THEN: “Next time, it’ll be easier. You’ll get used to the feelings. Even welcome them.”
First grade teacher Karen Young comes home and beats her husband Rick to death with a candlestick. And THAT’S why you don’t complain about what’s for dinner if you’re not the one cooking it. Sam thinks it sounds possessiony. His bag is packed and he’s ready to roll to Milton, Illinois. He’ll drive since Dean didn’t sleep. I’m not sure why Sam even bothers to ask anymore. Just assume that Dean didn’t so much sleep as drink himself into a fitful doze that ended when he jerked awake from nightmares he can’t remember. Dean has no interest in the case. He tells Sam to handle it. Alone. He’s focused on Abaddon, certain that there’s something in the MoL’s archive that he missed during his previous eleventy passes through the files. It feels like spinning wheels to a frustrated Sam. He says there are better ways to spend their time. Dean snaps that they don’t have time! The Jack Bauer ‘dammit’ is implied. Sam asks Dean what’s up with him, and seriously? Seriously. Gadreel’s betrayal, Kevin’s death, Cain’s Mark, Crowley’s manipulations, and WE’RE NOT BROTHERS ANYMORE I WOULD LET YOU DIE. Take your pick, Stretch. Sam settles on the Mark. He observes that ever since Dean killed Magnus, he’s been acting a little obsessed. Dean doesn’t deny it. He quietly tells Sam that maybe he wants an end “to all this.”
“What you call ‘being obsessed’, I call doing my job.”
Sam lets it go. He tells Dean he’s just checking in. Duly noted. Dean lies again some more that he’s fine and goes back to his research. He bows his head over a book, but his eyes aren’t focused on it. He reaches into his bag and takes out the bottle. He unscrews the cap and waits until he hears the screech of the front door opening before he takes a pull of sweet, sweet brown.
Sam interviews the sheriff in Milton. He says Karen and Rick were an average couple, no history of violence or abuse between them. The most ordinary people you’d ever meet. Sam casually asks about sulphur and black eyes as the sheriff leads him into the holding area. They find Karen Young hanging in her cell from a bed sheet. Her fingers are raw and bloody. The cinderblock walls are covered with crazy. Sam calls Dean. Dean stares at his ringing phone and debates answering. Carrying on a conversation suddenly seems like a great deal of effort. He puts Sam on speaker and asks after “Mrs. Manson”. No smoke and no sulphur equals a case of the crazies to him. Sam asks how the research is going. Dean looks at the pile of books and balled up pieces of paper and vagues that, “It’s going.” He can hear Sam eyebrowing and searching for something to say, so he wishes his brother luck and hangs up.
Sam decides to give the case until morning to pan out into ‘their kind of thing’. By dinnertime, the sheriff has four more of the “straightest arrows you’d ever meet” in his lock up. Billy the high schooler who stabbed a steak knife through the back of a diner waitress’s hand. The lady who’s staring down the middle distance like she’s going to murder it. The button down with bloody hands getting a good start on his own wall of crazy. And the suit who’s steady banging his head against the bars. When the sheriff is called away, Sam splashes holy water on Billy. It doesn’t burn, but the boy still reacts like a feral animal, flinging himself at the bars and reaching for Sam. He’s not possessed. “I’m clear. Of everything.” He growls at Sam that there is no why to his actions. “It’s because I wanted to. And I can.”
Dean stares at the now empty bottle of whisky. He thinks about that moment in Cain’s house. The warning he didn’t pay attention to. “You have to know, with the Mark comes a great burden.” The pain as the Mark was transferred from Cain’s arm to his own. The power when he used the Blade to kill Magnus. Dean grips the edge of the table remembering how it felt to hold the Blade in his hand.
He looks at his hand. Empty now. It feels like a part of him is missing. He picks up his phone, punches up a number, and then hangs up after the first ring. He’s twitchy and jumpy. He grabs his coat and goes to a bar. He’s still there, “working”, when Sam calls again. As he talks through the case, Sam realizes that its common thread feels all too familiar. The five affected people are all aggressive, violent, and impulsive. The littlest things set them off. Kind of like him – when he didn’t have a soul. Man, Robo!Sam was fun. I liked Robo!Sam. Good times. Dean winces at the memory. He suggests a crossroads demon could be making deals and collecting early. Sam hopes that’s not all he’s got. “I could really use your help down here.” The heavy silence stretches out. Sam checks to make sure Dean is still on the line. Dean would love to help, but he’s getting close. He can’t drop the ball on Abaddon. And the waitress just brought him a fresh beer, so.
“You’re lying to Sam like he’s your wife.”
Which kind of makes Crowley his mistress.
I’ll take that slashfic please and thank you. Dean moves from the booth to a pool table. He racks the balls tightly with his forearms, and you are a lying liar who lies if you say you did not run that moment back at least three times. Because Dean racking the balls with his arms is THE SEX.
He growls at Crowley, asking what he wants, but Dean’s the one who called him. “Let me guess, you butt-dialed me.” Dean busies himself reordering the balls and aggressively ignoring the King of Hell. As long as he’s there, Crowley would like an update on “Carrot Top”. Dean grabs a cue. “I’m on it.”
“Unless Abaddon likes 10 cent wings, stale beer, and the clap, I doubt that she’s here.”
Crowley punches his membership card in the ‘what’s going on with Dean’ club. “You call me – you hang up. You want Abaddon – you don’t want Abaddon. You want the Blade – you don’t want the Blade. If I didn’t know you any better, I’d say you’re stalling.” Maybe, but Crowley is going to have to try harder to rattle Dean, because his perfect break ain’t even bovvered. Hey, remember when the boys used to hustle pool for ammo money? That seems like a really long time ago. Still, nice to see Dean hasn’t lost his touch. He lines up his next shot and Crowley asks how he felt when he sunk the Blade into Magnus’s head. “Not half as good as I’m gonna feel when it’s yours.”
“I love it when you talk dirty.”
Crowley picks up the cue ball and walks it back to Dean. He thinks Dean felt powerful. Virile. And afraid.
“Don’t scam a scam artist, darling. You’re stalling ‘cuz you’re scared.”
Dean doesn’t let the mask slip, but the quick drop in his gaze and slight tug at the corner of his mouth says that Crowley isn’t wrong.
Sam is flipping through surveillance photos when he hears a woman say, “Those demons are back. I’m telling you, it’s happening all over again.” Julia Wilkinson knows what’s up. Sam quickly flashes his badge, fetches a mug of tea, and puts on his best ‘I’m ready to believe you’ face. Julia wonders why he’s the only person who doesn’t think she’s “nuts on toast” before realizing, “You’re one of them, aren’t you? Men of Letters.” Picture it! 1958. She was Sister Julia then. Henry Winchester and Josie Sands came to her convent posing as representatives from the Office of the Inquisition. It was only later that she learned they were Men of Letters. NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH MEN OF LETTERS INQUISITION. When Sam reacts to the names, Julia asks if he knew Henry and Josie.
“Yes. Uh, sort of … It’s complicated.”
“I’m an ex-nun, sweetie. Complicated is my middle name.”
Henry and Josie were investigating a murder committed by one of the nuns. Sister Mary Catherine killed two people before jumping from the bell tower. The writing on her wall of crazy was faint, but still visible when they arrived. “The blood wouldn’t come off.” It was the sign of a demonic possession, “or a linguist gone mad.” Josie reached out and touched the large sigil carved into the plaster wall. It was a crest – Knights of Hell. Henry blanched. This was bigger trouble than the comfy chair could manage. That night, Sister Julia was taken and tied up in a basement along with half a dozen other victims. One by one, they were dragged into another room. Sister Julia prayed for deliverance, and Henry and Josie answered. Together, they exorcised the demons from two nuns. Josie’s grin of triumph faded when the Mother Superior strolled into the room. Henry began Latinating. She gave him an indulgent look and let him get most of the way through before mojo’ing him across the room. He crashed into the wall and went sleepy night nights. Must be where Dean gets it. I guess the ‘getting choked out’ gene comes from the Campbell side of the house. The demon turned her attention to Josie, t’sking that hunters were such busy bodies. Always sticking their noses where they didn’t belong. Josie was outraged – OUTRAGED! – to be mistaken for a hunter. She was a preceptor! Beholder! Chronicler of all that which man does not understand.
“A woman amongst the Men of Letters?? * cackling laughter * Well, ain’t that a blast?”
The demon couldn’t pass up an opportunity to study the MoL from the inside. She cradled Henry’s face in her hands. Josie offered herself in his place. It didn’t matter than he only loved her like a sister. Josie was certain. She wanted to protect him – and his family. She gave the demon permission to possess her.
“You’ve been very entertaining my dear, but I don’t need your permission. Abaddon takes what she wants. And right now, she wants everything.”
The demonic black goo poured into Josie as Sister Julia cowered and watched. Abaddon instructed her remaining minion to keep things going until she returned. When Henry came to, he had no reason to think anything was amiss. He had no reason not to believe Josie when she told him they did it. “We stopped the demons.”
Dean gives up on pool and heads to the bar. Crowley sticks by his side. He’s enjoying their boy’s night out. “Good and evil, bro’ing down.” Dean grimaces, reminds himself he can’t shoot people – even demons – in public, and tells Crowley to shut his pie hole. They slap fight some more about Dean’s fear – HE’S AFRAID! HE ISN’T! – before Crowley gives him a ‘Sack up, ho!’ pep talk. Cain gave Dean his Mark for a reason. It’s a gift that Dean should be embracing. “Why are you fighting what you really are?” Dean counters that he’s a hunter, not a murderer. He leans in to Crowley with that dark, ‘you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’ expression on his face. “When I kill, I kill for a reason. I’m nothing like Cain.” Crowley is incredulous. He’s all like, ‘Hi! I’ve MET you.’
“I saw you! I saw the two of you together. Nothing like him?? What’s in that bottle? Delusion?!”
Of course the demon’s concern is purely down to self-interest. They’re in this together. “Your problems. My problems. Our problems.” He excuses himself “to go water the lily. Care to cross streams?” Dean rolls his eyes and silently curses Crowley for ruining Ghostbusters for him. “Sooo serious.” The King strolls off and Dean clutches at his arm. He flashes back to Magnus putting the Blade in his hand. The first hit as the feelings coursed through him. Magnus telling him that in time, he would get used to them. Even welcome them. He comes back to the present and notices the young flannel clad fellow sitting a few barstools away. He has a rosary wrapped around his clasped hands. His head is bowed. He turns to stand and reaches into his coat. He pulls out a large hunting knife and holds it close to his body. Dean follows him and stops him at the door to the men’s room. He tells the young hunter that he doesn’t want to do this. “You’re packing a knife to a demon fight and you don’t stand a chance.”
“Then I’ll go down swinging.”
Dean stops him again. Has young guns ever taken on a demon before? “Well, trust me when I say when he’s done with you, he’s going to go after your family. He’s going to go after your friends. Hello, he’ll go after your prom date. So if you want to do that … If you want to damn anyone and everyone you’ve ever loved on the slightest chance that you can win … then by all means, pal. You go right ahead.” Dean’s voice is low and quiet and deadly earnest. The boy – Jake – sheaths his knife and backs down. With one last glance at the door, he walks away. Dean shakes his head, hoping that he intervened for the right reason.
He’s waiting outside the bar – called The Milton – when Crowley finally emerges from his toilette. Dean snarks that the next time the demon wants to shoot up, he should find a better excuse. Crowley cops to it with a grin. He was going to stay clean, but then “after very little soul searching I decided to embrace my addiction. What about you?”
“You just want to touch that Precious again, don’t you?”
Dean shrugs off the truth. He says he wants to kill Abaddon. That he can’t worry about what happens with the Blade. “What I want. What I fear … none of that means squat. Because this is the one chance that we have to kill Abaddon. So I’m all in. No matter what the consequences.” The plan hasn’t changed. Dean will find Abaddon and Crowley will bring the party favors.
“It’s a date.”
Dean shoves his hands into his pockets and stalks off into the night. Jake comes out of the bar to stand with Crowley. For a second, he was afraid Dean had made him. But instead, Dean saved Crowley, just as the King predicted. “Of course he saved me. We’re besties. And now, he’s ready.”
Sam connects the now abandoned convent to the current rash of demonic activity. He makes his way to the basement and finds a shelf of glass jars glowing with human souls. He Knifes the possessed caretaker and gets punched in the face by Sister Agnes. She’s unchanged after 56 years. Sam goes flying and drops Ruby’s Knife. BUNGIE! Sister Agnes observes that souls are very precious and fragile things. She can’t have them just flying back home. It was easier when people still had faith and believed. Gathering souls was like shooting fish in a barrel. Now she’s riding shotgun in a smelly van, tricking any half-wit she can lay her hands on. But it’s worth it. “Stealing souls is winning.” Abaddon is making her own demons. “Unbeatable. Loyal, only to her.” Sam wishes her luck with the million years it will take to build her army. “You think I’m the only one doing this? We have factories spread throughout.” So, we’re just going to pretend that Castiel never said touching a human soul was akin to handling a small thermonuclear device? We’re just taking as read that Abaddon figured out a way to industrialize soul harvesting? Something that none of the interested parties from Season 6 were aware of? Fine. Whatever. A wizard did it. Moving on. Agnes declares that their victory is nigh. And they’d like Sam to be on their team. “Recruitment is easy. I just have to rip your soul out of your body.” Sam begins reciting the exorcism ritual and Agnes goes for his throat. As his vision begins to go gray around the edges, Sam pulls out his phone and punches up the recording of the ritual. Sending demons back to Hell. There’s an app for that! Well played, Sam. Well played. He lets the phone drop and it skitters across the floor. Agnes’ hold on Sam weakens. She lets go of him and drops to the ground. She drags herself slowly across the floor, smashing the phone before it can expel her. She gasps in relief. Sam Knifes her from behind. He gently pulls the stoppers from each jar, releasing the souls. One by one they return to their bodies and four very confused people in county lock up.
The case is wrapped up, but Sam has one last question for Julia. “If it’s for a date, I’m sorry. I never see anyone under 65. Too much drama.” I like Julia. She can stay. Sam doesn’t like asking it, but he has to know. Why didn’t Julia warn Henry about Abaddon? It’s clear the answer has haunted her for all these years. Julia says she became a nun because she wanted to help people. Make a difference. “But they never prepare you … they never tell you how to act in the face of true evil.” Her silence was, and still is, her greatest shame. Sam gives her the full healing balm of the puppy dog eyes. What she shared with him saved lives. He couldn’t have done it without her.
Savings lives and making a difference is why Henry embraced his legacy as a Man of Letters. This possession case, his final field assignment before initiation, reaffirmed his belief in his calling. “I feel a fool for even doubting it for a second.” Josie agreed that the experience changed her too. “I feel like a whole new person.” And then they drove off in Henry’s big black Impala Imperial Limousine.
Dean is back in the library “like a dog with a bone” when Sam returns to the Bunker. He grabs a beer and a stack of folders. He slaps them down on the empty table next to Dean’s. Dean pretends not to notice. Sam quietly admits that Dean was right about finding Abaddon. “She’s mining souls to create an army.” The look on Sam’s face. It’s not just the scope of what they’re up against. It’s the remembered horror of not having a soul. They both turn back to the research. There’s still a gulf between them, but the boys are finally united by purpose.
So, for an episode where not much happened, so much happened! It was a great pivot point to send us into the final six episodes of the season. It opens with such a nice call back to Season 3?s Fresh Blood. Did Sam really expect Dean to be honest and open up? I wanted Sam to push more about Dean’s state of mind. I wanted him to ask Dean to just be his brother again. Because Dean’s default is to shove the krep down until it comes out in spurts of violence and alcoholism. The only time he opens up is when Sam turns it around and makes it about him. Dean may not care how his self-destructive cycles affect him, but he does care when they affect Sam. Only Sam can’t play that card anymore. It’s clear that Sam still cares deeply about his brother, but that’s shaky ground that Dean can’t trust. Not in his present state of mind. I would like to think that push-pull, stay-go, sense of whiplash is intentional on the writers’ part. That it’s meant to convey to the viewer how disorienting it is for Dean. And if Dean doesn’t feel like he can turn to Sam, who else is left? Ghost!Kevin? Momma Tran? Castiel? Garth? He could talk to any one of them, but he won’t. It falls to Crowley, off all people. For as often as we’ve been told that demons lie, the King of Hell has an affinity for the truth. Crowley calling Dean out for being afraid was a shock. It never occurred to me that Dean was stalling because he was scared. I mean, Dean is scared of exactly two things – losing Sammy and Death. Three if Ellen Harvelle were still alive.
Dean has good reason to be afraid. He knows what he’s capable of without the Blade’s influence. “What I’m good at is slicing throats. I ain’t a father, I’m a killer. And there’s no changing that, I know that now.” I choose to read the scene with fake!Jake as Dean saving a young hunter, not Crowley. Because Dean is also deeply compassionate. He’s willing to go all in and be the killer if it spares someone else. That’s what he told Sam over that campfire in Wendigo, right? But Dean’s grief and guilt only allow him to focus on the immediate task of killing Abaddon. In embracing the Mark, he chooses to ignore Cain’s warning about the consequences. Which brings me to Milton, pure speculation about how the season might end, and a possible set up for Season 10. The name Milton appears twice in the episode – in the names of the town and the bar. John Milton is the author of the epic poem Paradise Lost. This retelling of the Fall of Man is divided into twelve books. The ninth book (*cough* Season 9) deals with Satan’s temptation of Eve. Crowley believes that Dean is ready to give in to, and embrace, the temptation of the Blade’s power. I certainly think that’s where the story is leading and what will happen. I also think Dean will kill Abaddon – and by that act be transformed. He will become a Knight of Hell. Maybe he’ll kill Crowley too and become King of Hell. In either of those scenarios, Sam will be the only one who can pull him back. Maybe that becomes the mission for Season 10. In Milton’s version of the Fall, Adam makes a choice to eat of the forbidden fruit so that he and Eve will share in the blame – and the consequences – equally. He “resolves through vehemence of love to perish with her;” I think Sam will make a choice of similar resolve. Let’s assume that there’s no expiration date on the Trials. What if Sam completes the third Trial – on Dean this time – restoring his brother’s humanity and sacrificing himself in order to save Dean’s soul. It would be a heck of a way to end the series. The boys going out, together, keeping each other human.