Counting Down to the End of Season 9 – Supernatural ‘King of the Damned’
The pressure is on for the last few episodes of Supernatural Season 9, which means every moment has to count. That’s probably an unfair expectation, but watching “King of the Damned” this week, I found myself resenting the clock ticking down WAY too quickly.
I also found myself setting my expectations rather high, which is dangerous when you’re a passionate fan, but I couldn’t help it. I may have been muttering, “you only have a few more episodes to play alot out, Show, don’t mess it up!” Maybe.
The writers of this episode haven’t always been my favorite in the past, but some of their recent episodes have made me more hopeful, so I went into this episode with some cautious optimism. Did it pan out? Yes and no.
Of the no:
There were some things that didn’t quite work for me. To my great surprise, one of them was Abaddon’s death. Perhaps it lost some of its impact simply because I was expecting it, but I had a hard time staying immersed in the scene as it was playing out. It should have been full of tension – will Dean be able to move? Will he be able to retrieve the Blade with the power of his mind? Who’s stronger, Dean or Abbadon? I should have been on the edge of my seat (screaming at my poor television and annoying my family) but I wasn’t. I was interested, but not biting my nails – which is not what I expected.
I know the scene worked well for some fans and not for others, and I’m not sure why. It was very brightly lit, which made every expression, every movement, more obvious – it was almost like I could see too much. And the scene stretched out over a long span of time without any dialogue, which somehow made it veer dangerously close to cheesy at times. The effects were well done, as they always are on this Show, but I found it hard to stay immersed in the scene. Usually Dean’s struggles captivate me (understatement…) but this time I wasn’t as blown away as I expected to be.
Supernatural often mixes the scary, the funny and the angsty into one episode, but the mix wasn’t always smooth in this episode. It was a somewhat humorous scene when the self-important angel Ezra was captured and awaiting the arrival of “him” – implied to be Metatron but in fact, Castiel – which meant that when Cas made his dramatic entrance, I burst into laughter. Then immediately wondered if that was the reaction they were going for. I still don’t know!
There were a couple of scenes where the music was so odd that it was distracting, and actually threw me out of the narrative. What was up with that??
Also partially in the WTF category was the “interrogation” scene when Sam and Dean question Ezra. The scene was played for laughs, and some of it was hysterical – that part goes in the Yes! category. But the fourth-wall-breaking portion of the scene goes right here. I usually love when Show breaks the fourth wall – there are entire chapters about Supernatural’s propensity to do just that in all our books. But it takes a deft hand to strike the right balance, which is the difference between an affectionate poke and a cruelly pointed stab.
Dean: I get it. You’re a fan.
Me: Oh no. Don’t go there, Show, not this episode….
Sam: A fan.
Dean: Look, just cuz you’re hot for Metatron, or Bieber, or Beckham…
Me: (groaning) Or Ackles, or Padalecki, or Collins, arghhhhh….
Dean: Just cuz you know everything about them, doesn’t mean you actually know them
Sam: Or that they even know you exist…
Me: (holding my ears) Make it stop…
Dean: Ooh, that’s cold, Sam.
Me: Yeah, it was. Too cold.
We’ve written three books challenging the negative stereotypes of fans as having delusional ‘parasocial relationships’ with celebrities who don’t know they exist and the shame it produces. I know that’s not how Jared or Jensen or Misha see it, since they’ve said so in our books – and read our books – but I didn’t need to hear that in canon, thankyouverymuch.
Okay, ‘nuff said. Let’s move on to the Yes! scenes –
The rest of that interrogation scene was solidly in Yes! Ohgodyes! territory. I love smart!Sam, and we had a banquet of that here. First, Sam quickly realizes that Dean is losing control now that the First Blade is in his hand, and pulls him back from killing the angel and losing the chance to get any information from him. Then he comes up with a brilliant plan on the spot, using the captive angel’s own sense of self-importance against him.
I love how quickly Dean catches on and goes along, the brothers working together seamlessly. It’s like old times, the two of them finishing each other’s sentences and communicating wordlessly, only needing a glance to plan the next manipulation. And it works! Perfectly. It was so sweet I can almost forget the whole ‘fan’ thing…
As I mentioned before, Abaddon’s death scene didn’t move me as much as I wish it had. On the other hand, the immediate aftermath of Abbadon’s death absolutely floored me. Dean totally losing it, giving in to the bloodlust utterly, was both terrifying and horrifying. It was that scene that brought all my emotion to the surface, instead of the more dramatic one that preceded it. Jensen embodied Dean’s unrestrained violence, and Jared perfectly portrayed Sam’s horror and fear as he watched his brother unravel. Once again, it was only Sam’s voice that eventually pulled Dean out of the near-psychotic rage that had consumed him.
Sam: “Dean! Stop!”
And then, more softly, with so much hurt and concern in his voice: “Dean, you can stop.”
It was only that permission, in Sam’s voice, that finally got through to Dean. The expression on Dean’s face when he drops the Blade and looks up at his brother is absolutely heartbreaking – he looks utterly lost, horribly broken. No wonder Sam is so worried.
I also loved that scene for its parallels to Season 4 Sam, especially the episode where Sam, at the height of his demon-blood-fueled power, kills Samhain in front of a horrified Dean. In that episode, Dean was just as terrified for Sam as Sam is now for Dean – there’s even a similar shot of the other brother bursting through the door just in time to see the killing.
I was unsure about the directing in Abbadon’s death scene, but in the one that followed? Spot on.
Sam and Cas had some interaction in this episode, and Sam actually got to talk about his experience of being possessed by Gadreel, which left me open-mouthed because WHAT? We’re getting some Sam pov??? OMG. I was so excited, I was hanging on Jared’s every word. He did a great job of portraying just how raw those wounds still are for Sam, and some clues to how he’s coping. Mostly by avoidance – as he says, he doesn’t like to talk about it. Cas pushes, though, and Sam puts his own discomfort aside and talks. And we learn more right along with Cas – both about Sam, and about Gadreel, who is becoming quite a fascinating character. I don’t know what to make of him, and I like that I don’t know.
Misha also got a chance to shine in this episode. He portrayed the reluctant leader that Castiel is becoming – in his interactions with Gadreel, especially, his combination of diplomacy and persuasion were pretty compelling. I think the angels are right — Castiel has it in him to be a leader.
Whether or not he got through to Gadreel remains to be seen.
Misha also does subtle humor so well, and he got to show some of that in this episode, shaking his head in confusion as to why the angels insist on calling him “Commander” — Dean’s reaction to that was priceless.
Misha also got a chance to show Castiel’s affectionate side, which pleased many fans. After a weekend at DCCon, where the actors hugged each other nonstop, it was nice to see that carry over with the characters too.
(Also, the angel command center looked really cool – kudos, Jerry Wanek!)
I am an unabashed Crowley fan, so I loved that we got so much delectable scenery chewing from Mark Sheppard. Crowley fascinates me as a character – he’s done horrible, horrible things, and yet I find myself rooting for him again and again. I loved that he triple crossed Abbadon to warn the Winchesters, and that he used their own special safeword to do it (Poughkeepsie….what a weird spelling…) That was a nice reminder of just how closely Crowley and the Winchesters have been working together, and how ambiguous their relationship has become.
And who but Crowley can pull off a line like “Nobody in the history of torture has been tortured with the torture that you will be tortured with” and make it both threatening and hysterical.
I also enjoyed the Crowley/Abbadon interaction, which had so much sassiness to it that it really could be a ship at this point. Their “wow” in unison as they marveled at poor Gavin’s cluelessness was a thing of beauty.
I’ll miss Alaina Huffman, who imbued Abbadon with so much personality that she was far from a one-dimensional villain. Huffman’s acting chops are so good that she can hold her own in snarky scenes with Crowley, which is no mean feat. I’ll miss you, Alaina!
And Mark… He portrayed Crowley’s reluctant affection for his son so subtly that you can’t even pick out how you know that it’s killing him to see Gavin tortured – and yet you absolutely know it. That scene was another time I yelled at the television, I was so empathizing with Crowley’s pain at seeing his child tortured.
We got some nice nods to canon continuity in this episode, which I really appreciate. (Not so much with Gavin’s character, alas). But there was a call back to Crowley making a deal for “3 more inches of willy” – an important bit of canon if I ever heard one! There was also Abbadon using the devil’s trap bullet that she learned from Henry Winchester. I love callbacks! Thanks, writers.
I also liked the cemetery scene, where Dean and Sam retrieve the First Blade. I no longer take for granted that we’ll get lots of Sam and Dean scenes this season, so any time I get the boys interacting and talking has me staring so hard at my screen it’s a wonder my eyeballs aren’t stuck there once the scene’s over. And this scene was beautiful – old school SPN. Darkly lit, not a little bit creepy. The brothers stroll into the cemetery in lockstep, perfectly in sync. They banter like brothers, and Sam not-so-subtly tries to keep Dean’s hands off the Blade, even if that means he has to dig through putrefied guts himself to retrieve it. Protective Sam, yum. And then there were the hellhounds. They freaking SCARED me! I realized after my heart stopped pounding like crazy that there’s not much on Supernatural that scares me – or the Winchesters – anymore. But hellhounds? They KILLED Dean once, and they killed Jo too. They fill me with dread, and the fact that we can’t see them makes them so much more terrifying. I think I’m a fan of the less you see, the scarier it is – and hellhounds are at the top of that list. I loved the photography and the directing, Sam and Dean full on sprinting, slamming the gates just in time. Phew! That’s the way I want Show to grab me!
Nice touch, Crowley talking his pets down over speaker phone.
It’s a bit of a tradition in Supernatural – or it has been in seasons past, at least — to save the last few minutes of an episode for a heart to heart conversation between the brothers, often in the Impala. I actually squeed out loud when that happened in this episode. Dean and Sam had an actual conversation – and Sam actually outright expressed his concern for his brother! And Dean called Sam “Sammy.” That right there is enough to leave me smiling.
Dean: “I didn’t tell you about the warning because I knew exactly what you we’re gonna do. You would make sure that you were right alongside me going into that room.”
Sam: “You mean like we always do. Because we’re actually partners in this and we watch each other’s backs.”
Dean: “I don’t expect you to understand.”
Sam: “Try me.”
Dean: “First time I touched that blade, I knew. I knew that I wouldn’t be stopped. I knew I would take down Abaddon and anything else if I had to. And it wasn’t a hero thing, you know, it wasn’t– It was just calm. I knew. And I had to go it alone, Sammy.”
We get some important understanding about how the Blade is changing Dean here. He describes it as giving him a sense of calm, which echoes his description of Purgatory. Dean has always longed for a simpler way of seeing things, bristling over the complexity and the shades of gray in the world. He wants things more black and white, more concrete – I think because deep down he’s capable of empathy and sensitivity, and in his line of work, those emotions make everything too complicated. Purgatory simplified things, and that was a relief – the Blade seems to be doing the same.
I think one of the reasons that’s so compelling to Dean right now is that he is still hurting so much after Sam’s declaration that they’re partners not brothers, and that Dean only saved Sam because he’s selfish and doesn’t want to be alone. (I think Sam is still hurting too, obviously). When I spoke to Jensen Ackles in his meet and greet at DC Con, I asked him if Dean was ‘over’ that hurt, and he said no.
Jensen: No, I don’t think he’s over it, it’s still there, like a gaping wound. I think it plays into his decisions – like he has nothing left to lose…
He also referred to the Mark of Cain as an ‘addiction’ for Dean – that’s how Jensen is playing it, as something compelling, something that Dean wants to keep feeling. Like any addiction, it’s powerful because there is that “gaping wound” that can’t be filled otherwise. That sense of emptiness is what people try to fill with some kind of drug or behavior, something that brings ‘calm’ and makes the pain go away for a while. It made perfect sense to me when Jensen described how he, as an actor, has made sense of the story line – and you could see that play out in this week’s episode.
I interpreted Dean’s lie to Sam as both a way of keeping him safe (from Abbadon, but also from Dean himself, since I think he’s not entirely trusting himself when in the grip of the bloodlust) and a way of making sure that Abbadon couldn’t use Sam as a bargaining chip. Whether that’s foreshadowing a Cain and Abel type showdown, I don’t know – but I’m nervous.
Jensen’s response to my question about whether, as an actor, he’s satisfied with where the end of Season 9 left his character didn’t make me any less nervous:
Jensen: Well, let me say this. I got to the last script, and just went ‘Oh. Wow. Oh wow. They went there.’ And that’s not something I often say.
Lynn: (possibly open-mouthed. Literally) OMG!
Jensen: (with a definite smirk) So…. Enjoy!
Enjoy??? I’m biting my nails down to nothing!!
Fandom is conjecturing all over the place, which I admit is actually a lot of fun. In fact, some of our most enjoyable moments at the recent DC Con were spent over dinner and drinks with fellow fans, throwing out hypotheses about what the hell is going to happen in the next few episodes. Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook have been doing a lot of hypothesizing too.
Up until now, demon!Dean has only happened in “Alternate Universe” (or AU) fanfiction and fanart. But as one fan tweeted after this episode:
“Demon!Dean AU” after 9.21:
Did you mean: canon?
Other fans speculated in fanart.
Is this where we’re headed?? What the hell IS going to happen? When it comes down to the eleventh hour, will Sam save Dean? Will the Winchesters finally kill Crowley, or are they secretly as fond of him as I am? Will Gavin make sense of the 21st century, or will he wander on over to the set of ‘Sleepy Hollow’ (where he looks like he belongs) and find Orlando Jones? Will messing with the timeline be the thing that allows Metatron’s ending to be altered?
What do you think??
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Caps by homeofthenutty