Supernatural meta, reviews & fic recs

SPN10.14: “Executioner’s Song” Review

Sam and Dean Winchester

 

Writer Robert Berens hit it out of the ballpark this week on Supernatural. “The Executioner’s Song” not only saw the return of Cain (Timothy Omundson) and the First Blade, but it brought together several major players in season ten’s story arc. When Sam and Dean learned that Cain was set on wiping out entire families, both Castiel and Crowley came to their aid to vanquish the former Knight of Hell.

The theme for this episode was manipulation. Crowley and Rowena explicitly talk about it. During court, Crowley conceded to the wishes of an underling demon, and Rowena made a show of objecting and then backing off. When Crowley called her on it, she explained how she would handle the situation, and he changed his decision. Not long after, she asked for his help in destroying a witch, Olivette, who was after her. He told her that she was transparently manipulative and her response was, “Well, duh!” She hadn’t changed her spots. She was still his mother after all.

Cain too admitted that he manipulated Castiel to bring Dean to him. He could have killed Castiel when he met him on that killing field, but instead he allowed Castiel to leave knowing that Castiel would report back to Dean, and Dean would track him down with the one thing that Cain wanted – the First Blade. Cain continued to manipulate Dean, much as Lucifer had Sam, by trying to convince Dean that they were alike.

At his most cruel and disingenuous, Cain said, “Not all my descendants are killers, and not all killers are my descendants, but enough are. Enough for me to know that extinguishing them is the least I owe this world. Can you honestly tell me that humanity isn’t better off with fewer Tommys, fewer Leons, fewer yous?” Cain here was comparing Dean to men who killed simply for the enjoyment, the gratification of whatever kind in taking a life – men like Cain himself. It’s true that Dean has struggled as far back as “Bloodlust” with enjoying the hunt and the kill. When he thought that it was black and white, monsters and humans, it was easy to enjoy killing monsters.

Just as Lucifer tried to convince Sam that he was more like the fallen angel than his own family, Cain tried to convince Dean that he too is – or will be – just like Cain. He wanted Dean to both give in to the Mark and yet be weak enough to lose. Cain argued that Dean was living Cain’s life in reverse and that he would eventually kill Sam and that would destroy him – turn him into the same kind of murderer as Cain. While Dean has the experience to say, “No. Never,” to killing Sam, it’s his worst fear. Perhaps Cain thought that would shake Dean enough to weaken his resolve to destroy Cain.

Cain failed to kill Dean and get the Blade, but he may have succeeded in planting a seed of doubt in Dean’s mind. Sam assured Dean that succeeding as he had meant there was hope even without a cure, and all Dean could muster was, “Yeah. Maybe.” Here’s the thing, whether Cain lived to carry out his plan to decimate his family line or whether he manipulates Dean into carrying on in his stead, he wins. His goal is accomplished.

In the end, Rowena packed her bags and said she was leaving. She called Crowley a disappointment and accused him of being Sam and Dean’s bitch. Rowena too will win if she turns Crowley against Sam and Dean even if she has to leave him to do it. The manipulation succeeds either way. Now, why should it be important to Rowena to destroy any good will between Crowley and the Winchesters? She’s made a point on more than one occasion to refer to them as hunters. She’s already had one run-in with them, and what does Dean dislike more than just about any monster? Witches. Whatever underlying scheme Rowena has, it is in her best interest to turn Crowley against Sam and Dean.

Dean’s own manipulation of Crowley pushed the King of Hell just a little in that direction. It seemed kind of silly, Crowley’s, “You lied to me,” but we know that demons do have loyalties. Crowley’s attachment to Sam and Dean still seems a bit odd to me, but there it is. They all have a certain interest in the status quo. They are occasional enemies and wary allies, and Dean used that history to manipulate Crowley into helping them. On the other hand, Crowley is really no worse off than had he not helped them. Oh sure, Rowena is disappointed in him, but she’s hardly has his best interest at heart anyway. The question is whether he will fall for this latest manipulation.

Of course, Dean didn’t explain to Crowley why he didn’t give the First Blade back to him, but it seems obvious that he did it because of the promise that Castiel made to take Dean out if he went dark. It’s a promise that Sam doesn’t know about and would surely try to stop from being honored. Dean and Castiel know it. In trying to save others from himself, Dean has pitted Sam and Castiel against one another somewhere down the road. It seems almost inevitable unless they can come together to save him as they did in “Soul Survivor.” He told Crowley that if he didn’t give the Blade back, it would mean they all had a problem on their hands. It’s unclear if Castiel will read between the lines.

Given the events of “The Executioner’s Song,” I don’t believe that Cain knows anything profound about Dean’s destiny … or Sam’s. Or for that matter, Abel’s.  Considering what we know of Cain, I don’t think it’s a fact that Lucifer was on the verge of making Abel his pet. Lucifer may have manipulated Cain just as he attempted to manipulate Sam. And that’s another thing – Sam has already been there and resisted Lucifer. If Cain were right and Dean was living Cain’s life backward, then logically Sam would be living Abel’s backward. These are the kinds of things I wish that Sam and Dean would discuss.

Earlier in the episode, Sam and Dean had a conversation about Sam’s hobby of collecting serial killer stats. Sam has the kind of mind that would enjoy collect stats. That isn’t a surprise, but his choice is interesting. One can’t help but wonder if he knows how many monsters he’s killed and how many innocent vessels. I think he probably does, but does that make him and Dean no better than Tommy or Cain? Dean informed him that collecting serial killer stats wasn’t a hobby; it was an illness. Is it? Does Sam have a tick sheet in his head where he weighs “good” kills against “bad” kills? Did Dean intuitively understand Sam’s pathological need to have the “good” outweigh the “bad” and how that works on the mind?

To muddy the water further, Castiel not only tortured but killed a demon and, presumably, its vessel. Castiel has killed far more humans as well as angels than Sam or Dean, and Cain had nothing to do with that. The scene of Cain’s killing field looked much like the scene of Castiel’s massacre of the angels.

Cain’s assertion that he was doing humanity a favor by committing genocide comes across as little more than a rationalization, an excuse to kill as he pleased. I think it was a manipulation to nudge Dean a little closer into believing that he is like Cain and that becoming a psycho rage monster/demon is inevitable despite Sam’s faith in him. I only hope that Dean’s failing belief in himself won’t be an excuse for a storyline in which Sam finally takes action and that action is an excuse for Dean to act out the Cain and Abel story.

There are some terrific brother moments in “The Executioner’s Song” – the way Dean smiled as Sam before going in to face Cain and how he collapsed into Sam’s arms when he came out. Of course, Sam’s continued support of Dean throughout this season has been wonderful. It’s the kind of support that he knows is important from not having gotten it himself when dealing with the demon blood addiction and Ruby manipulations. Sam, more than anyone, has shown character development over the course of the series. It was evidence in his objection to using the twelve-year-old as bait. That was something that he was willing to go along with in “Something Wicked” and “Alex Annie Alexis Anne” suggested they’d learned from John. But just as in “Stairway to Heaven,” when he came up with shaming the angel into telling the truth rather than torturing him, Sam tries to devise alternative ways to get what they need rather than harming or putting someone in danger.

“The Executioner’s Song” may be the most enjoyable episode of the season for me. It was well paced, and the parallels in the two plotlines weren’t like being hit with an anvil. There was real tension in the fight between Dean and Cain, and how Dean won the fight was a surprise. Castiel and Crowley were members of the team without overshadowing the scenes between Dean and Sam. Rowena was more nuanced here than she had been since Berens introduced her in “Girls, Girls, Girls.”

Appropriately enough, title “The Executioner’s Song” comes from a book by Norman Mailer that examined the life of Gary Gilmore, a man who had served time in prison but upon being released succumbed to the same behaviors which had landed him there before. While on death row, Gilmore accepted his impending execution and move toward a ‘good death.’ One can see how that reflects Dean’s position given his fears regarding the Mark of Cain. It remains to be seen whether he will be allowed to have that good death any more than Sam has ever been allowed to remain off the playing field.

In “Lucifer Rising,” in “Swan Song,” in “The Born Again Identity,” “Sacrifice,” and “I’m Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” Sam was put back in play by someone or some supernatural force every time. Dean too was dragged out of hell and later saved with Sam in “Lucifer Rising.” It’s difficult to imagine that some intervention won’t occur.

Dean: I need you three to be out here to take out whatever comes out of there. And I’m serious. I mean, whatever comes out.
Crowley: Happily

Crowley: If you come out of there. What guarantee do I have you’ll give it back when you’re done?
Dean: If I survive and I come out of there and don’t give it back, you’ll all have a much bigger problem on our hands.

Cain: Has it never occurred to you that you are living my life in reverse? My story began when I killed my brother, and that is where your story inevitably will end.
Dean: No. Never.
Cain: it’s called the Mark of Cain for a reason.

Sam: Dean, what you did back there, you know, that was incredible. If you can do that without losing yourself, that’s cause for hope, even without a cure.
Dean: Yeah. Maybe.

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