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Scroll down to find links to all of my recaps and reviews of all seasons up to this point.
[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.
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
The Gamble Years
The Carver Years
The Dabb Years