Supernatural has reached the point where fresh, new story arcs are key to this series’s survival. The “Deanmon” reveal in last season’s finale whipped up an exciting start to this season, but ever since they temporarily wrote off Demon Dean to focus more on tedious, tiring monster-of-the-week adventures, I never really had that same deep connection with the series that I briefly experienced in this season’s first couple of episodes. So, when I witnessed Dean’s Mark of Cain (or what I refer to as MoC) sighting at the end of “The Things We Left Behind”, I was immediately back at the edge of my seat again.
Without a single doubt in my mind, Dean’s plight with the mark has been the most engaging story arc of the season. It gives Sam a purpose again. It invites Castiel to play a more integral role in the proceedings. It blissfully goes hand in hand with the “experiment” the brothers had with Crowley, as the Kind of Hell now yearns for the days where he had a bro-mance with Dean. Most important is that it encourages Jenses Ackles to flex his acting chops to the fullest extent. Over the years, he’s proven capable of doing it all – comedic relief, emotional discharge, bits of anger and rage – and his brief stint as “Deanmon” showcased Ackles at his absolute, unhinged best. “The Hunter Games” winds up as one of the best Supernatural episodes this season , as it called for him to do it all again, while bringing all those other great positives back.
Focusing on Dean’s status so thoroughly paid off perfectly. Knowing that Sam and Castiel have already tried every conventional method of ridding the Mark, it pains Dean even more that he simply has to live with it for now. He’s not happy with the lapses he’s experienced, and he’s certainly not willing to keep those hidden impulses around him any longer. I was elated to watch Dean tell Sam and Castiel about how awful his latest so-called massacre was, and even saddened when he went as far as to suggest having his arm amputated to ensure the Mark could not affect him again. Dragging Metatron out of imprisonment is tough for me to agree with, but I knew that it would rightfully bring us back to where that crucial conflict last season left him and Dean. I was shocked at how civilized Dean treated him at first, as he initially interrogated him for answers to help rid of the MoC. Of course, Metatron had to push his buttons, which led to a brutal torture scene involving a lot of punches and a whole lot more angel blade scars. Dean involuntarily allowing the MoC to take control was startling, and had Sam and Cas not swooped in, we may have seen the bloodiest scene in this series’s history.
The weight of it all came crashing down upon them once the truth came out, and sad as it is to say, Metatron was right on the money with what he threw at Dean. Remember, he spent nearly all of last season manipulating Sam’s state to allow Gadreel to manifest his body, all the while lying to his face about everything that was going on when he was unconscious. Maybe Metatron wasn’t in the right place to remind Dean of all that, but it resonates all the same because it’s all true, and Dean knows it. It just goes to show how messed up he’s become over the years in his efforts to save his brother, which is sad because the current consequence he’s found himself in to do so is even more fatal than all the recent ones he aimed to pull Sam away from. Both Jensen Ackles and Curtis Armstrong provide nuanced performances here, as Dean’s intensified anger feeds off Metatron’s signature cynicism. It’s poetry in madness for one character, and brilliance in “dickwaddery” for the other. Ackles and Armstrong make sure that the viewer understands the importance of this showdown, and can walk away putting it in perspective. I waited eagerly to see how badly Dean would mess up Metatron for killing him and helping unleashed the full potential of the MoC. Having seen it unfold, I feel like I was humbly rewarded.
The carry-over from these events led to a satisfying conclusion, where Claire’s (more on her later) botched plan to have a couple strangers beat Dean to death ended with Dean managing the rage riddled within him. That broken bench holds with it a stronger meaning than it initially lets on: Dean has yet to fully succumb to the MoC again. So, everything he does from here on out will bear a stronger significance because he’s not blind to whatever actions he takes. For a damaged character like himself, this could either be the start of him taking control of the MoC (considering how Metatron hinted that the “river shall end at the source”) or slowly losing out and giving in to the rage it aches to let loose. I’m betting on the latter, which probably won’t do much to prevent Dean from meeting his ultimate demise anyway. There’s really no inclination – at least not yet – that the MoC can be cured without a hefty price. I guess now we’re left to wonder the severity of said price as we watch Dean try to recover in the coming weeks.
Despite Metatron proclaiming the retrieval of the first blade as a major first step to curing the Mark from Dean, Crowley refuses to give up the blade, and rightfully so; Crowley’s much smarter than to just assume Dean won’t lash out in the meantime. So why has he allowed Rowena to get two steps ahead of him? I was hoping for the nightmare scene in the beginning to at least strain some of the trust he has with his mother, but it didn’t. Somehow Rowena’s plan to frame Crowley’s associate with stealing the first blade from his tomb worked, and Crowley would not even bother to think twice on it. There’s just no way him and Rowena are on this level yet, especially after hearing him talk about all those stories of abandonment. In addition, this is the king of Hell, for crying out loud!
Castiel is one of my favorite Supernatural characters for a reason, and last night gave me more reasons to value his relatively new human side. His rocky father-daughter relationship with Claire was done no favors with Dean’s bloodbath in the last episode (although I failed to really see it, she loved Randy, and thought of him as a true father figure). Castiel’s efforts to impose his concern and reach out were admirable, and it sucked to see him fail to get Claire thinking straight at the diner. The complete manifestation of his vessel continues to hang heavily in Castiel’s heart, and you can’t fault him for vehemently trying to make things right. It was certainly nice to see the show unofficially cut off their relationship in a more lighthearted fashion, since Cas at least deserves some semblance of mutual respect from Claire. His gamble to release Metatron for info on the Mark didn’t exactly go as planned, but classic, no-nonsense Castiel would have definitely considered other options. I think it showed some character growth, because, like with Crowley, Castiel is now willing to risk conspiring with the bad guys to find solutions. Although that trust is still kept to an extremely discreet extent, regardless how high the stakes have been raised recently.
I didn’t really like Claire too much in the mid-season finale, and this week didn’t do too much to change that. She’s come off as a bit more of a needy, rebellious brat than a emotionally torn daughter who’s lost her family. Castiel didn’t deserve to get the cold shoulder like he did, and having Claire run off on her own just to make friends with a couple of shady pool players seemed hypocritical. Thankfully, this episode decided to mend fences between her and Castiel, so we can finally move on to the rest of the season without her.
“The Hunter Games” properly addressed the return of the Mark of Cain, with Dean finding himself at a crossroads of emotions. Jensen Ackles stole the show, expressing the pride, fury and woefulness of his character’s current situation in yet another fantastic performance. Both Castiel and Crowley appear to be preparing for a more prominent role in the weeks to come, and Curtis Armstrong’s sardonic delivery as Metatron never ceases to amaze. Although I wish there was a bit more for Sam to do, and I’m not convinced that Rowena has Crowley in the palm of her hands so easily, this week’s installment did a great job pushing the main story arc forward. And I’m happy to report that the focus is once again squarely on Demon Dean.
+ Dean’s roller coaster of emotions after his Mark of Cain massacre
+ Curtis Armstrong’s Metatron still a dick-wad
+ Castiel’s human side is always welcome
– Crowley too gullible around his mother
– Stuff with Claire wasn’t very interesting