“The Things We Left Behind” touches on serious themes as Supernatural reaches its mid-season finale. The undercurrent of this episode lies in how our families shape who we are. Though the importance of family in determining who we are and what we choose to do is one of the main themes of Supernatural generally, this episode takes it further by exploring how personal choices affect members of our family. We begin to see reflection on the consequences of actions taken by Castiel and Dean. Rowena’s impact on Crowley and the legacy it has borne starts to become more evident as well. There are things that our characters may have thought, or hoped, they had left behind, but this episode reveals what they still carry with them and what might not be so easily forgotten.
We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.
—Ken Levine, Bioshock
Dean is struggling with the Mark of Cain, despite his many past assurances to Sam that he is all right. Dean wakes up suddenly during the night, appearing to recall a killing spree from his Demon Dean days. He sits up in bed and touches the Mark, looking very disturbed. Given what he’s been through, it must take a lot to get Dean disturbed.
As we saw in “Girls, Girls, Girls” (S10E07), the angel Hannah’s concern for her human vessel and her consequent return to Heaven, letting the vessel return to her family, has left Castiel thinking about his own human vessel, Jimmy Novak, and Jimmy’s family. Jimmy’s daughter, Claire Novak, is being held in a juvenile facility in Pontiac, Illinois. She was most recently picked up for shoplifting. Claire seems to be a troubled young woman and is described by the social worker at the juvenile facility as a “frequent flyer.”
The facility attendant announces to Claire that her father is there to see her, and Castiel walks in. Once they are alone, Castiel tells Clarie that he is not her father. She reminds him those were the first words he ever said to her, after Cas had taken her father as a vessel. She asks Cas about her father. He explains that his vessel was ripped apart by Lucifer, which occurred in “Swan Song” (S05E22). Though Castiel was reassembled, her father’s soul is now in Heaven. This news would have crushed any hopes Claire might have had that her father would return to her and they could be a family again. Cas explains to Claire that he has come to help her because he has hurt her so much, which comes off as pretty weak once you realize just how much she has been through since Castiel took Claire’s father, Jimmy, as a vessel. Since Claire’s last encounter with Castiel in “The Rapture” (S04E20), her mom abandoned Claire at her grandmother’s. Claire’s last few years have been a series of group homes and failed foster placements.
Castiel asks Claire what he can do to help her, and it turns out all she wants from him is help getting out. They initially attempt to make this happen by following normal system channels: Castiel applies for custody of Claire. Though Claire is Jimmy’s daughter, the fact that he abandoned her for so many years does not bode well for them.
Claire helps Castiel to put his tie on correctly, telling him, “Now you look like a dad,” in what almost seems like a touching daughter-father scene, if you are able to forget that Claire’s current life is a consequence of Castiel’s decision to take Jimmy Novak as a vessel. When the social worker questions why he wants to come back into Claire’s life now, he has no good response except to say work took him away. When asked to explain the work that demanded such an extended absence Castiel replies, after some thought, “I fight certain deadly threats to humanity,” and Claire quickly adds, “He’s an exterminator.” Despite Claire’s belief that the social worker has to allow her father to sign her out, the social worker denies Castiel’s application, telling him, “Claire’s troubled. The last few years have not been easy for her. And she doesn’t need a friend. She needs a father.” There is a lot of parenting advice, or perhaps warnings, in this episode.
All happy families are alike: each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
The Men of Letters bunker has become home base, if not home, for the Winchesters. Dean is watching the Three Stooges. Sam brings him a grilled cheese sandwich, always a delicious comfort foods. As he enjoys the gooey cheese and laughs at Larry, Curley, and Moe, it would appear that Dean couldn’t be happier—though certainly appearances can be deceiving. Sam glances at the Mark of Cain on Dean’s arm with a concerned look, seeming not nearly so happy as Dean.
Rowena, who found out is Crowley’s mother in “Girls, Girls, Girls,” is still locked up in Crowley’s prison. One of Crowley’s demon minions, Gerald, brings a demon into the cell and locks her up next to Rowena. Rowena tells Gerald that he needs to talk to her son, saying that it’s been weeks since she was imprisoned. She begs, “Tell him I’m sorry. Tell him,…” and Gerald slams the door. Rowena’s look of contrition completely disappears as he walks away.
After the establishment route did not work out so well, Castiel breaks Claire out of the juvenile facility during the night. They sit in a diner eating and talking. Claire tells Castiel he seems different now.
Claire: “You’ve changed. The Castiel I met? He was crappy. Like, super stuck-up and a dick and you just wanted to punch him in his stupid angel face.”
Castiel: “I don’t think I was that bad.”
Claire: “You totally were. And now you’re just … I don’t know. Nicer. And kind of a doof. No offense.”
Castiel: “Yes. Well, um … Before, I was very self-assured. I was convinced I was on this righteous path. Now I realize that there is no righteous path, just people trying to do their best in a world where it’s far too easy to do your worst.”
Claire: “Wow. Deep.”
Castiel: “Yeah … for a doof.”
When Castiel asks Claire where they go from here, she tells him she doesn’t need him. Cas disagrees, telling her that they should stick together. When Castiel goes to the register to pay he finds his wallet is gone and that Claire has disappeared. So much for family bonding. Claire gets into the first car that will pick her up and rides away from the restaurant and Cas. What happened to angels being able to find a human unless they were concealed with an Enochian sigil? Maybe that can only be done from Heaven or perhaps Cas being reliant on stolen grace messes up his special angel powers.
Castiel calls Sam and Dean for help. Dean seems pretty annoyed at being called to help with Claire, saying, “An emergency is a dead body, okay? Or a wigged out angel or the Apocalypse, Take 3. Some chick bolting on you is not an emergency. That’s … That’s every Friday night for Sam.” Dean is a bit harsh in his response to Cas. This is his vessel’s daughter—it doesn’t seem so hard to understand. For people that are all about family and doing what is right, the Winchesters are surprisingly unsympathetic to Claire’s situation. They don’t seem to think that Castiel has any responsibility for her and point out that she doesn’t want his help. When Cas says, “I understand, but I need to know that Claire is safe, and I need your help,” they begrudgingly agree.
Castiel and Dean stay back at the restaurant in case Claire returns. They are having burgers, and Dean is really enjoying his. This man knows how to enjoy food. Cas is feeling guilty. Due to his guilt or the fact that he doesn’t need to eat, Cas doesn’t touch his burger, so Dean takes it and eats it. Dean tells him he can’t save everyone, which we have heard Cas say to Dean.
Castiel: “I’ve helped some, but I’ve—I’ve hurt some.”
Dean: “So you’re having a midlife crisis.”
Castiel: “Well, I’m extremely old. I think I’m entitled.”
Dean: “Cas, listen to me. There’s some stuff you just gotta let go. Okay? The people you let down, the ones you can’t save … You gotta forget about ’em, for your own good.”
Castiel: “Is that what you do?”
Dean: “That’s the opposite of what I do. But … I ain’t exactly a role model.”
Castiel: “That’s not true.”
When Cas asks if the Mark of Cain is still affecting him, Dean makes him promise that if he becomes a demon again that Cas will kill him. “I can’t go down that road again, man. I can’t be that thing again.
All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.
—Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Rowena starts talking to the demon in her cell, asking why she is being locked up. The demon tells Rowena that Crowley only allows certain demons to come up from Hell, so she had to get smuggled up. The demon is worried because she knows that Crowley will torture her to find out how she got there. The demon asks Rowena what sin brought her there. Rowena responds, “I was a horrible mother.” Meanwhile, Crowley is expressing the same sentiment to Gerald.
Crowley: “She was a horrible mother. Did I tell you the time that she almost traded me for three pigs? Three! I was an attractive child. I could juggle. I was worth five pigs at least.”
Gerald: “My ma used to burn me with cigarettes.”
Crowley: “Nobody cares, Gerald.”
So true. Couldn’t Crowley have a more interesting minion to talk to? Gerald asks if Crowley hates his mother so much, why not kill her? He offers to do the deed himself, but Crowley says he has his reasons for not killing her. We’re guessing that “being a good son” isn’t one of them.
Claire arrives at a house where Dustin Tate, who she used to be in a group home with, welcomes her. An older man, Randy, is also there. She gives Randy the wallet she stole from Castiel.
Randy tells her that even with the money from the wallet they won’t have enough to pay back the loan shark, Salinger, who is coming to collect that night. We wondered what the recluse author was doing these days. He says he borrowed too much because “the holidays are coming, and I like to spoil my kids.” Randy, along with Dustin, then proceeds to guilt Claire into going out to rob a store to try to get the money. Randy tells her, “You and Dustin—you’re the only family I have.” Randy doesn’t seem like a good dude, despite his caring father act. Poor Claire hasn’t had a lot of good luck with family over the last few years.
Sam finds out from the social worker at the juvenile facility that Claire was close to Dustin Tate and that he now works at the Weiner Hut. Sam, Dean, and Castiel later find Dustin and question him about Claire. While Dean enjoys a hot dog, Castiel threatens Dustin until they find out where Claire is, which is on her way to a convenience store with a gun. Castiel is able to stop Claire before she robs the store.
Castiel brings Claire outside, where Sam and Dean are waiting. She remembers them. Sam looks a little sheepish—perhaps remembering the scene he made in front of Claire in “The Rapture.”
Cas tries to tell her that robbing a store is wrong. Claire doesn’t seem willing to take lessons on morality from Castiel. Claire points out that even if he didn’t technically kill her father, that she would still have her mother and father if it weren’t for Castiel. She shames the Winchesters for the fact they stood by while Castiel took Jimmy as his vessel. Though Jimmy did allow Casitel to take him as a vessel once again, he did so only to protect Claire.
Claire: “I used to pray to you, Castiel. Every night. I would beg you to bring him home safe.”
Castiel: “I know.”
Claire: “You know… My father was a good man. In what messed up world does he have to die and you get to live?”
Castiel: “I’m sorry.”
Claire: “No. You feel guilty. There’s a difference.”
Sam asks her if she is going to go back to stealing for Randy. Claire tells them that Randy was there for her when no one else was—that he’s her family. Claire storms off, leaving the three of them standing in the alley looking awkward. Actress Kathryn Newton, who plays Claire, has a lot to carry in this episode and she is quite compelling to watch.
This was the trouble with families. Like invidious doctors, they knew just where it hurt.
– Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
Crowley finally agrees to see Rowena, who insists on calling him Fergus, the name she gave him when he was human. She tells him she always knew he was meant for big things. Crowley says that she hated him and Rowena tells him he’s being dramatic. Their dialogue is fantastic and their interaction, though brief, is the highlight of the episode. We learn that Crowley was conceived during a winter solstice orgy and that Rowena had to leave after she had “a disagreement with the locals.” She tells him they could be family again, to which Crowley responds, “I have a family.” Hopefully none of his minions heard him make that sad statement.
Rowena rightfully points out that any of his demons would kill him if they could get away with it. She tells him that she would not, “Because we’re family! We’re blood. You can trust me, and I can help you. I understand you’re angry. I understand you … hate me. And if you want to keep me locked away, so be it. But know that I will always be your mother and I’ll always love you.” We are reminded what Crowley said in Season 8, when Sam was using the demon-curing ritual on him:
“All those motels, you never once watched HBO, not once? ‘Girls’? You’re my Marnie, Moose. And Hannah—she just—she needs to be loved. She deserves it. Don’t we all? You, me—we deserve to be loved. I deserve to be loved! I just want to be loved.” “Sacrifice” (S08E23)
Is it possible that Crowley just needs to be loved? That he cares about his mother’s love or approval? Perhaps he craves it even more after the loss of his bromance with Dean in “Reichenbach” (S10E02).
Sam, Dean, and Cas arrive at The Tahitian Chief for some self-medication after the verbal assault they received from Claire. We hear the noise of tropical birds as Martin Denny’s Quiet Village plays in the background, see lots of tiki lounge paraphernalia around the bar, and notice several patrons wearing lei. No show on television pays as much attention to scene details like this as Supernatural.
The Winchesters and their angel pal seem pretty dispirited after their interaction with Claire. In their dejected state, they miss out on the spirit of The Tahitian Chief by ordering shots rather than a mai tai or some other exotic drink. Sam makes the excellent point that Jimmy was Claire’s father, and that Castiel probably can’t do anything to make up for what happened. Cas notes that he never knew his Father (it has been mentioned in the past that very few angels have ever met God) and asks the brothers if they loved their dad. Dean replies, “With everything I had,” and Sam says, “Yeah. Yeah, I mean it wasn’t always easy, but yeah.” At Sam’s urging Dean tells a story about their dad, in which Dean sneaks into CBGB, a bar in New York, and gets drunk:
“I don’t know how, but he found me. And now I’m really freaking out, ’cause he’s just standing there, not saying anything. I look around. Everybody else is freaking out, too. In fact, nobody’s even looking him in the eye. And finally, this one guy with, like, a safety pin through his nose and a-a “kill everything” tattoo looks up, and he says, “Sorry, sir.” Yeah. Sorry, sir. To John friggin’ Winchester.”
When Castiel points out that his father saved him, Dean tells Cas that he only gave his father a hard time about it. Sam and Dean explain that his father’s response was to say, “Son, you don’t like me. That’s fine. It’s not my job to be liked. It’s my job to raise you right.” This echoed the statement made earlier by the social worker that Claire needs a father, not a friend. Castiel asks if they think Claire’s in trouble. Dean says, “She’s hanging out with a guy named Randy. She’s in trouble.” Jensen Ackles delivers lines like this so well, turning good writing into hilarious dialogue, and insulting thousands of men named Randy in the process.
Claire goes back to Randy’s house, only to find that Salinger and his boys are there and have Randy tied up on a chair. When Claire tries to pull the gun on Salinger and his crew, she is grabbed and Salinger directs her to be taken into the other room. Randy has been borrowing money to play the ponies and owes $5000. Salinger tells Randy he wants to make a deal for Claire. When Randy protests that she’s family, Salinger retorts that he knows the con—find a girl with daddy issues and get her to steal for you. Randy tells him that since she is like family, it better be a pretty good deal.
After Crowley and Rowena’s familial chat, Gerald drags Rowena back to the cell, while Crowley stands in the background, watching. She yells to Crowley that she knows who’s been smuggling demons up from Hell—it’s Gerald. The demon in the cell confirms this. Gerald is not very happy about her remark and starts to strangle Rowena. Crowley calmly tells Gerald to stop several times, which Gerald ignores, much to his peril. Crowley kills Gerald with a blade through his skull, freeing Rowena from his grasp. Rowena says “thank you” to Crowley as he is walking out, and he turns around and asks Rowena, “Coming?”
As Rowena leaves the cell, her demon cellmate asks her if she is going to get her out, since she lied about Gerald as Rowena had requested. Rowena responds she’ll be back in flash, which when it happens is unlikely to result in the outcome her cellmate is hoping for. The scenes with Rowena that take place in the cell also reflect the attention to detail on Supernatural. In these scenes, despite a sparse cell, the use of shadows for architectural design makes the shots much more interesting and gives the cell a medieval feel.
Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences.
–Robert Louis Stevenson
Loan shark Salinger is in the bedroom with Claire. Sam, Dean and Cas arrive at the house just in time to rescue her. As Castiel and Sam take Claire to the car, Dean stays back and covers them. Salinger comes in from the other room and knocks Dean on the floor. As they advance on Dean, he has a series of flashbacks to killing with the First Blade and his demon days. Dean warns them, “You guys don’t want to do this.” We believe him, but they don’t seem to.
At the car outside Randy’s house, Castiel asks Claire if she is okay and she says she is, starts crying, and holds him. They hear terrible noises from the house. Through slow motions shots of Sam’s face we can see his worst fears about Dean, and what he might be capable of, coming to the surface as he runs from the car to help his brother. Cas and Claire follow him into the house.
We see Dean on his knees, with a knife in his hand, surrounded by dead bodies. Dean is remembering a previous killing spree that had similar consequences, which we assume took place when he was a demon. Sam opens the door to the house to find that Dean has killed everyone, including Randy, who was tied up. Claire screams and Castiel covers her eyes. Sam runs over to Dean, who seems dazed.
Sam: “Tell me you had to do this.”
Dean: “I—I didn’t—I didn’t mean to. No.”
Sam: “Tell me it was them or you!”
There are parts of us we never really leave behind, as much as we want to. Crowley left behind a mother who didn’t care for him, and despite that, or because of it, managed to become the King of Hell.
Sam had hoped that the Mark was no longer giving Dean the compulsion to kill. Is Dean’s past his future? Was the scene at the end inevitable due to the choices he has made in terms of the Mark? Clearly, the Mark is something that both of the Winchesters would like to leave behind, but can’t. Cas tries to take responsibility for his actions, but the damage he caused is much more than he imagined and cannot be easily redressed. There is still much to be unraveled in terms of both the past and the future, but “The Things We Left Behind” breathes new life into Season 10 of Supernatural as we explore how these characters, and those around them, are impacted by the choices they’ve made and their familial experiences. We learn in the Season 10 mid-season finale of Supernatural that what lies ahead is determined by what has been left behind.
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