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23 March 2009 @ 07:13 pm
4.16 On The Head Of A Pin: There’s No Going Back  
4.16 On The Head Of A Pin: There’s No Going Back

Facing Alastair,
Dean learns what he cannot bear:
He broke the first Seal.

Episode Summary

Castiel arrived at a destroyed parking lot, evidently the site of an epic duel, to discover the body of a woman stabbed through the upper chest, surrounded by smashed and flipped cars; a murdered angel, with the shadow image of her wings burned into the pavement around her.

In the aftermath of Pamela’s funeral, Dean’s emotional exhaustion left him apathetic about Sam’s plan to rendezvous with Ruby outside Cheyenne, Wyoming, to pick up leads on Lilith. Sam urged him to get angry rather than depressed, but when they walked into their motel room to find Uriel and Castiel waiting for them, Dean’s livid anger at being expected to help yet again prompted Sam to try placating both sides. Uriel, clearly in command, said that seven angels had been murdered and that Alastair had resisted all attempts to get him to identify the demon responsible, so the angels wanted Dean to use the torturing skills he’d learned from Alastair in Hell to force the information from him. Dean refused, but Uriel said that they weren’t asking – and Dean and the angels vanished, leaving Sam raging, worried, and alone.

In an old meat processing plant, Dean found Alastair chained to a Star of David within an old Enochian devil’s trap that Castiel assured him rendered Alastair completely bound. Dean insisted on talking to Castiel alone, and Castiel admitted that Uriel was now in charge because their supervisors felt that Castiel was identifying too closely with Dean, weakening himself with emotion and doubt. Afraid of becoming again what he had become in Hell, Dean warned that if Castiel asked him to go through that door, he wouldn’t like what came back out, but Castiel reluctantly maintained that it was necessary. Shoulders slumped, Dean gave in, and rolled a cart of his chosen instruments of torture into the room.

Seeing Dean brought to torture him, Alastair was amused and taunted him, first mocking him for not wanting to torture him, for being scared. When Dean smiled and responded that he was here, Alastair shot back that he wasn’t, not really; that he’d left part of himself back in Hell, and Alastair wondered if he could reunite the two pieces of Dean. Still trying to get a rise out of Dean, Alastair prodded that he had to want to get some of his own back for all the things Alastair had done to him in Hell. When he still didn’t react, Alastair found his lever by mentioning instead all the things he’d done to John.

Meanwhile, Sam called on Ruby to use her abilities to find Dean, and told her that the problem with the angels’ plan was that Dean wouldn’t be able to do it; that something had happened to him during his time in Hell and he wasn’t what he used to be, he wasn’t strong enough. When Ruby archly inquired if Sam thought that he was, Sam pledged that he would be.

Alastair delighted in telling Dean that he had tortured John for nearly a century in Hell time, and that John had made quite a name for himself because, despite being offered the same deal that Alastair had offered Dean – agree to torture others, and be taken off the rack – John, unlike Dean, had never yielded; Alasdair had never been able to break him. Alasdair said that he hadn’t been pleased to be given Dean, because he thought he’d be up against it again – and then taunted that Daddy’s little girl broke in just thirty years. Watching Dean absorb his words and take a swig of booze, Alastair commiserated that Dean just wasn’t the man his Daddy had wanted him to be – and that was finally enough to push Dean into picking up his tools. Dean filled a syringe with holy water and told him that even in Hell, he could dream, and what he had dreamed about was torturing his tormentor. Between screams, Alastair continued to needle Dean.

Ruby used a spell to burn away all of a map except the piece showing where the angels were keeping Dean, observing that it was a good thing that the angels weren’t accustomed to being spied on. With the map fragment showing Dean’s location, Sam told Ruby that it had been weeks, and he needed it; when she said that he didn’t seem too happy about it, Sam protested that it was the last thing he wanted to do, but that he needed to be strong enough. Ruby assured him that he could have it, then cut her arm and stroked his head, smiling as he drank her blood.

Dean brought out Ruby’s knife, baptizing it in holy water before sticking it in with dead eyes and turning it with the beginnings of pleasure. Alastair, despite agony, gloated that he had carved Dean into a new animal in Hell and that there was no going back, but Dean observed that it was his turn to carve. Absorbed in his work, he didn’t notice a valve turning, seemingly on its own, and one of the many pipes overhead starting to drip water onto the outline of the devil’s trap, slowly washing it away and breaking the integrity of the trap.

Castiel, listening uncomfortably to Alastair’s screams, saw a light explode with the flutter of nearby angel wings, and greeted Anna, now a full angel again, but wearing a reconstituted version of her destroyed human body rather than inhabiting a human host. Anna tried to persuade him that he knew his orders were wrong and were not from God, and that he should stop Dean before Dean – whom she called the one true weapon Castiel had – was ruined by what he was being forced to do. She told him that what he was feeling was doubt. She tried to persuade him to work with her, but he refused to listen because she had fallen, and he maintained that he was nothing like her. He ordered her to leave.

Alastair, meanwhile, continued to taunt Dean, observing that torture on Earth was so much more limited than the variety of torture in Hell. Dean shut him up momentarily by pouring salt down his throat, its purity reacting like acid, but when he was able to speak again, Alastair played his trump card, reciting prophecy that a righteous man shedding blood in Hell would open the first Seal, and telling Dean that when he broke, he was the one who broke the Seal that opened the way for the demons to unleash Armageddon. After a moment of attempted denial, Dean turned away, processing the bitter truth, and Alastair realized that the dripping water had broken the devil’s trap and freed him. Dean resolved that even if the demons won, Alastair wouldn’t be around to see it, and turned back to try finishing him, only to discover Alastair free. Continuing to taunt him, Alastair beat Dean nearly to death, prevented at the last moment only by Castiel attacking with the demon-killing knife.

Castiel missed his heart-blow and wound up in a brawl. Alastair got the upper hand and observed that it was too bad that he didn’t know how to kill angels, and could only send them back to Heaven. He started the incantation to dismiss Castiel, but was interrupted in mid-word and flung against the wall, and found himself facing Sam. Sam proceeded to demonstrate just how much stronger he was by holding Alastair pinned to the wall with his mind, and pulling from him the tortured admission that Alastair didn’t know who was killing angels or how angels could be killed. Alastair finally snarled that Lilith wasn’t behind it because if she could kill angels, she wouldn’t have stopped at seven, but would have killed hundreds or thousands. Alastair gloated that Sam should send him back to Hell if he could, but Sam said that he was stronger than that now; that now, he could kill. As Castiel looked on in shock and fear, he proceeded to do just that, burning the demon out of the host with his mind.

Later, holding vigil by Dean’s bedside in the hospital, Sam demanded that Castiel perform a miracle and heal Dean. When Castiel said that he couldn’t, Sam made him realize that the whole exercise of forcing Dean to turn torturer again had been pointless because the demons weren’t the ones killing angels. Adrift, Castiel met with Uriel, who told him that their superiors wanted them to stop hunting the demon responsible and maintained that there was something wrong in Heaven. Castiel speculated that, since all the angel deaths had been in their garrison, perhaps they were being punished because they were failing in the war, and perhaps God wasn’t giving the orders. Later, Castiel sought out Anna, begging her to tell him what to do, but she told him that he had to make his own decisions and choose his own course of action. Forced to think, Castiel realized that only another angel could have tampered with his devil’s trap and confronted Uriel, his brother in arms. Uriel revealed that his sympathies lay with Lucifer, their exiled angelic brother, and maintained that God had stopped being a God and father to the angels when he had made humans his preferred children. He said that Alastair shouldn’t have been taken alive, and that he had intended that Alastair would kill Dean and escape. Revealing that only an angel could kill another angel, he admitted to killing the angels in the garrison who wouldn’t join him in trying to free Lucifer, and asked Castiel to join him. Castiel at last found his certainty again and refused, attacking Uriel. He wasn’t strong enough to defeat his brother, however, and only Anna’s timely arrival saved him, as she killed Uriel with his own weapon.

In the aftermath, Dean, conscious but still bedridden and weak, asked Castiel if he had been the one who broke the first Seal, and Castiel reluctantly admitted that was true. He said that when the angels learned of Lilith’s plans for Dean, they had laid siege to Hell, but hadn’t reached him in time. Telling Dean that it was only fate that fell on him, not blame, Castiel also spoke the rest of the prophecy, explaining why the angels hadn’t left him there: that the righteous man who broke the first Seal was the only one who could end it. Crushed beneath responsibility and his own perceived weakness, Dean protested that he couldn’t do it, that he wasn’t strong enough, and that Castiel needed to find someone else.

Commentary and Meta Analysis

Supernatural has taken on major topics and issues throughout its run, but I think that On The Head Of A Pin ranks as the single most huge, most ambitious episode of the entire series to date. There’s too much here for a single meta, and not enough time before the next episode for multiple ones; I find myself as daunted by the task and inadequate to the challenge as Dean. It’s too big.

But I too have responsibilities, albeit ones I’ve accepted voluntarily rather than had thrust upon me, so I’ll attempt to address angels, demons, brothers, and agents of fate.

There Is No God

Uriel’s defection and the indication that other angels from Castiel’s garrison had joined him ups the complexity on a plot already laced with it. We now realize that this isn’t simply a war between good and evil, Heaven and Hell – it’s a war where the sides themselves have become confused and commingled, where angels can lose faith, willfully deny God, and pursue the same goal as demons, and demons can profess faith, accept self-sacrifice, and even contemplate following a human leader. And yet, I would submit there’s no other way it could be, given that the fall of an angel provided the leader for Hell. The lines were blurred from the very start.

We started learning Supernatural’s take on this in season three with the dialogue between Casey and Dean in the cellar in Sin City. Casey repeated the story of the angel Lucifer’s rebellion against God, saying that their legends said Lucifer had made demons what they were. Casey admitted that no one she knew had seen Lucifer, but said that she believed in him; she professed faith in Lucifer as Dean couldn’t quite profess faith in God, despite his growing desire that there be some higher power he could believe in. Casey said that she’d been ready to follow Sam, Azazel’s human chosen, in whatever orders he would have given. And when her lover arrived and would have killed Dean out of hand, Casey tried to persuade him otherwise; she advocated that Dean be left alive, defying the norms of demon behavior.

Other demons showed themselves ready and willing to die for the cause, marking a departure from the selfishness and self-centeredness we generally associate with evil. Take the male crossroads demon who answered Sam’s summons in I Know What You Did Last Summer, for example: You want to kill me? Go ahead. I’ve made peace with my lord. He took satisfaction from knowing that everything was going as the demons had planned – and now we, too, finally understand why Dean being in Hell was exactly where Lilith wanted him, and why she had no interest in trading him for Sam.

Things took another step along this convoluted path of motive when we learned from Tammi and Ruby in Malleus Maleficarum that most if not all demons had once been human, and had lost their humanity through torment in Hell. Rather than being pure evil by nature, then, demons became evil first by the choices they made in their human lives that took them to Hell, and then by forgetting their humanity in the torment of the Pit. In effect, they were as dual-natured as Lucifer and the angels who initially fell with him to become the first denizens in Hell, traveling from good to evil by way of pride and disobedience. By choice.

I noted in my review of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester the parallels between Uriel’s dismissive and resentful attitude toward humans and the pride that led Lucifer to disobey God by refusing to bow to humans. Having Uriel reveal to Castiel his desire to raise Lucifer, the strong and beautiful brother they both remembered, was less a surprise than a seeming inevitability. We’d heard from Anna in Heaven and Hell that only four angels had ever seen God, and that she, Castiel, and others had been assigned simply to watch Earth for thousands of years with no new orders and no real understanding of their mission for all that time. It’s little wonder that Uriel, who increasingly resented both humans and his seemingly senseless orders, came to agree with Lucifer and accepted a new mission to try converting other angels to his view with the goal of raising Lucifer again. And when his disobedience – even to the point of killing angels whom he could not convert – drew no killing wrath from Heaven, it’s no wonder either that Uriel came to dismiss the very existence of God. God had punished Lucifer for less; in Uriel’s eyes, the lack of punishment argued a lack of God.

Given what Uriel told Castiel about only an angel being able to kill an angel, it would appear that Uriel and his rebel angels caused the deaths of the six angels Castiel reported as having fallen in battle in Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean Winchester. It’s unclear whether those six and the female shown at the beginning of this episode constituted the seven murdered angels that provided the excuse Uriel needed to set Dean up to be killed, or whether the seven murdered angels were in addition to the earlier mentioned six, but either way it begs the question how many angels were in Castiel’s garrison, and of that total, how many joined Uriel’s cause and thus were spared. Castiel himself does not know any longer whom among the angel host he can trust, and who will be working to advance the demons’ cause, at least insofar as it leads to Lucifer being freed.

You Can’t Win, Uriel: I Still Serve God

Castiel’s personal crisis of faith in this episode, beginning when he started doubting the righteousness of his orders concerning forcing Dean to torture information from Alastair, actually carried over from the doubts he had begun to express about his mission back in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester, when he admitted to Dean that he didn’t know what was right or wrong any more and that he had prayed that Dean would choose to save the town. Even then, Castiel reflected his belief in God as a benevolent father/creator, and reveled in the variety and beauty of His creation.

Castiel’s attitude was a marked contrast not only to brooding, surly Uriel, but to angry, bitter Anna. Castiel didn’t blame God for his own disquiet; he tried to find understanding within himself for the disconnects between his feelings and his orders.

His conversations with both Anna and Uriel have now led him to consider whether whoever is giving orders to the hosts of Heaven is actually conveying the will of God, or is serving either an imperfect understanding in the absence of direct orders, or even a deliberate perversion of God’s command in pursuit of other goals, such as the raising of Lucifer. In the end, he chose neither Uriel’s disbelief and deliberate flouting of orders, nor Anna’s wholesale, willful rebellion against authority and the rules that angels should remain above emotion. Castiel found his own balance in clinging to the principles of goodness, kindness, and love; in professing service to God his Father by following those precepts and using his understanding of what is right to choose the proper path. Castiel retained his faith in and love of God even while coming to doubt the rightness of those who issued his orders.

I found it interesting that since her return to full angel power, Anna was no longer disparaging of God – whom she had characterized to Dean as an absentee father back in Heaven and Hell – but instead cast her argument to Castiel in terms of the commanders in Heaven not speaking the will of God and expressing the love of the Father. I wonder whether that was entirely an attempt to appeal to Castiel’s known attitudes and beliefs, or if it reflects a new and more developed understanding on Anna’s part since the recovery of her angelic grace.

What I loved about all of these developments is the indication that angels, like humans, have free will and the ability to choose, and the suggestion that God, rather than simply issuing orders to be obeyed, is allowing all of His creation to express themselves as adults by exercising their right of choice. Under the prompting of Anna, Castiel, in moving from the certainty of always accepting orders and simply leaving the responsibility for their consequences to others, to the frightening freedom of having to assess which orders to obey and accept his own consequences, grew in this episode from a child to an adult. In doing that, he still remained true to his core principles and to what he believes: that God is his loving Father and is right, even if He is beyond Castiel’s understanding and his reach.

Given to understand the difference between right and wrong, between good and evil, Castiel found himself unafraid despite being faced with betrayal and death, and emerged stronger. He will still have doubts and be uncertain of the rightness of his choices from here on out, but I think that his faith in and love of God will always be at his core. I suspect that Castiel and Anna – together with the unnamed friends who engineered Anna being able to inhabit a restoration of the physical body she had worn as a human – will be working in hesitant partnership to uncover the true motives of whatever power is giving the orders in Heaven. I also suspect that, having discovered more kinship with humanity than they had ever believed before their separate experiences – Anna learning to be human herself, and Castiel learning about humans from a singular human and his brother – they will be less inclined to simply give orders, and more likely to fight beside the hunters and others who will be humanity’s defense against Armageddon.

It’s Not Blame That Falls On You, Dean: It’s Fate

Castiel made a musing comment in his last conversation with Uriel, when he said, Strange: strange how a leaky pipe can undo the work of angels, when we ourselves are supposed to be the agents of fate.

Angels have not been the common agents of fate in this show. Castiel admitted back in In The Beginning that, while the angels knew what Azazel had done to Sam and the other psychic children, they never knew why; they didn’t know what endgame Azazel had planned. In the Book of Revelation as we know it from the Bible, the Apocalypse is triggered by the forces of Heaven at the appointed end time, with angels going forth to break the seals binding aspects of creation and destroying most of what is. The alternate take on Revelation introduced by Supernatural involves prophecies of a premature apocalypse brought about by the forces of Hell, in which demons (and new rebel angels) breaking seals release Lucifer before the appointed time. Angels are not the instruments of fate in that alternate version of the advent of the end times, unless you count the ones like Uriel who take the demons’ side. Indeed, angels – by Castiel’s own admission – have been blind to many of the machinations of Hell, and have been reacting rather than acting, often too late to win or to save, because they have no foreknowledge of events. And for whatever reason, God is silent, perhaps watching to see the ultimate outcome of His gift of free will to the elements of His creation.

All of this, tied in with Alastair’s recounting of the prophecy that the breaking of a righteous man to shed blood in Hell would open the first Seal, brings back the question of what Azazel had intended in the first place with the games he played with his chosen children. We know that Azazel didn’t stop with Sam’s generation; he went on to sow another crop of seeds for the future, as we saw with baby Rosie all the way back in first season’s Salvation. I would submit that he did that because there was no guarantee that everything would fall into place with Sam’s generation; not just the placement of the special children, with the plan to have a demonically gifted human leading the army of Hell, but the acquisition of the necessary key to open a gate – the Colt, in the case of this day and time – and if triggering the Apocalypse was his goal, the arrival of the right, fated righteous man in Hell. Having the first Seal open before the demons were ready to move would probably have ended the struggle before it began; my guess is that everything had to be positioned in readiness and with care over a long span of time.

We don’t know the relationship between Azazel and Lilith. In Sin City, Casey indicated that Azazel had been the leader, the one with the plan – a plan evidently erased by his unexpected death at Dean’s hands, leaving the demons, at least by Casey’s account, scattered and leaderless. Tammi in Malleus Maleficarum forecast the advent of Lilith by saying that a new leader was rising in the West – a suggestion, at least, that Lilith had not been calling the shots when Azazel was alive, even though her power clearly exceeds his. I wonder whether Azazel’s opening of the devil’s gate using Jake in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2 had an effect he hadn’t anticipated, in that it freed a demon more powerful than himself from whatever bonds had prevented her from roaming the Earth as freely as he evidently had.

And that makes me wonder as well whether Azazel and Lilith have ever actually been pursuing the same thing. Alastair telling Dean that John had been the one intended to break the first Seal implies that Azazel had intended to use him that way, since Azazel had still been alive and in command at the time. And yet – I can’t help but remember that Azazel seemed truly surprised when John summoned him during In My Time Of Dying and offered a deal for Dean’s life. Did he suddenly see long-laid plans apparently coming to fruition, as foretold by prophecy, and realize that the time had unexpectedly come before he was fully ready? And did his plans necessarily involve the freeing of Lucifer, or might he have been pursuing a different course? I can’t help but think that evil always seeks power and always suspects rivals, and I can’t see Azazel tamely handing over the reins to someone bigger and badder than himself in the expectation that he would be rewarded. I wonder what Lilith truly intends, for the same reason. We saw in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester how the first thing that Samhain did upon his restoration was to destroy his summoner, not to share power with her. Were he set free, what would Lucifer – if he is truly evil – do to someone with power, someone who might be a threat with ambitions of her own? In Lilith’s shoes, I wouldn’t be sanguine about being given a pat on the head and a position of authority.

My last word on the questions of demon plans and the roles assigned to people in this variation on Revelation concerns John Winchester. Alastair broke Dean with a perfectly calibrated weapon: the assertion that John was supposed to have been the man of prophecy but proved too strong for fate, while Dean was the weak link who demonstrated himself the lesser man, failed his father’s expectations and negated his sacrifice, and opened the door to the end of the world. Whether that was true or not ultimately doesn’t matter: it matters only that Dean believes it.

Personally, I don’t think I quite believe it – not everything about John, anyway. John Winchester was indeed larger than life and twice as badass, but I don’t see anyone human being that indomitable, to withstand a hundred years of unremitting torture and then miraculously find a way to break free of the torture rack and escape Alastair when the devil’s gate opened. John Winchester as the Jack Bauer of Hell is a little much to take. But what I most wonder is whether John would have met the prophecy’s definition of a “righteous man.” We know that John and Dean could not have been the first basically good souls in history consigned to Hell by a deal made to benefit another. Evan from Crossroad Blues served as a fine example of an ordinary man pushed to his limit by incipient loss who chose to sell his soul to save the life of someone he loved, and there were doubtless others at least as innocent as he over the centuries and millennia. Given that, why had the torment of a soul never before served to open the first Seal, especially since making one soul torture another is so perfect a strategy to break a human soul down into something less that it has to have been a favorite gambit in Hell from the beginning?

I think that Dean may have been uniquely suited to the “righteous man” aspect of the prophecy in ways that John and ordinary people like Evan were not, precisely because of who and what he is. John raised him to hunt almost from the time that Mary died, but unlike John, revenge was never his driver: he always put saving people first in his mantra of the family business, and I don’t think that was any accident. He confessed in Bloodlust to hating many of the things he hunted, but he also recognized that the hate had been a learned response, the product of John’s attitudes and training, and he put it aside when he began perceiving shades of grey in place of John’s black and white. He did any number of things that were morally wrong, but at his core he was always about others. Saving people was always his mission, starting with his brother and father and spreading out to many people he never even knew, and he did it just for itself, not with any expectation that doing it would benefit him either in life or in the afterlife that he didn’t even believe in. I think that he was a most uncommon soul for Hell.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Azazel put John to the test, thinking that he might be the prophesied man, or that John resisted Alastair’s tortures for a long, long time. But I also wouldn’t be surprised to learn that when John eventually broke, his breaking did no more than the breaking of millions before him because he wasn’t the specific “righteous man” of prophecy that the demons sought. And once he broke and the Seal didn’t, there would have been no reason to chain him or watch him any more closely than any other soul in Hell, which to me would explain how he managed to claw his way out in the brief time that the devil’s gate was open.

I can cling to that thought, anyway. And I hope that Dean might find a way to accept what happened to him and move on, even if only because the same prophecy that doomed him says that he can. Saving people is too much a part of him for him to abandon it for long, even if he currently believes that he has nothing left to give.

He’s Not Strong Enough

This episode served as a marvelous antidote to Sex And Violence by vividly demonstrating through Sam that while the siren’s spell did indeed compel truth from its victims, it shaded that truth by limiting it to the negative and blocking everything positive. In this episode, we got the full package, the bad and the good, and the loudest voice was Sam’s love for Dean. Unfortunately, Dean wasn’t in a position to hear it.

In Sam’s interactions with Ruby, we saw the dark side: we saw Sam’s pride and assurance in his own strength, we saw his belief that Dean was both less and weaker than he had been before his experience in Hell, and we saw the craving of his addiction to Ruby’s demon blood. To some extent, his need to rescue Dean provided an acceptable excuse to let himself give in to the craving and delight in the resulting power. On the other hand, however, his need to rescue Dean was very real in and of itself, and that need was born of love. While Sam reinforced and shared with Ruby his perception of his brother’s weakness, he didn’t resent it; instead, he worried about what it meant and what it would do to Dean if and when he failed again. There was an element of satisfaction in riding to the rescue and demonstrating to the angels who had dismissed him that he could do things that Dean couldn’t, but the greater driver – at least until the power high kicked in, and again as soon as the battle-fever ended – was love and fear for his brother and the desperate desire for him not to be hurt again. Sam at Dean’s bedside was Sam in full-on brother mode, caring for nothing but having Dean open his eyes and be all right.

As Sam said truthfully in Fresh Blood, he’s watched Dean all his life. Dean was always his touchstone, the one thing he could count on. Even when he resented Dean’s big brother bossiness and chafed against his protection, he never had to question his love, and that gave him security. When Dean died, Sam had to find his own way and become his own man, and he made choices along the way that he knew Dean would not have approved. None of that changed the love, however, and the need to feel Dean’s approval is still strong enough that Sam has been hiding what he’s been doing largely out of shame based on fear that Dean would reject him if he knew how far off the reservation Sam has gone.

That fear has just been made worse by Sam’s realization that Hell damaged Dean in ways he still doesn’t fully appreciate or understand. Dean never seemed to need his protection before; an uncertain Dean who suffers from nightmares and guilt and drinks to keep going has been a new and unsettling experience for Sam. He can’t be sure that Dean hasn’t changed in other ways, and that some of them might make him reject Sam as he never would have before. Seeing Dean in the hospital physically broken by Alastair’s beating was just a graphic depiction of how emotionally and spiritually wrecked he is, and Dean’s obvious pain hurts Sam more than his own in part because he never used to share it; his openness now is just another indication of how much he has changed.

I don’t imagine that Dean is going to hide from Sam what he learned from Alastair and had confirmed by Castiel: he’s too broken and beyond caring. He did lose part of himself in Hell: he lost everything he understood about who he was, because he did things he never would have believed himself capable of doing and lost his own respect. He never had much sense of self-worth to begin with, and his belief now that he utterly failed his father and made possible the Apocalypse has taken him as low as it’s possible for him to go and still be breathing. I suspect that before he can even start to rebuild, he’ll need to be given incentive by being made to realize that no matter what happened to him in Hell, he is still Dean Winchester, and that means he’s constitutionally incapable of just standing by while other people are hurt or killed.

Production Notes

Almost everything in this episode worked for me. To me, it’s the brilliance of this show that we’re given satisfying answers, but that whenever we get them, they simply set up more and deeper questions.

I’m certain that there are fans who were upset by the amount of time that the story spent with Castiel, Uriel, and Anna, rather than with the Winchester brothers themselves, but I don’t believe that the pivotal information we needed to obtain from all of them could have been as effectively revealed in any less focused, less dramatic way than by seeing them have it out with each other. None of them would have done it in front of humans, and much would have been lost if one of them simply told the Winchesters afterward about what had happened. For the sake of the story, we needed our angel time, and I thought it well spent.

Ben Edlund is best known for writing funny scripts. Here, his humor was pretty much confined to Alastair’s indefatigable personality and his unending stream of quips, which included such gems as Something caught in my throat – I think it’s my throat as he seemingly coughed up bloody parts of his lungs, and Stupid pet tricks as he reacted to Sam throwing him up against the wall with his mind. (That said a lot about his view of Sam and Ruby’s relationship, by the way: Sam as pet ...) Bleak and black humor was definitely part of the package, but what amazed me was the depth and breadth of story and character development that this script provided. We saw new sides of all our principal characters in the drama, from Dean and Sam to Castiel, Ruby, Anna, and Uriel. And we learned why Dean was pulled from Hell and what Castiel really meant when he told Dean all the way back in In The Beginning that You have to stop it. We’re not just talking about Sam using his demon powers; we’re talking about the Apocalypse itself.

There were pieces of Mike Rohl’s direction that I really enjoyed, including the crane shots in the beginning and after Uriel’s death that allowed for the effects reveal of the dead angels’ wings; the whole torture sequence between Alastair and Dean, with all the love that the camera gave to both actors in those scenes; and the bit in the motel room between Sam and Ruby. The opening scene of the brothers in the car with Sam literally driving the action and Dean most uncharacteristically apathetic in the passenger seat perfectly set up and reflected the changed dynamic between the brothers and the flip in their previous roles. Visual storytelling that expands on and illustrates truth always impresses me. And while I think the last scene between Castiel and Anna was shot on the grounds of Riverview, I can’t be certain – which says a lot for Rohl’s ability to find a new way to shoot a very common, well known, and usually instantly recognizable location.

The only bits that didn’t entirely work for me were the fistfights between Castiel and Alastair (although the remote-control twisting of the knife was a really nice touch) and between Castiel and Uriel. Something about the fight choreography – and I mean beyond the basic idea that a physical brawl between such powers didn’t make much sense – just didn’t ring true for me. It could have been as simple as the actors not being as familiar with selling a fight scene as Jensen and Jared are after doing it on a weekly basis, or the camera angles not being quite right fully to sell the hits, but both fights felt more staged and less real to me than usual for this show.

And there was one shot missing that I really wanted to see. After he killed Alastair and faced Castiel’s reaction, I desperately wanted to see Sam finish his transformation from demon-killing avenger back into just Sam by kneeling beside his brother and reacting to how very badly he was hurt. We know that he made that transformation – the very next scene, with Sam worrying at unconscious, intubated Dean’s bedside, made that very apparent – but I strongly wanted to watch it happen and see how Jared would play it. I got the sense from the camera angles being used that Rohl had spared Jensen the discomfort of lying on that floor for the whole second half of the fight between Castiel and Alastair, and I’m guessing Jensen wasn’t there on the floor at all during the shooting of Sam’s confrontation with and execution of Alastair; I found it telling that we never even saw the floor in the area where Dean had fallen during those bits to maintain Dean’s continuity in the scene. With all commiseration to Jensen for how miserable a scene it would have been for him to shoot, I do kind of wish they had. Seeing Sam come down off his proud, confident, monster-slayer high to confront the wreckage of his beloved brother would have been a Jared tour-de-force.

The effects crew gets major props from me for the work with the shadows of the angels’ wings, with turning just the irises of Sam’s eyes black as he drove in the Impala to Dean’s rescue (I loved what that said about Sam still being human despite shading to demon, since his eyes didn’t go fully demon-black), with the setup for the water dripping on and eroding the devil’s trap, and with making the death of Alastair perfectly echo the death of Azazel. In effect, Sam Winchester ironically has become a living Colt; the effects he produced with his mind were identical to what a bullet to the heart from the Colt achieved. The sound crew did a wonderful job selling angel entrances and exits with the buffeting of wings, and the hollow, echoing sound of the deserted meat processing plant had real dimension as we heard the water dripping and had the backdrop of Alastair’s screams underlying the conversation between Castiel and Anna.

But my greatest praise for this episode goes to the actors. I can’t say enough for what Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Christopher Heyerdahl, Misha Collins, Robert Wisdom, Genevieve Cortese, and Julie McNiven all brought to their characters this week, taking everything in the script to the next level. Heyerdahl’s Alastair was amazingly creepy, holding true to character and playing on Dean like the master manipulator he was even as he responded to torture. The scenes between Heyerdahl and Jensen were beyond intense; I think they kept pushing each other as actors nearly as hard as their characters did, and the result was viscerally riveting. Jared sold Sam’s complexity, making him at once concerned and loving brother, reluctant but driven addict, and unhesitating avenging angel. The smile of triumphant satisfaction on Ruby’s face as Sam drank her blood was some of the best work I’ve seen from Genevieve. I think we got our first true glimpse inside Ruby at that brief moment, the clear indication that she has her own agenda and that all the very deliberate moves she has made to secure Sam’s trust are finally paying off because she has him exactly where she wants him, dependent on her to the point where he even accepts her calling him “Sammy” without protest. Wisdom made Uriel’s choice understandable, bringing to the fore not only his resentment of humanity for having usurped the angels’ place as favorites of the Lord, but his loss of faith and trust in a silent and seemingly absent God and his desire to reunite with a brother he had clearly idolized before his fall. McNiven gave Anna some new dimension, no longer the uncertain novice who so feared punishment that she engineered her own fall, but an adult making her own decisions in support of the ideals of Heaven, even if not the rules of its current regime. And Misha brought Castiel on a voyage of discovery and a rite of passage, growing up to take responsibility for his own actions and make decisions that frightened him, rediscovering in the process his own faith in what is right.

While everyone was stellar, Jensen wins my top award for the night for his depiction of Dean’s journey to absolute rock-bottom. At any rate, I hope this is rock-bottom; I don’t think I could take any more. Seeing Dean at his emotional nadir at the very end of the episode, utterly crushed beneath his guilt and responsibility for ultimate disaster and unable to find any gleam of hope for the future, I felt that same weight. But most incredible of all was watching Jensen take Dean through all the stages of feeling as he first reluctantly contemplated torturing Alastair, strove to find a cold professional place where what he was doing wouldn’t touch him, got angry enough to actually begin doing it, started to enjoy it, and then had it rebound on him as Alastair twisted the knife of his weakness and failure inside his very soul and bled him dry. Fear, unwillingness, reluctance, anger, hate, absolute cold blankness, clinical distance, sick pleasure, doubt, realization, guilt, shame, despair, acceptance, resolve, terror, defeat, and the desire to end – all of that passed in subtle sequence as the torture scenes played out. It’s not the first time I’ve said that the acting in this show is Emmy-worthy; I’m sure it won’t be the last. And while I don’t believe that the Emmy voters will ever recognize this show, Iwill.

Epic episodes reverberate for a long time, and I think this one will keep spreading ripples right through the series’ end. As Alastair said, there’s no going back, not now, not for any of these characters: they’ve all been changed. How much they manage to remain themselves in despite of it all remains to be seen.


I always feel like the latecomer to the party; I really hope people don't mind that these things take me so long!

Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: "These Days" by Jackson Browne
(Deleted comment)
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 25th, 2009 12:15 am (UTC)
Thanks for coming and for commenting, even if you didn't have much to actually say! I really enjoyed the words you did leave behind ... *grin*
karenmiller: Harleykarenmiller on March 24th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
Great meta. When I get a chance, I'll blather a bit properly.

Possibly my favourite line of the ep?

'I only kill the ones who say no.'

Wow. If that's not an entire essay wrapped up in a handful of words.

And seriously, I hope they've got a therapist on call for Ackles. The places he's going to in this season are -- extreme.
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 25th, 2009 12:22 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'll look forward to your future blathering, whenever you manage to find time for it - I know real life has been pushing me to the limit, lately.

There were so many superb lines in this script! I agree that Uriel's spoke whole volumes ... and they were chilling.

I never fail to be amazed at what both Jensen and Jared bring to the table in terms of performance. I'm eternally grateful to Eric Kripke and Robert Singer for the coup of casting those two, and I'm equally grateful that they found a brother-strong friendship in the process. That's got to help when it comes to carrying the emotional burdens of going where their characters need to go.
(no subject) - karenmiller on March 25th, 2009 02:40 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bardicvoice on March 26th, 2009 12:09 am (UTC) (Expand)
backnblack01 on March 24th, 2009 12:08 am (UTC)
Hey! I missed your rants since tvg! As usually, beautifully put and well researched! I especially enjoyed what you said about the Angels and Revelations, that it should be the Angels breaking the seals to unleash the appocolypse on mankind not the demons trying to undo them to bring forth Lucifer. I can't tell u how many times I have read Revelations and still don't fully understand it! :)

You take the words out of my mind and put them right here! Although your rant is much more organized than my brain! Anyways, I completely agree with your assessment on John in Hell. I think Alistair knows Dean's fears and insecurities. I think he would have said John lasted forever if he thought Dean would believe it. I don't think John was righteous; he was out for revenge for the murder of his wife, and later to try to stop the inevitable from happening to Sammy. His motivations were unlike Dean's, which as you said, were to save people. Yes there was some aspect of retribution for Mary, but as Dean had said to Sam in Salvation he would continue hunting because that is all he knows.
Fate is a funny thing. And Dean bearly thinks he is worth the body he is in, let alone being the only salvation the world has to stop Lucifer from rising. He has never felt worthy of special attention. Dean, now, feels like even less due to his supposed short 3months/30 years of torture and turning to being the torturer instead of the victim. I don't know about you, but a day of that torture would probably be enough to convince most people to turn tables. But not Dean. And the fact that he "enjoyed" it. Well as far as he knew, he was torturing people that deserved it. Most people who go to hell deserve it. It was like an extension of hunting but with no consequenses; really, who wouldn't enjoy some aspect of that. But of course he was set up, and his first intended was as innocent as he, a seal breaker. Dean, naturally, thinks it his fault. But as Cas said, it wasn't anything but fate. It could have been anyone who selflessly threw themselves to the pit to save a loved one. And more importantly, the righteous man is the one to stop Lucifer from rising. Well, Dean, newsflash, a righteous man is a GOOD man. And if you were now so tainted from your experiences in hell, well you wouldn't have been pulled from the pit to save us all! Maybe when Dean figures that out, he will get his chi back!
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 25th, 2009 12:36 am (UTC)
Glad you found me again here, my dear, and thank you!

I've been amused at the way that Kripke and company pull out and reference "obscure versions" of Revelation in order to ground the series' mythology. The classic biblical Revelation is clearly one of the sources for the depiction of angels as warriors, beings not swayed by human fear or suffering, but it's definitely not the source of the plot of demons initiating their own version of the apocalypse. And yet, knowing that one of those seals would indeed open Hell, the idea that demons would attempt to pervert the process in order to unleash Hell on Earth is a great one around which to build one heck of a story. Hats off to Supernatural!

Given where they took Dean in this episode, I am betting that some of what we'll see next will have to involve attempts by the forces of Good to rebuild him, to get him to acknowledge that, despite his current despair, his nature is such that he can't stop fighting. Dean's whole life has been saving people, and no matter how tired and drained he is, that's still the essence of his personal definition. And I think that's where his slow healing has to begin.
blackcat333_99blackcat333_99 on March 24th, 2009 12:13 am (UTC)
Absolutely wonderful, and thanks for taking the time to put together these reviews. I know they're not easy and very time consuming. :)

One question -- are we sure that Lilith is actually more powerful than Yellow Eyes, as I took you to intimate? My brain can be leaky at times, so maybe I'm not remembering correctly about angel lore in particular, but Azazel was originally an angel, turned fallen angel. His link on the show to this mythology has been left extremely vague, but it would be very interesting if the difference between Azazel and all these other demons was because of his heritage. White-eyed Lilith, while powerful, still apparently bowed befor the "tyrant" Azazel in Hell. After his death she started to be a player.

Azazel of the yellow eyes, with the effects of the Colt being yellowish lighting from the inside, he's "not scared of those angels perched on [Dean's} shoulder 4.03" -- and only an angel can kill an angel. Hmm.
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 25th, 2009 01:11 am (UTC)
Thank you! I love writing these, even when they're melting my brain.

My reference to Lilith being more powerful than Azazel came from the horse's mouth: Eric said it during the LA convention last year, when I was sitting in the audience and madly scribbling my notes. (I wrote it up here: http://bardicvoice.livejournal.com.) Azazel is mentioned in the Bible in Leviticus 16: 8-10, as the receiver of the scapegoat bearing the sins of the Israelites. The designation of Azazel as a fallen angel comes in the Book of Enoch, which is not part of the canonical Bible in most branches of Christianity because its authenticity and authorship are considered uncertain. The origins and designation of Lilith are all over the place. For people wanting to play with the figures of myth and legend, there is plenty of opportunity to juggle who's on top, and which aspects associated with each being would be reflected in their depiction within the story. I keep looking forward to each new wrinkle!
Mad Maudlinginzai on March 24th, 2009 12:37 am (UTC)
I've very much enjoyed reading through your meta musings and thank you for posting them. There was so much happening in 4x16 that it felt like one long sucker punch after another, never the chance to catch your breath or recover between revelations. And never the small sort either, character X's birthday is on such and such date, Bobby's middle name is Steven, and so on, no, these are epic revelations: Uriel has been killing the angels, Sam can literally now kill demons with his mind, Ruby really does have her own agenda, Dean caused the apocalypse - and that's not even all of what we learned this week.

One thing about the angels that caught my attention was the repeated use of the word "garrison", as in an army unit. Uriel was attacking angels of the same garrison; not just random angels in the Host, it seems. Why? Because those are the ones he would have the most influence over? It's telling that Castiel referred to his "six brothers" who died in the field in 4x02, and the angel in 4x16 as his "sister". I'm just curious as to whether this "garrison" is one section of angels or in fact made up of the entirety of the Heavenly Host. I'm hoping it's just one phalanx; the enormity of having that many angels potentially working against them is frightening.

I can’t help but remember that Azazel seemed truly surprised when John summoned him during In My Time Of Dying and offered a deal for Dean’s life.

IMHO, Azazel was not working towards freeing Lucifer. He had his own game plan he was working on and it had nothing to do with what Lilith desired.

His casual dismissal of Dean's importance strikes me as somewhat odd, given that even in S1, he knew that Dean would have "friends in high places". It makes his snarky "And what are you and God going to do about it?" remark all the more ironic. He had to know there was something up with Dean then, simply because only an angel can swing time travel, but angels hadn't walked the earth in 2000 years. 1973!YED would have had to recognize that something was going to happen in the next ~30 years that would have a huge impact - and Dean was caught smack in the middle of it.

The other thing that gets my attention in terms of Azazel and Dean is his comment in S2. Right before aiming the Colt at Dean, YED says "I knew I kept you alive for a reason" and it's not "I knew I didn't kill you before for a reason" or "I knew I let you live for a reason" it's "kept you alive". We know at least one case for that matter where YED DID save Dean's life, at least indirectly; YED is confirmed as the force that sent Sam his visions and Sam had a vision of Dean's death in Nightmares. It's what empowered him to use his telekinesis for the first time.

I wonder if YED recognized Dean as the "righteous man" only after he made his Deal. He might have known something was up with the older Winchester brother, but not known the specifics until just then. If YED was working to raise Lucifer (which again, I doubt), then killing Dean at that point would have been the first step in breaking the Seals. I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this, but I've always had far too much fun thinking about YED and Dean and the connections possible therein.
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 25th, 2009 01:34 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading and commenting!

I suspect that Castiel's garrison is only one group of angels, not the entire heavenly host, but the question of just how large that garrison is remains, as does how many of them Uriel had approached. He only killed the ones who said no, but he hadn't raised the question with Castiel before this point; it's very possible that Cas wasn't the only one in the garrison still in the dark and innocent of knowledge of what Uriel was about. But how to distinguish the innocent from the ones who embraced Uriel's cause? I don't envy poor Castiel the torment of not knowing whom among the brothers and sisters of thousands of years of service he can still trust.

Azazel's whole game and what he understood or didn't remains fascinating, doesn't it? It's especially fascinating to me because of the way in which this show plays with the concepts of fate and free will, and emphasizes the importance of choice. That emphasis suggests that the show believes we are not bound by fate, and yet there are all those pesky prophecies that seem to suggest that some things are predetermined and inescapable. And the angelic time travel thing is similarly pesky. Dean was told by Castiel that what happened and what he did on his trip into the past were real (and writer Jeremy Carver said the same in a magazine interview), but that set up so many apparent paradoxes it makes my head spin.

Me, I believe that the boys have free will and that the choices they make are what will define what happens to them. I don't believe that Dean was destined from birth to be the "righteous man" of prophecy, but that the choices he made throughout his life to deal with all the things that happened to him brought him to a point where he fit the terms of an event foreseen. And the rest of that prophecy was ominous, not reassuring: Cas said that only the man who began it could finish it, not that he would finish it. So he might do it, or he might not; he might succeed, or he might fail, or he might do nothing at all and by inaction be overtaken by events. Did Azazel realize what Dean might become? I don't know. But considering that Azazel was about to kill him with the final bullet from the Colt - a weapon that killed the supernatural, and might by extension have destroyed Dean's very soul in the process of killing him permanently, as is would have destroyed a demon rather than sending it back to Hell - I don't think that Azazel was trying to send him to Hell and set up the domino effect on the Seals by breaking him to shed blood in Hell.

So what the heck was he doing, anyway? And did he remember encountering Dean in his own past, or were his memories tampered with along the way?

Inquiring minds want to know! *grin* (Of course, we probably never will ... but then, that's what fanfic was made for!)
fannishlissfannishliss on March 24th, 2009 12:51 am (UTC)
Great meta as usual, and I think you are right on the mark.

After my third rewatch, I had a sudden revelation. Till now, I had been positing, like you, that it is Dean's self-confidence, his sense of himself as a hero, that he left behind -- because of the resonances of the way he kept saying he felt a hole inside of him -- going back to his feelings after John's death and his sense of not being deserving of his father's death at that time.

But now I wonder if there's something more literally missing inside Dean. What if Alistair DID carve him into a new animal? what if the part he left in the pit is a part of his soul, the part that was made demon? I keep remembering back to Lazarus Rising, when Dean fretfully checked his eyes in the mirror, as though he expected demon black. And again, Dean warned Castiel that if he went through that door, they would not like came back. I've noted throughout s4 that we've not seen violent, demonic behavior from Dean at all -- he's holding back that level of violence that we have in fact seen from him before..... and I've just been wondering all along, HOW DEMON IS HE? I hope they don't go there, but I do think there are hints.

I really liked the special effect of the lights sizzling whenever Anna appeared. She is still fallen, despite the return of her grace, and she now has certain demonic attributes that Castiel doesn't.
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 25th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC)
I've noted throughout s4 that we've not seen violent, demonic behavior from Dean at all -- he's holding back that level of violence that we have in fact seen from him before..... and I've just been wondering all along, HOW DEMON IS HE?

Lalalalalalala ... I can't hear you!

I don't think he is demon, not at all. I really, really don't. I think he compartmentalized like crazy and bottled up the darker aspects of himself when he came back, and that he's afraid to open that door for fear of being swamped by the capacity for evil that he saw within himself in Hell. But I think that as long as he's afraid of what he might again become, he's armored against becoming it precisely because his compassion will force him to stop. I do think that he needs to find the balance within himself that will let him trust his decisions when they need to be hard and fast, to trust himself not to fall over the edge that Alastair twice pushed him beyond - because in this episode, as in Hell, Alastair was still the one pulling his strings to make him walk the torture path; even after Dean had accepted Castiel's admonition that doing it was necessary, he didn't take up the instruments until Alastair had pushed him to do it. I would guess that, having seen just how far his violence could take him, Dean is afraid to chance going there again. I think he needs to learn that, on his own, without a truly supreme provocation, he won't; that he'll stop short and remain the man he used to think that he was, before thirty years of unremitting torture broke him down.

With regard to the lights flickering when Anna showed up: don't forget that Castiel popped lightbulbs right and left when he first appeared in bodily form in Lazarus Rising! He seems to have learned to tone down the power bleedover since then; I'm guessing that Anna might, too.

I truly don't think that there's anything remotely demonic about Anna. She fell not by being cast out like Lucifer, but out of fear that she might be punished, and rather than ending up in Hell, she was born into humanity and forgot her angelic nature. I think that makes her fundamentally different from Lucifer and his lieutenants.

Maybe we'll find out as the story progresses ...
historylover29historylover29 on March 24th, 2009 01:53 am (UTC)
Great meta, hon.

I wrote a tag to this episode, trying to figure out where Dean's head has to be at right now. This has better be rock bottom. How much more can the universe do to him?

I don't buy that John was ever considered to be the righteous man, for a couple reasons. First, the fact that he wasn't on the rack--that he walked out of Hell. Second, the fact that Lilith was willing to wait 1200 years for Dean--as evident by "Crossroad Blues." Lilith, acting through the CRD, was willing to trade John for Dean, and give Dean 10 years to boot.

What better way to make someone believe a lie than to hide in confirmable truths?

Hey, I wanted to ask you your opinion--

Do you think that Dean was actually awake during the last scene, or was Castiel talking to him through a dream? I've seen that theory, and I don't know if that's too subtle or what.

As always, great meta!

bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 25th, 2009 02:13 am (UTC)
Thanks! Now I have to go seek out your tag (uh, tomorrow night, I think, 'cause it's already getting late and I'm waaay not through with answering comments yet!)

On the CRD - we don't know that Lilith held all the CRD contracts going all the way back. I've wondered whether indeed she always had, or if she assumed them (bought up the mortgages, as it were) as part of her ascension to power; if perhaps the ownership of the contracts either provided part of her power base or reflected the amount of power she had been able to assume and exert. But the offer to trade John certainly supports the idea that the powers that be in Hell at the time didn't care whether he stayed there or not.

On your question: I do think Dean was awake and Cas was physically present. I can see where someone might think otherwise; Cas was sitting on the opposite side of the bed from where Sam's chair had been, but I took that simply to be that Dean had been moved when his condition improved and he no longer needed to be on a ventilator. I have no proof that it was real, but it felt real to me, if that makes any sense ...
(no subject) - historylover29 on March 25th, 2009 02:47 am (UTC) (Expand)
morgansladymorganslady on March 24th, 2009 02:19 am (UTC)
Excellent meta.Thanks for taking the time to write. I found the episode riveting, I couldn't catch my breath.
Alistair's reveal to Dean was heartbreaking for Dean.
I'm a John fan, but I would never call him righteous,he's sole focus was revenge,if he helped people out along the way fine. Dean's focus was helping people,he's the righteous one.
Ruby's smile,as Sam 'nursed' scary..

All of the actors did a fabulous job with their characters. I'm sorry to see Uriel and Alistair leave.

And Dean's "I guess I'm not the man either of our dads wanted me to be.", I cried.
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 25th, 2009 02:17 am (UTC)
Thanks! Like you, I will always love John ... and I envy you those gorgeous pics with JDM! (In a good way!)

That line of Dean's just positively killed me. Dear gods and little fishes, but I hope we someday manage to get a visitation from John's spirit telling Dean that he's a better and stronger man than he could ever have hoped for, and that his love, like God's, is eternal and deserved!
(no subject) - morganslady on March 25th, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Alison Hazelal_hazel on March 24th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)
I love to read your commentaries, and it doesn't matter that it is late, 'cos it's always so awesome.

I absolutely agree to your point about Sam fearing for Dean, and what Dean can take. There are some who read Sam calling Dean weak in a derisive tone, that Sam no longer believes in his brother.

But Sam, who has to live with Dean, sees how much Dean has changed ever since Hell. He fears for Dean, and he sees it as his place as Dean's younger brother to carry Dean's burden for him. I see Sam's act, Sam's fear, as a show of love for his elder brother.
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 25th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
Thank you!

I see Sam showing both sides. On the one hand, he loves Dean, hurts for him, fears for him, wants to help him, and desperately doesn't want to lose him, and he sees Dean being conflicted and tormented and emphatically not the decisive, take-charge brother he was before he died. On the other hand, he also sees Dean's loss of assurance as his opportunity to step up and take charge, to be the one in the lead and not in his brother's shadow - and that has both positive and negative implications. It's positive because he really does want to help; it's negative because there's a secret, gloating bit of Sam that's proud to show off because he's never liked coming in second. And that's just human. We've all got that mix of feeling within us; love and irritation and love and jealousy and love and resentment swirl around all the time, and none of it makes the love any less real or any less dominant.

The scary thing that sets Sam apart is that the rest of us don't have his kind of power to feed on, magnify, and twist our pride, and maybe make us not fully admit when the pride blinds us to the darker aspects of what we feel, to let us pretend that we only feel the light. Yipes!
(no subject) - karenmiller on March 25th, 2009 02:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
harriganharrigan on March 24th, 2009 03:52 am (UTC)
Epic is right.

And your meta is always worth waiting for - don't worry about the time needed to craft something so insightful.

I especially agree with your analysis of Dean vs. John as the intended catalyst of the Apocalypse. While certainly demons lie when it serves their purpose, I also believe that Dean's deep-seated drive to save others sets him apart from any other 'righteous' man in hell. Whether or not any demon thought John could be broken under torture, and thus break the first seal, I think it always had to be Dean to be the One.

And I love that you pointed out how this episode exposed more of the sentiment behind the harsh words spoken in Sex and Violence. It was very clear to me how much Sam is still driven by his love and concern for Dean, and I'm so glad the show is finally giving us a glimpse into his motivations.

I can't complain about the ratio of screen time between the Winchesters and the angels and demons in this episode, because you are right. Each character was given an opportunity to show us more about what's going on in their heads, and it was hugely enlightening (as well as advancing the myth arc in an epic way).

I especially value the way you identify where there has been foreshadowing or where re-examining prior episodes adds to our understanding and appreciation of the current installment. And your production comments are most welcome, too.

Thanks for all the time and thought you put into this, and for sharing it!
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 25th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)
Thank you ever so! You refresh me!

I really liked what this episode did with Sam. We've had so many subtle background hints beautifully delivered by Jared, so much building suspense all season on what was going on behind those often shuttered and secretive eyes: I think all of that subtlety paid off in a huge way in this episode with that shocking double reveal both of how Sam was juicing his powers and the extreme level he'd managed to attain. Now I can kill; what a chilling line, and what a delivery!

I've never doubted Sam's love for Dean, and I was glad to see it so obviously present and visible here. The brother bond is always going to be at the heart of this show, I'm certain of it.

It never fails to amaze me how this show's continuity hangs together so well, how earlier episodes inform later ones and how later ones make me see new things in earlier ones, or see them in different light. I'm glad you enjoy my musings in that regard, and my poor attempt at production notes. Watching a show as beautifully framed as this one makes me want to learn more about how everyone involved made it so, and I want to thank each and every one of them for what they do. I only wish I knew more and had to guess less!
remiel3remiel3 on March 24th, 2009 04:24 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for writing these reviews. They always give me a great deal to mull over, and invariably bring out details that I'd missed the first time around.
Please don't worry about being late - just don't stop writing them!!!
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 25th, 2009 02:50 am (UTC)
Thank you! And I promise not to stop writing them; I derive way too much pleasure from doing this to give it up. This show owns me, I swear. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
deangirl1deangirl1 on March 24th, 2009 05:45 am (UTC)
Mind waiting? Hell no! I live for your reviews which never fail to bring an increased awareness to all the levels of an episode. My ONLY regret is that we don't have these in a published hardcopy -- I would buy this book in a heartbeat... Who do we need to call to make that happen?
I heartily agree with everything you've said here. I put forward the same theory about John. I think that Alastair is lying -- totally agree - how did he get off the rack to escape? I also agree that John was not the righteous man that Dean is - and for the same reason. Dean's whole life has been about sacrifice - to his family and to all people...whether he gets them or not. John saved people but he was driven by his need for revenge. His final act was selfless, but a parent is expecte to make the ulitimate sacrifice - at least to some extent. I loved Anna and Uriel in this episode. Definitely saw the same growth in their characters and did notice that Anna does seem to have regained her love for God - which perhaps she never really lost. I will miss Uriel - as always they have lost a great antagonist. The change in Cas was wonderful - even though it has weakened him to this point. My own theory is that this is all a test from God - that he is forcing free will and thought on his soldiers/children and that is what will make them strong in the end. As for the fight scenes with Cas (I LOVE Misha by the way and feel his portrayal of Cas has been masterful -- how can he do that head cocking thing without it being hokey and just making your heart melt?) but the sad fact is he throws a punch like a girl. He needs fight lessons -- or they need to limit him to the hand of doom....
What can I say about Sam and Ruby -- the greatest hope for Sam was the emotion he showed over Dean in hospital. But I out and out hated him for calling Dean weak - especially in front of Ruby and for his seeming total lack of understanding for what Dean is going through emotionally. I personally think that Sam's loss of faith in his brother is one of the biggest things damaging Dean and keeping him from re-bounding. When Ruby called Sam, Sammy, I was gutted. And he let her. But he is clearly addicted to the blood and power and it will be interesting to see that play out. I too missed the scene of Sam going to Dean -- it could so have mirrored the end of NRFTW...
I hope that you are right that Dean will finally see that he does have the opportunity to put it right in the end and that alone will become his driving force. Saving people got him through losing Sam and his father, I think it might do it now. BUT I fear that he will never find a sense of self-worth now and his world ending bloody seems more a certainty now than ever before. As for Jensen's performance - just Bravo. I am in awe.
Totally agree with your comments regarding the camera loving Alastair and Dean -- and that those two actors were so obviously taking each other to the next level.
Sorry to blather on -- but I LOVE your reviews and they just get me thinking.... I'm serious though. I want these in one place -- and I want them as a reference work...
Thank you for the time, effort, and extremely astute thought that goes into these...
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 26th, 2009 01:43 am (UTC)
Thank you! Maybe sometime I'll have to consider pulling together the complete collection - A Supernatural Companion ... hmm?

I love what Misha Collins brings to Castiel, and the angel's voyage of discovery is absorbing. The relationship between Castiel and Dean fascinates me; Castiel's experience of the righteous man he drew from Hell has definitely not met his expectations, and yet, it's done so much more, opening Cas to feeling. From the moment he was surprised and confused in Lazarus Rising to realize that Dean didn't feel worthy of being saved, he was snared in curiosity for the mystery that is humanity. And by the end of In The Beginning, he was awakened to compassion. Now, it's become friendship, further tempered by guilt for what his actions did to Dean. I can't wait to see where it goes from here.

I think that Dean will rebuild. Castiel believing in him will help. Learning that Sam has been juicing with Ruby will hurt. Watching Sam descend further into his addiction and the blindness of his pride will also hurt - but I can't help but believe that he and Dean will find their way back to being together, and being brothers, by the end. All the love is still there, and that's the most important thing.

And I think I'm too tired to be making sense. Sorry about that!
lady_bee_ilady_bee_i on March 24th, 2009 06:58 am (UTC)
I have been waiting restlessly for you to post your meta, particularly, after this episode. I have come to depend on you entirely to handhold me through my attempts to understand and analyse this brilliant series for ever now. I may not have said this before (for which I apologise profusely)but, my enjoyment of this show would not be nearly as much if it were not for your reviews. So, Thank You Mary. So, so much!

As I am not a christian it is sometimes really difficult for me to fully appreciate and comprehend the references that are made on the show. I really do appreciate every theological and religious explanations that you include in your meta.

I am very curious as to what qualities it were that distinguished Dean as 'the righteous man' whose 'breaking' in hell could break the seal to bring on the apocalypse... I will be clinging to your explanation too until show clarifies itself! Also, th epart where John did not break despite a 100 years of similar torture to Dean? I need some clarification there too...

Other than that, My Show Kicks Ass! Thank You for your brilliant meta...
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 26th, 2009 01:55 am (UTC)
Thank you, and my apologies that I'm late getting back to you - I keep running out of hours in the day!

I'm glad that my theological comments are helpful. I grew up Catholic, but in my early teens started reading about a lot of religions, and then picked up Joseph Campbell and tracked all the similarities through all the stories. All that reading has come in handy since then!

I really don't believe that John didn't break in Hell. I think he did; otherwise he'd still have been chained to the rack in torment, unable to escape from Hell when the gate briefly opened in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2. Demons tell the truth when it hurts, but they also lie, and I think Alastair's claims about John were a lie that became a truth only because Dean was predisposed to believe it. John was always larger than life and always better than Dean in Dean's eyes; how could he not believe that John was stronger than he was, and impressed even Hell? Poor Dean.

And I agree: our Show kicks ass! Not to mention demon butt ... *grin*
animotus: [Spn] You have no idea!animotus on March 24th, 2009 09:03 am (UTC)
I love reading your metas,they are always so balanced and at the same time fangirly!:P
I agree about everything,especially about John,I like that show left us with this kind of "question mark" about him in Hell,him being the first choice!Even if I still don't know if Alastair was telling the truth,I'm sure Dean breaking the first seal is not a bad thing,I mean...it's BAD,but in the future could be the reason why Dean is special and righteous and the real hero of this epis journey!
All the actors did a wonderful job,but like you said,Jensen WINS!His acting is not arrogant,he can play every kind of things with class,because he is a smart actor!♥
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 26th, 2009 02:05 am (UTC)
Thank you!

Jensen really is a spectacular actor. He caught my eye the very first time I saw him, on his first appearance in Dark Angel, and he just keeps getting better. I love catching interviews in which he talks about his craft, because it's so obvious that he's aware he's always learning; he doesn't assume he knows everything, and he doesn't just do enough to get by. That's why watching him is always so rewarding. I really hope that he gets great opportunities after Supernatural ends, because I want to see what he'll become!
(no subject) - animotus on March 26th, 2009 08:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
julie_lee90 on March 24th, 2009 11:35 am (UTC)
Ido love your reviews but I do feel the show isnt getting Sams pov across and its been to damaging for him.
I fully appreciate what he went through but Sam went through something too and to me the writers havent got that across.
This Sam story telling in the background hasnt been fair esp as Deans is so overshadowing.

This episode was good and Jared more than Jensen is blowing me away this season and thats saying something has Jensens been amazing.
Just been left disappointed because its created hate towards Sam that is ill-deserved.

But wonderful review as always thank you.
bardicvoice: DeanSky by <lj user=clubinthesky>bardicvoice on March 26th, 2009 02:36 am (UTC)
Thank you!

Any hate toward Sam is misdirected. Hate toward either character is juvenile and foolish, and one reason I stay on the outskirts of fandom; too much judgment and anger out there.

I know that a lot of people feel that Sam's story has been slighted, but purely from a storytelling perspective, I can understand why they played his development so subtly, and Jared handled it brilliantly. The reveal in this episode was utterly devastating, and yet the clues were there in every single episode up to now: Ruby's changed attitude, assumed precisely so that she could stay close to him and win his trust; Sam's furtiveness and shame whenever he contemplated Dean finding out what was going on; Sam's pride - which has always been a fundamental part of his character, and a significant part of his strength - being a lever pushing him to fall; Sam's love and need for Dean giving him good reasons to accept doing wrong things; the addiction of power and of being able to win corrupting good intent. If Sam's actions had been transparent and in the forefront all season, a lot of the power of us realizing both what was going on and how little Sam himself understood how far down the slope he was slipping would have been lost. Uncertainty bred suspense, and the revelation was shocking.

Now that we, the audience, have been let in on the secret, I think we'll see Sam's development continuing much more openly. I hope that fans who have felt deprived will be able to get their Sam fix and feel more satisfied. And I hope that fans having been able to see in this episode that, despite their relative estrangement, the love between the brothers is still their strongest link and motivator, will stop the bickering about either of them not caring about the other and doing things intended to hurt the other. However much they fight and disagree, Sam and Dean would both still kill and die for each other; that much hasn't changed, and I don't think it ever will.

I hope that my reviews and meta can help! Thank you for coming, and for commenting!