“Stretching back to Cain and Abel. It's in your blood, your father's blood, your family's blood.” ---Michael, “The Song Remains the Same”
Supernatural has explicitly laced Biblical lore through its mythology since season four---and season nine has shaped itself around that of Genesis. The Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man was a focal point for the story surrounding the fall of the angels, Castiel's stint as a human, and the serpents let into the various Gardens such as Gadreel's possession of Sam and intrusion into the MOL Bunker. As we transition into the back half of the season, we're watching the story unfold around the aftermath of the serpent's infection. In “First Born,” we are given yet another Biblical story---also from Genesis and after the Fall of Man---for the show to use as framework: that of Cain and Abel and the First Murder.
First, let's examine the Biblical story.
Cain and Abel are the first brothers in Biblical
Each brother prepares an offering to the Lord, hoping to please Him and gain favor for their efforts. Genesis tells us, “In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering---fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.”
It creates tension between the two brothers---Abel is favored by God and pleasing while Cain is rejected by the Lord, despite his hard work tilling the soil. It leads to a fatal encounter. Genesis tells us, “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”
This is a consequence of the serpent's invasion into the Garden and the Fall of Man. Now that humanity knows of good and evil, they can be ruled by their darker emotions---such as jealousy, envy, and pride. It can lead to dire outcomes---as it does with Cain and Abel here. We're told that Cain killed his brother out of jealousy, that since he could not garner favor from God, he would punish Abel for receiving it. It's a horrific moment---and one that will change humanity even further.
Cain is punished for this crime. God tells him, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Much as mankind had been banned from the Garden, Cain is banned from his home and family---and his livelihood. He is cast out into the wilderness further---and he is marked so that “no one who found him would kill him.”
Cain and Abel's story makes for a great framework to build the story of the Winchesters around. The story is simple but powerful---with its
Let's examine how Cain appears in “First Born.”
Even though we're not told that it's Cain just yet, we're introduced to him in violent fashion. The episode begins with a flashback to 1863 as Cain storms into a house, bent on murder and destruction. It's clear that he's not human. With a simple touch, he burns his way through each demon. In his other hand is a wicked jawbone blade.
In the present day, Dean and Crowley hunt down clues to find that very same blade. They end up gaining assistance from a hunter named Tara. She and John Winchester exorcised a demon together---but not before it said something about the First Blade. It intrigued her enough to put together a location spell to find it. Dean and Crowley help her execute the spell---and they get the clue to head to Missouri.
When they get there, however, it's not a blade they find. Instead there's a man---a bee keeper---and Crowley is deathly afraid of him. He's “dark,” and as Dean scoffs at the King of Hell's alarm, Crowley tells the hunter just who that is: the Father of Murder, Cain himself.
Cain isn't pleased to have a hunter and the King of Hell on his doorstep and demands that they tell him how they found him. He's been in hiding since he retired from being a Knight of Hell and he wants nothing to do with them. Cain is an imposing figure, and even though he isn't exacting the violence we saw in that opening sequence, we can tell that he can at any moment if he so desired. This becomes evident when Cain silences Crowley with just a gesture.
Dean informs Cain that they're not there for him, but for the First Blade. The spell was meant to locate the Blade---and was a “one time deal.” They had no idea that Cain was there when they arrived.
Cain knows there's more to the story and demands they tell him why they seek the First Blade. They tell him that they need the blade the archangels used to kill all the Knights of Hell---save Abaddon of course. It's the only thing they've been able to find that has any properties that could kill her. Cain tells them, “If your friend here could talk, he would tell you that I trained the Knights of Hell. I built that entire demonic order with my own hands -- Abaddon included.” He even goes on further to tell them that it was him, not the archangels, that slaughtered the Knights of Hell.
Supernatural takes its lore and weaves it intricately with the Biblical story of Cain and Abel here. By committing the first murder, Cain becomes a demon of the highest order, powerful, immortal---and most of all deadly. He became, “the best at being the worst,” and it all started with his long ago crime of fratricide. In many ways, this transformation is an elaboration on his punishment---and it fits right in with the structure of the show's mythology beautifully.
Cain refuses to tell them anything, commanding that they, “Never return.”
Crowley seems more than okay with that, quipping, “Can we leave the country now?” But Dean isn't ready to give up. He knows Cain is hiding the weapon somewhere and they decide to break into the house after Cain leaves. They need that weapon, and Winchester stubbornness wins out again.
As they fruitlessly look for the First Blade, Dean realizes a truth about Cain. He comes across a picture of a woman---taken around the time of the Civil War---and notices that her ring matches the same one that Cain was fiddling with on his ring finger. Cain had “retired” for a reason. He had found love.
Cain is non too pleased to find Dean and Crowley snooping through his home---especially since they brought trouble with them. Demons are after both, and one wants to serve them up to Abaddon to gain her favor. Cain only has the power to keep them out for so long---and so Dean and Crowley set to barricading themselves against the incoming onslaught.
In this whole sequence, we can tell that Cain is vetting them. He's watching to see how they react to this turn of events. Dean kicks into full hunter mode, putting on a magnificent display. As Cain lets in the demons to test Dean Winchester, he watches carefully as Dean uses everything around him as a weapon---and that he won't quit no matter how dire. It is a dance of death, a thing of terrible beauty to behold---and it is the very action that Dean must execute in order to be worthy in Cain's eyes.
Once it's over, Cain tells Dean, “I felt connected to you right from the beginning. Kindred spirits, if you will. You and I are very much alike.” This draws an indignant response from Dean---considering that he never killed his brother. Cain turns this on Dean, asking, “You saved yours. Why?”
Dean simply replies, “Because you never give up on family. Ever.”
Supernatural takes the story of Cain and Abel, and the story of Sam and Dean and begins to blend them beautifully together. Cain tells them that the spell brought them to him because he is the source of the Blade's power---and then he tells them that it is gone. Dean knows what this weapon was---a jawbone of an animal---and he scoffs, “The jawbone you used to kill Abel because he was God's favorite.”
Cain simply replies, “Abel wasn't talking to God. He was talking to Lucifer.”
Lucifer. The archangel tampered with another set of brothers---the very first pair.
It turns out that Lucifer wanted to turn Abel into his pet---into a monstrous demon. Instead, Cain offered up himself. All he wanted in return was for his younger brother's soul to be delivered up into Heaven---and away from Hell's clutches. It comes with a price, however. In order for Abel to go to Heaven as Cain has asked, Lucifer demands that he kill his brother. It has to be his hand that ends Abel's life---nothing else will do.
It's a brilliant twist of the Cain and Abel story, making it fit the Supernatural framework with elegance and subtly. Cain goes from being the jealous man we see in the Biblical story to a man desperate to save his brother from a fate far worse than death.
Cain reveals his Mark---the one the Bible tells us that God gave him for his crime. Once again, Supernatural adapts this to their mythology wonderfully. God didn't mark Cain. Someone else did. Cain tells Dean who gave it to him, “From Lucifer himself.”
Satisfied with Dean's skill and reasons for wanting the Blade, Cain decides to give Dean his Mark. He must do so as it is the only method in which to use the First Blade. Without it, the Blade is useless.
But Cain has one more thing to do first. He must apologize to his deceased wife. We learn the truth of what killed her---and why Cain turned on his Knights. Dean was right. Cain had fallen in love with a woman---one that “knew who I was... and what I was. She loved me unconditionally. She forgave me. ” He had decided to eliminate his Knights and retire for Collette---but Abaddon didn't make it easy.
She possesses Cain's wife, killing her while still inside. She snaps Collete's neck, taunting Cain. Before he can deliver the killing blow, however, she exits, leaving Cain to hold his dying wife's body. It is a heartbreaking moment as we see the Father of Murder break down. In the present, we watch Cain tell her to look away now as he must kill yet again in order to make it possible for Dean to leave as there are yet more demons flocking to his home.
The transfer of the mark is a profound moment as Cain and Dean grasp hands, almost in their own dance. Once it is complete, we see him teleport Dean and Crowley away, leaving us to witness the horrific red flashes of light as Cain kills his way through each demon invader.
Cain clearly reflects Dean Winchester beautifully. Cain is the older brother. In this interpretation, we can tell---despite his violent action---that he clearly loved his brother. He was put into a difficult situation with no winning choice. Either he allowed Abel to be tricked into becoming an evil being by Lucifer, posing as God, or he took his brother's place---and life. It's not hard to imagine how this exchange would have happened. Lucifer would have held all the cards, and Cain desperate to protect his brother from becoming a creature of darkness would have done anything to prevent it.
And so, he became a vicious monster.
We can't help but feel deep sympathy for him and his situation, though. Cain didn't kill Abel out of spite. He didn't do it because he was envious of his brother's accepted offering. It wasn't because God saw Abel as “his favorite.” Cain killed his brother out of love.
Dean may not have taken this action---in fact we've seen him consistently take the opposite approach---but we can tell that when he hears this story it touches a nerve deep inside. After all, Lucifer had toyed with his own brother. He could clearly understand Cain's agonized decision to kill Abel after Lucifer threatened to turn him into a violent monster. Dean had considered the very same thing once learning that Sam was Lucifer's chosen vessel. He would do anything to prevent his brother from becoming Lucifer's puppet.
Cain's story doesn't stop reflecting Dean's there, though. For his crime against Abel we learn that he is banished from his home and family, left to wander the earth and unable to farm. In Supernatural, Cain is banished from humanity, forever changed into a monstrous demon. He is banished to wander the earth, looking for a place to call his own. It's why he's so defensive of his home when Dean and Crowley burst in on it. It is his and he has settled comfortably into his anonymity. He has no desire to be banished again---and yet we see just that. He tells them, “Join me for the last meal I will ever have in this place.” After they leave, he will, too---never to return.
At the end of “Road Trip,” we see Dean banish himself from Sam. He is also banished from his home, the MOL Bunker. He let in the serpent that is Gadreel---and for his crime he must now pay by being exiled. It is a punishment he ascribes to himself. He will suffer the consequences of what he did alone. No other punishment can be anymore harsh than this for Dean. He cherishes family---and has come to do the same with the Bunker. To be cast out into the world without his family next to him is a cruel fate.
Much like Cain suffered becoming a demon, however, Dean will endure this punishment in order to save his brother. This time he's not saving Sam from Lucifer or his soulless self---or the Trials. Instead, Dean is saving Sam from himself. Simply put, he'd rather not turn his brother into him.
Crowley hits this issue on the head when he tells Dean, “Your problem, mate, is that nobody hates you more than you do. Believe me, I've tried.”
The King of Hell knows what self loathing feels like, and he knows what it looks like when someone else wears it. And yet, he stands up for the brothers in various ways. He tells Dean that they “need all the help they can get,” and “You are worthy.”
Crowley knows that the only way for things to work out in the end is for Sam and Dean to work through their issues---and if they are to have any hope of overcoming what Cain and Abel could not---they'll have to do it together.
Meanwhile, we're watching Sam smart from the knowledge that Dean had him possessed by Gadreel. He is Abel in this story. His brother chose his path for him. Dean chose to save him even when he expressed a wish to die. Cain killed Abel in order to save him from Lucifer's lies.
The Bible tells us nothing of Abel after his murder. His story ends there. It's this fact that allows for Supernatural to weave their story as they see fit. The fact that they tie Abel and Lucifer together fits in brilliantly with the canon already established. Abel is the younger brother, as Sam is, so it makes sense that Lucifer would target him. Lucifer is a younger brother, himself.
But what makes Sam's story in this episode so powerful is his interaction with a different angel: Castiel.
The angel coaxes several times to reach out to the elder Winchester. He says, “Maybe we should call Dean,” and each time Sam backs away from that proposal with a rebuff.
They are trying to extract the tiny bit of grace Gadreel left behind---his “angelic fingerprint”---so they can cast their own location spell to find him. Sam is focused on finding the angel that decided to deceive his brother---and to take over his body to commit horrible crimes.
During the process, we can tell that this is eating at Sam. He is feeling guilty. This is beyond what Gadreel did to Kevin, however. As Castiel extracts the grace, Sam slowly starts to regress both physically and emotionally to where he was during the Trials. During them, he told Dean that he was feeling purified for the first time ever. He had always felt unclean, unworthy. The Trials were meant to redeem him from everything he's done.
And yet he chose to stop. He chose to stop for his brother. For Sam, that choice has led to Kevin's death, to the murder of other angels---and their vessels---and to Abaddon and other demons wreaking chaos and death on others in the world.
Even when Castiel wishes to stop, Sam refuses, telling him, “My life's not worth any more than anyone else's -- not yours or Dean's...or Kevin's. Please. Please, help me do one thing right. Keep going.”
It's a heartbreaking moment to witness, and we realize how earth-shattering both his decision to stop the Trials and Dean's decision to allow Gadreel to possess him are for Sam. He sees himself as worthless and a hindrance. Sam sees his being alive costing too high a price.
While we don't get to see Abel's side of the story, we know that what Cain did in order to save his soul meant that many thousands---if not more---died. To send Abel to Heaven, it meant that Cain would have to murder many. It's something we see reflected tragically in Sam's story in season nine. He is alive at the cost of others.
And yet, Castiel points out a truth to Sam. The angel may no longer be human, but this experience has clearly changed him forever. Much like Crowley, this brush with humanity has changed his perspective. The angel isn't as single-minded as he once was. He's not willing to sacrifice someone to justify the ends. The angel we saw frustrated over Sam and Dean trying to save the two little boys in “Mommy Dearest” has been replaced by a much more understanding Castiel.
Before the spell can even be tested, the angel tells Sam, “Sam, I want Gadreel to pay as much as you do. But nothing is worth losing you. You know, being human, it didn't just change my view of food. It changed my view of you. I mean, I can relate now to how you feel.” It's a crucial statement that the younger Winchester needed to hear, especially after the crushing weight of his guilt about stopping the Trials----and for the guilt that comes with what Dean chose to do in order to save his life.
Sam rewards Castiel by hugging him, conveying his gratitude with the gesture. It's a start for the healing process---although he still has a long way to go as he rejects Castiel's attempt to reach out to Dean again with a firm, “We got this.”
What makes this introduction of Cain and Abel into the Supernatural mythology so special is the truth it reveals. Throughout season five we're told that Sam and Dean were reflections on earth of Michael and Lucifer in Heaven. They are the older brother obedient to an absent father and a younger brother who rebels. They were meant to end the squabble between the two archangels by allowing each one to possess them and face one another at an appointed time and place---to fight to the death.
Instead, they choose their own path. Dean refuses to say Yes to Michael---even if he teeters on the edge. He will support Sam's decision to say Yes and throw Lucifer back into the Cage. It will cost Sam his life---and over a century of torture in Hell---but it works. They stop the Apocalypse in their own way and lock both Michael and Lucifer in the Cage.
In “First Born,” however, we learn that Lucifer tampered with Cain and Abel's brotherly relationship. We're not told too much here by Cain. We know that Cain killed Abel to save him from Lucifer's evil. It's clear that this violent act was done out of love---and Cain suffered the consequences for it.