“What’s the line? “Saving people, hunting things. The family business.” Well I think, the people you save, they’re how you justify your pathetic little lives. The alcoholism, the collateral damage, the pain you’ve caused… The one thing that allows you to sleep at night – the one thing is knowing these folks are out there. Still out there. Happy and healthy because of you. You great big bloody heroes. They’re your life’s work and I am going to rip it apart. Piece by piece. Because I can. Because you can’t stop me. Because when they’re all gone, what will you have left?” Crowley snarls this at the brothers, all the while they are forced to watch Sarah Blake die before them as a spell chokes her to death—but what he doesn’t realize is that he has made his fatal mistake.
We start this episode with another familiar face—Tommy Collins—as he goes to a cabin for the first time since being rescued by Sam and Dean from a Wendigo back in season 1. He is skittish, hesitant about this, but there. We can imagine that he is trying to finally put behind him what had happened all those years ago—that it is time to move on from that frightening experience. Unfortunately, Tommy hears something rustle outside the cabin, making him fear that yet another Wendigo has come to finish him this time. He falls back in a panic, clutching his blow torch, and begins to bleed profusely only to be ripped apart by some invisible force. Something else—something other than a Wendigo is responsible for killing Tommy, but what?
Meanwhile, the Winchesters are trying to figure out the final step in their quest to close Hell forever. They know what the Third Trial is—to cure a demon—but now they have to answer the question of how. Thankfully, they have access to a treasure trove of information in the Men of Letters Bunker—and they come across an unusual exorcism that could be the key to completing the Third Trial.
Father Thompson, back in 1958, was attempting a new version of the ritual. The brothers unearth footage of his attempt, and watch as a possessed woman struggles against chains. Everything seems standard. The demon threatens everyone and is violent. The priests are trying to subdue and expel the demon—but as the footage continues to roll we see that Father Thompson does something completely different. He slices his hand open and places the bleeding gash across the demon’s mouth. Not unlike when an angel kills a demon, we see the demon’s eyes flash white and its host falls over dead.
It is obvious that this attempt failed—but that isn’t the end of it.
At the same time, Castiel is desperately trying to get back into the Winchester’s good graces. It will be a difficult uphill climb. He has much to atone for—over two seasons worth of wrongs—and his ditching them with the Angel Tablet only to lose it is only the latest. All his attempts to apologize are either ignored or rebuffed with harsh words from Dean. The elder Winchester snaps, “Yeah. Nah, that’s not gonna cut it. Not this time. So you can take your little apology and you cram it up your ass.”Castiel will have to do much to fix what he has done wrong—but what if he isn’t to do his penance with the brothers, but away?
We watch Castiel bumble his way through a convenience store, making a mess as he goes. He lacks understanding of basic shopping mores—only to exasperate the clerk. His shopping list is a first step at bridging the gap between him and Dean: Busty Asian Beauties, beer, beef jerky—and the ever elusive pie. Before he can punish the clerk for not having pie, Metatron steps in. He has a plan that he wishes to share with Castiel—perhaps one that will help him atone for what he has done since the Apocalypse had been averted. It’s at least worth hearing the Scribe of God out.
The plan is to shut down Heaven—to complete their corresponding Trials and lock all the angels in Heaven for a long overdue family meeting. He tells Castiel, “Angels get uppity, slam the pearly gates.” But Metatron, scribe that he is, has not the strength to undertake them himself. He needs the help of a warrior—in this case Castiel—in order to make it succeed. It would seem that he has taken the Winchester’s admonishing to heart and has decided to become a player. It is yet more evidence that they are the ones influencing things more than anyone else. Metatron’s decision is a direct reaction to their accusations that he turned his back on humanity and allowed angels to wreak havoc on the world in his absence. Much like Castiel, he must right this wrong, too.
The Angel Trials are no easier than the Demon Trials. The waitress at their cafe is the first of the three. She is a Nephillim—an abomination. The cross between an an angel and a human, she is a forbidden creature. Metatron tells Castiel that they must cut her heart out in order to start closing down Heaven. Castiel protests, saying, “She’s just a girl!” But as they stalk her in the night, they realize that is not the case at all. She is very powerful and can see just what they are. She tells them “All I want to do is live my life.” But that doesn’t stop them from having to kill her. They attack, and she overwhelms them, throwing Castiel aside. The action is swift and brutal. As she slowly starts to choke Metatron, Castiel gathers his wits and stabs her with his angel sword, completing their task. If this is the first trial, what could the other three be?
Back with the Winchesters, they seek out the remaining priest from the exorcism footage—Father Simon—to learn more about what Father Thompson was trying to do. He tells them that a demon is really only a human soul twisted by its time in Hell, and that if one could heal that damage it would be possible to make a demon human again. He tells them that Father Thompson continued to practice his new exorcism—and that he filmed these tests.
If anyone is going to have this footage, it will be the Men of Letters, and so the Winchesters return home to dig through the archives. They come across an even more shocking clip of Father Thompson’s exorcisms. He has chained yet another possessed person and is making yet another attempt at the test that failed in the earlier footage. We watch the black and white grainy film as the priest asks the demon how it felt to kill the man’s children. In typical fashion, the demon screams in delight that it was “Orgasmic.” This time, the priest injects the demon with something—making it howl in agony. We learn that it is his blood purified by confession—and it is one of the tools in his arsenal to cure this demon.
The test is a grueling one—going on for hours and many more doses of the purified blood. Each time, Father Thompson demands to know how it felt—and each time it seems that the demon’s glee at the children’s deaths gets a little less. Finally, after the last dose and the demon is no longer fighting his chains, we see the priest ask one more time, “How does it feel” only to get a human response back. “They were screaming. And I laughed. Why did I laugh? I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” It is a major breakthrough—and it proves that Sam and Dean can complete the Third Trial. It is possible to do it.
Now all they need is the tools—and a demon. The Winchesters know that they got lucky summoning the Crossroads Demon in “Taxi Driver.” If they’re not careful, they might tip their hand to Crowley. So, they fetch a demon that the King of Hell has no awareness: Abaddon. They will cure her and thus complete the Third Trial. It is a sound plan in theory. After all, they will have her chained down and the Devil’s Trap lodged in her brain will make her strength limited. They patch her back together and sout out to start the Trial—only to be rudely interrupted.
Sam’s phone rings and it is Crowley on the other end. He has called to tell them about Tommy Collins—that they should check the Denver news and see his handiwork for themselves. As they walk away to deal with Crowley in private, it gives Abaddon the chance she needs to make her escape. It is a creepy sequence as she calls a hand back to her host body, allowing her to dislodge the bullet. It proves that she is an extremely powerful demon—perhaps more than the “salesman” currently running Hell. While that is significant, the Winchesters have more pressing things to attend to as Crowley sends them on a wild goose chase.
They arrive too late to find Jenny Klein dead in her oven. She is the second victim in this chain of those they had saved in the past. From there, Crowley sends them to a hotel not far away—where an old friend waits. As the door opens, Sam is shocked to find Sarah Blake on the other side. It has been seven years since they last saw one another. She lets him in, and he explains to her what is happening. Crowley is after her—just as he was after Tommy and Jenny—and Sam will do whatever it takes to save her from the same fate.
Sarah trusts him completely, stating simply, “You’ve done it before.”
The clock ticks down to Crowley’s appointed time—and the phone rings. It is Crowley on the line, taunting the brothers as they frantically search for the hex bag that is causing Sarah to slowly choke to death. He tells the brothers that it is a fitting end for her, as “From what I understand, Sammy took that bird’s breath away.” It is a devastating scene, a heart-wrenching moment as they rip the room apart. They toss the bedding, rip the cushions off the couch, and dump anything they can in order to find it.
All the while Crowley’s gravely voice taunts them, telling them that they will fail.
He wants them to cease the Trails, to hand over Kevin, and to surrender completely. His actions are desperate ones. All through the season it has been Sam and Dean that have been in control. It is their actions that dictate everything that has happened in one way or another. They chose to close Hell. They chose to undertake the Trials. Crowley has tried everything he knows to stop them. He has maimed Kevin. He has threatened his mother. He has kidnapped Kevin not once but twice. Crowley has done all that he can to throw them off their track.
And so, he reaches for the last bullet in his gun: using Sam and Dean’s reason for hunting against them. “Saving people, hunting things, family business.” Their motto has often been what has carried them through their darkest hours. It is what allows them to get back up again after a crushing defeat. Sam and Dean know that while they may suffer and struggle in “the life” they are the reason that there are so many out there alive and well, saved from some horrible fate at the hands of a supernatural creature. Without them, these people would be dead. We see that devastate Dean in “What Is and What Should Never Be.” The knowledge that these things could have been stopped is what pushes him to break the djinn’s control.
Crowley is right. These people are their reasoning for why they do what they do—but he doesn’t understand it anymore now that he has dug up all the dirt on them than he did before. The books tell their story in graphic detail, and while he may know much more about his opponent than he did before, it doesn’t mean he gets them. He may win here—he succeeds in killing Sarah after all— but in the process he has sealed his fate. His mistake is a fatal one. It is this that will lead to his ultimate destruction—and as one who read the books he should have realized his mistake before he ever made it.
The Winchesters big kill track record has one common thread: the enemy threatened or killed a loved one.
Azazel, the first major demon the Winchesters defeated, tormented them for two seasons. His undoing was simple and utterly complete. It wasn’t in killing Mary. It wasn’t in killing Jessica. It wasn’t even in killing John that gave the Winchesters the strength to finally defeat him for good. It wasn’t even infecting Sam with his demonic blood and trying to turn him into a solider for Hell that did it. Azazel’s fatal mistake was kidnapping Sam and allowing Jake the opportunity to stab him to death—in front of Dean. That moment solidified Dean’s resolve more than anything else—and while it made him sell his soul to revive Sam—it also allowed him to finally pull that trigger on the Colt, putting that bullet between Azazel’s eyes and ending his reign of terror.
We see that pattern repeat with Lilith. She keeps her distance largely from the brothers in season 3, only to make her fatal mistake in its finale. Her sending the hell hounds to slaughter Dean in front of Sam sealed her fate for good. It may have taken another season for it to come to fruition—and while Dean may have been resurrected by Castiel long before that time—it was still her fatal mistake. It galvanized Sam, causing him to seek her end despite any costs. She threatened Dean simply by being alive—and the younger Winchester simply could not allow that to stand. Even if he had to turn to the dark powers given him by Azazel, he would do it to kill her.
Zachariah makes the same mistake—finally giving Dean the chance to stab him in the face. He has used both Sam and Adam against Dean to make him say yes to Michael. In the process, he causes both of them to choke on their own blood. He believes he has won. Dean, after all, tells him to call down Michael. But he has walked right into a true Winchester trap. Dean winks to Sam and makes a quick move to finally end Zachariah for good. It is the fatal mistake so many keep repeating.
Lucifer also made this fatal mistake—although by proxy. Meg corners the brothers and their allies the Harvelles, leaving them to watch both women die in an explosion so they can go track the Devil down and shoot him. He tried to convince Sam that he could bring him love, all the while destroying those the Winchesters loved in the process of trying to make Sam say yes. In the end, his lack of understanding the brothers and their bond—and most importantly why they do what they do in the “family business”—allowed Sam to wrestle control and send Lucifer back where he belonged: the Cage.
Dick Roman also made this fatal mistake spectacularly in his murder of Bobby Singer. He was the father figure the brothers had relied upon since childhood— and his loss haunted them for the remainder of season 7. Avenging Bobby was crucial for the brothers—especially Dean—but he was the symbolic personification for why the Winchesters hunt at all—to save people, to bring good to the world, and to leave it a bit better than before they started. Dick Roman underestimated that drive or what Bobby meant and it caused him to be sent back to Purgatory at Dean’s hands.
Here, Crowley has now made this same fatal mistake in killing Sarah Blake—and he doesn’t realize it. He thinks that he has won. He thinks by crippling the brothers this way that they will capitulate, that they will take the deal on the table and hand over the Tablet and Kevin and end their pursuits of the Trials. He thinks, by doing this, that he has managed to finally derail the Winchester’s plan. He could not be more wrong nor more foolish.
He has finally underestimated “those denim wrapped nightmares.”
As his speech accentuated the horror occurring before the brothers, he also hit another nerve. He reminded the brothers why they do what they do. They had invested to the cause earlier in the season—and to one another in “Torn and Frayed,” but Crowley has now reminded them why. Why do they put themselves through this suffering? Why do they sacrifice their health and happiness to commit to “the life?”
Simple: saving people, hunting things, family business.
They do this because it betters the world. Sam and Dean may dream of normal, of that far off apple pie life, but they are doers. They cannot sit idly by and watch others suffer when they can do something about it. The guilt they would feel at allowing others to die on their watch would be far worse than being “in the life.” Hunting helps them to make the world brighter—when they are often surrounded by darkness so often. Sam and Dean hunt because it gives them a purpose no other career path ever could. It makes them stronger, better, and those they save stand as a testament to that fact.
To threaten that is to threaten everything they stand for—and in Winchester fashion they will not stand idly by and take it. They will stand up to this as they have everything else—and in the process Crowley will pay.
As soon as Crowley hangs up, Dean throws the phone against the wall, revealing the hex bag hidden inside. It is too late. Sarah is dead. Sam is shocked and devastated—both brothers are. They lost this time—and it is painful. It cuts deeply into them as a once upon a time win has now forever turned into a horrible loss. In that moment we can see easily how it could cripple them. Crowley’s plan is effective and powerful—and if they let it happen he will truly win.
We are left with the brothers, devastated by what has transpired. Sam’s expression is heartbreaking, despondent, and broken. He tells Dean “I’m saying… Maybe this isn’t one we can win. Maybe we should just take the deal.” It would seem that Sam wants to do just that, let the King of Hell walk away with a big win. His pain is too raw to bolster any determination, his body and mind too sore to fight. But what has really happened here is that Sam has transformed back into the little brother—and he is desperately reaching out to Dean. He needs his big brother to lean on, to prop him up, and to remind him that it’s not over.
And Dean delivers.
He tells Sam, “We’ll figure this out. We will. Man, we’ll get it done. We’ll kick it in the ass like we always do. Are you with me?”We are left wondering Sam’s answer.
It’s fairly certain that Sam and Dean will “kick it in the ass” again, punishing Crowley ultimately for his fatal mistake.
Dude! The whole sequence between Cas and the store clerk was priceless to me. Castiel was going about this convenience store like a one man wrecking crew, destroying everything in his path. Sure, it wasn’t literal by any means, but he was certainly wreaking havoc on that poor clerk’s psyche as he went about “buying” his selected items. Those of you who have also worked in retail/customer service can relate to this clerk’s exasperated exclamation of “Dude” at each turn. Some customers are oblivious to the their tornadic activity, leaving a mess to clean up in their wake. Castiel is most certainly one of those customers, and the hilarity of this scene just brought that out a hundred fold. He didn’t mean to make a mess—but try telling that to the clerk!
Alaina Huffman returns as the sinister Abaddon. Huffman shows us all of the demon’s frustration as she realizes she’s still trapped in that chair, powerless with that bullet still lodged —but we can see the gears shifting around in her head, all in her facial expressions. Once left alone by the Winchesters, we see her put on a creepy show, using what limited powers she has to call her hand to her body and pull the bullet free. It’s a nasty scene pulled off well by Huffman. We’re sold that Abaddon is not the run of the mill demon—not just by the special effects that make it all come together—but by Huffman’s sinister portrayal here. In the exorcism footage, her brief appearance shows a different side—a much more innocent and naÃ¯ve side that contrasts nicely with Abaddon’s evil. It’ll be interesting to see, now that she’s free again, just what she ends up doing to crash the Winchester’s attempt at the Third Trial.
Taylor Cole returns after seven years to the role of Sarah Blake. She was a memorable character in the episode “Provenance,” and connected best with Padalecki’s Sam. Cole shows that Sarah is calm and collected as Sam and Dean burst back into her life with yet another supernatural threat beating down her door. She doesn’t argue, she doesn’t fuss, and we see in Cole’s performance Sarah’s unconditional faith in the brothers to protect her. Her exchange between Padalecki’s Sam in this episode is powerful. They share a quiet conversation about what has happened in her life since they helped her all those years ago. She is married with a child—happy. She is a living testament to why they do what they do every day. Cole shows that Sarah is also intuitive about Sam and how confident he is about his life path. The chemistry between Cole and Padalecki sells the scene here. As the scene turns tragic and she is choked to death by Crowley’s hex magic, we can’t help but feel devastation.
Curtis Armstrong is delightful as Metatron here. He is quiet and unassuming—and yet now we can sense that angelic presence more than we did in his introduction. Armstrong balances out the supernatural aspects of his character with that of the bookworm well. His behavior with Castiel shows just how well he’s adapted to social graces—all while remaining in the dark about what has been happening in the world until just recently. Armstrong puts all of Metatron’s enthusiasm for the plan to close down Heaven in his voice and his facial expressions. When confronted with the Nephillium, we see his fear—as he ends up in a situation not unlike Kevin’s from the week prior—proving that what he said is true: he’s a pencil pusher, not a warrior. Armstrong also manages to sell us on the notion that Metatron, now that he knows the score, cares about fixing the problem. He knows that if things continue as they are, they will see the angels destroy everything. It’s a delight to see how Metatron sells the solution to Castiel—and Armstrong shows us in the line “It’d make for a great story” just how much this angel enjoys story. Here is his chance to write a bit of it—and to take what he learned from the Winchesters and become a player. It’ll be interesting to see how his plan works out—and what else he knows about angels that no one else does.
Mark Sheppard continues to deliver a strong performance as a villain. He is cruel, cold, and effective here in his taunting the brothers. And yet, underneath his harsh pronouncements, Sheppard conveys all of Crowley’s desperation and frustration. He has been chasing the Winchesters all season, unable to stop them or thwart them. He has been behind at almost every turn—and now he has taken a step too far. Sheppard’s tight performance here is darker than the usual Crowley. He’s angrier, just a hair more ruthless, and meaner. Sheppard pulls out all the punches in his speech to the Winchesters as the brothers frantically search for the hex bag. It is methodical in its delivery, hitting home at each turn, and building to a crescendo as Crowley tells the brothers exactly what he means to do if they don’t quit the Trials.
Misha Collins brings all of Castiel’s awkwardness to the forefront here—in his attempts to apologize to the Winchesters, in his shopping excursion, and in his interactions with Metatron. Collins knows how to subtly pull the humor out of these scenes, adding a nice texture to the overall story. Even though he’s been in the Winchester’s company off an on now for four years, the nerd angel just hasn’t managed to pick up social graces—evidenced best in the cafe scene. Collins delivers the line, “No, it’s actually quite warm,” with all the deadpan we have come to expect. We can sense as he explains to Metatron that he’s the one that “broke Heaven” that Castiel feels remorse for what he has done since the Apocalypse was averted. We can also sense, in Collins’ voice, that Castiel knows he has far to go to redeem himselffrom those mistakes. That remorse is etched across Castiel’s face as he tells Dean “I’m sorry,” too. It makes us soften, but we know there is much for Castiel to do before he is accepted as the ally he once was. Collins connects well with Armstrong here. They provide one another good foils, playing off one another nicely. If they handle the Angel Trials well, perhaps we are seeing the birth of a new partnership with two unlikely characters!
Jensen Ackles gives us the very best of Dean here. We see Dean’s anger at Castiel in clear body language. He won’t look at that angel, and all of his words are clipped with him. Their interaction may be brief, but Ackles conveys clearly how wide the gap is between the hunter and angel. Conversely, we see Ackles put in a softer approach towards Sam. There is an openness between the brothers here, and while Dean’s attempt at giving Sam something to eat isn’t as good as in “The Great Escapist,” Ackles sells us Dean’s love for his brother well in the gesture—all in Dean fashion. He shows us Dean’s faith in Sam well, too, both when he snaps at Castiel and again when he softly explains to Father Simon, “Father, over the past couple of months, I’ve seen him do crap that I didn’t even think was possible. I mean, sure, he’s miserable and he’s hurting, but you know what? There’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s gonna cross that finish line — not one. So, will you help us?” Ackles shows Dean’s helplessness as they rush to help Sarah, joining in the frantic search for the hex bag. Once it is too late, we see horror etch across his face after he smashes the phone, only to find the elusive hex bag. Ackles best scene here, by far, is his speech at the end. He is filled with a hope we haven’t seen from Dean in awhile, this time being the “light at the end of the tunnel” for Sam. Every conviction the elder Winchester has can be clearly heard in Ackles’ voice. His facial expression reflects that—coupled with a hardened determination. In that moment, we can almost see the thread between the brothers as Dean tugs Sam back from the edge. It is in these give and take scenes in the back half of the season that has really shown Padalecki and Ackles chemistry well. The ebb and flow of Sam and Dean supporting one another, giving that hand up, and being each other’s “stone number one” strengthens their bond in ways that make it as electrifying as it was from the beginning.
Jared Padalecki continues to excel as Sam in this backhalf of season 8. He shows us all of his character’s determination in quiet ways. We see it in the way he clenches his jaw, the tightness in his shoulders, the stony expression on his face, and the edge in his voice. Padalecki makes us root for Sam’s endeavor here—all while making us feel concern. Even though Sam is determined, we also see the toll it is taking, and Padalecki shows us that, too. We see it in the tired expressions, the harsh coughs, and his unsteadiness. There is much sacrifice being made on Sam’s part here, and we can feel it right with him due to Padalecki’s tight performance. It is nice to see him share screen with Cole again, and their chemistry flowed just as it did in “Provenance.” Padalecki shows us Sam’s happiness in Sarah’s news with softened expressions and little smiles. He doesn’t have to make any grand gestures or say anything dramatic to convey that here. It’s all in how he carries himself. It’s good to see Sam smile—even if it is a brief interlude, a calm before the storm. Where Padalecki tugs most on our heart strings is in watching Sam panic as Sarah is struggling to breathe. He is frantic, casting off the Trial’s effects almost effortlessly as he helps Dean to toss Sarah’s hotel room in the search for the hex bag. As he realizes he can’t find it, we see Sam embrace her, watching her die in his arms, helpless. His anguish is palpable and written all over his face. He doesn’t have to cry the way he did when shooting Madison. Padalecki shows us this in a sad and nearly hopeless expression. Sam has failed, and we can see it written in his eyes. In the final scene with Dean, we see Padalecki put all of Sam’s fears in the open. He wants to give up, if for a moment, just so he doesn’t have to experience this again. As Dean gives the pep talk, and while Sam provides no verbal answer here, we can see that determination from earlier in the episode reignite. It’s subtle, but clear—something that Padalecki excels at best.
Dean: We’ll figure this out. We will. And we’ll get it done. We’ll kick it in the ass like we always do.
Dean: Oh, yeah, ’cause that was the most freaky thing was the vocabulary. What about the bloody high five or the chest burster? Anything else on the film, like director’s commentary, sequel, maybe?
Metatron: Yeah. According to him, you and I have a lot in common. We’re both free thinkers. We’re both on heaven’s most wanted list. I thought we could socialize, maybe grab a bite.
Metatron: Yeah. Just — just picture it. We ride to the rescue, save the day — make a great story.
Sam: We figured kitty didn’t need her claws.
Abaddon: The salesman?
Sarah: I do miss the old haircut, though.
It’s amazing that we’re already to the season finale. Get ready to hear “Carry On My Wayward Son!”