Meg warned the Winchesters in “Reading Is Fundamental” that “Crowley's always the problem. He's just waiting for the right moment to strike.” In “What's Up, Tiger Mommy,” Crowley shows that he's more than ready to be the big bad standing in Sam and Dean's way. He is cunning, conniving, and out for blood. He is a dangerous adversary, proving throughout the episode why he's going to be a difficult one to beat.
Crowley has an advantage that none of the other adversaries on the show have: he knows the Winchesters, and he knows their tricks. While the Leviathans knew them as well, thanks to learning them from Castiel's memories, they didn't truly understand how the Winchesters thought. They knew what to take away, and how to corner them, but never quite how to deliver the killing blow. Crowley, on the other hand, knows what their weaknesses are on a different level, and he is not afraid to use them against Sam and Dean here.
In the past, the King of Hell has acted as both adversary and ally. He is the one that agrees to give them the Colt in exchange for eliminating Lucifer. Crowley assisted the Winchesters in their searches for Pestilence and Death in order to acquire their rings to lock Lucifer back in the Cage. He helped them stop the spread of the Croatoan virus. After Castiel has absorbed the souls of Purgatory, the brothers approach him to learn the spell that will bind Death. He is reluctant to provide it, but does so anyways. After the Leviathans are unleashed, Crowley orders his demons to stay back and allow the Winchesters to do the dirty work unimpeded.
As an adversary, he has threatened to hold Sam's soul hostage, made a secret deal with Castiel in order to acquire the souls of Purgatory, and threatened Lisa and Ben. He has sent demons chasing after the Winchesters to kill them. He held Bobby's soul hostage, breaking his promise to return it after Lucifer's defeat---until his physical remains were discovered. Once the Leviathans are defeated, Crowley kidnaps Kevin Tran in order to use him.
Due to his rich history with the Winchesters---both as friend and foe---he has the ability to outsmart and anticipate their moves. He also knows not to take Sam and Dean lightly, as he shouts in “The Man Who Would Be King,” “Am I the only game piece on the board who doesn't underestimate those denim-wrapped nightmares?!”
In “What's Up, Tiger Mommy,” Crowley puts all his knowledge of the Winchesters to use.
The episode begins where “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” left off. Kevin is upset, emotional, and angry. He has just seen his girlfriend killed by the King of Hell, and would like to see his mother to make sure that she is safe. Dean opposes the idea, knowing full well that a visit to Mrs. Tran is nothing more than a trap. He sternly says to Kevin, “She's bait, man, plain and simple. And you want to swim right up and bite the hook? ”
Crowley knows that Dean will yield to Kevin's demand to see his mother. The tactic worked before---when Crowley had captured Lisa and Ben---and he knows that it will work here again. All he has to do is wait for the Winchesters to spring the trip wire. Sure enough, Dean relents. They make their way to visit Mrs. Tran. As they pull up to the house, they spot several people milling around: the mailman, a gardener, and a friend. It doesn't take long for Dean to realize that all of them are possessed. He says, “Yeah, well, Carl's filled your mom's mailbox three times since we've been sitting here.”
Sam and Dean grab their weapons and move in for the kills to get inside. Kevin rushes to the front door and rings the doorbell, bringing his mother to the door. Behind her is her friend. The demon possessing her friend tries to escape, the black smoke pouring from her body. Sam has a new trick up his sleeve, reversing an exorcism to trap the demon back in its host so that Dean can kill it swiftly. Both Kevin and Mrs. Tran are stunned, but Dean communicates crisply, “The demon would have warned Crowley where Kevin was if we didn't.”
It's possible that despite their efforts, Crowley already knew they had visited anyways.
Once they've sat down and discussed things with Mrs. Tran, they make plans to retrieve the tablet from Kevin's hiding place. Before they can, and in light of all those that had been possessed around Mrs. Tran, Sam and Dean convince Kevin and his mother to get tattoos just like theirs so to prevent possession. Kevin winces in pain while his mother sits stonily through the procedure.
We can't help but notice that Mrs. Tran is putting on a brave face, however. She is terrified for her son, but doen't want him to know. It isn't until after her possession by Crowley later in the episode that her brave facade falls away to reveal the stricken civilian.
Once done, they make their way to the locker Kevin used. They open it and Dean quips, “You hid the Word of God in a diaper bag?” Kevin shakes his head and replies that no, he hadn't and they realize it's been stolen. Sam and Dean easily slip into FBI mode and find out that a robbery had occurred in the past few days and they are lead into the interrogation room to confront the suspect.
Here, we see the beginnings of just how Purgatory haunts Dean. Confronted with an uncooperative suspect that will not give up his information, Dean starts to have flash backs. He remembers tackling a monster and demanding intel on Castiel. The monster, not unlike the suspect, refuses to talk. An older scar emerges---that of Dean's time in Hell---and he puts the skills he learned there to good use. Like someone enduring PTSD, Dean doesn't see the suspect when he loosens his tie and begins to strangle him, he sees the monster in Purgatory.
He muscles him against the wall and demands to know what happened to the contents of the locker. In the interlude, we see the monster give up his knowledge about Castiel, and he folds, telling Dean that he'll find him by a stream. Dean pulls back, only to deliver a killing blow anyways. It is ruthless, and this mentality and behavior has completely blended into the current reality. If not for Sam, it is possible that Dean would have killed the suspect just as easily.
Mrs. Tran's tough exterior reflects Dean's. We see the cracks in his armor since his return from Purgatory throughout the episode. He, too, feels a need to put on a face. He hides the inner turmoil building within underneath a rough mask. Dean holds rigid control, focusing on the case at hand, but his patience is short. He has always dealt with trauma through random acts of violence. His brutal and ruthless attack on the Purgatory monster and the thief show how on edge Dean truly is---and how dangerous he will be with a purpose to pour that unbridled energy into.
Mrs. Tran also keeps the strong exterior to keep Kevin calm. If she shows weakness, she fears that it will make Kevin follow suit. Likewise, Dean keeps his mask in place to hide how much Purgatory affected him from Sam. This isn't to protect his brother. This is to prevent questions. He may have been forthright about his experience there, but it is becoming obvious that there is much more to it---and that it has left both deep scars bared and fresh wounds weeping.
It is no surprise that the flash backs where Dean encounters Castiel---just as the monster said he would---that it is emotionally charged. Dean asks Cas where he went and what happened. Cas looks haggard and scruffy, a beard blanketing his face.
Benny stands by watching, suspicious of the angel. He doesn't seem to care much for any explanation---or excuse---that Castiel might provide. Dean won't hear of it, focusing on Castiel. The angel tells him that he did indeed run away from Dean---not out of cowardice, but out of protection for the hunter. He realizes that any Leviathan in Purgatory would be searching for him and that in turn would put Dean in danger.
Dean refuses to listen to this explanation, saying, “Let me bottom line it for you. I'm not leaving here without you.”
Meanwhile, Kevin receives an invitation to an exclusive auction. There, they will be auctioning off several supernatural items---including the stolen tablet containing the spell to close the Hell Gates forever. The auctioneer, working for the god of greed, Plutus, allows for Kevin to bring Sam, Dean, and his mother.
It, too, is a trap. They arrive to find that the room is full of various gods and monsters awaiting their turns to bid on the items on display. Sam has a plan in action to get Kevin inside and close to the tablet so that he can memorize that chapter. Unfortunately, they've covered the tablet, forcing them to stay for the live auction itself.
Crowley also knew that Sam and Dean would bring Kevin with them. Once again, the King of Hell's patience proves to be his most effective tool. Good things come to those who wait, after all. The auction will also play to Crowley's other advantage---deal making. He is bold enough to call the Winchesters out, laying plain to them that they've played straight into his hands, “Bring the prophet to the most dangerous place on Earth, memorize the tablet, and vamoose?”
Crowley wants the tablet badly. He enters a bidding war with an angel, Samandiriel. They trade everything from the moon to Vatican City, all which are rejected. Crowley will try anything to cajole the god of Greed into giving him the tablet.
Mrs. Tran has an invested interest in the bidding war: her son, Kevin. He is added to the auction block alongside the tablet, as it is useless without him to translate. She has a trump card up her sleeve, one that Crowley cannot match: her soul.
She is willing to risk everything she has. It is a heartbreaking deal, one that Kevin pleads with her not to do. As she told Dean earlier, however, it is “But it's not my soul that I'm worried about. It's my son's.” Mrs. Tran will not stand by and allow the King of Hell to win her son.
Crowley tries to outbid her with more souls. If souls are the currency, he's willing to hand over a few in order to win. The offer is rejected, and so the King of Hell ups the ante: he offers his own soul in exchange for the tablet. That, too, is rejected by the god of greed. He declares to a desperate Crowley, “You don't have a soul.”
The lot is closed, and Mrs. Tran has won. Crowley looks exasperated at being foiled, but he certainly has some cards up his sleeves. As Mrs. Tran offers her hand to seal the deal, Dean stops her. He grabs her arm and pulls up her sleeve to reveal that her anti-possession tattoo has been burned away. Plutus is dumbfounded, crying out, “But my warding spells!”
The auctioneer, Beau, has betrayed his master. It is shown, after Mrs. Tran had her run in with the angel, that he is the one that burned away her tattoo. It is the opportunity that Crowley needed to possess her. He tells Plutus this, and Beau stabs him in the back.
Crowley anticipated this move brilliantly by the brothers. He knew that they would deter possession by tattooing both Kevin and his mother in an effort to keep them out. He also knew that possessing Mrs. Tran would prey upon their weakness to protect the innocent. Even when attacked by Dean and threatened with the demon killing blade, Crowley knew that he'd have a moment of hesitation with which to escape. It would be all he'd need---while Dean fully intended upon killing her in order to kill Crowley, Kevin's momentary distraction allowed Crowley to shove the elder Winchester aside. Crowley won the battle here. He reclaimed the tablet and he learned of their plans to close the gates to Hell---all from his brief possession of Mrs. Tran.
If it isn't enough that he's beaten them here, Crowley warns Kevin, “Run. Run far, and run fast. Because the Winchesters, they have a habit of using people up, and watching them die bloody.”
It is a knife he uses to wedge between Sam and Dean and their charge, Kevin.
Crowley knows how to exploit Dean's survivor's guilt. It is why he warns Kevin away from the Winchesters, doubly wounding their cause and rubbing salt into the wound of defeat.
And it works. Kevin asks the brothers for a moment alone with his mother, and when they enter the room again, they're gone. Kevin has left a note behind. Dean tells Sam that it says “he thinks people I don't need anymore end up dead.”
We are left with a haunting image of Castiel, pleading with Dean.
Lauren Tom brings a feisty Mrs. Tran to life. She is a tough and devoted mother throughout. Tom has spunk. She shows it in her approach to the pawn shop owner, catching him in a lapsed tax. Tom makes sure to give Mrs. Tran an edge, making her less simple victim and more ally. There's a charm in her performance, especially when she chides Kevin for eying the sports car and her quip “Like it's my first tattoo.” Tom steps up the performance when she presents Mrs. Tran possessed by Crowley. She captures Sheppard's quirks well. She becomes sinister and threatening in it, all the while keeping Crowley's finesse and wit. Tom also showed us a shell-shocked woman well at the end, shutting down. Her horror is written clearly on her face, and there are no words necessary to convey just how traumatic the experience was.
Ty Olsson reprises Benny, this time all in Purgatory. He shows us how mistrusting Benny is---especially of Castiel. He is tense in the scenes, and while they are brief, his exasperation with Dean shines through. It is apparent, through the suspicious looks, that Benny sees Castiel as a threat to his meal ticket out of Purgatory. Olsson keeps us guessing on Benny, making sure to keep him subtle and standoffish here. His true motivations are still a mystery as of yet, and we're left wanting to learn more. He knows that the portal will let out a human---and he watches Dean promise Castiel that he'll take the angel with them, but we have to wonder if he knew it might not work for all of them.
Osric Chau demonstrates a desperate Kevin Tran. He may have become a bit harder in the year since becoming a prophet, but he is still a victim and a young boy thrust without warning into the life of the supernatural. Chau shows us that Kevin is willing to do anything for his mother, and that he will not stand by and allow her to be dragged further into this than she already is. Until the end, Chau shows that Kevin follows the lead of the Winchesters, entrusting them to keep his mother safe. He also shows Kevin's impatience with curtness, and the young man's devastation in the wake of his mother's possession.
Mark Sheppard shows a dastardly Crowley. He truly knows how to make the character one we love to hate in the best way. Sheppard lights up the screen with his wit and charm, making Crowley one to watch. He is subtle in showing the King of Hell's cunning. Yet, he also knows how to show the desperation, especially in lines such as “My own soul” during the auction. Sheppard has always delivered one liners with ease, punctuating them with a flourish. He certainly seems to enjoy playing the role of the big bad in season 8 thus far---and it'll be a treat to see just what the King of Hell does next to thwart the Winchesters.
Misha Collins makes his first appearance in Season 8 as Castiel. It may be brief and all in Purgatory flashbacks, but they are emotional. He is subdued, more like the old Castiel than he was in the later half of season 7. Collins makes sure to connect with Ackles while on screen, showing us in body language and voice that Castiel still cares about Dean---even if we're being led to believe that he abandoned his friend. He has remorse painted in his facial expressions. The fear and desperation we're left with in the final scene leaves us heartbroken---and Collins sells it with the pleading in his voice.
Jensen Ackles shows just how Purgatory has changed Dean. He seems to have embraced completely the life of hunting---and for better or worse his black and white view of the world has returned here. He sees no reason not to kill first Mrs. Tran's friend Eunis and then later to perhaps kill Mrs. Tran herself. To him, they are no longer human, they are demon. Dean also has comedic moments, shown to us with his anger at Sam's silent suggestion to put the Impala up for collateral and his disbelief that Crowley would offer the moon.
Jared Padalecki shows us how Sam empathizes and tries to outsmart. He shows his comedic timing well, especially in the scene about using the Impala as collateral. His facial expressions and simple glances communicate perfectly what he intends. Padalecki makes sure to convey Sam's subtle amusement at Dean's outburst, and it is a delightful brotherly moment thrown into the mix. Padalecki also slips effortlessly into Sam's hunter mode, in particular when he uses Mjolnir on first Plutus and then Mr. Vili.
Some of the best lines this week were:
Crowley: Maybe you should try Plan "D" for dumbass.
Dean to Sam: No. Mnh-mnh. Say it and I will kill you, your children, and your grandchildren.
Crowley: Yeah, I claimed it for Hell. You think a man named Buzz gets to go into space without making a deal?
It looks like next week we'll get to delve further into Sam's story.
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