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4x16 On The Head Of A Pin

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  • 4x16 On The Head Of A Pin

    I hardly even know where to begin with this episode. Very intense and very disturbing. Bits of it I loved, other bits not so much, but the overall result is a very polished and powerful episode. This was Castiel's episode, the bulk of the story told through his point of view, the main theme of the story being an exploration of faith and trust, doubt and betrayal.

    There's stacks I could say, but after battling with migraine all day yesterday and through the night, I think I'll just stick to that main theme for now - just a very quick, very brief overview to be going on with.

    "We're brothers, Uriel. Pay me that respect. Tell me the truth."

    Castiel trusted Uriel. He trusted him completely and did not doubt the authenticity of the orders his colleague was relaying for a second, even though his conscience told him clearly that what they were asking was abhorrent. He had doubts, which he struggled to reconcile with his faith, but it never once occurred to him to act upon those doubts, conditioned as he was to absolute obedience. That blind faith cost him dearly as he was manipulated into leading Dean into a deadly and devastating trap. Castiel now has difficult decisions ahead. His wavering faith in God has been restored, but he has now learned to question the origin of the orders he receives, realising that they do not always come from his Father, but rather from fellow angels who may or may not be any more qualified to judge than Castiel himself. From now on Castiel must choose his own path, trust in his own wisdom, and as a foot soldier trained to obey without question rather than think for himself, this will not be easy for him.

    "You can't ask me to do this, Cas. Not this."

    Dean trusted Castiel. He trusted Castiel when he said that what they were ordering him to do was the only way to prevent future murders, and he trusted him when he said that Alistair was bound completely in a special kind of devil's trap. He was devastated, horrified and appalled by what he was ordered to do, but, having been effectively abducted and imprisoned, it was made very clear to him that he had no choice. So he placed his trust in Castiel, who was placing his trust in Uriel ? and, like a house of cards, it all came crashing down, because Uriel betrayed them both.

    "Ruby, it's been weeks. I need it. [?] I need to be strong enough."

    Sam trusted Ruby. He trusted her when she cast her spell to find Dean, and this was just another in a long line of success stories, proving her worth to him. He also trusted her when she claimed that ingesting her blood would boost his psychic powers, which has been clearly demonstrated to be true?and yet the look of triumph on her face as he fed from her, after begging her for it like a junkie seeking a fix ? that look tells us clearly that Ruby cannot be trusted to have the same aims and ideals as Sam. She has been very carefully cultivating him for her own purposes, and what those purposes might be remains to be seen. I would guess, though, that we are moving toward the endgame now, with Sam's powers so advanced and his dependence on Ruby also so complete. He is incredibly powerful now ? but also completely convinced that he needs her. That makes Sam vulnerable, giving Ruby tremendous power over him.

    "Work with Ruby, don't ? I don't really give a rat's ass."

    Once upon a time Dean trusted Sam, completely and unconditionally, but that trust has been shattered in recent weeks as Sam's continued deceit has been revealed to his brother. The start of this episode saw Sam belatedly attempting to build bridges by openly discussing with Dean his ongoing communication with Ruby, but it was too little too late, admitting to the part Dean had already discovered for himself while continuing to protect his far dirtier little secret, and too much damage has already been done. And then there is the reverse. Once upon a time Sam had absolute faith in his brother's strength, even when Dean did not believe in himself, but now that faith, too, has been shattered, with Sam unable to see beyond the damage his brother has suffered. It is going to be a long, long haul before the brothers can find their way back from this one.

    What else?

    There are about a million and one other things I could say about this episode ? the incredible job JA did with Dean's depression and exhaustion, fear, attempt at bravado, clamping down on all emotion, devastation, despair. The dead eyes as Dean had to turn part of himself off to do this, as he begged not to be made to do it, fearful of not being able to come back. As he shattered completely with Alistair's revelation and Castiel's confirmation of it. Every time Dean thinks he's hit rock bottom the rug gets pulled out from under him all over again, but this really is his absolute lowest ebb, ever.

    There's also the factionalism revealed by Uriel's betrayal. Anna. The fact that Castiel continues to suck at hand to hand even more than Sam does. The fact that angelic scuffling in general continues to be immensely lame. There is Sam's complex attitude toward his brother, on the one hand so caring and concerned while on the other hand so impatient and dismissive, viewing his brother through the distorted lens of his own enhanced and unnatural power. He is trying to be the strong one and protect Dean, because his brother is vulnerable right now and can't heal under these conditions, but that protective urge is getting all tangled up with Sam's own obsessive needs until he can't distinguish between the two. And there is what Alistair told Dean about John, which was almost certainly a lie, and I'll discuss that at length in the recap, but what really matters is that Dean believed it.

    And then finally we have learned at last why Dean was saved from hell ? and the image of the angels laying siege to hell, probably for weeks and weeks before they finally broke through, too late, is beyond awesome. Dean was the righteous man and he broke, and the first Seal broke with him, and according to Castiel that means Dean is now the only person who can stop the Apocalypse, because the one who started it is also the one with the power to end it. Somehow.

    The problem with that is that Dean is utterly, utterly shattered, physically and emotionally, by everything he has been through. His body will heal, and no doubt his spirits will rally enough that he will pick himself back up and plod on once more, because he doesn't know any different. Still he doesn't believe he can do it. All his life he has been told that his best is just never good enough. His self-esteem has now hit rock bottom. And even if that weren't true, he is just a man, human, with no special abilities to aid or protect him.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that that is where Sam is going to come in. The brothers have been deeply divided all season, each with his own crushing issues to deal with, unable to bridge the gulf between them. But as the season winds its way toward what is sure to be a breathtaking finale, I suspect that the brothers will have to find their way back to one another and work together, combining Dean's unique situation with Sam's forbidden abilities in order to save the world.

    Time will tell if I am right or not.


  • #2
    John Winchester is a righteous man.

    Yep. That's what I got out of the episode. Well, not the only thing, but after the Sam bloodsucking which was close to having me turn off the tv, this jewel and its follow up implications grabbed me and stitched me even closer to the show. The truth resonated so loudly I could barely hear my sister trying to remind me that demons lie. While that is one of my favorite beliefs, I knew that right now Alistair spoke the cold bare truth. One of those few times where the unabashed truth was sharper without any twisting.

    All those questions that haunted me for so long came slamming into place. Why was the Colt not enough for the YED? Why did he really want John dead? Surely John as a human wasn't powerful to destroy their plans? Why did John say that if Dean couldn't save Sam he'd have to kill him?

    That the plan was to bring John to hell and turn him in order to break the first seal is a such a simple answer but one I'd not considered. It was easy to believe they wanted John dead so he couldn't mess with their plans on earth. It's such a twist for them to have wanted him in hell so he could activate their end game. This reversal of perception is brilliantly sharp edged.

    I'd also always believed that Dean letting Sam stay dead could have fulfilled John's wishes and apparently so. Because Dean dealing with the demons played neatly into their wishes. Wow.

    I understand Dean's crushing shame that he not only failed the world by breaking the seal, but let his father down. In both that he didn't believe in his father and that he wasn't as strong and resolved as his father. It's a horrific revelation to have been blaming your father for how he treated you to only find out that he was trying to prepare you.

    Dean's failure to believe in his father's beliefs was his mistake. By wallowing in sadness and self doubt and not taking action to stop the seals, he is continuing to further deny his father's belief (in him). Dean needs to believe in himself and not continue to perceive himself through the lives of others. Dean's life is his own and he is strong enough to define it, not let it define him.

    Another quick points before I have to run...

    Sam guzzling Ruby's blood was fairly ridiculous in mythology purposes, imo. From this I can conclude that any human that sucks demon blood can be as powerful as Sam. And the mechanics of how blood of a possessed person is powerful is tricky at best. And why do demon possessed dead bodies keep making new blood for Sam to drink? And why did Alistair refer to Sam's efforts as "soloflexing" (exercising = working out = having sex) to get stronger when he should have made a joke about tasting or drinking?

    I was initially opposed to Anna returning as the same actress. However, I think it worked beautifully in this episode. How very interesting that an angel can choose to have its own form and not be forced to hijack an unwitting human.

    LOL, and "I'm considering disobedience"...best.line.ever!

    Argh, I didn't even get to my thoughts on the episode title!

    Lydia made the punch!

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    • #3
      I'm just going to repost my reactions that I posted in the VIP Lounge the other day since I don't have the energy to type up a whole review of the episode.

      I must say, I loved "On the Head of a Pin."

      So sadistic and vicious and twisted and dark and gory and actually SCARY! Plus, it was really thought-provoking for me and very mytharc heavy and I just loved it! I liked that it focused a lot on the angels and Castiel (since, isn't he going to be a series regular next season? that's what i heard, that misha collins will be a series regular next season...but i don't know if that's still true) and Anna's return was great (though I'm a little lost by what she meant by "Maybe not...but there's still me" in response to Uriel's "There is no God." What is she, exactly? I know she's a high-ranking angel but there seems to be sooo much more to it than that) and Dean's torturing was so chilling that I was just...wow'd by everything.

      I LOVED it. Yeah, Dean's going to be totally eff'd up now but I love it! It's something for him to grow from, a new route to explore. We've rarely seen Dean feel guilt before and now we're going to dive head first into that. I'm excited!

      PLUS, official confirmation that Sam's drinking demon blood and dear lord he was scary. But I didn't like Jared Padalecki's "intense stare" while he was driving to the building where the angels were keeping Dean and Alistair...It made me laugh because I thought it was pretty lame. BUT STILL...I loved it. Sets up sooo much. Sam has gone so far down the road of darkness that he can KILL A DEMON - something only the Colt and Ruby's Knife could do before. That is menacing and creepy and makes me wonder what ELSE he will be able to do...Am I the only one speculating that he'll potentially serve as a conduit or something for Lucifer should they fail to prevent his rising (which, I don't know how they could possibly do that because, even if they kill Lillith, SOMEBODY is going to come along and break the rest of the seals)?

      ANDDD...yeah. OH! And I like how maybe raising Lucifer was part of YED's big endgame from the beginning. Giving Sam the demon blood that brought him to the big showdown in the wild west ghost town that led to his death which led to Dean selling his soul for Sam's ressurection which sent Dean to hell which led to the righteous man giving in to evil in Hell and that was the first seal that set everything in motion.

      I'm really loving this season, I really am. It's all feeling so tight and complex to me.
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      • #4
        I am confused about Sam and him drinking Ruby's blood. If Sam is suppose to be all-powerful, feared by Lilith and other demons, why would be need to drink her blood in the first place? What would be the point? I mean- they made it sound like Sam could harness his powers on his own (with training). Now it seems he's not really that powerful after all and just needs more demon blood to become stronger? I don't get it.
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        • #5
          Originally posted by Ehlwyen
          From this I can conclude that any human that sucks demon blood can be as powerful as Sam.
          Well, we remember that the demonic Croatoan virus, transferred via blood by infected people, turned ordinary humans into persons with supernaturally enhanced abilities, for example super strength. If we transfer that example to blood infused with demonic power, drinking it would probably have a similar effect, but Sam already has supernaturally enhanced powers and hence the blood does boost these as well. So, yes, a normal person would probably be charged up by demon blood as well, but no, they would be nowhere near as powerful as Sam, because they lack the prerequisite abilities.

          Originally posted by Obsessed
          If Sam is suppose to be all-powerful, feared by Lilith and other demons, why would be need to drink her blood in the first place? What would be the point?
          I have the following theory about that: Maybe we can argue that the powers were initially designed to be used against a much weaker prey, namely humans, and not against demons, least of all powerful ancient demons like Alistair or Lilith. Granted, Ava could control low level demons, but she was surely far away from being able to harm them. Maybe we can assume that in order for the powers to be turned against its own kind, they need to be much stronger than the YED’s plans required and hence need an extra boost.

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          • #6
            The blood thing has mythological roots outside the "Supernatural"-verse, too, so it's not hard to go along with -- several vampire mythologies include vampires making servants out of humans by feeding them their blood. It doesn't change them into vampires, but it does make them more powerful. There are aspects of this in "True Blood", too. So, Sam getting a kick out of drinking blood of a demon makes sense to me without details. What doesn't make obvious sense is, and I think Ehlwyen noted, is... what exactly gives the blood of the possessed host power to be transferred? The person is just... a person, right? All the power is in the possessing demon, I would have thought.

            I've been kind of tuning in and out of "Supernatural" this year, but this was a solid episode.
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            • #7
              I love Castiel and Anna so much. Heart breaks for Dean. And Sam is SCARY. Those are my not yet coherent thoughts on this episode. Excellent.


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              • #8
                Huh...I think JA could have something good waiting for him when "Supernatural" is over...he can really act! I'm not nearly as sure about JP though.

                I'm really interested in what Ruby thinks she is going to get out of Sam. With her being this devious, I can't imagine she will survive the end of Supernatural. I hope Dean gets on his feet again - he is such a shadow of his previous self. Alastair was gross..they picked a good actor to play him; his voice was so darn slimey!

                Anyway, nothing else to say that hasn't already been said. Hehe...except that the wide-eyed expression on Castiel's face as he was fighting Uriel was hilarious and made me laugh.
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                • #9
                  Dean: "Is it true? Did I break the first seal? Did I start all this?"
                  Castiel: "Yes."

                  Seriously, Kripke & co., how much more weight are you gonna put on Dean's shoulders? I mean I do love angsty Dean but making Dean responsible for setting the apocalypse in motion is way too much for my liking. Please writers, let this be rock bottom for Dean and let him (and us viewers) catch a break from now on.

                  I have very mixed feelings about this week's episode. On the one hand, the Dean torturing Alistair scenes were not quite as horrible as I had feared (even though they were of course plenty disturbing). On the other hand, there were a lot of things that bugged me in this episode. The most important one is that I felt for the first time that the angel mytharc overpowered the Winchesters and I really did not like that. Nothing against Castiel, I do like him but I think he is better in small doses. This week's episode was a bit too Castiel-centric and not enough Winchester-centric for my liking. *shrugs* I mean Sam was only in about 5 minutes or so of the entire episode and there were at least 10 minutes of the episode which featured none of the boys. I guess finding the right balance must be hard for the writers but I hope that the Winchesters will have a more prominent role again in the remaining episodes of this season.

                  Another thing that I really disliked was that they had to bring up the daddy issues again. I choose to believe that Alistair was lying about John not breaking under torture in hell. I do not like the show trying to tell us that John Winchester was a righteous man because that's not how I see him at all. He was driven by his anger, his need for revenge and his stubbornness and this does not make him righteous IMO. However, unfortunately, Dean did believe Alistair and that just broke my heart into a million pieces. To have it spelled out once again that he was not as good, as strong and as brave as his father must have been devastating for Dean and I hate that in addition to everything else the writers had to put this extra burden onto Dean's shoulders. Dean's line to Castiel "I guess I'm not the man either of our dads wanted me to be" spoke volumes. Dean's despair and hopelessness at the end of the episode left me feeling devastated and extremely upset.

                  As mentioned above, Sam was not in this episode a lot but the scenes he was in were memorable. Sam drinking Ruby's blood was very scary and disturbing! As was Ruby calling Sam "Sammy", that's reserved for Dean only and really bugged me. However, I'm glad that we finally got an answer to the question as to how Sam tunes up his powers. I have been wanting to know that for months! Ruby's smile as Sam was drinking her blood was definitely evil, it was a "I finally got Sam where I want him to be" smile. Ruby really does have immense power over Sam right now, as demonstrated by him practically begging for her blood because he is convinced that is the only way to make him strong enough. The fact that Sam can kill and not just exorcise demons now of course proves the point that Ruby's blood does indeed make Sam incredibly powerful. However, this doesn't make it any less scary or creepy. I can't wait to find out what Ruby's exact agenda is for Sam. So far Ruby has always been a grey area character for me but after this week's episode I think all signs point to Ruby being truly evil.

                  What else stood out to me? I truly did not expect Uriel to be working for Lucifer so that was a nice plot twist. I like that Castiel has started questioning his blind obdience and that Anna rescued Castiel just in the nick of time. I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced by Anna wearing the same human body, even though it was destroyed. But I guess angels being very powerful and all, I'll just have to suspend my disbelief on that one. Jensen Ackles truly shined again in this episode, nobody does angst better than him.

                  So yeah this was an intense, scary, disturbing, angsty and at times irritating episode for me. My deepest wish and hope now is that eventually something positive is gonna happen in Dean's life because I honestly don't know how much more he can take.

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                  • #10
                    Ok I am going to try to write somewhat of a "review" For the first time. Two pionts notefight befoure we start:
                    1. I have been wathing supernatural since the first ep, but got a bit disconnected from it mid last season and now am slowly climbing back in
                    2. I suck at writing reviews.

                    So Oh my God I loved this episode!! Becouse I have been in love with Castiel and the overly way in with they portrayd angels in Supernaturla from the day Castiel sayd the famous line

                    I am an angel of the Lord

                    So for me seeing a whole Castiel based episode is just haven (pun intentional) I love the fact that he is doupting now, and I really hope they will give him time to develop as a character rather than only a soldier. He needs to learn how to trust his own feelings and that is going to be a difficult task becouse he is used to listen to other people telling him what to do. Intressting thought popped in my head: What if the orders of God come to the angels trough this gut feeling rather than trough other angels. That would be intressting.

                    Second point Dean. Jensen is one of those actors I am going to show to my grand kids, and telling them how I wathed him win the Oscar. Sireously the man can ACT. On to Dean I hate to see him miserable like that. I miss the humour Dean, and I really hope he can find the believe in himself again. Intressting aprallel: Castiel and Dean are on thesame path right now. one of learing to trust oneself and believe in oneself. I think the past to trusting himself for dean lies on the way of reconecting with Sam again. He needs to be a brother for him to comleatly be hinself imoo.

                    Than on to Sam, my God was the blood scene scary!! I couldn't wath it. First I thought that they were going to have sex and that somehow will pump his powers with would have been soo lame. But I don't know how I feel about the blood sucking thing either. Clearly Sam is addicted, and in my opinion not even to the blud as much as he is addicted to Ruby. Ruby is the one peroson who at this point knows every secret Sam has, who can really relate to how Sam feels, who is there when he needs her and continous to help him out.

                    Than on to Uriel who is going to be missed buy me. I personaly loved him . I loved him becouse it was intressting to wath an angel hating humanity and still obaying the Lord. Sad to see him go, and sad to see that ultimatly he was the one to betray them all. Side note hearing an angel say there is no God has to be the most scary thing I have seen on tv ever.The fact that he points out that the angels are not Gods favourites anymore, is intressting. it hints towards the emotion of jelousy and to me shows that Uriel in the deepest depth of his soul si a child wanting to be daddy's favorite. Where as Castiel is constantly acting like a grown up, a confused, troubled perhaps but still grown up. The motivation to bring on the apocalipse as outhert buy Uriel therefour seems weak. And I think that plays right in to the demons hands. He was an intressting carachter and one who always brought food for thought. And I am wandering if he was the recruter for Lucifer what are the angels who "have said yes" are goign to do now. Do they have some kind of other leader, are they goign to have to obay demons?. OK done rambling about that it makes my head spinn

                    Than Anna. Love love Anna, especially interacting with Castiel. Now it's clear that the two of them have a history, it would be intressting to explore that.
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                    • #11
                      This was such an incredible episode. The whole thing just seemed to flow perfectly from the beginning with Castiel going to see the dead angel to the scene in the hospital. I'm going to have to say that this was my favorite episode from the whole season.

                      When Dean and Sam were met by Castiel and Uriel, I wasn't too sure that this episode would be that great to be honest. After they took Dean to the warehouse, I started to build faith that this would be a good episode. I really felt Dean's wish to be set free from the whole thing while he was talking to Castiel. I also felt the honesty coming from Castiel's voice when he said that he wish that he had another option than to send Dean in there to torture him. Sooooo, Dean eventually went in and Alastair was taunting him which was done well.

                      But then the torture actually began. And I have to say that while parts of that scene did kinda creep me out, I just love how it was done. First, Dean started with the knife and Alastair was just awesome during that scene. But then when Dean started pouring holy water on him, I was like WOW. Christopher Heyerdahl did an incredible job showing how painful the torture was. The way that he delivered his speech about John Winchester too was perfectly done, he was completely serious about it. I'm not sure if he was lying about it, but I just loved how he kept a straight face about it. That entire scene reminded me of the Joker/Batman interrogation scene from The Dark Knight for some reason.

                      Then came the whole Uriel confession and Castiel coming to the realization that he couldn't always trust all of the orders given to him because they may not be from God. It came from out of nowhere, but I loved how it was played out. Ever since Uriel came onto the show (I think in It's The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester), he was always portrayed to be the better angel. Even when he appeared in the beginning of this episode, he seemed to be the more faithful angel. The angel who was willing to do what he needed to do even if it meant torturing Alastair. Then we see that he was actually working for Lucifer and he was the person who murdered the other 9 (7 or 9?) angels. Then it all seemed to unfold even more as Uriel revealed his bigger plan to have Dean killed, so that Castiel could eventually be killed as well while setting Alastair free.

                      The thing that I'm wondering about is if Uriel knew about Dean breaking the first seal. If he did know about Dean breaking the first seal and how Dean would be the only person to stop the Apocalypse since he broke the first seal, then Uriel really had the whole thing planned out.

                      Sam was a pretty great character in this episode even though I didn't like where they took his character. The power coming form the demon blood has corrupted him too far and I (like others) don't believe that Ruby has his best interests at hand. I honestly think that Sam wants to do good, but like Pamela said last episode, things are going to get worse for him. I think that he'll end up killing a demon who Dean and Castiel need to have alive because he's so power hungry and that will just screw them up even more.

                      I wasn't a big fan of Anna in the past, but she really was great in this episode. I loved the scenes she had with Castiel especially the scene right before Uriel and Castiel started fighting.
                      Dean seems to be in a pretty tough spot right now. I wish I had something really good to say about it, but Ehlwyen pretty much summed up all my thoughts about Dean's predicament.

                      I don't know what to think about next week. I'm hoping that there's some plot progression in that episode, but we'll see...

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                      • #12
                        On The Head Of A Pin tied my brain up in knots and gave me a headache with all the mytharc implications they tried to cram into this episode. The immense complexity of this episode makes it nearly impossible to cover all facets of it equally thorough, so inevitably there will be passages that fall short in my analysis. I hope it’s still remotely insightful. Just be warned, this is the longest review I have ever written. So, without further ado, onto the review.

                        I think I can honestly say that I have never dreaded a Supernatural episode as much as Ben Edlund’s On The Head Of A Pin, dreaded to a point even, where I considered not watching it at all. A couple of weeks back, I saw a promo trailer that showed one of the torture scenes between Dean and Alistair and that scene made such a disturbing impression on me, that I was convinced this episode would completely ruin Dean’s character for me. Luckily, that was not the case and my immense relief about that fact, clearly played a role in my perception of this episode.

                        On The Head Of A Pin is a solid exploration of multiple very complex relationships and that’s at the same time the strength and the weakness of this episode for me. A strength, because it deepened the understanding of all involved characters, a weakness because it took away the focus from Sam and Dean. While the pacing and structuring of the episode was excellent, it was the Castiel centric perspective that threw me off. Also, this episode is very dark and disturbing and I think that I have limits as to how far I can go without feeling completely uncomfortable. I love character angst and give me horror gore any day, but graphic torture hits a sensitive spot with me and while it served its purpose here, I really wished they had found a different way to achieve the same development for the characters and the mytharc.

                        First off, the meaning of the episode titel was a mystery to me, so I looked it up and found that it referred to the scholastic question of ‘How many angels could dance/stand on the head of a pin?’ and is used as an expression when people want to emphasise the total pointlessness of a discussion. I really like the fact that this phrase not only alludes to the question of the materiality of angels, given that in the show angels are incorporeal unless they possess a body, but the image also fits the power struggle between Castiel and Uriel in the episode. Furthermore, the title serves as a metaphor for the pointlessness of Dean’s ordeal in this episode. As Sam stated, in the end it was all for nothing, because the knowledge Castiel sought was located somewhere else entirely. So, all in all one of the better titles in this season.

                        Dean: "You ask me to open that door and walk through it, you will not like who walks back out."

                        Right from the start of the episode Dean is worn out and weary, and even Sam’s first tentative attempt to involve Dean in his communication with Ruby, is only met with indifference. Pamela’s death was another burden on Dean’s soul and he basically lost his will to fight. His ”I’m tired of burying friends.” echoed John’s ”I want to stop losing people we love.” in Salvation. Back then the constant personal sacrifices wore John down to a point at which he didn’t care about his own life anymore. He just wanted it to be over and didn’t expect to make it out of the fight against the YED alive, and Dean arrived in a similar headspace over the course of the last few weeks. The fractured bond with his brother, the setbacks on the war-front and the massive personal sacrifices stretched Dean’s resources thin and threw him on the verge of a debilitating depression.

                        When first confronted with Castiel and Uriel’s demand to torture Alistair for information though, anger and defiance win the upper hand in Dean. Not only do they ask him to relive and re-enact his worst memory of hell, but they also try to take away his free will in the matter by abducting him and presenting Dean with a fait accompli. Dean’s utter horror and desperation at the request of the angels is palpable, when he pleads with Castiel to spare him that ordeal. His statement that Castiel will not like the person he will become, should they force him to go through with it, shows that he doesn’t fear not being strong enough to do it, but to cross a line and not come back from it. In the end Dean gives in though, and I think part of him simply resigned himself to do what needs to be done, regarding the order as just another hit, one he doesn’t have the strength to fight anymore. I also think that he feels that Castiel’s sorrow is genuine, and while he might not completely trust Castiel after the manipulation act he pulled on Dean in Death Takes A Holiday, he still believes that his motives are good.

                        I have to admit here that I would have wished for an extended struggle or at least insight into Dean’s decision to give in and trust Castiel’s assertion that this particular action is needed. His surrender came too fast for me. His gut instinct should have told Dean that everything about that request was wrong, not only on a personal level, but also on an ethical one, just like his instincts told him that smiting a whole town of innocents was wrong. I really would have preferred if Dean had at least questioned Castiel’s orders on grounds of the morality of a God that seemingly demands such an despicable act. I was also bothered by the fact that there wasn’t even the slightest consideration for the man that Alistair possessed in this incarnation, who, should he still have been alive during that torture session, clearly didn’t survive it.

                        Anyway, when Dean walks into that torture chamber, his eyes are empty and it’s clear that he tried to shut himself off completely. Dean’s cold expression, his quiet, low voice, the measured and calm movements and the cruel sneer were disconcerting to watch and yet, his cold fa?ade isn’t entirely convincing. It’s not Dean who has the upper hand in his exchange with his former torturer, he has no real power over Alistair. The demon is a master torturer himself and he simply draws a twisted pleasure from seeing Dean, the 'animal' that he created, at work, rather than being intimidated or even break under the pain that is inflicted on him. Dean might be holding the knife, but Alistair carves with words into Dean, using his intimate knowledge about his 'student' to his own advantage. Dean might hate Alistair, but he hates even more what Alistair made of him and that gives the demon the perfect leverage to play a game of his own, striking right at the heart of Dean’s self-esteem issues.

                        Alistair’s statement that John never broke under the torture in hell delivers a devastating blow to Dean’s self-confidence and it doesn’t really matter that this claim of Alistair’s is highly improbable. Dean always thought of himself as a lesser man than his father, unable to meet John’s expectations in him and fill his shoes after he was gone. Last season Dean took first steps towards a more positive self-image and started to free himself from his father’s larger-than-life image, but Alistair’s well-directed taunt sets him back several steps in that development and multiplies his self-loathing for not being able to withstand the torture. With the additional revelation that it was Dean’s 'weakness', which in the end enabled Lilith to set her plans in motion, that he became the first broken seal when he got off the rack and started torturing, Dean’s world crumbles completely. That’s too much responsibility to heap on one man’s shoulders.

                        I am sure that a part of Dean hoped that by taking revenge on Alistair he would be able to take back the control over his life and come to terms with his guilt, but in the end the encounter left him utterly destroyed. If anything good came out of Dean’s confrontation with Alistair, it’s that his fear to walk out of that room as the monster he believed himself to be, ever since he gave in and became a torturer in hell, was unfounded. He emerged a shattered man, but that’s in itself a proof that despite everything Dean has seen and done, his soul remains intact, even if his spirit does not.

                        Dean: "Alistair was right. I’m not all hero. I’m not strong enough. I guess, I’m not the man either of our dads wanted me to be. Find someone else. It’s not me."

                        Dean has now essentially hit rock bottom, he is on his lowest point ever. Castiel’s affirmation of Alistair’s statement that Dean was the first seal, takes away even the last hope that the demon lied about this. Castiel’s reassurance that Dean is not to blame and that it was Dean’s fate to play this role in the grander scheme of things, falls on deaf ears, Dean is inconsolable. Dean has always believed that he forges his own destiny and consequentially he feels that he is to be held responsible for bringing on the end of the world and given his life-long dedication to making the world a safer place, that’s a truly devastating twist.

                        Dean not only feels that he disappointed his father’s as well as his own expectations, but now he is also faced with God’s expectations in him, when he finally learns why he was saved from hell: He is the only person to be able to stop the apocalypse, because he is the one who started it. A heavy burden for any man, but even more so for someone as terribly beaten down as Dean. All his decisions in the last couple of years seem to have lead to a never-ending downward spiral and now Dean is finished. He has lost any confidence in his own abilities. My only hope is that from here on a process of healing will begin, a healing that allows Dean to find his worth and strength within himself and not within another person or his mission.

                        Kudos to Jensen for his superior acting job in this episode. Dean’s progression from weariness to anger to cold, dark determination and finally utter brokenness was an emotional tour de force and it’s a testament to Jensen’s acting skills that he pulled off every step of Dean’s complex journey in this episode equally compelling and nuanced.

                        Sam: "You think I want to do this? This is the last thing I … but I need to be strong enough."
                        Ruby: "It’s okay. It’s okay, Sammy. You can have it."


                        Finally we get an answer to what Sam has been up to with Ruby, namely, drinking her demonically enhanced blood in order to boost his own powers. While it was disturbing and repulsive to see Sam desperately feeding on Ruby’s blood, it was a relief to me, that my own theory about Sam possibly practicing human sacrifice was proven wrong. Sam nurturing his powers on demon blood makes a lot of sense in the overall mythology of the show, because blood has always been shown as a potent catalyst for supernaturally enhanced powers, like the YED’s blood ritual for his psychic kids, the demonic Croatoan virus or the depiction of vampirism as a disease of the blood, just to name a few examples.

                        Now, when it comes to the psychic kids specifically though, none of those who expanded their powers, like Ava or Jake, needed to feed on demonic blood to do so. What would set Sam apart from them? Maybe we can argue that the powers were initially designed to be used against a much weaker prey, namely humans, and not against demons, least of all powerful ancient demons like Alistair or Lilith. Granted, Ava could control low level demons, but she was surely far away from being able to harm them. Maybe we can assume that in order for the powers to be turned against its own kind, they need to be much stronger than the YED’s plans required and hence need an extra boost.

                        It’s clear from Sam and Ruby’s conversation in Heaven and Hell that Sam picked up the habit of feeding on blood while Dean was in hell and gave up on it once his brother came back or at least when he decided to stop using his powers in Metamorphosis. As a result, it seems, that Sam’s power decreased again, indicating that the boost of his powers is only temporary and that he needs to continue drinking Ruby's blood, if he wants to stay as powerful as he is at the moment. The drug-metaphor that has been connected to Sam’s powers makes even more sense now, with the added component of a real 'substance' abuse.

                        It’s noteworthy though that however twisted Sam has become, he is still struggling with the path he chose for himself. He doesn’t want this, but he does what he thinks needs to be done anyway, for Dean and for himself, in order to take control over his own life back, only that in reality he hands that control over to Ruby. Ruby’s triumphant smile when she feeds her blood to Sam leaves no doubt that her motives are sinister. She has Sam exactly where she wants him to be, fully dependent on her. Back in I Know What You Did Last Summer Sam confessed that he allowed Ruby to take a substitute position for Dean and when Ruby calls Sam ‘Sammy’, an endearment reserved for Dean only, it’s another confirmation that that hasn’t really changed after Dean came back. Ruby offers him the support Dean denies him and that bounds him even closer to her than before.

                        Sam: "He can’t do it. He can’t get the job done. Something happened to him downstairs. He’s not what he used to be. He’s not strong enough."

                        Sam’s feelings towards his brother at the moment are filtered through the warped perception of his own powers. Sam’s assessment that Dean is weak is just as much a result of his feeling of superiority and strength, as it is grounded in an actual change in Dean. It’s his perspective on Dean that has changed as well and not only Dean himself. Despite the fact that Dean allowed his confident fa?ade in front of Sam to slip more often over the last couple of years, Sam always perceived Dean as the stronger one and relied on him to confidently take charge when the situation called for it. Lately though, Dean’s resigned and world-weary mindset forced Sam to assume the leading position in their partnership, many of his own decisions are rooted in Dean’s lack of determination and I think that Sam in equal parts resents and worries about Dean’s vulnerability and inability to cope with his post-hell trauma.

                        On the one hand these mixed feelings express themselves at times in annoyance and condescendence towards his brother. On the other hand though, Dean’s vulnerable demeanour brings out Sam’s fierce protectiveness over his brother as well. His vehement demand for Castiel to heal Dean, to make a miracle happen for him, speaks volumes of his love and care, all dismissive thoughts of his brother forgotten in the face of possibly losing him again. No matter how strained and distanced their relationship has become over the last couple of weeks, moments like these demonstrate that the foundation of their bond is still intact enough to eventually rebuild the trust between them.

                        Anyway, as soon as Dean is abducted, getting his brother back is foremost on Sam’s mind. He’s aware that he might not only have to confront Alistair, but also the angels in order to save his brother, and I am sure that he would have attempted to take Castiel and Uriel on, had they refused to release Dean. I have to admit that part of me is curious to know if he would be capable to affect angels with his powers as well. In any case, the situation pushes Sam into taking yet another step towards darkness by turning to Ruby for another boost of his powers, a boost that will make him strong enough to take out a demon of Alistair’s calibre. Once again his internal motives are fuelled by his need to be strong enough for Dean’s sake, to protect his brother, but the dark undercurrent of his addiction to Ruby’s blood infuses his reasoning as well and I don’t think that Sam is quite aware of that fact.

                        This intriguing dichotomy in Sam’s personality, on the one hand loving and caring, on the other cold and dismissive, not only informs his relationship with his brother, but all his thoughts and actions. It’s like his genuine personality is slowly but surely overpowered by the darkness within him. So far his motives remain good, but traits like compassion (e.g. for Dean’s suffering) or sorrow (e.g. for Pamela’s death) seem to rapidly fade. While I am extremely worried for Sam, I couldn’t find it in me to condemn him for his need to kill Alistair with cold precision. This was revenge for his brother, for what Dean suffered through at the hands of Alistair. All season long Sam felt guilty for not being able to save Dean from hell or at least ease the pain of Dean’s post-hell trauma, but killing Alistair was something he could do, if only to soothe his own guilt.

                        Castiel: "I’m considering disobedience.(…) I don’t know what to do. Please tell me what to do."

                        On The Head Of A Pin was essentially shown from Castiel’s perspective and dealt with the angel’s growing doubts over the righteousness of his orders and the questioning of his faith. Right from the start it is obvious that Castiel feels guilty and uncomfortable with putting Dean in the position of a torturer and he’s perfectly aware of the effect it will have on Dean’s already battered psyche. Still, he allows Uriel to speak for the both of them. He’s already been told off for getting too close to Dean and losing objectivity over his emotional involvement and he tries to distance himself, afraid to go astray.

                        Castiel has always lived in the security that God is infallible and that his absolute obedience to God’s word served a greater purpose of good, even if he not always understood the reason behind the orders he has been given. By questioning that position the rug is slowly pulled out from under him and he feels lost without his safety net of faith and overwhelmed by the terrifying burden of responsibility that comes with choosing your own course of action. Disobedience would mean to fall from God’s grace forever, an unimaginable prospect for the angel, but the more he tries to ignore the nagging voice of doubt and clings to his faith, the more that faith seems to slip away from him

                        In the end though it’s not Castiel’s faith in God that was misplaced, but where he directed his doubt. He trusted his fellow comrade Uriel just as much as he trusted God and despite his knowledge that angels have disobeyed and fallen before, he turned a blind eye on Uriel’s not even very well concealed rebelliousness. He allowed his own struggles with faith and his closeness to Uriel to cloud his judgment, and in the end they all paid a huge price for Castiel’s hesitance to act on his doubt. Only when he allowed his doubt to dictate his actions, he found the truth and his way back to God and I really love that aspect of Castiel's journey in this episode.

                        His faith restored, he is now faced with the problem that he doesn’t know whom to trust anymore. There’s still a scattered faction of traitorous angels and it is likely that they will further try to subvert any efforts to prevent the apocalypse, which might also put Dean’s life in more danger. The revelations Castiel had to face today also leave him with the guilt of having failed Dean, again. The angels let Dean down when they didn’t manage to get to him in time to save him from hell and now Castiel failed him by putting his trust in Uriel, a mistake that nearly cost Dean’s life and with him the possibility to stop the apocalypse.

                        There are a lot of parallels between Dean and Castiel, from their struggles with a distanced father, to losing trust into those whom they are closest to and their similar situations will likely facilitate a better understanding between them. In the end Castiel doesn’t have anybody to turn to but Anna and Dean for guidance on free will and responsibility, and Dean needs every ally available to him with the task that lies before him.

                        Castiel: "We’re brothers, Uriel. Pay me that respect. Tell me the truth"
                        Uriel: "The truth is, the only thing that can kill an angel, is another angel."


                        The revelation that it was Uriel who orchestrated the systematic wipe-out of angels and set-up the encounter between Dean and Alistair with the intention to get Dean killed, was a stunning plot twist and I have to admit that I didn’t see that one coming, although it makes perfect sense. Uriel has been consistently depicted as a fundamentalist. He nurtured a superiority complex, showed nothing but contempt for humans and more than once he expressed his resentment over the fact that these inferior creatures were God’s favoured creation. His position has always been dangerously close to blasphemy, and it’s clear that at some point he lost his faith in God completely and instead turned to a more tangible and comprehensible idol, his fallen comrade Lucifer.

                        It’s noteworthy that in the end it is God’s absence which allows the subversion amongst his holy warriors and it begs the question how exactly the system works. Lucifer disobeyed and was punished and cast out of Heaven, Uriel disobeyed and even murdered his fellow angels and still he wasn’t cast out or otherwise punished, Anna fell and returned and yet she doesn’t seem to be punished either, death sentence or not. It would also have been interesting to know when exactly Uriel started to follow his own agenda, especially if Uriel and his followers were part of the siege that Heaven laid on Hell in order to free Dean before he could become the first seal. Did they subvert that rescue mission as well?

                        In any case, the revelation that Uriel has been the one to pull the strings and fed Castiel with false orders, calls everything Castiel and Uriel told Sam and Dean this season into question. How many of the heavenly orders have been relayed to Castiel by Uriel, and how many of them have been genuine? For example, Castiel’s demand for Dean to stop Sam from using his powers might as well have been one of those false orders. Who is to say that this was a genuine warning and not an attempt of the traitorous angel faction to prevent Sam from interfering with their plans? Uriel told Sam that so far he has been useful, but that statement now appears in a rather doubtful light, as it isn’t clear if he has been useful to the rebellious angels or to God. Basically we are back to square one and need to consider everything from a new perspective.

                        Alistair: "And it is written that the first seal shall be broken when a righteous man sheds blood in hell. As he breaks, so shall it break."

                        In this week’s episode we learn that the first seal was broken when Dean surrendered to the torture in hell and started to become a torturer himself. Now, I find the notion that John and Dean have been the first righteous men to ever be tortured (and broken) in hell very implausible. Surely, over the centuries hundreds of righteous souls must have been broken and turned into demons, and every one of them would have been a potential candidate for the apocalypse and yet the opportunities went by without someone/thing seizing the chance. So why now? I am pretty sure that Lilith didn’t just spontaneously decide to raise Lucifer a couple of months ago. A stunt like that needs careful planning and preparation, especially if some seals are time-sensitive, like the raising of Samhain and if she needed to obtain rare occult items, like the sickle of death. I assume that Lilith was in no position to set her plan in motion until a special convergence of circumstances made the breaking of the seals possible.

                        I guess that Lilith would have needed to prepare for the eventuality of angels showing up as soon as her plan was in place. It would have been incredibly difficult for Lilith and a handful of her followers to attack as many seals as possible in order to keep the angels busy and still have a chance of breaking at least some of the seals she targeted. Castiel mentioned in Are You There God? that there were many fronts and that the angels needed to defend each and every one of them with a limited number of warriors. So, Lilith clearly needed an army of helpers to weaken the angel’s defence lines in various battles, an army of demonic helpers on earth to be precise. It was only when the YED opened the devil’s gate and allowed hundreds of demons to escape, that Lilith had a chance to acquire the forces she needed, especially after the YED’s death left a void of leadership that she could assume.

                        With the necessary forces at her side she only needed the next righteous soul to be broken in hell to set her plan in action and with Dean already being scheduled for a visit, it stands to reason that she concentrated her efforts on him. We remember that the crossroads demon in I Know What You Did Last Summer refused Sam’s offer to swap places with his brother, stating that they have Dean exactly where they needed him to be and with the knowledge that they wanted Dean to become the first of the broken seals, that statement makes perfect sense. So, in my opinion the opening of the devil’s gate, the YED’s death and Dean’s deal presented the opportunity for Lilith to finally achieve her plans.

                        Now, where does that leave John and Alistair’s assertion that he has been the primary target and not Dean? I have to go with the assumption that Alistair was lying through his teeth on that one, because he knew exactly what that statement would do to Dean. Alistair’s statement is implausible though: Firstly, if the heavenly legions laid siege on hell in order to save Dean before he could break and become a catalyst for the apocalypse, why didn’t they come for John as well? Surely, if John really had been part of the plan to break the seals, the angels would have taken the same measures. Secondly, if either the YED or Lilith had planned for John to become the first seal, why would the crossroads demon in Crossroad Blues offer Dean to bring back John in exchange for Dean's soul? So, no I don't think John was ever part of the apocalypse storyline. As for John’s ability to withstand the torture in hell, we have no way of knowing if Alistair lied or if he told the truth, and personally I find it improbable, because it's my firm belief that everyone breaks under torture, no matter what kind of person they used to be. Anyway, in the end it only matters that Dean believed it.

                        Overall, it seems less and less likely to me that the YED’s endgame was the same as Liliths’, namely the rising of Lucifer. The YED’s plot to create generations of psychic kids holds too many unpredictable variables and is way too complex, to make it a viable plan to achieve the breaking of the first seal. Also, Castiel stated that the angels had no idea what the YED’s plans were, while they were perfectly clear about what Lilith was up to, before the first seal was even broken. I see no reason why the angels would know about the one but not the other, if both demons were pursuing the same goal. So, I am convinced, that the YED was after something else. It makes more sense to me at the moment, that the failure of the YED’s plan facilitated Lilith’s course of action, and I have to admit that I would be very disappointed if the results of the two plotlines would turn out to be independent from each other, because I always hoped that both mythologies would merge at some point into one big arc.

                        At the moment I can only see one satisfactory way to unite the two storylines: The YEDs attempt to create a human leader for the demonic forces achieves the very opposite, namely an extremely powerful weapon against demons: Sam! Lilith’s plan to use Dean as the first seal to set her plan in motion, results in creating the very key that would be able to shipwreck said plans: Dean himself! Together Sam and Dean would have the opportunity and the means to avert the apocalypse. The only questions that remain are: What’s the personal price the brothers have to pay to achieve that victory and will they manage to heal the rift between them in time to make it happen?

                        What else was noteworthy:

                        Given the fact that back in Are You There God? Ruby stated that she didn’t know a thing about angels, she shows a remarkable variety of spells that refer to them. In Heaven and Hell she created hex bags that allowed them to hide from the angels and now she was able to locate their exact whereabouts? Now this could simply mean that she expanded her witchcraft knowledge in that field over the last couple of months, but it could also hint at the fact that she lied to Sam for some reason.

                        I thought it was disconcerting that the angels leave the bodies of their hosts behind with just the same negligence like demons. I had hoped that Castiel or Anna would restore the body and soul of Uriel’s host and was disappointed when they just left him there.

                        In conclusion: Despite the fact that the episode revealed important information about Sam and Dean, this episode was neither about Sam or Dean or, least of all, Sam'n'Dean, ultimately it was about the development of Castiel and the angel plotline. While I enjoyed a lot of aspects in this episode and appreciated the complexity of it, I also felt that the angel plot overpowered the story of the Winchesters, just like it did in Heaven and Hell, and that’s probably the biggest drawback for the latest mytharc episodes for me. It seems that the more 'epic' the arc becomes, the less personal it feels to me.

                        It’s not that the angels are not interesting in their own right, but when their plot becomes detrimental to the time dedicated to Sam and Dean’s journey, I feel cheated. I also admit that I don’t enjoy a shift of focus from the relationship between Sam and Dean to the relationships between Dean & Castiel on the one side and Sam & Ruby on the other. I can only hope that this season’s finale at least puts the focus of the mytharc back on where it needs to be: the brothers Winchester.
                        Last edited by galathea; 25-03-09, 11:42 AM.

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