Happy Birthday, Dean Winchester – We Miss You!

You know how they say you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone? Or that you don’t know how much you love something/someone until you don’t have them anymore?

Yeah. It’s true. I’ve known for fifteen years that I was madly in love with Dean Winchester, but even knowing that, I truly didn’t know how much I was going to miss him when he was gone. I took for granted that I’d always be able to “see” him, that I could keep discovering his character and his story, little by little as time went on. I underestimated how wonderful it was to be endlessly fascinated by a fictional character and have the privilege of learning who he was, in bits and pieces and often-covered-up glimpses of the ‘real’ Dean Winchester, over the course of years and years and years. There was a reality to that discovery, in that it played out gradually, just like it does with people in our actual lives. And thanks to Jensen Ackles’ brilliant portrayal, there was a reality to everything about Dean Winchester that made him real to many of us.

That made him very hard to lose.

I thought that 2020 would be the last time I wished Dean happy birthday; I knew that he wouldn’t exist in the present by 2021. But right now I find myself needing to write about him again. It’s part of grieving the loss of something/someone important, that we want to hang onto our memories of them and remember why they were so important to us. I don’t want to forget him, not ever. And since fictional characters never needed our real-life validation, it doesn’t make any difference whether Dean ‘exists’ in the present or not – remembering him is for me. I miss him, and reminding myself of all the reasons why I love  him helps me feel just a little bit better.

This could be a really long article if I tried to make an exhaustive list of what I love about Dean Winchester, so I’ll keep it short. Top five reasons why I will always love Dean Winchester.

One, I love his complexity. That’s due to Eric Kripke, who created him and wrote him for the first five seasons, and to Jensen Ackles’, who brought him to life in a way that was even more vivid than what was written on the page. It took me a whole season to fall for Dean Winchester; at first, I dismissed him a little as a stereotypical ‘bad boy’ type, a little too brash. Pretty on the surface but too stereotypical underneath. (Forgive me, I was only watching because a friend insisted, so clearly I wasn’t paying enough attention!) When Season 2 began, I suddenly realized that I had misjudged the show, and the brothers. I remember watching Dean, leaning against the Impala, break down and confide to Sam that he was not at all okay, tears glistening in his eyes, voice breaking. I let the papers I was grading slide to the floor and said out loud, “how did I not realize this show was amazing?”   But it was also Dean, and Jensen’s willingness to show his character’s vulnerability, that made me fall head over heels for Supernatural.

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Jared Padalecki is “Back In The Saddle” With the New Walker

For Supernatural fans, who are still grieving the loss of our beloved show after 15  years on the air, the premiere of the new CW show ‘Walker’ on Thursday brought a lot of complicated feelings. Many of us weren’t ready (and to be honest, would never have been ready) to say goodbye to Sam Winchester, so seeing Jared Padalecki inhabit a brand new character was exciting but also brought a fresh sense of loss, as though the new character made the loss of Sam finally real. On the other hand, it was wonderful to have another television show to anticipate, and for Thursday nights at 8 pm EST to be something special once again instead of a time I tended to wander around the house lamenting that ‘it feels like something’s missing…’). In the midst of continuing controversy about the way Supernatural ended, and a hashtag campaign to tank ‘Walker’ before it even began, the show itself managed to air with considerable fanfare anyway – making it the CW’s most watched Thursday in three years, even topping NBC’s airing in its time slot!

Despite being brand new, Walker didn’t get left out of the Bernie meme going around, which must be some kind of pop culture litmus test, right?

Graphic: quickreaver

The network went all out in its promotion, with billboards and articles in every mainstream publication and Jared making the talk show rounds. That meant a fandom that’s accustomed to constant content and had been going into withdrawal was ecstatic to finally get some new photos of Mr. Padalecki – and oh, what new photos they were!

The Supernatural cast also went all out, with most of Padalecki’s former cast members sending him best wishes for his new show. On premiere day, former onscreen and always offscreen brother Jensen Ackles posted an Instagram message of support, telling Padalecki to “Go get ‘em, cowboy” and Jared and wife/costar Gen gave a shout out in return to Jensen and Danneel Ackles’ Austin-based brewery, Family Business Beer Company, on their CWWalker Instagram takeover. For Supernatural fans making the transition to new shows, the reminder that in real life they’re all going to remain good friends was somehow comforting. Padalecki has also said that he’s set on getting former costar Ackles to guest or direct on Walker as soon as his filming schedule for Amazon’s ‘The Boys’ allows.

I did not watch the original ‘Walker Texas Ranger’, nor am I a big fan of either westerns or cop procedurals, so Walker wasn’t a show that would have been on my must watch list if it wasn’t for Padalecki. That meant I went into it with measured expectations, and still feeling a bit sad about missing the Winchesters. There were mixed reviews from the media who received advance screeners of the pilot, but I like to make up my own mind anyway, so I sat down to watch figuring I’d just see where the show took me. I didn’t expect to feel as much as I did, and for me, that’s a very good thing. I didn’t even fall in love with Supernatural, my favorite show of all time, right away; I had to get to know the characters. They had to pull me in, make me want to know more about them. Fascinate me. And while I’m not pulled in entirely yet with Walker, I am interested. I want to know more.  And that bodes well for a brand new show.

I have to admit, the second that I saw Padalecki back on my tv screen again, I teared up.

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That’s my boy!! (Okay, one of them…)

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Supernatural Rewatch – Getting to Know the Winchesters in Phantom Traveler

Next up in our series rewatch of Supernatural, the fourth episode of season 1, ‘Phantom Traveler.’ I believe this is the first episode directed by Bob Singer, who would remain with the show throughout its 15 season run and be pivotal to its evolution, as a director, a producer and eventually a showrunner. The Season 1 DVDs have an episode commentary by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles for this episode, so from time to time I’ll include some of those priceless comments too. They were so young in Season 1, and still new to being the leads of a TV show, but you can tell that their friendship was already clearly solid.

The show is still dark and scary in Season 1, so the opening sequence is scary too. An anxious flyer prepares to board a plane, then some ominous looking black smoke comes out of a bathroom vent and goes right into his eyes. His eyes turn black, and now he’s calm as ever.

Pivotal moment – this is the episode where we’re introduced to demons, who will become so important to the entire series. VFX may have been more primitive in 2005, but the smoke is actually surprisingly well done – and creepy. The black-eyed man momentarily freaks out the flight attendant, then calmly wrenches open the door hatch and brings the plane down, exactly 40 minutes into its flight.

[Jared: I’m really proud of this episode. Good job, Bob. I really enjoy Sam’s relationship with his brother Dean.]

Me fifteen years later: Me too!

After the opening sequence, we always switch to the boys, and this episode is no exception. Well, boy in this case – Dean is asleep, luckily for us on top of the covers and not wearing multiple layers as is way more usual. Singer, perhaps already understanding that the show’s audience was not the mostly male demographic that the WB was expecting after having laid eyes on Jared and Jensen, gives us a slow pan up Dean’s boxer-and-tee-shirt-clad body. The stills and later the gif of that shot became an instant classic in the fandom, for obvious reasons.

I’ve written about this in several of our books, but the show didn’t just lean into the traditional ‘male gaze’ – in this shot, the show turns the tables, something surprising and a little bit subversive for 2005. It’s also something that fandom has delighted in and one of the things that makes fandom such a different type of community, with different norms – a powerful change from what most of us are used to. Especially then. Okay, I’ll move along. I’m just typing to keep this gif in frame…

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A shadowy figure enters the motel room and for a moment we’re all on edge. Dean too apparently – he surreptitiously reaches under his pillow – and then Sam wakes Dean up with a too-cheery “Mornin’ sunshine!”

Dean has adorable bed-head and is worried because Sam still isn’t sleeping well and having nightmares. He bristles and denies it when Sam realizes his big brother is worried, though.

Dean: No, it’s your job to keep my ass alive so I need you sharp!

(Forgive the number of caps of said ass, it’s just a really nice scene. Like, well lit. Yes, that’s it.)

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Looking Back on Supernatural – A Chat with Writer Davy Perez

It’s no secret that Davy Perez is one of my favorite Supernatural writers. If you read my episode reviews regularly, you’ve heard me say that more than once, and he’s the only writer who wrote a chapter in the new book There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done: Actors and Fans Celebrate the Legacy of Supernatural, all about his journey as a writer and his experience on the show. There’s an online book club that’s currently reading Peace, and they’re inviting the contributors to join in their discord chat when they’re discussing that chapter. I pop in when I can, so I joined them when Davy’s chapter was the topic of conversation – and so did he!

It was Davy’s first time using Discord, so the only emoji he could find to try to express himself was the watermelon – which has remained the Book Club’s favorite emoji and is now used for all kinds of positive expressions in Davy’s honor.

The book club always has great questions and Davy had some great answers, so I’m sharing them here with the rest of the fandom (with Davy’s permission of course).

BC: What was it like to write an episode for Supernatural?

DP: I used to watch a lot of shock horror (in the) 80’s and kinda channeled that.

BC: How much influence did the network or the studio have on the writing?

DP: The network and studio give notes, but don’t mandate or dictate anything.  They are more there to
guide you toward the ideals that they want the show to always be (striving) for.  The writers/producers are still in charge of the story in the end.

BC: You said in your chapter that you had only watched a few episodes of Supernatural when you were hired, so you were not overly influenced by what had come before and had fresh takes on the characters and story line direction.

DP: In general, writing an episode is a lot like doubting yourself every step of the way (while also having
to) believe in your own genius. Also, specifically with SPN and with any show, you always do the work, from beats on the cards, to outline, to then just working on the scenes.  I aim for an act a day when
(working) on a script.  I actually found that whenever I watched an old episode, I found inspiration for
bringing something back, or looking at something from a new angle.  I was hired to bring in fresh ideas, for sure, but I like innovating from existing stuff vs. just fabricating from thin air.

BC: What do you think have been your most significant contributions to the characters’ development?

DP: My most significant contribution might be either the glasses or the sweaters (in Mint Condition and American Nightmare).

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(Me: mm hmm)

DP: Maybe the cowboy hats too  (in Tombstone).

BC: (wholeheartedly agreed on all of the above)

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Looking Back on Dead In The Water – Classic Supernatural!

I wrote an article here on New Year’s Eve about how I’m dealing with Supernatural ending, because I’m still having lots of feelings about the loss of my favorite show ever, especially in the midst of so much stress – political and social upheaval and a raging pandemic. We need our comfort shows more than ever!  One of the things that’s helping is going back to the beginning and rewatching from the start. In a way, it’s giving me new content, because watching those early episodes now is completely different with the perspective of knowing how the story plays out and how it ends. I understand Sam and Dean more deeply than I did when I watched these episodes for the first time 15 years ago. At the same time, I’m struck by how well they hold up and how truly ingenious the writing, directing, acting and cinematography was, right from the start.

Today’s episode rewatch is the third one that aired, and the first directed by Kim Manners, who would come to have such a significant impact on the show’s two young stars, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. ‘Dead In The Water’ is one of the most well known episodes, giving us some iconic scenes as well as some of the first memorable gag reel moments. The episode was written by Raelle Tucker and Sera Gamble, who would go on to be showrunner when Kripke departed at the end of Season 5 (and would also helm another of my favorite shows, The Magicians).  So, let’s dig in…

Kim Manners and Serge Ladouceur during filming. Cap mckaysangel

The episode opens on a cabin that’s familiar to most fans, and I had to take a moment right away because I now realize that it’s a cabin that I think I’ve actually been to in real life – on one of the location tours given by Supernatural’s locations supervisor for many seasons, the one of a kind Russ Hamilton.  I’m notoriously bad at remember things like locations, though, so somebody correct me if the ‘Russ bus’ never in fact visited this particular Vancouver cabin. At any rate, it’s striking, and beautiful in its own way. There is so much atmosphere provided by locations and set dec for Supernatural, making it so much memorable than it would be otherwise.

I don’t think, at the time I first watched this episode, that I realized that the show customarily opens with the guest stars of the week being attacked by the monster of the week, especially in the early seasons. But director Kim Manners does a great job of setting up the sense of foreboding even if you didn’t know something bad was about to happen. The family in the dimly lit cabin is a dad and a sister and brother, with no mom around – because many of the guest characters are parallels for the Winchesters in some way. The girl opts for a swim in the gigantic deserted lake, out there all alone, which seems like a terrible idea even if this wasn’t Supernatural. We see her from beneath, highlighting her vulnerability, as she begins to get scared, hearing unintelligible whispering all around her even though no one is there. Uh oh. It’s scary as hell even before anything happens thanks to Manners, and then whoosh, she’s pulled under.

The lake looks peaceful once again, no sign of the girl. Uh oh.

And then, customarily, the show pivoted to the Winchester brothers, in this case at the Lynnwood Motel, which I’m totally taking as a shout out to me even though I was entirely unknown to any of them at the time. Hindsight. Dean flirts with the waitress, who flirts back, understandably, and Sam cuts that right off with a “Just the check please.”

Dean sighs, put upon.

Dean: You know, Sam, we are allowed to have fun every once in a while. That’s fun.

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