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I've been trying to marshal my flaily thoughts enough to talk about the finale. I am always amazed at how others seem to do this so quickly and so well while my thoughts are still hyperactively bouncing around in my brain. And even after a 2 and a half viewings, (yes, I had to watch the final 30 minutes again immediately after watching the show on Wednesday) there is still so much to process! How did they manage SO MUCH in one short not even an hour.
First, I will say that this season finale ranks up there with my all-time favorite finales which include, in no particular order because I just can't pick,  Swan Song, No Rest for The Wicked, All Hell Breaks Loose parts I and II (because it was a two part finale, folks), and Lucifer Rising. And I do believe that the final scene with the Angels falling from the night sky is one of the best scenes in Supernatural EVER. The cinematography of it, the church in the foreground, the music, well, it has given me goosebumps every single time I have watched it.
And, dang it. I meant to start at the beginning. See. My thoughts BOUNCE! Maybe I should try to do this by character? By order of appearance? Heck, I don't know! Let's just say that no matter what I try there will be many "Asides"
Aside #1: I am sure it says something that I get all verklempt as soon as the montage and "Carry on my Wayward Son" starts playing,   even if all the heads being lobbed off during the lyrics "Lay your weary head to rest" made me laugh and, briefly, brought me out of the moment.

"I'm killing everyone you've ever saved."
Continuing his quest to kill everyone Sam and Dean have ever saved, Crowley has targeted our BELOVED Sheriff Jody Mills. Noooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!  Hands off, Crowley!!! I have never hated a character more than I did Crowley in this scene. Damn you, Crowley! Oh......Wait.....

Aside #2:  And I have never loved Sheriff Mills more than when she says, "It's not a date till I've cried"  and when she has that conversation with herself in the mirror. They left it pretty ambiguous about her survival but I'm thinking positive thoughts because of how Crowley is about his contracts and deals and the fact that she is too awesome to kill (Not that that ever stops them!)

    Aside from Aside #2:  I always LOL when Crowley rolls out one of his scrolls because it is pretty funny and I see something pretty similar in my mind's eye when a patient comes in with a notebook and a list....

Aside #3: And if Sam and Dean are "Moose" and "Squirrel" does that make Crowley, "Boris" or "Mr. Big?" (I'm sure he thinks of himself as Mr. Big). Abaddon as "Natasha?"

But Crowley's arc in this episode demonstrates what I love about this show because while I am damning him in the first scenes of the episode, by the end I want to see him saved, even if he is being forced in to it, initially.  I felt bad that he wasn't "cured" despite knowing that it would have killed Sam! And Mark Sheppard really sells that "I deserve to be loved" transformation, even if I didn't get the HBO references.

  Aside #4: "All those motels and you've never once watched HBO."

The question is, "was Crowley faking it?" I really hope not as I think it would diminish his whole monologue regarding deserving to be loved and his plaintive question, "where can I start to even look for forgiveness" (complete with that one manly tear which never fails to suck us all in.) What I also loved about these scenes between Crowley and Sam is how Crowley is a reflection of Sam; how he gives voice to Sam's journey and what has been going on with Sam all along. So, I like to think that, even though he is bound and in a demon trap that, when Crowley offers his neck for another injection,  this is the real Crowley making a choice. So to make that all just Crowley pretending would really cheapen it for me.

And then they just left him there. Oh. My. Gosh!!!
"Why did the scribe suddenly come in from the shadows"
Yeah, why? What is Metatron up to?  Is it truly what you see is what you get? Has he been biding his time waiting for the perfect chance for payback or is that all a clever ruse? Because he does have a point about angelic behavior but he also seems pretty vindictive and unhinged, too. I find it difficult to believe that he could be so self righteous and bitter and, yet, have no knowledge whatsoever of what had been going on before he met Sam and Dean.   He's been playing them all from the get go. Is he next year's Big Bad? Boogertron, as someone (I forget who) has hilariously named him, would make a compelling Baddie because he feels his cause is righteous and just, and not in that megalomaniacal way to which we have become accustomed. But he has also clearly lost it! There's nothing scarier than a crazy person with a righteous cause!

"You've been in all our heads!"
Oh, Naomi. Again, they take a character who has been torturing and mucking around in other angels' heads and rebooting them for a millenia along with slaughtering humans from ancient Egypt to modern day Biggersons in her spare time and make me feel bad for her.  I had this huge lump in my throat when she says, "Our mission was to protect what God created.  I don't know where we forgot that."  Amanda Tapping really sold that scene, too. And then they killed her.

  Aside #5: Just what is the death toll this season? They sure like killing characters just when they become even more compelling. Of course, she may not really be dead but her meatsuit clearly is. And we know Abaddon survived. Clearly the Alaina Huffman meatsuit did not.  I don't like it when they swap meatsuits. It takes forever for the meatsuit to grow on me (*cough* Meg *cough*) if I can be convinced at all.

"You're Family"
Ah, Castiel. You know. I fall firmly in the Cas defense club. Folks wail, "Cas, how could you be tricked again!?!" but the way I see it, Cas may have been fooled by Metatron but, in all honesty, he only had Sam and Dean's encounter with him to go on and the knowledge that he had saved Kevin from Crowley. He knows that Metatron has been out of the game for some time (or so we think). Metatron called the nephilim a "Monster" and isn't think what his adopted family does? Kill Monsters?  But apart from that I will also defend Cas's erratic behavior because he is a child. He just keeps reacting to the events that happen to him and that happen around him without ever being able to see the big picture or even truly have time to process anything other than what he is feeling (guilt, anger, desperation.)

    Aside #6: He's kindof like me after I have watched an episode like this what with all the feelings and flailing and the inability to make heads or tails of any of it.
Cas may have been around forever and certainly has been a part of the Winchester circle of orbit for quite some time but during that time he has gone from a soldier following orders to questioning those orders to  helping (and dying) trying to avert the apocalypse  to fighting and losing (himself) fighting the war in Heaven to having the leviathans take him over, and destroy him in the process. Next we see him he has no memory of who he is or was and as soon as he knows, he takes on Sam's crazy (which, yes, he caused) and goes crazy himself. Then, he pulls himself together enough to help Sam and Dean take on Dick and get sent to purgatory for his trouble. Then, he is plucked from purgatory by Naomi who mucks around in his mind, trying to torture him into killing and betraying Dean, if needed and, oh yeah, this isn't the first time Naomi has performed her mind wiping trick.
So, yeah, I am not a bit shocked that Cas hasn't come very far with regard to the abilities of introspection and discernment. Maybe Cas needs to be human in order to realize that he cannot fix Heaven when he doesn't even know who he is. Maybe he needs to learn that it's not even his job to fix Heaven.  (And I was going to say, "Good luck with that using the Winchesters as role models" but, upon further reflection, I think a mindset may have shifted a bit this season. Of course, maybe that is where he learned this trait from in the first place) So Cas was forced to sacrifice his grace for the spell that expelled the angels. It was an unwilling sacrifice but I look forward to his arc and am hopeful that his character will grow all the more for it.
"You always put good ole human emotion ahead of good ole common sense"
In a total flip flop from the beginning of the season, I am finding Dean the hardest to get a handle on, arc wise.  And that is an odd turnabout. As the narrator, I often get his motivations first and foremost. Even when I disagree with what he thinks, says, or does, I can always understand the why of it. The truth of it is, Dean does not typically put his own human emotion ahead of common sense when it comes to getting the job done.  He has the best instincts of them all with regard to hunting. Sam and Cas look to him because he is a natural leader and has that ability to think on his feet. He makes the tough decisions and, wrong or right, he doesn't spend a great deal of time waffling or second guessing. He thinks strategically.  Sam said it best in that "he trusts himself more."  In a way, considering how he and Sam grew up, he has had to. He was thrust into the role of caregiver and protector at a very young age and instead of buckling under the strain of this role, he took to it. It is a large part of who he is and how he sees himself. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Where would we be without people who feel the need to protect others?  That is his job, first and foremost. And sometimes that job comes along with the concept of "greater good." The flip side of that, for Dean, is how he has used it as a measure of his self worth.
Aside #7: And don't we all do this to some extent or other? Don't we often tend to measure our own self worth  according to our perceived successes and failures?

  In terms of the ongoing theme of purification, I do think Purgatory purified Dean with regard to this tendency.  Though Dean was concerned about finding Cas, his fight there was one of survival at a basic level. He fought only for himself with no concept of saving people or greater good or even winning.  I think this was good for Dean because he realized that he was good at what he did without any strings attached and that his self worth was not directly proportional to his success, or failures, as a protector. That in no way means that he does not continue to feel the need to protect and I think that is particularly highlighted by his need to care for Sam during the trials. It is a part of who he is. Does that mean he has no part in the story on his own? That he is only there to prop up Sam (or Cas) while they do Important Things? I don't think so. When people support do they somehow not count?  I think there's definitely been enough to go around over the course of this show.  I know that Sam and Cas look to Dean for answers even when they are at odds with one another and he was the person in charge of the outcome in this narrative.
`In terms of caregiving and family. "greater good" can translate into "it was for your own good."  All of these traits and in the moment thinking make him good at what he does but they do tend to blind him to how his actions, and words, impact others.  While this can be seen as intentional emotional manipulation or blackmail, I do not really believe it is always intentional nor do I feel his motives are always suspect.  Sending Sam that text was a horrible thing to do. He did it intentionally, and strategically, to get Sam out of the way. But do I think he considered the full ramifications of why it was manipulative and a supremely dick move or even how Sam would react. Nope. The more I think about it the more I see it as Dean's strategic failsafe. (And, as I have said in the past neither is above pulling out dick moves).  I have always seen him as a black and white thinker and, while that has been tempered over the run of the show, I think he still reacts this way in any given crisis no matter what he has thought or done in the past.  As an example. I don't think Dean felt bad at all about killing Amy Pond. I don't think he really considered how Sam would feel about it.  I think his guilt came from him going behind Sam's back and then keeping it a secret after Sam asked him not to go after her. Fast forward to this season and we see Dean befriending a vampire, a monster, who had saved his life in much the same way Amy Pond saved Sam's life, except she killed her own mother for Sam! We see the obvious parallel, here. Sam sees the obvious parallel here. Dean does not. He wasn't there when Amy saved Sam. He didn't have first hand experience of the event and he'd never met her until he went to kill her.  It would have likely never crossed his mind until Sam brought it up because empathy, the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another person, is one of Dean's weaknesses, especially when he is part of the equation. If he is with Sam, in the moment, and somewhat of an outside observer, such as when Sam had to kill Madison in "Heart" or that bit with Sarah, last week, you can see that he feels for Sam. But most times he does not seem to have any idea or comprehension of how Sam or Cas feel or where they are coming from, especially when their motivations are at odds with his own.
 The tables are often turned when Dean's family and his own emotions become involved. And it all really goes topsy turvy if Dean feels he has been betrayed. We have seen this time and time again.  Way back when, during a season two rewatch, I was struck at how dismissive and condescending he was of the man who made the crossroads deal to save his wife.  I knew why the man did it. Sam understood why the man did it. Dean did not. It shocked me, knowing what happens next. (Another reason why rewatching is a must) At the time Dean was reeling from his father's own deal and how he felt betrayed by it. Fast forward to the end of the season and Dean is making the same deal with no consideration whatsoever of how he felt about it before or how Sam is going to feel about it once the deal is made.
How does this relate to this season, and this episode, now that I have gone on and on? I think Dean has come into his own this season. He is confident and seems to be less dismissive of Sam's take on things and appears to be making the effort at least to try and trust Sam more.  I didn't know what to think when he went off with Cas. A part of me was aghast and all, "What? You're leaving Sam now!? " The other part of me was thinking that we had an actual, bonafide gesture of the trust Dean has been giving lip service to for months. What is it that you want, Glenda?
Aside # 8: No wonder fandom can be so divisive. I can't even agree with myself half the time.
Dean still wants Sam to want what he wants whether Sam wants it or not because he equates Sam leaving to do his own thing as betrayal and abandonment but that is a hugely deep seated thing.  I think he wants Sam to be happy but fears that he will lose Sam forever if he leaves. He still says dick things, blaming stuff on Sam that even Sam had no control over (was it Sam's fault he was soulless??) But, to Dean, these were the big betrayal things. Ruby. He mentions killing Lillith and freeing Lucifer but, really, that all goes right back to Ruby. Soulless couldn't help that he was Soulless but Dean can't seem to move past Soulless letting him think he was dead and running around with Gramps Campbell for a year and then turning him into a vampire.  Not looking for him when he was in Purgatory. No matter whether we see the reasoning behind Sam's choice or not and despite Sam having no idea what had even happened to Dean, Dean does not understand and perceives it as a betrayal.
"There is no out. Only duty."
Cas says this to Kevin but isn't this the message Sam has heard his entire life. If wanting out is a failing, actually opting out is the worst of the worst! While I may be able to suss out Dean's motivations more readily, Sam's pain is the one I get and the one that cuts me to my core and I'm not even sure why that is. Sam must have felt like a failure his whole life. He has a father and a brother who are larger than life and, not only does he feel like he will never be as good as they are, he has always wanted out of the life,  something they consider the ultimate betrayal. We have learned that, even from a young age, he had an awareness of his taint and did not feel worthy.  And, as Dean said, "the hits just keep coming."  It is pretty devastating when you look at it because, unlike Dean,  Sam didn't take to the family role he was given. He was always at odds and, apparently, never felt that he fit in anywhere. I have to consider that he and Jess fit (because they come across that way in the Pilot) but we all know what happened there.  He couldn't save her and he couldn't save Dean. He is always trying to do the right thing, or at least do the wrong things for the right reasons, and, no matter what, it always, always,  always blows up in his face!  And, when I look back, nothing else explains the strange dissonance that I felt when watching Sam's flashbacks with Amelia. I am one of those who liked her and found these scenes fascinating but they were always jarring, too. For the whole season, I have thought it was a way of making it all seem idyllic at first but as the layers were peeled way, you see that it was really two broken people floundering together. I also thought it was a deliberate juxtaposition to the Purgatory flashbacks. Either or both of these may be true but now I see it was because Sam just Did. Not. Fit. It's the life he wants but he doesn't fit there. He may never fit there.
And he's always kept on going, you know. To keep on going with the weight of all that failure is amazing. But then he stopped when Dean got sent to Purgatory. Whether it had all just became too much or whether he went to ground with losing Dean or whether he just felt Dean was better off without him no matter where he was or whether that he was making a real effort to not repeat the mistakes from his past, he hit a dog and just stopped. And, still, it all blew up in his face! Again! He seemed so weary and defeated during the first part of the season. Dean tells him that Benny is a better brother than he will ever be and never misses an opportunity to remind him of his failures both real and perceived. Then along come the MoL and the trials and, suddenly, Sam (and Dean) have got their groove back! They are teammates and brothers again.  So, I believed Sam when he gives Dean all the reasons he, Sam, should do them; that he envisions a future where they both survive. Is anything ever that simple?
The trials are Sam's purgatory. Sam thought they were purifying him. Cas said that Sam was changing at the molecular level.  They are (were) his deconstruction. Physically and, now we know, mentally and emotionally.  I have never been certain that Sam killed the Hellhound because it was a heat of the moment thing and he was trying to save Dean in that moment or if Sam had been trying all along to get to the Hellhound first. He's always trying and he needs a win, badly.  Not only does he long for Dean's approval and trust, he needs to be able to trust and depend upon himself.
And JP plays this all so beautifully!  You see him completely scoured and laid bare in this episode! The scene where he is sitting on the pew and he looks at his watch is such a simple scene. No words are spoken and, yet, it is evident that we have reached the end of the line here. When Dean frantically bursts in, telling Sam that he will die if he completes the trials,  Sam's "So?" BROKE my heart.  The expression on Dean's face mirrored the shock on mine. The only thing left for Sam is duty.  Because that is what it is about, right?  Sacrificing yourself for the greater good? Saving people? And that is what they have done in the past. But not this time!
And I reckon the scene between Sam and Dean is going to go down as my all time favorite because, after years and years, we finally get to the heart of it and it was played so magnificently between JA and JP!  What is laid out is so good it bears repeating. Dean, trying to convince Sam and shore him up but still so remarkably clueless even after this time tells him that they can do it together "like we always do." And Sam, having nothing left,  lays it ALL OUT!
"You can barely do it with me! You think I screw up everything I try. You think I need a chaperone, remember?"
And Dean has thought that. Sam believes that. Best of all,  there's no backpedaling. When Dean says, "C'mon man, that's not what I meant" I expected Sam to capitulate somewhat. Or a huffy "whatever" because he does tend to hold his cards very close to his chest. And then he didn't. HE DIDN'T "No! It is exactly what you meant." Oh. My. Gosh!!!
Then if that wasn't enough, they go and reveal Sam's confession (which I thought we weren't really going to actually get.)
"It was how many times I let you down. I can't do that again." complete with voice breaking and everything. Waaaaaaaa.
Aside #9: You hear that sound. It's the sound of my heart shattering.
And I think Dean was truly floored having never really guessed at just how much these things affected Sam.  How they were still affecting Sam; "What happens when you've decided that I can't be trusted again?"
Then when Sam mentions Dean's turning to an angel or a vampire, I don't see that as Sam throwing  these people in Dean's face or trying to make Dean feel guilty because Sam's got no reserves left to make such an effort.  Sam is taking this all on himself; that it is his own fault and failures that cause Dean to turn to someone else and his fear that one day Dean will have had enough to give up on him is palpable. To Sam's perspective, considering the voicemail he heard and the trashing of the amulet, it is a real possibility. It turns out Sam has real abandonment fears as well. Maybe he is one of those who leaves first so as to avoid being left behind.
Then Dean owns up to the crap he has said saying, "none of it is true." He reaffirms what we know and assuages our worry, too. We know that the brothers love one another but given their tumultuous relationship, their different personalities, and all that water under that ginormous bridge, when could it finally be too much? There is nothing Dean would not do for Sam.  He will always try to save Sam. And I noticed that Dean does nothing and says nothing to negate Sam's perception that he has let Dean down even though I wanted him to.  I just wanted to make it better but that would not be honest would it? Because it is true.  Sam has let Dean down. Dean has hurt Sam with his words and actions and may only now be realizing just how deep it  goes.  "I need you to see that. I'm begging you!" (And Dean's faaaaaaace in these scenes. And Sam's messy tears because he, apparently,  does not cry the one manly tear. )
Aside #10: BTW, I don't know who coined the phrase, "the one manly tear" but it is perfect and I love it. Thank you!
By the time we get to "How do I stop?" and "just let it go. Let it go, Brother." I am completely done for because we are so talking about more than the trial and I hope that Sam and Dean can just let it all go.

I love how Sam implicitly trusts Dean but hasn't always come through for him. I love how Dean always comes through for Sam; saves Sam but hasn't always trusted him. They each long for that thing that they give the other, unconditionally.
It was an amazing season finale and the final scenes were perfection! However, I can't believe I have written all of this and still managed to leave a few thoughts out.
What started as me marshaling my thoughts has turned into most of the day and a dissertation. But I just couldn't let it go and I just needed to process. (I know. It's just a television show!)

If you have read all of this you win. You are amazing for making it through all of this and you deserve all the cookies!

I apologize for the formatting. I did try and include several breaks to make it easier to read. LJ just ignored most of them.
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