6.21 Let It Bleed: I Wish This Changed Anything
Lovecraft opened doors.
Crowley takes Ben and Lisa;
Dean’s Achilles heel.
The night of March 15, 1937 in Providence, Rhode Island, as a thunderstorm raged outside his house, horror writer H.P. Lovecraft had just finished the manuscript for The Haunter of the Dark when a black-clad figure burst in through the window of his study. Terrified, Lovecraft apologized to the figure, saying they just hadn't known, but the intruder killed him.
At Bobby's house, as the brothers were searching through the Campbell journals for any information on how to prevent Castiel from opening purgatory and wondering why the angel had visited Dean in the night, Bobby discovered one of the journals missing, evidently stolen by Castiel. Reading the copy he had made before the original disappeared, Bobby found a reference to hunter Moishe Campbell having visited H.P Lovecraft to discuss certain undescribed events of March 10, 1937. Noting the concept of opening doors into other dimensions and letting monsters through featured prominently in Lovecraft's stories, Bobby speculated Lovecraft might have known something about Purgatory.
Meanwhile, at the Braeden house, two demons burst in while Lisa and her current boyfriend Matt were watching afternoon baseball on television. Hearing the break-in where he was reading in his upstairs bedroom, Ben cautiously went to the landing to investigate, and saw his mother struggling in one man's arms while the other broke Matt's neck. Running to his room and barricading the door, Ben called Dean. Realizing Ben couldn't make it to the shotgun he'd left in Lisa's closet, Dean grimly advised the boy to jump out his window. Before Ben could comply, a demon broke the door in and grabbed him. Crowley picked up the phone the boy had dropped and told Dean that Lisa and Ben would be unharmed so long as the Winchesters stood down; then he hung up.
Sam wondered whether Castiel knew about the kidnapping, and Dean observed they had to assume he did. Dean said he was going after them, and when Sam instantly said he was going with, Dean argued that Sam and Bobby needed to stay on the Lovecraft thing because Castiel was way ahead of them. Sam flatly refused to let Dean go alone, saying Bobby could handle the case, and when Bobby began to protest, Dean said it was a big ball they absolutely couldn't afford to drop. Bobby agreed, but asked how they were going to find Lisa and Ben.
That night, as Bobby drove off on the Lovecraft case, the brothers summoned Balthazar to the junkyard to try persuading him to help in the hunt for Lisa and Ben. Discovering he already knew Crowley was still alive, they asked if he also knew Castiel had made a deal with Crowley to collaborate in locating and opening Purgatory in exchange for splitting between them the monster souls they would find. Balthazar claimed Castiel had told him, but the lie was as obvious on his face as his shock at the news. Dean explained that Crowley had taken innocent people who were important to him, and appealed for help to any shred of decency Balthazar had within him under his snarky exterior. Balthazar said that was fair enough, and promptly disappeared without agreeing to anything. Sam advocated calling Castiel, observing he might not know anything about what Crowley had done, but Dean adamantly refused. Sam asked what they would do instead.
Posing as a magazine reporter to interview a young geek who owned a large collection of Lovecraft's private papers, Bobby learned Castiel had been there before him, also posing clumsily as a reporter and asking questions about the events of March 10, 1937. The geek reported Lovecraft had a dinner party for six of his friends that night, and they'd done a black magic ritual intended to open a door into another dimension. When Bobby asked what happened, the guy laughed that there weren't any stories about Cthulhu in the papers the next day. He said he had several letters detailing the dinner party, but when he picked up the file folder, he found them missing, and Bobby realized Castiel had stolen them as he'd stolen the journal.
Continuing to dig, Bobby discovered every guest invited to the dinner party either died or disappeared inside a year. Reporting the information to Sam on the phone, Bobby said he was going to interview the one surviving witness Lovecraft hadn't actually invited: the then nine-year-old son of Lovecraft's maid, now 83, still living in the mental ward to which he'd been committed ever since that night. Bobby asked if the brothers had a lead on Lisa and Ben, and Sam – hearing the sounds of Dean brutally interrogating a demon inside a nearby shed – responded they were making inquiries.
Killing his latest demon subject with Ruby's knife and leaving the body where it fell next to a couple of others, Dean strapped yet another demon in the chair at the center of a devil's trap painted on the floor. When Sam, knowing he hadn't eaten or slept and worrying about him, came in to find him swigging whiskey straight from the bottle as he prepared to start his next interrogation, Sam tried to persuade him that he at least deserved to take a break and let Sam take over for a while. Overwhelmed with guilt and anger, Dean ordered him to back off, saying whatever happened to Lisa and Ben was 100 percent on him. Going outside, Sam prayed to Castiel, saying he didn't know whether Castiel was in on the Ben and Lisa thing or not, but begging the angel, if he had any heart at all, to bring them back to Dean. No one appeared and he walked disconsolately away – but Castiel had come, simply choosing to remain invisible.
Castiel confronted Crowley about the kidnapping, but Crowley argued he'd complied with the letter of Castiel's orders not to harm a hair on the Winchester brothers' heads, saying he was just exploiting the obvious loophole in their agreement. Crowley observed that as long as he had Lisa and Ben, the brothers would be scouring the Earth for them, not looking for the demon or the angel. Castiel said the demon should have talked to him first, but Crowley said he'd rather seek forgiveness than permission. Castiel demanded to know where they were, but Crowley refused to say, and when Castiel demanded that he not harm them, the demon said he would do with them as he pleased, telling the angel he'd already reached the limit of his ability to declare humans off-limits. He said if Castiel wanted to stop him, he should find Purgatory. Castiel winced, feeling himself summoned, and said he would be back.
Following the summons to a woods by a stream, he found Balthazar waiting for him. Balthazar asked straight up if he was in bed with the king of Hades. Castiel denied it, but Balthazar observed he'd always been a terrible liar, and asked why. Castiel said it was a means to the end of winning the war. Balthazar said he assumed Castiel would be the vessel, sucking up all those souls, all that power, into himself, and Castiel said it was the only way. Balthazar countered that it might be too much power for him to hold, noting if that happened, Castiel would explode and take a substantial chunk of the planet with him, but Castiel flatly maintained that wouldn't happen. Balthazar asked him to swear it was entirely risk free, but instead, Castiel briefly apologized for not having told him, and then said he needed to know whether Balthazar was with him or not. Balthazar chuckled ruefully, saying Castiel might be certifiable, but he was in. Castiel asked how he'd learned about the deal, and Balthazar said the Winchesters had told him, being a touch worked up about the kidnapping business.
Visiting the old man in the mental ward, Bobby learned Castiel had again been there before him, but the old man observed Castiel was a liar and not what he pretended to be. Bobby asked about the night of the dinner party, and the old man said he already knew the story; they did their spell and they all said it failed. The man then asked if Bobby believed in monsters, and when he said he did, the man noted saying that could get Bobby locked up in the mental ward for the rest of his life. Bobby assured him that, whatever he saw, Bobby would believe what he said. The man said the spell worked; a door opened and something came through, but it was invisible, so no one but him knew it. When Bobby asked how he knew, the man said the thing had gone into his mother and taken her over. He said she was never the same after that, even smelling different, and then she disappeared – and one by one, everyone else who had been there died. Bobby said he was sorry about the man's mom, and the man, overcome, said no one else had ever said that to him. He asked if Bobby wanted to see a picture, and drew out an old photograph of himself with his mother, Eleanor, from 1935 – and Bobby realized the woman was Dr. Ellie Visyak, his former lover, who had given Dean the dragon-slaying sword in Like A Virgin.
At Bobby's, embarking on another round of demon interrogation, Dean unwittingly broke the integrity of the devil's trap by smudging the paint with his boot, and the demon flung him across the room and began to strangle him. Castiel appeared and smote the demon, saving him. Dean observed sourly he hadn't asked for the angel's help and asked why he was there. Castiel said he had no idea Crowley would take Lisa and Ben, and when Dean scoffed in disbelief, saying he didn't believe a word coming out of the angel's mouth, Castiel said he thought Dean had said they were like family and he thought so too, asking whether trust shouldn't run both ways. Dean said he couldn't, and Castiel countered by saying he did everything Dean had asked and always came when Dean called and was still his friend, despite Dean's lack of faith in him and his threats. Noting he'd saved him again, Castiel asked if anyone but his closest kin had ever done more for him, and said trusting his plan was the only thing he asked of Dean, maintaining he'd earned that trust. He said he'd come to tell Dean he would find Lisa and Ben and bring them back, but he told Dean to stand behind him the one time he asked. Disturbed, Dean pointed out that his standing down was the same ransom Crowley had demanded, and he refused, telling Castiel to leave and even to go tell Crowley that Dean's message was both of them could kiss his ass. Dean turned his back on the angel, and after a moment, Castiel disappeared.
Bobby found Ellie Visyak at a hideaway cabin with a protective symbol scrawled on the door. He revealed he knew what she was, showing her the photograph, and she admitted the truth, including that she was about 900 years older than she'd told him when they were sleeping together. Noting she'd been living pretty quietly on Earth for 75 years, while Eve had started unleashing wholesale violence the moment she came across, Bobby asked her what her game was, and she responded that she was a friend. She said not every creature in Purgatory was the same, and she had just been the thing that fell through when Lovecraft opened the door. She said the world was lucky she'd been the one who came through because she enjoyed the world the way it was and had done everything she could – including killing Lovecraft and giving Dean the sword – to keep the door to Purgatory closed. Bobby warned her an angel wanted Purgatory and was looking for her, and said the only way to stop him was to get ahead of him. He said he needed to know how to open the door, but she refused to tell him, saying it was too dangerous for anyone to know. She thanked him for the warning, but when he asked her to let him take her somewhere and protect her, she gently refused, saying she had other places lined up and he was only a man; she'd be better off protecting herself.
Balthazar appeared back at Bobby's, catching Sam in the act of borrowing a page from Dean's book and drinking his feelings, and told Sam he had come to say he was officially on their team, although he knew he would live to regret it. He admitted to both brothers that his choice to join them was a matter of his own survival, because he'd asked Castiel some questions and didn't like the answers. He observed Castiel seemed awfully sure of himself for someone who wanted to swallow a million nuclear reactors, and he was uneasy because of the potential for meltdown. He said he'd taken the liberty of looking for their friends, but while he'd found them, he couldn't get them for the brothers because Crowley had angel-proofed the building, which he observed said a lot about the non-trusting status of the demon's relationship with Castiel. Dean told him to get them as close as he could and Balthazar agreed, but warned they'd then be on their own. He dropped them in an alley outside an abandoned foundry and disappeared.
The brothers killed a sentry demon who came outside, and then split up inside to search. Demons got the drop on Sam, knocked him out, and locked him in a room, but Dean made it to the room where Lisa and Ben were tied up under guard, using the knife to kill every demon who got in his way. He cut them free, but Lisa – who'd been possessed by a demon under Crowley's orders as a precaution against rescue – snatched the knife from his hand and held it to Ben's throat. The demon tormented both Dean and Ben by professing to tell them what trapped Lisa was thinking, saying first that Dean was Ben's real father and then that he wasn't, then saying Lisa wished she'd never met Dean and thought he was her worst mistake, after the mistake she made in keeping Ben. Dean told Ben that the demon wasn't his mom and was lying, and the demon taunted Ben that Lisa was begging the demon to kill him, saying Ben was holding her back and she hadn't had any fun since he'd been born. Catching Ben's eyes, Dean promised the boy he'd be okay, and then flung holy water in Lisa's face and pulled Ben to safety behind him as the demon screamed. Dean wrestled her up against the wall and knocked the knife out of her hand, but wouldn't hit her, fearing to hurt Lisa. The demon flung him off and advanced on him, but Dean began an exorcism, continuing the chant even when the demon first hit him and then grabbed his throat, trying to silence him. He told her she could go to Hell. Grabbing a chisel, the demon plunged it into Lisa's side, saying if he exorcised her now, Lisa would just be a dead meat-suit. With a sorrowful glance at Ben, Dean reluctantly but resolutely continued the exorcism, driving out the demon, and Lisa collapsed to the floor, agonized and bleeding.
Putting pressure on the stab wound, Dean called Sam for help, but with Sam unconscious in a room, the call went to voicemail. Dean repeatedly called Ben's name, trying to get his attention, but the boy was in shock; running out of patience and time, he slapped Ben across the face, telling him he needed to focus. While he picked Lisa up to carry her out, he told Ben to get the salt gun out of his duffel and be ready to shoot anything that tried to stop them, and they started making their hasty way out of the warehouse. When Ben shot his first demon, he froze again; to snap him out of it, Dean brutally asked if he wanted his mom to die, and Ben steadied down, shooting two more demons along the way. As they passed the room where Sam was locked up, Sam, conscious again, heard them and called out, and Dean put Lisa down just long enough to shoot the lock off the door. Dean had Ben give the gun to Sam, telling Sam they needed a ride to the hospital. Escaping the warehouse, Sam boosted a white SUV and they all piled in, Dean cradling Lisa in the back seat. He kept talking, encouraging Lisa to stay with him and trying to reassure Ben she would be okay, while telling Sam desperately they had to go faster.
At the hospital, sitting beside Lisa's bed as she lay unresponsive, Dean apologized to Ben, but the boy silently got up and walked out even as Castiel appeared. Dean bitterly asked what he was doing there and what he wanted him to say, telling the angel Lisa would be dead by midnight. Castiel said he was sorry, and Dean retorted that he didn't care, saying it was too little, too late. Castiel said he hadn't come for Dean, and then reached out and laid his hand on Lisa's head, healing her. He said she was fine and would wake soon, adding that he'd said he was sorry and he meant it. Broken, Dean thanked him, but added that he wished this changed anything. Castiel agreed and said he understood, adding that all else aside, he just wanted to fix what he could. As he turned to go, Dean said there was one more thing the angel could do for him.
Not long after, Lisa woke up to find Ben sitting beside her. He told her they'd been in a car crash, that he was fine but she'd hit her head pretty hard, but she was okay now. Dean watched them from the hallway. When he stepped in and said hi, they didn't recognize him. He apologized, saying he'd been the guy who'd hit them, that he'd just lost control for a moment and was really glad they were all right and could get their lives back to their normal now. Smiling forgiveness, Lisa said they were okay and that's what was important. Dean said he'd leave them alone, and in parting told Ben to take care of his mom. Fighting tears, he walked away.
Out at the car, Sam said Dean had done some shady crap before, but whitewashing their memories – as Sam could say from experience – was the worst. Dean cut him off, saying if Sam ever mentioned Lisa or Ben to him again, he'd break his nose. When Sam started to remonstrate with him, Dean said he was serious, and looking at the pain and loss etched on his brother's face, Sam finally nodded and stayed silent.
At night, Ellie Visyak left her hideaway cabin – which now boasted angel-proofing on the windows – and carried her bag to her car. As she reached for the door handle, she heard wings, and saw Castiel's reflection behind her in the car window. Defeated, she turned to face him, and he put his hand on her shoulder and blinked them both away.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
Dean's pain broke my heart, and Castiel's last evidence of conscience and friendship in the midst of so much ruinous wrong did the same. In this discussion, I'm going to look at how Dean deals with pain, and examine what we learned about Castiel in this episode.
I'm The Guy Who Hit You
In this episode, Dean confronted his worst nightmare of guilt, seeing Lisa and Ben endangered precisely because of their relationship with him. If he hadn't gone to them after Sam died, they would never have been put in such jeopardy; that's a truth that couldn't be disputed. His reaction to the situation and the decision he made at the end were all in keeping with who he is and what we've seen from him before. He always takes more than his share of blame onto himself, insists on carrying the load alone, lashes out at anyone trying to help him in order to make them keep their distance, and refuses ever even to talk about the things that hurt him the most. And in punishing himself, he makes decisions for other people without regard for what they want, imposing his own belief of what's best, however misguided, on them. These things are all part of him, and all contribute to making him a tragically flawed hero.
We've seen this all before, right from the very beginning of the series. His insistence on accepting blame, concealing pain, and refusing to acknowledge it were some of the first real touchstones we learned about Dean throughout season one, as Sam slowly uncovered painful things from the past Dean had determinedly buried and never shared with him until then: discovering in Dead In The Water that child-Dean had been scared and gone silent after Mary's death; hearing for the very first time in Home that little-boy Dean had carried Sam out of their burning house and had sworn to himself never to return to Lawrence; seeing Dean dealing in Something Wicked with his long-buried guilt and shame for having failed to protect Sam as a child. Remember Dean quickly figuring out what must have happened and blaming himself for John's death in season two, but angrily refusing to talk about John's death or his own feelings in Everybody Loves A Clown and keeping up that silence until Sam finally made him see, in Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, how badly he was scaring and hurting Sam by keeping it all to himself. Recall Dean doing it again in season three, resolutely hiding his growing fear of death and Hell behind silence and jokes until Sam made clear in Fresh Blood he already saw through the act. We saw it again in seasons four and five in Dean's extreme reluctance ever even to talk about Hell or how he felt about the things Sam had done that he saw as betrayals and rejection, things that hurt him badly. Listening here to Dean telling Sam flatly never to mention Lisa or Ben to him again, I heard the echo of young Dean angrily ordering little Sammy in A Very Supernatural Christmas to never, ever, talk about Mom, and similarly slamming Sam up against a bridge support in the pilot while telling him not to talk about Mom being dead and never coming back. Dean has always buried in silence the things that hurt him the most as if not speaking about them could lessen the pain, but we've seen all too well that by shoving them down and never letting them out, he's kept all those wounds open, never letting any of them heal. And now he’s doing it again – and Sam understands it, but can't stop it.
Dean claiming all the responsibility for himself and refusing to let Sam or anyone else help him carry the load is also characteristic, as is his tendency to make decisions for others by sacrificing himself. For example, he did both throughout the first half of season two when he hid John's last words about saving Sam or having to kill him. When he finally told Sam the truth in Hunted, he acknowledged that he deserved to have Sam pissed at him for not having told him earlier. He refused ever to apologize for having sold his soul to bring Sam back in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2, although he admitted from his own experience with what John had done that he understood the shame and guilt it would make Sam feel. He just admitted flatly in The Magnificent Seven that he hadn't been able to live without Sam. While he later admitted he understood that what both he and John had done had been wrong – witness his insistence from No Rest For The Wicked on that Sam not follow his example because the Winchester willingness to sell their souls for each other played into the bad guys' hands every time, and his concession to Death in Appointment In Samarra that he finally understood that disrupting the natural order had consequences he couldn't foresee or balance against each other – the simple fact was, he had made that choice and imposed the consequences on Sam. The biggest tragedy there was that Sam had died uncorrupted and free, and Dean's choice to bring him back was what opened the door to all the events leading to the apocalypse. Dean imposed his own similar decision on Bobby too, when he staked his own life on a game of cards in The Curious Case Of Dean Winchester to undo Bobby's own free if unwise choice and loss. Here, he refused to let Sam take over the interrogations because he vehemently denied that he deserved a break, since everything that happened to Lisa and Ben was due to him alone.
Given this long-standing pattern on Dean's part, I was saddened but not surprised when Dean chose to make Lisa's and Ben's decisions for them by having Castiel erase their memories of him. I emphatically agree with Sam that Dean was flat-out wrong in doing it, but I can understand why he did. He judged they would be better off without him and wanted them to be comfortable and happy in a normal life, free from fear of the supernatural and not feeling the mix of regret, confusion, love, anger, and loss they'd evidenced about their relationships with him in Mannequin 3: The Reckoning when he finally returned to face them. In his own mind and at the core of his heart, I think Dean truly was trying his best to protect them and leave them happy and content while he alone bore the pain of remembering how they'd been together and what they'd lost, but I also think he was unconsciously cheating and being selfish to spare himself knowing they might remember him with resentment as well as with love in the aftermath of what happened here.
I think there was no way for any of them to win after this, no matter what choices they made. Dean will always remember that Lisa nearly died because of him, saved only by Castiel's unasked intervention, and that under the pressure of the moment, he had treated Ben exactly the way John had treated him, dumping an adult's responsibility onto too-young shoulders simply because he perceived the brutal necessity for it. Dean will also always remember how Ben walked silently away from him in the hospital, seeing in Dean the whole reason his mother was dying, and knowing resentfully his mother was dying while Dean's own brother had returned to life. Had they been allowed to remember the events, Lisa would have remembered seeing her current boyfriend murdered and being helpless to prevent a demon from using her body to threaten her son and to stab herself, knowing it was all because she'd given succor to Dean. Ben would have recalled Dean slapping him and pressuring him into shooting possessed people, after having been adamant earlier about not letting him learn hunter skills, and would also remember being terrified and seeing his mother all but killed just because something just wanted to use them as leverage against Dean. I don't dispute the pain inherent in any of that, and I can appreciate Dean, loving them, wanting them not to share that pain.
But I submit Lisa and Ben would also have remembered all the good things about being with Dean, the things that led Lisa in Exile On Main Street to tell Dean the past year had been the best year of her life, and prompted her in Two And A Half Men to propose trying to beat the odds and find happiness in a continued episodic relationship despite normal hunter expectations. I would hold up her happiness at hearing from Dean early in Live Free Or Twi-Hard as proof their continued relationship had a tremendously powerful and decidedly positive influence even then, right up until Dean made the disastrous choice to visit them to say goodbye after having been turned into a vampire. Even after that, Ben's staunch support of him as a father-figure endured when Lisa began to date Matt, as evidenced by Ben's parent-trap call to him early in Mannequin 3: The Reckoning. Despite Dean's emotional trauma, his drinking, and his hunter paranoia, Lisa and Ben loved him – and I would submit they grew as people because of him and the love and support they gave him. I really resented seeing all of that negated because of Dean's desire to protect them from what they knew and felt. In taking away their memories and their choice, I can't help but think Dean diminished them, and that's entirely on him and on Castiel for granting it to him.
I also think it might yet bite him in the ass sometime in the future, because they aren't any safer for not remembering him; they may even be at more risk than they were. What puts them in danger isn't how they feel about him, but how he feels about them – and that hasn't changed simply because he knows they've forgotten him. They were snatched here to be emotional leverage against him. Understanding that, and knowing some small bit about the supernatural, they were at least a little prepared psychologically if not physically to deal with the situation. If they were snatched again later by something or someone who wanted either to hurt Dean or use him, Dean would still feel the pain and the obligation to respond even though they wouldn't understand what was going on and why. They are no safer for not remembering him, and may even be more at risk, because I'm sure they'll also keep no memories of the supernatural at all to give them any salt and iron edge if bad things happen again. Mind, I can understand Dean wanting them not to experience the pain he knows from their now-lost relationship, and to be able to return to a normal life without constant fear of unnatural things; what bothers me is the apparent concomitant assumption that now they're somehow safe from things like what happened here simply because they don't remember him. That's a false premise.
I'll confess that I loved the entire arc of Dean's relationship with Lisa and Ben, starting from his too late, sad, and surprising realization, prompted by his initial discovery of Ben's existence in The Kids Are Alright, that he would have liked to have had a family of his own despite having always disparaged such a normal existence; through viewing them as the impossible ideal that nonetheless stood for what inspired him to resolve to surrender himself to save the world in 99 Problems; to going back to them in Swan Song purely as the fulfillment of his final promise to Sam, only to learn he could actually live and sometimes even be happy with them relying on him and loving him. Dean losing them because of who and what he was in Live Free And Twi-Hard and You Can't Handle The Truth, and seeing how they'd moved on without him in Mannequin 3: The Reckoning, was heartbreaking, and his decision here to sever all ties and even deprive them of their memories while still knowing what he himself had lost just killed me. Family love has always been what defined Dean: to have him here give up even any dream at all of a woman who could have been his wife and a boy who could have been his son was just too sad for words.
All Else Aside, I Just Wanted To Fix What I Could
Especially given where the season finale ended up, I think this was a vitally important story for us to see regarding Castiel because it established that the angel truly still did care, especially about Dean, and wanted to do what he could to make things right.
Castiel's relationship with Dean has always been complex. They were linked from the moment Castiel raised Dean from Hell, but neither could ever have guessed where that would lead them. Despite having observed humans through the entirety of the species' existence, close contact with Dean was a constant parade of revelations that gradually brought Castiel to see almost everything in a different light. Castiel rescued Dean and began to work with him because he was under orders from Heaven to do so, to secure the role Dean was expected to play in the apocalypse, but the human defied all preconceptions and expectations and quickly became much more to Castiel than just an assignment or a strategic piece on the board. I think that happened precisely because he was a puzzle. Castiel had been expecting the righteous man of prophecy: he was bemused to find instead a man who had no faith and didn't believe he was worthy of salvation, but who would sacrifice himself for others without a moment's thought or hesitation; a man who had no hope of winning but nonetheless refused to give up the fight. Dean could be crass, insolent, immature, and demanding, while at the same time being valiant, noble, astute, and generous. In trying to understand Dean, Castiel found himself having to question all of his own assumptions and beliefs.
I observed back in It's The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester that Castiel was in many ways a curiously apropos mirror for Dean – they were both loyal, unimaginative, and obedient soldier-sons still honoring absent fathers. But at the same time, Dean was more. He loved his father, but looking back, didn't hesitate to acknowledge where John had been wrong. And once he had grown into his own man, when what he believed to be right ran counter to the orders he was being given, he always went with his conscience and his gut in preference to blind obedience, even when that called for hard decisions and personal pain. Watching Dean, Castiel began to learn those same things for himself. That was what led him finally to rebel against Zachariah in Lucifer Rising and to labor as a rebel teamed with the Winchesters throughout season five.
I think Dean was the first human individual Castiel had ever personally known, and the angel found him fascinating and frustrating by turns. And I think in the end what surprised him the most was the way Dean came to accept and treat him as a friend, simply disregarding his wings most of the time. He found himself moved to friendship in his own turn, and almost despite himself. Sam and Bobby came to treat him much the same way, but never quite seemed to forget the differences between humans and angels as absolutely as Dean did. Their relationship has truly been unique.
In both this episode and in The Man Who Would Be King, Castiel demonstrated his genuine abiding care and affection for Dean. Facing off against Crowley last episode, Castiel flatly refused to kill the Winchesters or to let Crowley do it, either; when the demon threatened to do it anyway, Castiel said flatly that if he did, the angel would tear their whole agreement down – and I believe he meant it. In that moment, he put Dean's welfare ahead of everything else, even the war with Raphael and the prevention of a second apocalypse. Learning here that Crowley had opted for emotional pain since physical damage was off the table, Castiel once again acted to try to protect Dean, but this time, I think he'd gone so far down the heavenly war path that he couldn't contemplate not seeing it through to the end. In addition, this wasn't a question of Dean's survival, but only of his emotional security; heavy stakes, but not quite as dramatic. When Dean's life was directly threatened by the demon who broke free in the shed, however, Castiel was instantly there to save his life. He's invested in the friendship.
I think Castiel was genuinely torn between preserving his friendship with Dean and pursuing the single course of action he'd persuaded himself was his only hope of winning Heaven and thus saving Earth. He wanted Dean in his corner; he wanted Dean to support him and validate his choices because he couldn't see any other plan, especially after doing all the terrible things he'd already done. He couldn't afford to admit he'd been wrong; that would have meant admitting everything he'd done, and all the ways he'd compromised himself and violated his own integrity, had been for nothing, and even worse, were utterly unjustified.
Throughout their conversation in the shed, while Castiel maintained he had no choice but to do what he was doing and asked if trust shouldn't go both ways, I desperately wanted Dean to say, Don't you see, you're doing the exact same thing Sam did, when he deliberately lied to us all, listened to and cooperated secretly with Ruby, and wound up opening the door to Lucifer's cage? That's why I can't trust you – you're making all the same mistakes for all the same reasons, and you can't even see it, any more than he could. You both believed you were doing the necessary thing, that you didn't have any other viable choice, that the stakes were too high to take a chance on failing – and you're both wrong. Both Castiel and Sam convinced themselves they were just doing what had to be done, but both hid what they were doing from others not just because they feared being misunderstood and opposed, but because they both knew, in their heart of hearts, what they couldn't afford to consciously admit to themselves: that what they were doing was shamefully wrong. Both truly still did care about Dean and wanted him to be all right, but neither was willing to listen to him, because they both thought the bigger picture mission stakes were simply too high; that everything would be lost if they failed, and therefore they had to put the good of the many ahead of the welfare of the one.
I'm guessing that even if Dean had laid it out that simply and openly, Castiel wouldn't have been willing to listen to him because that truth would have been just too bitter to accept after he'd done such things as deceived his followers and friends, killed his lieutenant Rachel, and been responsible for triggering Eve's violent assault, with all its collateral damage.
But what Castiel did in the end here still gives me some hope for the future. He hadn't been willing to jeopardize his plans to save Lisa and Ben, or – if he'd known about the angel-proofing on the foundry – to help the Winchesters do it as Balthazar did, but once Dean and Sam had accomplished the rescue on their own, Castiel cared enough to set right what he could that he healed Lisa, and when Dean asked, did him the further favor of erasing the memory of him from their lives. He didn't do it as a bribe or a lesson and it didn't change anything between them – but it said their friendship was still alive and still mattered to them both, and Castiel was still sensible of decency and honor.
Even after the finale – which I'll talk about separately – that gives me hope.
Overall, I loved this episode. I was glad to see Lisa and Ben still alive at the end, although forever off-limits, and the situation also provided a vital glimpse into Castiel. Sera Gamble writes great emotion, and I always know her scripts will leave a genuine grief behind.
I'll get my issues out of the way first, as always. The one thing about the script by Sera Gamble that troubled me, as it did Sam, was Dean having Castiel erase Lisa's and Ben's memories of him. I’ve already noted the apparent assumption that their ignorance would keep them safe is a fallacy, since anyone who understands what they mean to Dean would still be inclined to use them against him whether the two of them remembered him or not. I also had to wonder just how many things Castiel needed to launder to erase Dean from their lives, given he’d lived with them for a year; did the angel alter all the photos we saw earlier in the season, clean up the mess from the demons’ home invasion, and resurrect Matt? And is Castiel’s memory rewrite any more secure than the wall Death put in Sam’s mind?
I had to smile for the historical revision that had Lovecraft finishing the manuscript for The Haunter of the Dark on the night of his death; the short story was actually written in November 1935 and published in the magazine Weird Tales in December 1936. And since Lovecraft, who suffered from intestinal cancer, actually entered the hospital on March 10, 1937, where he died on March 15, that dinner party would have been sparsely attended! Ah, but we already know the Supernatural universe is a dimension away from ours, so Lovecraft’s life was obviously different there … :) I was a little bothered that Dean, with all his love of horror stories, didn't know anything about Lovecraft, but I understand that, in order to convey his biographical information to the audience, one of our heroes would need to be filled in, and he was the least bookish of the three. This at least wasn't quite as egregious as making him not recognize references to characters from Dracula back in Monster Movie!
I thoroughly enjoyed almost every minute of John Showalter’s direction. The one bit that felt off was the incredibly lackadaisical attitude of the demons guarding Lisa and Ben in the abandoned foundry: their slow, pretty much one-at-a-time response to the sounds of Dean attacking outside the door of the room marked them as certifiable idiots. Okay, they maybe knew about the ace-in-the-hole demon occupying Lisa – but that wouldn't have made them not care about their own existence. If I were a demon guarding Dean's Precious, I'd be a lot faster to charge in groups of force if I heard Dean-like noises indicating an assault!
I loved the blocking and camera work on the phone conversation between Dean and Crowley. On Crowley's end, the demon did all the moving; on Dean's end, the camera was in motion, pivoting around Dean to give us glimpses of Bobby and Sam. It was a neat difference that also reinforced their respective roles: Crowley was the one in charge, the mover of the situation, while Dean was the one caught in it and looking for an out. That was delicious! I also enjoyed the use of the nighttime junkyard in their summoning of Balthazar; it was imaginative and visually striking, and I have a weakness for crane shots. I laughed when Balthy showed up standing on a car! In the hospital scene between Castiel and Dean, I was struck by the shot of Dean's face framed under Castiel's arm as the angel healed Lisa; that was an unexpected camera angle that just did something quietly powerful for the scene.
All the performances in this were golden. Cindy Sampson had a great turn as demon-Lisa; that was such a vicious, evil departure from the character we've come to know, and she really sold it. The scene at the end, when Lisa no longer remembered Dean, was also perfect; we saw all the innate decency we knew from the character extended to a stranger, which made that farewell all the harder to watch. I've loved everything we saw of Lisa, and Cindy was a big part of that. I never once questioned the reality of this woman or her relationship with Dean, and I will miss her every bit as much as Dean does. Nicholas Elias did a great job as Ben, a brave kid up against unimaginable horror and fear. He had the spunk we remembered from his younger self in The Kids Are Alright, but also a more mature awareness of the threat that made this situation a much harder one for him to deal with. His interaction with Jensen Ackles' Dean while he was held hostage by demon-Lisa and in dealing with the aftermath of Lisa's stabbing immediately made me think of similar scenes happening in the past between John and Dean, with a boy forced to take on hideous responsibility and discovering it was much worse than any expectations he'd had of what it would be like to hunt like his Dad. I'm going to miss Ben, too.
Sebastian Roche continued to delight as Balthazar. Balthazar joining the Winchesters despite himself because he saw them as necessary to his own survival was a treat. I love the snark Sebastian brought to every scene, especially his momentarily injured, put-upon look when Sam said they didn't buy that his cooperation was due to any shred of decency, and the immediate flip to an acknowledgment that they were right. Beautifully written and wonderfully brought to life! The same is true of Mark Sheppard's continuing star turn as Crowley; dyed-in-the-wool evil has never been this funny while also being frightening.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ellie Visyak as brought to life by Kim Ulrich back in Like A Virgin, and remarked at the time that I'd love to see her past with Bobby fleshed out. I was delighted to see that happen here! She and Jim Beaver made a great pair. For a totally different reason, I laughed out loud at Bobby's line to her saying, You're not exactly from Milwaukee, are you? Ellie might not be, but I am!
As we understand more and more about what's been going on with Castiel all season, Misha Collins has brought the angel's anguish to life. Here, we saw him dealing with another price of his chosen course of action as his friendship with Dean fractured even more and he had more cause to regret and rethink his partnership with Crowley. His frustration at being unable to push Crowley into either releasing Lisa and Ben or even promising their safety was palpable. Even better, however, was his very quiet acknowledgment at the end that he just wanted to fix what he could; that was heartbreaking.
This episode belonged to Jensen Ackles. I remain amazed at the depth of genuine pain he conveys through Dean. The intensity of all of Dean's emotions makes him riveting to watch. His comic timing makes the funny things absolutely hilarious, but it's always the pain I feel and remember the most. I grieve for Dean giving up Lisa and Ben and all they represented for him – and that's because of the life Jensen brings to him. I also continue to be very happy with the way Jared Padalecki is delivering Sam with his soul back. Watching him during every scene he shared with Dean, Sam's concern for his brother just leaped off the screen.
The art department cracked me up with the job they did on the Lovecraft collector's apartment. Miskatonic University lives – and a very familiar tiger and moon velvet painting somehow turned up on the wall!
The episode had perfect music choices, as I've come to expect. During the home invasion, Ben was listening to “Loudest Alarm” by Scars On 45: I'm glad I never turned to you / to hold me back / Well you must be living with a four-leaf clover / The number seven running all the way through you / And as I wait to feel another day older / I will be praying, praying for a chance to prove … And I couldn't imagine a more appropriate song to play behind Castiel's confrontation with Crowley than The Undisputed Truth's “Smiling Faces Sometimes:” Smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend / Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within / smiling faces sometimes / They don't tell the truth / Tell lies and I got proof / Beware, beware of the handshake / That hides the snake / Beware of the pat on the back / It just might hold you back. There's Crowley in a nutshell! The scary part was that it also spoke to what Castiel has become.
Next up: my review of the season finale, in another few days. But I'll say this straight up: I think the finale was only part three of a four-part chapter in the current story. We don't know how that chapter really ends yet, and I won't judge it as complete until I've seen 7.01.
The icon on this is a custom one made for me by cakehole_cat -- thanks, as ever!