Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.23 (Season Finale): Sacrifice

[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]

Tagline: The brothers find a demon in an unexpected place and move forward with the Third Trial. Meanwhile, Castiel seeks Dean’s help after Naomi captures Metatron. But all is not what it seems. Shocking, I know.

Recap: Recap of the whole season to “Carry On, Wayward Son.” The season still looks a tad incoherent, but it’s funny how much more of Kill-Crazy Dean and Purgatory there is in the recap, percentage-wise, than there was in the season. Also, there’s far too much of the Trials and a single flash of Samelia. Excuse me while I snort in derision.

Anyhoo, that minute and a half over, we move to a rather classy restaurant in which a woman is receiving a classy drink. It’s Jody Mills and guess who’s sitting down across from her, a blind date (“Roderick”) from the online dating service? Yup, it’s Crowley and yup, the show’s gonna fridge another beloved recurring character. Because it has so many of those left. Oh, wait.

Crowley turns on the charm offensive and gets out of Jody that she’s drinking alone because she lost her husband and son (Cue flashbacks to “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”). He holds her hand and she gets all flustered. Excusing herself, she heads to the bathroom to work up her courage and redo her makeup, confused and eager about this attractive, dashing man.

Meanwhile, Crowley is lighting a candle and doing a kill spell right there at the table (which nobody seems to notice). Note that as Crowley is doing this, Jody starts spewing up blood and falling to the floor – which is in keeping with canon established in episodes like “Malleus Maleficarum,” but unlike the previous episode, where Sarah began to die in the middle of Crowley’s extended rant against the brothers, thus making it impossible for him to actually do the spell on her. Crowley interrupts what he’s saying to take a call from the brothers.

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Dean uses his speaker phone function to yell at Crowley from inside the bunker, demanding he “call it off.” Crowley demands his surrender. We don’t hear Dean specifically say it, though he agrees to turn over the Demon Tablet and stand down – but only if Crowley gives the brothers the Angel Tablet (because apparently, Metatron didn’t bother to retrieve from Crowley, after all). When Crowley asks why he should do that, Dean calls him a “douchebag” and says that no douchebag should have so much power. Rather improbably, Crowley agrees – but only after Dean says the word ‘surrender.’ I smell a trap. But who is setting it?

I had a rather hard time watching this scene, mostly because Jody came across as so naive. She’s well aware there are creepy things out there with a human face. She really ought to be aware of Crowley’s existence, having been involved in helping Bobby lift his deal (in “Weekend at Bobby’s”). Seeing Crowley as unexpected dating manna from Heaven seems a bit too gullible for her.

But I also find myself wondering now just whose bait Jody is, since Dean’s not normally that gullible or easy to push over, either.

Cue title cards.

On their way to meet Crowley, the brothers rendezvous with Kevin, who is digging up the Demon Tablet from under a billboard for Dave and Paul’s Chili Pot restaurant, featuring a devil figure over a kettle. After commenting on Kevin’s lack of subtlety in irony, Dean gives him the Bunker key (well, finally!). Dean says that hopefully, Kevin will be able to retire soon. As they walk away with the Demon Tablet, Kevin tells them they’re doing the right thing (well, finally! Don’t strain yourself, Kev!).

The meeting place is Bobby’s old salvage yard, now sadly abandoned, in broad daylight. When the brothers arrive, Dean and then Sam mope a bit over Bobby’s old car (Dean looking especially messed up) before Crowley appears. Dean tries to broker the meeting, but Crowley insists that the one doing the Trials (Sam) sign the contract, which is about ten feet long. Dean insists on reading it first, anyway.

As Dean reads his way up to Crowley, looking confused and moving his lips (something Crowley derides, though legalistic Latin does tend to have that effect on anyone), Crowley calls him on the stalling, mocking the brothers for always losing to him (except that they rarely do). He also calls Dean “Squirrel” and Sam “Moose,” continuing his references to the kid’s show, Rocky and His Friends. Looking hangdog, Dean glances over his shoulder at Sam, who nods back and pulls out a pen, hesitating.

At that moment, Dean slaps a set of handcuffs on Crowley, chaining the King of Hell to him. Annoyed, Crowley decides to teleport out of there. But he can’t. Dean shows him that the cuffs are the same ones with devil’s traps that we saw in the Bunker dungeon. Crowley’s demon powers have been negated. Infuriated and still not buying a clue, Crowley punches Dean.

Dean punches him right back. Whether it’s because the cuffs reduce Crowley’s power to mere human levels or because Dean is just that tough, Crowley has barely made a dent. Taking the Demon Tablet and handing it to Sam, then grabbing Crowley by the lapels, Dean sneers that he can “do this all day, ’cause damn, it feels good.”

It’s at that point that Sam spells it out for Crowley. He’s the Third Trial. “Boris, the Squirrel has done it again!

So, there was a trap. It just wasn’t Crowley setting it, this time.

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A brief canon note: At the Comic-Con panel, a fan asked why Crowley is the only demon who can teleport and Bob Singer, who clearly is not doing his wife any good when she asks him about show canon, said it was because he’s the King of Hell. Both the fan and Singer are flat-out wrong. All demons on the show can teleport. They always have been able to teleport. It’s one of their more sinister powers. And large amounts of canon as late as two episodes ago (when the demon Sam and Dean teleport into Kevin’s devil’s trap in a storeroom) would simply fall apart if they couldn’t. Writers, you need a show bible, pronto. Since eight seasons ago.

Cut to what looks like the same grotty old church on the tideline where the brothers found Kevin at the beginning of the season. Crowley is chained to a chair, while Dean spraypaints a devil’s trap around him. Crowley snarks that the chains and trap won’t hold him, trying to get under Dean’s defenses. But he’s definitely outmatched. Dean just gives him a cold smile, tosses the spraypaint can against a wall, and walks out.

Outside, Sam is getting ready for the Third Trial. The first thing he has to do is go to Confession and he only ever did it once as a kid. He’s not sure what to say. Dean, helpfully, has a whole laundry list ready for him, starting with Ruby and Lilith, then Sam losing his soul and abandoning him in Purgatory (just to give us an idea of the things Dean really has not let go). Sam squirms a bit at this brutal honesty about his less-than-stellar career as a brother and partner in Hunting, then walks away to the church. At this point, Dean eases the pressure a bit by mentioning some undefined sin against some girl in school that it turns out he committed. I roll my eyes at the obvious attempt to mitigate Sam’s major crap with something minor from Dean.

Inside, Sam sits in the confessional and starts talking. Hmm, without a priest, that’s gonna be a bit awkward, show.

Meanwhile, Castiel is doing more tasks with Metatron in Houston, Texas. It seems some random bartender, Dwight Charles, in some random honky tonk bar (Doc Marley’s Cocktails) is about to be hit by a Cupid’s arrow. This is useful intel, since they need a Cupid’s bow for the next task. Castiel rather plaintively confirms that it won’t involve killing anyone.

He also asks Metatron about what God was like, implying that Castiel may have been created by the archangels after God left. Note that Metatron’s description of God (“larger than life, gruff, bit of a sexist. But fair – eminently fair”) fits Dean Winchester to a T. Castiel appears to be subconsciously aware of this when he admits to Metatron that he’s looking through the personal ads to find the bartender a mate in order to attract the Cupid – a trick he learned from Dean. Not that Castiel has learned quite as much as he thinks, when he engages in awkard conversation with the bartender (about bondage and other sexual role play) that has Metatron rolling his eyes.

Up in Heaven, Naomi is being informed by an angel named ‘Nathaniel’ that the two of them are at the bar, one of their informants being a street person in front of it. She flies down with some goons, grabs Metatron (who begs Castiel not to intervene), smashes the bartender into a mirror when he tries to help, and flies back up to Heaven, leaving Castiel behind.

Umm, I get that Metatron is the “scribe” who wrote down the Tablets, but wouldn’t she still want to get hold of the Angel Tablet, too? Which is now currently with the brothers? Naomi’s shifting priorities have been an issue since at least “Goodbye Stranger.” Either she wants the Angel Tablet or not. Either Dean’s death and Castiel’s recapture are a means to an end or the end itself. Make up your mind, show.

Castiel immediately flies to Dean, who is doing some stuff to help Sam get ready for the Trials. Castiel wants Dean to help him finish the task with Cupid so they can rescue Metatron. Dean doesn’t want to leave Sam. He tells Castiel he’s going to have to get in line for Dean’s help on this one, but Sam comes out and insists he’s up to the task, even as he looks as though he couldn’t swat a mosquito. Reluctantly, Dean gives Sam his marching orders and flies off with Castiel. Note that this puts Dean directly in contact with both the attempt to close the Gates of Hell and whatever is really going on with Heaven.

Dean and Castiel visit Kevin in the Bunker with the Angel Tablet. They need more information about the Angel Trials in order to rescue Metatron. As is his wont, Kevin chooses this inopportune time to pour himself a drink of scotch (Remember he’s still underage and it’s not his scotch, hence Dean’s WTF?! look), sit down, and launch what promises to be yet another extended whine about Dean’s unreasonable demands and failings as a leader and protector.

I’m sure you’ll all be thrilled to hear that Castiel cuts this short by grabbing Kevin by the shirt, making him drop his drink, and slamming him into a wall. In no uncertain terms, Castiel clarifies that Kevin is stuck with the Prophet gig for the rest of his days, so he’d better get cracking on translating the Tablet. A startled Dean tries to intervene on Kevin’s behalf and Kevin tries to squirm and whine a bit more, but to no avail. Castiel tosses Kevin at the table with the Tablet and tells him to get going. Then he and Dean fly off.

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At the bar, Castiel comes in and explains that the only woman in the bar’s vicinity is a drag queen. Dean explains that the beer is free, due to the bartender’s gratitude for Castiel “saving” him from Naomi and the others. He asks Castiel if he’s sure about closing the Gates of Heaven, which might make his fellow angels even angrier at him than they are, already. Castiel tries to shrug this off, but you can see that Dean has made his point and that he is hurt by his pariah status.

They wait. It is, by now, dark. A regular barfly is sitting, chatting with the bartender, while watching bowhunting on TV. When a new beer shipment arrives, the driver is a woman (a replacement for the usual guy) and Dean notes that it’s like the start of half the pornos he’s ever watched.

After the men help her, the woman smiles and puts her hands on their shoulders, before leaving. Dean is a little confused, then a lot more confused when the two men immediately fall in love over a particularly “sweet” bowshot on the TV (I know some people had issues with this, and the obvious parallels to Destiel, but I’m just so damned happy to see two gay guys on TV who don’t look like GQ models that I don’t care). Castiel, meanwhile, is already vacating his barstool and going out after the woman, who is the Cupid.

Outside, she recognizes Castiel as her angel brother, but Castiel starts to attack her. Dean intervenes, saying they should talk with her first. It turns out she is as mild-mannered as the Cupid we met in “My Bloody Valentine.” I like her. That probably means we’ll never see her again, doesn’t it?

Anyhoo, the wars in Heaven have left her too frightened to return and she no longer receives her daily orders. She just wants it to be over. If giving up her bow will do that, she is willing. Stretching out her hand, she shows them a tattoo of a bow on her palm.

In Heaven, Metatron wakes up in Naomi’s torture chair. Despite the aeons, he recognizes her and calls her by name, indicating that she is either as old as the archangels or very nearly so. With a thin smile, she says that she is finishing the task Michael and the archangels had set her to “debrief” him.

Glancing at the power drill and other instruments on the small table beside the chair, he bitterly notes it’s more like torture. When he responds to her first questions about why he chose to come in from the cold now with a quote from Samuel Johnson, and she looks confused, he taunts her for not being a reader. I roll my eyes again. Pretty sure a being that is billions of years old has a lot more knowledge in her than the entire body of human knowledge, show.

Unimpressed by his pretentiousness, she starts in with the power tools.

Alas for her, she doesn’t seem to be getting much from him, aside from an embittered speech about how God left and the archangels drove him from his home, from Paradise, while they did their level best to wreck it. Did they think he wouldn’t seek revenge? Naomi’s face twitches when he throws these accusations in her face and she flies off. Metatron glances over at her power tools and smiles. It’s not a nice smile. Quelle surprise.

At the church, Sam is stabbing Crowley with vials of his purified blood every hour, in front of a cross where only the disembodied hands and feet of the Christ figure remain nailed to the wood of the crucifix (nice touch). His arms glow afterward, each time, and he starts to look sicker and sicker. At one point, Crowley bites him, tearing a chunk out of his arm. Furious, Sam punches him and walks off to attend to the wound. Left alone, Crowley uses the blood in his palm to send a general distress call. How he is able to do this, when he has no other demon powers, is not explained.

At any rate, what shows up in a rumbling earthquake is not his demonic salvation. Instead, it’s Abaddon. Crowley orders her to get rid of Sam and she tosses Sam out a window before he can even get off a useless shot with Dean’s pistol. But when Crowley cockily orders her to release him from the chains and the now-splintered devil’s trap, the worm turns. He discovers Abaddon did not come in obedience to his word as King of Hell but to usurp him. When he gets mad and impotently calls her a “whore,” she beats the crap out of him.

That’s why I like Abaddon. She doesn’t take any guff from anybody and she never whines.

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And that is also why I am so sick of Crowley as a Big Bad. Season five Crowley would never have been stupid enough to think a Knight of Hell would just magically reappear after 50 years, ready to kiss his arse, when she was far more powerful than he was and had him in a down position. And he certainly wouldn’t have insulted her while she had that upper hand, either.

Sadly, just as she is about to do even worse things to Crowley, Sam returns unnoticed, tosses holy oil on her, and lights her on fire. She’s able to smoke out to parts unknown, but Josie’s body looks like a dead loss. I hope this is not true, though, because most of the charm for Abaddon is Alaina Huffman’s charismatic and fearless performance.

Sam puts Crowley back upright and spraypaints the trap back together. Crowley seems to have had his pride and arrogance at least temporarily shaken out of him, either due to the effects of the shots or his shock at the ass-whupping Abaddon just gave him, or perhaps both. Alas, that doesn’t seem to include Crowley caring about anyone but himself, as he babbles on about how he saved Sam’s life (which is so categorically untrue that Sam stares at him as if he just grew a new Zaphod Beeblebrox-style head), Band of Brothers, HBO, and late-night porn. He rails about wanting, needing “love.” Eventually, he asks Sam what he said in Confession, to give him an idea on how he can possibly start to seek forgiveness for all that he’s done.

Sam’s response is to give him another shot. Wearily, Crowley stretches out his neck to let him.

Back in the parking lot outside the honky tonk bar, Dean is trying to figure out over the phone why Kevin has found the Trials, but has seen nothing about Cupid’s Bow. Naomi appears to Castiel and Dean. Castiel (understandably, it must be said) wants to smite first and ask questions maybe never, but Dean holds him back again. As a confused Kevin listens in, Naomi tries to warn the two of them that Metatron intends on expelling all angels from Heaven, saying that she realizes now the angels lost their way somewhere in their custodianship of the universe. Castiel doesn’t believe her.

To prove what she is saying is true, she turns to Dean and reminds him that she has previously told him he could “trust” her (in “Taxi Driver”). She says that while she would love for Dean to close Hell’s gates, she saw in Metatron’s mind that anyone who completed the Trials (i.e., Sam) would die at the end of them, as God’s big sacrifice. Dean is horrified and you can see the wheels turning that he has suspected this all along, just as he told Sam in “Trial and Error.” He asks Kevin, who has been listening over the phone, if he can confirm this from the Tablet. Kevin’s not sure. As Naomi flies off, Dean insists Castiel fly him back to the church.

They go back, Castiel protesting that Naomi can’t be trusted. Dean doesn’t care. The Trials aren’t worth Sam’s life. But Dean is unable to stop Castiel a third time when the angel rashly decides to fly to Heaven and get the truth out of Naomi.

Upstairs, he finds that someone has beat him to it. Naomi sprawls, apparently dead (though there is no wing ash) across her desk, one of her own drills stuck in the back of her head. Metatron comes up behind Castiel and puts an angel blade to his throat. Confirming Naomi’s claims, he says, “You should have listened to the bitch.”

Castiel ends up in the torture chair, where Metatron slits his throat and removes Castiel’s grace, before healing the wound back up. It turns out the ingredients gathered in the “Trials,” along with Castiel’s grace, were actually part of a revenge spell that Metatron has set in motion to do just what Naomi said he would do – expel the angels from Heaven. He sends Castiel back to earth, a human, exhorting him to return once he dies and tell Metatron what stories he learned down there.

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In the church, Dean is trying to talk Sam down from completing the final Trial, having just burst in on Sam cutting his hand to seal the cure on Crowley. Sam shrugs off Dean’s warning that completing the Trial will kill him. He says that in the confessional, he admitted to all the times he failed Dean. This speech starts out well, but, like John’s confession at the end of “In My Time of Dying,” Sam can’t maintain the self-epiphany. He slides into a rant about how he always disappoints Dean and can’t ever seem to please him, that Dean always finds a replacement “brother” for Sam. There is no reflection on why that might be.

Dean basically ignores this, doesn’t apologize, and just tells Sam they will work something out, while wrapping Sam’s hand in a bandana. He points out that he has never “put anything” ahead of Sam and calls Sam hard on his lack of faith. Sam calms down and decides to stop the Trial. He holds out his arms, which glow briefly and then stop. Both brothers look relieved – until Sam convulses with pain as the Trialbulations go internal. Or more internal than before. Or something.

Cut to an overhead shot as Dean bursts out the church doors, hauling Sam along bodily toward the Impala, hysterically insisting that everything is going to be okay and screaming for Castiel. Castiel can’t respond because he’s waking up in the woods some undetermined distance away.

When they reach the car, Sam collapses against it, while Dean is distracted by something above and Kevin is distracted from leaving the bunker with a backpack by every instrument in the place going haywire at once. Even Crowley, inside the church, opens his eyes and looks up.

In the night sky clouds, pinpricks of light appear. This scene is disturbingly beautiful, enhanced by an eerie, cinematic soundtrack throughout the episode. As Dean watches, stunned, angels fall down from Heaven by the thousands, their wings burning off as they go. Castiel witnesses the event, weeping. When one angel crashes into the tidal flats nearby, Sam shivers and asks what’s going on.

Dean just says, “Angels … they’re falling.”

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Review: This episode showed me a few different things. First, Jeremy Carver really is a good writer. The episode was generally well-written, with good pacing and strong characterization (for the most part on the latter). I found it a lot more exciting than some other recent entries, even disturbing in spots, with the last scene of the falling angels being beautiful and unnerving, Star Wars-style incidental music and all.

Second, he did have a plan for the season and I, personally, liked it overall. But third, boy, does he need to get a new writing staff.

Canon this season wandered all over the place, making it abundantly clear that this show needs a bible, especially if it really does want to get into the teens for seasons. Even more egregious, a good bit of the season (especially the stuff where canon was blatantly violated) was pretty damned boring. If you’re going to violate your own canon like that, you’d better do it in an entertaining way that justifies the violation.

Plots that sounded like a good idea in the abstract (notably Samelia) turned out to be a huge drag on the overall pace. Plots that turned out really well (like Purgatory or even the Men of Letters) were suffocated nearly at birth, all the better to yank things back around to the boring parts. Guest stars like Charlie and Garth and Krissy and annoying college werewolves kept getting tedious arcs that didn’t matter once they left the stage. And some plots (like Sam taking over the Trials) simply should not have made it past the drawing board stage. Somebody should have said while they were still plotting that one out that it was a mistake – and why.

I’ve seen many fans get very angry with the writers because they feel the writing staff are deliberately being jerks about writing a good story because they don’t want to give the fans what they want (Never mind that every TV and movie writer out there really ought to be thinking about his/her audience, even if that audience only extends in his/her mind as far as the producers needed to greenlight the project). And this is understandable, since the original showrunner had a tendency to throw public strops over any fan criticism and didn’t even bother to write the story for the ending of his alleged five-year megaplot.

However, there’s a more likely (and very depressing) possibility that too many writers on this staff are perfectly nice people who just happen to be regrettably tone-deaf when it comes to writing good long-term stories. They seem capable of coming up with some genuinely good ideas, but, when it comes to execution, they seem addicted to choosing the crappy cliche over the original (or at least emotionally satisfying) approach almost every time. This is probably why they keep dropping great – but challenging – characters like Naomi and Abaddon and Henry Winchester in favor of bland – but easy to write – walking cliches like Garth, Charlie and Krissy.

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As I have been saying for a while, a major plotline throughout the season went largely unnoticed by the audience because it was too low-key compared to the over-the-top and bombastic plots (like the Trials), or even subplots (Purgatory). Dean was a dark, Machiavellian, Lady Macbeth kind of character with a great deal of behind-the-scenes (and not-so-behind-the-scenes) power. It is the only reason why he would be seen by the writers as the main character, the person making the major decision to stand down, whose responsibility it was to blink and back off in the huge contest of gamesmanship played all season. That was not the role of a cheerleader or June Cleaver housewife type. Sam is forced to eat his rousing speech in “Trial and Error” when he does, in fact, become the grunt soldier, while Dean becomes the general.

Unfortunately, this plot, even though it was raised just about every episode by Dean determined to close the Gates while everyone else hemmed and hawed over doing it (even before they ran into any drawbacks), was not sufficiently headlined, particularly once Sam appeared to take control of the Trials.

As it turned out, Sam didn’t take them over. What he did was make himself the pawn doing the grunt work, while Dean coldly directed him like a puppet, making sure everything and everyone was in place, and everything went according to plan. And at the end, only Dean could be the one who stopped it all happening. Because Dean had been the one doing the Trials all along. He just wasn’t doing the grunt work, this time.

It is curious that of all the major characters, only Dean and Metatron are not humbled in some way. It makes sense that Metatron wouldn’t be, since he’s the suddenly revealed Big Bad who unveils his master plan as part of the cliffhanger. It’s too early to bring him down; he was just raised up. It also makes sense why everyone else would be humbled because Metatron is pulling one of the great levers, as he put it two episodes ago, and is putting everyone else in their place.

But not Dean. Because Dean chooses to give up his dearly cherished goal, the thing he has wanted nearly all his life. We get foreshadowing of this decision in his guilt over Kevin’s apparent death and major role in the young Prophet’s rescue. So, it’s probably not something Dean chooses simply because it’s Sam who would die. Dean chooses to stand down because he’s willing to do a lot, willing to even go so far as to accidentally get some people he cares about killed. But outright ritual murder/blood sacrifice? Of his own brother? I guess he found his line.

Dean’s willingness to back down reminds me of the first trial Indiana Jones goes through in The Last Crusade, the one nobody else has so far survived in the film: “Only the penitent man shall pass. The penitent man kneels before God – KNEEL!” Because Dean is willing to “kneel,” to bend, to let go of his pride and anger, and allow the chance to close the Gates, possibly forever, slip away, he is not humbled and he doesn’t lose Sam. He doesn’t lose his head, as it were. Not like the other characters.

I have seen some fans harshly criticize him for the decision, saying he chose Sam over all the lives he might have saved. But those lives saved are merely hypothetical at this point. Dean doesn’t feel that killing Sam – or letting Sam kill himself – is worth the lives that might be saved by closing the Gates, assuming this would be a unique event in the SPNverse where the good from that action would not be more-than-balanced out by some great, unforeseen evil. He balks at fratricide and if that makes him a hypocrite, he’s okay with that. And, I suspect, so is most of the audience, for all the protests of a few.

It is also curious that several characters (Sam, Castiel, Crowley, Naomi) express a desire for divine forgiveness and even do so directly to Dean. But only Dean is the one who shows up to give any absolution. Not to mention that Metatron’s description of his devastation following God’s departure is very reminiscent of Sam’s reactions to Dean dying in “Mystery Spot.” Which Jeremy Carver also wrote.

On the flip side, I had no sympathy for either Sam or Crowley (or, for that matter, Kevin, who needs to be put over someone’s knee and given a good paddling, though Castiel made a good start at it this week), even though I suspect I was supposed to feel sorry for both of them at various points in the episode. It seemed to me that they amply deserved what they got, which was a direct result of their own selfish actions.

As for Castiel, it’s high time he stopped being the Village Idiot, got a learning curve, and grew the hell up, but more on that in a bit.

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The thing with Sam and Crowley is not just that they’ve been so destructive. Sam, of course, has actually done heroic things during the course of the season, even if he’s whined enough to rival Kevin. His main problem is that he just can’t quite own up to what he’s done (which, if you’ll all remember, included abandoning his brother in Purgatory and Kevin to demons for a year without a whole lot of thought beyond “Oh! I hit a dog.” And that’s just from this season). He’s gotta blame someone else and Dean always ends up being conveniently there to blame, perhaps because Dean’s the one who’s been there at some of Sam’s worst points. You see this pattern in the season finale, where Sam’s contrite confession to Dean starts out well and then goes downhill from there.

Even worse was the absolutely horrible way Sam treated Benny, to the point of effectively destroying any hopes Benny had of a happy life topside and nearly getting Benny’s remaining family murdered by a crazy Hunter (after abandoning said Hunter alone in the woods, which indirectly led to his death, no less). Rather than own up to his own guilt (which he by-damned-well should have by now) over all these things, Sam projected it all onto Benny, the brother in arms who watched Dean’s back in Purgatory. Benny repaid him by literally dying to get him out of Purgatory (something Dean points out in this very episode) and all he got was a grudging admission from Sam to Dean that Benny wasn’t really all that bad, after all. Gee, don’t strain yourself, Sam. Too bad Sam couldn’t project his own I’m-a-monster! issues onto Benny, instead, ’cause then he’d have been our favorite abstaining vamp’s best friend.

Crowley, meanwhile, has been built up as a reprehensible no-goodnik for at least a few seasons. He killed Sarah and Tommy just last week and nearly killed Jody Mills in this week’s teaser, for God’s sake! He’s an asshole!

It doesn’t help that he’s such a cocky moron, mocking the brothers (especially Dean) for being incompetent and never winning against him when they’ve actually won against him quite a bit. Crowley sure forgot losing Bobby’s soul to Heaven real quick. Whatever happened to his rant to Castiel in “The Man Who Would Be King” about all the many Big Bads who had previously underestimated the brothers and were now either deep-sixed or six feet under? He might not have known about Dean trapping Death, but he certainly knew about the fates of Michael and Lucifer.

But even more, when he does start to become more “human,” does he show any empathy or even vague sense of anyone else’s feelings or sufferings but his own? Nope. It’s all about him and how he and Sam ought to bond over the complete lie that Crowley saved Sam from Abaddon (as opposed to what really happened, which was summoning her and siccing her on Sam). The closest he gets to remorse and empathy is some vague musings about how he could ever be forgiven (and even that could be a lie). How are we to feel for that?

I suspect the intent was to not make it too easy for Sam and Crowley to redeem themselves and I agree that having them be hey, presto! redeemed after all they’d done for so long would have been unsatisfying. I think Carver wanted to leave them on an emotional and moral cliffhanger of sorts, where they were halfway to some kind of redemption, but were still dragging their feet. I’m not too sure how well that worked, though, because it still felt vaguely unsatisfying to have them so close to getting a clue – and then not going there. I think a lot depends on how things continue in this vein in season eight – assuming they do.

Conversely, I actually felt for both Abaddon and Naomi (who, it must be said, haven’t been Supernatural‘s sweethearts, either) and was even rooting for them a bit. Okay, I was hoping outright that Abaddon would clean Crowley’s clock and kill him right off. So, imagine how pissed off I was when they appeared to kill off poor Josie’s meatsuit permanently (no more Alaina Huffman), as well as Naomi. And no, getting weasly and obvious little Metatron in Naomi’s place is not a good substitution.

It doesn’t really help that Naomi got killed off at a point that fairly screamed, “Plot contrivance!” Just as she was having a change of heart and might have coughed up some seriously valuable info about angels, Heaven and the SPVverse (as opposed to something about Sam, about whom she cared not a jot), she got offed. How convenient, show.

Especially annoying was that she was very focused on Dean. Come to think of it, so was Abaddon. And not only did the writers just drop two very good and effective female villains (though I’m sure they’ll recast Abaddon with some horrid, talentless starlet à la Ruby), while keeping mindbogglingly awful side characters like Charlie and Garth, and meh villains like Metatron and Crowley, but they did so in a way that took out a lot of story about Dean that had been developing to a nice head of steam. That’s frustrating. Yes, Charlie and Garth are All About Dean, too, but they’re hardly a threat that will make him raise his game or get badass, now, are they?

Charlie and Garth are the types of characters that used to be known as “Scrappy-Doo” or “Cousin Oliver,” and were introduced to bring in interest groups some random producer thought the test audience indicated were important. Abaddon, Naomi and Benny are characters the audience actually liked.

Kevin is a character who worked just fine once they gave him some comeuppance and dialed him back (and I bet his mother would have worked out fine, too, if they’d ever bothered to bring her back). I have no problem with his being in the Bunker as long as he either learns some deep-breathing techniques or gets given a good shake whenever he works himself up into a self-righteous tizzy. Think of him as the Xander character – but with an actual mytharc reason for being there.

Speaking of Garth, I notice that he has been “MIA” since 8.21. I bet he won’t be back unless DJ Qualls’ show fails. Maybe we’ll find out he died offscreen, like Mama Tran.

So, what’s ahead? From the sound of things? Fallen angels and lots of ’em. How that will turn out depends, of course, on the execution. It could be great and it could be awful. It could also be very Deancentric, or it could somehow be turned into being All About Castiel, Sam, or even some random guest star.

One big obstacle to getting Dean into the game next season will, I think, be the fact that Metatron is now the Big Bad, at least for the moment. Dean might be upset about Castiel having fallen, but his main concern about the rest of the fallen angels will be more their destructiveness than Metatron’s treachery.

As for Sam, he seems demon-oriented and he’s got to survive his latest bout of Special Sammy Salmonella. Gee, I wonder if he’ll make it?

See you on the other side.

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Fun lines:

Jody Mills [after meeting Crowley]: It’s not a date until I’ve cried!

Dean: You hid the Demon Tablet under the Devil? Seriously?
Kevin: I was delirious.

Castiel: What was he like?
Metatron: Who? God? Pretty much like you’d expect: larger than life, gruff, bit of a sexist. But fair – eminently fair.

Crowley: What’s that phrase? “Success has many fathers; failure is a Winchester”?

Crowley [to Dean]: You know why I always defeat you? It’s your humanity. It’s a built-in handicap. You always put emotion ahead of good old-fashioned common sense.

Dean [to Crowley]: I can do this all day. ‘Cause you know what? Damn, it feels good! But sooner or later, you’re gonna have to face it – you’re ours. Which means that your demon ass is going to be a mortal ass pretty damned quick!
Crowley [to Sam]: What’s he mouthing on about?
Sam: You’re the Third Trial, Crowley.

Metatron [to Naomi]: “Of the blessings set before you, make your choice and be content.” [off her blank look] Not a big reader, are we?

Castiel: Dean, I need your help!
Dean: Take a number, Cas!

Castiel: You really think it’s wise to be drinking on the job?
Dean: What show you been watching?

Abaddon: Hello, boys!
Crowley: That’s my line!

Dean [to Castiel]: Talk first – stab later!

Abaddon [to Crowley]: Right now, we’re gonna talk about a regime change.

Next Week: This is the last episode of the season, but we’ll pick up with season nine on October 15. In the meantime, reviews of tie-ins and Zero Hour.

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

If you like these reviews, please help continue our site by making a donation, buying one of our fiction issues, or buying one of our books: Fraterfamilias, Historical Lovecraft, Future Lovecraft, and our Gothic horror anthology, Candle in the Attic Window. You can also buy my non-fiction book on medieval Spanish history, Templar Convivencia and my horror novel, The Mighty Quinn.

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 8.23 (Season Finale): Sacrifice