Brothers team with Meg,
Hunting Crowley’s Alpha jail
To demand Sam’s soul.
Crowley interrogated the Alpha shifter – who was, true to form, wearing Crowley’s appearance – but the shifter said all he knew about Purgatory was he’d go there when he died. Crowley didn’t believe him, saying unimpeachable sources told him otherwise. Having learned from torturing other shifters that the Alpha’s fatal weakness was iridium rather than mere silver, Crowley stabbed him with an iridium knife, but got nowhere. When Crowley revealed he’d captured all the new shifter babies and threatened to kill them, the Alpha taunted him to do it, saying they’d just make more. Crowley lost his temper and decapitated the Alpha.
Elsewhere, the Winchesters delivered a rugaru to two of Crowley’s demon lackeys, who refused to say whether they’d ever see Crowley again instead of his flunkeys. Returning to the abandoned house where the brothers were currently crashing, Dean angrily said he was done, arguing they’d been doing Crowley’s bidding while getting nothing in return. Sam maintained they didn’t have a choice, if Dean wanted to get his soul back. Dean questioned whether Sam even wanted it back, and when Sam rhetorically noted he was working for Crowley, implying an affirmative answer without actually giving one, Dean turned away to pour a drink, observing they had no guarantee Crowley would hold up his end of the deal. When Sam didn’t respond, Dean put down the drink, pulled his gun, and went to investigate, discovering Sam unconscious. As he moved closer, he was struck down from behind by a demon.
The brothers awoke tied to chairs and surrounded by demons led by Meg, who demanded Crowley’s location and said she knew they’d been working for him for months. When Sam wryly observed that didn’t mean they got face time with him, she looked uneasy, trading worried glances with her henchmen, and then tried a different tack, asking Dean where they took the monsters they caught for him since that was likely to be where he was. When Dean stayed silent and shrugged, Meg pulled out the demon-killing knife and put it to his throat, demanding an answer. Rather than being concerned, Sam started to chuckle. Dean, irritated by Sam’s levity and very aware of his own peril, asked what was funny. Calm and calculating, Sam observed that Meg was running scared and couldn’t kill them because she needed them to get to Crowley and be in a position to kill him. He reasoned Crowley was hunting down Meg and other Lucifer loyalists to secure his own position, observing matter-of-factly it was what he would have done in Crowley’s place, and noting her only chance to survive would be to kill Crowley first. Sam pitched a deal over Dean’s surprised objection, offering to give her Crowley if she’d take them along and wring something out of Crowley for them before killing him. Sam refused to tell her what they wanted, saying the question was whether she could get what they needed. She touted having studied under Alastair in Hell just as Dean had, and Dean flatly agreed she could make Crowley do what she wanted. She agreed to the deal, but left them tied up as she walked away. One of her flunkies looked less than pleased by the deal, staring darkly at Dean, but left him alone when Meg called him to heel.
Alone and successfully untied some time later, Dean asked Sam what he was doing, wanting to work with a demon, but Sam protested they were already working with demons and he wanted to be able to stop. Dean objected that Meg had killed Ellen and Jo, but Sam warned he couldn’t look at things emotionally because they needed Meg. Dean maintained she’d just screw them over and Sam promptly agreed, saying that’s why they’d screw her first and promising that Meg and her posse would be dead the moment the brothers were done with them. When Dean observed she might kill them first, Sam said it wouldn’t happen because they’d be bringing insurance along.
Walking outside the cabin, Sam prayed aloud to Castiel, saying they needed him and it was important. When the angel didn’t appear, Sam said they’d found a gold box the Nazis had been hunting for in World War II that melted off the face of the man who opened it and was supposedly the Ark of the Covenant – and Castiel appeared asking where the box was. Incredulous that Castiel fell for the plot of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Sam revealed the ploy to get his attention. Castiel complained that he was mid-battle, but Sam expressed no interest in his pissing match with Raphael, insisting that Castiel owed him. Sam threatened to hunt Castiel down and kill him if he didn’t help, saying he didn’t know how but he’d figure it out, and warning that he didn’t sleep. Although Castiel was clearly initially offended by the arrogance, by the end of Sam’s warning rant Castiel concluded sadly that Sam needed help, and Sam responded that he needed Castiel’s help. When the two came into the house, Dean was surprised to see Castiel. Sam dismissed it with false cheer as being just what friends did for each other.
Castiel tried a spell to locate Crowley, but failed. Dean concluded they would have to do it the hard way, and they broke into Samuel’s office in the Campbell compound. Samuel caught them in the act. Dean asked where Crowley was, and when Samuel asked why he would tell them even if he knew, Dean played the family card. Sam added that they were going to get his soul back. Samuel doubted that could be done and said he’d like to help but he couldn’t. When Dean protested it was his grandson’s soul, Samuel snapped back that he couldn’t help. Dean asked what was wrong with him and if he wanted to work for Crowley, and then asked Castiel to leave them for a minute. The angel obliged, and Dean asked Samuel what Crowley was holding over him, saying he owed them that. Samuel reluctantly produced a photo of young Mary, saying Crowley had promised to bring her back. He said the one difference between himself and Dean was that Dean knew how to live without her. Dean said he knew how Samuel felt, but Samuel disagreed; she was his daughter and she was dead, and he could do something about it. Looking for leverage, Dean challenged him to think about whether Crowley would make good on his deals, and Samuel stubbornly insisted Crowley had brought both Sam and himself back. Dean warned him not to go down that road, telling him to stop trying because it would go nowhere good. When Samuel called him a hypocrite, knowing how he’d brought Sam back once before, Dean asked him to learn from their mistakes, because doing this was their Achilles’ heel, the way the bad guys always got them, and apparently it ran in the family. When Samuel continued to refuse, Dean challenged him to bring Mary back, asking him what he would tell her about making a deal with a demon and refusing to help her sons. He told them to get out, and they left.
Back at the cabin, the brothers did research while Castiel, rather than helping, tried to make sense out of a porn film and the physical reactions it produced in his body. Dean answered a knock at the door to find Samuel offering a map showing a place near the airport in Lebanon, Missouri where all the monsters wound up. He said he’d decided to help because it was what Mary would have wanted. He warned them the prison was a death trap, saying he’d only been outside, but knew Crowley had set it up so nothing could get in except what he wanted and nothing could get out, period. He said he wished they wouldn’t do this and refused to accompany them when Sam asked, saying he wasn’t suicidal.
After he left, the Winchesters and Castiel met Meg and her demons outside the cabin. Dean said they knew where Crowley was. Sam refused to tell Meg, knowing she’d kill them and leave on her own if she had the information, but said they’d show the way and they would all go together. Pushing his ownership of the deal, he told Meg to give him the demon-killing knife for a minute, and when she initially refused, he asked if she wanted to get Crowley or not. She reluctantly handed over the blade, and Sam, without warning, used it to kill the hench demon who had earlier looked unhappy with the first deal Meg had struck. Holding off the other demons with the knife as both Dean and Castiel looked on in surprise, Sam insisted he’d done them all a favor because the demon he’d killed had been more interested in killing them than in completing the mission. He started to walk away with the knife, and when Meg protested, told her coldly that she’d taken the blade from them and he was taking it back. Reinforcing his position of control, he said they would leave in an hour, and turned his back on the demons and walked away.
While Sam loaded a bag into the Impala’s trunk and picked up a gun from her armory, Dean, packing up stuff in the cabin, observed that Castiel could help instead of just standing, staring into space. Castiel admitted he was ambivalent about what they were doing, and said he wasn’t sure retrieving Sam’s soul was wise. When Dean asked why, Castiel said he wanted Sam to survive, and went on to stress that Sam’s soul had been locked in the cage with Michael and Lucifer for more than a year. Saying they had nothing to do but take out their frustrations on him, he observed that if they tried to force that mutilated soul back into Sam’s body, the results might be catastrophic. Dean thought Castiel was talking about Sam dying, but Castiel countered that living could be worse, because Sam could be paralyzed, insane, or subjected to such psychic pain that he could be locked inside himself for the rest of his life. Dean clung to the hope that there was no certainty, that Sam could be fine, and Castiel agreed that could be an option, although he sincerely doubted it. Dean persisted, saying if Sam wasn’t fine, Castiel could just fix him, but the angel said he wouldn’t know where to start. Dean insisted that he figure it out, calling Sam a replicant and saying he needed his soul. Dean said stubbornly they would retrieve his soul and if there were complications, they’d just deal with those too. Castiel quietly conceded, but as Dean turned away, raised the alternative that they could fail, and Sam would suffer horrifically. Dean didn’t answer, simply hesitating as he left the room. Beyond him, unseen, Sam stood listening, taking it all in.
Outside Crowley’s prison at night everything seemed quiet, but Castiel said it wasn’t and he could feel it. He told them to meet him at the side door, and opened the door for them from inside, which all felt too easy to them. As they crept through the halls between barred cells, Dean saw a dead man in one and Sam saw a vampire in another. Further down the hall, the female djinn the Campbells had captured in Exile On Main Street was heavily chained in a cage, and pleaded with them to get her out. They left her where she was and continued, but Castiel stopped them, looking back. In another moment, they could all hear the guards approaching: hellhounds on the loose. They fled through a set of double doors, but the two demons in the back were pulled down and killed by the hounds. The brothers barred the door with a stake and laid down a salt line, but knew it wouldn’t hold the hounds for long. Meg tried to abandon them by smoking out of her host body, but nothing happened; Castiel guessed Crowley had done a spell to keep demons locked in their bodies. Sam pulled out the knife, and when Dean snidely asked if he meant to slash at the air until he hit something, Sam offered the knife to Meg, saying she could see the hounds and hold them off, and that it was their best chance. After a moment, she corrected that the knife was their best chance at Crowley, and told them to keep it and kill him, saying she’d hold off the dogs. She kissed Castiel, using his surprise and befuddlement to reach inside his trenchcoat and pull out his angel sword, but got her own surprise when he passionately kissed her back, having learned that one thing from the porn movie. She brandished the blade and told them to run, and when the dogs broke through, she took them on.
As the brothers and Castiel headed down a dark stairwell, the angel vanished in a brilliant surge of light, and Sam saw Samuel at the foot of the stairs taking his hand from an angel-banishing sigil drawn on the wall. Demons grabbed the brothers from behind, and Dean cursed Samuel for selling them out. Crowley walked in calmly gloating that Samuel had been his best purchase since Dick Cheney. He said the brothers would be too dead to participate in the big things he’d been working on. Observing it was a shame he’d have to do away with them, he said he’d enjoyed their indentured servitude. The brothers were flung into separate, solitary confinement cells.
Much the worse for wear after the fight, Meg managed to kill the last of the hellhounds, but as she started to stagger away, the Christian Campbell demon knocked her down and disarmed her. He set about torturing her for information using the knife taken from the brothers and the same restraint apparatus Alastair had employed on Ruby in Heaven And Hell, but she kept her spirit and taunted him for being ineffectual.
Samuel opened the viewport in the door of Dean’s cell, hesitantly saying he wanted Dean to understand. Dean cut him off, telling him to go to a priest if he wanted forgiveness and calling him a liar who talked about family and blood but betrayed his own grandsons. Samuel furiously argued he was putting blood first, that Mary was his daughter, and accused Dean of having chosen Sam over Mary. Dean said he had chosen a demon over his own grandsons, and Samuel shot back that he didn’t even know what Sam was and Dean was a stranger. Dean retorted he was the man Samuel never wanted to see again, promising that the next time Samuel saw him, he would be there to kill him. Just after Samuel turned away, two demons hauled Dean out of his cell, past the grandfather who wouldn’t meet his eyes, and dragged him off down the corridor. They threw him into a filthy, blood-spattered shower room littered with body parts, and then brought in two ghouls, telling them to enjoy themselves.
Hearing the demons dragging Dean away, Sam took stock of his options and made plans. He bit into his wrist and took advantage of his height to draw a devil’s trap in blood on the ceiling. When the jailer demons returned for him, he was crouched in the far corner of his cell, asking what they’d done with his brother. The demons entered the cell to haul him out, and found themselves trapped.
Running through the halls searching for Dean, Sam followed the sound of his brother cursing as he fought for his life against the hungry ghouls. Bursting into the room, Sam wrenched a pipe free of the wall and viciously assaulted the ghouls, killing both of them.
Screaming under torture but still defiant, Meg abruptly started to laugh, and when the demon in Christian, puzzled, asked what she was laughing about, Dean, behind him, grabbed the knife away and stabbed him with it as Meg gloatingly told him Dean Winchester was behind him. As the demon died, Sam ran into the room, saying they should go. Dean considered for a moment, then released Meg from her bonds.
Casually sipping his scotch, Crowley paid a visit to the terrified female djinn, but before he could do more than ask where her alpha was, a fire alarm went off in the building. Going to investigate, he found the Christian demon dead and the torture room empty – except for Dean, who flicked off the alarm. Crowley observed he should have been ghoul scat by then, and with Dean occupying his attention, Sam hit him from behind with the pipe, sending Crowley stumbling further into the room and under another devil’s trap painted onto the ceiling. Meg walked into the room, and when Crowley called her a whore, she clenched her fist and Crowley convulsed in pain as she clinically observed the best torturers never got their hands dirty. She said Sam wanted a word with him, and Sam demanded his soul back. Crowley said no, and Dean unleashed Meg, who used her power to drive Crowley down to his hands and knees, spitting blood. Crowley gasped that he couldn’t, saying he’d been lucky to get this much of Sam out. Crowley turned the tables by asking Sam why he wanted his soul back, making the same point Castiel had earlier about his soul having been shredded in the cage and saying he would be a drooling mess if he took it back. Meg agreed with Crowley, and Sam said he got it, telling Meg Crowley was all hers. Dean protested that Crowley was their only hope, but Sam answered that since he couldn’t get it, he was useless. Dean handed the knife to Meg. Pausing only to ask for assurance that they’d let her back out, Meg stepped into the devil’s trap to kill Crowley in Lucifer’s name, but Crowley knocked her off her feet, grabbed the knife, and hurled it into the ceiling to break the integrity of the trap, freeing himself. He gestured, flinging the brothers up against the walls and then drawing the knife back out from the ceiling to brandish against Meg.
Castiel appeared in the room carrying a sack and telling Crowley to leave them alone. Crowley teased him, saying he heard Castiel was losing to Raphael, and then asked what he had in the bag. Castiel pulled out a skull and said Crowley hadn’t hidden his bones as well as he should have. Castiel asked directly if he could restore Sam’s soul or not, and Crowley released the brothers and spread his hands, asking if he could help out in any other way. Dean demanded an answer. Crowley said he couldn’t, and Castiel ignited the bones, burning Crowley to ash. Sam retrieved the knife from the cinders, but when he stepped toward Meg, she was already gone.
As they packed the car to leave, Dean thanked Castiel. The angel admitted Crowley had been right about the war in Heaven not going well for him. Dean asked if there was anything they could do, but Castiel said there wasn’t. He said he wished circumstances could be different and admitted that much of the time, he would rather be on Earth. Castiel told Sam they would find another way, but Sam suggested if he really wanted to help, he should take care of Crowley’s prison full of monsters, creatures they couldn’t just leave but also couldn’t let go. Castiel nodded and vanished.
Dean said Castiel was right about Sam’s soul, that they would figure something else out, but Sam refused. Telling Dean he’d heard what both Crowley and Castiel said – that putting his soul back in would smash him to bits – he said that when angels and demons agreed on something, he listened. He said they’d both almost died trying to get it back this time, and it wasn’t worth risking their lives to do it again. He said he didn’t think he wanted it back, and when Dean said he didn’t know what he was saying, Sam disagreed, pointing out that he was saying something Dean didn’t like. Sam said he thought he was better off without it. Dean said he didn’t know how wrong he was. Sam disagreed, turned on his heel, and deliberately walked away, leaving Dean calling his name.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
I’m not entirely sure yet how I feel about this episode. There was a lot to enjoy and dig into, but the denouement left me with a lot of new questions about the rest of the season and many old questions about the setup for this one. In this discussion, I’m going to look at some of those questions about Purgatory and the Alphas, the role of a soul in a human being, and Castiel’s choices.
It’s Not Like I Can Draw You A Map
For me, everything about Purgatory remains a puzzle. We learned back in Family Matters that Crowley was paying for Alphas because he was searching for Purgatory, the afterlife destination of monsters, and believed the Alphas knew where it was. Apart from my continuing issues with the idea that Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are places with actual physical locations, I was one with the Alpha shifter in this episode in wondering why Crowley so adamantly believed the Alphas would know the way to Purgatory/San Jose. Apart from usually referring to them metaphorically as being either up or down, we humans don’t know the locations of Heaven or Hell, our two presumed choices of destination; why would monsters – even the oldest and most powerful among them – be any more knowledgeable about the locale of their life after death?
Crowley said he had unimpeachable sources who told him Alphas knew the way and could draw the map. I’m wondering who those sources were. If they were things Crowley tortured, their information would be inherently unreliable, because someone under torture will eventually say anything to make it stop, true or not. If they were from the apparently parallel physical dimension of Faerie, like the leprechaun in Clap Your Hands If You Believe, well – faeries have a reputation much like tricksters, in that the truth they tell may not be the truth you think you understand. If they were rogue angels in league with Crowley, how did they know, and why isn’t it something Castiel has been able to learn?
One other possibility that occurred to me was that Crowley’s sources might be souls or spirits that had escaped Purgatory and reported seeing the same Alphas both in Purgatory and on Earth, which would mean the Alphas had to have a way to cross the bridge. We’ve seen demons and souls escape from Hell under the right circumstances – even in quantity through the gate in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2 – and we learned in Dark Side Of The Moon that the Winchesters had been through Heaven more than once, even though they only remembered the last trip. So I’m wondering if there may be monster spirits on the loose as well, and if Purgatory may be as porous a prison as Hell.
With Crowley dead, I’ll ask again something I’ve asked before: what happens to a demon whose bones are burned or who’s killed with the Colt or the knife? It’s a fair bet they don’t simply go back to Hell. From the first introduction of the Colt in Dead Man’s Blood, it was presented as something that killed supernatural creatures; John drew a very clear distinction between outright killing a demon and merely sending it back to Hell with an exorcism, knowing it could escape again. Death by Colt was presented as permanent, something that couldn’t be undone. The knife has been treated the same way ever since it was introduced in The Magnificent Seven; at least when used on lesser demons who could be affected by it, and when the wound it inflicted would have been fatal on a human, it killed the demon. Burning a demon’s bones seems to be on a par with the power of the Colt or the knife, but we don’t know that for sure. If we see Crowley again, we’ll know that something else was going on. If we see Crowley in Purgatory, I’ll be very curious about the rules that determine access to Purgatory.
I speculated back during Family Matters that access to the souls in Purgatory might provide a significant power base, reason enough for enterprising, entrepreneurial Crowley to set his sights on it, but also reason for others to be interested, from independently minded demons to rogue or power-hungry angels. I can’t believe that the story of the search for Purgatory would simply end because of Crowley’s death; I’m betting other players have the same interest, and we’ve just not seen their hands yet.
You Don’t Know How Wrong You Are
I’m no better able than Dean to articulate why reuniting Sam with his soul is so important, but I’m going to try anyway.
I’m still not quite certain what Supernatural sees as the role of a soul in a human being. As Sam plainly demonstrates, a human can live without a soul – which isn’t what I would have thought, but I didn’t make up the rules! – but I wonder what that truly means. Soul in the show has been linked to conscience, empathy, compassion, and all emotion beyond such intellectually inspired reactions as satisfaction and irritation. That list of emotions missing along with a soul emphatically includes love.
Sam has seen firsthand the benefits of being soulless. He’s a more efficient hunter than he’s ever been. Lacking fear or other clouding emotions, he can observe clinically and react ruthlessly: just look at his analysis and handling of Meg and her demon pals. He was dead-on in realizing they were running scared, and he played them beautifully, right down to seizing command and dictating terms. I think his assessment of the bald demon as being more interested in killing the Winchesters than in taking on Crowley was valid, and that Meg and the other demons knew it; picking that out and acting on it with calculation and without hesitation clearly bought him demon street credit and reinforced his self-claimed right to lead. He couldn’t have done that in the past; he’d have been too overwhelmed by conflicting imperatives to have gambled on such decisive action.
The only benefit Sam has been able to see in regaining his soul would be filling in the odd blanks that now exist around his memory of every decision he made in the past inspired by love, compassion, guilt, fear, and the like. But precisely because he isn’t able to feel or to comprehend emotion, he really doesn’t know what he’s missing; in that, Dean is absolutely right to say Sam doesn’t know how wrong he is in shortchanging what a soul means.
Sam has been given a lot of reason to resist getting his soul back. He can appreciate on an intellectual level that Dean is going through Hell because of everything he feels, and nothing about that is pretty; why should he want to experience that himself? Even beyond that, Castiel, Crowley, and Meg all agreed that his soul was likely so damaged that putting it back in his body would either kill him outright or do something far worse, trapping him in a torture on Earth to rival torture in Hell. I can appreciate precisely why he doesn’t want to make the effort and would actively resist having his soul returned. He’s alive, he’s capable, he’s strong – and he doesn’t want that to change. He doesn’t want to suffer.
Dean doesn’t want him to suffer either, but Dean also can’t fathom leaving Sam’s soul in Hell now. Knowing that the truest essence of the brother he loves is still suffering is something Dean cannot bear. It was hard enough for Dean imagining Sam experiencing anything like what he himself had gone through, for the year he believed Sam dead; to be walking beside Sam’s hollow body while knowing his soul is still in torment must be … inexpressible. He has a walking, talking, breathing Sam who looks like his brother, but doesn’t feel like him at all, and now he knows Sam’s love and compassion – the things that made Sam, Sam – are the very things still trapped in Hell. Putting the pieces back together and having his brother all in one place is the only viable solution Dean can see, so he clings desperately to the belief that he could make it come out right.
Dean calling Sam a replicant really fit – but given the premise of Blade Runner and its very human androids, I wonder if there’s another option neither of the brothers has considered yet.
Supernatural clearly holds that a human can live without a soul. With Sam exhibiting soullessness through sociopathic behavior, I wonder if the corollary is that all sociopaths lack souls … and I wonder, if that’s the case, how they came to be missing. And I wonder precisely what a soul is, and if it’s possible for someone missing a soul to develop one and become – at least in essence, as did some of the Blade Runner replicants – fully human?
With that in mind, I wonder whether Sam’s damaged soul could be gotten out of Hell but not returned to his body; at least, not immediately. Dean obviously can’t and won’t leave Sam’s soul in torment – but could he accept at least freeing it from Hell and entrusting it to a place of safety? In My Bloody Valentine, we saw a soul transported in a spell-worked briefcase, so souls can clearly be contained in something other than a body. I wonder whether a rescued soul could be given peace and time to recover from trauma in the presence of love; were it close to Dean, it would have that in spades. Perhaps a transition time before the soul was returned to Sam’s body could improve the chances of success at reinserting it without harm.
Alternatively, if his original rescued soul proved indeed too damaged to heal or to be reunited with his body, I wonder whether Sam, over time and with Dean’s company, could gradually develop a new soul, acquiring the feelings he currently lacks? When Sam ran through the prison searching for Dean, he did seem to be exhibiting some real concern. That may have been simply from the intellectual understanding that Dean was his only sure ally and backup, and they needed to be together to have a chance to escape, but it seemed it might have been … more than that. Given the way their experiences were shared in Dark Side Of The Moon, with the brothers both inhabiting each other’s worlds rather than being alone in their own separate ones, it seems their souls are linked; I wonder if that means they could share a soul, or that their proximity could let one soul bud to supply the missing other.
And of course, there’s still the option that angels and demons could be wrong and a brother could be right. It’s happened before, after all: angels and demons both agreed the Apocalypse was inevitable, that the prize fight between Michael and Lucifer was fated to end the world. Dean, Sam, and Team Free Will proved them wrong. Sam’s soul might not be as badly scarred as most believe. We still don’t know what actually happened to Sam and Adam in that cage in Hell; it’s all been supposition thus far, and what people assume may be wrong.
Only time will tell.
This Is What Friends Do For Each Other
When Castiel realized he’d been duped into answering Sam’s prayer, the logical thing would have been for him to return to the battle in Heaven. I don’t believe for a moment that Castiel felt in any way concerned by Sam’s threat to hunt him down and kill him if he didn’t help. I think he stayed for two simple reasons: he genuinely wanted to help Sam, and he was tired and lonely.
What I saw in Castiel’s reaction to Sam’s call was initially interest in recovering a lost weapon, followed quickly by irritation at being deceived, anger for Sam’s arrogance, and then the gradual emergence of compassion from Castiel’s understanding that Sam, in his soullessness, really needed help, albeit not the help he was demanding. Throughout the episode, I got a sense of deadly weariness from Castiel. I’ll admit, I wondered at first why he stayed watching the porn film rather than either doing active research or simply going back to his war, but his confession in the end that he was losing the war in Heaven made it work for me: I realized that once he’d left the battle, he didn’t have the heart or the energy to go right back into it. I would postulate that staying to help the Winchesters let him feel he was succeeding at something, and their problems were simpler, smaller, more immediate, and more direct than the complexity of what he confronted in Heaven. And for all that the Winchesters are far too immersed in their own problems to credit what Castiel is actually dealing with or to realize that their concerns are far smaller than his issues, Dean, at least, genuinely does care about Castiel as a friend.
Friendship seemed to exist among angels – remember Castiel with Anna and with Balthazar – but it seems a cool thing lacking human depth and warmth. And with Castiel now in a leadership position, he knows the loneliness of command. Generals have few friends, and fewer people in whom to confide. I think warming himself at the Winchesters’ fire offered a brief interlude in a bleak season.
One last point: I was amused to think that Sam failed to realize something about his little Raiders con. It was established in The Third Man and You Can’t Handle The Truth that Castiel is only responding this season when he needs help and missing heavenly weapons are involved. Sam threw out the Ark of the Covenant as joke bait, but that Castiel actually responded suggests to me the Ark may actually be among Heaven’s missing nukes, right beside Gabriel’s Horn of Truth. If the weapons didn’t actually exist and weren’t actually missing, Castiel would have no reason to answer an alert about them, so – I think the joke’s actually on Sam. If we see a horn and a certain gold box in the background of a scene wherever we next meet the angelic thief Raphael, I think I’ll choke laughing on my wine, and then drink another toast to the art department and set dressers!
I enjoyed this episode because of the way it advanced the story of Sam’s soul, but I did have some issues with it. As usual, I’ll get those out of the way up front.
My issues really come from the story and script. Brett Matthews wrote the script from a story by Jenny Klein and Matthews. This was Klein’s second story credit – she also shared credit on The Curious Case Of Dean Winchester last season, and she’s been a writers’ assistant since 2008 – and Matthews’ second script credit, following Live Free Or TwiHard. I had a bit of trouble with the characterization of Crowley as an incompetent interrogator. It was great fun to watch him face off with himself in the scene with the Alpha shifter, but to let the shifter provoke him into killing his source of information so early in the process just felt out of tune with the assurance and intelligence we’d always seen in Crowley before. Perhaps it was meant to convey his increasing desperation at not achieving his goals while feeling the hot breath of pursuit by other demons vying for the leadership position in Hell, but if so, it didn’t really work for me. It seemed a cheap move designed for an episode teaser, not the development of a character and story arc. I had a little less problem with Castiel and the porn flick. It bothered me at first, but in retrospect, once I’d heard his admission at the end that he was losing in Heaven and generally would prefer to be on Earth, I could appreciate his directionless distraction. Still, the whole porn scene felt contrived just to insert a bit of laughter in the gloom and to produce the payoff of a kiss between Castiel and Meg.
Some other plot and character things also grated. Fully powered Castiel running from hellhounds just made no sense at all. Castiel readily locating Crowley’s bones when he hadn’t been able to locate the demon himself was too convenient for words. Meg managing simply to disappear at the end when the prison was supposedly so secure against escape also raised my eyebrow. And Samuel’s irrational claim that Dean had chosen Sam over Mary just went way over the top. His betrayal of his grandsons made a mockery of the character’s claim to being devoted to family, but then again, he never showed much remorse over all the losses his family hunting team suffered through the season so far. His sense of family seems to end with his daughter. And on a minor note, I’m amused at how the brothers manage to land in abandoned houses that nonetheless have working electricity and wireless internet! I hope we see them doing an electrical patch to steal juice sometime.
Enough bitching. I loved Robert Singer’s direction and all the performances; the actors are nailing every episode this season! In terms of the direction, I particularly appreciated the two scenes where Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki did most of their own lighting using flashlights; watch how adroitly they light each other, all the while hitting their marks and delivering dialogue. That was a treat! I also loved the great combination of camera work, stunt performances, and practical and visual effects in the scenes of the hellhounds taking down the two henchman demons and Meg fighting the hellhounds – those were spectacular, and I doff my hat to editor Anthony Pinker for the way he put it all together! Singer’s trademark shots close in on one character with another in the background – look at Castiel and Dean in the cabin at the beginning of the discussion about Sam’s soul, for example – just sold those moments, and the reveal of Sam listening at the end of that scene was chilling. Sam deliberately turning his back and walking away from Dean at the close broke my heart. For some reason, I really loved the crane shot of the three of them with the car that opened that scene. Singer made great use of the Riverview location, especially that iconic stairwell. This was a really dark and moody episode, and Serge Ladouceur’s lighting just set the tone perfectly.
I will miss Mark Sheppard as Crowley. He brought such a marvelous snark to the role! I still don’t believe Crowley was the one behind the resurrections of Sam and Samuel, and I’m still convinced he was bluffing way out of his league in claiming to have control of Hell; I’m curious to see who’s going to be ruling in his place, and who may be revealed as the real power down below. I also like Rachel Miner’s take on Meg; she’s got brass and a lot of strength. I can only imagine the fun she had doing that combat scene with the hellhounds! “Okay: slash here! Stab there! Don’t step on the invisible dead dog …”
Misha Collins did some very subtle things with Castiel that sold his compassion for Sam, his war-weariness, and his worry over the future. I loved the change in his face at the end of Sam’s tirade, when he shifted from irritation at Sam’s arrogance to pity for realizing how broken Sam was, and his contemplation of ambivalence about the wisdom of restoring Sam’s soul. His deadpan delivery of comedy lines remains priceless. (I wonder what Castiel did with the shifter babies …?)
Jared and Jensen are both simply bringing it this season. Soulless Sam is so observant, remote, decisive, and ruthless that he’s positively scary; yet, by the very end, I was either picking up or possibly imagining the beginnings of emotion underneath his rescue of and dialogue with Dean. Dean’s desperate need and determination to have his brother back shows in every expression on Jensen’s face and radiates through his whole body.
Samuel felt off to me in this episode, but I think that was more the situation and script than Mitch Pileggi’s performance. I can appreciate a father grasping at straws, but I’m finding it a little hard to accept that Samuel drank Crowley’s Kool-Aid in such amazing quantity. I do wonder what will happen to Samuel now, with Crowley dead; will some other demon pick up on the deal, or will Samuel look for different sponsors? Will he keep hunting Alphas on his own, perhaps in search of information to trade to some other power broker for Mary? And I wonder under what circumstances Samuel is going to cross paths with Dean, because Dean doesn’t forgive and doesn’t forget, not when he makes a promise like the one he gave Samuel in the cell. And I wonder what role poor Gwen will play, when all that comes to pass; where will her family loyalties lie?
We have only one more episode until the hellatus: I’m terrified, I’m eager, and I don’t know what will happen next.
But I believe in Sam and Dean.
Apologies for this being so late. The animated icon is by hellybongo -- thank you!