What The Hell Did He See In Dean’s Head? Supernatural 14.05 Nightmare Logic

 

This week’s Supernatural episode didn’t leave me jumping up and down and squeeing to the rooftops – but that’s not actually a complaint. Instead it left me scratching my head and wondering where the hell we’re going from here and what the hell the Djinn saw in Dean’s mind. That’s a feeling I often had in the early seasons of Supernatural, so once again, that makes me a happy fangirl. (Not that I don’t have things to critique, of course…)

The episode started out slow, and at the first break I was feeling a bit meh about it. This surprised me because I usually enjoy Meredith Glynn’s writing quite a bit. It took me a little while to realize that the pace was slower than I’ve grown used to – but once again, that turned out to be a good thing. Instead of ten different plot lines zigzagging through the episode, Glynn and director Darren Grant took their time, following each scene and letting the anticipation or suspense or fear or whatever emotion build before bringing it to a climax. The pace was slower, so you could savor moments like Dean and Sam exploring a dark and scary crypt or Sam fearlessly going up to the attic or Dean quietly bonding with Sasha. I just have gotten used to a faster pace on this Show, so it took until the halfway point for me to realize I was actually appreciating the Show taking its time for a change.

The beginning scene is Maggie, whose name half of my timeline can’t remember, which says something that isn’t good. She’s hunting alone for some reason, and not very competently. Sure enough, she’s attacked and taken down by something that looks like a ghoul. I scratch my head. That’s not the reaction Show was going for most likely, but I honestly cannot manufacture much feeling about the AU hunters. There are way too many of them and I don’t like them in the bunker and that all translates into me just not caring very much what happens to them. Maggie has never seemed like someone who should be a hunter, and we haven’t been given any reason to care about her. It’s like she’s the only one of the random AU people who has a name, so she keeps getting tossed into the story. Sorry, Maggie. At least I’m remembering your name.

Then we’re in the overcrowded bunker, Chief Sam briefing a bunch of AU hunters. He’s all awkward when Dean walks in, which is telling – Sam is clearly not comfortable being the leader when Dean is around. I’m not sure I’m all that comfortable with this new dynamic either, but Dean seems more at ease than either me or Sam.

Dean: You kids have fun out there.

He teases Sam to break the awkwardness, telling him that he did a great job with the whole camp counselor vibe and offering to get him a whistle.

Dean: And they’re checking in? That’s adorable.

It’s not, however, adorable that Sam isn’t getting enough sleep. Protective big brother Dean gets on his back about it, clearly worried. Dean stays in this mode when Sam gets upset that Maggie (Katherine Evans) didn’t check in, trying to reassure Sam that she might still be alive. Poor Sam, his reserves clearly on zero and feeling the burden of responsibility, immediately starts catastrophizing and falling into hopelessness, so it’s a good thing Dean is back to pull him out of it. The brothers are always a good team when they’re together, always knowing what the other one needs to hear in order to keep going. There was a lot of that in this episode, and I appreciate every moment.

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Director Dick Returns to Supernatural with ‘Gods and Monsters’!

 

After a season premiere that kicked up conflicting emotions for me, the second episode of Season 14 of Supernatural was a different kind of episode – but once again, it kicked up some conflicting emotions. I had a lot of anticipation for this one because I enjoy Richard Speight’s directing and always look forward to hearing his thoughtful take on how he brought a script to life. On the other hand, my track record with enjoying the episodes from these particular writers is spotty. So I guess I went into this with conflicting emotions!

Speight is proficient at juggling the back and forth story lines that Supernatural sometimes serves up, and he did an admirable job here, but I tend to get whiplash if we’re bouncing back and forth between too many stories no matter how proficient the directing is. That was the case here to some extent, though Speight managed to keep the transitions smooth enough that I didn’t feel too jarred. Because there are so many story lines going on, I’ll touch on each scene briefly here, but with the through line of what worked and what didn’t in each one.

I pay more attention to the “Then” montage than ever before these days, because it usually gives a clue to what will be foregrounded in the episode, or at the very least what they don’t trust us to remember (of course we all do) or what they think a viewer who has somehow avoided seeing Supernatural for 14 years would need to know to just step right in and pick it up (totally and completely impossible at this point, give it up, Show!)  The “Then” this week features the final showdown with Lucifer and the moment of Dean’s possession, and a reminder of Jack’s trauma and his hatred of both Michael and Lucifer. With that frame set, we enter the episode through Michael and what he’s up to now – no disposable characters or case of the week for the beginning minutes. The opening scene is visually striking and sets the tone for who Michael is and how we should feel about him. Speight likes to set up close up shots that are like works of art and emotionally evocative – this time it’s done in flashes, like there’s a thunderstorm outside, and the fact that you only get glimpses adds to the feeling of trepidation. A flash of heavy chains, broken statues, a church organ covered in cobwebs, light filtered through age-dimmed stained glass windows. A church defiled. The last close-up shot is of blood slowly dripping from the cut throat of a restrained man, leaning over a chalice that’s  slowly filling as he’s drained. The musical score is full of foreboding, fear mirrored on the faces of the chained up people waiting their turn. (The slow drip of blood will be a recurring image in this episode).

It was a strong opening, and a fitting frame for Michael, still dressed impeccably and as implacable as he was last week (though he has donned an imposing leather apron because clearly he loves his nice suits staying impeccable). It makes him look like a butcher, the leather and straps both terrifying and (perhaps because this is Jensen Ackles) also an oddly sexualized image. Michael seems to pull for objectification, a fact not lost on fandom.

Michael heals the vampire’s slit throat and adds a pinch of archangel grace to the blood.

Michael: A little of this, a little of that…

He then grabs the vampire’s head and forcefully makes him drink. When the vampire acquiesces, Michael does nothing to reduce the erotic vibe of the scene by crooning, “Yes, good boy” as the bound vampire follows his orders.

Unfortunately for the compliant vamp, no sooner has he done so than he burns out and dies, much to the other vampires’ horror.

Michael remains unemotional.

Michael: Huh. Too much that…

It’s our first glimpse of Michael having a sense of humor, albeit a twisted dark one. Ackles did flesh out the character a bit more in this episode, which at first threw me a bit. Last week he was so unemotional he was almost flat, disturbingly so. This week, he showed some humor and some other emotional notes, including pride and a sadistic enjoyment from wielding his power over others. I felt like that was consistent with Christian Keyes’ portrayal of Michael, but it was more personality than Michael showed last week.

There’s another visually effective shot of the dead vampire’s feet dragging across the floor as Michael pulls him over to a pile of other dead vampires; the camera pulls out to show just how many, with lots of impact.

Michael flips the curved blade he’s holding, cocky.

Michael: All right, who’s next?

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I might have needed a cold drink at that moment. There’s something hot about the cocky expression and the facile skill with which he flips that blade. Actually the same thing happens when Ackles flips his mic onstage with equal agility, which he has a habit of doing quite often. But I digress.

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Hellatus Is Over! Supernatural Returns with Stranger In A Strange Land

 

Full disclosure: I saw the season premiere episode for the first time two weeks ago at the Entertainment Weekly sneak peek screening in New York City. But somehow I was still entirely caught up in the excitement of Thursday as premiere day – there’s something energizing about an entire fandom all over the world all online and watching in some way, shape or form and all bouncing from anticipation! At the EW event, I got to watch the episode with Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles and Danneel Ackles, which was an amazing experience. None of them had seen the episode either, so I got to see them react at the same time as I was reacting – and at times got to see them react to the fans in the room reacting to them. It’s French Mistake levels of meta!

(You can read all about that experience here – Sneak Peek at Supernatural Season 14 in NYC)

That experience colored my rewatch when the episode aired live on Thursday night, and only made it better. There were things that didn’t 100% work for me in the episode, but those were largely overshadowed by the things that very much did. I’ve been waiting two weeks to be able to talk about the episode, so here goes!

The recap reminds us that last season saw Dean Winchester expressing a rare optimism about being able to actually rid the world of bad stuff – a tiny bit of hope that maybe they really could create a better world. That idea of “a better world” gets an entirely different spin in Season 14, beginning with the premiere. Meanwhile, recap music is blasting as we review all the incredible things that happened last season.

Me as the recap of the Road So Far plays: MY SHOW IS SO EFFING BADASS!!!

Supernatural is also creative; the opening music bleeds into an AC/DC song on the Impala’s radio, and a bearded stern-faced Sam Winchester turns it off. Nice touch, and it immediately lets us know that Sam Winchester is not in fact okay. That’s Dean’s music, and it must be incredibly painful to be driving his brother’s car and listening to his brother’s music when Dean himself is not there. Jared’s face also lets us know that Sam is very far from okay – the actor doesn’t need any dialogue to show us just how upset and how driven Sam Winchester is right now. (Make no mistake, I’d LOVE for him to have more dialogue that also shows us that though!)

Just the fact that Sam is alone driving the Impala was incredibly painful to see – I miss Dean Winchester like a missing limb.

We jump from Jared to Jensen, but not to Dean from Sam. Instead it’s Michael, interrupting a holy man’s prayers. This is the scene we saw at Comic Con many months ago, so it’s a familiar one, but no less chilling for its familiarity. Ackles invests Michael with so much quiet, understated menace, it gives you goosebumps. He’s soft spoken, the cadence of his speech slower than Dean’s, more deliberate. He pronounces every consonant because he’s in no hurry; he’s an all powerful being so he has all the time in the world. All those conscious choices make Michael an entirely new character even as he’s played by one of the lead actors we know and love.

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A Few Non-Spoilery Thoughts about Supernatural “Stranger In A Strange Land”

 

It seems like the usual suspects who got a screener of the Supernatural Season 14 premiere to review are posting their thoughts about the episode now, so let me add to the anticipation with a few thoughts of my own. How and where and with whom you watch an episode has a significant effect on the emotional impact of what you’re watching, so it’s possible the season premiere was even more powerful than it would have been otherwise for me – after all, I was watching with a couple hundred passionate fans and Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles themselves (at the EW screening in NYC a week ago).  If watching with the show’s stars doesn’t make you emotional, I don’t know what will!

The fact that Jared and Jensen also had emotional reactions to what they were seeing definitely increased my enjoyment. The day before, Jensen had told me that neither he nor Jared had seen the episode before, so they were experiencing it just like the rest of the fans. When the actors got to react to the fans’ reactions to their acting performances, that was icing on the cake (and kinda meta…)

I still won’t give actual spoilers for the episode here of course, but there are three things I can say in the spirit of anticipation, to whet your appetite even more for the Thursday premiere. (If you’re absolutely a totally spoiler phobe, these are very general spoilers at worst, but read at your own risk!)

First, Ackles embodies Michael in a way that leaves no doubt that Dean has left the building. I talked with him about this after seeing the episode clip at Comic Con, about how difficult it is to play an entirely different character when all the visual and relational cues around you are telling you to fall back into playing the familiar one – Dean Winchester. The set is the same, the crew is the same, the other cast is the same. Just traveling to Vancouver, at this point, is likely to pull Jared, Jensen or Misha to settle into their familiar characters.  Like I told Jensen, it’s particularly difficult because those cues are largely unconscious, which means we’re unaware that we’re responding to them. So he has to be aware of the unconscious pull to be Dean, and then go against it enough to be someone else, and then come up with some consistent characterization for Michael. No mean feat! (Yes, he loves it when I put my psychologist hat on. Okay, maybe not always – but this time I was slightly helpful).

Here’s how I know he did an amazing job of being Michael – I missed Dean like hell. It’s the first time there has been an episode that Dean Winchester wasn’t in (at least I think that’s true). Sure, before maybe it was Demon Dean in the episode, or Mark of Cain Dean, but it was still Dean. In this episode? Dean is not there. There’s no trace of him in the character that Ackles has created. And that both makes me in awe of his acting and his ability to thwart those unconscious cues and very very sad because I miss Dean Winchester like I lost a limb. When they let us know that Dean wouldn’t be gone too long, I thought oh that’s good, but I didn’t really grasp just how gone he would be. It’s not Supernatural for me without Dean Winchester, so I can’t wait to get him back!

Second, I knew I loved Sam Fucking Winchester being Sam Fucking Winchester, but maybe I didn’t know just how much I needed that on my screen. Jared talked about Sam stepping up to the plate and taking on a leadership role at Comic Con and I thought, oh that will be good, but once again, I underestimated the impact that would have – and how powerfully Padalecki would portray it. In the premiere, we get to see Sam desperate and sad and angry and all the things we knew he would be at losing his brother. But we also get to see him take charge and take no shit and effing take no prisoners and OMG did that do my heart good! Maybe it’s the feelings still left over from Season 13, from the time Sam bled out in that cave and had to give in to Lucifer. Maybe it’s from the season when Dean was lost to him and he hit a dog and gave up. Whatever it is, it just did my soul good to see Sam be the badass we know he is, and Jared killed it. The fact that Jensen burst into applause while watching that scene only made me all the more excited and joyful – apparently Jensen needed to see Sam Winchester (and Jared) kick ass too!

Third, there’s dramatic and exciting and kicking ass in the episode, but there’s also emotional beats that were subtle and nuanced and well played by everyone. Castiel’s desperation to find Dean and his devastation weren’t glossed over either, and there were moments I won’t spoil when I really felt for him. In a different way, he’s just as take-no-shit as Sam in this episode, and just as determined, and Misha Collins brings that through loud and clear. There were bits of that Cas and Sam bonding that we keep hearing about, and there were moments between Sam and his mother (Samantha Smith) that also tugged at my heartstrings. Alex Calvert and Jim Beaver as Alex and AU!Bobby also brought the emotional beats, which means we got a good balance of fighting and feeling in a single episode (and just a dash of humor and a pinch of surprise). Just the way I like it.

I don’t know where we’re going in Season 14, and I can’t promise that I’ll love every episode (though I can promise that I’m a fan of this show until the end). But the fact that the cast is bringing their A games so strongly in the first episode bodes well for what comes next. I can’t wait to do a proper review of the premiere on Thursday – and hear what everyone else thought of the episode!

What are you anticipating and what are you hoping does NOT happen in the premiere or the new season?

–Lynn

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Supernatural Celebrates 100th Creation Convention in New Jersey!

 

Happy 100th Con Supernatural! Part Two of my NJ/NYC adventures (you can also read about EW’s sneak peek Season 14 premiere party and Jensen and Jared on Live with Kelly and Ryan in Part One here)

EW Supernatural Season 14 Sneak Peek and Jared and Jensen on Live!

The Supernatural New Jersey con is the closest I get to a “home” con – a less than two hour drive from Philly. The key word there being “drive” – as in, no airfare! Woohoo!! I packed up my car with many boxes of books and headed out on Thursday up the NJ Turnpike to scenic Secaucus, happy not to have to deal with airport and parking and TSA. Apparently I got a bit too cocky though, because no sooner had I arrived at the vendor section of the gigantic Meadowlands convention center than I realized that I hadn’t brought my usual backpack for flights to cons – so I had only part of what I needed for my vendor table!

NOOOOO! Luckily the convention center is adjacent to a giant Walmart, so I trekked over and had my promo pics reprinted, then trekked back to finish setting up. (My friends and I returned to Walmart later that night to stock up on supplies for the con weekend, which included an alarming amount of Beefaroni and ramen noodles,  bags of chips and possibly some Lunchables but hey, con weekend!)  We love Embassy Suites with their mini kitchens in the room and free breakfast buffet every morning – between that and the Walmart, we were set. And it’s a good thing, since I was on my own in the vendor room – luckily fandom is always wonderful and generous, with fellow fans offering to grab me drinks and pretzels or time for a bathroom break.

This con was special because it was the 100th Creation Supernatural convention – also christened Schmelke Con for the one person who has been at all 100 and taken over 250,000 photo ops to prove it — the one and only Chris Schmelke! There’s no overestimating the difference Chris has made to these conventions – photo ops are a special thing and nobody knows how to make them more special than Chris. We interviewed Chris for one of our first books, Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls, and it was immediately obvious that he truly cares about fans’ experience – he gets it. And so he does everything necessary to make sure those few moments allow a genuine connection. Chris will be the first one to say that Supernatural conventions are unlike any other, and in part that’s because these actors also go out of their way to make the photo ops special.

There were all sorts of special decorations celebrating the 100th con and Creation even handed out bracelets to commemorate the occasion, so it was very cool to be there!

Nothing says happy 100th like this!

Richard introduced Friday’s first guest panelist, Rachel Miner, by giving her well deserved props for her work with Random Acts. She was asked about her initial reaction to her character Meg, and said that she got to read her audition scene with Jared and Jensen. Eric Kripke was there too, and they both ended up laughing; she knew right away that she loved the character.

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