Just listen to the closing song for “Book of the Damned,” and its easy to see the lyrics illuminating so much of the episode’s stories.
The song’s somber and powerful story strikes deeper chords within us, making what we see all the more heartbreaking. There’s a graceful melancholy that makes this Who classic a perfect fit for the episode and Supernatural itself. It gives us glimpses into each character’s perspective, allowing us to understand more of their motivations and emotional states. Through these insights we’re able to explore both external and internal views. Those external views can be found in Castiel and Charlie’s stories while the internal duet between Sam and Dean is highlighted brilliantly with “Behind Blue Eyes” as the primary focus. Through it, we can grow to understand so much of the meaning behind the episode—and where perhaps the season may ultimately lead in the end.
Let’s start with Castiel.
The song is titled, “Behind Blue Eyes,” and Castiel’s brilliant blue gaze certainly fits that description quite literally. Often, it’s one of his most noted on features after his trademark trench-coat. It’s what the lyrics describe, however, that make us clearly see the angel’s story. The opening line, “No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man,” doesn’t apply to Castiel’s internal view of himself as much as it does to the other angels and their perceptions of him. Certainly, he did things in the past to receive their mistrust—namely what he did when he decided to engage in a civil war with Raphael, and the aftermath with the Leviathan—but now Castiel has to answer for not only his sins, but for another’s: Metatron’s.
Castiel went with the Scribe’s plan to try and help Heaven. He believed Metatron’s intentions were good ones and that he wanted to restore Heaven to a place of order, peace, and beauty. It was his trust that became Castiel’s undoing. Instead, he found himself duped, his grace stolen from him, and the angels thrust from Heaven onto Earth, forced to find a way to continue the seemingly unending battles that marred their divine home. His complicity in this action was never questioned. The other angels believed that Castiel was just as responsible for Metatron’s duplicity and evil. They believed that he had helped the Scribe engineer what happened, that he, too, had intended this all along. In the end, Castiel became all the more “bad man” in their eyes.
This problem was only compounded by another lie told by Metatron—made all the worse by Castiel’s lie of omission. To be able to gather followers to march against the Scribe, Castiel had to steal another angel’s grace to replace his own. It was something he kept secret, and when it came out, all the rebuilding he had done with his fellow angelic brethren crumbled. They regarded him in the same light as they did Metatron: as a liar. Even after he assisted in exposing Metatron once and for all to all the angels, Castiel has now been forced out from Heaven. Even after he faced his stolen grace burning him out and had Hannah’s concern on his side, it would seem that he’s no longer welcome amongst his angelic family. This is no more clear than when he and Sam decide to break Metatron out in order to find a way to make the Scribe reveal a way to remove the Mark of Cain. Castiel is refused, told that he is not allowed to return to Heaven and he’s most certainly not allowed to speak to the imprisoned Scribe.
After the successful break out from Heaven—thanks to Bobby’s assistance upstairs—Castiel is only further alienated from the angels.
Now that he has Metatron is his custody, however, Castiel has the opportunity to get his grace back. He may be able to restore portions of what he’s lost since the Scribe ruthlessly ripped it away from him. And yet, he’s forced to face so much more than that in their interactions. Having returned the same favor by stealing Metatron’s grace, Castiel is now forced to hear the Scribe’s running commentary on his human experience. He is ecstatic as he eats a Belgian waffle, describing in detail how the food tastes, and how amazing the human body is. The Scribe goes even further and point blank asks Castiel, “I mean you used to be human, don’t you miss all this?”
Castiel is emphatic in his response when he retorts, “No. I don’t miss digestion or indigestion.”
From Castiel’s perspective, he has no desire to be human. He just wants to be restored to his former self. It’s something he told Hannah directly at the end of season nine when he told her flatly, “I just want to be an angel.” And yet, his fellow angels see him as a man—and a “bad” one at that.
This becomes explicit when Castiel escorts the lactose intolerant Metatron out of the diner only to find an “angry, angry cupid” waiting for them. While Metatron is universally hated at this stage by angelic kind, it’s clear in this cupid’s allegations and attacks that a good portion of Heaven also sees Castiel exactly the same way. They are both reviled figures. He tells them, “You both corrupted Heaven. It’s never gonna be the same!”
The song lyrics most certainly bear that up. They state, “no one knows what its like to feel these feelings and I blame you!”
Here, we see an angel take out their anger on Castiel, blaming him for how they feel about what’s happened to Heaven and the angelic order. This is an external perspective on the angel, but at the same time this line also reflects Castiel’s internal feelings towards Metatron. After all, if not for the Scribe and his actions, Castiel feels he may have been able to reach his siblings and rebuild Heaven without having to endure the last year. He wouldn’t have had to steal anyone’s grace, the angels would have never been ousted from their home, and they may have been able to work it out differently.
As the pair are driving at the beginning of the episode, we see Castiel take out his own anger on Metatron. The Scribe is driving him crazy, babbling incessantly about music choices on the radio. Metatron makes it even worse when he seems to hold both sides of their conversation all by himself, making the experience all the more excruciating for Castiel. Metatron tells him why he loves songs such as “Ironic” and “Sussudio” and all Castiel wants is for him to shut up. So, he calls Sam and begs to let him kill the angel turned mortal. Sam won’t let him, and so to relieve some of his agitation, Castiel shifts the phone to his other ear and lands a hard blow to Metatron’s face. Castiel further takes out his wrath on Metatron, when they arrive at the library and he tortures the Scribe. The angel takes great pleasure in shoving his thumb into Metatron’s bullet wound, punishing him for everything he’s done. It’s plain that Castiel blames Metatron for everything at this stage—for how he feels as an outcast, for having to know what it feels like to be human, and for being in between human and angel.
Metatron rubs further salt into this wound when he confronts Castiel. He tells him, “If I’m going to die, I want answers. Like, who are you now? You’re obviously not an Angel of the Lord, and what about all of this walking the Earth like Caine from Kung Fu crap?”
It’s clear that Castiel, while seeing the angelic host as his “brothers and sisters” knows that he’s no longer counted as one. And yet, it’s his dream that he return to their ranks, that he be able to take his power back, and that he be seen not as the “bad man.”
While at the library Metatron hid his grace at, Castiel finds himself facing a terrible question. “What is the maddest thing a man can do?” He thinks it’s a riddle, and when Metatron unleashes a spell that most likely will burn out the stolen grace sustaining him, Castiel has to struggle and find a way to unravel it fast or die. It’s dying that becomes his first clue and after Metatron finds another “riddle” that he realizes that they’re quotes. The weakened angel locates the book containing his grace just as he’s sure to die.
Castiel pulls the stopper from the bottle of his grace and takes it in, finding his power finally restored.
In many ways, this moment is reminiscent of the moment Crowley gave him new stolen grace in “Soul Survivor.” It is a potential foreshadow—one that we won’t necessarily see pay off until the end of the season. Just as that grace gave Castiel a temporary fix of his grace, pulling him from the brink of mortal death, it showed us a foreshadow for Sam managing to cure Demon Dean all the while the Mark remained as threat. Here, we see Castiel not simply take another’s grace to restore his depleted stores. He’s returned to his former strength, the display of his grace’s power once returned to its rightful owner overpowering in a show of light and wind. We’re left to wonder, then, if this is another foreshadow, a glimmer of hope that somehow Dean, too, will find himself saved?
And yet there’s so much more going on in “Book of the Damned.”
As we follow Charlie’s story, we realize she is seeing things from an outside perspective. She’s able to watch each brother, see them in a way that neither of them can, and see through to the truth. In relation to “Behind Blue Eyes,” she knows that both sees themselves as the “bad man” or the “sad man” or that their “love is vengeance that’s never free.” She can see that they’re begging the other if their fists clench to “crack it open” or to “reach a finger down my throat” if they swallow anything evil. In that regard, Charlie stands in for us in this manner. She is watching them as they interact, seeing perhaps for the first time how emotional these two can truly be with one another.
At the episode’s start, Charlie reaches out to them with the news that she has found the Book of the Damned. Sam had given his research on it to her, hoping that she could find it and bring it home with the hopes it would finally give them that chance to cure Dean. Instead, she is trailed doggedly by Jacob Styne, a man driven to reclaim his family’s inheritance. They’re a family of black magic, of evil, and want its dark secrets in order to fulfill their dark promises. So, they track her, wounding her in a violent confrontation. Charlie needs the brothers to hide her and the book from this man—and soon. She’s not sure how much more running she can do.
When they finally reach her, meeting her at one of Bobby’s cabins, Charlie is jolted awake. She exchanges greeting hugs with each one, relief etched in her features. But, they’re here for the book, and as Charlie pulls it out, she explains, “Okay here’s what I learned so far. About 700 hundred years ago, a nun locked herself away after having visions of darkness. After a few decades squirreled away by herself, she emerged with this. Each page is made out of slices of her own skin, and written in her blood. I told you it’s eekish. According to the notes I found, it’s been owned and used by cults and covens, even the Vatican had it for a while,” and as she hands it to Dean to examine, she can clearly see that the elder Winchester’s succumbing to something dark. It troubles her, and yet there’s not much she can do about it besides defer to Sam. It’s obvious that Dean isn’t any better than when she last saw him—and if Sam’s assessment that “He’s not getting better” is anything to go by, they’re running out of time.
It’s here that Charlie realizes that as much as the Mark has impacted Dean and has taken over his body with its raised flesh curse, its presence has also changed Sam. She can see the weight bearing down on his shoulders as he watches Dean make a quick exit to “get the rest of our crap.” She can tell that both are not allowing their “pain and woe to show through” wanting to be stronger for each other as they face this seemingly insurmountable threat as a single unit—and yet apart.
This is brought to stark light when she sees the brothers have an emotional outburst surrounding the Book of the Damned itself and the Styne family. Dean has determined that this book is not the answer they are looking for, that it needs to be destroyed before it can fall into the wrong hands—even and especially his own. This book was meant to be the answer—and Charlie can see that Sam can see it as almost a last resort. Before Sam can truly expose his emotions, Charlie asserts, “So you’re just going to give up?” Dean retorts that he won’t—and even if he can’t, the Mark won’t let him die.
Sam knows that this will only lead to losing Dean another way. And so, he shouts at his brother, “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. ” Charlie stands, bearing witness to this emotional outburst, seeing up close and personal perhaps for the first time how tense and raw it can become between the Winchesters. They aren’t shooing her away, telling her to busy herself with something else on their case. This exchange is also far more real than those she read in the Supernatural books—and all the more human. He further goes on to tell his brother, his voice trembling and shocking Charlie, “Look jut let us translate the book, okay. If there is a cure we’ll do it and deal with the consequences later. I can’t lose you.”
It’s here the tables turn and Charlie sees Dean’s fear. Dean accuses Sam of not feeling that way last time they faced something like this—and then he shoulders the burden of the Mark anew, telling them both, “This is my cross to bear Sam, mine. And that book is not the answer.” As he makes his way out the door to go and retrieve the snacks they promised to get her, it leaves Charlie to process what just transpired and ask Sam more.
Their conversation allows Charlie to do more listening—and share that outside perspective to combat their internal battles that threaten to tear them apart. After Sam tells her about their failed attempt to close Hell, and that he was ready to die but Dean didn’t agree—that “he saved you,” she tells him baldly, “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?” It’s a fair assessment of their interactions after Gadreel’s possession was revealed.
But it also gives Sam a chance to show a bit of his pain and woe, the very feelings he tries to hide from his brother as they seem to hit more and more brick walls. In this exchange, Charlie can see that Sam’s dreams aren’t all that empty, either. Hunting may not be the ideal dream for most, but it’s Sam’s—with one precise condition. He tells Charlie, his emotions raw and bare, “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. And if he’s gone, then I don’t…”
Charlie understands. She knows that this is a crucial turning point in their lives and relationship. The Mark of Cain is a clear and present threat to their brotherhood and they must do whatever it takes to remove it in order to keep it safe. She tells Sam, “You know, I haven’t been a hunter for very long, but it feels like this is the life. Mostly ends in Sophie’s choices, death, or tears. Usually all of the above, huh?” Its her way of reassuring Sam, that their lives are hard enough without seeing themselves as the “bad man” or the “sad man.”
In the end, as they gather together and relax as a family unit, Charlie is there with both brothers, supporting them alongside Castiel. She’s light hearted, bringing out laughs from Dean and tense smiles from Sam. She knows that they’re going to travel a dark road. She knows they’re facing something evil, destructive, and a very real threat to their brotherly unit. If she can give them a moment’s respite and a good memory, perhaps she can do more than simply bring them this Book of the Damned. Maybe she can, too, stand in as a reminder for why they’re fighting against this in the first place. While Charlie doesn’t say any actual dialog in this scene, the family element of this moment is crystal. She is giving them yet another reason—Dean to keep fighting the Mark and for Sam to do whatever it takes to remove it. After all, it’s the only way they may ever have another moment like this as a group again.
But what about Sam and Dean themselves? How does this song reflect their inner turmoil and perspectives of themselves? How is it a duet between them that captures not only this episode’s story brilliantly but their series story?
At the beginning of the episode, Dean seems relaxed, sated, and pleased. He’s back from a work out, checking in on his researching brother. As the phone rings and they get the good news from Charlie—once she’s assured them both that she’s physically fine despite having to sew up a gunshot wound with minty floss—Dean seems to light up. A weight seems to lift from his shoulders, and he’s nearly giddy to go and rush to her aid and bring this book home.
As the boys drive down the road, Dean is grooving to the “Boys Are Back In Town,” dancing and enjoying the music. He seems re-energized, younger, and more carefree than he has in years. As Sam turns it off to talk to him, he tells his little brother, “We’re due for a win, okay 0 for 2. I’ll tell you another thing, if this actually does work, we can take some time off,” and that they’ll have “sand between our toes.” Dean’s excited that they may finally find the end to the Mark’s dark influence. He’s giddy that they may finally be able to return to their own lives again. After all, both Metatron and Cain were busts. One seemed to want conditions for sharing what he knew and the other didn’t know a way to remove it. Third time has to be the charm.
And yet, as we turn to “Behind Blue Eyes,” we can see in the lyrics that it’s not going to be that simple.
It states, “When I smile, tell me some bad news before I laugh and look like a fool.” Certainly, the moment that Dean picks that Book up and starts to page through its gruesome drawings, he is instantly turned back into the “bad man” being pushed to kill and now use this dark tome to bring more evil to the world. It triggers something powerful within the Mark, drowning out the world around him. He’s entranced by it until Sam’s voice manages to break through and get him to let go of the Book of the Damned.
The moment Dean looks up, the expression on his face reflects the eternal four year old boy trapped inside. Quickly, he must try and hide it again—and yet his constant staring at the Book reveals that he’s not succeeding as much as he’d like in hiding his “pain and woe.” In some ways, this is deliberate. He wants Sam to be there to “crack it open” if his fist should clench tight. He wants his brother to comfort him. In many ways, when he calls out to Sam and Charlie as they realize the book is in code, he’s trying to find reassurance in Sam as much as he wants to reassure his brother. It captures so well the lines, “And if I shiver, please give me a blanket and let me wear your coat.”
He’s back to square one, that the big win he was hoping for just isn’t here. This Book is far too dangerous for him to use. He pleads with both Sam and Charlie that the consequences of using this Book are Biblical level, and that “dark magic always comes with a price.” The Book of the Damned will only make matters worse. This seems to be further confirmed the more he learns not only about the Styne family but as Jacob confronts him about the Book and what it may be able to do in removing the Mark. He tells Dean, “You’ll do far more harm than good.”
When Dean first acquired the Mark from Cain, he didn’t take the time to ask questions, to find out what the price might be. He saw it as a means to an ends—something he’s stated since in various confrontations. It was meant to help him eliminate Abaddon’s threat. He knew he had no real choice but to take on the burden of the Mark in order to do that. Now, though, he’s hesitating to use this Book. He doesn’t want to make this mistake again perhaps. Most certainly he’s terrified that it’ll make his situation far worse rather than fixing the problem. Whatever the price is in using this Book to cure the Mark, Dean just doesn’t want to pay it.
And yet, as Sam and Dean have the emotional exchange in front of Charlie, Dean leaves the door open to Sam. Dean knows he can’t do this alone. He knows he won’t be able to hold on to his humanity if Sam isn’t there to help him—but he doesn’t want this Book to speed up the Mark’s corruption, either. So he pleads with Sam to take it away before it does. It reflects so well the lyrics, “If I swallow anything evil, put your finger down my throat.” However, when he tells his brother, “You change your mind on that ’cause that’s not what you said last time,” its as if he’s begging Sam to read between the lines and do whatever it takes to save him—even if he should protest and say no.
Faced with the Styne’s attack to try and reclaim what they believe to be rightfully theirs, Dean tells Sam to burn the Book, to get rid of it before it tempts him too much. In the chaos, Dean’s left to battle them along with Charlie—only to watch his brother deliver the final blow to Jacob Styne. In the aftermath, when they’ve returned to the Bunker, we watch Dean greet Castiel with warmth and settle in to share a quiet meal and companionship with his family. In Dean’s body language, we can see him trying to reclaim yet again his life from the Mark’s dark evil—that he wants to hold on tight to this for as long as he can after facing yet another failure to find a cure. As the song plays, we can’t help but be struck by the fact that the lyrics mention being fated. At this point, Dean must truly feel this way—and yet he won’t let them see it, showing a facade of happiness that somehow his brother must see through.
It’s as if Dean truly understands that he’s being forced into “telling only lies,” and the biggest lie of all is that he’s somehow okay with how this latest attempt to cure him ended. Perhaps, he’s hoping that if he tells it to himself enough that he’ll be convincing enough to everyone else around him—including Sam.
Sam, too, factors heavily into this duet. He’s more the “sad man” throughout the episode. His desperation seems to grow the more the episode progresses, giving us glimpses into how hard this is for him and how far he’s willing to go for his brother. He knows that his “love is vengeance that’s never free.” From the moment he hangs up on Castiel and Dean reaches to answer Charlie’s call, Sam’s most certainly afraid he’s going to be caught in a lie. He’s not willing to just close doors on options that could cure his brother. He couldn’t leave Dean aged 14, he couldn’t leave their attempt to cure Dean through Cain be, and he won’t let Metatron or this Book be dead ends until they’ve proven otherwise.
And he also knows Dean wouldn’t agree with it.
As they make their way towards Charlie, he’s amused—although its bittersweet—by his brother’s antics. This is the brother he’s trying to save. This is the brother that isn’t tarnished by the Mark. This is the Dean Sam sees himself riding the road with, the one that dances goofily to classic rock, the one smiling and dreaming of things like beach vacations, and the Dean that is happiest driving his car down the road with his brother by his side. His “dreams aren’t empty” by any means. And in many ways, Sam knows that he and Dean truly want the same thing in the end—even if they don’t agree exactly on how to get there. It’s why Sam’s so driven to try everything and anything—and he also fears that this Book is perhaps his last resort after so many failures.
Unlike in season three, when Sam waited too long to cultivate the powers left him by Azazel, he wants to make use of this Book and fast. His outburst at Dean about becoming a demon again proves this. He can’t do it again and he won’t do it again. And as he confesses quietly to Charlie about everything being “one more job,” until he realized that it was this life that he truly loved, that he knows that the stakes have never been higher. When Dean tells him, “But we have got to get rid of it—burn it, bury it, I don’t really give a damn,” Sam chooses to use this to do what he must. He won’t do this with Dean’s permission—instead he’ll beg for forgiveness later.
In this way, Sam’s willing to become the “bad man.” It’s worth the risk he’s taking by being possibly “hated” after the fact. He knows that what he’s doing will come with a price—both supernatural and otherwise. In his view, as long as Dean is cured from the Mark, it doesn’t matter if his brother is angry. It doesn’t matter if Dean won’t forgive him. He’ll accept being the bad guy here, the one that did something against his brother’s wishes. He can’t simply be the “sad man” any longer, left to watch and wait for the inevitable loss to happen yet again. He can’t endure another “Mystery Spot,” or another “No Rest for the Wicked” or another “Survival of the Fittest.” Sam can’t watch his brother die yet again or disappear—and in his view, if Dean were to become a demon again that’s exactly what would happen on both counts. His brother would die and disappear into a new form.
And as Dean asserts that he’ll have to lock him back up in the Bunker again, Sam knows that this is folly, too. He doesn’t know for certain if the cure that worked last time will work ever again. If Dean turned demonic again, it’s possible that his brother would never return from it. He also knows that there’s no guarantee that a demonic Dean wouldn’t simply flee again or simply kill him without giving him a chance to fight back. He won’t let his brother become something he’s not—not sit and wait for that terrible change to happen ever again. Sam can’t risk it. He won’t risk it.
Sam’s struggles with his decisions facing the Book of the Damned are written in sorrow over his face. While his brother is trying to bury his “pain and woe” quickly under laughter and goofing around with Charlie and Castiel, Sam seems all but despondent, his smiles full of grief. He’s become the “sad man” stretched beyond his emotional limits. As he clinks beers with Dean, exchanges glances, and shares this meal with him, we can see Sam’s mind whirring about what he shall do next. He’s so afraid that this experience, this existence he shares with Dean will be gone before too long. We can see Sam strung out here, trying to savor these fleeting moments—and yet they seem almost to rub more salt in his wounds than ever before. He’s so desperate at this stage that he’s willing to do something drastic.
This something isn’t done with his logical self. If he had been in a stable emotional mind, Sam would have rejected this proposition outright. He would have only considered it if he knew he could control the outcome and prevent the person he’s turning to from managing to wreak even more havoc. And yet, Sam isn’t in that mindset. He’s been pushed so far on the brink, watching his brother slip further and further away from him—changing from the gleeful man in the car on the way to see Charlie back to the tense and frightened man we see trying so hard to hide it in the closing moments of the Bunker—the man that stood staring out over the Book of the Damned like a frightened child, certain that this book would corrupt him. Sam knows the clock is ticking down fast—that he can’t simply be patient and coax his brother into using this Book. He can’t try and dig up yet another lead that may end up nowhere. Time is quickly slipping away.
And he most certainly can’t have the book in the Bunker with him. Even if he were to keep it hidden and make his own notes to work from, having it in the Bunker is to tempt his brother, to make the Mark call to it and further twist Dean. Sam can’t risk it. He’ll shoulder this next step, make this decision, and face its consequences once he can successfully say that he’s managed to save his brother from this dark fate. Sam, so emotionally strung out now, turns to the last person he’d likely ever consider. As he sits across from someone, making his plea, he tells them, “I don’t trust you, and I never will, but I need help.”
That person is none other than Rowena—and she most certainly has terms that must be met before she’ll gladly do what Sam wants. If she can find the cure within this dark text’s pages and give it to Sam, he’ll take it.
If anything, he’ll take this risk just so he can save his brother from having to be the “bad man,”—and perhaps himself from eternally being the “sad man,” too.