Interesting how this season’s most uplifting tale so far comes from a story about the destruction of the world. Yep, must be Supernatural. Must be Ben Edlund.
The lesson of the episode is one often used in stories showing the plight of humanity; there are always consequences for actions. Seeing those consequences by traveling into the future has been done many times before, but as this show has proven time and time again, it’s very skilled at taking a well-used idea and twisting it into something new and shocking. And brilliant.
Yes, the fourth episode of the season ties together the previous three with a major attention getter. So many building plot threads are addressed here, and while there are no “stunning” revelations since the events were well foreshadowed, seeing them play out still didn’t lack its kick-a-loyal-fan-in-the-gut drama. Are we surprised that Zachariah uses a doomsday scenario to convince Dean to carry on with his prophecy to defeat Lucifer as Michael’s vessel? Of course not. Did Dean’s predicament rock? Hell yes. Are we surprised that an amazing-looking Sam in the white suit is really Lucifer? Nope. Did we love it? Does a bear…you get the point.
A lot of themes are thrown into Thursday night's episode, thus leaving a meta junkie like me plenty of fodder. Consequences of actions, need for redemption, free will vs. destiny, the power of humanity, and what happens when a damaged sense of family begins repair. It's all good, even if it means Sarah Palin must destroy Houston to get there.
"The End" isn't a perfect episode, but man, does it have its merits. Jensen Ackles has to take on what actors consider to be an impossible task: spending a good part of the episode trading lines with himself. Sure he did this once already in "Dream A Little Dream of Me," but there are far more constantly-changing scenes and dynamics in this episode. Despite the difficult conditions, Jensen pulls off the scenes brilliantly. However, an audience can usually tell the difference between clever editing and two actors actually interacting. Jensen excels from feeding off other actors' energy and turning it into something incredible, so his strongest scenes still come from his exchanges with Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins.
Heck, even Dean talking with Sam on the phone took my breath away. As someone who gravitates toward Sam (no duh you say?), I’m stunned to see him call up his brother early in the morning and tell him about his encounter with Lucifer. It’s rather inspirational to see Sam’s habit of hiding things from Dean leaving him. Dean’s reaction though is understandable. He’s tired, very tired: physically, mentally, and emotionally. He even takes Sam's news that he's Lucifer's vessel with indifference. “I guess I’m a little numb to the earth-shattering revelations at this point."
Perhaps it's the lingering mistrust, especially when he takes Sam's desire to hunt down Lucifer to be an act of revenge. Or the fact he's tired of worrying about Sam all the time when there are bigger issues at stake. Or that somehow after all their misfortunes, he's concluded that being together makes them weaker. Their family bond will only be used against them and they should stay apart. Even though Sam begs him not to do this, Dean makes the tough decision. It’s the first of many tough decisions that by five years in the future burns away his humanity.
The episode is set in a leveled Kansas City, reminding me why I don't watch futuristic thrillers, but I dismiss all that to focus on how Dean adjusts to this worst-possible scenario. He does as well as one flawed human can do. Of course he must go through this, for he needs to see the truth. His choice did this. His choice turned his future self into someone who makes heartless, inhumane decisions like sacrificing friends, including Castiel, just so he can get to Lucifer. He's lost his sense of humor, he never tries to reconcile with Sam and he even lets the Impala rot. As Past Dean notices, he’s a dick.
Dean’s choice didn’t do the world favors either. The croatoan virus has hit major cities, turning humans into zombies, essentially destroying civilizations and most of the human race. Sam, forced to fend for himself, is lost in a showdown in Detroit. The angels left and Castiel went human, so he turns into a hippie spending his days in a drug induced haze gathering women for his orgies. Chuck, once a mighty prophet, is reduced to fretting over the greatest tragedy of all, a supplies scarcity that makes toilet paper more valuable than gold. Yes, those turns of event sound strange or even comical on paper, but the darkness of the situation turns such absurdity into something almost tragic.
The pinnacle of the episode, and this season for that matter, comes when Dean is forced by his future self to be part of the assault on Lucifer. There’s something he needs to see. It’s only then that Future Dean fills in the blanks, showing that he has become so mistrusting he can’t even be honest with himself. Strange parallel, huh? Sam didn’t die in Detroit; he said yes. Now they must kill him, for Lucifer must die and there’s nothing left of Sam anyway.
Past-Dean confronting Lucifer-in-a- Sam-suit alone catapults this episode from average to exceptional and gives us a ground-breaking scene for the ages. For one, Jared makes one outstanding Lucifer. The charisma, the gentle nature, the soft smiles over Dean's defiance, and the bone chilling creepiness in his calm yet powerful hatred of humanity; all that put together reveals Lucifer's true nature. It's terrifying, for he is indeed pure evil. There’s not a trace of Sam left. His parting speech to Dean especially gets to me. “Whatever you do, you will always end up here. Whatever choices you make, whatever details you alter, we will always end up here. I win. So I win.”
There's also the incredible chemistry between Jensen and Jared. Sure, that happens every week, but considering one of them is a totally different character this time, and the fact that these two have such a stunning exchange makes the scene that much more extraordinary. It's not only far better than the clever editing with the Dean/Future Dean scenes, it's one of the best scenes these two have ever done. After 86 episodes, that says a lot.
The scene primarily works because Lucifer stays in true haunting form (with one fine looking suit to boot) while Dean lets his human side show. That is the most important element of that whole scene. When Lucifer/Sam gives his speech about Dean’s choices, Dean weeps. No single tear rolling down this time, both eyes are pooling. That’s the human thing to do. It isn't weakness, it's showing character. It's showing true compassion for humanity and for his lost brother. It overshadows all the false sympathy Lucifer throws at him and sends a message that there’s hope for salvation through human weakness.
Zachariah wastes no time in pulling Dean back and giving him another chance to change things. Say yes to Michael, before the virus begins, before Lucifer gets to Sam. Something clicks during that long, reflective pause. Future Dean, even though he begged him to say yes, knew he’d say no. Lucifer told him whatever choices he made, it wouldn’t change things. Dean figures out he has to say yes in order to save the world. But not to Zachariah. “I learned a lesson alright. Just not the one you wanted to teach.” He realizes what set off these events wasn’t him saying no to Michael. It was him saying no to Sam. Lucky for Dean, Castiel is good at showing up for appointments on time. It’s time for Dean to right his wrong with one phone call.
The grand reconciliation of the brothers isn't all hugs and smiles, as it shouldn't be. They are finally taking a crucial step forward, but the past still lingers. There will still be differences, there will still be mistrust. That, too, is a very human concept. However, they are both wise enough to know that while they are each other's weakness, the consequences of them apart are far worse than when they're together. “The point is, maybe we are each other’s Achilles heel, they’ll find a way to use us against each other I don’t know, I just know we’re all we’ve got. More than that, we keep each other human.” The premise for the episodes to come is now established. “We make our own future.” "I guess we have no choice." Interesting how that was the premise at the start of the series as well.
Other Loose Ends
It can't be a Ben Edlund episode without a warped sense of humor, and despite the heavy theme there are some nuggets. One came courtesy of this week's classic rock installment (yes, can you believe another one?) when soldiers show up and graphically machine gunned the “croats” to death to the upbeat "Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance)?" There also must be political humor in an end-of-the-world scenario, so enter President Palin. That makes sense; who else should be President during the apocalypse?
The weakest scenes of the episode take place at the compound in Camp Chitauqua. The female soldier and her anger aren't all that funny, probably because Future Dean isn't all that funny. Chuck as supply clerk doesn't work very well either, except for the aforementioned toilet-paper prophecy. What makes these scenes hardest to watch though is Future Dean, who is rarely forthcoming with his crew, and not afraid to blow any of them away without warning or mercy. Yes, I know, that’s the point, but it doesn't make those scenes enjoyable. Except for the wearing pink satin panties confirmation of identity. That did work.
Ever since I saw the episode, I’ve been wrestling with the notion that Zachariah twisted the future to suit the purpose of his message. I mean Future Dean telling himself to say yes? That doesn’t make sense. Then again, we don’t exactly recognize what Future Dean has become (something Past Dean mentions as well), so it’s hard to accuse him of being out of character. How did Future Dean finally find the colt and find out where Lucifer is so easily? A setup by Lucifer or Zachariah? Also, Future Dean forcing Past Dean to visit Lucifer to see what happened to Sam is somewhat of a contrivance. After reading all the great comments on my site though, I’ve concluded that Zachariah didn’t twist anything. When Dean turned away Sam in the beginning, that set the right combination of things in motion where that became the future. Maybe that’s why Zachariah times the visit for that moment.
What about what Lucifer said? Remember Castiel in “In The Beginning” telling Dean that all roads lead to the same destination? How can Dean change things if the outcome will be the same? I take that to be a rule of the past, not a rule of the future. Sure, Dean might end up meeting Lucifer five years in the future, but with Dean’s new choice to let Sam back in, it won’t be Lucifer in a Sam meat suit, and he’ll be wise enough not to walk into a trap where his neck gets snapped.
In this future scenario, I do wonder what happened to Sam in that time alone that broke him down enough where he said yes to Lucifer. As Kripke said though, some things are meant to stay mysteries. That scene will be left for fanfic writers.
As usual, there are some great quotes. My favorite is Dean’s reaction to Castiel calling him on a cell phone. “It’s kind of funny, talking to a messenger of God on a cell phone. You know, like watching a Hells angel ride a moped.” I also loved future Castiel smiling at past Dean’s cockiness, much to the chagrin of the Future Dean. “What? I like past you.”
My grade for the episode is an A-. Whenever I critique an episode, I judge on the entire package. The weakness of the camp compound scenes brought this episode down. If those scenes were gone, we’d have an A+ here. Next week, Paris Hilton. Makes sense since this is a story about the apocalypse. Also full, detailed (and I do mean detailed), yet fun to read episode recaps are available every Tuesday or Wednesday on my website, The Winchester Family Business. If you haven’t read one, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s the best time killer ever at work.