First, let's look at the players in the fight for Hell's throne.
On one side, we have Crowley, the King, trying to reclaim his throne by any means necessary. Crowley's more negotiator than attack dog, and so he tries to appeal to the diplomatic senses. He is worried about “jangled nerves” and “restoring confidence” as if Hell is full of stock holders rather than demons. He knows that his system of thinking works and can grow Hell indefinitely. There's always someone willing to sell their soul for something---be it “three inches of willy” or to save a loved one. Souls will keep siphoning into his coffers---but only if he can keep control.
On the other, we have Abaddon, the Knight of Hell who would be Queen of Hell. She's violent, unpredictable, and impatient. She is vicious and would rule through brute strength and fear rather than subterfuge. She takes what she wants rather than waiting for it to come to her. She fundamentally sees demons and Hell differently than Crowley. Rather than being orderly in making deals, Abaddon sees them as agents of chaos. They are to disrupt everything and everyone around them through acts of aggression and violence. In her tenure as Queen, she would emphasize this side of things, making demonic activity on earth far more frightening---after all, she's been creating her own demons to serve her and her alone.
And yet, Abaddon's footing on the throne isn't any sounder. Despite all of Crowley's advisers turning against him---not one raises their voice in agreement with his proposal to calm the waters---the new Queen isn't entirely secure quite yet on her throne. She has loose ends she wants to resolve now rather than later. On one hand, it's a brilliant strategy to bring the fight to her and on her own terms. She's choosing the place, the time, and the players involved. She knows they're coming and so therefore can be ready for their moves.
Abaddon knows she must remove the threat of the First Blade and its new owner, Dean Winchester. She knows that if she doesn't do this now she can never truly ascend as Queen. He will be out there, hunting and waiting. If she doesn't handle him now, she knows that she will face a potential threat around every corner---that as unsettled as the support has been for Crowley that it'll be easy for them to lose confidence in her rule just as they did their former King. Abaddon can't let that happen, and so she determines that she must remove him from the chessboard now.
So, she brings her own bargaining chips to force Crowley's hand: his son Gavin.
In the past, we know that Crowley has admitted to hating his son---and we learn that the feeling is mutual. It's how we learn his true identity as Fergus MacLeod. His son, even dead, hated him enough to reveal the truth and the burial spot of his father. But as they stand here face to face for the first time in 291 years, we see Crowley's new stint with humanity soften him. He's not nearly as harsh---and even when he admits to hating his son, we can tell that he's not certain of that feeling.
His addiction to human blood has ironically opened him up to the very trick he's used so frequently on his opponents. We saw him use a similar tactic to devastating results in “Clip Show.” He knows that threatening the loved ones of his enemies will force them to do what he wants. Abaddon is wise enough to know that this trick will work on Crowley now just as well. There's a reason why the King of Hell uses this against his enemies: underneath his demonic nature this is his own weakness, too.
In “Sacrifice,” we saw Crowley start to collapse under the guilt for all his crimes---human and demonic. Now faced with his son again, we see him openly confess to what those human crimes were. He beat and neglected his own son---the very reason Gavin found him to be a monster. Crowley doesn't want to feel this crushing guilt---and now he wants his son's forgiveness. It's this reason that Abaddon hauls him from back in time to throw at her opponent. She knows that he'll be so tied up in his emotional struggle that she'll be able to push him in whatever direction she wants.
As she's been tailing his movements, she's learned about how this human blood addiction has changed him. Lola did report back to her, after all. And we see here that her calculations were more than correct. As she brutally forces Gavin to his knees and blood to pour from his eyes, we see Crowley waver in his steadfast calm and disinterest. The longer he waits, however, the more pain his son feels---and in turn he feels. As he tells her, “you've made your point,” we see her stop. In her smile, we can tell that she's managed to check mate Crowley.
It also allows her to get to the point: her reason for showing up in the first place. She informs Crowley that she knows that they've recovered the First Blade and that one of the Winchesters is in possession of the Mark of Cain. As this is the biggest threat to her rule, she now wants Crowley to contact the brothers and to persuade them to join them. She's banking on the element of surprise here, knowing that this can be a true ambush if done correctly. She gets them to show up, she can overpower and kill one or both---preferably the one with the Mark of Cain.
Her plan, however, has flaws. Abaddon sees the Winchesters as a threat, yes, but she isn't entirely afraid of them, either. When we see Cain come close to killing Abaddon in 1863, we see her flee Collette's body just in time. She was afraid of Cain---and rightly so. He was the creator of the Knights of Hell---he trained them and lead them for centuries. She regarded Cain as being above her in rank---if only slightly. In this way, we see her respect Cain.
For the Winchesters, however, she sees them as human and insignificant. If not for the Mark of Cain and the First Blade, it's possible she may have continued to focus her energies more on Crowley, taking more and more territory from the King. Now that one has the Mark and the Blade, however, she knows they are a threat---and yet she doesn't quite see them as such. Abaddon's biggest flaw---and one we will see come to fruition at the conclusion of the episode---is that she underestimates the Winchesters. It is the fatal flaw in all the enemies that the Winchesters have faced in the past---from Azazel to Lucifer to Dick Roman.
But Abaddon doesn't consider this---and so, driven to do as he's told, Crowley reaches out to the Winchesters to let them know that he's found Abaddon and that they should now retrieve the Blade from its hiding place---a human corpse. The stage is set and now the players simply have to find their marks.
But what about Sam and Dean? Besides being the very threat that Abaddon is trying to eliminate, where do they fit into this scheme? How does the title “King of the Damned” connect to them?
We begin with the Winchesters coming to Castiel's new camp. There, he welcomes them with hugs. He tells them that they've captured one of Metatron's insiders---a rather chatty one at that. This angel has revealed that Metatron's trying to rebuild Heaven with the “chosen few” and yet he won't completely tell them everything they need to know. Castiel no longer wants to commit violence on his brethren---not unless he's forced to defend himself---so he asks the Winchesters to help him. They are to torture this angel if absolutely necessary to get the answers they need. Dean readily agrees while Sam looks on in concern---this is a key moment. It is the first instance we begin to see the title reflect the building story. Someone will be coroneted by the end of the episode---just not who we might expect.
The Winchesters enter the holding cell, and there they find Ezra in chains and unwilling to talk. He tells them that they can torture him, but he's a “commando” and so it'll do no good. A thrill rushes through Dean at this, and he gleefully moves towards the angel, retorting, “You just asked me to dance.” It takes all of Sam's influence to keep Dean from slicing and dicing the angel to death before they can get answers---another crucial moment.
They learn that Metatron does indeed have a backdoor to Heaven---one that moves around frequently. He's looking for an angel army of his own making---and he needs recruits. Ezra may have learned the secrets, but he was passed over for the entire assignment. Therefore, most of what he's learned is rumor and whisperings. It gives the Winchesters enough crumbs to report back to Castiel and to start planning their own moves against Metatron---but not nearly enough to take action.
Meanwhile, as they wait to deal with this issue, Dean receives a call from Crowley. The King of Hell is now going through with Abaddon's demand. He sets the trap, taking the Winchesters off angel duty and back on demon duty. They will have to rush towards the showdown with the Knight of Hell---and leave Castiel to figure out his next move.
It is this that shows the title's influence on the episode. On the surface, “King of the Damned” seems to be about the struggle between Crowley and Abaddon. As the Winchesters arrive and Dean enters the room, we see him and the Queen struggle against one another. Dean seems to be beaten almost, pinned like a bug against the wall. And yet, he has enough strength to push back and finally deliver the killing blow---the one Abaddon wanted to prevent with her ambush. It would have worked if it hadn't been for Crowley's warning.
With Abaddon dead, Crowley can now resume his kingship. It would seem that the title refers to this---and yet that's not the case. Certainly this is an element of the title. He is, after all, King of Hell and therefore “King of the Damned,” but this clearly refers to another---one that is in ascension to a different throne entirely.
It is in the moment that Dean kills Abaddon that we see the true “King of the Damned,” emerge. We see his slow climb throughout the episode in so many ways. He is on edge even more. Dean seems more than eager to commit violence. It's as if the side we heard about from his time in Hell has now come out completely. There's pleasure in his movements as he prepares to torture Ezra. There's disappointment in his face when Sam gets him to pull back. There's impatience in him as they go to retrieve the Blade. He brushes aside Sam's worry, saying that he can pick up the Blade without issue.
When we see him sitting in Castiel's HQ, we see the truth. His coronation happens slowly before us and Sam's eyes. He is thirsting for violence and for the Blade---the Mark is humming and his flashbacks to holding the Blade are consuming and corrupting. On one hand, they seem to be agonized moments in time---ones that haunt him. On the other, they seem to be moments Dean enjoys to relive, lost in the reverie of how powerful it made him feel to hold and to use the Blade the first time.
It's easy to see that the Blade is his scepter and he is willing to claim it more each time. They haven't yet retrieved it, and yet it is calling to him with more intensity as time passes. Magnus told him that he would come to welcome these feelings---and that would certainly seem to be the case. The longer he wears the Mark, the more he'll thirst for the Blade itself.
The moment that Dean truly becomes the “King of the Damned,” however, is the moment he finally strikes the killing blow on Abaddon. He is a man, yes, but it gives him great power. As we see him finally stride forward and thrust the Blade into her chest, we see him crowned King. No, he will not take the throne of Hell from either Abaddon or Crowley. That is not how he will be King. It's not even Dean's objective---not really. His objective is to possess the Blade---to claim it as his own and we see him do just that.
We also see the title refer to the beginnings of what may yet become of the elder Winchester. Dean has acquired the Mark of Cain and has now used the First Blade on first Magnus and now on Abaddon. They might seem like ordinary kills---the light show Abaddon created aside---but this Blade and this Mark are significantly different than any other weapon the Winchesters have ever used. This isn't a simple blade or gun. This weapon craves blood almost more than its wielder.
The Blade was first used by Cain. We are uncertain as to how Cain became a demon. We know he was changed into one by Lucifer in exchange for his brother's soul in Heaven. Is it possible that by committing the first murder that this is the moment Cain became a Knight of Hell? Is it possible that instead of simply corrupting his soul, Lucifer had Cain do it himself---in that grisly first act? Is that how he managed to create Cain? And what of those who are “worthy” of receiving the Mark and using the Blade? Will they face a similar fate?
It leads us down frightening paths. It leads us to question. Now that Dean has begun his ascension as “King of the Damned,” what will his fate be? He has now successfully killed Abaddon, a Knight of Hell. Could it be possible that we will see Dean begin his own change? Will he start to be corrupted into something like her---or like Cain? Will he become a Knight of Hell himself? Just what will it take to corrupt the elder Winchester into this?
It is clear that this Mark and this Blade have changed or enhanced feelings inside Dean. Rather than restraining his violence, we see Dean wanting to unleash. There's a glee in the gruesome moment he strikes the killing blow on the stunned Abaddon. He is taking his throne by force and by blood. We are left to shudder at what else he must do to completely claim his title.
Now we're left with one question: will he?
That leaves us with Sam. Unlike Cain, Dean has his younger brother. Sam is alive. We see Dean send Sam into the basement---and see him claim later that it was to keep Abaddon from using Sam as a bargaining chip. In reality, we can tell that Dean did this to prevent himself from repeating the Cain and Abel story. He tells Sam that he would have struck anyone down---that anyone in his way would be fair game---could this even mean Sam?
The Blade craves blood. It craves death. It was created in the moment a brother struck down another brother. What if it asks of its “King” to repeat this same deadly mistake? What if its goal is to corrupt? The disease was Abaddon---she was corrupting human souls on earth and wreaking havoc. She was committing atrocities. Her disease was permeating several layers of humanity and had the potential to bring a version of Hell to earth. There's no question that she had to be stopped---but at what cost?
As we watch Dean through Sam's eyes we see his own fears grow minute by minute. He is scared that his brother will ascend to that dreadful throne---that Dean will willingly embrace this new title as “King of the Damned” and that he will lose his big brother forever. He knew that Abaddon needed to be stopped---and yet he can't help but wonder what type of Dean he'll have in the end. Will he be able to pull Dean back from the precipices?
We see Sam enter just as Dean is delivering the killing blow---and in this terrible moment we see hope possibly take root. As Dean begins to go berserk, stabbing Abaddon's now cooling corpse with relentless force, it takes Sam's gentle and frightened voice to snap him out of it. He calls out to his brother and softly says, “You can stop.” It gets him the result he so desperately wanted: Dean drops the Blade and looks up with an expression of horror at his actions.
But that doesn't mean the Blade won't give up its new chosen owner without a fight. As Sam suggests that they ought to stash the Blade for safe keeping, Dean simply retorts with one word: “No.”
In the aftermath, then, we are seeing a new power struggle emerge. It will be Sam vs. The First Blade for Dean. The First Blade has taken hold of Dean, calling to his bloodlust and violence. It craves these terrible things---and while it may not be a sentient being, we can tell that it has the ability to manipulate and shape its wielder. Born as it was, it may drive Dean to eliminate Sam. It will take Sam's courage, strength, and gentle nature to counter its darkness. The stage has been reset and we know that Sam's stakes may have never been higher.
The fact that Sam was able to break through after Dean killed Mangus gave us hope. Now that he's managed to do so again after Dean kills Abaddon with such gruesome violence shows us that there's a chance. Sam can balance what the Blade is doing to his brother---but only if he remains vigilant. Sam can't let it make him the next Abel---he can't let the First Blade complete Dean's coronation as “King of the Damned.”
Instead, he must stand against it and pull Dean back.
We're left to wonder, then, will Dean continue his ascension? Will he become a Knight of Hell himself? Will he become the “King of the Damned?” Or will Sam still be able to reach through and break its power?
It's very possible the cure is far worse than the disease ever was---and it leaves us to tremble.
Theo Devaney made his debut as Crowley's son, Gavin MacLeod. When we're first introduced to him, he's busy packing for his ill-fated trip to the American Colonies. He's stunned by Abaddon's sudden appearance, and we see him frightened by her violence---and rightly so! Devaney gives Gavin a childlike element, particularly in how he reacts to the modern wonders now surrounding him. The best example of that can be found in his exclamation, “Holy Mother of God, we're amongst the stars! Are we in Heaven? You must be angels.” Devaney puts all of that wonder in this line, making him a rather likable character. And yet, Devaney also shows us that perhaps Gavin's not as naïve as he first appears. His ability to start negotiating with Crowley shows us that he's possibly much more shrewd than we think. It gives us a chance to see his father in him, knowing that he's going to try and talk fast out of a situation and turn it towards his advantage. Devaney has great chemistry with Sheppard, too, making their appearance together delightful. There's a charm when we see the two of them in the midst of the mundane activity of reading the paper together. As Crowley handles the hell hound over the phone, we see Gavin smile and seem rather content. It's a quaint moment. When it comes time for the two to say goodbye, however, we see them have a bittersweet moment. Gavin doesn't know what to expect from this new time and he doesn't want to be separated from Crowley now. As he's left standing in the meadow, we're left to wonder just what his appearance will bring forth---and when we'll see the “Prince” of Hell again.
Tahmoh Penkiket presents a conflicted and cautious Gadreel. He shows us this well in the meeting with Castiel. The moment we saw him first question Metatron in “Meta Fiction” has now begun to bear fruit in “King of the Damned.” He is clearly starting to balk at being Metatron's second in command. Penkiket also shows us that Gadreel might have more respect for Sam Winchester than we might think---his taunting in “Meta Fiction” aside. The way he talks about Sam's view of Castiel tells us this---and it's all in how Penkiket delivers his lines. There's a layer of awe here, as if he's amazed by Sam's feelings for the rebel angel leader. We know that he's no where to being redeemed by any means, but we can see doubt really taking seed the more he speaks. His mentioning of honor and the manner in which he talks about it conveys this well. Penkiket shows us that perhaps Gadreel is becoming more and more the wild card in Metatron's scheme---especially as we see him continue to feed his doubts after Castiel warns him about this path not being what he thinks it'll be. Now we're left to wonder just when he'll reveal the moving door to Heaven---and to whom.
Alaina Huffman makes quite the entrance in “King of the Damned”---all with how she struts through the door. Her sweet tone as she tells Gavin that she's a “friend of the family,” sends chills. After Crowley asks for his members allegiance, her sarcastic call out of, “Yo,” is all we need. Huffman gives Abaddon sass, power, and presence---and yet we get so much more from her performance. There's a sense of pleasure in how she's managed to twist Crowley up in knots by using Gavin against him. Abaddon seems confident that she'll manage to win here---and so we see her lord it over Crowley in spades. It's all in Huffman's expressions and gestures. When she starts to torture Gavin---all with her power---it's in a subtle gesture or a smile. Underneath her bravado, however, Huffman shows that Abaddon's not as certain of things as she'd like everyone to believe. The way she talks about the Winchesters coming into possession of the First Blade lets us know that she's worried about what may happen to her. We see her go to bargaining with Crowley---Gavin will live if he sides with her. Huffman shows us that Abaddon's gambling---and when she finally comes face to face with Dean, we can tell that she's over played her hand. She is over-confident at this point, especially after using her power to pin the elder Winchester to the wall. We can tell that she almost wants to have fun with this---and yet the longer it drags on we can see worry and a tinge of fear in her face. Huffman shows it well with just the slightest change in expression. And as she's finally bested, we can see all the terror and agony as Dean manages to deliver the killing blow. Huffman makes Abaddon's exit one to remember for sure---even if part of us is sad to see her go.
Mark Sheppard gives a subtle performance as Crowley. There's so much nuance, emotion, and humor in his portrayal of the character in “King of the Damned.” Sheppard gives Crowley his trademark sarcastic bite, and yet we can tell there's a subtle affection underneath it all---especially with Devaney's Gavin. He conveys all of Crowley's conflicted feelings---from the guilt he feels for his treatment of Gavin while he was still alive to the joy at a second chance for his son. There's worry, too, for what will happen to his son once he's returned. Sheppard also plays well to the comedic side of Crowley, particularly when he shows Gavin the lightbulb. It's all in the gesture and facial expression---we can't help but laugh. His best comedic moment, however, comes when he takes the call from the Winchesters. His nonchalant manner followed by his sweet tone of voice as he talks to Juliet the hellhound adds great humor and surreality. As the brothers confront him at the end, however, we see Sheppard put all of Crowley's new found human emotions into one word, “Feelings!” As he says goodbye to Gavin, we can sense regret and relief that his son will manage to not only survive but possibly thrive. Now that Crowley's managed to slip the First Blade's bite, we're left to see just what he does next in the remainder of the season---and perhaps into season ten.
Misha Collins makes quite the entrance in “King of the Damned.” We hear his footsteps approaching, and we're left to wonder if it'll be Metatron that walks through that door. Instead, we see Castiel. He looks very stoic in that moment---and yet Collins gives us an emotional performance in various moments. When the Winchesters first arrive, we see him pull each brother in for a hug. It shows just how far Castiel has come after his brush with humanity. Collins really hits home when we see him pull Sam aside to ask honestly about Gadreel. There's a sensitivity in the way he goes about the questioning. Collins adds a layer of gentleness to this scene, allowing for us to understand that Castiel isn't doing this to punish or harm Sam. He truly would like to know---and not just to assess Gadreel. Collins conveys that Castiel truly has come to care for the younger Winchester and wants to make certain that he is well. As Collins meets with Gadreel, we see the two finally come face to face truly---and in Penkiket's version. The two have great chemistry as they discuss the situation. Collins takes what Sam has told him about the angel and gently uses it to push Gadreel not to do what he wants but to rather rethink what he's doing and who he's aligned himself with. We're left to wonder if it'll be enough to bring Gadreel to him---and just what else Castiel will do as the reluctant “commander.”
Jensen Ackles played a wound tight and fierce Dean Winchester. We could tell that he was ready to unleash some of the pent up anger, energy, and violence that has been bubbling up since he received the Mark. Ackles conveyed this well in how tense his body language was, how he paced and gestured, and by vocal cues that exposed Dean's building fury. Underneath that, we can see that Dean's perhaps enjoying this a little too much---that there's pleasure to be had in this new found bloodlust. Ackles shows us that in the scene where the Winchesters question Ezra. As soon as the chatty angel says he won't spill even under torture, we see Dean leap at the chance. Ackles puts all of Dean's pleasure in following through in the way he delivers the line, “You just asked me to dance.” He also captures all of Dean's growing fear when we see him fall into the flashback and the feelings it digs up surrounding holding and using the First Blade. Ackles doesn't have to say a word here and yet we can tell that Dean is equally feeling some form of euphoria and terror. It's all in his facial expression and his tense body. Ackles makes it almost seem that Dean's forgotten to breathe for a moment here, adding to the jarring nature of the flashback. Ackles also has some fun with humor in this episode---captured best in his playing off of Padalecki's Sam as they question and goad Ezra. We can sense that Ackles is having fun with this scene, adding to that humor. His best comedic moment, however, is when he's on the phone with Crowley, trying to get Juliet the Hellhound called off. The relief he expresses in the slump and sigh makes a subtle comedic moment before they return to the corpse to retrieve the Blade. Ackles, however, makes Dean Winchester a terrifying figure when we see him in the face off between Dean and Abaddon. Even when he's pinned against the wall by the Knight of Hell's telekinetic power, we can tell that he's a far more frightening opponent. Once he reclaims the Blade after dropping it, we see the full effects of the Mark and Blade on Dean. Ackles shows how it's clearly changed him in the killing blow delivered on Abaddon. There's a savagery in the action, as if Dean's no longer Dean. As violent as the elder Winchester has been in the past, this moment seems much more gruesome and deadly. We've seen Dean take pleasure in killing others before---but this seems to give him pleasure the longer it goes on. It seems all the rage he'd been keeping in check bursts forth in a frenzy as he stabs Abaddon's corpse repeatedly as if chasing the high. Even after he's been called out of the haze by Padalecki's Sam, we see Ackles give Dean an even fiercer edge. He is curt in their conversation, conveying that Dean wants to keep the high this moment has given him as long as he can. After Sam suggests getting rid of the Blade, Ackles puts all of Dean's new emotion in the simple word, “No.” Now that he's managed to use the Blade to kill Abaddon---and had it further change him, we're left to worry and wonder for the remaining two episodes just what will become of Dean.
Jared Padalecki conveys all of Sam's worry for Dean all throughout this episode. We see it from the moment they arrive at Castiel's compound to the final moment in the car. Padalecki shows it in subtle, expression, tone of voice, and gesture. When the Winchesters enter the room to “torture” Ezra, we see him have to verbally pull Dean back from simply killing the chatty angel outright. It's not just the dialog, however. Padalecki adds in the hand gesture, signaling to Dean to join him on the other side of the room and the head tilt as an unconscious form of Sam's concern. As he has to convince Dean not to physically torture Ezra, we see his eyes glance between Dean and the angel and an expression of realization settle over his features. Although the scene has its comedy, we can tell underneath that this is Sam's method of redirecting his brother while getting the intelligence they need. Sam's the one directing a lot of the questioning, goading Ezra to keep talking and revealing secrets all the while keeping his brother from getting frustrated. Padalecki shows that it's a delicate dance in how he carries himself and how he glances from one and then to the other. As we watch Dean flashback to getting the Mark and holding the Blade for the first time, we hear a phone ring and as we come back to the scene at hand, we see Sam clap his hands and tell Dean that his phone's ringing. On the surface, the gesture seems like one of annoyance, but when we look at the expression Sam wears, we can tell that it's all concern. Padalecki puts all of Sam's worry into his eyes and his voice, telling us so much with a brief moment. We also see Padalecki connect with Collins as Sam and Castiel discuss Gadreel's possession. In the beginning of the conversation, we can tell that Sam's uncomfortable, but the longer the conversation goes on, we can tell that this is the first time he's even thought about what happened and how it felt. Padalecki makes it feel like the start of closure for Sam---yet the way he closes the conversation shows us that there's still a long way yet for the younger Winchester in grappling with what happened. Padalecki also shows us all of Sam's disgust with Crowley beautifully when they go to retrieve the Blade. He adds a layer of comedy to the moment. Padalecki shows all of Sam's fear best, however, when we see him come in time to see Dean kill Abaddon. As he shouts his name and tries to get his brother's attention, Padalecki puts a gentle but fearful expression on his face, showing us that Sam's trying to coax his brother off the dangerous precipice. The way he says, “You can stop” says it all. The most powerful scene, though, is in the car. Padalecki adds omph to Sam's worry and fear when he sits up and turns to face Dean. With only two episodes left, it'll be an emotional ride for Sam as he fights to save his brother from what the Blade's doing.
Best Lines of the Week:
Crowley: You betrayed me! No one in the history of torture has been tortured with torture like the torture you'll be tortured with!
Sam: Oh, come on Crowley. Really? You have to hide the Blade in a corpse? Not-not with the corpse, but in the corpse?
Now that Abaddon has been dealt with, it looks like the Winchesters will turn their attention towards Metatron---but how will the Mark of Cain change Dean?