“Paint it Black,” the 16th episode of Supernatural Season 10, focuses on our favorite Queen Mother, Rowena. It’s about time we learned more about Rowena and her past. When we first saw Rowena at the end of “Soul Survivor,” it was clear that her character was going to be interesting. In “Girls, Girls, Girls” we learned that she was a rebellious witch and Crowley’s mum. Since Rowena’s introduction to Supernatural, a bit more about her past has been revealed. “Paint it Black” gives our picture of Rowena a bit more color.
I look inside myself and see my heart is black
Rowena is still sore about what happened in “The Executioner’s Song,” when Crowley took off to aid the Winchesters instead of helping her to track down the Grand Coven witch Olivette. Crowley’s not feeling so great himself after Dean failed to return the First Blade to him and then Crowley received a shame-filled scolding from his mother.
Rowena is causing trouble in Hell. One of Crowley’s minions comes to Crowley to complain:
“Your mother remains … vexed with your highness and vents her frustration by abusing the court. No one dares retaliate, of course, and, yes, one expects to suffer in Hell, but I fear I’ve reached my limit.”
It appears that even demons can feel bullied, and the reason why becomes evident when we see that Rowena has literally made the demon two-faced. Rowena is still determined to get Crowley to go after the Grand Coven and Olivette. She tells Crowley, “I’m capable of greatness. Given free reign, I’d be unstoppable.” We are intrigued by the idea of what an unrestrained Rowena would be like. Maybe she’d be like a Dark Willow, but hopefully with less flaying. She continues to taunt Crowley about helping the Winchesters. Will torturing the demon minions and sulking work on Crowley? Will he reach his limit with her as well?
With flowers and my love, both never to come back
Dean and Sam are following up on a case in which a man slashed his own chest open with the pointed top of a candlestick after making confession at his church. Looks like self-flagellation gone wrong to us, but they think it may be a curse. Dean wants to talk about the candlestick curse, but Sam is way too distracted.
We flash to a scene of a nun, Isabella, telling another nun, Sister Mathias, about her old flame and we suddenly think we are watching Constantine. The conversation between the nuns feels disjointed and is not very illuminating. The writers are apparently keeping us in the dark.
Sam and Dean are working on the case, but the tension between them remains. The curse finds another victim when a woman kills her husband with scissors after his confession at church. After she kills her husband, ghostly gray smoke leaves her body and she screams, seeing what she has done.
Dean and Sam, as Agents Allman and Betts, talk to the priest at the church, Father Delaney. Though the victims had confessed their sins to Father Delaney prior to dying, the priest will not reveal what they shared during confession. Father Delaney asks Sister Mathias to show Sam and Dean around. She seems unusual, to say the least. When Dean asks her about the victims, she acknowledges there were rumors that the last victim cheated on his wife. Sam leaves the two to talk alone as he looks around the church for paranormal signs.
Dean asks Sister Mathias what made her decide to become a nun. She responds, “In my case, I felt I had no choice. My life had become painful. I felt I had to find something larger than myself to focus on. A kind of mission, I guess.” This seems to strike a chord with Dean.
Sam returns from his search for EMF and asks if there is a graveyard nearby, and Sister Mathias tells them the church has been built on burial crypts. Creepy. When Sam and Dean ask their standard questions about cold spots and other ghostly signs, Sister Mathias states she does not believe in ghosts and goes about her business. Dean thinks the nun is hot, though we mostly find her odd, and he believes she has a thing for him. Oh Dean. Sam and Dean leave the church. When they walk past the sign in front of the church, which says “He’s Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother – The Hollies and Jesus.” Sam and Dean aren’t sure if the culprit in the killings is a vengeful spirit or something else. Dean decides he will go to confession in an attempt to draw it out.
Back in Administrative Hell, Crowley gives in to Rowena’s temper tantrum. In a surprise move, either to regain his mother’s favor or to shut her up, Crowley has captured the witch Olivette, high priestess of the Grand Coven. Well, his minions captured her, but on his orders. That would be one scene that would have been interesting to see—demons actually succeeding at something. He leaves Olivette for Rowena, chained up like the kind of gift only a demon son would give his witch mother.
Rowena and Olivette trade insults back and forth for a while. Apparently the coven didn’t like that Rowena had a son with a “non-magic” man. So racist. In a haughty tone, Rowena tells Olivette, “You see, my son, the spawn you speak of, is now the King of Hell.” Perhaps Rowena really is proud of Crowley, after all. It’s hard to tell with all of the smugness and anger.
We have another nun flash. The Italian nun Isabella is telling Sister Mathias how her broken heart led her to the convent. Isabella tells her, “Everything that was mine was lost to me … except my journal.”
Much to our relief, we leave the nun soap opera and return to Administrative Hell, where Rowena is slapping around the chained Olivette. Is this an attempt to plead her case for renewed acceptance by the Grand Coven? If so, it may not be the best strategy. Olivette tells Rowena, “The coven is a pale relic of its past power, weakened by witch hunts, burning at the stake, endless persecution, and all of it was engineered by them.” Olivette reveals that those “smug self-righteous bastards,” the Men of Letters, have been the downfall of the coven, stealing the witches’ most powerful magic and hiding it away in their bunkers.
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
Dean is taking confession in order to expose who or what has been killing people. After making up a story about a woman he cheated on, Dean ends up sharing some deep thoughts about his fears of dying. He tells Father Delaney that he realizes death could come for him soon, and he confesses, “And … I don’t know. I mean, you know, there’s—there’s things, there’s … people, feelings that I want to experience differently than I have before, or maybe even for the first time.” Despite Dean’s hopelessness, it turns out he wants to live. When the priest asks if Dean believes in God, he responds, “I believe there is a God. But I’m not sure he still believes in us.”
After Dean’s confession, the scary Isabella ghost takes possession of Father Delaney. We are kinda loving the Isabella ghost special effects. We’d like to see more of her scary, floaty ghost form, and hear less of her tedious tale of scorned love.
Sister Mathias has been reading Isabella’s journal and realizes Isabella is the killer. She tells Sam and Dean about Isabella’s spirit, admitting that she not only believes in ghosts, but that she’s got a bit of a ghost whisperer thing going on. It turns out the manner in which Isabella killed her unfaithful ex-lover was so brutal that she was accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. Dean tells Sam to burn the journal, figuring the journal is where her spirit resides, but Sam is reluctant in case it has important information in it.
Rowena asks how she can find the Men of Letters, and Olivette responds, “I’ve heard that the American chapter was extinguished in the 1950s, but apparently, two of its members survive—the hunters, Sam and Dean Winchester.” When Rowena realizes that the Grand Coven is no longer powerful, she begins a spell to kill Olivette, but decides to turn her into a hamster instead. Rowena can extend Olivette’s suffering by turning her into a hamster, and she may be useful later on.
Despite Dean’s instructions to burn the journal, Sam is reading. Sam just can’t resist the written word. He learns that Isabella’s human flesh and blood were ground into the pigments of her lover’s painting. It’s a slightly more gruesome variation of The Red Violin. Paint it black, indeed. Dean, meanwhile, finds the priest dead. Isabella has taken possession of Sister Mathias. Before Isabella can kill Dean, Sam burns the painting, which releases Isabella from her earthly bonds.
Rowena comments on the now tiny Olivette running on the her hamster wheel, telling Crowley, “Poetic justice, if you ask me. For hundreds of years, those hags made me grovel, every attempt to please them futile. High time someone else ran in circles, ay?” Rowena asks Crowley if the Winchesters are Men of Letters, to which he coyly responds, “Possibly.” Before Rowena can start on Sam and Dean, Crowley interrupts:
Crowley: “My relationship with the Winchesters is my business. I’ll handle them. I’m not killing them.”
Rowena: “All right dearie. Of course. Whatever you say.”
Rowena’s smugness has returned. This can’t be good for either Crowley or the Winchesters.
It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black
Sam is driving the Impala! What is going on? It didn’t look like Hell was frozen over. Sam points out that Dean was in the confessional for a long time and that Dean can talk to him about anything.
“I heard what sister Mathias was saying about, you know, hiding pain by taking on a mission, and I know that’s what you’re doing a little bit. And it’s okay. I mean, it’s fine. I get it. I’ve done it before, too. But … I don’t buy for one second that the Mark is a terminal diagnosis, so don’t go making peace with that idea. There has to be a way. There will be a way, and we will find it.”
Despite Sam’s pep talk, Dean can no longer keep up the pretense that he believes there is any hope.
I could not foresee this thing happening to you
At the start of “Paint it Black” we saw the brothers disconnected because Sam was thinking about how to save Dean from the Mark of Cain, while Dean was focused on the case. At the end of the episode the case is complete, yet they remain divided because Dean has no faith and sees only the darkness the Mark of Cain has brought.
Though the episode was a disappointment in terms of story and pacing, the church was a great place to film it in. It was an interesting juxtaposition to go back and forth between the church and Crowley’s throne room. Dean’s confession was the highlight of the episode due to interesting lighting and camera shots in the confessional booth and because outstanding actor Jensen Ackles brought so much depth to the scene.
Even though they didn’t interact, there were some connections between Rowena’s and the Winchesters’ storylines in “Paint it Black.” Certainly a case in a church involving a discussion of God connects to the larger story arc where Dean has completely lost belief in the possibility of his own redemption. There was also the discovery that the Winchesters may provide an opportunity for Rowena (Ruth Connell) to access powerful magic, and the fact that the the ghost that Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) were hunting was burned at the stake for witchcraft. We don’t know if Isabella (Catherine Michaud) was actually a witch or just a victim of the times. The weirdness of Sister Mathias (Rachel Keller) makes us hope that we will find out that all nuns are witches. That would be awesome.
We can’t help but wonder if Sister Mathias will return because her character played a big role in this episode, not to mention she communicates with ghosts and there is supposedly chemistry between her and Dean. We also wonder if Isabella’s tale of lost love and betrayal has any similarities to Rowena’s story with Crowley’s father. The truth is, these two narratives were presented in such a fragmented way, we’re really just grasping at straws to make the overall story seem more coherent. We’ve seen other episodes with multiple storylines, such as “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “The Things We Left Behind,” that were done much better.
Despite the subtle ways these storylines intersect, this episode would have been better split into two. Admittedly, the church ghost may not have had enough substance to be its own episode, but perhaps drawing out the narrative would have made the weird scenes between the nuns less disjointed and drawn us into the story better. The nuns didn’t do much except be interviewed.
Likewise, though it was fun to have Crowley surprise his mother with Olivette (Teryl Rothery), it would have been more effective to precede her interrogation with more background on Olivette and her past with Rowena. We were excited to see Stargate SG-1 alum Teryl Rothery as Olivette, but disappointed her appearance was limited to being bound and interrogated. We pretty much expect Sam and Dean to know all the supernatural goings-on, so having Sam and Dean be aware that Olivette had shown up after they killed the witch Katja in “About a Boy” could have brought them into an episode more focused on Rowena. Ideally, more Rowena would have meant more Crowley, and frankly, we can’t get enough of Mark Sheppard’s talent and skill as an actor.
Our time with Olivette was brief and mostly filled with exposition. We do learn some interesting tidbits that are likely to move the story arcs of Rowena and the Winchesters forward: that Crowley’s father was not part of the magic community and his union with Rowena was unsanctioned; and that Winchesters are the unsuspecting keepers of very powerful magic. We do get some hints that there is some great stuff coming down the pike in Supernatural. Nonetheless, “Paint It Black” disappoints because it seems more focused on setting up things to come, rather than producing a compelling narrative of the quality we’ve become accustomed to in Season 10 of Supernatural.
We are excited about the return of Uncle Bobby next week. For a reminder about Bobby’s impact on the Supernatural read “Remember Bobby Singer – Part 1 History” or just check out his fantastic quotes in “Remembering Bobby Singer – Part 2 Favorite Quotes.”
We love to watch Rowena! There have been other witches on Supernatural, but none like Rowena. If you like witches as much as we do, check out The Salem Witch Pack. Experience history with this collection of Salem Witch Trial goods. Pack includes a newly published, illustrated reprint of the 1693 books “Wonders of the Invisible World” and “A Further Account of the Tryals of the New-England Witches,” historically significant works on the Salem Witch Trials by father-and-son Puritan ministers Increase and Cotton Mather. (Book also available separately from Lulu.) Pack also includes full-color postcard of Salem, Mass., parchment bookmark, and assorted facsimile witch trial documents. Kit comes prewrapped in paper and string, ready for gift-giving.
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