Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 10.03: Soul Survivor


By Paula R. Stiles


[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]


Tagline: Sam puts Dean through an extremely brutal form of shock therapy to make him human again. It has unforeseen consequences.


Recap: Recap of the first two episodes of the season, including a brief callback to the demon cure scene in “Clip Show.” Which is interesting because Sam? Well, he doesn’t do that ritual quite right. Could be it’s significant. Could be this writing team forgot important canon again.

Cut to Now and a young priest speaking Latin (and stumbling over it) in a blood bank. Sam stands nearby in a white coat, masquerading as a doctor. After they greet each other and the priest leaves, Sam starts loading up a cooler with bagged blood. There is no further explanation about the priest, who appeared to have some kind of German accent.

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Sam then goes back to the Bunker, where he’s got Dean demon-cuffed and tied with heavy ropes, hand and foot, to a chair in the middle of the devil’s trap in the dungeon. It reminds me more than a little of a scene from the C.S. Lewis Narnia book, The Silver Chair. The three heroes are seeing a young man through a night in which he goes mad. To prevent him hurting anyone, and to “cure” the madness for another period of time, he is tied to the chair of the title, lest he get free, turn into a monster (a giant snake), and kill them.

But there is a wrinkle – they have been given a list of signs by the great lion Aslan (the Christ figure of the book) to recognize someone they must find and free from his bonds. They’ve already screwed up a few of them on their long journey, so they’re worried about blowing it now. And then a dreadful thing happens – the young man changes personality, asks for their help, appears to be working up to a frothing rage, and then calls upon the name of Aslan for them to free him. Which is one of the signs. So, even though they’re convinced it means certain death to do so, they must free him because, as Lewis puts it, “they had muffed three [signs], already; they daren’t muff the fourth.”

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It’s a great line and a great scene about having faith in someone you are sure is dangerous and potentially monstrous, lest you perpetrate an even greater crime against them. Unfortunately, Sam doesn’t cut the bonds in this one. He won’t free Dean from the chair until Dean is docile again.

Sam makes a nasty crack about getting Dean’s blood type. Dean tells him to just let him go. Dean won’t bother him. He’ll simply go on his merry way. After all, “what do you care?” After the year Dean spent in Purgatory, largely thanks to Sam not looking, it’s a valid question, but Sam pretends none of that happened. He acts incredulous that Dean would even ask.

As Sam sprinkles holy water on the devil’s trap in front of Dean’s chair, Dean emphatically reiterates his words from last episode – he does not want to be cured (After a while, this will start to sound an awful lot like “No means no”). This is entirely against his will.

Then he turns menacing, warning Sam that he won’t be nearly as easy to break as Crowley. Dean also points out that “I’ve got a hell of a lot more running through me than just demon juice.” Sam says he knows Dean means the Mark of Cain, but Dean could also mean stuff like the Phoenix ash from season seven, for all we know.

As Sam approaches with a needle full of purified blood, Dean says calmly, “Sammy, you know I hate shots.”

“And I hate demons,” Sam replies self-righteously. As he comes in to give the shot, right above the Mark of Cain, Dean goes black-eyed and snaps at him with a growl. Sam splashes him in the face with holy water and, while Dean is distracted by the pain, jabs the needle in very hard. Yes, this makes Sam look like a total dick.

Sam snottily tells Dean that “you can make this a whole lot easier on yourself.” How is not clear. But Sam loses some of the ‘tude when Dean reacts extremely badly to the shot, his eyes widening, roaring in pain. It doesn’t appear to be an act. Sam looks alarmed. Yeah, that’s not supposed to happen.

Cue title cards.

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Cut to the boring angel road trip story that just won’t end. I find myself pausing and going to do other stuff every time I hit one of these scenes. Tells you something.

Anyhoo, Hannah asks how Castiel is doing and when he says he’s fine, she points out he doesn’t look fine. Castiel says that’s what humans do when they don’t want to talk about something they can’t do anything about. Welp, that’s about thirty seconds of screentime wasted on on-the-nose dialogue about things everybody already knows.

Hannah proceeds to whine again that Castiel shouldn’t be running off to help Sam with Dean when he’s so sick. Then she realizes Sam doesn’t know about Castiel’s illness, at least not the full extent of things (except he knew enough after Castiel’s weakness got his arm wrenched out of its socket before the season premiere not to ask Castiel to help again, but hey, why pay any attention even to this season’s canon?).

Castiel says it doesn’t matter. He’d go help Sam cure Dean even if he were at death’s door. Castiel explicitly says that Dean and the demon are not the same person, rather like how Fred on Angel was replaced (i.e. killed) by Illyria. So, if the demon can’t be “cured” back into Dean, “the demon must be dealt with.” As with Sam, we see Castiel literally dehumanizing Dean and ignoring his voice by pretending that Demon!Dean is not “real” Dean (with the subtext that he and Sam are doing so because the demon is not the guilt-ridden doormat “real” Dean has turned into). This is problematical, to say the least, when the show is portraying Demon!Dean as a metaphor for Dean’s psychotic state, which means Castiel and Sam are literally demonizing Dean’s mental illness.

Back to the Bunker, with Sam viciously sticking another needle into Dean. More agonized, echoing demon roaring and panting. Dean points out that Sam could be killing him. Sam assumes that the demon is lying to him and says there are no “exceptions to the lore” (which is stupid, since we already know the Mark of Cain is a huge caveat).

Angry and bitter, Dean mocks “the lore. Hunters. Men of Letters. What a load of crap it all is!”

Sam refuses to “debate” with Dean, pompously insisting, “This isn’t even the real you I’m talking to.” Dean begs to differ (as Sam looks piously condescending), saying it’s still him, just a Dean who “sees things for what they really are.” And to prove it, he tells Sam he knows all about what Sam did to find him, how low Sam went, that Crowley told him everything. Sam, shaken out of his complacency, looks alarmed and Dean asks, “Who’s the real monster?” as we go to a flashback of what Crowley told Dean about Sam.

Cut to a bar where we see Lester, the creepy deal-makin’ husband from last week, getting drunk in a bar after discovering his wife in flagrante delicto with the neighbor, and her subsequent demand for a divorce and half of everything. Lester is whining to no one that his life is “over” (which, hardly, especially if Mindy earned that half) when Sam sits down next to him. Lester’s version is that they haven’t had sex for four months while she had an affair with “a guy in her bowling league,” leaving out, of course, his admission to Dean that he was already cheating with his secretary before his wife went stepping out. Now, he wants revenge, but has no idea how to execute it.

Sam proceeds to tell him he knows how to make his problem go away. Oh, Sammy, are you really about to not only get this guy to sell his soul to a demon, but to get an innocent woman killed? That’s pretty damned low.

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In the present, Dean points out that Sam had already tried summoning a CRD and other ways to find Crowley, with no success. So, this was his solution.

In the flashback, Sam buries a summoning box in the middle of a devil’s trap at a crossroad, then hides in the shadows while he has Lester read the spell. Lester isn’t too sure of this, but Sam prods him along as ruthlessly as Lady Macbeth shoving her husband through the bedroom door.

Immediately, as soon as Sam walks Lester through some badly mangled Latin, a female CRD in a little black dress appears. Before Sam has a chance to stop him, Lester makes a deal with her to kill his wife, then seals it with a kiss.

In the present, Dean editorializes that sure, Sam would have preferred that Lester not do that, but in the end, oh, well, collateral damage.

Cut back to Sam torturing the CRD with demon handcuffs and a regular blade (which now, apparently, can hurt demons. Plothole? Knife covered with holy water or salt? Who knows? It’s a Nepotism Duo script). She refuses to talk, saying she doesn’t know where Crowley and Dean are, and that Sam can kill her, but it won’t make her give up any more.

Cut to the present, where Dean delivers the punchline – he killed Lester himself. He even supplies an update on Mindy, who, he says with relish, has gone on to live happily ever after now married to the tatooed bowling league guy. Yay for Mindy. I’m sure she’s better off for her brush with a Son of Cain. Sounds like Lester sure got used as a pigskin in the contest between the brothers, though. And that poor CRD … well ….

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Sam tries to say he didn’t mean for Lester to sell his soul, but Dean will have none of it. He sees right through Sam’s hypocrisy and outright accuses Sam of crossing the line between Hunter and Hunted, good and evil, that the brothers always maintained, by getting Lester to sell his soul and sending him to his death. For his honesty, Dean gets another viciously delivered vial of demon blood to his neck. Even through the pain, he tells Sam he knows what Sam has to do if the cure doesn’t work. Does Sam have “the stomach for that?”

Sam, once his back is turned to Dean, goes from self-righteous to guilt-ridden and looks upset.

On a throne in Hell, Crowley is dispensing justice, signing forms, and finding out that Castiel’s grace is fading. One of his ministers suggests now would be a good time to kill “the angel,” after Crowley tells him to keep the long line if supplicants waiting a bit longer. Crowley also says to keep an eye on Castiel for now. Then he goes off into a reverie about Dean, from which he is rudely awakened by another flunky.

The flunky mentions the gossip among the demons during Crowley’s “sabbatical” with Dean and offers to be Crowley’s BFF as a replacement. Crowley responds by snapping his fingers and turning the flunky into dust. Nobody else seems inclined to comment.

Meanwhile, Hannah is getting herself and Castiel lost, probably deliberately, on the longest and most boring roadtrip ever. I don’t mind the actress, but the writing for her character is getting on my last nerve. She says there’s only one solution, but Castiel absolutely refuses to go cut another angel’s throat and get his/her grace, or go to Metatron. In fact, I wonder if that’s even in character for Hannah to suggest it. This is supposed to be the terrible thing that made Hannah and the other angels bail on Castiel at the end of season nine when they found out he already did it once. Angels sure are hypocrites.

Castiel gets a call from Sam, who is starting to lose the plot and is worrying that he’s killing Dean. Sam confirms that this is not how the demon cure is supposed to go and wants to stop. Castiel tells him there’s no other cure and that the only alternative is to kill Dean. Sam looks freaked out at that suggestion. I find myself hating Castiel just a tad for being so damned binary in his thinking.

Sam then goes back to Dean, who has been suffering in the background. Dean appears to have passed out. Sam slaps him awake (absolutely no comfort between brothers in this one). He asks Dean if Dean is okay and Dean says sure, if boiling inside your own skin is “okay.”

Looking unhappy about it, Sam says he’s got to keep going. Dean points out that he really doesn’t. He then goes on to say that “your guilt-ridden, weight-of-the-world bro has been MIA for quite some time, now. But I’m lovin’ the new model – lean, mean Dean!”

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As he says this, his face twists in pain and we see the cost the bravado is taking out of him. He goads Sam again, saying that Sam just wants to have a “babysitter” whose presence doesn’t force Sam to “man up.” Dean says he just wanted to get away from Sam and the constant “whining and complaining,” that he chose Crowley over Sam, because he has always had to “yank your lame ass out of the fire since … forever.”

Even more bitterly, Dean suggests that Mary would still be alive if it weren’t for Sam, that “your very existence sucked the life out of my life.” Here, we get nine-plus seasons of other characters’ taunts (including Sam’s) condensed into one angry speech, with more than a little truth to make it that much more bitter. But it also eerily echoes what the shapeshifter tells Sam in “Skin”: “Boy, he’s sure got issues with you.” And it’s a direct reverse of what Dean tells Sam at the end of season nine to get him to stand down from the Trials.

Sam is clearly hurt. He refuses to engage with or acknowledge Dean’s long-suppressed anger and pain as real, let alone at all justified, saying, “This isn’t my brother talking.”

Dean tells him, “You never had a brother. Just an excuse for not manning up. But guess what? I quit.”

Sam gets upset and goes off on a hypocritical rant about how Dean doesn’t get to quit, “we don’t get to quit.” Which, considering the number of times Sam has quit, is just classic Sam twattery. He whines that they’re family and that’s all they have, to which Dean replies, “Then we got nothin’!” Sam then has the balls to bring up John, of all people, and Dean mocks that, too, saying that John “brainwashed” his sons into “fighting his losing battle.”

As Sam, now really angry, goes for another shot, Dean mocks, “Oh … oooh, is this you manning up?”

“This is me yanking your lame ass out of the fire,” Sam retorts, as he slams in another shot. Over Dean’s obvious agony, he has the gall to add, “You’re welcome!” as he flounces out the door.

You know, Sam’s done some really low-down, snake-mean things over the years, including what he recently did to Lester, but I think this moment might actually be his worst, right down there with throttling his brother half to death and swanning off with his demon paramour/drug dealer. All I want to see at this point in the story is Sam getting a two-by-six to the face.

Well, hang in there, kiddies, because all is not lost on that front.

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Back to Hell, where Crowley is condemning an Abaddon supporter and having him executed by angel blade then and there. Just as he’s condemning another demon in such boredom that he can’t even be bothered to remember the guy’s offense, one of his henchdemons comes forward in protest. He says that Crowley is a lousy ruler, that he drinks human blood to the point of almost becoming human, and has run off with his “boy toy” Dean, who is now out of control to the point Crowley can manage neither him nor the kingdom. Meanwhile, his demons have served him loyally for nothing. When Crowley challenges him on what he intends to do about it, the demon takes out a flask of holy oil, pours it on himself and lights himself on fire.

Damn. Talk about a potentially intriguing storyline going up in smoke before it’s even properly begun. Crowley is momentarily, slightly shaken out of his ennui but not by much.

Back to the boring angel roadtrip outside a rural gas station. Castiel warns Hannah that their road is dangerous (Oh, my God, show, enough with the on-the-nose dialogue). He means her hero-worship crush on him. She is miffed. Welp, that’s another minute-and-change wasted on that.

Hannah enters the station and gets ambushed by Adina, the other most annoying angel this season, after discovering the clerk behind the counter, with his eyes burned out. After Castiel comes in, Adina tosses Hannah across the room and proceeds to beat the crap out of Castiel, while Minor Evil Overlord monologuing about her Dreaded Revenge. Oh, Jesus, writers, how much of this script do you intend to waste on this drivel? Seriously, this is astonishingly lazy writing.

Castiel wakes up outside after Adina abandons him to torture Hannah to find Crowley standing over him. Crowley enters the gas station as Adina is in the back of the store, crying and self-justifying and cutting Hannah up. She hears Crowley behind her and turns around. He slits her throat, getting her grace in a vial, then stabs her with his angel blade.

Now, I have big problems with this, not least because the fight choreography (such as it is) is ridiculously stiff. Mind you, I was all for Adina biting the dust because she was a horrible character and I disliked every second of her onscreen time. But it’s getting unpleasant watching charming resident misogynist Crowley kill female characters far above his pay grade, both because it reminds me of Damon in season one of The Vampire Dairies (and is why I stopped watching that show) and because Crowley shouldn’t be able to handle raw grace like that. He shouldn’t be able to stab an angel with such impunity or look at the grace heal and burst out of Castiel (especially if the show is going to intersperse such killings with Crowley getting his ass owned by all and sundry). It’s just one more example of how this writing duo diminishes established canon and replaces it with crap.

Also, it’s really predictable because of course Crowley then goes back outside and feeds Castiel Adina’s grace against his will, healing him. It makes no sense why Crowley would do that, but this whole scene is complete bollocks, so I guess it’s just par for the course. Crowley claims that he saved him because he wants Castiel to help Sam cure Dean. I don’t really buy it, sorry.

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Back to the Bunker, where Sam is moping around Dean’s room, getting misty-eyed over Dean’s half-eaten pie and photos of their parents, Bobby and the brothers together. It seems that Sam, like Crowley last week, prefers to engage with his idealized fantasy of Dean rather than the real thing downstairs in the dungeon, with all his splinters and rough edges. Finding renewed purpose, he leaves the room.

Sam discovers he’s enters the third act of the play by returning to the dungeon, only to find the door wide open and Dean’s chair empty. Yep, Dean has escaped. I am far more perky than I bet the writers intended about that and am totally cheering Dean on to kick Sam’s sorry, ungrateful ass.

A newly revived Castiel continues on his longest road trip ever to save Dean.

Meanwhile, Sam is really needing the backup as Dean stalks him through the Bunker. Dean is mega-mega pissed and can you blame him? As Sam snags some master keys, Dean goes through another drawer, eschewing a cleaver for a large hammer. He starts taunting Sam, saying he’s all for chatting now he’s free. It’s not that hard to stalk Sam since, according to the breathing on the soundtrack, Dean can hear Sam quite easily moving about.

As Dean is kicking in the door to his own room, Sam locks down the place, starting up a klaxon and turning off all but blinking red emergency lights. Dean deems it “smart,” but points out that a huge flaw is that he doesn’t actually want to leave until he’s found Sam. Also, as the script doesn’t point out, it isolates Sam from any help. So, really, it’s a pretty dumb move.

Dean points out another flaw in Sam’s grand plan – the human blood shots have made him immune to the demon cuffs and the devil’s trap, out of which he then escaped. Whoops. And when Dean discovers the keys are missing, he knows that Sam is in the Electrical Room. Where Dean turns the lights back on.

Spork in hand, Sam scrambles to close the one door left between them then starts a heartfelt (if very belated) speech about how he knows Dean is “still in there,” begging Dean to let him “finish the treatments.” Yeah, now they’re treatments. Ugh.

For a moment, it looks as though the show is going to continue this bathetic bullshit unchallenged. Sam is very emotional. The music is heartfelt (“Americana”).

And then Dean starts breaking down the door.

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A very freaked-out Sam begs Dean not to come through. He doesn’t want to have to use the Spork on Dean. I’m guessing Dean never mentioned that the Spork didn’t work on Cain, so it’s probably not going to work on him, either. Angel blades, of course, are out, too.

Dean just laughs at him, taunting Sam that he knows he’s going to have to kill Dean, and saying he’s got “just enough demon blood in me that killing you ain’t no choice at all.” During this speech, we get those creepy, trilling low strings that upped the suspense so well in the intense scene where Daenerys speaks Valyrian on Game of Thrones.

Sam runs away. First smart thing he’s done all episode.

Dean stalks after him, telling him he wants to “finish this game.” As Sam peers around a corner and then turns back, Dean appears out of nowhere (probably teleporting) and swings the hammer. Sam ducks, but I suspect Dean also intentionally misses (since it’s a game, remember). Sam manages to put the Spork to Dean’s throat, but the way Dean smiles, this was his play all along. Forcing Sam to take responsibility for his actions for once (“Do it. It’s all you”), he goads Sam to kill him. But in the end, Sam can’t do it and drops the blade.

Dean smiles and his eyes go black. But as he steps forward to do God know’s what to Sam, Castiel ex machina grabs him from behind. His eyes glowing, while Dean roars with black eyes, he is somehow able to keep a hold of Dean, even though Dean as a human with the Mark was much stronger than even multiple angels last season. Show, can you please get your various characters’ strengths and weaknesses straight for once?

Cut back to the dungeon, where Sam is rather more gently giving another shot to an unconscious Dean, right above the Mark. It is not explained how they got Dean back there, why he’s unconscious, or how they expect the cuffs and devil’s trap to be any good, now. Crap writing strikes again.

Anyhoo, Sam wonders again if they are doing the right thing, since not even a boatload of demon blood has changed Dean’s mind about not wanting to be cured. Castiel fatuously pontificates about how it’s easier not to feel pain the way humans do, even if it means you don’t feel joy, either. Which is all very well, Castiel, but Sam is talking about the gross violation of the free will of a very powerful loved one who wasn’t actually hurting anybody who didn’t really have it coming. Whose only “crime” was not wanting to hang out with the rest of TFW, anymore.

This thorny moral issue is promptly ditched when Dean wakes up and his eyes clear (Sam and Castiel acting worried as he does so). He appears confused and says that Sam and Castiel “look worried.” After Sam splashes Dean with holy water and nothing happens, Sam and Castiel get very smug and say, “Welcome back.” Though the glare Dean settles into as he remembers everything isn’t so reassuring.

Ugh.

Afterward, Sam and Castiel talk alone. Sam reports that Dean is “wrecked” and dazed from the cure (Ya don’t say), but is “hungry again,” so Sam is going out for junk food and then he’s gonna get loaded. Moral quandaries about torturing a loved one half to death? Fuck moral quandaries. We got the result we wanted! It’s Miller Time!

Castiel puts a fly in this ointment by pointing out that Dean still has the Mark (well, duh). Sam shrugs it off, saying they can deal with that later. He leaves Castiel to guard Dean.

Castiel visits Dean, who is in his room looking at his family photos. He slides them under a book when Castiel comes in (For a guy who professes to hate research, Dean sure reads a lot). He has more books on the bed that weren’t there before. What is he researching?

Castiel says Dean looks “terrible.” Dean thanks him for coming to the rescue and then asks if Sam wants a divorce.

Castiel puts forth again the theory that “it wasn’t you – at least, it wasn’t all you.” The latter is a big admission that the demon and Dean were never truly separate beings, which means that Castiel and Sam just grossly tortured Dean, and ignored his clearly stated wishes. Dean points out that he tried to kill Sam, once again ignoring all the sins committed against himself. Castiel says it would take a lot more than that for them not to be brothers, anymore, then suggests Dean “take some time … to heal.” As Castiel leaves, closing the door, Dean looks like a caged animal.

Cut to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a red-headed woman is listening to Baroque harpsichord music in a nice apartment, drinking whiskey before a fireplace and reading a book. And two dead guys are nailed to her ceiling, dripping blood on her.

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Review: On to three out of twelve.

I am torn about this episode. On the one hand, I really love the way Jensen Ackles directs it (the eye imagery alone – goodness), the lighting, and the performances he gets out of everyone involved in the Bunker scenes. He uses that set to maximum effect.

But I really dislike how weak the writing is for the script, which is the usual disjointed, self-indulgent, lumpily paced mess this writing duo usually gives us. How I wish the show would restrict Buckner and Ross-Leming to MOTWs, but alas, they’ve extruded their tentacles into mytharcs, too, and it’s not pretty. Plus, it’s annoying how Ackles keeps getting saddled with their scripts.

Not lovin’ the misogyny in the angels arc, either, particularly considering one half of this writing team is a woman. And the ending? Well, it’s just frustrating, though I’m pretty sure the overtones of smugness from Sam and Castiel, as their brutal efforts finally, and improbably, succeed, are intentional, at least by the director. I so hope that’s gonna come back to bite them on the ass.

Ackles gives a nuanced and disquieting performance as an already unstable person subjected to psychiatric torture until he goes right over the edge into a very violent psychotic breakdown, gets loose, and proceeds to stalk and try to kill his jailer and main tormentor – who just happens to be his “devoted” brother. As the human blood injections proceed apace, they have the unintended effect (perhaps exacerbated by the loss of the First Blade, which appears to have had a calming effect on Dean) of making him decompensate radically into a wildly hypermanic state.

We see him groan in pain, beg for mercy, and try to bargain with his captor, promising he will not harm Sam (which, really, he hasn’t even tried to do so far) and will go his own way. He only grows threatening when he gets loose. Once he does, it’s a free-for-all as he briefly eschews freedom for hunting down his brother. But does he really intend to kill him or does he just want to give Sam a good scare? Or is he continuing his even darker motive of looking for someone to kill him, permanently? After all, he has plenty of chances to kill Sam.

For once, Padalecki is allowed to play Sam as conflicted and genuinely concerned about Dean rather than as just a smug, self-righteous dickhead. Sam does start out the episode that way, but he is quickly dismayed by the obvious pain he’s inflicting on his brother (something that is also not supposed to happen in demon cures and is a big warning sign this one is not going right). He begins to wonder if he’s doing the right thing. There are moments of unintended (on Sam’s part) hilarity where a butt-ugly terrified Sam scolds an enraged Dean in the process of trying to talk him down, to which Dean responds with the same kind of unhinged mockery he did in the bar last episode. The gallows humor in those scenes is really funny.

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Part of Sam’s progress is that he begins the episode convinced that Dean as a demon is not Dean. Then he proceeds to believing that Dean is “trapped” inside the demon and must be freed. Toward the end, he starts to wonder if this is a dangerously dehumanizing viewpoint. Maybe he’s taken it on to convince himself that the demon and his brother are separate entities so that he can stomach torturing the one person dearest to him for the “crime” of not wanting to be around him 24/7, anymore – you know, the same thing Sam wanted from Dean at the beginning of the show. There is a very fine line between deprogramming and just more brainwashing. I’m pretty sure Sam and Castiel cross it.

Personally, I wonder if Sam’s journey is intended to be that eventually, he has to learn to love his brother as Dean is, with all his messy, scary madness, instead of the sane, law-abiding, non-MoC-ridden, not-embarrassing, lobotomized, “normal” fantasy brother Sam wishes he was. We’ll see if that’s where the writers go, or if they chicken out and return to old form with Special Snowflake Sam who never has to grow or explain himself, as they did in the second half of season eight.

Unfortunately, the ending we get to this episode is frustrating. After a moment where Sam has the epiphany that he can’t kill Dean, even to defend himself, the writing does a 180, appearing to vindicate Sam and Castiel in their brutal treatment of someone they consider their closest kin. It is also a very disturbing portrait of familial abuse of someone who is profoundly mentally ill, perpetrated “for his own good.” It doesn’t help that the viewpoint is obviously Sam’s, so it’s a fairly realistic assessment of what’s going on, rather than Dean’s psychosis-distorted perception of it. If this is the writers’ idea of filial love, I really don’t want to see their idea of hate.

Another thing is that the way Sam does the demon cure is not the same way it’s done in “Clip Show” or how he does it at the end of season eight to Crowley. He doesn’t purify his own blood through Confession. He has a priest bless bagged blood from a blood bank. He doesn’t do the final words of the Latin spell, cut his hand and put it over Dean’s mouth, nor is there any explosion of light from Dean as there is from the demon in “Clip Show.” Sam doesn’t speak any spell at all. When Dean’s eyes appear to clear at the end, it’s the same as what happened to the demon, right before the priest did the final part of the cure, but Sam never does that last part.

Plus, Sam tells Castiel more than once that he has injected a huge amount of human blood into Dean and Dean “still didn’t want to be cured” (which Sam equates with still being a demon). So, has Sam actually cured Dean or has he inadvertently turned his brother into an even more powerful and hardy hybrid who is now immune to holy water and devil’s traps, while still retaining powers? And is Dean really convinced he’s cured at the end, or is he faking it (however subconsciously and to however great an extent) just to get out of that damned chair?

There is the argument, which I’m sure is being bandied about, that Dean deserved what he got because he’s done bad things to people and “mean” things to Sam. However, this is addressed in the episode itself, where Dean points out that Sam has crossed a line, that even Demon!Dean never did, with the Lester affair.

And Dean has never actually tortured Sam. When TFW locked Sam in the panic room, they left him with water and made no attempt to hurt him. The withdrawal symptoms, which no one could predict, were what did him harm and when he was convulsing about the room, they went in to restrain and calm him. Dean and Bobby had a lot of debate over what to do. As it turned out, the withdrawal wasn’t fatal, anyway.

Also, they had no choice, since Sam was killing possessed hosts for their blood and when he got out, promptly went and started the Apocalypse.

Similarly, Sambot had killed innocents and attacked Bobby when they locked him in the Panic Room, too. Dean briefly entertained killing Sambot, who had turned into a violent psychopath, before Death came and put Sam’s soul back in. Granted, that was a painful process, but again, nobody was deliberately and actively making it painful the way Sam was shoving needles full of blood into Dean every time Dean made him mad.

As far as demon torture, this is usually justified as the host being probably dead at that point and that the necessity of getting the demon out of action, either by exorcism or death, outweighs not harming the host. It’s not as though leaving the demon inside the host will do any less harm, anyway. And that’s even if we didn’t see Sam getting a guy to sell his soul and torturing a CRD just to make a phone call.

But Demon!Dean is Dean and wasn’t doing nearly as much damage as even your average demon before he was caught. Yes, he hurt the bouncer, but everyone else was a case of self or other defense (and even with the bouncer, he waited until confronted). In addition, he had made no attempt to find and hurt Sam, had left Cole and the bouncer alive, hadn’t even bothered to take over Hell from Crowley, and had attempted no contact with Castiel. The fact that he was basically minding his own business calls into question the motives of everyone else in the story.

Now, I’ve seen some fans complain that this is because the writers chickened out in portraying Dean as truly evil, but I disagree. In fact, I think that would have been the bigger cop-out, to make Dean floridly evil and obviously not Dean. Then we wouldn’t have any reason to question the motives of all the other characters, or even Dean’s motives. Because it wouldn’t be Dean. It would just be Jensen Ackles playing a Big Bad, like Misha Collins playing Godstiel.

Instead, we got a lead character who was tortured and forcibly converted to a specific point of view simply because it bothered other characters that 1. he had massive powers they couldn’t control and 2. he didn’t want to be the show’s doormat, anymore. In other words, he wanted autonomy and he wasn’t doing anything that justified others saying no to that.

On top of it all, this character was already profoundly mentally ill and those torturing him justified their actions by saying it was a way to bring him back to sanity (pretending that when he was psychotic, it wasn’t really him). Not a bad plot for a horror story. Too bad the writers of this episode played it as though the Stepford ends justified the Witchfinder means.

This brings me to Castiel and Crowley. Crowley … I am so done with this character. He’s a lousy king. He’s a poor excuse for a demon, even poorer an excuse for a semi-human. The writers toss him petty victories because they can’t seem to write him as smart, anymore. Just get on with the permanent usurpation, already, show. Though that seems to be what they were doing with the redhead in the coda. We’ll see if that can jumpstart his storyline.

As for Castiel, I was irritated with the writers of this episode because they wrote him in such an unlikeable way that it almost ruined the character for me. Sam at least got a comeuppance for being such a creep to Dean, but Castiel remained smug about his “cure or kill” attitude throughout. I sure hope he has to face the consequences of that down the road. After all the crap he’s done, he’s the last character who should be judging Dean in any form.

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Fun lines:

Dean: Winchesters, do-gooders, fighting the Natural Order. Well, let me tell you something – guys like me? We are the Natural Order. It’s the way we’re set up.
Sam: And guys like me still gotta do what we can.
Dean: Don’t be so full of yourself, Sammy. ‘Cause, see, from where I’m sitting, there ain’t that much difference from what I turned into to what you already are.
Sam: And what exactly is that supposed to mean?
Dean: I know what you did when you went looking for me. And I know how far you went. Crowley told me all about it. So, let me ask you – which one of us is really the monster?

Dean: You act like I want to be cured! Personally, I like the disease!
Sam [as Dean smashes through the door]: Dean! Stop that! Look, I don’t want to use this blade [the Spork] on you!
Dean: Ohhh, that sucks for you, doesn’t it? Because you really mean that!

Dean [chuckling, with Sam’s blade at his throat]: Well, look at you. Do it. It’s all you.

Dean [to Castiel]: What did Sam say? Does he want a divorce?


Next: Paper Moon: Nobody needed to see Kate from “Bitten” again, but she’s back, anyway, and in an episode that’s All About her.


You can watch (or download) this episode, in standard or HD definition, on Amazon.com.


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About Paula R. Stiles

Paula is not at all paranoid about government conspiracies after six years in EMS, two years in Africa for the Peace Corps, a few summers with the Park Service, and ten years studying the Knights Templar. She's seen governments in action. They couldn't cover up a toy picnic table, let alone evidence of alien visitation. Writes about science for fun, history for money, and zombies for the company. You can read her sober-as-a-judge book about Templars in medieval Spain, Templar Convivencia, on Amazon. You can find her homepage at: http://thesnowleopard.net.

Paula R. StilesColumn: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 10.03: Soul Survivor