Repeat after me: “I will not panic about the bargain that Sam is making with Rowena. I believe (i.e. hope) Sam will not do something cataclysmic with the Book of the Damned. I will take each episode one at a time. I am not going to panic. I am NOT going to worry about this.”
Is it working?
Yeah, not for me either.
I loved “Book of the Damned”. It was unexpected, sharp, dynamic, intense, emotional and fun…until the very end, when my heart stopped (figuratively speaking of course).
This episode was outstanding partly because of the excellent pairings and chemistry between actors – Metatron’s overbearing, sarcastic wit played against Castiel’s (Misha’s) deadpan expressions;
Charlie’s non-threatening empathy paired with Sam’s terror over what is happening with his brother;
Styne’s confidence delivered through a Louisiana drawl going up against Dean’s menacing delivery of lethal fighting skills.
The direction was also outstanding, for example, when Dean got absorbed in the book, and the audience lost time as Dean mysteriously ended up with the Book in a different room of the cabin (Jared compared it to Frodo getting lost in the world of the One Ring. Great visual!).
That was an intense scene with very little dialogue but it will become the signature scene for this episode. It was also somewhat reprised later when Sam caught Dean staring at the book.
Then there was the Castiel’s exciting and dramatic reemergence as a full-fledged, singed-wing angel! Outstanding! Books blown off the shelves, celestial level event!
While the casting, acting and directing were exceptional, it was all based on a script that was superbly written by Robbie Thompson. Unexpected and provocative twists in the plot kept the audience deeply involved in the story – the close of Castiel’s almost two season long search for his grace; the flashback that revealed what really happened when Sam switched the books; and Sam approaching Rowena. Of course, the episode was full of touching emotional scenes that are a mainstay for Supernatural – Dean’s honesty and self-knowledge that allowed him to openly talk about his situation; the wonderful, long awaited insights into Sam’s thoughts, and the confrontations between the boys about the wounds that they’ve ignored for so long.
And rock music. Classic, epic rock songs. They are as much a part of Supernatural as Sam, Dean and the Impala. The music is the emotional hook that pulls me in and hold me tight in Supernatural’s endless embrace.
All these things combined to make a spectacular installment in Supernatural’s distinguished history. The episode will be one of my favorites, for all these reasons, but also because it was steeped in myth arc. I love the long story, the mythology, the suspense and the mystery (you might have guessed that by the fact that I write about it every week!). “The Book of the Damned” advanced and introduced fundamentally new plotlines for Supernatural.
Starting with the simplest thread presented in this episode (who ever thought we would say that the Mark of Cain was the simplest subject we’d have to tackle??), Dean finally acknowledged as canon a MoC attribute we’ve been discussing.
Charlie: So you’re giving up?
Dean: No, I’m not giving up! Charlie, I don’t have a death wish. Even if I did, I can’t die, not with this thing on my arm.
It’s as if Robbie has a list of all the loopholes or ambiguities that were created in prior episodes then makes it his business to add one line of dialogue to clarify the relevant canon going forward. Thank you Robbie. We appreciate your endless, faithful dedication to the details of the story. Actually, though, Dean did die at the end of season 9. The Mark transformed his soul and hijacked his body to make Dean a demon, then Sam repaired Dean’s soul and restored his humanity to resuscitate Dean back to life, so Dean’s existence cannot be extinguished because he is locked in an endless loop of death and resurrection.
I also sensed a new voice from Dean. I’m calling it the DemonDean voice. When he told Jacob, “Well I ain’t your friend”, did he sound like Demon Dean to you or was it just me?
On the surface, this episode depicted just another failed attempt to rid Dean of the MoC. In reality, though, “The Book of the Damned” was a pivotal turning point in Supernatural’s mythology. It introduced one more ancient text into the Supernatural world, a book written in blood on skin that seems to be on the same cataclysmic scale as the Colt that could open the gates of hell, the angel tablet that could evict all the residents of heaven, or the demon tablet that could close the gates of hell.
Charlie: The Book of the Damned is a spell book for creating or undoing any kind of damnation there is. [italics added for emphasis]
The exposition of book’s apocalyptic power was reinforced by everyone who spoke of it. Everyone seemed to be afraid of it:
Charlie: According to the notes I found, it’s been owned and used by cults, covens, and the Vatican had it for a while. There is spell inside that thing for everything. Talking some black mass dark magic, end-of-times nastiness.
Dean: Sam, read the file. The way the book works is when you use it there is a negative reaction. I’m talking biblical negative. Dark magic always comes with a price. We know that. We’ve been down that road before. …You guys don’t understand. The book’s been calling out to me ever since I laid eyes on it. It’s been calling out to the mark. I can hear it like it’s alive. It wants me to use it, but not for good.
Jacob Styne: “The book can remove that mark but you mess around with that? You’re gonna do far more harm than good.
…everyone that is, except Sam. To be fair, he probably IS afraid of it, but not nearly as much as he fears losing Dean. In the same episode where the Demon Tablet is put back into play, Charlie and the brothers have uncovered a new apocalyptic danger that will probably be explored across multiple seasons. Since Dean is the one in danger, he isn’t willing to open this Pandora’s Box to save his life:
Dean: It’s calling to me Sam, ok? I can hear it. It’s calling to the mark. It wants me to take the book and run away with it. Burn it. Now! Sam, burn it Now!
In reviewing the threads introduced in “Paint it Black” I speculated that Sam’s defiance when Dean ordered him to burn the diary was very important. Sam did not obediently burn the book, but instead saved it, translated it, read it and found the cure he needed. That act, as it turns out, foreshadowed Sam once again finding himself in the exact same situation. He was ordered to burn a book that he alone believes is the key to defeating a supernatural killer (the MoC).
The stakes are much higher this time but when Sam previously refused to obey Dean and burn a book, Sam saved innocents and ended a reign of supernatural terror. Will his stubborn independence again save everyone? I draw hope from that example. Maybe it means that Sam holding onto the Book of the Damned will have good consequences? (…“I will NOT worry about Sam’s actions …”)
Beyond the cataclysmic portents that surround the book, two other things were introduced in this episode that were particularly interesting. First, the book has been used by covens before. That introduced the context that powerful, learned, skilled witches, like Rowena, would probably be able to decipher and use the spells it contains. Again, the plot emphasized witchcraft. Obviously Sam picked up on this detail given the preview of next week’s episode (“…I will only worry about one episode at a time…”). An obvious concern, however, is that in looking through the book to find the cure for ancient curses, Rowena will also learn ancient curses and “end-of-times nastiness”. In “Paint it Black, Rowena said “I’m capable of greatness. Given free reign, I’d be unstoppable.” Sam’s projection that they’ll deal with the consequences later may very well be the set up for season 11.
Monsters and their Families
The second thing that was interesting was that in addition to Dean being able to “hear” the book, Jacob Styne also seemed to be able to listen to its call, first in the alley when he was chasing Charlie, then more conspicuously at the gas station when he told his muscled goon to “shhhh” because Jacob had lost the book’s trail. The Men of Letters may have known about cult families that span the centuries, but we did not. This episode introduced not only a family who has masterminded some of the worse evil in human history, but they also seem to have some kind of super powers (don’t die easily and hear cursed books) and they will “never stop looking for that book”. I believe we have just met the next species of monster that the boys will battle in future seasons. The enemy are humans, organized by the endlessly powerful force that motivates the Winchester boys – family. In a way, this is the “Bloodlines” story redone – ancient families that operate in the shadows manipulating history for their own power and preservation.
The episode also brought to a climax the long examination of how families react when they learn of the supernatural. Some use the supernatural to save their family members (Sam, Dean, werewolf girl), some betray their families to use the supernatural for their own individual power (Rowena, vampire hippie girl, werewolf girl’s sister), some try to ignore and stave off the supernatural (“Ask Jeeves” family), while some it seems, use the supernatural as a weapon to control and elevate their family to power. This episode did more than introduce a new nemesis for the brothers. It elevated a theme, a thread, that has been at the core of Supernatural since its beginning – family – and will focus not only on the good that family can do but also the harm they can do when the blood is the connection not to salvation and strength but to corruption and evil. It also will delve deeper into the idea that humans can be just as bad as any supernatural monster the boys have had to hunt.
The construct of a family was also explored by our ostracized angels:
Castiel: No more of our brothers and sisters should die.
Metatron: brothers and sisters? Listen to you. Still spitting out the company line like anyone cares. Like we’re actually a family, when what we really are are a bunch of glowing lights filled with self-loathing or delusions of grandeur, or both.
Castiel draws strength and his moral compass from the idea that he is bound to the other angels by birthright if not blood. Metatron, whose only moral compass is arguably his own self-interest, rejects the entire concept that angels are capable of kinship. The point seems to be that our heroes are heroes because of their belief and loyalty to the best ideals of a family. It is not only worth fighting for, it provides their personal strength and code of conduct. Obviously, both brothers intensely subscribe to this tenet, yet they are still struggling to believe that the other brother’s actions are always guided by love. The following emotional exchange between the brothers carried the weight of Dean’s vision of his only possible future, Sam’s emotional cascade into desperation, Dean’s continued wounded belief that he is alone in his pain and Sam’s denial and disbelief that his loving actions are still outweighed by his past hurtful words:
Dean: But what I can do is fight it as long as I can until…
Sam: until what? Tell me. Until what, Dean? Until I watch you become a demon again? Until then? I can’t do that. I won’t do that.
Dean: Then you’ll just have to lock me up. Bind me to the bunker like you did last time.
Sam: Look, just let us translate the book, okay? If there’s a cure, we’ll do it and deal with the consequences later. I can’t lose you.
Sam: Yeah Really.
Dean: You change your mind on that ‘cause that’s not what you said last time.
Sam: Oh come on man. You know I didn’t mean…
Dean: This is my cross to bear Sam. Mine. And that book is not the answer. Now we got to destroy it before it falls into the wrong hands, and that includes me!
The brothers desperately need each other, they rely on each other for their lives, they love each other above all else, but they still don’t feel that love in return.
That reference to the brother’s isolation didn’t go unnoticed by Charlie. Her neutral presence allowed a touching, heartwarming, troubling epilogue of the brothers’ emotional quagmire:
Charlie: What did Dean mean when he said you changed your mind?
Sam: So, a while back we had a chance to close the gates of hell and in order to do that, I would have had to die and I was Ok with that and AM ok with that, but Dean was not and so he uh…
Charlie: He saved you.
Sam: Yeah, he saved me.
Charlie: and let me guess: In doing so he did something you didn’t want and that pissed you off and you said something that hurt him?
Sam: Yeah, that sounds about right.
Sam: …. I guess I really understand now that this is my life. I love it but I can’t do it without my brother. I don’t want to do it without my brother. If he’s gone then I’m…
There ain’t no me if there ain’t no you. It seems to go both ways now.
I know that some fans are concerned that this ratifies the belief that Dean’s season 9 actions were justified and Sam was ungrateful. I don’t see it that way. The only thing acknowledged in this dialogue was that Sam said something that hurt Dean and Dean hasn’t forgotten it. Sam’s reflection of history restated the facts accurately.
1. Dean did save Sam’s life. The dialog doesn’t address whether it was right or wrong, but the outcome was that Sam did not die.
2. Dean did something that Sam didn’t want. Absolutely true.
3. Sam said something that hurt Dean. Yeah, that does sound about right.
We are all responsible for our own actions. Dean’s actions may have warranted an outburst from Sam. Sam may have been absolutely justified in lashing out, or maybe in his angered state Sam truly believed he would never save Dean in a way that was expressly against his known wishes (foreshadowing of what might be coming). How we are goaded, pushed, angered or frustrated into something might explain what we do but doesn’t excuse what we do. Sam did say things that were deeply hurtful and he needs to own that. He can apologize or help Dean understand that that is not how he truly feels. That is on Sam. IN ADDITION, Dean needs to own what he did to Sam and apologize for the lying and blatant disregard for Sam’s wishes, however well-intentioned Dean’s actions were. Again, his desperation explains his actions but doesn’t excuse them. That is on Dean. They each need to take responsibility for their part of the debacle that is still plaguing them both. Sam is now desperate to save his brother, because he feels the love he didn’t profess before. Dean is still hurting so he passive-aggressively, continually, reminds Sam that he disappointed him, repeatedly hurting the person Dean tried so hard to save.
No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man, to be the sad man
Behind blue eyes
No one knows what it’s like
To be hated, to be fated
To telling only lies
But my dreams, they aren’t as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance that’s never free
No one knows what it’s like
To feel these feelings like I do
And I blame you
No one bites back as hard
On their anger, none of my pain and woe
Can show through
Boys, the fact is, despite your reasons, you each hurt the other. It doesn’t matter who hurt who the most. You were each both right and wrong. Seek redemption for where you were wrong and forgive for where you were right. Maturity means recognizing and accepting emotional responsibility. If the brothers are supposed to be maturing, do you think they’ll heal from “The Purge” by the end of season 10 (probably at the moment of pending death again?) Do you think we’ll ever see the end of this ping pong match of saving each other at all costs?
Castiel and Heaven
This episode focused a spotlight on Castiel’s form of existence. Metatron first brought it up in the diner:
Metatron: You were human. Don’t you miss the feeling of all of this? Like the taste of these waffles. The sound of a child’s laughter. Look at us. We’re a couple of angels who have touched not only the divine but the mundane.
This reminder of Castiel’s transient mortality laid the foundation for the more important diatribe that came later:
Metatron: If I’m going to die, I want answers. Like: Who are you now? You are obviously not an Angel of the Lord. And what about all of this walking the earth, like Kane from KungFu crap, cleaning up Heaven’s messes? How many more rogue angels are there out there? What are you going to do once you’re done with all that? Go back to Heaven? Please! The Angel formerly known as Hannah has restored order up top. Smoothest it’s run since God cut the ribbon on the pearly gates. So tell me, Castiel, truly, what is your mission now?
That is the question, isn’t it? Fans have been asking it for a while now. Where are they going with Castiel’s story? This filled me with foreboding. Are they asking these questions to reignite Castiel’s mission in “life”? He has been wandering aimlessly (ala Kane) for a while now. A new direction is needed and would be very welcome. His subsequent transfiguration back into a fully charged angel, powered by his own grace was a fabulous reward for his (and our) patience! I am still worried, though. I can’t dismiss Cain’s (the other Cain) prediction of Castiel’s death (“…I will not worry about things that have not yet happened, and may not happen….”). Here’ hoping for a newly energized, morally centered, smarter-from-his-experiences, Castiel.
Stories, Confessions and the Truth
Appropriately, Metatron was the person who reminded us of that stories are a recurring theme this season:
Metatron: I’ve always loved lyrics, words, stories.
Yet, ironically, Dean was the person who displayed a dedication to the truth. He continued his new found confessional skills (ala “Paint it Black”) and furthered his pursuit of redemption through heartfelt apologies (ala “There’s No Place Like Home”):
Dean: “Anyway, I’m sorry. I probably should have told you that.”
Sam: Uh, yeah.
I really, really hope that the continued placement and use of the thread of truth and redemption means that the boys will be honest with each other about their feelings and begin to feel the love and support they both give so freely.
“The Book of the Damned” masterfully launched new mythology that will take us well into and beyond season 11. It was a wonderful, brilliant kismet of writing, acting and direction; myth arc, emotion and action that will place it with Supernatural’s very best episodes. It made me a happy fan… until I saw that stupid preview of next week…
– “The Pirates of the Caribbean” compass! Loved that it could tap into the Book. Great job by the props department.
– “Gambit” Styne and Benny must come from the same part of the bayou. Love the accent!
– Robert Singer must be building his resume for voiceovers. Great voice!
– Can you even believe that “The Boys are Back in Town” has never been on Supernatural?? It is a tradition at all conventions and is so perfect for the brothers and the Js. I was sure it came from the show!
What are your thoughts on the brother’s emotional state? Do you think Sam was justified in saving the book? How do you think Castiel will reinvent himself now that he his quest for health and wholeness has been achieved? Are you more worried or hopeful for the rest of the season’s developments?
Images courtesy of www.screencapped.net