SPN 9x10 - Road Trip

Jan 15, 2014 20:35

Metatron’s mind games with Gadreel were pitch-perfect. He rides Gadreel about you’re a screw-up, nobody’ll have you but me, you have to fight more and harder and maybe just maybe I’ll give you a way out of this shame spiral which you’re only in because you’re such a failure, have we talked lately about how I’m a saint for not reminding you of that half as often as I’d like. And Gadreel ends up falling for it, so desperate for the chance to fix his mistake that he is willing to restructure the universe on Metatron’s terms to be a hero/feel less like a failure, just like Sam with the trials last season. Metatron offers the chance for revenge first, and while one can hardly blame Gadreel for getting back at someone who tortured him, he’s also distancing hard from any concern he might have for the human host, and the whole exercise only allows Metatron to draw him in closer and gives Metatron the chance to pit him against his only friend.

The idea of being saved by something questionable was present in a very cool way? I see no reason to believe that Abner is lying about his host having been “an abusive ass,” even if he’s also self-justifying a bit, and so the exploitation that is so terrible for Sam is also the mechanism by which this woman and her kid were being saved. Abner, cluelessly or maybe subconsciously, tells Gadreel the exact worst possible thing: that there are acceptable losses for going for what you want, but oh, I think your acceptable loss was the wrong choice, and also I (and by implication you) totally deserved what we got.

It would’ve been easy to demonize Gadreel, but I really felt for him. Part of it is that Gadreel being hurt and scared looks entirely too much like Sam being hurt and scared for me to be too callous, but the episode also did a wonderful job contextualizing Gadreel’s actions with the particular nature of his own victimization - and he was, obviously, abused terribly. To us he looks by turns weak and overly-susceptible to Metatron’s mind games, and entirely too capable of cruelty vis-à-vis humans. But taking Gadreel as the subject of his own story, things look different. Even after all these millennia as Heaven’s scapegoat, he still manages to be adverse to violence against humans, he still values the good will of other angels, he still has those raw emotional nerves for Metatron to play on. All of that speaks to extraordinary resilience, even among angels. In some perverse way, Gadreel may have a more genuine sense of self than the other rank-and-file, since being in the joint probably kept him out of Naomi’s jurisdiction. But he’s still been terribly ground down and what’s left of him is misshapen and misdirected, an unstable warhead in the wrong hands. Sam’s entitled to write Gadreel off as “some psycho angel,” no doubt, but we shouldn’t take that as a full and accurate assessment. It’s a lot more complicated.

Cas’ response to Gadreel was problematized even before Cas found out who Gadreel was - that shot of Cas punching Gadreel out could’ve easily been a big hero moment (catching the bad angel! Saving Sam from Dean’s stab-happy tantrum!) but instead it was warped, with a low ominous note under it. Cas’ grace is not his, his angelic identity is unsettled, his moral code is in major flux. And so he takes an ungracious leap at the chance to find another scapegoat, flinging the same blame on Gadreel that Tracy threw at Sam in the second episode of the season (or more to the point, that Dean himself has thrown at Sam a hundred times). There was a visceral anger there that Cas never showed toward Lucifer: he never supported Lucifer, was always repelled by the serpent, but he was always…reverential, in some ways. Not toward Gadreel, a mere sentry, who’s been filling the role of fall guy for as long as Cas has been around. So when Dean says he knows how Cas feels, I don’t think he’s just saying “I don’t like this guy either,” I really think he’s saying “I have felt toward Sam the way you are feeling toward ‘Sam.’” Neither was that anger really about what Gadreel did or didn’t do, if “reasons are all that matters,” it’s just about Gadreel is a designated target for all the anger and fear that Cas is feeling at the moment - JUST LIKE SAM HAS BEEN, mostly for Dean but also for John and to a lesser extent Bobby.

I can totally understand the desire to see Cas read Dean the riot act, totally shared in that desire even, but I actually think the character logic for why he didn’t rings totally true, so I’m happy with it. Cas is still learning about trust and interpersonal expectations, and because he’s been defining himself against Dean for so long he tends to take Dean at face value. Cas really needs to think that reasons are all that matters - and actually, in moral terms I tend to agree with him, but being so overly-trusting he still hasn’t really internalized that what someone says their reasons are, might not actually be their reasons. Cas, bless his earnest little heart, actually thinks that this is a straightforward conversation about how we can share and care and learn and grow; he doesn’t get that Dean is actually looking for someone else to make him feel better or put up a fight so he can swing back at them and make himself feel better. Basically Cas is laboring under the same susceptibility to the Righteous Man persona that Sam has been for years now, and so he’s really not an authoritative moral voice, nor is he presented as one. This is even visually represented in a neat way when Cas first shows up at the bunker: he looks everywhere but at Dean to figure out that something is amiss.

I admit I’m not taking a real hard line on this because (a) Cas and (b) he did stick up for Sam when it counted. He wasn’t holding the line morally when it wasn’t going to serve any direct purpose. But he acknowledged Sam’s right to survive the whole thing, and he pointed out that a Sam who wasn’t being cut down artificially would be able to protect himself on this.


I seriously wish I could say I nailed it with my reaction to the promos ( “Dean’s plan for fixing the problem caused by letting an angel into Sam? Let CROWLEY into Sam’s head”) but I did not see that coming, nor would I have wanted to, because the moment was perfect. The knowledge-is-power theme of S8 continues with the extraction: as Gadreel says, they can apply all the force in the world, as long as they don’t get a few seconds to give Sam a message.

The confrontation between Gadreel and Sam was so wonderful to watch in large part because for once, Sam isn’t confronting an enemy wearing his own face. Gadreel sounded a lot like the partial-Sams from the S6 finale, that you’re weak, you can’t take it, you need my ruthlessness and drive - but this time it’s certainly, unquestionably, visually not on Sam. Gadreel’s own insistence that whatever happened before the Fall wasn’t his fault is…probably true, knowing Lucifer and his underlings, but it’s also something Sam could stand to learn. (And isn’t that a kick in the pants, that what Sam needs to heal from Gadreel’s exploitation of him is to internalize a little bit of Gadreel’s attitude.)

So yeah, the fight itself is cathartic, to see Sam finally get a chance to take control for himself. Like Abner did to him, Gadreel does to Sam, when he says the exact wrong thing. For Sam, it’s “if I leave, you might die” as if that’s the worst case scenario, but Sam’s already made peace with that.

Oh, OH, let’s talk about Sam’s dream world. Specifically, how Sam has almost started to believe - and how much of the audience is still insisting - that his time with Amelia constituted something of a “dream world.” But it wasn’t. It was real. Now, though, he’s been FORCED into a dream world, BY DEAN, and hey, the fake dream world is the hunting life! This was also a smart way to subtly gesture at the healing process from all the gaslighting: Sam really doesn’t know how much of his memory is real. And now he has to figure out how much of what he thinks he remembers of the past few months is actually real, and then the mirror behind that is that he has to figure out what the fact that this could happen says about his worldview, and his sense of self and his idea of Dean.

Dean’s MO is to annihilate and ignore his own mistake. He cremates Kevin and destroys Kevin’s workspace. He prioritizes killing Gadreel over saving Sam, and needs to be talked down off that ledge by Cas. He can’t look at what he did, so he walks away and leaves Sam in Crowley’s hands and then asks Cas to distract him. I almost wonder if his getting Sam to stop the trials and then trying to make an angel undo the damage was about him trying to make it like the trials never happened, because Sam’s ability to kill the hellhound messed with his understanding of their dynamic that badly.

And if he can’t do that, he’ll convince himself of some other story. “I’m poison. People get close to me, they get killed, or worse. I tell myself that I’m help more people than I hurt, I tell myself that I’m doing it for the right reasons, and I believe that. But I can’t, I won’t, drag anyone through the muck with me. Not anymore.” You know, I don’t so much mind that this was not even close to an apology. I just don’t expect that from Dean at this point. What I do think we as observers need to note is that this contains no acknowledgement of culpability for his abuse of Sam. He takes the calculated risk of claiming Kevin’s death, knowing that Sam already blames himself and felt Gadreel actually do the crime and so Sam won’t lay that directly on him, but mostly it’s about, Dean IS poison, there’s some non-choice-related FORCE that creates all this passive-voice destruction for the people around him. Dean basically co-opts Sam’s angst from back in the early seasons, when there really was a demonic red team following Sam around ensuring that everyone around Sam died or worse. Dean doesn’t say, I hurt you, I violated you, I kept the lie going for months at a time to manipulate and control you. And Sam doesn’t let him get away with that skillful blame evasion, but he doesn’t give Dean anything to try to get around or out from under, either.

The interaction in that last scene was perfect. Sam gets a bad rap for his preference for nonengagement, but the episode gave a really strong look at why he developed that tendency. Dean was baiting him, fishing for some reaction, trying to MAKE Sam do something on Dean’s terms. And Sam knew there was no winning, and so he just would not engage. Dean pushed and tried to get Sam to yell so that he could yell back; he threatened to leave and tried to get Sam to beg him to stay. Neither thing worked. (Resonant with Gadreel’s reaction to conflict throughout the episode: he is more confident, relieved even, when he’s boxed in. He is most comfortable on the defensive.) There was also some Purgatory-sulking subtext at work, I think? Like, that pointed “*I* don’t give up” was a stab at his usual “I just love too much” excuses - Sam didn’t act the way Dean wanted him to act, so Dean was going to MAKE Sam play into the whole codependency even if (or even on some level because) Sam considered it a fate worse than death.

And again, we have to separate Sam’s fixation on the initial violation from what we think about the incident as a whole. We know Sam will eventually embrace life once again, both because the narrative structure requires his survival and because he’s Sam. The reason the situation stretched out as long as it did was not that THE RITURRRZZZ were FAILING the character or the storyline. It was a deliberate choice to make us pay attention to the problem between Sam and Dean, which is NOT some external badness in the outside world. It’s that there’s only room for one consciousness in that relationship as it is, and Dean has spent a very long time trying to stomp Sam’s out of him.

A couple of things that are very promising, though: that Sam is keeping the bunker, and that Cas is staying on with him. Part of that’s just that I like seeing them interact and I want Sam to have his home, but also, I think that’s a really good sign that he’s found a little bit of solid ground beneath his feet. Cas sticking with Sam rather than taking off with Dean or to find other angels is a really interesting choice? Because (a) he’s putting Sam above all of his usual priorities and (b) Sam is willing to have Cas stick around. The fact that Sam’s willing to trust anyone at all to share his space, especially an angel, is a really good sign.


A couple of quick points about the demon war:

Abbadon kills with an angel blade, and she doesn’t really seem to understand demons. She’s a Terminator and a true believer in something (who even knows what at this point) and so she’s stomping around cutting off noses to spite every face in hell. By contrast, Crowley’s laissez-faire attitude and expansionist obsession weren’t doing him any favors on efficiency and completeness, but your average demon probably isn’t going to want to rock the boat on that, either.

Before we all get carried away on OMG CROWLEY IS GOOD NOW LOOK HE WUVS SAM, I do want to point out that whatever weird little crush/Stockholm bond thing he has about Sam, Crowley was absolutely looking out for number one in that scene. He had to know that the only chance he had of living through the night was to follow through on his end of the bargain and get Sam out. It cost Crowley exactly nothing to tell Sam that Kevin’s death wasn’t his fault; the fact that it happened to be true only makes it more convenient, the truth being easier to sell than a lie. There’s potentially a lot there to be mined, that Sam only gets a begrudging and true acknowledgement that something’s not his fault from a demon with a freaking angel blade to its throat, but I’m going to hold off getting too attached to any interpretation just yet.

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spn: sammay!, supernatural, spn: corpus angelorum, spn: dean what even, abuse

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