I had to take some time to process the finale, because the first time through, despite the stellar acting, I was emotionally distanced and underwhelmed. I wasn’t surprised at the final five seconds, having thought Dean as demon had been telegraphed since Cain told his story and several times since. But I wasn’t comfortable with my negative reaction, either, and had to wrestle with what was going on with my viewing.
And what I finally realized was I was hearing fandom voices in my head as I watched the show, instead of having my own reaction. I decided to put those voices on mute and watch the show again, just me and the story. And I loved it.
So, I’ve decided to reclaim my read and keep fandom muted. I prefer a more intimate relationship with a story. The reason I love this show is not because it has a reciprocal relationship with fans. It’s not because writers are on twitter. It’s not because the actors are cute at cons. It’s because I love this story about two brothers whose relationship gives them the strength to take on cosmic events, to really define both what is a hero and what is family and the inevitable tensions and surprising connections between the two concepts. I love that this is a show where I do not need to choose between enjoying it emotionally (well, enjoying the PAIN! Sob), and enjoying it intellectually. This is a show with something on its mind—about relationships, about purpose, about faith, about love.
What spurred me to examine my own initial reaction to the finale was a tweet by writer Robert Berens. He pointed to an article about what powers long running shows, Supernatural being given as one example. In a nutshell, every show should have a clearly defined operational principle which organically motivates the actions of all its characters. Each character should also have an operational principle derived from the main principle which guides actions and choices.
With that in mind, I realized the finale beautifully fulfilled the operational principles of the show as a whole and each character. Jeremy Carver knit together the disjointed pieces of season nine’s narrative and touched both heart and mind in the process.
Sam and Dean’s story has always been about the way together they are greater than the sum of their parts. They are different very specific characters with many reasons why they should not fit together. “What Was and What Should Never Be” explored those differences, but the overall message of the episode, as we also hear in “It’s a Terrible Life” and “The End,” is despite all the differences in temperament and poor choices along the way, Sam and Dean are better together. When they look at each other, they see each other’s best self, allowing each brother to believe in that vision, despite the fear each harbours inside himself. Unfortunately, each brother also has some hurtful perceptions about what the other believes.
Being flawed people under terrible pressures, the brothers haven’t always communicated well and they haven’t always made the best choices. But every time they allow those negative emotions to damage the bond they share, bad things happen. Season nine shone a spotlight on the bond, first examining the ways love has its selfish side, allowing manipulation, and then showing how much anger can be unleashed when love hurts.
Sam and Dean spent the first half of the season operating under the shadow of Dean’s lie and the second half of the season operating under the shadow of Sam’s anger. In both cases, communication lines between the boys were severed, as Sam tried desperately to force Dean to engage verbally with him over the possession and the lies, while Dean looked to Sam to show him in actions they were still brothers. Sam and Dean communicate differently, which makes them prone to misunderstanding each other at the best of times, never mind the worst. This season, Dean’s inability to use words to explain his position led to Sam raising the stakes on what he was angry about in every encounter.
The silver lining in the increasing space between the boys is that between Dean’s words in season eight and Sam’s words this season, all their buried resentments were brought to the surface. Choosing Ruby, choosing Benny, overriding autonomy, running away – everything got a good stir.
The down side is there are always dark forces ready to fill that space, working on the weaknesses of the brothers when they are no longer grounding each other. Crowley oozes into that space, all bromance with a plan, providing Dean with a target and willing ear.
And Sam slowly realized there was a worse thing than a brother who loved him so much he couldn’t imagine surviving him. “Do You Believe in Miracles” showed Sam deciding the possession was terrible, but losing Dean is worse. The finale showed Sam that when the chips are down and he faces a similar choice to let his brother go, he actually can understand what led Dean to make the choice he did. Without each other, Sam and Dean are adrift.
Being who they are, that is a very dangerous state. Crowley understands how to play the long con. He also knows the boys well, spotting the possibilities immediately when Dean felt he had, through his own actions, lost Sam. I think it’s clear Crowley has a plan in mind for Demon Dean. But I wonder if he wasn’t also motivated just a smidge by envy of Sam and Dean’s bond. This is the demon, after all, whose reaction to humanity’s touch was to say he just wanted to be loved. He was able to send his son off into the world to have a new start. Perhaps at some level, he’s hoping he gets a new family with Dean. It would suit Crowley’s ambiguous nature to have these kinds of ambiguous motivations.
At any rate, Crowley has Dean’s number when he asks him about the blade, “Do you want to get rid of it?” Dean’s been ensnared by the lure of power, running from the pain of his broken relationship with Sam toward the nearest goal he can use to distract himself. Jensen Ackles has done an amazing job this season, slowly transforming Dean emotionally and physically into something that resembles Dean Winchester but in crucial ways, isn’t. Even though I expected Dean to awake in the final moments as a black eyed demon, I was still devastated, because I will miss Dean so much.
Sam has been missing Dean for some time, though he’s not been able to voice that. Despite his harsh words earlier in the season telling Dean they were no more than partners and that Dean’s selfish motivations have done more harm than good in the world, he’s not happy with the way Dean has pulled back from him. He never wanted space; he wanted a fight so he could make Dean listen. He wanted Dean to engage. Instead, Dean has pulled away, changing in ways that worry the younger Winchester—and leaving Sam in no doubt Dean was always, is now, and always will be his brother.
Carver finally allows Sam to specifically define why he is hurt to Dean. And it’s the deception—the idea that Dean’s inability to trust him led to his body killing Kevin. The manipulation to Sam feels emblematic of the doubts he’s always worried Dean harbours about him. Given his own doubts about himself, the lies are the deepest cut.
But under the pressure of losing Dean, Sam recognizes doubt is not at the centre of Dean’s relationship with him. The protective shape of Dean’s love was forged in the fire when they lost their mother. Sam may be hurt and angry at Dean overriding his autonomy, but he’s also realizing he’s equally unwilling to lose Dean. And that’s an issue, because like Dean had to face in “Swan Song,” Sam has to support Dean’s plan to stop Metatron, even though he knows the blade is damaging Dean profoundly.
The parallel to “Swan Song” is just one of the many calls back to previous seasons. Carver brings in elements of previous finales, like “All Hell Breaks Loose,” in another thematic illustration the boys are airing old wounds to drain them of power.
The airing works. Dean’s first response to Sam’s outpouring of hurt is to say he won’t explain himself. But later in the episode, he haltingly tries to put into words his apology. Sam stops him, just saying, “I know.” His anger cooled, Sam recognizes Dean will never be verbal the way he is. He shows his love through actions.
The punch that greets Sam’s decision they will face Metatron together is another manifestation of that love, distorted by the influence of the blade. Dean is being changed into something primal and violent, but there is still something at his core that needs to protect his brother. I think that core will be inside Demon Dean, giving Sam something to call to when he tries to save his brother next season.
The end of “Do You Believe in Miracles” places Sam back in “Mystery Spot”, holding his dying brother in a paroxysm of grief beautifully portrayed by Jared Padalecki. But this time, Sam needs to learn not to repeat old mistakes. “It’s all so expected,” says Crowley when Sam starts the summoning ritual for the demon. I think the point of airing all the grievances over past mistakes this season was to help the boys recognize the value of their bond, while avoiding the pitfalls. Love is always a double edged sword.
Sam will need to drop the single minded obsession of “Mystery Spot” and instead reach past the demon to find Dean the way Dean reached past Lucifer to find Sam. In this story, love is stronger than hate.
Cas’s story intersects with the Winchesters as he and Gadreel join forces to infiltrate heaven to break Metatron’s connection with the Angel Tablet. I’ve not enjoyed a lot of the angel war narrative this season. The angels for the most part are unlikeable two dimensional boring characters, and I don’t really care whether they get back to heaven or not.
But I do care about Castiel and to my surprise, I do care about Gadreel. I was leery about his redemption arc, because I wanted Sam to be able to express his anger about the possession. However, allowing Gadreel to show why he made the seemingly unforgiveable decisions he did thematically echoed Sam and Dean’s arc and played beautifully into Cas’s.
In Jeremy Carver’s hands, the heaven story was interesting and moving. Metatron has misappropriated the Word of God to tell a story with himself as a self-insert character, a Gary Stu in fandom parlance. He has all the weaknesses of that kind of story telling. He sees himself as the hero, but doesn’t show any qualities of heroism. The Scribe is trying to fill the hole carved out by his lack of esteem by forcing angels to obey him and humans to worship him.
What he doesn’t realize is he is going against the spirit of the Word of God, even if he has the tangible manifestation of it. Castiel is the angel who has always felt the love and care for humanity God charged the angels to hold. This principle guided his actions through human history as he was reprogrammed again and again, only to continue to disobey orders when he saw humans being harmed. Castiel embodies the angelic Word of God, which gives him a power Metatron cannot understand.
Cas has made his share of mistakes, including allowing hubris to blind him to his guiding principle. In season six, he tried to become God to return heaven to the military society the arch angels had run. Learning from that experience, he was very reluctant this year to take on the leadership role thrust on him – and indeed, he did have more to learn. Cas fell back into a militaristic mindset, even though the attraction he presents to other angels is the alternative he offers. Last episode, Metatron forced Cas to decide where his loyalties truly lie when he manipulated Cas’s followers into demanding Cas kill Dean.
Cas refused, and Metatron successfully used that choice to nudge the angels into turning against their reluctant leader. This episode, as Metatron and Cas fight over the angels’ loyalty, Metatron says, “To save Dean Winchester. That was your goal, right? I mean, you draped yourself in the flag of heaven, but ultimately, it was all about saving one human, right.”
He’s sure the angels will see Cas priorizing a human over leading the angels home as a betrayal. His own vision of being a good leader is to return angels to the top of the food chain. He tells Cas, “When that happens, trust me, they’re not going to care how they got there.”
What he doesn’t know is Gadreel has just proved otherwise. Ginger-haired angel has just proved otherwise. The real essence of Cas’s leadership does not draw on a military model. He leads by example. Cas’s commitment to what he sees as the Word of God–caring for humanity—inspires Gadreel to re-examine what reclaiming his good name really means. Taking his cue from Castiel’s willingness to heal Gadreel despite his waning grace, Gadreel sacrifices himself to protect humanity from Metatron. He cares very much how he got there.
Castiel successfully breaks Metatron’s misappropriation of the Word of God and he successfully delivers on his promise to stop the killing when he lets the angel live. He’s still sure he’s no leader, not yet understanding his own love for humanity is re-awakening that sense of mission in other angels. Heaven needs healing, but not at sword point. The angels’ internal healing will point them in a new direction, one that Cas, for all his reluctance, has been crucial in revealing. There’s a reason God keeps bringing Cas back to the story.
I can’t end this review without mentioning the many outstanding performances. Jared Padalecki’s desperation and emotional breakdown at losing Dean was heartrending. Jensen Ackles’ dying scene was equally poignant and painful, as was Misha Collins’ face when Cas hears of Dean’s death. Mark Sheppard shows again he’s as comfortable delivering a dramatic monologue as a tongue in cheek joke. The finale proved this show is going strong in its ninth season. I fell in love with Supernatural again, for which I am very happy through the tears.
Screencaps courtesy of homeofthenutty.com