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6.22 The Man Who Knew Too Much: I'm Not Leaving My Brother Alone Out There

6.22 The Man Who Knew Too Much: I'm Not Leaving My Brother Alone Out There

Memory endgame:
Castiel drops Sam's mind-wall,
Takes a power trip.

Episode Summary

Fleeing from the police at night, Sam took shelter in a closed bar. The pretty bartender, wanting no trouble, asked him to leave, but relented when he desperately asked for time to think. When she asked who he was, he admitted he didn't know, saying he didn't remember anything. All he remembered was being woken up on a park bench by two cops whom he promptly and instinctively had knocked unconscious, to his own surprised dismay. She advocated taking him to the ER, but he refused, saying he didn't have time because he thought he had to be somewhere, that there was something really life-or-death important he had to stop. Glancing around the bar, he was drawn to the bookshelf on the side wall, and pulled out a copy of The Haunter Of The Dark and Other Tales, a collection of H.P. Lovecraft short stories. She asked if he was a horror fan, and he said he really thought he was – and then he collapsed, overwhelmed by a flashing sequence of fragmented memories: Dean leaving the hospital after giving up Lisa, Ben's face in the car, a man jumping, Balthazar in Bobby's house, Dean's and Bobby's faces, lighting a brazier in a summoning spell, the lit neon sign for the Nite Owl hotel. Scared by his collapse, the bartender said she was taking him to a doctor, but he asked instead for a computer. Searching the web, he found the Nite Owl Hotel was a real place two towns over. Thinking he might have been staying there, he got up to leave, but the woman, asking how he would get there, insisted on driving, saying she wouldn't be able to sleep if she let him go off alone, and was dying to see how it all turned out.

At the hotel, figuring out where to start, Sam said the ground floor corner room nearest the fire escape would be his first choice because it offered the quickest getaway. Going to the room, he knocked, but got no answer. Discovering the door locked, he borrowed the bartender's credit card to jimmy the lock, and walked into a room with the walls covered in a hunter's collage. The woman observed it was all very Beautiful Mind meets Se7en, then found a stack of fake ID's with different rock star names: Jimmy Page, Neil Peart, Angus Young. She said she was starting to freak out, and he agreed he was, too. One news article on the wall caught his eye: a report on the missing SFU professor Eleanor Visyak – and he collapsed again under an onslaught of memory.

He saw Dr. Visyak in an alley leaning against a wooden pallet, and then saw himself walking down an alley with Bobby and Dean, asking where she was. Bobby called her cellphone again, and they heard the phone ringing down a cross alley. Following the sound, they found her dying. Wryly observing she could have used Bobby's help after all, she said she'd gotten away from her captors, but not before giving them what they needed to open the door to Purgatory. She said she could have handled the demon, but when the angel stepped in, she broke. She said they needed the blood of a virgin and of a Purgatory native, and noted the first would be easy and they now had plenty of the latter. Dean asked if they'd already opened the door, but she told them it would happen tomorrow, at the eclipse of the moon. She apologized to Bobby, but died before she could give them the location.

Castiel appeared and said he was sorry this had to happen, saying Crowley got carried away. Bobby rounded on him angrily, but the brothers held him back, and Dean angrily observed he couldn't even see how totally off the rails he was. The angel said he didn't care what they thought, and asked them to please go home and let him stop Raphael. Dean refused. Castiel said he wished it hadn't come to this, and then said when it was all over, he would save Sam, but only if they stood down. While Dean asked in confusion what he would save Sam from, the angel disappeared; then reappeared just behind Sam, touching him on the forehead as he turned –

– and in the hotel room, as she rushed to his side, he looked up and said his name was Sam. She asked what he remembered, and he described being with two guys, one a male model-type and the other an older man named Bobby. Seeing an address book on the nearest pile, he picked it up and paged through it, finding an address but no phone number for a Bobby Singer in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She apologized, but said this was where she had to get off, and he assured her it was no problem. She asked how he would get there, and he wonderingly picked up the keys that were lying by the address book, saying he guessed he would take his car. Out in the hotel parking lot, he immediately recognized the Impala as his. The bartender said she didn't feel right about letting him go alone, saying she had a bad feeling, after seeing the weird hotel room and the fake ID's, that he might not like what he found when he remembered things. He rhetorically asked what other choice he had, but as she started to answer, he heard a noise, and realizing it was a gun being cocked, he tackled her out of the way as a shot broke the passenger window. Looking for the shooter, he saw – himself, looking smug and cold as he slowly lowered his gun. Behind him, the woman called his name, Sam – and then called him Sammy. Her voice became Dean's, quietly pleading for him to snap out of it, as Sam lay unconscious on the cot in Bobby's panic room.

As the Rolling Stones' “Play With Fire” played on the radio in the panic room and Dean paced, watching Sam, Bobby entered the panic room with a fresh bottle of whiskey to replace Dean's nearly empty one, asking if there was any change. Worried and frustrated, Dean said he had to do something to help Sam, suggesting “dreamscaping” his head, but Bobby warned they knew what Castiel had done, bringing down the dam that had been protecting Sam from his memories of Hell, and they couldn't imagine what horror was loose in his mind. Bobby noted they only had sixteen hours to stop Castiel and Crowley opening the door to Purgatory, and said he was already down one man and couldn't afford to be down two. Dean protested they had no leads on Castiel or Crowley and hadn't heard anything from Balthazar, so all they had was Sam going through whatever he was experiencing. Pouring Dean another drink as well as one for himself, Bobby quietly reminded Dean this was exactly was Castiel wanted – for Dean to fall to pieces and be ineffective – and advocated he think instead about doing what Sam would want. Calming a little, Dean told Bobby to find Castiel.

In his mind, Sam drove the Impala through the night with the same song playing on the radio, asking the woman curiously if she smelled whiskey. She asked him about who had shot at them, and he lied, saying he hadn't gotten a good look. When she advocated going to the cops, he refused, saying his friends could help, but she countered that he didn't even know whether they were his friends. Back in the panic room, Dean used a flashlight to check the responsiveness of Sam's pupils, and as the light shone in his real eye, Sam was blinded by light in the dream and slammed on the car's brakes, bringing the Impala to an abrupt stop in bright daylight. Disconcerted, he scrambled out of the car, saying it had been night but now it was day, and the woman said it had always been day. As he wondered what was going on and she announced she was all filled up on crazy for the day and was going to leave him, Sam heard rustling in the woods near the car. Cocking his head in the direction of the threatening noise, he told her to get into the car, and then followed his own unconscious urge to open the trunk, discovering the weapons cache with surprise. Without realizing it, he picked out his habitual handgun and shotgun, and headed off into the woods with the shotgun at the ready.

His soulless self got the drop on him, disarming him and asking if he was really that gawky. Soulless Sam tweaked him to realize he was dreaming, noting that when Castiel had brought down his mental walls against the Hell memories, he had shattered into pieces. Observing he'd run their body for a while with consummate efficiency, his soulless self claimed souls were weak, a liability, and someone needed to take over. Sam fled as his soulless self shot at him. Pausing in his flight, Sam found his handgun in his hand, and then kept running until he came to a little stream. Pursuing with methodical relentlessness, soulless Sam spotted his target's jacket in the brush by a stream, and placed three strategic shots before he realized the jacket was an empty decoy. With realization came a single shot from behind, and soulless Sam fell, revealing Sam, frightened but resolute, behind him. Dying, soulless Sam chuckled that if Sam thought he was bad, he should wait until he met the other one. When he collapsed, light blazed from his body into Sam – and in the panic room, Sam went into brief convulsions that subsided even as Dean, terrified, grabbed him and held him down.

In the dream, Sam returned to the car and his companion, announcing that he remembered who he was and everything he'd done in the past year – and he remembered her. Through the eyes of memory, we saw soulless Sam facing off against a red-eyed demon who held the bartender as a human shield, threatening to kill her unless Sam walked away. Instead, soulless Sam coldly shot her, saying the demon had lost his leverage, and then took down the demon. In the dream, blood from the gunshot wound began to stain the woman's shirt, and she said she'd warned him he might not like what he found. Sam apologized, saying he was sorry, but she said he wasn't as sorry as he was going to be, and vanished.

In the panic room, Dean was nursing another glass of whiskey and watching his brother when Bobby appeared at the door with Balthazar, who looked at the new paint on the walls and observed they'd finally gotten the angel-proofing right. Dean asked what had taken him so long, and Balthazar admitted he'd been having second thoughts about betraying his powerful friend Castiel. Ultimately, however, he handed over the address in Kansas where Castiel and Crowley were planning to open the gate; the mansion where Crowley had been doing his monster-torture. He refused to take them there, however; saying he'd stuck his neck out far enough already, he disappeared.

Castiel was waiting pensively in Crowley's empty torture room when the demon arrived and presented him with a sealed jar of blood, half virgin and half Purgatory monster. The angel said he was renegotiating their terms to give Crowley nothing, not one single soul. When the demon objected, saying he wouldn't dare, Castiel said he wouldn't hand all that power to the king of Hell; that he was neither stupid nor wicked. He told Crowley to flee or die, and Crowley fled.

In his dream, Sam found Bobby's house curiously vacant, with all the furniture draped with white sheets but many candles burning in cobwebbed candelabra. He saw a shadowed figure sitting at a bare table in the dark kitchen. The figure didn't respond until he shouted at it, and then just slowly raised his head and greeted him without surprise. Sam asked which one he was, and the figure asked if he didn't know. As he slowly stood up, the scant light revealed a broken version of Sam, his skin mottled and clothing caked with old dried blood, and he said with weary despair that he was the one who remembered Hell.

In the panic room, Bobby finished packing their combat kit, including the two angel swords they'd collected over time, and told Dean it was time to go. Dean laid the piece of paper with the address they'd gotten from Balthazar on the bed beside Sam, weighting it down with Sam's handgun, and told Sam that was where they would be. Voice breaking, he told Sam to get his lazy ass out of bed and meet them there.

In his dream, Hell-Sam told Sam he wished he hadn't come, but Sam responded he didn't have any choice. He said he'd figured his body was at Bobby's, since he'd been smelling Old Spice and whiskey, and thought if he could get there in the dream, he could snap out of it. Hell-Sam said he had to go through him first, explaining that he had to put all the pieces of himself together before he could wake up, and Sam realized that meant he had to know what had happened in the cage. Hell-Sam said he didn't want to know and Sam agreed. Pleading, Hell-Sam encouraged him to stay in the dream, to just find and stay with the bartender or Jess, saying Sam couldn't imagine Hell and wouldn't be strong enough to deal with the memories. Sam concluded that he had to, because he wasn't going to leave his brother alone out there. Hell-Sam reluctantly came around the table, picking up the knife that had been by his hand, but he offered the blade hilt-first to Sam, saying he wasn't going to fight him, but this was his last chance. Sam took the knife, and Hell-Sam wished him luck, telling him he was going to need it. Scared and sad but determined, Sam stabbed his doppelganger, and as light poured from the doppelganger's body into his, Sam convulsed on the cot in the panic room.

At Crowley's mansion, Castiel sat contemplating the jar of blood when Balthazar arrived, asking why Castiel had summoned him. Castiel said Dean was on his way, because someone in their camp had betrayed them by giving away their location. Balthazar asked if he knew who it was, and Castiel said he didn't know, but needed Balthazar to find out, saying he would take care of Dean himself. As Castiel turned away, Balthazar asked if he was all right, and Castiel said bemusedly that he was doing his best in impossible circumstances, but his friends abandoned him and plotted against him, and it was difficult to understand. Balthazar said Cass would always have little old him, and Castiel suddenly appeared behind him, stabbing him through the heart with his angel blade, sadly agreeing he would always have Balthazar as the other angel died in an explosion of light.

Shortly after, Dean and Bobby parked the Impala on a road in sight of the mansion. Bobby spotted at least a dozen angel guards, and proposed trying to sneak past them since they couldn't possibly take out that many. Before they could move, however, they heard a distant, heavy thumping sound so deep it made ripples in the puddles on the street, and then they saw a massive cloud of demon smoke shot through with light blazing through the sky and blotting out the moon even as the eclipse began. They bolted for the car, but before Dean could drive off, the cloud swept over them, flipping the car and passing by to envelop the house.

Inside the mansion, Castiel was studying the Purgatory spell when he heard screams and groans from upstairs as the cloud hit. Crowley appeared, telling him he shouldn't underestimate the king of Hell, and saying it was time to re-re-negotiate their terms. Castiel tried to smite him, but nothing happened, and Crowley said he was being protected by his new partner – and Raphael appeared on cue. Castiel warned that Raphael would betray him, but Crowley, pointing out Castiel was no better, added that Raphael had offered him protection against all comers in exchange for the Purgatory blood, and he had taken it as the best offer available. Raphael chided Castiel for thinking he would let Castiel open the door and take in that much power, saying that if anyone was going to be the new God, it would be Raphael. Crowley offered Castiel two options – flee, or die – and the angel pensively picked up the jar of blood, then tossed it to Crowley even as he disappeared.

As the moon became fully eclipsed, Crowley began intoning the spell as he and Raphael stood in front of the wall on which they'd painted the complex spell sigil in blood. Outside, in the flipped Impala, Dean and Bobby woke up and crawled out, making their way into the house. Stealthily entering the room where the ritual was underway from a door high in the back wall, Dean threw one of the angel blades, hoping to take out Raphael, but the angel caught the blade in flight without even turning around to see them. Crowley gestured, flinging Bobby down the flight of stairs and hurling Dean over the railing to crash down on a table and then to the floor, saying he was busy but would be with them in a moment. Outside, Sam arrived at the flipped car, staggering under the impact of memories of burning alive, but grimly shoving them down and moving on.

Crowley finished the spell, but nothing happened. As he wondered if he'd said it wrong, Castiel appeared, calmly telling him he'd said it perfectly, but what he'd needed was the jar of blood in Castiel's hands. Crowley realized Castiel had substituted on the toss a jar of dog's blood for the one containing the mix of virgin and monster blood, and also saw Castiel's jar was empty. He asked how Castiel's ritual had gone, and the angel bowed his head, then radiated blinding light. Quenching it, he smiled and told them they couldn't imagine what it was like, having millions upon millions of souls all inside of him. Crowley prudently took his leave, but Raphael couldn't. Castiel cruelly teased Raphael about someone having clipped his wings, and when Raphael protested that he'd let the demon escape, but not his own brother, Castiel observed he had plans for the demon. He snapped his fingers and Raphael exploded. The angel blade fell to the floor.

Dean and Bobby stared in shocked horror, but Castiel just smiled and turned away, saying he'd saved them again. Treading cautiously, fearing to detonate the unpredictable fuse on the Castiel bomb, Dean agreed and thanked him, and Castiel, still smiling, observed they'd doubted him and fought against him, but he'd been right all along. Playing along, Dean agreed that he was and said they were sorry, and then proposed they just defuse him. Castiel asked what he meant, and Dean observed he was full of nuke and it wasn't safe, so they should return the souls to Purgatory before the eclipse ended. Castiel said the souls belonged with him, and when Dean protested they were scrambling his brain, Castiel said pleasantly he wasn't finished yet, because Raphael had many followers and he needed to punish them all severely. Facing insanity driving power, Dean begged him to listen, saying they were family once. He said he'd lost Lisa, Ben, and Sam, and pleaded with the angel not to make him lose Castiel as well. He said Castiel didn't need all that power any more and should get rid of it before it killed them all. Castiel said he was only saying that because the angel had won and Dean was afraid. He said Dean wasn't his family, that he had no family – and Sam, coming in from behind, scooped up the fallen angel blade and stabbed him in the back, gasping with the effort of staying in the moment. Castiel didn't even react, simply reaching back and pulling out the blade. He said he was glad Sam had made it, but the angel blade wouldn't work because he wasn't an angel anymore. He proclaimed he was their new God, a better one, and ordered them to bow down and profess their love to him, or he would destroy them.

Commentary and Meta Analysis

This episode suffered from the usual problems attendant on being a middle chapter in a story, because while it was the season finale, it definitely wasn't the end of anything in the narrative. It can't be judged fairly until we see what happens next, because as it stands, it's incomplete.

That said, however, it made for one hell of a good chapter. In this discussion, I'm going to look at Castiel's choices and transformation, and at Sam's reintegration of himself.

Humpty Dumpty Has To Put Himself Together Again

I loved the concept of Sam having to reintegrate himself after Castiel brought down the protective wall in his mind, and being determined to do it no matter the cost because he couldn't choose to leave Dean alone. That was a brilliant culmination not just to the soulless Sam storyline, but to the brothers' estrangement in seasons four and five. The brother bond is solidly back in all its glory after having been tarnished, tested, and stressed to its breaking point, and that bodes VERY well for season seven, whatever else betides.

Sam's split wasn't precisely Freudian or Jungian, but it shared elements with a lot of classical psychology. We found Sam split into thirds, but not entirely the classic ones. Instead, his thirds were based in part on memory and in part on self. The narrative Sam was essentially super-ego, Sam's personal consciousness and awareness both of others and of right and wrong; Sam's soul, in Supernatural parlance. Soulless Sam was predominantly id and ego – his physical self and drives and his purely intellectual awareness – unrestrained by their missing third; I discussed that back in my commentary on Like A Virgin. Hell-Sam presented something else, something outside our customary categorizations of experience: his memories of Hell.

Narrative Sam was the only one of the three who actually wanted to integrate them all into one. Initially, I reacted with irritation to soulless Sam's lousy marksmanship and his stereotypical villain's tendency to talk the hero to death instead of simply shooting him. Then I realized that soulless Sam, intellectually understanding the rules of the game as narrative Sam did not, really didn't want to “kill” Sam and thus integrate with his ensouled self, precisely because that would have saddled him with a soul. Frankly, I think soulless Sam missed his target – whether intentionally or unconsciously – until he satisfied himself that he was in control of the situation and ensouled Sam lacked the backbone to defeat him, and thus calculated that even if he “killed” ensouled Sam, he would still be able to subdue the soul within himself and drive the body without interference from his soul. Big mistake – but that's animal instinct, intellect, and calculation without heart.

Hell-Sam really encompassed two things: Sam's repressed memories of his unbearable existence in Hell, and his fear of what experiencing Hell consciously would do to him. Sam had heard from multiple disparate sources, including Castiel, Crowley, Meg, Death, Balthazar, and even Dean, that realizing his memories of Hell would be a bad thing and would most likely destroy him outright or turn him into a drooling vegetable. Hearing the same from the part of himself that actually knew what had happened to him in Hell had to have been the worst of all. Sam's courage in insisting on doing it anyway precisely because he couldn't leave Dean to face things alone just melted my heart, and emphatically declared the end of the rift between the brothers. We've always known that Dean was all about Sam; now anyone who doubted has demonstrable, incontrovertible proof that the reverse is also true.

Sam's appearance at the mansion and the timing of his arrival indicated that he'd woken not long after Dean and Bobby had left, and likely taken either Bobby's car or another from the salvage yard to follow them. How he managed to drive while combating repeated visions and sensations of burning alive in Hell, I can't say, but it's a tribute to his sheer force of will. Even when he stabbed Castiel, he was obviously barely hanging on to being himself, conscious, and upright. I fully expect that he's still going to be in the throes of his reintegration when season seven begins, and that his problems and challenges with respect to trying not to be overwhelmed by his memories of Hell and dealing with his shame and guilt over the things he did while soulless will feature prominently in the storyline for a long time to come.

I Am Your New God. A Better One.

My immediate reaction at the end of the episode was to quote the old adage about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely. I would submit that what happened to Castiel when he succeeded in raiding Purgatory wasn't anything he'd ever intended, and Dean was right: all that power, all those souls inside him, were acting like a drug, overriding his normal inhibitions and rational processes and sending him on the ultimate power trip. That wasn't the Cass we know and love: that was Cass on PCP.

I'm certain a lot of fans reacted angrily to Castiel being out of character in proclaiming himself God and demanding worship, but that's the point: that kind of drug will absolutely change your personality and sidestep your rational, conscious awareness. If you've ever tried to deal with anyone as massively stoned and utterly delusional as Castiel was at the end, you know that whoever they normally are has left the building. It has nothing to do with who they are or what they intend; it's the drug opening the cages in which they normally confine the ugly, arrogant, selfish, vicious aspects of themselves they would never normally let loose.

I've talked a lot in earlier reviews about my thoughts along the way on what was driving Castiel's decisions. While I was wrong about some very major things – I hadn't guessed Castiel had made a deal with Crowley and was planning to use the power of souls in Purgatory in his war against Raphael in Heaven – I think I was right in most of my analysis of his motivations. And none of them concerned setting himself up as the new God.

As he described in The Man Who Would Be King, I do believe Castiel started with nothing more than his earnest desire to bring peace, order, and the new gospel of freedom to Heaven in the aftermath of the aborted apocalypse. When he discovered Raphael was adamant about putting the apocalypse back on track, destroying all Castiel and the Winchesters had striven and sacrificed to save, he was desperate for a way to avert disaster. Knowing himself hopelessly outmatched in a conflict with an archangel, he looked for leverage – but rather than seek advice from Dean, he let himself, out of mingled pride, fear, and shame, be seduced into a partnership with Crowley, telling himself all along he could outsmart the demon and keep his integrity. And each time he might have chosen differently along the way, he kept repeating to himself that the stakes were too high, that he couldn't afford to fail, and that whatever he did in pursuit of that ultimate goal was justified and necessary because it would avert the greater evil of seeing the apocalypse restarted. I do truly think he wasn't in it at the beginning for the power in and of itself; I think he sought the power only in pursuit of the goal of preservation. And I think that was still what was mostly in his mind when he opened the Purgatory door.

That's not to say the lure of power wasn't there and wasn't already corrupting him in small ways, however. When he harried Hell in his absolute conviction of mission and rescued Sam, he was admittedly too pumped on his own achievement to heed the niggling voice of his disquiet telling him something about Sam wasn't right. When he carried Crowley's loan of fifty thousand souls into Heaven and used them to blast Raphael out of his complacency making his declaration of war, he was juiced up on power and pride, setting himself up as Raphael's direct opposition. When he successfully touched Bobby's soul to draw power directly into himself to be able to bring the brothers back from the past in Frontierland, I think he cemented his belief that he'd be strong enough to contain more souls, although he said at the time he never wanted to do that again. And when Raphael, saying he wouldn't allow Castiel to acquire that much power, phrased it as, If anyone's going to be the new God, it's going to be me, I think he planted the seed that shaped the specific form of Castiel's power delusion.

Unlike Raphael, Castiel was at least torn along the way, uncomfortable with the things he was doing and always aware on some level that they were wrong. That discomfort made him hide the truth not only from Dean, but also from the angels who followed him. He even kept the core of his plans hidden from Balthazar, whose moral code was far more lax than Castiel's. Balthazar was not only in on but crucial to some of his shadier plots, as evidenced in The French Mistake and My Heart Will Go On, but he didn't know about his partnership with Crowley or his designs on Purgatory until the Winchesters told him about them here.

I think Castiel's premeditated execution of Balthazar when he confirmed to himself that Balthazar was lying to him marked the crossing of a line in his gradual corruption. He didn't accuse Balthazar outright and didn't ask why the angel had betrayed him to the Winchesters, as he would have in the past; he simply killed him. Knowing Balthazar's nature, Castiel would have had good reason to think Balthazar likely to be a threat as soon as he knew he'd been discovered, but still; this was his first preemptive strike, his first murder of a friend. Castiel had killed other angels before during the fight to avert the apocalypse and when he himself was attacked, but not like this. His sorrowfully expressed inability to understand why his friends were against him as the lead-in to Balthazar's execution just underscored his growing dissociation; he was asking about his friends' betrayal when he was planning a fatal one of his own. And that was after he deliberately crashed the wall in Sam's mind, knowing it might destroy Sam but relying on his arrogant assumption that, with the power he would take in from Purgatory, he would be able to fix it later.

And then he opened the door to Purgatory and took millions of monster souls into himself. I can't imagine what it would feel like, to realize you had the power within you to do virtually anything. Add to that the absolute conviction that what he was doing was necessary and right – that whatever he was doing was necessary and right – and the power surge could become its own reason for doing anything, just because he could.

Beyond just the awareness of power itself, however, I wonder how much the nature of the souls providing the power might affect it. I suspect this isn't like electricity, which is the same whether it's produced by coal, oil, geothermal, water, nuclear, solar, or wind power: I would bet that souls carry with them the essence of their being, whether that is good and kind or evil and malevolent. If that's the case, Castiel, in absorbing not just pure power but monster souls, may have been further polluted by the souls themselves incorporating murderous evil and infecting him with it. I think Castiel's obvious relish in contemplating punishing Raphael's followers severely might have been a strong clue that the monstrous nature of the souls he'd swallowed was affecting him right along with the delusional high of just containing that much power.

If that's the case, there may be hope that direct contact with other souls – purer souls, Heaven-bound souls like Dean, Sam, and Bobby – might help counteract the taint. And I think Dean was absolutely right in trying to persuade Castiel to let the power go now that Raphael's threat was gone, to return the souls to Purgatory before the end of the eclipse presumably closes the door again, in the belief that getting rid of the souls and the power might – like coming off a drug – restore Castiel to equilibrium and his right mind. That would be even more crucial if the monster nature of the souls was further distorting the angel's personality and perception of reality.

For the record, I don't believe Castiel is lost to us or that he's destined to be the villain of season seven. I think it's more likely that Castiel will come off his power high, whether by Dean, Sam, and Bobby getting through to him – I wonder what would happen, for example, if the three of them, led by Dean, refused to worship Castiel; would he follow through on his threat to destroy them, or find that he couldn't bring himself to go that far? – and persuading him to return the souls, or by Castiel simply losing his hold on the power and the souls under stress and challenge. In either case, I would bet that a lot of the souls would wind up loose on Earth rather than being sucked back through the door, providing a lot of adversaries to hunt – but would they be like demons, possessing others, or take on new monster forms, perhaps not subject to the particular weaknesses they had before? And I think Castiel, stripped of the power overload, would react as Dean and Sam have done before, realizing his mistakes and and resolving to try to make things right both on Earth and in Heaven.

Personal responsibility, bad choices, and redemption are pieces as crucial to the Supernatural story as family, brotherhood, and the clash between fate and free will. I think the whole story of this season was how Castiel, just like Dean and especially Sam before him, chose the wrong path with the best intentions, bringing bad consequences he never intended while believing he was doing what had to be done. And I think Castiel, like Dean and Sam, will ultimately realize and admit his mistakes, and try to make up for them.

Production Notes

I can't fully judge this episode until I see the next one, because this story paused right in the middle – but I loved what I saw. My hat is off to writer Eric Kripke, director Robert Singer, and the entire production team.

I particularly loved the way the script and the production design combined to hint to us right from the beginning that we were inside Sam's mind, traveling through a construct cobbled together from Sam's memories. Visual touches, which might either have been mentioned in the script or worked out early on in the production design discussions, included the prominent use of the sign for Castle Storage, the place where the brothers had discovered John's storage room in Bad Day At Black Rock (although we didn't learn the name and see the sign until Sympathy For The Devil) – a place, not coincidentally, that stored memories of their childhood as well as weapons and supernatural artifacts; and the Nite Owl Hotel, the place the brothers had stayed in Live Free Or Twi-Hard (incidentally, they've used that motel name and sign before, notably in season five's Fallen Idols, but that location was the 2400 Motel; this one was the Victorian, the same real location used in the vampire episode). Sam's fake ID's used rock musician names the show has used before. Every piece of set dressing in both the bar and the hotel had a familiar feel; I'd bet every single piece – well, except for the newspaper article on Dr. Visyak – had been used in earlier episodes. Another subtle telltale was the pretty bartender never introducing herself. Introductions are always mutual, but this one wasn't – and when we saw Sam's recovered memories, that made sense, because soulless Sam, never caring about her, probably never even learned her name. According to IMDB, her name in the script was Robin, but I'm pleased they never used it.

I also appreciated the way the script called back to previous events, such as Dean's reference to “dreamscaping” Sam's noggin – clearly a reference to Dean being tempted to enter Sam's dreaming mind as they'd entered Bobby's and Sam had entered Dean's in Dream A Little Dream Of Me – being countered by Bobby's warning that they couldn't know what was going on in Sam's mind and he couldn't afford to be deprived of both brothers when so little time remained to stop the opening of the door into Purgatory. I was glad to see that potential being recognized and blocked by a rational reason. Dean putting the needs of the mission ahead of his personal need to abandon everything else to try to save Sam also reflected the growth he demonstrated back in Good God, Y'All when he consciously forced himself to see to the needs of the group rather than charging off half-cocked to Sam's rescue. He had to let Sam fight this battle on his own, and – however much it hurt – he did, hoping and praying Sam would win.

Ivan Hayden's visual effects crew clearly had to put in some overtime on this one. I was particularly impressed with the demon and angel assault swallowing and flipping the Impala; that was a great purely visual effect sold by having a real car upside-down, headlights burning, when it ended. And it's a good thing the production has held on to all of its Impalas, including the one they wrecked at the end of season one! They weren't about to put the hero car upside-down … I also loved the swirling silver light effect in Balthazar's eyes as he died; to me, it called back to the light we saw in Death's ring when Dean and Death put it on during Appointment In Samarra. I could wish we'd seen more creative evidence of what specifically happened to Sam in Hell than simply the same image we saw in Unforgiven of Sam burning alive, but I can appreciate both that they needed a visual shorthand to readily convey “this is Sam suffering a Hell flashback” and that burning alive forever, without respite, represents pretty much the worst and most painful fate anyone is likely to be able to imagine.

The sound crew gets a call-out for this episode as well. I enjoyed the way they played up significant sounds in Sam's dreams, including the bartender's voice melding into Dean's, the Stones song crossing from the panic room into the car, and the sounds of Sam cocking the guns when he pulled them out of the trunk to go after soulless Sam. Sounds had an echoing dream-like quality inside the dream they didn't have outside. The approach and assault by the demon cloud was sold as much by the sound as by the visual.

I have to call out one continuity error, just because it struck me. When Sam fled his soulless self in the woods, he paused early in the run, brushed his hand back under his jacket, came up with his handgun, then started moving again – but in all the following scenes where we saw him continuing to run, he had nothing in his hand, up until the very last scene in the run where he jumped down toward the riverbank, gun in hand. Oopsie! My guess is that editor Anthony Pinker put the gun-draw earlier in the final sequence of scenes than the script or director Singer had originally intended because one or both of them decided it flowed better there, but all the running scenes had already been shot without the gun in hand because they'd intended the draw to come later. Maybe someday we'll get the chance to ask!

The performances were golden. Erica Cerra, whom I recognized as Jo from Eureka, had great chemistry with Jared Padalecki's Sam, playing the nameless bartender. As the only memory drawn from his soulless year, she was the first voice inside him arguing against Sam's quest to find himself and uncover the truth; I loved the way she was used to speak for Sam while at the same time presenting a real and striking individual character. It was a real gut-punch learning the truth when Sam said he remembered everything he'd done, and we saw how he remembered her. Somehow, I knew that was coming the moment I saw him walking back to meet her at the car, but the impact was all the more profound because Cerra played the role so effectively.

I will miss Sebastian Roché as Balthazar! I loved the character – he reminded me of Gabriel in terms of independence and snark, but was even more amoral and self-centered in an oddly delightful way – and how well he stayed true to himself. It didn't escape my notice that despite all the main action taking place in the same room where Balthazar died, we never saw either his body or the ash shadows of his wings. I suspect that was a purely practical choice – since scenes aren't shot in script or story chronological order, but are arranged for maximum efficiency, it would have been a continuity nightmare during the shoot to ensure that scenes in the room taking place after his death included the wings while previous scenes didn't – but there may be an argument for Castiel – or God! – being able to restore Balthazar if he thought the angel had been sufficiently chastised by his death.

I'm glad Mark Sheppard will have the chance to be back as Crowley someday. Castiel leaving him alive made perfect sense to me – use the devil you know, after all – and I think he could make a worthy occasional adversary in the future. I suspect he'll be keeping his head down for a while, though, not to have it taken off; after all, having lost his latest protector in such spectacular fashion, he's probably going to be occupied with stabilizing his power base in Hell and avoiding attention from Heaven. Crowley has become a signature role for Mark Sheppard, and I can't imagine a better demon either in the story or real life.

Misha Collins gave us a whole new Castiel here. He was sad and pensive early on as he clearly contemplated what he was about to do, resolute as he renegotiated the deal to cut Crowley out, dismayed and afraid when Raphael threw in with Crowley, briefly cunning as he figured a way out – and then spooky as Hell in the final confrontations, full of confidence, radiating control, and smiling with the calm assurance of absolute God-like power – and absolutely, hideously wrong. His Castiel really embodied the essence of the point that just because you can do something – he did manage to contain the souls without blowing up, after all, so his plan worked that far – doesn't mean you should.

Incidentally, I am not freaking out over the news that Misha will not be a series regular in season seven. That doesn't necessarily mean we won't see Castiel during the season beyond the season opener. For my part, I expect we will. The major difference between a regular and a guest star isn't how often they appear, but how they are paid. A regular gets a salary for a guaranteed number of episodes whether he or she is used or not; it's the kind of contractual relationship that gives a studio a priority claim on an actor's time. Remember when Supernatural couldn't get Sterling K. Brown, who played Gordon, more than twice in season three, for Bad Day At Black Rock and Fresh Blood? That's because he was a regular at the time on Lifetime's Army Wives, and Lifetime dictated his availability. Because Supernatural couldn't get him for more episodes, they shortened his original character arc; that was something Eric Kripke talked about at the first L.A. Supernatural convention. Naming an actor a regular for a season is a pricey thing for a studio because the regular gets a pre-approved salary even if you don't use him as much as you expected to, so choosing not to name an actor as a regular may be a purely budgetary decision. You'll note we didn't actually see a lot of Misha as Castiel this season, despite Misha being a regular; the story design just didn't wind up involving him that much, because the nature of the story called for Castiel's role to be a hidden one. Similarly, a guest star – like Jim Beaver, who has declined to be named a regular precisely because he didn't want to commit to that much time away from his daughter in L.A. or to limit his options – might even wind up being used more than a named regular, depending on the demands of the story. I think we'll see as much of Misha as the story requires, but I'm not assuming anything about how much or how little that may be. I doubt the writers even know yet; it's early days in the season seven writers' room, after all.

Speaking of Jim, I loved the teaming of Jim Beaver's Bobby and Jensen Ackles' Dean. These actors work so well together; I never question the reality of their characters. Their interactions here were all powerful, especially Bobby keeping Dean grounded when he couldn't do anything to help Sam. Jensen's Dean pleading with Sam to wake up and then reluctantly but resolutely departing on the mission just hurt my heart. And watching the two of them realizing that Castiel was essentially insane and trying to figure out how to approach him without setting him off was chilling. Humoring him was the only available option to let them scope out the territory, but once Castiel called on them to worship him, well – don't see that happening.

Jared Padalecki did a wonderful job playing four different aspects of Sam: memory-wiped dream-narrative Sam, soulless Sam, Hell-Sam, and imperfectly reintegrated real-Sam. He succeeded in making them all distinctly different, and yet all Sam. They all walked, talked, and moved differently, and to accomplish that in the course of a single episode was an acting tour-de-force. I wonder whether we might see partial echoes of the different Sams in the new season as he tries to balance all the memories and sort out who exactly will be in charge; whether there may be crisis moments when soulless Sam or Hell-Sam manage to take the lead, for example, or if real-Sam will always manage to keep hold of the reins. Real-Sam was in charge at the end, holding on by sheer grim determination, but I wonder how long he'll be able to keep that up. I do trust he will endure and triumph in the end; I still believe that hope is what Death held out when he told Dean in Appointment At Samarra that the human soul was stronger than he knew.

I can't stress enough that, despite being the season finale, this was an incomplete story, intentionally so. Even though Supernatural hadn't yet been renewed when this episode was written and shot, it was pretty clear, speaking just from business terms, that the show would be renewed, so the production team took the reasonable gamble of cliff-hanging the hell out of this tale on the assumption they'd be back in the Fall to write the next chapter and resolve the crisis. It may be frustrating in the extreme to us fans, but it's the current nature of the business to employ suspense to bring an audience to the Fall premiere, and I accept that. I won't conclude my thoughts on season six until I've seen the start of season seven.

I do promise to take some time during the hiatus to look back on season six and to speculate on season seven. I'll say up-front that I suspect I liked season six better than many folk did. It was darker than I think most people were expecting the story to be at this point, after the extreme night of the apocalypse, and the noir nature of the storytelling, because it deliberately hid and made mysteries of so many things, demanded more patience than I think a lot of fans were willing to extend, but I suspect that folk who watch it again now knowing what was going on will have more appreciation of how the season was designed as a whole. I don't think it worked quite as well as its creators hoped precisely because it demanded too much of a willingness to wait for the curtain to be pulled back – and speaking as a fan of the brother bond, it was really hard to watch an excruciatingly long half-season of soulless Sam working with off-balanced Dean rather than seeing the brothers finally truly together again after the extended trauma of seasons four and five. And it ended on such a dark and jarring note, leaving so much for the next season to illuminate, that I think a lot of fans stumbled over it.

For my part, though, I think season six will stand up well on re-viewing. I'm guessing this was the first season where the actors were cued in to what was going on from the beginning, because they had to know in order to play the number of layers required to convey not just the apparent surface story, but the real one – Sam being soulless, Castiel pulling unseen strings – playing out in the depths. That was ambitious and audacious in the extreme for any TV series, and I hope fans will give it a re-watch with that in mind.

And isn't it September yet?


The icon on this is mine, from a screencap by Alice Jester of The Winchester Family Business.

Tags: bobby singer, castiel, dean winchester, episode commentaries, eric kripke, jared padalecki, jensen ackles, jim beaver, meta, misha collins, myth, philosophy, psychology, robert singer, sam winchester, supernatural, supernatural university, television production, theology, winchester family business

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