Reading the reactions to “The Things We Left Behind” has been very interesting. Alice very eloquently presented the reasons why the show completely failed, not only as a mid-season finale, but even as a filler episode in this series. I couldn't disagree with a single argument she made, yet I also understand the viewpoints of viewers who loved the family theme of the story and were shocked by the last two minutes.
I didn’t have a passionate response to this episode, either positively or negatively. From that standpoint, it failed me because I like being on the edge of my seat through an episode that is supposed to showcase a series. I also didn’t think this episode compared well to other series’ finales that hit a homerun (Arrow, for example). The mere fact that so many people were disappointed by this highly anticipated episode says something. It should have been one of the season’s best episodes, not one that generated such an evenly split debate about its merits. Supernatural is more than capable of generating shows that are a resounding success, as most recently exemplified by “Fan Fiction”.
Still, while “The Things We Left Behind” wasn’t an intense episode from beginning to end, I enjoyed it. It was a good story that was well acted, and there can be no doubt that it set up the plots for the second part of the season, which is the ultimate objective of a mid-season finale. It previewed that Dean is in real trouble in his battle with the Mark of Cain, that Castiel will spend some time helping Claire, and that Crowley and his mother will be playing mind games with each other, probably in a power struggle for the throne of Hell (this last plot is particularly odd since Rowena hates demons. She’s a survivor, though, so opportunity over bigotry I guess). The MoC has a lot of potential for action, dilemma, tragedy and triumph. I’m on board with that. It’s exciting and unpredictable. While Dean will certainly be rid of the Mark by the end of the year, how that is going to happen while still avoiding the demon dead-end that he hit before isn’t obvious, so there’s tension at every turn. Cain has to be involved somehow. That plot line is interesting, and worthy of the lead characters (IF they are both equally involved).
It is hard to imagine what can possibly happen in the other two plots that would take 14 episodes to unfold, however. How much can really happen with Claire, and so far, Rowena and Crowley aren’t a threat to each other or to our heroes, so where is the tension in those plots? Family reunions? Still, two-thirds of the season is ahead of us so there is ample time to develop intriguing twists in all of the season’s themes. I enjoy these characters so I’m curious what journeys lie ahead for them. So let’s pause and look at where the mid-season finale left all the main themes of the season.
The opening scene of Dean's nightmare foreshadowed a massacre induced by the Mark of Cain. It was dually interesting, though, in that it showed Dean sleeping! I believe that was the first time in either season 9 or 10 that we have seen the MoC!Dean asleep! His insomnia was emphasized last year, so we have to conclude that he could have slept the first time the Mark took him over but his repeated late nights were meant to highlight either that his body was so pumped up on adrenaline that he couldn’t fall asleep, or that his rage and violent thoughts wouldn’t allow him to gear down.
Dean also seemed to be eating a great deal this episode. He ate both his and Castiel’s burgers and fries, the grilled cheese sandwich, and the hotdog at the Weiner Hut. He seemed to be burning through the calories but that doesn’t negate the appearance of gluttony. Talking with his mouth full of both the cheese sandwich and the hamburger (although he has done that often enough) might have been done to additionally emphasize the eating. His ravenous hunger would also explain something that seemed a little odd. In front of Sharkie’s, Sam suggested that he and Dean “go ask around at the group home”. Dean was very definitive, though, that he wanted to stay at the restaurant with Cas. I believe he did that because he needed to eat again. Sam also specifically noticed Dean was eating again when he saw him with the hotdog. Is it possible that Dean is trying to self-medicate? By that I mean he is seeking ways to satisfy himself without giving into the addiction to violence that the Mark wants him to pursue? In addition to gluttony, in “Girls Girls Girls”, Dean pursued a different deadly sin – lust. He is also distracting himself with other leisure interests, like The Three Stooges.
Recovering addicts often substitute gratifications to feed the pleasure centers of their brain and distract them from their primary craving. Ex-smokers often substitute munchies for cigarettes, for example. Season 9 obviously presented Dean (and Crowley’s) addiction, so perhaps season 10 is introducing coping mechanisms for an addict desperately trying to not return to the well.
Despite his attempts to resist the violence, though, the Mark clearly succeeded in pushing Dean to ruthlessly kill when he was threatened. He was also in danger when captured by the vampires in the last episode, but he said he felt he was making his own choices about his lethal response. This week he admitted that he lost control. Yes, he had been attacked, but he slaughtered humans. He was completely capable of surviving by defeating instead of eliminating the threat. After all, it would not have been long before both Sam and Cas returned to the scene to back him up.
Dean said, “I didn’t mean to.” He knew afterward that the Mark had won that round. Since the Mark’s influence on him is now obvious, I went back over the entire set of season 10 episodes and reviewed Crowley's expositions about the Mark’s power. In the season premiere, “Black”, we heard that ambiguous conversation that confused us about the ultimate effect of the Mark on Dean,
Crowley: “The Mark needs to be sated, otherwise…”
Dean: “…otherwise I turn into a demon. Yeah, yeah. Sort of got that 6 weeks ago.”
Crowley and Dean had this conversation when Dean was killing with the Blade. If our conclusions after 10.02 were correct about the differences between the effects of the Mark and the Blade, the Mark was pushing Dean to murder but it was the Blade’s power that was killing human Dean (the blade’s power can be absorbed by a demon’s body but not by a human body). Here is that conversation again, clarified:
Crowley: “The Mark needs to be sated, otherwise…”
Dean: “…otherwise [the withdrawal from the Blade’s drug will kill me. Once dead,] I turn into a demon.”
How did I not understand this at the time?? I elaborately explored how not sating the mark would turn Dean into a demon, yet it is clear now. Dean can only become a demon after he is dead. Not killing meant withdrawal from the Blade’s drug. Withdrawal would lead to Dean’s death. With his soul corrupted, death meant he turned into a demon.
In the following conversation between Crowley and Dean in 10.02 “Reichenbach”, Crowley clarified further:
Crowley: "The fact is you need to kill now. Not want to, not choose to - need to…..Do you want to spike a civilian or someone who has it coming?"
The Mark pushes (to use Dean’s word) its bearer to kill continuously. The Blade addicts the bearer to the high that results from murder. At the beginning of the season, DemonDean was still using the Blade. Once he was captured by Sam, though, Crowley took the Blade, so this time around MoC Dean is being pushed to kill but isn’t physically addicted to the lethal infusion from the Blade. If he can resist the temptation, or the “push” to kill, he may believe he can survive indefinitely while still bearing the Mark. That might be his current game plan. He may be trying to outwit the Mark and save his soul by distracting himself with other pleasures and biding his time with pure stubbornness and strength of will.
In his conversation with Castiel in the diner, Dean said:
Dean: “If I do go darkside, you gotta take me out”
Dean always has a Plan B. If Dean loses his battle with the Mark, he is asking to be killed before (or after) becoming a demon. His plea that Castiel smite him is a direct reference to how an angel can kill a demon.
So it seems we need to slightly correct the attributes of the Mark that we created after “Reichenbach”:
As a human, the Mark:
1. Drives the bearer to kill
2. Each kill corrupts the soul a little at a time, making the bearer lose their humanity. If they become a slave to the mark (lose their conscience and their will to choose mercy over murder, i.e. become evil), they turn into a demon upon their death
3. Strengthens fighting skills superior to humans
As a demon, the Mark:
4. Strengthens fighting skills superior to all other demons
5. Makes it bearer virtually immortal, impervious to normal demon killing methods
What do you think? These new theories fit all the information we’ve been given so far in both season 9 and 10! Did I get it right this time?
Monsters…and Their Families
Claire thought of Randy as family. We were shown her sitting at their dinner table to sharply contrast what “family” meant to them versus the caring meal provided by Sam to Dean, that Dean and Castiel shared, or even the personal, happy stories shared by TeamFreeWill over a drink. When things got rough, though, Randy betrayed Claire to save his own skin. The loan shark was also despicable when he “bought” and attacked a young girl. Both stories continued the exploration of how humans can become monsters through their own behavior. Dean ended up killing all these “monsters” but we are still left with the ethical dilemma of whether his actions were justified.
Another primary theme this season is whether a family’s love can save someone from the supernatural. Sam’s extraordinary measures beat all the odds, cured the “monster” in Dean and restored Dean’s humanity. None of the other monster stories this season have ended so happily. Kate/Tasha, Bunny/Olivia and Lester/Starr, were all examples of families trying to save their loved ones, but the supernatural corruption was just too strong. In the parallel plotline, Crowley is the “monster”, but I suspect we are going to see that his family’s dedication to him isn’t altruistic and won’t finish the job of restoring his humanity. The question that is obviously being teased, contrasted and foreshadowed this season is whether the love of family can pull Dean back from the brink of evil a second time.
Season 10 is also examining the damage that the supernatural does to individuals and whether the love of a family can repair people after they have been ravaged by the supernatural. Joe/Caroline, Jody/Alex, Castiel/Claire, and Cole and his family are all examples of the healing that must take place both within the individual and within the family.
Both Sam and Dean need to find healing after they themselves were turned into supernatural creatures. Alex briefly became a vampire, as did Dean years ago. Caroline and Claire were briefly possessed by an angel, as was Sam. The parallel stories are powerful. In any case, Sam and Dean both have to find their own internal healing from their most recent ordeals. Can they heal each other while healing themselves? Sam and Dean are masterfully the intersection of both of these family themes.
When Castiel first saw Claire in this episode, she asked why he returned:
Cas: “I came here to help you.”
Cas: “Because I’ve hurt you so much….Claire, I’m sorry, and I can never replace what I took from you.”
Cas is taking responsibility for his actions. He is seeking redemption before the death that he expects awaits him. This may be a rather subtle redemption thread, but Cas is clearly trying to make right any damage he caused on Earth before he dies. He sought to return the rogue angels to Heaven, because he feels responsible for their presence on Earth. They belong in Heaven, not interfering in humans’ affairs so he took on his “mission” to find and return them all.
Now he is trying to rectify Claire’s broken life. Not unlike a terminal patient, he is trying to make amends before his time on Earth is over.
As I was considering his actions, and the title of this episode, an extremely unsettling thought occurred to me. The writers of the show seem to be doing the same thing as Castiel, i.e. they seem to be tying up all the loose end of things they’ve left behind. Bringing closure to Claire, who was left dangling in the series’ plot line years ago; letting us know that Alex is with Jody; and showing us Kate’s fate after her decision to wander. Castiel still has to resolve Heaven and the veil so Kevin’s story may yet be put to rest. Is it possible that the writers really don’t know how much longer the show will be aired so they want to bring closure to as many plot holes as possible before the series ends? This is the last year of everyone’s three year contracts and the new contracts have not yet been signed. Several key people have hinted at conventions that they may move on, plus we know that Jeremy Carver is writing a pilot for another network. Are they trying to clear the deck of all the old baggage just in case they have only a short time (say one year) more in the series? It certainly looks like that could be the case. Don’t get me wrong. The show has all the network and fan support it needs to keep going for several years yet, but without signed contracts, nothing is for certain. (Now that I’ve scared the tar out of everyone, let’s look at the rest of the themes!)
The story…vs the Truth
This episode again explored the stories we tell versus the truth. Cas tried so hard to not lie to the group home administrator. He “fights certainly deadly threats to humanity” as an exterminator! Every word of that was true! She didn't believe him, though, saying "I don't do well with liars, Mr. Novak", which specifically called attention to his truth versus what she perceived to be the real truth. Castiel also called Dean out on trying to cover up his pain.
Cas: "How are you, Dean?"
Dean: "Fine. I'm great."
Cas: "No, you're not."
It's about time someone demanded the truth, even though it was obvious and difficult to accept. Dean's melt down at the end of the story revealed the truth to everyone, though, in no uncertain terms. Maybe now the brothers will work together to solve their problems.
Crowley and Hell
How many people realized that the dungeon and the throne room are on Earth, not in Hell?
The demon locked away beside Rowena said,
"I’m here because I shouldn’t be here. ..Crowley only lets certain demons to come earth-side”
She said she shouldn’t be here, on Earth. Then she said only certain demons are allowed to come Earth side, not to go Earth side. Her specific choice of words finally clued me into the dungeon and the adjacent throne room being somewhere on Earth.
The more mundane location may appease those who thought the depiction of the supposed center of Hell was cheesy and inadequate. It is completely acceptable as an abandoned warehouse! I’m not sure if that was clear before and I just didn’t pick up on it or if this dialog (and the daylight. Duh) clarified the matter for the first time. Did you all know this before me? How many also think that the cellmate was put there as a spy for Crowley, to test the deviousness of his mother? That would be just like him.
Other than this big revelation for me, Crowley and his mum are now united. How much more of their family tree will reappear? When Crowley said that he “had a family”, I wondered if he was thinking about his son. Wouldn’t that be an interesting reunion? Person who is supposed to be dead and is living out of time meets grandmamma. I suspect Doctor Who time paradoxes!
- The scene where Sam brought Dean the grilled cheese sandwich reminded me of when Sam was sick from the trials and Dean made and brought him his meals in the library. They take turns caring for each other. Awww.
Dean eyeing Castiel’s food…at Sharkey’s! The WFB Location Hunting group eating at Sharkey’s!
- The restaurant featured in this week’s episode was Sharkey’s. During the WFB staff’s recent location hunting trip to Vancouver, we all ate in Sharkey’s! We sat at the long table shown behind and to the right of Dean and Cas. The chairs, banister, walls and bar are all the same! Add some blue tablecloths and wood panels to cut down window size and we could have been there with them! Farawayeyes promised to include more pictures in her review!
- We got a definitive answer about Jimmy Novak, finally! We carried forward that dangling thread all through season 9! It’s nice to be able to put that to rest! I appreciated the nod to continuity in the explanation that Jimmy’s body (occupied by Castiel) was “ripped apart on a subatomic level” by an archangel, that Jimmy’s soul couldn’t survive that and that Jimmy is at peace in Heaven.
- I did not find any references to other major themes of season 10, namely:
· Let Me Go/ Let it Go
· Heaven – opening its gates, the fate of the veil, and the ultimate purpose of Castiel’s grace
· “You were right”
Let me know if you saw anything that I missed on these themes!
Overall, I am content with “The Things We Left Behind”. It wove several themes into its stories and set up the rest of the season. It may not have been a barn-stormer to some fans, but we don’t yet know how it will fit in with the rest of the season. I’m willing to wait and see.
What is your mid-season assessment of themes this year? Did I miss any?
Screencaps courtesy of www.screencapped.net.