5.01 Sympathy For The Devil: What I Need Is You
Lucifer walks Earth;
Angels seek the Michael sword.
Trust is hard to find.
Picking up precisely where last season’s Lucifer Rising left off, the
Trying to find Castiel, they arrived at Chuck’s home in the morning to find the kitchen trashed and bloodied. Chuck was relieved to see them well, especially after his last vision of Sam in the chapel having gone “full-on Vader,” with demon-black eyes – something neither of the brothers had known. He told them Cas was dead, destroyed by the archangel. Right on cue, Zachariah appeared with two confederates, telling Dean he had to come with them to destroy Lucifer before he found his vessel, because once he had a body, he would be powerful in ways they couldn’t imagine. Dean refused to cooperate and when Zachariah started to try pressuring him, pulled out the sliding door of the kitchen to reveal an angel-banishing sigil drawn on the door in his own blood – the same one used by Castiel in Lucifer Rising. Dean slapped his palm against the sigil to complete the spell, and the angels were flung away in a burst of light.
The boys retreated to a motel to regroup. Sam provided hex bags he’d made to hide them from both angels and demons, something he’d learned from Ruby. Dean asked Sam how he was doing and if he felt the need to drink blood again. Sam said he felt fine, with none of the withdrawal symptoms he’d experienced before, and wondered if whatever had put them on the plane had somehow cleaned it all out of him. Sam again tried to apologize but Dean flared up, asking why Sam kept bringing it up when he knew there wasn’t anything he could do or say to make it better. Dean maintained they didn’t need to put it under a microscope; that they’d made a mess and would just clean it up. Trying to treat it like any other hunt, he prompted Sam to think about what they needed to do first: find the Devil, the thing they were supposed to stop.
Come nightfall in
Elsewhere in the night, Becky, a fan of the Supernatural books writing a slash story on her computer, received a web call from Chuck, who contacted her to carry a message to Sam and Dean because he was afraid he was being watched by the angels and didn’t think that anyone but a rabid fan would believe him. Becky followed his directions to the motel the next day, where she gushed over Sam and then delivered Chuck’s message: the angels had lost the Michael sword and it was on Earth, in a castle on a hill made of forty-two dogs.
Bobby arrived in the Impala, which had been left at his place when the angels abducted Dean in Lucifer Rising. He brought books for them to read in search of clues to the sword, and said that archangel Michael had been the one who put Lucifer down in hell the last time. Sam told Bobby – over Dean’s protests – that this was all his fault, that Lilith was the final Seal and when he killed her, he set Lucifer free. He acknowledged they’d tried to warn him about Ruby and the demon blood, but he hadn’t listened. Appalled and furious, Bobby told him this kind of thing didn’t get forgiven and if they got through it, Sam should lose his number. Chastened, Sam left to do his reading in a nearby church, but took no books.
Alone in the room with Dean, Bobby mused that he’d never thought he’d agree John was right about Sam, when he’d told Dean to either save Sam or kill him, and wondered if they shouldn’t have tried so hard to save him. Dean had a sudden flash of memory and dug out the card for John’s storage space in upstate
Up in Pike Creek, Nick was packing baby clothes and toys into a box when the baby’s swing began to rock and the baby monitor buried in the box transmitted the sounds of a baby crying. He went upstairs to the nursery and turned on the light, but saw only the empty crib. He turned away only to hear the crying again, and when he looked back, saw blood pouring out of the crib. Overcome, he fell to his knees, weeping beside the empty, neat, and unstained crib.
The boys took Bobby to the emergency room, but Dean insisted they had to leave him there and try to beat the demons to the storage unit to retrieve the Michael sword. Driving breakneck through the night, they opened the lockup to find demons lying dead on the floor and Zachariah waiting with two other angels. Zachariah admitted he’d planted the prophetic image of the sword and the lockup in Chuck’s mind because he really had lost the sword when the Winchesters disappeared from angel senses: he claimed the sword was Dean, who was destined to be Michael’s vessel. Trying to force Dean to agree, since angels can’t possess unwilling hosts, Zachariah broke Sam’s legs, threatened to leave Bobby crippled for life, and afflicted Dean with terminal stomach cancer, offering to make everything right if only Dean agreed. Dean refused, and Zachariah upped the ante by depriving Sam of his lungs, suffocating him. Dean still refused to yield, preferring to die. In a flash of brilliant light, Castiel appeared, killing one of Zachariah’s flunkies before he was even aware, and launching a violent attack on the other that left him dead as well. Facing off against a shocked and surprised Zachariah, Castiel said that they both knew the answer to how he was alive again and who had put the boys on the airplane. He told Zachariah to put the boys back together and leave, and Zachariah silently complied.
Castiel warned that Lucifer was circling his vessel and once he took it, the hex bags wouldn’t be enough to protect the brothers. He touched both of them, carving an Enochian protective sigil into their very bones to render them invisible to every angel. He admitted that he really had been dead, but when Dean asked how he was back, he vanished.
Nick woke within his dream to see his wife Sarah, who told him he was dreaming but that it was very real. She said she wasn’t his wife, but the angel Lucifer. She told him she was there because he was special, someone very rare, a vessel. She said she needed to take control of his mind and body, and admitted that it would probably be unpleasant for him, but was necessary. She said it would be his choice, that he needed to invite her in, and for incentive, she drew a parallel between herself and him, saying she had loved God too much and for that, he had punished her, even as he had punished Nick by letting his family be butchered in their beds. Lucifer claimed that proved God was either sadistic or simply didn’t care. Noting that Nick was righteously angry and that God had done this to him, Lucifer offered to get him justice and peace. Flashing back through all his images of loss, Nick agreed, and Lucifer took him.
At the hospital, Bobby reacted badly to hearing that he was unlikely to walk again, and verbally chased the doctor out of his room. Dean maintained he’d be fine. Sam asked what they would do now, and Bobby disconsolately said they’d save as many as they could for as long as they could. Dean asked what would happen if humans won, asserting they should take them all on, demons and angels alike, refusing to play in the apocalypse and instead killing Lucifer themselves, and maybe Michael too. Maintaining he had no idea how to do it, but that he had a GED and a give ‘em hell attitude and he’d figure it out, Dean offered crazy hope, which at least made Bobby smile. As the boys left, Bobby stopped Sam, telling him the words he’d spoken earlier were the demon’s, not his own, and that he wasn’t cutting Sam out, not ever. Outside the hospital, Dean admitted his pep talk had been just for Bobby’s benefit and he didn’t believe they had any chance. Sam asked if Dean had something to say to him, and Dean finally opened up, confessing that he’d tried to pretend everything could be all right, but he didn’t think it ever could be again. He acknowledged he knew Sam was sorry and would do anything to take it back, but said Sam was the one he had depended on the most, and Sam, in choosing a demon over his own brother, had let him down in ways he couldn’t even express. Sam asked what he could do, and Dean said, nothing. He said he didn’t think they could ever again be what they once were, because he didn’t think he could trust Sam. Sam just stood as Dean walked away and got into the car alone.
Sympathy For The Devil wasn’t the best season opener, but it definitely set the stage for what promises to be a complex and emotional season. It was at its best in depicting the strain between the brothers and emphasizing the consequences of actions taken and choices made, but I think it faltered in setting up a messy and convoluted twist on the show’s mythology. I suspect part of that twist may be a red herring, but more about that later in this discussion. From the smorgasbord of potential meta topics, I’m going to delve into the relationship between the brothers, my take on Dean as the “Michael sword,” Bobby’s possession and Meg’s reappearance, and the nature of Lucifer.
This Is All My Fault, I’m Sorry
From the very beginning of the episode, Sam, racked with guilt, kept trying to apologize, and Dean refused to permit it. Only when Bobby arrived – well, a demon in Bobby’s body, but a third corner to the conversation nonetheless – did Sam succeed in saying what he meant to say: he understood he had been the one to unleash the apocalypse by refusing to listen to the warnings from Bobby and Dean, and he was sorry.
Sam’s guilt and contrition were palpable. He genuinely understood the magnitude of what he’d done, and would have done anything to be able to take it back. The whole of how he’d been deceived and had even facilitated his own deception had become clear to him at the end of Lucifer Rising, and the responsibility was crushing.
Dean’s refusal to allow Sam to speak may seem curious at first blush, but I think it had several components. One was definitely his typical desire not to have to face the emotion: to be able to pretend that everything was normal again, and not to have to think about what to do next once the apology was out in the open. But that, I think, was the least of his reasons.
Another, I’m certain, was the depth of his own guilt. The one and only secret we still haven’t seen Dean share with anyone other than Alastair and the angels was the horror he learned in On The Head Of A Pin: that when he, to his everlasting shame and guilt, broke in Hell, he also broke the first Seal, enabling the demons and Zachariah’s faction of angels to jump-start the apocalypse. I’m confident he hadn’t shared that information with Sam off-screen because if he had, it would definitely have featured in Sam’s hallucinations in When The Levee Breaks.
Because of that, I think Dean didn’t want to let Sam apologize in part precisely because he still feels that the first and greater guilt falls on him. Knowing how Dean thinks, he believes that if he hadn’t broken, the pressure wouldn’t ever have fallen on Sam, so Sam’s guilt for the apocalypse is largely his own fault, and nothing he wants to hear Sam apologize for. Sam’s apology just brings the magnitude of his own failure to the fore. Sooner or later, Dean’s going to have to admit his role to his brother and the world, and that will just mean more guilt and more shame. He knows full well that if he doesn’t admit it outright, the truth will still out eventually: all the demons and all the angels know it, so only humans are still in the dark. I think Dean believes that having started the apocalypse is more on him than on Sam, and I think he fears that in the eyes of everyone he knows, of all the humans he would die to save, that will ultimately prove a truly unforgiveable offense.
I think another reason Dean didn’t want Sam to open up about his role in the apocalypse was his fear that Bobby and others really wouldn’t be able to forgive the men who, all unwitting, brought about the end of the world. Dean still loves Sam more than life, even with his current trust issues; I really believe he doesn’t want to see Sam, of all people, condemned for Dean’s mistakes and weaknesses, or even for Sam’s own.
When Sam finally succeeded in apologizing for his role in the apocalypse, though, Dean watched events unfold with different eyes. He didn’t intervene when demon!Bobby laid into Sam, not because he felt it was earned or justified, I think, but because he saw the effect it had on Sam. Sam was hurt by Bobby’s reaction, no question, but in a way, he was also satisfied. He’d been drowning in his own guilt, feeling he should have been punished for what he did, but encountering only Dean’s refusal to satisfy that need. It’s a psychological thing within us that when we know we’ve done wrong, when we know we deserve punishment, we feel even more guilty if that punishment doesn’t happen. There’s no release from the guilt if we’re not allowed to acknowledge it and accept the consequences. There’s a satisfaction in accepting punishment we genuinely feel is due; it’s expiation following contrition, and only after we’ve experienced it can we accept forgiveness and move on. This is the sound psychological basis for such theological concepts as the Catholic sacrament of confession, in which worshippers admit their faults and sins, accept administrative punishments, and are granted absolution.
I think Dean let Sam apologize and stood silent while Sam accepted his punishment precisely because he finally saw that Sam needed this. He clearly was disquieted and disturbed by the vitriol of Bobby’s response, but he didn’t comment on it; he saw it as being uncharacteristic of Bobby, but he also saw that Sam sucked it up and accepted it as his due, afterward feeling less poisoned by his guilt even though he was badly hurt and shocked by thinking that Bobby was disowning him. Sam was willing to accept whatever Bobby decreed as appropriate for what he’d done; that more than anything else indicated just how earnest Sam was in his contrition. It was also instructive to see Dean watching again at the end, when Bobby made clear to Sam that he wasn’t going to cut Sam off, ever. Dean didn’t miss either Bobby’s sincerity or the effect it had on Sam: that was the first genuine smile we’d seen on Sam’s face since he realized what he’d done, and Dean took it all in, learning from it.
The scene between the brothers at the end was the single most important one of the episode for me. It defined the real core of the damage to the brothers’ relationship from all that had gone before. Dean’s betrayal and pain weren’t for Sam’s role in the apocalypse; Dean’s own guilt for that stands as the worse offense in Dean’s own eyes. Instead, it boils down to the very last exchange between them:
You were the one that I depended on the most, and you let me down in ways that I can’t even … I’m just, I’m having a hard time forgiving and forgetting here, y’know?
What can I do?
Honestly? Nothing. I just don’t … I don’t think we can ever be what we were, y’know? I just don’t think I can trust you.
The real problem for Dean isn’t that Sam opened the last Seal: it’s that Sam lied to him and hid things from him for a long time before that, and finally, deliberately, chose Ruby over him, nearly killing him before walking away. Dean kept John’s and his own secrets from time to time, and is still keeping his own worst secret about having broken the first Seal, but the simple truth is that Dean has always shared his heart with Sam, and sooner rather than later. The only things he’s generally hidden from Sam for any period of time were things he thought might hurt or frighten Sam. He’s needed time along the way to come to terms with his own issues and memories, but in the end he’s always, always, opened himself up and shared with Sam, and held nothing back in the telling no matter how badly it reflected on him. He always trusted Sam to accept him. Sam, on the other hand, has consistently kept his secrets even after they’ve come out, especially when he was ashamed of them and feared that Dean wouldn’t still love him if he knew. For example, just think how long a time passed between Sam seeing the vision of being fed demon blood in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 1, and finally admitting what he’d known only when he slipped up while talking to Dean in Metamorphosis, when Dean was sharing his experience of seeing the past during In The Beginning.
At the same time, however, I think Dean in his sorrow, loss, and pain overstated the impossibility of complete reconciliation. The brotherly love between them is still there and still strong, in both directions. There is something Sam can do to regain Dean’s trust: it will just take time. It will take Sam being there for Dean no matter what, as events unfold. It will take painful and unhappy truths and shared guilt and loss. I fully expect there will be glitches and slip-ups, as Sam doubts himself and Dean doubts everything, but I believe that in the end, they will come back together in a new relationship, even stronger for their hard-won understanding.
You’re The Michael Sword
The revelation that Dean apparently is intended to be the human vessel for the archangel Michael surprised and bothered me, based on what we learned about vessels from Castiel in Lazarus Rising and from Castiel, Jimmy, and Claire in The Rapture. In Lazarus Rising, Castiel told Dean that only certain special people – demonstrably not including Dean, after what happened when Castiel tried to speak to him in the gas station and at the hotel – could perceive his true visage and tolerate hearing his true voice. Castiel implied this ability, along with his host having prayed to serve, made his human vessel a suitable one to contain an angel. I don’t believe Castiel knew then that Zachariah believed Dean was slated to be Michael’s vessel, and thus expected him to have the characteristics of a vessel. I think Castiel’s surprise was simply that a man important enough to be the subject of prophecy and ordered rescued from Hell by an angel was still nothing more than human even after that experience. I believe Castiel spoke the truth in On The Head Of A Pin when he told Dean that he didn’t know what the prophecy of the righteous man meant, other than Dean was that man and the fate of the world thus rested on him.
In The Rapture, we learned the ability to be a vessel is innate and apparently has a genetic component; it’s in the blood, as Castiel said. Jimmy’s daughter Claire, like Jimmy, obviously possessed the ability to hear and speak with Castiel internally while he was in his angelic form, because she agreed to become his vessel right under the noses of the demons imprisoning her with none of them the wiser. We learned from both Jimmy and Claire that a vessel had to be willing and invite an angel to move in, unlike the case with demons who could possess unwilling hosts. All of those things – the relative rarity of humans able to be vessels, the innate blood-borne nature of the trait, the prospective vessel’s ability to perceive and understand angelic speech, and the requirement of willingness – were further reinforced through Lucifer’s seduction of Nick in Sympathy For The Devil.
Suitability as a vessel doesn’t come with any markers visible to our eyes. I suppose it’s possible that either John or Mary came from vessel stock and passed the ability on to one or both of their sons without ever knowing it. Vessel bloodlines may even have been one trait that Azazel looked for in breeding up his special children, depending on exactly what Lucifer wanted them to do in the long run. But if Dean had been endowed with the genetic gift of vessel suitability, even though hearing Castiel’s voice was overpowering the first time – remember, from what we saw in The Rapture, it was initially overwhelming for Jimmy too, putting him into something resembling an epileptic fit – I’d think he, like Jimmy, should have been able to tolerate and understand it by the second time around. At the least, Castiel should have been able to appear and speak to him in dreams as Lucifer did with poor Nick, manipulating his dreams and appearing in the semblance of the ghost of his dead wife. Instead, Castiel wasn’t able to communicate with Dean at all until after he had taken human form through residing in Jimmy. Even Castiel’s and Uriel’s visits to Dean in dreams, in The Rapture and Heaven and Hell, respectively, happened only after both had taken human vessels, suggesting that their voices still had to be moderated through human forms for Dean to perceive and understand them even in the realm of dreams. For those reasons, I think Dean, unlike Jimmy, Claire, and Nick, does not carry the genetic predisposition to be a vessel.
I would reason that being the one to break the first Seal marked Dean in Zachariah’s eyes as Michael’s destined vessel, since prophecy said that the righteous man who begins it is the only one who can finish it. In trying to persuade Dean to agree to serve, Zachariah insisted that there had to be a battle, that Michael had to defeat the Serpent, because that was also written. According to the evident rules of the game, if that battle were to take place on Earth, Michael, like Lucifer or any other angel, would have to inhabit a human vessel in order to meddle within human-perceptible reality. If Michael destroying or re-imprisoning Lucifer would end the apocalypse, then Zachariah’s logic would suggest that Michael would have to inhabit Dean to do it, in order to fulfill both the prophecy of the ultimate triumph of heaven and the prophecy of the righteous man. Ergo, Dean – being the man foretold in prophecy – would have been transformed by his fate in Hell into a vessel able to hold the archangel Michael, despite not carrying the genetic markers of vessel suitability for any other, lesser angel.
I would submit, however, that Zachariah is putting his own interpretation and spin on prophecy, and I think he is wrong. Prophecy is necessarily vague and often speaks in metaphors, and the favorite warning of mythology as epitomized by the stories of the Oracle at Delphi is that the assumptions you make about the meaning of a prophecy either to bring it about or to evade it may result in the opposite of what you intend. Something Zachariah said was curious in the extreme – We don’t have our general. It wasn’t clear from that whether Michael was simply absent from the fight on Earth because he lacked a suitable vessel, or whether Michael, like God, actually wasn’t in the heavenly building. It may well be that Michael hasn’t been involved yet in any part of Zachariah’s machinations to speed the start of the apocalypse, and that Zachariah, in attempting to secure Dean for him, is just doing what he thinks will further his plans and prepare for the endgame without knowing what Michael’s orders may actually be when he arrives from wherever to take command of the final battle.
Zachariah comes across as middle management stepping into a strategic void to take advantage of the absence of his superiors. He admitted to planting the “Michael’s sword” image in Chuck’s mind to draw the Winchesters to him since he could no longer find them courtesy of the hex bags Sam had made, so we have no reason to believe that anything he said about Dean being Michael’s sword or vessel has the same truth or inevitability as divinely inspired prophecy. I think it’s simply Zachariah’s interpretation, not reality. Zachariah is obviously a bureaucrat and not a warrior himself; recall how he simply stood by dumbfounded and took no action as Castiel took out his angel flunkies. I think Zachariah believes he knows how everything will play out and is acting accordingly. I think angels and demons will both hunt Dean with different ends in mind precisely because they share Zachariah’s view of things, but me? I don’t. I don’t think Dean is ever going to be Michael’s vessel.
You see, I don’t buy Dean’s role as being to step aside from himself to let an archangel use his body to ultimately save the day. Personal choice, free will, and accepting responsibility for the consequences of actions taken are all key themes underlying Supernatural’s entire story arc. For all its supernatural elements, the show is ultimately about being human, about the importance of the actions and choices and feelings of individuals and families. I don’t see the show copping out by having its human heart surrendered to the keeping of an angel for the final deciding act. I think it far more likely that the pep talk Dean gave Bobby, however much he didn’t believe in it himself at the time, will ultimately define the core of the story and the choices the characters make to fight for all that is human in despite of both the demonic and the divine. I could see Dean effectively taking on Michael’s warrior attributes and commanding role in the fight of good versus evil, but only as the defender of humanity, and only as a fully human man.
And something else? If within the show God is indeed Love – more the New Testament Father/Son/Spirit rather than the ruthless Old Testament Lord/King – my money would be on the divine supporting human choice, where that choice is made in love.
Your Surrogate Daddy Is Still Awake, Screaming In There
I really hope we learn when and how Bobby was possessed. Given how canny about demons he became after the tragic outcome of his first encounter, when he had to kill his possessed wife, I’m certain this was no opportunistic possession. We know that Bobby above all other hunters was able to spot possession in others and was wise to guarding against it for himself and his friends. At a minimum, he would always have been wearing one of his own anti-possession charms, and after the Winchesters got theirs tattooed onto their skins, I’d be surprised if he hadn’t done the same, and spread the tip to other hunters as something to do right along with stocking up on salt and holy water and seeding your property with devil’s traps.
My guess is that Meg (and I hope we learn the proper name for her someday, because after having met the ghost of human Meg in Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean
We don’t know when it happened, but we know it absolutely couldn’t have been before Dean left after Sam’s escape in When The Levee Breaks, because otherwise Bobby wouldn’t have been able to enter or even touch the door of the panic room. We can infer that it hadn’t happened before the last discussion he had with Dean in Lucifer Rising, because his message then about the importance of family was pure Bobby. My guess would be that it happened shortly after Lucifer’s rising, when the realization of his return brought dreams back to demons and the word began to spread through the demon world that Dean was target number one.
That demon!Meg wanted to hurt Bobby as badly as she wanted to hurt Dean was evident in her assertion that Bobby was deliberately allowed to remain awake inside his demon-possessed body to experience the full horror, despair, and grief of killing Dean, his surrogate son. I loved Bobby being able to turn that against her through the strength of his love and will being enough to overpower the demon’s control long enough to choose killing the demon within and very possibly himself rather than killing Dean. Bobby really is family, and family really is more than blood.
Bobby’s success in dominating the demon even if only for a few seconds supports the conclusion that John had achieved the same thing in Devil’s Trap. I had always debated within myself whether that glimpse of John’s own eyes, stripped of Azazel’s yellow, meant John truly had succeeded in breaking loose and stopping Azazel’s torture of Dean, or just indicated that Azazel had let him surface long enough to appreciate the full horror of his helplessness, savoring the taste of his ultimate despair. From now on, I’m going to go with John having actually succeeded in his attempt to save his son, and that makes me feel quietly good.
It also raises the question why Sam was never able to break free when he was possessed by demon!Meg and tormenting Dean. I can think of two reasons. The first and simplest is that Sam, unlike the others, wasn’t simply possessed; he’d been branded with a binding link, locking the demon inside his body beyond even the power of an exorcism to free him. The binding link might also have affected his ability to shift the demon out of control over his body from within. The second possible reason is that demon!Meg might have kept him mostly unaware of what he was doing, at least when Dean was the target. Sam really didn’t seem to remember having shot Dean, or beaten him at the end; he recalled seeing his hands murder Wandell, but demon!Meg may have been too busy enjoying using his body to torture Dean to bother with using Sam’s awareness of the events to torture Sam as well.
Bobby’s decision to save Dean by sacrificing himself has now had consequences he never would have expected. My guess is he thought he would die along with the demon, and he was prepared to accept that. I believe the possibility he may never walk again – that he may face living the rest of his life crippled, and with Armageddon in the offing – is nothing he’d ever contemplated. Bobby has always been active and a fighter; having to change his perceptions of himself and his abilities will be hard. But I believe in him, and in the strength and adaptability of the human spirit. And I believe in the love and support of his surrogate sons.
I Can Give You Justice
Lucifer’s seduction of his human vessel was chilling. Nick – how appropriate a name, given that the devil has often been called Old Nick – presented disturbing parallels to John Winchester: a grieving, angry man who lost his wife and child to brutal, apparently senseless violence. Both were obsessed with and gutted by their loss. But where John had two young sons to save and protect and provide a reason to go on, Nick had no one left.
I’m convinced Nick’s nightmares of blood and horror and loss were induced and emphasized by Lucifer to make Nick more susceptible to persuasion. I think those dream visions were Lucifer’s way of opening the conversation, and Nick’s ability to perceive them was proof that he, like Jimmy and Claire, is a vessel. Assuming the dream image of Nick’s dead wife was very calculated to play on his grief, anger, fear, and longing. Lucifer claimed that, contrary to legend, he didn’t lie; he said he didn’t have to. He didn’t lie – but he didn’t tell all the truth, either. He presented selective information, for truly is it said that even the Devil can quote scripture to his purpose. In his own defense, he claimed to have been betrayed by God and condemned for loving God too much; he neglected to mention disobeying God out of pride, or selfishly refusing to accept God’s love for his human creation.
Lucifer laid the blame for the deaths of Nick’s wife and child on God, using the case of what has long been called in theology and philosophy the problem of pain: the challenge to faith presented by a supposedly benevolent and omnipotent God allowing good people to be hurt. Lucifer presented only two possible reasons for God allowing Nick’s wife and child to be murdered: that he wanted to torment Nick, or that he didn’t care.
In placing all the blame for Nick’s pain on God, Lucifer neglected to mention other possible explanations for the problem of pain, starting with God having given humans – including the monster who butchered Nick’s family, assuming that had been done by a man and not a demon – free will to choose their actions for themselves, whether good or evil. And he also failed to mention demons and others encouraging humans down the dark road, enticing them to selfishness and abuse of others.
That very same free will, however, meant Nick had to invite Lucifer in, because Lucifer, being constrained by angelic rules rather than demonic ones, couldn’t take an unwilling host. This is interesting precisely because it establishes that Lucifer, despite being the originator and leader of the demons, is fundamentally different from them. We learned in Malleus Maleficarum that most if not all demons were debased, corrupted humans, which implies they continue to have some human traits and freedoms, something demon!Meg has made very clear. We learned from this episode that even debased angels still have to play by the angel rulebook. I wonder what importance that difference will assume as the apocalypse continues?
Finally, it was interesting to see the differences and similarities in approach between Zachariah and Lucifer. Both of them used threats and torment, but in different ways. Lucifer inflicted the torment and replayed the threats through anonymous nightmares to soften Nick up before he showed up in his “good cop” persona to offer a way out, to promise justice. Zachariah, failing to call Dean to heel, brutalized him both emotionally and physically in an attempt to force him to yield and did it all directly, making no attempt to conceal his manipulation. Lucifer was far more calculated and smooth in his approach, but I think the difference lay more in the targets. Nick was pretty well destroyed and ready to reach for a helping hand, ready to give up his own life in exchange for his vengeance. Dean, however, has already been down as far as anyone could go, and started to climb back out on his own. Dean has learned through brutal, bitter experience that his willingness to sacrifice himself to save and spare others is sometimes a failing, not a virtue, a price too high to pay. Perhaps the greatest maturity he displayed in this episode came when he said no to Zachariah even when he knew his refusal would cost Bobby his legs and Sam his life. His own death was never the issue and nothing he cared about.
I wonder what approach Michael would take, were he ever to approach Dean directly about his role in the apocalypse? We’ve seen a seducer and a bureaucrat; I wonder about the warrior.
I enjoyed this episode. It wasn’t without its issues, but it definitely set the stage for what promises to be a kick-ass season. The new title card was very suggestive of what we can expect with its pounding heartbeat, burst of spreading blood, and background angelic whispering. I’m not enamored of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” but it fit the pattern for a hard-driving background to the retrospective on the story up to this point. Supernatural has the best recaps in the business, and I think they’re the province of executive producer/regular director Phil Sgriccia, whom I will always applaud. The use of an old Warner Brothers cartoon in the teaser was a hilarious example of synergy, given that Supernatural is also a Warner property.
I believe most of my issues with Sympathy For The Devil came because of how much territory it needed to cover in order to lay the groundwork for the rest of the season. The choppiness of the opening – cutting from convent to airplane to rental car – was disconcerting to watch the first time around. I loved the strong immediate suggestion that God took a hand, translocating the boys from the convent to the airplane with no one on the plane being aware of anything different and simultaneously jumping them a few moments back in time to give them the birds-eye view of Lucifer’s escape, but God’s motivation for doing just that much and no more really presents a dilemma to human understanding, assuming that was the work of God.
There was one continuity glitch that immediately bothered me. In Chuck’s house, we didn’t actually see the boys enter, so there may have been time for Dean to have drawn his angel banishing sigil if he did it immediately upon arriving and before we first saw the boys in the house. The real glitch, however, was that Dean’s left hand was bleeding, but he slammed his clean right palm up against the door to trigger the sigil’s banishment, so there was no blood left on the sigil. Both times we’ve seen that trick used before, in Heaven And Hell and Lucifer Rising, it took a bloody hand to activate the mark. From a camera perspective, I understand the choice of having Dean slam the door with his right hand, but it provided an immediate narrative disconnect. Oops.
I had few quibbles with the script. One was the logic behind using Becky the fangirl. Yes, it was funny having an over-the-top fangirl who wrote slash fanfic encountering the brothers and losing it over Sam, but it felt a little off for the pacing and logic of the story. If Chuck thought the angels really had him under surveillance, why would he think their system wouldn’t react just as much to him giving someone else explicit instructions on how to find the Winchesters with a message as to giving them a call? And while there are Beckys in the fandom, there are a lot of less stereotypical fans as well. I love the man, but I hope Kripke doesn’t always laugh at us when he inserts us in the story; laughing with us would be more fun from where I’m sitting.
Now that I’ve gotten most of my little gripes out of the way, let me dive into all the things that worked. Eric Kripke’s script was full of gems, from the many quotable one-liners to the way the brothers’ relationship was left at the end. Presenting Lucifer as an appealing master manipulator who seduced Nick into letting him move in was inspired, as was introducing Lucifer as the hero of his own story. A really good villain never sees himself as evil, and having Lucifer appear in Paradise Lost form, perceiving himself as having been wronged by God, was a great choice. I also loved the little touch about Dean having a GED, not a high school diploma; I want the story behind that line!
I could readily appreciate from a narrative perspective why the script dispensed with the physical effects of Sam’s demon blood addiction and short-circuited his current withdrawal; we’d seen its debilitation in When The Levee Breaks, and Dean trying to deal with a hallucinating, agonized, cold-turkey Sam would have been a major problem in terms of developing the larger plot. I hope and expect that the psychological effects of addiction won’t be as readily glossed over, though, and that we’ll eventually learn more about how Sam avoided going through physical withdrawal again. I also hope we learn, if only in a throwaway comment, how Bobby wound up possessed, given how unlikely a victim of possession he should logically be.
While I missed Kim Manners’ fine touch, I really enjoyed a lot of Robert Singer’s direction. This show has always delighted in using mirrors to great effect, and this episode was no different. I loved the use of the mirror in the first motel scene; we got to see both sides of Sam’s face as he tried to be honest with Dean, reinforcing that he was being truly open. I also loved the way that Singer often shot the brothers together, keeping one still visible in the background while conversation was directed at the one in the foreground; watch the brothers in Chuck’s house with both Chuck and Zachariah, and Dean returning to stand just past Sam’s shoulder while Bobby tells him that he didn’t mean what the demon made him say. Despite the continuing emotional gap between Sam and Dean, those shots started to bring the brothers back together visually after they’d been so much apart last season, and also let us see the background brother reacting to what was happening in the foreground. The final shots in the parking lot were sheer brilliance, with the crane pulling back to emphasize the physical and emotional distance between the brothers as Dean, for the first time in his life, walked away from Sam without asking him to follow. Still, even across that distance in the dark, Dean looked back and paused, the visual indicator that he wasn’t leaving Sam entirely no matter what he had said, and I delighted that the shot ended without us hearing the car door slam. The car door would have been finality; the lack of it kept the moment open.
Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki definitely brought the goods again, as I’ve come to expect. Jared brought genuine life to Sam’s crushing guilt and need for absolution, while Jensen made Dean’s pain over the loss of his old relationship with his brother heartbreakingly real. These two really are the most underappreciated actors on network television, and deserve more credit than they get from the mainstream.
Jim Beaver as Bobby is obviously going to have an incredibly meaty story arc this season, and I can’t wait to see what he brings to it. Bobby’s new handicap is a radical life-changer, especially for a hunter on the advent of the apocalypse, and for a man who chose to save another’s life even at the price of his own, without realizing that the price would be paid differently than he expected. I do wonder whether his paralysis is the result of the knife wound – that blade was really long, and perhaps could have nicked the spine – or if it came from Zachariah and wasn’t corrected precisely because Zachariah, being a stickler for bureaucratic form, restored only what Castiel forced him to: the boys, not the boys and Bobby.
I’m also looking forward to further revelations about Misha Collins’ Castiel. Like Cas and Zachariah, I suspect that truly divine intervention was required to restore Castiel to life; what that will mean for Cas, for the developing apocalypse, for the self-serving angels, and for the outcome of the story has me sitting on the edge of my chair. God may not be in the building, but I think he saw his faithful angelic sparrow fall and picked him up again. I do wonder whether Jimmy was restored along with Cas, or if Cas is now alone in that reconstituted body. And was that same force responsible for giving Anna her human body back, or are there more players in the game? I’m definitely staying tuned to find out. I have to wonder why, if God indeed was taking a hand, he chose to go only as far as he did.
One thing involving Castiel made me laugh out loud. When Cas carved the Enochian protective sigils into the boys’ ribs, I swear I could hear the folks in the makeup department exclaiming in relief about not having to keep track of another continuity element like the anti-possession tattoos, assuming the boys ever take off their shirts or get them ripped again! Of course, that also has the advantage of making them non-defaceable, unlike the tattoos ...
Kurt Fuller and Rob Benedict both reprised and grew the characters of Zachariah and Chuck, and I’ll be happy to see more of both of them. Chuck is an interesting creation: a true prophet of the Lord, apparently, but one in whom the angels can plant some “prophecies” they want to see and use. How much of what Chuck has seen was divinely inspired, and how much has he been used? I found it fascinating that on the one hand, Zachariah believes explicitly in the inevitability of true prophecy, and on the other, thinks nothing of planting a vision in an acknowledged prophet to manipulate both the prophet and the Winchesters. Fuller did a great job walking that line and making Zachariah the angel you love to hate.
Rachel Miner’s appearance as the new Meg was brief, but I liked her. I’ll be curious to see whether Meg returned to that body after the brothers left with Bobby for the hospital; I’d like to know whether she’s sharing with a host, or if she’s in there alone now after the host’s death. We’ll see.
Sympathy For The Devil left me with plenty of sympathy for Sam, Dean, Bobby, and Nick, but none yet for Lucifer; I didn’t buy what he was selling. What Lucifer needed was Nick; what Sam and Dean need is to find their way back to trusting each other and forging a new balance of brotherhood and love without unhealthy codependence. Lucifer got what he needed; I hope the brothers are as lucky.
I firmly believe they will be.