On one hand, we have the supernatural world---with its demons and monsters, its angels and spells, its dark forces and otherworldly surprises---that affect the world for good or for ill. These elements are intriguing, fantastical, and allow for us to escape from the humdrum of our everyday. We can imagine a demon being able to revive her meatsuit with a spell or an angel unfurling his wings in a display of massive power. It enchants us, and we return again and again to see just what we might see next. Supernatural has spent nine years showing us as many different creatures and beings as it can---often standing in opposition to the Winchesters.
On the other, we have the hunters---also fantastical in their own way. After all, no one in our world can profess to be a “hunter” of things that go bump in the night. Here, Supernatural shows us the best and the worst of ourselves in the humans who take on this profession. Most notably, each week we tune in to watch the Winchesters. Through them, we learn about our humanity in clear juxtaposition to the supernatural world that surrounds and shapes them. They may hunt monsters and fight demons, but they do all of these things for one reason: family. Their story is human. We watch because we wish we could be as brave. We watch because we, too, feel devoted to family. We watch because we can see slivers of ourselves in each or both brother as they stand together. Certainly, season 9 has shown us that the brothers are a single unit---and that they truly have much left to teach us about our humanity.
But first, let's start with our “demon-y” element, shall we? Just what questions did “Devil May Care” raise?
There are two sides to the demon coin in this episode: Crowely and Abaddon.
Both are extremely evil, cruel, and vicious. Both are adversaries to the Winchesters. Both seek to dominate the world, at the head of demon kind. And yet, their approaches are drastically different in every way. These differences open up doors to questions: what makes a demon? What makes them tick? How should a demon go about running Hell and seeking dominion over the earth? Do demons feel anything beyond hate or anger?
Crowley is, as Abaddon points out, a “salesman.” He barters. He swindles. He sweet-talks. He lies. His weapon is his silver tongue---and he wields it expertly. To gather more souls to Hell, he will get his victims to sell their souls to him---or another crossroads demon---in order to swell his demonic ranks. Its underhanded yet cleverly effective. Crowley's strategy is to do it all without letting anyone know until it's far too late to stop it. Once you've signed the contract, he owns your soul for eternity---putting it in Hell's vault. After all, there's an endless supply of human beings willing to deal their souls away. Why bring too much unwanted attention to matters?
Abaddon, on the other hand, prefers to fight. She attacks swiftly and violently. She tells the demons she's gathered that they shouldn't be “paying for what we should be taking.” The grandma cross roads demon objects, telling her that Crowley is the King---and Abaddon calls up the medieval notion of the Warrior King. She declares emphatically, “A King fights. A King conquers. A King does more than sit around reading contracts. But the King's dead. Long live the Queen.” To her, it is a waste of Hell's potential to simply buy up souls like they're poker chips.
So, which side is right? Which side is more “demon-y?” In a word: both. But what do their differences really say about them in the show---and how do they correlate with us, the human viewer?
In many ways, Abaddon's style recalls the first demons we meet in the series. They're violent, vicious, and ruthless creatures hellbent on exerting their wills upon their victims and the earth. There's no mercy in their brutality and they stand in stark contrast to the Winchesters. Abaddon certainly does that here in her actions and her words. But what does it mean? What is her type of demon telling us really?
Her violent and evil behavior can be dismissed in some ways---after all there aren't actual demons walking around wreaking this kind of havoc as shown on the show. And yet, Abaddon stands in to represent the worst of ourselves. Supernatural may have pulled in its viewer based on these fantastical elements, but they're showing us our darker selves. It is a frightening notion that we could possibly be so malicious---and yet we know it exists in the everyday. It's what makes her a chilling mirror to ourselves.
And yet, one has to wonder if Abaddon is simply just evil for evil's sake. Perhaps she simply just enjoys it. She uses a trick that Meg had used once upon a time. Gather some of Sam and Dean's hunter friends up, hold them hostage, threaten to kill them if the demand isn't met, and follow through. She knows if she puts out a ransom note the Winchesters will have no recourse but to fall into her trap. She needs to eliminate them or get them to hand over Crowley or both if she intends to set herself up securely as the Queen of Hell.
Abaddon succeeds in getting Dean right where she wants him---almost ready to claw off his anti-possession tattoo and possess him instead. It'd send a strong and clear message to demon kind if she could subjugate a Winchester and use one to reach her goal of taking over Hell. She is obviously following her talk up with big actions. After all, in her view, to rule Hell, you must be willing to conquer. Why not force Dean to do unspeakable acts in his body?
Crowley, however, isn't quite at his full power. He's still experiencing after effects of his near cure---and a truth about him and nearly all demons is largely exposed. We see him hauled into the Bunker, a black hood obscuring his view and demonic handcuffs keeping him docile. He's truly been cut down to size in many ways here---and as he is placed into the Bunker dungeon, we see flashes of his biting wit. It's different, however. There's a defensive edge---and a truth that's never been there before. The brothers want names, and Crowley assumes it means that they'll torture him. He tells them, “Honestly boys, what are you going to do me that I don't do to myself just for kicks, every Friday night?”
From what we understand about Hell and its torture, we know that the worst fears and pains are inflicted upon the soul. It's what twists someone into a demon in the first place. For some, that can be physical agonies---as it was with Dean under Alistair. For others, it can be psychic or emotional, as we see Bobby tormented by seeing “his boys” as demonic monsters. Whatever our deepest pain is, Hell will use it to make a human soul into a demon. It's partially why demons lash out with bursts of violence when topside. They want to dish out what they have had done to them. It's why Dean got off the rack to torture others, after all. So, the question becomes, do demons truly relish the agony they inflict on victims---or are they just projecting their own pain to wash it away temporarily?
Knowing that they can't force Crowley to talk by using any of the torture techniques or tools at their disposal, the Winchesters decide to let Crowley do it for them. The brothers back out of the room, turn off the lights, and shut the door. Crowley is left alone to face the thoughts and feelings stirred up inside him from the failed Third Trial---and it turns out that underneath his cruel and vicious nature is a wounded and broken soul. There's nothing worse for Crowley than having to face what he's said and done in that Trial---and all the terrible deeds he's done. He must face the monster that he truly is---alone.
We can tell that these thoughts are eating at him most, however, when he catches Kevin in his web. Sure, he's poking at Kevin's psyche by bringing up his mother and what may or may not have been her fate---and that is extremely cruel---but it makes sense. Crowley does these things so he doesn't have to pick at his own scabs. He won't have to look in the mirror and see the real him. He prods Kevin viciously, telling him that the Winchesters don't care about him, that they're both prisoners---and then he goads the prophet into beating him. Physical pain is preferable to the psychic pain he's inflicting upon himself.
So, we're left with a question: just what makes up a demon? Are they “salesmen” or “conquerors?” Do they inflict pain on others because they enjoy it---or are they hiding from their own sins and hurts? Supernatural has raised a very thought provoking question underneath the horror story it tells---making it transcend genre here. It's one of its biggest strengths. Under the guise of fantasy, magic, and supernatural beings, we are being told about humanity's darker traits---and sometimes it makes us examine our own.
But Supernatural wisely also tells us about our better qualities and virtues, too. It tells us a story about family and devotion---of love and trust---of unbreakable bonds that tie us together. Supernatural shows us hope and forgiveness. It allows us to see the very best in us---and allows us to aspire to be more than we ever dreamed to be. It shows us what it means to be selfless. Most of all, it shows us how to be human and how beautiful that can be. This show endures mostly because it tells us a story about how choosing family conquers evil.
The Winchesters have little choice but to spring Abaddon's trap. They need to stop her---and save the hunters she's captured. And so, they head into danger. On the surface, it's a simple story---the Winchesters are hunting an evil demon threatening people. But underneath we see our human story told in various threads. The brothers arrive to find the victims tied up, and quickly test to make sure they're not decoys.
They don't have much time. It won't be long before Abaddon's demonic soldiers attack. We get to see Dean's genius—-this time in the form of a phone message decoy---while they slip out the back to regroup. They'll split into teams and take opposite directions to perhaps surround and flank the demonic enemy.
However, an old wound is brought up---targeting Sam. One of the hunters is angry with him. Her family was killed by demons after Lucifer was set free---and she blames him for it. On one hand, she has every right to hold this grudge. It's human, first of all. In her shoes, we'd feel the much the same way. If he hadn't let Lucifer out, her family might still be alive---and we need someone to blame and to be angry with. But she's also didn't know Sam's intentions or reasoning---nor did she take into account that he's just like her: human. He made a mistake---albeit a massive one---and he has done much to atone for it.
As the brothers each pair off with a hunter, Dean tells Tracy, “Sam's not the only guy who thought he was doing right and watched it all go to crap.” She instantly thinks that it applies to being a hunter, but Dean simply tells her gently, “human.” It's a profound moment---showing us just how far Dean's come, and the beautiful ability he possesses to forgive. It builds upon moments---such as the one at the end of “And Then There Were None,” where Dean wiped everyone's slate clean, declaring everyone, “all good.”
It's a fundamental lesson we must all learn not only in order to forgive ourselves but to forgive others around us, too. We're human---and that means we will make mistakes. Some of those mistakes will cause others pain. Some of those mistakes will wreak havoc. But it's part of being human. It's what we do after we mess up that counts. How do we respond to our failures? What actions do we take to make amends? And for the injured party: do we try to forgive and understand? Supernatural teaches us this lesson here in a graceful and subtle method---all through Dean himself.
And Sam sees someone in need of forgiveness in Irv. He blames himself for what has happened with Abaddon. He was tortured by the demon and he tells Sam, “I gave 'em up. Pete. Tracy. I gave 'em all up.” He tells Sam to let him go and use the angel blade in a suicide attempt to kill Abaddon while everyone else gets out. Sam can recognize Irv's agony. He's had the same pain himself. Unfortunately, he can't save Irv as a demon guns him down viciously, leaving Sam to fight alone. In some ways, Irv's death is a symbolic death of Sam's own guilt. He must let go of his own guilt and sins to move beyond them or he will end up the same way Irv has. As much as Dean is trying to teach Tracy to forgive Sam, Sam must learn the hardest lesson a human has to learn: to forgive ourselves.
And yet, Dean must do the very same thing. When he arrives after Ezekiel has saved Sam by revealing his angelic power, he tells the angel desperately, “Yeah, it’s just, this is all me. I was the one who talked Sam out of boarding up Hell. So every demon deal, every kill they make, you’re looking at the person who let it happen.” Dean has wrestled with this beast before---and yet Ezekiel, in the guise of Sam, tells him that “what you did you did out of love.”
To prove the angel right, Dean returns the favor to Sam, telling him about what happened with Lucifer, “That was then. Here's to now.” He is closing the book on the matter, proving what he said in that church is truth. He won't put the past ahead of Sam---and he truly forgives his brother completely. Love is what makes these two brothers so cherished and why Supernatural is the enduring show that it is. “Devil May Care,” has so many moments like these that emphasize why we watch each week and why we champion them against so many evils they've faced in the series.
The ability to forgive is only one element. Another is that of family. For the Winchesters, that is the only thing that matters. They must spring Abaddon's trap to save those they consider part of their family—even if they're not close. They're hunters and allies---and so they'll willingly walk into it to help. But really, they're fighting for their closest family. Kevin. Charlie. Garth. Castiel. And all those that they've lost along the way. Most of all, they are fighting for each other, as brothers.
After Crowley has rattled Kevin, the prophet has no desire to stay. He wants nothing more than to put the Bunker and the Winchesters behind him, to get out before it's too late. And yet Dean tells him flat out why he must stay. Kevin is convinced it's “Because I'm useful,” but Dean says, “Because you're family.” Bobby once said that “Family don't end in blood, boy,” and the Winchesters have adoped that credo completely.
Dean tells Kevin clearly here why he and Sam went out and fought Abaddon. It was to protect him, to protect the family they're building. Sam tells Dean, “I see friends and family.” Family is what gives them hope. It's what gives them ability to get up again when they've been knocked down again. Their vision of family is one we aspire to in our own lives---the close knitted and do anything for you type that will see you through thick and thin. That's the kind of family the Winchesters build---and it says a lot about a “horror” show.
But what makes the family element special is how Sam and Dean interact with one another in “Devil May Care.” They've embraced in many ways the “Sam&Dean” that they are, and it shows in how they interact with one another in beautiful ways. Sam and Dean are united on this hunt on every level. And it shows in the way Sam carries himself. While Ezekiel may be the angelic glue holding him physically together, there is a new confidence about the younger Winchester that has everything to do with his brother. Lucifer goaded Sam once, “---how odd you always felt, how... out of place in that... family of yours,” cutting deep into his sense of self. It hurt because in some ways Sam did feel out of place---as if he didn't truly belong.
Sam has spent his whole life craving his brother's acceptance and trust---and after failing Dean at the end of season 3, he has spent the rest of his time trying to make it up to his brother. Ever since the speech in the church, however, Sam knows that he truly has that acceptance and trust from Dean. It shows in how he carries himself, how he talks and walks and hunts---he's certain and strong---and he knows that if he needs to be buoyed a little Dean will lend a hand.
And Dean, in return, knows that his brother has his back. When he asks Sam if he's with him on going after Abaddon, Sam answers firmly, “You know it.” They will stand together, fight together, and build a stronger family together. Their bond is what makes us tune in every week. It's what makes us care deeply. We can see so clearly in their brotherly relationship the real heart of Supernatural beating: that of family and love. We saw it in every thing they did in “Devil May Care.”
Love. It is also another human trait that seems to give the Winchesters the upperhand over their supernatural adversaries. It's also what allows them to gather their family to them. It is these people that will give them the strength that they require to win.
It is also something the Abaddons of the world do not understand. To them, there are two people in the world: those who conquer and those who are conquered.
To the Winchesters, there is family and those that threaten family. To protect family, they'll do whatever it takes.
And really, isn't that the real story of Supernatural?
Alaina Huffman reprises the evil Abaddon with flair. She is vicious and cruel---and she easily stomps her way to to the top. Huffman makes it look fun, too. Between the witty banter, the subterfuge, and the glee in torturing her various victims from the demons she gathered to Dean, we can tell that the Knight is enjoying her stay topside. Abaddon is setting herself up as an alternative to Crowley---and that alternative is much more violent and frightening. Huffman brings Abaddon's wickedness to life in a way that makes us want to like her. She's interesting and intriguing, and it's largely due to her charisma on screen. Her facial expressions tell it all---from her smug delight in pinning Dean down, to the shock of an angel in vicinity to her disgust at the demons being afraid of the “salesman,” Crowley. Huffman's best scene was with Ackles as Abaddon tussles with Dean. She is cocky and cruel, presenting a horrifying future to Dean. Even though Abaddon is evil for the sake of evil, Huffman makes her fun and a delight on screen and her performance is reminiscent of demons from earlier seasons of the show---and with no easy way to stop Abaddon, it's a certainty we'll be seeing much more of Huffman in this season going forward.
Osric Chau continues to grow in the role of Kevin Tran. It's hard to imagine that he's the frightened rabbit we met in “Reading Is Fundamental,” running frantically from Sam. That element is there---especially when Sam and Dean return to the Bunker and Kevin fires his arrow or when he frantically explains what happened during the Fall---and it is most certainly there when Kevin realizes that Crowley is being hauled inside, but Chau shows us Kevin's steel the most in this performance. He shines best in his one on one scenes shared with Sheppard. Kevin is face to face with his tormentor, and Chau puts everything into this dramatic moment. He is resolved, angry, and wound tight. Chau tells Kevin's story through body language and vocal tone brilliantly, making us sympathize with Kevin's situation. But Chau's best scene comes with Ackles. He is beyond breaking, worn and frightened by what Crowley has said, and Kevin wants nothing more than to run. But Dean is there to stop him, and our hearts break when Chau delivers the line, “Because I'm useful.”---and Dean tells him that they need him because he's family. Chau's expression crumbles and Kevin realizes that he's really and truly a part of the Winchester family---no matter what Abaddon said. As the season goes forward, it'll be interesting to see how Kevin's relationship to the Winchesters continues to develop.
Mark Sheppard is nuanced and subtle in this performance of Crowley. His banter is familiar, yet we can tell its delivery has changed just so slightly. There's a defense mechanism element here, and Sheppard makes sure we can pick up on that in the way he says his dialogue---especially in the scenes he shares with Chau. Sheppard has great chemistry with Chau, and while Crowley is the one in chains, he easily taunts Kevin, maneuvering him just to where he wants him. In many ways, we can see Sheppard using this scene to show Crowley finding his footing and pulling back from the near cure---yet we can see underneath that he's still shaken by what has happened to him in the way he delivers this dialogue here. When we see Crowley left alone in the MOL Bunker Dungeon, Sheppard shines best. There is a look of horror and agony seen on his face---an expression not seen on Crowley's face before. There's an element of despair in that expression, as if the demonic mask that Crowley hides behind has been stripped away---and the man he may have once been is exposed to see. We can tell that the thoughts plaguing his mind are effecting him greatly here---and we see Sheppard shrink away from them by making himself smaller in the shackles. It's a powerful moment in his performance---and we as the viewer almost want to sympathize for the King of Hell---yet know we simply can't. As we go deeper into the season, it'll be interesting to see if Crowley reverts back to his former self or if he is more and more affected by his near cure.
Jensen Ackles gives us two Deans in this episode: the hopeful and guilty. On one hand, he is back in his element, on the road with his brother hunting evil and following through with the Family Business. Dean is on the case, going through the normal steps and routines as they investigate what is happening with demons and Abaddon. Ackles puts a lot into showing this side of Dean---getting us to laugh and fall into the routine right along with his character. He draws big laughs for being worried about the toxic waste and for quips like “The stink, the freak thunderstorms and every cow dead within a three miles? I'll take demons for a thousand Alex. ” He shines when we see Dean have to stop Kevin from leaving, and his line “Because you're family. After all the crap that we've been through, after all the good that we've done...Man if you don't think that we would die for you, I don't know what to tell you. Because you, me, Sam and Cas - we are all we've got,” is delivered with such love and confidence that we can almost feel that Ackles is summing up the show's heart with it. It is a touching moment that brings out the very best in Dean---showing him the hope that is there with him in the Bunker---Sam, Kevin, and the other family they have in the outside world. Ackles also shows us the guilty weight of keeping Ezekiel's possession of Sam secret in body language alone---when Sam tells him things are good for him, we see Ackles clench his fist tight, indicating that Dean wants badly to spill the beans, yet hide it enough so Sam should never suspect. It is heavy on him and yet we can tell this is different than secrets he's kept in the past just by the performance Ackles gives here. When we see Ezekiel confront Dean, we see the other Dean guilt come to the forefront. Ackles breaks our hearts when he delivers the lines “Yeah, it’s just, this is all me. I was the one who talked Sam out of boarding up Hell. So every demon deal, every kill they make, you’re looking at the person who let it happen.” Dean has always taken on more guilt than he deserves, and Ackles shows us how that wears on his character here, his expressions full of sadness and desperation. He is also a fish out of water with Sam not being present yet being present---and Ackles shows just how that effects Dean on a fundamental level. It is always jarring how the chemistry is different between Ackles and Padalecki when one or the other is playing a different version of their characters---or a totally separate character---and this scene is no different. It makes the scene between the brothers later on in the Bunker all the more cherished.
Jared Padalecki brings us his talent in two roles in this episode: Sam and Ezekiel---and both performances are brilliantly acted. As Sam, we see a rebirth and renewal in the Family Business. It is as if his last words in the premiere, “'Cause we've got work to do” has energized Sam beyond just Ezekiel healing him and we saw it all over Padalecki's portrayal of Sam here. He is hopeful and determined---and Padalecki shows all of Sam's steel when they are faced with Crowley or hunting the demons Abaddon has set for them to fight. He also shows Sam's subtle humor when when Dean is concerned about the toxic waste effecting certain parts of his anatomy. Padalecki has two best scenes---one as Sam and one as Ezekiel---his best one as Sam is back at the MOL Bunker, when he tells Dean, “I’m happy with my life for the first time in forever. I am. I really am. Things are good.” Padalecki makes sure we hear the happiness in Sam's voice and his expression softens to reflect that, too. There's such ease in his performance here across from Ackles. Often, we see the brothers discuss dramatic or tragic things to emotional effect, and here we see Sam talk about being happy. In his delivery, Padalecki puts a lot of hope into it, making us the viewer feel it, too. His best scene as Ezekiel is when Dean confronts him about what happened. His portrayal of Ezekiel is completely different than any version of Sam that Padalecki has ever played. There is an other-worldliness in this performance---and yet we can sense so many familiar human emotions in Ezekiel, too. He has compassion and understanding and love---making us want trust him all the more. There's an earnestness in him that matches well with the earnestness we see in Sam, and yet it is completely different. Padalecki also makes sure these two characters mirror one another well so we can see their distinct differences. When Sam is knocked out by the demon and in danger, and Ezekiel wakes up to defend him, he thrusts his arm out, palm open to push the demons away. It is a firm gesture full of intent. We see Sam, as he wakes in the same place later, hold the same arm up the same way to deflect Dean away---but Padalecki makes this version of the gesture reflexive and defensive. It is a clear delineation between the two characters---and yet the same actor gives them to us. It will be a fascinating journey going forward as we see Padalecki work with these two distinct characters throughout the season.
Best Lines of the Week:
Dean: Check the net for anything angel-y.
Sam: Or demon-y.
Dean: Or monster-y or ghost-y. It’s going to be a busy year.
Dean: For the record? Sam's not the only guy who thought he was doing right and watched it all go to crap. That's part of being-
Kevin: It's been a bad couple of days, I haven't slept, I haven't eaten... I’m pretty backed up.
Ezekiel: You were protecting your brother. I am in Sam’s head. Everything he knows, I know. And I know that what you did you did out of love.
It would seem that we'll just how becoming fully human has affected Castiel next week.