Posts tagged Supernatural

comics_chin_music

Chin Music #1 Review

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comics_chin_music

Chin Music #1 Review 

Writing:  Steve Niles

Art: Tony Harris

Review by Melissa Megan

Apparently, Chin Music is about a guy named Shaw who can leap through time and possesses supernatural powers. He’s on the run from some other creepy dudes who also have powers, like tearing his skin from his bones. Apparently he has landed in Prohibition era Chicago and must now contend with the local police, gangsters and the supernatural underground. I say apparently because Image Comics tells me that this is what’s happening in Chin Music, but to be perfectly honest I only understood about half of that premise reading through issue #1.

I hate to criticize Steve Niles at all because I really love pretty much everything he puts his pen to, but this introduction just didn’t connect with me, story wise. There’s a lot going on, but not all of it is clear. Granted, it’s a pilot issue, so there’s lots more story to tell and time to tell it. I have all the faith in the world that Niles will pull the plot together in future issues and that my confusion will disappear. Not being crystal on what’s going on in this issue doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t enjoy it, however. It is action packed, moody, violent and spooky. I just don’t ‘get it’ yet.

The artwork by Tony Harris is brilliant here. It’s thick with atmosphere and very, very pretty. Some of the panels are framed in art deco borders, like intricate picture frames. This lends quite a bit of flourish to the pages and really helps set the retro style of the book. Harris’ characters all seem to have large, chunky facial features and knobby knuckles, but it’s less of a distraction than a style. I found his play with color and texture very pleasing to look at.

All in all, Chin Music seems like it could be a quality series. As long as the story isn’t too difficult to grasp, there’s a good idea here and some unique styling. I’ll definitely be keeping up with this one and am anxious to see Steve Niles develop it further.

Are you still watching Supernatural? Part One

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Are you still watching Supernatural? 

If not, you should be. Season 8 is a welcome return to form.

Then: What went wrong.

Supernatural took a lot of hits when Eric Kripke left after season 5. There was uncertainty amongst the ranks for while fans were happy to see the Winchester duo continue their adventures, there was a sense that with Kripke’s vision basically complete, anything afterwards would struggle to maintain the standard of prior Supernatural seasons.

The naming of Sera Gamble as the new showrunner put many minds at ease, mine among them, as she had not only been with the show from the beginning, but was one of their best writers. I would argue that Gamble was the most significant in terms of emotional resonance. Gamble had a clear understanding of the Winchester boys, and the support system they built, and could incorporate powerful revelations and lachrymose catharsis that in other hands would have been overwrought or ineptly composed. Furthermore, in a landscape where there is a dearth of female showrunners, especially in the sci-fi/supernatural/fantasy genre, it served as a progressive appointment.

How I wish I could sit down with Sera Gamble and find out what exactly happened over those two years. I would love to know what discussions were had in the writers’ room and what pushed her to make some of the choices she did over those two seasons, because the missteps were grave. While soulless Sam was not a favorite storyline for many, it did give Jared Padalecki a chance to move his character beyond the emotional loop he had become burdened with, and it provided the writers with yet another opportunity to torment Dean – his arc seemed to become some form of torture porn. Is there something we can do to make Dean even more depressed, hopeless, and isolated? Yes? Then let’s do it. The Leviathan storyline, which had so much potential, was rendered impotent until the final episodes of season 7. While stripping the Winchesters of everything that had given them a minimal sense of security – friends, a girlfriend and her child, a home base, and the beloved Impala – it was the fumbling of the Bobby narrative that felt like the most egregious miscalculation.

As I wrote at the time, while I wasn’t, as a fan, pleased with the decision to kill Bobby, I felt it was a bold move on the writers’ part. Bobby had become more integral to the mental health of the Winchester boys than any other character on the show. Killing him destabilized everything – for the boys, Bobby was the only thing left to lose besides each other. And the Gamble-penned episode, “Death’s Door,” was a gorgeous eulogy to a beloved character. Jim Beaver owned that hour and illuminated just how much Sam and Dean were his sons, even if not by blood. The episode was a tribute to the character, the actor, and the show itself, because it is a rare thing to be able to weave that much emotion into a narrative that also focuses on reapers and leviathans. It was a template for how to send-off a beloved character.

And then they brought him back. For no reason. Only to “kill” him again a few months later. Everything that happened with Bobby as a ghost was superfluous to the narrative arc. The only reason would be to show how when you don’t leave with a reaper, you begin to turn into a vengeful spirit. But we already know that. In one of the series’s best episodes, “In My Time of Dying” (2.01), Tessa the reaper explains to Dean what will happen to him if he doesn’t go with her – how he’ll remain on Earth and become the type of thing that he’s grown-up hunting. The audience doesn’t need Bobby alive to make that point. Making Bobby a ghost doesn’t bring about catharsis, but rather negates the beautiful work that Gamble had done in the winter finale of season 7. Something was going on in that writers’ room and I wish I knew what it was.

In the next piece, I’ll explain exactly what new showrunner and longtime Supernatural writer Jeremy Carver is doing so right, and how he’s infused the show with a vitality it’s been sorely lacking.

Heartache

Supernatural: Heartache

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After two weeks of strong episodes about Kevin Tran and the quest to shut the gates of Hell forever, stand-alone story “Heartache” is a nice sorbet to cleanse our palate while we wait for another arc-narrative episode. The writing team of Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming provide a solid episode where the case is of far less importance than the exposition on the state of the Winchester sibling relationship. This is a writing duo who have improved markedly from season one’s disaster of an episode, “Route 666.”

As with prior seasons, Jensen Ackles again has the opportunity to show off his directing skills, which have developed from his earlier outings. While the Ackles-directed episodes are always sound, “Heartache” presented fewer of the non-traditional techniques that he tested out in “Weekend at Bobby’s” or “The Girl Next Door.” Given that much of the storyline also involved his character, the challenge was even greater to produce a seamless finished product. In this he has succeeded. There is also a fun cameo by his father, Alan Ackles, as Detective Pike, who Dean has a verbal banter/conflict with – their showdown has even more levity once you are aware of the familial ties.

The plot of the episode is a bit convoluted, with a series of murders taking place where victims have their hearts ripped out – almost like the psychic surgery in The X-Files. There is quite a bit of gore, with a character in one scene actually eating a heart, after spreading blood on her face. The boys discover that they are up against ka’kau’, the Mayan god of maize, who can ensure immortality as long as there is the twice-yearly consumption of heart sacrifices. Detective work leads them to the “mother” of Brick Holmes, a former football player who died and donated his organs.

Turns out that Brick (Inyo) made a deal with the Mayan god, and had lived life for 1000 years, as long as he continued with the required heart sacrifice. However, he hadn’t planned on falling into a deep and passionate love with Eleanor (Betsey). As she aged, he realized that in his immortality he would have to watch her die, and rather than do that he drove off of a bridge and killed himself. Those who were saved by Brick are all murderers, but are linked to the power of the one who received the heart donation. As a result, the woman who received Brick’s heart was the focal point of the sacrifice – find and kill her, and all of the other organ donors/killers would be stopped. In a fairly quick battle scene the boys dispatch the donors and are on their way.

Yet, as is often the case with Supernatural, the true significance of the episode is the story told through the brothers’ behaviors.

In season one of the show, we had a Sam that re-joined the hunting life to do two things – help Dean find their father and track down the yellow-eyed demon who killed Jess. He consistently proclaimed that once they had accomplished those goals, that he was done – he was out – he was going back to school. It’s not until Dean makes the deal with the crossroads demon to resurrect Sam that things change. In that third season, as Sam desperately tries to save Dean from Hell, he begins to transform into a hunter – and by season four he’d given up any desire to live a normal life.

As Sam transforms into a true hunter, it’s Dean that begins to crave an end to the life. Whether that end is death or through some kind of 9-5 normalcy is unclear. Dean does try. When Sam ends up in the cage, Dean follows through on his promise to lead a regular life and has momentary domestic bliss with Lisa and her son, Ben. The problem here is that even in this banal existence, Dean cannot let go of his previous life – whether it’s the demon traps painted on the floor under the carpet or the maintenance of an arsenal of weapons in the garage, Dean is wired to be on the lookout for supernatural anomalies.

None of this is a surprise. Dean has been tortured by angels, survived Hell, and ripped apart by hellhounds. His exhaustion made sense. But Purgatory has changed him. He’s come back a warrior and the idea of “pure” killing is bandied about often in relation to how Benny and Dean spent their time in Purgatory. Dean is almost manic in his need to track down demons and kill them. As I predicted in the review of last week’s episode, Dean has nothing but hunting and the brother who sits in the passenger seat. He has no home and nothing to ground him. The idea of not heading down the road on a hunt with Sam as his accompanying nomad is terrifying. He is, in many respects, turning into his father.

What he can’t control is Sam’s desire to leave – to find a life with Amelia. Their emotional differences are a mirror of their time in Heaven. Every moment of happiness that Dean wanted to relive was tied to family. His whole life has been about following orders, seeking vengeance, and investing time and energy into the Winchester clan (including Bobby). Sam, however, has never wanted a hunter’s life. A year without Dean and a leviathan threat has not made him nostalgic for nights on the road and life with a brother who’s addicted to hamburgers and whiskey. No, Sam wants picnics and birthday celebrations.

Sam’s memories of Amelia are painted in light and color and are bathed in the potential for happiness. Dean’s flashbacks to Purgatory are all dim, grey moments with the only color being the blood spilled. How this continues to manifest over the course of the season, with the threat of Sam’s departure hanging over Dean’s head, is the arc that I’ll be watching.

We’re back to first season dynamics: Sam has a chance at a future, at escape, and Dean is driving farther and farther down a road of doom.

 

Random: There are these tiny moments in Supernatural that are so lovely and illuminate how well these two actors, Ackles and Padalecki, know each other, and it translates into their on-screen sibling relationship. A great example from “Heartache”: When Dean takes great pleasure in showing off the app that he bought for his phone, there is an amused, and surprised, glance from Sam. It’s quite fast, but it’s such a real, human moment that you truly believe they are related. It’s a rare moment of joy in a life often filled with death and darkness.

What'€™s Up, Tiger Mommy?

Supernatural: What’s Up, Tiger Mommy

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I was meeting with students last week about their research papers and had asked them what types of narratives they enjoyed, regardless of medium, and one of my students mentioned Supernatural. I immediately stopped talking research and started talking Winchester, as you do, and mentioned that the second episode of the show really highlighted how this season was going back to its roots – back to the characteristics and motifs that created an invested audience in the first place. The student’s emphatic nodding and subsequent response told me two things: 1. People really hated the last two years; and 2. Jeremy Carver truly is taking the show back to its origins. The showrunner debacle is fodder for another piece, but the first two episodes of the season have dedicated themselves to bringing back the Winchester struggles that encapsulated those early years of Supernatural and that created such a devoted fan base.

It’s not that we don’t have an overarching mythology that is consuming the early episodes, but they’ve proven to be a lovely blend of impressive, and oftentimes humorous, scenes, coupled with a Winchester response that simply wasn’t as consistently evoked over the past two years.

For now, the fate of the world doesn’t rest upon the Winchester shoulders, and that makes for some interesting dynamics. Yes, of course, the tablets of God and the secrets they contain are epic, but for now the overriding question is whether to permanently shut the gates of Hell. Okay, in typing that out it sounds like a fantastically significant event, but the first two episodes have given the impression that the choice will either shut the gates permanently, seemingly rendering the Winchester business shut, or that life would continue on as is, with demons wreaking havoc and hunters tracking them down and ganking them. Compared to the apocalyptic scenarios of the past few seasons, this seems almost tame.

Tame? No. But what it has done is forced the struggle to a more internal one – something I argued was necessary last season. The Winchesters are coming full-circle back to their original personalities – Sam wants a life with no hunting, but not if it means the sacrifice of an innocent, and Dean wants this life over, whatever it takes, and if an innocent is hurt in the process, so be it. This creates more of the ethical tensions that we’re accustomed to seeing in the sibling relationship. Is there a right choice? Does Sam’s decision not to hunt scare Dean because there is no longer a home base? There is no Bobby? Without Sam in the passenger seat, does Dean see the long highway in front of him with despair? He jokes of beaches and fancy drinks, but with no one but his brother, does life just seem like a lonely proposition?

All of this Winchester trauma is underlying the behaviors manifested throughout a very enjoyable episode penned by Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin. The focus is still Kevin Tran, who is traveling with the Winchesters to find the tablet that Kevin has secreted away. Kevin, however, plays the mother card, wanting to make sure that she’s okay. After all, he hasn’t seen her in a year. This, of course, serves to annoy Dean, who wants to stay on target. But if there’s one person who can understand the mother card. . . .

One of the rewarding elements to having the Tran family as added sidekicks is not only for the humor factor (the touching reunion interrupted by Dean and Sam rudely throwing holy water in Linda’s face), but also for the simple moments that make the audience realize that the Winchesters work on a level of awareness that we almost take for granted at this point. While Kevin waits for a glimpse of his mother, Dean notices the mailman who returns three times and the gardener who is overwatering a plant – Crowley’s demons sent to watch over Linda. More importantly, as soon as they walk in the house they smell the demon inside, possessing Linda’s friend Eunice, and with little fanfare deal with the problem.

Demons they can handle. . .Linda Tran? Well, she’s another story entirely – and a fantastic one. She’s a fierce mother when it comes to her son, but shows little fear when confronted by her son’s new reality. She and Kevin must both get inked with anti-possession tattoos, during which she barely flinches and Kevin hyperventilates and cries. Yet the real test arrives when the recovery of the tablet reveals that not only has it been stolen from where Kevin has hidden it, but that it is now part of a supernatural auction. This is an auction being run by the god of greed, Plutus, whose assistant, Beau, delivers an invitation to Kevin, and then begrudgingly adds a plus three for the Winchesters and Kevin’s mom. Again, Linda doesn’t even balk at any of this, rolling with the madness if it means ensuring the safety of her son.

There is a tense moment when in trying to figure out how they will be able to afford the word of God, Sam hints that they could trade it for the Impala. Even I gasped.

It’s at the auction that the other season strength is seen with the arrival of Crowley. This is a character that’s not only great in his comic relief interactions with the Winchesters (especially during Leviathan season), but should also prove to be a valuable enemy for this season’s arc. Crowley is sarcastic, but menacing. He seems like someone you’d like to grab a beer with and talk sports players who sold their souls for winning seasons, but he would then snap your neck at the end of the evening. While it is amusing to watch him fight with Sam and call him Moose, his natural nemesis is Dean. Crowley’s not a stupid man. He knows that Dean is the one who will make deals and dirty decisions, and will sacrifice people for the greater good. Sam was fun for Crowley when he didn’t have his soul, but now he’s simply a roadblock to Crowley getting what he wants. As Crowley warns Kevin at the end of the episode, “Run. Run far and run fast, ‘cause the Winchesters, well, they have a habit of using people up and watching them die bloody.”

The auction is a fantastic scene. Not only does Linda punch Crowley in the face, but there are also drool-worthy items for sale – including one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks and Thor’s Hammer, which Sam will eventually use to kill the Norse god and brother of Odin, Mr. Vili, who purchases it with a finger of Emil and 5/8th of a virgin. The group combines resources to come up with $2000 in cash, a credit card, and a Costco membership. What’s great about the scene is how confident they are that this will end well. But when the first item up for bid, the amulet of Hesperus, starts at three tons of dwarven gold, the group knows that they’re doomed, much to Crowley’s amusement. Crowley and Samandriel, an angel sworn to protect the tablet, begin a bidding war for the word of God, ranging from three-million dollars, to the Mona Lisa, to the moon, but to no success. Beau sweetens the pot by adding Kevin to the sale – buy the tablet, get the prophet. This, in turn, leads to a very Winchester move – Linda gives them her soul for Kevin’s freedom.

I realize it’s only two episodes in, but another thing that this season has excelled at is guest casting. Kevin, Linda, Benny, Mr. Vili, Beau. . .they all have moments that seamlessly integrate into each episode, and, more importantly, work well on a character level with Sam and Dean. There is very little so far that feels forced. Even Plutus, the god of greed who dresses like a New Jersey mobster, is menacing without being excessively out of place.

As Supernatural is wont to do, it’s Dean that’s confronted with the critical choice at the end. Sam is left to wield Thor’s Hammer to destroy both Beau and Mr. Vili, but Dean is the one to chase down Crowley, who has inhabited Linda (after Beau burned off the anti-possession tattoo). When he catches Linda/Crowley, and holds the demon-killing knife to her throat, it’s abundantly clear that if Kevin hadn’t shown up that Dean would have killed her, without remorse. A fact that Dean confirms to Sam a few scenes later.

We don’t know what’s happened in the year that Dean was missing, but clearly the experiences have affected both Winchesters. Sam’s year has softened him and brought back his conscience – and it’s made hunting seem like a life best left behind. Dean though. . .something happened to Dean in Purgatory and we’re only getting drips of the story. Dean has come back to the world a warrior, and by the end of the episode Kevin gives voice to reason when he tells him to shut up – to stop regaling him with platitudes about the realities of a life fighting demons. Dean is back to the end justifying the means, and as he hints at the end of the episode, if he had killed Linda he would have hated himself but “what’s one more nightmare.” The final minutes of the episode spell out Dean’s psychological struggle. Kevin has taken his mom and fled, leaving a note saying that without the tablet, they don’t need him any longer. Sam is nearly apoplectic, as Crowley will still be pursuing Kevin, and can’t figure out why he would do something that stupid. Dean, unable to look at Sam, replies, “He thinks people that I don’t need any more, that they end up dead.” Sam, looking like he’s been sucker-punched, tries to console his brother, assuring him that’s not true, but it leads to a significant final scene – a flashback of Castiel in Purgatory, desperately reaching out, trying to hold onto Dean’s hand, and screaming his name as Dean lets him go.

I think we still have much to learn about how Purgatory broke Dean.

Other Flashbacks:

Dean and Benny continue their quest to find Castiel, and Dean has morphed into full soldier mode, manifesting pleasure at killing to fulfill his mission of finding his angel friend. At the auction, Samandriel, an angel of god, shows up to protect the tablet and ask Dean about Castiel’s disappearance. This leads to a flashback where Dean very happily finds Castiel, hanging out by a river and looking pensive. Castiel has regained his sanity, but is not quite pleased to have Dean show up. It’s interesting that Benny is the one who jumps to Dean’s defense – who verbally attacks Castiel for abandoning Dean when they landed in Purgatory. In an almost pathetic moment, Dean defends Castiel, saying he must have been fighting off some beast and has been looking for Dean ever since. Yet Castiel confesses that he ran away – that he must be left alone because the Leviathans have put a price on his head and he’s trying to keep Dean safe. Dean is Dean though, and unconvinced by Castiel’s argument tells Cas that he refuses to leave Purgatory without him. Cas agrees. What happened here? How did things end so fractured? And what really happened to Castiel?

Random:

  • Nice to see Dean back to his old routines – eating giant hamburgers, saying “son-of-a-bitch” with situational intonation, and getting annoyed at basically everything everyone who’s not a hunter does to delay his process.
  • Sam with the reverse exorcism. . . .interesting
  • The scene where Linda takes down the pawn shop owner was priceless.
  • Is there anything better than when Crowley arrives and says “Hi boys.”
  • I can’t see Mr. Vili without seeing him as a fortune teller in the fantastic The X-Files episode, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” Things don’t end well for this man in supernatural shows.

One of my favorite moments:

Beau: “Oh if you’re worried about the safety of the prophet rest assured that we have a strict no casting, no cursing, no supernaturally flicking the two of you against the wall just for the fun of it policy.”

Sam: “Is that right. How’d you manage that?”

Beau: “Well, I am the right hand of a god after all. Plutus specifically.”

Dean: [snorts] “Is that even a planet anymore?” [totally chuffed with himself]

Beau: [disdainfully] “It’s the god of greed.”

–Dean rolls his eyes, while also looking quite pleased with his joke.

 

 

Reading is Fundamental

Supernatural: Reading is Fundamental

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“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.

The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo

Supernatural: The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo

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“The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo” is a great addition to the collection of mythology episodes that Supernatural has developed over time. The episode, written by Robbie Thompson (who penned this season’s “Time after Time” and “Slash Fiction”), fully embraces the Leviathan threat, brings Bobby back into the action, and throws in Felicia Day as a genius hacker who can handle herself with both the Winchester boys and Leviathans.

Guest appearances by “it” actors can sometimes be a crapshoot. Will they be so recognizable as a personality that they can’t blend into the show’s narrative? Can they perform seamlessly with the show’s existing cast? Day fit into the Supernatural team perfectly. In fact, I was rather hoping that she could continue being the resident hacker for the boys as they continue with their quest to bring down the Leviathans. The character of Charlie Bradbury is a natural fit for the Day persona. A gifted computer expert who is drawn towards Hermione and Wonder Woman and has a fake sword at home that she uses for protection, the character is a more secure, less inhibited, version of Cyd from The Guild. Add to that an easy chemistry with Sam and Dean and Charlie could easily become part of Team Winchester.

The episode is also filmed well. Utilizing a variety of split-screen techniques and a non-linear narrative that helps signal the Ocean’s Eleven heist the team is working on, the episode gives us tension and humor at the same time. For all the threat that Dick Roman brings – and it’s a terrifying one – we also get Sam coaching Charlie into entering the building by inspiring her with Harry Potter plotlines. (Which then leads Dean to call Sam “Dumbledork,” but wouldn’t the knowledge of Dumbledore then make Dean just as dorky?) There’s also the magical moment of Dean teaching Charlie how to flirt with the guard blocking access to Roman’s office. (“This never happened.”)

Beyond adding Day’s awesome presence to the episode, the main point of “Tattoo” is to finally clarify the Leviathan’s main plan – they want to become the dominant species on the planet with humans as the main food group. It’s not a great surprise, as this was hinted at early on, but the development of the plan has advanced quite quickly. There is also a hint to some kind of artifact – Dick’s Indiana Jones style archaeology digs have resulted in the discovery of a block of mud. Okay, it’s obviously more than that, but for now, all we can see is a block of mud – is it a weapon? A tablet? A talisman? That’s sure to come out in the following episodes, but, for now, Roman wanted it and the boys have stolen it.

I’m still trying to assess the Leviathan threat. There’s a clever analogy underlying everything, where we can easily make the argument that the Leviathan menace already exists on this planet, just without the supernatural motif. Bobby calls the Leviathans the 1%, living off the cattle of humanity – a human species turned into livestock with fast food, processed food, laziness, and complacency. Couldn’t we already make that case for America? Aren’t we made complacent by being spoon-fed propaganda narratives where we never question the veracity of the reporter, the writer, the politician? Don’t we hear daily about the plague of apathy induced by the amount of sugar and toxic substances ingested through our food sources? Aren’t the Leviathans simply a supernatural manifestation of the dangers explored in documentaries like Food, Inc.?

It’s a good, solid threat. We’ve seen the Leviathans take everything from Sam and Dean (gods damn I want that Impala back), and now it’s been clearly delineated how they will gain access to the bodies of almost all Americans. I think what I want is more about the Leviathans. I want some of that mythology – give me something to chew on and dissect. I want to know their history in more detail. What back-story have the writers constructed in their writers’ room? I want to know what the Leviathans fear (though I’m sure that’s to come) and what they lust after (beyond humans as food). Do Leviathans dream? The writing crew skillfully conjured up a big bad in Lucifer that went beyond what we, as the audience, brought to the “text” with our existing intimacy with the devil. They gave him a voice – evocatively portrayed by both Mark Pellegrino and then Jared Padalecki – that wooed us, made us believe in his pain, his frustration, his desire for change. That’s what I want to see in a Leviathan story. I thought “Tattoo” was a brilliant episode, but it made me realize how much I wish this plotline had extended throughout the season, serving as a more fluid underbelly to the standalone episodes.

One final narrative note: We got to see the beginnings of vengeful spirit Bobby. While that emotion is understandable, as explained by Dean, it is also the start of a path towards disaster for Bobby’s future, as articulated by a very worried Sam. I really do believe that Bobby’s journey should serve as an underpinning for season eight, which was just officially announced. Eliminating the Leviathan threat can soothe the vengeful spirit, and then the Winchesters can turn their focus to helping him find peace.

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Random Notes:

“She’s kinda like the little sister I never wanted.”

Dean’s Veronica Mars reference reminded me of how much I miss Veronica Mars.

Did anyone catch the Better Off Ted reference? When we got the fake commercial for SucraCorp, all I could think of was Veridian Dynamics. Apparently, that’s what the writers were thinking about too. When Charlie opens up Frank’s file on Dick Roman and all the images are flashing on the screen, there’s one shot with Dick, in a picture on the right of the monitor, smiling (notable only because it’s so creepy), and a shot on the far left of Jay Harrington – or should I say, it’s a picture of Ted Crisp (played by Jay Harrington) standing in front of a podium at Veridian Dynamics. This is a great comparison – an evil corporation that tends to do terrible things to human beings all in the name of progress, using advertisements to lull you into thinking that the company is only concerned with your well being and the future of your friends and family. Veridian Dynamics is the precursor to SucraCorp and maybe Dick Roman has taken over the body of Ted Crisp. So it’s a parody of a satire. . .how postmodern.

Of Grave Importance

A Supernatural Quandary

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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.

Divine_Collins

Divine: The Series

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Divine: The Series, created by Ivan Hayden and Kirk Jacques

A little over two months ago I was asked to review a relatively new web series that had recently finished its first season run. Yes. Two months ago. Sorry about that Swoots. Normally I relish the challenge of watching and analyzing a show oriented around the supernatural, especially one that has the casting coup of everyone’s favorite Angel/God, Misha Collins. Yet in this case, something was keeping me from feeling the urge to devour the episodes, as I would, say, with a new season of the Guild.

I finally figured out what it was and can thankfully say: don’t do as I did. Fire up your browser and tear your way through the six episodes on offer until season two rolls around.

Divine: The Series was written by Ivan Hayden (visual effects supervisor on Supernatural) and Kirk Jacques, directed by Hayden, and created and produced by Hayden, Jacques, Collins, and Jason Fischer (production coordinator on Supernatural).

The story follows the travails of three priests in a run-down mission on the wrong side of the tracks, who endeavor to care for a being (angel? miracle?) named Divine, who walks the streets protecting the innocent (and penitent) from the demonic creatures who threaten humanity. The narrative employs a modernist (and post-modernist) conceit of non-linear storytelling, dropping the viewer in the midst of a plot stream, with few clear indicators throughout the series as to the chronological orientation of each episode. Hayden, in one of the making of videos, asserts that time is of no consequence, with each episode dropping more clues about who these people are, what brought them to this religious outpost, and what the mission of the divine creature really entails.

Misha Collins as Father Christopher

Before I detail the things the series does well, let me first tackle that which kept me procrastinating the task at hand. The series is incredibly smart to drop Misha Collins into the first episode, ensuring that the rabid Castiel/Supernatural fan base will be hooked from the outset. It is unfortunately in this initial episode that the miscast character of Jin first appears. Actress Chasty Ballesteros sets the mood as the episode’s first speaker and it is so tonally ill judged that if it wasn’t for the presence of Collins you might be tempted to simply leave at the outset. The typical Jin line delivery is to scream, and said delivery is so wooden, for a character that seems such a cliché, that it takes a monumental effort to get past it and to keep watching. I am loath to call out just one person as the primary problem with a show, but every time Ballesteros is on-screen the story withers. Even the scenery chewing character of Jack in episode 2 can’t steal her crown. What makes it all the worse is that, for the most part, she is surrounded by people who can act, which makes the character stand out in ways that it simply wasn’t meant to.

However, there are enough things done well in the series that you shouldn’t let Jin keep you from watching. Granted, it took me two months to reach that point.

The visual effects are rather stunning for a web series, especially in episode two. It’s not at all surprising to discover that many of the cast and crew have worked on Supernatural because this series feels like an offshoot of that. Hayden has said that he wanted the series to feel like a graphic novel and it does – the atmosphere, the characters, the narrative could all easily grace the pages of a comic book that explores demons and divinity.

Ben Hollingsworth as Father Andrew

The three actors who play the priests (Misha Collins, Allen Sawkins, and Ben Hollingsworth) are the strongest of the ensemble and ensure that the episodes tie together in a way that keeps audience interest. In fact, I would argue that Hollingsworth’s arrival in episode three, as Father Andrew, is the moment that the storyline becomes more than supernatural special effects and actually begins to explore the mythology and purpose behind the show. It was episode three that changed my mind about the series and led me to watch the rest posthaste.

However, season one is not going to tie things together in a neat bow – if you’re looking for answers you’re going to need to wait for season two.  Season one delivers many mysteries, which are augmented by the non-linear approach to storytelling.  It’s a bold move, spending a season of episodes establishing a foundation, unsure of what will happen with the viewership, but I guess that’s a benefit to a web series – you’re not tied to a network and its rating requirements.

So my overall verdict: definitely watchable, if you can get past the initial acting hitch at the outset. If you’re not convinced by the first two episodes, hang in there for episode three and the narrative development. The special effects are fantastic, as is the music, and if you can get hooked by the storyline, then you’ll look forward to the next season.

 

Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magical Menagerie

Supernatural: Why did it have to be clowns?

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Clowns. Clown statues. Clown dolls. Clown toys. Last Friday my TV was trying to kill me. Not really of course. The person most in danger was Sam Winchester, as Supernatural revisited his greatest terror in the delightfully titled, “Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magic Menagerie.” The writing team of Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin team up once again to provide a refreshing break from the season’s darkness. As someone who has enjoyed the later few years of Supernatural, I still found myself saying “oh, it’s just like the early years,” with such incredible yearning and joy that I almost began a season two marathon.

Following in the tradition of “Yellow Fever,” also written by the same team, the story isn’t linear, beginning with Sam’s attempted escape from two demonic clowns and ending with a title card that explodes in rainbow glitter. Knowing that all would end with Sam and clowns, the show then provided a 24-style countdown clock, so we could watch with horror as it edged closer to Clown-Day.

This isn’t the type of episode that requires heavy analysis, but instead promotes an enthusiastic response of “my favorite moment was when. . .,” “wasn’t it hilarious when Dean/ Sam. . .,” “I couldn’t stop laughing when Dean said. . .,” and “Can you believe rainbows flew out of that unicorn’s butt?”  There are few comedy episodes that can compete with the Ben Edlund oeuvre, but this Dabb/Loflin outing easily rates in the top tier.

It is a playful, joyful episode that takes great pleasure in inflicting pain on poor Sam, and any poor audience member who shares Sam’s clown phobia. (Stop looking at me. I don’t want to talk about it.)  Perhaps the best moment is near the end, the time that the boys usually have their emotional and traumatic epiphany while leaning against the Impala (I miss her so) and drinking beer.  Dean, staring at his clown-terrorized and rainbow-glitter-covered sibling, cannot stop himself from being overtaken by laughter — full-belly guffawing that we haven’t seen in ages.  The entire episode was a glimpse of levity before the darkness returns this week.

There are moments when it becomes clear that Supernatural could probably survive as a clever monster-of-the-week show, stifling the urge to have a season-long narrative arc and adopting more of a quirky procedural template.  True, we wouldn’t have the oppressive feeling of doom that comes with saving the world, but the procedural structure seems to work well for CBS.

I’m obviously not completely serious here — emotional trauma and self-sacrifice are hardwired into the show’s DNA — but I wonder if the show wouldn’t be helped by returning to its roots in some respects, to its early X-Files attitude.  Sam and Dean have saved the world now for many seasons.  Dean mentioned this just a few months ago in a conversation with Bobby.  Maybe one way to please loyal viewers, and assuage the ones so recently dissatisfied, would be to lower the stakes.  We know the boys can prevent an apocalypse, and I’m sure they’ll stop another one this May, so bringing the peril back to the Winchesters and away from the entire world (especially if next year is the final season) could help satisfy the audience.  There’s a reason that people love the threats of the early seasons — it is easy to invest in a storyline that addresses an evil that, while causing collateral damage, is directed at the Winchesters. . .Yellow Eyes, Dean going to Hell, these are clear, direct concerns.  Most of the angry comments I’ve read about Season 8 have been from fans who have no investment in the Leviathan threat.  They recognize the malevolence, but are unclear as to the actual threat.  Returning to a battle where what’s at stake is simply the lives of the Winchester boys (and yes, I know that’s not a minor stake) might reinvigorate the investment of the viewers and allow the writers to put aside the worry of planning another apocalypse.

"Slice Girls" Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW

Supernatural: The Slice Girls

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"Slice Girls" Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW

“The Slice” Girls is a perfectly serviceable episode of Supernatural.  It was an enjoyable one, but in the greater arc of the season there is little that it moves forward.  It’s clear that the writers, Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner, are providing an inversion of the Amy Pond storyline from earlier in the season — giving Dean a moment of hesitation in killing a monster while Sam ends up pulling the trigger — but was it a necessary inversion?

As always, Ackles and Padalecki act the hell out of the material they are given, elevating a rather mediocre script, and director Jerry Wanek makes some interesting shooting decisions, especially during the Lydia/Dean seduction scene in the Cobalt Room.  That said, there were some jarring moments that didn’t feel true to the characters, and there’s yet another hint that Bobby might actually be the ghost haunting the boys.  I’m still hoping that will not be the case, as it seems a decisive misstep, not only because of the type of man Bobby Singer was, but also because the audience knows just what happens to souls left behind — thanks to the Eric Kripke penned season two opener, “In My Time of Dying.”

Sam’s moment where he mocks Dean for keeping Bobby’s flask felt out of character.  What in the world would make Sam think that Dean would ever carry around a picture of Bobby as a memento?  Of course he would keep the flask; that pays homage to both Dean’s character and his relationship with Bobby.  The argument for this random moment could be that Sam is worried about Dean’s drinking, but it is disingenuous that Sam would criticize Dean for his choice of keepsake.  Sam has historically expressed his concern about Dean’s drinking by doing just that, simply stating his concern about Dean’s drinking.  Sam is the brother who can talk about emotional things — Dean’s the one who blows it off and changes the subject.

At its core, the biggest failing of the episode is that the situation with Dean and his daughter is not a true mirror of the Amy Pond episode.  Will Dean leave this episode with a stronger sense of the complexity of killing monsters?  No.  This is not a monster, this is his daughter.  Yes, it’s only been his daughter for three days, but killing Amy Pond and killing Emma is nowhere near the same thing.  The relationship between the characters is different.  Emma was part of Dean — they shared a bloodline.  Amy Pond was a long-lost acquaintance, reliant on Sam’s good nature and trust.  Or at least, if I were Dean, this is how I would argue that killing Emma was not analogous.  Besides, Dean has learned this lesson before — season two, episode three, “Bloodlust,” written by Sera Gamble.  Dean knows things aren’t black and white; he knows it’s situational.  When Dean is upset, when his world is completely askew, he behaves rashly.  When Dean behaves rashly, monsters end up dead.  It’s still unclear why this lesson is the one that he has to learn over and over and over.

The need to put Dean in a situation that teaches him about his behavior and choices prevented the episode from capitalizing on what it could have been.  There was much more material to be mined from the fact that Emma was the only Amazon to have hunter blood running through her veins.  There were hints, initially, that she was rejecting the Amazonian indoctrination.  It turns out that this was simply a way of tricking the viewer into believing she wouldn’t kill Dean, but it could have been much more profitable to make her a living and unknown quantity in the Supernatural universe.  Instead, we get more Dean-torture-porn.  While Ackles is a master at manifesting the incredible pain and suffering of his character, at this point it feels like the writers’ room is simply coming up with ways to emotionally torture him.  It’s like living through the “Mystery Spot” episode, except that Sam doesn’t wake up every morning with all of the events of the previous day erased.

Here’s hoping that clowns usher in a stronger Supernatural experience.

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