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SPN 4.16: On the Head of a Pin

Ha!  I'm stuck on past tense.  This is a couple of weeks late.  But better late than never.  I love this installment too much to not  write down some of my thoughts (with a few screencaps I made).

Oh yeah, I saw the episode (late).

Holy...

Before anything else, I don't think it's spoilery to say this episode showcased how awesome an actor Jensen Ackles is.  As story goes, this one dished out surprising information/answers as well as teased a few new questions.

Many times as the story unfolded, I felt gutted.  What can I say, my heart just broke for Dean, over and over again.

The moment the boys came on screen, I was worried about Dean with the role-reversal here:  This time it's Sam who's in the driver's seat, eager to follow Lilith's trail, while Dean looked *tired* riding shotgun.



In the past, Sam had been behind the wheel occasionally while Dean rested.  Only this time, it seemed Dean went beyond physical exhaustion.  Like a seasoned soldier who's seen too many horrors of war, he is now weary.  Coming back from Pamela's funeral, Dean still grappled with losing another friend, burdened by the *guilt* that he was the cause of her demise (yeah, the guilt-trip started early).  Sam on the other hand was ready to write the loss off as a "casualty of war".  Sam has no time for regret now.  So he wanted Dean to get angry instead, because anger motivates, and Sam obviously believed motivation was what Dean needed at the moment to get his head shift into the right gear.  In response, the troubled look in Dean's eyes as well as his protracted silence spoke volumes.

I really appreciate how Dean's character progressed throughout the seasons.  He is no longer the devil-may-care cavalier warrior we met in the beginning.  He's more than that now.  He has sustained too many losses and licked too many wounds to maintain that simplicity.  But he's still Dean, and he's still snarky.



So he can still stick-it to the Angels.  I love it every time he mouthed off to these heavenly creatures:

Dean (to Uriel):  We just got back from being needed!

Dean (to Uriel): ...stop pushing us around like chess pieces for 5 freaking minutes!

Dean (to Castiel):  If you guys don't start walking, you'll get flabby.


So yes, people can't stay the same all the time.  Nonetheless, it's good to know somethings just don't change no matter what.  Still, it didn't take me long to see Dean's cheeky disposition was nothing more than a front.  Once Dean learned what the Angels wanted him to do, he looked almost scared:



No, Dean wanted nothing to do with "playing" the Inquisitor (from Hell) again.  He was very much afraid of being reminded at what he was capable of.  Sam, meanwhile, stood next to his brother, and caught on Dean's fear.  Thus, it's not surprising Sam thought Dean couldn't do it, Dean couldn't go through with the task the Angels laid out for him.  I still don't think Sam sees Dean as weak per se, but he definitely sensed his brother was *broken* (yes, there is a difference).  I hope I'm not seeing things because I want to, but it seemed ever since Dean's roadside confession (of what happened to him in Hell), Sam had slipped into the role of a protector for the first time.  I believe Sam's recent drive to hone in on his demon-given power stems from his desire to fulfill that role successfully.

Turned out Sam was both right and wrong in his assessment of the situation.  He was off because Dean had it in him to carry out what was asked of him.  But Sam's help was needed in the end anyway because the Angels screwed up, epically.



"Something happened to him...he's not the same..."  Sam tells Ruby.  I found it was unlikely Ruby didn't already know what happened to Dean in the pit.  Then again, I realized Sam was talking about the psychological effect (of Dean broke after 30 years) rather than the actual events here.  That's why I hazard to guess maybe it was not a question of whether Dean was capable (of torture) to Sam.  He simply didn't want to see Dean go through that again.  Sam understood how much the action (torture) ate away at his brother's soul.

Before his time in hell, I believe Dean would balk at the idea of carrying out torture.  Sure, Dean wouldn't hesitate to kill any evil sonovabitch, but I think he would stop short at inflicting malice.

Only now, when Dean peered through the window at the trussed up Alastire on the other side, his posture and lingering glance hinted he was simultaneously mesmerized and repulsed.

"Fascinating!"  Dean commented as he tore himself away from the door.  An interesting choice of word here.  At this moment, I saw there was at least a small part of Dean wanted to lay into his tormentor, pay Alastire back for all the pain he caused.

But the sane part, the honorable part of Dean rejected his dark desire.  So he made a last-ditch effort to appeal to his Guardian Angel:  "You would not like [the man] walk back out..."  Dean said brokenly with choked up voice and glistening eyes.  Whether or not Castiel would *like* torturer!Dean notwithstanding, the important thing was I knew for certain Dean would loathe the man he would become (if he acquiesced to Castiel and Uriel's demand).

Yet, Dean was, and always will be the perfect soldier.  So he accepted what was asked of him dutifully, knowing what it would cost him. ::sniff

I love the part when Dean pushed the cart through the creaking door, slowly but deliberately made his way to Alastire.  From the noise the door made to the way Dean hunched over the cart, the scene was rife with both menace and vulnerability.  To me, that dichotomy was prevalent throughout the entire torture.



When Dean faced-off Alastire, his expression was mostly schooled.  Even his trademark smirk was only a ghost on his face.  Alastire on the other hand did his best to goad Dean at every turn.  It was almost as if the sadistic bastard wanted Dean to work on him, which come to think of it, kinda made weird sense.  I bet the demon loved to mess up Dean's head.

Alastire claimed Dean had left a part of himself back in the pit, and he would very much like to put Dean's fractured self back together again.  I'm pretty sure the part in question here was the dark side of Dean.  Despite his earlier fear of getting in touch with that darkness once again, Dean valiantly declared Alastire would be disappointed.  That's when I saw a glimpse of the old Dean:  once again, he was attempting to roll with the punches, do what he gotta do, and not letting it affect him.



But Alastire didn't let Dean off that easily.  "You haven't disappointed me yet..."  Alastire taunted, and started to bring up what he did to Dean:  "...for every poke and prod..."

(OMG!  My head exploded -- they didn't just go there, did they?  I could just hear the sound of keyboard clicking.  Somewhere in the fandom a bad!fic is being written...)

I was pretty amazed Dean didn't rise to Alastire's bait, not even a twitch of a muscle.  Eyes downcast, Dean kept on preparing what he needed to do. ::sob  Seeing he failed to nudge Dean into a reaction, Alastire upped the ante and brought up Daddy instead -- he challenged Dean with daddy!Winchester, with what he, Alastire did to John!  *gasp*

Dean raised his head, eyes burning...

Oh no, I had a very bad feeling about this.  Very bad.



So the torture began.  Dean certainly laid a good one into Alastire.  Part of me cringed at the gore, yet another part of me cheered thinking how good it felt to have Dean get back at Alastire for the things the Demon had done to him.

As the torture went on though, I noticed Dean's stares became more and more blank, as if shades had come down in his eyes.  His face became stonier too, if possible.  When he stuck a knife inside Alastire's gut, his expression hardly changed.  If it wasn't for the sound the Demon made and a flinch on Dean's face, I'd thought he merely tilted his head.  Pretty jaw dropping scary stuff.

I was very happy to see Anna showing up again.  I liked her, especially in Heaven and Hell, and had hoped I would get a bit more of her story (call me cheesy but I thought her love scene with Dean at the back seat of Impala was the most romantic scene to date).  It's obvious she had quite a history with Castiel.  Oh boy, don't I feel there's a possible triangle here between her, Dean, and Castiel... o.O

With Anna showing up, it's the first time I realized (male) Angels, beside being "dicks with wings" as Dean said, were not all righteous by default.  Turned out they might not even be following God's will all this time.  Huh, interesting!  And why not?!  I like the idea the Angels are just as unreliable as the Demons.  We learned (from Anna) before that only four Angels had actually seen God.  The rest of them were merely relying on their faith they were doing the right thing.  Maybe that faith isn't that infallible.  Besides, I had been wondering why Anna was not considered evil like Lucifer if she was a fallen angel.  Now I can see maybe she didn't rebel against God after all, maybe she only disobeyed orders from the bad!Angels.

Anna implored Castiel to stop what they were doing before they "ruin the one true weapon (Dean)" they had.  I get all excited at how important Dean is to the Angels, just as how important Sam is to the Demons.  What angst this brings, pitting the brothers at the front of the two opposing forces!



I was relieved to see Sam rush to aid his brother once he found out where to go.  But as he drove alone at night, I could almost swear Sam's eyes were yellow in the shifting gloom for a split second.  Was I imagining things?  Was it only a wicked lighting effect?  Quite possibly so.  Admittedly, I was very disturbed earlier seeing Sam suck demon!Ruby's blood.

Here's the thing, Ruby makes me very uncomfortable.  I don't quite know how to make of her.  Is she good or bad?  What's her agenda?  If there are bad!Angels in the SPN 'verse working to bring on Apocalypse, it's not inconceivable there are good!Demons working to prevent it (for reasons yet known).  However, the way Ruby enticed and enabled Sam to get in touch with his dark side gave me pauses.  Bottom line, she's kinda like Sharon/Boomer from BSG for me -- I would't trust her as far as I could throw her.



Back to Dean and Alastire:  the torture got more and more intense as it progressed.  By now, Dean's face darkened to a sinister look.  At one point, the chiaroscuro effect of the scene made it look as if Dean was wearing goth eyeliner (maybe the makeup artist did use kohl on the actor.  I could never tell -- the man's eyelashes are so damn dense and long).  Adding the way his lips curled into a sneer, Dean looked positively barbaric and threatening!

Yet at the same time, Dean also felt vulnerable to me.  Acerbated by the way Alastire needled him, I began to question if Dean was indeed administering the torture or receiving it.

A sidebar here:  oh no, the leaky water from the overhead pipe was washing away the devil's trap!  Tsk, Tsk.  Castiel should've known better than using chalk to draw the seal.  Even Sam and Dean knew to use paint from spray can instead!  I always knew Cas was a pompous ass, way too sure of himself!  ::snicker  (Actually, I like him.  A. Lot.  Really!)



Then there came the moment of truth, the bombshell that was Alastire's finally revelation: Dean was in fact the FIRST SEAL (of the "66 seals of doom") that started the Apocalypse.

Whoa!  That was mind-blowing.  And heart-wrenching.  Dean's first response was confusion, disbelieving:  "You are lying."  He denied.  But it was all for not.  Alastire recited the prophecy that the first righteous man to spill blood in Hell was going to start the process of setting Lucifer free.

Holy crap!  But wait a second, I thought only souls go to hell, and souls are not corporeal, are they?  Then how was the actual blood spelt there?!  Oh well, I'll take that as a metaphor and do the hand-waving here.  Because the setup is pretty amazing!

This disclosure just confirmed the guilt and shame Dean's been carrying around all this time, and magnified them to an epic proportion.  On top of that, Dean was once again haunted by the notion he couldn't measure up to his Dad.  Dean had always struggled with his self-worth in the past.  Alastire's taunt John had withstood nearly a century of torture where Dean broke in 30 (years) cemented Dean's feeling of inadequacy.

Jensen played Dean beautifully here.  From the initial surprise and denial, to the final acceptance, every expression was nuanced, yet distinctly profound.  I always find Jensen has mastery control over displaying his character's emotion:  he never over or under act a scene.  And it was no exception here.

As a viewer, I had to wonder if Alastire had spoken the truth, nothing but the truth here.  It's been established Demon lies.  So which part is a lie then?  I have no doubt about Dean being the First Seal.  That leaves the part about John.  For some reason, I always felt Dean's experience in Hell was different from John's.  Maybe it was because John was able to climb out of Hell when the gate opened (along with other Demons) while Dean couldn't (when Sam opened the same gate as he claimed), I kinda think Dean was in a much deeper Hell than John ever was.  But all that was beside the point.  John's experience may only live in fanon, what was important was Alastire had succeeded in planting a seed of self-doubt in Dean, made Dean believe he was Not.Good.Enough.

Remember earlier I wondered if Dean was being tormented as well in this torture-session?  I soon had concrete answer.  As soon as Alastire realized the devil's trap was broken, he unleashed his demonic power on Dean and beat him into a bloody pulp!  It wasn't until Alastire almost choked Dean to death, Castiel then rushed in to the rescue, ineffectually.  Took you long enough to act, Cas!  ::sigh  Has Castiel actually won a fight against any Demon yet?  Oh well, he's still pretty.  {{pets him on the head}}



Thank God there's Sam to save them all.  Oh Sammy!  He was simultaneously magnificent and terrifying.

Sam got the confession out of Alastire with his freaky mind control that the Demons had nothing to do with the recent killings of the Angels.  Afterwards, Sam managed to surprise everyone (including me) by killing Alastire on the spot.  Remember, not even Ruby's Demon slaying knife could kill Alastire (Ruby and Castil both tried unsuccessfully) before.  But Sammy can!  With. His. Psychic. Mind no less!

Castiel's incredulous and horrified stare (at Sam) said it all.  I was only glad Dean wasn't conscious to see his brother at that moment.



I'm sure I wasn't the only fangirl whose heart dropped at the first sight of Dean in his hospital bed.  Poor Dean!  Not again!  A fallen and tarnished hero... ::sniff



I adore the concern on Sam's face as he looked at his battered brother...



Damn!  Alastire did a good one on Dean.  Was it only me?  I thought he looked so young (almost kid like) under all that bruises.  But maybe that was the point:  the protector became the one needed to be protected...



I have to say this scene, albeit short, was one of my favorite scenes from this episode.  It just warmed my heart to see Sam sit vigil by Dean's bedside.

For some reason, my mind wandered to BSG's season 2 episode "Sacrifice":  we never got a scene of Bill next to Lee in the Sickbay (no, I'm not still bitter.  Not at all).  The reason they gave us was because they didn't want to make a cheesy scene.  But see, it doesn't have to be a chick-flick moment if such scene is handled well, like it was here:  short, and silent, not a single word was uttered, yet it packed so much emotion, and told so much about the characters.



Seconds later, Sam noticed Castiel hovering in the doorway.  He immediately looked pissed.  I don't blame him.  After all, these Angels were responsible for putting Dean in the hospital in the first place.  Anger and frustration abundant, Sam demanded Castiel to heal Dean immediately.  Hmmm... Dean was hurt more seriously than I thought if Sam was asking for a Miracle!  Alas, Castiel could no more grant a medical miracle than he could beat a Demon in a fist fight.

Sam convinced Castiel the Demons had nothing to do with the recent murder-spree of the Angels (Then he hurried back to his brother's side, I might add).

Castiel went looking for Anna next.  I reasoned he went to her because he wanted to eliminate her as a possible suspect (for sabotaging the Devil's Trap).  Anna encouraged Castiel to defy his orders if they didn't feel right in his gut (so to speak).  Castiel confessed it was hard for him to decide what he should do instead of doing what he was told.

That's the crux, isn't it?  Everything comes down to Choices!  It was Mary's choice to make the deal with YED; it was John's choice to avenge his wife's death, and later gave up his life for his son's; it was Dean's choice to be his brother's protector, to sacrifice himself for Sammy; it was Sam's choice to step up to the plate, embrace who he is, and be the one to protect for once.  So now, even the Angels, who are "agents of fate" as Castiel put it, can't escape making their own decisions.  So what does this say about Destiny then?

Normally, I believe Destiny is the bane of free-will, of choice.  But given this is SPN 'verse where a "higher power" is surely in the play, I'd say these two are entwined here:  certain people are fated to make certain choices that fulfill a Destiny.  The question left is to find out what that Destiny is.

Once Castiel ascertained Anna's innocence, it wasn't rocket science for him to deduce who the actual saboteur was.  Since there were only three of them (Angels) at the warehouse that night, it could only be Uriel.

Sure enough, the arrogant SOB confessed he was in deed the killer behind the murders (of the seven Angels).  Turned out Uriel made a choice too.  He decided he should join the effort to bring back Lucifer, whom he believed is a champion of the Angels.  Interestingly, Uriel revealed only Angels can kill another Angel.  I wonder how come Castiel didn't know this, and wasted effort barking the wrong tree (suspecting Demons were involved).  Maybe Castiel is too low on the "food-chain" to be privy to such detail.  This revelation however, raised a curious question for me in regard to Dean.  I will spell it out later...

I largely enjoyed the conversation between Castiel and Uriel.  The latter's words reminded me of Milton's Paradise Lost, like A. Lot.  I really appreciate the way Kripke envisioned his Angels.  The fact these super-beings are just as problematic as the Demons fits nicely in this rather dark 'verse.



Upon Castiel's refusal to join Uriel in his dark!Quest, another fight ensued.  Poor Castiel, he still had no hope in winning a battle (the writers are in danger of making him a wuss.  But he's still pretty, and he deadpans so well, and he has feelings for Dean, so I still like him, very much)  Just as Castiel was in danger of being killed off, there came Anna who saved the day.  "Maybe there is God, or maybe not.  But there's still me!"  Anna enunciated while driving the stiletto into Uriel's neck.  Hooray!  I bow at her awesomeness!

This is totally inconsequential, but I kinda think the actress who plays Anna looks like a cross between Jennifer Love Hewitt (Ghost Whisper) and Sarah Michele Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). o.O



Uriel is dead!  I always find the show has really cool imageries.  This is one of them.  And it echoed the dead angel shot from the opening scenes quite well.



Dean woke up in his hospital bed to Castiel sitting in the chair where Sam should be (the fangirl in me is convinced Sam only stepped out for a little bit, now that his brother is recuperating).  Castiel confirmed what Dean already knew was the truth: him being the First Seal.

"We laid seige to Hell once we found out Lilith's plan.  But it was too late..."  Castiel said.  I think here's another clue John was never "qualified" as the FS, else the Angels would've rescued him long before the gate to Hell was opened!  So now we finally learned why Castiel pulled Dean from perdition, the question that has been looming ever since the first episode this season.

"Why didn't you just leave me there?"  Dean rasped out, ashamed at his own weakness, thinking that was where he belonged after all.



But Dean didn't even have the luxury to wallow in his own self-pity, because Angels have a purpose for him -- Dean has a destiny.

"It's not the blame that falls on you, Dean.  It's fate!"  Castiel soothed.  Then he explained the righteous man who broke the FS is the only one who can finish it.  And Dean has to Stop. It.

Ahhh, so that was what Castiel meant back in "In the Beginning".  He said exactly the same thing then:  you have to stop it.  Now I understand that IT was NOT Mary making deal with the YED like I previously thought!

"Stop what?  What do you mean?"  Dean desparately wanted to understand what he was supposed to do.  Frankly, I do too!  Was Dean suppose to stop the last seal to be broken?  Some how, I doubt it.  Feels like all the 66 seals are destined to be broken.  If so, Dean's purpose must be stopping Lucifer from rising then.

But based on what Uriel said earlier, and Lucifer being a fallen Angel, I can't see anyone else other than an archangel to be powerful enough to stop him.  So what does this mean for Dean then?

Unfortunately, Castiel doesn't have all the answers.  "They don't tell me much."  Cas confessed.  Surprise, surprise.  That was the understatement of the year!



"I can't do this.  I'm not strong enough.  Find someone else.  Just not me."  Dean pleaded, a single tear rolled down his face.  ::sniff

(I thought Jensen's voice sounded unbelievably amazing in this scene, so realistic for a bruised and battered man with an oxygen cannula stuck in his nose!)

This was the lowest Dean ever got so far.  He literally crumbled with the weight of the world on his shoulder.  And I for once was glad Sam was not present to witness this.

The episode left me both excited and heartsick.  It's not a wonder why I became addicted to the show so quickly.

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