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Supernatural University: Demon Powers, Motives, and Deals


Supernatural University:  Demon Powers, Motives, and Deals


SPOILER WARNING!!  This class contains speculations arising in part from season four spoilers revealed by Eric Kripke in his interview with on 29 May 2008. If you are staying entirely spoiler-free, do not attend this class!! (Note: Lack of attendance at spoilery seminars will not reflect adversely on any student.)



At the end of Supernatural season three, we were left with a cliffhanger in which Dean was mauled to death in front of Sam’s eyes and found himself chained in torment in Hell, while grieving Sam, having somehow become immune to Lilith’s powers, saw Lilith flee from the body Ruby had occupied, and then cradled Dean’s dead body in his arms and wept. Our evil master Eric Kripke has promised that in season four, Dean will somehow return from Hell after at least months of human time to find his world much changed, that he will slowly begin to remember what happened to him in Hell, and that the whole experience will have a massive effect on his relationship with Sam. He has also promised that Ruby will return, that we’ll see more of embittered ex-hunter Rufus, that a new type of supernatural species will be revealed, that we’ll learn about Mary, and that there will be questions about exactly what Sam has done with respect to his powers while Dean was gone. Welcome to a session in speculative mythology at Supernatural University, in which your senior instructor will take a wild stab in the dark at analyzing what events in the progression of the story thus far might suggest about how things will proceed from here!


Please note that I have no more information on this topic than anyone else, and this purely speculative class reflects only my guesses and musings, nothing more. I may be totally wrong; I most probably am. But like everyone, I can’t resist thinking about Dean and Sam, and by extension, about Lilith, Ruby, and the war, and that leads to an exploration of demon powers, demon motives, and demon deals.


Demon Powers and Demon Deals


The one thing I’m not wondering is how Dean will get back into his body, because I don’t believe that he will. Dean will of course be back, and he will be played by Jensen Ackles, looking exactly as we expect. But I don’t believe that he will be reanimating the same shredded, bloodless body that the hellhound killed. He wouldn’t need to.


When Dean trapped the crossroads demon back in Crossroad Blues, she tempted him with the promise of returning John, despite the boys having cremated his body. Can you bring him back? My Dad? Of course I can – just as he was. Your Dad would live a long, natural life, like he was meant to. That’s a promise. The destruction of John’s body didn’t matter at all to the demon’s ability to resurrect him. Similarly, I expect that Sam and Bobby will have burned Dean’s corpse long before Dean makes it back, and that it won’t make any difference to his ability to return.


This of course brings up the issue of demon powers and their limits. We know that demons can’t do everything, even though they can do a lot, and while some powers appear pretty common – the ability to fling people around telekinetically, for example – others seem more specialized. Bargaining with John for Dean’s life during In My Time of Dying, for example, the Yellow-Eyed Demon admitted that he couldn’t help Dean, meaning that he couldn’t prevent Dean from dying from his physical injuries, but he was able to possess Tess the Reaper, a different non-demonic supernatural entity, and usurp her powers to serve his own purposes. We know from what happened with Meg in Shadow, Salvation, and Devil’s Trap that a demon possessing a human host can keep the host trapped inside and alive despite the host’s body sustaining injuries that should have been mortal (a seven-story fall followed by a gunshot wound in Meg’s case), but that the body – and the host – will then die from those injuries when the demon departs. Comparing these circumstances, there seems to be a difference between a demon trapping and holding a life in a shell it’s possessing, and being able to retain life in someone not being possessed. The first one appears to be a power common to all demons. The second, however, appears to be something that a crossroads demon can perhaps accomplish on its own – witness the one in Crossroad Blues having somehow saved Evan’s wife from terminal cancer – while Azazel had to contract out saving Dean. I’m assuming here that the crossroads demon didn’t use the same technique of usurping a Reaper going about its job, largely because Tessa seemed so surprised and astonished that a demon would possess her. No, you can’t, she protested, just before Azazel did exactly that. If demons routinely possessed Reapers in order to perform their life and death deals, I don’t think she would have been so taken aback.


The business about being able to bring someone back from the dead appears to be different than keeping someone alive. Demons clearly can animate corpses and give them the illusion of life, as one of the Sins did with Isaac’s dead body in The Magnificent Seven, but that is different from making the person live. Old Yellow-Eyes offered a very intriguing nugget about that to Dean in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2, when he said: You see, demons can’t resurrect people unless a deal is made. I know, red tape, it’ll make you nuts. What he said acknowledged that demons can resurrect people from the dead – as we had already seen happen with sweet Sam – but also intimated that they are subject to restrictions and limits on that ability. Azazel admitted that he couldn’t bring Sam back on his own just because he preferred Sam to Jake as his anointed leader; he needed Dean to make a deal in order to get Sam back on the playing field.


The nature of that deal, however, didn’t necessarily have to encompass a life for a life. In Crossroad Blues, Dean managed to break Evan’s deal and thus save Evan’s life and soul without forfeiting his own simply by finding an immediate alternative that the crossroads demon wanted more:  not to be trapped and exorcised back to Hell. Whatever power the crossroads demon was using to uphold its end of the deal, it didn’t rely on equivalent sacrifice in order to work. Contract terms are clearly fungible, and driven by what the market will bear


My speculations on this include that a deal may be necessary in order to bring Dean back, at least if bringing him back relies on using the demon powers we already know, but it wouldn’t need to be the same kind of deal that Dean made. It might not even need to be initiated by a human. That curious sentence – Demons can’t resurrect people unless a deal is made – leaves a lot open to interpretation. Could demons make deals with each other, and in the process bring a human back to life? Does it make a difference if the human is already in Hell, and is thus already subject to demonic whims?


Demon Motives and Demon Deals


Asking those questions leads me straight into speculation about just exactly what it is that the demons we know want, because at this moment, we don’t understand all their motives. And as Born Under a Bad Sign hinted (with Meg’s professed disregard for the master plan and her desire for personal revenge) and The Magnificent Seven and Sin City confirmed, not all demons have the same goals. Given that goals drive actions, we’re constantly going to be surprised by demons unless and until we figure out their games.


Yellow-eyed Azazel had a long-term plan revealed slowly across the first two seasons of the show that included grooming many special psychic kids like Sam with the intent of producing one dominant leader who would release an army of demons from Hell and lead them to take over the fertile Earth. Azazel had seemingly unfettered access to the human world, visiting his chosen children in their infancy during Sam’s birth year and again 22 years later (what will happen to little Rosie from Salvation? Will she waken to unusual abilities when she turns 23?), and hinting that there had been earlier generations as well. It seemed that he needed one thing he long hadn’t been able to find – the Colt, the key to the Wyoming devil’s gate, lost for many years and hidden by Daniel Elkins for many more – and when John’s deal for Dean’s life put it into his hands, his endgame began. But he failed to account for Sam refusing the leader’s mantle, for John escaping Hell to come to his sons’ aid, and for Dean mustering the strength and determination to surprise him and pull the trigger. Azazel’s plan was left incomplete, and if the lore on the Colt is true, he was utterly destroyed and won’t be back.


Among the demons previously confined to Hell and freed when the devil’s gate opened were hedonists like the Seven Deadly Sins from The Magnificent Seven and Casey and her lover from Sin City, who apparently had no immediate goal or purpose beyond enjoying their freedom to the max and consigning as many people as possible to Hell in their place; Ruby, who is still pursuing a hidden agenda of her own; and Lilith, who has emerged gradually as a new leader seeking to consolidate power, eliminate potential rivals, and take over the forces released by Azazel for unspoken purposes and goals of her own.


We’ve been granted some interesting tidbits along the way about Ruby and Lilith, but not enough yet to give confidence that we know truly what they want. Ruby clearly wanted to awaken in Sam the same powers that Azazel wanted him to use, but precisely what she wants him to do with them hasn’t been resolved. Ruby didn’t have the power to face off against Lilith directly – as witness Lilith having been able to take over Ruby’s host body and evict Ruby without alerting Sam or Dean – and it would seem that Ruby opposes Lilith, but I don’t believe that Ruby’s motives have either Sam’s or humanity’s best interest in mind. While Lilith said she had sent Ruby far, far away, I doubt she sent her all the way to Hell – and even if she did, we know that Sam has the ability to summon Ruby back, and probably would, if only to put her to the question. Sam is a man who wants answers, and he knows that Ruby could provide at least some of them. I suspect that Sam himself will bring her back to attempt to force those answers from her. Whether he does it quickly enough to put her back into the same dead host body or not remains to be seen.


Lilith is even more of an unknown. From what we’ve seen of her – for example, her little white-light mass-killing display in Jus In Bello – she packs even more of a direct punch than Azazel did, and yet she hadn’t been on display until after the devil’s gate was opened, suggesting that she had indeed been confined somewhere in Hell while Azazel had the freedom to move around and touch our human world. She didn’t immediately pick up the reins from Azazel’s dead hands, either; There’s a new leader rising in the west, said the Tami-demon in Malleus Maleficarum, and that “rising” terminology suggested that Lilith, rather than emerging and making an immediate power play as the only logical successor to Azazel, was consolidating her forces, picking up support and subjugating other demons in a bid for power somewhat analogous to this year’s interminable Democratic party primary season in the U.S..


Something else we learned also suggested that. In Time Is On My Side, tearful Bela, facing the culmination of her deal, told Dean that Lilith held both of their contracts; She said she holds every deal, Bela said. And that may well be true – but it doesn’t appear always to have been the case. Just think back to Crossroad Blues, and Dean negotiating Evan out of his contract. At that time, before the opening of the devil’s gate and Lilith’s freedom from Hell, Dean trapped a crossroads demon and demanded Evan’s life, and his wife’s, in exchange for freeing the demon rather than exorcising her. The demon resisted at first, but ultimately caved – and she didn’t have to consult any principal in order to change the bargain and release Evan from his deal. The crossroads demon still held negotiation rights on Evan’s contract; she never claimed the need to defer to any higher power. By the time Sam summoned the crossroads demon in Bedtime Stories to demand Dean’s soul, however, she demurred and professed to be unable to alter the deal because someone bigger, badder, and tougher than she held Dean’s contract and wouldn’t let go.


What changed between those two events? The devil’s gate opened, Azazel was destroyed, and Lilith was freed … and I suspect that, in the process of maximizing her power, Lilith bought out all the outstanding mortgages on human souls for the additional leverage it would give her. I would bet that Azazel never bothered to exert himself that way, which would explain why he wasn’t the contract holder on Dean and why Dean thus wasn’t freed when he killed Azazel. I would posit that the crossroads demon held his contract until Lilith took it over some time after Dean swept Azazel off the board and before Sam’s summoning ritual in Bedtime Stories.


It’s worth noting in this regard that Bela also made her deal with a traditional crossroads demon, and not directly with Lilith, at least if the red eyes we saw in Time Is On My Side are a reliable indication of demonic type. Bela’s demon appeared as a child, something we associate with Lilith, but we saw in Crossroad Blues and again in Bedtime Stories that crossroads demons appear in a form calculated to appeal to their summoner, and given that Bela had been abused by her father and not protected by her mother, a child – particularly a girl apparently younger and smaller than herself – would be the most appealing, least fearsome possible form the demon could have chosen in order to approach and tempt her.


If Lilith has indeed been spending her time building her power base so that when she made her move to dominate Hell on Earth, she would be the undisputed ruler, then Sam’s unexpected survival at the end of No Rest For The Wicked may have seriously damaged her campaign to be proclaimed the winner. Judging from Casey’s comments about Azazel in Sin City, demons respect power and strength, and are equally quick to jump on perceived weakness. In the midst of her minions, Lilith faced off against Sam, effortlessly pinning him to a wall while letting a hellhound kill his brother, and then she put forth a display of killing power – that failed to make a mark. Even worse, when Sam advanced on her physically, dagger in hand, Lilith fled. Faced down by an angry, grieving human, Lilith ran away.


Discretion being the better part of valor doesn’t seem to have a meaningful place in demon books, any more than the meek shall inherit the earth. I would guess that Lilith’s position has been rendered abruptly weaker than it was before precisely because she failed to kill Sam and then ran from him in order not to die herself. I don’t think that Lilith will be eager to face off against Sam directly again any time soon, if ever. Sam may have been too absorbed in his grief over Dean to have realized that something had triggered in his head to render him immune to Lilith, but that surprising lesson certainly wasn’t lost on her, and her abrupt abandonment of the Ruby body won’t have been lost on the demons who had followed her, either. How many of them might desert her now, disrespecting her failure, and start to wonder again about possibly serving Azazel’s boy king, or at least avoiding him?


In addition, did whatever triggered in Sam to make him immune to Lilith go specifically against her, or might he now, all unwitting, be immune from any direct demon attack? Have we seen the last time that a demon could throw Sam up against a wall and pin him there?


And that brings me back to my contemplation of demon motives and demon deals, and another possible way that Dean might come back, restored to an undamaged body by a demon deal. What if Lilith should decide that the only way to save herself from Sam is to give Dean back? What if Lilith, not Sam, were the one to initiate a deal, in an attempt either to buy Sam off or at least give him something to distract him from pursuing her, so that she could have time to repair her power position among the demon horde? Sam unexpectedly opening the door to find Dean standing there, even or especially a Dean bereft of memories of his death and torture, would definitely be thrown off his stride and forced to take time to adjust.


Brothers … Always


Chris Lennertz wrote the score for All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2, and the title of this section comes from the title of the musical theme he used under the heartbreaking scene in which Dean finally admitted to Sam that yes, he had sold his soul and had only a year to live, and Sam proclaimed that there was nothing he wouldn’t do for Dean, and he guessed it was his turn to save Dean now.


Kripke has said that Dean’s return and his gradual recovery of the memories of what happened to him in Hell will have a massive effect on his bond with Sam. I would submit that there is no way Dean could come back from such an experience unchanged, nor could Sam shrug off experiencing Dean’s death and his time alone, without both of them being changed. Each season of the show has seen the boys having to fight through to a new understanding of and new balance with each other, and that has been the story that has kept me – and many, many others – always coming back. I submit that the balance will be found again, as compellingly as ever, and that will be what makes season four most memorable.


In season one, the boys were reunited after several years apart while Sam had tried to build his own normal life at college. Season one was really the story of Sam and Dean rediscovering each other while searching for their father, and along the way, learning things about each other that they had never consciously known. Dean came to understand Sam’s feeling that John had been disappointed in him and to know about Sam’s psychic abilities, and didn’t reject him for being in some way supernatural, while Sam came to realize what Dean had always done for him, and to understand the unconditional love and sense of duty that kept him close and coming back no matter what Sam did to throw him off.


Season two saw the brothers fragmented again by their father’s death and the differing ways they dealt with it, with Sam finally understanding and appreciating John even as Dean, carrying the crushing burden of John’s secret instructions regarding his brother, started for the first time to question the values and duty that John had drilled into them. Sam started to become afraid of himself while Dean became determined to save him even from himself. Sam ultimately stayed true to himself and died for it, and Dean, unable to live with Sam gone, sacrificed himself to get his brother back.


Season three brought another new dynamic, with Sam feeling the anticipatory guilt and fear of losing his brother while Dean initially refused even to think about what he would face. As the season progressed, Dean finally admitted his fear and gave up all his secrets while Sam hoarded more, hardening himself to do whatever it took to save his brother or, failing that, to fight on alone. Their journey of self-discovery opened their eyes to still more things they hadn’t realized about themselves and each other, right up until the moment when time ran out, Sam knew he had failed, and Dean tried to absolve Sam of guilt and cling to his courage even as he died.


Season four has to see another change. Whenever and however Dean returns, Sam will still have to deal with having seen him die horribly and knowing that he’d been in Hell. Sam will have been alone for however long living with that knowledge, loss, rage, and grief: he’s not going to be the same man he was the last time he locked eyes with his brother. Even if he successfully avoids the specific path he saw himself treading in Mystery Spot, he’s going to be older, harder, more independent, and more broken in his most secret self. Dean will have suffered the tortures of Hell, to be scarred in spirit even if not in body. While he doesn’t remember them, he’ll be tormented by not knowing, and once he does remember, how will he deal with having given himself to the unendurable? They are both going to be different, and will have to learn each other all over again.


I, for one, don’t doubt for a moment that they will succeed, and that the two of them fighting just to be brothers again will be the heart and soul of season four. Learning more about Lilith and Ruby will just be gilding the lily. Having both Bobby and Rufus along for the trip (and maybe, please, Ellen?) will be as satisfying as combining chocolate and scotch.


The question of Sam and what, if anything, he may have done with his powers while Dean was gone is likely to be the other big unknown. Even if Sam hasn’t pursued knowledge of his powers while Dean was gone, that’s not to say that his unconscious triggers will have all been dormant. The only times we’ve seen Sam access his non-vision abilities have been in circumstances where a mortal threat to Dean caused a breakthrough when all he was thinking boiled down to Dean and No. When last we saw Sam, he seemed too overwhelmed by the brutal loss of Dean even to realize consciously that something had happened to save him from Lilith. We don’t know how many of those unconscious triggers may have tripped, or the extent to which Sam realizes that they’ve been turned on. He could honestly say that he hasn’t done anything, while unconsciously maintaining heaven only knows what. His psychic gifts are inexplicable to Dean, but whether Dean could refuse to acknowledge seeing them when they are right in front of him is another matter that only the upcoming season may be able to resolve.


So that’s my speculative take on aspects of the ongoing mythology and how they may play out. As I said at the start, I expect that I’m probably wrong … but this professor is just as glued to the seat waiting for the new season to start and to provide answers as any student in Supernatural University!


Think, ruminate, and share. Class dismissed.


Tags: christopher lennertz, dean winchester, eric kripke, meta, myth, sam winchester, spoilers, supernatural, supernatural university

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