We need your help!
You can still find my reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my folklore research on Patreon. Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee.
According to recent reports from Vancouver, the cast returned to work the first week of August (about two weeks late). Jensen Ackles also explained in a recent virtual “fan experience” through Creation Con that the writing for the last two episodes has been tweaked to reflect recent events (i.e., the Coronavirus pandemic). With these writers, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. He also said that 15.19 will be a season finale, while 15.20 is more like a series finale (and expressed sadness on Instagram when he got the final script, which said “The End” instead of the usual “To Be Continued”). In an already truncated final season, that likely means we’ll get stuck with some filler clips episode as the last one. Yay.
The show is returning October 8 and the series finale will be November 19. Yes, it’s back on Thursdays. If I manage to stay on track, I should be able to post the season nine finale retro review right after the show comes back on Sunday, then bring in the newest season five recap and review the following Thursday.
If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat and I’ve got a house full of fosters right now.
Scroll down to find links to all of my recaps and reviews of all seasons up to this point.
Recap: Then recap of Henry Winchester, the Men of Letters, and Dean’s quest with Crowley to meet Cain and find the First Blade.
Cut to Now, where Sam is looking at an article online entitled “Cain and Abel: The First Brothers,” while Dean (in a plaid flannel shirt and jeans) leaves increasingly exasperated voicemails for Crowley. Sam points out that Crowley is “not a team player,” but Dean retorts that Crowley is every bit as invested in finding the First Blade as the Brothers are. He grumps that Crowley hasn’t said “peep” to him for weeks – well, nothing “coherent,” anyway. Dean plays a voicemail from Crowley in which Crowley is clearly drunk-dialing Dean. Sam, who has up to this point been suggesting that Dean might actually care too much about Crowley’s welfare, is a little shocked to see that it’s Dean who has that effect on Crowley, not the other way round.
Dean calls again. Cut to a garishly expensive hotel room, where Not Moose is leaving a message on Crowley’s neglected cell phone while a red-eyed and strung-out Crowley has sex with a possessed woman in fetching black lingerie. Her name is Lola. She is also shooting him up with human blood from an unwilling donor tied up in the closet. As she gets some more blood, the poor guy passes out, either near death or already dead. After Crowley shoots up, he asks her to go out for food, calling himself “ravenous,” and suggests she also find another “donor.”
She returns later with two pizzas, to find the guy in the closet now draped across a chair, dead. Crowley is watching Casablanca (the scene where Ilse tries to talk and then shoot the letters of transit out of Rick) and weeping in a very maudlin way. Lola smiles a mean smile as she observes his (apparent) weakness.
Cue title cards.
Cut to Lola in a warehouse, waiting for a “minion” of Abaddon (who is wearing a slacker white dude). She isn’t pleased that she isn’t speaking to Abaddon personally, but quickly realizes she’s stuck reporting by proxy, at least for now. She tells the minion (named Aldo) that she has Crowley wrapped around her finger, helpless on an orgy of sex, food and human blood. Aldo compliments her on this, smiling, but his smile fades when she mentions the voicemails Dean has been leaving, including one that mentions the First Blade. Uh-oh.
He tells her to keep on it. She agrees, but bluntly says that the next time, she expects to report to Abaddon directly. She knows that keeping Crowley like this is extremely risky and she expects to be well-compensated should she survive.
Cut to midnight at a crossroads, where the Brothers have drawn a large red devil’s trap with spray paint. Sam does the summoning spell and Snooki from Jersey Shore appears behind them in the trap, with glowing red eyes. She recognizes them, too, grumping “Winchesters!”
The Brothers are shocked that they recognize her host (some fans had a huge problem with this stunt-casting, but frankly, I think she does downright well compared to Paris Hilton in season five – that was terrible).
“Well, that explains a lot,” says Dean. But when Sam calls her “Snooki,” she chirps, “It’s Nicole now.” This was around the time that Snooki started going by her given name again.
Sam tells her they can “do this the Easy Way … or the Easier Way.” The latter involves torture with the Spork (and is Dean’s favorite). Either way, she’ll end up talking.
At first, she balks, saying that “What happens in Hell stays in Hell.” But when Sam goes after her face first, she immediately caves. She tells them that Crowley was last seen “in the Western Pacific” (remember that Cain said he tossed the First Blade into the deepest ocean he could find) and that Abaddon has been using this as her opportunity to take over Hell. I’ll bet she has, especially if she knows what Crowley is after. Snooki warns the Brothers that even Crowley’s most loyal demons are switching sides.
Snookie: Are we done here? I got a thing.
Instead, Dean nods to Sam, who starts reciting an exorcism on an irritated Snooki.
Back at the motel, Crowley is reading Little Women while waiting for Lola to come home. She arrives with tons of shopping (to cover the real reason she left) and a bag of human blood. “I just love what it does for you,” she purrs.
“Do you?” Crowley says, with a warning edge in his voice. Before she can register it, he waves a hand and TK’s her into the bedroom. She slides and collides with the bed. Crowley stalks in after her, snarling “Did you really think you could play me?”
At first, Lola tries to grovel, calling herself his “slave.” Crowley counters by calling her his “rodent.” A rat, in fact, who reported on him to Abaddon (something he confirmed with another demon while she was out). He says he could have helped her if she hadn’t betrayed him.
At this point, Lola makes a fatal mistake. Straightening up, she laughs at him and says, “You couldn’t help anyone.” Unsurprisingly, he pulls out an angel sword and stabs her to death. Then, to the opening strains of Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” (of course), he shoots up the human blood Lola brought him. Then he looks around at his dead donor and another man’s body (either a previous donor or the demon he got the info about Lola from), then at Lola’s dead host. At first he smiles, but when he looks in the mirror, the smile fades and he looks lost.
Back at the Bunker, Dean is entering the Library while Sam is looking at a site about the Mariana Trench. Sam says that since Cain said he threw the First Blade into “the deepest ocean,” that must mean the Mariana Trench. Dean agrees.
Sam then wonders if Crowley is just setting up a double cross and has no intention of bringing them the Blade. Dean points out that this theory “makes no sense.” This was Crowley’s plan in the first place and he needs them to kill Abaddon. Sam then says okay, but there’s nothing stopping “us” from killing Crowley, too, once they have the First Blade (who’s this “us,” Sam? Dean’s the one with the Mark). Dean agrees: “Nothing at all.”
At that moment, Dean gets a call and it’s from Crowley. He answers with “Did you find the First Blade, yet?” Gets right to the point, he does.
Crowley admits that he hasn’t, but that he needs “your help.” Cut to a shot of the Impala on the road in daylight and the exterior of a hotel, then of Crowley letting himself back into his suite, carrying a paper bag. He finds the Brothers waiting for him, Sam sitting in a chair and Dean leaning against a doorjam. Kicking the foot of one of the dead bodies still in the room, Dean says, “What is all this?” in a totally cold and cynical tone.
“Refreshments?” Crowley says, trying for some levity.
Sam gets up and grabs the bag from Crowley, opening it to find another blood bag, this one of AB negative blood. Sam asks if Crowley is “knocking over blood banks, now”?
As Dean pulls up a chair and shoves Crowley into it, Sam slaps some demon handcuffs on Crowley. Crowley, incredulous, asks if this is an intervention as the Brothers berate him for letting both them and his followers down.
Crowley: You don’t know what it’s like to be human! [realizing what he just said off Dean’s double-take] It’s your DNA. It’s my addiction. My cross. My burden!
Crowley complains that his addiction makes him “needy.” He needed Lola to feed it and she fed everything he told her to Abaddon. Sam, worried, asks if Crowley told her about the First Blade. Crowley admits that he’s not sure and both Brothers are like, Well, crap. Cat’s out of the bag. Dean figures that Abaddon must be hunting for the Blade now, too. Dean decides that it’s time to cut Crowley off and make him go “cold turkey.”
Cut back to the Dungeon in the Bunker, where Crowley is grumbing that the décor hasn’t changed. Sam is sitting nearby with a laptop and tells him to “focus.” He asks Crowley if he scanned the Mariana Trench for the Blade. Crowley says that he did, but it wasn’t there. It had already been found by “an unmanned sub,” then “stolen by a research assistant,” who apparently “sold it to Portuguese smugglers.” But said smugglers “lost it to Moroccan pirates in a poker game.” Sam is bemused by this elaborate chain of evidence, to which Crowley snarks, “Poor Moose. It’s always a little tricky keeping up, isn’t it?”
Crowley then proceeds to study Sam. When Sam, more than a little spooked, asks him what the hell he thinks he’s doing, Crowley claims that they “shared a mo” when Sam was “curing him” at the end of season eight and that they are now “bonded.”
Sam bluntly replies that Crowley is only still alive because he is useful in eliminating Abaddon, who is actually worse than Crowley. He then tells Crowley to tell him what happened after the pirates got hold of the Blade.
Cut to a park at night, where the Brothers are in their FBI suits, waiting for a contact Crowley told them about. Nearby, Crowley is trying to steal from a candy machine, which an embarrassed Sam confirms with Dean. Dean muses that Castiel at least was a “decent guy” as a human being. Who knew that a more-human Crowley would be “a douche version”?
Dean then gets up and tells Crowley in the loudest stage whisper ever, “You’re the King of Rotten! Act like it!” Crowley stops and walks away, looking chagrined.
Dean is skeptical that this contact with show up, but Sam says it’s their only lead. The contact, an Andre Develin, was the one who bought the First Blade from the pirates. He’s the only one who knows where it went next.
At that moment, Develin shows up, but his helpfulness ends at that point. He isn’t thrilled to hear that he is being rousted by the FBI and starts to leave.
Crowley, sitting on a park bench nearby, short-circuits the negotiations by vacating his current host and momentarily possessing Develin. Once he gets the info, he leaves and goes back to his usual host (which is a dead body since at least season six,when Bobby shot him, remember). The Brothers, though nonplussed, roll with it when Develin is only momentarily confused by the possession, brushes it off, and asks if he’s being detained. They say no, though Dean tells him that they’ll be “watching” him, to cover for the fact that they already have the info.
After Develin leaves, they turn to Crowley, who tells them the First Blade is at the National Institute of Antiquities in Kansas City, MO (apparently a reference to this book series from the 1990s). Cut to outside the Central Gallery and then to two security guards inside. They’re playing Gin when two columns of black smoke enter the room through the vents and possess them. As they are opening up the vault, a young woman enters the area, having brought them some food. Poor kid ends up getting her throat cut as collateral damage.
Cut to the next day, as the local police are photographing her body and those of the two guards. The detective, played by Da Vinci’s Inquest and Stargate: Atlantis vet Dean Marshall, tells the Brothers (still in their FBI suits) that the guards had been there for years and were reliable, but that the security footage shows them murdering the woman (a research assistant named Beth) after she “caught” them breaking into Vault #1. He then shows them footage of the guards methodically shooting each other in the heart (but not falling) after apparently finding nothing in the vault, then shooting out the camera.
Sam asks what was in Vault #1. The detective says that it was where they kept “new acquisitions” while they were being “vetted.” But nothing was stolen because “the vault’s been empty for weeks.”
He leaves and the Brothers have a quick and quiet conference. Dean notes that the First Blade (obviously being a new acquisition) was probably stored there initially, but where is it now? Sam notes the guards were obviously possessed and Dean says they probably returned to Abaddon after killing any human witnesses.
As the last body is wheeled away, the Brothers then talk to Dr. McElroy, the curator. She is an attractive cougar type who immediately starts flirting with Dean in a BDSM sort of way when Dean tries to go Bad Fed on her about all the laws she broke bringing the artifact into the U.S. At first nonplussed, Dean is soon intrigued and quickly gets into it.
Fortunately, on top of finding Dean attractive, Dr. McElroy is generally cooperative. She admits that her acquisition of the First Blade wasn’t entirely kosher. While it was clearly old (carbon dated to biblical times), she couldn’t get confirmation of whether it was what it was claimed to be (i.e., the biblical First Blade of Cain) and wasn’t likely to any time soon. So, she sold it to an anonymous buyer who had made an offer. The guards were never informed.
She balks a bit at giving them a name of the buyer. But Dean getting into the BDSM role play quickly loosens her resolve. She admits that the buyer never gave her a real name, just “Magnus.”
As she leaves, she gives Dean her card (actually snatching it out of Sam’s hand when Sam reaches for it). Dean keeps it.
Sam points out that “Albertus Magnus” was the name the Men of Letters used when they went “incognito.” Dean points out that all the Men of Letters are dead. Sam wonders if they’re not.
Back to the Dungeon the Brothers go, where they interrogate Crowley about any possible survivors of the MoL massacre in 1958 besides the two they knew about. Crowley whines that they wrecked his rule in the first place, so why should he help them? After some eye-rolling at this (because come on, Crowley, that’s self-absorbed even for you), the Brothers bring him upstairs to the Library, where he whines about the whiskey, peruses a vintage Busty Asian Beauties magazine, and generally acts like a jerk, while giving the Brothers a hard time about their intelligence.
But he does come up with one good idea – he suggests that they try looking for Men of Letters who were alive, but no longer in good standing, at the time of the massacre. The rumor he heard was that there was such a member at the time.
Dean looks around and finds a box of files called “Infamate et Obliterate” (Infamous and Obliterated, essentially, though Crowley translates it as “Dishonored and Forgotten”). After a few hours of research between them, Dean is the first to find someone – a Cuthbert Sinclair. He hands the file over so that Sam can read out Sinclair’s record, which included designing most of the Bunker’s warding. They infodump back and forth about how he become a “Master of Spells” immediately after his initiation, but that the other MoL quickly came to find his experiments “eccentric and irresponsible.” He was kicked out in April 1956, so he wasn’t killed in the massacre because he was no longer officially an MoL.
Crowley admits that he had heard about Sinclair’s expulsion, though not his name. He tried to track Sinclair down so that he could use him to get inside the Bunker, but when he takes the Brothers to the spot, there is nothing but an empty clearing. Crowley says he can’t “sense” anything there, so if Sinclair is in the clearing, “he’s warded up to the gills.” Sam points out that of course a spellmaster like Sinclair wouldn’t let himself be found by demons. When Crowley snarkily asks why Sam and Dean think he would be interested in them, Dean points out that they are “Legacies.” So, yeah, he would be.
Dean suggests they try talking to Sinclair, in case he’s watching. Sam and then Dean call out to him, San showing the Bunker key. A mystic door blows up out of nowhere. When the Brothers approach it, it sucks then inside.
They find themselves in a corridor of priceless paintings, while a chanteuse sings from a distant room. As they approach a polished wood stairwell, they are attacked by two vampires, a man and woman. They quickly dispatch them, Dean more easily than Sam. They hear clapping over an intercom and then a voice (Sinclair’s?) says, “Bravo! Well done!”
Cut to Sinclair putting some ice into his whiskey glass [gasps in horror] as he explains that the attack was a test and the vampires were from his “zoo” of monsters. Ice in whiskey and having a zoo of enslaved sentient creatures aren’t the only boundaries he likes to cross. He also makes snarky comments about the Men of Letters just being “librarians” who didn’t like his ideas of ridding the world entirely of monsters. He says that they preferred to watch and learn and let nature take its course.
When Dean notes that he’s awfully youthful for a guy who must be nearly a century old, Sinclair airily notes that nearly everything has a spell for it. The Brothers, of course, already know that spells for preventing or slowing ageing require another human’s life force to power them, just like the spells for necromancy.
The Brothers are sitting on his couch as he sits down across from them in a suit and a multi-colored bowtie. He laughs out loud in delight when they admit that they are both Legacies and Hunters. It turns out he knew Henry, claiming to have been his mentor and that Henry occasionally visited him, after his expulsion, in his invisible Fortress of Solitude (whoops, wrong franchise, sorry).
Dean brings up Abaddon, precipitating the rant about the MoL being do-nothing librarians. Sinclair says they could have taken care of that situation if they’d only listened to him. Dean says that she can be stopped now, but only with the First Blade, which they hear Sinclair now has.
After a moment of stillness, Sinclair notes that if they had “done your homework,” they would know that the First Blade is only of use to someone with the Mark of Cain. When Dean shows him that he has the Mark, Sinclair actually sits forward and, after another moment of stillness, asks how Dean got it.
Sam cuts short that particular line of questioning by pointing out that if Abaddon becomes Queen of Hell and consolidates her power, she will create “Hell on earth,” which Sam figures even Sinclair can’t avoid.
With a deceptively accommodating smile (everything with Sinclair seems to have at least two or three more underlying layers that are considerably darker than his cheery and friendly surface), Sinclair tells them that the First Blade is right behind them. And there it is – the weathered jawbone of an ass on a stand nearby, deceptively plain and unassuming. Elated, Dean tells Sinclair that if he wants to join the fight, this is a great start if he “loans” them the First Blade to kill Abaddon.
Sinclair thinks about it briefly, picks some snuff out of a dish, and says a spell as he blows the snuff in Sam’s face: “Abi ocules meis,” which basically translates to “Get out of my sight.” Startled, Sam vanishes in a puff of smoke, to Dean’s great consternation. He reappears outside, where Crowley is waiting, and tells him in shock that Sinclair has kidnapped Dean.
Inside, Dean demands to know what Sinclair did to his brother. Sinclair tells him that Sam is “fine.” All he did was “separate the ordinary from the extraordinary.” He had the First Blade and now he has the Mark of Cain. He wants to add Dean to his collection.
Oh, Sinclair does cloak it at first in velvet with the idea of Dean being his eternal, youthful “companion” (“When you were saying any of that, did it feel at all creepy?” says Dean), but when Dean resists, it quickly becomes clear that slavery is really on Sinclair’s mind.
Dean says he’ll just borrow the Blade and go. When Sinclair points out there are no doors or windows, Dean pulls out his machete and says he’ll figure it out. At that point, Sinclair says a spell in Chinese. This makes the machete glow red hot, forcing Dean to drop it. When he goes for his gun, Sinclair shows that he has palmed it. I presume that we are to imagine the rest of this conversation as Dean runs down the list of his usual weapons. As has been shown in canon many times before (except when the writers are lazy and write Dean as Plot Stupid), Dean always goes around heavily and multiply armed.
Anyhoo, it’s no big surprise that the next time we see Dean and Sinclair, Dean is chained to a pillar in the room.
Outside, Sam is opening up the trunk (and pulling the Spork out when Crowley tries to peer in too close). Crowley also tries to peer inside Sam’s head, pushing the “We’re best human blood mates” angle again and that he’s done quite a bit for Team Free Will of late. He could be useful.
Sam begs to differ, saying that because the place is warded, Crowley is even more useless than usual. Crowley finally manages to “buy” his way into the plan by pointing out that he does still have a set of extra hands. So, after much grousing and many insults, Sam discovers later that night that he needs a spell to enter the mansion, which has no “visible” entrances or exits. He will need some things that Crowley could teleport out to get, so Sam reluctantly allows him to tag along.
Inside Sinclair’s mansion, Dean is also trying to get inside Sinclair’s head by insulting him and basically calling him a coward. Sinclair appears to be indifferent to this tactic, at least so far. He is busy taking the First Blade off its pedestal and bringing it over to Dean, chained to his. Sinclair wants to give them both a test drive.
At first, Dean claims to have no interest in holding it, saying “Go to Hell.” Even after Sinclair points out that the First Blade is “the object of your quest” and that Henry would have been interested, Dean won’t take it. So, dropping his affable, eccentric demeanor into a much colder register, Sinclair grabs Dean’s hand and slaps the Blade into it.
The effect is immediate. There is a sizzling noise like frying meat and the ringing of some distant gong, as well as the beating of drums and a rising string section. Dean’s hand shakes and spasms on the Blade, the Mark glows red, and he seems torn between rapture and desperately trying to keep control, until he simply loses his grip on the Blade and drops it.
Rapturous that the effect was so strong, Sinclair picks up the Blade, crooning “Goood. Next time, it’ll be easier. You’ll get used to the feelings, even welcome them.” Dean stares at his shaking hand and looks lost.
Sinclair has a dream and it’s one in which he will use Dean and the First Blade as a weapon to rule the world. Unimpressed, Dean points out that Sinclair (whom he continues to call “Magnus”) can’t kill him because without him and the Mark, the Blade won’t work.
Sinclair’s response is really dark. He grabs Dean’s head and uses a spell to sap his will. Dean is momentarily rendered speechless and immobile, reft of will. Sinclair says that the more he uses the spell, the more easily he will be able to control Dean. I rather doubt that.
Outside, Sam has a bowl that he fills with stuff he then sets on fire while saying a spell in Latin. He tells Crowley to stay close and shut up. As Sam says the spell, the door appears. Sam tosses the bowl away (uh, how is he expecting to get back out without the spell?) and enters, with Crowley at his left shoulder. They find themselves inside the mansion.
Crowley jokes, “I love what he’s done with the place.” But as they’re walking, Sam hears footsteps and they duck into an alcove. Sinclair walks by, about to open a door with a key. But he pauses at the alcove to peer into it, having heard something. No one is there. When he turns back to the door he was going to open, Sam grabs him from behind and says, “Take me to my brother.”
Cut to Sam entering the room with his blade at Sinclair’s throat. When Dean, still chained to the pillar, sees Sam, he tries to warn him. Sam glances across the room and sees another Sinclair. The one he has a blade on changes form to a man in an old-style white shirt and waistcoat. Sam gets into a fight with the shapeshifter, but ends up winning. However, this has given the real Sinclair more than enough time to pull out Dean’s gun. Sam ends up tied to another pillar across the room from his brother.
Sinclair takes a bayonet off another stand and starts to Evil Overlord Monologue, mostly to Sam. He now realizes that Sam has value – but only as a way to force Dean to obey him: “Why should I knock myself out trying to sap your will [to Dean]? I think Sam here can get you to see things my way.” Here, he tacitly admits that the spell he just used on Dean took more effort than he made out in the previous scene, especially since Dean is already over it.
Dean [in a warning tone]: Magnus, I swear to God ….
But Sinclair doesn’t take the hint. He starts slicing Sam on the face, ignoring how Dean is jerking against his chains and growling in a really bestial manner. He tells Sam that he isn’t going to kill him, just make him “suffer unimaginably.”
As Dean is struggling and looking frustrated, Crowley quietly enters the room. He’s unseen by Sinclair, but Dean sees him. A moment later, Sinclair hears Dean’s chains drop to the floor and turns to see that Dean is gone. Immediately, he draws back the bayonet to behead Sam, but Dean comes up out of nowhere behind him with the First Blade, grabs his weapon arm, and beheads him with the Blade in one fell blow.
And that’s when things really start to get interesting.
Dean, after a deadly glare down at Sinclair’s bifurcated body, turns back with a slow, measuring look at Crowley (who has enough motherwit to look at least very wary, if not downright alarmed). Dean then turns back to the First Blade, which calls to him again with the same siren song as before. Dean’s lip curls into a snarl and he can’t hear Sam above the rising sound of war drums until Sam shouts at him to drop the Blade. Shocked out of his murderous trance, Dean does and looks at Sam, completely lost as if he just came out of a dream. Crowley observes all this closely.
The next morning (or whenever, since they could have stayed a while inside, recuperating and cleaning up the “zoo”), as TFW is walking through the brush back to the Impala, Crowley is bragging about how he saved the day while the Brothers got tied to posts (really rolling my eyes at this one, considering how he started the episode by nearly blowing the whole plan). This is cut short when they get back to the car and find it ransacked by Abaddon’s minions. The demons couldn’t find Sinclair’s mansion, or get into the Impala’s trunk, so they keyed a message into the driver’s side to Crowley, in Enochian: “Be Afraid. Your Queen.”
Dean realizes this means Abaddon is right behind them on the search for the Blade (though now they have it, that doesn’t matter so much). Unfortunately, Sam picks this moment to go totally Plot Stupid and remind Dean in a loud stage whisper that they don’t really need Crowley, anymore. Crowley (who obviously is not deaf) then TK’s them to the side of the Impala and takes the First Blade from Sam (who carried it out).
He tells them that even though he’s grateful to them for getting him clean and sober, he can’t trust them and obviously, they don’t trust him, either. After all, Dean is “quite the killing machine” and it “occurs” to Crowley that he is next on Dean’s hit list after Abaddon. Since Dean flat-out told him this at the end of “First Born,” that’s hardly a genius deduction. It’s just that Crowley is finally admitting it out loud, to himself and to the Brothers.
Crowley says he’ll keep the Blade safe until they find Abaddon and call him in. He then teleports away, leaving the Brothers frustrated and Dean mourning over the state of his car.
The show stayed at a 0.9/3 in the A18-49 demo and dropped in audience to 1.86 million. However, this appears to have been a holdover from how the audience had felt about the previous week’s episode (not great, obviously), since that would influence whether they showed up for a live viewing of this one. Word of mouth about “Blade Runners” turbo-charging the Mark of Cain storyline back up must have got around, since the audience for the episode after this one jumped nearly half a million.
Review: This is one of the best episodes of the season and, I’d dare say, of the entire show. A bold statement, I will grant you, considering the two writers involved were our very own Nepotism Duo, Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming. Then again, the greatest weaknesses in “Blade Runners” were largely in the script, starting with a clunky reference to the film, Blade Runner, that has nothing to do with the episode itself.
Notably, there are two unbelievable Dumb on Cue moments in which a character does/says something uncharacteristic to Crowley that causes Crowley to go off on them and move the plot along. The first is when Lola, mere seconds after begging for her life and only one scene after telling someone else that her boss is extremely dangerous, decides to turn on a dime and mock that same boss exactly in a way that would make him stab her immediately (and without her giving him any real info on what she told Abaddon).
I mean, knowing Crowley, he was going to stab her, anyway. It’s not really necessary to have her mock him except to save time in the script. As usual with these two, said script is overstuffed with plot, all the better for the Nepotism Duo to avoid plumbing any depths in the story.
The second is in the coda when Sam has a callback conversation with Dean (from earlier in the episode) about killing Crowley as soon as they get the First Blade, because then they’ll have no further use for him. The earlier conversation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the first place, seeing as how Crowley actually can and will be very useful to the Brothers until after Dean kills Abaddon (something he and Dean already established between them in “First Born” in an act of realpolitik). But Sam’s timing in bringing it up again – right in front of Crowley – is really dumb (and Sam is not dumb, certainly not like that).
Again, clearly, it was just a way to close out the episode and, I guess, give Crowley a win. Sam’s done some really dumb things in the past, but they didn’t involve turning on an ally, right in front of that ally, while having no clear advantage should the erstwhile ally object.
Now, one could definitely argue that Sam’s antipathy is fueled by a lot of unfinished business with Crowley of the ugly kind. Crowley murdered Sarah late in season eight to get at the Brothers. That’s a big one right there. But the script doesn’t explicitly mention this incident and that’s probably because the writers either forgot or simply never watched that episode (they are notorious for botching canon, even their own, even within the same episode).
Similarly, the episode doesn’t mention that Sam was once led astray by a demon “friend” (Ruby) in seasons three and four, and ended up strangling his brother in a bridal suite very much like the one where Crowley and Lola were hanging out (except more pastel). Well, not in the script, anyway. So, if you haven’t watched those seasons, or don’t remember them very well, you may be wondering why Sam is getting his knickers in such a bunch over working with Crowley, and if maybe this is a Benny situation all over again.
But if you do remember Ruby, Sam’s behavior does make a certain amount of sense from the perspective of his being wary of Dean being seduced the way he was seduced. Even if he was insistent on being the brother who sympathizes with monsters about three episodes ago, and even if it seems pretty clear that jealousy is part of Sam’s motivation here, he still has a good point.
Because Crowley is a monster. This episode makes no bones about that. The script may pass over it lightly, thanks to the idiotic way these two writers like to amp up monster and witch powers, then woobie them (they have zero interest in mere humans, probably because they can’t do subtle characterization worth a damn – just look at poor Lola, the high-priced demon call girl with a heart of lead who was little more than a plot device to explain where Crowley has been the past few episodes). But the direction and acting dive right into that subtext, adding layers Buckner and Ross-Leming probably never even considered, let alone noticed.
And the direction (by Serge Ladouceur) and acting (particularly Mark Sheppard and Kavan Smith as Sinclair) are where and why this episode shines. It’s also superbly edited (aside from some rather weird and experimental camera tricks that I’ll talk about later).
This was one reason I took a bit longer getting this review done this week. Not only did I rewatch the whole episode again before rewatching to recap it, but I kept stopping because there were so many Easter eggs and so much visual subtext that was not in the script, but that became important later in the show. One minor, but intriguing detail is that when Sinclair is slicing up Sam’s face near the end, Sam is positioned in front of a painting of Perseus slaying Medusa. This subtly foreshadows Sinclair’s own demise just seconds later.
Sam is not wrong that Crowley is especially obsessed with Dean to a dangerous extent and would love to corrupt him away from Sam’s side. It’s not exclusively obvious at this point. Crowley does try to shine Sam on this week, playing on their alleged connection via Sam’s attempt to cure Crowley using his purified blood at the end of last season. And it’s not automatically a given that Sam would say no. Sam has said yes to demonic darkness in the past (though in his case, it was female).
Plus, it’s actually a bit late in this particular season for the show to hand over whatever storyline Dean had developed to Sam. Having Sam make some kind of alliance with Crowley and “save” Dean by taking on the Mark himself would simply have been business as usual at this point in the show. They’d done it most recently in 8.14 (“Trial and Error”) with the Trials. So, when that didn’t happen, it was actually quite a shock. Was Dean going to be able to keep this storyline, after all?
Then there was Sinclair’s obsession with Dean. Unfortunately, as per these two writers’ usual shtick, the Brothers were unnecessarily dumbed down to make Sinclair look smarter. However, what wasn’t unbelievable was that Sinclair would get the drop on them, at least initially. He was almost a century old (at least), and had been studying and experimenting with high-level necromancy for most of that time.
He was also an almost-completely unknown element to the Brothers to that point, while he actually knew some things about where they would be coming from (since he’d known their grandfather). It made sense that they would be feeling their way through a minefield with him, even if the writing made Dean look a bit brash and boastful showing the Mark, and Sam a bit clueless thinking that he could team up with Dean on posession of the First Blade.
But Sinclair was also not especially good with people skills (obviously, since even the original Incel Men of Letters kicked him out). Initially, his complete obliviousness to other people’s boundaries and astonishing level of Empire-era white male privilege (the whole slavery thing with Dean and the rest of his “zoo” – yikes) bowled the Brothers over and took them by surprise. But it also created a blind spot where he blithely ignored the warning signs from Dean – or that Sam might not have come in alone with the cavalry – and believed he was in complete control right up until the final moment when Dean astonished him one last time.
And considering that until last week, Dean was quite hesitant to kill humans, even evil ones who were directly threatening him or a loved one, with the same savagery that he killed monsters, Sinclair might have been right. Before last week.
Kavan Smith, another Stargate: Atlantis alumnus who previously appeared as a DTG in season three’s “Time Is on My Side,” does a great job of conveying scholarly depth with no words in Sinclair. Those two momentary pauses when the Brothers are revealing that Dean has the Mark convey a brain where the wheels are spinning mighty fast, calculating the odds and new strategies with the introduction of these new variables. Sinclair is a chess master extraordinaire. Sadly, he’s also a psychopath with no empathy whatsoever for other people. To him, they are just objects for his collection, to be acquired or discarded.
The name Sinclair is obviously meant to invoke the Masonic inspiration for the Men of Letters. The St Clairs were the noble family who built Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland in the early 15th century. There is a legend that Henry St Clair was a secret Templar (very unlikely, since the St Clairs at the time of the Templar Trial made it pretty clear they had no real connections to the Order at all). Further, the legend claims that Henry St Clair made a voyage to North America in the late 14th century. Unfortunately for those who wish to believe this story, it is based on a hoax map that was created in the 16th century. The point is that “Sinclair” is a major name in the more legendary aspects of Masonic history. There is also a St Cuthbert’s masonic lodge in Yorkshire down in England.
The name Magnus has some connections to Arthurian legend (the 4th century Roman general Magnus Maximus was possibly one of the historical inspirations for the figure of King Arthur). In the episode, Dean insists on continuing to call Sinclair “Magnus” because he claims it’s simpler. But it’s also a handy mnemonic way to remember that Sinclair is not just some amiable old Man of Letters, but a deadly necromancer with unknown intentions. And that’s actually quite clever (it also seems to needle Sinclair).
On his part, Sinclair appears to perceive himself as a Merlin to Dean’s Arthur. Dean may be the only one besides his progenitor Cain who can wield Excali – sorry, the Mark of Cain and the First Blade – but Sinclair believes that he can manipulate Dean to the extent that he can use Dean as a living weapon against all enemies. It is not unlike what Crowley wants to do with Dean early in season ten. Everyone wants to manipulate the new young bearer of the Mark of Cain.
On rewatch, I think one of the most chilling moments in the episode is when Crowley walks back into his hotel suite with some purloined blood, only to find the Brothers sitting there deadpan, waiting for him, surrounded by the dead, rotting bodies of his victims. I mean, they didn’t even bother to clean up after him. They are already committed to taking down Abaddon, whatever it takes, because they already know the blood and chaos she could create would far outstrip any of the collateral damage from Crowley’s “excursions.” Even so, when Dean casually kicks the foot of one of Crowley’s blood donors and basically asks him, What the hell is this, then? it’s pretty cold-blooded.
And before anyone says that John or Bobby would never have done such a thing, those two probably did worse. Don’t forget that Crowley’s meat suit is dead because Bobby shot him in season six’s “Weekend at Bobby’s” just for kicks, while “negotiating” himself out of his contract with Crowley. Bobby did the same thing to Ruby’s first meat suit in season three – again, just because. A pointless ego thing to show the demon who was boss. Yep, Bobby was up for that kind of murder of a host, even after what he was forced to do to his wife.
I’m reminded of something a commenter said recently about how the show Lucifer covers the same material as Supernatural, but with a much lighter tone. Lucifer is Urban Fantasy. As this episode emphatically makes clear, Supernatural is a much darker animal. It is Horror (and yes, I still love Lucifer. I am enjoying season five as we speak).
It’s not just Crowley (to our surprise), but the main theme here, at least in the direction and acting, is addiction. Crowley, of course, is addicted to human blood. Sam, of course, was once addicted to demon blood. For both of them, the attraction is a vive la difference sort of thing that makes them feel powerful by feeling different.
Sinclair’s fatal flaw (as it was for the other Men of Letters, including the London chapter we meet later) is an addiction to magic and the easy use of spells for things it might have been best to do the hard, but more educational and ethical, way.
And Dean? Dean is a (not always) functional alcoholic who has smoked pot and dropped acid, and who casually abuses prescription medications. All of this is an extreme case of self-medicating for lifelong psychological and emotional trauma. While he’s been called out for his love of food and sex by other characters, I think those inclinations are actually reasonably healthy and something he can share with people (usually women) in a non-toxic way.
His bloodlust is a whole other ballgame. Dean’s addiction overshadows all the other addictions because it turns out that the Mark plus the Blade sparks the same blood madness in him that it did in Cain. And that, as Sinclair discovers to his great cost, is deadly.
When Crowley shoots up to Velvet Underground’s “Heroin,” the song choice is so perfect it’s almost a cliché. Crowley, even after Lola mocks him, even after the Brothers make him go cold turkey, continues to delude himself with the magic logic of the addict that he is the one in control of the situation, rather than flotsam and jetsam in the wake of the Brother’s plan, trying to come out on top of it all in the end. It’s not until the episode’s coda, when Sam’s comment to Dean (and Dean’s reaction) is like a cold bucket of water on his dreams of being part of TFW again, that Crowley is able to think with a clear head.
Crowley is hard to predict, not because his plan is so intricate, but because he barely has one. It’s more a case of hopes and dreams, really, rather than a blueprint. And we see a new plan start to develop in this episode, one that birthed itself in “First Born.”
The thing is that on top of making him maudlin, human blood makes Crowley crave love. As he wails in the season eight finale, “I deserve to be loved!” But does he? I mean, sure, in the abstract sense, everyone deserves love and it’s true that Crowley became the way he did, at least initially, due to an extreme lack of maternal affection (as we find out later).
But as this episode makes acutely clear, Crowley (much like Sinclair) is utterly lacking in empathy for others. He doesn’t care that he is murdering humans (or allowing them to be murdered) so that he can feel human emotions. Crowley wants all the benefits of these emotions, but he doesn’t want to do any of the emotional work of redemption. He’s a Taker.
But he may soon find he has no choice but to give a little, too. Crowley’s journey in this episode and beyond is extremely noirish. He sees himself as Kitty Collins to Dean’s the Swede in The Killers (1946) (or Ilsa to Dean’s Rick in Casablanca, per this episode, albeit some noir purists will argue vociferously that’s not a “real” noir flick). But in reality, he’s more like Walter Neff to Dean’s Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity (1944), especially after Walter tries to ditch Phyllis for her stepdaughter … Lola.
Even this early on, Dean cold-bloodedly manipulates Crowley in a way that Sam never could Ruby (such as when he shoves Crowley into a chair and tells him he’s going to quit cold turkey, and Crowley’s so distracted that Sam can easily slap the demon cuffs on him). Some fans have claimed that this episode “proves” that Crowley is not gay. You see the same thing with some Torchwood fans and Captain Jack – “pansexual,” “omnisexual,” everything but “gay,” and any sexual relationships he has with women (such as Gwen Sue), however tepid, trump similar relationships with men, however passionate.
Well, first of all, being bisexual is still part of the GLBT rainbow. Second, gay men can have occasional sexual encounters with women and still be primarily homosexual in their orientation. There’s this weird thing where some people will claim to have no problem with a character being something “different” (gay, a woman, a person of color, for example) in theory, and may even create imaginary ships for straight characters in their fanfic. But if a show actually “goes there,” it converts from a safe fantasy to “reality” within the show. And that’s very different because it has permanent consequences for the story and the characters.
So, a few things happen. For one thing, many fans simply blank that Crowley and Dean ever had a romantic relationship at all, even though it followed all the classic noir tropes of a doomed romance between a noir protagonist and a femme fatale. It actually happened.
From some who did notice, I’ve seen criticism that Crowley being gay is homophobic writing by the show. I disagree. A well-done gay character doesn’t have to a saint (and making them a saint doesn’t automatically make them well-done, either). They just have to be well-drawn, to have enough screentime to tell their story from their perspective, and to be a character where Being Gay isn’t everything about them (let alone, if they are evil, what makes them evil). Crowley is all of those things. He’s a complex, popular recurring character on the show and honestly, I found his twisted romance with Dean pretty fun to watch (wish I could say the same about Dean and Castiel the past few seasons).
The thing is that demons have been established almost from the start as gender-and-sexual-orientation-fluid. Regardless of how they may have been in life, they often are not strictly heterosexual in Hell. Just because “Lola,” for example, is in the body of a rogue Victoria’s Secret model, that doesn’t mean she was a woman in life or that her host is a prostitute. It’s a stolen body from an innocent woman who could have been a nun before her possession, for all we know (not that her being a sex worker would have made it okay, just that the persona we see is of the demon, not the host).
But also, even in season five, Crowley was presented as gay (remember “Lovers in league against Satan”? “Why’d you have to use tongue”?). As far as I can tell, what Lola mainly represents is these two writers not doing their homework on the character of Crowley.
While Crowley (being a demon and the King of Hell) obviously had no problem being “ministered” to by Lola, there is no on-screen evidence that he actively seeks out female attention. It’s not just that he’s a blatant misogynist (which he is) who uses and tosses women, especially, like Kleenex. It’s that even in this episode, he is much, much more obsessed with Dean (and Sam) than with Lola or any other woman, aside from the power trip they give him by calling him “My King!” a whole lot. I think the obsession is much more with Dean than Sam, but I’m not entirely convinced that Crowley is trying to cosy up to Sam solely to get to Dean.
On his side of the equation, Dean may have no self-esteem, but he knows full well he has a sexual allure (just look at his scene with the museum curator) and he can wield it like a weapon as adeptly as any film noir femme fatale. He knows he has a power over Crowley. After all the nasty things Crowley has done to the Brothers, I gotta say that it is deeply satisfying to watch Dean turn the tables like that.
I know Mark Sheppard wasn’t too happy with this storyline, or the later one with Rowena, but I think he did an excellent job with both. When Crowley was the “smartest” character in the room, I’m sure that was more fun to play, but it also made him a flat character with limited potential.
This storyline gave Crowley a much-needed pathos and growth for his character, and Sheppard, 30 years sober as of this year, invests a great amount of depth, of hard-earned gravitas, just in this episode alone. That moment when “Heroin” is playing and Crowley is staring into the mirror … yeah. As I said, it could have ended up a cliché, but the emotional honesty from Sheppard sells it all the way down the line.
Similarly, the moments when Dean holds the First Blade could have not worked in lesser hands. Okay, maybe Jensen Ackles curls his lip too much. Maybe those rising violins are a bit overboard. And that seasick telescoping effect the first time Dean holds the Blade is, admittedly, weird.
But it works. It all comes together in a whole that makes us understand the immense and disturbing, the primal influence of the First Blade on the bearer of the Mark. There is a reason why these scenes are some of the most recapped in the entire show.
And there is a reason why the lost look on Dean’s face as he comes out of it near the end, why he’s still rocky even in the coda when they find the car, is such a gut punch. The Mark is not good for Dean’s already-ropey sanity and this is the first time when the show makes that crystal clear. This is the first cosmic weapon that Dean can’t just pick up and then casually drop once he’s done with it. It resonates too well with his inner darkness. This is the episode where we start to see the payoff for this storyline (hell, the first time we get a payoff for any Dean mytharc storyline) and the cost Dean will end up paying on this “quest.”
What accentuates this tragedy is that this is the first episode in a while when Sam is acting as if he actually wants to be around Dean, to be his brother again. Sam starts out the episode apparently believing that he can just switch the brotherly camaraderie back on as if nothing has happened, as if he never said those ugly things to Dean just a few episodes ago. I guess Sam has decided it’s time to forgive Dean (or as much as he has been in the habit of doing so up to this point in the show).
But when they finally catch up with Crowley, Sam is in for a nasty surprise. And it gets even nastier when Sinclair casually discards him and kidnaps Dean. To his credit, Sam doesn’t hesitate to go in and rescue Dean (albeit this could fall under the practicality umbrella of needing to extract the bearer of the Mark and the First Blade, I don’t think Sam’s motivation is actually that cynical).
But Sam finds that the void he left in Dean’s life when he emotionally abandoned his brother is actually being filled – and not by benign influences. Sam also seems to be under the impression that the quest for the First Blade is something he can share in (or co-opt, the way he did the Trials). Again, this episode shows that’s not possible.
So, Sam is already a day late and a dollar short in his reconciliation with his brother. And he’s finding out that he’s going to have to work a lot harder this time to get one. Dean’s kinda busy with other stuff right now.
Next week: Mother’s Little Helper: After Dean is sidelined with the hangover from his encounter with the First Blade, Sam goes in solo to investigate some murders in a convent.
The Kripke Years
The Gamble Years
The Carver Years
The Dabb Years