On the surface, “Paint It Black” was not a particularly intense or memorable episode. It was quieter and slower, but that’s probably okay once in a while. Several tweeters commented that they were bored and I have to admit that it was difficult to think of anything exciting to live tweet! This story didn’t have shocking scenes or plot twists. The deaths were predictable and the climactic attack on Dean with Sam racing to save the day wasn’t particularly moving. Upon rewatch, though, there were parallel stories and foreboding incidents that were actually rather significant. I detected clues for the rest of this season and possibly season 11! I was excited to see this second layer of meaning, and I’m anxious to share it with you!
Crowley and Hell
I’m glad Crowley didn’t go off the deep end in response to Dean’s betrayal in “The Executioner’s Song”, nor to Rowena’s tiresome, endless goading that Crowley is the Winchesters’ “bitch” (her whining is really annoying!). I was actually relieved to see Crowley conducting Hell’s business as usual. His stability was evidence that he hasn’t become a mindless sap, easily addled by either his own emotions or his mum’s manipulation. His tactic of resolving his court’s problem (and thus his problem) by solving his mother’s problem was the resourceful, scheming, smart Crowley we’ve all come to love. It was also reassuring to hear him say: “My relationship with the Winchesters is my business. I’ll handle them. I’m not killing them.” I sense a possible future alliance between Team Free Will and the King of Hell. Still, his reticence and constant, brooding self-reflection is either an indication of his unhappiness or his loneliness. The nuns’ discussion of loneliness seemed to echo true for Crowley’s situation. It is difficult to predict if he is desperately clinging to the only allies, if not friends, he has, or if he is holding them in his back pocket for some future chess move. After all, he is the only one who “never underestimates the Winchesters!”
As for Rowena, she has gone out of her way to eliminate everyone who Crowley trusts. It was interesting that before she knew anything about the Men of Letters (MoL), she continued to berate “those Winchesters”, and Crowley’s association with them. She obviously sees Sam and Dean as enemies because they are a threat to her control over Fergus. They have and could again be Crowley’s allies. Before this week, I had glossed over her constant complaints about them but now I think her obsession with the brothers reveals more of her ultimate plan. Yes, she wants complete psychological control over her son, and thus his dominion, but she also doesn’t want anyone around who can help Crowley if HE were in trouble. Rowena told Olivette:
Rowena: I’m capable of greatness. Given free reign, I’d be unstoppable.
Right now she is positioning herself for some kind of coup. No doubt she wants power. The question is whether her plan includes her son being with her or out of her way.
This week’s episode also let us know a little more about why Rowena was on the outs with the coven:
Olivette: I do not grovel before she who laid with the non-magic and hatched his spawn. We thought you would outgrow your wretched, selfish ways but, oh no, they just grew out of control.
So the birth of Fergus MacLeod cost Rowena her career. Maybe her comment “I will not apologize for being a career woman” a few weeks back goes a lot deeper than we knew at the time. Is her backstory turning into another study of monsters and their families? Are we supposed to eventually sympathize with a woman who was scorned because she defied orders and fell in love, bore an illegitimate, muggle love-child who grew up to be royalty? Is anyone else thinking of Lady Jessica from Dune right now?
I am going to venture into dangerous territory here, but I saw definite parallels between Sr. Isabella’s story and the dedication between Sam and Dean. Listen to her words, considering the lengths to which both Sam and Dean will go to save each other:
Sr. Isabella: There is not much difference between madness and devotion. I was obsessed with him. We shared each other’s secrets. We were on the same road. Magic can be ruinous, especially if the trick is on you.
In this context, Sr. Isabella and Sr. Mathias were speaking of the magic of love. The reference to “on the same road” cannot be incidental. Sam and Dean physically and metaphorically are always on the same road together, and they are fiercely devoted to each other, sometimes to their ruin. I am not thinking of “Sam/Dean” but of the brotherly, desperate co-dependence they have on each other. When Sam was dying from the trials, Dean’s love for him drove Dean to agree to Sam’s possession. Initially in this case, the trick was on Sam, but Dean’s guilt over the secret, backlash, and collateral damage caused him to rashly accept the Mark of Cain. Now the trick is on Dean. Isabella’s story climaxed when she felt she had been betrayed by her trusted companion and she killed him in a fit of rage. Isabella’s symbolic substitution for Dean foreshadows once again that Dean will stab Sam to death with a blade. Is anyone keeping track of how many times the show has told us this is going to happen?
New Threads (i.e. Things That Seemed Significant)
There was a lot of exposition in “Paint it Black”, so much so that it got weighed down with delivering messages and setting up new plot lines. The degree of finesse with which new arcs were introduced doesn’t negate their importance, however.
MoL Bunkers (plural!) – I was actually uncomfortable watching what seemed like senseless and contrived woman-on-woman violence in the “conversation” between Olivette and Rowena. Something about it bothered me. It was out of character for Rowena to get physical like that. It would have been much more believable if she would have used spells to extract information rather than the distasteful, manual effort of a beating. She obviously knew the “Cruciatus” curse (a second parallel to Harry Potter’s world of magic!), and how to explode objects, rearrange faces and cause terrifying visions (e.g. Crowley’s nightmare). A witch who took pride in her skills and felt superior to the high priestess of the coven would have mockingly used her talents not her fists to torture her nemesis. Rowena also didn’t muss her hair, break out in a sweat or get bruised hands from her time with Olivette. If we look past the missed opportunity for a more interesting scene, the information that was delivered was significant:
Olivette: The coven is a mere relic of its past power, weakened by witch hunts, burning at the stake, endless persecution and all of it was engineering by them. A rabid group of sanctimonious do-gooders dedicated to our downfall. They plundered our spells and secrets and shipped them to hidden bunkers all around the world. They tried to destroy our world, hoarding unbelievable power for their own amusement… Men of Letters.
There is more than one bunker! The US bunker doesn’t have the entirety of knowledge to fight the supernatural! It is possible that other men of letters are still alive and that alliances could be created! While the possibility of reconnecting with a network of MoL survivors and bunkers – and vastly expanded knowledge – was a bombshell suddenly introduced by awkwardly dropping it out of blue, it’s still a game changer for the Supernatural universe. This could easily set up a series of new plots that bridge into future seasons. I wonder if the fact that Charlie was sent to Italy was a precursor to this development. Might Sam get Charlie involved with the Italian/European MoL contingent? Could she be their on-going international contact and connection with other MoL chapters? Could this be Charlie’s new mission in life? That would certainly give her a rational and believable reason to be in future seasons (after all, how many times can she go to Oz?).
As convenient as it seems, I don’t believe the expanded MoL network will be used to help Sam find a cure for the Mark of Cain. I think it’s too soon, too convenient and too easy. After all, the boys don’t yet know about the network. Rowena will probably blurt out that information in some crucial moment right before her death. It seems more likely that this thread will be slowly developed, carefully working it into the series’ extension. In any case, with one word, “bunkers”, this episode significantly expanded Supernatural canon.
Suicides – This is the second episode in a row in which someone has committed suicide. In both “Paint it Black” and “The Things They Carried”, the suicides were supernaturally induced, i.e. the people did not control their mind or their bodies when they took their own life. Last week we drew the parallel between the Khan worm and the Mark of Cain. Just as the Khan worm drove people to suicide, might this foreshadow that the Mark of Cain will drive Dean to try to take his own life? We discussed this possibility last week, but the continued emphasis on suicides seems suspicious, intentional and important.
Sam did not listen to Dean – Dean ordered Sam to burn the journal. Sam didn’t argue, but also didn’t blindly do what Dean wanted. In fact, once Sam discovered the painting was the tether, it doesn’t appear that Sam ever burned the journal (I wonder if this is important). This act of independence and defiance saved Dean’s life. With his supposed dying breath, Dean was still telling Sam what to do (and noticeably repeating to burn the journal, which never happened) but Sam followed his own instincts. Similarly, Dean continued to tell Sam to stop researching the MoC yet Sam is ignoring Dean’s wishes because Sam feels the answer can be found. If this episode foreshadows the future (which they all do), then Sam’s stubborn research will save Dean’s life at the crucial last moment.
Dean’s discomfort in the car; Sam was driving – What conversation led to Sam driving the Impala? Dean didn’t comment that he was tired, nor was he sleeping. That is about the only time he lets Sam drive. Noticeably, Dean was also in some discomfort in the car. I honestly thought he was going to say he had been stabbed or that he was bleeding. When that didn’t happen I realized it actually looked like he was having gastrointestinal pain. Is he starting to get sick? He killed Cain with the Blade, consequently, Dean would have gotten that drug rush from the Blade. In season 9 we concluded that the human body cannot tolerate the Blade’s power. If Dean doesn’t keep killing for that drug, he gets “the least best better”, or as Dean clarified to Crowley “in other words, dead.” Dean doesn’t have the blade so he can’t get the drug fix he probably craves. Will the addiction stabilize or just keep getting worse if it is not fed? Users typically can “dry out” after only one slip up, but does the Blade’s power drug work that way? I absolutely do not accept that Dean’s multiple face grimaces were inconsequential.
During Dean’s “discomfort”, he also wasn’t very forthcoming or responsive to Sam’s plea to use him as a confidant. This would be more understandable if Dean is keeping an important development from Sam. Has the countdown clock to the end of the game been triggered by use of the Blade? Does Dean believe that he has a lot less time than previously thought, and thus doesn’t think Sam can’t find his miracle answer before it’s game-over? This would explain Dean’s heart-breaking confession to a stranger:
Dean: What if I said I didn’t want to die, yet, that I’m not ready. Recent events made me think I might be closer to that than I really thought.
It might also explain Dean’s self-reflection. Sam said he didn’t believe the MoC was a terminal diagnosis. This was an interesting reference. What if that is exactly what is happening to Dean? He is going through stages of acceptance common to terminally ill patients, reaching out for spiritual advice while he tries to sort out if there could be another life for him, another future:
Editor’s Note: This is a particularly striking picture of…Jensen. He really doesn’t look like Dean here.
Dean: How does someone like you end up…
Sr. Mathias: …cloistered away from the world?
Dean: I’m just wondering how somebody quits one life for something completely different and then believes in it so much.
Sr. Mathias: In my case, I felt I had no choice. My life had become painful. There was hopelessness. I felt I had to find someone larger than myself to focus on – a kind of mission, I guess.
Editor’s Note #2: How do these guys’ suits come out of their duffle bag meticulously cleaned and pressed??
Sam heard and related Dean’s conversation to Dean’s recent “mission”, or obsession, with hunting. What if Dean is thinking about whether he has the option to stop being a hunter, though… to stop putting his life on the line on a daily basis? There was a clear parallel between the nuns’ motivations and the history of many hunters:
Sr. Mathias: We all found our way to this life for a reason…..We’re supposed to enter the convent for some higher purpose, but many of us chose this because of the things that overwhelmed us.
So many hunters found their way into hunting after a trauma or tragedy uprooted their lives. Sr. Mathias chose “the life” as a solution to her life’s traumas, as did John Winchester. Sr. Isabella, though, was forced into the life by her father, just as Dean was forced into hunting by his upbringing under John. Again, Sr. Isabella’s character paralleled Dean, reinforcing the prediction of him turning on Sam. Curiously, the first episode this season when Dean was a demon was entitled “Black”. This episode, which told the story of how Isabella turned to darkness, is “Paint it Black”. Obviously this week’s title referred to the artistic act of painting, but it could also be a further connection between Isabella and Dean.
Sr. Isabella’s spirit: The priest had to die. He made it his business to forgive you beings(?) ; forgive you when what you do is unforgivable.
It was so very interesting that this show again focused on forgiveness! It also specifically made the statement that what Dean had done was unforgiveable, yet God (as represented on Earth by the priest) did forgive him as long as Dean was sincere and tried to change his way of life. Dean’s story about Gina was of course made up, but he just as easily could have substituted any of the names of his past one-night-stands. Might Dean be considering a more stable life style rather than his “love-em-and-leave-em, pedal to the metal, go down swinging” philosophy?
The context, content and repercussions of confession was a central theme of “Paint it Black”. This was noteworthy in light of both Dean’s confession of his own feelings to a priest in this episode, but also Dean’s confessions to both Crowley and Sam in “The Executioner’s Song”. I actually felt Dean’s “confession” to Crowley after killing Cain was an act of sincerity and respect, not mocking, and Dean’s confession of fear to Sam was sincere and honest. Confession seems to be a recurring theme for Dean right now. Dean confessed:
“I believe there is a God, but I’m not sure he still believes in us”
I wish that praying woman who once helped Castiel would have been in this church to help Dean:
“Your lack of faith doesn’t cancel what I believe. That’s not how it works. You know…I think you might feel better if you tried it my way. Someone is listening.” (9.03 “I’m No Angel”)
I didn’t have a problem with “Paint it Black”. There were a lot of things that were clumsy or left unexplained. There were missed opportunities and things that could have be done better, but it wasn’t that bad. Some commenters on the site had previously asked about a male’s point of view of these episodes. I think my husband’s opinion summed this one up perfectly when he said it was “a perfectly reasonable hour of television. Not the best, but a good MotW story. They can’t all be homeruns”.
- Why did Isabella’s spirit possess the wife instead of the cheating husband? Why didn’t Isabella want him to kill himself, like all the others? It doesn’t make sense that she would destroy the wife’s life as well as the husbands. Yes, it gave Isabella a chance to reenact her own act of vengeance, but the change in pattern was a little unexplained.
- I thought it was odd that Sr. Mathias had been asked to show the brothers/agents around and answer their questions, but as soon as they brought up ghosts, she “had to get back to work”. At first, that cast suspicion on her. A fairly good misdirection tactic actually.
- How did Sr. Mathias and Sam both read a journal that would supposedly have been written in Italian? (I really wanted the screencap of the journal’s pages to study the writing!)
- The last shot which silhouetted the brothers driving away in the Impala got sloppy. It shows Dean in the driver’s seat and Sam in the passenger seat. Thanks to @sgbt1 for pointing that out to me.
I’d love to hear from you! What do you think of these observations? Do they change your view of the episode? Did this episode open up new possibilities for this season, or for next season? Is anyone else really tired of Rowena?
At the time of posting, none of our screencapping sources had 10.16 pics available yet. Sorry, but I’ll have to suffice with just the few promotional pics!