The Super Sleepy Dispatch

Recap and Review: Supernatural 10:3  “Soul Survivor”

By P.S. Griffin

After two strong episodes to anchor the season, Supernatural’s season 10 falters as a result of the weak writing of its third episode “Soul Survivor”.  The episode starts out in a medical blood storage lab.  Sam is posing as a doctor and he has solicited a Priest to bless the blood in Latin.  (I would like to have been a fly on the wall when this deal went down.)  I think most priests would be uncomfortable with such a request.  Sam then takes the blood away to the MOL lair using a small cooler.

This first scene bodes poorly for the rest of the episode.   First and foremost,  this isn’t the procedure for sanctifying blood outlined  in “Clip Show” and used in “Sacrifice”.  In prior instances, the sanctified blood was taken from a true penitent whose blood was sanctified through the ritual of confession.  Also, the Latin incantation used during the ritual, referenced by Dean in last week’s “Reichenbach”, was omitted as well.  Yeesh.  This here is the fabled LOL!Canon that has made the writers of this episode infamous.  They’re making it up as they go and it stinks, especially in a mytharc episode.

Onwards.  So Sam immediately goes to the dungeon to start the procedure.  We see that Dean is chained and tied to a chair inside a devils trap.  Sam tells Dean that he got his bloodtype and nervously sprinkles holy water around the perimeter of the devils trap.  

Dean asks Sam whether he’s considered (or cares) that Dean doesn’t want to be fixed. In doing so Dean is raising a central theme of the season,  personal free will to live the life one chooses; three of the main characters are struggling as the odd man out, trying to preserve their newfound identities against the herd mentality.

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe I don’t want to be fixed? Just let me go live my life. I won’t bother you. What do you care?” Dean’s words are measured and sound reasonable but within them are thinly veiled daggers. “What do you care” references the brothers’ fraught history,  in particular the multiple times that Sam has disappointed Dean by actions which suggest that Sam really doesn’t care. 

Dean continues his logical assault. He tells Sam that the cure might not work. “You know I got a hell of a lot more running through me than just demon juice.”  Oh Dean!  I get shivers remembering all of the tantalizing, forgotten backstory of Dean Winchester.  The man has been to every realm, and owned them, even fairydom.  He refused to play nice with the heavenly host. He was a vampire that resisted feeding, taking out an entire nest on his own.  He consumed Phoenix ash to defeat Eve by coaxing her to drink his tainted blood.  (Knowing that a new Phoenix rises from the ashes of the old, it killed me that this plot development was promptly dropped).  And now he’s demonic courtesy of the Mark of Cain.

Dean knows and we suspect that he’s now effectively immortal.  So even though he’s the one in chains being tortured; he’s also the one in control.

As Sam draws the blood Dean teases,  “Sammy, you know I hate shots.” Sam replies that he hates demons.  Sam follows through on this sentiment by brutally stabbing Dean in the wrist with a blood syringe, quickly emptying it. Dean reacts poorly to the injection, obviously in great pain.  He actually growls at one point.  Sam tells Dean that it will be easier for him if he stays calm.  Hah!  Sam’s the one losing his calm as Dean starts to play with him.  

Dean is starting a tense game of verbal cat and mouse with Sam wherein he tortures his brother and lures him in to his trap with words.  He’s playing with Sam much as he did with Cole last week; the goal of course is to throw Sam off of his game by making Sam emotional.   Sam makes all of his mistakes when he’s at the mercy of his emotions.  Lo and behold he eventually loses Dean when he escapes during a break Sam takes to cool off.  Then the physical cat and mouse chase begins.

For the record, I think Dean’s dialogue also was designed to drive Sam to the brink, testing whether he is capable of killing Dean. Dean’s real goal may be to get Sam to kill him just to see Sam suffer because of his fratricide (remember that Dean can heal and is effectively immortal). Killing a family member and suffering guilt and despair as a result is the stuff of high Greek Tragedy.  See Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy,  Sophocles’ Electra or Europides’ Orestes which all deal with the aftermath of the blood curse on the House of Atreus.

I also think Dean definitely wants Sam to see that forcing the cure on Dean is wrong, especially when he knows that Sam has behaved far worse than Dean.

And now we cut away to the main problem in this episode,  the plotting and pacing.  There are simply too many cut aways from the very important main story of “curing” Dean to the auxiliary storylines for Crowley and Castiel.   And just like last week we learn that Crowley misses Dean, is bored with Hell, and demonic gossip about him and the boytoy that he can’t control has hurt his reputation.   Likewise,  Castiel now straddles humanity and the angelic host,  and his love for the Winchesters and humanity makes no sense to Hannah.  Both of these storylines were ably and concisely presented in “Reichenbach”.  

Gah! the only important information we learn from these sojourns away from the main story is that Crowley knows Castiel’s condition is dire and he takes steps to help Cas.  This happens in the last fifteen minutes, making me wish the window dressing had been kept to a minimum. Both storylines were yawn inducing because we have already have been down that road for both;  moreover, they interrupt the real action and tension between Dean and Sam. Speaking of which…

Currently,  Sam is injecting yet more blood into his brother. Dean is calmly, coldly messing with Sam.  He points out that the injections may be killing him.  Then he starts mocking the Winchester heritage of hunting and Men of Letters;  yeah it’s all crap.  Sam says Dean isn’t himself.  Dean says that he is himself,  in fact this is  “the new real me – the me that sees things for what they really are.” He even mocks their “saving people, hunting things” legacy: “Winchesters. Do-gooders. Fighting the natural order. Let me tell you something: Guys like me? We are the natural order. It’s the way things were set up.”

Then the tone of the conversation shifts as Dean deftly segues into what has Sammy been up to. “That line that we thought was so clear between us and the things that we hunted ain’t so clear is it?”

Dean goes on to say that he and Sam really aren’t that different.   In fact Dean reckons that Sam is worse than his demon brother.   You see Sam, Dean knows what you did last summer.   Crowley told him.  Sam throws out a patented bitchface.  I definitely think that Our human Winchester behaved worse than Dean.

Cue flashback.   We see sad sack Lester drunk in a bar, mad and talking about getting even, although he admits it’s the booze talking and it won’t ever happen.  Hah!  Luckily for Crowley Sam is there and he coaxes Lester through getting his revenge using a crossroads demon.  Sam does everything,  even correcting Lester’s pronunciation.  What he fails to do is stop Lester from making the deal.  Sam engineered the transaction so he would have a trapped demon to torture for Crowley’s location.  Dean may be demonic because of the mark, but Sam is the brother doing the job of a demon.  In fact Dean may have  saved Sam’s soul by killing Lester before his deal was granted. Hey may have saved Sam’s soul too. He definitely saved Lester’s innocent wife.

Dean rubs Sam’s bad behavior in with glee earning another sharply stabbed injection of human blood.  Dean changes tack,  telling Sam they both know what Sam has to do if the injections fail. Can Sam kill Dean?  Ohhh!

And then it’s time to check in on Crowley and Castiel.   We’re ignoring the “action” in Crowley’s throne room for now as well as Hannah.  I just wanted to emphasize my point that the pacing killed the tension in this episode.

Sam was upset enough by Dean’s verbal antics to leave the torture chamber.  He calls Castiel for guidance.  Sam tells him that the blood is affecting Dean differently than Crowley. Dean’s in tremendous pain.  Sam is worried that the cure will kill his brother. 

Castiel is no nonsense regarding the issue.  The cure is the only way to get their Dean back, and if they can’t cure him they have to kill him.  Whoa!  Cas!  Buddy you and Dean have similar plotlines.  Dude, you don’t want to be cured with stolen grace and you are no longer just an angel.  Unfortunately Metatron didn’t give you knowledge of  mirroring and parallel plotlines. The knucklehead just makes me sad. 

Back in the dungeon, Dean looks beat and Sam feels bad about how the cure is affecting Dean; yet he won’t stop curing, hurting, torturing his brother.   Dean starts the game again, telling Sam to give up.  Dean starts to speak painful partial truths twisted to stab deeply.

The dialogue in this scene is cutting and on point. “There’s no point in trying to bring your brother back…Your guilt-ridden, weight of the world bro has been MIA for quite some time now. But I’m loving the new model. Lean, mean Dean. You notice I tried to get as far away from you as possible… I chose the King of Hell over you. Maybe I was just tired of babysitting you… my mother would still be alive if it wasn’t for you. It’s your very existence that sucked the life out of my life.”  Sam tells himself (out loud) that this isn’t his brother talking.  Dean says, “You never had a brother, just an excuse for not manning up. Well guess what, I quit.”

Dean tells Sam he’s been lifting his lame ass out of the fire his entire life; he lays down the guilt card, that Sam is the reason their family suffered, why Dean suffered. Sam emotionally declares that he can’t quit because family is all they have.  We all know that this is usually Dean’s response to Sam’s rejection of him; however,  this time Dean scoffs at the sentiment.

This viewer also experiences Dean’s inner eye roll over Sam’s sudden family loyalty and filial love.  We all lived through Sam’s rejection of Dean in seasons four, eight and nine.  We remember Sam’s failure to look for Dean when he was trapped in Purgatory.  We remember Sam chosing the demonic temptress demonic Ruby over his brother.  

Sam, truly at his worst, brutally stabs Dean again and claims to be “yankng his lame ass out of the fire.”  His self righteous ire punctuated by a smug “You’re welcome.”  I really hate angry, smug, self righteous Sam.  This is the guy that makes all of the mistakes.  This is the guy that wrecks any chance of gaining my sympathy by being an ass to his brother.

Yawn.  Back to the secondary plotlines. Crowly in hell deals with treasonous demons and an angry protester that immolates himself with holy oil.  He’s still bored. 

We cut to Castiel and Hannah.  Yawn.  Yada Yada Yada. Yawn.  Castiel doesn’t appreciate Hannah’s dour, disapproving devotion.   Hey Cas!  At least she isn’t forcing you into an angel shaped hole!  (Why do you want to force Dean into a human shaped hole?)

Angry Adina shows up for the final smackdown.  Unluckily for her, Crowley has decided that he would rather have Castiel alive and well. He knicks Adina’s throat, bottles her grace, and kills her with a smarmy comment, “Why can’t you people just sit on clouds and play harps like you’re supposed to?” He corks the grace with an elegant skull topper and gently forces it into Castiel.  He says it’s so Castiel can help Sam with Dean. Err… I think Crowley has a soft spot for everything Team Free Will, including a geeky, well meaning angel often misguided angel.

Meanwhile, sad Sam is taking another turn on the good old Dean tour, visiting his room and looking at pictures of the good old days.  He is resolved to get his brother back.  He goes back to the dungeon to find that Dean has escaped.   Roh roh!

Sam goes into containment mode.  He manages to put the compound on lock down and takes the master keys to limit Dean’s access.  The red emergency lights provide terrific mood lighting.

Dean is enjoying the cat and mouse chase and continues to toy with his brother verbally.  Sam is terrified but good Ole Deano is having some fun.  He’s also chosen a ball hammer over a cleaver as his weapon of choice. This tells me he wants Sammy to be in a world of pain and alive to appreciate it. 

Eventually their paths cross and in a lovely homage to The Shining and The Three Little Pigs, Dean starts to break the locked door separating the brothers, telling Sam “C’mon Sammy…I’m tired of playing. Let’s finish this game.”  Dean sees this all as a game, as fun times.  I am convinced Dean’s endgame is to get Sam to try and kill him, then rub his fratricide in his face.

Sam tries again to reason with Dean as his brother violently destroys the door.  “I know you’re still in there somewhere. Just let me finish the treatments.”

Dean is still so not into this.  He replies,  “You act like I want to be cured. Personally, I like the disease.”  He also commiserates with Sam’s situation. He knows that Sam doesn’t want to kill him.  Luckily he has no qualms about killing Sam because there’s just enough demon left to do the job with pleasure.  Manic scary Dean is do much fun!

Sam finally gets a clue and runs.  However Dean is suddenly behind him having seemingly teleported there.  Sam deflects his parry and brings the spork to Dean’s throat.  Dean is goading him to do it, “It’s all you Sam.” Dean isn’t scared.  He knows that the spork won’t work.  I think he really wants to see Sam suffer  as he cuts his throat; then he will resurrect and laugh at the waterworks.

Sam can’t do it and drops the blade; but before Dean can lunge at Sam, the new and improved Castiel angel ex machinas stops him from hurting Sam, using his angel strong arms. Dean’s eyes flash black and he screams and growls like an animal when he realizes that Cas’ arms, wrapped tightly around him, are too strong.  Castiel himself flashes his newfound grace; his eyes are blue on fire.  Cas tells Dean gently that “It’s over. Dean, it’s over.”

So Castiel saves Dean from perdition again by wrapping him tightly in his arms and holding him.  It’s a really gorgeous image and probably borrowed from fanfiction.  It evokes their history,  their profound bond and their friendship despite life’s myriad travails.  It also makes Castiel’s no quarter approach to curing Dean seem misguided and tragic.

Also, I don’t understand how one angel with stolen grace can stop lean, mean, Dean. Remember how it took ten angels to stop the still human Dean in “Stairway to Heaven”?  Ah.  The trials and tribulations of LOL!Canon!

Now that strong-armed Castiel has entered the building, Dean is “cured” in short order.  Sam and Cas are talking as Dean wakes up. Sam seriously questions whether curing Dean is what they should do, because even after injecting all of the human blood Dean still didn’t want to be cured.  Dean didn’t want to be human.

Meanwhile Dean starts to rouse, and awakens black-eyed. He puts on a good show as he fully gains consciousness, but can’t quite hide the rage for a second; finally he ends up green-eyed and innocent.  Jensen Ackles’ does a great job with this.  His performance convinces me that lean, mean Dean remains in some form.

Sam and Cas welcome him back after testing his worth with holy water.  They are like proud parents that have eradicated their son’s unwelcome aberrant behavior. Hallelujah!  The gay analogy I used in Reichenbach still holds. It’s chilling.

Sam is off to get junk food to reward Dean for losing his star (The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss). He asks Cas to stay and watch Dean while he’s gone.

Cas warns Sam about the MoC, which is still a problem. Even moreso, if you have actually managed to cure Dean, you idjits! Remember,  Crowley told Dean that Cain could resist the MoC’s bloodlust because he was a demon.  And Dean as a demon managed to adhere to a code of behavior not that unlike human Dean’s modus operandi.  He fought more to be sure, and proudly sang very badly.  However,  he only killed demons and Lester. As noted previously,  killing Lester saved his soul, possibly saved Sam’s soul and saved an innocent woman’s life.  Demonic Dean had the Mark’s kill lust under control.

Cas finds Dean in his room.  The conversation is awkward. Cas tells Dean that he looks terrible. Dean thanks him.  Cas tells him not to worry about Sam because it wasn’t Dean, or all Dean, that terrorized Sam.  Of course we know it was him.  The demon was Dean.  And it was Sam and Castiel torturing Dean, well mostly Sam. Dean also asks about Castiel’s well being and I find the wording curious.  I almost think that Dean was fishing for information so he would know how long he needed to lay low.  Me and my crazy ideas.  I just can’t forget Dean’s final words in “Reichenbach”, “And what I’m gonna to do to you, Sammy. Well, that ain’t gonna be mercy, either.”  I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

After Castiel leaves we see Dean appraising the walls of his room like a caged animal.   He doesn’t look happy.   He doesn’t look like old Dean.

The episode inexplicably ends by introducing the new character Rowena.  She’s enjoying the good life in an upscale Tulsa hotel despite the two corpses suspended on the ceiling dripping blood.

Additional Thoughts: “Soul Survivor,” was written by Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming, and directed by Jensen Ackles.  Kudos to Ackles for his truly gifted directing and acting, both of which added more to our understanding of the episode’s events than the words on the script.

Buckner and Ross-Leming are not the sharpest tools in the shed.  Their scripts usually are socially and morally tone-deaf, and are poorly plotted with bad pacing.   Moreover, fans dread their efforts because of the LOL!Canon that they introduce because they don’t really know or understand the events from previous episodes,  let alone the previous one (“Reichenbach”) which clearly references that the ritual requires a lot of blood and a little Latin, and not the Latin blessing that the priest said over the blood.

These are the writers that gave us “Taxi Driver” which ruined Purgatory and Hell in one fell swoop as well as introduced the problematic angelic rogue reapers, and the most sexist and racist  episode ever written, “Man’s Best Friend with Benefits”.   Let’s just say expectations were not high and we weren’t surprised.

I mentioned the inconsistencies with the sanctified blood ritual (also referred to as a purified blood ritual) above.  This is a big fail.  Also the inconsistency in Dean’s strength versus that of an angel is another problem. An even bigger issue is the fact that the DEMON Crowley should not be able to take an angel’s grace.  He should not be able to look at unvesseled grace, and enough of it should destroy his meatsuit, and his twisted soul if he doesn’t smoke out in time.  This scene goes against years of previous demon canon. Or are we back to sowing hints about Crowley not really being a demon.  Frankly I thought that ship sailed in season eight when they revealed his red eyes and red smoke.  The whole scene smacks of LOL!Canon. Yuk.

Frankly I don’t even understand how Crowley even knows how to steal grace.  Castiel learned how from Metatron and everything suggested that this was a new trick, perhaps something from the angel tablet, that only Metatron knew or used.

Finally,  I have to wonder how injured Sammy got his angry, demonic, non cooperative brother into that dungeon, let alone chained.  Life is a mystery. I hear an angel sighing y’all!

The fact that it’s an important mytharc episode makes these gaffes all the more problematic.   The viewers are supposed to wonder if Dean was really cured.  Yet with so many errors we don’t know which facts are clues and which are goofs. So although I have to complement the writers on being interested in writing about Team Free Will and the mytharc,  something that other writers like Glass and Thompson prefer to ignore,  I dread the damage they can do to the storyline and to fans’ psyches. 

My takeaway is that Dean was not cured, much like Crowley wasn’t.  For me the fact that both rituals weren’t concluded with the Latin incantation is key.  The only cured demon we know of was cured only after the incantation was chanted and a bloody hand was held to their mouth (“Clip Show “).

Secondly, Dean reacted very differently.  Yes he was in great pain.  But he also completely lacked the remorseful feelings and out of control emotions that we saw from Crowley and the “Clip Show” demon.  Dean remained in control intellectually even as he wanted to give his brother a beat down.  I don’t think he planned on beating Sam to death.   I think he enjoyed toying with him.  He was hoping Sam would try to kill him.  Then Dean would taunt and beat him.  I envision a scenario much like Cole except more cruel because Dean knows Sam too well.

So yep. I think Dean is still demonic,  but now he has a veneer of humanity that enables him to withstand typical demonic banes like the devils trap, the glyphed cuffs and holy water.  Remember we were shown Sam applying holy water around the perimeter of the devils trap.   When Dean escaped, he traversed the holy water without incident.  I don’t think the fact he no longer reacts to a splash of holy water means much at this point. 

During the chase between the brothers Dean tells Sam twice about the effects of the cure on him.  At first he mentions that all of the blood Sam injected made him human enough to escape, second he admits there is still demon aplenty remaining to kill/harm Sam.  This sounds as if Dean, like Crowley before him, was hybridized by the cure.  However, instead of being humanized emotionally like Crowley,  Dean’s partial humanity protects him from demonic wards. In fact,  it may be that Cain’s resistance to the suite of anti-demon wards may have come about when he tried the cure eons ago.  Hopefully this will be discussed when Cain returns.

At any rate, despite being injected with a lot of human blood,  Dean was still demonized and capable of great strength, violence, black eyes and teleportation.  I really don’t see how the cure would work, and Ackles’ performance and direction sold me on the fact that it hadn’t. Anyway this point is largely moot because of the Mark.  Even if he was cured he will revert to a demonic form soon enough.

A lot of my meandering review of “Reichenbach” was spent discussing the ethics of curing Dean, which was clearly paralleled to curing Castiel.  I see it as a repositioning of Dean’s noble concept of free will from season five on a more personal scale.   Instead of refusing to play in the Apocalypse and refusing to kill his brother (Anyone else think that Sam ultimately passed a test or dodged a big bullet by refusing to kill Dean even though Dean was jonesing to play?), Dean’s struggle represents the free will of an individual to chose how to live his own life. 

Whereas Castiel sympathized with Daniel and thought Hannah was wrong in her rigid views, he doesn’t or can’t see that Dean also has the same rights.  Both Sam and Cas cannot tolerate Dean’s new state of being and want him the way he was.  The irony of course is that demonic Dean is much better at controlling the Mark’s bloodlust.  When Dean is a demon he can control his urges and manage the Mark, much like Cain. 

Both Sam and Castiel do not come across as heroes in this episode.   It’s no accident that the writers have Crowley steal grace and force it on Castiel. Having Crowley cure Castiel for his own benefit emphasizes that Cas and Sam want Dean cured for their benefits.   It’s the morally unethical thing to do. 

I found the Sam of “Black” and “Reichenbach” to be heroic because he believed he was saving his brother.  In this episode his actions seem like punishment and torture, especially since we see Sam taking his anger out on Dean with angry jabs.  Later on he starts to recognize that curing Dean is wrong yet he lacks the inner strength to accept that Dean has changed and their relationship has changed accordingly.  In the end, he is unable to kill his brother for being different.

Worse yet is Castiel’s behavior.  Initially I assumed that their parallel stories placed Castiel in the position of being the one who would accept demonic Dean first.  Instead he is more strongly tied to the past than Sam, perhaps because of their special backstory.  Castiel changed allegiances and forsook heaven for Dean.  Castiel saved Dean from becoming a demon by gripping Dean tight and raising him from perdition,  from hell, from being a demon. Castiel is the angel that scrubbed the demonic taint from Dean’s soul.  This is the background of their profound bond.  Altogether,  these events create a powerful reason for Cas to want the demon gone.  However his cut and dry attitude towards killing his best friend seems cold. 

I still think we’re heading towards a rebooted premise, with Sam learning to support his marked/demonic brother, and Dean realizing his new powers and bloodlust can be integrated with hunting.   It’s interesting that we now have three human/supernatural hybrids wrestling with their place in the world.  All suffer because their “families” are intolerant of their differences.  

I think the MoC and Demonic Dean (demonized Dean?) are here to stay.  Remember,  as I noted in my review for “Reichenbach”, the show has taken great pains to show us many successful instances of the supernatural living in harmony with humanity.  These examples all include the supernatural being having support from their families and loved ones.  Those that fail, do so because they lose their familiar anchors.  Wanna bet we’re going to see more of this, perhaps with stories that show the negative effect of unsupportive family?  I am betting on it.

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