From the title alone, there was no doubt this was going to be a powerful episode. Throw in an appearance by Cain and everything is fully primed for one of those emotionally overwhelming game-changers that will be talked about for months to come. For the most part, this did the job – with just few, teeny, tiny nitpicks….well, let’s see.
Cain: Dark and Devastating

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Timothy Omundson pulled no punches this time around, playing an even more intense Cain – this time, determined to wipe out/correct his genetics via mass murder. The opening of the episode was perfectly suited for the introduction of the character's newer, darker incarnation: the flickering lights, the purposeful stride down the hall and the silhouette of it all caught briefly against the security camera monitors. Cain was twisted and incredible. He was a frightening depiction of what maybe awaits Dean at the end of this journey. What was just right about this was that he wasn’t overdosing on crazy – there wasn’t a sense of unorganized madness in anything – it was all very purposeful and Cain himself spoke about channeling the Mark’s desire to kill into, what he believed, was a direction that was at least legitimate. Certainly it was evident he’d been consumed by the Mark and the compulsions therein, but it wasn’t over the top in any way. Somehow, this made it more frightening and more tragic.

Crowley & Rowena: Mother Manipulator

For most of the episode, the flow was good, the storyline of Cain was perfect and the tone and mood was maintained. The only time the intensity and atmosphere was lost was when we turned to focus on Rowena and Crowley. Rowena’s thing is that she’s cutesy sarcastic, which didn’t really fit in with this week’s storyline for me. For another thing, and perhaps it’s just me – but I’m a bit tired of her story without any payoff. I don’t mind her character, it’s been established she’s powerful and we know she’s manipulating Crowley with every breath, so it’d be nice for that come to a head or at least change at some point. The main problem is the saccharine redundancy that has developed with Rowena: she plays Crowley like a fiddle, we know it and now it seems he knows it – and there wasn’t even much of a payoff in him addressing it with her this week. Was that the main confrontation? If so, it was lackluster at best. Speaking specifically to the issues of Rowena’s injection in this episode, since it was by and large the same old with her this week and didn’t fit the tonal levels of the plot, it simply seemed out of place to include her. Thoughts on this? Am I alone?

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Now, having said that – it doesn’t discount Crowley in this episode. He was a minor role, to be sure but he was certainly stung at the end and Rowena’s words did hit their mark (no pun intended) when she called Crowley the Winchester’s bitch. Crowley was played at several angles by many people and he learned that the hard way (not getting the Blade back) or called them out directly (Rowena) by the end – either way, we may be staring down the barrel of a harder, more badass King of Hell come the end of hiatus, and I for one, will not be complaining.

Castiel: Interrogation Angel

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Poor Cas – spends the weeks traversing the countryside to interrogate demons, discovered a mass grave, thrown through a fence post and then given the job of hiding the Blade to ensure his BFF doesn’t go all dark side. Castiel didn’t play a major role this week besides discovering the graveyard, but his confrontations with Cain were powerful, both visually and energetically – at least on his side. For a moment, when Dean handed the Blade off to Cas after the final battle and Cas stepped to the side and back, I thought they’d made a silent deal of sorts for Cas to fulfill the agreement he made with Dean long ago about taking out Dean before he could darkside. Obviously, it didn’t go that way, but it made me wonder for half a second if we were in for a hell of a cliff hanger.

Sam: The Grounding Element

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Sam has played the role of older brother a lot this season: voice of reason, giving assurances, being the steady one when needed and in this episode he was back in the little brother role, needing the assurance from Dean about what he was doing, and worrying about his brother. The episode closes on Sam expressing how worried he is about Dean to Castiel, but he doesn’t say why: is it because he thinks Dean has lost his conscious and is going to go all killer or because he thinks Dean is severely affected by the fight with Cain and putting on “I’m ok” face when he’s devastated by something? Sam was worried about the former going in, but I’m betting he’s focused on the latter by the end.

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It has been nice to see so much genuine honesty and trust running between the boys this season, even with the very difficult issues. This episode was especially potent, even in the subtle, non-conversational bits. Sam trusted Dean to have the strength to do what he needed to do with the blade, was strong enough to assure him they’d take care of him if he turned into something violent again and Sam also put on a very good show of confidence boosting in the bunker talking about Dean’s strength to resist the Blade and Mark even in killing Cain etc. even though his conversation with Cas after shows he’s clearly very worried. Sam catches Dean and visa versa – in the end of this episode, he does it literally, but maybe that’s a metaphor. Future? Maybe.

Dean: Danger Lies Ahead

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From the moment he saw Cain on the monitor, Dean knew this was what Cain talked about when he bestowed the Mark. And he knew the potential ramifications of it all, not just for him but for everyone. Dean’s stoic demeanor barely changed leading to the big meet – barring of course his confession to Sam that he was scared. He told Sam last week, which he referenced again, that he would go down swinging – so was he prepared to die facing Cain then?

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In the aftermath of the battle, which I want to address separately, Dean was destroyed. The information from Cain haunted him. What we know about Dean (if we know anything) is that he loves his family and the notion that he could kill Sam one day will stay with him. It’s not the same as a possession by an angel bound on killing Sam’s vessel or an order by Dad to kill Sam in the event of – different stories. The idea that he himself will hunger for Sam’s blood? Oh, Dean. The look on Dean’s face when he exited the barn and trudged down the stairs was so annihilated, it was like his spirit was abolished. No wonder Sam didn’t believe his semi-half-hearted attempt at self-satisfaction at the table. Of all the prophecies to be privy to – this is the worst for Dean.

Warrior v Warrior: Barn Battle

The battle between Cain and Dean was very grand yet not that extravagant. For the most part, while hits were being landed, Cain was winning the mental war and psychologically crippling Dean. Cain was too powerful an adversary for Dean to win against in his current state, that was a given. So he either had to fully surrender to the Mark or something else had to happen. All elements considered, by the end I didn’t know where it was going but was surprisingly pleased with the outcome.

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Of course Cain would want his Blade back to complete these missions of his – though this wasn’t a give-away on first watch. The writers handled Cain’s ulterior desire well, I thought, such that by the time he picked up the Blade and mentioned letting Cas run back to Dean it was kind of like “well, sure that makes sense” – it didn’t stick out at the time (even when Cas said, almost awkward on second thought, but then lots of what he says is – “even with the Blade hidden”) and it wasn’t a glare in the moment either. The other plus was that the scramble for the Blade wasn’t a focus for a large portion either, it was still about the psychology of the whole Mark.

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Ultimately, Dean didn’t win the way I anticipated – and I’m glad he didn’t have to surrender to the Mark as I expected he would to win. All told, he didn’t actually win per say, he defeated Cain is more accurate. It was a good fight between the two – the space allowed for the drama and intensity of the moment to be felt, particularly at the end when Cain was executed. One of my favourite Supernatural  battles to date.

Odds and Ends

It would be negligent of me not to mention both the visuals and the music in this episode. Both are excellent on a standard basis in Supernatural but this episode had some particularly memorable moments. On the visual front, as already mentioned, the introduction of Cain walking through Death Row was very strong, but in addition to that – the scene of Cain and Castiel on the graveyard. The contrasting tones and shadows in that scene create a very striking visual for the moment.  

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Finally, the music during the fight scene between Cain and Dean was the super cherry on an already near perfect instant. Pulling everything together, the music gives the moment the essence of a western duel, which amps up the stakes and only one gunman can be left at the end.

Final thoughts

Taken as just the Cain plot, this is an excellent episode. What cost some of the flow, mood and drama were the intermittent bits of Rowena as she just didn’t suit the atmosphere of this particular episode. Certainly, the actors were excellent and the storyline and writing in particular were powerful throughout. Worth a few watches, just to enjoy visuals and audio treats, if nothing else. What are your thoughts on Rowena? Is Dean depressed or dark? Good exit for Cain? Share your thoughts below!