Behind the Scenes of The Last Season of Supernatural with Director Richard Speight, Jr.

Richard Speight, Jr. has a birthday coming up, and that has me thinking about a) how long I’ve known him and b) the incredible impact he has had on Supernatural and on the SPNFamily. In our very first conversation, close to 12 years ago, I was impressed with how smart and thoughtful he was. It wasn’t long before he talked about wanting to direct in addition to acting, and I was not a bit surprised when he added that to his repertoire – and kicked ass at it. He’s come a long way from 2014, when producer Jim Michaels posted a photo of Richard shadowing director Tom Wright on the set of Supernatural, going on to direct eleven episodes and to shape the show in significant ways.

I also knew early on that Richard was an excellent writer, because he wrote a chapter for one of my first books, Fan Phenomena Supernatural. When it came time to write my last book on the show that captured my heart as it went into its very last season, I knew I wanted Richard’s voice in that book too. His chapter in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done is, fittingly enough, a conversation between me and him. Like countless other conversations we’ve had over the past twelve years, in hotel restaurants or convention green rooms or in a taxi so he could show me where he’d filmed in San Francisco, his chapter is brimming with insights and a little bit of his trademark humor. In There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, Richard also gets serious about this little show that has changed so many lives. The way he describes Supernatural’s legacy, and what makes it so special, makes me tear up a little every time I read it. He gets it. From Richard’s chapter in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done:

The “Supernatural” take on family ain’t the Lifetime version. It’s dark, it’s rough, it’s painful, it’s broken. It may not be a perfect family, but it’s our family. It may not be a perfect world, but it’s our world. And I think the way Sam and Dean and Castiel choose to navigate that world and how they deal with each other along the way is inspirational to a lot of people and will continue to be an inspiration for a very long time.

Richard understands why the SPNFamily is so important, and why the show and its iconic characters will always be with us, which is what that book is all about. He also gets the show itself. That’s why I couldn’t wait to talk to him about the episodes of the show he directed for Season 15, three of which have already aired. In part 2 of my conversation with Richard, he takes us behind the scenes of those three episodes with so many fascinating insights. And maybe makes me a little emotional again as he talks about the upcoming end of this incredible show.

Part 1 of my epic interview with Richard shared insights into his new film Driven, his hilarious podcast with Rob Benedict, and some behind the scenes stories of directing his first episode of Season 15, Proverbs 17:3. I had a few more questions about that episode, because so much about it was SO good, so we pick up there…

L: Switching gears again, another scene I really liked in that episode was with the actress who played Lilith, who was so good – things very quickly go from all serious and horrifying to this poor traumatized girl falling on some antlers and being impaled, to her just getting up and brushing herself off! How challenging was that kind of split second progression?

R: Let me tell you, first off, Steve Yockey wrote a great script. So clever, the miscues were great. It was like my third or fourth Steve Yockey script, so we work together well. We connect on the material, he likes what I do, I like what he does. As we go through and adjust, we’re always on the same page. But I really really think, to pull that moment off, I give massive credit to Anna Grace Barlow. Finding her was finding Nate Torrence for Sully. I cast her off tape, I never met her. She turned in an audition that she shot in the garage during a short film she was doing that was so fantastic. And she came up and just knocked the leather off the walls. She was so good at every scene, from day one. Day one, her first day of shooting, she was confronting Sam and Dean in a parking lot as Lilith and taking the gun. She was already doing heavy hitting stuff right out of the gate. I thought she was incredibly talented. And she got the character. We discussed the character, she got the beats, and she played all that drama for real. Because you don’t get the joke, you don’t enjoy that moment, if you didn’t buy into everything that has happened before that.

L: Yes, and you really did.

R: You believed that she was in distress, you believed that she was a victim in this scenario, that she was in peril and incapable of doing anything to defend herself. And she’s completely distraught by what she’s witnessed and probably damaged for life, and then she stumbles and dies on those antlers and it’s a WTF moment of massive proportion.

L: Massive! She did a great job there and Jared and Jensen did too, with Sam and Dean’s WTF just happened expressions.

R: They did, they played it like the audience should have been too. But Anna Grace did such a good job and when she makes that turn, she’s Lilith the rest of the time. We had such fun crafting that character. To really go into this episode, I started talking to Jerry Wanek about the episode two weeks before we went up there because he read it and he called me and said “Wes Anderson”.

L: Ohhhhh

R: And I said, you had me at Wes. Because he’s like, I’m trying to figure it out, tonally I don’t want you to hang your hat on the set here but if you’re into it, I’ll lean into it and let’s create that vibe of symmetrical sets and straight on angles. And I said, oh absolutely. Then Carrie at the costume center got on board and that’s why Anna Grace Barlow looks like she’s from Moonrise Kingdom.

L: Yesssss

R:  If you go back to the campsite scene, we used plaids and all these things ala that heightened style. I loved that episode so much, and every set was a meal. It was all stylized. The sheriff’s office, very stylized. We used angles that reflected that kind of style – I don’t wanna say an homage because every shot is an homage because you picked it up from somebody at some point – but nonetheless it was a consistent style thing through the whole episode and it was so fun to do. Anna Grace in her little beret and kerchief being super evil was just so phenomenal.

L: That really added to the character being memorable and full of personality.

R: Everything she does previous to that scene – when she did that hospital scene and expressed her fear to Dean and in the hotel room telling him she doesn’t know what she’ll do now because her friends are all dead? That scene rips your heart out.

L: Yes, you have no idea at the time.

R:  She was shaggin’ flies with every take. Everything was a great take by her, so she gave so many options and choices. And when she went dark, she went dark so well. She was a fantastic villainess. In many ways, I wish it was Season 5 instead of Season 15, because I think we would have seen her many more times.

L: My favorite moment was when she asks them to give her the gun, and Dean says, “the Equalizer?” and she just deadpans “I’m not gonna call it that.” I laughed out loud.

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And We’re Off!  Supernatural Proverbs 17:3

 

We’ve never had a Supernatural episode named after a Bible verse before, but considering how this season is shaping up to be all about God, I guess it’s appropriate. Proverbs 17:3 was the swan song episode for writer Steve Yockey, who has written some of my favorites, and another directorial stint for Richard Speight Jr. With that combination, it’s not surprising that I liked it a lot – but it was an unusual episode in many ways. Proverbs 17:3 is all about how “the Lord trieth the hearts”, and that’s certainly fitting for what happened to the Winchesters in this episode. But it’s not that simple; this entire episode worked on multiple levels, so it’s equally fitting for what keeps happening to the fans. My heart is definitely being tried!

Let’s dig in, shall we? (There’s nothing I love more than feeling like I have a lot to dig into the day after an episode airs, and for the millionth time I have to say that I’m going to miss this day-after-conversation-speculation-discussion SO much)

The episode starts off with a quintessential Supernatural opener, three young women (who look so much alike half the fandom thought they were triplets) on an ill-advised camping trip and one of them being silly enough to go OUTSIDE the tent when they hear scary noises. Only one survives, and the case of the week is kicked off.

Meanwhile, Sam has been texting Cas (which he erroneously spells Cass like everyone on this show) and it’s sort of heartbreaking. I understand why Cas left so abruptly, but I doubt Sam really does despite whatever explanation Dean gave him.

Dean returns with supplies, including ghost pepper jerky, and we get a pricelessly funny brothers scene which I loved. Only Supernatural can seamlessly transition from people getting murdered to Jensen and Jared making us laugh over ghost pepper jerky. I think most of us suspected that we were seeing as much Jared and Jensen as Sam and Dean in that scene, and wondered if Jared was reprising his spike-the-eggnog-and-not-tell-Jensen bit from the Christmas episode, this time with super hot actual jerky. There’s a moment when Jensen definitely does his half hidden OMG laugh, and the throwing the water all over himself felt a lot like his ad libbing too. Meanwhile, Sam’s knowing taunting of his overly macho brother by withholding the water was so perfect – and could have been Jared too.

It’s wonderful to have a familiar and beloved colleague directing so much for the final season, and Richard Speight Jr. does a great job with this one. He understands the fandom differently than any other director would (except Jensen himself and another of this year’s directors, Matt Cohen) thanks to doing so many conventions for the past decade. He knows what gold Jared and Jensen are when he gives them some free rein and I think that’s what he did here. He also recognizes that gold when he sees it, and knows how to edit to make sure that comes through. I’m grateful!

On the other hand, Speight also knows how to make a moment visually stunning and powerful, perhaps thanks to his love of Tarantino and film in general. That fits well with this last season, when much of the show is subtext and meta, and when there are call backs to earlier seasons that have impact thanks to the way they’re presented. Speight has a unique style, and occasionally it jars me, but I think that also works most of the time. We’re supposed to jarred at this point, just like the Winchesters, our collective footing swept out from under us.

And lastly? Speight understands just how beautiful we think these characters are. Like Kim Manners, he’s not afraid to linger on their expressive faces, up close and personal, or to showcase their fighting as the oddly erotic thing it can sometimes be. He also is very aware of how demon Dean and Lucifer Sam affected the fandom, and just how powerful it will be to see them again. And see them we do, gorgeously.

In this moment, he knows what to linger on.

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Supernatural Brings Some Laughs with ‘Peace of Mind’

 

I watched this episode of Supernatural from an unusual perspective (for me, at least). I wasn’t able to watch Peace of Mind live, nor was I able to watch it for almost an entire week thanks to being on family vacation. (Despite what most people would probably assume, I actually do prioritize the kids over my favorite show. Okay, maybe I did sneak off and try to watch a bit of the episode on the CW app on Sunday, but that lasted about five minutes, so I gave up after only a single attempt. Pretty respectable, I think.)  This meant that I was partially spoiled for the episode, but more importantly, that I already knew what most of my social media timelines thought of it. I intentionally have a wide range of friends and acquaintances on various platforms, and they have a wide range of reasons why they love Supernatural, so it’s not surprising that some people loved the episode and some people hated it.

If you really needed a break from the angst and a good laugh, you probably loved it. If you watch for quality Misha Collins content, you were pretty pleased. If you ship Sastiel or are amused by Misha Collins and Jared Padalecki’s real life (adorable) teasing friendship, you got way more than you ever dreamt you would and were probably over the moon. If you watch for Sam and Dean and expect them to be interacting alot, maybe you weren’t. In other words, as in most things fandom, your mileage may vary.

When I tweeted that I hadn’t been able to watch and had no clue whether I’d like it or not, I had a lot of predictions from people in all those contingents about how I’d feel when I finally sat down to watch, which was also really interesting to hear. That watching thing finally happened last night, and guess what? Even I didn’t predict my reaction very accurately!

I didn’t have a strong emotional reaction in either direction, perhaps because I was already prepared for what the episode would contain. That allowed me to look at it with two different lenses, which is not the way I would usually do a review, but I think it’s helpful here. As a 42 minute piece of episodic television, I think Peace Of Mind was well done – and very enjoyable. Collins and Padalecki together in Charming Acres were comedy gold, both of them hitting just the right notes, and Meghan Fitzmartin’s teleplay giving them all the right dialogue to play with. They looked like they were having the time of their lives and that enthusiasm carried right over onto the screen. That story line – let’s call it the A story line – was particularly well done.

Misha shared at the Nashville Supernatural convention last weekend that there had been a scene where Sam lands on top of Castiel, and that Jared had way too much fun with that, including making “an impact”. That little tease primed me for the scene, and when it actually happened I laughed out loud, imagining all the fun Padalecki must have had with a trapped Collins who’s trying to stay in character. I’m crossing all my fingers and toes for lots of gag reel content from that one, because Phil Sgriccia was directing and he definitely knows when to let the cameras keep rolling!

I loved the set dec and locations that transformed a part of Vancouver into the idyllic and picturesque (according to Cas) Charming Acres, and the campy music and back-in-time costumes. Supernatural never cuts corners and it shows.

The B story line, as Dean tries to figure out if Jack is in the angel or devil camp (at times with a Twinkie choice test), worked less well for me, but perhaps that’s inevitably colored by having expectations for how these characters would be feeling after recent canon events. There was humor there too, but it didn’t work as well for me in the B story line. That may be because there just wasn’t as good a reason for the departure from the Show’s usual angst and darkness, like there was in the A story line. Alex Calvert and Keith Szarabajka (Donatello) had some lovely scenes together, but I think the back and forth between what was happening in Charming Acres to Cas and Sam and then to what was happening with Jack and Dean kept jarring me. I was more invested in the Sam and Cas story and didn’t want to keep being yanked away, which is a recurring problem with me and Supernatural when they have two separate story lines running.

From purely the perspective of an episode of television, the bookended brief Winchester brothers moments at the start and end were a separate thing too. They worked for me, and I was glad they were there, but perhaps that’s largely because I was waiting for them as a Supernatural fan.

So that’s the first perspective. Congrats to Meghan for her first episode as a writer and to Steve Yockey for his co-writing, especially for the entire Charming Acres story line. I literally laughed out loud – more than once!

The second perspective is of someone who has watched Supernatural since the beginning and is emotionally invested in this season’s story line as well as in the individual characters. From that perspective, I wasn’t quite as happy with the episode. Did we need a break from the angst? I know some people did, but I was in my happy place after the emotion-drenched episodes we had in the middle of the season and craving nothing more than a continuation of that angsty Winchestery goodness. I do enjoy the “funny” episodes, and I did enjoy this one, but I was also a little frustrated that it popped into the middle of a pretty serious overarching story arc.

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Rowena is Back, Eyeballs Ewww and Other Thoughts on Supernatural ‘Ouroboros’

 

Supernatural was back from its mini-hiatus last week finally. I absolutely loved the last few episodes, so “Ouroboros” had a tough act to follow. It turned out to be an episode with some excellent moments and it definitely held my interest throughout, but there were a bunch of head scratching moments and we all know I don’t like those. On the other hand, I was thrilled to have Rowena back on my screen, so that combined with some great emotional scenes left me at least intermittently happy.

The episode, written by Steve Yockey and directed by cast favorite Amyn Kaderali, starts with a memorable scene (perhaps not for my preferred reasons, but…), a mostly shirtless barefoot dude cooking with some good music playing. I love the way it’s filmed and directed, almost like a sorta sexy version of a cable tv cooking show. Except, because this is Supernatural, it turns out barefoot dude is cooking a recently murdered man and slicing and breading and frying his organs and popping out his eyeballs for a snack. I literally said “ewwww” out loud. A new high for Supernatural’s enjoyment of making its fans have to stop eating their traditional pie slices. It was a well done opening, though, and I’d sort of like Noah (very well played by Phillippe Bowgen) if he wasn’t so busy eating people.

The CW/WB

Team Free Will Plus (TFW+) arrive too late and are understandably frustrated. Rowena gives Cas a flirty “Hello, Castiel”, and gets a puzzled look in return, which was sort of adorable. Then we unfortunately get our first head scratching moment. Rowena is the only one who notices that the corpse (and apparently the other similar corpses they’ve found) has black around his lips and really, the Winchesters didn’t notice that??? Too busy focusing on the cannibalism to, what? Be hunters??

Head scratch. Grrrr.

Rowena dispenses some wisdom to Jack when he asks if the black around the lips means something.

Rowena: Dear boy, everything means something.

She’s right, and Sam and Dean and Castiel know that, Show. We ALL know that!

There’s an overt (maybe too overt) theme running through the episode of “I’m fine, everyone’s fine” which starts with Rowena and Sam in the next scene as they research who this monster might be and why he always knows they’re coming. As they work, Rowena questions how Jack is okay and what kind of magic they used, and Sam just says ‘he’s fine’. She also wonders how Dean is managing to keep an Archangel locked up in his head.

Sam: Because he’s Dean. And Dean is…. Dean. He’s fine.

Of course he isn’t, but that’s sort of the point.

Meanwhile, Dean and Castiel have a diner chit chat while Jack is in the bathroom coughing up blood ominously. Cas is empathic with Dean, saying he can’t imagine the willpower it’s taking to keep Michael locked up, but Dean insists he’s fine.

Dean: That’s what I’m supposed to say, right?

Me: In this episode, yes, definitely.

Dean insists that it’s on him to keep it up, even if it means no sleep, but Cas protests.

Dean: It’s on me.

Cas: No, it’s on us. We’re here to help you.

Gif justjensenanddean

It’s a nice gesture, but Sam and Cas actually can’t do a damn thing to help Dean other than let him keep hunting to stay distracted. But as Castiel rightly notes, it’s not sustainable.

Jack uses up some more of his soul in the bathroom to heal himself and returns to the table, also insisting he’s fine.

Dean: See? Everyone’s fine.

Me: Everyone is so not fine.

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Back to Happily Squeeing – over Supernatural ‘Nihilism’!

 

I spent Supernatural’s mid season hiatus guardedly optimistic about the second half of Season 14 after feeling less than elated about the end of the first half. Then I was out of the country last Thursday when my favorite show returned and couldn’t watch until now – so imagine my absolute joy when I finally sat down to watch ‘Nihilism’ and sat there riveted the entire time. I might have yelled “YES!” and “That’s my Show!” more than once, and I might have had a big grin on my face at times that probably weren’t even appropriate for big grins, but I was just so happy to have my Show back! Thank you, Steve Yockey, for that beautiful story, and Amanda Tapping for that beautiful direction.

It’s already Thursday again so this is less a review or recap and more a few emotional reactions and thoughts as we gear up for tonight’s new episode and get closer to the 300th episode that I’m so anticipating.

‘Nihilism’ had some nostalgic touches, which almost always puts a smile on my face. I’ve been watching this Show for 14 years, and it feels good when the Show remembers its own history and acknowledges its own fandom. Dean’s fantasy world in his own head where Michael has trapped him is full of those touches – it’s Rocky’s Bar, complete with a stuffed squirrel wrapped around a Margiekugel’s beer bottle, a tap from “FB Beer Company” and references to “an IPA from Austin”.  The little in-group nods to Dean’s nickname of ‘Squirrel’, a Scoobynatural nod with ‘Daphne Loves Fred’ carved into the bar, and Jensen’s real life (Family Business Beer Company) brewery in Austin were happy making.

Although that taxidermied squirrel kinda brought back some unusual con memories….you know what? Never mind.

And who’s Dean’s partner in his dreamt up ideal world? None other than Pamela Barnes, the woman who unapologetically appreciated both Winchesters’ assets and always told it like it is (threesome, anyone?). I can see Dean appreciating a woman like that, and I have always appreciated her too.  I also love Traci Dinwiddie, who was a guest at some of the first Supernatural cons, and was so happy to see her back on the show.

The fact that Dean’s fantasy world has him being a badass brawling bar owner (who’s famous…) repeatedly beheading attacking monsters was so perfect – so very very Dean.  Of course he’d still be hunting monsters and saving people, even in a dream world! Also that gives us interesting shots like this…

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