallen angels to take over the earth and get back to Heaven. Or something.

This is a Nepotism Duo episode, so buckle up, because it’s gonna be a rough (and frequently tedious) ride.

Cut to Now. A bus load of Gospel singin’ girls from the Melody Ministry Glee Club roll up to a roadhouse full of bikers in Caribou, WY. When they enter, the bald leader of the bikers is upset, saying “You shouldn’t be here.”

“We have as much right to be here as you do … Brother,” the obnoxiously pert blonde leader of the glee club sneers back. Both sides are angels. Angel blades come out and there’s a big fight. The glee club wins, massacring everyone in the biker bar, then leaving, covered with blood and all perky. They sing, “I’m Gonna Let It Shine,” as their bus rolls out.

Cue title cards.

In the Impala at night, Dean is driving and asking Ezekiel about Sam’s condition. Ezekiel claims that Sam is better, despite the reveal last week by Vesta that he was barely alive without Ezekiel’s angelic support. Dean is losing confidence in Ezekiel’s weekly progress reports. Ezekiel is unhappy that they are investigating “angel business” (the Doomed Teaser Bikers), but Dean points out this is the Family Business. If they don’t investigate it, Sam will get suspicious.

Grumpy, Ezekiel goes back into dormancy with a flash of eye light. When Sam comes back out, he’s confused that they’re so much closer to their destination. He says he’s getting a lot of missing time lately. Dean, of course, tap-dances that Sam is still recovering from nearly dying at the beginning of the season. Sam doesn’t quite buy this, which, to be honest, kind of puzzles me. We know Dean is lying, but the Trialberculosis was supposed to be inevitably fatal. Why doesn’t Sam buy the idea that it’s going to take him a while (less than half a season so far) to recover?

Anyhoo, the Brothers arrive at the biker bar, dressed as FBI agents. They are surprised to find Castiel there, also dressed in a suit, among the real law enforcement officers. Castiel had heard the news and feels obligated to help. The Brothers think that’s a bad idea (for various reasons, not all of them questionable), but Castiel is just too happy to see Dean (sorry, Sam and Dean) again to notice their reservations. And Ezekiel waits until Castiel has walked off to give Dean an angelic version of Sam’s bitchface.

There is speculation that the angel hit was by Bartholomew (one of the leader)’s gang, but someone else could be involved.

Cut to a scruffy guy named Malachi meeting with Bartholomew’s obnoxious top aid in an empty parking lot. Malachi is not pleased to hear that Bart didn’t bother to show up. The glee club girl is with Malachi and the hit on the biker bar was a hit on Bartholomew’s gang.

Malachi says that Bartholomew will live to regret demonstrating disrespect by not showing up for the meet. He punctuates this by killing Bartholomew’s team with an angel sword.

At a local bar, the Brothers are hanging out with Castiel. Sam is happy to see Castiel, Dean apprehensive. Castiel tells the Brothers that April (the Reaper who tortured and stabbed him to death during the last Nepotism Duo entry) told him Bart’s plan was to gather together as many angels as he could, reverse Metatron’s spell, and go back to Heaven. This triggers a creepy mutual reverie between him and Dean about how “hot” April was. Because of course it does. These writers are so inappropriate.

As Castiel goes off to get more beers, Ezekiel pops up and chews Dean out for letting Castiel hang out with them. This time, Dean really pushes back and challenges the angel on why he has such a problem about Castiel being there. Ezekiel calls Castiel a “beacon” to other angels (despite now being human) and that when Ezekiel agreed to help Dean with Sam, he “chose sides.” This now makes him unpopular with “certain angels.”

Dean shrugs this off, saying that Castiel’s now hated by every angel, but he’s still in there, helping TFW. “So, what makes you so special?”

Castiel interrupts this by coming back with the beers. Ezekiel stiffly says he’s going to “get something from the car,” but he’s really fleeing outside for some air and to think. Too bad that as soon as he does, he encounters Metatron, who says Ezekiel is an angel, all right, but he’s not Ezekiel. Ezekiel looks pretty horrified.

In the bar, Castiel says he noticed that Sam looked uncomfortable and asks if Dean has told Sam why he made Castiel leave the Bunker. At this point, Dean (who clearly has been having reservations about trusting “Ezekiel”) comes clean to Castiel about the angel deal he made and the real reason he’s keeping Castiel at arm’s length.

Out in the alley, Metatron calls “Ezekiel” by his real name, Gadriel (no, I’m not using the show’s spelling, “Gadreel,” because that’s the only time it uses the Arabic spelling convention instead of the Hebrew and that’s dumb). Gadriel gets all tense when Metatron asks him why he’s pretending to be Ezekiel. Gadriel says it’s because Ezekiel was a “good and honorable” angel and Metatron immediately points out that’s the opposite of how Gadriel is perceived.

It turns out that Gadriel was deep inside a heavenly dungeon (and had been for a long time) when he was cast out onto earth with the other angels. Metatron twists the knife when he details Gadriel’s crime – he was supposed to guard the “Garden” (the earth) and not let “evil” (probably Lucifer) enter it, but he failed.

Gadriel looks really distressed, so it’s probably not good that Metatron tells him about his big plan to let a few angels back into Heaven (because Metatron is lonely alone up there) and he wants Gadriel to help him. Yeah. ‘Cause that worked out so well for Castiel.

Back at the Bunker, Sam (now back in the saddle) tells Dean that the biker gang were born again Christians and hooked up with Bartholomew’s group. There’s a new angel gang in town and they’re worse than Bart’s.

At a campfire at night, Malachi’s smug glee club lieutenant is recruiting new idiots for vessels. But as the bodiless angels mass above, she’s stabbed from behind, and the vessels all smote, by a sneak attack from Bartholomew’s forces.

Underneath a bridge in daytime, Metatron is bemoaning about having lived (i.e., hid) among humans for so long. Gadriel practically talks himself into following Metatron by calling Metatron the new God. Metatron only somewhat demurs.

Somewhere in a cabin, Castiel is kneeling down (and assuming other positions) to pray to someone unspecific for help. He gets no answers. Hours later, he has to give up.

When he goes to turn on the TV, he hears a voice from outside telling him to plug it in. When he opens the door, he finds a short, blonde woman in a Park Ranger outfit. She is an angel named Muriel. She heard his prayer. At first, when she recognizes him, she wants to turn away, but he manages to talk her back inside, pleading with her for information.

At the Bunker, Kevin has hit a dead end. He thinks there may not be any information about the spell Metatron used to clear out Heaven. Kevin runs across a section that Metatron appears to have hidden in an indecipherable code, even from Prophets.

When Sam comes back (from having been used as Gadriel’s vehicle to go talk to Metatron), Dean tells him about the campfire attack, which was in Utah. Dean also found a witness who saw the glee club angel and her bus leaving the biker bar.

At the motel, Muriel is skeptical about Castiel’s claim that Metatron set everything up for the angels’ fall and Castiel was an unwitting participant. Despite her caution, she’s surprisingly forthcoming with Malachi’s name, since both Malachi and Bartholomew are rounding up unaligned angels and torturing them into submission or killing them if they won’t. Too bad that in the middle of their chat, Malachi’s henchangels show up. They beat up both Castiel and Muriel, and bring them to Malachi’s dungeon, where Malachi tortures Castiel himself.

Malachi doesn’t believe Castiel when he says he has no useful intel, so he has him tortured some more, then has Muriel killed. Damn. Muriel’s about the only new character I liked in this mess. Figures these loser writers would kill her off.

Afterward, Malachi claims he’s just following Castiel’s “example” of killing other angels. One of the names of the angels he claims died in the Fall is Ezekiel. But Malachi, being an “anarchist,” is too stupid to see the wheels suddenly turning in Castiel’s head. He leaves him with the henchangel who killed Muriel.

However, when Castiel asks for “a quick death,” the henchangel instead wants him to contact Metatron in order to be raised back to Heaven.

Castiel appears to play along, totally channeling Dean Winchester at his wiliest. He gets himself unchained. It doesn’t really matter if this is just another form of torture because Castiel is playing the other angel and gets the drop on him. He then cuts the henchangel’s throat and steals his grace, before smiting him as his first re-angeled act.

Whistling “I’m Gonna Let It Shine,” Malachi comes downstairs to find all of his henchangels in the dungeon dead (and poor Muriel still a doornail).

Dean talks to Kevin in the Bunker, while looking for Sam. Kevin says Sam went out. Kevin comments that Sam has been “doing that a lot” and we see the wheels turning in Dean’s head as he wonders who is doing that, Sam or “Ezekiel”?

Dean then gets a call from Castiel, who tells him he’s escaped Malachi and angeled back up (however temporarily). He also outs “Ezekiel,” saying that he’s dead.

Dean comes up with a plan quickly, hitting a sleepy Kevin up for a spell that can suppress an angel long enough to talk to the vessel (and let the human expel the angel), but not telling Kevin what it’s for.

Meanwhile, Gadriel, unaware he’s been outed, is meeting again, in broad daylight, with Metatron. He agrees to be Metatron’s second in command. Metatron blows some sunshine up Gadriel’s ass and Gadriel tries to believe it. But he’s not too thrilled when Metatron gives him the name of an enemy who must die first as a test, a name on a piece of paper. Gadriel balks, but he does take the Post-It note and looks conflicted.

Back at the Bunker, Kevin has cobbled together a spell from the Angel Tablet and some research he dug up in the Men of Letters archives. Now they’ve been drawing angel suppression sigils all over the walls. When he asks Dean what’s going on, Dean says he can’t really tell him and to trust him. Kevin grumps that that always bites him in the ass (but, in all fairness, Kevin’s been very volatile and unhelpfully unpredictable in his reaction to negative news in the past).

Sam comes back and Dean asks him where he’s been. Sam says he was on a beer run.

Dean quickly uses one of the sigils (which does work because we see it smoke and burn) to suppress “Ezekiel,” then tries to fill Sam in on the deal he made and that Ezekiel lied to him. Sam gets mega-pissy about it and clocks Dean one, knocking him out. Then he goes out into the Library where he … smites Kevin in the middle of Kevin worrying that Dean is “off” somehow. Dean rushes in in the middle of it, but can’t stop Kevin dying. Gadriel slams him up against a post.

Gadriel then proceeds to monologue about how he overheard Dean and Kevin talking, then “altered the spell” (to do what, exactly, since it did do something?). He faked being Sam and says that Sam is gone. Rubbing salt in the wounds, he says Kevin would have died sooner than later, anyway, and drops the Post-It note Metatron gave him on Kevin’s chest. It has Kevin’s name on it. He also takes the Angel and Demon tablets. After a little hesitation, he leaves Dean behind, alive, to call Kevin’s name, mournfully. But Kevin, his eyes burned out, is quite dead.

Credits

Review: Some mytharc episodes remain relevant on rewatch years later because they have canon that’s still in active effect, or they introduced important recurring characters, or they had some great lines/storylines/characters that are memorable and beloved by fans.

Then there are episodes like “Holy Terror.” The only reason at this point to watch “Holy Terror,” really, is because it’s the episode that kills off Kevin Tran. Every angel character in it besides Castiel is dead and gone for seasons now. The whole storyline has been wrapped up and rendered pretty pointless, since the surviving angels returned to Heaven. The war between them over who got to go back to turned out to be mainly just a cruel and manipulative con by Metatron. Yeah, that’s a bit spoilery. Oh, well.

The Nepotism Duo (Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming) are in their usual smug, California liberal mode here, thinking they’re being so woke when they’re instead condescending, misogynistic and pretty borderline racist. Three female angel characters get fridged in this episode, three, and two of them we only met this one time. Granted, I only liked one of them (Muriel), but that’s part of the problem. Not only do these female characters exist solely to motivate male characters (Bartholomew, Malachi and Castiel, respectively), but two of them are so thoroughly obnoxious that I pretty much guarantee you won’t mind they die only a few minutes after they show up. And I’m sure y’all won’t be too surprised to hear that the only sympathetic (or even interesting) one was the one fridged to motivate Castiel – Muriel.

And then a fourth character gets fridged this week. It’s Kevin, of course, and he is killed off to motivate Dean. As if Dean needed any more motivation, but the idea is to send Dean off on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge:

Now I quite like Dean’s RRoRs, which are always full of “bloody satisfaction,” but I quite dislike when the show fridges women and people of color to put him in that mindset. This one is especially egregious because the intent is also to make Dean look bad.

The idea here (spelled out by Kevin’s claim that trusting Dean “always” backfires on him) is that Dean doesn’t protect Kevin sufficiently from “Ezekiel” and that’s why Kevin dies. The general idea in the first half of season nine is that the deal Dean makes with Ezekiel (i.e., Gadriel) is a bad one and poisonous to everyone around him. But that would only be true if Gadriel were an evil character.

Gadriel is a lot of things that aren’t so great (notably, gullible and selfish). But when he acts ashamed over his backstory and hesitates over killing Kevin, we realize that overall, his intentions are, if not strictly honorable (would he have ever left Sam willingly? One wonders), at least relatively benign toward Dean and Kevin up to that point. He really doesn’t want to kill Kevin and he ends up not killing Dean, even though that really would be the smart thing to do. It’s not as though Dean is just going to let this go.

Up to this episode, the worst thing Gadriel has been doing has been forcing Dean to force Castiel to stay away when Castiel really needs the protection of Dean and the Bunker the most. And Dean really has no choice in this matter. Granted, it sucks for Castiel, but then, if Castiel hadn’t been so gullible with Metatron, Gadriel would still be in prison and the other angels would also still be in Heaven. So, Castiel is not exactly innocent in this whole situation, just because he’s now human. Dean’s dealing with the situation Castiel dropped on him as best he can. But also, Dean’s decision isn’t bad in and of itself. When it turns bad is when Gadriel is corrupted by Metatron, which is not something Dean had any information to predict. That comes right out of left field for him.

Another thing that seems unfair about Kevin’s accusation is that, aside from the fact that he’s really not that good at protecting himself and being out on his own, Kevin himself is toxic to his loved ones. It’s not him, personally, but his role as a Prophet that kills his girlfriend and her roommate and his mother (at least, apparently she’s dead) and even the angels that were supposed to protect him on earth. Kevin is not safe to be around. He could only be protected by someone as high-level as the Brothers Winchester and even then, all three of them knew his lifespan wasn’t liable to be long. Yeah, they have him working for them, but they’d have taken him in, anyway, or found him a safe place to stay. They’ve done it for others.

Sam is practically nonexistent in this episode, even though Jared Padalecki is in more of it than Jensen Ackles. In fact, Sam is practically nonexistent for a lot of the story in the first half of the season. We’re supposed to be sympathetic toward his plight, but he comes off as so clueless about his condition, and not especially interested in exploring what’s going on, that it’s hard to sympathize with his over-the-top outrage when he finally finds out. Which, despite the initial tone of Gadriel’s fakeout near the end, does not actually occur this week.

The show wants to blame Dean because it Tells us that Sam would never, ever, ever want to be possessed by an angel, and that it’s a violation akin to rape (a topic on which these two writers are exceptionally tone-deaf, as the example of April the Reaper makes clear). Except that Sam never has any such traumatic experience to that effect. He remains oblivious for so long because it’s not an awful experience at all and Ezekiel does heal him up a fair bit. What Sam will end up feeling guilty about is his body being used as a tool in Kevin’s death and that’s not the same thing as rape. Especially when that “guilt” becomes just another way for Sam to blame Dean for not letting him go (ie., die) at the beginning of season nine.

Yes, from a philosophical point of view, Sam would hate the idea of being possessed by an angel again after the whole Samifer deal. Yes, Dean’s is a reckless act, with consequences. No, it’s not the smartest thing he’s ever done. But for much of the season, when Dean is scrambling to keep Gadriel happy and everyone else safe, he is out on a limb. But he’s also, when under duress, forced to do things he wouldn’t otherwise do because his loved ones are being held hostage.  It’s hard not to feel empathy for that. It’s harder to feel empathy for Sam acting as though he had a lobotomy half the time and being in LaLa Land.

I have to admit that Gadriel isn’t my favorite role for Jared Padalecki. While I’ve never been a huge fan of Tahmoh Penikett, I thought he did well in the role. Penikett played him with a sort of desperate earnestness. Padalecki somehow didn’t take that up. His version of Gadriel seemed stiff and prissy, instead, and I found that distracting.

Weirdly enough, I found him more convincing in Gadriel’s scenes with Metatron (who is a whole other kind of dumpster fire this season) than in his scenes with Dean. Go figure.

Finally, there’s Metatron. Oh, dear. When we first encountered him in “The Great Escapist” in season eight (Ben Edlund’s final episode for the show, at least so far), after a couple of mentions in previous episodes since season seven, he seemed like a puckish and spunky, if rather frail, old man. A bit like later Prophet Donatello, except that in Metatron’s case, it’s a mask, a con job, and not just because he’s an angel.

This does not make the desperate gullibility with which angels like Castiel and Gadriel choose to believe him look sympathetic. Their blindness is too willful, their excuses too ludicrous, the damage they cause in his name too great. True, Bartholomew and Malachi are no better, but the fact that the angels are willing to slaughter each other (and hapless humans) in their name, as much as in Metatron’s, simply because that would-be leader is an angel, doesn’t make any of the three choices look smart. And it’s not as though joining a faction increases your angelic lifespan.

Metatron is actually quite ambitious and vindictive. In fact, despite his professed love for their stories, he doesn’t really like humans and looks down on them. Nor does he give a hoot what his grand Bond villain schemes do to any part of the SPNverse, let alone Heaven and Earth, and certainly not what they do to individual angels and humans. When he orders the assassination of Kevin Tran, there’s nothing personal in it. He’s just tying up a loose end.

But once his plan exceeds his wildest dreams, he becomes even more ambitious. Initially, it appears he wanted revenge on the angels when he cast them out of Heaven. Now he wants their worship and adoration (having found revenge to be more empty than he’d anticipated). In this episode, he hesitates to aspire to wanting to be like God, but give him time. His ego can encompass that, too.

Fun Lines:

Kevin [to Dean] I always trust you. And I always end up screwed.

Dean: Oh, come on – always? Not always.


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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The Official Supernatural: “Moriah” (14.20 – Season Finale) Live Recap Thread


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Longish recap to “Carry On Wayward Son” that teases us with a bit of Dean!Michael before boring the crap out of us with how terrible the entire Jack storyline was.

Cut to Now and that cliffhanger some optimistic fans were all abuzz about last week, with Jack busting out of the Ma’lak Box. Yeah, about that. Jack whines that TFW lied to him, tosses them into some bookshelves (I really hate that he trashed their archive, but at least the library upstairs is intact), and … anticlimactically flies off.

Yeah. I know. That’s what you waited a week for. Sorry.

In the aftermath of getting themselves up and dusting themselves off, and handwaving why Jack was able to bust out of the unbustable box (I doubt we’ll get anything more satisfying than that), Dean recovers first. He says they need to find Jack fast before he hurts anyone (else) and gank him. As far as locating Jack, Sam says that praying’s out now, for obvious reasons (I dunno, Sam. Jack’s pretty gullible. He might actually fall for that one twice).

Castiel gets pissy and tries to pick a fight with Dean (the world is not Twitter, Cas), but Dean shuts him down cold. Dean gives Castiel some much-needed home truths about how he always thought raising Jack was too dangerous, but no one listened to him. How Castiel knew Jack had broke bad, but he chose to stay quiet because he wanted the fantasy of a happy family so badly. After the past two weeks, Dean doesn’t have to add, “And now Mom’s dead.”

Furious, but unable to come up with a blistering retort (I’m sure he’ll think of one a week from now), Castiel shoves past Dean and stalks out the door.

Sam is upset, but Dean points out to him that as much as they cared about Jack, he’s a monster now and he’s hurting people. They have to stop him. Yeah, Sam. Starting thinking like a Hero again, for once. Save some people. Hunt some things.

Where’s Jack? He’s in a crowded public place. People are sitting around having inane conversations, in which he detects (or thinks he does, anyway) a lot of lies. He gets the “brilliant’ idea of making everyone tell the truth. Because that’s bound to end well.

Meanwhile, Sam is following up (by phone) on Dean’s idea of recruiting Rowena for a locator spell. She thinks it’s “dangerous,” but she’s in.

Dressed as FBI agents, the Brothers enter a tech company for facial software. This somehow leads to Sam responding to Dean’s usual grumping about “nerds” that Dean is the biggest nerd of all and he even watches Jeopardy every night. Which, okay, cute, I guess, but it seems very out of place.

Dean then introduces himself to the receptionist and says he’s looking for “the Devil’s son.” So, I guess that anti-lying mojo is working on Dean now.

Dean scampers off to Sam, who is being puzzled by two coworkers admitting to each other that one is sleeping with the other one’s wife and the other one doesn’t care. Dean asks Sam who his favorite singer is (Sam always says Elvis, but Dean knows that’s a lie) and Sam is shocked when he’s forced to admit it.

At that moment, all Hell breaks loose in the office as various people start admitting their biggest grievances to each other. I kinda like the lady who’s going around, stealing staplers and gloating, “I’m the Stapler Queen!”

The Brothers quickly step into a conference room, where a TV announcer on the wall is reporting on Trump having just made a full and public confession about his tax records and connections to Russia. Also, seems he made a deal with Crowley. Oh, and her co-anchor confesses his love or her. Seems the spell in question is universal.

Now that he’s been forced to confess that his favorite singer is Celine Dion, Sam’s fully on board with tracking Jack down before he does any more damage.

Meanwhile, Castiel is in an alley, trying to talk to a demon about going to Hell and studying the Cage. The demon refuses, but a voice behind Castiel changes and ups the entire game. When he turns around, he sees Chuck. Chuck allows that TFW might just be boned.

Chuck says he came because of Castiel’s prayer (in the warehouse, when he found Joshua’s new version of the Amulet). And because Jack has become “a problem.” Because of course he did. [eyeroll]

Meanwhile, Jack is knocking on his grandmother’s door and barges his way in. He doesn’t notice the signals that she doesn’t want him around. He says he wants to talk more about Kelly. Well, he gets a lot more than he bargained for when his grandmother reveals she knows he lied to her before (karma sucks, doesn’t it, Jack?). She screams at him, demanding to know what he did to her daughter and is Kelly dead?

Jack, still having no learning curve, gets mad. His eyes glow yellow and he shouts, “STOP!” Because of course he does. Why would he accept any consequences for his own actions? He’s miserably failed at that so far.

Back at the tech office, Dean is discovering that the internet has gone awfully quiet, save for those folks admitting their lives aren’t nearly as neat as they claimed. Sam is using face recognition software to locate Jack. Out in the office, mayhem continues as Castiel and Chuck show up.

Chuck goes into a little rant about how people need to lie. “It keeps the peace.” He says he’s a writer and writers lie, so he should know. In case that sounds vaguely familiar, that’s this episode’s writer, Andrew Dabb, riffing on the late, great Ursula K. LeGuin (“a novelist’s business is lying“) and sucking hard at it.

Chuck and Castiel come in to a shocked Dean and Sam. Ignoring Dean’s questions at first, Chuck sits down with a guitar for a song. Dean, channeling half the audience (at least), grabs the guitar and smashes it, Pete Townshend-style, on the floor. When Dean gets in Chuck’s face, Chuck gets mad, but it doesn’t let him off the hook. In fact, it unites Sam and Castiel remarkably quickly at Dean’s back, especially once Chuck snaps them back to the Bunker.

Chuck starts burbling on about being a deus ex machina, but it falls on stony ground. Sam says he’s with Dean – he wants answers. And Castiel just looks pissed off. Yes, he looks like that a lot this episode.

Chuck is “charmingly” vague about questions where he’s been. When Dean asks him about Amara, he claims she was with him, at least most of the way, and is currently in Reno. No one believes him. Finally pinned down (or so it appears) on the question of why he’s here now, he says he only shows up for actual apocalypses, not ordinary stuff (like the Leviathans, or the “weak” LoL) and Jack is an apocalypse. For proof, Chuck waves a hand and we hear a lot of paranoid radio chatter from around the world.

By the way, we just saw Jack exit his grandmother’s house in a hurry, leaving the door wide open and Grandma nowhere to be seen.

Castiel asks if Chuck can fix it. Chuck says sure. He snaps his fingers and says, “Fixed … like it never happened.” Dean tests it by saying “Celine Dion rocks” and then assures everyone that yep, they can lie again. Back in the tech office, all is normal again, and a guy is ranting about someone stealing his yogurt while another guy is sitting at his own desk, eating said yogurt.

Chuck then fangirls Jack and his powers a bit (because of course he does). He then says Jack has to go, but Chuck can’t do it (for reasons), though the Brothers can. And he has just the thing. A silvery, rather creepy-looking pistol appears on the map table.

Chuck says the gun will kill anything. He says he’s thinking of calling it “The Equalizer” or “The Hammurabi.” The stony silence from the other side of the room deepens. Dean picks the gun up as Sam asks why Chuck didn’t bring it to them before. He says he just invented it, that’s why. Sam asks how do they know it will work? Chuck says of course it will work. He made it.

Dean says there are no bullets. Chuck technobabbles about “balance” in the universe and quantum bubbles and stuff. Sam (who is just so very done at this point with Chuck, after fangirling him for near a decade and a half) tells him to “get to the point.” Chuck says that whatever happens to the person/being you shoot, also happens to you. And since he can’t die without the entire Multiverse dying, he can’t use it on Jack.

Castiel asks why Chuck can’t just give Jack his soul back. Chuck claims it’s complicated, that souls are complicated. Castiel says, well, maybe they can just put Jack in the Cage until they find another solution (because I’m sure that would work as well as the Ma’lak Box).

Dean cuts him off by saying there’s no other way, while holding the gun. Castiel snarls that Billie said that Dean had to go in the Ma’lak Box, too, and look how that turned out. You know, I get that Dabb thinks he’s acknowledging that loose end here, but that somehow makes it worse that he knew perfectly well he was dropping that plot and chose to give us this load of horseshit, instead.

Also, we’re halfway through and so far, almost nothing has happened except a whole lot of infodump.

Chuck starts muttering angrily about how the previous Death was much more hands-off and Billie is too active for his tastes. That makes me just a little bit suspicious because why would he care?

Anyhoo, Dean tells Castiel to suck it up and deal or “walk away.” Castiel walks away. Meanwhile, Jack is walking down the street, remembering that he probably killed his grandmother.

In the next scene, Sam comes in on Dean drinking. Dean has already decided he will be the one to pull the trigger and die, along with Jack. Sam starts to whine that Jack is still saveable, that he did all those things because he didn’t have a soul. But Sam doesn’t seem to get that Jack can’t get that soul back, so that’s irrelevant. Really, how many people – how many women who are mothers to him – does Jack have to murder before Sam admits that maybe Jack needs to face some fucking consequences for once?

I mean, I really hate Sam in this scene. He is so casually misogynistic, so casually dismissive even of the death of his own mother, just so long as he can play Daddy to Jack. And on top of that, he’s busy guilt-tripping Dean about killing himself to kill Jack, because he’s “already lost too much.” Wow. Sam is breathtakingly selfish, isn’t he?

Anyhoo, Castiel has driven to some cemetery, where Jack flies in behind him. Castiel turns and hugs him. I am so very over Jack. Can’t he just go away forever now?

Back at the Bunker, Sam comes out into the Library to find Chuck playing with the archangel blade. Chuck asks Sam where he got it (as if Chuck wouldn’t know) and Sam just says, “Another world.” Sam asks Chuck about the other realities. Chuck says he’s “lost count … one’s in reverse. One’s in all-yellow. And one is just all squirrels.” So, all Deans, then?

Sam brings up that alt-Michael claimed Chuck made and discarded these worlds like “failed drafts.” Chuck claims that this Sam and Dean are the “most interesting” of all the Sams and Deans in the Multiverse.

Back to the cemetery, Jack is telling Castiel about his visit to his grandmother. He says she told him he killed Kelly, which he did. He says that used to bother him, but he doesn’t feel anything, anymore (except that both the script and the acting Show him feeling all sorts of things). We get the rest of the flashback, in which she saw his glowing eyes and exclaimed, “What are you?!” In the flashback, Jack has a moment of clarity and “runs away,” instead of hurting her. Castiel is all proud of him, because I guess the many other people Jack’s killed don’t matter.

In the Library, Sam asks if Chuck is watching them all the time and Chuck gets all creepy-nostalgic and says, “Yeah.” With a smile. Like his smile when Castiel stormed out. I don’t like that smile. Chuck says, “You’re my favorite show.”

Sam says that if he had Chuck’s power, he’d … well, what, Sam? Your track record with superpowers blows chunks, dude. Chuck says he can’t intervene. Only Sam and Dean can: “You’re my guys.”

Then he says something really humiliating for Sam, even as Sam guesses (but is it accurate?) that Chuck is afraid of Jack and knows where Jack is – he points out that Dean has already left to go kill Jack.

At the cemetery, Jack is still claiming that killing Mary was an accident. He claims to try to “do the right thing,” except for being “led astray” by Duma. He admits that whenever he tries to do things right, he screws up.

Castiel, like the kind of indulgent parent who needs a good talking-to from Supernanny, keeps saying that if only they could go away somewhere and “fix this.” This show has done such an excellent job of ruining Castiel this season, all in favor of blowing sunshine up Jack’s ass.

When Dean shows up with the gun, though, Jack tosses Castiel across the cemetery and kneels down so Dean can shoot him.

Castiel gets up and starts yelling at Dean, even as Sam is running through the cemetery, yelling at Dean (there doesn’t see to be any concern from either of them for Dean, just Jack), and Jack says, “I understand.”

Jack admits that he’s a “monster,” even as Chuck shows up and Sam realizes that Chuck is “enjoying this.”

But Dean hesitates and then, he tosses the gun aside.

At that moment, Chuck gets mad. It’s not how “the story” is supposed to go. This is a case of Abraham and Isaac, “of a father killing his son … it’s epic!” At that moment, Sam voices all of his growing misgivings throughout the episode about Chuck – “He’s been playing us, all our lives.”

Chuck: Dean, no offense, but your brother is stupid and crazy.

Castiel is pretty pissed (yes, I know, but he actually gets angrier in this scene), but it’s Dean who gets a really ugly look as he realizes he was being set up for assassination. That’s probably the most interesting part of the episode – that Chuck wanted Dean to die, but couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do it himself.

As he’s losing control over the situation, Chuck tries to bully-entice Dean into picking up the gun and shooting Jack by offering to bring Mary back and claiming that “the kid is still dangerous.”

Dean, realizing he’s been played, steps back from his greatest temptation, saying “No. My mom was my Hero. And I miss her. And I will miss her every second of my life. But she would not want this. And it’s not like you even really care.”

Dean gets a good rant going (why not? Everyone else got one this episode) about how Chuck has always known what was going on even back to the first apocalypse. He could always change it, but chose not to. Sam backs Dean up, though he does kinda step on Dean’s groove a bit.

But what happens next is interesting because Chuck basically ignores Sam and tries to shmooze Dean. It’s only when Dean tells him to go the Hell that Chuck decides he’s done. He snaps his fingers. And guess what? He’s totally capable of smiting Jack by remote. Easy as pie.

Dean tries to stop him, but gets knocked through a tombstone. Sam picks up the gun and shoots Chuck (the Dramatic Reenactment we get after commercial is embarrassingly cheesy), but it just bounces off Chuck and hits Sam in the shoulder like a real bullet.

Chuck: Fine. That the way you want it? Story’s over. Welcome to the end.

And Dean finds himself in the dark in the graveyard. It’s suddenly night. Sam and Castiel are still there. Sam’s still been shot, though he’s okay. Jack is dead, his eyes burned out of his head.

Dean says, confused, that Chuck said only the gun could kill Jack. “He’s a writer,” Castiel says, kneeling by Jack. “Writers lie.” Watch out for those anvils, kids. They’re heavy this week.

But alas, we’re not done with Jack Sue. To the tune of Motörhead’s “God Was Never on Your Side,” Jack wakes up in the Empty to meet the Empty Entity itself (which makes a benediction over him and chuckles) and Billie flying in for a chat. Because of course they do. [eyeroll]

Back on earth, the Brothers and Castiel witness souls blasting out of of glowing rifts in the ground. Castiel infodumps that they are souls from Hell. Shouldn’t they be demons, then? But instead, we have the Woman in White (from the Pilot) accosting a motorist, John Wayne Gacy’s ghost showing up at the door to a kid’s party (even though his thing was young gay boys), and Bloody Mary (also from season one) appearing in a mirror in the room of two young girls. Which, again, is nice and all, but the WiW and Mary really ought to be demons by now. Really.

Also, in the midst of exploding tombstones, zombies appear to menace the Brothers and Castiel. It’s all epically stupid as Castiel pulls out his angel blade and Dean grabs some iron from a rusty gate, handing some to Sam. All to Classic Rock we apparently couldn’t afford most of the season. The zombies converge on the three of them.

Credits.

Ratings for this week were pretty bad and didn’t experience the usual season finale bounce, with a 0.3/2 and 1.30 million. Even so, the show still far outstripped most of the other shows on the CW, which can’t even muster 1 million at this point.

No preview for next week, obviously, since that won’t be until October.

Review

Well, this was quite terrible, wasn’t it? Not to mention dull. There was a great deal of talking and very little action. One character (Rowena) was mentioned for a bit and then dropped. Another character who had been prominent the past few episodes (Fauxifer), and who should have been around, was simply forgotten. You may have noticed that almost everything (except for the office set) occurred in the Bunker or that graveyard. I guess Classic Rock and some zombie makeup’s too expensive to justify the cost of any decent fight choreography, or, hell, anything happening beyond a whole lot of infodumpy dialogue. Don’t bother to get excited about the biblical implications of the title, since they were spelled for all of a hot minute.

On Twitter, I compared it to a mess of moldy spaghetti tossed at the wall. They actually started the season with a good premise (Dean possessed by alt-Michael), but then floundered because they basically didn’t know what to do with it. I can pretty much guarantee you that if they flubbed the Michael storyline, the same writers will flub the EVOL!Chuck storyline because the problem will remain the same – the Big Bad is too Big and too Bad for Our Heroes to vanquish. It was actually easier with Michael because they had Dean and Dean was fighting from within, but nope. They went the very stupid Soulless!Jack route, instead.

Also, those who have been crowing about getting to see the same old MOTWs the Brothers had previously vanquished, again, think very hard about how well it’s gone of late with this current writing crew and old, iconic characters – very old and very iconic characters – that they brought back. For example, those who were looking forward to seeing Chuck again, just how happy are you today?

This show needs new showrunners and new writers, stat, but it’s probably not going to get any at this point in the game. And that’s too bad. The show deserved a better final season than it’s probably going to get. I really hope I’m wrong, but … well … it’s not as though this season finale was good. It also actually managed to make “Swan Song” look even worse. Didn’t think that was possible, but there you go.

But before we get into why, let me just put forward this spec. Let’s say that those of you who are thinking Chuck wasn’t really Chuck this episode (as opposed to written completely out of character, though both things can be simultaneously true) are correct. Who is this Chuck, then? Could it be he’s the Empty Entity? His characterization is more appropriate for that character, last we saw it, don’t you think?

But, you may ask, who was the being (beside Death) who greeted Jack in the Empty? Some have speculated that it was Gabriel, but I have another idea. What if it was Chuck?

This would explain a lot of things and might even make Jack less of a Gary Stu (since he’d be the first of TFW, such as he is, to arrive in the Empty, so Chuck and Billie are just taking what they can get). It would explain why “Chuck” was so much more nihilistic than before. Mind you, I think he always had that potential, and that’s why I hated the idea of his being God in the first place, but his demeanor and attitude toward the Brothers has either changed or he’s just being more honest. Or he’s not Chuck.

It explains why he would play mind games and try to get TFW to kill Jack when he could have done it at any time (you could argue that he killed Jack because Jack was the biggest threat to him, but if Jack were any kind of threat, Chuck wouldn’t have been able to smite him like that). It explains why he had a beef with Jack in the first place. There’s never been any indication Chuck gave a rat’s ass one way or the other about Jack, seeing as how he did nothing about his birth, the alternate universes, or any of that.

The Empty Entity, on the other hand, wanted Jack in the Empty just a few episodes ago. It explains why he was so moody (Chuck was a lot of things, previously, but moody was never one of them). It explains why he was so not-so-secretly sadistic (which we know the Empty Entity is). It even explains the nature of the new gun, the rant about “balance” (since when did Chuck care about that?), the strange absence of Amara, the changing Jack’s spell of compulsive honesty back to quotidian lying, and the sudden rage toward Billie and her “meddling.”

What it doesn’t explain is why Chuck (or “Chuck”) wanted Dean dead, too, because that was as cold-blooded an assassination attempt (of Dean) as this show has ever done. Or why Chuck didn’t just flat-out kill Dean when Dean refused, but had no problem killing Jack. And alas, even if the above theory is correct, that doesn’t mean the writers will do it any justice, whatsoever.

Which brings us back to the review.

There was some nice acting, especially from Jensen Ackles. And Jared Padalecki got something substantial to chew on with Sam’s growing realization that Chuck was a rotter. This particular journey actually fitted Sam best, since Sam is the brother who has had the most faith in God, has prayed to Him, and has had the most faith in Him. Dean has always been angry with God (and even began the series as a sort of atheistic pagan who didn’t believe in a universal deity, let alone a benevolent one). There’s more dramatic charge in Sam coming to this conclusion after a lifetime of belief and devotion, than Dean, since Dean’s already naturally inclined toward it. I mean, Dean was right all along about Chuck. Go figure.

Unfortunately, the acting can’t save the writing (or the direction). You’ll note that I didn’t mention Misha Collins or Alex Calvert. It’s not because they’re bad actors, but because they basically get nothing of substance to do here. As I said in the recap, Castiel spends most of the episode pissed off (usually at Dean) and poor Calvert is once again stuck with Telling the audience that Jack has no emotions (because he has no soul) while clearly Showing (due to the writing and probably the direction) that actually, Jack’s biggest problem is his emotions and his utter failure to control them without hurting someone. Over and over and over again.

I continue to believe that Jack is unsalvageable as a character. This episode just drove home why. So, no, I wasn’t thrilled to see his Speshul Sparkly Self waking up in the Empty and being visited by two Very Important People. I think he has just gone too far as a character, trampled too many moral lines, killed too many people, to come back from that.

Even Jack’s biggest stans implicitly acknowledge he has something he’s done to the main characters that may not be forgiveable when such fans try instead to transfer that moral charge onto blaming Dean (who is the current surviving victim of Jack’s rampage least likely to indulge him with a forgiveness he really doesn’t deserve). Somebody’s gotta pay, so if it’s not Jack, it’s got to be his “unreasonable” victim. Essentially, it’s just an extension of fans who bought the idea (put forward by Jack himself) that Mary caused her own death by making Jack mad (which, as I said a couple of weeks ago, is Abuser Logic).

Unfortunately, the show itself is at its most emotionally dishonest when having other characters deal with Jack (there’s also that bullshit “Writers lie” thing, but we’ll get to that in a minute). Dean’s character is the least muddy in his emotional arc, though we see his actions through a glass darkly and he has a last-minute change of heart that’s poorly mapped. Having Jack have a sudden and unlikely epiphany (after nearly fridging yet another biological mother figure) that he’s EVOL is, of course, emotionally manipulative, intended to woobie Jack, handwave Jack’s crimes (and they are crimes) to this point, and make Dean look like a big meanie. Again, Abuser Logic.

Less understandable are Sam’s (and especially Castiel’s) overly indulgent attitudes toward Jack, even to the point of ignoring the horrible things Jack has done, including to people they loved. It doesn’t help that the show has written Sam and Castiel for two years as invested in fostering Jack as much as for reasons of pride and ego as for altruism. But even that low bar doesn’t excuse their throwing over a 14-season and 10-season obsession (respectively) with Dean in favor of a character they’ve known for a hot minute, relatively speaking, and who is the son of their worst enemy. I don’t buy that and the show doesn’t even try to make it look plausible. Dabb & Co. just Cousin Oliver it all the way down the line.

So, let’s wrap up with that idiotic “Writers lie” theme. As I said before, it probably comes from a quote by Ursula K. Le Guin, “A novelist’s business is lying,” which this quite-thoughtful essay on her speculates comes originally from Picasso’s quote, “Art is a lie which makes us realize the truth.”

Now, Picasso was, by all accounts, a pompous asshole (and probably an emotional vampire), but he was a talented asshole and in this case, he’s quite right. Great writers don’t just lie to lie. They lie to get at important truths they might not otherwise be able to articulate. I’m going to quote myself from Twitter again (sorry), this time in response to Andrew Dabb’s nonsense about how “writers lie.”

Me: Bad writers lie. Average writers lie pretty. Good writers engage audiences with the truth. Great writers inspire others with the truth.

Also, in context, Le Guin isn’t just saying that writers (well, novelists) lie. She said it in her forward to The Left Hand of Darkness (not my favorite of her books, though I did love some of her others), in response to the idea that science fiction writers should write predictions of the future in their stories. Le Guin was saying that we writers actually are using science fiction to comment on our present. We’re not seers. Don’t put us on a pedestal. We can only present our own, personal truth.

Which is pretty much the opposite of writing a show where the God character is a douchey alter ego to the shallow and self-indulgent writers. That is a cheat, a mean spirited prank on the audience, and poor repayment for our support of the show. Don’t forget that these writers see us all as Becky Rosen.

See you next week with a retro review.


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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The Official Supernatural: “Jack in the Box” (14.19) Live Recap Thread


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Quick recap of what a raging dumpster fire of a storyline this whole Jack thing has been of late.

FYI, my part of the state is under a major tornado watch and we’ve had warnings for hours. So, if my power goes out, it goes out. Sorry.

Anyhoo, cut to Now and … hey, remember how there was a whole storyline involving the Hunters Sam organized and trained from the alt-SPNverse who got killed by Michael and then Jack killed him?

Yeah, well, the Bunker is now filled with beer-swilling Hunters whom we haven’t seen for weeks because reasons. Some of them are even survivors from the alt-SPNverse (though no alt-Charlie, because I guess she didn’t care about Mary). Who got massacred besides Maggie a few weeks ago? Who knows? Buck-Leming sure don’t remember.

Yep. It’s a Nepotism Duo episode. I’d better go get some booze.

It’s a Hunter’s wake for Mary. Remember that female Hunter from back when Jack was so sick, who I was hoping would survive? She’s there. Let’s hope these two louses don’t redshirt her.

Dean, Sam and Castiel come in, and Dean gives a speech thanking everyone for coming. As Sam broods beside him and Castiel looks mighty uncomfortable, Dean acknowledges that Mary knew and touched a lot more people than her immediate family, people who might want a space to grieve for her. He praises her Hunting skills while getting some chuckles for talking about her stubbornness and her inability to cook. He just about makes it through the speech without breaking down. Then he and Sam and everyone but Castiel toast her.

Jack, of course, is conspicuously absent. And unmentioned.

The gathering is abruptly and bloodily broken up when a hatchet sails through the air and lands in the head of one of the Hunters. The wielder turns out to be alt-Bobby, fashionably late, and the victim a Wraith-in-disguise with whom Bobby and Mary had tangled during their last Hunt. The body is unceremoniously dragged off while Bobby explains that the Wraith probably stopped by to gloat (and also to search for victims, I’ll bet. This could have been a good MOTW, but ah, well).

Castiel notes that Mary would have appreciated a monster showing up at her wake to get ganked. When Sam comes in, Bobby asks how he is. Sam says not so good. When Bobby asks how Dean is (as Dean comes in to pack up Mary’s photos and such from the wake), Sam says he’s not sure. Bobby says that maybe Dean is like him and doesn’t like to cry in public.

Sam asks Dean if they shouldn’t open a bottle of whiskey and “talk about Mom.” Dean just looks at him as if he’s got five heads and says, isn’t that what they’ve been doing? It’s always struck me how Sam is a bit cold and doesn’t deal with people well emotionally when they’re right in front him. He did a similar thing with John – basically fighting with him when John was alive and then getting all maudlin about him once he was gone. He was similarly arm’s-length with Mary. Even when they were hanging out, there was a part of Sam that seemed detached.

So, not a huge surprise that he’s now getting maudlin over her photos with Bobby, while Dean is nowhere to be seen.

Just as Bobby is starting to ask what Jack did, Dean walks in. Sam and Bobby invite Dean to have a drink when he says he needs one, but he says he needs to go do some stuff alone. Sam says they need to talk about Jack. Dean says they will – later. He leaves.

Bobby gets back on-topic. He says that he liked Jack and even fought with him, but if Jack has truly lost his soul, then he’s basically “Lucifer” now and there’s only one thing to do. “An unstoppable monster who don’t know right from wrong gets put down – or the closest we can get to it. And anybody who don’t know that needs to go back to school.”

Castiel objects, saying that Jack didn’t know any better, or intend to kill Mary, while Sam looks pensive, but Bobby’s not impressed. Neither am I, to be honest. Bobby’s right. Bobby leaves to go gather the mob with pitchforks. We may or may not see him again this week.

Cut to a random warehouse, where Jack is remembering his last conversation with Mary and how it turned out. Jack moans for her to come back, saying that he needs her there to tell him “what to do.”

Fauxifer shows up (because I’m sure we were all just gagging to see this character again). He starts nagging Jack that the Winchesters never loved him, but he is part of Jack’s “DNA” and in that sense, he’s “real” (I’m still suspicious that this is the real Lucifer, or maybe Michael, who is slowly taking Jack over from the inside). Anyhoo, despite his rather weak protests, Jack gives far too much credence to Fauxifer’s claims that his bio daddy loved him. Last time Jack talked to his bio daddy, Lucifer stole his grace and was standing by, smiling, while Jack was stabbing himself to death.

Then again, this entire “soulless” storyline where Jack doesn’t feel any emotions makes no damned sense when Jack obviously does feel emotions and lots of them. In fact, his anger and guilt are precisely what are making him so dangerously unstable at this point. Well, that, and his pride and arrogance.

Jack thinks he can go back to Sam and Dean, and explain to them that Mary’s murder was “an accident.” Fauxifer tells him that they “hate” him (which is about the only thing I agree with Fauxifer on, since Dean certainly does) and that “they don’t even want you as their pet, anymore.” Then he disappears.

Cut to a no-dialogue dramatic shot in the woods at night, of Dean sitting on a stump, sobbing uncontrollably. It’s great acting, but it only lasts 33 seconds, which ain’t long enough by any stretch to save this episode.

Also, I can’t help feeling a bit salty about the story Jensen Ackles told that he had to sit in the woods, freezing, for take after take, because the shot was “cinematic.” Everyone else get to film indoors, but not him. Gee, I wonder why he wants to quit, seeing as how the show has been pulling this crap on him from the beginning.

Anyhoo, this is a pretty important scene, however short. Fauxifer makes it sound as though the Winchesters are petty and sick of Jack, that they tossed him away like a broken toy as soon as he made an honest mistake.

But this scene shows the devastation Jack actually caused. That he took a mother away from her sons (after they’d lost her at a young age and gotten her back after many years). And now one of those sons is sitting on a stump in the middle of the friggin’ woods, crying inconsolably, wounded beyond measure by Jack’s actions.

Jack has wings. He could find Dean, talk to him alone, if he really wanted to make amends, but he’s not there. He was conspicuously absent at Mary’s wake and he’s conspicuously absent here.

Now we go up to Heaven, where Castiel is bugging Duma about where Naomi is. Um … last week, Castiel had to beg just to speak to Duma at the gate of Heaven. Now he can just walk in? These writers, I swear. Get yer canon straight, Nep Duo.

When pressed, Duma claims that Naomi screwed up by “allowing” the Empty Entity into Heaven, so the angels (well, Duma) locked her away. Now Duma is running Heaven because apparently, these same writers have forgotten that Duma got possessed by the Empty Entity during its time in Heaven. Also, the fact that Heaven can’t afford to lose any more angels because there are hardly any left is not mentioned. In fact, Heaven doesn’t see to be suffering any more power outages at all.

Oh, and according to Duma, there are no more archangels because apparently Buck-Leming even forgot about “our” Michael in the Cage.

These two writers give me such a headache.

Castiel beats around the bush a bit and then admits he’s trying to find Jack and that Jack has burned away all of his soul (remember when Jack’s soul and grace needed to exist in balance or he’d die?Yeah … the writers don’t).

Duma thinks this is ironic. Castiel keeps blabbing, admitting that Jack has fled the Winchesters, who are very, very angry with him (Duma notes that this is indeed something to fear), and that he’s become very powerful since killing alt-Michael, but that he needs “guidance.” Duma just walks away, saying “See what I can do.”

Castiel finally gets a look of dawning comprehension that maybe trusting Duma, of all people, with such information wasn’t the smartest choice he ever made.

In the Bunker, Sam is working on his computer when Dean comes in. Dean deflects any question about how he’s feeling. Sam mentions that “Bobby and his crew” are looking for Jack. He and Dean need to find Jack before –

“He kills them all?” Dean asks. Sam looks uncomfortable and says he doesn’t know.

Sam then says he’s been thinking about Mary (see? Arm’s length). He says that most people don’t know how the SPNverse works, that they have to operate on faith. He and Dean know how things really work, that God and angels are real, and so is Heaven.

Dean: God writes paperback books in his underwear, okay? And angels are dicks.

Sam persists, saying that at least he and Dean know Mary is “in a better place” with John.

Dean: Hmm. You know what else? There wasn’t even enough left of her to even try to bring her back.

Yeah, Dean’s not putting up with Sam’s “Try to Look on the Bright Side of Life” approach this week. Did the Nep Duo even notice this episode would be coming out on Maundy Thursday?

Still hanging out in the warehouse, Jack gets a visit from Duma (who somehow found him and was able to get there really quickly without wings. I’ll bet the Nep Duo just plain forgot). Duma is oily as salad dressing. Cleverly leaving out the fact that she refused to let Castiel bring Mary back to earth, she claims that Mary’s death wasn’t his fault. Her mask starts to slip when she goes off on a little rant about how everything was fine until God left and then it all fell apart. But Jack has a “glorious destiny” getting Heaven back on track. Sure. As a battery, maybe.

Jack, being Jack, is dumb enough to believe her.

The first visit on Duma’s intended itinerary is to visit a skeptic who writes atheistic tracts. Duma calls this heresy. Jack’s (truthful) claims that Heaven exists and Jack’s grandfather is God makes the guy laugh. Duma says he can save himself by writing a recantation of his works. The guy, of course, refuses and goes to call security.

At that point, Jack TKs the guy’s phone off the desk. Then he turns the guy into a pillar of salt. While smiling pleasantly. Duma, out of focus behind him, looks a bit uncomfortable, but no omelets without broken eggs, I guess.

Incidentally, for those of you still arguing whether Jack committed murder when he killed Mary, what he does to this guy is murder. And it’s his second. He tortured Nick to death, remember? And he enjoys it.

Castiel goes back to the Bunker and tells the Brothers about what Duma told him, how Heaven is going to help find Jack. Written like a complete moron, Castiel insists to the skeptical Brothers that Heaven is as worried about Jack as he is, but gets worried when Sam pulls up a news story about Doomed Previous Scene Skeptic. Castiel then hands off the Idiot Ball to Dean so that he can infodump for the audience about Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt. Other fans have already pointed out, repeatedly, that Dean mentions that story when first meeting God. So, yeah. Idiot Ball.

Castiel then claims that “no ordinary angel” could turn a human into a table condiment. Hmm, really? ‘Cause I seem to recall Balthazar using a proto-Hand of God to do just that to Raphael’s vessel in season six. But silly me – whyever would these two writers, who are being paid thousands and thousands of dollars to write this script and oversee the Writers Room, actually bother to watch their own show?

Sam moves on to another victim, this time a woman (a fake faith healer) who fell into a crack in the earth and was killed. If anyone’s keeping count, that’s now four murders on Jack’s roster and I’ll bet he enjoyed that one, too. Castiel identifies this one from the Book of Numbers.

Dean says, well, either Chuck’s back (which he doesn’t see happening) or it’s Jack.

Cut to Heaven, where Duma is dodging around Jack’s questions about how impressed and happy the Brothers will be (I just want to note that so far, Jack doesn’t seem to have mentioned Castiel even once – just Sam and Dean). Anyhoo, Duma has more ambitious plans. She wants Jack to make angels. She admits that Jack is not as powerful as God, in that he can’t just “make them out of thin air,” but he can “forge” them out of the souls of “predisposed” people. I’m guessing she means humans who were bred to be vessels. Damn, I miss Dean’s Michael storyline.

Jack thinks this is fine, still smiling. Duma takes him to God’s throne room, saying that his “grandfather” (Chuck) used to sit there and listen to people’s prayers. The Nep Duo apparently forgot that any angel can hear human prayers, from anywhere. Seems Jack can’t hear them unless he sits on Chuck’s throne and “concentrates.”

As he listens, he hears a prayer group full of potential victims – sorry, Christians – praying in thanksgiving to God. They all look perky and dumb. Because these writers despise Christians just as much as they do atheists. They’re equal opportunity in their smug contempt.

As they’re wrapping up, and the woman leading the group says that the Pastor is coming by, Jack flies in. Jack looks more and more insufferable. He starts in on a spiel about whether they were sincere in wanting to go to Heaven and become angels. The latter is actually heretical and the Nepotism Duo would have known that if they’d watched the priest’s speech to his dead colleague in “Houses of the Holy.” Oh, but I forgot – these two can’t be arsed to watch their own show, let alone pay any attention to other writers’ canon.

Anyhoo, the group all agree they’d love to see that, like a bunch of bobbleheads. Jack’s eyes then glow and thunder rumbles outside. Everybody looks confused more than scared and they gasp in awe when Jack shows his wings. When he tells them to “come with me to Heaven,” they’re all for it. Because they’re Plot Stupid.

The Pastor makes the mistake of walking in at that point and getting into an argument with Jack. Jack makes worms eat him from the inside, then takes the group to Heaven.

Oh, but I forgot – Jack’s just a poor, misunderstood woobie. [all the eyerolls]

The Pastor fortunately survives, but he’s in the hospital when the Brothers show up in their FBI suits. They get the whole story from him. He also says that Jack said “he was carrying out Heaven’s orders and that I wasn’t a believer.”

Castiel looks upset and when they come back out of the room, he quotes from the Bible about worms. Oh, and the Pastor didn’t survive, after all. After they leave, he gets eaten up by more worms.

Back at the Bunker, Dean says they only have one option. He shows Sam the Ma’lak Box. Dean says that Jack has to go in of his own free will, but they have to trick him. Sam has issues with “lying” to Jack, because I guess he’s okay with letting Jack fly around, murdering innocent people on Heaven’s orders. Oh, Sam, you never change.

Well, Dean’s not interested in listening to Sam’s nonsense this week. He tells Sam that he has to be the Judas Goat because he’s always stood up for Jack, but Sam has to be willing to do it. Dean’s not going to force him. After some intestinal discomfort, Sam agrees.

At the Heaven’s Gate playground, Castiel approaches an angel wearing a homeless black guy at night in the rain (sure are a lot more angels left than there used to be). Calling him Aramiel, Castiel says he needs to get into Heaven. Aramiel (shocker) tells him he’s banned again, then pulls out an angel blade.

Well, up in Heaven, Jack is turning humans into “angels” without a single issue about the fact that he’s basically doing the same thing to them that happened to him. Is what this is like how Lily Sunder used her soul? That’s not gonna work out too well and these people won’t last long. But then, who even knows if these writers remember all that complex stuff that was only a few episodes ago.

Aramiel shows up in the middle of the process, to the annoyance of Duma. She fakes enthusiasm when Aramiel is tossed aside and it turns out Castiel frog-marched him into Heaven. Jack is all smiley to see him after pretending he didn’t exist for most of the episode.

Castiel asks to see Duma outside. Like a moron, she goes. I’m sure this will end well. Out in the hallway (I really preferred the more naturalistic imagery of season five’s “Dark Side of the Moon”), Castiel admits that he forced Aramiel to tell him about Duma’s big plan to “solidify” her control over Heaven by using Jack. Castiel keeps going on about how Jack is just a child who needs guidance (I am so sick of this line and it makes Castiel look really stupid).

Duma goes off on her own megalomaniac rant about how she’s making Heaven great again. Then she makes a huge mistake – she threatens to end the heaven of Mary and John. When she asks what Castiel is going to do about it, he just stabs her.

Not that I’m going to miss Duma or anything (she was pretty bland), but isn’t Heaven already about to collapse onto earth with billions of souls due to a lack of angels? And if humans having their souls ignited into grace can become angels, why not use the billions of souls already in Heaven instead of looking on earth? God, this is all so very, very dumb.

Back at the Bunker, Sam is having doubts that “it” won’t work. “It” turns out to be praying to Jack. He prays some nonsense about how “bad things happen,” but the Brothers are willing to let bygones be bygones and please come back home.

Castiel is upset when Jack disappears from Heaven. Jack appears in the Bunker. Jack goes off on a fatuous speech about how he’s “helping Heaven purify the world.” About how he’s making new angels. He’s smugly proud of himself, but then declares that he missed Sam and Dean.

Dean is smiling, but it has an edge, while Sam warily paces behind him. Only Jack would be dumb enough not to notice that Dean wants to rip him to shreds (Castiel’s written like a complete moron this week, but even he would notice).

It’s all Dean can do not to rip Jack apart when Jack refers to Mary’s death as an “accident” and actually starts to veer into blaming her for her own murder. When they call him on it, he admits that no, it was him, but still tends to swerve into Blaming the Victim.
Jack is really hateable in this episode, looking smug and proud of himself, while claiming to feel regret for Mary’s death.

The Brothers spring their plan on him to go into the Ma’lak Box until they can fix his soul and dial down his powers. So he can’t hurt anyone (again, they don’t say, but it’s there). Dean lies to his face and so does Sam, about how the box is a temporary solution and they’ve got a more permanent one they can use why he goes into the box. When he asks how long it will be, Sam says, “Not too long.” The smile Dean gives Jack is just like Michael’s.

Well, Jack is dumb, so he gets in the box and lets them close the door. Dean does that and locks the locks. Remember that Dean made the box, so he’s the expert on it. Sam looks conflicted because yeah, Sam doesn’t really care that Jack’s a murderer of innocents.

As soon as he gets in, Jack has second thoughts and calls out to them outside the box because … well, it’s dumb. Afterward, they have that drink Sam talked about at the beginning of the episode and Sam feels bad. Dean tells him that they always knew “it was a long-shot with him.”

Inside the box, Jack starts to get upset, especially when Fauxifer appears to him and mocks him for being so dumb. It’s hard to tell through the colossally incompetent writing (Jack, for example, supposedly having no emotions while clearly operating on them), but it seems that if Jack’s subconscious were that smart, he’d never have been so dumb throughout this episode in the first place. So, I’m still leaning toward Fauxifer being real.

Castiel comes back, declaring that Jack is not really bad because Duma was manipulating him (conveniently leaving out the part where he killed her), and they have to find him. The Brothers tell him Jack is in the Ma’lak Box and they’re leaving him there.

Castiel gets mad because hey, only he gets to keep secrets and betray family (like Duma), amirite? While they bicker, Fauxifer gets Jack to bust his way out of the Ma’lak Box (because let’s just blow the shit out of even more canon). Jack blows up half the Bunker and as TFW rushes to the Dungeon, they find Jack, with glowing eyes, coming out of the smoke. Or maybe it’s Jack. Who even knows at this point?

Credits

Just FYI, since the Brothers are still here next week, you can expect this cliffhanger to get resolved as limply as the one where Jack “killed” Michael and re-upped his powers.

Ratings this week were down again (apparently, the general audience isn’t particularly wild about this storyline) to 0.3/2 and 1.28 million.

The promo, synopsis, photos and such are here.

Review

While watching “Jack in the Box,” I couldn’t help thinking that Padalecki, Ackles and Collins must have gotten this script not long before they called it quits – and wondering if this was the final straw for them. The writing’s that bad. If they looked at it and believed it wasn’t going to get any better (because they’d be stuck with these two incompetents for executive producers, not that Dabb’s much better), then that could have been it for them. If so, I’m sorry, but they may have a point because this episode was boring and incoherent in equal measure.

I really don’t want to watch this show if Jack is in it this year. I was already disenchanted with him weeks ago, but this was the final nail in the … uh … Ma’lak Box, as it were. Jack’s characterization was all over the place (ranging from devastated to smug), the Brothers were barely in the episode (especially egregious, since it should have been All About their grief, not woobying their mother’s murderer), and everyone got a turn at the Idiot Ball – except that Castiel got an extra few turns. At this point, I think Jack needs to fuck off back to the Land of Terrible Writing – sorry, the Empty – and never return.

I mean, it’s only one more season, so I can slog through it, but I’d really rather not do it that way. I’d like a good final season. I don’t see that happening as long as we’ve got Cousin Oliver/Scrappy-Doo around.

I’m reminded of a line from the movie Bull Durham, from a character who just came out of pitching a disaster of a baseball game: “It was like pouring gasoline on a fire!” That was this episode in a nutshell. I can’t even with Castiel, who was written like a complete moron and utter hypocrite. Not only does he slaughter yet another angel sibling (while babbling about the importance of family for how many episodes now?), but he lies about it to the Brothers and keeps insisting that they give Jack more and more rope. Boy, everybody forgot all about Jack wanting to kill Dean while Dean was possessed by Michael awful quick.

The writers have Sam, Dean and Castiel bicker over what is a really a pretty clear (though bleak) choice for no other reason than fake drama. What’s especially disturbing is how dismissive Sam and Castiel are of the murders Jack commits in this episode of innocent human beings. What happened to “saving people,” guys?

Castiel wants to believe that Jack would never have committed them if Duma hadn’t been manipulating him. But no one (as far as we know) was manipulating Jack when he murdered Nick and Mary, and the moment when he actually started to blame Mary for her own death, in front of her sons, was so very punchable. If Dean still had the Mark, Jack would have been nothing but a wet spot of blood on the floor after that, Nephilim powers or no.

Duma and her death represent two very unpleasant patterns in this storyline. First, there is the way Jack is treated and fawned over like spoiled royalty. Jack constantly puffing up over being Chuck’s “grandson” is especially ludicrous, considering Chuck made it clear in season 11 that he considers all of his creations his children – and that he prefers humans over angels. If anything, Jack is an extra step away from God, not toward. The funny thing is that this episode actually showed emphatically (again) that Jack is not God because he cannot create – he can only distort and destroy.

The overall effect makes me want someone to come in and knock him back down a peg, and I’d really prefer it be Dean. Too bad it didn’t take the first time, when Lucifer stole his powers. It’s infuriating to see almost everyone in-story blame Dean for not being “tolerant” when Jack is running around loose, murdering people and enjoying it. One of those victims was Dean’s mother. He has every right to be devastated, angry and vengeful. Just what show do these writers think they’re writing or some fans think they’re watching?

That’s a really frustrating part of this storyline. Jack supposedly was learning all these things about morality over the past two seasons and as soon as he “lost” his soul, he promptly forgot them all. His learning curve was completely erased. If Jack really can’t learn enough about being good to be able to navigate at least some way without a soul after two years, then he’s not really redeemable. And if he’s not redeemable, then Bobby and Dean are right – he’s gotta go.

The other pattern is disturbing in light of the justifications some fans want to give for Jack (vociferously, even). Jack is a cute little white boy who hurts people when he gets angry and then expects to be forgiven when he feels “sorry,” afterward. Sure, that’s not an abusive pattern, or anything.

His entire storyline has been propped up by discarded female characters. When they’re not being fridged to forward his storyline (like Kelly, Dagon, Maggie, Mary and Duma), they’re being threatened and diminished (like Kaia, Stacy and Rowena), or they’re being his mindless cheerleaders (like Duma and Mia Vallens). Dean gets blamed a lot for what happens to these characters, but it’s Jack who actually damages and discards them when he’s done with them. Some of these characters are Women of Color, too. Or LGBT.

I’m really tired of storylines where women only exist to prop up some boy.

And yet, there are fans who will excoriate the show (i.e., Dean) for being sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, even racist, while praising and defending Jack to the skies. I talked last week about the misogyny aimed at Mary as a character, how some fans (even female fans) were happy to blame her death on herself. This is a clear and unfortunate case of how invisible internalized misogyny can be, even among people who believe they are “woke.”

I sure hope the season finale (next week) doesn’t suck, but that hope may be forlorn. It’s not looking good. I’m almost glad the show was only 20 episodes this season.


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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Blog for scifi writer and medieval historian Paula R. Stiles