Supernatural Puts ‘Jack In The Box’ – and Me In A Mood

 

It’s a tough time to be a fan. I have two shows that I absolutely adore, and both of those shows delivered a gut punch last week that left me reeling. The Magicians season finale saw the death of one of my favorite characters (and half of my favorite ship) and it was both excruciatingly well done and absolutely heartbreaking (and maybe a bit problematic too). The very next night, Supernatural aired its penultimate episode of Season 14. I was already raw from the anticipatory grieving about Supernatural ending this time next year, and then The Magicians ripped me apart, so I went into watching “Jack In The Box” with more trepidation and dread than anticipation.

To those of you saying hey, why can’t you just watch the Show and love it? Let me just say that I would give ANYTHING to be able to do that right now. I DO love it, I will always love it. What I really want to do is squee about it all the time.  But last week’s episode left me feeling sad and vaguely sick to my stomach, so there’s not a lot of squee to be had right now.

I always go back and do a rewatch before I write my review, but today I found every excuse not to. Have to run out and pick up the ham for tomorrow’s dinner. Have to grade some papers. Have to clean….and water the plants (we have lot of plants, so that took alot of time)…have to….  Finally I couldn’t put it off any longer, and the rewatch made me feel every bit as sick to my stomach as the first watch did. I guess you can say that means the episode was well done, because it was clearly crafted to be upsetting (just as the episode before was crafted to be very sad), but when I don’t want to watch it, I’m not sure that’s the level of upset the Show was going for.

There were lots of times back in the day when fandom would all go online after a rip-you-apart episode of Supernatural and post tons of icons (predecessor of gifs) saying “Damn You Kripke!”

The Show has never played it the easy way, and it has never been lollipops and rainbows. It’s a story filled with tragedy, but it has also always been a story with hope and with characters I loved fiercely, who were often heroic in the face of tragedy. Terrible things have happened to our heroes over the years, and they’ve had to make terrible decisions to save the world and each other, but this episode was particularly hard to swallow. I’m well aware that my emotions (like most of the fandom’s) are heightened because we know we have only 21 episodes left of this story that is so important to us. That makes every episode that doesn’t hit quite right for me seem even more upsetting than it would have before we knew the end was imminent. So with that in mind, here are my thoughts on ‘Jack In The Box.’

We’ve known the episode title for quite a while, so everyone knew that Jack was probably going to end  up in that goddamn box, but I for one didn’t want to believe it. The Ma’lak box was so profoundly upsetting to the fandom when Dean was determined to get in it, and his nightmare so horrifying, that the thought of Jack in that box was almost unthinkable. So I guess I chose not to think about it. Still, as the ‘Then’ segment started, a chilling dread began to settle over me. Please Show, don’t go there. Please?

Let me just say at the outset that all the actors outdid themselves. They all played their parts incredibly well and every one of them made me genuinely feel. It wasn’t always what I wanted to feel, but feel I did. Robert Singer directed (and had a cameo as a doctor) and that was also as well done as always. The VFX was on point and the cinematography and set dec were often breathtakingly beautiful. I appreciate my Show even when I’m reluctant to go where it’s taking me.

We open with a memorial service for Mary in the bunker. The AU hunters and other people who’ve hunted with her are there, her photo (or rather Sam Smith’s photo) and John’s journal on the table. Sam, Dean and Cas join the group but only Dean speaks. He’s carefully composed, makes a joke about Mary’s cooking even, while Sam stands silent, nodding in agreement.

Dean: We lost our mom once before…

It’s something important to remember when you look at Dean’s behavior in this episode. There’s this thing with grief that’s called the “fishhook effect”. A new loss “hooks into” all the old loss and pulls it up like a fish snagged on a line, so that the pain of the new loss brings up all the pain of the old one and it’s overwhelming. That’s what happens to Dean here, I think. Unlike Sam, he remembers the horrible pain of losing his mother as a four year old, something that has shaped his life ever since and left him with a reservoir of anger that he’s channeled into making him an often ruthless hunter.

Dean expresses their gratitude that they got to know her and what she was really like, a smart and stubborn hunter who couldn’t cook worth a damn.

Dean: Mom, you weren’t here long enough…. But we’re glad for the time we had.

There’s a weird and jarring moment in the middle of all this where AU Bobby suddenly appears and tosses a hatchet across the room to kill one of the guests, who apparently is a wraith, but WTF? It was all very odd.

WTF?

AU Bobby says what we’re all thinking – that maybe Dean is like him, “bein’ teary in public’s not my style.”

That’s for sure because Bobby doesn’t seem very torn up at all for someone who was maybe kinda sorta having a bit of a thing with Mary.

At any rate, it’s soon clear that something is up with Dean. Sam suggests they open Ketch’s bottle of Scotch and hang out and talk about Mom.

Dean: (almost coldly) Talk about Mom? Isn’t that what we’ve been doing?

Ouch.

He boxes things up with steely motivation, like he thinks he can just box up his grief over losing his mother (again).

Courtesy of that grief and loss course I’m currently teaching, Dean and Sam struggle to understand each other in this episode or to be there for each other because they have two very different styles of grieving. Sam is an intuitive griever – he wants to express his grief and share his feelings, eager to take in the comfort of others. Dean, on the other hand, is an instrumental griever. He keeps his feelings to himself and tries to DO something instead – like plan a memorial and box up his mother’s things. Neither can help the other right now, and that’s heartbreaking.

Cas, Sam and Bobby break out the Scotch as Sam looks at one of the very few (only?) photos of him, Dean and Mary when they were little.

They disagree, however, about what to do about Jack.

Cas: We need to find Jack…and help him.

Bobby: I liked the kid… but if his human side is gone, he’s an unstoppable monster who don’t know right from wrong, and he needs to be put down!

Bobby sets off to do just that, and Dean takes off saying he needs to get out of there.

When the next scene opens, we see that Dean has parked the Impala in the woods and is sitting alone on a fallen log. He looks around one last time to make sure nobody is watching him, and then he finally breaks down. Jensen Ackles can make you believe grief like no one else, and he sobbed for real here. I can’t help but wonder if he was crying real tears knowing he will be losing Dean Winchester soon, the way so many of us keep crying. At any rate, it was a heartbreaking scene. Ackles talked about it at a recent convention, saying that it was a brutal scene to film because it was cold and pouring rain and they needed to shoot from above so there couldn’t be any shelter for him. It sounded like it took a long time to film, so it’s sort of a shame it was so short. It got the point across though. Dean is hurting – BAD. He just can’t let anyone know it.

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And what is the most common ‘cover’ emotion when someone is hurting that badly? You guessed it. Anger.

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Supernatural Absence – Double Meanings and Iconic Things

 

I’ve come to the conclusion that the last episodes of Season 14 and the entirety of Season 15 of Supernatural are going to be a master class in grief and loss. It’s impossible for me to experience the show, the conventions, the fandom or anything else related to the Show without the spectre of its ending coloring my reactions. That was very much in evidence at the convention in Chicago last weekend and in last week’s episode, the aptly  named “Absence.” Supernatural’s absence? That’s pretty much all I can think about right now!

Coincidentally, I’m in the midst of teaching a graduate course in grief and loss to a bunch of counselors in training, so I’m immersed in current research and theory about what sort of things we experience as a loss and the myriad ways in which we grieve them. In a way, that’s making what’s happening with Supernatural and its fandom easier to understand, but in another way, it’s tempting me to grab onto one of the coping strategies for grief that sometimes comes back to kick you in the butt – denial, avoidance, intellectualizing, call it what you will. I’ve been doing a lot of all three, and let me just say up front that it probably influenced my reaction to this episode. As fandom used to say all the time back in the day to acknowledge and validate differing points of view, your mileage may vary.

In fact, my friend Laurena (who helms the Winchester Family Business) and I spent the con weekend together – and boy, did we ever have different perspectives on ‘Absence’! Then again, we’ve had different perspectives on Mary Winchester all along. And while we’re both mired in anticipatory grief about Supernatural ending, that meant we had a very different experience of this episode.

Let me say at the outset that I think director Nina Lopez-Corrado (whose work is incredible) and writer Robert Berens (who has written some amazing episodes) did an excellent job of taking the story where it needed to go. The actors all did an amazing job bringing the emotions that needed to saturate the story. That said, as a viewer, I was unusually reticent to go where they wanted to take me. (Laurena, on the other hand, fell down that rabbit hole and landed HARD).

I watched the episode on Thursday night after a long day of work, and then did a re-watch when I returned from the Chicago convention on Monday night. My second viewing was also impacted by having “Sammies with Sam” at the con  – that is, a little meet and greet with Samantha Smith while we ate delicious PBJ sandwiches. I love Samantha and I loved hearing her insights about Mary and about the Show. It was quite clear that she too was grieving, and that shared grief changed my experience of the episode on rewatch a bit. Suffice it to say, this is an episode review that was extraordinarily complicated!

We start off with Sam and Dean returning from the events of 14.17, glad to be home and to share beers as they traditionally do. Dean expresses his relief about Sam being alive in typically minimizing fashion, making a joke about “another miraculous Sam Winchester survival” – when we know he was completely undone by those few minutes of Sam being gone.  But that’s Dean.

Sam and Dean acknowledge Jack’s role in saving the day and say they’re glad to have a get out of jail free card, and if you didn’t know that Jack was on his way out before, you certainly did then. No show can have a consistent character who’s a get out of jail free card for long, since it dilutes the urgency of everything that happens. RIP Jack. (sobbing)

The opening scene is well done, the sense of dread slowly growing as the boys try to find Jack and Mary, and then Mary’s phone ominously rings at the other end of the table.

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Winchesters Caught In The Mousetrap – Supernatural ‘Game Night’

 

Twenty three more Supernatural episodes to go, and counting. Last week’s ‘Game Night,’ written by Meredith Glynn and directed by John Showalter, was the first episode I watched knowing that the Show was coming to an end, so I think I was even more attentive than usual. As in, nobody should say a word to me while I’m relishing every last second of my favorite show for the next solid year! It wasn’t a perfect episode, but it was a wild rollercoaster of both action and emotion, and that means I enjoyed it – and was grateful to be able to see a new episode. That’s going to be the case from now on in, but I’ll probably still find things to quibble about in the midst of my relishing. Okay, make that definitely.

The ‘Then’ includes Nick, which made me groan because I’m just over that story line and the inevitable tie-in to Lucifer (as is about 99.9% of the fandom, but apparently that news has not reached the network). The ‘Now’ begins with someone baking cookies and for a split second I thought it was Dean doing some nesting in the bunker, but nope, it’s Donatello humming and baking in his cozy kitchen. I really like Donatello so when the doorbell rang I started shaking my head immediately, even before he wound up tied to a table with a gigantic hypodermic needle poking into his neck. (I closed my eyes but his screams were still audible). Ouch.

Back at the bunker, it’s Winchester Game Night. Dean is fixing his favorite childhood game, Mousetrap (aww), Jack is making Jiffy Pop on the stove and Mary’s got the beers. Sammy’s out picking up the pepperoni meat intensive pizzas and one with pineapple for Jack, over Dean’s objections. It’s a nice domestic scene which means things are about to go south in a big way.

Sure enough, Dean gets a phone call pleading for help from Donatello.

Dean: So much for Winchester Game Night…

He tries to call Sam but there’s conveniently no signal – that’s Show’s favorite way of splitting characters up, oops, no service suddenly – so he and Mary head off with instructions for Jack to fill Sam in. (I do love that Sam’s voicemail says if you can’t reach him to ‘call my brother’ just like John’s always said ‘call my son Dean’.)

Once Sam gets back he says what I’m thinking – I should be there with you!

Dean assures him it’s okay, and Sam takes issue (me too, Sam).

Sam to Dean: Watch your back.

Dean: That’s the plan.

Winchester for love you, be careful.

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Every Episode Counts Now and I’m Emotional: Supernatural ‘Don’t Go In The Woods’

 

My review of last week’s Supernatural isn’t exactly what it would have been if I’d written it right away. That’s because the world of every Supernatural fan careened off its axis on Friday when it was announced that the Show would end after one more season. Most of us have been very emotional since, and when I went back to re-watch this episode, it was through a very different lens. A lens that has me wanting to cherish every last second of the Winchesters and company that I can get before this wild ride is all over. This may not have been one of my favorite episodes, but it gave me Sam and Dean on a hunt and an emotional story with Jack, and I’m feeling grateful.

‘Don’t Go In The Woods’ was directed by John Fitzpatrick and written by first-time writer Nick Vaught and veteran writer Davy Perez, both of whom are avid horror fans, so we knew this episode would be heavy on the horror tropes. It started off like so many horror films do, with a young couple making out in the woods and hearing spooky noises. Which, for some inexplicable reason, they always think is the wind. When does the wind sound like that?? Instead of a monster rapping on the car window, we get the horror trope curve ball, since it’s the boy’s gruff dad – who’s also the town sheriff because of course he is. The young woman decides to give them space and go off to the bathroom, which is a shack in the middle of the woods and OMG WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT YOUNG WOMAN??? Even if it wasn’t scary as hell I wouldn’t sit down on the toilet seat like she does, btw. But she does, and the eerie whistling starts, and then we see the deformed clawed hand reach over the stall door. Cue screams!

That scene was nicely done, scary and disgusting and we didn’t get to see the monster which is always scarier anyway. The entire episode that took place in the woods was very dark, like old school Supernatural, and that added to the scary factor.

Cut to the bunker, where Sam is researching and starting to feel maybe a little bit better, though it’s clear the guilt over the AU hunters being killed is still there. Dean walks in to find Sam hunched over the laptop, and I get unexpectedly emotional because that’s such an iconic Winchester scene and SHIT we’ll only have 24 more episodes to get more of those! Where are my tissues?

Dean: Whatcha looking at? Porn? Sex tapes? Nip slips?

Sam: The internet is more than just naked people, you know that, right?

Dean: Not my internet.

Iconic Winchesters. I smile through my tears.

Sam shares the case and offers to go get Cas, but Dean explains that Cas left that morning, feeling too cooped up and needing to stretch his legs. Sam asks about taking Jack, but Dean says no, that he’s gotten them in trouble before with his powers and he just got them back.  Much to Sam’s disagreement, Dean doesn’t tell Jack the truth though, instead making up a fairly lame story about Jack needing to be there in case Mary comes by (why?) and them needing him to go on a supply run.

Jack, still trying his new strategy of not worrying Sam and Dean, agrees to do the supply run.

Me: Wait, so you think he’ll be less likely to get into trouble going into town ALONE??

But this is a horror movie, so I guess the bad decision fits, and we all know that what’s coming can’t be good.

Jack looks so eager to please as he says “I’ll do it” and it breaks my heart.

Somewhere out there, there’s a clip of the gag reel that shows what was really on that list, and makes me feel great empathy for Alex Calvert trying to keep a straight face. Just another day on the Supernatural set…

Next up, Winchesters in FBI coats and fed suits, and once again I’m hit by a wave of anticipatory nostalgia that I have to swallow down. The Sheriff (Adam Beach) isn’t nearly as moved as I am, not exactly wanting them there but reluctantly allowing them to examine the body of the murdered young woman.

This scene is also scarier than these scenes usually are on Supernatural, because as soon as they pull out the drawer, her arm falls off the side and hits Dean, who jumps back like he’s been electrocuted. Sam makes a face, incredulous.

Sam: Seriously?

Dean insists he has cat-like reflexes, can’t help it.

Gifs by itsokaysammy

Me: Ohgod, I can’t lose them, this is painful…

Also the body is seriously scary because her eyes are OPEN. *shudders*  Nice work, someone.

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Supernatural Brings Some Laughs with ‘Peace of Mind’

 

I watched this episode of Supernatural from an unusual perspective (for me, at least). I wasn’t able to watch Peace of Mind live, nor was I able to watch it for almost an entire week thanks to being on family vacation. (Despite what most people would probably assume, I actually do prioritize the kids over my favorite show. Okay, maybe I did sneak off and try to watch a bit of the episode on the CW app on Sunday, but that lasted about five minutes, so I gave up after only a single attempt. Pretty respectable, I think.)  This meant that I was partially spoiled for the episode, but more importantly, that I already knew what most of my social media timelines thought of it. I intentionally have a wide range of friends and acquaintances on various platforms, and they have a wide range of reasons why they love Supernatural, so it’s not surprising that some people loved the episode and some people hated it.

If you really needed a break from the angst and a good laugh, you probably loved it. If you watch for quality Misha Collins content, you were pretty pleased. If you ship Sastiel or are amused by Misha Collins and Jared Padalecki’s real life (adorable) teasing friendship, you got way more than you ever dreamt you would and were probably over the moon. If you watch for Sam and Dean and expect them to be interacting alot, maybe you weren’t. In other words, as in most things fandom, your mileage may vary.

When I tweeted that I hadn’t been able to watch and had no clue whether I’d like it or not, I had a lot of predictions from people in all those contingents about how I’d feel when I finally sat down to watch, which was also really interesting to hear. That watching thing finally happened last night, and guess what? Even I didn’t predict my reaction very accurately!

I didn’t have a strong emotional reaction in either direction, perhaps because I was already prepared for what the episode would contain. That allowed me to look at it with two different lenses, which is not the way I would usually do a review, but I think it’s helpful here. As a 42 minute piece of episodic television, I think Peace Of Mind was well done – and very enjoyable. Collins and Padalecki together in Charming Acres were comedy gold, both of them hitting just the right notes, and Meghan Fitzmartin’s teleplay giving them all the right dialogue to play with. They looked like they were having the time of their lives and that enthusiasm carried right over onto the screen. That story line – let’s call it the A story line – was particularly well done.

Misha shared at the Nashville Supernatural convention last weekend that there had been a scene where Sam lands on top of Castiel, and that Jared had way too much fun with that, including making “an impact”. That little tease primed me for the scene, and when it actually happened I laughed out loud, imagining all the fun Padalecki must have had with a trapped Collins who’s trying to stay in character. I’m crossing all my fingers and toes for lots of gag reel content from that one, because Phil Sgriccia was directing and he definitely knows when to let the cameras keep rolling!

I loved the set dec and locations that transformed a part of Vancouver into the idyllic and picturesque (according to Cas) Charming Acres, and the campy music and back-in-time costumes. Supernatural never cuts corners and it shows.

The B story line, as Dean tries to figure out if Jack is in the angel or devil camp (at times with a Twinkie choice test), worked less well for me, but perhaps that’s inevitably colored by having expectations for how these characters would be feeling after recent canon events. There was humor there too, but it didn’t work as well for me in the B story line. That may be because there just wasn’t as good a reason for the departure from the Show’s usual angst and darkness, like there was in the A story line. Alex Calvert and Keith Szarabajka (Donatello) had some lovely scenes together, but I think the back and forth between what was happening in Charming Acres to Cas and Sam and then to what was happening with Jack and Dean kept jarring me. I was more invested in the Sam and Cas story and didn’t want to keep being yanked away, which is a recurring problem with me and Supernatural when they have two separate story lines running.

From purely the perspective of an episode of television, the bookended brief Winchester brothers moments at the start and end were a separate thing too. They worked for me, and I was glad they were there, but perhaps that’s largely because I was waiting for them as a Supernatural fan.

So that’s the first perspective. Congrats to Meghan for her first episode as a writer and to Steve Yockey for his co-writing, especially for the entire Charming Acres story line. I literally laughed out loud – more than once!

The second perspective is of someone who has watched Supernatural since the beginning and is emotionally invested in this season’s story line as well as in the individual characters. From that perspective, I wasn’t quite as happy with the episode. Did we need a break from the angst? I know some people did, but I was in my happy place after the emotion-drenched episodes we had in the middle of the season and craving nothing more than a continuation of that angsty Winchestery goodness. I do enjoy the “funny” episodes, and I did enjoy this one, but I was also a little frustrated that it popped into the middle of a pretty serious overarching story arc.

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