Tonight’s second half of the season's midseason finale (come on, CW) left me conflicted. We got an emotionally draining confrontation between Cain and his chosen successor, Dean, that ranks up there as one of the best showdowns in Supernatural history. But we also got several episodes worth of story crammed into 42 minutes because the preceding 13 episodes were so unfocused.

I love the idea of Cain being this season’s Big Bad, but his reappearance for the first time since Season 9 failed to fully resonate because we haven’t seen Cain in so long. His devious plan was unfurled in the first half of the episode with only a brief explanation later as to his motivation. Had that plot been laid out at any time before this point, Dean and Cain’s rumble in the barn would’ve packed even more punch. As it stands, Cain’s final appearance on the show burned bright but felt a little hollow.

What did ring true was the confirmation of Dean’s worst fears during that climactic fight. As Cain revealed in agonizing detail, Dean is living Cain’s life in reverse. That means the final step in his journey will be killing Sam. (Like I said, that scene was draining.) We’ve been building to this moment all season and it delivered. Credit is due the makeup team for making Dean look like an undead version of himself following the big fight. With that burdensome destiny now hanging over his head, Dean is one step away from losing himself entirely. As Sam notes to Castiel, his brother’s in trouble.

As the culmination of this season’s big storyline to this point – Dean’s predicament – “The Executioner’s Song” was set up as an acting showcase for Jensen Ackles, and he delivered a stellar performance. I think we take Jensen and Jared Padalecki’s acting for granted because we’ve seen them hone their characters to perfection over 200+ episodes, but it’s hours like this one that can make us appreciate just how fully they understand these characters. Dean admitting he was scared to Sam was gut wrenching, as was his abject terror at having to kill Cain. He wanted so badly to hear that Cain wasn’t beyond saving because it would lend hope to his fight against the Mark. There was no relief to be had in that barn, however. Cain said what we all knew – he would never stop killing.

The rushed feeling of tonight’s episode was regrettable, seeing as how different this hour felt. The cold open was brilliant and the energy felt supercharged throughout the proceedings. Director Phil Sgriccia and his team deserve kudos for making this episode feel like a mini movie. Everything from the scene composition to the musical score was impressive tonight. Without knowing the CW’s schedule, I could tell this was a cliffhanger episode. Supernatural has always done a marvelous job of bringing their A-game when it’s time to leave a lasting impression over the break. I’ll remember watching Dean come unraveled during “The Executioner’s Song,” despite the episode’s flaws.

Even saying that, I realize I’m blaming tonight’s episode for something it couldn’t help. This hour had the unenviable job of atoning for 13 episodes with little to no progression of major story arcs. Once Dean was cured of being a demon, Season 10 has felt stuck in neutral with no clear direction other than ridding Dean of the Mark. Even when Dean faced the collection of his soul in Season 3, there was still the issue of stopping Lilith, that season’s Big Bad. I assume Rowena is being groomed as the big villain this season as she manipulates her son against the Winchesters. That’s palatable because she’s associated with Crowley, but Rowena herself lacks the menace of Abaddon or Lilith.

Just as Dean couldn’t believe the time had come so quickly for him to “go down swinging against the Mark,” I predict the time will come sooner then we think for Dean to face the prospect of killing his brother. We’ve been down this road before, most famously in Season 5, and that time around we avoided a Winchester death match -- Adam doesn’t count -- because Dean refused to play host. If this season does end with the Mark fueling Dean to kill his brother, I predict Dean will regain control of himself long enough to put the First Blade through his own chest. Of course, that leaves us with the same ending we got in Season 9, but I have a hard time believing the writers would actually go through with Dean killing his brother. Then again, Cain’s words might just be prophetic about where we’re heading in these final episodes of Season 10.

Line of the week

“I’m scared, Sam.” – Dean

Next time on Supernatural

The Winchesters are moving to Wednesdays???

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