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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Things Get Serious with Supernatural ‘Funeralia’

The ominously titled “Funeralia,” written by Steve Yockey and directed by (one of my favorite directors) Nina Lopez-Corrado, kept the momentum going as Supernatural nears the end of Season 13. I had a few quibbles with this episode, but there was quite a bit that I loved a lot.

This episode had only two story lines going, which made the back and forth feel less overwhelming than it sometimes does, and I appreciated that. It let the emotional impact of both story arcs come through much more clearly, and honestly, that’s usually my favorite thing about an episode of this show. Adventure is good, but I watch for the emotional resonance, for the characters who are so real that they feel things – and I can feel with them.

Story line number one was Castiel and the fate of Heaven and the Angels. I am not always very adept at following the angelic story lines because they seem to shift from time to time when I’m not paying enough attention (or maybe that’s why I don’t pay enough attention). In this episode, Naomi reminds Cas (who apparently already knew) that Heaven is powered by angels, and without angels, all the souls housed there will fall to earth as ghosts. Huh? Weren’t there whole seasons when no one – Cas included – was at all concerned about the angel population and everyone seemed very willing to lead armies against other angel factions and kill lots of angels? Was nobody worried about Heaven being out of power as a result?? There was a time when Metatron ejected all the angels from Heaven, so I’m not sure how it kept being powered up then (or maybe he left a few dozen up there?) I also didn’t think it was powered by angels in the first place – wasn’t it powered by souls? And that’s why everyone wanted them from Purgatory? And then there was also the reapers are actually angels thing, which nobody mentioned this time, but I think that went away rather quickly which is probably for the best.

At any rate, I was a bit confused by all that new information about Heaven. Angel and Heaven canon in this Show tend to be a bit flexible, which is not my favorite thing. I was also confused about why no one told Cas that Lucifer was actually in Heaven – and where is he, for that matter? Or Jo?

Those quibbles aside, Misha Collins and Amanda Tapping made the Heaven story line compelling anyway, because they were both so damn good.
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Sarah Troyer on Guest Starring On (and Being a Fan of) Supernatural

I really enjoyed the recent Supernatural episode “Tombstone”, and not just because we got Dean Winchester back in cowboy garb (along with Castiel this time. Sorta). The episode had both humor and emotional resonance, which is how I like my Supernatural. It also had some interesting guest characters. I was especially taken with Athena Lopez, who isn’t your typical coroner – or your typical guest character, for that matter. So I reached out to Sarah Troyer, who brought the character to life and made her memorable even in one episode. Sarah had tweeted that she had watched the show since she was a kid, so it was a thrill to work on it – which let me know she has excellent taste in television. She agreed to answer a few questions so we all could get to know her better.

Lynn: How was the character described to you or described in the breakdown?

Sarah provided the description, which is always fascinating to me to see.

Role: Athena Lopez
20s – early 30s, please include all ethnicities in your suggestions. This “Goth Rocker Betty Page” is a sexy, offbeat undertaker who has lived in an Old West cemetery her whole life…GUEST STAR (17)

Lynn: What did you add to your understanding of Athena to ‘flesh out’ the characterization? Was there any backstory that you constructed other than the bits of information we got on the show?

Sarah: After reading the script, I believed Athena to be a strong, determined character with a loving side to her. Although she may be seen as different (her style, music interests, job), she’s absolutely confident in who she is. I don’t think viewers got to see much of her office but it was plastered with her favourite bands, artists, pin up girls etc. She definitely didn’t hide who she was. Secondly, she didn’t have much issue telling anyone off, whether it was Sam, Dean or Dave (one of my favourite things about her). However, I knew Athena had a loving side and I tried to keep that in mind so she didn’t become too brash or even stand offish. When she finds out Dave robbed a bank and murdered someone, I didn’t think she could just flip him the bird and say have a nice life. I think there would be a lot of confusion and mixed feelings in a situation like that, a moral dilemma. She loved Dave and was with him for so long, she thought she knew him but now he’s turned into someone she doesn’t know – who is he really? She should walk away but it’s hard to walk away from someone you have so much love and history with. I reflected on my own relationship and tried to play it as honestly as I could. So maybe I didn’t give her much of a backstory, but I read in between the lines of the script to add little details about who she was and her thought process behind each of her actions.
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Supernatural Gets Back to The Family Business with Tombstone

I’ve been a happy Supernatural fangirl so far in Season 13, and episode 13.06 was also a win in my book. I’m not over the moon like I was last week, but it was a solid episode with great performances once again – both dramatic and funny as hell — and some great directing by Nina Lopez-Corrado, one of my favorite SPN directors. Also a special shout out to Jay Gruska for the awesome music throughout the episode, both instrumental and song choice. This was one of those episodes that had a specific “feel” to it, with the writing (by Davy Perez), directing, music and set decoration all contributing to make it wonderful.

Supernatural has done a Western episode before, so this one didn’t carry the first time thrill of OMG we get to see Sam and Dean in the old west, but it’s been a while so I was eager to see Dean Winchester put on boots and a cowboy hat once again. And this episode marked a change in tone for the season that was significant– having Castiel back is that ‘one win’ that Dean so badly needed in order to rekindle some spark of hope so he can care again. He told Sam at the end of the last episode that he just needed a win, and he got a big one. Castiel is back, against all odds. That’s wonderful in itself, but maybe that means other things can change for the better as well. Dean has hope again, and a renewed belief that maybe what they do really CAN make a difference – just by knowing that good things can still happen. Miracles, even. I think we’ve all missed Dean’s personality this season, since his usual sense of humor and ability to take great delight in even the smallest things has been quashed by his depression, grief and hopelessness. In this episode, we start to see the Dean Winchester we know and love come back to life, and it feels almost as good as when I see that start to happen with a real person, whether a client or a friend. I’ve missed this side of you, Dean Winchester!

The episode starts with a flashlight-lit chase in a graveyard with Dean and some sheriff guy we don’t recognize, until he disappears down a hole grabbed by who knows what. Then it’s “48 Hours Earlier” and we’re back to where we left off, as Sam and Dean react to the surprise return of Cas.

Sam: I don’t know what to say…

Dean: I do. Welcome home, pal.

You can see how desperate Dean is for that win – he barely hesitates, he needs to believe this is really Cas from the get go. The relief on his face as he embraces his friend is palpable.

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Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell – Supernatural 12.15

WB/The CW

Last week’s episode of Supernatural had something that never fails to make me a very happy fan indeed: The Winchesters listening to each other and trusting each other and telling each other the truth. THANK YOU, SHOW! (And writer Davy Perez). That alone is enough to make a good episode imho. But actually there was one more thing that will always make me happy – Winchesters in glasses. Is it hot in here?

So let’s talk about what I liked first, and then I’ll get to the things that didn’t quite work for me. I really really loved that last conversation between Sam and Dean, where Sam comes clean about working with the BMoL and Dean, instead of flying off the handle and feeling threatened and betrayed and thus shutting down, instead hears Sam out and they come to an agreement. Dean isn’t anywhere near trusting them – and I don’t think Sam is either – but the brothers are on the same page about cautiously taking what they can from the BMoL while still retaining their independence as hunters. How easy that will be I’m not at all sure, but the important thing is that the brothers are together in the decision. I don’t know if I’ve ever loved Sam more than when he steeled himself and told his brother the truth.

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