Famine’s hunger kills:
Overdose on what you crave,
Or be dead inside.
A shy young couple sharing a chaste goodnight kiss outside the girl’s apartment after their first date were overcome by passion and happily ate each other to death inside. Investigating, Sam found no demonic or ghost signs at the site, and at the coroner’s, Dean found only the inexplicable physical evidence of the couple having gorged themselves to death. With the day ending and no fresh leads to pursue, Sam returned to the motel carrying his fast food dinner and planning to check a few files on the laptop. He encouraged Dean to take off on his usual Valentine’s Day celebration, but Dean expressed no interest in bars full of lonely women, instead settling back in to work and dismissing Sam’s concern about his uncharacteristic behavior.
Elsewhere in town, two young businessmen were working late into the evening on a project. Project leader Brad chided his coworker Jim for constantly checking his phone for messages from the girl he’d met and become obsessed with less than a week earlier. When the woman, Janice, showed up at the office, distraught and demanding that Jim not choose work over her, Brad joked about Jim being whipped, and Janice pulled out a gun and killed him. Observing things always got in the way of them being together all the time, bemoaning even the need to sleep, Jim suggested a way they could stay together forever, and shot them both.
Investigating this second double homicide/suicide, the brothers both went to the coroner’s office late that night. On the way in, Sam’s attention was caught by a man leaving with a briefcase; he smelled something that unsettled him. Noticing his distraction, Dean asked if he was okay, and Sam said he was fine, turning his attention back to the matter at hand. Friendly doctor Corman gave agents Marley and Cliff his keys on the way out, noting that he’d finished the autopsies, sent the samples off for toxicology screens, and removed and refrigerated all the internal organs. Examining the evidence, Dean teasingly offered Sam a heart, and Sam realized both hearts bore what looked like matching Enochian sigils. Dean summoned Castiel, who confirmed the organs bore marks of union indicating the people were intended to mate. Castiel said the marks were placed by a lower order of angel, a cherub third class, and said there were dozens of them all over the world, the origin of human myths of Cupid. He concluded a cupid had gone rogue and was killing the people he marked.
To catch the cupid, the brothers and Castiel staked out a lounge Castiel identified as exactly the kind of garden the cupid would come to pollinate. A waitress brought the brothers dinner – a salad for Sam and a burger and fries for Dean – but Dean set his food aside, saying he wasn’t hungry, and Castiel picked up the burger instead, evidencing hunger the angel had never shown before. At that same moment, however, Castiel observed the cupid was present, although the brothers saw nothing other than a nearby couple suddenly kissing. Telling them to meet him in back, Castiel vanished. In a storeroom at the rear of the restaurant, Castiel said he had the cupid tethered. After chanting a little, he demanded the cupid manifest – and suddenly a plump, naked man hugged Dean from behind, lifting him off his feet. He proceeded to hug Castiel and Sam as well, and Castiel distastefully noted the hugs were a cupid’s handshake. They accused the cupid of causing the deaths, only to see the being dissolve into heartbroken tears professing his innocence, saying he wasn’t responsible for what happened to people after he’d marked them for love. The cupid demanded his brother angel Castiel read his mind, and Castiel realized he was telling the truth. The cupid maintained he was just following Heaven’s orders to make certain people fall in love, to further certain bloodlines like the Winchesters’. Oblivious to the growing fury underlying Dean’s questions, the cupid observed that getting Mary and John to hook up had been a high priority in Heaven because Sam and Dean needed to be born, and while they couldn’t stand each other at first, they were a perfect couple by the time Heaven finished with them. Dean took a swing, hurting his hand far more than the cupid, and the cupid disappeared. Sam asked to talk about what was up with Dean lately, and Dean declined to talk about it.
The next day, Sam answered the coroner’s call in response to their request to know about any other weird cases. The coroner displayed the corpse of a formerly morbidly obese man who had achieved normal weight after gastric bypass surgery, only to have gorged himself to death eating Twinkies, forcing them down his gullet with a toilet brush when he couldn’t swallow any more. Profoundly disturbed by this case on top of the others, Dr. Corman took a swig from a hip flask.
Leaving the office, Sam called Dean to report, noting the victim hadn’t been marked by Cupid but his death was definitely suspicious. Dean reported his own investigations at the police office had disclosed eight suicides and nineteen overdoses since Wednesday, numbers way out of the ordinary. They agreed to meet in ten minutes, but as he hung up his phone, Sam reacted to a twinge like a headache, and as he turned back toward the coroner’s office, he saw the same briefcase-toting man he’d noticed before leaving the place. Preternaturally aware of the man’s footsteps and nose flaring with his scent, Sam got ahead of him and ambushed him in an alley, flinging him up against a wall with the demon-killing knife at his throat and proclaiming he knew what the man was. He cut the man’s cheek with the blade, and demon blood sparked and flared. Sam proclaimed he could smell the demon. The demon called him by name and fought back. Curiously aware of the demon, feeling his own anger and torn by the conflict between his attraction and his distaste, Sam fumbled during the fight, cutting the demon again but proving unable to stop his escape. Looking at the demon blood on his knife blade, he felt the craving for it, but forced himself instead to wipe the blood off instead on a scrap of paper.
Back at the motel, wondering what a demon had to do with what was going on, Dean asked Sam if he was all right, and Sam insisted he’d be fine. The brothers opened the sigil-marked briefcase, releasing a sudden burst of pure white light Castiel identified as a human soul. Eating a hamburger, the angel said it was all starting to make sense, and even his human hunger was a clue that the town was suffering from Famine, the Horseman. Castiel said everyone seemed to be starving for something – sex, attention, drugs, love, food – and Famine made them rabid for it. Castiel noted his hunger indicated Famine had touched his human vessel, Jimmy, stimulating his craving for red meat.
As Castiel quoted the angelic version of Revelation about Famine riding into the land of plenty on a black steed, poisoning the air with his hunger, we saw Famine in the guise of a crippled, elderly man attended by demons arriving at night in a convoy of black SUVs at a Biggerson’s restaurant. All the staff and patrons in the restaurant were immediately overcome by their cravings for food, drink, money, drugs, sex, or violence, maiming and killing themselves without heed for anything but satisfying their overwhelming hunger.
Castiel continued that when Famine was hungry – and he was always hungry, because he was Hunger personified – he had to devour the souls of his victims. Castiel postulated Lucifer had sent demons to care for Famine and feed him to make certain he’d be ready to march across the land, so demons were collecting and bringing to him the souls of people who died from his influence but not in his presence.
The demon Sam had attacked arrived at the restaurant with news of Sam’s presence, and gave Famine the hotel key he’d taken from Sam during their struggle. What Famine truly wanted, however, was the soul of the Twinkie-eater. When the demon confessed to having lost it in the fight, Famine pulled the demon out of its host and ate the demon’s essence instead.
At the motel, Sam retreated to the bathroom and fought silently against his intensifying craving for demon blood, understanding his appetite for it had been stimulated by Famine. Trying to come up with a strategy for defeating Famine, Castiel asked how the brothers had defeated War, and Dean, pulling out the Horseman’s ring, described how War had fled and the people under his spell had woken as if from a dream when he and Sam had cut the ring from War’s hand. Castiel agreed Famine would also have a ring, and Dean advocated hunting him down and chopping it off. When Castiel seemed more interested in his now empty hamburger bag, Dean asked if he’d even tried to stop his sudden craving for ground beef, and Castiel archly maintained he was an angel and could stop any time. Dean called for Sam to hurry up, but Sam said he couldn’t go, reluctantly confessing his hunger and ashamedly admitting fear he couldn’t control it. Dean told Castiel to beam Sam far away, but Castiel said the hunger would just travel with him. Sam told Dean to go cut Famine’s finger off, and Dean accepted the order, but Sam added that Dean had to lock him down but good before he left. Dean handcuffed Sam to the bathroom sink, telling him to hang in there and promising to be back as soon as he could. Sam told him to be careful and to hurry, and Castiel pushed a heavy cabinet across the door as they left.
At the coroner’s office, Dean asked after Dr. Corman, only to learn he had left work in the morning and drunk himself to death after twenty years of sobriety. Touching the corpse, Castiel found the doctor’s soul still present, so Dean set up surveillance to follow whatever briefcase-carrying demon would come to fetch it. In the night, Castiel reappeared in the Impala with yet another burger, observing with a trace of Jimmy’s human delight that they made him very happy. When Dean asked how many he’d had, Castiel gave an offhand estimate in the low hundreds. Castiel asked Dean where his hunger was, noting that Dean alone seemed unaffected by Famine. Dean joked that he scratched his itches for food, drink, sex, and fights whenever they arose, and when Castiel asked if he was claiming to be well adjusted, he denied it, saying he was simply well fed. Further commentary was sidetracked by the departure from the coroner’s of a man in a business suit carrying a briefcase.
Back at the motel, struggling against his bonds and his cravings, Sam heard sounds in the room and called out questioningly to Dean and Castiel, afraid because his cravings hadn’t subsided and he didn’t think their plan had worked because he was still hungry. Two demons sent by Famine opened the door, observing they were forbidden from killing him but might be able to take some pieces. As soon as one demon broke the cuffs on his hands, Sam flung him into the tub and attacked the other demon, slashing her throat and drinking. She screamed for the other to get him off of her, but Sam raised a hand and flung him contemptuously aside with his mind, telling him to wait his turn.
Dean followed the black SUV to the Biggerson’s, seeing more demons guarding the front door. He reviewed the plan with the still-distracted Castiel – having the angel go in with the demon-killing knife to cut off Famine’s ring hand and rendezvous in the parking lot – and Castiel simply disappeared. After a moment, Dean concluded it was taking too long, and grabbed a shotgun and went around the back. Entering through the kitchen, he saw corpses everywhere, and then Castiel kneeling on the restaurant floor with the knife fallen at his side, shoveling raw ground beef into his mouth. Alerted by a reflection, Dean swung on a demon approaching him from behind, but a second one threw him bodily against a metal door, and the two demons hauled him into the main room and the presence of Famine.
Famine observed sarcastically that it didn’t take much to push consumer-driven Americans over the edge, saying that no matter how much they consumed they were still starving because hunger wasn’t just of the body, but of the soul. Curious about how Dean could still be standing in his presence, Famine reached out and touched him, making him twist in pain. Famine told Dean he had a deep, dark nothing inside of him, a hole he couldn’t fill with food, drink, or sex. He told Dean he could lie to his brother and to himself, but not to Famine: he said he could see how broken and defeated Dean was, that he knew he couldn’t win but just kept going through the motions, that he wasn’t hungry because inside he was already dead.
And Sam, having come in the front door with no one noticing, dried blood on his face attesting to his latest meal, ordered Famine to let Dean go. Two of Famine’s demon guards advanced, but Famine stopped them, calling Sam a sweet boy and observing he’d gotten the little snack Famine had sent. Telling Sam that he alone could never die of drinking too much, just as Satan wanted, Famine invited Sam to cut their throats and feed on all the demon guards. Instead, Sam concentrated and pulled all the demons from their host bodies, telling Famine no. Freed by Sam’s move, Dean scooped up the demon-killing knife. With the demon smoke still swirling, Famine said he would have them if Sam didn’t, and he drew all the demon smoke into himself. When Sam tried to use his power again, Famine observed his power wouldn’t work on a Horseman, but Sam countered it would still work on demons, and as Dean watched, paralyzed, he pulled the demons out of Famine not through the Horseman’s mouth, but right out through his skin until they exploded out of his body, evidently killing him. Even with the ring still on Famine’s finger, his power over Castiel was broken.
In the aftermath, Castiel appeared as Dean kept lonely vigil outside Bobby’s panic room, drinking whiskey from the bottle and listening to Sam screaming for help in his withdrawal. Castiel attempted to assure Dean that Sam just needed to get the blood out of his system again and would be fine, but Dean said he needed air and walked out into the wrecking yard. He started to take another drink, but the futility of it made him lower the bottle untouched. Looking up into the night sky, he begged for help.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
I loved this episode. There were a few false notes, but they were minor – and a minor key was the right one for this particular song, anyway. This was the best brotherhood story we’ve gotten in a long, long time, and I can forgive a lot for that. In this commentary, I’ll explore the brothers’ relationship; the effects of Famine on Sam, Dean, and Castiel, and how each of them dealt with those effects; and the bothersome conundrum of Cupid.
Be My Valentine?
Throughout this episode we saw evidence of just how much the brothers have rebuilt their relationship since the crash and burn of season four’s estrangement. Perhaps it took the sensitization acquired through their separate experiences in Sam, Interrupted and Swap Meat, but both Sam and Dean were acutely aware of each other throughout the events of this episode, each quick to sense and genuinely be concerned when the other seemed off. Sam started it, wondering at Dean’s uncharacteristic apathy about participating in the joys of his favorite “unattached drifter Christmas” holiday. Dean questioned Sam’s sudden distraction in the hallway at the coroner’s office. Sam was astonished at Dean not being hungry in the club, and then worried about the rage that made him assault the cherub. Once they knew demons were involved, after Sam had gotten the briefcase, Dean again asked if he was all right. They worried about each other, and for once didn’t hesitate to express it. Along the way they recovered more comfortable old behaviors, with Dean daring to tease Sam with the bloody heart and both of them speaking in unison.
When Sam realized the threat posed by his hunger, he didn’t try to hide it. Instead, he told Dean the truth, admitting to his situation despite how much it shamed him. Dean’s immediate reaction wasn’t condemnation, but an instruction to Castiel to get Sam far enough away to be safe, beyond the reach of Famine’s influence and the temptation of tasty demons nearby. Learning that wouldn’t work, Sam gave the order for Dean to leave him behind and deal with the mission, and also admitted his fear that he wouldn’t be strong enough to resist on his own by asking to be locked down. He’d been restrained before against his will in When The Levee Breaks and Sam, Interrupted; this time, he gave the orders and surrendered himself to the bonds. Dean, for his part, didn’t like locking him down or leaving him, but did what he had to while telling Sam to hang in there and promising to be as quick as possible.
The confrontation with Famine in the end broke both of them again, but also brought them together. Dean was clearly both saddened and appalled to see Sam hopped up on blood again and was overwhelmed by seeing the blatant demonstration of his power, but he also saw Sam refuse more blood and more power when it was offered. We don’t know how much Sam heard of Famine’s analysis of Dean, but since Sam didn’t simply materialize in the restaurant, he had to have heard at least the end of it, with Famine’s statement that Dean had no hunger because he was already dead inside. I think we’re going to see what Sam does with that after he’s finished drying out again.
Finally, it’s clear to me that Sam volunteered to go the detox route this time, asking or even ordering to be confined in Bobby’s panic room to sweat out the demon blood again. While I’d have liked to have seen it, I think we didn’t get that scene precisely because, in a way, we’d gotten it once already when he told Dean to lock him down in the motel room. Rationally we know from what we saw last time that no one would be safe in the panic room with Sam while demon blood withdrawal hallucinations drove the telekinetic power of his mind. Still, it killed Dean to have to leave him alone. Dean’s utter inability to do anything to help Sam while Sam endured such pain trapped him into helplessness and hopelessness again. Nothing anyone could say could have helped.
Throughout the episode, the brothers functioned as a team again. Their care and love for each other was front and center throughout, and if this episode had nothing else, I would love it for giving us the chance to see that brother love again.
Slowly But Surely, Everyone In This Town Is Falling Prey To Famine
I would submit that all three of our narrative heroes – including Dean – were affected by Famine beginning shortly after their arrival in the town. If they arrived on Sunday, Valentine’s Day, as suggested by Sam telling Dean that evening to go enjoy the holiday, and the strangeness began to afflict the town on the previous Wednesday, when Dean noticed the beginning in the jump in suicides and ODs, it would seem that Famine’s influence began as an insidious thing, perhaps affecting just those closest to his location or simply – like addicts – those most susceptible to their hungers. His mere proximity in the height of his hunger affected everyone in the restaurant and killed in short order, but the entire town didn’t die. Castiel’s comment about Lucifer sending his demons to protect and feed Famine to ensure he would be ready suggested to me that the more Famine ate, the hungrier and emptier he would become, making him a more and more effective weapon with a steadily longer reach. And that in turn suggested Famine started small because until he really got going, his power didn’t extend very far.
Something implied but not spoken in the episode was coordination among the Horsemen. When the boys released the soul from the briefcase and Castiel said Famine fed on souls, I wondered briefly why those souls hadn’t been taken by Reapers – and then felt punched in the gut by the realization that Death commands Reapers and would have ordered them out of Famine’s way. We haven’t seen Death since Lucifer raised him at the end of Abandon All Hope, but I think we’ve begun to see by implication some of what he’s been up to. And if Famine feeds on souls, what does Death do to them, with the army of Reapers who gather where he appears? I don’t think I really want to know.
Finally, I’m curious about Famine’s unique end. When the brothers faced off against War in Good God, Y’All, the Horseman was convinced he couldn’t be killed. While the focus in the final confrontation scene in this episode was properly on Sam and Dean rather than Famine, it seemed pretty clear that Sam’s gambit killed Famine, since his influence over Castiel evaporated even though the ring was still on his finger. We learned from War that while the Horseman was wearing someone else’s face, he wasn’t in that person’s body – he said the real Roger was rotting in a ditch – so I would suspect that Famine was also in his own substance. War was simply dismissed when his ring was severed from his hand, but Famine’s body remained, without the capacity to breed hunger any more.
I suspect that “death” for a Horseman isn’t a permanent thing, given that they represent primal forces. I also trust that, even thought we didn’t see it, the brothers and Castiel did not leave Famine’s ring behind, knowing it to be a link to his power. I’m betting that bringing Famine back would require whatever full-blown ritual Lucifer used to unleash him in the first place, plus something more since he wasn’t just dismissed, but pretty thoroughly blown up. I sincerely doubt Lucifer was expecting that.
I Think I’m Hungry For It
I think we saw the beginning of Famine’s influence on Sam in Sam’s unnaturally heightened senses of smell and hearing in the hallway at the coroner’s office, with Sam’s peculiar focus on the smell of demon blood and the sound of a demon heart pumping that blood through a body. Famine’s hunger seemed to supercharge Sam’s sensitivity to the presence of demons, triggering a headache when his nose brought demon scent across a street. The first time he passed the demon, I don’t think Sam realized just what it was he smelled and heard; the second time, his realization overran his curiosity about why he could suddenly smell demons when he never had before.
From the moment he realized what was happening to him, during the fight in the alley with the demon, Sam was conflicted. On the one hand, he craved the blood and the power it would bring; on the other, he feared and loathed his addiction and its consequences. I think that internal struggle was what allowed the demon to escape.
The exact parameters of Sam’s powers and demon blood addiction have never been defined. Ruby told him in Lucifer Rising that he never needed the feather to fly, implying his power was innate and independent of the blood. At the same time, however, the level of power he displayed appeared directly proportional to the amount of blood he consumed, and both Anna and Castiel expressed fear about the consequences to Sam’s humanity of ingesting demon blood. The more blood he consumed and the more power he used, the more his eyes showed demon-black, from just the irises during his angry drive in On The Head Of A Pin to both irises and whites during his supreme effort against Lilith in Lucifer Rising.
Favoring the argument that the power is innate were the experiences of all the psychic kids prepared by Azazel, as we saw in Nightmare, Simon Says, and All Hell Breaks Loose. All of them had an initial manifestation of a single ability, whether visions, mind control, super strength, death touch, or telekinesis. From both Ava and Jake, however, we learned that when they gave in to their power and used it as Azazel intended, they unlocked their other potentials virtually effortlessly, no demon blood involved, up to and including Ava exerting control over a lesser demon.
Unlike Ava and Jake, Sam feared and fought against his power until Ruby told him it was the single thing that could save Dean. Dean prevented him from trying anything then – not that Ruby would have allowed it to work, since we now know sending Dean to Hell was an essential part of Azazel’s plan – and when Sam did try, seeking revenge after Dean’s death, he was singularly unsuccessful until he started juicing.
It could be that his dependence on demon blood to unlock the fullness of his power is psychological; that even though he professed to want it after Dean died, he still put up unconscious roadblocks to its expression that stood until he swept away his power-using inhibitions with the intoxication of the blood. It could also be that he needed augmentation because his expression of that power – exorcising demons or even destroying them – wasn’t its intended use, or because the sheer gross horsepower of what he was putting out went beyond what any human body could physically support without demonic – or angelic, as in possession by Lucifer – augmentation. Even with the demon blood in his system, his greatest exertions hurt him: witness the nosebleeds indicating blood vessels ruptured by his efforts.
In any case, it’s indisputable that demon blood is seriously addictive crack producing both physical and psychological dependencies, as evidenced both by the craving stimulated by Famine and by what Sam has experienced in going through full blown cold turkey withdrawal twice now. That he underwent it voluntarily the second time is the greatest proof of his willpower and courage.
I don’t fault Sam for succumbing to the blood craving under the circumstances. Famine’s touch overrode everyone’s strength of will, and without the blood – whether he needed its psychological, physical, or metaphysical support – Sam wouldn’t have been able to fight Famine and his demons effectively. The fullness of his will came out, however, when Famine offered him more blood and more power, and Sam refused. He couldn’t have known that his refusal would provide the very weapon he used to take out the Horseman; he knew only that Dean was afraid, and that giving in further to the craving and the power would have meant giving in to Lucifer and doing what Satan wanted. Instead, he found his strength and did something totally unexpected with it, and then he put the weapon down and walked away from it despite the temptation of holding it to use again and the physical, psychological, and emotional price of letting it go.
I think Sam will emerge from this crucible all the stronger for having been broken and reforged. While he now carries the shame and fear of having succumbed to Famine, he also carries the knowledge that in the crisis, he still said no to Lucifer – and what he did in taking down Famine, a being his power couldn’t directly affect, argues that human ingenuity and strength of will can be wild cards that trump seemingly predestined plans. The danger remains in his knowledge that he could have unimaginable power whenever he wanted, and in the temptation offered by the thought that with that power, he might be able to defeat Lucifer as he defeated Famine, and still retain the humanity to put it down and walk away again, as he did this time.
Maybe he could, but maybe he couldn’t. When an addict thinks he could stop any time he wanted to, he’s usually wrong. The scary thing is, there’s no way to know in advance whether the chance is worth the risk.
I’m An Angel; I Can Stop Any Time I Want
Castiel’s sudden fascination with ground beef was a callback to our meeting with Jimmy, his vessel, in The Rapture, when Jimmy passionately devoured hamburgers with gusto. We had never seen Castiel eat and learned from Jimmy that he never did. Castiel maintained Jimmy’s human body and healed its injuries without the need for food or water, but Jimmy craved food and drink with starving intensity as soon as the angel was gone. I had wondered since learning of Castiel’s death and resurrection in Sympathy For The Devil whether Jimmy had been reconstituted in his body along with the angel; from this episode, it would seem the answer to that is yes, since it was Jimmy’s craving that Famine touched.
I think we learned something else potentially vital from that experience. Like many addicts and substance abusers, Castiel maintained he could stop at any time because of who and what he was; he assumed his angelic nature was beyond Famine’s control. Despite that assertion, however, Castiel was unable to control his body’s hunger, and when in Famine’s presence, was reduced to eating raw beef like the dog Famine called him, with no thought of his mission or of the danger to the Winchesters. I think that could mean either of two things. It could suggest that because Castiel is cut off from Heaven, he has become susceptible to forces that couldn’t normally touch an angel. Alternatively, this could be the first suggestion we’ve ever seen that an angel’s vessel could potentially override the angel riding him. Jimmy’s hunger, unnaturally stimulated by Famine, was a primal human drive that overpowered Castiel’s control. Having seen that, I have to wonder whether it may be possible for a human vessel with a sufficiently strong personal drive to take the reins back from an angel and reassert human control even after saying yes. That could be a game-changer no one has expected, including the angels themselves.
That’s One Deep Dark Nothing You’ve Got There
I think Famine’s effect on Dean was demonstrated by Dean’s absolute lack of hunger right from the start, including his lack of interest in trolling through bars for sex. Dean is justly famous for his physical appetites and we’ve seen him indulge them frequently; the sudden absence of those appetites argued, as Sam feared, that something was drastically wrong.
However, I think Famine was wrong in his assessment of why Dean wasn’t hungry. He was absolutely right in commenting on how broken Dean is, how he doesn’t actually believe he can win but bulls on anyway, going through the motions by rote without hope or conviction. Dean indicated as much himself at the very end of Sympathy For The Devil when he told Sam his pep talk about beating both Michael and Lucifer had nothing behind it. I just said a bunch of crap for Bobby’s benefit. I mean, I’ll fight. I’ll fight to the last man, but let’s at least be honest. We don’t stand a snowball’s chance, and you know that. Hell, you of all people know that.
Famine was also right in observing the emptiness in Dean couldn’t be filled by food, drink, or sex. Where I believe he went wrong, though, was in asserting Dean had no hunger because the emptiness within him indicated he was already dead inside. If Dean were truly dead inside, he wouldn’t hurt so much. He wants desperately not to feel the pain any more, but the agony just keeps increasing with every loss and every perceived failure.
I think what Dean hungers for is something Famine couldn’t even recognize: peace. Freedom from pain, freedom from duty, freedom from guilt, freedom from fear. Dean has been fighting all his life with the stakes always increasing and the price always rising. He’s already lost more than he can bear, but there’s always more he could still lose, starting with the rest of the people he loves. He wants it to end, he wants it to stop – but he can’t stop, not while he’s alive and there are people who still need saving, not when he knows how badly he failed them already when he broke in Hell. Even knowing he can’t save them all, he can’t let go of trying. He gets up in the morning because he can’t not get up.
I think Dean was the very first of our heroes infected by Famine precisely because he’s the most broken, the most desperately hungry in his soul. I think his infection manifested as lack of normal hunger precisely because in his depression he already knew in his heart none of the normal anodynes would work. Food, booze, sex – none of them offered more than temporary and incomplete surcease, and because they were ultimately futile against the enormity of the void of which Famine’s touch had made him acutely aware, they offered no attraction at all, not even for the small joys and brief escapes he had always sought from them. They weren’t what he was hungry for.
A long time ago, Amelia Earhart wrote, Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace. The soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things; knows not the livid loneliness of fear. Dean knows the livid loneliness of fear all too well, and he’s been paying the price for peace in the coin of his courage all his life, without ever attaining it. That, I think, is the emptiness at his core, a hunger that couldn’t be filled by anything but continuing to stand and fight, even without hope.
By the end of this particular adventure, Dean was as utterly broken as a man could be and still live. He has never believed in God. To the best of my recollection, he’s only truly acknowledged the potential for God three times: when he was inspired by Layla’s belief in Faith, when he prayed in desperation for help in The Monster At The End Of This Book, and in his impassioned, despairing plea at the end of this episode. That the only hope he has left is help from a God in whom he doesn’t even believe is a measure of how truly empty of resources he is; his soul has been stripped bare.
I don’t know where he will go from here or how he’ll keep walking, but I know that he will despite his growing brittleness.
It’s what a Winchester does.
Certain Bloodlines, Certain Destinies
My biggest problem with this episode was Cupid. When we first met Castiel in the beginning of season four, he was very clear about angels not having walked the earth since the time of Christ. Learning from him and the cupid now that there are dozens of lesser angels who have been flitting about the world all along arranging human passions to suit the hierarchy of Heaven cheapened that and called Castiel’s veracity into question.
My reaction to the cupid’s pronouncement that Heaven tweaked John and Mary into being the perfect couple despite themselves in order to bring about the births of Sam and Dean is exactly the same as Dean’s. I suppose some of my outrage is the violence all of this does to the very concept of free will. This is even more of a violation than Azazel dosing Sam with demon blood as a baby to affect his development; Sam had no choice over being given that power, but he had every choice in what he did with it. Being roofied by an angel and constrained to fall in love – obsessive love, no less – with no opportunity to refuse is an abomination in my sight. And while it’s perfectly in character for someone like Zachariah to use that power if available to bring about his vision of the new world order, the existence of that soul-distorting and thus inherently corrupt power in Heaven contradicts to me the very concept of Heaven. I could accept angels choosing evil – after all, that ball started rolling with Lucifer – so while I abhorred Zachariah and Uriel, I understood them. Cupid I don’t understand, not in any heavenly context.
I was also very unclear on the cupid’s physical manifestation upon command. Were we to understand that low-level cherubs were so weak and mundane that their own forms could have real physical substance and would cause no damage to mortals who perceived them, or was that body a vessel? We know humans couldn’t bear the sight of Castiel’s true angelic form, forcing him to work through a vessel. We learned from Uriel in The Song Remains The Same that angels were forbidden to walk the earth, much less take a vessel. Were the cupids exempt from those hands-off rules, or considered so powerless within the heavenly host that they were dismissed as being of no account and weren’t even counted within the tally of “angels?”
I laughed at the absurdities of the cupid when he was first introduced, but grew more and more dissatisfied with his entire concept as the scene progressed, and will do my best to forget him as the story continues.
I love Ben Edlund as a writer. No one else possesses exactly his touch for mixing off-the-wall insanity and gross-out violence and humor with true soul-ripping agony. The dough he kneads sometimes has lumpy spots – Cupid, in this case – but leavened with performances like the ones we saw here from Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, and Misha Collins, it bakes up into a tasty loaf with a lot of substance. And nuts.
I thought Mike Rohl did a lovely job with the direction on this, although I cringe to think what the first cut must have looked like, since we know the censors must have taken out some of the grossest violence. What survived in the aired episode doubtless made Eric “My Favorite Scene Was The Hand In The Garbage Disposal” Kripke rub his hands in gleeful delight even as it squicked me out. I’m certain the writers, directors, and art department, actively aided and abetted by the editors, have a standing competition going on who can win the most Gore And Ick Awards. This episode’s ravenous lovers and burning hands fry cook were right up there with Home's garbage disposal and the table saw in The Kids Are Alright. I also laughed out loud at how adroitly the scene with Cupid was shot both to emphasize that Cupid was naked – Jensen’s take on Dean’s repelled but helpless fascination was hilarious – and to block things (literally!) so the other actors always kept the scene decent. I also loved the way Rohl always quietly established Dean being alone and then revealed Castiel as having arrived. It was particularly effective in the last paired scene, when we saw Dean drinking alone and then saw Castiel abruptly and silently standing by the panic room door, because that shot was accomplished with no cuts, just a smooth and carefully synchronized movement of the camera and the actor. The touch of having Dean’s and Castiel’s “hamburglar” hotel room conversation play out as the audible backdrop to Sam confronting himself in the mirror and struggling with what to do was a great choice, especially as Castiel maintained that he was an angel and could stop anytime he wanted. That was a chilling counterpoint to Sam’s inner fight.
The only scene I really had trouble with for both direction and scripted action was the final confrontation with Famine. Even given the state of his shock and dismay, it didn’t make sense to me that Dean, the consummate hunter, would simply stand there with a knife in his hand and not cut off Famine’s ring. I understand that for Dean, seeing Sam exerting his blood-borne power couldn’t simply be viewed as providing a distraction, and there was a morbid fascination in watching Sam exploding demons out of Famine’s belly, but his hunter instincts run so much on autopilot that to have him just standing there violated reason. Perhaps the intent was to demonstrate that Sam actually killed Famine, since his power over Castiel was broken even though the ring was still on his hand, but there was enough ambiguity in how that scene came across as shot and edited that I was really bothered by it. And I want to see the brothers’ growing collection of Horseman rings.
I was also a little troubled with Sam’s dried blood beard in that scene. Okay, Famine needed a visual cue to be certain Sam had snacked on his opportune demons, and it instantly dismissed any doubts Dean might have harbored on that score as well, but it just didn’t track with fastidious Sam and his whole shame over drinking the blood in the first place. Wiping his mouth even halfway decently wouldn’t have left that much of a stain behind; it seemed a bit of director and makeup department overkill to me.
A minor but constantly irritating plot point is how the demons got to Sam in the first place. Don’t the brothers ever stop to lay salt lines around their rooms any more, or scrawl devil’s traps under rugs by the door? Or could a demon huff and puff and blow a salt line apart, given time, the same way they could flip up a rug and break a devil’s trap they weren’t already caught in?
Enough nitpicking. I thought both Jared and Jensen delivered masterful performances here, particularly Jared’s Sam confronting himself in the mirror and resolving to admit the truth to Dean, and then suffering through the fight against his cravings and saying no to Famine; and Jensen’s Dean, too thoroughly broken even to bother with uselessly trying to get drunk, choking on a prayer for help to a God in which he doesn’t believe. I loved the way they played so comfortably off each other throughout the episode, reinforcing the impression of the brothers being closer again than they’ve been since before Dean died, and the way they handled all the conflicting emotions – shame, fear, sadness, hurt, achievement, resignation – in the aftermath of Sam winning the battle with his powers. Heartbreaking all the way around.
I also liked Misha’s portrayal of Castiel turned into a burger addict. My favorite moment was the brief glimpse of Jimmy in Castiel’s comment about the hamburgers making him very happy; for just that flashing instant of a smile, we saw Jimmy, even as the rest of the time, we saw Castiel. I wonder if this small addiction experience will help Castiel to better understand and appreciate Sam.
I enjoyed the guest cast as well, particularly repeat player Jay Brazeau as Dr. Corman (remember him as the excitable crime aficionado librarian in season one’s Provenance?), who came across as delightfully three-dimensional despite very brief screen time; Lex Medlin as Cupid, who captured a hilarious blend of innocence, simpleness, and enthusiasm that I could applaud even though I thought the concept of the cherubs fell flat; and James Otis as Famine, who chewed the scenery a little but was most appropriately creepy as the embodiment of arrogant hunger.
Composer Chris Lennertz and the sound crew get some happy cheers as well. The heartbeat theme incorporated into the underscore during Sam’s one-sided fight with the snack demons was perfect for the moment, and played on the sound highlights brought in during Sam’s earlier demon encounters in this episode to help us experience Sam’s altered senses, since smell-o-vision wasn’t available. For some reason, the sound of blood dripping from the heart in Castiel’s hand in the autopsy room made me chuckle appreciatively, where the earlier sound effects from the gorging couple sold the scene so well, combined with those chewy visuals, that my own gorge rose. Ewww! Gross-out accomplished, guys. Finally, having the sound of wings that normally accompanies Castiel’s appearances blend into the crackling of his latest bag of burgers when he appeared in the car with Dean was inspired.
I laughed about the show’s continuity landing us in Denny’s – excuse me, Biggerson’s – again, reprising the restaurant chain established in Bad Day At Black Rock. Good one, guys! And the title callout to Jensen’s horror movie last year was too obvious not to use. All the Valentine’s touches throughout – as well as the stellar use of blood spray leading into this season’s bloody title card – were beautifully executed by the design and effects crews. The visual effects people get a special nod for Sam’s eyes reflecting in the bloody knife in the alley: that was chilling!
Every time we think the brothers have hit bottom, we’ve learned there’s always farther to fall and more to lose. But we’ve also seen them pick themselves up and soldier on despite it all, and that’s what makes them heroes.
Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace. Carry on, my wayward son, there’ll be peace when you are done, lay your weary head to rest, don’t you cry no more.
And yes, I'm celebrating the news of the season six renewal! And if you haven't seen this yet, please by all means drop in on part one of the lovely interview the ladies of Fangasm have up with Director of Photography Serge Ladouceur: it's full of tasty tidbits with no spoilers, and I can't wait to read part two!
ETA: I am emphatically NOT freaking out over the word that Eric Kripke is handing showrunner reins to Sera Gamble. I don't see Eric ever abandoning his beloved firstborn, even as he attends to other offspring. He's clearly been heavily involved in the development of the season six storyline already, and I expect him (and Robert Singer) to stay involved on the creative end with production oversight, albeit from a higher altitude. But not being showrunner means he could play with the really fun stuff (writing, directing) without having to pull out his thinning hair over budget battles and daily comments from network suits. Sera's been with him from season one, and she collaborates really well with others on the creative team: she shares his vision. I'll do some season six speculation in a separate post Real Soon Now, I promise.