Say what you will about Supernatural, the show is not afraid to mess with form. Last week’s episode, written by Davy Perez and beautifully directed by fan favorite #SPNFamily member Richard Speight, Jr., brought a Tarantino-inspired aesthetic to a very Supernatural story. Together with Serge Ladouceur’s gorgeous cinematography, some kickass VFX and some superbly choreographed fight scenes, these all combined to make for an outside the box episode that still felt like the Show I love. I’m often struck by Ladouceur’s work, and his and Speight’s direction together made for a visually striking episode.
The Tarantino touches were spot on – a slow motion montage of Team Free Will Plus Two walking toward danger, with the added bonus of Ackles and Padalecki’s long long legs eating up the screen (and in perfect sync because of Sam and Dean).
The mysterious box that glows when the lid is cracked. The violent but well-choreographed fight scenes ala Kill Bill. The amusing title cards announcing both a new scene and a time jump in one direction or another. The temporal back and forth and multiple points of view didn’t work for everyone, but I tend to like some experimentation, so I enjoyed it.
The episode opens with Team Free Will Plus Two (Mary and Wally, the hapless red shirt hunter who we pretty much know from moment one isn’t likely to survive) squabbling in a diner ala Reservoir Dogs. Dean even quotes a line from that film.
Dean: All right, ramblers, let’s get ramblin’
That’s once they’ve finished ribbing Cas about being the object of the waitress’ attention and commenting that waitresses are awesome because they always smell like food. I’d love to turn my psychologist lens on that comment, either to analyze why Dean would say it or why Perez would write it, but I’ll constrain myself. The waitress herself is pretty awesome.
Dean (attempting to set the mostly uninterested Cas up with her): When do you get off?
Sassy waitress: Whenever I can.
Ten points for the waitress.
Astroglide on my twitter timeline: Yas, Queen!
(Side note: Astroglide totally had the best comments of the night. How much do I love that they live tweet Supernatural?)
Speight, Perez and many of the actors live tweeted the west coast airing, giving us a few little insights about filming that scene.
Jared: Sam’s reaction to Mandy calling Misha handsome was more Jared than Sam.
(I think you could characterize Sam’s reaction as incredulous…)
Also, it was apparently not scripted when Misha leaned in to have Cas smell the waitress not so subtly. I always love the ad-libbed moments most!
Even the music was inspired, some of it seeming right out of the stereotypical spaghetti western and some of it adding immeasurably to the ominous feeling of the scene. I watched this episode live with some fellow fangirls who are also fellow academics. We were all at the Southwest Popular Culture Association conference in Albuquerque, gathered around the television in one of our hotel rooms. Earlier that day, two of those acafans did a roundtable presentation on the music of Supernatural, so watching this episode with them was a treat! Apparently, that’s ‘La Donna e Mobile’ from Rigoletto that Ramiel whistles as he slowly makes his way back to the cabin, where our heroes are waiting for him (reminiscent of Kill Bill again).
Astroglide: Whistling in real life: basically never ominous.
Whistling on TV: Basically always ominous
So true. The episode was not only beautifully directed and filmed; it was tightly written so that in 42 minutes we got the amount of reveals that we usually get in five episodes. That was head-spinning, but not in a bad way. I felt knocked off balance the entire time, something Speight played up with the way the episode was filmed and Perez set up with his constant dizzying time jumps back and forth.
The first big reveal was the return of a demon the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long long time – the yellow-eyed variety. In the first few seasons of the Show, the Yellow-Eyed Demon was the Big Bad who we were all terrified of and rooting for the Winchesters to kill. Fred Lehne invested the original YED with a sinister but snarky personality that made the character memorable; unlike Crowley and Rowena, he never switched sides or showed any ambivalence, and he died with us cheering, taken out by the Colt. (And speaking of the Colt…but that’s getting ahead of myself). At any rate, I was left with a sort of nostalgic dread for the YED, so when the demon they’re hunting is revealed to have yellow eyes as well, I gasped out loud. He’s also apparently just as difficult to kill, as Team Free Will is woefully outmaneuvered by both Ramiel and the other two demons who show up out of nowhere. Poor Wally, as most of us predicted, was indeed a casualty of that epic fight. Jerry Trimble did a great job as Ramiel, creating a memorable character in just one episode. He also apparently did his own stunts!
This episode wasn’t focused as much on Sam and Dean as some – and I admit I will always want more – but Perez did give us a few Winchester moments. I loved that Dean, who was supposed to be going after Cas and Mary, instead stays behind to save his brother from one of the demons.
Demon: I’m going to be the demon that killed Sam Winchester. They’re gonna tell stories about me.
Dean: (stabbing her from behind) Oh no they won’t.
Me: Not as long as his big brother is around!
We also get a small but important moment between Sam and Mary. Sam, empathic soul that he is, can sense that something is going on with his mom.
Sam: Mom, are you okay? I know you never wanted this.
Mary doesn’t really answer him; she’s focused on getting what she came for. Just as it hurt to see her walk away from her sons when she needed independence and time to herself, that reaction hurt to see. I admit I don’t entirely get where Mary is coming from, but I already know she’s capable of being hurtful. And hey, she’s human, and we’re all capable of being hurtful, but I get protective of my boys. Jared does a good job of showing us Sam’s feelings in that small scene – his love for his mother, his confusion about how she’s doing. (We’re with you, Sam!)
Mary: Since when is life about getting what you want?
Harsh, Mary. I get the feeling Sam was asking because HE needed to talk, and you just walked away.
By the way, Sam’s “Mom, what did you get us into”? could be the tag line for so much of the Show!
Mary is so shocked about the demon’s yellow eyes that she tells Sam about it (in contrast to her very Winchesterian propensity for not sharing information with her sons or anyone else). That was a wonderful bit of acting for both Sam Smith and Jared; they are the two who have interacted with the YED most horrifically in the past, and true horror shows on both of their faces at the reveal. I’ll get back to the reveals about Mary in a minute because those turn out to be the most controversial parts of the episode.
The next big reveal belongs to Crowley, and Mark Sheppard positively shines in this episode. Speight pulled an amazing performance from the always-excellent Sheppard, from his initial welcoming of Mary (who responds with ‘touch me and I’ll end you’ in true hunter fashion) to Crowley’s emotionally layered conversations with Ramiel about the Winchesters. In a flashback to six years ago, we find out something I never thought to question all that much – how Crowley became King of Hell. We’ve known he’s a crossroads demon, and I think I just assumed that he came to power by means of the manipulation and scheming he’s so good at. I love when Show throws me a curve (as long as it doesn’t turn canon on its head and then piss me off instead) – apparently, Crowley was surprised when Ramiel turned down the throne and instead offered it to Crowley! (Kudos to makeup and to Sheppard for making Crowley actually appear younger and less cynical in the flashback scenes). Ramiel, prince of hell. Oldest generation of demons that Lucifer made himself. Azazel, the YED, was one too. Ramiel, in a speech that reminded all of us watching a bit of Cain, just wants to be left alone. Crowley, who had come to bring the coronation gifts of Michael’s lance and that mysterious glowing box, is suddenly in power. Which explains some of Crowley’s ineptness at being the actual King of Hell. Perhaps he was really angling for second in command, or for being the power behind the throne, and is still not entirely certain of how to wield what he ended up with.
Sheppard also shows us Crowley’s conflicting feelings about the Winchesters as he tries to bargain for their lives even after Dean dismisses him as unwilling to help. You get the distinct feeling that his contention that it’s just prudent to keep the guys who stopped the Apocalypse on your side isn’t the whole story, hearkening back to Crowley’s demon blood addiction and his fall into humanity, albeit temporarily. We get another glimpse of Crowley’s softer side, and of what seems to be an actual fondness for Team Free Will, when Castiel is dying.
Misha Collins deserves kudos for this episode, and again Speight was able to bring out a performance that struck all the right notes without going over the top – which it very easily could have. Ramiel produces the lance of Michael (which appears from its invisible place on his back, an awesome VFX moment) and spears Cas as he lies helpless and unable to get away. It’s a brutal, violent scene, filmed in nearly black and white with the actors silhouetted in the moonlight. It’s beautiful and horrible, invoking the painting, like a powerful work of art itself.
It’s also very real in its depiction of the savage wound, graphically bloody in a way that made me wince. We realize that Cas may actually die (though I doubt anyone thought he wouldn’t somehow come back), but even a temporary death of a beloved character carries weight if it’s done well. The lance kills angels slowly because Michael wanted Lucifer to suffer when he stabbed him with it, which gives Collins ample opportunity to make us run for the tissues.
I commented on Castiel’s evolution in an earlier review, and that continues here. Cas, knowing he’s dying, is once again heroic in his willingness to sacrifice himself. Collins makes us feel his pain, but also his determination, and the fierce love he has come to feel for the Winchesters. Cas tries to get them to leave, saying he doesn’t want the last thing he sees before he dies to be them dying too. He says that the things they’ve shared have changed him, and that his time spent with them has been his best time.
Cas: You’re my family. I love you, I love all of you. Just please, please don’t make my last moments be spent watching you die. Just run, save yourselves…You have to keep fighting.
Sam: We are fighting. We’re fighting for you, Cas.
Dean: And like you said, you’re family. And we don’t leave family behind.
I might have teared up during that scene, which means Speight and Collins did their job. They’ve been hitting the ‘Cas is family’ theme hard this season, which makes sense in the scheme of the show, but while this scene worked, I don’t think they can hit it this hard repeatedly without everyone going okay okay, we get it!
The Winchesters get back to fighting Ramiel, attempting to hold him in a ring of fire. Ramiel demands they give back what was stolen from him, which only confuses Sam and Dean.
Mary, on the other hand….let’s just say I was screaming out loud, “Mary! What the hell, turn it over!”
She doesn’t, and we find out what we suspected. Ramiel can’t be held by the ring of fire, and a truly epic fight scene ensues. Sam, in a magnificent moment of bravery and badassery, slays Ramiel with the lance just as he’s about to kill Dean.
Me: (possibly screaming) That’s right, damn it! Sam Effing Winchester!
What can I say, I love it when the Winchesters save each other.
But Cas is still dying.
And then we get another reveal about Crowley, and a surprise. Crowley looks genuinely sorry that Cas is dying.
That emotion prompts him to remember what Ramiel had said about the lance. The runes give it power. On a hunch, Crowley snaps the lance, breaking the runes and reversing the poisoning that has Cas gasping his last breaths through some truly disgusting black goo clogging his throat and oozing out his mouth. Ewww.
Crowley, before he snaps out: You’re welcome.
Cas slowly realizes he’s okay, the shock of both that and Crowley being the source of it clear on his face. Director Speight gave us a shot that’s going to star in so many gifs it will be mind blowing, with first Dean and then Sam offering a hand up to Castiel and pulling him to his feet. The camera stays tight on their hands throughout, making the scene a powerful one.
Similarly, earlier in the episode Speight uses a close-up shot of Dean’s hands as he loads his gun – visually stunning and powerful in its familiarity, to Winchesters and to anyone who’s been watching the show.
The episode ends with yet another gigantic reveal. We knew that Mary had been lying to Sam and Dean by omission, bringing in Wally so they’ll come help without asking questions. We knew she had BMoL weapons and tools to help her prevail, and that she lied to Cas when she came up from the basement (brilliant idea using the old gotta-pee-when-I’m-nervous excuse, Mary). We knew she had stolen something and hidden it from all of them, refusing to turn it over even when Ramiel demands it, and ALL their lives are on the line!
But we didn’t’ know what it was she found in the basement – or that finding it had apparently been her mission all along. OMG moment number four: it’s the Colt. IT’S THE COLT.
Everyone in the hotel room watching: OMG.
Mr. Ketch apologizes for nearly getting them all killed and for some reason I can’t fathom, Mary lets him off the hook. And GIVES HIM THE COLT. What??? I have no clue what’s wrong with Mary, but that was all kinds of not okay. I guess we don’t know how much she even knows about the Colt, but I wish her instincts were firing about Mr. Ketch in a way that would tell her what a mistake she’s making.
Show has one more giant reveal too. We end with Crowley’s prisoner taunting him, saying that the Winchesters will turn on him eventually. I was unfortunately spoiled for this last reveal, but let’s just say that having Mark Pellegrino back as Lucifer would have been mind blowing if I hadn’t been.
That’s like five big reveals in one episode, in case you’re not counting. What the hell, Show?
To sum up, there are more YEDS out there, including Ramiel’s sister Dagon who has taken an interest in Kelly and her Nephilim baby. Crowley ended up King of Hell by default not scheming, and has more of a soft spot than we suspected for the Winchesters and for Cas. The BMoL have the friggen’ Colt. And Crowley has Lucifer – in his very awesome Pellegrino meat suit – caged up, tables turned. All of that was executed brilliantly by Speight and company.
What fans were left to ponder and gnash our teeth about is the mystery of Mary Winchester. She should know better than to withhold information from her sons – withholding information gets people killed. Like poor Redshirt Wally. (And almost her sons too). She seems to be going down that road that Sam was on when he was addicted to demon blood, convincing herself that she’s working with the BMoL for the greater good, but we all know where that road ends up. I was dumbfounded when Ramiel seemed to be offering to spare them if the person who stole from him would just return what was stolen (Sam and Dean genuinely confused because they had no clue what Mary did) – and Mary didn’t say a word! Was she really willing to risk her sons’ lives in order to give Mr. Ketch the Colt??? And even after the BMoL clearly led her into a lethal situation and didn’t care, she still doesn’t give up on them. She still gives them the most powerful weapon out there. Yes, she threatens and she seems very angry that ‘her boys’ were put in danger. But she still lets him off the hook with an apology that didn’t even try to sound genuine.
I’m still having trouble getting my head around the fact that Mary would work with a group of people who tortured and almost killed her son. She SAW what they did to Sam, and while I realize that was one BMoL member who perhaps is painted as an outlier, but still. If someone took a blowtorch to my son’s foot, there would be no forgiveness. Not ever. Dean is espousing that conviction, which makes me happy because there’s NO WAY Dean would forgive someone who tortured his little brother. But why not Mary?
There are lots of disagreements going on in Supernatural fandom right now about how to read the character. She’s complex, that’s for sure, and most people are glad to have a female character who’s not a cardboard cutout or a stereotype. And I have no doubt that we – like Dean and Sam – had expectations for her that come out of our own stereotypes of what a mother should be.
I think it’s more than that, though. Since the beginning of the series, we have only seen Mary through Dean’s eyes. The eyes of a four-year-old, who idealized the mother he could barely remember. Dean remembered her singing lullabies and making him pie, but we now know that Mary’s cooking skills were more about getting take out. Dean remembered her idealistically, and thus we, as viewers, developed that concept of the character too. Now we – and Sam and Dean – are confronted with a woman who is far from the stereotypical mother. She’s flawed, she’s not particularly maternal – especially with these two grown men for whom being her sons would be a biological impossibility – and she’s quite capable of hurting them. Perhaps we, as fans, are experiencing the disillusion that comes from having someone we’ve put on a pedestal fall off.
It’s interesting to watch the evolution of the character of Mary contrasted with the evolution of another maternal character, Rowena. While Mary seems to be on a slow fall from idealization, Rowena is on a bit of a redemption arc. (It might have been hard for her to go the other way since she was introduced to viewers with people bleeding to death on the ceiling…) I confess I don’t know where they’re going with Mary, or how we’re supposed to feel about her. That in itself is unsettling, and part of me wants to grasp at straws for explanations. I’ve seen my various timelines suggest that Mary’s possessed, or that she was raised by Samuel and thus is comfortable with having someone give her orders and she follows them – much like Dean used to be with John.
I’d almost like to read that interpretation into the scene of Mary and Mr. Ketch, shot through the window blinds so that they almost look like bars. Hmmm.
I just hope that we get SOME explanation, sooner or later. I like a redemption arc as much as the next fangirl, but it has to make sense. So far, I haven’t been able to make sense of Mary’s journey. Then again, I went to a ‘Once More With Feeling’ Buffy singalong at the conference I was at and remembered all over again how much it messed up Buffy to be yanked out of Heaven. Maybe that’s an explanation in itself.