The Official Christmas Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 3.08: A Very Supernatural Christmas [AUGMENTED]

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Tagline: The Brothers investigate a series of mysterious Christmastime disappearances where the victims appear to have been kidnapped from their beds and dragged up the chimney. Could it be…Santa?

Recap: No Then recap. None whatsoever. Nada. Instead, we get that spinning, multicoloured “Special” Presentation CBS intro from waaaaayyy back. Then we cut to an instrumental version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and a grandfather arriving at a house in Seattle, Washington a year ago. His beloved grandson asks Grandpa if he brought any presents and Grandpa says maybe Santa will bring some.

Later, Grandpa dresses up as Santa and mimes pulling presents out of a sack for his wide-eyed grandson, who is hiding on the stairs. But things go a bit awry when he hears something on the roof that starts to come down the chimney. The kid innocently thinks it’s Santa’s reindeer. When Grandpa goes to investigate, he is brutally yanked up the chimney and killed, right in front of his horrified grandson. As the boy says hesitantly, “Santa?” a bloody boot drops down the chimney.

Cue an exploding red-orange Christmas ornament and demon hands into some cool title cards that say, “A Very SUPERNATURAL Christmas” with the first two and last words in red, the “Supernatural” in blue, and a little red Santa hat on the first “A”, all with a frosty frame and a black background with falling snow. Not to mention the jingling bells in the background as the “Very” blinks and goes out.

Cut to Ypsilante, Michigan, present day. Dean, dressed in a suit and posing as an FBI agent, is interviewing a woman whose husband, Mike, is missing. Her pre-teen daughter stands, looking shocky, perfectly framed behind glass in the doorway. On the porch hangs a Nutcracker figure and a wreath with pinecones, a white bow and pretty white flowers. The mom says she and her daughter were asleep upstairs, while her husband was downstairs, getting presents ready. She heard a thump and scream from her husband, but then he just disappeared.

Sam comes out of the house, also in a suit, and thanks her for letting him use the facilities. Giving us a start to the episode’s timeline (that it’s now two days before Christmas), the woman asks Dean what he thinks is going on and whether her husband is still alive. Dean has no answers for her. Even grimmer, Sam just tells her, “We’re very sorry.”

As the Boys leave, Sam shows Dean what he found: a bloody tooth in the chimney. Dean points out that full-grown men can’t go up chimneys and Sam replies, “Not in one piece.” In other words, Mike is probably dead.

My God, those two look young. And poor. I first did this recap and review in 2009, but “A Very Supernatural Christmas” is even more relevant now in “Hard Candy Christmas” 2020.

Back at the motel, Sam is looking at illustrations of medieval demons with black faces and red, lolling tongues on his computer. Dean comes in from a food run and asks him how they’re doing. Dean mentions his theory about a “serial-killing chimney sweep” and Sam references Dick Van Dyke. Dean pretends to have no idea who Dick Van Dyke is. Clearly, he’s teasing Sam about Sam’s alleged Disney fetish. Dick Van Dyke about single-handedly introduced generations of children to the concept of Victorian and Edwardian era chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins (1964). There’s no way Dean wouldn’t know about him.

My mom took me to see Mary Poppins when I was very little (maybe three or four) during a revival when Disney put it back out in theaters. I liked it. My mom, not so much. Still not sure why, but the negative portrayal of the suffragette mom in the film might have had a hand in it (My mom was hugely into feminism from before I was born). Then, when I was seven, my dad took me to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in the theater, with his mistress-of-the-hour, not long before Christmas. Yeah, my childhood relationship to Disney is a little, uh, different.

Anyhoo, Dean (backed by a lovely sepia-toned mural of a winter landscape while taking off John’s jacket) has done some interviewing around town. It turns out that the missing person they were just investigating (last name “Walsh”) was the second to disappear out of his house that month. No one saw him go up the chimney, but they did “hear a thump on the roof.”

Sam says he has a theory, but Dean may think it’s crazy – he thinks it’s “Evil Santa.” Dean allows that this sounds crazy. Sam says that there’s “some version of “Anti-Claus in every culture” and that this might be “Santa’s shady brother.” (No, there is no legend I’ve found about Santa’s evil brother, but there are definitely legends about Bad Santas, albeit only in cultures with a strong Christian base.) He references Belsnickel, Krampus and Black Peter as figures who “went rogue” (They’re actually working for St. Nick, not against him) and showed up to “punish the wicked” instead of leaving presents. Dean points out that this theory can’t be true because there is no Santa Claus and Sam retorts that he knows – Dean was the one who told him.

This is said with a bit of a whine (Sam blaming Dean for John’s terrible parenting for the millionth time), but then Sam admits he could be wrong (spoiler alert: He is). Dean says, “Maybe not.” He did some research of his own on the victims. It turns out that they went to the same place right before they disappeared.

Cut to a dispirited guy dressed in a furry reindeer costume as he heads out (presumably on break) under a battered Santa sign past a mom and some enthusiastic kids running in, the Brothers Winchester, and some wooden stand-ups of three Wise Men and a sheep. He says hi to the other teen dressed as an equally shabby elf, who’s manning the entrance. “All Because of Mr. Santa Claus” by Hal David and John Cacavas, from the rockin’ album In the Christmas Swing, blares on the loudspeaker throughout the scene. There is no snow anywhere, which makes the place look much worse.

The Brothers are going to one of those ugly and depressing Christmas Villages, arguing on the way whether they should celebrate Christmas or not. They don’t notice (and I don’t think they care, either) that Elf Kid is staring after them and having a discussion (presumably about two grown men walking around a place for kids) about them. Dean wants to do it up right this year (with Boston Market, no less) because it’s his last Christmas before his deal comes due and he goes to Hell. Sam doesn’t want to do it because he’s depressed for the same reason – next year, Dean won’t be there.

Also, Sam remembers that they had horrible Christmases during their childhood and doesn’t want to repeat the experience. Annoyed and perhaps a bit hurt, Dean calls him a Grinch and walks away. Sam stares at a cross-eyed plastic reindeer and we’re cued into a flashback of the Boys as kids in a truly nasty motel, alone, in Broken Bow, NB in 1991 on Christmas Eve. They’re watching the end of The Year without a Santa Claus, and “Jingle Bells” is on the soundtrack (though on the original soundtrack, it was “Here Comes Santa Claus”).

Young Sam is wrapping a present. When Dean asks him who it’s for and where he got the money (“Did you steal it?”), Sam says it’s something “special” that he got from Bobby for their father, John. Dean shrugs and throws himself down on the couch next to Sam, pulling out a Hot Rod magazine that he briefly reads before tossing it aside. He’s clearly restless.

Every wonder what kind of hunt would have John neglecting his kids on Christmas?

After Dean reassures him that John will be home from “business” (Dean claims he’s a traveling salesman) in time for Christmas, Sam keeps asking Dean questions about why they have to move around all the time, what their father John does for a living, whether John will be home for Christmas, how their mom died. Dean loses his temper and yells at Sam never to mention their mother again. Then he goes out for a while to cool down.

When Dean comes back, he’s brought Sam dinner (junk food and soda). Sam prods him some more about John, noting that Dean sleeps with a gun under his pillow (Keep in mind that Dean is all of 12 in this flashback). Dean gets mad about Sam snooping through his things, but he really gets upset when Sam (all pissy and self-righteous) pulls out John’s journal, which he managed to steal from his father. Dean (rightly) points out that John is not going to be pleased when he finds out.

Sam demands to get The Talk, so, after some reluctance and a clumsy, failed attempt at gaslighting, Dean gives it to him straight (while threatening to “end you” if Sam ever tells John Dean told him). He tries to explain to Sam about monsters and that John is a “superhero” and so on. Santa isn’t real, but most everything else is.

This only depresses Sam even more because he disappears up his own backside “that they could get us. They could get me!” He becomes convinced that the monsters will get John the way he read they got their mother Mary. Despite Dean’s reassurances, Sam goes to bed in tears (Well, kid, you did insist). Dean mournfully assures him that everything will be better when he wakes up.

Back in the present, Dean yanks Sam out of his reverie by complaining that it cost them $10 to get into the place. He then asks Sam again what they’re looking for (Obvious infodump dialogue is obvious, Show). Sam says that “the lore says” their target “will walk with a limp and smell like sweets.” Calling this “Pimp Santa,” Dean asks why and Sam says it’s to attract the kids. That really grosses Dean out (and probably half the audience).

The Boys spot a guy who seems to fit the criteria. He’s the Santa at the Christmas Village, he’s clearly an old lecher, he “smells like sweets” (though Sam thinks it’s Ripple wine), and he limps. We see a young boy on his lap who looks pretty weirded out until his mom rescues him.

A young woman dressed as an elf welcomes the Brothers “to Santa’s Court” and asks them about escorting their “child to Santa.” After Dean says that it’s been Sam’s “lifelong dream” to sit on Santa’s lap, she, very disconcerted, says that the age limit is 12 and under. Sam makes the mistake of saying “We’re just here to watch” and when the elf girl backs away, looking extremely creeped out, an amused Dean throws him under the bus by playing along with her image of Sam as a pedophile, to Sam’s discomfort.

The Brothers snap right to business, though, when Santa goes on break. As he limps past them, they argue over whether he smells like “sweets” or cheap booze, but Dean points out, “Are you willing to take that chance?” (There’s a really funny bit on the Season 3 blooper reel from this exchange.)

Later that night, they stake out his trailer, which has MERRY CHRISTMAS in huge letters on top, a sad string of lights along the edge of the roof, and three wooden stand-ups of singing polar bears out front. Dean asks Sam why he’s “the Boy Who Hates Christmas.” After citing their lousy childhood again (Dean allows they “had a few bumpy holidays”), Sam grumps that he doesn’t care if Dean has Christmas by himself. Dean grumps that it’s hardly Christmas if he’s “making cranberry molds” alone.

Long after the Brothers’ coffee runs out, Santa (dubbed “St. Nicotine” by Dean) furtively peers out and pulls the curtains. Then they hear a woman scream enthusiastically, “OH, MY GOOOOD!” That’s the Boys’ cue to sneak up to the door. Sam makes a crack that Dean may have to waste Santa, which Dean doesn’t appreciate, then they bust in.

It’s not what they think. The guy has a fifth of booze and an enormous bong, as well as a Christmas-themed porno on the TV; he’s not up to anything remotely supernatural. Caught flat-footed, the Boys don’t know what to do until Dean starts awkwardly to sing “Silent Night” and get Sam to join in. Dean’s a pretty terrible singer; Sam’s even worse (According to Jensen Ackles, Kripke actually wrote him a note reminding him that Dean was a bad singer). And neither of them knows the words past the first couple of lines. Fortunately, the guy is stoned enough to think it’s funny and they make a hasty exit.

Cut to a house later that night, where a kid is waiting for Santa while an angelic boy’s choir sings “Silent Night” on the sountrack (Man, that tree is huge). When the blonde, curly-haired tot hears thumping on the roof, he naturally thinks it’s reindeer, but what comes growling down the chimney is huge, dressed in bloody, red leather (human skin?), and terrifying.

It goes upstairs, knocks out the kid’s mother when she screams, and drags his father down in a sack. When the father struggles too much, “Santa” kills him with one crunching blow. It then pressed the terrified child back … but all it wants is a cookie from the plate set out for Santa.

The next day, Sam and Dean are doing the FBI rounds again at the victim’s house and get the kid’s story from the shellshocked mom. Sam notices a strange wreath that looks like one that was at the other victim’s house, with pine cones, a white bow, and white flowers. Both Dean (who has been expressing sympathy toward her) and the mom are nonplussed, and a tad offended when he asks where she got it. Sam explains it afterward as if Dean is stupid (that both houses has the same wreath). Dean claims to have just been “testing” him.

Some more research (and a call to Bobby) establishes that A. Bobby thinks they’re morons and B. they aren’t dealing with the Anti-Claus. Instead, they’re dealing with pagan gods – hence, why the weather has been so mild and lacking in snow, in Michigan, in December. Sam believes the god involved is “Hold Nickar,” a Teutonic sea god (which naturally would explain why he’s looking at Celtic images of the Green Man in this scene [rolls eyes]), which Sam identifies as the “God of the Winter Solstice.”

The wreath that Sam noted in one of the victims’ houses was made of meadowsweet, which is supposedly ultrapagan (no more so than holly, ivy, and mistletoe, the latter given to some of the bog people before they were killed, but whatever) and rare (also nope). Sam says it has a pleasant odor that is “like chum for their gods” in Germanic pagan lore. Anywhere you set it up, it will attract these carnivorous gods, who will then eat any human in the vicinity.

Dean logically wonders why anyone would make a wreath from such a thing. Sam pedantically goes off on a tangent that most (almost all, really) Christmas lore is originally pagan. Dean comments that “Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.” Sam “corrects” him, saying that Jesus was more likely born in fall and Christmas is the Winter Solstice festival.

Neither is true. We don’t really know what month (or even year) Jesus was born. Some biblical scholars speculate that Jesus was born in the spring (because that was when shepherds would be out with their flocks at night, guarding the newborn lambs). The Roman Winter Solstice festival is different from Christmas (and celebrated on December 21 as Brumalia (“bruma” meaning “short day”), when the Solstice actually occurs). Part of the confusion derives from Julius Caesar’s calendar “moving” the Solstice date to December 25 when it reorganized the Roman year.

Christmas was coopted from the Roman festival of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), which was on December 25 and marked the birth date of at least two Eastern-influenced Roman solar gods, Sol Invictus and the Persian soldier god Mithras, as well as the Greek Dionysius, Demeter, and Cronus (who probably influenced the idea of the old year being portrayed on New Year’s Eve as an old man). The Greeks and Romans were wont to create different versions of their major deities to reflect their different place origins or functions, by giving them a follow-up adjective for a second name. So, for example, Sol Invictus came out of the original Roman agrarian deity Sol Indiges when the former began to incorporate foreign and more bellicose influences as the Roman Empire moved its focus eastward in the third century CE.

There is no big mystery why the Christians adopted this festival for Jesus. Jesus is associated with light and the Sun. In ancient mythologies going back to Egypt, the Sun is believed to “die” (either every night or every year) and be reborn in the morning. There are rituals, particularly in the north, to help the Sun return. The parallels with Jesus (even without lines like the one in “Silent Night” that goes “Son of God loves pure light”), and his death and resurrection, are pretty obvious. Because this was a festival that has been set on the Solstice rather than actually being the celebration of the Solstice, further reorganization of the calendar moved the date of the Solstice apart from the date of Sol Invictus/Christmas without much apparent concern.

So, basically, Sam’s wrong.

Incidentally, we had this year a major conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn known in the media as the Christmas Star. This very rare conjunction only happens about every four centuries (but hasn’t been visible since 1226 CE) and even more rarely on the Winter Solstice. One theory about the Star of Bethlehem that, according to the Bible, led the Magi to the Christ child in the manger, is that it was either a conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn (a fall birth) or a similar conjunction between Jupiter and Venus (a summer birth).

So, the Winchester theory here is that when people hang the meadowsweet wreaths on their doors, it’s an invitation for the pagan god to come in and eat them. The question now is whether this is accidental (modern humans ignorant of what it means) or deliberate.

Bobby also speculates that pine stakes can kill these pagan gods (If they’re really gods, how can they be killed, eh?), but he doesn’t tell the Brothers until later. The Brothers go to the local Christmas shop (The Cosy Crafts? Something like that) where the wreaths were bought and talk to the owner, with a slow-tempo and rather extemporaneous version of “Deck the Halls” playing in the shop. He thinks they’re a gay couple, which Dean plays into (much to Sam’s annoyance), but still gives them the name of the woman (Madge Carrigan) who made the wreaths. She gave them to him for free (the Brothers suspect this is not quite accurate). He, of course, didn’t sell them for free. There is no evidence he is otherwise involved in what’s going on.

Back at the motel that night (so, Christmas Eve, maybe?), the Brothers speculate how much a meadowsweet wreath would cost, with Sam guessing maybe “a couple hundred dollars.” As they sit on separate twin beds, Dean then reminiscences about a wreath of beer cans John once brought home for Christmas, that he had stolen from a liquor store. Sam doesn’t remember it quite so fondly and is confused why Dean is so obsessed with Christmas now, when he hasn’t “spoken about it in years.”

Dean points out the obvious – that this is his last year. Sam says he knows that and that’s why he can’t celebrate with Dean, knowing Dean will be dead the following Christmas. On the one hand, Sam is so focused on losing Dean in less than a year that he’s not appreciating his brother right now, nor the stories Dean is telling. On the other hand, boy, John sure was a piece of work, wasn’t he?

Off they go to Madge’s house and, what do you know? It’s a Christmas extravaganza. Every possible light, do-dad and plastic deer (but no creches), with Christmas carols blasted to the outside air (It’s an instrumental with lots of flute that I suspect comes from an animated TV special, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one. Help me out, Dear Readers). Dean bets they even have a plastic-covered couch (after scoping out the interior while Sam engages the Carrigans in conversation). Madge and her pipe-smoking husband, Edward, seem friendly (entirely too friendly, really) and offer the boys some peanut brittle (which Dean starts to go for before Sam slaps his hand down).

The Brothers establish that Madge only made two meadowsweet wreaths and thinks they smell divine. That’s enough for them to decide to come back later that night, much later, not least when Sam finds out the Carrigans moved from Seattle (remember the grandfather from the teaser?) the previous January, after two abductions around Christmas (including Doomed Teaser Santa). From their visual check of the inside of the house, Sam establishes that the Carrigans had vervain and mint in the house, rather than the traditional holly (It’s all pagan, anyway, Sam). Neither brother can figure out how the Carrigans are involved, with their current theory being that they’re worshipers of the god, but they need to find out. But first, they carve the pine stakes Bobby told them would kill this particular god.

As the Brothers arrive at the house that night, “O Come All Ye Faithful” is blasting out on a loudspeaker over the neighborhood. At first, I was puzzled because that’s a very Christian song, but then I appreciated the delicious irony of a couple of pagan devotees (or are they?) using a traditional Christian hymn to welcome other pagans.

After picking the lock and arriving in the living room (where the carol turns into a quieter instrumental), Dean quietly comments to Sam on the Carrigans having a plastic-covered couch, as he’d predicted. Inside is just as Christmasfied as outside, with Dean checking out some very Germanic Santas on the mantle and Sam walking past a Santa with an accordion, what looks like a Christmas penguin, and various other holiday bric-a-brac. Dean also finds snow globes and a large gingerbread house, while Sam finds an entire table of gingerbread cookies in the kitchen.

(Probably related – there’s a theory that gingerbread men started as a baked-bread substitution for actual human sacrifices. Hence why I once wrote a story called “The Gingerbread Man” about a minor pagan god from the Mesolithic who is sacrificed by Neolithic invaders as a bog body over and over again for thousands of years – until the day he escapes. FYI, if you’re wondering if my story “Zombieville” (which includes a zombie giraffe) predates the Resident Evil inspiration for the zombie baboons Andrew Dabb was so in a hurry to botch this show’s ending in order to, uh, bring to life – you’re right.)

The Brothers sneak around and eventually find a cellar door. Downstairs they go and – holy crap – it’s a completely different story. Dark, dungeon-y, blood and body parts all over the place. Lots of bones still stuck in various shop tools. Sam looks ready to throw up, while Dean is more clinical (and less fascinated than Sam).

Sam goes up to one of the red-leather sacks we saw before and touches it. Suddenly, the person inside starts thrashing around. This is a rather large plothole. The story has already established that everyone in the sacks is dead by the time they leave their houses and…well…there are too many body parts lying around for either of the two victims we know got taken to have survived. Plus, we never see or hear about this victim again, so maybe it was just a lure?

As Sam jumps back, Madge grabs him and pins him to a wall. Dean shouts Sam’s name and comes rushing to the rescue, but Edward appears out of nowhere, grabs Dean, and slams him head-first into a wall. Dean goes down like a sack of grain (Jensen Ackles does the same sexy stuntfall he does in “Scarecrow.” Not that I’m complaining).

As Madge and Edward stare up at Sam, his flashlight moves across their faces as he struggles in Madge’s grip, showing monster faces underneath. Madge is all sweetness and light as she smacks the back of Sam’s head into the wall and knocks him out cold. She then looks perkily at her husband, who sticks his pipe in his mouth.

As a clarinet-heavy instrumental version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” plays on the house loudspeaker, both boys wake up tied to chairs upstairs (Looks like the dining room, though it’s next to the table where Sam found the gingerbread cookies, so maybe the kitchen), back to back. After asking Dean if he’s okay (Dean took a really hard blow to the head in this one), and Dean says he thinks so, Sam guesses the obvious – that Madge and Edward, far from being mad worshipers, are really “Mr. and Mrs. God. Nice to know.”

Madge and Edward come in, all cheerful, and get started with the “ritual.” Edward calls them out. “You’re Hunters,” he says, indicating they’ve taken down a few Hunters in their past, as well. Dean calls them out right back as pagan gods and suggests they let him and Sam go, and “call it a day.” Edward, unsurprisingly to anyone, demurs, saying they’d “just come back with more Hunters and kill us.” Sam suggests they “should have thought of that before you went snacking on Humans,” while Dean mocks their attempts to minimize their killings by calling them “the Cunninghams” (from 1970s show Happy Days).

This precipitates a rant from Edward about how disrespectful humans are these days.

Edward: You, mister, better show us a little respect!

Sam: Or what? You’ll eat us?

Edward: Not so fast. There’s rituals to be followed, first.

Madge: Oh, we’re just sticklers for rituals.

The sickly smile, all shiny teeth, that she gives Sam is downright creepy.

As they get cracking (so to speak), Madge complains that they used to get a hundred sacrifices a year and now they only take two or three. Edward says that Sam and Dean (“Hardy Boys”) bring this year’s count up to five (which indicates a victim we and the Brothers never heard about). The gods complain that “this Jesus character” ruined their fun long ago.

Edward and Madge’s arrogance seems well-earned at this juncture (even if they’re being total hypocrites about the reason). By their own admission, they’ve killed and eaten over 4,000 humans in the past 2,000 years alone and probably hundreds of thousands before that. Granted, the timeline’s a little fuzzy. If Jesus (and not, say, pagan Roman emperors getting rid of a rival local pagan Germanic cult) is responsible for their downfall, then they’ve been out in the cold a good bit less than the two millennia Madge whines about. Northern Europe wasn’t fully Christianized until around the 11th century or so (Think Vikings. In Iceland. This will come up in the review). But even so, that would only raise their body count. So, there’s no reason for them to perceive the Brothers as threats, now that they’re tied up. Ha.

Dean tries to joke that the gods can’t get started on their rituals without meadowsweet and Madge promptly comes in with two dried wreaths of it to hang around their necks (Dean actually cringes). Edward comments that they now look “good enough to eat.” And he smacks his lips.

They slice the Brothers’ arms for blood and Edward yanks a fingernail off Sam’s right hand, commenting that young men used to “come from miles around to be sitting where you are now” (These gods seem to go only for adult men, not women or kids). When Dean yells at Edward to leave Sam alone and calls him a “son of a bitch,” this precipitates another rant from Edward (Madge chiming in) about how no one respects the gods, anymore. Once enthusiasm for “this Jesus character” came into their culture, their “altars were burned down” and they were “hunted like common monsters.” They cheerfully chatter on about how they “assimilated.” They “got jobs, a mortgage,” and “play bridge on Saturdays.” Dean tells Madge, “You’re not blending in as smooth as you think, lady!”

With unctuous glee, Madge slices Dean’s arm, causing him to call her a “bitch.” Madge schools him on using the “swear jar” and the term “fudge,” instead. Dean says, panting in agony, “I’ll try to keep that in mind!” then uses it the very next time she cuts him. Madge purrs, “Very good, dear!”

Just as Edward’s about to extract one of Dean’s molars as the final part of this first (yes, first) ritual, the doorbell rings (and Dean, still defiant, suggests that they “really should get that”). It’s an overly-nogged neighbour with a fruitcake, wanting the couple to go caroling.

In the kitchen, a hurting Dean tells a hurting Sam, “Merry Christmas, Sammy!”

Madge and Edward beg off (Edward complaining about his back) and eagerly return to their holiday meal with a roll of their eyes at the neighbor, stepping on the fruitcake on their way back to the kitchen. Unfortunately for them, said double-meat feast has got free of the chairs, fled to the living room, and locked them in the kitchen. At this point, Madge and Edward dispense with the assimilation and turn full monster.

I like the soundtrack music in this scene, which manages both to be festive and evoke rising action. Violent action. Nice job.

Dean is able to pull out a drawer from a cabinet and block his door. He goes over to help Sam, who suggests they pull out a cabinet to block that one. Dean wonders where they’re going to get more pine stakes to kill the monsters and Sam suggests the tree (another pagan lore loan). Just as they’re knocking the tree down and pulling it apart, the monsters come roaring out and grab them, Madge Sam and her husband Dean. Edward actually attacks Dean first (He sees him as the bigger threat? I dunno).

“Merry Christmas,” Sam echoes Dean immediately afterward (to Dean’s exasperation).

Madge is especially salty about what the Brothers did to her tree. After she knocks him across the room, Sam kills Madge first, twisting the stake in good, which helps Dean get the drop on a shocked and furious Edward with a branch to the face. Dean brutally stabs Mr. Grendel a couple of times and that’s it for our pagan gods. They lie side by side next to their fallen tree, equally formidable and now equally dead.

I’ve always wondered what the neighbors and the police made of Madge and Edward’s crime scene afterward. Granted, the Brothers’ blood was all over the kitchen, so they might have been tied to the killings of the Carrigans. But the carnage down cellar would have been much harder to pin on Sam and Dean, and you’ve got things like Sam’s fingernail, too. Imagine realizing that nice middle-aged couple next door were brutal, serial-killing cultists. They might have even been traced to Seattle, or further back from there.

In the flashback, it’s snowing hard outside. Young Dean wakes Young Sam up and tells him John came, but Sam slept through it. Dean has presents for Sam, but Sam quickly finds out they’re for a girl (a Barbie and a baton), prompting Dean to make a joke about John thinking Sam is girly, that has not aged well. Turns out Dean pilfered them from a house up the street that looked wealthy. On the one hand, it sucks when someone steals your Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve and I sure hope Dean brought those back. On the other, I kinda have to admire Young Dean’s willingness to trudge through the snow to the house up the street in the first place.

Sam decides that John is not worthy of his gift and his devotion. He gives John’s present to Dean, instead. This gift turns out to be Dean’s famous amulet (which we now know is a Grail object). Dean is humbled and awed at the gift and puts it on, promising never to part with it. We get a brief instrumental refrain of “Jingle Bells” on the soundtrack.

Fade to Adult Dean and his amulet coming in the door to the Brothers’ motel to find that Sam has made him Christmas after all, to a modern version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” that actually has the original lyrics from the film. Thank God.

(A brief aside about that song: As you may have noticed from my IFP article on Solstice carols back in the day, I’m a big fan of Christmas carols and have strict standards for what I like. I’m a firm believer in the original “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow” line over that insipid “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” line, especially in this “Hard Candy Christmas” year, and the original is far more appropriate for this episode and show, anyway. I also think the “woke” version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (by John Legend and Kelly Clarkson) and that revolutionary elves song (the Barenaked Ladies’ “Elf’s Lament”) are hilarious. Yes, I’ve been listening to Christmas music since before Thanksgiving. It’s 2020. Don’t judge.)

Dean asks Sam what changed his mind. At a loss for words, Sam hands him some eggnog, instead. When Dean tries it, he coughs in surprise, realizing Sam spiked it heavily with rum. Dean then surprises Sam by giving him two presents. Sam surprises Dean by giving him two back. It turns out they shopped at the same place: “the gas mart down the road.”

As in the flashback, Dean is impressed and touched. Yeah, the tree is tiny and kinda pathetic-looking. Yes, the booze-laced ‘nog is nasty (Jensen Ackles insists his reaction was genuine when Dean makes a face because Jared Padalecki pranked him by spiking the eggnog with real rum – lots of real rum). Yes, the beef jerky and motor oil from the gas station down the road are a little basic (Dean got Sam “skin mags and shaving cream”). But Dean has still gotten Sam some gifts in return and is touched by Sam’s effort (He doesn’t even make fun of it, as he might have in Season 1). Dean wishes Sam a Merry Christmas and Sam returns it. He tries to add something, but can’t. After almost saying deep things to each other, the Brothers awkwardly decide to watch a game, instead. Outside, it starts to snow on the Impala (their motel door number being 12, of course), the pagan-god spell broken at last.

Credits

Review: Watching the Closer Look interview of Eric Kripke on the Season 3 DVD for this one, I probably should have not liked this episode. Kripke merrily states that he set out to smash up every single Christmas tradition he could find. As my articles on Christmas fantasy, paranormal romance, and horror show, he’s a bit late to that game, but I suppose he still had to go there. Ironically, Kripke also seems to love Christmas. I think the clincher is his story about what he went through to get that spinning “Special” intro at the beginning of the episode. A scrooge would have hated that, not remembered it fondly as a part of childhood and gone to great lengths to track it down.

That said, holy batshorts, is this one bloody, gory episode. I’m not sure if it’s the goriest, considering there are so many candidates from the show, but my God, was that R-level gore. It’s gotta be in the top five. And it’s prosecuted with such taboo-shattering enthusiasm. Kindly, Santa-clad granddads are dragged up chimneys to their deaths. Women proposition Santas in porn flicks. A pervy old Santa gets stoned and drunk after his work day is done. Sam and Dean kill two pagan gods with a Christmas tree. And then there’s that dark, grotty, chaotic cellar of horrors literally underneath the safe, sanitized, suburban festival of hearth and home.

Wow.

I hadn’t noticed this before, but the different MOTW-vs.-Doomed Redshirts (literally, here) scenes have what appear to be intentionally different tones. Originally, I thought the acting by the kid in the teaser was a bit broad, but now I think he was directed to do that. The teaser is brutally jocular satire of the kind of Very Special Christmas episode programming that usually came after that “Special” intro and that you can see in all its glory here on YouTube. The scene immediately after is much sadder and gives a more “Face on the Milk Box” feel.

The next scene where the MOTW strikes and kills the father right in front of the terrified little tyke goes right for terror along the lines of “…And All Through the House” from Tales from the Crypt (the 1972 movie and the 1989 TV episode, both of which came from the original comic, which some credit with inspiring Santa-themed slasher horror). The final battle between the Brothers and the pagan gods comes off very much like the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf. So, the tonal switches are broad-ranging and striking.

Dang it. I just remembered that Dr. Seuss’ Grinch is basically Grendel made cute for the kids, right down to his motivation for trashing Whoville.

It might seem strange for there to be an actual entire genre of Christmas horror (Christmas slashers, especially), but it’s a well-established tradition. There’s Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, of course, and other 19th century antiquarian ghost stories (such as those by M.R. James) were often set or told around Christmastime. But Christmas horror goes back even further than that.

Icelandic folklore is often cited regarding a giant Christmas cat, the Yule Cat Jólakötturinn, who first appears in Icelandic records in the 19th century. He eats anyone who isn’t wearing a new piece of clothing come Christmastime. But even more terrifying is his much-older owner, the troll mother Grýla, who eats “naughty children” (because of course she does) and is part of a group of “Bad Santa” types known as the Yule Lads that goes back to the 13th century. Icelandic lore can get seriously weird, with its emphasis on the island being populated by “hidden people” (elves, basically, but not the Santa kind) who looked just like ordinary humans (and could even take a specific human’s shape to make mischief), but who had magic powers and a generally capricious nature.

There is, for example, an entire group of stories of house maids being visited by elves on Christmas or New Year’s Eve, while they’re guarding the house (sod houses that were basically like living underground) and the rest of the family is off to church mass. The elves play tricks on these young girls, trying to get them to come dancing with them. Medieval and Early Modern Icelandic authorities were highly suspicious of dancing, since it led to, uh, other things, especially for women.

If the girl remains virtuous and resolute in tending to her sewing or other household duties, she is often rewarded. If she gives in to temptation and runs off the howl at the moon with the elves, the family may find her the next morning (“morning” being a relative term in the month-long nights of Icelandic winters), lying across the threshold with her head cut off.

There is also, in Norway, a Yule Goat. These troll characters reflected a time not so long ago when life in Iceland was nasty, brutish and short, and very, very dark in winter.

Let’s talk a bit about the Krampus type of Bad Santa, with includes (but is not limited to) the group known as the Companions of St. Nicholas. These don’t include the Icelandic Yule Lads, who appear to work independently, within their own lore, or the Swedish St. Lucia. The latter is based on both the fourth century martyr and possibly a demon/minor Diana-like Nordic deity named Lussi, or even Adam’s naughty first wife Lilith.

The Rhineland and Pennsylvania Dutch Belsnickel, the Alpine Krampus, and the Dutch Zwarte Piet (yes, that means “Black Pete”), among similar beings in Western (especially Germanic) Europe, are, according to legend, demons who were enslaved by St. Nicholas to do good on his behalf. These are the figures Sam is looking at near the beginning of the episode (right after the title credits) and mentions in passing, with Krampus, by far, being currently the best-known.

As the example “Black Pete” makes clear, these characters have some pretty messy backstory. Black Pete is a caricature of a Moor (a Spanish or North African Muslim), from whence we get the not-so-nice term “blackamore.” The people who dress up as Black Pete during Christmas celebrations in the Netherlands do so, at absolute best, in blackface.

In medieval times, people in the Mediterranean region of Europe had a lot of contact with non-Christians, both Muslims and Jews. Jews also lived in northern Europe and Muslims lived as far north as the Pyrenees in southern France, but these communities were much rarer and more isolated. While living and working next to Abrahamic non-Christians was pretty common in someplace like Spain or southern Italy, a lot fewer people in Northern Europe were likely to encounter them. In fact, for much of the Middle Ages, those regions had much larger populations of Celtic and Germanic pagans. Hence, Yule Cat.

As such, the study of monsters in the Middle Ages (a thriving field, believe me) is full of representations from that part of Europe of Muslims and Jews as inhuman, pagan, even demonic. So, you have antisemitic figures like Krampus (who looks like a Jewish caricature) and the above-mentioned Black Pete (with some color racism for added squirm). It doesn’t help that the current versions we have date to nostalgic medieval revivals from the 19th century. Yes, they represent a dark side to the St. Nicholas legend (the punishment part), but they also represent something so, so much worse. You can see why the show took a hard left outta there after a few cracks about “Evil Santa” and went straight for the “evil pagan god vibe” deal, instead.

I want to take issue with the whole “When do we tell the kids Santa doesn’t exist” thing that gets played with. According to his legend, the original St. Nicholas left presents for the poor in his community, while hiding his identity. This was a way of fulfilling the biblical injunction to take care of the widow, orphan and stranger during times of the year that were especially tough (St. Nicholas was himself an orphan, albeit a rich one).

Part of the legend is that others began to imitate him, in his name, including a bunch of medieval charitable guilds. The idea that there are different representatives of Santa around the world and that at some point, you recruit the next generation into participating, is really part of the original legend. It’s not some feel-good modernization. Becoming a better community by collectively becoming a bunch of Santas for each other is the whole point.

So, when Dean tells Sam that Santa isn’t real, but that the supernatural world is, he’s basically doing a Supernatural version of the above. That’s what The Talk is about. It’s bringing people into a world and a group that protects humans from darker forces. Hunters are basically year-round versions of Santa. With saltguns.

I know that the weeChester stuff is important and it does have some useful information for future reference, but Lord, are those flashbacks incredibly depressing, or what? How could anybody think of John as anything but a card-carrying douchebag of a father after that? I also am not sure that they do Sam any favors. Sure, Colin Ford as Young Sam is as cute as a button, but I don’t think it helps Sam to show him as a whiny, self-absorbed kid and a whiny, self-absorbed adult relearning a lesson he supposedly learned nearly two decades before, all in the same episode.

Yeah, Sam, we get it. You’re going to be alone next Christmas, so get your act together and make this Christmas happy for the person who will be in Hell next year. Life is not worse than Hell. Yes, Sam does figure it out in time (on both occasions) to make Dean’s Christmas, but having the lesson shown us twice does make him look like kind of a selfish idiot for most of the episode.

Ironically, much of the rest of “A Very Supernatural Christmas” presents us with old-style Long-Suffering Genius Sam having to put up with Dumb Hick Dean, as if the writers didn’t notice how Sam was coming across. But then, these are the folks that gave us Ruby and it can be hard to see that kind of thing ahead of time.

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter in the end because both times, Sam goes against his own self-pity and puts himself out for Dean. Sam may need to make the journey twice, but he gets to the same destination each time. That’s rather hopeful, considering the events of Season 4 and early Season 5: No matter how far off the reservation Sam wanders, he always seems to find his way back to his one great compass in life – Dean. (Ah, how young and optimistic I was when I wrote this in 2009.)

I’ve heard fans complain about Ridge Canipe and how his version of Young Dean isn’t very “sympathetic.” Well, I’d say the reason why Canipe comes across as edgy and brittle is because he’s supposed to. We’re seeing Dean under the incredible pressure of a burden that should never have been dumped on his shoulders in the first place (Daddy couldn’t be home for Christmas, my ass), trying to explain the unforgivable to his younger brother a good decade before he mastered how to internalize it. The one thing Canipe didn’t use from Ackles’ older version was Dean’s sense of humor, but one could easily argue that this pre-teen Dean version was before he fully developed that defense mechanism. He does use humor, but it’s bitter and sarcastic, not as light as he later makes it seem.

What I find rather unfortunate, in retrospect, is how this entire storyline is really Dean’s, yet Kripke seemed so determined to make Dean’s story, his personal character conflict (that he’s going to Hell in less than a year), All About Sam’s grief over it (and even though Jeremy Carver wrote this episode, Kripke was clearly in charge of the finished product). The main inspiration for it, I suspect, is Ebenezer Scrooge and his sister in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. You can find two excellent versions of this that came out this year, one for free (by some local friends of mine who do it every year) and one for a nominal fee (by a cast of ghost tour guides from York in England).

In the book, Scrooge has his beloved younger sister, Fan. She acts as an emotional mediator between him and his father, who dislikes him for unknown reasons. But then his father sends him off to boarding school. His sister dies in childbirth and he comes to resent his nephew for taking her away from him (and for resembling her too much). This is when Scrooge begins to turn into the bitter misanthrope we see in the present in the book.

Obviously, Dean is supposed to be an analogue for Fan and Sam for Scrooge. And since Scrooge is the protagonist of the book, so is Sam for the episode. But that doesn’t fit particularly comfortably with the season mytharc. Scrooge’s sister must have gone to Heaven. Dean is very much not heading that way.

I’m not sure how I feel about the amulet at this point. I know I don’t like calling it the “Samulet.” There turned out to be a lot more to it than a visible representation of Dean’s devotion to Sam. On the other hand, what it did turn out to be (which was really cool up to the end of Season 14 – thanks so much for that, Andrew Dabb, jackass) was a Grail object.

Considering how things turned out with God, I can’t help wondering if the way it “just happened” to end up with Dean instead of John was intentional. And not in a good way. More like belling the cat. The amulet was supposed to be a way of locating God. But what if it was being used at this point in the story as a way of keeping tabs on Dean? That’s kind of creepy, that God may have been stalking Dean even this early on. In fact, probably was stalking Dean this early on.

This is also one of the earliest (is the earliest, maybe?) mentions of Jesus in the show. The two gods speak of him as a real person, though it doesn’t appear they ever met him. They really resent him, too. Jesus comes across as a sort of Super Hunter. So powerful was his influence that he marked a transition from a period of literal darkness, when humans were at the mercy of pagan gods and monsters, and even enslaved by them, to a period of light, when humans were able to fight back and kill the monsters as equals and even superiors.

Jesus may not be the first Hunter in the SPNverse, but he certainly appears to have been the most successful. It’s therefore notable (in light of how Dean’s story goes later on) that the Brothers kill two pagan gods responsible for at least 4,000 human deaths over the past two millennia (and who knows how many before that), and that this is a fairly ordinary hunt for them.

Back to the mythology (I discussed this as part of an article on the pagan origins of Christmas in 2009, as well as an article that discusses Sam-as-Scrooge, for Fantasy Magazine the previous year). The pagan gods in this one don’t make a lot of sense. Okay, so they kill people (who have no clue what those wreaths mean) and then they give warm weather in return. It seems to me that the only difference between Mr. and Mrs. God and your garden-variety MOTW is that they eat people and assuage any guilt or responsibility for the murders by giving their community unseasonably warm weather.

Again, the point of human sacrifice is made utterly meaningless, as in “Scarecrow.” However, unlike “Scarecrow,” those making it meaningless are the gods themselves, which doesn’t make much sense. Gods, of whatever system, represent divine principles and I’m not seeing what divine principle these two represent. Yes, their ritual is (sort of) modeled on the Swedish ritual of Midvinterblot, but Madge and Edward bear more resemblance to Saxon(ish) monsters Grendel and his mother than to Odin or Freyja, gods propitiated at the Midvinterblot. Possibly, the writers intended to echo the myth of Norse god Baldur’s death, but Baldur is killed by mistletoe, not pine, and is a gentle precursor to Jesus. And we’ll find out later these gods definitely weren’t Baldur, anyway.

The alleged connection to Hold Nickar (mentioned once and then never again) also makes little sense. Hold Nickar was a sea god who appears to have given some of his traditions to our current Santa Claus, namely: his tendency to ride through the sky at the Winter Solstice and toss down favors to his worshipers in a version of the Ancient European Wild Hunt. How this translates into a male and female god, both equally dangerous but only one of whom rides to a house to grab a victim, I don’t know. And how a Teutonic sea god is vulnerable to pine stakes is also never explained.

I suspect what really happened was that the writers watched William Friedkin’s The Guardian a few times too often and that’s why we get all of this Celtic herbal mythology of the Green Man mixed up with Scandinavian and German traditions (Those nasty druids, they really got around, ya know – she said sarcastically). Then Kripke got it into his head that the Brothers should whack an MOTW with a Christmas tree (He actually has said this), and Mr. and Mrs. God were born. Though I’m especially confused by that after reading visual effects supervisor Ivan Hayden’s interview in Supernatural Magazine. How do you use a tree to kill a tree god? Some kind of like-kills-like sympathetic magic?

Concerning the Anti-Claus, he’s not Santa’s evil brother. He’s a collection of demons in Dutch folklore enslaved by St. Nicholas to do his bidding. Maybe the writers tried too strenuously not to show that they were ripping off Santa’s Slay. Maybe they quickly realised how intrinsically racist and antisemitic those traditions are (which is why they’re being phased out). But there’s shaping the lore to your story and there’s making it mean things it’s not meant to mean, and I think they crossed a line with this one. Roared right over a few, in fact.

So, why don’t I give a crap? Because, you know what? I don’t. Sam-worship, pagan-bashing and mythology-mastication that irritated the hell out of me in the Halloween ep, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester,” just make me giggle, shrug and turn the gain up so I can hear the mayhem better on “A Very Supernatural Christmas.” I think it’s because, underneath it all, this is a wickedly-funny shaggy-dog story intended to show us the True Meaning of Christmas, which is that Christmas magic is real and you can feel it even under the worst circumstances.

There’s a terrible moment in that dining room when the Brothers are hurting bad and Dean turns to Sam and says, “Merry Christmas, Sam!” And means it. This may have originally come out in 2007, but “A Very Supernatural Christmas” is the Christmas Special sendoff 2020 thoroughly deserves.

Also, the Christmas jokes, when it comes right down to it, are in-jokes and not mean, and episode writer Jeremy Carver has fun with the lore, while director J. Miller Tobin has a lot of fun with the Christmas décor. You can tell Jensen Ackles, a self-professed lover of the holiday, is having a blast as Christmas-crazy Dean. Poor Padalecki gets stuck playing the Boy Who Hates Christmas, which is a much-harder job, though he does get some great lines as a consolation.

I was also surprised to find the Christmas music for the episode, both original and soundtrack, much richer and more enjoyable than I’d remembered. I’d never paid much attention to it on watches (many, many watches) before. I hadn’t expected to find much that was new on this rewatch, so that in particular was a pleasant surprise.

Madge and Edward, with their obsessively “secular” Christmasfied home, are hysterical. Of course pagan gods would hide out under the trappings of plastic decorations and blinking lights. We all knew that in our hearts, in the same weird, secret place that still knows damned-well there’s a monster under the bed, no matter what anybody says.

And the actors they got in were perfect for the roles, especially Merrilyn Gann and Spencer Garrett as Madge and Edward Carrigan. Great job, both of them, alone together and with Padalecki and Ackles (I love the cat-and-mouse back-and-forth, where you’re not sure who’s hunting whom). Also of note are Douglas Newell as the cynical shop owner and Brandy Kopp as the horrified elf girl. See, the CW? See what you’re missing by insisting that actors on your show all be under 30 and anorexic?

Merry Christmas, Everyone!


Fun lines:

Dean [to Sam]: So, what did you find [in the victim’s house]?
Sam: Stockings, mistletoe…this.
Dean: A tooth?! Where was this?
Sam: In the chimney.
Dean: The chimney?! No way a man fits up the chimney. It’s too narrow.
Sam: No way he fits up in one piece.
Dean: All right, so if Dad went up the chimney…
Sam: …we need to find what dragged him up there.

Dean [after hearing that Christmas isn’t really Jesus’ birthday]: Next, you’ll be telling me the Easter Bunny’s Jewish!

Sam [about watching the Santa talk to kids]: We just came here to watch.

Dean: Hey, Sam, why are you the boy who hates Christmas?

Sam [to Dean before they bust into “Santa’s” trailer]: Mr. Gung-Ho Christmas might have to blow away Santa.

Guy in Santa suit on porno [to girl coming onto him in a bar]: Look, I’m just not in the mood, okay?
Girl: Mistle my toe. Roast my chestnut? You know…jingle my bell?

Store Owner: Can I help you boys?
Dean: Yeah, we were playing Jenga over at the Walshes and…well, he hasn’t shut up about this wreath. [to Sam] I don’t know. You tell him.
Sam [stiffly]: Sure. [to Store Owner] It was yummy.
Store Owner[to Sam]: I sell a lot of wreaths, guys.
Sam: Right, right, but you see, this one would have been really special. It had green leaves, white buds on it. Might have been made out of meadowsweet?
Store Owner: Well, aren’t you the fussy one?

Dean: Did you sell [the wreaths] for free?
Store Owner: Hell, no. It’s Christmas. People pay a buttload for this crap.
Dean: That’s the spirit!

Dean [looking at Madge and Edward’s christmasfied house]: So, this is where Mrs. Wreath lives, huh? Boy, can’t you just feel the Evil Pagan Vibe?

Dean [to Madge after she cuts him]: If you fudging touch me again, I’ll fudging kill ya!

Edward: Fingernail…blood. Sweet Peter on a Popsicle Stick – I forgot the tooth!

Madge [to Sam]: You little thing. [head spins disturbingly] I loved that tree.

(Original) Next Week: Houses of the Holy: Sam and Dean investigate when unlikely vigilantes kill secretly-bad people and claim an angel incited them to do it.

(Original) In the New Year (January 21): Sam, Interrupted: The Brothers check themselves into a psych hospital to investigate mysterious doings there, then can’t check back out when the MOTW starts to drive them crazy.

(Actual) Next week: Ask Jeeves: We’re back to Season 10 with an episode where Sam and Dean are called to a moldy old pile for the reading of a will and the solving of a murder.

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

Season 15

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The Official Supernatural: “Do You Believe in Miracles?” (9.23-Season Finale) Recap and Review

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone!

We need your help!

In response to requests for updating the links for my older reviews, I’ve set up a campaign on Ko-Fi. I am ending the year with some pretty large vet bills and really could use the help, but also, updating the links takes time and a bit of effort. This will be a progressive goal, where I will post links as I get funding (probably five at a time, so every $50).

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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 snarfly foster kittens with seasonal eye gunk right now. My kitty Goose is doing much better, thank you (she’s acting as if nothing happened now), but I’ve still got that bill, so every little bit helps.

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

Recap: “Carry On” recap of the season so far, beginning with some memorable kills before getting into Gadriel’s arc and Kevin’s death, Abaddon, Metatron, the angel wars (such as they were), Castiel’s “human” arc, and the Mark of Cain storyline.

Cut to Now, which begins maybe two seconds after the cliffhanger ending from last week, in which Dean tried to kill Gadriel. Dean has been restrained by Sam and Castiel, but he quickly breaks Sam’s hold and throws Castiel halfway across the room. As Sam blocks his way to a terrified Gadriel, Dean bellows, “MOVE!” at Sam, while Sam tries to reason with him. Castiel grabs Dean again from behind and Sam grabs Dean’s Blade hand. Sam manages to talk down a confused and maddened Dean, but it’s a close one.

Cut to the Dungeon, where a very wild-eyed Dean is informing Sam and Castiel that he’s “not riding the pine on this one.” Sam tells Dean that there’s “something wrong with you” (Thank you, Captain Obvious), as if Dean doesn’t already know that.

Dean insists that locking him up is a mistake. He’s the only one who can kill Metatron, especially since Castiel lost his army. The look on his face is comical as Sam and Castiel just silently close the door on him and walk away (poor Dean), but “he’s not wrong” as Castiel admits afterward.

Sam thinks he has another plan, though. Back in the Library, he’s putting the First Blade into a lockbox and talking about how having Gadriel on their side can more than make up for the lack of an entire angel army. But when they turn around, they see just a pool of blood and a blood trail – Gadriel has fled.

Meanwhile, down in the Dungeon, Dean is coughing up blood. He looks in the mirror and sees it, horrified.

Cue title cards.

Cut to Metatron typing, while an angel tries to fanboy him. It turns out the angel is setting up a PA System that will send out announcements on Angel Radio that no one else can tune out, cut in on, edit, or override. Metatron ignores the angel (named Neil) until Neil switches from calling him “Metatron” to calling him “God.” Neil thinks Metatron is writing a new “manual” for the angels, but no, Metatron is writing a “story.” And it’s a romantically tragic one. But not like The Notebook, which Neil loved, Metatron not so much.

Metatron gets up and pulls out two outfits, one a blue hoodie, the other an even-more-nondescript brown sweater, and asks Neil, “Which one makes me look more pathetic?”

Neil tries to butter him up, saying that he just reunited all of the angels back in Heaven. Metatron dismissively compares this to “winning a People’s Choice Award” (an obvious reference to the show’s recent win, at the time, of a PCA). He gets Neil to show him how the new PA system works, then uses it (after a moment of reverberative technical difficulty).

All angels on Heaven and Earth can now hear him, and they can’t block him out. As he delivers a fulsome and bogus speech about how happy he is that the angels have accepted him as their new God, we see the angels in the offices outside look up and they don’t seem terribly happy with their new boss (Welp, life is choices, folks). It also wakes up Gadriel, who had managed to get into his car and flee. But after a bit, he had to stop and has stumbled off to bleed under a tree (Dean sure got him good). Sam and Castiel are just pulling up in Castiel’s car during Metatron’s speech.

The gist of Metatron’s speech is that he is headed off to Earth for “a short trip” and is closing Heaven’s door behind him until he gets back. He insists he has a new plan and that it “will be … glorious.” Neil is upset as Metatron leaves and wonders why he’s going. Metatron says he has to “tell the rest of the story.”

As Sam and Castiel approach him, Gadriel tries to crawl away and begs for his life. When Castiel goes to heal him, though, he tells him not to because Castiel’s grace is so low. With an exasperated look, Castiel does it, anyway, but it momentarily staggers him.

Gadriel asks Castiel if he heard Metatron. Castiel says that he did and asks what Metatron’s goal is.

Gadriel: I’m afraid … Humanity.

Cut to a spa, where a red-faced Crowley is groaning, “Oh, God,” in response to a particularly deep massage. The demon masseuse, fetchingly garbed in a thin, satin, scarlet robe with lots of cleavage, is exchanging infodump with Crowley about how he should be “more relaxed” after killing Abaddon and how the demons who are flocking back to his side could use a little “direction” from their king. Crowley tells her to stow the “soapy massage,” since he’s in no mood for “Dr. Phil.” She backs off, however sultrily (‘Fraid you picked the wrong gender of host, dear).

Before she can think of some other way to dig in her claws, there’s a rumble as of an earthquake. The masseuse correctly surmises that Crowley is being “summoned” and then whispers in his ear, “It’s a Winchester.”

Now, I know Elishia Perosa only got 50 seconds in this entire show (Her character never even got a name), but she’s freakin’ hilarious in those 50 seconds and I love the way she says, “It’s a Winchester.” Kudos to making that kind of impression in so short a time and so stuffed an episode.

Cut to the Dungeon, where Dean has a box of matches and is lighting one to drop in a bowl of summoning materials. Crowley appears, commenting on the smell in the room and suddenly realizing Dean has summoned him into the Dungeon’s demon trap (not his favorite place in the SPNverse). Dean stands up slowly, glaring at him.

Dean: What the hell’s happening to me, you son of a bitch?

Crowley: Liquor before beer? Bad taco? How should I know?

Dean: I can’t turn it off! Ever since I killed Abaddon, it’s – it’s like this whole … other thing! I get this high and I need to kill. I mean, I really, really need to kill! And if I don’t –

Crowley: You yak your guts out. It’s the Mark.

Dean: Meaning?

Crowley: It wants you to kill. The more you kill, the better you feel. The less you kill, the less-better you feel.

Dean: How much less-better?

Crowley: Well, one would imagine the least-best-better.

Dean: So, dead.

Crowley makes a noncommittal moue.

Dean is confused. Cain retired and didn’t die. Crowley points out that Cain is a demon. Dean’s body is not “strong enough to contain the Blade’s power.” Dean then asks about what happens if he gets rid of the Mark of Cain, but when Crowley asks if he wants to, Dean looks conflicted and then claims he just wants to kill Metatron. In order to do that, he has to get out of the Dungeon and to the First Blade. Turning a deadly look on Crowley, he adds, “And you’re gonna help me.”

Cut to the Library, where Sam, Castiel and Gadriel are coming back to the discover the lockbox open and the First Blade missing. Again, someone (Gadriel) comments on the smell and Sam says it’s sulfur. Sam is both upset and pissed, both because he knows his brother is in the wind and he knows who helped him escape.

Damn, that took less than nine minutes, too. That’s a record, even for Dean. I’m reminded that this episode’s writer, Jeremy Carver, also had Dean make a clever escape from being locked up by TFW in his last episode (before returning as showrunner in Season 8), “Point of No Return” in Season 5. Carver likes him some Clever!Dean. So do I.

As Sam leaves a futile message on Dean’s voicemail (Is that Dean’s Other Other Phone?), Castiel questions whether Crowley really helped Dean escape. Sam says it’s doubtful Dean would summon anyone else, since he and Crowley “have been Bromancing over the Blade” for half a season. This gives Sam and Castiel a chance to catch Gadriel up that Dean had the Mark of Cain and cut him with the First Blade. Gadriel realizes that this gives them a very powerful ally and weapon.

Sam: You’re joking, right? An hour ago, we were ready to throw Dean into a padded cell and now you say he’s our best chance?

Castiel: Hear him out, Sam.

Sam: Oh, right, excuse me, sorry, guys. Sorry if I’m a little less-than-eager to hear that our ‘best chance’ is arming the warhead and hoping it hits the mark. This is not a bomb we’re talking about. This is my brother!

At this point, I rolled my eyes pretty hard. I don’t know what Sam told himself he was doing with Dean up to this point, but he had to have had some awareness he was doing just the above – using his brother as a living weapon. So, Sam protests a bit much here, methinks.

Gadriel demurs and claims that he and Castiel can back Dean up on his play. He says that he thinks Metatron is using the Angel Tablet to give himself Godlike powers (This is mentioned with a bit of dialogue in the episode’s beginning recap, but I think this is actually the point where it’s first mentioned in the show that Metatron is using the Angel Tablet – or, anyway, that TFW is aware of it). Castiel agrees, saying that if they can “break the connection,” Metatron will once again become just “an ordinary angel” (well, one with wings, which still makes him the One-Eyed King in the Kingdom of the Blind) and very vulnerable to Dean and the First Blade.

Of course, this plan won’t work, TFW, until you, like, catch up with Dean and talk him into it. Too bad he’s in the wind because y’all locked him up inside a place where he had access to all the things he needed to break out. And this isn’t the first time he did it, either.

Cut to a woman striding down the street, shouting into a phone at her ex about how their son is on drugs and said ex needs to figure it out. We won’t hear any more about this subplot, though. It’s all just a distraction to explain why she walks right in front of a car and gets killed instantly.

People gather round, wondering if she can be saved (the opinion leaning toward the negative as the driver starts freaking out). A nebbishy older man in shabby clothes shows up and says, “I’m not so sure about that.” It is Metatron.

Cut to the Impala roaring up in broad daylight to a restaurant (Wait … have I been inside that restaurant? I think I may have). Jensen Ackles looks as though he had fun doing that. Crowley is riding shotgun as Dean drives. They enter the restaurant, Dean first and carrying the First Blade in its leather wrap.

Unlike his usual self, Dean is all business, taking out his laptop to set it up. When the pretty waitress comes to take his order, he barely glances at her and orders black coffee – at first. Crowley calls him out for his rudeness in taking up a table for an order that pretty much guarantees a lousy tip (as the waitress looks dejected but then vindicted by Crowley’s point). Dean looks exasperated, but turns on a dime and orders a full-on “double cheeseburger with everything, heavy on the onions” with a smile.

Crowley goes off on a rhapsody about whether Dean ever wants to ditch Hunting for a while to “go howl at the moon,” if he ever wonders, “Is this it? Is this all there is?”

Looking disgusted, Dean non-verbally pulls him out of his reverie and Crowley insists that he “kicked human blood.”

Dean: Oh, so you’re a Full Metal Douche again. Well, that’s fantastic. Would you like a stuffed bear?

Crowley: Just trying to make conversation.

Dean: How’s Hell, Crowley?

Crowley: Hell’s fine. Hell’s like a Swiss Watch. Don’t worry about Hell. [after an uncomfortable pause] Hell’s complicated.

Dean: Game of Thrones is complicated. Shower sex, that’s complicated. Hell ain’t complicated. Your problem ain’t Hell. It’s you.

Crowley tries to turn the question back on Dean, but Dean insists that his only problem to solve at the moment is killing Metatron. Unfortunately (he’s been setting up security cam searches as he talks), he can’t find anything that looks like Metatron activity on earth and he doesn’t understand why Metatron is taking so long to make a move.

As two young men in black suits enter the diner, Crowley says, “Never fear – cavalry’s here.” Wary (because they are, of course, demons), Dean puts a hand on the First Blade. But it turns out the demons are there at Crowley’s behest. One whispers in his ear and hands him a yellow phone, while the other stands, hands clasped in front of him, exchanging glares with Dean. They seem to both want to stay, but Crowley waves them off and they leave the diner.

As the waitress brings Dean’s cheeseburger and coffee, Crowley hands the phone to Dean. It shows a video a young boy took (that his geeky friend claims was of his sister walking away while he admired her ass). He then turns the phone toward the street and happens to catch the accident from the previous scene. As the friend exclaims over it, we see Metatron come up, as in the previous scene, kneel down and heal the woman, on camera. As she sits up, dazed, Metatron whispers something in her ear.

The stunned kid with the phonecam approaches Metatron and asks him what his name is. Batting his eyes at the camera in the worst attempt ever at lamb-like innocence, Metatron smiles smarmily and says, “Marv.” It’s a really unsettling combination of a beatific mask only partially covering the pure and petty malevolence underneath. What’s problematical about the scene is that none of the bystanders appears to realize this.

Dean has two questions. First, when was it taken? Crowley says, “A couple of hours ago, Muncie, IN.” Dean then wonders aloud, “What’d he whisper in her ear?” Crowley replies with satisfaction, “Exactly.”

Dean immediately packs up to go. Surprised, Crowley asks if he’s going to eat the cheeseburger. Looking down on it with total indifference, Dean pulls out a pretty big wad of cash and tosses it down, saying “Not hungry.”

Crowley gets a considering look as Dean leaves.

Elsewhere, Castiel and Gadriel are pulling up to a playground. Castiel’s surprised that this is where the door to Heaven is being guarded. A woman is reading on a park bench while a young girl plays on a swing nearby. They are Asariel and Purah. Gadriel calls them “two of Metatron’s most loyal. I recruited them, myself.”

This puts a pretty grim spin on the hit we saw on the kid angel in last week’s teaser, if Metatron’s most loyal soldiers were inside children. Metatron was willing to destroy angels who were the most loyal to him just to discredit Castiel, just to play games with angelic lives as part of his “story.” In case you were wondering at this point if Metatron had any fellow feeling at all for his angelic brethren, this subtle detail should be a big clue that the answer is “no.”

When Gadriel asks what Castiel’s plan is, he’s puzzled when Castiel says, “Wookie.” Basically, as when Han and Luke pretend Chewbacca is their prisoner to get inside the Death Star cell block in Star Wars where the Empire has Leia captive, Castiel is pretending to be a prisoner and Gadriel his captor.

There’s a brief snag when the two guards point out what Metatron said earlier about closing the Heaven gate until he got back (which both Gadriel and Castiel should know, since they heard his announcement earlier). Gadriel sails past this by saying bringing his prisoner in is too urgent to wait. Annoyed, the guards decide they have to redraw the gate spell and Gadriel tells them to make it snappy.

Dean and Crowley are driving into a trailer park when they see Sam waiting for them beside one particular trailer (the home of the woman in the video). As he pulls up and puts it in Park, Dean tells Crowley, “I got this.”

Dean gets out, Crowley also getting out and staying way in the background (though we get reaction shots from him), and approaches Sam. Sam is all smug that he got there first without any help from the King of Hell and that he got the woman away before Dean arrived. There isn’t an ounce of concern from Sam over her welfare or fate. Granted, Dean doesn’t seem to care, either, but for Sam, there’s a real power dynamic thing going on here. The woman is just a pawn in his attempts to regain control over his brother.

Sam gets all pissy with Dean, basically calling him ungrateful for trying to kill Gadriel when Gadriel could help them and he and Castiel are risking their lives trying to back him up. Dean is, of course, a little confused about this, since it’s the first he’s heard about this plan. Last he knew, Sam and Castiel were trying to lock him up. Now Sam’s yelling him for being ungrateful for TFW’s backup? Say, what, now? He also points out that Gadriel murdered Kevin and can’t be trusted.

This is a pretty major point. Sam doesn’t have a good answer, so instead, he goes off on a Dean-blaming rant in which he deflects what Dean said (perceiving it as an attack rather than a point that, well, Gadriel does not have a good track record in the trustworthiness department) back at Dean, accusing Dean of letting Gadriel possess him, so that now Sam wakes up at night from dreams of killing Kevin and having blood on his hands.

Now, aside from the fact that it’s canon that Sam wasn’t awake when Kevin was killed (He had no idea what was going on when Crowley entered the dream world Gadriel had put him into), so he would have no such memory and this is probably just hyperbole to make Dean feel guilty, Sam’s argument does not make much sense. At least initially, Sam’s intent seems to be to persuade Dean not to kill Gadriel and to come on board with Gadriel’s plan for Dean to kill Metatron after Gadriel and Castiel have broken his connection to the Angel Tablet. But, for a start, Dean doesn’t know about this plan because Sam hasn’t explained it to him, yet. Maybe explain it to him first?

Second, Sam seems to get caught up in his usual cycle this season of blaming Dean for letting him get possessed by an angel, to the point where he loses the argument he was making and ends up, instead, reinforcing the idea that Gadriel can’t be trusted. So, wouldn’t that mean Dean is … um … right not to trust Gadriel and even not wrong in attacking him before Gadriel could pull a double-cross?

Dean just stonily rides this rant out until Sam winds down and realizes he went off on a tangent. He finishes up with a rather stiff admission that Dean is the MVP of this storyline, but that he wants in on whatever Dean does, that they are brothers, yadda, yadda, and they should be working together. He then offers up his big card – what Metatron whispered in the woman’s ear was where he was headed next.

Dean considers this offer and seems to agree. He then turns to Crowley. Crowley has been watching this exchange with keen interest and seems to think he is going to be part of whatever happens next. Instead, Dean essentially dismisses him, telling him he’s free to go howl at the moon or whatever. Disgusted, Crowley declares that he’s been “Winchestered” and vanishes into thin air, leaving Sam the field.

Cut to Gadriel bringing Castiel into Heavenly Angel HQ via a celestial elevator or something. Metatron’s Hot MILF secretary with the super-short skirt AKA Officious Bitch (because that’s the entirety of her personality) AKA Ingrid (according to IMdB) and Hannah escort them into what appears to be Metatron’s office, but turns out to be Heaven’s dungeons. It’s a double-cross and Gadriel absolutely loses his shit. Trust me – this extreme reaction will end up being a major plot point very soon.

Ingrid mocks them for a few lines before going back into Heavenly Angel HQ, while Hannah lingers outside the cells to gloat. Because that’s the way Hannah rolls. Really beginning to see why this character never caught on with the fandom.

Cut to the kind of cliched homeless encampment we saw at the beginning of the season during Castiel’s Hapless Homeless Human storyline. Metatron is wheeling a cart into it, trying his level best to look pathetic. A dippy blonde chick who has Nursing Home Flower Child written all over her still manages to recognize him as “Marv.” She asks him to come heal a friend of hers, George. He heals George’s diabetes, doing the worst fake humble act ever. Unfortunately, he raises the suspicions of a red-headed man nearby who turns out to be another angel. The other angel calls Metatron out by name, says they’re both angels, and basically calls him a monster.

Metatron is trying to smarm his way out of it, but then he starts to lose his temper. Lowering his voice to a very threatening tone, he pulls out his angel sword. Before he can expose himself as a false prophet, he’s “saved” by a dark-haired woman who goes off on a big speech about how Metatron may be an angel, but he is just as down-and-out as they are. George calls Metatron a “healer,” while the dark-haired woman calls him “Messiah” (which greatly pleases Metatron, who calls it “warmer” in terms of his intentions).

At first, the red-headed angel calmly tries to defuse the situation (while accidentally inflaming it by calling Metatron an “abomination”), but it’s not until he pulls out his own angel sword that George smacks the red-headed angel over the head with a rock, the dark-haired woman throws a sack over him as he falls to the ground (I guess to hide from themselves the enormity of what they’re all about to do), and the mob attacks him.

Simpering “They love me. They really, really love me,” Metatron drops and casually kicks an angel sword over to the mob, verbally directing George to stab the red-headed angel to death. The angel’s death light is hidden by the sack and the pig pile on top of him.

To be honest, I found this scene quite ridiculous. The whole interlude with “Marv” and the cliched homeless morons is the biggest sour note for me in this episode. Also, while the episode is very well-directed overall (The lighting that emphasizes Dean’s madness is especially noteworthy), boy, the casting in “Do You Believe in Miracles?” sure is white, especially in this scene. And the only significant female character in the recurring cast is Hannah.

As far as I can tell, the idea with this and the hit-and-run scene is that Metatron is manipulating humans by using the Angel Tablet to twist their minds and convince them to do evil things in “God”’s name. The problem is that, as with earlier in the season, what Metatron can and can’t do is so vague and inconsistent that it’s unsatisfying to watch and unnecessarily hard to follow.

Metatron seems capable of easily leading the angels in “Stairway to Heaven” and the ordinary humans in this one to do really stupid things. Yet, he can’t influence the red-headed angel or Dean, Gadriel has already seen through his act, and it’s not at all clear whether he’s having any influence over Sam. So, what, exactly, besides invulnerability and an extremely vague charisma or mind-clouding power does the Angel Tablet really give him that he doesn’t already have as an angel?

I thought this concept was much, much better done in Season 5’s “99 Problems.” We see that the Whore of Babylon, posing as a Prophet, has intentionally chosen to prey on a group of people who already had the inclination to fall into cult thinking, if isolated and threatened by an apocalyptic outside force (as the Whore and her demon minions accomplished). As a group, they claim to be strong in their faith, but internally, they’re all falling apart and desperately seeking a way out of their situation to a vaguely defined “Paradise.”

That … doesn’t come across here. Here, the characters who fall for Metatron’s blarney just seem selfish and stupid, to the point of being stereotypes rather than seeming like real people. The writers had all season to make this work. Even now, in this episode, the execution feels rushed and unearned.

Cut to that night, about a mile away from the homeless encampment. It looks as though they filmed near the metro station in Surry because you can see the metro line looming behind them. Dean is reaching into the trunk of the Impala, his hand shaking, and laying a possessive hand on the First Blade, wrapped up in its leather covering. The First Blade sings to him and he lets out a gasp, closing his eyes as the high hits him.

Sam comes up from having done a reconnaissance of the encampment and Dean draws back with a guilty look. After noting that Metatron is there and has everyone convinced he’s “the new Jesus,” Sam asks if Dean’s okay and Dean lies that he is. Sam doesn’t appear to believe it, but he lets it slide.

Sam then reaches in and takes out the First Blade (I can’t even with how problematical that is), then hands it to Dean. Dean starts to apologize for “the last couple of months” and Sam interrupts him with “I know.” Then he sort of nods his head and blinks a lot, and I guess that’s him forgiving Dean. Or something.

His tone changing to a lighter one with a smile, Sam reaches into the trunk for something.

Sam: So, before we find something else to fight about, tell me – ready to gut this bitch?

Dean smiles ruefully, then cold-cocks Sam as Sam picks his duffel off the ground. Looking pained, Dean crouches down and folds Sam’s right arm onto his chest.

Dean: Sorry, Little Brother, it’s not your fight.

He pats Sam on the chest, then stands up and walks up the road toward the encampment, to the sound of heavy drums on the soundtrack.

Up in Heaven, Hannah is busy gloating outside the cells, while Castiel tries to talk her into letting him and Gadriel out. She’s mad because Castiel didn’t stop the angel killing and doesn’t believe Gadriel, even though Gadriel was Metatron’s second-in-command, because Gadriel is a liar. She also doesn’t believe that Metatron framed Castiel by turning his followers into suicide bombers. That Metatron’s pick of Gadriel as his second-in-command doesn’t exactly speak highly of Metatron’s own honesty doesn’t seem to be getting through Hannah’s thick angelic skull.

Meanwhile, Gadriel is looking at the rubble in his cell and getting an idea.

Down below, Dean is arriving at the encampment. He’s accosted by George and Blonde Hippy Chick. She recognizes Dean by name, saying that Metatron said he’d come. She indicates with a nod of her head that Metatron (or “Marv,” as George insists on calling him) is further inside the building, saying that he is “praying for our forgiveness.” When Dean asks for what, she glances at a big pool of blood where they killed the red-headed angel. Others start to close in and Dean is like, Now, hang on here.

Cut to Dean entering an industrial area where Metatron is sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, pretending to meditate.

Upstairs, Gadriel is seriously unravelling, red-eyed and sweaty. He’s babbling about how he spent “thousands of years” in that cell, trying to understand his sin, how to redeem himself. He realizes now that he was too selfish and completely focused on his own needs and wants. Castiel tries to reassure him that he has already redeemed himself, but Gadriel isn’t listening. He says that the angels have a responsibility to protect Humanity, that Humanity must come first. Castiel starts to get seriously uneasy and tries, unsuccessfully, to talk him down.

When Gadriel turns around, Hannah is horrified to see that he has carved an angel-bomb sigil on his chest with one of the shards from his cell. He tells Castiel to back to the other side of his cell. As skittery violins go up the scale on the soundtrack, and Hannah frantically tries to open Gadriel’s cell, he says that he hopes he won’t be remembered as the angel “who let the Serpent into the Garden,” but as “one of the many” who saved Heaven. His last words are “Run, Sister” to Hannah (who wisely bails down past Castiel’s cell) before he stabs himself. The ensuing explosion blows the doors right off the cells.

Stunned, Hannah runs back to Gadriel’s cell even before the smoke clears. He is dead, lying face down in his cell. She turns as Castiel steps out of his own cell, glaring at her. In a tone of quiet, deadly fury, he asks her, “Do you believe him now?”

As Dean walks down some iron stairs to confront Metatron, he says, “You can save the humble-pie Jesus routine for someone who gives a damn.”

Metatron piously accuses Dean of being too “cynical.” He claims that most people don’t want to be cynical. They want to believe in something, someone. Dean correctly guesses Metatron wants that someone to be him.

Metatron: Why not me?

Dean: You’ve been working those people outside for, what, a day? And already, they’ve spilled blood in your name. You are nothing but Bernie Madoff with wings.

Metatron whines that it took a ton of “pancake makeup and soft lighting” to make God look good enough to interact with his worshipers. He says God hated it so much that his creations sensed it and blamed themselves: “They prayed harder and longer, and fought more wars in His name. And for what? So they could die of malaria? Leukemia?” And when God didn’t respond, they blamed themselves more (Metatron’s bitter tone implies he is one of these disappointed worshipers).

Metatron: God didn’t even know their name! But I do. Because I’ve walked among them. And I can save them.

Dean: Sure, you can. So long as your mug is in every Bible and “What Would Metatron Do?” is on every bumper.

Metatron doesn’t see anything wrong with that. He asks Dean if he can blame him for wanting such fame. This sets Dean, who is lit from below like the marble statue of a saint, but whose eyes shine with a madness almost divine in its fury, off.

Dean [while unwrapping the First Blade]: I’m blaming you for Kevin! I’m blaming you for taking Cas’ grace. Hell, I’m blaming you for the Cubs not winning the World Series for the last hundred-friggin’-years! Whatever it is, I’m blaming you.

As the First Blade is revealed and and an ominous horn blows on the soundtrack, Metatron does his best fake puppy dog look. But by the time the Blade is fully exposed, Dean is downright glowing with madness and rage, his hand shaking as he grips the Blade.

Metatron: The First Blade. Nasty piece of work, isn’t she? Okay, Dean. Let’s say you win and I die. What’s the world left with, then, huh? A herd of panty-waisted angels and you, half out of your mind with Lord knows what pumping through those veins?

Dean: You see, the only thing you said that went into my ear was that you die.

Metatron dismissively says that “fine, we’ll fight,” but you can tell he’s trying to find a way to psych Dean out because Dean is a clear threat. Then he realizes that Dean is stalling to give Castiel and Gadriel time to find the Angel Tablet. He gloats that he’s left orders for them to be locked up (unaware, of course, that this is no longer the case), so the plan is FUBAR.

Looking devastated, Dean turns away, in apparent defeat. It’s a feint and Metatron sees it coming when Dean swings back and high, blocking the Blade. But he doesn’t see the left-hand punch Dean delivers next and it staggers him.

Metatron: Well, that big blade and that douchey tribal tat sure gave you some super-juice!

Metatron cockily invites Dean to try again and this time, flings him across the room into a wall. He proceeds to beat Dean to a pulp until Dean’s slumped against a wall, telling him that he may be all high on the Mark of Cain, but it’s nothing to the “Word of God.” Meanwhile, Castiel is upstairs in Metatron’s study (Hannah has Metatron’s secretary at bladepoint, but she won’t talk), trying to find the Angel Tablet. Out in the homeless encampment, Sam is arriving. He puts some real and deserved fear into the murderous Metatron cultists by pulling a gun on them.

Dean gets a weird kind of smile right before Metatron appears to knock him out for the count and upstairs, Castiel is looking over at Metatron’s typewriter. Dean manages to call the First Blade back to him, but just as he brings it up, Metatron stabs him in the chest with his angel blade and twists it with a nasty grimace. Sam has just arrived in time to witness this and screams, “NO!” distracting both Metatron and a distressed Dean.

As Dean falls over, in Heaven, the Angel Tablet is falling to the floor of Metatron’s office and shattering (Though it’s never spelled out, these two events seem intentionally linked by cause and effect). The impact can be felt even down on earth, where Sam has rushed over to Dean and is pulling him back up to a sitting position, as Metatron looks smug. By this time, Dean is covered with blood. Metatron also looks up uneasily as the shattering of the Angel Tablet is felt as an earthquake on earth, as if being pulled out of a sinister dream. He still glowers at Sam right before Sam gets up and tries to stab him with an angel blade. Metatron flies off before Sam can strike.

He flies to his office in Heaven, where Castiel is waiting for him, sitting in his chair.

Metatron: Well-played, Castiel.

Metatron, of course, is upset. He bitterly assumes Castiel and Gadriel found some “dead-enders” to betray him. Castiel just tells him Gadriel’s dead. Metatron looks relieved and almost pleased that this is the case. But there’s still the matter of how “the Angel Tablet, arguably the most powerful instrument in the history of the universe is in pieces and – for what, again? Oh, that’s right – to save Dean Winchester. I mean, that was your goal, right? I mean, you draped yourself in the flag of Heaven, but, ultimately, it was all about saving one human, right? Well guess what? He’s dead, too.”

Castiel’s reaction, unsurprisingly, is one of shock and grief. When Metatron adds, “And you’re sitting in my chair,” Castiel appears taken off-guard when Metatron causes handcuffs to appear and cuff him to the chair.

Downstairs, Sam is desperately trying to save Dean’s life (which just causes Dean more agony), even as Dean begs him to run before Metatron can come back and finish the job.

Dean: Listen to me – it’s better this way.

Sam: What?!

Dean: The Mark – it’s making me into something I don’t wanna be.

Frantic, Sam insists they will find a way to deal with even the Mark, then gets Dean to his feet to carry him back out to get help.

Upstairs, Castiel tells Metatron, with great intensity, that he is not going to get away with it. This sparks an Evil Overlord rant from Metatron. With not-so-subtle encouragement from Castiel (which Metatron doesn’t even notice), Metatron calls the angels “frightened little sheep, following my crook wherever it leads.” He insists that even if they knew about his deception, the angels wouldn’t care because he’s taking them back “to our rightful place atop this mountain of human shame and excrement.”

Downstairs, Dean is fading fast as Sam tries to get him out of the factory.

Dean: What happened with you being okay with this?

Sam: I lied.

Dean: Well, ain’t that a bitch?

Upstairs, Metatron is gloating over Castiel, getting ready to stab him to death with an angel blade still stained to the hilt with Dean’s blood. He claims that Castiel’s biggest flaw, as his grace dwindles and his reputation lies in tatters, is that he lacked imagination. He “never read enough.”

Metatron: You never learned how to tell a good story.

Castiel [with tears of rage and grief]: But you did!

Castiel turns around and Metatron, with dawning horror, follows his gaze to the angel radio PA system he previously had set up. It’s on. And broadcasting. Castiel set him up.

Before Metatron can really react, the other angels come in from outside and grab him as Hannah says, off-screen, “Take him!”

Castiel, far from being chained to the chair, easily frees himself and grabs the blood-stained sword from Metatron. The tables have well and truly turned, but at what cost?

Downstairs, that cost is playing out. Dean can’t walk, anymore, even with help, and begs Sam to let him rest for a moment. Blood is now freely flowing from his mouth and nose, and he looks deathly pale.

Dean: I gotta say something.

Sam: What?

Dean: I’m proud of us.

Then he convulses a little and collapses, dead, on Sam’s shoulder. Sam desperately tries to revive him, then hugs him, ugly-crying, when he realizes it’s too late. Well, it’s too late for a lot of things at this point.

Upstairs, Castiel is shoving Metatron into his cell, which has been magically repaired. Hannah, standing nearby, tells Castiel he did “the right thing” by not killing Metatron as Metatron stares glumly around his cell (since his worst fear was always being imprisoned by Heaven). I roll my eyes really hard. She says it’s what “a leader” would do. Castiel insists he is not a leader. He just wants “to be an angel.” But as Hannah points out, he’ll die if he doesn’t find some new grace, soon.

Off Castiel’s pensive look, we get the beginning of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” from 1969. This was first used at the end of Season 1’s “Route 666” (yes, that episode).

To say that the difference in tone between these two scenes is vast would be a major understatement. Dean sure came a long way in nine seasons.

Cut to downstairs, back at the Bunker, where a red-eyed Sam is laying his Brother’s dead body on his bed to the opening lines:

Come down off your throne

and leave your body alone.

Somebody must change.

You are the reason I’ve been waiting so long.

Somebody holds the key.

Well, I’m near the end

and I just ain’t got the time.

And I’m wasted

and I can’t find my way home.

As the song continues to play, we get a montage of Sam having a stiff slug of whiskey in the Library before steeling himself to go down into the Dungeon to summon Crowley, using the materials Dean left behind. It appears that he blames Crowley for getting Dean “into this mess” (i.e., taking on the Mark) and he’s going to force Crowley to get Dean out of it.

Well, Crowley does appear, but not in the Dungeon. He pops up in the doorway to Dean’s room near the end of the song. Sitting in a chair across from Dean’s body and addressing it as if Dean is merely sleeping, he tells him he’s aware that Sam is trying to summon him to make a deal to bring Dean back. Calling it “all so expected” now, Crowley begins to intimate a new wrinkle this time round.

Crowley talks about “suggesting” that Dean take on the Mark. This isn’t precisely what happened in “First Born” (Crowley told Dean about acquiring the First Blade. It was Cain who told Dean he needed the Mark to be able to wield the Blade). But it’s interesting that this is how Crowley perceives it, since it shows how much deeper Crowley’s plan with Dean and that particular quest went.

Crowley insists that “I never lied, Dean. That’s important. It’s fundamental.” He then goes on to admit that he did omit something, a story (almost a legend) about Cain. It seems Cain, like Dean, didn’t want to become a killer, so he killed himself with the First Blade. But the Mark wouldn’t let go. It brought him back to life. But it was just a legend and Crowley insists he didn’t want to get anybody all excited (“Why set hearts a-flutter with mere speculation?”).

Crowley pulls something out of his coat. It’s the First Blade. He gets up and comes over to Dean, talking about how he began to realize the truth of the story when Dean summoned him and then had it confirmed when Dean showed no interest in the cheeseburger in the diner. And then he began to “believe, maybe miracles do come true.”

Crowley places the First Blade in Dean’s hand and folds Dean’s hand over his chest. If you look closely, you can see that Dean somehow looks less pale and battered than before, almost as if he were healing.

Crowley: Listen to me, Dean Winchester. What you’re feeling right now, it’s not death. It’s life – a new kind of life. Open your eyes, Dean. See what I see! Feel what I feel! Let’s go take a howl at that moon.

Dean’s eyes snap open. They are demon black.

Credits

Ratings for this episode jumped to a 1.1/3 in the A18-49 demo and 2.30 million in audience, off a repeat that got a 0.5/2 and 1.1 million. I think it’s fairly safe to say that the audience wanted to see how this storyline panned out.

Review: “Do You Believe in Miracles?” could just as easily have been titled “The Madness of Dean Winchester.” But I suppose that would have been a bit too Criterion Collection for Supernatural, as well as way too spoilery. Dean’s shaky mental health (and that of a few other characters) is front and center in this episode.

I know that I talk about the end scene in this episode quite a bit in my first essay about Jesus in Supernatural, and how Metatron wants to be Jesus, but I hadn’t realized until the recap rewatch just how extensive the metaphors were . It’s not just that others accuse Metatron of trying to be Jesus (like Sam and Dean), or even that Metatron acts the part in a general sense of wanting to appear as a kind God to humans. There is an actual moment in the episode when Metatron’s new human followers are tossing out epithets for him and he acts especially pleased when one of them refers to him as “Messiah.”

You know all those fans who kept asking when the show was going to do an episode about Jesus or when Jesus was going to appear? This is that episode. While it’s subtle in that goal, it’s not ambiguous or unclear. It’s set up with the type of plot where a fake version of a character type is shown up by the real thing. In this case, Metatron, already tired of being a distant God the Father, decides he wants to be Jesus, instead. I mean that this is literally and explicitly his goal. Then Dean shows him, pretty forcefully, who the real Jesus figure in the story is. The Jesus character is even resurrected at the end of “Do You Believe in Miracles?”

And in a classic Supernatural twist, Jesus and Judas run off together to go howl at the moon all summer hellatus.

For anyone who has seen through the end of Season 15, episode 15.18 even repeats this point. In fact, each of the eras (with the possible exception of Sera Gamble’s – depends on how you see the Season 7 finale) has a version of this. Dean’s first storyline of this type is the end of Season 3, though it more follows the central conflict of Christology than draws explicit parallels in the dialogue. But subsequent storylines of this type have been based on the Season 4 premiere, in which an angel drags Dean out of the Pit. It’s just that this episode is the one where explicit, by-name parallels are drawn between Jesus and specific characters in the story.

So, where does Metatron fail here? As I was saying in the recap, Metatron’s powers get pretty fuzzy during this season. His goals are … somewhat clearer. After (presumably) thousands, or perhaps even billions, of years on the run from angels in Heaven, he wants revenge and boy, does he get it.

But revenge turns out to be an empty Heaven, with only a hundred billion human souls he can’t touch for company. After a few months, he gets bored with this, seduces and recruits Gadriel, gets him to steal the Angel Tablet, and sets out to create a scenario where the angels flock back to Heaven, willing to live “under his thumb” (as Castiel bitterly puts it to Hannah).

But this, too, proves to be too easy (at least, with the help of the Angel Tablet), so Metatron turns his sinister, selfish attentions on humans. This part of his plan is pretty murky, but the fact that one of his first acts as “Marv” on earth is to get a mob of homeless people to murder a dissenting angel inside his vessel, and his Evil Overlord Monologue to Dean includes a lot of reference to humans killing in the name of God, we do get a pretty ugly picture.

We get more illumination in the character of Gadriel and his suicide. Gadriel is one of two Judas characters in the story. One dies redeeming himself. One … uh … doesn’t. But we’ll get to the second in a bit. Gadriel generally speaks in his Suicide Note speech about how he wanted to redeem himself after his failure in the Garden, but now realizes that this was a selfish goal. He now believes that “Humanity” must be protected at all costs, that the angels have failed in their mission to protect Humanity and that’s why they fell.

While Gadriel isn’t wrong – the previous few seasons have been a smorgasbord of cold-blooded angelic manipulation and destruction of humans to further angelic goals – his sudden focus on saving humans is puzzling and seems irrational, even a trite, last-minute motivation inserted by showrunner and episode writer Jeremy Carver into the narrative. But if you connect the dots from last week up to his suicide in this one, and the plan that he spells out near the beginning of this episode, what Gadriel means actually makes sense. By “Humanity,” he means “Dean Winchester.”

Part of the confusion lies in Metatron’s mistaking the intent of the plan when Dean comes after him. Metatron believes the plan is for Dean to stall him while Castiel and Gadriel sneak upstairs and disrupt his connection to the Angel Tablet. He’s got it exactly backwards. Gadriel’s plan is for him and Castiel to disrupt that connection so that Dean can kill Metatron.

In his speech, Gadriel is therefore saying that he needs to die so as to protect Dean from Metatron long enough for Dean to neutralize Metatron. But Dean is not supposed to be the distraction, the redshirt in the story. It’s the other way round.

By killing himself in service to this plan of acting as Dean’s bullet shield, Gadriel, it seems, hopes to redeem himself in the eyes of Dean, whom he betrayed to follow Metatron, by betraying Metatron to protect Dean. Just as Judas hangs himself after realizing the enormity of betraying Jesus to his death.

So, when Metatron accuses Castiel of his entire plan being to save Dean (from both Metatron and the Mark, one presumes), he’s not wrong, but he misunderstands that it was Gadriel’s plan, as well. But why does Dean spin it around? Is he genuinely unable to kill Metatron, or at least to hold out long enough to wait until the Angel Tablet is broken? I don’t think so. I think that Dean takes in what Metatron says about his remaining the preeminent threat after killing Metatron and understands that he must not do that. He has to go down in this fight and he has to do it in such a way that he brings Metatron down with him.

He, more than anyone (including Metatron), understands what a huge threat he is with the Mark and the Blade. He knows he can take Metatron, with or without the Angel Tablet. His smile of satisfaction when he manages to take Metatron by surprise and hurt him with that punch shows that Dean is aware he could kill Metatron if he really tried. Instead, he throws the fight, and allows himself to be beaten and stabbed to death. He would rather, to paraphrase Harvey Dent’s analogy from Batman film The Dark Knight, die a Hero than live to become a Villain.

Dean’s tragedy, of course, is that he can’t die. Death is not a solution for him. But he’s not aware of that until the very end of this episode (and we don’t see his immediate reaction). What’s interesting (perhaps to the point of being a plothole) is that Metatron isn’t, either, despite recognizing the First Blade and the Mark, and understanding their significance. In retrospect, it seems that stabbing Dean was a major error on Metatron’s part, since Dean would have come back even stronger, angrier and more deadly a few moments later. But again, we don’t see this in this episode.

What is remarkable about Dean’s act is not just that he chooses to sacrifice himself to a humiliating death at the hands of his worst enemy to avoid becoming a worse enemy, but that he does so by flipping the script and choosing to invest his faith in people who had previously failed or betrayed him or both: Gadriel, Castiel and, yes, Sam. Dean chooses to go down bloody so that these three can become the Heroes of the story. I don’t think this is his initial thought (though he’s definitely suicidal and probably has been for some time), but after his initial surprise that Metatron has guessed at the plan (albeit imperfectly) and captured Castiel and Gadriel, Dean gets a look of cunning and goes along with it. In this way, Dean redeems Castiel and Gadriel (albeit this results in Gadriel’s death), but in the process, he causes Castiel and Sam, especially, considerable distress.

The thing is that Sam and Castiel have been determined to save Dean. One could say this was their primary purpose, even over saving the world from Metatron – to save Dean from the effects of the Mark of Cain. Dean’s mental health, never good for most of the show, began to deteriorate alarmingly after he took on the Mark.

Unfortunately, Sam and Castiel’s response to this wasn’t good, either. They became too wrapped up in their own anger and guilt, and laid it on Dean, even as they tried to control him and the Mark and Blade through him. They told each other they were trying to save him, but they never told him.

In response, Dean felt (understandably) abandoned by his loved ones and fell into suicidal ideation. But he did a good-enough job of hiding this that he was able to fool Sam and Castiel into not realizing how deep his madness lay, how self-destructive it had become. They were so dazzled and frightened by the dark power overcoming Dean – and perhaps their own fantasies of what they would do with it if they had it – that they did not notice how suicidal Dean was.

Even Crowley, I think, mistook Dean’s deep depression (his lack of interest in the diner in the cheeseburger and other things he would normally enjoy) for a demonic affinity for Crowley himself. Crowley and Sam spent this episode in a tug-of-war over Dean’s attention and loyalty. By not telling Dean the story about Cain’s own failed suicide, Crowley became a Judas to him, but he did so to win Dean over and create in Dean a demonic affinity for him. In some stories about Judas, Judas loves Jesus a little too much, is a little too possessive, and that’s why he betrays him.

While the Mark of Cain is cast in the story as a metaphor for psychotic mania and rage (weaponized to a divine level), the First Blade is just as clearly portrayed as a metaphor for an addictive drug that heightens the madness the Mark creates or exacerbates, something along the lines of crack or meth. We see that Dean gets a high from using the First Blade to kill and that he struggles with this, especially after he finds out that he will die if he goes cold turkey and stops killing. By allowing Metatron to murder him, he rejects the corrupting, addictive power of the Blade in an emphatic way.

Addiction is also implied in Metatron’s relationship with the Angel Tablet. While the Angel Tablet does not seem to be addictive in and of itself, the power it offers goes to Metatron’s head. It makes victories so easy for Metatron that he begins to make sloppier and sloppier mistakes, until he finally trips over them to his downfall. Pride is his deadly sin.

Pride is also the sin of Hannah and the other Central Casting angels in the episode. Sadly, we never hear them express any guilt or gratitude over Dean’s sacrifice. He always remains to them just another dirty human with a demonic curse flowing through his veins.

In the show, unusual power of this type is always addictive and clouds morality and judgment. Demon blood was addictive for Sam. Eating souls was addictive for Castiel in Season 6. Even Crowley’s addiction to human blood is alluded to in “Do You Believe in Miracles?” (when he insists in the diner he’s kicked the habit and Dean doesn’t believe him – or care). Power is defined, not as control over your own life, but as illicit control over others. Thus, when Dean chooses to sacrifice himself to give Castiel and Gadriel the chance to break the connection with the Angel Tablet, his sacrifice is Christlike because it gives them back their Free Will and the chance at redemption.

On December 24: A Very Supernatural Christmas (Augmented Edition): Sam and Dean investigate a case around Christmas that appears to involve an evil version of Santa.

Next week: Ask Jeeves: We’re back to Season 10 with an episode where Sam and Dean are called to a moldy old pile for a reading of a will and the solving of a murder.

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

Season 15

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The Official Supernatural: “Stairway to Heaven” (9.22) Recap and Review

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Recap: Longish recap of Dean killing Abaddon, the angel wars, the secret portal to Heaven, Castiel’s stolen grace, Tessa, and Metatron’s boring supervillain plan.

Cut to Now.

At an ice cream shop in Dixon, MO, a Karen (she doesn’t have an onscreen name, so she’s just a stereotype) is giving a deliberately long and fussy order to the long-suffering soda clerk, while shushing her son. Seems the kid has noticed a young girl at a table, eating a very large banana split sundae with great enjoyment. Karen decides to go over and snottily ask the girl where her parents are (as if that’s any of Karen’s business, but since when has that ever stopped a Karen?). The girl tells her to buzz off and says she’s an angel.

We realize she really is an angel when a man enters the shop, pulling out an angel blade, and the girl appears to recognize him. She tells the Karen to run (the Karen doesn’t, even when the girl flashes angel eyes at her). Cut to outside the ice cream shop as the girl screams. Light flares and blasts out the windows.

Cue whining angel title cards.

Cut to Sam sleeping with a gun under his pillow (since when?) and no covers. A loud guitar cue wakes him with a start and he points the gun in the direction of the music. It turns out to be coming from Dean’s phone and it was Dean’s way of waking him up.

Dean: Nice reflexes. Better hair.

Looking at his watch, Sam comments that they got home only “two hours ago,” that he could have shot Dean by mistake. He asks, “What’s wrong with you?” Hey, remember when Sam woke Dean up in “Phantom Hitchhiker” because he wasn’t sleeping at all? Turnabout’s fair play, dude.

Dean tells him he’s “not tired” and that “we got work to do.” He tosses Sam’s boots at him and walks out. Later, as Sam comes out, showered and dressed and with a cup of coffee, into the Library, Dean is already packing up. This includes the First Blade.

It turns out Castiel called Dean and told him “something was going down” in Missouri (probably what happened to the Doomed Teaser Kid Angel). He says that Castiel wouldn’t supply any details, just wanted them to meet him there, so they are. He’d probably help Castiel, anyway, but he neatly covers it with the practical reason that Castiel has an army of angels backing him up and they’re going to need all the reinforcements they can get against Metatron.

Despite the fact that they are up against Metatron, who still has wings and could appear anywhere at any time, especially in a case that involves Castiel, Sam whines that there’s no need to bring the First Blade because it’s not a “Big Boss fight.” Sam seems to think that whether or not to bring they First Blade anywhere, even though Dean’s the only one who can wield “the Hockey Stick That Can Kill Anything” (as Dean puts it), should be a joint decision. Because Sam should get a say in that, or something. Sam insists that it’s because he’s worried about the Blade’s effect on Dean (even as Dean is protesting that he’s “fine,” which he’s not, of course), but I don’t see a whole lot of caring from Sam toward his brother in this conversation. I do see a lot of manipulative and controlling guilt-tripping. After some token protest, Dean ostentatiously leaves it behind. Bet that will be a plot point later on.

The next day, at the teaser crime scene, the Brothers arrive in their FBI suits. They are surprised when the female cop managing access to the scene greets them with alias names (for female pop stars) and ushers them right in. It turns out Castiel is waiting inside. Knowing their MO for using such aliases, he’s already primed local law enforcement to expect them. He just got the genders kinda wrong.

He immediately shows them a body with burned-out eyes in a body bag. It’s the Karen (oh, her poor son. I hope he ran). He tells them there are six dead humans in all, with burned-out eyes. And one dead angel vessel. He knew the angel, whom he calls “a good soldier.” He knew this angel wanted to go to war against Metatron, but calls what he did (presumably a suicide bombing?) “abhorrent, even for him.” But which “him” does Castiel mean?

Cut to a possible candidate. It’s Metatron in his study in Heaven, posing in a replica of Castiel’s raincoat over his sweater in front of a mirror. There’s a knock on the door. He hastily pulls off the raincoat as he calls, “Just a second!”

A second later, Gadriel enters. When Metatron complains about his barging in like that, Gadriel points out that he did ask for “a second” and that’s what Gadriel gave him. Metatron grumps about the literal-mindedness of angels, as if he didn’t already know that was in their DNA. He is, after all, an angel, himself.

Gadriel wants to “talk about tonight.” When Metatron says it will be “fine,” Gadriel protests that they are “losing.” Castiel has more angels on his side than Metatron now. They may not be going after Metatron just yet, but they were able to capture Gadriel and stop Metatron from killing Castiel. He means the angels, but it’s TFW that actually captured him and interrogated his feathery ass.

Metatron insists that they had their shot with Operation Lee Harvey (subtle), but blowing it was worth preventing Gadriel’s death. He then turns things around on Gadriel and points out that he met with the “enemy” (Castiel). Gadriel protests that he’s still loyal to Heaven and Metatron. He listened, but he knows Castiel lied to him. With that reaffirmed, Metatron grumps about Castiel’s popularity, admitting that he’s “cute” and has a sort of “simple charm.”

Metatron [about Castiel]: He’s like a mentally deficient puppy. I’m lovable … and funny. [off Gadriel’s skeptical look] I made God laugh – twice!

Gadriel points out that it was Metatron’s idea for Castiel to form a loyal opposition and notes that they have to meet tonight with the leader of the only large independent faction of angels left, an angel named Tyrus. Metatron insists he’s “got a plan” and Gadriel, a little horrified, glances at the raincoat and says, “It’s not that. Is it?”

Cut to Castiel’s headquarters, where Castiel is entering with a box of files, Sam and Dean behind him. He’s greeted by Hannah (the survivor of the peaceable angels who previously asked to follow him). After being introduced to the Brothers, and admitting she’s heard many things about them (in a disapproving tone), she does her level best to ignore Sam and Dean, especially Dean, who is snarky in response and says that “Cas is a fan.” Another angel abruptly takes the box of files, which is evidence from the crime scene.

Hannah then tells Castiel something ominous – an angel named Josiah didn’t make “roll call” that morning (when Sam questions this, Castiel admits that “they like to hear me say their names” and Dean snarks that he knows women who like that, too). Hannah (and the other angels) has immediately jumped to the conclusion that Josiah killed Ezra (the talkative angel from Metatron’s camp who was murdered the previous episode and appears in the beginning recap) and was a Metatron spy in their camp.

As Hannah looks skeptical, Sam sits down at a computer to research Josiah’s movements by looking up the dead angel from MO (Castiel identifies him as “Sean Flynn from Omaha”) and Dean points out that since angels can no longer fly, they can be tracked like humans. Sam immediately finds that someone just used Sean’s credit card. But the other angel who took the box is a jump ahead of Sam. He’s somehow found CCTV footage of the angel confrontation in the ice cream shop.

It shows an Asian American guy doing a foodie selfie video at the ice cream shop right before the incident. When the other angel enters the shop, the person filming the foodie guy turns the video in the direction of the two angels. We see the man pull open his coat to show a bare chest with Enochian symbols carved on it (as in, into his flesh). He shouts, “I do this for Castiel!” right before he stabs himself in the middle of the symbols. A bright flash of light and the girl angel’s piercing scream end the video call. Cut to Castiel, who looks upset.

Dean immediately asks Castiel, “What the hell was that?” Castiel protests that he would never ask any other angel to suicide bomb “innocents” and them quietly says, “I’m gonna be sick.”

Sam asks why an angel would be using Castiel’s name under those circumstances. Hannah corrects Sam and has the other angel rewind. She recognizes the girl as an angel named Esther, who was in Metatron’s camp. Sam realizes it’s a hit on the girl angel.

Castiel says he doesn’t know what’s going on, but Dean is skeptical (Keep in mind that Castiel did kill everyone in a political campaign office when he was Godstiel and under the influence of the Leviathan, so it’s not that illogical for Dean to be skeptical that Castiel is not acting duplicitously in creating Manchurian Candidates out of his fellow angels). Even so, Castiel is upset that Dean wouldn’t believe him. And Dean brings up the whole Godstiel incident in rebuttal, especially acting pissed off that Castiel lied to him and Sam. Dean’s not wrong. Castiel may mean well now, but he has done things just like that in the past, or worse.

Sam thinks it’s bad to air these things out in front of a bewildered Hannah and Redshirt Research Angel, but, well, surely, they know everything Castiel did as Godstiel. It wasn’t exactly a secret in Heaven. Anyhoo, once they get into Castiel’s office and Sam tells Dean to “stow your baggage,” he discovers that yep, Castiel did something dumb again, just as Dean was saying.

Castiel knows the guy in the video. He was an angel named Oren who was on a shift at the hospital. It seems Castiel has angels from his army doing minor healings and other things that stay under the radar. Castiel admits that the little girl, and the angel inside, was probably “atomized” by the blast, since the spell focused its power on her. Yay.

Dean says he and Sam are going to investigate. Since Castiel asked them in and his Manson-Family-style groupies don’t trust the Winchesters, Castiel coming along would just be a liability. Castiel firmly insists on going to find out what Oren was up to. Dean says fine, but he sends Sam along to babysit. Sam is surprised and not too thrilled to hear this.

Later that night in a stolen car, Sam and Castiel grump about being reduced to sidekick status (one neither is used to). They both figure it’s the Mark’s influence on Dean and while Castiel admits that Dean is always “a little angry,” he just seems more so of late. He’s hurt that Dean would think he would have sent angels on suicide missions that killed innocents, which is kinda hilarious when he’s done far worse in the relatively recent past, while lying to Dean about it.

When he asks Sam if he believes him capable of such things, Sam rather uncomfortably lies and says, “no,” but then hedges a whole lot about how uncomfortable the whole angel army thing is making him. I’m trying to recall if Castiel has even mentioned that this is something Metatron set him up to do in the first place. It seems like an awfully important point that no one is talking about and if he’s lying about that, then yeah, Dean is totally justified in not trusting him.

It’s also pretty uncool that Castiel is leaving Dean alone with a bunch of angels Dean has already expressed unease about – and in a position where Dean has to interrogate them. Sure, Dean sent Sam with Castiel and sure, it was Dean’s plan to interrogate them. But Castiel is the one who called the Brothers in on the case in the first place and he decided to run off on a hunt against Dean’s expressed wishes.

So, during the car ride, while referencing rock stars and L. Ron Hubbard, Sam talks about how “faith” makes people do crazy and destructive things. When Castiel protests that he feels responsible for getting his “people home,” Sam continues this rant. Said rant strikes me as quite OOC for a guy who has cited his religious faith and belief in God more than once on the show.

But we’re not quite done with the OOCness for characters this week, not by a long shot. Metatron is at a bowling alley with Gadriel playing his bodyguard, trying to persuade the aforementioned Tyrus to come over to his side. Tyrus loves bowling. Turns out he also loves being independent. And he doesn’t want to go back to Heaven. Fair enough, so far. But then he goes off on this rant about how he doesn’t respect Metatron because Metatron is a “nerd” who is losing to Castiel. When Metatron has Gadriel pull out his angel sword as a not-so-subtle threat, Tyrus is unimpressed, saying that the other angels in his group will just end up going over to Castiel. But he’s willing to reconsider if Metatron wins a game of pins against him (Metatron loses).

Now, this is an also-not-so-subtle reference to Curtis Armstrong having a lead role in 1984 hit Revenge of the Nerds. But it makes no sense in context, especially when Metatron, humiliated, starts to leave after the game, just as a suicide bomber named Constantine shows up and blows up Tyrus (and, presumably, kills a bunch of human bystanders, too).

It’s not just that when Gadriel protects Metatron from the blast, that’s not necessary. Metatron still has his wings and could fly them both out of there quite easily. It’s not even that Tyrus doesn’t really want to go back to Heaven. It’s that Metatron is the character in this interaction who has all the cards. He rules and controls all access to Heaven. He has wings. He could probably kill Tyrus himself. He doesn’t even need Tyrus’ followers, so why is he there? It’s a major plothole that is only partially explained (and not very well) by the end of the episode.

Cut to Castiel and Sam, who are talking to a cocky store clerk who talked to Oren. He didn’t catch Oren’s license plate, but he did get an address Oren asked about. He acts surprised when they ask him to write it down. Why would he mention it in the first place if he didn’t think they’d want the info?

Cut back to Angel 1 Base, where Dean is interviewing one of Oren’s angel colleagues from the hospital. She is snotty toward him (I am starting to see a pattern here and it’s not a good one), even though she is officially under suspicion and whatever he reports back could get her executed. But sure, mouth off and say bigoted things like calling him an “ape.” From the very first, when she informs him that her name is too long and difficult for him to pronounce, so he can call her “Flagstaff” (Dean just responds with a noncommittal “copy”), she’s truculent and uncooperative for no reason that makes sense for the situation her character is in. This is, bizarrely enough, the second Karen (‘Princess’ might be a better name for this variation) character in the story after the one in the ice cream shop.

By the way, if Flagstaff’s actress Kaären de Zilva looks familiar to you, that’s because she’s a frequent flyer in Canadian productions . I remembered her from two different roles in Da Vinci’s Inquest (both with titles involving ducks, for some reason) and a recurring role on its sequel series Da Vinci’s City Hall. I know she’s got a lot more range than playing bitchy and stuck-up, which she could do in her sleep and is all that’s required of her here. Sadly, I think this was just a rent-paying role for her. It’s Flagstaff’s only episode.

After Princess (sorry, Flagstaff) keeps making syrupy endorsements for her suicide bomber bud, and Dean repeatedly asks her why this saint among angels became a suicide bomber, with no response, she goes off on a rant against Dean himself. It’s a patented Andrew Dabb “Dean’s an ape” rant (I don’t think the show ever quite realized how iffy using the word “ape” in relation to humans these days really was and it’s not aged well in the past six years). She insists she’s a “healer” (who, you know, happened to work with a dude who blew up himself, along with a bunch of innocents) and calls Dean a killer with “oceans of blood on your hands. I hate men like you!” (Um … since when are angels doing gender now?)

At this point, Dean’s had enough (Thank God. So had I). With a weary sigh, he suddenly changes demeanor. Flipping the table over, he knocks Flagstaff right to the floor, still in her chair, puts an angel blade to her throat, and says, “Honey, there ain’t no men like me.” Which is not even close to an exaggeration.

At this point, Flagstaff loses all her cockiness and gives up the names of two of Oren’s friends – Constantine and Tessa. Shocked, Dean double-checks she means Tessa the Reaper and Flagstaff acts surprised that he knows her. Makes you wonder why she didn’t just give him the names in the first place.

Cut back to daytime in Pray, MT, where Sam and Castiel are arriving outside what looks like an abandoned warehouse. But Castiel insists that it “radiates power” such as he has never sensed outside Heaven. When Sam goes to pick the lock, Castiel insists, “I got this” and tries to break down the door. But his angel strength isn’t working on it, for some reason. “I don’t got this,” he admits.

Cut to a production of Jesus Christ Superstar later that night (a Christological allusion I missed the last couple of times I watched this episode). Tessa is about to enter the theater when she’s accosted by Dean. He tells her he tracked her from the hospital via the GPS in the ambulance she stole. She asks him why he’s there – just a love for musical theater? He says he only likes Fiddler on the Roof. She tries to turn around and go inside, anyway, but he grabs her and slaps angel cuffs on her, then demands to know where Constantine is (Constantine is blowing up Tyrus at that moment).

At the warehouse, Castiel is showing Sam that the building is covered in Enochian warding. There’s also a riddle.

Castiel: Why is Six afraid of Seven? I assume it’s because Seven is a prime number. Prime numbers can be intimidating.

Sam: It’s because Seven ate Nine.

As soon as Sam says it, the door opens. Castiel compliments him and mentions the “Doors of Durin in Lord of the Rings.” Sam is surprised that Castiel knows about the Lord of the Rings trilogy (Remember that Metatron gave Castiel pop culture knowledge in a previous episode, but it seems the Brothers don’t know about that, uh, gift).

Sam then gets a call from Dean, who has arrived back at Angel HQ with Tessa. Tessa tries to shout into the phone that Dean is a “psycho” (pretty rich coming from a would-be suicide bomber). This concerns Sam. Meanwhile, inside Angel HQ, Flagstaff is being predictably useless and divisive by whining about how Dean was mean to her during her interrogation. Worse, the other angels are actually listening to her.

When Dean comes in with Tessa, they’re all shocked, but for precisely the wrong reasons, even when Tessa declares that there’s “no God – only Castiel.” When Dean shows them that Tessa carved a spell into her own chest, they (led by the wishy-washy Hannah) immediately jump to the conclusion that he wounded her instead of only cutting across the spell to “defuse” it. I mean, they’re angels, with angel eidetic memories, and they’ve seen the video of Oren in the ice cream shop. You’re telling me they wouldn’t be able to confirm with their own eyes (and angel senses) that Dean did exactly what he said he did? Gee, it’s almost as if these angels are more concerned about facing the consequences of their actions than with stopping their own from hurting humans, or each other.

I’ll admit that my recapping temporarily ground to a halt because I just couldn’t even with all the angelic stupidity and hypocrisy in this episode. Lots of incompetent writing all the way round. It makes me feel a little better, knowing none of these angels will still be alive after the next couple of seasons. It saddens me that, for the most part, we don’t get to see their collective demise.

Flagstaff, of course, is right there, hiding behind Hannah and another angel, and putting her oar in. Hannah insists that only Castiel can “punish” Tessa, speaking in exceedingly tepid and academic tones about how, yeah, what Tessa planned was “horrible,” but what can ya do? She claims that only Castiel is holding these disparate angels together (after billions of years of strict obedience, they’ve discovered that much Free Will in just a few months? Really?). Other angels come in from both ends of the corridor, menacingly, to back her up.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Dean gives up his angel blade and agrees to go in with Hannah and just “talk.” As he does, Hannah looks triumphant and smug. Too bad for her she doesn’t know Dean Winchester very well. Translation: Dean doesn’t need an angel blade. He probably brought the First Blade with him.

In Montana, Sam and Castiel are wandering through the big, moldy warehouse, with no clue where they’re going. Sam suggests they head back to Angel HQ, since Dean surely must be right about Tessa (Wait, did he just admit that his brother might be right about something?! Don’t worry – it’ll pass by the end of the episode). Castiel wants to go a little farther and gets ahead of Sam. Sam has spotted something on the wall and is reading it. It says, in red letters, “Only the Penitent shall pass.”

This is, of course, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Sam even lampshades it for those of us who haven’t ever heard of Harrison Ford’s most famous and iconic role). Sam yells a warning at Castiel, just as two giant, razor-sharp, circular blades come out of the wall. Castiel ducks in time. They continue on.

Back at Angel HQ, Tessa is doing an excellent job of damaging Hannah’s inner peace. She declares that Castiel recruited her because he knew she was strong enough to make the hard decisions, unlike some people here (staring pointedly at Hannah). When Dean asks her, what about all the human innocents, Tessa says they’re collateral damage, necessary. Dean rather sadly tells her she’s wrong about that. When she goads Hannah some more, Hannah gets mad and goes after her, but Dean instead grabs Hannah and shoves her back out into the hallway.

All of the other angels have disappeared (production values, I guess). Hannah asks if Dean thinks Tessa is telling the truth. Dean says that Tessa thinks she is. With a rueful look, Hannah silently gives her consent to Dean to interrogate Tessa alone.

In the Montana warehouse, Sam and Castiel finally arrive at something interesting. It’s a door with a light on the other side that’s so bright it shines around the edges and through a window near the top. Castiel insists it’s “the door to Heaven.” He says that it’s “calling” him and rejoices in their new edge on Metatron. If they can control the door, they can “take the fight to him.”

Yep. They took that great and subtle title from that famous Led Zeppelin song and made it completely literal.

Sam warns Castiel to be careful, but all that happens once Castiel opens the door is that they find themselves inside what looks like a Party Town set for Heaven. There are regular balloons and blue mylar dolphin balloons and New Year’s Eve tinsel everywhere while a cover of Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” plays on the soundtrack (Alastair was also singing this while Dean was torturing him in Season 4’s “On the Head of a Pin,” a much-better episode than “Stairway to Heaven”). I think it’s the Fred Astaire version from Top Hat (1935). Castiel is confused and even says, uncharacteristically, “What the hell…?”

Sam finds a card on a nearby table. It says, “Welcome to your personal heaven, Castiel. Good luck finding the real one.”

When Sam turns around, he’s startled to see a badly burned man, lying near the entrance, the two of them hadn’t noticed before. Castiel identifies him as the missing Josiah and says that he “reeks of holy oil.” Glancing above the doorway, Sam sees a contraption that dumped the holy oil on Josiah and then set it on fire. Sam comments that Josiah got “Home Alone’d.” Why would angels need to resort to such a trap? Castiel realizes that the entire setup was “a lie.”

Josiah wakes up suddenly. It turns out he’s not quite dead. He babbles about how Castiel was the one who supposed to be in his position (I think). He bemoans that after Ezra died (i.e., after he killed Ezra), Metatron told him that he could “come home,” which was his dearest wish. After all, he did turn traitor and murderer of his own brethren to win it.

But when Castiel offers to heal him, Josiah refuses, saying he “would rather die” than be beholden to Castiel. He goes off on a rant (There are a lot of character rants in this episode) about how Castiel thinks he’s doing good, but he’s really not. I roll my eyes hard. He claims that Castiel is no longer “one of us” and that when he looks into Castiel’s eyes, he longer can see “an angel staring back at me.” Having delivered that bitter, self-serving little pill, he dies.

Well, we finally got an angel-not-named-Metatron who didn’t think Castiel was All That. Too bad he was a minor villain and a moron, to boot. Made it pretty hard to take anything he said seriously.

Back at Angel HQ, Dean returns to the interrogation room to confront Tessa alone (No, she’s not singing “Cheek to Cheek”). Smirking, she asks where Hannah is. Dean says it’s just the two of them now.

He refers to their shared history. With a smile, Tessa acknowledges their “meet cute” moment when Dean was dying in the Season 2 premiere. Dean asks her again why she agreed to become a suicide bomber. When she mentions Castiel again, Dean goes deeper, asking what her motivations were for joining Castiel and becoming a suicide bomber. Dean claims that while he’s “been in bad shape, I have never been that low.”

Now this requires a bit of parsing. Dean is arguably the most suicidal recurring character in the show. There are times when it’s a constant battle for him to get out of bed. Near the end of Season 9 is not one of his better periods of mental stability.

But I think what Dabb is trying to say is that Dean has never thought taking innocents with him was acceptable just to end his own pain. And that’s a big line. What I don’t understand is why Tessa crossed it. The ensuing conversation doesn’t add much light to that motive.

Tessa says that she “couldn’t stand the screaming, anymore.” Those souls who were bound for Heaven are now instead trapped in the Veil. They are “confused” and in “pain,” a lot like Kevin and the other ghosts in “Captives” earlier this season. She wants, needs, to help them, but she can’t. It got to the point where she began to believe that a final death, oblivion for a Reaper, was preferable, since it was at least peaceful.

Dean asks why she didn’t just kill herself. She admits that she was “weak” until Castiel gave her a reason to die (If this sounds like a wee bit of foreshadowing for the other person in the room, well, you’re not wrong).

Dean opines that’s not the Castiel he knows. She disagrees. She points out that Castiel “raised an army” of angels without telling Dean. She also tells him that there are more suicide bombers “out there,” but when Dean asks for names, she refuses.

At that point, yup, Dean brings out the First Blade. Bizarrely enough, Tessa is actually shocked that he has taken on the Mark of Cain and asks, “Dean, what have you done?”

Dean: What I had to.

Tessa: Welcome to the club.

She grabs him by the shoulders and shoves herself up against the Blade. With a whispered “thank you,” she shoves it in deeper, and dies in a blast of white light and screaming. Dean is briefly dazzled by her death light, then, after she falls, we see him reluctantly ride a crest of a massive high (some nice acting from Ackles here).

Hannah and some other angels burst in to find Dean pretty literally red-handed. Startled out of his high, Dean gets a “Now, hold on a minute” look and puts up a warding hand.

In the next scene, he’s the one in cuffs, shackled to a chair with a piece of duct tape over his mouth and a bloody nose, looking disgusted. Castiel and Sam come in as Hannah is trying to explain that “he put up a fight.” Oh, hon, bless your heart. If he’d really done that, there wouldn’t have been any of you left.

Castiel tells her in a deadly voice, “Get out.” She and the others scurry off, sensing they have, um, crossed a big line.

As Sam goes to rip the duct tape (painfully) off Dean’s mouth and uncuff him, Castiel yells at him about killing Tessa and Sam berates him for bringing the First Blade. Gotta be honest – I had to stop the recap for a while because the way Castiel and Sam were acting was so mind-blowingly stupid and clearly a case of the writer having the characters act Dumb on Cue to further the plot.

Look at how the situation would have appeared to Sam and Castiel coming back into it. They know they left Dean alone with a bunch of angels who didn’t like him. They know said angels had at least one traitor (Josiah) in their ranks who killed at least one angel prisoner at Metatron’s behest, and that others have gone missing and turned up as suicide bombers. They know that Tessa turned up dead shortly after Dean outed her as a would-be suicide bomber and that he got the crap beaten out of him by the other angels.

Unlike the writer, they don’t know that Dean Winchester is a lead character on this show and that he has plot armor that means he’s unlikely to get killed permanently in this episode. As far as they know, he’s still human, with some augmented aggression, reflexes and maybe strength.

So, why are they automatically buying the angels’ side of the story? That makes no sense. I mean I get that Castiel feels some responsibility for his brethren’s plight (obviously), and that Sam is shocked about Tessa’s death, but Sam doesn’t even like or trust the other angels and he wasn’t that close to Tessa. It’s really out of character for Sam, especially.

Dean points out that Tessa stabbed herself. Rather than absorb this information, and try to figure out how it fits into the pieces he and Castiel found in Montana, Sam instead goes off on a controlling rant about how Dean brought the First Blade along against Sam’s express wishes. Never has Sam sounded more like Cuthbert Sinclair than in this moment. It’s not flattering.

Hannah injudiciously chooses said moment to interrupt and say that Castiel has a “call” from Metatron. Castiel comes out into the main area of Angel HQ to find Hannah has put Metatron up on a large desktop screen so everyone can hear what he has to say. Boy, these angels with no experience with or interest in Free Will sure are using it this episode.

Metatron, very predictably, is there to gloat (Metatron, alas, is very predictable). After engaging in a brief exchange of snark with Dean (which includes the usual obligatory Dabb insults to Dean’s intelligence and education), he then proceeds to unload his coup de grace on Castiel’s struggling campaign.

First, he sets up the worst frame job ever by claiming Castiel sent the suicide bomber who killed Tyrus. He also claims that Tyrus’ followers are now flocking to his side and that everything he did to cause the angels to fall was “necessary.” He did it to make them collectively stronger. And, oh, yeah, he digs the knife a bit that Castiel cares more about the Winchesters than his own angelic family.

When Castiel calls him out on his lies and Hannah whines a bit, Metatron catches Castiel in on one of his own. He lets everyone know that Castiel is only an angel again because he graced-up on another angel’s stolen grace. That’s his big play. Well, that and he offers the other angels re-entry into Heaven, no questions asked, but only if they act now. Then he peaces out.

After some pearl-clutching over how they’re only doing this because they’re now questioning if Castiel is still “angel” enough to lead them, Hannah and the others grab Dean and demand that Castiel prove himself by “punishing” Dean for killing Tessa (Hannah really throws Dean under the bus here, distancing herself from her own responsibility in the situation). I briefly entertain the wish that they’d actually tried to kill Dean, as this would undoubtedly have led to their mass demise not too long afterward. I especially would have liked to see Flagstaff go down bloody.

Sadly, Dabb’s just filling up screentime at this point. Castiel, after some woeful, conflicted gurning, refuses to do any such thing to his best friend. So, the angels take that as their excuse to bail. And bail they do, right back to Metatron.

What gets me about this plot point is that Metatron never needed to get Castiel to form an army or anything like that in the first place. He could have just offered the angels amnesty up front and most of them would have hurried right home. He even admits this in his speech when he allows that having Gadriel massacre Hannah’s group wasn’t his greatest decision as a leader ever.

So, in that light, it makes sense that they would go with Metatron. They’re sheep looking for a leader and he’s the only one with the key home. What doesn’t make sense is why they followed Castiel first, or why they all got massacred for refusing to follow Metatron beforehand. Honestly, it’s all pretty dumb.

Also, while I know poor Erica Carroll tried hard with this character, did anyone like Hannah? She constantly flip-flopped between professing great loyalty to Castiel and stabbing him in the back. And trust me on this – she only gets worse in Season 10.

Cut to Metatron’s office in Heaven. He’s coming in, while on a cell phone (really, Show? That’s cheap). He’s talking to Hannah, I guess, accepting her group’s undying loyalty and devotion. Gadriel is sitting in a chair, looking totally pissed off.

Remember Ezra’s “elite unit” info from a few episodes ago? Those were the suicide bombers. Gadriel recruited them, not realizing that Metatron intended to brainwash them into betraying and discrediting Castiel.

After imperiously telling Gadriel that that part of the plan was “none of your business,” Metatron then natters off on a tangent about how “that’s an old writer’s trick – flipping the script.” He Evil Overlords his entire plan (which we already knew about, actually, when he told Castiel). He built up Castiel as a major antagonist and then took him down. As far as I can tell, the whole point was to get the majority of the angels to come crawling back to Heaven and break the rest of their spirit. Okay. I guess.

Metatron then declares, “I am inevitable.” Which is about the moment we know for sure he’s doomed (A minor villain in Bond flick GoldenEye (1995), for example, declares “I am invincible!” right before he’s flash-frozen). Now this statement has been made famous by Avengers: Endgame (which Supernatural, Season 15, ripped off a whole lot). The film’s villain, Thanos, utters this line, believing he has achieved ultimate victory, right before his final defeat.

Curiously, though, “Stairway to Heaven” aired in 2014, five years before Endgame came out. And I don’t recall the original plot in the comics having Thanos utter that line (His motives for getting the stones are very, very different in the comics). So, it looks as though the film may actually have stolen it from this episode. Huh.

Standing up and looming over Metatron, with a look on his face as if he just encountered a really nasty smell, Gadriel then easily draws out the rest of Metatron’s rather silly plot by asking about Josiah. Metatron dismissively calls Josiah “a loose end.” He says with a naughty giggle that he did tell Josiah where to find the portal to Heaven, but then he moved it. Oops. His one regret is that Castiel didn’t fall victim to one of his booby traps.

Metatron: While everyone else is playing Checkers, I’m playing Monopoly. And I always build a hotel on Boardwalk. And I always win.

As Gadriel looks as though he’s about to throw up, Metatron sits down with a triumphant smile. If there’s one thing that’s the silliest in this pretty ludicrous script, it’s that Metatron, who just finished boasting about how he’s manipulated all the other angels into doing exactly what he wanted by staying several steps ahead of them, then lets Gadriel walk out that door. It is a classic Evil Overlord mistake that he doesn’t notice how much his right-hand angel wants to just puke on his shoes and then knife him in that moment. Sure, he probably can foresee that Gadriel’s about to betray him (as he foresaw Gadriel’s previous meeting with Castiel). But it’s still a rookie Evil Overlord mistake to let him try.

Cut to the Impala at night, in the rain, Dean driving, Sam on shotgun, Castiel in the back. We get a relative closeup of each one of them, starting with Sam’s epic bitchface, Castiel pensive and sad, and Dean looking as if he couldn’t possibly care less what Sam thinks. Right there with ya, Dean.

Back at the Bunker, Sam pushes this boundary right away by wanting to “talk about this” (translation: get Dean to apologize for bringing the First Blade along without Sam’s permission). Dean responds with one of my favorite Dean lines ever, especially with Ackles’ offhandedly snarky delivery, in which he makes it very clear he is not apologizing.

Dean: Yeah, I lied. But you were being an infant.

Now, I know Dean is already pretty bonkers at this point, as demonstrated by his next rant, where he gets angry and tells Sam theirs is no longer a partnership, but a “dictatorship,” until Dean is able to kill Metatron. But he’s not wrong, either. He’s not wrong that he’s the only one with the current means to kill Metatron and he’s not wrong that Sam was “being an infant” this episode.

Sam does not get to have mort-main control over Dean’s own Free Will. It’s morally questionable and that’s all there is to it. Sam doesn’t have to like it and Dean is certainly being scary, but neither is Dean wrong.

This is borne out by what each brother does next. While Sam stomps off in a snit (to his room, I guess), Dean comes into the Library and sits down across from Castiel, who looks woeful, to check on him. Dean asks him, “How long you got?” Castiel says he hopes it’s long enough to take down Metatron, but he’s less hopeful now they no longer have an army (which was totally useless, but there you go). Note that after hearing their friend is, essentially, dying, Sam goes off to sulk and Dean comes over to reassure him. You know, the crazy, “insensitive,” out-of-control brother.

When Dean tells Castiel that at least he has the Brothers Winchester, Castiel asks if Dean really believes he sent Tessa and the others out as suicide bombers. Now, remember that Tessa tried to sow doubt in Dean’s mind earlier about that. But just as the angels realized that Castiel cared more about the Winchesters (well … Dean) than them, so did Dean. Dean figures that if Castiel was willing to lose his army taking the high road on that score, he’s not the type to use his own brethren as suicide bombers like that.

Castiel wonders if the three of them will be enough. Dean says, “We always have been.” But it turns out they may not need to test that theory. As Sam, coming back into the Map Room, calls out a warning, Gadriel enters through … the back door? Seriously? He was there all along? How did he get back in? Yes, he was in the Bunker for a long time, but it’s supposed to be warded even against angels and the script gives no explanation about whether he copied the key or did a spell, or what. He pops up out of a literal plothole.

Anyhoo, Gadriel claims he’s there in peace. In response to Sam’s truculent, but on-point, question of how they can trust him, Gadriel says he can give them Metatron. Hmm, haven’t we heard this one before?

He appeals next to Castiel, revealing that the suicide bomber plan was Metatron’s. Then he more generally admits, “I’ve made mistakes.” Well, there’s an understatement, especially when he tries to argue the others have, too. Not a winning argument, there, Gadriel. Just saying.

He asks for a second chance. Dean, who appears to be considering his offer, glances at Sam, who gives him a half-hearted shrug. Slowly and cautiously, Dean steps down into the Map Room, approaches Gadriel, and holds out his hand. Looking relieved, Gadriel takes Dean’s hand.

But then Dean’s microexpression changes to one of cynicism and then pure rage as he whips out the First Blade in slowmo and rips a diagonal, glowing line across Gadriel’s torso. As Gadriel falls back against a pillar in horror and pain, Castiel and Sam have to restrain Dean from finishing the job, as Dean roars and puffs like a maddened and frustrated bull.

Credits

Ratings for this episode came in at 0.8/2 in the A18-49 demo and 1.74 million in audience.

Review: I didn’t retain a whole lot of memory of “Stairway to Heaven” before my rewatch, aside from the angels being annoying, Dean going after Gadriel (that “infant” line was also memorable), and Tessa’s death, which I didn’t like the first time. I didn’t like it the second time round, either.

Watching it in light of the series finale, I was surprised to see that Andrew Dabb (who wrote this episode) basically ripped off the end of Season 9 for Season 15, as well, without apparently understanding what made Season 9 popular (Hint: It was the Mark of Cain storyline and an amped-up dark Dean). We have a bored, tyrannical and capricious God character who also fancies himself a storyteller. We have the question of Predestination vs. Free Will. We have a lot of gaslighting and manipulation and handwaving of nonsense in the plot as “It was all a trick!” It’s basically the same old conflict all over again.

It also has many of the flaws in it that we’d see later on during Dabb’s showrunner tenure, not least the tendency to write an ending and then shoehorn everything toward that ending instead of building it up properly. We also got a lot of Dean-bashing in this episode, which, strangely enough, usually backfired because so many of the characters were flat stereotypes with poor motivations.

This episode is well-directed (by series regular Guy Norman Bee, whom I’ve always liked), so the pacing and production values are good. There is some original framing (particularly in contrast of character lighting and filming characters from weird angles like the ground) that increases the sense of paranoia and something’s-not-quite-right in the episode. There’s also some memorable acting from Jensen Ackles, as Dean begins to visibly decompensate. The reliably snarky Lindsey McKeon as Tessa tries hard, but it’s not a very good script and she doesn’t get a whole lot to work with. Unfortunately. I liked Tessa.

The writing doesn’t only suffer from major plotholes (like that ill-conceived decision to make Reapers into angels that the writers finally just dropped). Its subtext is also extremely chaotic. I often found following Metatron-centered episodes in Season 9 unnecessarily confusing with all the cross and double-cross and false flag crap, which was basically there just to mask underdeveloped plotting and characterization. It wasn’t satisfying.

A lot of fans blamed showrunner Jeremy Carver at the time, and he should take some licks for it, since he, at the least, allowed it to happen on his watch. But considering how badly the show went downhill in terms of mytharc after Carver left, I think it’s totally legit to call out future showrunner Andrew Dabb on trends and problems within his own episodes that would later pop up during his showrunner tenure.

The events of “Stairway to Heaven” make it pretty clear that the angels were tricked by a mean-spirited, cold-blooded plan by Metatron that brainwashed Castiel’s own troops into killing themselves, murdering innocent humans, and even assassinating Metatron’s own, most loyal forces, to “discredit” Castiel. Metatron’s motives are pretty thin and low stakes (for him). It’s not Metatron trying to win, let alone survive. It’s just Metatron being bored and messing around with pawns. He’s already won the most important battle and, without Sam and Dean (especially an amped-up Dean), neither Castiel nor any of the other angels would have a chance against him. If anything, angels, without their wings, are ridiculously depowered in this season and that hits a nadir this week.

Therefore, every time the angels in Castiel’s camp get mad at Dean or Castiel, or run off to become suicide bombers, or betray their own brethren so they can go to Heaven, they are (or should be) clearly in the wrong. And yet, Dabb can’t seem to resist casting Dean (and sometimes Castiel, when Dean’s not handy) as the bad guy. He has everyone question whether Dean is in control of his own bloodlust (because apparently, cold-bloodedly choosing to kill yourself, along with a bunch of innocents, because you’re too much of a coward to just off yourself, is so much better). This is a bizarre subtext take when Dean is (albeit struggling at it) maintaining control and doesn’t kill anyone this week (Reminder: Tessa killed herself).

Also, being in control in this context is vastly overrated, when Metatron is in clear control for most of the episode (especially after we get the reveal near the end). Yet, only Gadriel is the one who finally realizes that Metatron is the true villain here and then Dabb has him run afoul of Dean’s rage in the coda. So, Dean can’t catch a reputation break with Andrew Dabb even then.

I finally realized why later-season angels irritated me so much. They’re boring, yes, but they’re also cookie-cutter versions of the same one-or-two character types. Either they’re too robotic (and gullible) or they’re too human. Neither type is very mysterious or interesting (unlike Castiel or other memorable earlier angel characters like Uriel, Gabriel, Raphael, Balthazar and Naomi).

Take Hannah. She’s not very bright. A small houseplant could fool her. It irritated me a whole lot that both she and Tessa threw Dean under the bus with the other angels by pretending he had done things without their knowledge or consent that they’d given explicit consent to. This, of course, was Tessa’s last episode, but Hannah returned for a while and I think her wishy-washy, “both sides,” genteely racist characterization here damaged her reputation permanently with the audience.

There are others on the robotic side like her, but they’re barely in the story (one infodumping dude even wears a red shirt). She professes to be loyal to Castiel and willing to follow him everywhere, but “everywhere” doesn’t seem to include putting up with Castiel bringing the Winchester Brothers in to do an external inspection of the troops.

The Winchesters – Dean especially – are like Pinkerton detectives in a Dashiel Hammett story like “Red Harvest” (Love me some Continental Op), where nobody in the corrupt town is thrilled to see this canny investigator exposing their secrets and crimes. So, it makes some sense that the angels don’t welcome Dean with open arms.

The problem here is that the angels, especially in Hannah’s group, aren’t supposed to be that peculiarly human kind of corrupt, so it’s weird when they start hypocritically ranting at Dean or Castiel or whomever for crashing their nice little racket that isn’t supposed to be running in the first place. By the end of the episode, Hannah and the others were ready to bail on Castiel for very stupid reasons.

Similarly, while it’s obvious at this point he’s been having his suspicions of Metatron for a while, Gadriel has been mighty slow on the uptake for half a season. He seems to be seeing through Metatron now, finally, but he sure did a lot of damage in his boss’ name up to this point.

On the flip side, you have angels who are inexplicably too human. Angels don’t have gender, so why does Flagstaff sound like a Men’s Rights Advocate on 4chan’s idea of what a member of a Women’s Studies Program sounds like? Why is an angel like Tyrus going around calling other angels nerds (and why is he so careless that he doesn’t even show up to a meet with Metatron with a bodyguard, who would have stopped Constantine in his tracks)? Why is Metatron acting like the bullied kid in school looking for revenge when 1. he’s an angel and 2. he currently has all the power?

While I agree that “Stairway to Heaven” intends to show us that Dean is losing control and that the angels have a legitimate reason to fear him, I disagree that it was successful. In fact, I would call it a red herring that mutated horrendously due to the writer’s dislike of Dean as a character. Dean does not lose control in the episode until the very end – we know this because he didn’t kill any angels (Tessa committed suicide and effectively framed him for it), not even when they attacked him, bloodied his nose, and tied him to a chair. He could have, rather easily, massacred them all, but he didn’t. He didn’t even injure any of them.

Yes, the Mark of Cain has made him strong enough to match ten angels (without their wings) while holding back. And yes, he is struggling. That’s definitely true. But his motives and actions make more sense in this episode than pretty much anyone else’s. That also makes him the most sympathetic character because it’s easy to see where he’s coming from.

Dean is brought in, with Sam, by Castiel to help solve a mystery. Castiel then runs off to Montana on a mission he could (and should) have delegated to one of his troops. He leaves Dean alone with a bunch of angels who already don’t like humans and who know that he is there to find a killer among their own.

Even though they can’t kill him, Dean is in a vulnerable position with the other angels. They treat him with inexplicable disdain as if he’s Frankenstein’s Creature. I mean, they’re following Castiel, who has a much higher angelic body count than probably Dean’s entire lifelong body count, but Dean is the one who freaks them out? Like, what did you think you were doing there, Castiel?

So, when the angels are getting their knickers in a wad over what Dean’s doing, ultimately, he’s doing what he was asked to come in and do (and he does find and defuse one suicide bomber, which is more than anyone else accomplishes). Seems pretty unfair to blame him for … doing what he was asked to come in and do.

Not helping their case is how little the angels care about the fact that they had at least one traitor in their midst (Josiah) who was working for the enemy, or that at least three of their number (Oren, Tessa and Constantine) had been brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers who were murdering innocent humans (and, in Oren’s case, another angel on his side) as collateral damage. I rolled my eyes pretty hard when Flagstaff was going on and on about being a healer and helping humans, while covering for her angelic comrades who were murdering humans left and right. This indifference makes the angels look more petty and hypocritical than scared.

I mean, of course Dean is going to be pissed off that angels are going on rogue suicide missions that get humans killed. He’s human. Augmented human at this point, to be sure, but still human. He’s gonna side with his own people who are getting slaughtered in the crossfire of Yet Another Stupid Angel Conflict. Karen may have been a pushy bitch, but that didn’t merit a death sentence, any more than her son wanting a version of Angel Kid’s banana split or Selfie Dude wanting to take some foodie porn of his ice cream.

What’s especially bizarre is that the angels’ don’t-cross line is finding out that Castiel stole grace to re-angel up, enough that they were willing to abandon him en masse when he refused to kill (sorry, “punish”) Dean. They then went over to the angel who had vindictively kicked them all out of Heaven and taken away their wings. Because that makes sense.

This is why all the blatant cult parallels in the script fall apart for me. In the end, Castiel doesn’t really have that kind of control over his brethren. That’s just an illusion. And the brainwashed angels were brainwashed by Metatron, with Gadriel’s inadvertent help.

Another thing that didn’t make sense to me was Tessa’s characterization in this one. In fact, if she weren’t played by the same actress and didn’t have the same name, I’d question whether she was even the same character. The Tessa we saw in previous episodes was cold and detached and even arrogant. But she wasn’t fanatical and she didn’t hate Dean. She was dedicated to maintaining the Natural Order. Becoming a suicide bomber for a rebel angel is pretty much anything but that. The saltiest we saw her get with Dean was in Season 6, when she disliked having to babysit him for a day to teach him her boss’ lesson. It was a sad and underwhelming ending to a beloved character who had been around since Season 2. I read an interview with Taylor Cole once that said that around this time, the writers were having older characters come back, but only to kill them off. Yay. Screw you, Dabb.

Then there’s how this episode continued the retcon from earlier in the season of making Reapers angels. We can probably blame the incompetent Nepotism Duo for this one, but Dabb must have liked it because he went to town with it in this episode. It. Makes. No. Sense.

There is nothing in the lore prior to Season 9 that makes Reapers angels (even the execrable “Taxi Driver” from Season 8 was ambiguous about its changes). Death is, most explicitly, not an angel. Reapers have very different powers and nature to those of angels.

Yeah, I know this season also introduced (rather limply) the idea that there were “specialist” angels with their own powers, but even those angels shared basic powers and nature with other angels. Reapers don’t. They don’t have wings. They don’t possess people, prior to “Taxi Driver.” They don’t look like angels. They can’t be seen by humans unless they choose to. They have powers of illusion and even reality manipulation. They can stop time.

There is no logical reason, for example, why Tessa would happen to possess a vessel who looks just like the pretty illusion of her previous, incorporeal form that she used to comfort Dean in Season 2. Since Reapers don’t have wings, and Death is one of the most powerful beings in the SPNverse, there is no reason they would be blocked from bringing souls to Heaven. Nor is there any mention of what happens to souls going to Purgatory or Hell (I guess they still can?).

The show spent a lot of effort developing the idea of the Veil, but never quite committed to it. Eventually, they let it drop around the end of Season 11 (when a Reaper cleared it out at one blow). It was one of those hot messes of a major dropped plot in the later seasons, like how the lack of angels in Heaven threatened to make it fall apart and land in fiery pieces onto the Earth. That one went absolutely nowhere, despite multiple chances to resolve it. The Veil did, too, and Reapers were basically back to being just Reapers by Season 15.

I have to say that I found the casual way the script treated the morality of the suicide bombers very disturbing. Suicide bombing that doesn’t care about the collateral damage of innocents just seems to be one of those things that are bad, however you slice them. Like, oh, say, murdering babies (Anakin Skywalker, side-eyeing you forever). By making all of the suicide bombers white, the show seemed to want to avoid the taint of racism or Islamophobia (since many Americans see terrorists only as non-white, Muslim, or both). Unfortunately, they then cast a woman of color as their Fellow Traveler/Apologist character.

Worse, Kaären de Zilva is of Sri Lankan descent and that casting got used as some pretty questionable character subtext. Sri Lanka is a country with a major and problematical history of organized female suicide bombers called the Black Tigers, and this plotline was obviously inspired by them (the “elite unit” bit was a major clue). This puts a new spin on Flagstaff’s self-serving rant at Dean about hating “men like you” and it’s not a pleasant one.

It also makes little sense within the context of this story. Dean, far from being a soulless government operative, is an idiosyncratic freelancer from beyond the edges of respectable society, coming in at the behest of a friend – totally different dynamic, even without the original racial one. So, the show managed to whitewash this plot for the most part without removing any of the more problematical elements. That’s some feat, Dabb.

I got the impression that Dabb thought he was doing Jayne Cobb (“Let’s be bad guys!”) from Firefly, and Jayne’s rather rough-and-ready (and not too bright) approach to things, with Dean. But Dean has been coming off all season, at least internally, a lot more like River Tam. That’s a pretty fundamental lack of grasp with a character.

Now I said that Dean loses control near the end and this is true, but even then, his motives make more sense than anyone else’s. Sure, we the audience know that Gadriel is sincere … of course, we also knew he was sincere earlier in the season, too, and see how that turned out. He means well, but he does tend to be an unpredictably murderous, gullible flake.

But there is no way for TFW to know that he’s on the level. He has already betrayed them once in the worst possible way. It’s gonna take a whole lot more than popping up uninvited in the Bunker for a cup of tea to convince them that it’s safe enough to work with him again to let him back in.

The way Sam and Castiel respond sorta, kinda makes sense, but not in a way that makes them look very good. They’ve spent much of Season 9 blaming Dean for how things turned out with Gadriel and Castiel has also had a meeting with Gadriel pretty much behind Sam and Dean’s back. Sam, meanwhile, was possessed for half a season, so he missed a lot.

But they didn’t witness first-hand most of what Gadriel actually did. Dean, on the other hand, had a front row seat to the shitshow Gadriel put him through. He’s the one Gadriel strong-armed into kicking out Castiel while Castiel was lost and still human. He’s the one who got pinned to a wall and forced to watch while Gadriel used his brother’s body to murder Kevin. It is completely in character for him to attack Gadriel. Sure, the completely bonkers ferocity with which he does it is new, but he was bound to be pissed off.

Which leads us to whatever the hell Sam thinks he gets to do here, which looks an awful lot like what Magnus was trying to do to Dean, which was calling the shots while using Dean as his personal living weapon. Unfortunately, the episode’s writing never fully acknowledges that this is precisely what Sam is doing, so it sure as hell doesn’t have Sam recognize it. Sam seems to believe that the Mark of Cain is something that Dean can – and should – share with his brother, that Dean should be consulting with Sam about when and how to wield the First Blade, even letting Sam call the shots on that.

To quote a certain Amazon princess, “Where I’m from, that’s called slavery.”

Look, it’s totally legit for Sam to be freaked out by the changes going on inside his brother, the journey that Dean is on, and say so. I mean, Dean‘s freaked out. But there’s a difference between having healthy boundaries and trying to control the other person. A big difference. And Sam ain’t on the healthy boundaries side. The Mark is Dean’s cross to bear and the First Blade is Dean’s weapon to wield. There is no team involved. Dean is not Secretariat. He doesn’t need Sam to play jockey in order to be effective.

I think I’ve already said in past reviews that the Mark seems to have an effect on the people around the bearer of it and not just the bearer, that makes the bearer a victim of their manipulation and gaslighting (so perhaps this is another way for the Mark to isolate the bearer). We didn’t just see this with Dean. It was clear in what we saw of Cain’s story, too, and even what we heard about when Lucifer had it.

Its power appears to inspire envy and covetousness (despite its being a curse and a heavy one, at that), where others, in their desire to control it, seek to turn the bearer into a living weapon, enslaved to whoever can control the bearer. But Dean is not a living weapon. He is a person. And he deserves better from those who claim to love him.

Next week: Do You Believe in Miracles? (Season Finale): As Dean unravels, Sam and Castiel struggle to find a way to defeat Metatron. But a dark horse decision changes the entire game.

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

Season 15

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