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Supernatural - The Executioner's Song - Review

Supernatural, “The Executioner’s Song,” was written by Robert Berens and directed by Phil Sgriccia. The title is a reference to the Norman Mailer novel about the execution of Gary Gilmore, so well chosen. Jensen Ackles (Dean) gives one of his finest performances. While the episode focuses on Dean, Jared Padalecki (Sam) also delivers a terrific performance. Timothy Omundson is simply magnificent as Cain, and as with so many guest stars, he is gone far, far too soon. Somewhat apropos for an episode entitled “The Executioner’s Song,” I was particularly struck by the original score for this episode. The drama is intense, ramping up the action and tension heading into the last leg of the season.

So much is said in this episode that carries weight and significance that it’s almost tempting to just post a transcript, but I’ll try to take a closer look at what is revealed in this episode. In fact, for such an intense episode, relatively little “action” happens except for the climactic fight between Dean and Cain. That fight, in and of itself, is actually rather a disappointment. Cain merely tosses Dean around, and he only uses his demon-power to fling him once. Dean may be holding back in some misguided hope of controlling the effect of the Mark as Cain surmises, but he’s also clearly outmatched. Yes. He surprises Cain by grabbing his knife and cutting off the hand holding the blade, but then Cain merely sits there. The shock and blood loss surely weren’t enough to keep him from fighting back at all. Cain merely bows his head and waits for the killing blow, and that’s clearly what his plan was all along – for Dean to come at his call and kill him.

Let’s take a closer look at the rest of the episode before returning to that climactic scene. One of the things that the show has done really well this season, and something fans have been clamoring for for several seasons (about five!), is the bond between the brothers and that is very strong in this episode. We see a typical brotherly moment as the two drive up to the Allan B Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. And just as an aside that is the name of the maximum security, death row prison in Texas. Polunsky himself is a real-estate lawyer in Texas.

As they drive up to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Tommy Tolliver (John J Mackie), Dean is giving Sam a hard time about his new “hobby.” Sam calls it “true crime” and Dean calls it an illness. Of course, given the effect of the Mark in likely making Dean the subject of true crime, the comment is heavily ironic. While Sam may say that researching stats on serial killers is just a fun hobby, it’s also very likely that he’s also researching possible results from the effects of the Mark. Is he looking for clues for changes in Dean?

I loved the scene in which they look at the security footage. Dean clearly recognizes Cain from just his silhouette. Ackles is again terrific in this scene as we see the moment of recognition cross his face. The fact that the Mark also recognizes Cain is interesting as well. Is it possible that there had to be a link in their bloodlines for Cain to have given Dean the Mark in the first place?
When Cas (Misha Collins) returns with the news that Cain is killing whole families, they determine that Tommy had a son, Austin (Julien Hicks). Sam doesn’t believe that Cain would murder a child, but Dean and Cas are sure he would. Dean remarks, “it’s a fire sale. Everyone must go.” And of course, with a kid in danger, it means they must go as well. Sam doesn’t want to go because he doesn’t feel they have a plan and aren’t ready to face Cain. Ackles is excellent here and we see all of Dean’s fear and regret pass across his face as he says, “Then, I’ll do what I have to. I’ll kill Cain.” He realizes that one way or another this is likely his death warrant.

So much of this episode reminded me of season three’s “No Rest for the Wicked.” Just as in the season three finale, Dean has come face to face with the consequences to his rash action. And once again, that consequence would appear to be death. As Dean packs his weapons, Sam wants to know what’s going on. I loved that Padalecki simply had to show up at the door and basically shrug. Dean tells him, “When he gave me the mark, Cain said this day would come. After I killed Abaddon I would have to come and put him down.”

        Sam challenges him by saying, “Great. So, you’re taking orders from a madman.” Dean responds, “He wasn’t mad then. Cain resisted the Mark for a long time.” Dean then goes on to take responsibility for reigniting the Mark’s power over Cain: “I sent him down this path. This is on me.” Once again, Dean takes responsibility for his actions. Sam points out that “Wielding the Blade against Cain himself. Win or lose, you may never come back from that fight.” Dean knows this, but also can’t walk away from his responsibility.

Another example of how this season has returned to the strong bond between the brothers is when Dean admits he’s scared about the outcome of facing Cain. He tells Sam that he meant what he said last week about being okay with going down swinging. It’s also what he said to Cole earlier in the season – that he knew he’d die at the end of a knife or a gun. He tells Sam that he was at peace with it. Just as he was completely at peace with having sold his soul to bring Sam back from the dead at the end of season two. But by the end of season three, the year had flown by too quickly. Once again, he tells Sam that when he said that last week, he didn’t think it would be so soon.

The next brotherly scene could also have come right out of the season three finale. I can’t object to the writers reaching back to the earlier seasons for inspiration as those seasons were the best ones of the show. Once they trap Cain, it’s time for Dean to face him alone. Sam says they want to help, but Dean tells him, “No. You’d just be a liability. I’d be too worried about what he could do to you or what I could.” Ackles then smiles sadly, in almost exactly the same way he does when he says goodbye to his brother in the season three finale.

        He continues, “Plus, I need you three out here to take care of whatever comes out of there. And I’m serious. I mean whatever comes out.” Sam is stricken, but doesn’t say anything. He still has hope and faith in his brother. Crowley (Mark Sheppard) says he’ll do whatever is necessary – “Happily.” But his words are belied by his face which is anything but happy. Even Dean’s walk up the stairs is similar to a scene in the season three finale when he and Sam climb out of the basement after he traps Ruby (Katie Cassidy).

When Crowley wants assurances that he’ll get the Blade back, Dean tells him, “If I survive and I come out of there and I don’t give it back? You’ll all have a much bigger problem on your hands.” Crowley gives Dean the Blade, and it somehow doesn’t seem to have as powerful an effect on him. Is this because he’s trying to resist it or because he’s more used to the effect now? I suspect it’s the latter. Regardless, Sam immediately says, “Dean?” Once again, it’s Sam who grounds his brother. Dean tells him, “I’m good” and smiles again. It’s an interesting – and important choice of words. He could have said he was okay, but he said good which is the opposite of bad or evil.

Dean does make it out – more or less. When Crowley asked for the Blade, I have to say that I actually turned to my husband and said, “Why doesn’t he give the Blade to Cas?” And then of course, he did! So thank you Robert Berens for some smart writing! Dean keeps up his strong front until Crowley leaves and then immediately crashes into his brother’s arms. I doubt there’s a fan out there who won’t say this qualifies as a “hug.” We don’t see Sam’s face as he declares in wonder and happiness, “You did it!” But we do see Dean’s. And Dean’s face is devastated.

The final brother moment takes place in the Bunker. Sam tells a very beat up Dean, “What you did back there. That was incredible. If you can do that without losing yourself, that’s cause for hope, even without a cure.” Dean says, “Yeah, maybe.” He’s clearly not convinced. Cas interrupts the moment and Dean asks him where the Blade is. Cas is vague – as he should be, just saying it’s safe. Dean then excuses himself to “go sleep for about four days.” He pats Cas on the shoulder on the way by, but there is a disturbing look on Dean’s face as he passes the angel – it’s a decidedly dark look, that is reminiscent of Demon!Dean.

        After he’s left, Cas asks Sam how Dean really is. The last words of the episode are Sam’s ominous, “Cas. Dean’s in trouble.” Padalecki is outstanding in this scene. Sam is clearly being a cheerleader in supporting his brother, but in this final shot we see how worried he is for his brother. Padalecki’s portrayal of Sam this season has me liking the character more than I have for the entire run of the show.
Every single scene that Omundson is in is simply electric. As he kills Toliver, he tells him, “Did I come here to punish you or save you? The truth is, I’m here to do both.” That is clearly what Cain believes he’s doing. He’s serving the greater good by murdering murderers – except when he isn’t. When Dean pushes him about killing an innocent like Austin, Cain’s response is, “He could go either way. I prefer to be thorough.” Aren’t these questions that have plagued the Winchesters? Do you kill a monster just because it’s a “monster” even if it hasn’t done anything yet? Remember Amy from “The Girl Next Door”?

        Cas is seen torturing and then killing a young demon (Andrew Neil McKenzie). What about the human host? Cas may be setting both souls free, but at what cost? As an aside, can we make anything of the fact that we go from the scene with the young demon to the crossroad demon (Jesse James Pierce) who is then killed by Crowley – and both these demons are red heads!?! Is the show jumping on the red heads are soulless bandwagon? (joking!!!)

Cas and Cain face off over his mass grave site in Illinois. Remember that Dean wakes in a grave in Illinois in the premiere of season four – “Lazarus Rising.” I have to wonder if that isn’t significant. Cas and Cain have both marked Dean. And did anyone else think that the barn loft at the end looked a bit like the barn loft where Dean first met Cas in “Lazarus Rising”?
The meeting between Cain and Cas is a terrific scene. Cas is horrified that Cain is killing humans and not demons and women and children to boot. Seems a bit hypocritical after Cas has just killed a human, justified by killing the demon within him. Cain explains that “the mark thirsts for all kinds.” But he also explains that he’s cleaning up a mess he started a long time ago – Dean’s words will later echo this when he says he started Cain on this path and is cleaning up that mess. Cas calls it a massacre while Cain clarifies it’s a genocide – he’s wiping out his entire line of descendants. I loved the exchange between the two:
Cain: one in ten
Cas: of everyone?
Cain: I’ve got time.

But then Cain asks about Dean and how he’s doing. Cas confesses that even without access to the Blade, the Mark is taking its toll. They need to find a cure. Cain tells Cas, “There is no cure. I’m living proof of that. But don’t worry about Dean. I’ll get to him in due time.” At that point, when Cain threatens Dean, Cas pulls out an angel blade. Cain simply says, “Sorry Castiel. You’re not on my list” and disappears. He’s left the clue to find him, and he’s created a sense of urgency by threatening Dean. It all points to Cain being the one setting the trap in this episode.

The faceoff between Dean and Cain is one of the best scenes this season – perhaps for a few seasons. Cain taunts Dean as he enters, goading him to the fight. Dean is too experienced a fighter, however. Dean says to Cain, “I’ll spare you the formalities. You’re past talking down. Cain, you’re fully mental.” Again, there is the reference to madness. Cain responds, “I prefer to think I’ve finally gotten clear.” When Dean first used the Blade, it had a clear effect on him, making him mad with rage. But when Dean takes the Blade this time, that doesn’t happen. His reaction is much like Cain’s is when he gets hold of the Blade later in this scene. It’s a quiet cold-blooded need to kill, and because it’s not as “mad”, it’s harder to spot. It’s the look we see on Dean’s face at the end as he passes Cas, and only Sam recognizes this shift in his brother.

Cain goes on to say, “When I made my bargain with Lucifer, killed Abel, I released a stain upon the earth. A stain deeper and far more lasting than mere precedence.” This line troubled me at first. Precedence is a legal term referring to prior case law that determines how a present case must be decided. Courts under the same jurisdiction are bound by those previous decisions. In this way, as the Father of Murder, we could see Cain’s actions as being the precedence for all murder. However, this line would seem to mean that the impulse is deeper and more innate than any “rule.”

Dean is not impressed by Cain’s declaration. Cain’s bloodline being tainted isn’t really news. Cain goes on, however: “not all killers are my descendants and not all my descendants are killers, but enough are. Enough for me to know that extinguishing them is the least I owe this world. Can you honestly tell me that humanity’s not better off with fewer Tommys and fewer Leons… fewer yous?” Indeed, what is the difference of him killing Tommy who was sentenced to die anyway? Humans kill each other all the time? Shouldn’t bad people be punished?

When Cain asks Dean how it feels to hold the blade again, Dean tells him that “it feels like a means to an end.” And there it is again. Do the ends justify the means. Can Cain justify cursing Dean to save himself? Cain taunts Dean for not fully committing to the fight and the Mark. There’s a beautiful shot in the midst of this dialogue where Omundson sweeps back his hair and the music perfectly follows it. Cain asks Dean, “Do you think if you hold back just enough, you won’t succumb? You’ll leave this fight the san as when you entered? Look to my example. There’s no resisting the Blade. There’s only remission and relapse.” Is he trying to push Dean to his utter limits? That may be what it takes for Dean to be able to kill Cain. If he goes right to his limits and still makes it back, that could prove to Dean that he is strong enough to live with the Mark.

Dean once again brings up that Cain told him that he’d have to kill him one day. Cain maintains that Dean has missed the point and that the only reason he lured Dean there was to get the Blade. He taunts Dean by saying, “Your biggest weakness? The thing that I noticed the moment I met you? Your courage. Your reckless bravado.” Cain tells Dean that the only reason he didn’t kill Castiel was to set the trap.
Once Cain picks up the Blade, he would appear to be unstoppable. He grabs Dean by the throat and tells him, “this may be hard to believe in the light of what I’m about to do to you, but I care about you, Dean. I know I’m doing you a favor. I’m saving you.” He tells Dean he’s saving him from his fate, a fate in which, “First you’d kill Crowly. There’d be some strange mixed feelings on that one, but you’d have your reasons. You get it done. No remorse. And then you’d kill the angel, Castiel. Now that. That would hurt something awful. And then” at which point Cain leaps onto Dean’s chest – much like the famous painting by Fuseli of the nightmare on a sleeper’s chest, “then would come the murder you’d never survive. The one that would finally turn you into as much of a savage as it did me.”

Ackles packs an entire speech into the one horrified exhale of “no.” But Cain is relentless, continuing, “Your brother Sam. The only thing standing between you and that destiny is this Blade. You’re welcome, my son.” Cain justifies his actions – the means may be murder but the ends are salvation. Dean, however, grabs Cain’s hunting knife and cuts off the hand holding the blade as it comes down in the killing stroke. While the effect of the hand coming off was very good, there wasn’t nearly enough blood. Regardless, as I’ve already said, shock and pain don’t explain Cain giving up completely at this point. Surely, as a demon he could either heal himself – or maybe that’s why there wasn’t any blood – or simply carry on. Instead, he stays on his knees, waiting for the killing blow – but also delivering one of his own to Dean.

        Dean begs him, “Tell me I don’t have to do this. Tell me you’ll stop. That you CAN stop.” But Cain tells Dean, “I will never stop.” And Dean is left to believe that if Cain can’t stop, then he too is doomed. Cain sits with bowed head, and Dean delivers the blow – with devastation written clearly across his face.

This part of the episode is so good, it’s hard to compare it to the B-plot with Rowena (Ruth Connell) and Crowley. I will say that I think Connell was better in this outing than she has been in previous ones. Perhaps it took a long time director of the show like Sgriccia to rein in her performance. It’s still hard to believe that the King of Hell is this easy to manipulate, but I’ll let it go for now. The THEN montage did have me wondering if it’s possible that Rowena does regret being a bad mother – or whether we are simply meant to realize that she was bad enough to give Crowley such deep-rooted mommy issues to explain his stupidity where she’s concerned.

I did really like how they shot the initial scene in Crowley’s throne room with Rowena behind a pillar. I loved her basically keeping out of sight, to observe but not be observed. She is still meddling in state affairs, but she’s not wrong in pointing out how mundane and boring Hell is under Crowley. Someone else pointed out that Hell was a lot scarier when Dean went there at the end of season three. Where have all the meat hooks gone???

We get a set up for a new character – Olivette, who is the witch that turned the Grand Coven against Rowena. No doubt a showdown with her is imminent. I did like Rowena turning the tables on Crowley – “Of course I was manipulating you! I’m your mother!” Crowley drops helping her as soon as Dean calls him, only to be betrayed not once but twice by Dean when Dean tells Crowley that he’s on Cain’s list and then doesn’t give the Blade back. Dean only reinforces what Rowena has been saying all along. It’s interesting that when they want to use Austin for bait, Dean and Cas are okay with it as the means to an end, but Sam objects, saying the thought they were there for a rescue, and it’s Crowley who provides the actual alternative – Rowena’s illusion spell.

The final scene between Rowena and Crowley is a good one, but again suffers because of the two scenes it’s sandwiched between. It also suffers from some seriously lame dialogue. Am I the only one who rolled their eyes at “numnuts”? I did like her final comment, however, and it’s delivered perfectly – “you’re their bitch.” Nothing could spur Crowley on more. It would be nice to see him return to villain status, but of course, that does mean that Dean will have to kill him.

It appears that they got no answer from Cain on how to get rid of the Mark. But did they get an answer on how to live with it? Clearly, the Mark is going to need to be fed. Cain satisfied it by killing those he felt deserved it – demons and humans alike because the Mark doesn’t care. Isn’t it possible that Dean can satisfy the Mark simply by doing what he’s always done? Saving people, hunting things. The family business. I think that Cain believed Dean to be strong enough to live with the Mark and I think his warning about his fate – that he’ll kill Crowley, Cas, and Sam was a warning, not a prophecy.

It was great to finally see all the regulars in the same episode and the same scene. I wish they’d found a way to stretch out the Cain story a little more – Timothy Omundson was simply superb. Maybe in a surprise twist we could learn that Cain and Abel were twins, and we can have a storyline with Abel… There were some good special effects in this episode – like Austin going up in purple smoke. What did you think of the episode? Do you think Dean is strong enough to resist the mark? Do you think Sam will be able to help him? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Forever, Defiance, Bitten, Glee, and a few others! Highlights of this past year include covering San Diego Comic Con as press and a set visit to Bitten. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.