Supernatural season 9 episode 16 review: Blade Runners

Review Anastasia Klimchynskaya 21 Mar 2014 - 06:55

Supernatural is heading in an exciting direction as it moves towards season nine's endgame...

This review contains spoilers.

9.16 Blade Runners

The most I can say about this episode in any kind of meaningful way is that it’s a conglomeration of good parts and really dull parts. Moving away from Monster Of The Week format, as the show’s been doing, this episode has the task of advancing the seasonal story arc – with varying levels of success, depending on the scene.

Eschewing the opener of a grisly murder, Blade Runners begins with Sam and Dean in the bunker; Sam clearly appears to be reading up on Cain and Abel on his laptop, despite the fact that it’s one of the more obvious Biblical stories, which I’d expect a geek like Sam to already know. But hey, it works as a foreshadowing of what the episode is going to be about: Cain, the Mark of Cain, and everything related to that.

Given the breezy ease with which the boys chat about the Mark while Sam reads up on the backstory, though, it’s clear that Dean’s told Sam about the Mark of Cain at some point, even though this is a conversation we didn’t see happen. And already, two minutes in, we have a great big mystery, for several reasons.

First, the last time we saw the Mark of Cain on Dean, Sam asked about it, Dean deflected, and the episode moved on – a scene that made it clear that Dean really didn’t want to talk about it, and for good reason. There’s been hints this season that the Mark is affecting Dean, and not in a good way (Jensen Ackles has mentioned this fact in a few interviews, and as I’ve noted in previous reviews, Dean seems to be darker). Plus, Cain himself warned that the Mark comes with a price. Thus, it’s hard to believe that Sam would just accept this Dark Mark on Dean, no questions asked (and if there were questions, shouldn’t we have seen them? On screen?)

There’s also the fact that the Mark, with all the obvious foreshadowing of sending Dean down a dark path, seems to be a parallel for all the times Sam’s gone over to the dark side (the demon blood, being soulless, and all that)  - facts that Sam tried to keep from Dean as long as possible, because going darkside is something the Winchesters have made into the family business and still insist on hiding from each other. The fact that the boys are so casually discussing the Mark shows not only knowledge, but acceptance – and with the Winchesters’ track record of going darkside, that’s very hard to believe.

Of course, maybe Sam just doesn’t care because the boys have been going through a rough patch in their relationship, and Sam doesn’t feel it’s his place to – care, but it’s hard to imagine the codependent Winchesters not caring, whatever their relationship status.

Now, with all of that said, let’s move on beyond the first three minutes of the episode.

While Sam’s doing his research, Dean is desperately calling Crowley like a girlfriend spurned – a running gag this season, which was funny the first time, but is sort of losing its steam.

The last time we saw Crowley, he went off to find the First Blade at the bottom of the ocean – and went poof. It turns out that he’s currently in a swanky hotel room, having hot sex, getting high on human blood, and crying at old movies. Yes, ladies and gents, that’s the kind of Hell we know and love.

In all seriousness, though, I’m not quite sure exactly what to make of Crowley; as a King of Hell, his choice of recreational activities seems extremely tame. On the other hand, Crowley has always been relatively tame and honorable for a demon, and one must add that he’s certainly altered by human blood right now. Crowley’s recreational activities feel unoriginal – but then again, maybe they’re supposed to.

The scene is also, arguably, funny. However, it’s the kind of funny that makes one realize that maybe Crowley’s outstayed his welcome on Supernatural. Any villain that sticks around for too long ceases to be scary, and Crowley has long, long since gone from the category of villain anywhere near the realm of scary to the category of comic relief. It’s what happens when a show goes on too long – even things like Hell lose their possibility to cause fear, and it’s patently clear here. Sure, Crowley sobbing at old movies is funny. But it’s the kind of funny that makes it clear that Supernatural doesn’t know what to do with Crowley – but at the same time, they really don’t want to get rid of the fan favourite, and who doesn’t want Mark Sheppard on their show?

It also turns out that while Crowley’s been wallowing in his human feels, though, Abbaddon’s been spying on him through her sexy, demonic operative, which Crowley wastes no time in skewering with an angel blade after she passes some information on to Abbaddon. This is yet another reminder that Crowley’s continued presence is actually a bit of a shame, because, despite the fact that Abbadon’s one of this season’s villains that’s actually still scary, we barely get to see her. Hell, we got to see more of Lucifer when he was a villain – and all we do know about what Abaddon is up to comes from the mouths of the other (mostly male) characters. It’s actually kind of a shame that Supernatural’s wasting so many opportunities in not letting at least part of the story be told from Abbaddon’s perspective rather than that of a more stale villain. Sure, Crowley’s still got his quirky quips, the Winchesters still hate him but work with him, he’s still somewhere in the grey area rather than outright evil, but that’s kind of been his status for a few years now.

Still, Crowley seems around to stay, and when your resident King of Hell isn’t going nowhere and is addicted to human blood, it’s time for an intervention, which is why the Winchesters show up, looking like unhappy parents who have found their child doing drugs. Crowley is his usual, charming, whiny, self, shouting “you have no idea what it’s like to be human, do you?” The humour, of course, lies precisely in the fact that Dean is human.

For now, at least. As I’ve noted above, the Mark is clearly affecting Dean’s humanity – just as Crowley’s addiction to human blood seems to be affecting his humanity, in the sense of drawing him closer to it. It’ll be interesting to see whether Supernatural takes advantage of the opportunity it has here, in creating a parallel between Dean losing his humanity as Crowley gains his; it’d certainly be a nice change from the quirky quips and comic relief that’s become Crowley’s lot in life lately.

The intervention goes relatively successfully, leading to a string of rather dull (more than any other descriptor, they are dull) string of scenes; one of them involves going back to an actual crossroads to actually summon a demon the old-fashioned way (how quaint). This demon turns out to be Snooki (okay, so I’m Castiel and “I don’t understand that reference” and I had to Google who she is, so sue me). All I can say is, Supernatural really likes to make celebrities into monsters (remember the time Paris Hilton beat up Dean Winchester?) Eventually, this string of events, and a little help from Crowley (because this is one of the episodes where the brilliant, world-saving Winchesters need all the help they can get, apparently), they track down an estranged Man of Letters living in a cool, impregnable, invisible mansion (can I have one?)

Said Man of Letters, going by their pseudonym of Albert Magnus (played impeccably by guest star Kavan Smith of Stargate fame), turns out to be a collector of magical artifacts. He’s got the First Blade, and wants something to complete the collection: Dean. Aside from the creepy factor of that, he’s decidedly really cool. He’s got an awesome mansion full of old paintings (such as one of Medusa, and knowing the efforts Supernatural goes to with its set decorating, one could probably write a whole essay about their significance), he wears an incredibly dapper suit with a bowtie (we all know bowties are cool), and he’s got magic in spades (so many spades that he takes out the Winchesters so easily that it’s either laughable or bad writing).

It’s Magnus who (after getting rid of an inconvenient Sam) hands Dean the First Blade, giving him a first taste of what it entails. As expected, it’s both exciting and terrifying: Dean clearly feels the effects of the blade (including, one presumes, an insatiable urge to kill), and seems to both love and hate it – which is precisely the part that’s terrifying. Magnus isn’t worried, though, not with his magic to protect him (which looks like a really terrible idea from the very beginning, because no matter how powerful you are, you don’t just hand the Winchesters a weapon and expect to stay alive).

Meanwhile, Sam and Crowley continue to bicker like exes before breaking in to rescue Dean, who, unfortunately, seems to have been separated by Magnus from his willpower – another eyebrow-raising circumstance. If there’s one thing Dean Winchester has in spades (after self-hate), it’s willpower, and it’s strange that a small spell just takes him out so easily.

Nonetheless, with some egging on and some torturing of Sam (which never fails to get Dean to do things), Dean grabs the First Blade and kills Magnus. It’s a landmark moment, the first time the Mark and the Blade work together to do what they’re meant to do, and with it, the floodgates seem to have opened. In a scene acted impeccably by Jensen Ackles, Dean struggles between his desire, his thirst, to kill, and the knowledge that it’s wrong. The entire experience is rather reminiscent of the many times Sam has had to struggle with the effects of drinking demon blood and his own evil, and fittingly so. For so long in Supernatural, it’s been Sam who’s had to battle the evil within him (with Dean’s own potential for darkness only occasionally alluded to). It’s amazing to finally see Dean in touch with his darker side, and in possession of a storyline that might actually fully explore the potential for darkness within Dean. Granted, this scene is relatively mild compared to something like, say, On The Head Of A Pin, which managed to brilliantly touch upon the darkness in both Sam and Dean, but I get the feeling that, slowly but surely, it’s getting there – and I’m so excited, not only because Dean seems to finally be getting a storyline but because it sounds like a good one.

Part of that storyline – and that darkness – seems to be the affinity that Dean’s feeling for Crowley. Besides the almost-romantic phone calls and the possible parallel I’ve alluded to, the entire episode’s thrown hints that Dean’s not so keen to kill Crowley (as demonstrated by Dean’s reluctant answer to Sam’s question). That affinity is precisely what gives Crowley the opportunity to be smarter than 90% of Supernatural villains and not underestimate the Winchesters, because it means that instead of standing around and waiting to get stabbed, he takes matters into his own hands. Of course, the seasonal story arc would kind of go to Hell if Dean killed Abaddon and Crowley now, but it’s still a good excuse to write Crowley as a competent villain who snatches the First Blade and disappears before the Winchesters can use it on him – thus ensuring that the storyline will continue until the end of the season, and also that Crowley will be around to be evil and cry at old movies.

The final scene of the episode, however, is by far the most tragic we’ve seen on Supernatural yet: someone keyed Dean’s car. I mean, there are crimes, and there are horrendous crimes that send you to Hell, and there’s being a demon, and then there’s keying Dean’s car. If you needed any confirmation that Abaddon is going to be dead in a bloody and painful way by the end of the season, this is it. You just don’t touch Dean’s Baby – I’m sure all of Heaven and Hell will agree to that- and especially not to communicate with Crowley in Enochian (though I do wonder why a Knight of Hell chose to communicate with the King of Hell in the language of the angels. Another continuity slip?)

And speaking of angels – where’s Castiel? I mean, theoretically he’s off being a leader in Heaven, but it’d be nice if, as a season regular, he got mentioned when he wasn’t here, or his absence explained, or if the show felt like it was actually taking advantage of the fact that a favorite character is a season regular this year.

But, even with all the continuity slips and questionable moments, it’s clear that the season is wrapping up – and in some very exciting ways, if it goes the way it hints that it’s going. I’ve got my fingers excitedly crossed. 

Read Anastasia's review of the previous episode, #Thinman, here.

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