The Darkness. The next unimaginably bad, impossible-to-defeat enemy unleashed by the Winchesters. When The Darkness billowed over the remote landscape, was I the only one who was reminded of the demon-filled black smoke that escaped Hell in “All Hell Breaks Loose 2”?  

I can’t wrap my head around battling something that encapsulated, or even defined, the universe before time began. God and the archangels beat it back and began the history of man on Earth. This is the “monster” that the Winchesters now have to face? While this is bad for the brothers, it might be just what fans have been waiting for. An apocalypse-sized problem that Sam and Dean have to face together. Neither brother is dying, possessed, keeping secrets, on the run, missing, going dark or facing a death sentence with the clock ticking. On bended knee, with my eyes to the sky, I pray that Dean doesn’t blame Sam for pursuing the cure and unleashing the worst evil ever seen by man.  Please let them be past the blaming, resentment, anger and other destructive (and very tiresome) attitudes and behavior that kept them from being a team. They have come full circle. Like Sam before him, Dean has been possessed by a supernatural force with banishment for eternity as his only escape. Despite his vow that he wouldn't do the same thing as Dean, Sam made the decision to save Dean regardless of Dean’s express wishes that he not do so. Sam also accepted a supernatural solution to a supernatural problem before he knew the risks, just as Dean had done when he accepted the Mark. The role reversal that took so long to fulfill has finally allowed each man to walk in the other man’s proverbial shoes. 

So how did all this happen? How did the brothers become a team again at the expense of the rest of the world? Until the very last episode, you and I tried to track plot threads in order to better understand and predict the outcome of the season. Overall, I would say we did a really good job this year! Let’s look at what we got right, where we went wrong, and what clues we have already been given about season 11.

Mark of Cain

In my TV Fanatic Round Table commentary for “The Prisoner”, I predicted that Dean would get rid of the Mark of Cain in the season 10 finale. I was so relieved when I “guessed” right! He is cured. Hooray and Hallelujah! Although Threads commenters were mixed in their opinions as to whether Dean would be cured in season 10, I don’t think anyone is disappointed that we can now move on to a new myth arc. I think most fans welcomed the resolution of the Mark’s storyline. Did any of us foresee how it would happen, though, or what the cost of the cure would be?  

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The Mark’s Cain and Abel Legacy, and Reversal – One of the Threads theories was that the Mark’s ultimate goal was to force, or trick, Dean into killing Sam in a repeat of Cain and Abel’s history. That theory was strengthened when Cain told Dean “My story began when I killed my brother, and that's where your story inevitably will end.” (“The Executioner’s Song”). This vision of the story’s path very nearly came true. The Mark seems to have been able to convince its hosts of its will without them realizing that they were being manipulated. When talking to Dean, Cain defended genocide saying that he felt he was finally thinking clearly, that he felt more sane than ever before.  The Mark convinced him that what he was doing was just and moral. Similarly, it created a mindset and a set of circumstances where it made sense to Dean that Sam must die. When MarkedDean confronted Sam in the abandoned restaurant, Dean said,

I know what I am Sam, but who are you …to remove the Mark no matter what the consequences? Sam, how is that not evil?”

Dean was convinced that Sam was evil. Unlikely as it seems, MarkedDean believed that killing Sam was ridding the world of evil, much the same as Cain believed that killing his entire bloodline was a service to humanity. In a stunning reversal of the core belief that drove Dean to save Sam in “Sacrifice”, MarkedDean now said:

… and I was wrong. You were right. Sam, you knew that this world would be better without us in it.

Dean’s own reference to that moment in the church highlighted how dramatically the Mark was overriding Dean’s own instincts and values.

At first, I was confused as to whether Dean’s bitter words to Sam were his own opinion or the Mark’s bidding. Dean told Sam that killing Rudy “sure felt like me”, making me think that Dean had actually gotten that jaded. In fact that line diminished the scene for me because I was distracted trying to understand why Dean was being so cruel and judgmental, and if he really felt that defeated and could be that hard on Sam. After watching the scene several times, though, I realized that line was meant as an indication of how completely Dean was losing his battle to the Mark. Just as Cain professed his sanity, this was Dean’s declaration of sane thinking. Cain didn’t understand that he had lost his will, neither did Dean comprehend the extent to which his soul was being overridden. If it hadn’t been for Sam’s unshakeable faith in Dean, the Mark would have won and fratricide would have again have been its reward. So those who felt that CainDean killing AbelSam would be the ultimate climax of the Mark’s storyline were very nearly right (say 99%). Dean only turned away at the last moment, because of his love of family.

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What of Dean’s last second “decision” to spare Sam’s life? Several of us theorized that the brothers’ love would break the curse.  The romantic notion that the Mark would disappear and the curse would forever be broken when Dean refused to kill Sam because of the brother’s bond has to be judged as only half right. Yes, Sam’s love and faith in Dean drove Sam to show Dean the way out, the path home,

One day when you find your way back, let these be your guide. They can help you remember what it was to be good. What is was to love.

…and Dean’s love of Sam stopped his execution. Reminiscent of “Swan Song” when family memories freed Sam’s will, love also freed Dean’s heart and mind from the strangle hold of his possessor. Both brothers’ love for their family gave them the strength of will to find themselves again, just long enough to stop their murderous acts of beating each other to death. In “Swan Song”, Sam’s supernatural possessor compelled him to try to kill his brother, pushing LuciferSam to brutally beat Dean to the point of death. In a reversal of roles, Dean mercilessly beating Sam convinced Sam that his death was the price that had to be paid to stop Dean. Dean would have gone through with the execution if, at the crucial last second, he hadn’t reconnected with his core being. Their deepest value of love for family allowed them both to regain control. In another reversal of “SwanSong”, Dean was willing to die alongside his brother, moments before Sam would have been banished to face an eternity of torment alone. In “Brother’s Keeper”, Sam made the same choice, willingly offering his life before Dean was exiled to the ether, alone, for all eternity.

Sacrifice (Suicide) – Given the distinct recurrence of suicides in the latter half of the season, a corollary to the “brother’s bond will cure Dean” theory was that Dean would sacrifice himself to save Sam from the Mark’s sentence of death. Dean even said in a recent episode that he would end his own life if he absolutely had to. Actually, Dean attempted a sacrificial death. He asked Death to kill him because he saw that as “the only move left”.

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In the end, though, Dean did sacrifice himself in a way. In choosing not to kill Sam, Dean sacrificed his last known solution to save himself in order to save his brother. Dean’s actions were entirely consistent with the suicide thread we had been tracking. The past few seasons had emphasized the lengths to which Dean would go to save Sam. The entire Gadreel decision, classifying Dean’s repeated heroics as “pulling a Dean Winchester” in “About A Boy”, Sam saying that Dean saving him had “become his thing” in “The Prisoner”, and so many other examples testified to the fact that Dean would do anything to save Sam. Those clues were important, as it turned out. At the last moment, Dean’s instinct to save Sam helped Dean swing high even though MarkedDean truly was intent on killing Sam.

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Our alternate theory was that Sam was going to sacrifice himself for his brother. Sam’s actions in “The Werther Project” forecasted Sam’s imminent demise, saved at the last moment by Dean’s intervention.  Since Sam ultimately did choose to sacrifice himself to stop his brother, I think we can credit our “suicide” or sacrificial thread as 90% correct. Both boys were willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the other. The 10% error accounts for the fact that no one actually died! As an aside, I was so convinced and emotionally expecting that one of the brothers was going to die that I was actually disappointed in the anti-climactic moment when neither of them died!

So the brother’s bond defeated the curse’s will, but it was not a literal cure, and both brothers offered to sacrifice themselves but even if Death’s solution had been carried out, the Mark would have remained on Dean. How, then, was the Mark cured?

Sam saved Dean.

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Sam adamantly rejected any solution or path that ended in Dean’s death and resolutely told Castiel, “We are going to save Dean”. Sam’s determination and steadfast resolve to obtain the cure from the Book of the Damned is what actually removed the Mark from Dean’s arm.

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Would Dean’s solution have worked if Sam had not pursued the spell? Either Dean or Death would have executed Sam, and Dean would have been whisked away still bearing the Mark. At least in the short term the world would be better off, but Sam would have perished and Dean would still bear the Mark AND be fated to an eternal nightmare. Not a great scenario for either of them and Sam would have failed in his quest to “save his brother”.

Death: Even if I remove Dean from the playing field, we are still left with you – loyal, dogged Sam who I suspect will never rest until he sets his brother free; will never rest until his brother is free of the Mark, which simply cannot happen lest the darkness be set free.

So in the end, Sam’s plan was the only way that Dean could be permanently cured. Sam’s team of experts deciphered and cast the spell that removed the Mark and stopped MarkedDean without killing him. The consequences were devastating (according to Death), so there is a significant question as to whether Sam should have pursued a cure before he knew the risks. The issue of whether his actions were morally justified is explored in detail in a separate discussion.  Aside from whether this was the best solution overall, it was still the only solution that accomplished what Sam set out to do, which was above all else, save Dean.

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There are two dangling threads that need to be pulled. First is the question of whether Death is actually dead. I found it oddly convenient that the Mark wanted the loving brother, Sam, dead and that was the exact condition that was placed on Dean by Death. One of the previews contained a line where Death offered his solution and said “on one condition”. That line was mysteriously edited out of the final version of the episode, yet the fact that Sam’s death was required for Death’s deal was still obvious (“Kill him or I will”). Was the Mark creating an illusion in Dean’s mind? Illusions were the subject of the entire “Werther Project” episode. Sam also saw Death but multiple people seeing an apparition is possible. Yes, Death was irked about “that one time” that Sam “stood him up” so was Death just trying to collect on an IOU? Possibly. It just seemed a bit contrived and too convenient that Dean was asked to kill Sam. Maybe Death was never in the room or was there for only part of the time because he had been “burned by you Winchesters before”?  Entirely possible. Either way, Death’s status is a thread that I’m sure will continue into season 11.

The second detail that bothered me was the surprised look on Dean’s face when he swung the scythe and struck down Death. Didn’t Dean know he was going to do that? Was that the first time the real Dean had control of his mind and body? Had all his prior thoughts and actions been so dictated by the Mark’s influence that that moment was the first time Dean emerged as himself? I’m curious if that will be explained further in season 11.

Witchcraft, Monsters and Family

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The witchcraft thread that was prevalent throughout so much of season 10 is obviously going to be a significant myth arc in Season 11. Rowena was more than a passing plot device. The introduction of Crowley’s mother being a witch back in 8.22 “Clip Show” when Crowley said, “Son of a witch, actually. My mommy taught me a few tricks.” was clearly the beginning of a patiently developed multi-year witchcraft arc.

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Crowley: All my long life I wondered what I did to deserve a mother who refused to show love. I pained over it. I built my bloody kingdom on top of it.

Beyond supplying a suitably formidable witch to lead the witchcraft threat, the Rowena/Crowley plot line also served another purpose, eloquently summarized by Crowley’s comment. Their history explained the destruction of Crowley’s humanity and brought to a climax the exploration of the "monsters and their families" theme. The lesson seems to be that the King of Hell, symbolically the greatest monster of all, and his kingdom, were created because of being denied a family’s love. Love saved the Winchesters from becoming monsters, and lack of love doomed Fergus MacLeod to becoming the leader of the demonic world.

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The scene when Castiel recruited Crowley was brilliant, by the way. Their expressions, voice inflections and friendly banter all perfectly reflected the history and familiar relationship between these two frenemies (reminded me a bit of Professor Xavier and his old friend, Eric “Magneto”). “You’re not in my contacts list” and “I’m in” were such great lines!

Looking ahead to season 11, I would think that the King of Hell wouldn’t mind that an ancient evil has been unleashed. Wouldn’t he want it to wreak havoc on the world? I suspect, though, that the Darkness will threaten Crowley’s reign. No one wants to be upstaged by a bigger, badder bully. Will he get on board once again to fight a common enemy? Will he want to restore the age of “monsters” versus bowing down to “a greater evil than any of us has ever known”?

The NEW Family Business

Saving People, Hunting Things. The Family Business.

That motto has been the center of the brothers’ lives since they were children - their raison d’etre - and for ten years it has been the core of the show.

Until now.

“Brother’s Keeper” spent a great deal of time exploring the concepts of good and evil.  The “Good Vs. Evil” theme was introduced early in the episode, when Dean woke up in the motel room, hung over, exhausted and out of options.

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He took a few swigs from a beer bottle then told himself,

Dean: I’m good. I’m good.

The phrase “I’m good” is very common slang right now for just about everything from “I’m OK” to “I don’t need anything”. Given the significant exploration of good versus evil that occurred in the episode’s climax, though, Dean’s words at this point in the dialog clearly had a double meaning. Dean was trying to convince himself that he wasn’t completely without hope but this was the point that he knew he had lost. It was a crucial moment leading to Dean’s decision to throw in the towel, or “tip over his King” as Death termed it.

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The emphasis on Good and Evil continued. Look at how many times those words were used in the climax:

Death: Your brother cannot be killed and the Mark cannot be destroyed. Not without inciting far greater evil than any of us have ever known.

Sam: What evil?....

Death: It’s for the greater good. Once you consider that, this makes all the sense in the world.

Dean: Remember when we were in that church, making Crowley human? About to close the gates of Hell? Well you sure as hell were ready to die for the greater good then.

Sam: Yeah, and Dean you pulled me back.

Dean: and I was wrong. You were right. Sam You knew that this world would be better without us in it.

Sam: No, no wait a second. You’re twisting my words here Dean.

Dean: Why? Because we track evil and kill it? The Family Business? Is that it? Look at the tape, Sam. Evil tracks us and it nukes everything in the vicinity – our family, our friends. It’s time we put a proper name to what we really are and we deal with it.

Sam: Wait a second. We are not evil. Listen, we are far from perfect. We are good. That thing on your arm is evil, but not you. Not me.

Dean: I let Rudy die. How is that not evil? I know what I am Sam, but who are you …to remove the Mark no matter what the consequences? Sam, How is that not evil?

Sam….That’s not evil, Dean. That is not an evil man. That is a good man crying to be heard. ..

Sam throws a punch…

Dean: Good. Good. Fight.

Sam: ...You will never ever hear me say that you, the real you, is anything but good.

Sam: Take these. One day when you find your way back, let these be your guide. They can help you remember what it was to be good. What is was to love.

Dean: Forgive me.

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Then, when Dean and Sam exit the restaurant –

Sam: this is good, Dean. This is good. The Mark is off your arm, nothing crazy happened, you get your baby back.

This emphasis on good and evil was not incidental. One of the objectives of a season finale is to set up the plot line for the next season. Introducing “The Darkness” was the obvious hook into season 11, but more subtly I perceived a much more significant shift in the show’s direction going forward. I was about knocked off of my couch when I heard it in the dialog:

Dean: Why? Because we track evil and kill it? The Family Business? Is that it? Look at the tape, Sam. Evil tracks us and it nukes everything in the vicinity – our family, our friends. It’s time we put a proper name to what we really are and we deal with it.

Until now, the family business has been tracking and killing monsters. The monster theme has been obviously and consistently explored all through season 10. We’ve tracked threads related to whether monsters could be good, how monsters were affected by their families, whether families could preserve humanity within monsters and what it meant to be human versus a monster. As recently as last week, Sam and Crowley debated if monsters could be “good”:

Crowley: that’s what I get for trying to be the good guy.

Sam: So you’re the good guy?... at the end of it, you are a monster, just like all the rest of them, and I’m going to watch you die, screaming, just like all the rest of them.

Crowley: You’re right. I am a monster, and I’ve done bad. I’ve done things you can’t even imagine. Horrible, evil, messy things, and I’ve loved every damn minute. So thank you Sam for reminding me who I really am.

[highlighted words refer to other recurring threads we tracked this season]

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So before Dean and Sam debated whether they were evil, Sam and Crowley’s discussion explored self-identity and good versus evil as a presage of the pivotal, climactic confrontation in the abandoned restaurant.

The entire philosophical debate between Sam and Dean about whether they were good or evil and about what defines good or evil was the preamble to what I believe will be the focus of season 11 at least, if not the show’s entire future. With Dean’s words, Jeremy Carver very clearly and distinctly announced that the new family business is going to be tracking down evil.  He quite literally through Dean’s dialog said “it’s about time we put a proper name to what we really are and deal with it”! He even invited fans to “look at the tape”!. Repeatedly Sam and Dean (and Bobby in “Inside Man”) have reminisced about the “good old days” when all they had to worry about were vampires and werewolves. Their battles have gotten to be much larger than that, though. They now play on a universal stage, engaging Heaven and Hell. They have received personal attention from God, Death and Lucifer. They have killed archangels and Knights of Hell. They have toyed with the “great levers of the universe” and the Four Horsemen. Now they have unleashed “a horribly destructive amoral force that was beaten back by God and his archangels”. The boy’s mission was just redefined and expanded. The show’s focus followed a natural evolution to acknowledging that monsters were not the only bad thing that these apocalyptic hunters had fought, or should fight, in the future. They are now Saving People and Hunting Evil. That is now the Family Business.

When I look back, this larger scale really was their mission all along. Way back in season 5, Chuck (i.e. God) summed up their mission with these words:

So, what's it all add up to? It's hard to say. But me, I'd say this was a test... for Sam and Dean. And I think they did all right. Up against good, evil, angels, devils, destiny, and God himself, they made their own choice. They chose family. And, well... isn't that kinda the whole point?

If I’m right, Jeremy saw the same theme and decided to address it directly. The boys have always fought evil, so let’s give that evil a form and see how they do confronting it head on. If the writing team does justice to the largest threat ever faced by the world, this new fight, the brothers’ new mission, and the expanded scope of the show should be epic.

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Get in the car and buckle up. It’s going to be a wild ride.

So…

I think we all did really well tracking clues this season! I believe the writing team masterfully wove threads throughout the past few seasons that all led to his turning point in the myth arc, and the show, and it has been fun trying to find and decipher them. Only time will tell if my new theories are right. I’d love to hear what you think of them, though! How did your personal theories fare in light of the show’s climax? You each had individual stories you hoped to see, so how close did you come to the final truth? We have all hiatus to look back at the clues from the past and to speculate on the future, so let’s get started!