The Return of Cole: What Makes a Monster?
There’s speculation that Cole may return in episode seven titled “Girls Girls Girls.” Whether that happens later rather than sooner, he is sure to make another appearance this season.
Cole was introduced in the first episode of the season as a husband, father, soldier, and man obsessed with the brutal murder of his own father when he was thirteen. He saw Dean at the scene of his father’s death and assumed Dean was the murderer. He has trained ever since to get revenge on Dean.
There are a number of loose parallels to the Winchesters – the vengeance quest over the loss of a family member, training to be a killer and soldier from a young age, being traumatized by battle, learning the truth about the supernatural. In some ways, he’s like John, in others like Dean and perhaps Sam. Whatever similarities there are, one thing is true, he had no idea what he was really hunting when he finally confronted Dean in “Reichenbach.”
Sam tried to warn him that Dean wasn’t what he thought. He tried to tell him about the supernatural, but Cole wouldn’t listen. He believed he knew what monsters were – human monsters – and wouldn’t entertain the thought of supernatural monsters. One could argue whether it’s self-assurance or arrogance that led Cole to confront demon Dean. Either way he was unprepared for the opponent he faced. He might have stood a chance against human Dean, but he didn’t against the demon.
Sam thought that demon Dean let Cole go out of mercy, but demon Dean denied it. He said that he let Cole go because having been bested and spared was a fate worse than death after having trained all those years to get revenge. Whatever the reason, Cole didn’t slink off to lick his wounds. On the contrary, before he even washed the blood off or stitched himself up, Cole sought answers about demons. One might think it silly, but I think it shows the depth of his obsession. He will learn everything there is to know about demons and how to destroy them. Given the boys’ learning curve on that subject, one wonders how Cole will learn so quickly, but I don’t doubt he will.
Just speculating here, but armed with holy water, salt, and devil’s traps, Cole will again confront Dean only to discover none of those things have any affect. While Dean is no longer a demon, he still bears the Mark of Cain and no reason not to carry out demon Dean’s promise to kill him. His motivation can only be stronger with his restored feelings for Sam. Human Dean is a formidable fighter as we all. Cole may be obsessed but he’s no demon, and Dean has bested plenty of those as he demonstrated to Cain. What we have is two men bent of vengeance and no reason to stop until the other is dead.
Here’s what I find interesting: There’s been a lot made over the course of the season, but especially in season nine of the issue of “what makes a monster”? In “Ask Jeeves,” Sam told Olivia that being a monster is a choice, but she insisted that choice was taken from her a long time ago. In the same way that Bobby was sure that Olivia was a danger and had to be locked up or die to protect others, Cole was sure that Dean was a murderer and didn’t seek the truth. He didn’t see Dean kill his father. Dean may not have been the killer and even if he was, he may have had good reason.
Is Cole a monster? Are the Winchesters? Was the choice made for them a long time ago by experiences in childhood? We’ve been shown little of what Sam did to find Dean after he disappeared from the bunker, but it’s been emphasized that he crossed a line. Somehow his dead brother came back to life and disappeared. As a consequence, he made choices that went against his better nature. He did it to find Dean, presumably to save him from whatever supernatural force was at work. Did that motivation mitigate harming others or is motivation irrelevant?
Cole let Sam escape, but let’s make no mistake. It wasn’t out of mercy. He saw that Sam wasn’t going to give Dean up and changed tactics. He told Dean he let Sam escape so Sam would lead him to Dean. Had he thought that Sam would break under torture, he wouldn’t have had any compulsion not to maim or kill him. Like John, Cole has a family that could be endangered by his quest for vengeance. To what extent should that be taken into consideration? Does having a family he cares for make him less monstrous? Certainly Cole believed he was hunting a human monster only to discover he was after a demon. Does that make his choice less monstrous? Is seeking vengeance in and of itself a monstrous choice?
I think an argument can be made that it isn’t just choices that make a monster, but motivation. Dean’s decision to sell his soul in exchange for Sam’s wasn’t monstrous. Sam choosing to drink demon blood so he’d have the power to save vessels wasn’t monstrous. Castiel’s decision to take in the purgatory souls wasn’t monstrous. None of them intended or anticipated the outcome. The consequences of those actions can arguably be said to turn them into monsters however – Dean became a torturer and broke the first seal, Sam’s eyes did flash black when he killed Lilith and the last seal was broken, and Castiel did become Godstiel which resulted in the deaths of humans and angels.
As the adage goes, the path to hell is paved with good intentions, but it should be noted, that in each of their cases, they sought to change their path. They all regretted the consequences of their actions and tried to change. We have to ask ourselves, to what extent should people be held responsible for unintended consequences? Even the law makes a distinction between manslaughter and murder. So, what makes a monster? Who are the monsters in this story?