Recap and Review: Supernatural 10:01: Black
Recap and Review: Black sets up the character themes for the season and shows us the new normal, the world without Dean Winchester, the hero, the brother, the heart and soul of the Family Business. Yes, it’s a wonderful life for Dean Winchester both literally and thematically.
The season premiere of Supernatural ‘s tenth season checks in with all four of the main characters as they adjust to Annus Deanmon. Black thematically summarizes the mood. I wish the had the budget to score the episode with a loop of songs conveying the range of black moods we witnessed in our characters. Deanmon is the new black. Crowley is classic black. Castel is slipping into the black hole of death, illness and depression; the only light in his face due to his memories of the friend he misses. Sam is the blackest character having slipped back into the throes of living for revenge balancing the hate with sheer panic and desperation at his loss.
Dean Winchester is a demon. Let that sink in.
Dean is the heart and soul of the Family Business and it’s motto is Dean’s mantra. He based his life on saving people, hunting things, the family business. Human Dean Winchester felt responsible for the safety of the world’s family, for his family. His duty was more important than his own life. Dean’s lack of self worth lead him to believe his death had more value than his life, and is the character’s main tragic flaw. Not believing in himself as a power of good in the universe in high tragic fashion slowly and painfully lead him to lead this black moment after a lifetime of responsibility and despair. Dean Winchester is demonic.
Ironically becoming demonic has instilled in Dean a healthy sense of self, even if be has become a bigger DICK than ever. This is the black comedy at the heart of the episode. Demonic Dean might as well have a goatee for all of the opposite characteristics that he embodies. He has no sense of responsibility. He is all play and no work, one hundred and ninety-one pounds of FUN. This Dean is the heart and soul of nothing. He fights because it’s fun, he’s attacked by someone else or he’s pissing on someone whose interferring with his territory, even if he doesn’t really care or want or need the girl or the brother. It is Dean’s interaction with the man Cole who holds Sam hostage that shows us how different this dark Dean, demonic Dean, black hearted Dean is because this Dean doesn’t care. He feels no need to run to Sam’s rescue. He’s cut the umbilical cord and Sam lives and dies on his own. However he will find and kill Cole for coming after Dean and threatening him however useless that threat may be. It is nice though to know that Dean Winchester is still a man of his word when he bothers to make a threat. Those green eyes are absolutely dead without going to black.
The episode dances between our four players. Dean and Crowley are hanging at a roadhouse, sharing a ratty room, calling each other bitch/jerk, drinking, carousing and losing at Foosball (WTF?). Dean is also knocking boots in Crowley’s bed, brawling, singing karaoke without fear of not looking manly. Demonic Dean don’t care. Demonic Dean don’t give a shit; he just takes what he wants. He also fights Abaddon loyalists who come calling to avenge their Queen’s untimely demise. It’s a momentary callback to the wild wild west with demonic Dean cast as the nihilistic gunslinger of the spaghetti western. I am loving the surreal Free Bird aspect of this ride and its clear subtext. This is a plot driven reboot of Dean Winchester. On some level he’s here to stay.
Crowley is riding shotgun in the impala finally. Dean completes him (but not the other way around obviously). They’re besties (Crowley’s words). Crowley and Dean. It’s what Crowley has wanted since the end of “Sacrifice”; “I deserve to be loved.” clearly translated to ” I want a bromance.” LOL! It’s also Sam’s worse nightmare (“Sacrifice”): Dean has turned to another supernatural brother to replace him and this time it’s a demon. Crowley enjoys taunting Sam with this over the phone when he finally catches up to them; in fact Crowley’s spiel seems to bother Sam more than seeing Dean flash black eyes. I reckon that Dean is not the only green eyed monster lurking in this episode!
Sam is furious that Crowley had Dean possessed. I am not sure that he understands really that Dean is the Demon because the bloody and awesome Mark of Cain miraculously transformed Dean and transcended Death. Religions are based on less. Sam is so angry I don’t think he realizes yet that Dean Winchester lives; Dean Winchester was saved by the Mark. Dean Winchester IS a demon. We all know that demons can be saved… sometimes.
The conversation between Sam and Crowley is incredibly illuminating for Crowley’s mindset as well. Mark Sheppard’s performance in “Sacrifice” was incredible to watch and convinced me that the aborted cure fundamentally changed Crowley into a humanized demon. The look of shocked horror on his face as he realizes the sentimental poppycock coming out of his mouth (“I deserve to be loved.”) is priceless and sincere.
Throughout season 9 we see these fundamental changes play out in his blood addiction which is really an addiction to human feelings, and we see his desire to be part of the team. He’s absolutely giddy in “Road Trip” and clearly enjoys his interactions with Dean throughout the season.
In particular I found Mark’s performance and the character development in “Blade Runners”, “King of the Damned” and ” Do You Believe in Miracles?” to be especially revealing. in BR he is so besotted with human emotions that he is dysfunctional on both personal and professional levels; so much so that he is doing nothing to stop Abaddon and he has even let critical intelligence slip. He’s gorging himself on sex, pizza, blood and sentimental cinema like Casablanca; we even see him visibly moved as he watches thewatches final scene leading up to “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Then there’s the constant yammering to both brothers, his enjoyment of being on the team, the strange look that he gives Dean as he holds the First Blade and the fact that Crowley takes the blade at the end of the episode. At the first viewing Crowley’s look grabbed me because I could not place what it truly meant to Crowley and Dean. Now that I’ve seen the season play out, especially DYBiM, I see it as Crowley recognizing the inevitable end to Dean’s season 9 arc. Crowley is the sole witness to Dean’s loss of humanity and it’s sole mourner. It’s gorgeous storytelling, wonderfully poetic and completely convinces me that Crowley is no longer your standard demon. In that vein I can’t help but note that by holding on to the First Blade, Crowley let Dean hold onto his humanity a bit longer.
Yes of course Crowley is still an opportunist; he’s still partly demonic. Abaddon’s proposed regime change was both a problem for Crowley and an opportunity. He killed two birds with one stone; both lead him to Dean Winchester, the ultimate killer and the ultimate bro.
At the moment Crowley’s priority is still living in a buddy comedy starring Crowley and Dean. Point of fact, Crowley has been living off the administrative grid in a hellish backwater, and not in the good way, in a dirty cramped room with his buddy Dean because he wants what Dean and Sam had and what Cas and Dean had more than he wants hell at the moment. His actions tell the story folks.
He’s also still protective of Dean’s last vestiges of humanity. We learn that Crowley is sending woefully uninformed demons to keep Dean sharp and to feed the Mark and keep it sated so it doesn’t need to further transform Dean:
Crowley: “The mark needs to be sated otherwise..”
Dean: “Otherwise I turn into a demon, yeah yeah I sorta got that six weeks ago.”
Dean still has some humanity. This is why he is content to play the bad boy on permanent vacation. This is why he’s territorial. This is why he hasn’t killed Crowley yet. It’s why Ann Marie actually struck a nerve with her rejection causing him to lash out with a callous insult. Oh the humanity of calling the girl who rejects you a skank!
Crowley also is protective of Dean in his conversation with, Sam deftly tormenting Moose by reminding him of a time that he really let Dean down all the while implying that Crowley was there for Dean on that fateful day that Dean was reborn in Crowley’s image. Remember this is Crowley who fancies himself as an extraordinary demon and a true mentor to Dean. His comment: “Your brother and I were beginning to wonder if you hit another dog.” Seriously… OUCH! Even Crowley looks down on Sam for that particular self-centered response/defense mechanism. He’s also lighting a fire under Sam to light a fire under Dean. Dean completes Crowley and Crowley wants to move the party to Hell where he plans to rule with Dean at his side. BFF!
At this point I think Crowley is more human than Dean by the simple fact that Crowley craves companionship. Demonic Dean with the evil goatee is too Sexy for his love, his friendship. He’s just too Sexy for Crowley. Still I think they’re friends or what passes for friends with Dean these days. The inevitable falling out is apparent. Seriously is Benny the only friend that has never pissed Dean enough to walk out on them? I think it speaks volumes though that spoilers indicate that Crowley can’t just walk away. He seeks out help to try to control Dean. It is more telling that Crowley reaches out to Castel for help with Dean when he goes of the rails because it indicates that Crowley really cares about Dean and his welfare because we all know that Cas is the one person that will put Dean’s needs first. Oh… and why else would Crowley bother with helping Dean. Demonic Dean isn’t a threat to his regime because Demonic Dean doesn’t give a flying f… about Hell. He simply needs to let it be known that Dean “First Blade” Winchester is number 1 on the speed dial, and mention the long list of demon kills…
Sam is channeling an ersatz Hamlet. He’s running on pure revenge driven adrenaline; the closest thing to the real Sammy that we have seen in years. Yet he’s also channeling Dean; the opening scene of Sam brutally torturing a demon is a total what would Dean do moment. Not even the demon blood addiction or soullessness gave Sam this amount of darkness. Immediately I understand why spoilers indicate that Sam will be going dark in a, way that is more shocking than Dean. Demonic Dean just wants to have fun. Sam wants to paint the world red in anger and grief and retaliation.
The injured arm (however fortuitous) and the WWDD give them hell attitude succinctly takes us into Sam’s mindspace; it’s all “Paint it Black” inside this boy’s head. We see him go through the motions, researching possession, reaching out to hunters, searching for any sign of demonic activity that could leas him to Dean. He’s completely without connection without Dean, finding even the powerless and dying Castel useless to talk to. Dean was always the character that claimed Sammy, family, kept him human going so far as to indicate that there is no Dean without Sam. Black shows us the opposite. Dean is thriving and Sam is failing apart and losing himself. And then there’s the conversation that one senses between the lines which gives the impression that Sam has done much worse than we were shown to find Crowley and Dean.
If we can measure Dean’s lack of humanity through Crowley then clearly Cole is written to be a mirror through which to view Sam’s humanity. Parallel stories, parallel hunters searching for the same man. One hunting a human monster and one hunting a demonic brother. It’s heavy handed at the onset but I hope it pans out dramatically and thematically.
My other hope for Sam is oodles of character growth that has largely been missing for most of the show ‘ s run. Sam was conceived as a reluctant hero; however the show quickly became about What Dean did, What Would Dean Do, what does Dean feel, who does Dean love. This focus made Sam such a plot device that his story almost became an afterthought. Instead of saving his brother from Hell, Sam ends up being the veritable Antichrist, and no last minute characters called the Antichrist, shark jumping over moment of Adam, or the pit jumping in “Swan Song” could erase this from many fans’ memories. Then instead of the obvious atonement arc, under Gamble he becomes the embodiment of the worst character tropes. Sam becomes both a Mary Sue and terminally injured. Limp Sam is born. This was not character development. This is why in the tenth season of the show many fans, including me, have no idea why Sam hunts or why Sam stays by Dean’s side.
I think Black Sam does a fantastic job of showing us that Sam does care exactly the way Dean used to even if he did a piss pour way of showing it to his brother. Black Sam also completely negates the high horse, misguided rant Sam gave in “The Purge” because Sam ignores Dean’s dying plea to let him go in “Sacrifice” as well as the note Dean leaves on his pillow when he leaves Sam to go howl at the moon with Crowley. “SAMMY LET ME GO!” Sam Winchester is behaving in true Winchester mode as Dean has done multiple times, and as both parents did for loved ones. Hypocrite thy name is Sam Winchester. Bravo Jeremy Carver for accomplishing so much in just a few lines and kudos to Jared Padalecki for selling it.
Now there is work to be done. A plot driven reboot for Dean to allow him to smoothly lose the emotional shackles of too much love for Sam and not enough love for himself works because Dean’s character has nine seasons of relevant backstory to draw upon. These years of watching Dean angst at his failure to protect Sam are what makes the moment in the car when Dean tells Cole to basically f… off so chilling; it is practically a sacrilege that Sam is well and truly on his own now as, Dean drives down a black road content with an empty seat where his brother once sat. This is so shocking and so chilling because we know the old Dean Winchester so well. Well that and Jensen Ackles’ mastery of his face and voice. OMG those dead, emotionless eyes! Dean Winchester doesn’t need to do bad things as a demon because after Hell and Purgatory and every episode in between, and after we see how far Dean is willing to go time after time when he believes it is the right thing to do. To my mind, this storyline reframes the brothers completely with Dean as the reluctant hero. Bravo Carver. I look forward to a less demonic Dean deciding that hunting is worth it and that the family business is still his calling. Remember that even if he’s cured or becomes humanized like Crowley, he still won’t be human and he will still have that awesome, bloody Mark of Cain.
This recasts Sam in Dean’s role. In “Black” he played at being Dean. I think now that the point was made we will see Sam walking in Dean’s old shoes, but it will be Sam’s walk, and Sam’s talk and Sam taking responsibility for his actions and his brother. It is high time that the character received this attention. I hope that we never see Sam tied to a chair needing Dean to rescue him again. This overused trope was broken deftly by Jeremy Carver in this with the literal situation between Sam and Cole because Dean isn’t coming to rescue Sam. Again I fervently wish that the man would write more than two episodes a season.
I have saved Castiel for last, largely because he seems like the little lost sheep at the moment patiently waiting to die. I loved the life that came into his face when he thought of his friend Dean and I have to believe that the profound bond will come into play as well as his easy going live and let live approach to life. I think despite the fact that Castiel was the one that saved Dean in season 4 by gripping him tight and raising him from perdition, and was once fiercely protective of Dean’s soul and his humanity, Castiel has changed the most over the course of the show. I predict that Sam’s injured arm, a sign of Cas’ fragile humanity, signals that Castiel will reclaim his grace in order to save Dean. I also think Castiel mind end up accepting a Dean that ends up a little more than human, or a little less. I am going on my gut here. I don’t think Hannah will corrupt Cas to her restricted way of seeing humans and angels.
I also think Cas once healed will feel responsible for fixing heaven, and I think the only way to do this is to find God. Season after season the angels as a whole have proven themselves unable to think outside the box. They need leadership and they crave their father. His loss has driven many to madness with apocalyptic or murderous results.
Which brings me to Metatron who clearly lost his way and his marbles when he lost God the Father. He was only name-checked in this episode, however he is synonymous with the angels’ current plight. Upon reflection I think all of his blasphemous, heretical antics were about throwing a big hissy fit to get His attention. Think about it. He burns the Winchester Gospels and writes his own text starring the three Winchesters. He analyzes the original texts and realizes that Dean and Cas were the key to stopping the Apocalypse and God smiled favorably on them by helping. Dean who refused to play because he refused to kill his brother and Castiel the turncoat angel that always chose Dean over heaven. We know that God’s hand was there when the Winchesters were saved from Lucifer In “Lucifer Rising” and when Joshua intervenes in “Dark Side of the Moon”, saving the Winchesters from the seraph Zachariah and giving Dean a message from God. We know that Castiel was raised three times from anihilation because Dean Winchester needed him. And God allowed Dean to rewrite the story twice (according to Chuck) by bringing Chuck to Lilith’s hotel room in “The Monster at the End of this Book” and by showing up at Stull Cemetery in “Swan Song”, his presence and his undying love leading Sam to overcome Lucifer’s control.
It is no accident that after a season playing a narcissistic and patently ridiculous buffoon whose machinations made no sense tactically or logically, the real Metatron comes out of hiding as deus ex machina to complete the final pen strokes of his blasphemous masterpiece. He presents himself as God’s only son and he aspires to kill God’s favorite children, the ones he allowed to rewrite the story and rewrite their destiny. Not only does he stab Dean through the heart with such gleeful precision that we know it was personal. He attempts to stab Castiel in precisely the same way with the blade still covered with Dean’s blood. He fails to kill Cas only because he chose to stick the metaphorical knife in first. Dean Winchester is dead (because Castiel failed to save him in time). That the written manifestation of God shatters when Dean Winchester is stabbed is provocative. Dean Winchester is a demon and Castiel is human and there is not even a handprint to mark that God’s will was once done.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (JOHN 1:1). If the tablet shatters does God become manifest or will he just be mad as hell at Metatron, mad enough to put things right. Does Dean liking the sickness mean that God will let some things be or does he want his favorite son strictly human?
What do I know? I think I will enjoy the ride.
Additional Thoughts: Usually I cringe when the writers talk about going for “feels”. Jeremy Carver gave me major FEELS! It was an oddly emotional episode. Per Carver ‘ s premieres, he set up the character arcs and motivations for our four leads. The action or mytharc as it is seems wholly focused on Dean, how the other characters feel about demonic Dean and what they are willing to do in response. In contrast Dean is having the time of his life. Seinfeld rejuvenated itself by introducing an alternate universe both in the meta sense of the show within the show and as a parallel group of nice guys that Elaine briefly befriends. In the right (write!) hands the new paradigm has immense potential which bodes well for season 10 and beyond. YIPPEE!