Supernatural "First Born" Review: The Mark of Cain
OH. MY. GLOB.
That was so good.
Okay. I'm done—done with the button-mashing and the dolphin noises. Let's think critically. Sort of. I'm of the camp that believes that Supernatural's best episodes are neither cartoonish/lighthearted nor liver-exterminating-dark, but rather a healthy blend of kooky antics and crippling angst/mythology. "Mystery Spot," "Changing Channels," and "Everybody Hates Hitler" are all among my personal faves, but when their promos first aired and their episode descriptions first spit out onto the interwebs, I was side-eyeing them. They sounded ridiculous. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.
Going in, I knew better than to doubt "First Born," but as this season progresses, there's still some level of breath-holding happening each week because Season Fiiiiiine has done an admirable job of living up to its name and I've been damaged by years of questionable television, and I'm just bracing myself for this season's version of "Man's Best Friend With Benefits."
But we'll worry about that later. In the meantime, Timothy Omundson is Cain and everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.
Supernatural routinely rewrites biblical lore to suit its needs, but the show did a doozy on the Cain and Abel fable. In the Sunday School Approved version, God asks Adam and Eve's sons, Cain and Abel, to bring him prezzies. He likes Abel's offering better than Cain's and, overcome with jealousy, Cain kills Abel, invents murder, and gets to walk around with a damning mark on his bod for the rest of his life.
On Supernatural, it wasn't God that Abel was all cozy with, it was Lucifer, and Cain killed his brother to save him from the devil. The mark wasn't a punishment from God, but rather a "gift" (sort of?) from Luci, enabling Cain to wield the First Blade—the one he used to off Abel—to train Knights and slaughter those Knights later on when Cain fell in love and renounced his super-demon ways.
Except Abaddon. Because we need her. For plot.
With all the brother and self-loathing issues, I think it's easy to see how Dean and Cain were destined to be anti-besties besties. They both made questionable decisions to protect their brothers. They hate themselves. They drink a lot. It's a match made in... well, certainly not heaven. I really hope Supernatural explores the parallels between Dean and Sam and Cain and Abel later. They were fleetingly touched on in Season 5, but knowing what we now know about Supernatural's version of the Cain and Abel story, there's obviously so much more to dabble in, and given Sam and Dean's current anti-bromance, the comparison is timely.
In the end, Cain couldn't give Dean and Crowley the First Blade—said to be the only blade that can kill Abaddon—but he let them know where it was and he passed his mark to Dean so that when Dean and Crowley did find the blade, Dean could wield it. Dean taking on Cain's mark is just the latest in heroic-but-probably-really-bad decisions the eldest Winchester has made, but it's okay. It's okay for a few reasons:
1. Dean gets to be the magical special Winchester brother for once.
2. It fits well within Dean's pattern of taking on crappy roles for the greater good (re: selling his soul and becoming Alistair's prized pupil, throwing himself at Michael, becoming Death for a day).
3. Taking on Cain's mark further emphasizes the gap between Sam and Dean and offers a jumping-off point for conversation and reconciliation. Basically, Dean chooses to do things. Sam has things done to him.
Despite their different situations, Dean and Sam have, historically, maintained the same outlook—just at different times. With all his talk about "doing the right thing" and his angst over Kevin and Gadreel's other victims, Sam has very obviously reached his breaking point. He still clearly wants to die, or at least sees his death as some sort of worthy penance for things that weren't actually his fault, but he feels responsible for because he's a Winchester and that's how they roll. It's similar to the Dean of Season 5, who even went as far as to pen what was basically a suicide note, before flinging himself at Michael in the name of stopping an apocalypse that he saw as his fault, even though he was manipulated into kicking it off.
Dean has never really overcome the self-worth and guilt issues that led to his actions at the end of Season 5. He's just gotten better at functioning through them and by "gotten better" I mean he probably smells like a brewery 24/7 and doesn't bother trying to hide his self-hatred behind a mask of hair-metal-loving-man-slut anymore. I don't know if this Dean is better than pre-hell Dean (I miss his goofiness), but this is certainly Dean at his most pure. Sam too. Despite the shiny of the Men of Letters bunker and the promise of their birthright, Seasons Gr8 and Fiiiine have gradually moved us toward these stripped-down Winchesters who just can't anymore. The apocalypse wasn't the final straw for the Winchesters—the final straw was everything that came after... and that actually makes a lot of sense.
So thank goodness for Cas and Crowley, offering their surprisingly human insights alongside these two humans who are struggling to look the part these days. Castiel hasn't forgotten the lessons of his time as a human and for better or worse (but mostly better), is more than willing to let his lingering humanity influence how he acts as an angel.
Crowley is... well... he's Crowley and he's back to being all-evil-all-the-time, but compared to Abaddon, even Crowley at his most devilish seems like a pretty reasonable guy.
I'm just really excited about where Season Fine seems to be headed. Yay for magical, special Dean. Yay for Cas and Sam bromance. Yay for all the pieces finally starting to fall into place.
– "You're good, but I'm Crowley."
– Yeeeeah, I think Cas saw where Gadreel was too.
– "Kraken? I got a warehouse full of kraken." Of course Crowley does.
– "Rustic obsessive? Paranoid deco?"
– So how long until Cain calls Dean to come smite him?
– What do you think that downside Cain warned Dean about concerning the mark is all about?
– I really think the Batcave needs a guinea pig now. Cas was so excited!
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