Ok, I'm going to admit something straight up: I wasn't entirely impressed with this episode. At first. Now, wait, hear me out.
I turned off the TV as soon as I saw that we had to wait until January 20th (seriously?!) for our boys to return and for a moment, I just sat there. I said to the hubs (who usually is in the room while I watch, though typically checking out soccer scores on his phone) that I'd thought I'd be more affected than I was. I thought I'd be moved in some way. I wanted to be. I wanted to feel my heart breaking because (in the words of OUAT's Captain Hook) if it were breaking then I'd know that it still worked when it came to our show.
I headed down to my office, ruminating on what was troubling me about this mid-season finale a bit more and found myself mentally stumbling over the words, "it took too long." It wasn't exactly that we jumped from Crowley's mama issues to Castiel's child issues to the boys and then round-robin again; it was more that I felt I'd been waiting for this break from Dean since episode 3's blood cure and it took too long to get there. There was so little build up to it throughout the whole episode and then just, BAM! Dean was all you wouldn't like me when I'm angry and suddenly it was DEAN SMASH.
As I sat down to write, turning on my music and queueing up LJ, it hit me: perhaps therein lay the genius of this particular storytelling.
The subtlety, the slow-burn, the unexpected fissures building to an eruption. Since Sam cured him of his...demon-ness...Dean has been like Vesuvius. Calm on the outside, with the occasional burst of smoke, or slight rumbling of earth jettisoning out as a warning. Inside, though, perhaps so deep he wasn't even fully aware, has been a roiling cauldron of anger and pain and power churning into a deadly magma until tonight, he turned that living room into Pompeii.
We've had tiny reminders each episode. They diverted our focus elsewhere, with the different MotWs, almost like a magic act: the pledge, the turn, the prestige. We've spent a great deal of time watching others with the boys calmly bonding along the sidelines and in the background. We felt at ease with them, taking comfort in the fact that they are connecting, trying to return to "normal," working with each other rather than against. But even with that renewed brotherhood, there've been reminders: Dean not trusting himself to kill the werewolf, Dean putting extra shots in the shape-shifter, the boys turning the bunker inside out for some lore on the MoC from the MoLs.
Even tonight there was insinuation that Sam has noticed Dean struggling -- commenting that Dean sounded like he was feeling better as he handed him a grilled cheese sandwich. I mean, when was the last time we saw Sam cook for Dean? It's in that little casual exchange that I think we gleaned Sam is aware of Dean's nightmares -- perhaps not the content, specifically, but clearly that he's been having them and that he's not sleeping well. Cooking for him is so over and above Sam's usual "you okay" check-in that I think he had to have been feeling those earthquakes more and more lately.
This explosion was inevitable. We all knew it; we have all been waiting for it. And I think, perhaps, that was the problem with my initial reaction. I'd been waiting for it for long enough that I expected a shockwave, but didn't register that in waiting for it, I'd actually already mentally moved past it. I'd already anticipated Dean breaking, shattering his control and doing something that he wouldn't be able to write off as being a demon, that he wouldn't even see coming, that would change how Sam dealt with him. I'd moved into and then what does he do about it territory.
I think the timing of the hiatus is clever because now I have the opportunity absorb the sleight of hand and think through the staging of this latest evolution of Dean's and Sam's characters and when they return, I believe the subtlety of Dean's break in control will pay off. Before I get too ahead of myself, how about a few lists?
- My favorite moment in the whole episode was listening to Dean and Sam tag-team the story of their trip to New York with John. Hearing the love and respect in their voices as they spoke about their father moved me more than any other moment in the episode. There have been so many different ways these boys have spoken about and recalled their father -- from practical hero-worship to raw pain -- that to hear them share a story where their understanding and appreciation shone through to help Castiel understand the weight a father voluntarily bore for the sake of his children was poignant and perfect.
- The way Dean woke up from his nightmare: confused, disoriented, totally rattled. Very believable, that.
- "I think I have bed bugs; got any advice?" "Sleep tight. And don't let them bite." *wink*
- Dean laughing -- full-on, head back, crinkle-eyed -- at the Three Stooges. *LOVES*
- Sam making grilled cheese for his brother.
- "Before I was very self-assured. [...] Now, I realize there is no righteous path, just people trying to do their best in a world where it's far too easy to do their worst." I may put that last part in my quotes collection.
- Cas: "Is ketchup a vegetable?" Dean (along with every child in the history of ever): "Hell, yes."
- "Some stuff you just gotta let go. The people you let down, the ones you can't save. Gotta forget about them for your own good." "Is that what you do?" "It's the opposite of what I do, but I ain't a role model."
- "I'm extremely old; I think I'm entitled."
- "She almost traded me for three pigs. THREE PIGS. I was an attractive child; I could juggle. I was worth five pigs at least."
- Dean's reaction to Claire calling him "Hasselhoff."
- "You're not sorry; you feel guilty. There's a difference."
- Sam's stunned buzzah expression when Cas revealed that he knew CBGB was where the Ramones and Blondie got their start.
- The look of love and loss that slips across Dean's face like quicksilver when he recalls the big, tattooed man in CBGB saying, "Sorry, Sir," to John.
- Their voices softening as they said, "He said, Son, you don't like me? That's fine. It's not my job to be liked...." "...it's my job to raise you right." *rubs heart*
- The way Sam cupped Dean's face, holding his head steady, as he tried to process the carnage around him.
- Dean's stunned, confused, and all-together fragile expression of someone sitting in the middle of a nightmare he can't wake from.
- I can't tell you why (because I don't know...not because if I do, I'll have to kill you), but I just can't seem to engage in Cas' story. I liked that he called the boys for help when Claire ran off because then we got to see some shared screen time with the boys and Cas, but as much as I want to care about Cas' existential crisis with his stolen humanity, I just...don't. I hope that somehow what he witnessed at the end with Dean will trigger some direct involvement in the boys' story after the hiatus because otherwise I'm just...meh. Which is too bad because I really like Castiel.
- All that blah blah blah with Crowley and Rowena. Usually I like Crowley -- he always makes me at least smirk -- but this time it just felt like screen time away from the boys. The only thing we really learned is that it took Crowley a couple of weeks to soften toward his mother and that he wasn't willing to let one of his lackey's kill her. Personally, I think we could have gotten all of that handled in one scene.
- I think these are mostly just speculative of possible direction they're taking our boys. Like:
- Do you think Crowley really got rid of the Blade?
- I wonder if Cain is going to have to make a return to save Dean from burning out with the Mark (some commenters have speculated as such and I really hope they're right).
- Where are they headed with Castiel's exploration of his appreciation for humanity and feeling remorse for the lives he's hurt with his journey toward a righteous path? And will this naval-gazing somehow help Dean as he struggles with the monster inside of him? Will Cas coming to terms with the beautiful and terrible thing it is to be human help him remind Dean how precious his own humanity is, how valuable his life is, and how he can choose to overcome the Mark?
- Where the hell are they going with Crowley and Rowena?
- I wonder if they'll end up getting rid of the Mark just when having a super-powered Dean would be the difference between life and death or winning or losing....
Last week in the Ramble and then further in the comments I talked about how I didn't think Dean was purposefully lying to Sam about feeling normal for the first time as he took out the hippie vamps. And now more than ever, I'm convinced of it. I think that he is struggling with two things: first, he wants to reassure Sam that he's here, he's back, and man he's trying -- he wants to do the right thing, make the right choices, atone for the pain he's caused. He doesn't want to be that thing again. Second, he has lost sight of what normal actually means. He's lived with the rage and power and pain for so long now that he can't remember what it's like to not feel it.
So when he said normal, I think he thought he was telling Sam he felt like the "old Dean" because he knows Sam wants that Dean back, but what he was really feeling was an acceptance of his actions. He wasn't fighting his urges, he was using them, channeling them, controlling them. It was a new normal, he just hadn't accepted that. Tonight, he knew -- he could feel the Mark pushing him, and he was resisting as he has been doing since he came back. He was hurt, bleeding, outnumbered, scared, the adrenaline was charged up, and he warned them. But, one wounded guy against four thugs (and Randy)? No wonder they laughed at him.
I don't think he ever saw the break coming. I think he knew he was capable of violence -- his dreams reminded him of that. But he didn't realize the extent the monster would own him if he let that cage door open even a little bit. He thought he could control it. He thought he was controlling it. He didn't realize that those dreams? May have actually been memories. He didn't have the Blade with him, and the last time he lost control like that it was when the Mark and the Blade were united. I think he took for granted that without the Blade, there was only so much damage he would cause.
I think Sam hoped for that as well. Sam has been watching, cautious and worried, letting out his mental leash on Dean a little more and more. He'd gotten comfortable letting Dean be on his own during cases, though they checked in with each other a lot more than usual, and there was no letting calls go to voicemail. He'd gotten to where he wanted to believe that Dean was Dean and was okay so much that he accepted Dean's "feel like myself" comment as a building block back to normal.
The way Sam's breath shook, the way his voice hollowed out when he took Dean's face in his hands and pleaded, "Tell me it was them or you," was, I think, part horror at the death around him and part self-recrimination for letting down his guard enough that this happened. You could almost hear the I should have been watching him, I should have realized berating reverberating in his head as he absorbed Dean's broken, halting, "I didn't...I didn't mean to."
I don't know how they come back from this. I don't think there is a coming back; there's simply choosing a different direction. And Sam is going to have to guide Dean the first few steps of that direction because Dean looked concussed, kneeling there in the blood. But they haven't come this far, gone through this much, not to find that direction, not to seek out their path and carry on. I can't see Sam leaving his brother now (not physically, but mentally, emotionally) after all he did to get him back.
I mean, honestly? Sam is the best person to help Dean overcome that side of him. Sam, who has dealt with addiction and possession and complete despair...if anyone is going to help Dean through this break and find a way to atone and (most importantly) forgive himself, it is his brother. In fact, he's probably the only person Dean would trust to help him find his center, to ground him and balance him.
When they first gave Dean the Mark, then later when they turned him into a demon, I actually mourned my hero. Because my hero was human -- the only one to have remained human throughout this fight. But as I write this and think back to that shattered, broken look in his eyes, kneeling among the carnage that he created, his brother's shock and pain bleeding into his own, I realize that the tragic journey of this hero is now so much deeper and more layered than that of the only human. He's seen the other side, and he's not yet learned how to tear his gaze away. He's reaching desperately for a hand to help him out of the pit while shadows pull at his ankles.
When he gets out of this, if he finds a way to accept this truth about himself and his past and stand next to his brother on the other side of his personal darkness, he will be the kind of hero with gravitas. This is more than surviving hell, more than being willing to do or kill almost anything for the sake of his family. This is more than his being a soldier and a survivor. This is becoming who he was meant to be. Who that is? I don't know that I can define quite yet, but I can now appreciate the journey of Dean Winchester in a way I hadn't before.
As far as the rest of the episode is concerned.... I appreciate the bread crumbs they've left regarding the choices that Castiel has made. He's once more indebted to a demon, living on borrowed grace, watching a stalwart angel of the Lord accept the beauty of humanity and choose to turn away from the mission. He knows he can't follow Hannah's example and return Jimmy to his family. So, he does the next best thing and checks in on Jimmy's daughter.
But, now that we know Claire is a mess (and who can blame her -- her father killed by an angel, her mom abandoning her, her grandmother passed away) what will Castiel do? Seems like there's no good choice here. He can't bring her with him if he's to continue his mission and he can't take her to Heaven. He is not really equipped to settle down and care for her as a father -- especially since he still has that pesky fading grace problem. Returning her to the system after he broke her out of the group home would just be cruel and she'd probably find another Fagan --er, sorry, Randy-- anyway and risk get herself in a near-rape situation all over again.
I'll be interested to see how they choose to play this one out, though I'm willing to bet they'll just have him find a nice mother/ family to take her in until she turns 18 -- like they did with Alex and Jody or with Krissy. Solutions that shouldn't be easy so very often are in our show.
As for Crowley and Rowena, they bloody well better get crackin' on some evil scheming that impacts our boys right quick. I liked her as a baddie in the last episode when we met her and I was intrigued by the fact that she turned out to be Crowley's mother, but now that we've gotten through her conniving to get free of his dungeon and managed to woo him with enough forehead kisses and promises of a mother's love (after all, that's all Crowley really wants, as he admitted when being mostly-cured of his demon-ness), I'm ready for them to wreak havoc. Something that further complicates the boys' storyline or tangles with Cas on some level at least.
Right, so January 20th. That's a bit of a stretch, but we've survived longer. Thank you all very sincerely for reading and a special thanks to those who take time to offer me their comments, even if it's just to say you have read. I appreciate you and look forward to your thoughts and our interactions. If I don't "see" you in the comments or on a story review before hand, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a very peaceful, hope-filled New Year.