Anna hears angels.
Protecting her, Sam tells Dean
What he did alone.
Anna Milton, a girl confined to a mental institution after a hysterical episode, said that she had been trying to warn everyone about the demon Lilith breaking seals to free Lucifer and bring on the apocalypse. She told her therapist that she could hear angels talking about the war, and that since Lilith needed to break only 66 of the over 600 seals holding Lucifer bound, it was nearly impossible to stop her, so the angels were losing and all of us would die. That night, when the orderly delivered her medications, Anna retreated from him in fear, asking what had happened to his face, and the orderly’s eyes flashed demon-black. Anna used telekinetic ability to hurl a cabinet into the orderly, knocking him out against the door, and escaped.
Far away, Sam’s drunken act while hustling pool for cash evaporated when he saw Ruby sitting at the bar. Dean wanted nothing to do with her, but Ruby passed on the information that demons, including some very powerful ones, were hunting escaped mental patient Anna Milton and that there had to be something special about her, because the orders were to take her alive. Sam insisted on following Ruby’s lead, leading to an argument in the car with Dean, who protested his inability to understand why Sam would trust Ruby so much. Sam said flatly that Ruby had helped him go after Lilith, and when Dean pressed for more details, Sam shot back that they should trade stories, with Dean going first to tell him what happened in Hell. That effectively killed the conversation.
As they rode in silence, however, Sam flashed back to what had happened just after Dean had died and Sam had buried him, when he had gone desperate with grief and stinking drunk to a crossroads and tried to make a deal to trade places with Dean. The latest crossroads demon, inhabiting a man this time, had adamantly refused to deal even when Sam pinned his hand with the demon-killing knife, telling Sam that the demons didn’t care about his soul, and that they had everything exactly the way they wanted it to be, with Dean in Hell. He taunted Sam with his own readiness to die, and Sam had evidently obliged him.
At the mental hospital, the brothers learned about Anna’s fear of demons and the apocalypse and saw from her sketchpad evidence that she knew the truth, because along with images of stained glass windows, she had drawn the rising of the witnesses and the summoning of Samhain, the two broken seals that the boys knew about. They visited the home where she lived with her parents, only to discover both of them dead, their throats slit, and evidence of demons in the traces of sulfur on the floor. Seeing a photo of the family in front of their church, Sam recognized the stained glass windows from her sketchbook, and guessed that the church would have symbolized safety for her. They found her hiding in the attic of the church. She recognized their names and told them that the angels talked about them all the time, that some thought Dean could help save them and that some didn’t like Sam at all. She reported that she’d started hearing them on September 18th, the day Dean got out of Hell, and that the very first thing she had heard was a voice proclaiming, “Dean Winchester is saved.” The brothers realized that the demons wanted her in order to be able to listen in on the angels’ plans for the war.
On the heels of that realization, Ruby arrived with word that a major demon had followed them from the girl’s house. Anna saw the demon behind Ruby’s face, but Sam reassured her that Ruby was there to help, despite Dean’s doubts. A statue of the Virgin Mary began to weep blood, and Ruby realized that it was too late for them to escape; that the demon had arrived. Sam hid Anna in a closet and reached for his holy water, but Ruby insisted that he had to pull this demon immediately with his mind, because it was too powerful for anything else, and her vehemence silenced Dean’s protest. The door burst open and an urbane man walked in, and Sam exerted his abilities – but the man, whose eyes flashed Lilith-white, shrugged off Sam’s power, grabbed him telekinetically, and threw him back down the stairs. Dean attacked with the knife, but the demon blocked him, broke his grip on the hilt, and began to beat him brutally, taunting him with Dean’s failure to recognize him after they’d been so close in Hell. While the fight was going on, Ruby spirited Anna out of the closet and away. Dean recognized the demon and named him Alastair, and the demon kept hitting him. Sam used the demon’s absorption with Dean to grab the fallen knife and plant it in the demon’s heart, but the knife, although it obviously caused him pain, didn’t kill the demon, who simply laughed that they’d have to do better and fumbled to pull it out. With the demon between them and the stairs, the brothers dove out a window and escaped.
While they patched themselves up in their motel room after the fight, with Sam maintaining that Ruby would keep Anna safe and get in touch with them, Dean earnestly asked Sam to explain why he trusted Ruby so much, and Sam said that she had saved his life. He shared his memory of returning to his hotel room after failing to make the deal and discovering two demons waiting there for him. One of them was Ruby, wearing a new host, who relieved him of the knife and said that Lilith had given her one more chance to redeem herself and get back in Lilith’s good graces by finding and killing Sam. When she swung the knife, however, she killed her demon partner instead, and then forced Sam to leave. Not having wanted to be saved, Sam dismissed her help, and when she admitted that she couldn’t help him save Dean, he told her to free the innocent secretary she was using as a host, or he would exorcise her and send her back to Hell.
Not long after, Ruby appeared again, but this time in the body of a Jane Doe coma patient who momentarily died after being taken off life support and before Ruby moved in to the soulless shell. Ruby told Sam that she couldn’t help Dean, but could give Sam something else he wanted: Lilith. He agreed, and she started teaching him how to use his powers to pull demons out of hosts, although his first attempts didn’t work well and doing it took great effort and cost him pain. In the aftermath of his first failures, Ruby seduced him, connecting through angry sex. When he tracked omens that indicated Lilith was in town, he went after her despite Ruby’s protests that he wasn’t ready, hoping to die fighting, and found himself caught in a trap that Lilith had laid. Only Ruby’s timely appearance saved his life and let him save the little girl who had been held as a pawn, and he in turn managed to save Ruby by successfully pulling a demon with his mind for the first time. He admitted to Dean that Ruby had come back for him and saved him, and that she had gotten through to him and pulled him out of his self-destructive spiral of vengeance and booze by saying the things that Dean would have said.
Sam’s walk down memory lane was interrupted by the arrival of a maid who insisted on bringing them fresh towels, and who turned out to be yet another vessel for Ruby, who had taken her over temporarily in order to warn the brothers that there were demons outside and that they needed to leave by the bathroom window, not take the car, and meet her and Anna at the cabin where she’d taken Anna for safety. They followed her instructions and found them in the cabin. Dean awkwardly tried to apologize to and thank Ruby for saving Sam, despite still not trusting her. Sam regretfully had to tell Anna that her parents were dead, and then Anna stiffened, saying that they were coming. Hiding Anna in the back room, the boys and Ruby faced the door – and found themselves confronting Castiel and Uriel, who said that they’d come for Anna, and that she had to die.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
It’s always hard to judge a two-part episode on the basis of its first part alone, because the opener always suffers from having to set things up for a resolution that won’t happen until part two. That’s further complicated when the structure of the story is built around flashbacks. That said, however, I was glued to the edge of my seat and couldn’t believe how quickly the hour sped by, and I can’t wait for part two. In this commentary, I look at the brothers’ relationship in light of Sam’s reaction to losing Dean; explore Ruby’s new approach to dealing with Sam and the development of his powers; and speculate on the nature of Anna.
Round And Round The Winchesters Go …
We finally got what we’ve all been waiting for: a glimpse at what happened to Sam in the days following Dean’s death. We’d seen one possible course Sam might have pursued back in Mystery Spot, when he had locked his emotions away and become robotic in his pursuit of the Trickster. Now we finally got to see his reaction to the immediacy of Dean’s loss, and it wasn’t pretty.
I’m going to start this by pointing out that even in Mystery Spot, we didn’t see Sam in the immediate aftermath of Dean’s death. We saw Sam broken and sobbing, holding Dean’s body, and then took a jump three months into his future to see robotic Sam driving the Impala and hunting on automatic. We skipped all of Sam’s initial adjustment to losing his brother, and thus don’t know how he reacted then, up until he recovered enough to become the automaton killer version of himself pursuing his revenge and killing anything else he encountered along the way.
This time, we got to see the first part of Sam’s grieving, starting just after Sam had buried Dean, and learned that Sam hit rock bottom pretty much the same way Dean had when Sam died. Sam drank himself blind and went looking for a deal, but his quest was in a way even more desperate than Dean’s. Instead of just wishing Dean back to be with him again, Sam wished to trade places with him, to immediately take his brother’s place in Hell. Sam didn’t want to live at all.
I do find it significant that this is the one and only part of his flashbacks that Sam chose not to share with Dean. He had told Dean and Bobby back in Lazarus Rising that he had tried to make a deal and failed – but he still hasn’t shared the nature of that deal, and let anyone know that he had tried to swap fates with Dean.
What he did share about his initial reunion and subsequent partnering with Ruby hit Dean hard, because it told Dean that he’d been wrong in thinking that Sam was stronger than he was, that Sam wouldn’t be as hurt by losing his brother as Dean had been. Dean had said it more than once during season three – that Sam was stronger than he was, that Sam would be okay after he died, that Sam would get on with his life. Dean used that mantra constantly to persuade himself that his decision wouldn’t irrevocably scar Sam, and to reassure himself that Sam would be all right after he was dead. I think that Dean’s perceptions had been set by Sam’s decision to leave and go to college, because he believed that decision demonstrated that Sam didn’t need him the way Dean always needed Sam. What Dean failed to realize back then, however, was that even after Sam had left, he still knew that Dean was there, and would have been with him in a heartbeat had he called. Dean being dead and on the spit in Hell was a totally different thing in Sam’s eyes, and I don’t think that Dean appreciated that until now. Discovering that he had misread Sam’s emotions so thoroughly was a shock and a grief, but one long overdue.
Sam’s tale went even darker than Dean’s had precisely because Dean had succeeded in making a deal, in getting his brother back despite the price, while Sam was left alone with a dead brother and nothing he could do. Where Dean in season three had the joy and satisfaction of seeing Sam alive again to offset the knowledge of his own approaching damnation, Sam had nothing but his grief, his loneliness, and his guilt, knowing that he had failed and Dean died and suffered as a result. Sam couldn’t bring himself to commit suicide, but he could go out recklessly looking to die, and he did. He did it not only in going to the crossroads, but when he insisted on going after Lilith, fully a month after Dean had died. I think there’s no question that Dean would have followed the same course, had he failed to make the deal and get Sam back.
That Sam failed to get himself killed really was entirely Ruby’s doing. That he stopped trying to get himself killed after the abortive attempt on Lilith was also Ruby’s doing, simply because she had realized that the only way to get through to him was to use Dean, to make him hear Dean taking him to task for trying to throw his life and with it, Dean’s sacrifice, away. Sam still needed Dean, and it wasn’t until Ruby could reflect Dean for him that she succeeded in reaching him. I would guess that it was having this much of Dean still in his mind’s eye that kept Sam more functional and human than we had seen him in Mystery Spot.
What’s Wrong?! Where Do I Start?
Any discussion of what happened to Sam in the time after Dean died has to look as well at Ruby, because she played such an essential role. I’m going to say up front that I still do not trust Ruby, because everything she’s done, she’s done for her own purpose and in pursuit of her own agenda, and apart from knowing that she wants Lilith dead, her agenda remains unknown. I accept Ruby in the spirit of the old saying that the enemy of my enemy is my friend – but that doesn’t mean I trust her. I’m still voting with Dean in that regard.
What we learned about Ruby from Sam’s flashbacks was fascinating. When Ruby first reappeared in the body of the blonde secretary, she was the same Ruby we’d seen throughout season three: snarky, self-assured, dismissive, arrogant. That changed, however, when Sam threw her out upon learning that she couldn’t help him save Dean. When he challenged her to tell him what host she had inhabited and threatened to exorcise her and send her back to Hell if she didn’t let the woman go, Ruby realized that she had to change tactics if she still wanted to hone Sam into her weapon. The first step was finding a host that Sam could accept. In the episode, it all happened very conveniently that the comatose Jane Doe was taken off life support and expired just in time for Ruby to inhabit her, but I suspect that Ruby had to hunt for that opportunity for a while, and we just didn’t see it.
It wasn’t just the recycled, 100% socially conscious host body that made a difference, however; it was Ruby’s whole attitude. When she came back, she’d obviously thought through her previous failure and reevaluated the importance of Dean to Sam’s life. Everything she did, from presenting the advantage of working with her as giving Sam a shot at Lilith to making reference to Sam having lost Dean to seducing Sam to finally connecting with him by saying the exact things that Dean would have said, were all tailored precisely to make Sam work to survive and to become the weapon against Lilith.
I noted in my commentary on Lazarus Rising that Ruby was very different this season than last, and wondered how much was due to her being played by a different actress and how much to Ruby having changed her own approach deliberately in order to have Sam accept and work with her. Judging from these flashbacks, what we’re seeing is the result of Ruby’s very deliberate and conscious change. Given how much Sam loved, admired, missed, and needed his brother, Ruby’s earlier dismissive and insulting attitudes about Dean were obvious non-starters if she wanted to be able to stay close to Sam. So, Ruby adjusted.
Her seduction of Sam struck me as another deliberate, calculated move to involve him in living and forge another tie between them. Sam didn’t love her and didn’t want her, and was repelled at the idea of sex with a demon – but sex is also the body’s affirmation of life, something he needed and something she wanted. There was no love in that joining, but a great deal of anger and passion and desperation – and that was another link to life, no matter how negative. At the moment he took her, I suspect that the sex was fully as much another statement of Sam’s self-loathing and wish to die as going to the crossroads had been; I think he did it precisely because it was wrong, because it was of a piece with everything else that was wrong, and it fit his hate-filled, self-destructive mood. That may have changed later as he accepted living again because life was what Dean would have wanted for him, and as he increasingly accepted that he could trust Ruby, at least with mission-related things – but I still don’t see Sam as being entirely comfortable with the idea of being that emotionally naked with anyone any more. I would bet that one of his considerations, albeit one he’s never admitted, is that having sex with Ruby at least doesn’t endanger anyone else, given what happened with Jess and with Madison.
Perhaps the most curious and as-yet-unexplained thing about Ruby’s decision and her resulting position as Sam’s tutor is how long it has taken Sam to master his powers. When Ruby first pitched him learning them in No Rest For The Wicked, with the idea of taking on and destroying Lilith to save Dean, there were only hours before Dean’s deal would have come due, and Ruby maintained that he could learn in time. Either she was lying then, or something unexpected happened in the development of Sam’s powers. Ava and Jake had both talked about the powers coming very quickly once you gave in to them. Perhaps it’s simply that Sam hasn’t given in to them – that he’s actively trying to control them without yielding himself to them – but it took him over a month to learn just to be able to exorcise a typical black-eyed demon, and while he managed to take out Samhain, albeit with great effort and pain, he didn’t have the psychic muscles to take out Alastair. At least, not yet. This hasn’t been the “flipping the switch” experience described by Ava and Jake. Instead, it’s been analogous to weight training, to doing exercise to build up strength and endurance. The suggestion is that Sam couldn’t take on Alastair or Lilith right now, but could work up to it – but if that’s the case, then why was Lilith so afraid of him when he survived her attempt to kill him just after Dean died? Was it the sheer surprise of his survival, combined with the knowledge of his potential – and if so, is Lilith still afraid of him now, or has she realized that she still has time in which to kill him before he’d graduate to her weight class? Or was it possible that the extremity of the situation – watching Dean dying – might have let Sam tap into the full spectrum of his powers unconsciously even though they remained beyond his conscious effort, rather like people accessing hysterical strength to perform impossible physical feats under great stress? And why is Sam – according to Ruby – the only one with the potential ability to kill Lilith?
So far, only Kripke and his writers know for sure.
She Has To Die.
Anna is a fascinating character and I look forward to seeing what will happen with her. That said, however, I also believe that Anna isn’t as innocent as she seems. I have two reasons. The first is simply that the only other human we’ve ever met who could see the true face of a demon inhabiting a host was Dean in No Rest For The Wicked, during the last few hours before he died. As Bobby succinctly put it, You’re almost Hell’s bitch, so you can see Hell’s other bitches. That makes me wonder whether Anna, too, is almost Hell’s bitch. Did she make a deal for something, as Dean did, or do something else – something evil – that brought her partway into Hell? Is that why the angels seem so committed to killing her, rather than protecting or helping her?
The second reason is the telekinetic power she displayed, which she used to slam the chest of drawers into the demon-possessed orderly in the mental institution. For one flashing instant, I wondered if she might not have been another of Azazel’s special children, like Sam. We know that Sam was the only survivor of Azazel’s little Hell’s Idol competition – but we don’t know whether Sam is the only person left with demon-endowed powers. There may have been demonic players other than Azazel who tainted humans, or the powers may have come in response to a wish or a deal, whether at a crossroads or through even unwitting contact with a witch or a demon. But every suggestion we’ve seen so far has been that such powers come with darkness attached, because so far in the show, we’ve seen them only from demons, ghosts, and other dark influences. Admittedly, we’ve only met angels for the first time this season as well, so it’s possible that there are good people with these kinds of gifts, but we haven’t seen the evidence yet.
The timing of Anna’s breakdown with the advent of her abilities was very curious. We were told that she had been a happy, well adjusted journalism major with friends and a solid future right up until the day that Dean got out of Hell. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that the first thing she heard was the declaration that Dean was saved. She didn’t hear the planning behind getting him out of Hell; only that it had happened. In short, she didn’t get tuned in until after the angels had taken their first surprise action – rescuing Dean – in their war against the demons, and the first thing she heard was the angels’ success report.
I’m wondering if Anna may have meant to do something good and suffered an unintended consequence. We know that she came from a religious family, since her father was a church deacon. I wonder whether she might not have prayed for grace and been overheard by an opportunistic demon who interpreted her prayer as the offer of a deal. We know that good people can be misled by what they believe into seeing a virtue that isn’t there: witness poor Father Gregory in Houses of the Holy. We also know that demons can do things through deals that they couldn’t do on their own: witness Azazel thanking Dean in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2 for having made his deal, because demons couldn’t resurrect people unless a deal was made, meaning that Azazel couldn’t have brought Sam back of his own desire.
What if demons couldn’t hear and understand angels, or make other people hear and understand angels, unless that ability had been made the subject of a deal? What if Anna had done something that left her open to a deal, even if she, like the suburban witches in Malleus Maleficarum, hadn’t realized what she had done at the time?
Whatever the case may be, we know the boys will fight for anyone they perceive as an innocent, even if it means taking on angels. And with their own history of falling to temptation, we know they’ll also fight for redemption on behalf of another fallen soul. I do wonder how they’ll get out of facing off against the angels, however, given both their beliefs and their lack of both offensive and defensive weaponry. Was Dean’s authority over the angels temporary and strictly confined to the test they conducted in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester, or might he be able to issue a direct order that they would still have to obey? Or might he take a page from the Bible and call for the chance to save a soul?
Sera Gamble’s name on a script is a guarantee that one or both of the Winchester brothers will be put through an emotional wringer, and she didn’t disappoint with this one. This wasn’t her smoothest script, but I think the largest part of that was its placement as the first half of a longer story. The flashbacks integrated into the current story beautifully. I really enjoyed the little gifts that she gave the fans, including the pool hustling scene in the beginning – and having Sam being the one leading the hustle showed not only how much he’s changed since he used to chide Dean back in season one for hustling for money, but how well he and Dean have reintegrated as a team, accepting Sam’s ability to take the lead and fend for himself – and the scene of the boys patching themselves up after the fight.
Charles Beeson brought some very nice moments into his direction, particularly the crane shot of Sam alone and desperate at the crossroads, with its deliberate echo of the similar shot in Lazarus Rising depicting Dean amidst the devastation around his grave. The long silent scene between the boys in the car after Sam’s first flashback was sad magic. I also loved the view from outside the church with the silhouettes of the boys appearing through the church window as they climbed the stairs to Anna’s hiding place. I’ll confess, I would have liked a shot establishing the location of the window that the boys wound up jumping through; it obviously wasn’t one of the two front church windows, and that was a good thing, because I would have had trouble accepting that they managed to walk away from a fall like that onto concrete steps! Hmm, the rear window must have been closer to the ground … I did love the stunt itself, and that the boys were allowed to do it themselves, without stunt doubles.
Beeson likes to use unusual perspective in his shots, and is particularly fond of either shooting up from the ground or shooting down from a height. Good examples this time around included the opening shot up through the tree at the mental institution windows (a new perspective of Riverview, a place we’ve seen often before); the shot of the pool table from behind Dean; the bar shot from the ground up featuring the horses above and behind the bar; the extreme crane shot at the crossroads; the shot from Anna’s viewpoint through the stained glass panel of the boys entering the room where she was hiding; the traveling shot of Sam being pulled through the air and flung down the stairs; the shots down from the ceiling during the demon attack in Sam’s hotel room and of Sam’s practice hideaway; and the shot from above and behind the maid looking down at seated Sam. The angles on all those shots were just plain fun. He also employed more than the show’s usual two cameras to capture the big stunt of the boys diving through the church window; I counted four, three outside and one inside, assuming I counted right.
Jared Padalecki owned this episode. From his amusingly competent drunken Sam act in the pool hustling scene to his depiction of Sam’s genuine, desperate, suicidal drunkenness in the days after Dean died, he delivered a searing performance. Sam’s grief, despair, and bitter self-loathing were palpable, and they carried over into the angry sex scene with Ruby. His initial reluctance to open up to Dean, followed by his decision to hold nothing back, came across beautifully.
Watching Dean watching Sam was made painful by Jensen Ackles’s skill. Dean’s pain at seeing Sam stitching himself up seemed to me to be part of his realization about how alone Sam had been after his death, and when he asked earnestly to know why Sam trusted Ruby so much, making clear that he wasn’t picking a fight but just wanted to understand, he seemed aware that he was asking to be hurt. Learning how destroyed Sam had been by his death was fresh grief.
At the same time, both boys still managed to bring the funny. Dean’s awkward attempt to apologize to Ruby and thank her – which he never quite managed to do – was hilarious, as was his line making sure that Ruby understood he wasn’t the one to have lost the knife. Sam’s pool hustle was a treat, his amusement at Dean’s failed apology to Ruby was sweet, and faking out Dean on the count to putting his shoulder back was brotherhood at its very best.
I liked Genevieve Cortese as Ruby better in this outing than I had before. Part of that was simply that she had more to work with, but the bigger part, I think, was due to learning through the script that the major changes in Ruby’s character between season three and now were deliberate choices that Ruby had made in order to manipulate Sam more effectively. Ruby had seemed too passive this season for the character we’d met before; now we know that she took on the coloration she needed to in order to get Sam to accept her and work with her. Having her behavior make sense now means I’ll need to go back and watch the earlier episodes with that in mind.
Julie McNiven did an ethereally beautiful job as Anna, projecting innocence, conviction, and confusion in equal measure. I loved the unusual way her eyes caught the lights in the church, seeming full of light themselves. Her sense of difference, or being something unusual, carried through every scene. Her reactions were never quite mainline human, reinforcing the impression that there was something unusual about her. Mark Rolston was creepily urbane as Alastair (I loved the Don’t you recognize me? Oh, I forgot, I’m wearing a pediatrician. line), and I can’t wait to learn more about the role he played during Dean’s time in Hell. Dean will have to share his story now, if only to help arm Sam against Alastair.
In a two-parter, part one is often the weaker of the two. If that’s the case here, I pity us all, because this tale was hardly weak – and part two comes on Thursday night.