Worrying that you’re going to be stuck in the ER and miss Supernatural is not the best way to start a Tuesday evening (okay, maybe that’s not what I was most worried about, but it was right up there in my top two). Luckily I didn’t miss it, and even more luckily, I’m home now to finally sit down and write about how much I loved it.
Reason #1: The acting. The only person better than Dylan Everett at playing Dean Winchester is Jensen Ackles. I was impressed with Dylan’s acting the first time he portrayed Dean, but that was perhaps a bit less challenging, as he was showing us Dean as a teenager. If there were some differences, that was to be expected – pretty sure I’m not exactly the same as I was as a teenager. (Unless you’re judging by my fangirl passion which is thankfully still intact). This time, Dylan had to portray adult Dean stuck in his own fourteen year old body, which means the mannerisms and facial expressions and way of speaking that we know and love in Dean Winchester should be pretty much the same. Talk about an acting challenge!
Dylan, however, nailed it. He moved like Dean, he talked like Dean. He held his gun – and his flashlight – like Dean. He even drew his eyebrows together in concern like Dean. And when Teen!Dean found himself grabbed by the bad guy, Everett didn’t hold back in showing us Dean’s all out struggle, the same way Ackles does. Even Dean’s chemistry with Sam was intact, with big kudos to both Everett and Padalecki for making sure it came through. In fact, watching Teen!Dean with Sam was so similar to watching ‘regular’ Sam and Dean that I believed wholeheartedly that I was watching Dean Winchester the entire time.
Interestingly, Everett gave Padalecki credit for helping him play Dean true to the character. Because, after all, as Jared noted, “No one knows Dean Winchester, other than Jensen, better than me.” In an interview with AfterBuzzTV, Dylan said that one of the best pieces of advice he got was from Jared —
Jared: Jensen’s a model. So he’s very expressive in his face and in his body. That’s what makes Jensen Jensen. It’s his mannerisms and the way he walks and the way he talks and how he carries himself. These are the things that make him stand out and the things people pick up on and love about him, so it’s really important you really nail those and incorporate them into your performance… If there’s anything I think might be out of character or a little thing that I think that Jensen would do, I’m just going to lay it on you and let you know.
A great example of the spirit of collaboration for which Supernatural is known.
Padalecki is in a good position to give acting advice – he too was stellar in this episode. Sam’s face when de-aged Dean knocks on the motel room door was absolutely perfect. Doubt, disbelief, incredulity, dismay, confusion, and a touch of fondness for a teenage Dean who was probably young Sam’s hero all are evident in Jared’s facial expressions.
Reason # 2: As always on Supernatural, the credit for how well this ambitious episode worked is shared. The actors sold it, which is also due to the superb direction of longtime director of photography Serge Ladouceur. Serge must know these characters and this Show better than almost anyone other than the actors who play them by now, and it’s obvious in how he directs them. I asked Jensen at the last convention what we could expect from this episode and Serge’s direction.
Jensen: Well, we know it will be beautiful, and the composition will be great.
That was almost an understatement. The episode was gorgeous, with so many striking shots. The impala’s tail lights disappearing down a misty moonlit road; the beautiful opening montage of Dean desperate and despondent in his room in the bunker; the dimly lit jail cells and the light coming through the barred window; the use of perspective to show the height differences between the brothers, first with Dean on the floor and later a teenager. I loved that we got an overhead crane shot in the beginning, which will always remind me of Kim Manners. Serge talks about Manners’ influence on the look of the show in his chapter in Fan Phenomena: Supernatural. I could see it in this week’s episode, and it brought that warm feeling that always overtakes me when I recognize the continuity Supernatural has had over a decade.
Jensen also talked about the collaboration that makes this show such a special one to work on — how Serge helped him when he directed, and how he and the other actors helped Serge. That spirit of collaboration really shows in an episode like this one.
Reason #3: The actors and the director can only bring the episode to life if the writing allows it, and in this episode, wow, did it ever. Adam Glass outdid himself here, especially in managing to put the words in Dylan Everett’s mouth that would allow us to totally believe he was Dean Winchester.
Dean to the witch: “Don’t friggen’ touch me!”
It can’t be an easy thing to make us believe that a fourteen year old boy is still a badass and every bit the big brother to Sam who is towering over him, but the dialogue makes it work. Even the scenes which were a bit heavy on the exposition didn’t jar, because none of the dialogue stuck out as something nobody in real life would ever say in a million years. Sam sounded like Sam, and Dean sounded like Dean, no matter what age he looked at the time.
Kudos to Glass for writing believable brotherly banter too, which I’ve missed more than I even realized. Predictably, a lot of the ribbing consisted of talking about each other’s dicks. Sometimes the Winchesters really are a lot like their fourteen year old selves, aren’t they?
Sam: “Dean, I’m way too big to fit in that.”
Dean: “First time you ever had to say that, huh?”
Everyone watching: Doubtful.
Sam: “Big talk from the guy wearing Underoos.”
Then there was,
Dean: “I’ve got no grass on the infield.”
Sam (and everyone watching): [looks down]
And of course, nobody will ever forget,
Dean: “I have no control over this! It’s up, it’s down, it’s up for no reason…”
Sam: “Um, yeah, it’s called puberty.”
Glass also excels at giving us something I cherish on Supernatural, because we never get enough of it – Winchester backstory, aka Weechesters canon. This time we got some delicious glimpses into the brothers’ past, and thus into their relationship. I loved the scene with Dean and Tina in the bar, though I was temporarily distracted by the worrisome fact that Dean was drinking by the close-ups of his (moist, pink) lips. Sorry.
A similar thing happened with Sam later in the car. Thank you, Serge and whoever was the DP for you this episode, for all these lovely close-ups.
Dean tells Tina about being stuck in a motel with his little brother, desperately adding whatever he could get his hands on to the mac and cheese to make it more exciting for Sammy. The look on his face when he tells her that his more out-there attempts worked – that Sam thought it was “exotic” – speaks volumes about how much Dean has always cared about taking care of Sam. From the time he was way too young, that was his job, and he clearly has always taken it very very seriously. Imagine the pressure on a young kid without resources or any way to get more food, trying so hard to protect his little brother from that knowledge. How determined Dean must have been to keep things “normal” for Sam as much as he could. That backstory sheds a little more light on the desperate measures Dean took to save Sam last season. This is Dean’s entire life, the very essence of who he is. It both breaks my heart and warms my heart simultaneously – it’s what I love about the Winchesters, but Show loves to give me epic love with a big dose of tragedy. I should be used to it by now.
The other glimpse of backstory comes in the conversation between the brothers at the bunker, which is going on my list of favorite scenes. First, it’s amazing because the Winchesters are talking. Not lying, not evading, not deflecting, not attacking – talking. Dean doesn’t hide the fact that he’s freaking out, and Sam doesn’t belittle him for it. He also doesn’t take no for answer. He pushes Dean to face his demons (so to speak…), arming him with the courage of Sam’s faith in him.
Sam’s the therapist here, gently talking Dean into doing what’s best for him. I get the feeling that Sam didn’t actually believe in the Easter bunny until he was eleven (and a half), considering that he found out that monsters were real a lot earlier, but he goes along with Dean’s ribbing because it establishes a familiar playing field between them. It gives Dean a sense of normalcy (what passes for normal for the Winchesters, anyway) and reminds him that they are still them. They’re still brothers, and Sam knows him – and believes in him. It’s that, more than anything, that gets Dean up off the floor.
While I’m not buying the eleven thing, it does seem like Sam hung onto his belief in positive fantasy figures as long as he could, which is another lovely glimpse of Weechester canon. Perhaps he wanted to believe in some good magic to balance out all the bad that he already knew was real. And clearly, despite Sam’s complaints to the contrary in A Very Supernatural Christmas, Dean helped make that happen. He could have shattered Sam’s fantasies much earlier, since Dean himself seemed to have his own illusions shattered absurdly early, but he didn’t. He tried to protect Sam from the harsh reality of no Easter bunny for as long as he could – and from the harsh reality of hunting. Damn it, excuse me, I need the tissues again. Thanks a lot, Adam. No really, thanks a lot, Adam.
Reason #4: Continuity and the Epic Love Story of Sam and Dean. It’s hard to maintain perfect continuity over ten seasons, I realize. But it never fails to jar fandom (who apparently doesn’t find it hard to remember every single thing that’s happened in ten seasons…) when there’s a break. This time, we got some delicious moments during which Show remembered its own history.
Instead of forgetting that the mark was on Dean’s arm, Sam talks about it. Asks about it. Worries about it. He doesn’t overreact, but he doesn’t ignore it either. That bothered me so much last season, it still makes me grit my teeth. And we don’t just hear it, we see it. The scene where Sam and Dean are about to split up was a perfect example. Sam, trying to stay closely attuned to his brother, notices Dean’s reluctance immediately. And doesn’t ignore it! (Padalecki shows this with nonverbals that work perfectly). And while Dean makes the decision to go into the bar alone and Sam supports it, Ackles shows us Dean’s hesitation just as clearly, with just a fleeting facial expression. Then we see him steel himself, as if to say, I can do this.
The brothers’ conversation about the mark as Sam tries to convince Dean to leave the bunker is a call back to Sacrifice and one of my favorite scenes of all time.
Sam: “You can beat this Dean.”
Dean: “Do you really believe that?”
Sam: “Yeah, you’re damn right I believe that.”
Jared delivered that line in such a way that I think, at least for a moment, that we all believed it.
Then there were the last few scenes, which were so perfect I think I might have forgotten I wasn’t in my living room and made high pitched squeeful sounds. As much as Dean was considering staying fourteen as the only way to get rid of the mark, when Sam and Tina are in danger, he doesn’t hesitate to make that sacrifice. It’s who he is, and we know it. Threaten Sam, and Dean Winchester will end you! Second chances be damned.
And holy hell, how hot was adult Dean still dressed in his hoodie but going all mark of Cain on Hansel and the witch???
Later, Dean clearly expects Sam to yell at him for it – and so did I. My Season 9 PTSD had me biting my nails waiting for it, in fact.
Dean: “I know what you’re gonna say, okay, but you were in deep and…”
Sam: “I know, I know. You saved me, and you saved Tina. You pulled a Dean Winchester. Thank you.”
Me: (inarticulate flailing)
And Sam doesn’t stop there. Jensen keeps saying that this season, Sam is there for his brother, they’re in this fight together.
Sam: “Look man, do I wish the Mark was gone? Yes of course, absolutely I do. But, I wanted you back.”
I have to pause here, because those are four little words that I really needed to hear Sam say. That I really needed to know – and I think Dean did too. Too much was left unsaid in Season 9, and too many out of character things happened in Season 8, but I feel like the brothers are finally getting back to being brothers. It takes some actual WORDS, Winchesters!
Sam: “And now here you are and you didn’t Hulk out, so I’ll take the win. As for the rest of it, the mark, everything else — we’ll figure it out. We always do.”
Another call back to Sacrifice, and a phrase the Winchesters have said to each other countless times over the course of ten years. It’s true. They always do.
Jared and Jensen have both spoken a lot recently about the overarching theme of Supernatural – keep trying. Don’t give up. That scene was a beautiful expression of that sentiment.
The fact that Dean once again sacrificed having a ‘second chance’ for his little brother brought the scene from ‘Bad Boy’s that appeared in ‘The Road So Far’ full circle. Dean sacrificed a chance at ‘normal’ in that episode, the second he saw Sam in the backseat of the Impala. This time, he didn’t hesitate to sacrifice a chance to be free of the mark if it meant Sam (and an innocent young woman) dying. (And thank you, Show, for giving me credit for being able to put two and two together without an obnoxious flashback thrown in there).
Reasons #5: Sam showing that he’s every bit as protective of Dean as Dean is of him. I totally did not see that coming when he slammed the deceitful guy’s head into the bar. Wham! Lest we forget just how badass Sam Winchester can be.
I also love his expression when he finds Dean’s boot. I might have fumbled for a tissue at that moment, thanks to Jared’s acting.
Reason #6: Dean in a hoodie. And Jensen Ackles as Dean in a hoodie. My only complaint is that when Dean turned back to adult size he didn’t either leave his clothes in a pile on the floor (come on, that’s what happened the first time!) or at least pull an Incredible Hulk and have tattered jeans and a shirt that showed off lots of abs or something. How could you miss such a golden opportunity, Show? Jeez.
Reason #7: Of all the crossovers I’ve ever seen in fanfiction, Supernatural with Downton Abbey is not one of them – but what an awesome choice for the witch! Lesley Nicol was appropriately revolting yet full of personality. And hmmm, what’s brewing with the Grand Coven??
Reason #8: Tina being smarter than Dean. Now usually I hate when any of the series leads are dumbed down, but in this case, Dean being distracted by the cake and Tina being the one to say “It’s probably poisoned” was a nice surprise. Everett made such a Dean face at that, a complex combination of ‘OMG she’s right’ and ‘Damn I wanted that cake!’ Both actresses who played Tina (Madeleine Arthur and Kehli O’Byrne) were excellent. I particularly loved the adult Tina swapping crappy childhood stories with Dean instead of flirting with him; she came off as a survivor, much like Dean himself.
Reason #9: “Your son is so polite.” Sam’s face, y’all.
Reason #10: My daughter loved it. LOVED IT!!! She loved the dialogue, and that it felt like “an old school Supernatural episode”. She loved that it picked up and followed the myth arc and also was a great MotW. She even loved the whole idea of the Grand Coven being a major player this season. In other words, we agreed. And that always makes me happy.
As always, there were a few quibbles. If Show is ever perfect, I might keel over from euphoria or something. While Sam got to be a badass in the bar scene, he ended up being in need of rescue once again eventually. (Though he did save Dean at one point in that battle). That scene worked really well with Dean making the sacrifice to change back, though, and I loved the parallel with ‘Sacrifice,’ so it didn’t bother me as much as it might. But I’m still craving some Sam-saves-the-day (and Dean) moments, and I hope they’re coming.
Also the crazy homeless person thing gets on my nerves – it’s in every television show, not just Supernatural, and I realize it’s a convenient way to have a not entirely reliable observer comment on what happened, but still.
I saved the end for the end, because I think fandom is divided on whether to love it or hate it. Dean’s newfound appreciation for Taylor Swift was unexpected, and I love that – I also love Sam’s incredulous face and Dean’s hint of a fond smile as he drives off (doing a badass swerve that Jensen Ackles probably had far too much fun executing).
And I loved that it was “Shake It Off”, which fit right in with the theme of the episode. On the other hand, my mind immediately went to “OMG how much did they pay for this song – why not get some Zeppelin or more ACDC?”
But who knows, maybe Taylor is such a fan, she’s been dying to get herself on the Supernatural playlist.
All in all, the ending worked for me, and it felt so very old school Sam and Dean, when in those early episodes the ending was always the Impala disappearing up the road.
I can’t wait to see where it leads them next.
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