First, let's look at Castiel and Hannah's story---and focus on the avatar that they represent: our human fragility and the reminder to value human life.
It's intriguing that these characters stand in as an avatar for our fragility. They are not human, after all. Both characters are angelic. In many respects, they should be the least like our fragile selves. They should be the least likely to show us the value of our own lives and of those around us. Given the violent history of angels on Supernatural, these beings should be showing us how easily we are destroyed. And yet, the way they are depicted in “Reichenbach” demonstrates a new shift in their long trajectory.
We begin the episode with Castiel washing his face at a basin, tired, weary, and looking even worse for wear than he did last week. He's barely standing on his own feet it seems. Freshly wounded from their encounter with Daniel and Adina, he now has to use some of the little bit of grace he has left to heal it---and yet he can't. There's simply not enough in the tank to make much of a difference. What's left is obviously just trying to keep him alive let alone heal a vessel's blood and bone.
That's when Hannah arrives and heals the weakened angel. She is a dual avatar in this episode. On one hand, she represents Castiel as he once was, on the other she is the whole of the angelic host personified. She's aloof and stoic in the face of most human interactions---unaware of some of the social cues that tip off to humor for instance. Hannah stands in as an avatar to illustrate the Castiel we first met---one in the midst of his first brush with humanity, trying to grasp just what he was dealing with while never quite getting it. Like Castiel of old, Hannah is pushed to follow orders and to stick to a grander mission---and yet she's also showing the cracks of human understanding just waiting to bloom from within as she expresses concern for Castiel. She states, “I want to stay and help---is that wrong?” which earns her the remark, “No, it's just very human---it's a compliment.”
It's an opportunity that Castiel will take to teach Hannah about the fragility and value of human life---even if he does so inadvertently.
Sam calls to inform him of the situation with Dean---and it is dire enough for Sam to push aside his earlier discomfort at bothering his ill friend. He wants Castiel to rush towards North Dakota to help him with his brother. This hasty call will lead to Castiel driving---something he's in no condition to do. In a flashback to first the crash that ended season one and the near crash Sam has when overtired from his hallucinations of Lucifer, we see Castiel nod off and nearly collide with a semi truck. Just in time, Castiel wakes, sending his car off the road to careen instead into a tree.
This is the juncture where both Castiel and Hannah become the avatars for human fragility and the value of human life.
Hannah has been shocked by Castiel's condition before. And yet, it isn't until she spends this time with him that she truly sees the truth she's so calmly stated before: “You're dying, Castiel.” Those words haven't had the impact on her just yet that they do on mortal beings. That concept escapes her understanding. As an angel, she does not know death---not like this. For angels, death seems to come only two ways: by an archangel as we see Michael kill Anna and by the now common angel blade. Angels do not age, nor do they die of natural causes. What she's watching in Castiel is something new, something frightening, and something foreign.
For eons, angels have had one mission in life: protect humanity. And yet, they have failed miserably at it because they are unable to understand just what it is they are protecting. Since their introduction, we have seen angels dismissive of human life. Uriel is more than happy to wipe an “insignificant pin prick off the map.” Zachariah doesn't care if the world burns as long as the Apocalypse happens. Even Castiel, post Apocalypse, has no issue dispatching human life in order to dominate and establish himself as the new God. Bartholomew has no problem with jamming angels into vessels unfit for their containment. If it will serve an angelic purpose, angels will have no problem using human pawns to accomplish their goals. It's where the angels have failed in their mission---their prime directive.
In “Black,” we see Hannah continue this misunderstanding. She can't fathom what one can learn from humanity. They're not worth listening to---as far as she's concerned they have nothing to teach. They're lower than and beneath the likes of her and the other angels. Angels should be listening to other angels. Even Daniel and Adina, who professed their love for humanity's free will, did not understand humans or their fragility and value. It's just not part of their thought process. For them, they saw a means to explore the world on their own terms away from angelic hierarchy. It didn't teach them how to value this “strange new land.”
For too long, the original goal for angels has been superseded by Michael's goal of defeating Lucifer. To him, it was God's order, his father's will. As the angel in charge of the host---and a ruler that did so with an iron fist---he dragged the rest of his brothers and sisters along for the ride. They were to operate in his war as he saw fit---bringing about the result he most needed. Angels knew their place within this structure. It isn't until after it collapses when Sam manages to jump back into the Cage with Lucifer in tow that we see this structure implode.
Post Apocalypse, the angels have been trying to find their new cause. Faction to faction---Raphael to Castiel to Naomi to Bartholomew to Malachi to Metatron---the angels have been swept with the tidal wave of each leader, adhering to a new regime almost at a whim. In that time, they've had more encounters with humans and learned next to nothing. In that time, they have only learned that humanity is there to be crushed beneath their feet.
Except for Castiel. And now Hannah, by watching him, will learn what he's learned by now.
Hannah expresses a distaste for the Winchesters---labeling them as a “bad influence.” Castiel will hear nothing of this against his friends. He tells her, “Sam and Dean may be a bit rough around the edges, but they're the best men I've ever known. And they're my friends. ” It's his first lesson---deliberately taught---that one should do whatever they can for a friend.
After the crash, Castiel begins to teach Hannah a new lesson. This one is more by example and by the sheer enormity of his health situation. Not used to someone being ill, Hannah is stunned to see a sleeping Castiel on the sofa. He looks beaten down, weary, and exhausted. It's clear, while he lies there, that he is indeed dying. It is the reality that Hannah pronounced in words become clearly evident. To see it before her is shattering. Castiel is dying. She can't deny it any longer as she sees him like this---unable to even put up a front of being fine.
For Hannah, she must now begin to value life. In this case, she's valuing another angelic life, but through him she's also learning to value human life. Her avatar for our fragility and our value comes from understanding just how important each one of us is. To Hannah, Castiel is to be the leader that will reunite and heal angelic kind. He's the one that will help to usher in a new era---but he can't do that if his grace burns out.
His grace burning out is a subtle metaphor---one we've seen throughout the ages as a candle light burning out. The longer a candle burns, the less fuel the flame has to feed itself and eventually it will snuff itself out, taking the light it provides with it. This is Castiel's situation---and his candle light will go with him when his borrowed grace finally runs out of fuel.
Where she truly begins to learn to value human life---and not just Castiel's---is by watching the angel she wants so desperately to lead them. Woken from his slumber, Castiel is joined by a little girl. The exchange, on the surface, seems mundane. She's a little girl curious about the strange sleeping man in the living room. Quickly, she asks if he had been dreaming---and Castiel gently tells her no. She launches without prompting into a story about her dream---about snot of all things---and becomes animated by the telling of it. Gently, Castiel replies, “That sound's like some very special snot.” In a gesture of kindness, she offers Castiel some of her cereal---which he politely and patiently takes.
This scene is simple on its surface. It is nothing more than a grown man patiently sitting with a small child exchanging words. The adorable factor that draws us in masks the profound statement it makes---that is until we watch Hannah watch this exchange. Then, we can see just what has happened here. She's seeing humanity with fresh eyes. This isn't some little girl who is expendable in some angel war if need be. She's not beneath angels---or Castiel. Rather, with her innocence she has a great lesson to teach: generosity and the pureness of heart.
Hannah doesn't quite learn this lesson just yet in this exchange. Not yet. Its profoundness will take time to settle for her---while we, the audience, grasp the reminder of our value that it provides.
Instead, she learns to value Castiel even more. He's clearly too tired after having crashed the car once, and so she demands that Castiel give up the keys. She'll drive---but not to meet Sam. Instead, she'll take Castiel back to Heaven's door and make a deal with a devil in angelic clothing: Metatron.
There is a cosmic shift happening within Hannah---one she doesn't even realize is happening. Her desperation to save Castiel at all costs is a rather human emotion. She is willing to go this far and to do whatever it takes if it means giving Castiel back his strength and his life. Waking to realize just where they are, Castiel enters the hallway by Metatron's prison just in time to refuse the Scribe's deal. It's not worth to repeat the same mistakes yet again just to save him. In the end, it's possible they'll end up right where they are now anyways---or worse.
For much of the episode, we watch Castiel's condition teach us the acceptance of our own eventual mortality. He seems, on the surface, at peace with his fate. He knows that he will die sooner rather than later, and that there's not much that can be done to stop it. He refuses to kill another angel to fix the matter, either---and he refuses to let Hannah do it for him. Dealing with Metatron is no better of a solution---in fact Castiel knows it will only lead to more problems with the angels warring and a repeat of Metatron's rush to power.
But that doesn't mean he wants to die. Just as Castiel has been teaching Hannah---and us---the value of human life and its ultimate fragility, he's also been teaching himself. Castiel doesn't want to die, and that's one reason why it stings so much when Metatron taunts, “Dead man walking!” In the short amount of time left to him, Castiel is beginning to fear what we all fear: our own mortality. He doesn't want to die nor does he like how it makes him feel. There's real fear in him as he watches the sand tick down.
Perhaps, Castiel's greatest lesson here is the same one he's trying to teach Hannah: to value life. In order for him to teach the angelic host, Castiel must learn to value his own life in order to show the value of others. Otherwise, the lesson we and they learn will ring hollow. After all, others will see his death as Castiel throwing his life away---and why value others if he wasn't willing to value his own? As we watch the remainder of the season, we're left to wonder how else Castiel will teach this lesson---and if he will learn it himself before it is too late.
But that's not the only avatar that shapes the story of “Reichenbach.” Just as Castiel and Hannah teach us how to value human life and to respect its fragility, Dean and Cole represent an avatar of a much more frightening aspect of ourselves: our ability to destroy. They are the avatar of our darkest selves---they represent the worst facet of us. And their most frightening lesson is captured in the face off that takes place between Dean and Cole: that not only do we destroy others, we destroy ourselves.
In the beginning of the episode, we watch Cole viciously try to torture and beat answers out of Sam. He is desperate to find his father's murderer. He needs to avenge what happened in the flash back to 2003. In many ways, Cole is Dean's avatar---the child that has never quite moved past the moment that shattered his world. For Dean, we know this moment to be the very moment his mother died. For Cole, that moment is when he came down to see his father murdered---by Dean. Capturing Sam Winchester is the first step Cole truly has to tracking down his father's killer. It's the first step he'll take to finish what was started all those years ago.
Cole is riddled with grief and anger over what happened---understandably so. No matter what creature his father was or had become, it doesn't change the fact that Cole lost a loved one. His physical actions continue to make him an avatar of Dean---the near joy he takes in taking out the hammer to smash Sam's limbs or the way he grips Sam's wounded arm to squeeze it hard shows us that he has no issue with inflicting pain to relieve pain. This is a signature of Dean's handling of most pain in his life.
Like Dean, however, there's a complexity to Cole. He's not simply a one tracked killer. He's not simply driven by revenge. A phone call interrupts Cole's attempt to discern Dean's location. It's from his son, and as we see him converse with the boy, we can see that he's so much more. There's a gentleness, a love in his voice, and a softness. Cole isn't simply hunting Dean down to avenge his father. It's not a simple personal vendetta to eliminate the man that scarred Cole for life. Cole believes that he is truly doing this in order to protect his family. He has no idea why Dean did what he did in 2003. He has no idea if Dean will come back and kill him or his family---but he has taken it upon himself to make sure that Dean Winchester won't. He'll kill him first.
This is another classic Dean move---eliminate the threat so the pain it inflicted can never do so again.
After Sam's escape, we see Cole slip into hunting mode. No, he has no idea that the monsters Sam told him about are real yet. He thinks Sam---and by extension Dean---are crazy. He is simply laser focused on his goal: kill Dean Winchester. To do that, he'll follow Sam wherever until they find Dean.
But as they say, be careful what you wish for---you might not like what you get.
Cole manages to follow Sam straight to his target. Unfortunately, he's stepped into a situation that is far over his head, and he has no idea what he's about to unleash upon himself.
If Hannah and Castiel taught us about our fragility in a gentle way, Cole will teach us it in a violent manner.
And he won't be the only one.
Dean is also an avatar for the destruction of others and ourselves. He begins, almost where he left off in “Black,” hanging out a strip club. It's clear that his inhibitions are falling faster as he reaches out and strokes the leg of the dancer---and cruelly taunts her with money as if he were paying her for sex.
After he's beat the bouncer that intended to kick him out, Dean runs into Crowley. The King of Hell informs him that they do have a job to do: ruling Hell. Crowley may have played the role of Falstaff these past few weeks, but it is clear that he would like to get back to business---and that means collecting new souls. After all, it's what Hell is all about. Only way to make the place more powerful is to corrupt and destroy more souls to repopulate any demons that may end up killed along the way.
In this way, Crowley's involvement in this episode reflects another aspect of the avatar of our tendency towards destruction. Hell, as a realm of punishment for our greatest sins and one where we're often sent by our failure to turn away from our destruction, is a metaphor for what happens on a cosmic level when we fail to remember our own fragility and value. It's so easy to see that in the job Crowley proposes Dean do. The sin here is lust, the destruction is of a couple---all rather mundane and oft repeated throughout history---but it will suffice to reach Crowley's means to an end. It's bigger, after all, than a human soul being plucked for Hell's coffers.
Crowley also knows the truth about Dean. Dean will need to kill and do so soon. Why not send him out---with his knowledge---to kill for the cause of Hell? So, he tells him about a woman that stepped out on her husband. That husband would now like to sell his soul in return for her death. It's simple enough---and because Dean is now more demonic than human, he shouldn't have any problem icing the woman. He needs to kill and so here's an opportunity to do just that.
In this way, we see Dean become a physical manifestation of our own destruction. We humans have found ways to destroy ourselves in clever and gruesome ways throughout history. We launch wars, we commit heinous crimes on one another---as anyone who watches or reads the news can tell you---we fight and scrap and argue over everything. Unchecked, this darker tendency in human nature to create conflict can lead to some of our greatest destructions. Some of them can be seen on a personal level---others are on global scale. In each case, in some ways it is our own doing--- our greatest weakness rising up to slap us back down.
For Dean, he's on the path of addiction. And Crowley knows it. He tells Dean explicitly, “The fact is you need to kill now. Not want to, not choose to, need to.” We're lead to believe that this will somehow keep Dean from turning demonic, but when the source is Crowley, we know that it has to be a lie. The more Dean kills, the more he will destroy himself. Crowley's merely willing to nudge him along the way by pointing him in the right direction. The ravages of this addiction are just beginning---and how much of Dean Winchester will survive this destruction we don't know yet.
Unfortunately, the kill doesn't go to plan. Dean needs to kill alright, but when Lester, the husband, comes to watch the dirty deed go down, plans change. Dean joins him in his car and informs him, “Listen -- and this is murder 101 -- when you hire someone to kill your wife, you don't want to be around when the hit goes down. It's called an alibi.” Lester, impatient with Dean for not simply doing what he wants, makes a fatal mistake. Hungry to destroy and kill, Dean is nearly vibrating with the need. Lester calls him a “punk ass demon” and seals his fate.
Sated by another kill, Dean returns to an angry Crowley. After all, Hell has “integrity” and never calls its deals in early. What Dean has done is break Crowley's cardinal rules. An argument ensues, and Crowley issues an ultimatum: “Pick a bloody side!” Dean must decide if he'd rather be more human or be a demon. And he must decide quickly. Sam is on the way.
It is this that shows us how Dean is the avatar for our appetite of destruction. With the demand from the King of Hell ringing in his ears, Dean teeters on a knifes edge. Sam encounters him after his search, and Dean admits readily that Crowley isn't the one that made him leave the Bunker. He even goes as far as to tell Sam,“But if you ever stopped to think that if I wanted to be cured I wouldn't have bailed?” Dean is edging ever closer to becoming a demon more and more.
But it is Cole that gives him the opportunity to do the most destruction. Dean can't destroy himself. After all, he's already dead. And now, he's able to heal instantly as evidenced by the cut on his palm sealing back---courtesy of the Mark, of course. Dean's become impervious and as such he's nearly invincible. So just how can he finish his transformation? How can he possibly destroy himself?
Cole is very much still Dean's avatar here---and Dean can see it in every word and action Cole makes. He's done almost all of these very same things: the verbal taunting, the brandishing of weapons, the wild attack---but it's much more than Dean seeing a chance to destroy not only his humanity and to show us how easy it is to destroy another physically. Instead, it is Cole's emotional state that gives him his greatest weapon.
In many ways, we're told of Dean's time in Hell in snippets and flashes. Dean admits to Sam that he got off the rack and tortured other souls. He's taunted by Alistair about what it was like to cut into that “weeping bitch” for the first time. And yet, we're told by Dean that he liked the feeling this torture gave him. Demons are shaped and created in Hell through blood and pain and misery. They are shaped in a rapid time that moves in a different flow from our own. What emerges on the other side is an evil and cruel creature. Dean was once on that path---and now we're seeing it repeat on earth as the Mark corrupts and locks him inside his body as a demonic soul. Little by little, the humanity that Dean retains is sliced or burned away---destroying the elder Winchester that we've always know.
Driven by a need to kill, we think we can see the end of Cole and Dean's showdown before it even begins. The way Dean is right now, we have no doubt that this new and dark version of Dean will kill the ex-marine. What happens, though, is so much worse. In the physical fight, it's almost as if Dean is holding back. Sure, he counters each and every move Cole makes with lightning reflexes. Yes, he makes every blow seem effortless and easy. And even when he pile drives his target into the side of that car, we can see how quickly he could simply make the kill. It's a deadly and elegant display of Dean's skill and new demonic power.
Surprisingly, however, we see him decide to let Cole live. He is going to do something far worse to this man than death could---and in the process destroy himself. After all, he knows that there's no worse fate for someone than being bested by the man that killed a family member before your own eyes. Living with that defeat will eat away at Cole---and Dean knows it because before becoming a demon he knew that's how he'd feel, too. For Dean, looking into Cole's face is like looking into a mirror. There's no doubt that he sees himself---the young self we see in that flashback---in this young man. And if Dean is truly to pick a side, what better way than to crush the soul of your own avatar?
Dean declares to the shocked Cole, “I'm a demon,” and in that moment we see him start to tumble head long into his decision. It isn't until he tells Sam chillingly what he's done that he's “picked a bloody side,” however. Dean truly becomes demonic when he tells Sam, “You call that mercy? Imagine you spend your whole life hunting down the guy that knifed your father. When you finally find him, he whips you like a dog -- how do you think that feels? That kid is going to spend his whole life knowing that he had his shot and that he couldn't beat me, that ain't mercy. That's the worst thing I could have done to him. And what I'm gonna do to you Sammy, well that ain't gonna be mercy either.”
Now that Dean's destroyed Cole and in turn himself---will he destroy Sam, too?
In the aftermath of the greatest aftershock, we watch Sam Winchester rush towards its epicenter. Of all the avatars in “Reichenbach,” Sam represents the greatest piece: the audience. It is through him and as him that we will experience the tragic loss of the real Dean by episode end. It is through and as Sam that we will experience the emotional pain of that moment. Sam, as our avatar, gives us the opportunity to become part of the story of Supernatural season ten. It is through Sam that we can grasp a deeper understanding of fear, loss, love---and even hope. Throughout the entirety of the episode, we are taken along for the ride next to and as Sam. The goal is to find and to save Dean---and we learn just how hard this struggle will be as Sam makes his first attempt.
Sam is another avatar for an aspect of ourselves. Sam stands in for so much more than a meta reference, though. He's not simply the audience's eyes and ears. He's the avatar for our greatest strength: our resiliency. No matter how dark, no matter how dire, Sam refuses to give up or to quit. He will stand firm.
We see it from the very moment we see him tied in that chair at Cole's mercy. Despite the agonizing pain being inflicted upon him, Sam won't blink. He refuses to bow down or to break. Cole thinks he's doing great damage to the younger Winchester---and the physical pain may not do him any good---but Sam has the endurance to take much worse. We know his history as the audience. What Cole's doing is a drop in the bucket to what Sam suffered in Lucifer's Cage. It's nothing in comparison to the countless times we've seen him tortured and hurt by the various monsters or demons they've fought over the years.
But what makes this situation unique is how Sam captures that resilient streak within us all. We may be fragile---as Castiel and Hannah's story demonstrates---and we may have the capacity to destroy others and ourselves as we watch Dean and Cole---but somehow we manage to survive. Sam's always been a survivor---one struggling to either break his head above water or to keep it there in one way or another. When we see him with Cole, we can see all of that inner strength at play. He can't let Cole break him. It won't help him save Dean.
More importantly, Sam knows that Cole is no match for what Dean's become and he wants nothing more than to remove the ex-marine from harm's way before it's too late.
After he's managed to free himself from Cole's grasp---thanks to the phone call that interrupts the violent interrogation---we watch Sam's search for Dean take on a personal touch. His hunter's training makes it easy for him to fall into old patterns---wearing the suit, showing a picture of his quarry, asking pointed questions---and yet we can see the emotional undercurrent in these gestures. Sam Winchester is an emotional little brother searching for his lost big brother.
This search, too, shows us our resiliency. When faced with long odds or a difficult task such as the one Sam's undertaking, we can easily be discouraged. By all rights, Sam should be after what he's learned from Crowley and what he learned from Cole's conversation with Dean. He won't like what he finds on the other side---but he can't give up. He has to find his brother and so he will press on until he does.
On this surface level---a brother searching for a lost sibling---the story seems mundane. This is not the first nor will it be the last time a family member searches frantically for a loved one. Each and every action Sam takes in his search is familiar---showing Dean's picture, talking to witnesses, following the trail that will lead him to his brother. Each of these actions gives us a physical marker to gage how far and how close Sam is to finding Dean. We know he's not far behind. We know that he's closing in rapidly.
This story is a human one enclosed in the monsters and demons and angels. It moves us because it is so ordinary---yet so painful. There's a desperation in a search like this---and as our avatar, Sam captures it in how he goes about the search. Sure, he wears his FBI suit and he acts as he would on any other case they've worked, but we can tell that this hunt means so much more. Sam knows that what he's rushing towards may not be pretty---that his search, even if he should find Dean, may ultimately be futile. What type of Dean will he meet?
We know that Sam fears this---as we do even if we've seen Dean in his new form---as Sam informs Castiel about what happened. In the moment he tells the angel about Dean, we can see it become real for Sam---and perhaps us. He tells Castiel, “Cas, Dean's a demon.” Saying it out loud, telling someone else, all of these things are markers for the reality Sam may have wanted to pretend wasn't there. It's easy to blame Crowley or to assume Crowley kidnapped Dean. It's easy to believe that when he arrives he'll find Dean held against his will waiting for Sam to save the day. And yet, Sam knows that won't be the case and that he should prepare for the worst.
Sam, in his desperation, is even willing to go one step further. He'll deal with the very person responsible for turning Dean into this monster: Crowley. Sam's no fool. He knows the King of Hell well enough to know there's going to be a catch at some point---but what choice does he have? If it can help him locate Dean and eventually remove the First Blade from his brother's iron grip, Sam will have to take that chance.
Crowley tells Sam that Dean's too difficult to control---that he's turning the demonic monster Dean Winchester's become back over to Sam's custody “now and forever.” Sam knows it'll be a dangerous thing to take Dean back home---and he's no fool. He has to know that Crowley's intentions here may be to have Dean eliminate him. He has to know that Crowley turning Dean over like this is too good to be true---too easy. After all, Crowley did invest a lot of time and effort into turning Dean into this killing machine. He wants Dean this way for a reason---or he did. Sam's been burned by Crowley too often to ignore this entirely---and yet he can't do anything about it right now. He will simply have to let that shoe drop when it may.
There's far more pressing issues at hand: such as saving Dean.
Once Sam enters that bar and comes face to face with Dean, we watch him---and become him---as he searches his brother's face. This is the second search he will do for his brother---and it is far more heartbreaking. His brother is physically with him in that room. That's his face, his eyes, and his voice. That's the same bow legged walk. Those are the same freckles. Dean uses the same gestures Sam's always known here. For all intents and purposes, Sam's search is over. He found his brother. He's standing right there in front of him.
And yet the search has only begun. The longer Sam searches Dean's face, the more he realizes he can't find him at all. Dean's still lost. Sam's north star has disappeared. At this stage, Sam should feel defeated. And yet, he doesn't. Pulling from another reserve of inner strength we know him to possess, Sam shows us his resiliency---and ours---when he tells Dean, “Well, I don't care cause you are my brother and I'm here to take you home.”
It is a profound moment for Sam and for us. In that line is all of Sam's love, trust, and devotion to Dean. In that line, we can feel the bond the Winchesters share---the one that we champion season in and season out. In that line, we hear the truth of Supernatural. In many ways, we are saying it right along with Sam. It is our sentiments---just as much as it is his.
And with Sam, we are gutted when Demon Dean simply throws it back in his face.
For Sam, it just means that he'll need to search harder to find his brother in that familiar but now cruel face. He's not going to simply give up. No matter how much Dean taunts him or tells him, “Cause right now I'm doing all I can not to come over there and rip your throat out---with my teeth,” Sam will find a way to save his brother. He will rely on his human resiliency to outlast the demon his brother has become.
But before Sam can do that, Cole intervenes, smoking Sam out of the bar with a smoke bomb. He knocks the younger Winchester out, too. It leaves Sam out of the fight between Cole and Dean. It is simple. In that moment, we become Sam and Sam becomes us. Knocked aside, Sam has little choice but to watch his brother play with Cole like a cat does with a mouse. Sam watches---as we watch---Dean commit his own destruction. It is the first true assessment we and he will have in judging just what we're really dealing with here. It's clear that Dean will only become crueler going forward.
But that doesn't mean Sam's giving up even now. The moment an opportunity arises, Sam throws holy water in his brother's face and slaps the handcuffs on. The first step in saving his brother has been achieved. Even more, he sees hope in Dean's “mercy.” He sees a sliver of a chance to perhaps save Dean---and he won't let that go. That resiliency is tested by Dean's chilling statement, and yet we know Sam well enough by now that this will not deter him. He will not quit on his brother now.
Out of all the avatars in “Reichenbach,” it is Sam's resiliency---a reflection of our own---that is the most important and the one that will be most relied upon in the upcoming episodes as the season continues.
Once Sam has Dean finally in the Bunker, just how much more will that resiliency be tested? Will it be enough for Sam to finally find Dean inside the demonic husk?
Travis Aaron Wade gives us reason to sympathize with Cole Trenton in “Reichenbach.” He's a blend of cold and tragic in the torture of Sam. As we learn his story---told with a sad and desperate voice---we can't help but feel for him. Wade plays Cole almost Dean-like---showing a bravado and a fear all at once when faced with Sam's stoicism. We can see Cole getting wound up more and more the longer the scene goes on as we watch Wade's body language and how he delivers his lines. This culminates in his explosive shout of, “I did two tours in Iraq. Special ops. Darfur. The Congo. I've seen suicide bombers and child soldiers so hopped up on speed that they could barely talk, but they could sure as hell shoot an AK...” Wade's chemistry with Padalecki in this scene makes it all the more heartbreaking and difficult to watch. We don't want him to smash anything on Sam with that giant hammer, but we can also understand why he's so upset. Once Sam has left him behind to continue his interrupted tracking of Dean, Wade shows us a desperate Cole at every turn. It's written all over his face that he needs to see this through and take Dean down for what he's done. As he finally gets his big moment, we see a lot of the cockiness in how Wade plays Cole that we've seen in Dean over the years. He tells Dean, “You're good, but I'm better.” In the way Wade delivers that line, we can tell that Cole's almost trying to put the finishing touches on his life time of prep before the fight is underway. As the fight goes down, we see great electric chemistry between Wade and Ackles. Having them face off on opposing sides, we can feel our hearts rush in their dual performances. The longer the fight continues and the more desperate Wade plays Cole, the more heartbreaking this scene becomes. He's been so driven by this and as we see him bested only to be granted another chance to live, we can see him broken just a little inside. Wade shows it in his face and in the defeated body language. Now that the hunting world of demons and monsters has been exposed to Cole, we'll be curious to see how Wade navigates the new hunter through it in the remainder of the season.
Erica Carrol provides us with a concerned Hannah determined to save Castiel no matter the cost. She's quietly observing Castiel at every turn, looking for the signs that he's failing and weakening. Carrol plays Hannah with a determination, showing us how driven the angel is to remain on task and fix her friend. And yet, we can tell that she's also bemused by all the humanity surrounding her---including from Castiel. The woman's ax-murderer joke flies over her head, leaving her lost and unsure if this human isn't telling the truth about violent tendencies. Carrol makes this awkward moment amusing just by her facial expressions alone. As the story progresses, we see Carrol put in a desperation to Hannah---particularly when she is faced with Metatron. She wants to do anything that will save her friend---even if it means dealing with the enemy. Carrol gives Hannah strength as she holds firm against Metatron's taunts that she wishes to be dominated. Her physical action to pull Armstrong's Metatron against the bars conveys a lot of Hannah's anger, desperation, and frustration well. It's on her face and in her body language. Carrol has great chemistry with Armstrong---but it's much stronger with Collins. We see that best in the scenes where Hannah observes Castiel and the little girl. We can sense a fondness growing in Hannah for Castiel's eccentricities as she tries to understand and navigate the world he's sharing with her. Carrol gives Hannah some softness, too, when she glances between the two as they make their sweet exchange. The hardened angel we saw in the season opener had a bit of the edge rubbed off in that moment, and we're now left to wonder what Carrol's Hannah takes away from that moment for the rest of the season.
Curtis Armstrong returns as the conniving Scribe of God that we know better than to trust. He's just as egotistical as we remember him, too. Armstrong makes sure to give Metatron a more sarcastic bite. There's a cruelty in the way he taunts Hannah, knowing how to push her buttons to perhaps get what he wants. Armstrong gives Metatron presence in this scene, making us uneasy. He may be in a straight jacket and in a cage, but we can tell that the angel that wanted to become God is still scheming even now. Armstrong puts glee in Metatron's bragging, especially when he announces, “I'm a terrific liar.” Even so, we can tell that he's poking and prodding first Hannah and then Castiel to convince them that he'll give Castiel back his grace and leave. Armstrong has great chemistry with Erica Carrol's Hannah. Despite his claim that they had “white hot spark” we can tell that Metatron's aim isn't to woo her or to gain her affection. We can tell that he's decided to egg her on until she snaps, taking pleasure in being able to still push angels around while locked up. We see a similar exchange take place between Castiel and Metatron---and Armstrong and Collins makes this scene tense and emotional. When we see Metatron defeated in his latest escape attempt, we see him condemn the dying Castiel. Armstrong delivers the line, “Dead man walking” to such chilling effect, making what we already know about Castiel's situation all the more real. If Castiel doesn't replenish his grace or end up regaining his own, he will die. Metatron knows this and we see him shout this in order to perhaps gain leverage. Now that we've seen Metatron in his jail cell, we're left to wonder just what the Scribe will try to do next.
Mark Sheppard plays a Crowley quickly losing his patience with Demon Dean not falling in line with his plans. We can tell that his patience is starting to wear thinner as the episode progresses. Sheppard takes all of Crowley's wit and charm and twists it into a darker level as he prods Demon Dean. His assessment of Dean's current situation is spot on---and Sheppard gives it all the weight it deserves in how he delivers the line, “Face it darling you're an addict, death is your drug. And you're going to spend the rest of your life chasing that dragon.” As Dean gets more belligerent and difficult to nudge in the right direction, Sheppard gives us a frustrated Crowley. He can't believe that Dean would break his cardinal rule and kill his “client” before collecting on the deal. Sheppard shows us that Crowley's reached his limit in that moment. We can see it in how he demands that Dean, “Pick a bloody side!” And yet, after Dean shoves him forcefully, Sheppard also shows us Crowley's fear and anxiety about the monster he's created. It's clear in the facial expressions and the blustering at his minions,who seem much too amused by the events. Sheppard adds in a comedic layer, too, when we see Crowley listen to one of his henchmen describe the latest stats on growing the soul collection for Hell. The look of absolute boredom on his face captures the feeling many have had in a business meeting---and we can tell that Crowley would rather kill this guy or himself than listen to it any more. Sheppard has great chemistry with both Padalecki and Ackles as always---and in different ways. With Ackles, we can tell that Crowley's feeding on the brewing tension between the King of Hell and his would be protege. With Padalecki, we can see that Crowley's almost sympathetic at dumping this monster on him---and yet we can tell in Sheppard's subtle performance that there's something the King of Hell is hiding. Besides wanting to unload the mess onto someone else, we can almost see the gears turning in Crowley's head as we watch Sheppard hand over the First Blade to Padalecki's Sam. We're left to wonder, then, just what will happen next with Crowley and how he'll react to any changes in Demon Dean going forward.
Misha Collins shows us a heartbreaking Castiel resigned to his fate. We see it from the moment the episode begins to the last moment we see the fading angel. Collins makes us sympathize with Castiel's situation on every level. There's a weariness about him as he washes his hands and face or as he sits with the little girl while they wait for the car to be repaired. And yet, Collins makes sure to add a gentle patience to Castiel's make up. He's soft spoken and kind in his interactions with Hannah, explaining carefully to Hannah why he's rushing to help Sam. Collins makes us see Castiel's experience as a human last year shine in this new version of a weakened Castiel, too. His compliment to Hannah--- “No it's just very human”---is touching. But Collins also shows us how angry Castiel can still get, too. As he bursts into Heaven and finds Hannah in the midst of confronting Metatron, he declares with firmness, “I don't want this.” He refuses to take another's grace and he refuses to make yet another potentially ill fated deal with Metatron, either. Resignation seems to filter through all of Castiel's being as he knows the inevitable will come. Even so, as Metatron taunts Castiel about being a “dead man walking,” we can see in the body language that Collins uses that Castiel may be in denial. The best scene, however, is when Castiel talks with the little girl about her “snot” dream. There's a sweetness about this interaction---all from the gentle voice Collins uses in delivering his lines to the soft smiles given to the child. It's clear, here, that he's drawing on his own experience as a father to convey Castiel's connection with this little girl. It leaves us aching for Castiel and hoping that they can find a way to fix him before it's too late.
As Demon Dean grows in power, Jensen Ackles shows us a sinister and cruel Dean that's becoming less and less recognizable. There's a creepy element as we watch Demon Dean simply decide to take what he wants first with the stripper before he turns his attention to the bouncer and then how he interacts with Lester. It's easy to see that his cruelty streak has grown wider in the conversation he holds with Lester, telling him flat out, “Like I said, loser with a capital L rhymes with you suck.” While this sounds close to the Dean we've known over the years, the way Ackles delivers it shows us that it's much more than Dean's sense of right and wrong being ruffled. He wants this man to be angry so he'll push him over the edge to kill him. When Dean returns to Crowley, we see him become intimidating and powerful. Ackles puts it all in his body language and makes use of his large frame to sell it. There's a darkness in this interaction between Demon Dean and Crowley---and its sinister nature comes from the facial expressions and vocal tones Ackles uses. Even so, we see a glimpse of a young and much more innocent Dean in the flash back. While the youngness is a trick of VFX, we can also see all the touches Ackles put into this moment. It's in the softer expression and open body stance, conveying that he never wanted Cole to see this moment. In the present, Ackles makes Demon Dean vicious in his encounter with the adult Cole. The fight scene and face off between the two is riveting due to the chemistry Ackles shares with Wade. He seems to feed off of Wade's performance of the agitated and frustrated Cole, feeding into the glee Demon Dean seems to have at taunting his foe. With this new incarnation of Dean, we can tell that Ackles is having fun. Here, he's allowed to put a lot of evil touches and darkness into the character. Even so, Ackles also shows us through his subtle acting that Dean may not entirely be sated or happy with his new existence. His cruel taunts of Sam convey that well in how Ackles delivers the lines. If Demon Dean didn't care on some level about Sam, he wouldn't say these taunts with such anger. Now that he's been captured and will be brought home, we're left to fear for what Demon Dean will do---and just what kind of torture he'll inflict on his brother.
Jared Padalecki makes our hearts ache in “Reichenbach” as he resumes his search and encounters the now demonic Dean. While still being held by Cole, Padalecki captures Sam's strength as he endures without complaint the beating and torture inflicted upon him. He may have found out the terrible truth about what has happened to Dean, but that doesn't mean he's going to sell his brother out to a broken man seeking revenge. On one hand, we can see in Padalecki's performance that Sam is trying to protect Cole. It's clear in how he delivers the line, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but... There are monsters out there.” Once Sam manges to break free, we see Padalecki ratchet up his performance even more as he follows the clues that will lead him to Dean. He's moving as we watch Sam share a photo of Dean with the bouncer. Padalecki makes this gesture almost seem like Sam's looking for a missing sibling that's been kidnapped or disappeared rather than a brother that's become a demonic monster. There's a patience when Sam finally catches up with Dean---and as we watch Sam admit to Dean that he won't kill him it breaks our hearts. Padalecki puts so much love and emotion into the line, “You're my brother and I'm here to take you home” that we're left breathless. In many ways, Padalecki's Sam has taken leaps and bounds to become our own avatar---and Padalecki captures all of this with brilliant subtlety. When we see the brothers in the Impala, we can see on Sam's face that he's trying to find his brother in that monster sitting in the back seat. Upon hearing Dean utter, “It's just a car,” we can tell in Padalecki's expression that Sam's afraid he's truly lost his brother---and his north star. As he hears the chilling reason for Dean's actions, we're left to wonder just what Demon Dean has in store for Sam---and how Padalecki will show us Sam's struggle to save his brother going forward.
Best Lines of the Week:
Castiel: Sam and Dean may be a bit rough around the edges, but they're the best men I've ever known. And they're my friends.
Metatron: Hey! Words hurt!
Crowley: Oh stop it Samantha, nobody likes a tease.
Dean: You sound like a Viagra commercial you know that, right?
Dean: Listen -- and this is murder 101 -- when you hire someone to kill your wife, you don't want to be around when the hit goes down. It's called an alibi.
Dean: What did you think was going to happen, huh? You just stroll up here and say, 'My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.' And I'd just roll over?
Sam: You're my brother, and I'm here to take you home.
Side Note: This is my 100th article at the Winchester Family Business. I'm amazed that my strange compulsion to write about the little show that could has meant so much to so many of you. I look forward to perhaps writing a hundred more! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
Next week, Sam takes Demon Dean into the confines of the Bunker. Will it go from the “safest place on earth” to the most dangerous?