I felt a little like Dean Winchester after this Supernatural episode. It was written by two writers whose writing I like and respect very much, but I was left scratching my head and not in a very good mood by the time we got to the last scene. It was also directed by SPNFamily alum Amanda Tapping, so I came into the episode full of anticipation. I thought Tapping did a good job and collaborated wonderfully with Serge Ladouceur on some beautiful shots. That said, here’s a rundown on what worked for me and what didn’t. I should note that some of what didn’t work for me is not about this episode, but what hasn’t been working that well all season, despite some episodes that I’ve absolutely loved and my ongoing love of the show that’s not going anywhere anytime soon. I’m in it for the long haul.
The opening scene, while tremendously disturbing, was an example of Tapping and Ladouceur’s collaboration that was powerful and accomplished just what it set out to do. I haven’t been a fan of the Kelly Kline character at all (props to Courtney Ford, but the character as written hasn’t been very sympathetic or seemed too bright) – in this scene, I did have empathy for her, and Ford sold it well. The last shot was beautifully framed and filmed, even though using that word about this sort of shot seems very wrong, and that disturbed me all over again.
Of course, the Nephilim doesn’t let Kelly die. When Dagon finds her, she’s not only healed but looking more chipper than she has in ages. Her makeup is also absolutely flawless, which is really saying something after what she just went through.
Kelly is convinced now that her baby is “good” because he saved her. At this point, Dagon seemed to me to be the one making sense, taunting Kelly that the baby didn’t save her, but saved himself.
Meanwhile, the Winchesters are back at the bunker – but hey, at least they’re in the episode! A little. We get a montage of researcher Sam, a version of smart Sam that I like a lot.
Dean calls him “beautiful mind” and that makes me smile, and Sam pronounces the nephilim’s due date as May 18, which made me laugh since it’s the date of the season finale. Of course, that’s the due date! Well played, Show.
I doubt there was anyone in the fandom who didn’t know that this was the episode where Cas returns, so his entrance wasn’t a surprise to us like it was to Sam and Dean, who were quite literally open mouthed.
As has become a disturbing trend on Supernatural, Dean expresses his (100% understandable) anger—and underlying hurt—that Cas just disappeared and ignored their phone calls, and Sam tries to calm him down with repeated “Dean” (inferred “calm down”) suggestions. I don’t know when this trend started because back in the day it was Sam who was more likely to express his emotions outright and Dean to do the opposite. Somewhere along the line, Dean got better at doing what everyone was always telling him to do and started expressing some genuine emotion—which, by the way, is all kinds of healthy for those of you who are concerned about Winchester emotional health—but every time he does it, it seems like someone tries to police it (characters and fandom alike). I’m not Sam bashing at all—Sam has become the peacemaker in the family, a role which used to fall to Dean. He just wants everyone to get along, perhaps because he’s been through so much himself and knows what it’s like to be overwhelmed by your emotions and fall into addiction. Makes sense that strong emotion, especially negative emotion, seems threatening now. So in a sense, he’s trying to protect Dean—and everyone else—by keeping things even keel. The problem with this is that it ends up shutting down the open expression of emotions that ultimately keeps relationships healthy and gives people the data that helps us make good decisions.
There were similar exhortations on my timelines for Dean to cut “the drama,” which was also disturbing. When I teach my students how to be counselors, “drama” is one of the words they’re not allowed to use because it’s usually a way of dismissing emotions—and that’s not therapeutic for anyone. To tell a man who has struggled with even accepting and recognizing his own emotions, let alone expressing them (thanks to his father’s explicit instruction), to calm down and cut the drama is one of the most damaging things I can imagine. (In case you’re worried that I’ve lost my freaking mind and am getting truly worried about a fictional character’s mental state, I haven’t lost my awareness of reality. I’m just trying to analyze these characters and their situation AS IF they were real, so I can make sense of their reactions.)
So that whole scene bothered me. Dean rightly asks Cas why he’s ignored their phone calls, and Cas outright lies at first, saying there was no reception in Heaven. He later admits that he got the messages, which of course only makes Dean angrier (and more hurt).
Dean: Oh, you did, you did read my messages. Great.
Castiel: (looks very sad but has no justification)
Put yourself in Dean’s place. The last time we saw Cas, he almost died, and that episode ended with Cas and the Winchesters re-affirming their mutual loyalty and love and declaring that they are in fact family. That was a big thing for Dean because declaring those sort of feelings requires a great deal of vulnerability, something Dean has been trained all his life not to be. The very next thing that happens is that Cas disappears, without a word, without explanation. Would it have been too much to ask for Cas, while he was on the phone with Dean, to just say hey I’m going to Heaven to follow a lead, be out of touch for a bit? To send a text at least?? Is this a gaping plot hole or am I supposed to be this angry at Cas? He essentially abandons them, leaving them worried and also handicapping their efforts to deal with Dagon and the Nephilim. How would you feel, if someone you loved and considered family did that? I think anyone would be hurt and angry.
Now Castiel is not human, so I often give him a partial pass for not doing the “right” thing, but in this case, he clearly knows that what he did was hurtful. Yet he’s back not to reassure the Winchesters, but to steal from them. He’s back because Joshua gave him a mission, not because he was worried about Sam and Dean’s feelings. It’s like hurt on top of hurt and deception on top of deception.
I know shippers enjoyed the mixtape scene, and I get why, but in reality, that scene was even more hurtful. Cas uses the mix tape—something Dean made for him to express those emotions that he’s allowed himself to be vulnerable enough to feel—to manipulate Dean in order to steal the Colt from him. I just….OUCH.
Dean tries again to make Cas understand how hurtful it was for him to disappear.
Dean: You can’t go dark like that. We were worried, and that’s not okay.
For Dean Winchester, that is an amazingly open thing to say. He’s not hiding behind sarcasm or diminishing his own feelings; he’s trying to go with them. And he’s trying to express them in a calm, clear rational way. He welcomes Cas back into the family, offers open forgiveness, which has to have cost him a great deal and required a huge amount of trust. Team Free Will, come on Cas.
What he gets in return is an explanation for Castiel’s abandonment that isn’t an explanation at all, but a distraction – I just keep failing you, I need to win FOR YOU. (Which sounds disturbingly like every “but I did this for you, for your own good” excuse in the history of ever)
But it’s not for Dean that Cas feels he has to win, it’s for himself. This was a well-written scene, just not pleasant to watch. Cas himself alludes to some realization that this is more for him when he amends what he’s said to add “and for me.” This is not what Dean’s asking of him; it’s what Cas—out of his own struggle to find purpose and meaning in his life—needs to do.
And so Cas determines that Dean and Sam won’t be able to kill an innocent and makes the decision for them, stealing the Colt and then abandoning the Winchesters without an explanation once again.
That’s got to be unbelievably humiliating for Dean. You can see his shame when he has to tell Sam that no, the Colt wasn’t in the safe, it was under his pillow. I don’t think Sam is judging him, but Dean is definitely judging himself and feeling foolish. And if you’ve never felt that kind of foolish, count your blessings, because it is a very toxic feeling. Even worse, every time Dean lets himself be emotionally vulnerable, and someone he trusts takes advantage of that vulnerability, he learns NOT to do that again. He has to be learning that he should just go back to closing himself off and trusting no one, expecting abandonment at every turn. That John Winchester was ultimately right. And that is breaking my heart. Maybe that really is the character evolution that the writers are going for, and it would be a valid choice if that’s true, but oh my god, I don’t know if my heart can go down that road. It’s half broken already.
Sam, relentless in his drive to find another way (and every time they say that I think of that Shaving People Punting Things outtake video where Jensen and Jared turn the Impala around and literally find “another way”…) keeps researching. This is my favorite scene of the episode, with a sleepy Dean concerned about his little brother’s lack of sleep and trying to keep up with a driven Sam.
Sam’s face as he realizes he may have found the answer is so full of joy and relief that he looks like he’s about twelve years old, and so incredibly beautiful it took my breath away. And Dean looks so joyous and relieved and proud of his brilliant baby brother, I was sitting there beaming right along with them.
Dean’s “hot damn!” was priceless. Was it scripted, or an Ackles’ ad lib? Hmmm. Either way, I loved it.
(Though I did have to take a break to eye roll at Sam’s “remember Gadreel?” Umm yeah Sam, we had to endure an entire season of you and Dean at each other’s throats because of Gadreel, I’m pretty sure Dean remembers him. Give us some credit, Show; we don’t need a recap!)
Annnnnnd then their moment of joy is overshadowed because Cas is gone. Again. And oh yeah, he totally played you and took the Colt, Dean. OUCH.
Meanwhile, Cas brings the Colt to the angels on Joshua’s orders, which makes me cringe. Dean calls again—say what you will, he doesn’t give up easily!—and once again, Cas doesn’t answer. Now I do think that Castiel believes that he’s doing this to keep Sam and Dean safe and to free them from having to possibly kill an innocent, or at least he believes that’s part of his reasoning. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that this is more about his own need to make up for his perceived shortcomings. Dean gets it – that Cas is so desperate for a win that he’s lost sight of how to go about it or how to make good decisions around it. He’s developed a dangerous tunnel vision, which is something Cas has struggled with before. Is that what showrunner Andrew Dabb was referring to when he tweeted the ominous Byron quote “The best prophet of the future is the past”? Cas has had good intentions before that led him down disastrous paths because he became so single-mindedly focused on what he felt was his “mission” that he ignored any input or advice, including the Winchesters’. Is that what’s happening now?
I’m not sure, for all his evolution and even his stint being human, whether Castiel has ever managed to get away from what was instilled in all the angels. He needs a mission, a plan. Someone to tell him what to do who he believes has the legitimate authority to do so. That’s why he turns to Joshua; it’s eventually why I think he ultimately believes in Kelly and her baby. Team Free Will is an ironic name for the Winchesters and Cas because I don’t think Cas has ever been able to subscribe to that idea. I think he wants to, and he likes the idea of it, and he admires Dean and Sam for their willingness to pursue it, but he is at heart an angel, and perhaps that will always keep him anchored to a mission. Cas is that part of being human that always wants to look for a reason and a master plan, to make sense of the chaos that is life. I empathize with him even as he infuriates me at times like this episode.
We get a few more minutes with Dean and Sam (literally less than two) where Dean once again expresses his anger and sense of betrayal and Sam stays calm.
Dean: He came into my room, and he played me.
Sam: He must be going up against something big to take the Colt.
Dean: So we’ll figure out what’s happening and then kick his feathered ass.
Sam lets that one go, and I’m grateful.
Cut to no Winchesters again now that we’ve had our Sam and Dean minute.
(Sorry, this goes under the category of things that are not really about this episode but have been driving me nuts all season. #NeedsMoreWinchesters is my most used hashtag this season)
Lucifer gets a little screen time as he figures out that Dagon lost “the container” and threatens her. I have to give kudos to Ali Ahn, who played Dagon in all these episodes masterfully. She managed to be both evil and amusing at the same time, which not everyone can pull off. And badass. Oh, and she can pronounce Castiel flawlessly which is not something everyone can master. I appreciate these things.
Lucifer: Make this right, Dagon.
The issue of what is “right” is a running theme through this episode – even the game show that Dagon is watching makes reference to being “not right” repeatedly. I guess that’s the big question we end up being left with – what is right? And do the ends always justify the means if you think you know what right is so that how you get there doesn’t matter? That seems to be both Mary Winchester’s and Castiel’s beliefs, but it has never been Sam and Dean’s. In fact, Cas has followed a plan that he thought was “right” before and deceived the Winchesters to do it, like working with Crowley that ended up getting him possessed by Leviathans, or saying yes to Lucifer without telling anyone, or taking down the barrier Death put up in Sam’s brain. There were a lot of disastrous consequences in there for these “right” courses of action – I do think that Cas had good intentions, and now these failures are contributing to his sense of failure. But not learning from them doesn’t seem to be the best plan!
Meanwhile, Cas and Kelly are on the road, having long conversations about good and evil and the “right” thing to do. Castiel stops to get orders from Joshua (again showing his need to have a mission) and decides to take Kelly and the baby to Heaven, which will kill them but save their souls. The truck (not so) coincidentally dies right after that conversation, leaving Kelly and Cas with lots of time to talk and me going hmmm, what is the Nephilim up to?
Kelly insists that nothing is born evil. She also knows just what to say to the struggling-for-a-purpose Castiel, telling him that this has happened for a reason, that it’s part of some plan.
Cas admits he wants desperately to believe that there is a plan, that he has a mission, but he can’t.
Castiel: You were just there.
(Shades of God/Chuck’s conversation with Metatron—purposeful, Show?)
Kelly (or the Nephilim) then gets a great idea – ask Cas to put his hand on the baby and feel it kick.
I literally raised my eyebrows when this happened and said “really??”
I can understand why Kelly might have asked—it might be a good way to get a basically good empathic being to feel actual life and thus be more reluctant to take it—but why oh why does Castiel agree?? And even more why oh why, why does he smile when he feels it? This is the Nephilim that he’s been railing about needing to die, being inherently evil, stole the Colt and betrayed the Winchesters and got his colleagues killed to do it in—now one kick and he’s smiling like he’s a proud papa??? I don’t get it.
Maybe the Nephilim was already exerting some control over Cas? I’d like to believe that because at least it’s an explanation, but I don’t really think that’s what we’re supposed to believe.
The weirdly lovely moment gets interrupted by Sam and Dean. Cas answers the door wielding the Colt (which just looks so wrong).
Dean: Yeah, that’s mine.
Dean slams Cas against the wall (another something for the shippers) and this time Sam seems a little more willing to allow Dean his justifiable anger.
Cas: How did you find me?
Dean: While you were scamming me for the Colt, Sam put a tracking app on your phone.
Sam: Cas, you didn’t even look us in the eye.
Me: Smart!Winchesters, yay!
Castiel again tries to justify his deception by insisting he wanted to keep them safe.
Dean: You’re not our babysitter, Cas, that’s not your job! And when have we ever been safe?
He’s got a few excellent points, and I’m once again glad that at least he gets to make them. I don’t think Castiel really hears him, but at least Dean got to say it.
The next scene made me throw something across the room. Luckily it was just a notepad. Dean and Sam tell Kelly and Cas about Sam’s plan to extract the grace from the Nephilim, expecting Kelly at least to be all oh yay. Instead, she says no and walks out.
Dean: Oh, this girl has lost her mind.
They all follow her to the parking lot, where Cas and Kelly eventually agree to go back to the bunker. Inexplicably, Dean gives the keys to the car to Cas, who has already deceived him multiple times, and to Kelly, who Dean just said a second ago is not in her right mind. Then Sam and Dean inexplicably stand in the parking lot chatting. Predictably, Kelly takes the keys and takes off. With Dean’s car.
I have to take back my Yay, Smart!Winchesters, and that makes me sad. Also, their level of trusting people has gone so far in the wrong direction at this point; it’s painful.
Though it did give us another 30 seconds of Winchesters, this time with early season flavored Dean fixing the truck vibes, which I enjoyed very much.
Castiel and Kelly spend a lot of time talking again, with Kelly trying to convince Cas that the baby chose him, that “we are destined to be here.”
It’s exactly what Cas wants to hear, though he does try not to buy into it.
Castiel: I wish I had your faith.
Kelly: You will.
Me: Oh now that is definitely ominous…
Joshua appears, and I’m disappointed that he’s not the wise old grampa Joshua who we met before. This guy.
But he gets zapped into oblivion moments after he finally comes to earth for the first time thanks to Dagon anyway, so I guess it doesn’t matter. She kicks Castiel’s ass, and then the Winchesters arrive with the Colt, but instead, Sam fires at her with a regular gun, which of course does nothing, and then she knocks the Colt out of Dean’s hand (breaking his arm in the process). And then she does something that made me cry. She destroys the Colt.
Dagon: Time to take this off the playing field.
Dean: (on the ground, clutching his arm): Noooooo!
Me: (practically on the ground, clutching my heart): Nooooo!
So let’s recap. Dean has been abandoned twice, had his beloved Colt stolen right from under his pillow, been lied to repeatedly, had his beloved Impala stolen, had his arm broken, and had his beloved Colt disintegrated right before his eyes. I think that qualifies for the subtitle of ‘Dean Winchester and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day,’ don’t you?
The loss of the Colt hit me very hard. Dean was SO excited to have it back! He had a holster for it under the bunker library table, and liked to practice shooting it with adorable sound effects. He slept with it under his pillow and called it ‘sweetheart.’ And he never even got to fire it ONCE!!!!! Why would you do this, Show? Bring it back with such fanfare and such emotional resonance only to destroy it in the same season???
I’m so disappointed.
As TV Guide noted in their review, “This is why we aren’t allowed to have nice things on this show anymore, like the Colt, which was unceremoniously melted after weeks of an implication that it would be a big deal and a treasured link to when Supernatural knew what to do with itself.”
Back in the episode, Dagon thinks she’s won, but Kelly and the Nephilim have one more trick up their sleeve. She clasps Castiel’s hand and transfers some of the baby’s power to him; his eyes glow blue and then yellow, perhaps signifying that this is a mix of Castiel’s power restored and the Nephilim’s power? Whatever it is, it’s enough to zap Dagon off the playing field herself. Much as I enjoyed her, she destroyed the Colt, so yay!
Cas apparently has his full power back, which I’m happy about since this whole season was totally confusing as far as what Cas could and couldn’t do. He heals Dean, then announces that everything is now fine. Huh?
Cas: I’ve been so lost…not anymore. I know that this child must be born., and with all of his power.
Sam and Dean and me: Huh?
Cas: I have faith. You have to just trust me.
WHAT??? After an entire episode where every single time they trusted you, you betrayed that trust?? Why the hell would they trust you??
Sam: We’re not gonna let you walk away, that’s not gonna happen.
Cas: Yes, it is. (knocks Sam out)
Cas: (knocks Dean out). Sorry.
The end of the episode was like a summarization of all that made me so uncomfortable. Dean asks for his feelings and wishes to be respected, and is ignored. Knocked out against his will. Is Cas rationalizing that it’s for his own good? Is he going down the “wrong” path once again, believing that the Nephilim showed him the future? Who’s to say it’s not just what the Nephilim wanted him to see? Why is he so sure? Once again, like Mary, he’s pursuing what he thinks is “right” and not caring how he gets there or listening to any input about his course of action. He literally shuts that down.
And there are the Winchesters, knocked out cold and lying on the ground like ragdolls, arms and legs askew. Dropped like stones and let fall like dead weights, which, OUCH. Helpless and vulnerable to any angels who might appear out of the sandbox or demons who might be following up on Dagon and decide to take revenge on the humans who are just lying there. Definitely not a check mark in the “this is to keep you safe” column.
Talk about a bad day. They didn’t get to save the day in any way, shape or form. They were essentially bystanders and observers, unable to impact what happened. Unable to save the Colt or get through to Cas. I know that this is probably where we have to be at four episodes until the season finale – that the show has to narrow down to Sam and Dean only having each other and seemingly helpless and defeated. We’ve followed this pattern in other seasons, and I’ve felt similarly frustrated. But this season is particularly frustrating because we’ve gotten so little of the Winchesters all season long. They’ve been bystanders and observers far too often – we’ve had so little time to look into their feelings that I don’t even know what they’re feeling most of the time!
The early seasons of the Show were all about how the circumstances that the Winchesters found themselves in impacted their family relationships – we always knew what Sam and Dean were feeling because that’s literally what the show was about. Sera Gamble and Eric Kripke both talked about how the other characters with whom Sam and Dean interacted illuminated who they were and how they felt, about themselves and each other. Now, I still don’t know how they feel about the resolution with the Darkness, or that Sam was carrying the amulet in his pocket for years, or how either of them feels about Dean being a demon or having the mark of Cain or the lengths Sam went to in order to save him. How does Sam feel about having to face Lucifer after all his trauma in the Cage? I don’t even know, at this point, what they’re feeling about the BMoL (and Sam’s deception) or their mother! It’s like the Winchesters’ feelings are just glossed over and never explored, and yet that’s what I really want to see. That’s what I care most about with this Show, so if I don’t know what they’re feeling, I’m lost.
Someone more organized than I am added up the Winchesters’ screen time in this week’s episode. Fifteen minutes out of 42. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel like I know what they’re feeling anymore.
Yesterday was #NationalSuperheroDay. I tweeted a photo of Sam and Dean from Season One, standing tall and strong, guns drawn. Ready to save the day. Big damn heroes. I thought of that tweet as I was staring at the image of them lying broken on the ground, and maybe had to reach for the tissues.
I guess I have to circle back and give the writers credit. The episode made me plenty emotional; it just wasn’t the most enjoyable emotion. A lot happened, but I’m not sure where we’re going (and I guess that too deserves some kudos). Just don’t leave me lying broken and helpless on the playground too long, okay? I can only take so much. Also? #NeedsMoreWinchesters.