Category Archives: Season 9

The Official Supernatural: “Alex Annie Alexis Ann” (9.19) Retro Recap and Review

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According to recent reports from Vancouver, the cast returned to work the first week of August (about two weeks late) . Jensen Ackles also explained in a recent virtual “fan experience” through Creation Con that the writing for the last two episodes has been tweaked to reflect recent events (i.e., the Coronavirus pandemic). With these writers, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. He also said that 15.19 will be a season finale, while 15.20 is more like a series finale (and expressed sadness on Instagram when he got the final script, which said “The End” instead of the usual “To Be Continued”). In an already truncated final season, that likely means we’ll get stuck with some filler clips episode as the last one. Yay.

The show is returning October 8 and the series finale will be November 19. Yes, it’s back on Thursdays. If I manage to stay on track, I should be able to post the season nine finale retro review right after the show comes back on Sunday, then bring in the newest season five recap and review the following Thursday.

There are some new trailers out for the last episodes. Finally.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat and I’ve got a house full of fosters right now. 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: Recap of how to kill vampires, with a Dean voiceover, and one about Jody that specifies how her zombie son ate her husband, and then she found religion and hunting monsters.

Cut to Now where a Sioux Falls cop is wrestling a young woman down the halls of Jody’s precinct. He puts her in a holding cell, but as he sits down in exhaustion, he gets a call over the radio. Despite her pleas that he not leave her there alone (and it’s against rules for him to do so), he takes the call. She looks scared.

Time passes and as it gets dark, she hears a noise outside her cell. A young man in a tan jacket appears outside. She knows him. His name is Cody. When she asks how he found her, he scoffs. Seems she ran away while the rest of the family was “off on a hunt” and he came to fetch her before she could get the two of them in trouble. When she says he can’t get to her in the cell, he shows her the keys and opens the door as she backs away.

It turns out that Cody faked the call the officer got, then attacked him when he arrived. He says “he barely saw me coming” as he shows vampire teeth. When he tells that her that “we will always find you,” he never sees Jody coming when she beheads him from behind with a fire axe. Go Jody.

Cue title cards.

Cut to a daytime exterior shot of a Sioux Falls sheriff’s car and the precinct’s parking lot as the Impala arrives in the rain. Jody is waiting for them as they get out. Smiles of greeting all around and a reference to her last case with them, when she got stabbed in the shoulder by a crazy goddess (“Only aches when it rains”).

When she asks them how they’re doing, they answer almost simultaneously.

Dean: Peachy.

Sam: Touch and go.

Jody: I know the feeling.

She quickly gets down to business. Opening her cruiser trunk, she shows them the bisected body of the “young man” (now revealed to be a vampire). Sam checks for the teeth and comfirms it.

Dean: I dunno, Sammy. Looks like Jody might not need our help, anymore.

Sam: Ah, they grow up too fast.

Dean: Don’t they?

Jody smiles at the compliment, but explains that there are a few extra wrinkles in this case and those she does need help with. She explains about the girl who was brought in during the teaser and that she overheard the conversation with Doomed Teaser Vampire, how the others he was with were coming after her, too. Also, the girl (a Jane Doe) had a one-way ticket out of O’Neill, Nebraska. And is practically feral.

The Brothers explain that the girl is probably running from a nest of vampires. Then they have to explain to Jody what a nest is. She’s a little horrified.

Inside, while the girl is handcuffed to a chair, Sam gives her a pretty rough check of her gums. She comes up human.

Recognizing what the check is for, she snarks that she doubts the Brothers are FBI and correctly guesses that they’re Hunters. After a dual brotherly double-take, Dean asks some equally uncomfortable questions about why the dead vampire was after her, who are the “others” coming and are they a nest? After suggesting that the first thing she should have done was thank Jody, he also notices a bite mark on her neck, which she tries to cover up, with an uneasy look.

Jody comes in with some new information. Outside the holding cell, they discuss it. They have an ID on the girl via DNA. Her name is Annie Jones and she was abducted from her grandmother (now deceased) near Kenosha, WI in 2006. Jody wonders if Annie was originally kidnapped by the vampires, but Dean thinks it’s more likely the vampires abducted her more recently – they don’t tend to keep human captives long. They either kill or turn them. Jody’s not so sure, pointing out that the exchange between Annie and the vampire seemed “familiar.”

Sam points out that Annie has a lot of old feeding scars on her neck. Dean says, so Sam thinks she was a blood slave for that long? Dean explains to Jody that they have seen humans kept by vampires as “pets,” fed on but not killed by the vampires. The humans become devoted to their masters (Jody calls it “Vampire Stockholm Syndrome”).

Dean: She’s protecting the nest.

The Brothers go in to talk to Annie (who insists her name is Alex) and try to break her conditioning, with Jody watching. Sam plays Good Cop, Dean Bad Cop. Annie says that she ran away because “it was time” to go off on her own. The Brothers note that’s not how this works. When Sam says the nest has her scent and points out that the vampires fed on her, Annie/Alex insists that feeding her “brothers” was her choice. They brought her food, so when they were unsuccessful in finding humans to feed on, she gave them her blood.

She tries to flash out in anger at Jody for killing Cody, but Dean coldly brings her back down off her high horse by saying that her choices brought her and Cody to this station, and got Cody killed. He asks her where the nest is, but she says that she can’t. She says that “Mama” will kill her now if she finds her. This upsets her.

Outside, Jody seems to be getting emotionally involved and Dean asks if she’s okay (she insists she is). She muses that it’s no wonder the girl didn’t thank her, since to her, the vampire was her brother, not a monster. She also wonders why they bothered to change her name to something so similar.

Sam does some research on O’Neill and comes up with an abandoned fire station and a few homes that might serve as a vampire nest. He and Dean can go check out it out quickly and easily. They ask Jody if she’s okay babysitting “Alex” and suggest she take her away from the station. Vampires, being natural trackers, already know the location in looking for her. Jody says she has “an old family cabin” in the woods near town. She can take Alex there. But she refuses Dean’s suggestion of backup. It turns out the officer from the teaser isn’t dead, but still has no idea what attacked him. Jody doesn’t want to have to give The Talk to half her police force, so she doesn’t bring the officer into the loop.

The Brothers tell her about the uses of dead man’s blood. Though she allows that would be a good thing to have, she feels sure (not sounding too sure) that the Brothers will have cleared out the nest and be back before any of that is necessary. Dean, holding a styrofoam cup of coffee, gives her a half-salute. The Brothers walk off to “Dean’s Dirty Organ” (been a while since they used that) and Jody’s bravado slipping after they leave.

Cut to the back bumper of an old pickup with Nebraska plates while nearby, a woman in a bus station uniform is closing up the station. She’s on her phone to someone who objected to her pulling a double shift. She points out her co-worker never showed up, so she had no choice.

As she walks to her car, a very redneck-y kind of dude walks up behind her. He fake-apologizes for startling her as she turns around, then asks her if she’s seen Alex. Identifying him as Connor and Alex as his sister, the bus station worker says that she hasn’t. As two more rednecks come up behind him, he reveals that he’s just toying with her. He knows she sold Alex the bus ticket she got out of O’Neill.

The woman not-quite confesses to it, while calling the family “weird.” But she gets scared when Connor tells her the co-worker who left her in the lurch told them she sold Alex the ticket. And he didn’t show up for work because they killed him afterward. That’s when she starts running. But a red-headed older woman pops up and laughs at the bus worker calling her family weird: “Oh, honey, you have no idea.” The bus worker screams as the older woman shows fangs.

Y’know, I’ve always really felt bad for this particular redshirt. All she did was help a girl out of what she (accurately) felt was a bad and abusive situation. And not only did she end up dead, but nobody even noticed. That’s harsh.

Also that night, Jody is pulling up in her cop car to the cabin with Alex. Jody smiles at Alex’s silence, saying the place is “nicer” on the inside. She has great memories of going there with her parents and then her – her smile fades as she remembers her husband and son. Alex notices the omission.

On the way in, Jody points out that they’re in the middle of the woods. Alex says she knows what that means – it’s pointless to run. She’s heard that one before, I guess.

Inside, as Jody is pulling groceries out of bags, Alex is putting up a front. She picks a crucifix off the wall and notes that it doesn’t actually work on vampires (Jody says that’s not why she has one). Then she starts picking through the family photos Jody has on the mantle. She asks about Jody’s family in a dismissive way, even when Jody says that they are dead. Jody points out that Alex could have asked a lot more politely.

Alex: How did they die?

Jody: Horribly.

Jody offers to make up a bed for Alex, knowing full well she didn’t sleep at the station the night before. Alex refuses and sits on the couch. Jody shrugs and goes back to unpacking groceries.

In O’Neill, the Brothers are entering a house at night, with flashlights (perhaps not the best time to hunt vampires, but okay). They find bedding, even though the house has been foreclosed on. Dean figures the vampires are squatting. Sam notices windows painted black. When they hear a noise, they go to investigate.

Out back, a redneck vampire is shoving a woman’s body into a wood chipper. Dean comes out, holding a machete, asking if the guy needs a hand (“Oh! I see you already have one!”). When the vamp shows teeth, Sam comes up behind him and smacks him over the head with the shovel. Not the sharpest fangs in the rack, these vampires.

The Brothers chain him up inside the house and interrogate him, mocking him for botching even a low-level job like hiding bodies. They’ve also found the IDs for the two dead bus station employees and ask why the nest targeted them. The vampire claims it was just “hunger.”

His eyes looking black, Dean strolls over to the vamp, grabs him by the hair, and reiterates his question. The vampire, being stupid, just laughs. Goodbye Stupid Redneck Vamp. It was real.

At the Sioux Falls station, it’s night-time as well. Poor Frank (Doomed Teaser Cop) is on duty when in comes the nest. And they can apparently smell Alex all over him.

Back in O’Neill, Dean finally gets the vampire to talk by obliquely mentioning Alex as a victim of the nest. The vamp calls her “Alexis” and boy, does he have some brewing resentment toward her. Sibling rivalry, amirite?

Sam gets a few questions in there, too, when the vampire mentions “Mama,” correctly guessing that she was the original vampire who turned the rest (Super-Wiki says her name is “Celia,” but there’s no dialogue to that effect in the episode). Their prisoner’s resentment of Alex stems from Mama’s refusal to turn Alex like the others. Mama was too sentimental about her, even though he warned her Alex would get them into trouble, even though Alex acted out. It seems Alex was getting increasingly upset about the way the vampires fed on humans.

Stupid Redneck Vampire: Like she’s better than us.

Dean: She is better than you, dumbass!

The vampire claims that Alex’s “teenage identity crisis” is just an act. He brags about how the nest stayed off Hunter radar for years (um, well, that’s because there are a lot of monsters out there). The nest used Alex as a lure to pull in victims, mostly predatory male drifters “no one would miss,” by having her pose as an innocent teenage runaway in seedy honkytonk bars.

We get a flashback to Alex in one such bar, being propositioned by a sleazy, middle-aged bearded dude. She smiles and then brings him back to her place. He asks her what her name is. She says it’s “Ann.”

Then, as the Brothers’ prisoner explains in voiceover that while hunts are fun, it’s much easier and safer to get “delivery,” the vampires attack the guy in the flashback after he asks her if she knows what he’s about to do to her (and she turns her back, replying “I know. Nothing”). As the guy is messily killed, Alex’s face is a mask covering some real conflict.

But in the present day, as Dean guesses that Alex was their “lure,” Alex’s “brother” is happy to paint a picture of her as a cold-blooded member of the pack. Sam realizes out loud that Jody is in danger.

Cut to Jody coming into the cabin with firewood. She can’t find Alex at first (and ignores her cell phone ringing on top of some packaged meat). But she eventually finds her asleep on a bed. She turns on the light and walks around the room, but Alex doesn’t wake. However, when she goes to put a blanket on the girl, Alex wakes up with a gasp, startling them both. Jody reassures her and then tells her she made her a sandwich out in the kitchen.

As she starts to leave, Alex asks about her grandmother. Jody gently tells her the bad news. Alex pretends that it doesn’t bother her, but as she lies back down, it’s clear she’s upset. Jody quietly closes the door as she goes out into the hallway (that hallway is mighty dark, gotta say).

Back in Nebraska, Dean can’t get hold of Jody and Sam is getting off the phone with the local police department. They’ve ID’d both bus station workers. The Brothers figure the vampires got the info about where Alex went from their victims.

Jody calls Dean and Dean warns her about what they’ve learned. Well, most of it. As he’s trying to warn her about Alex, Jody spots a truck pulling up outside and says the vampires are already there. She hangs up even as Dean says he and Sam are coming.

Dean tells Sam what’s going on and says he’ll meet him outside. Dean then goes back into the room where they have the vamp brother chained up and, with a snarl, beheads him.

At the cabin, Jody is grabbing a machete out of her duffle bag, but as she’s calling to Alex to warn her, Connor smashes through the window. Shoving a heavy dresser across the door, he grabs Alex, who screams and struggles. She’s dragged back through the window and out into the truck. Jody sees enough through the half-opened bedroom door to go running back outside through the front door. But she’s knocked down by a vamp brother who starts to rip her throat out. The others yell at him to hurry, so he stops and punches her unconcious instead. They all bail.

When Jody wakes up, it’s daylight and the Impala is rolling in. As they help her up, she tells them the vampires have Alex. Sam and Dean figure the vampires will go back to their Nebraskan nest – where they will find their brother headless. The Brothers decide to drive back there right away. Jody is determined to go with them. Even though she is hurt, she is determined to rescue Alex.

Dean warns her that Alex is a lure who has been “feeding” humans to the vampires: “She’s got more blood on her hands than most of the monsters we kill” and she’s been doing it for eight years, since she was a child. Sam agrees. He says that Alex is, at the very best, morally compromised. They can’t trust her not to turn on them for the nest.

Jody is horrified, asking if Alex “is on your list.” Sam hedges, but Dean just says, “Not yet.” Dean points out that “this is a clean-up mission, not a rescue.” The Brothers say that there are some hard moral truths one encounters in hunting and this is one of the more difficult ones. Sometimes, humans are the real monsters.

Sam wonders why Jody is so emotionally invested in a girl she barely knows. With an eye roll (as if they should be able to read her mind on her reasons), Jody strides off to the car, saying she’s coming with them. She also warns them that if they try to hurt Alex, they’ll have to go through her first.

Alex wakes up on a bed in a cellar, having been cold-cocked by Connor. Nearby, Mama is wondering if Connor said Alex struggled just as an excuse to knock her out. She mentions finding the vampire brother Dean killed (he gets a name now – Dale) and says that Alex has made quite a mess. Now they will have to move again. But even so, she’s indulgent of Alex and tells her that everything is right again now that Alex is back, even as Alex is trying to apologize.

Alex is surprised that Mama isn’t angry with her and doesn’t want to hurt her. Mama says she would never do that. Alex is her “sweet girl.” Mama, despite being a cold-blooded monster who doesn’t really understand why Alex would be afraid of her, or would run away because she had issues with the way the vampires murdered and ate humans like her, has real affection for Alex, a true mother-daughter bond. There is something deep going on here that is keeping Alex loyal and it’s not even all that twisted. Maybe there’s hope for this kid, yet.

Alex says she can’t be a lure, anymore. She feels too much guilt. She says she’d rather die.

Mama admits that it’s all her fault (truer words). She should have turned Alex years ago, but was too sentimental and couldn’t bring herself to do it (wait, what?). She figures if she turns Alex now, Alex will feel better about the vampire life and not want to leave. Okay. Um … okay.

In daylight, next to a frozen field and an abandoned tractor trailer and bus, the Brothers and Jody load up the Impala. Jody has done recon and seen the truck in the driveway of a nearby abandoned house. They’ll have to go in with a frontal assault. It’s a tough hunt, but as Sam says, they’ve faced much worse odds.

Dean reminds Jody that they are on a raid and will be cleaning out the nest. Alex has to be a secondary priority. Jody reluctantly agrees.

Inside the house, Mama is talking about how she was “selfish” not to turn Alex sooner. She wanted to watch her grow up. The feelings Alex is having are human ones. But if she turns Alex, all those feelings, all that pain, will go away. Alex is greatly tempted. We see her close her eyes and lean into her “mother”’s caress.

Outside, Jody and the Brothers are sneaking up through blinding snow to the back porch, carrying machetes. It’s a two-story wooden farmhouse, looks maybe a century old or so. They sneak in the back door, Dean first, then Jody, then Sam taking up the rear. Clearly, the Brothers are trying to protect Jody by putting her in the middle.

They don’t find anything downstairs, which is puzzling. Sam motions Jody to stay there, while they go upstairs. Using hand signals, the Brothers split up. Jody walks down the hallway and hears Alex moaning. Unfortunately, when she goes to the base of the stairs, the Brothers are outside contact. So, she goes downstairs alone.

Upstairs, Dean is finding nothing until he comes out on the landing (after hearing a loud noise out there) and finds Sam with Connor sticking a shotgun in his back. Connor orders Dean to drop his blade, which Dean, with a rather disgusted look at Sam, does. When Dean turns around, the other remaining vampire brother comes up behind him and cold-cocks him with a stick of wood.

Jody tries to sneak downstairs, but it doesn’t go very well for her, either. She finds Alex squirming on a bed. Her mouth is covered with vampire blood and her eyes are bloodshot. When Jody asks her what they did to her, she says she had no choice. At that moment, Mama comes up behind Jody and punches her out, saying “She chose me.”

Upstairs, Dean is unconscious on the floor, while Sam is duct-taped to a chair. Pointing his shotgun at Sam a lot (because Sam is trying to pull out of his bonds), Connor proceeds to monologue about how nasty it was to return home to a dead vampire brother. After ramming his gun into Sam’s stomach, he mentions knowing the two brothers are the Winchesters (surely, after having lost two vampire “brothers,” that should have been the entire nest’s signal to run like hell). Now he wants to know which of the Brothers killed Dale, while his idiot remaining brother giggles inanely.

Sam, to his credit, won’t rat out Dean. Not that it would save him, anyway. He’s definitely dinner at this point unless he gets loose or Dean wakes up.

Tossing the shotgun to the idiot (who holds it on Dean, but apparently hasn’t tied him up), Connor gets a bucket, saying they’re going to have to abandon this house. But first, they’re going to drain Sam of his blood as lunch for the road.

Downstairs, Mama is going through Jody’s things (including dead man’s blood and a kukri machete), while Jody is tied to the ceiling by her hands. She comments that Jody certainly came prepared. When Jody tries to whisper to Alex, Mama warns her not to bother her “girl.” Alex is “going through a process.”

Jody demands to know what Mama did to Alex. Mama says she fed Alex her own vampire blood. All it takes to complete this process is for Alex to feed. Going to Alex, Mama picks her up by the arm and leads her over to Jody. Alex can hear Jody’s heart beating, but pleads with Mama not to make her feed. She begs Mama to let Jody go and backs away toward the bed.

Mama notices that Jody has “made an impression on my girl.” While assuring Alex that once she is no longer human, Jody won’t matter to her, she figures that Jody is trying to fill some emotional hole in her life, that Jody is missing family. Jody thinks “that’s pretty rich” from a monster who stole Alex in the first place.

Mama grabs her by the throat (I guess she hit a nerve) and informs her that family is not just about blood. She has raised Alex as her own for nearly nine years. Jody tells her she knows what family love is about and it’s not turning Alex into a thing like her “the moment she becomes inconvenient.”

Angry, Mama shoves Jody and goes back to Alex. Slinging an arm around Alex’s shoulder, she tells her that “this Hunter Cop Bitch” is trying to get between them to save her own life and Alex shouldn’t believe anything she says. Casually, she goes and kicks Jody in the knee, breaking something, and says, “She ain’t your mother.”

Upstairs, Sam is losing blood into Mason jars pretty fast and losing consciousness. After tasting some of the blood, Connor tells his idiot brother to start draining Dean. Idiot Brother kicks Dean in the back (Dean grunts and one hand goes toward his chest, but his eyes stay closed), then gets a bucket. As he leans down to cut Dean, though, and grabs his hair, Dean’s eyes open (and they look black).

This happens very fast. Dean reaches up with the hand that slipped into his jacket and stabs Idiot Brother with a syringe of dead man’s blood. Connor, seeing what happened, comes after Dean as Dean gets up. Connor knocks him over a table.

Downstairs, Mama is getting ready to kill Jody, when Jody figures out (out loud) why she changed Annie’s name to Alex. At first, she thought it was shame, but vampires don’t have any. Her theory is that Mama once had a daughter named Alex. She admits that yes, she has a hole inside she’s been trying to fill by helping Alex. But so does Mama.

Uncertainly, Alex looks up at Mama and calls her name, and Mama can see her hold slipping on her “girl” as Jody says, “Guess it takes one to know one.”

Mama [looking straight at Alex]: That Alex? She died. A long time ago.

Jody: And it still hurts. You still feel it: the loss, the pain, like a stone in your gut. But it hurts just a little bit less whenever she’s near.

Mama turns around and says, “You bitch.” She starts beating on Jody’s face. Alex twitches when she does.

Upstairs, Connor picks up Dean’s dropped machete and goes after Dean with it. He gets Dean pinned against a wall as Dean tries to push the machete away from his throat. But then a funny thing happens – Dean has an epiphany that he has more strength than he thought. He’s able to push back on the machete (with a beast-like growl), kick Connor in the jewels, and flip their positions. Simply overpowering the vampire (which, as a human, he ought not to be able to do), he turns the blade and aims it at his enemy’s throat, then pauses to savor the moment.

Dean: Look at me! Look at me, BITCH!

The vampire, who has been trying to look away, finally rolls his eyes back down to look Dean in the eye. With another bestial Mark-ish growl, Dean shoves the machete crossways into the brick wall, straight through Connor’s neck. As the headless vampire drops and Dean’s face is covered with blood, the echoing haunting horn of the First Blade theme takes over the soundtrack.

Nearby, though half-conscious, Sam is clearly terrified … of his brother.

After a moment of savoring the kill a little too much, Dean remembers that Sam is bleeding and goes to help him, walking right past the incapacitated other brother, still twitching on the floor. Sam says Dean’s name and Dean says dismissively, “Yeah, I know: You wouldn’t have done the same for me.”

But Sam means that Jody is downstairs and likely in trouble.

And boy, is she ever. She’s got a face like hamburger and a seriously swollen eye. Mama has finally tired of beating on her, though. Releasing the chain holding Jody up (Jody falls to the floor with a groan), she tells Jody (“Lady Cop”) that whomever she lost, she will “see real soon.” She picks Jody up by the throat and starts to show her teeth, but just at that moment, she’s attacked from behind. By a shaking, jonesing Alex with a syringe of dead man’s blood.

Shocked, Mama turns around, already staggering from the effects (the veins on her face mirroring the blood on Jody’s), to see a woeful Alex still holding the syringe.

Mama: Alex. How could you? You were my girl!

Alex: I’m sorry, Mama.

Jody, meanwhile, has not been wasting time. Stumbling over to the table where Mama laid out her Hunter’s gear, she grabs the kukri and then Mama’s hair. Right before she swings, she tells Alex, “Don’t watch this, sweetheart.”

As a devastated Alex turns away from Mama’s accusing stare (just as she turned away from the men she lured into her nest), Jody beheads the nest’s matriarch just as Dean is leading Sam down the stairs. Dean looks shocked, Sam still pale and ropey. The scene ends on Alex’s grieving, conflicted face.

Afterward, Sam starts to compliment Dean, then admits he heard the “Look at me, bitch” line and thinks Dean enjoyed the kill a bit too much. Really, Sam? You address that, but ignore the part where your brother made it clear he still figured you didn’t give a damn about him? Way not to mend those bridges.

Anyhoo, Dean is dismissive of Sam’s concerns and reminds him that enjoying the job has never been a problem before. He’s not wrong, either, even if there most definitely something scary going on with him.

Jody comes limping out (how she can still walk after nearly a decade of the show doing her knees in is beyond me). First Sam and then Dean apologize to her for being “wrong about the girl.” Jody admits that they were, at least, correct about her being too emotionally involved and apologizes for that. She had buried her feelings about her dead family for years and this hunt brought them all back. That left her judgement “clouded.”

If you think about it, these are the only two humans in the world she can talk to about that. She certainly can’t tell poor Frank (whom the vampires beat up severely to get info about the cabin, but did leave alive). She talks about all the things she did to hide the pain and grief, such as work and religion and even “dating” (referencing her scary date with Crowley near the end of season eight).

She ends up thanking them, both for saving Alex and for curing her. The Brothers point out that she was the one who killed Alex’s sire and got the blood necessary for the cure. Dean ruefully notes (“from personal experience”) that the next few days are going to be “rough.” He asks if Jody wants them to stay, but she says she’s got this. Sam then asks her a tough question – after she’s cured, what happens to Alex?

Back inside the house, Jody goes to Alex’s room. Alex is having hot and cold flashes, and looks rough. She also refuses food, saying she’d only puke, but then thanks Jody, anyway, for the offer.

Alex admits that she agreed to get vamped because she didn’t want to disappoint Mama again. She also admits to being a lure. She starts to go into detail, but Jody (sitting down beside her) gently tells her that she already knows. Explanation is not necessary. She says that whatever Alex needs from her, she’s willing to give. Alex just lost everything, her entire family, her entire life, and “no one can understand that.”

Alex: You can.

Credits

Ratings rose again to 0.9/3 in the A18-49 demo and shot back up in audience to 2.10 million.

Review: Remember when Robert Berens could write a decent script? I know it’s been a while, but this episode is one of his earlier ones (his third) and definitely one of his good ones. The casting of the female characters helps a lot, but they wouldn’t have been able to do as much without so much to chew on.

This is how you write a feminist episode that works in a show with two male leads and doesn’t piss off the audience.

The main idea for “Alex Annie Alexis Ann” at first (this show being a horror western, after all) seems based on how Native Americans and Europeans used to kidnap each other’s children and raise them in their own culture, with mixed success. But it soon morphs more into a Face on the Milk Carton scenario and eventually settles on a sort of dysfunction family cult trope.

There are three major female guest characters (Jody, Alex and Mama) and one minor female guest character (the bus station clerk). There’s a third offscreen dead female character, Alex’s grandmother, who plays a pivotal role in the plot, via her absence. Alex is a teenage girl who has been kidnapped and raised by a family of monsters without having been turned (so she’s still human).

She starts out as that most unfortunate of TV cliches – the rebellious teenage runaway. But we begin to see more layers as the episode progresses, helped considerably by a sure-footed performance from Katherine Ramdeen and her excellent chemistry with the other female guest stars. Alex is a lost child, yes, and a lure, and a member of a monster family. But she is also a human being with human feelings, and the ability to feel human compassion and empathy. Her complex motivations are an integral part of the plot. Figuring out who she really is and what she truly stands for is a journey all of the characters end up taking, not just her.

Three mother figures (Jody, Mama and the bus station clerk) jockey for position in replacing Alex’s dead grandmother as a mother figure in her life. Mama (played by Ashley Crow with considerable gravitas and charisma) has the initial advantage. For one thing, she is a powerful, cunning and very old monster (the clothes on the male vampires, though redneck modern, imply something as far back as the Civil War, though Mama’s jewelry suggests the 1960s) with a nest of loyal vampires to back her up.

For another, she’s the one who stole Alex (when she was Annie), and has raised her with genuine love and affection. This kept Alex’s human side alive, which Mama obliquely acknowledges when she says she gave in to the temptation to keep Alex human so she could grow up. So, they have a strong mother-daughter bond that is only threatened by the fact that Alex can no longer deny her human nature or remain loyal to monsters who eat humans like her.

Due to the monster factor, the bus station clerk, unfortunately, has no chance (and I really was rooting for her to somehow escape her red shirt status, too). While she has no clue who and what she’s actually up against, she’s more than willing to sell or give Alex a bus ticket to get the hell out of Dodge away from her creepy “family.” The next and last we see of her, she’s just a hand sticking out of a wood chipper. Supernatural sure is a bleak universe when a Good Samaritan gets repaid for her kindness with such a cruel offscreen death.

Jody, though, has a good shot. Not only is she trained as a police officer, but she knows about the supernatural world. Most importantly perhaps, she has the Brothers Winchester on her speed dial. We already know about the central trauma that introduced her to that supernatural world and wrecked her family – that her son, who had recently died, was resurrected, turned zombie, and killed and ate his father (her husband) in season five’s “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.”

When Jody talks with the Brothers about all the many ways she tried to resolve or just bury this trauma, and even references accidentally dating Crowley last season, there’s a shared history on there that has been shown in different ways over the past four years. This is not some Hunter pal invented out of thin air who just pops up one episode. This is a character with a conflict in which the Brothers and the audience have a vested interest in helping her resolve it.

Jody even acknowledges this at the end of the episode. When Sam and Dean apologize for doubting her faith in Alex, Jody admits that her “faith” was an obsession with her own grief and easing it. She effectively apologizes for putting the whole team in danger, even as all three of them agree that the end result they managed to get was the best one.

One of the things I really like about this scene, and what leads up to it, is that even though there is a strong dichotomy between how the women handle things and how the men handle things in this episode, at no time does either brother suggest that Jody is doing what she’s doing because she’s a woman. The brothers act as though Jody’s grief is completely understandable and legitimate, and just her cross to bear. They have crosses of their own.

And Jody’s conflict lines up roughly with Alex’s own identity crisis. Just as Jody says that she and Mama have a hole in their hearts that Alex can at least partially fill and heal, Alex also has a hole that needs repair. She explicitly asks Jody at one point if her grandmother is still alive and looks disappointed (despite putting on a tough facade) when the answer is no. This is major foreshadowing for her decision to side with humans she barely knows later in the episode against her vampire “family.”

Granted, she wouldn’t have survived any other choice. Even if the show didn’t consider vampires part of the undead, none of this nest was likely to come out of this episode intact. Jody might have died, Sam, too. But Dean (yeah, I know, spoiler alert for next season) would, at worst, have come back with black eyes and taken them all out before going on his merry way. And that would have included a vamped Alex. As it is, he killed three of the four vampire brothers.

Part of what changes Alex’s mind, I think, is how the rest of her family treats her. The vampire “brothers” express barely contained resentment toward her for the fact that Mama won’t turn her and what that says about Mama’s preference for her. Even though she acts as a lure and allows them to feed on her when they are starving, they appear to have little respect for her and treat her with condescension, even contempt. One gets the impression that if Mama lost her head down the road, Alex’s “brothers” would waste little time devouring her.

But the other part seems more critical to her, even if it might seem small on the surface. Who calls Alex what says a lot about their relationship with her. Her original name was Annie. Mama calls her Alex, after a daughter who died “a long, long time ago.” Her brothers call her “Alexis.” She calls herself “Ann” when acting as a lure.

It’s Jody’s figuring out why Mama changed Annie’s name to Alex, and stating it out loud, that makes Alex realize that Jody cares about her over and above using her as a way to fill her own emptiness. Jody cares.

This is the engine that I think made the Wayward Sisters spinoff idea a strong one and that could still make it strong with some tweaking (please, you can keep Kaia, but get rid of that silly Dark Place subplot). A huge mistake the CW made was in trying to make a new show with literal Sam and Dean analogues, with vaguely Sam and Deanish conflicts, while completely missing what made the show itself unique.

The Wayward Sisters central conflict (two older Hunters filling their emptiness by taking in and raising kids orphaned by the supernatural world) fits easily within the Supernatural mythos without attempting to replace Sam and Dean. You shouldn’t be doing that in the first place. Sam and Dean are Sam and Dean. Let them keep their own story. Don’t diminish it by doing carbon copies. A spinoff should be a different story, but one that works in that universe.

The thing is that Sam and Dean are not privileged in human society. They were born into a working class family. They grew up poor and transient, in a broken household. They are drifters, grifters, serial killers, practitioners of black magic. Their world is one of working class struggle, of grinding poverty, of a hand-to-mouth existence. Just look at the site for the final battle in this episode (an abandoned farmhouse in the dead of winter) and what level of society all the characters in the episode move through.

In order for a spinoff to capture the same loyal audience the mothership has, it has to be a premise within the same worldview of desperate, cosmos-changing conflict brewing on the backroads of America, far from the usual and visible corridors of power. If you look at the episodes that hit with the audience, they fall into that premise – one big road trip through rural America with hardscrabble, down-and-out characters. If you look at the ones that don’t, they don’t.

So, you could create a spinoff pretty easily as long as it put those kinds of characters into that kind of world. In this case, you’ve got Jody, a female sheriff in a man’s profession with a tragic background in the supernatural, facing off with a group of murderous drifter monsters and choosing to assuage her pain by taking in orphans created by monster attacks. That fits. That the network chose not to pick it up, and instead went with a sexist show about pretty, cliched, rich monsters at a boarding school, tells you something about the network’s actual (lack of) commitment to a more diverse approach to American TV storytelling.

But the other thing that works with this episode is how it comments on Sam and Dean’s story, as well. This includes the mytharc. This is not just an MOTW starring Jody Mills and a random guest girl. It ties in directly with what is going on with Dean and how Sam, especially, is reacting to it.

Dean is pretty aggressive throughout the hunt and this even helps save the day. He argues that Alex cannot be trusted and may need to be killed as if she were a supernaturally flavored monster. While it’s a surprise that Sam so casually backs him up, that’s only because Sam has been second-guessing Dean since the Pilot even on cases where a monster was clearly dangerous.

But from a rational viewpoint, Sam should be backing Dean up on this. Both brothers have long and bitter experience with monsters who masquerade as innocents. The Brothers were likely thinking in this episode about Emily, a young girl they met in season seven’s “There Will Be Blood.” Emily had been kidnapped as a child by (or for) the Alpha Vampire, who used her as a pure source of blood when the Leviathans contaminated humans in ways that killed other monsters. The Brothers had given Emily Jody’s number to call for sanctuary, but Emily (still very childlike) burned it and went back to the Alpha Vampire. Like a child groomed by a pedophile, she had been brainwashed by the Alpha Vampire and saw him as her daddy.

They may even have been thinking of the two cute little monster boys who reminded them of themselves in season six’s “Mommy Dearest.” But of course, Jody was thinking of her zombie son, whom she lost twice, the second time after he ate his father and Sam shot him. This is probably why the Brothers were so relieved to be wrong – and why Jody was so rueful about admitting that no, they really weren’t.

How Dean’s aggression saves the day, however, is not how he’s ultimately wrong about Alex. That one is on Alex surprising everyone with her choosing to be human, even after she “agrees” to become a vampire. And Dean himself is happy to give Alex the vampire he himself went through so much agony to test. No, it’s in the scene where Dean takes out two vampires at once and starts to realize the power the Mark of Cain has unlocked inside him.

Dean starts the scene with cunning, under the impression that he can’t take the vampires head on due to their superior strength and speed. While it does appear that he is knocked out on the landing (love his exasperation with Sam for getting caught), it’s not clear how long he stays unconscious. He’s definitely conscious by the time Connor’s brother kicks him in the back. It’s subtle, but if you watch carefully, you can see how his hand drops inside his coat, right where the dead man’s blood syringe is that he will use in just a moment on Connor’s brother.

Also subtle, but less clear at the time, is that his eyes appear black when they first open (and when he’s interrogating Dale). I noted that this also happened in the second mirror scene in the last episode. There was considerable debate at the time this episode first came out over whether this was just a coincidental trick of the light or foreshadowing. Now, if you watch it in slow-motion, you can see the whites of his eyes, so it is a trick of the light. But in context with the overall storyline, I’d say it also has to be intentional foreshadowing.

The moment when Dean finds out he has superstrength, far above that of vampires, is a revelation for both him and the vampires. Dean has the epiphany when he realizes he is successfully holding Connor at arm’s length. Connor is shocked when Dean starts pushing back. Dean goes from surprise to determination to vengeful enjoyment. Connor goes from arrogance to surprise to horror, as he realizes he can’t stop Dean from turning the machete around in his grip and shoving it through his throat. Their roles switch and each gets to experience what the other side is like. Let’s just say Dean enjoys it more. In fact, he enjoys it so much that he almost forgets that his brother is bleeding out nearby. But not quite.

Sam’s reaction is one more missed opportunity to get through to Dean and the episode tragically contrasts it to how Jody responds to Alex. While Jody chooses to see beyond Alex’s hard and contradictory exterior, seeks to understand her and empathize with her, Sam ignores everything else he sees in what Dean does against the vampires and focuses on the idea that Dean might have “enjoyed” it too much. Dean bluntly points out that enjoying hunting monsters that eat people (and who were in the process of trying to eat them) is “not a crime.” It’s no big deal if the prey enjoys it when they are able to turn the tables on the predators.

Thus, Sam loses a chance to talk to Dean about the Mark and its increasing effect on him, and Dean learns that Sam is going to be judgmental about it, anyway. It’s almost as if the way Sam remembers the first few seasons is that Dean was always judgmental about Sam’s growing powers and Sam doesn’t remember the times Dean went to bat for him and protected him against others, including John, or forgave him for some pretty hard-to-forgive stuff. Could Sam’s selective amnesia really be that strong? Is it really that hard to follow his brother’s example?

Another factor is what makes the comparison to Jody and Alex so strong. There’s a major dichotomy between how the women in this episode interact, and the competitive and – dare I say it – bitchy way the men treat each other. Also, the way Sam (and others) reacts to Dean’s changes is in line with the way women with superpowers are often treated by loved ones in such fictional settings. In fact, we see this attitude aimed at Amara in season 11.

It’s not just that the men in a superpowered woman’s life are cynical and alarmed about her ability to wield these powers. They want them for themselves. For example, look at all the characters losing their tiny little minds over Daenerys having dragons in Game of Thrones and doing the same things with them that everyone else does without dragons – like sacking cities whenever bad people murder her friends. But if you’re cold-bloodedly manipulating men to do your bidding and getting them to do things like feed your husband to his dogs (like Sansa), that’s okay.

This is also an attitude demonstrated toward men who are deemed too young and/or too low-class to “deserve” such power (thus feminizing them as inferior). Kay does it to Arthur initially in the modern Arthurian classic novel, The Once and Future King, after Arthur first pulls Excalibur out of the stone (and remember that Dean has actually done that, albeit with the clever use of explosives). Kay recognizes the sword and tries to claim it as his own, but his father shames him into admitting the truth.

We also see the noble bad guy try to do this to William, the peasant protagonist in A Knight’s Tale (2001), to avoid meeting (and losing to) him in a tournament. The Black Prince cancels this out by pulling rank (he’s the son of the aged King Edward III and Regent of England for him at that time) and knighting William. Also, it’s his tournament.

This is the pattern you see in Sam and Castiel’s attitude toward Dean having the Mark of Cain. The fact that this trope is used may even explain why shipping Dean with Sam and Castiel is so popular – this is a trope we usually see in a female character. Therefore, the subtext almost codes Dean as female, even though he’s masculine in other ways (such as masking his emotional pain with violence and alcohol (https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-54088546)).

Sam and Castiel are both concerned about the changes in Dean (and yes, these changes have a very dark side to them, so that concern is justified), but there’s also an underlying jealousy and competitiveness to them. Like the vampire “brothers” in this episode, camaraderie and competitiveness mix explosively in the male members of Team Free Will.

Both Sam and Castiel later have brushes with taking on the Mark where they jump in head-first. They override Dean’s warnings and objections from personal experience as if they hadn’t even heard them. These two keep warning that Dean can’t handle the power of the Mark, even as they’re both positively drooling over the idea of having it themselves.

On the one hand, their experiences in the temptation of power with a dark side would, you’d think, make them experts. On the other hand, these two chuckleheads are poster children for People You Don’t Give Power To Because They’ll Just Abuse it. So, maybe they shouldn’t be giving advice about power after all, let alone getting all judge-y about Dean having some.

Next week: Bloodlines: The Brothers travel to Chicago to help a young man in a hunt against four monster families in the backdoor pilot that pretty much the entire audience hated. And I have to review it. [sigh] I’m breaking out the good whiskey for this one.

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: “Meta Fiction” (9.18) Retro Recap and Review

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The cast returned to work the first week of August (about two weeks late) and ended filming for good on September 10. Jensen Ackles also explained in a recent virtual “fan experience” through Creation Con that the writing for the last two episodes has been tweaked to reflect recent events (i.e., the Coronavirus pandemic). With these writers, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. He also said that 15.19 will be a season finale, while 15.20 is more like a series finale (and expressed sadness on Instagram when he got the final script, which said “The End” instead of the usual “To Be Continued”). In an already truncated final season, that likely means we’ll get stuck with some filler clips episode as the last one. Yay.

The show is returning October 8 and the series finale will be November 19. Yes, it’s back on Thursdays. If I manage to stay on track, I should be able to post the season nine finale retro review right after the show comes back on Sunday, then bring in the newest season five recap and review the following Thursday.

There are some new trailers out for the last episodes. Finally.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat and I’ve got a house full of fosters right now. 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: Recap of the Mark of Cain, Dean’s obsession with killing Abaddon, Metatron’s lame seduction of Gadriel, and Castiel’s journey to becoming some kind of Gandhi to the other angels (plus an aside about his running on borrowed grace, currently).

Cut to Now. We’re in a pretentious-looking study with lots of stained and lacquered wood, a fireplace, books (some of them Chuck’s series, including A Very Supernatural Christmas), Fanfare Rondeau by John-Joseph Mouret on vinyl (the former theme of Masterpiece Theater), and Metatron, drinking whiskey in a smoking jacket, typing on an old-style manual typewriter. Metatron stares straight into the camera and intones, “What makes a story work?” He then pompously talks about what special element could do that – is it plot or subplot? Text or subtext? Who gives it meaning? The author or the audience? Then he says he’s going to tell the viewer “a little story and let you decide.”

Cue title cards, but they’re blasted away by a blue background with clouds, white and glowing wings, a heavenly choir, and the title “Metatron.”

Cut to a shower head starting up. Dean is the one taking the shower and he’s got dark circles under his eyes. Afterward, he wipes steam off the bathroom mirror and then looks at the Mark on his arm.

Out in the Map Room, Sam is getting off the phone with someone named Carlos and thanking him. They are talking about “demon activity,” but when Dean enters the room, all dressed, Sam also mentions “people without souls, acting out.” Sam is putting post-it notes all over the map table for demonic incidents of note. Abaddon herself has disappeared.

When Dean rubs his right arm, Sam notices and asks if he’s okay. Dean shrugs off Sam’s concern and says everything is fine. Dean, too, starts making calls.

Cut to a grotty old warehouse that Castiel is walking through. He finds a door with bloody handprints on it and enters. Inside, he finds something that uncertainly whines like angel voice and a dead person lying against a wall. Turning around, he finds a bunch of other dead bodies and a strange, glowing symbol on the wall. That’s the source of the sound. The symbol pulsates and then fades. It was drawn in blood. Castiel takes a picture of it with his phone.

A woman with her face half-bloody (and apparently missing an eye) sneaks up behind him and tries to kill him with an angel sword. He easily disarms her and knocks her down. She immediately begs for her life.

Castiel tells her he won’t kill her. He asks her name (it’s Hannah) and then what happened in the room. They discuss the symbol. She doesn’t know what it is, but she heard (just like Castiel did) and followed the sound to its source. She is an angel, too. She found a bunch of other angels in vessels, who seemed friendly. But then the doors “slammed shut” and a strange angel appeared who told them he was “working for the new God.” Castiel correctly guesses this angel meant Metatron.

Anyhoo, some angels joined up, but Hannah and her friends refused. So now, Hannah is the only one left. Castiel commiserates with her.

After Castiel heals her, she realizes who he is. She wants to follow him, but he keeps saying he’s “no leader.” But he does swear to get revenge on Metatron, though he refuses to let her and whatever remaining friends she has help. I glance at my watch because this whole subplot has just been crawwwling along all season, hasn’t it?

Castiel asks her the angel’s name. Cut to his calling Sam and Dean, while walking into a rundown motel room, and Sam freaking out over the obvious – that the angel in question is Gadriel and he’s working for Metatron. Didn’t they … already know that?

Anyhoo, Dean correctly guesses that Metatron made Gadriel kill Kevin. Castiel confirms this is a good guess, pointing out that no Prophets have been activated since Kevin’s death. He indicates that Metatron turned them off at the source (something Metatron himself told Gadriel earlier in the season). Castiel sends them a photo of the symbol that was calling the angels and speculates that it is some kind of spell. He thinks this because it is an obvious lure for angels and was made with some strange ingredients. But he’s never heard of it before and Sam says he hasn’t, either. Dean doesn’t say anything, despite having a past history of a nearly-eidetic memory for symbols. I guess Thompson is going with the Dean Is Dumb trope here.

Castiel glances over at the motel room’s small fridge, which has an “Honor Bar” sign on it, and wonders what that means: “What’s honorable about a minibar in a motel room?”

When Dean replies, “Everything,” Castiel smiles fondly and asks how he is. A bit nonplussed, Dean says fine and asks how Castiel is. Castiel says he misses his wings. He doesn’t like “life on the road.”

Sam says he’s found a match to the symbol from the police record. It’s been seen at several crime scenes of multiple deaths. All of them are in Utah. Castiel says his site is, too. By tracking the sites, Castiel determines that Gadriel must be heading north in the state, either to Auburn or Ogden (have been to Ogden, but it was a long time ago). Dean says they’ll go to Ogden, so Castiel should cover Auburn. As he gets off the phone, Castiel notices the lights fritzing.

Back at the Bunker, Dean remembers that he and Sam once did a hunt in Ogden and know a local Hunter. They decide to contact him, to see if he can tell them anything.

Cut to a car with Colorado plates pulling up to a hemp shop. It’s Gadriel. In a hoody and leather jacket, he enters the shop, where a guy with long hair and his back to him is working in front of a ceiling-high rack of glass bongs. He asks about gryphon feathers (one of the ingredients Castiel named in the lure spell) and fairy bones, pick your realm. The long-haired guy, who also has a beard, asks him what kind of monster he’s hunting. Gadriel says, “Family.”

As Castiel is hefting his packed duffel bag and leaving the motel room, the lights fritz again, the TV turns on, and Casa Erotica 14 pops up. He tries to turn off the TV, but it won’t.

A young woman in a blonde wig, white button-down shirt, glasses, and very short black skirt says the usual words about needing Casa Erotica in her life. Inside the movie, there’s a knock on the door. When she goes to open it, it’s Gabriel with his pornstache. He looks right at the screen, pulls off his stache, and asks Castiel if he remembers him. When Castiel says that he does, Gabriel appears right behind him. When Castiel turns around, Gabriel says, “I need your help, Brother.”

Castiel correctly guesses that Gabriel faked his own death at Lucifer’s hands. Gabriel’s like, well, duh. He claims to have gone into hiding in Heaven until he was cast out with the other angels. But Metatron has sent angels after him, under the impression that Gabriel is strong enough to be a threat to him. Gabriel says he’s been using most of the extra power he has left to hide out inside porn (“Thaat came out wrong!”).

Gabriel identifies the angel lure as something called “Gabriel’s Horn,” a God weapon he never got around to using. It was intended to unite angels, but Metatron is using it to trap them. Castiel corrects him slightly – he says that Gadriel is actually doing that for Metatron. Gabriel is surprised Gadriel is even still around, let alone in play.

When Castiel asks him what he wants, Gabriel says he wants to kill Metatron.

In Ogden, the Brothers are pulling up to the shop of their Hunter friend at night. The OPEN sign is still out, which seems suspicious, since the shop itself is closed and dark. When the Brothers enter, Dean finds a box of spilled feathers behind the counter. Sam opens a closet door to find the dead shop owner hanging behind it like a suit of clothes, his eyes burned out. Welp, that’s one more Hunter we barely met before he bit it. There’s a cool and gruesome effect as Dean shines his flashlight briefly and directly into the burned-out eye holes.

Dean: We gotta find Gadriel before he lights the Bat Signal.

In his car on a rainy night, with Gabriel riding shotgun, Castiel tries to leave a message on one of Dean’s cell phones. Gabriel grabs the phone from him and leaves his own, colorful message. Referencing Jesus (“not the cat with the beard and sandals”) when saying he’s the one who “died for your sins,” he tells them he’s back and will be in touch, before hanging up.

Castiel asks Gabriel what he’s seen since he fell. Gabriel mentions the chaos that followed, as well as an awareness of the battle between Crowley and Abaddon. He says that most angels are “sheep” who have not taken well to the concept of Free Will. But he and Castiel are “rebels.” They’re different. Castiel insists he’s no leader (even when Gabriel snarks about his time as Godstiel). Gabriel says that’s okay. He’s decided he’s done running, and is going to step up and lead, as he was originally created to do.

After Gabriel looks out the rainy window and comments that they are low on gas, they stop at a Gas n’ Sip. But as they come inside, headlights flash as another car pulls up to the pumps. Gabriel instantly susses them out as other angels, “minions” of Metatron.

Meanwhile, still at night, Gadriel is coming down a firescape to his car. He sees Sam sneaking down an alleyway toward the car, but hides before Sam can see him. Sam pauses to leave a rather loud phone message for Castiel and Gadriel comes out to confront him, angel blade in hand. But as he does so, Dean says from above, “Hey, douchebag!” and drops a lighter on his position. A ring of holy fire blasts up around him. It was a trap.

Sam [smiling]: Remember me?

Inside the Gas n’ Sip, Gabriel says that they can’t keep the angels out and Castiel figures that means they’d better fight. Gabriel corrects him – he’ll hold them off so that Castiel can escape(excuse me, but didn’t we just see Gabriel fly out of the porn video into Castiel’s motel room? Why couldn’t he escape with Castiel?). Castiel, being another rebel, can take his place as leader of the rebellion. Castiel hugs him in a manly hug, but just as he’s turning to leave, he goes to put his angel blade in his coat and has a flashback to earlier when it was torn. It’s not now.

As Gabriel is urging him to leave, and the head angel (a blonde) is kicking in the glass door, Castiel asks him if any of their encounter was “real.” After some stalling, Gabriel realizes it’s not working when Castiel gently pushes his angel blade into his stomach and nothing happens. Snapping his fingers, Gabriel makes the angel minions disappear and asks what caught him out. Castiel tells him about the coat and Gabriel complains about “continuity errors.”

Castiel now figures that none of it was real. Gabriel says that “none of it was real, but all of it was true.” Castiel susses out that he’s no longer in the motel room, but before Gabriel snaps his fingers (saying “hear him out” about Metatron), Castiel asks if he’s real or if he’s dead. Gabriel waggles his eyebrows and snaps his fingers (Richard Speight Jr. has since confirmed that this was a hint that Gabriel was still alive).

After the snap, Castiel wakes up in Metatron’s study, tied to a chair and gagged, while Metatron types. The music is still playing. In fact, as Metatron stops, leans forward, and asks, “What makes a story work?” it turns out that this is the same scene as the teaser and that Metatron, far from addressing the audience, was actually addressing Castiel.

Inside a warehouse, Gadriel is tied to a chair and taunting Sam (saying that he’s been inside him and he “reeks of shame and weakness”). Sam asks him how long he’s been working for Metatron, gets frustrated, and punches him. Dean restrains Sam and gets him to go cool off.

In his study, Metatron says that he was going to tell Castiel a story using Gabriel in his role as the Trickster, but that it clearly failed due to a hole in Castiel’s coat (which he fingers before taking off Castiel’s gag). When he makes a Sherlock Holmes reference (the incident of the dog in the night-time, from “The Adventure of Silver Blaze”), he gets annoyed at Castiel’s blank look. So, he gives Castiel all the knowledge he has of all books, movies and TV shows he has ever read or watched in the past “few millennia” (guess Metatron’s not much for visual static art or music). He then comments that the universe is really made up of stories, not atoms, a reference that Castiel now does get (from the poem, “The Speed of Darkness,” by Muriel Rukeyser).

Metatron’s obsession is that in a story, “every Hero needs a Villain.” He fancies himself a Hero and he needs a Villain. He actually laughs when Castiel mistakenly believes at first that he is supposed to be the Hero of Metatron’s story, then nastily says through his teeth, “I’m the Hero.”

That Villain will be Castiel. Metatron instructed Gadriel to slaughter all of Hannah’s friends, but to leave one alive. That was to get Castiel to become her leader and the leader of the other surviving angels. He came up with the idea of faking Gabriel from the Winchester Gospel books (one of which he puts in the fire while he talks). He refers to them as pulp fiction, apparently unaware of who Chuck really is.

At the warehouse, Dean tells Sam to go cool off some more. It’s going to take a while to get Gadriel to talk. Remember that Dean was present at Gadriel’s exorcism (which Sam, obviously, doesn’t remember from that angle), so this isn’t his first “torturing Gadriel” rodeo.

Sam suggests calling in Crowley to “hack” Gadriel again, but Dean says he’s “in no mood to talk to that dickbag.” He says they need Castiel, but he can’t get hold of him and Castiel’s cell phone location says he’s in the same town as when they last talked to him. Dean sends Sam to go figure out what’s going on, while he deals with Gadriel.

After Sam leaves, Gadriel sneers that Dean must be the Good Cop to Sam’s Bad Cop. Dean corrects him. That’s not the game. Dean says he doesn’t care if Gadriel ends up dead because he’s going to take revenge for what Gadriel did to Sam and Kevin directly out of Gadriel’s miserable hide.

In his study, Metatron is telling Castiel both the price and the reward for his cooperation. Castiel will basically become a sort of angelic version of Gabriel’s Horn – a Judas Goat who will lure any angel who refuses to follow Metatron to their destruction. Castiel’s reward will be to be allowed to reenter Heaven (after a suitable time). When that reward doesn’t work, Metatron suggests that Castiel is running out of borrowed angel grace. If he follows Metatron, he can have all the grace that he wants and needs.

A woman in a black business suit and short skirt abruptly enters the room. She apologizes for interrupting, but says there is an emergency and it involves Gadriel.

In the warehouse, Gadriel is doing a lot of screaming as Dean slices him up slowly, grace leaking out as white light. Dean mocks Gadriel for allowing the “snake” (Lucifer) into the Garden and corrupting Humanity. When Gadriel tries to claim that he loves humans, Dean points out that he has “a funny way of showing it.” He says that as far as he’s concerned, Gadriel can say locked up forever in his chains, inside the sigil Dean drew underneath his chair, in the dark.

Gadriel then tries to switch tactics. He claims that Sam would not go the extra mile for Dean the way Dean would for Sam and that having been inside Sam, he would know. Dean insists otherwise (though this is no big revelation to him since Sam’s two big speeches episodes ago), then admits that Sam has already told him these things “and worse.” Gadriel says that Sam has always felt that way and that he’s right. Dean is “a coward … pathetic … bottom feeder” who is afraid to be alone.

Gadriel closes his eyes in anticipation as Dean loses control and goes to stab him. But Dean notices this and stops at the last second. As Gadriel, horrified, shouts at him to finish it, the tables turn and Dean realizes that Gadriel wants him to kill him. That’s what the goading was about. Imprisonment, considering Gadriel’s history, is his worst fear, not death.

Dean refuses to give him the satisfaction and tells him that he can “rot.” Then he walks out. Gadriel is left alone, looking woeful.

The Impala arrives at Castiel’s motel at night. Castiel’s room is #7. Sam gets out of the car and goes in cautiously, gun drawn, only to find research by Castiel on missing and dead angels all over the walls. Meanwhile, Dean enters a washroom in the warehouse. Leaving his angel blade in a nearby sink, he wipes the mirror in a repeat of the shower scene earlier and splashes water on his face. He looks almost as woeful as Gadriel. His eyes look black as he feels the Mark. Sam, meanwhile, is worried that Dean hasn’t answered his call.

In the motel room, Sam encounters Metatron, who says he has Castiel and wants Gadriel back. He tells Sam to bring Gadriel the next day, around six, or he will kill Castiel (this seems unlikely, considering his plans for Castiel, but Sam obviously doesn’t know that).

Sam [disbelieving]: An even trade.

Metatron [coldly]: I’m an entity of my word.

As we get a rising electronic soundtrack, heavy with angry brass and drums, Dean’s woefulness turns to determination and something a whole lot darker. Picking up the angel sword and spinning it in his hand, he leaves the washroom, ignoring another call from Sam.

Sam comes back, having called Dean a whole lot along the way, to find Gadriel’s chair empty. He starts calling Dean’s name and spots him slumped against a wall, his knuckles bloody. Rushing to Dean’s side, Sam asks, “Dean, are you okay?”

Dean: Yeah … you gotta stop asking me that.

Gadriel lies on his side nearby, but it turns out he’s not dead. Dean just beat him half to death. He says that Gadriel wouldn’t talk (which Sam already figured). He says (with a lost look) that Gadriel “wanted to die” and that he was willing to oblige, but barely stopped himself.

Sam tells him about Metatron’s deal. Incredulous, Dean points out that Metatron is not even remotely trustworthy, but that’s not Sam’s plan. He says that the meet is a time and place where they actually know Metatron will be. So, they bring Gadriel and set a trap for Metatron.

Cut to the Impala roaring down the road and then the next day, the Brothers are at the motel, waiting. Sam complains that Metatron is late. Dean says he might not show. At that moment, Metatron flies in (no wing noise) and says that he always intended to show up. He just was waiting for them to finish setting up their trap. He walks up to where he thinks it is (note that he doesn’t actually know) and asks if they’re ready.

Depressing, but predictable, I guess. I mean, it was Sam’s plan. And Robbie Thompson does love dumbing down the Brothers to make his guest characters look better.

Metatron goads an uncertain Dean into throwing down the lighter on the holy fire circle. But after some gurning and churning, he bursts out laughing and then blows out the fire. When the Brothers pull out their angel swords in a desperate attack, he turns angry (indicating they probably could kill him with one) and knocks them back against the Impala. He then signals to have a car pull up and goes to the Impala’s trunk. TK’ing open the trunk lid as if the warding were nothing, he also snaps off Gadriel’s cuffs as Gadriel sits up (yes, of course he was in the trunk). The look on Gadriel’s face is … interesting. Not as happy to see Metatron as you might think.

Two angels get out of the car with Castiel, who gets shoved over to the Brothers. When Dean asks Metatron why he’s doing what he’s doing, Metatron claims it’s “because I can.” He says he’s going to “enjoy” watching them futilely try to take him down, even with a Bunker full of “secrets.” He leaves Castiel with an oblique warning and a smug half-salute. When he flies off, rather than wings, you hear an odd humming sound and he apparently takes the others with him offscreen (we just see the reaction of TFW).

As night falls, Dean demands to know what the hell is going on. Castiel says that Metatron is “trying to play God.” Sam points out that Metatron just did a bunch of things that no angel should be able to do, even an archangel (though personally, I think the showy nature of those things indicates a certain insecurity in his power base). To all intents and purposes, Metatron currently is God. That’s what power the Angel Tablet is giving him (um … I guess? We haven’t heard about the thing since Gadriel stole it while killing Kevin, so how would we know yet what Metatron can do with it?).

When Dean says they still have to try, Sam tells him it’s not as easy as Return of the Jedi, where you sneak on board the Death Star and kill the Emperor. Castiel surprises Dean by understanding the reference and agreeing that they have to at least try. He does not, however, understand what Star Wars has to do with Heaven, which Sam ruefully allows is a media knowledge “half-way” for Castiel.

Dean asks Castiel if he’s okay. Castiel lies and says sure, but then turns it around and asks Dean if he’s okay. He says that Dean looks “different.” Dean brushes it off, but as he goes to pat Castiel on the shoulder (a literal brush-off), Castiel grabs his arm and pushes up his coat sleeve to look at the Mark.

It turns out that Castiel has not been back since before “First Born” (come to think of it, that’s true, isn’t it?), so he didn’t know Dean had taken on the Mark of Cain. He’s horrified. Dean’s “It’s a means to an end” does not mollify him, either. Dean exchanges a glance with Sam, who looks uncomfortable and in-the-middle.

Dean: Look, you find Heaven, drop a dime. Meantime, I got a Knight to kill.

Just another day at the Dean office, I guess. Saving the world one big brushfire at a time.

He goes to get in the car. As Sam tells Castiel, “Be safe out there,” Castiel warns him to “keep an eye” on Dean. Oh, sure, after a third of a season of ostentatiously not giving a damn, now everyone’s concerned. Bit late, you two.

All healed up from Dean’s torture, Gadriel is introduced into Metatron’s study by the short-skirted, cleavage-y MIFL angel who interrupted him before. She lets herself out.

Metatron [anxiously]: Is the door secure?

Gadriel: Yes. The way home is safe.

Metatron sighs in relief and thanks him. This is a weakness he didn’t want to show to the Brothers. Or Castiel. Clearly, Gadriel is deep in his confidence. Apparently.

With surface good humor (but an underlying anger that Metatron doesn’t notice), Gadriel asks how Metatron’s “play turned out.” Metatron muses that it went off-track a bit. He’ll just have to keep at it until he’s got everything in place. He says God’s problem was publishing his “first draft.”

Gadriel starts to leave, then pauses and turns back. He asks Metatron if Sam and Dean capturing him “was part of your plan.”

With a grin, Metatron allows that “that was a surprise … good characters … surprise you.” He says, “What writer doesn’t love a good twist?” But Metatron is fine with that because he knows “the ending.” And it doesn’t matter what else happens as long as he gets that ending and “everybody plays their part.”

With another insincere smile, Gadriel leaves. Metatron gets up to put on another record. This one is “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” by Frankie Valli (the original version of the song) from 1965.

In montage, we see the Brothers driving down the road at night and into a red sunrise, Dean at the wheel, Sam riding shotgun and giving worried glances at Dean, who keeps his eyes firmly on the road. Part of the montage involves Castiel ripping down a wall of research about his fellow angels and putting up the Gabriel’s Horn lure instead. As Metatron smugly types about this, indicating he predicted it (or at least thinks he made it happen), Castiel opens the door to find Hannah and a bunch of other mild-mannered angels waiting outside, smiling. Castiel looks conflicted.

At the very end, Metatron types “TO BE CONTINUED…” which is something Jensen Ackles recently said was at the end of every script except the series finale (which says, “THE END”). As he pulls the paper out of the typewriter, the song abruptly cuts off as the screen goes black.

Credits

The show dropped like a stone to a 0.7/3 in the A18-49 demo and in audience to 1.60 million. There are a few possible reasons here. One is that there was a short hellatus between this and the previous episode. Also, as I said in last week’s retro review, episode ratings tend to reflect the audience’s opinion of the previous episode, not the episode at hand (unless they leave en masse in the second half-hour).

Unfortunately, I’m not sure where to find the half-hours on this one, or even if they’re still available, let alone Live+ ratings, since TV by the Numbers has effectively shut down and other sites don’t really fill in that historical gap. Keep in mind, though, that ratings at the time don’t much reflect how beloved an episode is later. As is oft stated, the highest rating this show ever got was with the episode “Route 666” in season one.

Review: The song choice at the end of this episode is subtly apt, especially for this week (the show ended filming on September 10 and, like Jensen Ackles, I’m still floating down the River Denial.

Metatron is acting the way he is because he has no love, and is selfishly seeking it in all the most wrong and destructive ways possible. Gadriel has found himself going down a darker and and lonelier road in his desperate quest to redeem himself and become one with the angel flock again. Dean lacked love earlier this season and engaged in reckless, self-destructive acts because he felt no one cared what would happen to him, so no one else would be hurt. Now that those chickens are coming home to roost and his erstwhile loved ones have deigned to notice him again, he’s rejecting their smothering “love.” Sam and Castiel have had love thrust upon them, as it were, and petulantly refused it until now.

Love in this show can be a destructive thing, but the song implies that the lack of love can be far worse.

With a title like “Meta Fiction,” it was obvious that we were going to get one of Supernatural‘s dreaded “meta” episodes. Sometimes, those work. And sometimes, they don’t. In the case of this episode, there was a lot inside it that I liked on first watch, but I absolutely hated the frame story and how it cheapened the events in the episode itself. So, let’s dig in and bring the tea.

There’s something out there called the Turkey City Lexicon – A Primer for SF Workshops. Dating back to 1988, the Turkey City Lexicon is a (much more succinct) science fiction genre precursor to TV Tropes. If you’ve attended any genre workshops, become a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, or even just submitted a whole lot of science fiction, fantasy or horror stories to many professional markets, you have heard of the Turkey City Lexicon. It’s an invaluable (and brutally frank) collection of Golden and Silver Age genre cliches and how to avoid them.

If you’re a fiction writer, prepare to cringe hard because I can guarantee you’ve committed most of the storytelling sins in the Lexicon. I know I have. They’re listed for a reason.

It is, sadly, obvious that several writers for Supernatural, including the writer for this episode (Robbie Thompson) have never read the Turkey City Lexicon. They really, really should have.

The Author Insert isn’t in that one, but the White Room certainly is, as is the Dischism. And the Whistling Dog. And Idiot Plot. But mostly, the episode seems to be a combination of Kitchen-Sink Story with either Wiring Diagram Fiction or Dennis Hopper Syndrome. I’ll let y’all look those up.

Simply put, everything to do with Castiel in this episode is an overly elaborate plot to get Castiel to become a leader of the angels who won’t follow Metatron. Metatron is obsessed with the idea of having a Villain to fight and destroy (without actually giving that Villain any chance of winning, of course).

Now, obviously, Metatron is deluded in thinking he is the Hero. The new title card kinda gives that one away. But within the context of this episode, he literally cannot lose and it makes the episode itself frustrating and dull. The Angel Tablet (suddenly mentioned after being a non-entity macguffin for a third of the season) gives him every power he needs to win over and over and over again. And jeez, is that boring.

Sam and Dean are the actual Heroes of the show and they lose inside entire episodes all the time. They may have enough plot armor to survive those losses, but they still lose quite a bit. That Metatron doesn’t for 42 minutes straight makes him no Hero, to be sure, but it doesn’t make him much of a Villain, either.

It’s true that the seeds of Metatron’s downfall are sown right under his nose in “Meta Fiction.” When Gadriel realizes that Metatron predicted everything except his capture by the Winchesters, he has a wakeup call and is shaken out of his self-brainwashing, but Metatron does not notice. Metatron is not all-powerful, certainly not completely honest, and is in fact fallible. Gadriel had been too gullible and desperate for redemption to realize that before.

But the fact that this tiny flaw is about the only truly interesting thing about Metatron in this episode kinda tells you why he’s more irritating than scary the rest of the season. The smarmy bonhomie, dropping to a nasty, sinister tone whenever anyone crosses him or gets too close to one of his vulnerabilities … that just isn’t terribly interesting in terms of season-long villainy. Metatron is very one-note.

The other thing that Metatron either remains unaware of for the moment, or is too careless to care about, is the Mark of Cain. That’s gonna bite him in the butt, albeit we will cover that in due time. Something happens, during the time Dean beats Gadriel like a gong until he exhausts himself, that Thompson is unfortunately too lazy or unimaginative to show (or hey, maybe that scene just got cut for more Metatron blather or to generate false tension about whether or not Dean had killed Gadriel).

It’s critical because while Gadriel doesn’t tell Dean anything useful, Dean has actually managed to break him. He returns to Metatron a changed angel, whose eyes have been opened indeed. Sam and Dean have inadvertently (and under duress) introduced a sleeper agent into Metatron’s operation, a spy. There are some other possibilities for throwing a bomb into Metatron’s plans, in Dean’s actual Mark powers, but again, we shall cover those in a later episode.

I do think that Sam’s confrontation with Gadriel got short-circuited in favor of Dean’s confrontation with Gadriel. Yeah, technically, Dean had a lot more of a relationship with Gadriel, since he was the one who interacted with him while Sam was unaware Gadriel was inside him, who made a deal with him for a favor the show promptly forgot, who was forced to stand by helplessly while Gadriel murdered someone Dean had protected like a son, using Sam’s body to do it. So, that relationship was more fraught. But that possession was the entire source of tension between Sam and Dean all season and I don’t see how Thompson couldn’t have tried harder to get both Brothers some closure here. It felt very incomplete, how they did that one.

There’s nothing wrong per se with meta episodes and I’ve personally loved some of the show’s more experimental ones with genre and format (notably, season four’s beloved “Monster Movie” and Robbie Thompson’s own season seven “Time After Time”). But you have to be careful and controlled with them or they come off sounding like bad fanfic. This one … really treads the line. When I originally watched this, I got the impression that everything in it was just one big mind jam by Metatron, which rendered it all pointless. On rewatch, I see that’s not quite true, but it’s not far off, either.

A big problem is that if you use an Author Insert and identify too much with that character, there is a risk that the audience will identify you with that character, too. Everything that pisses them off about the show tends to get concentrated in that character or plot. And if you decide to create a spoofy kind of Author Insert that is a jerk, that’s really going to concentrate the dislike because you may subconsciously pull the same crap that the audience hates about your writing in the first place and create a character that embodies how much you can irritate them. It does not defuse the situation.

If you use that character to mock the audience, you are really getting into dangerous territory because the writers of a show can lose their audience just like that, for far less severe reasons. Unless you’re Mel Brooks, you’re not likely to get away with mocking your audience. Robbie Thompson is no Mel Brooks.

It is an unfortunate bad habit that dates back to show creator Eric Kripke with the Supernatural writers room that staff writers who were growing tired of the job tended to take it out on the audience. Apparently, it was our fault that the show’s demise didn’t happen to coincide with when said writers lost interest in writing for the show. I mean, there’s no shame to losing interest or simply running out of ideas – no writer is an inexhaustible font. But there’s no need to make everyone else around you miserable about it. Just don’t renew your contract when it comes up.

I mean, we’re pretty good about not watching anymore when we lose interest, thus putting you out of a job whether you’re ready or not.

Writers like Kripke, Edlund, Gamble, Glass and Thompson were by no means the first TV writers to get sick of their day jobs, or even to make fun of those day jobs, on the job. In fact, until the past ten years or so, it was a trendy auteur thing in genre TV for showrunners to act as though they were engaged in an arcane form of storytelling and the audience could either come along for the ride or just piss off.

In the age of social media, things like Joss Whedon’s pretentious and rather paternalistic pronouncement that he didn’t give the audience what they wanted, he gave them what they needed, have not aged well. And Benioff and Weiss’ claim that season eight of Game of Thrones was intended to be twist storytelling has definitely not aged well, despite being less than two years old at this point.

So, making Metatron his author avatar in the story and having him Evil Overlord Monologue dribble on about writing probably wasn’t Thompson’s smartest writing decision ever. The audience does not want to hear your thoughts regarding the mechanics of a good story via a character mouthpiece. They want you to tell them a good story. Save that self-indulgence for the DVDs, a workshop or a con, dude.

Thompson was about halfway through his tenure with the show at this point and there were already signs he was starting to lose interest in the franchise itself. He always seemed fairly disinterested in the original cast (one big no-no in writing spec scripts to break into a show is centering the script around your own guest character rather than the main characters; it also considerably ups the probability that said guest character will be a Sue). But to this point, he was often good at keeping it in check. With Metatron, he … doesn’t (and his next script was “Fan Fiction,” so things did not improve).

I think Thompson saw “Meta Fiction” as his version of Ben Edlund’s magnificent “The Man Who Would Be King” from season six. Don’t believe me? The script actually references that episode in this one when Metatron talks about how Castiel is old enough to remember when lungfish came out of the ocean (a scene from “The Man Who Would Be King”).

But Castiel is a lot more dynamic and popular than Metatron and Thompson is no more Ben Edlund than he is Mel Brooks. So, it falls as flat as Metatron is as a character. We get some tosh about how tough writing is, but we never get much along the lines of how Metatron ticks.

Even his plan comes off as flaky and ad hoc. What exactly is Metatron trying to accomplish here by literally playing God? Is he lonely? Does he long for companionship? Followers? Adulation? Angel batteries to power Heaven? What? We never find out. I mean, he already won about as much as he could at the end of season nine, so what the hell is he trying to do now that’s different from that? It just looks as though he’s become the angelic equivalent of pulling what’s left of the wings off his former brethren, which seems petty rather than terrifying.

What makes “The Man Who Would Be King” so brilliant is not just that it spells out Castiel’s motivation. It’s that it draws together many bits of disparate canon and retcon, some of which really didn’t hang together very well when introduced, and makes them – makes season six – into a coherent story that explains Castiel’s worldview and where he is coming from at that point in the show. It turns him into a Tragic Hero, Macbeth-style, for the entire season (a shame Gamble and Kripke then ruined all that with the next two episodes, but there you go). And then it showed most of it rather than telling. “Meta Fiction” doesn’t have any of that careful work, so it comes across as self-indulgent rather than clever or moving.

Especially frustrating is how this episode also focuses on Castiel, but it doesn’t really say anything new about him. He comes off as a defeated sad sack. At the beginning, he is resistant to becoming a leader for the lost angels because he is lost in ruminations and recriminations over his past failures. Let’s face it – he sucked at leading Heaven. Gabriel talks about what a rebel he is and he is that, however reflexively and instinctively. But that doesn’t mean he can lead worth beans.

The frame story with Metatron suffers from a complete lack of tension. Since Metatron has already gotten what he wanted and is now setting up a new plan out of sheer boredom, there’s no real urgency to what he’s doing. There might be urgency to the slowly dwindling group of angels in stopping him before they are completely gone, but Sam and Dean don’t feel much urgency in grappling with him and neither does the audience.

Okay, sure, Metatron lampshades that Castiel’s stolen grace won’t last forever, but we’re talking about angels, here. It could last him for thousands of years, the rest of the show, for all we know (or care). Big whoop.

Also, while I get in theory why Sam and Castiel are so concerned about Dean, their timing is exasperating. Sam, as I’ve been saying for a while, started off the season oblivious to the stress Dean was under (a situation Dean deliberately engineered at first, albeit under blackmail duress, it must be said), then got mad and punished his brother as much as he he could. Now that he’s finally decided he wants to be Dean’s brother again, his window of opportunity for getting through to Dean (or for Dean trusting him that much) has long since passed. And Sam is still … uh … figuring that out.

Castiel, meanwhile, has been MIA for something like seven episodes and, oh, yeah, was also mad at Dean over being kept out of the Bunker thanks to Gadriel’s machinations (all the talk aside, nobody seemed actually interested in blaming Gadriel). His “I’m shocked, shocked to find that you took on the Mark of Cain, Dean!” act reminds me of John throwing a fit over finding out belatedly about Sam’s powers, only for Dean to point out that the Brothers had been chasing him (without success) all over the country all season one and had no opportunity to tell him earlier.

Both Castiel and Sam’s responses to the Mark look a whole lot less like genuine concern and a lot more like “Dean has a new shiny superpower. We wantsss it, my Precioussss!” Their joint track record on that score sucks out loud and does not come off as sincere.

Now, I get that what Dean did in taking on the Mark was reckless, but it sure as hell beat leaving it to Cain. Cain was a complete wild card and there was no guarantee he would come out of retirement, kill Abaddon, and then quietly go back into retirement. And once he killed Abaddon (who definitely needs to go), who could take him out if someone else didn’t take on the Mark?

Manipulated or not, Dean understood what he was doing when he took Cain’s offer. And each time the opportunity came up for Sam or Castiel to take it, they leaped on it like starving hyenas, totally ignoring Dean’s warnings. Someone had to take one for the team. Who else but the person who has always been a reliable mensch standing up for everyone else?

And yeah, Dean didn’t navigate the first half of season nine perfectly. He was, after all, dealing with the consequences of other people’s actions in addition to his own (Castiel’s becoming human and being partly responsible for the fall of his brethren certainly wasn’t Dean’s fault). It was like trying to juggle chainsaws that were on fire as people kept throwing them at him. Of course he dropped some.

Yet, when Dean needed help (and was still receptive to getting some), Sam and Castiel were too busy getting mad at him to step up for him the way he did for them in the past. Lord, there are times when I just want to take those two and smack their heads together like a couple of coconuts.

Tension-wise, the Metatron story is in complete contrast to the Mark of Cain story. It’s not just that Abaddon has a plan to take over Hell that clearly implies she would then use that as a jumping-off point to conquer other parts of the SPNverse (like, say, the earth). It’s also that Dean’s deteriorating mental state is accelerating.

At this point in the story, the audience doesn’t know what that means, but it’s becoming clearer that this story is not ending any time soon and that whatever happens when Dean snaps, it’s going to be quite exciting. Hence, there’s a huge amount of tension in this plot, even if its development remains a bit nebulous at this point (Mark of Cain is scary. Kill Abaddon is necessary, but will have consequences. Check).

All we really know about the Mark’s effect on Dean at this point is that, like Eartha Kitt (or Mazikeen), it makes him want to go to the devil. He’s damned tired of being pure.

But even so, it has its perks and I’m not just talking about the sight of shirtless (and implied naked) Dean near the beginning. Dean’s actions and expressions with the mirror in the shower scene are repeated in the episode for a reason. In that scene, Dean is not just physically naked. He’s emotionally and psychologically naked. And it’s quite scary.

In this episode, it becomes especially clear that Dean is falling apart. Oh, there were fault lines before, going all the way back to the show’s pilot. But in this episode, those lines crack open like a fractured egg and out of them shines a bright and uncontrolled madness.

These scenes where Dean’s inner stormy weather is exposed to the audience – his deep depression and growing dissociation from reality – are sharply contrasted even more than the episodes before “Meta Fiction” with the scenes where he hides all that from those around him. Even when Gadriel is (almost successfully) goading him into a killing rage, Dean wears a mask. It’s frayed and cracked and worn, but it’s in place. Even when Sam finds him later, having exhausted himself, and Dean asks him to please stop asking him if he’s all right (since he obviously is not), it’s in place. When Castiel finds out he took the Mark and bitches him out, it’s in place. But now, the audience definitely knows what’s underneath and we can see the fell light shining out through the cracks. It’s about to go down, my droogs.

This is obviously a form of Dark Phoenix storyline – straight-arrow workhorse of the team gains cosmic powers and does better than average in controlling them … for a while. But these are powers that have all the edges and it’s only a matter of time before this character goes supernova. In the meantime, though, we get to watch someone downtrodden get some power in the life and push back against all those who have controlled and bullied them. While getting out the popcorn and mojitos for that impending volcanic eruption. The suspense is terrible. I hope it’ll last.

Next week: Alex Annie Alexis Ann: Sheriff Jody Mills calls the Brothers in on a case involving a young woman on the run from a nest of vampires.

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: “Mother’s Little Helper” (9.17) Retro Recap and Review

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According to recent reports from Vancouver, the cast returned to work the first week of August (about two weeks late). Jensen Ackles also explained in a recent virtual “fan experience” through Creation Con that the writing for the last two episodes has been tweaked to reflect recent events (i.e., the Coronavirus pandemic). With these writers, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. He also said that 15.19 will be a season finale, while 15.20 is more like a series finale (and expressed sadness on Instagram when he got the final script, which said “The End” instead of the usual “To Be Continued”)). In an already truncated final season, that likely means we’ll get stuck with some filler clips episode as the last one. Yay.

The show is returning October 8 and the series finale will be November 19. Yes, it’s back on Thursdays. If I manage to stay on track, I should be able to post the season nine finale retro review right after the show comes back on Sunday, then bring in the newest season five recap and review the following Thursday.

There are some new trailers out for the last episodes. Finally.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat and I’ve got a house full of fosters right now. Plus, this review was delayed a bit by one of my kitties spending a very expensive day and a half at the kitty ER.

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

Recap: Recap of the intro of Henry Winchester, Josie Sands, the Men of Letters massacre, Abaddon’s rise, and Dean’s growing partnership with Crowley in all its thorny glory, culminating in last week’s discovery of the First Blade.

Cut to Now in Milton, IL. A schoolteacher pulls into a garage of a suburban home after a long day at work. While her husband watches golf on the TV and eats popcorn, she enters with a bouquet of flowers. When her husband asks her what’s for dinner, he’s disappointed to hear it’s meatloaf again. She’s disappointed to hear about his disappointment. Enough to knock his eye out and then beat him to death with a candlestick while clinically rattling off the various ingredients, ending with the words, “and lots of good things.” The camera pans away to the refrigerator, where her students’ drawings are carefully pinned up.

Cue title cards.

Dean is hitting the books (pretty literally) when Sam comes into the Library, carrying his travel rucksack. This is a mirror image of Dean going off on a hunt previously in the season, except that Dean has no interest in coming along on this hunt. Sam asks if Dean slept last night. Dean laconically says no, but when Sam tells him about Doomed Teaser Couple, Dean has no interest in why a first-grade teacher would “pound her husband into ground chuck,” either.

Dean: Well, maybe she snapped. Ankle-biters can do that to you.

Sam’s thinking possession and Dean thinks Sam should go do the hunt alone. Sam decides now is a good time to infodump-poke the bear by asking why Dean has become so “obsessed” about Abaddon since he killed Sinclair last episode. They’ve been researching for days with no luck. Maybe a hunt is a good anodyne for that.

Dean bluntly (and accurately) states that they “don’t have time” and he wants to end both Abaddon and Crowley with the First Blade as quickly as possible. He calls Sam’s idea of “being ‘obsessed’ doing my job.”

Sam: I get it. I’m just checking in.

Dean: I’m fine.

So, Sam leaves, rather reluctantly, while Dean rolls his eyes in an exasperated “please go away” look. Honestly, I don’t know what the hell Sam thinks he’s doing here, but the chickens sure are starting to come home to roost from his bitchiness earlier in the season. As soon as Sam leaves, Dean pulls out a nearly full bottle of whiskey and starts sucking it down.

Sam travels to Milton and quickly gets an in with the friendly and cooperative local sheriff. The man is puzzled about why Doomed Teaser Guy got his face smashed in by his wife. The marriage seemed fine, non-abusive, and the two of them were about as ordinary as can be. But when Sam and the sheriff go down to the cells to question her, they find she’s cut herself and covered the walls of her cell with bloody designs (and words like “shell” and “death”) – then hanged herself with a bedsheet. So, this schoolteacher won’t be telling anybody anything unless Sam can rig up a seance.

Sam asks the sheriff if she went anywhere unusual the day she killed her husband, but all the sheriff can think of is the grocery store. Sam calls Dean, who looks strung out and asks if the demon had perhaps “smoked out” before the schoolteacher hanged herself. Sam doesn’t think so. He had previously asked the sheriff about black eyes and sulfur, and looked for other demon signs like EMF, and there was nothing. Dean, distracted, suggests that Sam will figure it out. Sam says that if nothing comes up by morning, he’s coming back to the Bunker.

After he hangs up, Dean starts having flashbacks to Cain giving him the Mark, warning him about the hidden costs, and later of holding the First Blade. Dean comes out of his PTSD trance to find himself gripping the table with his left hand. He lets go and stares at his shaking hand as it if doesn’t belong to him. He starts to make a call, hangs up, and goes out.

Meanwhile, a young man named Billy is walking down the road, talking on his cell to his girlfriend and hitchhiking. It’s cold and it seems he just had a fight with his mother. After he hangs up, a van pulls up nearby. I guess this kid has never seen any horror movies about serial killers, because he runs up to it and catches a ride.

The man inside is a friendly, white-bearded elder the boy knows (a Mr. Richie), so he gets inside, even though the van is new to him. But once in, there’s a commotion (we only see the back of the van, which has the words “St. Bonaventure” on it) as the boy cries out and there’s a big flash of light with a rising whine.

Later, Billy comes into a diner where Sam is eating and talking to the waitress. Far from the obedient, mom-loving kid he was before, he now acts cold and lashes out at her attempts to scold him after he grabs food off a used plate and starts wolfing it down, as well as Sam’s attempts to back her up. When she suggests calling his mom, Billy stabs her in the hand with a knife. As he goes to stab her in the throat with a fork, Sam gets up and cold-cocks him.

The kid ends up in a cell, still glowering, along with three other perfectly ordinary town residents who are now acting in bizarre ways. One woman sits in her cell and hums. Another man has cut himself and smeared his cell with words like “ark,” “missing,” “attempt” and “suffer.” Another man just bangs his head bloody against the cell bars. They are all locals, with no other connections, and have been like this for days.

Now the sheriff is really freaked out and Sam has no answers. The sheriff does tell him about the kid being picked up as a hitchhiker (he heard it from the girlfriend). After the sheriff leaves the cell block, Sam surreptitiously uses some holy water on the kid, but all it does is piss him off.

Sam asks him, “What are you?” but Billy just replies, “Clear.” There’s no reason why he did the things he does. He does them “because I can.”

Later, Sam calls Dean while getting grocery store surveillance photos from the sheriff. Dean is in a bar, but lies about it. He also keeps taking his sweet time answering the phone. If Sam called me as many times as he calls Dean in this episode, I’d start ghosting him, too.

Sam is confused by how aggressive and “basic instinct” these people are. Dean compares it to being at at “Gold’s Gym” (ain’t that the truth), but Sam says they’re not on steroids. After following that train of thought down a rabbit hole of season six Sambot flashbacks, Sam wonders if they are lacking souls. They do act a bit like him when he was soulless … except for the part where they actually don’t.

As Dean (who ruefully admits that he has not forgotten about that year and a half or so Sam had no soul and turned into an even bigger douchebag than usual) points out, Sam was not out of control when he had no soul. Sam then suggests the everyone reacts differently to not having a soul. First of all, the fact that Sambot acted differently practically every episode was a major reason that storyline was such a raging dumpster fire of inconsistent canon in the first place. Second, if everyone who lacks a soul acts differently about it, how can you tell that they’ve lost theirs in the first place?

Dean suggests that a CRD may have made a deal with these people and yanked their souls. Sam, rather than stating the painfully obvious that Dean himself suffered through – that people who make deals have their bodies shredded and killed by Hell Hounds as their souls are removed – says that he doesn’t think so because they’re not getting any obvious advantage or benefit that seems unusual, like winning the lottery. He then says he really could use Dean’s help on this one.

Dean demurs, claiming that he’s “close” to finding Abaddon (at the bottom of that latest bottle of beer he’s drinking, no doubt) and leaves Sam hanging. A voice comes from behind Dean. It’s Crowley and Dean doesn’t even start.

Crowley: You’re lying to Sam like he’s your wife, which kinda makes me your mistress.

At the station in Milton, Sam is looking at photos of the schoolteacher getting out of a black van like the one that picked up Billy. He overhears an older woman with red hair trying to tell the deputy at the front desk that “the demons” are back and that “it’s starting all over again.” Sam comes up just as she’s getting irate with the condescending young man and asks her over to his desk. He gives her a cup of tea and asks her story.

The woman, Julia, immediately notices that Sam doesn’t think she’s “nuts on toast” like everyone else in town whenever she mentions “demons.” Sam calls himself “open-minded,” but it’s his shocked reaction to her mentioning the Men of Letters that convinces her he’s not mocking her.

Julia: You’re one of them aren’t you? The Men of Letters?

Julia tells him that two Men of Letters arrived in Milton in 1958, when the town (and she) was a very different place. She calls the two MoL “a lovely couple.” Cue a flashback.

Young Julia is a novitiate nun, polishing a collection plate. There’s a knock at the door and the Mother Superior tells her to answer it. When she does, she finds Henry Winchester (dressed as a priest) and Josie Sands (as a nun). Henry hands her a letter with a wax seal, saying they are from the Office of the Inquisition.

In the present, Dean is lining up some balls on a pool table and asking what Crowley wants. Crowley points out that Dean called him, not the other way round (so now we know which number Dean was calling in the previous scene). He also points out that the agreement was that Dean find Abaddon and unless she’s into “ten-cent wings, stale beer and the clap,” he’s not likely to find her here.

Dean tells him that he’s “on it,” then when Crowley pushes, tells him to “go to Hell.” Crowley ruefully admits that he can’t do that again quite yet. He continues to needle Dean, wondering, “just between us girls,” how it felt to hold the First Blade. Maybe it made Dean feel “powerful, virile … and afraid.” Dean looks surprised that Crowley guessed this, but doesn’t exactly deny it, either.

I rewatched this scene a few times because there was something about it I couldn’t quite put my finger on. There is, of course, the sexual banter on Crowley’s side and the way Dean is filmed is quite sexy in an old-style cowboy sort of way (like the moment when he goes over to get a pool cue). But then it occurred to me – Dean is playing pool. And whenever we see the Brothers onscreen playing pool, they are hustling someone. Their MO is to pretend to be an easy mark and then pool-shark their opponent. Note also that Dean didn’t start playing pool until Crowley showed up. So, just who is zooming who here?

In Milton, Julia is telling Sam about Henry and Josie’s visit. They, of course, didn’t use their real names. They were undercover. But she did hear their real names later, albeit just their first names. Sam admits to having known (of) them, but claims, “It’s complicated.” Julia just laughs. As an ex-nun, “complicated is my middle name.”

She explains that the reason for their arrival was that another nun, a Sister Mary Catherine, had committed two murders, then jumped from the bell tower. Julia says that when Henry and Josie arrived, she took them to the Mother Superior.

Cut to the Mother Superior looking through Henry and Josie’s paperwork with a cold eye. Another nun, Sister Agnes, stands by, smiling cheerfully. Henry tries to move the Mother Superior along in her decision by saying they have to report to the Vatican in the morning. Eventually, the Mother Superior hands their papers back to her cheerful assistant, who hands them back to Henry with the comment that the convent is now open to them. She assigns Julia to guide them.

Out in the hallway, Julia asks them how they want to get started. When Josie tells her she wants to start with the dead nun’s sleeping quarters, Julia looks to Henry for confirmation and he has to give it before Julia will budge. Josie is irritated at being treated as Henry’s subordinate. As Julia goes ahead of them, Josie hisses at Henry, “I hate nuns.” Seems she went to Catholic school and “I have a lot of pent-up anger.”

Henry, for his part, worries about going out on this “investigation” so close to their initiation. What if something happens and he leaves his wife Millie a widow and his son John and orphan? Josie says that they’d “be proud that you answered the call.” Henry starts to say that Josie doesn’t understand because she doesn’t have a family – oops. He does apologize and Josie brushes it off, but it’s hit home.

Inside the room, there is a bloody message on the wall that Julia says they couldn’t remove. Henry figures that confirms they’re dealing with demonic possession. Josie identifies the main symbol as “Pre-Enochian” and says it means “Knights of Hell.” That gets a reaction out of Henry, who calls it “trouble.”

In the present, Sam is shocked to hear this name in what, to this point, has been a fairly run-of-the-mill hunt.

Julia’s memories are rather limited because she was just a bystander. The nuns weren’t supposed to leave their rooms after ten o’clock, but when she heard footsteps out in the corridor, she went to investigate in her bedclothes. She saw Mother Superior, with black eyes, dragging a struggling woman up the stairs. When she ducked back into the hallway and turned around, she got cold-cocked by Mother Superior’s smiling assistant, Sister Agnes.

She woke up in a room, gagged and tied to a chair. Others were there, too, in the same state. A nun entered and grabbed a young woman. One by one, the others were dragged into another room, where Julia heard screaming and what sounded like an angel whine. She prayed to God, but the two people who actually showed up were Henry and Josie. Shouting dual exorcisms, they exorcised the two nuns there. The demons smoked out and the nuns fell down, apparently dead.

Unfortunately, when the Mother Superior entered, Henry’s exorcism didn’t work on her. She laughed and TK’d him into a wall, knocking him out, as Sister Agnes came in behind her. As Julia hid behind a screen, the Mother Superior interrogated Josie, under pain of torturing Henry. At first, the Mother Superior thought they were Hunters (Josie scoffed at that), but Josie then admitted that they were Men of Letters.

Some snark about misogyny and underestimating women followed, as Mother Superior’s possessing demon first decided to possess Henry. Josie persuaded her not to, offering herself, instead. Mother Superior guessed, correctly, that Josie was in love with Henry, though Henry “only” loved her as a sister.

Josie, apparently not understanding how demons worked, said she gave the demon “permission” to enter her. The demon laughed, identifying herself as Abaddon (yes, that Abaddon) and said that “Abaddon takes what she wants.” She then possessed Josie, the Mother Superior falling down dead like a puppet with her strings cut.

Sister Agnes wondered why Abaddon was going to “study the Men of Letters.” Abaddon said she was only going to do so “for a moment” before destroying them. She told her demon assistant to keep the home fires burning on their experiment and then told her to play dead. Abaddon went back to pretending to be Josie and tended to Henry, who woke up dazed. “Josie” told him they had defeated the demons.

When Sam asks Julia what Abaddon’s experiment was, she says she doesn’t know, but that it seems to be what is happening again now. She says that the convent was called St. Bonaventure and Sam recognizes it as the same name on the van the schoolteacher got out of in the CCTV footage. Julia says the convent has “been closed for years” and is on the edge of town.

Cut back to the bar, where Dean is back to drinking, an annoying Crowley tagging along. I can’t determine what the song is on the jukebox. Crowley complains that Dean is stalling and in denial about the “gift” he’s been given.

Dean: I’m a Hunter.

Crowley: Who’s a chip off the old Mark of Cain.

Dean [with intensity]: No. When I kill, I kill for a reason. I’m nothing like Cain.

Crowley begs to differ. He had a front row seat to Dean meeting Cain. He knows they are, in fact, very much alike. Sympatico, even.

Crowley: Nothing like Cain? What’s in that bottle? Delusion? I’m really starting to worry about you, Dean.

Dean: Yeah, well, why don’t you worry about yourself?

Crowley says he already does. They are “in this together,” so they have no choice but to work alongside each other. He then says he’s going off to take a leak, asking Dean if he wants to “cross streams” (not only is that a reference to Ghostbusters, but that’s a pretty R-rated gay proposition for the CW!).

After Crowley leaves, Dean has another flashback, this time to Sinclair putting the First Blade into his hand and telling him “Next time, it’ll be easier.”

As he comes out of the flashback, Dean glances over and sees a young man handling a rosary. Then the young man pulls out a hunting knife and heads toward the washroom. A Hunter. Dean gets an Oh, crap look on his face and goes after him. Oh, and the song on the jukebox is Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good.”

Dean stops the kid at the washroom door and tries to talk him down. Dean identifies himself and asks if the kid has ever taken on a demon before (considering he’s “bringing a knife to a demon fight,” the obvious answer is no). He says that normally, he’d help him, but this is a different day (he doesn’t explain why). He also says that once the demon finished with the kid, he’d go after everyone he ever loved, even his “prom date.” Uncertain, the kid backs down and sheathes his knife: “I got a kid sister. She don’t deserve that.”

Dean asks his name and the kid says it’s Jake. Dean shakes his hand and sees him off. He looks conflicted as the kid leaves. Then he bangs on the door and tells Crowley it’s time to go.

Cut back to Milton, where Sam is pulling up to the convent in the dark, in the Impala. There’s a chain-link fence and a faded sign. Let’s just say that the nunnery has seen better days. But the van is there. Hmm.

Cut back to the bar, where Dean is waiting for Crowley outside. Dean points out that demons don’t pee and that the next time Crowley wants to shoot up, he should find a better lie. He asks why Crowley fell off the wagon so quickly. Crowley admits that “after very little soul-searching, I decided to embrace my addiction. What about you? It takes a junkie to know a junkie. You just want to touch that Precious again, don’t you?” (Yes, that’s a reference to Gollum and the One Ring from Lord of the Rings.)

Dean says that all he still wants is to “kill Abaddon.” Whatever the consequences, whatever happens with the First Blade, that’s his goal and he’s sticking to it. What he wants or fears is immaterial. So, Crowley says fine, “it’s a date.” Rolling his eyes, Dean leaves.

As Dean crosses the street, the young man comes up beside Crowley with black eyes. He admits he was sure for a moment that Dean had “made” him as possessed. Crowley admits that Dean is currently a bit distracted. When his demon lackey comments that Dean “saved” Crowley, Crowley rather proudly says that of course he did, “We’re besties,” and pronounces Dean “ready.” Okay, but ready for what?

Sam is entering the convent, which is covered in mold and random trash all over the place. He goes downstairs with a flashlight and the Spork at the ready. In the basement, he finds a line of five sealed jars, each containing a glowing soul. He’s attacked by the guy who was driving the van. It turns out he’s possessed when Sam whips around and stabs him with the Spork. The demon dies in an internal red glow.

Sam then gets punched into a wall of trash by the assistant nun from the flashbacks, Sister Agnes. Picking up the Spork, which got knocked out of Sam’s hand, she comments that “souls are a very precious and fragile thing. Break one of those [the jars] and them little buggers fly right back home.” As she casually kicks over the dead man’s corpse, she complains about how the “dirty work” for Abaddon Sam calls her out for doing has gotten “dirtier” over the years as people lost faith over “pervert” scandals in the Church. It used to be that the faithful would just come right in and it was like “fish in a barrel.” But hey, at least she can take Sam’s soul, so he’s helping the cause that way.

Sister Agnes sure likes to talk. She Evil Overlord Monologues about how Abaddon’s current plan is to create an entire army of loyal demons, rather than work hard to gain the loyalty of those wavering in Hell. She has “factories” all over the country of demons stealing souls and converting them into demons … somehow (the details aren’t clear). Sam stalls her long enough to recover to the point of slipping in a Rituale Romanum. Furious, she grabs him by the throat, but he also has it recorded on his phone. As he hits the button, he tosses the phone away. Crippled, the demon crawls after it and manages to smash it before it finishes. But in the process, she drops the Spork. Sam stabs her from behind with it, killing her. I guess she won’t be reporting back to Abaddon about this, then.

Sam goes over to the jars and opens them one by one. They then return to the surviving people in the cells, Billy first. He watches in astonishment as they go into the others in the cell block. Everyone looks dazed.

The next day, Sam asks Julia if he can ask her a question. She jokes that she doesn’t “date anyone under 65. Too much drama.” But she agrees to a question. He asks her why she didn’t “warn Henry about Abaddon.”

Julia looks pensive and guilty. With tears in her eyes and in a shaking voice, she admits that as a young novitiate, she just wanted to “help people,” but she had never been taught what it was like to confront “true evil,” or how to face it. In short, she was afraid.

In a flashback, we see Henry and “Josie” the following day, telling the staff not to tell anyone about what happened. Abaddon, inside Josie, specifically tells Julia to keep “quiet,” right in front of Henry. Frightened, Julia replies, “Of course.”

In the present, Julia says that she soon left the Order because she was so deeply “ashamed” of her cowardice. Sam gives her a kind of absolution by pointing out that this time, at least, she helped “save lives” and put a stop to at least this evil operation of Abaddon’s.

But as Sam gets in the Impala and drives away, a shaken Julia is caught up in a final flashback. Abaddon stares at her from the car passenger seat as Henry drives them away. Inside the car, an oblivious Henry is jubilant over the successful “investigation” and says he now realizes he was foolish to doubt the good in it. He asks “Josie” how she feels and she replies, “Me? Well, I feel like a whole new person.” Oof. Bit on-the-nose there, Show.

Sam arrives back at the Bunker to find Dean neck-deep again in research. Dean asks how the hunt went. Grabbing some files and sitting down at a nearby table with a beer, Sam admits that Dean was right – they need to find Abaddon and they need to do it “ASAP.” He tells Dean about the “mining souls” operation and what it’s for. The camera pulls back on them as Sam opens a file and a beer, and Dean looks taken aback for a moment, then gets back to work.

Credits

The show rose again to a 1.0/3 in the A18-49 demo and in audience to 2.25 million. Part of the rise was certainly due to the popularity of the previous episode, but some of it may also have been due to the publicity surrounding the identity of the director this week.

Review: Like “Blade Runners,” this episode is a case of good direction (Misha Collins, in his first stint behin the camera) improving a weak script. Collins has a lot of unsettlingly framed camera shots, shadows, and atmosphere that make the episode creepy even when it has no right to be.

Unfortunately, “Mother’s Little Helper” (from, of course, the classic Rolling Stones song about 1960s drug-addicted housewives) is much less memorable than “Blade Runners,” suffers mightily from prequelitis, has more than a whiff of sexism (despite several strong female characters in the story), and has been rendered a rather pointless cul de sac of mytharc in the grand scheme of things. Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s on the cynical side and quite depressing. In short, it’s a fairly typical Adam Glass script.

I’m going to spoil things a bit for people and note that Abaddon’s grand plan for creating demon factories, a ridiculous retcon never fully explained, goes absolutely nowhere. It also makes no sense.

Even if it were better explained how and why demons could create demons so arbitrarily by stealing souls (why make crossroad deals in the first place if you can just steal the person’s soul and demonize it?), it wouldn’t explain why Abaddon would still need them. Sure, soul factories are a good idea in the pre-Apocalypse period (assuming Hell could get away with such a plan without Heaven or the Reapers noticing – an awfully big If), but by season nine, Abaddon was operating on an entirely different field where she was wooing pre-existing demons away from Crowley in a bid to become Queen of Hell – and doing so quite successfully, Sister Agnes’ jibes about “panty-waist demons” notwithstanding.

I suppose you could argue that she was still building a demon army in order to take over the earth in the wake of the angel fall and wars, but that seems like overkill. Why overachieve like that when she could gain what she wanted with the way Hell already was? Maybe that’s why this storyline was basically dropped after this episode. It all feels a bit too Pinky and the Brain.

The MOTW also founders on what was obvious already in season six – the idea that you can steal someone’s soul and they can still walk around as a living, breathing, thinking person is ridiculous in light of previous canon. Before that season, souls were always de facto presented as the ghost in the machine that animated a body. A body might falter on for a while with the soul moving around nearby as a fetch (as in the season two premiere, “In My Time of Dying”), but it could not function without a soul to power it. A body without a soul was an impossibility, a perpetual motion machine.

Then came season six. Even leaving aside the idea that soulessness was basically just a way for then-showrunner Sera Gamble to bring Sam back while simultaneously manufacturing more drama with Yet Another Sam Done Come Back Wrong plot (a graphic representation of Sam’s impenetrable plot armor, you could say), the writers could never quite settle on what soulessness turned Sam into. Practically every episode, he was doing something different. He was indifferent but passive. No, he was violent and aggressive. No, he was a super-horny sex machine. No, he was a callous psychopath. No, he was just inconsiderate and goofy.

When this episode tried to make out that different people had different personalities and reactions when they were soulless (how, when the soul is your personality?), I just laughed. Three seasons later and the show still didn’t know what the hell it was doing with this concept. I didn’t actually care about any of these random people who had lost their souls and then turned into assholes, but I did find it pretty bleak that even after they got their souls back, their lives were still destroyed. And what about the woman who killed herself? Where did her soul end up?

While I love, in theory, the idea of Henry Winchester and Josie Sands going off on a hunt together (sorry, investigation), this episode shows why prequels and flashback episodes don’t tend to be very good. Sure, this show has dealt a lot in flashbacks, sometimes very well (“A Very Supernatural Christmas,” for example), but the flashbacks practically take over the narrative in this one. Neither the flashback story, nor the two present day stories, do much to move the overall mytharc forward. Since this is a mytharc story masquerading initially as an MOTW (that conveniently and randomly turns out to be Very Connected to the Sam and Dean Story), that’s a problem.

Okay, so we find out how and why Josie got possessed by Abaddon. But it’s as though Glass tries to answer questions that didn’t really need to be answered, while leaving out answers that could have added to the tale. We do not, for example, ever learn what ultimately happened to Josie’s soul after Abaddon possessed her. That seems like a rather large omission in an episode that is obsessed with souls (to the point that much of the plot logic gets downright creaky).

Is Josie still trapped inside her own body at this point or was she killed off, say, when Abaddon had to smoke out at the end of season eight? Is she now in Heaven, due to her self-sacrifice, or Hell (because the morality of the SPNverse can be pitiless and arbitrary)? At least close her story out.

Similarly, while I found Dean’s story more interesting than Sam’s (because frankly, I wanted to know what was going on with Dean in the aftermath of his killing Sinclair), that story moved forward only a little bit. The one thing that seemed glaring, aside from Dean’s fears about being overcome by the Mark’s influence and becoming a monster, was the revelation that Crowley was indeed obsessed with Dean and Dean alone, to the point of “testing” Dean’s devotion in a totally pointless manner.

At the end, as he crows in triumph to an underling that Dean really does care about him (when the test shows no such thing), the fullness of Crowley’s self-delusion becomes apparent. Crowley has found a new addiction and its name is Dean Winchester. But that didn’t require a B-story to confirm after what was going on last week and there’s not much of an arc to Dean realizing he’s slowly losing control over himself (though the subtle way he and Crowley manipulate each other is still kinda fun to watch).

Even so, that subplot at least had smart people in it, even if they were lying to themselves. The human characters in the flashback story come off as stupid, including ones previously established as very sharp, indeed. Henry, for example, was introduced in “As Time Goes By” as able to think quickly enough on his feet to escape from Abaddon through a time tunnel over half a century long and trap her in it, too. In effect, despite having no way to kill her, he is able to take her out of action for that entire period of time.

Too bad, then, that he seems to have been clobbered by the Stupid Stick in “Mother’s Little Helper.” I get that the idea is to show us how Henry and Josie got to the point that they did in the “As Time Goes By” flashback, so that Henry has to be fooled by Abaddon up to that point. But this explanation as written and filmed feels unsatisfying. Prequelitis in action.

Then there’s Josie Sands. Up to this point, she has been portrayed as a valiant lone Woman of Letters who fought hard to become a member of this exclusively male club (still not sure why), only to be used as the possessed instrument of its destruction. The best motivation Glass can give her to stand still long enough to get possessed by Abaddon is that she is in luurrrve (as the Scots say) with Very Happily Married Henry and sacrifices herself on his behalf.

It’s as big a cliché as the stereotypically wiffy, Pre-Vatican II old school nuns who get possessed en masse by minions of Satan. Even Abaddon lampshades how stupid the whole idea is by explicitly pointing out to Josie that a demon doesn’t have to get permission from a host, so Josie’s “deal” is ultimately pointless. And don’t get me started on the whole “orphan” thing. Glass goes right down the rabbit hole of “Single career women in the 1950s were lonely and miserable and unfulfilled.” Barf.

The idea that Josie couldn’t be a complete woman without the (unrequited) love of a good man is dated and very messed up. In general, while the episode has several significant female characters in it, they are almost all pretty negative. The possessed nuns are EVOL. Julia is a coward. DTG schoolteacher and the diner waitress are non-entities. And Josie starts out sparky, but ends up a sacrificial victim who is completely erased from the story in the end. Maybe if Glass had actually bothered to spend a bit more time on the convent setting and dynamic, it might have worked. But instead, he tosses a lot of disparate elements into the pot and they don’t really gel.

Part of what makes the episode so depressing is how clearly outmatched Henry, Josie and Julia are in this story by Abaddon. I found Julia’s claim that no one taught her about “true evil” puzzling, since Pre-Vatican nuns got a real earful on how to deal with supernatural and especially demonic evil. Sure, she was young and vulnerable, and still would have been overwhelmed, but the concept shouldn’t have come completely out of the blue.

I guess Julia is supposed to be some sort of analogue for Sam and his waffling over hunting, but the analogy mostly made me wish he’d get off the pot already and make a decision. Further, what he learned about Abaddon didn’t really add to the hunt for her. This was all really old information and the Brothers already knew where she’d been all that time. She did pop out of their motel closet, after all.

But the way Abaddon is portrayed in this episode doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. She is portrayed as so overwhelmingly powerful that Julia’s entire life is blighted by their encounter, Josie is completely destroyed, and Henry is made a fool of. Yet, we already know that even though she is able to massacre the American Men of Letters, Henry will shortly after trap her and the Brothers will trap her yet again once she reaches the present time. And, of course, her power is nothing compared to Cain’s.

The thing is that what Abaddon really possesses is a clever and strategic mind, and an invulnerability that can only be outmatched by an archangel or a bearer of the Mark and the First Blade. But she can certainly be defeated by other means short of killing her outright. So, the tragic inevitability Glass was going for falls flat. Again, not a fan of prequels. If you already know how the story ends, it’s a bit hard to create a new one with surprises, but that has the same ending.

While I liked Julia (what’s with all the J names for women in this episode?), and Jenny O’Hara had good chemistry with Jared Padalecki, I couldn’t help thinking of Sam’s huge aversion to hanging out with Gertie in season three’s “Red Sky at Morning.” Sure, Gertie was hitting on him pretty heavily, but Sam in general seemed to have problems with the combination of her age and gender, as much as the sexual harassment. That Glass didn’t even seem to be aware of this made things a tad weird for me between Sam and Julia.

I also didn’t really think it was necessary for Sam to learn the lesson via Julia, especially at this point in the show, that he needed to pull on his Big Boy Pants, step up, and be counted or more people were going to die. Henry was his grandfather, too, who got killed by Abaddon right of him and Dean. At the very least, even if Sam hadn’t fully comprehended the threat Abaddon represented up until this point, he would have wanted revenge. Sam’s pretty copacetic with revenge as a motive.

While, as I said, it moved at a snail’s pace, I found what was going on between Dean and Crowley much more interesting. When Crowley was flirting with Dean, I kept thinking of the relationship between Jim Williams and Danny Hansford in the book (and film) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Hansford was a young hustler who hooked up with historic preservationist Williams for a couple of years in Savannah, GA back in the late 1970s.

One day in May 1981, they had a fight and Williams shot Hansford (who was apparently prone to rages and may have been brandishing a gun). Since Williams (obviously) was gay, his claim of self-defense wasn’t taken very seriously. He eventually managed to get an acquittal after two guilty verdicts and a hung jury, then dropped dead a few months later in January 1990. The book’s author John Berendt speculated that part of the anger toward Williams in Savannah high society was due to the general view that Hansford was a very good time, but when he died age 21 at Williams’ hands, he was “a good time not yet had by all.”

It is quite obvious in “Mother’s Little Helper” that Crowley is into Dean and that Dean is aware of this. It is less obvious, but still pretty clear, that Dean is using this to manipulate Crowley and that Crowley is in massive denial about it. There’s this vibe between them of an older man enamoured with a much-younger man who is using him, even though the older man knows it (a bit like Toddy and Richard at the beginning of the comedy Victor/Victoria (1982)).

The bland and generic background music in this clip is much more intrusive than in the episode and sounds like incidental soundtrack music. However, Linda Ronstadt singing “You’re No Good” in the next Dean/Crowley scene after this? Thaaat’s on point.

When Dean is playing pool, I think he is also hustling Crowley and he’s very good at it. For all of Crowley’s denials, he needs Dean a lot more right now than Dean needs him. Abaddon would certainly be even more deadly to humanity if she were to successfully become the Queen of Hell. But if she did, while the Brothers would likely survive, Crowley would be toast.

Dean may (or may not) be aware that the young “Hunter” was possessed and in cahoots with Crowley, or that Crowley was running a game on him. If he’s not aware, it makes him look a bit dumb (or at least preoccupied, as Crowley puts it). But if he is aware, that’s pretty dark.

And the truth is, the way Jensen Ackles plays it, it’s not clear if Dean knows or not. The way he looks as that kid walks away … is he feeling guilty because he’s “protecting” a monster like Crowley from another Hunter (even though he’s not lying when he says the kid is totally overmatched)? Or is he feeling guilty because he knows it’s all a set-up and he’s letting an innocent host be used, and just walking away from it? He does, after all, admit to Crowley that he knew full well he was in the bathroom shooting up, so how deep does Dean see the layers in this one? When he says he’s “all in” and willing to do anything to kill Abaddon, he’s not kidding.

Next week: Meta Fiction: Metatron’s back and he’s busily stoking the fires of what’s left of the angel civil war. The question is “Why?”

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: “Blade Runners” (9.16) Retro Recap and Review

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According to recent reports from Vancouver, the cast returned to work the first week of August (about two weeks late). Jensen Ackles also explained in a recent virtual “fan experience” through Creation Con that the writing for the last two episodes has been tweaked to reflect recent events (i.e., the Coronavirus pandemic). With these writers, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. He also said that 15.19 will be a season finale, while 15.20 is more like a series finale (and expressed sadness on Instagram when he got the final script, which said “The End” instead of the usual “To Be Continued”). In an already truncated final season, that likely means we’ll get stuck with some filler clips episode as the last one. Yay.

The show is returning October 8 and the series finale will be November 19. Yes, it’s back on Thursdays. If I manage to stay on track, I should be able to post the season nine finale retro review right after the show comes back on Sunday, then bring in the newest season five recap and review the following Thursday.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat and I’ve got a house full of fosters right now.

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

Recap: Then recap of Henry Winchester, the Men of Letters, and Dean’s quest with Crowley to meet Cain and find the First Blade.

Cut to Now, where Sam is looking at an article online entitled “Cain and Abel: The First Brothers,” while Dean (in a plaid flannel shirt and jeans) leaves increasingly exasperated voicemails for Crowley. Sam points out that Crowley is “not a team player,” but Dean retorts that Crowley is every bit as invested in finding the First Blade as the Brothers are. He grumps that Crowley hasn’t said “peep” to him for weeks – well, nothing “coherent,” anyway. Dean plays a voicemail from Crowley in which Crowley is clearly drunk-dialing Dean. Sam, who has up to this point been suggesting that Dean might actually care too much about Crowley’s welfare, is a little shocked to see that it’s Dean who has that effect on Crowley, not the other way round.

Dean calls again. Cut to a garishly expensive hotel room, where Not Moose is leaving a message on Crowley’s neglected cell phone while a red-eyed and strung-out Crowley has sex with a possessed woman in fetching black lingerie. Her name is Lola. She is also shooting him up with human blood from an unwilling donor tied up in the closet. As she gets some more blood, the poor guy passes out, either near death or already dead. After Crowley shoots up, he asks her to go out for food, calling himself “ravenous,” and suggests she also find another “donor.”

She returns later with two pizzas, to find the guy in the closet now draped across a chair, dead. Crowley is watching Casablanca (the scene where Ilse tries to talk and then shoot the letters of transit out of Rick) and weeping in a very maudlin way. Lola smiles a mean smile as she observes his (apparent) weakness.

Cue title cards.

Cut to Lola in a warehouse, waiting for a “minion” of Abaddon (who is wearing a slacker white dude). She isn’t pleased that she isn’t speaking to Abaddon personally, but quickly realizes she’s stuck reporting by proxy, at least for now. She tells the minion (named Aldo) that she has Crowley wrapped around her finger, helpless on an orgy of sex, food and human blood. Aldo compliments her on this, smiling, but his smile fades when she mentions the voicemails Dean has been leaving, including one that mentions the First Blade. Uh-oh.

He tells her to keep on it. She agrees, but bluntly says that the next time, she expects to report to Abaddon directly. She knows that keeping Crowley like this is extremely risky and she expects to be well-compensated should she survive.

Cut to midnight at a crossroads, where the Brothers have drawn a large red devil’s trap with spray paint. Sam does the summoning spell and Snooki from Jersey Shore appears behind them in the trap, with glowing red eyes. She recognizes them, too, grumping “Winchesters!”

The Brothers are shocked that they recognize her host (some fans had a huge problem with this stunt-casting, but frankly, I think she does downright well compared to Paris Hilton in season five – that was terrible).

“Well, that explains a lot,” says Dean. But when Sam calls her “Snooki,” she chirps, “It’s Nicole now.” This was around the time that Snooki started going by her given name again.

Sam tells her they can “do this the Easy Way … or the Easier Way.” The latter involves torture with the Spork (and is Dean’s favorite). Either way, she’ll end up talking.

At first, she balks, saying that “What happens in Hell stays in Hell.” But when Sam goes after her face first, she immediately caves. She tells them that Crowley was last seen “in the Western Pacific” (remember that Cain said he tossed the First Blade into the deepest ocean he could find) and that Abaddon has been using this as her opportunity to take over Hell. I’ll bet she has, especially if she knows what Crowley is after. Snooki warns the Brothers that even Crowley’s most loyal demons are switching sides.

Snookie: Are we done here? I got a thing.

Instead, Dean nods to Sam, who starts reciting an exorcism on an irritated Snooki.

Back at the motel, Crowley is reading Little Women while waiting for Lola to come home. She arrives with tons of shopping (to cover the real reason she left) and a bag of human blood. “I just love what it does for you,” she purrs.

“Do you?” Crowley says, with a warning edge in his voice. Before she can register it, he waves a hand and TK’s her into the bedroom. She slides and collides with the bed. Crowley stalks in after her, snarling “Did you really think you could play me?”

At first, Lola tries to grovel, calling herself his “slave.” Crowley counters by calling her his “rodent.” A rat, in fact, who reported on him to Abaddon (something he confirmed with another demon while she was out). He says he could have helped her if she hadn’t betrayed him.

At this point, Lola makes a fatal mistake. Straightening up, she laughs at him and says, “You couldn’t help anyone.” Unsurprisingly, he pulls out an angel sword and stabs her to death. Then, to the opening strains of Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” (of course), he shoots up the human blood Lola brought him. Then he looks around at his dead donor and another man’s body (either a previous donor or the demon he got the info about Lola from), then at Lola’s dead host. At first he smiles, but when he looks in the mirror, the smile fades and he looks lost.

Back at the Bunker, Dean is entering the Library while Sam is looking at a site about the Mariana Trench. Sam says that since Cain said he threw the First Blade into “the deepest ocean,” that must mean the Mariana Trench. Dean agrees.

Sam then wonders if Crowley is just setting up a double cross and has no intention of bringing them the Blade. Dean points out that this theory “makes no sense.” This was Crowley’s plan in the first place and he needs them to kill Abaddon. Sam then says okay, but there’s nothing stopping “us” from killing Crowley, too, once they have the First Blade (who’s this “us,” Sam? Dean’s the one with the Mark). Dean agrees: “Nothing at all.”

At that moment, Dean gets a call and it’s from Crowley. He answers with “Did you find the First Blade, yet?” Gets right to the point, he does.

Crowley admits that he hasn’t, but that he needs “your help.” Cut to a shot of the Impala on the road in daylight and the exterior of a hotel, then of Crowley letting himself back into his suite, carrying a paper bag. He finds the Brothers waiting for him, Sam sitting in a chair and Dean leaning against a doorjam. Kicking the foot of one of the dead bodies still in the room, Dean says, “What is all this?” in a totally cold and cynical tone.

“Refreshments?” Crowley says, trying for some levity.

Sam gets up and grabs the bag from Crowley, opening it to find another blood bag, this one of AB negative blood. Sam asks if Crowley is “knocking over blood banks, now”?

As Dean pulls up a chair and shoves Crowley into it, Sam slaps some demon handcuffs on Crowley. Crowley, incredulous, asks if this is an intervention as the Brothers berate him for letting both them and his followers down.

Crowley: You don’t know what it’s like to be human! [realizing what he just said off Dean’s double-take] It’s your DNA. It’s my addiction. My cross. My burden!

Crowley complains that his addiction makes him “needy.” He needed Lola to feed it and she fed everything he told her to Abaddon. Sam, worried, asks if Crowley told her about the First Blade. Crowley admits that he’s not sure and both Brothers are like, Well, crap. Cat’s out of the bag. Dean figures that Abaddon must be hunting for the Blade now, too. Dean decides that it’s time to cut Crowley off and make him go “cold turkey.”

Cut back to the Dungeon in the Bunker, where Crowley is grumbing that the décor hasn’t changed. Sam is sitting nearby with a laptop and tells him to “focus.” He asks Crowley if he scanned the Mariana Trench for the Blade. Crowley says that he did, but it wasn’t there. It had already been found by “an unmanned sub,” then “stolen by a research assistant,” who apparently “sold it to Portuguese smugglers.” But said smugglers “lost it to Moroccan pirates in a poker game.” Sam is bemused by this elaborate chain of evidence, to which Crowley snarks, “Poor Moose. It’s always a little tricky keeping up, isn’t it?”

Crowley then proceeds to study Sam. When Sam, more than a little spooked, asks him what the hell he thinks he’s doing, Crowley claims that they “shared a mo” when Sam was “curing him” at the end of season eight and that they are now “bonded.”

Sam bluntly replies that Crowley is only still alive because he is useful in eliminating Abaddon, who is actually worse than Crowley. He then tells Crowley to tell him what happened after the pirates got hold of the Blade.

Cut to a park at night, where the Brothers are in their FBI suits, waiting for a contact Crowley told them about. Nearby, Crowley is trying to steal from a candy machine, which an embarrassed Sam confirms with Dean. Dean muses that Castiel at least was a “decent guy” as a human being. Who knew that a more-human Crowley would be “a douche version”?

Dean then gets up and tells Crowley in the loudest stage whisper ever, “You’re the King of Rotten! Act like it!” Crowley stops and walks away, looking chagrined.

Dean is skeptical that this contact with show up, but Sam says it’s their only lead. The contact, an Andre Develin, was the one who bought the First Blade from the pirates. He’s the only one who knows where it went next.

At that moment, Develin shows up, but his helpfulness ends at that point. He isn’t thrilled to hear that he is being rousted by the FBI and starts to leave.

Crowley, sitting on a park bench nearby, short-circuits the negotiations by vacating his current host and momentarily possessing Develin. Once he gets the info, he leaves and goes back to his usual host (which is a dead body since at least season six,when Bobby shot him, remember). The Brothers, though nonplussed, roll with it when Develin is only momentarily confused by the possession, brushes it off, and asks if he’s being detained. They say no, though Dean tells him that they’ll be “watching” him, to cover for the fact that they already have the info.

After Develin leaves, they turn to Crowley, who tells them the First Blade is at the National Institute of Antiquities in Kansas City, MO (apparently a reference to this book series from the 1990s). Cut to outside the Central Gallery and then to two security guards inside. They’re playing Gin when two columns of black smoke enter the room through the vents and possess them. As they are opening up the vault, a young woman enters the area, having brought them some food. Poor kid ends up getting her throat cut as collateral damage.

Cut to the next day, as the local police are photographing her body and those of the two guards. The detective, played by Da Vinci’s Inquest and Stargate: Atlantis vet Dean Marshall, tells the Brothers (still in their FBI suits) that the guards had been there for years and were reliable, but that the security footage shows them murdering the woman (a research assistant named Beth) after she “caught” them breaking into Vault #1. He then shows them footage of the guards methodically shooting each other in the heart (but not falling) after apparently finding nothing in the vault, then shooting out the camera.

Sam asks what was in Vault #1. The detective says that it was where they kept “new acquisitions” while they were being “vetted.” But nothing was stolen because “the vault’s been empty for weeks.”

He leaves and the Brothers have a quick and quiet conference. Dean notes that the First Blade (obviously being a new acquisition) was probably stored there initially, but where is it now? Sam notes the guards were obviously possessed and Dean says they probably returned to Abaddon after killing any human witnesses.

As the last body is wheeled away, the Brothers then talk to Dr. McElroy, the curator. She is an attractive cougar type who immediately starts flirting with Dean in a BDSM sort of way when Dean tries to go Bad Fed on her about all the laws she broke bringing the artifact into the U.S. At first nonplussed, Dean is soon intrigued and quickly gets into it.

Fortunately, on top of finding Dean attractive, Dr. McElroy is generally cooperative. She admits that her acquisition of the First Blade wasn’t entirely kosher. While it was clearly old (carbon dated to biblical times), she couldn’t get confirmation of whether it was what it was claimed to be (i.e., the biblical First Blade of Cain) and wasn’t likely to any time soon. So, she sold it to an anonymous buyer who had made an offer. The guards were never informed.

She balks a bit at giving them a name of the buyer. But Dean getting into the BDSM role play quickly loosens her resolve. She admits that the buyer never gave her a real name, just “Magnus.”

As she leaves, she gives Dean her card (actually snatching it out of Sam’s hand when Sam reaches for it). Dean keeps it.

Sam points out that “Albertus Magnus” was the name the Men of Letters used when they went “incognito.” Dean points out that all the Men of Letters are dead. Sam wonders if they’re not.

Back to the Dungeon the Brothers go, where they interrogate Crowley about any possible survivors of the MoL massacre in 1958 besides the two they knew about. Crowley whines that they wrecked his rule in the first place, so why should he help them? After some eye-rolling at this (because come on, Crowley, that’s self-absorbed even for you), the Brothers bring him upstairs to the Library, where he whines about the whiskey, peruses a vintage Busty Asian Beauties magazine, and generally acts like a jerk, while giving the Brothers a hard time about their intelligence.

But he does come up with one good idea – he suggests that they try looking for Men of Letters who were alive, but no longer in good standing, at the time of the massacre. The rumor he heard was that there was such a member at the time.

Dean looks around and finds a box of files called “Infamate et Obliterate” (Infamous and Obliterated, essentially, though Crowley translates it as “Dishonored and Forgotten”). After a few hours of research between them, Dean is the first to find someone – a Cuthbert Sinclair. He hands the file over so that Sam can read out Sinclair’s record, which included designing most of the Bunker’s warding. They infodump back and forth about how he become a “Master of Spells” immediately after his initiation, but that the other MoL quickly came to find his experiments “eccentric and irresponsible.” He was kicked out in April 1956, so he wasn’t killed in the massacre because he was no longer officially an MoL.

Crowley admits that he had heard about Sinclair’s expulsion, though not his name. He tried to track Sinclair down so that he could use him to get inside the Bunker, but when he takes the Brothers to the spot, there is nothing but an empty clearing. Crowley says he can’t “sense” anything there, so if Sinclair is in the clearing, “he’s warded up to the gills.” Sam points out that of course a spellmaster like Sinclair wouldn’t let himself be found by demons. When Crowley snarkily asks why Sam and Dean think he would be interested in them, Dean points out that they are “Legacies.” So, yeah, he would be.

Dean suggests they try talking to Sinclair, in case he’s watching. Sam and then Dean call out to him, San showing the Bunker key. A mystic door blows up out of nowhere. When the Brothers approach it, it sucks then inside.

They find themselves in a corridor of priceless paintings, while a chanteuse sings from a distant room. As they approach a polished wood stairwell, they are attacked by two vampires, a man and woman. They quickly dispatch them, Dean more easily than Sam. They hear clapping over an intercom and then a voice (Sinclair’s?) says, “Bravo! Well done!”

Cut to Sinclair putting some ice into his whiskey glass [gasps in horror] as he explains that the attack was a test and the vampires were from his “zoo” of monsters. Ice in whiskey and having a zoo of enslaved sentient creatures aren’t the only boundaries he likes to cross. He also makes snarky comments about the Men of Letters just being “librarians” who didn’t like his ideas of ridding the world entirely of monsters. He says that they preferred to watch and learn and let nature take its course.

When Dean notes that he’s awfully youthful for a guy who must be nearly a century old, Sinclair airily notes that nearly everything has a spell for it. The Brothers, of course, already know that spells for preventing or slowing ageing require another human’s life force to power them, just like the spells for necromancy.

The Brothers are sitting on his couch as he sits down across from them in a suit and a multi-colored bowtie. He laughs out loud in delight when they admit that they are both Legacies and Hunters. It turns out he knew Henry, claiming to have been his mentor and that Henry occasionally visited him, after his expulsion, in his invisible Fortress of Solitude (whoops, wrong franchise, sorry).

Dean brings up Abaddon, precipitating the rant about the MoL being do-nothing librarians. Sinclair says they could have taken care of that situation if they’d only listened to him. Dean says that she can be stopped now, but only with the First Blade, which they hear Sinclair now has.

After a moment of stillness, Sinclair notes that if they had “done your homework,” they would know that the First Blade is only of use to someone with the Mark of Cain. When Dean shows him that he has the Mark, Sinclair actually sits forward and, after another moment of stillness, asks how Dean got it.

Sam cuts short that particular line of questioning by pointing out that if Abaddon becomes Queen of Hell and consolidates her power, she will create “Hell on earth,” which Sam figures even Sinclair can’t avoid.

With a deceptively accommodating smile (everything with Sinclair seems to have at least two or three more underlying layers that are considerably darker than his cheery and friendly surface), Sinclair tells them that the First Blade is right behind them. And there it is – the weathered jawbone of an ass on a stand nearby, deceptively plain and unassuming. Elated, Dean tells Sinclair that if he wants to join the fight, this is a great start if he “loans” them the First Blade to kill Abaddon.

Sinclair thinks about it briefly, picks some snuff out of a dish, and says a spell as he blows the snuff in Sam’s face: “Abi ocules meis,” which basically translates to “Get out of my sight.” Startled, Sam vanishes in a puff of smoke, to Dean’s great consternation. He reappears outside, where Crowley is waiting, and tells him in shock that Sinclair has kidnapped Dean.

Inside, Dean demands to know what Sinclair did to his brother. Sinclair tells him that Sam is “fine.” All he did was “separate the ordinary from the extraordinary.” He had the First Blade and now he has the Mark of Cain. He wants to add Dean to his collection.

Oh, Sinclair does cloak it at first in velvet with the idea of Dean being his eternal, youthful “companion” (“When you were saying any of that, did it feel at all creepy?” says Dean), but when Dean resists, it quickly becomes clear that slavery is really on Sinclair’s mind.

Dean says he’ll just borrow the Blade and go. When Sinclair points out there are no doors or windows, Dean pulls out his machete and says he’ll figure it out. At that point, Sinclair says a spell in Chinese. This makes the machete glow red hot, forcing Dean to drop it. When he goes for his gun, Sinclair shows that he has palmed it. I presume that we are to imagine the rest of this conversation as Dean runs down the list of his usual weapons. As has been shown in canon many times before (except when the writers are lazy and write Dean as Plot Stupid), Dean always goes around heavily and multiply armed.

Anyhoo, it’s no big surprise that the next time we see Dean and Sinclair, Dean is chained to a pillar in the room.

Outside, Sam is opening up the trunk (and pulling the Spork out when Crowley tries to peer in too close). Crowley also tries to peer inside Sam’s head, pushing the “We’re best human blood mates” angle again and that he’s done quite a bit for Team Free Will of late. He could be useful.

Sam begs to differ, saying that because the place is warded, Crowley is even more useless than usual. Crowley finally manages to “buy” his way into the plan by pointing out that he does still have a set of extra hands. So, after much grousing and many insults, Sam discovers later that night that he needs a spell to enter the mansion, which has no “visible” entrances or exits. He will need some things that Crowley could teleport out to get, so Sam reluctantly allows him to tag along.

Inside Sinclair’s mansion, Dean is also trying to get inside Sinclair’s head by insulting him and basically calling him a coward. Sinclair appears to be indifferent to this tactic, at least so far. He is busy taking the First Blade off its pedestal and bringing it over to Dean, chained to his. Sinclair wants to give them both a test drive.

At first, Dean claims to have no interest in holding it, saying “Go to Hell.” Even after Sinclair points out that the First Blade is “the object of your quest” and that Henry would have been interested, Dean won’t take it. So, dropping his affable, eccentric demeanor into a much colder register, Sinclair grabs Dean’s hand and slaps the Blade into it.

The effect is immediate. There is a sizzling noise like frying meat and the ringing of some distant gong, as well as the beating of drums and a rising string section. Dean’s hand shakes and spasms on the Blade, the Mark glows red, and he seems torn between rapture and desperately trying to keep control, until he simply loses his grip on the Blade and drops it.

Rapturous that the effect was so strong, Sinclair picks up the Blade, crooning “Goood. Next time, it’ll be easier. You’ll get used to the feelings, even welcome them.” Dean stares at his shaking hand and looks lost.

Sinclair has a dream and it’s one in which he will use Dean and the First Blade as a weapon to rule the world. Unimpressed, Dean points out that Sinclair (whom he continues to call “Magnus”) can’t kill him because without him and the Mark, the Blade won’t work.

Sinclair’s response is really dark. He grabs Dean’s head and uses a spell to sap his will. Dean is momentarily rendered speechless and immobile, reft of will. Sinclair says that the more he uses the spell, the more easily he will be able to control Dean. I rather doubt that.

Outside, Sam has a bowl that he fills with stuff he then sets on fire while saying a spell in Latin. He tells Crowley to stay close and shut up. As Sam says the spell, the door appears. Sam tosses the bowl away (uh, how is he expecting to get back out without the spell?) and enters, with Crowley at his left shoulder. They find themselves inside the mansion.

Crowley jokes, “I love what he’s done with the place.” But as they’re walking, Sam hears footsteps and they duck into an alcove. Sinclair walks by, about to open a door with a key. But he pauses at the alcove to peer into it, having heard something. No one is there. When he turns back to the door he was going to open, Sam grabs him from behind and says, “Take me to my brother.”

Cut to Sam entering the room with his blade at Sinclair’s throat. When Dean, still chained to the pillar, sees Sam, he tries to warn him. Sam glances across the room and sees another Sinclair. The one he has a blade on changes form to a man in an old-style white shirt and waistcoat. Sam gets into a fight with the shapeshifter, but ends up winning. However, this has given the real Sinclair more than enough time to pull out Dean’s gun. Sam ends up tied to another pillar across the room from his brother.

Sinclair takes a bayonet off another stand and starts to Evil Overlord Monologue, mostly to Sam. He now realizes that Sam has value – but only as a way to force Dean to obey him: “Why should I knock myself out trying to sap your will [to Dean]? I think Sam here can get you to see things my way.” Here, he tacitly admits that the spell he just used on Dean took more effort than he made out in the previous scene, especially since Dean is already over it.

Dean [in a warning tone]: Magnus, I swear to God ….

But Sinclair doesn’t take the hint. He starts slicing Sam on the face, ignoring how Dean is jerking against his chains and growling in a really bestial manner. He tells Sam that he isn’t going to kill him, just make him “suffer unimaginably.”

As Dean is struggling and looking frustrated, Crowley quietly enters the room. He’s unseen by Sinclair, but Dean sees him. A moment later, Sinclair hears Dean’s chains drop to the floor and turns to see that Dean is gone. Immediately, he draws back the bayonet to behead Sam, but Dean comes up out of nowhere behind him with the First Blade, grabs his weapon arm, and beheads him with the Blade in one fell blow.

And that’s when things really start to get interesting.

Dean, after a deadly glare down at Sinclair’s bifurcated body, turns back with a slow, measuring look at Crowley (who has enough motherwit to look at least very wary, if not downright alarmed). Dean then turns back to the First Blade, which calls to him again with the same siren song as before. Dean’s lip curls into a snarl and he can’t hear Sam above the rising sound of war drums until Sam shouts at him to drop the Blade. Shocked out of his murderous trance, Dean does and looks at Sam, completely lost as if he just came out of a dream. Crowley observes all this closely.

The next morning (or whenever, since they could have stayed a while inside, recuperating and cleaning up the “zoo”), as TFW is walking through the brush back to the Impala, Crowley is bragging about how he saved the day while the Brothers got tied to posts (really rolling my eyes at this one, considering how he started the episode by nearly blowing the whole plan). This is cut short when they get back to the car and find it ransacked by Abaddon’s minions. The demons couldn’t find Sinclair’s mansion, or get into the Impala’s trunk, so they keyed a message into the driver’s side to Crowley, in Enochian: “Be Afraid. Your Queen.”

Dean realizes this means Abaddon is right behind them on the search for the Blade (though now they have it, that doesn’t matter so much). Unfortunately, Sam picks this moment to go totally Plot Stupid and remind Dean in a loud stage whisper that they don’t really need Crowley, anymore. Crowley (who obviously is not deaf) then TK’s them to the side of the Impala and takes the First Blade from Sam (who carried it out).

He tells them that even though he’s grateful to them for getting him clean and sober, he can’t trust them and obviously, they don’t trust him, either. After all, Dean is “quite the killing machine” and it “occurs” to Crowley that he is next on Dean’s hit list after Abaddon. Since Dean flat-out told him this at the end of “First Born,” that’s hardly a genius deduction. It’s just that Crowley is finally admitting it out loud, to himself and to the Brothers.

Crowley says he’ll keep the Blade safe until they find Abaddon and call him in. He then teleports away, leaving the Brothers frustrated and Dean mourning over the state of his car.

Credits

The show stayed at a 0.9/3 in the A18-49 demo and dropped in audience to 1.86 million. However, this appears to have been a holdover from how the audience had felt about the previous week’s episode (not great, obviously), since that would influence whether they showed up for a live viewing of this one. Word of mouth about “Blade Runners” turbo-charging the Mark of Cain storyline back up must have got around, since the audience for the episode after this one jumped nearly half a million.

Review: This is one of the best episodes of the season and, I’d dare say, of the entire show. A bold statement, I will grant you, considering the two writers involved were our very own Nepotism Duo, Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming. Then again, the greatest weaknesses in “Blade Runners” were largely in the script, starting with a clunky reference to the film, Blade Runner, that has nothing to do with the episode itself.

Notably, there are two unbelievable Dumb on Cue moments in which a character does/says something uncharacteristic to Crowley that causes Crowley to go off on them and move the plot along. The first is when Lola, mere seconds after begging for her life and only one scene after telling someone else that her boss is extremely dangerous, decides to turn on a dime and mock that same boss exactly in a way that would make him stab her immediately (and without her giving him any real info on what she told Abaddon).

I mean, knowing Crowley, he was going to stab her, anyway. It’s not really necessary to have her mock him except to save time in the script. As usual with these two, said script is overstuffed with plot, all the better for the Nepotism Duo to avoid plumbing any depths in the story.

The second is in the coda when Sam has a callback conversation with Dean (from earlier in the episode) about killing Crowley as soon as they get the First Blade, because then they’ll have no further use for him. The earlier conversation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the first place, seeing as how Crowley actually can and will be very useful to the Brothers until after Dean kills Abaddon (something he and Dean already established between them in “First Born” in an act of realpolitik). But Sam’s timing in bringing it up again – right in front of Crowley – is really dumb (and Sam is not dumb, certainly not like that).

Again, clearly, it was just a way to close out the episode and, I guess, give Crowley a win. Sam’s done some really dumb things in the past, but they didn’t involve turning on an ally, right in front of that ally, while having no clear advantage should the erstwhile ally object.

Now, one could definitely argue that Sam’s antipathy is fueled by a lot of unfinished business with Crowley of the ugly kind. Crowley murdered Sarah late in season eight to get at the Brothers. That’s a big one right there. But the script doesn’t explicitly mention this incident and that’s probably because the writers either forgot or simply never watched that episode (they are notorious for botching canon, even their own, even within the same episode).

Similarly, the episode doesn’t mention that Sam was once led astray by a demon “friend” (Ruby) in seasons three and four, and ended up strangling his brother in a bridal suite very much like the one where Crowley and Lola were hanging out (except more pastel). Well, not in the script, anyway. So, if you haven’t watched those seasons, or don’t remember them very well, you may be wondering why Sam is getting his knickers in such a bunch over working with Crowley, and if maybe this is a Benny situation all over again.

But if you do remember Ruby, Sam’s behavior does make a certain amount of sense from the perspective of his being wary of Dean being seduced the way he was seduced. Even if he was insistent on being the brother who sympathizes with monsters about three episodes ago, and even if it seems pretty clear that jealousy is part of Sam’s motivation here, he still has a good point.

Because Crowley is a monster. This episode makes no bones about that. The script may pass over it lightly, thanks to the idiotic way these two writers like to amp up monster and witch powers, then woobie them (they have zero interest in mere humans, probably because they can’t do subtle characterization worth a damn – just look at poor Lola, the high-priced demon call girl with a heart of lead who was little more than a plot device to explain where Crowley has been the past few episodes). But the direction and acting dive right into that subtext, adding layers Buckner and Ross-Leming probably never even considered, let alone noticed.

And the direction (by Serge Ladouceur) and acting (particularly Mark Sheppard and Kavan Smith as Sinclair) are where and why this episode shines. It’s also superbly edited (aside from some rather weird and experimental camera tricks that I’ll talk about later).

This was one reason I took a bit longer getting this review done this week. Not only did I rewatch the whole episode again before rewatching to recap it, but I kept stopping because there were so many Easter eggs and so much visual subtext that was not in the script, but that became important later in the show. One minor, but intriguing detail is that when Sinclair is slicing up Sam’s face near the end, Sam is positioned in front of a painting of Perseus slaying Medusa. This subtly foreshadows Sinclair’s own demise just seconds later.

Sam is not wrong that Crowley is especially obsessed with Dean to a dangerous extent and would love to corrupt him away from Sam’s side. It’s not exclusively obvious at this point. Crowley does try to shine Sam on this week, playing on their alleged connection via Sam’s attempt to cure Crowley using his purified blood at the end of last season. And it’s not automatically a given that Sam would say no. Sam has said yes to demonic darkness in the past (though in his case, it was female).

Plus, it’s actually a bit late in this particular season for the show to hand over whatever storyline Dean had developed to Sam. Having Sam make some kind of alliance with Crowley and “save” Dean by taking on the Mark himself would simply have been business as usual at this point in the show. They’d done it most recently in 8.14 (“Trial and Error”) with the Trials. So, when that didn’t happen, it was actually quite a shock. Was Dean going to be able to keep this storyline, after all?

Then there was Sinclair’s obsession with Dean. Unfortunately, as per these two writers’ usual shtick, the Brothers were unnecessarily dumbed down to make Sinclair look smarter. However, what wasn’t unbelievable was that Sinclair would get the drop on them, at least initially. He was almost a century old (at least), and had been studying and experimenting with high-level necromancy for most of that time.

He was also an almost-completely unknown element to the Brothers to that point, while he actually knew some things about where they would be coming from (since he’d known their grandfather). It made sense that they would be feeling their way through a minefield with him, even if the writing made Dean look a bit brash and boastful showing the Mark, and Sam a bit clueless thinking that he could team up with Dean on posession of the First Blade.

But Sinclair was also not especially good with people skills (obviously, since even the original Incel Men of Letters kicked him out). Initially, his complete obliviousness to other people’s boundaries and astonishing level of Empire-era white male privilege (the whole slavery thing with Dean and the rest of his “zoo” – yikes) bowled the Brothers over and took them by surprise. But it also created a blind spot where he blithely ignored the warning signs from Dean – or that Sam might not have come in alone with the cavalry – and believed he was in complete control right up until the final moment when Dean astonished him one last time.

And considering that until last week, Dean was quite hesitant to kill humans, even evil ones who were directly threatening him or a loved one, with the same savagery that he killed monsters, Sinclair might have been right. Before last week.

Kavan Smith, another Stargate: Atlantis alumnus who previously appeared as a DTG in season three’s “Time Is on My Side,” does a great job of conveying scholarly depth with no words in Sinclair. Those two momentary pauses when the Brothers are revealing that Dean has the Mark convey a brain where the wheels are spinning mighty fast, calculating the odds and new strategies with the introduction of these new variables. Sinclair is a chess master extraordinaire. Sadly, he’s also a psychopath with no empathy whatsoever for other people. To him, they are just objects for his collection, to be acquired or discarded.

The name Sinclair is obviously meant to invoke the Masonic inspiration for the Men of Letters. The St Clairs were the noble family who built Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland in the early 15th century. There is a legend that Henry St Clair was a secret Templar (very unlikely, since the St Clairs at the time of the Templar Trial made it pretty clear they had no real connections to the Order at all). Further, the legend claims that Henry St Clair made a voyage to North America in the late 14th century. Unfortunately for those who wish to believe this story, it is based on a hoax map that was created in the 16th century. The point is that “Sinclair” is a major name in the more legendary aspects of Masonic history. There is also a St Cuthbert’s masonic lodge in Yorkshire down in England.

The name Magnus has some connections to Arthurian legend (the 4th century Roman general Magnus Maximus was possibly one of the historical inspirations for the figure of King Arthur). In the episode, Dean insists on continuing to call Sinclair “Magnus” because he claims it’s simpler. But it’s also a handy mnemonic way to remember that Sinclair is not just some amiable old Man of Letters, but a deadly necromancer with unknown intentions. And that’s actually quite clever (it also seems to needle Sinclair).

On his part, Sinclair appears to perceive himself as a Merlin to Dean’s Arthur. Dean may be the only one besides his progenitor Cain who can wield Excali – sorry, the Mark of Cain and the First Blade – but Sinclair believes that he can manipulate Dean to the extent that he can use Dean as a living weapon against all enemies. It is not unlike what Crowley wants to do with Dean early in season ten. Everyone wants to manipulate the new young bearer of the Mark of Cain.

On rewatch, I think one of the most chilling moments in the episode is when Crowley walks back into his hotel suite with some purloined blood, only to find the Brothers sitting there deadpan, waiting for him, surrounded by the dead, rotting bodies of his victims. I mean, they didn’t even bother to clean up after him. They are already committed to taking down Abaddon, whatever it takes, because they already know the blood and chaos she could create would far outstrip any of the collateral damage from Crowley’s “excursions.” Even so, when Dean casually kicks the foot of one of Crowley’s blood donors and basically asks him, What the hell is this, then? it’s pretty cold-blooded.

And before anyone says that John or Bobby would never have done such a thing, those two probably did worse. Don’t forget that Crowley’s meat suit is dead because Bobby shot him in season six’s “Weekend at Bobby’s” just for kicks, while “negotiating” himself out of his contract with Crowley. Bobby did the same thing to Ruby’s first meat suit in season three – again, just because. A pointless ego thing to show the demon who was boss. Yep, Bobby was up for that kind of murder of a host, even after what he was forced to do to his wife.

I’m reminded of something a commenter said recently about how the show Lucifer covers the same material as Supernatural, but with a much lighter tone. Lucifer is Urban Fantasy. As this episode emphatically makes clear, Supernatural is a much darker animal. It is Horror (and yes, I still love Lucifer. I am enjoying season five as we speak).

It’s not just Crowley (to our surprise), but the main theme here, at least in the direction and acting, is addiction. Crowley, of course, is addicted to human blood. Sam, of course, was once addicted to demon blood. For both of them, the attraction is a vive la difference sort of thing that makes them feel powerful by feeling different.

Sinclair’s fatal flaw (as it was for the other Men of Letters, including the London chapter we meet later) is an addiction to magic and the easy use of spells for things it might have been best to do the hard, but more educational and ethical, way.

And Dean? Dean is a (not always) functional alcoholic who has smoked pot and dropped acid, and who casually abuses prescription medications. All of this is an extreme case of self-medicating for lifelong psychological and emotional trauma. While he’s been called out for his love of food and sex by other characters, I think those inclinations are actually reasonably healthy and something he can share with people (usually women) in a non-toxic way.

His bloodlust is a whole other ballgame. Dean’s addiction overshadows all the other addictions because it turns out that the Mark plus the Blade sparks the same blood madness in him that it did in Cain. And that, as Sinclair discovers to his great cost, is deadly.

When Crowley shoots up to Velvet Underground’s “Heroin,” the song choice is so perfect it’s almost a cliché. Crowley, even after Lola mocks him, even after the Brothers make him go cold turkey, continues to delude himself with the magic logic of the addict that he is the one in control of the situation, rather than flotsam and jetsam in the wake of the Brother’s plan, trying to come out on top of it all in the end. It’s not until the episode’s coda, when Sam’s comment to Dean (and Dean’s reaction) is like a cold bucket of water on his dreams of being part of TFW again, that Crowley is able to think with a clear head.

Crowley is hard to predict, not because his plan is so intricate, but because he barely has one. It’s more a case of hopes and dreams, really, rather than a blueprint. And we see a new plan start to develop in this episode, one that birthed itself in “First Born.”

The thing is that on top of making him maudlin, human blood makes Crowley crave love. As he wails in the season eight finale, “I deserve to be loved!” But does he? I mean, sure, in the abstract sense, everyone deserves love and it’s true that Crowley became the way he did, at least initially, due to an extreme lack of maternal affection (as we find out later).

But as this episode makes acutely clear, Crowley (much like Sinclair) is utterly lacking in empathy for others. He doesn’t care that he is murdering humans (or allowing them to be murdered) so that he can feel human emotions. Crowley wants all the benefits of these emotions, but he doesn’t want to do any of the emotional work of redemption. He’s a Taker.

But he may soon find he has no choice but to give a little, too. Crowley’s journey in this episode and beyond is extremely noirish. He sees himself as Kitty Collins to Dean’s the Swede in The Killers (1946) (or Ilsa to Dean’s Rick in Casablanca, per this episode, albeit some noir purists will argue vociferously that’s not a “real” noir flick). But in reality, he’s more like Walter Neff to Dean’s Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity (1944), especially after Walter tries to ditch Phyllis for her stepdaughter … Lola.

Even this early on, Dean cold-bloodedly manipulates Crowley in a way that Sam never could Ruby (such as when he shoves Crowley into a chair and tells him he’s going to quit cold turkey, and Crowley’s so distracted that Sam can easily slap the demon cuffs on him). Some fans have claimed that this episode “proves” that Crowley is not gay. You see the same thing with some Torchwood fans and Captain Jack – “pansexual,” “omnisexual,” everything but “gay,” and any sexual relationships he has with women (such as Gwen Sue), however tepid, trump similar relationships with men, however passionate.

Well, first of all, being bisexual is still part of the GLBT rainbow. Second, gay men can have occasional sexual encounters with women and still be primarily homosexual in their orientation. There’s this weird thing where some people will claim to have no problem with a character being something “different” (gay, a woman, a person of color, for example) in theory, and may even create imaginary ships for straight characters in their fanfic. But if a show actually “goes there,” it converts from a safe fantasy to “reality” within the show. And that’s very different because it has permanent consequences for the story and the characters.

So, a few things happen. For one thing, many fans simply blank that Crowley and Dean ever had a romantic relationship at all, even though it followed all the classic noir tropes of a doomed romance between a noir protagonist and a femme fatale. It actually happened.

From some who did notice, I’ve seen criticism that Crowley being gay is homophobic writing by the show. I disagree. A well-done gay character doesn’t have to a saint (and making them a saint doesn’t automatically make them well-done, either). They just have to be well-drawn, to have enough screentime to tell their story from their perspective, and to be a character where Being Gay isn’t everything about them (let alone, if they are evil, what makes them evil). Crowley is all of those things. He’s a complex, popular recurring character on the show and honestly, I found his twisted romance with Dean pretty fun to watch (wish I could say the same about Dean and Castiel the past few seasons).

The thing is that demons have been established almost from the start as gender-and-sexual-orientation-fluid. Regardless of how they may have been in life, they often are not strictly heterosexual in Hell. Just because “Lola,” for example, is in the body of a rogue Victoria’s Secret model, that doesn’t mean she was a woman in life or that her host is a prostitute. It’s a stolen body from an innocent woman who could have been a nun before her possession, for all we know (not that her being a sex worker would have made it okay, just that the persona we see is of the demon, not the host).

But also, even in season five, Crowley was presented as gay (remember “Lovers in league against Satan”? “Why’d you have to use tongue”?). As far as I can tell, what Lola mainly represents is these two writers not doing their homework on the character of Crowley.

While Crowley (being a demon and the King of Hell) obviously had no problem being “ministered” to by Lola, there is no on-screen evidence that he actively seeks out female attention. It’s not just that he’s a blatant misogynist (which he is) who uses and tosses women, especially, like Kleenex. It’s that even in this episode, he is much, much more obsessed with Dean (and Sam) than with Lola or any other woman, aside from the power trip they give him by calling him “My King!” a whole lot. I think the obsession is much more with Dean than Sam, but I’m not entirely convinced that Crowley is trying to cosy up to Sam solely to get to Dean.

On his side of the equation, Dean may have no self-esteem, but he knows full well he has a sexual allure (just look at his scene with the museum curator) and he can wield it like a weapon as adeptly as any film noir femme fatale. He knows he has a power over Crowley. After all the nasty things Crowley has done to the Brothers, I gotta say that it is deeply satisfying to watch Dean turn the tables like that.

I know Mark Sheppard wasn’t too happy with this storyline, or the later one with Rowena, but I think he did an excellent job with both. When Crowley was the “smartest” character in the room, I’m sure that was more fun to play, but it also made him a flat character with limited potential.

This storyline gave Crowley a much-needed pathos and growth for his character, and Sheppard, 30 years sober as of this year, invests a great amount of depth, of hard-earned gravitas, just in this episode alone. That moment when “Heroin” is playing and Crowley is staring into the mirror … yeah. As I said, it could have ended up a cliché, but the emotional honesty from Sheppard sells it all the way down the line.

Similarly, the moments when Dean holds the First Blade could have not worked in lesser hands. Okay, maybe Jensen Ackles curls his lip too much. Maybe those rising violins are a bit overboard. And that seasick telescoping effect the first time Dean holds the Blade is, admittedly, weird.

But it works. It all comes together in a whole that makes us understand the immense and disturbing, the primal influence of the First Blade on the bearer of the Mark. There is a reason why these scenes are some of the most recapped in the entire show.

And there is a reason why the lost look on Dean’s face as he comes out of it near the end, why he’s still rocky even in the coda when they find the car, is such a gut punch. The Mark is not good for Dean’s already-ropey sanity and this is the first time when the show makes that crystal clear. This is the first cosmic weapon that Dean can’t just pick up and then casually drop once he’s done with it. It resonates too well with his inner darkness. This is the episode where we start to see the payoff for this storyline (hell, the first time we get a payoff for any Dean mytharc storyline) and the cost Dean will end up paying on this “quest.”

What accentuates this tragedy is that this is the first episode in a while when Sam is acting as if he actually wants to be around Dean, to be his brother again. Sam starts out the episode apparently believing that he can just switch the brotherly camaraderie back on as if nothing has happened, as if he never said those ugly things to Dean just a few episodes ago. I guess Sam has decided it’s time to forgive Dean (or as much as he has been in the habit of doing so up to this point in the show).

But when they finally catch up with Crowley, Sam is in for a nasty surprise. And it gets even nastier when Sinclair casually discards him and kidnaps Dean. To his credit, Sam doesn’t hesitate to go in and rescue Dean (albeit this could fall under the practicality umbrella of needing to extract the bearer of the Mark and the First Blade, I don’t think Sam’s motivation is actually that cynical).

But Sam finds that the void he left in Dean’s life when he emotionally abandoned his brother is actually being filled – and not by benign influences. Sam also seems to be under the impression that the quest for the First Blade is something he can share in (or co-opt, the way he did the Trials). Again, this episode shows that’s not possible.

So, Sam is already a day late and a dollar short in his reconciliation with his brother. And he’s finding out that he’s going to have to work a lot harder this time to get one. Dean’s kinda busy with other stuff right now.

Next week: Mother’s Little Helper: After Dean is sidelined with the hangover from his encounter with the First Blade, Sam goes in solo to investigate some murders in a convent.

The Kripke Years

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: “#THINMAN” (9.15) Retro Recap and Review

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According to recent reports from Vancouver, the cast returned to work the first week of August (about two weeks late). Jensen Ackles also explained in a recent virtual “fan experience” through Creation Con that the writing for the last two episodes has been tweaked to reflect recent events (i.e., the Coronavirus pandemic). With these writers, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. He also said that 15.19 will be a season finale, while 15.20 is more like a series finale. In an already truncated final season, that likely means we’ll get stuck with some filler clips episode as the last one. Yay.

The show is returning October 8 and the series finale will be November 19. Yes, it’s back on Thursdays. If I manage to stay on track, I should be able to post the season nine finale retro review right after the show comes back on Sunday, then bring in the newest season five recap and review the following Thursday.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat.

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

Recap: Then recap of the Hellhounds/Ghostfacers (from waaayyy back, when the Brothers were much, much younger), then of the Brothers’ current feud (it makes Sam look very bad).

Cut to Now in Springdale, WA. A young girl in an upstairs room (as seen through the window by StalkerVision) is doing selfies and dancing to music (The Wind and the Waves’ “This House Is a Hotel”). Hearing a thump downstairs, she goes to check the hallway, calling for her mother. No answer, she goes back inside her room. As she checks her selfies, she spots a faceless figure in a mask standing behind her. Shocked, she turns to see the figure, then the lights go out. Immediately, she retreats to her closet and calls 911. But as she’s trying to talk to the operator, someone inside the closet kills her from behind with a knife.

Cue title cards.

At the Bunker, Sam is on the computer when Dean comes out with a duffel bag. Dean says he’ll be back in a few days; he’s off on a hunt. When Sam asks why Dean is going alone, Dean (channeling a significant portion of the audience, I’m quite sure) says that he doesn’t know what Sam wants these days. He had assumed, since Sam clearly doesn’t want to be around him, that Sam wouldn’t want to go on the hunt with him. Sam indicates otherwise, so Dean, rather perfunctorily, infodump-fills him in (there will come a time when Dean will just go without him).

Dean shows him the photo of Doomed Teaser Girl and her stalker-killer (which Dean says was leaked from the crime scene). He figures it’s a ghost. Sam starts to get his stuff together and passive-aggressively makes Dean guess that he’s coming along. Good times, as Dean says later in this episode.

In Springdale, the Brothers are in FBI mufti, interviewing the girl’s mother, Betty Smiles. The girl’s name was Casey. Sam asks the usual questions, while Dean does some EMF, and Betty responds strangely to Sam’s questions. She anticipates his question about the cold spots. Dean asks her why she mentioned them. She says her daughter’s been dead three days, the police have been useless, and she can’t afford a PI, so when some “supernaturalists” came calling, she answered their questions. Hmm, another Hunter?

When Dean asks the name of the supernaturalists, guess what name he gets? That’s right – the Ghostfacers. And their van is right nearby (they have an in-person interview that day with Grieving Mom). Dean is pissed.

In a diner are Ed and Harry. But while Ed is talking about the likes and followers on their site, Harry is distracted by stalking an ex-girlfriend on Facebook. Her new profile pic shows a guy’s arm around her shoulders and he’s jealous.

He’s also less-than-pleased when the Winchesters show up and corner them in the booth. When a tall, weedy-looking bus boy goes to freshen their coffee and take new orders, Dean tells him they’re ready for the check. Right after, the bus boy gets quietly reamed out by his manager for using dirty plates.

Harry blusters and shows Dean a small pistol in his belt. Dean is unimpressed, snarking about Harry’s “treasure trail” (bleh), and calling him and Ed “fame whores” who are bothering a grieving mom. Sam backs him up (for once). It comes out that the other Ghostfacers got “dropped” (though they’re still alive) and also, that Ed and Harry don’t believe the MOTW is a ghost. Unimpressed by Harry’s bravado, the Brothers threaten him and Ed again, and leave.

Back at their motel, Sam brings up the Ghostfacers’ website and finds out they’ve written a book: The Skinny on Thinman. Based on the Slenderman phenomenon from Something Awful about 11 years ago, the Thinman allegedly “lurks in the background of people’s lives and then kills them.” Sam thinks there is something to this, since people have reported sightings from all of the world. This seems a tad gullible of Sam, considering the first time he and Dean encountered Ed and Harry, they were involved in the inadvertent creation of a literal urban legend that came to life. Dean says he still thinks it’s a ghost, and that the Veil could be throwing out all sorts of weird entities. He starts looking through the local news for possible candidates.

Back in the dead girl’s room, Ed and Harry are doing their show. This is somewhat complicated by Harry obsessing on his phone, stalking his ex-girlfriend Dana’s new love life via Facebook (everyone’s life looks perfect on Facebook). Ed keeps trying to talk down Harry, who manically claims to be obsessed with becoming famous from the case. When Harry talks about how they’re going to finally find Thinman (“I can smell his musk!” he exclaims while sniffing Doomed Teaser Girl’s closet clothes), Ed suddenly gets pensive and suggests that they “bail” on this particular ghost hunt. With Sam and Dean in town, clearly it’s “serious” and “I don’t want my knees blown off by Sam and Dean.” But there seems to be something else going on with him, too.

Harry gets mad. He wants to get one over on the Winchesters, calling them “jockstraps” and declaring that “they don’t even have a Twitter!” But when he mentions all the “haters,” Dana’s name is most prominent, even though he tries to cover by mentioning Maggie and Spruce, from “Ghostfacers!” and the webseries, who left the Ghostfacers for “normal” (and presumably much safer) lives. Now that he and Ed are about to be famous, will Maggie and Spruce get to share in that? In meeting Dr. Phil? Nooooo.

The two of them then get down to work. Behind the camera, Harry films Ed coming out of the girl’s closet (yes, really) to talk about how young girls’ lives should be full of “giggles and joy,” not “bloood.” Harry stops the camera to praise Ed’s OTT performance (“You are so money!”), crowing that he and Ed will need snorkles because they will be so surrounded by hot women and their – this potentially pornographic rant is (thankfully) interrupted by Grieving Mom coming in with lemonade for them. It is a deeply awkward and unpleasant moment, especially when Ed and Harry completely switch gears and turn back into pleasant and polite young man. You can almost see them putting the masks back on.

Cut to Sam and Dean, who are back at their motel, researching the case and any other cases that might be connected to it. Dean has turned up three “unnatural deaths” in Springhill in the past six months, but none seems to be related to this one, nor are they violent. Sam says he’s found a pattern of deaths attributed to Thinman. He shows up in photos of people who later die, but most of these photos are obviously doctored after the fact by having had a Thinman figure (a tall, faceless figure in a dark coat) inserted into the background. But Casey’s photo wasn’t doctored. The figure in hers was real.

Dean is confused about how the phenomenon can be “both real and fake at the same time.” But as Sam points out, the death is real, so they go with that. She took the photo and then what? Who uploaded it? Sam says some unknown person with a blocked IP posted it to a Thinman fan forum. After snarking about the very existence of Thinman fan forums, Dean points out that ghosts don’t upload photos, so there’s a lead.

Off to the police station they go in their FBI suits, where they get a deputy to give them the box of files on the case. They ask about the sheriff, but the deputy says the sheriff is out hunting in the woods.

Sam notes that the phone is cracked and the deputy says it came in that way, that the call “cut off” at 11:59 pm. Dean notes that the coroner claims Casey died at midnight (that’s pretty exact), but Sam says the photo was put up around 2am. So, again, who put it up on the forum and how did the phone get cracked?

The deputy suggests the supernatural as a cause. It seems Ed and Harry have already been around and continue to poison the witness pool with their Thinman theory. They even gave the deputy a copy of their book. Dean stalks out in disgust.

Cut to the Apple Diner (where the brothers ate in a previous scene) that night. It’s closed and the manager is counting up the receipts. A repeated tapping on the door distracts him, so he checks, but no one’s there. He then checks the security camera footage to see what’s up and gets a flash of a Thinman figure outside that then appears right behind him. As he turns around, it slashes his throat and then walks away.

The next morning, the Brothers enter the diner to find that the deputy has allowed Ed and Harry to come in and start filming the dead manager’s body (we get a quick shot of it, lying in a huge pool of blood), thus thoroughly contaminating the crime scene. He claims that “a few counties over,” the police brought in a psychic who helped find the body of a local boy. Dean just glares at him, then goes over to roust the Ghostfacers, while Sam gets the deputy to show him the security footage.

Dean’s attempt to get rid of Ed and Harry fails when they threaten to out him as a fake FBI agent and his attempt to appeal to their sense of decency reveals that … well … they don’t have any. His suggestion that they might create a Tulpa (the manufactured MOTW in “Hell House”) also falls on deaf ears as they insist that the lore changes so quickly that a Tulpa could never get started.

At this point, they fill a (very reluctant) Dean in on the basic lore. Thinman is “part man, part tree.” No, he’s “the nightmare of an autistic boy.” And so on. At this point, Dean interrupts them and says that they “have no idea what Thinman is,” then walks off across the diner when the deputy calls out that there is something on the security camera. Sam shows Dean the footage the manager saw just before he was killed and then of the manager’s killing, just as Ed and Harry come up behind Dean. Dean says, so maybe it’s not a ghost, but now they have to figure out how the figure got from the parking lot into the locked diner – and so quickly.

Ed and Harry, momentarily taken aback by the footage, make some noises about the legend and not having registered EMF, then leave quickly while Dean asks to see the footage again. In their Ghostfacers van later that night, Harry is jubilant that they have a hit (even though every time they’ve stumbled on a real hunt in the past, they’ve lost a member. Violently). As he goes to suit up (to hunt down Thinman “in the woods, obvi,” since “Thinman hangs out by trees and the woods are where trees hang out”), he mentions that someone has already posted the footage from the diner up on the Thinman fan page. Ed finds this disconcerting, but Harry is oblivious to his unease, caught up in the excitement of the hunt, and the lure of fame and fortune.

Ed tries to point out that people have died at this point and that it’s probably best to just let Sam and Dean take care of it (saying, correctly, Sam and Dean are the real pros here). Harry gets mad.

Harry: Quit raining on my rainbow!

Ed: Rainbows can’t happen without rain.

Back at the motel, over beers and takeout, Sam is speculating that the teleporting into the diner implies demons. Dean allows that this is definitely possible: “a demon that likes stabbing and watching YouTube.”

Sam has found the video Harry mentioned in the previous scene. He is appalled that it already has 2000 views. Dean says that’s because “people are sick” (well, he’s not wrong). Sam wonders how videos went from “that baby chimp falling out of a tree to Killer Candid Camera.”

Dean then reminiscences about Sam jumping off a roof, age five, dressed up as Batman. Sam notes that Dean did it first, but Dean says he was nine and he was dressed as Superman. “Everybody knows Batman can’t fly.” Sam complains that he broke his arm and Dean points out that he then “drove” Sam to the ER on the handlebars of his bike.

“Good times!” Dean says rather ruefully, swigging his beer (boy, have I been using that phrase a lot this year). Sam grudgingly allows, “Yeah, they were.” This brotherly moment, such as it is, is interrupted by a knock on the door. It’s Ed.

Ed: I gotta tell you guys something important. And then the case is yours.

In the park, which is well-lit and has people putting groceries in their cars and driving around, Harry is filming himself as a “solo Ghostfacer” and then going down a broad path, saying portentious things like “All alone, deep in the woods, a man could lose his marbles, being so close to the Blade of Doom. Lucky for us, I’m really good at Marbles.” This is a pretty obvious callback to the viral Slenderman webseries, Marble Hornets, but there also seems to be a subtle foreshadowing for the First Blade storyline that has been MIA for a few episodes.

At the motel, Ed is sitting on a bed, while the Brothers stand over him, explaining that “either you bleed Ghostfacers red or you don’t.” He talks about how Spruce wanted to do a startup and Maggie got into roller derby, and that was okay. But he couldn’t let Harry go, especially not to a Trust Fund Baby like his girlfriend. He complains that she called the Ghostfacers “stupid.”

Unimpressed, Dean calls this “Sad Times at Bitchmont High” (obviously a ref to 80s flick Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and tells him to move on. So, Ed admits that “I made up Thinman” to prevent Harry from leaving the Ghostfacers. He faked up one case and posted it online, but then other people latched onto it and it blew up.

Meanwhile, Harry is being stalked by a tall, thin, faceless figure.

Sam tells Ed that he has to tell Harry (“Trust me, secrets ruin relationships”) and Dean does a double-take at Sam’s vehemence. Sam is obviously making Ed’s admission about his own angst over Dean lying about Gadriel. But Sam has kept many a secret from Dean (remember Ruby?) and trust me, he will have completely forgotten this lesson by season ten.

Ed whines that if he tells Harry it’s not real, then the two of them will be reduced again to two ordinary guys, “loose puffs,” and Harry will leave the Ghostfacers. Sam is adamant. Ed has to tell his friend what’s up.

The Brothers then ask where Harry is. They’re disgusted to hear that Ed left him in the woods to go hunt Thinman alone, even after Ed insists that the “woods” is actually a well-frequented parking lot behind a grocery store. However manufactured the phenomenon, something about it is now real and killing people. They go off to look for Harry.

In the woods, Harry finds a pile of sticks in a star pattern that look as though they’ve been laid out for a campfire. This is a reference to The Blair Witch Project (1999), whose creators are damned lucky Karl Edward Wagner died five years before they ripped off his classic Mythos story, “Sticks,” and therefore couldn’t sue them.

Hearing some twigs breaking, an excited Harry goes to investigate, then turns back to find the pile rearranged. Rather than getting scared and running out of the woods (like a sensible person), he turns the camera on himself and intones, “We. Are Not. Alone.” At that moment, the tall figure appears over his shoulder and slashes him in the stomach when he turns around. He gets away and runs out of the woods, almost getting hit by the Impala. As he collapses, the Brothers get out and rush to his aid, while Ed looks on in horror.

The slash turns out to be superficial (there’ll be no mention of it again after this scene) and Sam is quickly able to bandage it up. Harry talks about “stapling” it back at the motel, which gets a double-take from Sam and Ed. Dean comes up, having found tire tracks in the woods and taken a photo of them.

This, of course, confuses Harry, who starts questioning the Brothers’ intelligence for not realizing that Thinman is a supernatural being who doesn’t drive. Dean shoots Ed a hard look.

Cut back to the motel, where Ed has just told Harry the truth and Harry is (predictably) freaking out. Harry says that Ed’s deception “crashed the Jenga tower of our lives!” He was going to marry Dana. Now he’s run off with Ed to “live a lie” and he’s put his life in danger for nothing (which is not an attitude he had before).

Ed says that Harry could always go back to Dana and apologize, but Harry insists it’s too late. Ed then tries to mitigate what he did by saying that there was never a guarantee that Thinman was real (though he does admit that he “had some inside knowledge” about it), but they could “keep it going for the fans.”

Harry refuses: “You made a chump out of me … I can’t trust you, anymore, Ed.” Ed tries to talk him out of it, but only digs himself deeper. So, he goes for coffee. Meeting Sam out in the hallway, where Sam asks him how it went, Ed has no words.

Sam goes in to talk to Harry. Harry is upset and isn’t sure how to proceed. Sam says that “there are things you can forgive and things you can’t.” When Harry asks which one is which, Sam says that’s up to Harry. Dean then comes in and says he’s got a lead on the tire tracks. Sam leaves with him.

Out in the hallway, Dean says the tires belong to a 1989 Geo Metro and there’s only one such car in town. The deputy told him it belongs to a night security guard at the local mill. Sam’s confused about how a Tulpa could have a car and a job. Dean says they might as well find out what’s going on, so off they go.

Ed has been hiding around the corner with coffee, eavesdropping. As soon as they leave, he goes back into the motel room to find Harry getting ready to leave. Harry, doing a complete 180 from his aggressive attitude earlier in the episode, is quite happy to let Sam and Dean take care of things now. When Ed says he wants to help them solve the case, Harry brutally says that Ed would just “screw things up.”

Ed points out that before they turned into fame whores, they wanted to “help people” and he just wants to “make things right.” This persuades Harry to come along: “We can make things right.”

The Brothers arrive at the mill, where they find the deputy. He insists that with the sheriff “AWOL,” he’s worried about his job and wants to help the FBI solve the case. Dean rather reluctantly agrees. He and Sam go ahead of the deputy into the mill, guns drawn. This gives the deputy the perfect opportunity to taser them with both hands: “Always wanted to use these things.”

Dean wakes up handcuffed to a chair, while the deputy is setting up a camera and lights, singing “Camptown Ladies” without the words except “doo-dah.” Sam is tied to a chair near Dean, away from the camera. Dean tries to get the deputy to talk by calling him out as “Thinman” while the deputy is pulling a shower-curtain-style woodsy background out behind Dean. The deputy just keeps on singing.

Dean: Sam, make him stop.

Sam asks if the guy is a demon and how he “teleported” into the diner. This gets two words out of him: “team effort.” A tall figure in a mask and wearing a dark coat walks in. It’s the busboy from the diner. Thinman is two humans, not one supernatural being.

Sam recognizes the busboy, Roger, while Dean references the trope they’re apeing – the movie Scream (which, personally, I’ve always thought was overrated).

Once the bus boy is unmasked, he’s pretty talkative. He killed his boss because he was a “dick” and Casey because she turned him down for a date. Dean notices a body wrapped in plastic nearby, with a sheriff’s cap on top of it. The busboy also killed the sheriff, though the deputy cheerfully admits was in on it: “He’s the psycho. I’m the visionary.” They met in a bar, got talking, found Thinman online, blogged a bit, and then decided to make it real.

The clueless deputy starts to brag about how everyone underestimates him (like the sheriff), how satisfying it is to get one over on two “feds” who looked down on him and used him as their gofer (too stupid to realize that it’s obvious at this point Sam and Dean aren’t feds).

He and his partner, as they whine about feeling “invisible” in a small town, are also oblivious to the glances the Brothers are signalling to each other. Sam slowly cuts himself free while calling them out on their “cosplay” and Dean distracts the two psychos by insulting them. Dean tells them that they’re not really Thinman, just copy cats. Roger begs to differ, saying that Dean will soon be too dead to tell anyone, anyway.

Sam starts to look alarmed as the deputy gets behind the camera and Roger positions himself behind Dean’s chair, putting on his mask to cut Dean’s throat live. But as Sam shouts, “Don’t!” a noise outside distracts the two psychos. Putting duct tape over Sam and Dean’s mouths, they go to investigate.

As we all know, that’s a huge mistake. You never want to leave Sam and Dean alone tied to chairs. They won’t be there when you get back.

The noise, of course, is Ed and Harry coming in with flashlights. Harry encounters Roger (in the mask) first. Roger kicks Harry in the nuts and then pins him against a large industrial fan, about to cut his throat when Ed shows up with a gun to his Roger’s head. But while Ed and Harry argue over how to pronounce the word “meme,” and Ed calls Roger a wannabe, the deputy comes up and knocks Ed down.

As they two psychos force Ed and Harry back to their filming location, the deputy is pontificating about how this is a “Frankenstein situation” where Ed and Harry have created the monster that will kill them. The original plan was to let one of them live, but, well, change of plan. Now the deputy and Roger are going to kill Ed and Harry, and then the secret that Ed created Thinman will die with him. This way, the deputy and Roger can claim the urban legend for themselves.

This speech is interrupted by the discovery that, yup, Sam and Dean have escaped. The Brothers may have had a senior moment and allowed the deputy to get the drop on them before, but that moment’s over.

Sam grabs the deputy, while Roger tries to grab Harry for leverage. As Sam knocks the deputy down, Dean comes up behind Roger and peels him right off Harry. Easily overpowering Roger, he slowly makes Roger stab himself to death as Roger begs and then lets him settle on the ground. The one thing I really don’t like about this shot is that we don’t get the look on Dean’s face as the knife goes in. I get that they wanted to give the guest star his moment, but a less-tight shot could have done that just as well. It’s a weird choice from veteran director Jeannot Szwarc.

Sam is so busy reacting in consternation to what Dean is doing that the deputy has time to grab Ed’s pistol, which he had previously taken from Ed. Sloppy, Sam. Ed jumps in front of Sam and tries to talk the deputy down, saying “it’s all my fault.” Unimpressed, the deputy is about to shoot him, anyway (“I have enough bullets for both of you”), but Harry shoots the deputy with his own gun, just as he’s about to pull the trigger. Ed is horrified. Dean carefully takes the deputy’s gun out of Harry’s hand and pats him on the shoulder, while sharing a look with Sam. Sam pats Ed on the shoulder.

In the coda, Dean is putting gear in the back of the Impala. Sam comes up to talk to him (but doesn’t help with the gear – come on, Sam). Dean has set up the scene in the mill to make it look as though Roger and the deputy killed each other. Since they were killed by their own weapons, it was relatively easy. It makes the careful way he was able to kill Roger without putting his own prints or DNA on the knife that much more chilling. Equally chilling is that this town was so small that it had a psychopath in charge of its police department for weeks and no one noticed. Maybe it’s just as well these two ended up dead.

Sam can’t get over the fact that the MOTW was “just people … friggin’ people.”

Dean: Well, like I said, people are sick.

Meanwhile, Ed and Harry are having their own talk. Ed asks if they’re now “cool.” But Harry wants to break up the band. He just killed a person and he’s freaked out over it. He also now claims that he only came out to solve Thinman to wrap up his entire involvement in the Ghostfacers. When Ed tries to claim that he “did this for us,” Harry, in an obvious echo of Sam a few weeks ago, says, “You did this for you.” Harry says he can’t forgive Ed, that their relationship is now “complicated” (echoing what his girlfriend said on Facebook).

As Sam (looking especially pensive) and Dean look on, an emotional Harry comes over and asks for a ride. Very low-key, Dean just says, “Yeah, sure.” They leave Ed behind at the Ghostfacers van, Harry in the Impala’s backseat. As he watches his lifelong friend leave him behind, Ed starts to cry.

In the Impala, Dean asks Harry if he’s okay. Harry starts to say yes and then admits no. He talks about an image of having someone beside you all your life, until you were old and sitting together in rocking chairs. Until the day you realize “that rocking chair is empty.”

“You know what I mean?” he asks, but the Brothers (especially Sam) just look uncomfortable.

Credits

The show dropped to a 0.9/3 in the A18-49 demo and in audience to 1.93 million.

Review: Boy, this episode sure is a mood, isn’t it? The show’s done some episodes that are more depressing than scary (“Criss Angel Is a Douchebag” from season four fairly leaps to mind here), but this one is both depressing and scary. As such, on top of being in the middle of the season, it’s been largely (unjustly?) forgotten.

So, this is the swan song for Ed and Harry, AKA the Hell Hounds, AKA the Ghostfacers, whom we first met in season one’s “Hell House.” It’s quite sad. Ed and Harry were always obnoxious in a very nerdy way, and in way, way over their heads. This got them into a lot of trouble over the years.

It got one of their junior members killed (in “Ghostfacers!”) and another disfigured and severely traumatized (in the 2010 webseries, which was basically a full episode broken up into segments of a few minutes each). But Ed and Harry were always a solid team, in sync, sympatico in their obsession with the dual goal of exposing the supernatural world to humanity at large and getting rich and famous doing it.

It was a petty goal in the grander scheme of the show, perhaps even quixotic in light of how adept humanity at large in the show is at ignoring even enormous events like the fall of the angels at the end of season eight. Ed and Harry actually met Castiel in the webseries, but showed no interest in the angel situation in “#THINMAN.” Nor did they make any attempt to pump the Brothers (who they know for a fact are connected deep into the supernatural world) for info. Ed and Harry, in the end, continued to make the mysteries of the supernatural world All About Ed and Harry.

It was therefore profoundly sad to see these two fall apart so spectacularly, messily and permanently, both individually and as a team. I mean, if even the Ghostfacers can’t make it, what about the rest of us?

Now, I’ll grant you that Ed and Harry are pretty unlikeable. They’re not just “ordinary.” They are dudebros and very much Incels. The misogyny that Harry, especially, demonstrates in this episode is pretty disturbing, to the point where there isn’t a huge amount of difference between him and the killers in attitude (which makes his killing one of them that much more disturbing). I mean, who talks about masses of women shoving their crotches in your face while filming a scene in a room where a young girl was violently murdered a few days before? Harry does.

Unfortunately, this is one major reason I was never a huge fan of Jenny Klein episodes (she wrote this one). There was a lot of internalized misogyny and messed-up gender roles in her writing. This one is practically a complete sausage fest, with only two minor female characters (Doomed Teaser Girl Casey and her mom) appearing early on. It’s almost as if Klein is trying way too hard to be one of the Writers Room boys.

In light of stuff like that (and Ed being more lowkey about it, but definitely hostile toward Harry’s ex because she’s breaking up the band), it puts Dean’s contempt for them in a different light. Rather than being condescending toward them because they are nerds, Dean dislikes them because they are misogynistic douchebros.

Dean likes women. I don’t just mean that he likes to have sex with them. I mean that he likes to hang out with them and spend time with them and learn from them and even mentor them. Even women he has no sexual interest in (much older or much younger women), he has positive interactions with. In the show, that is fairly unique for recurring male characters. Dean’s snark about geeky men, even from the earlier seasons, has actually aged pretty well.

I don’t know if a longer in-scene discussion about her got cut, but the offhand way both Ed and Harry talk about Maggie (and don’t talk about Corbett or Ambyr at all) is disconcerting. That Maggie and Ambyr are both women (and Maggie a woman of color), and that Corbett was gay and in love with Ed, does not help. That’s a whole lot of erasure.

Okay, Spruce was really just another geek drawn into the group, so I can see why they would dismiss his desertion. Corbett died for Ed, so I can see Ed and Harry never mentioning him again after that (though it does make them really unlikeable). Same with Ambyr who got her face slashed up in the webseries, especially since she never canonically appeared on the show. But Ed quit the Ghostfacers for a while over what happened to Ambyr at the end of the webseries. There’s no mention of that. You’d think she should have been a much bigger source of conflict between Ed and Harry than an ex-girlfriend who never appears onscreen.

Maggie was more important than that. Maggie is Ed’s sister and Harry actually created conflict between him and Ed by hooking up with her in “Ghostfacers!” to Ed’s extreme consternation. Yet, now, she’s just a footnote in their shared story, just somebody that they used to know.

There is no sense of understanding from Ed and Harry that maybe after one of them died and another was seriously disfigured, the remaining Ghostfacers members finally clued in how dangerous the larger supernatural world around them really is and fled back to the relative safety of the smaller, mundane human world before they, too, could suffer the hideous fate of the hapless Redshirt.

I think that’s what’s saddest about Ed and Harry in “#THINMAN.” They’re no longer evolving. Now they’re de-evolving.

I got the impression the show wanted me to feel sorriest for Harry, but I actually felt worse for Ed. Sure, Ed tricked Harry by creating the Thinman phenomenon hoax, but Harry went after it like a lion after starving meat. Harry ditched his long-suffering girlfriend to team back up with Ed, then obsessed over her and cyberstalked her. He was manic, aggressive and out of control, and he blamed Ed for everything that had happened between them. I never really bought that he intended to quit after the end of the Thinman hunt, all along.

In contrast, Ed was a lot calmer and gave the impression that he had grown up a bit – something I’ll readily admit I never thought I’d ever be saying about these two. Again, yes, there were some things he’d done that were creepy – notably, creating a hoax just to get his bud back and break up his bud’s relationship with a girl.

On the other hand, it wasn’t Ed’s fault that the hoax got co-opted by a couple of serial killers in a folie a deux. Ed’s duplicity and Harry’s refusal to own any responsibility for his own actions ended up killing the relationship off for good, even if Ed and Harry were themselves left alive to walk away. It’s a depressing denouement to see the concept of bromance on the show de-evolve from the competent and self-sacrificing Sam and Dean to the bumbling and fame-obsessed Ed and Harry to a couple of small-town serial killing Abbot-and-Costello douchebags who prey on young girls for kicks and clicks.

The show went with the age-old (since season one’s “The Benders”) idea that that the worst MOTW of all is ordinary human beings. But it also went down the Something Awful phenomenon rabbit hole known as Slenderman (created by Eric Knudsen in 2009). I first became aware of this (deliberately manufactured) new urban legend through the low-budget webseries, Marble Hornets (2009-present), which is probably the best (and creepiest) video representation of the phenomenon.

The idea of Slenderman is that he is a mysterious, tall, thin, faceless figure that appears in photographs and video all over the world. People who catch him on film are unaware of his presence at the time of filming, even though he can be quite close.

In one instance from Marble Hornets, someone is filming another person giving a speech in front of a window. When the video is played back, Slenderman is right outside the window, only a few feet away and separated only by glass and air. But even the cameraman didn’t notice at the time. There’s another scene where the exhausted protagonist falls asleep on a bed in a grotty, bare room somewhere. He leaves the camera on him for security, only to wake up and see on the footage that Slenderman visited him and sat on his bed half the night (sure puts Castiel doing that to Dean in season five’s “The End” into a different perspective, huh?). Slenderman stalks his/its victims until one day, after they’ve reached a peak of paranoia and become isolated from everyone around them, they just disappear. Most never come back and the few who do are never the same again.

These are the kinds of things one could run across at 2am on Facebook a decade ago.

One could argue that this episode may have been inspired by a real-life case in which two little 12-year-old bullies took their friend out to a park and then tried to stab her to death – except that “#THINMAN” actually came out nearly three months before the attack took place. The two attackers later claimed that they were told by “Slenderman” to do the deed and then that they were mentally ill (to try to deflect responsibility). Unimpressed, the authorities charged them in adult court and then sentenced them to decades in a psych hospital. One of them just lost an appeal of her sentence this month.

It is unfortunate that most reviewers of this episode take out the meta data from the title, since that loses a lot of the context. It’s not “Thinman” or even “#Thinman.” It’s “#THINMAN.” The hashtag, obviously, derives from Twitter usage (it’s not exclusive to them, but they’re the ones who use it the most and probably first).

Though this is now going by the wayside, Twitter has from the start used hashtags before a word (or a term with no spaces between words) to group them together in easily searchable categories. This also makes it easier to make a trend by adding on tweets with the same hashtag. Since the whole point of Ed creating Thinman was to make the urban legend go viral, the hashtag shows that he did it via social media. It even hints which social media he used the most.

If you’ve ever searched up urban legends or conspiracy theories on Twitter, particularly those that link to YouTube videos, the title immediately gives you an image of how the Thinman phenomenon spread, what it looked like, and what kind of paltry fame two losers from a small town in Washington state were seeking when they turned to murdering their neighbors.

Putting the title in all-caps is a common way going back to Usenet (when all we really had was ASCII) of showing emphasis that one would normally show with italics, bold or underlining. It highlights the importance of the word or term (or title, as of a book or show) and makes it stand out.

Because of this, using all-caps comes off as shouting and is widely considered rude (bad netiquette) going all the way back to the 1990s. Thus, putting the title “Thinman” in all-caps is intentionally ironic in that it simultaneously shows the desperation, the self-importance, and the sheer insignificance of this manufactured phenomenon (and the MOTWs who used it as an excuse to kill for paltry reasons) in the grand scheme of the SPNverse and the show itself.

It was REALLY OBVIOUS that Ed and Harry, and the implosion of their lifelong bromance, was intended to be a commentary on the current state of affairs between Sam and Dean. However, I found the actual parallels rather confusing and ultimately not so useful. Yes, I get that the writers wanted to change things up to make it less linear, but it also reduced the power of the metaphorical comparisons.

For example, Ed is the one who “betrayed” Harry by creating Thinman to lure him back onto the road, just as Dean “betrayed” Sam by tricking him into saying yes to an angel to heal him from the inside out. And yes, I know that a comparison between wrecking someone’s life for one’s own gain versus healing someone in an underhanded and creepy way is pretty inexact, but let’s just roll with it. I’m guessing the writers want us to take that nonsense Sam was spouting the other week, about Dean only healing him so he wouldn’t be alone, seriously.

Okay, but then, for the comparison to continue, Ed needs to stay the Dean analogue in the Ghostfacers duo and be the one who kills one of the MOTWs. But it’s actually Harry who shoots the deputy, while Dean stabs the waiter, making both Harry and Dean look unstable and frightening, not Ed. So, then what, Ed is now Sam? So, which one is Ed when Harry ditches him to take a final ride with the Winchesters? Are we to believe that Sam is the one who doesn’t want to be alone now? Honestly, I’m confused.

There is some support for this idea in the rest of the episode. A big hint comes in the beginning, when Sam decides to tag along on the hunt literally as Dean is heading out the door. Sam even acts surprised that Dean wouldn’t want him to come along, even after Dean points out that Sam hasn’t wanted to be around him, lately, and was giving him the cold shoulder as late as the previous scene (last week’s coda).

Every time Sam started making snide comments in this episode about not trusting people, and how secrets permanently ruin relationships, I kept thinking of Sam sneaking around behind Dean’s back with Ruby, of persuading him to ditch Lisa and Ben to join up with Grandpa Shady, of abandoning him in Purgatory while simultaneously bailing on Kevin. Hell, he was even keeping secrets from Dean early in season one – and feeling completely justified about it. And he has never properly apologized for those things, nor has he ever allowed Dean any privacy of his own.

Sure, one could say he made up for some of it by jumping into a gigantic plothole at the end of season five to prevent Lucifer from killing Dean and then the world. But Sam certainly didn’t say yes to Lucifer for Dean in the first place. Sam has broken Dean’s trust over and over and over again – and you know what? It has damaged their relationship. Permanently.

But whenever Sam makes such comments in this episode, even up to this point in the season, it is quite clear from the dialogue and Jared Padalecki’s delivery that Sam is only thinking about Dean’s lying to him about Gadriel. Makes me want to smack Sam hard.

So, in that sense, Sam is totally Ed. But he’s also totally Harry.

I get the impression that Sam is still acting like an adolescent here. He’s been punishing Dean for the whole Ezekiel/Gadriel thing, but now he’s starting to cool down and has decided he kinda wants to hunt with Dean again. You know, he pushes Dean away when Dean wants to be around him, but won’t let Dean go off on his own. He also seems to assume that Dean is fine with hanging fire while Sam decides what to do, with no respect for the fact that Dean has his own life to lead.

That was maybe understandable when Sam was actually still an adolescent and learning the more complex forms of healthy social interaction and relationships after a highly dysfunctional childhood. But he’s in his thirties by this point in the show. With all the supernatural Sam Done Come Back Wrong excuses stripped away, this behavior is now starting to look stalkery and controlling, and more than a little narcissistic. Grow up and stop gaslighting your brother, Sam.

Next week: Blade Runners: Crowley reappears with news about the First Blade. Show-changing shenanigans ensue.

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: “Captives” (9.14) Retro Recap and Review

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Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, production of season 15 was interrupted and 15.13 will be the last episode aired “for a while.”

According to recent reports from Vancouver, the cast returned to work the first week of August (about two weeks late). Jensen Ackles also explained in a recent virtual “fan experience” through Creation Con that the writing for the last two episodes has been tweaked to reflect recent events (i.e., the Coronavirus pandemic). With these writers, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. He also said that 15.19 will be a season finale, while 15.20 is more like a series finale. In an already truncated final season, that likely means we’ll get stuck with some filler clips episode as the last one. Yay.

No word on whether they’re still returning in early October.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat.

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

Recap: Then recap of the angels storyline (with added Bartholomew, a character no one missed), plus a recap of Kevin Tran’s progress from new Prophet to grieving son to eye-burned corpse.

Cut to Now. It’s quiet in the Bunker. A faucet drips in the kitchen. Lights fritz in a suspicious way. A figure flickers at the end of a corridor. Then the camera stalks into Dean’s room, where he is sleeping, listening to Billy Squier’s “Lonely Is the Night” on headphones. His breath frosts. That wakes him right up and the corridors echo to his bellowing Sam’s name.

Sam comes rushing out of his own room. He turns on a light in the corridor and sees lights flickering. Dean’s room is empty and there is a chair rotating slowly in the library. Sam goes right for the sword rack and picks an iron medieval fighter’s sword. As he moves through the library, he hears faint whispers and a ghostly figure moves up behind him. Just as he turns to see it, Dean blasts it from the doorway with a saltgun.

“So,” Sam begins.

“Yep,” Dean replies matter-of-factly in his MoL jammies. “Bunker’s haunted.”

Cue title cards.

Dean walks into the kitchen, now fully dressed, and starts up the coffee maker. Sam is making up anti-ghost gear. Dean is grumpy because 1. he’s pre-coffee and 2. Sam assured him that the Bunker was “the safest place in the world,” so how can they have a ghost?

Sam insists that the Bunker is so warded that “nothing” supernatural can get inside it (ah, those early, innocent days). The ghost has to be someone who died inside the Bunker. Dean discounts Sam’s idea that it was a Man of Letters, since why would an MoL ghost wait so long after their arrival to bug them? It must be someone more recent. But he balks at Sam’s suggestion that it’s Kevin: “I burned his body myself!”

Sam points out that they burned Bobby Singer’s body and Bobby still came back. As they argue over it (personally, I think Dean is just in denial here), the coffee maker begins to shake behind them and a cup bursts.

“Kevin?” Dean says in consternation.

Cut to a funeral outdoors of a woman. A young man in a suit bows his head and then walks away. He’s grabbed and shoved up against a tree. It’s Castiel (oh, hey, Cas. Long time, no see). He wants to know if the young man (who is inhabited by an angel) is mourning the woman who died or the angel inside her. Turns out to be the latter. The angel was named Rebecca and she was the other angel’s friend.

“Rebecca had a lot of friends,” Castiel snarks back. “Friends like Metatron.”

The other angel insists that Rebecca hadn’t talked to Metatron in a long time, “not since the Fall.” He says that she led a group known as the Penitents (“Another faction,” grumps Castiel), who just want to live quietly among the humans. Unfortunately, they were killed off, one by one. The other angel blames Bartholomew.

In the kitchen, Sam is sitting in front of the coffee maker, dozing, waiting for Kevin to give them another sign, I guess. Dean walks in and asks if anything has happened. Sam says that aside from some EMF activity and “a few dings,” nope. They figure Kevin is “back in the Veil” and hasn’t been able to come back, yet. After all, Bobby needed months to manifest and Kevin hasn’t been dead that long. Sam’s shift is over. Now it’s Dean’s turn.

After Sam leaves, Dean sits down and turns the coffee maker his way. He calls Kevin’s name and doesn’t at first get any answer. So, he gets up and turns away, feeling stupid about staring at a machine for hours on end. Now that he’s alone, he pours his heart out, expressing his remorse over getting Kevin killed. He looks pretty rough. His hair’s a bit long. The scruffwatch is in full force. And he starts to cry. God, he’s hot.

Sorry. Where was I?

Oh, yeah, so as Dean is grieving, the lights really begin to fritz. Sam comes in, having noticed the lights, but not his brother’s state (or, at least, he pretends not to). At that moment, they hear Kevin’s voice complaining that “this is not happening.” They look over at one end of the kitchen and see Kevin’s ghostly form flickering in and out as he kvetches at length about being “stuck listening to Dean Winchester having a self-pity session. Had to listen to enough of those when I was alive.”

Yep, that’s our Kevin Tran.

“Kevin?” Dean says.

At that moment, Kevin comes into full form, though he keeps flickering in and out. “You can see me?” he asks. When Sam points out he may not be able to hold his form for long, Kevin says they need to “talk fast.”

Dean immediately asks why Kevin is not in Heaven. It turns out that since the angels fell, the conveyor belt of souls to Heaven has ground to a halt. Now all the souls of people who have died since then are stuck in the Veil (it’s not clear if this includes the souls of those hellbound). It’s getting very crowded and has turned into a horrible sort of Limbo.

Kevin begs them to find his mother. When Dean points out that Crowley only told Kevin she was still alive to screw with his head, Kevin claims to have his own sources among his fellow ghosts. One of them, a very recent ghost of a young woman who died a week ago, says she was with Mama Tran before she died. The ghost’s name is Candy and she’s “in a forest in Wichita,” KS. That’s all he’s got. He needs the Brothers to go there and summon her to ask her more questions. Looking at Dean specifically, he tells him that if he “wants to make it right, this is how.”

Castiel is walking between some very big amphorae when he’s accosted by two extremely pretty angels. They ask where his “friend” (the other angel) went and Castiel just says they won’t find him. That’s when they realize he’s Castiel. As lackeys of Bartholomew, they’re quite pleased. Bart’s been looking for him.

Cut to the ground beneath a very familiar-looking gigantic railway trestle (they film here a lot) in Wichita (just roll with it). The Brothers are coming up to it through a trail because this is supposedly where Candy died. Dean wonders what killed her – a bear? Sam just can’t believe they’re summoning someone named Candy.

Dean brings out an old-style (well … 1970s or 80s, transistor style) radio and hangs it on a tree. He also brought the coffee maker. He figures that since she is such a new ghost, she will “need all the help she can get.”

Cut to Castiel in a bland conference room (so over this storyline, already). He’s growing impatient, though his guard is unimpressed. Then Bartholomew walks in. After sternly demanding Castiel’s sword from the guard, Bartholomew suddenly smiles and hugs Castiel, saying “It has been too long.” He’s actually glad to see him.

Back under the bridge (so many possible jokes to crack about that one), it’s night. Sam is wondering if Dean just “felt a chill.” Dean snarks that this might be “’cause it’s cold.” He leaves a third (according to Sam) voicemail for Crowley. When Sam snarks that maybe “he’s just not that into you” (oh, Sam, how very wrong you are about that), Dean grumbles that Crowley’s their only remaining link to Mama Tran (whom he calls “Ms. Tran”), and at least they “know he’s real,” as opposed to the ghost lead they’re currently chasing, so he’s got to at least try.

At that moment, as Dean finishes his latest beer and tosses it away, the radio on the tree starts to fritz and glow. Cautiously, the Brothers approach the radio, first Dean and then Sam calling Candy’s name. After a moment, a voice from the radio says, “Hello?”

Back in the boring conference room, Bart (just gonna start shortening his name now) is trading war stories with Castiel. Bart followed Castiel in his war against Raphael in season six. But when Castiel left some angel captives with him, Bart tortured them and then killed them. Bart claims he was following orders, but it’s not clear whose orders he was following. Castiel notes that Bart doesn’t follow, anymore. Standing up and over Castiel, Bart declares that’s true. Now he’s giving orders.

Back under the bridge, the Brothers are talking to the ghost of Candy through the radio. She was held prisoner in a “box” with others in other boxes. We get flashbacks as she talks. She looks like a woman with brown hair in her thirties, chained to a cement floor in what looks like a storage unit.

Candy identifies Linda as one of the other captives (hence the title). They were able to talk to each other through the walls. They were being held captive by two men, one of them with a British accent (the Brothers correctly identify this as Crowley), who said she was “worth more alive than dead.” But at one point, Crowley stopped coming. She later escaped by smacking her captor in the head. When she got outside, it was dark and she was disoriented. When she stopped for breath under the bridge, someone stabbed her to death from behind. She admits that she has no idea what happened to Linda Tran afterward, but she hopes that Linda is dead. She’d be better off.

Cut to Mama Tran in a very grotty cell, trying to grind her way through her leg chain. The door to her cell opens up and she’s blinded by the light. She starts screaming as the figure approaches.

Cut to the Brothers in the Impala at night, dressed in their reporter suits. Sam is looking up storage units online (love their wifi; wish mine were that good). Sam says the nearest one is only a mile from where they talked to Candy. He also did some research on her. She was the “kept woman” (mistress) of a powerful congressman. Dean correctly guesses that Crowley was holding her for “leverage” against the politician and Mama Tran for leverage against Kevin.

Dean wonders why Candy was killed. Crowley had wanted the captives alive, so why did the guard he left behind kill her? Sam, with intentional obtuseness, suggests that Dean is trying to mitigate what Crowley did in kidnapping the women in the first place, when it’s clear that Dean is actually trying to figure out what’s going on and what changed. Pushing back against Sam’s rather homophobic jealousy of his relationship with Crowley, Dean spells out what he’s doing and sarcastically adds that he’s “just trying to keep things businesslike” in his relationship with his brother. Sam looks exasperated. Well, Sam, you did set the parameters. Don’t complain now.

Back at Boyle Ministries (ugh, the pacing in this episode, so bad), Bart and Castiel are walking down a stairwell while Bart’s guards remain at the top. While openly admitting to having slaughtered Rebecca and her followers, Bart casually says that his angel gang “purged the humans” in the ministry for being “too much trouble” and then took it over. By this, he means that they possessed all of those who could physically become vessels. The rest exploded. Lovely.

Castiel gets into a brief staring contest with a passing angel and notes that Bart’s followers want him dead. Bart allows that, but says that if he himself wanted Castiel dead, it already would have happened. It turns out that he knows about Metatron and figured that was why Castiel was looking up Rebecca and her followers. Though he claims that Castiel is free to go, he suggests that Castiel can do a lot more working with the angels at Boyle Ministries than out on his own. I rather doubt that.

At Castle Storage (the final storage place on their list, of course), the Brothers enter and Dean bullies the storage unit listing out of the two nerdy, bespectacled employees there. The two employees, who wear black-and-red uniforms, get even more nervous when Sam strolls over to a map of the facility, notices something about the corridor lettering, and calls Dean over.

They have a fairly quiet conversation about how three of the same storage units are rented by a D. Webster (as in The Devil and Daniel Webster). The employee who first greeted them, overhearing them, notes that D. Webster has another collection of storage units on the other side of the facility. So, Dean goes with “funky Homo sapiens” to check those out, while Sam checks out the first set of units he noticed.

Sam breaks his way into one unit and finds Linda Tran inside. She immediately recognizes him and calls him by name, then asks where Kevin is (awkward moment). But he’s quickly locked in with her by someone who has a CCTV camera on the inside of the unit. It’s the employee with Dean. Just at the moment that Dean realizes he’s not in a unit rented by Crowley, the employee punches him out.

Back to Boyle Ministries (oh, Lord). Bart is showing Castiel a map of Metatron sightings (three on Earth so far). But Bart is as obsessed with “uniting” the various angel groups, whether they want to be or not, as he is with finding Metatron and getting back into Heaven.

His two stooges bring in another angel, bound and hooded. It’s the Rebecca follower Castiel had previously met with. Bart pulls Castiel’s angel blade, determined to torture the other angel and then kill him. He declares that Castiel will help him.

Back in the storage unit, Sam is freeing Linda from her bonds. She tells him about the switch box near the door. When Sam pries it free, he’s a bit flummoxed by the wires at first, but it turns out Linda has worked with this kind of unit before. She helped Kevin with his exams in electronics.

Linda keeps talking about being reunited with her son, until Sam gets uncomfortable enough to tell her that Kevin is dead (though not when or how). She responds with steely anger and determination. Though you can see the huge grief welling up from underneath, she’s determined to get them out of there first and then “You will take me to my son.”

Cut to the other unit, where a dazed Dean wakes up to find the employee is possessed by a demon and has cut his manager’s throat for a communication spell to report to Crowley that he has captured the Winchesters. Dean pulls himself to a sitting position and tries to figure out how to get untied while he proceeds to interrogate the demon, Black Widow-style.

At first, the demon rants in an English accent like Crowley’s about the promises Crowley made. The demon, a typical psychopath, is especially irritated that he wasn’t allow to kill his charges. Dean manages to get the demon riled up by claiming that he’s now thick as thieves with Crowley (which … ironically, is not inaccurate). But this backfires a bit as the demon turns on the absent Crowley and declares that he quits.

Back to Bart (please, Show, come on), who is torturing Rebecca’s disciple for info about any remaining cohorts. The prisoner tells Bart the same story he told Castiel (that Bart already killed them all) and Castiel backs him up.

Bart believes him, but now wants Castiel to kill the prisoner. Castiel insists he’s not that kind of angel, anymore, but Bart doesn’t believe him (noting that Castiel has killed thousands of angels in his time) and hands him the blade. When Castiel hands it back to him, just saying no, Bart uses it to kill the prisoner, while one of the guards holds Castiel back. Furious, Castiel shoves the guard aside.

Meanwhile, Dean is getting his face sliced up by Redshirt Demon. After thanking Dean for “reminding” him of his true nature, the demon goes to stab him. But when he’s distracted by the storage unit door opening, Dean kicks his legs out from under him. Sam comes in and the demon attacks him with his knife, but Sam parries and punches him into a wall.

Back to Bart, who is ranting at Castiel again about how he always thought he was better than Bart (not that hard to do, Bart). He keeps goading Castiel into trying to attack him, telling his guards to stay out of it. Eventually, reflex takes over and Castiel takes him out. Then he leaves. When the guards try to block his path, he grimly makes it clear that they are just redshirts. They get out of his way.

Back at the storage unit, the demon is defiant at first, declaring they should kill him now and get it over with. Sam says, no, they’re “saving you for someone else.” Horrified, the demon whispers, “Crowley.” A little taken aback, Sam says it’s someone “much worse.”

In comes Linda Tran and the demon loses all his bravado. As Dean hands her the Spork to “do the honors” (to which she replies, “Gladly”), the demon tries to beg for his life, claiming he was just following orders. She stabs him in mid-word.

Back at the Bunker, the Brothers come back in and call for Kevin. Kevin, looking much more solid than before, appears. They tell him his mother’s here. Refusing any extra moment to get ready for her arrival, he asks if she knows, only to get his answer when she enters the Bunker behind him (looking a lot more cleaned-up than the previous scene). Their reunion is tearful.

Dean later shows Linda all of Kevin’s effects, which he had kept (sniffle). It turns out they are looking for whatever object Kevin is attached to, that keeps him out of the Veil. She picks out a class ring that belonged to his father (who died when Kevin was a baby), saying that’s probably it.

It seems that Linda will be taking Kevin with her. Dean warns her that he doesn’t know how long it will be (if ever) until the Brothers can find a solution to the souls trapped in the Veil. He does know (through bitter experience with Bobby, of course) that the longer Kevin stays in the Veil, or on the earthly plane, as a ghost, the more likely he is to go insane and possibly hurt his mother. Linda insists on taking him, anyway. As long as she can, it’s her job to “keep him safe.” Dean, who feels the same obligation to Sam, can totally relate.

At Rebecca’s grave site, Castiel apologizes for being a complete fuck-up who gets every angel around him killed (harsh, but come on, it’s true). Someone grabs his shoulder. Castiel, done with all the angel war fuckery, says he won’t fight unless he has to. It turns out to be one of Bart’s guards. He says that after he fell, he thought following Bart was the only thing to do. But Castiel has convinced him that there is “another way.” Castiel starts to demur, but two more angels also show up. They want to continue Rebecca’s legacy and follow Castiel.

Back at the Bunker, Kevin is feeling guilty about his mother. He says she was held prisoner by Crowley for a year because of him (well … he’s not wrong). But he wants to make up for lost time, while he still has time.

Sam starts to apologize for killing him, but Kevin summarily cuts through the bullshit by pointing out that the angel who possessed him did that. If Sam kills Gadriel, Kevin will consider it “square” between them. And since Dean brought back his mother as promised, I guess Kevin is already square with Dean.

Before he leaves, he points out that he had a front row seat for all the Bunker drama of the past few episodes. He tells the Brothers, “My mom’s taking home a ghost. You two, you’re still here.” They need to “get over it” and make up.

Touched by Kevin’s little speech, Dean waves goodbye to the Trans and turns back to Sam, ready to extend an olive branch. But Sam is already walking out the door back into the Bunker. Sam does hesitate for a moment at the door to his room, but then just goes inside. Oh, Sammy, I have seen the rest of this season and you are gonna regret that snub, big time.

Dean, crestfallen, goes back to his room and puts his headphones on.

Credits

The show got a 1.0/3 in the A18-49 demo and declined to 2.12 million in audience. Still a lot better than The Originals, though.

Review: How I wish “Captives” had stuck to the topic at hand and kept this a ghost MOTW, instead of shoving in that stupid angel plot and strangling any real depth to the Trans’ story. The early scenes, especially before the reveal of Kevin’s identity, but even in the clearing when they’re contacting Candy, are genuinely creepy and atmospheric. This was before the show managed to ruin even ghosts as an MOTW. I mean, imagine doing the first three episodes of season 15 … but this way. Yeah, I’m sad now, too.

It would have been nice to have explored a bit more of Crowley’s motivations and the morality involved in holding hostages like that (also, what happened to the other captives?). While I get that Mark Sheppard is very popular with the fandom (and with excellent reason), Crowley was a nasty piece of work and this was a callback to the season of carnage he’d engaged in during season eight against the Winchester brothers.

I noticed in the comments (yes, I read all the comments: I’ve just been too busy getting ahead with the reviews to respond individually so far) someone wondered why Dean didn’t make a deal with Crowley to save Sam at the beginning of the season. Well, first of all, there’s no evidence Crowley could have pulled off something that big, especially weakened by human blood. The whole first half of the season makes a big deal of how badly the Trials messed Sam up down to a molecular level.

But more importantly, Dean had already found himself under Crowley’s boot on Sam’s behalf early in season six and it had worked out quite badly (not least because it was a con). So, there was never any way Dean was going to make that mistake again. At this point in the season, Dean holds Crowley’s leash (however long and loose it may look right now) and he’s not letting go.

In reading reviews of “Captives” (which came out around the time this episode did and are therefore all hot takes), I noticed it looked to a lot of viewers at the time that the conflict between Sam and Dean was going nowhere, just spinning wheels, and fans were pretty over it. I distinctly recall being over it, too, and was not really looking forward to rewatching-and-retro-reviewing this part of the season as a result.

That’s why these retro reviews can be fun. You get a few years (and seasons) of perspective and when you go back to watch these older episodes (albeit, season nine isn’t that much older, only six years), you notice things. Like how the Sam -and-Dean conflict actually was moving forward and how it reached a tipping point right … about … the end of this episode.

See, at the time this episode first came out, not only was the Mark of Cain as a storyline brand-new (and we therefore didn’t know where it was going), but Dean’s storylines never lasted long (I guess I need to repost that article I wrote about Dean’s dropped plots, eh?). Remember, for example, Dean’s Michael Sword storyline? How that was dispensed with almost in the same episode that introduced it? The general assumption among many fans was that the same thing would happen to the Mark of Cain. Perhaps it would be dropped, either after or without Dean using it on Abaddon. Perhaps it wouldn’t work against Abaddon. Perhaps the Mark (as successful Dean storylines often were) would be transferred to Sam.

So, there was no reason to believe that the writers would be salting each of these early episodes with foreshadowing, let alone that the Mark of Cain would affect the already-fraught relationship between the Brothers, even as it remained Dean’s. Sam was dismissive (at best) of Dean’s new tat. His focus was on his anger over Dean’s deal with Gadriel and being “used” to kill Kevin.

That reason to blame Dean essentially ended with this episode, when Kevin forgave both of them. Yet, Sam still resented Dean enough that he refused the olive branch Dean extended in the coda, after Kevin’s speech. He almost relented, but in the end, went into his room and (presumably) sulked. This, as I note at the end of the recap, was a major mistake. Dean wouldn’t extend that olive branch again any time soon and the Mark would quickly have an effect on him that would alarm Sam indeed.

But that’s for another review.

As I said last week, this storyline for Sam was not inevitably a bad one. Dean was growing out of his old handmaid role and this subplot potentially had growth for Sam, as well. But the writers waffled because it made Sam look bad and some fans really hated that.

Much has been said about how the writing was better for Dean’s “Wing Beneath my Wings” plots in earlier seasons (debatable, since Kripke showed far less interest in them than in Sam’s mytharc) or that Jensen Ackles acted them better (possible, but also at least somewhat a matter of opinion and not something that lets the writing off the hook). But a lot boils down to the fact that Sam and Dean are not the same personality or character type (so their responses to similar stimuli won’t be the same), and that these character arcs occurred at different points in the show.

The thing is that Dean’s WBMW character arc(s) was a tolerance arc. Dean began the show as very intolerant of supernatural beings and not a little intolerant of humans not like him (making fun of nerds when he himself was one, for example). Kripke spelled this out near the end of season five when he said that Sam’s main arc was learning to accept himself as a supernaturally “tainted” being and Dean’s was to learn to accept Sam. Even by season nine, Dean had grown considerably in this respect, when he himself became (permanently) tainted.

But in season eight, Sam found himself with this plot, the “human” plot. He tried to shed it by reclaiming the supernatural “high ground” from Dean with the Trials arc, but lost it again permanently halfway through season nine. Then he was forced to face his own prejudices and boy, did he not like that.

Repeat plots don’t work well if you don’t do something different with them the second time, though, so this time, Sam was portrayed as resistant to the tolerance lesson. Dean changed and became more tolerant. Sam responded with anger, blame and pride. He responded with intolerance, first with Benny in season eight and later with his brother. And this intolerance is what is getting him into trouble at the end of this episode because his brother’s patience with Sam’s petulance is no longer infinite.

Kevin’s intentions in getting the Brothers to make up were good, but trying to bully people into reconciling before they’re ready doesn’t generally work. If the feelings aren’t there, they aren’t there.

I also found Kevin’s grumbling about Dean’s “self-pitying” grief to be a bit eye-rolling. Kevin had a good heart (only one of the reasons that what Chuck did to him later was so unfair) and he meant well, but he was still just a teenager and an exceedingly spoiled young man. Like Sam, Kevin was used to having his world turn around him, even before he “woke up” as a Prophet and became the obsessive focus of angels and demons. It’s therefore somewhat understandable that Kevin might have felt the Brothers ought to reconcile, if his mother was willing to take him even as a ghost.

But Linda Tran’s counterpart is Dean, not Sam. Dean was willing to reconcile, but Sam (Kevin’s counterpart) was not. And as much as Kevin felt cursed and put-upon, he and his mother would be hard-pressed to have had lives more cursed than those of the Brothers Winchester.

I was glad to see Linda Tran again, less glad that this was (at least so far) her swan song. It was really unfortunate that her story was shoehorned in with that bloody angels mytharc plot (oh, don’t worry. I’ll get to that). We found out a little bit more about Kevin’s dad, who died young. So, she was a single mom Kevin’s whole life. We never did find out who Kevin’s dad was, though, or why Crowley was mocking her about him the previous season.

It’s no real surprise that she was as tough as she was. Linda Tran fits a recurring trope in the show of tough Mom characters who were popular (not infrequently, like Ellen, more popular than their kids). The central conflict for these characters was unfortunately tied up in their roles as mothers. This meant that they couldn’t really act as separate characters from their children and once those children were written out, so were these maternal characters.

It is curious (and unfortunate) that the one Tough Mom character who was really mishandled was Mary with her return in season 12. The Tough Mom character works because her devotion is selfless and heroic, and reflects Dean’s devotion to Sam. So, we’re already primed to like such characters. Yet, the show, for who knows what reason, decided to make Mary a terrible and disloyal mother figure, then made her All About a completely new Cousin Oliver character. Sure, one could argue that it was logical for her to resent her grown-up sons and struggle to connect with them. But that doesn’t mean it was the only way to go with her or that it would end up popular.

Linda Tran had hints (unfortunately not realized) that she was a much wilder and crazier person than just a stereotype of a Tiger Mom. Some fans didn’t seem to like her because of that stereotype, but the writers could have done a lot more with her and she was already growing out of it by this episode.

I’ve noticed that PoC authors (like my IFP bud, Silvia Moreno-Garcia) have been more open in complaining of late that PoC authors, especially women, are held to a much higher standard than white male authors – an impossibly high standard. It’s no big deal if a white guy writes a mediocre book, but if a woman (in a genre like science fiction where female writers remain a minority) and/or PoC author write a mediocre or cliched book, the judgment is much harder. In order to justify their existence in these fields, women and PoC authors (and LGBT authors, too) are expected to write groundbreaking, genre-changing books, even when the reality is that if you want to make a living at writing, potboilers are generally far more popular and profitable.

The same goes for characters in those groups on TV, especially in genre. The truth is that pretty much all TV characters begin life as cliches of some sort. If those characters are straight white men (the majority of characters with speaking parts that you see on TV), it’s no big deal. In fact, it’s barely noticed. But if those characters are women and/or People of Color, suddenly it’s a big deal.

By no means am I saying that ethnic and gender stereotypes are not problematical. There are some really racist and misogynistic ones out there, and they are harmful.

But the way to get beyond that is to hire more people behind the scenes, and to write more characters in front of the camera, from those groups. If writers, especially ones who have lived that experience, get more experience writing more of those characters, and you have more of those characters in the first place, you end up eventually with a broader array of characters, especially of ones that are not walking stereotypes.

Artists in these groups get more creative and career opportunities. Viewers in those same groups begin to feel actually represented onscreen. The story feels more successful because it’s not the same bland white dudebros all the time (not all white guys on TV are as interesting as Sam and Dean – just look at Bartholomew in this episode).

The Trans both began as ethnic stereotypes, but grew beyond them due to their popularity and the chemistry between the actors, Osric Chau and Lauren Tom. And because they introduced new character types and situations to the show, while successfully mirroring the Brothers, they caused Sam and Dean to grow, too.

Linda had two important scenes in “Captives,” one each with each brother, and the different tones were instructive. When she and Sam are breaking out of her cell, and he tells her about Kevin’s death, she responds with grief not-so-cloaked in steely resolve.

But there’s also a lot of anger there and it is directed at Sam. It’s as though she always knew, deep down, that Sam would somehow be her son’s death, just as there were hints in her obsessive protectiveness that deep down, she knew Kevin would die young and tragically, that she would survive him. No good, loving parent wants to bury their child.

Her scene with Dean is very different. She opens up and talks about Kevin’s father to a man she already knew had been a father figure to her son. She listens to Dean’s warning about how difficult it will be to have Kevin with her as a ghost and how dangerous it can/will get. They share their grief.

There’s no sign that she blames Dean for Kevin’s death. At this point, as Kevin’s final conversation with the Brothers makes clear, she has heard about the circumstances surrounding his death. But as much as Dean blames himself, Linda does not blame him.

So, yeah, about that angels storyline. I was so disappointed by what the show did with the angels in seasons nine and ten. When the angels fell at the end of season eight, it was epic and horrific. But then the writers took it … in a really boring direction.

Especially disappointing was that this was intended to be an entire subplot devoted to Castiel interacting with his angelic brothers and sisters. But while that sounded great in theory, in practice it left a lot to be desired. And it left my opinion of Castiel as a character more than a little diminished. He seemed to be bumbling murderously through this storyline, making dumb and reckless decisions, feeling bad about it, but learning nothing of substance. And he didn’t really have anybody compelling to spark with because every time the writers gave us someone who did, they killed them off.

A huge problem was with the other angel characters. The show had a pattern, especially around this time. They would introduce sympathetic angel characters who were then summarily killed off, nearly in the next scene, for maximum angst. In this episode, we never even meet Rebecca and we barely meet her cute disciple before he gets shish-kabobbed. I started to wonder if the writers just didn’t want to introduce anyone who might overshadow Castiel in popularity. Well, bang-up job there, y’all.

Then they would introduce and keep around long past their sell-by dates unsympathetic angel characters whom nobody really wanted to watch. Plus, these storylines would crawl along for half a season before abruptly being resolved in a flurry of loose ends.

The way they kill off Bartholomew this episode is a signal example of that. I mean, by no stretch was I sad to see Bart and his subplot go, but a few more answers besides that cliched “I massacred my brethren and I liked it” motivation would have been nice. Instead, we’re now in Kumbaya Land. Well, okay, then.

Now, the show always kinda had this problem. Kripke was notorious for refusing to bring in angels and then only doing so if his team always wrote them as “dicks.” Castiel’s popularity was a surprise and they ended up cannibalizing the one sympathetic angel storyline (Anna’s, then they ditched her after she slept with Dean) to give him more plot. So, unfortunately, as cool as angels were in their introduction, as long-term as Castiel’s popularity has been, as game-changing as the whole concept was, the writers (prompted by a showrunner with some pretty stunted vision on this count) were always going to write them this way.

Now, the show managed to hide this for quite a while by getting lucky in their casting. Characters like Uriel, Raphael and Naomi were popular and seemed to inspire the writers. Unfortunately, those characters were all dead by season nine (yes, I know, but Naomi is still, to all intents and purposes, a goner during this period of the show), so they couldn’t use them.

They botched Reapers by lumping them in with angels, having them fall, introducing a potentially cool (if stupid) concept of the Veil, and then basically dropping it a season or two later (sorry, spoilers). And there was no sign Death was ever bothered by that, despite being a stickler for the Natural Order.

It made even less sense when we later found out that Heaven actually needs angels inside it to keep it powered up. Gee, that would have been a pretty good motivation to bring up during all of Bart’s ranting about wanting to go home, huh (I mean, he was Naomi’s protege. He should have known about that)? And a reason not to keep killing each other?

Then there was Metatron. I won’t waste a whole lot of bandwidth this week on him, since he’s only here in, uh, spirit and we’ll get plenty of him later this season. But who thought this guy would make a good Big Bad? He’s about as scary as a rabid Care Bear and that’s the problem.

Yes, I get it, Show. The idea is that he has a nebishy exterior that makes others underestimate him. Plus, he’s small-minded and petty, so when he gets a lot of power, he Napoleons it. So, basically, like the Trio from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But folks, the Trio sucked. Yeah, they did a lot of damage because the writers made them do that, but they were not a successful Big Bad. This always seems to be one of those nerd fantasies that don’t really work when you actually put them onscreen (unless you subvert expectations the way Evil did with that Incel troll). Metatron did not work as a Big Bad.

I can see how a creature like the angel could have come so badly and collectively unglued after all that’s happened. I mean, even the younger ones (like Castiel) are close to half a billion years old, minimum. They are among the oldest beings in the Multiverse. With no solid purpose left, they’ve got to have been tired of existence at this point. Suicidal and fratricidal behavior would naturally follow.

The problem is that the show never really explored that. The writers even tended to ignore it by introducing monsters like the Leviathan that were even older than the angels, without getting into much detail about what that meant in cosmic terms (the Leviathan sure didn’t seem tired of existence, being practically mindless). The writers let the angels get small. That really showed in season nine.

Next week: #Thinman: The Brothers investigate an apparent haunting and run into some old nemeses.

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: “The Purge” (9.13) Retro Recap and Review


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You can still find my reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my folklore research on Patreon. Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, production of season 15 was interrupted and 15.13 will be the last episode aired “for a while.”

The show was supposed to finish up this fall, as the only original programming on the CW before January, but so far, the Creation cons have been postponed into next year and the cast and crew remain at home. They did put out a poster for the final episodes and include the show in a new promo. So, there’s that.

Note that I heartily endorse the cast and crew staying home until it’s safe. I sure hope CW head Mark Pedowitz is taking that safety of his employees a lot more seriously than it seems in his most recent interview.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat.

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

Recap: We start with a recap from last week of Sam’s coda speech to Dean about how they are no longer on the same page and that everything that has ever gone wrong between them is because they are family (translation: It’s all Dean’s fault).

I roll my eyes really hard because how often are these two ever on the same page? Sure, it happens occasionally, but their fundamental dynamic in the MOTWs (and even the mytharc) is that they are almost always at loggerheads and on the opposite sides of an issue. Oh, and that they put the “D” in “family dysfunction.” I’ve been binge-(re)watching Lucifer of late in anticipation of season five, part 1 streaming on Netflix, August 21, and these two could really use a dose of Dr. Linda in their lives.

Cut to Now and a hot-dog-eating contest in progress at the Hotdoggery in Stillwater, MN. The fat guy wins $1000 while the skinny guy cries foul and an adoring dark-haired woman watches them from the cheering crowd. Later, the winner goes out to his car at night (of course) with his trophy and the $1000. And, oh, yeah, it does turn out that he was cheating. He did stick a hot dog in his pocket, which he now proceeds to eat.

But then he hears a weird noise. When he wipes the fog off his driver’s side window, all he sees is the bar’s neon sign and he goes back to laughing over his win. But then a hooded figure pops up inside the car behind him and attacks him through the backseat. It … shrivels him to death, basically, then gets out and leaves. The camera zeroes in on a bumper sticker about bacon on the back bumper.

Cue season nine burning angel wings title card.

Cut to the Bunker, where Dean is staring at a laptop screen in the kitchen when Sam walks in. Dean admits that he was so hyper from the previous day (hunt?) that he pulled an all-nighter. Among the things he watched was the movie Unforgiven (1992). Well, that’s apt. He’s also drinking and still looking scruffy. We are definitely well into the Scruffwatch period of the show for him. I miss those days.

Dean says he has been trying to track down Metatron or more information on the Mark of Cain. Nothing on that mytharc-y stuff so far, but he did find them a case. He brings up Doomed Teaser Guy and notes that he went from 300 to 90 lbs. Even Sam has to admit that’s their kind of case.

Dean says he’ll be ready in five minutes after a “whore’s bath” (yikes). Since Dean hasn’t brought it up and Sam is apparently just dying to twist the knife, Sam brings up his little speech at the end of last episode. Dean snarks that he heard “loud and clear” the part where Sam doesn’t consider them brothers, anymore, but “I don’t break that easy.”

Sam snottily says he was “just being honest” (in case we were wondering if his speech was intentionally hurtful, this confirms it was). Sure, Sam.

Dean, pissed, just snarks and walks out, leaving Sam like, Well, that wasn’t nearly as satisfying as I expected it to be. Guess I’ll need to try again at the end of this episode. If, at first, you don’t succeed at being an abusive dickhead ….

Cut to a police station in Stillwater. The Brothers are in their FBI suits, meeting up with a perky, blonde sheriff who might look a bit familiar to all you Saltgunners out there. Yep, that’s right. This is Donna Hanscum’s very first appearance.

Donna is friendly and helpful, giving up info on DTG’s autopsy without demur. She also offers Dean a powdered donut and they engage in a bit of synchronized donut-eating that Donna doesn’t even notice, but that makes Sam very uncomfortable that Dean is embarrassing them.

Donna says that DTG was killed by “heart failure,” but they’re not really sure what it was. In addition to going down from 316 lbs to 90 lbs in mere moments, he had major damage to his internal organs. Donna agrees with Dean’s assessment that it’s almost as if he were “hoovered.”

As Sam asks her questions about the competitive eating circuit (which is extremely competitive in this neck of the woods), Donna goes all Fargo in her dialect and gives the skinny guy from the teaser a name, Slim Jim Morgan. He was the victim, Wayne McNut’s, main professional rival. Alas, he was still inside the Hotdoggery when Wayne was killed, so he has an alibi.

Cut to an ordinary house, where Slim Jim is practice-eating while being interviewed by the Brothers, still in their suits. He is eating lettuce to stretch his stomach (which doesn’t impress Dean). He claims that Wayne was a cheat, but the conversation quick turns to a shelf with a photo and knicknacks (almost a small shrine) of Jim with the dark-haired woman from the teaser. He says her name is Mala and that she is Rom (a short conversation ensues about how Mala thinks the word “Gypsy,” now considered a slur, is “reductive”). Specifically, she is a Romanichal Traveller (from English-speaking areas like the British Isles). Jim refers to her as his “old lady,” though he otherwise seems to regard her with, however offhand, affection.

Sam asks to use the bathroom and Jim tells him to go use the one upstairs because Mala is taking a shower in the downstairs one. As Dean distracts Jim with questions about how many hot dogs he lost by to Wayne, Sam actually investigates the bedroom just outside where Mala is taking her shower. There, he sees a strangely worked leather bag, but has to leave just as Mala comes out in a towel. He returns to the kitchen just as Jim is beginning to get suspicious and the Brothers quickly make their exit, leaving their contact info.

Back at the motel, Dean examines the bag, which Sam has purloined. It contains some of Wayne’s hair and a marble, among other things. Having looked it up, Sam identifies it as a “putsi bag,” a magical charm bag which can be used for hexes. Mala appears to be a witch.

There’s a knock at the door. Pistol in hand, Dean goes to open it, peers through the spyhole, and opens it with a bemused expression. It’s Mala and she’d like her bag back.

Inside the motel room, Mala willingly has an interview with the Brothers. It turns out that, far from being hostile toward Wayne, she’d been having an affair with him for years.

Dean asks her, fairly delicately, why she was with a hefty guy like Wayne when her husband was so skinny. She admits that she likes “a little give” in her men. Surprised, Dean admits that that makes sense, though Sam cuts him off at his clumsy attempt to commiserate.

Mala insists to Sam that she wasn’t trying to hurt Wayne – completely the opposite. She was using her putsi bag to bless him. The plan was to “get a quickie divorce” and go get married in Florida. She admits that “Wayne used to call me his Princess Jasmine.” This wins a quick and genuine smile from Dean, but he drops it quickly as Mala looks mournful.

Cut to a gym at night. A woman, the only person in the gym, is exercising on a stationary bike to Joe Cocker’s “Up Where We Belong” and looking frustrated. She gets off and goes over to a scale, where she looks even more frustrated when it says she basically hasn’t lost any pounds. In fact, she gained some.

She hears a noise (she’s being stalked and not just by the camera). She calls out to whoever is there, but no one answers. So, she turns back to the scale, where she has gone up another tenth of a pound to 180.4. Her stalker, who wears gloves, picks up a barbell and smacks her across the back of the head. Stunned, she lands flat on the scale. Something moves under her shirt as she screams in horror and then she begins to rapidly lose weight. As she dies, she settles at 74.6 lbs.

The next morning, the Brothers are at the scene, looking at the corpse. A deputy tells them the woman’s original weight was listed as 160 and Dean guesses (correctly) that it was more like 180 because “women always lie about their age and weight.” When Sam snarks that Dean recently told a waitress he was 29 (at this point in the show, Dean is about 35 and Sam about 31, depending on how you game those time jumps in between seasons), Dean’s like, Yeah, and? completely unabashed and in a tone as if to say that just proves his point. People lie about things they’re not proud of, especially the stuff they can’t change (or can’t change easily).

Dean finds a raised red mark on the victim’s side and Sam guesses a suction mark. But Sam disagrees with Dean’s guess of a Changeling, saying none of the victims had any children. And they don’t know if Wayne had a suction mark. Nor can they check because their friendly neighborhood Fargo girl, Donna, has gone on vacation.

As a hot young blonde woman shows up to talk to a policeman, looking shellshocked, Dean suggests he and Sam split up, with one of them interviewing witnesses at the gym and the other going to the morgue. Dean immediately volunteers to stay and Sam starts to demur. Dean than flatly tells him no, saying that Sam is “weird around girls.” And you know what? He’s not actually wrong.

Sam is a little shocked at this, but Dean snarks that he’s “just being honest” and walks off.

Dean interviews the blonde (of course). It turns out she was the last employee the night before, but she hadn’t actually closed down. She had a date. The victim was still there, working out (she wanted to be thin for her wedding). Dean’s witness didn’t want to disturb her, so she let the victim have her key. She now feels bad about this, for obvious reasons, since the victim died while alone at the gym. As they roll the body bag past, she turns away, overwhelmed, and Dean is startled to see a circular mark on her side, just like the one on the victim.

Back at the motel, Dean is on the laptop when Sam comes in. Sam says Wayne had a mark on the back of his neck. Dean says the employee did, too, and that she had recently lost a lot of weight. She was too embarrassed to tell him how, but he sussed out she had gone away the previous month “for some ‘Me’ Days,” did some research, and found out she went to a place called Canyon Valley Wellness Spa.

Dean cues up a video full of Andean pan flutes. A young Hispanic woman with a thick accent and an Anglo man are walking down a hallway as they sell the idea of losing weight to get in touch with that “thin” person deep inside, in a short time (a week), with no heavy workouts or restrictive diets. Dean looks smug at the connection he’s made to the case. Sam asks how far to drive and Dean replies. “Coupla hours.” Off they go.

At this pretentiously named and snow-covered retreat in the mountains, the Brothers have an interview with the people who run it, Maritza and her husband Larry. Larry met Maritza in Peru when he was an exchange student. He was overeating and got fat, and she helped him lose the extra weight. And … that and his giving her a green card seem to be the basis for their marriage. He does some karate chop moves that startle the Brothers and ends with a yoga “namaste” pose.

The Brothers (mostly) ace the interview. Sam does, anyway, but there’s only one instructor position open. So, Sam ends up teaching Ashtanga Yoga, while Dean is stuck in the kitchen, wearing a hairnet and surrounded by the “rabbit food” he hates so much. Needless to say, Dean’s not thrilled, especially since his boss, an even grumpier Hispanic dude, thinks Dean’s flirting with the Yoga instructor (an old, very old joke, Show) when he briefly compares notes with Sam before Sam’s class. When Dean wonders where Sam learned Yoga, Sam obliquely mentions Lisa (she was a Yoga instructor) and manages not to get punched in the face for it.

Meanwhile, Maritza is having a private “cupping” session with Donna. Donna gets very sleepy and zonks out while Maritza puts the cups on. Maritza says it’s the aromatherapy, “That lavender really packs a punch.” But as soon as she finishes putting the cups on, her eyes roll back in her head and she extrudes a long and gross sucker tongue onto Donna’s back, which she uses to suck up Donna’s fat. Say hello to the MOTW.

In the kitchen, Dean is on his phone, texting, which irritates his supervisor. Dean is grumpy and hungry. He gets even hungrier when his supervisor brings out a big bowl of pudding and tells him to spoon it into cups. The pudding is a special treat for the clients on “Spa Day” for right before they leave.

Well, Dean is tempted (I know you’re all shocked) and sneaks off down into a basement storage room, with a locked wine cellar, on his break with some pudding. But when he stands up to head back upstairs to work, he gets dizzy and passes out on some bags of sweet potatoes.

Meanwhile, Sam is discovering that there is more to teaching Yoga than knowing the moves and having dated his own version of Lisa. He wants everyone to hold a position known as “The Dog” for five minutes so that he can look at their backs, but when one guy grumbles (accurately) that they usually only hold a position for 30 seconds, he has to revise downward. He finds that everyone in the class has a suction mark on their backs. But, like the fitness employee Dean interviewed, they are all still alive. At the end, as he sees everyone out, you can tell that a lot of them aren’t thrilled with him.

Sam turns and sees Donna being rolled by Larry in a wheelchair down the hallway in her silk bathrobe. She looks stoned and accidentally “outs” him, blurting out his FBI fake agent name. Sam manages to slide out from under getting his cover blown by pretending she’s hallucinating, but it’s a close shave. He’s grateful to get a call that interrupts the awkward moment.

It’s Dean, who is semi-conscious in the storage room, but unable to get up. Dean begs Sam for help, but is able only to supply one clue: “sweet potatoes.” He passes out again.

Sam rushes into the kitchen and finds his way downstairs, where he eventually discovers the right room by process of elimination and calling until Dean answers. Sam slaps him awake and Dean readily admits he was drugged, that it must have been the pudding (salted caramel). Sam goes back upstairs to find the drugs. Dean starts to go after him, then realizes he’s too stoned and just lies back down.

Upstairs, Sam finds the chef and shoves him up against the wall, demanding to know what the extra ingredient is in the pudding. Confused, the chef tells him they’re just “supplements.” Sam brings them back down, along with an energy drink to help him wake up, and shows Dean the bottle. Dean immediately (and accurately) identifies them as roofies.

Sam: How do you know what roofies look like?

Dean: How do you not know? You think I wanna wake up in a hotel bathtub, with my kidney carved out? In Chechnya?

Dean is, of course, referring to a very famous urban legend that goes back at least to 1991. What surprises me is that Sam doesn’t know that. What show does he think he’s in? Urban legends are part of the show’s bread and butter. Did he forget about that time in season three when he almost got his eyes scooped out by Doc Benton?

Sam fills Dean in on the suction marks he saw in the class and Dean wonders what the hell is going on. Without much else to go on, they visit Donna.

Donna is thrilled that she has lost ten pounds – in one day – and doesn’t want to look too deeply into it when Dean asks how. He also off-handedly comments that “you look great” and when she admits that her husband Doug left her last year because she had gained weight, the Brothers commiserate with her. Sam says he’s “sorry to hear that.” Dean goes further, calling Doug “a dick” and that “you deserve better.” He seems quite sincere and he’s not wrong. We will meet Doug later in the show and he is no prize.

Donna, honey, go tap that. He’s very willing and will make you feel so much better.

Unfortunately, Donna has internalized Doug’s (and society’s) judgmental attitude about fat. It’s taken her six months to get into this spa. “I guess I just wanted to feel pretty again and Canyon Valley did that.”

Fortunately, Donna is still a smart investigator and has twigged that the Brothers are undercover. Dean admits that they are investigating a connection between the murders in her town and the spa. Sam mentions the “suction cup” marks and Donna readily shows them hers. She says she got it from her sleepy, pudding-induced spa treatment. With Maritza.

Cut to Larry pulling Maritza out of a brunch with a client. It turns out he didn’t buy Sam’s lie that Donna mistook him for someone else. Larry went through the Impala’s glove compartment and found the Brothers’ fake FBI badges. And some other fake IDs. Larry is well aware of what his wife is and of the existence of Hunters.

Maritza is confused. Why would Hunters come to Canyon Valley? Larry shows her a printout of an article about DTG’s death in Stillwater and she looks horrified. He tells her to clean up any evidence of her activities while he takes care of the Brothers. Think you got your work cut out for you, there, Larry.

Meanwhile, Sam is skulking around in the pink spa room and not finding a whole lot.

In a deserted part of the cafeteria, Maritza is opening up a fridge that is full of small vats of fat she extracted from clients. She dumps one, but can’t resist tasting another when she hears the click of a gun safety behind her. She turns around to see Dean, pistol leveled at her.

Dean ties her to a chair and tells her to start talking. She sings like a bird, but it’s not the story the Brothers expected. She says that she is a “Pishtaco” (which Dean at first thinks is “fish taco”), “a Peruvian fat sucker.” Dean says he’s never heard of them and compares them to vampires who like “cellulite.”

Maritza says that “vampires kill. We’re just parasites.” Unsurprisingly, Dean doesn’t think that’s better. But Maritza insists she would never hurt anyone. She and Larry started the spa so that their human clients could lose weight and she wouldn’t starve. When Dean points out that there are two dead people in Stillwater, she admits, after a reluctant pause, that the killer is her brother Alonso – Dean’s supervisor in the cafeteria.

Meanwhile, Larry is having a fight with Alonso back in the kitchen because he’s also twigged that Alonso is the killer. Larry threatens to expose Alonso (whom he calls a “freak”). This turns out to be a dumb idea because Alonso promptly kills him. Sam hears the fight and finds Larry’s dead body with a throat wound.

Back in her office, a tied-up Maritza is admitting to Dean (and now Sam, who clearly has told her about her husband’s death because she’s crying) that she brought Alonso back from Peru with her. She wanted to show Alonso a more “civilized” way to feed on humans, one that was mutually beneficial. But Alonso had recently lost control with a client and nearly killed them, so she had put him on kitchen duty. Alonso was forced to rely just on the fat in the jars she had, but claimed she was starving him. Sounds like Alonso was addicted to the kill, not just the fat.

They get her to tell them where Alonso is likely to be (the basement). Dean says that for now, she stays tied to the chair, even though she insists she’s on their side. Sam tells her to prove it – how can her kind be killed? Very reluctantly, she tells them.

The Brothers go down into the kitchen together, with what look like silver knives (the usual kill-all for unknown monsters). The basement lights aren’t working (guess Alonso fried them), so Dean finds some flashlights and down they go (there’s also some red emergency lighting). They then split up.

Dean enters a storeroom and finds jars of fat, about half of them empty. Sam finds Alonso’s bunk and the chef dead on the floor, with the same wound as Larry’s. Also, a bloody footprint into another storeroom. He finds a closet, though it only has clothes, but Alonso knocks the wardrobe next to it over on Sam. Sam manages to get free and they fight, but then Sam loses his knife.

In the process, Alonso boasts that Sam and “Stupido” (Dean, of course) can’t beat him, since fat makes Pishtacos stronger. Methinks Alonso is high on his own press.

Sam responds by taunting him that Maritza turned on him after he killed her husband. He’s become too monstrous even for her. Sam goes for the knife, but gets knocked through a wall and momentarily stunned. But as Alonso goes in for the feed-kill, Dean comes out of nowhere, grabs his sucker tongue, and cuts it from his head. The tongue twitches for a while longer after Alonso dies. So much for Dean being stupid, but then, Alonso was no MENSA candidate, himself.

Cut to an exterior shot of Canyon Valley, then an inside shot of a coroner’s stretcher being pushed past Sam and Dean, who are talking with Donna (now in uniform). Sam, who is sporting a bloody lip, sees Maritza sitting alone nearby and goes to talk to her. She asks him what he told Donna. He says that it was “the usual … psycho killer on the loose. They usually buy it.”

Maritza realizes that she is now completely alone. Sam’s attempt to commiserate with her is interrupted by Dean pulling him out of the room for a Brotherly chat about what to do with her. Do they kill her or what? Dean’s for Option #1 and comments that Sam did want to keep things businesslike (and this is their “business”). Sam wants to let her go because hey, what if a Hunter had encountered him while he was possessed by Gadriel? Would Sam have ended up dead, too (considering the formidableness of angels, I rather doubt that, Sam). So, they let her go back to Peru, with the caveat that she never return to the U.S. We get a final shot of her looking around the room at her shattered dream.

Back at the Bunker, Dean is drinking in the kitchen when Sam comes in. Sam apparently wasn’t done with the bitchy speeches as of last week, because he has one even worse brewed up to unleash on Dean this week.

Sam has come in to say goodnight and starts to leave, but Dean calls him back. He references the speech from last week and Sam rather nastily comments that he thought Dean said he wasn’t bothered by it (even though Dean’s been acting pissed about it all episode). Dean points out that he’s saved Sam repeatedly all season nine, including in this very episode. Dean admits that he doesn’t always “think things all the way through” to their consequences, but that when he does something, “I do it because it’s the right thing. I’d do it again.”

Well, that right there is what sets Sam off. Sam says that Dean is wrong for thinking he’s saving Sam, that he’s doing more good than bad. But he says that Dean doesn’t do more good than bad, that saving him (Sam) wasn’t a good thing, since it ended up with Kevin dead and Kevin’s killer on the loose.

When Dean protests that they are best hunting together, Sam sits down and tells Dean that he doesn’t think Dean saved Sam for Sam. He did it for himself. He says that Dean just didn’t want to be by himself and “can’t stand the thought of being alone.” Sam says he was ready to die and Dean was selfish to stop him. He says that Dean is happy to make a sacrifice “as long as you’re not the one being hurt.”

Dean points out that “if the situation were reversed, you’d do the same thing [save Dean].” Sam just retorts that he wouldn’t. He hedges it with “not under the same circumstances” (because he’s actually done far worse toward the goal of saving Dean). But considering this is in the context of his having abandoned Dean in Purgatory (and Kevin to the tender mercies of Crowley) for a year just a season and a half before, it comes out sounding absolute. As Sam leaves, the episode ends on Dean’s look of utter devastation at the realization that no, his brother does not love him the same way Dean loves him. That, in fact, Sam may not love him at all.

Credits

The show got a 1.0/3 in A18-49 demo and 2.46 million in audience. That was up from The Originals episode that preceded it (that show was never really a hit. The network just pretended it was) but down 300 thousand from the show’s previous episode.

You’re welcome.

Review: This poor episode. “The Purge” is actually an engaging story with an original MOTW, decent pacing, some unusual roles for the Brothers (even if Dean’s “job” at the fitness center is played a bit too much for mean-spirited laughs at Dean’s expense), and so on. I even liked Maritza and Mala, and wouldn’t mind seeing them again.

But at the end of the day, it will always be remembered (negatively) for that ending. To add insult to injury, Sam had already given Dean a version of this speech in the previous episode, but ramped up the nasty this time round.

There is a great deal of projected hostility in Sam’s speech, for which he never apologized (his “I lied” at the end of the season is far too little, too late). Sam calls Dean all the things that he himself thinks he is, but Dean of course feels them as if they’re real and is so devastated that he eventually commits a suicidal act at the end of the season.

The sad part is that Dean, with his dangerously low self-esteem, takes Sam’s insults to heart and Sam, knowing this, aims them for maximum effect. And why? Because he is momentarily angry with Dean over getting him possessed by Gadriel, which is a legit reason to be angry, if not mean. But Sam goes way too far.

Another reason is far less sympathetic and probably more honest. He resents that Dean has something new in his life that Sam doesn’t understand, something “special” that Sam doesn’t have. Sam is used to being the special one. Boy, does it ruffle his jammies that Dean is suddenly the special one, even though Dean is freaked out by it and really could use the support right now. Instead, Sam gaslights him and the show never calls him out on it. It makes Sam look extremely unsympathetic and the effect was long-lasting and divisive with the fandom, rather like that time Sam choked Dean half to death on behalf of a demon.

The title is, of course, a double pun. It’s related to the desire of people to lose their fat, to the point of letting a monster eat it (purging it). It’s also derived from the popular horror film series about a dystopian future in which (almost) all laws are canceled for a single night each year.

I haven’t had much use for that series, since the first film is basically about rich people playing vicious power games with each other (and I’ve always been meh about home invasion stories of this type). The rest of the series, however, gets much more into the racist and classist nitty-gritty of why a totalitarian government has created this night and how it’s used by the rich to keep down the poor. In a bit of career irony, the actor who played Alonso, Joseph Julian Soria, later appeared in the third film of the series, The Purge: Election Night (2016), as a main character named Marcos.

Let’s get back to the MOTW. The Pishtaco is a bit different from the show’s usual MOTW. It comes from the Andes in South America and appears to be, originally, an indigenous legend. It may not be Pre-Columbian, though, since it appears, at least in the first form we see it in the 16th century, to be a legend indigenous Peruvians told about the Spanish invaders.

The indigenous Puruvians so valued fat that they had a god of fat whom they worshiped (Viracocha, which some translate as “sea of fat”). They believed that the Spanish were killing Indians to render their fat in order to grease their metal weapons or even church bells. At least one historian claims that the Conquistadores actually did use the fat from dead bodies to put on wounds. Therefore, while the casting in the show implies that this MOTW is indigenous Peruvian, the Pishtaco is usually someone white or mestizo because this monster is basically a cannibal metaphor for European colonial voracity.

In its tendency to steal the fat around a person’s organs, the Pishtaco has some similarities to indigenous witch legends from North America, such as the Cherokee Spearfinger and Stone Man, who eat their victims’ livers. In both cases, these monsters steal their victims’ vitality, however that vitality is represented (either as fat or as livers). It is not entirely clear from these legends, however, if the Pishtaco is supposed to be a supernatural creature like Spearfinger (or the Algonquin Wendigo), or a human, like some early version of the “Woke up in a bathtub missing a kidney” urban legend that Dean references in the roofies scene. In fact, this led recently to an apparently invented urban legend of a serial killing, fat-stealing gang called the “Pishtacos,” by the Peruvian police in 2009.

Despite its very first MOTW being a Hispanic legend (La Llorona as a Phantom Hitchhiker in the Pilot), Supernatural doesn’t actually do that many legends of Hispanic/Latinx/Latin American origin, so this is a nice change. And it was a good callout to the very large following the show has in South America, particularly Brazil, where it is known as Sobrenatural.

The show also did some briefer cultural call-outs. First, you have “fish tacos,” a favored San Diego culinary delight. Fish tacos originated in Baha California, though it’s not clear whether they came from San Felipe or Ensenada sometime in the 1950s. I suspect one of the recipe’s ancestors is Paella Valenciana, a rice recipe with seafood from the southeastern Mediterranean coast of Spain.

Then there’s the subject of cultural appropriation. This especially pops up in Canyon Valley’s use of Yoga. There’s an ongoing debate about the cultural appropriation of Yoga in the West by white practitioners who both strip Yoga of its religious (and even philosophical) context and mostly shut out South Asian practitioners. South Asian practitioners also note that Yoga, which is a huge and lucrative business in the West, was originally a set of teachings offered completely for free.

While the episode doesn’t come out and explicitly discuss cultural appropriation, Canyon Valley is obviously a satire on how cultural appropriation intersects with racism and colonial attitudes in the West. It’s most obvious with the Yoga, but also pops up with the references to cupping (which has ancient and complex origins). There is also an attempt early on at respect toward Roma culture, though it’s somewhat undercut by being a direct (and explicitly referenced) steal from Stephen King’s Thinner.

The exploration of attitudes about fat is less clear. There are various references both to the shame people in the West feel about fat and to other cultures where being fat is more valued. When Dean refers to Maritza “hoovering” up people’s fat, he’s talking about the vacuum brand. But it’s also a term referring to the manipulations abusive partners (especially narcissists) use to drag their victim back into a relationship. You know, kind of like what Sam does to Dean early in season eight and from now through season eleven.

Perhaps the reason Donna immediately comes off as human and with some depth is because we see both her professional face and her more vulnerable personal face in her introduction. Maybe that’s why they brought her back.

Donna’s insecurities mean she also does not see that Dean almost immediately has a connection to her, that turns into a sort of Ducky Love. Dean isn’t just being nice (the way Sam is) when he tells her she deserves better than her shallow douche of an ex. Dean says Donna looks “great” because he honestly thinks she does look “pretty.” I liked Donna and still kinda hope those two crazy kids will hook up at some point. They’d both deserve it and Lord knows, I need that after having to suffer through watching Rowena and Gabriel shag.

In fact, Dean connects with all of the women in the story whom he meets (so, three out of four because this episode has an unusually high number of randomly female guest stars – not that I’m complaining), except for the female monster, all much to Sam’s embarrassment. Sam, on the other hand, mouths the right platitudes, but only emotionally comes alive when interacting with Maritza, following the revelation that she’s a monster.

When Dean tells Sam that he’s “weird around girls,” Dean’s not actually wrong. There’s a part of Sam (you see it in the Yoga class) that is very judgmental of people’s appearance – not just their social appearance, but their actual physical appearance. Dean’s not like that. Dean may be “sloppy,” but he’s also tolerant of people’s flaws, as long as they are non-harmful, human flaws.

It is especially curious that Sam, in the bright, shallow, surface world of Canyon Valley, looks like the perfect monster hunter. There’s an explicit visual contrast between him and Dean in their physical appearance in this episode. While Sam gets a tank top and shorts that show off his impressive physique, Dean’s musculature is obscured by long sleeves and long pants, and a goofy hairnet.

But once they get down into the basement, Sam proves unable to overcome the MOTW (though he puts up a good fight), a feat Dean accomplishes easily, almost casually. This was early in the MoC storyline, so it was kept ambiguous, like Dean’s werewolf kills the previous episode. Was that monster kill really as overwhelmingly one-sided as it looked or did Dean just happen to catch Alonso off-guard? Was Alonso really so strong that he could take down Sam like that, or was Sam just having a bad day and Dean a really good day in the context of the episode?

The Brothers are both superlative Hunters, though Dean has always had a physical edge whenever they were both “just” human, as well as generally better instincts. And the show can be inconsistent about how each one’s skills and abilities are portrayed in contrast to MOTWs (or even each other) within episodes, particularly MOTW episodes. But within this specific episode, Sam seems to lose Hunter mojo when he goes down in the dark, while Dean actually grows much stronger. As with the rest of the episode, looks are deceiving about who is in the best physical shape and who is the better Hunter.

This probably fuels the resentment behind Sam’s speech at the end. The implication is that while Dean still needs Sam emotionally, that connection (and Sam’s control over Dean) is thinning between them. Hence Sam’s gaslighting overkill of Dean at the end, in an attempt to regain that emotional control.

Up to this point in the season, Sam has been All About his mangst over not dying, over having been possessed by Gadriel, and over Gadriel having used his body to kill Kevin. So, he’s a little slow to realize that the show (and Dean) has already moved on to a new mytharc storyline, the Mark of Cain. Even so, he is slightly ahead of the audience in recognizing the permanence of the sea change and he doesn’t like it. Bet you’re regretting that whole “We’re not brothers” speech last week, already, huh, Sam?

There are some pretty obvious parallels in the show’s version between the brother-and-sister MOTWs and the Brothers Winchester. Though it’s not entirely clear which is which. The brother Pishtaco is voracious and out of control in his appetites. He doesn’t care whom he hurts, including his brother-in-law.

The sister just wants to live and let live, turning her need for fat into a mutually beneficial relationship with a society of humans who have far too much of it and want to get rid of it. She is harmed by her brother’s reckless actions and ultimately is forced to go back home, a widow and now illegal immigrant (the episode’s metaphor for immigration from Latin America is clumsy).

Or at any rate, that’s her story. When threatened, she wastes no time throwing her brother under the bus. We get at least one example (she didn’t warn the Brothers that consuming fat makes a Pishtaco much stronger) where she is not entirely on the level. It’s probably just as well Dean didn’t untie her and let her tag along for the fratricidal ride. Even if she was honest about now wanting her brother to hurt any more humans, she had been feeding regularly and was likely stronger than him. For all Sam and Dean knew, she could have lost control and turned on them, too.

For much of the episode, it seems clear that Dean parallels the brother and Sam the sister, but that ending speech flips this analogy right on its head.

What’s especially striking is that Sam doesn’t really identify with any of the characters in the story at all (his reactions are fake and shallow) – except for Maritza. And he only identifies with Maritza because he makes her situation All About his own manpain over being possessed by Gadriel and killing Kevin. With everyone else, he’s emotionally detached, but Maritza the Sympathetic Monster he feels sorry for, or at least as much as she serves as a mirror for his own issues. It’s colossaly narcissistic.

When poor Maritza asks at the end, What am I going to do now? Sam’s response is basically, Well, we’re going to let you go back to Peru and I’m sure you’ll do fine. Once he talks Dean out of killing her, Sam’s interest in her is done.

I’m simultaneously struck by how terribly lonely it must be to be Sam Winchester and what a self-absorbed asshole he is. I get that he’s damaged by their childhood with John and lifelong manipulations by demons, but damn, Sam. There are other people in the world. And I don’t just mean Dean.

It’s pretty disturbing that Sam just wants to let Maritza go, now that she has no family and no support system. Sure, Dean’s solution is harsh, but he has a point – her brother was a killer and now she’s very likely to become one, too. Let’s face it. Sam’s judgment of which monsters will or won’t re-offend is dodgy, at best. Remember Amy Pond, whom he was willing to let go even while she still had the blood of her human victims on her hands?

When I first watched this episode, I thought Sam’s speech felt tacked on, one of those codas to remind us of the mytharc that got ignored all episode. But on rewatch, I think there are a lot of subtle signs leading up to the speech that show just how hollow a person Sam really can be. In addition to his using the accusation to twist the knife, I think Sam honestly believes (consciously, anyway) that Dean really is being selfish in saving him, that Dean only does it to avoid being alone. And I think that’s because Sam saves other people for selfish reasons, himself. He is, as I said earlier in this review, projecting his own hang-ups onto Dean.

This will become much clearer later in this season and the next. But there’s no need to get spoilery about upcoming storylines to tease this out. Sam spent the first half of season eight insanely jealous of Dean’s close bond with the vampire Benny. Sam sabotaged that friendship – and Benny – every chance he got. Dean had just spent a year alone in Purgatory, when he could have just left, because he wanted to find and rescue Castiel, but now Dean’s the one who’s clingy? I don’t think so, Sammy.

It’s also downright bizarre to listen to Sam rant about how Dean stole his destiny out from under him and wouldn’t let him die. That’s because first of all, when Sam took on the Trials, he made it abundantly clear that he intended to survive them. He also chose, at the end of season eight, to live by forgoing the completion of the Third Trial. There was never any reason for Dean to believe that Sam wanted to die in the season nine premiere, aside from a rather questionable vision given to him on Sam’s deathbed by an angel who turned out to be treacherous. As far as Dean knew, he was fulfilling Sam’s wishes by finding a way to heal him.

Second, Sam stole those Trials from Dean in the first place. They were in no way Sam’s intended destiny. Dean had been pursuing that quest since Kevin had mentioned it near the beginning of season eight. He made it clear in “Trial and Error” that he intended to take them on, even if it killed him. So, every time Sam starts whining that Dean stopped him from completing those Trials (which turned out to be a fraud and a trap, anyway), I roll my eyes pretty hard at the way Sam so freely rewrites history.

I think that Sam is struggling in seasons eight and nine with a sudden and unwelcome (to him) new change. He’s now fully human. You might think, after the seven seasons of moaning about the curse of his demon blood and being Lucifer’s chew toy, that Sam might be glad – nay, thrilled – to be free of all that, but remember that the central horror metaphor for Sam’s demon blood storyline has always been addiction.

Sam is an addict and he has an addict’s mentality. He isn’t just addicted to the demon blood. He’s addicted to how his “destiny” made him feel special. It made him feel superior. Dean kept sabotaging all that until he finally accomplished the impossible – he got Sam stripped down to his human core. And boy, does Sam resent that. As dark and ugly as that destiny was, without it, Sam feels ordinary.

This is actually a fascinating storyline for Sam. Pretty? No. It makes Sam very unsympathetic for quite a while as he learns to sort things out. But it’s still pretty fascinating. This is a character who has always felt cursed, but adapted to it by kind of enjoying how the curse made him feel special. Can’t fault Sam for that. No, it’s Sam’s selfish and aggressive response to being cured of that curse that is unsympathetic.

Unfortunately, the writers waffled a lot on it. Partly, I think, it was because some of the writers (coughAndrewDabbcoughNepotismDuocoughcough) were still stuck in the Speshul Sauce Sammy rut. But partly, it was because this storyline got a lot of blowback from Sam fans. It was a rich storyline, acting-wise, for Jared Padalecki and I gotta say, he did not hold back on playing Sam as a hot narc mess and complete dick. But for all the complaining in some fan quarters that Sam never got the emotional “human” storylines Dean got during Sam’s mytharcs, boy, did those same fans really hate it when Dean got the mytharc and Sam got some of Dean’s old “Wind Beneath My Wings” motifs.

Finally, there’s how this fits into the slow-ish build-up of the Mark of Cain storyline in season nine. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t at all clear on first run if there even was an MoC storyline (despite Dean’s brief mention of it at the beginning of the episode). Had it been teased and dropped, already? Who knew?

In retrospect, this is a pivotal episode. First, of course, is Sam’s obnoxious speech, which heavily fueled the self-loathing that led Dean to the end of the season. Second, though, we are beginning to see what powers the MoC gives to Dean. After Alonso’s bragging about taking out both Brothers, Dean dispatches him easily. Sure, Dean catches him off-guard, but still, there’s no sense it’s hard in any way for Dean to pull off. There’s more than a hint in there of superhuman strength and reflexes in Dean.

To be honest, Dean probably could have prosecuted this hunt quite successfully on his own. Yeah, he accidentally drugs himself at one point, but it doesn’t actually put his life at risk. And he finds most of the clues. Sam is the one who nearly gets himself killed. The sense later on in the show that Dean gets of not really needing Sam to hunt, while he’s got the MoC, is not quite as strong as it was in last week’s episode, but it’s definitely there. I think Sam’s biggest fear at this point in the show is not that Dean needs him too much, but that Dean might be getting to the point where he doesn’t need Sam at all.

Next week: Captives: The Brothers discover that the Bunker is haunted.

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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Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 9.12: Sharp Teeth


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It’s been a tough summer, so I’m way behind on my recaps and reviews. As of this review, I now have 52 episodes left to finish for previous seasons, plus the 20 for the final (15th) season that starts on October 10. That’s 72 total by next April. I currently have 144 coffees at $3 each on Ko-Fi. If I get 300 coffees total, I will commit to doing one recap/review per week (retro or Season 15). If I get 400 coffees, I will commit to two. If I get 500 coffees, three reviews. If I get 600 coffees, four reviews. If I get 700 coffees, five reviews per week.

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

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

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


[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]


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

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

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

Cue title cards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This makes Sam something that rhymes with “hypocrite.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Kripke Years

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

The Gamble Years

Season 6 (with Kripke)

Season 7

The Carver Years

Season 8

Season 9

Season 10

Season 11

The Dabb Years

Season 12

Season 13

Season 14


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Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 9.11: First Born


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

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

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

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


[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cue title cards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dean [sardonically]: What, darker than you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I legit laughed out loud at that little exchange.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Kripke Years

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

The Gamble Years

Season 6 (with Kripke)

Season 7

The Carver Years

Season 8

Season 9

Season 10

Season 11

The Dabb Years

Season 12

Season 13

Season 14


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Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 9.10: Road Trip


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[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castiel: I prefer the term “trusting.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Kripke Years

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

The Gamble Years

Season 6 (with Kripke)

Season 7

The Carver Years

Season 8

Season 9

Season 10

Season 11

The Dabb Years

Season 12

Season 13

Season 14


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