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18 May 2007 @ 07:36 pm
2.22 All Hell Breaks Loose, Part Two: There’s Nothing I Wouldn’t Do For You  

Dean’s soul buys Sam’s life.

Hell gate frees a demon horde:

“We’ve got work to do.”

 

There’s no way that a three-line haiku could capture the full heart of the second season finale of Supernatural. This was a satisfying masterpiece of character and story continuity, one that answered questions while asking more, simultaneously providing the full-circle closure of the first complete chapter of the book of Sam and Dean Winchester and a tantalizing teaser for chapter two. While the title line of my blog was spoken by Sam, it was lived by both brothers, demonstrating why we care about them. And if you’re planning to read this whole commentary, better pour yourself a tall one and settle back, because this is anything but concise.

 

Summary

 

With Sam lying dead in an abandoned house, empty, shattered Dean pushed Bobby away and wrestled with the demons of his own perceived worthlessness, ultimately going to a crossroads to summon a demon and sell his soul for Sam’s return to life. Negotiating from his abject need for Sam, Dean accepted deadly terms: only one year of life before his soul’s debt would come due, with Sam’s life as the forfeit should Dean attempt to escape the deal. Knowing the drill from Cross Road Blues, Dean sealed the deal with a kiss, and Sam awoke to life, confused, in pain, and troubled by the scar on his back. Overjoyed to have his brother back, Dean glossed over the details and tried to persuade him to take the time to rest, heal, and be safe, but Sam, knowing that the yellow-eyed demon’s endgame was in play and appalled by the news of the destruction of the Roadhouse, insisted on going to help Bobby figure out what they needed to do.

 

Bobby realized immediately what Dean had done and berated him for throwing himself away, and Dean begged him not to tell Sam. Ellen arrived at Bobby’s, reporting that she’d escaped the destruction of the Roadhouse purely by chance, and bringing a map that Ash had hidden in a secret safe. The map marked the location of five abandoned churches in southern Wyoming – churches built by Samuel Colt and connected by private railroad tracks to form a massive devil’s trap centered on an old cemetery – around which demons were congregating, but which they couldn’t penetrate. Sam realized that the demon intended Jake, the “winner” from the contest among the demon’s special children, to go where the demon couldn’t go.

 

Sam, Dean, Bobby and Ellen got there first, and challenged Jake at the mausoleum in the center of the cemetery. They made the mistake of treating him as a human, however, and tried to talk to him rather than simply take him down, not realizing that he had fully bought into the demon’s plans and had developed mind control powers like Andy’s. Jake forced Ellen to hold a gun to her own head in order to get the men to disarm themselves, and then he pulled the Colt, which the demon had given him, and plunged it into the intricate lock on the crypt door. Bobby and Dean immediately moved to save Ellen, yanking the gun away before she could shoot herself, while Sam grabbed his own gun and killed Jake, deliberately emptying the clip into Jake even after he was down and pleading not to die. The lock mechanism cycled around the Colt to form the devil’s trap pattern, and Dean yanked the Colt free as they all dove for cover and the doors burst open, explosively freeing hundreds of black-smoke demons and disembodied spirits from hell and dispersing the protective energy of the massive devil’s trap.

 

Ellen, Bobby, and Sam tried to get the doors closed again, but Dean, recognizing the Colt and finding it still loaded, realized that the demon had to have given it to Jake, and that the demon might thus be physically present, not just a dream figment. He turned to find the demon there, but the demon used telekinesis to snatch the gun from his hand and fling him into a tombstone. Seeing Dean imperiled, Sam ran to help, but in a replay of the situation in Devil’s Trap, the demon left him pinned up against a tree while it taunted Dean. The demon pointed the Colt at Dean to kill him, only to be tackled out of the body it was possessing by the spirit of John Winchester, who had come with the horde out of the open door to hell. The demon threw John off and reentered its body, but Dean had gotten the Colt from its fallen hand, and shot the possessed host. The demon was destroyed, and the host died. Through tears, John squeezed Dean’s shoulder, smiled at Sam, and then stepped back and vanished into light.

 

Having heard Jake confirm that he had killed Sam, Sam confronted Dean and demanded the truth. Learning that Dean had only a year to live before the hellhounds would come for his soul, Sam pledged to find a way to save him. Knowing that potentially hundreds of demons had escaped, the “army” that the demon had planned to unleash, Bobby, Ellen, and the Winchesters acknowledged that they would be the nucleus of humanity’s defense.

 

Commentary

 

Once again, I needed to split this; the summary could have been a blog all its own. And once again, the summary simply couldn’t contain the emotion that the story evoked from both the characters within it and those of us watching.

 

I’ll get my little nits out of the way first: Jake and his deal were the weakest part of the story. He went from coerced to seduced too fast, at least based on the kernel of good we saw at his core in Part One. And while some have probably complained that one of our four heroes should have shot Jake before he made Ellen endanger herself and got the Colt into the lock, I’m willing to cut them the slack of saying that all of them were still trying to stay on the side of the angels and give a human the opportunity to redeem himself. On a different topic, I wish from the bottom of my heart that John and his boys could have exchanged some words, although being guys, and the moment being so charged with emotion, what could they have said without getting either trite or maudlin? None of this damaged my enjoyment of the episode, and none will detract from it in future, either. And that’s my very last criticism of this episode.

 

From the moment of Sam’s death at the end of Part One, it was no surprise at all that Dean chose to make a deal and sell his soul to get his brother back. We’ve known since season one that Dean defined his own worth purely on the basis of his family. Bereft of Sam as well as John, Dean couldn’t face going on alone. And with his choices being committing suicide alone, as he’d contemplated earlier in Croatoan, or sacrificing himself to bring Sam back, it was clear where the chips would fall, given the value he placed on Sam. This was a predictable outcome not just foreshadowed by but hammered on throughout the entire season, beginning with John’s deal to save Dean in In My Time of Dying; Dean trying unsuccessfully over many episodes to deal with his guilt and anger over John’s choice; the pointed object lesson warning against bringing people back from the dead in Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things; the temptation offered to Dean to bring John back and live for years with John and Sam in Cross Road Blues; and the seduction of the wish-fulfillment fantasy world offered by the djinn in What Is and What Should Never Be. Dean resisted all temptation while he still had Sam alive, but once he was left alone, his choice was essentially foreordained by his human weakness and emotional need, and it felt inescapably true to who Dean is.

 

The surprise came in the terms. Unlike the standard run of demon deals with desperate people, Dean will get only one year, not ten, before payment will come due. And his came with a clause against even trying to escape, because any attempt on his part to get out of the deal would result in Sam dropping dead again. We had seen a non-standard deal with John as well, in which John gave up his life and the Colt immediately after verifying that Dean was all right. The time limit on Dean’s life makes for a great setup for season three (anybody want to guess the key plot driver for next season’s finale?), along with the need to hunt down the myriad demons and spirits that escaped from the open portal.

 

Sam’s nature also forms a key part of the season three setup. Throughout season two, Sam’s “destiny” as one of the special children formed a key question, one that colored everything Sam thought and did throughout the year, one that confronted Dean in his unadmitted nightmares. For Dean, the entire season boiled down to what John had whispered in his ear and left screaming in his head:  “Save Sam. Nothing else matters. If you can’t save him, you have to kill him.” Having heard the demon say that he had plans for Sam and the children like him back in Devil’s Trap, Sam wondered what those plans were and why his mother and Jess had died for them. Hearing the charge that John had laid on Dean, Sam wondered if he would turn evil, if that’s what it was all about, and he became increasingly fearful that he would turn into something he wasn’t. Dean, meanwhile, dismissed the entire concept as impossible, given Sam’s intrinsically good nature, and we saw Sam constantly making the good choice, the right choice, whenever he was given the free will to do so.

 

Now we know the beginning of what the demon had planned: that he wanted to winnow out the strongest of the children to be the leader of his army. But we only know that first step: ”I have a whole laundry list of tasty things for you,” the demon told Jake. Winning the leadership spot and opening the gate were only the start; more was clearly to follow. But what more? And how much of that “more” remains, even though the demon himself is gone?

 

Sam has definitely changed since the demon kidnapped him in Part One. We’ve seen him gung-ho and mission-focused on the revenge hunt before, but we’d never seen him, unpossessed, coldly and deliberately kill a human and take satisfaction in it, as he did with Jake. But whether it’s simply the fallout of the experiences he had in Cold Oak, similar to Dean’s cold, withdrawn walk in the lonely dark of his burdened soul through the first half of this season, or something more sinister – whether what Dean’s deal brought back from death wasn’t “100% pure Sam,” as the demon slyly asked, sowing the seeds of doubt – remains to be seen.

 

In any case, Sam still carries whatever matured from the demon blood he was fed as a baby. He still has the potential to accept what he can do and flip the switches in his brain to expand his abilities, as Ava and Jake did. Before this, he always feared his abilities and their possible origin too much to do anything to learn how to focus or use them. Far from either fully accepting what he could do and taking quantum leaps in ability, with a commensurate leap into evil, or even taking small deliberate steps to expand his skills as Andy did without going darkside, Sam fled the very thought of power.

 

But that may change. Even if he is still 100% pure Sam and still fears his power, the temptation to learn to use it, at least a little of it, may become overpowering, especially as Dean’s contract year comes to a close. Knowing that he could, like Ava, control demons, might Sam be tempted to exert that control to save his brother’s life, if all other avenues appear closed? The only time we ever saw him deliberately trying to tap into what he could do despite his fear of it came in Devil’s Trap, when he tried desperately and unsuccessfully to find the mental trigger that would let him use the fluke telekinesis that had answered his need in Nightmare to save Dean’s life from Max, in order to try to save him again from the demon’s torture. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That’s been true for both John and Dean, each of whom took that road to save another; perhaps Sam will be tempted to take it too, but in his own way; unlocking the powers of his mind to save Dean from hell. (Sorry, can’t help a little sarcastically funny ivory thought on the side: will we be seeing only “99 and 44/100ths percent pure” Sam?)

 

Sam hiding from Dean what else he had learned from the demon – that the demon had fed him demon blood and that Mary had somehow recognized the demon – doesn’t bode well for smoothness in the brothers’ relationship in season three. Sam lies better than Dean when it comes to the important things, but sooner or later, Dean will learn the truth. And given how much Dean idolizes his Mom, I’m not sure where that one will go.

 

But I’ll leave season three speculation for another time. There are still things I need to say about this season’s finale.

 

First, Jensen Ackles. His entire performance as Dean in this episode was incredible. Dean’s utter and absolute emptiness in the beginning, contemplating Sam’s dead body, was draining. His eyes were dead and his face was void. When Bobby came in, Dean didn’t even notice, not at first, and that lag in response from sensory-focused, hunter-instinctual Dean screamed that he effectively wasn’t even in his body. Lashing out at Bobby, then offering that lost apology, and finally saying flatly, ”Please just go.” carried such a world of hurt. The scene where Dean remembered Sammy asking questions as a little boy, when Dean just wanted him to stop asking so he could keep his innocence and remain a child, was unutterably bittersweet, and my heart broke for the little smile of Dean remembering other days, better days, that still weren’t good ones. (Aside: I loved how that scene linked straight into the back-up story in the first issue of the Supernatural: Origins comic book – comic writer Geoff Johns deserves a little salute for that one.) Dean speaking out loud his belief that he always lets down the ones he loves – saying outright what we all saw displayed in the flawed design of his wish world in What Is and What Should Never Be – choked me. Seeing normally strong and clever Dean totally unable to negotiate with the demon who fleeced him on the deal was embarrassing. Dean’s relief and heartrending joy at seeing Sam alive again raced through me as much as through him, because it ran in every line of Jensen’s body and flooded eyes that came back to life as soon as they filled with the image of Sam.

 

Don’t ask me how, but I managed to hold on until the scene in which Bobby took Dean to task for what he had done in selling his soul to bring Sam back. Between them, Jensen and Jim Beaver broke me. The depth of Bobby’s caring was so profound, and his fury and grief were so strong; and Dean was back to the dead emptiness of having let his loved ones down, Bobby because Dean knew that what he had done was wrong, and Sam, because Bobby was right about how Sam would feel. But the exchange that totally killed me was this one:

 

Dean:  “Well, that’s my point. Dad brought me back, Bobby – I’m not even supposed to be here. At least this way, something good can come out of it, you know? It’s like my life can mean something.”

Bobby: “What , and it didn’t before? Have you got that low an opinion of yourself? Are you that screwed in the head?!”

 

Bobby’s rage that Dean thought so little of himself, Bobby challenging Dean on his obviously skewed self-image, finally made me cry, because of what it said about even someone as close to Dean and as perceptive as Bobby never before having been able to see through his façade to realize just how viscerally damaged Dean has been all his life. It took seeing Dean throwing himself away for Bobby finally to understand him.

 

And the flip side came at the very end, when Jared Padalecki’s Sam took the bull by the horns to let his brother finally know, in no uncertain terms, just how loved and valued he truly is:

 

Sam: “Did I die? Did you sell your soul for me, like Dad did for you?”

Dean: “Oh, come on, no!”

Sam: “Tell me the truth, Dean. Tell me the truth.”

Dean: “Sam …” (long pause)

Sam: “How long do you get?”

Dean: “… One year. I got one year.”

Sam: “You shouldn’t have done that. How could you do that?”

Dean: “Don’t get mad at me. Don’t you do that. I had to. I had to look out for you. That’s my job.”

Sam: “And what do you think my job is?”

Dean: “What?”

Sam: “You saved my life, over and over. You sacrifice everything for me. Don’t you think I’d do the same for you? You’re my big brother. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you. And I don’t care what it takes, I’m going to get you out of this. (beat, little smile) Guess I’ve got to save your ass, for a change.”

 

Eric Kripke delivered a wonderful story and script, and Kim Manners shot it brilliantly: the shot setting the stage of Sam’s dead body lying on the bed and Dean leaning in the doorway simply ached, and the Steadicam 180-oner demon reveal at the crossroads was great. The scenes between Dean and Bobby caught me by the throat, and Dean’s monologue at Sam’s deathbed – well, Kim Manners hasn’t lost his touch for being able to draw every erg of emotion from his actors and put it on the screen.

 

I’ve gone on way too long and been very unfocused with this: blame it on my still being totally discombobulated by this episode. Let me end with a few things.

 

Returning to Kansas and “Carry On Wayward Son” for the opening montage meant that we tied right back into the first season from the very first moment. Dean killing the demon felt so right, and his ”That was for our Mom, you son of a bitch” made a fitting epigram for the close of this first two season, 23-year story. Ending the episode with a brother flip version of the closing shot of the pilot fittingly put paid to the first story, and perfectly set the stage for the next one. Symmetry is good. Closing with Boston’s “Don’t Look Back” as we go forward was great.

 

And too many lines to quote simply sing in my mind.

 

Is it September yet?

 

 
 
Current Music: "Don't Look Back" by Boston