I’m going to do something I never thought I’d do for a review. I’m going to give you a disclaimer with this Supernatural review:
If you cannot separate any actor from the character they play (the main picture above is a helpful hint), then you’re free to go. Class dismissed. No hard feelings. Seriously. In fact, I’d rather you go.
Okay, then. I’m going to start with a brief rundown of an episode I skipped reviewing last month, “Devil’s Bargain.” I skipped it for a very personal reason: because unlike some fans, I don’t hate Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner. I don’t think they’re awful writers. I don’t think they’re misogynists or racists, in fact, I think the opposite. I don’t think “Taxi Driver” is that bad compared to a lot of other episodes we’ve endured.
I think “Route 666” is unbelievably underrated and if possible more relevant now than it was twelve years ago. Finally, I think a lot of fandom screaming “canon fail” at them is a two-fold issue: one, we’re all very married to our head-canons and two, all the writers do it and always have. Blaming just them is simply childish.
And before you say it, no, I don’t care that they wrote the death of Charlie Bradbury.
Seriously. I don’t care. The character was way past expiration, like a couple other characters that we’re still enduring.
For now, a quick rundown of “Devil’s Bargain.” It was… okay. Danneel Ackles made her Supernatural debut as faith healer Sister Jo, but frankly, even before her first scene aired, we all knew she’d be revealed as an angel. Now, as someone in fandom, it’s hard to remove yourself from knowing that you’re watching Jensen Ackles’ wife onscreen, but since I’d watched Danneel on TV way before they even began dating I have a slight advantage, and there were definitely shades of her One Tree Hill character, Rachel Gatina, in Sister Jo.
While, I would’ve liked to see a bit more comedy out of this role, because I think that’s where Danneel Ackles shines, the sultry selfishness of Sister Jo wasn’t unwelcome. In fact, it was refreshing to finally see an angel who wasn’t wearing a boring suit and acting like an office drone.
Honestly, Supernatural, the angels and demons on your show have become so homogenous. One big blurry blob of maybe good, maybe bad, but all definitely bored, ad execs.
Sister Jo and Lucifer were the actual highlights of this episode, separately and together. Their encounters were unsettling, but they were supposed to be, and the performances were there. Yeah, the dialogue was wordy, that’s Ross-Leming and Buckner for you, but a good actor can turn wordy into conversational. Danneel Ackles and Mark Pellegrino were able to do that.
Was the sexual metaphor heavy handed? Oh, yeah, totally. That said, after the very literal hammers to the head in Steve Yockey’s episode “Various & Sundry Villains” we learned that it’s not a deal breaker for an episode. Misha Collins himself once said there was nothing subtle about the writing in Supernatural.
You know what is a deal breaker, though? When your tertiary characters outweigh your primary leads and secondary regular. I spent every moment that Dean, Sam, and Castiel were on screen thinking, “can we get back to Lucifer and Sister Jo?”
And it wasn’t the director, I can’t blame Eduardo Sanchez for the drag in momentum, because if anyone can build tension and deliver it’s the director of The Blair Witch Project. Sanchez is horror royalty, a tension king. I’m not going to blame the writing either because again, Danneel Ackles and Mark Pellegrino were engaging. I blame the show running and the editing.
I know, I know, I’m not being subtle in where I’m going with this, but we’ll get back to that later.
Anyway, “Devil’s Bargain” was passable. Not a top 20 episode, but not a bottom 20 one either. It existed. It’ll be mostly memorable for the fact that Danneel Ackles was in it. Her presence, whether it was because you know her from One Tree Hill, know her as Jensen’s wife, or just plain enjoyed Sister Jo, basically saved this episode from complete obscurity.
What’s that you say? But what about the big reveal of Gabriel at the end? Well, if we hadn’t seen it coming, it might have been cool. Same with Bobby in the next episode. There’s no shock left because like with Ruth Connell’s, between the cast, crew, and PR we know everything weeks in advance.
Speaking of the next episode, let’s get into episode 13.14, “Good Intentions,” penned by Meredith Glynn and directed by P.J. Pesce.
I’m going to get two petty things out of the way because they are the least of the problems with this episode; the camera angles were really awkward, and the use of the episode title in the dialogue during act one was, wow, hammers to the head again, anyone?
I have one more issue that’s less about writing, directing, and acting, but I’m saving it for, you guessed it: later.
Have you been filing away those “laters”? Hope so.
What I am going to get into here is the overall writing of this episode, specifically the dialogue and characterization.
First of all, can we stop asking how Castiel is all the time? I get that you are all struggling to justify the character, but no one, absolutely no one, gets asked about or talks about their feelings more than the soulless angel. It’s honestly preposterous when you think about it.
We’re also going to have Castiel be the one both worried about and coddled over Lucifer being free? The dude who let Lucifer free? I know you’re fairly new, Meredith, so hey, let’s give you a break, I mean no one expects you to understand twelve years of canon. Who can? Except millions of fans who aren’t paid to do so.
Let’s also discuss how you’re going to have characters that are “sometimes referred to as brothers” and then send Castiel and Dean off to fight them? Meredith, Meredith, Meredith. No ma’am. That’s just bad narrative symmetry. A rookie move, honestly.
So is using “migraine” and “headache” interchangeably, but that’s a pet peeve puddle I’d don’t have the patience to play in, not when there’s an entire pond of “what even is going on here??” to paddle through. Actually, no, I’m going to address this a bit further; if I’m so removed from your storyline that I have the ability to focus your very common, yet annoying, medical inconsistency then something is very wrong.
And what’s wrong is that this episode is an Everlasting Gobstopper of info dumping. It’s all exposition. No heart, no soul, no characterization. All tell and no show. This episode felt feature length and not in a good way.
Actually, the only one in character is Mary. Her caring about six-month-old manchild, Jack when she can’t seem to genuinely care about her six-month-old baby turned hero of a man; Sam was very spot on. Although, I somehow don’t think you intended that bit of irony.
Speaking of Mary and Jack, let’s get into a bit about the alternate world. It’s a cool idea, Andrew Dabb. In theory, it really is. I mean, apocalypse AUs have never been my personal preferred fanfic trope, but I get that it’s popular. In execution, however, if you’re going to retread the characters of Michael and Zachariah in new bodies then you need to have writers that can keep the characterization consistent with the season 4 and season 5 characters we knew.
These two dudes aren’t that. Don’t get me wrong, the physical casting for Michael is superb, very nice eye candy, and hey, I’ll even allow the argument that we saw so little of Michael in SPN 1.0 that you and your writers have room to play.
But Zachariah? Kurt Fuller’s performance is what brought Zachariah to life, the combination of determination, manipulation, and exhaustion all delivered with smug sarcasm. This Zachariah, he’s a generic second in command character. He could literally be anyone.
You’ll notice I’ve barely mentioned Sam Winchester. Yeah. That’s because you forgot to write him and the director forgot to focus on him and yo, I’m so tired.
So let’s talk about all the “laters”, shall we?
I said I wasn’t going to blame director Eduardo Sanchez and honestly, I have very little blame for P.J. Pesce aside from some dubious camera angle choices. I blame the writing and the show running.
Now if you’re someone who preaches Team Free Will, that door from earlier is still open, please, walk through it, because there is nothing more tedious than a scene with Dean, Sam, and Castiel or Dean and Castiel. I’m not here to debate that; it’s my opinion in my opinion piece. Not one single writer can keep the dialogue in these types of scenes flowing. It’s forever awkward, stilted, and redundant and very clearly existing because it’s required by the showrunner.
Every season for the past few years has been Castiel screwing up, then storming in thinking he knows better, then screwing up again. Maybe that’s a sign the character has overstayed? Perhaps. Fact is, it’s become so boring. The only consistent thing about Castiel is his hubris followed by his pouting and moping.
Another I later implied was editing. I have so many issues with the editing in this episode. Listen, horror genre is my thing. Good horror movies, bad horror movies, slasher flicks, torture porn, psychological thrillers, ghost, monsters, all of it. I love it. Often times what makes or breaks a horror movie isn’t the acting or the writing, it’s the editing. It’s the way scenes are put together. It’s the sound mixing. It’s practical effects versus reliance on CGI. This episode failed on each of these points. The thudding steps from the “giants” Gog and Magog sounded comical, not to mention the fact that we suddenly had subtitles for an ancient language. Oh, I get it, Meredith had jokes.
The other editing failures were the cut from Zachariah tossing Jack into his cell to Jack landing and several other POV switch edits that were equally as awkward and choppy. Not to mention the random moments of surprise!shaky cam. This episode felt cobbled together out of several other things. Not other episodes, actual different projects.
As for the CGI, the lighting in the AU world was very near animated in appearance. The reveal of Zachariah pretending to be Castiel felt like funhouse horror editing, which can work… if you’re watching The Houses October Built. Not to mention the beheading of the giant was pretty bad, especially for a show that has had amazing beheadings in the past. And Jack turning the angels into missiles was just… I don’t even have words.
Again, I come from a horror background, so these things matter a lot.
But finally, my last, and biggest gripe is this: what even are we doing? Season 13, what is your thesis statement? We are fourteen episodes into this season, and there’s no story. Not really. We spent the first half setting up a spin-off that may or may not happen, and now we’re just throwing spaghetti at a wall. Michael, Mary, Jack, Lucifer, Asmodeus, Bobby, the AU world, the real world. It’s all a hodgepodge. The only thing I know for certain is what this season isn’t about.
Sam and Dean Winchester.