Why are you doing this to me show??? Why are you subjecting me and millions of other fans to extreme heart failure after only two episodes back from hiatus? Why am I again reduced to a sorry pile of mush, unable to function? Why do I want to curl up with Dean in his hospital bed, hold on tight and sob profusely with him? (Yeah, that doesn’t require a lot of thought).
Why do I completely love you right now Eric Kripke? And you Ben Edlund?
After staring at a blank computer screen for a couple of days, trying with head banging frustration to find a way to put words together that could possibly do this brilliant episode justice, I ended up watching it about five times. Or ten. This review, nor any other written analysis of “On The Head Of A Pin” will EVER remotely capture its brilliance. So why am I trying? Easy, I’m nuts.
“This one goes to eleven.”
So why is this episode head and shoulders above the rest of the season, and perhaps the series? I can only explain it with one of my favorite Spinal Tap quotes. “This one goes to eleven.”
I ran out of ways a long time ago to describe how extraordinary Jensen and Jared’s acting is and how their versatility puts Supernatural well above many other shows. The greatest moments are the ones where these guys are allowed to shine together. So, when an episode comes along with great material that not only lets Jensen and Jared be at the top of their games but Misha Collins as well, an acting showcase results that’s unparalleled to anything we’ve ever seen. Castiel’s expanded story line allows Misha to deliver an Emmy worthy appearance of his own. These guys on screen together make each other look ten times better and the deep tension bouncing between them takes everything to a whole new level.
The plotting is pitch perfect. Sam, Dean, and Castiel all have their separate agonizing stories, and somehow in one episode TPTB fit a mind-blowing glimpse into each one. During the entire torture sequence, the scenes bounce furiously back and forth between Dean and his showdown with Alastair, Castiel and his struggles over what he’s doing to Dean, and Sam and his desperate need to be strong enough to help Dean. Each smooth transition manages to heighten engagement and build the tension to levels out of this stratosphere. Yep, that’s the fancy way of saying “freaking awesome!”
After Alastair breaks free, the episode becomes a fast paced tension filled ride all the way to the final scene. There are two astonishing fight scenes for Castiel, a tale of intrigue and betrayal among the angels, Sam cranking up his abilities to scary new levels, and poor Dean comatose in a hospital with Sam by his side.
I knew Ben Edlund, this week’s writer, had something great like this in him. Many forget that he also wrote “Nightshifter” before taking on the screwball scripts like “Bad Day At Black Rock,” “Ghostfacers,” “Monster Movie,” and “Wishful Thinking.” The man proves that he can do action and intensity better than anyone. The directing of Mike Rohl (welcome back!) skillfully heightens the emotional levels of the multiple stories, showing how Kim Manner’s influence is all over this one.
“Now I can kill.”
The mythology in this episode gets a giant push forward and man is it good. Sam isn’t in the episode much, but the scenes he is in boy do they count. Two of them in fact make the all time Sam Winchester highlight reel. Oh wait, three. Sam shocks us all, and I’m not even talking about the sucking on Ruby’s blood thing. That all actually makes sense (even though it’s disturbing), for how else could he strengthen his abilities so much? What’s surprising is his motivation for doing so. It’s the only way to be stronger for Dean. His devotion to his brother isn’t gone after all and comes above all else. His words in “Sex and Violence” were truthful, for he knows Dean is weak. “Something happened to him downstairs. He’s not what he used to be. He’s not strong enough.” He’s determined though to cover that weakness, not expose it.
We know the saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Sam’s abilities are now beyond anyone’s imagination, especially the angels’. As he declares with a malevolent smile, “Now I can kill,” and does his new demon obliterating mind trick, his love for that power is now obvious. He enjoys killing Alastair. Now that he’s had that taste, now that he knows he can be strong and powerful for Dean and humanity, it goes back to Dean’s “crack” comment in “Criss Angel…” Sam can’t stop now, good intentions or not, and those cravings can only get stronger. Sounds like an exciting setup for the rest of the season!
Sam’s gazes of worry while sitting by a comatose Dean (the nodes on his head are something usually reserved for monitoring brain waves in coma patients) prove once and for all that Dean is still the most important thing in his life. His anger against Castiel in the hallway, ordering the powerful angel to heal Dean (“Miracle, now!”) and pointing out how Dean is the innocent victim of their short sightedness shows Sam’s determination to take control over his and his brother’s welfare, no matter what the cost.
Castiel’s expanded story and lengthy screen time (he even got more than Sam and Dean) is long overdue. We’ve only learned a little about him from his brief appearances so far, so to watch him struggle with turmoil in the garrison and deal with feelings of doubt and isolation, it shows how naïve and almost childlike he really is on earth. I have rarely seen a character (or actor for that manner) that can tell an entire sad story by one pensive look. Castiel does this in many scenes, most noticeably when standing off to the side in the motel room and while waiting outside during Dean’s torture of Alastair.
Anna and Uriel both tell Castiel he can’t be afraid anymore, but everything that’s happening to him is terrifying. Castiel has always been about obedience. That’s what loyal angels do. So what happens when he’s forced to question the orders he’s given? First there’s the sudden appearance of Anna, who Castiel obviously has a soft spot for. He has orders to kill her but doesn’t, and listens to her words that the orders aren’t coming from God. “Stop him Cas, please, before you ruin the one weapon you have.” His instincts are telling him she’s right, instincts he’s mistaking as disobedience. Then comes Sam, newly fitted with brutal demon interrogation techniques of his own. Castiel learns the demons aren’t doing this. How does he know who is right?
The scene that gets me the most is when Castiel summons Anna. His vulnerable confession, “I don’t know what to do, please tell me what to do” confirms what’s often seen in his troubled eyes. He really hasn’t had to make hard decisions before and take his own course of action. He doesn’t understand the feelings he has either, and can’t find words to describe them. “I feel…”
Castiel in the end gets his moment of redemption, and it’s breathtaking. One glimpse at a faucet and it all comes together. “Strange how a leaky pipe can undo the work of angels when we ourselves are supposed to be the agents of fate.” Castiel demands the truth from Uriel, who pulls out his angel killing dagger, revealing that the only thing that can kill angels is another angel. He’s sick of bowing before humanity (like Dean, who he wants dead), just like their brother Lucifer did before he fell. Castiel listens with horror when Uriel admits he’s converting angels to help his fallen “brother” rise, and those that don’t follow are killed.
This is where Misha really nails it, for Castiel’s faith will not waver in this test. He tells Uriel for the first time in a long time he’s unafraid, and then punches him through a brick wall. He’s truly God’s warrior. When Uriel bests him after a brutal fight, Castiel’s on his knees, refusing to waiver even in the face of death. “You can’t win Uriel. I still serve God.” Uriel answers “There is no will, no wrath, no God.” Oh, but Anna has a soft spot for Castiel as well, and saves him by putting the dagger through Uriel’s throat.
It should be noted that Anna and Castiel together have some awesome magnetism. I threw out questions to the hubby like “What happens when two angels do it?” They are FAR better together than Anna and Dean. If her future appearances are limited to Castiel, than I’m all for Anna returning.
“Then you guys are screwed.”
Castiel’s best scenes are with Dean, continuing the explosive on screen chemistry that Jensen and Misha have. Oh Dean. Poor burned out, at the end of his rope Dean. He’s so depressed, so despondent over all that’s happened lately, he even hands the control of one of his biggest joys in life, the Impala, over to Sam. He gets no relief in the motel room, calling it with resignation “home, crappy home.” Dean’s outburst at the two angels in the motel room vividly shows how spent he is emotionally. What makes this scene killer is how Dean is bounces off between Castiel and Uriel, aka good cop and bad cop. He’s defiant with Uriel and tries to plea with Castiel, who’s no longer in control, so he’s taken by Uriel without regard to his objections.
Dean’s near tearful plea to Castiel in the warehouse is one of those tender moments of vulnerability that sucks us in each time. Dean maybe a smart ass with Uriel (“Well get some donuts while you’re out.”), but has learned to trust Castiel enough to fully open up to him. Castiel is sympathetic, but can only plea to his sense of duty. The brilliant directing comes through here as the camera moves back and forth between Dean and Castiel, closing in on their pained faces over the task at hand, bringing out the raw nerves of both. A definite homage to Kim Manners.
Dean closes his eyes, and heartbreakingly accepts his assignment. He goes in with his game face on, but we know he’s terrified. The long torture sequences of Alastair is very painful to watch, and I’m not talking about the methods used to inflict physical pain. Alastair constantly taunts Dean and won’t give in. Each cut to the scene reveals a little bit more about Dean and his time in Hell, and it’s Dean that’s wearing down, not Alastair. Dean tries so hard to not let Alastair rattle him, even when he gets gruesome details about his father’s time in Hell. Alastair waits for the perfect moment to deliver the bombshell, like a predator going in for the kill.
I never felt my heart drop worse when Dean turns away from Alastair after hearing he broke the first seal. That wide-eyed crippling look of shock and devastation, that’s when something inside snaps. It’s especially hard on him that it was supposed to be John but he didn’t crack, so they went for Dean instead. Dean brought on the apocalypse. My eyes still water over the image, especially when Dean admits with agony, “No, I don’t think you are lying.” He toughens up though, ready to kill Alastair, but by that time the trap has been breached.
Talk about my eyes watering, time for that final scene. Dean wakes up in the hospital, (out of the woods since he’s off the respirator), and Castiel is by his side. Dean sounds awful, not just physically, but emotionally as well. The weary tone in his voice says it all.
Castiel drops a bombshell of his own, and it’s more than Dean can take. Dean was rescued from Hell because the angels got wind of Lilith’s plan. They fought their way through Hell trying to get to him, but they were too late. Dean asks why they didn’t leave him there. “It’s not blame that falls on you Dean. It’s fate.” The righteous man who broke the first seal is the only one that can finish it. With an anxious edge in his voice, Dean demands to know what that means, but Castiel doesn’t know. They both are in the dark over what’s to come. Dean’s distress surfaces with his, “Then you guys are screwed.” Castiel tells him he’s the only one, but Dean can only melt down in tears. “I’m not all here, I’m not strong enough. I guess I’m not the man either of our dads wanted me to be. Find someone else. It’s not me.”
Whoa. Castiel is disheartened, as we all are. Dean has been broken. Anna’s warning has come true, Castiel may have ruined the one chance they have. Dean the warrior, Dean the man who’s survived every horrific thing in his life including watching his mother, father and brother die. Dean who came back from forty years of Hell. Dean the human who does have a breaking point. Yep, returning to earth has been a harsh experience on this angel.
The Other Stuff
Someone brought up a great question to me. How can Ruby’s host contain demon blood? Same with Azazel when he bled into baby Sam’s mouth. I went back to “Croatoan” for the answer. When the townspeople were infected with the demon virus, there were traces of sulfur in their blood. When the demons were gone, the sulfur disappeared. That tells me when a demon occupies the host, it affects the blood as well. It must be, since it looks like Sam got himself some pure stuff before doing his “stupid pet tricks.”
What is it with angels and playgrounds? I know angels are watching over us, but seeing two grown men in suits hanging at the playground is creepy.
Ruby is evil. We know it now, just by her wicked smile when Sam takes in her blood with complete desperation. She even calls Sam “Sammy.” She’s gone too far!
“Uriel’s the funniest angel in the garrison. Ask anyone.” The way Misha deadpans that line, it becomes one of the funniest lines of the season.
There is so much great directing, there isn’t enough time to point out it all. I’ll share my two favorites though. First is after Anna’s visit, when Castiel orders her to go. The camera fades out to show Castiel alone in the middle of the large room, giving the perfect visual of his deep isolation. The second is when Sam is driving the Impala on the way to rescue Dean (and ultimately Castiel). It starts by showing his hazel eyes, and as the scene progresses his eyes get darker and darker until they are almost black. Yikes!
Questions For Next Time
Uriel has converted others. Does this mean Castiel must go underground, unable to trust his own kind? Will he join forces with Anna? It’s likely Uriel killed the angels from “Are You There God, It’s Me Dean Winchester,” so how long and how deep does the corruption go?
Why did Anna show up when she did? Can she be trusted? Who’s side is she on? Are her motives any more clean than Ruby? Does she want to use Castiel the same way Ruby wants to use Sam?
I do wonder if either Sam or Castiel told Dean how Sam killed Alastair. Sure, he’ll find out eventually, but is it now or later? Did anyone else love Sam’s look to Castiel after that happened? “Oh, you noticed that, huh?”
An A+ on this one. Definitely a classic. Next week is another comedy episode, and boy do we need it. The rest of the season after that is going to be brutal.