Cross Road Blues was brilliant. Acting, story, concept, brotherly moments, music, the lot – it was wonderful, Supernatural at its best. I meant to write this blog last night, and I simply couldn’t. It wasn’t lack of energy or desire; there was simply too much in the episode for me to have done it justice, approaching it too soon. I’m going to fall short now as well, but I have to try. If Sam and Dean can soldier on in John’s memory despite their crushing burdens, surely I can write a simple blog.
We’ve known this was coming for a while, ever since the events of In My Time of Dying. We knew that the boys had to assemble the too-coincidental pieces of Dean’s miraculous recovery, John’s death, and the absence of the Colt into a single picture, and Dean painted it with heartbreaking accuracy in the final moments of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. Standing at the crossroads, Dean’s anger at anyone who would make a pact with a demon was directed straight at his father. And when he faced Evan, a man who’d made the same choice as John and for the same reason, all the words he would have thrown in his father’s face came pouring out: “I think you did it for yourself, so you wouldn’t have to live without her. But guess what – she’s gonna have to live without you, now. What if she knew how much it cost? What if she knew it cost your soul? How do you think she’d feel?” He’d said as much to John once, back in Dead Man’s Blood when John said then that he couldn’t and wouldn’t watch his children die. Dean asked him, “What happens if you die? Dad, what happens if you die, and we could have done something about it?” John had no answer then, and he doesn’t have one now, either.
It occurs to me that experiencing non-stop the potent mix of Dean’s agony, grief, guilt, self-destructiveness and rage would make a pretty appropriate torment for John’s soul, wherever he is. Because of John’s deal, his son is alive, yes; but he’s also in the worst and most unremitting pain of his life, and there’s no anodyne for it. The crossroads demon had it right: Dean is lit up with pain, standing in a fire that will never go out until he either dies or finds a way to pay John back for his undesired gift. John accepted going to hell himself, but I don’t think he ever stopped to realize that he’d be taking Dean right along there with him. In trading his soul for Dean’s life, John condemned them both. The Demon got a two-for-one on that deal.
The one bright spot was that the brothers were finally talking, and without using emotional crowbars to pry or smash each other open. Sam understood what Dean was thinking about John and his sacrifice from the first moment at the crossroads, and he realized how badly Dean was hurting, even if he couldn’t feel the same himself. Let me step aside for a moment here to applaud Jared Padalecki for a particularly fine performance. Sam’s face at the crossroads, at the house when Dean challenged Evan’s motives, in the hall challenging the plan to summon the demon and talking openly about John’s deal, in the Impala – his fear and concern for Dean were apparent in every expression as he tried to find the right words to help his brother. We could see Sam thinking, grieving for his brother’s pain, and becoming both more afraid and more determined to stay strong for him. That was powerful.
Dean choosing to summon the demon and offer himself in Evan’s place, even as a ruse, was frightening. Like Sam, I didn’t like where Dean’s head was at. When doomed artist George Darrow, accepting the inevitability of his death and damnation, said simply, “I’m tired,” the look on Dean’s face reflected that same depth of soul-weariness. Dean is tired, heart and soul, and living is so much harder and more constantly grueling than dying; trading himself for another could put a good face on giving up. When the demon instead offered him all his heart’s desire – his family, together and whole – he was truly tempted, and no mistake. I think that walking away from that offer is the single bravest thing I’ve ever seen Dean do, and it cost him dearly. He found the strength to pull up a joke to express his denial – “You think you could … throw in a set of steak knives?” – but his voice shook with the exhaustion and effort of it. It clearly took everything he had. And after that, to hear the demon telling him that John was in hell, paying constantly in torment for every breath Dean takes … it was no wonder that he couldn’t look at or answer Sam in the Impala at the end, because it wasn’t all a trick; he actually had considered making that deal. Jensen Ackles consistently inhabits Dean so perfectly that I keep forgetting to mention his performances, but he was superb in this.
So what made Dean choose differently than his father did? I think Dean’s own experience argues that bartering a soul has unintended consequences, and he would never choose to do to Sam what their father did to him. He may not place much value on his own soul or his own life, but he would never threaten or mortgage Sam’s. He would sacrifice himself in a heartbeat if it meant saving Sam; he’s been doing just that in little pieces all his life. But forfeiting his soul would mean forfeiting part of Sam’s, too, and that’s one step I don’t think he could take.
Actually hearing Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues” during the scene of Johnson selling his soul was wonderful. Dean being familiar with and loving the blues that gave birth to his beloved classic rock was a delight. His non-answer to Sam in the Impala at the end – glancing away, changing the radio from blues/jazz (that was Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway,” by the way) to rock, and cranking the volume – really was an answer, delivered in music.
Everyone now has files on Dean – the
Dean + Myspace = hilarious!!
Sera Gamble is one of my favorite writers for this show, along with Raelle Tucker and Eric Kripke. She has a particularly nice touch with Dean. Steve Boyum is a new director with an interesting background as a stunt coordinator – always a handy expertise to have around when working on a show like Supernatural – and I enjoyed how he handled the never-seen but always terrifying hellhounds. The things you imagine are always scarier than the ones you see.
And those previews! I think I’ll have to devote a whole separate blog to those!