Demon Crowley plots
To annex Purgatory,
Home of monster souls.
Sam woke up from the beating Dean had given him at the end of You Can’t Handle The Truth to find himself bound to a chair and under the scrutiny of Castiel, who asked questions while trying to diagnose what was wrong with him. Dean flatly ordered him to cooperate, and Sam, while denying being feverish or speaking in tongues, did admit that he hadn’t slept at all since he got back from Hell. When Dean, incredulous, asked if he didn’t think that was off, Sam agreed he knew it was wrong, but just hadn’t told Dean. Reacting as if Sam’s lack of sleep had given him a vital clue, Castiel asked him what he felt – not the physical sensation of his broken nose or thinking, but feeling – and Sam confessed he didn’t know. Castiel took off his belt and put it between Sam’s teeth, telling him to bite down because the next experience would be unpleasant and encouraging him to go someplace soothing in his mind. Then he stuck his hand into Sam’s chest as he had done with Aaron in The Third Man. When he pulled his hand out, he told Dean he had found nothing, literally – because Sam’s soul wasn’t there. He guessed Sam’s soul was still trapped in the cage with Lucifer and Michael. When Dean asked if he was even still Sam, Castiel observed he posed an interesting philosophical question. Dean asked how they could get Sam’s soul back, observing Castiel had rescued his soul from Hell, but Cass said it had taken several angels to get him out and he hadn’t been as well guarded as Lucifer’s cage would be.
Sam asked if Dean would untie him, and when Dean vehemently refused even to consider letting him out of the room, Sam protested he wasn’t a psycho and hadn’t wanted Dean to be hurt; he’d just wanted to stop the vampires. He said he was sorry and promised it wouldn’t happen again, and asked Dean to please let him go. When Dean continued to refuse, Sam admitted he’d been wrong and professed he was trying to get right. He maintained he was still himself and asked Dean to let him go. Dean refused again, and Sam stood up and reluctantly revealed he’d already untied himself, saying he didn’t want it to come to this but maintaining he wouldn’t let Dean confine him anywhere, not in a motel or a panic room. He said Dean was stuck with the soulless guy and might as well work with him to fix this. Dean warned he’d be watching Sam’s every move, and Sam agreed that sounded about right to him. Dean ordered Castiel to clean him up, and Cass healed Sam with a touch the same way he’d healed Dean in Swan Song.
Observing the only way to figure out what happened to Sam’s soul was to find who yanked him out, Dean asked Castiel who would have the muscle to have gotten Sam out of the box. Castiel said he didn’t know, and Sam said he didn’t remember anything about his resurrection other than waking up in a field. Sam offered only one clue: Samuel, who had apparently been resurrected at the same time.
Driving to the Campbell compound, the brothers found it fully stocked with hunters preparing for a major assault. Walking into Samuel’s office unannounced, they saw him quickly tucking away in a drawer something he’d been looking at pensively when they entered. Dean said they needed to ask a few questions, starting with what happened the day he’d gotten back. When Samuel said they’d already been over it, Dean told him to recap it for their wingman, and Castiel appeared in the room beside Samuel. Samuel said he was dead, and then was on Elton Ridge with no idea of how he got there. He professed having nothing to hide, and Dean said then he wouldn’t mind having Castiel double-check. Castiel reached inside Samuel as he had done with Sam. Samuel’s agonized screams brought Christian running, but Samuel waved him off when he arrived, saying everything was all right. Castiel reported Samuel’s soul intact, and when Samuel protested that of course it was there, Castiel’s significant look at Sam made Samuel realize Sam’s soul was missing. Samuel said he hadn’t known, but admitted he’d guessed something was wrong, saying Sam was a hell of a hunter but scared him sometimes. He affirmed his willingness to help get Sam’s soul back.
Castiel, looking momentarily abstracted, told Sam and Dean he had to go. He reminded Dean he was in the middle of a civil war, and when Dean demanded that he tear the attic apart to find a way to help Sam, Castiel ironically said that their problems always came first. He promised to be in touch, and disappeared.
Dean asked about the collection of hunters, and Samuel admitted they were preparing for a hunt scheduled for dawn. Sam realized they were going after the Alpha vampire. When he asked why Samuel hadn’t called him to join the hunt, Dean observed it was because of him; Samuel denied not trusting him, but eventually admitted he didn’t know Dean the way he knew Sam. Dean promised to follow his lead, professing to trust him. Walking outside the building later, however, Dean flatly stated he didn’t trust Samuel, saying he was hiding something and if Sam wasn’t Robo-Sam, he’d know it too. Sam asked if Dean thought Samuel was connected to the whole soul thing, and Dean shrugged that Samuel was still the only clue they had.
While Sam joined the other hunters loading syringes with dead man’s blood, sharpening blades, and making salt rounds, Dean slipped away and picked the lock on Samuel’s office, but Christian stopped him before he could go inside to search. Dean pretended he’d been looking for a quiet place to make a phone call and had found the door unlocked. After an exchange of insults, Christian asked if he really wanted to go on the raid with them, observing accidents happened; Dean told him not to worry because he had Christian’s back.
The hunters rolled out in a predawn convoy of vehicles, arriving at the grounds of a country mansion not long after sunrise. Saying there would be about a dozen vamps and the Alpha, Samuel assigned Christian to the flank and ordered Dean and Gwen to remain behind to catch stragglers while he took Sam and the rest to the house. Dean swallowed his objections and accepted his orders, telling Sam to go. While they waited, Gwen apologized for calling him a reject, saying she was just tired of always being kept away from the action; she guessed she reminded Samuel of his daughter, and Dean agreed she was like Mary in always speaking her mind. A vampire burst out of the woods, tackling Gwen to the ground; Dean yanked the thing off her, but it flung him down and advanced on him; Gwen beheaded it from behind. Dean refused her help in getting back to his feet, and when gunfire erupted from the vicinity of the house, he took off toward it despite her admonition that they were supposed to stay behind.
Approaching the house, Dean saw the bodies of beheaded vampires and one hunter, fallen with her machete beside her. Looking up, he noticed the weathervane on top of the house, and remembered it from his psychic vision in the vampire lair. Getting closer to the house, he saw more bodies – and then a female hunter inside the house, seeing him through the French doors, screamed his name as she was hauled backward, and a spray of blood hit the glass. He heard Samuel shouting instructions to Sam, and following the sounds, edged around the house until he saw Sam, Samuel, Christian, and other hunters escorting a bound man with a sack over his head and an IV of dead man’s blood feeding into his veins to the Campbell’s van. Seeing the man’s hands tied behind his back, Dean recognized the claws of the Alpha vampire from his vision. He watched as the Campbells loaded the Alpha into the van, pulling back when Sam, as if sensing being watched, glanced in his direction but didn’t see him.
Dean circled back to rejoin Gwen just as Samuel, Sam, and the other hunters arrived. Gwen gave him the fisheye, but reported the stray vampire they’d killed without mentioning Dean abandoning his post. When Dean asked where the Alpha vampire was, Samuel said he was already on the pyre with the rest.
Driving off alone with Sam, Dean asked if things had gone okay back at the house and if there’d been anything weird; Sam responded that everything was fine. Dean slammed on the brakes and pulled over, getting out of the car. Confronting Sam, he said he’d seen him escorting the Alpha out the door and into the van. Sam said he wasn’t supposed to know about that, and when Dean pushed, explained it was just what Samuel had been doing – catching things and taking them somewhere to interrogate them. Dean translated “interrogate” as torture, and asked if not telling him was Samuel’s idea. Sam denied that and said it had been his, because Dean would have messed it up by shooting first and asking questions later, when they really needed live monsters to question. Furious, Dean said Sam knew better than this and questioned whether he even wanted his soul back. He asked whether Sam had been to the place where Samuel took his subjects and if he’d been in on any of the interrogations, but Sam said no. Dean asked what Samuel wanted and why, and asked if it had ever occurred to Sam that what he was doing was really shady. Sam looked perplexed and said Samuel was their grandfather, but Dean answered they couldn’t assume family meant the same thing to him as it did to them, and he wasn’t Dad. When Sam didn’t react, Dean observed incredulously that he didn’t see it; that he had no instinct at all. Dean observed no one was forcing Sam to work with him, but insisted that if they did this, he was the one driving the bus; that he would call the shots and Sam would tell him everything whether he thought it was important or not, because Sam couldn’t tell the difference. He told Sam it was up to him, either to work with Dean or go with Samuel.
Back at the compound, Sam told Samuel Dean had left an hour earlier, saying they just didn’t see eye to eye any more. Samuel said hat was too bad, but when Sam tried to angle to be included in the interrogation of the Alpha vampire, Samuel refused, saying until they’d sorted out the soul thing he needed Sam to be doing just what he’d been doing. Sam agreed reluctantly, but when he walked out of the building, he stopped at the parked van and found one of the family cell phones in the console box, activating its GPS to allow him to track the van to its destination. Returning to where Dean waited in the Impala, not fully expecting him to return, he told Dean Samuel hadn’t taken the bait, but he’d gone to plan B – something he’d come up with on his own and revealed as a surprise to Dean – to track them using the cell phone GPS. The brothers followed Samuel and Christian to a warehouse, discovering the door anointed with dead man’s blood as a vampire repellent.
Picking the lock, they snuck inside, hiding in a vacant office used as storage space when Christian paused, momentarily suspicious but then moving on. Continuing into the warehouse, they saw the Alpha vampire confined in a cage with a tube pumping dead man’s blood into his neck, bound arms and legs to an executioner’s chair with spikes wired for electricity driven through his hands and feet. Samuel was demanding to know where something was, and how they could find it, turning on the electricity to no effect and impotently threatening worse, only to the vampire’s amusement. Frustrated, Samuel left the room, and the Alpha laughed, casually causing one of its fingernails to grow and beginning to use it surreptitiously to scratch through the leather cuff binding its wrist to the arm of the chair. The Alpha languidly asked if the brothers were going to hide all night, and told them to come out.
The Alpha asked how he could help them, and Dean said he had questions, observing the Alpha wasn’t going anywhere fast and speculating that with all the dead man’s blood in his veins, he couldn’t fire up his psychic message line to rest of the vampires. The Alpha admitted he didn’t have the power to do that, and called Dean by name, observing that of course he knew Dean because Dean had been his child for a time. He asked if Dean had enjoyed it, and Dean, angry said he was asking the questions and turned on the electricity. Ignoring the current, the Alpha said when humankind was still huddling around the fire, he’d been the thing in the dark, and contemptuously asked if they thought they could hurt him. He said he was happy to tell them anything they wanted to know because he would soon be ankle-deep in their blood and sucking the marrow from their bones. Intellectually intrigued, Sam observed he was the first of his species, and asked who made him. The Alpha chuckled that they all had their mothers, even him. Dean asked what he meant, but all he did was chuckle.
Dean asked what was going on with the big surge in vampires lately, and the Alpha responded that they were going to war. Sam asked why, and also why Samuel had brought him here, but the Alpha responded that Sam smelled cold. Looking at him more closely, the Alpha observed he had no soul, wondering aloud if he could feel how empty he was and asking how it felt to have no soul. Sam demanded the vampire answer his question, and the Alpha responded by saying that the thing about souls, for those who had them, was that they were predictable: when they died, they went to Heaven or they went to Hell. He asked where the souls of freaks or monsters went, and when the brothers were slow to guess, he chided them for being rusty on their Dante. With that clue, Sam realized he was talking about Purgatory, and the Alpha agreed that when monsters died, their souls all went to Purgatory, and Samuel was trying to find out where that was not because he cared, but because he was under orders. As Dean asked who was controlling Samuel, Samuel, Christian, and one of the other hunters arrived, holding weapons on the brothers and taking them away from the cage, leaving the third hunter to guard the Alpha.
Out in the hall, disarmed, Dean confronted Samuel, arguing that capturing Alphas instead of killing them was recklessly stupid, inviting disaster. He managed to disarm Samuel and Sm instantly followed his lead to do the same to Christian, but as Dean grabbed for his own gun and ammunition clip, Gwen arrived and got the drop on him, forcing him to drop his weapon again. Their standoff was interrupted when the Alpha broke free from the cage and killed the guard, who screamed as he died. Telling the brothers to pick up their weapons, Samuel, Christian and Gwen charged with them to investigate, discovering the cage empty, the guard dead, and the Alpha missing.
Discovering they had only two syringes of dead man’s blood left and knowing the Alpha would be back to full capacity within an hour, Dean argued vehemently with Samuel, maintaining their only survival-oriented course would be to take the Alpha’s head off, not try to dose it up again and confine it back in the cage. Dean ordered them to split up and clear every room. Speaking directly to Sam, giving him clear orders, he specified that if he saw a shot, he was to take it, observing that it wouldn’t kill the vampire but the thing would move a lot more slowly with no kneecaps. Turning to Samuel, he said that if they got through this, he, Sam, and Samuel were going to have one hell of a family conference. They split up into groups to search, Dean going with Gwen while Sam, Samuel, and Christian went together, but none of them found anything.
As Sam, Samuel, and Christian returned to the cage room, Christian speculated on whether the Alpha had simply run out – just as the Alpha appeared behind him and snapped his neck, killing him. Samuel emptied a shotgun into him to no effect, and the vampire hurled him into the wall, stunning him. Sam moved in with his machete, but the Alpha disarmed him almost contemptuously and flung him up against a wall, observing that souls were pesky things that just go in the way, but Sam wouldn’t have that problem; he said gloatingly that he had big plans for Sam, and Sam would be the perfect animal. As he extended his fangs and prepared to bite, however, Christian appeared behind him, eyes demon-black, and stabbed him in the neck with both syringes of dead man’s blood, dropping him. Even as Dean and Gwen ran in, while Sam gasped Christian’s name, there was a flash of light and suddenly two other demons were holding the Alpha vampire along with Christian. In another heartbeat, all four disappeared.
On the room catwalk, Crowley ironically applauded them. Samuel demanded he return Christian, the nephew Crowley had just crammed a demon into, but Crowley observed he’d had Christian possessed ages ago, calling Samuel by name and saying he had to keep an eye on his investments. Shocked, Dean asked rhetorically if they knew each other, and Crowley responded not in the Biblical sense, but agreed they had a business relationship. Smelling a deal, Sam called Samuel Crowley’s bitch, and when Samuel protested it wasn’t what they were thinking, Crowley contradicted him, saying it was exactly what they were thinking. He said the Alpha Samuel had caught him was getting Samuel a gold star. Sam revealed they knew he was looking for Purgatory and asked why, and Crowley responded with the real estate developer’s adage about location, saying Purgatory was vast, Hell-adjacent, and underutilized, and he wanted it. When Dean demanded more, Crowley told him employees should shut up, and when Dean denied them being his employees, he chided that of course they were and had been for quite a while, courtesy of Samuel. Crowley observed that Samuel knew things, more than any of the rest of them, and he knew that because of the brothers’ obsession with family loyalty, they would do whatever their grandfather said. Dean said the game was over, but Crowley maintained he’d been the one who pulled Sam out of the cage in Hell, and said the only way they’d get Sam’s soul back was if they continued to bring him Alpha monsters to find the way to Purgatory. Looking at him, Sam said he was bluffing, but directed by Crowley to speak, Samuel reluctantly said Crowley had pulled them both back. Dean objected that Castiel said it took someone with major mojo to get into the cage and dismissed Crowley as nothing more than a crossroads demon, but Crowley said he was now King of Hell and had the mojo. He said he could snap his fingers and give Sam his soul back, or leave Dean to be himself and shove Sam back down into the cage. Crowley left them their orders and disappeared.
Samuel ordered Gwen to get the van, and when she protested he was letting a demon call the shots, he answered that nothing had changed: they hunted, period, and he said he’d take care of Crowley. She obeyed him reluctantly. Dean asked what Crowley had offered Samuel, but Samuel simply said he had his reasons. He told Dean and Sam they were family, and said they had two choices: either put a bullet in their grandfather or step out of the way. Sam chambered a round, saying he’d sold them out, but Dean pushed his arm down and told Samuel to leave. Alone with Sam, Dean despaired about working for a demon, but Sam, not seeing any other immediate option that offered them a chance of getting his soul back, argued they should play along just long enough to find another way, and then give Crowley what he deserved. He asked if Dean was with him.
Commentary And Meta Analysis
This episode was chock-full of answers that simply opened more questions, and I loved it for that. For reasons I’ll get into a bit later, I’m going to say up front that I don’t believe Crowley brought either Sam or Samuel back. Oh, I definitely buy his plot to annex Purgatory to expand his power base and I salute his skill in working the tables to get the Campbells and Winchesters doing his hunting for him, but my personal bet is he’s bluffing in his claim of having been the one to orchestrate Sam’s and Samuel’s return. I think he’s either just taking maximum advantage of a circumstance even he doesn’t fully understand, or he’s working his own game in conjunction with another’s.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, here. In this discussion, I intend to look at Sam’s soullessness; speculate on Samuel’s motives and goals; explore the role and meaning of Purgatory, particularly in connection with Crowley’s activities; and raise more questions about the Alpha monsters and their origins.
What Is It Like To Have No Soul?
When Dean asked if Sam without a soul could even still be Sam, Castiel’s response echoed my own: You pose an interesting philosophical question.
I have always considered a human soul to be the non-physical residence of whatever essence made us truly ourselves: our self awareness. I think I’ve always considered soul and mind to be interrelated more closely than soul and body, because I think it’s our ability to reason and imagine that establishes who we are in our own minds and allows us to relate to others from that place within ourselves. To me, mind isn’t the same as brain: the brain is the physical location housing the electrical impulses of our thoughts, but the mind is comprised of the collection of information – memories, comprehension of sensory inputs, the structure of our reasoning – that forms our personalities and encompasses our moral/ethical code. It’s that view that made me craft a living will to prevent my physical body from being kept alive if my mind – my ability to think, to conceive of myself as myself – was no longer functioning, as evidenced by the absence of electrical activity in the brain. I can’t help but think that if I’m not there at all in thought, my soul has left the building, and it’s time for the animal shell to physically die.
I had trouble positing that Sam could be missing his soul because I couldn’t quite get behind the thought that a soul could be extracted and yet leave a fully functional – or at least, conscious, reasoning, and adequately functional – human being behind. That, however, is the approach Supernatural has apparently taken. Sam really does seem to be mostly himself; he has his memories and knowledge and knows how things should be – but he can’t feel his way to them. He’s oddly aware of himself, including being aware that something he used to have is missing – look back at my observations about his behavior near the end of Exile On Main Street, for example – but he has no structure to establish what that missing piece is because it concerns not how he thinks but how he feels emotionally, and since he can’t feel at all, he can’t feel what is right or wrong with him or anyone else. With reason but without emotion, he has no basis other than the intellectual one on which to relate to other people. Everything we’ve seen him do in terms of interacting with others has involved an intellectually calculated response to an external stimulus. In most casual situations, he gives the logically accepted, expected response he can remember from experience or observe in others – a smile, an earnest look, a flash of anger or seeming hurt – but none of it carries the proper emotional weight to be genuine, because none of it is felt. And Dean was absolutely right when he observed Sam had no instinct when it came to sensing when something was wrong with someone else who was convincingly lying without a revealing tell; human instinct requires human feeling, and right now, Sam has none.
As I’ve noted before, with this split between reason and emotion depriving him of all ability to empathize with others, Sam is displaying all the characteristics of a sociopath. This makes me wonder whether the Supernatural diagnosis of a sociopath is someone who has lost their soul or was somehow born physically human but spiritually shortchanged. Supernatural’s take on souls as housing emotion and empathy sets them apart from both body and mind, making them severable while leaving a physically and mentally functioning organism behind.
But is Sam still Sam, when he’s missing his soul? I’m going to say yes. He remembers who he was and that he was different. He’s at least marginally aware that something he used to have is missing, and something within him does want that to change even if only because he knows intellectually that without it, he’s incomplete; it’s why he said he wanted Dean with him again at the end of Exile On Main Street. It’s just better with you around; I think Sam truly meant that.
I just hope it doesn’t take the full season for him to get his soul back, because I miss him and want him as much as Dean does. And take it from someone who knows: it really hurts to be missing someone when they’re sitting right next to you, but aren’t fully themselves any more.
Every Alzheimer’s patient caregiver or family member knows exactly how that feels.
It’s Not What You Think
When Sam called Grandpa Samuel Crowley’s bitch, Samuel protested it wasn’t what he thought while Crowley affirmed it was exactly what he thought. I’m guessing they were both right, in a way. I think Samuel has indeed made a deal with Crowley, but I don’t think it’s the kind of deal we’ve ever seen before.
In every demon deal we’ve seen, the human’s soul formed an essential part of the deal. In exchange for a soul – and occasionally other considerations, as we saw with Azazel extracting the Colt from John at the end of In My Time Of Dying – the demon provided whatever the human asked, from fame, fortune, talent, or health in Crossroad Blues to full-blown resurrection in All Hell Breaks Loose Part 2 to the location of Death and the restoration of Bobby’s legs in Two Minutes To Midnight. We learned in The Devil You Know that a soul was the one absolutely essential ingredient to power the magic of wish fulfillment; without a soul for juice, the engine couldn’t run.
However, I don’t think Crowley’s deal with Samuel involves Samuel’s soul at all. When Castiel read Samuel, he affirmed Samuel’s soul – unlike Sam’s – was properly in place, but he mentioned nothing about there being any demon claim on it. In The Third Man, Castiel said that when a claim is made on a living soul, it leaves a mark or brand, and he could read in it the name of the being that bought the soul; that’s how we discovered Balthazar. I would think, then, that if Samuel had pledged his soul to Crowley, Castiel would have found the evidence of the contract inscribed on his soul. I would also think Castiel would have mentioned any discovery of a soul sale to Dean, being rather more aware than Sam currently is of what facts are important for Dean to know. That Castiel didn’t mention any demon claims on Grandpa Samuel’s soul leads me to believe that Samuel hasn’t sold it, least of all to Crowley.
That said, Samuel clearly is doing Crowley’s bidding, taking his orders and delivering to him the Alpha monsters he wants, so there must be a quid pro quo involved. My personal suspicion is that Crowley offered Samuel reunion with his family, possibly including the restoration of his wife Deanna and his daughter Mary, and that to whatever very limited degree he may be compelled to follow through on his contractual promises, he’s planning on using the stored power of Alpha or Purgatory souls to deliver.
Samuel seems as thoroughly obsessed with family as the Winchesters have been. Once he was walking the Earth again, as he told Dean in Exile On Main Street, he brought together members of the Campbell clan to hunt as a team, including Sam. In this episode, he played the family card with Dean at the very end when he told Dean his choices were to shoot his grandfather or step aside. His involvement and intimate concern with family were also demonstrated by his immediate demand that Crowley return his nephew Christian, who had reappeared as a demon shortly after being killed by the Alpha vamp. His shock at learning Christian had been possessed long before in order to give Crowley eyes on his investment in Samuel struck me as absolutely genuine. So did his constant insistence on keeping Gwen both close and safe, much to her chagrin, and I think she was right during the raid on the vampire lair when she speculated that his protectiveness grew out of her personality resemblance to Samuel’s daughter Mary.
When Dean and Sam first walked in on Samuel in his office, he was looking at something he immediately hid away in his desk drawer. I couldn’t see precisely what he was looking at, but it appeared to be a photograph rather than a written thing, like a list or set of instructions. I suspect it was a photo of those dearest to him, suggesting his true stake in this whole game.
I have another reason for doubting the idea of Samuel having sold his soul, and that goes directly to my reasons for doubting Crowley’s claim of being behind both Sam’s and Samuel’s resurrections. Both Sam and Samuel were dead, not alive, when all this began; Sam had sacrificed himself to imprison Lucifer in the Hell-cage and save the world, and Samuel had been killed by Azazel back in 1973, presumably winding up in Heaven as one of the good guys. In Exile On Main Street, talking about having been brought back, Grandpa Samuel said he and Sam were guessing that whatever pulled Sam up had pulled him down, implying he’d been in Heaven. They weren’t alive to make deals on their own behalf, and I don’t see anyone else having been likely to have made deals for them. Whoever got them out apparently did it on his, her, its, or their own, for reasons I don’t think we’ve learned yet.
I definitely don’t see Crowley having the juice to rip a soul down from Heaven; not, at least, without another soul having paid the price. In addition, if once-exiled angel Castiel had no access to Heaven, I can’t see a demon having gained it, so I don’t see any way for Crowley to have made a deal directly with Samuel in Heaven to bring him back. We know from Dark Side Of The Moon that the crossroads demon who brought Sam back did so by getting him out of Heaven, but that was fueled by Dean’s sacrifice of his own soul; it took a soul to pull another soul from Heaven. I definitely couldn’t see anything less being required for a demon to pry Grandpa Samuel’s soul free from bliss, so Crowley’s claim to having been responsible fro bringing Samuel back rings hollow to me.
Similarly, I doubt Crowley’s ability to have extracted Sam from the cage in the pit, either with or without his soul. All the information we’ve ever gotten on Lucifer’s prison indicated it wasn’t even visible to the denizens of Hell, much less accessible to them – and that specifically included such heavy hitters as Azazel and Lilith, who had much more innate power and much longer experience than Crowley. While things may be different now since the initial purpose of Lucifer’s cage was already served and with the condition of the cage now different, given that both Michael and Lucifer were trapped in there together, I still think access to the cage would take something extraordinary. Castiel couldn’t think of anyone other than the still-absent God obviously able to swing it, so the thought of a mere demon being able to pull it off – even a demon currently top dog in Hell – just doesn’t fit. When I heard Crowley’s claim to having dominion over Sam’s soul, my immediate reaction was to call his bluff, and I still feel that way.
I can’t help but think that opportunistic Crowley, having seen both Sam and Samuel on the loose in the living world, took advantage of both of them by claiming to have been responsible for their resurrections even though he wasn’t. They clearly didn’t have a clue who had brought them back, and whoever it was wasn’t claiming credit, so – why not take advantage of his/her/its/their absence and use them for his own ends? Now that, knowing Crowley, I would definitely believe.
Location, Location, Location
Purgatory is a Catholic concept that built on an earlier Jewish tradition, but it doesn’t exist even in all Christian traditions. The word itself doesn’t appear at all in the Bible, and some of the earliest and most fundamental doctrinal disputes between Catholics and Protestants boiled down to whether or not Purgatory existed. Contemporary fundamentalist Christians consider Purgatory a fiction, and worse.
The Catholic concept of Purgatory is a state of purification of the soul to achieve the holiness necessary to enter Heaven. This is experienced by good people who die in a state of grace either free from or forgiven of any mortal, damnation-worthy sin, but still imperfectly purified of minor venial sins or the consequences of having sinned before. Purgatory is rooted in the belief that humans are inherently imperfect beings prone to sin and error, and because nothing imperfect could enter Heaven, most human souls would require cleansing of their mortal, human imperfections before they would be fit to enter into the perfect, eternal presence of God. Accordingly, Purgatory was conceived as a way-station for souls enroute to Heaven but needing additional work before they could be admitted there. While this purification step was considered one of pain and suffering, it was distinguished from the eternal torments of the damned in Hell both by being temporary and by not being ordered as punishment for wrongs committed. Belief in Purgatory is why Catholics offer prayers for the dead. Prayers aren’t needed for those in the bliss of Heaven and would do no good for those damned for eternity in Hell; instead, prayers for the benefit of the dead are offered to shorten the suffering of a good soul being uncomfortably cleansed for entry into Heaven. (Some prayers may also be offered in the belief that those who have already gained Heaven might be able to intercede on behalf of those still on Earth, but that’s a separate thing.) As support for the concept of Purgatory, Catholics cite – among other things – the “limbo of the Fathers” referred to in scripture where those otherwise worthy souls who were born and died before the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ waited for his redemption to open the doors of Heaven to them.
Contrary to this Catholic view, Protestants and contemporary Christian fundamentalists argue that Heaven and Hell are the only afterlife endpoints for human souls, and maintain that Christ brought salvation for all who believe in and follow him. They argue that the concept of further necessary expiation in Purgatory would violate the perfection of redemption by Christ, making his sacrifice an imperfect and incomplete one which would violate true Christian doctrine.
With this episode, Supernatural put its own spin on this doctrinal dispute. According to the Alpha vampire, human souls are Protestantly predictable and go only either up or down: they merit Heaven or end in Hell, and make no stops along the way. After five-plus seasons of this show, however, we viewers would probably add that human souls refusing to go in either direction become Earth-bound ghosts or other varieties of spirits, at least until they acknowledge the wrongness of their continued existence and choose to go where they belong, as Father Gregory did in Houses Of The Holy and Molly did in Roadkill.
In the cosmology the Alpha described, however, monsters – which mostly seem to be hungry things either made out of humans (like vampires and werewolves) or genetically related to and able to breed with humans (like rugaru and shapeshifters) – are denied both Heaven and Hell. The Alpha maintained that monsters, like humans, have souls, and posited that those souls went to Purgatory when their mortal bodies died. I have to wonder if the souls of ghosts and other spirits destroyed by hunters – as opposed to those like Father Gregory and Molly who chose voluntarily to leave when they consciously realized their situation – may also have been destined for Supernatural’s version of Purgatory, having already once refused either Heaven or Hell and never having revisited that decision.
Supernatural’s Purgatory, unlike the Catholic one, doesn’t seem to be a temporary waypoint, but rather a final destination in and of itself. If it is indeed populated by all the souls of every dead monster that existed since the beginning of time, and if souls contain as much power as Balthazar suggested in The Third Man, then controlling Purgatory could provide a significant power base for whoever could command it. That would provide a tempting incentive for someone as ambitious as we know Crowley to be. Under that premise, Crowley’s quest to annex Purgatory to his current fief of Hell makes perfect sense.
It also suggests that others may be embarked on the same quest. If Crowley could make use of the power of souls in Purgatory once he found them, surely others could as well, and with rogue angels dealing in souls as demons had long done before, it seems likely Crowley’s competition could be both angelic and demonic. Crowley’s innate ambition and his current position as top hound in Hell would likely give him a leg up over the competition, and he’s got an obvious plan already running in his effort to find the way to Purgatory through capturing and interrogating the Alpha monsters, but I’d bet he’s not the only one in the hunt and in the game.
It also may provide something of an answer to the inevitable question raised by Balthazar buying human souls in The Third Man: what happens when a human dies, who sold his or her soul to an angel? We know that the souls of humans who sell their souls to demons wind up in Hell, gradually to be turned into demons themselves when their punishment has stripped away their humanity. It seems likely that a soul sold to an angel wouldn’t go to Heaven to exist in happy individual memory as we saw in Dark Side Of The Moon. A traded soul once meant for Heaven, I would think, would have transferred to its buyer the power or energy of its normal transition, meaning that it couldn’t rise to Heaven any more – but perhaps its home becomes the lower energy level of Purgatory. Souls in Supernatural appear to be conserved, not destroyed; they seem to transform into other things (like demons) or remain themselves, and that seems true whether they are sold or not.
Another alternative could be that Supernatural’s Purgatory, like the Catholic one, isn’t a permanent condition, but a tempering one through which a monster’s soul – particularly if the monster was once human and transformed against its human will – might be reclaimed, purged of its monster nature, and allowed into Heaven. Were that the case, the power of a Purgatory soul offered to a demon might be the energy of perverting that purification transformation.
Something that wasn’t clear to me was how or why the Alpha monsters would know the way to Purgatory, other than in the existential sense of knowing they were bound there after death by the simple fact of their existence as monsters and not humans, much the way humans assume they’ll reach Heaven if they’re good or fall to Hell if they’re evil. Even though in Supernatural’s terms all humans evidently wind up in either Heaven or Hell after they die (apart from the ghostly exceptions I mentioned earlier), we humans don’t know where Heaven or Hell are, and no angel or demon would assume we did – so why would the Alpha monsters know where Purgatory is or how to get there? Did they perhaps originate there, only to be driven out and remember, like Adam and Eve did for all humanity, that once they lived in a garden? Or is Purgatory perhaps right here on Earth, with monsters just being reborn or remade again?
I still have a bit of a problem with the show’s tendency to treat Heaven, Hell, and now Purgatory as real, sometimes tangible physical dimensions with geographic relevance to each other and to Earth. I’m curious to learn where Purgatory supposedly is, relative to us.
We All Have Our Mothers
This last section is going to be very short, because there’s really not yet much to say, but I was fascinated by the moment when the Alpha vampire, asked who had made him since he was the first of his kind, said, We all have our mothers; even me. We know that all the other vampires we’ve ever met were humans who were turned into vampires by other vampires. The implication here, I think, was that the Alpha vampire himself was also once human; he had a mother.
But he may also have had a “mother” in the sense of a female presence having been what made him into a vampire. We know from When The Levee Breaks that Lucifer created demons by tempting and twisting one human soul, turning Lilith from a human to a demon, and from Malleus Maleficarum that demons made more of their own kind by warping the human souls sent to Hell. I wonder whether demons or other rogue or fallen angels may have been responsible for creating the rest of the monsters we’ve met by warping humans in other ways, always pursuing adding to the evil and chaos of the universe to subvert God’s creation.
Something tells me we’re eventually going to find out.
The other thing that struck me was that the monsters are gearing up for war, even as angels dispute in Heaven and demons try to go their own way in Hell. It seems all levels of creation are mirroring each other; the war is everywhere, spilling out from the aborted apocalypse to encompass everyone. I have to wonder why it’s happening so universally; it almost smacks of someone calling the shots.
Another thing we’ve yet to learn.
Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin delivered another good script full of wittiness and solid meat. This one wasn’t marred by any of the lapses into sophomoric humor or caricature that diminished some of their earlier entries for me, so I’m very pleased with what they delivered here.
Director Guy Norman Bee, who had also helmed Asylum way back in season one, came back in solid good form, and I was happy to see him guiding the ship again. I particularly enjoyed his willingness to discuss his direction in a post-East-Coast-show podcast with the folks of the Winchester Bros. website; if you missed it, drop by their little corner of iTunes or the Winchester Radio show website (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/winchester_radio/2010/11/06/family-matters--607-episode-discussion-with-special-guest-episode-director-guy-norman-bee)! It’s chock-full of such behind-the-scenes goodness as his description of Mark Sheppard’s insistence that his name not appear in the opening credits so as not to give away the surprise of Crowley’s appearance; his funny story of designing and shooting the camera boom-drop scene where Christian almost discovers the hiding Winchesters with the guys hunkered down behind too-small desks in sharp contrast to Corin Nemec’s relatively scrawny Christian; and his note of Jared having made a visual joke out of ensuring the lighting in every scene would always catch on and flash off of his machete!
My only issues with Guy Bee’s direction came in the scenes involving the raid on the vampire lair and its immediate aftermath. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t have a good sense from the action we saw of just how many hunters were in on the raid, and whether all of them made it back or not. I got the distinct impression from the scene in which Dean followed the gunfire to observe the lair house that at least a couple of those fallen bodies were dead hunters, not vampires – I seem to recall at least two who still had their heads and lay with machetes by their sides, and then there was the woman inside who called to Dean using his name and got hauled back while a spray of arterial blood hit the window – but when Samuel and the others rejoined Dean and Gwen, they all seemed to be there and no one mentioned anyone having been lost. Either no one was killed, or the Campbells were once again displaying unconscionable coldness toward their own losses. Either way, the visuals were confusing. The other thing that bothered me was the scene of the brothers driving away, when Dean stopped the car and confronted Sam about the capture of the Alpha vampire. The raid took place in the early morning after sunrise, but the scene of them driving away took place in the dark – and judging from the trip in, it clearly didn’t take that long to get from the Campbell’s hideaway to the vampires’ lair. That temporal confusion was unnecessary, and I didn’t think having the scene between the brothers take place at night rather than in daylight added anything to it.
I applaud Ivan Hayden’s visual effects team for the way they altered the soul-reading visual effect to highlight the difference between soulless Sam and ensouled humans. In The Third Man, where a soul was present for Castiel to read, the brilliant white light we’d seen associated with human souls before in such episodes as Roadkill, Houses Of The Holy, All Hell Breaks Loose Part 2, and My Bloody Valentine flared around Castiel’s hand and from Aaron’s open mouth. When Castiel read Sam here, however, the white soul-light was missing from the effect, while everything else from Aaron’s interrogation remained the same. Nice job of visual reinforcement of a plot point!
I love our show’s two composers, and the thing about this episode’s underscore that really caught me was Jay Gruska’s musical theme for Dean’s love of and commitment to family underlying the final scene with Samuel. Sam asked Dean why they should let Samuel go, since he’d sold them out; that music playing beneath Dean’s choice abolished any question in the viewers’ minds about what was going through Dean’s. Sam couldn’t feel it; he could buy the logical, rational reason for going along with Samuel, and even argued it later, but that wasn’t remotely factoring into Dean’s heart and mind. Family is still the bottom line on this show, and that theme says it musically every single time.
All the performances were rock-solid. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki just keep impressing the hell out of me with what they’re doing with Dean and Sam; I’m running out of superlatives. Mark Sheppard satisfies me no end as Crowley. I’ve seen and enjoyed him in a lot of other roles, but the delight with which he embodies Crowley is unique. Mitch Pileggi brings such juicy ambivalence to Samuel that you want to trust him even when you know you can’t. Rick Worthy, whom I last saw as a Cylon on Battlestar Galactica, made the Alpha vampire memorably scary; I dare to hope we haven’t seen the last of him, and that wherever Crowley stashed him for interrogation, he has a role to play in the endgame. Misha Collins is always a joy as Castiel – his underplayed sarcasm in telling Dean that of course his problems always came first had me chortling. And Jessica Heafey has been adding dimension to Gwen that I really like, now that she’s been given more to do.
Having enjoyed him back in his Stargate: SG-1 days, I rather enjoyed hating Corin Nemec’s Christian, but I’ll confess to being glad Christian is gone, although I find it reassuring that Dean’s wrongness radar picked up on the demon in the bunch even though no one knew he was a demon. I had to wonder how much time passed after Samuel picked up Christian before Crowley had him possessed; clearly, given Samuel’s paranoia and initial testing of people, Christian had to have been simply human when Samuel first recruited him. His demon evidently did a good job of aping his host’s mannerisms to fool everyone so well. ETA: Further reflection makes me reconsider Crowley's claim that Christian had been possessed for a long time. If Christian had been possessed, Castiel should have noticed when Christian burst in on the end of his soul-reading of Samuel. Further, Christian should have found Sam and Dean hiding in the room because - while Sam might well have been invisible, being soulless - we learned from Lucifer Rising and The Devil You Know that demons could sense souls, so possessed-Christian should have been able to home in on Dean. That he didn't and that Castiel didn't notice him suggests to me that Crowley was lying about Christian having been long possessed to make Samuel believe Crowley more omniscient than he was, and to make Samuel doubt his ability to conceal things from Crowley. Now THAT feels right to me, much more so than the shock value of the thought that Christian had been a demon spy all along!
I think some of the answers we were given in this episode were red herrings, but it was satisfying to get them nonetheless. I expect more twists, turns, and revelations as we go along, and having the brothers hunting in service to a demon will be among the darkest things they’ve ever done.
Talk about a season being noir – this episode established that with a vengeance!