Supernatural’s “King of the Damned” was one of writing duo Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner’s better efforts. The episode was still plagued with unnecessary continuity errors and handled fan commentary with a good deal less finesse than Ben Edlund, but we finally got some real movement forward. RIP, Abbadon.
I’ll start with the parts I thought were weak, so I can end with the strength of the episode. The writers did a good job calling back to previous episodes, with Crowley mentioning how callously he treated his son in season six. Unfortunately, the reference makes it all the more baffling Dean has no memory of Gavin, even though Bobby and Rufus conjured his ghost in “Weekend at Bobby’s.” Are we supposed to think Bobby never told Sam and Dean what he learned about Crowley? Why?
It remains to be seen whether Crowley’s decision to save his son and thus disrupt the events of “Weekend at Bobby’s” is a deliberate plot point which will have ramifications in the story. I hope so. Sam and Dean make a big point of mentioning the butterfly effect, so I’m willing to wait and see on this one. If it’s deliberate, the option to rewrite major events since season 6 is intriguing but fraught with peril. It would have to be incredibly well done in service of an amazing arc to be worth the disruption to the narrative.
Meta commentary about fans is another device which needs to be handled very carefully—if at all. Supernatural has discussed its fans in the past, with varying degrees of success from the fan viewpoint. I loved Ben Edlund’s fond recreations of fandom, both because they were fond and because he didn’t so much engage as wave hi. I also loved the way Kripke explored the author as God and the way he used that to say a fond farewell to his story.
But I didn’t enjoy “Time for a Wedding” and the way Becky morphed from an intentionally exaggerated avatar to a more realistic depiction of obsession and dysfunction, with the embedded commentary on superfans as losers. At that point, the show is not just waving hi. It’s delivering a monologue. Once that door opened, fans insisted on having a conversation, not a monologue, which then, in my opinion, has further morphed into soapboxes. Fans are shouting at the show, and apparently they’re being heard, because the show is shouting back.
I understand why people involved with the show want to remind fans they are not personally involved with either the creative team or the actors. I know there are viewers who need to remember boundaries. But by the same token, so does the show, which at this point disposes of the fourth wall at will. If fans need to remember the narrative wall, so do the creators. The relationship between fan and show is a sensitive subject, one well worth exploring, but it takes a very fine hand to do it in the narrative in an even handed and satisfying way. Ross-Leming and Buckner don’t have that level of delicacy.
However, they do handle other aspects of the script very well. It’s fascinating watching Crowley struggle with having humanity, while Dean loses his, step by step. Sam is finally voicing his concern about the impact of the Blade, which seems to function much like the ring in Lord of the Rings. The temptation to wield it is huge, but every use corrupts the soul. Dean is being taken over by the power of the Blade, which now answers his call—while calling to him, seductively, every time Dean puts it down. He allows Sam to hold the weapon when Sam insists, but Dean grabs it defiantly at the first opportunity. Sam’s voice is now harder to hear over the siren call of Cain’s Blade.
And that doesn’t bode well for Dean. Sam tells his brother in the final scene he’s worried that the Blade is doing something to his brother, changing him. He’s watched Dean’s ruthlessness get amplified to the point his loving qualities are being driven underground. Dean is addicted to the power of the weapon and to the sense of clarity it gives him.
That clarity is a respite to the elder Winchester, who has always struggled with a fierce drive to hunt complicated with an equally fierce sense of love. Dean has always felt the tension between duty and love, and this season that tension stretched to the point of snapping—at least in Dean’s mind. He hasn’t been able to resolve his knowledge he violated Sam’s autonomy with his inability to accept outliving a brother who in some ways functions as a son. The Blade quietens the noise of this inner argument, and Dean welcomes the calm.
Sam is aware something is changing in Dean, and he’s increasingly sure it’s not a good shift. Sam is still angry at Dean’s willingness to subject him to possession, and he wants his brother to acknowledge his love for Sam does not justify overriding Sam’s own needs. But he’s not happy when he realizes Dean priorized killing Abbadon over working with him. It’s not that Dean has no care for Sam—he cuts Sam out of the action in case he has to stand down because Sam may be in danger. But Dean’s emphasis is more on the impact that would have on his goal rather than the impact that would have on Sam.
Dean is showing some of the changes Sam has asked for in the last couple of seasons. He told Dean he should think of hunting alone in season eight, and that he should put duty before family this season. However, Sam knows there is something very wrong with this version of his brother. Dean’s protective love has been a driving force in his personality since he ran out of his burning home with Sam in his arms. That primal event led to constantly negotiated boundary issues with his brother, with particularly hurtful consequences this year. I believe Sam is now realizing there are worse things, and Dean may be turning into one of them.
The last line of the episode is very simple: “No.” That "no" sums up Dean’s headspace right now. He is less and less able to hear Sam and more and more willing to listen to the Blade. I think Dean is headed down a dark road, and he’ll get a long way down before Sam finds a way to reach him.
The journey will be important, though, as Dean heads down a path Sam walked before him. I think the only thing that will save Dean will be his bond with Sam—and that bond needs mutual understanding and forgiveness to give it the strength to withstand the dark side of both their natures.
Crowley and Cas also get some meaty exploration. The King of Hell gets a taste of family when Abbadon plucks Gavin from the past to use as leverage against her competitor. Amazingly, her plan works. Crowley hasn’t been able to shake his attraction to human feelings since Sam almost cured him, and he finds he actually is fond of his charming if clueless offspring.
Crowley’s faith in Dean’s power pays off when Dean is able to use the Blade to kill Abbadon. Whether Dean’s demonic abilities are exactly what Crowley hoped to see or whether he sees them as a possible threat is not yet clear. It is clear he is still motivated by the kind of love Dean is finding hard to access. Which one will end up more demonic is a question – and possibly a matter of succession. The title of the episode is foreshadowing.
Castiel has his own leadership issues as he accepts the role the other angels have given him. The mantle doesn’t sit easily on his shoulders. He wants to avoid conflict, but asks Dean to torture on his behalf. The disparity between Castiel’s viewpoint as an angel and the Winchesters’ is made clear when Cas asks Sam about Gadreel.
Sam admits he never felt in danger from the angel and that Gadreel felt misunderstood more than anything. However, for Sam, that is cancelled out by Gadreel’s murder of Kevin. For Cas, the case isn’t so simple. He can understand Gadreel’s motivations, including killing Kevin, because he knows all about the need for redemption. He meets with Gadreel to offer him a better route to that redemption, as the two of them can work together to defeat Metatron and heal heaven.
Gadreel shows he and Castiel share many traits. Both of them value honour and truth. Both care about their missions and their ultimate purpose. And both feel a need to redeem themselves for past mistakes. I’m not sure how I will end up feeling about Gadreel, but I think it’s always a good idea to round out the antagonists’ characters.
The writers will have to be careful how they handle Gadreel’s story, because of the impact on Sam’s. I don’t think anything is black or white in the possession scenario. Everyone was trying to do the best they could with what they knew at the time. But Sam was hurt in a terrible violation, and that can’t get lost in a redemption arc for Gadreel. The idea of different perceptions of the same act, however, has been in play since season 8. I hope it leads to a satisfying pay off.
Photos courtesy of Homeofthenutty.com