Supernatural, Season 2, Episode 20: “What Is and What Should Never Be”


Written by Raelle Tucker
Directed by Eric Kripke

I have been avoiding writing about this episode because writing sometimes has a way of boiling things down or reducing them. I am afraid that writing about this episode that means so much to me (and so many others) will do that. I think the episode is perfect, one of the few truly perfect episodes in the series. Perfection is rare. Very few projects ever achieve it. And imperfect things often work better. Casablanca isn’t perfect but it is one of the greatest pieces of entertainment ever put on celluloid. (Critic Pauline Kael said, famously, “Great movies are rarely perfect movies.” And I agree with her.) We may argue over what is or is not perfect, but I think we can all agree that it is rare as hell. (Well, maybe we can’t all agree, judging from the ass-hats who think Rotten Tomatoes ratings are the actual measure of value and send death threats to – say – my friend Keith when he “ruined” The Dark Knight’s perfect Tomato-rating with his bad review.) But let’s say: SENSIBLE people can agree that a perfect anything is rare as hell. I would argue that the ups-and-downs and false-starts and repetitiveness of much of Supernatural – all things that could be seen as its flaws and sometimes they are flaws – are actually strengths in total, as well as the things that set it apart from many other series that keep their eye so much on the ball that they never reach this kind of depth and texture.

But “What Is and What Should Never Be” is perfect. Like the high school girls singing “Carry On Wayward Son.” Like the final shot of “Very Supernatural Christmas.” Many of the perfect moments on the show – and I’m using “perfect” quite literally – are ones that involve joy. Joy comes so rarely to any of these characters that it’s barely part of the fabric of the show. Joy is something that can’t easily be put into words. It’s much easier to describe sorrow. Moments of joy in the midst of a painful life always come with sorrow attached, especially when you have experience and you know that joy, unlike sorrow, is momentary, gone in a flash, while sorrow digs its heels in and stays a while, sometimes forever.

“What Is and What Should Never Be” is an episode devoted ENTIRELY to that blend (joy/sorrow). That’s what it’s all about. The episode LIVES there. It’s incredible (still) that it works as well as it does, that it is as emotional as it is, without being sentimental, that it may not have been expected (I sure as hell didn’t expect it), but once it arrived it seemed completely inevitable.

As always, got some shit to talk about before we get to the re-cap. Hopefully you all can find things here that you think interesting.

On Mystery and Interpretation

Can you analyze the pleasure right out of something? (To be fair, that has never happened to me and I have been writing non-stop about my obsessions – Cary Grant, Dean Stockwell, Elvis – on this site for over 10 years now: I have PICKED THOSE MEN APART, I have DESECRATED THEIR GRAVES, and I haven’t gotten sick of them yet.) I say all this as a film critic, because it’s something I grapple with, especially when when a really pleasurable movie (or TV show) resists easy classification (or even explanation. If you talk about Tree of Life too much, you may very well kill it.) My recent experience with this was when I sat down to write about Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s gorgeous Cemetery of Splendour. To try to say what it was ABOUT would ruin it, as well as tarnish my memory of it. The review I ended up writing Cemetery of Splendour I’m very pleased with because (in my estimation) I left the mystery alone, and avoided putting out any theories regarding its meaning.

Film critics get quite proprietary about their theories. (This is true of fandom as well, and certainly in SPN fandom! Believe you me I’ve got my theories to!.) But not everything is a Christopher Nolan puzzle-piece story (thank the good Lord above).

There’s so much pleasure in mystery and ambiguity, when done well. It’s the most pleasure, really.

A perfect example (that also connects with the episode): I just re-watched the glorious Mulholland Drive again, one of my favorite movies.


Now listen. I could talk about Mulholland Drive for hours on end and never get to the bottom of it. I get the fascination. However, I don’t think the movie works best if you look at it as a puzzle to be pieced together, or clock-parts that need to be assembled. I LOVE swimming in the mystery of it, in other words, watching the film through Betty’s POV and then watching it through Rita’s POV. The film is so mysterious that it makes people anxious (and I don’t blame them, it’s freaky). Declaring that they know exactly the moment when the characters persona-swap is a way of controlling and corralling the crazy emotions unleashed by Lynch’s film. And seriously: I get it. But a powerful piece of work often operates on multiple levels, and since Mulholland Drive is dream-logic, who can say what IS the right answer? Obviously SOMEthing goes down at that midnight theatre show at Club Silencio … but what? What I resist is others telling me, “Okay, so here’s what happens, and therefore you are wrong or missing the point if you don’t agree with me.” The same thing happened with The Sopranos finale. People just could NOT DEAL with the fact that they didn’t “know”, so people went insane insisting they DID know, when the reality was they were just guessing.

That being said:

I don’t think “What Is and What Should Never Be” is particularly mysterious, incidentally. It’s one of the most transparent episodes in the entire series. It is the episode where the Subtext goes Text. We haven’t had much of that. However, the power of the episode is similar to the power of Mulholland Drive in that the whole thing operates as a dream/fantasy. I remember watching the episode for the first time and feeling like I was a starving person faced with a feast. It was too rich, too textured, and also … so much of what I had been yearning for that I almost couldn’t process it. Dean’s yearning for his mother and sadness about his lost childhood has been buried underneath a persona of certainty and gung-ho-ness (equally as sincere, though: it’s not a lie), and we have only gotten glimpses of what goes on in his head. (Granted, the glimpses started early, with “Dead In the Water”, also written by Tucker.) Here, we get the full frontal. It’s raw. It’s so open it’s almost embarrassing.


Obviously it’s a favorite episode in the Supernatural universe. As always, what I put out in these re-caps is my own feel of the thing, what comes across to me, and the various things that interest me in terms of character, story, and, of course, the visual information and how the visuals tell the story. (This episode is particularly good on a technical level, especially in terms of sound design.)

But there’s something at its core that I want to leave alone. Like a David Lynch film, it works best if you don’t explain it too much. Naturally, I will pontificate on my observations, with far too many words, but my hope is that it won’t puncture its essence, reduce it somehow. I’ll try my best.

David Lynch, Continued

There are many corollaries between “What Is and What Should Never Be” and the films of David Lynch, Blue Velvet in particular. That picket fence, and the bright bobbing flowers show up in both, and the color scheme is the same (a color scheme never seen before or since in Supernatural. The glories of lawn-work and happy neighbors. But you can tell all is not right, and the golden-lit nostalgia is pierced with something dark and terrible and unmanageable. The visual nods to Blue Velvet are all over the place (the djinn’s eyes turn blue, and the “dream” is activated by blue-lit lightning transferred from one to the other), but you only have to re-familiarize yourself with Blue Velvet‘s now-classic opening (who can ever forget seeing it for the first time?) to feel how much Eric Kripke reveres Blue Velvet, and took it as one of his inspirations for the episode.

The Our Town Connection

“What Is and What Should Never Be” has a lot of similarities with Thornton Wilder’s Our Town – referenced before in the series already in “Shadow” – because of course high school Sam would be in a production about dead people sitting around waiting for the call from Heaven, and then wandering back among the living. Of course. He’s not gonna be in a production of No No Nanette. It’s gotta be Our Town.

In the second act of the play, Emily dies in childbirth, and goes to the cemetery where she watches her family bury her. The graveyard is filled with “ghosts,” sitting there, waiting … for what, they don’t know. (It’s a bleak outlook on the afterlife.) Life’s “fitful fever” is long behind them. Emily is new to death though. She freaks out, and begs the Stage Manager to let her go back for just one day. Finally, she is granted the wish – and, like “What Is and What Should Never Be”, it is a wish, and the Stage Manager is the genie – although the Stage Manager does not recommend she go through with it. He knows what will happen. She picks a day from her childhood. Once Emily is back with her family, she is overwhelmed. She wants to talk with them, deeply, she wants everyone to stop for a second, BE with one another, SEE one another. Especially her busy mother. But her mother brushes Emily off, “Come on, now, there’s a lot of work to do today …” Emily can’t bear it. Life moves too fast.

When I think about losing one of my family members, I feel panic and dread. I pray for it not to happen. I don’t know how I will bear it. And in those moments, I want to rush and find my sisters, my brother, my mother, and clutch them to me so they know – while they’re here – how much they mean to me.

At the end of the play Emily has a famous monologue, and I swear, that I think about this monologue, on average, on AVERAGE, once a day. Like very few pieces of literature, it is a reminder of how to live.

Emily: Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother, Mama! Wally’s dead, too. His appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it – don’t you remember? But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s really look at one another! ……. I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back — up the hill — to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every,every minute?
Stage Manager: No. (pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some.

That’s the human condition, isn’t it.

Emily scares her mother because of how intensely she talks of her love and appreciation. Emily’s mother thinks something is wrong with her daughter. Why is Emily talking so urgently? Has something happened? Is she going away? Is she sick?

Dean’s behavior in this episode is all about Emily in Our Town: the first scene with his mother, the first scene with Sam and Jess, Dean wandering around, staring at the family photographs, soaking up the house that is still standing, clutching Jess to him in a massive hug, clapping “Sammy” on the shoulder beaming with affection, even getting tender with Carmen (“I get why you’re the one”) … no wonder everyone thinks he’s drinking.

Like Emily, he is looking at a world that has vanished, people who have died, horribly, a world that never existed in the first place. He can’t be close enough to it. He can’t stop staring at his mother. He drinks in the way Carmen looks at and listens to him. He can’t stop smiling at the restaurant table. He can’t get enough.

Monologue Involving Alternate Realities

I’m sure many of you can relate, but here’s how it went down for me: I didn’t have my childhood ripped away from me, and a demon didn’t infiltrate my home. But for a while there in my late 20s, I felt that the life I was living was not the life I was supposed to have had. Literally. There was this “other Sheila” out there who had made another choice, and that was the life I wanted to be living. This image – or delusion, whatever you want to call it – was so strong that it literally ruined my late 20s and early 30s. The OTHER life, the one that DIDN’T happen, was more vivid to me than the life I was actually living. There was a guy I was in love with (of course) and to this day I have never loved anyone like I loved him (that’s a good thing. #NeverAgain). I wrote about the whole thing here, or, at least, that’s one of the posts about it. The breakup with him was so total that I was desperate to leave Chicago, applied to grad school in New York, got in, and had two months to pick up stakes and move. So it was one of those love affairs that actually did change everything.

And a weird thing happened during my last weeks in Chicago: I was sitting on the front stoop of my apartment. It was August, the windows were open, and Mitchell was playing a James Taylor CD inside, the music drifting out. I was drinking coffee. I wasn’t writing in my journal, or crying, even though that August there was a lot of crying and journal-writing. I was just sitting out there in a sunlit daze and I remember clear as day that I suddenly got the feeling, so sharp (and it came through the senses – not my intellect) that I was suddenly in the OTHER life, the one I could still see in the rear-view mirror. It felt more vivid than just a daydream. In that alternate reality, I wasn’t packing to move to New York in 3 weeks. I was packing to move to Milwaukee to be with him. I could feel him. His presence in my life. A wish so strong it came true for a couple of minutes? Later, I tried to explain it away that way, and I explain it away that way now.

In retrospect, of course, I can see a ton of land-mines if that OTHER life had come true, no matter how much I wanted it. IF I had moved to Milwaukee to be with him … I now think that there’s a high possibility it might have been so exciting I would have ended up in a psych ward. Which may have been a good thing, all things considered. OR, another possibility, we would have killed each other like the lovers in the opening of “My Bloody Valentine” and you would have read about us in the tabloid news.

The illusion only lasted for a couple of minutes, but the effect of it lasted for months … years? … and it’s all coming back to me right now, thinking about “What Is and What Should Never Be.”

If time can bend, then every moment contains infinite possibilities, of chance, luck, accident, seemingly small things that have enormous consequences.

It would have been interesting if I had written out my Wish at the time, extended it out, considering all the possibilities. Like: Okay, so things worked out with him. You made plans to move to Milwaukee, even though you had never wanted to live in Milwaukee. Nothing against Milwaukee, but it wasn’t where I would have chosen to live (I wanted to be an actress, why would I move to Milwaukee? To be fair, he had also said he would move to Chicago for me.) You leave your group of friends and move to a city where you only know him. For a while, the two of you spend your time like the lovers in the opening of “My Bloody Valentine.” It would be amazing. Neighbors would complain. You would call in sick repeatedly for more of the same. And … then what. And … then what. Be brave enough to acknowledge that if this one great wish came true, a lot of other not-so-great things would come into existence. Or a lot of other great possibilities would suddenly be no longer possible. Everything has a cost.

Those are the depths stirred for me, personally, when I watch this episode. And it’s not painful anymore or anything like that. I rarely think about it anymore. But it still exists.

Raelle Tucker’s script is imaginative and depth-full, and she makes the Subtext Text without pandering to the audience. There are unexpected glitches in the fabric of the fantasy (it is the glitches that are the most evocative part of the episode).

It’s a profound commentary on how the mind works, on dream-logic of the Lynchian-fable variety, and how dreams fight with reality. You can have a wish. But the wish comes with unforeseen complexity, because reality is going to play out from that moment forward in ways you couldn’t have expected. In my version: “Yay! We’re moving in together, it worked out!” Three months later: “Oops! Sheila’s in the psych ward in Milwaukee.” You know, you just don’t know.

“So if you wake up with the sunrise, and all your dreams are still as new, / And happiness is what you need so bad, girl, the answer lies with you.”

Led Zeppelin had some great lyrics, but the lyrics to “What Is and What Should Never Be,” off their 1969 album Led Zeppelin 2 are particularly haunting.

And if I say to you tomorrow. Take my hand, child, come with me.
It’s to a castle I will take you, where what’s to be, they say will be.

Catch the wind, see us spin, sail away, leave today, way up high in the sky.
But the wind won’t blow, you really shouldn’t go, it only goes to show
That you will be mine, by takin’ our time.

And if you say to me tomorrow, oh what fun it all would be.
Then what’s to stop us, pretty baby. But What Is And What Should Never Be.

Catch the wind, see us spin, sail away, leave today, way up high in the sky.
But the wind won’t blow, you really shouldn’t go, it only goes to show
That you will be mine, by takin’ our time.

So if you wake up with the sunrise, and all your dreams are still as new,
And happiness is what you need so bad, girl, the answer lies with you.

Catch the wind, see us spin, sail away, leave today, way up high in the sky.
But the wind won’t blow, you really shouldn’t go, it only goes to show
That you will be mine, by takin’ our time.

Oh the wind won’t blow and we really shouldn’t go and it only goes to show.
Catch the wind, we’re gonna see it spin, we’re gonna…sail, leave today
Everybody I know seems to know me well
but they’re never gonna know that I move like hell.

It’s a tale told to a child, a hypothetical involving a fairy-tale castle. The lyrics may be (somewhat) soothing, but tune is eerie, in the way that only Led Zeppelin could be eerie. (“Kashmir” is eerie enough to become downright ominous.)

Also: consider the fact that “What is and what should never be” may very well be a question (or two successive questions) as opposed to a statement. If you pose it as two questions, the words demand to know the difference between the two. And what IS the difference between those two things? Is there a way to tell?

In other words, the title isn’t necessarily prescriptive. Or an order. When posed as a question, they become almost anxiously meditative.

The last lines of the song … well, one can only think of what’s coming up for Dean. And Sam. And Bobby. And everyone else we love and care about.


A couple of things:

There’s a lot of “art for art’s sake” going on, something the series has been more hit-or-miss with in recent seasons. Make scenes beautiful just because it’s fun to show off with how beautiful you can make things.

But also: The Shots are cool not only because it’s cool to be creative (although it is that too), but because the cool-looking-shots immerse you in the world of the Narrative quicker than any dialogue could.

Prime example: Sam looking out the window of the motel. A couple of things are done with those shots:
1. It places you geographically. They’re in Joliet, Illinois.
2. It picks up the story of Sam and Dean being on the run from the Actual Law, a hangover from “Folsom Prison Blues,” and the re-entry of Agent Henricksen
3. It provides background to the case they’re working (close-ups of Sam’s books with djinn drawings throughout the ages.)
4. Dean has gone off solo, and reports back with frustration which plunges us into Dean’s world-view, something that will be important in contextualizing his djinn-enforced-dream-world. Dean has had it. In the “Then” introduction to the episode, we get Dean exclaiming, “Screw the job, man!” This will be important.
5. The “Screw the job, man” is hilariously contradictory, considering the fact that Sam “has Dean” circling around in the dark, tiptoeing through empty warehouses and barns. So Sam gave Dean an assignment. It’s similar to Dean lying on the Magic Fingers moaning, “You got me on lockdown!” Additionally, Dean is breezy in that burlesque way he has, making cracks about chicks loving fugitives and going off into a reverie about how hot Barbara Eden was, way hotter than “that Bewitched chick.”

Let the audience decide.



Side note: I remember one person showed up here once upon a time and said she was “surprised” that I referred to Sam and Dean as Gen X. I’m not sure what generation she thought they were. a. They were born in the late 70s, early 80s. That’s Gen X. On the tail-end of Gen X, but Gen X. b. Baby Boomers and Gen X are the only ones who even know who Barbara Eden is, plus what “Bewitched” was, or at least to have them as a casually tossed-off frame of reference, not to mention a sexual fantasy, based on watching the shows while they were on in constant re-runs (as they were in the 80s). I Dream of Jeannie aired in 1970 and ran for 5 years before retreating into constant rotation on afternoon television. Bewitched goes back even further, airing in 1964 and ran until 1972. I remember both of those shows in their afternoon time-slots in the 80s, and they were appointment-TV. Dean has referenced Bewitched a couple of times, including the fact that Darin (the husband) was played by two different guys, causing much confusion and controversy amongst the fans. So he’s pretty up-to-speed on both shows. And maybe he thinks the “genie” he’ll be tracking down will be in harem pants and a bobbing-ponytail but pictures in Sam’s books tell a different story.

We are about to be launched into an alternate-world, and the teaser already sets us up for that, in its use of reflections, blurred lights (outside of Sam’s window, and outside the Impala’s windows), and reverse-shots that show Sam peering through reflective glass with all these colors and shapes on them.





These are not straight-forward shots in any way shape or form, although they may feel that way, because we are plunged right into the story. But make no mistake: These are intensely and self-consciously gorgeous images.

Filmic, poetic, dreamy, they make you go “Ahhhhh” as you sink into their strange beauty. It’s a major-motion-picture look, not a television look, and the team constantly challenges themselves to find innovative ways to tell the story. This is not the look of other episodes. It has its own logic, its own establishing mood. We are about to go down the Rabbit Hole (stolen from JA’s description of what the episode felt like to him, performing it) – where reality is just a reflection, and the reflections back and forth are dizzying, disorienting (like Alice’s looking glass, to stay with the Carroll-Connection). Could you step through that reflective surface into those blurred-out poetic lights, and find the life, the other life, that beckons to you? The one you can almost see?



The reflections of that motel sign are a perfect example of what I’ve been talking about, the Subtext Going Text, and the next clue that we’re down the Rabbit Hole already is the interesting and gorgeous shot of Sam at the table, filmed from a low-down angle, making the ceiling fill the air above him, a dark ceiling pierced with warm light.


And those LAMPS. They will be featured briefly in the extraordinary final scene. The motel room wall-dividers are usually whimsical, meaningless, injecting humor in serious situations, making all of us go, “Where the hell are they staying now?” But it can’t be a coincidence that Wanek chose a vertical-line of golden lamps that look like sideways genie-lamps hung in mid-air.

I also see in them old-fashioned street-lamps and I think of Lucy entering Narnia from the wardrobe. The first thing she sees is a lamp-post in the middle of a snowy forest. A magical meeting spot, the entry-way to the other world.


The warm light of those motel-room lamps will flood the screen in the Djinn-Fantasy to follow, a look unique to this episode, signaling how well the rest of the series has worked: Since when has sunlight appeared like that? Or softly-lit interiors? And when it does appear in the Wish-World, the joy that such light brings is pierced with such pain and loss that we are plunged on the fast-track into David-Lynch-Land, where such contradictions are part of the uneasy emotions his films inspire.

What we don’t see is that Sam hangs up and immediately goes outside to hot-wire a random car and take off after Dean, but the episode doesn’t show that scene, and so we aren’t reassured, “Thank God, Sam is on the case.”

“What Is and What Should Never Be”, more than other episodes, has a true horror about it in that warehouse situation: it’s deeply disturbing. This is especially true in the moment when Dean looks at the bare light-bulb, my favorite moment in the whole episode, and that’s saying something. My reaction: “Erik Kripke, here is what I think of THAT shot, pal.”


The suspense (and horror, more than suspense) is intensified because of the pleasure we get from seeing Dean in his dream-world. We want him to stay. We want him to choose the alternate reality. “In here, it will feel like a lifetime.” So frightening to me. It’s epic, that “in here.” It’s like the “empathy box” in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (adapted into Blade Runner, but the “empathy box” didn’t make the cut). Out there is dehumanization, but just hook yourself up to the empathy box and let the warm-fuzzies of catharsis and good-will drench your soul, and in that way, you won’t even notice how awful things are outside, because you’re so happy and filled with empathy “in here.” Shivers … (In my more cynical moments, I think that Oprah and our enormous self-help Deepak Chopra-esque industry serves the same purpose. Lulling us to sleep. Resist!)

Being hooked up to that “empathy box” changes everything – for Dean, more than Sam, because Dean lived it. For almost the first time Dean acknowledges the reality of how bad their lives are, how much they’ve lost, what they’ve given up.

Nothing Means Nothing


Shots repeat in the episode and, of course, there’s practically a shot by shot recreation of the first scene in the pilot. But this one is almost more interesting to me. Nothing means nothing when it’s onscreen. There is no such thing as an unimportant detail, not with a team like this. Everything has relevance, every choice matters. The typewriter is highlighted so prominently (TWICE), with Dean’s flashlight beam emerging over it, that the object takes on huge symbolic significance. They could have chosen to put any number of objects in the foreground, a mannequin, a pile of moldy books, a cluster of lamps, whatever, but Wanek/Kripke chose an old-fashioned typewriter.

This is an episode about Narrative. It delves into the functions of Story and how we write our own Stories. Joan Didion said: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” It’s her most famous quote, but I think people throw it around forgetting the context surrounding it. It’s like Shakespeare’s beloved line from Henry VI,Part II: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” Yeah, hardee-har-har, funny line, everyone hates lawyers, right? but Shakespeare gave that line to an anarchist rabble-rousing psychotic maniac. The kind of person who would … for instance … beat up a protestor at a Presidential political rally, and then defend his actions to the press, saying, “Next time, I’ll kill him.” You know, just a hypothetical example. You’re gonna listen to a word that THAT person says? A similar misinterpretation happens with Didion’s line. Joan Didion believes that there is always a story underneath the story, but sometimes that Story can’t be reached, never can be reached. Her essay about San Francisco in 1968-69 starts with that famous quote above. Didion sensed something bad going on, like Yeats-ian “Second Coming” bad (as the title of the essay-collection in which that essay appears suggests: Slouching Towards Bethlehem). But what was the story? What was happening? Ultimately, what Joan Didion’s point really was, and she reiterated it in her novels from that same era: Some narratives have no bottom. Some narratives are pieced together imperfectly because information is lost. Sometimes you just CAN’T know, and human beings can’t bear not knowing, so we HAVE to tell ourselves stories, from cave paintings on. Otherwise we are faced with the Void of Nothing-ness. (Didion’s “stories” quote is often used as some kind of inspirational “All of our stories matter” Oprah-bullshit, but that’s not what Didion was saying at all.)

That typewriter to me suggests Didion’s broader idea: The only way we can understand the chaos in which we live is to tell ourselves stories about it. And maybe we re-write our own Narratives because it’s just easier to bear reality that way.

Dean is about to enter a Narrative, created by the wishes and yearnings in his heart. He has already written that Narrative. It lives inside of him, he feels it every day. He wishes his mother hadn’t died. That one wish erects an entire edifice, blanks filled in, background sketched in, like he’s writing his own novel where he’s the star. Or it’s a fanfic of his own life. Like me, sitting on that hot stoop, feeling – for a second – like I was inside the life I had seen in my head. We re-write our own Narratives every day. We create our own worlds, for better or worse, and how we tell ourselves our own stories is how we end up living them. It creates a feedback loop similar to the Djinn-Poison.

Dean’s flashlight beam pouring over a typewriter in the foreground is him entering the foyer of his Dream World. The typewriter re-appears, when Dean and Law-Student-Sam-in-a-Zip-Up-Jacket enter the warehouse, same shot configuration, the typewriter not just highlighted but dominating. The flashlight beam struggles to peek around it. The Narrative is that strong. Dean can’t even SEE around it.

The typewriter-sentry is so eloquent in its two shots that it practically has two unspoken lines of dialogue:
“Hi there. Write your story.”
“Hi again. Sorry, but throw out what you just wrote and start again.”

Into the Dream

The warehouse is pitch-black in that bold look of the show in its early days, with washes of red and blue light, down hallways, through the mottled-glass windows. There is no discernible light source for either of those colors, they provide an aura of magic and not-quite-reality in that blackness, plus a harbinger of things to come. Dean is about to enter a world of primary colors.

I’ve written before about the almost-casual gorgeousness of what the show looked like, especially in these early seasons. What happens is – especially when you freeze-frame scenes: every single freeze is beautiful. Literally: every single moment. (This is not so much the case now.) It’s like, say, The Master, where you could freeze that film every other second, and not once will the image be boring, or stock. So much care has been given to each moment, but still there’s a careless “but of course it should look this way” vibe to it, so confident, so appealing. It’s what the old movies used to look like in the 40s, when noir started coming into play. Freeze-frame Double Indemnity every other second, and not once will the image be anything less than strikingly evocative.

Here’s just one example from Dean in the hallway.


I mean, that is stunning. But it’s just a tiny glimpse, not even a “moment,” he’s in constant movement, busy doing his thing, looking around. He’s not slowly stepping into his key-light. It’s just that Serge Ladouceur and Kripke and Wanek know what they are doing, understand his face, and have filled with screen with pitch-black shadows and dim light sources coming from random places so that no matter which way he turns, it’s going to be beautiful.

A long time ago, in the re-cap for the pilot, I talked about the challenges of how to light these two main guys. Their faces are not the same. Their angles are not the same. Ackles is all pale curves, and eyelashes, and freckles, with a nice strong schnozz. Padalecki is brown and flushed, with a strong forehead casting his eyes into total shadow, and delicate almost angular features. What works for Ackles won’t work for Padalecki. And you can tell, in the pilot, that Serge/directors already understood that, and were working to figure it out, especially since the two of them are so often in the frame at the same time. In that pilot re-cap, I mentioned the shot of Dean hiding in the police station, which has a similar look/feel to this brief moment in the Djinn hallway. I wrote back then, too, that he’s not just handsome, he’s glamorous. He requires special lighting to bring that out. That’s why he looks practically “whatever, he’s cute” on the soap operas in his olden days. The lighting is too flat and generic. He needs to be lit with a lot of care to bring out what he’s got going on naturally. His face is beautiful but it’s unique.

1st scene

If the title credits hadn’t broken the moment up, this cut would be one of the funniest in the entire series. The Djinn (Mackenzie Gray) fills Dean with blue-lighting-dream-juice, Dean’s eyes roll back. Cut to black. Next: black-and-white footage of a gigantic monster, which appears to be an Ent/Voodoo Mask/King Kong hybrid, staggering off into the bushes, holding an unconscious woman in his arms. I mean, come on.


Have any of you seen From Hell It Came? It’s out on DVD and it’s terrible. It’s been referred to as one of the worst movies ever made (and I would not disagree). The Wikipedia page has a comment from Leonard Maltin that makes me laugh out loud: “As walking-tree movies go, this is at the top of the list.” hahaha There’s a tree-like evil creature called the “Tabanga” going on a killing rampage on a South Sea island. As I was putting together this post, I wondered if Mystery Science Theatre had ever “done” From Hell It Came, and Googled it. First link was a message board titled “Movies that are known to have been rejected by BBI.” From Hell It Came shows up on that board multiple times, which should tell you something.

When I saw that cut for the first time – Dean being attacked to the Tabanga dragging a woman off into the bushes – it took me a second to locate in my memory banks what movie that clip was from, and when I got it, I thought, “From Hell It Came?? Are you fucking serious? I LOVE THIS SHOW.”

A direct connection made between the fainted damsel and Dean Winchester, which pleases me no end. The first post I wrote about Dean Winchester (and Ackles), I talked about how the show often puts him – the Eastwood/John Wayne macho hero – in the position of being a damsel in distress with all that implies. It was one of the unexpected things I noticed first when I got into the show. “Huh. I thought it would be all macho-swagger but it’s not that at all.”

That clip from From Hell It Came is a joke but also an example of how the Subtext is made Text, without using a word of dialogue.


Dean rises up into the frame, with the Tabanga-Abduction carrying on in the background. Can’t you hear the cackling off-screen from Kripke et al? It’s so goofy and perfect. Dean, if you turned and looked at the television, you would literally see a representation of what has happened to you. You are a damsel being dragged off into the bushes!

The opening scene is so full of detail that I am still, to this day, discovering new things to think about. So I’ll just list a couple:

— Dean’s nakedness, punctuated and accentuated by the chain with the not-pendant around his neck. We’ve discussed the effect Dean’s nakedness has and how weirdly vulnerable it is. Because of course we want to see him naked, but then when we do, we’re all like …


It makes me uncomfortable to see him comfortable.

Which is totes fucked up and awesome.

Dean puts on his henley (ah, the good old days of the henley) and goes to investigate.

The Sound

What they decided to do with sound in this first sequence is key to the episode’s eerie and powerful appeal. There is music later on, and of course in the big climactic moment in the warehouse music is used to heartbreaking effect … but here: there is no scary music, first of all. Nothing to add to the suspense.

But more than that:

It’s not just silence. There’s a kind of muffled (way muffled) roar underneath that silence. It’s like their house is next to a power plant, a gigantic structure that has a buzz to it, supersonic, sub-sonic, infiltrated into the molecules of the atmosphere. It’s present, but you can barely hear it. You can feel it, more than hear it. It’s like the bottom has fallen out of reality, that sound. I have no idea what decisions were made in the post-production process to give that first scene this sound – or LACK of sound – but it’s a brilliant choice. It’s full of mystery.

That subterranean roar, by the way, is used so often by Lynch that it’s practically a signature. It’s in Twin Peaks all over the place. Lost Highway, a movie I love (I don’t understand why it’s ranked so low on most Lynch-Film lists) is FULL of that kind of silence, silence indistinguishable from a roar. Silence that is sound.

When Dean wakes up the following morning at his mother’s, has some lunch, mows the lawn, the world has normalized, the sound is no longer that loud-loud-silence. Things have become recognizably “our” world. It’s the Djinn-Juice doing its work, it’s Dean settling into the fantasy-loop.

But this first scene takes place in a void-roar of silence-sound and it’s very very unnerving.

The Decor

— THE DECOR, people. This is Dean’s wish. Everything there is because he – or his subconscious – has somehow envisioned it that way. There are many details that seem to me to be eloquent, and I’ll just list them here:


1. They have two televisions, one in their bedroom, and the one in their bedroom appears to be bigger than the one in the main room. I mean, the space looks pretty small, so I think it’s funny that there would be two televisions no less than 15 feet away from each other, and – to me anyway – an obvious solution to the fact that sometimes a couple wants to watch different things at different times. She holes up with Sex and the City in the living room and he lolls in bed watching The Wild Bunch. No tension in couple-land if you have two TVs.
2. The framed black-and-white photo of interlocking gears on the wall. A still from Chaplin’s Modern Times? What is that?
3. The furniture clearly either donated to them (“Hey, my mom has a random red comforter she doesn’t want – we could use it right?”) or bought on the cheap at a local furniture store. Nothing “goes” too well together, because many of us don’t live in decorated spaces, but regular old lived-in rooms with furniture from all over the damn place. (It’s one of my main issues with Lisa’s house – or houses – including the ones she and Dean rent – with apparently zero anxiety about money. In this market? Really? But everything is so nice and generic and … it just doesn’t look like a place people live. Let alone a yoga teacher, who can’t make that much money. Who knows, maybe she got a job as an investment broker, but they fail to mention what the hell she does for a living that she can live in a huge HOUSE with a huge BACKYARD. It bugs me. I wish she had lived in a smaller place, with a bit more clutter, because she’s a single mother, working a job of some kind, and she couldn’t afford to live in a gated community. I get it, it’s supposed to be representative of a perfect world that Dean will dream about … Fine. Then at least mention her job, or something, to make that house and her gleaming interior-decorated-generic decor make sense. I’ll get over it. Someday.) But back to the decor here: It looks humble. Like a regular small house rented by a regular couple.
4. The guitar. THE GUITAR.
5. The coffee table is covered in crap, not one but two piles of magazines, a bowl of snacks.
6. The cushions on the couch are rumpled, with indentations. Someone, him or her, sat there, got up and went into bed, without fluffing the cushions out again. Nothing means nothing, remember: this is a lived-in space. And I’ll get to their bedroom – my God, that bedroom – when we get to it, but it’s connected to that rumpled indented cushion.
7. A stack of cassette tapes. Even in the Wish-World, Dean hasn’t upgraded to CDs.
8. Looks to be a turntable too.
9. Books shoved in the bookshelf every which way (see indented cushions, and see the bedroom, which I’ll get to when I get to.)
10. Sunglasses tossed on the end-table, looks to be hers.
11. There appears to be a tiny white cowboy hat on the end-table. I repeat: There appears to be a tiny white cowboy hat on the end-table. Mulholland Drive reference?


12. There are personal photos everywhere, including one wall of a shelf, filled with knick-knacks and other things on display.
13. There’s another framed photo on the wall showing a white building with one window open on the second floor, everything else a wall of white.
14. There’s a kitchen table, with the ubiquitous bowl of fruit on it, but there really isn’t a “kitchen” going on, the whole space is just one big room with different functions to each section (similar to how most people who don’t make a lot of money have to live, and I’m speaking of myself.) I also love, though, that there’s all kinds of other random shit on the kitchen table, a pile of mail, what looks to be a big folder/binder of some kind, sitting on top of some papers, and other shit I can’t catch. This will also go along with the cushions/bedroom, etc. Details matter, oh my God they matter, and Jerry Wanek has outdone himself: these details help the episode do exactly what it needs to do – and MORE.

The phone call to Sam

— Sam knows who it is, and sounds surprised when he answers the phone. That’s Jared. The whole story is right there. Wish-World Sam and Dean are not in communication. Contrast to the shorthand-banter phone call of the teaser.
— Sam assumes Dean is drunk, the first of many times this will occur over the episode, a funny – and again, evocative – and maybe even a little bit disturbing – detail. Alcohol dominates even in Dean’s fantasy.
— Dean saying “The scary creature put its hands on me …” and I’m laughing imagining what this sounds like to Fake Sam.
— Naked Carmen is a member of the family. Somehow I get that loud and clear by how Sam says, “Carmen?” Dean is such a Solo Act, right? In real life, Sam is blown AWAY at the thought that Dean would “date” someone for more than one night (Cassie) – he can’t even picture it. Here, in Wish-World, Dean’s dating someone to such a degree that she’s just casually a member of the family. She and Mary probably hang out. You know? It’s at that level of intimacy. Fictional Carmen doesn’t like that Sam and Dean don’t get along. It bothers her because she loves Dean. And Sam is, probably, happy that his brother found such a nice woman, especially if Sam’s vision of Wish-Dean is that of a fuck-up who drinks too much, who fucked his prom date. On watching it multiple times, the way Sam laughingly says, “Carmen?” suggests a whole world of familiarity. A family. Siblings knowing what’s going on with siblings. There’s more cool stuff between Jess and Carmen later, the girlfriends of the brothers like each other, maybe even talk amongst themselves about it (“Can we help these guys come back together? What can we do?”). Jess doesn’t treat Carmen with disdain or judgment (i.e. “Why would you be with this person that Sam has told me only horrible things about?”) Jess seems to get: “Okay, so these guys are at an impasse, and neither of them are really ‘getting’ each other” – but she hasn’t taken sides.
— Sam uses an almost paternal patient tone with Dean, covering up some degree of concern (and that’ll be a theme throughout. Everybody does it to Dean, everybody uses that tone. They don’t treat him just with love, they are patient with him, and concerned … there’s something about him – even in the Wish-World – that requires patience. FAS-CI-NA-TING. This is Dean’s psyche, revealed. Raelle Tucker knows what’s going on, let me tell you.) The irritation that shows up later in Sam, the pissy boundary-setting behavior, isn’t in evidence here. When Sam hangs up, he laughs (he looks gorgeous). I don’t want to invest too much in the Fake World because it’s not Real, but I think the episode asks you to do that to some degree. The laugh tells me that all is not lost between Wish-Sam and Wish-Dean. Maybe they’re already on their way to patching things up, so Dean calling Sam randomly, out of the blue … for help?? When has THAT happened before? Wish-Sam doesn’t know how to interpret it … and that laugh after he hangs up, plus the WAY he laughs (Oh, Jared) suggests there is hope.

The close-up shots of Sam on the other end are also “art for art’s sake” or “beauty for beauty’s sake”, setting Sam up powerfully in huge eloquent closeups, with blueish night behind him, a callback to Sam on the phone in the Narnia-Lamppost motel room in Joliet, only now it looks very different. And strange, on first viewing, before you know what’s happening.


Dean looking at the mail is similar to the shot of Dean in the warehouse hallway. It gives off a feeling of casual beauty, as though everything just magically fell into place to make the shot look like that, but of course there is nothing “magic” about it. They had to plan, and place lights, and do tests on doubles, to get the end result they wanted. And this for a 3-second closeup. It’s amazing they complete an episode ever. Supernatural is not just interested in plot. It is interested in Beauty. And, a part of Beauty, the show is interested in FACES. (I talk a lot about the Supernatural “Face” thing in the “Shadow” re-cap – it’s where I first started trying to put these observations into words.) Serge and Kripke and Robert Singer and Kim Manners appreciate beauty like this when they see it, and are almost like kids in a candy-shop that they get to light him in the way they light him. You can do almost ANYTHING to that face, and you’re gonna get something interesting. Either blast it with natural light, and suddenly you’re looking at Anne of Green Gables and the eyes blaze translucent like a cat at night, or cloak it in shadows until he looks like a Rembrandt or a Caravaggio.

Look how SOFT everything is.


I never get enough of the flashing expressions of panic, confusion, and then trying to “act” on Dean’s face as he deals with Carmen (Michelle Borth). First of all, she calls him “honey.” Dean Winchester? “Honey”?? And even more than that: somehow Dean “wishes” that a woman would call him “honey”? Boy’s been holding out on us.

My favorite moment may be how he says her name twice, trying to emblazon it in his brain so he doesn’t screw it up. (It’s like how Sam deals with “Fake Ruby” in “The French Mistake” calling her “Gennnnnn…. evieve?” Can’t take it.) That’s Ackles’ sensitivity to how weird every second of this would be. No detail is too small. oh god she’s coming in for a kiss … okay … kissing her … never kissed her before … hope she doesn’t notice how weird I’m being … Sam just said the name “Carmen” (thank God: can you imagine what would have happened otherwise? It might have been funny to see the alternative, Dean having no idea who she was, Carmen not knowing why he is suddenly pretending to not know her name.)

So: “Carmen? …. C-carmen …” It sounds like a second language. He doesn’t even know what he’s saying.

On Carmen:

The name “Carmen”, for me, as it is for a lot of people, calls up immediately the famous opera about the fiery gypsy-temptress. I looked up the linguistic roots of the name, just to see if it might provide anything. Take ’em or leave ’em, I think they’re interesting. In Hebrew, the name meant “God’s vineyard”, which I really like. The Latin root means “song”, “poem”, and makes me think of the haunting song of the Lorelei, the sirens, luring men to their deaths on the rocks. It is also (at least according to the sites I looked on) the root of the English word “charm.” All rather “magical”, wouldn’t you say?

All very interesting things to think about, whether or not they deliberately chose the name “Carmen” for these reasons.


She’s a phantom emerging from Dean’s psyche, at a level so deep he’s probably not even aware of it. Kripke joked that his original idea was that Dean would be living some bar-fly Bukowski life but then realized that made no sense because why would Dean WANT that? Dean doesn’t “present” as a guy looking for a girlfriend, or even as a guy who harbors those dreams. That’ll come with Lisa (sort of), but even then, it’s totally fucked up because of everything surrounding it. It’s not domesticity he wants, but a port in a storm and a place to heal, and maybe get to be a father.

But here: we’re getting some kind of un-filtered transparent glimpse of Dean’s wishes for himself, when he is not in control of the Story he is telling about himself. The Djinn poison is circulating through him, looping him into his happy place, the chips falling where they may. And suddenly, out of nowhere: a woman named Carmen strolls into the Winchester family. Where the hell did she come from? And look at who she is, and the unexpected nature of it. Dean is surprised he’s dating someone “respectable” and she laughs when he says that, suggesting some kind of backstory … that Carmen is “the one” who made him okay with settling down. I don’t think that’s too far a stretch. Imagine the alternatives, the other ways this Wish-World could have been set up: Dean as Loner-Mechanic-Free-as-a-Bird-Guy, with a parade of fuck-buddies on speed-dial. Magic Mike. Without the stripping. Or maybe WITH the stripping. I mean, that would be an appealing Wish-World, wouldn’t it? Hell, I’d like to live in that Wish-World. It would make sense considering what we know of Dean. Being a mechanic, the dream of it, is called back beautifully in “Bad Boys,” when Teenage Dean expresses to potential girlfriend what he’d like to do with his life. But I, for one, did not see a Carmen coming. I didn’t know that she existed in some dark corner of Dean’s psyche. Not at this point. No way no how. Dean is set up as a guy – with Cassie being the notable exception – who whores around happily, enjoying the pleasure of the one-night stand, knowing that’s all he can really provide, or even think about. I’ve said before that I disagree with the opinion that all of this is “overcompensating.” I think he’s a pleasure hound – a survival technique that remains intact – and feels like he deserves pleasure on his rare days off. But dreaming about “a” Carmen … it’s something that he has not acknowledged even to himself. It doesn’t exist to him, either, until she appears. (I like how the connection to her grows over the episode, as he settles into what his Alternate Self is doing with his life. Or, if not “settles in” becomes curious about this Alternate Self and the choices the Alternate Self has made. He RESPECTS those choices. He respects that Carmen has a right to be there. He includes her. It very well could have gone the other way. Like: why is this fictional random person showing up at my family reunion? No, instead, Dean seems to feel like: “Oh. Okay. So Wish-Me likes Carmen. Therefore I like Carmen. And now, as I get to know her, I understand why HE likes her.” It’s a really interesting way to go about presenting this. Not the expected at all.)

Carmen is just a regular woman. Pretty, but in a non-over-the-top way. She has a responsible job, and she’s in the realm of what seems to be his “type” (pretty brunettes, seems to be), but not a bombshell, or sex-bomb, or Fun Girl, None of the Above on whatever may attract him in his waking life.

AND, back to Mulholland Drive: Carmen is not mentioned ever again. We don’t hear Dean tell Sam the story of what happened, but the main thing he related was obviously that Mom was alive, and so was Jess, and that the two of them didn’t get along. Carmen is an extraneous detail to the Wish-World – TOTALLY – extraneous to the main story of the episode, which is Mom/Sam/Jess/Dean. Carmen has no real reason to be there, except to fill out the picture, and – in my opinion – add a layer of mystery, not just in the Wish World, but to our understanding of Dean’s mind and heart. Maybe you all saw a Carmen coming from a mile away, but I didn’t. Their scenes together are some of my favorites in the episode, not because we “get” to see Dean in a romantic context or anything silly like that. It’s because she has emerged at all, and her mere existence calls into question things I thought I understood about who Dean is. He even opens up to her about his problems, she’s the one he goes to, not his mother, this random phantom-lady who is just a Wish-Fulfillment that he didn’t even think to wish for … but he settles into the role, like he’s to the Manor Born. Once he gets used to the idea of there being a Carmen at all, he knows exactly what to do.

It’s not all about me, but that “he finds himself knowing just what to do and how to be” with this phantom girlfriend – when he’s never had a long-term relationship is one of the reasons this episode touches me personally. (I’m sure it touches everyone personally in totally different ways, one of the clearest signs that it works like gang-busters.) My only “real” relationship (at least in terms of being a couple who attended family gatherings, lived together, went on trips together) was a relationship – my first, as bad luck would have it – that looked more like Sleeping With the Enemy than anything else. I’m always amazed that Julia Roberts’ character in that movie was so immediately ready – with no hesitation or caution! – to leap into a romance-slash-hat-wearing-montage with her neighbor – just after fleeing a relationship like the one with her husband. Boy, she bounced back quick! Mine was a lifetime ago, and I still (except for Milwaukee Man, and look at what happened THERE. #NeverAgain) have a flight-or-fight response to men in certain contexts. Ever since that first relationship, I’ve always been more comfortable with men who didn’t need much from me, certainly would never think of falling in love with me, and who never EVER would make demands on me. Demands = Why do you do things the way you do, my way is much better. So that blazing-sun-cup-of-coffee-music-through-the-window moment was a moment where I didn’t feel like an outsider in that world of relationships, that all of the anxiety about relationships flat out had ceased to exist once I was with that particular man. And you know what? It does happen that way for some people. (Yes. It still may end in divorce. But I’m talking about getting to experience that kind of safety at ALL in the first place. I’m old, Father William, and I’ve never had that.) The entire culture tells you every single day: “Once you meet the right man …” “All it will take will be the right kind of man …” “You’ll see. Once you meet the right man …” People don’t say it to ME anymore, because nobody says that shit to ME twice.

So maybe that’s why Carmen – who is truly peripheral – is weirdly powerful for me. Like: I too saw an alternate life… where I could RELAX, where being in a couple meant RELAXING as opposed to STRESS. In every moment Carmen has with Dean (once he settles into the fact that she exists and she is his, that is) he looks at her with awe and wonder. On some other plane … I somehow got a woman like this? A woman I can talk to? Who not only knows I need burgers, but supports me in that, and knows – without me having to tell her – that a dish of tall leeks is not going to cut it.

Yeah, sure, Wish-Fulfillment, maybe, but I’m sorry, that is what relationships look like to us outlaws. Not all ice cream and roses, but certainly being part of a “team” as opposed to an “individual.” Someone’s got your back. That’s what Carmen represents, and it’s so outside any conception of Dean we’ve had up until this point that her scenes are tiny revelations.

This leads me (somewhat) to:

There’s an atmosphere in the episode, in so many tiny moments, where Dean is still an outsider somehow, Dean needs help calming down, Dean needs help being himself. Even here, people are worried about Dean, and it’s not just because Real-Life Dean is acting differently from Wish-Dean. That’s PART of it, but not all. It suggests to me that on some level the whole Wish-Cast of Characters are used to Dean being sometimes … off. Or restless. Or difficult. Or drunk. He runs into this attitude with each one of them. His behavior within the confines of the episode doesn’t create it: That atmosphere already exists when Dean steps into it.

Now that I’m writing about it, that is the most interesting thing to me about this whole entire fantasy.

Ackles’ reaction to being kissed by this strange woman is filled with anxiety and surprise (the forehead going up in wrinkled surprise. So funny), an instinct to resist but then “putting up with it” because he needs to play along. Ackles projects all of that in 2 seconds. Okay, I clearly am in a relationship with this woman … so … okay … I am now kissing her … and I don’t know who she is but she knows who I am and I hope that was okay because I am FREAKING. OUT. It’s a tender familiar kiss, too, not a “makeout” kiss, totally outside his wheelhouse, along with the “Honey” and someone who offers, oh, a blow-job to help him get to sleep. Like, we’re not in Kansas anymore. His response to her sex-offer is a long drawn-out nervous, “Sure!” and I am laughing out loud.


Two great organic transitional moments that exist entirely on Ackles’ face: He sends her off to bed, with a reassuring smile, that he hopes looks normal. She turns away from him, and the smile drops, and “What the FUCK” FLOODS into his face. She turns around to smile at him, and he smiles and nods, like “Good night, I’m fine”, she vanishes, and boom, “What the FUCK” comes flooding back. So entertaining.

And finally: he sees the picture across the room and you can feel the bottom drop out. Best part is: we don’t see the picture. Kripke stays on Ackles, and it’s up to Ackles to show us what is in that picture. He does.

Hey, Kripke, you know what I think of what you did right there by NOT showing us the picture?


Director/writer Billy Wilder had a list of Tips for Writers.

This moment, when Dean sees the picture and we don’t see what it is, but we don’t need to see, reminds me of the essential Rule #7:

A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.



2nd scene

Of course Dean would still have the Impala in his Wish World. His life would be inconceivable without it. And wherever he and “Carmen” live, he knows his way home. Imagine that drive. A mournful (so mournful) horn started playing when Dean saw the photo, just a little keen of it, not too much, and it continues here into the scene with his mother, only it drops down to a barely discernible level. /Hats Off to Sound Design, one of the Undersung Heroes of Any Project

The scene between Dean and his mother is, of course, heartbreaking. And we get, for the first time, the prophetic image of angels watching over Dean.

All throughout: that thing I mentioned above: the patient/concerned tone that everyone uses with Dean. It’s not just because Alternate-Reality Dean is acting weird. The way I see it is: in the alternate reality, Dean was wild, and a fuck-up, compared to goody-two-shoes brother. In Supernatural, the real world, the siblings were assigned roles early on by their father, and now they’re grown men still playing out those roles. Parents assign roles not necessarily out of malevolence, but because children “come out” different, and so parents say stuff like, “So-and-so is such a GOOD baby. He sleeps 8 hours a night and is so chill! Remember what older-brother was like at this age? My GOD, what a difference!” Here in the Wish-World, too, that has taken place. Coming, as it does, from out of Dean’s mind, the only way he understands life, even with his mother alive, is through an assigned role. This is very very important to the effectiveness of the episode. Because … it’s strange, it creates a very strange vibe, uneasy, like we’re only getting glimpses of an ongoing alternate drama.


What I get from the way Mary, Sam, Jess, even Carmen on occasion (whoever the heck she is) look at him, is that Dean is a reformed fuck-up. He gave a lot of people a lot of worry over the years. It’s a very specific vibe (the best part about it. You might expect that a fantasy alternate-reality would not include all of these hints of tension, or sadness, right? But it’s there, it’s all there.) Dean’s situation in the family in the wish-world: Dean was so wild that he caused his parents a lot of trouble. They wondered if he would graduate. What was Dean going to do with his life? Will he ever settle down? That worried atmosphere probably surrounded Dean from the time he hit puberty, and has been totally absorbed by the family, the context through which they see him.

Mary, for example, isn’t like, “Dean!!! What’s wrong??? Is something wrong? What’s happening???” the way she might if Sam had showed up at her door in the middle of the night. Mary is not surprised, she seems … sad. Like Dean is restless again. Sam, for example, is embarrassed when Dean says he owes a bookie money, but not shocked. This Dean would be in trouble like that. (And Dean, who improvised the line about the “bookie”, has gotten the memo too. He can FEEL it in the air around him. He knows who this Dean is. He recognizes that “yeah, this would probably be what I would be like, even if Mom was alive.”) In this unspoken atmosphere of patience bordering on impatience, and concern, Carmen was a stabilizing force for Wish-Dean. The family is glad she’s there. Not just because she’s cool but because now he’s her problem, not theirs. Let Carmen handle it.

It’s such an interesting element, a “glitch” in the fantasy, present from the start.

At this point, we’ve had almost 2 whole seasons to get to know him. And we do know him. He’s got his defense mechanisms, his weirdness, his burlesque, his vulnerability and transparency that he seems to think nobody else can see. He’s super-tough. He’s super-sensitive. And “home” is a subject too hot to touch, even with Sam. When it comes up, they argue. I’ve written before (somewhere, in my mountains of text) that the word “home” or “Mom” causes a ripple to go over Dean, resistance, an ambush, how unfamiliar he is with even saying those words. He has not incorporated the loss. At all. Those words are hallowed ground. The scripts and Ackles’ behavior, eloquent and sensitive, have been like bread-crumbs in our path, in “Home,” and other episodes.

But the direct confrontation with that loss in no uncertain terms in “What Is and What Should Never Be” and the fact that is so front and center is still startling to me. I am not used to it yet. Every moment, every facial expression, the small changes in expression, the breaths, the gestures, every second is so sensitively portrayed – no detail too small, nothing missed – but still with such an overall feeling of spontaneity that I honestly feel like: “Yeah. This is exactly what it would be like.” And every time Dean knocks on his mother’s door I hold my breath for the next moment when he’s going to see her.

There’s nothing more to analyze. Here it is. What has been underneath everything all along.


Everyone talked about how difficult this episode was, since it existed in an entirely different universe than the norm. The set decorators had to remind themselves, “Oh yeah. Now we have to make nice and comfortable interiors. We have to create a high-end restaurant. Hmmm, okay throw out the falling-down shack drawings.” Ackles and Padalecki were practically upset by playing their characters as not getting along. It felt weird to them. It took a second to adjust, to “go there.” (I’ll have more to say about Padalecki’s acting in a second. He’s so good.) And Kripke, most of all. The funniest thing for me about “What Is and What Should Never Be,” Kripke the creator’s first time directing an episode, is that it is NOT a “horror” episode, but a sentimental nostalgic family drama with love scenes and a heart-breaking close. And swelling music. And tears welling up. Why does this make me laugh? Kripke is such a “horror is cool blood and guts sick, man!!” dudebro that he, too, was outside his comfort zone. Everybody was. (That being said, the sequence in the warehouse at the end, with that bare light-bulb, not to mention the dangling girl with the needle in her neck, is horror on an elevated level, kudos to both Tucker and Kripke. The entire conception of the Djinn, and Dean’s realization that he is in two places at the same time, getting glimpses of reality, the Matrix-like nature of it … is so well-done and so fucking creepy that you can feel Kripke’s gift for directing that kind of material.) But besides that, the majority of Eric Kripke’s episode is fancy family dinners, a mini-make-out session, and happy lawn-mowing. Hysterical.

It’s an extremely risky episode. They’re all out on a limb. That feeling of risk – no matter how many times I’ve seen it – pulses through the episode, giving it its electricity. There’s no familiar ground, they can’t “lean back” on one damn thing. Dean is so vulnerable that I get embarrassed for him sometimes, because it’s a different kind of vulnerability than Dean normally shows (especially in the scenes with Sam, but it shows up with everyone). Not each moment of vulnerability is the same. I have my favorite expressions, I’m sure you have yours.

The episode drops the ground out from under Ackles (it’s a wonderful showcase for him) and he goes into free-fall. It’s on his face. There’s that big beaming proud-papa smile at the table after Sam announces the engagement. Never before, and never since, have we seen such a smile from him. Ackles had to be so relaxed to let this all out. Dean may be many things, but he is rarely relaxed. At least not like that.

Mom, who opened the series, and who haunts each episode so powerfully that she’s practically a regular cast member, is now corporeal. She’s out here with us, with a body and a face. She wears a bathrobe. She doesn’t know why her son is clutching her and calling her beautiful. He must be drunk. She loves him, but obviously what’s going on with Dean is not going to be going on with her, and that gives this scene its almost unbearable charge. When we see family members every single day, we take them for granted. We don’t clutch at them and say “You’re beautiful.”

This is Emily from Our Town behavior.

Speaking of which. THE PHOTOGRAPHS. How much fun did they have creating these?







They get funnier and funnier and funnier the longer I look at them. I love to think of the pow-wow everyone had before creating these. We gotta have John with a big fish he’s caught. (Tim Burton’s Big Fish, remember, was all about a lost son trying to re-connect with his father.) John in a softball uniform. Sam’s graduation. (Sans Dean.) Dean’s prom. Dean in his … Marshall Mathers phase, apparently.



The Christmas sweaters are the funniest of all. Putting Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a Santa hat and a Christmas sweater is one of the sickest most hilarious things I’ve ever seen. And look at Jared’s face! It’s too much! I can’t!

There are a couple of nice moments they do sometimes where there’s a focus-shift and you can see the face reflected in the glass. Very difficult to pull off, but used to beautiful effect, and adding to the whole reflecting-glass thing that was going on so palpably in the teaser. What’s through that glass? Another life. A whole other history. Dean’s on the outside staring in.


It took me a while to get past the photos on my first time viewing.

I don’t think I’m past them yet.

Watch how Mary’s shoulders slump down a little bit before she says “You’ve been drinking.” It is suggestive of so much! An entire backstory in one shoulder-slump. I LOVE that Tucker/Kripke added these uneasy notes to this reunion, a reunion we never saw coming, that rocks Dean’s world. But it’s not perfect. From the get-go it’s not perfect.


And, suddenly, as though no time has passed, as though she’s still alive, there’s Dean, calling her “Mom,” without a wince, without resistance, without that ripple we’ve always seen in him when that word comes up … Out it comes.

This is all Ackles, you realize. Kripke didn’t have to remind him of anything, at least not on that granular level. All Kripke said to him was: “Remember. You’re a little boy.” And with an actor like Ackles, that’s all you’d need to say. Take the ball and run. The “little boy” is everywhere: leaning into his Mom’s touch, the way he eats the sandwich and calls out to the kitchen “This is the best sandwich EVER.” The painful transparency of his happiness at the restaurant table.

Another detail that is so great about this scene is Dean never takes his eyes off Mary. From the time he walks in the door. Well, he looks at the pictures … but when they are face to face, all of his normal behavior has drained out of him, and all he can do is LOOK at her. When she lets him in the house, he doesn’t walk past her, he steps in, turning his body so that he can keep looking at her. When he goes to stop her from calling Carmen (poor Dean: “I don’t give a shit about whoever my girlfriend is and I don’t want to spend this precious time hanging out with C-carmen!!”), he keeps his eyes on her, he’s afraid to even blink.


When do grown men actors get to play moments like this?



The scene ends with one of those photographs, focus-switching over to Dean’s face in the glass. Through the looking-glass.

3rd scene

I’ve written so much about Dean sleeping, and how good Jensen Ackles is at “sleeping” (as well as death, but we’ll get to that), that it may be getting boring. Too bad. We have 10 seasons to go! It comes up so often and it came up so early that I immediately clocked it as a “thing” about the character. By episode 4, I think, with that pan up Dean’s dead-to-the-world body. But it’s what sleep provides him and HOW he sleeps. Dean sometimes sleeps on his back. It’s more of an alert-sleep kind of thing, ankles crossed. But sometimes he’s on his stomach. The waking-up behavior, with the back-of-hand eye-rub, is, again, something I’ve talked about probably far too much. But it’s habitual on Ackles’ part, automatic. I love watching him plunge into sleep, because “faking” sleep takes some serious-ass make-believe. A lot of actors can’t do it. It’s like actors who “play” drunk. You can clock the fakery a mile away. Or my biggest pet peeve on the planet, and we were just ranting about this on Facebook: taking a drink from a cup and the cup is obviously empty. There are actors so good at this that you never once think, “Oh my God, you didn’t take a sip of jack-squat, you’re just pretending.” But so many actors cannot manage it! You’re not gonna have a full cup of coffee to sip from during filming a scene because the bathroom breaks would interrupt filming interminably. PRETEND, people, PRETEND. When Ackles pretends he’s sleeping, he looks fucking DEAD. Waking up, too: the flutter of the eyeballs behind the eyelids. I believe he is actually waking up.

Birds are chirping. When do birds ever chirp in Supernatural? (Sound Design props, once again.)

4th scene

It’s a bit of a rote scene and they felt they needed it because Dean, in this episode, doesn’t have Sam, and doesn’t have anyone to talk to, and therefore let US in on what he is thinking. Throw in an interview with a college professor about djinns, that’ll do the trick! Dean is such a terrible liar. “You make learning fun!” Dean, please stop it.

I love Kwesi Ameyaw, the actor who plays the professor (“Uhm … no. I don’t think they can really do it.”) Dean cannot, for the life of him, stop himself from seeming “off.” He can’t “pass.” Even this man who doesn’t know him asks, like everyone else does, “Have you been drinking, son?”

As with other sets that only show up once back in the good old days of the show, the professor’s office is a marvel of detail. Think of Cassie’s newspaper office and the shadows of the letters on the wall. We saw it ONCE for TWO SECONDS and that was some good-looking shit.


It’s a beautiful-LOOKING little scene, purely information-driven, but with those little glimpses of humor and thought that make this show so good. Every scene has something special about it, something that pops.

5th scene

This little scene is masterfully constructed. It’s so simple! And accomplished in only a couple of shots!

Kripke is a horror guy. He jokes about it constantly, he loves the sick shit, and his whole conception of the show was to do a little horror movie a week. And here he is, killing it in his first episode, directing a sweet family drama, with hints of unease, and a burst of joy coming up that is so pure that for me it is like staring directly at the sun. The climax of the episode is not suspenseful, it’s emotional. That’s Robert Singer’s wheelhouse, not so much Kripke’s, and he kills it. He’s strong as a director on all scores. And he’s sensitive with his actors, too: trusting them to do what they need to do, not bothering JA too much, and then being in awe on the other side of the camera of what JA was doing. So there’s all that.

But as I said above: the horror sequences in “What Is and What Should Never Be” are particularly well-done. There’s one big fight scene but that’s not scary at all. There are too many fight scenes in the show for me to have any reaction to them other than, “Cool choreography!” But the atmosphere in that warehouse, the shots of that girl, the shot of Dean hanging like a piece of meat in a locker, the bare light-bulb … This is Kripke’s gift with horror. It’s very specific, and it’s not at all STOCK. A lot of horror is made up of stock re-treads (“It was just a cat!”, for example, which Supernatural, of course, makes fun of). But the conception of what is actually happening in that warehouse – and not just that, but HOW Kripke films it – and I’m interested in the “how” – is why it works so well. (There are also a lot of jump-cuts and flash-frames in this episode, startling and freaky. Supernatural rarely uses flash-frames, maybe because they are so stock: when they’re used too much you become immune to them.) Kripke made the choice to use those flash-frames to show the real world “flashing” in on the wish-world. He made the choice to have Dean figure out what was happening in a SILENT moment staring at a bare light-bulb …


First, there’s the classic shot of the inside of the Impala’s trunk. (Now that I’m looking closer at it, I can see that there is a cat in that shot. I’m dying… Kripke, are you responsible for that? Wanek?) Wish-Dean, throw away those cups. Come on, you can do it, I’m sure there’s a trash can right over there.

He looks up, and the quick-cut to the long-shot with the girl in white (Melanie Scrofano) is Dean’s Point of View. We don’t see him see her at first. The camera sees her. There’s a cut to a closer view of her, her dead-on stare. Back to Dean. The camera circles around him a bit (gently, nothing too pushy) as he stares at her. Because of the joy of the previous scenes, the fact that something “supernatural” might be going on here is … his hunter-nose is activated. He knows it’s strange. But there’s something about the look on his face … the depth of that familiar “what is THAT” stare … that suggests more. I see a little prick of “Oh no. No. Not here. No.” The look on his face makes me sad.


It’s even creepier when you consider that what has really been going on all this time is that Dean is dangling in a warehouse with a needle in his neck, staring across the space at the similarly dangling girl. That’s all he’s looking at. And his brain, his beautiful logical dogmatic brain, is screaming at him to SEE. WAKE UP. LOOK. Ackles is playing that. There’s more uneasiness in his face than anything else.

One more observation about the How: In today’s world of overdone special effects, it’s practically a lost art: setting up a frame in such a way that the effect is terrifying, and all you’re doing is placing people in a certain way, and shooting them from a certain angle. With NO special effects. Alfred Hitchcock could do it. Roman Polanski can do it. So few people even TRY to do it. But they do it here. In that long-shot of the girl: It’s just a girl in white staring at the camera, as people walk by around her. That’s it. (I am thinking of the shot in “Devil’s Trap” with the people at the apartment complex staring up. I JUMPED when I first saw that shot, and all Robert Singer said was: “Okay, extras. Stand in a group and everyone look up in that direction and don’t move.” It’s frightening because you don’t know what it MEANS.)

A shot like the girl across the street staring at Dean is cheap, quick, easy. This is how they keep their budget down. Put a girl in a white dress, get some extras, shoot it, boom, move on. It doesn’t require effects to be scary. You just have to edit the sequence properly. It’s so well-done, and it has a gritty reality to it more scary than special effects could ever achieve. It’s just a girl in white across the street, right?

For a second (just a second), the two of them are in the same shot, as he crosses the street. That tells us that she is actually there, and not a figment of his imagination. Then he almost gets hit by a car (it’s so real, the way the car jams itself into the shot), and when he looks back up, she’s gone. It’s all the same camera-move and take: him approaching looking at her, and when the camera turns to the car, the actress scoots away off-camera before the camera turns back to where she once was. Empty sidewalk.

Guerrilla film-making, almost. Gritty. Cheap. Effective.

Finally: One word about what the music is doing. There are those high strings happening, which create that “this is a scary moment” energy, but as he crosses the street, and as the scene ends, there’s this unbelievably mournful cello going on underneath it all. It’s a dirge. Think of other sequences in more conventional episodes. These “oh my God I see a monster” scenes usually have more flash in the score underneath, a horror-movie score, to up the tension factor, the usual playbook. All well and good.

Here, we don’t get that.

That music is sad.

6th scene

The music fades out. To be replaced by the sound of Dean’s gigantic mouth taking the biggest bite of a BLT that any of us will ever hope to see in our lives.

Of course food and sleep would be featured in any Wish-World Dean would dream up. Plus the possibility of available sex at all times. Plus his favorite beer. Plus a tiny cowboy hat. It’s all there.

Our memories are in our senses. That’s what Lee Strasberg’s “sense-memory” exercises (that Dean the PA referenced in “Hollywood Babylon” and he didn’t even know what he was talking about) are all about. It’s what Proust’s masterpiece was all about. You hear a fragment of music that your mother loved and you heard as a child … and in a whoosh your entire childhood re-erects itself around you in the most intimate detail. Music is powerful that way. Taste is not as powerful, although it still can work. Sight is the least powerful sense because it’s so connected to our brain and how we process information. The most powerful sense of all, in this regard anyway, is smell. It’s one of our most primal memory banks. Dean’s memories of his time with his mother are few. He was only 4. So MOST of his memories would be stored in those primal senses, taste and smell and touch. The smell of bacon his mom is cooking on the stove for his big fat BLT. It doesn’t “bring him back.” He IS back. That’s how powerful smell is.

And of course nobody eats like Dean. He could probably get his mouth around “The Elvis.” And that last sentence made me feel strange things in my no-no place.


Samantha Smith’s work is so subtle and smart. Dean – as Real-Dean – is enjoying the moment and he LOVED sleeping on his mom’s couch even though C-carmen was like, “What the fuck, boyfriend.” He is LOVING having his mom cook for him because he’s about 8 years old. He has a napkin in his lap. He is “dying” to see Sam. So picturing his mother trying to understand this behavior in the context of the “Dean” that she – and everyone else – knows – – the former-slut-now-happily-monogamous regular-guy who maybe drinks too much but has finally gotten his act together except for that prickly (understatement) relationship with his brother – you can see it all over Mary’s face. She doesn’t know what to make of it. She feels like something is “off” with her son. Her forehead wrinkles up and she’s actually not sure what to do with him. It’s a beautiful detail – what I keep calling the “glitch”. Because Dean is over the moon, and his mother is hesitant and worried. He doesn’t notice, not now anyway, he gives her that big fake smile – where he smiles only with his (full of food) mouth. I love it when he does that – it’s a Dean “thing”. It’s so bizarre but so real. He’s so satisfied he doesn’t even HAVE to smile with his eyes. It’s a look of pure lazy satiation.


On the other side of that table, though, is his mother’s hesitant, “Sweetie … don’t get me wrong. I am … thrilled you’re hanging out here … all of a sudden …” (hahaha) But she doesn’t look “thrilled” at all. He’s blowing off work to sleep on her couch and have a sandwich? Is this the beginning of something bad, where her son will lose his way again?


It’s interesting to consider the implications of Smith’s performance. Dean’s wish was that his mother would have lived. In the moment in the first scene when she touches the side of his face tenderly … that’s the fulfillment of his wish. That is what he has missed all his life. He leans into it. But other than that, it’s all very everyday. This is the Emily in Our Town conundrum again. Dean is so intensely joyful that nobody else around him can meet that joy, because it’s just everyday life to them, and even happy moments like an engagement aren’t world-shattering healing-redemptive events, like they are for Dean. At this point in the game, Dean is just happy to have a napkin on his lap and have his mother serving him food. He doesn’t need it all to “look right” or feel right, he’s having a normal life, with nothing to do that day but blow off work and mow the lawn.

It’s when Sam enters the picture, interestingly enough, that that entire dynamic changes. Sam doesn’t allow Dean to just “hang out” with him like life is normal, and go out for a drink “to celebrate.” Sam is shut off from him, their relationship no longer exists. And it is when Sam enters that Dean really does become Emily in Our Town. A suggestion of the power of that sibling relationship and how important it is to Dean.

Relationships are so important to Dean. He cherishes them. He fucks them up and he resists change and fights back when he’s supposed to change, but we all do that to some degree. He behaves horribly but then course-corrects and tries to do the right thing (plopping Bobby’s hat on Garth’s head, the first example I can think of, but there are so many). Dean, plunged into the Wish-World where he no longer has Sammy, becomes the man that he so often RESISTS outside in the real world: a man who WORKS on his relationships. AND: he actually has someone else to talk to about it (C-carmen), someone who won’t judge him, someone he can talk to ABOUT Sam. What a relief, right? You can see why Dean’s brain would create Carmen, although I still find her – and who she is – to be totally unexpected.

7th scene

The SONG CHOICE for the mowing the lawn scene. It literally could not be more perfect. A Joey Ramone cover of a beloved Louis Armstrong song. Absolutely classic, and absolutely Dean.

The explicit nod to Blue Velvet (that white fence, and the bobbing red and yellow flowers in the foreground.) The primary colors. The impossibly blue sky. The simple pleasant activities of domesticated suburbia: mowing the lawn and taking out the trash. Of course, there’s a severed ear in the grass, so all is not well, is it. Dean waving at the neighbor, lost in his own joy, is a perfect detail, and Kripke’s sense of humor is so welcome because even in this scene – a piercing couple of seconds of the most buoyant happiness the show has ever portrayed – there’s weirdness. And, as we know, or at least as I’ve said so many times I bore even myself, people react to Dean weirdly. He’s “too much.” He’s not “right.” He sticks out, he’s an outsider, he flirts with surly gas station attendants, you know, people re-coil. Sometimes because they want to fuck him when 2 seconds ago they were sure they were straight, or they don’t understand why he’s looking at them with bedroom eyes in the middle of a police interview. He seems sketchy sometimes. People push him away. And even here, in the Wish-World, they do that! In fact, EVERYONE does. Nobody – except for Carmen – is like, “Oh my God, Dean, we love you exactly the way you are.” They’re all like, “Uhm, what’s up with Dean?” Dean waving at the neighbor in a chummy “hey man just doing lawn-work like any other normal person how you doing” way, gets this hilarious response from the neighbor across the street who has no idea why Dean is waving at him.

Without that confused neighbor-wave, and without the garden gnome, the scene might be sentimental in a “meta” or “arch” way. Like, commenting on itself, or making fun of itself, something. In that moment, we are suddenly not in Dean’s point of view anymore. We are seeing Dean the way the neighbor sees him, and to the neighbor Dean looks like he’s popped a couple of Mollies. It’s actually quite delicate, what they pull off here. The sequence needs that slight undercut to it, not to puncture the joy, but to add humor which then intensifies the joy. That’s how the scene was designed to work and that’s how it works.

Because the scene is perfect, and so rambunctiously happy, every time I watch it it ends too soon for me. I want 5 minutes more of Dean mowing the lawn.

Speaking of the smile: He’s mowing the lawn and smiling. I mean, he looks like a lunatic, smiling like that (and he also doesn’t know how to take the corners). The magic of the scene – and it is magic – is that when I see that smile on his face – a smile of pure joy – I want to cry. I don’t smile with him, although my heart bursts with his joy. No, I want to burst into sobs. Every time. Now how on earth did they pull that off? (This is a rhetorical question.)

You cannot set out to catch magic in a bottle. You can plan and prepare and be specific about what you want the scene to be and accomplish and look like.

But after that: you have very little control.

You either catch magic or you don’t.

Here, they did.

And now, uh-oh, look who’s coming to dinner …


You guys. You guys. The jacket. The yellow shirt. The car. The look on his face, goody-two-shoes, tight-lipped, holding back a lot, including his humor. (We did see the humor in the phone call with Dean. It was there. It’s gone now, though, face to face with his brother, drinking beer on the front steps. Sam doesn’t approve of that. Dean has ruined family gatherings before – in this fantasy world – by being wasted. And then there was Prom night, pretty unforgivable. Dean had to be, what, 21, 22? Leave the high school girl alone, Fake-Dean.)

The real miracle of this entire episode for me is Jared Padalecki. Dean, with all the machismo, is already an open book. He’s a horrible liar. Everything he feels is on his face. Here, all barriers are stripped away now between us and him, and him and himself, but it’s not a revelation (at least it’s not to me) that Jensen Ackles can be this open. (The miracle is that an actor this open and sensitive can also be so commanding and ferocious. A handful of actors have both. John Wayne. Harrison Ford. Rare company.) But back to Padalecki: The man is a stud. I mean, he’s literally a centaur.


(There’s a lot of “Sam as centaur talk” in the “Heart” re-cap and the comments there. I’m about to repeat what I was getting at there.)

Now, outside of the fact that Jared Padalecki actually is, in real-life, a bookworm, only on a television show like this one could that centaur above be typed as a “nerd.” The man is a specimen from an anatomy textbook. Or Greek statuary, I don’t know, he’s totally over-the-top in his hunkiness and his bod. He looks way stronger than Dean, and not just because he’s taller. He’s just SOLID. Jensen Ackles obviously has a beautiful body, when we get to see it, but it’s a more regular beautiful body. The regular beautiful body of a guy who works out, keeps his core fit so he’s got those abs, nice little biceps, but Jared? Man is PUMPED. It’s outrageous!

The fact, throughout the whole series, actually, that Padalecki can “tone down” his outrageous size and “holy shit what a specimen of male-ness” thing, to play this character who doesn’t really “present” that way, is an amazing feat on the actor’s part. (Although come on. You don’t get a body like that from hunting. Or taking a run every day.) As Sam, Jared gets to use parts of himself that he might not be asked to play all that often, if he weren’t on the show. His intelligence, his kindness, his vulnerability, his humor. (Some of his line-readings are, bar none, my favorite moments in the entire series. “Do you have bigger cups?” The list is endless. Man has perfect-pitch for comedy timing and inflection.) But in “Born Under a Bad Sign” we saw how well he could play sexual psycho. He did it like he was born to it. Hunks like him are not prized for their versatility. But he is extremely versatile. He’s a character actor in a leading man’s body. Ackles isn’t. He’s a Leading Man in a leading man’s body. There’s a difference.

The miracle for me of what Padalecki pulls off in “What Is and What Should Never Be” is that over the course of the episode you almost forget who the “real” Sam is, because this version of Sam is so believable. Jared is so believable as an uptight guy, he’s so believable as a judgmental guy, in the conversation he has with Dean after the birthday party, he almost steals the scene from Jensen, because his work is so compelling, and it’s almost more fascinating to watch this brand-new Sam, and how believable he seems, than to watch Dean, who of course is falling down the rabbit hole, but at least he’s still familiar to us.

Jared Padalecki had to fill in a whole different backstory for this Sam, and he had to live it, breathe it, own it, completely shifting gears from his regular character. He had to be a VERSION of Sam that exists in Dean’s mind that could only exist if their mother had lived. Say what? Try to sit down and create that. It would not be easy. But once Jared figured it out, figured out that keeping himself just slightly distant from Dean – not shoving him away outright – but just slightly distant would be more devastating to us in the audience (and to Dean) than anything more explosive. He’s logical. He’s not mean. (I’m sure some people think he’s mean because he’s “not nice” to Dean. I don’t think he’s mean. He’s separated himself from a person in his life who has hurt him and disappointed him a bunch. This behavior comes from somewhere.) And Dean’s “warm fuzzy” behavior pushes the envelope so that Sam is forced to address it. When he does address it, it is brutal. But brutal in a quiet forceful way, and almost a KIND way, which makes it even more upsetting. “I’m not asking you to change …” Watch Padalecki deliver that monologue. Think of the real Sam, the guy he’s been playing for 2 seasons now. The Sam delivering that monologue is still Sam, but he’s not Sam. (Interesting to consider, too, that in later seasons Sam actually does become this Sam, in Season 9 in particular, Season 8, too, where he has to separate himself from Dean, he just can’t tolerate it anymore.)

In this episode, Jared Padalecki takes his natural and totally obvious he can’t hide it masculinity and strength and power and removes it to the side. He takes that which is totally natural to him and denies himself those resources in order to play THIS Sam. If JA was going down the rabbit hole, then so was JP, and possibly even more so. He has to play a man, who is still a big huge strong man, who doesn’t know how to fight.

He does a superb job.

Jess (the beautiful Adrianne Palicki) emerges into the gorgeous Magic-Hour sunset light, looking up at the house, and I love how Dean rushes her from off-screen. JA waiting off-camera for her to have her moment and then plunging into the frame.

He hugs her like he’s hugging his mother. And it’s almost equally as heart-breaking. Because Dean wasn’t “sympathetic” to Sam having a girlfriend in the pilot. He was rude, and sexually lecherous. But in this fantasy moment, if Jess is okay, then Sammy will be okay, and all Dean’s dreams have come true. Back to the Story behind the Story: Jess being alive lives in Dean in his waking-world like an urgent dream, a natural consequence of his wish that his mother hadn’t died. Dean never speaks of Jess, and encourages Sammy to get over it, get laid again, try to move on. All helpful and healthy suggestions. But Dean doesn’t bring up Jess, he doesn’t incorporate her verbally in his narrative about their lives. This ferocious bear-hug shows how strongly he feels about her, deep in his soul, something he couldn’t express in his waking-life.

Look at this natural light halo-ing them. Thank you, Magic Hour.


That “glitch” again: Dean’s hug creates awkwardness in the other people onscreen, including Jess, who doesn’t know where it’s coming from at all, and why it is so intense. Also, why did he hug her first? Why did he rush her like that without a word to Sam? Dean is so weird … that’s the family narrative and it’s alive and well in this scene too. Dean is alone in his joy, yet again, Emily from Our Town.

Sam, the good responsible boyfriend getting luggage out of the car, approaches Dean with this wary and very deliberate sense of distance. He will try not to be RUDE, but he’s not going to pretend, either. Listen, he says, “Starting off Mom’s birthday with a bang … as usual.” History there. If you know an alcoholic, and I’m sure you do, then you’ll get where Sam’s coming from. Dean has clearly ruined family gatherings before. And here it is, what, 5 p.m. or something, and Dean’s already drinking?

But because of what came before, Dean’s NON-MOLLY-INDUCED ecstasy, Sam’s distance (so well played by JP) is upsetting, everything screeches to a halt. He’s not going to give Dean an inch. He’ll be POLITE (which is almost worse, because it leaves Dean swinging in the wind), but he will re-assert his stance, letting Dean know that HE hasn’t forgotten.

And, to be fair, if my sibling came up to me and didn’t seem to know that I was in college in California, or was REMINDING himself that I was in college in California, I’d be like, “What the fuck is your problem? Why don’t you know that off the top of your head? You’re so self-centered.”

About how all of this is played:

Dean is so in his Happy Place that he doesn’t notice immediately that Sam is not quite Sam, and that this is not a rapturous reunion between two close brothers. He’s just too over-the-moon that Sam is with Jess, and that Sam is in law school, and so life is excellent. The past has been righted. He doesn’t have to worry about Sam anymore, or take care of him. Sam gets to do what he wants to do, out in the real world. It’s like Dean is 50 pounds lighter.

The closeup of the beer bottle in Dean’s hand, the camera then moving up to Dean’s face, is a devastating Point of View shift. Suddenly, an innocent post-mowing-the-lawn beer doesn’t seem so innocent because we’re looking at it through Sam’s eyes. It’s an awful shot. It feels like a betrayal of Dean (and that’s a good thing), it leaves Dean vulnerable, even more so. The rug is whipped out from underneath him. He’s exposed.

Now for the two closeups of Dean that end the scene:

First one: The news that it’s Mom’s birthday infiltrates his consciousness. He had no idea. He’s got no game-face (well, Dean rarely does), and says, “That’s today?” Sam’s response is terribly patient, but also irritated as hell. Condescending. But again, I don’t blame him. Put yourself in Wish-Sam’s shoes. He’s flown all this way. They’ve planned this whole dinner. He’s going to make his announcement. And Dean has somehow forgotten that all of this is happening? Why ELSE does he think he and Jess are visiting? I like considering the fact that Wish=Sam is not just being a jerk. He is protecting himself because he grew up with an older brother who was a train wreck. Hello, Al Anon. Good for Sam. And bad for Dean, really bad for Dean, because he doesn’t even know what his Wish-Self has done. (Both things are true at the same time. One does not cancel the other out. It is BECAUSE both are true at the same time that the scene is painful.)


Second Dean close-up that closes out the scene:

For the first time Dean looks up at Sam, curiously, wondering why he is being talked to like that.

Jensen Ackles has a way of putting no less 5 things into every close-up. Usually close-ups are designed to express one big emotion or thought. That’s why they’re used so often, they get the job done. Ackles’ close-ups are mini multi-chapter stories. It happens in the close-up that closes out the episode: the eyes staring right at the camera sort of drift off and downward in the final moment. It’s brilliant. The most recent example of this was the final scene with Sam in “Love Hurts.” Gigantic close-ups. So much going on in each one of them. A big internal fight: there are times when Dean has to almost literally drag his eyes up to look at Sam. He’s ashamed, but he has decided to include Sam and those eyes are the give-away. They flit to the side, they close for a second, they drift off … JA is a master of the eyes drifting off, almost losing focus, as he tail-spins down. (And Jared’s closeup that closes out “Love Hurts” is incredible too. Watch that close-up. I mean, it’s almost like the camera isn’t there at all.)

8th scene

Similar to the lawn-mowing scene, where Dean looks so happy and I want to sob … the restaurant scene is almost too overflowing with happy vibes that I can’t take it, because I know it’s fake, and I know it can’t last. This scene is tragic. Having them all in one place at one time: Dean’s dream come true (sans Dad. Great detail: that Dad could not be in this Wish-World because Dean’s feelings towards him are so complicated and set-in-stone.) It’s so intense. Despite the “glitch” in front of the house where Dean realized that Sam doesn’t really like him all that much, Dean is happier here than he was in the lawnmower scene. He’s Proud-Papa happy. He can’t keep the smile off his face. He beams.

Thank you, Helena, for your observation that 1. Dean doesn’t have a jacket. He’s wearing a tie and a shirt with no jacket. He looks like a 15-year-old kid making his confirmation. 3. Echoed YEARS later by teenage Dean’s little outfit when he’s headed out to his first school dance.

I’ve written before (can’t remember where, it’s all over the place) about how much Dean hates being the center of attention, and yet he’s such a show-stopper that he can’t help but take over any given moment (through his bizarre flirting, or his burlesque, whatever). Some of the sexual come-ons thrown at monsters (maybe I talked about it in the “Wendigo” re-cap? It showed up early) seem to be him thrusting himself into the spotlight, which he hates. He hates it so much that his reaction is not to cringe away from it but to strut into the spotlight, shouting “Aren’t I YUMMY. Come and get me!” It’s an interesting dynamic, but comes out of Dean dreading being focused on. If someone looks at him, and looks at him specifically, it can’t mean anything good. He’s too used to it, monsters turning his way, the way his Dad would turn to look at him … it means he’s in trouble.

I love that his Wish seems to be (although the “glitches” mess it up a bit) a world where he is not the center of attention at all. He gets to sit at that table, sit back, and look around at his family, and none of it is about him. There’s a place for him there. He’s part of it. But it’s not up to him to run it, or control it, or keep the Family Business moving. He can relax. Nothing – NOTHING – is “about him.”

Even though Sam has not been welcoming to him at all, watching Jess lean across to kiss Sam, fills Dean with the warmest fuzzies that have ever fuzzied. And Dean’s pleasure looks so simple in these initial moments at the table. There’s nothing complicating it, not even Sam’s distant attitude.

So much of what makes JA’s acting so special cannot be captured in a screen-grab, because it’s usually the transitions that make the moments what they are. He’s always in motion, thinking, re-adjusting, re-acting. He’s similar to Cary Grant in that way. In some of Cary Grant’s moments, you really just need a Gif (or, better yet, watch the damn movie) in order to get the full effect of the sheer ENORMITY of what he is doing. Exhibit A.


If you broke that moment down into its separate parts, if you tried to screen-grab each second of it, you’d miss the humor of the whole. It needs to be seen in its entirety.

In these silent Proud-Papa reaction shots at the table, he can’t stop looking at whatever he is looking at (first Jess and Sam together, then taking in the awesome-ness of Carmen and how she knows a bowl of Leeks and Asparagus is not going to cut it, no matter how much of a good sport he is about it. You KNOW that Sam ordered “for the table.” Kind of aggressive, don’t you think?). Dean looks so soft and warm and complete in these moments, satisfaction that everyone around him is happy and that he is there.

Never before, never again, will we see this Dean.




I said above “you have your favorite expressions, I have mine” (or something to that effect), and these Dean-expressions at the table, reacting with happiness to everything, and just so happy to be there, are mine.

To reiterate: Dean-Happy = Sheila-Sobbing.

That’s that “magic in a bottle” I talked about earlier. Very few films ever achieve it. I know the ones on my list that do, and – despite the anxiety I started out this post with – always have that effect on me. The “dueling anthems” scene in Casablanca has it, one of the greatest scenes ever shot. The famous last scene of Casablanca is romantic, and tragic, and inspirational. But I can watch that final scene without being stirred to my very foundations. But that “dueling anthems” scene? It rocks me to the core every time. Magic in Bottle. Can’t be explained. Or even parsed out to its particulars. Can’t be re-created. Even a shot-for-shot recreation of that “dueling anthems” scene would not have the magic captured in the original.

It’s perfect.

Everyone else is excellent too, giving the feeling of a real family, with relationships to one another, and also separate relationships with each individual. So there’s Sam and Jess, and then Sam and Mom (“I wish your Dad was here”), and Jess and Carmen (the two of them huddled together behind Sam and Mom, Carmen probably exclaiming about the ring, Jess maybe saying, “Your time’ll be next!”) That seems to be the relationship even though we never see them together. They’re the “girlfriends of the Winchesters” so I’m sure there’s been a lot of commiserating between these two women.

There’s a huge art-for-art’s-sake shot of Sam interrupting the laughter following Dean’s reaction to his Asparagus/Leek appetizer.


Consider the difference between Sam’s background and Dean’s in this scene. Dean’s surrounded by a warm blurred-out white. Sam is shot as though he’s still the Sam in the teaser. Shadows, and reflections. A glimpse of reality? It also highlights the fact that the women (or maybe it’s only Carmen, bless her heart, backing-up her man) burst out laughing at Dean’s reaction to his meal, but Sam doesn’t participate. He interrupts it. It’s … subtly … cold.

And then, uh-oh, Carmen now leans in to whisper to Dean. Dean barely knew Jess, but she has huge symbolic significance in his mind. Dean doesn’t know Carmen at all. But allrighty-then, apparently I am her boyfriend, so I accept those rules, even though she is a complete stranger. I’m with her. I don’t know why, but Wish-Dean does, so when she leans in to whisper to me, I lean in, wondering what the hell this strange woman is about to say to me. I love that element because it’s Dean adjusting to something he didn’t expect, and adjusting to the unexpected is not something Dean normally does well at all.

JA’s gift is in the reaction shots. Always. (John Ford used to give John Wayne most of the reaction shots in the many many films they did together. Wayne would get annoyed. Can’t you give me anything MORE to do than REACT to what someone ELSE is doing? But Ford knew, and Wayne knew too, that Wayne reacting to something told you the entire story better than keeping your eye on the main scene ever would. Wayne himself said that he didn’t consider himself to be an actor. He said the job really should be called “RE-actor.”) JA gets that. Every director who works on the show gets that. Put the camera on him listening and you’ll get so much more than the script expresses that 90% of the work will be done for you.

The charming little scene with Carmen whispering to him is made because of JA’s multiple swirling reactions, so rich that you can’t really pin them down into one thing.

I’m going into all of this KNOWING that she’s just a projection of his Dream-Girl and not a real person. What’s so fascinating about Dean’s “discovery” of her is that (as I’ve said) he himself was not even aware that he HAD a dream girl. Or, if he did, he sure as hell hasn’t let us in on it. The way JA plays it, he is discovering who he wants and what works for him AS it is presented to him. I also like the “soft touch” they took in the writing of Carmen. She’s not the quintessential “cool girl” (so brilliantly broken down in Gone Girl). The Carmen fantasy strikes me as a grown-up-man fantasy, as opposed to an arrested-adolescent “cool girl” fantasy of “wouldn’t it be great if I had a woman who wore thongs, never had pubic hair, was like a porn star in bed, devoured hot chicken wings like a pro, and never gave me shit about watching football, was like one of the guys but also, of course, a babe.” The Carmen fantasy is more humble and down-home than that. Dean, you’ve been holding out on us. Carmen is the “wild card.”

What I see in his reactions is a kind of progression:

Ooops, wait, this stranger is talking to me, so I’ll lean in to listen. I’m supposed to be her boyfriend and this is probably what boyfriends do when their girlfriends want to talk to them.


It’s so open I’m almost like…


— In response to her question of concern, he says “He’s good”, and he means it, but he’s also taking in the fact that someone actually gives a shit whether or not he is “good.” That feeling/sense is a tiny flare-up in his eyes, nothing more. He hasn’t quite “taken her in” yet and what she actually means in the Wish-World – that’s about to happen..

— Now we go into the beautiful little two-profiles-leaning-in shot, so romantic that I can hardly believe it’s in the same show. I mean, it’s a Valentine. Kripke, you softie.



— She accepts his explanation. She’s not the kind of person to give him a hard time about being weird the night before. She wants to know he’s okay. And that reaction is, of course, picked up on by Dean, who can’t take his eyes off of her (he’s starting to “get it” now), and he laughs, but he’s not ready to leave the moment with her. It’s too peaceful. But even he can’t have expected the miracle of what happens next …

— Her mischievous “I know what’s really going on, you carnivore” whisper to him, suggesting the two of them go out to a burger joint afterwards.

— Watch Dean fall in love. Literally. He is in LOVE with her now. He falls in love with her in .35 seconds. And it’s almost like he sinks into it, the knowledge that Wish-Dean made the right choice. When romantic-feelings happen for Dean, they happen instantly. One date with Cassie, and then: “OMG here are all my secrets. Love me.” The lovely Tina clocked him on that tendency even though she had just met him and they both were in the process of getting wasted. The way JA plays that scene at the table with Tina, because he’s such a smart actor, and because he knows that line is coming up, he plays the whole “you know that motel, too?” conversation as a man in love. He’s listening to her, he’s jazzed up. His phone rings, he doesn’t want to let her go. The man is so reckless like that, it’s an unexpected element to the character.

— But of course what comes out in reaction to his swoon of romantic love is a small “how on earth did this happen to a loser like me” comment, and now his eyes are all over the place: memorizing her face. Roger Ebert observed that Ingrid Bergman, when looking at her romantic scene partners, would literally paint the man’s face with her eyes. Long slow strokes of her gaze, all over his face. And when Ingrid Bergman looked at a man like that, you automatically believed that he was handsome and worthy. Humphrey Bogart wasn’t a full-on sex symbol (he was short, balding, with a lisp, and had to stand on a box to kiss his female co-stars) until she looked at him like that.


And that’s what JA does here when he jokes about how on earth this has happened to him. He is painting her face (and body) with his eyes. Because along with falling in love, he suddenly wants her. BAD.

— It gets even WORSE when she makes the crack about having “low standards.” Now this is the kind of crack Dean understands. Self-deprecating, an acknowledgement of the bull-shit nature of his self-loathing, but treating it with humor rather than “oh poor baby why don’t you think you deserve it?” She makes that crack, he takes it in – or … rather … he is passively bombarded by it, and that gives him the freedom to lean in and kiss this woman whom he didn’t even know existed, anywhere at all.

— And finally! When he pulls back from the kiss, he has to keep looking down at her, to make sure she’s still with him, that she hasn’t changed, or vanished.


The moment holds for a second, the two of them suspended in time, connected, but frozen, and then in a flash out comes this big smile on Dean’s face. He’s proud of himself for having this woman, he’s proud of her for being who she is, everything’s all right now, and he never saw a Carmen coming and never knew he even wanted such a thing. The smile isn’t an everyday smile like, “Oh, aren’t we enjoying this night out?” It’s an Emily from Our Town “Wow, I so appreciate you and I want this moment to last forever and I am just so happy that all of this has HAPPENED” smile. Even when she turns away, he keeps looking at her, smiling.

It’s less than a minute of screen-time and JA has given us a two-volume novel.

Now responsible Sam drones on, taking control again, making his announcement (and I love Carmen’s girlie smile of anticipation. She’s already “in” on it. Wish-Dean probably is too but Real-Dean is playing catch-up with a lit-up look on his face, mirroring the look on Mary’s face, as she starts to understand.) The most touching part about Dean looking around the table is that he is not AFRAID of the announcement because there is nothing to be afraid of in this world.

So many hugs! It’s too much! “There is no SINGING in Supernatural” and there aren’t too many hugs either. This cast of characters does not “wuv hugs” at all and I can’t get used to it and it all just makes me sad.

Sam dominates moments in really subtle but powerful ways in the Wish-World, and it’s so important that Jared “nail” this, because without it nothing else would be possible. Dean’s transparent congratulations, with a Hallmark-card “I’m so glad you’re happy” statement, is greeted with this expression:


God, it’s so fucking GOOD. I want to EAT it. With a SPOON.

I like even better the look on Sam’s face as Dean approaches him. He’s battening down the hatches. He’s enduring his brother’s company.

Because Sam is basically a no-show, and Dad is dead, Dean’s Wish-World is really a world of women. It’s a womb.

That womb motif gets explicit in Wanek’s production design of that motel room. The walls are red. The bedspreads are red. The rug is red. It’s all redundant red. In the final moment of the last scene, Dean gets up and walks to the dresser … and in so doing, leaves “the red.” When he looks back at Sam, Sam is literally drowning in red, enclosed in red. Dean can’t get back there. He never could.

This womb thing is also in the clothing the women wear. Mom wears white, and then here, she wears black. Alive = Dead. Jess shows up wearing white, and here, back to black. Alive = Dead. Carmen, on the other hand, is in a blue robe, and here, in a red dress. Red for womb, maybe, or at least I see that connection, particularly in the scene coming up back at their house. A safe female place where he can be connected to that woman-energy that plays no part in his life anymore.

The moment with the girl in white showing up across the restaurant is almost shot for shot the same as the first scene out on the street. Everything gone hand-held, everything in movement, lots of activity. Thinking, again, of Dean dangling in that warehouse, getting a glimpse of the dying girl opposite him … all while he’s here loving his family and eating leeks … It’s tremendously moving and creepy.

The great shot that closes out the scene …


… provides a distinctly uneasy impression, especially when Kripke chooses to move from face to face to face (just like he does in the final scene in the warehouse). You could clearly read it in a surface way: Dean has mis-behaved so much that everyone thinks he’s starting up again. There’s no “give” in any of those faces. They are already disappointed, disapproving. But seeing them all together there like that – once you know the ending – is definitely a clue that THEY all know what’s going on, and THEY see the girl in white too. They have chosen to ignore it, and so should he. Isn’t this what you want, Dean? All of us together?

9th scene

John Winchester holding a “big fish”. It’s so hysterical. We hear the gentle twinkling sound of benign female “what a great night” laughter as the family unit comes back inside the house. Sam has probably been dying for the whole ride home to talk to Dean about his “display” in the restaurant, and he doesn’t even wait until everyone is in the other room. He’s making a point. Charging across a restaurant floor is not along the lines of, say, showing up wasted for Easter dinner … so Sam seems pretty prissy. Pretty controlling.

In a great shot, where all of them are in the same frame at the same time, with everyone staggered along the way in perfect placement so we can see all of them, Dean looks up at Sam with this open look on his face, submissive, somewhat intimidated. He can’t open up to this guy.


Dean doesn’t know what he’s done wrong, and instead of fighting back, or saying, “Chill out, man, you’ve had a stick up your ass ever since we said Hello”, he takes it. He’s hurt, there’s been a bruise there all along since the moment on the sidewalk, but he takes it.

All of the little details of Kripke’s shot choices are so great. He’s spoken before about how, from the very start, they wanted their show to feel like a movie. But they didn’t have a lot of money and each episode takes 8 days to film. The challenge was to create something very cinematic with no money and no time. One of the ways they did that was to plunge the whole show into pitch-black-ness. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on detailed sets if you can’t see any of it. The other way they did that was to choose a lot of reverse-angle shots, using two cameras going at the same time. So many TV shows don’t do this, which is why sometimes scenes feel airless. If you’re just going long-shot, medium-shot, close-up over and over and over again, an audience can feel that repetitiveness. It’s why shows like Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Deadwood, Six Feet Under were so revolutionary at the time. They all looked like movies. Not just the quality of the images but the way those images were edited together, and the shot-construction for each scene. It wasn’t predictable. The Supernatural scenes in the Impala, a staple of the show from Episode 1, are a perfect example. We all know the whole “Impala filming” strategy, and how they’re not really drivint. It’s a practical and artistic solution. But my favorite thing (and I noticed it immediately) was how they did these reverse-shots of the guys in the car, back, forth, back, forth, but there was a freshness and spontaneity in the repartee that was unmistakable. It didn’t feel like a series of isolated back-forth closeups. And so I was not at ALL surprised to learn that they had two cameras going at the same time, one on Sam, one on Dean, and the two actors play the scene out, in one go, and then they edit it together later. That’s why those scenes feel the way they do. That’s why they have so much “air” in them, why there’s so much real “listening and talking” going on. Using two camera kills two birds with one stone: You’re doing ONE shot from TWO angles at the same time. Huge time-saver. You don’t have all that wait time where everyone changes the lighting scheme to turn the whole scene around. You do it in one.

This is a bold move for an episodic with 22 episodes a season. It takes so much trust in your actors to play the scene in one chunk. You just have to know they’re going to “get it.” It’s much easier to split it all up into tiny little chunks, because then you (the director) have way more control. In Supernatural, so much control is given to the actors.

This little family thing in the living room feels the same way. There is a lot going on. Sudden close-ups of Sam saying goodnight. Jess saying goodnight. Long-shot of Mom going up the stairs, figures are clustered in the frame, poor Dean in his tragic shirt and tie, trying to figure out why there’s this … pall in the atmosphere, what is WRONG between him and Sam. But that story is not told in a series of precious lingering close-ups, which would be condescending (You get it? You see what’s going on? LOOK AT DEAN’S EYES, YOU SEE?). It’s told by seeing Dean in the thick of it, looking at his mother, at Sam, back over to Carmen, close-ups of other reactions … You get the whole EVENT, played beautifully by everyone, in a way that feels real, lived-in rather than acted. I love Jess’ uncomfortable look in the background, glancing at Carmen like, “Oh no. Here we go …” I love Sam literally wincing any time Dean touches him. That will get more pronounced in the scene coming up where he literally keeps backing away from Dean so Dean can’t touch him, maybe the most painful part about that scene. I love Dean’s happy cluelessness, he wants to go out, and I love how Carmen – sweet supportive Carmen – is all on board with that, mainly to back him up. I love how Dean winks at Carmen, a little, “Hang on, I’ll be right with you, it’s all good” once Sam “dismisses” them. He winks and it’s so casual and loving, don’t know how he does it, I sure couldn’t pull it off.

Sam is aggressive in this next scene in a way that is pretty hard to beat, pretty hard to argue with. I’d be undone by such a speech, too. Dean tries to fight back, in his way, trying to get them back on course or break through but he doesn’t have any luck. This makes him try harder, reaching out to touch Sam, and Sam isn’t having any of it. Stop calling me Sammy. It’s such a total rejection. But the scariest part of it – the part that I would find hardest to combat if it were coming at me – is also the attempt at being kind, assuring him he doesn’t need him to change, but let’s not pretend we have anything in common. Let’s just leave it at that. We’re brothers but we’re not close. Let’s be okay with that. It’s so LOGICAL.


The vulnerability required for JA to play his side of the scene was disorienting for everyone involved. It’s one of the best scenes in the episode. JP kills it. Kills it DEAD. As it becomes clear that the impasse is total, that sad little piano theme comes in. Highlighting the rupture, and Dean’s increasing desperation. He tries. He fails.

Sam’s gentle manly “get some rest” is the perfect and awful button to the scene, with its assumption of concern for Dean, that’s the Narrative of the Wish-Winchester Family. Sam’s the grown-up trying to take care of his semi-loser older brother after hurting Dean’s feelings. Dean, again, “takes it”. He can’t fight it.

Dean’s tormented profile(TM) then dissolves into Dean sitting on the couch at home, his body in the second shot taking up the exact space of the profile in the first. One bleeding into the other. It’s a dreamy effect (Supernatural so rarely uses dissolves that they stand out). A dissolve can be romantic. A dissolve shows time passing. A dissolve can mean a day-dream has started, or a flash-back (get ready for the Lysol haze!). Here, it’s almost all three at the same time, especially since it was so beautifully set up beforehand by Kripke, so that Dean’s body would be in the exact spot that Dean’s profile had been in a moment before.

10th scene

Dean is so caught up in himself on that couch, isn’t he. Even the placement of his arm along that rumpled cushion. He’s in a tense holding-pattern, nothing exists to him except the memory of how Sam looked at him, how nothing he could say could bridge that gap. His body language. He’s so upset, but his body language is alert, tense with worry.

This is an extremely touching scene.

“I’ll make it up to him. To everyone.”

Ultimately, Real-Dean is “blameless.” He was a child when his world was ripped to hell. He did what he was told. He tried to hold down the fort. Not to say that he was “a man without sin” but that he made the best of a shitty situation and he was trying to please and get the love of his impossible father. Sam, though, with that independent streak (a sign of health, although NOT in the Winchester family), stopped allowing Dean to play that role. Who would Dean be without it, right? This is still going on, unbelievably, and they are both – well Jensen is anyway – legitimately middle-aged at this point. It’s a beautifully intractable conflict, and – also at this point – THE engine on which the show runs. In the Wish-World, of course, Dean has behaved really badly. He stole his brother’s ATM card, skipped Sam’s graduation for probably a stupid reason, and fucked Sam’s prom date on prom night? It’s that last one, people. Maybe you’re able to forgive something like that, but I am most definitely not. But Dean’s line here, to Carmen, about “making it up” to Sam … doesn’t seem to have to do with the Wish-Problems Sam just listed. It’s Real Dean, thinking of his real life, and how he fails everyone, never lived up to his potential, let Sammy down, etc. It’s frustrating to watch, you want to scream at the television. It’s not YOUR fault your mother died. It’s not YOUR fault your father was a cult leader. Ah, melodrama. When it works, it works.


The other touching thing about this scene: He literally just met this strange woman like 5 seconds ago. It’s hard for Dean to be open with people. But the Djinn-Poison has done its work and plunged him into a ready-made situation that feels very comfortable to him. So when she asks him what’s wrong, he opens up to her. How many seasons have we watched Sam say “Is anything wrong?” and Dean says “No”? (Or the other way around.) It takes a YEAR for them to come clean about things, sometimes more. And talking about family? Forget about it. Only Charlie and Bobby are allowed to get in there, and talk to one brother about the other. Those people are safe. In this alternate universe, Carmen has become safe in record time. Her line, “For the record, he doesn’t know what he’s missing …” is powerful, for me, because … well, it’s the kind of thing you want to hear when you’re worried. And I’ve got great friends and family but at 3 a.m. there’s nobody there. (World’s smallest violin … It’s okay, I’m a big girl.) I told you Carmen got to me. And it has nothing to do with Dean.

I need to bring up the sound again because the sound design of this episode is so well-done.

There’s NO MUSIC. No romantic swooping strings. Nobody is telling us how to feel, or demanding we feel anything. Plus: there seems to be intermittent sound of cars/trucks going by outside. Maybe they live on a busy street. But those sudden whooshes of sound underneath everything connect back to that loud-silence thing in the first scene. It’s eerie, those underbelly whooshes of sound. It’s not realistic. At times it seems like they’re falling through space. There’s a VOID around the scene somehow.

The scene is strange also because it has nothing to do with anything else the show has ever been interested in. Supernatural is not a tender-love-scene kind of show. (Can’t stop cracking-up and yet also totally admire the image of Kripke Horror Boy submitting to the demands of the script written, and figuring out the most sensitive way to do it.) But Dean is in love with her now. He’s aligned himself totally to his Wish-Self. No more “Oh God I am kissing a strange lady …” forehead-wrinkle. He’s Dean and this is his girlfriend and he gets to kiss her any time he wants, and she’s “safe”, he can tell her what he’s so worried about.

Two things:

1. “I get why you’re the one.” I had no idea that Dean would even consider the possibility that there was a “one.” Why I like it is that he is coming at it from the outside perspective, his “real” self inhabiting another version of himself, and then … in this moment … approving of the “other” version of himself’s choices. It’s a great line, and a great line-reading.

2. Back to Ingrid Bergman: watch him paint her face with his eyes. More than the kissing, that’s why the scene is as romantic as it is. He never takes his eyes off of her, but his eyes also never stop moving: he can’t take her in in one glance. It’s a miracle to him that she is even there.


When do grown men actors get to play a kiss like that? As a swoon?

His slanted-diagonal posture on the couch when she leaves him there is so “chilled-out slightly-grumpy-horny boyfriend” that he looks almost totally transformed.

He’s turned on when he realizes he is dating someone “respectable,” which is almost the funniest detail in the whole entire script. Not sure why Carmen has to hold up her scrubs as though figuring out whether or not they will fit or “go” with one another … don’t you wear them every day? His comment gets a laugh from her, as opposed to a double-take (like: “Why are you just realizing this now?” Or “what’s gotten into you?”) His leering appreciation of her respectability (and her getting undressed, presumably) makes her laugh. Again: the perfect Dream-Girl. It’s comfy, the vibe between them.


I guess now is as good a time as ever to talk about that bedroom. They have this enormous closet, her clothes hanging neatly on one side, his clothes hanging neatly on the other side. The closet, mainly, has to be that big for the flash-frame glimpses of the dangling bodies in the warehouse coming up. So I get that. But the neat-ness of the closet is so out of sync with that bed. Now, look, sometimes I don’t make my bed either. I admit it. I prefer my bedroom when I DO make my bed. I walk in there and feel like, “Ahhhh, that looks right.” But sometimes I don’t, and my cat sprawls across the messy pulled-back bedspread and is none the wiser. But the “nothing means nothing” thought comes to play when I look at the shot (coming up) of that wrinkled bed, destroyed by their sleeping. It looks like it’s NEVER been made.


This is one of those details I don’t want to assign meaning to. I’ve got my ideas, maybe you’ve got yours.

But it’s details like that that I treasure, borne out of the pre-production meetings where everyone gets on the same page. Someone needed to conceptualize what that apartment would look like. Someone needed to set-decorate that apartment. Someone needed to track down that tiny white cowboy-hat. They had to discuss what this fictional relationship looked like. Who they were. What they would have on their coffee table. Their kitchen table. The couch cushions would be crumpled and indented, not perfectly smooth like they would be in a real-estate photo. The kitchen table is cluttered, the coffee table is cluttered. Come to your own conclusions. That bed, unmade like that, says so much about this fictional couple. (This is my issue with Lisa’s house. It lacks details like this.) You walk into someone’s house for the first time, and don’t you look around and get a “read” on the person? What books they have. What their front hallway is like, shoes piled up by the door? Umbrellas tossed on the floor? You notice. If it’s a mess, you notice. Stains in the sink, you notice. You may not sniff in superior judgment, but you notice. We imprint ourselves on our homes. We can’t help it. Like I said earlier, very few of us live in homes that look interior-decorated by a professional. Very few of us have maid-service. So who we are SHOWS in where we live. And I love just how much is SHOWN about Dean/Carmen in the decor, and the casual messiness of it. I mean, they aren’t living in Grey Gardens, I’m not trying to say they are slobs … but a messy bed that looks like it’s never been made in its history of being a bed – is ELOQUENT.

I’m not saying it’s eloquent in a specific “here is what this means” way. I’m saying it’s eloquent in that it opens up multiple unforeseen possibilities, in the way perfectly-put-together squeaky-clean-generic decor would not.

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The way Dean takes the swig of the beer, big stomping boots up on the cluttered coffee table, is so delightfully self-conscious, reminiscent of his Molly-happy-lawnmowing. Think of how he normally drinks. He drinks cause he needs it to calm himself down and take the edge off. Here, though, the way he takes that swig says: “Look at me. Watching a cooking show late at night while my girlfriend’s at work. This is the BEST.”

On the Wiki page (or one of them), there is some discussion about the “dates” in the episode. Mom’s birthday must be such-and-such because it coincides with such-and-such. The dates on Sam’s cell-phone messages don’t match so that must be an error, etc. I’m not sure why the dates need to line up in an episode that takes place in a totally fictional world, generated by Dean’s psyche. It’s not an academic article requiring proper attribution. Dean’s making it up as he goes. I’m not saying Sam’s cellphone dates aren’t an error, they very well may be, but I’m not interested in the backstage explanations for such “errors.” (Well, you know, Kripke said that he wanted to do this, but then they couldn’t and so they did this instead.) Okay. Fine. But if I DIDN’T know that, then I would still be left with what was onscreen and I would still be trying to interpret it. I prefer to go with what’s onscreen ONLY, as much as I can. A lot of people seem to have a real issue with this. Not here, although one woman early on who never commented but obviously read the re-caps did email me BEGGING me – literally, she sent me two emails full of Youtube links – to watch con footage so that I could reference it more in my re-caps and so that I could analyze JA and JP and who they are as PEOPLE. Not interested. Acting is not biography. To look at acting as biography is a misunderstanding of the art form. Good acting is always revealing of who actors actually are (like Gena Rowlands said: “No matter how into a character you are, you can just see an actor’s SOUL on film.”) but to make direct connections … I’m actually strongly against it. (I read a biography of Cary Grant that seemed to posit that every role he played he was trying to 1. work out the disappearance of his mother when he was 5 and 2. express his homosexuality. I find that attitude deeply offensive.) The fact that JA and JP are best friends in real life adds to the fearless intimacy onscreen, for sure, and it’s intimacy we rarely see between two male leads. But what else is there to say about that? It exists, we all are the richer for it, The End. I love backstage stories too and I love gag reels. If they say something about their acting process, I want to know about it. I will consider that in what I have to say about any given moment. But it’s better – in terms of proper analysis – to figure out “what you get” from the information coming at you from the screen, and ONLY what’s on the screen.

So maybe the dates don’t match up, and maybe Mom’s birthday really is the same date as the flight crash, but what I am (trying) to say is that there may be a more interesting way to look at it, beyond assuming that everything onscreen needs to line up in a proper timeline and that there’s something “wrong” if it doesn’t. I actually don’t agree at all that Mom’s birthday has to be a certain date, and that the Wish-World somehow reflects the Real-World in a fact-checked way. It’s way more potent if the actual date of Mom’s birthday is irrelevant, because what a birthday represents (regardless of the actual date) is Life Continuing On, someone is still alive, and you are grown-up enough to celebrate it with her. And so a day celebrating that his mother is ALIVE for one more year, that she even HAS a birthday, she who was denied any more birthdays back in 1983? What better symbol of wish-fulfillment than that?

Think of what is being done to the real Dean back in the warehouse this whole time. The glimpse we get of the Djinn draining the blood from the dangling girl, sniffing her arm, the whole nine yards. That’s what’s going on with Dean too. He doesn’t have much time left. The girl in white has even less time left because she’s been there longer. The last scene between Dean and Carmen is so intimate and tender that it contains infinity, in a way that the other scenes (with their undercurrents of unease) do not. The scene with Carmen and Dean is the very DEFINITION of “in here,” as Mary says later. In that scene, Dean declares that he will “make it up” to Sam, that he will “fix things” with Sam. That’s going to be his goal. He is now in his Wish-World, and he has created a plan of action for his time there. He’s devoted to it. If he had chosen to stay, that would have been what he would work on, his relationship with Sam. Making plans is the most surefire way to remind yourself that you do, in fact, have a future.

Dean is lulled into that, planning for his future “here”, helped by the couch-cushions and the way Carmen looks at him.

Immediately following, however, comes the news program/Internet research that shows what his absence from the hunting-world has done. Plus the dark figure moving offscreen as he hunches over the computer (with, yet again, his face superimposed over the little girl from “Playthings,” a dizzying through-the-looking-glass effect, the THIRD of its kind in ONE episode.)


These things are his real brain screaming at him to WAKE UP. Even that “anniversary of the flight crash” news program. Dean’s beautiful logical mind is, somewhere, screaming at him to not get lulled into a stupor by crumpled-cushion-Carmen. RESIST. Dean’s mind throwing random shit at him: “Oh God, you’re getting seduced … okay, so here’s a news program for ya showing you multiple deaths from what you thought you stopped! And here, LOOK, THAT GIRL AGAIN. WAKE UP.”

Nothing is real. Everything is a fiction. (Like the maestro says repeatedly in the Club Silencio scene in Mulholland Drive: This whole performance – that seems so real – is just a recording.) Dean’s poison-drenched mind coiling itself up in its last gasp to REACH himself, hoping SOMEthing will break through.

Just as an experiment, I ran the scene, and pressed “Pause” repeatedly, freeze-framing it every step of the way, trying to perceive the separate images and their progression, since they go by so quickly. Embedded in the footage of the screaming dangling skeletons, is this:


Words cannot express my thankfulness for such a darkly beautiful flash like that. Saying it’s a “closeup” doesn’t even cut it. Such CARE is given to every second making up that sequence, and in the middle of it, gone so quickly you barely notice it (although you feel it) is something like this. It’s the “story within the story.”

And what would be required of Dean to ignore these “flashes” and stay “in here”? That’s the question. It calls into question our own responses to our own lives, and pasts, and things we wish to forget, or try to incorporate, or try to leave behind. Like Our Town again: this is the human condition. “What Is and What Should Never Be” works in a powerfully metaphoric way, and we can all draw our own connections to it. We may not be dangled up to a Djinn-IV, but we all have stuff that we need to IGNORE in order to make it through the day. Or, I’ll just speak for myself. If you’re handling painful shit, then it DOES ambush you like Dean keeps getting ambushed. And it’s the brain’s way of saying: “If you can’t HANDLE this, then at least ACKNOWLEDGE it.”

12th scene

The centerpiece of the episode. Kripke films it as such. It is both elegant and attention-getting (that high crane shot above Dean circling down to him, and then the mirroring-shot that closes out the scene, pulling up into such a beautiful tableaux that it almost doesn’t look real). Kripke also films the scene in a sensitive and simple way, letting it all be about the acting, and setting up his cameras so the performance is the main thing. He’s not trying to distract, or remind us of his (the director’s) existence. We should only be thinking about Dean.

The way he does this is very subtle and very smart: Like we talked about above, he used two cameras to shoot this monologue, with two different angles, filming at the same time. Even better and even more dreamy, each camera moves, almost imperceptibly, floating around over to the side, and back, as Dean talks to the grave. The cameras were placed on two little dolly tracks so they could glide around a bit, and it looks like those dolly tracks were pretty close together, curving around on the outside of the gravestone. There’s not a huge differentiation between angles, in other words, nothing that will distract our focus. The fact that the cameras aren’t stationary help make the scene, and it’s hard for me to explain why, but let me try.

I fear sentimentality, as my comments probably show. I fear being told what I should be feeling, and being told what to feel usually happens through close-ups and bossy underscoring. Supernatural, of course, indulges in a lot of that – the close-ups, the music (especially that mournful horn-driven Winchester theme) – but all in all, it uses those elements sparingly and, thus, pointedly. When it needs to plunge us into the MINDS of these guys, the camera is so close we can practically see their nose hairs. It’s part of the look of the show, which is a melodrama, and influenced, too, by Spaghetti Westerns with all of those insane Sam Peckinpah closeups. Closeups can be lazy, though, and that’s what I fear, and that’s what I appreciate so much about Supernatural‘s use of them.

Dean boo-hoo-ing over his father’s grave has so many potential pitfalls that I literally held my breath the first time watching. I’m a hard sell. I dislike being manipulated especially by sentiment. That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise that this show, which I started watching with a lot of preconceived notions, was so tough, so unwilling to even experience its own sentiments. The show resists its emotions as strongly as the two leads resist theirs, and it is so nuts and so entertaining, because the show TRUCKS in emotion just as much as it trucks in black shadows and sexual undercurrents. But sentimental moments are undercut with humor, or one of the guys feels something strongly and does his damnedest to NOT feel what he’s feeling, and etc., and it drives you insane. These elements give the show its edge.

The scene is so strongly executed, but it’s done in a way that suggests nobody is dwelling on it or wallowing in it (i.e. lingering close-ups of the trembling tear). JA is shot in MEDIUM shot when the tears come. Kripke doesn’t anxiously cut in to make sure we see it (I know you’ve seen shows and moments that are cut like that). Kripke lets it all breathe, lets JA breathe, gives JA the SPACE to be as great as he already is. It’s the actor’s scene, let him PLAY it.


The fact that there are no closeups in this important scene is so extraordinary!

Keep it simple, stupid: Kripke/Serge set up the lights for the scene. They only have to set them up pointing one way. Jensen is called to set. He stands where he’s supposed to. Kripke calls “Action” and Jensen performs that monologue in total, in one. The text is not broken up into small chunks, we are allowed to just watch it play out.

Who the hell cares about camera angles in an emotional scene like this?? Well, I care a lot, because scenes like this are often ruined because of how they are shot.. HOW something is filmed is – in so many respects – MORE important than WHAT is filmed.

Those gentle camera glides back and forth create an impression of an ongoing flood of emotion that continues whether we’re looking at it or not, and the same is true with the way his voice continues speaking even when his mouth isn’t moving. And I can almost guarantee, IMDB commenter, that the voice/mouth thing is in no way, shape, or form a continuity error. It is an artistic decision, a smart one and a gorgeous one. Time is already looping around on itself at this point, the Djinn-Juice, etc. Time lacks meaning, “in here it will feel like a lifetime”, all the rest: The voice continues even as the mouth doesn’t move, the cameras glide back and forth, almost stalking him: these things give the impression that what we are seeing is only a PART of the whole scene. Dean could have been standing by that grave for two hours as opposed to 5 minutes. Who can tell what time means “in here” anyway?

And finally:


The final image of this centerpiece scene involves reflections. Reflections are so important to this looking-glass episode. Those five bright lights in the distance are reflected and refracted in that dark body of water. It’s pure visual poetry. Here’s some Speculative Silliness, but once I “saw” it, I couldn’t see anything else: Those 5 lights (not 4, not 1, not 6, but 5) are so much a part of the moment, and it’s so beautiful and perfect and involved it had to be planned for, that when I look at them, lined up like that, with their reflections in the water, I see Mary – Dean – Carmen – Sam – Jess.

Those five lights across the water, beckoning him to stay.

13th scene

Call-backs to the pilot all over the place. Beautiful re-creations of that opening moment, Sam and Jess sleeping butt-to-butt, Mary coming down the stairs, poor Sam with his baseball bat coming down the stairs, the silhouetted brothers, Dean hovering over Sam on the floor. The Djinn-Loop, time draining out of the hourglass, all things, all events and sights and images and moments looping back and repeating, repeating, repeating.












It must have been such a fun challenge, especially so for Kripke, since this whole show was his idea, and in that pilot David Nutter took his idea and gave it the look that Kripke had dreamt of. Now, over a year later, Kripke’s in the director’s seat, and re-creating Nutter’s shot constructions and lighting, for his own first time directing an episode. Sometimes life works out in a cool way like that.

Similar dialogue too (“I was looking for a beer …” dudebro slap on the chest). Dean’s mind looping himself back to the moment of re-entry into his brother’s life. It’s tremendously moving. I keep thinking of poor Dean hanging like a slab of beef in that warehouse, his mind flooding with memories, memories super-imposing themselves on top of wishes, reality scotch-taped on top of fiction.

Sam’s shock that Dean would break into the house and steal “Mom’s silver” is pretty crushing. I mean, I’d be shocked too. It’s her birthday and … you’re burgling her wedding silver? What. The. Fuck. Has. Happened. To. You. Dean’s had his transformation. He cried at the grave, now he knows what he needs to do. There never was a choice anyway. He sees that now. Because of that internal adjustment, the Wish-World and Wish-Sam have lost some of their reality for him. He’s “back.” Or starting to be back. Dean, always in tune with how he is being perceived, understands how Sam is looking at him. Can sense what a disappointment Wish-Dean was to his little brother. Gets that. But there’s nothing he can do about it anymore because none of this is real anyway. He now knows he’s looking at a dream-fragment. It’s not Sam. So Sam’s judgment doesn’t hurt as much anymore. The “I can’t even believe we’re brothers” line brings a reaction, one of those classic JA moments where he HEARS something, it gets INTO him, and his next line comes directly out of that adjustment. You’ve got to be really listening to have a moment like that, and JA has moments like that every other second on the show.

Wish-Dean and Real-Dean are the same in that moment. He throws himself on the mercy of Wish-Sam, making up the lie about the “bookie,” a sensitive piece of improvisation on his part, suggesting he knows that that’s what this Dean would probably do. He’s also basically just fulfilling Wish-Sam’s perception of him, and doing so willingly. Yup. I’m a loser. But you know what? You’re not real. And no way am I telling you about what I need this knife for, because even though you’re not real, you look just exactly like my little brother, although my little brother isn’t such a wussy-prissy-fuck-nut and he knows how to throw a punch, and YOU my judgmental friend are a babe in the WOODS, and have no idea of the monsters that are out there and the less you know the better. Let the ADULTS take care of it, yellow-tie-douchebag.

Speaking of listening:

As Dean goes into “Sam, I’m sorry …” the camera is on JP. At first, Sam thinks Dean is apologizing for the silver, but when Dean continues, off-camera, “I’m sorry we don’t get along …” Sam looks at his brother, surprised.


This is another by-product of filming the same scene with two cameras going at the same time. You get moments like that of pure reaction based on what someone else is giving you. And that’s Jared’s excellence at the subtlety of listening. You can’t “act like” you’re listening. You have to really DO it. Entire acting classes are geared towards helping people be better listeners, because if you can’t listen, you can’t act, end of story, lights out.

That mournful piano music comes up again as the scene peters out, and – because Ackles’ instincts are so right on – right before he leaves, he glances around the house just one more time. I’d miss that moment if it weren’t there.

Sam races to put on his tight zip-up monstrosity and hurries out to the Impala. His absolute horror when Dean calls him a “bitch” makes me laugh out loud every time. Can you imagine it from his side of things? How aggressive that “bitch” would sound?

14th scene

It’s the WAY Dean throws the phone out of the window. It’s the WAY he does it.

And it’s the WAY Sam says, “Yeah, I can SEE that it’s blood, but what the hell is it doing in here?” Or “No, I DO really want to know. I really really do.”

It’s the WAY these guys do everything.

“You’re having some psychotic breakdown.”
“I wish.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd is the perfect voice to drown out your brother’s zip-up-jacket hysteria on the long drive to Illinois.

15th scene

Dear Dean: Please re-write this story. Yours truly, Your Own Narrative.


Big tall gigantic Jared Padalecki has made himself small, and how does he do that? I wonder if he’s conscious of it. Huddling behind Dean as they skulk through that horrible warehouse, you would think he is shorter than Dean. And unable to fight. And not in any way, shape, or form, a centaur.


I love that Raelle Tucker made Sam “come with.” That Dean didn’t just charge off by himself, and then suddenly have Sam re-emerge with Mom and Jess and Carmen from out of the shadows. It could have gone that way. But it wouldn’t have been as interesting and wouldn’t have shown Dean’s adjustment back to himself after a whole episode of free-fall. Dean’s back. Wish-Sam is confused, has no idea what’s happening. Dean drawls short or jokey answers to questions, with dead-competent eyes. He’s not afraid of this Sam anymore, he knows this Sam isn’t real, and his feelings aren’t hurt anymore. He’s Top Dog again. So we get this beautiful reversal that is even more beautiful because you can sense what THIS Dean must look like to Wish-Sam. Imagine it from Wish-Sam’s perspective. Why are we driving to Illinois. Why do you have a cup of blood in the car. Why are we going into that warehouse? Why do you think you need to save humanity? Why did you take Mom’s silver? Where is my phone again? Etc. It’s kind of satisfying to see Pissy-Judgey Wish-Sam take the “bottom” role, and Dean assert his awesome-ness again. Supernatural the show entire is full of those reversals, sometimes multiple times an episode, and it’s pleasing to see it all play out here in some alternate universe where we assume Wish-Sam isn’t even on the joke.

Considering Sam’s urgent whispers that it’s not too late to turn back, Carmen’s worried, what are we doing … you can obviously surmise that Wish-Sam IS “in on the joke” and is getting concerned that Dean is moving closer towards discovering that none of it is real. It’s beautifully complex. Is Wish-Sam “acting”? Or maybe he’s acting for part of it, trying to warn Dean off? But gets caught up in other parts? It’s great. Mulholland Drive again. It’s not that important to know what EXACT MOMENT the persona-swap happens. Keep your options open. You see more that way.

Speaking of seeing more, I love this shot:


I always wonder how they get those gorgeous flashlight beams to not refract and distort everything else. (I wonder the same thing with X-Files, which has similar beauty in its flashlit-scenes.) Within that beauty of a shot is a focus-switch, from Dean back to Sam. I am addicted to focus-switches, a lucky thing since Supernatural has so many of them.

The flash-frames come up again, with crazy screaming sounds accompanying, connecting Dean to what he saw in the closet. I think why I like the unexpected use of flash-frames so much is that they are not just there to be frightening. They are innovative representations of Dean’s actual brain-activity, they are the part of him that won’t LET him succumb to the fantasy, the part of “reality” that keeps insisting on being seen. It’s haunting to me, maybe because of how it suggests the fragility/strength of our minds. Hook yourself up to that “empathy box,” and forget that you are dangling by your wrists in a warehouse. (Shivers … Stories like this have always terrified me on some primal level that practically feels like a memory.)

Hats off to Wanek and Serge on the warehouse set. We see it all in just one long shot, and we can see how huge the place really is (every other shot has been tight close-up, so they could have filmed it anywhere, but once we get a good look at that space, it’s impressive). Once again: random red light with no discernible light source.



Sam huddles beside Dean, looking like he’s 5 feet tall, spluttering in fear, and there’s a moment when Dean hesitates to even explain what’s happening, out of a sense of protection for this bumbling civilian at his side. Dean is looking at the horror of those skeletons and that destroyed dangling girl, and it’s awful, but he’s seen worse. Wish-Sam, however, has never seen anything that bad in his whole life. Dean feels that anxiety from Wish-Sam, and looks almost sorry that Wish-Sam’s innocence (however judgey and annoying) is being destroyed. There are some beautiful levels in these moments between Sam and Dean.

Kripke has his camera wandering around, another choice that adds to the creepiness. The camera wanders up to the blood bag. Wanders up her body to show her bound hands. Fragments. Sam and Dean’s point of view, total subjectivity. At this point, we’re not seeing anything whole, because the fabric is torn entirely. Dean’s consciousness is punching holes in the overlay, and it can’t be stopped. Imagine what it would take to IGNORE what he is seeing right now, and leave the warehouse and go back to Fake-Lawrence. Imagine the choice of that. That’s what is ahead for Dean. That’s how difficult it would be. Even if he “stayed,” he’d still get those flashes, maybe less and less, and maybe eventually he wouldn’t get those flash-frames at all. He’d have succumbed totally to the “empathy box.”

I love the story of how Mackenzie Gray, who plays the Djinn, had to wear that Maori-Mike-Tyson-tattoo-design on his face for the couple of days he filmed because they didn’t have time to apply it every day. Picture him going into a 7/11 like that to buy some Cheetos.

Throughout, Erik Kripke has devoted himself to romance and tenderness and golden sunset light and crumpled-cozy couches (all of which he captures brilliantly, as though he was born to shoot such material). It’s in this sequence that he shows how gifted he really is. Like I said, the show doesn’t often scare me. Sometimes I find it tense, but not truly terrifying. This warehouse sequence, though … And it’s not just the conception of it (although that’s awful, too), it’s HOW he does it.

This shot alone …


… added to the fact that she’s whimpering repeatedly about her “dad” … and it’s one of the most upsetting things the show has ever done. (She’s wonderful.) The image of her bare feet barely able to touch the wet floor is horrible. The Djinn resting his nose/mouth against her arm, as though he’s about to lick it or kiss it. Dean’s been pawed that way the entire time too. Both of them unconscious. Her whimpering “Where’s my Dad …” calls up an unavoidable image of Dean across the space whimpering, “Where’s my Mom …”, something that is probably going on as we speak. Two lost orphans, yearning for a parent. But all they can see is each other. Naturally, both of them have reunions with vanished parents. Simultaneously. I wonder if images of Dean are popping through the fabric of HER wish.

Then comes the moment with the bare lightbulb. I think I’ve said enough about my feelings on THAT. Only, wow, whaddya know, I am going to say more.

It’s the light-bulb that shows him reality in a series of flash-frames, the images coming too quick to even process. It’s a collage, a flip-book where the images are not connected to one another, but isolated “flashes” of what he has been “doing” all this time.

Dean does have a little monologue afterwards where he “speaks out” what he thinks has been happening, but we get it mostly from here, this Light-Bulb sequence. It’s just so ghostly … like the “Club Silencio” scene in Mulholland Drive, when reality shifts for those two “blonde” women in the audience The bare light-bulb sequence reminds me especially of the moment the whole empty stage goes to blue in Mulholland Drive, and that old-fashioned microphone gleams and blurs like a lamp.

Club Silencio ~ Mulholland Dr. (2001) from Schmeichler on Vimeo.

All these LIGHTS, right? The episode is filled with lights, the wall-dividers, the reflections in the windows, the blurred-out glimpses in the background, the invisible red/blue light sources in the warehouse, and now that bare light-bulb. And we all know from what object genies emerge. (I found a pretty funny and informative post on genies, that also goes into the development of the “lamp” part of the mythology.)

It’s difficult to create the effect Kripke creates here. The success of the sequence is due to a mixture of elements: the look on Dean’s face as he looks up at the light-bulb. Filled with racing thoughts and dawning realizations. Tick off a box in the “acting” checklist. But it’s also because of all of the other glimpses thrown in there, blood bags, tied-up hands, Dean dangling. You have to shoot those things in the first place in order to create these flash-frames. Kripke had the end result in his mind. (All good directors do, I’m not saying this is some mind-blowing thing Kripke has over other directors. I’m just pointing out how perfectly conceived the whole thing was before they even got to shooting it. The best directors PLAN.)




Behind Sam is an entire wall of red light. Not to beat a dead red horse, but it’s exactly the look of Sam in the final scene coming up, where he drowns in a sea of red, the red of the womb that Dean just left. (Nothing means nothing.)

Fantastic scene between the brothers, and I especially love how Dean goes dead and flat as Sam is shaking him. He’s like a rag doll, and his expression doesn’t change, he is not affected by Sam’s passion. Because now he knows (or he’s “pretty sure” – callback to “Folsom Prison Blues”) that Sam is not real, none of this is real, he is like that poor dangling girl, and this ferocious man in a zip-up jacket is not his brother. And JP is phenomenal, too, because at this point it seems pretty clear (on repeat viewings) that Wish-Sam is now desperate to save his Wish-Brother. And maybe that was the case all along, be a “bitch” so that Dean would have impetus to stay and fix it, and etc. But now, his brother is off on his own, and their (Mom, Jess, Carmen, Sam) “plan” is failing. Dean is actually considering going back to his horrible life. Without them. Maybe they didn’t see this one coming. Maybe they thought Dean would be an easier sell, and that’s why they all have to appear now, bringing out the big guns of their campaign. Bombard him with love and safety and make it impossible for him to “go.”

All Kripke said to JA before filming this scene was, “You want to stay.”

Elia Kazan used to say that when he was directing Marlon Brando he rarely had to say anything. There wasn’t a lot of talk, because Brando was so gifted. If he felt Brando needed an adjustment, he’d approach him, and often all he would say was one word – or even just give Brando a look – and Brando would nod, and walk away. He got it. Don’t talk about it too much. JA already knew that Dean wanted to stay, but Kripke’s simple under-lining of it was a reminder of the engine beneath the scene. And JA doesn’t ACT like he “wants to stay,” or ACT how difficult the choice is. If you’re gonna do it, and do it right, you have to REALLY do it. Maybe only actors really understand the difference between ACTING torn and actually BEING torn, but audience members certainly can feel that difference.

Now maybe you all “got the memo” before I did when you first watched it. I can be pretty slow. I did not really “put it together” until that great close-up of the knife, with a blurry figure in white in the background approaching. It is Mary. That’s when I realized. In a way, I’m the perfect audience, because I don’t try to figure shit out or get AHEAD of the episode. I mean, I couldn’t if I tried, because I’m slow like that, and if I did try, I would fail. When I saw Mary approaching, and I heard the strains of “Spiegel im Spiegel” start (“Spiegel im Spiegel”?? Are you TRYING to kill me? That music literally could not be more gentle if it tried) – creating such a huge mood-shift that I suddenly didn’t even know what planet I was on – I understood, and then with the slow and very theatrical appearance of Jess and Carmen, I knew what was coming, what the event unfolding really was.


It’s staged like an avant-garde theatre production, openly theatrical, echoed years later in the high school girls’ version of “Carry On”, all the family members joining together in one spot. (It’s also the ghosts sitting by their gravestones in Our Town, encouraging Emily to “let it go, sit down with them.”)

When Dean sees Mary, everything else that had been going on with him – determination, thought, courage – drains out of his face: you can see it happen. The camera circles around him, reflecting the fact that he is now surrounded.

The big revelation for Slow-Me was that Sam, too, was “in on it,” and the loving understanding supportive look he now gives Dean was a shocker, to Dean too. This Sam, whom we’ve (and Dean too) been underestimating and snickering at for the entirety of the episode is now the Patriarch, the one who knows what to do, who is in the ultimate care-taking role. Dean needs to be taken care of. Give me the knife. All love. I suppose there may be some people who see this group love-bomb as “sinister,” and I can see that too. (It’s the empathy-box-Oprah-Deepak-self-help sleeping pill at work. No thanks. I prefer reality with its rough edges. RESIST.) It is engineered to sink Dean back into the womb. It is engineered to be so overpowering that only a super-human (“they must have super-hearing!”) could resist. That’s the tragedy of it. It is so much of what Dean wants, it is everything Dean wants and 1. He can’t have it. and 2. It’s all fake anyway.


It goes beyond role-reversal. In the real world, Dean doesn’t hover over Sam looking at him with the over-protective love of a worried mother-bird, the way Sam looks at Dean here. The sequence here is infantilizing, in some respects, and I can feel people getting out the pitchforks now! But when you’re a grown-up and your brain is broken, your family members have a tendency to look at you like this, and it is EN-RAG-ING. At a certain point, though, you have to accept that there’s a reason that the people you love look at you with that terrible blend of compassion and pity and concern. Some of the fan-narrative about hurt/comfort, etc. … I get the appeal. But I personally don’t like it, or I only like it in the smallest of doses. This is my shit, you realize. I am not criticizing those who love it or get off on it. This is my shit about not wanting to be perceived as weak, or a “problem”, and “Get some rest, Sheila” often means “I’ve got Bellevue on speed-dial.” So no, I’m not the audience for that kind of narrative. The sequence here is completely overpowering, and the “infantilizing” thing (it’s not a criticism of the sequence at all, it’s an observation of how it operates) makes it unbearable, so tender you wish someone would start a Rocketttes kick-line just to break up the mood. The infantilizing makes sense (and it’s bold, to really “go there” when the show rarely does) because of all the un-managed shit Dean has withstood and all that was denied to him from the time he was a pre-schooler. Nobody ever cared for him this way. (Nobody ever cared for Sam in this way either. Dean took care of him, but not like Mary would have. It’s different.) The losses the brothers withstood are different. Sam is more complete, more whole as a person than Dean is, because he never knew another life, and he had Dean as a buffer. The miracle is that Sam was the one who saw his own way out of the dark warehouse that was their lives. But Dean … Dean was broken. EARLY. He had no buffer. He took it on the chin. His father did not abandon him, he didn’t ditch 4-year-old Dean by the side of the road or drop him off in front of an orphanage and take off into the night. But Dean grew up without tenderness. Babies can die if they aren’t hugged and cuddled.


It’s why the moments when his mother touches him – or when Carmen touches him – are so powerful. The actor has internalized so much what Dean LACKS that when he receives it, he both can’t bear it at the same time as he leans into it. His face when Carmen pulls back from kissing him! He can’t even open his eyes he’s so narcotized by pleasure and comfort. It’s hard for men to be open like that, especially in a sexual context. (Sit in on an acting class and watch young male actors, even talented ones, try to play a scene like this. This is not a criticism of men. It is a criticism of the society that shames boys for their vulnerability from before they even gain the power of speech. Acting class for men, in a lot of ways, is helping to strip away that conditioning.) JA is quite literally breath-taking in that moment post-kiss. (Touch is a big deal to Dean. Normally he doesn’t like it. You really have to earn the right to touch him in any way whatsoever. Even his recent hug with Jodie Mills in her living room was a bit stiff. It doesn’t matter whether or not all of this is conscious on JA’s part. I imagine it isn’t, certainly not at this point, when the character is like putting on an old loved sweater for him. And I’m not sure it was ever conscious, in the way that his vocal choices were conscious. It’s just a part of who Dean is, it’s been there from the beginning, and JA understands the meaning of touch to this emotionally-poverty-struck and deprived character.)




Red behind them all, a heartbeat, a womb.

The empathy box is a lie. So it’s back to real life, which … unfortunately … means this.


Holy Great Makeup, Batman. And speaking of makeup, the little prosthetic-piece-of-skin where the needle goes into the neck is so good, and so disgusting, especially when Sam carefully pulls it out (“Oh God,” he whispers. Why do I love that so much? It satisfies every time) because you can SEE the skin pull up with the needle. Such detail! The makeup folks did an incredible job, both with Dean and the dangling girl (especially the dangling girl). It’s hard to believe that anyone who looks like she just rolled off the top of Mount Everest could be expected to make “a full recovery.”


“Auntie Em. There’s no place like home.”

He sounds so “over it,” and he’s all trussed-up like that, and it’s such a funny contrast with Sam’s urgency. Sam doesn’t even react to it, it’s like Dean didn’t even say it. (Makes me laugh. Dean’s impulse towards Burlesque. One of his strongest healthiest qualities.)

Fist Fight. Yawn. It’s amazing that Dean would have the strength to BREAK that huge rope, especially considering what he’s been through. I like Sam’s chin bumping down the stairs. And I know I’m a glutton for punishment but I would like to see Sam’s Djinn-Happy-Place. Years later, we’d see his version of Heaven (so funny. It’s every moment that DOESN’T include Dad or Dean), but I’d like to see the fantasy at this point. What would it look like? What would it entail? And who would Dean be in that fantasy? Or Dad?

It’s something I like thinking about.

Killing the Djinn brings no relief to Dean. He doesn’t reach down to help Sam up. There’s none of that, “Whoo, that was a close one” thing that usually goes on. Dean looks wrecked, physically and emotionally.

His face as he approaches the girl in white, the girl who, in trying to save herself, saved him… (Or, “saved” him is probably more accurate), and the way he holds her when she collapses…

THAT’S empathy. The real deal. None of this fake shit.


Two details:

— Dean sees she’s alive. Surges into action. All he says is, “Sam”, holding out the knife. Sam gets to work. Shorthand. Sam doesn’t even know what has happened at this point, and what Dean has withstood. But the knife comes to him, he knows what to do. Competence. Without explanation. It’s hot.

— The look on Sam’s face as he watches Dean cradle that girl, murmuring to her and comforting her. As we’ve discussed, Point of View shifts are so important. It orients us. It also tells us how to feel, that’s true, and normally I don’t like that, but when it’s done well – like it is here – moving us out of Dean’s subjective experience and into what Sam perceives and doesn’t understand yet – it ends up highlighting just how much Dean has gone through. (There’s a similar moment in the other Djinn episode, years later, with Charlie. When Charlie emerges and rushes into Dean’s arms sobbing, there’s an almost identical shot of Sam looking on, thinking, “What the hell happened ‘in there.'” It’s tremendously moving. Oh, Sam, you big caring lug.)

16th scene

There’s some music here. Yes. But the silence in between is loud, the sound has feel to it, SPACE, similar to the kind of silence Dean woke up to in bed with Carmen in the wish. Sam’s voice comes from off-screen, and Dean sits on the edge of the bed flipping through a magazine. He looks very small and obedient. Like a kid told to wait in the lobby while his parent goes to do something. He’s doesn’t know how to occupy his time, because he’s 10 years old, but he’s a “good boy” so he picks up Cosmo nearby and looks through it. That may be a lot to see in JA’s posture there, but that’s what I see and that’s why they pay me the big bucks. (Or, not one red cent.) He’s not an adult right now. And Sam will be extremely parental in a couple of seconds. That silence still roars in Dean’s head, especially when he sees his beloved dream-girl Carmen in the beer ad (“Go Someplace Better.”)


To say he’s “disappointed” doesn’t even begin to cover what’s going on, but JA dials it all down. He’s embarrassed. Dean is worn out. The warehouse finale wore him out. He rarely (never) allows himself to feel things that intensely and that concentratedly. He’s blown a fuse with it.

The waves on that wallpaper remind me of something. What could it be. Oh yeah.


We finally get a full view of those sideways-genie-lamps-Narnia-lampposts.


Everything that happens from here on out happens in a space of quiet. The music is there but the loud-silence is perceptible running underneath it. Can’t you hear it? That silence? Sam never takes his eyes off Dean, and he’s sympathetic, but he can’t understand fully. He understands enough, though. He understands how much it took for Dean to “dig himself out.” He knows his brother better than his brother knows himself. Dean is quiet and almost shy, not looking over at Sam at any length. He can’t. It’s embarrassing. He flips the magazine shut. “It was just a wish.”

I love how they’re both in the frame for each other’s shots. It connects them, even when they aren’t looking at each other.



Unlike Dean’s normal, “I’m fine, get off my back” thing, here he says he’s fine, and in a way, he is. He understands what just happened. He understands how he duped himself, by letting that wish live in him so strongly, and not to consider the possibility of what that might do to him and Sam. Later in the scene, Sam says the word “unfair,” which is pretty rare for these guys. That “wish” is what makes it possible for that off-limits word (drilled out of them as kids) to even be spoken out loud in the space between them. Even acknowledging how “unfair” everything has been is off-limits, and I don’t blame them, because how would you go on living? You have to just get on with it. Your life is your life. There is no looming Typewriter reminding you to go back and make corrections. You have to just live with the hand you’ve been dealt and hopefully make something out of yourself. Unlike the demands made by Oprah-Deepak (my punching bag for this re-cap), there is no requirement that you feel HAPPY about any of this. Or even that you make PEACE with it. Assuming people can make peace with trauma/deprivation is an extremely privileged attitude. Tell that to the people who’ve been in refugee camps in Chad for 3 years because they can’t go home. Pull aside a traumatized person fleeing Syria, and say “Everything happens for a reason.” See how well it goes over. The only thing you really have to do in your life, the only real requirement, is … keep going. That’s all. It’s Hamlet, to be or not to be. It’s “get busy living or get busy dying.”

That’s it. And yeah. It’s unfair.

Some of my favorite moments here are Sam’s. I’ve written before about the quality of JP’s listening. How good he is at it, and how listening like that helps ANCHOR a scene. Nothing is possible for the one speaking (i.e. Dean) if his scene partner (i.e. Sam) isn’t listening in the way that he is. But that’s true of every moment with these guys, even when questioning witnesses or whatever. (It’s one of the reasons why the “birth control discussion” in the Mills household was so insanely entertaining because we got so many shots of the two of them where they were doing nothing but listening, in the same frame at the same time. It was a Thanksgiving feast of listening. And it wasn’t a feast shaped “like a …. nugget.”)

Sam’s in the womb.


Sam is the only one left from that family grouping in the Wish, the only one who made it.

Kripke has timed the episode (and they usually do this very well) so that there’s room for pauses. Pauses help with the illusion that what is happening is really happening and not words on a page. Dean’s final monologue is filled with pauses and honestly, although I’ve seen it so many times, I’m never sure what he will say next. I don’t think even HE is sure what he will say next. Dean’s face reveals nothing or: his flat-affect is more revealing than emotion ever could be. (This is also evidence of JA’s sensitivity to Story Arc. After that bombardment of operatic emotion in the warehouse, he senses that this scene needs to be different, because they’ve already DONE the emotional stuff. The maelstrom is over. What would that feel like? What would Dean feel like here? JA has asked himself those questions. He has made some clear decisions, smart decisions.)

But his eyes.

Sam says, “It’s worth it,” and Dean drags his eyes back up and stares at the camera (i.e. Sam). You think it might end there. It would have been powerful if it had. There would still have been an implicit questioning in that dead-on stare of whether or not, actually, any of this had been worth it.

But then … in the last millisecond of the final shot, his eyes start to drift, as we talked about before. The eyes floating off, going down, inwards, that is its own kind of “glitch” (heightened to manic proportions with the Mark of Cain, the effect of which was all about the eye-drift). The eyes go over, down, the brain flitting around, worried, looking for something, avoiding something, it could be any number of things, but what’s important is that eye-float-drift says, and it’s a hell of a hook: There’s more I’m not saying. There’s more I can’t share…even here, even now …There are still things that are beyond words …”

This kind of detail and complexity is Ackles’ gift as an actor. Some actors look at such a monologue and think, “Oh man, I’m gonna have a field day chewing on THAT.” It’s a natural reaction to an excellent piece of emotional text. I’m sure JA feels the same way, to some degree, but his impulses always lead him in unexpected places, places that are true, and ambiguous, and somewhat … left of center, maybe? Or right of center. Either way, he does not hit things on the nose. It’s not his style. His acting is very clear, very transparent, but he can’t help but include everything else that might be going on with him – as an actor, or a man, it’s irrelevant. So we get this monologue about his sadness and how unfair life is and he drones it in a washed-out monotone. He talks about how much he’s lost and his eyes are completely dry. Underneath a lot of this seems to be a desire to place some distance between him and Sam. He needs to protect himself again. His posture is hunched, hands in his pockets, which makes him a little bit unstable. The slight rocking of his body against the dresser in the closeup. All of this adds a rich-ness and a depth to what is a pretty bald – the baldest the show has gotten yet – statement of his Inner Life.

Most good actors know that when you cry, audiences probably won’t cry with you. But if you hold BACK the tears, and fight against them, audiences will have to be mopped up off the floor. (I can’t tell you how many actors think that crying IS acting. It’s kind of gross. I have sat in an acting class, or sat as an audience member, watching some actor WEEP to HIGH HEAVEN, and I feel zero, nada, zip, because why should I? He’s doing enough feeling for the both of us.) JA never does “enough feeling for the both of us.” His instincts and sensibility are too finely-tuned to allow that kind of self-indulgence. He’s a tough actor. Tough with himself, rigorous with how much he holds back. He doesn’t make a wrong move with highly emotional material. It’s never pushed. Also, it always gives you a little something more to think about. It’s not so on-the-nose that there’s nothing there to discover. He DOESN’T leave it all on the table. He holds things back, he keeps his secrets.

And that, my friends, is what almost NO actors do anymore. The old ones, the John Waynes and Cary Grants and Marlene Dietrichs … that’s ALL they did. They seemingly gave us all, so much of themselves, but they held just enough back that we always want more. So much of acting today is actors wanting to be congratulated for “giving it their all.” Nope. Not from me. You’ll win Oscars for it, maybe, but your time in the sun will be very very brief.

Because what keeps us going back to the same thing over and over again?

Mystery. We can understand how something works, how it is put together, but there is still something essential that eludes us. It’s the key to great art.



4 Final Things

1. I think I’ve discussed the episode in a way that has kept the Mystery safe for me. Because Mystery is what really matters. It is the Mystery that allows all of our projections to operate, powerful projections onto the show, pouring into it, sensing those gaps and abysses, the unspeakable, the left-out, the too-deep-for-words. Going on Season 12 now, and they’re STILL doing it.

2. Do I wish I had moved to Milwaukee and at least had a chance to see how that Wish played itself out? You bet your ass I do. Not so much now, but sure, sometimes, still. Of course I wish I didn’t waste time wishing like that. (When I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I pondered, “I wonder how close we are to actually having that technology available to us …”) I no longer walk around in mourning for that lost life, and this life – the one I ended up living – has provided compensations. I never foresaw I’d have a career as a writer. My career is very exciting and I enjoy it very much. But sometimes … not often anymore … but sometimes … like in the writing of this re-cap, I glance in the rear-view mirror at what can’t be seen anymore, it was so long ago, and I wonder.

3. A couple of days ago on Twitter Helena and I started discussing this episode. I told her I was working on the re-cap but had been avoiding it – not so much because it’s a painful episode or my personal associations with it – I’m a tough dame! but because of the JOY in the episode, joy that pierces and stings and flows. Joy feels more precious to me than Sorrow, and it’s harder to write about, that’s for sure. Sorrow is dime a dozen. Joy? It’s rare. Way more fragile, too.

In our conversation, Helena shared with me with a piece of her artwork, inspired by “What Is and What Should Never Be.” If you’re not aware of Helena’s art site, Oracle of Ashes, you should be. I asked her if I could share her “Djinn” illustration in the re-cap, and she kindly granted me permission.

The image speaks to the power of “What Is and What Should Never Be,” regardless of your filters for it, or how you approach it, or how many times you watch it. The kaleidoscope of images radiating out from the center is emblematic of how the episode operates, its repeats, and loops, its reversals and reflections.

The bottom won’t be gotten to. The bottom CAN’T be gotten to. There is no bottom.


4. I have been thinking of Tracey Bonham’s song “My Other Life” ever since I started writing this re-cap. It connects but I’ll just leave the clip here. No more words.

Same girl, but completely different…

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191 Responses to Supernatural, Season 2, Episode 20: “What Is and What Should Never Be”

  1. Natalie says:

    I was planning on getting some stuff done around my house today.

    Clearly, THAT won’t be happening.


    • sheila says:

      This one was a bear!! :)

      • Natalie says:

        It was perfect – totally worth the wait! (She said, eleven hours later, haha – although, to be fair, I did other things that needed to be done today, too.)

        I doubt I’m speaking only for myself when I say that I don’t think you could possibly reduce this show with what you write about it and how you discuss it. I say this as someone who resisted literature analysis all through high school. I mean, like, it pissed me off that my teachers wanted to pick apart these books when I just wanted to read and enjoy them (or not read them and read and enjoy the books that I chose for myself instead), and sometimes the blue curtains just mean that the curtains were fucking blue, why does there have to be some deeper meaning to everything for you people, ffs. (For the record, I say this with great empathy for and apologies to my high school lit teachers, 20 years later – I was an arrogant little shit back then, and it turns out that The Scarlet Letter actually IS better than Flowers in the Attic. Go figure.) But as someone who has historically hated analysis of the things I enjoy, everything I have read of yours has only deepened my appreciation and understanding, of Supernatural and everything else I’ve read about on this site. My high school lit teachers would be proud and appreciative.

        A couple random thoughts I had while reading:

        What does everyone make of the fact that John is dead in Dean’s wish-verse? The Dean-Sam rift, I understood immediately. Dean needs a purpose. There had to be a reason for him to stay, and in any case, if he and Sam had had normal childhoods, they wouldn’t have nearly the intense relationship they do in the “real” world. I have gone back in forth in my thinking on John’s absence, though, and I have interpreted it different ways on different viewings (e.g., it’s not meant to be perfect, Dean doesn’t even know how to imagine Dad in this context, etc., etc.) and I think all of the interpretations might be true to some degree, but the side that I come down on most is this: Dean’s story can’t be told if John is present. He’s that overpowering and disruptive a presence. The first time I saw this episode, I heard Dean’s “that’s great” in response to Mary telling him that John died of a stroke, took his subsequent explanation at face value. It’s great that he didn’t suffer, that it wasn’t supernatural, that he’s not being tortured in hell. I hear it differently now, though. There’s relief there, deeper than the relief that it was a normal cause of death. He’s relieved that Dad’s not there because Dad might take this all away from him. And he does, in a way – Dad trained him too well to ignore the signs that all was not right in the wish-verse. Thoughts?

        Every time I watch this episode, I get so anxious when Dean’s being weird – and when he blows off work. Like I take it as a foregone conclusion that he’s going to stay – you’re going to need that job, buddy, did you at least call in?

        To add to the Lynchian interpretations – the recurring reds also remind me of the Red Room in Twin Peaks – a limbo space where everything is in reverse and you have a choice of which direction you’re going to go. White Lodge, Black Lodge, dream, reality, heaven, hell, birth, death. It analogues nicely with what’s coming in the next two episodes (which I tend to skip, they are so stressful for me).

        • Patsyann says:

          I’ve thought a lot about Dead John too, and come up with different interpretations. To some degree I think it relates to Sheila’s point about Dean’s Wish people being “patient and concerned” with him. Remember how Dean recognized that John was possessed because he told Dean he was proud of him? I don’t think Dean can wrap his head around a version of John who would be patient and concerned. Imagine John reacting to what we know of Wish Dean. They’d have been at loggerheads all the time. John gives no quarter and Dean knows it. It’s internalized.

          On another level, John being dead gives Dean someone to turn to when he starts to realize that he’s going to have to find a way out. It’s not like he can discuss this stuff with Mary or Sam, heh. So he goes to John’s grave, and talks it out – partly to himself, of course, so we can hear what he’s thinking, but really he’s talking to John. And not Wish John, but REAL John. “I know what you’d say – well, not the you that played softball.”

          And he does know, so in the end he does what Dad says (although at that point he thinks the goal is to get out of the Wish world, not out of his own head). Be a hunter. Take responsibility. Because even figuratively and literally dead, this is the hold John has on him. No quarter.

          That “Yeah” and the little nod right before he walks away from the grave – right after he stops himself from using the word “fair” like Sam does later – that’s the bit that really twists the knife for me. :P

        • sheila says:

          // I was an arrogant little shit back then, and it turns out that The Scarlet Letter actually IS better than Flowers in the Attic. Go figure. //

          Natalie – I cannot stop laughing.

          Flowers in the Attic again!

          // verything I have read of yours has only deepened my appreciation and understanding, of Supernatural and everything else I’ve read about on this site. //

          That means a lot.

          and wow, yes – Red Room in Twin Peaks!!! How could I have missed that. Really good call!

          In re: John:

          // I have gone back in forth in my thinking on John’s absence, though, //

          Yes, me too.

          I prefer not to “nail it down” one way or the other – because each time I see it I see something new, or I’m looking at it in a different way.

          Where I’m at now is that his relationship to his father is so LOADED (unlike his relationship to his mother) that to have Dad in that environment would not feel “right” at all to him – Like, he doesn’t seem to have had the fantasy that his relationship with his father could have been better, or that his father would have loved him enough. Or at least I don’t see that Dean (at this point) is even really conscious of having a wish like that. Dean is a Mamma’s Boy in that respect.

          It would have been interesting, though – to see Dean have to deal with an involved, happy, caring softball-team kind of Dad – right? And all the drama that might have stirred up?

          // There’s relief there, deeper than the relief that it was a normal cause of death. He’s relieved that Dad’s not there because Dad might take this all away from him. //

          That is such a cool perception of that moment! It’s such a rich moment – and how sharply Mary asks him “What?” – like, she’s about to get pissed, show her claws, right? People cut Dean a lot of slack in the Wish-World (unlike in the real world) – but not ALL the slack. When Dean says “that’s great,” Mary isn’t like, “What, dear?” or even hurt – she’s pissed. At least that’s how I see it.

          Because, yes: even a caring father would have disrupted that whole scene somehow – because it was DAD. Dean couldn’t even conceive of what Dad would have been like if he wasn’t … Dad.

          (Which is why the time-travel episodes are so fun – although I have some issues with them. Not major ones, just little bitty ones. But it is so fun to see Dean try to deal with a young Dad, a Dad who’s kind of nice and open … Once again, though, those time-travel episodes are REALLY all about Mom for Dean. She’s the “one” for him.)

        • Jessie says:

          Natalie, I get so worried that Dean’s gonna get fired as well! Ha ha glad I’m not alone in that.

        • Alp Giray says:

          It simply means oedipus complex :D
          Dean wants the father dead and Sam away, so he can have dear momma all to himself.

  2. Lyrie says:

    Already? Stockwell is gonna be surprised.

    • sheila says:

      Yes, that’s true. Why did I just kill off Dean Stockwell??

      Thank God one of my obsessions is still among the living.

  3. carolyn clarke says:


    1. It would take 92 pages to print this out like I planned to do. Not happening. I don’t have that kind of time. Reading on screen it is.
    2. You picked the one episode that I can only bear to watch once in a blue moon. I chose the word “bear” purposely because as you have so eloquently written, this one gets to your emotional base in ways that most of the other Supernatural episodes don’t do. The feeling of joy that Dean feels, and the regret for what the boys never had and the anger that they don’t have it is palpable to me in this episode and damn close to painful.
    3. Your reference to Thornton Wilder who is one of my absolute favorites and Our Town. Have you read “The Eighth Day”?
    4. The amount of silence in this one. Yes, there is a lot of dialogue in the “dream sequence” but there are whole sections when you read everything from Dean’s face.
    5. “And that last sentence made me feel strange things in my no-no place.” ROTFLMAO
    6. I’ll stop here but I could go on forever. You are a treasure.

    • sheila says:

      Carolyn – This one really is insanely long – so sorry but thank you for reading!

      // You picked the one episode that I can only bear to watch once in a blue moon. //

      Yes, me too. It’s super heavy. An explosion.

      It’s so weird you mention The Eighth Day – my friend Alex’s wife Chrisanne gave it to me for Christmas. ??? Is that a coincidence or what. I haven’t read it yet!

      // there are whole sections when you read everything from Dean’s face. //

      God, I know. It’s one of the best parts of the episode and Kripke was so so smart to know that that was all he needed to best tell this story. Just keep the camera pointed at Dean. I think that’s one of the reasons why we all see so much in the episode and all keep discovering new things.

      and in re: #6: Thank you!! Of course that makes me think of Bette Davis’ line in Now Voyager: “I suspect you are a treasure” – and maybe you’re quoting that. I know you love BD. Thank you so much – it’s really fun to do these damn re-caps!!

  4. Paula says:

    Another amazing recap, Sheila. Still trying to digest it, especially with all the emotion this episode churns up, but I want to say how much I love the point you made about Joan Didion //some narratives have no bottom. Some narratives are pieced together imperfectly because information is lost.// “All of our stories matter” Oprah-bullshit// Yes this! Didion means so much to me but most people I talk to about her writing don’t get this and go right for the Oprah-bullshit, so thanks for saying it like this. Never would have tied to Didion to this episode but how perfect that connection.

    • sheila says:

      Paula –

      Didion really is all about how you just “can’t know” in a lot of respects – her political pieces are a lot about that, and that’s why people can find her frustrating because they can’t tell what “side” she’s on. She’s not a leftie, she’s not a right-winger, WHAT IS SHE? What is her perspective??

      Well, just read what she wrote – she’s giving you her perspective. The fault is in YOU, not HER.

      Of course when I saw the typewriter I thought of Metatron, too – but that’s a bit far away to be foreshadowing (although I suppose when you talk about symbols like this, sky’s the limit).

      But it’s definitely about Story and how Dean has written his own story, without even realizing that he has done so. AND that he has written another story – that other one – where his Mother lived – and didn’t even realize he had done THAT either.

      Speaking of “wish” – I love his behavior in the professor’s office when they’re standing up and looking at the books. “Yeah, I know, but in the story …”

      Something about his behavior, his tone of voice, gestures … it reminds me, yet again, of Kripke’s main piece of direction: “You’re a little boy. You’re a kid. You’re a child.”

  5. Jessie says:

    I feel like I can’t even comment on this post for fear of disrupting its perfection! But I am going to anyway, ha ha.

    1. Thank you for your time and thoughts and wide-ranging connections and personal reflections. This was a fascinating and luxurious and terrifically enjoyable read. Like going up to the episode and just smashing my face into its soft bits. Thank you.

    2. This episode is so powerful it almost obliterates the remaining season. Only the deathbed monologue, that fallen-angel look on Dean’s face when he tells Sam about the deal, and the Dean-Bobby confrontation stand with it. Not that the AHBL double feature is anything but awesome, but that aside from those moments they don’t plug electrically into the heart like this one does.

    3. Love reading your thoughts on Carmen, and what you did and didn’t expect of Dean’s fantasies.

    4. Your comment on thinking of the title as a question/s, and what the gaps are between those two states (what is? what should never be?) really woke me up. Great observation, because like you say, so much of this episode is the mystery of that gap. What do you want? What do you get to have? And I think the key word in that title is SHOULD. Not could, but SHOULD. Should is a BIG and loaded word. SHOULD is about power and judgement. Should is about an exterior voice, whether it’s inside you or outside you.

    Because the other major moment of this episode for me is during Dean’s devastating graveside monologue, when he asks his dad WHY he has to be the hero, and there is — oh my god, just the most amazing thing — a reverse shot of John Winchester’s mute headstone.

    5. There is a certain strange queasiness, a subterranean rumble to this episode for me, because on some levels it feels like insight and truth but at the same time there is a constant level of someone speaking for Dean, and without his welfare at heart. Like, people tell him to get some rest, over and over again. Is that his true desire? Or is that the placating command of the djinn? Or somewhere in between? When Mary tells him, in that final confrontation, when she is actively trying to get him to acquiesce to his own death, “this is everything you want” — to what extent is she TELLING him that this is what he SHOULD want?

    And then he wakes up, and Sam tries to comfort him by again reframing his trauma as “it’s worth it.” It is messy and awful and I love it.

    6. Because you mention persona-switching but for my money everything and every one in this episode is coercive, with part of the mechanisms of that coercion springing from Dean’s own brain (it is like telling someone how best to manipulate you). And so one of the major pleasures of the episode for me is seeing JP managing Sam’s constant minor recalibrations, you know, reeling Dean in by increasing the gap between them, and then at the right moments hinting at reconciliation and brotherliness (it is so well-written) — and he does all that in a way that, at first and second and third wash, feels still very much like a well-realised alternate-universe character.

    7. I bang on about this all the time, but, distance, yearning, and audience complicity: we feel the same yearning as Dean does when he realises the separation between the Wish!Bros — we experience it as a Wrongness that must be Fixed — a reason to stay. And when he wakes up, and is miserable — we are all so grateful! Like Sam, who would have lost the one thing in his life, we are grateful that they are back together at the end, even despite that look on Dean’s face.

    8.For me this episode is also about that very specific feeling of when bad news breaks into a good moment, and you realise your good mood is out of step with a reality that’s coming up to smack you in the gut. You know that feeling, it ranges from “I just walked ten minutes to the bus stop singing like a really top-notch version of I Loves You Porgy to myself and now I’m getting on the bus and turns out I forgot my bus pass and I’m gonna be late for work” to “I just spent this whole day existing and laughing and not knowing that this person I love had died.” And the recrimination and self-loathing and loss that goes into that moment, and the illness that follows immediately, and the lingering suspicion at all times of anything good or joyous.

    9. Sound design. THANK YOU for pointing out the amazing sound design in this episode! A couple of things to add to your spot-on notes: firstly, the first thing you hear when he “wakes up” into the wish-world is the not-scary-or-suspenseful-suspense score of It Came From Hell, in which monsters and hunting are fake and trite.

    Secondly, the bleed from the “real” world into the wish-verse: like hearing the drips and creaks of the warehouse when the skeletons appear in his closet; or, (and I have Demian’s TWoP recaps for this realisation) the recurring heavy thunder rumbles (which is the second thing you hear in the wish-verse) which sound like the door closing behind the djinn when he leaves his victims and goes upstairs. SO COOL.


    11. I also want to talk about hunting figures in this almost through its absence and your spot-on praise for JA and a whole bunch of other stuff you bring up but this is long enough that I am reaching should never be territory, so:

    12. Finally, Helena: stunning work. Standing ovation.

    • sheila says:

      // This episode is so powerful it almost obliterates the remaining season. //

      I so agree with that, as powerful as those last two episodes are. This is the climax of the season – you almost forget that the “psychic kids” thing was even a factor at all – especially when something like this comes along.

      And I so agree with your observations on the word “should.” It feels like it almost shouldn’t (ha) be there in the song title. Like it should be: “What Is and What Can Never Be.” or “What Is and What Won’t Be.” But “should” is judgment indeed – never mind when it’s connected to the word “never.” That’s John Winchester-speak, right?

      // when he asks his dad WHY he has to be the hero, and there is — oh my god, just the most amazing thing — a reverse shot of John Winchester’s mute headstone. //

      Yes. God, so great.

      // Like, people tell him to get some rest, over and over again. Is that his true desire? Or is that the placating command of the djinn? Or somewhere in between? //

      I know! Every single person – except Jess – tells him to get some rest. And I’m sure Jess would have gotten around to it eventually. Really smart screen-writing – because it’s just THERE, and it sounds so casual in the moment – but the fact that it shows up so many times is so mysterious – and also – maybe? – evidence of how these wish-people are in cahoots with the Djinn. Or the Djinn already IS those wish-people. sleep … sleep … sleep …

      It’s so messed up – it’s Matrix-ish, because: being awake means being able to actually confront what is real. (I don’t know if you’ve seen The Congress – it came out a couple of years ago – it blew me away – and it’s one of the most powerful stories of this kind I’ve ever seen. Can you BEAR reality? And it is a choice: stay asleep (either literally, in this episode, with the Djinn – or metaphorically – us, out here, dealing with our own problems and wanting escape.)

      Throughout the whole series – Dean makes hard hard choices like that. Where he has to remind himself that something he is looking at isn’t real – like, he’s determined to gut it out in the real world. The “heaven” episode is so great that way – especially the conversation he has with Pamela. “But it’s not real – why would I want to be here …” He wants The Real. It’s the only thing he trusts. (Which makes the whole Amara thing that much more deep and twisty and fabulous and unexpected.)

      // And then he wakes up, and Sam tries to comfort him by again reframing his trauma as “it’s worth it.” It is messy and awful and I love it.

      Oh man, that moment. Messy messy messy. And Sam’s pep-talk to his brother-wife, that he’s glad they have the relationship they do. And after he says that, Dean gets up and moves away. Fantastic. To be told “it’s worth it” after what Dean just saw … I mean, what are you going to do with that? (eyes drift-float away …)

      As for your #6 on your list: a-ma-zing. I really need to think about more. And about coercion. And Sam. How much is “acting”? Providing what he knows Real-dean would need to stay … a goal, a plan, hope. I definitely feel the “coercion” in that powerhouse warehouse scene – maybe that’s the “infantilizing” vibe I get from it. Telling him what he needs. Touching him tenderly. Loving him. “Safety …” You know, it could be construed as sinister, like I said. Like a cult, love-bombing you so you really hesitate to leave that environment. But I’ll think more on it.

      // And when he wakes up, and is miserable — we are all so grateful! // That’s so right. And what is that about? Could you talk more about complicity? I feel it, in me, as I watch these miserable guys choosing misery … ha … and the complicated yearnings that go hand in hand with investing in these two particular characters … I’ve felt it before with other things, for sure … but not quite as powerfully as I do here.

      I’m invested in seeing this drama/conflict play out – in as many different ways as possible. I mean, it’s ENDLESS. Even Season 11 is providing new insights. (Sam seeming so grown up is one – I’ve felt it since Season 9 – but it’s really really clear here. The way he handles Dean saying “I saw Amara” in the love-spell … just the way JP played that scene. “How bad is it?” Like, he’s a MAN. Dean is still a kid in a lot of ways, trying to ‘work’ his brother, or fight with his feelings, or put up a good front – it’s habitual – but Sam (especially in that last “Love Hurts” scene – and also with the deaf hunter) seems so complete, so adult. I like it a lot.

      // and the illness that follows immediately, and the lingering suspicion at all times of anything good or joyous. //

      I know, right? It’s devastating – I think that’s why the lawnmower scene is what it is. It’s the only moment without a fly in the ointment. Even the tender scene with Carmen – which is also the only other really “peaceful” scene in the dream – is tarnished slightly by the fact that he’s worried about Sam. But lawnmower? Ecstasy. Immediately ruined – and he had no idea what was coming.

      Thank you for your further thoughts on sound!! I knew there were thunder-rumbles – but I think I’ve seen it so many times I’ve just absorbed them now. (The From Hell It Came music is so hilarious.)

      They did such a good job of suggesting the warehouse-world through that sound design, which just adds to the feeling that Dean is not, actually, here. “more and more, I’m getting flashes of reality!” he says – and that all plays out in those flashes of skeletons, etc. – but also in the SOUND. So so good. I’m sure there’s more I’m missing.

      Like, the whoosh of traffic underneath the romantic scene. It sounds like waves on a beach. It has no purpose – we don’t see their house from the outside, we don’t need to know where it’s located. But the sound serves a purpose in that it … I don’t know, under-scores the strangeness … there’s something ELSE going on in the air besides what is happening on that couch.

      They really thought about this shit, and it’s fabulous.

      Totally agree about Sam’s gorgeousness despite the yellow tie, etc. I especially find him gorgeous because of his strong stance – especially in that scene between them after the dinner. He plays the HELL out of that scene. He doesn’t push, he doesn’t “act,” it looks completely natural – and the tie is just slightly loosened, and he looks hot as hell.

      Let’s talk more.

      I’ll be back. But thank you for all of this.

      • Jessie says:

        you almost forget that the “psychic kids” thing was even a factor at all
        Yes! And I am on record as really quite enjoying that mythology. But the two key things about the psychic kids arc are: a) What is Wrong With Sam? and b) What is Dean Gonna Do About It? So the psychic arc brings us Sam’s amazing season-long struggle, and that struggle and the underlying parallels are so powerful in episodes like Heart and Roadkill, that when it becomes actual plot it feels a bit thinner.

        “Should” is such a weird word in that sentence (not can or could or must or might) and it is absolutely the Gospel of JW.

        the fact that it shows up so many times is so mysterious – and also – maybe? – evidence of how these wish-people are in cahoots with the Djinn. Or the Djinn already IS those wish-people.
        In reading your comments (and please correct me if I’m wrong) it seems to me that you’re still very tempted by the whole idea of the wish-verse, because this really does feel like a parallel, alternate universe, with actual alternate characters, like the Smith and Wesson, or Doppelgangland in Buffy, or endless variations of the same. It’s how we’ve been trained to see it and the episode plays that trick.

        And Hollywood Babylon and FPB also trained us to see Sam and Dean in different contexts as still being Real Sam and Real Dean, — but wish-verse is a misnomer, because in this, Dean is just fodder. He’s there to be consumed, without fuss. The djinn was always those wish-people, with an assist from what he could glean of Dean’s “true desires” or wishes. On my viewing, at least, Mary and Sam and Carmen and Jess function more like Sam’s blood-detox hallucinations than they do as actual characters.

        So that is what I mean by coercion, and complicity as well. Every moment in this episode except at the start and end is coercive, of us and Dean. Someone very clever and powerful (the djinn, Kripke et al) has figured out our desires, and created a world in which those desires are imperfectly fulfilled, to up the investment levels and the verite (because like you say, Dean would rather have ugly and Real than pretty and fake).

        Luckily for us gals, our desires are also fulfilled when he wakes up — or perhaps more accurately, the desire is gratified, we see them back together, but the playing field shifts and the desire comes again for peace, happiness, reconciliation, which keeps that investment alive and thrilling. It’s a big circle in which everyone except Sam and Dean gets off on being withholding. The desire requires the misery. We are complicit.

        (and I would say that the desire must always remain unfulfilled to keep operating as desire (because once it is fulfilled, it stops being desire) but the show has managed this magic trick three times: Christmas, Fan Fiction, and Baby — most shows can only do this in their finales).

        THe Congress sounds fascinating! Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

        Sam (especially in that last “Love Hurts” scene – and also with the deaf hunter) seems so complete, so adult. I like it a lot.
        Me too! I think this springs from that Problem Of What Is Sam issue being mostly resolved, because looked at from another angle, this seeming separateness and adultness is also a wholehearted buy-in to the brother-wives life — his strength and separateness are very different to wish-verse Sam’s. Which, predictably, I love. (which is not to dismiss such great moments as Sam getting laid in Baby and saying afterwards “I needed that” which I found almost as satisfying as he did I think, it’s so hugely adult and relateable).

        But lawnmower? Ecstasy. Immediately ruined – and he had no idea what was coming.
        Yes, it’s devastating. So blindsided.

        Thank yOU!

        • sheila says:

          Thanks so much for elaborating on complicity.

          // So the psychic arc brings us Sam’s amazing season-long struggle, and that struggle and the underlying parallels are so powerful in episodes like Heart and Roadkill, that when it becomes actual plot it feels a bit thinner. //

          Yeah, I’m not sure how that happens. Maybe because on some level – Supernatural really ISN’T its “plot.” Or, it isn’t for me. I get that you need to have a plot, and I enjoy the storylines they come up with – and I like all of those psychic kids (especially the new ones, coming up in the next episode – which brings my whole “this whole show is a Western!!” thing into play) … but maybe because the season is so long I forget for long stretches of time that Something Is Wrong With Sam. Whole episodes go by where it’s not mentioned. And Dean is such a train-wreck that I always find myself thinking, “Sam is FINE, psychic stuff or no. The elephant in the room is the operatic neuroses of the BROTHER.”

          // it seems to me that you’re still very tempted by the whole idea of the wish-verse, because this really does feel like a parallel, alternate universe, with actual alternate characters, //

          To be honest, yes – I still get “tricked” by the episode – and still feel shocked when blurry Mary shows up behind that bloody knife. That’s how sucked into it I get. But these comments have all been fascinating – Of course I realize on some level that all of these things are projections and Dean or the Djinn is creating them – but in the MOMENT, all of that awareness leaves my mind.

          // because in this, Dean is just fodder. He’s there to be consumed, without fuss. The djinn was always those wish-people, with an assist from what he could glean of Dean’s “true desires” or wishes. On my viewing, at least, Mary and Sam and Carmen and Jess function more like Sam’s blood-detox hallucinations than they do as actual characters. //

          Fascinating! I love the thought of him as “fodder” – and you can definitely see that in the final monologue when Mary speaks to him. It’s so gentle you want to kill yourself. And it’s manipulative as hell. The “love bomb” thing, designed to be irresistible to Dean.

          // Someone very clever and powerful (the djinn, Kripke et al) has figured out our desires, and created a world in which those desires are imperfectly fulfilled, //

          right, right, I get what you’re saying. It’s fabulous.

          // (and I would say that the desire must always remain unfulfilled to keep operating as desire (because once it is fulfilled, it stops being desire) but the show has managed this magic trick three times: Christmas, Fan Fiction, and Baby — most shows can only do this in their finales). //

          amazing. Yes.

          I wrote about The Congress on my site – it’s an extremely challenging film – I have no idea why it didn’t get more play. Maybe because it’s challenging. It’s all about acting, too – the artifice of it – and what actors provide a populace – but it’s all poured into this incredibly sinister dystopian future – where all Meaning is lost. I was devastated by it. Let me know what you think!

          // this seeming separateness and adultness is also a wholehearted buy-in to the brother-wives life //

          Yes, we have discussed this before!! I’m so interested in this development of Sam. It seems that the worry about Dean and the Mark and Dean as a Demon vanquished all of Sam’s hesitance about the brother-wife thing (so beautifully shown in that moment when Jodie Mills says, “Not everybody can find what you guys have.” Ew. Squicky. And he looks squicked out too. No more.)

          and it’s interesting: throughout this current season, Dean has quietly been at risk again. He’s finally come clean about it, and so Sam has to step up. There’s an acknowledgement between the two about Dean’s vulnerability – and Dean is admitting it too – which is nothing short than extraordinary. Another thing I never saw coming.

          I remember back in Season 9, with Dean praying over Sam’s bed, etc., feeling like: “okay, this is very moving and everything. But having Dean worried about Sam seems to have been played out to such a degree that it’s actually a little tiresome now.” Like, it’s been done. There’s nothing more to discover there.

          But what there IS to discover is what happens when the tables turn – as they did in Season 3 – but now it’s even more dramatic in a way because … well, they’re older. And they’ve had 7, 8 years of it being the other way around. And the threat for Dean is external – but my attraction to the Amara arc thus far is that it is mostly an INTERNAL problem, as love/desire/lust usually is. So how to combat that?

          We’ve come a long way from Season 9 (and I loved Season 9 because Dean was such a mess and Dean eventually became The Problem, once the betrayal of Sam was known.)

          I used to think that Sam was the Key to the whole thing – mainly because so much of it is through Dean’s POV. Dean is used to swirling around in vulnerability and being susceptible – and he sells himself short and doesn’t think he’s worth anything. As long as SAM is safe, the world is on its axis properly. And the show bought into that from the first season on. So when SAM goes off the rails, everything – everything – starts to shatter. I’ve loved that element – but by Season 9 it was becoming repetitive.

          Jesus Lord, have they course-corrected in the last couple of seasons, where Dean has become The Problem. How do you solve a problem like Dean Winchester?

          // saying afterwards “I needed that” //

          so good. I realize that I have a whorish soul – it’s one of my best qualities – ha – but I had been worried about Sam’s celibacy for a long time. I needed that for him too.

          • Jessie says:

            I love the thought of him as “fodder”
            Yes — we could think of this as just another episode in which Dean’s body is on the line, when his body and vulnerabilities become things to be consumed and exploited by monsters and/or family members.

            I used to think that Sam was the Key to the whole thing
            Yes! I used to say the same thing — that maybe the series would have to end the day Dean looked at his brother without qualm. But they’ve very ably managed a structural change that I don’t think I noticed fully until recently. Part of it maybe being opening up the world (with the Men of Letters) while simultaneously closing off their avenues of escape, so there’s less risk of flight. And part of it being Sam’s opacity thinning out a bit, perhaps — as steely and fierce as he can still be, there is a transparency and acceptance to him now that means we don’t have to, with Dean, side-eye him in alarm every five seconds.

            I think you’re on the mark with the switch to the Problem of Dean as an internal struggle — and I wonder if part of this structural shift is that What Is Sam Going To Do About It only needs to be about dealing with external threats and, you know, giving the occasional thumbs up. In the first half of the series, the Problem of Sam always seemed to poison and threaten their bond, whereas the inverse now seems to be about support and confidence in their relationship.

            ha ha — I am glad your whorish soul got some relief! (possibly the only place I could ever write that sentence)

  6. Paula says:

    This is the perfect episode. And against all odds. So many opportunities to veer off into overt sentimentality and yet they walked that line so perfectly.

    //Kripke is such a “horror is cool blood and guts sick, man!!” dudebro// Once you hear the backstory of what Kripke is like and see clips of him talking, you have to be amazed that he created all of this and that he directed this ep. I think of him as this brilliant pop culture man child with the attention span of a golden retriever “squirrel!” Probably unwarranted characterization but c’mon, dick jokes and straight guy crushes on his leads don’t necessarily make me think mature television executive (hence Robert Singer). AND YET he is the one that directed this perfect story. So unexpected.

    //There is no such thing as an unimportant detail, not with a team like this. Everything has relevance, every choice matters. The typewriter is highlighted so prominently (TWICE), with Dean’s flashlight beam emerging over it, that the object takes on huge symbolic significance.// Amazing how many layers in each scene. I know this and yet still missed the huge significance of the typewriter. Ugh.

    The idea that the distance with Wish-Sam is intended to give him a reason to stay is right on. It serves a purpose and then when it doesn’t, when Dean doesn’t care about fixing that faux relationship, Wish-Sam changes almost immediately and becomes what Dean needs. Up to the point he jumps in the car with Dean, he was in the power position, righteous and condescending in his power yellow tie. Suddenly, he is the innocent, the little brother who needs protecting from the supernatural. While the “what are you calling me bitch for?” is such a funny line, that moment also made me so queasy because you know now it’s all a front. Dean isn’t really in control of this dream, yes it’s based on his wish but the djinn has set up these emotional blocks and changes to keep him under the spell. Strong caretaker, morally indignant Sam who doesn’t need Dean’s protection is now a cowering child in this second iteration and then becomes weepy and openly needy Sam in the third version. So manipulative in those three aspects. I was surprised and shocked at Dean’s effort to wake up when I saw it the first time. Kill the dream. Ugh.

    Helena – That artwork is truly amazing. No words.

    • Paula says:

      //He’s a character actor in a leading man’s body. Ackles isn’t. He’s a Leading Man in a leading man’s body. There’s a difference.// This is right on. JP covering all those bases – straight man, moral compass, comic relief, dying martyr, pissy little brother, cupcake Satanist (Gary!Sam was brilliant). Character actors don’t look like CENTAURS, they just don’t.

      • sheila says:

        Yes! JA’s career was bound to be Leading Man stuff – and thank God he found Supernatural where he can show off all of his different aspects, particularly his comedy.

        Classic Leading Men are out of style now – there aren’t many of them left. And he’s definitely along the lines of … Cary Grant as Leading Man, with some John Wayne/Gary Cooper thrown in.

        But JP, yeah … I think his career could have gone a number of different ways – and, this is just a guess – but if Supernatural hadn’t come along, I think he could have a nice career playing arrogant douche-bags. He does it so well and he seems to do it from the inside out. (Like in Born Under a Bad Sign, where he’s so good at playing the sexual psycho it seems like Sam will never return.)

        JP’s the one who gets to do all of those external changes – JA’s transformations on the show are more internal, which, of course, he’s brilliant at too.

        and yeah: Character actors look like Philip Seymour Hoffman or Thomas Mitchell. Not a buff centaur. That’s what I find so amazing about JP’s talent – and why I am so grateful he found Supernatural, or it found him.

    • Paula says:

      //He is protecting himself because he grew up with an older brother who was a train wreck. Hello, Al Anon.// well that’s painful and so true when that mirror is turned around. Wish-Sam wraps himself in his track suit jackets, law school courses and generic rental cars like armor.

      Love your personal alternate reality story. Amazing how you can see that life unfold in a few minutes and mourn it as if it actually happened.

      • sheila says:

        I mean, the look on Sam’s face when he gets out of that rental car. Let alone the yellow shirt and jacket … which also messes with us … but his face … kind of getting ready to tolerate the reunion with his messy brother … You know immediately who this Sam is.

        What do you think about that first phone call with Sam, though?

        That Sam seems a bit more open, right? A bit more recognizable as the Sam we know.

        • Paula says:

          He is more open. The luxury of distance, right? I can enjoy my messed-up sib and expressed some affection if there is a physical barrier between us, like a thousand miles.

          • sheila says:

            Right, that makes sense.

            Sam thinks it’s almost funny how Dean is calling him in a panic – there’s almost a sense of affection there. Like, oh, Dean, you big train-wreck.

          • Paula says:

            That enjoyment of train-wreck Dean is such a normal sibling response and one that real Sam indulges in too. It is affection, sure, but underlying that laugh, it also speaks to a smug response of “I may have my problems but at least I’m not as fucked up as you”. So very brothers.

          • sheila says:

            // It is affection, sure, but underlying that laugh, it also speaks to a smug response of “I may have my problems but at least I’m not as fucked up as you”. //

            hahahahaha Oh man, I know that well.

    • sheila says:

      // I think of him as this brilliant pop culture man child with the attention span of a golden retriever “squirrel!” Probably unwarranted characterization but c’mon, dick jokes and straight guy crushes on his leads don’t necessarily make me think mature television executive (hence Robert Singer). AND YET he is the one that directed this perfect story. So unexpected. //

      Paula – hahahaha I love how you put this. Totally!! He was really out on a limb with this episode – and I think that’s where he wanted to be. It’s a “show off” move for him, and I think it really paid off.

      I love your observations about Wish-Sam and the manipulation of Dean. I get so sucked into the Wish-world – just like Dean does – and want them to be what they appear to be – part of how disturbing and messed up the fantasy really is.

      It goes along with what Jessie said in her comment about audience complicity.

      We are implicated in this – as audience members – because we want him to be happy, even if it means turning his back on The Real.

      “power yellow tie”

      I mean, it’s the tie that launched a thousand ships. It is such a PERFECT detail and changes everything.

  7. troopic says:

    Oh my GOD what a treat!
    I started reading today, at 6 am or so, had to go to work, came back to finish.

    There are so many great things! OK, I had no idea about the “From Hell It Came” thing, and I’m so thrilled, I laughed for 5 minutes straighted, in an empty house. Alone. Scaring my both cats. AMAZING. ThanQ for that info, I’ll cherish it till the day I die !

    // And, as we know, or at least as I’ve said so many times I bore even myself, people react to Dean weirdly. He’s “too much.” He’s not “right.” He sticks out, he’s an outsider, he flirts with surly gas station attendants, you know, people re-coil. Sometimes because they want to fuck him when 2 seconds ago they were sure they were straight, or they don’t understand why he’s looking at them with bedroom eyes in the middle of a police interview. He seems sketchy sometimes. //

    Now, recently, I had a talk with someone about how “everybody wants Dean”, in a sense. It hit a relevant point for me here. It’s true – there is this weird quality about him that makes people reconsider their life choices (*snort*), and… they are just DRAWN TO HIM/REPULSED BY HIM, and I would say – getting away from Dean is a basic, instinctual defense mechanism – I would suggest people get that weird sense of “don’t touch the pretty it’s poison.”
    Plus, there is an AWESOME fanvid, about Dean X Everybody, you HAVE TO WATCH – it sums it up pretty well:

    // He’s a character actor in a leading man’s body. Ackles isn’t. He’s a Leading Man in a leading man’s body.//
    Interesting observation. Can we talk more about that? I want to hear your proffesional opinion on the matter. I need clarifications.

    //Jared Padalecki had to fill in a whole different backstory for this Sam, and he had to live it, breathe it, own it, completely shifting gears from his regular character. He had to be a VERSION of Sam that exists in Dean’s mind that could only exist if their mother had lived. Say what? //
    HOW MANY SAM’S/NON-SAM’S HE PLAYED BY NOW??? SIX? NINE??? I’ve lost count. (I did a count once. REMARKABLE dosen’t even cut it.)

    //He can relax. Nothing – NOTHING – is “about him.”//
    I love this. LOVE this observation of yours, that he is a side character in his own story.
    I still can’t decide, but sometimes – I feel Dean is showcasing us Supernatural, he lived it, he tells us. And now, he observes.

    //Dean’s tormented profile(TM)// OK yES he has def. written a PATENT over it.

    //It looks like it’s NEVER been made. — This is one of those details I don’t want to assign meaning to. I’ve got my ideas, maybe you’ve got yours.// DO TELL?
    (My theory? Real-Dean NEVER made a bed in his entire life? Even his subconscious can’t muster it up for the dream. Maybe…?) Also it’s WHITE. I’m sorry, but home sheets are NEVER white. Only in hotels/motels. Not even hospitals have white sheets. This is so specific. WOW. I would call that a “glitch”, too.

    //tight zip-up monstrosity // yike XD

    //I love the story of how Mackenzie Gray, who plays the Djinn, had to wear that Maori-Mike-Tyson-tattoo-design on his face for the couple of days he filmed because they didn’t have time to apply it every day. Picture him going into a 7/11 like that to buy some Cheetos.//
    I don’t have the source on me, but he told how he couldn’t get a taxi back home from set becouse of it… Drivers just didn’t stop for him. Poor guy.

    The artwork you concluded your article with, your friend’s, is amazing. It gave me chills. The titling, also – very clever. I am a sucker for symbolism, for interpretations. Amazing. And haunting.

    ThanQ for this awesome, long, heavy read!!!!
    I am always so happy to see your Supernatural updates! You reveal, yet give more questions to ponder, you axplain references that I appreciate so much, being a stranger to the generation, age and culture. ThanQ so much.
    Please keep it up. My dream is to read a recap for every Supernatural episode ever, I hope it’s yours too.
    In any case, as far as you’ll get – I’ll read it. Always.

    • sheila says:

      Troopic – Thank you so much – so glad you enjoyed!

      There’s a lot you’ve said – I loved reading it. Great stuff.

      I’ll have more to say but in re: the bed: I don’t know about Dean never having made a bed in his life. Dean makes his bed meticulously in the bunker. Like Army-requirement neat. You could bounce a dime off that thing. Nobody even goes into the bunker except them (and every other ghost and demon in a 10-mile radius). Nobody ever sees that bedroom. Yet he makes his bed. Like crazy, it probably takes him 5 minutes to get it that neat. He doesn’t make his bed because “someone’s coming over.” He does it all on his lonesome, every day.

      To me, what I see is: I think that messy rumpled bed – with two crushed pillows and no-big-deal sheets, no comforter, nothing – says something about them as a couple, and the kind of life/coupledom they have. If I had to boil it down I’d say that as a couple that they don’t care about appearances. They don’t “sweat the small stuff.”

      I am projecting, probably, because of my Sleeping With the Enemy relationship – where it was ALL about appearances, and everything being so neat that I didn’t even feel like I lived there, and where we – as a couple – cared about “things.” (Even though I never cared. and I still don’t.)

      I look at a messy bed like that and I feel RELIEF. That this is a couple who doesn’t get caught up in stuff like that. And so many women are such nags about housework. She’s not like that. But the CLOSET is practically Joan-Crawford-esque organized.

      I don’t know, it’s all a mix of impressions and I like thinking about it.

      • troopic says:

        OK, personal life story.

        Interestingly, when I grew up, I was tought to make the bed, since early as 3 or so, and it was mandatory in our kindergarten (Russia, post-soviet-union times). So till the age of 5/6 – I was making my bed at the kindergarten militery-style too. Later on in life, in boarding school, in a different country and a different – much more loose yet much more militaristic colture (Israel. Yes it sounds contradictory, but it’s VERY TRUE) – I made my bed as I was used too, again – military style. and I got just werid stares and a nervous little laugh from the staff lady (who was Russian….) for my “efforts”. It was considered “over-board”. Sure, we had to make the bed, but not so maticulously.
        Now, I NEVER make the bed, as long as I don’t have too. It’s a pile of pillows, blankets and two cats above.
        It’s MY HUSBAND who nags me to, at least, sometimes – make the bed.
        Another interesting thing?
        When I’m a guest at someones place, not my own house or close-close-close family/friends?
        I tend to make the bed.
        Military style.

        Personal moment over.

        Take from that what you want XD

        • sheila says:

          Dean still makes his bed every day in the bunker. It seems to make him happy. He revels in it. So I guess I’m seeing other things in that messy-bed in the wish-world than you do. Which, of course, is fine.

    • sheila says:

      Troopic – Okay!! About character actors/Leading Men – and how I see these two guys:

      Character actors are people who fill out the background of a movie, playing support staff to the star. These are usually the most brilliant actors in the business. People like Philip Seymour Hoffman – he started out as a character actor – because looking like that, of course he would be a character actor. He was one of the best character actors in existence. He represents the very rare case when a character actor becomes a movie star. Dustin Hoffman was one of those too. (The 1970s represent a time when the “character actors” became leads – mainly because of the breakdown of the star-manufacturing studio system. So suddenly you have the bizarre situation of Karen Black being a movie star – which would never have happened in the 50s or 60s – or Eileen Brennan – even Ellen Burstyn, who was super-glamorous – but she was a character actress in a Leading Woman’s body. And she got leads in the 70s in difficult challenging material where she got to show her Character Actress chops, despite her Leading Lady glamorous looks.)

      There were anomalies “back in the day” of classic Hollywood, too. It’s rare to have a leading man in a character actor’s body – although it could happen (Humphrey Bogart is the best example). Bette Davis – who was gorgeous (don’t let anyone tell you different) – had no interest in trading on her blonde-pale-skinned beauty – and almost immediately started taking “character actress” parts. Her work changed the industry, showing what was possible for women, in terms of variety and depth of roles. She was both Leading Lady AND Character Actress. (Now, Voyager being one of the best examples. That’s a “character” part, with her bushy eyebrows, and pudgy padding – but she’s ALSO the romantic lead. Amazing, to this day.) Joan Crawford, to compare, was Leading Lady, straight-up. Not a character actress. Humphrey Bogart was a Character Actor (anyone who looked like that was Character Actor by default) – who BECAME a Leading Man, because of the enormous success of Casablanca – where he showed his stuff as a viable romantic lead.

      Leading Men – like JA is – are rarities nowadays. They really have been since the 50s/60s made the “anti-hero” the popular central figure. So suddenly in the 70s we have Robert DeNiro – a classic Leading Man, with his fantastic good looks, playing a stream of psychos and bizarre misfits – whereas if he had come up in the 40s and 50s, he would have been playing romantic leads.

      Once upon a time there were Leading Men. People like Cary Grant and Gary Cooper and John Wayne – these guys are unique – you couldn’t swap out John Wayne for Cary Grant or vice versa. JA is in that pantheon. We don’t have men like that anymore. George Clooney is – kind of – although he takes projects where he is cast as a Character Actor, more often than not. His career became interesting when he stopped trying to play Romantic Leads. Channing Tatum (in my estimation) is a Leading Man, end-of-story, end-stop – and thank God the industry figured that out and started catering to him. As long as he was doing Nicholas Sparks shit, we couldn’t have seen just how talented this guy was. He’s “valid” in romantic material, he’s “valid” in comedies, he’s valid in musicals … This is the kind of entertaining personality that is so out of style now (although it used to be the name of the game in Hollywood) that nobody knows what to DO with it at first.

      So anyway. JP has transformational qualities that make me think he could have had any number of different kinds of careers. Playing the psycho neighbor in Lifetime movies, or the college rapist in “issue” movies … even the uptight soulless Wall Street guy or something along those lines. Even with his insanely buff body – which could get him onto Baywatch – there’s something about his vibe, and his talent, that could definitely be poured into character roles – in a way that JA, with his ridiculous beauty, just couldn’t.

      JA is an old-fashioned Leading Man. Those old-fashioned leading men – from the 40s and 50s – could project so many different things through that leading man persona that it still boggles the mind. It’s a lost art. Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby, and Cary Grant in Notorious. Both “leading men” parts. One is buffoonish and comedic, the other tortured and tragic. Both completely believable. Cary Grant could do anything, anything, through his Leading Man status (which lasted for 40 years. He retired and he was STILL playing Leading Men. Usually when an actor gets old, he transfers to “character” parts. We are currently seeing a revolution in Hollywood, in regards to this. Meryl Streep is still a Leading Lady. Oh, what Bette Davis and Joan Crawford would have been able to do if they hadn’t been shuffled off to the side in “grotesque” parts. Harrison Ford has been a Leading Man ever since Star Wars, in 1977. There’s apparently going to be a New Indiana Jones. I can’t wait. He can do “character parts” – he did so brilliantly in the movie about Jackie Robinson – 42 – but he’s still a movie star and he’s in his 70s. Hooray. Possibilities abound.)

      Supernatural allows JA to explore all of the different possibilities in his Leading Man persona – the tragic, the hilarious, the tender, the tough – and, frankly, he just wouldn’t be able to do out there in the industry beyond Supernatural. Those parts just don’t exist anymore. As talented as he is, as gorgeous as he is – I’m not sure it would have been a “done deal” that he would get the kinds of roles appropriate to his talent, without Supernatural. He needed this kind of old-fashioned material that trucks in dreams and projections (just like the movies in the 40s and 50s did, before everyone wanted to show “kitchen-sink realism” in the 60s and 70s) … to set him free to be the Leading Man he clearly was born to be.

      • sheila says:

        oh, and one more thing that connects Cary Grant to JA (and I don’t make that comparison lightly – Cary Grant is transcendent, so I’m not putting JA up there in that pantheon – but he IS using himself in a way similar to what Grant did – something that still is rarely done today because it’s so hard to do well: Cary Grant was both Leading Man AND Clown. JA is a brilliant clown.

        No way would he have found a role where he could be as BIG of a clown as Dean Winchester is. Clown not meaning goofy or stupid – but literally: clown. In the tradition of clowning. Pantomimes and pratfalls and quick-thinking double-takes, and all the rest.

        Comedies for the most part suck nowadays. Directors have lost the feel for it.

        But it is still unheard-of for a leading man to be AS gorgeous as Cary Grant and AS funny. He stands alone.

        Others can approach it – Johnny Depp does. Will Smith, on occasion, does. Many leading men have senses of humor. Harrison Ford does. (A lot of leading men DON’T have senses of humor. Denzel Washington doesn’t. It’s not a flaw. It’s just part of what makes him him, and he picks roles appropriate to that.)

        But a CLOWN like Cary Grant? It just doesn’t exist anymore because Grant came out of vaudeville where he was a tumbler in an acrobat act … That world doesn’t exist anymore so nobody has that training anymore.

        But JA has both of those gifts – the romantic Leading Man and the outrageous Clown – it’s one of the things that sets him apart.

        • Jessie says:

          seeing him flub the exit of the wrestling ring was a highlight of my year so far. I’ve watched it so many times to see how he does it.

          • sheila says:

            YES. I’ve watched it so many times too – nary a cut – so he really had to do that flip. It makes me roar. He’s fearless physically – probably because he’s so athletic – he’s used to being “in his body” – similar to Cary Grant, who was insanely athletic. Both men were also VERY tall and it’s rare to see tall men be that physical. It seems impossible that Cary Grant – standing over 6 feet – can do a back flip from a standing position like he does at the end of Holiday. He’s insane.

            But yeah: when JA goes full-out clown …

            it kills me. (pulling out the dragon sword – or, FAILING to pull out the dragon sword – is also one of my favorites. sooooooo stupid. “oh sonofabitch that’s really stuck in there isn’t it” – ker-PLAT goes Dean. Brilliant!)

          • Jessie says:

            Yes!! The flip in Holiday! Which he then flubs so perfectly! Competent incompetence! So sexy!

            And also, the guy who couldn’t exit a wrestling ring is the same guy who did a high speed reverse 180 in Baby. Supreme competence! Even sexier!

          • sheila says:

            // And also, the guy who couldn’t exit a wrestling ring is the same guy who did a high speed reverse 180 in Baby. Supreme competence! //

            Right? Killer blend.

            That reverse 180 … please help me bear it …

          • Jessie says:

            Help YOU bear it? Lady I can’t even help mySELF!

    • sheila says:


      // HOW MANY SAM’S/NON-SAM’S HE PLAYED BY NOW??? SIX? NINE??? I’ve lost count. (I did a count once. REMARKABLE dosen’t even cut it.) //

      Ha. I know!! It’s amazing! I think that connects to what I was just writing in answer to your “character actor” question. JP’s face and body are the body of a Leading Man. Character actors flat out do not look like that. They are pudgy and frumpy and unique, with crooked teeth, and they represent the “real” behind the perfect stars. But JP’s talent and versatility is that of a character actor. He never would have had a chance to show all that if he didn’t have Supernatural. I mean, MAYBE, but it would have had to be in a series of different roles – in films and television – that audiences could then put together and go, “Wow, he’s talented.” Here – he gets to do all of that in the context of just the one role.

      No wonder neither of those guys want to leave SPN. Why would they, considering the acting opportunities it provides them?

      // The artwork you concluded your article with, your friend’s, is amazing. It gave me chills. The titling, also – very clever. I am a sucker for symbolism, for interpretations. Amazing. And haunting. //

      I know, right?? That’s done by Helena, who comments here too – and I’m just so blown away by it. Check out the rest of her work too!

      // I am always so happy to see your Supernatural updates! You reveal, yet give more questions to ponder, you axplain references that I appreciate so much, being a stranger to the generation, age and culture. ThanQ so much. //

      You are so welcome! My pleasure!

  8. troopic says:

    oh now look what you’ve done, I’m rewatching it.

    You know that Buffy had an episode with a similar idea, where Buffy was in the nuthouse and all her slaying was her fantasy? (Just remembering all the parallels. Also loads of Dean and Buffy parallels all over the series….) This episode actually throws at us a whole alternative univerese where the Real Dean just killed himself in front of his brother somewhere in a werehouse in Illinois. All the local newspapers are feasting on th weird tragedy.

    1. A newly formed observation: Dean is SCARY. I mean, his sudden “just answer the question”, and the way he shuts Mary’s phone call – are both so brutal, edgey – his hunter self, in this mellow sweet place, and soft, soft figure of Mary. I mean, he looks so strange, if I was Mary I would’ve been more alarmed, more then “you were drinking”, which, in a way clues her being “on the joke” in retrospect.

    2. The sheer realization that “hunting” is what forged them as “Sam and Dean”.
    I have this theory that in his darkest hours, in the most sinful moments of his life, the most hidden, forbidden places of his mind – their lies the that idea Dean has, that he actually glad that Jess died, that dad gone missing, couse that’s how he got Sam back, he is glad for the hunting in his life, couse that’s how he and Sam are a team (or whatever you call it).
    Just another something that he hates himself for.
    You know how novbdy talks about being happy for something bad? Even in retrospect, even about a stranger? Yet we all are familiar with this feeling, becouse humans are like that – we are complex in that way. So, how you put it so well – it’s not either/or, it’s definitely both – Dean hates that Jess died. Dean is glad that she died. Again, nobody will EVER give room and place to such thought. Just like Dean, we are not allowed to have such a thought.
    I see these thoughts run somewhere behind Dean’s eyeballs when he sits on the couch before C-carmen comes in with beers.

    Whoah, people interpret things differently, huh?

    3. Dean is so USED to it and so over it of people thinking he is crazy. It’s beyond hilarious and sad all at once. (the cellphone out of the window scene, omg)

    4. The car plates read RMD(pic of the white house – Washington?)5H2. Which I read as – “remedy five hours to” – or – remedy wishing to five hours to —
    As in Dean’s time is running out? I’m reading to much into this. Can’t help it. That’s a silly one XD

    5. The way the girl’s toes dangle, barely reaching the floor, how she “falls asleep” again, her feet pointing to opposed directions (how else do I describe this???) So vulnerable. The drop of blood on the Jinn’s lip. wow.

    All that is happening to the girl also happening to Dean, by proxy. Terrifying.

    6. I like how… ominous it is that Dean kills himself with HIS MOTHER’S SILVER KNIFE, dipped in lambs blood (“Mary had a little lamb”/sacrificial lamb). Taking into consideration, he is “dead to the world”, he is THAT DEAN, all becouse of her – all becouse of her deal, long, lomg ago. Lonf before the fire. Long before the hunting life.

    7. “Get some rest”. 3 times now? A runnning theme. Also in Carry On Wayward Son – Dean is tired (back to Croatoan – “I’m tired, Sammy…”)… His real wish is to rest. But he can’t, as if he has unfinished business.
    Dean is a restless spirit, still alive.

    8. C-carmen.
    I think Carmen is… actually in a way… Dean himself. That figment of himself that dosen’t hate himself. That figment who LOVES HIMSELF, who accepts himself, shameless and comfortable. Does it sound in any way rational? I’ll be thinking about it all night now.
    Also, coincidently, she is a “nurse”. Throughout the series we will see Dean as a “relief force” – in “Pac-Man Fever”, for example, he wears a “Navy WW2 uniform, patches and lapel pins identify him as a Health Services Technician”. Although the episode centers around the hospitalized it still is that idea of Dean “mending” and “patching-up”, or at least trying to…. everyone but himself. Typical.

    9. When he commits suicide – and that’s exactly what it is – he says “I’m sorry” and he is looking at Other Sam. Who then becomes Real Sam. I dunno just perfect, just by color and expression – and JP is two different realities!!!!

    10. Dean’s literal “guiding light” to the ttruth was a dying girl. Thats something.
    You talk a lot about Our Town, and you described the ghosts trying to make Emily “let go”, but here – it’s all in reverse. The Dying Girl is actually a LIFE OMEN for Dean.

    11. Ending scene in the motel – three pictures of shores – two on he wall and one in Dean’s hands – with C-carmen. To Reach Safe Shores – “be saved”. The journal spread with Carmen – DO NOTICE THE PAGE ON THE LEFT – it’s a racing feature – filled with pictures of cars and open, never-ending roads/tracks. WHAT AN ATTENTION TO DETAIL.
    Also Carmen is the model for the infamous El Sol beer, that is featured everytime they have an episode/instance where they dig into the “soul” of a character or about lies.
    Here is a compilation of posts featuring “El Sol” the beer and the adds over the course of the series:

    12. Sam voices out what Dean is afraid/won’t let himself – about hunting and being what they are – “well I glad we do.”

    There. That’s enough for now. o_O;;

    • Natalie says:

      That Buffy episode was the scariest episode of the series, as far as I’m concerned. I have the whole series on DVD, and I’m pretty sure that is the only episode I haven’t watched more than once. That ending. *shudder* I’m glad Supernatural has never gone that route, of making us question whether the universe of the show actually exists or is just a figment of one of the characters’ delusions.

      //That figment who LOVES HIMSELF, who accepts himself, shameless and comfortable.//

      I LOVE this idea.

      • sheila says:

        Yes – he plops his big stomping boots up on the cluttered coffee table – so comfortable in his skin – this is his world, he deserves it. He’s not visiting there, he gets to LIVE there.

        I just love, though – from my perspective – that I never knew that Dean harbored those fantasies at all.

        I haven’t watched Buffy – can you believe it? I completely missed that phenomenon – same way I completely missed X-Files. Everything I’ve read about it is, of course, insanely intriguing.

    • sheila says:

      C-carmen. Hahaha

  9. sheila says:

    Tribeca Film Festival screenings started yesterday so I haven’t had time to read fully or respond yet – but thank you everyone for the love-bomb-compliments in re: the re-cap(I needed it for this one – it was a bear) – and yet again just wanted to say how glad I am in re: the awesome fact that we can all just GO THERE here about all of this STUFF. This episode is deep as the ocean!

    I can’t wait to read through what everyone says.

  10. sheila says:

    Bah – there’s just way too much awesome in this thread for me to comment on properly!!

    I’ll be back – carry on!!

    It’s funny: reading through some of this, I’m like: “Okay, I need to watch it again now.” When yesterday I was like, “I have had it with this episode, I can’t watch it anymore.”

  11. Helena says:

    I’ll just insert the ubiquitous Kane clapping gif here, Sheila. Just amazing!

    I find this episode so rich and yet so difficult to watch that I often put the Kripke-commentary version on. It helps to have Kripke yakking away through some of those scenes.

    Where to start? Let’s start with beds. Like, I definitely have my own theory about its rumpledness (and all those dented sofa cushions, come to think of it) and I sincerely hope those sheets are pure cotton because static .

    • sheila says:

      Thank you Helena – and thank you for letting me include your beautiful art!

      I love the Kripke commentary, too, and listen to it often.

      Very glad to hear you are on-board with the Bed Curiosity. The dented sofa cushions, right? Plus the bed?

      Plus her nakedness rolled up in one of those sheets? And then boom they wake up and go off on their day and don’t make the bed. I am in love with that detail.

    • Jessie says:

      Who cares if she makes the bed? Can she use a teapot correctly, that’s what I want to know.

      • sheila says:

        It’s really the key issue isn’t it when choosing a mate: Do you make a spectacle of yourself when pouring someone else a cup of coffee?

        • sheila says:

          … or tea?

          • sheila says:

            … from your coffee/tea-pot?

            I re-watched that episode this month and laughed out loud when that scene started because of how much we made fun of it.

          • Jessie says:

            ha ha! Like, Dean, have you learned the crucial lesson about love-objects by now? We needed proof in this episode!

          • Helena says:

            There are NO TEAPOTS in Supernatural!

          • sheila says:

            yeah, Carmen is much more low-maintenance. All she needs is a bottle opener. Boom, here’s your beer, big-boy.

          • sheila says:

            “There are no teapots in Supernatural!!”
            “Do you have bigger cups?”

          • Paula says:

            //all she needs is a bottle opener// right? The rumpled bed, the lack of any kitchen in that tiny apartment. I love the idea that these two just order Chinese food, pop a few beers on the couch and then roll in the sheets. Simple, stress free, no discipline required. We all want that for Dean so much.

            //NO TEAPOTS in Supernatural// cackles

          • sheila says:

            Paula – yeah, the “no discipline” thing – I think that’s the main thing I’m getting. I really like it – because it’s not explicit, it’s just the vibe from that choice of the bed and all the clutter.

  12. Helena says:

    Would love to know how Wish Dean and Carmen got together. I have a couple of theories 1) they met at Dean’s garage – Carmen took the car in and Dean fine-tuned her engine (cf Dean pulling Cassie’s truck out of the swamp) 2) They met at the hospital – Dean was getting his stomach pumped after a near fatal bowling+tequila shots night out with the boys.

    • sheila says:

      Well, that first possibility is how Balthazar Getty and Patricia Arquette met in “Lost Highway”! David Lynch influences abound, even accidentally!

      But I am strangely attracted to the second choice, with its implications of damsel-in-distress which he can’t seem to get away from, even in his fantasy life.

      • Helena says:

        Ha! In the Heaven episode (Dark side of the Moon?) in the teaser sleeping Dean and Sam are surrounded by so many empty beer cans they should actually be dead already.

        • sheila says:

          One of my favorite details. Dudes, you were on a hell of a bender. I wish we could have seen it.

          • Helena says:

            i know right? They drank 100 beers each and watched documentaries about dung beetles.

          • sheila says:

            It’s tragic. Guys, there’s probably a strip club in town. Why not go out and at least socialize? You’re drinking a 12-pack each and not leaving the motel room?

  13. Sandy says:

    Brilliant. Felt like I just sat through a film course. Love all your SPN recaps but this was amazing.

    I found myself wondering about one thing, however. You state that ‘nothing is nothing’ when it comes to this show and the careful work of its crew. And you rightly praise the set of Dean’s dream home with Carmen. Yet you also criticize the perfection of Lisa’s home. I agree that it’s not lived in and not necessarily realistic for a single mom. But it also seems to make a statement. It portrays a very neat, fenced in life. One that ultimately has holes and the monsters break through.

    I was reminded by the beige-ness of Ordinary People and the mother’s perfect life. Lisa isn’t portrayed as a cold person in that way, but order doesn’t have to be cold. In fact, to someone like Dean, who never had it, it can be very comforting. Perhaps at that time in his life, his brother in the pit with Lucifer, he’s feeling more alone and lost than ever … Dean needs that lack of brightness, needs that uniformity and blandness just to get by. (And it’s not enough as proven by the drinking.)

    Maybe it fell short of the mark, and didn’t work to make Lisa’s home like that, but I don’t believe it was a nonintentional mistake or an oversight.

    • sheila says:

      Thanks, Sandy! It’s such a deep episode, so much to discuss – this was really fun and I’m loving the conversation here.

      and yes, I will criticize that which I don’t think works! :) Nothing Means Nothing also means: that a generic space has meaning, and the visual information TELLS us something, and sometimes it’s not the story they want to be telling. Like, Cassie’s mom’s house, for example – we only saw two rooms, really, and it was dark, but we got a whole feel for that big rambling old-fashioned house from what we did see. A sense of history, continuity, old-fashioned values (teapots, oh dear). And then, sometimes … they just don’t achieve that kind of detail (not true in the good old days, but recently …). Maybe they didn’t have the time. Maybe they hadn’t thought out this one particular character. It happens.

      The show has actually been pretty hit or miss on this sort of thing in recent seasons – and a lot of the interiors lack the details that the first seasons had. It was so good to see a wackadoo motel again in Love Hurts! There have been a couple of nondescript motels they’ve stayed in in recent seasons – and I’m sorry, but yes, it’s an error. They set up so strongly that every motel room is going to be this weird space and then you … blow that off? Guys, come on. Or, you know, they go to interview a witness – and the house says nothing, and could very well be the house of any other witness. Or a real estate photo. Not the deeply evocative places like seasons 1 through 4 – where even going to interview a witness was like entering a whole other world. The DETAIL in every single scene, no matter how peripheral, is stunning – and yeah, a lot of that has been lost. Maybe it doesn’t matter so much, and it certainly doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of the show.

      I totally agree with you about what Lisa represents to Dean and the ready-made nature of that family. To me, the space looks like a real estate photo, and it doesn’t work with the story they want to be telling. If she’s going to be an important character – and she was an important character – then I’d like a little more specific investment into that space. That’s all.

      I understand that her order is comforting and appealing to Dean – but again, I saw generic-ness in that house, without a lot of thought given to decor, and what this particular woman would have in this particular living room. Who knows – maybe she did want her home to look like a boring magazine photo – but I don’t think that’s an interesting choice.

      It didn’t ruin the Lisa arc or anything. I love her bed and I love the little study where Dean sneaks calls to the police officer. I like the view of the dining room from outside when Sam’s looking in. Those feel specific to me.

  14. Barb says:

    Wow–just wow. Too many thoughts, feelings, impressions–if I were drunk right now, I’m sure I’d be howling “I love you guys!” Thank you, Sheila, so much for this wonderful recap! This episode is oddly not one that is too painful to watch for me–I just find it so rich, sad and rewarding, and I come back to it again and again. I just watched it recently with my kid, in fact (we have just gotten to Lazarus Rising in our highlights rewatch), but after finishing your recap yesterday I sat down and watched it again. The Buffy episode that Natalie mentioned–now that is one that haunts me still, and I have not watched it in years. I think it was one of the defining moments for Buffy–and didn’t Kripke mention it in his commentary as an influence?–just as this episode is a watershed for Supernatural.

    Some of the details that hit me the hardest–I’m going to have to make a list like Carolyn, Jessie, and Troopic:
    1) Carmen. I love your thoughts on her significance, and she surprised me, too, the first time around. The connection of her name to “magic” and to tragic opera really opens up layers of meanings. My own connection with regards to her name is more prosaic maybe–what do you think of The Band? “Then I saw old Carmen and the devil, walking side by side/And I said hey Carmen, c’mon will you go downtown?/She said, I’ve got to go, but my friend can stick around.”
    2) The guitar. This Dean is someone who still probably can’t sing, but has the time to learn guitar–and a place to put one.
    3) That conversation with John in the graveyard. It kills me that he stops himself before he says their lives are unfair–he can’t say that word–and then it’s as though someone has actually answered him. He gathers himself, basically saying “Yeah, alright.” He’ll hunt the djinn. John is still in his head.
    4) My husband, first time through, could not get over the fact that there’s no blade on the lawnmower. Dean’s not cutting anything! Does this mean anything? (I think it adds to the surreal nature of that glorious scene-)
    5) The girl–the other victim. One perfect tear when Dean realizes she’s still alive.
    6) Helena–that image is amazing!

    • sheila says:

      Barb – dammit, really good call with The Band!! I love that!

      I love it when you share your husband’s commentary. It’s so funny.

      and yeah, that girl in the warehouse is so good. Half of it is the makeup, but the other half is all her.

      In re: graveyard scene: yes, I love when he stops himself.

  15. lindah15 says:

    1. SQUEEEEEEEE!!!!!

    2. Yep, 90+ pages to print out.

    3. Brava and thank you, Sheila!

    4. Brava and thank you, Helena!

    5. I haven’t read the comments through yet, but thanks and brava/bravo to all commenters. I especially appreciate it when you all get rambly and tangential. I learn so much when you do.

    6. Sheila, I’ve only skimmed through this post once, so I think I know why there’s only the post-Sam screen caps included in the lawn-mowing scene (7th), but I admit I neeeeeeded to see Dean’s miraculous and terrifying happiness, so I confess that I inserted a few pages of screen caps in my printed copy — the colors! the sunshine! the awkward neighbor wave! (Why do I feel like some weird stalker-type with this confession? Sorry if I creeped you out.)
    6a. Dean in the sunshine felt to me like he was a flower unfurling his petals and BASKING in the all-too-rare warmth. He is *such* a princess!
    6b. In retrospect, this felt to me like the point where Dean became invested in the world itself, and not just the factor of his mother’s living. If he was ever going to leave this djinn world, he was going to be leaving a lot of skin behind. To me this is the point where he would no longer only be fighting the djinn-delusion but also himself to get out.
    6c. And then Sammy, the Tax-Man cometh. [Record scratch.]

    7. Helena, if I may go all shallow for the moment: one of my favorite details of your artwork is that you included Dean’s eyelashes in it. (I am so, so shallow.) Slightly less shallow: it’s so Samless, except for the Tax book. Awesome insight. (Or did I miss something?)

    8. I’ll have to come back later, after re-watching the episode. It’ll probably be after you all hit 200+ comments, so I’m looking forward to that. (Seriously.)

    9. SQUEEEEEEEE!!!!!

    • sheila says:

      Lindah – 90 plus pages? Are you kidding me?? I’m so sorry. wow.

      and yeah – for me, I just needed to leave the lawnmower scene alone – it’s too Magic for me – I just couldn’t do it! Also my favorite moment goes by too quickly – it’s early, and you just see his face, a close-up, as he pushes the lawnmower along – and he’s smiling – and it’s tragic. Just gonna leave that one alone – it’s too much! But of course I understand.

      // If he was ever going to leave this djinn world, he was going to be leaving a lot of skin behind. //

      I love that. I so see that. It’s a perfect sequence. the whole world is perfect. he’s perfect in it. he doesn’t even care that the neighbor’s wave is weird. It’s not so much his Mother he will miss (although he’ll miss that too) – it’s this DEAN he will miss. It’s so heartbreaking.

    • Helena says:

      Lindah15. Thank you! Yes, eyelashes are very important in Supernatural. In the real profile the eyelashes don’t stand out like that, but they need to be there, so I put them in. I also spent an immense amount of time researching the ‘perfect’ profile – it’s actually from early Season 4.

      Yes, there’s Sam in the tax book, and implicitly in the hand with the ring. So much could have gone in that noggin I was overwhelmed for choice.

      • sheila says:

        // I also spent an immense amount of time researching the ‘perfect’ profile //

        Bless you.

        There are so many excellent ones to choose from. Which one did you go with?

        Early Season 4 … with that Red camera glamour … yessssss

        • Helena says:

          Angles are everything! I was looking for a platonically ideal profile with exactly the right angle and tilt of the head in relation to the neck and unobscured by shirt collars or jackets. So this one was from Season 4, ep 2 (Ronald and Agent Henrikson etc comes back as an angry ghost), from that ‘dream’ conversation between Castiel and Dean. Beautiful shadows, and for some reason JA’s profile is so pure in that scene.

          • sheila says:

            Oh man yes – one of the most beautiful scenes in the history of the whole show. and Castiel is so damn bizarre. Very good call!

  16. Zelli says:

    Hi, first time commenter here, so I will start with a general note on how fantastic your reviews are: breaking down the technical aspects into terms that are lucid to the lay- person, neatly formatted, and a nice balance between thematic/technical/personal analysis. A joy to read.

    As to this episode, the thing that stuck with me most–aside from the visual stuff that you’ve explored so beautifully–is what a keystone this episode is both for Dean’s character and so much thematic material through the series. The needs of the beloved few versus the many. The question of what’s ‘fair’ when it comes to sacrifice. Can a thing be both right and deeply unfair at the same time? When it came to the scene by John’s tomb I was thinking about Dean at the end of season 8, talking Sam out of completing the Trials. A decision that goes completely against the one he makes here.

    The theme of rest, which has been there from the beginning–“There’ll be peace when you are done.” It can be sad or sinister or soothing or all at once, depending on the moment.

    As for Dean’s character, his projection of himself into the Djinn-world here–it’s so beautifully muddled, half the Bukowski figure of Kripke’s initial imagining, half…not. He ‘s holding down a job, he has Carmen; he’s let his family down time and again but he hasn’t burned all his bridges. I suppose it’s partly what he fears about himself–that he’s intrinsically damaged and damaging, it’s not his childhood trauma, it’s not the hunting life, it’s just *him* – and partly hopeful – the Dean who tells Carmen that he can make things right with Sam and accepts her love for him – that’s a hope we see painfully diminishing in following seasons. I’m sure there’s something to be said about Dean’s drinking in this episode in context of his drinking through the rest of the series, but I’m not sure exactly what. Hard drinking is so much a part of hunter culture and that Dean carries it over into the Djinn-world with this the first time it’s problematized feels significant.

    I am mentally flailing *yes* at everything you said about preserving mystery, emotional toughness, holding something back–leave the audience wanting more, let them do some of the emotional work themselves. Hemingway’s iceberg, essentially.

    • sheila says:

      Zelli – thank you so much for de-lurking. I love it when that happens! I’m glad you like what I’m doing here – I really appreciate it.

      // The theme of rest, which has been there from the beginning–“There’ll be peace when you are done.” It can be sad or sinister or soothing or all at once, depending on the moment. //

      So true. This might speak to what Jessie was talking about above in re: audience complicity. So we out here also want them to have “rest” (and the fanfic alone where they just sit around making coffee and talking about their feelings attests to that) … but if they do get “rest” it probably will mean they’re dead. Like: that’s not the show, and that’s not who they are. So what WE may want for them is not really the best thing for them so it gets all twisty and painful and glorious.

      // the Dean who tells Carmen that he can make things right with Sam and accepts her love for him – that’s a hope we see painfully diminishing in following seasons. //

      Right, it’s been an amazing development of character over these seasons – and it makes sense – In my estimation, they aren’t just going over the same territory over and over again. They’re still developing him. To speak to what’s happening now: The look on his face whenever he’s close to Amara …

      It has that swoon to it. There’s a sinister quality to it, perhaps … but I’m still seeing her as a natural disaster, rather than a Big Bad. Like, why bother being pissed off at a typhoon? It’s just doing what a typhoon is supposed to do. But I didn’t at all expect the show to “go” where they seem to be going now – Or, I have no idea where they’re going – but to explore Dean’s swoon of need, and swoon of his desire for comfort – it’s all over his face any time he looks at her. It’s fascinating to me. And he’s so far away now from having any concept about that anymore – it doesn’t even exist for him – Carmen (or the idea of her) isn’t in the rear-view mirror at all anymore. So it’s all been quite interesting to watch this play out and I’m looking forward to whatever it is they have planned.

      and yeah, I agree about the drinking. I’ve said before – can’t remember where – that I love how they handle Dean’s drinking. There’s an edge to it. That whole Arc in Season 7 with the flask … Just loved it. It’s not a self-help pamphlet – it doesn’t pathologize the drinking – or maybe some people feels it does. I see that they just present it. Here is what this character is doing right now. It’s not issue-of-the-week alcoholism and I SO appreciate that.

      Hemingway’s iceberg!! Exactly! Lubitsch’s tip for writers. This show is so good at leaving so much of it up to US. Maybe one of its biggest appeals for me since I’m so suspicious of open sentiment. In general, I don’t like it. The show holds so much back that when sentiment – or feeling – goes Text – it’s like a bomb going off. They really really make us wait for it.

      • Zelli says:

        With re: to Amara–yes she’s a force of nature, amoral not immoral as Death said, and I sort of see her and the bliss she offers as the personification of rest–but also that dark hungry pit inside that Gordon talks about in Bloodlust, that Dean has referred to at various times–I think to Tessa when he says that he came back from death with a hole inside him. It’s the bliss of emptiness but with a killing edge, which is what he was struggling with when he had the Mark of Cain, and he’s still struggling with it now, only now in a more seductive form.

        I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Amara has the same physical type as Carmen or Lisa–I think the Darkness took on this personification in response to Dean, what he would find appealing.

        Also not coincidence that we’re introduced to Amara the same season we’re introduced to the Empty, the possibility of a completely final resting place.

        • sheila says:

          // I sort of see her and the bliss she offers as the personification of rest //

          I am really glad others are seeing this distinction as well – I mean, it’s clearly very deliberate on the part of SPN – to distinguish her from, say, Abaddon or the Leviathan. Also that actress is killing it: her transparency and almost confusion when Dean resists her. She’s not angry, she just doesn’t get it. Don’t you want this? Wait … I thought you wanted this …

          and yes: she lines up with his “type” for sure.

  17. Pat says:

    Sheila, thank you for another wonderfully in-depth analysis of my favorite show. This one is from the heart, it’s so obvious.

    I wish I could contribute to the deep and entertaining conversations in this thread. When I watch, I don’t always catch the “deeper” things going on. The conversations here are so enlightening and I marvel at the tangents and insights brought up. I know I’m in good company and loving arms with all the fans here.

    And I love the phrase “brother wives”. BROTHER WIVES! It’s funny cause it’s true.

    • sheila says:

      Pat – I know, “brother-wives” … I think it was Jessie who first said it (at least here) in regards to the awkward scene in the bar after the vamp hunt with Dean/Sam/Gordon – like: “Dean and Sam having a brother-wife spat” – and I just lost it.

      I, too, revel in all of the insights here. Everyone has such different input – it’s one of my favorite parts of doing these things. I always see something else.

      One of the things I got from this thread was an awareness of just how much the wish-world ISN’T real (I get sucked into it so completely – as I know we are meant to) – and considering that every moment is “calculated” to mess up Dean and compel him … provides some necessary depth to it, the sinister nature of what is being presented to him. I mean, I get this intellectually, but not so much emotionally and it’s still hard for me to actually SEE that, especially in regards to Sam.

      So I’ll definitely be thinking about all of that the next time I watch.

      Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting. I so appreciate it!

  18. Erin says:

    I have watched this episode more times than a grown woman cares to admit, and each time I finish it I wonder why it affects me more than any other episode does.

    Sure there’s Dean being heroic and sad, but we’ve seen that before and that’s not new, neither is Sam being prissy, or Mary caring for her boys. It’s not until I read this that I finally realised what it was. It was, as you so elequently put it, the joy. It is a special piece of work that can have the characters experience such great joy, and still leave the audience heartbroken while watching it. It’s like watching a child play with a puppy at a pet shop; you know the child’s going to leave soon, but neither the child or the puppy does.

    And, dear god, the guitar.

    • Paula says:

      //It’s like watching a child play with a puppy at a pet shop; you know the child’s going to leave soon, but neither the child or the puppy does.// what a painful and excellent analogy

    • sheila says:

      That damn guitar. I mean, it just sits there. It says so much. It may be the most unexpected thing in the whole damn episode!!

      The Joy stands out so much – it’s a different kind of joy than the humor of Hollywood Babylon – the first really 100% funny episode – This joy is just awful in a way, the lost life and hopes … It’s still amazing to me how WELL they all understand about how to portray that particular type of Joy. Not an easy feat!!

  19. Michelle says:

    Sheila thank you so much for this wonderful re-cap of one of my top 5 episodes of the entire series. It is so funny, I usually check your site almost every single day to see if a new re-cap has appeared and generally the days that I don’t check it are usually when they happen! I didn’t discover until late last night that you had posted this. My first response was to dive in and start reading immediately, but I resisted. I knew this re-cap needed to be properly savored. Today was a holiday for me from work and so I waited until today when I could fully enjoy it. I settled in with my favorite blanket, a mug of tea and my cat. A wonderful re-cap and it made for the perfect afternoon. Thank you!

    I love this episode so much….I don’t even have the right words to describe it. It is so deep and rich and so many things that one could unfold and examine. I try not to do too much of that though because the thing I like about this episode the most is the way it makes me feel. It’s simultaneously painful but beautiful. You described all of that perfectly with the word mystery. I don’t want to dig too much and ruin the beautiful mystery that this episode is. After reading the re-cap I am now off to watch the episode again. Thank you again Sheila!!!

    • sheila says:

      Michelle – yes, the Mystery is so deep here, I really want to leave it alone. ALSO the episode is like a kaleidoscope – it’s constantly shifting – it seems like a brand-new episode every time I watch it. I’m not sure how they pulled it off.

      I think it has something to do with all of those loud loud silences in between lines. Those silences are cliff-drops of mystery.

  20. Sarah says:

    Oh, oh Sheila…de-lurker here, taking you at your word that you love it when one of us comes out, so to speak. I discovered your recaps back in July with “Heart”, and I calculated that maybe, just maybe, you’d do this one by Christmas and make my holiday dreams come true! Hahaha. Please—don’t for a minute think that I’m criticizing the length of time it takes for one of these masterpieces to emerge onto your blog. Perish the thought! I just had no idea of your timetable back then.

    This one is, as I’m sure it is to just about everyone here, a super-special, sentimental favorite that’s also full of suspense and horror and delivers the worst/best kind of emotional punch to the gut. It might be my favorite episode of the series, and that’s high praise for sure. I love that, while JA is undoubtedly the focus and “star” of the episode, you quite rightly took note of JP’s amazing ability to subtly transform his REactions and somehow, make himself seem smaller than the giant, towering moose of a man he is. So true and so worthy of praise. Eleven years in and I STILL marvel over the ability these two have to play off each other as much as whatever script or performance notes are given to them. Utterly believable and such a gift!

    C-carmen: I can’t remember where I saw it, but someone pointed out that in the Wish Verse, Dean’s “ideal woman” had a name that consisted of “car” and “men.” Now that I’m remembering it, though, it seems like it may have been part of a longer “Dean is bi!” manifesto that I personally find ridiculous…but that name. Something to think about. Of course, it could’ve just been Raelle Tucker’s sister or aunt or whatever.

    And I have to admit that not only am I one of the people who watched “Mulholland Drive” approximately 50 times in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to establish when, exactly, Betty and Rita melded together and emerged as the other, I am also one of the people who initially (and by initially I mean the first 20 or so times I saw it) COULD NOT UNDERSTAND whether the dream-family in this episode were a) aware of their mission the entire time and just amazing actors, or b) only this way in their final scene in the warehouse. I mean, I was just so ANGRY that, if Dean had to be put through that particular dream scenario/world, his mother, who is, after all, a virtual SAINT in SPN mythology, would be that nefarious and untrustworthy (even if she was just a construct of the eeeeevil Djinn + Dean’s subconscious.)

    Oh, past me. So inexperienced with this show and its enormous iceberg lying under the surface. Your recap has validated my eventual understanding of what happened (thanks so much!), and raised new questions (John’s absence: more than just “JDM is unavailable to guest star,”), and answered those, too!

    It might’ve been Supernatural that brought me here, but I’ve stayed for the film reviews, the education, the book recommendations (we have a LOT in common), the humor and heart and JOY you infuse into everything you write about.

    PS Grantland may be gone, but Bill Simmons has started a website,, which isn’t complete by any means, but he’s hired a lot of the same talented folks to write for him there who wrote for him at Grantland. The full site should be up and running by May, I believe he said. There’s a newsletter and podcasts galore already, P R A I S E.

    • sheila says:

      Sarah – let’s hear it for another awesome de-lurker!!

      Great great stuff in your comment!!

      // nd I calculated that maybe, just maybe, you’d do this one by Christmas and make my holiday dreams come true! Hahaha. //

      hahahaha Oops! I really need to set an editorial calendar for myself but I just can’t, since the Editorial Calendar of my actual career has a way of dominating my every waking moment – and also shift in totally unpredictable ways. (i.e.: Doh, Alan Rickman died. Clear the deck, it’s obit time!)

      // JP’s amazing ability to subtly transform his REactions and somehow, make himself seem smaller than the giant, towering moose of a man he is. //

      I know! He’s just incredible that way. And then when he needs to look huge and intimidating (Season 6, holy mackerel), he owns that too.

      “Car” “Men”? I hadn’t heard that. Sigh. I don’t think so, people! although who am I to ruin people’s fun? I really try not to do that, although I am sure I fail at times. Carmen is kind of a magical name in and of itself, and it’s kind of fun not to pin it down.

      and HA!!! in re: your experience with Mulholland Drive. I totally feel you!! It’s just a mystery that can’t be solved and it’s maddening. I now think – on my latest viewing – that the persona-swap happens in stages from the first second they meet – the first major “leakage” (ew) occurring during Naomi Watts’ audition when she becomes this insanely manipulative seductress and KILLS it, before bouncing back to her perky 1950s persona. But I’m sure I’ll see something else the next time I watch it.

      It still freaks me out when the two of them return from the Club Silencio show, come into the bedroom, Naomi Watts walks offscreen and the next time “Rita” turns around, Betty is not there. Chills.

      and yeah, in re: the dream-world in this episode – I said below in a continuation of the conversation with Jessie that looking at the dream-world as a total made-up world from the Djinn is still hard for me because I get sucked into the whole environment – which is obviously what I’m supposed to do because SPN is devoted to driving us all insane. But even Dean says later, with this really really sad tone – “You’re not real” – and there it all is. None of it is real. It’s killer!

      Thank you so much for digging into my other stuff here – I really appreciate it!!

      And YES in re: Bill Simmons’ new site and all those amazing writers. I was so so happy when the NY Times scooped up Wesley Morris (his piece on Magic Mike XXL is my favorite piece about that movie out there.)

  21. Bethany says:

    I don’t know how you do it. These Supernatural analysis pieces only get better and better. This one, especially, is a work of art. It took me the better part of five days to read it, and I loved every second of it. This is an episode of unfathomable depth, which (weirdly) makes it that much more difficult to talk about – so much going on, it’s hard not to simplify or reduce it. I think you did a masterful job. The womb imagery…! And the lights off the water. What a great interpretation.

    I still feel a little raw and blasted open now that I’ve gotten to the end…it’s going to take me a while to gather my thoughts or have anything coherent to contribute, so I’m just going to marinate in the comments of all your lovely readers for a while. :) Just wanted to say thank you for continuing to write these (not-so-)mini masterpieces. They stick with me, sometimes for days afterwards.

    Also wanted to say a big WOW for Helena’s Djinn piece. I followed the link to her site and was stunned by how evocative those silhouettes are.

    This one, uh, might have made me tear up a little:

    • sheila says:

      Bethany – thank you!! The “5 lights” thing is kind of silly but thought I’d throw it out there!! Glad you saw something in it for yourself.

      // Just wanted to say thank you for continuing to write these (not-so-)mini masterpieces. They stick with me, sometimes for days afterwards. //

      Thank you! I have a lot of fun doing them. The next two episodes are gonzo-giants!! Although not as deep emotionally (for me anyway) as this one.

      and I know, I love Helena’s work so much. Her approach is so her own, and she brings her own distinctive mind-set to the sometimes way-too-well-trod-ground of the SPN fandom. It’s so her own thing!!

  22. sheila says:

    Okay, after a break (the next couple of weeks, oh my GOD people!!), back to this convo:

    Jessie, I’m taking our conversation down here because I can’t manage that thread up there anymore. I’ll just cut-and-paste your comment up there down here, for my own reference:

    I love the thought of him as “fodder”
    Yes — we could think of this as just another episode in which Dean’s body is on the line, when his body and vulnerabilities become things to be consumed and exploited by monsters and/or family members.

    I used to think that Sam was the Key to the whole thing
    Yes! I used to say the same thing — that maybe the series would have to end the day Dean looked at his brother without qualm. But they’ve very ably managed a structural change that I don’t think I noticed fully until recently. Part of it maybe being opening up the world (with the Men of Letters) while simultaneously closing off their avenues of escape, so there’s less risk of flight. And part of it being Sam’s opacity thinning out a bit, perhaps — as steely and fierce as he can still be, there is a transparency and acceptance to him now that means we don’t have to, with Dean, side-eye him in alarm every five seconds.

    I think you’re on the mark with the switch to the Problem of Dean as an internal struggle — and I wonder if part of this structural shift is that What Is Sam Going To Do About It only needs to be about dealing with external threats and, you know, giving the occasional thumbs up. In the first half of the series, the Problem of Sam always seemed to poison and threaten their bond, whereas the inverse now seems to be about support and confidence in their relationship.

    ha ha — I am glad your whorish soul got some relief! (possibly the only place I could ever write that sentence)

    In regards to Dean as “fodder”. I love this thought and I think that’s why I find that pan-up from the beer bottle to Dean’s face so upsetting. Because that shot throws Dean under the bus, and up until that point the whole thing has been from his POV. That shot says, “Nope. Let’s look at him without protecting him. See what you see now.” It’s kind of great in its mild brutality towards him.

    // But they’ve very ably managed a structural change that I don’t think I noticed fully until recently. //

    Me too! I’ve been trying to figure out when that shift happened. It feels to me like Season 9 may be the key to that – where Sam really changed and thus changed their entire relationship (again, a key to that Sam is the Key. Dean could NOT make that “structural change” – he is incapable of doing it on his own, he had to be forced to it). But beyond Season 9 … something is definitely different in Season 11 for Sam.

    I don’t think it’s as strong as a role reversal, or Sam has become Top Dog now or anything like that … but (to me, anyway – especially in this season) – Sam is seeming extremely Top Dog. That final scene in “Love Hurts” – especially the mild-mannered open adult way Jared played it (“Does that surprise you?” he says, as he walks past Dean, giving Dean the privacy of not looking at him when he says that: such good blocking) really felt different.

    // there is a transparency and acceptance to him now that means we don’t have to, with Dean, side-eye him in alarm every five seconds. //


    As a matter of fact, we may be overdue for Sam going off the rails again. you know, just to even the score.

    // In the first half of the series, the Problem of Sam always seemed to poison and threaten their bond, whereas the inverse now seems to be about support and confidence in their relationship. //

    Right … it’s really interesting. The bunker represented a change, for sure … the introduction of a more grown-up “we have a home base now” dynamic, as well as a sense of a more healthy legacy that they both can be proud of.

    • Zelli says:

      If I may jump in here–

      It’s interesting that we had an ostensible Problem With Sam plot in the first half of 11, when he was having the Cage visions of which Dean was deeply distrustful. But the fallout from that (Lucifer free again and Cas lost for now!) seems to have left them in a steadier place.

      I have a feeling that if anyone’s going off the rails this season it will be both of them, in concert–or neither, and everyone lives. I don’t have any hard foreshadowing to point to, just that they’re so aligned right now and I don’t see any set up for a break.

      • sheila says:

        // I have a feeling that if anyone’s going off the rails this season it will be both of them, in concert //

        That was what was so thrilling for me about the mid-season finale and the episodes leading up to it. They BOTH were being “seduced.” NOBODY had their A-game going. It’s been a while since we’ve ever had that situation … if ever. They usually take turns. So it felt new and fresh and like you didn’t know which way it was gonna go.

        Obviously the return of Castiel/Lucifer is going to bring that whole thing up again. I can’t help but continue to have issues with Castiel as well as Crowley – as much as I love them both – their presence starts to feel shoe-horned in, as opposed to organically arising out of the material. I get it, they’re fan favorites, I’m not complaining, or, okay, I’m complaining. It’s been an issue for me for about … 3 seasons? Since Heaven stopped being scary and became more like Amway. Naomi was the last time I was even vaguely interested in Heaven. She had some JUICE although she did represent the corporatization of Heaven which I still think is a tremendously boring choice. In my re-watch of Season 4 and 5, I was just so struck by how MYSTERIOUS Heaven was, how non-literal and abstract – such a stronger choice. I can FEEL the writers disinterest in Heaven now. Maybe hell, too, although the return of the Cage and Dean’s S&M vision of Hell was such a welcome change after all that “medieval court” business. The nadir of all of this was the Castiel/Hannah walk-about tour, although on a re-watch it wasn’t as terrible as I remembered. Nothing was good about it, but it wasn’t AS bad as I thought it was when it was unfolding. Still, though: snooze-ville.

        Having Castiel being inhabited by Lucifer is a nice twist and gives him something to do that’s more interesting than moping around for 2 seasons with a tubercular cough and watching television. I mean … really? If I were a Castiel fan, I would have drifted away from the show long ago.

        It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the season goes – I’m sure they’ll loop us back to Sam/Lucifer and Dean/Amara – the two of them swooning off-course at the same time. And there’s no outsider anymore to stop it. I mean, who’s left? Nobody.

        • Paula says:

          Unmoored. Unanchored. Undone. That look Dean gives Bobby at the end of the current ep reminded me of this, as if he desperately needed a rope thrown to him, to both of them.

          • sheila says:

            The same with the look on Sam’s face in the cage with Lucifer. A private desperation. Dean’s trauma for the Cage was all over his face because he’s Mr. Trauma, but Sam’s was equally as terrible – and sexually fucked up – and somehow … he just guts it out by himself, without having crying-tender-healing sex with an angel in the back of a junk-heap?

            I like the thought of the two of them somehow becoming disconnected from the nice stability they’ve reached – although, honestly, I am loving the stability too.

            It’s proof that the show still works without the inter-office-brother-wife angst.

        • Zelli says:

          //Naomi was the last time I was even vaguely interested in Heaven. She had some JUICE although she did represent the corporatization of Heaven which I still think is a tremendously boring choice. //

          I feel you on this, though I’d characterize Naomi’s Heaven as more Orwellian state-slash-Matrixy than corporate–I would have much preferred keeping her as our top angel antagonist instead of Metatron.

          As for Castiel I think the soundest decision would be to ko him for good at the end of this Casifer arc, have him sacrifice himself to defeat Lucifer. Lucifer has to die this time, returning him to the Cage wouldn’t satisfy the same way twice, and the final defeat of Lucifer should require a heavy cost–a big character death. It could also be tied into the question of Castiel’s past resurrections–maybe God has kept bringing him back for his role to play in Lucifer/Darkness vanquishing.

          I can also see it being a satisfying end for Castiel’s character in that he is a kind of mirror Lucifer, both pioneers of free will and will-to-power acting out of inverse responses to humanity, and so a final confrontation between them (of course Sam and Dean would have to be involved) would have rich material to work with.

          • sheila says:

            // Orwellian state-slash-Matrixy //

            I like that, and yes – her controlling angels from afar was incredibly creepy, and I liked her almost smiling certainty about it. That this was what they had to do. Come on, angels, buck up. She wasn’t as openly menacing as Uriel (whom I miss desperately, along with Balthazar – oh, for the days of eccentric insane angels) – but she was somehow just as frightening.

            // It could also be tied into the question of Castiel’s past resurrections–maybe God has kept bringing him back for his role to play in Lucifer/Darkness vanquishing.//

            Huh. Interesting. You mean the resurrections in the course of the show, right? My memory sometimes fail me. It was never “answered” why God brought him back, right? Sometimes I miss those moments or they don’t stick with me – mainly because I don’t care as much.

            I can hear the screams of agony from Cas fans from here! Although maybe they’ve already abandoned ship since he’s had so little to do for two seasons (and he’s not in a romance with Dean yet.)

            and yeah, in re: Castiel and Lucifer: I very much like this melding of them, and the “brother” factor – or at least their family connection as angels – and all of the possibilities that that could mirror future Dean/Sam issues.

      • Jessie says:

        Sheila —

        It’s kind of great in its mild brutality towards him.
        oh well said! Yes, I agree absolutely.

        a sense of a more healthy legacy that they both can be proud of.
        I’ve been kind of waiting/hoping for a bit more sullying of the Men of Letters. They fought Nazis, yay that’s great, and Rosie the Riveter got to join, if not Josie. But it still feels weird for me that a show that treats institutions and bureaucracy with such scepticism and disdain hasn’t started dismantling the mythology of the MoL yet.

        As a matter of fact, we may be overdue for Sam going off the rails again. you know, just to even the score.
        aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaguuuhh haven’t we been through enough? can’t we just hold hands and kumbaya our way into oblivion?

        I think at the moment their prime directives are in concert: stay together, stay safe, and help people/save the world. In fact I don’t think they’ve ever been so much in the same place: ‘keep Sammy safe’ always used to butt up against ‘find Jess’s killer’ or ‘kill Lilith’ or whatever. But the point of this MoC/Amara journey seems to be to get Dean to understand himself, forgive himself, fight for himself, transform himself, not 100% sure yet, but a resolution to that internal arc for Dean may cause some further shift in their relationship. Especially if they find some fresh torture to deliver upon Sam! Guy is a 6’4″ punching bag.

        Zelli —

        Yes, I had the same thought about whether the first half of the season, with him getting infected, and the visions etc! Aligned is the exact right word for it — whatever threatens them will have to be external, and it seems that whichever brother the threat is directed at, they’ll have to hold hands and jump together (I mean, the fall alone will probably kill them).

        • sheila says:

          // But it still feels weird for me that a show that treats institutions and bureaucracy with such scepticism and disdain hasn’t started dismantling the mythology of the MoL yet. //

          I agree. Especially since – as per usual – the last time we got a flashback to the Men of Letters they looked like a board meeting of a 1950s company. Sigh. They just can’t help themselves from going in that direction – and if they ARE going in that direction, then let’s explore it a bit more.

          // can’t we just hold hands and kumbaya our way into oblivion? //

          I know, I know.

          To be honest, the fact that there is a distinct lack of that familiar tension between them (what’s wrong with Sam? What’s wrong with us?) is novelty enough that I’m really getting off on it. It seems appropriate to the fact that these guys are in their mid-30s now – they’ve been doing this shit for 11 years.

          It’s kind of bold, actually – and it’s happened by stealth. I love that. Over the course of the last 2 seasons – from the Mark of Cain/Demon Dean to now – they’ve figured some stuff out about their relationship.

          AND, once again: the key to that has been Sam. Dean could not have done it by himself, would not have done it by himself, and needed Sam’s leadership.

          There’s an almost submissive quality to Dean “admitting” things to Sam – “it was Amara”, etc. – that I really like – without putting a label on it, Dean is admitting Sam’s power and agency, and the fact that Sam is good at some things that he isn’t. I really like that shift – and again, it’s not easy to clock exactly when it went down.

          // But the point of this MoC/Amara journey seems to be to get Dean to understand himself, forgive himself, fight for himself, transform himself, not 100% sure yet, but a resolution to that internal arc for Dean may cause some further shift in their relationship. //

          I really like this viewpoint.

          Dean’s been moving that way ever since he stopped being the Demon – and I just love that the “Big Bad” this season is this sort of gentle gliding woman in black who doesn’t threaten Dean, but seduces him with softness and accord and all the rest … His resistance is going to start pissing her off, I’m thinking … but they’ve kept that “softness” going for half the season now, and it’s bringing out all kinds of weird shit in Dean that I think is great.

          • Jessie says:

            the last time we got a flashback to the Men of Letters they looked like a board meeting of a 1950s company.
            More than three people in a scene? Time for a board meeting, a fistfight, or a monologue!

            It seems appropriate to the fact that these guys are in their mid-30s now – they’ve been doing this shit for 11 years.
            completely agree! And not to cross streams when you’ve just thanked us for NOT doing that, but I feel like some of the work of this season’s loops and echoes and nostalgias and reappearances and callbacks (the latest two episodes in particular) is to get us viewers to this point too. Not sure yet why, but it’s fascinating, because it’s like when so much of this stuff comes back, you feel like nothing’s changed, but everything’s changed.

            I just love that the “Big Bad” this season is this sort of gentle gliding woman in black who doesn’t threaten Dean, but seduces him with softness and accord and all the rest
            Yes! She’s so different from Abbadon and Ruby and Eve! Ruby, who got her hooks so deep into Sam, did it through grief and revenge and anger and blood — and all Amara has to do is float in and be. What is she to him? That swoon is so mysterious and so telling at the same time!

        • sheila says:

          Jessie –

          // More than three people in a scene? Time for a board meeting, a fistfight, or a monologue! //

          hahahahaha Alas, it is so true!!

          // And not to cross streams when you’ve just thanked us for NOT doing that, //

          wait, what the hell did I thank everyone for?? I don’t even know what I’ve said anymore.

          In re: the looping back: YES. I think that was part of why there was a fear (initially) that this might be the final season. “Okay, let’s close up the Purgatory loose end.”

          What other “loose ends” are out there?

          For me, Dean having Lisa/Ben brainwashed was a blatant “OMG this Arc has to end” thing on the part of the writers – and not a satisfying end at all (although everyone played it well). It made no sense. How would Lisa account for the fact that everyone in her neighborhood kept referencing a “Dean”? anyhoo. I’m probably alone in this, but I’d like to see that acknowledged – reversed? – just so … Jeez Louise … those two poor people don’t have to walk around with a missing year, and photographs on the bulletin board of this random man who appeared to have lived with them. It bugs me.

          But any other “loose ends”? Of course the necklace was the main one – but I know we spoke of our feeling that we got “closure” with that in Fan Fiction. Better than the real amulet could ever bring.

          // Not sure yet why, but it’s fascinating, because it’s like when so much of this stuff comes back, you feel like nothing’s changed, but everything’s changed. //

          Yeah, me too. I also enjoy continuity – that the show acknowledges THEY remember these long-ago arcs, that they respect the fact that they were loose ends. I’m glad they don’t tie things up with a neat bow at the end of every season – but it’s also comforting (somehow) that they don’t FORGET.

          // all Amara has to do is float in and be. What is she to him? //

          I know! And they’re both so good as actors in clicking into that weird amorphous energy. It’s riveting.

          I wonder if they’ll leave it amorphous. I kind of hope so although I am intrigued, in general, to see what they choose to do with it. I totally can’t tell yet.

          • Jessie says:

            wait, what the hell did I thank everyone for??
            oh, I just mean talking about keeping the new episode discussion distinct! Because my thoughts were informed by the loops and re-enactments of that particular episode.

            Lisa and Ben — in my mind the resolution to that one has gone in the “too bizarre to revisit” box. I feel like the writers must have intended that Cas do a localised reset of their reality, and it just kind of came out in the ep as a mindwipe, which couldn’t possibly work on any level.

            But any other “loose ends”?
            Will Sam ever get to finish watching Night of the Hunter???

            Aside from the purity of Sam’s blood and the presence of God, both of which were kind of signalled again at the start of the season, I think Adam is the major dangling loose end and I hope they never pull him! ha haaaaaaaaa! SUCK IT!

            I am intrigued, in general, to see what they choose to do with it. I totally can’t tell yet.
            Me too! I feel like there is a lot of foreshadowing this season but not a lot of obvious shape to the final conflict — Lucifer does not seem very menacing aside from the personal threat he holds for S&D — usually we have some idea of the players and circumstances but I’ll admit to feeling like the field is wide open here.

  23. Tabaqui says:

    Oh. This was so very excellent. I love that, while you don’t exactly *deconstruct* any episode, you still manage to dig down to bones and fossils and little, hidden anterooms that I had missed, or ignored, or only seen in passing.

    And it made me, of course, go and rewatch, immediately, and try to see it through new eyes. And I just saw that little, instinctive flinch that Dean does, when his mom touches him for the first time, standing in the door. Because the things that touch Dean generally only do that to trick him or hurt him, and he can’t trust that this is his *mother*…..

    And ‘do you think wishes…?’ And he’s so damn hopeful and scared and in awe and on the verge of just becoming *hysterical* (or is hysterical, deep down, unbelieving and desperately, shamefully needy…..)

    Damn. Yes. Perfect damn episode, and thank you so much for your illuminating words.

    • sheila says:

      Tabaqui –

      // And ‘do you think wishes…?’ And he’s so damn hopeful and scared and in awe and on the verge of just becoming *hysterical* (or is hysterical, deep down, unbelieving and desperately, shamefully needy…..) //

      Yes, that is such a touching moment. Really child-like.

      You are most welcome! I have been loving all of these great comments!

  24. sheila says:

    Just curious:

    I don’t read fan blogs or fan message boards so I’m not aware of the “consensus” on things. That is by design. I don’t want that in my brain when I’m writing these things.

    But for those of you who ARE familiar with fan chatter out there:

    Is there anyone out there in the SPN fandom who DOESN’T like this episode? Is there anyone out there who had a BAD reaction to it? I’d be very curious to hear.

    • Paula says:

      Do you mean WIAWSNB or the current ep in terms of chatter? Haven’t heard anything but love for Safe House so far.

      • sheila says:

        No, this episode from Season 2.

        • carolyn clarke says:

          To answer your question about fan reaction to WIAWSNB, I haven’t found anyone who dislikes the episode. I don’t monitor all the fan sites (1) because your recaps are the most interesting and thought provoking and I learn other things when I visit your website and (2) the fan sites that I do occasionally visit just lack the professionalism and expertise of your website. Of the few that I have read, most are more interested in a rather shallow interpretation of the meaning behind the story. They don’t seem to have the deep analytical discussions that we (the collective we) get into when we talk about WIA… or Bad Day on Black Rock, etc. But there are a few websites dedicated to SPN and I definitely could have missed it.

          • sheila says:

            Yeah, I just wondered because it never hurts to know what people who disagree with you might be saying. This episode seems pretty full-proof and hits all kinds of sweet spots – but you can never assume that everyone feels the same way!

    • Jessie says:

      I’ve seen people say Playthings is too boring…. Horror has a face. I remember people rating season one as skippable, and anything after season five is a perversion. These people! They think the meta episodes too meta! And the mythology episodes not MoTW enough. I watched someone tell a trusted friend that Dark Side of the Moon is out of character. I never want to forget. I’ve heard people say that Jus in Bello has too much Ruby, and Terrible Life not enough Dean. They said JP is no good in The End. Can you imagine! The will to do that!

      But I’ve been around a while and I’ve never seen anyone say WIAWSNB is anything but well-made, moving, and important.

      • sheila says:

        // Playthings is too boring //

        Imagine Sheila doing a gigantic triple-take.

        // I watched someone tell a trusted friend that Dark Side of the Moon is out of character. I never want to forget. //

        Oh nooooooo!!!!

        // They said JP is no good in The End. Can you imagine! The will to do that! //


        Interesting, though, that with all of this fan back-and-forth stuff about other episodes, this episode remains pretty much admired, from what you’re saying.

        Are there any others out there that everyone seems to love? Supernatural Christmas?

        I imagine that the Destiel people are a horse of a different color, and watch the show for entirely different reasons than Sam/Dean people – but I could be making that up. As I know I’ve said, I started to watch the show because somehow the Destiel-fan-base’s outrage about Castiel having sex with the reaper reached even my ears, and I didn’t even watch the show. Their betrayal was so intense that I finally was like, “Oh man, I gotta check this show out.” Just out of curiosity.

        And then look what happened. I’m writing 100-page re-caps. Thank you, Destiel fans!

        For a while there, I still did follow some of those Destiel Tumblrs – although I don’t see 99.9999% of any of the shit they see in the show – outside of Dean’s fluidity in regards to sexual possibility – I wouldn’t call him “bi” like they do – I’d just call it “Open for business.” Like Marlene Dietrich was open for business. Come one, come all.

        But anyway, I stopped reading the Destiel stuff once I got into the show myself, so I haven’t been tracking their responses to stuff, although I imagine they are not happy right now. I could be wrong!

        My point being: they seem like a pretty entrenched isolated community of the fandom, with their own interests. And of course that’s fabulous. I want everyone to have fun with their fantasies, whatever they may be. What floats their boat might not float mine, but I have no interest in sinking anyone else’s ship.

        • Barb says:

          Not everyone loves the Christmas episode, partly because of the amulet. I have seen fans refer to it as a “collar” or “leash”. Evidence of Sam’s subjugation of Dean.

          This is all part of the Sam vs. Dean wars.

          • sheila says:

            Collar/Leash. Wow. Totally off my radar.

          • sheila says:

            That is definitely one response I do not understand. I don’t get seeing this relationship as Hero/Villain. I just don’t see it – I also think it’s a reductive way of looking at this complex relationship. “Bobby Singer is on my shit list” because

            A lady here used to comment and she was so Dean-identified that she basically hated Sam, she hated him in every moment that he “challenged” Dean. She eventually stopped commenting – as happens – she just saw Sam as such a BLOCK to Dean’s awesome-ness and she resented the hell out of him. I don’t understand seeing the relationship that way – it also means you probably spend the majority of your time when you’re watching an episode being enraged and irritated – and I’m just not into saying, “You’re wrong” – but I couldn’t get where she was coming from. I tried!

          • Barb says:

            I agree, it’s hard to really understand–I’ve ranted about this plenty to my husband, so I will try not to do so here! But I think you hit on it with the “Dean-identified” idea. Others are “Sam-identified”, and for some it can be impossible to separate from that point of view. I’ve also read people saying that they fast-forward during Dean, or Sam, or Cas, or Crowley scenes, which is completely nonsensical to me–but keeps them in their cocoons of identifications. There are also complaints over which character carries the storyline (you might have seen the “mytharc for Dean” tweets? All part of the continuum).

            For quite a while, I was a part of a fan board where these wars happened all the time. At a certain point, I just couldn’t do it anymore–I think it was after the season 10 premiere. I went online, with trepidation, and when I saw the general tone of reactions (extremely negative) I just couldn’t fight anymore–not that I was a major fighter, I tried to be more of a reconciler–and I couldn’t be happy as a fan, contributing to this board anymore. So I quietly slipped away, resisting the urge to leave with a huge old explosive post about what I was seeing and why I was leaving. I almost walked on online fandom entirely!

            That’s one of the reasons I love these recaps so much! Not only do they appeal to the English major/film geek still lurking inside, but I so enjoy having conversations that don’t start with “you’re wrong!”

          • sheila says:

            // and I couldn’t be happy as a fan, contributing to this board anymore. //

            Ugh. That’s the worst. Yeah, all of this should be fun – even with everyone’s shared torment. The Destiel wars that erupted after Cas/Reaper was what got my attention before I ever saw the show – so I went into it thinking that it would basically be about a gay relationship between a man and an angel (since I only read Destiel blogs – why, Sheila?? You had never seen the show? But there was something about the outrage that was fascinating to me). When I finally started watching, I did not even recognize the show from the Destiel Tumblrs. I did see the “fluidity” of Dean – I think the show is pretty explicit about that, actually – but all the other stuff I did not see at all.

            I think the differences in response are INTERESTING – even as I find some of the reactions incomprehensible. It’s also basically just evidence of the power of the series.

            I have not seen any of the Captain America movies – but I am sure everyone is aware of the intensity of that fandom – and I barely understand what everyone is talking about – with Bucky! Steve! Homoeroticism! Torment! PTSD! It has a similar “cocoon identification” thing going on – which I suppose is testament to the structure of the characters – that there’s a “way in” for all kinds of different people.

            I like that Sam and Dean are complex and that the relationship drives the narrative/arc – as opposed to one or the other.

            I definitely think the first seasons are from Dean’s point of view – maybe up until season 6 – we’re always in Dean’s primary experience – and the suspicion with which he looks at Sam going totally “off the reservation.” But that’s not solely identifying with Dean – that’s identifying with the primary RELATIONSHIP.

            Would the Dean/Sam-identified people be happier if the brother-wives broke up – and we could get separate series – where Dean wouldn’t have to be “held back” by Sam and Sam wouldn’t have to be held back by Dean? I think it’s pretty obvious that the rich-ness of texture in the show would be obliterated without that relationship.

            Destiel has never appealed to me – especially because I find a lot of the Dean/Cas stuff in Season 5 (especially) cutesy – and the Cas thing has often been cutesy (once he lost that mysterious deadpan quality and became more familiar – and I don’t even want to talk about Cas being “pop culture savvy now” … Ugh. I gather that this is extremely appealing to a sub-set of the fandom, so I’m not trying to take away enjoyment of all of that – but I just can’t go there myself.) That being said, I do understand where the Destiel thing is coming from (although those poor fans must be heart-broken now – especially the ones who seemed to believe that that subtext would go Text).

          • Debbie Lake says:

            Collar/leash? Oh wow! I am so glad I missed all that. The Destiel stuff eludes me too but to each her/his own.

            I cannot imagine hating Sam or Dean. I identify more with Dean because I’m the eldest sibling and have my own burlesque show (thanks for that concept Sheila!) but I love Sam too. Their relationship is the heart of the show for me. I sometimes get pissy when I think the writers have douched Sam or Dean up to much but that’s about it.

            Are there episodes I like more than other? Of course! Are there dropped storylines that frustrate me? Yup. And yet I park myself in front of that TV every week watching this amazing show. I compulsively rewatch older episodes all the time. I stalk YouTube for outtakes, interviews and convention footage with J2. I think these guys are amazing actors and this is a fabulous show!

            Now, thanks to Sheila’s posts ?, I’m learning to appreciate it from a technical perspective. I’ve always appeciated Jared’s and Jensen’s acting abilities (it cannot be easy to make two almost sociopathic serial killing loners sympathetic and likeable) but now I’m also beginning to grasp how much the lighting, filming, camera angles and coloring contribute to the show (thanks Sheila!! ?). Not to mention I’ve always had a soft spot for late 60s/early 70s Impalas. ?

          • sheila says:

            Debbie –

            // and have my own burlesque show // hahaha!!! You too? :)

            // it cannot be easy to make two almost sociopathic serial killing loners sympathetic and likeable //


            // Are there dropped storylines that frustrate me? Yup. //

            Which dropped storylines frustrate you? I’ve got mine, but curious to hear others.

            If you want to start up a new thread way down below that’s cool – this one is getting confusing!

      • Paula says:

        WIAWSNB seems to be one of the sacred episodes that everyone loves, but all the others are targets for someone.
        Even Swan Song is criticized – “where was my the epic battle to end the apocalypse?” Please, people, you would rather a Michael Bay guns-blazing ending than that beautiful intimate devastation? That one shuts me down instantly.

        • Zelli says:

          I would guess it’s a combination of thoroughly good episode/doesn’t press on any of fandom’s hot button issues like Swan Song, the Christmas one, Dark Side of the Moon, et al.

          • sheila says:

            This is all very interesting to me.

            I feel like I need a flow-chart to understand the diversity of responses. :)

      • Helena says:

        (a href=””)//I’ve seen people say Playthings is too boring….//(/a)


  25. mutecypher says:

    I had to look several times to really convince myself that sweet Jess was also Ms. Perkins in John Wick. I know, that’s why they call it acting. Pretty cool.

    Too bad she didn’t get any fight scenes in SPN, she was all in with Keanu.

    • sheila says:

      John Wick. One of the coolest most entertaining movies to come out of Hollywood in the last 10 years, maybe?

      The fight scenes in that damn thing – which were constant since it was all one big long fight scene – were to die for.

      and I forgot she was in it!

  26. Terri M says:

    Hey, Sheila.
    I LOOOVE this episode passionately, and I relished every word of your recap (while simultaneously re-watching; it took 5 hours!) the comments, and Helena’s artwork.

    The bookend item I really enjoy thinking about is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Saturday Night Special.” It’s Dean’s mission statement as he drives up to the warehouse the first time. It’s less about “We got work to do” than this is MY purpose-as a tool/weapon to defend the unknowing civilians (when not protecting my brother.)

    Reality keeps creeping into his wish!world, the bodies behind the closet door, shooting “full of thirty-eight holes” the story his own mind is trying to create. “And pretty soon ol’ [Dean] starts a thinkin’ Somebody been cheatin’ and lyin’ So Big [Dean] commence to fightin’.”

    It’s also the call to arms in his own defense when wish! Baby pulls up to the warehouse. “You might even shoot yourself.” Dean turns his best weapon on himself-that sharp mind-killing himself in the wish!verse, but ultimately freeing himself of the Djinn’s power in the real world. Oh, and saving the girl, too. I’m sure it’s mostly thoughts of the girl that figure into his own feelings of whether coming back is “worth it.”

  27. Tonya says:

    Since this one of my favorite episodes, I have been impatiently patiently waiting for this recap. You did not disappoint. I have throughly enjoyed this recap and the comments that came from it. Thanks again for doing these recaps and hosting this site.

    • sheila says:

      Tonya – it is my pleasure – thank you for reading!

      “impatiently patiently” hahahaha

      I appreciate everyone’s patience with these, I really do – it means a lot.

  28. Aslan'sOwn says:

    I am enjoying your recaps so very much (as well as the comments!) I tend to focus on plot and character not so much on lighting, camera angles, etc., so I love to read your perspective on how the show helps create the feelings they evoke in me as I watch it. It makes total sense, and I love reading your evaluation of it — for example, I know that I liked the look of the show, but I hadn’t even thought about how DARK those early episodes are or about the presentation of Beauty. I’m actually a little embarrassed because as an English major, I really should be more interested in dissecting HOW an effect is created instead of just enjoying (or crying over) the effect itself. I really love the show, and the detail with which you observe it does credit to a well-told/well-filmed story.

    BTW, I’m presently in a production of “Our Town” (wish I could be Emily – I’m too old, unfortunately), and I LOVED your comparisons of that play with this episode.

    One of my favorite lines in your article is this: “The Djinn-Loop, time draining out of the hourglass, all things, all events and sights and images and moments looping back and repeating, repeating, repeating. . . his mind flooding with memories, memories super-imposing themselves on top of wishes, reality scotch-taped on top of fiction.”

    That “time draining out of the hourglass” was such an awesome (and melancholy) image – Dean’s beautiful world (though not perfect) that would SEEM like a lifetime but which was only an illusion. It reminded me too of the glimpses of the girl in white – looking so lovely in the beginning and then more and more destroyed as she was dying, as time was running out for her too.

    • sheila says:

      Thank you so much for all of your comments and observations!

      Yes, for me the HOW is almost more important than the WHAT. I’m not sure I would have got hooked in if the first season of SPN looked like the 7th season. Who knows.

      and so cool that you’re in a production of Our Town as we speak!! Who are you playing? I love that play so much.

      // It reminded me too of the glimpses of the girl in white – looking so lovely in the beginning and then more and more destroyed as she was dying, as time was running out for her too. //

      You know, I hadn’t noticed the deterioration of Dean’s image of her – the difference between first viewing of her and last. Really good point – and I love the detail now – will keep my eyes peeled for it as I watch again.

      • Aslan's Own says:

        I’m playing Mrs. Soames, a fun character. “Childbirth — I’d forgotten that. My, wasn’t life awful — and wonderful.” I just hope I can remain stoic in my grave and not bawl when Emily says goodbye to the world!

  29. sheila says:

    Oh yes, of course! She’s a great character!

    I’ve never considered how difficult it must be for the actors in the graveyard to remain stoic while Emily weeps through that monologue!

  30. lindah15 says:

    OK, I haven’t yet succeeded in re-watching the episode without turning into an un-analytical puddle of goo yet. I love this episode sooo much! I nod along with Sheila’s observations in the beginning, thinking “Ahhh, I never noticed that!” and “Man, these guys are good!” And then somewhere in the middle, maybe during the lawnmower scene or the dinner scene — everything think-y disappears for me.

    So I don’t have anything to add for the moment except: Did anyone know that the girl in white, Melanie Scrofano, is the lead in a new series called Wynonna Earp? Apparently, it’s a current-day supernatural western, filmed in Canada, with a magic six-shooter and demons and zombies. (I swear this is not an April Fool’s prank. I only clicked on the AV Club link because she looked so familiar.) The link leads to a review that says very nice things about Ms. Scrofano ,“a perfect leading lady”, although it’s not as sure about the show itself. It airs tonight (Friday, April 1st) on Syfy at 10pm.

    If I ever get my sh*t together about WIAWSNB, I’ll comment later, but for now, I agree with Sheila that this episode is magic in a bottle. And I agree with everyone else who said Sheila’s post was insightful and wondrous and not at all de-magicking.

    • sheila says:

      Wow, I love to hear that our “girl in white” who did such a good job – in a role where she only had one line – is doing so well and the lead in something! It sounds very intriguing!

      And thank you so much, Lindah – I know how much we all seem to love and treasure this episode – glad that the re-cap was able to express that, rather than diminish it.

  31. Troopic says:

    oh Sheila,
    Your comebacks are just. So quotable. You are amazing. and very VERY insightful.

    //For a while there, I still did follow some of those Destiel Tumblrs – although I don’t see 99.9999% of any of the shit they see in the show – outside of Dean’s fluidity in regards to sexual possibility – I wouldn’t call him “bi” like they do – I’d just call it “Open for business.” Like Marlene Dietrich was open for business. Come one, come all.//

    This is a very important statement, and I’m gonna take it with onto the fandom and drop it on them anviliciously. ThanQ for this great ammunition.

    BTW. You talk a lot about how JA finds himself in positions/angles reserved for women on shows (correct me if I’m wrong, or my wording is off. But anyway.)
    So I’ve come bearing gifts. Sorta. This would be from Days Of Our Lives.
    This is a bit… o.O

    Your point? Confirmed. Ay.

    • sheila says:

      Ha!! Thank you for your gift. What is so interesting, though, about that series of gifs – is that I don’t sense an inner life going on in the character. It’s more model-ish and posed than what he’s doing in SPN, which kind of twists him up and mae us complicit in looking at him that way. But yeah, he knows what he’s got going on, why he’s cast, so he gives it up, like, “Okay, here I am naked being gorgeous.” It’s so cheesecake-photo! (and believe me, there isn’t anything wrong with that!!)

      // I’m gonna take it with onto the fandom and drop it on them anviliciously. //


      I don’t follow those Tumblrs anymore – and although it may sound like I’m making fun of them – I do think many of them are quite sweet and I also owe them a debt of gratitude because their screaming-in-outrage about Castiel having sex with anyone but Dean is what got me watching the show in the first place.

      So: if you still frequent such Tumblrs: What is the feeling on the street about “Destiel” these days? Are they still hopeful? Or have they retreated into their fanfic entirely, and given up on the show? No judgment either way, but I actually have been curious about that.

      • Troopic says:

        Rhe cheesecake makes me uncomfortable, just fyi XD
        But shower scenes, for me, are kinda creepy in any case.

        Moving on.
        //I don’t follow those Tumblrs anymore //
        I own one :) It’s my little fannish Sanctuary.
        You are welcome to peak if you want, just let me know.

        I’m no expert “on the street” of tumblr SPN side, I have my own little corner there and it has nothing to do with destiel. Funny, though, is the fact that I, too, got into all this fandom business because of it.
        I’m an avid watcher of the show since it first aired, but I was mostly keeping to myself, even had a little user on a fan cite for a short time, but that was it.
        After the destiel uproar, I had this inner turmoil over “what am I blind what is going on am I watching the same show as these guys???” So I rewatched everything from the very beginning all over again.
        Saw NOTHING TO INDICATE DESTIEL. None. I mean.
        I actually came out on the other way of the spectrum, holding tight in my hands the oldest and the very first ship of the fandom instead. So thanQ destiel shippers, who, unbeknownst to them, created a wincest shipper. True story.

        As what have become of the “destiel will go canon!” mob.
        Some still believe (which kinda heartbreaking, really. They sound… out of focus. ;-; )
        Some overcame it and dropped it, and learned the hard way that not all that glitters is gold. Or, you can “see” and “imagine” but there are truths of life.
        Some STOPPED WATCHING THE SHOW ON PRINCIPE. Which is. Well. You be the judge of that >_>

        I have to admit that now, more then ever, I see more and more WITHIN the text of this show. It is very ambitious in its style.

        It’s kinda like a bible.
        It’s the Winchester Gospel.

        • sheila says:

          // Funny, though, is the fact that I, too, got into all this fandom business because of it. //

          Troopic – really!! That’s so interesting – I am sure there are more of us (like Jessie’s clip says.) That fandom is so passionate that it intrigued me so much – that isn’t often the case. Sometimes fan-culture is so hermetically sealed that an outsider feels like they will never catch up, or there’s no “way in”, or it’s too late, or whatever. But those Destiel Tumblrs MEAN BUSINESS and I would read all these entries – having no idea what anybody was talking about – but of course I could understand their arguments and what interested them – and the depth of those conversations made me so curious to check out the show. (Plus the Castiel/Reaper/Sex collective shit-fit – that was the clincher.)

          Thanks for the update on the Destiel blogs.

          // I see more and more WITHIN the text of this show. It is very ambitious in its style. //

          I totally agree. It can “take” so many different interpretations. You know, all that “sub” in the “text.” :)

          • Troopic says:

            //You know, all that “sub” in the “text.” :)//

            Very true. :)

            I read so many of these discussions and arguments, they are very convincing, but going back to the source they seem to be grasping at straws. Literally couldn’t spot a thing.

            On the other hand – too much Flowers In The Attic was going on from the get go.

            BTW, an interesting fan-history anecdote:
            The first Supernatural fanfiction story to ever grace the internet was, in fact, a wincest short of 342 words.
            It was published a few hours after the first episode ever aired, back in 2005 (Reunion by janedavitt. It’s mythological by now.)

            Which is fascinating on its own: someone watched the first episode and said “well damn! there is some weird history here!” (SUBTEXT)

            I’m still gigging at that. I mean. THE NIGHT AFTER THE AIRING OF THE FIRST EPISODE.
            RIDICULOUS. XD

      • Paula says:

        *lowers head, raises hand* uh yeah, I’m going to out myself here. I have two tumblr fandom blogs, one of which is SPN, and I’ve written fanfic (oh, the horror). While there are some very nice Destiel shippers on tumblr, many seem to be very young and very unaware that ships are all about fantasy. There are still a ton of them out there who complain loudly rather than change the channel, and they lash out at each other like it’s a sport. Surfing the general SPN tags can be a quagmire of negativity so I stick with a few blogs, mostly writers or gif makers who have a sense of humor and a lot of love for the show.

        • Troopic says:

          Paula – I get what you say.
          But hey I’ve got the skin of a rhino so I don’t care about all that thunderstorm.
          Do what you like, write what you like, never apologize.
          I’m still internalizing this idea myself.
          There is a too-long history of shaming fans and needds to stop. :)

        • sheila says:

          I could not live without SPN gif-makers!

          Oh, and in case it sounds like I’m judging people with Tumblrs – I am not!! It’s just I don’t follow the SPN Tumblrs like I used to because there was so much negativity – at least in the ones I had stumbled across.

          I actually have two Tumblrs myself although I’m not really updating them anymore. One is an Elvis Tumblr. (shocker).

          And the other has the most juvenile title in the world. It makes it sound like I am in middle-school (which, emotionally, I kind of am). I should get back to updating that one, because it’s a fun archive.

          • sheila says:

            Oh and if anyone wants to pass on a link to their own SPN fandom tumblr – go right ahead! I’d love to see.

            It’s a talented interesting bunch who show up here. :)

            I mean, look at what Helena is doing with hers!!

          • sheila says:

            My Elvis Tumblr is basically just a gigantic photo archive.


            I used to keep it updated religiously but honestly, at this point, I think I have as many photos as I need of Elvis in that one place. I reference it all the time for my Elvis posts – I’m like: “Okay, where is that picture of Elvis at an Easter Egg hunt … I know it’s here somewhere …”

        • Paula says:

          That gif, lol. And Sheila, I never get the feeling of you judging people at all! This is just me being a huge sci fi/fantasy fan girl, always have been since Star Trek, and people never get that. But you guys do, more than anyone. I follow Troopic on tumblr already so feel like a child not sharing mine.

          Can I share it here and then you delete it like a day later?

          • sheila says:

            You can DM it to me on Twitter if that makes you feel safer! Or if you want everyone here to be aware of it too – I can put it up. I’m afraid I’ll forget to delete it though. Of course, you can feel free to remind me.

          • Paula says:

            No, it’s all right. There’s not a lot of pearl clutchers here. It’s (I’m on mobile so not going to try for a link). There, I feel so much better.

          • carolyn clarke says:

            Preaching to the choir, sister. I too am a sci-fi/fantasy fan and Trekker. I actually went to one of the first Star Trek conventions in NYC way more years ago than I care to remember. Haven’t been to one since.

          • Paula says:

            Carolyn – Love it! They have a big Comic Con here in MN each year and I keep thinking about going (Gillian Anderson was there last year and I’m still kicking myself).

            If any of you are on tumblr, just reach out on messages or ask. Let me know who you are!

          • Barb says:

            Ah, Paula–I’m also “one of us!” though not so much on Tumblr. I mean, I have a Tumblr account, but I find the site kind of overwhelming, so I’m rarely there. So, like Eileen this year, you could call me, but I probably won’t answer. :-)

            I do have an LJ, and accounts on A03 and FanFiction. There’s some meta, a con report, and yeah, some fic on there, along with a bit of navel-gazing. I’m .

            Also a sci-fi/fantasy fan (and just general obsessive) from way back. When I was in college we had a group which would congregate to watch Star Trek: Next Generation every week, and then discuss for hours, as college kids do. SPN was the first time I participated in online fandom, though, and the first time I sought out fanfiction when I found myself hungry for more story. I originally set up those accounts in order to be able to give feedback to writers whose stories I really liked–but over time it led to writing my own. Funny how that works, huh?

          • sheila says:

            // I actually went to one of the first Star Trek conventions in NYC way more years ago than I care to remember. //

            Carolyn – that is so so cool!!

          • sheila says:

            I look forward to checking out everybody’s sites – thanks for listing them here!

        • Wren Collins says:

          oh, Paula- I think I’ve read some of your fic!

          Also outing self: two fic accounts. Two Tumblrs. An LJ. A blog. I used to ramble all over the place, but I’ve banned myself from all Tumblrs except for maybe three people’s because the negativity, oh, man, it gets you down.

          • sheila says:

            Love that everyone is outing themselves.

            and yeah, negativity is such a bummer – People can have different opinions – but why does it need to get toxic? I’ve never really understood that.

            Also, the assumption that your “ship” must “go canon” – otherwise, you’ve been tricked or manipulated – that’s silly! Like, I am convinced that Dean has had sex for money, probably in his late teen years, early 20s. I don’t need to see it. And I don’t care that people might not agree with me. It’s just something I sense, I’m fine with it being “deep background” (hinted at most clearly in Alex Alexis blah blah – although I “see” it elsewhere – the look on Dean’s face when head vamp says to him “I’ll give you a private tour” – he’s not just grossed out, he looks like he’s remembering something – the moment is FAMILIAR to Dean – I could go on), but I’m also fine with the thought that I might be making it all up.

            Who cares? I used to fantasize that Han Solo had a 12-year-old sister – because, whaddya know, I was 12 years old when I saw Star Wars. Did I need to see an actual 12-year-old girl piloting the Millennium Falcon in order to get my rocks off?


            Although I still think that that would have been awesome.

  32. juppschmitz says:

    Hey, your reviews have made me look at television differently. I think I understand most of the things you point out (lighting, camera moves…) Sometimes however I look at a show other than Supernatural and wonder how to recognize this stuff. Like, do they use two cameras for a conversation or do they film each of the different actors’ parts consecutively. How can I actually spot that stuff? What would be a bad line delivery as opposed to a good one? Basically, I think what I’d need would be examples of when something doesn’t work.
    I casually follow Elementary for instance, and since I’m not really invested in the characters I try to look out for the technical stuff. But for the life of me I can’t tell what I’m seeing…
    Anyway, I love the way your reviews have given me something new to look out for other than plot and characterization. Thank you very much for that :)

    • sheila says:

      Juppschmitz – thanks so much! When you see something that doesn’t work, it’s almost more instructive than when something does!

      You probably recognize bad line-readings already. They basically don’t sound right, OR they stay on the surface – with the words – instead of suggesting what is happening in the inner life. Keep your eyes peeled for inner life – and don’t get swept away by dialogue. Sometimes I watch things with the sound turned off – so I can really see how much I “get” from behavior and facial expressions. It’s extremely interesting. Good actors barely need words: you get their thoughts, their souls, their conflicts – and you can SEE them. This is really fun to do with foreign films – or any film where you don’t speak the language. I watch it once with the subtitles on so I can get the story – then I watch it with the subtitles off to focus on the behavior and see how much I “get.”

      SPN is really good with the sound turned off – mainly because of the faces of the two leads and how much they express.

      Comedy is a great way to find bad line-readings galore, since not many people are skilled comedians. Someone like Cary Grant was incapable of giving a bad line-reading, that’s how skilled he was at hearing where the joke was in any given line.

      // do they film each of the different actors’ parts consecutively. //

      Yes. Most traditional shows film it this way because it’s easy and effective. It’s not necessarily bad. It looks like Mad Men shot in this way, and that was a great show. The Sopranos didn’t really do it this way: they were more about group events, a lot of people onscreen behaving at the same time – which is harder to do because a director doesn’t have as much control.

      In most television: What you want to look for is the traditional set-up (and there’s nothing wrong with the traditional set-up: it’s been used since the beginning of cinema since it is the most effective and easiest way to get a story across).

      Traditional set-up goes:

      It starts with a “master shot”, where you can see the entire location and the characters in it in one glance. The “master shot” tells you where you are, where the scene takes place. Maybe you get some dialogue going on in “master shots,” again to establish where characters are in space.

      Then you move into “medium shots” – which I talk about in this episode, particularly in the cemetery scene. Medium shots are basically the head of the actor plus maybe his shoulders or half/or all of his/her torso. This means that once you establish the “master shot” you don’t have to keep reminding the audience of the location. You can move in closer now, to get into motivation/emotion/conversation. A lot of times scenes go back and forth from one actor to another in medium-shot. This is also pretty effective in getting across a conversation .

      After that, you move into close-ups. Right up in an actor’s grille.

      If one actor gets the close-up and the other actor stays in medium-shot – that means that the POV – or the focus of the scene – is the one in close-up. SPN uses this all the time, almost in every episode – since it’s two characters, and they switch off in importance.

      The final scene of “Love Hurts,” just as one example of this. It’s really really interesting how they shoot that. They’re both in medium-shot at first. Then on Dean’s response to Sam’s question “She isn’t” – Dean says “No! She can’t be! Because if she were … blah blah blah” – there’s a very gentle almost invisible push-in to Dean’s face on the part of the camera. This is visual information saying What Dean is going through is the point of this scene. And yes, you get it from the dialogue, but if you turned the sound off, you’d get it from that push-in to his face. Meanwhile Sam stays in medium-shot – this means he’s more stable, he’s not the focus. And they keep going back to Sam where you can almost see his entire body. Dean, however, is trapped in the close-up, trapped in his experience. Then Dean walks towards Sam on “You know I want her ass dead” line – and the camera follows him towards Sam. The camera IS Dean. At the end of the scene: HUGE close-up of Dean. Medium-shot of Sam.

      All of this may sound so elementary and silly – because the dialogue already tells you all of this. And yes, it does! But one of the reasons I love SPN is its cinematic use of space and perspective – so that we DON’T have to rely just on the dialogue (the way we do in, say, a traditional soap opera, which is basically all close-up to close-up).

      So back to the standard progression of scenes that you see in most television is:
      Long shot to Medium Shot to Close-up.

      And they won’t use two cameras for this. They’ll use one. So what happens is you set up for one side of the conversation: lights, background, etc. You light for that side of the conversation. And the actor on that “side” then does his entire side of the conversation, with the scene partner reading the lines to him from off-screen (or – if the scene partner isn’t available, it could very well be an assistant director reading the lines from off-screen. So imagine the skill involved for the actor onscreen – having to play his scene and be emotionally available – when he’s not even looking at the actual actor whom he’s supposedly in the scene with. That’s SKILL.). Then you flip the whole thing around to do the other side – and you change the lights, and you change the background.

      This is what takes so much bloody time when you’re filming. But it’s the easiest way to control what you’re filming. You could probably do this in your sleep if you’ve done it enough.

      When we shot my short film last year, we did it this way. We shot the entire scene (a 12-minute scene) in a master-shot first. Where we could see the two of them sitting at the bar, together in one frame. The director did it that way so that he would have options (“options” are key for a director, in terms of editing: you want multiple takes to choose from). And so that he could “cut” to the master if he felt he needed it. You can probably pick out this kind of film-making already: You have a bunch of close-ups, back, forth, back, forth, and suddenly there’s a master shot – showing the wider scene. This can be an extremely paranoid style: so you get the intimacy of two people together and suddenly, alarmingly, the sense of an outside world pressing in around them.

      Back to my short film: after doing the whole thing in the master-shot, we shot her side of the conversation, entirely, first in medium shot and then moving into close-up. The actor read his lines to her off-screen.

      Then we turned everything around to do “his” side, in medium shot to close-up, etc., while she read her lines to him off-screen.

      We only had 8 hours to complete the entire film. This is an efficient way to “get things done.” And SPN does it too, all the time – although a lot of the time they fling you right into the center of some event and give you NO “master shot” so that you have no idea where you are in time/space.

      Now: most of the great film directors break all of these rules all the time. Robert Altman almost never used close-ups. He does entire scenes – with 20 people in them – in a master-shot. This is incredibly challenging. How do you make “the event” clear if you don’t EVER cut to a close-up of one person, where you understand what they’re feeling?? He would put little microphones on each actors’ body, so that their dialogue would register, even if they were all the way across a room. (See “Gosford Park” for examples of this.)

      A lot of directors feature long long long takes. The camera moving around a room, no edits, everything happening “in one.” Martin Scorsese. Otto Preminger. Max Ophus. Paul Thomas Anderson. (SPN has experimented with this – the most obvious example is a scene in “Simon Said” in the roadhouse: talked a lot about long takes in that re-cap, if you’re interested:)

      Long takes are really hard to do, and take forever to “set up” so that’s why you don’t see them a lot in television because you just don’t have enough time.

      In terms of line-readings: I would say that bad line-readings are extremely rare in anything high quality, because the director edits them out.

      If you watch some of the SPN gag-reel footage, you can see both of these guys give bad or unconvincing line readings. It happens to everyone, sometimes you need a couple of takes to “find it”.

      I mostly notice bad line-readings in comedies, as I said. Jared Padalecki is so good at dry comedic line-readings that it’s almost like a sixth sense with him. I’ll see if I can think of examples where it doesn’t work – most of the time when it doesn’t work, I feel the person pushing – or “mugging” – or TRYING to be funny, which is really embarrassing to watch. I find a lot of young actors think being “sarcastic” equals being funny – and they are very very wrong in that regard.

      Jessie and I were just discussing The People vs. OJ Simpson in another thread. Technically, I am not wacky about the show – it’s look, and HOW they are telling the story. They over-use 360-degree shots, which means the camera circling around characters. It looks really artificial and if you’re GOING to use a 360-degree shot, you really need to use it sparingly.

      Kim Manners, on the other hand, uses spiraling camera shots compulsively – it’s practically a finger-print and why I would recognize his direction in a blind line-up – the “circles” are the give-away. But he does it so elegantly – as a way to make an episode beautiful-looking (that’s the problem with the 360-degree circles in OJ Simpson: they’re trying to ratchet up the feeling of chaos, and it’s just used too much, it feels manipulative) – but Kim Manners also uses it as a way to tell a story, circling around the characters lovingly, placing them in time and space, but also moving us into the three-dimensionality of their character and experience.

      I hope this has been at least interesting. I love looking at the technical aspects and HOW they do something because each one represents a story-telling choice.

      Keep looking!! It’s a really fun game and you’ll get the hang of it!!

      • juppschmitz says:

        Oh, wow. I did not expect such a long, detailed answer. Thank you so so much.

        So basically looking at TV like you do is kind of like litaraty analysis. Which I have to admit I loved at school, not because the teacher always KNEW what the author wanted to say by using such and such a device, but because it forced me to get more aquainted with the text. Which is just what I hope to get out of this kind of TV analysis too.

        I’m definitely much clearer on what to look out for now. One thing though – and it’s probably silly, but… if they use two cameras, and one camera is on one actor’s face, how come I can’t see the other camera that’s filming the other actor? *is puzzled*

        re: line-reading. I’m pretty sure my perception of someone’s line-reading is mostly guided by sympathy. For instance, I would say that Michelle’s line-reading in “Red Meat” was fabulous – but then I really liked her, so maybe that’s why. On second thought, maybe I liked her so much because her line-reading was good…

        Anyway, thank you again for enhancing my TV experience so much :)

        • sheila says:

          You’re welcome! This stuff can be so fun and I’ve found it doesn’t diminish enjoyment at all.

          // So basically looking at TV like you do is kind of like litaraty analysis. //

          That’s exactly right. I remember reading stuff in high school and really just grooving on the plot. And then the teacher would point out symbols or metaphors – and this whole other world would open up in the book. (I remember reading Great Gatsby in 10th grade and I thought it was great. I loved the story. But I remember my great 10th grade teacher said something like, “Okay, so now we’re going to talk about all of the names of the guests at the big party.” I had basically just skimmed over the names – there’s like 2 pages of them – because I took them for granted that they were just names, I hadn’t even thought they had deeper significance. And he took us through each name, one by one: the Leeches, Mr. Bunsen, the Hornbeams, Willie Voltaire, Edgar Beaver – I mean, that one is almost too obvious!! – Clarence Endive – Stonewall Jackson Abrams, the Fishguards, Ripley Snell, Ulysses Swett, S.B. Whitebait, the Hammerheads, “Beluga the tobacco importer”, George Duckweed, the Backhyssons, S.W. Belcher … I mean, it’s two pages of these RIDICULOUS names – that say all kinds of funny symbolic things about these semi-gross people obsessed with obvious consumption and being rich and corrupt and “stinky” (all those fish references!) I was 15 years old but that teacher made me see that there was way more to the book than met the eye – and it really expanded my perspective on how good literature operates.

          // but… if they use two cameras, and one camera is on one actor’s face, how come I can’t see the other camera that’s filming the other actor? //

          They have to be really tricky with this. :) Sometimes the cameras are actually far away from the two figures – but they zoom in on the faces. I don’t imagine they do this on SPN – but they might. (Apparently, that was how Adam McKay shot most of “The Big Short.” The actors in that said that often they didn’t even know where the camera was in the room. Pretty amazing. So even the close-ups – that was because some guy across the room was zooming in.)

          If the cameras are on an angle, then you won’t see the other one – because they won’t be pointed directly at one another. The Impala shots are a perfect example. A lot of the times it seems the cameras are placed on either side of the front of the car, pointing in at each guy on a diagonal. But I’m not sure.

          // On second thought, maybe I liked her so much because her line-reading was good… //

          Yeah, that’s how I feel. She just nailed it. It’s kind of like … you know it when you see it. If it feels real and connected, that’s a good line-reading.

          In terms of bad line-readings – in the SPN universe, for the most part, their guest actors are excellent.

          I feel bad about saying this because I hammered the poor woman so much last season – but I thought the actress playing Hannah the angel had some terrible – and I mean terrible – line-readings.

          What I saw was an actress who had not – or could not – or whatever – figured out what it was that made an angel an angel. She kept forgetting that she was supposed to be playing an otherworldly being – and instead kept seeming like a teenage girl with a crush, or a bank teller, or a suburban soccer mom. Like, she just didn’t click into the angel-thing – and she kept “slipping” and having little human reactions to things. Misha Collins, in those first seasons, NEVER slipped like that. NEVER. And Misha Collins strikes me as a total CLOWN in real-life. Like, to withhold his entire screaming playful sense of humor to play this part … I mean, hats off. The deadpan of MC was just so complete. And Hannah just … didn’t even try. I felt like if there were two choices with every given line – an interesting choice and a cliched boring choice – she went with the latter. I think she was mis-cast and then they were stuck with her.

          To be specific: the scene at the gas station where Castiel says to her over the car: “We need to focus on the mission – we can’t get distracted by emotions.”

          She played her response as though she were on a date. As though she totally understood the nuances of what he was saying – like she was a grown-up regular everyday woman – as opposed to an otherworldly celestial being who had ZERO experience with having emotions at all. I mean, remember Misha Collins in Season 4??? How STRANGE he was? How … WEIRD? And almost flat-affect because the angel was trying to get used to inhabiting a human body. Misha Collins had thought hard and specifically about what that would be like, and Hannah-actress just hadn’t.

          For me, her line readings in that episode in particular – the Castiel/Hannah road trip – were not convincing in the slightest – nor were they interesting.

          I don’t mean to be too harsh – but I’m in the business of saying what I think works and doesn’t – and Hannah really stands out in the entire series as someone who just couldn’t … get it.

          If you enjoyed Hannah’s performance – I really am so sorry for saying all of this and making an example out of her!!! But she does stand out as a bad-line-reader person.

          • juppschmitz says:

            Oh, yes, old-school Castiel and Hannah! Miles apart. Yep, I totally see what you mean now. Pity we’re not gonna get that version of Castiel back. (I just can’t seem to connect with the new, pop-culture-savvy, semi-emotional angel. *sighs*)

            And I do actually distinctly remember that episode with Hannah and thinking, does she have a crush on Castiel? She’s supposed to be a basically gender neutral angel, she shouldn’t crush on another angel. She seemed like she was worshipping the ground he walked on and it just felt wrong. Thanks, I think I’m clearer on that now :)

            One more question, and then I’ll leave you alone :)
            Do you figure out stuff like the two vs. one camera filming by reading about it and then recognize it while watching, or do you figure it out by yourself, say because the lighting doesn’t get changed in the background in the two camera version?

            Thanks a lot for your time, having this explained is a great help.

          • sheila says:

            You’re welcome, this is fun!

            // She’s supposed to be a basically gender neutral angel, she shouldn’t crush on another angel. She seemed like she was worshipping the ground he walked on and it just felt wrong. //

            Yeah, her “take” on it felt so conventional and very wrong. I think she was TRYING to seem “clueless” but she kept slipping in these little human moments, she couldn’t help herself – like the scene outside the gas station. I could almost see the actress be unable to do what she was supposed to be doing – and so her line readings were way “off.”

            // Do you figure out stuff like the two vs. one camera filming by reading about it and then recognize it while watching, or do you figure it out by yourself, say because the lighting doesn’t get changed in the background in the two camera version? //

            Well, I remember watching the first 4 or 5 episodes and being really struck by the Impala scenes – not just how beautiful they were but how the conversations felt so real. Close-up to close-up scenes can be very “on the nose” – one character says something in close-up, you cut to the other guy, and he reacts to what the other character said. SPN does this too. But those Impala scenes felt different.

            In real-life, we don’t just “act” and “react”. Someone says something to you and as they talk, you listen, you might not speak, but you listen, and you have internal reactions to what they are saying. These can be very complex – you may think (for example) as the person speaks: “Yeah, I really hear what you’re saying but … wait a sec … not sure I agree with THAT thing you just said” – and you don’t say a word but all of that would be on your face. And THAT is what I felt in the Impala scenes. There was so much AIR in the scenes – meaning breathing-space – and a lot of times while one guy is talking, you get a long shot of the other guy listening – with the voice coming from off-camera – so you get a chance to see each guys’ thought process.

            Those scenes felt very spontaneous to me – with a lot of wiggle room – and I wondered if they were filming both sides of the conversation at the same time. It FELT like the two guys were playing the whole scene out “in one.” (When you have close-up to close-up, you just know that it’s all about the set-ups, and then switching everything around to do the other side. And those scenes can be excellent too and they usually are in SPN. But the Impala scenes stood out as different.)

            So THEN, I heard Kripke’s commentary on What Is and What Sholud Never Be (I think it was that one) and he spilled the beans on filming those Impala scenes with two cameras – basically as a way to save time. It cuts down on the number of set-ups. And you still get big juicy close-ups, but without all the switching-around time involved. Let’s say an Impala scene is made up of 20 different shots. It sometimes gets that high if the scene is long. If you did it first shooting Sam and then shooting Dean – you’d have DOUBLE the number of set-ups. So if you shoot the whole scene in one, you cut your set-ups in half – and then you get all of those great SILENT reactions of the guy listening, or looking out the window, considering what the other guy is saying, thinking something but NOT saying it – all that richness of behavior.

            So yeah, I did guess that that was how they shot those scenes and felt very validated and smarty-pants when I learned I was right. :)

            With talented actors and a talented crew, you don’t NEED to shoot a conversation that way. Gifted actors (as both of these guys are) can make anything seem real, with any set-up, close-up, medium-shot, long (that’s not the case with a lot of actors who are only really good in close-up – they don’t know how to MOVE – JA and JP are great movers).

            But there’s something about the MOOD of those conversations in the car – and all those behavioral reaction shots, that feel very very in-the-moment and a great way to do that is to just take the leashes off the actors and let them PLAY it.

            I love that they decided to do it that way – basically as a practical measure to save time, but also because the scenes flat out feel more real. I’m sure it’s more fun for the actors too, to not have each moment chopped up into tiny pieces.

    • Jessie says:

      This is such a great overview Shelia and I hope you don’t mind if I jump in and add a couple of moderately gossipy things specific to coverage on SPN, mostly for the purpose of blowing smoke up asses:

      You talk in this recap about the benefits of having two cameras going at once and I’ve seen several editors and directors comment about how handy it is to have two pros like JA and JP to do these two-handers with as it saves time and allows them to cut really close and naturalistically. And the performances, like you say, benefit.

      I’ve also heard several guest stars talk about how surprised and impressed they are that JA and JP give fully-fledged performances when they’re going the guest’s coverage – they’d be within their rights to pull it back – some leads don’t even stay for it – but they don’t.

      Also, Ty Olsson has a lovely anecdote about his very first day, sitting over in a corner waiting to do his first scene. JA, the star of the show, came over, introduced himself, and asked Olsson if he wanted to run lines, if there was anything he needed, and if TO wanted to do his coverage first. In hundreds of roles, Olsson says, that had never happened to him. I find it rather inspiring.

      • sheila says:

        Jessie – yes to all of this!!

        Shooting with two cameras make those SPN conversations feel spontaneous in a way that close-up to close-up often can’t – because the guys are shooting an entire section of text, “in one” – so THEY are in charge of what is happening – almost like they’re onstage. In theatre, once the curtain goes up, the actors are totally in charge of the story. That’s not so much the case in film/television where you can be cut out of a scene entirely – you have almost no control. But SPN gives JA and JP a lot of control.

        // they’d be within their rights to pull it back – some leads don’t even stay for it – but they don’t.//

        Oh GOD, yes, I LOVE anecdotes like this.

        My favorite of all time has to do with the extremely painful and humiliating and terrible fight that Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margret have in Mike Nichols’ Carnal Knowledge. She is in bed, he stands at the foot of the bed. He is abusive and horrifying to her, and she is fighting back with everything she has. It’s a TERRIBLE scene, very upsetting.

        Ann-Margret, star though she was, had never been asked to play anything that raw.

        Jack Nicholson, of course, was the “star” in this, and so he (as JA and JP do with guest stars) took on the role of “leader.”

        Because Ann-Margret was “out of her depth,” talented though she was – Nicholson went full-throttle from off-camera when it was “her turn” – giving as much as he gave when the camera was on him, not at all “saving it” for his turn – because he knew that she needed it. He was THERE for her. It makes me tear up just thinking about it.

        If you go back and watch that scene, you can hear that Nicholson has a lot of “vocal fry” – he’s hoarse as hell. That’s because he had spent hours screaming at Ann-Margret from off-camera, knowing that he needed to be there 100% to support her – so that SHE could be as great as everyone knew she was.

        It’s so generous! Robert De Niro does this too for more inexperienced co-stars. He sits there off-screen, giving a opening-night-level performance – so that his inexperienced co-star can rise to the occasion and shine.

        I hadn’t heard that Ty Olsson anecdote but I love it so much. It’s extremely inspiring. And there may be a selfish motive in that too – not in a bad way, but in a smart way: JA knew that if this story-line was going to come across, “Benny” needed to be as strong as he could be, and the actor needed to feel safe, and like he was JA’s equal. And it was up to JA to set that up – so he took it upon himself to create that space for TO.

        (A friend of mine was in Mission Impossible 3 and he had one scene. The story he tells of how Tom Cruise was with him – how supportive – is now legendary to me. My friend flubbed a line – during this huge complicated camera move – with Tom Cruise standing there. And Cruise, too, stands off-camera – even for an unknown actor like my friend! My friend was mortified he flubbed the line and said, “I’m sorry” and Cruise said, “Hey. No. No need to apologize. This is your moment. We’ll just do it again until we got it. Relax.” !!!!! And suddenly my friend felt totally safe, and protected, and he got it on the next take, his nerves had vanished. TC always makes sure everyone feels comfortable, down to the extras. Another friend of mine was an extra in The Color of Money, and Tom Cruise must have noticed how my friend was watching everything that was happening in the filming with deep interest. TC walked over to him and said, “You’re an actor, right?” – a lot of extras aren’t – my friend said, “Yeah.” TC said, out of the blue, “Keep doing what you’re doing. Soak all of this up. Don’t miss a thing.”

        Very moving.

        JA has spoken about feeling protective of the women who show up and have to do love scenes. I mean, it’s like: I know this crew, they’re my family, I’m the star, I don’t care if I take my shirt off in front of them, and make out with someone in front of them, but she doesn’t know anyone here, and she has to be in her bra in front of everyone, and this must be so stressful for her, so here’s a blanket to put over you in between takes. Ha. But sweet and important: he’s a Leader.

        But it’s a beautiful way to work – even people who come in for one day feel like they’re part of a team.

      • sheila says:

        // I’ve seen several editors and directors comment about how handy it is to have two pros like JA and JP to do these two-handers with as it saves time and allows them to cut really close and naturalistically. And the performances, like you say, benefit.

        I think it might have been Erik Kripke – in this episode’s commentary actually – who talked about his initial story-board and how many “set-ups” he wanted to do. You only have 8 days to do an entire episode. Kim Manners and Robert Singer looked at his set-up number and were like, “Are you f***ing kidding me?” hahahaha So they cut them down – and by using two cameras you have HALF the set-ups for each episode.

        I absolutely love that those gorgeous Impala scenes are filmed with cameras on both of them at the same time.

        The close-ups don’t feel manipulative then – or like they’re isolated in space. There’s so much listening and thinking and reacting going on – it’s very in-the-moment.

      • sheila says:

        You may have already seen it but there’s a bit of the Carnal Knowledge scene here at the 1:50 mark:

        It’s his side of the conversation, and you can hear the hoarse-ness of his voice – and how fried he is, emotionally, because he’s been playing the scene all day – off-camera!!

        • sheila says:

          and a final coda to the Carnal Knowledge thing:

          of all of the wonderful performances given by the four leads in that movie – only Ann-Margret was nominated for an Oscar.

          This just moves me so much – Jack Nicholson’s commitment to her, that she be as great as everyone knew she was.

      • Jessie says:

        And it was up to JA to set that up – so he took it upon himself to create that space for TO.
        Oh, right, I didn’t even think of this! So cool. I mean, these are the stories that make fans for life, that get people to wade into the trenches for you. Amazing. Love your Nicholson and Cruise stories. So sweet — to a scene partner, to a “nobody”.

        I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what leadership is to and requires of me and listening to stories like these is so comforting and inspiring — like, be thoughtful, be present, let go of your insecurities.

        Kim Manners and Robert Singer looked at his set-up number and were like, “Are you f***ing kidding me?” hahahaha
        ha ha ha I know! I love Kripke so much — he has so much ENTHUSIASM!

        The close-ups don’t feel manipulative then – or like they’re isolated in space.
        oh yeah, those fraught/peaceful night-time drives in the otherspace of the Tardis. That’s an essay by itself. I feel like they might as well be driving on the Rainbow Road (but like original SNES Rainbow Road before they cluttered up the sky with all those extra ugly graphics).

        • sheila says:

          // I mean, these are the stories that make fans for life, //

          I totally agree. I already love Jack Nicholson but I will love him forever for that Carnal Knowledge story. (Plus the fact that people who worked craft services or as seamstresses or whatever on movies he made 50 years ago still get Christmas cards from him. Show business is his only family and he takes it seriously and he loves everyone who works on any given movie, even if they’re just making a smoothie for you. It’s so CLASSY.)

          and I realize the public perception of Tom Cruise is …… not so great. Putting it mildly! But there’s a reason he’s been a #1 box office star since Risky Business. It’s not just because of his charisma/smile/talent. It’s because of stuff like that – he’s nice to everyone on set, he cares about everyone who shows up to do their thing – and he takes his role as Leader very seriously.

          In re: those Impala scenes:

          God, I know. They’re just magical and they have been from the first season. I think everyone somehow sensed that those scenes would be the “key” – and the only “given” throughout. They are just so gorgeous – and I love the term “otherspace.” That’s totally right.

          And that they only drive at night, apparently. Such a practical choice – so that the guys wouldn’t have to be out in the real world driving with all of those complications – but it’s ended up being such a poetic choice too!

  33. Wren Collins says:

    Very, very late to the party. But hopefully not too late?

    Sheila, as ever, this is an /amazing recap. I honest-to-God teared up a couple times. Loved what you said about the strange dreamlike images at the beginning, and you’re right, of course- this episode is even ‘artier’ than most, and that completely works. This is one of those ‘every shot is beautiful’ ones (I was so happy to see that in Red Meat last week). And the fact that Kripke, who got so excited over blood’n’guts’n’stuff, ended up directing one of the most romantic episodes of the whole show (his commentary track for this is hysterical).

    Love, love, love your discussion of the Graveside Weep. The lights across the water. I’m snivelling.

    Thank you.

    • sheila says:

      Wren – hello! Never too late!!

      // This is one of those ‘every shot is beautiful’ ones (I was so happy to see that in Red Meat last week). //

      I agree about Red Meat’s beauty! So great to see – this whole season has been high on the Beauty Factor – and the Dark Factor (“Safe House” was stunning too) – and I’m really happy to see it!!

      and yeah: Kripke’s commentary track here is great!! I love how at certain points he’s just like, “Okay. Watch how amazing Jensen is. I could never have told him to do that. Oh my God. Watch Jensen.” hahahaha Like, he didn’t even realize how deep JA would go and he takes no credit for it. LOVE.

  34. Troopic says:

    You can find me at

    Beware of shipping, some random cats and my own meta stuff :)
    other then that you are very welcome.

  35. Sandra says:

    Hello, I am also a lurker. Stumbled onto your blog just a few weeks ago and I cannot get enough of your recaps. Honestly some of the best I have ever read and I am so sad I’ve caught up on all of the ones you have so far. I love to read these. I know others have said it before but your comments on the cinematography and visual cues really enhance my enjoyment of the episodes! Thank you for all of your research and hard work.

    • sheila says:

      Sandra: Thank you, that’s very sweet and I really appreciate it!

      Perfect timing and totally coincidental: I just put the next re-cap up.

      Thanks so much for de-lurking. It’s a great group here.

  36. Kim says:

    One of my absolute favorite Supernatural episodes – I’m going to settle in over the next couple of days and savor your review – it has been awhile since I dropped in to your site (life and family and work happens) I read your review of “All Hell Breaks Loose” Part I earlier this week – wonderful review. Just for summer I’m doing a rewatch of the early seasons of SPN – still so beautiful. IMHO Season 2 is the best season consistantly – I can’t even think of a “clunker” episode in season 2. In the for what it’s worth category – I’m still annoyed by the whole Chuck arc from last season. They should’ve left the whole “Chuck as God” in the category of unconfirmed, took the fun the out of the character.

    • sheila says:

      Kim!! It’s good to ‘see’ you!! :) Thanks for stopping by again!

      I’m pretty annoyed by “chuck as God” going text, too. Especially since Chuck suddenly took over the narrative in the last 3 episodes! Like, fine, yay, good to see ya, Chuck, now get out of the way, and give the show back to Sam and Dean.

      Love Season 2 as well!

  37. Lovely says:

    Dean’s Amulet is not present in the Djinn’s fantasy world for Dean. Instead he wears a medal with silver chain. In this fantasy world, Sam and Dean are not close and do not get along. It may be that Sam never gave the amulet to Dean when they were children because their father never became a hunter, would have been present for Christmas and they therefore never knew Bobby (who was the one to give the amulet to Sam as a present for his father). The amulet is seen worn by Dean again at the end of the episode, in the current reality.

  38. Nick says:

    Thank you for explaining everything

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