As I type this, it’s been 48 hours since I saw “Swan Song” for the first time. Since then I’ve taken in six more viewings. I’m still a heaping, quivering emotional wreck. That should give you some idea as to how good this was to me. I know there’s an expectation for objectivity in television reviews, but keep in mind this entire analysis will be performed by one extremely happy and weepy fan girl. I’ll keep the “OMFG!” to myself, but let me get this out of my system now. DAMN YOU, KRIPKE!!!
Wow, wow, wow, wow. “Swan Song” is as epic as they get. It’s five years in the making, the chance to wrap up the mytharc that started all the way in the first scene of the pilot when Mary Winchester was baked on the ceiling. The quote from Chuck at the end of this episode summarizes best what these five seasons have been all about. “Up against good, evil, angels, devils, destiny, and God himself. They made their own choice. They chose family. And well, isn’t that kind of the whole point?” It certainly is.
Remember in “The Point of No Return” when Dean joked about their plan being the power of love? Wouldn’t you know, that ended up being the answer. The odds were always against them, but two brothers stuck together no matter what. They did it through tons of sacrifice for each other, personal strife, and traveling from place to place with nothing more than the clothes on their back in a home on wheels that’s more a member of a family than transportation. It’s romantic, it’s heroic, it’s dangerous, it’s heartbreaking, and a story that we all can relate to in some way.
“Swan Song” is easily the most emotional episode of the series. I didn’t think anything could pass “Abandon All Hope” but this did. From the word go this episode went for the heartstrings. As a girl born and raised in Detroit, I do get touched over old footage of classic cars rolling off the assembly line. There’s always a story behind each of those cars. Chuck’s heartwarming tale of the Impala’s beginnings is something that’s not only perfect but long overdue. Even in her early days she was dealing with the apocalypse, so she was already well prepared for the trials of the Winchesters. Chuck ends up being the narrator throughout the story, which is very fitting since he’s the voice of Eric Kripke, creator of this whole saga and writer of this episode.
Picking up from “Two Minutes To Midnight,” both brothers in one touching scene show how much they’ve matured since that unhappy reunion at Stanford five years ago. Dean’s growing up moment comes by finally giving Sam his blessing. He hates the plan, but is throwing all his faith in his brother to make the right choices. “Maybe I’ve gotta grow up a little too.” Sam appreciates those words but the choice is obvious. His big show of maturity comes from one simple statement. “I let him out. I gotta put him back in.”
The touching and very emotional score, which is heavily used through this entire episode, packs a wallop in the already powerful scenes these two actors deliver with brilliance. In other words, my insides are turned out before the title card even comes on. The parting wide shot of the brothers having this talk while drinking beers on the Impala is just perfect. It’s so poignant that the Impala is brought to the forefront for this final showdown and so right.
The plan goes on with heavy hearts, especially when Sam and Castiel gather the needed demon blood for Sam to be the vessel. Dean watches all with disturbance, especially when it’s revealed The Devil is indeed in Detroit as always predicted. As much as I love the town of my birth, I can’t think of a better place to kick off an apocalypse. Dean’s strife isn’t eased when the cold, hard truth is finally spoken out loud by Sam. He won’t be coming back from this. So yes, this Sam girl busts into tears. Dean is aware but he had some notion he would get Sam back. Sam makes him promise he won’t try. Opening the box is too risky. Dean protests with the very reason that’s got me pouring through Kleenexes. “Your Hell is going to make my tour look like Graceland.” Sam has another idea for Dean. He’s to find Lisa and go have that “apple pie” life he’s always dreamed of. He begs Dean to promise, for this is in a sense his dying wish.
The next scene makes me glad I bought tissues in bulk supply. Sam says goodbye to Bobby and Castiel while a very troubled Dean listens. Sam then heartbreakingly asks Dean to step aside while he tends to those gallons of demon blood in the trunk. I can’t help but notice here the incredible acting Jared and Jensen always continue to deliver. They never cease to amaze us and what they pull off again is nothing short of spectacular. Since this episode involves many scenes of flashback, we visually see how much better these guys have gotten through the years, especially when they now can display their extreme character growth with just glances and unspoken words. In “Swan Song” they again ascend to a whole new level.
Let’s not forget the supporting players too, for Bobby and Castiel add so much to this drama. Castiel the socially awkward angel paired with father figure Bobby’s conventional wisdom. That’s another thing I’ve seen improve through the years, the caliber of the supporting cast. It’s good to see that a show can grow like this in all aspects and there better be more Jim Beaver and Misha Collins in season six. They’re the perfect complement and their loyalty to these boys humanizes an otherwise surreal and sometimes heavy plot.
Jared Padalecki is forced to shift gears a lot in this episode and he does it flawlessly. When Sam does take on Lucifer he’s hopped up on demon blood. Sam goes into his confrontation with that wild look in his eye, the same one we’ve previously seen during his demon blood encounters. Sam is bold, tough, yet somewhat manic in confronting Satan, which is a complete contrast to Dean’s fearful demeanor. This is just another amazing way the theme of family is pushed, for Dean wouldn’t let Sam face this horror alone. He’s there when Sam says yes and his brother is overtaken by Lucifer, thus causing their plan of opening the cage and Sam jumping in to fail spectacularly. When Lucifer disappears with Sam and the rings, Dean’s despair and tears just rip me apart. So well done by Jensen.
Jared also finally gets the chance to do what Jensen Ackles has done twice now, the confrontation against his alter ego. His performance is equally as stunning as his co-star’s previous efforts. The Lucifer vs. Sam scene through the mirrors is one of the most terrifying scenes witnessed, and I wonder how I even have a pulse anymore after seeing this one episode after Dean’s dinner with Death. Lucifer’s talk to Sam of being his true family is quite interesting since Lucifer claims to be inside Sam’s “grapefruit.” He obviously isn’t taking a careful look, for he’s missing Sam’s true feelings about Dean and family and instead focuses on Sam’s issues with being a freak. That oversight makes sense for humanity is the one thing these angels have underestimated. It was Zachariah’s downfall and will be Lucifer’s as well. For now though, Lucifer manages to intimidate Sam by giving him an easy trigger for that hatred inside. Quite frankly, Rachel deserved to go down after what she did to Sam at the prom. Sure, the whole scene had a Darth Vaderish feel, but I loved it.
Chuck shares more special moments about Sam and Dean’s lives with the Impala. I found the 'sitting in the middle of nowhere drinking beers and staring at the stars' especially riveting, and the emotional see-saw again abruptly shifts in the other direction. The wonder in their eyes, especially with all the horror they see every day, it shows how they’ve learned to cherish the simple things in this world. That’s why Dean’s only option is to be there for the battle between Michael and Lucifer. He has to be there for Sam. Even knowing that he’ll likely have to watch Lucifer/Sam be brutally killed, he doesn’t care. “Well then, I ain’t gonna let him die alone.”
Luckily for Dean, he has a prophet up his sleeve. Chuck tells him the showdown spot, Stull Cemetery outside of Lawrence. Also leave it up to Dean to interrupt the Battle of Armageddon with the Impala and a Def Leppard tape. He does love doing it his way. Of course this is the perfect segue to what is now my all time favorite scene of Supernatural. For a fan girl like me, that says a lot. I love the conversation between Michael (in Adam) and Lucifer (in Sam). It shows with stunning precision what happens when free will is taken out of the equation. It destroys families. It forces brothers to believe they were meant to kill one another instead of reconcile their differences. It sets them up for failure to understand that they are being put through a test as to what’s important and not accept what’s supposed to happen.
Lucifer obviously craves his brother’s love, but Michael is too focused on destiny and being mindlessly obedient no matter what the cost. Lucifer, despite all that hatred inside, doesn’t want to fight. Michael does, though, even though being a good son comes at the cost of being a good brother. Sound familiar? Human brothers have learned to stick with one another despite their differences and the curse of bad parenting but these archangel brothers can’t grasp that concept. In the battle of free will vs. destiny, free will at least drives more rational actions.
Once Dean interrupts the fun, he’s determined to get through to Sam. Lucifer and Michael both hate the annoyance, and out this entire mega emotional, gut-wrenching finale, who would have guessed that the line of the night belongs to Castiel when he sends Michael away with holy fire. “Hey, assbutt!” It’s interesting that Castiel’s action angers Lucifer enough where he explodes Cas all over Bobby. He does love his brother after all, even if he claims he’s the only one allowed to harm him. Lucifer’s rage is out now and he beats the crap out of Dean and snaps Bobby’s neck with one swipe when Bobby tries to defend Dean.
Now for the epic part that forever defines what these five years have been all about. Lucifer busts up Dean pretty hard, but whole time Dean tries to tell Sam inside he’s there and won’t leave him. Lucifer pounds and pounds on him, goes for the final blow and… sees a glimmer of light on the Impala. It triggers something inside from Sam that Lucifer chose not to see earlier. He sees the green army man that Sam wedged into the ashtray all those years ago. With just the sound of howling wind, the memories of every moment in that Impala, from the time they were young boys through the last five seasons, goes flashing by. The flashes move rapidly and end with one tender moment, Dean’s relieved hug after Sam was resurrected from the dead in “All Hell Breaks Loose Part II.” My theory is that it’s Lucifer watching those memories. They triggered something inside that he hadn’t felt in so long, the love for his brother. It breached all that hatred and bitterness that fueled him. With that one weak moment, Sam is able to take control.
With a battered Dean slumped against the Impala on the ground, the first thing Sam does is assure Dean that everything will be okay. Even in the most impossible circumstance they’re still looking out for one another. Sam throws the rings on the ground, recites the spell, and the giant chasm in the ground opens up. He looks at Dean with fright, regret, sorrow, but also assurances that he’ll be okay. Dean fulfills his promise to Death and only watches, but every second is killing him. Just as Sam is ready to go in Michael arrives, urging Sam that he must fulfill his destiny and fight his brother. Sam refuses and the haunting score comes on, showing in slow motion Sam going backward to take his plunge. Michael grabs onto him, but Sam already has momentum on his side. He pulls Michael into the hole with him and they go down. Dean watches in total horror, and one explosion later that hole and everyone is gone.
How beautiful is that moment? For one, of all things to save them, it ends up being the Impala. She always has been looking out for them and comes through at the defining moment. The brothers succeed simply because they stayed together all those years through thick and thin. I’m already sobbing and crushed at this point, so the next shot of a battered and broken Dean on his knees staring downward at the ground cements my nervous breakdown. He’s the last man standing, all alone in the world with the exception of the Impala behind him. The camera moves in closer, then closer, then closer again and Dean has clearly lost everything.
As if his prayer from “My Bloody Valentine” is finally answered though, help does arrive in the form of a newly restored Castiel. He heals Dean’s battered body. The tearjerking score kicks in again and Dean asks Castiel if he’s God. No, but he brought him back. Then Cas goes over to Bobby’s body and revives him. For Dean though, seeing his friends revived is bittersweet for the rings in his hand give him no hope for saving Sam.
Chuck isn’t done yet, getting in the final word about being unable to write endings that will please all fans. The expectation is that endings are all supposed to add up to something and they don’t. This is definitely Kripke projecting but he’s earned the right. In tying up those loose ends, we see what’s next for everyone. Castiel is going to return to Heaven and straighten things out. Dean is pleased for Cas’s promotion but still wonders where his prize is. Sam is still in a hole. “You got what you asked for Dean. No paradise, no Hell, just more of the same. I mean it, Dean. What would you rather have? Peace or freedom?” Yep, endings are indeed messy, especially when the name is Winchester.
Dean says goodbye to Bobby for what’s revealed to be a lengthy parting and Bobby continues to hunt. Dean only wants two things, to die or bring Sam back, but instead fulfills his brother’s dying wish and goes to Lisa. She takes him in with open arms and Dean breaks down. I break down, but then recover with the delicious reveal. After typing “THE END” our wise prophet Chuck leaves with the perfect bridge for season six. “No doubt, endings are hard. But then again, nothing ever really ends, does it?” Then he disappears in a flash. I laugh. Chuck is God. Kripke is God. It’s his story, why not?
This episode felt like a series finale, so many think the final shot would have ended with Dean, Lisa, and Ben at the dinner table. However, there is a season six. It’s a requirement to torture fans for the summer. The streetlight over Lisa’s house burns out and suddenly Sam is there watching. His expression is blank, ambiguous, and open for maddening interpretation. If this was the series finale, it’s my guess he would have disappeared in that cloud of gold dust a la John Winchester. But no, now we get to over-speculate if that’s really Sam or not. Kripke, you magnificent bastard.
Here’s my theory. Sam and Adam burned up during the explosion and went to Heaven. This is Sam’s spirit checking up on Dean and he’s saddened to see Dean is not happy. I could go on and on with the analysis of this episode since there are so many layers that tie plenty together, but I’m doing a review, not a novel. All that analysis will be done this summer at my site, The Winchester Family Business.
For now, I’m giving this episode and A++. It just may be the best of the series. Thank you so much, Eric Kripke. I got closure but know we’re ripe for plenty more punishment in season six. After this though, I’m going to need all summer to recover before I can take anymore.