Supernatural Season 9 Finale Roundtable: Dean, Sam, Castiel, Crowley, Angels, Demons & More!by Clarissa / May 27, 2014
The summer Supernatural hellatus is upon us (after a widely-expected — but still terror-inducing — final shot of Dean awakening from “death” as a demon). As is tradition, I’ve once again called on my group of fellow Supernatural reviewers across the internet to share our thoughts.
We have two new participants in this Supernatural roundtable. This time there is myself, Laura Prudom from Variety, Vinnie Chaffee from WinchesterBros, Danielle Turchiano from StudioSystemNews, Marisa Roffman from Give Me My Remote, Alice Jester from Winchester Family Business, Nikki Moore from Winchester Daily, Tina Charles from TV Goodness and our newbies Dr. Lynn Zubernis from Fangasm and Mike Copeland from ScreenFad. We hope you’ll stick with us to the end, because while this is a very comprehensive (long) season 9 review, we’ve got a lot of opinions to share and a lot of topics to get through.
Dean’s Storyline: Rejection, Revenge, Rebirth
The consensus among the roundtable participants regarding Dean taking on the Mark of Cain storyline can best be summed by Laura, who said “In many ways, the Mark of Cain arc was the culmination of years of false starts and abandoned storylines for Dean. He and the audience were directly confronted with his fear of becoming a demon as far back as Season 3’s ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me,’ and we were teased with the lingering effects of his time in Hell and his talent for torture during the fantastic ‘On the Head of a Pin,’ but the repercussions of his time downstairs were never fully explored – one of the show’s most egregious missed opportunities, as far as I’m concerned. Dean’s role as Michael’s vessel was also squandered, and while his time in Purgatory managed to reaffirm his passion for hunting, that plotline, too, was discarded far too early. It has often seemed like the show doesn’t know what to do with Dean when it comes to including him in the larger mythology, despite the myriad aforementioned opportunities to do so organically. The Mark of Cain felt far less organic than being Michael’s vessel or Hell-induced PTSD might’ve been, but given the show’s preoccupation with dysfunctional sibling dynamics, Cain and Abel’s story did seem ripe for a Supernatural twist.”
“In our midseason roundtable I stated that I felt Dean’s mytharc was as it always has been: a study of Dean’s emotions,” Vinnie said. “I stand by that. The difference this season was the unlike previous seasons that explored Dean’s love, devotion, responsibility, and the like all because he had so much to lose. This season explored what happens when Dean feels he has nothing left to lose because it (Sam) is already lost to him. So in a way, Dean’s mytharc was introduced quite early in the season and built to a head in the last few episodes.”
Jensen Ackles’ strength has always been being a pillar of acting talent on Supernatural and this season — particularly this season — was no exception. “[The Mark of Cain storyline had] phenomenal acting from Jensen,” Lynn said. “I have no clue how he does it, but I swear I can read every emotion Dean Winchester is feeling in his eyes and on his face without a single word being spoken. He can break my heart with one look at his brother. I also think he did an excellent job of portraying Dean’s ambivalent feelings about becoming more and more addicted to the Blade – when I asked him about this story line a few months ago, he said he was playing it as an addict, and he did. That ambivalence is a significant part of addiction, as the person realizes that they’re playing with fire and a part of them knows there will be consequences.” Danielle concurred, saying “Ackles has proven time and again that he is a true actor: able to put you in his character’s mind by the expressions on his face. He can do a lot with a little, and the writers have often written to those strengths.” Finally, Nikki added that “he’s really taken on the story and a lot of his talent has everything to do with facial expressions and not the lines themselves. While in some spots, I felt like I was watching two seasons thrown into one, Jensen kept Dean level and his character was consistent with the goings on around him.”
Despite Ackles knocking it out of the park acting-wise, the group of us did have several problems with the Mark of Cain storyline. Not surprisingly, a lot of them revolved around pacing (which you’ll see is a common complaint for the season as a whole).
“While I think Jensen did pretty well with it, the Mark of Cain stuff felt very rushed to me, almost like an afterthought at times. The actor who played Cain sold it pretty well, but Abaddon or no Abaddon, Dean was entirely too quick to take on the Mark,” Mike pointed out. While Mike isn’t wrong that Dean certainly accepted the dangers of this unknown Mark in the span of a few seconds, Marisa pointed out that “was there any real surprise Dean took it on? For nine seasons, we’ve seen that Dean will do basically anything to protect the people he cares about, no matter what the fallout is or what the consequences are to himself.” And Lynn further explained “I think it made sense given his emotional state at the time – Dean was vulnerable because he was hurting, his perceived rejection by Sam leaving what Jensen described as “a gaping wound” in Dean that he didn’t know how to fill. He was also consumed with guilt and self-loathing after the debacle of allowing Gadreel to possess Sam and the death of Kevin as a result, so he clearly didn’t care about the consequences. He didn’t even want to hear them. He just wanted a path forward, some way to ‘make things right’ and to get revenge on Gadreel and Metatron and Abbadon. It was a reckless thing to do, but it made sense to me that Dean would do it.” While I agree that Dean leapt into the situation without thinking of the consequences (something both Winchesters have done time and time again), I agree that the pacing in terms of how the story unfolded was the real problem.
“I do wish we hadn’t had to waste almost half a season on Dean deceiving Sam and wringing his hands with guilt over it – that storyline should’ve been truncated by at least a couple of episodes (a potent reminder that post-Season 5, I’ve often felt the show would benefit from a cable-length season of 13-15 episodes to cut out the filler),” Laura said. “Considering it took a few episodes for the Mark to even come into play after ‘First Born,’ it would’ve made more sense for the Mark and the First Blade to be introduced earlier to really give the writers and Ackles a chance to explore their developing effects, without trying to cram all that story into the last few episodes (which were already overflowing with plot twists).” Marisa agreed, saying “given the importance of the mark, it was a bit of a risk to only put it into play so late into the season. Part of me wishes we had a whole season dealing with it — in some ways, it feels like Dean’s real storyline of the season was dropped on us out of nowhere in January — or, even dealt with more immediately versus having ‘filler’ episodes. But the pacing has felt a little off the entire season.”
“The Mark of Cain story arc was the most compelling, and the few episodes that focused mostly on it were stellar (the Cain episode, the one where Dean first touches the blade and kills Magnus, for example),” Lynn said. “But too often the Mark of Cain story got lost among all the other story lines that were running simultaneously. The angel war, which I stopped caring about a long time ago, kept interrupting the story arcs that I wanted to see, which disrupted the pacing of both individual episodes and the season as a whole. Instead of listening to Metatron monologue, we could have had the Mark of Cain story play out gradually, building the tension. Sam’s demon blood addiction, for example, was played out more gradually and thus we felt like we understood both Sam and Dean’s reactions to it better. The impact of undertaking the trials on Sam was also played out that way, so that we became increasingly concerned as Dean did. The Mark of Cain story, in contrast, we only saw in snippets here and there – and we never saw much of Sam’s POV on it, so we had no clue what he was thinking. Why was he not more concerned about his brother and the Mark? Why was he still having oddly flat conversations with Cas like ‘gee, I think maybe the Mark is changing Dean’, when it was almost the end of the season? I value the character of Sam for his smarts, but he seemed oddly clueless and unconcerned when it came to his brother wearing the Mark of bloody Cain!”
The biggest danger of poor pacing — particularly in a storyline like this — was summed up by Danielle, who said “As it was, many times I felt like I was readying too much into [what was happening with the Mark of Cain storyline] because of how much was still subtextual: there is a real fear among these writers not to give away too much too soon, and I fully understand that, but there is a big risk in holding so many cards back. Sometimes the surprise is lessened because the audience has already speculated and guessed it; sometimes the surprise is a disappointment because the audience has speculated and guessed something much more interesting, complex, and meaningful; sometimes key layers are simply lost because too much time was devoted to misdirects or filler plots.
While pacing was clearly a problem, quite a few of the participants liked the similarities — and even differences — between Dean’s story in season 9 and Sam’s story in season 4. “There were definitely shades of previous seasons in Dean’s story,” Tina admitted. “The addiction element has been dealt with before. Jared did a great job with it in the demon blood arc. And Jensen has been amazing with the Mark of Cain. But they are two different actors so while many of the touches were similar it didn’t feel like the same story. I wish they had had the time to have Sam really tell Dean how he feels his pain. And talk about what he went through in season four. And that they could work together to figure it out. Unfortunately a little bit of that came at the end of the finale when Dean was already dying.” Lynn went on to say that “I saw it as an intentional mirror of Sam’s season 4 storyline, yes. In Season 4, Sam was vulnerable after Dean’s death and descent to hell, in unbearable pain and unable to deal with overwhelming loss, in the same way that Dean was vulnerable and in pain in Season 9. Sam blamed himself for Dean’s death, since it was a result of Dean’s deal to save him, so he had that same self loathing that made him not care what happened to him, and that same laser focus on revenge (killing Lilith) that gave him a reason to live. Sam didn’t care how he did it, just as Dean didn’t in S9. And Jared played Sam’s demon blood craving as an addiction just as Jensen did with the blade. S4 Ruby = S9 Crowley, able to manipulate a Winchester because they were so compromised and desperate and uncaring of the consequences. And in both seasons, the addicted brother alienates and hurts the other, just as so often happens in real life addiction scenarios. Both those seasons ended with Winchester “failure”, with the message that the addiction and the lust for revenge are not what actually saves the day. But both also ended with the Winchesters aligned once again, clinging to each other.”
“Interestingly, the show has always set it up that Dean handles the elements that deal with heaven more closely, while Sam handles those that deal with hell,” Danielle pointed out. “It makes sense since Sam was the one who had demon blood in him and the one who opened the Devil’s Gate. Sam was supposed to undergo the trials and close the gates of hell forever, while Dean was raised out of hell by an angel, supposed to say yes to Michael, and here, took on the Mark of Cain. Sam has his curse, and Dean has his. It’s balanced, even if ultimately those two sides are supposed to be at odds with each other. Maybe we’ll get back to that someday, maybe we won’t. But watching Mark of Cain Dean change because of the power surging inside him be reminiscent of Sam’s experience with the demon blood made sense because of that parallel. It seemed intentional, even if a little bit on the nose.”
Laura pointed out that each brother, while traveling a similar path, did so for different reasons: “While there were obvious similarities between Sam’s demon blood addiction in Season 4 and Dean’s bloodlust brought about by the Mark, I didn’t find Dean’s storyline repetitive or overly familiar. Both decisions were arguably brought on by the trauma of loss, but while Sam and Dean were both mislead into pursuing power by a couple of manipulative demons, Sam’s addiction was driven by pride, while Dean’s was driven by insecurity – and those opposing motivations made for very different consequences that were equally fascinating to watch.” Meanwhile, Vinnie pointed out a big difference between Dean and Sam’s storylines, and it’s one that also speaks to the lack of focus in the season as a whole and continues on the path of Laura’s thinking: “I will say that while I understood why Dean took on the Mark of Cain, both emotionally and as a means to an end, what I don’t understand is what happened after that. Dean’s initial intent was to destroy Gadreel, then a handful of episodes later Gadreel ceased to be a priority because Dean became obsessed with taking down Abaddon, then it felt like midway through taking out Abaddon he was already fixating on Metatron with Gadreel being almost literally a mere fly to sway away. So while Dean’s current story mirrors Sam’s mytharc during season 4, it takes away the fundamental aspect of what made that Sam chilling: focus. On the surface Dean seemed focused, but really he was homicidally fickle.”
The big question now is ‘what happens next?’ One danger, as Danielle said, is “it certainly seems like season 10 is being set up as yet another parallel story with Soulless Sam and now whatever Dean will be. I hope parallel is still the right word come Fall 2014, but in all honesty, it might just be ‘repeat’.” The other danger is Mike rightly hoping “let’s just hope they don’t drag out the reveal [of Dean being a demon] forever, like they did with Dean telling Sam about ‘Zeke’ possessing him.”
It appears there’s a lot of cautious optimism on where this particular story could go. While there’s definitely big missteps that could occur with repetition and endless delay in revealing plot points, there’s also curiosity as to how Dean being a demon will impact his own character (particularly since my biggest fear is that it will throw Dean into an endless period of self-hatred), how (and when) the storyline will be resolved, and how it will impact the brothers’ relationship. Perhaps the resolution of this storyline — particularly if Sam is able to essentially “save” Dean — will be the final piece of the puzzle, bringing us full circle from Sam not saving Dean from Purgatory at the beginning of season 8 and finally allowing the two to work out their differences and emerge stronger for it.
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