The supernatural reviews continue as Katie Young sings The Executioner’s Song…
While last week’s episode gave us classic ‘Monster of the Week’ Supernatural, this week’s chapter brings back all those epic Season 5 feelings as Team Free Will, albeit with a slight line-up change, prepare to do battle with The Father of Murder.
Yes, Cain is back with a magnificent mane of hair and added gravitas, snatching a serial killer named Tommy Tolliver from his cell on Death Row two weeks before his scheduled execution. This is one of the creepiest opening scenes in recent memory, and from the moment Timothy Omundson appears on the CCTV footage, dressed in black and striding purposefully down the prison corridor, we know we’re in for a treat.
While Cain is hunting down every last one of his descendants – about 1 in 10 of the human population – for the sake of humanity and doing penance, Castiel is hunting Cain in the hope of finding a cure for Dean’s murder-rage. It’s quite jarring to see the angel torturing a demon for information, and even more so to see him stabbing the unfortunate creature when he’s outlived his usefulness, rather than exorcising and trying to save the vessel. It still makes me sad that so many salvageable meat suits are considered collateral damage these days, but it’s good to see Cas being effective and driven.
Sam and Dean investigate Tolliver’s disappearance from the prison, and Dean recognises Cain from the security footage. They get in touch with Cas who has discovered Cain’s mass burial site. When Cain informs the angel that there is no cure for the mark, and that he’ll come for Dean in due course, Cas draws an angel blade, but The Father of Murder vanishes.
Sam discovers Tolliver has a twelve year old son named Austin (after Jared’s own son, presumably), and wants to head off Cain before he can kill the boy. Dean and Cas agree, but Dean wants to retrieve the first blade from Crowley so he can put an end to Cain while they’re about it.
Crowley has problems of his own, with controlling mother, Rowena, undermining him at every opportunity and manipulating him into helping her take out one of her enemies from The Grand Coven. When Crowley ditches their plans in order to take the blade to Dean, Rowena makes it perfectly clear that she disapproves of her son’s apparent man crush on the eldest Winchester.
Crowley also aids the boys with some eighteenth century magic, enabling them to trick Cain into thinking Austin is still home, although in truth they have long since hidden him out of reach. Once the Knight of Hell shows up, there’s nothing left for Sam, Cas and Crowley to do but wait while Dean and Cain duke it out. Dean finally emerges, victorious, handing the first blade to Castiel rather than returning it to Crowley. But while he seems to have his bloodlust under control, Sam can tell his brother is in deep trouble.
There’s so much to say about this episode. Let’s start with Sam. How good was it to see so much light and shade in him? In Robert Berens’ capable hands, we got to see the boy who saved the world once more. Sam’s unease with the idea of using Austin as bait. His quiet strength when faced with the heart-breaking possibility of losing his brother. His readiness to confide in Cas. And the icing on the cake for me – his obsessive interest in serial killer stats. It may be easy to forget sometimes, that Sam is a bona fide vessel for Lucifer. Sam is vanilla with a swirl of Satan. We rarely see the dark side of Sam but when we do, whether he’s having bitey sex with a werewolf, drinking demon blood, or slamming a man’s face into a bar for stealing his brother’s jacket – Holy Chuck, is it thrilling! Sam studiously collecting facts about serial killers fits perfectly for me and adds tantalising depth to his complex character.
Jensen did a brilliant job with Dean this episode, conveying fear, resignation and regret. It was fitting that Dean, Sam, and Cas said very little before the battle. They have all been here before and there’s really nothing left to say and too much to articulate at the same time. And Timothy Omundson was truly glorious as Cain. I liked him in First Born, but he really came into his own here. He even has the type of face which wouldn’t look out of place in one of Rubens’ biblical paintings.
Cain is such an interesting character, because – murderous psychosis aside – his motives are actually fairly admirable. He killed his brother to save him from damnation, and he is reaping his tainted bloodline for what he perceives to be the good of mankind. Cain drawing the parallel between himself and Dean was genuinely chilling because it’s so accurate. It takes us right back to the roots of the series and of Sam and Dean’s relationship, and it throws the concepts of good, evil, and free will into disarray once more.
While I’m distraught at the thought of no more Cain, this is Supernatural so I’ll save my tears just now. At one point I thought Crowley was for the chop too, which would have been a real shocker. I love The King of Hell as much as the next gal, but I almost wish Dean had taken him out because it would have been a huge deal at this point. But this way the Winchesters and the demon are once again firmly on opposite sides of the fence.
Berens’ mix of Biblical lore, literary and pop culture references were a joy in this episode. The Executioner’s Song was named after the Norman Mailer ‘based on real events’ novel of the same name, as reflected by the opening scene, Sam’s interest in true crime, and Dean’s desire, as a killer and condemned man, to face his fate and achieve a ‘good death’. There was a definite nod to Star Wars in the battle, perhaps the most famous and epic light versus dark story of recent times, with the severed hand and Cain prophesising that Dean would lead a carbon copy of Cain’s life in reverse. Rowena telling Crowley to ‘split the baby’ recalls the Judgement of Solomon, another Bible tale of familial strife.
The language too was lovely, with Cain’s words appropriately old and weighty, Cas sounding like a paid-up Angel of the Lord, and Sam and Dean being open and tender with one another. Dean’s confession to his brother that he was scared was surprising and beautiful. I am still struggling with Rowena a wee bit (it always makes me laugh when she says things like ‘git’), but her parting shot about Crowley being the Winchesters’ bitch was well delivered.
A lightning bolt of an episode with intelligence, action, and poignancy. With great dialogue, stellar performances and dark, relevant themes, it reignited my passion for the show in a way I haven’t experienced since the 200th episode, and piqued my curiosity for the long term myth arc again. A triumph.