Episode summary: Dean’s going to do the thing (kill Cain), everyone’s a bit scared of it, but Dean pulls through and doesn’t go crazy. Cas is also around because he fancies it this week, and takes the opportunity to look intense. Cain (possibly) dies in a wonderfully choreographed fist fight, and mature writing reigns beautifully. (Written by Robert Berens)
I just got finished watching the episode, and I feel like it was a big hit and lots of little misses.
Don’t get me wrong, I really, really enjoyed this episode. I enjoyed the maturity of the script and a good amount of the directing execution. Cain is the strongest character we’ve had in a good while, and I’m glad they killed him before he became an Abaddon type of generic big bad (though I’ve spied that perhaps he’s not dead so… hm).
However, I feel like I’m not on the same page as the characters anymore. There are a few reasons I can think of for this.
Firstly, sticking with main leads – Dean’s admission to Sam that he was scared of death, while really valid, needed a little more looking at. There’s an unspoken subtext if you’re digging for it – this time is different, he might turn into a demon, etc etc. While there are plenty of fantastic instances of subtlety in this episode, I didn’t think this was one of them, and it would have made the situation a little more rounded to draw out why this time was different. Dean’s died, what, 800+ times (counting Mystery Spot)? Accessing the general population’s reservation about death doesn’t apply to Dean, so this conversation was lacked a lot of the character it could have had. That’s the first instance in which I feel like I couldn’t access the characters.
Second instance of this – the most prominent, to me – was Crowley’s lack of bite and how Rowena’s reaction to this was framed as coming from a place of questionable motive. She is right. By all counts, she is insanely right. Our view of hell in the past has been actual punishment and torture (Dean hanging from hooks in the final scene of season 3; that brilliantly conceived waiting line towards the end of season 6). Now, without wishing to sound cruel for the sake of being cruel, we’re faced with a cliche Dracula’s lair castle sort of setting, presumably in a basement somewhere, which apparently holds business meetings and has a.. throne..? I get that Crowley is the king of hell, but he rose there because he was a business man. This is shown in every demon at high level under the sun wearing suits, the negotiations such as seen in the episode, etc etc. But to have that alongside what boils down to the power trip of having a throne and being a royal doesn’t gel well. Crowley has lost all of his teeth, and has become irrelevant to the plot as a whole. Rowena says exactly what I had been thinking, which is lovely to hear, but since moments earlier she was framed as manipulative and unreasonable, and indeed has motivation based in what I can only assume is an attempt and producing an SPN Game of Thrones (no, thank you), I feel that my (I think reasonable) opinion of Crowley’s toothlessness has been swatted away. This did feel like a case of being spoon fed what those producing the show want to tell me is the better/more reasonable/more entertaining story, rather than what I actually read from the situation. Does that make sense? I hope it does. I also realise that there’s a huge margin for this to be intended and for me to have read this incorrectly, but as of first watch, that’s what I got from it.
Cas suffers a similar fate, more so in this episode than at any point in his recent appearances, I feel. We’re told that losing him would be ‘especially painful’ for Dean, which.. I’m sure it would, but to be blunt, it’s almost as if they’re barely allowed to speak to each other anymore. Perhaps it’s for fear of upsetting the less stable fans in the fandom (not shippers in general – I’d say the majority are reasonable). The interactions that made their relationship uncategorisably intense, such as the I-can-see-inside-you/I-know-I-can’t-hide-my-feelings-on-this staring, the one on one chats at pivotal and private moments (season 4, second episode, final scene)… they’re nowhere to be found in recent supernatural. Though everyone is apparently kept in the loop via phones, Cas has no visible relationship maintenance with the Winchesters, nor the audience as a result. After disappearing inexplicably following his previous appearance, the audience wasn’t even clued in on him finding Cain until last episode. As a viewer, even though I know he’s off being useful, his appearance once in a blue moon to say two inconsequential lines a scene is hard to feel compassion for. Dean handing the blade to him instead of Crowley (a plot point that I love) had unspoken significance, and that was perfect, but there needs to be a balance of spoken and unspoken significance. Friendship is a verb, and all that. SPN usually has all the subtlety of a kipper slap to the face, and this episode was beautiful in that it included so much subtle stuff that let me access my previous knowledge of the characters. But it was so full of subtlety that explicit relationships fell by the wayside.
I’d hope that in future episodes they take this growth towards a more adult method of storytelling and perfect it. This was a leap in the right direction, but it needs a few steps back and to the side to make it just right.
Onto more specific things that were awesome:
Crowley’s appearance in the room with Cain! It’s been so long since we saw supernatural creatures phase in and out creatively, without over the top VFX, that I’d forgotten it could be so effective. Thank you thank you thank you to whoever came up with that. I enjoyed it so much more than recent VFX (Good Charlie/Bad Charlie ghost), and even stopped the episode and rewound it a few seconds to make sure that my viewing partner had spotted it. Excellent.
Cain’s initial introduction was so intense, but again, in an adult way. If any of you have seen Birdman… you’ll get what I mean. The usual approach to the introduction of a big bad is BANG HERE IS INTIMIDATION AND POWER. This was quiet, controlled, left time to wonder and connect the dots without guiding us to conclusions too much. The blocking was gorgeous, A+ to the director. My only (picky) comment is that I would have ended it on silence after Cain disappeared into the cell. Having said that, the rest of the scene didn’t take anything away, and was well paced and mature. Thank you for that, Supernatural! I was tempted to draw parallels with Breaking Bad direction and writing.
Cas’ demon torture was delicious. I feel like a psychopath saying that, but drawing him away from the comic relief in a controlled, angellicly believable manner was wonderful. I especially loved the point of the blade to the eye. I only wish we had a chance to see Cas go a little further with that at times. Not in a stab-happy way, but in a controlled, intellegently choreographed interrogation. That may be too much to ask with writing time constraints, but hey, a girl can dream. It was done in On The Head Of A Pin, and I’d love to see that sort of thing brought back.
And the not so great…
The music, oh man, the music.
I feel awful for picking the music out, because I know that if can be difficult (especially on the CW with the type of vibe shows have on that channel) to really match what’s available to what you’re trying to do, but… The best way that I can describe my issue with how it sounds is by describing it as a Kidz Bop version of the score it should be. There’s also no finesse in which the music is used. I remember both myself and my viewing partner remarking that the music left leading for something neither of us felt for the characters in that situation. It was attempting to do what the writing was not giving us at that point, in a sort of ‘this is the mood you should have, just ignore the dialogue and acting and the run up to this scene. Feel this’. We both agreed that tactful silence would be wonderfully employed in this episode, but there were no real moments where that opportunity was taken.
Also, the words ‘Don’t let Cain die to fucking Flamenco’ were uttered. I can’t really add much more to that point, to be honest. xD
Part of me wishes that Cas had been taken out harder by Cain. He can take it, Cain wanted him to buzz off – why not rough him up? It would have been an extra few seconds, but it would have added some spice to his presence in the scene.
Also, Cain can flick Cas away with his mind-bullets, but Sam can hold those doors closed against his power about 3 seconds later? Just a little thing, I don’t care that much in the grand scheme, but just something to mention.
And a bigger thing to finish. Crowley’s arc feels tagged on, in much the same way that Cas and Claire did. This is perhaps a symptom of the plot being ‘extended’ for another season, rather than.. having a plot for another season be a thing. This was a mainly nicely executed, mature and plot driven episode. Crowley’s interactions with Rowena feel like in episode filler so as to stretch it all out. I mentioned it once before, but it feels like an attempt at Game of Thrones, which is not something I feel like is welcome in Supernatural. I would like to see something more substantial from that plot that better ties to the main plot. It’s a shame, because both Ruth and Mark are wonderful at what they do, and this isn’t giving them great material.
I give this episode: an 8.5 in terms of recent SPN. Compared to other series and so forth, strong 6 light 7. Thank you, Berens!