Open Couch – Swan Song
‘Death Shall Have No Dominion’
A moment of some blinding reflection of sunlight, caught on the shiny metal of a 1967 Chevrolet Impala captures the eye of a young man entrapped and immobilized within his own body and reminds him of numerous memories of a dangerous and sometimes hopeless life so devastatingly rich in family love that he regains just enough power to conquer the greatest fiend and win the day.
The wayward sons of the Winchester clan have been on the road fighting evil for many years, and we were allowed to witness their exploits from the moment they began to be brothers again – after being apart – in search for their father, for each other, eventually for hope and redemption.
My heart made a leap, as The Road So Far appeared on the screen with the first beats of the Winchester theme song, Kansas’ Carry On, My Wayward Son. I have followed every episode of this season, but to see it cut together with the crucial moments brought to our attention in the opening montage – a wonderful tradition carried on in this season’s finale – I was already on the verge of tears. And the episode had not even begun.
It began, then, as a beautiful homage to one of my personal heroes of this show – the one and only, ever faithful, gorgeous, sexy Chevy that has accompanied the brothers for as long as we’ve known them, and longer.  We learn of the army man little Sam ‘crammed into the ashtray’ and the legos young Dean ‘shoved into the vents’ that are still rattling today when the heat comes on. This show has always been about family. And their impala, the metallic symbol of and for two brothers’ pained, dysfunctional, loving family. It is, as we hear with delight, ‘the most important car…no, object in pretty much the whole universe.’

Kripke comes full circle with this episode. And I can’t think of a more amazing and thundering way he could have done it.
Carver Edlund, respectively Chuck Shurley, our beloved Prophet Chuck (who will turnout to be more than meets the eye) is writing the latest volume of The Winchester Gospel and will serve as a narrator throughout this episode. A classic move of the creators. Wonderful. Chuck’s soothing, well-modulated voice will have a calming effect on me when the emotions rage too fiercely.
‘The whole up-with-Satan-thing… I’m on board.’
This episode starts with such a powerful intro, and it keeps up the pace till the end. The scene in Bobby’s scrap yard is the one we’ve seen in the promos, so it was no surprise that Dean eventually decides to go with Sam’s plan, no matter how much that freaks him out. I guess there was no one among us who actually thought Dean would not do that, as he realizes that Sam was, indeed, right, that this was the only possible shot at Lucifer they still have, after so many of their friends have died in previous battles.
Sam:    ‘You’re gonna let me say Yes?’
Dean:   ‘No, that’s the thing: it’s not on me to let you do anything. You’re a grown… over-grown man… if this is what you want, I’ll back your play.’
Sam:    ‘That’s the last thing I thought you’d ever say.’
Dean:  â€˜Might be. I’m not gonna lie to you, though. It goes against every fibre I got. The truth is, watching out for you… it’s kinda been my job, you know, but more than that. It’s kinda who I am. You’re not a kid anymore, Sam. And I can’t keep treatin’ you like one… Maybe I got to grow up a little, too… I don’t know if we got a snowball’s chance, but I do know that if anybody can do it, it’s you.’

Dean has come a long way here. He has realized, for several episodes now that he has to change. The times demand it. He realized, painfully probably, that his calling – being his brother’s keeper – is not the deal of the day anymore. So, he has to say good-bye to the most self-defining trait he’s known about himself. He has to let Sam go. Not yet into the dark pit he will fall in later, but into the dimension of what it means to be your own person. A grown up human being that can and has to stand on his own feet. And accept his own responsibility which Sam does by taking the (assumingly) last steps of his young life.
This scene is in all likelihood one of the moments Dean needs most of his courage for. Also, he gives Sam what his younger brother requires like air – the trust of his elder brother. This, I think, is one of the most important facets Sam needs to find redemption and conquer the devil.
They prepare meticulously for the great showdown – first of all killing some demons, bleeding them out like pigs in a slaughterhouse. They work quietly, each devoted to their tasks, and I guess it was Sam who did the cutting, as we get a close up of Sam wiping his knife and then loading gallons of demon blood into the Impala’s trunk, heading for Detroit, where it all will happen.
It was a messy job, none was left unharmed by what they did, and I don’t mean only the blood stains on Dean’s face or on Sam’s hands. They killed humans, again, possessed by demons. At this point, of course, ‘the luxury of a moral stand’ does not apply anymore. But the Winchesters have never ceased to be compassionate people, neither has Bobby. To be forced to do that must eat away at them, too, however, to be able to concentrate on their mission, they probably stuff it back into a corner of their cortex where it will torture them from in the occasional nightmare.
‘You mind not watching this?’
It is a long drive to Detroit. The kind of long you experience when you head to do something you actually don’t want to do… With Castiel asleep in the back seat of the Impala, an unusual sight and testament to Cas’ being without any mojo since angels don’t sleep, the brothers have time and privacy to address one important matter – what will happen to Dean after Sam is gone? Sam, knowing his brother and from personal experience, needs the reassurance that Dean will not do anything stupid – like: crossroads stupid. Like making-a-deal stupid.
Sam:    ‘Hey, ahm, on a subject of something I gotta talk to you about…this thing goes our way and I triple Lindy into that box, you know I’m not coming back… ‘
Dean:   ‘Yeah. I’m aware.’
Sam:    ‘So, you gotta promise me something.’
Dean:  â€˜Okay. Anything.’
Sam:    ‘you gotta promise me not to try to bring me back.’
Dean:  â€˜What!? No, I didn’t sign up for that! Your hell is gonna make my tour look like Graceland! You want me to sit by and do nothing?’
Sam:    ‘Once this cage is shut, you can’t go poking at it, Dean. Too risky.’
Dean:   ‘As if I’m just gonna let you rot in there!’
Sam:    ‘Yeah, you are!’
Dean:   ‘You can’t ask me to do that.’

Dean clearly remembers the endless moments in hell he was tortured and probably pictures Sam going through the same ordeal, while Sam is hoping for Dean to find a more peaceful life, the kind he had hoped for with Jessica, a lifetime ago, when he was still convinced that he had a shot at a normal life, with a loving wife, kids, dogs, the kind of normal he’d always desired. Maybe that is the kind of prize Sam hopes for Dean to find – peace of soul with a woman he might feel at home with (and Sam in all likelihood needs peace of mind knowing, at least convincing himself, that Dean will live and maybe one day heal):
Dean:   ‘So ,what am I supposed to do?’
Sam:    ‘You go find Lisa, you pray she’s dumb enough to take you in and you have barbecues and go to football games, you go live some normal, apple pie life, Dean. Promise me.’

The shattered and miserable, yet decisive look on Sam’s face makes it clear – it’s his dying wish. We don’t hear it, but Dean makes that promise.
So they arrive in Detroit, still – naively – hoping the devil might not know about the rings and their purpose. Perhaps it’s a blessing that they are not aware yet of the full extent of the trap they’re walking into. My blood, however, is running cold. I’m afraid for them.
The moment of good-bye has come, and Sam shares a desperate embrace with his second father whose heart is breaking. He tries to remind Sam of the fight he has to fight, but can hardly hold back his tears. Bobby’s not fooling anyone, and he does not have to. Everyone knows how hopeless the situation is. But keeping your spirits up, in whatever way, is crucial in an hour like this.

As Sam steps up to Castiel, asking him to look out for his remaining family, Cas, matter of fact and indeed sucking at good-byes, fails miserably and eventually tries to reassure Sam with a bad Dean impersonation (I imagine he tries to come back with an expression he’s seen Dean deliver countless times – which turns out to be the only actually kinda funny moment of this episode. I can’t laugh, though. Anything in the neighbourhood of laughter gets stuck in my throat at this point). ‘Just stop talking’, is all Sam can ask. He’s talking the words out of my mouth.

And as Sam makes himself ready to drown that huge amount of blood… I want to step in like a deus ex machina and save them. Ah, I’m only a viewer. Right…
Who can swallow that much fluid at once? From that alone Sam must be exhausted. And must feel it – that familiar sensation of the energy of the blood cursing through his veins. Liquid fire, I imagine. Powerful. And terrible.
‘Okay, let’s go.’ Sam can’t wait a minute. He needs this defiance, his anger to get his destructive engine running, while Dean watches helplessly. There’s not much he can do now to help him, except just being at his side. Sam musters up all accessible bravado and challenges the ‘the sons of bitches’. This is the beginning of the end.
Once more Chuck’s narration serves as a breather amidst the intense scenes, and – frankly – I’m somewhat desperate for that. Gentle music in the background, scenes in soft colours, he tells us of the Impala’s history, and her blemishes that make her beautiful. ‘The devil doesn’t know or care what car the boys drive’ which is stupid ignorance, because this car, eventually, will be hugely responsible for his downfall.
‘Deal of the century – I give you a free ride…’
The devil is not one to be fooled. Not even by two determined brothers. And Sam’s demonstration of his strength doesn’t impress him at all.
We have never seen Sam this powerful. Like a dark Jedi he closes his eyes, breathes in … the demons drop dead, breathes out, his eyes cool, triumphant, defiant, aware of his power. Sam’s impatient. He wants to get it over with.
Dean, on the other hand, is growing more and more frightened and desperate. Is it possible at all what Jensen does in this scene belonging to the confrontation of Sam and Lucifer – he enhances everything with the look in his eyes that tell us exactly what this man is going through. He can’t keep Sam from saying yes.
‘So he knows. Doesn’t change anything.’ I does for Dean, I think, but he still backs Sam’s play. As Lucifer challenges Sam to a battle of wits, echoing the words he addressed Dean with in The End (‘one round, no tricks, you win, you jump in the hole. I win… then I win.’), Sam agrees to his conditions – and blinding, invading light alerts us that it has happened.
Dean, the one still standing, performs the ritual of the rings and opens the door to Lucifer’s cage… a black hole, sucking everything in… who knows where it leads to…? He helps Sam who has been unconscious up – the last thing he can do for his brother: remind him of the task at hand, spur him on to do what they came here for: ‘Sam, you gotta go now! Run! Go now, Sammy! Now!’

Trying to reassure Sam… and as Sam turns to that terrible hole in the wall, after giving an Oscar worthy performance of a bewildered Sam, mocking him, Lucifer looks at Dean. 
Cool. Triumphant. Aware of his power. Condescending. Beautiful. Horrific. He is Lucifer. ‘Sam’s long gone.’
What Jared does here with his voice alone blows my mind. It’s darker, colder, bereft of the compassion we usually find there. He’s speaking icy daggers, in a more distinctive manner than he normally does.
It hurts almost physically to follow this scene. Even more as Dean is left, his breath hitching, in tears. Lost and alone.

‘This is your life, Azazel’s gang, watching you since you were a rugrat, jerking you around.’
Jared’s performance continues to amaze me. As he walks through an assembly of people or demons which resembles hauntingly a wax cabinet, cracking his knuckles he’s all dominance and power. Electrifying. It’s not easy to convey that kind of energy by body language – Sam is gone. He’s disappeared behind Lucifer who tries to get a heart-to-heart with his favourite…
Lucifer:  ‘Sam, come on, I can feel you scratching away in there. Look, I’m gonna take the gag off, okay? You got me all wrong, kiddo. I’m not the bad guy here.’


And then we get a performance of the same astonishing quality Jensen gave in The End – Sam and Lucifer, verbally at each others’ throats, one in front of a broken mirror, the other in it. An instant classic. Has there ever been a devil so alluring and attractive and menacing? I love it, am in awe and in tears. This is ripping at my soul like a wild dog.
Sam:     ‘I’m gonna rip you apart from the inside out, you understand me?
Lucifer:  â€˜Such anger, young Skywalker. Who are you really angry with? Me? Or that face in the mirror?’
Sam:     ‘I’m sure this is all a big joke to you.’
Lucifer:  ‘Oh not at all. I’ve been waiting for you for a long, long time. Come on, Sam, you have to admit – you can feel it, right?’
Sam:     ‘What?’
Lucifer:  â€˜The exhilaration. And you know why that is? Because we’re two halves made whole. Mfeo, literally.’
Sam:     â€˜This feels pretty damn far from good!’
Lucifer:  â€˜I’m inside your grapefruit, Sam. You can’t lie to me. I see it all, how odd you always felt, how out of place in that family of yours. And why shouldn’t you have? They were foster care at best. I’m your real family.’
Sam:    ‘No, it’s not true.’ (the expression on his face, though, might be a sign that Lucifer is hitting too close to home)
Lucifer:  â€˜It is, and I know you know it, all those times you ran away, you weren’t running from them, you were running towards me. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, you know. I let Dean live, didn’t I? I want him to live. I’ll bring your folks back, too. I want you to be happy, Sam.’
Sam:    ‘I don’t want anything from you!’
Lucifer: â€˜Really? Not even a little… payback?’

He introduces Sam to a part of Azazel’s gang that has been around him from childhood on, among them his prom date Rachel Nave… Even if Sam protested against Lucifer’s suggestion to blow off a little steam, he would have had no choice – as we see Lucifer later, sitting like a potentate on bloody stairs, surrounded by corpses of the mentioned gang, some dismembered, some ripped open. Oh yes, he did blow off some steam. The way only the devil can.
‘It all had to end where it started.’
As Chuck’s soft voice sets in one more time to remind us in beautiful and moving scenes of the Impala’s story that is so deeply connected with two brothers that we can’t conceive of this show without it, he is interrupted by forlorn Dean who’s hoping Chuck, the prophet, can help them. Alas, all Chuck knows is the place of the big showdown – Stull Cemetery, just outside of Lawrence, the place Dean vowed never to return to, a long, long time ago.
Dean gets ready to head there, but Bobby and Castiel try to hold him back, but neither finds encouraging words at this point. This is another incredible moment for Jim Beaver who shows us an emptied Bobby – drained of all strength and hope, terrified and giving up. In the last and in this episode Mr Beaver conveys so many dark emotions without saying much and thereby moving the audience deeply…
Basically, both want to protect him. ‘I just want you to understand, the only thing you’re going to see out there is Michael killing your brother.’

But Dean is still the older brother who can’t let Sammy fall into the dark pit all alone. ‘Well, then I ain’t gonna let him die alone.’ There is no greater gift, is there, but to be at the side of your loved one in the moment of death, no matter how that is going to play out? This scene already tore open anything I had left of resolve or matter-of-fact-attitude (it’s only a freaking tv-show), and Jensen executes the coup de grâce with this line and his voice trembling with swallowed tears.
The sound editing is marvellous in this episode (I need to find some objectivity right now) – as we arrive at the cemetery, all we hear is wind, haunting and howling, not the place you want to be. This is the moment the angels have been waiting for – clash of the titans, the celebrity death match. Sam starring as Lucifer, Adam starring as Michael.
Michael:           ‘Are you ready?’
Lucifer:            ‘As I’ll ever be. Part of me wishes we didn’t have to do this.’
Michael:           ‘yeah, me, too.’
Lucifer:            ‘Then why are we?’
Michael:           ‘You know why. I have no choice, after what you did.’
Lucifer:            ‘What I did? What if it’s not my fault?’
Michael:           ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
Lucifer:            ‘Think about it – Dad made everything. Which means he made me who I am. God wanted the devil, so why? Why make us fight? I just can’t figure out the point. (…) We’re going to kill each other and for what – one of dad’s tests… we don’t even know the answer. We’re brothers. Let’s just walk off the chessboard.’
And then it turns into a conversation we’ve heard before, in a fight of two other brothers.
Michael:           ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that. I’m a good son and I have my orders.’
Lucifer:            ‘You don’t have to follow them.’
Michael:           ‘What? You think I’m gonna rebel, now? I’m not like you!’
Lucifer:            ‘Please, Michael.’
Michael:           ‘You haven’t changed a bit, little brother. Always blaming everybody but yourself. We were together, we were happy, but you betrayed me, all of us, and you made our father leave…’
Lucifer:            ‘No one makes Him do anything. He is doing this to us!’
Michael:           ‘You’re a monster, Lucifer.’
Instantly the dreadful fight of Sam and Dean in the last episodes of season four comes to mind... and its effect it had on the characters. Our hearts were bleeding for them then, and I feel an echo of it right now.
As the angels start circling each other, getting ready to deliver the first blows, Dean arrives – the Impala being his bat mobile, Zorro’s horse, all in one… You just gotta love Dean’s brazenness.
‘Did you just Molotov my brother with holy fire?’
Dean is surely aware that he doesn’t stand ‘a snowball’s chance’ against these two angelic powerhouses, but he must try to get through to their vessels. Somehow. He has to try, it’s in his bones. And he gets some help from his friends, Castiel and Bobby – they get him the five minutes he demands to talk to Sam, even at the price of their lives.

‘No one dicks with Michael but me.’ Lucifer is not amused at the development of this moment and turns Castiel into a fragmentation bomb of flesh, bones and blood, just snapping his fingers. A moment later he breaks Bobby’s neck, after he tried to shoot Lucifer – but he only hit Sam’s body with no effect on the inhabitant. Alas, I realize through tears, should Sam get rid off Lucifer, his body probably would not survive this – one bullet pierced his right shoulder, the other was lodged in his chest, near his heart.
This might have dawned on Dean, too, but he has no time to think on it, as Lucifer is at the end of his patience with this human maggot. He starts punching at Dean’s face, and he will break pretty much everything, nose, jawbone, maybe blind his left eye. But all Dean cares about is his brother whom he keeps trying to reach:
Dean:    ‘Sammy, are you in there?’
Lucifer:  ‘Oh, he’s in here alright! And he’s gonna feel the snap of your bones. Every single one. We’re gonna take our time.’ (What happened to ‘I want you to be happy, Sam’?)
Through pain and broken teeth, Dean keeps repeating his words like a desperate mantra: ‘Sammy, it’s okay, I’m here, I’m here, I’m not gonna leave you… I’m not gonna leave you…’
My God.
As Lucifer prepares to deliver another blow, and it looks like this one is going to be lethal, the magic of the Impala happens. Light catches Lucifer’s eye and draws his attention to the little army man in the ash tray – a memory so intense that it reaches Sam in there… who remembers countless little, important moments that tie him to his brother. If God intervened at some point, it might have been this one.

This scene is done beautifully. Again the sound effects editing is award worthy – as Sam’s mind rushes through those scenes familiar to us all, we hear the howling wind, and then, at one crucial moment – Dean hugging Sam tightly after bringing him back from the dead – there is silence. Nothing else. All I can hear is my own breath coming in gasps. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m completely at the mercy of this show right now.
Sam is capable of getting a hold of Lucifer, at least for a short period of time, enough to open the cage and prepare to jump into the pit. ‘It’s okay, Dean’, he tries to comfort his brother whom he’s beaten up to the point of almost killing him, ‘It’s gonna be okay. I’ve got him.’
Dean can’t respond, he just watches silently as Sam nods at him, before Michael appears again, claiming he had to fight his brother, it was his destiny! Sam pulls him down with him, and the hole closes. Well, Archangel. This time Team Free Will wins nonetheless. But it comes with a terrible price tag.
As in Hamlet, ‘the rest is silence.’ Dean is left there, mourning his brother, his friends. As Castiel arrives, restored and improved, Dean wonders whether he might be God. Well, he isn’t. But he has enough angel mojo now to bring Bobby back to life – and my heart leaps another time. Losing Bobby would have been more of a blow I could have digested at this moment. To hell with ‘it’s only a tv show.’

‘They chose family. And, well, isn’t that kinda the whole point?’
Chuck muses about the difficulties of endings, the problems of tying up loose ends and the expected bitching of the fan base (well, surely there are some fans out there who are already bitching over this episode and the show… well, I don’t care. For me, this is still the best show on television. Bitch as much as you like…you know who you are.)
Later he will return in a splendid white shirt, well groomed, a very attractive gentleman, emphasize the importance of family and free will, the making of right choices. And then – he will disappear. Oh, hello and good-bye God.

More good-byes are in order. Dean and Castiel have an almost fight in the car, and Dean and Bobby won’t see each other for a long time. Once more, Dean is broken. ‘Every part of him ,every fibre he’s got wants to die or find a way to bring Sam back. But he isn’t going to do either – because he made a promise’ to his dying brother.
So, Dean does what he promised to do: he finds Lisa. The moment she opens the door, she knows the state Dean is in. She sees that he is lying upon claiming to be okay. Why does Jensen have to go and break what’s left of my heart with a performance like this? This extraordinary actor again puts so much in these few minutes that I can hardly believe what I’m watching.
‘If it’s not too late, I’d like to take you up on that beer.’ His voice shaking from the tears that are going to fall any second. As she invites him in and he starts to move, he pulls her into a tight hug, burying his face in her shoulder. ‘Sh, sh, sh… it’s okay, Dean. It’s going to be okay.’ And finally he can let go and weep, and find something like comfort with a loving and warm woman.

He will never be the same. I doubt that Dean will be okay. Even if he tries to live a normal life with Lisa and sweet little Ben…
But this is not where it ends.
Sam returns. He remains standing outside, looking on, his face a bleak mask. This will leave us confused for the rest of the hiatus – who is he? Did he return as Sam, human and alive, rewarded with redemption for his great sacrifice? Or is he a demon? A ghost? At this point I will not go into speculations. Finding out how Sam came back and who he is might be a part of the following season.
And I am so happy that we’re going to have another one. Parting with this show after such a devastating, intense and nerve-wrecking finale seems inconceivable.
Kripke delivered the best possible episode, summing up the essence of the show, as we have loved it from the beginning: it’s all about family. And love. As cheesy as it may sound, that’s at its core.
I am so not immune to what this show does to me. I keep expecting to build up some immunity to its emotional hooks and meat grinders, but I haven’t achieved that, yet. I have never felt this drained by a tv show, and yet I love it and would not change it for the world. But after watching this finale, I needed some time to find my heart again. It felt as if it had gone down the pit with Sam…
All of a sudden there was an empty sensation. Like my body wasn’t mine anymore. And then the pain set it. As if some huge steel cramp twisted my soul with delicious malice. Why does this show do this to me – or to any of us?
It didn’t take me long to find an answer – it’s all about family, of course. When I finished watching this episode, I looked around and spotted the pics of my family members and passed on loved ones. They are assembled in a little corner of my living room, a collection of memoranda of people who are no longer available to me, and suddenly so many pictures came to me… not unlike the flashback Sam was experiencing in the end. And then the tears came.
It’s often like that, isn’t it? A scene, a moment, a word reminds us of something in our lives – and in this particular show those sequences are so marvellously played out by a pair of gifted young actors and their co-stars that we can’t stay ignorant. They hit our hearts with almost nuclear energy and evoke personal moments that meant a lot to us.
Well, I can only speak for me, of course. For a moment I thought I would not survive this episode. Countless moments I bargained with God or Death for someone I lost (well, I thought I did, there was no voice on the other end of the line) came to mind and it felt like … there are not really words to say how it felt. Perhaps like Sam might have felt falling into that fathomless pit. Or like Dean felt watching his brother go.
But ‘family don’t end with blood’ and forcefully I reminded myself of the dear friends that are my family now. And it got easier, tolerable.
A part of me, the one that still sometimes feel that pain, wishes not to have watched this episode. Another part, the professional one, comes up telling me: you need to distance yourself from this fictional story. It’s hard, though.
Good stories are supposed to move us, to be an echo of personal experiences that will draw us in.
I might not be watching this episode for a while, to not get sucked into this meat grinder that has fun playing with my soul right now. Or I might. I have not idea, as of yet. I love it, though. For me, it’s one of the best, if not the best episode of the entire show. I am in awe. As much as I could ever be.
I could imagine, some of you experienced similar emotions while watching Swan Song. It can be painful, you bet it can, but then again – these are your emotions. They can’t harm you. Not anymore. Whatever it was that made you sad in the past and was woken by this amazing story – you already survived it. So, if you feel you need to tear up and cry buckets… being knee-deep in Kleenex would be an understatement in my case… do so. It’s not a crime to be emotional, compassionate and capable of allowing a fictional story to move you so deeply you can hardly believe it possible.
Death is not really the end, I believe. Even though some are not here anymore, we carry them in our hearts. Dean will have to live with that for now, as Sam had to after he lost his brother to hell. We, as viewers, will accompany them, feel and fret with them. And go on loving this marvellous show.
Allow me to end, as I began, with Dylan Thomas immortal words that somehow felt right here:
‘Though they go mad, they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea, they shall rise again,
Though lovers be lost, love shall not.
And Death shall have no dominion.’