In the fourteenth episode of the tenth season of Supernatural, Dean puts his willpower to the test when he finally faces off against Cain. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Supernatural.
How is it that the same show that can produce such clunkers as “Halt & Catch Fire” or “Ask Jeeves,” and then give us something like this? I know that Supernatural had a period where it was more consistent than not, but I know that it’s not had a perfect track record, either. So why was I able to tolerate certain elements that were part of the Supernatural experience? Why do I feel a need to be more critical now than I was in seasons two or three?
In the wake of such a terrible episode as the last one, I wondered if I liked “The Executioner’s Song” because it wasn’t as bad. That’s a valid concern, I think, because I want to analyze these stories on their own merits without doing as much comparison. In this case, though, I think there is a value in talking about why this specific episode felt so thrilling and exciting and how that relates to the episodes of Supernatural that don’t feel this way. I think it’s fair to state that my love for Timothy Omundson plays a large part in that, just as is the case whenever Felicia Day shows up. But the writing that accompanies his character – as is the case with Charlie – challenges that actor to give a better performance. There’s a poeticism to the way that Cain speaks, and it’s perfect for someone like Omundson.
So, he brings a dynamic to Supernatural that makes it feel fantastic. I can’t deny that. It’s always a good thing when a guest cast member can electrify the story. But what about the story itself? Why does ‘The Executioner’s Song” appear to carry so much more weight than most of the episodes this season? I think that some of what I’ve been talking about recently – namely Dean’s sudden emotional vulnerability – plays a part in that. I am not going to forget that I did not like how quickly the writers discarded of the potential for Demon!Dean. And from reading the comments on “Fan Fiction,” it seems that the writers didn’t want Dean to be a demon during that episode, despite how incredible that would have been.
And yet, I’m seeing some value in that decision. By bringing us to the brink and showing us the capabilities of Dean while under the influence of the Mark of Cain, the writers built up the credibility of a threat. It’s hard to use risks within a narrative because they are so easily disbelieved. For example, you can’t threaten the Winchesters with death anymore. You can’t tell me that the world is going to end if the Winchesters don’t stop something. These threats hold no more weight for me because they’ve been used so frequently in scripts over these past nine and a half seasons. I know that the writers can’t commit to killing off a Winchester permanently, nor can they actually have the world end. Sure, there’s some entertainment value is seeing how the boys stop another horrible Big Bad, and you can hold off such a story until the finale.
But what happens when that Big Bad is one of the main characters? Demon!Dean gave us a taste of the future. “The Things We Left Behind” showed us that future. That is the beginning of the end for this character if he cannot stop that darkness within him, and the implications of it are far-reaching, or at least they feel that way. So when it becomes clear that Dean’s promise to Cain must be fulfilled, we become filled with dread. We know that the only way Dean can kill Cain is to wield the First Blade again, and we also know how fragile Dean is at this very moment. He’s given this all a good go, he’s tried hard to resist the pull of murder, and he’s done an admirable job of doing so. But there’s a vulnerability present in practically every scene here, one that’s been shown to us for at least the most recent handful of episodes. That sense of openness from Dean ends up being frightening because I think it’s one of the rare times that Dean’s fear is unquestionably real. That facade of macho security is gone because Dean knows the threat of losing himself to the darkness of the Mark is absolutely real.
To me, that’s what “The Executioner’s Song” has that so many episodes from the past couple seasons have lacked. There is no credible threat. There’s no reason for me to worry. There was never a scenario where I would have to fret about whether or not the Winchesters would be changed irrevocably. The hope that Sam tries to latch on to might still be there; there’s a possibility that you can cure the Mark. But right now? In this episode? That hope seems deliberately absent, and as bleak as this may feel, it makes for one entertaining story and one hell of a fight.
That’s where the electricity comes from. Dean must face off with a being who has given himself completely over to death and destruction, and the only way he can stop him is to do the very same thing himself. AND WE KNOW FOR CERTAIN WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE. It’s a threat that has promise because we’ve already seen how the writers are willing to commit to the disturbing and the unnerving. On a purely superficial level, though, watching Cain taunt Dean while demonstrating his physical prowess was just TERRIFYING. We don’t doubt what Cain is capable of, do we? He has already killed countless people, all of whom descended from him and carry the “stain” of murder. So how does Dean stop him?
There’s a strong sense of The Empire Strikes Back in terms of the dynamic of that huge battle sequence. Hell, Cain even calls Dean his son, right before taunting Dean with the future in store for him: death. First Crowley. Then Castiel. Then Sam. Cain’s life in reverse, and Cain knows it’s inevitable. The Mark will compel Dean to kill those closest to him in its quest for more power and life. You’ve even got a lost hand, much like that film, and you’ve got the rumination on power and family. It’s eerie, but it fits. In order to fight the Mark, Dean had to kill the person who gave it to him. But at what cost? Even though Dean was able to give up the First Blade without killing anyone else, has he already paid the price for this act? What does Sam know about Dean?
While I certainly prefer Dean’s storyline here, I think you can draw parallels between his plot and what happens with Rowena and Crowley. Are they not acting out a drama about power and family as well? I think I’m more comfortable stating that Rowena’s main goal here is to take out the head of the Grand Coven, all so she can openly practice magic again. But now I wonder: how much of her behavior here is an act? She openly admits to Crowley that she’s manipulating him to her own ends. But what about her angry rejection at the end of “The Executioner’s Song”? Is that real? Honestly, either option seems credible. I’d believe it if it was part of an ongoing con, but I also think that Rowena is genuinely disappointed by her son. I don’t really question that. I suppose it could be both scenarios, too. AHHHH, WHAT DOES SHE WANT?
So, all in all, this was a really solid episode, one of the best this season.
The video for “The Executioner’s Song” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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