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3.04 Sin City: All You’ve Gotta Do Is Nudge Humans in the Right Direction

3.04 Sin City: All You’ve Gotta Do Is Nudge Humans in the Right Direction


Demonic lovers

Play on human temptations.

Sam kills with the Colt.


Episode Summary


While the boys were staying with Bobby in South Dakota working on trying to understand what had made the Colt an effective demon-killing weapon, a man killed himself in a church in the dead-end community of Elizabethville, Ohio, where Sam also noted weather omens and a news report of a guy who went postal in a hobby shop (named Tony Perkins, in a nice nod to Psycho). When the brothers arrived, they found not the half-boarded-up town they’d expected, but a hopping nightlife even in broad daylight, with people drinking and gambling and prostitutes trolling the streets, hotels, and bars. From the church pastor, the brothers, posing as insurance investigators, learned that the changes in people and the town began about two months earlier – when the devil’s gate had opened. 


In the local hotel, Dean met Ritchie, a feckless hunter he’d encountered and saved on a job while Sam was in college. Ritchie was enjoying the town’s seedy high life, but hadn’t found any trace of demons. His only theory was that demons might have been joyriding from host to host, making people ruin themselves and others and then commit suicide. He told them about one other person in town still alive who fit the former-good-citizen-turned-scum profile: Trotter, the owner of the bar and every other vice-oriented business in town.


Checking out the bar at night, Dean appreciated the pretty bartender, Casey, and was embarrassed to be overheard by the parish priest, who joked with both Casey and the boys and wryly noted that he had to go where his congregation went. After the priest left, the boys saw a man come in with a gun and shoot another. Dean tackled the gunman before he could kill himself, but when Sam sprinkled holy water on him, he didn’t react; no possession, just a man whose former friend had slept with his wife. Obliged to stay around and deal with the local cops despite Sam’s uncomfortable nerves, Dean eventually noticed that Ritchie was gone. While the brothers had been occupied with the aftermath of the bar shooting, Ritchie had left with Casey the bartender, who took him to a mansion on the outskirts of town, promising pleasure. Once there, however, she revealed herself as a demon, and broke his neck.


In town the next day, Dean fretted over Ritchie’s disappearance to the point where search and rescue took precedence even over food. While Dean went hunting Ritchie, Sam followed Trotter, disturbed at the way the man had looked at him the previous night after the incident with the gunman in the bar.


Bobby, in the meantime, had his own issues trying to make the Colt work again. Having reassembled the piece, he was resighting it when Ruby appeared and revealed herself as a demon. She taunted Bobby into shooting her to prove that the Colt still wouldn’t work, and then offered to help him fix it.


Some time after nightfall, Sam’s continuing stalking of Trotter was interrupted by a phone call from Dean, out somewhere on the road. Realizing that the phone ringing had blown his secrecy, Sam told Dean to meet him in the bar in 20 minutes and then hung up on him, without giving Dean time to speak. Sam hid until Trotter and his companion left, and then tossed his office looking for any clues to demonic possession, only to be caught in the act and held at gunpoint by Trotter, who surprised him by talking about calling the police. Sam got the gun away from Trotter, and then, unable to explain what he was really looking for, sprinkled both men with holy water. Dismayed to find them both purely human, not affected by the water at all, Sam made an awkward and apologetic escape, and went in search of Dean.


Dean, however, was not in the bar. While he had waited, he was approached first by a hooker and then by Casey, who invited him home. Taking him to the same place where she had killed Ritchie, Casey seemed disturbed, as if she wasn’t finding what she expected – and Dean explained that he’d traced Ritchie through the GPS in his cell phone, found the body in the basement, and given him decent burial. Casey launched herself at him, only to slam into an invisible wall. Crouching down, Dean flipped the corner of the carpet back to reveal a devil’s trap inscribed underneath, the insurance he’d prepared for his own confrontation with her. He pulled out his book to read the exorcism ritual, only to learn that Casey knew some of the same tricks Meg had displayed back when she was possessing Sam; even from within the circle, Casey was able to whistle up the wind to rip the book from his hands and to summon force to crack the ceiling, bringing the roof down on the stairwell to seal them both in the basement. The symbol on the floor wasn’t damaged, so Casey herself was still trapped within the circle, but Dean was trapped as well.


Worried about his missing brother, Sam paid the bartender for Casey’s address, but found nothing at her apartment except a tell-tale trace of sulfur. Immediately calling Bobby for help, he got no answer but voicemail, and left a message asking Bobby to come as soon as he could. Back at the bar, growing increasingly desperate and getting no help, he turned to the priest to ask if he knew a place that Casey might go. The priest insisted on going with him, and as he turned away, his eyes went demon-black.


In the cellar, Casey tried to persuade Dean that demons and humans weren’t really that different, pointing out that she had done nothing but nudge humans in the direction of sin by suggesting to Trotter that money could be made. She laid claim to faith in a higher power, in the legendary Lucifer, first among God’s angels, exiled from heaven for refusing to bow down before humans. She asserted that Sam was supposed to have become the leader of the demon army, that she had been ready to follow him, and that the army without him at its head was pure chaos, a war without a front, hundreds of demons all seeking to become king and most of them gunning for Sam. As the night progressed, she also admitted that she was coming to like Dean, that he wasn’t what she’d been led to expect, and that she didn’t ridicule him for the choice he had made in sacrificing his soul to bring Sam back to life.


The priest, meanwhile, embarked on his own exploration of Sam’s psyche, hinting to him that he should be in a position of more power and importance, insinuating that Dean was a drag on him, holding him back from bigger and better things. He offered sly temptation that Sam should be a leader, that he should be the one calling the shots.


Once at the house, Sam, warned by Dean, realized what the priest had to be, just as Bobby arrived with the rebuilt Colt. Bobby’s shot missed and the demon flung him aside, then tossed Sam into a car and smashed open the mansion door, clearing away the rubble. Bobby gave Sam the gun, and although Sam was astonished to see him there, discovering that he was with Ruby was even more of a surprise. The priest demon swept the rubble from the staircase and tossed Dean casually aside, then shattered the floor beneath the devil’s trap to free Casey. It became instantly apparent that the two demons were lovers, much to Dean’s surprise, and they professed to have been together for hundreds of years. Casey pleaded with her lover not to kill Dean, saying that they should just go, but the priest demon picked him up and throttled him – and Sam shot him with the Colt. The bullet had all the potency we’d seen before, and the demon died. Sam turned on Casey, and even as Dean realized his intent and called to him to stop, Sam shot her too.


In the aftermath, Dean told Bobby what Azazel – the yellow-eyed demon – had said to him in the Wyoming graveyard, about Sam not coming back from the dead entirely the way he should be, and pleadingly asked Bobby if he thought something was wrong with Sam, because he’d been so cold killing Jake and the demon couple. Despite his own hesitation, Bobby dismissed the idea with the recognition that demons lie. Meanwhile, Sam refused to celebrate with Ruby for having killed two demons, being mindful that he’d also killed their innocent human hosts. Ruby told him he would have to do things against his gentle nature, and continued to dangle in front of him the lure that if he would cooperate with her, she would help out with breaking Dean’s deal.


Meta Commentary


Despite a few minor glitches, this episode sang. It carried the major challenge of conveying a staggering amount of exposition with a minimum of action, promising a massive payoff somewhere down the road, but it also delivered a substantial meal of character and relationship development within the scope of its forty and one-half minutes.


Let’s get the glitch out of the way first. This episode obviously got rearranged during shooting or some time in the editing process, and the seams still show. The scene where the boys first meet Ritchie in the hotel is out of place. Watch the scene after the hotel one, where they drive up to the bar in the Impala in their usual garb, and Dean pulls out his own bag and tosses one over to Sam, commenting that this doesn’t look like a boarded-up rust belt town. That Impala arrival was clearly the boys’ entrance into town, but it wound up being placed instead after they had arrived, done the interview thing in insurance agent disguise, and returned to the hotel to encounter Ritchie. Note that the bags are missing as they walk through the bar – the bar scene did come after the interviewing-the-priest and hotel ones – and that a bit of the dialogue about the town not being what they expected comes out of the order you’d normally say it.


This didn’t detract from the episode at all for me – it was just an interesting observation, in an observationally interesting way – but the reason I’m mentioning it is that it’s an indication of how writing continues to happen even while an episode is being shot and edited. Rearranging scenes and tweaking dialogue to bridge the new order of things happens all the time, but a writer’s strike would severely curtail even that kind of writing, often performed by a director, editor, or producer. If you get the idea that the strike talk is making me ill with anxiety, you’re dead on.


Enough of that, though. This episode had plenty to recommend it. Two major themes continued to be explored here: the steady progression of black and white into shades of grey, and the role reversal – again! – between Sam and Dean.


Progression first. Beginning in season one, we were shown a world that seemed to be pretty clearly defined, especially through Dean’s hunter’s eyes: supernatural things hurt people, they were evil, they were to be destroyed. In season two, even as he saw that surety slipping from him with the discovery that supposedly evil things could choose to live without hurting people (Bloodlust); that spirits could just be confused and mean no harm, and even be sympathetic (The Usual Suspects, Roadkill); that good and innocent humans could be subverted into doing evil things even without their knowledge (Born Under a Bad Sign, Heart); and that even God might move in mysterious ways (Houses of the Holy), he wondered about himself and whether his own life was wrong and evil because it wasn’t natural any more (Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, All Hell Breaks Loose Part 2). Now in season three in the form of Casey, he’s met a demon who spoke compassionately of the deal he made for Sam, and who then pleaded for his life, urging her demon mate just to leave, to let him live. Those were certainly the last things that Dean would ever have expected from a demon. Combining that with Casey’s revelations about demons sharing such human traits as love and faith, and knowing the human proclivity for indulging in evil, really does start blurring the lines and dissolving all colors and certainty into grey.


The role reversal between the brothers continues to fascinate. Season one Dean was all about the family business, saving people and hunting things, with special emphasis on saving his family. Sam started out reluctantly, still trying to distance himself from the hunter life, until Jessica’s death flipped his switch into impatient vengeance mode, taking a page from John’s book. As the season progressed, Sam also became lost in his own internal fears about his abilities and what they meant for his future. By the end of the season, however, Sam came to understand more and more about Dean for the very first time, and he ultimately chose family and love over hate, revenge, and fear.


Season two saw that flip-reversal in full mode. Dean, who’d always been mission-focused, lost himself and his way in a flurry of violence and rage in the knowledge that his father had sacrificed himself for him, that he had to carry the burden of saving Sam or killing him, and that the world wasn’t as surely divided into comfortable black and white as he’d been raised to believe. New family-man Sam picked up the mission and kept them both on course until Dean could share the burden and find his new resolve, articulating the mission of saving Sam even from himself and the things he was coming to fear about his abilities. Again, as the season progressed, they continued to orbit around each other, changing relative emotional position so that one of them could always carry the other at need – Dean supporting drunken Sam in Playthings, for example, and Sam covering for Dean’s shock at Ronald’s abrupt loss in Nightshifter. Then Sam, by choosing to remain true to himself rather than becoming the demon’s agent and killing others, died. Unable to live without his brother, Dean made the deal to trade his soul in a year for his brother’s life, and for season three, the mission went from saving Sam to saving Dean. Except that for Dean, the mission will always be saving Sam.


Sam is now in full-on brother protective mode, the role Dean has always played. Apart from Bad Day at Black Rock, in which Sam’s cursed ill-luck made any action impossible, every episode this season has seen Sam rigorous in watching out for his brother. Pushing in The Magnificent Seven to find out why Dean seemed so determined not to care about his death sentence, arriving in time to double-team the changeling in The Kids Are Alright, and now hunting down his brother in a basement and killing the demons threatening him – Sam is rescuing Dean more often now than Dean is rescuing him. And in his determination not to fail the brother who flatly refused ever to fail him, Sam has clearly hardened himself to do things he’d have questioned before, following the example of the older brother who never hesitated to do whatever it took, whatever the cost to himself, to keep him safe. Sam has abandoned introspection for action.


Curiously enough, where Dean was always the gung-ho one, now he’s the one asking questions and turning introspective, hesitating to act where uncertainty exists and seeing more uncertainty in those shades of grey than ever before. Still unable to face Sam with his concerns and fears, especially about his brother’s state of mind and soul, he’s finally opened up to Bobby, a better choice than his attempt last season to keep it all to himself. He’s still trying to keep a lid on his own steadily growing fear of what Hell he’ll face when his year ends, but even that clearly doesn’t scare him as much as the thought that he may still lose his brother. Watching Sam kill where before he would have hesitated, watching him harden himself to take actions that he knows his brother would have taken for him without pausing to question, means watching him become someone other than the person he’s always been, the little brother Dean has always loved. People do grow and people do change – that’s the inescapable nature of life – but hard decisions can change people gradually beyond recognition, and that’s clearly not something that Dean would ever want for Sam.


These brothers are mirrors of each other, complementary supports for each other, and I think they always will be.


Production Comments


Apart from the reordered scenes, there was much in this episode that I positively adored. Kudos to the crazy set designers for yet another positively hideous hotel room, and to director Charles Beeson for making excellent use not only of the mirrors on the ceiling, but of every mirror in the room. While Sam and Ritchie were talking, seeing Dean in the background mirror noticing the Magic Fingers machine, reacting to it, and then piling quarters on top made me laugh out loud. Nice shout-out back to Houses of the Holy, there, and I wonder who came up with it? Was that written into the script by Robert Singer and Jeremy Carver, or was it the inspiration of a moment to add the Magic Fingers box to the set and just run with it? Whichever, it was a hoot.


I loved Beeson’s use of the mirrored ceiling in the final scene for a different reason. Immediately before it, the question between Dean and Bobby was whether something was wrong with Sam, and both of them had lied through their teeth about being certain that there was nothing there, that demons lie and that was all there was to it. I believe that both of them do believe in Sam, but doubt and worry are insidious things, and having Sam enter that very next scene from the upside-down perspective just reinforced the psychological unrest brilliantly.


Jensen Ackles just keeps adding layers to Dean. In the cellar, asking about Hell and maintaining that he’s not afraid of having only a year left to live, his speaking eyes and even his subtle, fast, unsteady breathing gave the lie to his insouciant smile and brave words. He can’t admit it to anyone, but Dean’s getting more scared by the day, and according to the timeline, two months are already gone. And watching Sam kill Casey, not even hesitating for the sound of his own voice in protest – that look on his face was also fear, and worry, and regret. How Jensen manages to put so many different things into the mix and make them all perfectly discernable is beyond me. How he has his eyes say one thing and his face something else never fails to punch me in the gut.


Jared Padalecki got to show off both his comedy and drama chops again. The scene in Trotter’s office ran the gamut from suspense to action to hysterically funny as Sam was held at gunpoint, got the drop on the two men, and then proceeded to cover himself in confused dismay at realizing that they weren’t possessed, but just unsavory humans. Flipping from that into his growing fear for Dean, especially when he found the sulfur and then looked desperately for help, finally biting the bullet to approach the priest, was wonderful. And we’ll be debating for the rest of the season just how much to read into his hardened expression when he shot Casey and watched her die even as Dean tried to tell him to wait.


I was especially delighted at the opening scene between the boys and Bobby. Such domesticity: Dean making bullets while Bobby examined the pieces of the Colt and Sam researched. And the teasing among them about when the gun would be ready spoke volumes about their ease and closeness, as did Bobby’s exhortation to call him if they ran into anything. Bobby fills the surrogate father role as if he was born to it, and the love between the three of them can warm your heart. I adore Jim Beaver! But I have to wonder just exactly what Ruby told Bobby about herself and her goals, and how she was able to make the Colt work. Bobby with his holy water-spiked beer is not one to trust demons, and I don’t see him going along with her for a vague promise of possible help and hope for Dean, which is her favorite coin to buy Sam’s grudging tolerance. There are multiple quid pro quos going on here, and I’m wondering what strained coin of trust and cooperation passed between Ruby and Bobby even to let them work together. What does Bobby know that he didn’t know before, and that the boys still don’t? It's clear that Ruby guided him to where the boys were, and that they were on the move long before Sam called – but how, and why?

Don't you love questions?



I’m still catching up on blog entries. The commentary for Bedtime Stories will come tomorrow, I hope! Apologies for being so late, and I hope you will bear with me …

Tags: dean winchester, episode commentaries, jared padalecki, jensen ackles, meta, robert singer, sam winchester, supernatural

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