Supernatural season 9 episode 21 review: King Of The Damned

Anastasia is pleasantly surprised by this week's Supernatural. Here's her review...

This review contains spoilers.

9.21 King Of The Damned

I admit: I didn’t actually think this episode would be any good.

King of the Damned was penned by Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming, whose episodes (Taxi DriverHoly Terror, and I’m No Angel) have historically been far from my favourites. But, I’m happy to report that, if I hadn’t known this episode was written by what the fandom often refers to as the “terrible duo,” I wouldn’t have been able to tell, which is really the highest compliment I can pay.

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The episode gets off to a great start as an angel plays the role of the uncool kid desperately trying to fit in with the cool angel kids – going so far as to brag about being the trusted right hand man of his idol, Metatron. Spilling his master’s secrets promptly gets him kidnapped, though, and as he’s being lectured about the importance of secrecy, comes the sound of heavy, menacing footsteps.

 “Is that…him?” the misfit angel asks, terrified.

It is indeed him – Castiel, walking from shadow into light in an entrance worthy of a superhero, which is precisely what Cas seems to have turned into. Referred to as “Commander” by the followers he’s gathered, he’s established what looks like a campaign headquarters (Castiel for President 2016! I’ll vote for him. He’s so dreamy). The angels also seem to have figured out how to use phones, computers,  and the internet, which is somehow reassuring.

However, despite all their technological savvy, none of them are apparently able to get anything out of Metatron’s groupie, which is why the Winchesters are called in. At first glance, the scene comes off uncomfortably like Castiel asking Dean to torture (something Castiel canonically hates doing, and which is a terrible idea in Dean’s current state). But, as the episode cuts to the next scene, it turns out that Castiel needs the Winchesters for their out-of-the-box thinking rather than their skill with knives and thumbscrews.

In fact, the ensuing scene is one of the highlights of the episode. In a bout of astounding humour, the Winchesters trick the unfortunate angel into talking by, in short, calling him an overly obsessive fan who doesn’t even know the object of his obsession. There’s an unquestionable breaking of the fourth wall here – but, somehow, the scene feels more like a jab at the Beliebers that Jared Padalecki himself has so often criticized than at Supernatural’s fans, who are actually the cool kids. Plus, in addition to the comic relief, the scene provides a beautiful back and forth between the Winchesters; despite the dark place Dean is in, it’s patently obvious just how close the brothers are, and how many years of teamwork and loyalty they have behind them. They work together so well that it’s like watching a perfectly choreographed dance emerge on the first try.

However, in doing so, the Winchesters only manage to get some minor information, but thankfully Castiel has another path open to him: Gadreel. During the Winchesters’ visit, Castiel pointedly asks Sam about his possession by Gadreel, and it’s quite clear where his questions are leading: to the possibility that Gadreel could be convinced to take the “right” side.” That’s what leads Castiel to propose a meeting to Gadreel – a scene that has important implications for both characters.

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In asking Gadreel to do the right thing, Castiel brings to light a very important fact: that Gadreel is multi-faceted rather than a purely “evil” baddie. He’s not searching searching for power in a predictable cliché, but seeking to do the right thing; he’s seeking for redemption, but tragically unable to find it; he wants what’s best for Heaven, but doesn’t know what that is. In all these aspects, he’s in a position Castiel is particularly well-placed to understand – and that’s what makes him interesting.

The scene is also important for Castiel, who seems to have made great progress as a leader. Last time he was in this position, he waged war; this time, he seeks to prevent it, and in reaching out to Gadreel, he shows a very rare perceptiveness of the possibilities of non-violence. Nothing on Supernatural ever ends well, though, which means the success Cas seems to have had so far probably won’t last. My fingers are crossed, though, that Castiel won’t repeat the same mistakes of doing the wrong things for the right reasons, because, well, character development is a nice thing.

In the meantime, Abaddon’s blackmailing Crowley, a development that was billed as the highlight of the episode. Unfortunately, it turns out to be both lackluster and so filled with holes that explaining some away just creates others.

Using a nifty little spell, Abaddon goes back in time to find Crowley’s son Gavin McLeod (from back when Crowley was human and a tailor in Scotland) and bring him to the present, and that’s where all the problems start. To be fair, Supernatural has used time travel in the past, but in self-contained episodes that didn’t cause messy paradoxes. This one does: several seasons ago, the Winchesters used information from Gavin’s ghost to blackmail Crowley. That means that, unless Gavin gets sent back to the past ASAP, there’s a glaring, unresolved, paradox. Not to mention that if Abaddon can apparently time-travel this easily, why hasn’t she used this nifty skill to go back and destroy Crowley before he even became king of Hell, or something similar?

Additionally, I was kind of hoping that, in blackmailing Crowley, Abaddon would reveal interesting and shocking new information about him. For example, what was he doing in Mesopotamia (which Naomi referred to last season) when he’s apparently from Eighteenth Century Scotland? Or, if Abaddon was so set on using the fact that Crowley’s been humanised through human blood, perhaps she could’ve done it without creating a messy paradox? After all, from Crowley’s perspective, Gavin’s been dead for centuries, and bringing him to the present to kill him seems like incredibly lazy writing. Wouldn’t it have been so much more interesting if Abaddon threatened to reveal to Crowley’s minions exactly how humanized this demon’s become, because what self-respecting king of Hell would permit himself a shred of humanity?

On the bright side, the presence of Gavin in the Twenty-First Century provides some excellent comic relief in this otherwise darker episode. Most notably, Gavin innocently exclaims “You must be angels!” at the two demons vying to rule Hell, as he looks out the window at the buildings of Cleveland.

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But the fun and games don’t last long, as Abaddon lures the Winchesters to a confrontation Crowley manages to warn them about. Predictably, Dean lies to Sam and, armed with the First Blade, goes to confront Abaddon alone. Thus, for the first time, we get to see the power the First Blade grants Dean: it makes him more than a match for Abaddon. In an exciting and revelatory moment, Dean is able to fight against her demonic strength and use the Force to summon the dropped blade. In a ridiculously dramatic scene, complete with fake wind and blowing hair, Dean defeats Abaddon, showcasing powers that are eerily similar to those of a demon.

But, exciting as that scene is, Abaddon’s death is extremely disappointing, following as it does the pattern Supernatural’s established of killing off the interesting antagonist to make way for a hastily thrown together one. Just as Eve was built up, then killed to make way for an evil Castiel storyline literally cobbled together at the eleventh hour, just as Naomi was deliciously built up only to unceremoniously die offscreen to make way for a hastily pulled out of nowhere Metatron, Abaddon’s rather unceremoniously killed to make way for, presumably, Crowley. I’m starting to see a pattern here…

It’s disappointing because Abaddon, despite being a fascinating character and one of this season’s Big Bads, barely saw any screentime, while Crowley, with absolutely no storyline, spent the entire season doing almost nothing onscreen. Abaddon, with her faith in Lucifer, her plot to take over Hell, and all the stunning ruthlessness brought forth by Alaina Huffman and her fiery-haired beauty, was more than intriguing. Huffman’s Abaddon was vibrant, charming, sarcastic, lethal – everything a demon should be, and more than a match in charisma for Crowley. And yet, aside from the season premiere that established her as the main antagonist, she appeared a total of two times; despite her dastardly plot of epic proportions, involving collecting souls, she was never actually onscreen to be the antagonist she was built up to be.

Instead, we saw Crowley sitting in a dungeon, Crowley being snarky, Crowley giving Sam mind-surgery, Crowley being snarky, Crowley getting high on human blood and watching soap operas, and Crowley being snarky. All of which was fun, but none of which had any point to it. Don’t get me wrong: I love Crowley, but it’s patently clear that Supernatural doesn’t want to get rid of Mark Sheppard but doesn’t know what to do with him. So much of what Crowley’s done this season has felt like nothing more than contrived excuses to keep him onscreen, making it glaringly obvious that that the screenwriters want him onscreen, but don’t have a story to tell with him. There’s only so far that a British accent and snark will take a character before he becomes about as interesting as wallpaper, though, which makes Abaddon’s death right after her epic plan was revealed all the more disappointing. In fact, the only storyline Crowley potentially had this season, and which would’ve given him a role to play, is his addiction to human blood and burgeoning humanity; unfortunately, the show’s done nothing more than pay lip service to that possibility instead of making it into an actual storyline.

The only good thing that comes of Abaddon’s death, then, is the very interesting path it opens up for Dean. Using the Blade for the second time, Dean has an even harder time letting go of it. Thankfully, Sam’s able to pull him back from his mindless violence, and Dean looks up at Sam, covered in blood and looking utterly lost. The question that so obviously remains is: how long will it take until Sam’s no longer able to pull Dean back? Dean reveals, in the final conversation of the episode, that the Blade makes him feel “calm” – that it seems to remove his emotions until nothing but the tunnel vision of cold, calculating killing is left. Cain said that the Mark came with a price – yet the terrifying thing about Cain was not a demonic bloodthirst, but the utter, emotionless calm with which he faced evil and violence. With the season finale coming up, I won’t be surprised if Abaddon’s death is the final straw that tips Dean over the edge, shutting off his humanity as the Blade takes over. I’d hazard a guess that Sam and Cas will have a hard time pulling him back – with the endless possibilities of what the Blade will make him do all making for spectacular season finales. With so many possibilities and the season finale only two an episode away, I’d love to hear your speculations in the comments. 

Read Anastasia’s review of the previous episode, Bloodlines, here.

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