Posts tagged TahoeWikander

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.

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Revolution: Soul Train

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Oh Revolution.

I’m trying so hard to like you, but you’re not totally working with me here.  So let’s just cut to the core of the problem.  The show is being centered on the character of Charlie – her story is the sun around which all other narratives orbit – and she just can’t carry that weight.  I think it was at Comic-Con this year, when they did a sneak preview of the pilot, that there was quite a bit of chatter about Tracy Spiridakos and how the audience was going to see that JJ Abrams casting magic once again – the magic that gave us Keri Russell in Felicity and Jennifer Garner in Alias.  That’s a lot of pressure. . .and it’s not really pressure that Spiridakos can live up to.  Charlie is a middling character, and the sooner the Revolution writers, and producer/creator Eric Kripke, realize this, the better off the show will be.  Charlie and Danny are necessary elements of the show, but this week proved that you’re better off getting more time with Giancarlo Esposito, Elizabeth Mitchell, and (finally) David Lyons than you are by focusing on the Danny/Charlie turmoil.

Yes, I do sound like a broken record, but the fact that each episode leaves me with the feeling that there’s potential untapped frustrates me.  The concept of the show is solid, and there are many avenues for development.  But as long as the focus is on the kids, and not on the adults who are far better actors, then the show will consistently leave viewers wanting more of an orbiting storyline rather than that center.

With Miles, I’m waiting to see Billy Burke have an emotional storyline with someone other than Spiridakos. I’m not completely sold on the Miles/Charlie relationship.  “Soul Train” attempted to show the deepening bond – and the fear that Miles has that he’s turning her into a version of his modern-self, squashing the caring personality who was more innocent than warrior.  This works, to a degree, but as I’ve mentioned before (and seen in other reviews so I’m not totally crazy), Burke has been cast as a Han Solo figure.  The problem is that Burke hasn’t really had much of an opportunity to convey that devil-may-care charisma that made audiences swoon for Solo.  While I wouldn’t argue that Burke will ever reach Ford levels of roguish mercenary with a heart of gold, I think he would benefit from getting a storyline apart from Spiradakos.  This is a possibility if we get more backstory on the Miles/Rachel relationship.  There is also the Monroe v. Miles conflict in the future, which could provide a better stage for Burke.

“Soul Train” allowed us a glimpse into the early life of Tom Neville, a man more coward than warrior when the lights were still on.  A mild-mannered insurance adjustor, Neville is married to Julia (Kim Raver) and has a young son, Jason.  The day of the event, Neville has been fired from his job, so the world going dark might not have been such a bad option for him.  It’s an incident soon after the event, when a neighbor breaks in to steal Neville’s tradeable goods, that pushes Neville into becoming more of the person we now know.  He’s brutally attacked by the neighbor, in front of Jason, and when he, surprisingly, gets the upper hand Neville beats his neighbor almost to death.  That son, Jason, will grow up to serve in the Militia at his father’s side – and the audience currently knows him as Nate, the boy who is clearly in love with Charlie and trying desperately to capture Miles. Surprise!! The Neville storyline seemed the most fruitful of “Soul Train,” possibly because it is allowing the audience to develop a deeper understanding for the characters.

In my last review I complained that Monroe hadn’t really manifested great menace.  He seemed to be a villain who would use the “I’m speaking softly to show how scary I am” technique to get his way.  However, this week found him in a few more scenes that illuminated just how megalomaniacal he really is.  At one strategy meeting, there is a map spread across a desk that charted out how America had split after the apocalypse.  There are six “nations”: Monroe Republic, Georgia Federation, Texas, Plains Nation, Wasteland, and California Commonwealth. Texas having its own nation was both a nice nod to their political leanings and rather funny, while Wasteland reminded me of Fallout: New Vegas. I can’t lie. I was very relieved to see that Lake Tahoe had made it into California Commonwealth, and wasn’t mired in Wasteland.  For now, the main focus is Plains Nation and Georgia Federation, as they share borders with Monroe Republic.  As these two nations begin to turn against Monroe, he makes it clear that having electricity, with which to power heavy weaponry, will allow him to annihilate his enemies and rule over all.

Monroe also turns this menace on Rachel, speaking softly but using Danny as a weapon – a weapon successfully delivered to him by Tom Neville.  It appears to work.  Rachel tells Monroe that both she and Ben were working on the secret electricity project and that there are a set of pendants, twelve in all, that are crucial to the project.  Find the pendants – let there be light.  Yet it seems hard to believe that Rachel would cave so quickly. There’s more here, clearly, and Rachel seems smart enough to strategize how to use information to keep both her son and herself safe. Or maybe I feel that Elizabeth Mitchell is smart enough to do that. At this point I’m not sure.

Oh yeah, there was also a train.  But honestly, that entire storyline was superfluous, with the exception of Miles and Tom having a mini-battle when Miles has to save Charlie, AGAIN, and the guest appearance of Jeff Fahey (his arrival made me immediately yell out “Lapidus!”), who is part of the rebel alliance and joined up with Nora to try and blow up the train – the train that’s carrying Danny.

“Skip to the end.”

Train leaves, train almost blows up, Miles saves train, Charlie sees Danny, no one saves Danny, Nate/Jason throws Charlie from the train to save her life.

This show has a lot of work to do.

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.

 

 

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Revolution: The Plague Dogs

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[MAJOR SPOILERS – DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T YET WATCHED LAST WEEK'S EPISODE!!]

There are so many things that Revolution finally did right in “The Plague Dogs.” In fact, while I would like to call this “the episode about Maggie,” there are a variety of great scenes to highlight. First and foremost, the show finally gave us some detailed backstory about one of our fighters.

Maggie’s story is one of sorrow – she was in Seattle when the world lost power, but her children were in England with a caregiver. Until that scene of her Skyping with her kids, I hadn’t really thought about the travelers who would be stranded away from home, especially the many people working internationally. The show fleshed out Maggie’s travails in her attempt to get back overseas, and how once she realized she was trapped in America, and that her children were probably dead, she embraced despair, with Ben Matheson unknowingly saving her moments before she was going to kill herself. With Danny and Charlie, Maggie found a reason to survive in a dismal, dystopian world, and it’s a message she forthrightly passes on to Miles, who is more than willing to abandon family once things get complicated. Maggie’s story is nicely done – it’s very human without the epic mythos of the Matheson storylines – and gives the audience a reason to care about the character.

Of course, as is often the case with televised serialized narratives, once we care about the character, it’s the end of that character. There’s a red herring moment in the episode where Aaron is attacked by a pack of guard dogs and suffers a somewhat severe bite in the leg, and his excessive concern leads one to wonder if he could be a casualty, though eliminating the show’s comic relief this early in the season would be silly. Yet it is Maggie’s rescue of Aaron, by shooting the attacking dog with her crossbow, that seals her fate. She is set upon by the reclusive dog owner and stabbed in the thigh, which severs an artery and leaves her bleeding out.

It was quite refreshing, in a morbid way, to watch as the team was unable to save her. A more clichéd moment would have been the threat of death and then subsequent rescue, with her life saved at the final moment by Aaron and Nora stitching up her artery. This would have allowed for Maggie to continue on as the maternal figure watching over Charlie. But this was not to be, and Revolution showed that it was not afraid to kill off characters, who, while not part of the Matheson clan, still seemed a significant part of the show. But, this is an Eric Kripke show. I shouldn’t be surprised that death stopped by to take a character.

One of the reasons this story works is because the adults are the ones who can carry the acting burden – Maggie’s speech to Miles is a bit tired, but Anna Lise Phillips sells it. And Miles, who is continuing in his role as the show’s Han Solo, responds to it. Yet this is what Revolution did well this week – it gave storylines to the actors who need to be the focus of the show – Miles, Tom Neville, and Elizabeth Mitchell. Danny and Charlie become better characters when they become secondary to the adults around them.

There is little the show can do to make Danny seem more than a fragile child – fragile with rather muscular arms. Scenes with Neville only serve to highlight his childish responses to situations. Plus, can we all just accept that Danny is the worst escape artist EVER. It’s like he wants to keep getting captured. I’m hoping that as an actor, Rogers will be better served by interacting with a larger cast of characters, and that Esposito will be given more to do with adults around. While the tornado scene demonstrated that Danny has more of his father in him than his mother, as a set piece it was nothing in comparison with Charlie’s kidnapping by the crazy dog guy.

[Nonsensical moment that drove me crazy: Charlie gets taken by crazy guy who has already stabbed Maggie and Aaron doesn’t immediately release Nate? Why? It’s obvious that Aaron can’t save her, but clearly Nate can. RELEASE HIM! No brainer.]

As if Maggie bleeding out in the diner wasn’t stressful enough, Charlie is grabbed while Miles and Nora are doing recon trying to find crazy guy. When they finally return, Miles is savvy enough to recognize that he needs Nate’s help (I’m guessing a sign of a partnership bound to manifest?) and frees him. After a confrontation with the man, who is killed only when Nate and Miles work together, they head towards the muffled screams of a duct-taped-mouth Charlie. The trap set by crazy guy, with a crossbow set to shoot Charlie if a rescuer opens the door, is quite awesome. Clearly she’s not going to die, but it was still a nice tension builder, especially because if she hadn’t used her chair rocking skills, then Miles opening the door would have killed her.

While this scene is a trigger for compassion in Miles, it’s the death of Maggie that changes things. This is Spiridakos’s best moment so far. Charlie’s pain and sadness at the death of Maggie seemed so real, her fear of abandonment was so strong, that the moment was charged with an emotion the show really hasn’t demonstrated yet. Granted, there’s no real need for Miles to articulate that he’s not going to leave – I think his immediate instinct to comfort Charlie demonstrated that he was not going to abandon her – but overall it’s one of the most powerful scenes in the episode, if not the series to date.

The audience is also gifted with a bit more Rachel Matheson, and frankly any Elizabeth Mitchell screen time is good for the show. It’s difficult to see Monroe as a terrifying threat at this point, although he hasn’t really been given a scene in which to show great menace. He is a quiet presence, carrying a power we have yet to understand, and the writers cleverly avoid the implication that he has any kind of attraction to Rachel. There’s one instance where it seems that’s where the narrative is headed, but instead we get Monroe grilling Rachel about Ben’s knowledge of the blackout and her understanding of how to get the power back on. Monroe has a singular focus, and while torture doesn’t get Rachel to talk, he’s hoping that his possession of Danny will make her crack.

Near the beginning of “The Plague Dogs” the audience is witness to the moment where the Matheson family is separated, from Charlie’s perspective, with Rachel leaving her family, seemingly of her own volition, to get “supplies.” It’s clear that something else is in play, but there’s a subtle implication that Rachel is choosing to abandon her family – that she possibly can’t take the pressure of maintaining this existence and must escape. This is, of course, yet another narrative misdirection. As with episodes prior, there is a shocking end reveal/teaser, and this one shows that same scene, but from Rachel’s perspective. Amidst much personal, emotional trauma, she walks away from her family and into a Militia camp. There is a figure, in shadow, looking at a map and plotting strategy with a soldier. The show wants you to think the figure is Monroe, but as the figure turns and Rachel announces, “ I came. Like you asked,” the figure walks into the light and it’s Miles. Who then has her handcuffed.

This narrative arc – the story of why the blackout happened, how the Militia was formed, how the war begun, and the role the Mathesons play in all this – is one of the more promising aspects of the show. I don’t want to jinx anything, but I do think each week the episodes get just a bit stronger and I’m still hoping for more time for Esposito and Mitchell. “The Plague Dogs” proves that the more experienced actors are the show’s weapon, and can make even the most familiar of narratives work.

What’s Up, Tiger Mommy?

Supernatural: We Need to Talk About Kevin

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“Change of tone” and “back to the beginning” appeared to be the mantras of Supernatural’s 8th season premiere, “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”  Former writer and producer Jeremy Carver has returned from a two-year absence to take over the role of showrunner, and the shift is marked.

As you might remember from the final moments of last season, the Winchesters’ lives were transmuted with the well-placed swing of a bone soaked in the blood of the fathers. Given that the brothers have traveled to heaven and hell, it’s not much of a surprise that purgatory has come into play. It was a nice way of separating the brothers, with Dean and Cas left in great peril, and Sam not knowing what had happened to his brother.

Now it’s one year later.

We’ve seen Sam without Dean – actually we’ve seen this twice.  In the fantastically funny and emotional episode “Mystery Spot” (written by Jeremy Carver), we watched as Sam fell apart, becoming a soulless (shades of things to come) hunter whose only focus was killing things and tracking the trickster who destroyed Dean.  Then, when Dean goes to Hell, and after four months without his brother, we are introduced to a Sam that has become fixated (with the help of Ruby) on using his powers to kill demons and save the people they’ve inhabited.

This is not the Sam we meet in the premiere.  Even more important than the girl in the bed that Sam is exiting is the dog that Sam seems bereft to leave.  As seen in “Dark Side of the Moon,” one of Sam’s happiest life moments involved running away from the family business and getting a dog.  While there are hints that during Dean’s time away Sam has been involved in things he’s not yet willing to share (especially his life with the girl in the bed), Sam has moved on from hunting – he’s abandoned all the burner phones; he’s stopped listening to messages; and he didn’t look for Dean.  This in and of itself is a significant development in the sibling relationship.  Can you imagine a time when Dean would not look for Sam?  Yes, I know Dean led a new life when Sam was trapped in the cage, but that’s different.  If Sam had just disappeared, right in front of him, would Dean really give up looking, regardless of what they had promised each other?

Of course, Dean has some secrets of his own.  He’s emerged from Purgatory, bloodied and almost feral.  Although it’s unclear how he made his escape, it seems to have involved smuggling out a vampire, Benny (Ty Olsson), in his blood – a vampire he then brings back to life by “releasing” Benny’s “soul” onto his unburied bones.  And then there’s Cas, who Dean says didn’t make it out of Purgatory, but the story is vague, and there’s an implication that perhaps Dean and his new vampire brother are hiding something about that story.

Plus, did I mention Dean’s friends with a vampire!?!?!

So while the show doesn’t begin with the brothers living in some kind of hate spiral, they do not emotionally exist in the same place.  Dean admits that he’s not the same person he was a year ago, but immediately resumes his hunting life – a life that Sam begrudgingly begins again. And I’m not quite sure Sam is rejoining the life.  He gives off the vibe that while this might be a welcome family reunion, it’s a temporary hunting mission. If it weren’t for all the things that have happened in the interim, it would almost be like the first episode of the series.

These differences manifest almost immediately in the narrative involving Kevin Traan, the very young prophet of the Lord, who has escaped from Crowley and needs Winchester help. Kevin Traan, who had been calling Sam for help for over six months, with his messages not only going unanswered but unheard.  As Dean sits and listens to message after message, we see the sibling rift become exacerbated.

It’s really at this point that the new storytelling element comes into play.  Reminiscent of LOST, the show is now reliant upon flashbacks to tell the story of Dean’s year in Purgatory and Sam’s year without hunting.  I’ve heard mixed reviews about the flashback motif – I think it can work, as long as they aren’t reliant upon, as Stephanie Wooten called it, “the brothers looking all ‘deep’” as a necessary component of the transition.

The Purgatory flashbacks illustrate how Dean’s entire year was spent trying to survive – that he was seen as nothing more than “man-meat” by the creatures surrounding him and every day involved hand-to-hand combat.  It’s like a year long Hunger Games and you get the impression that he got little sleep and little sustenance.  In the flashbacks he’s looking for Castiel, unfortunately with little luck, but he does meet vampire Benny, who explains that there’s a portal out of Purgatory, but it can only be used by humans – he will help Dean, as long as Dean carries Benny’s soul with him during the escape.

Sam’s flashbacks involved his life-changing event of hitting a dog with his car, and then forming a bond with both the canine and the vet, Amelia.  While there weren’t many scenes with Amelia (Liane Balaban), her ability to banter with Sam gives me hope that there might be a female character on Supernatural who isn’t (fingers crossed) a demon and might actually serve as a regular.

This first episode sets up for the viewer the conflict arc that we’re going to follow – at least for a little while – with the Winchesters and Kevin in battle with Crowley and his minions.  Crowley needs Kevin to translate more tablets, but underestimates Kevin’s wily nature.  This is a great new character addition to the show.  He can handle the Sam/Dean dynamic, has moved past his fear/confusion about being a prophet, and is brave enough to fight Crowley and his demons.

Kevin also misleads Crowley about the content of the tablets, offering him a way to open a hell gate, when in reality he’s found a way to purge the Earth of demons. . .forever.

This revelation invigorates Dean, but causes Sam to reflect upon life and free will.  It’s definitely the Sam of old who ponders whether Kevin can make it out of this adventure alive, and if not, then is it really worth it – is sacrificing the life of one for the good of the Earth justification for closing down the gates of Hell?  Dean, reminiscent of his second season personality, finds this a no-brainer, but Sam just isn’t convinced.

Unfortunately, as long time Supernatural viewers are aware, running with the Winchesters and fighting evil doesn’t happen without consequences.  In this instance, Kevin’s friend (high-school girlfriend) Channing.  Possessed by a demon, Crowley is willing to return her, unharmed, to her university life, if Kevin is willing to walk away from the Winchesters and join his team.  Dean is the one who calls Crowley’s bluff, and Crowley allows Channing momentary sentience.  It’s enough to make Kevin question his position and he agrees to go with Crowley, much to Dean’s chagrin.

But as I already said, Kevin is a wily one, and instead of handing himself over he sets a trap, dumping buckets of holy water on Crowley and Channing.  As the boy escape, we get a gorgeous slow-motion scene of Crowley snapping Channing’s neck while the Impala’s passengers watch.

The episode ends with Dean taking a call from a “wrong number” and then sneaking away to call Benny.  The two share a cryptic conversation in which Dean asserts that he regrets nothing they did in Purgatory – that it was necessary for their survival and escape.  He also advises lying low, but assures Benny that if he needs help, Dean will be there.  For someone who can demonstrate such a black and white attitude towards demons, monsters, and evil, Dean has the most complicated relationships with supernatural creatures.  The flashback structure will clearly serve as the means to disseminate details about what evil deeds transpired in Purgatory, and it will not be a shock to discover they have something to do with Castiel’s absence.

Jeremy Carver’s reign has begun by bringing in elements of the show that hearken back to earlier seasons.  Behaviors, philosophies, monsters, even weapons are all familiar to long-time viewers.  It’s a way of reassuring the audience that has been dissatisfied with the past two seasons that things have gone back to an earlier mindset, but that the stakes are still high.  How successfully Carver can continue this trend is the real question.

And can I just say, how flipping fantastic was it to finally have the Impala back on our screens?

Revolution

Revolution: No Quarter

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Need. More. Character. Development.

Does that count as a review?

It must be depressing to be a television creator on a major network (and I don’t include the CW as major), as you have no time to win over the audience. Get the ratings immediately or die. I know this isn’t a new complaint, and Seinfeld (or The X-Files) is trotted out as the example that best exemplifies the “show that would have been canceled in its first season” if it were on the air today.

There must be a sense that ACTION, ACTION, ACTION is what brings in the ratings and that actually caring a smidgen for the characters comes later.

It’s the only reason I can think of for the Revolution writers to wait this long to give the audience anything to grab on to with the character of Charlie. And I single-out Charlie over any of the other characters because you get the sense that she’s meant to anchor the action, but unless they write her some better scenes it’s not going to work. I’ve read a few critics who argue that once again a show is set around young people with no depth, and at first I thought they might just be grumpy, but it’s true. For Danny and Charlie to work, they need to improve their storylines, because you know what? Charlie doesn’t listen to what she’s told to do – I GET IT! Stop making that her narrative of the week.

However, what really works this week is the building mystery around Miles, Monroe, and Jeremy (new addition Mark Pellegrino). Their lives are intertwined nicely pre- and post-apocalypse. Their roles in both times being slowly fleshed out, although Miles is so Han Solo that he even wears a similar belt and barks out lines about the futility of the Rebel Alliance. This seems to be the storyline the writers care for the most – or maybe it’s just the most naturally acted scenes in the show.

One smart move was taking Aaron (Zak Orth) and Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips) away from Charlie and into their own action. Their visit to Grace Beaumont’s house, where her absence, rather than dead body, implied kidnapping, gave the pairing something to do and allowed Aaron to serve as more than just “funny quip guy.”

But, still, this episode was about action. The majority of the episode was centered on the newly revealed rebel base being attacked by a militia group led by Jeremy. Burke’s portrayal of Miles, as usual, carried the rebellion scenes, but it was hindered by clichéd dialogue, especially when Nora fights to get Charlie back into the action and out of her “surrounded by death” funk.

Pellegrino, however, saves the militia moments, by incorporating the same tone and humor that he brought to his role as Lucifer in Supernatural into his scenes and character. I’m hoping Jeremy lasts for a while, because Kripke knows how to write for Pellegrino – so well that I was, for some moments, rooting for the Militia. . .mainly because I wanted more Jeremy zingers.

Revolution is trying to manage a large cast, and to tell stories about most of them. Right now they’re spending a bit of time on all of them. In order for us to care about these characters, they need to take a page from the book of season one LOST. They really need to spend an episode focused on a character, rather than jumping around all of the stories. One of LOST’s greatest strengths was that it made us love the characters, even while this surreal, catastrophic story was being woven around them. The way it did that is by having us invest in their personal stories – one by one – narrative by narrative. By the end of the first season, we had in place a mythology, but, more importantly, the audience was invested in the future of the survivors.

I’m still cautiously optimistic at this point, but there is work to be done.

 

Revolution - Season 1

Revolution: Chained Heat

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[If you haven’t watched the episode, stop now, spoilers abound] 

Revolution’s second episode was a serviceable narrative that moved the action forward a bit, introduced a few new key players, and added some last-minute twists to feed the underlying mythology of the show.

Eric Kripke can write compelling characters – how much time do I spend dissecting Bobby and the Winchester boys on this site? – but there needs to be some intense development with some of these people so that the audience can begin to invest in their safety and survival.

For Charlie, the show might have been better served by having Danny around for more than one episode before being kidnapped. As the older sister to brothers that I’ve always felt compelled to watch over, Charlie’s plight – her need to care for and save her brother – is an emotionally resonant component of who she is. The problem lies in the lack of interaction we were allowed to witness before his capture. If you examine the relationship between Sam and Dean Winchester (and yes, I’m going to keep referring back to Kripke’s Supernatural, a more established show), you feel Dean’s pain every time he fails to protect Sam. And while that relationship didn’t develop immediately, the first episode was about their fractured relationship. We got to spend that first 40 minutes in their company, watching the complicated emotions seething beneath the surface of their interactions. Charlie has a good reason for being dedicated to her mission – and for insisting on dogging the steps of her uncle, Miles, but we haven’t seen enough of the Danny/Charlie relationship to fully embrace that emotional intensity.

The characters that really resonate are the ones with the strongest actors. Elizabeth Mitchell sells every scene she’s in because she’s Elizabeth F***ing Mitchell. The reveal at the end that she’s alive and being held captive by Bass wasn’t totally a surprise – the reveal of who had her, yes, that added a level of fun, but her being alive? No. . .because it would have been silly to have Mitchell on the payroll without using her as much as possible.

The same goes for Giancarlo Esposito. While his character is a bit of scenery-chewer, Esposito just moves and speaks with an ease that belies that he’s acting. The accent though. . .that’s tricky after spending so much time with him as Gustavo Fring, where his character carried himself with a quiet calm that cloaked the seething anger that ran through his veins. Esposito, like Mitchell, needs more to do, but I’m hoping this will come in later episodes.

Billy Burke’s Miles Matheson is intriguing. His character’s ability to straddle multiple worlds gives him layers the other characters lack. His relationship to Bass, and to the Monroe Militia should prove great fodder for future episodes. Also, that man can wield a sword. While there wasn’t quite the set piece that we got last week, the fights were insanely good.

So, what we learned:

  • Rachel Matheson is alive and being held captive by Bass (General Monroe), who she knows because of Miles
  • Captain Neville believes in his mission and his men, though I’m looking forward to seeing what truly motivates him
  • Charlie will kill when necessary – which she learned by watching her mother kill a somewhat violent stranger who tried to steal their food during their escape from the city (note: Rachel can kill. . .Ben cannot)
  • Miles *really* is quite good at killing people – you want him on your side
  • There is a resistance (so tempted to call this the rebel alliance), and the American flag (which is now burned on sight) is their symbol.
  • There is someone in that rebel force (?) that would appear to have turned into a mercenary or some new evil – whose face we never see but his name is Randall (all I can think is Randall Flagg from The Stand) – and is threatening the life of Grace Beaumont.
  • Miles cannot give characters nicknames (“Chuckles”). He is *not* Sawyer and shouldn’t try to be, even with both characters considered the Han Solos of their respective shows.

There have been many critics who see Revolution as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the American Revolution. This isn’t quite right. This is clearly a Civil War – this is a world where there has been secession and overthrow of an established government, where once again brother has turned against brother and lines have been drawn in American soil (this week’s reference to slavery also highlights the connection). This is an American war – an American battle – and I’m hoping it will soon be an even more robust comparison.

Side note: C. Thomas Howell. . . .that casting, as with Spider-Man this summer, pulled me right out of the story. I’m not sure stunt casting actually works. If you can’t actually see the character as anything other than their real-life persona, then the casting isn’t successful. While it’s not his fault, I couldn’t see Howell as a menacing bounty hunter – I could only see him as 80s actor C. Thomas Howell. [see also: Casting Paris Hilton in an early episode of Veronica Mars and in Supernatural – completely distracting and clearly only for ratings.]

Revolution: Wrigley Field

Revolution: Pilot

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NBC RevolutionOn Wednesday morning, I was sitting in a casino in Elko, Nevada (the state where I do Humanities work), waiting for my breakfast to arrive, when the power went out. It’s an odd thing to sit in complete darkness in a casino, which are notorious for not having windows (Don’t be silly! There’s no outside world to participate in. Stay here with the slot machines and the lure of easy money and free drinks.). Just moments before I had been watching the early morning gamblers touch the computerized screens to make the images of cherries, lemons, and BARs turn over and over on a digitized reel. No longer are the days where you put in a coin, pull a handle, and watch the revolving mechanical reels spin and then steal your hopes for changing your fortunes in less than thirty seconds. Gambling is now, even in the casino itself, computerized.

Thanks to a generator, the only things that continued working that morning were the slot machines and the Cashier’s cage. Luckily for me, my breakfast was the last thing the kitchen completed before the power went out, so I sat in the darkness, eating eggs, distantly lit by the glow of neon promises.

Tonight, as I sat watching the season premiere of Revolution, the new Eric Kripke creation produced by JJ Abrams and Jon Favreau, the opening scenes exploring the devastation that occurs when electricity disappears, felt not just apocalyptic, but relatively reasonable.

From the outset, Revolution is keen to highlight our modern reliance on not just electricity, but also the technological gadgets that, they imply, dominate and dictate our lives. The early minutes are spent with the Matheson family (Ben, Rachel, and children, Charlotte (“Charlie”), and Danny), as they watch TV, and talk on cellphones while surfing the web.

The conspiracy is planted in the first few minutes, with a panicked Ben warning wife Rachel that “it’s” going to take place soon. He then attempts to call and warn his brother, Miles, a military officer who is out carousing with best friend Bass. (More on them in a bit.) Before he can say anything, the event occurs, all power is lost, and planes fall from the sky. (I’m beginning to think that Abrams productions are trying to keep me from flying.) The show immediately exposes that the loss of power was, in some circles, expected. Of course, that doesn’t mean we know who the perpetrators are.

Oddly, if it weren’t for aircraft falling from the skies, one might get the sense that life without electricity is a better world. For while the show is quick to point out casualties of permanent power loss that we might overlook – it’s not just transportation, but also medicine creation – it quickly jumps 15 years into the future, and at first glance that future looks a bit too utopian. The Mathesons, minus their dead mother (who we know is not really dead because Rachel is portrayed by Elizabeth Mitchell), live in a village where everyone seems rather happy, agrarian, and enjoying their communal lifestyle. . .and where kids still hate going to school and learning about history.

Of course, a joyful apocalypse doesn’t provide much of a show, so we soon find out that America has become a dystopia, ruled by the unseen tyrant, General Monroe, and policed by his militia, who are the only ones in America allowed to carry guns. Monroe is obsessed with capturing the Matheson brothers, who he believes can turn the power back on, allowing him to use the weapons necessary to overtake the rest of the world. Monroe’s lead man trying to find the Mathesons? Captain Tom Neville, portrayed by casting coup Giancarlo Esposito. This is almost enough of a reason to tune in on its own.

After a botched attempt at capture, resulting in the death of Ben Matheson, the lead for the show becomes Charlotte “Charlie” Matheson, played by relative newcomer Tracy Spiridakos. Charlie is given a command by her dying father – find her asthmatic brother Danny, who has been taken by the Monroe militia, and find her Uncle Miles (played by Billy Burke), who is the only person Ben considers competent and dangerous enough to help her get Danny back.

One thing Revolution does well in this pilot episode is move the plot forward at a quick pace, giving answers to things that could have been dragged out over many episodes. I was pleasantly surprised to see Charlie find her uncle Miles with relative ease, allowing that search to be resolved in less than half an hour. Within a few scenes, Nate is revealed to be a Militia soldier who betrays Charlie, even after saving her life from roving rapists/bandits.  And while we don’t have a sense of who brought about the catastrophe, by the end of the episode we know two significant things: 1. The secret USB necklace that Ben protects with fierce passion has the ability to reignite electricity in a small area (and Ben isn’t the only person who carries one); and 2. General Sebastian Monroe is none other than Miles’s friend Bass, who we briefly saw in the beginning of the episode.

Given that most critics have found the show unsatisfying and somewhat ridiculous, I went into my viewing a bit more hesitant than I normally would have been for a Kripke/Abrams production. That said, I found it an easy decision to keep this on my DVR season pass list. The visuals of a world where human constructions are being overrun with plants, water, and just nature in general were gorgeous, especially iconic Chicago buildings and views. The casting is relatively solid and I liked Charlie enough to keep watching. Nate might have been revealed as traitor, but his interest in Charlie was conveyed well and I have little doubt he will switch sides at some point. His character might, for now, be the most intriguing. And, quite simply, the presence of Giancarlo Esposito is a massive selling point.

While it’s easy to pick apart the common themes of a dystopian/apocalyptic narrative, since we’re so bombarded with those stories and images, Revolution has enough to distance it from Falling Skies or The Walking Dead.

It’s funny, but I can’t help but be nostalgic for a time when we actually gave shows more than one episode to prove themselves. We now condemn or give up after the pilot, without allowing a show to find its footing, or even figure out how to write for their actors (think of how Supernatural changed when it realized the gold mine of emotion and charisma they had with Ackles and Padalecki). Is it the best new show on television? Of course not, but I found the narrative convincing enough that I’m looking forward to seeing how things develop next week.

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!

 

 

*********************************

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.

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