When Dean Winchester Breaks Your Heart: Supernatural What Is And What Should Never Be

As Season 2 neared its end, Supernatural aired one of its most innovative episodes, ‘What Is And What Should Never Be’. Written by Raelle Tucker, who I wish we’d had longer on Supernatural, and directed by Eric Kripke himself, this 20th episode of the season was a brilliantly done episode that asked the provocative question, what if the Winchesters were never hunters and lived a “normal life”? But of course, because this is Supernatural, it’s a dark and twisted version of that question and its surprising answer.

The ‘THEN’ sequence is a flashback to the very beginning, John and Mary and four year old Dean living a happy “normal” life, then the fires, Mary and Jessica, with a reminder that Sam was headed to law school once upon a time. Then a reminder of Dean’s headspace at the time, as he and Sam argue.

Sam: I’m not gonna just ditch the job!

Dean: Screw the job, man, we don’t get paid, we don’t get thanked, only thing we get is bad luck!

He’s not wrong, especially with what they’ve gone through recently, in prison and with Agent Henriksen on their tail. As this episode aired, Dean was questioning everything, including the job that has been his identity, that he’s sacrificed so much for. Inevitably, there had to be times when he wanted out, even if he felt guilty about that desire, as though he was letting his father down. But Dean is only human, and this episode is a brilliant reminder of that, and of the hopes and dreams and wishes beneath the often stoic surface.

Needless to say, Jensen Ackles portrays all that so vividly that this episode is both painful as hell and impossible to look away from. He has talked about how hard this one was for him, because it took away what Jared and Jensen had relied on for two seasons – the bond between Sam and Dean. Jensen felt destabilized not having Sam’s partnership for Dean to count on, and couldn’t wait to finish filming – just like he would later feel about the Soulless Sam arc which also took “our” Sam away from Dean. That destabilized feeling totally works, though, as Dean himself is thrown by the  sudden changes in his world and in his relationship with his brother.

NOW

Dean driving down the road in the Impala – which has a new license plate! I remember at the time grieving for the original Kansas plate KAZ2Y5. It seems like a little thing, but the Impala was already vastly beloved by the fandom, so it hurt us almost as much as it probably hurt her boys to change the plate. CNK80Q3 Ohio it was, until the end of the show.

Sam is back at the motel, worried that a cop car outside is coming for them, even though they changed the plate and ditched the credit cards they were using. That’s a toll that their newfound visibility took on them, constantly worrying more than they ever had about being caught by law enforcement as they tried to do their job of ‘saving people, hunting things’. It’s another reason for Dean’s discontent, as everything that they’re trying to do – to help people – is getting harder.

The cop car eventually drives away and Sam breathes a sigh of relief.

Dean, as always, keeps his game face on, saying nothing to worry about.

Sam: Yeah, being fugitives? Friggen’ dance party.

Dean (grinning): Hey man, chicks dig the danger vibe.

Half of Dean’s game face is to bolster his little brother, the other half he tries to believe himself.

They’ve been trying to figure out where a bunch of victims disappeared to, Dean driving around and Sam researching. Back at the motel, Sam says that he’s figured out what they’re hunting – a djinn.

Dean: A freaking genie? You think these suckers can really grant wishes?

Sam says they’re powerful enough, they’ve been feeding off people for centuries and are all over the Koran.

Sam: But not exactly like Barbara Eden in harem pants.

Dean (with a wistful look on his face): My God, Barbara Eden was hot, wasn’t she? Way hotter than that Bewitched chick…

Sam (annoyed): Are you even listening to me?

The whole conversation is priceless brotherly banter, with early seasons Dean constantly distracted by his libido and early seasons Sam constantly trying to get him back to concentrating on the job. It was 2007, and we all knew that Dean never actually sacrificed any part of doing the job – and Sam knew that too.

The conversation is also amusing to revisit in 2023 because does anyone watching on Netflix now actually know who Barbara Eden was or that Bewitched was a show that also had a hot woman with powers? I am old enough to know, but Sam and Dean were going back a ways even in 2007 to bring up television shows from the 1960s before they were born! (I imagine they watched a lot of reruns while left in motel rooms as kids though).

Dean decides keep driving and searching for the djinn’s lair, saying he saw a place that fits its MO a couple miles back. Sam is instantly worried – it’s never a good idea for the Winchesters to split up, as we all well know!

Sam: Wait no no no no, come pick me up first!

Should have listened to Sam, Dean!

But Dean goes on alone. The Impala pulls into a dark alley, full of the “atmo” smoke that they used so often in the early seasons. (The first time we visited the Supernatural set, they had gotten a little carried away with it and it took our transport van a bit longer to come pick us up while they cleared it out – there were alarms going off as we talked to the PA on the phone!)

He walks into an abandoned office building or storage warehouse, past an old fashioned typewriter.

His spidey senses tingle and he grips his knife as he goes, flashlight searching the room.

Then we see him walk by the Djinn’s bald head and it is CREEPY and SCARY as hell omg. This scene was so well done, the cinematography gorgeous, the barely visible figure of the djinn looming in the background where Dean doesn’t seem him – but we do. Well done, Kripke!

Suddenly the djinn attacks, grabbing Dean by the throat, forcing his blue hand onto his forehead as Dean’s eyes roll back. Ackles is so good at scenes like this; you can see the moment that Dean loses the battle, his expression going blank and his eyes vacant as the djinn puts him under.

It’s horrifying and terrifying in its realness.

 

 

 

Read more

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!

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

cap loverdeans

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: