Each week, we’re granted great performances on Supernatural—but sometimes they transcend into extraordinary. “The Executioner’s Song” is filled with exceptional performances that bring the story to exquisite life, touching us deeply. Let’s look at the magnificent acting done in this episode.
Timothy Omundson reprises the role of the Father of Murder, Cain, in the aptly titled “The Executioner’s Song.” From the moment he’s revealed in the prison cell, there to kill the inmate, he has an intense screen presence that pulls us into the show. He’s efficient, cold, and cruel in his actions. Omundson makes us shiver with this performance, giving us a true sense of what Cain was like for centuries as the brutal killer. He’s determined to follow through on his plans to cull the tainted issue from his line—and Omundson gives this aspect of the story a righteous flavor that colors all of Cain’s actions and motives. If anything, this makes the Father of Murder a far more terrifying figure—mostly because of the way he delivers his lines with a level-headness that makes what he’s doing sound logical even if we know it isn’t.
Omundson also gives us a sense of just how ancient Cain truly is in this performance. He conveys well, just in how he carries himself, that the Father of Murder has seen and done it all. He isn’t surprised by much—not Castiel coming to see his new burial grounds to Dean having the First Blade ready or even the Devil’s Trap used to trap him after the illusion is exposed. This comes out the most in the speech he directs at Dean. Before the elder Winchester can even get a word in edgewise, Cain supplies everything he already knows Dean will say. He tells him, “This is the part where you tell me it’s not too late. I can lay down arms. Abandon my mission. We don’t have to fight.”
Omundson’s delivery also captures another aspect of Cain’s character brilliantly. There’s a weariness in his performance—as if the world has weighed so heavily down on him and he’s now starting to collapse under the burden. It’s as if the Mark of Cain has finally managed to crush his spirit and there’s a somberness that exudes from him in every scene. Omundson expresses Cain’s grief magnificently, making our hearts ache deeply for him. While we know that Cain’s a demonic creature created by Lucifer and the Mark, we know there’s good inside him, that the man that stopped killing due to his love for Collette is surely somewhere in there, and yet that man is somehow gone for good.
That is no more apparent than the brilliant fight scene between Dean and Cain. Omundson does brilliant work here, making it seem like an elaborate and violent dance. It’s in the way he shows us Cain’s powers to toss Dean aside to the way he pins the elder Winchester down. Omundson also shows us Cain’s pleasure at once again holding his weapon, almost relishing its firmness in his grip. In his portrayal, he gives us a sense that Cain is finally able to soothe the hum we know Dean also hears—as if holding the Blade finally makes it quiet again.
All the righteousness, terrifying power, somberness, and grief pours into one single moment as Cain knocks Dean to the floor and then puts the Blade at his throat. Omundson makes us understand and feel deeply for Cain just by the way he delivers the speech, “It’s called the Mark of Cain for a reason! First, first you’d kill Crowley — there’d be some strange mixed feelings on that one, but you’d have your reason, get it done, no remorse. And then you’d kill the angel Castiel, now that one, that I suspect would hurt something awful. And then! Then would come the murder you’d never survive, the one that would finally turn you into as a much of a savage as it did me — your brother Sam. The only thing standing between you and that destiny is this blade. You’re welcome my son.” We can tell that he truly believes Dean’s fate is sealed, that he’s doomed to repeat the same mistake, and to prevent it, he will kill Dean first.
And as Dean manages to disarm Cain by slicing his hand off, Omundson shows us all of Cain’s defeat in his pose. The close ups on his face show us the moment Cain accepts his fate, and we, the audience, are heartbroken by his solemn expression. The way he stays on his knees, head bowed, and his shoulders dropped tells us everything we need to know. Omundson takes this one step further, clasping Cain’s severed arm in front of his chest, signaling that he’s ready for his own execution. There’s almost a sense of peace that comes from this pose, as if he knows he’ll finally be free of the Mark, the Blade, and his demonic nature after thousands of years enduring its burden. While the kill doesn’t happen on screen, we can’t help but be touched by Cain’s brutal and emotional exit. Omundson was a fantastic choice and addition to the Supernatural cast—and one we thoroughly enjoyed watching.
Ruth Connell returns as My Lady, the King’s Mother, Rowena in “The Executioner’s Song.” Using her lilting Scottish accent to charm both Crowley and the audience, she draws us in from the moment she peeks around the pole to deliver her advice. The domestic activity of hand stitching seems almost sinister in her grasp—as if she’s satin stitching everyone into a web in red silk. Connell makes Rowena fierce in this episode, willing not only to state plainly her opinion of “whiners begetting whiners” but that she’s tired of watching a bored Crowley rule Hell when they could be making use of its vast resources to help her take down the Grand Coven.
She makes it clear, by how she’s over the top sweet to Sheppard’s Crowley, that Rowena is up to no good and that she’s overtly manipulating the King of Hell. When called up on this, Connell also makes us laugh. She has no problem being caught spinning a web, taking a moment to hide any disappointment that she’s not pulling the wool over Crowley’s eyes as well as she thinks she is by flattering him. There’s an odd fondness, too, in the way Connell delivers the line, “Well duh, of course I was manipulating you. I am your Mother after all. Manipulations who we are; my wee sausage. What matter is it that I had a motive, we had fun today, didn’t we?”
Connell also pulls us in as we listen to her gleefully describe how she’s planning on taking down the leader of the Grand Coven. Here, Rowena is clearly in her element, making plans and weaving webs that she hopes will entrap her prey. She makes certain we can see just how petty the witch is—and yet we can tell how delighted she is just in the planning stages. It’s as if the planning will be more fun than the actual execution. No line sums this up better than when Rowena says, “Once she’s well flustered, I’ve got a nasty spell to finish her off with.”
As Rowena is preparing to leave, we see that the backbone that has served her in her centuries of life has reasserted itself. Connell proves that Rowena is no prisoner, packing her bags in preparation to leave Hell’s Court. Underneath her disappointment in Crowley rushing off yet again to assist the Winchesters, we can see her setting another trap, manipulating him right where she wants him. As much as she wants to take out the Grand Coven, she almost wants to take the Winchesters out more. Now that they’ve left her son smarting, Connell proves that Rowena’s ready to pounce, rubbing salt in the wound to get what she wants. She calls him “numb nuts”—an adlib—and prepares to storm off into the night. The grand display—and over dramatic as only Rowena’s been able to give—works like a charm, making Crowley pause and consider that perhaps she’s right. Now we’re left to wonder what else Rowena has in mind.
Mark Sheppard plays a disinterested Crowley at the start of “The Executioner’s Song.” It’s clear that the duties and trappings of the crown don’t interest the King of Hell as much as they once did. Sheppard shows us well that Crowley’s tired of the complaints from his underlings—-as he stares at his phone, playing a game. He does this best, however, when he tells the crossroads demon, “If you don’t arrive at a point within the next ten seconds, so help me I’ll—” and the tone not only sounds exasperated it sounds down right bored. He’s not engaged in what’s happening at his court now, and its starting to wear heavily on those around him—particularly his mother.
It’s her insertion into the conversation that actually causes Crowley to perk up a bit—all shown in how Sheppard sits forward and puts on a curious expression. His delivery of the line, “Oh enlighten us all, what would you do?” captures all of Crowley’s amusement—and odd fondness—for his mother, Rowena. And as we watch him consider her proposal to “split the baby” we can see Crowley start to relish the idea of doing just that. It’d be one of the most exciting things Crowley’s done in awhile, and Sheppard delivers pleasantly, “Let’s do what she said” showing that the King of Hell isn’t simply indulging his mother—he’s having fun punishing this demon for the hell of it.
Crowley has been facing his mother’s manipulations head on since he let her out of his dungeon to roam freely through the court—and Sheppard has shown us that Crowley’s been wavering in listening to her at intervals. Here, as she comes to him yet again with another proposal to go after the Grand Coven on her behalf, we see Crowley listen to her—and Sheppard reveal in the way he delivers his lines and looks at her with skepticism—that Crowley’s not as snowed by her as she or the audience might have been led to believe. He delivers the line, “Well done Mother. Next time you run a long con, let more than a few hours of suspicious, entirely uncharacteristic usefulness pass before making your ask, ” with such dry wit that we can see a glimmer of the Crowley we know to rule Hell with gusto.
As he gets the call from Dean, telling him he’s on Cain’s kill list, Sheppard puts all of the King of Hell’s fear into his facial expression and body language. Sure, he may be on the phone and Dean can’t see him, but the knowledge that the Father of Murder is in hot pursuit of him makes him shudder on the spot. Sheppard makes it clear that Crowley is frightened of this prospect, his eyes widening and the way he seems to glance around briefly hints at Crowley believing Cain may jump out of the shadows any moment.
Sheppard shines best, however, when paired with Padalecki, Ackles, and Collins. Their scenes together draw out so much nuance from his performance that allow Sheppard to explore so much of Crowley’s emotions and motives. As he walks up to overhear their debate over using the child as bait, we hear the shock in his voice at this. And while he admits to not caring about the kid, we can tell that he’s concerned that this deal will end badly for him. He doesn’t want Dean getting that Blade before it’s too soon. Sheppard shows us, in his delivery, that this is more than Crowley’s survival instinct kicking in. He also adds in a layer of concern as he looks at all three of them, knowing that Dean could teeter over the edge easily if handed the weapon too soon—something Crowley has no wish to see.
Sheppard shows Crowley’s emotional state best, however, when we see them discuss killing whatever comes out of that room. While Padalecki and Collins both wear expressions of sadness, grief, and fear, it is Crowley that simply responds, “Happily.” The way Sheppard says this single word conveys so much of Crowley’s inner thoughts and feelings. It’s said with a strange love, as if the King of Hell is stepping up to do this to honor a friend rather than taking the chance to eliminate an old foe. Sheppard makes this line stick out, giving us more insight into his character’s moods and motivations than anything else has this season.
It’s also why, when we see Dean hand the Blade not to Crowley but to Castiel, that we see Crowley hurt. Sheppard shows us that the King of Hell is angry—his indignation as he delivers the line, “You lied to me,” has subtle nuance that expresses his disappointment and sadness. Sheppard had shown us, as they faced down Cain together, that Crowley relished being part of their group, being considered one of them and not simply a means to an end. To find out that he’s been tricked, we can see just with this line and the expression on his face, that this rubs salt into Crowley’s wounds.
And as we see him return to see his mother preparing to leave, we see his emotional vulnerability play out in Sheppard’s facial expressions and the way he is speechless. As she shouts at him that he’s a “numb nut” we can see him start to absorb what she’s saying. Now that he’s been angered and hurt by the Winchesters in this enterprise, we’re left to wonder what Crowley will do next to get back at them—and if that’ll lead him down a dangerous path. No matter what happens, we know Sheppard will play Crowley expertly.
Misha Collins returns as Castiel in “The Executioner’s Song.” In his first scene, we see just how nuanced his performance will be throughout. Collins plays Castiel stoic and calm—as we’ve seen Castiel so many times before—while he faces a demon in his search for Cain. He is harsh, demanding, and cold as he demands to know where the Father of Murder is, convinced that this demon has to know more than he claims. Underneath the tough exterior, however, Collins gives us a clear sense of the angel’s desperation. It’s in his tight facial expressions, the way he delivers his lines, and the gestures he uses to coerce the demon into talking. Collins shows us that Castiel is doing everything he can to get to the truth, to find Cain—all in hopes of helping his friend, Dean.
When he gets the answer about Cain’s burial site, we see Collins connect well with Omundson. They face off, setting the stage for the discussion to come later in the episode. Collins shows us that Castiel is horrified by Cain’s reasoning, and yet there’s a compassion here, too. It’s in his line, “You are Adam and Eve’s first born.” It’s as if, in the delivery of this line, that Castiel is begging Cain to be more than the vicious monster his brother, Lucifer, has made this man into throughout the centuries. Castiel can see the suffering Cain is enduring, and he can’t help but try to reach through to the better person trapped inside the demonic monster. Collins gives Castiel a patience here. He’s forceful in his dialog, but he’s not going to push too hard.
Conversely, part of that is due to Castiel’s fear. He may be an Angel of the Lord and he may be powerful in his own right, but Cain is unassailable by him—and the Father of Murder knows it. Castiel doesn’t want to trigger anything from him, and we see it in the distances Collins keeps, the wary body language, and the cautious way he addresses Omundson’s Cain. Castiel knows that he’s treading on dangerous ground—both literally and figuratively—but do so he must as the determination that he exuded earlier seems just as evident now as it was in his opening scene. When he confronts Cain yet again, just before they trap the Father of Murder, we see Castiel try to use what little power his bowered grace may give him to stop what might come. It’s clear that this is a risky moment on Castiel’s part, weakening him and opening him up to the easy telekinetic assault by Cain—but Collins puts all of Castiel’s steel into his pose as he holds out the outstretched hand. They need time to set the trap, to make it possible for their plan to work, and so Castiel will give them that.
As they group and gather to discuss what to do after they’ve trapped Cain, we see Castiel sway slightly, brushing off Sam’s concern for his health. Collins makes his face seem weary and tired in this moment, giving us a glimpse of the new decline in his borrowed grace sure to come. He’s teetering, wavering a moment before recovering that stoicism necessary to lend his support to both brothers as they face the prospects of taking down Cain. Collins makes Castiel a quiet and powerful presence in this way, keeping close to both of them in their discussions.
As Dean comes out, after the epic battle with Cain, we see his concern flare anew in the expressions Collins wears. He tells us, without having to say a single line, that Castiel is frightened for Dean. They may have succeeded in defeating the Father of Murder and stopping his countless kills, but it’s clear that he’s worried that Dean will succumb and soon, that his friend has had too much taken out of him emotionally and physically. As the Blade is held up, first in front of Crowley and then to Castiel, Collins puts the most minute of hesitation in his acceptance of the weapon, as if Castiel is concerned Dean may be making this motion to attack. Once it’s clear he isn’t, he grips it tight, and his expression turns to one of profound determination and sadness. He knows that it took all of Dean’s strength to do this, and Collins captures that brilliantly with the slight nod and the holding of the First Blade.
In the closing scenes at the Bunker, we see him keep Castiel firm and in control, telling an emotionally raw Dean that the Blade is “somewhere safe.” He knows that Dean’s simply asking to make sure Castiel is holding it safe, but at the same time he knows why he was placed in charge of its keeping. He’s meant to keep Dean from it, no matter what. Collins shows us that wonderfully in that exchange. His compassion flares anew, however, as Dean slowly makes his way to the door, his hand clasping Castiel’s shoulder briefly. Collins shows the concern Castiel has in his facial expressions as he quietly moves closer to Sam, asking him simply, “How is he? Sam?” Now that Castiel has been placed in charge of holding the Blade—and has perhaps expended too much grace here—we’re left to wonder just how the angel will help the brothers in their war against the Mark’s disease.
Jensen Ackles proves that he is a master of his craft in “The Executioner’s Song.” From start to finish, he manages to pull us into the story, connect with Dean Winchester, and feel everything so deeply we can’t help but wonder if we’re feeling it ourselves. Ackles has a way of conveying it on so many levels that makes Dean’s struggle exquisite to watch. It’s in the nuances, the facial expressions, the gestures, and just by the way he carries himself at various stages of the story. Ackles makes us ache with this performance.
At the start of the episode, Sam and Dean are on their way to a prison to find out if the late night disappearance of a prisoner is in their “wheelhouse.” The drive in—filmed from the backseat—feels comfortable, easy, and light. It’s just the brothers talking about serial killers, which isn’t exactly the best fodder for conversation, and yet as we see Dean’s amusement at Sam’s latest trivia pursuit, we can’t help but smile. Ackles shows us that Dean’s content here, happy to gently tease his brother about his hobbies, enjoying their time together in the car. Dean may chide Sam that real hobbies are “bass fishing and needle point,” but the way Ackles says these lines adds so much more to them. He’s infusing Dean’s love for his brother in this exchange, and we feel ourselves pulled in because of it.
As they watch the video footage of Cain’s appearance and disappearance, Ackles starts to kick his performance onto another level. He conveys with just a facial expression that Dean’s already scared by the confrontation he knows is now coming. Ackles shows us Dean’s fear most when he grabs his arm tight, right about the Mark. It’s a subtle gesture, but it captures so much of the inner turmoil taking place inside the elder Winchester.
Ackles shows us, too, Dean’s resolve to do what they must. Back at the Bunker, as they realize there is an innocent child caught in Cain’s cross-hairs, it is Dean that is pleading they do something. He says firmly, stunned that he even has to say this aloud, “The kids in danger” The way Ackles delivers this line captures all of Dean’s earnestness and all of his fears. Through it, we can see him trying to grasp at any redemption for what he may have done since acquiring the Mark. Ackles seals this with his statement, “Then I’ll do what I have to do—I’ll kill Cain.” When we see him take down his weapons and start to pack them into a duffel, Ackles shows us that Dean’s ready to back his words up with actions—and even if Sam should argue with him at first, we can see his determination settle as they both come to the same conclusion simultaneously. There’s only one thing that can kill Cain and that’s the Blade. This is something Dean will have to do and there’s no going back now.
When it comes time to acquire the Blade, Ackles is solo in Dean’s Bunker bedroom, calling Crowley on the phone. He makes good use of this phone call, adding an edge to Dean’s dialog that shows us that the elder Winchester may need the Blade to do this, but at the same time there’s almost a hunger for it, too. Ackles makes this phone call captivating, especially in the use of his facial expressions as he tells Crowley the lie, “Cain has a kill list—and you’re on it.”
As the time draws near to actually face Cain, we see Ackles kick it into yet another gear, making Dean’s story become emotionally raw. Dean is adamant that he face this alone—and Ackles makes us connect deeply here with Dean’s sheer honesty about that fact. He delivers his lines with sheer determination, resignation, and firmness that we can tell there is no arguing with the elder Winchester on this. Underneath, this, however, Ackles also captures just how terrified Dean is. This is a big fight, a big kill, and we can see that the prospect of what might happen after is overwhelming emotionally. Ackles puts that all into his facial expressions and his tight body language, showing us that Dean’s mentally trying to prepare for the fight to come—both without and within.
Ackles has always managed to make us feel deepest for Dean, however, when we see him at his most vulnerable. That is no more clear than the honest moment the brothers share alone. Ackles connects beautifully with Padalecki, allowing Sam and Dean to have an emotionally charged moment. As the fear starts to fill his expressions, we can see the little boy that’s come to be a hallmark of Dean’s character shine through. Ackles puts a lot of sadness, grief, fear, and desperation into the way he delivers the line, “You know last week when I said I would go down swinging when the time came? I meant that, I was at peace with that — I just didn’t realize that the time would come so soon. Like right now… I’m scared Sam, ” breaks our hearts—and Sam’s. With this moment, we’re seeing all of Dean’s true self shine through—all through Ackles’ performance.
When it comes time for Crowley to hand over the Blade, Ackles breaks our hearts further when we hear the deep fear and resignation about what might happen to Dean after this fight in the way he delivers the line, “I need you three out here to take out whatever comes out of there—and I’m serious, I mean, whatever comes out.” Ackles shows us that Dean believes he’s doomed before he’s even made it up there, and he wants to make sure there will be someone to stop the monster he might become.
Ackles has excellent chemistry with Omundson’s Cain. The moment he walks into that barn and faces down the Father of Murder himself, Ackles takes Dean to a new height in his performance. We can see how heartbroken Dean is by his facial expressions as he looks at Cain—or how he tells him, “You’re past talking down, Cain you’re full mental. ” We can see how devastated he is that it’s come to this by the way he steps into that Devil’s Trap to initiate the fight to come. Ackles shows us how reluctant Dean is to do this at every stage, trying to hold on to anything and everything as long as he can for as long as he can while wielding the Blade and trying to kill the original killer.
As the fight progresses, and we see Cain toss Dean around, we can see Ackles make use of his physical stunt skill well here. Each toss and landing conveys so much. While we’re watching Dean physically being beaten down in this fight, we can also see Dean’s emotional battery take place. He gets up each time, and yet each time we see on Ackles’ face all the pain and weariness Dean is feeling the longer this drags on. He is struggling to do this.
Pinned down by Cain, finally beaten into the ground after being thrown through walls and windows—choked and punched—we see Ackles lay curled in on himself on the ground. He’s showing Dean’s defeat, both at Cain’s physical assault and the horrific words being shot his way. At each kill in Cain’s list—the ones he says Dean will do, Ackles shows us Dean’s horror, fear, and pain. His heart is being shredded in this moment, and he conveys this so well with his whispered, “No,” and “No. Never.” While Dean may be beaten down on the ground, we’re seeing him try and fight back, no matter how futile, not willing to give into Cain or the Mark he represents.
Upon making the strike to slice off Cain’s hand, we see the gesture pain Dean, too, all through his facial expressions. As he stands behind Cain, Blade reclaimed and in hand, we can see the little boy shine through yet again. Dean is torn apart by what he has to do here, and the way Ackles begs, “Tell me I don’t have to do this—tell me that you’ll stop—tell me that you can stop.” leaves us and Dean emotionally raw. Ackles amps this up, too, by how pained his facial expression is, how his posture seems to be defeated, and how he looks on the verge of sobbing. The nuances matter here, telling us so much that we need to know, and Ackles delivers a hundredfold.
After Dean makes his way back to Sam, Castiel, and Crowley, Ackles shows us just how fragile Dean is in the aftermath. He seems older than when he went up those stairs with the half smile not too long ago. He seems weary, beaten down, broken by what happened. To add to this feel, Ackles makes Dean’s voice sound raw and raspy, as if Dean has been screaming for hours. We can see the bowlegs bend just a bit more, as if they’re barely holding Dean’s weight. It adds so much, this little touch from Ackles, that makes this all the more real. And after he holds the Blade in front of Crowley and then makes the shaky transfer to Castiel, we can see all of the strength that Dean has left go into this one gesture from Ackles. After that, we see him buckle and fall into Sam’s arms, and Ackles makes this even more emotional by the facial expression he wears as Dean finally collapses under all the weight he’s carried during this fight.
Back at the Bunker, to close out the episode, we see Ackles continue Dean’s raw emotional state beautifully. We can see how shaken he is, how vulnerable, how small Dean seems just in how he sits at the table, how open his expression is when he looks at Padalecki’s Sam and at Collins’ Castiel. This event has changed Dean significantly, and we can see just how much in this brief moment as he tries to make a weak attempt at saying, “I’m gonna go sleep for about four days.”
Now that Dean has gone through this traumatic experience, we’re left to wonder just how much more he can take—and how Ackles will show us Dean’s story.
Jared Padalecki plays Sam with a fierce gracefulness that compliments well with Ackles in “The Executioner’s Song.” At every turn, he tells us Sam’s story with body language, facial expressions, and sheer presence. His performance rises higher because of it, allowing us to feel deeply everything Sam does as he fights to stand by Dean as they face down Cain—and the Mark. Padalecki makes certain that we connect with Sam here, allowing us to become him through his acting—as we, too, choose to become Dean’s champion with him.
At the beginning of the episode, however, Padalecki conveys well how comfortable and content Sam is to be riding along with Dean on this new case. They don’t know what they’re hunting yet—no idea that it’ll end with such an emotional and traumatic event—so Sam’s enjoying this time. We can see him almost grasping tight onto it as he lets Dean’s teasing slide easily by. It’s clear, in Padalecki’s subtle facial expressions, that Sam is pleased to have this easy and relaxed moment with his brother. Sure, Dean may have accused his brother of having unusual hobbies, but the small shake of his head also shows amusement that some things about his brother never seem to change.
Once they’re shown the footage—the very same that reveals they’re after Cain—we see Padalecki flip a switch. He goes from Hunter Sam mode to Little Brother Sam mode almost in the blink of an eye, honed in on Dean’s emotional state. There’s a quiet protectiveness that comes from Padalecki as we see him show Sam’s concern and attention as he watches Dean grasp his arm, the Mark yet again humming at his brother. In his facial expression, we can see a fierce determination settle, as if he’ll do whatever it takes to keep his brother the way he is, rather than letting the Mark insert itself yet again between them.
While they dig into why Cain broke out Tommy—and if he does have any more family members the Father of Murder may go after, we see Sam struggle with this case. Padalecki shows us Sam’s hesitation. While he may have been hoping they’d find Cain and get answers about the Mark—or a cure—now that it is here and they may get what he’s hoped for, we can tell that Sam is anxious about the outcome. It’s in the way he hunches over the computer, and the way his voice falls when he does discover Tommy’s son, “Aw, come on. Damn it. Tommy did have a son. Estranged, he lives with his mother in Ohio. Austin Reynolds. Twelve years old.” Padalecki’s showing us all of Sam’s turmoil beautifully here, allowing us to feel the tension of the story rise for both brothers wonderfully.
And as Dean starts to prep for the inevitable showdown, we see Sam’s emotions burst forth in concentrated anger. Padalecki does this well with flinging his arms wide to punctuate his lines, and the concerned and tight expression on his face as Dean tells them that they’re going to have to save this child from Cain. He knows that they’re going into a dangerous situation, and he puts all of Sam’s fears explicitly into the line, “Dean, wielding the blade against Cain himself? Win or lose, you may never come back from that fight.” The way Padalecki says this line strikes deep into us—and we can almost see this fear becoming crystallized just by his voicing it.
But as Dean explains that there is only one thing that can kill Cain, we see Padalecki back Sam down, his voice quiet and resigned as he simply says, “The Blade.” He also casts Sam’s eyes away to amp up the effect, making this moment resonate deeply. We can see Padalecki shift Sam from heightened alert and concern that they’re walking into a trap that may cost them Dean to the Mark—to support and patience to do whatever Dean may need in the impending battle. Here, Padalecki makes use of his presence to provide counterbalance to Ackles and his increasing anxiety and tension. He shows us that Sam’s still frightened by this, but he shows that Sam’s not willing to let that stand in the way of his helping his brother through this.
Padalecki also shows Sam’s indignation and frustration as they stet out to plot their trap for Cain. He puts it all in the lines, “You charge him with the Blade, solo,” and “Twelve year old as bait, I can’t believe what I’m hearing.” While he may support Dean in this, he’s choosing to voice his concerns about other aspects of the operation, too. Padalecki puts so much subtly into that delivery so we know that he’s not just talking about a child—he’s talking about this whole situation. He’s showing us that Sam’s blowing off a little steam, too, rather than allowing it to pent up.
Padalecki is tuned deeply into Ackles here in this performance—no more clearer than the scenes where Dean tells them all that he must do this alone—that he can’t have any distractions. We see heartbreak etch all over Sam’s face, written in Padalecki’s soft and open expression as Sam listens to his brother. Underneath, we see that fierce gracefulness again—while Sam supports his brother in this, he still wants to be there for him in every way. He doesn’t want Dean to have to face this alone, even if he understands that he must.
And as the brothers share a private moment, we see Padalecki infuse the scene with every ounce of Sam’s support and compassion. He keeps Sam’s expression open, his body language vulnerable, and his voice soft as Sam simply listens to Dean voice his fears. The moment that Dean tells him he’s scared, we can see Padalecki convey Sam’s fears alongside—all in how he carries himself. And yet, we know that he has to be strong for his brother.
Facing Cain in order to spring the trap, Padalecki shows us that Sam’s not just afraid for Dean in this confrontation—or what the Mark may end up twisting him into—he’s terrified of the Father of Murder. Even so, he puts all of Sam’s determination into telling Cain the truth about their ruse. That fierceness emerges exquisitely in the line, “Oh yeah, real Austin is long gone” followed by the line, “It won’t need to.” In this way, Sam’s trying to bolster his own confidence in Dean, that somehow his brother will get through this and face this ancient demon without falling to the same disease. He knows his brother, he believes in his brother, and in that line, Padalecki shows us that Sam’s willing to tell others that belief, too.
Padalecki puts all of Sam’s grief into his body language and facial expressions as he watches Dean take the Blade and make his way up those stairs to face his fate. He makes the large framed Sam seem like a little boy. His expression is open and heartbroken—we can tell just by his sad eyes that Sam wishes he could trade places with his brother right now—that they could have found any other way to go about this. In this moment, Padalecki assumes the role of the audience—as we watch with him, our own hearts aching, as Dean makes that slow descent up the stairs. It makes Padalecki’s performance reach a new level here, giving us an emotional tether to tie onto before we see the showdown between Dean and Cain.
In the aftermath, Padalecki gives us the brother Sam we all want to be. He is waiting, patient and proud, for his brother to make his slow way to them. Padalecki shows us that Sam’s assessing his brother, trying to gage just what kind of Dean he’s receiving in return. And immediately, we see him wanting to reach out to Dean, wishing to comfort him. He can tell that Dean hasn’t lost to the Mark here, that he’s holding on—if by a thread. The moment he hands that Blade over to Castiel, we see Padalecki make his move. He positions Sam just right so he’s there to catch the collapsing Dean. While we don’t see Sam’s face here, we can feel all the love in this embrace as Sam is now giving all the quiet strength he’s exuded all episode to Dean. His quiet, “You did it. Dean, you did it.” seals the emotional deal.
Back in the Bunker, we see Sam continue to try and pass on that strength to Dean, watching him closely. Padalecki keeps Sam soft in his interactions. He puts all of Sam’s love into the line, “What you did back there, it was incredible. You know, if you can do that without losing yourself, that’s cause for hope—even without a cure.”
And yet the moment Padalecki truly breaks our hearts is the very last moment of the episode. As he watches his brother gingerly make his way from the room, we see Padalecki turn, facing to the empty chair Ackles’ Dean had just occupied. A look of sheer terror and sorrow settles over his features. In that moment, we can see all the facade Sam wore this episode fall away to reveal how frightened and lost Sam feels as they face this situation. And as Castiel asks how Dean is, knowing Sam is the best person to ask aside from Dean himself, Padalecki delivers his most devastating line: “Dean’s in trouble.”
It strikes deep into us emotionally—and now we’re left to wonder just how Sam will help win this fight against this Mark.
Best Lines of the Week:
Cain: Yes. And soon it will be a genocide. My children, my whole poisoned issue. Lot of them out there right now — killers, fighters, thieves. Some more peaceful than others, but they still carry it — the disease. If the Mark wants blood, I’ll give it mine.
Dean: You know last week when I said I would go down swinging when the time came? I meant that, I was at peace with that — I just didn’t realize that the time would come so soon. Like right now… I’m scared Sam.
Cain: From your fate. Has it ever occurred to you? Have you never mused upon the fact that you are living my life in reverse. My story began when I killed my brother, and that’s where your story will inevitably end.
Sam: Dean, um, you know what you did back there, it was incredible. You know if you can do that, without losing yourself, that’s cause for hope — even without a cure.
What were your favorite scenes? Which ones touched you the most emotionally? Which performance stuck out to you the most?