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Stream of Consciousness, Epi 10.22

Well, I was right. That was as hard to watch as I'd feared it'd be.


There is an often paraphrased quote by George Santayana that I thought of the moment credits rolled on this episode. The actual quote is, When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. The paraphrase I thought of, however, was, Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

However, before I delve into how Dean beating on Cas in this episode was almost a mirror image of Cas beating on Dean in S8's "Goodbye Stranger," or how cruel words spoken to a loved one when wrapped in a cloud of anger of pain are soon laced with regret, I want to talk about the title, "The Prisoner." That caught me almost immediately when I saw it on my DVR. I'm sure there are many and varied theories out on the interwebs right now about who the title is referring to -- and with as meta as our fandom can get, I'm almost certain they will each be wonderfully well-thought-out. But...this is my Ramble so you're stuck with my theory. *smiles*

In this episode, the term 'prisoner' could apply to a number of characters. The most obvious, of course, is Rowena, literally in chains in a sigil-covered warehouse. But it could also mean poor Silas (at least I think they said 'Silas') Stein, who was trapped by the crazy traditions and legacy of his violent family, or it could refer to that teenaged bully who became an unwilling Lawnmower Man, or it could even, existentially, refer to Crowley who had been going against his nature for a year in an effort to feel something, imprisoned by his own misguided hope for redemption. It could be Sam trapped by his fervent desire to save his brother or Cas by the fact that he is the only one on Team Free Will who is eternal and would be forced to watch those he loves die and Dean succumb to the Mark.

It could be...but I think it's in reference to Dean. He is a prisoner of this Mark. He's like an alcoholic who says, "I've got it under control, just two drinks a day." He's so convinced that he's fighting the Mark, maintaining control of its influence and power that he doesn't see how it's already won, it's already poisoned him, turned him, trapped him within a prison of violence and rage and darkness. He's always had a tendency toward violence and a take-no-shit attitude, so it's easy to say that what he's done and what he's said is not really that out of the norm. And he's surrounded by strong people who also have a tendency to use force to get what they want, so what's a few heads slammed against countertops for information between hunters, right? I mean, it's just the way things are done.

But Dean is fading. He may have already faded, I'm not entirely sure. The heart of him, the light that always drew me to this hero, it's darkened with shadows and I feel almost like...like I can't see him anymore. The goofball who played with the Ninja sword in his bathrobe when they first got to the bunker, the big brother who drew Sam into his arms when Sam was scared, hurt, dying, the emotionally wrecked man who admitted he wished he couldn't feel a thing, the friend who let himself be beaten nearly to death to save an angel, the protector, the lover...I can't really see any of that right now.

Dean is a prisoner of this Mark and I find myself -- amazingly at this point -- agreeing with Sam: I can't lose him.

Having Dean be a demon at the beginning of this season, I could deal with. It was new for the show, for the character, and I knew (based on 9 years' experience with our Show) that it wouldn't last long (plus it was exciting to watch Jensen play this version of Dean). We got Dean back for a time, but he's been slowly slipping away from us, putting up a facade of normalcy, trying to convince everyone -- himself most of all -- that he was okay, that he had control of this. If Sam can't cure him of this Curse, we all lose Dean and after this episode? I don't know if my heart could handle seeing a Dean without his heart. After a decade of devotion to this show, I would be compelled to watch just to see what happens to him, but it would be torture, and not the good kind. I feel safe saying that many of you are the same.

Huh. Maybe 'the prisoner' they're referring to...is us.

I found myself conflicted so many different times while watching this episode. In the beginning, when the boys are building Charlie's funeral pyre, I couldn't imagine what that had to be like for them. She was the kid sister they'd never had. She was light and sunshine in their world of pain and darkness. She was the only person to look right at them -- at Dean, specifically -- and say the words I love you. And she meant it, too. Their casual confidence that they could protect her by teaching her, or that she was smart enough to stay out of any real danger, was shattered. They'd already brought her back from the dead once, but this time...this time it was real. And while they've been surrounded by death, while everyone they know has been taken from them, the brothers have thwarted death so many times, I think they took it for granted a bit.

I don't think death has touched them quite so intimately since they burned Bobby's flask (collectively, I mean...not individually). Not even Kevin hit them this hard because Sam wasn't really Sam when Kevin was killed. Watching their memories of Charlie was hard, but that brief moment when Dean sort of leaned across Charlie's shroud-wrapped neck like he just couldn't breathe is what really got to me. The logical part of me didn't blame Sam for this. I knew why this had happened -- from a storytelling perspective and from a character perspective. I knew that Charlie owned her own actions and choices. She always had. She might not have expected the Steins to find her so easily, but she knew that working on an ancient codex with a powerful witch behind Dean's back was not exactly a recipe for safety.

But, my emotional response doesn't always listen to my logic and when Sam started in on his soft, sentimental eulogy I felt my stomach twist nauseatingly. I was grateful to Dean for telling Sam to shut up because just, no. I couldn't -- didn't want to -- hear how much she meant to them because they never learn. They are doomed to repeat this history of pain and loss unless they start to freaking pay attention. This death triggered such a warpath for Dean and guilt for Sam that when they get out of this latest mess (because, we have at least 24 more episodes, after all) they had better remember it. And not get themselves into a situation where they have to face it again.

We all say shitty things to those we love when we're hurt. Every single one of us is guilty of that -- I hate you, I never want to see you again, this is your fault, all that jazz. Especially when we are blaming ourselves on some level for that hurt. Sam sure has before, boy. I'm still stinging from some of the things Sam has said to Dean in the past.

But what Dean said when they were staring at Charlie's burning body? "It should be you up there...." That hurt. Because it's so clearly not Dean. Yes, he was angry and yes he blamed Sam for getting Charlie into this mess and for not listening to him in the first place and yes he blamed himself for not seeing sooner what Sam was up to and not stopping him and not protecting Charlie and yes he was awash with regret and loss...but that was a really shitty thing to say. For me, it was as bad as Sam calmly sitting in that kitchen and informing his brother that, same circumstances, he would not do everything in his power to save Dean.

It may not have been the Mark talking, but it sure as hell was Dean influenced by the Mark. Because the Dean we know, the Dean we love, would never want his brother dead. Ever. Period, end of story. No matter how much he was hurt because of a loss.

Dean's face was so tense, his eyes just...two pools of cool, deadly rage...he made me shiver. Transitioning from that, to the calm way he handled the Louisiana cop, then to the controlled way he took out every. single. one. of the Steins, and then returned to the bunker with blood and exhaustion painted all over his face, his eyes bruised with weariness but...hollow. There was nothing of our Dean there anymore, even though he wasn't a demon. He was just...empty.

The way he paused for just that moment with Silas Stein, letting us think that our Dean was swimming to the surface, that he might show mercy, then killed the kid anyway...ouch. That was rough, rough, rough to see. But weirdly? I kind of got it. I mean, he made a promise at Charlie's pyre -- he was taking out every one of those bastards and he meant it. If he had let the kid live, there was no guarantee Silas wouldn't have grown up to carry on the family tradition -- and Dean already knew the Steins were tied to the Book of the Damned, so there was that, too. Dean knew that he was the only one who could eradicate the Steins and their history and legacy of chaos and violence, so taking out one boy was, to his way of thinking, necessary. He had to. I didn't like it, I didn't like seeing it, but...I got it.

See what I mean? Conflicted! All over the place.

When Cas showed up in the bunker, though, that's when things started playing on a loop in my head and I remembered vividly how many people Cas killed when he was God!Cas and how savagely he beat on Dean -- up to and including pulling the angel sword and nearly stabbing Dean to death -- because Dean was the one thing standing in his way. Dean's tired, hollowed-out, empty expression mirrored what we saw from Cas before. His eyes sparking to life as he hit Cas, the fire there as he held the angel sword just above Cas' heart...it was so very much the same. Two friends at odds once more because a universe found it necessary to yank on their strings...all I could think while watching was please, PLEASE let this be the last time.

And Sam...the way he looked at Cas when Rowena revealed that she could read the Book. Man, that had me rubbing my heart. He knew what he'd promised Dean -- to shut it down before anyone else got hurt -- but he also knew that he was losing his brother. Might have already lost him. He knew that he had to do this. In that moment, Sam Winchester knew exactly how his brother had felt all of his life. He knew what was going on in Dean's head and heart when he agreed to let Ezekiel possess Sam to save him. He knew what drove Dean to making that deal with the Crossroads Demon -- Dean's soul for Sam's life.

He may have thought he got it all this time, and in theory he did. But there is a dark, heavy, bolded line between theory and execution.

Because he is a brother and because he loves his brother, Sam could say, I understand why you did what you did, you couldn't let me die, but until that moment? Sam didn't really understand because he hadn't been faced with the same situation. When Dean was dying in S9, Sam told him that he lied about not doing whatever it took to save him. But even that was more just words than anything else. He was holding his dying brother in his arms and his heart was breaking. He hadn't really been put into any position to make a choice of action. Until now.

Now, Sam gets it. In a way that he never could before. He knows the anguish that Dean felt when he chose to do what he knew his brother would consciously object to for the sake of his brother's life. I could argue that he finally understands what Dean meant when he said, I couldn't live with you dead which is different from I couldn't let you die. One is about Sam, the other about Dean. One is about the despair Sam would experience every day without Dean, the other is about Dean being denied a chance for a full life.

I think Sam's quest this season started out as the latter and shifted to the former. And the guilt he has to live with, he can justify -- just as Dean has justified his actions all along to save Sam. Even Kevin's death. Dean won't ever forgive himself for that just as Sam won't forgive himself for Charlie, but they both can justify their actions that led to those deaths, and Sam can now understand that on a level he couldn't before.

Don't throw things at me for this, but...my favorite part? Of this whole torturous episode? Was Crowley becoming bloody Crowley again. Don't get me wrong, I love Mark Sheppard and I've been entertained by Crowley's wit and snark and bromance with Dean. But the moment he stopped coughing up blood and stared at Sam with those demon-red eyes I got goosebumps because yes. At last the King of Hell has some teeth again. There is a line in the sand again between good and evil and evil once more has the potential to be scary!

Since my hopes that the FrankenSteins would carry over as the Big Bad in S11 were smashed by Dean's take-no-prisoners warpath, I like the idea of Crowley actually being a baddie again, like he was once upon a time. I mean, I know there's no guarantee that he'll survive the final episode of S10, but still! If he goes down swinging, it'll be better than just collapsing because of a hex bag.

Okay, so...because this one was so tough to watch, my lists aren't going to be as long. Plus I covered a lot above. And...reactions/comments to the Ramble have significantly tapered over the last several episodes (either because of the show, because of my words, or because of the timing, I don't know), so I'm just going to give you what I have and hope for the best. Also? I'd love your thoughts on who "The Prisoner" was referring to; I'm willing to bet you'll think of someone that I didn't because you are all very, very clever people.

LIKES:

  • The performances by the two J's. They are both knocking it out of the park right now -- Sam with his franitc, heartbreaking desperation and Dean being so dangerous, deadly, empty and not Dean. Bravo, boys.

  • "You're all I've got. Of course I was gonna fight for you; that's what we do." Sam's way of saying, I love you to his brother.

  • Cas' poor, sad eyes when Sam shares the news (without saying a word) that Charlie is dead.

  • "I'd be happy to kill her; she just called me a fish."

  • Sam getting Charlie's decoder ring in his email.

  • "I've been the one out there messed up and alone and scared and Dean--" "Did whatever he could to save you." "Yes! I owe him this! I owe him everything!"

  • "Find him, Cas. Keep him safe." *sniff* *gulp* *rubs heart*

  • "Looks like we're taking you down to the station, boy." "I ain't your boy, Cletus."

  • The fact that these seemingly podunk cops found the Impala's weapons cache under the secret panel. That hasn't happened before, I don't think. Even when it was impounded.

  • "I'm the guy that's gonna get out of here in about 30 seconds."

  • "I kill gods."

  • "Dean? Deee-eeann?"

  • "She said to tell you she should've taken the three pigs." Really pretty sure that was what had Crowley turning the corner and deciding to fight back.

  • "I thought if I did...better...I might actually feel something again." *sad face*

  • "I've done horrible, evil, messy things..." {RED EYES} "...and I've loved every damn moment." {pulls bullet out} "Thank you for reminding me who I really am."

  • "From here on, I want you to know that the only reason you're alive is because I allowed it." *gulp* (Also, didn't Cas use that same line on Metatron?)

  • "I'd buy tickets to that show."

  • Dean going freaking Medieval on the Steins' collective asses. I just liked watching how controlled and deadly his motion was in that fight.

  • "Save me the speech on the two hearts, three spleens, seven nipples for the ladies. Or the fellas. I don't judge."

  • "I don't want to have to hurt you."

NOT SO MUCH:

  • Sam's attempted eulogy at Charlie's pyre.

  • "It should be you up there."

  • Poor Silas Stein's whole miserable life from being with his freaky family to being bullied to being forced to kill to being killed himself.

  • Those Louisiana cops breaking Baby's tail lights. Just, huh-uh. Nope nope nope nope nope/

  • Dean killing all of the Steins. Including Silas.

  • The Steins destroying the bunker. With special mention of putting Dean's pic of their family on the pile. I hope the gasoline didn't destroy that.

  • The Dean-Cas fight being such a mirror of the Cas-Dean fight from S8.

BURNING QUESTIONS:

Will we survive the finale?!

SO, just a quickie reminder that I'll be in London next week for the finale and won't be able to see it until I download it on Friday. I'll post my Ramble then, and hopefully get to see many of you back over here at least once more before we ride off into the hellatus.

As always, thanks for reading. Slainte!
Tags: episode review, ramble, stream of consciousness, supernatural, what do you think?
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