Cas turns human, Bobby walks –
Death changes the game.
At the Serenity Valley nursing home in Davenport, Iowa, Pestilence in the form of Dr. Green visited his favorite elderly patient Celeste just in time to watch her die, explosively vomiting green bile, precisely on schedule from a unique blend of diseases including the common cold, dengue fever, encephalitis, and chicken pox.
A day earlier, as Dean disagreed vehemently with Sam’s plan to trap Lucifer by saying yes, the discussion was interrupted by a phone call from Castiel. Cas reported waking up in a hospital from apparent brain death after having appeared bloody and unconscious on a shrimp boat off the coast of Delacroix, Louisiana in the aftermath of using himself as an angel-banishing sigil in Point Of No Return. When Dean told him he was just in time to join them in their new plan to put Lucifer back in his cage, Castiel admitted he could no longer zap himself anywhere; he had apparently used up all his remaining angelic power, to the point where he wasn’t even able to heal himself or transcend physical, human discomfort – he was thirsty, his head hurt, a bug bite itched, and he needed money for plane fare, food, and pain medications. Dean volunteered Bobby to wire money so Castiel could join them. Humbled by knowing Dean had resisted Michael, Castiel insisted on apologizing to him, saying he wasn’t the burnt and broken shell of a man Castiel had believed him to be.
Acting on the information from Brady about Pestilence’s location, the brothers drove from South Dakota to Iowa and found the nursing home the next night. Trying to figure out how to learn who in the building was Pestilence, Dean noticed the security cameras. He conned his way into the security monitor room saying he was looking for his nana and knocked out the guard, and the brothers spent hours scanning the monitors without even knowing what they were looking for. Dean quickly got bored, but Sam noticed the image fuzzing out oddly as Dr. Green walked from one camera’s coverage through another. Seeing him go into Celeste’s room, they went after him. Along the way, they snuck past a room with a nurse inside, but the demon possessing the nurse sensed their passage. Using a different route, she reached Pestilence first, warning him that the Winchesters were in the building and telling him they should leave, given the Winchesters’ track record with Horsemen. Pestilence, angry about what Sam and Dean had done to his brothers, chose instead to take it out of their healthy young bodies despite Lucifer’s explicit orders that the vessels not be killed. Holding the demon nurse in the safety of his embrace, Pestilence turned his ring, and the closest human staff – a doctor and nurse out in the hall – immediately succumbed to multiple different diseases, dying where they fell.
As the brothers approached, they began to experience symptoms of illness including dizziness, distorted vision, weakness, fever, and pain, coughing with congested lungs. They made it past the fallen doctor and nurse, but despite Sam’s attempt to help him, Dean collapsed in the hall before reaching the room door. Sam made it into the door to find the demon nurse and Pestilence waiting for him, but collapsed inside the door, dropping the knife. The demon nurse dragged Dean inside the room with him. Pestilence gloated in his victory, telling them that however bad they felt at the moment, they would feel much worse before the end. He touted the purity of disease, maintaining the filthiness and chaos associated with it came simply from people being sick, and idly wondered why God wasted His love on weak and messy humans. Dean struggled to reach the knife, but Pestilence casually stepped on his hand and kicked the knife out of reach, continuing to taunt them. They were all surprised when the door slammed open to reveal Castiel, newly arrived in the nick of time on a bus, but no sooner had he walked into the room than he too collapsed, coughing up blood. Pestilence marveled at an occupied vessel containing no angelic power, and bent closer to look at Castiel as he ventured there wasn’t even a speck of angel left. In one supreme surge of effort, Castiel swept up the knife as he stood, grabbed Pestilence’s arm, and severed his last two fingers, cutting off the ring and saying he had maybe just a speck of angel in him. As Pestilence staggered back, the demon nurse screamed and tackled Castiel to the floor, but he gutted her with the knife even as he fell.
With the ring off, the sickness vanished. The Winchesters and Castiel scrambled to their feet and Dean picked up the ring, but Pestilence, in the second before he disappeared, smiled and told them it didn’t matter, that it was too late.
Back at Bobby’s, the trio were too haunted by the threat in Pestilence’s final words to take any joy from having gotten his ring. To cheer them up, Bobby passed on his good news: Chicago was about to be destroyed by the storm of the millennium, which would trigger a cascade of natural disasters killing three million people. When Castiel asked how this was good news, Bobby explained Death would be at Chicago’s ground zero, and if they could stop him before the storm began, they could keep all the dominos from falling. Sam asked how he had put this all together, and Bobby shamefacedly admitted he’d had help – and Crowley, appearing in his kitchen and pouring himself a shot of whiskey he then sniffed and disdained to drink, ordered him to tell them the rest. With his back to the wall, Bobby said with the world ending, it didn’t seem to make sense to be precious about a soul. Crowley observed Bobby had more pawned it than sold it, since he intended to give it back. Sam asked Bobby if he’d kissed Crowley, and when Bobby denied it, Crowley showed off a photo of the kiss he’d taken with his iPhone. Outraged, Bobby asked why he’d taken a picture, and Crowley asked why he’d had to use tongue. Dean demanded Crowley return Bobby’s soul immediately, but the demon refused, saying he intended to hold Bobby’s soul as insurance against the Winchesters killing him. He said he’d return it when everything was over and he could walk safely away.
Later, Sam approached while Dean was restocking the Impala’s trunk, and Dean correctly guessed they were about to have a talk. Instead of the discussion being a resumption of the earlier argument, however, Sam opened by saying he agreed with Dean about himself: that he knew they thought he was too weak to take on Lucifer, and so did he. He said he knew how screwed up he was, and that he was the least of any of them, but he was all they had, and while he would choose any other way, there didn’t seem to be one. He said he didn’t know what else to do, but try to do what had to be done. Crowley appeared before Dean could respond and handed the brothers a newspaper, pointing out a story about Niveus Pharmaceuticals being about to ship its swine flu vaccine for expedited distribution nationwide. When they didn’t immediately catch on, he pointed out that Brady had been the vice president of distribution for Niveus, and they realized the vaccine was laced with the Croatoan virus – the second part of Pestilence’s plan.
In Chicago, the wind picked up, blowing leaves and trash as a classic pale pearl 1959 Cadillac parked on a street beneath the El and an elderly man with a cane, wearing a silver ring with a square white stone, got out to walk down the block. A businessman in a hurry focusing on his smart phone instead of his surroundings bumped into the man and rudely told him to watch where he was going. As the businessman continued on his way, Death delicately brushed off the shoulder where the man had collided with him, and the man fell dead on the sidewalk. As bystanders rushed to his side, Death continued to walk away.
That night, as Bobby and Castiel loaded the van with guns and explosives, Castiel bemoaned his loss of powers and perceived uselessness. Hefting Dean’s sawed-off shotgun – the weapon he’d been given – he asked what he was supposed to do with it, and Bobby told him to point it and shoot. Impatient with Castiel’s self-pity from the perspective of his own losses, Bobby told him to stop pining for the varsity years and load the truck. Closing the Impala’s trunk, Dean wished them luck stopping the zombie apocalypse, and Sam wished Dean luck killing Death. Wistfully, Sam asked if he remembered when their lives were simple and they hunted wendigos, but Dean said he couldn’t. Sam offered Dean the demon-killing knife, but Crowley appeared with Death’s own scythe, the weapon we’d seen Alastair use against the Reapers in Death Takes A Holiday. Asked how he’d gotten it, he reminded them he was king of the crossroads, and said it was rumored to be able to kill anything – demons, angels, Reapers, even Death himself. With everyone hesitating on the moment of departure, Crowley asked Bobby if he was just going to sit there. When Bobby snarked back a comment that he was going to riverdance, Crowley shook his head and told him he’d really wasted his crossroads deal. He observed that you got more if you phrased it properly, and said he’d added a small subclause to Bobby’s when he granted it. Hesitantly, Bobby tried to shift his foot – and it moved. He levered himself carefully out of his wheelchair, then abruptly stood up and walked. The wonder and delight of it touched them all, and Bobby thanked Crowley with heartfelt gratitude. Crowley observed things were getting maudlin, and they went their separate ways.
As Bobby drove them in the van through the night, Sam brought Castiel up to speed by explaining his plan to trap Lucifer by saying yes to get Lucifer into his skin, and then jumping into the prison hole. To his surprise, Castiel didn’t dismiss it as a bad idea, observing instead that Sam and Dean had a habit of exceeding his expectations and if Dean could resist Michael, then perhaps Sam could resist Lucifer. Castiel warned Sam there were things he needed to know, however, including first that Michael had taken Adam as a vessel, so the Michael/Lucifer fight, with all its collateral damage to the world, would happen if Sam said yes and then failed; and second, that Sam would have to drink more demon blood than ever before to strengthen his body to withstand Lucifer’s presence. Bobby questioned how that was not the worst plan they’d ever heard.
Outside the Niveus shipping dock in the daylight, noting the first truck loaded with tainted vaccine wasn’t due to leave for an hour, Bobby outlined a plan to plant high explosives throughout the facility and then pull the fire alarm to evacuate the building before detonating them, but Castiel pointed out a truck leaving early. Bobby amended the plan on the fly. Castiel stopped the truck by knocking out the driver and smashed the electronic gate mechanism to prevent any trucks from leaving. When the driver slumped, he hit the horn, and the two demons in the shipping warehouse, realizing the Winchesters had arrived, shut the doors and used some of the vaccine on the nearest workers to create a zombie reception committee. Sam shot out the lock on the side door, freeing panicked workers trying to escape the zombies and demons, and he and Bobby found themselves facing infected, homicidal people. Making every shot count, they killed the ones charging them, only to hear a woman screaming from further inside the warehouse. Leaving Bobby to hold the door armed with his shotgun for zombies and the knife against demons, Sam went in to rescue everyone he could, making return trips until he knew the building was clear. When the last zombie unexpectedly jumped and started strangling him, Bobby’s gun jammed, but Castiel arrived in time to use Dean’s shotgun to blow off the zombie’s head. The team finished the rest of the plan.
In Chicago, Crowley pointed Dean to a warehouse surrounded by Reapers, only to discover on his reconnoiter that Death wasn’t there. Confused because all the signs had led there, Crowley told Dean they would have to leave before Chicago was destroyed and catch up to Death somewhere else, but Dean didn’t want to give up. Meanwhile, the storm began to pick up around them, with the wind building to rain. Retreating to the Impala and unable to think of a way to get three million people out of Chicago, he vented his frustration at Crowley, but the demon disappeared, only to reappear outside the Rinascita pizza restaurant down the block, peering in through the window and gesturing. Popping back into the car, Crowley told him Death was in the restaurant.
Sneaking in through the back door with the scythe in hand, Dean found everyone in the restaurant simply dead, and Death seated at a table eating deep dish pizza. As he approached, the scythe trembled in his hand and the hilt grew too hot to touch. He winced at the noise when he dropped it, and it vanished from the floor to appear on the table beside Death. Death greeted him by name, courteously thanked him for returning the scythe, and bade Dean sit down and join him, noting the pizza was delicious. Dean hesitantly accepted his hospitality, and Death said he’d been waiting for Dean to come to him since he hadn’t been free to go to Dean. When Dean asked if Death was going to kill him, Death observed Dean had an inflated sense of his own importance. Obliging Dean to eat despite his deep-seated terror, Death explained he was as old or older than God, and that in the end, he would reap God, too. In his universe-sized view, Earth and humans were utterly insignificant. He resented being bound to Lucifer – whom he characterized as a bratty child having a tantrum – by a spell that gave Satan the power to make Death his weapon, constrained to do his bidding, and told Dean that while Dean couldn’t take the leash off his neck, he could help Death take the bullets out of Lucifer’s gun. He told Dean he understood Dean wanted his ring, and said he was inclined to give it to him. Dean asked about Chicago, and Death wryly concluded it could stay – he liked the pizza. Taking off the ring, he warned there would be conditions: Dean would have to promise to do whatever it took to cage Lucifer again. When Dean said that was the plan, Death observed it wasn’t his plan; not yet. Death said Dean would have to let Sam jump into the fiery pit, because Sam was the only one who could stop Lucifer. After some hesitation, Dean said yes, and Death warned him that had better be yes because he knew he couldn’t cheat Death. He dropped the ring into Dean’s hand, and the storm outside, which had been intensifying steadily throughout their conversation, abruptly stopped. He asked if Dean would like the instruction manual, and as the sun began to shine outside, leaned forward and spoke.
Back at Bobby’s, Dean experimented with the rings, setting War’s in the center and the other three at the points of an equilateral triangle around it. When he slid Death’s ring toward War’s, Famine’s and Pestilence’s also moved, and all four of the rings snapped together as if magnetized. Bobby arrived, brushing a piece of scrap metal out of the way with his foot. He told Dean he’d walked up and down stairs all night for no reason and laughed at feeling sore, saying it felt so good he was afraid it was a dream. He offered Dean a beer, and Dean demonstrated the trick with the rings, saying Death had taught him how to use them and it was nuts. Then he added he had bigger problems, and asked Bobby what he thought Death did to people who lied to his face, because he’d told Death he was cool with Sam driving the bus on the whole Lucifer plan when he wasn’t. Considering that Death was in favor of Sam saying yes to Lucifer, Bobby noted he had a different, detached perspective. When Dean objected to Bobby even considering the idea, Bobby shared his observation of Sam’s laser focus on saving people at the warehouse, noting that while he had a darkness in him, he had plenty of good to counterbalance it, and had been running into danger to save people since he was twelve. When Dean agreed, Bobby said he had to know Sam would beat the devil or die trying, and that was the best they could ask for. He asked Dean what exactly he was afraid of: losing – or losing his brother.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
This was a brilliant episode all around. In this discussion, I’m going to explore Sam’s plan, Dean’s role, and the relationship of Death and God.
For The Record, I Agree With You – About Me
Sam’s plan to say yes to Lucifer in order to try trapping him from the inside still strikes me as sacrificially suicidal and heavily dependent on luck, but I’m less twitched about it than I was when he proposed it in the phone call with Bobby in The Devil You Know, mostly because of the difference in Sam’s own attitude. I still hate the thought that – even assuming it works – Sam would likely be trapping himself right along with Lucifer and be left to Lucifer’s nonexistent mercy, but I’m more comfortable with the sense that Sam is going into this with open eyes. To my mind, the scariest part of his original proposition was his bald, even arrogant assertion that he was strong enough to defeat the devil. I never questioned the genuineness of his motive in proposing to sacrifice himself willingly for the greater good, but feared he was riding his pride to a fall again by putting too much stock in his own confidence based on the belief that if Bobby could win out for a crucial moment over a minor demon, he could do at least as well against Lucifer. I found that particularly problematic in light of Sam’s own previous failure to break free of possession in Born Under A Bad Sign. John in Devil’s Trap and Bobby in Sympathy For The Devil both managed to break free just for an instant when Dean faced certain death at their hands, but Dean’s mortal peril in BUABS wasn’t enough to accomplish the same for Sam.
Now, however, after hearing his rational if overly humble appeal to Dean, I think his initial claim of being strong enough to seize back control of his body from the devil may have been his fear, his anger, and the whiskey talking to bolster his own belief in the scary plan he was hatching. I was heartened by his even temper and his willingness to abide by the consensus of the group in each of his conversations with Dean. While I thought his claim of humility went a bit over the top – Sam saying he was the least of them felt like reverse hyperbole, although I know he views himself more critically now than he did before he learned how Ruby had manipulated him – I did get the sense he truly meant what he said about agreeing with Dean in thinking he was too weak to take on Lucifer, but simply didn’t see any other plan that might work.
Perversely enough, Sam admitting to not being confident gives me hope he might look beyond himself to find the strength he needs, rather than simply assuming he’s got the juice. And I think that difference makes him now more like John and Bobby, both of whom managed to defeat possession for just a crucial moment in circumstances in which Sam failed before. I don’t know why Sam failed in BUABS – possibilities include him simply being unaware because he was blocked from perception by Meg, or having been more constrained than other hosts because of the power of the binding link – but I emphatically don’t believe it was because he cared less about Dean than John or Bobby did.
My biggest fear about the current situation is that Sam’s plan relies on him being aware enough after his occupation by Lucifer to be able both to assail Lucifer successfully from within and to track external events well enough to know when to make the supreme effort to land Lucifer, held in his own body, back in his cage. We know from the human Meg’s comments in Devil’s Trap and from Sam’s own confusion after his possession was broken in BUABS that a host doesn’t necessarily experience everything the possessing demon does and sees, but may only be awake and aware for snippets of time. We learned the same was true of angelic possession from Jimmy’s fractured memories of his time as Castiel’s vessel in The Rapture. We saw in Lucifer Rising that a demon could willfully submerge itself and let the human host surface with no awareness at all of what had happened during the possession.
Since Meg’s prime goal in the climax of BUABS wasn’t hurting Sam, but rather using Sam’s body to inflict her revenge on Dean, Meg might deliberately have kept Sam totally submerged and unaware simply so she wouldn’t have been distracted by his struggles. That would have been unlike the demons possessing John and Bobby, who actively wanted their hosts to be aware of and agonized by what they were doing to someone they loved so they could enjoy their hosts’ pain as well as Dean’s horror of it. We know Sam was aware and helpless to stop himself when Meg used his body to kill Wandell, and she would have savored his torment then, but when Bobby erased the binding link and freed him he truly didn’t seem to have a clue about how brutally Meg had handled Dean. I can’t help but think Sam would have felt far more shamed and guilty if he had been aware and helplessly watching when Meg in his body shot and battered Dean. Sam’s reactions make me think he truly wasn’t aware then, and that makes me fear what may happen if he’s similarly blinded, at least for a while, when Lucifer moves in.
I think a lot will depend on Lucifer’s attitude. Lucifer is contemptuous and dismissive of humans – we’re not quite as insignificant to him as we are to Death, but he certainly doesn’t believe a human can be important to him in any way – while simultaneously hating and resenting them for having usurped his place in God’s affections. If he cares enough to take pleasure in human pain, I could see him deliberately letting Sam remain awake and aware while he does as he chooses with Sam’s body, never believing for a moment Sam could take back the upper hand – and if in his pride he does that, I think Sam’s plan stands a real chance of succeeding if only because of the element of surprise. My first fear is that Lucifer may simply override Sam’s consciousness, at least for a while, because he doesn’t care at all about the human soul in the body he wants to wear, not even enough to hurt it. My second fear is that, if Lucifer leaves Sam conscious and aware, or if Sam is able to keep himself from being silenced and blinded, Sam will be forced to control himself and let Lucifer do unimaginably horrible things to the people he loves until the precisely right moment comes to wrest away the wheel and imprison him. The toll that would take on Sam in the end would be worse than withdrawal from the demon blood overdose he’s going to have to consume, because he would carry in his own mind the guilt for whatever he let happen while he waited for the right time to make his one surprise break for control.
Finally, I think Sam will have to be careful of his anger. We know from Abandon All Hope that Lucifer wants his rage; he encouraged Sam to get angry. I’m afraid that if Sam tries to fight Lucifer from inside using anger, he may just be fueling Lucifer’s own power and defeating himself. I’m guessing he may need to shunt the anger aside and draw instead on his determination, love, compassion, concern, and need for his brother and his friends in order to succeed.
What Are You Really Afraid Of – Losing, Or Losing Your Brother?
Assuming Sam can succeed and trick Lucifer into walking into the cage, the question of how Sam would get out still remains. I suspect Sam believes he has no chance to escape; I think both he and Dean believe that if Sam does this, win or lose, his life and soul will be forfeit, the price he’s willing to pay in exchange for saving the rest of the world. That is really why Dean has opposed this plan so much. Bobby nailed it in his last question: Dean is far more afraid of losing his brother than of losing himself or the battle for the world. The world, however much he inhabits and appreciates it, is largely an abstraction: Sam is his life and breath and reason for living, and always has been.
Dean’s horror of this aspect of the plan is all the greater because he doesn’t have to imagine it; he’s seen it. In his trip to the future in The End, he experienced the full grief of seeing Lucifer looking at him out of Sam’s eyes, speaking to him with Sam’s voice, and moving Sam’s body around him in ways utterly alien to the brother Dean knows and loves. There was nothing left of Sam in that calm, falsely benevolent, white-suited monster – and that is what Dean fears. He would die for Sam without thought or question – he’s done that already – but standing by and seeing Sam turned into not-Sam, knowing it would be forever, would be his own personal Hell.
Dean has considered himself responsible for Sam all his life, first in the sweet and loving way of a little boy just knowing he would be a big brother with a little brother to teach, tease, and look out for, and then abruptly after Mary’s death in being tasked with looking after him almost like the mother they didn’t have and the father they were losing to becoming a hunter. As effectively both a parent and a brother, the hardest thing for Dean to do has to be letting go, letting Sam walk knowingly and alone into the valley of the shadow of death, watching Sam not just taking on his own shoulders the burden Dean has always carried, but leaving Dean alone and with no purpose. For Dean, losing Sam has always been the definition of failure, and letting him go willingly doubtless feels the same when what he’s going to promises to be torture and death, or worse – eternal imprisonment with Lucifer.
I don’t think the problem with Dean accepting the plan is Dean not believing in Sam or not trusting him; they’ve gotten beyond that. I think it’s simply that taking action – even desperate action – is easier than being the one left helplessly behind to stand and watch and wait. In a way, Dean is facing what Sam faced in season three when he knew Dean had sold his soul for him and was going to die and be damned; now it’s Dean’s turn to accept Sam’s willingness to sacrifice himself not just for his brother, but for the world, and to taste the bitterness of having to let him make his own choice in full knowledge of the likely consequences. This time, it’s Sam taking the action, and Dean can’t do it in his place no matter how much he aches to try still to protect his brother.
While all of this has a disturbing flavor of inevitability about it, this isn’t the destiny Lucifer, Michael, and Zachariah all touted. The brothers’ supposed destiny was to be the vessels in which Lucifer and Michael would resume their ancient battle for the fate of the world, to create either Hell or Paradise on Earth for whatever life survived the conflict. That potential ended the moment Dean firmly committed in Point Of No Return to denying Michael no matter what. While Sam is still talking about being the vessel for Lucifer, he’s doing it now as part of Team Free Will, not Team Destiny, because the whole object of the game is to deceive Lucifer into believing he’s getting his way, and then to pull the bait and switch to cozen him into his prison. It makes sense that Sam is the only one who could do it simply because he was the one surviving human groomed since shortly after birth to be able physically to contain Lucifer without deteriorating as Nick has. But I think there’s more to it.
We don’t know what Death told Dean about how the rings work, or about what is the true nature of the cage into which Sam must lead Lucifer. It’s clear to me Dean won’t let Sam walk into this alone, and knows he has a job to do after Sam starts the play in motion by opening the door of his body and mind to Lucifer. I’m guessing Dean’s self-assumed surface duty is twofold: first, distracting or at least occupying Lucifer for a while to buy time for Sam to figure out how to fight Lucifer from within, including keeping Lucifer’s attention away from immediately seeking out Michael in his makeshift Adam vessel to start the end battle; and second, possibly manipulating the key rings to open the cage and then snap shut the lock on the door, assuming he survives job one. Lucifer has no reason to keep Dean alive any longer since he’s clearly not going to be the vessel for Lucifer’s desired battle with Michael, but I still think he’s as essential to the plan as Sam, if only to be Sam’s emotional anchor and incentive to do the job right. Even if using the rings to close the cage falls to Castiel or Bobby, I think Dean’s staunch presence – and very possibly, Dean’s pain – will be necessary to Sam’s success in the same way Dean was the key to both John and Bobby momentarily rising above possession.
I fear they’re all going to pay the price for what they do, however, and it’s going to be high.
Oh, Yes – God Will Die, Too, Dean
To my mind, Death was the best and most frightening of the Horsemen. I’m certain some people will have a problem with his theology, particularly his assertion that God will die in the end, but I found him fascinating. I particularly loved his expressed duality of Death and God, in which Death gave God a different name: Life. When Dean asked him how old he was, this was his response: As old as God. Maybe older. Neither of us can remember anymore. Life, death, chicken, egg – regardless, at the end, I’ll reap Him, too.
My vote? I think God came first. Death isn’t just the absence of life, but the cessation of life – so how could there be Death, if there was nothing alive to die? The corollary of that is that, if Death indeed eventually reaps God – reaps Life, the Creator – Death will also reap himself, for how can Death exist when there is no more Life to die? Death is the shadow to God’s life light, I think; there can be no shadows where there is no light to cast them.
The other Horsemen were plainly weaker than Death and God, and less elemental. Pestilence, Famine, and War all brought death, but all required life to do it; they partook of both, but were less than either. It’s fitting that the brothers and Castiel were able to defeat them, but needed Death to cooperate.
I think it’s important as well that Death maintained Dean couldn’t free him from Lucifer, but only empty his gun by putting Lucifer back in the cell from which he couldn’t command Death to be his weapon. Whatever spell power bound Death to Lucifer obviously prevented him from reaping the devil, or from doing something as blatant as arming the brothers or others with a weapon that could kill Lucifer. I have to wonder who made the deal with Crowley that allowed him to give Death’s scythe to Dean, to draw Dean into his ambit with the forlorn hope he might be able to defeat Death. I also have to wonder why Crowley didn’t aim for the scythe in the first place instead of giving the brothers the ineffective Colt when he decided to rebel against Lucifer and try to preserve his own existence. Since we saw the scythe in Alastair’s hands in Death Takes A Holiday, it’s clear demons knew about it, and those working to free Lucifer could avail themselves of it. Yet Alastair said in On The Head Of A Pin that he and Lilith didn’t know any way to kill an angel; did they not understand the blade’s full power, or was the real power not in the blade, but in Death himself, and only symbolized in the scythe? I would think the latter, and although the blade worked very effectively when Alastair used it to kill a Reaper, that may have been its limit apart from its master, or may have expressed Death being constrained to do what Lucifer wanted, since killing Reapers was a key to one of the locks on Lucifer’s cell.
Death’s universe-level view of human insignificance was similar to the vision Zachariah presented when he told Dean in Lazarus Rising that this wasn’t the first planetary enema the angels had administered. Earth is one small world in a young, backwater corner of a vast universe, and while the apocalypse of our world would matter to us, the rest of the universe wouldn’t even notice our passing. That’s humbling. But it also makes Lucifer all the more petty for being jealous of a creation so minor as humans, and humans all the more special for being beloved of God, of Life.
Sera Gamble’s script demonstrated why she is in the top echelon of my list of Supernatural writers. The exchange between Death and Dean in particular was extraordinary, and the humor throughout provided just enough lightening of the mood to keep both the characters and us moving forward rather than being overwhelmed by the impossibility of their task.
I have two very small script nitpicks, which I’ll throw out quickly and then lock away in my forgetting box. The first was simply Sam’s overdone humility in his conversation with Dean about agreeing he was too weak to defeat Lucifer. Sam saying he was the least of all of them just didn’t have quite the right mouth-feel to me for a line of Sam’s dialogue. I didn’t have any issue with the idea of Sam admitting to his mistakes and expressing awareness of his weaknesses; it’s just, the way the dialogue came out didn’t quite work for me and sounded ... off. The second was that I resented the script dumbing Dean down just to let Crowley be snide about pointing out the significance of the newspaper article about Niveus shipping their vaccine. Given that we know Dean is a smart hunter and had confronted Brady in the man’s office at Niveus, it grated that Dean didn’t make the logical connection until Crowley rubbed his nose in it. Sam had no reason to be expected to connect the dots, not having been involved in the snatch of Brady from Niveus, but the explanation could have come directly from Dean rather than Crowley without diminishing Crowley’s brains. I wish the script had gone that way instead of making a spurious, dumb-jock joke at the brothers’ expense. And that’s all I’m going to grouse about, because this episode was magnificent.
Phil Sgriccia is my favorite Supernatural director since the passing of Kim Manners, and this episode showed why. He not only drew brilliant performances from every single actor, but used striking and beautiful shots to capture them. Some were simply clever: Crowley’s disappearance and reappearance in a single sustained shot outside the warehouse where Death wasn’t was pure fun, since all Mark Sheppard had to do was walk left out of camera range and then circle around the moving cameraman to stand behind Jensen Ackles and be revealed when the camera panned and pulled back. That echoed what Kim had done in In My Time Of Dying when he had spirit-Dean walking into and stepping out of continuous shots – including full-circle, 360-degree ones – that were following Sam. There’s something satisfyingly elegant about accomplishing an appearance and disappearance like that without using a cut. Other fun moves included shooting up through the glass table to capture Castiel severing Pestilence’s fingers, panning across Crowley’s back to reveal all the Reapers where the street had been empty before, and every single piece of the backlot “Chicago” footage, including the slow-motion introduction of Death. Kudos to editor Nicole Boer for that as well. The placing of that scene in the episode worked for the overall flow even though it messed up the visual timeline a little, since we saw Death arriving in Chicago and the storm wind beginning to pick up in daytime, and then went back in time to the night before to see the loading of the van in South Dakota and the team splitting to pursue its separate missions.
Serge Ladouceur gave us drop-dead gorgeous lighting. Most of the scenes at Bobby’s, even the scenes out in the scrapyard, used warm lighting that really played up the characters’ faces and reinforced the depth of feeling and the unity among them. All the storm lighting in the Chicago street scene felt absolutely right, and when combined with the camera angles Sgriccia chose, played up the tension and the immensity of the threat. I think my absolute favorite cinematic image from the episode was the reflection shot in the window at the end of the pizzeria scene, where we saw both Death and Dean inside the restaurant, with its meaningful name in the window, and the sunlight on the wet street and bustling people outside the window. Yum!
The whole production crew earned major props for this episode. I loved all the small details – the tribute to Joss Whedon’s Firefly in the nursing home being named Serenity Valley (so, did that make the encounter with Pestilence our browncoats’ Battle of Serenity Valley?); the pizzeria where Dean encountered Death being named Rinascita, which means “rebirth” in the context of a major spiritual or religious transformation; and one tidbit we saw in a preview but couldn’t see in the episode – the vanity California license plates saying BUH-BYE on Death’s gorgeous pale Cadillac horse.
That Chicago street was another creative redress of the backlot, which they’ve used in a lot of episodes this season including the post-apocalyptic The End, and it rocked. One of Chicago’s signatures – along with deep-dish pizza – is the El, the elevated train system, and the visual effects people did a great job of evoking the El in a place where there are no elevated trains or bridges. The location folks did a beautiful job matching that backlot street to the totally different location used for the warehouse surrounded by Reapers, using a real highway bridge to sell the visual effects one added to the backlot pizzeria street. And I can’t say enough about how spectacularly they established the storm, from the beginning wind with both real and graphically added debris, to the beginning of the rain, the steadily increasing downpour in the background of the scene between Dean and Death, this mix of practical lights and lighting effects used to capture the lightning as the sound crew brought in thunder, and the storm rapidly winding down and turning to sunshine beginning the moment Death dropped his ring into Dean’s hand. That was seamless, and absolutely wonderful! Kudos to the location scouts, the set dressers, the lighting crew, the sound guys, and the visual effects people – they all came together perfectly.
By the way, I think the exterior shot of the trucks at the Niveus warehouse loading dock was actually using the back of the studio. It looked very familiar to me from past Vancouver visits …
I’m coming to the performances last, but that’s in part because I’m running out of superlatives to use. The people who handle casting on Supernatural have an uncanny knack of picking out the perfect actors to slot into guest roles. Crowley fits Mark Sheppard like a glove, and whoever came up with having him turn up Crowley’s nose at Bobby’s evidently cheap whiskey just got all the details right. The bit with the iPhone was hilarious, and I wish I’d been there to watch that photo getting taken! (It was also great Apple product placement, and I mean that in a good way …) Matt Frewer brought creepy earnestness to Pestilence and obviously relished the grotesque aspects of the role.
For me, the single most impressive guest acting turn was Julian Richings capturing Death. I can’t imagine anyone else playing that role, and the scene between Richings’ Death and Jensen Ackles’ Dean was riveting. Both actors seemed to feed off each other, with the end result being a tight and unforgettable scene that hit all the right emotional marks. Richings conveyed unimaginable age and terrifying leashed power, and still managed to be sardonic and even funny while also being scary as hell and utterly convincing. Ackles rose to the occasion to match him with something we’ve seldom seen – Dean sitting quietly and hanging onto his bravado by his fingernails while being frightened out of his skin. Both of them were subtle, and commanded the screen.
Jared Padalecki had a lot to play with in conveying Sam, and he brought the goods. I especially liked seeing his Sam staying calm, forthright, and patient with Dean and so intently focused on rescuing people in the warehouse, and I loved the mix of fear and determination he brought to the scene in the van when he learned from Castiel that Michael had taken Adam and he would have to overdose on demon blood in order to undertake his plan. His face and body were full of emotion even when he said nothing at all, and I believed in his realization and resolve.
Misha Collins is exploring new territory with the suddenly human Castiel. He makes a wonderful fish out of water, trying to deal with having to experience pain, hunger, thirst, and the limitations of human transportation. At the same time, this is a very different version of a humanized Castiel than the drug and sex-addicted one we saw in The End. This Castiel has a support structure the future version didn’t, and is living with members of Team Free Will who haven’t given up, who still believe there’s a chance, and that makes all the difference. Right now, Castiel isn’t certain the tradeoffs he made were worth it, given all he’s lost, but he still perseveres, learning every step of the way. I love the alien aspect Misha still manages to convey even as Castiel has lost the angelic remoteness that made him invulnerable to pain and fear before.
I cheered to see Jim Beaver’s Bobby get out of his wheelchair. His amazement, disbelief, wonder, and delight were a joy to behold, and the happiness he shared in the smiles exchanged with Sam and Dean at this unexpected boon on the eve of battle was heart-healing even as we wondered about the price. I love Jim Beaver, and what he brings to Bobby never fails to impress. His morning-after reaction to climbing up and down stairs and happily feeling sore was so very real, and his heart-to-heart with Dean in the end reinforced his father-figure importance to the Winchesters. I really desperately hope Bobby will survive through the finale, although it’s the nature of hero stories to take fathers and wise men away as part of the process of the hero growing into his own. Crowley’s supposed altruism in healing Bobby actually had very practical components – healing Bobby not only helped make the Winchesters more kindly disposed toward him, but made Bobby a more effective fighter, upping their overall chances of success – but I still fear the outcome of the deal Bobby made for his soul. I wonder what happens to Bobby if Crowley is killed along the way, before he made good on his still-not-fully-trustworthy promise to return Bobby’s soul.
I don’t know what they’re going to do next or how the season finale will play out. I’ll be watching with my heart in my mouth and fear in my soul that won’t be assuaged even if we do hear “Carry On Wayward Son” in the episode opener. That said, I do expect the Winchesters to win and Lucifer to be caged; I just don’t know what they and we will pay along the way, or how it will all come about. At the back of my mind, I haven’t forgotten Jesse, the little boy of I Believe The Children Are Our Future with his ability to shape the world simply by what he believes, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him play a role on the side of Team Humanity, if only by helping set some things right in the aftermath of the fight. I fully expect that everything that happens will be earned, however, not produced as some deus ex machina cheat. This is Supernatural we’re talking about, and Kripke has standards.
In this episode, Pestilence echoed something we’d heard from Lucifer and Zachariah before, when he wondered why God wasted his time pouring all his love into weak, messy humans. I think that’s a question fundamental to the core of the show. What makes us humans beloved by God? Why do we matter? None of the Horsemen comprehended that, not even Death. From what he said in The End, Lucifer clearly doesn’t understand it. At the start, Castiel didn’t either, simply accepting humans as part of God’s creation and obeying God’s orders with respect to them, but I think he’s learning. And I think it’s ultimately going to be the key explaining why Sam and Dean are heroes, and are going to succeed at caging Lucifer again and deferring the apocalypse for another day.
I think that in the eyes of the show, what makes humans special is our capacity for love, our willingness to sacrifice for and struggle to save each other even when we see no way to win, to continue even when we have no faith and run out of hope, but still can’t let each other down. I think that’s the quality created in us that made us superior to angels in the eyes of Kripke’s God. I think Supernatural’s God isn’t just Life, but Love, and that the underlying theme of the show is that in our human capacity for Love, as exemplified by the Winchesters and their friends, we partake of God.
That got a little high-flown, but in the aftermath of an episode in which Dean dined with Death and talked of God, I think it’s warranted. And I hope it’s true.
I’ll see you after the finale, after my Supernatural rinascita. I’ll leave you with this:
Carry on my wayward son, there’ll be peace when you are done.
Lay your weary head to rest, don’t you cry no more.
The icon on this is by dzajnisko . If you'd like to see the window reflection image I was talking about, you can find a lovely screencap of it here by raloria . Thank you both!!