The second episode of Season 2 starts out with a bang – or rather a tick tock tick tock. The haunting lyrics ‘Tick tock tick tock time has come today…’ mark the recap montage and remind us of the great loss that has just happened to the Winchesters. As the ticking of the clock slows down in the song, we hear “Time of death, 10:41 am…” and then the last word of the song, ‘Time.’
Not on the Winchesters’ side.
And then: NOW
In Medford, Wisconsin, kids enjoy an old fashioned fair and carnival that’s come to town, laughing at a sword swallower and fire breather and some clowns.
A very relatable dad: God, I hate clowns, they always creep me out.
All of us watching: SAME.
A young girl (though not young enough to be acting the way she is, actually) sees the creepiest looking clown in the history of ever, and for some unknown reason happily waves back at him. Then it disappears.
I guess I’m glad the show didn’t hire five year old actors to be traumatized for life by being in this episode, but that girl was definitely old enough to realize there is something very off about this clown! (Interestingly, she was played by Nicole Munoz, who returns as an adult guest actor in the final season)
Driving home, she looks out the window and sees the creepy clown standing on the side of the road, and all of us watching start exclaiming ‘child, you’re old enough to know that’s just weird!”
Alas, she does not. Instead she wakes up in the middle of the night and sees the creepy clown outsider her window, smiles and goes downstairs to let him in. What the hell??
Intro over, we switch to our boys, and instantly I’m emotional.
One of the most memorable and heartbreaking scenes in the series is in this episode, as Sam and Dean give their father a hunter’s funeral. Sam is sobbing, tears rolling down his face. Dean is stoic, eyes shining with unshed tears.
Sam: Before he… before he… did he say anything to you?
There’s a long beat. We know he did, though we don’t yet know what.
Dean: No. nothing.
A single man tear rolls down Dean’s face, and breaks all our hearts.
This is a Phil Sgriccia directed episode, and it shows. The shots are gorgeous, and full of emotional impact, with early seasons Supernatural trademark close ups on strikingly beautiful Sam and Dean (ditto young Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles). Director of photography Serge Ladouceur once told us that they were so attractive that he could light them like he would light a beautiful woman, and this episode really shows just how true that is. The close ups allow the emotion to come through loud and clear, and director Sgriccia is as talented at showing us what the brothers are feeling as Jared and Jensen are at showing it.
The episode was written by John Shiban, who came from the X Files along with Kim Manners (Mr. Cooper in this episode was also a character from that show, which many Supernatural crew members also worked on).
That scene hits harder now than ever, after having to watch Sam Winchester build a similar pyre for his brother in the series finale. There’s something in my eye now and it isn’t smoke…
One Week Later.
As Three Dog Night sings about the road to Shambala and what the Winchesters would give anything for right now, to ‘wash away my troubles, wash away my pain…’, Dean works on the broken Impala. The brothers can’t fix that their father is gone, or that the demon is out there, so Dean works on what he can.
Throughout this episode, the Impala stands in for so many things, and if we all didn’t realize she was special to us before (we did), we would have known with this episode.
Provenance is a Phil Sgriccia directed episode, and it shows. It’s creepy and scary and memorable in multiple ways, starting out with a close shot of a decidedly creepy old painting in a giant antique frame. A young couple, for some inexplicable reason, just bought it – though the wife has the good sense to say it’s “kinda creepy”. The husband reassures her that he’ll keep her safe, so we’re fairly certain he’s about to die.
Wife: Maybe you’re the one I ought to be scared of…
He is actually kinda creepy and keeps pinching her, but she seems into it and heads upstairs. The old man in the painting turns his head and watches her go up the stairs and OMG that is super creepy!
The husband locks up, sets the alarm and turns out the lights while the wife lights some candles and gets into bed.
“Hurry up or I’m gonna start without you,” she teases, as someone makes their way up the stairs and slowly comes into her room. A gust of breeze blows out the candle and we see her husband just starting to climb the stairs and UH OH that’s not the husband in the room with her…. The clueless husband comes into the room telling her to get the lights, then pauses.
Husband: You smell something?
When the lights come on, his wife is dead on the bed, covered in blood. He falls to his knees, looks up at something we can’t see, and screams.
Cut to a bar and a band playing Steve Carlson’s “Nighttime”, which I wrote about in my recent look back article on some of my early chats with Mr. Carlson, so check those articles out here if you missed them. Here’s what Steve had to say about how that song came to be in this episode:
I had seen my friend Chris, who co-wrote the song, one night at a birthday party and he was dancing using the drink as his prop and I was like, that would be a great beer commercial! We put the song together and I got back and played it for Jensen and he asked me to burn him a copy. He was playing it in his trailer one day and a producer was like oh, who’s that? He said it’s my roommate, Steve, and the producer said, that would be perfect for the bar scene in our next episode. Their people called my people and negotiated it and worked fast to get it in and sign a contract, and the next thing I know I was flying to Boston and it aired. I was on the phone with someone because I couldn’t watch it live and he was watching and telling me oh, it was loud (on the show) – I was going through security and the guy was like, you have to get off the phone, so I threw it in the Xray machine and then grabbed it back and was like, so it was loud? And he was like yeah, and it’s still on! I had it on Tivo but it sucked because I was in Boston and no one I knew had Tivo so I had to wait a week to watch it when I got home – that was the first thing I did!
Anyway, Dean’s flirting with a young woman (Brandy with a y or an ‘i’?) while Sam’s reading in the newspaper about a couple’s throats being slashed. Sam tries to call Dean over and he keeps ignoring him until Sam in exasperation says ‘Come ON’
I have long said that the music of Supernatural has had a significant impact on the show – making it memorable and especially giving it the emotional resonance that it had for all fifteen seasons. That’s not something that every genre “horror show” can say, and I’m not sure any can say it with as much pride as Supernatural. The music added so much to the emotional impact of the series finale, so I was excited to talk to composer Jay Gruska about scoring that episode and the emotional episode ‘Despair’, as well as his fifteen years working on my favorite show.
As with many of the people working on SPN (and another thing that made it so unique and wonderful), the same two composers worked on the show for its entire run – Christopher Lennertz (now working with Eric Kripke on ‘The Boys’) and Jay Gruska. I’ve talked to Jay several times over the course of the show – he contributed to ‘Supernatural Psychology’ for the chapter on music in the show – so I know how insightful he is about how music is used on the show. Chris and Jay tend to alternate episodes, so Jay scored all the even numbered episodes of Season 15, including the final episode, ‘Carry On’, and episode 15.18, Castiel’s goodbye episode, ‘Despair’.
The week before we spoke, I had done a Supernatural music panel at the Southwest Popular Culture Association conference with two friends and colleagues devoted to the most recognizable musical theme in the show, ‘Americana’, which Jay composed. We had invited him to do the panel with us, but he was unable to make it due to a family party. Luckily he and I were able to coordinate our schedules for a phone chat afterwards though.
Jay: That’s amazing about the panel, and kinda flattering and sweet. I’m so bummed that I missed it, I would have loved to share my experience from my end.
Lynn: I don’t think that many composers get an entire panel devoted to one single piece of music at an academic conference – but that’s how important ‘Americana’ is to Supernatural fans.
The Emotional Rollercoaster of ‘Carry On’
Lynn: I know you read my review of the series finale so you know that I loved the barn scene even though it was incredibly painful to watch, but it was such a masterful scene. I was talking to Jensen about it recently and said that he and Jared killed it, and also that the music makes it so much more emotional. That whole piece, the piano then the strings, and then the most familiar part of Americana in the middle…
Jay: Right. As you know more than anyone, I try my best to not use Americana just at the drop of a hat. I try to really respond to when a scene is asking for it. I’ve probably made a misstep or two along the way as far as some fans are concerned – I used it once with Jack, but boy, I heard from people right away like hey, he’s not family! And I was like well yes he is to me! But don’t mess with the Supernatural fandom.
Lynn: So true. We’re passionate, that’s for sure. And some people would definitely agree with that and some wouldn’t.
Jay: But let’s start with those performances (Jensen and Jared). Because I’m gonna be crude right now and say that without performances like that, which don’t come along often, if there’s a scene where someone is not pulling it off? You’re basically polishing a turd with the music.
Jay: My job and particularly that scene, which I count as in the top two or three if not the most emotional, well acted, just hearts-on-their-sleeves as actors and as humans moments in the whole run of the show…
I was introduced to the new Amazon Prime show The Boys at San Diego Comic Con and was immediately intrigued. I was already excited about it simply because Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural, is executive producer (and we all know how passionate I am about Supernatural...). So I went to the “activation experience,” which took you inside the first episode of the show and let you help some of “the boys” solve a superhero-related crime. That’s right, the superheroes in this show aren’t exactly the good guys. In fact, they’re a bunch of assholes. Most of them anyway. Propped up by big corporate money and power, the “Supes” are essentially the worst kind of fabricated and manufactured celebrities, their personas carefully constructed to appeal to the unsuspecting masses as the only hope for an increasingly frightened and powerless humanity. If that sounds a little too close to real life right now, that’s exactly the point.
That’s the premise of the comic on which The Boys is based, and the premise of the Amazon series as well. The show has something to say about who holds power in our current culture and how they wield it, including the role of social media and propaganda in shaping people’s views and keeping them in a perpetual state of fear – which makes a superhero who swoops in to save the day and claims to be able to keep everyone safe very appealing indeed. It’s a dark, gritty, cynical world that The Boys inhabit, but it reflects the fear-mongering and online manipulation that is all too real, that make people long for “saviors” and turn the other way when those saviors turn out to be the actual monsters.
All that hits a little too close to home, and if that’s all the show was about, the darkness would be too much to take on top of the overwhelming dose of darkness I get every day through every type of media. What makes The Boys instead as hopeful as the traditional superhero tropes it subverts were intended to be is the existence of a resistance. In the tradition of Supernatural’s Sam and Dean, the resistance comes in the form of a bunch of just plain humans, who nevertheless are willing to go against the odds and try to do what’s right. Instead of taking out demons and wendigos, the Boys are going after the Supes. Outgunned in terms of powers and definitely the underdogs, nevertheless the Boys are every bit as invested in the “always keep fighting” mantra that has made Supernatural such an inspiring show. I’ve only watched one episode so far, and I’m already rooting for them.
For a show whose first episode begins with an ultra violent occurrence and includes a decadent sex-fueled club scene and some full frontal (equal opportunity) nudity, The Boys tackles complex and relevant themes with a surprisingly deft hand. Main character Hughie, whose quest for revenge is instigated by one of the Supes callously running through his girlfriend at super speed and exploding her, has his trauma examined instead of just tossed out there as an explanation for what happens next. And while everyone on the show seems to live somewhere in the morally ambiguous grey area that I love seeing characters struggle through, that goes for the Supes too – or at least one of them.
The premiere episode also takes the time to examine new Supe Starlight’s recruitment into the elite “Seven”. Presented as young and naïve and fully buying into the cult of celebrity that she thinks she craves, Starlight soon finds that the Supes are not who she thought they were when she had that poster of The Deep on her wall. It’s a pointed commentary that was fascinating to me as a psychologist who’s studied celebrity and fandom for the past decade plus. There’s significant sexual assault-based trauma for Starlight that happens with that realization, and it too is not glossed over but explored realistically. That story line pulled on my heartstrings more than anything else in the first episode, and anchored the show in a feminist slant while critiquing the misogyny and power dynamics inherent in that world – and our own.
At the Comic Con press room, Erin Moriarty (who plays Starlight) said she loved the fact that you initially believe that Starlight is going to fit into the familiar stereotype, but it turns out she’s a lot more than that. So far, one episode in, she feels like the moral compass of the show, along with Hughie, who she just so happens to meet on a park bench as they struggle to come to terms with their respective traumas and how those traumas have changed how they view themselves.
The Boys is executive produced by Seth Rogen and Eric Kripke, based on the comic series by Garth Ennis. It stars Karl Urban (Billy Butcher) as leader of the Boys, along with recently traumatized Hughie (Jack Quaid), Karen Fukuhara (The Female), Laz Alonso (Mother’s Milk), and Tomer Kapon (Frenchie). The Supes include Anthony Starr (Homelander), Dominique McElligott (Queen Maeve), Jessie T. Usher (A Train), Chace Crawford (The Deep), Nathan Mitchell (Black Noir) and Erin Moriarty (Starlight). Elisabeth Shue plays Madelyn Stillwell, the corporate PR person who pulls the strings with a chilling smile.
As a passionate Supernatural fan, I was initially interested in The Boys because of Eric Kripke, who created the characters I love so much on Supernatural. I asked him a question at the press room for The Boys at Comic Con (see video link below), but couldn’t wait to talk with him some more about his new show and its similarities to his first ‘baby’, Supernatural. We’ve stayed a little bit in touch over the past decade by email, but having a chance to actually chat was a treat.
E: Hey Lynn, how are you?
L: It’s been like ten years since we’ve had an actual conversation!
E: It probably has been, but I follow you on twitter and we’ve had some twitter conversations and you seem like you’re doing great, so I know what you’ve been up to. And thank you so much for all the support over the years.
L: Pretty sure I should be thanking you – I’ve written six books about your show (Supernatural) that helped me get tenure and promotion to professor. Thank you for that!
E: Well, you’re welcome!
It really had been a while. I first chatted with Eric Kripke way back in 2008 when I began researching and writing books about fandom and celebrity, mostly focused on the show he created that I had fallen head over heels in love with, Supernatural. (Here’s Eric the first time we met at the Supernatural Creation convention in Burbank – he was a baby!)
We did a few phone interviews and met up at Comic Con that year to chat some more. We talked a lot about fandom and of course about fannish creativity and fanfiction. Eric’s first question: Am I ever in it?
Me: Umm, I guess? I may have run across a few…
Kripke: Oooh, is it porn? You have to send me that!
Fast forward to 2019 and Eric’s Reddit AMA when someone asked him if he’d read any Supernatural erotica and he said yes, and then described the definitely-not-G-rated fic…
L: I had to laugh when I saw you mention that fic with you and Jared from back in the day (laughing). I mean, what you said is true, you were assertive in it…
L: I had forgotten what it was actually about and was like OMG that’s right…
E: Yeah (laughing) I’ve never forgotten it, it made a major impact that’s for sure.
L: Well, either you’re welcome or… I’m sorry?
E: (still laughing) Yeah right, I think a little of both.
Side note: Eric has always been fine with fans “playing in his sandbox” and understands transformative works as a sign of affection for his characters and his worlds. There’s a whole chapter on our early conversations about Supernatural in Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls if you’re curious.
L: Anyway, The Boys! I’ve watched the first episode, I’m a bit old school in that I like to watch one at a time and space it out and sort of digest it. I LOVED the first episode and I think other Supernatural fans will really love the show too. There are some similarities to Supernatural for sure.
E: Mm hmm
L: For one thing, the protagonist is sent on a hunt for revenge because the love of his life is violently killed – Mary burning on the ceiling is an iconic image for Supernatural, and so is Robin being decimated and Hughie standing there still holding her bloody hands!
E: Hmm. That one, I mean yes, now that you’ve pointed it out, there are similarities to that. Robin dying in The Boys is taken almost frame for frame from the comic book so it’s funny, that hadn’t really occurred to me about that connection, because in The Boys the instigating incident is so infamous for anyone who’s a fan of the books. It was my job to capture it as faithfully as possible and that’s mostly where my head was, but yeah. Also, I think where they’re similar is there are a lot of tonal and thematic similarities. In a lot of ways, The Boys is a hard R Supernatural.
L: (silently) A hard R Supernatural….ohgod yes please…
E: And it’s funny because you don’t even realize these things until it’s hindsight. I don’t set out to say oh I’m gonna make something for Supernatural fans, I just make stuff – the only person I really try to please is me. But because I love Supernatural and those are the kind of things that I love, I guess it stands to reason that if left to my own devices to make another show that I put all my love into, it will have some similarities.
L: That makes sense.
E: What The Boys is really ultimately about is these kind of very down to earth middle class blue collar people taking on these arrogant ultra powerful forces that are overwhelming and all powerful. In Supernatural it’s angels and demons and (laughing) God…
E: And in The Boys, it’s the sort of pantheon of superheroes. The incredibly big guy with magical powers basically is something that I’m clearly interested in. I think I really like the idea of blue collar no bullshit guys taking on and puncturing these huge myths and kind of having to bring them down to earth just through their own wits, because they’re outmatched…
L: Yeah, and that’s all they have, their own smarts.
E: And that says something to me, I think, about the world. Like we’re always up against these seemingly insurmountable forces, but there are things we can do to get some equality. You just have to – it’s not easy and it’s not fair – but you just have to keep banging away at it.
Last week was the Season 14 finale of my favorite show, Supernatural. The last Supernatural season finale, ever; the next one will be the series finale. As season finales have done for over a decade, the ‘Road So Far’ was accompanied by the song that’s become the unofficial theme song for Supernatural, Kansas’ Carry On (Wayward Son). I immediately burst into tears, which isn’t the first time. I don’t even want to think about the state I’ll be in when Carry On starts to play a year from now and we all know it’s the last time.
Two days later, I’m still conflicted about the episode – and damn, do I have a lot of questions! I was not alone in my split opinions. My timeline literally alternated between “Genius OMG!” and “Stupidest episode ever how dare you!” I had whiplash just trying to skim through Twitter. The confusing thing is, I get it. I get both reactions. As often happens to me, I’m caught somewhere in the middle instead of being firmly all in with one group or the other. You can look at this episode from multiple perspectives, and each sends me to a different emotional space. One thing is for certain – I still care about this Show just as much as I always have, because it kept me awake half the night and was the first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning. That in itself is pretty amazing.
So let’s walk (or run, really, because this was a fast paced episode) through ‘Moriah’, and see what worked and on what level – and what didn’t.
I love ‘The Road So Far’ in every season finale. This one recapped pretty much all of Season 14, from Michael to the return of John and the epic family reunion in the 300th episode. There was some epic VFX and some emotional moments, and then we pick up right where we left off – with Jack having blown up the Ma’lak box and escaped.
He confronts Sam, Dean and Cas, eyes glowing ominously.
Jack: You lied to me!
He throws them across the room, but at least he didn’t incinerate them. And then he’s gone.
Dean and Castiel are still very much at odds in this episode, Dean arguing that Jack is dangerous and needs to be stopped.
Dean: Now he’s just another monster.
Cas: (shocked) You don’t mean that.
Dean: The hell I don’t.
Fandom was still split about Jack and whether he’s still a misunderstood nougat loving boy trying to do the right thing or a soulless dangerously powerful being who’s killed people. Logically I think it’s pretty clear the latter is true, but emotionally the Show keeps making sure we remember the former version of Jack and thus feel for him. So Dean still comes off as pretty harsh, and very very angry.
Director Phil Sgriccia makes the emotional scene between Dean and Cas jump off the screen with its intensity, and Jensen Ackles and Misha Collins both bring it. They are both angry, both convinced they are right and the other is wrong – and that the stakes are high because someone (Jack or other people) will die if they don’t do what they feel they need to. Sam is the emotional core of the audience in much of this episode, cringing as the two people he’s so close to have it out but unable to intervene.
One of the things I haven’t liked in Season 14 is the lack of interaction between Dean and Sam, which is why I started watching the Show in the first place. In this episode, they actually get to talk, so that goes in the win column (though their conversation is uncharacteristically awkward). Dean wants Sam to know that he realizes how hard this is for Sam and what Jack meant to him.
Dean: Hell, he meant a lot to me too, he was family. But this is not Jack anymore. We have to do the hard thing, the ugly thing. Not like it’s the first time though, right?
At the time I thought that was an odd thing to say. In retrospect, I see that Andrew Dabb (who is both the showrunner and the writer of this episode) was trying to foreshadow the eventual reveal that the Winchesters have been manipulated their whole lives into doing all kinds of hard and ugly things – for the amusement of God. I mean, Chuck.
It was interesting that Dean continued to refer to Jack as “the kid” throughout this conversation with his brother, even as he’s trying to convince Sam that he needs to be killed. I saw this as evidence of Dean’s ambivalence. I said in my last review, Dean is not as certain about this course of action as he seems. It’s there in little tells like that. He likes to bluster and present his decision as something he’s absolutely certain about, but Dean is a much deeper thinker than that – and he feels things more deeply than he lets on too.
Meanwhile, Jack is hurt that he was lied to by the father figures he trusted, and hypervigilant for all the lying that humans do all the time – which of course he finds evidence of everywhere. Jack’s temper gets the better of him again, and he orders everyone to “Stop lying!”
Which they do.
Sam and Dean put on their fed suits (momentary detour to say that yes, the boys do look damn good in their fed suits) and head out in the Impala to look for Jack. They drive to a company called Mirror Universe which looks like it must be in California (and seems like some sort of call out to every science fiction episode ever that had one, including arguably Supernatural’s own AU). Either that or it’s a hint about what eventually happens in this episode.
Dean scoffs at the “nerds” but Sam isn’t having it. (Because Sam Winchester as we head into the last season has had it up to here with not speaking his mind, and he’s doing it – and I am here for it!)
Sam: Takes one to know one.
He proceeds to prove it by rattling off all the totally nerdy things that fanboy Dean does, including watching Jeopardy every night just like me; Dean doesn’t deny any of them. Jared and Jensen were gold in this entire scene, their expressions on point and their brotherly chemistry lighting up the screen.
Dean beelines for the attractive woman at the desk, assuming he can charm her (not a bad assumption).
Dean (flashing his badge per usual): I’m Dean Winchester and I’m looking for the Devil’s son.
He tries to correct himself and blurts it out again, ending with “And this badge is fake.” Ackles and comedy never cease to amaze me.
The formerly peaceful employees of Mirror Universe are also suddenly unable to lie, which results in confessions of affairs (and unexpected voyeurism), accusations of yogurt theft with resulting violence, and someone walking around exclaiming “I hate everyone!”
Dean proves that they can’t lie either by demanding that Sam tell him who his favorite singer is, because he knows Sam is lying when he says Elvis. (In fact, I’m pretty sure he knows what the real answer is, he just wants to hear Sam say it).
Sam says Celine Dion every time he tries to say Elvis, which I admit annoyed me. Celine Dion? Oh come on, really, Show?