Stop the Ride, I Wanna Get Off! Supernatural’s The Prisoner
I often say that watching Supernatural is a roller coaster – emotional ups and downs, violent twists and turns, screams and shouts and sometimes a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach even though you’re having a great time. The last two weeks were a bit different – Dark Dynasty was just plain dark at the end, and left me with the sinking feeling that Show had gone somewhere it would have a tough time digging itself out of. The Prisoner was dark too, but it was more of a roller coaster. This time, though, it wasn’t always my favorite one (that would be the Great Bear coaster at Hershey Park, btw). That one flies you through the air swiftly and smoothly, your feet hanging free, a gigantic grin on your face as you soar and dip and basically have the time of your life. The roller coaster ride of The Prisoner was more like one not designed quite so smoothly – one that goes at breakneck speed and sometimes jerks you around corners too roughly and leaves you screaming OUCH instead of YAY. One that creates a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, far beyond queasy. One that you stagger off of at the end clutching your heart and asking WHY??
Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. But last night’s episode did have me feeling a bit sick and worse for wear. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a well done episode – it was, especially the amazing acting. But there were parts that were just too painful for me; I haven’t been able to do a rewatch yet, in fact. So this review is from my live watching, which sort of seems fitting for an episode that left me feeling so raw.
Oh, and by the way, I was sort of hoping that the title would somehow refer to the quirky cult classic PBS television show of the same name, which had all sorts of interesting things to say about identity and independence. Hmmm.
I haven’t been a fan of the Stynes (or the odd reveal that they’re actually the Franken-steins) but the reluctant young family member made me care about their story a bit for the first time, if only to care about him. Connor Price did a great job as Cyrus, and the parallels to Sam Winchester were clear but not too anvilicous. I felt for him, wanting just to get away from the family business, but inevitably and reluctantly drawn in. The scene where he’s forced to eviscerate his bully was chilling – and started my stomach turning. Also the plastic bag on the head thing was scary, maybe because when your kids are little every plastic bag comes with such a dire warning. I’m still a little traumatized from them.
I guess the sewing of the bully’s arm onto the Styne who ripped his own off last week was a nice nod to the whole Frankenstein thing, but eww. (Also I’m still not over the Winchesters shackling the Styne guy by ONE arm last week…really, Show? Really?)
If that wasn’t enough to make me feel ill, the scene in which the Winchesters give Charlie a hunter’s funeral did the trick.
I didn’t actually need the sentimental montage, which was a bit too much and actually made me feel LESS emotional. What got to me more were the looks on Sam and Dean’s faces, Sam overcome with guilt and chopping wood like he wants to chop up the world instead, and Dean so effing cold, almost glaring at his brother as he carries Charlie’s wrapped body and places it on the pyre. Sam tries to give some sort of eulogy, which doesn’t work too well (“You were the best”…), but Dean isn’t having it. He lashes out at Sam, telling him he doesn’t get to apologize. (What? Since when?) And then he says something that made me want to lose my dinner.
Dean: I think it should be you up there and not her.
I assume we’re supposed to think that Charlie’s death pushed Dean over the edge and it’s now the Mark talking and not Dean, because Dean Winchester would NEVER say that. NEVER. I’m assuming that his emotions are closer to what he was when he was a demon than what he was as Dean. But we’ve had precious little lead up to that state, so Dean’s comment came out of nowhere and caught me so off guard that I had no time to protect myself from the pain of it. I think it cut ME even deeper than it cut poor Sam, who seemed to be expecting a verbal attack from his brother. (Sam keeps talking about how much worse Dean is getting, so he was more prepared than us hapless viewers, since Show hasn’t SHOWN us much of that at all! We got surly Dean on a normal bad day more than we got about-to-become-a-demon-again Dean who was totally losing it, until now.)
Sam interprets the awful words as the Mark talking, though Dean won’t admit it. He even tries to plead his case, but again, Dean is having none of it. As though, for a Winchester, telling the other one to “leave it” has ever worked. Dean himself can’t do that either. And while we saw Sam similarly blame his brother and lash out during Season 9, Dean does it with even more venom – and, one could argue, even less reason.
They both made rash decisions faced with what felt like no other choice, and with the goal of saving the other. They both lied about it and deceived each other. People who are lied to by those they love and trust have a tough time dealing with it, and I think we saw that with both Sam and Dean. It’s humiliating, horribly painful, to find out that someone has been lying to you for a long time. The person feels like a fool, obsessively going back over every conversation wondering if the other person was laughing at them for their trust and optimism. It breaks relationships, and people have a hard time getting over it. It creates great rage, and all sorts of attempts at hurting the liar in return. I think that’s a big part of what’s happening here, just as it was when Sam kept lashing out at Dean in S9 hitting him where it hurt most – saying they could work together but weren’t brothers. Dean is doing the same, and damn, it hurts. Charlie’s death was the last straw, but finding out that Sam has been lying to him is as much the source of Dean’s rage as his (perceived) part in Charlie’s death.
Sam and Dean both also got someone else killed with their decisions (Kevin and Charlie). But Sam was honest with Charlie – she chose to help, to do it “for Dean.” So did Castiel. Sam didn’t drag them into it or hold something over their heads. Charlie died a hero, making the choice to send the file and smash the laptop that sealed her fate. Blaming Sam for her death doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Not that emotional reactions and rage always make a lot of sense.
I’m guessing (because I have to make sense of those horrible words somehow) that Dean is feeling every bit as guilty as Sam. Or at least he was before the Mark pushed him out of internalizing all that guilt and let him externalize it in extreme violence instead. His decision to take on the Mark was as responsible for Charlie’s death as Sam’s decision to ask for her help in translating the Book of the Damned. He almost killed Charlie himself earlier this season and still is carrying that guilt. But when Dean gets overwhelmed by guilt and loss, he lashes out. Sam internalizes and stays with the guilt; Dean pushes it outward and slashes away at whoever happens to be in his path. Sam is the one who’s most often there, so he’s the first to get cut.
I swear, I was bleeding a little when Dean said that, and at the shattered look on Sam’s face and the absolute hard cold glare on Dean’s.
I cannot help but love Sam Winchester even more for refusing to give up on his brother, no matter how far gone he is – or how hurtful. He struggles to do what Dean asks and stop the translation, but then he gets Charlie’s email, and he can’t bring himself not to try. At this point, Sam sees much more clearly than Dean where the path he’s on will inevitably lead. Dean keeps talking about the inevitability of other people (like Cyrus Styne) becoming monsters, but it’s Dean who’s actually headed down that one way road. He’s refusing to see it, clinging to the fiction that he’ll be able to control it enough, that he’ll keep going and then go out swinging. What he’s missing (but Sam is not) is that he CAN’T control it, and that the people he’s taking swings at are not just the bad guys anymore. He’ll eventually be dangerous to everyone – Sam, Cas, humanity. Sam HAS to try to stop him, and not just so he won’t be without his brother. Dean seems to be picking up where Cain left off, blindly cutting down anyone and everyone who might someday become a monster, not just those who already are.
Can you tell I feel for Sam so much it’s breaking my heart? OUCH.
His guilt is palpable. And yet his commitment to his brother is unwavering. It’s like they’ve completely switched viewpoints – Sam now recognizes that Dean has saved him again and again, even when he didn’t want to be saved, and he no longer resents that. He’s glad he’s alive and invested in ‘saving people, hunting things’ now – not that he wasn’t ready to die to save others, he was, and not that he will ever think that Dean not asking him before letting an angel in was okay (because it wasn’t), but he also feels some gratitude to Dean for saving him.
Sam: I owe him. I owe him everything. I’ve been the one out there – messed up, alone. And Dean…
Cas: Did whatever he could to save you.
Sam is determined to do the same. And I love him for it.
Meanwhile, Rowena becomes integral to the plot when she refuses to break the code until Sam kills Crowley, and Cas is set up as the opposing force to her power (especially after she called him a fish and totally pissed him off).
Sam tricks Crowley into meeting with him – which, I’ll admit, broke my heart a little. He came because he thought Dean needed him, and that just….my feelings about Crowley are confusing, okay? When I thought Sam really was going to kill him, I was actually screaming NOOOOOOO at my television. I know he’s supposed to be the bad guy, but damn it, I love Crowley!
Sam echoed the reasons why so many of us are confused about our affection for the King of Hell –
Sam: You have the accent, and the suit, and the snark, but at the end of it you’re a monster just like the rest of them!
I mean, I do know that. I know he killed plenty of good people, and he’s sadistic and just plain evil. But he’s CROWLEY. I love that Show has made me conflicted, by showing a bit of his humanity with the human blood addiction and a bit of his vulnerability, both in his affection for Dean and his longing for his mother’s love. I can’t forget all that, even as I’m reminding myself that he’s a bad guy.
I did have to snort a dark laugh at Sam’s exasperated, “Would you just die, already?”
But Crowley doesn’t. Instead we see his eyes turn red (and smoking – kudos, VFX guys!) and he’s suddenly pretty damn scary again. I like it! Jared and Mark were incredible in that scene – you could have cut the tension with a knife.
Also, thank you Andrew Dabb, for remembering canon and using the Devil’s Trap bullet trick again.
Meanwhile, Dean goes after the Stynes. Single handed. He gets stopped by some cops, and I found myself feeling worried for THEM instead of for Dean, which I guess is an indication that Show is FINALLY making me believe that Dean is one scary f—ker. The cop proves himself appallingly gullible by coming around the other side of the table to pick up Dean’s deliberately spilled mess, but I’m prepared to forgive Show for that contrivance because HOLY HELL Dean brings the guy down with his THIGHS! Where’s the gif of this, fandom? I need it. Um, for research. Yes, that’s it.
Also, another canon remembrance nod to Dabb for Dean’s matter of fact “Yeah, well, I kill gods.”
Yes you do, Dean. I remember also.
Dean versus the Stynes was bloody and disturbing and terrifying. Jensen sold it, absolutely and completely. There wasn’t a moment of hesitation or remorse. He was killing humans, men and women, a brutally efficient killing machine. And while we were all plenty disgusted with the Stynes by then and not exactly feeling bad about their demise, it was still hard to watch Dean like that.
Even when they had him strapped to the table (thanks for that, Andrew Dabb and Serge Ladouceur, the angle was quite….pleasing) I didn’t have a second of worrying that he wouldn’t get free. You could tell he was just biding his time, almost taunting them. I liked seeing their haughty certainty of superiority slashed and burnt, but again, ohgod Dean. Ohgod.
Meanwhile, Sam is still feeling guilty and answering questions like “What happened?” with a mournful “Me.”
Oh Sam. That’s not the right answer! Don’t buy in to what your Marked brother is saying to you right now. Just keep fighting!
He wants to head to the Stynes, but Cas tells him no, that’s not where Dean is anymore, as Cas stands among the bloodied bodies.
“Dean’s coming home,” Cas says, and my heart hurts and my stomach twists and turns. It was so ominous, the way he said it, so heartbreaking. Kudos Misha. And OUCH.
It is home. It’s their home. The bunker. I feel as attached to it as Dean did when he was still totally human, and all my protective instincts kick in at once. Surely they won’t be able to get in, though, right? It’s warded, protected, you need that special highly guarded key….
Oops. The Stynes break in with not all that much fuss, which still has me mystified. Remember that canon we were just talking about? Not sure this lines up very well.
Eldon seals his fate a billion times over when he forces Cyrus to pile up the Winchesters’ belongings (including Dean’s clothes, his vintage record collection, and even the photo of the Winchester family from when all four of them were still together). Noooooo!
Then Dean walked through the door and my heart was in my throat. Jensen can make Dean look so menacing that even I’m terrified, and I’m safely on the other side of the screen. Deadly, absolutely deadly.
He shoots Eldon, which surprises no one.
(That was an Indiana Jones-with-the-whip moment, when Dean pointed out ‘you only have one brain’ and then calmly shot him in the head, wasn’t it?)
I also loved the priceless line: The seven nipples, for the ladies, or the fellas, I don’t judge.
It’s true, I’m quite sure Dean doesn’t.
So Eldon is dead, and we’re all pretty damn glad. But uh oh, there’s Cyrus. Cyrus, the reluctant family member who just wants to walk away, pleads for his life. I sit clutching my box of tissues mumbling Nononononononono and then SHIT! He did it.
Metaphorically, Dean just shot Sam (or the episode’s representation of Sam).
The bad in your blood will always win?
What?! That is definitely NOT the message of most seasons of Supernatural.
I felt like Dean was written a bit OOC in this episode the same way I felt that he wasn’t written in character when he killed Amy Pond (and lied to Sam about it). Dean can be a black and white thinker sometimes, but he has also evolved, and he doesn’t usually judge that way anymore. Again, it can be put down to the Mark of Cain, but the speech itself just didn’t ring true to me at all. And the death itself was painful, especially because Cyrus was ‘Sam’.
Alas, the pain wasn’t over yet. The last scene between Dean and Castiel was so hard to watch, and had my stomach twisting and turning once again.
Poor Cas, he’s right. He will be the one still around when Dean goes completely dark side, no matter how long that takes.
Cas: I’m the one who will have to watch you murder the world.
My heart broke for Cas there, as he desperately tried to get through to Dean. But, just as with Sam, Dean remains resolutely unemotional. Cold. Rage simmering just barely under the surface. The look on his face when Cas puts a hand on his shoulder made me literally shudder.
I need to point out again that the change came too fast, imho. Just last week or the week before, Dean was putting a casual hand on Castiel’s shoulder as they walked in the door to talk with Claire. Now a similar touch has filled him with rage. Just last week, Dean was still able to make jokes, do research, want to do his job. We didn’t see nearly enough of the frightening behavior that Sam kept referencing. Even the few things we did see, like Dean slamming that guy’s head into the bar table to get information, didn’t seem all that out of character. Castiel’s ominous warning to Sam, that “he’s getting worse” made me go ‘Huh?’ A bit of a fail there, Show, sorry.
Anyway, Dean is clearly dark side now! And he clearly blames Cas for lying to him just like he blames Sam.
Cas: I don’t want to hurt you, Dean.
Dean: I don’t think that’s gonna be problem.
We got a reverse of the beat down scene in the crypt, where Cas was being controlled by Naomi and Dean doesn’t fight back. This time it’s Dean under the influence of the Mark, and he beats Cas brutally.
For once, Show lets us see it, and while it’s horribly painful to watch, it SHOULD be. We needed to see Dean slam Cas headfirst into the floor repeatedly for the true horror of it to come through. I was shaking, on the verge of tears throughout.
The last scene did nothing but amp up the emotional impact. It’s a scene that recalls the one in BUABS where possessed Sam is crouched over Dean beating him unmercifully, holding Dean close with a fistful of his shirt, while Dean has his hand clasped around Sam’s wrist, just hanging on. This time it’s Dean on top of Cas, with a fistful of his shirt and his tie, while Cas wraps his fingers around Dean’s wrist and holds on. It’s one of those confusing scenes that’s horribly violent and yet oddly intimate, and it pretty much threw fandom into paroxysms of conflicting and overwhelming emotions, no matter which lens you watch the Show through.
I don’t entirely understand why Cas can’t seem to heal anyone or to defend himself, but I guess we’ll find out soon. For now, Dean warns Cas to stay away – and tells him to warn Sam away too. He walks away from the two people who care about him the most, rejecting their help, rejecting their love.
Damn, but this episode hurt. I know that it was supposed to, I know that’s part of what this Show I love does to the people who love it, but damn.
I have a feeling next week ain’t gonna be a walk in the park either. This is what my living room will look like next Wednesday:
Somebody be prepared to come dig me out of the mountain of tissues, okay?
For more pleasant thoughts about Supernatural,
check out our books Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls
and Fan Phenomena Supernatural at the links at the top