Supernatural’s ‘Captives’ – Aren’t We All?

Warner Bros/CW
Warner Bros/CW

It’s been a long time since a new episode of Supernatural didn’t inspire a whole lot of mixed reactions among its fans – from squee to sobbing to gnashing of teeth to threats to flounce from fandom all together. I’ve written elsewhere (–or-what-fandom-wank-is-all-about ) that there are reasons for that range of reactions that run the gamut, and for the passionate disagreement that follows. As I was watching ‘Captives,’ I thought for a while that this episode might be an exception. For one thing, there was so much going on, I didn’t have time to dwell on the fact that Sam and Dean continue to ignore my desperate pleas for them to get back to being brothers. There were, as often happens in Cas episodes, two story lines running simultaneously, which always makes me feel a little disoriented every time we switch between them. This is far from unusual in a television show, but for many years Supernatural was an odd exception, with Sam and Dean (and the probably very tired Jared and Jensen) in every story line and nearly every scene. I still subconsciously hang onto that expectation.

For another thing, there were some delicious tidbits of consistency, which invariably make me smile foolishly at the tv. Castle Storage reappears, and I love that we’ve seen that distinctive sign in so many pivotal episodes. It even appears in our next book, Fan Phenomena: Supernatural, in the chapter by SPN’s brilliant cinematographer, Serge Ladouceur. That’s how iconic it is!

I also loved writer Robert Berens’ Star Trek Borg reference, which invested bad guy Bartholomew with even more sinister intent as he ominously intoned, “Resistance is futile!” And there were some nice switch-ups in the episode. For example, Dean gets to be the one conked on the head and knocked unconscious for a change, and Sam bursts in to rescue him. (Though Ackles tied to a post with bloodied face and splayed legs and friggen’ dress shoes was so distracting that I was sort of hoping Sam would take his time already.)

Why is this so hot??
Why is this so hot??

And I have to give props to Jerry Wanek for his directing, which brought out the best in all his talented actors. The opening scenes of the “haunted bunker” were gorgeous, showcasing that amazing set that Wanek designed. Having walked through its halls myself, I can testify to how easy it is to get lost in the MoL and forget that you’re on a set at all. It’s that real.

Of course, I ended up being wrong about this episode being an exception to the controversy rule, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The episode itself satisfied on many levels, even as it left me – once again, I should be used to this by now – reeling by the end.

Let’s talk about the Castiel story arc first, since it managed to distract me from the brothers’ heartbreaking situation for part of the episode. Knowing that Misha will be in an episode creates a slightly different sort of anticipatory fervor in fandom – Cas isn’t in every episode, so there’s an intermittent reinforcement schedule going on for Misha fans, and anyone who passed Psych 101 knows that gives an extra added zing of excitement when he is. Misha himself fanned the fire with some tweets and hashtag suggestions, and #CastielReturns was trending alongside #Supernatural for a while. I love watching any group of SPN fans get squeeful, so reading my twitter feed put me in a good mood. (I’m always in a good mood on Tuesday night, but there’s usually a sense of trepidation alongside which makes me smile and bite my nails simultaneously – no mean feat.)

I prefer my Castiel both conflicted and badass, so needless to say, this episode was relatively satisfying on that front. (Although I’ve never managed to care much about the whole angel war thing when it doesn’t directly involve Cas or the Winchesters, so those parts tend to fly over my head sounding like blahblah factions blahblah.) In this episode, writer Robert Berens anchors the angel war storyline around Castiel’s personal journey, so my attention didn’t waver. The Show is drawing lots of parallels between Cas and Sam this season, which has given me more empathy for both of them. God knows (well, actually he doesn’t since on SPN he left the building, but you know what I mean) Castiel has had his share of struggling with who he is and what his place is in the larger scheme of things. He’s made some terrible decisions and had to face his own flaws head-on, but he’s also learned from those mistakes and confrontations with selfishness and hubris. He’s not human anymore, but he was for a while, and his intimate knowledge of humanity has changed him. He cares about humans, and uses that caring as a reminder not just of what the angels’ mission was, but what it can and should be now.

Adam Harrington must have done an excellent job of portraying Bartholemew, because every time he came onscreen my blood ran cold. He was just so creepy! The more he tried to woo Cas, the more dangerous he seemed, as Bart made Cas complicit in the graphic angel torture and then tried to force him to murder. The fact that Cas has killed before, and not always for the best reasons, amped up the tension in those scenes until I was yelling at my television, “Nooooo Cas, noooo!” Luckily he listened. There was more than one comment that Cas and Bart’s fight scene was so full of tension that it verged on the dirtybadwrong kind of hot, for which I totally blame Adam and Misha. (Misha helpfully tweeted that Adam smelled (and tasted) like pickled turnip.) Hmm.

Cas is back!
Cas is back!
Is it hot in here?
Is it hot in here?

I like the theme of free will which continues to run through the Show, as part of Castiel’s arc and something the Winchesters continue to struggle with too – free will means that sometimes we make good decisions, but sometimes we make very bad ones, and then we have to deal with the consequences. That tension permeates the last few seasons, along with the question of whether the end justifies the means. Maybe sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. Kevin seems to recognize the good that came from Gadreel’s possession as well as the horrible – Charlie is alive, Sam is alive, Cas is alive. Both Castiel and Sam seem to be important to the larger scheme of things. Does that excuse Dean making the choice for Sam or make up for Kevin’s death? Of course not, but Supernatural has never implied fairness when it comes to life and death. Would closing the gates of hell have been a good thing after all, with Heaven also closed and all the souls caught in the veil? Who knows. I like that, so far at least, Show isn’t giving us any simplistic or black and white answers, because really, are there any? This Show has never come down to “Dean is wrong and Sam is right” or “Dean is right and Sam is wrong” any more than Castiel’s journey can be seen in such concrete terms. The Show exists in shades of grey, and I like it that way (even if it drives me completely stark raving mad at times).

I also like where Cas is now – the reluctant hero, the leader who attracts followers because he doesn’t seek them but inspires anyway. Now I’d like to see him fighting for something viewers care about emotionally, which isn’t the angel war – but Metatron? Oh hell yes, Cas, get your BAMF self up there and get rid of the dick responsible for the death of Kevin Tran!

And speaking of Kevin. I was inadvertently spoiled for his return by that infamous promo, which ruined the power of that reveal (and why did they think that level of spoiler was a good idea?) Nevertheless, it was wonderful to see Osric Chau back, even if it is as a ghost. Chau struck just the right notes as Kevin struggled to manifest, still maintaining his sense of humor and his ability to see things clearly (even when the Winchesters can’t).

Warner Bros/CW
Warner Bros/CW

Kevin is once again proving both his smarts and his hero chops by acting as a leader amongst all the souls stuck in the veil – and he’s a nice parallel for what the Winchesters have gone through as he searches single-mindedly for his mother, determined to find her at all costs. Linda Tran and her tiger-mommy protective love for her son provides a mirror for Dean and Sam’s relationship – Dean has always seen himself as a parent to Sam as much as a big brother, and he demonstrates that same all-encompassing no-holds-barred protective love for Sam. One of the things I loved about Berens’ script is that we finally get to see the Show’s perspective on the Winchesters in this episode. The Show tells us that Mrs. Tran’s fierce love for Kevin, even to the extent that she’s determined to do some ill advised things (like take home a ghost), is not wrong. That passionate love for family has always been a theme of the Show, and I loved seeing it reiterated here. It’s never been a blanket justification for what the characters have done, which has sometimes been wrong and sometimes right, but the love itself is valued.

I had to tweet Berens during the scene where Sam finds the captive Mrs. Tran. Lauren Tom did a fabulous job of making us feel every second of Linda Tran’s rollercoaster emotions. Terror, hope, devastation, determination. You could read every emotion on her face, hear it in her voice. The silent conversation during which Sam lets her know that Kevin is dead broke my heart and had me reaching for the tissues. As Mrs. Tran squared her shoulders and soldiered on, using the skills she’d learned from her son to help break them out, I was floored by her courage. And then I was floored by the realization that Berens had managed to write a female character who isn’t 21 and who and is tough, smart, flawed, and human. And awesome.

“FangasmSPN: There’s so much badassery on my television right now. And not all of it is hunters or angels. Love you @robertberens.”

Badass Linda Tran
Badass Linda Tran

There was a lot to love in the Winchester scenes of this episode too. Sam and Dean keeping watch over the coffee pot, hoping for Kevin to communicate. Dean taking the coffee pot with them to the woods, and tacking the radio to a tree to speak to Candy. Sam snarking to Dean that maybe Crowley “just isn’t that into you.”

Actually that snarky comment was telling. Neither Sam nor Dean does well with the other partnering with someone else. Sam’s fears in the church in Sacrifice were all about letting Dean down – and Dean replacing him with another brother substitute. Dean working with a demon is so problematic I don’t know where to start, considering the Winchesters’ history of demon deals and partnerships. So Sam’s attitude makes sense, but it’s as much about Dean working with someone else as it is about the fact that Crowley’s a demon.

The ending of ‘Captives’ at first was very satisfying. We get the Show’s point of view on the Winchesters’ current drama again, as we did through Cas a few episodes ago. And Kevin once again stands in for fandom as he confronts the Winchesters about their ongoing fighting – “The drama, the fighting. It’s stupid — get over it.”

I started yelling “YESSSSS” and then closed my mouth abruptly as Sam instantly agreed. What? That wasn’t what I – oh. OH. It was so clear that Sam didn’t mean it, that it shocked me into silence mid “Yes.” Dean’s more tentative agreement sounded as hopeful as it did serious, aimed at Sam instead of Kevin. And then Dean turned around to talk to Sam, and Sam had left the room. Without a word. I had foolishly thought that I wasn’t going to have my heart skewered in the last two minutes for once, but no. That did it. We see Sam pause at the door to his bedroom, pulling up a brief moment of hope in my battered heart, and then he goes inside and closes the door, shutting himself off from Dean.

Warner Bros/CW
Warner Bros/CW

Oh, Sam. Why must you break my heart so? Let’s take a minute and talk about Sam, shall we? He too is alone and cut off, still obviously hurting and angry. We don’t get to see Sam’s pain as often or as clearly as we see Dean’s, but Padalecki shows us Sam’s emotions in small glimpses, movements, expressions. His empathy when he decides to tell the truth about Kevin to his mother, with his own horrific history of loss showing clearly on his face. His guilt about Kevin’s death. His hesitation outside the bedroom door, as longing for closeness with his brother wars with the hurt that’s still so raw.

In almost every recent episode, including this one, we’ve still seen Sam’s love for Dean and his own streak of protectiveness, as he runs through the bunker yelling his brother’s name and brandishing a sword to take out whatever is hurting Dean.

Can Sam always dress like this? Please?
Can Sam always dress like this? Please?

But Sam is still hurting, and still expressing that hurt by cutting his brother out of his emotional life. Sam’s been through a lot in three decades. He’s been abandoned, one way or another, by just about everyone he’s ever allowed himself to care about. He was essentially orphaned after his mother’s death and his father’s immersion in hunting, despite young Dean’s attempts to take over the role of parent. That has become an integral part of Dean’s identity, but Sam hasn’t really accepted Dean in a parental role. In fact, he often specifically rejects Dean’s parenting, protesting “Don’t try to be my protector!” I’ve theorized this in terms of Sam’s interrupted attempts at individuation, and his need to be independent and able to take care of himself, but there’s another explanation too. Humans who lose a parent are angry as well as hurt – so they tend to reject anyone who tries to step in as a replacement. It’s as though by accepting a replacement, they’re letting the parent who left “off the hook”, saying that it doesn’t matter, things are fine now because so and so is now my parent. That’s a lot to ask of a child, or of an angry adolescent, or even a man who still carries a ton of conflicted feelings about his parents and their various means of abandonment. That’s a lot to ask of Sam Winchester. He loves his brother, but he wants to see him as just that – a brother. No wonder he puts so much emphasis on that relationship and the significance of that term, because it’s invested with deep meaning for him. And he doesn’t give out that title lightly.

It’s frustrating that the Show lets us see the level of Dean’s hurt, but sometimes doesn’t show us as much of Sam’s. It’s there, it’s just not as obvious. He’s so traumatized and unable to trust that he can’t even settle into the bunker and call it home. He’s never believed that he had his father’s or his big brothers’ approval, and he still yearns for it. Sam has repeatedly sacrificed himself (or tried to) in order to make up for his perceived failings, even if most of them are only his perception. He’s tired, so so tired – it’s obvious just to look at him.

And then there’s Dean. Oh, Dean. The last shot mirrors the first, Dean once again alone in his room behind another closed door. There’s no mistaking his loneliness and pain – the Show lets us hear it in the song he listens to.

Lonely is the night
When you find yourself alone…

Dean has his headphones on but his gaze is far away, blank. It’s the look in those green eyes that has haunted me for the past two days. There’s a world of hurt there, but it’s locked behind a blankness that I’ve seen all too often in real life, in real people who’ve been through real trauma and found it to be too much. There’s a deadness in Dean’s eyes that wasn’t there before, and the implications of that are chilling me to the bone. There’s no one to pull him back from self hatred and despair without Sam there. What will a Dean who is no longer anchored to his humanity or able to feel any hope be like? Is this the Mark of Cain asserting its influence, isolating Dean and taking away from him any human connection? The possibilities of that scenario have me terrified.

Brilliant fan vids like this one that explore Dean’s head space just frighten me more. Is this where Dean is headed?

I woke up this morning shaking my head at the fact that I’m this afraid for a fictional character.

That I’ve already had a dozen conversations in the past two days with a dozen fans about a fictional show and its fictional characters and where it’s going and why and OMG why do I do this to myself and… yeah, I know, who am I kidding, I’ll never walk away.

Talk about a captive audience.

Meanwhile, fans weighed in with their artistic commentary on Sam and Dean’s ongoing drama.

Credit @kierstenhagins
Credit @kierstenhagins

And various creative and production side tweets kept the viewing experience meta, as we’ve all come to expect from Supernatural.

Robert Berens complimented the acting: Jensen’s peeved, offhand “Bunker’s haunted” is perfection.

Misha Collins complimented Lauren Tom (Umm, I think…): nice work @LaurenTom9000! anyone ever tell you you look hot in chains? (Sorry @OsricChau to talk about your fictional mother that way).

Guy Norman Bee chimed in to compliment the directing and the music choice: Lonely is the Night! Great song to end the episode! Great job @JerryWanek! #SPN #billysquier

Lauren Tom said what many fans were saying, watching Kevin and his mother: This is so hard to watch, I love you @OsricChau!

Osric live tweeted and then hosted a video Q & A after the episode, chatting with fans.

And director Jerry Wanek seemed to echo one of the themes of the Show itself: Tonight’s ep is dedicated to my brother Randy who taught me “if you work hard enough anything is possible!” Love you big brother!

Let’s hope the Winchesters are listening.

What did you think of 9.14? What are you hoping for from next week’s episode?

Read more of our adventures in SPN Fandom and behind
the scenes of Supernatural in “Fangasm: Supernatural
Fangirls” by clicking the link at the top of the page

28 thoughts on “Supernatural’s ‘Captives’ – Aren’t We All?

  • Yes.

    I believe we are in for a VERY rocky, scary, painful, and gut-wrenching ride based on nothing more nor less than the look on Dean’s face at the end of this compelling episode.

    Will Cain ultimately have to kill Abel — again? Please, Show, not that.

  • I think Robert Berens did an excellent job. He’s always so spot on with the characterization, his episode was moving and offered the opportunity for the cast to show all their talent. So many beautiful scenes in 9×14, thank you Berens.

  • First, that video is NOT okay. I’m going to have to have some alcohol myself right now. Yeesh.

    Second, that picture is ADORABLE. I want someone on the set to make a “get along shirt” and put the two actors in it. STAT. How can we make this happen? Who can be our inside source. Help me think of this.

    Third, I’m so with you on your comments. I particularly like your insights regarding Sam’s rejection of Dean as a parent. As I said on our Winchester Brother’s podcast discussion, Dean as a parent is JUST how it feels. And I loved that Dean and Mrs Tran had a moment. No, she didn’t speak directly about Dean’s choice but I feel that her decision regarding Kevin was just as much validation for Dean as if she HAD spoken directly about the possession.

    Which bring me to Dean’s mental state right now. First, I thought I saw more anger than blankness in that final look. I think he feels justified that he still did the right think with the possession. And you know, I agree with him. It was the right spur-of-the-moment call. It was the lying AFTER that was wrong. And Dean needs to see that IMO. Even if he and Sam can’t agree on the first issue (the possession) at least Dean needs to admit that keeping it a secret that long was wrong. After the dust settled at the hospital, he could have had his day in court with Sam to plead for Sam to accept “Zeke’s” help. But there were other important indicators of Dean’s mental state beside potentially some anger building. Did you notice the bare walls of his room? Now perhaps it was practical to put the weapons back into a “go” bag but the walls were COMPLETELY bare. Why? Then add in his apparent ‘new’ coping mechanism. The bottle of scotch is gone. YAY,. Is it possible that he’s decided to NOT crawl back into the bottle? Is that a one-episode reprieve? I really hope it’s in the direction of a better coping mechanism. In short, it’s possible Dean is actively processing this latest set of events differently than the usual self-hate. If he’s angry, that may be good. I’m not sure. On the other hand, he could just be tuning in to tune out and is really spiraling downward. Jury is out.

    Regarding Sam. I love him so much. I do think he’s hurting and is sticking to his guns to not just sweep this under the rug. They’ve done that in the past and it always comes back. I didn’t like him blatantly lying to Kevin but I understand his commitment to a better relationship. I’m just not sure they are going to be given the time to properly work things out before they will need to be on better footing.

    So yes, I join you in your worry about the fictional characters. Thanks again for another lovely review.

    SnazzyO (aka SueB)

    • I get what you’re saying, but I kind of disagree. I don’t think there was anything right about Dean’s decision to trick Sam and then lie to him. It’s not that I don’t understand WHY he did it. I completely understand, and it was in keeping with his character. But Dean’s choice for Sam violated not just Sam’s physical being but (and probably more importantly) his trust. Sam has every right to be hurt and angry.

      That being said, it doesn’t seem like Sam is committed to creating a better relationship. It doesn’t seem like Sam is interested in really having a relationship at all. It’s pretty obvious that Dean wants to talk this out and figure out a way forward, but Sam refuses to even engage in the conversation. He’s giving Dean the silent treatment, and that’s not going to help them deal with this a move forward. Sam seems more interested in assessing blame and kicking Dean while he’s down. And call it whatever you want, but Sam is definitely kicking Dean while he’s down. Because however angry Sam is at Dean, Dean is angrier at himself. However hurt Sam is, Dean is hurting just as much if not more. However much guilt Sam feels, Dean feels even more. So my question for Sam is: How long are you planning to punish Dean before you will actually engage in the conversation? I’m not saying that there is a quick fix for their relationship. There isn’t, but there is a way forward. But only if both Sam and Dean will come to the table. Even if Sam would just tell Dean ‘Look man, you tricked me and you lied to me. I’m hurt and I’m angry right now. I need some time to process this and then we can figure out where to go from there.’ At least give Dean (and me) a glimmer of hope that there is the possibility of forgiveness somewhere down the road.

      • And I kinda disagree with you, in return. 😉

        For Sam, a ‘better’ relationship is one where he can trust his brother to respect his autonomy and his wishes. And that trust has been smashed.

        How is it obvious Dean wants to talk this out? Has there been an apology? Nope. Has he chased Sam down (the injured party, btw) and insisted they work this out? Has he expressed any remorse for what he did to Sam, or indicated that he realized what he did was wrong and wouldn’t do it again? Negatory. Sure, he’s sorry Kevin got killed, and he came reeeeeally close to losing Sam’s body forever, inhabited eternally by Gadreel. If not for Crowley, Sam would still be gone.

        Sam doesn’t owe it to Dean to make the first move. Or even the second move. Sam is not responsible for Dean’s self-loathing. DEAN is, because that’s a choice Dean is making for himself.

        How long is Sam going to “punish” Dean? Gee, I dunno. How long is DEAN going to punish Dean?

        Until he realizes that what he did to Sam was the wrong move and he offers an apology, is my guess. Truthfully? The ball is in Dean’s court and he needs to make the difficult play of admitting his relationship with Sam has changed. Sam doesn’t need a parent anymore; he needs a compatriot.

      • @Jessica, I agree with you about it seeming like Sam doesn’t want a relationship with Dean. He doesn’t seem to want to work it out because he’s not being honest with Dean about what the problem is and then he’s dropping lines that we all know, and hopefully, Sam does know, aren’t true. At least, I hope Sam knows what he said isn’t true.

        It took two people to break the relationship and it’s been breaking for years, especially since Season 4, but you can even see the issues in Season 1, and it’s going to take both brothers to fix it. Both brothers will need to talk, need to apologize and need to change.

        Dean turned to Sam after Kevin’s speech, but Sam had already left the room. I think, unfortunately, that was the beginning of the end of Dean trying anymore with Sam. Sam is the one that issued the rules for the current relationship, which is what Dean is following, so I think Sam will have to be the one to change the rules.

  • What an episode. I think a lot of it boils down to the fact that Robert Berens treats the characters with such thoughtfulness and respect. And I really like seeing Cas on his own, trying to figure things out and make his own decisions….interesting to see the way his taste of humanity will continue to influence his choices.

    I totally agree with you about the lack of focus on Sam’s pain. I think it needs to be explored so that people can understand why he can’t just “get over it”. As hard as it is to see the brothers so distanced, it speaks to the depth of the issues they are trying to deal with. I spent the whole first half of the season being pissed at Dean so I appreciate that Sam isn’t letting him off the hook.

    And Kevin! And Mama Tran!

    Finally, Dean in that coat and those boots…that is going to be my undoing.

  • As usual you did a Good Job with this review….
    Here are my thoughts>
    1. It was so nice to see mama Tran and Kevin back, I think they really have a happy ending on supernatural which is so weird is this show, but like you say they gave us love a love that we use to see on Sam and Dean, they feel very protective for each other. And Thank God!!! Kavin spoke for all the fans please stop the stupid drama!!!!!! PLEASE!!!!!!

    2. Was awesome to se the bunker hunt, I mean was amazing how fast the Winchester realize what was going on, and how protective they are for their house, and for each other I mean Sam was looking for Dean and Dean save Sam (well just because he didn’t know that was Kevin)

    3. I don’t understand this thing about angles and their war, I mean they really need to talk about the elephant in the Room I mean Metatron!!!!!!! We need him down! and I think this is Castiel mission I hope he can do it right this time, he is doing a good job tracking Metatron, also what make me happy was all this Bart’s spy sistem why? well maybe Charlie can help Cas with that, is very helpfull thing.

    4. The Drama, ok I was happy that Kevin speak at loud, how stupid is this drama turning, and I saw the line at the end of the tunnel when Sam agree, but them he just left, I felt like Dean, Sam let all the fans speaking with theirself. I agree with you when you say that wee need to see more Sam feelings, I mean we understend his reasons to be mad, and his actions, but his hesitate in front of his door mean somenthing and we need to understand more Sam feelings, and stop see the shield that he always use.

    Thank you for you review!!!! as I said was an amazing Job

  • Fantastic review – you really nailed it, providing insight into each strand weaving through the story. I especially appreciated your thoughts on Sam and I wish desperately we were given more access to what he’s going through. There’s been a lot of Sam-hate lately, so your empathy towards him was refreshing. I’ve thought about his past and his need to be independent often, but never quite got that there was some actual consciousness of and resistance to the Dean-as-parent dynamic. I was thinking back to “Dead in the Water,” and Sam’s surprise when Dean is so good with the little, traumatized boy. We get that Dean is good with kids because he practically raised one (i.e. Sam), but I always see Sam as not understanding that so much… or when he does, feeling helpless to alter the dynamics to a new place where he’s in an adult and not a child position. And Dean…I’m with you. The despair and the emptiness in his eyes is killing me.

    How can this show still pack this kind of punch nine years in? I only hopped on this train about a year ago, but I’ve caught up and I’m just blown away by the unflagging power of this story.

  • Super review (I read yours and yours alone because they mirror my thoughts and feelings exactly) as always…but where did you get those lyrics? They’re not in “Lonely Is The Night”…what am I missing?

  • I’m still feeling VERY sad for Mrs. Tran. Tissues, sniffles, the whole can of feels–all of them, just for her.

    Sam, on the other hand, is making me very cranky. If I could reach into the MoL bunker, I’d tell him: “You, young man, are going to just stay in that room until you can come out and play nice with your brother. And no phone, either. (And look at me like that again, I’m getting The Shirt and then you’ll be sorry). ”

    Obviously, this episode spoke to the mother-of-sons in me.

    But I think you’ve hit the nail on the proverbial head: we need more of Sam’s rationale/emotion/motivation. This strong silent (miserable, uncooperative) Sam is reminding me of Soulless Sam: cold, business-like, really hot in tight shirts. And I know that the writers can’t let it all out mid-season, because what will we tune in for if the conflict is easily solved? (See comment, re: Sam in tight shirts.) As nice as it is when the boys (our boys) get along, we’re right there looking for clues and cues amid their non-verbal communication. As you pointed out, Lynn–my heart rose a bit when Sam hesitated at his door. Look! He’s going to go back and apolo–oh. Crap. No. NOooooooo!

    But realizing we only have the nonverbal cues to go by made me realize–Dean has a confidant. Sam doesn’t. Okay, true–and weird–Dean’s confidant is Crowley. That brilliant video you posted confirms this: Crowley knows Dean’s heart and has already given him some advice. And maybe the King of Hell is not answering his phone not because he’s “not that into Dean” (which, of course, is untrue; how can ANYONE–besides Sam–not be into Dean? I mean, seriously. Squee.) but because he’s sick (and tired) of listening to Dean talk about the problems between himself and his brother. (Have you ever had a friend who’s going through a rough time with their most important relationship? After awhile–as much as you know it makes you a bad person–you don’t always want to answer the phone and listen to the same rehash o’crap.)

    Right now, Sam doesn’t have a confidant to go to. All he has is himself. Dean has always been the one he turned to (whether he wanted to or not); there is NO one else. Unless Sam starts dishing out to the Ghostfacers (unlikely, though the prospect is certainly amusing), we are probably not going to get the inner story. Cas is too busy with his own problems right now (and he’d take Dean’s side anyway). Until he IS ready to come out of his room and play nice, I guess, we’re stuck on the bed with Dean.

    (Wait. What?)

    By the way, while this episode isn’t creating much furor among fans, fanfic is blowing up with it. I even read a story this afternoon where one very annoyed writer (also a mom, btw) turned Sam into a hamster. (Or a Sampster.) In another story, Cas gave Sam the dressing down that–if it were on an episode–would have fandom jumping up and down doing fist pumps and shouting, “Yes! Let him have it!”

    Alas. Not to be. We’ll just have to wait and worry. 🙁

    Thanks to you for the awesome review/recap–as always. And if you can, please tell Ms. Tom that she ripped my heart out of my chest with her performance last night. She gets my vote as Mom of the Year. It was a five-tissue performance!

  • I always enjoy your insights into the Sam & Dean relationship.

    Sam & Dean fighting is no fun to watch. I think these past few episodes have really showcased just how essential the brother bond is to SPN – the brother bond & relationship really sets the tone for the entire show. When Sam & Dean are not working, the show really feels different & off – it hits hard because the relationship is usually weaved so seamlessly throughout the show. I think it is why I am still so nervous about the writers intention with the direction of the brothers relationship. While SPN is about monsters & demons & angels, at its core, SPN is about two brothers who love each more than anything. And threatening that is so scary, as it defines the show we love. Argh! 😉

    While I’m frustrated with the writers for putting the brothers in this position, I have also found myself really frustrated with fandom over the past few weeks. I feel like so many Sam!girls want to blame Dean exclusively & so many Dean!girls want to blame Sam exclusively. And there is just so much meanness and negativity being throw at both characters. And it hurts my heart. A Fandom in brother!feels chaos right now is not a fun Fandom to be in! I don’t think everything is as straight-forward as some fans are making it out to be.

    I love your point about shade os gray because I don’t think either brother is 100% in the right. I also don’t think either brother is 100% in the wrong. I know that Dean violated Sam by allowing to possess Sam. And I know that it was wrong & Dean needs to realize what a violation that was & how much it hurt his brother. But then I think that Dean did what he did out of LOVE…and I just can’t really fault him for that. Dean has one person he can really cling to & count on. If I only had one person in the entire world to rely on, I can’t make any promises on the lengths I would do to protect & save that person.

    I keep thinking on this episode & what transpired, especially with the Trans. I feel like some fans are painting Dean’s decision to Sam decision as this incredibly bad thing with no bright points. And while it violated Sam (which, yes, is a big deal), there is some good that has come out of it as you touched on – Cas & Charlie are alive because of the Gadreel. But also, Mama Tran. Had Kevin not died, he would never had been stuck in the veil & had the opportunity to ask about & get intel on his Mom. Without Kevin dying, Mama Tran most likely would never have been found..and most likely killed by the demons. Even though Kevin is a ghost, him & his mother are getting to spend incredibly precious time together.

    I think the Winchesters are damned if you do, damned if you don’t – the brothers don’t live in our world & their decisions carry more weight than they are probably even aware. Had Dean not saved Sam, Kevin still could have been killed – Megatron wanted him dead.

    I also really want SPN to get back to showcasing Sam & Dean as heroes. Because they are. Yes, they are human & they make mistakes, but they have contributed so much good to the world – hell, Sam jumped in the cage to SAVE the world. And the world is SO much better with both of them in it, fighting the good fight – saving people, hunting things – together. [side note: is anyone else frustrated with how the writers are writing the brothers as hunters? I feel like the brothers are much more competent hunters than the writers are giving them credit for – they are making rookie mistakes…when really, the Winchesters are the most elite hunting team out there.] I want Sam to realize, that YES, there is an upside to him being alive. A HUGE upside. Dean’s decision to save Sam has consequences, and Kevin dying was sad (really sad), but I think when you look at the big picture, Sam being alive is worth it.

    All I can hope is that this tension/hurt/sadness/anger is not dragged out for the rest of the season. I love SPN for Sam & Dean & Sam’n’Dean (as Kripke once said). So the past few eps have been rough going. Instead of smiling & sqealing when an episode ends, I lie in bed thinking about how irritated I am about what SPN is doing to the fictional characters. So ridiculous! I’m not used to feeling this rage towards my show. I just want the show to FIX EM.

    • I know just what you mean. I’m still watching (for now, unless it gets worse) but the fandom? Argh.

  • Very good review as always. This episode had me going through all the emotions. Seeing Sam running through the bunker trying yo find Dean makes my heart jump. Having Kevin appear was not only exciting but sad also. Having the guys go find momma tran and eventually finding her was great. I loved the episode but was also hoping it would bring these two closer together. Reading your review and also watching the video has me hurting for both Sam and Dean. Knowing that they are both hurting and both needing eachother. It pains me knowing they are both to stubborn to admit it. I just wished they would come together like they were. Also this Mark of Cain also has me worried. Watching the end of the show had me tearing up yelling at Sam to turn around and go to his brother (and I’m a Sam girl). I am ready for this thing between them to be over. Once again thank you for your reviews.

  • Interesting review! There were many things going on in the episode and I thought Robert Berens gave everything meaningful weight. I can see how a switch from a bunker ghost story to the angel war might be jarring, yet Castiel’s story is thematically directly linked to each of the Winchesters’–as Sam, Dean, and Cas are all trying to figure out what’s the right thing, what their purpose is, some sense of identity–so it all interwove well.

    Dean’s world is falling apart, Sam is dealing with his feeling of distrust and betrayal. There’s a lot of distance between the brothers (and physical distance between the brothers + Castiel). But this is the second week in a row where the brothers are supposedly in “keep it professional” mode and we’ve had Sam worried and frantic, racing to help Dean. So I think SPN is purposefully playing around with misunderstandings…Sam’s I wouldn’t do that in the same circumstances doesn’t mean Sam wouldn’t go all out to save Dean, there are boundaries, questions as to how far is too far, you can do a crazy thing for the sake of someone you love, but that doesn’t happen in a vacuum, you can hurt the one you’re saving and you can hurt other loved ones. Sam and Dean haven’t figured this out yet and there’s still misunderstandings and neither is articulating or quite getting it but they are working towards it. I’m glad it’s getting time to really be explored, while I’m also with Kevin, wanting to see them work this out, but if the brothers don’t get the room and time to really dig down and take a look at their issues, the divisions and conflicts and distrust will only fester and continue.

    Loved seeing Castiel’s character development so clearly on screen and while it was heartbreaking, Kevin’s ghostly return and Linda being a resourceful badass and then that heartwrenching reunion with Kevin. I loved Sam’s scenes with Linda.

    Like you, I would’ve liked to see more of Sam’s inner life, what he’s doing when he’s alone, to see more of what Sam’s feeling about all this. I can see a certain amount on screen but I think we do need more. His hesitation at his door was very poignant. Meanwhile Dean is escaping into music (rather than a whiskey bottle) and it’s really intriguing to me to see Dean turning inward, because that’s kind of his core issue, he thinks he’s poison, and not worth anything if he’s not saving everyone–who is he. Dean needs to figure that out.

  • There were so many things that I loved about this episode… and I think it contributes to an overall season that has been crafted beautifully. Thanks to Jeremy Carver for his wonderful vision and curse him (in the same breath) for all the heartache that we’re currently enduring.

    Like you, I haven’t been all that invested in the angel storyline. But now I’m really fascinated about where it’s going. Castiel’s journey has been wonderful; first with his taste of being human, and now with him becoming a reluctant leader. And finally, we have some other angels that we can care about in the war against Metatron!

    All the scenes with the Winchesters and Trans were amazing and heartbreaking… I’m still reaching for tissues whenever I think about it.

    This was my favourite episode for Mrs Tran; I think Lauren Tom almost stole the show portraying Mrs Tran’s terror, relief, determination and grief in such a superb way. That scene with Sam in the storage lock-up – oh my gosh, it was so amazing.

    Which brings me to another point… we all know what incredible actors Jared and Jensen are, but this episode really showcased their talent. So much was said without any words.

    There was Dean’s anguish when he was trying to apologise to Kevin, as well as the final scene after Sam walked away. Jensen’s whole body conveyed Dean’s hurt, resignation and anger. I, too, am very scared for Dean at the moment.

    Then there was Jared’s performance: Sam’s panic for Dean at the beginning of the episode; his face conveying to Mrs Tran the news of Kevin’s death; and the final scene where he hesitated at his door, took a deep breath, and then stuck to his resolve. It would’ve been so easy for Sam and Dean to accept Kevin’s forgiveness and sweep their problems back under the carpet… so, even though it’s painful, I’m very glad Sam didn’t cave in.

    My favourite scene of the episode (which I think could well be my favourite scene of the entire series because of what it means) was Kevin telling Sam that it wasn’t his fault. I think Jared played this really well because it looked like it didn’t quite sink in for Sam. It was a subtle combination of surprise and relief… that someone was actually absolving him of his guilt.

    Think about the significance of this scene. This is the first time that a victim (killed by Sam while he was possessed or soulless) has told Sam that it wasn’t his fault. And there’s a huge difference in hearing this from a victim (and not just your family and friends who are trying to protect and comfort you).

    Sam was not forgiven for his transgressions in Unforgiven; and even the girl in The Man Who Knew Too Much, while sympathetic, didn’t offer him much solace. After he apologised to her, she said, “Not as sorry as you’re going to be”. Ouch!

    I can’t tell you how happy those words from Kevin made me 🙂 🙂 🙂

    I also think this is the turning point for Sam in forgiving Dean. It might not seem like it yet, but a big part of Sam’s anger toward Dean is because he inadvertently killed Kevin while possessed (and because he carries guilt for all the people he’s unwillingly hurt over the years).

    When Sam hesitated at his bedroom door, I could almost hear his brain ticking over … “Kevin is right, I need to forgive Dean, but how do I do it… he is still in the mindset of ‘I’d do it again’ and I just can’t… I can’t have this happen to me again”. So he goes into his room and shuts Dean out. (lol, I think I’ve just written my first piece of fan fiction ;)).

    Anyhow, I really do think that Kevin’s words were exactly what Sam needed to hear right now… and this episode has left me hopeful that a resolution is getting closer.

    Thanks for another wonderful review – I really look forward to them every week.

  • Where do I start? Probably by the end. I gotta say Sam’s acceptance of Kevin’s suggestion to get over it was way too quick and earnest to be believable. I didn’t buy it for a minute. But Dean did. Just like you said, he didn’t answer to Kevin, he answered to Sam, and he actually thought they were gonna at least have a word or two about what Kevin had said and maybe the air would begin to clear, but he hoped too soon. Sam could at least have said good night. The moment of hesitation was hopeful, but when has it ever been that easy? I know he’s struggling too, and I too would like some insight into his pain, because it’s there, you can tell. What’s interesting about Sam is how his anger and detachment seem to be more a conscious decision to act that way, than what he actually feels. Because the very moment he realizes Dean may be in danger, his real feelings take over and we see him literally jump and run to help him, genuinely worried.
    I liked Kevin as a ghost. Just as in life, Kevin is a rather smart ghost, and he managed manifestation pretty damn quick. Him asking them to go rescue his mother was heart wrenching. I’m so happy Ms. Tran was alive and her commitment to taking care of her son even in death… well, as a mother of two and a grandmother now, I totally get it as to how far I’d go for my children.
    I loved Cas in this episode. There’s some inner strength to him now that wasn’t there before. Not the strength of the one who thinks he’s carrying out God’s work, but the strength of the one who is determined to stick to his decision to do the right thing. I like it. And I certainly hope he’ll come back and talk -punch, slap or whatever it takes- some sense into those two. I’m counting on you, Cas.

  • Oh where to start with this one? I guess… you’re very right about Adam Harrington – he’s truly excellent at playing the creepy characters (I speak ofhis role here and also in another show) he definitely gave me chills!
    Right, anyway, onto the story / characters.
    The Bart and Cas backstory really surprised me, I just wasn’t expecting the reunion between them! I did like the story behind them, Cas inadvertantly created this ‘monster’ in his leadership of Heaven and that was really interesting to me and perhaps will be crucial in the fight against Metatron.
    I also really like Cas’ reluctant hero role – it warmed my heart to see the other angel offer to follow him and then fimd that actually, there are a few more angels there too. Maybe the fact that some angels still believe in him will take away some of the guilt I’m sure Cas is still feeling over what he did during season 6.
    Onto Kevin and Mrs Tran. Oh this side of the story is what broke my heart! Thankfully I’d avoided the big spoiler so I didn’t know Osric was back! Seeing Kevin back was just amazing! I wish he could stay! As for Mrs Tran, I’d only just started to think maybe she was dead and then BOOM! Show suddenly tells us “actually, here she is.” I’m glad we got closure on that plot – we finally know what happenef to her – and as you said, Lauren nailed the performance! Her fear, her sadness and her strength. She’s always been such a strong character that I was bouncing in my seat when she practically shoved Sam out of the way tocut the wires that were locking the door. As the scene shifted to the bunker, this is where my heart broke. Linda saw Kevin and I was in tears. Osric and Lauren in that moment were amazing and it was so believable! Bravo guys!
    Now, Sam. Well, I think there were some points in this episode that were pretty significant. His pause outside his room, his snark to Dean, his run through the bunker when Dean called out, his promise to Kevin… it all kind of implied to me that he does want to make up with Dean – he loves his brother – but he needs time because he’s still hurting. I just hope it’s not going to be when it’s too late for Dean, who is heading down dark path. 🙁
    Oh Dean. That last scene was so poignant and the song such a perfect reflection of Dean’s emotions at this point in the season. Also his faraway gaze was so striking! We’ve seen Dean in the past be really into his music, and here he’s barely listening. Or maybe he’s listening to intently to the words. You’re not the only one scared for this fictional character!
    I really wish I could write more but I’ve got to go! Also apologies for any typos, I haven’t time to read back through so hopefully it all makes sense! 🙂

  • Thank you for such a thoughtful, fair and balanced review.
    I loved Cas in this episode. Obviously he’s learned from past mistakes and his time as human. If his new mission is Metatron, I’m all in. Kevin stuck in the veil gives the Winchesters a new stake in the Metatron mission. Hopefully they will all work together.

    I agree the Show constantly shows us every single emotion experienced by Dean, but leaves us guessing about Sam. I would have paid good money to go in that room with Sam, but I knew they would cut away and show Dean’s reaction. And they did. But I think there’s a reason for that.

    I’ve been a Sam girl since the pilot and I think I understand him. He’s the strong silent type (my soft spot) which is the major difference between him and Dean. For example, when Dean came back from hell he said, ‘I don’t remember anything.’ Then he said, ‘I remember but I don’t want to talk about it.’ Then he talked about it ad infinitum. Sam said, ‘I remember everything but I don’t want to talk about it.’ And he has never talked about it. Not a peep.

    And yet he told Ms. Tran her son was dead with the touch of his hand and the “painful” look on his face. At the bunker while Sam tried to apologize to Kevin for something he had no control over, Dean made the “24/7 quality time” joke. And Kevin and I both called him a dick at the same time. Consequently, I understand why Sam had to go to his room. 🙂

    Dean made that very heartbreaking apology in the kitchen to Kevin when he couldn’t see Kevin. When the Trans were there in front of him he made a joke. That’s how he deals with his pain. As he said to that lunatic hunter, Gordon Walker in season 2, ‘he’s gotta keep his “game face” on’, especially for Sammy (parent/child?). It’s that game face that’s killing him.

    In Holy Terror (eps 909) Dean completely opened up in that storeroom with Sam (who turned out to be Gadreel unfortunately). He said all the right things. Things like: ‘I have something to tell you and it’s really gonna piss you off. You would never have agreed and you would have died. That really messed me up so I made a decision for you. I tricked you into saying yes. You can kick my ass later but right now we have a problem.’ He saved his life but he knew he crossed a line.

    I honestly believe if he were to say those same words to Sam now we’d be beyond this madness, but instead he, once again, puts on that “game face” stubbornly insists he did the right thing and he’d do it again. Stalemate. He did the same thing when he killed Amy and sent the fake distress text to Amelia, but Sam rolled over and moved on. Sam doesn’t seem to be in the mood to roll over this time. I don’t want Sam to roll over. I want them to work this out, set some boundaries, and develop a more equal relationship. All children grow up and Sam is not a child anymore.

    Finally, Sam and Cas have seen their well-intentioned actions go off the rails. It was painful to watch but they’ve learned and grown. I think this season is Dean’s turn.

    Yes, I’m deeply invested in these fictional brothers. I watch for the brother’s talks. Even in these last episodes when they’ve been fighting, I still love it. What can I say?

  • “Dean has his headphones on but his gaze is far away, blank. It’s the look in those green eyes that has haunted me for the past two days. There’s a world of hurt there, but it’s locked behind a blankness that I’ve seen all too often in real life, in real people who’ve been through real trauma and found it to be too much. There’s a deadness in Dean’s eyes that wasn’t there before, and the implications of that are chilling me to the bone.”

    Jensen has truly been brilliant this season and this episode provides more evidence of that. Jensen is the master of facial expressions and this scene was amazing.

    With regard to the brothers relationship, I understand Sam being upset about the possession, but I have a problem with what Sam said in The Purge and telling Dean those lies that Dean does more than harm than good and that Dean only sacrifices when Dean’s the one not hurt. Sam’s basically calling Dean’s whole life into question and saying he’s a failure. There’s no way Sam could actually view Dean that way, and if that really is Sam’s view of Dean, then Sam isn’t the person I thought he was. We had an episode earlier in season 9 (Bad Boys) that showed how much Dean has given up for Sam. Those words Sam said hurt and I have to believe they were meant to hurt, otherwise, why would Sam say them. Just like the possession issue, those words cannot be shoved under the carpet; they have to be addressed too.

    The problems with the brothers’ relationship are more than about the possession and they aren’t one way, it’s not all on Dean. Right now, though, all the blame seems to be shifted to Dean, coming from both Sam and Dean. But, Sam has to accept his role in the problems and, just as Dean needs to change, so does Sam. Until BOTH sides are addressed, then nothing will get fixed.

  • Great episode review. I must be one of the very few people in fandom that likes this storyline because I think it is well overdue. Something had to come to a head eventually with the way Dean treats Sam. Does he love Sam? Absolutely, I don’t doubt that for an moment but his love is also incredibly controlling and very, very needy. It would be difficult for anyone not to suffocate under the weight of it. He also has never respected Sam as an equal, if he did, he would allow Sam to make his own decisions as hard as they may be on Dean because that’s what real love is. Sam has every right to be angry because Dean has shown absolutely zero remorse. If Sam capitulates, he knows they will jump on the same merry-go-round again and it’s not healthy for either of them.

    This season is also finally making me understand what happened with Sam in Season 8 where he seemed so out of character. After Dean and Castiel disappeared and Sam had no clue as to where, he had no resources on the side of good to turn to, the only avenues open to him would have been getting help or making deals with the side of evil. That has always come with huge collateral damage. Sam is no longer prepared to toss others under the bus so that the Winchesters can go on saving each other – the cost is too high…and that’s where we’re at now. Look at the collateral damage from Dean stopping Sam from closing the gates and then letting an angel possess him.

    Poor Sam has had so little control over his life. He has been fed demon blood as an infant, manipulated by Azazel, possessed by Meg, a vessel for the devil himself, spent over 100 years in the cage with Lucifer and Michael, had his soul left behind and had his mind fractured. And then Dean does the one thing that he knew Sam would hate more than anything, he allowed him to be possessed again and Crowley is free and Kevin is dead. I’m hoping the tension remains until Dean finally understands and at least tries to treat Sam as an equal, with the respect he has earned, and allows him make his own choices.

  • This was an interesting episode because we learned that if Sam had died in 9.01, he would be a ghost and stuck behind the veil. We also learned that if the Gates of Hell had been closed, we may have had those going to Hell wandering around too.

    I think not closing the Gates of Hell has turned out to be a good decision, they didn’t really have enough evidence that it would have been a good thing except for what Metatron said and he’s been proven not to be a good source.

    I think both brothers are in the wrong right now and they have to come to the middle. Dean has to let go of his feeling responsible for Sam, Sam can make his own decisions, even bad ones, and Dean should let him, and let Sam handle the consequences, again, good or bad, and Sam needs to accept his responsibility and make a decision about his life, whether to go on or not, including whether to hunt or not, whether to have a normal life or not, whether to go back to Amelia or not, no more threatening to leave, no more ultimatums.

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