The French Mistake
A Supernatural metatextual episode written by Ben Edlund? It is, of course, a recipe for excellence — the type of episode where all of Ackles’ lines are quotable and the slightly surreal plot puts it in the pantheon of Edlund classics such as “Bad Day at Black Rock,” “Ghostfacers,” “Monster Movie,” and “Wishful Thinking.”
This episode, which is even more self-referential than “The Monster at the End of This Book,” is narratively framed by the angel Balthazar, who appears suddenly in Bobby’s home (whilst Bobby is out on a liquor run), fleeing from one of Raphael’s minions. Balthazar, who has also been stabbed, clarifies the situation, saying that Raphael’s minions are after any and all who have given aid to Castiel, including the Winchester boys. With little explanation, Balthazar hands Sam a key for safekeeping. He then puts together a tidy little mixture that includes lamb blood, salt, and bone of a lesser saint, which he then stirs and uses to paint a sigil onto a window — a window he then uses his angelic powers to throw Sam and Dean through when Virgil, a killer minion, arrives.
I’ve decided that any episode that features Balthazar in some way is a good one. He’s a character that can add a level of menace, but in a grey-hat kind-of way. He’s neither good nor evil, more a mercenary who takes care of himself. A bit of a Han Solo, before we discovered that Han Solo was all heart. It’s impossible to tell whose side he’ll finally choose, and chances are the side he’ll choose in the final battle is his own. Balthazar brings enough snark to shut down Dean, which is always fun to watch, as Ackles portrays with elan Dean’s shock, annoyance, and apprehension at having his caustic wit matched by an angel. I’m hoping that the civil war amongst the angels will lead to more Balthazar appearances.
Once the boys are thrown though the window, they fall into a parallel universe, alti-verse, bizarro world (whatever suits), where they are actors Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, working on a show called Supernatural. Basically, they’ve fallen into our world, but one where the actor’s lives and personalities are fodder for humor.
This is a show that relishes in mocking itself and its viewers, and it immediately sets in as soon as the boys stand up. Everything is fair game and Edlund does two things very well: mocking the inanity of simple things like their names (Jensen, Misha, Padalecki) and having Dean react to the things about show business that are anathema to his core beliefs — makeup (“Oh crap, I’m a painted whore.”); the fact that an audience would want to watch a show about their lives; filming in Vancouver (“Dude, we’re not even in America.”); and the multiple Impalas that are simply props (“I feel sick. I’m gonna be sick.”).
The show makes fun of Ackles’ former life as a soap star, showing a clip of his time on Days of our Lives and lampoons the contents of his trailer. Collins, who initially plays like he’s really Castiel, only to break character and speak in his real voice when the boys go off-script, gets mocked for his desire to be friends with “J-squared” and tweets his reactions to what he believes is a punking by the boys. Parodying the Ackles/Padalecki friendship in real life, the show makes them out to be frenemies, who apparently never speak to each other. But Padalecki bears the brunt of Edlund’s spoofs, making him out to be a narcissist who spends his money on a mansion with lavish accoutrements, such as a tanning bed and massive pictures of himself. Real-life wife Genevieve Padalecki (best known as playing the version of Ruby that betrays Sam in order to free Lucifer) gets in on the action, displaying disdain and disgust for Ackles, while also serving as an environmental activist.
But one of the best parts is watching the two try to “act” as Sam and Dean. Their inability to hit their marks, Sam not knowing how to stand or what to do with his hands, Dean talking to the floor and reading his lines off of the script, Sam talking to the camera while Dean chastises him, and Sam’s hands during the lock and key sequence — hilarious.
The underlying thread to all of the parody is that the boys want to find a way back to their own reality, to escape that nothingness that is filming a television show, and to return to a job that actually has an impact on people. As Dean explains to Bob Singer at one point, “We matter to that world. In fact we even save a son-of-a-bitch once or twice.” Unfortunately a return is not that easy, even with the ability to buy relics over the internet with Padalecki’s copious-limit credit cards. They simply cannot re-create Balthazar’s spell.
Then, as all good Edlund scripts do, things fall apart and get crazy. Using the sigil that Balthazar used, Virgil breaks into bizarro world. He finds the boys and attempts to put some angel hoodoo on them, but finds himself unable to use his powers. The Winchesters attack. Unfortunately, they are prevented from stopping Virgil by stage hands who don’t understand the severity of events. Virgil pickpockets the key from Sam and walks free. Yet without his powers, Virgil is unable to phone home to contact Raphael. So, following in the tradition seen in earlier seasons, he chooses someone to slit their neck, take their blood, and use it as a means of communication. The victim he chooses is Misha, who, wearing his namaste t-shirt, goes from acting goofy to humorously terrified (is that even possible?).
Now the boys are spurred into action, shed their facade of being Jared and Jensen, and act like the Winchesters trying to stop a monster. Or, in this case, an angel. An angel who just happens to have a shotgun and is taking people out at the studio. It must be a writer and showrunner’s dream, to jokingly take out your colleagues. First to go is Faux-Kripke, who, unable to comprehend the situation at hand (a situation that seems like it was straight out of an action/horror movie, natch), survives two gunshots to his body before succumbing to a third. Virgil then makes a face as if he’s Indiana Jones fighting a man with a sword, pulls a gun out of his belt and shoots Bob Singer, just once.
After more shooting, the boys fight with Virgil, get the key, and are yanked back into their own world by Raphael, who is now in the form of a woman. I like that angels are equal-opportunity occupiers of humans. But all is not lost, as Balthazar appears, soon to be followed by Castiel. For this has all gone according to plan — Balthazar’s plan. Distract Virgil by using the Winchester boys as bait — bait that carried a useless key. While events transpired in our world, Balthazar was seeking out the cache of weapons that he stole from heaven and giving them to Castiel.
And once again we are confronted with the idea of a civil war in heaven — one that the boys know little about. Dean’s frustrations are mounting and he tries, without success, to glean information from Castiel. As always, he is pushed aside with an apology and a promise to give him more detail later. What exactly is Castiel hiding from Sam and Dean??
While we didn’t have a scene of catharsis by the Impala, we were given a moment, just before Virgil showed up at the studio shooting people, where Sam and Dean discuss the possibility of being stuck in this universe. Doing his roundabout passive-agressive questioning, Dean implies that Sam wouldn’t be so sad staying in this universe — one where he has a life with money and comforts, no hell, no heaven, no threat to his brain. But Sam’s having none of it. Their lives are in their universe — their friends are there — they make a difference there — and they are brothers there. It’s Dean once again giving Sam an out that he won’t take.
Postmodern television episodes always have the potential to be epic failures. Effective metatext is difficult to accomplish. Finding the balance between self-referential humor and maintaining the arc of an episode is not that simple. Edlund created another hysterical, touching, random, surreal, brilliant episode of Supernatural.
Dean: “I said ‘hey.”
Balthazar: “You did. Twice. Good for you.”
Sam: “Here. Wherever here is, this, this twilight zone Balthazar zapped us into. For whatever reason, our life is a TV show.”
Sam: “I don’t know.”
Dean: “No, seriously, why? Why would anybody want to watch our lives?”
Sam: “Well, I mean, according to the interviewer not very many people do.”
Dean: “I think we are definitely out of soul-phone range.”
Bob Singer: “Cause I’d like to think that over these years we’ve grown closer. That you don’t think of me as director Bob or executive producer Bob Singer, but as Uncle Bob.”
Sam: “Wait, you’re kidding. So the character in the show, Bobby Singer. . .”
Dean: “What kind of a douchebag names a character after himself?”
Sam: “Oh that’s not right.”
Homeless Man (talking to the boys about Misha’s death): “Yeah, yeah, that’s right, the scary man killed the attractive crying man and then he started to pray.”
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