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06 May 2010 @ 09:07 am
5.20 The Devil You Know: You Want The Horseman Rings, Or Not?  
5.20 The Devil You Know: You Want The Horseman Rings, Or Not?
 
Crowley offers help
Finding Horsemen and their rings;
What will be the price? 
  
 
Episode Summary
 
Two lab techs at Niveus Pharmaceuticals monitoring a swine flu vaccine study in monkeys grumbled about the human trials set for that week being rushed, saying they hadn’t even seen the new vaccine. The janitor mopping the floor told them he had, saying he was running the experiment, and jabbed one of the techs with a syringe. Shoving the other tech aside, he promised they were both part of the test. He left the room and smashed the electronic lock on the door to trap the two techs in the lab, his black eyes proclaiming him a demon. The injected tech promptly murdered the other one.
 
Posing as CDC investigators, the brothers checked on the report of a sudden outbreak of swine flu at a hospital in Nevada that began at the same time as statues in the town started crying. The local doctor reported only normal symptoms of the flu, however, although the speed at which cases appeared and multiplied was worrisome and the town needed vaccine in a hurry. Checking in with Bobby as they drove away, the brothers wondered why Pestilence was bothering with the swine flu instead of launching the Croatoan virus, but Bobby was more concerned that they hadn’t been able to catch up with, find, or anticipate the Horseman, who was evidently heading east based on the four sick towns he’d left in his wake. 
 
As the call with Bobby ended, the demon Crowley’s voice coming from the back seat of the Impala startled both brothers badly. Dean spun the car and Sam pulled the knife and tried to stab Crowley, but the demon simply reappeared outside the car. When Sam went after him again, accusing him of having known the Colt wouldn’t work and thus having been complicit in the deaths of Ellen and Jo, Crowley maintained he wasn’t to blame and said they were all still on the same side. Blinking away from Sam’s continued attempts to kill him, Crowley told Dean to call off his dog, and when Dean asked why they should listen to him, the demon said he could give them Pestilence. That caught Dean’s attention, and despite Sam’s incredulous disbelief, Dean chose to listen. Crowley revealed he knew all about their quest for the Horsemen’s rings, and asked them to come with him to a safer place than the middle of the road because Lucifer knew of his betrayal and had every demon hunting for him.
 
Crowley took them to an abandoned house and proceeded to explain that during their previous encounter, one of his flunkies had bugged the Impala with a magic coin that let him trace and eavesdrop on the brothers despite their anti-demon hex bags. He approved of the scheme to cram the devil back in his box. He said he didn’t know where Pestilence was, but he knew the demon tasked with being the Horsemen’s personal assistant, handling their itineraries and dealing with their needs. Dean asked how they could get him to speak and Crowley observed that nuts at his pay grade wouldn’t crack under torture, but his own specialty was selling deals, and he was confident of making a sale. Dean asked where this demon was.
 
At the offices of Niveus, an executive named Brady laid into the managers seated around the table insisting that he wanted to hear about days, not weeks, when it came down to nationwide distribution of the new swine flu vaccine. When Mitchell, one of the managers, protested they were doing their best, Brady snarled they should do the best of somebody better, and walked out. Later that evening, Mitchell knocked at Brady’s office in response to a summons and tried to apologize for failing, but Brady said he had a position in communications Mitchell would be perfect for. Asking if he was ready to join the cut-throat world of upper management, Brady unexpectedly slit Mitchell’s throat, catching his blood in a grotesque chalice like the ones used by the demons possessing Meg (Scarecrow, Shadow) and Duane (Croatoan) to communicate with Azazel. As his demon bodyguard/assistant dragged the body away, Brady sat at his desk and spoke an incantation, and bubbles in the blood began to pop, releasing flies as Brady spoke in a one-sided conversation. He told Pestilence he should be pleased because the results of the vaccine trials were quite grotesque, but when the Horseman evidently pressed him about distribution, he pleaded difficulties on achieving the necessary scale. Pestilence dismissed him with the same order he’d given his underlings in his board room.
 
As they packed to accompany Crowley, Sam asked Dean why they were even listening to the demon, and Dean didn’t disagree about the whole idea being insane. Crowley insisted Sam not go with them, saying he didn’t trust Sam and Sam kept trying to kill him. Crowley pitched his invitation only to Dean, and when Dean didn’t respond, Sam smugly faced Crowley down. Crowley shrugged and turned to leave, telling them to enjoy their last few sunsets, but after a moment’s hesitation, Dean told him to wait. Facing Sam’s incredulous disbelief, Dean apologetically said he believed Crowley, and they left Sam fuming behind them.
 
Alone in the house, drinking whiskey straight from the bottle, Sam called Bobby to fill him in, complaining about Dean having gone with Crowley. Bobby, also hitting the whiskey in his own house, observed he had no love for demons and agreed the whole situation was crazy, but said after a year of finding nothing, maybe it was time to go crazy. Sam reluctantly agreed, but then, thinking, took another swig and asked Bobby if he remembered taking control when Meg ordered the demon possessing him in Sympathy For The Devil to kill Dean. Sam asked how he had done it and Bobby, instantly suspicious, asked why he was asking. Continuing to drink, Sam asked what would happen if they managed to get Lucifer’s cage open, since the devil was unlikely to jump in. Sam asked what if they led the devil to the edge, and then Sam jumped in. He said it would be just like what Bobby did when he turned the knife on himself instead of killing Dean: it would take just one action, one leap. Bobby protested, saying they’d just talked Dean off the ledge and now Sam was considering saying yes. Sam said he wouldn’t do it unless they all agreed, but maintained they had to consider all their options. Bobby insisted this wasn’t an option, saying what he had done had been a million-to-one shot against a piss-ant demon, and Sam would be up against Satan himself. Sam argued he was strong enough, and Bobby flatly disagreed, saying Satan would use all his fear, grief and anger against him, demanding to know how Sam could control the devil when he couldn’t even control himself.
 
Casing Niveus from the street, Dean saw guards on the first floor and jumped to the conclusion they were demons. Crowley said they were human shields, that all the demons were up on the twelfth floor, and when Dean observed they’d need to find a back way in, Crowley admonished him for unnecessarily complicating things and disappeared, reappearing in the lobby behind the guards. To Dean’s shock, he simply killed the guards, and when Dean raced up in protest, Crowley said they were on a tight schedule. Crowley bundled Dean into the elevator alone to entice Brady, saying it was too dangerous for him to go along and telling Dean just to say exactly what Crowley had told him and to make it convincing. Dean pulled the demon-killing knife and held it ready, and killed Brady’s guard outside his twelfth floor office. Hearing the guard’s death, Brady casually gestured the door open and invited Dean inside. Dean put away the knife and offered Crowley’s pitch – that he’d heard Brady wanted back the rings they’d taken from War and Famine, and he would return them for a price – but Brady didn’t react as Crowley said he would. Brady said the two ringless Horsemen were withered husks that probably couldn’t get up again even if he managed to put their rings back on, and what he truly wanted was retribution for what Dean and Sam had done to them. He started to beat Dean, who retreated to the elevator and managed to send it back down to the lobby. Emerging with caution, Dean missed Brady appearing behind him, but Brady missed Crowley doing the same thing to him. Crowley dropped a bag with a devil’s trap on it over Brady’s head and clubbed him senseless. Crowley enthused that everything had gone perfectly, and when Dean protested, told him that’s what you get, working with a demon.
 
In the back seat of the Impala, Crowley carved a symbol into Brady’s chest, telling Dean it would keep the demon trapped in his host with no chance to zap away or smoke out. He directed Dean to take a different route and not return to Sam, and when Dean insisted on knowing why, said they had history. Dean slammed on the brakes and demanded the facts.
 
At the house, Sam waited impatiently until he heard the Impala return. Heading downstairs, he asked Crowley where Dean was, and the demon cocked his head toward another room, telling Sam he was against this because negotiating a defection was a delicate business. He told Sam they should have been miles away from him, but Dean had refused to listen to him. Crowley sourly invited Sam to destroy their last, best hope, since it was only the end of the world. Confused, Sam found Dean tying the bagged demon to a chair inside a devil’s trap. Dean warned Sam he needed him to stay on mission, saying he was doing this because he trusted Sam, and when Sam asked what he was trusting him to do, Brady spoke up, asking Sam if that was him. Dean pulled the bag off his head, and Sam recognized Brady as his best friend from college, the one who’d introduced him to Jess. Brady taunted Sam that Brady hadn’t been Brady since the middle of their sophomore year, and he’d had a devil on his shoulder all that time. As the pieces fell together and Sam realized how he’d been played, he started to advance on Brady threatening to kill him, but Dean grabbed him and manhandled him into the next room, telling him there was only one way to win and it meant not killing Brady. Crowley sardonically thanked them for fluffing Brady and went to pitch his deal to the demon, leaving Dean trying to calm Sam down by reminding him they needed Pestilence to get to the devil and Brady to get to Pestilence. Sam asked why Dean believed Crowley, asking if they now trusted Crowley the way Sam had trusted Ruby, or Brady back at school.
 
Crowley tried to persuade Brady to turn on Lucifer before Lucifer destroyed all the demons after destroying humanity, but Brady argued Lucifer had created them and wouldn’t destroy them, and encouraged Crowley to be less worried about all the demons’ necks and more worried about his own, because Lucifer would never let him die but would torment him forever for his betrayal. Brady said he was dead whether he said anything or not, and preferred to die on the winning side, not talking. Crowley thanked him for a good meeting and left the room, finding Dean drinking alone. Learning Sam was cooling off on his own elsewhere in the house, Crowley admitted Brady hadn’t budged and said he was going to do what he hadn’t wanted to do and stick his neck out, to kick open a hive of demons. Before he literally disappeared, he quietly observed that the whole ring business had better work.
 
Some time later, Dean went into the bathroom to splash water on his face, and Sam locked him in by jamming a chair under the doorknob. Ignoring Dean’s shouts, Sam pulled the knife and confronted Brady. Brady taunted him that his friend had been the perfect point of access, and Sam realized his friend had been possessed over a Thanksgiving holiday, when he came back a changed man who dropped his pre-med studies and turned to drugs and women. Brady reminisced about how hard Sam had tried to get him back on the straight and narrow, saying he had really been a friend, but Azazel hadn’t sent him to be a friend, but to goad Sam because the demon feared they were losing Sam to his quiet, normal life. So Brady had introduced Sam to innocent Jessica, and then toasted her on the ceiling. He gloated that Jessica had also believed he was a friend, describing how she was baking cookies in anticipation of Sam’s return and had been so shocked when he started hurting her. Enraged, Sam put the knife to his throat and cut him a little, and Brady goaded him to go ahead and do it, to kill him if it would make him feel better. Sam was tempted, but ultimately walked away, leaving Brady laughing behind him. Sam let Dean out of the bathroom, saying nothing happened and he was fine. Dean looked for himself and found Brady still alive even as Sam agreed that they needed him.
 
Crowley reappeared looking somewhat the worse for wear, complaining about the day he’d had. Walking into the room with Brady, he congratulated him, saying he was going to live forever. He explained he’d gone to a demons’ lair and killed all but one of them, sloppily letting one escape, but not before letting it slip that Brady had left his post because he and Crowley were lovers in league against Satan – thus landing Brady in exactly the same situation Crowley himself faced. With death off the table and eternal torment on, Crowley invited Brady to tell him where Pestilence was. They all heard a distant howl that Dean immediately recognized as a hellhound. Checking his coat pocket, Crowley found a tracking coin like the one he’d had planted in the Impala, which the demons had planted on him. Brady, terrified, told them to get him out of there and he’d tell them anything they wanted. Crowley said no one knew the hounds better than he did and they were past the point of being able to go, and then he tossed the coin to Dean and disappeared. Dean ran for the salt in the kitchen, but before he could reach it, an invisible hound leaped through the window, cutting him off. Slamming the room doors and grabbing for his shotgun while shouting a warning to Sam, Dean fired toward the hound, doing enough to make it hesitate while he reloaded. As he grimly prepared for a last stand, Crowley reappeared in the adjoining room, commanding his own bigger hellhound to attack the other one. With the two invisible beasts trashing the house, the Winchesters escaped with Crowley and Brady.
 
In an alley well away from the house, Brady handed over an address to Crowley saying Pestilence would be there. Vetting it with a glance, Crowley passed it on to Dean, saying it was good and Brady had no reason to lie any more. Brady complained sourly that Crowley had screwed him for eternity, but Crowley observed it wouldn’t last that long. As he turned to go, Brady asked where he was going, and Crowley said he was going to do Brady a favor. Pausing beside Sam, who was fixated on watching Brady, Crowley said he expected he’d be in touch. Behind Sam. Dean was spreading a line of salt across the alley, and paused only long enough to let Crowley pass before closing off the alley and standing behind Sam, backing him up. Seeing the unmistakable threat, Brady asked what was going on, and Dean observed that none of the angels or demons got it; that the Winchesters should be the ones they were afraid of. Sam advanced on Brady with the demon-killing knife, and Brady taunted him, saying he bet this was a big moment for Sam and asking if he thought it would make up for all the times the demons had yanked his chain. Sam agreed it would be a start. Brady rubbed it in that it wasn’t all the demons’ fault, saying Sam was the one who chose to believe them, who let them into his life to whisper into his ear over and over again. Brady asked if Sam had ever wondered why the demons were always in his blind spot, and suggested it might have been that they had the same stuff running through their veins and deep down, Sam knew he was just like them. Brady attacked, but Sam was ready, cutting the demon a couple of times and shoving him back up against the wall. Brady challenged that maybe he hated them so much because he hated what he saw in himself every time he looked in a mirror, that maybe the only difference between Sam and a demon was that Sam’s hell was right here. Sam drove the dagger home and watched coldly as Brady died; then he said clinically it was an interesting theory. Dean watched in pained disquiet as Sam looked at Brady, then turned and walked past Dean without a look.
 
On the phone with Rufus, Bobby reported on having followed up on nasty omens only to find nothing pointing to the Horseman Death. Hanging up, he found Crowley in his kitchen telling him the cavalry had arrived. Bobby pulled a gun on him, and Crowley observed the gun wouldn’t work on him, introducing himself as Crowley and saying Bobby may have heard of him. Bobby shot him, to Crowley’s disgruntlement. When Bobby asked why he was there, Crowley said he was looking out for himself. Telling Bobby the boys were onto ring number three, he said he was there to help with ring number four. Bobby asked if he knew where Death was, and Crowley said he didn’t, but he knew a spell that could get the information and it only needed one little thing to power it up: Bobby just had to make a wish and sell his soul. Grabbing a salt-loaded shotgun, Bobby shot Crowley as his counter-offer. Crowley disappeared from his kitchen and reappeared behind him in the study, saying he would give it right back. Bobby asked if Crowley thought he was a natural-born idjit, and Crowley said quite the contrary. He said Bobby was right to be suspicious, but maintained he was their ally. He pointed out his delicate ass depended on them getting the devil back in the stocks. He promised it would be a temporary loan, saying he would give it right back, and Bobby considered it in silence.
 
Commentary and Meta Analysis
 
It’s hard to judge this episode on its own because it’s so clearly just the first chapter of a three-part finale; as we’ve seen it, it’s incomplete, and everything it set in motion is still unresolved. I think this will have to be a placeholder commentary until the season finale brings this particular story to a wrap.
 
Building on the plan provided by Gabriel at the end of Hammer Of The Gods to obtain the Horsemen’s rings and lock Lucifer back in his prison, this episode began by demonstrating the inability of the Winchesters’ team to locate and anticipate Pestilence, creating the opportunity for Crowley to offer assistance under urgent circumstances where cooperating with him seemed the only game in town. That provided the setup for the brothers to pursue a lead to Pestilence while having their personal convictions and renewed partnership challenged, and for Bobby, frustrated in his search for Death and his inability to be a fully active player in the fight, to be tempted to trade his soul for the perceived greater good in violation of everything he’s always believed. In this discussion, I’m going to look at Sam’s current mindset, Dean trusting a demon, and Crowley’s game.
 
I’m Strong Enough
 
After his experience with Ruby, Sam is now hypersensitive concerning demons, determined never to make the mistake of trusting one again and to avenge himself for his fall to temptation on every demon that comes within reach. Crowley had the added strike against him of having been the one who gave them the Colt, which failed so spectacularly – although in Crowley’s defense, I would note that Castiel didn’t realize the gun wouldn’t work against Lucifer either. Sam’s absolute rejection of Crowley was no surprise. Neither was his stunned disbelief when Dean, acting against his own typical inclinations, reluctantly decided to believe Crowley and cooperate with him even though that meant leaving Sam behind.
 
When Sam challenged Dean about trusting Crowley as he had trusted Ruby and Brady, I believe he overlooked important differences in the circumstances. Ruby and Brady had both directed Sam’s actions in plans of their own making under Azazel’s orders to fulfill Lucifer’s aims. Sam hadn’t realized Brady had been possessed, so his reactions to Brady were driven first by his purely human concern for a friend and second by his natural attraction to Jess. Ruby had simply promised Sam what he wanted – Lilith’s death, based first on Sam’s desire for revenge and later on Ruby’s claim that killing Lilith would stop the apocalypse. In the current instance, however, Crowley wasn’t the one who initiated the plan to get the Horsemen’s rings to trap Lucifer; that plan came from Gabriel, whom both the brothers trusted in the end. Crowley provided his own strategy for achieving that goal, which has to be suspect, but the overall plan was still Gabriel’s. Dean believed Crowley was telling the truth about not wanting to be destroyed by Lucifer and his minions because his story made logical sense, and because Dean had nothing else to go on that afforded any promise of success in the overall plan. I don’t believe Dean truly trusts Crowley, but he believes their immediate objectives are congruent. Sam’s anger and resentment that Dean would choose to go along with Crowley over Sam’s objections were understandable, but I think they were misdirected. I worry about their impact on the brothers’ fragile rebuilding of trust between them.
 
More worrisome to me, however, was the tenor of Sam’s thoughts concerning his ability to take on Lucifer after saying yes and wrestle control of their shared body away long enough to trap Lucifer in the cage. On the one hand, Sam is absolutely right to be concerned about how they would get Lucifer back in his prison assuming they got the keys and were able to open the gate, but on the other, I’m with Bobby in thinking he’s absolutely wrong to gamble in his overconfidence on being able to take back control from Lucifer at the crucial moment just because Bobby was able to do it for an instant when he had been possessed. Sam seems to have forgotten his own experience with possession back in Born Under A Bad Sign when Meg rode him and he wasn’t even aware of most of the things he had done, including shooting Dean and beating him mercilessly. When Bobby told him that he of all people should understand they call it possession for a reason, Sam glossed right over his own checkered history and imperfect memory to maintain that if Bobby could do it, he could do it too.
 
I do think Bobby’s words had one definite impact, although not the one Bobby had intended. I believe Sam thinking about the validity of Bobby’s challenge to Sam’s ability to control his anger was what led directly to the incident in which Sam locked Dean in the bathroom and confronted Brady. My fear is that Sam was using that experience as a staged test of his much vaunted anger to see if indeed he could control himself when deliberately provoked, and his satisfaction with his success makes me worry he considered his victory in that situation as demonstrable proof that he could control his anger when dealing with Lucifer. I think he was doing the same thing when he executed Brady, holding himself in check and watching for the moment Brady would try to attack. His deliberate double-slash attack to injure and control but not kill when Brady did lash out was scary in its focused intensity, not because it demonstrated his control, but because of how much rage and hate it contained. Dean stood back and let Sam take his revenge for Brady’s betrayal and his murder of Jess, but he was clearly unsettled by the cold way Sam went about it and by the effect it had – or didn’t have – on Sam.
 
My one hope in this scenario Sam is playing out in his head is that his memory of John in the cabin in Devil’s Trap might also be playing into his thoughts. I don’t think Sam realized that John had surfaced from Azazel’s possession then in the moment when Dean had passed out and John had begged for his torture to stop, but I’m certain he remembers that when he’d shot John in the leg, Azazel’s control had been broken momentarily allowing John to speak to Sam, begging Sam to kill him while he could kill the demon too. Sam knows the Colt won’t work to kill Lucifer, but being shot in Abandon All Hope had incapacitated Lucifer, if only for a moment. I wonder if he’s thinking that a non-fatal shot might similarly work to break Lucifer’s control and give him his moment, even if he couldn’t seize control himself.
 
I still don’t like this course of thinking at all, not just because Sam seems to be making the same sin of overconfident pride he’s been guilty of before, but because Sam taking Lucifer into his body and leaping into the cage would leave Sam imprisoned with him for eternity, which is not an acceptable outcome in my book despite his willingness to sacrifice himself to stop the apocalypse.
 
I’m Doing This Because I Trust You
 
Dean’s decision to cooperate with Crowley was understandable to me under the circumstances. While Dean – unlike Sam – never trusted Ruby or any other demon, Crowley presented a different and unique situation precisely because Dean could understand a demon acting in his own self-interest. Crowley’s entire explanation for why he was helping the Winchesters both in Abandon All Hope and here – his fear of Lucifer destroying demons after nuking humanity – made logical sense to Dean, while Ruby’s interest in Sam and professed memories of being human never did.
 
Choosing to leave Sam behind when Crowley demanded it wasn’t a rejection of his brother or an indication to me that Dean trusted Crowley more than Sam, but was simply an indication of how desperate the times had become for Dean. He was all too aware of the passage of fruitless time as Pestilence got further ahead of them doing something they couldn’t fathom – spreading swine flu rather than the Croatoan virus they knew from Dean’s experience in The End was the intended endgame – and Death was entirely out of view. Crowley’s expressed reasons for not including Sam – distrust and self-preservation – again made sense on the surface, and however reluctant Dean was to concede, he couldn’t see an alternative with any promise of providing an answer, not with time running out so fast. I draw a distinction between Dean believing Crowley’s overall motive for helping them, and Dean trusting Crowley. I don’t believe Dean trusts the demon as far as he could throw him, but I think he saw no alternative to the plan Crowley laid out to get them Pestilence and was willing to dance with the devil he knew to get to the one he didn’t.
 
I was a bit bothered by Dean actually being surprised both times Crowley screwed him over, first by killing the guards simply because it was expedient and second at sending him up alone to face Brady with a premise Crowley knew was a farce. I understood why Dean believed Crowley’s story about why he would help, but I did think it a little naïve of him not to expect Crowley to behave as a demon nonetheless, including enjoying killing humans and manipulating Dean to serve his own ends with regard to Brady, thoroughly enjoying Dean’s discomfiture and pain in the process. Dean’s absolute refusal to cut Sam out of dealing with Brady after that, however, demonstrated that unlike the situation of Sam’s partnership with Ruby, Dean’s teaming with Crowley stopped cold where it crossed the brother line.
 
I loved Dean bringing Brady back to Sam over Crowley’s protests, and telling Sam he had done it because he trusted him. Even though he had to get physical to force Sam away from Brady initially, he succeeded in using words to back his brother down once Brady was out of sight, and Sam eventually conceded the need to keep Brady alive long enough to get information from him. While maintaining his well-earned distrust of Crowley, he accepted using him. I hope Sam took Dean’s backing his execution of Brady for the vote of confidence it was, and that Dean having his back will smooth over his anger at Dean for having gone with Crowley in the first place.
 
This Whole Bloody Ring Business Better Work
 
I’ll confess I don’t know what Crowley’s game is. Like Dean, I believe Crowley is telling the truth about opposing Lucifer precisely because he suspects Lucifer would destroy his misbegotten demon creations, including Crowley, as soon as he had no more need of them. We already saw Lucifer’s absolute dismissal of demons in Abandon All Hope, when his response to Sam’s aghast reaction to his wholesale sacrifice of demons to raise Death was simply to say, What? They’re just demons.
 
While I believe that much of Crowley’s argument, however, I suspect there’s more he’s not sharing, particularly with regard to his desire to have Bobby trade his soul away. I don’t for a moment believe Crowley would give it back; his promises are worth the paper they’re printed on. When he told Brady at the end he was going to do Brady a favor, I don’t think he was speaking simply of leaving Sam to kill Brady rather than leaving Brady to face eternal torment at Lucifer’s orders. I think part of his favor to Brady was giving him some revenge on Sam and Dean through the effect Bobby’s sacrifice would have on the Winchesters. Perhaps a further part of his reasoning was to have a bargaining chip to use in case the Winchesters succeed in re-caging the devil; he could offer them Bobby’s soul in return for them leaving him alone, with Bobby forfeit if they broke their word.
 
In any case, Crowley is definitely playing his own game, and one with many layers. He very deliberately inflamed the situation between the brothers by goading Sam and forcing Dean to make choices and take actions that would strain the brothers’ relationship. I think he wants them divided and at odds with each other to give his plans a better chance of success. He positively delighted in pushing Dean’s buttons by killing the guards and priming him to take on Brady with a proposed deal when he knew Brady wanted nothing better than to take his pound of flesh from Dean in payment for what the Winchesters had done to two of his Horsemen. Sam’s hurt and anger and Dean’s surprise and pain were Crowley’s pleasure; he’s a demon, after all, and not worthy of trust. I think they can trust him only insofar as his enlightened self-interest coincides with their desire to stop Lucifer and the apocalypse and return things to pre-apocalyptic conditions where Crowley would get to go on making deals and having power – perhaps gaining more power as the one demon in Hell who had a hand in locking up the devil again.
 
One thing I did love in this story was the whole concept that it’s not the crossroad demons’ ability to grant the wishes for which people sell their souls, but the power of the soul that fuels the ability to grant the wish. While demon deals can go well beyond human abilities – bringing people back from the dead is not something anyone actually can do – I like the thought that it’s the power of a human soul that fills and answers every drive and dream. I like the corollary there that if we try our best and give our all, we can accomplish more than we think; that the power to accomplish our dreams and desires is already in us if we’re willing to work for them. 
 
Production Notes
 
Ben Edlund writes the funniest dialogue in creation even in the midst of tension and angst, and in Crowley he has a mouthpiece he thoroughly enjoys using. His task this time was not to write a complete story, but to start the season finale in motion, and I think he did that beautifully. Along the way, he showed us Sam’s dangerous frame of mind, filled in some important parts of Sam’s past, advanced the complex relationship between Sam and Dean, and established the setup both for Pestilence’s end game – using the swine flu outbreak to spread a vaccine laced with the Croatoan virus nationwide in jig time – and for the brothers to locate Death at an unspeakable price: Bobby’s soul. That was a lot to cram into an hour, but that all of it was clear spoke well for his craftsmanship. And both Crowley and Brady were well worth the price of admission. We also got a timeline check, since we learned from Crowley’s first outburst that in Winchester time, it’s been only two months since the events of Abandon All Hope, when Crowley had to go underground to hide from Lucifer’s revenge for his betrayal.
 
I have a few issues with Pestilence’s plan. If the vaccine-borne Croatoan virus works as quickly as it did on the unfortunate lab tech in the teaser, very few people would be directly injected because the administering nurses and other people in line would all be killed by the first few homicidal victims. Since health care workers are also the first people typically inoculated, there might not be anyone to administer the vaccine to everyone else, since the doctors, nurses, and techs tasked with administering the vaccine would be the first ones to receive it and turn living zombie, unless they wouldn’t be affected precisely because most of them were already vaccinated against swine flu using untainted supplies. The instant onset of violence we saw in the vaccine test still would create problems for truly nationwide spread, however. It would be much more effective if the onset were delayed by a week or more, such that massive numbers of people would have been vaccinated before the first homicidal fits began.
 
I also wonder a bit about Bobby not having salted his house to guard against demons and ghosts, especially given his current physical handicap rendering retreat to his panic room no longer an option for him. Crowley appearing in Bobby’s kitchen was a nasty shock, and one I would have thought Bobby would have protected against. That’s a plot nitpick, but one that irritated me. Maybe the wheelchair makes maintaining a salt line infeasible, since rolling through it would break it as stepping over it wouldn’t, so I won’t make an issue of it.
 
I really enjoyed the continuity we experienced in this episode with previous ones, from both a script and production design perspective. For example, the clerk Pestilence sneezed on at the end of Hammer Of The Gods was among the sick in the hospital waiting room, and the newspaper Brady held up in the conference room was the same one the clerk had been reading. There was some nice funny continuity, too: the lab scene opened on a magazine-sized poster ad for the Niveus product Herpexia, the genital herpes treatment Sam had been forced to shill during the commercial break in Changing Channels. Even within the episode, there were excellent, subtle touches, including Sam, pushed backward by Dean to keep him away from killing Brady in the house, knocking over empty bottles on the floor.
 
Robert Singer is one of my favorite Supernatural directors. In this episode, I particularly loved the way he shot Crowley’s appearances and disappearances; it reminded me of Kim Manners’ finesse. And Singer gets a huge shout-out together with the entire effects crew – practical, visual, and sound – for the wonderful feat of creating a convincing battle between two invisible hellhounds. From the first hound bursting in through the window and sending the table flying to the two hounds creating a shambles of the cabin, that whole sequence was inspired. The visual effects and sound people get another tip of the hat for the flies emerging from the blood chalice and flying around Brady’s office. Director of photography Serge Ladouceur did wonderful things with light in the house, particularly in the scene with Sam listening for and reacting to the Impala’s return, and with all the scenes in the car.
 
Mark A. Sheppard as Crowley is perfection. I can’t help but hope that Crowley will get his comeuppance in the end because no, I don’t trust him for an instant – he’s a demon, deceit is his nature, and he takes pleasure in Winchester pain – but I will enjoy watching him in the meantime. Sheppard’s delight in the delivery of his lines makes the words fill his mouth so naturally – and Edlund has given him such great lines – that he’s irresistible to watch.
 
Eric Johnson delivered a great Brady. The discovery that Azazel had an agent in place to keep Sam on track made perfect retroactive continuity to my mind, and Johnson sold a character earnest enough to have deceived Sam back in the day and twisted enough to convey the essence of a demon who delighted in his success, wasn’t afraid of any human – he wasn’t afraid of Sam in the end – but appreciated with resentment how screwed he was with his superiors both when Pestilence told him off and when he realized just how perfectly Crowley had screwed him over with the forces of Hell.
 
I don’t have parting words for this episode; too much still remains to be seen in the final two chapters of this season still to come. I fear heartbreak; I hope for brothers united with friends still alive. And I’m terrified for Bobby.

********************
Sorry this is so late:  I didn't finish before I had to leave on vacation, so I've been stealing moments in the morning and evening. I have my fingers crossed my hotel will get the CW, or I'm going to go nuts tonight ...

The icon in this is mine, from a cap by ckll . Thanks!

 
 
Current Mood: rushedrushed
Current Music: "Dance With The Devil" by Breaking Benjamin
 
 
 
jsluvjsluv on May 6th, 2010 01:33 pm (UTC)
Wow this was really good and its always nice to see what other people are feeling and thinking to compare and contrast what you may be feeling.. I had to watch this episode many times to to the full affect of it, I agree with so many points you made and somethings you said helped me make sense of somethings. Thanks for this, it is always a pleasure to read what you have to say. :)
fannishliss: firebird!fannishliss on May 6th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks for a great review as always -- and I hope you get to watch live tonight!

PS, icon = MY 1981 FIREBIRD YAY!!
borgmama1of5borgmama1of5 on May 6th, 2010 05:08 pm (UTC)
Just want to add kudos to Jensen for his subtle reactions to both seeing the victims of Crowley in the lobby and watching Sam kill Brady. Both times it was clear that Dean was struggling.

Nervous about tonight!
Zazzazreil on May 6th, 2010 07:37 pm (UTC)
I agree with you that Crowley has his own plan and that Bobby's soul is going to be a bargaining chip. I would not be surprised if Crowley is the big bad next year, though I did originally hope for Zachariah, Crowley is an excellent option. One thing that occurs to me based on your comment of the soul powering the wish is that all souls are given back temporarily to their owners. Originally when you make the deal and seal it with a kiss the Demon borrows the soul and uses it to make the wish come true, after which the Demon returns it to the owner who uses it to trot around the world for 2 days (John) to 10 years the normal run. So that Crowley was telling the truth to Bobby, when he said he would give the soul back but not all the truth, Bobby's soul becomes his to take at any time since no term limit was put on the deal.

In answer to your few issues

On Croatoan we know that it is not a virus like the Swine Flu - instead it seems to have a level of intelligence to it. Sometime it infects immediately but it can lie doggo until it manifest itself later. The lab tech in Croatoan hid her infection until she could get Sam alone for example. The fact that it worked quickly in the test case we saw was more to determine if the method of delivering the virus was effective, there was no need for it to hide its nature in that case. I think of Croatoan as a many organism demonic entity with a hive mind.

Finally the salt line - I never remember seeing a salt line in Bobby's house so this is consistant with the past, instead he littered his house with Devil's traps, that Crowley very cleverly avoided in his initial arrival. Don't remember if he ever walked across the area where they were drawn.

Zaz
Julie: DEAN: intense face/black & whitejackfan2 on May 6th, 2010 07:53 pm (UTC)
As always, you bring such clarity of thought to each episode in hindsight. During eps, I sit and watch and when something seems not quite right, I can always count on you to put it so eloquently.

It bothered so many that Dean would follow Crowley and how he seemed so hypocritical to the guff Sam got for trusting Ruby. I didn't see that Ruby and Crowley were all that similar and again, you put it right as to why.

I do agree, Dean's confusion that Crowley would screw him did seem off. Me thinks the writer's enjoy Jensen's ability at humor that they occasionally make the boys look a bit daft. Jared too has awesome comedic bones and has shown them in numerous episodes.

Sam. Yeah, when he and Bobby had 'that talk' and when he killed Brady... I'm very scared for the boys. Very. Scared.
(Anonymous) on May 6th, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC)
The Devil You Know
I loved your analysis of this episode. I also love Mark Sheppard's portrayal of Crowley but I think he has his own agenda too. I hope that Sam doesn't try to execute his plan regarding Lucifer and I am also fearful for Bobby. I hope they don't end up killing him off.
historylover29historylover29 on May 6th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
I liked this episode, but I didn't love it. In this lackluster season, it was incredible. In, say, season 4, it would have been just "OK."

Because I was distracted during the scene with Dean and Brady. I kept thinking that two of Lana Lang's serious boyfriends were sharing a scene, and Lana Lang had to be the albatross around both characters' necks. Because Jensen Ackles always hits it out of the ballpark, acting-wise. And Eric Johnson was very entertaining to watch.

But, I don't like the retcon that Brady killed Jess, and I was wondering why we even needed it resolved, 5 years later.

Finally, I want to know exactly why Dean makes up his mind to say yes to Michael (armed with Michael's promise that he won't leave him a drooling vegetable) and Sam and Bobby flip out and imprison him, Bobby and Sam's plans are any better? Although we don't know for sure Bobby said yes, we can pretty much infer it.

And, Sam--Dean, at least, wasn't under any delusion that he could control an ARCHANGEL! Pride and anger are definitely going to be Sam's downfalls.

Kat
kaz? bonne?: spn - keep each other humandatenshiblue on May 7th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
In general I like your analysis of an episode as it tends to be very well balanced. In this case, you mirrored some of the views of others I've read with how you interpreted a few things. I hope you'll forgive if I offer a few words of disagreement.

Unfairly, part of the reason I'm brave enough to do so is that, post 5.21 I've had all the reassurance I could ask for that my original reaction to 5.20 was closer to target than some reactions I've seen, at least for my point of view.

I had a slightly lengthy argument with another meta writer about whether or not Sam's suggestion that he might say yes to Lucifer in order to get Lucifer into the trap was based on hubris, which seems to be similar to your take. Although he stated to Bobby in their phone convo that he would not do it unless everyone agreed (I'm assuming everyone meant Bobby & Dean), still, some fans have attributed Sam's motivation to being arrogance and overconfidence. Even before seeing last night's episode (5.21), I was quite adamant that arrogance and overconfidence were not Sam's motivating factors, nor were those well worn assertions about Sam the most significant aspects to the idea.

I don't think Sam has forgotten anything. I think Sam "today" has a very clear understanding of his own faults and flaws, however it seems that at least some watching fans have forgotten that a person's flaws do not really cancel out their strengths - rather than that, it's a question of where the balance will fall. Sam's balance has shifted, and I have certainly been able to see it.

On the reaction Sam had to Dean trusting a demon, again, I think reactions like yours, pointing out that the situation was significantly different from Sam trusting Ruby, while correct factually, are missing the intended point. Yes of course, the situation is different, however the fact remains that's it's a case of do what I say, not what I do, and while there are mitigating circumstances of necessity, and Dean doesn't really trust Crowley, Sam didn't really trust Ruby either, for most of season four. He went with her plan because it was a plan, one he could participate in. Yadda yadda, and yes, I don't want to get into rehashing S4 arguments, so let me get to the point that I think what this event in 5.20 was in part intended to do was point out that under the right circumstances, even bad ideas have to be used. This was Dean's moment of making such a choice, that might possibly help him in understanding a tiny bit more how Sam came to make his choice, what Sam's point of view might have been, other than simply "choosing a demon over his brother".

This pairs up with Dean hearing, from Brady's lips at the end of the episode, that Sam's hell is right here on earth, every day.

Seeming, for so much of S4 and S5 as well, to have been pushed so far apart, both brothers have really been experiencing a lot more of what the other has endured than either of them tend to realize.
(Anonymous) on May 7th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
Well said, datenshiblue! And Bardic! Thank you. -RGNYC
(Anonymous) on May 7th, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC)
Wow! My English is not good enough to make longer comments, but I just loved what you said. This Sam fan here is really thankful. :)

Andrea
chiiyo86chiiyo86 on May 13th, 2010 08:43 pm (UTC)
Hey--I forgot to read it when you posted it! Now that I'm getting ready for the finale, I'm going to read your two reviews in a row.

his fear of Lucifer destroying demons after nuking humanity – made logical sense to Dean, while Ruby’s interest in Sam and professed memories of being human never did.

Yes, that's where I feel Crowley and Ruby are really different. Ruby's motives were always really nebulous and not really believable. Crowley's seem to be pretty straighforward - at least for the time being. And I don't thin Dean ever really trusted Crowley.

I'll be happy to enjoy Crowley as long as we'll have him. :)

One thing I did love in this story was the whole concept that it’s not the crossroad demons’ ability to grant the wishes for which people sell their souls, but the power of the soul that fuels the ability to grant the wish.

Oh, yes, that's an interesting point. I've always liked that demons, as powerful as they are, seem to be bound in ways humans are not - it balances things somehow!

Thanks for the review!
sophie_deangirlsophie_deangirl on May 13th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
Great as always!
I LOVE reading your "seminars". They are SO detailed! I realize how much I missed when I read yours, conversely, I am always tickled when we agree on things.

I loved this point:

"I wonder if he’s thinking that a non-fatal shot might similarly work to break Lucifer’s control and give him his moment, even if he couldn’t seize control himself. "

--I agree that I see Sam rationalizing his ability to resist,that maybe he doesn't have to be completely strong, that Dean, Cas or Bobby might break Lucifer's grip long enough for him to regain control. That's a lot of "what ifs"

"Sam seems to be making the same sin of overconfident pride he’s been guilty of before, but because Sam taking Lucifer into his body and leaping into the cage would leave Sam imprisoned with him for eternity, which is not an acceptable outcome in my book despite his willingness to sacrifice himself to stop the apocalypse."

--I agree on both counts with this. Sam can't seem to get over himself even when he admits that he's lesser than any of them in 2 Minutes to Midnight. It's a contradiction that bugs me and seems completely insincere. It sounds like self-sacrifice, but it's tinged with yet another type of revenge and perhaps a need for self-redemption.

"I hope Sam took Dean’s backing his execution of Brady for the vote of confidence it was, and that Dean having his back will smooth over his anger at Dean for having gone with Crowley in the first place. "

-- Perfectly said! Me too. It would be hypocritical to think otherwise.

"I like the corollary there that if we try our best and give our all, we can accomplish more than we think; that the power to accomplish our dreams and desires is already in us if we’re willing to work for them. "

-- Beautifully said

Great job as always! Enjoyed it thoroughly.

yourlibrarianyourlibrarian on May 15th, 2010 08:09 pm (UTC)
although in Crowley’s defense, I would note that Castiel didn’t realize the gun wouldn’t work against Lucifer either.

Actually, Castiel told Dean in 5.02 that nothing could kill Lucifer in response to Dean bringing up the Colt. My understanding was that since Dean insisted on trying, Castiel went along, but not because he thought it would work. The better question is why he didn't bring up the angel swords in 5.01 when Dean and Sam could have been easily armed with them. According to Gabriel, an archangel's sword would do the trick, and surely Castiel would know that, but presumably even several lesser ones in conjunction with the Colt might. It was worth a try.

I don’t think Sam realized that John had surfaced from Azazel’s possession then in the moment when Dean had passed out and John had begged for his torture to stop, but I’m certain he remembers that when he’d shot John in the leg, Azazel’s control had been broken momentarily allowing John to speak to Sam, begging Sam to kill him while he could kill the demon too.

I'd be amazed if he didn't realize it. The only reason he was freed from the wall and able to grab the Colt to shoot was because John had taken control. Plus there's Jesse's mother only a few months ago in canon time who told her story of taking control from her possessor as well. The one clear thread from all those stories was that the possessed person was suffering a high enough level of anguish that they were able to overcome the demon.

One thing I did love in this story was the whole concept that it’s not the crossroad demons’ ability to grant the wishes for which people sell their souls, but the power of the soul that fuels the ability to grant the wish. ...that the power to accomplish our dreams and desires is already in us if we’re willing to work for them.

I like that idea a lot, too. I didn't realize that's what Crowley was saying to Bobby -- I thought it was more a matter of cosmic red tape, that he must have a soul in exchange for a wish (just as angels must have consent to possess a body, even though with their power, surely this would be a formality). That would be a wise restriction to place on a demon's power, since otherwise Crowley could wish any sort of thing for himself at any time.

I also wonder a bit about Bobby not having salted his house to guard against demons and ghosts, especially given his current physical handicap rendering retreat to his panic room no longer an option for him.

Very true. I also have to assume that either it doesn't guard against zombies or that Bobby removed all of it when Karen returned and never resalted.

the lab scene opened on a magazine-sized poster ad for the Niveus product Herpexia

Ha! I missed that.