Posts tagged Ben Edlund

Reading is Fundamental

Supernatural: Reading is Fundamental

“What is that?”

“It’s, uh, Kevin Tran. He’s, uh, in Advanced Placement.”

When we last left the Winchester boys they had performed their Ocean’s Eleven con and stolen Dick Roman’s block of mud. The episode, written and directed by Ben Edlund, wastes no time in exposing what was hidden in that mound of dirt – a tablet. But not just any tablet: a tablet so old that the writing is unknown to humans; so old that when striking a hammer against the rock to free the tablet the skies erupt with thunder and lightning.

 

“That sound like somebody saying ‘no, wait, stop’ to you?”

“Uh yeah. Yeah.”

“Yeah. . . Oh well.”

And with the breaking of the rock two things happen: a resistant prophet is created in the guise of high-school student Kevin Tran and Castiel awakens. Yes, Cas is back. Again. And he’s got some chemistry with Demon-Meg. Cas has evolved though. He’s more zen – he can track the flight of bees through a garden and into the world. He hates conflict. He just wants to see where the universe takes him, preferably with little threat to his well-being. Luckily he can explain to the Winchesters about the tablet.

“If someone was going to free the word from the vault of the earth, it would end up being you two. Oh I love you guys.”

This tablet isn’t just some engraved stone text hidden away in the blowing sands; this tablet is the word of God. Words that Dick Roman wants safe in his hands because they contain a method of stopping the Leviathans. However, angels can’t translate the tablet, only a prophet can — Kevin Tran. As he explains, it’s an “in case of emergency note.”

Yet the true significance of Castiel in this episode is not to help explain the tablet or highlight its history, but for the moments between Castiel and Dean that seem to point to a healing in their fractured relationship. From the outset, Dean is concerned that Castiel will be a mass of brain jelly, unable to vanquish the trauma from both his actions while being God and the splintering of Sam’s mind. In fact, Sam is the one who seems to recognize first that Castiel doesn’t seem to be broken; Dean looks hesitant.

This hesitation is explained when Dean and Castiel have their sit-down in the game room. . .over a game of Sorry! Dean wants the pre-God Castiel back. His desperation bleeds through in an emotional plea for Castiel to button up his coat and help him fight Leviathans. Castiel keeps apologizing, but Dean won’t accept it – he sees Castiel’s current behavior as almost a mocking of their plight. His airy declarations and detached observations leave Dean with more emptiness. Is Castiel really sorry or is he just playing a game? Dean’s pained refusal of Castiel’s apology points to the latter. Yet his interaction with Hester and Anais, angels who have come to take Kevin and the word of god to prophet training, denotes a Castiel who, while seeming rather simple, is actually an angel who is on a different plane of being than everyone and everything around him. This existence makes earthly concerns beyond him.

“You seem troubled. Of course that’s a primary aspect of your personality so I sometimes ignore it.”

"Pull my finger."

Castiel has a conversation with Sam too, who expresses his concern for Castiel’s sanity after he took on Sam’s fragmented mind. Sam acknowledges that if Castiel hadn’t taken on that burden Sam would have been done for – Lucifer had pushed his mind as far as it would go. And Castiel confirms what was long believed, that Lucifer was Sam’s manifestation – an avatar of Sam’s suffering – and that once the echoes of that figment of Sam’s terror had dissipated, Castiel was left with, as he says, everything. Like Sam, Castiel was also at the breaking point, unable to move past all of the blood on his hands, but by taking on Sam’s pain, it actually made him better. It’s a concept that, like Dean, Sam doesn’t understand. Both Winchesters want to “fix” Castiel, but that’s not an option. Castiel is satisfied with his current state – he doesn’t want to go back to the angel he once was, and it doesn’t even seem that it’s truly an option for him regardless. What role he will play in the next few episodes is unclear, but I can see this blissed-out Cas being a part of Bobby’s salvation.

“I’m surrounded by large unhappy dogs.”

Demon Meg is also a new part of the Winchester team. She’s chosen a side and doesn’t feel there is safety in being left alone. It’s not, for now, that bad of a deal. She sees that they are being followed by demons, sets up a secret meeting with them, and kills them. Whether it’s because she’s really on their team or simply has a soft spot for Castiel is unknown, though I do think she’s crushing on Cas. She proved that when she killed the angel Hester before Hester could kill Castiel.

Meg spits out one tasty morsel of information. In a scene where the Winchesters are trying to decide where her loyalties lie, she reveals that she’s on whatever team is most likely to bring down Crowley. Dean responds, “Crowley ain’t the problem this year.” Frustrated, Meg retorts, “When are you gonna get it, Crowley is always the problem. He’s just waiting for the right moment to strike.” Interesting. I’ll admit I haven’t given much thought to Crowley over the past six months, so his entrance back in the game, most likely when the Leviathan threat is at an end, is a tantalizing proposition, and could also make season eight an strong one.

“I don’t know. I think the line might panic when they turn this corner and see the blade assembly up ahead.”

The Leviathans weren’t front and center this episode, with the focus on angels and prophets, but there were a few key moments that demonstrate more of the monsters’ plan and the power. There is a brief hint about the design of the slaughterhouse being built for the processing of human cattle, and it’s very evocative of the Doctor Who episode, “The Age of Steel,” where Cybermen are “upgrading” humans in the Battersea Power Station. Orderly lines of people walking through the factory, eventually turning and entering large silo structures where spinning blades come from the ceiling before “processing” them. It’s not a comforting image.

The other moment, that once again illuminates the threat of the Leviathans, is near the end when Kevin Tran returns home, escorted by two angels who have a mission to protect him before leading him to the desert for prophet instruction. The detective investigating Kevin’s “kidnapping” is, of course, a Leviathan in human form. This is no season five – there’s no angel power that can suddenly end a Leviathan. Leviathan Collins states, as he’s sticking his hand into the angels’ guts and destroying them, that “rock beats scissors, Leviathan beats angel.” There’s nothing the angels can do to defend themselves and Kevin Tran and his mother are left at the mercy of the Leviathan.

What can kill a Leviathan? The bone of a righteous mortal, washed in the three bloods of the fallen. The first must be a fallen angel, and Castiel quickly and easily gives them a vial of his blood, but we still don’t know who the other two fallen are, nor what bone of a righteous man will be used. I tried to read the notebook page that Sam was reading and all I could glean was that it looks like the other two need to be the ruler of fallen humanity and the father of fallen beasts. Exciting!

 

 

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Random Notes:

Neanderthal poetry that’s perfectly aligned with the spheres. . .who knew.

 

C: “Hey, this is the handwriting of Metatron.”

S: “Metatron?!? You’re saying a Transformer wrote that?”

D: “No, that’s Megatron.”

S: “What?”

D: “The Transformer is Megatron.”

S: “What?”

C: “Me-TA-tron. He’s an angel, he’s the scribe of God.”

Sam’s indignant confusion during this scene is one of the funniest character moments in the series. So very Ben Edlund.

Repo Man

Supernatural: Not the Dog!

After last week’s very solid “Plucky Pennywhistle”, Supernatural delivers a Ben Edlund penned cracker of an episode, “Repo Man.” Edlund uses an interesting conceit, for the Supernatural world, by having the Winchesters re-visit an old case, when it looks like a demon they ganked four years earlier has returned – a demon that should never have been released from hell, as he turned snitch before being exorcised.

On its own, this was a fascinating episode that revisits the idea that sometimes humans can be far more evil than any demon the boys have hunted. In this case, the Winchesters tortured a demon possessing a seemingly innocent man named Jeffrey for information on the whereabouts of Lilith. After surviving the horrors inflicted on him by Sam, Dean, and an evil beastie, Jeffrey is left at a hospital. Four years later the boys return to Idaho when a series of crimes are a match to the earlier incident. The Jeffrey storyline is handled well. Edlund creates a character that evokes sympathy; a man whose life has seemingly fallen apart after the demonic possession. He lives in a halfway house, has recently recovered from drug and alcohol addiction, and has a big moment when he is finally allowed to adopt a dog.

Of course, in true Supernatural fashion, it’s all an act. A very psychotic act. Turns out, Jeffrey was empowered by the demon possession and he wants that demon back. The possession allowed Jeffrey to make real his dreams of murdering women, for which he truly loves the demon.  He wants their beings to be intertwined in the most physical way possible. And so to summon the demon Jeffrey needs the blood of the exorcist – Dean.

Also, any sympathy the audience has for Jeffrey quickly evaporates when he kills his newly-adopted dog. [Insert appropriate swear word of your choice here.]

The Jeffrey storyline is actually the B-plot. It’s another testament to Edlund’s skill that this side plot is so engaging. But, truly, this is an hour for Sam and Lucifer. Edlund gives Lucifer a firecracker wit, with lines brilliantly delivered by Mark Pellegrino (one of the best Supernatural guest stars). Lucifer vacillates between snarky and horrifying, at one point getting so frustrated with Sam that he resorts to invoking a hallucination of innocent bystanders slamming their heads against tables until brain matter seeps from their skulls.

Yet Supernatural has always done a masterful job of portraying the intoxicating way Lucifer can convince you to let him be part of your life. With Sam, Lucifer served as a mentor and partner in his attempt to figure out what was going on with the demon. Lucifer cajoled, prompted, and dropped hints to Sam. In many cases his language and tone were evocative of soulless Sam – for isn’t it most likely that Lucifer is not an embodiment of the dark angel still trapped in the cage but more likely a manifestation of Sam’s darker self? Regardless, Lucifer gained access to Sam’s mind in the one way Sam is unable to fight – fear for Dean’s safety.

Once again, the tie between the Winchester brothers has the potential to lead to the downfall of one of them. Sam, who has been able to prevent Lucifer from gaining a foothold in his brain and who can make the demonic angel disappear by pressing on his scar, can’t stop himself from acknowledging Lucifer’s existence when Lucifer taunts, “Big brother’s probably dead.” With the simple response of “shut up,” Sam has made him more material and in so doing allowed for a temporary partnership, with Lucifer seemingly harmless and excessively helpful. Unfortunately for Sam, once that door is opened, it cannot be closed – pressing the scar no longer works. Lucifer has taken hold of Sam’s mind, and the final image of the episode is a terrifying one, as Lucifer begins to torture Sam by surrounding him with the fires of a hell that he hoped was behind him.

 

The French Mistake

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.

 

Favorite Quotes:

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.”

Dean: “Why?”

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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