To recite and twist a quote from Mae West, when it's good it's really good, and when it's badwell it's just bad. That's not what she said, but the point remains. This week Supernatural excelled in some areas - the action, the snark, the filming, and some areas of the plot. But in other areasuhmno.
Let's start with the good. Basically most of the story around Dean was good. It had everything - action, top-notch filming, good acting. The fight scene of Dean vs. a handful of demons was intense, and the detail of Cain (Tim Omundson) sitting detached at the table watching it, delivered it home. The back-and-forth between Dean and Crowley was enjoyable. Dean was in his element - on a barstool, on a hunt, and on a self-destructive crusade.
Now for the part that didn't work so well - something that's been bugging me since Sacrifice last May - and that is Sam's characterization. Existing as a self-sacrificing hero with zero self-esteem is the Winchester way, right? No, it's the Dean Winchester way. Sam used to be written differently. What I'm about to say isn't to imply that Sam doesn't have a strong moral code, compassion for others, and sense of personal responsibility. He does. But what he was never shown to have until last season was an exaggeratedly low sense of self-esteem and to be governed by feelings that he was always disappointing others.
Sam always saw himself as a freak - different from his family - and potentially a monster. That much has been shown. But that's not the same as feeling like a constant disappointment or being suicidal. As fans, we got a very clear picture of how Dean ended up with his extremely low self-esteem. John Winchester, although caring in his own way, was brutal in his criticism of Dean and the demands he put on him. Sam, we were led to believe, escaped most of that growing up because he was the younger child and because he had Dean to help him out.
Whereas Dean could never see a better future for himself because he believed his role was nothing more than a soldier, and Dean never believed he deserved to be saved, a lot of Sam's early arc had been coming to terms with the fact that he was never meant to be saved. Sam believed in a better future - in college, in a family, in angels and Heaven. And even up until Trial and Error of last season, Sam saw a light at the end of this. When did it all change?
Was it the disappointment in not completing the trials? That could have been a possibility, but Sam did make a choice in the end, and I don't recall Sam expressing any deep regret about that choice in the early episodes this season. Was it the murder of Sarah Blake? Again, something that was never revisited after the episode in which she was killed. We're being told this is a characteristic Sam has always had, but it's not consistent with what we've seen. In Sacrifice, we were told that Sam has always felt like he's disappointing Dean - but that's transposing the Dean/John relationship and dynamic onto the Sam/Dean relationship. It just doesn't fit. Dean didn't ride Sam growing up the way John rided him. Dean has been very critical of Sam post-Ruby, but these wounds seem to go deeper than that.Could it be the demon blood? Feeling damaged certainly influences one's self-esteem, but Sam has never reacted to the blood like this before, and the blood has been with Sam since he was a child.
As a replacement showrunner, is Jeremy Carver obligated to follow continuity of characterizations of those who came before him? I would say yes, but for the sake of argument, let's say no - that Carver needs to remake the show and the characters to fit his own vision. But we don't need to look back at the events to from early showrunners to see huge inconsistencies in the writing of Sam. Last season, in Goodbye Stranger (same showrunners, same episode writer - Robbie Thompson), Sam is seen to have a very personal chat with Meg and confide details about his relationship with Amelia. This is in the face of history between the two of them in which Meg possessed Sam and brutally murdered a hunter, assaulted Jo, and tried to bait Dean into killing him while wearing his body. All of this was very personal to Sam and hit on his deepest fears. This is in contrast to the murder of Kevin, which while sad, was not personal, and there's no way Sam could have felt in control of that action. In this last episode, Sam was so determined to settle the debt of Kevin's murder that he wanted to sacrifice his own life to get justice.
The problem with this view is that Sam's smarter than this. He's known about possession for quite a while now. In fact he's been possessed several times. He knows the victim has no control over the situation and is not at fault. So which is the real Sam - the one that brushes off events that happen while he's being possessed - or the one who is willing to kill himself to make those things right? Probably neither. The real Sam probably falls somewhere in the middle, with regret and sadness over the events, and probably an unrepressable feeling of being personally tainted by them - but with a rational understanding that he was possessed and had no control.
Finally, we see that Cas has learned a lesson from being human, and that is that a single life is more valuable than the bigger picture benefit. While it's a very human reaction to put the life of someone you love above the lives of dozens of strangers, it's not necessarily good, and I'm not sure Cas learned the right lesson. I think I know where Carver is going with this. Amelia last season had a big problem with "heroes," and the lesson at the end of this series might be that Sam and Dean need to stop being heroes. But I'm not sure I agree. I'll have to think more about that one.
Sam and Dean have split up. Crowley approached Dean at a bar and tells him that John Winchester had at one point found The First Blade, a weapon that can kill Abaddon, and he wants to hunt with Dean to find it. Dean plays along, and the two end up at the residence of Cain, where they learn that Cain had created the Knights of Hell before turning away from violence. The Mark of Cain on his wrist and the weapon go hand in hand, so Dean consents to be branded with the Mark of Cain even though he's warned it comes with a great cost.
Meanwhile, Cas and Sam are home, trying to extract some of Gadreel's grace left behind in Sam so that they can use it to track Gadreel's location. Against Sam's wishes, Cas chooses to save Sam over extracting enough grace to find Gadreel when Sam's life is threatened.
There was a lot of mytharc and action in the Dean part of the story. Dean fans have been clamoring for years for a more central role for Dean in the mytharc, and it looks like they have it.
Omundson was great in his portrayal of Cain. This was definitely a guest appearance worth having.
The episode was directed by John Badham, a big name for this show, and the results were worth it. The fight scene and the feel (lighting, camera affects) to the scenes were high quality and put this episode a couple of notches above the rest.
We were treated to some unusual parings. There were good interactions between Dean and Crowley. I love it when Crowley toys with Dean. There were good interactions between Sam and Cas. I love it when Sam toys with Cas.
Aside from Sam's motivations making little sense, there was too much screaming and not enough talking. I think a lot of us are tired of the pattern of Sam tied down and screaming, pinned up against the wall, or unconscious in the corner.While we got more insight into Sam than we usually do, for all of the reasons listed above, it's not near enough for us to understand and buy into the story.There are too many dots that need to be connected still.
Dean became Lucifer's bitch for what exactly? For Abaddon? She wasn't even his primary target.
It's one thing for Dean or Sam to walk into a cleverly laid trap totally unaware. I'm not sure how I feel about Dean knowing that Crowley was setting a trap, but walking into it anyway.
Finally, we all knew the instant fix to Sam's health issues was coming, but does the show really have to be so obvious about the fact that they're going to drop whatever is wrong with Sam immediately after they're finished using it to further Dean's story? With Cas saying he couldn't save Sam last season, and then him suddenly being able to save Sam even though Gadreel apparently couldn't do much, is more insulting to Sam fans than anything else. The show isn't even trying to be subtle about using Sam as a plot device again.
The timeline on demons/humanity has me all turned around. As I understand it, the first humans were Adam and Eve, so Cain and Abel must have followed shortly after. Cain was turned into a demon, but wasn't Lilith supposed to be the first human-turned-demon? Also, Lucifer fell because he was jealous of God's attention to humans, but he had already fallen at the start of human creation (Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden)?
Let's talk about the mark of Cain and what it might mean for Dean. More power obviously. Dean has a weapon that can kill Abaddon and probably a host of other things too. But the mark of Cain is a symbol of murder - murder of a brother. Can Dean wear it without killing his brother? Cain warned that the mark comes with "a great burden," :a great cost." What would be so great to Dean to make him regret it? I'm thinking Sam.
Does Dean work for Lucifer now? If he does, does Lucifer still want Sam? And will that be the price?