SPN 9.11: First Born review
I have to say that I almost wish I could have read the Clif Notes for the first nine episodes and skipped directly to “Road Trip” and this week’s “First Born.” The writing has been so much tighter and the plots focused on the main characters and the story arc. “First Born” was one of those episodes that tells two stories at once. I don’t always like this approach. but I have to say that Robbie Thompson handled the format well. The pacing wasn’t too frenetic and the storylines were balanced.
The previous episode “Road Trip” ended with Dean going off on his own, leaving Sam and Castiel to return to the bunker without him, and “First Born” began with Sam returning to the bunker to find Castiel pensively eating a sandwich. I have to admit when I saw the PB&J scene in the preview, I rolled my eyes so hard I almost hurt myself. I thought that we were going to get superficial interaction between Castiel and Sam as usual. I was happy to be wrong. What Robbie Thompson gave us was substantive.
Upon discovering that Sam still housed some of Gadreel’s grace, Castiel revealed that it could be used to track the angel. Of course, Sam was willing to try however painful or dangerous it might be for him. “Being human means paying your debts. Let’s start balancing the books,” he said. I personally find it frustrating that Sam was blaming himself for Kevin’s death, but that was clearly the case. When Castiel asked, “Why must the Winchesters run toward death?” Sam informed him, “My life’s not worth more than anyone else’s – not yours or Dean’s or … Kevin’s. Please, help me do one thing right.”
Castiel had discovered that by removing Gadreel’s grace, he was draining Sam of any heeling that he’d experienced. He clearly feared killing Sam in the process of taking Gadreel’s grace. Sam was adamant that he continue. This was when Thompson gave us the speech that Sam has needed to hear for a long time:
“Sam, I want Gadreel to pay as much as you do, but nothing is worth losing you. You know, being human didn’t just change my view of food. It changed my view of you. I mean, I can relate now to how you feel. … The only person who has screwed things up more consistently than you is me, and now I know what that guilt feels like. I know how it feels to feel sorry, Sam. I am sorry.”
Wow – nothing is worth losing you. Sure, Dean’s acts of sacrifice might “say” that, but I think it can be argued that Sam sees himself as Dean’s job and a burden. Cas told him that his life was precious. I have railed for two seasons about how Castiel hadn’t really apologized for breaking the wall in Sam’s head. Now we know that he wasn’t sorry – not really – because he didn’t know how regret felt. This was that apology.
Castiel then implicitly acknowledged that he hadn’t gone as far as he could have to extract all of Gadreel’s grace. “The old me would have just shoved the needle in deeper because the ends justified the means. That PB&J taught me that angels can change, so who knows, maybe Winchesters can too,” he said. His brief time as a human taught him not only about the annoyances of mundane activities, but the pleasures of them as well. As an angel, Castiel could taste every molecule of the sandwich but was unable to enjoy the sum of the parts, as Sam put it. He was able to see Sam for the sum of his life, not just the individual mistakes he’d made. I have to wonder along with him, if Sam and Dean can ever see themselves and each other that way.
Earlier in the episode, Castiel and Sam had a very brief discussion about Dean in which Cas pointed out that the boys chose each other to which Sam replied, “Yeah, I did, we did. And then … Dean made a choice for me.” It isn’t that we didn’t know that this was the conflict for Sam, but Cas didn’t get it. Pretty clearly, Sam was willing to die in order to extract enough of Gadreel’s grace to track the angel, but Cas made the decision not go further. He made the decision against Sam’s wishes. Of course, he went on to heal him, not further compromise him as Dean had by tricking him into possession. There’s a distinction. However, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences for Castiel’s decision. Cas said that removing Gadreel’s grace erased all the healing and returned Sam to the state he was after the trials, and yet somehow Cas managed to completely heal Sam. Did he replace some of Gadreel’s grace with his stolen grace in order to heal Sam? If so, will that in some way effect Sam later? There are consequences for everything in Supernatural, right?
“First Born” left us with Castiel and Sam trying to find another way to track down Gadreel and Metatron. “Metatron is the key to fixing everything that’s wrong. I’m gonna find him,” Castiel said.
The other half of the story in “First Born” was the Dean and Crowley “buddy comedy” as Crowley put it. Crowley found Dean drinking in a bar and persuaded him to help find the “first blade” that is able to kill Knights of Hell like Abaddon. Finding a clue in John’s journal, they head to one of John’s storage lockers where they find another clue leads them to a female hunter named Tara who revealed that she found a spell to track the blade but didn’t have one ingredient – essence of Kraken. No problem; Crowley has a warehouse full of kraken essence in Belize.
While interacting with Dean, Tara managed to get in a couple accurate digs – one pointing out how like his father Dean is, but not in a good way. When Dean said he’d kill Abaddon – “I promise,” Tara said that’s what John said when he said he’d call her. She’s clearly disdainful of him working with Crowley, however.
In subtle ways, Thompson reminds us of how far a field Dean has gone from the man that his father raised him to be. Not only is he working with demons, but later when Cain talks about killing Abel, he points out that Dean didn’t kill his brother. Of course, it doesn’t have to be explicitly stated that was in direct defiance of John’s deathbed order. Cain asks why, and Dean tells him that you don’t give up on family. I’m reminded of Sam and John’s conversation in the Impala in “Devil’s Trap” when John said that he thought they agreed that killing Azazel was came first. “No, sir, not before everything,” Sam replied while looking in the rearview mirror at his injured brother. We have to wonder after all that’s happened if he still feels the same way.
Cain, for his part, explained that he killed Abel because Abel wasn’t talking to God but to Lucifer who was trying to “make my brother his pet. I couldn’t bear to watch him be corrupted. So I offered a deal. Abel’s soul in heaven for my soul in hell. Lucifer agreed so long as I was the one who sent Abel’s soul to heaven. I accepted. So, I killed him, became a soldier of hell, a Knight.” What we have here I think is a brother, Cain, who didn’t believe in his brother and made a decision for him. There’s no mention that Abel had any part in the decision. Sound familiar?
I have to wonder if we’ll get a set up somewhere down the road where Dean will once again faces the dilemma of killing Sam or believing in him and allowing Sam to make his own choices. After all, we have Gadreel in play. We know now that he was the one who let Lucifer into the Garden. He was also determined to keep control of Sam’s body, which was designed to be Lucifer’s vessel. Is it possible that Gadreel isn’t the dupe he appears to be? He played Dean after all, which was pretty savvy for an angel who had been in Heaven’s dungeon since the dawn of time.
Cain tells Dean that he doesn’t have the first blade and that the blade is useless to anyone who doesn’t have the “mark of Cain.” He offers to give the mark to Dean, who has proven himself to Cain as brave and skilled, but he says, “With the mark comes a great burden.” He doesn’t explain what that burden is, and naturally, self-destructive Dean doesn’t ask. Cain’s only caveat is that Dean use the blade on him when he asks. Dean takes the mark. The question is, what is the burden?
Quick research indicates that the mark was put on Cain warning others not kill Cain, and if they do, they will receive God’s vengeance sevenfold. So, will the mark transfer protection to Dean or does it mean that when Dean kills Cain, God’s vengeance will be on him? In Genesis, it says that Cain was also cursed with being a fugitive and wanderer, and while he may have been a fugitive in “First Blood,” he wasn’t a wanderer. He was still living in the house he’d shared with Colette. Dean has been a fugitive and wanderer most of his life, so there’s that. No doubt, Supernatural will put it’s own spin on the mark and what it means for Dean.
Cain had said that the First Blade was at the bottom of the deepest ocean, and in the closing scene Crowley offered to get for him, so they can vanquish Abaddon. Dean confronted him about his behavior at Cain’s house. He accused Crowley of knowing all along who had the blade and that they were being followed. Crowley admitted that he did, but that Dean had to prove himself worthy in Cain’s eyes, which he had. In the same way that Castiel acknowledged Sam’s worth, Crowley confirmed Dean’s. He pointed out that Dean is his own worst enemy: “Your problem, mate. Is that no one hates you more than you do. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
The episode closed on the image that reinforced how alone Dean is in his journey going into the second half of season nine. For those who have bemoaned Dean’s lack of storyline, I suggest we be careful what we wish for. It looks like this may be Dean’s redemptive arc. Like Castiel’s and Sam’s before him, it’s likely to be a lonely, painful trip.