Home / TV Review: Supernatural – “On The Head Of A Pin”

TV Review: Supernatural – “On The Head Of A Pin”

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Why are you doing this to me, show? Why are you subjecting me and millions of other fans to extreme heart failure after only two episodes back from hiatus? Why am I again reduced to a sorry pile of mush, unable to function? Why do I want to curl up with Dean in his hospital bed, hold on tight, and sob profusely with him? (Yeah, that doesn’t require a lot of thought.)

Why do I completely love you right now, Eric Kripke? And you, Ben Edlund?

After staring at a blank computer screen for a couple of days, trying with head-banging frustration to find a way to put words together that could possibly do this brilliant episode justice, I ended up watching it about five times. Or ten. This review, nor any other written analysis of “On The Head Of A Pin,” will never remotely capture its brilliance. So why am I trying? Easy, I’m nuts.

“This one goes to eleven.”

So why is this episode head and shoulders above the rest of the season, and perhaps the series? I can only explain it with one of my favorite Spinal Tap quotes. “This one goes to eleven.”

I ran out of ways a long time ago to describe how extraordinary Jensen and Jared’s acting is and how their versatility puts Supernatural well above many other shows. The greatest moments are the ones where these guys are allowed to shine together. So, when an episode comes along with great material that not only lets Jensen and Jared be at the top of their games but Misha Collins as well, an acting showcase results that’s unparalleled to anything we’ve ever seen. Castiel’s expanded story line allows Misha to deliver an Emmy-worthy performance of his own. These guys on screen together make each other look ten times better and the deep tension bouncing between them takes everything to a whole new level.

The plotting is pitch perfect. Sam, Dean, and Castiel all have their separate agonizing stories, and somehow in one episode TPTB fit a mind-blowing glimpse into each one. During the entire torture sequence, the scenes bounce furiously back and forth between Dean and his showdown with Alastair, Castiel and his struggles over what he’s doing to Dean, and Sam and his desperate need to be strong enough to help Dean. Each smooth transition manages to heighten engagement and build the tension to levels out of this stratosphere. Yep, that’s the fancy way of saying “freaking awesome!”

After Alastair breaks free, the episode becomes a fast-paced, tension-filled ride all the way to the final scene. There are two astonishing fight scenes for Castiel, a tale of intrigue and betrayal among the angels, Sam cranking up his abilities to scary new levels, and poor Dean comatose in a hospital with Sam by his side.

I knew Ben Edlund, this week’s writer, had something great like this in him. Many forget that he also wrote “Nightshifter” before taking on the screwball scripts like “Bad Day At Black Rock,” “Ghostfacers,” “Monster Movie,” and “Wishful Thinking.” The man proves that he can do action and intensity better than anyone. The directing of Mike Rohl (welcome back!) skillfully heightens the emotional levels of the multiple stories, showing how Kim Manners' influence is all over this one.

“Now I can kill.”

The mythology in this episode gets a giant push forward and man, is it good. Sam isn’t in the episode much, but the scenes he is in, boy, do they count. Two of them in fact make the all time Sam Winchester highlight reel. Oh wait, three. Sam shocks us all, and I’m not even talking about the sucking on Ruby’s blood thing. That all actually makes sense (even though it’s disturbing), for how else could he strengthen his abilities so much? What’s surprising is his motivation for doing so. It’s the only way to be stronger for Dean. His devotion to his brother isn’t gone after all and comes above all else. His words in “Sex and Violence” were truthful, for he knows Dean is weak. “Something happened to him downstairs. He’s not what he used to be. He’s not strong enough.” He’s determined though to cover that weakness, not expose it.

We know the saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Sam’s abilities are now beyond anyone’s imagination, especially the angels’. As he declares with a malevolent smile, “Now I can kill,” and does his new demon-obliterating mind trick, his love for that power is now obvious. He enjoys killing Alastair. Now that he’s had that taste, now that he knows he can be strong and powerful for Dean and humanity, it goes back to Dean’s “crack” comment in “Criss Angel…” Sam can’t stop now, good intentions or not, and those cravings can only get stronger. Sounds like an exciting setup for the rest of the season!

Sam’s gazes of worry while sitting by a comatose Dean (the nodes on his head are something usually reserved for monitoring brain waves in coma patients) prove once and for all that Dean is still the most important thing in his life. His anger against Castiel in the hallway, ordering the powerful angel to heal Dean (“Miracle, now!”) and pointing out how Dean is the innocent victim of their short sightedness shows Sam’s determination to take control over his and his brother’s welfare, no matter what the cost.

"Be Unafraid."

Castiel’s expanded story and lengthy screen time (he even got more than Sam and Dean) is long overdue. We’ve only learned a little about him from his brief appearances so far, so to watch him struggle with turmoil in the garrison and deal with feelings of doubt and isolation, it shows how naïve and almost childlike he really is on earth. I have rarely seen a character (or actor for that manner) that can tell an entire sad story by one pensive look. Castiel does this in many scenes, most noticeably when standing off to the side in the motel room and while waiting outside during Dean’s torture of Alastair.

Anna and Uriel both tell Castiel he can’t be afraid anymore, but everything that’s happening to him is terrifying. Castiel has always been about obedience. That’s what loyal angels do. So what happens when he’s forced to question the orders he’s given? First there’s the sudden appearance of Anna, who Castiel obviously has a soft spot for. He has orders to kill her but doesn’t, and listens to her words that the orders aren’t coming from God. “Stop him Cas, please, before you ruin the one weapon you have.” His instincts are telling him she’s right, instincts he’s mistaking as disobedience. Then comes Sam, newly fitted with brutal demon interrogation techniques of his own. Castiel learns the demons aren’t doing this. How does he know who is right?

The scene that gets me the most is when Castiel summons Anna. His vulnerable confession, “I don’t know what to do, please tell me what to do” confirms what’s often seen in his troubled eyes. He really hasn’t had to make hard decisions before and take his own course of action. He doesn’t understand the feelings he has either, and can’t find words to describe them. “I feel…”

Castiel in the end gets his moment of redemption, and it’s breathtaking. One glimpse at a faucet and it all comes together. “Strange how a leaky pipe can undo the work of angels when we ourselves are supposed to be the agents of fate.” Castiel demands the truth from Uriel, who pulls out his angel killing dagger, revealing that the only thing that can kill angels is another angel. He’s sick of bowing before humanity (like Dean, who he wants dead), just like their brother Lucifer did before he fell. Castiel listens with horror when Uriel admits he’s converting angels to help his fallen “brother” rise, and those that don’t follow are killed.

This is where Misha really nails it, for Castiel’s faith will not waver in this test. He tells Uriel for the first time in a long time he’s unafraid, and then punches him through a brick wall. He’s truly God’s warrior. When Uriel bests him after a brutal fight, Castiel’s on his knees, refusing to waiver even in the face of death. “You can’t win Uriel. I still serve God.” Uriel answers “There is no will, no wrath, no God.” Oh, but Anna has a soft spot for Castiel as well, and saves him by putting the dagger through Uriel’s throat.

It should be noted that Anna and Castiel together have some awesome magnetism. I threw out questions to the hubby like “What happens when two angels do it?” They are FAR better together than Anna and Dean. If her future appearances are limited to Castiel, than I’m all for Anna returning.

“Then you guys are screwed.”

Castiel’s best scenes are with Dean, continuing the explosive on screen chemistry that Jensen and Misha have. Oh Dean. Poor burned out, at the end of his rope Dean. He’s so depressed, so despondent over all that’s happened lately, he even hands the control of one of his biggest joys in life, the Impala, over to Sam. He gets no relief in the motel room, calling it with resignation “home, crappy home.” Dean’s outburst at the two angels in the motel room vividly shows how spent he is emotionally. What makes this scene killer is how Dean is bounces off between Castiel and Uriel, aka good cop and bad cop. He’s defiant with Uriel and tries to plea with Castiel, who’s no longer in control, so he’s taken by Uriel without regard to his objections.

Dean’s near tearful plea to Castiel in the warehouse is one of those tender moments of vulnerability that sucks us in each time. Dean maybe a smart ass with Uriel (“Well get some donuts while you’re out.”), but has learned to trust Castiel enough to fully open up to him. Castiel is sympathetic, but can only plea to his sense of duty. The brilliant directing comes through here as the camera moves back and forth between Dean and Castiel, closing in on their pained faces over the task at hand, bringing out the raw nerves of both. A definite homage to Kim Manners.

Dean closes his eyes, and heartbreakingly accepts his assignment. He goes in with his game face on, but we know he’s terrified. The long torture sequences of Alastair is very painful to watch, and I’m not talking about the methods used to inflict physical pain. Alastair constantly taunts Dean and won’t give in. Each cut to the scene reveals a little bit more about Dean and his time in Hell, and it’s Dean that’s wearing down, not Alastair. Dean tries so hard to not let Alastair rattle him, even when he gets gruesome details about his father’s time in Hell. Alastair waits for the perfect moment to deliver the bombshell, like a predator going in for the kill.

I never felt my heart drop worse when Dean turns away from Alastair after hearing he broke the first seal. That wide-eyed crippling look of shock and devastation, that’s when something inside snaps. It’s especially hard on him that it was supposed to be John but he didn’t crack, so they went for Dean instead. Dean brought on the apocalypse. My eyes still water over the image, especially when Dean admits with agony, “No, I don’t think you are lying.” He toughens up though, ready to kill Alastair, but by that time the trap has been breached.

Talk about my eyes watering, time for that final scene. Dean wakes up in the hospital, (out of the woods since he’s off the respirator), and Castiel is by his side. Dean sounds awful, not just physically, but emotionally as well. The weary tone in his voice says it all.

Castiel drops a bombshell of his own, and it’s more than Dean can take. Dean was rescued from Hell because the angels got wind of Lilith’s plan. They fought their way through Hell trying to get to him, but they were too late. Dean asks why they didn’t leave him there. “It’s not blame that falls on you Dean. It’s fate.” The righteous man who broke the first seal is the only one that can finish it. With an anxious edge in his voice, Dean demands to know what that means, but Castiel doesn’t know. They both are in the dark over what’s to come. Dean’s distress surfaces with his, “Then you guys are screwed.” Castiel tells him he’s the only one, but Dean can only melt down in tears. “I’m not all here, 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.”

Whoa. Castiel is disheartened, as we all are. Dean has been broken. Anna’s warning has come true, Castiel may have ruined the one chance they have. Dean the warrior, Dean the man who’s survived every horrific thing in his life including watching his mother, father and brother die. Dean who came back from forty years of Hell. Dean the human who does have a breaking point. Yep, returning to earth has been a harsh experience on this angel.

The Other Stuff

Someone brought up a great question to me. How can Ruby’s host contain demon blood? Same with Azazel when he bled into baby Sam’s mouth. I went back to “Croatoan” for the answer. When the townspeople were infected with the demon virus, there were traces of sulfur in their blood. When the demons were gone, the sulfur disappeared. That tells me when a demon occupies the host, it affects the blood as well. It must be, since it looks like Sam got himself some pure stuff before doing his “stupid pet tricks.”

What is it with angels and playgrounds? I know angels are watching over us, but seeing two grown men in suits hanging at the playground is creepy.

Ruby is evil. We know it now, just by her wicked smile when Sam takes in her blood with complete desperation. She even calls Sam “Sammy.” She’s gone too far!

“Uriel’s the funniest angel in the garrison. Ask anyone.” The way Misha deadpans that line, it becomes one of the funniest lines of the season.

There is so much great directing, there isn’t enough time to point out it all. I’ll share my two favorites though. First is after Anna’s visit, when Castiel orders her to go. The camera fades out to show Castiel alone in the middle of the large room, giving the perfect visual of his deep isolation. The second is when Sam is driving the Impala on the way to rescue Dean (and ultimately Castiel). It starts by showing his hazel eyes, and as the scene progresses his eyes get darker and darker until they are almost black. Yikes!

Questions For Next Time

Uriel has converted others. Does this mean Castiel must go underground, unable to trust his own kind? Will he join forces with Anna? It’s likely Uriel killed the angels from “Are You There God, It’s Me Dean Winchester,” so how long and how deep does the corruption go?

Why did Anna show up when she did? Can she be trusted? Whose side is she on? Are her motives any cleaner than Ruby's? Does she want to use Castiel the same way Ruby wants to use Sam?

I do wonder if either Sam or Castiel told Dean how Sam killed Alastair. Sure, he’ll find out eventually, but is it now or later? Did anyone else love Sam’s look to Castiel after that happened? “Oh, you noticed that, huh?”

An A+ on this one. Definitely a classic. Next week is another comedy episode, and boy, do we need it. The rest of the season after that is going to be brutal.

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About Alice Jester

  • SupernaturalSoul

    I’ve watched this episode six time already and I think it’s the best epi of the series. I agree and love your review but would love to hear about how creepy Alistair was! “Something was in my throat. I think it was my throat!”. Sooo good and creepy!! I will miss his royal creepiness!

  • I couldn’t agree more about Alastair! I could have written an entire book about this episode, it was that good. Considering the review was already at an unusually large 2700 words, I couldn’t get it all. Thanks for mentioning how great he was.

  • cassi

    I completely agree with you Alice, this episode was epic, a real CLASSIC! I think I found a new defintion for classic SPN episode, they’re absolutely ADDICTIVE, you simply can’t stop watching them.

    I’ve never been THAT involved with an episode, OTHOAP left me completely shaken and stunned. I’m so happy that we get something light next week because honestly I’ve no clue if I would survive watching another episode like OTHOAP.

    I just want to add that Alistair was stunning in this episode. The way he taunts Dean, sings “I’m in heaven..”, makes the monopoly joke, shows what a magnificient villian he is.

    Although Wishful thinking is another one of Edlund’s funny episode YOU ALREADY SEE THAT EDLUND IS CAPABLE OF WRITING ONE OF THE BEST EPISODES EVER. The brothers scene in Whisful were amazing and they were connected with the funny moments in an seemless way!

    Oh, and how GREAT was Robert Wisdom? His Uriel was amazing in so many ways, I’m really sad to see him go but the follows the path of many amazing guest actors before him.

    And I can’t even start to describe how amazing Misha and Jensen were in this episode. I don’t have enough words!

  • Man. I feel guilty for loving this episode so much, considering how shattered it leaves just about everybody… at least Sam (for he is. He may love the power… but he does keep it limited to demons only. But he doesn’t love what it costs him at least), Castiel (… yeah), and Dean.

    As you said, the dedication between the brothers is totally, completely … heartening. It’s their weak spot, but it is also their strength. On the other hand… Metamorphosis as foreshadowing, as in Sam’s hand being forced (by threatening the one person who matters more than himself) … into going where he can’t go back from?

    Things that made me wonder… well. A lot of things did. Is ‘weapon’ the way Anna sees Dean? What is, overall, Ruby’s game (she does not go counter to Sam’s choice of targets, doesn’t even suggest it… but MAN did that ‘Sammy’ sting!)? Is it possible that the demons don’t know that which Castiel dropped in the end, about Dean being the only one who can finish it? Because if they did know, they’d be gunning to get him back a LOT more than they are!

    And also, I think the next episode is needed to get Dean back into action. He’s… really at the end of his rope. So they take away his memories, let him gather some momentum again, and then drop it all back on him.

    I love this show.

  • Julie

    I actually lost count on how many times I’ve seen the episode, and I cannot believe that it comes better and better every time I see it! It’s Tuesday and I am still in awed with everything!
    I SO agree with you about Anna and Castiel. I was surprised that she didn’t go to Dean. I wonder if Dean will ever know that she was around… But one question I surely have about her: to who has she done the request to get her body back and what does that mean? Unless of course it’s nothing important, but we all know that in Supernatural, all the small details count.
    Sam. That disgusting scene was, disgusting, but at least we now know that it had a good nature. He still cares deeply about Dean and I’m glad to see that fact. But that smirk of hers tells me that Sam’s going to have to pay and that scares the jeepers out of me!
    I cannot wait to see what will come of Dean. All heroes fall at some point, but let’s be honest Dean cannot fall any deeper than where he is. All he needs is a boost and to learn is true meaning on Earth, then I’m sure we’ll get our Dean back. Castiel is about at the same place as Dean. He’s a hero of his own too and when he gets up from all that’s been happening to him we’ll have two awesome soldiers fighting on the good side!!
    And as for the directing: no one could have said it better!!!!

    You already know how much I love your reviews! This one rocked out loud! Keep them coming! =D

  • Kate

    For Dean my heart is breaking..What’s in my throat? The little pieces of my heart

  • TeamPadalecki

    Alice ~ I so wait with anticipation of your reviews. I want to see if you feel the same way as I do — and usually you do. I totally loved this episode and I also thought it was the best so far of all the seasons — I called it the EPIC episode !!! It is amazing that they put so much in a 40-45 minute show. I felt like I sat there for 2 hours. It is so intense and deep. I also felt Kim’s handprint on this episode. I miss him ! Thank you for always being here to summarize the episode and give us your take on it. I appreicate it !!! Look forward to future reviews. Take care ~ Team Padalecki 🙂

  • Luisa

    I absolutely HATED this episode, by far the worst of this season for me. Just far too much of Castiel and for those of us who couldn’t care less about the inclusion of angels nor his motivations it was utterly horrible.

    Sam got all of seven minutes so HOW this was supposed to be an episode about all three as you mention I’ll never know.

    I miss him absolutely madly and want to get more inside his head but yet again the writers are denying us.

    By far the worst episode of the entire dismal season for me, the Sam/Castiel scene where Sam told him to STFU and sort stuff out was the only bright spot.

  • Miriel

    Hi Alice. I’m fairly new to your reviews but now wait anxiously to read your take on episodes! And it’s wonderful to hear the pov of someone who isn’t caught up in the insanity of fandom where the carping about screen time, Wincest, and general asshattery abounds (I’ve seen it and shuddered – lol). Someone who just flat out loves the show as I do.

    And YES – this episode is definitely an 11! I feel like I’m shooting the rapids and loving it even while my nerves scream and hands tremble.

    My daughter and I have a theory about Ruby and I wanted your opinion. If the goal is for Lucifer to walk the earth then he would need a human vessel capable of containing him. Could Ruby’s motive be to strengthen Sam for that purpose? If I’m not mistaken, an ordinary human could not sustain Lucifer’s possession but Sam very well could given Ruby’s ‘training’. Whatever her motives, it bodes ill for our Sammy.

    And before I forget, thanks so much for taking the time to write these reviews and major kudos to you!

  • Bevie

    Hi Alice

    What a great review! I hope there is room for the two of us in that hospital bed with poor Dean, because I was a pile of mush at the end of the episode.

    So glad to see that Sammy still loves his big brother best and all the weird things he’s doing are all to protect Dean. As long as the brotherly love continues, this show will rock!

    Never been so involved with a TV show before.

    Thanks for your great reviews Alice.


  • strangeworld

    I think you missed something important Alice. It is not Dean that is weak, it is Sam. Dean doesn’t need demon blood to be strong, Sam does. What does that tell you?

  • Missy

    It was interesting to me to see Sam misjudge Dean so badly in that scene with Ruby. Dean’s reluctance to torture wasn’t weakness. Just as with his remorse over the people he harmed, Sam takes Dean’s morals and equates them with weakness. Dean didn’t want to torture Alastair, not because he couldn’t do it, but because he knew what it MEANT. He knows what it MAKES you, when you torture, and how very, very easy it is to stop caring. Sam, naive, foolish Sam, would have seen his bloodsoaked, sadistic brother in Hell, and would have thought him strong.

    I think Sam’s got a hard fall ahead of him. His pride, his arrogance, his inability to temper any of his vengeance with compassion… it’s going to be ugly. But he needs to do it, to understand where Dean has been, and why his reluctance to become a monster again is anything BUT pathetic.

  • elle2

    Hi, Alice,

    Awesome review…I knew it would be worth the wait.

    I love your take on Sam’s need to protect Dean, cover his weakness not expose it. Sam may be overwhelmed with demon addictions but he loves his brother. Once again the demons use that against him.

    I’ve watched this episode more than two or three times so far and I’ll have to go back and check the Sam driving the car scene…so many have mentioned his eyes turning black and I’ve missed it…alas, I’ll have to watch again.

    Re: your analysis/insight into Castiel’s innocence I find a parallel to Dean: Castiels is a good soldier, follower of orders; he was CREATED to be such. Dean similarly is a good soldier, follower of orders of his father b/c he LEARNED to be from near tragedy [Something Wicked] The Dean from S1 is similar (not exact by any stretch) as Castiel is here.

    Dean was even known to step back from the leadership role and let Dad take the reins (the conversation between him and Sam in the Impala back in Dead Man’s Blood) and to ask “What am I supposed to do.” At the beginning of AHBL II at Sam’s deathbed.

    I agree…this episode was/is epic. It gave a major push forward to the mytharc, and opened/widened/deepened the angel storyline which will continue into S5…awesome.

  • Oh Dean!

    “I love your take on Sam’s need to protect Dean, cover his weakness not expose it.”

    Sam revealed Dean’s weakness to Ruby without even a second thought. A demon. Who Dean hates and who hates him back. So no I do not see Sam being protective of Dean in that sense even though I think he was in other ways. Just an observation.

  • Why am I not surprised your review ran long, Alice? So did mine – this episode really deserved it! The writing, the acting, the directing, the story structure; I loved the lot.

    The revelation of what Sam has really been up to in order to soup up his powers was devastating. All the subtle little teases and hints sneaking in from the background paid off in a huge way. Now that we know, I suspect Sam’s progress along that path will come into the light, but I’m not looking forward to the moment when Dean learns the full truth. (Well, I am, but not for how it will make him feel!)

    I did love the way that this story showed the full picture of Sam’s feelings for Dean, to contrast with the biased view we got through the siren’s spell in Sex and Violence: yes, Sam believes Dean to be weaker than he was before Hell (and his hesitation could kill), but Sam doesn’t want him hurt because of it; all the love is intact. Sam is proud and over-proud of his own abilities – but proudest of all that he can save his brother, as his brother so often saved him. That was great. But doing wrong things even for (mostly) right reasons (I do recognize Sam’s craving for the blood power as also having factored into his decision to drink again) is a dangerous path to walk.

    This show has always been superior; now it has become epic.

  • Saint Sam

    I think it is VERY much strecthing to try and say Sam did this for Dean. At NO point prior to the hospital scene did Sam show any concern for Dean’s safety. He did not not go running off there thinking Dean was in danger. He said one thing and one thing only – that Dean was too weak to get the job done.

    The writers even had Ruby herself mention Dean’s well-being to Sam and Sam quite pointedly and specifically said “No” that wasn’t what he was concerned about. Sam thinks Dean’s lost his edge, that is what he thinks he’s lost. That was all he was concerned about at that moment. The writers practically put up a neon sign over it.

    Most importantly is that the writers are clearly couching everything Sam is doing in terms of addiction and self-delusion. Metamorphosis – it was no mistake that Sam sounded something like an addict trying to justify himself. It’s no mistake that Pam pointed out to Sam that Sam did not have good intentions, no matter how much he tried to convince himself they were. Sam is not doing this for Dean, Sam is doing this for HIMSELF and he’s using Dean as an excuse.

    And it is certainly no mistake that at no point prior to Dean’s being in the hospital did Sam mention any concern for Dean’s personal well-being.

    He was talking pure and simply about Dean’s ability to do what he was being asked to do and that HE, Sam could and he wanted the extra juice so he could go SHOW them what he could do when Dean, as he fully expected, failed.

    And guess what? Dean was able to do that. So Sam was wrong. Dean was betrayed, Dean was not too weak. Dean went in there and faced a demon who tortured him in ways that made what we saw look like a walk in the park every day for decades. And even after hearing the worst he could hear, he was going to keep going. That’s not weakness, that’s strength.

    Sam on the other hand IS showing a great deal of weakness. He gets an illusion of strength from the power drinking Ruby’s blood gives him. But you know what, Dean, crying in his hospital bed, is stronger than Sam right now. Because Dean is under no illusions about himself. A man who can admit he feels weak is stronger than the man who thinks he has none and that is Sam, a man who thinks he has none.

    I think you are seeing what you want to see not what is actually there.

  • You know, I’m a blogger that does this for pure fun. There’s no glory in this, or money, trust me. There’s just a lot of time involved. I love Supernatural so much and I want to use my writing skills to give it the respect it’s long deserved and often not gotten. More importantly, and I want other fans to feel welcome and share their opinions as well.

    I want to say thank you so much to those of you that come to me each time and express your sheer love of the show. You don’t necessarily agree with me, but you don’t mind pointing out the good and the bad, where you see it differently, and you keep up the spirit of the show. I’m honored to hear from you all every week and that you take time to read my sometimes wordy articles.

    There are dissenters, and I don’t mind those either. I love getting other viewpoints. Take for example this time from “Oh Dean!” That’s a proper dissent and I appreciate the comments.

    For the rest of you that keep turning my reviews into a Sam vs. Dean lynching every time, this is for you. Please keep in mind these are short reviews. I do not knock down one brother at expense of the other. I call it as the episode shows it, and do not have that much space to dig deep into the big picture. Go back over the reviews for this season. One week it’s Sam at a low, the next week it’s Dean. That’s intentional on the writing team’s part. NEITHER of them are perfect.

    This is not a Sam vs. Dean debate, and I’m getting a little tired of being told every week by Sam fans I’m knocking down Sam unfairly and making Dean look like a saint or by Dean fans that I’m knocking Dean down unfairly and making Sam look like a saint. I’m ready to put this statement at the end of every review from this point forward until people start getting it. This is not a forum for putting your favorite character on an unreachable pedestal and knocking down the other. My reviews refuse to do that, and I expect the comments to be respectful in the same way. It’s only fair to those of us that want to go to a place to love our show.

    Sure, I point out screen time issues, but I usually bring it up when it results in a missed development opportunity. That DID NOT happen in this episode. The screen time should be about quality, not quantity. I do not use a stop watch counting Sam and Dean time and never will.

    Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. This episode was WAY too good and deserving for the petty bickering that’s been happening lately. Now I can go back to responding to reviews that are worthy of debate.

  • Cassi – Oh yes, Robert Wisdom was good too. Heck even Julie Niven (Anna) was good this week. I do love the caliber of the guest acting they’ve been getting this season.

    Kikibug13 – I do wonder if the next episode has something to do with Dean’s recent depressed state. I’m sure we’ll find out! I also got the impression that Dean is the one that must break the final seal. So yes, I think the demons know, and we haven’t seen the whole plan yet. As Castiel said, “They don’t tell me much.”

    Julie – Thanks for the agreement on Anna and Castiel. I think we’re the only two. I’m still blown away by this episode.

    Kate – Well said. I couldn’t agree more.

    TeamPadalecki – I’m in awe how they can cram so much into one small episode. I’m trying to write the full recap for my blog site right now, and it’s huge! There’s so many little things in there I pick up each time I watch.

    Miriel – That’s a very interesting theory about Sam being a vessel. Yeah, I could buy that. Who else could Lucifer possess? I’m still not certain if Ruby is serving her own purpose or is part of the “end game”, but she’s evil nonetheless. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

    Bevie – I’ll let you sneak in Dean’s bed with me, but I have a feeling there will be thousands that beat us to the punch!

    Elle2 – I didn’t buy into the black eyes thing with Sam at first, but on the rewatch, oh yes, it’s pretty dramatic. I don’t know if that was intentional or an accident, but I remember a TV show producer once saying “there are no accidents.”

    Mary – I’m sure you found it as impossible to write a review as I did. I put a link to it up on my site. I so agree about the story showing the full picture of Sam’s feelings for Dean and how his path is very dangerous. The show has gone this season from superior to epic, that’s for sure.

    As for everyone else, let’s face it, Dean is weaker. I know that drives Dean fans nuts, but believe me when I say this serves a purpose for what’s to come. Alastair and Sam said it both, a part of him was left downstairs. He’s not what he was before. Me calling Dean weak does not mean I’m calling Sam strong. Sam thinks he’s being strong enough for Dean, and yeah, turning Alastair to dust is pretty damned impressive, but it’ll cost him in the long run. By drinking Ruby’s blood and craving the power, he’s weak too. He did use Dean as an excuse this time, but his intentions were all still for Dean. It goes back to what Mary said, it showed the full picture of Sam’s feelings for Dean. I loved it. Dean is his main priority.

    I’m not sure if I’ll be able to see this Thursday’s episode live (traveling). If I can’t, I’ll be crushed, that’s for sure. Must have more!

  • seroes

    Excellent review Alice. You and Bardicoves are the only 2 I read. You always have fantastic insight into the episode. I agree with everything you said.

  • seroes

    Sorry for the double post. I should rather say that I loved the episode but after Sam’s last scene the episode did lose some of its intensity for me. Dean, Sam, Ruby, and Alistair for me were the real driving forces in the ep. I loved all of those scenes. It was still good after that, just not so intense.

  • And Alice speaks! And speaks words of wisdom she does! Well, compared to the gabbering nonsense that gushes out of my mouth whenever I try and explain just what made this episode awesome. Shakespeare Ms Jester, you write pure Shakespeare.

    Gah, it was just so….well, see, I keep using the word epic and its beginning to lose all significance in meaning. Seriously, I need a thesaurus, what’s another word for EPIC?

    Not only are the storylines epic but the way they go about them, the way the epicness is presented to us, well, that’s epic too.

    I’m now really scared about the epicness, it’s just soooo mindbogglingly intensely, bite fingernails type epic.

    Budge over, I’m ready to curl up with Dean and his despair too. I might start rocking gently too. It’s just so…here we go…so EPIC to think about it all without a resulting headache.

    I both love and hate this show for making me feel like this. Gah!

  • How about momentous?

    Even with Swedish subtitles ( don’t ask ) This one just left me breathless.
    Sometimes heavyduty plot developements only make you think the writers should lay off the recreational stimulants, cough * Heroes * cough, but here every piece fell into place with a huge satisfying crash and an echoing why-didn’t-I-see-that-coming … Bloody brilliant.

    Good shout on the squabbling, too. All the Handbags At Dawn stuff is really dull to read through and pretty pointless … If both the boys were paragons of virtue the story would have ground to a halt long ago instead of getting deeper and more mind-boggling by the hour.

  • vichi

    so I guess now it’s my turn to comment :)!
    Hi Alice, I just read the entire review as always and now I have to swallow my tears because you just reminded me how painfully awesome this episode was. I mean, freakin’ amazing!
    I gave it an A+ and it is on my top 5 episodes of all seasons, so far! I never expected Ben Edlund capable of such an intense and perfect episode, I loved his funny ones, I mean they were brilliant but this is a masterpiece!
    Where do I start?
    Dean and Castiel togheter are amazing! Jensen and Misha have great chemistry on screen and their acting was flawless in this episode (as usual). I cried with Dean, felt his pain, his struggle, and then when I saw him in that hospital bed, it was heartbreaking. It is interesting to see the way Cas is influenced by Dean, he beggins to “feel”, he respect Dean and he suffer with him. After Heaven and Hell,I though that Castiel is the angel who is gonna fall, but after what I saw in On the Head of a pin,I am not so sure anymore. Yes, he has doubts, and doesn’t trust anymore the received orders but for the first time he has complete faith in himself to do the right thing. He found the strenght inside himself and Dean and I perceived him as the Phoenix Bird, resurrect from his own ash.
    I loved Anna in this episode, probably because she was there only for Castiel! I don’t believe she is evil, I think she will be there for Cas and the boys in season finale to fight against Lucifer.
    Ruby, God how I sent her. When I saw the smirk on her face after feeding Sammy with her blood I felt the urge to smack her! And the way she called Sammy! Nobody but Dean has the right to call him “Sammy”. And I was shocked to see how Sam is behaving around her, like a lover… I hoped the one sex scene will not repeat but now I don’t really know what to think, Sam and Ruby seems to be too closed…
    I saw this episode so many times and each time I was amazed by Alastair! I got chills on my spine from the moment he started singing “cheek to cheek” and he became my favorite vilain ever, I loved him even more than YED, if that’s possible. I am gonna miss Christopher Hayerdahl, that man was just freaking amazing! The same goes for Uriel! I didn’t expected him to a traitor, so it was kinda of a surprise but it fits! Uriel worshiped Lucifer, he has the same attitude as Lucifer against people!
    Anyway Alice, as always, I loved your review and I don’t really know how this is possible, but we kinda think alike when it comes to this show 🙂 ! I don’t know/have enought words in english to say how much this episode touched my heart!

  • trina

    While I could have done without the extended torture scenes, Holy cow was this ep chock full. The whole point of this episode (and the season) is that Sam and Dean are both weak and lost right now. They need to reconnect because they are stronger together. Sam will not be able to overcome this addiction and what is sure to be Ruby’s betrayal without Dean, and Dean will not be able to stop what is coming without Sam.

  • Saint Sam

    “As for everyone else, let’s face it, Dean is weaker. I know that drives Dean fans nuts, but believe me when I say this serves a purpose for what’s to come. Alastair and Sam said it both, a part of him was left downstairs. He’s not what he was before.”

    So because Alistair said it, a demon whose purpose has been to torture Dean and who naturally would want put him in the worst shape possible when it comes to “finishing it”, and because Sam said it, who is for all intents and purposes a drug addict looking for an excuse to take his next hit – that makes it true?

    That’s your opinion and it’s not mine. I do agree Dean is hurting alot right now, physically and emotionally. But I don’t see any of it being for the reasons Sam or Alistair said. Dean is hurting because he was tortured horrifically for decades, so badly he finally broke himself and allowed himself to do it just to make it stop for him, not because he’s “missing” anything. If anything it shows he’s NOT missing anything, he’s still all him and so he feels everything he’s done terribly, as Dean Winchester always would do.

    Sam said Dean couldn’t do it, he related it to being in Hell. Yet why is no one asking the obvious question – what in the world would Sam have expected a pre-Hell Dean to do to Alistair that would have been “better” or “stronger”?

    That’s put the lie to Sam’s reasonings right there. It’s all misdirection – we see Dean hit rock bottom, we see him saying he can’t do it, it’s too big, he’s missing part of himself, etc, etc.

    That would all seem to fit in with what Sam said – yet what Sam said and how Dean is acting are not the same.

    The reasons for Dean’s actions are not for the reasons Sam gave. Sam was talking about power not strength, they aren’t the same thing. So Sam was wrong – yes Dean is “weak” now but not for the reasons Sam thinks he is. It’s showing how entirely screwed up Sam’s priorities are in my opinion, not that his actions are all for Dean.

    “It goes back to what Mary said, it showed the full picture of Sam’s feelings for Dean. I loved it. Dean is his main priority.”

    I fail to see how the show told us this. Sam’s main priority was getting his next hit, for which he used Dean as an excuse after the angels took him away but which he was looking for even before that. Why do you think he was so gung ho to go see Ruby when they were talking in the car earlier?

    So again, it’s opinion and that’s fine, all of our opinions are worth the same, but I’m not going to “believe” anything. That’s not Sam vs. Dean, that’s trying to look at what I think the show made a point of trying to outright show me.

    In the previous episode, an episode about the lies people tell themselves, they made a point with Sam, with Pam’s dying words, that Sam’s was lying to himself about his intentions.

    Sam’s trying to find reasons to say he’s doing it for good reasons and he’ll find ways to list them off, but ultimately Sam isn’t doing it “to save the hosts”, he isn’t doing it “for Dean”, he isn’t doing it “for the greater good”. Because that’s what addicts do. He’s doing it for his next hit, he’s doing it for the power he likes to feel.

  • trina

    Here’s the thing, for me at least. We had Sam saying he was weak, we had Alastair say it, and we had Dean himself say it. I’m not sure what else the writers can do to get people to admit that Dean is weak right now. They wouldn’t have 3 different people say it if that wasn’t the point they wanted to make. And you know what? If I was Dean I would be weak too. If I was Sam I would be weak. He’s not going to be this way forever, and neither is Sam. It’s all part of character arc, and will hopefully pay off in the end.

  • Missy

    Trina, I think the point is that all three are unreliable narrators.

    Take Alastair. He’s a demon. His entire purpose is to break Dean down, because Dean is the one fated to stop the apocalypse. If he’s strapped to a rack and can’t straight off KILL Dean at the moment, his goal is to convince Dean that he just can’t do it.

    Take Sam. He’s a demon blood addict. His entire purpose is to convince himself that his addiction is necessary, that he’s not really giving in because he likes the power (“You think you have good intentions? Think again.”), but because he HAS to. Why does he have to, he reasons? Well, because Dean must be weak. However, Dean didn’t fail to do the thing that Sam said he was too weak to do… he did torture Alastair. He was broken by the knowledge that he brought on the apocalypse, and physically broken because of Uriel’s betrayal, but not because he couldn’t do the job.

    Dean. Dean, Dean, Dean. He’s always had a low opinion of himself, hasn’t he? From day one, he’s been convinced that his leadership was insufficient and would lead to Sam’s death (because of Something Wicked), his brutality frightened himself (Devil’s Trap), his family doesn’t need him like he needs them (Devil’s Trap again), he can’t do this on his own (Crossroad Blues). But every time, he’s perservered and come through with a win. The boy doesn’t know his own strength.

    Now, reliable narrators that the show could use, if they wanted me to believe that Dean was truly weak, would be people like Castiel or Anna… people who have every reason to want Dean strong. If even THEY are saying that he’s weak, that’s convincing. But Alastair, Sam and Dean, like it or not, are Dean’s biggest detractors. (Well, Sam is only some of the time… it’s just, this is one of those times.) I wouldn’t expect anything different from them, whether he was honestly weak or not.

    I think, as others have said, that this is Dean’s Gethsemane moment. But I think he has the resources within himself to pull through it, and to do what is required of him. He always does.

  • Pre-Hell Dean’s core belief was that he was a righteous person. Black and white, no shades of grey. He wouldn’t sacrifice one person to save fifty in ” Jus in Bello “. That was what made him tick, he might be a bit grubby but he had rock-hard principals.

    Since Alistair blew a hole through his life script he’s been twisting in the wind. He’s lost his center, his sense of self. He will get it back though, because he’s Dean, and that’s what Dean does.

  • Elle

    Alice, as usual, your review was as fabulous as the episode it discussed! I love reading your work because it always offers insights that I’ve never even considered! I completely agree, this was totally an 11.

    Some people said they didn’t like the “angel stuff” but I thoroughly enjoy the ethereal storyline. Castiel is an incredible addition to the show – I love his character as much as I love our Winchester boys! The divine Misha Collins belongs in every episode, if you ask me.

    One of the comments mentioned that they didn’t think Sam was terribly concerned with Dean’s well being and I have to admit, I kind of agree. Sam’s entire reason for going after Dean was that he didn’t feel Dean could get the job done; he didn’t express worry over what it would do psychologically to his brother, at least not as his primary focus/drive. It also distressed me that Sam was okay with revealing this to Ruby. Certainly, at the hospital, Sam was worried about Dean no question – he did demand a miracle, and was clearly distraught over Dean’s condition. But I don’t believe that was at the forefront when he went after Dean and the angels. This is not me questioning Sam’s love for his brother (or Sam-bashing either), but rather, I think Sam’s priorities are becoming skewed. To me, it feels like Sam is desperate to prove that these powers he’s using aren’t evil, and that he can do good with them, despite the warnings of everyone in his life. But I think the powers (with the help of Ruby) have started to corrupt, consume and corrode Sam’s character – he doesn’t see how far he has slipped. His moral compass is no longer pointing due North, if you ask me. Someone likened Sam to an addict, and I think that is a fair comparison, down to the justification of what he is doing.

    Dean – I have no words for the Hell that he is still in, emotionally, psychologically and now, thanks to a hefty beating, physically. Only one other time have we seen the Winchesters in the hospital in the last 3.5 years and that time a Mack truck was involved – so you know he must be hurt badly. He is completely devastated but I take issue with the word “weak” being used to describe him, because I don’t think this is the right term. I don’t feel that Dean’s admittance of “not strong enough” equates to weakness. Frankly, the boy has always had a poor self-concept so his vote doesn’t really count in my books anyways.

    Dean is broken. There is no question about that. But weak makes him seem like a loser while that is not a word you can associate with him. Dean, simply put, has reached his breaking point and after all he’s endured, I can’t say I didn’t expect it and I can’t even fault him for feeling the way he does and wanting to give up the whole thing. He can never get ahead of the game and have good things in his life, at least not in recent memory. All along, back to Croaton or The Magnificent Seven, Dean has said how tired he is – and that was before he died, went to Hell for 40 years and then was brought back to a world where his brother, whom he loves more than anything else, thinks so lowly of him, is cohorting with a [obviously malicious and evil] demon and is using demon-endowed abilities. I still think that, apocalypse-starter or not, Dean is a hero for all the things he has endured (largely for his family and not himself) and risen above. Dean’s unable to break the surface right now, but he’s far from drowned.

    The big difference between Sam and Dean right now seems to come down to morality. Sam’s is slowly slipping away while Dean’s is steadfast, he is being tormented by what he did in Hell, this expresses remorse. The glee with which Sam said “now I can kill” is disturbing in contrast. He himself stated that he thinks he exists outside the rules. There is a sort of parallel in their experiences, and when Dean speaks about Sam being on a “slippery slope” this comes from his own experiences in Hell and being a torturer – especially in light of the revelation that he enjoyed it (although, I still say he was in Hell where the measure of good feelings probably isn’t a normal spectrum) and the fact that Sam seems to increasingly enjoy using his powers.

    I’m surprised by people who insist on having a competition between the brothers or who make the show solely about one ‘beating’ the other for screen time. The reason people seem to be noticing it more now is that Sam has always featured prominently into the mythology of the show – right from the Pilot – where Dean was Joe Normal. Now, they are bringing Dean into the myth arc (which delights me to no end even though it results in continuous Dean-whumpage in one way or another) – doing with him in one season what they did with Sam spread across a couple seasons. I have to laugh when people get all twisted about too little of one brother or too much of another, or making one sympathetic and the other a mystery. Ultimately, what affects one affects the other and the show always does a good job at showing both sides of the coin (case in point – Metamorphosis, IKWYDLS). Sometimes, are there two episodes in a row that physically feature one more than the other? Yes, sometimes, but the other brother is always involved (ex. insight about them is granted to the other, etc.). The show always, ALWAYS returns itself to balance, usually in a short amount of time.

    Anyways, great review as always Alice!

  • romabelle

    Alice: Like the cast, writers, directors and creator of Supernatural, you’ve outdone yourself. Agreed: this episode was at least an 11. In a just world, the leads (especially Jensen) would already have been nominated for an Emmy. But there’s no love for this genre and especially not when it’s on the likes of the CW. Guess they’re saving the hardware for more exalted fare like Desperate Housewives. Anyhow, the performances by the three central characters, Dean, Sam, and Cas, were beyond amazing.

    Sam: You’re right about the enduring love Sam has for his brother, even after the big blowout in Sirenville, even as he wanders further “off the rez”, guzzling demon blood like a junkie jonesing for a fix. Even as he does the wrong thing (going darkside), even as he clearly revels in his power (“Now I can kill”), it’s to save his brother from a nightmare situation Sam knows is too much for Dean in his debilitated condition. It exemplifies Dean’s observation in Season 3 that their love for one another makes them vulnerable to being used, and in this case, puts Sam into greater moral danger even as he saves Dean’s life. Jared Padalecki has continued to deepen his portrayal of Sam in Season 4, and this episode is no exception. He’s doing a bang-up job of showing Sam’s fluctuations between addiction to the high that his growing power gives him and his desire to do good by hunting down Lilith and, still, protecting Dean. The precarious position which Sam is now in, and the goodness of his intentions versus the increasing temptation to pride, all are being laid bare as the stakes go up exponentially. It really could go either way now for little brother Sam.

    Ruby: Props to Genevieve Cortese for that sly grin making it clear the Rubester is not exactly, as they say, on the side of the angels. Genevieve’s performance is right on the mark, and in keeping with the highly ambiguous nature of Ruby’s ultimate goals. And it’s a big-time measure just how far gone Sam is that he’s letting her call him Sammy without any protest.

    Castiel: Misha Collins was nothing short of sensational. Castiel, like Dean, was delivered a series of shocks to the system, in Castiel’s case, the presence of a revolt in the ranks and the emergence of his own full-blown doubts and questions. Misha was able to convey this conflicted and painful awakening process with the utmost skill and delicacy, demonstrating Castiel’s emotional maturation while still retaining the essential guilelessness and stalwart loyalty of his angelic personality. He’s been a tremendous addition to the cast from his very first appearance, and I look forward to his being a regular in Season 5.

    Dean: You’ve pretty much said it all – how much more can he take? Compelled to face and torture his tormentor, learning that his father outlasted the tortures that eventually broke him, and then, as the coup de grâce, being told that he, as he put it, jumpstarted the Apocalypse – everything holding Dean together has been crushed and turned against him. The dawning shock, denial, and horror in his expression as the realization that he broke the first seal sinks in is worthy of an Emmy all by itself. Seing a battered and completely broken Dean in the hospital bed was as heartrending as it gets. Even the hoarse, post-respirator voice was note-perfect. Dean has been shaken, frightened, and even cried before, but never totally defeated like this. His desolation, anguish and total lack of self-worth registered in his barely-there voice, bruised and battered face, and bone-deep exhaustion. Nothing was withheld in the spiraling down to nothingness that was Dean’s collapse into complete despair. In this unheralded show on a unprestigious network, Jensen Ackles may be quietly moving to another level of acting beyond the majority of his professional peers in any medium. And his co-star Jared may not be far behind. Misha Collins meets that level with his own brilliance, and the resulting chemistry between Castiel and Dean, like that between Dean and Sam, is off the charts. Kripke and his casting director struck gold when they found all these exceptional performers, but particularly Jensen and Jared.

    Last but not least, quick shout-outs to Uriel and Anna: Uriel, we hardly knew you . . . or didn’t we? From his very first appearance in “It’s the Great Pumpkin. . .”, Robert Wisdom absolutely rocked as this 100% tough, 0% love, angelic “specialist.” The revelation that he was working for the other side was not exactly shocking, given his proudly unconcealed contempt for humanity. Uriel’s exchanges with Dean alone made his every appearance well worth watching. And as to Anna: welcome back runaway, looks like she’s the wild card, and as was hinted in her last appearance, there’s some kind of a vibe between her and Cas. One can only imagine how that will play out . . .

    Lastly, big, big, big ups to Ben Edlund for an outstanding episode – running out of words here to say how great it was. The remaining episodes of this tremendous Season Four are going to be EPIC in every sense of the word. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t tune in for Season Five having seen or caught up on every episode in the past four seasons – they’re missing possibly the best show on tv. Kripke: you’re a genius, and your merry band of writers and directors are, to quote our boy Dean, right there with ya. Kim Manners would undoubtedly be proud. Again, Alice, the review was absolutely worth the wait – looking forward to the next one. Enough babbling for now – over and out . . .

  • Thank you everyone for sending back such well thought out and well explained analysis. The points come across so much better when they’re not tagged with extreme bitterness for one character or another. These are all good points! There’s so much to grasp in this one.

  • Julie

    Haha! I just read your comment about me and you being the only ones who agree on Anna and Castiel! Sweet! I still feel the same way after a week and a half and I do hope that Anna won’t disapoint me by the end of the season (which I don’t think she will… I trust her).
    I know how it feels to share this pleasure of writing reviews like these for fun and no profits. I have a weekly blog over on Facebook’s “Addicted to Supernatural” application and I’ve been writing reviews for about 10 weeks now. It’s nice to be able to share your thoughts with the other fans, and see their POV in all of this, and I agree with you about the Sam and Dean bickering: it’s just too much! *sigh*