After a season premiere that kicked up conflicting emotions for me, the second episode of Season 14 of Supernatural was a different kind of episode – but once again, it kicked up some conflicting emotions. I had a lot of anticipation for this one because I enjoy Richard Speight’s directing and always look forward to hearing his thoughtful take on how he brought a script to life. On the other hand, my track record with enjoying the episodes from these particular writers is spotty. So I guess I went into this with conflicting emotions!
Speight is proficient at juggling the back and forth story lines that Supernatural sometimes serves up, and he did an admirable job here, but I tend to get whiplash if we’re bouncing back and forth between too many stories no matter how proficient the directing is. That was the case here to some extent, though Speight managed to keep the transitions smooth enough that I didn’t feel too jarred. Because there are so many story lines going on, I’ll touch on each scene briefly here, but with the through line of what worked and what didn’t in each one.
I pay more attention to the “Then” montage than ever before these days, because it usually gives a clue to what will be foregrounded in the episode, or at the very least what they don’t trust us to remember (of course we all do) or what they think a viewer who has somehow avoided seeing Supernatural for 14 years would need to know to just step right in and pick it up (totally and completely impossible at this point, give it up, Show!) The “Then” this week features the final showdown with Lucifer and the moment of Dean’s possession, and a reminder of Jack’s trauma and his hatred of both Michael and Lucifer. With that frame set, we enter the episode through Michael and what he’s up to now – no disposable characters or case of the week for the beginning minutes. The opening scene is visually striking and sets the tone for who Michael is and how we should feel about him. Speight likes to set up close up shots that are like works of art and emotionally evocative – this time it’s done in flashes, like there’s a thunderstorm outside, and the fact that you only get glimpses adds to the feeling of trepidation. A flash of heavy chains, broken statues, a church organ covered in cobwebs, light filtered through age-dimmed stained glass windows. A church defiled. The last close-up shot is of blood slowly dripping from the cut throat of a restrained man, leaning over a chalice that’s slowly filling as he’s drained. The musical score is full of foreboding, fear mirrored on the faces of the chained up people waiting their turn. (The slow drip of blood will be a recurring image in this episode).
It was a strong opening, and a fitting frame for Michael, still dressed impeccably and as implacable as he was last week (though he has donned an imposing leather apron because clearly he loves his nice suits staying impeccable). It makes him look like a butcher, the leather and straps both terrifying and (perhaps because this is Jensen Ackles) also an oddly sexualized image. Michael seems to pull for objectification, a fact not lost on fandom.
Michael heals the vampire’s slit throat and adds a pinch of archangel grace to the blood.
Michael: A little of this, a little of that…
He then grabs the vampire’s head and forcefully makes him drink. When the vampire acquiesces, Michael does nothing to reduce the erotic vibe of the scene by crooning, “Yes, good boy” as the bound vampire follows his orders.
Unfortunately for the compliant vamp, no sooner has he done so than he burns out and dies, much to the other vampires’ horror.
Michael remains unemotional.
Michael: Huh. Too much that…
It’s our first glimpse of Michael having a sense of humor, albeit a twisted dark one. Ackles did flesh out the character a bit more in this episode, which at first threw me a bit. Last week he was so unemotional he was almost flat, disturbingly so. This week, he showed some humor and some other emotional notes, including pride and a sadistic enjoyment from wielding his power over others. I felt like that was consistent with Christian Keyes’ portrayal of Michael, but it was more personality than Michael showed last week.
There’s another visually effective shot of the dead vampire’s feet dragging across the floor as Michael pulls him over to a pile of other dead vampires; the camera pulls out to show just how many, with lots of impact.
Michael flips the curved blade he’s holding, cocky.
Michael: All right, who’s next?
I might have needed a cold drink at that moment. There’s something hot about the cocky expression and the facile skill with which he flips that blade. Actually the same thing happens when Ackles flips his mic onstage with equal agility, which he has a habit of doing quite often. But I digress.