Written by Robert Berens and directed by Jerry Wanek, “Captives” is cohesive and well-executed. It revolves around two primary storylines: Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) and his younger brother Sam (Jared Padalecki) discover that Kevin Tran (Osric Chau) is haunting the bunker; the deceased prophet passes along information from behind the Veil to help them save his mother, Linda Tran (Lauren Tom), whom Crowley has had imprisoned for over a year. Meanwhile, Castiel (Misha Collins) is captured by angels working for Bartholomew (Adam Harrington), who served under Castiel’s command in the war against Raphael (S6). While Bart initially welcomes his former comrade, the forced reunion quickly loses its friendly facade.
I like how “Captives” deftly handles the storylines and the nuances of our beloved characters. In a season of fractured relationships, subtlety can go a long way, and while it’s not a substitute for reconciliation, little nods to what (I hope) will be a positive end help. For example, as “The Purge” demonstrates, there are at least two narratives spinning: The one heard, and the one seen, and the two don’t always agree. In “Captives,” Sam shows this split again, as he continues to maintain distance from Dean, yet when Dean calls, Sam comes running, and when Dean needs help, Sam delivers. Bart and Cas offer an interesting parallel: Bart calls Cas friend and reminisces warmly, but Cas discerns that the opposite is true. Unfortunately, it seems that Dean doesn’t “read” his own situation as clearly.
There are other subtleties that indicate that Sam is more torn about the situation with his brother than his words suggest: I see this especially at episode’s end, when Sam hesitates before going into his bedroom, as if he’s considering talking to Dean. I wish Dean could have seen this split-second of hesitation. Alas, Sam enters the room and shuts the door, closing out his brother and us.
This is in keeping with Sam’s characterization all season; except for glimpses here and there, we’ve seen little of what Sam really thinks. Part of that’s been circumstance (Gadreel’s possession), but I miss knowing what’s going on in Sam’s mind because right now there’s mostly just speculation. We don’t even get a response to Kevin’s confirmation that death isn’t currently a “release” as all spirits are stranded in the Veil, which is “DMV lines x infinity bad.”
There’s a lot going on with Sam. His anger and how he’s handling it speaks to his own internal conflict, which isn’t shown. In the Impala, for instance, Dean talks through Crowley’s possible involvement in the case, and Sam responds somewhat aggressively with “So…what? You want to give him a medal?” But Dean isn’t excusing Crowley; he’s simply “talking it out…business-like.” Sam responds with an eye-roll, but there’s no further discussion. Is Sam still upset that Dean left him and Cas only to partner with Crowley? That’s the insinuation, to me, but there’s also the question of why doesn’t Sam see Dean working with Crowley as a means to an end? What else does Dean’s temporary partnership with Crowley “mean” to Sam?
The brothers’ verbal sparring continues throughout the episode. Dean taunts Sam with “thought you said [the bunker] was the safest place on earth” (when Dean, of all people, knows that’s not entirely true). Sam digs at Dean with “maybe he’s just not that into you.” They bicker in the car, and so on. There are moments of near-normal conversation that are all too brief and generally followed by dialogue that reiterates that Dean and Sam are at odds.
Dean’s volatile emotional state continues, from the scruff to his tearful confessions to Kevin to his persistent solitude; to what end, though, we don’t yet know. Dean punishes himself, taking on guilt for things beyond his control; I’ve always believed this stems from his own “programming” from outside influences. And, now, I wonder just how far his self-isolation is going; considering Cas’s support in “Road Trip,” I find it odd that Dean hasn’t contacted Cas (assuming it hasn’t happened off-screen). The only explanation that makes sense to me is that Dean isn’t allowing himself to call or pray to his friend.
Regardless, Dean’s isolation has progressed with the season, and the visuals in “Captives” emphasize where he is now. After the heart-wrenching “Then” and haunting opening sequence, we see Dean lying on his bed with its single pillow; his eyes are shut, and he’s wearing headphones, music blaring. When we first see Sam, he’s dressed casually, as if he was in bed. Does that mean that Dean is back to sleeping fully clothed on top of the covers again instead of indulging in actual pajamas and his favorite “dead man’s” robe? If so, that also says something about Dean’s mindset now.
Dean is motivated after Kevin offers him a task that will, as the prophet says, help to make things right. And after Kevin and Linda are successfully reunited, albeit in different planes of existence, there are a few moments where Dean seems like his old, deflecting self. He cracks a joke about Kevin’s PSAT scores to Linda, and then during their emotional goodbye scene, Dean teases Kevin about the “uninterrupted, 24/7, no escape quality time” with his mom, prompting (what looked to me like) a smirk and eye roll from Linda along with the protest of “dick” from Kevin. All in all, it’s a rather touching scene, particularly when Dean waves goodbye, and one that – I thought for a moment – would lead to a real conversation between the brothers. Instead, Sam leaves the room, and the episode’s last scene is Dean alone in his room, headphones back on, music blaring, and tears in his eyes.
Supernatural’s ninth season is definitely forcing its characters to reconsider “Who am I?” It’s been quite painful to watch Sam, Dean, and Cas at some points, and I anticipate more pain will come. While Sam and Dean remain at something of an impasse in terms of their relationship, Cas’s journey appears to be progressing. And the way that “Captives” plays with constructions of captivity makes me wonder if Cas isn’t foreshadowing, to a degree, what Sam and Dean must individually deal with before reconnecting as brothers. Because if “The Purge” is about catharsis, then “Captives” is about physical and imagined binds.
Cas’s character trajectory has put him through these paces a few times, as he’s questioned God, heaven, humanity, and so on. Now that he’s (briefly) been human and stoIen another angel’s grace, Cas is essentially a hybrid, and it’s interesting to watch him figure out where he belongs now. He wants the angel fighting to stop, even though both Malachi and Bart have told him that his past actions inspired the fighting (9×9, 9×14), and while he angeled-up to prepare for war, Cas has shown no real interest in leading and has sought Metatron on his own.
In his search for Metatron, Cas discovers the neutral angelic faction, The Penitents. Almost immediately, he’s captured by Bart’s hench-angels and taken to headquarters. Thankfully, there are no tortured-Cas scenes in this episode; instead, the shrewd negotiator, tactician, and all-around BAMF is on display. Through Bart, who’s finally given purpose beyond “bad guy,” we learn that, basically, everybody wants Castiel. He’s remembered for his bold moves in battle, and he’s known as “The Rebel.” While some see him as dangerous, others admire him, and he is still a polarizing and galvanizing figure in heavenly circles.
While, canonically, angels have “sought revelation” about orders and God’s supposed plan, “Captives” delivers its own brand of revelation, subtly framing the Cas’s confrontation with Bart with bible verses on the wall referencing God’s will and office designs eerily similar to Naomi’s. At first, Cas refuses to be violent, saying that the angels’ killing “might as well stop with me.” Cas wrests the first angel blade away from Bart, who says, “There can be no peace without bloodshed. He lunges again, but this time, Cas doesn’t hesitate.
Once Bart is dead, Cas doesn’t seize power as he has before; he tells the now-wide-eyed hench-angels, “Let me pass,” and they do. While Cas is at the grave of The Penitents’ leader, telling her that he respects her choices, one of the hench-angels approaches and says, “Yesterday, you showed me I had a choice,” and he, along with a few others, “choose you.” This is Castiel’s revelation: Solo-flying angel or not, he’s a leader by example. Will Cas actively lead? Or will he only do so because he feels hemmed in by obligation?
If Cas is a BAMF in “Captives,” so is Linda Tran. Held captive and tortured, she hasn’t lost her will or her spirit – and I’ve missed her spunkiness. When Sam says it will take a while to reroute the control panel, she delivers a classic Mama Tran eye-roll and does it herself. Mere seconds later, when Sam tells her with an anguished look that Kevin is dead, Linda shows her resiliency again. And when the Winchesters let her kill Del, she only stabs him once, cutting off his protests that he was only following orders (adding a new wrinkle to the season-long “I did what I have to” theme).
The reunion at the bunker between Linda and Kevin is heartbreaking. Her conversations with Dean are also poignant; by that point, she had to know what had happened, yet there’s no animosity expressed on-screen. Linda is there for Kevin because, as she tearfully tells Dean, “He’s my son. It’s my job to keep him safe for as long as I can.” And when Dean nods in agreement, I can’t help thinking of Dean’s belief (impressed upon him by his father) that it’s his job to keep Sam safe. Meanwhile, Kevin is telling Sam that he feels responsible for his mother. There’s a lot going on in these scenes, and I wonder just where Linda and Kevin will wind up and what their mutual sense of responsibility suggests about Dean and Sam’s. (I also wonder if Dean’s warning about spirits is foreshadowing…)
Before Linda and Kevin leave, we get one last exchange between the prophet and the Winchesters, wherein Kevin speaks for much of fandom: He expresses aggravation at their continued drama and tells them to “cut it out…this is stupid.” He points out, “My mom’s taking home a ghost. You two – you’re both still here.” Though both agree, when Dean turns, Sam is leaving the room, and the episode ends without the two reconciling.
So what happens next? Tweets from various writers support the reading that Dean and Sam’s relationship is being rebuilt. And if its breakdown enables a relationship between equals that nurtures their bonds of brotherhood and comrades-in-arms and maybe even allows them to have fun once in a while, I’ll cheer. (I really miss the glimpses of the friendship that Dean and Sam used to enjoy.) But what will it take to get there? Is Dean’s patience going to wear out first? How much darker will Dean go before some kind of resolution is reached? We haven’t heard much else about the Mark of Cain and its aftereffects, so who knows where that will lead. (Somewhere exciting, I hope!)
As for Cas, what will be his role in the angelic fray? When will he meet up with the Winchesters again? What is he going to say about Dean taking the Mark? And will the trouble brewing behind the Veil shift the battle lines between heaven, hell, and earth?
All I know for sure is that I thoroughly enjoyed “Captives,” and if Supernatural continues to deliver episodes of this caliber, then I’m excited about what’s to come.
Next week’s “#THINMAN” brings back the Ghostfacers – Will the episode live up to “Captives”? Watch the preview here. Supernatural airs Tuesdays at 9 pm EST on the CW network.
- I’m still loving Dean’s scruff. I also would like to thank whoever expanded the Winchesters’ wardrobes. Dean’s new coat is especially appreciated.
- If Sam is certain nothing got into the bunker from outside because it’s been warded and sigiled, then how did Gadreel and Cas enter the bunker? Or are angels exempt from its protections? That could make sense if Cas’s comments in early Season 4 are still canon (regarding angels avoiding interaction with humans pre-Cas-gripping-Dean-tight-and-raising-him-from-Perdition).
- I really appreciate this episode’s continuity, including the radio allowing communication behind the Veil (“Dark Side of the Moon” 5×16) and Castle Storage (“No Sympathy for the Devil” 5×1).
- Crowley using the alias Daniel Webster made me laugh.
- According to the map in Bartholomew’s war room, Metatron has only been sighted three times, in Washington, Michigan, and Georgia. For all his bragging about having eyes everywhere, Bartholomew has incomplete data (or at least shared incomplete data with Cas). Considering how often Metatron has met with Gadreel, he’s been on earth more than that…
- Bartholomew takes Cas’s angel blade as a security measure; later, after their initial physical confrontation, Cas releases Bartholomew and throws the bloodied angel blade to the floor. Then, when Bartholomew attacks, Cas takes the angel blade Bart’s brandishing and uses it to kill him. It seems that Cas drops that blade (his blade?) behind too. Does that mean that Cas is now walking around unarmed? Or does he have a spare angel blade up his sleeve?
- As with other episodes this season, the Winchesters and Cas have separate stories, though the lack of direct overlap (neither refers to the other even in conversation) doesn’t present as a lack in “Captives.” Our main characters are all embroiled in emotional, life-and-death situations from the beginning to the end of the episode that understandably consume their attention. This differs from the “The Purge,” for example, which (for me) didn’t depict enough distraction to justify Dean and Sam not expressing concern about Cas.
- If Kevin can materialize as a ghost, couldn’t he continue working on the tablet translation? So, unless Metatron just overlooked that possibility, why did he kill our favorite prophet?!
- Now that Kevin’s officially a ghost, do we have to change #KevinLives to #KevinHaunts? (…too soon?)
- And if you wondered about the third hostage, Jerome, writer Robert Berens assures that, if he was still alive, Sam & Dean freed him off-screen.
- “Captives” scored strong ratings again.
- The Supernatural fandom had another Twitter party! Trending terms included #CastielReturns, #Supernatural, and Sam and Dean. Robert Berens live-tweeted the East and West Coast airings; other tweeters included Misha Collins, Jerry Wanek, Osric Chau, Lauren Tom, Jared Padalecki, Robbie Thompson, and Adam Glass. (If I overlooked anyone or any trending terms, please share in the comments below.)