This review contains spoilers.
10.23 Brother’s Keeper
Supernatural ends its tenth season by wrapping up the Mark of Cain narrative. As Dean succumbs more and more to the Mark’s power, Sam gets increasingly desperate to track his brother down and set Rowena on performing the spell that will get rid of the First Curse. Dean gets desperate and calls on an old ally of the Winchesters in the form of Death, anticipating that it will be his own demise that will rid the world of the dangers of the Mark. Of course, this being Supernatural, nothing is ever that easy and Death reveals that losing the Mark will unleash the Darkness upon the world, the evil that came before Creation. As Rowena prepares to take on the spell, the brothers Winchester attempt to sort their own solution which finds them once again on the opposite sides of good and evil.
First of all, let me please apologise for the lateness of this review; sadly, a wealth of technical issues arose all at once and prevented me from actually viewing the episode until recently. Much like the rest of the season, Brother’s Keeper exhibits many of Supernatural‘s weaknesses and strengths and as such, is a bit of a mixed bag. The major positives, as usual with the show, are the performances of the cast; Ruth Connell feels as if she’s been part of the show forever whilst Misha Collins and Mark A. Sheppard are well settled as the angel and demon on the brothers’ shoulders. Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles are so settled in their roles now that they can sell Sam and Dean having an argument about anything from what slice of pie to get or the fate of the world.
The return of Julian Richings as the wonderfully macabre Death is an always welcome addition to the show. He brings the necessary amount of weary gravitas whilst also playing well into the dark humour that befits the part. Of course, given Dean took a scythe to Death at the end of the episode means that we might not see Richings inhabit the role again. I don’t believe Death is really dead (after all, that would be a major rewrite of the show’s mythology – who is going to reap God if not Death?), but as with Ruby, it may be that we see another actor take on the role of the grim reaper. Killing Death was certainly a bit of a shock and a development I wasn’t too happy about, even if we did get Ackles’ brilliant line reading of ‘I think I just killed Death’.
The other positive was how well the season’s thematics worked when coming into the finale’s climax. Throughout the season, the focus has been on the internal demons that Sam and Dean had to battle, rather than the manifestation of monsters and witches that usually take their attention. Within that, there has also been much about the importance of family to keep you on the straight and narrow, whether it’s through family cohesion (Sam and Dean) or the breakdown of relationships (Crowley and Rowena). That theme about love and family developed into one of sacrifice for the finale. It didn’t quite tease it out as much as I would have liked, but Rowena willingly sacrificing someone she loved to gain the kind of power she’s been craving versus Dean forgoing the sacrifice of both himself and Sam for love positions sacrifice and family as opposites.
This leads me on to one of the more negative aspects of this finale. Narratively, it felt a little weak, a victim of both Supernatural‘s adherence to a particular formula and the ongoing Mark of Cain plot. As with Swan Song, it once again led to a showdown between the ‘good’ brother, this time Sam, and the ‘bad’ brother, a desperate Dean unable to see a way to get rid of the Mark without a whole lot of death. Did anyone genuinely believe that Dean was about to kill Sam at any moment during that scene? I certainly didn’t because even if he did, we know that within the first couple of episodes, Sam would be returned from the dead and Dean back from wherever in ‘outer space’ that Death had put him. I hold out hope that Supernatural still has the power to surprise us with its eleventh season, but the writers’ room seems just too comfortable with sticking with the status quo.
Whether or not the impending Darkness offers that opportunity to mess it up a bit will be discovered next season, but right now, it feels a little too intangible as a concept to get excited about what the boys might face. Also, somewhat unfortunately, whenever they said ‘the Darkness’, I didn’t think of some unspeakable evil that it took God and his archangels to defeat. I thought of a lycra-wearing spoof hair metal band that had faded into obscurity. Whilst it would be very entertaining to see Justin Hawkins face off against an incredulous Sam and Dean, I don’t think that’s exactly what the writers were going for.
The season ends on the Darkness arriving in the world via a whole lot of black smoke. As a visual, it was nowhere near as impressive as the eighth season’s falling angels and not as tangible an idea either. In some ways, it gives the writers the opportunity to get creative next season with the forms the Darkness might take. Will it possess people in the traditional demonic way or manifest all sorts of nasties for the boys to fight? I just hope it doesn’t get wrapped up within the first couple of episodes. The boys need a really big evil to fight this time, not just battling with themselves.
Read Becky’s review of the previous episode, The Prisoner, here.
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