Still Flailing! Supernatural 9.11 First Born
Last night’s Supernatural, First Born, was so jam-packed full of action, adventure, angst, plot twists and episodes of nail-biting OMG NOOOOO screams at my poor abused television, that this morning left my head still spinning. Waking up the day after a new SPN episode bursting with thinky thoughts and eager to see what everyone else thought is the way the early seasons of Supernatural were for me – this is not the first time in Season 9 that I’ve felt exactly the same way. How awesome is that?
It’s no secret that I love the way Robbie Thompson writes my favorite show, but it’s also no secret that I get cranky when the Winchester brothers go their separate ways, even temporarily. For me to love an episode that had Sam and Dean sharing exactly ZERO scenes is unprecedented. (Though I’m not claiming I won’t be grumbling loudly if the separation extends over multiple episodes, just so y’all know).
The episode started out with a replay of Sam and Dean’s break-up scene in the previous episode, Dean driving off alone and Sam sending him away with a still-hurting “I won’t stop you.” Ouch. It hurt to see it again, but it set the stage for the dark and desperate place both brothers are in right now. Winchesters apart almost always means parallel story lines, which sometimes gives me whiplash, but in this episode worked seamlessly. Neither brother is alone, and both of the new pairings turn out to be pretty damn interesting.
Fandom has been clamoring for some exploration of the Sam and Cas relationship forever, but I don’t think even the most diehard Sassy shipper expected as much as we got in this episode. I’m liking this version of Castiel – I prefer him as we originally knew him, as an angel – but he retains the humanity from his eye-opening experience living as a human. He’s still rather adorably awkward and naïve, but there’s a wisdom there now that’s the hard-earned kind. It allows Cas to see things clearly, including the Winchesters. Sam and Cas playing house in the bunker was like fanfic come to life, especially when Cas thinks they’ve acquired a guinea pig as a pet to make the domesticity complete. Jared and Misha have great comic timing in that exchange. Also, guinea pigs are beyond adorable. Fanart, anyone? Please?
The scenes with Castiel extracting the remnants of grace in Sam with the most terrifying hypodermic needle I’ve ever seen were hard to watch, and once again Jared did a great job of screaming out his pain in a way that made me want to cover my ears, because OUCH. But even more interesting was the dynamic that played out between the two during that grisly procedure. Cas sees more and more clearly (as do we along with him) that Sam doesn’t just want to find Gadreel; he wants to atone for yet another terrible thing he’s taking responsibility for. Dean’s insistence that Kevin’s death was on his shoulders alone clearly wasn’t accepted by Sam, so both Winchesters are carrying around that guilt.
“Being human means settling your debts,” Sam says, and I reach for the box of tissues that Robbie Thompson kindly warned me that I’d need. “Please help me do one thing right,” Sam pleads, and I’m lost in ALL THE FEELS. Oh Sam, always blaming himself, never feeling like he can make up for the bad stuff no matter how much good stuff he does. It hurts, on such a deep level, to see Sam hurting like that. As he practically forces Cas to push the needle in further, I was cringing – both literally and metaphorically – and probably babbling something at my television about Sammmmmmmy and Nooooooo with various family members shaking their heads at me.
I love Cas in this scene, his distress at hurting Sam written all over his face, his struggle to decide how far to go clearly being waged moment by moment.
“Why must the Winchesters run toward death?” he finally asks, and makes the decision for Sam. “Life is precious,” he says, “even a life as pig-headed as a Winchester’s”. If an angel can change, he reasons, maybe even someone as pigheaded as the Winchesters can too. After all, Cas reminds Sam, “The only one who’s screwed things up more than you is me.”
(Shallow side note: on second viewing, the full impact of Sam Winchester in single layers in that tight blue short sleeve tee shirt and jeans laying himself out on that table…. Phew! It’s a testament to the emotional impact of the scene that my shallow side was completely oblivious on first viewing, because damn, Jared. )
Miraculously, Sam listens. Not right away, of course, but once he’s had a chance to think about it, he tells Cas that he was right. And then the most unexpected incredible thing happened – a Sam and Cas hug! I can tell you that Tumblr at that moment pretty much imploded, with Sassy shippers falling to the floor in ecstacy and non-Sassy shippers chiming in to say that even though that wasn’t their thing, they were so very happy for their fellow fans. A moment of fandom cross-ship togetherness like that is a thing of beauty – and a testament to the power of a hug on Supernatural. Robbie Thompson, you spread a lot of happiness through the world last night.
(Although I admit to being a bit taken aback by the music cue during the hug – I think of that as the brothers theme, and it jarred me to hear it played then. Although I guess that might be a particularly tight reading – wasn’t it called that on a soundtrack cd many years ago? Hmmm.)
Cas tries several times to get Sam to reach out to Dean, if only for the practical purpose of needing all the help they can get.
Cas: Maybe we should call Dean.
Stubborn!Winchester Number 1: No, he wanted to go. We’ve got this.
Me: (shakes fist at television) Damn those stubborn Winchesters!
Cas actually tries twice to get Sam to call Dean, but he refuses both times. Nevertheless, while the brothers remain (stubbornly) separated, they are each omnipresent in the scenes with the other. Sam doesn’t do anything without thinking of Dean, and Dean doesn’t do anything without thinking of Sam. That codependent tangled up messed up thing is alive and well even long distance. (And yes, I like it that way).
Meanwhile, the other (odder) pairing of the evening is Dean and Crowley (or, as the always perfectly snarky Orlando Jones christened the ship in a live tweet: “I’ve got a new OTP – Drowley!”). From the first moment we see Dean, I’m struck by the change in his appearance and demeanor – it’s just subtle things, but it’s obvious. He’s not as clean shaven as usual, the stubble darkening his face and making him look just a little more dangerous. He blatantly checks out the woman in the bar, and it’s less playful than Dean has been at other times, again making him seem a little more dangerous. At that point, I got totally lost in Serge Ladouceur’s amazing close-up shots of Dean in profile and his beer-moistened lips and literally missed a few lines of Crowley dialogue. I’m sorry, Robbie and Mark! (Though in my defense, I live tweeted that confession and immediately heard from about a hundred other viewers who had experienced the same time warp.)
Anyway, a second watching confirmed that Crowley actually had some deliciously innuendo-filled lines of dialogue there, which Mark Sheppard can deliver like no one else, from “Is that boudoir smile for me?” to “Buy me a drink first” to “playing hard to get?” and later “I’d never leave my domestic partner in crime”. I love how Dean is always slightly rattled by Crowley’s flirty banter and how much Crowley clearly loves having that effect on him.
Know what else I love about this scene? The call backs to John Winchester (Oh Jeffrey Dean, do you know how much the fandom still grieves your absence??) and the reappearance of John’s journal. I might have whooped out loud when Dean pulled the journal out. (Fun fact: on one of our set visits, we got to explore that journal and see just how detailed it is. The props crew told us that the same crew member made all the entries so that the writing would be consistent. Love the attention to detail our Show always has!)
Crowley and Dean together are a twisted version of the “buddy comedy” that Crowley claims they are, and Jensen and Mark played off each other perfectly. Then they added to the mix two fabulous guest characters just to make this episode even more delicious. Tara was that rare thing in television that SPN has actually given us several examples of – a smart, savvy, attractive, kickass older woman. She’d hooked up with John, and was plenty confident enough to flirt with his son while she immobilized Crowley in a hidden devil’s trap.
Tara to Dean: “Well, didn’t you grow up pretty?”
Okay, that was it for me. I like her. Can she stay? (Yes, I know this is the wrong question on SPN).
Before Tara’s inevitable demise, she got to throw holy water in Dean’s face (which Ackles has a way of always making amusing) and tell him he was as handsome as John – and as dumb too.
(Side note – VFX team, ooooh how I loved that burning map!)
And then there was Cain. Fandom had already adopted Tim Omundson into the SPN Family, since buddy Richard Speight has been bringing him to con karaoke for a while now. Last night’s ep finally made it official – and wow, did he ever NOT disappoint! He played Cain as both an intimidating figure and an unexpectedly sympathetic one, especially when SPN changed the story of Cain and Abel into one where Cain was trying to save his brother from Lucifer and send his soul to Heaven when he killed him. Have to say, I didn’t see THAT coming!
The way Cain just sat there calmly stripping his corn cobs as Dean essentially fought a cage match against the demons that Cain set him up against was absolutely chilling. The (apparently adlibbed, according to Robbie) wry “Doing great” as he catches Dean’s eye when Dean is flat on his back on the table was priceless. And the fight itself? OMG EPIC. I think I might have forgotten just how badass Dean Winchester is. It’s been a while since he really got to show his stuff, with all the being guilty and self blaming going on. This was the Dean Winchester I fell in love with – brash, brave, reckless, and able to take out three demons by himself. The fact that Jensen Ackles did that entire scene himself – no stunt double – only made it more amazing. I was literally holding my breath, and possibly jumping up and down simultaneously.
I forget sometimes too that the Winchesters, if we met them in real life, would be downright SCARY. I may not agree with Dean’s dismissal of who he is as just a killer, but the fact remains that he is. They both are. The way Dean fought in that kitchen? I remembered. Holy hell, did I ever.
Also, please to be giving me episode stills like this forever. Thank you.
Meanwhile, Mark Sheppard gets the best line of the night in his demon fight: “You’re good. But I’m Crowley.”
And then we come to the ending, which I also didn’t see coming. Obviously the Cain and Abel biblical story has parallels to Dean and Sam, and it’s been referenced before in the show that they are of Cain and Abel’s bloodline. As soon as Cain explained SPN’s version of the story, that he had to kill his brother to save him from becoming Lucifer’s pet, the parallels became a lot more chilling. Selling your soul for your brother is something Dean Winchester knows a hell of a lot about. Dean, in his current rash and self-loathing-fueled psychological state, agrees to take on the mark of Cain without considering the consequences – in fact, literally without hearing them.
Cain: “But you have to know that this mark comes with a great burden. Some would say a great cost.”
What has Dean really said yes to? Does this mean, in a sense, that Dean finally said yes to Lucifer? Are we getting some kind of twisted remake of the Michael and Lucifer showdown? What did Cain mean when he challenged Dean by asking ominously “Where’s your brother now?” Yes, Dean! Where is your brother???
I love how twisted up everything is now. Dean has a little demon in him; Sam has a little angel grace perhaps. Crowley and Cas, a demon and an angel, both have some humanity. I think we could see that in the last episode when Crowley seemed to be sincerely trying to assuage Sam’s guilt about Kevin, and in this episode’s ending when he told Dean that “You are worthy. Your problem is that nobody hates you more than you do – even me. I tried, but I couldn’t.”
Crowley also tries to convince the Winchesters to get back together, to no avail.
Crowley: “We’re gonna need all the help we can get.”
Stubborn!Winchester Number 2: “Go find the blade.”
The ending scene is so gorgeous and so sad and so full of foreboding, it took my breath away (thanks Serge). Dean and the Impala alone in the dark, the lights of the city (Vancouver in reality) in the distance. I was floored one last time by the Sixth Sense sort of twist (I was in that movie, so it holds a warm place in my heart) when Dean confronts Crowley about setting up the whole thing to show his worthiness to Cain. WHAT? Gotta say, I love it when Dean is smart as well as badass. Dayum.
I’m left full of trepidation, and with so many questions. Are we finally going down the road of “evil Dean” that’s been explored in so much fanfiction? Has Dean ever really gotten over being a torturer in hell, or come to terms with the things he had to do to stay alive in Purgatory? Does he truly consider himself a “killer”, losing sight of his own humanity and empathy?
Can I take a little hope in the fact that Cain was (for a time at least) redeemed by the unconditional love of Colette? Could this foreshadow what unconditional love (from his brother and from Castiel) could do for the self-destructive, self-blaming, revenge-fueled Dean? I may be grasping at straws, but I need a little hope here. A newly wise and empathic Castiel seems to understand forgiveness better than either of the Winchesters – including the power of apologizing and the way that makes room for forgiveness of self. And I have no doubt, no matter how much the brothers might argue and turn away from each other, that they will always come back together. Right, Show? Right??
Also, a few more burning questions.
As fandom quickly pointed out, Dean is now Dean Cain. Superman indeed.
And does this make Dean immortal? (And does that mean that Supernatural must stay on the air forever? If so, I approve of this plot arc.)
As always, there were plenty of cast and crew live tweeting, especially during the West coast feed. I did my rewatch along with the West coast, which gave me time to watch the show and read tweets simultaneously – which makes the viewing experience both more interactive and more hilarious. (I need my first viewing to be pristine, with only the Show itself speaking to me – this explains family members avoiding me from 9 to 10 pm on Tuesdays…)
Tim Omundson had some lovely things to say about Jensen in an interview earlier that day — “What I didn’t expect was how great Jensen would be to work with. I had heard that he and Jared were great people, but it goes beyond that. I was so impressed with this guy and the way he works. I have spent the last 8 years on a show and I know what a grind a TV schedule can be on its leads. But he was just great! Welcoming, generous, funny, energetic. I would jump at the chance to work with him again.”
There were lots of congratulatory tweets back and forth during the episode too, including to the amazing guest actors and director John Badham. And lots of humorous ones. These were some of my favorites:
Tara Larsen (as Misha makes a sweeping metaphor out of a PBJ sandwich): Misha had to eat a lot of PBJ…
Fandom: Needs more kale.
Orlando Jones (how much do I love that he live tweets SPN?) when Cas suggests that they should call Dean: This whole Sastiel thing is confusing to me…
A portion of fandom: Um, me too…
Orlando when Crowley reminds Dean that ‘I’ve been inside your brother’: This show just took on a whole new direction. #SexyNatural
Fandom: Oh no, that’s not new…
Orlando also tweeted this well-known-in-fandom photo manip (artist unknown, unless one of you want to tell me who to credit) when Tara stated the obvious: that Dean had grown up pretty.
Robbie Thompson when Castiel gets ready to extract Sam’s remaining grace: Finally, Sam and Cas play doctor.
Fandom: Wait, this is the first time? I’m sure I read….oh.
While fandom was going nuts over the Sam and Cas hug, Misha decided to taunt Jared.
Misha: There was something poking my hip during that hug. Not sure what it was.
Fandom: *worries about whether Misha will survive his upcoming directing stint*
Misha, apparently unconcerned, kept up the priceless tweets today too.
Misha: Jarpad is always trying to get me to call him “my little guinea pig”. But I won’t do it.
He also jumped in on the twitter feud that has been swirling around the SPN fandom and Justin’s “Beliebers”.
Misha: The Belieber boycott of Supernatural devastated viewership last night. Lesson learned. Don’t mess with Justinbieber. (He then attached a tvbythenumbers article that this was the most watched episode since 2010)
Fandom: Do not mess with the SPN Family.
Genevieve actually had the best tweet of the night, a photo of Jared and the new baby watching the episode, that quickly reduced most of fandom to awwwww.
I’ll just try to hang onto that feeling until next week, instead of the nail-biting sense of trepidation that the episode left me with.
If you’re in need of a pick-me-up too, try “Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls” at the link above. The amusing story of our fangirl misadventures might be therapeutic right now….