In this episode, Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) temporarily teams up with Crowley (Mark Sheppard) to search for Cain’s (Timothy Omundson) legendary First Blade, the only weapon that can kill Abaddon (Alaina Huffman). Meanwhile, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Castiel (Misha Collins) are at the bunker, where Cas continues Sam’s healing regimen and discovers that extracting Gadreel’s residual grace may allow them to track the renegade angel. Flashbacks reveal Cain’s last encounter with Abaddon and her possession of Colette, Cain’s wife.
Though there’s a lot going on in this episode, the structure and pacing work well, and the multiple storylines are further distinguished by careful sound and lighting choices. Although the initial shift from Dean and Crowley to Sam and Cas (the PB&J scene) is jarring, I think that it’s supposed to be since the dissonance emphasizes the current situations of the characters. That said, beyond being endearing, Cas’s repeated suggestions to Sam that they call Dean remind us that Sam and Dean bear responsibility for their current rift and that it’s a mendable one.
Family is central to Supernatural. By season three, John Winchester’s insular concept of “family” was redefined, with Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) stating plainly, “Family don’t end with blood” (3×16). And Show has reasserted family’s importance repeatedly: It’s the brothers’ bond that famously enables Sam to break through Lucifer’s control (5×22), and Dean’s ability to help those he loves (specifically, Sam, Bobby, and Cas) break through possession/mind control might as well be a superpower.
By its very title, “First Born” invokes the concept of “family” and, specifically, the responsibilities associated with birth order. The episode’s numerous and pointed references to John underscore where Dean’s understanding of his responsibilities stems from. We’re also reminded of how John’s programming impacts Sam and his self-perception: Early in the episode, some of Sam’s comments eerily echo season four dialogue, notably, “Dean’s gone. This is on me now.” Padalecki’s chosen expressions in this scene convey that Sam’s own struggles with self-worth and shouldering responsibility continue.
At the beginning of “First Born,” Dean is doing a fairly good impression of his father, complete with drunken leering, and it’s unpleasant to see him relying on old fallbacks to deal. When Crowley says, “I’ve been inside your brother. We’re practically family.” Dean explodes, slamming Crowley against a set of shelves, and I wonder how much of his response stems from anger at himself because Dean is, essentially, the reason that Crowley temporarily possesses Sam. Dean’s state of mind is further revealed when he describes himself as “a killer,” and even Crowley can succinctly identify the crux of Dean’s problem: “Nobody hates you more than you do.” We’ve been here before (8×14, etc.), so we can only hope that season nine resolves Dean’s self-hatred once and for all. If Dean has a healthier outlook, the brothers’ relationship will strengthen.
In stark contrast to Dean and Sam’s current dynamic, Cas and Sam’s interactions are comfortable and easy. From heaven’s early focus on the younger Winchester’s “demon blood” (4×7) to Sam’s threat to kill the angel (6×10) to Cas breaking Sam’s wall (6×22), the two haven’t always had a rosy history, though they’ve always been linked by their relationships with Dean and were, at the least, comrades-in-arms. They voice their amends in season seven, and in “Clip Show” (8×22), it’s Sam who encourages Dean to forgive the angel with the simple rationale, “Because it’s Cas.”
“First Born” gives us several great Cas and Sam moments. Sam commiserates with Cas’s disappointment over the PB&J, and later, he teases Cas much as a younger sibling might: “Sam, may I ask you a question?” “You just did.” Cas offers insight and protects, much like an older brother would, and Sam actually listens. Then, wonder of wonders, the two hug it out (albeit with a little coaching from Sam). I’m hoping that Cas and Sam’s dynamics foreshadow the positive changes to come in the brothers’ relationship. Meanwhile, their bonding lays the foundation for them to provide Dean unified support when the time comes (as it surely will).
While Sam adjusts to life post-possession – and thank Chuck that we have Sam back! – Cas adjusts too. Though re-angeled, Cas hasn’t lost his humanity; he’s expressive, and his general appearance is different, from his altered trenchcoat to the white shirt with the top buttons undone (thanks for that, Dean) to his tanned skin. More than ever, he empathizes, and he appreciates the small things, like a PB&J. Cas’s conversation with Sam during the grace extraction is especially poignant and made more so because it’s set to the family melody. Cas questions why the “pig-headed” Winchesters must “run towards death”? Sam counters that his life isn’t worth more than anyone else’s. But when Sam is on the verge of death, Cas halts the extraction anyway, saying, “Nothing is worth losing you… I can relate now, to how you feel…the only person who has screwed things up more consistently than you is me. Now, I know what that guilt feels like, and I know how it feels to be sorry, Sam.”
Cas voices what both Sam and Dean need to fully understand: The ends don’t always justify the means, and neither death nor running away cures guilt. As a counterpoint to both Sam and Dean, Cas articulates hope, “…angels can change, so who knows? Maybe Winchesters can too.” Sam takes Cas’s words to heart and later tells him, “You were right about everything.” But even at episode’s end, Sam refuses Cas’s suggestion to contact Dean. As Cas walks away, the younger Winchester is framed in a beautiful shot in front of the bunker’s telescope, head bowed contemplatively over the table where they’d worked the tracking spell.
While Cas and Sam may be progressing along their “Who am I?” arcs, Dean is spiraling. Tara vocalizes her shock at Dean working with the King of Hell, and if there was any doubt, “First Born” confirms that Crowley is, indeed, a threat. He purposefully leads Dean into a trap, endangers Tara (Rachel Hayward), expresses no remorse upon learning of her death, and orchestrates Dean taking on the Mark of Cain. Crowley wants Abaddon dead, and the ends justify the means, whatever they may be – “omelets, broken eggs, etcetera.” To Dean, Crowley’s actions are reprehensible, yet he also understands them, at least to a point. After all, would Dean, who discerns Crowley’s machinations yet plays along, continue working with the King of Hell if part of him also didn’t believe that the ends justify the means? Isn’t that how Dean justified enabling Gadreel’s possession of Sam? Isn’t that why he kicked Cas out of the bunker?
As dark as Dean has gone this season, he has the potential to go much darker. Like John and Azazel, Sam and Lilith, and Cas and Raphael, Dean is currently singularly focused upon revenge – namely, killing Abaddon and Gadreel. Dean’s behavior, though, differs from John’s and Sam’s: He separates from his family rather than “drag [them] through the muck,” and he fully understands that the demon on his shoulder is playing him. Dean taking the Mark of Cain without regard to consequences echoes Cas consuming the souls to defeat Raphael, but I wonder if Dean, unlike Cas in season six, will ask for help before it’s too late?
Cain actually remarks, “Since when does the great Dean Winchester ask for help?” It’s a rather snarky comment made before the demon fight, but I’m hoping that it’s also foreshadowing. Considering how entrenched the Cain and Abel connections are in-Show (5×13, 6×20), Cain’s interactions with Dean warrant scrutiny, as do the extraordinarily blatant parallels between them: Each has made a deal to save his brother; both have people (Colette and Cas, respectively) who don’t judge them for past actions and unconditionally believe in them; and neither can see past his own self-recrimination. We see evidence of this in Cain’s prayer to Colette and Dean’s all-too-ready acceptance that he’s worthy of the Mark because he’s a killer.
I’m anxious to see how these parallels play out and how Cain’s mythology, along with the lore of the First Blade, is developed. Omundson’s Cain is already a compelling character, one I really like, though I wonder if he’s as genuine as he seems. For instance, he praises Dean more than once with a delivery that reads as guileless and sincere. Yet, is it? Or did Cain manipulate Dean so that “the Winchester” would accept the Mark?
After the transference, Cain extracts a promise that, when he asks, Dean will use the First Blade on him. Dean asks why, and Cain answers, “For what I’m about to do.” He then takes on the gathered demons, killing them all. This scene is telling: Father of Murder or not, Cain now equates all killing as the same. Supernatural often brings up the questions of “who’s the monster” and whose lives are worth saving. If the previous bearer of the Mark considers killing demons an act punishable by death, then what’s in store for Dean? Will he find himself struggling with more guilt now that he carries the Mark? Or will killing become easier?
I have so many questions about the ramifications here: Is Dean still entirely human? What exactly transferred with the Mark – only the ability to control the blade or were other powers included? If only the First Blade can kill Cain, does Dean have the same protection? Why is the Mark causing Dean pain? When is he going to truly consider what he impulsively signed up for? And what are Sam and Cas going to say when they find out? (I anticipate, at the least, varying degrees of bitchface and smiteyface.)
So far, I’m loving Supernatural’s second half, and I’m looking forward to next week’s episode, though I’m nervous about the return to the Monster of the Week format. “Sharp Teeth” brings back DJ Qualls as Garth Fitzgerald IV and reunites Dean and Sam; in previews, Dean’s still sporting scruff while Sam’s in FBI-mode, so I’m guessing that their collaboration is accidental. The clips also show now-werewolf Garth talking to Dean about the love and family he’s found, so I expect that the episode will draw heavily on the season-thematics of love, family, and identity.
Watch the “Sharp Teeth” promo here. Supernatural airs Tuesdays at 9 pm EST on the CW network.
- “First Born” is Supernatural’s most-watched-episode in years; see here and here for more about the ratings.
- Thompson watched “The Song Remains the Same” (5×13) and “The Man Who Would Be King” (6×20), among other episodes, in preparation for writing “First Born.”
- When 9×11 was filming, Omundson tweeted about Ackles filming that amazing fight scene for over nine hours. Let us never forget that Dean effectively uses a dishtowel to fight demons.
- Omundson’s beard is amazing – and the fight scene when he’s rolling up his sleeves? Well, those demons should know better…
- Sheppard ad-libbed the entirely appropriate, “You’re good, but I’m Crowley.”
- I’d attend “Hunter’s Hogwarts” — wouldn’t you?
- Did anyone else think that Tara resembled an older Mary Winchester?
- There could be a drinking game based on how many times the Show comments on Dean being “pretty.”
- Both Tara and Cain tell Dean, “Good luck, you’re going to need it.” Hmmm… I’m thinking that more trouble is headed Dean’s way; what about you?
- Honeybees! So Cain is a beekeeper who keeps bees in his home and even has stained glass honeycomb-and-beehive windows. He says, “They’re such noble creatures…without bees, mankind will cease to exist.” This is another not-so-subtle reminder about the interconnectedness of the universe. It’s also a callback to Cas’s fascination with bees (7×23), and since Cas knew Cain and Abel, I can’t help wondering if he and Cain ever had tea while waxing philosophically about the merits of bees and honey.
- How is Abaddon going to react to Dean carrying the Mark of Cain? She did call Cain her king, after all, and we already know she admires Dean’s vessel…
- Does anyone else think that there’s more to the Enochian that Cas translates than this episode revealed? (“The departed shall remain, and the remains shall be the departed.”)
- The scene of the Mark’s transfer is eerily similar to when Benny boards Dean’s “soul train” (8×7), but while Benny glows red, like the Mark’s essence, he uses Dean’s left arm; Cain clasps Dean’s right.
- Once more, the Supernatural fandom took Twitter by storm with #Supernatural, #Crowley, #Sastiel (the portmanteau for Sam + Castiel), Team Free Will, PB&J, and Cas and Sam all trending. (Let me know in the comments if I missed other terms – there were a lot this week!) The attached screenshot shows terms trending at 9:48 pm EST.
- Supernatural’s Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins, Mark Sheppard, Timothy Omundson, Osric Chau (#KevinLives), Kim Rhodes, Robert Berens, Adam Glass, and Robbie Thompson live-tweeted before and/or during the episode. Sleepy Hollow‘s Orlando Jones’s also joined the Twitter party, and his contributions were, as always, especially entertaining.
- There’s so much still to discuss about “First Born.” What did you think of the episode? Share comments and speculation below!