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TV Review: ‘Supernatural’ – ‘King of the Damned’

Supernatural’s “King of the Damned” sets up the last three episodes of season nine. Written by Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner and directed by P.J. Pesce, it packs quite a lot into a mere 42 minutes. At the end of “Bloodlines” (9x20), Castiel (Misha Collins) phones Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles), and Dean and Sam (Jared Padalecki) immediately depart Chicago to meet him. Based on that, it seems that there’s a slight overlap time-wise with “King of the Damned.” This week’s episode begins with two of Cas’s supporters overhearing angel Ezra bragging to a socializing group of angels about his knowledge…

Review Overview

Reviewer Rating

Summary : “King of the Damned” sets up the arcs for the last three episodes of season nine, packing quite a lot into a mere 42 minutes.

User Rating: 3.5 ( 5 votes)
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spn 9x21-5Supernatural’s “King of the Damned” sets up the last three episodes of season nine. Written by Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner and directed by P.J. Pesce, it packs quite a lot into a mere 42 minutes.

At the end of “Bloodlines” (9×20), Castiel (Misha Collins) phones Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles), and Dean and Sam (Jared Padalecki) immediately depart Chicago to meet him. Based on that, it seems that there’s a slight overlap time-wise with “King of the Damned.” This week’s episode begins with two of Cas’s supporters overhearing angel Ezra bragging to a socializing group of angels about his knowledge of “Met-Man’s vision.” In the next scene, as Ezra walks down an alley all by himself (never a good idea in Supernatural), he’s captured.

When Ezra comes to, he’s tied to a chair, and the angel in burgundy (henceforth identified as AIB) proceeds to chastise him for sharing Metatron’s secrets. I can’t tell if the ambiguity of AIB’s dialogue is solely to create suspense about which side has captured him, or if it’s possible foreshadowing that AIB will double-cross Castiel. That said, I love that it’s Cas’s footsteps thundering down the hall, and it’s Cas whom Ezra fears.

The Winchesters arrive at a municipal power corporation building, expressing surprise at the location, hence my assumption that there’s overlap with these episodes. Angel Headquarters is brimming with activity, and who knew that angels could generate so much paperwork? AIB refers to Castiel as “The Commander,” and the Winchesters are escorted to his office. Dean heads right for Cas; they hug, and then Cas hugs Sam too. It’s a happy Team Free Will moment for me. I also found it cute when Cas dismisses AIB and then remarks that the angel “can be a little stuffy.”

spn 9x21-6I enjoy seeing Cas’s commanding side, however reluctantly he may lead. His hesitance continues, as he humbly says, “They had no leader and they insisted on following me.” Dean’s response to Cas’s explanation? “We get it – you’re a rockstar.” (Yes, Cas is!) Sam, meanwhile, is sussing out the activity on the main floor, and he asks, “So this war between angels is really going to happen, huh?” Cas says that it won’t if he can find a “diplomatic solution” to neutralize Metatron.

We then find out why Cas has called the Winchesters: He needs their help extracting information from Ezra. It’s a thin premise, though I’ll take it since it reunites TFW. My primary quibble is with Ezra’s portrayal: I find it hard to believe that he managed to withstand the angels’ interrogations yet crumbles under the power of Winchester sass in minutes. “Trained commando” or not, that doesn’t make sense to me. But that’s the least issue with this scene.

While it’s nice to see the Winchesters flexing their brains instead of brawn, I don’t particularly like this scene as a whole. The dialogue seems off, and the same ends could have been accomplished without the fan-related tangent. It’s also worth mentioning that after episodes like “Slumber Party” (9×4) and “Metafiction” (9×18), which read like love letters to all fans, this exchange can be interpreted as sending quite a different message. For me, the scene’s tone unfortunately echoes that of Becky Rosen’s portrayal in “It’s Time for a Wedding” (7×8).

spn9x21-12Though the problematic dialogue is directed at Ezra, Dean and Sam are speaking into the camera, seemingly to the audience. It’s comparable to Metatron’s conversation with the audience/Castiel in “Metafiction,” Dean is the one who articulates the connection between Ezra wanting to work for Metatron and “fans,” telling Sam, “I get it. He’s a fan.” Sam derisively echoes, “A fan.” Then, Dean speaks into the camera: “Just cause you’re hot for Metatron or Beiber or Beckham – Just cause you know everything about them doesn’t mean that you actually know them.” Sam adds, “Or that they even know you exist.” Dean responds to his brother, “That’s cold, Sam.” But Sam shrugs and says, “I’m just saying.”

What, then, is this scene’s message? It doesn’t read as a positive one to me, and there are many things that could be (and, I’m sure, already have been) said on that note. Any fandom’s politics are inherently complex, so I won’t attempt to tackle such intricacies here. Suffice to say, I wish that the nuances of this scene had been more closely considered when it was composed. And if they were considered, and any problematic aspects intended, then there’s an entirely different conversation brewing here.

Regardless, Winchester sass does provoke the desired response from Ezra, who reveals that Metatron has ground forces, an elite secret squad, and a private portal to heaven that’s “wherever the boss wants it to be.” At this point, Sam points out the ridiculousness of Ezra wanting “the” job, even though he didn’t know what it was. I immediately thought of Gadreel (Tahmoh Penikett) accepting Metatron’s offer (9×9) and Dean accepting Cain’s (9×11). Ezra realizes his logical mistake when he spn 9x21-10defends his lack of knowledge, “Until you were chosen the exact nature of the mission was kept a secret…and hardly anyone was chosen.” There is a lot of surreptitiousness occurring in season nine, from Gadreel being “chosen” by Metatron to Dean being “chosen” by Cain. But where will these parallels lead?

After the Winchesters finish their questioning and Ezra spills his secrets, someone murders him. Cas is disturbed by the news because it’s “an angel kill.” Dean states the obvious: “Maybe your operation’s been hacked. Metatron’s got somebody on the inside.” We see Cas still struggling with his idealism, and he says, “I was sure everyone in here was loyal – finally united by a common cause.” Ironically, Dean also tends to idealistically view his family’s unity (or, at least, he did in the past). This season has affected Dean’s worldview, though, and as an outsider examining Cas’s situation, he states what Cas isn’t considering: “Well that’s the problem. See, you don’t think anybody’s lying. I think everybody’s lying – It’s a gift.” He tells Cas that he and Sam will investigate. It’s reassuring to see that despite the changes in Dean, his long-standing loyalty to family and his suspicion of everyone not-family continues.

This episode affords Cas the opportunity to ask Sam about his possession by Gadreel, whose characterization has taken some interesting turns this season.  Sam clarifies his experience, sharing some interesting information: “He didn’t possess me –  completely. More like we – uh, shared housing. I was still me…I don’t really know what I felt. I mean, maybe that I wasn’t completely alone.” When Cas asks about Sam’s impression of Gadreel, he says that it was like “he wasn’t at rest, like he had unfinished business…. felt misunderstood.” Sam didn’t see the angel as hostile, but remarks, “I was wrong, obviously. He killed Kevin.”

spn 9x22-3Of course, Sam says this to Castiel, who has smote thousands of his brethren, yet I daresay that neither Winchester would call him hostile. Some might point to Castiel’s limited time as Godstiel, but even then, Sam repeatedly reaches out to him, praying for him to return (7×2 especially). I think that Cas, who seems further along in his “Who am I?” arc, recognizes that Gadreel’s murder of Kevin, while unforgivable, may have been based in misplaced loyalty and obedience rather than outright malevolence.

The meeting between Cas and Gadreel brings those pieces of the narrative together. Gadreel agrees to the meeting because, as he tells Cas, “I’ve seen you through Sam Winchester’s eyes, and he trusts you. You have a reputation for honor.” We learn that Gadreel is not a die-hard supporter of Metatron. Instead, his loyalty stems from the fact that Metatron inadvertently enabled his second chance. I couldn’t help thinking about how Castiel’s unexplained resurrections (particularly 4×22 and 5×22), in part, reignited his belief in the Divine’s influence. Cas’s caution to Gadreel speaks to the lessons that he’s learned because of his own misplaced trust: “Just as poor judgment undid you all those centuries ago, your mistaken trust in Metatron will bring you down again.” Gadreel practically begs Cas to understand that he believes “there must be honor, even in matters of war,” and he says, “I gave [Metatron] my word.” How will Gadreel reconcile his ideas about honor with the reality about Metatron? Will he help Castiel? And where will Gadreel’s arc ultimately lead?

spn 9x21-7Alongside the developing angel-on-angel war, Dean’s promise to kill Abaddon (Alaina Huffman) looms in this episode. Though Cas is meeting with Gadreel, the Winchesters have access to “the Commander’s” office. We see Dean sitting at Cas’s desk, seemingly pondering the Mark, and in case we’ve forgotten details about the Mark of Cain, we’re treated to a series of shaky-camera flashbacks until his ringing phone, and Sam’s insistence that he answer it, breaks his reverie. Crowley’s (Mark Sheppard) calling, supposedly fulfilling his promise to reveal the location of the First Blade and to deliver Abaddon to Dean.

Crowley’s fulfillment, though, is coerced. Abaddon has time-traveled to 1723 Leith, Scotland, where she kidnapped Gavin MacLeod (Theo Devaney) to use as leverage against his father: Crowley, aka Fergus MacLeod. Seasons ago, “Weekend at Bobby’s” (6×4) established that Fergus and Gavin despised each other, but Abaddon knows about Crowley’s “speck of humanity” problem, and she takes full advantage of it, torturing Gavin until Crowley agrees to facilitate her plan to kill the Winchesters.

spn 9x21-4I love Huffman’s portrayal of Abaddon and will be eternally disappointed that the character wasn’t utilized more often this season. This episode presents Abaddon in all of her sassy, snarky, take-no-prisoners glory, with fabulous hair, impeccable make-up and nails, and killer lines. I particularly enjoy the witty repartee between her and Crowley. Their shared shock over Gavin’s inability to grasp the obvious is especially fun to watch.

Crowley’s characterization continues to trouble me. He’s gunning for his throne, manipulating Dean, and he only warns Dean about the impending trap during his second phone call. Crowley continues to have a comical edge to him, and while he’s a villain I love to hate, the split between threat and comic relief is unsettling. For instance, Crowley’s interactions with Gavin are tinged with humor and sarcasm. However, the King of Hell also freely admits that he beat and starved his son. Gavin calls him a “monster.” No matter how much I appreciate Sheppard’s portrayal, I can’t muster sympathy for Crowley, not even when he defies the Winchesters in order to “save” his son at episode’s end. While Crowley ensures that his son doesn’t go back to 1723 and certain death by shipwreck, he leaves him in the middle of a field (or a park?), ostensibly without supplies of any kind. I still suspect that Crowley is, as Meg said, “always the problem” and is simply “waiting for the right moment to strike” (7×21).

Despite this, it is interesting that Crowley gifts Gavin with the ability to read, downloading the knowledge as Metatron downloaded popular culture knowledge for Castiel (9×18). With his newfound skill, and the knowledge that his father is the King of Hell, Gavin says, “For the first time in my entire life, I can see possibilities – a future.” However, I wonder if Gavin, having the ability to read text, will also have the ability to interpret – to understand the signs and symbols. I have similar questions about Cas’s new knowledge. Will this similarity go any further? Or will Gavin fall into the black hole of memorable one-shot characters?

While evidence suggests that Crowley’s trace of humanity really does impact his relationship with his son, what is his motivation for warning Dean about Abaddon’s trap? Does he truly feel a connection with Moose and Squirrel? Or is his “relationship” with them simply a means to an end? If that’s the case, one end is reached in “King of the Damned,” when Dean finally takes on the Queen of Hell.

spn 9x21-2Abaddon obviously underestimates Dean and his ability to use the First Blade, which surprises me considering the extent of her history with Cain (9×11). She scoffs, “A boy and his blade and still no match for the new queen.” She flings Dean against a wall, and in the struggle, he drops the blade. I wonder how many viewers yelled, “Use the force, Dean!” at their television screens. (I totally did.)

Maybe surprisingly – or not? – Dean does use “the force,” and the Blade returns to his hand. Sam bursts into the room as Dean breaks from the wall, watching as his brother powers forward and stabs Abaddon. Her death scene is memorable: She’s suspended in mid-air, and Dean’s eyes glow with the reflection, much as they did when he killed Zachariah (5×18).

Though Abaddon is dead, Dean ferociously attacks her corpse, beating her until his hands are covered in blood, and he’s covered with spatter. Sam yells at him several times before he stops, and he’s clearly in a daze. Sam looks at Dean with what seems to be shock. Crowley, whom Abaddon immobilized courtesy of a bullet carved with a devil’s trap, is watching, and I interpret the look on his face as surprise too.

While on the road after leaving Cleveland, Dean and Sam finally (finally!) have a conversation about the First Blade. Sam, of course, is upset that Dean didn’t tell him about Crowley’s warning, seeing it as a violation of their partnership. Dean doesn’t. Dean answers that he knew from the first time he touched the blade “that I wouldn’t be stopped. I knew I would take down Abaddon and anything else if I had to. It wasn’t a hero thing. It was just calm. I knew. And I had to go it alone, Sammy.”

Sam takes offense at this, interpreting it as Dean trying to protect him again. While I thought that’s what Dean was doing at first, once I heard this explanation, I no longer did. Dean’s right, strategy-wise: Abaddon very well could have taken Sam and bargained her way out.  Whether Sam agrees or not, he eventually lets that point go and focuses on convincing Dean that the First Blade is affecting him.

spn 9x21-11Essentially pleading, Sam asks, “Until we know for sure that we’re going to kill off Crowley, why don’t we store the blade somewhere distant, lock it up somewhere safe, okay?” Dean’s answer? A succinct and resounding, “No.”

“King of the Damned” ends there, and I continue to wonder if the title foreshadows Dean’s end. It’s difficult to watch Dean go dark, but Ackles conveys the character’s nuances so well that it’s also amazing.

We have two episodes left in the season, and I’m betting that it’ll be a wild ride, so stock up on your Hunter’s Helper, Kleenexes, and maybe grab a security blanket or two. Next week is “Stairway to Heaven,” and per the promo and the sneak peek, it’ll be an exciting episode. Supernatural airs on Tuesdays at 9 pm EST on the CW network.

Other notes:

  • Cas’s hotel room in “Metafiction” was number 7; his office number in “King of the Damned” is 147. Coincidence? Or do I need to dig out a numerology guide?
  • So the random plot point that was Malachi was disposed of off-screen, which I’m grateful for.
  • Lightbulb references: Dean says that Ezra is a “Dim bulb. No wonder he got bumped.” Then, Crowley uses a lightbulb to demonstrate the power of the modern world to Gavin. His son’s response? “Can you cook a pigeon on it?”
  • Gavin exclaims to Crowley and Abaddon, “Are we in heaven then? You must be angels.” Their simultaneous “wow” cracked me up.
  • I will never be tired of Crowley calling Dean “Squirrel” (or Sam “Moose,” for that matter).
  • spn 9x21-1Rather than the problematic fan commentary or the I-still-don’t-get-why-it-was-there hellhound scene, I’d rather have had more time with the characters and their reactions. For example, I would love to see more angel reaction to the Winchesters – considering the role(s) that Dean and Sam have played in various apocalyptic scenarios, and their longstanding relationship with Cas; I imagine there are angels who have all kinds of interesting things to say.
  • However, the hellhound scene does allow Crowley call his dog “Juliet.” Maybe it’s coincidence, but Crowley calls Dean “Romeo” in “Mother’s Little Helper” (9×17). And Dean calls David Lassiter “Romeo” in “Bloodlines” (9×20).
  • The Mark glows through all the layers that Dean wears?
  • After Abaddon is killed, Crowley sadly does not “burst into song” as promised.
  • When Crowley is talking with the Winchesters about his son, Dean says offhandedly, “I just can’t get over the fact that Crowley has a son. How’s he doing, by the way?” But Dean already knew that (right?) After all, he and Sam are the ones who fly to Scotland to retrieve Fergus’s bones in “Weekend at Bobby’s” (6×4). Is it a canon slip or a “ripple” effect – already – of Gavin being saved from his death. (The latter doesn’t make sense to me, though, as that would change the circumstances of Bobby retrieving his soul, etc.)
  • Live-tweeting cast and crew included Mark Sheppard, Alaina Huffman, Osric Chau, and Theo Devaney.

What did you think of “King of the Damned”? Share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section below!

 

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About Lyda Scott

Lyda Scott is a freelance writer and editor, among other things. A good day is one spent over-analyzing film, television, and literature. Follow her on Twitter @Lyda_Scott.
  • Ginger

    I want to speak to your point about the writers talking directly to the fans. I noticed that one right away, and not only were the two leads speaking directly into the camera, I got the feeling that Ezra wasn’t even on-set at that time. It really is a sleezy move to ask the J2s to do the speaking for the writer to snipe at the fans when those two sincerely and continually express their appreciation of the fandom. Yes, I am putting that right back to the two writers. I am sure they are more than aware of fan complaints about their episodes, and I would just remind them that is a risky move on their part. Fans do have the option of doing a conscious divorce from their episodes and watch something else, as I have decided to do if Robbie Thompson writes another episode for Charming Charlie. I just can’t take his Charlie hero-worship any longer, and it’s best if I just don’t watch them.
    Other than that, I liked the mytharc portion of the episode, do not care about Crowley’s relationship with his son or his human feelings, and have tired of a very weak and old angel story; so for me, the last ten minutes or so of the episode was great. I do agree that JA has been doing amazing work, which we all knew he would if he were given a story with meat to it. Loved Dean’s “No” at the end. I sense a big shift in the brothers’ relationship, with Sam finding it very hard to get through to Dean now.

    • Lyda Scott

      It seems that scene struck a nerve fandom-wide, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more it bothered me. It’s so contrary to what other msgs re: fan interaction/involvement have said – especially 9×18, which I felt like acknowledged openly that fans don’t like everything/read things differently/etc. and that’s OKAY. Really, I don’t understand how the 9×21 scene made it past any stage of the Show’s process, let alone wound up on our screen!

      I think you’re right about the shift in the brother’s relationship! I thought it took Sam longer to break through to Dean this time too (so glad that wasn’t just me!) and Dean’s response to Sam’s request… there’s trouble coming! As much as I hate seeing any of them suffer, I am enjoying watching Dark!Dean evolve (just so long as Sam and Cas can save him in the end!)

      I’m hoping these last two eps really deliver…. my fingers are cramping from being crossed so much! :)

      • Ginger

        If Adam Glass is in charge of the writers’ room, as I understand he may well be the head writer while Carver has been dividing his time between counting beans for SPN and Being Human, I can fully understand how this got past the processes involved. Glass seems to be deeply affected by fan comments when he considers them negative. Just a guess on my part, of course, since I have no first-hand knowledge about any of the BTS workings of SPN.

        • Lyda Scott

          I’d love to listen in on the writer’s room and see how narrative decisions are worked out…

  • Kate

    I’m late! I’m also (like you, I think!) unsure what to make of some of the elements that made up this episode. I feel it had the ingredients for something really strong, but albeit I found the scenes with Crowley’s son quite amusing, I felt it didn’t really work to interrupt the growing sense of foreboding by cutting back to them. The fact they did makes me wonder if they aren’t going to stash Gavin in their back pocket and re-use him later! I also feel that Abaddon’s demise was sort of anticlimactic and not all that well staged, and (again like you!) I really feel the character was underused this season.

    The good: I really liked Cas thinking strategically when it came to reaching out to Gadreel, and I’ve really enjoyed the way this season has shown us a Cas who has very clearly learned from his mistakes. Dark!Dean… whoah. Ackles’ intensity was really chilling, both in the confrontation with Abaddon and in the car scene at the end. I’ve thought since Dean first got a hold of the blade that the fact we’ve already seen Sam talk him down from the high it gives him (twice, counting this episode) is foreshadowing Sam *not* being able to do that in the finale. And if that happens, I really fear for Sam… :-O