Holy Crap, Show! Supernatural Brother’s Keeper
I often refer to Supernatural as a rollercoaster, but this week’s season finale episode felt more like being caught in a tsunami and tossed around until I didn’t know up from down and my heart was pounding so hard I thought I might pass out. A few times there, I didn’t know whether to reach for the tissues because I was ugly crying so hard I was dripping on my slice of pie or to reach for the Tums, I was so queasy. Every time a commercial came on and I paused to tweet something inarticulate and unspoilery (usually WHAT??! NOOOOO!!!) I marveled at the fact that after TEN YEARS this Show can still overload my emotions so much that I’m having a physiological reaction to what I’m seeing. After all this time, I care that much.
The Supernatural fandom had been on pins and needles all day in anticipation of what we’ve come to expect from season finales — an episode that rips our hearts out and then leaves us hanging for four months. Fandom passed around empathic gifs so everyone would know that we’re all in this together.
Fans started posting their coping strategies a few hours before the first airing. Some of the cast shared theirs too; Briana Buckmaster posted a photo of her pie and booze, traditional Supernatural get-me-through-this options. Some fans got together in person, like the Support SPN party in Michigan, complete with donated door prizes. Here’s the winner of Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls!
By the time 9 pm rolled around, we were all halfway through our respective coping strategies, surrounded by boxes of tissues and already biting our nails. (Maybe that was just me). I held it together just long enough for the first strains of ‘Carry On’ – the 200th episode version – to start, and then, as I do every year, I started to sniffle. This year the emotion was about more than just the Show and the characters I love. This was the year Supernatural filmed its 200th episode, and whether you loved it or not (and I did), the Show set out to write a love letter to its fans in gratitude for keeping it on the air for 200 episodes. As ‘The Road So Far’ transitioned into Kansas’ version of Carry On, I only got more emotional, flashing back to all those other season finales, all the losses and heartbreaks and loves and triumphs we’ve been through with the Winchesters and company.
This year was also more emotional because of the #AlwaysKeepFighting campaign and the SPNFamily’s response to Jared’s recent struggles. The official hashtag for the finale added that to the traditional #supernatural. Travis Aaron Wade live tweeted the episode in support of Jared, and Ruth Connell tweeted about how wonderful it was to work with Jared this season.
And that was all before the episode even started!
Once it got going, the rollercoaster began in earnest.
The previews, as always, were misleading. I’ve learned not to let them spoil me, so I went into the finale knowing that Julian Richings was in the episode, but not really knowing what that meant. The title of the episode – and Supernatural’s tradition of cutting the hearts out of its fans in the season finale – had me so anxious that I could barely get any work done all day. ‘Brother’s Keeper’ had to be a reference to Cain’s answer when God asks him “where is your brother?” (who Cain has just killed). “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?” he asks, and every time I thought of that I got more anxious. Who can concentrate on writing your syllabi when you’re wondering if Dean is going to kill Sam or Cas or Crowley – or himself!?
That sense of foreboding amped up the suspense of the entire episode, as Dean goes off on his own and Sam frantically tries to make the Cure happen. Castiel expresses the (very appropriate) concern that maybe the consequences of using the kind of dark magic that will get the Mark off Dean are terrible enough to make it a bad idea indeed.
Sam counters that if they don’t get it off Dean, they’ve lost him. And that is something Cas is just as desperate to avoid as Sam; they are both invested in saving Dean, no matter what.
By now, we are also convinced of that desperation, because Show is no longer just telling us about how dark Dean has gone. Now we see it. I’ve complained a bit this season that we didn’t see Dean going dark enough. Well, Show might have taken its time getting him there, but we sure as hell saw Dean’s darkness in the finale! He was so far from the Dean Winchester that I adore – brutal, cruel, without compassion or empathy. Going through the motions of being a hunter and doing “good” but far from the hero we know him to be.
Those first shots of him passed out and drinking desperately were telling. They were also inexplicably gorgeous.
Adam Glass: Even passed out, hung over, mouth wide open, Dean looks good. #SPN
Strange, but true.
It hurt so much to see that, to not like this character I cherish. From his slut-shaming dismissal of the dead girl (which was in stark contrast to his smashing that guy’s head into the table a few weeks ago for a similar dismissal) to his terrifying going off on the girl’s dad to his casual disregard for the other hunter’s life, this was a dark and twisted version of Dean.
Briana Buckmaster: Yet he slammed a dude’s face into a table for making a similar remark just a few eps ago. #whatisconsistency
I think, though, that this was consistent. Not with the character we know and love, but with this twisted version of Dean. Real Dean wouldn’t say something like that. And that’s how we know just how bad it is. Sam and Cas know too. I imagine that they were feeling the same pain that we were, desperate to get the real Dean back and hurt by what he’d become.
And yet, we know there’s some of Dean still there, in the guilt he can’t seem to shake. He sees a beaten and bloodied Cas in the mirror, and the face of the hunter he allowed to be murdered. All season, Dean has been determined to fight the Mark as long as he can, to go down swinging. Even he finally realizes he can’t do it anymore; he erupts in rage, furious that he’s lost the battle, trashing the hotel room (and doing it in a tight black tee shirt, thankyouverymuch). By the time Sam gets to the room, Dean is gone.
And I start sobbing for the second time, because there’s a note on the bed. For Sam, because of course Dean knows that Sam will come to find him.
“She’s all yours.” In Dean’s (Jensen’s) familiar block letters. Outside, the Impala waits for Sam.
I lost it. It’s like the time Dean boxed up his Dad’s leather jacket. We all know that Dean would never give up his baby if HE hadn’t given up. And that knowledge is heartbreaking. Brilliant to show it that way; it had an impact on all of us like nothing else would have. The Impala means so much to US too, and we know that Sam’s heart is breaking along with ours.
To make things even more poignant, that reciprocal relationship between the cast and the fandom, as is often the case, magnified the emotionality of the note. We all knew that Jensen had written the note himself, because he tweeted a picture of him doing it. Not at a desk or in his trailer or on the soundstage like he could have. Like it would have been easy to do. No. He leaned on the Impala and wrote it, just as Dean would have. Even though no one was filming him. That kind of devotion to character is what makes this Show so damn powerful. Second box of tissues, please?
While Sam is chasing Dean, intent on saving him, Castiel takes on the search for the cure. That means working with Crowley, the only one who can find the esoteric ingredients needed for Rowena to do the spell. I kind of love Cas and Crowley together; they work in a snarky sort of way. Or maybe it’s Misha and Mark being just that good.
Crowley: Who summons anymore?
Cas: You weren’t in my contacts.
Cas and Crowley
It’s painful to watch Crowley and Rowena now; what I actually do think was some affection between them (maybe even an attempt at love, at least on Crowley’s part) is now turned to hate. It’s virulent in the way that only hate that comes from rejection can be. They are good at hurting each other, these two.
Crowley finds the one person Rowena was ever able to love, and we get a glimpse of the person Rowena was and could have been. Someone who had a soft spot for a young boy, and felt gratitude for kindness shown her. We know that “family don’t end in blood”, and that goes for Rowena too.
At the same time, my heart kinda broke for Crowley, as he realizes that the story he told himself to cope with his mother’s rejection – that she was just incapable of love – isn’t quite true. It’s not that she can’t love, it’s that she can’t love him.
Oh, Crowley. More tissues! Damn you, Show!
Rowena kills Oscar anyway, gruesomely though with apparent regret, and starts to chant the spell…
Meanwhile, Dean meets up with Death and asks to be killed. That would have been a horrifying scene no matter what, but again, what’s been happening in ‘real life’ in the SPNFamily made it even moreso. Jared’s #AlwaysKeepFighting campaign was inspired by the suicide of two of his close friends; he and Jensen have spent the past few months opening up about depression and suicidality and encouraging others to do so as well. I had been tweeting with the hashtag all night and now, suddenly, Dean Winchester – the role model for the mantra – was giving up. He was not going to keep fighting. And that just struck me as tragic. It hit me so hard that all I could tweet was “The hashtag, guys….the hashtag…”
Yes, it was cute that Dean made taquitos, and yes, the set was absolutely amazing (kudos Jerry Wanek), but couldn’t properly appreciate them, I was so emotional.
When Dean called Sam and said those few words, I lost it again.
“Brother, I’m done.”
I think I screamed NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO but maybe I wasn’t even articulate enough for that.
And then Sam was there, and if I thought I’d already been emotional, I was wrong. I have to note that I was a bit confused at this point, which is probably not what Show intended, but it might also have been the fact that our brains don’t work quite as well when we’re emotionally overloaded. Because Dean is saying that it’s not him who needs to die (since that’s impossible), it’s Sam.
WHAT??? WHY??? Immediately all the anxiety caused by the episode’s damn title came rushing back a thousand fold. OMG, were they really going to go there? Was the horrible promise of the title going to be fulfilled after all?
Dean says some awful things about the Winchesters no longer being good, and tries to take back the wonderful things he said in that church in Sacrifice, and I’m shaking my head and having none of it. But so is Sam. Sam Winchester, who has struggled all his life to believe in his own inherent goodness, is not buying it! He stands up to Dean, refuses to believe that they – both of them – are not good men. He literally fights it, which Dean welcomes, although I cringe as the brothers come to blows.
And when Death convinces him that he has to die, Sam makes the choice to sacrifice himself.
(Now I’m not totally clear on this part, but I did like the rather epic explanation of the role the Mark has played in holding back the Darkness – that God himself gave it to Lucifer for that purpose, and Lucifer gave it to Cain, who gave it to Dean. Death insists that Dean must keep it, or the Darkness will be released; he also points out that Sam will never be able to stop himself from trying to save Dean from it, so Sam must die. I don’t like Death’s argument at all, but Sam and Dean seem to be buying it).
And now Show plays dirty. Very very dirty. Sam kneels on the floor, willingly offering himself. Dean raises the scythe. I scream. Then Dean says, in a completely different voice than he’s been using – sounding like the big brother who washed Sam’s hair or tried to protect him from seeing the violence of their world too soon – “Close your eyes, Sammy.”
When Sam looks up at him, tears streaming down his face, looking every bit like the little brother looking up to his big brother, Dean tells him again, even softer.
“Sammy, close your eyes.”
By this time, I’ve stopped screaming and am sobbing rather unattractively.
And then Show slams the final nail in. Sam reaches into his pocket and throws down THE Pictures. The ones of Mama and Papa Winchester and their little boys.
Sam: Take these. One day when you find your way back, let these be your guide. They can help you remember what it was like to be good. What it was like to love.
Jared was incredible in that scene, tears streaming down his face, so much pain and so much pleading. Knowing that Jared gave so much and put so much into this season, and that in real life he’s been struggling, made Sam’s pain even harder to watch. It happens often with Supernatural, that the real life relationship between the cast and crew and the fandom bleeds over into the characters and the Show, and just makes everything more intense. Jensen too was amazing, letting us see all the warring emotions in Dean as he stands there frozen, about to kill his brother.
Sam closes his eyes.
And just like in Swan Song, when Sam catches sight of the little green army men that evoked his childhood with his brother, Dean is reminded of who he is – and who they are. He remembers what it is to love.
That’s how Sam did it; that’s how Sam saved Dean. Just like in Swan Song (which Jared and Jensen compared this episode to), one brother reminded the other of his faith in him. That no matter what, he believes in his brother’s goodness. That he won’t leave or give up or stop loving him.
And Dean can’t do it. He can’t kill Sam.
I didn’t see it coming that he killed Death instead. In fact, I was so confused that I wasn’t even sure that really was Death, let alone why Dean killed him. Death did say that if Dean didn’t kill Sam then he would, so I guess to save Sam, he had to kill Death. But holy crap, that caught me off guard. (Also I’m still confused by Death accusing Sam of standing him up, since even Julian Richings has said that his understanding of that scene was that it was Sam’s imagination).
Dean pulls Sam to his feet.
Meanwhile, Cas also refuses to give up and manages to get Crowley to hand over the ingredients and Rowena to do the spell. She finishes it and the room glows white with power. It blasts through the roof and right onto Dean’s arm, taking the Mark with it. And that’s how Cas, prioritizing saving Dean over what the spell might do to the world, also saves Dean.
Unfortunately, the spell also releases Rowena and makes Cas her zombie, who she swiftly dispatches to kill her son. Talk about cliffhangers! We cut away from the scene with Cas about to do just that, and Crowley begging him not to. NOOOOOOO!
Things aren’t any better – or less cliffhanger-y – for the Winchesters. The good news is that Dean is human again, and he and Sam seem to be back on the same side FINALLY. Unfortunately, the Darkness really has been released, and despite my knee jerk reaction of thinking they’re talking about the band, it looks like a pretty Big Bad. (And also like we got an unanticipated Lost crossover). Sam and Dean try to peel out in the Impala, but her tires are stuck in the mud. The last scene we see is the Darkness overtaking them.
The last scenes were oddly anti-climactic after the intense emotionality of the showdown between the Winchesters and the one between Crowley and Rowena. It’s always going to be the relationships that grab me and don’t let me go and keep me as in love with this Show as I was almost a decade ago. I’ll always be more afraid that they’ll hurt each other than that something from the outside will hurt everyone. But the Darkness has potential, and the VFX team did some amazing work making it look scary instead of cheesy (much like Season 2’s blasting open of the Hell Gate). And who knows, maybe it will bring back an Archangel or two (Richard Speight and Matt Cohen, are you listening?) Or maybe Chuck himself? (Rob Benedict, how ‘bout it?)
All in all, I’m scared for Cas and Crowley, glad that Rowena survived to make things miserable for all of them again (love you, Ruth Connell!), and incredibly relieved that Dean is Dean again, and that the Winchester brothers are back together. Dean’s speech about not being selfish and them not being worth it may sound logical and appropriate for the real world, but this is Supernatural, and in that fictional world I want these characters to love the way few of us get to. I don’t want Dean to be able to kill Sam, or Sam to be able to kill Dean, or Cas to be able to let Dean go. I want them to let the world burn (temporarily) to save each other, and that’s what we got.
In the end, the episode’s title didn’t mean what we thought it would. Maybe it was instead Dean who “kept” Sam. Kept him alive, kept his trust, kept them both fighting even after he said he would give up. Maybe it was Sam and Cas who kept Dean; kept him alive, by refusing to give up on him.
I seriously felt like I’d just run a Tough Mudder by the time the episode was over.
Fandom came together again afterwards, sharing virtual and actual hugs and making sure everyone was still standing.
We celebrated a milestone for the Show too – with the season finale, Supernatural grabbed the record for most episodes of a continuous prime time science fiction series (taking it from Smallville with 218 episodes).
Kudos, Show! And now, we wait. It’s Hellatus, when we try to catch up on everything we missed while immersed in a season of Supernatural, and count the days until Show is back.
We’ll do our part to keep things SPN around here – with interviews and book giveaways (signed by the Best Cast Ever) and updates on all things Supernatural. If you haven’t read Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls or Fan Phenomena: Supernatural, now’s a good time to catch up on your reading! Both amazon and Barnes & Noble have them on sale now.
Stay strong, fandom!
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