(Author’s note – As you all can tell, I’m going a bit out of order here. My review for “Let It Bleed” will be coming later this week. After seeing the two parts, this is the one I couldn’t stop thinking about. There are some great reviews already on this site for “Let It Bleed” so why not do this one first? There’s just too much to consider.)
Whew, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” is certainly a brain twister, isn’t it? It’s a much different season finale from the previous five, but it’s also one of the most fitting given the theme of this show. Sam faces survival on a much different level and in the end, it’s his love for his brother that gets him through. Sure, that happened last year when the brotherly bond helped Sam take over Lucifer and jump into the cage, but here he has to fight something even more terrifying, himself. This time he can’t perform his usual act of self sacrifice. He has to accept who he is and all the horror that comes with it. That’s an impossible cross to bear when your name is Winchester.
On the other end is Castiel, who without the support of his friends just goes off the deep end. He, much like season four Sam, gives into obsession and we’re left with a humdinger as a result of it. I’d almost feel sorry for the bastard, but he is the one that took down Sam’s wall as a strategical distraction to get Dean to back off. That’s just cold.
“I’m so sorry.” “Not as sorry as you’re gonna be.”
Let’s face it, Sam Winchester hasn’t been whole or complete since soulless Sam was pulled out of the cage. When Castiel intervened, that created two Sams. He definitely changed in that cage. He essentially became pieces, divided between a weary, bloody, and broken man that didn’t have anymore strength to carry on and a sociopath that didn’t stop at anything, like killing an innocent girl because of demon used her as leverage.
But wait, weren’t there three Sam’s in this story? Who is this third man? He’s the one created by Death, the one put in front of the wall. Sympathetic Sam. The loyal brother, the fighter, the caring one, someone that won’t give up no matter what. It’s an echo of what Sam was before his trauma, perhaps the piece burned away in the cage. It’s the brother Dean desperately wanted back. Dean didn’t realize, and neither did we, that this Sam wasn’t the real Sam either. It’s almost no different than when Soulless Sam was around. He’s a variation. He may have the best qualities of Sam, but everyone has to carry their burdens and pain. It defines who they are. This Sam knew from the moment he came back he wasn’t right but carried on anyway. Hmm, sounds a lot like soulless Sam, huh?
The wall, as suspected, was the only thing holding the three parts of Sam together. They were still separate, still at odds with each other, but without that wall they were forced to coexist. The dilemma now becomes that they all must merge into one or the host stays a proverbial drooling mess in Bobby’s panic room. One thing I keep wondering is if Soulless Sam succeeded in killing Sam, would that have meant a lost fight and life locked out of reality forever? Or would Sam have woken up soulless? Or worse would the real Sam have died? It’s hard to say but I suspect only the Sam with a pure soul could of succeeded in making them whole. He is the moral center, the one with the core qualities that make the man, the one with the purity and true identity. Without that part he is nothing. He had to be in control. After all, he was created with fighting spirit, the one that would do whatever it takes for his brother above and beyond his own welfare. He’s the hero in this story.
As with any self struggle, there are obstacles. Robin, an intriguing character to say the least, ended up representing Sam’s deep subconscious. She raises doubt, but more for protection than harm. She’s the secrets locked deep inside. She knows what awful things are being kept from this Sam and even warns him he wasn’t going to like what he found. Sam needs to hear her warning, but he has to fight it too. What he has to do is greater than him. He also must protect her, if anything for self preservation as well as making amends for the awful things he’s done.
That’s exactly what Cas wants, for you to fall to pieces. Try to think of what Sam would want.
Poor Dean. His frustration is apparent because he can’t fix his little brother, but he ends up playing a role more valuable than he realized. The use of light throughout the episode is nothing short of brilliant. It becomes what guides Sam, what triggers him to pull himself together. Sam said in the bar that this all started when he woke up on a park bench, flashlight shining on his face. How much do you want to bet Dean was in the panic room using that flashlight in his eye for the first time? That light becomes a beacon for Sam. Who but Dean should be the one to trigger that beacon, sending him along the proper path?
There’s the powerful message that’s the epitome of the brotherly relationship. Dean has always been the one that’s guided Sam from darkness to light. One scene I absolutely love is when “Play With Fire” by The Rolling Stones is playing on Dean’s radio in the panic room. Aside from the obvious cautionary tale the song has about what happens when you mess with someone who’s unstable (in this case Sam and Castiel), the music made it’s way into Sam’s subconscious as well as the smell of the whiskey and Old Spice. All were triggers that hinted to him his whereabouts and in a sense who he was. It was key to putting all the pieces together.
The bright light though ultimately triggered Sam’s crucial showdown between himself and his soulless self. In the light he could see, unlike at night when he couldn’t make out what he saw. The way that light is presented in that scene is so artfully done. The fade between the headlights of the Impala back to Dean, who uses the flashlight to check Sam’s pupil, then Sam being blinded in the darkness before ending up in daylight, just brilliant. That’s story telling gold right there. The lights are there again in the form of candles and the fireplace burning bright when Sam arrives at Bobby’s. They were the only things illuminating the dark, telling him he was in the right place.
Of course Dean had no idea that just being there at Sam’s side and the small things he was doing were helping. Dean has never been able to sit still and do nothing with loved ones in peril, which is why Bobby is so important in this story. He gives Dean the much needed the voice of rationality, something Dean must have when Sam is in trouble. By the time Dean left with Bobby to try and stop Castiel and Crowley from opening purgatory’s door he was not only doing what Sam would have wanted, but he’d already done all he could to help Sam. The rest fell on Sam himself. So how do you make a fan girl weepy? By showing Dean give his fallen brother the ultimate show of faith as they parted. He puts beside Sam on the cot the address and his gun. Oh Kripke, you magnificent bastard.
“You know me, you know why. I’m not leaving my brother alone out there.”
There you go. With those words the entire series has been summarized. Sam knows he can’t ever disappoint big brother. The times he did were the worst of his life and resulted in catastrophe. He will risk everything. Once he puts it all together and realizes in the real world he’s laid up at Bobby’s, he’s again given a terrifying choice. He has to remember Hell. He gets to see visually what it’s done to that part of him. That part of him doubts whether he’s strong enough. It doesn’t matter. He has to try. His brother needs him. Yep, that’s enough right there to get my water works going again. So beautiful and goes to show once again what these brothers will do for each other.
When Sam does arrive to help Dean though he’s in bad shape. He’s staggering, physically unstable and the flashes of Hell are killing him. He pushes it all aside and moves on. Even with doubts and all that horror inside Sam as a whole is stronger, especially with the part that believes in his brother in control. That’s the Sam that ends up having the power to get the job done by stabbing Castiel (even if the result was not what he had hoped).
Strength can only go so far. That’s what’s taking us into the next season. Now that Sam’s whole again, he’s also very broken. His inner self, through Robin and his tortured soul, all sternly warned him there would be consequences. There always are with Sam. He makes one choice and no matter what the reason, it leads to other dangerous paths. Will Sam regret making this choice, will he seek out help to restore the wall? Will Dean be the only one that can help him through this? Stay tuned, season seven.
“First Sam and Dean and now this. I”m doing my best in impossible circumstances. My friends they abandon me, plot against me. It’s difficult to understand.”
On the other end is Castiel. Plain and simple, the angel threw everything he had away. The way he saw it, everyone gave up on him so he had nothing left to lose. He carried exactly like season four Sam did. Stopping Raphael became an uncompromisable obsession. Balthazar betrayed him, so he killed him (So we think anyway. We didn’t see angel wings, but I’m assuming he’s dead). Castiel saw this as a suicide mission. Stop Raphael and then cease to exist. He would explode. He would do so alone.
Something went very wrong though. How does the saying go? Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. That kind of power was exactly Sam’s undoing in season four. He sought and craved his power for his own purposes of revenge. Castiel is using his to gain respect and worship, something he hasn’t gotten in a very long time if ever. It’s something he expected from friends, and when they turned away from him in his hour of need the power of friendship lost all its value. Power twists a mind into hidden agendas.
The question is, can Castiel be stopped? Again, stay tuned, season seven.
Eric Kripke, the writer, gave us many wonderful gems in this episode, but the script wasn’t flawless. As much as I like Crowley, he isn’t that impressive in this episode. The acting by Mark Sheppard is great but it’s what his character is given in the script. Sure he is his normal scheming self, but he’s strangely not all that smart when it comes to dealing with Castiel and Raphael. The fact that he didn’t see through Castiel’s scheme is actually kind of disappointing. I expected that of Raphael but not Crowley. Ah well, he’ll be back, and I do wonder what Castiel has planned for him. It can’t be good.
To be perfectly honest, when I saw the ending, Castiel declaring himself to be the new God after Sam tried to kill him but couldn’t, I wasn’t excited nor upset about it. My reaction was “Okay, if that’s the way they want to go.” Cliffhangers anymore are just teasers to get you to tune in to what’s next. Hey, they already have me. I personally would have liked to see more time devoted to Sam and Dean and their drama. While we have no doubt about Sam’s inner strength, he did pull himself together rather quickly. A few more scenes of his struggle, with Dean by his side, would have been nice. Maybe even a few lines where they exchange some words of concern during the Castiel drama. I’m not impressed that a lot of this angel drama was ignored for most of the season and then slammed in at the end, but that’s a reflection of the season and not the beautiful workings of this episode.
I know this complaint has been registered numerous times throughout the fandom and critical circles, but come on show, stop creating great characters just so you can kill them. Balthazar was a perfect addition to season six and the fact he helped Sam and Dean out of concern for Castiel is not something that earns him an angel killing blade through the heart. I don’t care to see it anymore. These deaths are no longer poignant or tragic. They’re annoying. I’d rather this show not create entertaining characters anymore played by entertaining actors. The killing spree is really getting ridiculous. Did they not learn from Gabriel?
I’m also not very happy that more harm has come to the Impala, but like her owners, it’s a wound she can bounce back from. She’s made of tough American steel. That’s hard to crush, flip over or not.
Overall, this season finale gets an A- from me. I can’t even muster a “Damn You Kripke” this time. Plotting and pacing is what knocks it down. The acting is especially brilliant though, and this comes from three guys who have given us a long line of brilliant. Jared Padalecki gets an A+, again delivering with magnificence his dual role scenes. I can’t imagine that’s easy, playing three very different aspects of your character at the same time. Jensen Ackles too earns huge marks for his somber vigil over Sam or trying to talk some sense into Castiel. Dean is forced to react to a completely out of control situation and his helplessness and frustration blows us away. Misha Collins too gets major kudos for showing Castiel as a broken and betrayed angel with nothing left to lose as well as being transformed into something unrecognizable by all that power inside him. He sells so much with those deep looks of contemplation. The directing gets the same A+ from me, for there was so much eye candy and many artful choices.
The script gave us so many wonderful things to ponder, something that I’m sure will keep us busy for a summer, but too much purgatory drama at the end killed the pacing and consistency of what was until then a captivating episode. Hellatus is on everyone. Keep coming back here daily for all the fun. We’ll get through this together.