SPN 10.01: Black
The season premier of Supernatural entitled “Black” was fast paced and wove together loosely connected storylines with demon Dean, Crowley, Sam, and Castiel. Included was some backstory of the previous six weeks since the end of season nine. Sam had been researching and torturing demons trying to locate his missing dead brother. Apparently, Castiel and Sam worked together briefly before Sam was injured due to Castiel’s weakening grace. Sam felt that he was just as well off alone and with a broken “wing.” And demon Dean has been howling at the moon with Crowley.
Demon Dean was really what the episode was about though, and he was fascinating if not a little cringe inducing. He had apparently spent the past six weeks drinking, singing karaoke and having casual hook-ups with bar maids. Of course, he wasn’t alone. Crowley was right there with him playing foosball and apparently doing bad things with triplets. Cringing yet? Crowley was done with howling at the moon though. He thought he’d given Dean his chance to howl and now it was time to get down to the business of creating the best hell ever together. He proposed that they become “partners.” Dean said, “pass.”
It’s interesting that during their phone conversation later, Sam tells Crowley that Dean isn’t his pet, and Crowley replied that, on the contrary, Dean was his best friend. In this scene, however, Crowley told Dean to “Sit down. Sit,” as though he was a dog, and Dean just looked at him like he was crazy. I think two things were going on. First, Crowley is lonely. He does want companionship, but he also wants to control Dean as he does his favorite hellhound, Juliette. He wants Dean to be his attack dog, and he was testing Dean just a little there.
Dean had just discovered that Crowley had been sending demons to attack him so that he would commit acts of violence that feed the Mark of Cain; not doing so will turn him into a demon. He says, he found that out six weeks ago. Crowley also confessed that he tipped Sam off to Dean’s whereabouts to get Dean moving. Dean recognized that Crowley was still manipulating him and called Crowley on it. Crowley responded like an angry parent, “I don’t know what’s going on with you. I truly don’t. But I’ve had just about enough of it. Sold you out? Try ‘doing you a favor.’ Everything I’ve done for you for the past six months – the Mark, the First Blade, midwifing you back to life, offering you a seat by my side – has been a favor, a gift, whether you see it or you don’t.”
Crowley’s mistake was in thinking that after being relieved of a lifetime living under his father’s agenda that Dean would want to continue under someone else’s. Still, there was an almost palpable emptiness in demon Dean that he can’t seem to fill with booze, suicide wings, bad karaoke, bar fights, or sex.
There was a suggestion that Dean hooks up with women in whatever town he’s in. In this episode, he ends up in bed with Ann Marie, a bar maid who bears a striking resemblance to his own mother, Mary Winchester. Yeah, they went there. Now, there are two ways of looking at this “coincidence.” It’s possible that there was a part of Dean who is still very much human and unconsciously finds the comfort of his mother with someone who looks like her or the demon in Dean was trying to destroy what was left of his humanity by committing incest by proxy. Sera Gamble once described Sam’s relationship with Ruby like self-mutilating and calling it dressing up for the prom. Dean knows how to torture and he’s turned it on himself.
Either way, Dean tells Crowley that Ann Marie means nothing to him, and yet when her abusive boyfriend shows up, Dean beats the shit out of him. While one might think that meant he cared, even she recognized it was about something else. The demon in Dean saw a legitimate opportunity to feed the Mark and took it. This suggests something about the final scenes of the episode, but we’ll get to that.
It becomes clear just how different this demonized Dean is from the Dean we’ve seen over the past nine seasons in his final scene with Ann Marie. When she tells him the fight wasn’t about her “honor.” She has seen bad guys and good guys, and he says, “The kind of guy who sleeps with every skank in every dive he passes through? You really do know how to read people ‘cause that sure does sound like me.” For those who said that the Mark was just Dean giving in to what he already was, no, this was a Dean who has lost his humanity and no longer gives a shit about others. He was intentionally cruel to Ann Marie when she sees through his nice guy façade and calls him on it.
Meanwhile, Castiel had joined up with Hannah to hunt down two rogue angels who refused to return to heaven when it reopened and killed an angel who went after them. Their storyline was an exploration of free will. Hannah’s attitude was like that of Castiel when his character was first introduced – a soldier obedient to heaven – contrasted with Castiel now – an admirer of humans, their flaws, and accomplishments, a believer in the idea of free will. They track the angels to a camp in the woods, and although Castiel was making progress talking to Daniel, Hannah gets into a fight with Adina. Cas was forced to defend Hannah, and Daniel was killed. Adina escaped. Not unlike, Dean and Crowley, Cas and Hannah are at an impasse. Free will versus obedience.
In his hunt for Dean, Sam showed his intelligence by tracing Crowley’s location through a phone call. Crowley, himself no dummy, let it happen to get Dean moving – hopefully toward hell. On his way to confront Dean, however, Sam was ambushed by a man, Cole, who was out to avenge his brother’s death, which was mysteriously linked to Dean. Now, smart and experienced as Sam was one might think that his radar would have engaged when his car died with another car right on his tail. The man got out and was dressed in fatigues and, “gosh, what’s that under the hood?” Seriously? Sam couldn’t recognize a kill switch or at least immediately know that the device hooked to the battery didn’t belong there? Damn, I hate it when they make Sam look like an idiot so that once again he will get tied to a chair.
Fans have all seen that predicament about ten too many times. It has become laughable. None the less, there was Sam tied to a chair and Cole being all arch villainy. I have to say that they picked the perfect actor to play Cole. He’s got a face that begs to have a boot in the middle of it. Cole told Sam that he was not going to hurt him; he was just bait for Dean. Sam tries to warn him against following through on his plan: “I suggest you run back to that Army recruiting ad that spit you out in the first place “ Gotta love snarky Sam, but then he said of Dean, “He’s a monster.” There was so much subtext here you could drown in it.
Sam after all knows what it was to be a “monster” – to not care about the people who used to mean the most to you and to use power and violence indiscriminately and remorselessly. Souless Sam comes immediately to mind, but there was also the time when Sam was blood addicted and possessed supernatural power. When Sam talked to Crowley earlier, Crowley had told him that Dean wasn’t possessed. Dean was a demon, and Sam knew what that was like, “You’ve been a demon. We’ve all been demons.” Now, I heard a lot of screams of retconning on Twitter last night, and I think that was probably true. While I don’t think he ever fully became a demon, he certainly danced along the edge. I don’t think that Sam became a demon when he was blood addicted, but he was possessed by Meg and felt what that was like. Maybe this combination of experiences is close enough to understand what his brother has become.
Cole tells Sam, “Yeah, he was…many, many moons ago. But now he’s prey. And I’m the monster now.” I suspect Cole’s arrogance was going to be the death of him. He then calls Dean with his ransom demand. Dean tells him to go ahead and kill Sam, that he told Sam not to look for him so whatever trouble he was in was his problem. Dean then goes on to tell Cole that he will track him down and kill him, however. Now, this sounds pretty cold, and it was because Cole could do just that, slit Sam’s throat, and then Dean wouldn’t have to worry about Sam tracking him anymore.
But consider again the situation with Ann Marie and her boyfriend. My guess was that Dean was hedging his bets. He was pretty sure that Cole won’t kill Sam because he really isn’t a monster and he nothing to gain by it. By telling Cole that he isn’t coming, Dean has the advantage of surprise when he arrives. While he may not care about Sam, he sees killing Cole as another justifiable reason to feed the Mark just as he did Ann Marie’s boyfriend.
There’s a point I’m confused about, however. Crowley said that Dean has become a demon, but then there was the conversation about how the Mark has to be fed or Dean will become a demon. Cain, on the other hand, wasn’t killing and he didn’t appear to be any more demonic than Dean has become – if anything, less so. I suspect that some important information was being withheld.
In the promo for this episode, a lot of emphasis was put on a scene of Sam torturing a demon to get information and demon Dean in a later episode questioning Sam’s behavior and who the monster really is. We learn in “Black” that the torture scene is an unconnected flashback. We get no more information about it than we did in the promo. I feel like we have to learn more to question whether Sam behaved in some monstrous way. It’s not as though the boys don’t torture and kill demons all the time. I wonder though if Dean questioning it being monstrous isn’t more about the fact that he is now a demon himself – just as Ruby called it racism that the panic room was warded against her kind. Dean may be seeing torture of demons from a different perspective.
Overall, it was a good season opener. The demon Dean/Crowley/Sam/Cole storyline was interesting, if a little too fast-paced in my opinion. There was a lot of information in the brief scenes. The angel storyline was not particularly interesting. I’d much rather have had the episode without it and had the other scenes fleshed out a little more. There was a scene of Sam going into Dean’s empty room, looking at the note Dean left, and the photograph of Dean and Mary. It would have been nice to have gotten some sense of Sam’s memories of himself and Dean and what Dean means to him, to inform exactly why he was so hell bent on saving Dean.
One of my personal complaints about the past couple of seasons was that so much was crammed into each episode that there’s no “breathing room.” In the original series (especially the Kim Manners years), the narrative followed Sam and Dean almost exclusively and the pacing was slower. There was room for suspense and reflection. That’s gone now – maybe the victim of video game attention spans, I don’t know, maybe it’s the addition of another “main” character – but the series was weaker for it, I think. It’s difficult to effectively tell such a complex story with nuanced characters at a breakneck speed. On the other hand, if fans have to watch two or three times to catch all the loopholes and retcons, that’s to the writers’ advantage.