I’ve teared up many times this season. But this is the first episode since AHBL 1 that I’ve full-on cried. My heart hurts, people. And I know it’s not going to let up. Not after something as gut-wrenchingly amazing as this episode.
I don’t always pay attention to the titles of the episode prior to viewing them. Mostly, I register them after the fact for the sake of referring back. But I caught this one as the opening scene rolled out for us. “On the Head of a Pin.” This stems from a longer phrase: How many Angels can dance on the head of a pin? I’ve heard this often in my youth—growing up in a stalwart Baptist family, religion, if not faith, was often the focus of many discussions.
I later learned, thanks to the institutes of higher learning, that this question is actually a metaphor for wasting time debating topics of no particular value. I think Kripke, or the writers, or whoever is deemed worthy of choosing episode titles had a great time with this one. I mean, lots of times, the titles are Led Zeppelin songs, or parodies of book or movie titles. But this? This title held the essence of the episode in six little words.
I’m finding it hard to ramble.
I can’t just pour out the words like I usually do. This show has tripped me up so many times in various ways over the last four years—drawing me back to my childhood, reminding me of parental and sibling issues I thought buried long ago, showing me the personification of an otherwise ambiguous definition of the word hero, and now plucking the taunt strings of a tenuous faith. What do I do with that? With all these thoughts and emotions, this tangled knot of hope and doubt clotting at the base of my throat and making me realize that humanity is both beautiful and hideous?
I’m going to break this down by character first and hopefully that will free the words that recap the episode as those of you who read have become accustomed.
In this episode, I heard Staind’s song Everything Changes as I watched Sam. “I am the mess you chose, the closet you cannot close, the Devil in you, I suppose, because the wounds never heal.” I wanted to be disgusted by what he did. By what he was doing. I wanted to weep for him, for the loss of him, for the change in him. I wanted to rail at him that no, no this was not the way. This was wrong, Sam, wrong.
But other than a slight blink at the fervor with which he dove onto Ruby’s blood and drank deeply, all I could think was that… he gave me hope. Hope that Dean might not be left standing alone on his side of the line.
First? Sam was driving the Impala while Dean sat slumped, weary and shaken in the passenger seat. Sam’s “drug” was giving him the strength that his brother just didn’t have. And Dean needed that. He needed someone to bark at him, to tell him to get angry. Because he was slipping and he was losing his focus on the reason to hang on.
Sam’s argument to Ruby that Dean wouldn’t be able to get the job done, that he wasn’t strong enough… those words were nearly the same he’d spat at his brother while “under the spell” of the siren. But this time, though slightly insulted by the fact that he was insinuating that my hero wasn’t capable, I heard the real fear and care for his brother in his voice. In that moment—and I stress that it was in that moment and not that I think this is an overall statement—Sam was saying, “I’m scared for him. I love him. I can’t lose him. And they took him. And they’re going to hurt him. And he won’t be able to stop them.”
Sam saying that something happened to Dean in Hell was spoken with a choked kind of fear—like he was reluctant to admit it, but needed to convince Ruby to help. Not only help him to find where Dean was, but to help him get strong enough to save him from this moment.
At last we now know what Sam has been doing. I flipped off a quick, random question in my last Stream—wondering if Sam was taking Demon Blood Vitamins. The answer, Gaelic, is yes, in fact, he is. Only he’s getting it straight from the supplier.
I felt this odd rush of cold fear followed by a hot flash of intrigue and wonder while I watched Sam essentially latch on to Ruby’s arm. I will say, though, that the moment she called him Sammy I wanted to cut her heart out with a spoon. You are NOT allowed to call him that. Only one person can call him that—and he hasn’t said that name to his brother in such a long, long time.
Sam showing up to save Cas was both a moment to worry and to feel relief. I couldn’t read the look on Castiel’s face. Wonder? Fear? Amazement? Speculation? All I know is that Sam got the answer Cas was looking for and managed to get his broken brother out of there and to the hospital. (Though, honestly? Would it have been too much to ask to see Sam approach Dean as he’d done in Devil’s Trap, gingerly check his pulse on his bruise neck, then scoop him up so that Dean hung limply in his arms and carry him to the car? *sighs*)
Sam’s scared, worried face as he watches his unconscious brother, once again hooked to a ventilator (and also, once again in that damn sexy V-neck white T-shirt they give him when everyone else in the hospital gets to wear those ugly-ass gowns that wrap around you awkwardly), renewed my surge of hope for him. No matter what he’s doing, no matter what he said while “under a spell,” no matter what he might secretly believe down in the dark parts of his soul that he would rather ignore, thank you very much, Sam loves his brother.
When he confronts Cas in the hallway of the hospital and says, “Heal him. Miracle. Now.” I curled my hands into fists of victory. “You and Uriel put him in there” – at first I thought he meant in the room with Alistair, then I realized he meant in the hospital bed – “because you can’t keep a simple Devil’s Trap together.”
He spits at Cas that the whole thing was pointless because the demons weren’t killing angels. Alistair wasn’t lying. And then he walks back to Dean. I wanted a bit more with the brothers. Dean waking up to Sam. Sam seeing his brother’s eyes open. Dean telling Sam what Alistair said. Something else, something to connect them. Something to show Dean that Sam saved him. He used his demonic powers, but he saved him. He got Dean out of there.
Is it wrong of me to hope that his connection to his brother, that that love might be the thing that saves Sam from completely tipping over the edge? I’m scared to find out what Sam’s going to do if/when he finds out what Alistair said, what started this whole thing.
It all comes down to sacrifice, doesn’t it? Only the righteous would truly sacrifice themselves for another. John was supposed to be the one; he sacrificed himself for Dean, but he never broke. A fact which I think Dean suspected, but I’ll get to that in a minute. My worry is that for Sam to regain his righteousness, what will he have to sacrifice?
And what I’m left pondering is… what if he’s not not righteous? What if… what if the choices that Sam is making, to use the demonic powers against demons… what if in the end… what if that saves him? Okay, I don’t know if I have enough in me to process that notion at the moment, so I’ll move on.
Cas was freakin’ ON FIRE in this episode, man. His doubt, his emotion, his luminous eyes captured me in the gut and pulled me in close. He had cared about Dean; we all suspected that. But his care for his “charge” was getting him the stink eye from above. He was feeling emotions, the gateway to doubt. And he disobeyed. Which, honestly? Saved all their little tail feathers.
Here’s the thing about the direction the show is going that just captivates me. I grew up “knowing” that God loved humankind over the angels. That love is why Lucifer challenged God and why God then tossed him from the Kingdom. I love that they are playing that up. Castiel respects that – it’s simply the way that it is. The way that it should be. And Uriel fights against it – not just with tonight’s reveal, but also with the way he’s always spoken to the boys. With contempt and a curled lip of disgust.
Castiel’s heart came alive tonight. The barely reigned in look of regret on his face just before the angels took Dean, the pleading look that accompanied his “you’re our only hope” plea before Dean stepped into the torture chamber, the pain hanging heavy in his eyes as he listened to what he was putting Dean through echoed in the tortured cries of the demon… he was magnificent.
When he spoke with Uriel at the snow-covered bench and said he thought something was wrong up there – that their Father wasn’t giving the orders, I was honest to God YELLING at the TV that it was another angel. I didn’t (stupidly) think it was Uriel at the time. I was taken in by his performance of “getting revelation”… but it just felt obvious that the only being that could cloud their purpose would be another one of them.
Castiel also had the one and only funny line (IMO) in the whole angst-driven episode. Dead-panned, pitch-perfect: “Uriel is the funniest angel in the garrison. Ask anyone.” He gutted me with his confession to Dean: “I would give anything not to have you do this.” He won me over when he called to Anna for help and says, “For the first time, I feel…” And he made me want to hit him and hug him when he told Dean that when they discovered Lilith’s plan for Dean they “laid siege to Hell to get to you, but were too late…”
“Choosing your own course of action is terrifying,” Anna tells him. No shit, Sherlock. That’s what we humans have had to do since our first breath. That’s our grace. That’s our gift. And that’s why God loves us more. Because when we choose Him, it’s out of our own Free Freakin’ Will. It’s not because He ordered us to. Not because we’re His soldiers. But this is getting too deep into religion for a stream of consciousness ramble. My apologies.
Wait, I take that back. That’s the point of this episode, isn’t it? To debate things that have no particular value? Well, it certainly seems as though the battle between good and evil, angels and demons, heaven and Hell is of value to our boys. And the concept of God’s existence may be the one belief that saves them all. Because, as Uriel points out, Lucifer? Was just an angel. He wasn’t a demi-god or even equal in power to God the Father.
He was one of their brethren and he was cast out because he defended the angels over the humans. He gained power through gathering followers, through the dark side of the Force, if you will – the easy, seductive side of power (which takes me back to the worrying about Sam angle). But… still? He was just an angel. And if one angel can kill another, then Lucifer can die. No matter how powerful he is.
Anna’s reappearance was somewhat surprising to me, but welcome. Apparently, she’s on the Angel Hit List, which should make things interesting. I loved her argument to Cas that God would never have ordered this—the torture they were putting Dean through by making him torture the demon. She didn’t interact with Dean, and I was glad of that. He didn’t need that on top of everything else. She interceded on his behalf, thank goodness, and she saved Castiel’s ass, but her ultimate purpose in this epic is still to be determined. Both her and Ruby. I’m not sure what the gals are going to do besides enable the guys to fulfill their destinies, whatever they may be.
Uriel? Was. A. Bastard. There is nothing worse in my book than knowingly using the cloak of goodness to wreak havoc and pain on the decent, on the innocent, on the undeserving. He made me feel as I do when I find out that a man of God—a priest or a preacher—has molested a child. If angels can burn in Hell, then I hope he does. Because he not only killed angels—those who “declined” his conversion—he set Dean up for the sole purpose of distracting Castiel.
He obviously knew that demons weren’t responsible for the 7 dead angels in the garrison—he’d been doing it. But he knew that Cas had a soft spot for Dean. That he actually dared to care about the human. AND he knew the prophesy. That the one to begin it was the only one to end it. Since he wanted Lucifer to rise, Uriel had it all worked out. He would coerce Dean into torturing Alistair for information he’d never be able to give, sever the Devil’s Trap, have Alistair kill Dean and escape, and Castiel would continue to chase shadows while Uriel either killed or converted angels until Lilith broke all of the seals and Lucifer could come out and play.
I wonder where Sam fit into Uriel’s master plan. Did he think that Sam would join them? That since he’s shooting up with demon blood he’d be easy to sway to be a General or whatever in the dark army? Did he think that Sam was so far gone he’d not care that Dean had been used three ways from Sunday?
OMG, people. I mean, think about it. First, Dean was used to protect and practically raise his baby brother, who’d been infected by demon blood, after they killed his mom. Then, he was used as a sacrifice of soul by the demons who killed Sam, knowing that Dean wouldn’t be able to let his brother stay dead and would exchange his soul for Sam’s, thereby once more inserting a righteous man into Hell—this time one that had been abused in different ways and was a softer, more emotional self than his father.
Next by being tortured endlessly for thirty years by Alistair until he broke, which was the whole point. Then ripped out of Hell by the angels not specifically to save him but so that ultimately he could save them… and all of mankind. Finally, by having the truth kept from him so that he had to fight and bleed and bury friends and lose his “Sammy…”
I mean, from the beginning, the demons had it locked up. By infecting Sam with Demon Blood and making him part of YED’s special kids army, they had one way they could have Lucifer rise, and as a Plan B, if that failed, they would just get a righteous man in Hell and break him, starting the process.
*has to swallow and rub eyes for a moment*
Lastly on the angels, I just want to say that I kinda wanted a bit more with the fight. Some blinding light or wings or glowing eyes. But they bled. And they winded. And they stumbled. How interesting. I did totally dig the effect of the shadow of widespread wings when Uriel died, just as they showed at the beginning with the dead blonde angel (who bore a striking resemblance to Mary Winchester, which means nothing except Gaelic looks for the random). That was a VERY cool effect.
People, the man is amazing. Both the broken, shattered hero and the individual who portrays him. Jensen’s Dean ripped my heart out tonight. Then he stood on it with the full force of his weight while he looked me in the eyes and challenged me to try to take it back.
Dean’s weariness at the beginning of the episode already had me hurting for him. He was tired of burying friends. He was… tired. He didn’t even have the will to look askance at Sam when his brother barked, “Well, get angry!”
He did, however, pull up the chess pieces metaphor when they returned to the motel to find the angels waiting for them. I have to admit, I smirked at that. It has been the most exhausting chess game on record.
And I don’t even play chess.
I love how his upper lip flinches with suppressed emotion: be it anger, disgust, fear, sadness… it’s such an evocative movement. You just see him as a force of nature barely restrained. This time it flinched when Uriel growled that he’d been pulled out of Hell for their purposes. Dean, honey, it’s okay. I’LL poke him in the eye for you. The pompous bastard.
When Uriel demands that Dean come with them to torture Alistair, Dean’s “No” is cracked and pleading, though he masks it with a quick, “You can’t ask me to do this, Cas, not this.” Dean’s last look at Sam was filled with so many half-begun sentences that I caught my breath, and then he was gone and Sam was left to scream obscenities to an empty room.
When faced with the torture chamber, Dean tries again to stop this from happening and I felt pieces of me flaking off each time he spoke. The man’s eyes were so large, so soulful, I (and every other female watching, I’m sure) tumbled in head first. And his lips flinched. And his jaw tightened. And his chin trembled.
“You do not want me doing this, trust me.”
“You ask me to open that door and walk through it, you will not like what walks back out.”
God, Dean. Since he didn’t end up actually walking out, I wonder what he feared, truly. Was it the piece of himself he left back in Hell? Or was it the fact that he no longer had that piece? In any case, when he was torturing Alistair, Dean left. He wasn’t in his eyes anymore. He was stone-face, hard-jawed, dead-eyed. He let Alistair’s sarcasm and taunts more or less roll off of him, and you could see that he did enjoy causing this demon pain. He did savor his revenge. With syringes of Holy Water, and salt poured down the throat and… yeah. Yikes.
As a side note, my friend Sojourner called Alistair “Mr. I’m Channeling Marlin Brando” in an IM conversation we were having, and I have to say, she totally got that one on the nose. I couldn’t listen to him without thinking that.
When Alistair started talking about John, about how he’d “had Dean’s Daddy on the rack for nearly a century,” and that John never broke, I thought that was going to be it, that was going to be what gutted Dean. But except for a tightening of features and a slight tremor of his hand, Dean didn’t react. And I realized, he already knew that. Or he’d suspected it.
He probably had been torturing himself with that idea, that truth, since he was saved. He’d broken and his dad hadn’t. His dad was the bravest, strongest, best man Dean knew, and in Dean’s mind, he’d never measure up. He’d never be worthy. So when Alistair taunted him with that, all it did was confirm something Dean had already been living with.
And I started crying.
It wasn’t until Alistair said that Dean’s first slice into “that screaming bitch” made him proud that I realized what he was going to say, and I knew our Dean would never be the same. He may have left a piece of himself down in Hell, he may not be as strong as he’d once been, but he was still in the mix, he still had hope, he still wanted to fight the good fight, to atone for perceived wrongs, to come out on the other side.
And then Alistair told him that his actions, breaking and climbing off the rack, and torturing the first soul, broke the first seal. Dean turned away, listening, and though we only saw him in profile, the light from the window across the room reflected the tears in his liquid eyes and you could see the air leave his body. I couldn’t grip my pillow tight enough and my tears were dripping from the edge of my chin.
When he turned around and Alistair was right there I swear there was a quick, brief flash of relief on Dean’s face.
How in the world does Jensen do that?? I mean, do we see it because we watch so closely? Because we don’t take our eyes from him? Because we’re so used to his amazing nuances that we see every subtle flash? Or would anyone see that? Because he takes my breath away.
Alistair beats him bloody. Beats him until he’s limp and unable to fight back. Beats him until he’s broken. Then he lifts Dean up by the throat, choking the life from him, nearly killing him before Cas steps in—finally—to stab Alistair. Dean is dropped to the floor and fades to black as Cas and Alistair fight, totally missing the moment his baby brother steps in and defeats the demon, saving them all.
As I said, I so wish there had been a moment of tenderness that Dean would have registered—either when Sam got him out of the torture room and to the hospital, or when he woke with Sam sitting next to him, watching, waiting, worried.
But when next we see a conscious Dean, Cas is sitting with him. And the ensuing conversation renewed my tears and sent me directly to the tissue box before I could come in here and write this. Dean’s voice was rough, broken, strained. He barely moved his lips, and the oxygen cannula gave him a fragile look that was only enhanced by the bruised eyes.
And I’m not too shallow to admit that my stomach was doing somersaults of tingles at this image, at his voice. *fans self* Goodness knows why we love to break our heroes, but this was the best hurtDean we’ve had in a long, long time.
Cas, the self proclaimed “agent of fate” sits next to his broken weapon, his wounded soldier and asks softly if Dean’s okay.
“No thanks to you.” OMG that voice. I had to rewind and listen again. Just because.
“You need to be more careful.”
“You need to learn how to manage a damn Devil’s Trap.” Aww… see? Dean’s not completely gone. If the snark is there, there is hope.
Dean asks Cas if what Alistair was true. If he broke the first seal and started the whole thing. He can’t look at Cas—it seems he can barely open his eyes. He is so destroyed by this news that… okay, fine, I wanted to crawl into that hospital bed and wrap him up and rock him until he fell asleep. Cas tells him that they tried to get to him, but were too late.
“Why didn’t you just leave me there, then?” Dean asks, his voice cracking with the edges of tears.
“It’s not blame that falls on you, Dean. It’s fate.”
I tell you what, I stopped breathing. I hadn’t seen it coming, but when Cas said that, I knew what was going to follow and I couldn’t breathe.
“The righteous man who begins it is the only one who can finish it.”
Then, just like in In the Beginning, Cas says, “You have to stop it.” Ohhh. So that’s what you meant way back then. Not, you have to stop your mom from making that deal or your parents from dying or even your brother from using his demon-given powers. Yeah, all those things you needed to see to understand the true weight of your destiny and all, and sure, they may seem insurmountable, but what you really have to stop is Armageddon. Okay? Thanks.
Cas tells him that all our fate rests with Dean. And Dean kinda fell into himself a little bit.
“Then you guys are screwed.” (voice breaks with tears) “I can’t do it, Cas. It’s too big. Alistair was right. I’m not all here. I’m not st-I’m not strong enough.”
And then the guy completely shatters me with this: “I guess I’m not the man either of our Dad’s wanted me to be.”
Oh, Dean. Holy guilt trips, Batman. How can he come back from that? How can he heal? He hasn’t been whole since Sam died. Since he confessed the he had one job and he screwed it up. He broke then and the crack has just been getting deeper and deeper. See, John? He never lost a child. He never had to feel that pain. And God save me if I ever have to. Because I can’t imagine the insanity and utter hopelessness that would descend on you. Dean? He did feel that. When Sam died. No, Sam wasn’t his child, but he may as well have been. And he never really got over that because he went right from that tragedy into having to face his last year on earth, going through all the stages of grief and loss only to be ultimately torn to shreds by hellhounds while his brother was pinned to the all by a bad-ass demon.
So, he went to Hell broken and the torture sessions just dug the crack deeper.
“Find someone else. It’s not me.”
And one single tear escapes his eye to trail down his face. When it bounces over his bruised lips just before the credits came over the screen, I closed my eyes.
Who else, Dean? Could it be Sam? Could his demonic powers actually be used for good when it comes down to it? Anna? Could one rogue angel take out another? Castiel? Could his doubts and affection for the human race give him the strength to stand against Lilith and her buddy Lucifer?
I don’t think so. I think somehow, Dean has to find his grace. He has to patch up the holes inside of him long enough to climb back on that wall. That wall we need him on. And I weep for him because I think he’s going to be asked to sacrifice again. And I don’t know if this is going to be a sacrifice he can return from.
I just hope… I hope that there is a chance in all of this for him to have peace. When all is said and done, all I want for my hero is to be able to breathe, to be able to smile without shadows in his eyes, and to have his brother safe and whole in the world, if not beside him.
That’s all I got. I hope it was worth the read.