This episode certainly bookended itself with intensity. The gooey centre was all about family drama, be it demonic or angelic. I liked this episode for a number of reasons. Though it did lack in a few spots, overall as a mid-season finale it hit all the right marks. Since it left me in an emotionally overwhelmed mess by the end with unanswered questions that won't be addressed for several weeks, I’d say the job was done successfully.

Daddy Issues

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Claire Novak – how far she’s come. So different from the sweet child we met all those years ago. Gone is the innocent, cherubic (no pun intended) face and in her place is an angry, shoplifting teenager raging against everything and anyone. I enjoyed this Claire – it makes sense that she would be in such a state, given the implosion that her life suffered after Castiel and Jimmy wandered away. It even, in a way, makes sense that her mother would be so rocked by what took place that she couldn’t handle her life and left Claire in the care of another family member. When reality is shattered that much, well, it’s a lot to process. Not sure what my reaction would be if an angel possessed my husband, then my child, then some demons got involved, then my husband was taken again. It’s quite a complicated mess of things.

I admit I expected the group home coordinator to be some kind of demon or front for something supernatural, though I’m glad it didn’t end up that more predictable route. She was a legitimately caring woman concerned for Claire’s wellbeing. Randy, on the other hand….

Poor Castiel – he was trying so hard to make it up to Claire, and really there was no way this situation was going to end well. Jimmy is dead (at least we have confirmation now) and Claire isn’t wrong in saying Castiel’s possession started her family on this path. I can’t say it’s Castiel’s fault entirely, just one domino which started the procession of the others. [Claire’s mother made her own choices really – she did have a child to whom she owed a responsibility, regardless of Jimmy. I digress]. Cas was very sweet with Claire, despite her attitude and thievery. He certainly has come a long way from their initial meeting.

Randy’s Kids

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This guy was creepy from start to finish, from his house to glasses to the way he talked to the kids. How on earth Claire got mixed up with him I am really curious. She’s smart enough to know better, I would think – I guess because she was searching for a dad the idea was he filled the void, but he really did have that slimy bad-guy vibe oozing out of him a little too readily. This is one, small part I had trouble with because Claire was such clever character in other respects: how easily she was convinced to go from pick pocketing to armed robbery. I thought maybe if the gun didn’t have bullets, it would have been a tad more believable, but it was fully loaded.

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It’s a small nitpick, and I suppose the idea from the group home director talking with Sam is that Claire had a long history with Randy, time to build trust and family-esque environment. Nevertheless, it was a bit of a jump, given Claire’s intelligence and craftiness previously demonstrated.

Mother and Son: Hellish Reunion

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Crowley and Rowena were a brief flash in this week’s episode. Not much to discuss but quite a tease for the future. I have only two thoughts on this really. The first is that Rowena’s lying and betrayal of Crowley seemed a given from the moment that other demon was brought into her cell. Secondly, Crowley is too smart and manipulative not to know better. Especially given that he seems to know his mother very well. I can’t imagine he’d just casually put another demon in the same cell with her and then trust words out of her mouth. Crowley has something bigger in mind – Rowena doesn’t know who she’s messing with.

One other thought – when Crowley said he had a family, who was he referring to? It could be this was said to give mumsy an opening for manipulation, or it could be he was referring to his deceased family. But maybe, he meant his former BFF?

Confronting Castiel

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The anger Claire showed towards Cas, as I said, was legit and I really felt bad for her. She was so, so sad underneath everything. It would have been difficult to see a man who looked like her father and, more or less, who was responsible for her father’s death, talking to you but wasn’t your father. It was also interesting that when Castiel apologized, she kept refusing his apology and insisting he wasn’t sorry, he was guilty. This is a unique clarification – and likely accurate. Castiel wouldn’t undo what he’s done, because all things considered, he still needed a vessel and it’s what had to be done. But he does regret the hurt it caused along the way.

What I really enjoyed about Castiel and Claire, and this is carry-over from last week, is the hardcore, close up look at the damage done not only to the vessels, but to the lives that are left behind, especially in the long term like with Jimmy Novak. The angels ask permission for possession and it’s pitched as Heavenly work to be done, so it sounds really great. However, it lays waste to a lot of lives in the process, even if the angel does intend to do good with the vessel, like Cas, and not evil, like, say, Uriel. Demons don’t ask, they hijack, so angels, who ask permission, sound better by comparison, but given the end result, is it that much better?

Sam Winchester: The Observer

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Sam didn’t say much throughout this episode, but he certainly observed a lot. He noticed Dean’s Mark standing out sharply over lunch. He noticed the lackadaisical attitude Dean had at Wiener Hut while Cas “interrogated” the boy about Claire’s location. Overall, he kept a sharp eye on Dean and seemed not sure where things stood while he was doing it. His enjoyment at Dean’s enjoyment of lunch and TV was muted by well-hidden concern of the MoC – and he continued to offer questioning looks at Dean’s behaviour leading up to the end. The shoe was hanging in the air, and Sam was waiting for it drop – and drop it did.

Dean the Dreamer

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To start this episode is a mute-coloured, bloody dream of a hazy Dean post-slaughter in a room of dead bodies from which he awakes, gasping and horrified. Well, it certainly got my heart pumping and sent a shiver down my spine. As omens go, this does not bode well. By the time Dean and Cas get to the conversation in the diner, where Cas keenly and bluntly calls Dean out on not being okay, I’m pretty tense and wanted to hug Cas for *finally* saying something.

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This is a great moment in the diner because there is an easy friendship between the angel and the hunter. For example – Dean switching his empty plate with Cas’ burger, or Cas’ softening expression when he tells Dean he knows he’s not okay. Dean sets it up so Sam is away, and he knows that’s how it has to be, knows Sam cannot be a part of this request. Interestingly, with the exception of the self-denial or underplaying what is happening with Mark to themselves and each other, this is the first “secret” between the boys all season, if you would consider it to be that.

This conversation is sad, matter-of-fact and concise: Cas needs to end Dean if he starts to go off the rails, no matter what Sam says or does. Please do this for Dean because he can’t live with going there again. We don’t actually see Castiel promise anything, so I wonder if he said yes or if Dean just inferred it. Also, he must realize he’s asking his friend to kill him – that’s a hard request to make of Castiel. Later, when Castiel is ushering Claire away from the slaughter Dean created, there is a moment where he looks it over and his face is somewhere between saddened and shock. I can’t help but think he’s remembering his conversation in the diner and what Dean asked him to do.

Mark of Cain: Take Two

Rescuing Claire before Pervy McRaperson followed through on that “good deal” was a given. It’s always awesome to watch human bad guys get their asses kicked by an angel. It was even better to watch feisty little Claire save herself. Yes, Cas helped with the door, but she beat him up pretty good. On the other hand, he and his minions should have let it end there. If only they knew what was good for them.

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When the door slammed and Dean was kneeling on the floor, his head bleeding and those flashbacks began – my heart stopped and my stomach clenched. Here we go. This was so powerful – watching Sam realize Dean wasn’t with them in the same instant he hears the noise from the house and he dashes back – in slow motion, oh sweet mother of mercy. It’s making be nervous just typing about it and I know how it ends now.

The final moments of this episode were so incredibly intense it’s difficult to name the emotions they inspired. Watching Sam and Dean in that final scene was heart-clenching and devastating and, in a rare showing, left me glassy-eyed, struggling to process what I was watching. Sam dropping his gun, kneeling in front of his brother and cupping his face, urgently asking a glazed-eyed Dean to tell him he had to do it goes down on my top ten emotional Supernatural moments list.

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There was something incredibly potent about this exchange.  Sam was begging Dean to tell him he wasn’t  going to become a demon again, that he was still the same guy who laughed so fully and heartily at the Three Stooges and enjoyed a simple grilled cheese with enthusiasm. But he also knows that isn’t the answer he’s going to get – Sam knew this was coming and now the storm has arrived.

Dean answers Sam’s question like a shamed boy, “I did. I didn’t mean to.” When Sam then insists, “Tell me it was them or you!” Dean looks away, can’t meet his eyes. He doesn’t even seem to come back to reality until Claire screams. Dean doesn’t really know what is happening, his fear is realized and he’s aghast, doesn’t want to be this dark being, and can’t do this again. Wants the truth to be that he had to kill them, but doesn’t know if that’s the reality anymore.

This whole ending is very well filmed, and such an interesting, teasing choice not letting us really know what went on in the house with Dean during the fight. We can’t really say whether it was him or them, how much was the Mark or not. Either way, one thing is fundamentally clear: the Mark must go.

Final Thoughts

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Well, coherent thinking is a bit of a struggle. I keep replaying the last minute over and over in my mind. There were a few issues with the episode, as mentioned above, (one more thing – why didn’t Cas go find Claire’s mother?)  but overall I enjoyed it and that last scene was too good not to appreciate the artistry and emotional rawness from top to bottom. The New Year is certain to bring about intensity, adventure, angst and mystery. I can’t imagine where Sam and Dean can go from here, but I look forward to being there with them.
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