Supernatural’s penultimate episode of Season 10, “The Prisoner,” finds the Winchesters saying goodbye to another family member—Charlie Bradbury. Sam Winchester’s desperation to keep the Mark of Cain from turning his brother Dean back into a demon has backfired in more ways than one. Not only is Charlie gone, her death has only pushed Dean further towards an angry, dark, violent, cruel, and vengeful version of himself. Dean has yet to revert to Demon Dean, but it feels like he’s well on his way. All hope is not lost in the world of Supernatural, but it’s hard to imagine how things can get better.
[For the recap, continue reading—but if you want to go straight to the review analysis of this episode, click here.]
A wise man once told me, ‘Family don’t end in blood’—but it doesn’t start there, either.
In Shreveport, Louisiana, a troubled teen in need of a shampoo is picking on a young member of the Styne family, Cyrus. We know he must be troubled because he’s wearing a hoodie and has a skull tattoo on his arm. We suspect this delinquent will come to regret his particular choice of victim, and not just because Cyrus verbally humiliates him. Cyrus’s cousin Eli intervenes when Cyrus is shoved to the ground, giving the young troublemaker an icy stare that worries us. Eli takes a hard stance against bullies, at least those that go after his own family. Eli and Roscoe Styne later corner this tattooed youth in an alley and put a plastic bag over his head. Bullies never win.
Sam and Dean prepare to give Charlie a hunter’s funeral. The tradition involves burning the body to prevent a ghostly reappearance, though as we learned with Uncle Bobby, it doesn’t always take. As the funeral pyre burns, Sam begins to say a few words. Sam starts to tell Charlie he’s sorry for what happened, but Dean interrupts him, saying, “You got her killed. You don’t get to apologize.” Sam tries to explain they were trying to help Dean, saying that he can’t lose his brother: “Dean, you’re all I got, so of course I was gonna fight for you—because that’s what we do.” Dean is angry in that intense way and doesn’t want to hear it from Sam. In a way, who can blame him? But Dean takes it too far, telling Sam, “You wanna know what I think? I think it should be you up there, not her.” That’s cold, Dean. Dean tells Sam his experiment with The Book of the Damned has to end and walks off.
Eldon Styne is getting scolded by his dad for losing his arm and failing to retrieve The Book of the Damned. Eldon manages to placate Papa Styne by telling him about the bunker with all its magical goodies. Did Dean give him the full tour before he handcuffed him?
Young Cyrus Styne wants to move to California, but his overbearing family will never approve. A classic teen tale, but with a family of actual monsters. Cyrus’ videogame playing is interrupted when he’s summoned by Papa Styne. His dad wants him to join the family business. Papa Styne offers to let Cyrus slice and dice his teen tormentor, recently captured by cousin Eli, as a way to get in on the ground floor. Cyrus doesn’t seem to think the life is for him. Perhaps instead he’s hoping to eventually go law school at Stanford some day. Cyrus tries to refuse to cut into the still-living victim, but Papa Styne doesn’t give him much of a choice.
Eldon admires his new arm as Cyrus regretfully looks at the dead teen on the table. We’re not sure why Eldon would want an arm with such an awful skull tattoo. Using big black thread to sew up the incision must be a Frankenstein family trademark. Cyrus wants nothing more than to go back to his room, but Eldon makes Cyrus take a trip with him.
Family cares about you, not what you can do for them.
Sam returns to Rowena’s factory prison, where Castiel is unhappily witch-sitting. He shares the sad news about Charlie and tells Cas he promised Dean he’d shut their project down. Cas tells Sam he’d be happy to kill Rowena. There’s a lot of talk about Dean being a cold-blooded killer, but Cas and Sam have their moments. Before they go any further, Sam looks at his phone and realizes that Charlie sent him the key to decode The Book of the Damned before she died. With this piece of news Sam decides to continue, despite his promise, saying that he owes it to Dean for all the times his brother has saved him. Cas leaves the factory prison to find Dean. Rowena takes advantage of Sam’s desperation to renegotiate the terms of their agreement. She tells Sam she won’t cure the Mark of Cain unless he kills Crowley first.
The Shreveport Sheriff pulls over Dean on a trumped-up charge, ordered by Monroe Styne. At the station, Dean quickly overcomes the officers and finds out where the Stynes live.
Sheriff: “You can’t take on the Stynes. They own this town. They’re practically gods around here.”
Dean: “Yeah, well, I kill gods.”
Dean locates House Styne, killing several people to make his way inside. He’s welcomed by New Orleans jazz and a room full of guns.
Sam very cleverly tricks Crowley into meeting him by pretending Dean needs his help. Sam knows that Crowley can’t resist the call of Dean. Once Crowley arrives, Sam gives him a little gift—a hex bag from Rowena.
As Crowley lies dying, he asks Sam why he’s working with Rowena, to which Sam responds: “Will you just die already?” Geez Sam, tell us how you really feel. Crowley complains that he’s been trying to be a good guy, remodeling Hell and all. Crowley just wants to feel something again. It seems like he’s never recovered from being injected with Sam’s blood at the end of Season 8. Sam isn’t buying his good-guy act:
“Maybe everybody else forgot about all the bad you’ve done, but I haven’t. I’ve watched you kill people, Crowley, innocent people. People I cared about, people I loved. So yeah you—you have the accent and the—and the suit, and the snark, but at the end of it, you are a monster just like all the rest of them. And I’m gonna watch you die screaming just like all the rest of them.”
Crowley agrees he is a monster and that he’s done horrible, evil, messy things. And just when you think it’s going to be a Crowley death confessional, the King of Hell returns to form, overcoming Rowena’s hex. He looks up with demonic red eyes and tells Sam he’s loved every minute of it, adding, “So thank you, Sam, for reminding me who I really am.” After throwing Sam through a window, Crowley stands over him, ready to snap his fingers and kill him in an instant. Crowley chooses to let Sam live, saying, “You tell that ginger whore that I gave her a chance to walk away and she spat in my face. So now, she’ll never see me coming.”
Papa Styne has Dean in the Styne family laboratory tied to a table, ready to “play operation.” There’s even a nurse in the room with a little white hat. Dean warms the Stynes,“You flatline me, I will come back, but I’ll come back with black eyes and then you’ll all die.” Papa Styne can’t wait to experiment on a lab rat that can’t be killed. Dean quickly breaks out of his restraints and expresses his murderous rage. Before he dies, Papa Styne warns that it’s too late for Dean’s family and his home. It turns out that Eldon, Roscoe, and young Cyrus Styne are at the bunker.
Sam calls Rowena to tell her Crowley is still alive. Rowena seems scared. Cas calls from the Styne house, telling Sam that Dean has slaughtered everyone and is heading back to the bunker.
The Stynes have made a pile for the big book-burning party they plan to have in the middle of the bunker library. Eldon brings out a box and tells Cyrus, “So this is what I know about Dean Winchester. He’s got crappy taste in music, got a hot mom, and he loves flannel.” Cyrus tells him they don’t have to burn everything, but Eldon is clearly excited about the task at hand. Eldon is about to drop a match on the Men of Letters books and Winchester memories when Dean shows up. Thank goodness, because after losing Charlie last week we didn’t think we could handle seeing the Winchesters’ few pictures of Uncle Bobby and their parents getting destroyed in a fire. Dean shoots Eldon in the head. Young Cyrus Styne begs for his life, telling Dean he isn’t like his family, and that he hates them. In a speech reminiscent of Cain’s in “The Executioner’s Song,” Dean tells Cyrus, “Oh you are like them. There’s bad in you. It’s in your blood. Now you can deny it, you can run from it all you want, but that bad will always win.” Then, Dean kills young Cyrus!!! Cyrus never even got the chance to go to California and get away from his family.
Family’s there through the good, bad–all of it. They got your back … even when it hurts. That’s family.
Castiel arrives at the bunker, asking his classic line, “What have you done?” Dean is unapologetic, saying he will continue to take down monsters—“Until you become the monster,” Cas finishes for him. Cas tells Dean they believe they can cure him with The Book of the Damned, but Dean reminds him that magic always comes with a price, Dearie. Cas tells Dean:
“Maybe you could fight the Mark for years—maybe centuries, like Cain did. But you cannot fight it forever. And when you finally turn, and you will turn, Sam and everyone you know, everyone you love, they could be long dead. Everyone except me. I’m the one who will have to watch you murder the world. So if there’s even a small chance that we can save you, I won’t let you walk out of this room.”
Dean and Castiel get into a bloody brawl with each other. Dean beats the crap out of Castiel. It’s brutal and heartbreaking at the same time. Castiel won’t give up, and comes after Dean again. Dean pins him down, takes out Cas’s angel blade and drives the blade into a book next to Castiel’s head. As he leaves, Dean warns, “You and Sam stay the hell away from me. Next time, I won’t miss.”
“The Prisoner” Review
There were a lot of interesting family dynamics and questions regarding legacies in “The Prisoner.” We liked the idea of measuring the Winchesters against the Stynes in terms what it means to be family. Who has your back, and in what circumstances? What is the legacy of being a Winchester or a Styne? Being abandoned by a witch, what legacy has Crowley been left by Rowena? And most importantly, are these characters prisoners of their family legacies?
Poor Cyrus Styne was essentially a prisoner to his family, being forced to participate in their bloody and brutal traditions against his will. Just as Sam wanted to escape his family when he was young, Cyrus had hoped to figure out how to get away from the Stynes. Of course John Winchester was no Papa Styne, as he never carved up victims and threatened to kill his children if they didn’t participate in the family business. Cyrus got a pretty raw deal. He was trapped by what people expected of him, both inside and outside the family. Even though it’s clear Dean was talking about himself and the legacy of the Mark, would Cyrus have been predestined to become a monster because it’s in his blood? Both the Stynes and the Winchesters have codes about protecting their families.
Will Sam and Dean always fall into the Winchester trap of risking everything to save each other? Is that the Winchester legacy? Sam’s motivations to help Dean aren’t only about sparing Dean this burden. It’s also that Sam doesn’t want to let him go, just as Dean hasn’t been willing to let Sam go many times before. In this episode Sam tells Cas that he owes Dean after being saved by his older brother so many times, but we also heard Sam tell Charlie in “The Book of the Damned” that he needs his brother. We are reminded that “Family don’t end with blood” not only because Charlie was like family, but because Cas is clearly part of their family as well. During the last scene, when Dean and Castiel are fighting, the music traditionally played during emotional Winchester brother scenes was used. This reminds us that Cas is family, but that families don’t always get along.
Of course the wackiest family around is Rowena and Crowley. They have their own dysfunctional family dynamic. It’s not always been clear what they wanted from each other. When she was in Hell Rowena seemed to want Crowley for his power, while Crowley may have been seeking some kind of genuine family bond. Even if he didn’t want love or approval, perhaps he hoped his mother could be an ally that wouldn’t stab him in the back. That was short-lived, and now mother and son just want to kill each other.
Despite his anger over Charlie’s death, it seems like Dean is being a bit unfair to Sam. In the first scene when Dean is so hostile to Sam, we can’t help but remember it was Dean’s lies and his desperate desire to save his brother that got Kevin killed in Season 9. Even if it was Gadreel who killed Kevin, Sam has to live with having seen Kevin’s death delivered at his hands.
As usual, Jensen Ackles shined in his scenes with Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins. Padalecki does a lot of acting with his face, moving his adam’s apple and twitching his facial muscles, while Ackles is able to effectively convey emotion through this eyes. It’s hard to match Ackles’ intensity. Where Padelecki really stood out was during the excellent scenes with Mark Sheppard and Ruth Connell. Though people think of Sam Winchester as soft and sensitive, he can easily be more brutal and cold than Dean. Castiel is also quick to fall back into cold angel soldier mode. Sam and Castiel were ready to kill Rowena with little or no compunction.
Is Dean destined to be a prisoner of the Mark of Cain, or can Sam really save his brother? Also, we can’t stop thinking about Metatron. Wondering where he could be, who he is with, what is he thinking, is he thinking about Castiel, and whether he’ll ever return someday.
“The Prisoner” was an excellent episode, but left us with more questions than answers. We can’t wait to see what Supernatural brings us in the Season 10 finale next week.
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Crowley was so scary when he got mad at Sam for trying to kill him! One forgets that Crowley started out as a crossroads demon, so his demon eyes are red. Really it seemed he was almost more hurt than angry, with a Winchester trying to kill him so soon after his recent heart-to-heart with Dean about family.
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