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The first half of season nine built itself elegantly around the serpent in the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man. We saw several incarnations---from Gadreel to Metatron to the Fall from Heaven to Castiel's bout as a mortal. Each serpent infected a particular Garden and set in motion consequences still rippling outward. It set the stage for the second half---allowing for it to continue the Biblical theme with the introduction of the Cain and Abel story. In that story, we see a Supernatural twist making Cain's Mark an inheritance from Lucifer. “Stairway to Heaven” bridges the two together, showing how each storyline reflects the other in literary symmetry.

First, let's look at Metatron and how he is using the serpent theme in his “story.”

In the opening sequence, we see an angel sitting at an ice cream shop. Another angel enters and we see a terrifying white flash. It systematically destroys everything, blowing the windows out and we know for certain that all inside must now be dead. It isn't until the Winchesters and Castiel watch a video that we learn exactly what happened. In it, we see the angel reveal a symbol carved into his chest. He then proceeds to stab himself in the center of it with an angel blade, declaring that he does this in the name of Castiel. Castiel tells the Winchesters that he'd never do such a thing, reiterating,“I'm gonna be sick.”

Meanwhile, we see Metatron trying on a trench coat similar to Castiel's. He seems pleased with himself as if he could pull it off better than the rebel angel leader. Metatron spends time folding it over, checking it in the mirror, and assessing how it fits. Upon being interrupted, we see him quickly hide it---only to see Gadreel in the doorway. He tells his second in command that they used their one shot on their “Lee Harvey” scheme.

In that moment, we clearly know just what the Scribe has done---and how he's planning on taking his chosen adversary down.

That doesn't mean it'll be simple. Metatron expresses that he's frustrated. Castiel's lead his army well---perhaps too well. It's clear that he hadn't planned on that twist. He had no idea that it would get this big or that Castiel would “be good at it.” He chose Castiel as his opposition and as such he now has to find a way to disarm and defeat him. If he doesn't do that now, it's possible that he could have a true adversary on his hands---one that he isn't writing the script for.

And so, Metatron decides that it is time to distort Castiel's image. Let's examine how.

As the Winchesters help Castiel investigate the case, it leads them to split up. Dean will hang back at Castiel's war room and investigate what lead to the angel attack at the ice cream shop while Sam and Castiel follow the trail of the potential mole. When Sam and Castiel encounter the missing angel, they discover that he was burned brutally with holy oil. There's hardly anything left but a burned body---and the angel is barely alive. Even so, he refuses Castiel's aid. Josiah tells him, “I would rather die than owe my life to you, Castiel. You play at being noble. You play at being one of us. But I look into your eyes and I don't see an angel staring back at me.”

It makes us wonder what would lead this angel to this point. It can't just be because he doesn't see an angel staring back at him. What would make Josiah change his mind now on following Castiel? It also has to be much more than the hopes that he can return to Heaven. It's apparent that he won't be doing that, either. Much like so many others, Josiah was duped by Metatron. By dousing him in Holy Oil and burning him to death, Metatron can ensure that the latest angel he's tricked won't be able to run back to Castiel's followers---or reveal his latest deception. It also allows him to put another angel's blood on Castiel's hands.

But why?

Metatron has been the biggest serpent all season long. He's the one that engineered the Fall that has created all the havoc. He did so by slithering his way into Castiel's ear and by gaining his trust. Using his silver tongue, he told Castiel that he would help them fix Heaven, ensuring that there would be an end to the fighting. Instead, he tricked the angel into helping him with fake Trials---all the while knowing that he was going to destroy Heaven as everyone's always known it.

He also charms his way into persuading Gadreel to follow him. It's easy for him to twist this angel to his bidding. Knowing that Gadreel had spent centuries inside Heaven's prison---locked away for his part in the Fall of Man---Metatron can manipulate him into whatever he wishes. It allows for Metatron to convince Gadreel that he will find redemption. It allows for him to push Gadreel to kill Kevin and more---all in the hopes that not only will Gadreel be able to return to Heaven, he'll return a hero. He's sold this angel on the idea that he'll be considered one of Heaven's elite and greatest instead of the lowest and vile---for now.

Metatron has slithered his way so deeply into the story as the serpent that he's now trying to “flip the script” in his own story. He wants to portray himself as the hero---especially if he wants to succeed as taking over Heaven as its new leader. It'll be his ultimate deception---and yet he must have an adversary that he can manipulate and destroy to convince the other angels that he's not the bad guy after all. And so, he chooses the same dupe he used in season eight: Castiel.

In “Stairway to Heaven,” we see this meta fiction come to pass: the story itself reflected and revolved around the serpent in the Garden and now Metatron uses that very concept to set up his chosen foe. It would be a key theme in his own story---helping him to write it as he sees fit. He may have modernized it with the reference to Lee Harvey Oswald, the oft considered patsy in the JFK assassination---but he's cast Castiel as his serpent none the less. What of the garden? That's also built in for Metatron. It's none other than Castiel's command center and the flock of angels that have gathered around him.

Metatron waits, like a spider, for the right moment to expose the serpent amongst the rebel army. Placing a video chat to Castiel's war room---and with the most angels present as possible---Metatron reveals that he, too, has been attacked by these terroristic Castiel followers. He met with the last independent angel leader---seemingly in good faith in his telling of it---when one of these nuclear angels came in and killed Tyrus. It would have nearly done the same to him if Gadreel hadn't guarded him from the blast. He sells it hard here, making it seem that Castiel has secret orders given out to these rogue angels---all while his other soldiers fight on thinking they're supporting the better option.

We know it to be a lie---as do Sam, Dean, and Castiel---and yet Metatron calls upon the one rule of any good lie: wrap it around a grain of truth and make it the foundation. It's how he attaches the stigma of serpent to Castiel's name. He asks Castiel, “Have you told them about your stolen grace?” Instantly the skeptical crowd turns towards their leader, expecting a vehement denial. When they receive none, the last piece of Metatron's puzzle falls into place.

It also doesn't help that the other angels saw an angry Dean Winchester unleash about Castiel's past deceptions---declaring loudly, “The last time you had this kind of juice you did kill humans and angels and you did nothing but lie to me and Sam about it the whole damn time.”

Castiel has been branded in that single moment. He is now seen as a serpent himself. They may have come to him in search of a leader----but they feel that he should have told them the truth. Castiel has been leading them all the while being the serpent amongst them. As he protests, telling them that Metatron's lying about the attacks, it all falls on deaf ears. The fact that Castiel is holding stolen grace that is slowly burning out is enough. Any good faith he had with his angel army is now a moot point---especially when he refuses to “punish” Dean for what happened with Tessa. They won't hear anymore.

Metatron, story savvy as he is, has taken a major story theme and made it his centerpiece. Instead of making himself the serpent, he has chosen Castiel. And yet, he's still very much the serpent in this story. We see it in how Tessa was manipulated---and in how all the others he unleashed were manipulated.

Tessa has always been an agent of the Natural Order. Her job is to reap the souls of those that are in the in-between, waiting to move up or down or into Purgatory. It is her job to escort them and in a particular order. She knows no other path, no other means to exist. She follows the order of those that have died, reaps their souls, and deposits them where they belong. There's no malice or benevolence in her. It is simply what she does and who she is.

Metatron's spell that destroyed the fabric of Heaven, however, has changed all of that. Tessa can no longer do the job she was meant to do. She is as helpless as the spirits she is meant to guide. Not unlike the angry spirit she once warned Dean about becoming, Tessa is slowly becoming mad. The longer she is trapped in limbo unable to do her job, the harder it becomes. It's also apparent that she's also going to become all the angrier for it, too. She is becoming one of the vengeful spirits we see her prevent---and more.

Tessa has fallen victim, in her ever growing madness, to Metatron's latest ruse. He has appeared to her somehow as Castiel, telling her that he has a job for her. That job is to take out a target---exactly the same way that the angel in the ice cream shop did. Tessa has fallen so far in the time that Heaven's been locked up that she will take any out once she sees it.

We see this in her confrontation with Hannah and Dean. She's angry, combative, and restless. Tessa has lost hope and thinks everything has become meaningless. What does it matter if humans get caught in the crossfire? As she sees it, they're doomed rather they die in a tragic explosion or in their sleep. Heaven's boarded up and there's no way to escort them there anyways. She also believes that this was something that only she could do. She was chosen to do it---as others were “too weak.” Tessa has been bedazzled so much so that she's willing to commit a terrible act---one that we know she wouldn't under ordinary circumstances.

Once alone with Dean, she confesses, “I guess I just couldn't hear their screams anymore.” It's the first honest moment she's had since being captured by the elder Winchester. Tessa is in agony, driven well past her brink. Unable to simply do her job and unable to restore the Natural Order in which she has always existed, she would rather it end here and now. She can die, too---and that seems like freedom from the chaos that has been unleashed since Metatron destroyed Heaven's access points.

Tessa has decided that she can't do it to herself, however---hence why Metatron as the serpent he is could slither his way into her ear. And so, when confronted by Dean, she explains how hard it's been for her. She tells him about the souls, “All of them. The lost souls. The ones that can't get into Heaven now that it's been boarded up. I hear them. They are so confused. They're in so much pain. All I want to do is help them. It's what I do. It's my job. But I can't. So I suffered... Until death, nothingness. Suddenly, it didn't seem so bad. It seemed quiet.” In some ways, we can tell that she's trying to convince Dean to kill her---she needs out and she needs it now.

It is also another example of literary symmetry reflecting the role reversal Sam and Dean are experiencing in the second half of the season. Tessa was once to guide Dean to his final resting place in the afterlife. Now it is his turn to release her from the agony that has gripped her, allowing her to find the peace she so badly desires.

As Dean pulls out the hidden First Blade, we see her gasp in recognition and in horror---and yet as she pulls Dean in, we see her end everything. Tessa chose her own destiny in this moment, deciding that it was too much to live in this chaotic situation with no hope to end the suffering of those she can no longer help. The Blade does what it was designed to do---and yet it is this moment that bridges the two stories: that of the serpent in the Garden and that of Cain and Abel.

The First Blade, especially when coupled with the Mark, is itself a serpent. It may not be an actual being, but it is clear that it can slither and worm its way into a Garden---in this case Dean's psyche. In the moment we see it brought out in Dean and Tessa's conversation, we can clearly see it for exactly what it is: a serpent that is in the process of corrupting its wielder into something terrifying.

The First Blade is far more insidious than even Metatron, however. Instead of externally manipulating players into positions, it corrupts from inside. It needs control over its wielder in so many ways---otherwise it simply goes back to being that worthless bone lying at the bottom of the ocean. To do that, it will slither its way deep into its wielder's mind, chipping away at resolve and impulse control. It will latch onto weaknesses, emotional wounds, and twist them to its own ends.

Born as it was, in fratricide, we see it easily hone in on the brotherly relationships of its wielder, manipulating them. It knows that it faces something it didn't with Cain: the other brother. Each time we see Sam gently nudge Dean away from the Blade, we see it turn up the elder Winchester's anger. It makes him just a bit harsher, say something a little crueler, and push back harder. It sets Dean further on edge, changing him little by little.

It would seem that the First Blade wants no one else in Dean's sphere, and it has no qualms about removing them if need be. If they are a hindrance to its use and to its wielder holding it, the weapon will find a way to drive back that person by any means necessary. We see it in Dean's lying about holding the weapon back at the Bunker. We see it in how it comes back to Dean's hand in the showdown with Abaddon. We see it in the way Dean so casually gives up the angel blade before interrogating Tessa. The Blade sees itself---even if it seems like a simple bone on the surface---as the one in power here. In many ways, it is.

We see the Blade twist Dean so much so that when they return to the Bunker it is doing all in its power to separate the brothers---to pull on the raw wounds that Dean feels and amplify them to heights that will remove Sam as an obstacle. And so, in its possession of Dean, it drives him to say cruel things, declaring the fragile partnership built after “The Purge” into that of a “dictatorship.” This doesn't absolve Dean, no, but it's clear that the First Blade sees Sam as the adversary and will try any button it can to push the younger Winchester away.

Sam, on the other hand, sees exactly what this Blade is doing to Dean. He has experienced this same rush---the same power and the same belief that it is all up to him no matter what. After all, he once told Dean that he was the only one that could kill Lilith---despite the fact that the angels said that this was Dean's task. He knows how this feels because he endured it with his demon blood addiction. In the moment Dean delivers his harsh words, we see anger flicker across his face---slowly to be replaced by terror.

Sam's addiction to demon blood reflected his character. Always the more internal than Dean, this addiction infected from inside. It pulled on his fears of becoming a monster and twisted his drive for revenge into a terrifying crusade. With each use of his powers, we saw Sam change further. He became darker, angrier, and unpredictable. The more demon blood he consumed and the more power it gave him, the more pleasure Sam felt. That's most apparent when we see him use those terrible powers on Alastair and again on Famine. It gave him an edge---one that he wanted to keep no matter what.

As he tries, in vain, to convince Dean to leave the First Blade behind while they investigate Castiel's case, he tells Dean, “Magic that powerful comes at a price and right now we don't know what that price is.” Due to his own experiences, Sam knows that whatever the First Blade is doing to Dean will have far reaching consequences---and given the evidence so far, none of these will be good ones.

So far, he already notices key ones. Dean's no longer sleeping---or he's sleeping very little. He finds himself having to mediate between his brother and Castiel after the angel attack video is revealed. He can clearly see Dean's insistence that he go with Castiel for what it is: the First Blade pushing him away. He sees all the warning signs because he's done similar things to serve his own demon blood addiction.

These are key examples of the role reversal coming front and center. Dean once tried to convince Sam to stop using his powers or drinking demon blood. He did so out of love and concern. Knowing what his own addiction lead to, Sam is now trying to stop Dean from going down this same track. He can tell that it is him versus the First Blade. As harsh as Dean was, Sam knows that much of what was said there was coming from the First Blade and not as much from his brother. We see it in how he handles Dean throughout the episode. He is gentle in his approach, trying to counter the anger the Blade makes Dean feel. If he can break through somehow, Sam knows he'll be able to counter its effects.

He can clearly see through its attempts to isolate his brother, too. Sam may have been angry after Dean's decisions surrounding Gadreel---and he may have decided to strip their relationship down to a strict partnership---but we see him continually push into his brother's sphere, keeping him close and making sure they are working together. He's the one that insists on staying with Dean at the end of “The Purge.” He's the one that protests Dean's attack on Abaddon---that Dean chose to go it alone rather than do it together. Sam has been trying to break through to Dean---especially after Dean left in “Road Trip” in an attempt to isolate himself.

The First Blade grabbed onto that aspect, and Sam knows it. He sees it here plainly as Dean lies about leaving it behind, in his confrontation with Dean about what happened with Tessa, and in his attempt to breach the subject after returning to the Bunker. In many ways, it is as if Sam's testing to see how far he can push the Blade. It's why he says, “You don't have to have it with you all the time, right? Just leave it. Please.” On one hand, he wants to separate Dean from the weapon. It's already taken too much of a hold on his brother, after all. On the other, it's the only way he can truly assess what he's dealing with. At every turn, the First Blade pushed back harshly.

The Blade is doing this to own Dean. It is clearly trying to eliminate all threats to its existence as a weapon. With each kill, we see it possess Dean a little bit more. It's an ideal choice for Dean---much more reflective of his character. This weapon is a serpent that Dean will find hard to resist. It's an external force and object that embodies the greatest fears in Dean. He fears that he is nothing but a killer and that it's the only thing he's good at---we see this sentiment expressed clearly in season six. Castiel explains that Dean's always a little angry---but this is different.

This external serpent---in the Blade---has tapped into all of Dean's weaknesses, allowing for his more violent and angry tendencies to burst forth. To those on the outside looking in, it's clear that Dean is losing control, that he's on edge, and that he's becoming a vicious killer. Internally, it's clear that the Blade, acting as serpent, has convinced Dean that he's stronger and faster now. It has convinced him that he's more powerful with it than without. To simply hide it away or to not use it is pointless, stupid, and reckless. The weapon is capable of killing anything---even more than the Colt once did---and as such it has convinced Dean that it is best to keep it handy.

As Gadreel enters the room, we see the serpent theme of the season add in another layer: that of the Blade turning Dean himself into a serpent. As they listen to Gadreel's speech about knowing that Castiel was right about Metatron, that he is here to give up everything he knows, and that he's willing to switch sides, we see fury bubble and brew up inside Dean. As Dean steps forward to seal their new alliance with a handshake, he firmly takes Gadreel's hand. In his other, he holds the First Blade and with it he slashes the angel across the chest. The Blade tapped into Dean's latent rage for the angel to get what it wanted: blood and pain.

As Sam and Castiel hold Dean back from delivering the killing blow, we're left to wonder if they can overcome this serpent in the First Blade---and how this will all shape up in the end as both serpents collide. Will the First Blade taste the Scribe's blood? If so, will Sam be able to break through to Dean yet again and shatter this serpent's hold on his brother?

Sam will have no choice but to try if he has any hope to save his brother.

Lindsey McKeon reprises the Reaper, Tessa. When Dean first intercepts her, we can sense a change in her from the get go. McKeon shows us that Tessa is on edge, jittery, and agitated. Once it's revealed that she's part of this suicidal bombing squad, she becomes combative. In many ways, McKeon captures all of Tessa's pent up rage and pain, channeling it into her clipped delivery. This shows best once she's in the room with Dean and Hannah. She's lippy and angry, almost baiting both of them in the room. Once left alone with Dean, we see McKeon's chemistry with Ackles come full force. Some of the edge falls away to be replaced by a sadness. McKeon conveys all of Tessa's devastation and desperation well in this moment. The pain is raw and it comes out in how she delivers the line, “I guess I just can't take the screaming.” She gains all of our sympathy as she explains how it's been impossible to watch all of these souls suffering. Tessa's always been an agent of the natural order and with it broken down as it has been all season long, it's taken its toll on her, driving her mad. McKeon shows us how utterly unbearable that is when we see her pull Dean in, only to skewer herself on the First Blade. She told us Tessa's tragic story all with nuance---showing us that the longer Heaven remained locked up the harder it got for her. Tessa only appeared a number of times, and yet McKeon was always a welcome addition.

Tahmoh Penikett continues to show us how disillusioned Gadreel is becoming in “Stairway to Heaven.” We see in that first opening scene as he barges in on Metatron. Gadreel has always questioned Metatron to some extent, but now the questions turn more towards the why rather than the how. Penikett captured all of the angel's doubt in facial expressions and vocal tones. We see this best when he delivers the line, “Surely it's not that.”Penikett also shows us how frustrated he's becoming, almost as if he's ready to tell Metatron to take this job and shove it, just in how he glances at the Scribe. We see it at the bowling alley. There's a reluctance on his part as he once again is called upon to be Metatron's muscle. It's almost as if he's going through the motions, and Penikett conveys that well in his gestures. Once he listens to Metatron's triumphant speech, however, we witness the disgust etch itself across Gadreel's face. Penikett wrinkles his nose and narrows his eyes as if he'd rather stab a blade through Metatron's heart than be his second in command. It's easy to see that more of Sam Winchester may have rubbed off on the angel than he'd admit---just by looking at the expression Penikett makes. It's as if we're seeing the wool truly begin to fall away from his eyes as he realizes just who he's hitched his star to---and that he's been duped now just as then. When Penikett's Gadreel arrives at the Bunker, we see him become cautious yet friendly. He's not there to fight---he's there to change sides and we can see it just in how he stands and how he speaks. Penikett's given the character a strange charm and sense of honor---and yet we may see that somehow cost the angel his life.

Curtis Armstrong continues to show us the petty and prideful Metatron---and “Stairway to Heaven” is no different. In the beginning, we see an annoyed and frustrated Scribe. He's not sure how it is that Castiel continues to thwart him at every turn---and yet we can already see the machinations he's thinking. It's in his gestures---from trying on the trench coat to talking about their plan to turn Castiel into Lee Harvey Oswald. Armstrong shows us that Metatron's a petty being when they're at the bowling alley---it makes him seem off putting as if he were a car salesman making a pitch for a lemon vehicle. He's impatient and forceful as he tries to convince the last remaining angel leader. Armstrong gives him a distasteful sheen as he delivers his lines. When it comes time to out Castiel's secret, we see him amp up that element, making him sound all the more prideful and conceited. He makes the Scribe seem as if he knows everything and that he's a benevolent being trying to help his fellow angels. It's all in how Armstrong delivers the line “I'm not the best, but I'm the best you've got.” Once returned to his study, we see him gleefully praise not only himself but his plan, showing his hubris. Armstrong puts all of Metatron's pride in how he gestures, laughs, and folds his hands over his chest. He feels that he's already won---that he's inevitable. All the while, Armstrong conveys that Metatron's oblivious to the obvious distaste on Gadreel's face. As we head into the finale, we're left to wonder just when his own pride will come back to bite him.

Misha Collins pulls on the subtle layers introduced into Castiel's character in the front half of the season brilliantly in “Stairway to Heaven.” We can see the full range of emotion---from his disgust and anger to his concern. Collins builds on his chemistry with Padalecki in the scenes they share. His new understanding of pop culture is tempered well with his literal understanding of the riddle above the door---and the way Collins delivers the line “Well, seven is a prime number,” gives the moment great charm. We see this play off well with Padalecki, too, as they start to mesh well together as they make their way towards the phony Heaven door. Once Castiel's ousted by Metatron, Collins captures all of the grief at losing his followers and the common cause to fix Heaven. We see him hold the blade given to him after he's told to kill Dean or else with great sadness. Collins conveys all of Castiel's struggle in the one gesture of putting the blade away and saying, “No. I can't.” Once they're back at the Bunker, we see Collins connect with Ackles as the angel and Dean talk about what to do next---and we can see that Castiel's perhaps more comfortable following the Winchester lead than leading his own army yet again. Now that he's had to face Gadreel and help restrain Dean from killing him, we're left to wonder just what will become of the angel heading into the finale and into season ten.

Jensen Ackles plays a man possessed in Dean. We see it through every action, gesture, word and in just sheer body language. Ackles captures all of the rage bubbling just underneath the surface beautifully in so many ways. We can tell that he's on edge from the moment we see Dean wake Sam to the last harrowing moment as he snarls at Gadreel all the while being held back. Ackles shows us how amped up Dean is when we see him talk to Flagstaff. He's tense and harsh in the way he speaks to her. His usual lines---such as the “explosive personality” don't drop as humorous. Instead, they come with the crisp edge revealing the trouble brewing just under the surface. Once he turns the tables on the angel and forces her to the floor with a blade to her throat, Ackles shows just how much pleasure Dean takes in the violence that is threatening to consume him entirely. Ackles makes Dean curt with everyone, and yet we can see the edge temper as he talks with Tessa. As she reveals her anguish at being unable to fulfill her job, we can see that Dean sympathizes, and yet he's not quite able to connect as he would otherwise. After Tessa has chosen her fate, we see Dean absorb the kill and almost wallow in its pleasure as the First Blade seems to overtake him in that moment, feeding the violence impulse all the more. It's in his expression and body language just as he stands there holding the Blade. Ackles also manages to convey just how helpless Dean is in that moment---that he can't resist the Blade's pleasure as it continues to corrupt. Once the angels confront Castiel about punishing him, we see Ackles put all of his Texas drawl and channel Dean's pure anger into the line, “Y'all can go to Hell.” Back at the Bunker, Ackles delivers the harshest lines we've seen Dean speak all season---pinpointed at Sam. We hurt with Sam as he says these things---and yet Ackles captures that this is the Blade amplifying and twisting Dean to protect itself from Sam. It's in how harsh he says the lines. Once he's with Castiel again, we see that edge lessen as the threat to the Blade has now passed---until Gadreel appears that is. As the angel tries to bridge the gap and flip sides, we can see the rage boiling in Dean the longer he listens. Ackles shows it in a clenched jaw and tense body. As he steps forward to take Gadreel's hand for a handshake, we see that rage explode. He slashes the First Blade without impunity, wounding or worse the second in command to Metatron. As he's held back by Sam and Castiel, Ackles shows just how Dean's lost to the anger and violence that's been threatening to consume him all episode long. Ackles sets us up in that moment to be anxious for the elder Winchester as we see him become rage personified.

Jared Padalecki shows us that on the surface Sam was all business about working the case---he's the mediator in this episode, navigating his brother often around others. We can sense a patience in him when he herds Castiel and Dean into the office all in how Padalecki carries himself and in how he speaks his dialog. There's a sense that Sam's becoming more and more the voice of reason as Dean becomes further unhinged by what the Blade has done. He's gentle in his approach about leaving it behind---even if Dean ended up taking it with. Padalecki has great chemistry with Collins, too. We see it in the car as they ride to Pray, Montana. Their relationship has deepened in the back half and we can sense that he has a patient understanding of the angel. There's a subtle charm conveyed in Padalecki as Sam approaches the angel throughout---particularly when they discuss the riddle that opens the door. The way he says “Because seven eight nine” isn't condescending or aloof. Instead, it's patient and quietly amused. We see this again after he sees the Last Crusades blades nearly slice them. When we see them return to Castiel's base of operations, we see Sam return to his business like attitude---peppered with a heavy dose of concern for Dean as they learn what happened with Tessa. Padalecki blends all of Sam's emotions well here, showing us his frustration and anger at Dean lying about leaving the Blade behind and his fear and concern for what is becoming of his brother more and more. At the Bunker, when Dean declares things a “dictatorship” we see this blend again. Padalecki tenses his body and his facial expressions, telling us that Sam is angry---and yet as we look at his eyes and the expression dawning over his face we can see that he's terrified for Dean the longer the conversation goes on. He's truly scared for Dean in this moment. When Gadreel enters, we see Padalecki show all of Sam's anger and anxiety at the angel's arrival---and yet we can sense that he's also willing to listen if need be. As Dean charges and slashes, we see Sam rush to stop his brother from succumbing to the rage. Now we're left to wonder if Sam can break through that anger yet again in the finale.

Best Lines of the Week

Dean: Y'all can go to hell.

Dean: Only if it's Fiddler.

Sam: And maybe that's the problem. I mean, people have been doing messed up crap in the name of faith -- in the name of God -- since forever.

Sam: It's because seven eight nine.

Next week the showdown with Metatron happens---but what about the showdown between Sam and the First Blade?


# Tanaya 2014-05-18 14:00
Great review!..I love how you singled out all the actors in the end and wrote about their performances. Jensen Ackles has been doing a great job of doing 'Angry Dean' so far, which is hardly a surprise. That guy is an ace and I expected nothing less of him. To be honest though, it is Jared Padalecki who has been blowing me away with his acting this whole season. Starting from the subtle changes he brought in his portrayal of Ezekiel and Gadreel, to being pissed off and then having an uneasy partnership with his brother, to his bonding with Castiel and now being a virtual parent to Dean, that guy has done everything and how. He had to deal out Dean some really harsh words too and he did it perfectly. I hope the finale has some solid Winchester moments and the 'Hug' which we have not had this whole season.
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2014-05-18 14:59
Thanks for the comment.

I'm glad you enjoyed my take on the actors. I'm no actor, but I always like to look at what I felt their performances brought to the story. I've been blown away by so many of those performances all season. Both Jared and Jensen have been above and beyond phenomenal this year. I absolutely was blown away by how easy Jared made it look to flow from Sam to Gadreel and back again. I know it wasn't easy, and I am just floored by the end results. For Jensen, I've really loved how he's shown just how this Blade is affecting Dean on so many levels and I'm just stunned by how he's captured that in minute gestures.

I just know I look forward to the finale now and dread the long summer with out the show!

Thanks again.
# Lilah_Kane 2014-05-18 14:01
Nice work again!

I think at this moment it is one down one to go, isn't it? In a way I have seen always that Sam comes edgy if a "bad" influence comes between him and Dean. Sam saw it with Benny and now like you said. He needs to fight the blade. And it is a really dangerous opponent as Sam sees now. I actually had my warning flags going immediately when Gadreel entered the bunker. All I could think of how furious that would make Dean. "How dare he!" The one that started it. Invaded his home. Did that to Sam and Kevin and now he dares to come here? Without the mark and blade he would have probably went all over him.

All the actors did a good job and I love how you followed the story again. Loved this episode and can't wait for the next.

- Lilah
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2014-05-18 15:03
Thanks for the comment.

I am just astounded by how much of a character the Blade is becoming in these closing episodes---and how well Jensen is portraying that. In turn, Jared's really shown us that Sam knows what's going on all in how he interacts with Dean and others, and how he's approached things. I figured Gadreel would show up after the sheer disgust he displayed on his face while with Metatron. I wasn't surprised to see him---but boy was I ever stunned to see just how violent Dean went after him AFTER extending a friendly gesture in a handshake. That was just holy cow for me. I'm excited to see just how that wraps in the finale.

Glad you enjoy the actor section as well. It's one of the things I really enjoy doing as it also helps me to understand the story they're performing. I hope that translates well.

Can't wait for the finale. Thanks again!
# Lilah_Kane 2014-05-18 16:00
Yes, in a way Gadreel was betrayed too and that Dean did that and then tried to kill him. Chilling and really disturbing and not honorable. But his feelings was on kill mode and that is all that was in his head. That was the wowsa moment.

- Lilah
# Trucklady 2014-05-18 15:22
As always Farawayeyes, a stellar review. You managed to bring such depth to each character and flush them out in way that just brings the feels for all. I am just very proud and impressed with the acting abilities of Jensen and Jared this year. They have always been remarkable but this year has pushed them to very harsh limits and they deliver each and every time. It is sad that so much of the world has not come to embrace them as we have and give them their due diligence but in the same sense I find myself a little selfish in wanting to keep them to myself and the rest of the SPN family. Two more days, two more days, can it be over already? I just hate hiatus but remind myself that these guys have poured their heart and sole out to use for 8 months and they deserve a break and some overdue family time. Thanks again for a great review.
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2014-05-18 16:02
Thanks for the comment.

I am with you on Jared and Jensen. They've always impressed me since I started watching this show, but this season I feel as if they've really stretched their skills a bit more. I am just so pleased with the end result they've worked so hard to give us each week. I don't know about others, but I sense all the hard work, devotion, and care they put into these performances.

I'm glad you enjoyed my take on this particular episode and while I don't want to have hellatus, either, I do hope they'll have a great time off between filming for season 9 and 10.

Thanks again.
leah unlogged
# leah unlogged 2014-05-18 15:27
I loved this Far Away Eyes. Especially the parts about how Sam is (skillfully) handling Dean and probing to see how far from OK his brother is. I agree with everything you said on that subject. While some are just seeing Dean as his regular "dick" self I think that Sam can tell he is losing his brother and is extremely worried about him. I saw worry/shock on his face rather than hurt when Dean made that "dictator" comment. I believe that Sam went off to regroup not run away to his room as some think. I'll bet that moment we saw in the sneak peek will happen very soon after the end of this episode. The acting is brilliant as usual, especially Jensen and Jared. Thank you again Far Away Eyes. Going back to biting my fingernails now.
# LEAH 2014-05-18 15:40
Can't edit unlogged, but I wanted to add that I agree the blade is becoming a character of its own. The way it whispers to Dean and rewards him for doing it's dark work. Makes him feel so powerful even as it destroys the good in him. It does remind me of addiction.
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2014-05-18 16:07
Thanks for the comment.

I was rather shocked the first viewing, but when I sat down to look at the actors section, I was floored by how well Jared conveyed Sam's anger metamorphosing into terror. As Dean was delivering those harsh and cruel words, I watched Jared's face close to see how he would tell Sam's story and it just clicked for me. Sam was angry at first, yes, but he was terrified by the time Dean was done speaking. I actually had to rewind to just catch that expression and see if that's what I was seeing again.

I think Sam also left to regroup, rather than push things a bit more. He had the answer he needed---he had pushed the Blade far enough in that moment.

And I'm also biting my poor fingernails. It's been a really powerful season acting all around and I look forward to the finale and how they'll tell us that story, too.

Thanks again.
# cheryl42 2014-05-18 16:09
So Mount Doom? As usual my Sunday is complete. What am I going to do all summer without your reviews. Maybe you can review episodes from the past to get us through. I especially loved your take on Dean and what the Blade's goal is. I hadn't looked at it like that but it was a perfect explanation for what is happening to Dean. As in TLOTR the evil force always underestimates freewill and the power of the love of the brothers.
And I couldn't agree more with you and everyone else the J's are the most outstanding actors on TV. Jensen is playing such a different role and doing a masterful job at it. Jared can deliver an entire page of dialogue with just a look. We are so lucky to have them.
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2014-05-18 16:14
Thanks for the comment.

Yes, I do think the Blade is very much like that One Ring, corrupting its wielder. Since it's technically an object, it needs to have someone it can push around and now that it has Dean we're seeing just what it will do to reach its ends. I've rather enjoyed that aspect of this season. I also think you're right for a possible outcome that closes out the season or perhaps will leave us hanging for the summer: that it will take the brothers to stand against it somehow and that free will will play a role. While free will's been discussed much more with the angel story this season, I think it'll also play a huge role in the FB/MoC story, too.

As for reviewing for summer, we shall see. I finish my review for the finale and I will be starting my annual summer rewatch. Never know what episode might catch my attention!

Thanks again.
# cheryl42 2014-05-18 16:17
I do a summer rewatch as well. It is getting harder and harder to fit all the episodes in before the new season starts. What a great problem to have.:)
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2014-05-18 16:21
Oh my yes. I was wondering how I"d fit them in all in, too. Especially since I'm looking at a two week break during my VanCon trip. 197 episodes is a lot to watch in one summer!
# nappi815 2014-05-18 16:45
awesome and insightful review as always...thank you. I am always in awe of jared and Jensen and this season is no different. I can see a long life for this show and it's thanks to this awesomely talented cast and crew.

I didn't really take it into consideration until you said it, but I guess the blade is it's own character, not unlike the ring in lotr. I guess in this scenario, dean is Frodo and sam is samwise...ironi c because I've always seen sam as very wise. :D

I agree leah. i too don't believe that sam ran off to sulk in his room because of what dean said. hell dean has said far worse to sam and sam didn't go off sulking about it. no, i too think that sam is perfectly aware of what is going on with his brother, as he experienced it himself, and i think he just went in his room to think. sam is very logical. he thinks things through before he acts. he knows he has to be very careful with dean. sam has a few advantages over that blade.
first, sam knows his brother. sam has experience with addiction. sam is patient. sam has taken more crap from dean over the years than anyone, so let's just say sam has a thick skin. the biggest advantage over that piece of bone....sam loves dean....and that is stronger than any force the blade might have on dean. ;)
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2014-05-18 17:06
Thanks for the comment.

I'm glad you liked my take on this episode.

I've been floored by everyone involved on this show this season. Jared and Jensen have been magnificent this season, but so have Tahmoh and Curtis and Misha. Everyone's stepped it up this season, I feel.

Yes, the more I thought and put my outlines together, the more it just seemed like the Blade is its own character fulling its own wants. That want is for a user that will kill and kill and kill with it. I think that's one portion of the burden Cain wanted to to share with Dean. And yes, very much so that this has echoes of LOTR and the One Ring. That object took far longer to infect someone like Frodo, but in the very end it nearly consumed him. If not for Samwise he wouldn't have made it. I'm hopeful we'll see Sam be able to do the same either in this finale or set up for season 10.

I think you and Leah are right, too. Sam knows not to push too much farther at that moment and I think he also needed to let off some steam while thinking what he should attempt next to reach Dean. This Blade has twisted his brother up in knots and now he has to figure out how to push back against an object that he can't destroy( It's why Cain threw it into the ocean after all).

I think one key thing we're forgetting is why Cain did throw it away. He LOVED Colette and now that I think about it this is a potential foreshadow for Sam and Dean. Will we see that come to pass? Time will tell.

Thanks again.
# lkeke35 2014-05-19 13:43
What an excellent review. It's spot on. Thanks for distilling it all down to the real foundation here. It's the Blade that's the Big Bad for this season. And it's Sam who has to take it out, to save his brother.

I was initially confused about Sam asking Dean to leave the Blade behind and Dean showing up with the Blade later but I really like your idea. At first I thought Dean did leave the Blade behind and it followed him. Would not be surprised about that after he jedi'd the Blade into his hand in the last episode. Instead it makes sense that Sam did that to see if Dean would leave the Blade behind. To determine just how much of a hold the Blade has over Dean .

I also agree that Sam didn't run off to sulk about what Dean said to him. He was on his way back into the main room when Gadreel showed up. I like to think he was coming back to maybe enlist Cas' help in corralling his brother. He was very much "handling" Dean throughout the episode.

I'd also like to say that Jensen is tearing it up as the season comes to a close. I expected him to hit it out of the park and he ain't disappointin'. I love watching this character become completely unhinged bc it's so rare ( makes for some exciting television viewing, too.) Jared totally wowed me earlier this season as Zeke/Gadreel/Sa m but it's his later work this season that's so beautifully nuanced. In every single episode since The Purge you can see his anger, frustration, exasperation empathy and just raw ,unapologetic love for his brother shine through in his performance.
(It's such a quiet performance that if you're not paying attention you'll think he's not doing anything this season.)

I like the new dynamic the writers are trying to establish between Sam and Cas but it does feel a little strained. The actors are superb of course but I think the writers are trying too hard and need to let it just flow more naturally. But it seems they've heard the fans complaints about Sam not interacting with people and being so closed off to everyone. We've seen him re establish his relationship with Jodi Mills this season and that woman from his solo episode, and Cas. It's great to see Sam holding conversations with people outside of Dean but I do wish the writers would let him talk more. Sam's thoughts get interrupted a lot. Just when he's about to say something meaningful there's an interruption and we don't get to hear it from Sam. I guess I just would like a little longer monologue from him sometimes.

Oh and I change my mind about. Gadreel . I've been pushing for his punishment for killing. Kevin and all the others but even he deserves a chance at redemption, just like Cas, and Sam. And I do hope he sticks around a bit more for season ten. He's not the brightest angel on the tree but he is gorgeous and earnest in his beliefs.

I'm totally crushing on Cain btw. I liked that actor a lot on Psych. He really grew on that show but I love him on Supernatural and hope the writers bring him back next season.
# lkeke35 2014-05-19 13:45
Oh and not to leave out what some fans are calling "Boogertron" but I really don't want to see more of him next season. Curtis Armstrong on the other hand is absolutely excellent at playing this utterly repellant character, though.
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2014-05-19 18:02
Oh, I'd be surprised if Metatron made it to next season at this point. Everything seems to be setting up a huge exit for the Scribe. Even so, I agree. He's totally played this character brilliantly. I love to hate Metatron, actually.
# Lilah_Kane 2014-05-19 14:47
Many viewers have been turned around with their opinion about Gadreel. The actor is awesome and the back story of the character and that Jared and Tahmoh both acted the angel perfectly. I hope he is kept too. That little angel that made mistakes has slithered to the hearts of us little by little. Like Gadreel said. He has made mistakes but boy so have the lot in that same bunker.

None of them are innocent. I hope Jensen was right by saying his a keeper. (And I would like a series/movie where Tahmoh's character actually doesn't get killed sheesh...)

- Lilah
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2014-05-19 17:59
Thanks for the comment.

It just seemed to make sense. I figured once we saw the Blade put on the table and then we didn't see Sam take it somewhere on screen that we were going to see Dean lie about leaving it. And when I thought about that conversation more, especially in a rewatch, I just felt that it was like Sam testing the waters. He had to know if Dean would leave it or not and if the Blade had that much power. It did. I don't think he went to sulk. He may have gone down to blow off a bit of steam for a second or to gather his thoughts on what he should say or do next---or maybe he was simply unpacking and counting to ten. Either way, I don't think he was "sulking" by any means.

As for both Js and their acting this season, I've been stunned by how powerful those performances have been. They've really stepped it up in telling us how this situation and story has an effect on the brothers. I am scared of and for Dean all at once just based on Jensen's performance. I also love that we see Jared show us all of Sam's feelings and fears without having to be over the top with it all. We can see it in just how he carries himself.

I think Sam and Cas have felt awkward at times because that's almost a natural thing for these two right now. They've almost always had Dean as a buffer between them and now that they're on their own together doing things from time to time we're seeing them have to do a bit of a herky jerky dance around each other. I really enjoyed their interactions as they tried to get into the warehouse with the fave Heaven. Sam could have been mean about Cas's literal understanding of the riddle, and yet we saw him quietly amused and more like shaking his head that Cas is still this way after all this time. I'm hoping that we'll see some Sam speeches soon, too. I've liked the ones we've gotten with Sam confessing bout Gadreel for instance, but I'm hoping we do get some more, too.

Gadreel. Oh man. What do you say about Gadreel. I think, when we see him finally cast out, we're with Sam and his "GET THE HELL OUT" but the longer we've seen him as Tahmoh the more I want him to stick around. He's not good he's not bad he's just trying to figure out what's going on and what the right path is, too. Does it absolve him of everything he's done? NO. But I'd like to think he'd be able to provide something to the story.

And yes. Omundson from Psych. I am a proud Psych-O and I still miss the show now that it's over. I do hope we'll see Cain again. I think he can do more than be the retired Knight of Hell and such. He doesn't have to get back in the game all the way, but he can do some kick ass stuff.

Thanks again.
# kaj 2014-05-20 22:46
(It's such a quiet performance that if you're not paying attention you'll think he's not doing anything this season.)
Many fans think that, you know. But I have to agree with you. Sam is more vocal this season than last season. And he's more mature this season too maybe because they made Sam like that in preparation to write an off the rails Dean. They need a mature and calm and rational Sam in order to be able to handle Dean this year. I like it.
# tvmonkey 2014-05-19 07:51
The whole second half of the season has been leading up to Sam V The Blade and I'm betting on Sam winning. I just wish we'd had more Sam POV rather than Dean having the POV and mytharc. Hopefully Carver repays loyal Sam fans next season with some actaul POV and storyline of his own. He'll have the win, he'll finaly have saved Dean (repaying him) and then he can concentrate on building a life for himself.
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2014-05-19 18:07
Thanks for the comment.

I've really liked the role reversal this season. I've also liked the fact that we've seen Sam do some things on his own (ie the case in Mother's Little Helper or working with Cas alone). I have no doubt that Sam will beat the Blade. I just don't know if we'll see that happen in the finale or pick up in the season opener next season. I think Sam's really grown into the idea of pursuing his heritage as a Men of Letters, and I'm hopeful we'll see him grown even more into that role and explore a story there. Mostly, I think he'll finally be able to put to rest the fact that he couldn't save Dean from going to Hell in season 3. That's a great thing.

Thanks again.
# Sylvie 2014-05-20 15:18
Another great one under your belt Far Away Eyes, can't believe there is only one episode left to go. :( I really enjoyed this episode, Dean is literally being possessed by the blade, even at his angriest he has never acted like this. Sam & Castiel are right to be frightened of what he can do. I had a bad feeling when he extended his left hand to Gadreel, the look on his face told it all. No one does facial expressions as well as Jensen Ackles, just a look and you can see what he's conveying.

Metatron is the type of person that once imbued with power, will want more and more or it. Like the saying says: Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. It certainly does! He is just a little man (in this case a little angel I guess ;)) that can do what he wants because he can, like a child having a tantrum. Gadreel is slowly figuring this out. And he is sorry that he fell for Metatron dangling his return to Heaven in front of his nose. He will never be forgiven for killing Kevin, but that's the way angels work, they only see black & white, no in between, Castiel was like that once upon a time.

Ouf, that episode took a lot out of me, and I think the next one will finish me!:(
# kaj 2014-05-20 22:34
WOW! Far away eyes, this is stellar review!

I'm with you 100% in this. I don't think "Stairway To Heaven" is a miss or a bad script. It's a good script and it plays nicely and ties nicely with MetaFiction. I love the complexity and multifaceted layers of this episode as well as how it portrays each individual characters. Castiel's army is bound to disintegrate because it's merely a scheme of Metatron. I agree with what you said about Sam. The way Sam handled Dean is not like Dean handled Sam's addiction because they are different people but the concern is the same. I like it that Sam tries to stay close to Dean because he is worried. Fans maybe think that the writers handle Sam's characterizatio n poorly and want him to leave Dean because of Dean's poor treatment of him. But I love Sam more when he stays. Dean is off the rails and as much as I love this darkDean storyline (because of his sexiness when going dark;)) I'm very mush interested on what Sam do to handle this Dean. Of course Sam won't leave Dean because Dean didn't leave him when he was DB addicted. But I always see big brother Dean saving little brother, fixing him. Now, I want to see little brother Sam saving his big brother from darkness.

I love your review. You are voicing my thoughts wayyyy better than me.