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Supernatural - Season 10 Episode 14 - The Gripe Review

Hi and welcome to the last Gripe Review before the mini hiatus.

For three weeks now, since the show returned in January, I complained about having to write reviews for episodes that I would sooner delete from my DVR than take apart for analysis. I kept wishing for something that was worth my time. My wish was granted this week.

This week’s episode was the best of the season, and one of the best of the recent years, not just because of how it grabbed Carver's camera and turned it to the right direction, but because of its atmosphere, tone and pace. After weeks of juvenile drama and Disney sideshows set to ill-suited Tailor Swift songs we're back to the essence of Supernatural. Dimly lit interiors splattered with blood and grime, ashen graveyards fenced by dead forests, creepy barns with devil's almost felt like season 4-5, and the script came close to the quality of those seasons too.

Before I dive into what I liked about The Executioner's Song, and what I thought needed improving, allow me to add a disclaimer. I'm not naive. I've watched enough of this show's post Kripke years to know that one good episode doesn't mean the show is back on track and going barrel first toward S1-5 excellence. I'm actually preparing myself for the disappointment I will inevitably face when it returns from its hiatus, perhaps not in the first episode, but undoubtedly in the second. I've gotten used to this tradition on the show. It always delivers at the openings and closings, yet sags in the middle.

But I can't help to hope this week's episode was course correction for the rest of the season. If they stick to it they have a gold mine to excavate, and a chance to take the story to amazing places. All they need to do is drop the unnecessary baggage and focus on the show's strength: the four characters that make up its main cast and play the integral roles in its story.

The Pillars of Supernatural Season 10

One of the best things about this episode was how it maneuvered each character into his right place in the story, after more than half a season of them standing around or concerning themselves with inane side stories. Characters are the building blocks of a show but to be effective they need to play a meaningful role, or better yet, represent personality types within the plot. The Executioner’s Song was the only episode since mid-season 8 that did this right. It took the show’s 4 players (its 4 pillars) and gave each a definitive character role that made them perform vital functions in the upcoming storyline.

Dean – the Hero:

Dean was undoubtedly the hero of this episode. Before it, the emphasis in Dean’s story was mostly on him being on the brink of falling into the abyss. Afflicted by a curse and ready to succumb to darkness and turn into an anti-hero he resembled Sam in season 4. But in this episode all of that took a backseat to his role as the one who had to save the day.

What’s important about Dean is that even though he is marked by something evil, it doesn’t make him evil. The problem before this week was that the writers seemed unsure what exactly it did make him, or what they wanted to do with it, or him. They oscillated between having him commit acts of semi-evil, like killing demons and mobsters (to show him teetering on that edge,) and premonitions of future disasters if the mark wasn’t taken care of. It was neither coherent nor effective because it didn’t give Dean a solid foothold in the story. We didn’t know if we should root for him or be wary of him.

In this episode there were no doubts. We knew exactly what Dean was and what he was supposed to do. He was the only man who could stop Cain from killing millions of humans and that made him a hero, regardless of the darkness inside him, or his deeds in the past, or his possible fall in the future. The mark only created an internal conflict within him that made achieving his goal more difficult with tougher obstacles. It also guided some of his decisions that created interesting twists. In other words, the mark complicated Dean’s character role, it didn't define it, which was a great improvement over what we had so far.

Sam – the Believer

I struggled with a name for Sam’s role in the story because I didn’t know what to call someone who loved unconditionally, so I chose Believer.

Sam was the source of love and integrity in this story, the one who ran on pure emotions. He was also the only player without any supernatural powers, which made his presence significant. While his other teammates, Cas and Crowley, took risks supporting Dean considering the danger Cain’s power posed to them, they still had a shot. They are angel and demon and no matter how downgraded they become they still have something in their arsenal to save them if push comes to shove. Sam, on the other hand,  is only human.

At this point in the story Sam doesn’t have any paranormal afflictions that give him special abilities. However he stood shoulder to shoulder with the other two to assist Dean. He put his heart before his life without thinking much of it, and it was there for all to see in the way Jared infused Sam’s every expression with a frightened and emotional, yet determined look.

Sam wore his heart on his sleeve in this episode and it did wonders to his previously damaged character. His puppy-dog, moist eyes showed two things: his fear laced courage at being among, and facing, powerful creatures as a mere human, and his love for Dean. His protest to using the kid as bait, when everyone else was on board with it, and his sorrow at the end of the episode, demonstrated his role as both the upholder of morality and a believer in Dean. In the grand saga of the MoC, Sam is the loving brother, the one who wants to keep Dean in the light and on the straight and narrow path of decency no matter the cost. He is also the one in danger of giving in to spare Dean further suffering, and being unable to let go of his emotions, which is his character flaw and the big difference between him and Castiel.

Castiel – the Rock

If Sam was the agent of ‘love’ in this episode, Castiel was the bringer of ‘tough love.’

Since the end of season 4 two things have been true about Castiel: 1) he puts Dean and Dean’s objectives above everything, and 2) he isn’t above dirty deeds to achieve #1. This became a major plot point in this episode. In order to help Dean Cas tortured a demon. It wasn’t the first time he had done something like that, neither is he the only one who would do such a thing for Dean. However, unlike Sam, the line isn’t drawn at demons and villains for Cas. When the decision came to whether or not use a kid as bait to draw Cain out Castiel agreed, much to Sam’s resentment. This again highlights the idea of Sam being the human – the white knight – in Dean’s army, whereas Castiel is his dark knight.

There’s another difference between the two which makes Castiel Dean’s rock as well as his ally: the tough love element. Where Sam might slip and let his love for Dean cloud his judgment and sense of responsibility, Castiel is hard, even if it means going against his heart. That was why near the end of the episode, after Dean killed Cain, he handed the blade to Castiel. He knew that unlike Sam, Castiel wouldn’t be persuaded to give it back to him, even if he begged him to. He also knew – on a much deeper, darker level – that if he reached the point of no return, he could count of Castiel to lock out his emotions and do the right thing.

Crowley - the Wildcard

Since his addition as a regular I’ve been unsure about Crowley’s role in the story. It seemed like they wanted to keep him around but didn’t know for what. That uncertainty carried on up to this episode. Crowley still wasn’t a part of the team this round, but he came closest to it.

The fact that Crowley was in possession of the blade gave his character purpose in the story and made him a member of the quartet. Unlike Sam and Cas, whom Dean at this point trusts wholly, Crowley is an unstable element, a pillar Dean can’t lean comfortably against yet needs for support. Crowley joined his quest only because Dean lied to him.

I wished the writers gave Crowley a more tangible reason to help the Winchesters. This time it was deceit, next time it would be something else. He needs something more present and plausible to excuse his constant fascination with Dean (we were BFFs no longer cuts it.) Since he lost the blade, the only connection to the MoC mythology Crowley has is his history with Dean, which is also fading. He has to have something else to keep him in the loop. Unfortunately, based on the last scene we saw him in, that something might be Rowena, which means he might be flipping from reluctant ally to reluctant enemy, or double crossing schemer, in future episodes.

The great moments of 10.14

The opener

This episode had one of the best opening sequences among episodes in the last several seasons. Usually I fast forward scenes before the title card, unless they are about the main characters. I have no tolerance for bad acting, death of random red shirts, and predictable blood splatters on walls. This one however was of high quality, a compliment to both the writer and the director. The mood was right, the setting and atmosphere appropriately eerie, and the introduction of the villain, and execution of the crime, were handled well. It was still predictable but Cain’s appearance raised enough questions to keep the audience on their toes.

The graveyard

This was my favorite scene of the episode, and a literal throwback to the show’s glory days. It reminded me of the scene in season 5 when Castiel found Adam’s grave and pulled him out of the ground, before getting ambushed by other angels. It was also reminiscent of Cas’ terse conversations with powerful beings such as Lucifer and Raphael, with that unique sense of inhumanness cast over the entire interaction. It’s been so long since we had something like that on the show. Any scene with two menacing paranormal beings talking about the latest Winchester dilemma, and taking stands for or against them, is a winner in my book. If the scene includes a slide of Castiel’s angel blade at the mention of Dean it is A++.

Facing Cain in the barn

This scene belonged to Sam and Jared. Sure there were Cain, and Crowley, and Dean peaking in at the end, but Sam’s spot-on expression with its mixture of determination and fear was what made it. It was a powerful moment for him and a redemption for all the times he fell short of protecting Dean. Standing there as a human, facing one of the most powerful creatures in the universe for the sake of his brother, Sam finally shed his self-consumed shell and put on the mantle of the white knight, becoming the best his character had ever been since season 3.

The battle

It was a treat how drawn out the battle between Dean and Cain was, how they didn’t simply end it with a few punches and a stab in the stomach. After the very unsatisfactory fight between Dean and Abaddon, this one gave us the kick we needed. And for once, the conversation between the two opposnents wasn’t the villain babbling exposition at the hero to let us know why he did things. It was Cain trying to get under Dean’s skin and touching certain buttons inside him, hinting at a far more sinister undercurrent with regards to the mark and the blade, and a future whose thought alone threatened to bring Dean to his knees.

The handover

The episode’s singular twist was this scene. So far the story had been quite straight forward, with all its events more or less predictable. The foursome captured Cain; Crowley gave the blade to Dean with the promise that he gives it back; Dean defeated Cain and walked out with physical and emotional injuries. The only surprise to me, which also carried a big significance, was Dean holding out the blade to Crowley but giving it to Cas.

The reason this twist is so important is because of how it changes the status quo. Crowley is no longer in the possession of the blade and holds nothing over Dean. Castiel on the other hand is burdened with keeping it, which promises unpleasant and most likely impossible choices in the future.

Dean handing the blade to Castiel also highlights the four character roles. Crowley couldn’t be trusted with it because he is the disloyal wildcard. Sam couldn’t hold it because he is full of blind love, which might result in him giving the blade to Dean when he shouldn’t, or refusing to use it on him when he should. Castiel, the rock, is the perfect candidate for the task. He loves Dean enough not to betray him with it, but is tough enough in his love to hold steady when it’s time for difficult decisions.


Unnecessary Rowena

The biggest hitch in this episode was the presence of Rowena. Every time I felt captivated by the story she would show up and disrupt the momentum, and not just because of her lack of purpose in the story but her dialogue and acting. I don’t understand why they insist on writing her so cartoonish; she acts like the comedy relief side kick of a Disney villain. It’s also unclear what they are planning to do with her, or why Crowley still keeps her around. Her threat to leave him was baffling, since I thought she was the one stuck on him like a discarded gum, not the other way around. Crowley so far didn’t appear to give a damn about his mother, yet in this episode it looked like he didn’t want her to go. Are we supposed to believe he had a change of heart and suddenly cares about her?

I wished they would banish Rowena to the same place they sent Cole and Hannah to. Unfortunately, as the season progresses, it looks more like she will play a role in the finale. I hope they keep her contained within Crowley’s storyline and don’t mix her up with Dean’s MoC plot but since Cain is gone and no other villain is in sight (unless they flip Crowley) it’s possible she’ll get more than she deserves.

Killing off Cain

Cain made for a compelling villain. I wouldn’t have minded him as the season’s big bad, but in the tradition of the show bringing back popular characters just to vilify and kill them off, he fell to Dean. It puzzles me why they gave him such a gripping personality and convincing motive, something that made him a formidable foe, yet they got rid of him so fast. It’s almost like showrunners play a prank on viewers. Commonly liked characters like Gabriel, Sarah, Tessa and Cain get cut with no chance of coming back, while characters nobody gives a damn about like Kate, Krissy, Claire and Charlie stick around for several seasons.

Dean is Cain in reverse?

As intriguing as Cain’s doomsday prophesy for Dean was, it didn’t make much sense. At one point Cain told Dean he was living Cain’s story in reverse. But the only part of Cain’s story that matches Dean’s prospective future is him killing his brother. The rest of their stories – Dean killing Crowley and Cas, Cain defecting from the Knights of Hell, meeting Collette and killing her – have nothing in common.

There would have been a chance for parallelism had the writers worked this idea in from the beginning when they introduced Cain. If they had him eliminate characters similar to Crowley and Cas instead of the recycled Woman-Who-Saved-Me plot, his story would have had meaning. But now that his backstory involves a love interest, and reformation through her loss, what does it mean for Dean? Is he going to find a girlfriend in the near future? Or are they going to just focus on the ‘kill your brother’ part? Mind you, even that doesn’t sound too appealing as it means yet another storyline involving Dean having to kill Sam. We've been down that road before, as far back as season 2.

Cutting this scene before its proper ending

I love Team Free Will. I love when they interact, especially when it is emotional and in character. I love all combinations of the three: Dean and Cas, Sam and Cas, Sam and Dean, all three together… and this episode delivered those moments beautifully, until this last scene. Sam was on the verge of tears because of Dean (living up to his believer badge) and Cas hovered on the threshold of walking in and being the rock he needed before they talked about Dean. Then the screen went black. It almost felt like a botched DVR recording that cut the scene off a minute too soon. It’s not the first time that Supernatural has done this either. There were other episodes where conversations were left unfinished, emotions left in the air, questions left unanswered, and we would get the dreaded white-on-black credits.

They should have shaved off a few seconds from Rowena's scenes to give Sam and Cas a proper dialogue in the end and us the closure we craved, especially after they did everything else so right in this episode. But alas, we’re left to imagine what the two of them talked about after the cameras stopped recording.

This was a long article but since we’re going into a month long hiatus, after an episode that was the best since the second half of season 8, I thought I’d give it more sprawl. Robert Berens deserves all the kudos he got for writing this episode and more, despite the minor problems I had with it. Of course I could be wrong and other fans might have other opinions about the episode. Whether you liked it or hated it, or are somewhere in between, I’d like to hear from you. The comment section is yours to post your thoughts about how Supernatural ended its early mini run in 2015, and we have until March to keep the chatter going.


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