Posts tagged Castiel

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.

Of Grave Importance

A Supernatural Quandary

Hey Supernatural fans, long time no see.

I’ve been in a bit of a quandary about the show as of late. In fact, after spending so much time during the first half of the season defending show decisions and offering a “just wait and see” attitude, I’ve come around to the criticisms of many viewers who feel that the show has lost its way. If anything, the past four or five episodes have simply brought that point home rather depressingly.

And I’ve been thinking, perhaps my own high expectations for the show have caused this disconnect. At a fundamental level, Friday nights with the Winchester boys are still an enjoyable experience. It’s not that the show has suddenly become something that panders to the masses. Yet, and I’m obviously speaking for myself here, there was the potential to do something transformative with the season and it simply hasn’t been capitalized on.

The Leviathan threat has not carried the power or menace of a yellow-eyed demon, a Lucifer, Heaven’s power-hungry angels, or even a soulless Sam. The potential was there, as the Leviathans have taken everything from the Winchesters, but these monsters have been on the back burner for so long that they are a muted threat. Unfortunately, by saving the true impact and menace of the Leviathans for the final episodes of the season, what has come before has felt adrift. There has been a loss of momentum, and in the same way that the stand-alone episodes during season five felt dissociated from the arc of the apocalypse threat, the independent episodes of season seven, while entertaining, add to the confusing narrative digression.

As I wrote in December, killing Bobby was a brave move. After the loss of Castiel and the Impala, it was the final step in breaking Dean (and of course, to a lesser degree, Sam). It seemed as if the show was really taking a relatively nihilistic approach to the Winchesters’ life and future. More than that, it demonstrated a show willing to anger their fans for the innovative evolution of the show’s traditional narrative.

But it turns out that’s not the case. Both Bobby and Castiel are back – although not in their original fighting form. The fan in me is glad, especially with last week’s return of Bobby. It felt right and natural to have him there helping the boys, even if it was in ghost form.

In some ways, I feel that Dean is a mirror for potential audience reaction. Dean has mixed feelings about Castiel’s return. While Castiel is alive, he has yet to be a substantive presence (though I imagine he is back to help with the Leviathan threat).  Castiel gets to return for another deus ex machina save, allowing his mind to take the place of Sam’s broken brain, allowing Winchester healing to happen.

Then there is Bobby. Dean’s declaration that Bobby’s return is just not natural was most likely intended to provide narrative and emotional tension. Yet it also highlights a narrative problem. “Death’s Door” was a beautiful episode. It was a glorious goodbye to a character much beloved by the audience, and clearly the writers. It was a Sera Gamble masterpiece of sentiment that demonstrated how Supernatural transcends the limiting appellation of genre show and could reach towards the moments of brilliance found in our most acclaimed television. But it turns out it’s not a goodbye. It is an episode that will lose some of its power on a rewatch.

Bobby’s return is wonderful, but simply serves as a reminder that Supernatural is escapist fun, not Mad Men or Fringe, and that maybe trying to analyze it as such does the show a disservice.

Having said all of that, I’m looking forward to seeing how the Leviathan threat plays out, since it’s almost impossible to predict what’s going to happen, as we have almost no information about them. But. . .there’s the promise of Felicia Day.

My other thought is that the return of Bobby potentially gives us an arc for season eight – a season that, while not yet greenlighted, is said to be an assured thing. Trying to prevent Bobby from becoming the decaying, mentally traumatized ghosts seen in “Of Grave Importance” provides the series with a more immediate purpose. Rather than focus on a threat to the world, the Winchesters can focus on saving someone closer to home. The seasons with a more localized threat tend to be tighter and more emotionally resonant.

How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters

Supernatural: Despair

Despair.  I think it’s the emotion hardest for cialis online an audience to embrace — especially if that emotion extends over many episodes or, to the audience’s chagrin, an entire season.  It’s this word, this feeling, this thought, that is driving season seven of Supernatural.  It is what I believe to be the concept most frustrating for the discontented in the audience.

I’ve been thinking about this after reading Mo Ryan’s article on aoltv.com about what Supernatural needs to do to rescue its stumbling season.  Now I find Ryan to be a refreshing and incisive critic, who can be a passionate advocate for television shows, yet I read this article, paused, and wondered if I was watching a different show than everyone else.  Then I thought I must be giving Supernatural some kind of pass simply because I feel like, after seven years, that the Winchesters are part of my weekly life — in a weird way they are like TV family (exactly how I felt about LOST).  You spend so much time watching and re-watching that their story becomes interwoven into the fibers of your very being.  Then I wondered if it was even possible to be critical of something that you love — in the same way that I refuse to listen to any negative comments about William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, was I simply incapable of applying rational thought to a show that I love?

No, that wasn’t the answer.  There are instances in this website where I have critiqued the show or negatively reviewed an episode.  It’s not that I can’t find flaws with Supernatural — don’t get me started on their problems with female characters — but clearly something is happening.  If you look at responses to reviews, the audience seems overwhelmingly unhappy.  Some of you were generous enough to give me your thoughts, which demonstrated that there are satisfied viewers who probably aren’t speaking up in blog comments.  Yet there were also a few responses that pointed to issues that I’ve seen elsewhere.  These concerns tend to revolve around Castiel and the season’s seeming lack of purpose, as, for many, the Leviathan arc seems too amorphous to create an invested audience.

This is why I circled back to the concept of despair.  Ryan asserted that by taking everything away from the boys, they have nothing to fight for, no reason to go on (I’m badly paraphrasing).  I would argue that that’s exactly the point.  We’ve seen them with purpose, with a specific goal that they’re fighting towards (killing Azazel, saving Dean from Hell, stopping the apocalypse, restoring Sam’s soul), and Gamble could have easily followed that template.  Instead, as KimberlyFDR pointed out, Gamble started her tenure as showrunner by adopting a darker tone.  This shouldn’t be surprising.  Gamble has historically written the episodes that delve deeply into the emotional fragility of the boys.  She consistently pushes past Dean’s bravado to explore what makes him a depressed, martyred, fan of the drink.  As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam, her episode “What Is and What Should Never Be” provided the first, tragic look at what drives Dean — and it was horrifically sad.  So the tone of the new seasons shouldn’t be a surprise at all.

I would argue that last season was the setup for Sam and Dean hitting rock bottom this season — the setup for complete despair.  Ideally, this season, the boys would be left with no one.  And if this was a novel, Bobby would also have been a fatality, perhaps the Leviathan would have ensured his end.  However, I don’t think the show can kill off Bobby — not without a complete fan revolt — or at the very least not until near the series finale.  We’re at a point, after seven years, that following the traditional Supernatural template is not the best option.  Exploring despair, exploring what happens to our Winchesters when they have nothing but each other to fight for — now that’s meaty.  The vague threat of the Leviathans?  I would bundle that up with the concept of despair.  The boys barely understand what they’re fighting, only knowing, once again, that it’s a threat that could destroy the world.  Yet as a result of their despair — and really, it’s Dean’s despair — the day-to-day is rote.  Rote in a way that highlights how much they have lost and how far they have fallen.  How do you survive when you have nothing?

One of the darkest periods of the show was when John Winchester died.  It’s the event that brought Dean the closest to this despair — his character now is a reflection of his character then.  Brooding, excessively drinking, refusing to see beyond the black and white of the situation, seeking some kind of solace through the destruction of monsters.  It was all there.  But the quest for vengeance — for killing Azazel — is what brought him back, after just a few episodes, from the abyss.  In the present, that vengeance is missing.  The enemy is scattered, can spread easily, and is almost impossible to kill.  Not only that, the Leviathans are smart, strong hunters.  There is no respite from running because they consistently and quickly track the boys down.  Or, in an even worse case scenario, make life almost impossible for them by shifting into their forms.

Can’t you just feel it?  When you think about what they’re currently going through?  No home, no place of safety, no Castiel to act as a deus ex machina, no easy way to identify or kill their foes — it’s despair.  It’s their darkest moment.  And it’s incredibly difficult to watch.

Yet none of this means there’s something wrong with the show — it just means it’s progressing in a way that makes the audience uncomfortable.

During this past season of Breaking Bad, another fantastic critic, Tim Goodman, whose thoughts I appreciate and often disagree with, wrote about his concern with how deconstructing every episode prevented critics/viewers from just sitting back and enjoying the ride.  That because we don’t let the arc happen without trying to anticipate or second-guess the writers, we can’t fully appreciate what the show is trying to do.

I think it’s an interesting point.  And while I’m not comparing Supernatural to Breaking Bad, I do think that we take such ownership of a show, that it’s oftentimes difficult to let the arc happen without feeling like we’re being betrayed in some way.  Isn’t part of the magic letting a show take us somewhere that we haven’t anticipated?  Isn’t it the responsibility of art to force us to examine and explore emotions and situations that might make us feel uncomfortable or distressed?

This is the darkest place the Winchesters have ever been.  They have no one.  They have nothing to hold on to but their skill as hunters.  Their entire world is destabilized — so much so that they don’t even have control over their own bodies, their own stories.  The Leviathans can inscribe a reality for them by assuming their own shapes and personas.  It’s taxing to experience this with them, but it’s a fascinating journey.

Bobby_Dean

Supernatural: Meet the New Boss

Welcome back Supernatural fans! Let me start by saying that if this season premiere did nothing else, it reinforced the fact that Sera Gamble is a brilliant showrunner and writer, who makes impressive and strategic choices for the show. Proving that last season was no fluke, Gamble gave us an opening episode that moved action along quickly. Gone are the days when a problem would require a three-month resolution. There was immediate gratification after a long summer of pondering the state of the Winchester world. And like all good television shows, the answers offered only served to generate a threefold increase in new questions.

“Once you were my favorite pets, before you turned and bit me.”

It became readily apparent by the end of last season that Supernatural had a Castiel problem. Not an issue of fan adoration or acting. No, you can’t argue that Cas isn’t a fan favorite, nor that the Collins/Ackles interaction wasn’t the highlight of many an episode. The problem was with the character itself — Cas was becoming stagnant. Cas had become the deus ex machina mechanism that saved the Winchester boys from many a tight spot and could provide answers quickly in order to push the narrative to a more fertile place. While much loved, Castiel’s role was to swoop in, make some vague statements, solve problems, and swoop out.

The decision to make Castiel a primary chess piece in the war to win Heaven and open a portal to Purgatory was a brilliant strategic move. It gave the writers something different to do with the character — it allowed them to create entirely new facets to his personality, bringing out a Cas who, by the end, was willing to sacrifice Sam and Dean if it meant he could wrest control of Heaven from Raphael. Who knew that Castiel would be the one to bring down the wall in Sam’s brain — doing the one thing guaranteed to destroy both brothers. Those final episodes allowed for a character depth not really seen before, especially as we watched Castiel’s despair as he calls upon God for guidance in what was his equivalent to Jesus’ Garden of Gethsemane moment.

We all watched in shock in the finale as Castiel opened the portal to Purgatory, assimilated the outpouring of souls, and then, transformed, declared himself God, threatening to smite down those who did not bow to him. Left all summer with the horrified faces of Bobby and the Winchesters, the question seemed to be how the writers would restore the Cas we all loved. For Supernatural, a show that likes to kill the characters that a) we’ve grown attached to and b) they no longer know what to do with, creating a scenario where they have a multiplicity of options for a static character proved that it was a brave new show.

“I hope for your sake this is the last you see me.”

Picking up from the last seconds of the finale (bless the continuity editor for his/her amazing work), the premiere gave us this new Castiel — this new god flush with power and immune to the emotions of the Winchesters. As he unequivocally states, “the Castiel you knew is gone.” The entire scene is pulsing with the underlying threat of Castiel’s potentially fickle behavior. In one moment he is demanding they bow before him and then in the next halting their sluggish prostration, recognizing that it would only be false reverence. Nothing makes the transformation more apparent than Cas’s reaction to Dean’s disdain, as he spits out, “What a brave little ant you are.” The Cas who would do anything for Dean, even striking a death blow against his fellow angels, has been suppressed, if not destroyed.

“You need a firm hand. You need a father. And I am your father now.”

As if to emphasize the complete disintegration of the Castiel with a conscience, we bear witness to his public manifestations. Castiel is not a silent god — a god of the imagination or prayer — no, Castiel is a vengeful god. He embraces his new powers and goes on a smiting spree; the world runs red with spilled blood. Granted, there are moments of wish fulfillment, as Cas destroys all religious leaders who preach sermons of hate; who sow the seeds of disunity by condemning those who do not conform to the rules of a belief system not propagated by God but by hypocritical men; who show themselves to be false prophets, regardless of creed. We cannot help but smile as Cas destroys the equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church and even Dean agrees that the elimination of the KKK is a step in the right direction. However, Castiel cannot rein in his vengeance. He spreads his net to anyone who does not follow him. In a scene that is cinematically gorgeous, Castiel annihilates the angels who will not pledge loyalty his reign. Castiel is so engorged with power that he begins to burn up — as we saw with Lucifer, his vessel simply cannot contain what is inside. It’s a clever red herring. Watching his skin blister and peel, seeing his hands leave scorch marks on the pews of a church, it would seem that he is suffering the issue that proved most problematic for Michael and Lucifer, a weak vessel, and yet it is so much worse. In a scene reminiscent of good sci-fi horror (like Alien), the souls inside of Castiel begin to pulse outwards from his stomach. Unlike Michael and Lucifer who have a power granted from Heaven, Castiel has stolen his authority. Even worse, he has taken souls from Purgatory — a place filled with monsters.

“I put your needs first. Don’t you understand, I am a better god than my father.”

With Cas becoming a symbol of absolute power corrupting absolutely, the Winchesters fall back on that which has sustained them all these years — the ability of human beings to endure. Bobby, who I consider a Winchester even though he is a Singer, will follow the boys down whatever path they choose, resigned that it might mean his death, remaining a voice of reason if/when they need some kind of guidance. Bobby, who, in contrast to the new Cas, is much more of the father figure that you would hope to find — loving, forgiving, supportive.

Sam is in a dangerous place. Trying to figure out ways to save Castiel, he cannot escape the memories seeping through the broken membrane in his head. Sam is living in two worlds — hallucination and reality. He tries to navigate it silently, not telling his family that anything is wrong, maintaining his stoicism, even after initially collapsing and slipping into a near-coma. Sam stays true to his Winchester roots, keeping his suffering secret to save his brother from this nightmare. Of course this is more than just a nightmare. Sam’s life is at risk, and the hallucinations he suffers are so much more visceral than the post-traumatic stress Dean endured after his time in Hell. Like Dean, Sam dreams of Hell’s meathooks, but Sam also dreams of something coming after him — of ominous whispering and chains breaking through the universe and lynching him. Worst of all, he sees Lucifer — the Mark Pellegrino version, sans melting skin.

In Sam’s fantastic last scene in the episode, he comes face to face with Lucifer. After a moment of doubt and fear, he scoffs. The moment is brilliant:

S: “Meathooks, chains, you, it’s not real. It’s just my brain leaking memories from the cage, ‘cause of the wall breaking down. That’s all.”
L: “That’s very good, your little theory, it’s wrong. Sam, this isn’t you going guano, everything else is.”
S: “What?”
L: “Everything, from the second you sprung out of that lock box. . .”
S: “That’s impossible.”
L: “No, escaping was impossible. I have to say, I think this is my best torture yet. Make you believe that you’re free, and then, yank the wool off of your eyes. You never left Sam. You’re still in the cage. . .with me.”

Of course Sam is just hallucinating, but what magnificent dialogue. If you’re confronted by the devil, having escaped a cage in Hell, wouldn’t you think this was possible? Wouldn’t the devil have exactly this kind of power? Wouldn’t this scenario be the ideal form of torture? I’m not sure Sam’s brain could have derived a better nightmare — this is truly a moment of pure Hell. And it’s the last time we see him in this episode; he’s broken and disappears. Even with everything else going on, all the conflict caused by Castiel, Sam’s fragile state is not ignored, not forgotten, not pushed into a different episode to be dealt with later. This is a season premiere of almost pure chaos.

Dean. Dean, more than any other character, just endures. Not without despair. He is, after all, human, but he still tries to fight — even if fighting is simply fixing the (once again) destroyed Impala. Of course you have to wonder how much more he can take. The wall in his brother’s brain is crushed and the angel that he considered some form of family has become a monster. While Dean will not give up on Sam, he does give up on Castiel. In an unexpected moment it is Sam that refuses to abandon the quest to save Castiel, the one willing to plead with Cas to return and seek help. It shows just how despairing Dean is. Then again, what does Sam have to lose. He’s not as emotionally invested in the angel — he even stabbed Cas in the back (literally) in the season finale. Every season the writers pile more and more and more upon Dean. He’s our modern Job. I think it would be anathema to the character to break completely and succumb to despair, to abandon all hope, but he’s being pushed as close as possible.

“I have plans for you.”

The quest to bring back Castiel was not all scenes of despair and slaughter. Old friends Crowley and Death were also on hand to lend a dose of sarcasm and gravitas. Ensuring we’ll have more scenes with Crowley this season, Castiel returned him to his position as Hell’s overseer. Again, the writers used this as a moment to show just how far Cas had fallen, for when Crowley wonders why Cas would even want a hell, when he could have all of those souls to further increase his power, Cas responds that he needs “a threat to hold over enemies.” All live in fear of Cas, though Crowley is willing to still play for both sides, delivering to the Winchesters a spell to bind Death.

“Because we said so, and we’re the boss of you.”

The scenes with Death resonate with a sense of future threat. Dean has always been willing to reuse the tools at his command, but this time his reliance on old weapons might bode poorly for what’s to come. Recognizing that only Death has a power beyond God and Lucifer, Dean (with Bobby and Sam) invoke a spell to bind Death, forcing him to do their bidding. As with all scenes featuring Julian Richings, the result is less than what Dean hoped for and far more revelatory.

Continuing with the refreshing trend of almost immediate storyline payoff, Death mistakenly thinks they’ve bound him to rebuild the wall in Sam’s head. He brings to light Sam’s hallucinations, alerting Bobby and Dean to that which they deep-down already knew. . .Sam is not okay. But the real mission — destroying God — brings Castiel to them.

“I know God and you sir are no God.”

With this arrival comes truth. Castiel is no god. He is, as Death calls him, “a mutated angel,” with a vessel that is going to explode. Cas might believe that he can simply repair the body, but Death reveals that Cas has done more than take souls from Purgatory, he’s taken the beasts too. Those beasts are not going to sit idly by and serve as some kind of battery for Cas’s needs. They are not a power to be harvested — they are a power that wants release.

Herein lies the crux of the season. We went into the summer thinking that season seven would be a fight against Cas as a god, but it’s so much worse than that — and so much better because the writers aren’t mired with a single big bad. With Cas/God as the big bad, the show would have had to figure out a way to craft plausible scenarios to drag that battle on, with a foe who could annihilate the Winchesters with the snap of his fingers. Yet in this moment with Death, as we learn that Cas has swallowed the Leviathans, the writers have freed themselves from their God problem and allowed for their own version of a hellmouth.

This also means, for now at least, that the fan-favorite version of Cas is gone. By the end of the episode, even with the portal to Purgatory reopened (with help from Death) and the souls poured back in, Cas cannot escape what he has wrought. The souls might have returned, but the Leviathans refused to give up their hold on the vessel.

In a moment somewhat reminiscent of the season two finale of Buffy, the Cas that the Winchesters know and love briefly returns. He is defeated, repentant, seeking some kind of absolution — he pledges to Dean that he will fix what he has done. There is a tiny moment, maybe thirty seconds, when everything seems like it will be okay, and then the Leviathans take over, saying that they have killed the Cas that we know. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen. There could be some fragment of Cas buried deep in the vessel. Or he could be gone. One never knows with Supernatural. I am, however, looking forward to seeing Mischa Collins tear things up as a Leviathan, rather than the Winchester’s trusty angel.

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.”

Like A Virgin

Supernatural: Like A Virgin

How exciting was it to see a “The Road So Far” montage at the beginning of this episode? Sometimes I think watching a compilation of all those montages would make for a happy day.

So this season of Supernatural has made me think quite a bit about the concept of the soul — primarily the soul as seen though pop culture. I asked a friend of mine who is a Presbyterian priest if there was a general, accepted definition for what makes up the soul. Short answer, no. It’s a testament to our friendship that he didn’t laugh at me. He wrote a gorgeous answer to my question, explaining some of the theological history of the soul, which I will now reduce. If we want to find discussions of the soul having material form, the best place to look is from the 1st millennia up until Descartes. For theologians the discussion was really centered around Original Sin. As Matt phrased it, “If Adam sins in Eden, and his sin is passed down by means of each of our souls such that we are born already tainted by sin, then theologians needed to figure out how that transmission took place.” But after Descartes, the Traducians (material soul contingent) dissipate and defining the soul becomes less of a concern to the church.

Given that my understanding of theology is practically nil, I left these concerns behind and focused more on television — something about which I know just a bit too much. I focused initially on The Simpsons, especially the episode “Bart Sells His Soul.” For once Bart divests himself of his soul, he finds the difference immediate and apparent. He has lost his humanity. He doesn’t find jokes or pratfalls amusing, automatic doors won’t open for him, and he has no breath. He even has a dream in which he is the only one of classmates lacking a soul — as everyone else rows in a boat with their soul as rowing partner. The soul here is clearly a material object. However, this comparison isn’t really apt. Bart realizes fairly quickly that he doesn’t have a soul — he misses it — and he misses the humanity that he has lost. Sam, of course, doesn’t have this problem. He realizes that something is wrong with him, but until Dean forces the issue, Sam doesn’t know it’s a missing soul. I would argue that Sam only ever wanted his soul back because Dean desperately wanted him to have it.

Then I realized that a more applicable comparison was to Angel and Spike from Buffy. By the end of Sam’s soulless arc, we were, for all intents and purposes, dealing with a monster — a demon. The moment when Sam is willing to kill Bobby, is the moment that, without a doubt, we realize that our Sam is gone — he might not be quite as vicious as Angelus, but he’s not that far removed.

The reason I was obsessively focused on this, especially for this episode, is that when Sam awakens from his deep sleep/coma and arrives upstairs, he is immediately the Sam of old. I’ve given Padalecki many kudos this season for his depiction of soulless Sam — a depiction I’ve rather enjoyed — and I was shocked at how happy I was to see that our Sam was back. Granted, I don’t know how long it will last, but he immediately oozed compassion, emotion, and concern. His whole bearing was different.

And with Sam’s return, Dean’s personality shifted a bit also. I hadn’t spent much time noticing how much of Dean we had lost because of Sam’s struggle, but his entire demeanor lightened. There was a subtle shift in responsibility. He didn’t have to spend the case worrying about both the victims and his brother — he had regained his hunting partner — and the sibling he had lost.

Of course, the decision to keep the truth about the past year from Sam was a facile one. Sam had encountered too many people during that year to not have his trauma come up at some point, with someone. Dean’s reasoning was understandable — he just wanted a bit of time with Sam as things used to be — not having to worry about Sam losing his mind, going darkside, killing their friends and loved ones. Yet Bobby couldn’t embrace the new Sam. The pain of their last interaction was too fresh. While Dean could compartmentalize the past year by considering soulless Sam a wholly different entity, Bobby saw Sam as a mixture of the two. Soulless Sam might have lost his emotion and humanity, but his brain and his behaviors were still coming from the same person. Somewhere, deep inside, Sam has the capacity for darkness. It’s been a threat from the beginning, but only Bobby, in this moment, is choosing to remember that.

What Dean didn’t take into consideration was Castiel — and his brother’s intelligence. It doesn’t take Sam long to figure out that something isn’t right. Bobby simply can’t carry off the lie, and Sam chooses exactly the right person to trick into revealing information: Castiel. And Castiel does spill. . .everything. The implications of this, for now, are unknown. What will this reminder do to the fragile wall erected by Death? (I have not yet seen last week’s episode “Unforgiven” — damn you work!) Sam also acknowledges what Dean refuses to. There is some part of Sam that allowed for Soulless Sam’s behavior and personality. It made me wonder what Dean without a soul would be like. . .Gordon maybe?

Regardless, for the time being, Sam is back. He cares about the victims, he cares about his brother, and he desperately wants to make things right with Bobby.

Yet the episode was not all about Sam and his soul, because it also revealed a new Big Bad — the Mother. The Mother of all monsters. Supernatural has dabbled with evil women before as a Big Bad — Lilith of course — but for a show that is so heavily slanted towards the paternal, it’s a bold choice. This is a show that’s all about the daddy issues, whether that father figure is John, God, Lucifer, Azazel, Samuel, or even Bobby. The mother is the sacred — Mary and Ellen (damn there’s not a lot of good women on this show). So now we have an interesting twist — the return of the mother — a return accomplished through the sacrifice of virgin by two dragon-men — though I am curious about why they had to capture so many women. Will they be killing them? Will she drain them of their blood? Consume their flesh? I’m cringing just thinking about it. And if the resurrected woman is the mother of all monsters, does that make her the Queen of Purgatory? Do women ever get anything good on this show? Men rule Heaven and Hell and we get. . .purgatory?? (I recognize that I might be completely proved wrong by last Friday’s episode.)

Things I loved:

–Castiel was so angry with Dean for making a deal to return Sam’s soul, but so happy to see Sam back to normal. Was Castiel really angry about the fact that Dean made a deal with someone else? That Death was stronger than Cas?

–Bobby’s got a fancy woman in his past — a fancy woman who collects awesome pieces of lore and makes Dean a bit uncomfortable, which I find amusing. I would like a dragon sword in my basement please, especially a basement that looked like that.

–I love that Dean is *not* the brave knight to pull the sword out of the stone — so cocky going in, with the fantastically epic music playing in the background, until he fell off the stone without the sword. Just awesome and hilarious.

–“Matt Barn didn’t count!”

–“I think it just goes to show that being easy is pretty much all upside.”

–“So what kind of thing likes virgins and gold?”

“P-Diddy.”

“You know it’s comforting.”

“What’s that?”

“I died for a year, came back, and you’re still not funny.”

“Shut up! I’m hilarious.”

–“They’re not like the Loch Ness Monster, Dean, dragons aren’t real.”

“Could you make a few calls?”

“To who, Hogwarts?”

crowley

Supernatural Part 2: Caged Heat

The sixth season of Supernatural, as I mentioned in part one of this post (many, many moons ago) ((last year!)), is all about breaking with tradition.  We have a shift in the character paradigm and, in “Caged Heat”, a fracturing of the typical trajectory of a season.

I have this bad habit of thinking something at the beginning of an episode of Supernatural, which then always ends up destroyed by the end.  To wit, in the opening scenes, with Crowley torturing the alpha shapeshifter, who has assumed Crowley’s form, I thought, “I really love that Crowley has developed into this season’s big bad.”  Oh Karen. . . .you doomed him.

The episode provides a clearer sense of how things now work for the Winchester boys.  They capture monsters and bring them to Crowley’s henchmen, garnering little respect in the process.  Dean is still tormented about whether Sam actually wants his soul back, sounding almost petulant in his regular interrogation of his brother.  It’s an interrogation that’s ended when Sam is grabbed by a demon henchman, one who works for Meg, or, as Dean calls her, “evil bitch.”

Meg’s looking for Crowley, which again highlights the shifting power dynamics of hell.  Crowley is hunting down members of the old guard, the faithful servants of Lucifer.  Meg wants to get to him first.  In the continuing struggle between brothers, Dean wants nothing to do with her, whereas Sam is ready and willing to bargain.  Sam wins.  They’re playing with Meg now.

First, however, Sam wants to solicit the help of Castiel.  He does, but it’s ugly.  Sam shares no squishy feelings with Castiel.  The way Sam speaks to him, it would appear that he can barely tolerate the angel’s presence.  And while he summoned Castiel with a funny Raiders of the Lost Ark reference (does this mean the Ark really would make people’s faces melt off?), Sam keeps him there with the threat of hunting him down and killing him.  Castiel again references the war in heaven, but Sam has no patience for this, and I can’t help wondering if Castiel remains only to ensure Dean’s safety.  They keep their spat from Dean, acting as if they are working in concert.  Though I’m not sure Dean believed what he was hearing.  He had that pensive, “I’m sucking a thoughtful tooth,” Dean face.  Unfortunately Castiel cannot find Crowley — he’s hidden from him — so they have to go to Plan B:  Samuel.

Because this is the season of answers, rather than deferments, we find out why Samuel is working for Crowley.  In a twist that fits in perfectly with the Winchester way of life, even if he is a Campbell, Samuel reveals that he’s working for Crowley because he has promised to bring Mary (Samuel’s daughter, Sam and Dean’s mother) back from the dead.  My brain exploded with the implications of this. . .would she really want to be alive?  How would they explain it?  How do these people keep coming back without manifesting in a rotting corpse/skeleton?  I would think that coming back to life after so long would lead to some kind of insanity. . .but I guess if Samuel could come back then it’s possible.

There’s an interesting dynamic at play here.  Dean wants/needs to get his way because he’s desperate for the restoration of Sam’s soul and, of course, Sam will always be priority one with Dean.  Then you have Samuel who cares about nothing more than getting his daughter back.  Mary coming into play as a pawn provides an extra dollop of tension, for the audience has always seen Mary as a Winchester.  She was the impetus behind a life of hunting — the quest for yellow-eyes.  Her murder informed the behaviors of both John and Dean.  “What Is and What Should Never Be” provided an intimate look at just how significant Mary was to Dean’s life — he didn’t wish for an existence where his father survived; he wished for his mother.  Yet none of this matters when Samuel pulls out the “she’s my daughter” card.  He seeks to invalidate a child’s claim.  Samuel argues that he needs her more than Dean does — as he comments, “You know how to live without her.”  This results in an emotional tug-of-war, and the revelation that Samuel has no issue with choosing Mary over Sam and Dean.  It’s not too much of a surprise that he doesn’t have strong feelings for Dean, but given that he and Sam have spent the past year together, the ease with which he could toss him aside took me aback.  There’s something to be said for the human being standing in front of you, versus the woman who has been buried for many years.

Dean attempts to argue with Samuel, saying what we all had to be yelling at the tv, there’s no way a deal with Crowley to raise someone from the dead can end well.  Samuel points out Dean’s hypocrisy, but saving the life of family by making deals with demons has never ended up well for the Winchester family.  Dean points this out, but Samuel isn’t listening.  He asks them to leave.

So, when things are looking their darkest, Castiel decides to watch and analyze porn.

“It’s very complex.  The pizza man truly loves this babysitter.  Why does he keep slapping her rear?  Perhaps she has done something wrong.”

Funniest.  Thing.  Ever.

Samuel shows up at the door, questions the judgment of watching porn with angels, and then hands the team a map showing Crowley’s location.  “It’s what Mary would want,” he explains, and then he leaves refusing to offer further help. “I may be stupid, but I’m not suicidal.”

A deal with Meg and her minions is made.  Castiel and Dean are together in the motel, preparing for the upcoming confrontation, when Castiel shocks Dean with horrific news.  He’s not sure that they should be trying to restore Sam’s soul.  The soul has been trapped with Michael and Lucifer for over a year, with the seething angels taking their frustration out on it.  Castiel explains that if they put Sam’s soul back in his body the repercussions would most likely be devastating — insanity and suffering on a scale that Castiel couldn’t even begin to address.  Dean doesn’t care — he argues that there must be a way to save him — argues that there *is no other choice* than to save him.

This moment is incredibly important for the next episode.  It’s also the moment where I started looking at the Dean/Sam dynamic just a bit differently, which I believe was the writers’ intent.  What we see, and what Dean and Castiel don’t, is that Sam has heard every word.  He now knows what will happen if his soul is restored, and he knows this before they go into battle with Crowley.  When I say it changed the way I looked at their dynamic, it was the first moment where I started to feel that Sam was being pressured into something by his older brother.  I usually side with Dean — I’m pretty sure I argued that in my last post — and his role this season has been the protagonist for the audience, our entry into the story.  But how can you not watch that scene and think about what Sam must be feeling?  To believe that you’re actually holding it together pretty well, albeit with no empathy, nor conscience.  Knowing that your brother, the person who swore to serve as your protector (whether you wanted it or not), wants to cram a soul back into you that would push you over the edge into madness — most likely to your complete destruction.  In that moment it felt like Dean was overstepping.  The implications of all of this are more fully realized in the next episode, but for now I think the writers were pushing for that, trying to make us feel just how devastatingly fraught this situation had become.

Thanks to Samuel’s map, the team is able to glean that Crowley is torturing monsters in an abandoned prison.  The group, plus Meg and her minions, breaks in, only to discover that the asylum is guarded by hellhounds.  Goodbye minions.  Meg tries to ditch the team by abandoning her meatsuit, but Crowley has locked all demons into their bodies.  Meg volunteers to stay and fight off the dogs, telling the boys to take the enchanted knife (that’s my name for it) and kill Crowley.

However, before she begins her fight, Meg grabs Castiel and gives him a mega-kiss, and possibly cops a feel.  Dean and Sam are a bit shocked.  But not nearly as shocked as when she stops and Castiel grabs her, spins her, shoves her against the wall, and starts making out with her.  Speechless boys.  Castiel stops and backs away.  Meg asks, “What was that?”  To which Castiel responds with the line of the episode, “I learned that from the pizza man.”

The battle between Meg and the hellhounds commences.  The team leaves her behind to find Crowley, only to lose Castiel when Samuel (surprise!) shows up and banishes him with the angel banishing sigil.  Turns out Samuel wasn’t being as helpful as we thought, selling out Sam and Dean’s plan to Crowley.

Seriously, we’re only 26 minutes in and this episode is just chock full of goodness.

The boys are locked up in separate cells and Dean receives a visit from Samuel, who thinks he can justify his actions. He claims that Dean sold out his mother by choosing Sam — a person who Samuel doesn’t even consider human any longer. Everyone loves to pile the guilt on poor Dean. Apparently bringing someone back from the dead is far more acceptable than restoring a soul. Samuel confirms that he doesn’t feel close to the boys, spitting out that Dean is nothing to him. Dean then delivers a chilling line that gave me anticipatory goosebumps, “I’ll tell you who I am. I’m the guy you never want to see again. Cause I’ll make it out of here. Trust me. The next time you see me, I’ll be there to kill you.” Freaking awesome.

Samuel watches as Dean is dragged away by Crowley’s henchmen, who put him in a room with two vampires. While in another room Demon Christian is torturing the still living Meg. And in cell, Sam (who has heard Dean’s protests) kneels down and clamps down on his arm with his teeth, tearing into his skin. I was *completely* flummoxed by this. In fact, I believe I yelled to both the dog and the television, “Is he drinking his own blood? Does he have demon blood in him?” I’m an idiot. Sam was using his blood to create a Devil’s Trap, which not only traps Crowley’s henchman, but drips blood on their heads. Umm. . .yuck. And the shot of Sam laughing, with teeth bloodied, was a reminder that he’s not our Sam right now. But he does save Dean.

The scene with Christian torturing Meg is meant to evoke the scene where Alastair tortured Ruby. Both women are tied down, naked, with leather restraints covering the things that shall not be seen on network TV. Alastair’s torture of Ruby was horrendous, cutting and slicing her arms, legs, and stomach, but Christian’s is so much worse, so much more violent, that it’s the one moment in the episode that made me think it was pushed a smidgen too far. Christian has the enchanted knife and like a psychotic gynecologist is using it to slice up Meg’s insides. It’s brutal. Do they make the torture that much worse so that when Dean sneaks up behind Christian, takes the enchanted knife out of his hand, and stabs him the audience won’t feel bad to lose Christian? There is no remorse in Dean’s eyes.

Crowley finally appears again, ready to torture the female djinn that was captured in the first episode. Until the alarm is tripped, by Sam and Dean. Sam slams him with a metal pipe, knocking him into a Devil’s Trap. With the help of Meg, Sam asks Crowley for his soul back — a request he denies. Meg tortures him with the Darth Vader grip until Crowley bellows that he can’t get the soul back. He doesn’t have enough power to reach into the cage again and drag out Sam’s soul. He then unknowingly seconds what Castiel has said, asking why Sam would even want back a soul that has been at the mercy of both Lucifer and Michael. Meg agrees. Sam gives up and then the boys let Meg go into the trap to kill Crowley. However, he’s Crowley, so he takes Meg down, breaks the trap, and moves towards killing them all.

Surprise! Castiel arrives, telling him to leave the boys alone. Crowley begins his witty demon banter, telling Castiel that he’s heard that Cas is losing the battle for heaven to Raphael, saying that the war makes Vietnam look like “a roller derby.” There’s little fear, until he discovers that Castiel has Crowley’s bones. Still very little fear. Castiel wants to bargain — bones for Sam’s soul. When he says he can’t, Castiel wastes no time in setting the bag of bones, and thereby Crowley, aflame.

Holy. Effing. Crap.

And with that Crowley is no more. This is not a season that drags its feet. It dispatched, with little fanfare, a big bad who’s also a fan favorite. It made me question who exactly the Winchesters are fighting against this season. And now who takes over hell?

Final moment epiphany by the Impala: Dean reassures Sam that they will find another way to restore his soul and, in a not wholly-unexpected turn of events, Sam says no.

“You don’t even know what you’re saying.”

“No, I’m saying something you don’t like. You obviously care, a lot, but I think maybe I’m better off without it.”

“You’re wrong. You don’t know how wrong you are.”

“I’m not sure about that.”

Next — Part 3: Appointment in Samarra

Family Matters

Supernatural: Family Matters

[Apologies again for the *serious* delay in reviews. My work schedule over the past week made doing anything but, well, work, impossible.  The review for Friday’s episode, which I have yet to see, will be up tomorrow.]

Hmmmm. . .did I actually have the audacity to question the pacing of Supernatural?  Maybe I should be forced to revoke my Supernatural fan status.  “Family Matters” capitalized on the buildup of all prior episodes this season and broke Supernatural precedent by answering a slew of questions — even if those answers begat more questions.  It’s an interesting narrative shift from earlier seasons, and, while somewhat subtle, it makes me think that Sera Gamble’s new role as showrunner is bringing about this new structure.  If that’s the case, then I can’t wait to see how the rest of the season plays out, for this episode really brought a new life and style to the mythology narrative.

“Family Matters” is really a part two, or continuation, of “You Can’t Handle the Truth.”  It picks up immediately after the Sam/Dean confrontation, with a beaten Sam tied to a chair in a motel room, being questioned by Dean and Castiel.  Castiel quickly realizes that Sam manifests symptoms of the soulless — lack of feeling and emotion, no need for sleep — and after probing Sam’s insides confirms that his soul is missing, most likely still trapped in the cage with Michael and Lucifer.

What truly resonates in the scene is the acting.  Misha Collins effectively conveys Castiel’s sadness in delivering the news, knowing the impact it will have on Dean.  Padalecki traverses the delicate balance between frustration at Dean and Castiel’s behavior and understanding their concern — even if he can’t *feel* concern, sorrow, or worry.  Throughout, Ackles aptly cycles through anger, fear, anxiety, and, once Castiel diagnoses Sam’s condition, a disquiet that won’t dissipate until Sam’s soul is returned.

The quest for more information on who pulled Sam from the cage, and how they accomplished this, leads the group to Samuel.  The hunters at the compound, a place I would love to see in daylight, are all hard at work prepping tools.  In a fantastic moment of Campbell/Winchester dynamics, after welcoming Sam with a giant hug, Christian looks over and coldly states, “Dean.”  With just as much, if not more, disdain, Dean replies, “Newman.”  Sam gives a small half-smile and Christian, rather than annoyed, looks completely confused by the Seinfeld reference.  I love these quick moments of humor in episodes filled with turmoil and strife.

Castiel works his soul-testing magic on Samuel, who is soul-full, and then he leaves to return to the civil war in heaven.  I’m looking forward to finding out more about the battle in which Castiel is currently engaged.  We’ve seen glimpses of the pressure he is under and how his interaction with the boys, especially Dean, is far more limited than in the two prior seasons.

Samuel appears unsurprised to find out about Sam’s lack of soul, and, after a tense moment with the boys, confesses that he’s been extremely concerned about Sam.  In fact, he admits that Sam actually scares him.  But there is  more pressing issue at hand — the Campbells have uncovered the location of the alpha-vampire.  This is a great callback to “Live Free or Twi-Hard,” implying that the show writers are building multi-episode mythologies for the monsters.  The rest of the episode is filled with so many reveals that rather than recap, I’m going to bullet point major events.

  • Dean is not trusted by the Campbell clan (a feeling that is mutual), which makes them less inclined to work with Sam.  Samuel says that it’s because he doesn’t know Dean, but Christian definitely demonstrates more than distrust — something closer to hate.  As a result, during the vamp hunt, Dean and Gwen (“I’m in the rear with the reject?”) are left serving as sweepers, catching and killing fleeing vamps.  Since the Dean we all know and love does not take orders well, he leaves Gwen (regardless of her protests) when he hears gunshots and sneaks onto the grounds of the vamp compound — a compound strewn with beheaded vampires.  Walking through the grounds, Dean endures flashbacks to the mental message he received during his time as a vampire.  Another nice callback to the earlier episode and an interesting moment that highlights the notion that Dean has not lost the tie to the vampires, even though he has been cured.  His disobedience also allows for one of the Campbell secrets to be revealed, as he witnesses the clan capture, rather than kill, the alpha-vamp.
  • Gwen does not betray to the clan that Dean ran onto the grounds rather than stay at his post.  This makes her an interesting player in the Campbell/Winchester game.  And, for now, the only Campbell ally that Dean has.
  • Now that Dean is the emotional brother, he confronts Sam about the capture of the alpha-vamp.  Turns out that Sam has always known that Samuel is catching alpha-monsters and grilling them for information.  Even worse, for Dean, is that Sam is the one who kept the Campbells from telling Dean about the captures.  This sets up a sleight of hand plot where we’re meant to think that Sam has abandoned Dean and pledged allegiance to the Campbell clan.  While I was fairly certain this was a ruse, I had enough doubts about Sam to worry that this was a deeper fracturing of their relationship.  So I could appreciate Dean’s response when Sam returned.  Sam comments, “You didn’t think I’d come back” and Dean responds “I figured 60/40.”  It served as more than a moment of tension and humor though, it was a moment where we got a glimpse of how the brothers can work together, regardless of Sam’s missing soul.  Even if Sam doesn’t have the ability to feel, he still puts his relationship with his brother over his hunting with the Campbells.  Also, thanks to Sam’s subterfuge, the boys are able to find out where the alpha-vamp is being contained and tortured (torture that has no effect).
  • Alpha-vamp considers Dean “his child, for a time.”  And while Dean doesn’t believe in what Samuel is doing, he is quick to deal out torture when alpha-vamp starts pushing his buttons.
  • Alpha-vamp is very philosophical, speaking of time and slaughter rather loquaciously.  When Sam asks the very valid question of what birthed the alpha-vamp if he is the first, the alpha-vamp replied “well, we all have our mothers, even me.”   A nice hint to later mythology that I’m looking forward to discovering.
  • Alpha-vamp, once he’s discovered that Sam is without soul (Sam smells cold apparently) poses the question that if humans with souls go to either hell or heaven, then where do his kind go.  Fascinating question.  One that made me realize that I’ve always thought the monsters went to hell — I didn’t contemplate the idea that the monsters had no souls.  Does this make Sam, until his soul is restored, a monster?  Also, if Sam no longer sleeps because he has no soul, does that mean monsters are always awake?  That’s disconcerting. . .and makes daytime a bit scarier. (I know, monsters aren’t real.) ((But they might be.))  The alpha-vamp expounds that all monsters go to purgatory — “filled with the soul of every hungry thing that walked this earth.”  Question: is alpha-vamp using soul in this instance in a different way?  Because he has just explained that those with souls go to heaven or hell, those without go to purgatory.
  • So Samuel is torturing Alpha-vamp to find out the location of purgatory.  Yet he is not doing this because he wants to find purgatory for his own mission, but rather because he has been ordered to do so. . .by whom, we were all asking?  With the escape of alpha-vamp we discover two awesome things:  1.  Christian is a demon!  Holy hand grenade Batman I did NOT see that one coming. This reveal only comes about because the alpha-vamp snapped Christian’s neck!  2.  Demon Christian and Grandpappy Samuel are both working for Crowley (who turned Christian ages ago)!  Fantastic reveals.
  • At one point the alpha-vamp has Sam by the throat and says that he has big plans for the “boy with no soul.”  He says that Sam will be the “perfect animal.”  I can only imagine that this will make Sam hunted by more than one alpa-monster throughout the season.
  • Crowley wants to find purgatory — “location, location, location” — Crowley is a developer and wants to use the vast space of purgatory, which is a adjacent to hell (but clearly not marked well enough for him to find), to expand his empire.  I’m thinking that Crowley is far, far more dangerous than Lucifer ever was.
  • In a turn that I should have anticipated far earlier, Crowley is the one who pulled Sam and Samuel back to Earth.  He won’t give Sam his soul back unless the Campbells/Winchesters do his bidding.  As he put it, “Me Charlie, you Angels.”
  • The boys don’t trust Samuel, but Dean stops Sam from shooting Samuel.  It’s a nice inversion of the scene where Sam stops Dean from burning Crowley’s bones.  In the final pow-wow, the boys debate working for Crowley.  Is there really a question that they will?  It’s Sam’s soul on the line, and regardless of what has happened over the course of this season, there’s no way Dean won’t do whatever it takes to get Sam’s soul freed from Lucifer’s cage.
  • I’m eagerly anticipating information on how Crowley’s move to take over more mystical space intersects with Castiel’s civil war in heaven.
  • While I’m self-professed fan of Dean, I’m looking for some change in his dynamic with Castiel.  He has yet to profess any interest in Castiel’s battle and fairly consistently treats him like a minion.  I would like to see more equality in the relationship and less of Dean just demanding help.
Dean and his Big Guns

Angel Tries to Figure Out Complicated TV Shows by Watching One Episode in the Middle: Supernatural Edition

So this is something I plan to do more of in the future.  The basic concept is this:  There are so many nerdy TV shows that I’ve never seen and always kind of wanted to, and I know the bulk of my information about them because of fan chatter that I read on various social networking sites.  They’re complex.  They usually involve magic or ridiculously outlandish and kind of awesome technology.  Basically, they’re on SyFy or the CW.  Yeah, I said it.  They’re exactly the kind of thing we love here at Nerds in Babeland, but you have to admit, even the most dedicated of nerds can’t watch them all.  (Some of us have to watch every episode of Dexter 472 times.  It’s just the way we work.  By the way, have you watched this clip of Angel Batista leaving his season 3 girlfriend a voice message today?)

So, I’m going to pick up one of these TV shows smack in the middle of the series.  I’m going to try to figure out how they got to where they are, where they’ll go from here, and what exactly is going on in this ridiculously complicated episode that I know virtually nothing about.

So naturally, the first thing I wanted to try this experimental procedure out on was Supernatural.

Here are the things I already know about Supernatural:

There are two brothers named Sam and Dean.  Lots of fangirls think they should get it on.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan is their dad.  He is dead, as usual.  I’m guessing he didn’t die because of a car crash, but I’m sure he turns up in flashbacks and maybe as a ghost in times of serious emotional need/life-or-death experiences.  Paul Bennett/Jacob is Lucifer.  Why am I not surprised?  Also, some supernatural shit is afoot.  And they like cars.  The brothers, not the supernatural shit.  I think.

IN THE BEGINNING, I couldn’t figure out which one was Sam and Dean, but I had established that one of the brothers was hotter than the other.  The less hot one was therefore more aggressive.  To use a Petrelli analogy, the hot one is the Peter to the aggressive one’s Nathan.  Still, obviously Sam was the hot one to which I referred.  The guys named Sam are always the hot ones.  I’m sorry to say it but it’s true.  That’s just how it goes.  Wait, I’m not sorry to say it.  Dean even has a square head like Nathan Petrelli.  I’m just saying.  To be fair, Dean fangirls, it’s probably the hair.  I like a guy with longer hair.

TOGETHER, these two brothers seek out supernatural happenings so they can put a stop to them.  Basically what they look for can be explained away by bad electrical wiring.  They always make up fake identities when they introduce themselves because they want to stay under the radar, but I’m sure they always expose themselves before the episode is over.  I mean that figuratively…this is the CW.

You better check yourself before you wreck yourself, so hit the “more” link to see the rest.

(more…)

Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW

Supernatural: You Can’t Handle The Truth

Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW

We all think we want to know the truth — to know what our family, friends, coworkers really think of us.  How often do we casually throw out the line, “what are you thinking about?”, without really pondering what the impact of a true answer might have on our psyches?  If nothing else, the secondary plot of this week’s episode of Supernatural offered us a glimpse into how horrifying that answer might turn out to be, and the bloody consequences that could result.  For Dean, who needed truth from Lisa and Sam, the episode had devastating implications.

Truth is, from the outset, a harsh mistress.  A waitress who utters the unfortunate statement “I just need the truth, that’s all” is confronted with the feelings of her coworkers, who find her “sad”, “pathetic”, gives them “the creeps, and a “3;” the confessions of her customers including an elderly woman who ran over a homeless man and fled the scene, a child who wants to kill her mother; and, worst of all, her sister who tells her that she’s “a freak,” “certifiable,” “a walking disaster.”  When her sister ends by saying “why don’t you just kill yourself already,” the waitress does just that.

A dentist, working on a patient, finds out that the man in his chair not only fantasized about the dentist’s daughter, but molested her at a slumber party.  Driven mad with rage, the dentist takes his drill and slaughters the patient.  It was a scene gory enough to make dentists even more terrifying than usual.

After last week’s vampiric debacle, Dean is consumed with doubts about Sam’s humanity and is using Bobby as a sounding board.  He’s so freaked out that he’s ready to “do something about it.”  Given that Dean has never been able to harm Sam, even when he was possessed by demons, this change in attitude shows just how wrong he thinks things are — that he must believe that there’s not a smidgen of Sam left.  Dean expresses this to Bobby when admitting that he thinks, worst-case scenario that Sam is actually Lucifer.  Bobby nudges him in a different direction, saying that actually, the worst-case scenario is that Sam is. . .well. . .Sam.

Dean can’t bear to be in the same space with Sam.  Throughout the episode you see Dean’s physical revulsion at being near him — in the car, the motel room — and his inability to even work as his partner, insisting on doing research on his own or going to drink at a bar rather than talking to witnesses.

The McGuffin of the week — the plot point to bring Castiel into the episode — is that the truth is being told because of the theft of Gabriel’s Horn from Heaven’s arsenal.  It’s not, but it allows Dean to unleash his frustration and fury on a weary Castiel.  A nice moment, as Castiel is telling Dean that Sam is not Lucifer, is that he knows Dean well enough to simply pick up the bottle of whiskey(?) and fill Dean’s glass without saying a word.  Castiel doesn’t know what’s wrong with Sam, but he’ll make inquiries.

As the clues start to drop about the real monster of the week — all of the bodies of the suicide victims (there have been five total) have disappeared; patient zero summoning the goddess of truth, Veritas; Dean asking for the truth and getting just that from the bartender — leads to the real purpose of the episode:  Dean hearing the truth from Lisa and, eventually, Sam.

Once Dean realizes he can get the truth by asking for it, there’s no doubt that he’s going straight to Sam.  He is momentarily waylaid by a call from Lisa, which he takes, knowing that it can’t lead to anything good.  But her comments are not what I was expecting — her comments are about Sam.  Lisa asserts that she knew the moment Sam walked back in the door that she and Dean were over, because the relationship he has with Sam is the most unhealthy, tangled up, crazy thing she’s ever seen and that as long as Sam is around Dean will never be happy.  And then she tells him that she and Ben cannot be in this with him.

I’m surprised at this.  I don’t know whether it’s a ploy to just get Ben and Lisa out of the way for a little while or whether that’s actually it for that storyline.  I can’t see that as being the final moment, not when they’ve allowed for Lisa to be a relatively strong female figure in Dean’s life.

This leads to the first tense confrontation between the brothers, as Dean asks Sam to tell him the truth about the night that he was attacked by the vampire.  Sam then lies, rather blatantly, and says that he froze — that he was in shock — and that he feels terrible about it.  But he’s completely reliant on the fact that Dean has received the Veritas curse — that Dean has no choice but to believe him — but the look on Sam’s face when he walks away is void of emotion.  Sam, the one who has always been the most emotional, now must fake real feelings.

After figuring out that Veritas is a new local reporter, the brothers break into her house, with knives and dog’s blood (why a dog? not cool), to kill the goddess.  They find a creepy (but posh) basement room where the goddess feasts on the corpses of the suicide victims.

She forces Dean to answer the question of what he really feels about Sam.  Dean, as expected, tells the truth, that until recently he didn’t trust him — that he wanted to kill him in his sleep — that he thought Sam was a monster.  But now he just thinks that Sam has become like Dean.  That the life of a hunter strips everything good away — “you’re covered in blood until you’re covered in your own blood.”  And perhaps the most sad revelation, Dean says that he’s “not a father” but “a killer.”  You can see, just by the dejection in Dean’s face, that he truly believes it.

This whole scene in the basement is really about Sam — and getting one step closer to what is going on with him — but realizing just how much self-loathing Dean has for himself carries an emotional punch.  Dean has always been the one, over the course of the show, to talk about how tired he is, and you can see that in the way Ackles portrays this moments of truth.  He’s exhausted — by the fighting, by trying to figure out his life with Ben and Lisa, by Sam’s character alteration.  Telling the truth, baring your soul, can be considered cathartic, but in Dean’s case it just seems enervating.

Of course the real action occurs when Veritas confronts Sam, asking him how he feels about the gang getting back together and he lies.  Veritas is disconcerted, trying to figure out how Sam is lying, even asking Dean what Sam is, saying that he can’t be human.  In the ensuing battle, Dean and Sam both deal death blows to Veritas, but when it’s over Dean raises his knife to Sam.

Fearing for his life, Sam says that he will tell Dean the truth.  Unlike the earlier truth-telling, Sam actually does explain.  He confesses to Dean that he can’t feel anything — he didn’t care that Dean was turned because he knew there was a cure; he didn’t care that Dean hurt Ben; and that he was a better hunter because he had no emotion.

Dean puts down the knife, pauses, and then beats the living hell out of Sam, rendering him unconscious.  This is where the episode ends.

Throughout the episode Ackles beautifully conveyed all the turmoil that Dean was experiencing — as we’ve come to expect after five seasons of emotion — but kudos to Padalecki for that final confession scene.  I’m not sure how he’s able to intertwine old Sam and new freaky Sam in the same moment, but he does and it was fantastic.

Gripe:  Can I just say how annoying the CW’s teasers are for the next episode?  I’ve never watched Supernatural on the CW; I’ve always watched through Itunes.  After last week I learned never to watch the teaser because they spoiled the big reveal, which meant that I couldn’t make guesses as to what was happening with Sam.  *Annoying*

Moment that I loved:  Bobby on the phone with Dean confessing things.  Dean’s response was hilarious (“I’m scarred for life”) and the jaunty way that Bobby said he was drinking milk and watching “Tori and Dean” was brilliant.  I love the Dean/Bobby interactions.

Sorry for the lengthy delay in posting. I was sidelined by Pere Goriot and crazy work stuff. I need to get my obsessive nerd mojo back!

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