Episode 10×23 or “The One With the Darkness”
So far this season: Dean’s been cured from demonism; Crowley was his BFF; Cas has his Grace back; and Sam has done his best to reign in Dean’s homicidal tendencies. Claire Novak has also reappeared and is at the Wayward Daughters Hunting Academy (aka Sheriff Jody’s house). Cain has confirmed that there is no cure for the Mark, but Crowley’s mother, Rowena, says it’s a curse, and like any other curse it can be broken. In pursuit of a spell to break the curse, Charlie sacrificed her life to the supernatural Corleone family: the Stynes. Spoilers ahead.
Season ten’s finale was one of strange editing and white man pain. Far from the emotional devastation of “Swan Song” or the dramatic powerhouse of “Sacrifice,” the episode “Brother’s Keeper” is Winchester-centric and ignores Heaven and Hell in favour of focusing on the Mark of Cain. The showrunners have been teasing us with a “will they/won’t they” re: the MoC for months, and the Mark as a plot device is beginning to wear a little thin as a vehicle of Winchester angst, while ignoring real potential for innovative storytelling. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like the episode…okay, well I didn’t. I’m ambivalent. So, let’s talk about the three most important points to the episode.
Rowena is Incredibly Powerful
We’ve seen Rowena’s power in action before. In “Girls, Girls, Girls“, we saw her powers of mind control and general badassery. The second half of the season, however, showed Rowena playing the game of thrones in hell with her son, Crowley. Such political machinations fall short on a show such as Supernatural, and since leaving Hell, Rowena has functioned as little more than a magical pawn for Sam in his quest for a cure to the Mark.
The season finale, however, showed that not only can Rowena command prehistoric magic, she can also control angels at will. The way she flounces out of her prison with the codex, leaving her son to die at the hands of Castiel, well, it makes me wonder why Rowena hasn’t been factored in as one of the main villains. Anyone who is willing to murder the only person they love in their quest for power is terrifying and deserves a prominent spot in the hierarchy of villains.
The Return of the Myth Arc
After the season’s dearth of a larger storyline, “Brother’s Keeper” introduces us to the concept of the Darkness (eerily similar to the finale of Once Upon a Time, but whatever), a primordial evil that God trapped and bound in the First Curse, AKA the Mark of Cain. The Mark is the key to unlocking the Darkness’s cage, and Dean has been the dam against a sea of evil without even realising it. (More on the lost potential of that in a minute.)
The Darkness presents a unique opportunity for the SPN writers, if they choose to take it. What they’ve offered us is a mythology without a substantial amount of real-world lore to influence it. In other words, they could take this concept of ‘the Darkness’ and do anything. About to enter its eleventh season, Supernatural is definitely in the home stretch. What better way to end the show than to remind the Winchesters why they do what they do? Give them a cause, writers, a reason to overcome all that excess Winchester angst.
Speaking of white man pain…
Dean’s Twisted Path to Redemption
A major focus of this season was whether or not Dean could atone for being Demon!Dean (yeah, because we need lots of apology for bad karaoke) and whether or not he could control the effect of the Mark. For the second half of the season, we’ve seen Dean’s control slipping. All attempts of control were abandoned after Charlie’s death (which totally never happened…right?), and ultimately leads to Dean beating the crap out of Castiel. (Ouch.)
We had hoped that the Mark would lead us into a profound exploration of Dean’s motivations and struggles with the Mark, and the introduction of the Darkness could have led into a compelling narrative arc of Dean struggling against the Darkness because he’s fighting on the side of Good. But it didn’t.
There’s a key moment in the episode, when Dean looks into a mirror and sees a dead Rudy and broken and bloodied Cas, that leads to him summoning Death. Death’s offer to Dean isn’t to remove the Mark—the Darkness makes that impossible, he says—but rather to remove Dean from a position to hurt anyone. It would require the ultimate sacrifices: Sam’s life and Dean’s humanity. In exchange, the world would be safe. It sounds similar to a pitch made to the Winchesters back in seasons four and five, when the boys were pawns in a bro-spat between two archangels.
It’s a test the boys have faced before: do they put themselves and their happiness before the rest of the world? Do they continue to insist that they can ‘find another way’ as they did at the end of season eight? This, however, is not the end of season eight, where Sam’s willingness to sacrifice himself stemmed from an overpowering desire to prove that he was good, that he could atone. Dean’s desire stems from guilt and fear; the Mark gives him the potential and power to destroy everyone he cares about.
The Winchesters seem to have forgotten what the greater good means as Sam convinces Dean that he is a good person, and instead of the ultimate sacrifice, Dean kills Death (because that won’t come back to bite them in the ass). It is then that Rowena’s spell is cast, the Mark is removed, and the Darkness is unleashed. Instead of heroes, the Winchesters have unleashed the greatest evil the world has ever seen, all in the name of codependency.
Let us imagine, for a moment, that the episode had taken a different turn. Let’s make it biblical.
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
So Death offers Dean a deal, like God tempted Abraham, and tells Dean to kill Sam. Dean agrees to do so, because he sees the logic in Death’s offer.
And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
Like Abraham, Dean is ready to sacrifice his brother, the thing he loves most in the world. He has the scythe in hand, and just before it strikes Sam it disappears because Dean has proven his worth. He was proven that he’s still the Righteous Man and he’s the right person to have the Mark and keep the Darkness at bay. Then, when Rowena’s spell is cast and the Mark disappears, the boys know undoubtedly that they’re on the side of Good and can work together in common purpose to extinguish evil from the Earth once more.
Because that is the family business. Get out of the business of codependency, boys. It’s toxic.
Excuse me while I go rewrite the finale as fanfic.
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