by Mieke Trudeau
“Did I come to punish you or to save you? Well, truth is, I’m here to do both.”
This mytharc episode, brilliantly written by Robert Berens and beautifully directed by Phil Sgriccia, was so rich, so full of layers that I hardly know where to begin this review.
The story this week was compelling in its own right. While Cas tortures demons to try and find Cain and a cure, Sam and Dean are working cases. This time, when a death row inmate mysteriously disappears from his locked cell, the two quests collide. Dean recognizes Cain on the security tape at the prison and soon they find out that Cain killed the inmate as part of his plan to rid the earth of his “poisoned bloodline”. Cain allows Cas to find him and counts on him reporting back to the Winchesters, in an attempt to lure Dean and the Blade.
These scenes were beautifully staged, scored and lighted. The way the darkness followed Cain down the prison halls accompanied by sounds of rattling chains and crackling lightning, set the menacing tone beautifully. The scene where Cain revealed himself to Cas in his killing field was cinematic in quality. The whole episode had a great sense of foreboding and the sound, lighting, colors, set and other aspects of production design all played a big role in creating a strong framework for the characters and the story, allowing both to shine.
When Dean finds out that a twelve year old boy is next in the bloodline to be killed, he decides there is no other choice but to go and stop Cain. This was not the plan. They thought they would have time to track down Cain in order to find a cure for the Mark, but even though Sam is against reuniting Dean with the blade and letting him go through with this, he knows he can’t stop him. Counting on Crowley’s ever present sense of self-preservation, Dean lies that the king of hell is on Cain’s hit list which makes Crowley agree to bring Dean the blade. Crowley also brings a few spells he gathered from Rowena and that allows the foursome to hide the boy and secure Cain, although temporarily, in a devil’s trap.
The confrontation between Dean and Cain that follows is epic in every sense of the word. Jensen Ackles infuses every moment with incredible depth of emotion and Timothy Omundson as Cain is truly a force to be reckoned with. I don’t want to get too meta, but I think it matters to follow the threads that led to this moment, just a little bit, by first revisiting First Born (S9.11 written by Robbie Thompson), the episode where Cain is introduced as a character.
Cain knows the story of Sam and Dean and how it differs from his own. Cain saved his brother by killing him thus sending him to heaven. He took Abel’s place in a deal with Lucifer to become his knight of hell. It is this very act of killing his brother that sent him over this edge and turned him into, as Crowley puts it, a full-fledged demon, deadliest to walk the earth. It is only the love and faith of his beloved Colette that allowed Cain to walk away from the bloodshed centuries later and live in relative peace, separated from the blade. Cain made Dean promise to end him once he is done with his own quest of killing Abbadon. Cain’s bloodlust was reignited when he violently disposed of the demons who followed Crowley to Cain’s hideout and also, I suspect, by the re-activation of the first blade in the hands of Dean Winchester.
It is stunning how their stories parallel and differ. Besides the Michael and Lucifer storyline of the early seasons of Supernatural coming full circle, there are more current ones that carry through. Cain killed Abel to save him, but he made that choice for him and it not only turned him into a monster, it resulted in many more deaths. Is that not what Dean did when he saved Sam by allowing him to be possessed? Sam did not think his life should be worth more than all the others who died so he may live. Dean of course did what he thought was the right thing, but in the end he created a monster in himself. Cain found Dean worthy of carrying his Mark, but when he tried to warn Dean of its cost, Dean cut him off and did not want to know. I have questioned all season long how much of Dean’s darkness comes from within and how much is the Mark. Cain kept calling Dean “my son”, and I couldn’t help but think of John and his warning to Dean so many years ago, that he may have to kill Sam in order to save him one day. It also made me think of Darth Vader, but that is another story for a different article.
At the conclusion of a draining, taunting, emotionally exhausting fight, Cain reveals the endgame. He is there to claim the blade, but also to save Dean, by ending his life. Killing Dean will release him from his fate, the true meaning of the consequence that comes with the Mark of Cain. Dean is living Cain’s curse in reverse. It wasn’t the Mark that turned Cain into the father of murder, it was the act of killing his brother, and that will be Dean’s destiny. The one thing that Dean will not be able to survive, the one thing that will send him over the edge of humanity forever, is killing Sam. So far Demon Dean was always at least partially human, no matter how many demons or people he killed. He is being led down a very dark path under the influence of the Mark, but it is only the ultimate loss, at his own hands, that will send him to true darkness and turn him into a savage like Cain.
After this devastating revelation, Dean pulls a Luke Skywalker and gains the upper hand by cutting off Cain’s arm right at the Mark. Dean is desperate to believe that Cain can take back control and stop his rampage, because of course that would mean there is hope for him, but as Cain says he will never stop, he seems to give up and kneels so Dean can strike the fatal blow with the blade.
After Dean surrenders the blade to Cas, a much better choice as guardian, Crowley disappears in a huff. Dean gives a weak smile to Sam as his knees buckle and he collapses into Sam’s arms. Later, back at the bunker, Sam once again confirms his faith in Dean. He is so proud of what he has done and all of it without succumbing to the darkness of the Mark. Dean weakly smiles back to him in agreement but his face tells a different story as he leaves the room. The last shot is of Sam, eyes brimming with tears as he confesses to Cas that he knows that Dean is in trouble. Jared Padalecki ending a great episode with a perfect button.
The Winchesters are all too familiar with the theme of sacrifice and death and as I said, Dean has faced the prospect of having to kill Sam before. It has always been his absolute line in the sand, but he fears how the Mark is transforming him. He remembers that he almost killed Sam at the bunker while he was still a demon and he tells Sam, Cas and Crowley that they may have to be prepared for what comes out of that room after the fight with Cain, even if he comes out victorious. The one thing the brothers have always had is each other. Their love is what has saved them, and the world, many times over. It was that love and faith that made Dean reach Sam as he was staring down Lucifer in Swan Song while he was being beaten to a pulp and it has been Sam’s absolute belief in Dean that has carried him through so far. It was clear again in this episode how strong their connection is right now and much they have learned to trust each other. It was significant that Dean was able to tell Sam he was scared and equally significant that Sam wanted to go in together and help his brother but accepted that he had to do this alone. No one got mad, no one was knocked out and Sam was there when Dean fell, to catch him and hold him up. Cain may have had Abel and he had his Colette, but Dean has Sam, and I’m betting that will be what saves him in the end. The story really is coming full circle; the river shall end at the source, and for Dean it will always lead to Sam.
I truly loved this episode, it may not have been perfect, but it was close. It connected the arc and the characters back to their origins and reminded me how good this show really is when it does that. It also made me feel, for the first time in a long time, that Sam and Dean are in real peril. The arc is about as personal as it can get and we have just been handed the “big bad” for the season.
I even enjoyed Crowley and Rowena this week. There was emotion between the mother and her son, and I welcome her attempt to kick some life back into the King of Hell. It is sorely needed. Cas also was more useful and connected to the story this time and that was good to see. Overall everyone brought their A game and it showed. There was even some brotherly banter. I was mighty intrigued to learn of Sam’s serial killer statistics hobby. It seems fitting that Sam Winchester would be into true crime. He has some darkness in him yet.
I also was very touched to spot a tribute to Matt Riley, actor and long time member of the Supernatural crew and family. RIP Matt. (screenshot courtesy of the CW and Jim Michaels)
We are facing a mini hiatus until the show returns on its “new” night, Wednesday March 18, after Arrow. There are so many questions and possibilities and I am excited to find out what happens next. Some speculated that Dean didn’t actually kill Cain, as we did not see him do so on screen. What did Dean’s dark look mean when we saw him turn his back to Sam and Cas at the bunker? Dean is human now and not immortal, but if he goes full demon and becomes a Knight of Hell, who or what will be able to stop him? Cas may have the blade, but it is useless without the Mark and we already saw that his angelic powers did little more than ruffle Cain’s hair. Dean came out of that room a changed man, but what does that mean? Give me your thoughts below!