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Supernatural - Brother's Keeper - Review - "Finale and Season Thoughts"

Supernatural, “Brother’s Keeper,” was written by Jeremy Carver and directed by Phil Sgriccia. It felt like your typical Supernatural finale – we being with Carry On My Wayward Son and end with the brothers – and the angel and the King of Hell – in imminent peril. The big bad of the season – the Mark of Cain – is dealt with and a new one is introduced for next season – the Darkness. The episode is well directed by veteran Sgriccia, the dialogue less clunky than some recent episodes and Jared Padalecki (Sam) and Jensen Ackles (Dean) deliver terrific performances. The special effects were also outstanding. So, why am I left feeling slightly ho hum about this episode? And much of the season?

To begin with, while I liked the rendition of Carry On My Wayward Son from “Fan Fiction,” I just wanted to hear Kansas at the beginning of the finale – regardless of whether the “Fan Fiction” version is also part of the season re-cap. Picky maybe, but after 9 finales, some things are sacrosanct.

I was thrilled to have Julian Richings reprise his role as Death, but I felt that his dialogue wasn’t as snappy as it has been in the past and his accent seemed somewhat off. And somehow, he just didn’t have the same ability to send a chill up my spine. The Death that we met in “Two Minutes to Midnight” would not have been surprised by Dean.

One of the things that I miss most about the show is when the brothers had a strong moral code. It’s fine to damn the consequences when you’re the only one paying the price, but when it’s the whole world? That just doesn’t seem like something the Winchesters would do. Dean sold his own soul to bring his brother back to life, but Dean insisted he be the only one to pay the consequences. Remember when Ruby had to find a clinically brain-dead corpse before Sam would work with her? Remember when the brothers really did avoid killing humans?

The episode begins with Cas (Misha Collins) admonishing Sam that they should find Dean but not use the book. Sam is determined to save his brother regardless of the cost because they don’t even know what – if any – the consequences will even be. Just a quick aside to mention that I always do like when the brothers are doing tasks of their trade – in this case Sam is make witch-killing bullets. Let’s not dwell on how it came to be that witches weren’t simply human and easily dispatched by an ordinary bullet.

The next scene gives us a close up of a hungover, sweaty, hurting Dean waking up on the carpet of the crappy motel he’s retreated to. As he sits up, he rubs his face, muttering, “I’m good, I’m good.” He’s clearly trying to convince himself that he’s okay when he’s clearly, not and we start to see evidence of that right away. Dean is either completely emotionless or brutally honest with those he encounters.

    He tells the Sheriff (David Cameron) that the dead girl left her house dressed like a whore. The Sheriff is taken aback and remarks, “Tell me what you really think, Agent…. That could be the Whore of Babylon but all I see is someone’s little girl.” This is actually a really fun shout out to “99 Problems” – the episode in which the actual Whore of Babylon looks like the daughter of the local Pastor and Dean kills her. It’s a also a nice parallel as it’s that event that makes Dean decide to offer himself up to Michael. Here the case also has Dean decide that he needs to sacrifice himself to spare others.

Dean apologizes – completely and obviously not sincerely. This prompts the Sheriff to remark, “You’ve worked some pretty dark stuff in your day, haven’t you, Agent? Must have left quite a mark.” The remark is a bit on the nose, but also highlights that even with all the dark that Dean had seen, he himself didn’t become “dark” (nice shout out to those black eyes too) until he took on the Mark.

Dean continues to be a dick when Rudy (Robert Moloney) shows up. He tells him, “We both know you’re playing dress up out here. It’s just a matter of time before you get yourself killed so why don’t you take that walk and let the real hunters do the work.” In actual fact, it’s Dean that gets Rudy killed. Anybody else have flashes of Martin? Rudy does call Sam to let him know that Dean “isn’t playing well with others.”

Dean has never been the subtle or sensitive one when interviewing people, leaving that role to Sam, but he really crosses a line with the McKinleys. Not surprisingly, after suggesting that their “shy” daughter not only knew her murderer, she was trying to have “intercourse” with him, Mr McKinley (Roger Haskett) and Mrs McKinley (Fiona Hogan) become pretty hostile. Ackles is great in this scene as Dean remains completely emotionless throughout. He tells them he’s just doing his job.

        The father wants to know if that includes calling his daughter a slut, and Dean replies, “I’ll admit the thought crossed my mind. Then I came here and I smelt the deceit and the beatings, and the shame that pervade this home and you know what? I don’t blame Rose anymore.” The father is losing it, muttering, “Shut your face right now,” but Dean continues, “No wonder she put on that skank outfit and went out there looking for validation and right into the arms of the monster that killed her. Joe? Who did this?” Joe loses it and punches Dean several times in the face before Dean pulls his gun on him. The father breaks down crying and says he doesn’t know.

This exchange brings up a few interesting points. Is Dean’s own history of picking up women a manifestation of this same urge in Rose? Was he simply trying to find the validation he didn’t get at home? We’ve also seen Dean fall right into the arms of a monster on more than one occasion – and Sam too for that matter. It’s also another indication of how far the Mark is taking over that Dean barely feels being punched in the face.

As he leaves, Dean is followed out by Rose’s brother, JJ McKinley (Darren Mann), who tells Dean about the guys in a cabin on the edge of town. Once again, shark-eyed, Mark-Dean takes out the vampires completely dispassionately only to burst into the cabin to find a vamp with a knife to Rudy’s throat and Crystal (Emilija Baranac) tied to the bed. Dean’s not wrong when he tells Rudy to simply walk away because he’s the vamp’s insurance, but when he actually barks at the vamp, he startles him into killing Rudy. There’s really no question that as Crystal points out, Dean could easily have save Rudy.

One image that has been used really consistently throughout the season – and bears further analysis – is the use of mirrors. Dean is washing the blood off his hands when he sees a bloody Cas and then a bloody Rudy reflected back at him. Once again, Dean punches his own image in the mirror, and then proceeds to trash his entire room – it’s only seeing his actions reflected to him that ignite emotion in him. Luckily, there is enough of Dean left to take action. Unfortunately, in typical Dean fashion, his solution is like using a nuclear bomb rather than a flyswatter to kill a fly.

Meanwhile, Sam and Cas pursue the spell. Rowena agrees to cast the spell if Sam will grant her freedom and give her the codex as he can’t kill Crowley. Cas is adamant that Sam is making a mistake to agree to this. Rowena is able to determine that they will need three things for the spell to work – the apple from the Garden of Eden, a piece of the Golden Calf, and something that Rowena loves. She denies loving or having loved anything. We’ve seen that there is no love lost on Crowley – which is a good thing given their inability to kill him anyway.

        Cas touches her forehead and sees that she loved the Polish boy Oskar (Nathan Dales) – who turns out to be Seth from the diner last week. That certainly made Crowley’s trip there last week make a lot more sense – no doubt that’s what the hamster told him. Of course, the scene with Cas reading Rowena’s memory is yet another example of cherry-picking powers for Cas, depending on what the episode requires rather than any consistency.

Sam gets Rudy’s call and leaves Cas with some of Dean’s hair for the spell and to gather the other ingredients. Sam arrives at the crime scene and after seeing Rudy realizes that Dean has completely lost control. When Sam arrives at the motel, having spotted the Impala, he goes to the door with his gun drawn. Was he prepared to try to kill Dean? Of course, he can’t kill him, he can only turn him into a demon, so it’s unclear what he was thinking of doing. He finds the room trashed and a note with the keys to the Impala. The note is clearly a good-bye – we’ve certainly been here before in the aftermath of “99 Problems” for one. The paper shows that this is Curtis’ Motor Court – no doubt a shout out to Ryan Curtis, VFX Coordinator on the show.

Cas summons Crowley, who immediately says “Who summons anymore? Couldn’t you have called?” Which brings up a good point – they don’t summon anymore, and it has become a little ridiculous that there is cell reception in Hell. It also highlights that we have not one but two summonings in the episode. Cas makes it a joke by saying that Crowley isn’t in his contacts. Cas then simply asks for Crowley’s help. Crowley points out that Sam just tried to kill him, so he’s not to disposed to help.
        The only thing Crowley wants is for Cas to beg. Personally, I didn’t think he got much more than a pretty grudging please. Crowley capitulated way too easily, for him not to be playing his own game here. And he agrees before he knows what the third ingredient is. Was he simply hoping to get close enough to Rowena to be able to kill her? I also found it curious that Crowley seemed to know a lot more about the biblical elements than Cas did. Shouldn’t Cas have known that it wasn’t an apple but a quince? Shouldn’t Cas have some sense of where a religious artifact like the Golden Calf might have been? Even if that artifact represented sacrilege?

Dean summons Death and has made him an offering of Mexican food made with “the bad fat.” It’s nice to see that some things haven’t changed even if Death’s accent seems a little off. Dean’s betting on Death being able to kill him, but even Death can’t kill him. Because it is the first curse, nothing can kill Dean, but he can still get rid of it. Death introduces what is clearly the next big fight/big bad for the brothers – the mysterious “Darkness.” I say mysterious because just like the mark, there is no real information about it.

        We are simply told it is “a horrible destructive amoral force” that existed before everything else. It’s not clear why they simply didn’t go with “Chaos” – which the Bible makes clear is what God created the earth out of, but whatever. I loved when Sam wanted to know what the evil was and Dean tells him the Darkness. Sam replies, “What the hell is that?” And Dean’s whole explanation is “What does it sound like? Does it sound like a good thing?” I guess the writers will spend the summer trying to figure out an actual answer, and I hope that it will be a lot more of a fleshed out and consistent answer than we ever got with the Mark.

According to Death, the Mark is the lock and key that keeps the Darkness locked away. Anybody else immediately jump to the ridiculously funny scene in “The French Mistake” with Sam acting as Jared, acting as Sam, painfully explaining that lock and key? But, I digress… The Mark had first gone to Lucifer and caused his corruption, resulting in him being locked in Hell. Lucifer passed the Mark to Cain who, we know, gave it to Dean. Though, apparently, Cain was sharing it with Dean as he continued to be invincible and kill after that.

Death offers to remove the Mark, but only if Dean will share it with another to ensure that the lock remains unbroken and the darkness remains banned. Is this supposed to be a suggestion that the Mark has only really taken hold since Cain’s death? Of course, this negates the Mark’s behavior at the end of last season, so doesn’t seem like much of an explanation. Regardless, Dean refuses to “share.” He does seem to agree to let Death lock him away – not on this planet. Really? Seems like we are awfully close to aliens at this point. Dean calls Sam, ostensibly to say good bye.

Of course, when Sam arrives that doesn’t seem to be the plan. Padalecki is excellent in these scenes and his performance is committed. Ackles is also very good, but of course, Dean is hampered by the effects of the Mark which distance his emotions from him. Sam is, of course, desperate to stop Dean from once again doing the rash self-sacrificial thing – he doesn’t have to die. In perhaps the most OOC (out-of-character) moment ever in the show, Dean tells his brother, “I thought I did but I don’t. You need to die, Sam.” Now, regardless of the logic of having to kill Sam in order to stop him from brining Dean back, there is no universe – alternate or otherwise – in which the Dean Winchester I’ve come to know, would ever agree to a plan that resulted in, indeed hinged on, Sam’s death. Regardless of it being “for the greater good.” Dean may have decided that he is evil – and even agrees that killing Rudy was evil – but Sam is the farthest he’s ever been from evil. At least, the show has failed to demonstrate to me that Sam is off the reservation.

Death – as always, but even moreso here – clearly has an ulterior motive. I love the mural behind the three of them of dancing skeletons which seems to really mirror Death making the Winchesters dance to his tune. He reminds Sam that he stood him up when he chose not to die at the beginning of season nine. Sam continues to try to persuade Dean not to listen to Death and what the Mark is telling him: “You’re willing to summon Death to make sure you could never do anymore harm. You summoned me because you knew I would do anything to protect you. That’s not evil. That is a good man trying to be heard, searching for some other way.” Dean looks at Death during this speech, clearly wanting him to intervene with an argument of his own as Dean really seems to believe what Sam is saying. The physical fight that follows seemed like a cheap way to ratchet up the tension as a call back to the brother’s fight in “When the Levee Breaks” and didn’t flow naturally out of the conversation for me the way it did in season four.

On his knees, Sam tells Dean, “You’ll never, ever hear me say that you – the real you – is anything but good.” Just me or is this incredibly clunky dialogue? Also? When Sam says “This is madness” about Death wanting to send Dean to “outer space,” it also felt like bad melo-drama. However, Padalecki continues to out act the bad dialogue. He tells Dean he understands that Dean must me stopped at all costs and tells him to “Do it.”

      Death then hands Dean the Scythe and asks him to “Do me the honor.” Dean looks down at his brother and says, “Close your eyes. Sammy. Close your eyes.” And this is the first bit of dialogue that remotely feels like Dean. It’s impossible for any fan of the show not to be touched by Dean’s term of endearment for his brother, and of course, he could never look into those eyes and actually kill his brother.

Sam pulls out his final card and hands Dean the pictures of Mary and themselves as kids that Dean has kept as a talisman with him for his entire life. Again, I felt the dialogue just went a bit too far towards melodrama. Death’s dialogue actually makes no sense: “It’s the family you must precede.” How is Dean going before his family? Isn’t he sending them into death before him? Death goes on, “To be what you are to become, what you’ve become, is a stain on their memory.” I’d have to agree with Death about this. Dean used to be a hero. One can argue he’s still a fallen hero, but the line that the brothers used to respect has really been irrevocably crossed several times now – with the death of Rudy as only one example. Yes, they’ve saved the world, but they’ve also managed to get a lot of people killed. There’s creating a more interesting and complicated dialogue by looking at the grey area between black and white, but once you add too much black to the white, it becomes black. And I’ve never been a big fan of the anti-hero.

Death forces Dean’s hand by telling him to do it or he will. Sam nods for Dean to go ahead. Dean asks, “Forgive me,” and Sam finally shuts his eyes as Dean swings, coming all the way around to apparently kill Death who is standing behind him. Was Dean in any way planning to do this? I doubt it. I’m sure this was simply another impetuous split second decision which will result in many more casualties at the Winchesters’ feet. My other question is whether this is actually the Scythe that can reap death. It certainly isn’t the one that Dean gave back to Death in “Two Minutes to Midnight.” And again, since when has Death been that easy to kill?

Meanwhile, in what is a nicely parallel situation, Rowena is being asked to sacrifice the one thing in the world that she loves. Just as Dean kills Death instead of Sam, Rowena kills Oskar.

        The spell is completed and a blast of power knocks Cas, Crowley and Rowena off their feet as lightening blasts up through the roof and then down through the roof at Juanita’s to sear the Mark off of Dean’s arm. Rowena is the first to recover and breaks her chains and traps both Cas and Crowley. I have to say that Connell shows some flashes here of what Rowena could be. I like her as simply evil – when she isn’t being directed to go over the top with her delivery, I like the character much better.

Rowena tells Crowley, “I’m afraid, Fergus, that in all your long life, you’ve never seen what a real witch can do with real magic. I’m terrifically pleased it’s the last thing you’ll ever see.” And with a flick of her fingers, she casts the bestial spell on Cas that we’ve seen her use several times this season. Our last view of Crowley has him frozen in place with Cas about to stab him with an angel blade. Of course, we also know that the bestial spell generally ends with the death of the person cursed with it. So. I guess we wait to see who’s announced as a regular for next season….

Back at Juanita’s, Sam and Dean step out and try to convince themselves that things turned out ok for them for once. Sam says, “This good. Mark is gone. Nothing crazy happened. You get your baby back.” And Dean replies, “Yeah. I’m sure everything is perfectly fine.” And then, of course, all hell breaks loose – oh wait. Where have I heard that before? Right. At the end of season two.

        Once again, the VFX department proves they’ve got the art of smoke mastered. Lightening rains down from above – reminding me of the angels falling at the end of season eight. Smoke boils out of the ground and forms a huge cloud – reminding me of the gates of Hell opening in the season two finale. Sam and Dean run away and attempt to drive away, but are stopped by Dean backing into a hole. Darkness rolls over everything in its path, toppling trees and the Juanita’s sign before engulfing the Impala. Reminding me of the flash of light at the end of season four.

It’s arguable that the show had written itself into a corner by the end of season five. How do you top the Apocalypse? I don’t think you can top it, but you can provide satisfying storylines. I feel like the Mark storyline was so diffused that it lacked the gravitas it might have garnered. Carver has proven again and again that he writes a pretty good 13 episode arc. What I’d really like to see is the season truly broken up that way – give us two good 13 episode arcs.

Perhaps I’m being harsh. There were some real strengths in this episode. There were some nice parallel scenes written into the episode. Teh mirror imagery was carried through several episodes and made good use of here. Padalecki in particular delivered one of his best performances. The VFX, set dressing – how could you not love Juanita’s – and the direction were excellent. I particularly liked the shot of Dean and Sam with the mural between them at Juanita’s.

However, the fact remains, that once again, too much of the season was shoe-horned into a couple of episodes. I’m hoping that they haven’t killed off yet another fan-favorite in Death because the deaths are no longer unexpected, we’re upping the stakes events. The deaths themselves have become the expected outcome. Just like the brothers in peril in the closing shot. We know they aren’t about to die, but we don’t have enough information to even make a guess as to how they are going to beat this. What we do know is that there are a lot of loose threads. How many balls do we need in the air for one season? We have the Darkness. Rowena is at full strength with the codex and the book of the Damned. I will say that I've warmed up to Connell as her performance has been toned down. I'd like to see what she could do as a serious villain and threat. Metatron (Curtis Armstrong) is still on the loose with the Demon tablet. Please no more of over-the-top Metatron...

What did you think of the season finale? How about the season as a whole? Are you as excited for season 11 as you were for season 10? Theories on how the boys, Cas, and Crowley get out of their predicaments? Please leave your thoughts – and any links to speculative fan fic! – 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.