Season Ten. Ten years of doing anything can wear on a person. My sons are 11 and 12, and while I love them more than my own life there are days I want to get in bed and nap for about a thousand years. But I don’t, because I am all in. What keeps me invested in Supernatural is a lot like what keeps me invested in those boyos of mine: endless affection, memories both sweet and bittersweet, and the occasional moment of brilliance that overwhelms me with a deeply emotional pride. This episode? Was one of the best examples of that. I sent a tweet to Robert Berens, who wrote this little masterwork, telling him that “The Executioner’s Song” was an excellent example of the show I have always loved. I meant every word. There is so much to say. Let’s get started, shall we?
1. Hair Apparent
Here’s a confession: generally speaking, if there is no Winchester in sight, I kind of tune out before the title card smash. I mean, we’re basically watching red shirts, right? People that are going to end up dead before Sam or Dean even take the screen? Well, when Timothy Omundson’s Cain menacingly walked the line in that prison, armed and literally dangerous, causing the lights to go out in his wake, I could not look away. His presence is always so compelling—so electric—that I can’t scan my phone for texts or grab a late night snack. And those flowing locks? Well, you’ve all seen me pine for Sam Winchester’s hair enough to know what I was thinking. (Hint: Starts with SW, ends with N, has about a million Os in between.)
Cain, the Father of Murder, has broken into a maximum-security prison to visit one of his own, a serial killer named Tommy Tolliver. He tells Tommy that while the state may have nabbed him for six murders he in fact knows it’s nine. and he asks if Tommy is going to deny it. Tommy does not—in fact he goes for ten by trying to shank Cain where he stands. “THAT’S the spirit!” Cain says, in an arousing (it must be said) growl, breaking his arm, compelling him to stillness with a literal power of will. He says he knows Tommy is wondering: “Did I come to punish you or save you?” Cain draws his blade and continues. “The truth is, Tommy,” he says leaning in close to whisper, “I’m here to do both.” I was completely shivering with thrill as Cain’s blade found its mark (so to speak,) one lone drop of Tommy’s blood hit the floor, and he and Cain disappeared. And that, my friends? THAT is how you open an episode. Take note, other television dramas. You’ve just been schooled.
2. Parts and Recreation.
It was kind of cool/weird to learn that Sam knows pretty much everything about famous serial killers, and considers true crime his hobby. Even cooler/weirder? That Dean is still able to learn something new about Sam after all the time they have spent together sharing Baby’s bench seat. The boys head to the scene of the crime, brandishing their “Office of the Inspector General” badges, introducing themselves as Inspectors Moore and Ronaldo. (Another confession: this is the first Fed suit introduction I had to look up. Turns out the names are taken from the band Sonic Youth. Yes, I am properly shamed.)
Of course, when the boys see the surveillance tapes, Dean knows it’s no ghost. He can tell who the infiltrator is just by his shadow, new ‘do be damned. He sees that it’s Cain, and lets us know by massaging his arm reflexively, that Cain’s demand that Dean one day use the blade on him has come back to haunt him more than any ghost ever could.
3. Cas Uses “Protection”
Yet another confession? I sometimes miss the Castiel of yore. I miss the badass mofo who could kill without remorse if the ends justified the means, and who had no problems torturing or compelling to get what he needed. Human Cas was a blast, don’t get me wrong, and Hannah’s gentle Cas was sweet and adorable, but seeing Cas torture a low-level demon with quick, angelic slashes, getting his info and running him through? Super satisfying, not gonna lie. When it comes to Dean Winchester, his very best friend, there is nothing Cas won’t do. Don’t mess with the bull, man. You’ll get the halo.
4. Make Your Mama Proud
Cut to the throne room, where we see that Crowley has his own redshirt to deal with. He sits, bored, playing a handheld video game while a crossroads demon demands more credit for his work, thoroughly failing to impress the lady of the hellhouse.
Rowena, with a decidedly devilish little grin, is my vocabulary hero of the day as she refers to the demon as “puling,” calling him a waster of the king’s time and saying his bisected body should be put on display to show who is really in charge. “Whiners beget whiners,” she says, reminding Crowley of how she never gave in and gave him sweeties as a kid because he was “chunky” and a “bit of a bloater.” Instead of shouting, “MOM! STOP it! You are EMBARRASSING ME in front of the other denizens of HELL!” he does exactly what she wants, prompting a purr of “That’s my boy.” I must admit—I am intrigued to see where this goes. Crowley is way too smart to be so obviously duped, but when it comes to wanting your mother’s love? It’s easy to be as blind as Pamela.
5. A Graves Situation
Dean gets tacos for him and Sam and they confer about Cain. (Eating greasy food in the front seat of Baby while solving crimes? Those’re my boys.) Apparently Tommy Toliver’s dad Leon is missing too. It looks like Cain is killing Bloodlines faster than the viewers killed the spinoff of the same name. When Cas calls to check in, he tells them he knows Tommy Tolliver is dead, because he found Tommy’s shoe. (You can find footwear? Where were you when Sam needed you, Cas? Huh?) Cas also knows Tolliver is dead because he is standing amidst a forest that has been clear-cut to make space for shallow graves. Dozens of them. Cain is a lot of things, but subtle is not one of them.
Cain joins Cas in the forest of the damned with an incredibly sexy (again, it must be said) “Hello, Castiel.” Cas, frustrated, tries to remind him of how long he resisted killing. “What can I say?” Cain muses. “I got the taste back.” Fighting Abaddon’s army made him take up arms again, and he liked it. Cas tries to tell him there is a difference between Abaddon’s demons and humans. “The mark thirsts for all kinds,” Cain says, and he is so incredibly attractive in a bad boy way and just an FYI? I have taken so many screenshots I could probably make a flipbook of this episode. Cas calls Cain’s actions a massacre. Cain replies with a soft voice and a slight smile, “Yes. And soon it’ll be a genocide.” Cain wants to take out all of his descendants. The murderers, fighters, thieves. Even those more peaceful. It will amount to one in ten of everyone on earth. “If the mark wants blood,” he says, “I’ll give it mine.”
Cain asks about Dean, commending him for wasting Abaddon, and he knows by Cas’ expression that Dean is not well. Cas wants a cure for Dean but Cain knows there isn’t one. He is living proof. He tells Cas not to worry about Dean—he’ll get to him in due time. At the thought, Cas draws his blade prepared to fight. “Sorry, Castiel. You’re not on my list,” Cain says, and once again, he vanishes.
6. Dean Steals First
Cas visits the HuntCave, apologizing for delivering bad news. Worse yet? Cain isn’t done with the Tollivers. Tommy had a son, Austin (Tom and Austin! Nice. We see what you did there.) who is now 12 and apparently violates Facebook’s user agreement age requirement. He posted an update there, so Sam knows he is still alive. Austin apparently likes video games. How do you feel about playing Battlefield: Cain, Austin?
Sam thinks Cain won’t hurt a kid, but we saw Cain holding that teddy bear in the killing fields. We all know he will. Dean reminds Sam that the graves held old men, women. “It’s a fire sale,” he says, “Everyone must go.” “So we get to the kid’s house and then what?” asks Sam. “I’ll do what I have to do,” Dean answers, stoic. “I’ll kill Cain.”
Dean says Cain knew Dean would have to use the blade on him someday. Sam wants him to stop “taking orders from a madman.” Dean reminds Sam: Cain wasn’t crazy back then. Dean knows he sent Cain down this path after thousands of years of resistance. And the only thing that can kill Cain? The First Blade, of course. Sam warns Dean: wielding the blade against Cain? Win or lose he may never come back from that. Dean, acceptance on his face, says quietly, breaking all of our hearts, “I know.”
7. Help a Mother Out
Rowena, calling him Crowley instead of his given name, mentions Olivette of the grand coven, asking for his help to strike back. Crowley congratulates her on her long con. “You couldn’t BE more transparent,” he says, and maybe it is because I have been watching an awful lot of Friends lately, but he sounds like a demonic Chandler Bing. Rowena, surprisingly, cops to it, calling him her wee sausage. She knows that manipulation is who they are, so why not have fun together as mothers and sons do? Cast some spells, collect some souls, maybe get some ice cream after. Crowley, as I do, remains intrigued.
Later, Rowena tells him the plan: she wants to use a Rune of Amaranth to pull illusion magic on Olivette. They seem good to go but then? Not Moose calls. He needs the blade to take out Cain. Crowley hesitates until Dean tells him there is a kill list and he’s on it. Then Crowley’s in, much to Rowena’s dismay. She tells him Dean is a threat to his life, and his credibility. “Oh me, oh my,” she sighs. “You honestly believe that they’re your friends? That they care about you?” And I can’t help but flash back to Season Eight’s Crowley, shouting that he deserves to be loved, and knowing if the more demony version of him still wants that, as he seems to, that neither “friend” nor family will ever be able to fill that void. Whiners beget whiners, sure. And heartless behavior, it seems, no matter how lawful, begets heartless behavior.
8. Cain Is Seeing Things
The crew head to Austin, who is playing in the barn. Cas and Dean know Cain will come for him, but they don’t seem to feel the need to evacuate him at all. “A twelve year old as bait. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.” Sam says, with a shake of his head. Crowley appears with the First Blade and a “Neither can I.” Crowley confesses—he doesn’t care about the kid. He cares about the risk to “us.” “There is no us,” Dean reminds him. (Look at that. J2M2, on screen together, as a foursome. When was the last time we saw that?) Crowley tells Dean he wants to hold the blade until Cain arrives. Cas and Sam do not disagree.
Sam and Dean talk, then, having the broment of a lifetime. Dean tells Sam he was at peace with going down fighting when the time came. He just didn’t know the time would come so soon. He tells Sam he’s scared, and because Jensen Ackles is so incredibly talented it is totally heartbreaking, and not just for Sam. For all of us too.
Austin leaves the barn, sees Cain, and asks what he doing there. “I’m here to kill you,” Cain replies calmly. “No you won’t,” says Cas, who tries to white light him into oblivion. The force of it blows back Cain’s beautiful hair but doesn’t do anything else. Cas ends up in a pile of rubble.
Sam tries to hide Austin in the barn but Cain follows him easily. He stabs Austin and poof! The boy disappears in a burst of pretty purple light the likes of which I haven’t seen since Harry Potter. Austin was only an illusion. It seems Rowena’s amaranth was put to good use after all. I guess Crowley really is a mama’s boy.
Sam looks so pleased to have saved the boy it is almost like he forgot who is partner was. Cain notices there is a devil’s trap on the barn floor. “ Won’t hold me for long,” Cain threatens with a smile. “Won’t need to,” Sam says, and he and Crowley leave the barn. Cain spies Dean as the barn door slides shut. He seems alternately irritated and bemused.
Sam wants to help with Cain. Dean says he would be a liability. “I would be too worried about what he could do to you,” Dean admits. “Or what I could.” Sam swallows hard. “Plus,” he says with a small, sad smile, “I need you three out here to take out whatever comes out of here.” “Happily,” Crowley says, while the others look stricken.
Crowley reminds Dean the Blade is only a loaner. Dean tells him that if he survives and comes out and won’t give it back? They will have a much bigger problem on their hands.
Dean takes the blade as Sam, sick with worry, says his name. Dean smiles again. “I’m good,” he says, though no one believes him. Because that’s what Dean does—what Dean has always done. He smiles for Sammy, to try to make it all okay for him. As Charlie Bradbury might say, it’s kind of his move. Watching Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles in this scene? I may have been in tears at this point. (Hint: I was.) Dean walks up the barn steps with another small smile to reassure Sam and heads to the fight he was destined for.
9. The Battle of the First Borns
Cain greets Dean, calm and firm as he has been since he achieved what he thinks is clarity. He tells Dean he set loose a stain upon the earth when he murdered Abel and now he needs to clean up his mess. “Not all killers are my descendants and not all of my descendants are killers. But enough are,” he says. “Can you honestly tell me the world’s not better off with fewer Tommys? Fewer Leons? Fewer yous?” (Recapper’s note: I think there are actually way too few Dean Winchesters. An alarming lack of them, in fact.) Cain knows the kid could go either way, but prefers to be thorough. He asks Dean, a hint of knowing longing in his voice: How does it feel to hold the blade again? “It feels like a means to an end,” Dean replies.
And then? The battle begins. (Recapper’s note: the choreography is amazing. Hugely dynamic and still very natural looking.) Cain kicks Dean all over the place, surprised at his weakness. “I think you can do better,” he snarls. Cain wonders if Dean is holding back to try to resist the darkness. To try to stay himself. “Look to my example, boy. There is no resisting the mark or the blade. There is only REMISSION and RELAPSE!” (Recapper’s note: Best. Line. Delivery. Ever. Omundson? You are a golden god. Also? Your incredible hair and beard deserve their own credits.)
“You told me this day would come,” Dean says. Cain throws him through a window, disarming Dean, telling him he didn’t kill his “pet angel” because he knows Dean’s weakness. “Your courage. Your reckless bravado.” He knew Dean would come and bring the blade. It was all a set up. He takes it and we see the mark reinfusing itself into him. “It’s been too long,” he says, and we know things are about to go very, very wrong.
Cain tells Dean he cares about him, and that he is saving him from his fate. Dean has been living Cain’s life in reverse. His started with killing his brother, and that’s where Dean’s will inevitably end. “No,” Dean says, and we know he means it with all of his heart. “Never.” Dean looks sick, like he knows what Cain says is a lie and like he fears it will be the truth. “It’s called the Mark of Cain for a reason!” Cain says. First Dean will kill Crowley with mixed feelings. Then Cas, and that “will hurt something awful.” Then the murder that would turn Dean into the savage that Cain became. “The murder of your brother Sam.” Dean becomes desperate, until he spies Cain’s former preferred weapon in his belt. “The only thing standing between you and that destiny is this blade,” Cain says, holding the First Blade to Dean’s throat. “You’re welcome, my son.” And, Dean? In a move no one saw coming? Snatches Cain’s knife and cuts off the hand holding the blade. Cain’s severed hand falls, fingers twitching feebly. Dean reaches for the First Blade and Cain rolls to the ground, bleeding from the stump, surprised and maybe a little relieved.
Dean hesitates. “What’s the matter?” Cain asks. “Tell me I don’t have to do this,” Dean begs. “Tell me that you’ll stop. Tell me that you can stop.” Cain looks at him, letting him know without question, “I will never stop.” Then he bows his head in a shot worthy of a great graphic novel, and Dean stabs him to death out of camera sight. And Dean is broken. Panting. Lost.
Dean finally staggers down the stairs. Castiel and Sam are sick with concern, watching him descend. Crowley? Looks mildly impressed. He asks for the blade. Dean looks at it as though he has forgotten it is there, steps forward and….hands it to Cas. “You lied to me.” Crowley says. “It’s not the first time today,” Dean says, cold, summoning the last of his strength to stand firm. “Cain’s list?” he adds. “You weren’t on it.” Crowley disappears and Dean falls, helpless and spent, into Sam’s waiting arms. “Hey,” Sam says, trying to soothe him, grateful Dean is alive, hoping he is whole. “You did it. Dean, you did it.”
Sadly? Looking at Dean? I think Sam’s hope is in vain.
Crowley goes back to hell, and is greeted by Rowena’s condescending reversion to “Fergus…” Rowena tells him she is leaving because she is so disappointed in him and proud of him all at once. She acknowledges what we all know: his rise to power was not luck or accident, and he did it all by himself. But it breaks her heart to see what “a colossal numbnut” he has become in the face of Dean Winchester. “You’re no king,” she says, “Not any more.” And she slams her takedown home as he snatches her bags away, angry and shamed all at once. “You’re their bitch.”
Back at the HuntCave Dean, looking like what he would refer to as “hammered crap,” shakily drinks coffee while Sam worries. Sam tells Dean that what he did was incredible, offering him a smile of pride. He says that if he can do that without losing himself that is cause for hope, even without a cure. Dean tries to smile back and fails. “Yeah. Maybe,” is all he can muster. Cas comes in and Dean asks where the blade is. “Somewhere safe,” Cas says, wary. “Good.” Dean replies, excusing himself to go and sleep for about four days. Sam nods and smiles, in denial or maybe playing the game. Dean leaves, clapping Cas on the back, and his eyes, when averted from the two people he loves most in the world, darken. Sam gasps a little, swallowing hard again, and we know—all of those smiles were just a front. “How is he?” asks Cas. And Sam, voices what we all fear when he says “Cas? Dean’s in trouble.”
So… not as much snappy commentary this time because this? This episode spoke for itself. And for the next four weeks (UGH) I will live in my happy place where because we didn’t actually see Dean stabbing Cain, Tim Omundson will return to my screen ASAP. No, you say? Well then, they better renew Galavant or I will riot. See you in March, on Supernatural’s new Wednesday night, for “The Things They Carried.”