Blade Runners picks up the too long dormant Mark of Cain story thread and weaves it into the current unraveling of the bond between the brothers. Ross-Leming and Buckner also give us a good look at Crowley, allowing us to wonder both at his level of humanity and his capacity for the long con. Crowley is going to be very important to this arc in a way Sam and Dean haven’t yet realized. And I suspect it will be to their detriment.
The King of Hell opens the episode in rough shape, indulging in his addiction to human blood and human feelings. His minion, Lola, is taking advantage of his weakness and reporting everything she learns to Abbadon, including the search for the First Blade.
But she underestimates Crowley, who is not as off his game as she thinks. I’m not sure Crowley is as off his game as anyone thinks, especially Sam and Dean. Mark Sheppard has described his character as what happens when nobody is looking. I think Crowley is indeed fighting an addiction to human feelings and those feelings are impacting him in unexpected ways. Sheppard is doing a wonderful job showing those nuances in the demon.
But I also think Crowley has his eye on the prize and he’s finding ways to turn his weakness to his advantage. He spends a good deal of time asking Sam and Dean for support and trying to establish a connection between them because of the almost exorcism. The result is Sam and Dean both reacting in disgust at the idea and at Crowley’s condition, and that in turn means they are not taking Crowley seriously.
Dean should have already realized Crowley is far from out of the game when he learned the demon intended to lead other demons to Cain through John’s hunter friend. He was one step ahead of the boys there, which makes it less surprising to the audience he’s one step ahead of the boys in this episode. The question Sam and Dean should be asking is: what is Crowley’s goal?
However, Crowley is a master manipulator, so the boys are too busy telling him off to analyze him. It’s all shades of season four, when Ruby nudged Sam in all the wrong directions using a velvet glove. Crowley’s methods are different, but he’s leading Dean where he wants Dean to go, taking advantage of Dean’s emotional separation from Sam. Lola found out to her cost Crowley is far from losing his grip. Dean is soon going to find out the same.
Fortunately, I now believe that like season four, both brothers’ perception of how the other feels is inaccurate. Their bond is still there, and that bond is still their best defence against forces like Crowley and Abbadon.
The writers have been careful to show Sam’s fear of losing Dean in several episodes, despite his declaration he and Dean are just working partners, not brothers. Sam is no more able to turn off his feelings for Dean than vice versa. In this episode, he is in full brother mode as he snarls to the man he thinks is Cuthbert, “Take me to my brother.”
Dean is in snarl mode himself when Cuthbert threatens Sam. Both brothers are desperate to protect the other. How they end up doing so is key to the arc. Crowley lets Dean loose, and the elder Winchester takes up the First Blade without hesitation to defend Sam. The Blade’s cost begins to manifest as Dean is caught up in the feelings the blade evokes—feelings that are all about power and strength rather than morality.
The Blade mimics in many ways the feelings Sam got from demon blood which led him down his road of good intentions. Arrogance, pride, revenge – these were feelings that allowed Lucifer to manipulate Sam. And it was Dean’s voice of love that penetrated the red haze of anger Lucifer had cast over Sam.
The situation is reversed in “Blade Runners.” Dean is the one struggling with the attraction to violence and Sam’s voice pulls him back. I like the parallel, but I like even more that the story isn’t a straight parallel and the boys will have to do some growing to reach each other.
Sam has been very angry at the lengths Dean will go to save him, and that anger led him to say some very sweeping things about Dean’s motivations and Dean’s worth. Sam’s anger is justified, but I think he’s also taking for granted he’ll be able to work things through with his brother precisely because Dean has always been focused on him. Dean has stood in loco parentis for his brother far too often for that not to impact their relationship.
What Sam wants to work out with Dean is his feeling Dean doesn’t see him as a capable adult, a full partner. He wants to know Dean trusts his judgement and he wants Dean to acknowledge the logical result of that trust is that he can let Sam go if that’s truly Sam’s choice.
These are reasonable goals. However, just as Dean did not communicate that trust to Sam in the church, Sam did not communicate his enduring love for his brother in his talks with him. I don’t mean to say Sam doesn’t feel the love, just that his words didn’t convey the complexity of what he feels for his brother.
I think Sam is now fully aware of that complexity, as he still feels the need for Dean to acknowledge his actions hurt Sam, but at the same time he feels Dean slipping through his fingers in a way Sam does not want. Sam knows all too well the seductive pull of power, and this episode opened his eyes to the danger of the Mark of Cain.
In a way, it’s been odd it’s taken Sam this long to eye the Mark suspiciously. But perhaps it’s not so odd when his feelings about Dean are factored in. When Sam finds out about the Mark, he is focused on his anger at Dean, and not entirely clear on whether he’s most angry at the possession, Dean’s lies about the possession, Dean choosing to leave him rather than listen to him or Dean replacing him with Crowley of all people as a partner. Sam’s got so much on his plate, the Mark doesn’t grab his attention as it normally would, and that in a nutshell shows that breaking the bond is not a source of strength for these two.
The Mark I think is now firmly on Sam’s radar as something to worry about. I think it is on Dean’s radar, too, but he’s having to fight this battle on the inside and he no longer feels his tie to Sam is his anchor. Dean has never before really thought his bond with Sam was severed, not even in “Swan Song” when Lucifer looked out of Sam’s eyes.
This time, it’s different. It’s not outside forces breaking the boys apart; it’s their own relationship issues. Dean knows why he can’t accept Sam losing hope and deciding to die, and he knows he doesn’t feel sorry for saving him. But at the same time he knows why Sam finds the idea of possession so horrific, and he knows he shouldn’t have allowed his lies to his brother to stand. Dean has never been good at verbal communication; he shows his feelings with actions. Sam needs to hear something Dean doesn’t yet know how to say, and Dean needs to see Sam show him his love in a way Sam isn’t used to doing. The result of all this non-communication is Dean losing himself in a way neither he nor Sam want.
Crowley is using the space between the brothers to ooze in and use Sam and Dean for his own purposes. He’s been upfront that he wants Dean to help him with his succession issues by killing Abaddon. But he hasn’t been so upfront with all that he knows about the Knights of Hell and the impact of the Blade. I think he has plans for Dean past killing Abaddon.
Given Cain’s story, I think it’s very possible using the Blade will push Dean toward turning into a demon, something he’s been afraid of since season three. If Crowley can find a way to control Dean as a Knight of Hell, he will be much more powerful than he was before the rebellion. Cuthbert had the same goal and realized Sam was the key. But as Dean gets closer to Knighthood, will that continue to be the case? Or does Crowley have another means of control in mind?
I think Sam is going to realize he is the key to a lot of plans, and he’d better try to take control of the impact he has on Dean before he loses his brother completely. The love Dean has for Sam has always been messy, but then love *is* messy.
Dean’s boundary issues with Sam hurt Sam, and Sam’s response hurt Dean. The part of love that makes us vulnerable is the way we fear to lose it and the way it lets us know our partner’s weak areas. But love also lets us feel truly known, flaws and all. I think Sam is going to decide messy love is worth fighting for—and that fight will in the end clear up some of the mess for both brothers.
Photos courtesy of homeofthenutty.com