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4.21 When The Levee Breaks: How Can You Run From What’s Inside You?

4.21 When The Levee Breaks: How Can You Run From What’s Inside You?

Dean swears to serve God;
Sam confronts his inner selves,
Then walks out the door.


Episode Summary

With Sam locked in Bobby’s demon- and ghost-proof panic room, Dean opened the grill in the door for a conversation. Sam demanded to be let out, but Dean said he’d stay in until he dried out. Offended at the implication that he was addicted to demon blood as to a drug, Sam protested that he was drinking the blood only to become strong enough to kill Lilith, insisting that killing her was the only thing that mattered. Dean countered that he and Bobby would kill Lilith and that Sam would be sitting out the apocalypse, and he left Sam locked in, shouting to be released.

Some time later in the night, Sam, feeling the physical effects of withdrawal from demon blood, began to hallucinate. It started with his breath coming cold and the lights popping out like the manifestation of a haunting, and he shouted for Bobby and Dean to help him because something was coming – and he turned to see Alastair regarding him calmly and speculatively, toying with a scalpel and idly wondering how they’d pass the time. In his mind, Sam was suddenly strapped down to a torture table like the one Alastair had used torturing Ruby in Heaven And Hell, begging and pleading with Alastair not to do it even as Alastair sliced into his belly with the scalpel, making him scream. In reality, he was still alone in the room

Upstairs, tortured by hearing Sam’s agonized cries and pleas, Bobby poured whiskey for himself and Dean. Dean asked how long it would go on, and Bobby said he didn’t know, that no one did, and he couldn’t even be sure Sam would survive it. Their conversation was interrupted by a phone call from hunter Rufus Tanner, conveying the news that seals were breaking all over the country, evidenced by species going extinct in Florida, a crew of Alaskan fishermen going blind, and a teacher in New York killing 66 kids, all in a single day.

Freed from his torment and realizing that he was unhurt, Sam sat up on the cot, wondering – and heard his younger self tell him that yes, he was hallucinating. He confronted his thirteen or fourteen-year-old self, who agreed that he was definitely losing his mind. Young Sam demanded an explanation of how Sam could do this to him, when all he’d ever wanted to be was normal. Sam said he’d tried but it hadn’t worked, because they’d killed Jessica. His younger self, speaking his own guilt, argued that he’d have been able to protect her if he hadn’t gone off with Dean, and Sam agreed. Young Sam asked if Jess would have wanted to see Sam this way, if she’d have been happy being used as an excuse for what he was doing, and Sam snapped that he was sorry, but life didn’t turn out the way you thought it would as a teenager, that they were never going to be normal and Sam needed to just grow up. Young Sam observed that maybe he was right and there was no escape, because after all – how could he run from what was inside him? With that, his eyes turned demon yellow.

Knowing there couldn’t be many seals left, Bobby asked if they were doing the right thing taking Sam out of the fight just as everything came to a head. He noted Sam could kill demons, and maybe had a chance to head off the apocalypse. Dean protested using him like a nuclear warhead, sacrificing him for the greater good knowing the cost would be his life and soul, but Bobby asked Dean to consider if they were keeping Sam off the battlefield because they loved him too much.

The next day, alone, fevered, and dehydrated, Sam struggled desperately to reach the water across the room, and heard his mother’s voice commiserating with him. She appeared like a tangible ghost in the nightgown she’d worn the night she died, bloody from the gash the demon had opened across her belly. Afraid of her rejection, he invited her to tell him how disappointed she was in what he’d turned out to be, but she confounded him, telling him he was doing the right thing, being practical and brave, and she was proud of him. He asked about Dean, and Mary said Dean didn’t understand. She said she’d been raised a hunter and always knew there’d be hard choices, that you did what you had to do to get the job done. She agreed their family was cursed, but said Sam had the power to turn it into a gift, to use it against them not for revenge, but for justice. Mary observed that what was in him was evil and he knew it, but when Sam asked what would happen if Dean was right and it proved too strong for him, she said Dean could never know how strong Sam was because Dean was weak. She said Sam had to go on without him, to kill Lilith and make Mary’s death mean something, and not let anything or anyone get in his way, not even Dean. She kissed him, and was gone.

Outside in the night, Castiel finally appeared to Dean, who’d been shouting for him for hours. Dean asked if Sam really could kill Lilith and stop the apocalypse. Castiel admitted it was possible, but observed that consuming the amount of demon blood Sam would need to be able to kill Lilith would change him forever, most likely making him the next creature Dean would feel compelled to kill. Castiel emphasized there was no reason this would have to come to pass; the angels believed it was Dean, and their only question was whether he was willing to stand up and accept his role to stop it. Dean asked for confirmation that if he did it, Sammy wouldn’t have to, and Castiel, not answering, said only that if it gave him comfort to see it that way. Irritated with the non-answer, Dean still considered for a moment, and then told Castiel he was in. Castiel required him to say the words, that he gave himself over wholly to serve God and His angels and swore to follow His word and His will as swiftly as he followed his own father’s, and then ordered him to wait until it was time.

In the panic room the next morning, Sam saw bloody veins branching out across his skin, and screamed for help. With his cries in the background, Bobby asked Dean why he’d willingly signed up to serve the angels. Protesting he trusted them less now than ever before, Dean asked what other option he had, given that his choices were either to trust the angels or let Sammy trust a demon. Hearing absolute sudden silence from the panic room, they ran down to discover Sam convulsing on the floor, and then being flung around the walls. They managed to immobilize him and get a belt between his teeth, and Bobby insisted on tying him down to keep him from hurting himself. They cuffed his wrists and ankles to the cot.

When Sam came to, he found Dean with him, explaining they’d had to tie him down and asking why he’d done this to himself. Sam brought up killing Lilith, and Dean dismissed her as the big excuse, asking what Sam wanted revenge for and observing that if it was for sending him to Hell, had Sam noticed that he was back, alive and kicking? Sam, speaking to the empty room and the image of Dean in his mind, brought up stopping the apocalypse, and Dean countered that was his job, not Sam’s. The hallucinatory Dean asked him if he had any other excuses, and then proceeded to tell him he drank the blood because it made him feel strong and invincible, and because he’d felt different his whole life. Over Sam’s protests, pleas, and demands for him to stop, the Dean in his mind said he’d always felt different not because he was a lonely kid or had a weirdo family, but because he was and always had been a monster, and although Dean had tried so hard to pretend they were brothers, they weren’t even the same species, and Sam was nothing to him. Sam begged him not to say it – and then realized he was alone.

At the same time, Bobby asked Dean again if they were absolutely sure they were doing the right thing, because it wasn’t the demon blood that was killing Sam, but them keeping him from it. Torn but resolute, Dean refused to give Sam demon blood, saying he wouldn’t let his brother become a monster and if he died, at least he would die human. Dean said he’d die for Sam in a second, but he wouldn’t let him do this to himself; he’d found his line.

That night, Sam woke to an odd sound and saw the cuffs on his wrists and ankles fall open, and the door to the panic room opened by itself. Uncertain, Sam moved hesitantly at first, but seeing no one and nothing, emerged from the room and went up the stairs. Behind him, Castiel, unseen, closed and locked the door again. Sam collected his jacket, seeing Dean and Bobby both asleep in Bobby’s study, and snuck out into the yard to break into a car. Bobby caught him, holding a shotgun on him, but Sam walked into the barrel saying that Bobby wouldn’t and couldn’t shoot him. Bobby protested that he and Dean were trying to help Sam, and Sam, raising the barrel to his heart, said if that was the case, Bobby should shoot him. Bobby couldn’t, and Sam pulled the gun away, knocked him out with it, and dropped it aside. He hotwired the car and left.

Elsewhere, Castiel appeared to be musing downcast on what he had done, and heard Anna arrive. Appalled, Anna asked Castiel why he had let Sam out, observing that he was drinking demon blood and it was so much worse than they thought, and Castiel responded that those were his orders. He said she really shouldn’t have come, and two other angels abruptly appeared, seizing hold of Anna’s arms and taking her away in a burst of brilliant light.

In daylight, Bobby and Dean went downstairs to find the room still locked but the devil’s traps broken, suggesting that Sam had help in escaping. Dean concluded that it was Ruby, although neither of them could figure out how she could have touched the door. Dean set out to find and kill her, using his knowledge of Sam to realize that Sam, trying not to be found, would be working so hard not to fall into old patterns that he would go to the opposite extreme.

Meanwhile, Sam – in the honeymoon suite of a posh hotel – met Ruby at the door and asked her if she’d gotten him out. She admitted she couldn’t have done it. When he asked her where she’d been, she said she’d been trying to track down Lilith. She offered sympathy that things had gotten so bad between the brothers, and Sam flung her down the bed, pulled a knife from her boot, sliced her arm, and drank. Later, in bed with Sam, Ruby observed that his appetite had gotten bigger and called it a good thing, because it meant he would be strong enough to kill Lilith. Ruby reported she’d learned something big: that the final seal could only be broken by Lucifer’s First. Ruby told the story that because God preferred humans to angels, Lucifer got jealous and then got creative, twisting and tempting a human soul into the very first demon. Sam concluded the first twisted soul was Lilith, and Ruby agreed she was older than she looked. Sam realized excitedly that if Lilith was the only one who could break the final seal and he could get to her in time and kill her, Lucifer wouldn’t be freed and the apocalypse would be stopped. Ruby said she finally had a lead on someone who could help – a member of Lilith’s entourage who collected babies for her to eat. Planning a rendezvous for the next night, Ruby observed that for Sam to be strong enough to take out Lilith, he needed more blood than Ruby could give him. Sam, reluctant but resigned, agreed that he knew what he needed, and said sadly that he just wished Dean trusted him and he hoped that when this was over, they could fix things.

Dean, driving through the night in pursuit of the uncharacteristic clues to Sam’s location, got a call from Bobby narrowing the search to a nearby town, Coldspring, lighting up with demon signs. Bobby stressed that Dean had to get through to Sam and bring him back, not push him away. He told Dean to be good to him, despite being mad.

Reaching the hotel, Dean watched Sam leave his room and then broke in to attack Ruby with the demon-killing knife. Sam burst in to save her, wrenching the knife away from Dean. Sam said he was glad Dean was there and tried to persuade Dean to talk through it. Dean agreed they could talk as soon as Ruby was dead but Sam, not accepting that, told Ruby to leave. Angry, Dean tried to get Sam to see what Ruby had done from his perspective – getting Sam addicted, then leaving him strung out and desperate for a fix. When Sam said she’d been looking for Lilith, Dean argued she had just been manipulating him. Dean maintained Sam was lying to himself and pleaded that he just wanted Sam to be okay, and knew Sam would do the same for him if their positions were reversed. Sam, trying to get him to listen, tossed the knife aside and asked him to come with them, following their lead on the demon who could take them to Lilith. Dean said that would be great, so long as it was only Sam and Dean; that if Sam would kiss Ruby goodbye, the brothers could leave together right now. Sam refused, saying he needed her to be able to kill Lilith and he was the only one who could do it. Sam dismissed Dean’s mention of his own role by saying that, no matter what the angels thought about Dean being the one, Dean couldn’t do it because he wasn’t strong enough. Sam maintained he was being practical, and when Dean said he wouldn’t do a damned thing, Sam blew a fuse, telling Dean to stop bossing him around.

Trying to salvage the argument, Sam said that all his life, Dean had taken run things and Sam had trusted him because he was his brother. He asked if Dean, just once, could trust him, and Dean said no, that Sam didn’t know what he was doing. Sam argued he did, and Dean said that was worse, because it wasn’t something he was doing, it was what he was. Sam pushed him to say the words, and Dean, grieving, said it meant he was a monster. A tear ran down his cheek, and Sam punched it away. Getting back to his feet, Dean saw Sam still facing off, angry and panting, and the fight was on, no holds barred. Sam got the upper hand, smashing Dean into a mirror and then across the room and through a decorative screen to land on and shatter a table. With Dean down and half stunned, Sam grabbed his throat and began to choke him, breaking off only seconds before he’d have gone unconscious. Sam snarled that Dean didn’t know him, never had, and never would, and headed for the door. Echoing John from years before, Dean gasped that if Sam walked out that door, he should never come back. Deliberately holding Dean’s eyes, Sam opened the door and left, closing the door behind him. Dean tried to get up, and couldn’t.

Commentary and Meta Analysis

From where they’re standing, each Winchester brother believes that he’s right and the other is wrong, and they both have reasons for what they believe. They each want to protect the other, they both love each other, each is willing to die for the other, neither is willing to sacrifice the other’s soul, and neither can see a way around. Meanwhile, both sides in the fight see and use them as tools, and no one knows what any of the players really intend. In this discussion, I’m going to look at Sam’s struggle, Dean’s line, and the overall picture of angels and demons at war.

The Answer’s Yes: You’re Hallucinating

Sam’s hallucinations were windows into his mind and soul. None of them were unexpected, which tells me that the writers did very well this season building Sam’s story subtly and below the surface, but giving us enough glimpses to make the full revelation of his character’s thoughts and feelings fit perfectly into the overall tapestry. Alastair, Sam’s younger self, Mary, and Dean all represented bits of Sam contributing to his decisions, and every single one of them felt familiar because we’ve seen them before. Through Sam’s discussions with himself, as he argued both ends against the middle, we saw how conflicted Sam truly is and learned he’s less certain of his course than his conscious mind pretends to be even to himself.

Alastair, I think, was mostly a relatively straightforward way to explain the real physical agony of withdrawal, pain Sam couldn’t escape and couldn’t explain to himself since he was still denying being addicted to demon blood. At the same time, however, I think his choice of Alastair spoke to his own sense of guilt: Alastair had tortured and broken Dean in Hell, and we know from his revelations in Lazarus Rising and I Know What You Did Last Summer that Sam blamed himself for his perceived failure to save Dean from death and torment. Perhaps conjuring Alastair was in part a way to use the withdrawal pain as punishment or atonement for his failure, seeing himself put in Dean’s place as he’d once offered to be.

Sam consciously hallucinating and confronting his younger self was the beginning of his self-justification for what he’s been doing. Young Sam embodied his dreams to be normal, to be free of the hunting life, and expressed Sam’s own core shock and anger that he himself could have given that up. Sam argued that he’d tried, and his core self countered he hadn’t tried hard enough; that he should have kept his separation from Dean and John and continued to go his own way. Current Sam accepting his younger self’s accusation that he could have saved Jessica if he’d stayed with her instead of going with Dean made no rational or logical sense – he hadn’t had either the knowledge or the weapons to fight Azazel then – but it spoke eloquently of Sam having long told himself that he could have changed things earlier if only he’d tried, if he’d trusted himself from the beginning instead of yielding to Dean.

Sam’s normal life dreams were tenacious. Even after Jessica died, he had still seen hunting as a finite mission, something he would leave behind him after rescuing John and killing the yellow-eyed demon; he spoke that dream out loud in Shadow, and meant it. That didn’t begin to change until he learned in Devil’s Trap that the demon had definite plans for him. In the aftermath of his own possession in Born Under A Bad Sign, he accepted that he had to face those plans and fight them, not run away from them, but the dream of something better afterward was still there. Even his discovery in All Hell Breaks Loose that he’d been fed demon blood and his mother had recognized the demon shook him to his core but didn’t undo his dreams, especially since Azazel’s death apparently freed him from both his powers and the demon’s plans. Those dreams were postponed at first while he searched for a way to break Dean’s deal and save his life, but they apparently died for good when he lost Dean, first in the Trickster’s lesson in Mystery Spot and later for real in No Rest For The Wicked.

Dreams don’t die easily, though, and the depth of the anger, scorn, and resentment Sam dumped on the manifestation of his younger, more innocent self for even having dared to dream demonstrated just how much he’d really wanted to be normal. Having been forced to give up his dreams, Sam repudiated them and blamed their loss not on his own decisions, but on destiny imposed on him by things outside himself: justifiably on the demon bleeding into his mouth as a baby, less justifiably on his brother.

Young Sam challenging him to think about whether Jess would want him to turn into what he’s becoming was at least a recognition by Sam of how far he’s gone, but his immediate refusal to address the accusation that he was using her as an excuse for what he was doing indicated the accusation was true. To avoid it, he protested that they were never going to be normal, they were never going to get away – and his younger subconscious self slyly switched gears to agree and voice the ultimate excuse: how could he run from what was inside him?

Sam’s third hallucination was one purely of self-comfort and self-justification. Sam never knew his mother; he met her spirit only once, when she apologized to him in Home. The image he conjured relied heavily on what he’d heard from Dean about her caring nature and hunter background, but the things she said – apart from the words of love – were things that would never have come from Mary’s mouth. Sam opened with self-deprecation, saying that he expected disappointment and rejection, and he voiced his real doubts and uncertainties about his value, his strength, and his decisions. Having the Mary of his mind respond instead with praise, love, and affirmation let him build a special image of acceptance he couldn’t find in reality. We learned during In The Beginning that Mary hated the hunting life and never wanted it for her children; that the worst thing she could possibly imagine for her sons was the life Dean and Sam had actually experienced, being raised to hunt. The real Mary would never have spoken of hunters having to make hard choices and be practical, not after the choice she made to save John that unwittingly doomed her own son, and her belated attempt to save Sam when she realized her price had come due and fallen on him. Mary calling Dean weak was nothing more than Sam giving himself support for the favorite excuse he’s been using for not listening to Dean and taking his own place as leader. Putting all those words in Mary’s mouth and having her tell him to do exactly what he wanted to do was a way for Sam to have someone outside himself and independent of demons validate his choices, something neither Bobby nor Dean would do.

Sam’s conversation with Mary also gave voice to another driving force we’ve heard from Sam before, most openly in Metamorphosis: his desperate need to bring something good out of the evil that a perverse universe inflicted on him when he was only six months old. If he’s the one able to save the world because he was cursed and then found a way to turn the curse back on the demons, then his life will have had noble purpose even if he becomes something monstrous and dies in the doing; there will have been a reason for him to sacrifice his dreams, for Mary and Jess to have died, even for him to be estranged from his brother and sacrifice his humanity, because it will all have been in the service of the greater good. Sam can’t accept Dean’s concern that his choices are being influenced insidiously by his demon blood diet because if he admits that possibility, he again becomes just a deluded victim, not a hero taking charge and paying the price to bring good out of evil. We all need to be the hero in our own story; Sam’s need is just more desperate than most.

That the attempt at justification for and reconciliation with destiny didn’t entirely work, however, was displayed by Sam’s reaction to his hallucination of visible physical changes happening in his body, evidence to his own eyes that he was turning into something other than himself. When he saw that, he didn’t revel in it, accept it, or stoically resign himself to it; he screamed for help and tried to escape it. In his own mind, Sam clearly isn’t as inured to his decision and his possible fate as he pretends to be, even to himself.

The hallucination of Dean was the final straw, and brought to vivid life perhaps the single biggest obstruction to Sam’s earnestly desired relationship with his brother: Sam’s tendency to project onto his brother his own fear of what he thinks Dean will feel and believe about him. We’ve seen in many earlier episodes that Sam’s single greatest fear is being rejected by his brother. Think of his reluctance to admit to his visions in Home, his hesitation to admit he moved the cabinet with his mind in Nightmare, his instant assumption that Dean was considering him a freak in Simon Said, and his fear throughout season four of admitting to Dean what he was doing with Ruby. Knowing from a lifetime of shared experience how strongly Dean was taught to hate the supernatural, Sam built his fear on a single true element of reason, but overlooked and discounted the counterbalancing reality of Dean’s overwhelming love for him. He has continued to hold to that negative and exaggerated mental image of fear and rejection despite multiple practical demonstrations on Dean’s part that his love for Sam is a constant; again, think of Nightmare and Simon Said, as well as Croatoan, Hunted, and Born Under A Bad Sign.

The Dean of Sam’s accusatory imagination was his worst nightmare come to life. I think Sam’s biggest problem is that he almost always reacts to the real Dean on the assumption that the reaction he fears from his imaginary interpretation is real, when we know the truth to be different. The juxtaposition of the real and imaginary Deans in this episode demonstrated that beautifully, with Sam imagining Dean vilifying and disowning him as a brother even while the real Dean was trying desperately to keep his brother as his brother, and not see him transformed into a demon. Sam has driven the wedge between them deeper precisely by trying to avoid that reaction. Fearing rejection, he hid things from Dean instead of sharing them, making the eventual reaction exponentially worse. Dean would never have agreed with Sam drinking demon blood and exercising his powers at the behest of a demon, but he might have been able to talk about it more rationally if Sam hadn’t been constantly lying to him and hiding things from him, leaving him wondering now what else he still doesn’t know and just how radically Sam’s judgment has been flavored by the blood he’s already drunk.

I found it very telling that, before the angry Dean of Sam’s projected fears came to the fore, his hallucination of Dean very reasonably asked him what he wanted revenge on Lilith for, given that Dean was alive and kicking and at his side again. That was a question Sam couldn’t answer, not even with the suggestion that he, as Mary, had offered himself earlier of being motivated by justice rather than vengeance. My guess is that Sam’s continuing need and drive for revenge is driven by multiple things he’s still not ready to admit. Part of it, I think, is ingrained habit – it was his defining motive for all the months he spent alone while Dean was dead and in Hell – and part is the perception that the brother he got back, scarred by overwhelming guilt and drinking to escape nightmare terror and crippling shame, isn’t the same as the brother he lost. On top of that, his own personal dreams of normality, those steadily broken dreams that finally and decidedly died with Dean, weren’t miraculously resurrected with his brother, so anger for his own loss is in the mix. And finally, there’s that need to be the hero of his own story, not a helpless infant victim, so most of his revenge is for himself, directed at Lilith since Azazel is already gone.

The final confrontation between the brothers in this episode blurred the lines between reality and imagination because Sam pushed the real Dean to say the same words spoken by his hallucination: You’re a monster. That the real Dean had to be forced to it and began to cry for it made less of an impression on Sam than simply that he said the words, because in Sam’s mind they still rang with the bitter, vindictive dismissal of the hallucinatory Dean in his memory. In every story of magic, words have power; here, they had the power to destroy.

I Guess I Found My Line

Throughout the first half of season two, we saw Dean spiraling down and out of control trying to deal with the secret burden John had laid on him to save Sam, because if he failed, he might have to kill him. Even the thought of killing Sam was impossible for Dean to face. When he confronted Sam probably turning into an infected monster in Croatoan, we saw him resolve to die himself if Sam went down. In Hunted, when he finally admitted to Sam what John had laid on him, we saw him beg Sam for time and understanding, then rush to back Sam up, and finally defend him staunchly to Gordon. In Playthings, a drunken Sam forced Dean to promise to kill him if he turned into something he wasn’t and refused to disavow that promise in the cold and sober light of morning, but Born Under A Bad Sign demonstrated graphically that Dean couldn’t do it; that he’d rather die himself than pull the trigger on his brother, no matter what Sam did. And in All Hell Breaks Loose, when he saw Sam murdered in front of him, he sold his own soul to get his brother back.

All his life, Dean has held himself responsible for Sam. He’s been brother, best friend, mother, and more of a father than John to Sam; Sam in turn has been brother, best friend, son, and every reason for making the best out of any situation to Dean. Dean’s love and need for Sam are the rhythm of his heart, the music of his soul, the breath in his lungs. It took Sam’s addiction to demon blood to force Dean to a stand he never imagined himself able to take: the realization that there were worse things that could happen to Sam even than his brother’s death, and that he would rather see Sam dead than transformed into something out of Hell, something Sam himself once feared more than death. Most acutely because of his own experience in Hell, I think, Dean has come to perceive that Sam losing his soul would be worse than Sam losing his life, and he fears that Ruby is conning Sam out of his soul using demon blood under the pretext of giving him the power to do good by killing Lilith. The method is different and more subtle than the straightforward deal offered by a crossroads demon, but if the end result is the same, what difference would it make?

Saving his brother is the only thing I could imagine that would prompt Dean to surrender himself to God and his angels. A year ago, he didn’t believe in either; after nearly a year as their pawn on the board, he may almost believe, but he certainly doesn’t trust. Still, he knows when he’s overmatched; he’s honest enough in his assessment of his own abilities to realize that mere human strength – even strength fueled by love and self-sacrifice – isn’t always enough. Angelic allies to counter demon hordes may be the only hope.

Watching Dean agree to Castiel’s terms and give himself over wholly to serve God and His angels, swearing to follow His word and His will as swiftly as he followed his own father’s, put me right back at the crossroads in All Hell Breaks Loose. It’s clear that the angels understand Dean’s triggers every bit as well as the demons do; when it’s Sam’s life and soul on the line, Dean can’t bargain worth a damn because no price is too high for him to pay. It’s a fire sale, and everything must go, as a certain red-eyed demon put it once. Dean will always value Sam above himself.

The difference, however, is that God doesn’t bargain. Castiel hinted that Sam wouldn’t have to be forfeit if Dean stepped up to the plate, but he never committed that Sam would be saved in exchange for Dean pledging himself. The demons offered a quid pro quo: Sam’s life for Dean’s soul. Castiel said only, If it gives you comfort to see it that way. There was no promise, no consideration paid; just the demand. Dean sold himself to Hell, but gave himself to Heaven, and all for the same cause: Sam.

As the voice of reason, Bobby raised all the questions that Dean had to confront, serving as Dean’s foil the same way that Sam’s hallucinations laid his fears and questions bare. In a way, Bobby also did for Dean what the Trickster had tried to do for Sam in Mystery Spot: Bobby’s question about whether they were doing the wrong thing simply because they loved Sam too much was analogous to the Trickster trying to get Sam to concede that the Winchester propensity for constantly sacrificing themselves to save each other was a recipe for doom and disaster. Dean still puts Sam’s welfare ahead of everything else, not just his own life, but even the survival of the world. He did it in All Hell Breaks Loose, and he did it again here.

One wonders, when his orders come from Heaven, whether he’ll be forced to change those priorities. Castiel made him speak aloud the words of his oath to the service of God, and I suspect that was as much a binding as the kiss that seals a demon deal. Words have power.

Dean’s final confrontation with Sam demonstrated that again. His point in the whole episode, the point that Sam refused even to see, much less concede, was that he couldn’t in conscience trust Sam’s judgment because he had no way to tell how much of that judgment was Sam’s and how much may have been unconsciously, unknowingly influenced by the quantity of demon blood he’d drunk. It had nothing to do with judging Sam and everything to do with not putting the world’s car keys into the hands of a seemingly lucid potential drunk who wouldn’t and couldn’t realize how affected and impaired he was – right up until Sam insisted that, contrary to Dean’s belief, he did know exactly what he was doing, and intended to do it. That made it immeasurably worse, because he was telling Dean he was speaking, not the blood, and he needed Ruby and didn’t need Dean. He wanted Dean, but he needed Ruby; that meant a demon was more important than his brother. They don’t need you; not like you need them. Azazel’s shot had hit Dean straight in the heart in Devil’s Trap; Sam’s words hammered that bolt home.

Dean’s parting words, that gasping echo of John’s anger when Sam walked out to go to Stanford – You walk out that door, don’t you ever come back – were also more than that, if Sam still had ears to hear. The anger was only the surface; what drove it were the same things that had driven John to shout the same words: love and fear, and both for Sam.

Those Were My Orders // Lucifer’s First

The angels play a deep game, and so do the demons. I don’t think we’ve fully seen the cards held by either side, and I’m not even sure what game we’re playing or how to figure a winning hand.

Castiel’s deliberate delay of hours in responding to Dean’s summons was a marked change from his nearly instant response to Dean’s first prayer in The Monster At The End Of This Book, providing a pointed reminder of his comment in The Rapture that he didn’t serve Dean. However, Castiel’s inner conflict between his orders and his compassion is still visible, evidence that his disciplining in Heaven didn’t include the removal of his emotions, nor his connection with Dean. He insisted on his orders and pressured Dean into making his commitment to God and his angels, but it was clear that he understood the cost and didn’t dismiss it. And although he captured Anna and saw her returned to Heaven for whatever punishment awaits, he plainly doubted his action and regretted the outcome.

I don’t understand why Castiel was ordered to release Sam, and found it interesting that Anna had no clue, either. I suspect the prophet Chuck may have seen Sam free and playing a role beside Ruby in what is to come. We know from The Monster At The End Of This Book that the angels believe what Chuck sees is divinely dictated and must come to pass; even without understanding exactly what role Sam is to play, the angels would feel obligated to enable him to fulfill it if Chuck had seen it. Using Sam to pressure Dean into doing what he must is another possibility. The angels clearly know that Sam is the ultimate lever to shift Dean to their side and ensure he stays there; throwing Sam into the conflict guarantees that Dean will fight to save him, in soul if not in body.

The scariest thought is that what Chuck has foreseen or what the angels intend might pit Sam against Dean. I can’t think of either winning in that kind of showdown. Perhaps the hope is that at the last, even if all else fails and they do contend against each other, Sam beside demons and Dean beside angels, they would turn aside from final destruction because neither could bear actually destroying the other. They’ve both come close to it – Dean most recently in Sex And Violence and Sam at the end of this episode – but neither has actually done the irrevocable. The angels may have cause to think that Dean is the one person who could make Sam hesitate when seconds are crucial, or reach his soul even if it’s drowning in demon blood and power. I don’t know, and it scares me to my soul. The angels might also think to use Dean’s utter willingness to sacrifice himself for Sam. What would happen if Lucifer were to rise, but could be trapped in a human vessel – and angel-branded Dean, sworn to God’s service and obedience, took his brother’s place?

On the demon side, I still don’t trust Ruby for an instant. There was too much satisfaction in her at the way Sam took the blood he needed, too much contentment in her pleasure at observing that his appetite had grown. I can’t help but think that Ruby stringing him out was deliberate; that even if she hadn’t thought Dean would trap him, she had always meant to put him through a period of withdrawal in order to make his need and addiction all the greater when he got access to blood again.

I also didn’t trust her story of Lucifer’s First. Sam jumped to the conclusion that Lilith was Lucifer’s First, and Ruby went along – but Ruby never actually said that Lilith was Lucifer’s First. He twists and tempts a human soul into the very first demon – sounds a lot like what Ruby herself has been up to with Sam. We’ve already seen Sam’s irises go demon-black after a hefty blood meal in On The Head Of A Pin; what will we see when he’s drunk enough to take on Lilith? And even if Lilith was the first one Lucifer twisted into a demon, did he manage to do it while she was still alive, or only after she died in sin and wound up in Hell? I wonder about Sam, being a human and still alive – well, alive again, technically – possibly becoming a living demon; has there ever been one, or was that part of Azazel’s plan, something that confers power of its own? If Lilith was and is a living demon, would it take another such or Lucifer himself to have the power to destroy her?

Lilith’s course of action is also beyond my understanding. If she really wants to live, I don’t understand why she has continued to open seals even after she told Sam in The Monster At The End Of This Book that she had learned she would die before the good part, before Lucifer rose to bring Hell on Earth. Perhaps she has no choice; perhaps she is sworn to Lucifer’s service and can’t refuse, as Dean is now sworn to God’s. Perhaps only she can break the last seal, because she is the last seal. Perhaps only a living human demon could kill her, and that was the root of Azazel’s plans to seed potent demon blood and power across selected human children. If that’s the case, perhaps Sam is intended to destroy her to bring about the opening of the final seal and the freedom of Lucifer, and her attempt to get Sam to surrender his life and Dean’s in exchange for the salvation of the world was the only chance she had to avoid her fate, at least until someone else – Azazel’s target baby Rosie from season one’s Salvation, perhaps? – could have been brought to the point where Sam is now. If that is true, Ruby is Azazel’s tool continuing his plans, and has always been a trap and snare for Sam.

When it comes to angels and demons, I have many more questions than answers, and all of them terrify me. Like Dean, I don’t trust either side.

Production Notes

Combine Sera Gamble’s writing with Robert Singer’s direction, Serge Ladouceur’s lighting, Jay Gruska’s music, and stellar performances by Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Jim Beaver and you have a recipe for heartbreak and suspense.

From the very first moments, this episode was special. Robert Singer’s direction and Serge Ladouceur’s lighting were magical throughout, and the opening bit of dialogue between the brothers through the grill in the panic room door was just the first taste. The red lighting on Sam’s face evoked passion, blood, and Hell, while all we could see of resolute, implacable Dean were his eyes in cold, dead, harsh light. Dean walking up the stairs into the light and pausing to listen to Sam shouting behind him was iconic, and the contrast between the warm and living light up in Bobby’s study and the washed out chill of the panic room was striking. The progression of light and dark both in the panic room and outside the windows of Bobby’s house gave us the sequence of days and hours that all these characters suffered through. It worked especially well in the final transition between Sam slumping down at the end of his hallucination of Dean, and then waking up in the night just before his cuffs popped open.

I loved the angles of shots, especially during Sam’s hallucinations in the panic room, the conversations between Bobby and Dean, and the final shots in the hotel room between Sam and Dean. Many of the panic room shots put us into Sam’s perspective; we saw his surroundings and some of his hallucinations directly from his viewpoint, putting us into his mindset, and that was never more effective than in the very last part of the scene with hallucinatory Dean glaring down at us and calling him a monster. The flip side of that shot was being in Dean’s perspective watching Sam walking out that door at the end of the episode; the camera was down on the floor looking up, like Dean, and Sam looked down and walked out on us. The transitions between Sam’s hallucinations and reality were facilitated by both Singer’s direction and Nicole Baer’s editing, and made really effective use of crane shots; things like pulling in tight on Sam screaming under Alastair’s torture and then pulling back and up to show Sam alone in the room screaming in a crucifixion pose on the bed, or flipping back and forth between hallucinatory Dean talking to Sam and Sam talking to Dean’s disembodied imaginary voice on the air. The intercutting of Sam’s hallucination of Dean rejecting him with the real Dean speaking his love for Sam was perfect. Dean’s fist coming right into the camera lens made for one of the most effective ad breaks ever, and Singer shooting through the glass mirror as Sam smashed it with Dean’s face may be the most dramatic commentary on mirrors that this show has ever done, not to mention it being one heck of an exciting shot.

Sera Gamble’s script was brilliant, taking us effortlessly into each of the character’s heads and laying out all of their feelings and thought processes. The device of Sam both arguing with and validating himself through his hallucinations brought out his inner conflicts as nothing else could have, and reassured any doubters that most of the Sam we know, however disillusioned, hurt, and angry, is still inside the hardened shell he’s shown the world all this season. Using Bobby to accomplish the same end with Dean was perfect. I just desperately hope that Bobby survives what’s coming, because – quite apart from how much I love him! – the boys need the perspective that he brings when their own eyes can’t see clearly through their tears and fears. Bobby pouring whiskey for himself and Dean was another telling touch conveying how desperate things have become and how much grief they’re both bearing; we haven’t seen Bobby drink alcohol since Dean confronted him in Lazarus Rising over all bottles he’d emptied after Dean’s death, and breaking out the bottle now felt like an admission of defeat. What I most loved about the script, however, was the way it showed us that despite their bitter estrangement, the brothers’ love for each other is deep and undiminished; that gives me hope even in the midst of the currently unmitigated disaster of their broken relationship because I still believe they will find their way back to being family, to calling each other bitch and jerk and agreeing, We have work to do.

My only issues with the script come because this story is just the first of at least two and likely more parts; I don’t think it can be judged as complete until we’ve seen it all, as we couldn’t really judge Dead Man’s Blood until after seeing Salvation, Devil’s Trap, and In My Time Of Dying. The most bothersome aspect for me was the tension created by the anomalous action of Castiel in freeing Sam, and I’m betting that will be resolved in the next couple of episodes – the season five premiere, if not the season four finale. I also want to understand what’s going on with Anna and the divisions among angels, and to see Castiel resolving his inner debates over the conflict between obedience to harsh orders and the love of God.

If I had to pick a single favorite musical theme from Supernatural’s original score, I would have to go with Jay Gruska’s poignant theme for Dean’s love of family. A variation on that theme was the very last music we heard under Dean issuing John’s ultimatum, Sam walking out the door, and Dean being unable to get up. That was just the last bit of a beautifully scored episode. Even though the show’s signature rock was missing, there was more music in this episode than in most, and it underscored and amplified every emotion. In previous seasons, composers Jay Gruska and Chris Lennertz traded off, doing alternate episodes, but this season has seen more episodes scored by Jay and he seems to be enjoying it, judging from the quality of his work. Soundtracks using original scores present a challenge because most musical cues in television episodes are very short, but I would love to hear both Jay and Chris put together thematic suites built from those cues, and this episode’s score would be a rich source.

The sound crew also deserves a special mention for this episode. The echoing, metallic quality of sound in the panic room reinforced the impression that the walls are iron, even though they’re just painted wood. The depth of field in the sound recording made every location three-dimensional; listen to the subdued but almost constant city-style traffic noises in the background of the hotel scenes with Sam and Ruby, reinforcing the impression that this hotel wasn’t in the kind of backwater locale the Winchesters usually favored.

Last but very far from least, the actors’ performances in this episode made it all painfully real. Jared Padalecki’s depiction of Sam in withdrawal was harrowing. His body language of a junkie in withdrawal sold Sam’s physical pain, and his naked, open reactions to all of his hallucinations threw aside the bold hard face Sam has shown us all this season to reveal the Sam we know and love still underneath. Jared has grown so much as an actor across the seasons of this show that I marvel. Jensen Ackles took Dean somewhere we never expected him to go, and every moment was agony and grief and pure helpless love. Jim Beaver continued to make Bobby indispensible to the boys, so much so that I fear for his character’s life in this show that delights in torturing its viewers. Misha Collins gave us conflicted Castiel, obedient but still questioning, empathizing with Dean and Anna even as he forced compliance from the first and lured the second to captivity. It was a delight to see Colin Ford act directly opposite Jared’s grown-up Sam, presenting the contrast between dreams and innocence and despair and resignation. (Note to the hair and makeup folks, though: Colin’s hair didn’t need to be darkened to make him a closer match to Jared’s Sam!) And even though she was a hallucination and not the real Mary, seeing Samantha Smith giving Sam the kind of contact that Dean had gotten in his djinn dream in What Is And What Should Never Be was a sweet parallel with images I cherish.

Neither Sam nor Dean can run from what’s inside them. My only hope is that the strongest thing inside them, despite everything, is still their love for each other.
 


Tags: bobby singer, castiel, dean winchester, episode commentaries, jared padalecki, jay gruska, jensen ackles, jim beaver, meta, robert singer, sam winchester, sera gamble, supernatural, supernatural university
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