What can I say about “The Prisoner”? I can’t honestly say I “liked” this episode. “Like” doesn’t describe my emotional or intellectual response to it. It was intense, but even that doesn’t seem to be the right description. It elicited fear, foreboding and dread. I was tense for the entire episode, and afterward I felt traumatized. My body ached and my jaw was locked. Some fans said they were in shock from what they had seen. I didn’t feel shock necessarily.
More, my heart absolutely broke for Sam. I felt anguish when Sam blamed himself for Charlie’s death, then had his brother tell him he wished Sam was dead instead of her. I felt his desperation and helplessness when Rowena held back on her promise to deliver him from his torment. I felt his hopelessness when he “promised” he would stop looking for the cure, knowing that was probably his last hope to save Dean. I felt his fear when he laid a finger snap away from death.
I felt his panic thinking time had run out in their race for a cure when Castiel told him that Dean had brutally killed 15 people and was headed home.
I was also desperately afraid of what Dean would do throughout the entire episode.
I didn’t mind his massacre of the Styne family. I actually welcomed what I dearly hope is the end of that story line (probably not, but at least Supernatural didn’t turn into “Bloodlines Revisited”). I was more afraid that this would be the week that he lost himself entirely and gave in completely to the Mark’s control. I gasped and held my hand over my mouth when Castiel said “I’m going to be the one who will be alive to watch you murder the world”. I was sure Dean’s next words were going to be “I can fix that” just before he thrust an angel blade through Castiel’s heart. I felt with every fiber of my being that I was watching Cain’s unspeakable prediction unfold, and I was helpless as one of my best friends lost his battle with a deadly drug.
I didn’t watch this episode. I lived through it. I physically endured the pain it delivered to my body and soul.
And this was just the warm up to next week.
Why did it hit me, hit us, so hard? There were many reasons, including the built up anticipation, the promises of doom and the leaks of “someone is going to die”. It was also, though, because it delivered tension and tragedy both overtly and subliminally. Let’s first tackle the most obvious premise. Who was “the prisoner”? We saw so many this episode:
Rowena was in shackles. She was a prisoner in the truest sense of the word, yet she didn’t act imprisoned. She felt neither helpless nor caged, making demands of her captor and finally receiving the key needed to unlock her coveted treasure trove of magic. She was afraid at the end of the episode, but not from any danger she perceived from her captors.
Crowley? He was ambushed, shot and attacked by a spell, yet he also was never in any danger. He knew he was hiding immense demonic power inside his partially human host. His inner demon emerged at his command, and he also broke free of his captor, revealing the control he alone knew he always had over the situation.
Likewise, Dean was imprisoned twice, being put in both handcuffs then restraints, but they also were no match for the MoC. He easily freed himself from both, confidently planning the timing of his escapes to best meet his needs. Yet he is obviously still a prisoner of the mark. It is now controlling him more than he is controlling himself. He is captured fully and completely in its grasp, without hope of escape.
There’s Cyrus. He was trapped within a monstrous family. He was planning his escape (to LA), but they pulled him in deeper before he could break free. He was a prisoner of his blood, sentenced to death from birth.
Then there’s Sam. Trapped in the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario. He’s a prisoner of circumstances, guilt and duty. Like Cyrus, he is a prisoner of the life he was born into.
So who was “the prisoner”? I’m viewing it as both Sam and Dean in the end because everyone else was released or unworried about their captivity. Sam and Dean are both still trapped by the Mark of Cain’s emotional and physical duel to the death.
The Mark of Cain and the Truth
While in the warehouse, Sam confessed why he is passionately, obsessively, pursuing a cure for the Mark :
Rowena: We can cure the Mark of Cain…
Cas (to Sam): What are you doing?
Sam: I’m saving my brother.
Cas: You told Dean…
Sam: I know what I told Dean. Cas, I’ve been the one out there messed up and scared and alone and Dean…
Cas: …did whatever he could to save you
Sam: Yes. I mean it’s become his thing. I owe him this. I owe him everything. Look I know he pretends that he can ride the mark out, but you and I both know the truth. We know what happens if we don’t cure him. We both know where that road ends.
Cas: Black eyes and blood
Sam: Yes, go. Find him Cas. Keep him safe.
Sam and Cas are desperate to save Dean. Sam especially has tied his entire self-worth to his ability to save Dean. The Mark is pushing Dean to pile more guilt and grief onto Sam though, isolating Dean, crucifying Sam and destroying their brotherly bond:
Sam: I’m so sorry…
Dean: Shut up. You got her killed. You don’t get to apologize.
Sam: We were trying to help you.
Dean: I didn’t need help. I told you to leave it alone
Sam: What was I supposed to do? Just watch you die?
Dean: The Mark isn’t going to kill me. [It sounds to me like Dean is “bonding” with the Mark. They are becoming symbiotic]
Sam: Maybe not, but when it’s done with you, you won’t be you anymore. Dean, you’re all I got, so of course I was gonna fight for you because that’s what we do. Listen, we had a shot.
Dean: Yeah, you had a shot. Charlie’s dead. Nice shot.
Sam: You think I’m ever going to forgive myself for that?
Dean: You want to know what I think? I think that should be you up there, not her. This thing with Cas and the book ends now. Shut it down before somebody else gets hurt. You understand me? [Two points: First, Dean sounds exactly like John barking out orders. Second, I believe the Mark feels threatened by the Book. That is why it’s pushing Dean so hard to stop everyone from pursuing the cure]
Sam: What about you?
Dean: Oh I’m going to find whoever did this and I’m going to rip apart everything and everyone that they ever loved. And then I’m gonna tear out their heart.
Sam: Is that you talking or the Mark?
Dean: Doesn’t matter.
During live tweets, several fans asked me if I thought it was Dean or the Mark that said those horrible things to Sam in the conversation by the pyre. I believe all of Dean’s references to the Mark provide the answer. Charlie’s death changed Dean’s “relationship” with the Mark. His righteous rage over losing her pushed him to use rather than fight the Mark’s strength. He welcomed the Mark’s power, calling on it to flow through him to “rip apart everything and everyone that they ever loved”. Twice he dispassionately referenced the immortality that before he shunned but now embraced, first in the conversation above, then in his warning to Monroe Styne:
Dean: The mark on my arm means that I can’t die. I’m not bargaining. You flatline me and I will come back but I’ll come back with black eyes and then you’ll all die.
A Styne: We let you go then, what? You’ll just mosey on down the road?
Dean: No but I will be human, so maybe a few of you live. Maybe.
Dean may still be human, but his escalating actions proved that he is ruthless, if not totally uncaring, now. His massacre of the Styne family could possibly be justified as the job of a hunter, and was sympathetically viewed by the audience:
Cas: You killed them
Dean: I took down a monster because that’s what I do and I’ll continue to do that until…
Cas:…Until you become the monster
Dean’s murder of young Cyrus, though, showed a progression in his unforgiving disdain of “monsters”:
Cas: I think the mark is changing you
Dean: You’re wrong
Cas: Am I? ‘cause the Dean Winchester I know would never have murdered that kid
Dean: Yeah well that Dean’s always been kind of a dick
Dean’s merciless attack on Castiel, though, proved the extent of Dean’s hardened soul:
Cas: When you finally turn, and you will turn, Sam, everyone you know, everyone you love – they could be long dead. Everyone except me. I’m the one who will have to watch you murder the world. So if there’s even a small chance that we can save you, I won’t let you walk out of this room…
They played “Americana” (the brothers’ theme) the whole time Dean was beating the living daylights out of Cas. When Dean grabbed the angel blade, I was sure he was going to kill Cas.
Was Dean’s hand shaking when he was holding the blade over Cas’ prone, helpless body? I couldn’t tell for sure if that was Dean fighting the Mark, or just a sign of adrenaline fueled muscles. I choose to believe the former. The implication that Dean’s transformation was nearly complete, though, was very clear. Crowley’s words “killing you would be the easiest thing in the world” echoed in my mind through that entire scene of Dean taunting Castiel by stabbing the book next to his head.
Families and Monsters
The parallels between Crowley and Dean went beyond them standing victoriously over their “enemies”, deciding whether to take or spare their lives. These parallels were wonderfully written and worth a closer look:
Both Crowley and Dean were part monster, part human. Both had human blood pumping through their veins, but the monstrous side of them was tugging at them, pulling them toward its supernatural domination.
Both were obviously stronger than anyone else of their kind.
Both Crowley and Dean succumbed to the monster inside of them in this episode.
Crowley told Sam he was responsible for Crowley’s demon taking control again, thanking Sam for reminding him who he really was.
The jaded implication in this episode was that Sam was also responsible for the Mark‘s new dominance over Dean since the Mark was able to get a stronger hold over Dean because of Dean’s need to avenge Charlie, and Dean blamed Sam for Charlie’s death.
Crowley let Sam live when he easily could have killed him.
Dean let Cas live when he easily could have killed him.
Both Crowley and Dean gave their families a chance to “walk away”.
First, Crowley said his mother should have taken the opportunity to walk away but that now she’ll “never see me coming”.
Then, as if for emphasis, Dean gave his “family” two chances to walk away. The first pass for Sam was when Dean walked away from Sam at Charlie’s funeral pyre, after Dean told Sam he thought Sam should be dead instead of Charlie. To Castiel, Dean first said, “You can go now Cas”, then after beating the tar out of Castiel, Dean’s final words were “You and Sam stay the hell away from me. Next time I won’t miss.”
Given the parallel events between Crowley and Dean,
– Crowley’s death knell for Rowena foreshadows that Cas, or Sam, or both, won’t see Dean coming for them.
– Sam’s gloating over Crowley at the fitting death for monsters plus Cas’ warning about Dean becoming a monster, warns of the doom that awaits Dean if they fail to save him:
At the end of it, you are a monster just like all the rest of them. And I’m going to watch you die, screaming, just like all the rest of them.
The audience is clearly being taunted that Dean will not be able to be saved, and will die a horrible, merciless death that awaits all monsters. This echoes Castiel and Sam’s visions of Dean’s life ending in “black eyes and blood”. So the stakes are high and the price of failure have been clearly described to us.
To reiterate the probability of failure, Sam not only hasn’t yet been able to save Dean, Sam wasn’t able to overpower the supernatural forces within Crowley, implying that Sam won’t be able to kill or end Demon Dean either. Everything depends of Team Free Will figuring a way out of their latest apocalyptic threat. The question is whether they remember that they are stronger together than apart?
If we take Crowley as Dean’s alter ego one step further, substitute Dean’s voice into all of these lines that Crowley said to Sam:
Thought you were the smart one. Working with [Rowena]? You insane?
That’s what I get for trying to be the good guy… I thought if I did better, I might actually feel something again. That it might matter. [referring to Dean’s valiant attempts to convince himself he was good but being rewarded only with Charlie’s death]
Powerful magic. Might have worked on any other demon but me. Please. [referring to Rowena’s white light attack on Dean a few weeks ago]
You’re right. I am a monster and I’ve done bad. I’ve done things you can’t even imagine. Horrible, evil, messy things. And I’ve loved every damn minute. So thank you Sam for reminding me who I really am. [referring to Dean’s confession that he enjoyed the torture he doled out in Hell]
If all of those insights were Dean’s psyche as expressed by Crowley, the following climactic confrontation then also has implications for Dean’s relationship to Sam:
I could kill you. Snap my fingers. Easiest thing in the world. From here on, I want you to know that the only reason you’re alive is because I allowed it.
If Crowley’s last words to Sam are to be interpreted as Dean talking to Sam, is there any further evidence that Dean might go after Sam? “The Prisoner” wove an undeniable, empathetic parallel between Cyrus and Sam that deeply supports this path:
Like Sam, Cyrus was the youngest son in the family.
His older brother(s) were better soldiers.
Cyrus was planning to run away to escape his family’s “business”.
He was a nerd in school.
Bullies thought they could pick on him yet he could actually stand up for himself.
His dad put a blade in his hand and taught him how to use it while he was still young.
He loved libraries and was excited by great books. He obviously hated desecrating the bunker, which didn’t go unnoticed:
Roscoe: This isn’t a damn library
Cyrus: Yeah it is.
Beside all the similarities in their character traits, Sam and Cyrus’ parallel was reinforced by this conversation with his father during the devastating, bloody initiation to his birthright:
Cyrus: I don’t want to…
Eldon: What? Be like us?
Cyrus: That’s not what I meant.
Monroe: Good because that… it’s your legacy. You will NOT turn your back on this family. Now you’ve always been soft Cyrus. You’re the baby. It’s natural. That ends now.
The references to legacy, “turning your back on this family”, being soft before but that ending now, and being the baby solidified Cyrus as Sam’s alter ego. Cyrus’ fate then set up a horrifying foreshadowing of what might await Sam. Dean’s final conversation with Cyrus, when Cyrus was pleading for his life, could easily have been words Dean would have (and has) said to Sam:
Cyrus: I’m not. See no stitches. I hate my family. I’m not like them.
Dean: Oh you are like them. There’s bad in you. It’s in your blood. Now you can deny it, you can run from it all you want, but that bad will always win
Cyrus: I’ll do anything you want. You don’t need to do this. Please.
Dean: Yeah, I do.
Dean’s responses to Cyrus may have revealed Dean’s current, tainted, thoughts about his brother. Cain’s words “I prefer to be thorough” justifying his lineage’s genocide echoed throughout Dean’s final decision to end the life of the reluctant kid whose only crime was being born into the wrong family and having “tainted blood”.
So all the clues imply that Sam is going to be threatened if not killed by Dean. Is the Mark turning Dean against Sam? Did this sentence hold a double meaning since Sam has always hated the blood that flowed in his veins? Are we looking at Dean’s deliberation on the value of his own brother’s life?
As an aside, Crowley was unaffected by a devils trap bullet. It didn’t diminish his powers and he pulled it out of his body like it was a gnat that had landed on him. Not even a Knight of Hell could do that. So Crowley is more powerful than a knight? With the red eyes and the red smoke, if he hadn’t tried to kill Lucifer (and Lucifer wasn’t locked in a cage), I would be laying bets that he is Lucifer, but that’s another discussion!
Heaven and Castiel
“The Prisoner” posed a huge question about Castiel: Why isn’t he using his angel powers? Why didn’t he heal and revive Cyrus? Why wasn’t Castiel able to subdue Dean with the arm lock from behind, in the same way he was able to subdue DemonDean in “Soul Survivor”? Why didn’t Castiel defend himself by blowing Dean across the room with a wave of his hand?
I believe that Castiel chose not to use his powers against Dean in their fight because Castiel said himself that he didn’t want to hurt Dean. That doesn’t explain his other displays of weakness or ineffectiveness, though. Rowena’s taunts of Castiel in the warehouse may hold the answer:
Rowena: “An angel that rejected heaven”…
Cas: “I’m a lot like people”
Castiel has not recharged his powers in Heaven for a long time plus he was also infused with only a small remnant of his powers since Metatron had used part or most of them in the spell to exile angels and close the gates of heaven. It is possible that subtly we are being told that Castiel can’t save himself or others anymore. His powers may be very limited and may be diminished further each time he uses them. Castiel’s supernatural abilities seem to be declining at the exact time that Dean’s are increasing. Castiel may not be the “savior” he once was.
As we go into the finale, the messages of some of the season-long threads have been clear. The progression of the Mark of Cain has been steady. With very few exceptions, we have repeatedly seen that the supernatural destroys families despite the best intentions and their valiant efforts to do the right thing. Both of these threads spell doom for the Winchester brothers. The thread of suicide has also been undeniable. The question that plagues this last week of the season, though, is who will “sacrifice” themselves for the good of others. Castiel is weaker now and his lament about being alive through eternity to see Dean’s destruction was a very troubling admission of dread and omen of irony. He is “a lot like people” now, too, and has been tying up all his earthly loose ends in an attempt to redeem his wrongs. Could these all be leading to his death?
There have also been clues that Sam is feeling helpless and filled with guilt and remorse:
Cas: What happened [to Charlie]?
In last season’s opening episode (“I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here”), Sam asked Death, “If I go with you… can you promise that this time it will be final? That if I’m dead, I stay dead. Nobody can reverse it, nobody can deal it away… and nobody else can get hurt because of me”. With Sam blaming himself for Charlie’s death, he has to again be wishing for death to release him from his perceived failures and path of destruction. Cryus’ death and Cain’s prediction that Dean would kill Sam also lend credence to an argument that Sam won’t survive a final confrontation with Dean. We have speculated that the boys would break the curse through love or self-sacrifice, though. That would imply that both Sam and Dean are being set up for an ultimate deal or self-sacrifice. The truth is that I have no idea where this final thread will lead us. My gut feeling and personal expectation is that we are going to lose two out of the three members of Team Free Will, but that could be my own apprehension about expecting the worst. I am a nervous wreck about next week.
Who ultimately was the prisoner that is referenced in the title? The emotional vice this show put on its fans suggests that we are ultimately the prisoners of this show, dreading it yet unable to escape it’s grasp. I await the finale with equal parts of excitement and foreboding. I don’t know what is going to happen, but I know it will be intense. Then we’ll have to wait 5 months to be released from our torment. We return again and again, hoping to hear words of love and healing between the brothers, but knowing it has to get worse before it can get better.
Dean: Magic like that does not come free. It comes with a price that you pay in blood
Supernatural is magic to all of us, but it definitely comes with a price. We’ll see next week how steep that price on us will be.
Screencaps courtesy of http://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk