Supernatural’s ninth season wasn’t its strongest, but it did have a truly brilliant episode in which Dean sought out Cain, the father of murder, to obtain his Mark. Cain was brilliantly portrayed by Timothy Omundson as a man who carried every millennia he’d lived and every murder he’d committed on his back. He lived for thousands of years resisting the Mark of Cain’s siren song, giving Dean some hope that he too could overcome those urges. In “The Executioner’s Song,” Dean has those hopes dashed, and is truly pushed to his breaking point.
When a murderer disappears from death row, Dean and Sam investigate and realize that Cain is back, and that he has a kill list. He plans to eliminate one-tenth of the world’s population (“I have time,” he quips), seeking out killers and their families—even the innocent bystanders. Dean and Sam call in Castiel and Crowley to help trap Cain and save a young boy from death, and Dean accepts his fate: he will need to take the First Blade, the very first weapon ever created, and kill Cain once and for all. In doing so, he may end up succumbing to the Mark permanently. It’s a showdown between the only two men on earth who could understand each others’ situations, and only one can emerge alive.
The success of “The Executioner’s Song” rests on two people: Timothy Omundson and Jensen Ackles. Omundson is positively captivating as a deranged, violent Cain, and after seeing him so restrained last year, it’s frightening to realize the extent of his monstrous side. But the episode truly belongs to Ackles, who conveys so much emotion in so few words and reveals Dean’s inner turmoil as he tries to face his worst nightmare coming true. The final confrontation is intense and unforgettable, as Dean tries to maintain control and Cain taunts him about inevitably murdering Sam. Dean does succeed in his mission to kill Cain, but as the boys celebrate back home, it becomes very clear that Dean is not okay. Dean is stuck with the Mark and the only other man to have had it is now dead by his hand. He may have triumphed, but something is profoundly broken—and may be unfixable.
“The Executioner’s Song” was very nearly brilliant, with just a few missteps. The subplot with Crowley and his mother Rowena is threatening to get boring. While Ruth Connell is a lot of fun as the scheming witch, she needs to have something to do, and I hope the show gives it to her; she can be a great deal of fun, and it’s always refreshing to see a woman in Supernatural‘s male-dominated cast. It was great to see all four main cast members in a scene together too—that’s incredibly rare—and it would have been nice if those moments had been a little meatier. But the acting from Omundson and Ackles makes “The Executioner’s Song,” a very dark episode with all the right levels of gore, emotion, and tension, worth it.