Classic rock music has always been a uniquely treasured part of the storytelling and emotional magnetism of Supernatural. I was consequently intrigued with the music that so aptly framed The Road So Far.
It instantly pulled viewers back into the action after the long winter hiatus. No one seemed to recognize it, but within minutes it was identified as “Long Black Road” by Electric Light Orchestra:
So I drifted for a while down the road to ruin
I couldn’t find my way I didn’t know what I was doin’
I saw a lot of people coming back the other way
So I kept on goin’ when I heard them say
“You gotta get up in the morning take your heavy load
And you gotta keep goin’ down the long black road”
“You gotta work like a man in a real man’s life
You’re gonna have to take all the trouble and strife”
You gotta get up in the morning take your heavy load
And you gotta keep goin’ down the long black road
Perfect lyrics for Sam and Dean! Great rhythm and beat too! I’ll have to add that song to my playlist (there’s an Amazon button on most of the WFB pages)! Let’s get started on the analysis of this episode, though. A lot happened!
Mark of Cain
There were so many conversations about the Mark and its effect on Dean that I’ve divided the expositions into a few different topics.
Dean’s realizations and thoughts
Dean: “There was a time I was a hunter, not a stone cold killer. You can say it. You’re not wrong. I crossed the line. Guys, this thing’s got to go.”
First of all, “you’re not wrong” was a clever echo of the “You Were Right” theme that permeated “Fan Fiction”. The brothers seem to be going out of their way to validate and acknowledge each other’s insights and opinions. Let’s hope that continues.
Beyond that small acknowledgement, though, this statement from Dean was a major admission of his culpability in the massacre of several human beings who attacked him (and one who was in the wrong place at the wrong time). Dean has always measured and justified the violence that surrounds hunting with simple rules: if the target is a supernatural being, i.e. a “monster” that endangers humans, then lethal force is warranted and justified. This definition of his job was his moral compass. Killing has always been a part of the job, as Sam admitted, but these boundaries gave Dean the line he didn’t want to cross. Admitting that he had crossed the line was a huge step in Dean’s rehabilitation, but the core problem of the Mark still remains.
In 9.11 “First Born”, Cain gave Dean the Mark because he recognized Dean’s skills and perhaps instincts as a killer:
Cain: “The mark can be transferred to someone who’s worthy.”
Dean: “You mean a killer like you?”
Common wisdom accepts that our greatest strength is often our greatest weakness. Dean is rightfully afraid of losing control and giving into killing sprees. Maybe, though, he is horrified to the point of denial by something more that he is sensing about himself. In that brief exchange with Cain, Dean acknowledged that he was a killer, but maybe at the time he was referring to his ability to kill, not his desire to kill. His recent actions might be proving to him that he is partially to blame for the Mark’s power:
Crowley: “You want me to procure the most dangerous weapon on the planet, for Dean Winchester – the man who goes mental every time he touches it??”
Dean: “The Blade might be powered down but the Mark is not. I am doing everything I can to keep it together. You think the body count around me is high right now? Wait ‘till Hal takes over.”
Dean is aware of what the Mark is pushing him to do, but his reluctance to openly discuss the situation suggests that Dean is more ashamed and frightened of the person he sees in the mirror. In a tearfully admission to Sam years ago, Dean confessed that he liked torturing souls in Hell and wished that he didn’t have to remember that aspect of himself. When talking about “carving” the information out of Metatron, though, Dean bragged, “I’m going to enjoy every minute of it”. Even though Dean had previously acknowledged the horrific truth that his time in Hell uncovered, he has never done anything to purge the guilt or hate that is feeding his unresolved rage.
Dean seems sincere about his desire to control himself, and innocently and truthfully expected to only make a sandwich when he separated himself from the watchful eyes of Sam and Castiel, but when Crowley called and let Dean know that the Blade was in play again, Dean immediately stopped what he was doing and marched straight over to Metatron to demand more information about the Mark. The critical question, then, is if Dean knew he could snap at any moment, and honestly wanted to guard against that happening again, why did he go to “talk” to Metatron without Sam or Cas? Obviously, Dean knew that they would not approve or allow the extreme means Dean intended to use to get information, but in that moment, he was motivated by desperation, not rational thought. Then Dean made the calculated choice to close and lock the dungeon door. He was not in a threatening or heated situation where he had to think fast or where the Mark was “pushing” him to violence. Whatever tenuous patience or control he had was taunted into rage by his frustration with Metatron. The extent of Dean’s repressed rage was revealed in his recitation of Metatron’s many sins:
“Where do I begin? Stealing Cas’ grace, casting out the angels, making Gadreel kill Kevin using my brother’s hands, starting an angel war…and oh yeah, you killed me.”
I can’t begrudge Dean’s fury with Metatron because I was ecstatic at hearing someone finally recount Metatron’s path of destruction!! The fact that none of them have yet killed Metatron is a testament to their heroic struggle to not become “stone cold killers” themselves. Then Metatron added to his endless goading by claiming people have died because they believed in Dean. Those accusations were overused and without substance. Everyone around Dean knew the risks and made their own decisions. Metatron’s accusation of “how many times have you lied to Sam, including when he was possessed by an angel”, though, was an interesting reflection back to Dean of his guilt. It was meant to redirect Dean’s hate inward to distract him from Metatron’s interrogation. Instead, though, it ignited Dean by reminding him of the feelings he desperately wants to suppress. The close up of Dean’s face (not shown here) when he finally decided what he was going to do to Metatron was completely and totally DemonDean!
After Dean’s subsequent confession to his brother, Sam finally voiced the obvious possibility:
Dean: I was going to kill him and I couldn’t stop myself”
Sam: “You know what Cas said about needing a powerful source? I’ve been thinking – Cain still has the Mark, right? He’s lived with it. For years, he’s lived with it. So yeah the Mark is strong, but Dean maybe there’s a part of you that wants to give into it. And maybe you have to fight that. Maybe part of that powerful force has to be you.”
This reflection and finally, finally Sam voicing this primal instinct in Dean has made me very excited about the MoC story line again. It is turning into a character study of Dean rather than a quest to defeat a supernatural force.
This is the monster Dean has never been able to defeat. The monster that gets away every time. If Dean is ever going to grow as a person, and mature as the writers have promised for the past few seasons, then Dean needs to confront and defeat his inner demons before he can control or overpower any more supernatural ones….and Sam is the only one who can talk Dean through this self-examination.
Metatron obviously knows a lot, maybe even everything there is to know, about the Mark:
Metatron: “What? He’s back?…because of the Mark? So, he’s a demon. Ok, what then? What? Did he kill a human or something? He’s gone nuclear! Total, foaming at the mouth, balls out, maniac! That’s fantastic!”
Then in the next few minutes following this revelation (after Dean’s dramatic entrance to the dungeon):
Dean: “You know what? Screw the Mark. Let’s just kill him.”
Metatron: “He really is a mess! Who knew the Mark was so toxic? Well, actually, I did. You know it is going to own you sooner rather than later.”
Metatron also revealed that there’s “a bunch” of future steps to get rid of the mark.
“Good Dean. Go darker. Go deeper. Surely you’ve noticed every time you respond when the mark gets you all twitchy, you fall deeper under its spell? You think ruffing up a few humans and demons makes it worse? Try messing with the Scribe of God, bucko!”
“You realize it’s going to get worse Dean. You’re going to get worse!”
What did all these clues about the Mark reveal? We already knew that the Mark grows stronger each time Dean kills. It is fed by violence, so Dean loses a little more of himself each time it overpowers his will. The more he kills the more it drives him to kill in a downward spiral of increasing death, so the fact that it’s going to “get worse” is not new information. It’s an ominous threat from a villain but it doesn’t really change the rules of the game. We also knew that his soul is once again darkening. He might already be to the point that death would once again make him into a demon. In fact, dying while bearing the Mark probably automatically makes you into a demon.
Metatron did impart two new rules of the game, though. First, the power of the victim is part of the equation. It seems that the Mark consumes the energy of the death, so the bigger the prey, the bigger the step into darkness for Dean. That’s worth noting.
The second, more important revelation was another one of those annoying cryptic riddles that Supernatural uses so effectively. Just like Sam’s tease “That’s not the problem”, or Cain’s warning “a great burden, some would call it a great cost”, Metatron taunted the secret to removing the Mark:
“The river shall end at the source”.
That’s a phrase we, and the brothers, will probably spend the rest of the season deciphering!
“The River” could mean the river of blood that surrounds the Mark’s violence. It could also simply be a metaphor for the path taken by the bearer of the Mark.
“The Source” is interesting, though. In 9.11 “First Born”, Cain introduced the Mark and the Blade to Crowley and Dean, saying,
“Your spell brought you to the source of the Blade’s power. Me.”
Cain further explained that the First Blade is useless without the Mark of Cain.
Crowley: It’s the bloody mark of Cain.
Cain: From Lucifer himself. The mark and the blade work together. Without the mark, the blade is useless. It’s just an old bone.
Dean confirmed the Blade’s power source in this episode:
Dean: “We keep the blade out of my hands”
Sam: “Are you sure this isn’t the Mark making you want the damn thing.”
Dean: “The blade without me is useless and the blade with me is trouble for him.”
So the source of the Blade’s power is the Mark.
Cain’s explanation also stated that the source of the Mark was Lucifer. The critical question, though, and the theory I am posing, is what is the source of the Mark’s power over its victim? Sam may have told us the answer. The source of the mark’s power are the emotions of its bearer. Cain was able to stop killing when he chose not to kill. He changed himself for Collette. The Mark taps into the rage, resentment, fear, hate, or other negative emotions of its bearer and channels that pain into violence. Sam’s suspicions, Cain’s actions and Dean’s history all point to the fact that Dean has to fundamentally change in order to neutralize the Mark. He won’t be rid of it, but it won’t have power over him anymore. A lot of people want Sam to save Dean. What if Dean has to save himself?
Why the First Blade?
Metatron told the brothers that they needed to find the First Blade to remove the Mark. I can’t yet speculate why that might be true, IF it is true. Cas said, “It will take a very powerful force to remove the effect” of the Mark. Sam’s guess is that the powerful force is the will of the human soul. Metatron implied that there is a complex series of steps or ingredients needed for a process or spell to remove the Mark. They may both be right. There are 13 more episodes this season to unravel this mystery!
Monsters…and their families
After repeatedly wondering why random losers in a bar played such a prominent role in “The Hunter Games”, I finally realized that they were the “monsters” in this week’s story. They weren’t supernatural – they were humans, but they wanted to kill Dean just for the thrill of “the hunter game”. The idea of humans being monsters has been explored all season. Sam’s desperate behavior was portrayed as “monstrous”; Cole categorized Sam, Dean and himself as monsters; Randy and the loan sharks were all acting like “monsters”. We have long tracked “Reversals” as a theme. I submit that season 10 is reversing the role of the monster from supernatural beings to normal human beings. All of our protagonists are having to face the monster within themselves and the monster-of-the-week has repeatedly not had super powers. In contrast, Crowley is being portrayed as a lonely, misunderstood victim with unresolved childhood issues instead of the monster who kills prophets, humans and demons with just a snap of his fingers or a wave of his hand.
I really can’t foresee the purpose here, but this episode did its best to further weaken Crowley as a powerful foe. The opening dream, or more accurately vision (since he doesn’t sleep), portrayed him as helpless, without a weapon, running from a kill squad. The Crowley we have come to know over the past 7 seasons is anything but helpless. He always carries a hidden weapon, and he always has an escape plan. He could have just winked himself away, disappearing from that ambush. Obviously, Rowena’s hex bag incited the vision, but I’m guessing its spell amplified Crowley’s own fears. Given the unrest and discontent we’ve seen in Crowley’s throne room, his fears are well founded, but they are still completely out of character. He schemes and plans; he doesn’t fear. Crowley’s further lamenting about his abusive, neglected childhood was very tiresome.
Obviously, the season is extensively studying the definition of family, and its impact on supernatural forces. Rowena proclaimed proudly, “Besides I’m back now. We can be a family” as she wiped Crowley’s eyebrow with her spit (that was just creepy. Who does that to their adult son? Who even does it to their young sons?). There have been so many references to her being a ridiculously bad mother, it’s almost becoming farcical. Clearly, this is a transparent commentary on some people’s abuse of their relationships. It continues the study of Randy’s place in Claire’s life, and starkly contrasts the sincere devotion of Sam and Dean to each other as family. The story is, so far, too clumsy, though. I just don’t buy Crowley as the whining type who dwells on his past or cares about family. I realize he has to deal with the human emotions raised by the curing ritual but it’s making his character weak and his drama entirely peripheral to the main storyline. Crowley told the boys: “I thought we would go for a beer, catch a film”. Really? Is he that far gone that he drops everything (well actually, he was doing nothing but sitting around) and jumps at the first phone call from his lost love? This is tritely pathetic!
I also couldn’t fathom Crowley revealing where he had hidden the Blade. He would never show his cards like that! He could agree to retrieve it, but why burn his hiding place? Not only did he reveal where the Blade was kept, but he revealed where his bones are kept! Sam and Dean found his bones once before and threatened to destroy them. Crowley would never let them know where the bones are hidden now. That was either a sorry statement on how far Crowley has slipped in his mental chess games, or it was a cheap way for Rowena to overhear information she should never have been able to get so easily.
Whatever the long term plan, laying the groundwork for the relationship between Crowley and Rowena again slowed down the episode. It was riddled with questionable plot twists and long, tiresome dialogs, which were entirely contrary to the pacing of the climactic confrontation between Dean and Metatron. Even Castiel and Claire’s relationship moved ahead towards some kind of resolution. Setting up one plotline in the same episode that another is being closed and a third is climaxing was a weird combination of pacing. It absolutely ruined the tension in the Mark of Cain story and the impact of Castiel finding resolution with Claire. Whatever Rowena’s game, I wish they would get to it already so Crowley can go back to interacting with Team Free Will!
Patience, Grasshopper. All will come to those who wait.
Castiel, Family, Stories, Truth and Letting Go
So many plot threads were woven together into Castiel’s storyline, that I’ve combined them all into one discussion!
Claire: “You look like my father…You, whoever you are, you’re nothing to me.”
Cas: Claire, that’s not true. I’m in large part responsible for the way your life has unfolded. I have a responsibility to help you….Claire, you’ve seen things, you’ve been through things that no one your age should have. And you are adrift. I want to help you have a life.
Claire: “Stop talking to me like you’re my father. You killed my father, and that friend of yours killed the last thing I had closest to family.
Cas: Are you speaking of Randy? Family?
Claire: Dean Winchester is a monster.
Cas: It’s possible there’s a little monster in all of us.”
This dialog touched on what it means to be a family, the stories we tell ourselves and the underlying truths, and the definition of monsters. Claire’s unfathomable oversharing in the bar about her first dad, second dad, etc. was another (teenager’s awkward) reinforcement of her attempt to understand her family’s history. The idea of accepting the truth was a thread introduced in “Black”, and then again in “Girls Girls Girls” and “Hibbing 911” . In “The Hunter Games”, Castiel tried to get Claire to accept that she fabricated an incredible story of how Randy was her family to not have to face the truth of losing her real family, and being completely alone. She vilified Castiel and Dean, who were trying to save her, while defending the actions of the man who asked her to commit armed robbery right before he sold her like a pimp negotiating a price for one of his “girls”. By the end of her story, though, she started to see the truth and accept Castiel’s wisdom:
Claire: “I thought about what you said. I’m going to try doing things a little different. Let go of a little bit of monster in me.”
Claire set Dean up to be murdered in cold blood, but her core goodness won out in the end. Her acknowledgement that everyone has to battle with their monsters echoed and foreshadowed Dean’s battle with himself, and once again reflected the sentiment of letting go of past pain. Symbolically, Cas had to also let Claire go her own way. He had to let go of his need to redeem himself by being the one who saved her. That may be a message for Sam. In addition, though, Claire had to let go of her judgments of Castiel and blaming him for all the troubles in her life. She took responsibility for her own rage and acknowledged having to let go of the monster inside her. That may be the message for Dean.*
The last shot of the episode was Cas driving away, seeing Claire in his rear view mirror. That might have been a beautifully expressive way of showing that the story is moving on and leaving her behind. [I’m not even going to address the idea of leaving a minor on the side of a road with no means of supporting herself…or the unmistakable parallel with Alex and Jody. That’s another topic entirely.]
Did you notice the emphasis on not saying goodbye? When Crowley winked away from the throne room, Rowena said “Not even a goodbye”. I also noticed the abrupt end to all phone calls! No one ever said goodbye! They all just hung up assuming the caller was done talking! I’m not sure if this was a coincidence, universally poor manners or symbolic. Maybe that made it even more significant that Cas actually said “see ya Claire”. What do you think?
The hallway outside Crowley’s crypt was the same hallway in which he was killed in his vision. Foreshadowing? Obviously, his greatest fear (i.e. what the hex bag would tap into) is being killed, and/or a coup, but he must also be worried about his most closely guarded secret, the location of the means of his death, being discovered (reinforcing my observation that he would not volunteer the information so casually to Sam and Dean, the people he said he would never underestimate!).
The visual effects and the imagery in this episode were outstanding. I have so many comments about the cinematography that I would love to find the time to do a separate visual review of this episode (once screencaps become available!).
What do you think about “The river ends with the source”? What about Sam’s suggestion that Dean is the problem? Do you think Claire’s storyline has served its purpose? And what in Hell is happening to Crowley? (or is that supposed to be, “What is happening to Crowley in Hell”? I may have gotten that wrong the first time…)
Disclaimers: Per my custom, I wrote this analysis without reading any other reviews or comments in order to ensure impartiality, so please excuse duplication if I cover ground that has already been tilled. Oddly, this week, none of our screencapping sources have anything to offer us yet, so you’ll just have to use your imagination and rewatch the show to envision some of the scenes I reference! Also to be timely, I do all my own transcriptions directly from the show, so please feel free to correct any words I may have heard incorrectly.
*Sugar offered similar thoughts in her comments to my Threads article on “The Things We Left Behind”. Thanks Sugar!