False prophet breeds fear.
Killing her marks Dean a true
Servant of Heaven.
White-knuckled, Dean barreled the Impala through the night with Sam telling him to go faster, both of them bloodied and bruised from a fight and looking back in fear of pursuit, saying they’d never seen so many in one place before. When they skidded around a corner to find the road ahead blocked by a flaming wreck, Dean slammed the car into reverse, but before they could escape, demons attacked from both sides, smashing the driver’s window and starting to drag both brothers from the car. A firehose stream of holy water hit the demons and they let the brothers go, and as a man chanted syllables of Enochian through a bullhorn, the demons smoked out of their hosts, leaving the bodies collapsed on the road. Astonished, Sam and Dean saw their rescuers were three men with a beat-up truck with symbols painted on its doors and a tank and hose in the load bed. The leader of the three said they were the Sacrament Lutheran Militia, and matter-of-factly told them it was the apocalypse and their attackers had been demons.
Opening the Impala’s trunk, Dean displayed the weapons stash and revealed that he and Sam were hunting demons, noting the whole corner of the state was rife with omens and saying they just wanted to help. The men with the truck – policeman Rob, his son Dylan, and his friend Paul, the local bartender – led them back to town. Jersey barriers and barbed wire transformed the church into a fort, complete with a devil’s trap spray-painted onto the pavement anyone would have to cross over on the way to the door. Inside the church, Pastor David Gideon was conducting a wartime wedding, with all the guests fully armed and dressed in working clothes rather than wedding finery. Paul noted this was the eighth wedding in a week.
After the wedding, Gideon wryly teased that if they were hunting demons, they’d missed a few. When Sam asked if he knew why the demons were there, Gideon said no, but the demons really seemed to like the town. He conducted them down into the parish hall, where they saw everyone right down to the children preparing for a siege or assault, loading containers with holy water and packing shotgun shells with salt. Gideon said the whole town pitched in because they had to when the demons started killing. When they asked why he hadn’t called in the National Guard, Gideon said they’d been told not to, but wouldn’t say by whom. Dean pressed him, noting they were well prepared to fight and the exorcism had been Enochian, so someone had to be teaching them, but Gideon said he couldn’t discuss it. His daughter Leah, however, said that it was okay, identifying Sam and Dean by name and saying they were safe. She said she knew all about them from the angels, even to the marks on their ribs making it impossible for angels to see them. She said the angels told her the exorcism spell and let her know where the demons were going to be, and her father proudly proclaimed she was never wrong. Dean guessed that before she saw something, she got a really bad migraine and saw flashing lights, and when she asked him how he knew, he said she wasn’t the first prophet they had met, although she was the cutest. Aware of Gideon’s critical eye on his flirting, Dean hastily reassured that he meant it with respect.
At Paul’s crowded and busy bar, Sam left a message on Castiel’s voicemail telling him they were in Blue Earth, Minnesota, and needed his help. Paul stood them to their first round of beers, and when Sam commented on the crowd, Paul said that since the end had started, it was like one long last call. Trying to figure out why the demons were so interested in the town, Dean speculated they might be trying to kill the prophet. Sam complained the angels were just setting up the townspeople to do their dirty work, incensed because the people could get killed, but Dean just shrugged it off, saying everyone was going to die in a month or two anyway. Sam challenged his fatalistic assumption, asking what had happened to the brothers saving them.
The tolling of the church bell announcing Leah had another vision interrupted their conversation. At the church, Gideon recounted her report of demons gathered in a house five miles down a certain road, and asked for volunteers. Rob and his wife Jane both raised their hands along with their son Dylan, and Paul joined in as well, cheerfully teasing someone had to watch Rob’s back. Dean volunteered the brothers. As Gideon led the congregation in prayer before their departure and Dean snarked sotto voce that God wasn’t so much in his Heaven, Sam noticed that Roy and Paul appeared no more pious than Dean, although most seemed earnestly devout.
Approaching the target house, Gideon split the militia group into teams to surround and enter from all sides. Dean and Dylan took one side, Sam teamed with Paul and worked on picking the door lock, and Gideon, Jane, and Rob came in another way. The battle was fast-moving and soon over, with the militia members efficiently covering each other and the Winchesters fitting seamlessly into the mix. Dylan and Gideon both used the Enochian spell to drive demons from hosts downed by shotgun blasts or the holy water from Jane’s modified pesticide sprayer, while Sam killed with Ruby’s knife, finally throwing it to take down a demon coming up behind Dean, who pulled it free and used it to kill the last demon on the stairs. Unused to having backup, the brothers discovered they enjoyed the experience. When Dylan asked to ride back with them rather than with his folks on the truck, Dean welcomed him, joking that Dylan had saved his life twice already and if he did it a third time, Dean would even let him drive. He tossed Dylan a beer, telling him not to tell his mom, and clinked cans with Sam in celebration. But even as Dylan took a swig, a demon hiding under the Impala grabbed his ankles and yanked him down, and although Sam killed the demon as Dean went to Dylan’s rescue, it was too late; the demon had cut the boy’s throat and he died in Dean’s arms, over Dean’s anguished protest.
At the church for Dylan’s funeral, Dean told Rob and Jane he and Sam were sorry, but she said bitterly it was his fault. During the service, Leah collapsed in a fit, and when her father helped her up, she said that Dylan was coming back; that Judgment Day was almost upon them, and when it came, Rob and Jane would see their son again because the dead would be resurrected and rejoin them. She proclaimed the town was chosen and after the battle, they would all be together with all their loved ones living in paradise on Earth. She said they only needed to follow the angels’ commandments, which as Sam noted on leaving, amounted to no drinking, no gambling, and no premarital sex, or in other words, outlawing ninety percent of Dean’s personality. To Sam’s surprise, Dean didn’t seem to care, just shrugging that they weren’t locals and it wasn’t his call. He told Sam he’d catch up with him, and went back alone to see Leah, asking her if she was on the level about paradise and to tell him what the angels had said without the rainbows and sugar-coating. She said there was going to be a prize fight and it would get bad, but after they won – and they would win – the planet would be handed over to the chosen and it would be peaceful, no monsters or disease or death, just being with the people you love. Disparaging his own chances of partaking of paradise, he said it must be nice, being chosen, and she smiled and said he had been chosen. When he maintained it was more a curse, she said it must be hard to be the vessel of Heaven and have no hope.
Sam went to the bar to find it deserted except for Paul, who told him over banned drinks that most of the guys in town were no more truly devout than he was, but had put on religion with the coming of the apocalypse. Paul said he’d never prayed and wasn’t going to start, and if that meant he went to Hell, at least he was being honest. When he asked Sam where he fit on the belief spectrum, commenting he didn’t seem like a true believer, Sam said he did believe, but he thought God had stopped caring a long time ago.
After dark, Sam returned to the motel room drunk, telling Dean he’d have drunk more if the bar hadn’t been closed by a new curfew. He told Dean they’d also shut down the cell towers, the internet, and cable television, cutting the town off from the “corruption of the outside world” and turning it into a fundamentalist compound. Dean said he didn’t care and asked what difference it made. Sobering up fast, Sam got angry and asked at what point it would become too far for him, referencing the atrocities of other cult groups and saying the angels were setting up the townspeople. Dean tiredly dismissed it as angel world and angel rules, saying he accepted it since the angels were the only ones with lifeboats off the Titanic. As Sam continued to argue, Dean cut him off by asking who would come and save these people, noting it was supposed to be them but they couldn’t do it. Sam asked if he wanted to stop fighting, to roll over, and Dean said, maybe. Sam insisted that Dean couldn’t do that, not to him, arguing that Dean was the one thing keeping him going and he couldn’t do it alone. Dean grabbed his jacket and walked out, saying he needed to clear his head.
At the church hall, a tearful Leah told her father and the most dedicated amongst the townsfolk that the angels were angry and said they couldn’t go to paradise because not everyone in the town was obeying the angels’ commands. Rob was the first to ask who was standing in their way. Not long afterward, as he was walking back to the motel, Dean heard a disturbance at Paul’s bar and entered to find Rob smashing things with a baseball bat as Paul defended himself and Gideon tried to talk Rob down and keep the rest of the angry mob calm. Rob and Jane accused Paul of standing in the way of the town’s true believers and tried to force him to leave, while Paul protested that the town was his home and Rob and Jane were his friends. When Rob moved to attack Paul, Dean intervened to defend the bartender and Gideon held others back, but Jane, determined not to let their former friend stand in the way of her seeing her dead son again, shot and killed Paul.
Meanwhile, Castiel appeared in the motel room as Sam was going through his books. To Sam’s appalled surprise, Castiel was drunk, and admitted it had taken the entire contents of a liquor store to get him there. He asked in irritation what Sam wanted, and Sam mentioned the local massive onslaught of demons. Castiel immediately asked if there was any sign of angels, and Sam explained a prophet was conveying their words. When he named Leah, however, Castiel said the names of all the prophets were seared into his brain, and Leah Gideon wasn’t among them. They began to research to learn what she was.
In the early morning, Dean returned to the motel, prompting instant concern from Sam because his hands were covered in blood and his depression was even worse than it had been. Dean said Jane had killed Paul, and Castiel said it was starting. Sam and Castiel identified Leah as the Whore of Babylon, a creature named in Revelation as a false prophet who could assume any human form and whose mission was to corrupt people and damn their souls to Hell by making them spill innocent blood in God’s name. Castiel added that the local demons were under her control and playing her game to reinforce the townspeople’s belief in her, smoking out of hosts as if they’d been exorcised when they heard the Enochian phrase she had taught, which was actually nothing more than an insult about having sex with a goat. Castiel provided a stake made from a cedar tree in Lebanon, but said it would only work if wielded by a true servant of Heaven. He maintained none of them would qualify.
Back at the church, Pastor Gideon was disturbed to find Leah reassuring Rob and a tearful, desperate Jane that Jane had been right to kill Paul, because Paul had been a sinner and killing him had served the greater good by saving the rest of the town. Gideon argued that Jane’s sin of murder had been so much greater than anything Paul had done, but Leah proclaimed it wasn’t sin to strike down evil, and when he continued to question how the angels could say such things, Leah told him he’d always taught her they had to have faith. In the church, she spoke to the assembled congregation, announcing that the final judgment would arrive at midnight. She said the angels told her they weren’t yet ready because there were still sinners among them. When Gideon tried to stop her from naming names, she warned him that unless he stopped interfering, she would name him first.
Afterward, as a troubled Gideon walked outside the church in the night, Castiel appeared, announcing he was an angel of the Lord. Not persuaded by his disheveled, hungover appearance, Gideon was shaken when Cass simply translocated him to the brothers’ motel room and Dean and Sam gave him a fast lesson in what was going on. At first, he refused to accept that Leah wasn’t his daughter, but a monster that had killed her and taken her place, but he eventually agreed to wield the stake.
As they prepared to take Leah on, Dean offered Castiel a full bottle of aspirin for his hangover and commiserated with him on both of them dealing with deadbeat dads, saying he knew how Castiel felt. When Castiel asked how he managed it, Dean observed that on a good day, you got to kill a Whore.
At the church hall, Jane and Rob brought in the last of the named sinners amongst their neighbors, who were confined in a storage room. Even Jane hesitated when Leah told her to get the kerosene, protesting that there were children in the group, but Leah insisted the angels named them for reason and told Jane her son needed them to do this, and Jane and Rob went to do her bidding. Leah retreated for a private, gloating moment to Gideon’s vestry, revealing in a mirror a flashing image of her true face as she gloated over the sight of an impotent cross. In that instant, Castiel grabbed her and the others attacked, but Gideon hesitated for a fatal second at his daughter’s frightened, impassioned plea, and she snarled Enochian that left Castiel collapsed in agony on the floor, flung Gideon and the brothers aside with telekinetic power, and fled into the hall, crying for help and claiming her father was a demon. As Gideon went after her, the townspeople jumped him. Dean waded in to help Gideon as Sam moved to stop Rob and Jane from igniting the kerosene at Leah’s command. Leah herself attacked Dean, knocking him to the floor with power and throttling him. He scrabbled to reach for the stake Gideon had dropped, but she taunted him as pathetic, self-hating, and faithless, hardly a servant of Heaven, and said he would just sit back and watch the end of the world happen. Snagging the stake, he stabbed her with it, telling her not to be so sure – and the stake worked, burning away within her body and releasing black smoke until the stake was gone and she was dead. Jane, confused, asked how they were supposed to get to paradise now, and Dean observed he thought she was going in a different direction.
As Dean helped Castiel to the car while Sam supported the injured Gideon, Sam wondered worriedly how the stake had worked for Dean, asking if he was going to do something Michael-stupid. Dean told Sam to give him a break. At the motel, Castiel collapsed on a bed and Sam patched Gideon up. When Dean told Gideon he would be okay, the man quietly disagreed. Dean met his eyes, considering, and then headed for the door, telling the instantly concerned Sam he was just getting fresh bandages from the trunk. A moment later, Sam heard the Impala’s engine start, and he ran outside calling Dean’s name only to see him driving off into the night.
As Dean drove, looking calm and resolute, something occurred to him and he made a decision. Hours later in daylight, he knocked at the door of a house, and Lisa Braeden – the woman he’d spent a weekend with ten years before, and whose son Ben he and Sam had saved in The Kids Are Alright a couple of years ago – answered, surprised but not unhappy to see him. She asked if he was all right, and he admitted he wasn’t. He told her he had no illusions about his life or how it would end and he was okay with that, but said he wanted her to know that when he pictured himself happy, it was with her and Ben. She stopped him when he turned to leave, saying he couldn’t just drop a bombshell like that and walk away. He agreed but refused to stay, telling her things were going to get really bad, but she shouldn’t worry because he was making arrangements for her and Ben and they would be all right. He said the people he was going to see next wouldn’t get anything from him without agreeing to some conditions first. She begged him not to do whatever he was considering doing, saying he had a choice, but he kissed her temple, said goodbye, and left in the Impala.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
This episode carried on beautifully from Dark Side Of The Moon, showing us in graphic terms the progress and results of Dean’s loss of hope in Heaven, Castiel’s loss of faith in God, and Sam’s own renewed faith and determination despite his thought that God no longer cares. In this discussion, I explore Dean’s apathy and Sam’s reaction to it; Castiel’s descent into hopelessness; what makes a true servant of Heaven; and the meaning behind Dean’s farewell to Lisa.
I Get It. I Just Don’t Care. What Difference Does It Make?
In Dark Side Of The Moon, Joshua spelled out Dean’s utter loss of hope upon hearing God’s refusal to help, remarking that Dean wasn’t sure he could muddle through this time. In 99 Problems, both we and Sam saw the further progress of Dean’s clinical depression as he slid into apathy and fatalism, negativity coloring every aspect of his perception of the world.
While Sam has suffered occasional bouts of despair when he felt overwhelmed by events – look at episodes such as Nightmare, Playthings, Houses Of The Holy, Dream A Little Dream Of Me, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, where he gave in to hopelessness and fear at least for a while – he doesn’t exhibit the chronic depression Dean displays. Oddly enough, I think the anger that often poses so much of a danger to him and that grew so drastically beginning in season three provided one benefit in largely inoculating him against despair. Sam’s response to defeat and frustration, while involving the occasional sloppy crawl into a bottle or period of helpless flailing against fate, is usually to get angry and strike back, not to get sad and retreat into himself. We’ve seen it many times: just think of Malleus Maleficarum, Mystery Spot, I Know What You Did Last Summer, On The Head Of A Pin, and Sam, Interrupted, among others. Sam’s inability to understand how Dean could be so uncharacteristically uncaring about what was happening in the town or so fatalistically resigned to the inevitability of everyone dying with the end of the world is the surest indicator that Sam, while he has sometimes given in to despair, has no real personal experience with clinical depression.
I think Dean’s peacemaker nature, overdeveloped sense of responsibility for others, and poor self-image all left him more vulnerable to depression than Sam because he channeled fear and defeat into internally focused guilt and shame rather than outwardly directed emotion. We’ve seen Dean battling depression for a long time. It first became obvious in season two in the aftermath of John’s death when he abruptly confronted not only his own feelings of guilt for John having sold his soul for him, but also the unbearable stress of John’s secret charge that he might have to kill Sam if he couldn’t save him and his fear that he would fail. I think, however, that depression has been lurking in the wings longer than that, as the ever-present despairing flip side of Dean’s positive determination to hold his family together and make things right despite his lack of belief in his own personal worth. Dean always doubted his own value and particularly his importance to others, but as long as he kept moving forward, gaining validation through his success at saving people and hunting things, he balanced his emotional insecurity and fear of being inadequate against proving himself consequential and thus remained in a mostly positive, functional zone. Humor and bravado were among his coping mechanisms, and mostly served him well both in hiding the struggle and helping him move on. We saw the cracks mostly in moments of extreme stress such as his temptation to make a deal for John in Crossroad Blues, his evident intent to suicide if he had to kill Sam in Croatoan, and his absolute emptiness in the immediate aftermath of Sam’s death in All Hell Breaks Loose. His despair then translated into self-destruction when he sold his soul to get his brother back.
It may seem strange that knowing he had only a year to live lifted Dean’s spirits at the start of season three, giving rise to the manic behavior and cavalier attitude toward his own fate that so frustrated Sam, but the deal gave him very finite goals and initially removed the burden of long-term choices and their accompanying fear of loss and failure. What Dean had done had, on the surface, proved his worth and paid for itself in a single absolute and perfect good: in his eyes, he’d saved Sammy, achieving the primary mission John had always laid on him, the one true yardstick he always had to measure his success. For a brief time, he was happy and he was free because the need to make decisions was out of his hands and he had proof in Sam walking beside him that what he had done was worth it. He persuaded himself that Sam was more resilient and independent than he had been and would be fine without him, and he tried to live in the moment rather than opening himself to fear by thinking about Hell. Only as the end approached and he finally started to acknowledge how John’s issues and actions and his own need for John’s approval had shaped his decisions, and as he saw and felt Sam’s anger, fear, and resentment and Bobby’s grief about his upcoming death, did Dean finally admit that he didn’t want or deserve to die and go to Hell. His repudiation of that fate in Dream A Little Dream Of Me marked his return to the struggle for life, but also reopened the battle with depression.
He went down fighting, but the story didn’t end there. Season four piled more burdens on him as he first remembered how he broke in Hell to become his own worst nightmare by torturing others and enjoying it, entering a whole new level of guilt and self-loathing, and ultimately learned he had started the apocalypse by breaking the first seal that opened the way for the rest. He also lost an essential piece of his emotional support structure when Sam, who’d always believed in him before, began instead, under the insidious influence of the demon blood, to view him as weak and expect him to fail. The impossible weight of responsibility for triggering the end of the world crushed him. He’d always felt responsible and guilty for all the people he met and couldn’t save – look back to his reaction at the end of Dead In The Water, thinking about the sheriff’s death – but that has escalated now into the duty and need to save everyone on Earth from the very doom he’d unwittingly begun. Even knowing that mission is impossible, he can’t let go of the conviction that he has to do it. As he acknowledged in Sam, Interrupted, he can’t stop holding himself to that impossible standard because he feels it’s his fault and his responsibility and if he doesn’t do it, no one else either would or could.
The prophecies of Heaven play some part in that – he can’t forget Castiel quoting in On The Head Of A Pin that the righteous man who begins it is the only one who can end it – but the biggest part is his own nature, his own ingrained sense of duty and responsibility, his need to save everyone he can. Learning that Zachariah intended to manipulate him into becoming the vessel for Michael and the result would destroy as many or more people than it would save made that course totally unpalatable for him. Still, the incessant drumbeat in his ears for a year now from angels and demons alike is that he can’t escape his fate, that choice is an illusion and the only thing he can do is yield to Michael, kill his brother in Lucifer’s form, and be content with whatever of the world survives. He has constantly been told that nothing he does matters in the greater scheme of events, that all his striving is futile and ultimately doomed to fail. That’s a powerful negative message, especially when repeated by both sides in the war. Sam and Bobby, who have been his essential anchors, have been cracking under burdens of their own, including Sam’s fear that he might slip and give in to Lucifer and Bobby’s feelings of uselessness and loss.
Dean has hung on and fought back, refusing to concede, but his options narrowed with everything he tried. The Colt – the technological/magical solution – was a spectacular failure in Abandon All Hope. The journeys to the past of In The Beginning and The Song Remains The Same just reinforced that wheels had been set in motion long before his birth, rolling down a single, seemingly inevitable road. The journey to the future of The End prophesied the loss of everything and the death of all hope if he managed to defy plans and refuse Michael.
While I maintain Famine was wrong in My Bloody Valentine in asserting that Dean was dead inside, I believe he was correct in calling him empty, diagnosing Dean’s emotional and spiritual decay through the erosion of his strength and of his once-stubborn faith in his ability to succeed. Always before, Dean had found the resources in himself to pick up the pieces and keep moving on, if only because he knew that Sam was counting on him, but Famine was right in noting that he’d hit bottom and his spiritual well was finally empty. Despair was winning. Seeing Bobby crushed by having to kill his wife a second time and hearing Sam screaming his way through detox again when Dean could do nothing to help was more pain than Dean could bear. All that was left was the tenuous hope that maybe, just maybe, there was a God who would respond to prayer and give help to lift some of the burden off his shoulders. That hope died in Dark Side Of The Moon when Joshua said God was done, and Joshua made it impossible for Dean to hide either from himself or from Sam that his progressive loss of faith in everything – God, Sam, himself – meant he wasn’t sure any more that he could find any strength within himself or help from others to keep him moving on. Fueled by despair, depression declared victory and took the field. I think Dean discarding the amulet was emblematic of his surrender, of his inability to hold on to belief in anything.
The insidious thing about depression is that when it takes hold, it affects every perception of the world around you. It colors the way you see everything, not just the way you see yourself, and because it’s the antithesis of hope, it drains away life. Nothing matters, because depression asserts that nothing can or will change for the better, and worse is just the state of mind you’re already in. Anything that actually gets worse – like Dylan dying on Dean’s watch – is just confirmation that everything negative is true and real, that there’s no chance to make anything better. Depression saps energy, desire, and appetite because it tells you nothing has a point, nothing will be gained. Depression is the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy because it takes away even the urge to try to change things.
Understanding and action are the only non-medicinal counters to depression because they are the only things that can show progress by making things better in truth, but neither is easily accessible to a depressed person precisely because they seem so futile. Sam’s instincts were right when he tried to wake Dean to action by making him suspicious and angry about the town’s restrictions and isolation, by getting him to care, but he failed in large part because the town’s rules themselves held no real emotional impact and Sam couldn’t present a direct and positive course of action for them to take to change the situation. The immediacy and wrongness of Paul’s murder by Jane and Paul’s blood on Dean’s hands was finally enough to shock Dean out of apathy, and the identification of a specific target to kill finally gave him a concrete goal to pursue; it took both of those things to pull him out of the slough of despond and make him fight. But the end of that fight, proving him a servant of Heaven and making him consider saving some people being a better trade than losing them all, prompted his decision to try making a deal with Heaven just to bring it all to an end. And that was still depression speaking.
How Do You Manage It?
Castiel, like Dean, is depressed, and his emotional state is coloring everything he sees. Unlike Dean, he has no experience in dealing with it, but he’s expressing it in much the same way.
Dean’s apathy about the town’s rules and growing isolation was a direct symptom of depression. So is his constant negativity about John. It’s true that Dean has legitimate issues with John that he’d long repressed in his desperate need to cling to family – John’s obsession with the hunt blinding him to his sons’ need for affection and security; John putting too much responsibility on Dean’s shoulders too young; John inculcating Dean with his own guilt for and fear of failing those he loves; John alienating Sam with his restrictions and autocracy; John having indulged Adam in ways he never favored Sam and Dean – but it’s also true that Dean has always loved his father and still does, current comments about “deadbeat dads” notwithstanding. The single image best demonstrating the depth and genuineness of that love to me was Dean walking directly into John’s arms in Shadow, never doubting those arms would open to enfold him. For all the anger and rage that came boiling out when Dean finally acknowledged their existence and their hurt in Dream A Little Dream Of Me, for all the bitterness that’s colored Dean’s view of John since then as defeat has piled on top of frustration on top of disappointment, the love for his father is also still real and still there, however deeply buried. Right now, though, depression and defeat are blocking the good memories, the surety of love that sent Dean straight into his father’s embrace.
The same thing is happening to Castiel with respect to God. In his bewilderment and sense of betrayal, loneliness, and exile, Castiel has lost the ability to see love and beauty and hope. He heard Joshua’s rejection of their plea for help against the apocalypse, but was deaf to the rest of the message about all the extraordinary help God had already given, including his own miraculous resurrection. Because of this, Cass sees in God what Dean sees in John: the disappointing failure of a beloved father to live up to the expectations of a son who loved, believed in, and followed him unquestioningly. Neither is able to see past the narrow and negative view imposed by the blinders of depression to perceive the bigger picture; neither is able to feel the love, even though the love is there.
Castiel has an additional problem in that he doesn’t understand what he feels or why he feels it. Based on all the things Castiel has said about angels and Heaven, we know that until Castiel met the Winchesters, he had experienced a structured existence lasting thousands of years. He was a being of faith and obedience. He knew his purpose and position; to obey the dictates of Heaven without question or doubt, to watch over Earth. He had certainty. He had immortality. He had distance and perspective. He had, as Anna described it in Heaven And Hell, marble perfection.
Since being exposed to Dean, however, Castiel has learned doubt. He’s seen other angels fall from grace and even kill in the service of Lucifer, and discovered he was misled by his superiors, who acted to initiate the apocalypse without instruction from God. He was drawn gradually into friendship with a human, was disciplined, obeyed orders he realized were wrong, rebelled against his superiors, was exiled and cut off from the power of Heaven, was destroyed, was recreated, was overcome by bodily human hunger, has gradually been losing his powers as his connection with Heaven waned, and finally repudiated God when told He would not intervene to stop the apocalypse. From possessing absolute, unquestioning, unimaginative faith, he now has none. From being awed simply by observing God’s creation, he has become intimately familiar with its individual imperfections.
His inexperience with feeling emotion confuses him as much as the humans around him do. The intensity of emotion is something to which he clearly isn’t accustomed; everything he feels is all the sharper and deeper for being strange, for being alien, for being new. Castiel is overwhelmed by what he feels, much as Dean was overwhelmed in Lazarus Rising by hearing Castiel’s true voice. Neither of them could understand the import of the message.
Dean’s line in answer to Castiel’s question – On a good day, you get to kill a Whore – defined the limits of Dean’s depression-driven expectations. You don’t get to win, you don’t get to know things will be all right, you don’t get to recapture the simple and unquestioning love and faith you had as a child. You don’t get to be loved in return. The best you can hope for is to take an action of consequence, to kill the ugly monster that’s right in front of you. And when that’s the most you can expect, you accept it and make do.
Dean’s answer was a human one; as an angel still, Castiel needs to find his own.
Please – Like You’re A Servant Of Heaven!
Dean’s wholly unexpected ability to kill the Whore of Babylon immediately made Sam fear Dean had said yes to Michael, or at least had resolved to say yes, and had thus confirmed himself as a true servant of Heaven. Although it’s clear to me Dean has indeed made that resolve – albeit subject to conditions I suspect Zachariah and Michael flatly won’t accept – and judging from the look on his face may have done it in the very moment the false Leah derided him, saying he was just going to sit back and watch the world end, I don’t think that’s why the stake worked for him. I think it would have worked equally well for Castiel or Sam, because I believe Castiel was simply wrong when he disqualified all of them. I think they are all true servants of Heaven.
I don’t have empirical evidence to support that statement – it’s a belief, not a fact – but I infer it from a number of things. First and foremost, we know Castiel isn’t omniscient. He’s been wrong about many things. For example, he clearly didn’t know until very late in season four that his superior Zachariah, far from defending the seals binding Lucifer, was deliberately allowing them to be broken to bring on the apocalypse. Castiel didn’t know the Colt couldn’t kill Lucifer – while he maintained that trying to kill the devil was an insane task, he nonetheless told Dean in The End that using the Colt was how they would do it.
I don’t doubt Castiel accurately recounted the lore that a true servant of Heaven needed to wield the cedar stake to kill the Whore of Babylon. I think his mistake was simply in discounting Sam, Dean, and himself as being true servants of Heaven. I believe his conclusion was based on the false premise that none of them were worthy; himself and Dean because they lacked faith, and Sam because he’d been corrupted by his choices, by demon blood, and by his intended role as the vessel of Lucifer.
There’s actually something amusing about that assumption. Despite his current disaffection with God and Heaven, Castiel remains committed to Heaven’s ideals – just not as reflected by Zachariah’s power play or God’s seeming indifference – and sees himself as lacking when compared to them. Driven by his doubt, Castiel called himself a poor example of an angel. While now denying faith in God, Castiel is nonetheless holding himself up against God’s standard, and is defeated and depressed because he believes he doesn’t measure up. Our supposedly faithless angel is still judging himself by the system he claims no longer to believe, considering himself – and by extension, Dean – as being unworthy precisely because they have no faith in what he’s trying to convince himself doesn’t merit faith. That’s one hell of a conundrum.
And it also ignores what I think is the most important thing, the confirmation to me that the Winchesters are of Heaven: they have been there. According to Joshua, God saved them; God arranged for them to go to Heaven, and more than once, since Ash said he’d found them there many times before. No matter who thinks they are worthy or not, God placed them in Heaven – and not only Dean, but Sam. In God’s eyes, then, Sam isn’t an abomination despite what he’s done and what’s been done to him.
Long before he knew he’d been demon-touched, Sam had faith; Sam believed. Sam prayed and went to church. He’d evidently either hidden it while he still lived at home or hadn’t fully developed it until he moved out, given Dean’s surprise in Houses Of The Holy to hear that Sam had faith and prayed, but his dedication to God and Heaven were nonetheless real. Doing the right thing has always been important to him, so much so that he had to be able to justify his actions as right in order to be able to live with them. While some of those justifications were flat-out wrong, that he had to be able to find a way to see them as right demonstrates the importance good, God, and Heaven held for him. No matter what Azazel or Lucifer intended, Sam himself gave his service to God, and I think that is what matters.
Dean has also always been on the side of Heaven, even though he never professed faith. Dean’s dedication initially came simply through his commitment to saving people without thought for the cost to himself. Despite what preachers would call his many sins, he always embodied charity and love, the greatest of the virtues. And despite his lack of faith, when Castiel called on him to swear obedience to Heaven in When The Levee Breaks, Dean did it. He swore to obey God and Heaven – and while he emphatically hasn’t obeyed Zachariah, I don’t consider that a breaking of his oath, because Zachariah is clearly representing his own interests, not God’s will.
Castiel’s current exile from Heaven also wasn’t engineered by God, but directed by his middle manager Zachariah. God’s attitude toward Castiel is better reflected, I believe, by His having brought Castiel back to life after Raphael had destroyed him. I’m waiting for Castiel to realize that he was right in Sympathy For The Devil about believing God had brought him back, and finally to start thinking about what God had in mind for him to do.
I would submit, then, that all three of them have been and remain true servants of Heaven, and any of them could have wielded the stake. I think Castiel’s error is simply not having faith. But whether or not they believe in God, I do think God believes in them, and that’s what counts.
When I Do Picture Myself Happy, It’s With You … And The Kid
Dean’s decision at the end to visit Lisa before going to the angels wasn’t a non sequitur for me, because I don't believe the intent was to claim her as the love of Dean's life. I think two things were going on. First, I think she was Dean’s symbol, the embodiment of his explanation for his decision to sell himself to Michael; and second, I think she was Dean’s surrogate for Sam, being someone who represented family to whom he could make his goodbyes.
We learned back in The Kids Are Alright that Lisa had made an enduring impression on Dean despite his fling with her having been only one casual, if long and memorably bendy, weekend in 1998. Lisa had just been happy, no-strings sex, not the complex and painful mix of love and rejection that had come later with Cassie, and I think she would have remained simply a memory of fun if it hadn’t been for her son. Seeing Ben and doing the math that said he might have been Dean’s son triggered a whole cascade of emotions Dean had never expected to feel. Having that happen the very year he knew his life was going to end made those emotions all the more intense. Even though he learned Ben wasn’t his son – and I believe Lisa about that, not to mention Eric Kripke, who’s been very clear about Lisa having told the truth! – meeting him and seeing him with Lisa made Dean realize and finally admit just how much he wanted a family of his own even though he’d always denied it and believed he could never have it. We saw the truth of that in Dream A Little Dream Of Me when Lisa appeared in Dean’s dream not as a sex partner, but as Ben’s mother, with picking Ben up from baseball planned after their romantic picnic. Dean’s protest to Sam that he’d never had that dream before was as bald a lie as we’ve ever seen him tell.
I think Dean sought Lisa out because in his mind, she and Ben represented two things. First, they were symbolic of what he most wanted and felt the need to defend with his life – family of his own. While I do think he cares for them, particularly after their encounter in The Kids Are Alright, I think he loves what they represent more than the two of them as real individuals, because he doesn’t really know them well enough to love them for who they really are. As the idealized image of family he can hold in his mind, however, I think they’ve warmed the corner of his heart where he’s dared to dream wistfully of a future. Second, I think they also symbolize all the innocent lives for whom he feels responsible; all the people he unwittingly doomed when he broke the first seal on the apocalypse, all the innocents he now intends to sell himself to Michael to save. I think he’s reached the point of believing he can’t save the world, and has resigned himself to saving whatever he can the only way he sees available.
I believe Dean went to Lisa because he needed to explain what he was doing to the people he loves, but could only do it with someone unable to argue with him or stop him. I think he also desperately needed to say goodbye, but couldn’t bear to say it either to Sam or to Bobby. I believe telling Lisa, ostensibly to give her some reason to believe she and Ben might be all right when the end came, was really a surrogate for telling Sam, and might also have been a means of getting the message to him if Lisa did what one might humanly expect and called Sam after Dean left to ask him what was going on.
From what he told her, it’s clear that, while Dean intends to say yes to Michael, he means to force conditions on the deal first to save the people he loves. I’m betting Dean includes Sam and Bobby on that list, and hopes with all that remains of his heart that if he says yes to Michael while Sam continues to deny Lucifer, he won't have to go head-to-head with Sam as Lucifer. I think it tracks as his last gasp of tiny, defiant hope, a gesture of love to make his last act on Earth not entirely a surrender to despair.
Mind you, I don’t think Zachariah or Michael would agree, but I’m afraid Dean’s going to try.
From a character and narrative perspective, I enjoyed this episode much more than Julie Siege’s last two outings, Fallen Idols and Swap Meat, which had left her competing with Dabb and Loflin for the bottom slot on my list of favorite Supernatural writers. Given what she delivered here and what they supplied in last week’s Dark Side Of The Moon, however, they’re all scrambling up rungs on the ladder. Some of the things I really loved about this script were all the little touches, including Lisa telling Dean at the end that he had a choice while he maintained he didn’t, and Dean giving Sam the same kind of non-answer he’s used before (Crossroad Blues, for example) whenever he hasn’t wanted to admit that he’s thinking of doing something Sam fears.
My single biggest criticism of the episode is one I suspect wasn’t Siege’s fault, and that’s the story being set in Blue Earth, MN with no mention being made that this town was the home of Pastor Jim Murphy, a man of the cloth who was also a hunter and very close friend of the Winchesters. We first heard about Jim in season one’s Something Wicked, when we learned young Dean’s standing orders included calling Jim for help if John didn’t return from a hunt on schedule. We met Jim for the first time in Salvation, only to see him murdered by Meg in the armory hidden in the basement of his parish church precisely because of his relationship with the Winchesters. Knowing the show’s penchant for continuity and its track record on harking back to its own past, I was waiting for the Pastor Jim reference as soon as I heard the name of the town, and I was very disappointed not to get it. However, I’m willing to bet money the original script made mention of Jim in a role pertinent to the story, whether it being Pastor Gideon remarking on the strange appropriateness of having inherited a church with a fully stocked armory and supernatural library in the basement, Sam observing sadly that Jim would have hated to see his church transformed into a grim compound, or Dean feeling Jim’s death weighing particularly heavily on him along with all the others because his death was aimed directly at the Winchesters. I would guess the scene with the reference got cut somewhere along the way for time or pacing, and late enough in the game that the crowded bar scene with Sam mentioning the name of the town was already in the can and couldn’t be altered or reshot. I really wish Pastor Jim had been acknowledged, though, even if in a smaller way than may have been originally intended.
I did have a bit of an issue with one other thing in the story: the townspeople’s utter disregard for the lives of the demons’ hosts. Small towns are usually well integrated with the surrounding countryside, so the people being worn by the demons attacking the town were most likely known to the townspeople, yet we saw no grief for anyone until Dylan was killed. That might make sense if the demons were inhabiting strangers, but that just didn’t seem likely. Finally, while I wondered a bit how Dean found Lisa given that she had moved and he said he didn’t have her number, that was a minor detail.
The disintegration of the town in this episode was reminiscent of what happened to the little community deceived and corrupted by War in Good God, Y’All earlier this season. Once again, we had a front row seat for a supernatural being using people’s own fears to turn them against each other and kill innocents. While it’s not as spectacular as blowing up cities, it’s far more insidious, and it’s an approach that lends itself particularly well to the small towns the Winchesters frequent. It would be much harder for a single individual like the false Leah to influence the population of a city than it was for her to reach all the way through a small community and flip the emotional switches that trigger mob psychology.
Director Charles Beeson pulled wonderful performances from his cast. I enjoyed the appearance of Michael Shanks, Stargate: SG1’s Daniel Jackson, as Rob; he did lovely things with a small role, conveying with subtle touches that Rob wasn’t as bought in to the devout line as his wife Jane. I had to wonder if Shanks compared notes with the boys on playing characters known for dying and coming back to life, given Daniel’s history on SG1! In the supporting cast, I also particularly enjoyed Bruce Ramsay, who brought conviction and reality to Paul the bartender, and Larry Poindexter, whose Pastor David echoed the vibe we’d gotten from Richard Sali’s Pastor Jim – a man of faith who takes to heart that the Lord helps those who help themselves. I had enjoyed Cindy Sampson as Lisa Braeden both of the previous times I’d seen her, and her chemistry with Jensen’s Dean really sold how and why Lisa would remain in his heart.
I also loved what Beeson and the crew did with the action scenes, especially including the car chase and the rescue of the boys from the road blocked by the flaming wreck (I wonder if there are scorch marks on the pavement at that site in the North Forty? And loved the shot of the Impala from over the flaming wreck!), and the synchronization of the raid on the house. Kudos to the stunt people for the fight timing, and the knife toss/knife pull routine was a lovely visual way to show the perfection of teamwork between the brothers. The only thing that bothered me was the use of shaky handheld cameras in scenes in the church hall and the bar where the shakiness served no purpose. Handheld is great to convey urgency and intimacy in the midst of wild fight action, but just gets distracting when two characters are sitting or standing and talking as the camera gently bobs up and down.
Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Misha Collins all delivered the goods and then some. Dean’s depression, hopelessness, and heartbreaking resolution came through every line of Jensen’s body; I swear, he can do more with three looks than other actors with three pages of dialogue. Jared brought out Sam’s helpless frustration at watching Dean’s inexplicable resignation, and the realization, fear, and concern that showed on his face from the moment he saw Dean kill Leah through his instant – and correct – suspicion when Dean headed for the door at the end were perfect. Misha’s delivery of drunk Castiel and then of hungover Castiel was funny and painful at the same time.
The set dressers deserve some shout-outs, as always. I loved the touch of the motel sign: “Jesus is Lord. Stay two nights, get a free Bible.” Not only did it fit with the theme of a town of believers, it made a fun nod to the Gideons being the group that provides the Bibles you find in hotels and motels around the country. I also love the continuity of the product brands they’ve created for the show, like the El Sol and Schultz beers, turning up in the background of nearly every bar. The horse-head and steer-embossed furniture in the motel room added a whole new chapter to the history of Supernatural motel design. Composer Chris Lennertz left me in little pieces with the original music he scored for the scene of Dean driving at the end, and then leaving Lisa behind.
I don’t know how to wrap this episode up in a final message of hope, because it’s not over yet. All I can do is have faith that Dean won’t give up; that Sam and Castiel and Bobby can reach him and hold fast. I can only offer for the upcoming 100th episode the essence of the Blue October song “For My Brother” that serves as my tagline on LJ: Whenever you’re dark inside, don’t let go.
Don’t let go.