Supernatural: “King Of The Damned”
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Supernatural: “King Of The Damned”

You can’t fight in here! This is Cas’ war room!

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Supernatural

"King Of The Damned"

Season 9, Episode 21

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Here we are at the season’s endgame, and after a couple of kind of rough episodes, it’s shaping up to be pretty damn exciting. One of the four major demonic and angelic players is dead, leaving Crowley supreme in Hell while Cas and Metatron prepare to go to war. Gadreel appears increasingly likely to be turned against Metatron through the sheer power of Cas yelling a lot. Dean is being possessed by the First Blade (or something) and is about ready to fly off the handle, a major wild card heading into the final confrontations. I’m feeling a lot more optimistic about the conclusion of the season than last year. Aren’t you?

There’s definitely a lot going on here, as the increasingly complex mythology puts everyone in the middle of a dense web of alliances, betrayals, and murders plots (the  “Then” segment of tonight’s episode is literally two minutes long), but “King Of The Damned” still runs along two parallel tracks with the Winchesters as a uniting force. On the heavenly side, an angel (a delightfully insecure Gordon Michael Woolvett) blabs about his “privileged” work for the “Met Man” at a bar (angels hang out in bars after work too), only to taken in for questioning by a “Metatron” who predictably turns out to be Cas. Down below, Abaddon brings out her trump card against Crowley, the demon’s human son taken from 18th century Scotland.

Cutting between two supernatural war rooms—the swarming office hive where Commander Cas is trying to find a “diplomatic” solution to the Metatron problem and the hotel conference room where Crowley and his “trusted” advisors plan to reclaim Hell—is a pretty cool setup for an episode, the type of thing that the chaotic premise of the season has long suggested and rarely delivered on. Both wars are being fought over rule of religious realms that are mostly in tatters—both winners will still be kings of the damned (see what they did there?). We get a bunch of tropes from this type of story that come fast and fun enough to avoid utter cliché: First Sam and Dean interrogating Metatron’s agent, which is both a great way to showcase Ackles and Padalecki’s comic chemistry and also pretty well shot, using a camera angle from below (presumably from the angel’s perspective) to capture Sam and Dean and suggest how much control they have over the situation.

Next, there’s a fetch quest as the Winchesters hunt down the First Blade (which is obviously within relatively short driving distance of both wherever Cas’ headquarters is and the demonic conference room in Ohio). This is mostly played for humor (Padalecki’s disgust at finding the Blade in a corpse is hilarious), particularly when the presence of a hellhound leads to a very, very funny phone call between Dean and Crowley. On the other, more serious hand, there are Cas’ attempts to turn Gadreel into a spy, which are slightly less engaging but also kind of obviously where this story was going. Penikett is certainly capable of showing the levels of investment one would be hoping for from Gadreel, but the lines he’s given are pretty wooden and the character’s unwillingness to emote well established. This is definitely the weakest story of the episode, but it’s not given enough time to derail everything else.

That’s a good thing, because while using Crowley’s newfound partial humanity to reverse the basic dynamic of demonic exploitation on basic human decency and compassion isn’t something I’d have expected as result of his season-long transformation, it’s one of the smarter twists the Supernatural team has introduced this season. Sheppard is called upon to actually emote here rather than simply comically wail, and while he doesn’t quite rise to the challenge across the whole episode, there are isolated moments of greatness. (Crowley begging the Winchesters to let him keep Gavin in the present is excellent—Sheppard’s expression of anger at his vulnerability is some of the best acting he’s done in this, or any role.) Similarly, as Gavin, Theo Devaney’s Tom Mison impersonation doesn’t nearly match the heights of Sleepy Hollow, though his eagerness to bargain with his own love for his father is as cute a family moment as you’ll see from a demon.

In the final confrontation, there’s the traditional Crowley double- (or is it triple?) cross, using the “Poughkeepsie” code word to signal the trap to Dean. Abaddon betrays Crowley (as we knew she would), but Dean gets the upper hand using powers of the First Blade that haven’t really been explained other than causing Dean to brood and hallucinate and also sometimes kill random humans in a bit of a reverse of psychokinetic Sam from way, way back in the show’s run—this time a Winchester can resistant demon powers instead of imitate them. His victory over one of the major antagonists at this point in the show looks a bit like a kill in a Zack Snyder movie, but I’m not complaining—sometimes that style works by just bludgeoning the audience with attempted badass, something that works very well here. And the image of Dean, dazed and covered in blood after beating Abaddon’s corpse (or Josie’s, depending on how you think about it) is gangbusters.

Everything else plot-wise is on point here, moving at roughly the clip it should be at this point while finding the time to throw in some action and humor amongst the speechifying. But I do have some reservations here, mostly related to some characterization issues. To get this one out of the way: Sam and Dean not killing Crowley gets less than lip service. They “owe” him for warning them? Doesn’t seem likely, especially when he’s relatively recently betrayed them, they’ve wanted to kill him for who knows how long, and they’ve found him with a Devil’s Trap in his body (they could at least take him hostage again). I get that Crowley isn’t really that evil anymore, but at some point everyone is going to have to outright say that so that he can get his official Winchester Boy Scout Badge.

Meanwhile, in the woods, Cas tells Gadreel to be loyal to the “original mission” even though he’s spent some time this season coming to terms with the lack of God’s presence, kills the attacking angel without even attempting to talk her down, and basically trusts that Gadreel will listen to reason even though he’s done some pretty, pretty bad stuff. (This negotiation scene is also pretty confusingly shot—it took a quick rewind for me to realize there was a second assailant and Cas hadn’t killed Gadreel.) Cas is never going to be as consistent a character as I’d like him to be, but his attitudes toward his mission (whatever it is), the other angels, and the conflict all change on a scene-by-scene basis in ways that aren’t utterly damaging to the character, but are still kind of annoying.

That’s particularly true considering how much Crowley’s actions at the end of “King Of The Damned” let him play off his established disregard for anyone else as well as his new externalized soft side. Of course, he ignores the “rules” of changing the past and lets Gavin go free in the present day, albeit without any demonic assistance. There is, admittedly, a bit of a loophole here since history apparently states that no one survived the shipwreck (so Gavin could have just disappeared), but it also raises the question of whether Crowley would have known whether or not his son’s soul was in Hell (since he doesn’t seem like a particularly upstanding dude). Not to poke too much at the rules of the show’s universe, but if Abaddon is capable of such easy time travel and Crowley will (presumably) be able to let Gavin live without consequences to the space-time continuum and whatnot, it’s hard to understand why Heaven and Hell haven’t just used a ton of increasingly escalating time-based attacks.

But there’s only just enough time to start to think about the potential consequences of angelic and demonic abuse of time travel, because oh good, there’s more of Dean lying! This time, Dean refuses to tell Sam about the trap because he didn’t want his brother to get captured or whatever (honestly, these self-pitying rationalizations about wanting to protect Sam have gotten so old that I can’t even listen to them more than once or twice). So basically, the Blade’s superpower turns out to be transforming Dean into a distilled raging asshole composed of all of his worst traits over the course of the show’s run. Sam calls Dean out on his crap, but it looks like Dean is going to be the most frustrating part of the last two episodes, knocking down the quality of the episode quite a bit in the last couple of minutes. I hope the writers take a page out of Abaddon’s book and find a new spin on the same old traps.

Stray observations:

  • To be fair, Dean’s paranoia is a pretty good moment for him early in the episode, and his bromance with Crowley will never not be awesome, even over the phone.
  • That conference room is such a Supernatural place to have the council of Hell meet.
  • I don’t know if we’d seen this before, but Crowley’s phone number is literally 666 because of course it is.
  • I know I said I wasn’t going to be super late again, but my CW affiliate bumped this one back a bunch. Sorry. At least there are only two weeks left!

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