Friday, May 22, 2015

Supernatural, Season 10, Episode 23: Brother's Keeper

Wayward son! (Albeit a little altered). I swear I wait a whole season for this moment and end up playing the intro 3 times over before getting to the actual episode.

Sam and Castiel are trying – and failing – to find Dean and dealing with the big question of what to do when they find him. The only “cure” for the Mark of Cain is death – or maybe Rowena and the evil book of evil. The problem is, as Castiel points out, using the evil book of evil causes evil stuff to happen. This is not stopping Sam – absolutely no-one can tell him what these consequences are except for a vaguely worded ominous maybe and he’s not going to let Dean die for that.

So it’s back to Rowena, they need her spell and intimidating her isn’t working. Another problem is Sam can’t actually deliver his side of the deal and kill Crowley – so it’s time for what she’ll “settle” for – freedom and the Evil Book of Evil. Castiel thinks this is a bad idea. Sam doesn’t care.

The ingredients for the uncursing are pretty harsh – the fruit from the Garden of Eden, the Golden Calf (with Castiel – or “feathers” as Rowena calls him) there to confirm that all of these things exist and are a pain in the arse to get. And, hardest of all, the sacrifice of something Rowena loves. Not that she cares too much about that- she’s happy to kill anything – but she doesn’t actually love anything. Castiel calls shenanigans and uses his angel mojo to find what Rowena loves: a Polish boy called Oskar she knew 300 years ago.

Dean wakes in a motel and looks several kinds of rough.

And then goes to investigate a woman’s murder posing as FBI (with still scarred muscles). Only Dean crosses lines even for him, mentioning the girl “looked like a whore” and earning a strong objection from the Sheriff who not only opposes him referring to the girl that way but also wants it to be clear that even if she WERE a sex worker (or the whore of Babylon) she still gets treated like a person. Why, Supernatural you do try at times.

He’s also joined by fellow hunter Rudy who called Dean in (and seems to think the kill is a vampire kill) and dean insults him and tries to drive him off. Upset Rudy calls Sam to let him know where Dean is and that he’s not playing well with others. Sam leaves Castiel to do magic with Rowena while he goes to intervention his brother

Alas, Dean is also allowed to interview the parents of a missing friend of the victim (Crystal). It’s terrible and awful and killing Dean as an option is looking increasingly like a decent option.

When did the Mark of Cain, of murder and rage, become the Mark of Slut Shaming?

He does get a lead from Crystal’s brother and it’s off to a cabin full of vampires and hostages (Crystal and Rudy). The vampires die – but so does Rudy, largely because Dean doesn’t even try to really save him. Crystal lives but is duly horrified that Dean didn’t even try to save Rudy.

But it’s not that easy – Dean goes back to the motel to guilty illusions, Lady McBeth-style handwashing and then trashing the place.

Castiel is on magic duty and summons Crowley (“who summons any more?” alas Castiel doesn’t have Crowley’s number). Crowley isn’t that co-operative and demands Castiel either blast him or beg (when Castiel objects Crowley yells “king” which is actually kind of an awesome point since Crowley has spent so much time forgetting he’s the king of hell). Looking at the list, Crowley is amused – and decides to help.

Either Castiel or Crowley knew that Oscar had actually been given immortality by Rowena as a parting gift – and Crowley finds him in a diner, calling himself Seth and selling coffee (one would think a 300 year old man would have been able to lay down some savings).

The fruit (a quince) and a fragment of Golden Garth are, apparently, much easier to get. Probably because there are so many less mummy issues attached to these since Oscar is the only thing she’s ever loved. – not him, her son. Rowena considers this especially cruel of him, he quite enjoys it.

Sam track’s Dean’s motel room – only to find it empty except for the Impala’s keys which have been left for Sam. Yes he’s given his car away

Dean himself summons Death – and even has food ready for him (we know from past acquaintance that Death has select taste in food). Dean wants Death to kill him, it’s the only way out he can see. Even Death is surprised to see Dean giving up – except he can’t kill Dean. The Mark of Cain makes you death-proof. He could remove it… except for some unfortunate exposition. Before god created the world et al and said “let there be light”, there was primordial darkness which was all destructive and terrible before god and the Archangels beat it back and locked it in… the Mark of Cain which he then gave to Lucifer, his most trusted minion

Except the Mark then corrupted Lucifer leading to the fall, banishment et al. Lucifer pass it to Cain who passed it to Dean. At no point during this pass-the-parcel did God or one of the other Archangels thing “oh shit, key to all kind of badness is now in the hands of people it really shouldn’t be in the hands of.”

So if Death were to remove the Mark he insists that Dean share it with another so the lock doesn’t open and Big Bad Darkness doesn’t run free. Dean has his limits, he won’t do that. Death offers option B – transport him somewhere, not even Earth, where he lives as the human lock without anyone around to kill.

He calls Sam to make his goodbyes. Or to come and make his goodbyes in person. Oh and there’s a catch. You can’t put Dean in an eternal prison and leave Sam out there – because Sam is a Winchester and, as we’ve seen time and time again, the Winchesters are willing to burn the whole world down if it would mean saving the other. Lock Dean up, Sam will rescue him. Solution – kill Sam. A solution Dean has signed off on, yelling at Sam for being selfish. Dean even realises how Sam was right about closing the gates of hell and sacrificing himself – and adds that with all the chaos and destruction they’ve caused they’re pretty much evil. He throws more wood to the fire by pointing out not just how much evil Marked Dean has done, but the lengths Sam has gone to to save him

Dean uses the ultimate example – Sam is willing to unleash the Darkness for the sake of his brother. Sam counters with the proof that Dean is willing to summon Death and sacrifice himself for the sake of the world (yes, but isn’t that the Winchester pattern? Always willing to sacrifice self for the world, but also willing to sacrifice the world for their brother?)

Sam and Dean fight and Mark of Dean wins. Sam still insists that he will never believe Dean is evil – but does agree he has to be stopped and tells Dean and Death to go ahead. For some bizarre reason, Death gives Dean his scythe with which to kill Sam (whyyy whyyyy?). We have a really powerful, beautiful scene as Dean prepares to kill Sam and even then he lays the groundwork for Dean returning and finding redemption. Seeing those family photos… Dean kills Death.

I wish I could say it was not predictable. But the minute Death gave his epic, terrible weapon to Dean without a good explanation I knew there was going to be a convoluted story reason for it. And, of course, the point is made – Dean will sacrifice himself for the world, but sacrifice the world for his brother.

Back to Castiel and co and, after saying goodbye to Oscar, Rowena does sacrifice him for the spell (as she said, she wants her freedom more than anything she loves). She casts the decurse spell. Lightning strikes Dean and burns the Mark away.

And Rowena reveals hidden power? She breaks her chains and imprisons both Crowley and Castiel, mocking Crowley for underestimating her – she also casts her raging beast spell on Castiel even as she leaves with her evil book of evils. Castiel attacks Crowley

Sam and Dean leave – to a red flashing sky and wrathful lightning and darkness fountaining from the earth and pooling together into a giant expanding cloud that eats the Impala with the Winchesters in it.

So ends Season 10 and… I can’t say it was one of Supernatural’s best. There was a lack of a big bad or coherent theme (sure there was the Mark of Cain, but it kind of checked out for most of the season, hanging on only at the beginning and end). I didn’t mind the lack of big bad – because I do think Supernatural has an issue with constantly escalating apocalypses (now if there were ever a word that was not meant to be plural, it’s that one). Settling down to some character development, analysis and monster of the week, going back to the core of helping people (which I mentioned a few times) was a good thing, with added bonuses of Castiel and Crowley slowly building themselves with nice little inclusions of Jodi, Claire and Charlie to remind us these characters exist and could bring a lot of awesome in the future. Concept wise, I was sold.

Execution? It kind of failed on nearly every level

The one it kind of got right was Castiel and Claire – I’m glad this storyline was revisited and there was a real attempt to address a lot of the complexities there as well as being an excellent vehicle through which to examine the whole issue of Angels possessing humans (sure, they’re willing – but they pick out actual believers and speak as Angels – that’s not an informed choice or informed consent and I love that that that was examined). But after that… then what? At one point Castiel is asked what he is, what he is doing, what is his purpose and I kind of want that answer too – especially since he just kind of stumbled into his Grace. It’s a nice beginning but there’s a lot more to mine here

And Crowley – he and Rowena were terrible this season. Can we have some analysis into whether Crowley even wants to be king of hell – he’s so immensely bored by it? It ended well but it’s a beginning I want to know more about what Crowley actually wants, how he is going to continue to relate to the Winchesters and how he fits

Then we have Sam and Dean – caught in the recurring theme of this series: one brother is willing to sacrifice himself to save the world, while the other is willing to sacrifice the world to save his brother. They epicly are willing to throw everything in the fire to save the world only to turn round at the end and throw the world perilously close to the flames to snatch the risked brother back to safety.

But are we examining these themes or just repeating them? Dean even points out that this is exactly the same as Sam wanting to die to close the Gates of Hell in Season 8 and Dean refusing to go through with it. They just swapped the brothers (and, yes, it is usually Dean trying to save Sam). This is an old story on this show – each brother is willing to epicly sacrifice themselves for the greater good – accepting the Mark of Cain, Closing the Gates of Hell, ending up in Purgatory, selling their soul are just some of the bigger examples – and then the other brother is willing to do anything to save the sacrificed one and in saving him unleashes all kinds of chaos in the process (releasing Leviathan from Purgatory, breaking the seals, causing the angels to fall, gaining the mark of cain).

Which would be good to analyse. It would be good to go beyond that and look deeper. It would be good if this were a plot point beyond another moment of Greater Angsting. But it isn’t – it’s on repeat. For the last, what, 5 seasons the Winchesters have been in permanent clean-up-their-own-mess mode and then stuck in their eternal broken angst with a side order of unhealthy co-dependence over it all.

So, optimistically, I’m hoping this is it. This is the turning point. They’re summing up both characters and the whole issues with this season in the hope of starting a new chapter with season 11. With Sam definitely doing all the evil-for-the-sake-of-my-brother we expect from Dean we’ve cemented that this is a dual brother problem. With the death of Charlie and Dean’s exposition of Sam’s bad acts in his name, we’ve got overt acknowledgement of how far over the line they’ve gone. So move on – do that one thing that Supernatural is so BAD at: develop. Grow. Don’t just revel in the endless perfectly acted Manpain season after season after season – LEARN FROM IT. Move on from it, the Winchester brothers need to take the pause off their character growth rather than them just being eternally tragic, eternally broken and desperately reliant. Because no matter how epicly perfectly it is portrayed, it needs to come off the repeat

I’m hoping with that last scene and really on-the-nose exposition of Sam and Dean we’re actually at that point.

This seems to be a recurring point I keep making – things handled badly but with huge potential for more… so season 11 needs to run with that.

On marginalised issues: I actually think Supernatural improved a lot on gender this season. We touched on Claire (and consent issues) and Jody being pretty good and Rowena is toweringly awesome. We also have several episodes with surprising challenges to a lot of casual sexism and misogyny (this episode was a classic example with the dead girl). Just moments where Supernatural has had the opportunity to be awful and hasn't just refrained from being so – but has taken a step back and even come close to challenging it.

Of course, as I mentioned in the mid-season finale, this is the very essence of damned with faint praise. Supernatural has set the bar so damn low that I kind of feel like I’m giving them cookies for not being as awful as expected rather than praising them for actual good depiction. It isn’t GOOD, but it resisted the urge to be as awful as usual.

Charlie – I honestly don’t have anything to add to what I already said for that episode. It was appalling and inexcusable and the only recurring LGBT character on this show which is already full of highly dubious LGBT issues.

As for POC – wait, what POC? Bit parts, one offs in the odd episode but nothing close to a substantive POC role the entire season. Given what happened to Kevin, I suppose we can count it a mercy not to have something else to be incensed about?