Supernatural Rewatch: Supernatural Goes Meta with Hollywood Bablylon

As my friends and I make our way through a Supernatural series rewatch, I am so struck by the quality of these first few seasons. Season 2 is one of my favorite seasons – maybe my favorite of all. There are very few episodes that don’t feel like classics now, and this is certainly one that fits that description. Hollywood Babylon is extra special because it’s the first “meta” episode of Supernatural – something that the show would become known for over its 15 year run.  I LOVED its wink wink nudge nudge making fun of itself and the industry when I saw this episode then and I loved this episode just as much rewatching it now.

Written by the brilliant Ben Edlund, also the mind behind ‘The Tick’, and directed by the venerable Phil Sgriccia, of course Hollywood Babylon was going to be both entertaining and creepy and just plain weird. Which is ALL good in my book!

The opening teaser is a stereotypical horror film, so dimly lit it’s almost black and white, a young woman (Elizabeth Whitmere) with a flashlight searching for her friends in the woods in front of a creepy looking house, the porch swing swaying, scary music playing.

And pretty terrible acting as the woman (searching for her sister, because Supernatural) is deserted by her cowardly male friend and then hears a twig snap behind her. Slowly she turns….and unleashes a bloodcurdling scream into the camera.

That…fades out.

We hear a rather annoyed “cut” and realize we’re on a film set as the camera pans out. She’s been screaming at a suspended tennis ball, which at least partly explains the lack of conviction in her scream.

The meta kicks in instantly, as we meet the director, named McG after the very real producer of Supernatural and many genre shows. He’s as insincere as can be, critical behind her back and then fake oh that was great but let’s do it again and dial up that scream to Tara Benchley’s face. He assures her that the tennis ball will be replaced by a monster and look great “once Ivan and the FX guys are done with it” – an in-group reference to Supernatural’s real life VFX supervisor Ivan Hayden.

For fans who were paying attention, the episode was already leaving us grinning – and I have no doubt it did the same for the cast and crew who were also in on the jokes. Showrunner and creator Eric Kripke has loved playing with meta and in-jokes from the start, and he’s still enjoying doing that on his new show The Boys – and I’m still enjoying it too.

A long-haired crew member named Frank wanders around the set spreading suspicion that there’s some kind of real haunting going on, adding to the fun. At least it’s fun until poor Tara is walking through the fake woods trying to master that scream and is confronted with a dead and bloody Frank up in the scaffolding.

She screams for real, and on the other end of the set, McG happily announces “now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

Enter Sam and Dean and our title card. The meta picks right up again, Sam and Dean on the Warner Brothers studio lot taking the trolley tour that many of us have taken in real life, myself included. Dean is in excited fanboy mode, telling the unimpressed kid next to him that ‘Creepshow’ was filmed over there.

The camera pans up to Sam as the tour guide announces that Stars Hollow is to the right, the setting for the TV show, Gilmore Girls.

Tour guide: And if we’re lucky, we might even catch one of the show’s stars.

Close on Sam, who looks suddenly wary and hops right off the trolley.

The joke, of course, is that Jared also played Dean on Gilmore Girls, so he could have been that star she was mentioning. Poor Dean is upset not to be able to finish the tour, but reluctantly follows his brother. He’s convinced he sees Matt Damon on the lot, undeterred when “Matt” is pushing a broom and insisting he’s probably researching a role while Sam rolls his eyes.  Sam’s trying to work the case while Dean just wants to have fun, saying he wanted to come to LA for a vacation, swimming pools, movie stars.

Sam: Does this seem like pool weather to you, Dean? It’s practically Canadian!

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Fathers, Sons and The Power of Choice – The Boys Explosive Season 3 Finale

The season finale of Season 3 of The Boys has been one of the most anticipated ever. It’s honestly been so much fun watching the excitement ramp up each week for each episode – it was a brilliant decision on Eric Kripke and Prime Video’s part to release the episodes over five weeks instead of all at once, especially with the insane promotion we were treated to each week. I watched the whole season before it streamed in the press screeners, but I still felt entirely swept up in the anticipation and excitement (and, let’s face it, dread!) each week.

The cast traveled to Brazil for four wild days of promotion, which only served to amp up the anticipation even more. We were treated to interviews and red carpets and the cast all having a bloody good time. And Jensen Ackles looking like this.

Now that everyone has had a chance to watch it, this is the spoilery recap and review of the season finale, so SPOILERS ahead. LOTS OF THEM!

I’ve been watching this show since its beginning and have loved it since then, but Season 3 has been a whole different ballgame. As a passionate Supernatural fan, the addition of Jensen Ackles as Soldier Boy meant that I was even more excited about this season, but even I wasn’t prepared for just how much I’d be drawn in by the character or just how complicated my feelings about Soldier Boy would be. He’s an asshole and a bigot and a bully, but Ackles also portrays him with vulnerability and humor and at times he’s almost charming. I feel like I should not have been hoping for any kind of redemption arc for Soldier Boy, and yet I found myself nervous as hell going into the finale, hoping that a) he wouldn’t be killed off and b) he might find at least a little bit of redemption. Help save the day, maybe?

Well… I should know Eric Kripke better than that by now!

I’ve been writing a lot about this season of The Boys being all about choice, and the season finale sees every main character have to make some difficult ones.

Passing It On From Father To Son – Or Not

This season is also about the intergenerational transmission of trauma, and the toxic masculinity messages that are passed down from fathers to sons. One of those messages is about strength and power. All the men whose fathers were abusive, with either physical or verbal violence or both, have a hard time not repeating the cycle.

Butcher’s father was both, and those toxic messages are ever-present in his head, bleeding out of him in eruptions of physical violence and caustic, cruel barbs thrown at enemies and friends alike.

In this episode, he vacillates wildly between giving into those violent impulses, laser focused (heh heh) on taking down Homelander and willing to use anyone as a weapon to do that, and trying to hang onto the caring part of him that wanted to protect Lenny and now wants to protect Hughie.  He never does tell Hughie about the Temp V being fatal, but he unceremoniously knocks him out with a punch and shoves him in a convenience store bathroom to keep him from taking it again. So, a few points at least in his favor?

On the other hand, he’s been fine with using Frenchie and Kimiko and now Soldier Boy to get the revenge he wants, and he’s as manipulative as ever in this episode, as he repeatedly tells Soldier Boy that Homelander is not really his son. We see Soldier Boy’s ambivalence several times, hesitating to kill his own son and emotional about having a child – but Butcher knows to play to the rage he feels at being tossed aside and replaced, focusing that rage on Homelander by telling Soldier Boy that he is his replacement and the reason he was tortured. Well played, Butcher, but chillingly cruel.

Homelander was not just abused but neglected, deprived of not just a father but a mother too. A sensitive boy like Butcher seems to have been, he too had that knocked out of him with cruelty, absorbing the same message that to be “a man” you must not only be strong and powerful but unfeeling too. Showing vulnerability is weakness, unmanly. Both men struggle to have any kind of healthy relationships – even Butcher’s with his wife was doomed once Ryan existed – and both have been increasingly isolated and alone as this season progressed.

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Jensen Ackles on Finding the Nuance in Soldier Boy – Exclusive Interview

The season 3 finale of The Boys was a tour de force for the entire cast and crew, from the writing to the directing to the effects to the score, and certainly the performances from every single actor. I’ve been a Jensen Ackles fan since Supernatural premiered way back in 2005, so I know how powerful his acting is, but to see him bring to life an entirely different character in this season, who is so very not Dean Winchester, has been eye opening nevertheless. He brings to Soldier Boy not just the toxic masculinity we were expecting, but a vulnerability that is unexpected, with subtle expressions and gestures and tone of voice, showing us so much more than we would have understood from the dialogue alone.

SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE SEASON FINALE!

In the finale, Soldier Boy opens up to Butcher as the two drink together, perhaps sensing that they share some big time daddy issues.  As a manufactured superhero who’s had to hold up a fake persona for literally a century, Soldier Boy seems relieved to tell the truth – the Soldier Boy Story movie was BS. He wasn’t a poor kid with a heart of gold on the streets of South Philly who woke up with abilities; his father owned half the steel mills in the state.

Soldier Boy: I went to boarding school. Got kicked out of boarding school. Because I was a fuck up. But he made sure I knew it.

This Butcher can relate to, intimately, asking if he used a belt (like Butcher’s father did).

Soldier Boy: Never laid a hand on me. He couldn’t be bothered. Said I was a disappointment. Not good enough to carry his name. So I went to his golf buddies in the War Department and they got me into Dr. Vought’s Compound V trials.  I became a superhero. Strongest man alive, fuckin’ ticker tape parades when I came home.

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He says it all with bravado, trying to keep the persona up even as he’s finally telling the truth. What did the old man say then, Butcher wonders.

Soldier Boy: Ah. He said I took a short cut. That a real man wouldn’t have cheated.

That toxic masculinity that Soldier Boy has been embodying all season laid out in his father’s brutal, intentionally cruel accusation, fueled with misogyny and homophobia, cut deep. That disgust that his son wasn’t a ‘real man’ and that complete rejection, even after Ben had transformed himself completely into what he was certain his father wanted him to be, must have been devastating. He must have thought that his father would surely love him then, only to be rejected once more.

The pain he still carries from that rejection is clear on Soldier Boys’ face, the way he hangs his head, suddenly feeling vulnerable.

I spoke to Jensen Ackles in an exclusive one on one interview about that scene in the finale, which is one of my favorites of the entire season. In typical Jensen fashion, he gave credit to all the talented people who collaborate to make the show so special.

Lynn: Hearing the backstory of how his father treated him, I felt like I started to “get it” a little. Not that it excuses his behavior, but it starts to explain it. And you made the decision to play the character with a lot of nuance, vacillating between vulnerability and trying to connect to others, and then just erupting in rage. It’s dizzying to watch all that happen within the space of seconds, but the best part of the character is that you really pulled that nuance off. Was that an explicit note to make that nuance part of the character or something you inferred?

Jensen: A lot of that is in the script, it’s just really good writing. Kripke is such a vivid storyteller with his words, and he does it in such a precise, almost surgical way, that in reading it – not just Kripke but his whole writing staff is so talented – that a lot of that nuance is either right there on the page or certainly implied. And they allow us to kinda navigate it and find it. So I definitely was looking for that, and that’s a note that he’s been giving me since the beginning of Supernatural.

Lynn: It was so much a part of Supernatural also, yes. A big part of why I fell for Dean Winchester so hard.

Jensen:  It’s nice to know he’s still encouraging us to find the nuances of the scenes and make those moments in between the moments count.

Lynn: Well, you did. I was a little angry at you, like damn it, I knew he was gonna put just enough vulnerability in there that I was not gonna be able to just outright hate this character. And the entire fandom has been flailing along with me with the same quandary, so good job, good job.

Jensen: It was fun to play those colors, to be just such an outwardly gross character, but to play him in a way that you do feel bad, you feel bad for this big guy’s journey even though you shouldn’t.

Lynn: I think that’s exactly it. I felt bad even though I kept saying, what are you doing? It got to the point when I thought he might die and I was yelling at the screen no no no no don’t die don’t die!

Jensen: (laughing)

Lynn: This episode was painful to watch because of all my conflicting feelings. But Supernatural was also painful, so I guess maybe that’s just me…. Don’t judge.

Jensen: (laughing) Maybe that’s what we should be delving into, Lynn. What does this say about you?

Lynn: Oh no, let’s not go there…

Luckily, he let me off the hook.

In the end, Soldier Boy can’t accept what his son is offering, even though he has wanted a chance to raise a child and “do it better”. But Soldier Boy is confronted with a son who personifies all the things he hates most about himself – all the things his father accused him of. It’s tragic that, in the final moment, Soldier Boy can’t shake loose of his father’s brutal definition of what it is to be a man. All he can see is Homelander looking weak. A disappointment. All those things that his father called him, and that he constantly fears in himself, and so he can’t bear to see that in his own son. So he lashes out, recapitulating his own father’s rejection and cruelty.

But he does it with no joy; his face reflects the pain he too is feeling, his inescapable disappointment in himself. And of course, there are tragic consequences.

At least he’s not dead – Eric Kripke has said that Soldier Boy will definitely be back at some point and Jensen has said that if Kripke asks, he’ll come running. I  swear, I could hear the sigh of relief from the entire fandom from all over the globe at that moment. Thanks for making us care so much, Jensen and Eric. I think.

Stay tuned for my deep dive on The Boys season finale – coming later today!

Caps: javkles

– Lynn

You can read Jensen Ackles’ thoughts on fandom,

Dean Winchester and Supernatural in his chapters

in Family Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be

Peace When You Are Done – links here or at:

The Boys Season Finale Is Almost Here – Non-Spoilery Thoughts on The Instant White Hot Wild

The season finale of The Boys Season 3 has all the over the top fight scene showdowns we would expect  from a finale episode – but it also has so much more. And much of that is a dizzying mix of heartbreaking and hopeful. Those emotions are so far apart that rocketing back and forth between them is what I called in my review of last week’s episode a mindfuck, and this week is even moreso. Back on the roller coaster for the finale, though – I’ve admitted that the twists and turns and speed are both terrifying and exhilarating, so I keep opting to climb right back on.

There are a lot of reckonings in the final episode. Some of the characters find their lines and then pick a side – and it’s not always the one we’re expecting them to pick. I went into watching this episode holding my breath, because despite all of us knowing he’s a Class A asshole, most of the show’s fans do not want Season 3 to be the last we see of Jensen Ackles as Soldier Boy.

The character is a big departure from Soldier Boy of the comics, from his overt cowardice to his origins (and not being the father of Homelander). That left Kripke and company the room to create a character that is much more nuanced and complex, and then to cast someone as brilliant as Ackles to portray him. The cast has been effusive in saying that Jensen “fit right in” and Ackles, in his customary humble way, has said that he was just hoping not to mess up a dynamic that was already working perfectly (which it was). All of that shows. Soldier Boy, Butcher and Hughie was the trio I had no clue I needed until they were on my screen – and now I definitely want MORE.

As I pushed play on this episode, now knowing that Homelander is Soldier Boy’s son, I had about a thousand hypotheses of which direction things could go. Suffice it to say, I bit my nails a lot while watching – and that I was still shocked. And once again, I felt more than I anticipated and more than I wanted to. No spoilers in this article for the finale episode, but HANG ON TIGHT! Here are my non-spoilery thoughts after watching the season finale, now that I’ve (sort of) composed myself.

The final episode revisits the main themes of the season, including toxic masculinity, which Kripke and many of the actors have talked about in interviews throughout the season. Almost every character struggles with what that means and what that role entails. Is masculinity inextricably linked with ‘strength’ and ‘saving people’ and if so, how is that defined? Who gets to define it?

The theme extends beyond gender. The Boys has an interesting twist to the “saving people, hunting things” mantra that Kripke wove into Supernatural, asking if it really matters who’s doing the saving. And there’s an underlying theme that’s deeper, and one that struck me as very real life – what does it do to the person who needs to be saved? Does being saved translate to weakness and saving to strength? Would we even be asking that question if we weren’t as a culture obsessed with being badass in some oddly strict definition of the word, no matter how we identify? It’s part and parcel of the whole superhero genre, but is that a message that’s actually helpful? Sometimes being strong isn’t about being able to laser someone in half or throw them across the room. Sometimes it’s about being there for someone else when they need it, even if that doesn’t look very badass. As a psychologist, I am awed when I see that kind of strength in my clients – ordinary human beings doing extraordinary things to help others. That’s a whole different definition of badass.

And what of the definitions that our culture instills in us? All those gendered stereotypes about what strength looks like, the strict boundaries of “what it means to be a man”. As this entire series has vividly shown, and perhaps this season especially, some of those rules and norms are toxic, harming the individual and everyone around them. Driving people away. The idea that you don’t need anyone, that relationships aren’t important, that everyone is a threat to your place in the hierarchy. That you can never be the one who needs saving. The reiteration of a hierarchy that says someone has to be the alpha male and everyone else has to fall in line – and that if you are that alpha male you have to hang onto that spot no matter what or who gets sacrificed.  Do you have to internalize those rules you learned from a flawed parent and live by them, or can you decide to make your own rules? And will it be too late if you do?

I said in my review of the last episode that The Boys comes from a very Freudian perspective – that we are inevitably shaped by our pasts, whether we want to be or not. Especially, as Freud believed, those early years and our first caregivers. But neither Freud nor The Boys would say that there’s no escaping that early experience, even if it was traumatic. As Kimiko says in this episode, “Our past is not who we are. I thought I’d always be broken, but you saw something in me.” The question is, which of these characters can see that something in themselves, and will it be enough for them to break away?

The heartbreaking answer is that for some, no it will not.

One of the reasons this season, and especially these last few episodes, hit me so hard is because they also echo some of the main themes of Supernatural. There’s a reason I was and always will be so emotional about that show. This season of The Boys looks at family and its importance in our lives and its many definitions, just as Supernatural did. Family by blood, family by choice, family by shared time in a foxhole trying to survive. Family as the support system who gets you through, and family as abusive and controlling and ultimately soul-destroying. Family as the people who give you those ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman without leaving any space for any other options, and demonstrate those rules with the abuse that makes them unforgettable.

Sometimes. Sometimes the cycle doesn’t get broken – and I hate that.

There are vivid reminders that abuse doesn’t always mean beating the shit out of someone (though sometimes it does). Words can do lasting damage just as easily, and sometimes those are even harder to forget or fight back against – because it’s your own self you’re talking back to. (The Boys makes that literal at times, which I invariably love an unreasonable amount). The voices in our heads can talk us out of irrational thoughts that hold us back, or they can talk us into staying afraid and trying to stay safe the only way we’ve learned. With all the trauma and PTSD in The Boys, it’s inevitable that both of those voices exist – and are sometimes given voice themselves!

The messages about fathers and sons in this show are Freudian in their flavor too. There’s a tremendous fear of betrayal, the darkest side of competition, mixed with heartbreaking longing, very Oedipal.  Sometimes I hope desperately that the message will be different, but this show has never been one to avoid the dark side.

The season ultimately turns out to be all about choice – as Kripke’s shows often are. Do you choose to have power if you can, or do you turn it down? Is there something worth giving it up for? Conversely, is there something worth holding onto it for, even if there is a price? There are no easy answers for any of the characters, and that holds true in the real world too.

I love that a show that’s entirely ‘out there’ rings so true for what is right here in front of us every single day. I love that it reflects the worst of humanity, specifically mirroring the things that make my stomach turn on a daily basis – and that it also reflects the best. It’s dark as hell, and disturbing, and sometimes truly painful to watch, but it makes me think and it makes me feel. It gets the wheels turning as fast as that roller coaster barrels down the steepest hill and leaves me just as breathless.

One more ride on the rollercoaster? Sign me up.

Do not miss the season finale of The Boys this Friday (or tonight if we’re lucky), and be prepared for some of the twists and turns  not being what you expect. Season 4, anyone?

– Lynn

You can read Jensen Ackles’ thoughts on fandom

and his 15 years on Supernatural (along with the

other actors) in Family Don’t End With Blood and

There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done – links in

banner or at:

 

 

 

 

 

The Boys Episode 3.7 Drops A lot of Bombshells (And A Music Video)

Only one more episode of Season 3 of The Boys to go, and I don’t think anyone is ready for this wild ride to be over! This week’s episode, ominously titled “Here Comes A Candle To Light You To Bed” brought one of the biggest revelations of the series, and delivered it in a way that ensured it left a powerful impact. I know some people guessed what was coming, but I wasn’t one of those people, so it left me gobsmacked and repeating WTF more than once. Luckily I love it when this show can surprise me, so this is far from a complaint.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, SO BE SURE YOU’VE WATCHED THE EPISODE FIRST!

It’s been amusing, as a long time Supernatural fan, to watch the rest of the world discover Jensen Ackles’ acting brilliance as they watch this season of The Boys. He gave a tour de force in this episode, once again making me feel a ridiculous range of emotions that shouldn’t be possible for one character – especially one like Soldier Boy. And yet…

Look, even the official accounts can’t help but get a little heart eyed over this character (and the guy who so vividly portrays him).

More than anything, this episode was about agency and choice, as many of the characters confront their own fears and make decisions about their trajectories in life that acknowledge those fears but refuse to be constrained by them.  Homelander and Vought (as now personified by Ashley) continue to hold power by wielding that fear, Ashley utilizing their voicepiece Cameron Coleman to cast doubt on Annie’s accusations. Surely no one can take her seriously when she’s clearly just a woman scorned, and oh by the way, doesn’t she have ties to known terrorists and human traffickers? No wonder she started a home for runaway girls!  Imagine a world where the real bad guys take the moral high ground to silence a voice for change and people just believe it…oh wait.

Maeve is one of the characters who has faced the worst case scenario and decided she’s willing to lose it all to go up against Vought and Homelander. He visits her to see if he can find out where Butcher and Soldier Boy are, trying to scare her by saying that Soldier Boy has already killed seven supes and fried the power out of others – reminding her that could happen to any of them. His fear mongering doesn’t work on her anymore though.

Maeve: That’s the difference between you and me. You need to be a supe; I can’t wait til it’s over.

In one of the many parallels in this episode, Homelander recalls almost fondly that at one time he wanted to have kids with Maeve, just as Soldier Boy recalled the same about Crimson Countess previously. In an eerily prescient theme for what’s going on in the real world right now, Homelander assures her that he’d never force himself on her – but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t harvest her eggs against her will to make himself some kids. It’s a shocking attempt to control her body and her reproductive decisions and how the hell are Kripke and this show always so good at predicting the dystopian future?

Maeve refuses to give him the upper hand though, saying that the day is still a top three for her, because she saw him scared. Touche.

Later, Homelander speaks at a rally and attacks Starlight once again when he’s supposed to be rallying in support of candidate Robert Singer (Supernatural’s own Jim Beaver). Homelander is losing it a bit though, hallucinating Soldier Boy in the crowd, his eyes glowing for a second before he gets himself under control. Walking it off, he ends up in a nearby barn where a cow is plaintively mooing. As ‘Crimson and Clover’ starts to play, the scene goes surreal, Homelander milking the cow and looking positively orgasmic while doing it and then drinking the milk right out of the bucket.

Only on The Boys, seriously.

Neuman catches him at it and tells him to pull himself together, offering him some information and a working alliance. That should go well.

A Train wakes up in the hospital with a new heart and an Ashley-written fake news story about how he got it that involves Soldier Boy killing Blue Hawk just as he and A Train were getting along again. Nice cover story, tying up all the loose ends. A Train is ambivalent about going along with all this, but you get the feeling he’s going to cave, drawn back in by the fame and fortune – and Ashley knows it.

Black Noir, on the run and hiding from Soldier Boy, also faces his fears – with the help of Buster Beaver and his cast of cartoon characters. Nathan Mitchell somehow manages to convey all kinds of emotions without saying a word, and it’s a brilliant use of cartoons to depict Noir’s backstory (as this show has done before).  Much like Homelander’s heart to heart with his own mirror image, Black Noir’s dream sequence in his head gives voice to his own self doubt and trauma without him having to utter a thing.

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