Despite working toward the positive, no matter what, I find myself often lamenting the writing or plotting of our Show. Some things just do not work for me. But this episode made me forget about all of that for fifty minutes, because hand-waving or no hand-waving, it all worked. Even Rowena's "Mother Knows Best" manipulative storyline. The writers have painted themselves into a wee bit of a corner now with the Mark of Cain, but they've gotten themselves out of tighter spots in years past, so I'm curious, which is what you want of your audience as a writer, yeah?
Dean and Sam's ongoing story of brotherhood had a spotlight trained right on it in The Executioner's Song and it stood up under scrutiny. They each owned their stories -- Sam with his support of and faith in his brother, Dean with his dogged and self-sacrificing determination to do the right thing -- but it was the way they were there for each other that killed me. Cas' instinctive defense of his friend had me cheering for him, and Crowley finding out that they aren't actually his friends had me feeling sorry for him (do you believe it? sorry for a demon).
I'll quickly swipe through Crowley and Cas. I've had little interest in Crowley's story with his mum. But I liked how we saw pieces of that story coming together to twist into Crowley a bit. He's been living as though safe from the hunters for multiple reasons, not the least of which being his connection to the First Blade. Rowena was right that he thought that they were his friends. But when Dean revealed that he'd lied to Crowley for the explicit reason of using him to get to the Blade, Crowley was crushed. He'd never show it, but it's true. And who does that send him running back to? Mommy Dearest with her "split the baby" reasoning. Now, he's more likely to actually be a bad guy (I mean, he is the King of bloody Hell after all).
Plus? We're getting closer to learning a bit about this Grand Coven. I'm good with having a big bad revealed to us in that way -- if said big bad is actually bad -- because it could potentially sucker-punch our good guys. They're so focused on the Mark right now, and really, they think of Crowley and his mother as nuisances. I think taking them for granted because they think Crowley is human-whipped and Rowena is "just" a witch (who is over 300 years old, but...whatever) is going to come back and bite them.
This is the Cas I like watching -- the one who is all in about the brothers. Even when he's not with them, his focus is on helping them. I have a thing about other characters standing up for the one I consider the 'hero.' In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 -- hang with me, I'm going somewhere with this -- there's a moment when Voldemort gets into everyone's heads and tells them that if they give up Harry Potter, he'll let them live. Slytherin House is all for it but before anyone can do anything, Ginny Weasley steps in front of Harry. Tiny little Ginny. And then she's joined by the rest of his friends. I love that part, love seeing how important he is to them. The moment in Cain's killing fields when Cain said he'd get to Dean eventually and Cas pulls out his angel sword in an instinctive reaction of protection, even though Dean wasn't even there, had that same effect on me. I loved seeing how important Dean is to Cas -- not that there was ever a doubt, but sometimes it's good to see it.
And then there was Cain. In past rambles, I and others have cried foul that they didn't think to go to Cain for help with the Mark. Eventually, they did, of course, sending Cas in search of him, but for me I wanted them to find Cain because I mistakenly thought Cain no longer had the Mark. When I heard 'transferred' back in S9, I thought 'given away' not...well, transferred. So, to me finding Cain meant that there would be a cure. I'm not sure if Sam and Cas thought that Cain truly had a cure or if they were just desperate to find something, but Dean's point that if there was a cure, Cain would have used it centuries ago really hit home in this episode.
I felt Cain's story was very well told, once we got some clarity. He'd resisted the Mark for centuries -- put himself into remission, as it were -- until Dean showed up. And Dean was right, he was the catalyst that set Cain on this path, but Cain's choices are not on Dean, no matter how much blame he feels he should absorb. I am a firm believer that we are each of us responsible for our own decisions. No one makes us do anything, we choose to do it. Now, sure, there are extenuating circumstances and impossible choices, but we still choose. Cain chose to transfer the Mark to Dean just as he chose to take out Abbadon's minions.
His quest to eradicate his whole "poisoned" issue actually felt honorable, from a sociopathic point of view. He was trying to right the wrong he'd caused. He put a certain kind of evil into the world by murdering his brother and he wanted to remove that blight on humanity. I could actually see his clarity -- not agree with it, of course -- but see how it made sense to him. He didn't allow himself to see the side of humanity that Cas and the boys saw -- the hope, the possibility of redemption, the forgiveness. It was very black and white to him. The scariest part of his focus was that I could very easily see Dean picking up that mantel. The words Cain said to Dean at the end -- about living his life backwards and it all ending with Dean killing Sam -- broke my heart because I could actually see it happening. I could see Dean see it.
It's not like it's a new theme. Even before we knew Cain still existed, we contemplated the horror of one brother killing the other. When they were to be vessels for two other brothers -- Michael and Lucifer -- the thought of it terrified us. And the conversations surrounding the Cain and Abel conundrum swirled even then. But now...now it feels scarily possible and the worst part is, both brothers know it. They don't want to look right at it, but they feel it...like that bubble on the wrong side of a magnet, or the hum of static just before you touch a balloon.
Cain's end was poetic, inevitable, and so, so tragic. Not for Cain, not really. For Dean. Because Cain was his hope. Sam had given him that hope, had used Cain's example to keep Dean going. And Dean's broken expression, his shattered voice as he said, "Tell me I don't have to do this. Tell me that you'll stop. Tell me that you can stop." -- was the epitome of hope dying. If Cain would never stop, what of Dean? Cain's claim that there is no resisting, there's only remission and relapse...that's terrifying. My husband has a chronic disease -- Crohn's -- and we've said the same of it before. There's no ignoring it, no resisting it, no denying it. There is just remission and relapse.
Dean is living with a chronic disease, only the problem is that when it flares up, people die.
I've often said that Jensen's portrayal of Dean Winchester has all-but ruined me for any other TV hero. He proved me right in spades in this episode. He pours himself into his performance and I saw the character I love to write about shining from the screen. It started with the look on Dean's face when he stares at the video screen in the prison, grasping his arm because he knows. He knows before they zoom in that it's Cain. When he told Sam that he knows he may not come back from this fight, there is such vulnerability in his eyes. And then add to that admitting to Sam that he was scared...the way his voice shook, just.... *rubs heart* He wasn't scared to face Cain. He was scared to lose himself. He was scared of not being himself anymore.
It was just like in Season 3 when he faced his own mortality. He knew he'd made that choice, he knew he would face it, but he was scared, dammit. He didn't want to die, he didn't want to become a monster. He has fought his whole life to do what's right, to save people, to defeat evil and becoming that evil -- especially since he knows what that's like -- is more than scary. The moments outside the barn, though, they gutted me. You could practically see Dean trembling inside as he held himself as still as possible. The way he very calmly tells the three of them that he needs them outside to deal with whatever comes out just before he takes the blade, and that look -- that big brother, nothing bad's gonna happen to you, I'd die for you look -- he gives Sam as he says, "I'm good." Just. *lump in throat*
But it's the moments after the fight that wrecked me. After Dean's been beat to hell by the Father of Murder. After he's heard the most ominous prediction of his future yet -- worse than anything Lucifer said to him, worse than anything Zachariah said to him, worse than anything he's said to himself -- and then manages to kill Cain. The way he staggers outside and down those steps, his face and body battered, his soul beaten, but still him...my heart already hurt. But then when Cas held the blade and Crowley vanished with his feelings hurt, and Dean looked at Sam with a helpless smile, his knees buckling and Sam catching him, the tears fell.
It was that moment, the way Sam just stepped in and took Dean's weight, holding onto him and whispering, "You did it," over and over. I couldn't help but think of the last time Sam had held his brother like that, the way that moment ended. And I couldn't help but think Sam wasn't just saying you killed Cain, he was saying, you came back to us. It was Dean in his arms, battered and broken, but his brother and that was my end right there. *sniffs*
Sam, though, man. Jared was just as on it as Jensen in this one. It was subtle, but it reverberated like a back-beat to Dean's struggles. It was the tight lipped gulp, the trembling jaw, the shaking inhale. It was the hope, that desperate, all-consuming hope that Sam clung to throughout the whole episode. It was that false light in his voice at the end when he said, "If you can do that without losing yourself, that's cause for hope, even without a cure." He sounded like someone who had just been told his loved one was terminal, but was unwilling to believe it. He sounded like he's sounded so many times before when he's said, we'll beat this, we'll figure something out.
And then the honesty that slipped from him, trembling with the emotion captured in his eyes as he said, "Cas? Dean's in trouble." He knows, Dean knows...even Cas knows. This is not something that Dean is going to be able to live with for long. Dean's hurting -- more than just the bruises and cuts marring his face and hands. He's hurting. And he's desperate and he's scared and Sam has no idea what to do. This is so beyond them it's not even a spec on their horizon. And the enormity of this problem -- over and above anything they've fought through and survived, bigger than angel vessels, bigger than Hell and the Cage, bigger than Purgatory, bigger than the Trials -- is resting on Sam's shoulders.
Because this is his quest: saving Dean. He tried to save him once before -- from Hell -- and he failed. Then? He just lost his brother. Now? If he can't figure out how to save him, not only will he lose his brother, but a lot more people could die...and Sam could be forced to kill Dean to save the world from Dean. And that just can't happen. Nope nope nope.
Holy crap, this was long! Sorry, guys. I just had...I mean, there were FEELINGS. I am going to be replaying that moment Sam caught Dean against him over and over and over and then one more time. At least mentally, since I don't have it on my DVR anymore.
Okay, so, lists!
- I know this sounds bizarre, but I liked how grittily dark the whole opening on death row felt. How nasty Tommy was, how just so done with everything the guard was. It didn't feel like our Show there for a moment.
- Cain's. Hair. I mean, come on, those were some excellent locks right there. And the way he kept tossing it back or pushing it away as he fought Dean? It needed its own credit.
- Sam knowing serial killer stats. Of course he would know that. It's exactly the right balance of scholarly and bizarre for his life.
- Dean's face as he sees the figure in the security vid.
- Rowena getting her way with the Shaun White-look alike demon.
- Cas' way of simplifying what Cain has been up to while he stands in the middle of a field full of graves.
- Omundson's succinct delivery of Cain's downfall from resisting the Mark to perpetuating mass genocide on his 'poisoned issue.' We learned everything we needed to know about what he'd been up to since we last saw him in roughly five lines of dialog. That was awesome.
- Castiel's instinctive protection of Dean when Cain threatened him.
- "Next time you run a long con, let more than a few hours of suspicious, entirely uncharacteristic usefulness pass before you make your ask." I love Crowley's dead-panned approach to life.
- "Of course I was manipulative! I am your mother after all!" She has a point.
- Dean + red shirt = YUM. However, it also = angst and danger, apparently, as he wears it when he's either a demon or feeling very vulnerable toward demon-ness. I think the red shirt theory stands up beyond Star Trek.
- "It's a fire sale and everyone must go."
- The whole exchange between Sam and Dean in Dean's room when he's packing his guns to head out. "Dean, win or lose, you may never come back from that fight." "I know." They were both so...solemn.
- Dean confessing that he meant it when he said he was ready to go down swinging...he just didn't realize it would be so soon. "I'm scared, Sam." *my heart*
- Sam's little grin when Crowley says that the magic trick was something he'd picked up from his Mom.
- The whole not-quite-goodbye speech before Dean heads into the barn.
- "It's a means to an end."
- The look of determination and resignation blending together on Dean's face as he crossed the Devil's Trap.
- The fight. I know, I shouldn't like violence, but I do like how real it felt. Like when Dean crashed against Cain and fell to the ground, he fell hard. It didn't look like there was any padded mat catching him while they cut away. And his face showed us how vicious the fight was, they didn't CW-cream it up. That and he didn't get up quite as quickly after being thrown through that window as he has during past fights. I could believe for a moment that I was really seeing them fight; I could get lost in it.
- Dean cutting off Cain's hand to save himself. I did NOT see that coming. I totally gasped and said out loud, "Did he just cut off his hand?!" That was ingenious, fresh, and...yeah, I'm gonna say it. Awesome.
- The look on Sam's face when he sees Dean walk out -- it was such profound relief I seriously thought he was going to cry. I may have teared up at that point, I can't remember.
- Dean giving the blade to Castiel instead of Crowley. Dean telling Crowley he'd lied to him was a bit like a break-up, and as much as I love Mark Sheppard, I want Crowley to be a bad guy. Only way that's going to happen is if he well and truly ends his (one-sided) bro-mance with Dean. And this was pretty much it.
- Dean looking to his brother, then his knees buckling and Sam catching him.
- The aftermath in the kitchen with a still-battered Dean trying valiantly to show he was okay while Sam tries to make them both believe he's okay only to dissolve into honesty once Dean walks from the room. The way Dean's face settled into that hard mask he wears when he's just done pretending as he clapped Cas on the shoulder and walked from the room, and Sam's expression crumpled into worry and fear...it's going to be interesting to see how long they both will be able to keep up the facade.
- "Cas? Dean's in trouble."
NOT SO MUCH:
- Don't really have a lot here, just random things like, what was up with that barn? That wasn't like any barn I've ever seen. It looked okay from the outside, but from the inside, that wide shot of Dean and Cain made it look like a set of a barn, with that arched, corrugated roof. Weird.
- Also, where the heck were Austin's parents? Until I realized that they'd cleverly used Rowena's magic to insert an image of Austin, I couldn't believe the parents were completely oblivious to four strange men skulking around their property while their 12 year old played basketball outside. By himself. At night.
- This could totally be me reaching for meaning, or I could have read it somewhere and am mixing up my fanon and canon, but...is Dean a descendant of Cain? Is that why he was worthy to bear the Mark? Is that why he was on Cain's list? Did we realize this several seasons back when we saw how Heaven maneuvered things for John and Mary to come together for the sole purpose of creating Dean and Sam? I feel like all the answers are 'yes', but after nearly 10 years, 40 some-odd stories written, and countless stories read, mixing up the facts is possible.
- So, we're not totally out of options yet -- we still have Charlie on the hunt for that Book of the Damned, and there is still the possibility of getting that little weasel, Metatron, to cough up some actual truth. Now it's just going to be a race to see if they can get to some answer before Dean relapses. He's fragile right now. So much so, I want someone to wrap him in a blanket and hide him away somewhere. Annndd I just realized that's not really a question.
- How much of a threat do you think this Grand Coven is going to end up being?
- ETA: New burning question triggered by jazzyirish's comment. The Blade is just a jawbone without the Mark, right? And the only thing that can kill someone with the Mark is the Blade? So, if Dean killed Cain -- the only other person with the Mark -- who can kill Dean? Is he, basically, immortal?
First, we're on a temporary hiatus it seems until they come back on their new night, Wednesday, March 18th. This actually works more in my favor for seeing the show on the night of, though later than it airs in Kansas. I might be able to post these on Thursday pretty regularly if all works out. What a doozy of an episode to leave us with for a few weeks, eh?
Second, I was called out -- and rightly so -- for not replying to your comments. It was pointed out to me that it's just as important to you guys that I reply to your comments and recognize you for taking the time to read as it is to me that you comment. I apologize for making anyone feel like their words aren't important to me -- they very much are. I read them all and love what you have to say, even when you see things differently. So, I'm going to work harder to reply to you all. I can't guarantee I'll be successful every week, but I promise to do my best.
That's it. Have a good hellatus, all. See you soon!