Last night’s Supernatural episode was named “Reichenbach” for several very good reasons: the intertwined plots found the characters being pushed to their limits and unexpectedly losing their fight, the same fate that befell Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem.” For one, there is Cole (Travis Aaron Wade), a man hell-bent on killing Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles). Last episode he kidnapped Sam (Jared Padalecki) as ransom, only to have Dean shrug it off. In “Reichenbach,” we see the origin of Cole’s rage.
Ten years ago, teenage Cole woke up to some disturbing noises downstairs, and found his father murdered―and Dean wiping blood from his blade. The scene of Cole torturing Sam for information is intercut with scenes of conscience-less Deanmon beating a strip club bouncer, an artful piece of direction from Thomas J Wright which makes both fights visceral and memorable. Sam ultimately escapes and goes looking for his brother, with Cole following closely behind.
Dean is still burying himself in strippers and beer, but the joyful id we saw last week is cracking and revealing the darker feelings which propel it. Crowley (Mark Sheppard) approaches Dean and reminds him that he must kill regularly, or the Mark of Cain on his arm will turn him into a full-fledged demon. Dean himself is struggling to decide how he defines himself, and which side―human or demon―he’s ultimately on. A mission to kill a philandering wife results in Dean taking out her deal-making ex-husband instead. It’s a little glimpse of the old morals by which he once lived, and it infuriates Crowley enough that the King of Hell tips off Sam. Man, that honeymoon ended quickly.
When Sam finally does find Dean, Cole leaps in with knives and fists blazing. He puts up a good fight, but Dean is just toying with him. Dean thoroughly defeats Cole and leaves him bloody and humiliated, but alive. It’s a scene that actually contains a dialogue reference to Inigo Montoya’s arc in The Princess Bride, and riffs on the trope very well. Cole is a good man–he’s served his country in the army, raised a family, and trained his entire life to avenge the unlawful death of his father. Then he finally goes up against his greatest opponentm and he loses.
At the end of the confrontation, Sam captures Dean, giving the First Blade to Crowley for safekeeping and taking his brother home in the beloved Impala. During the ride, Sam comments on the disgusting mess around him, but Dean retorts that “It”s just a car.” Supernatural fans know that Dean loves two things in this world: his little brother and his Chevy Impala. Now, in just two episodes, he’s dismissed both of them as unnecessary. It’s a very bad sign, but Sam has hope. After all, Dean left Cole alive, didn’t he? But the apparent act of compassion was actually the opposite: “You call that mercy?” Dean grins. “Imagine you spend your whole life hunting down the guy that knifed your father. When you finally find him, he whips you like a dog. How do you think that feels? That kid is going to spend his whole life knowing that he had his shot and that he couldn’t beat me. That ain’t mercy. That’s the worst thing I could have done to him. And what I’m gonna do to you, Sammy, well, that ain’t gonna be mercy either.” With that revelation, Sam has his own Reichenbach Falls moment: he has been operating under the belief that his brother can be cured, but this is the moment when he realizes that he’s in over his head. Dean, too, has seemingly plunged over the edge into the ‘demon’ camp, leaving his humanity behind.
We do see Castiel (Misha Collins) briefly during this episode, as he and Hannah (Erica Carroll) visit Metatron (Curtis Armstrong) in Heaven’s prisons, trying to find a way to stop Castiel’s slow deterioration. Metatron drops a tantalizing carrot: he can cure Cas, but will only do so in exchange for his freedom. It’s a fabulous Silence of the Lambs moment, with Armstrong hamming it up in a straightjacket and some nice acting moments from Collins throughout. But while the subplot isn’t as excruciatingly slow as it was last week, it’s still the weakest part of the current arc.
“Reichenbach” portrays the relationship between the two Winchester brothers in a whole new way, and I really hope that we get more episodes exploring this new dynamic. Demon Dean is a fascinating character that Ackles is clearly having a lot of fun with (at this point, the biggest mistake the writers could make would be to cure him within the first half of the season). We’ll see what happens next week when Sam and Dean arrive back at their home base. Cole’s story isn’t over either, and he’s a pretty decent foil for the Winchesters, a lawful neutral character going up against two chaotic good(ish) guys. Supernatural has a good setup going, and if the writers are smart, they’ll let the story breathe a little instead of rushing to return to the status quo. I was skeptical about things last week, but things are heading in a good direction and I’m intrigued to see what happens next.