Supernatural: Season 3, Episode 1: “The Magnificent Seven”


Directed by Kim Manners
Written by Eric Kripke

The title of the episode tells us it’s a straight-up Western: villains riding into town, so-called good guys in their holdout, knowing they might die that night, and maybe one of the so-called good guys is a little bit TOO ready to die? Trigger-happy? Self-destructive? The obvious connection is with John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (and – by connection – Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, of which Magnificent Seven is basically a re-make) You know Dean has seen both a hundred times. The Magnificent Seven came out in 1960, the final gasp of the classical Western. It tells the story of a peasant who hires seven mercenary gunfighters to fight off the bandits who harass his village every year. Seven gunmen arrive, each played by an intimidating gorgeous movie star. Each gunman has his own particular backstory. (Nobody becomes a mercenary gunfighter because he had a happy childhood). Nobody “plays well with others.” (Speaking of which: The last living member of “The Magnificent Seven” has died. RIP Robert Vaughn.)


One of the most famous scenes in The Magnificent Seven shows what can happen when you bring a knife to a gunfight. Especially if you’re better with a knife than everyone else is with a gun. Considering how the Season 3 opener introduces the “demon knife” into the Winchester World, I think it’s an important connection.

Fuck guns. How about that KNIFE??

The Clash also wrote a song called “The Magnificent Seven,” and as a Clash fan from way back, when “Rock the Casbah” dominated high school dances, here ’tis:

The episode is pretty workmanlike (kind term) for a season opener. The dialogue is chatty and explanatory. The Seven Deadly Sins “present” their qualities in broad strokes, like a vaudeville pantomime or a silent film from 1917. Twirling-mustache villains, etc. (Also: just once – once is all I’m asking – I’d like to see Lust represented by a man.) “The Magnificent Seven” plays like a checklist: Okay, here’s the fallout from the Season 2 finale, and here’s the list for what to expect coming up. It’s not a terrible episode, and it’s gorgeous as hell – consider the director – but it’s perfunctory.

The Set-Ups for Season 3 Themes

There are glimpses, though, of where we are going in the truncated Season 3. As a matter of fact, everything we need to know – everything that will be the motor for the entire Season – is here in “The Magnificent Seven”:

— Dean’s devil-may-care attitude about his impending death
— Sam’s frustration with said attitude
— Ruby. The demon knife.
— An alternative presented to the monastic hunter lifestyle.
— Devil’s Gate opened: crazy shit got out, stuff “we’ve never seen before.”

I don’t know, maybe stuff like this?

Demons from Jacques Collin de Plancy’s ‘Dictionnaire Infernal’ (1863 edition)


(I recently found that link and went down a serious rabbit hole, emerging hours later.)

Some of this is presented in an elegant exciting way (Ruby) and some in a clumsy way (the alternative to monastic hunter lifestyle). The emotional stuff between Sam and Dean – lasting from Scene 1 until the final moment of the episode – is excellent and almost completely subtext-run. Padalecki is very very strong here. (Always good to remember that these guys film the episodes out of sequence, so it’s up to the actors to keep track of the emotional progression. To say they are both “good” at it is to completely understate the reality. Their various emotional progressions – minute and massive – is, in large part, why we all watch the show. And that’s on them.) Watch Sam throughout “Magnificent Seven”. Watch him take in Dean. Watch his eyes: how he sees what he sees, how that perception changes … It’s only 41 minutes, but it’s a quiet and observant tour de force on Padalecki’s part. John Wayne said that he didn’t consider himself an actor, he considered himself a RE-actor, and that – my friends – is one of the best descriptions of good acting that I’ve ever heard. You can emote all you like, but if you don’t pay attention to what is happening around you – in the world, in your scene partner – if you don’t LISTEN, then no, you are not an actor. Except for one moment mid-way through, Sam doesn’t say what he’s thinking, until finally it all comes out. But it’s been building the whole time. Padalecki has kept track of that. This is why I love acting, detailed invisible un-sung work like that.

In terms of the clumsiness in execution, we meet two brand-new hunters, and this in a world where the roadhouse is burned down and there’s no way anymore to connect with other hunters … it feels like it should be a big deal. And, will wonders never cease, these are married hunters, a novelty (at least from what we’ve seen). Isaac and Tamara have a suburban Judd Apatow-style way of arguing, and it’s so much of a cliche it barely plays. It’s unimaginative: How do couples argue? Oh, I know!! The man can’t find something and he asks his wife where it is and she gets irritated! Yeah, no one’s seen THAT before, let’s do THAT! What that silly argument does (awkwardly, and not well at all) is show that normal suburban-style husband-wife irritation is not incompatible with being hunters. Isaac and Tamara suggest an alternative. And what THAT does – especially since it presents a romantic relationship – is (and again, awkwardly, and not successfully) set us up for the 2nd episode, “The Kids Are All Right,” which may very well be one of the most important episodes in the whole damn season, at least in terms of how things eventually play out. “The Kids Are All Right” is disguised as a monster-of-the-week one-off, but it is so much more than that. It’s only Episode 2 in Season 3, and “The Kids Are All Right” pays off in Season freakin’ 6. My God, the patience of these creators. And so there’s a reason that Isaac and Tamara are married. Dean barely seems curious about them. It’s Sam who’s curious, but in “The Kids Are All Right” Dean finds himself strangely drawn to a suburban world with birthday parties and spats over child-rearing, and that will blossom in his mind as an alternative, something he had never even considered. (Or at least not since Cassie broke his heart. I don’t care that the show has refused to acknowledge Cassie’s existence ever since that episode. You all are the ones who created her, and the show is out there in the world now, it’s not yours anymore, it’s mine, so I will continue to incorporate Cassie into my understanding of Dean, thankyouverymuch.) And, even more interesting: the image of domestic bliss-boredom is attractive to Dean. This is not surprising when you think about it for 2 seconds, but it is definitely new information about Dean. Earlier, he said he’d blow his brains out if he had to live in a nice manicured gated community. Well, things change. People change.

All of this represents an awkward balance. I don’t think it works, and I think – along with the Vaudeville Pantomime Demons who stroll into rooms and announce who they are – it’s a pretty thin approach to some interesting subjects. The subtext in the episode only exists because the actors are so skilled. (Kripke is very talented, but subtext is not his strong suit.)

Dean’s Burlesque: A Refresher Course

What is good in the episode is what is unexpected. Kim Manners said that you should give an audience what they want, but give it to them in a way they don’t expect. For me, what was most unexpected – and I remember vividly my first time watching the episode – was the transformation of Dean from the final moment of Season 2 to the first moment in Season 3. It was not what I expected. And it shows the intelligence of Kripke et al. to know that in order to create tension, you have to up-end expectations. You have to (seemingly) go off in a totally new direction. You have to make the audience sit up in their chairs and pay close attention. If you do that with integrity and subtlety (like I believe they do here) – AND if you follow up on it, if you draw it out, develop it, then it doesn’t feel like a shock “Hey, Gotcha!” gimmick, but an enriching of character and narrative.

Dean’s entire Burlesque in regards to his upcoming death (and Season 3 is great for Dean Burlesque) is what carries him aloft over the horror of what he did, and the horror of what he will face. Being gloomy won’t help anyone. He might as well have as much fun as he can before his own Judgment Day. At least that’s what we see in Episode 1. I love the final scene, too, where Dean finally says to Sam, “After everything I’ve done for this family? Yeah. I’m selfish. Damn right I am.”

Dean rarely exhibits a martyr-ish attitude, at least not that blatant and certainly not that clear in asserting what HE wants, putting himself first. Martyrs are usually passive-aggressive, but that moment isn’t passive-aggressive. It’s aggressive-aggressive, and there’s something cathartic in it.

It’s the beginning of the slow aching Arc of the first half of Season 3, where Dean has to finally come to terms with the fact that

1. He doesn’t want to die
2. He wants to live (a different thing entirely than #1)
3. He needs Sam’s help
4. He feels that his life means enough that it’s WORTH saving.

It’s a psychological maelstrom. And similar to the patience shown in the Soulless Sam Arc, or Dean and the Mark Arc … Season 3 has the patience to really dig at this situation from every side. It’s so DIFFICULT for Dean to say, “I would like to live.” It’s extraordinary. It’s revealing. And although very early on you could see that Dean was developing into a character who had self-loathing hidden under that glimmering Burlesque, this is the first time it had really become the POINT of the whole show. It’s developed so fully that I can barely remember anything else from the first half of Season 3. It’s beautifully crafted, piece by piece, by the writing staff. One layer added, two layers taken away, one wrench thrown into the works, one moment of revelation, another layer peeled back… Dean’s a tough nut to crack. Sam nearly tears his (gorgeous) hair out dealing with Dean’s bullshit in Season 3.

We Need to Talk About Sam

Opposite Dean’s psychodrama, is Sam’s REACTION to it, and – as is always the case with good scripts and good acting – it is Sam’s REACTION that helps the Dean Burlesque (and what the Burlesque, in this case, hides) actually land for us. Otherwise we’d be in a vacuum. We’d have no context. Dean is an extremely unreliable narrator. Always. It’s why he’s so entertaining, and it’s why he can be so tragic. We count on Sam to clue us in to what is going on. In those reactions is the relationship. (Unfortunately, Season 12, so far, is counting TOO much on Sam, whose entire personality has become “How I React to and Interact with Dean.” It’s a fine line.) Here, in the opener to Season 3, Dean is messing with the relationship: He’s “pulled rank” in a way that is different from how he’s done so before: it’s more aggressive, and it’s aggressive too in its wish to not discuss anything, to not “go there.” It rocks the entire relationship.

First: It leaves Sam zero room for his own experience. This is what we see in the final scene of “Magnificent Seven.” Sam faces the anticipatory grief he will feel when Dean is gone. Dean has no sympathy for that. He made his choice so Sam could live. And screw Sam for not being grateful for the sacrifice. As happens so often with the brothers: one person’s experience (valid) somehow silences the (equally valid) expression of the other’s experience. They have such a hard time co-existing.

Second: Sam wants Dean to address what is CLEARLY going on beneath the surface. This isn’t like Sam’s attitude towards Dean post Dad’s death when he wanted Dean to grieve in a more proper way, whatever that means. But he wants Dean to say “I’m scared of dying” because then that means they will be TOGETHER (see item #1) in this mess. As it stands, Dean has accepted the fact that he will die in a year (or he uses the Burlesque in a way to telegraph “I don’t give a shit”), and so in that time he’s going to do what he wants to do, and just let anybody try and stop him. Sam’s perception of what is REALLY going on is “read” by Dean as intrusive Dr. Phil bullshit, totally unwelcome, but Sam – as always – is courageous enough to keep at it. He’s HARD on Dean. This will intensify as the season goes on. Sam has already “had it” by the end of this episode.

Third: The dynamic of the brothers was set in stone early in their lives, as is the case with most siblings. Dean takes charge, Sam looks to Dean for what to do next. Sam is capable and strong, but Dean is The Leader. (I think of the beautiful fury with which Sam says, “Stop BOSSING ME AROUND, DEAN” in “When the Levee Breaks.” He’d been wanting to say that since he was a kid. YEARS of unexpressed anger is in that line-reading.) Sam is independent in a way that Dean is not. Sam has a distance and detachment that Dean does not. This distance/detachment is what allowed him to de-camp for Stanford (not look for Dean in purgatory), and his distance/detachment was treated with suspicion by John and Dean. And so now: Dean’s the one who is in trouble, and if the problem is going to be fixed, and if Dean continues to just fuck his way across the Midwest, then Sam is going to have to take charge. Sam is going to have to admit that Dean is somewhat mentally incapacitated and needs help. Dean is a terrifying foe in that regard. When he digs his heels in, forget it.

In other words: the situation the brothers find themselves in in Season 3 is brand new. It’s difficult to look back, after all the other seasons with the flip-flops of first one and then the other being in serious trouble, and realize this, but it’s true. Neither of them know how to deal with the dynamic, because it’s never happened before. Dean is not used to being the Damsel in Distress, Sam is not used to being the Savior, and they both have to adjust their relationship in order to even ADMIT that this is what is necessary.



Here are the notes I wrote in my notebook while watching the teaser:

He already senses something is off, even before trash cans rattle.
His car is filthy.
Shot of lampposts w/no people in it: Gorgeous
That’s not Oak Park.

1st scene

The closeup that starts the episode is close even by Manners standards.


It’s also a clue as to the real POV of this episode. Sam is our eyes and ears. Dean shuts Sam out, but he shuts us out too. Sam is our “way in.” He helps us know what to look at, what to see.

Nobody is as obnoxious as Dean Winchester when he decides to be obnoxious. So Sam sits in the car poring over a Dr. Faustus, looking for something – anything – that will help him get his brother out of the deal. (Dr. Faustus, by the way, did not sell his soul to save anyone else. He did it to enrich himself on the earthly plane. A crucial difference.) What is expected is that DEAN would be the one to lead the search. Instead, Sam is ALONE, abandoned my Dean, in his sense of urgency. It’s only been a week since the Devil’s Gate opened. But a week is a long time.)

There’s something very unbalanced and exaggerated about it. It’s the whole Sam as Nerd and Dean as The One Who Has Fun writ large, turned into something dysfunctional and painful – as opposed to an illumination of different coping skills.

Dean’s Burlesque – which I have gone on and on about – has many functions. Sometimes he is conscious of it, when he purposefully makes a joke (and usually it lands like a lead balloon “What’s in the booooox?”), and other times it’s automatic. Sometimes it’s fun-loving, sometimes it’s manipulative. It’s exhibitionist. And that’s interesting because Dean can also be rather shy, and uncomfortable with attention. He gets enough of it as it is. He lived in isolation with his family for his childhood: no room to breathe, too much attention paid to him, having to adjust himself constantly in order to please, trying to be invisible (impossible), which leads me to: his Beauty, which is attention-getting, and not his fault, and it showed up early, it works for him, and it’s used against him. If he wasn’t Beautiful, his life would look/feel very different. This is the Aristocracy of Beauty, which is the Luck of the Draw. Elvis experienced this in an identical way.

Dean is – literally – saved from all this heaviness by his sense of humor. And that’s part of the Burlesque, too. All of it adds up to that thing I talked about a lot in Season 1: Dean Starring In an Awesome Movie About Dean Winchester. Swaggering around, making proclamations, checking to see how he’s “gone over”, performing, not to HIDE anything, but to CELEBRATE the awesome-ness of HIMSELF. There’s so much fan-writing about his self-loathing. It’s certainly there. But equally real, and equally sincere, are the moments of self-worth and self-satisfaction, where he sits, looks around him, and goes, “I kind of RULE right now.”

This opening moment is a jump-start jump-cut from the last scene in Season 2, where everything is upsetting and vulnerable (“Don’t be mad at me”), and it’s a week later, and I know I was wondering first time through: “My God, what is Dean going through?” And then I saw this:


Because of my over-saturation in stories (I see, minimum, 6 movies a week) I feel beaten down at times by predictability. I appreciate radical choices that come from somewhere real, left-turns, new thoughts told in new ways. Life is complex, dammit, people are complex, nobody behaves in a predictable way 100% of the time (which is also my issue with a lot of fan complaints about this or that being “OOC.” Do these people always behave in a predictable way no matter the circumstance? If so, this makes me sad for them.) If there’s one lesson I wish the planet entire would learn, it’s: You never know what someone else is going to do. 3/4s of the world’s problems arise from the fact that people think they know who other people are based on their own limited perceptions of who those people seem to be. If people could just sit in the Unknown for a little bit, even FIVE SECONDS, and tolerate the uncertainty, they might come to the point where they could acknowledge that the way they see it is just the way they see it. And so a movie [or a television show] that LIVES in that space, that revels in that space, is a rare thing indeed. This is why I love the films of John Cassavetes so much. His characters are HUMAN. And you never know what they will do next. And they are not unpredictable to “keep the audience off-balance.” They are unpredictable because humans are beautifully complex, and sometimes strange, especially when under stress. Cassavetes is one of the great Humanists of 20th century film.







The choice Kripke et al made to have Dean go on a fuck-binge post-Season 2 is the kind of choice I am talking about. You never know what people are going to do. It’s great story-wise, and it’s also good to keep fans on their toes. Fans don’t know best. Fans expect things, and sometimes they expect things because they want what they already know. Creators must work against that.

Leave yourself open to possibilities. Revel in ambiguity, complexity. Don’t explain everything. Don’t underline things so we “get it.” Let us be uncomfortable, shaken, confused. If you know where you’re going, we’ll follow.


Onto some observations:

Sam, why are you parked right outside the window, and FACING the window? Maybe move the car so you can’t see the shadow-dance of your brother polling the electorate right in front of you? Boundaries? Oh, that’s right. This family has no boundaries.

This goes back to what I was talking about earlier: Sam left to go through this alone (emotions/research), Dean having jumped ship. If Dean jumped ship and WASN’T going to die in a year, Sam would be much more annoyed. Here, Sam feels a little guilty about his kill-joy stance. After everything his brother sacrificed, who is he to deny him a little fun? Sam probably knew, instinctively, that this next phase would be tough. He knows how difficult his brother can be, although he had no idea just how difficult. Later Sam says to Dean, “What’s wrong with you?” He had no idea the depths of Dean’s self-loathing.

Sam peeks his head into the orgy room , and there’s a slow pan across the floor, glimpses of stripper-type clothes strewn about, bra hanging on the doorknob, moving up to Sam’s horrified face, framed by psychedelic-old-lady wallpaper, and there’s the sound of two women groaning (Dean is silent, maybe there’s a ball-gag involved. #sorrynotsorry.) … the whole thing is lascivious, that’s what it is. It’s practically fanfic. It has launched three public libraries of fanfic, that’s for sure. The presumption that Dean is naked off-screen doing Lord Knows What (it’s better that you don’t see), and that Sam SEES whatever it is … well, you’ve got your voyeuristic creepy erotica right there. I mean, I’M not into that voyeuristic brotherly stuff, but you do you!


I would put money down on Kim Manners probably being obsessed with Alfred Sole’s wonderful Alice, Sweet Alice (I have a piece on this film coming out in Film Comment in December). There are a lot of similarities: a tireless devotion to find the interesting shot and to not let ANYthing onscreen just sit there, not one moment is “stock.” But also, I would just mention this shot, which – since I was working on this re-cap when I saw the film – immediately stood out. 12-year-old “Alice” is looking at something far more skeevy than Sam is:


I shared some thoughts about the claustrophobic Bell Jar in which these two men conduct their sex lives (and every other aspect of their lives) in “The Shadow” re-cap. There is zero privacy. They don’t even seem to think it’s weird. That Sam would be sitting in the car right outside the motel room while Dean bangs – or gets banged by – twins. That he wouldn’t just rap on the window to alert Dean as opposed to peeking his head inside. That Sam would kiss the pretty art dealer and Dean would watch and say, “That’s my boy.” (Gross.) They’re all up in each other’s business constantly – not just about sex but about everything. Privacy is seen as suspicious. They live in the same room. It’s almost like Sam and Dean are living 100 years ago and back, when large families lived in one or two rooms, on top of each other, and there was probably a much looser (or non-existent) concept of privacy. You’re 8 years old and you hear Mom and Dad having sex in the corner of the room, and you don’t think it’s weird.

As they roar away from the tryst, Sam looks nauseous. Dean not only does not care, but he’s an exhibitionist, he’s performative about his personality and about his sexuality – he’s proud of the experience he just had, “Check me out and my awesomeness.”


Dean referring to his playmates as the “Doublemint Twins” brings back a queasy memory, one that will be recognizable to all Gen-Xers, and Dean is – of course – a Gen X-er. I’d even call him a Gen X poster boy.

If anyone wonders why Gen X-ers are cynical self-sufficient realists, if you wonder why Riot Grrrls …

Bikini Kill performs in Washington, D.C., in the 1990s.
Bikini Kill, 1990s

A Riot Grrrl motto

… – with their little kilts and combat boots, their screams of rage, and their rebellious “acting out” – were our style icons and cultural heroes, that Doublemint Twins bullshit is one of your reasons.

There have been PhD dissertations from the Destiel camp on “Doublemint Twins” referring to a man and a woman. I don’t judge. I just report. I find it an intriguing (albeit implausible) possibility. I’ve said before that I think Dean is sexually available to all comers, whether he is aware of it or not. Dean is Open for Business; that kind of availability does not discriminate. It’s why people have such a bad reaction to him in non-sexual contexts. “Why is this glimmer-beauty-boy making eyes at me as he tries to get something from me? Is he flirting with me? Ew.” Not “ew” as in “gay – ew” but “ew” as in “this is not a sexual moment and I have no idea who you are.”

Hilarious Padalecki detail: Dean slaps him on the knee jovially, and Sam flinches in alarm and disgust at being touched by his brother.

Dean flips a switch and asks Sam about what his phone call with Bobby. I have said constantly: in Dean’s situation, compartmentalization is an ASSET. (I would argue that it’s an asset for anyone, although that’s anathema in some circles where it’s always spoken of like it’s a negative.) But there’s complexity here too and that’s what gives it LEGS: Dean IS avoiding his reality, and Sam is RIGHT that Dean is running and of course it is TRUE that Dean is terrified, and the ongoing Burlesque – so STRONG in this episode it’s practically impenetrable – is – to a large degree- bullshit.

I had a hard time even capturing the beauty of this Impala scene in screengrabs because the lighting effects are gone before you know it: a streetlamp flaring out behind Sam’s head, a golden light swooping up the windshield over Dean’s face. Serge Ledouceur and team CONTROL the light. Look at how each guy is shot: Dean looks at Sam, and there’s a light on his face, illuminating his skin and eyelashes. Sam looks at Dean, and he’s mostly in shadow with a small silver halo on the edge of his skin. They do not light these guys in a uniform way. (Or they didn’t back then. They do now and the show suffers for it.) Look:



What is interesting to me is that Ackles and Padalecki play (and constantly play) the scene BENEATH the scene. Some would call it “subtext” but I think it’s way over-used to the point of meaninglessness. The scene beneath the scene in the Impala is more on Padalecki, but it happens with both of them. They have to say lines that have nothing to DO with (and in many cases are totally opposite from) that scene beneath the scene. Beneath Sam’s lines is a river of anxiety and responsibilty mixed with guilt about letting Dean down. Beneath Dean’s lines – although closer to the surface than Sam’s – is a raging fire of impatience: he doesn’t have much time left, he wants to get this show on the ROAD. And beneath that, so far down that Dean isn’t even fully aware of it (and this is the genius of Ackles: how do you play a man who avoids self-awareness so well that he actually IS un-aware? Well, watch him.): is fear at what’s coming for him, sadness that he’s going to die. We’ll have to wait for that even to be PRESENT for him.

Sam and Dean are not working from the same script. They don’t know each other’s lines. They are in separate plays entirely. Sam listens very closely for the scene beneath Dean’s scene – hoping for a crack, an entryway, SOMEthing. But Dean’s burlesque is impenetrable (and when do we ever say that about Dean?). One of the POINTS of the Dean Burlesque is to keep people out. If you live in a world where privacy is non-existent, where everyone and their grandmother turns into a Creeper at the mere sight of you, then you have to create SOME place where you can do to be alone. The Burlesque is one of the ways Dean does that.

What Padalecki is REALLY playing through the boring dialogue having to do with crop failures and demon silence is the scene beneath the scene. This is true throughout: it is always present and Padalecki never forgets it. To me, this is Padalecki’s episode entirely.


Jared Padalecki: The Power of his Listening, Part 1

I’ve written before about Padalecki’s powerful listening and how important it is, mainly in the re-cap for “Nightmare.” All good actors are great listeners. There are no exceptions. The entire scene here really happens BECAUSE of Padalecki’s listening. Imagine if Padalecki was just playing the surface. Imagine how boring the scene would be. It would be all Text. But if you watch him, you can see how disturbed he is, how he can FEEL that Dean’s impatience is really about the sands running out of the hourglass, and Sam is not allowed to help. Sam has decided that Dean should be allowed to have fun (even though, side note: of COURSE Dean is “allowed” to have fun: he’s an ADULT. But never mind: this is the Winchesters we’re talking about), and he has reluctantly backed off.

I’m not crazy about the episode but Padalecki’s unspoken Arc throughout keeps the whole thing afloat. It’s THE thread that will play out over the next bunch of episodes. It NEEDS to be there, and Padalecki knows it, and plays every second with that in mind. (I do a refresher course on Elia Kazan’s concept of “spines” later in the re-cap). Padalecki’s acting here is like theatre acting, which plays out in real-time – where the actors have to be totally in charge of their Arcs and Spines. Without Sam’s anxiety, without his awareness of Dean’s burlesque and what it hides, without the slow-burn of his frustration – we the audience would be left totally out of the picture.

2nd scene

Dean moves from Sex Burlesque to the equally strong Food Burlesque, but beneath all of it is the Burlesque of Identity Itself: Me? Worried? Look at how awesome I am and how awesome I am handling it. CANDY GRAM!! He almost believes it himself.

But my God, can’t Dean have some privacy? I have written a lot about this, mainly in the “Everybody Loves a Clown” re-cap. Nobody ever – ever – just leaves him alone. Sam has an easier time accessing his emotions immediately. But not everybody is wired that way. Dean needs a little bit of private time to deal with things (or smash up his car). He gets to things in his own time. And maybe never. And who is to say that his is NOT the right way? Oprah? Fuck HER. His warning to others: Don’t make me give up my Burlesque before I AM READY. (Relevant exchange from “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox”: Sam: “Sublimation.” Dean: “Kinda my thing.” Me too, Dean. Me too.)

I am so much like this that I have driven my boyfriends insane. The one guy who really got me knew I needed time, didn’t want to talk, and he would leave me alone, or distract me (yeah, that’s the word for it) until I was ready to come clean. Once, when I burst into tears and literally fell upon his chest sobbing (hahaha Oh, the drama) after WEEKS of avoidance, he patted my back awkwardly and said in a deadpan voice: “I was wondering when the waterworks would show up.” He was the BEST because 1. he left me alone but 2. he didn’t LEAVE me. He didn’t BAIL. He also didn’t take my resistance PERSONALLY. He knew it wasn’t about him. I’d get to it when I was ready. It takes a very strong and un-codependent person to go that route. I think a lot of the people talking about “health” vs. “unhealth” (“It’s so unhealthy when he does such-and-such”) don’t actually know how dark shit can really get. They may get it intellectually but they haven’t lived it. Obnoxious of me to say, but I find people weighing in on what is an appropriate expression of emotion equally obnoxious, so I feel entitled.

Even though it’s broad daylight when the Impala pulls up to the house, there’s something very “off” in how it’s filmed: There’s the loud buzz of cicadas, first of all. There’s the laundry hanging on the line. And there’s the slow low pan along the ground to the driveway, where you can see Bobby already there, waiting. Even though it’s broad daylight, the moment has a dark almost monochromatic mood.

Because there’s not a hell of a lot to talk about story-wise, let’s stick with the visuals, because Kim Manners is at his show-off-y best in “The Magnificent Seven.” We start with the Impala, and the guys getting out, giving us expository language that’s almost insulting: “You hear those cicadas?” “That can’t be a good sign.” Thanks for the newsflash! It’s like every time they see yellow powder they MUST say “Sulfur.” It’s a requirement just in case there are any newbies watching. But watch the circular camera move as they join Bobby. Everyone is moving in the shot, Sam, Dean, and Bobby – plus the camera and all the crew. It’s a huge DANCE. The camera move is almost a question mark shape at first: it starts at the bottom, moving forwards in a straight line, before scooping out to the right in a curve, as the guys convene in the space in the middle.

And watch: It keeps right on around, behind Bobby, over onto the other side of the question-mark curve, so that now we’re looking towards the house practically, which is when the three guys head up the walk towards the porch, the camera following.

The camera choreography connects the characters in space and time, but it does something even more important: it helps us not be bored to DEATH with this dialogue. Ooh! Look at the pretty curly-cue camera move!


Why Bobby would comment on Dean’s eating choices makes no sense – Dean has never cared about healthy eating, and neither has Bobby – but it’s there in order to set up Dean’s Burlesque-y line that follows. The script is filled with little glitches like that – forgivable, but noticeable, since the show is usually much more elegant with getting across its information.

Frankly, we don’t even really notice any of that because the camera move is so insistent and in-your-face, it’s saying, “Look at what I’m doing here … come this way …” Manners is no dummy. He knows that if the camera were at a standstill for that sequence of dialogue it would sound even worse than it already does. A good director can hide flaws like that – not completely, but at least he can give us other things to focus on.

You can see why even though it’s only been 5 or 6 days, Sam and Bobby are already fed up with this Burlesque Gallows-Humor “who cares about cholesterol, I’m dead man walking” Dean. It’s almost like he’s throwing it back in their faces, like: YOU deal with it, YOU be worried, what, ME worried? I’m FINE. Because of what happens in later episodes, we know where this is all coming from, and it’s even deeper than even Dean can say or acknowledge. It’s nearly impossible for him to admit that his life has meaning in and of itself and that it has worth enough that he would want to hold onto it just because. Nobody would FAULT him for being like, “I WANT TO LIVE. I WANT TO LIVE.” Everyone would be like, “Of COURSE you do.” But Dean can’t. That’s the tragic unspoken Mother of the Scene Beneath the Scenes. It’s the Scene Beneath ALL Scenes – and keeping it unspoken is part of why it has lasted so long, has such reverb, has any power at all. Talking would ruin it. Ackles has done his work. It’s all over his face. It’s in the way he shouts “Candy Gram!” His life depends on not letting the people he love see how much his life means to him.

Once they get into the house, what is most important is FRAMING. Framing is how the director sets up his shots, and in a show like this where you have to put it together in 8 days, you have to be so on point. You can’t have 20 set-ups a scene. You wouldn’t have time. This is why Supernatural features so many long shots (or at least longer than you see in most television), and also – with the really gifted directors on the roster – Singer and Sgriccia and Thomas Wright and Manners – really really good framing, because if you have really good framing it tells the majority of the story FOR you.

The best example of this I can think of (although there are many more):


As the story goes: There was a lot of concern that Rosemary’s Baby would not go over well with audiences, as strange as that may seem now. Would people think it silly? Stupid? Not scary? At one of the early screenings for the general public, Roman Polanski sat in the back of the theatre, not so much watching the film, but watching the audience for their responses. There’s one scene where someone sits on the bed talking on the phone. But where Polanski placed the camera was in the room outside the bedroom. A voyeuristic stalker-y placement. But even more startling: you could not see the character fully through the door. She’s cut off. Polanski, sitting in the back of the theatre at the screening, watched the entire audience lean over to the right … to try to peek behind the door frame. That’s when he knew the movie was going to be a hit.


Polanski did not need special effects to create a mood of terror. The framing did ALL the work.

In a scene like this one, which is rather mundane in the Supernatural universe, especially for a season opener, Manners pulls out all the stops. Watch for the variety of angles he finds, anything to make it interesting, unbalancing, captivating: all of the characters moving as one in one shot. Different moments where Sam sweeps around a corner, Dean sweeping around another, their profiles shown in staggered fashion back along the vanishing-point line. Or, my favorite, peeking in at Sam and Dean through the faded bedraggled curtains, which works on a couple of levels. It turns us into stalkers, into monsters. So there’s that. But it also separates them from each other. Within the ROOM they may inhabit the same space, but the way they are FRAMED makes it seem like they are in two entirely different spaces altogether. Which, of course, is what is happening emotionally and psychologically.




Side note: This is a very good episode for Wallpaper design.

It’s like they’ve stepped back in time to an Andrew Wyeth painting. Good farm-folk in print dresses hanging their washing out on the line, with lace-type curtains bleached from the sun. Supernatural, Vancouver or no, is a very American show, with the American mythos of its landscape, its prairies and pastures and lakes and off-the-beaten-path rural areas. Speaking of American:

The dead family watches an episode of Dallas.


… which is delightfully subversive (Jim Beaver appeared on a couple of episodes, so there’s that). But it’s also another “this family is not really from our time” moment. Dallas was huge in the 80s. When my family lived in Ireland when we were kids, everyone was asking us if we knew “who shot J.R.” as though because we came from America we would somehow have the inside scoop. But the funniest thing is that a somewhat famous and campy monologue from Lucy Ewing – played by the glorious Charlene Tilton – is what crackles through the air of that gruesome house from the television, facing a line-up of rotting corpses:

“This is supposed to be my birthday party. Grandma is making out the invitation list. Sue Ellen is gonna hire some old-fogey band. And J.R.’s gonna use it for one of his big deals. And now you’re gonna buy my clothes. I HATE THIS FAMILY!”

Whoever chose that clip, whoever did the work to track DOWN that clip, has my deep gratitude.

Of course Sam, Dean and Bobby don’t pay attention to the television, but when Lucy gets to the line “I HATE THIS FAMILY”, here is where we have ended up:


I can’t stop laughing. In that edit is the scene beneath the scene. In 41 minutes, you need that scene beneath the scene to be everywhere – and, I would suggest, even more so if the script leaves something to be desired. Prioritize the subtext as HARD as you can. Push it to the forefront in every shot, every choice you make … because this episode needs the help. Dean would never shout “I HATE THIS FAMILY” but there’s a reason they put it together this way and I want to make out with everyone responsible.

There are other things I love: Dean’s commando gestures to Bobby and Sam. Bobby and Sam leaving the frame, while Dean rises up into the frame. Stunning. It works as camp, for sure, but it also works on the surface-level of “this is how these guys do what they do, this is how they work the problem.”

On Isaac and Tamara

Enter Isaac (Peter Macon) and Tamara (Caroline Chikezie). I’m of two minds about these two.

First off, it’s good any time the Winchester Bell Jar(TM) allows in outsiders, especially other hunters or same-ilk people. It happened with Ellen and Jo. It happened with Gordon. The brothers have such an engrained way of being, it’s so cloistered, it’s so unspoken the family rules of who does what, and how you do things – that someone else comes along and it’s difficult to team up. Everyone has trust issues. Everyone is an alpha dog. There are no Beta hunters. No wonder they are solitary figures. So. I like it when any new element comes in and disrupts the Winchester Dynamic.

But I have an issue with these characters.
— They’re experienced hunters and yet they act like rookies. They are a liability every step of the way. It’s hard to believe they aren’t more up to speed, especially since they seem so competent, and know shit that the boys don’t know. And yet they stroll into a demon’s lair without even seeming to realize it, and Tamara herself breaks the salt line. I get it, it’s her husband. Maybe that’s supposed to be the point: to show that family is great, but family is also your Achilles heel. Whatever. I don’t get to know them well enough to be anything other than annoyed at their incompetence.
— The real issue is that we only have half an hour to get to know them. It’s a sketch-book approach rather than a three-dimensional portrait. Which isn’t necessarily an issue, and yet here – for me – it is. It’s not clear why the hell they are there, and what they are supposed to ADD to the episode. We only have 41 minutes. Everyone needs to add something. Maybe to show that other hunters are aware of the Winchester’s part in opening the Devil’s Gate. Okay. I’d rather it be Ellen and Jo at the house then. Not strangers.

As I said earlier, married hunters may enter the picture to to set up the Arc coming down the pike in the next episode, that then plays out in “Dream a Little Dream” when we see Dean’s domestic dream-life. This is, admittedly, a stretch. But I work with what I’m given.

Maybe it’s a reminder that hunters die. That Tamara will not be okay. Everything is not okay, things DON’T work out, especially for hunters,and that’s what’s waiting for them too. Dean is sick of it all. Maybe.

Clearly, the two of them feel meaningless to me, so I make up meaning as I go along. (This is not a dis on the actors. They’re both lovely!) But to have two strangers play such a huge part – in the season opener – is weird and awkward. If it were Ellen and Jo teaming up with Bobby and Sam and Dean, waiting out the night for the demons to arrive, the Last Stand of the Magnificent Five, there’d be some continuity, some built-in depth. We’d come to it with emotions already engaged: we know them, we have a stake in them, we understand what they represent, we know how Sam and Dean feel about them. We’re already invested.

I also have a big issue with that demon bar scene. If the two actors were white it wouldn’t have the connotations that it does. I am not sure that everyone involved was completely aware of the racial connotations of that scene, calling to mind what happened to African-Americans when they walked into whites-only establishments, not to mention the over-sexualization of black women AND the emasculation of black men … I would suggest that Supernatural has no place COMMENTING on the ugly history of racism in America with such a silly scene unless they were willing to REALLY address it. It feels cheap otherwise. I have thought: Would this feel different if some of those demons were people of color? Maybe . I think my issue with is that I can FEEL the blind-spot in operation. The same thing happened in “Man’s Best Friend with Benefits.” And this is very unfair, because it puts people of color in the position of having to participate in the cluelessness of white people. Also it’s unfair because Isaac and Tamara (my criticisms of their part in the narrative notwithstanding) are wonderful roles, fleshed out and complex, funny and human. But that scene does not sit well with me.

It’s good to be reminded that the hunter world is vast and diverse and continues to operate even with the roadhouse burned down. It’s good to be reminded that Bobby has a wider contact list than Sam and Dean do, who operate in isolation. It gives some depth to Bobby’s character, which we’ll also get more of as the season goes on, when suddenly he has this whole backstory with Bela, and there’s the glorious appearance of Rufus, and we learn about his dead wife … Supernatural realized what they had with Beaver, and so they started investing in the character of Bobby.

My guess is that Kim Manners knows that Isaac and Tamara are glorified one-offs, and not all that important, so after Isaac rifle-butts Dean, he gives us this:


A scene-stealer shot, requiring a hole in the damn floor. Then there’s Dean’s grasping hand coming up into the frame, like: “Hellooooo …” It lightens the mood, but takes the pressure off, we don’t NEED to pay too much attention to Isaac and Tamara. They’re going to be gone in half an hour anyway. Bobby strolls right past prone Dean, and then engages in shaking hands with Isaac and Tamara. He doesn’t even look down.

3rd scene

If I’m reading this right, then Isaac and Tamara got there before Sam and Dean did, and already commandeered the basement – or somewhere – as their work space. I am confused by the house. In general. But it’s an intrigued kind of confused. It looks as though it has been preserved in amber from the days of the Dust Bowl. It took me a second to realize even where the hell they were. How this ghoulish set-up escaped Bobby and Sam and Dean’s notice on their sweep through the house, I will never know. The colors are that muddy grey that I miss so much. Jerry Wanek had a field day finding bizarre items. There are glass objects hanging from the ceiling, there appear to be many Gross Things in Jars (TM), there is a doll hanging mid-air, flopped over on her back like she’s a victim of a sexually motivated homicide … it’s hilarious, nobody even mentions it or notices it, she just dangles there in between Bobby and Sam.


It’s Santa’s Workshop From Hell.

There’s a lot going on when we join up with the scene: Bobby inspects the Serial Killer Wall. In the background, Dean seduces a coroner’s tech, asking her for information in a way that somehow – somehow – only Dean! – leads to her asking him out for drinks. This is Dean with Amy the Cop in “Shadow.” He has an uncanny gift. He sounds like a total cheese-ball back there. “Jenny! That’s my sister’s name!” Dean’s pheromones “come through the phone” (an old flame of mine said that to me once: “I had no idea pheromones could come through a phone.”) Dean makes fun of his own flirtatious bullshit to the group in the room AS he seduces her, but it doesn’t matter, because Jenny-on-the-other-end is INTO it, she knows he’s gotta be hot from the confident way he’s talking to her, she loves appletinis, I’m sick of handling only DEAD bodies, I want to handle your LIVE BODY PLEASE.


Meanwhile, though, we have the married-banter of Isaac and Tamara, which is supposed to be … adorable? Incongruous? … and it might very well have been that if it weren’t for the cliches. “You’d lose your head if it wasn’t for me.” Really?

Sam, though, is very taken by the spectacle of married hunters using domesticated language. He’s so taken by it that he asks them how they got into hunting, a huge no-no in the hunter’s world because every hunter – except for Garth – gets into it because of some unspeakably traumatic event. The second the question flies out of his mouth, Bobby looks up, Isaac and Tamara freeze, Sam looks ashamed and contrite.

Dean sashays back into the awkward fray, breaking the mood with his Burlesque on the phone with Jenny. What’s the good of a Burlesque if there’s no audience?

“We had faces then,” says Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

Yes, we did have faces then. But we have faces now, too.







It’s just that knowing how to light them and frame them has become a lost art. It’s still alive and well in the early seasons of Supernatural, thanks mainly to Kim Manners’ gift in this area. I go into this at length in the “Importance of Beauty Digression” in the re-cap for “Shadow”.

What is said is not as important as how it looks, especially in an episode like “Magnificent Seven” where the script leaves a lot to be desired. The basement space is musty and grey, yet with glimmering pin-pricks of light everywhere, from the flickering candle flames, the glass jars, and the dangling glass whatchamacallems. Specifically created, I imagine, and dreamt up by Manners and Ledouceur to counter-act the rote nature of the script and the information, which is explanation only. The scene is cluttered and complicated with shelving units, and dangling wacko objects, a table, they’re all on top of each other. The scene goes from close-up to close-up to close-up and back. Often, there are those signature blurry-blurs on the side of the frame, showing another figure on the periphery of whomever is in close-up, a reminder of how cramped the space is, and ALSO to connect these 5 characters, to show that this boring conversation has some urgency and intimacy. The other thing to note is that because the lighting in that space is so complicated – it’s dark in one corner, but there appears to be a kind of window at the back gleaming through the glass jars – there is an incredible variety of light on their faces. Some of the light is a kind of frosty-white, from the outside refracted through those glass jars, some is shadowy with a flickering warmth from unseen candles. The light MOVES, if you’ll notice. It is not static. It is fluid. If a character turns his head just slightly, you get a whole different effect on his face. He moves from light to shadow.

And with the five gorgeous faces in this one scene, Manners/Ledouceur have a field day figuring out how to light each separate face. It’s as though the characters are in five different spaces, and yet clearly they are connected (blurs on the side of the frame, and the initial master-shot that established the space) The scene is incredibly beautiful to look at, and it needs to be, because who cares about the dialogue.

Kim Manners is obsessed with faces, anyway. It’s his style. He finds people beautiful and intriguing and you can tell in how he frames them.

“The Magnificent Seven” is also important – and it’s introduced in this scene – because it throws a wrench into the works, a wrench I didn’t see coming: the hostility of other hunters towards the Winchesters for opening up that gate (and later, jumpstarting the Apocalypse). Here, Isaac makes it very clear when he says he doesn’t want to team up with them: why would they want to work with the very people who STARTED this whole thing? (Meanwhile: if only Sam and Dean and Bobby knew how incompetent these two were, they wouldn’t WANT to team up with them.) Hunter hostility towards the Winchesters will be a recurring theme throughout the season and beyond, a reminder of just how “outside” Sam and Dean are in that culture, a culture that is alREADY made up of outsiders. They are their father’s sons, after all. John Winchester wasn’t a rank-and-file hunter, either.

I do love how Isaac says, “This ain’t Scooby Doo.”

Because we all know that Supernatural is, at its core – as Helena has pointed out – a Scooby Doo-Beowulf mashup.

4th scene

More of a transition than a full scene but it’s beautifully done, so I’ll call it out. Creepy music leads us from daytime to nighttime, and the house of the Sloths is shot from below to make it look huge and distorted. Seen from the outside, one window glows golden, and Bobby appears, staring out into the darkness, with a beautiful contrast of light and shadow. After he closes the curtains, we are shut out of whatever warmth is inside. We are left alone for the entrance of Ruby, which – similar to the final shot of “Shadow,” where we see that Meg has not died after all – means that we have more information than Sam/Dean do, always a nerve-wracking situation.

Now THAT Is a Character Entrance

The entrance of Ruby is a stunner: she literally melts out of a tree trunk into the light. It looks like a special effect, but it’s not. I cannot even imagine how challenging setting up this shot was, so that she appears to be not there and then, suddenly, there. Any time you are working with extreme shadows and extreme light – especially in a nighttime scene – there are so many variables, you have to be so specific. Ruby starts out literally as a shadow: she MELTS out of the larger shadow of that tree, and appears to materialize into human form before our eyes. It’s an optical illusion.


Introducing a new character is a big BIG deal in this Cloistered Winchester Bell Jar(TM). You have to get it right.

Case in point: The most memorable character entrance in the show’s history.


Although I would argue that this entrance …


… is the best thing the show has ever done, period.

Either way, I can’t think of a way that the Ruby entrance could be improved upon.

We Need to Talk About Ruby (And Her Hair)

On the page the role of Ruby probably looks a certain way: a wall of text, all of it explanation. Both actresses who played her – Katie Cassidy and Genevieve Cortese (now Padalecki) – had an extremely difficult job ahead of them in terms of that Language (as well as what’s behind the language, the complicated WHY of Ruby’s endgame.) Talk about your Long Arc. Ruby’s devious Arc lasts 2 seasons, and I would imagine neither actress was privy to the EndGame, and what Ruby actually was doing all that time. Secrets like that are held close to the chest by creators, and the actors just have to approach their roles with a clarity and yet a suggestiveness of depth/secrets so that once the truth is revealed, you can look back and everything will line up. Both Cassidy and Cortese do a beautiful job with this.

Ruby has qualities that distinguish her from that other treacherous Demon Babe, Meg. Meg uses sex in an explicit and queasily abusive way and she did from the get-go. Ruby also uses sex, but only once she has Sam in her clutches. She does not come off as a seducer right off the bat. Ruby has enormous patience. She’s playing chess while Sam is playing checkers. This is one of the reasons why Dean’s spidey-sense goes off, because he KNOWS that somehow Sam is getting played. Dean is correct in sensing that Ruby is manipulating Sam, couching it in “Sam, you are an awesome big Strong-Man and the only one who can take on this problem.” It’s an ego-seduction and Sam falls for it. She makes his freakiness – something he’s extremely sensitive about – an asset, and she does so in a calculated almost political way. She’s an OPERATIVE as opposed to a Lady in Red. This is extremely challenging to pull off, especially for young actresses who tend to “lead” with their sexuality. They’re encouraged to do so, they’re cast to do so. Not so here.

Katie Cassidy – as much of a babe as she is – understands the brainiac Ninja aspect of Ruby and so she goes in that direction. Ruby is a mixture of hot and cold. She is the smartest person in any room. She is a master liar. And yet she has a way of roping people in and convincing them – even Bobby – that she is on the level. She’s a user. But she has the smarts to downplay that in order to seduce Sam (especially) in.

There’s a reason why the gag reels feature Cassidy and Cortese flubbing so many lines. Their only Bloopers are line-flubs. No wonder. Consider what they are faced with on that page. Ruby’s dialogue is DIFFICULT. There’s always an urgency beneath it, too, so all of that dialogue has to come racing off the tongue in a confident torrent because Ruby never has time to take a breath. (Her urgency is also a way to keep Sam on board. Such urgency is familiar to those of us – guilty – who study cults. Jim Jones started slow at the People’s Temple, because that was the seduction portion. Once he had hooked people in, he started isolating them, and once he isolated them totally he began to speak in more and more urgent terms about the threats facing them.) That’s Ruby’s M.O.: Urgency. There is NO TIME to weigh the pros and cons. You MUST get on board – NOW – the entire world depends on it, Sam! But back to the language: Ruby does not speak like a normal person. She speaks like an Expert standing in front of a conference hall, racing her audience through a complex Venn diagram Power Point at a quick pace because the Lunch Break is coming up and she needs to get it all in. I do not envy either Cassidy or Cortese this job, but I think both of them are phenomenal. I am ashamed for the fans who treated these competent actresses with barely veiled misogyny (“Get those SLUTS away from Our Boys.” Especially disgusting since Supernatural‘s audience is so sensitive to the representation of women and any whiff of “slut-shaming” and all the rest.)

Each actress brought her own considerable gifts to the role of Ruby, and it feels like a consistent character, even though the actresses couldn’t be more different from one another. The essence is the same.

It was good to hear Ruby’s name mentioned in Season 12. I miss her, manipulative bitch that she is.


And finally: if I lived 100 years, I will never have hair like Katie Cassidy’s. I am filled with the Deadly Sin of Envy in that regard. It’s how I feel when I see Monica Vitti’s hair. Or Gena Rowlands’ hair. Brilliant actresses. Brilliant unattainable hair.



5th scene

I love it when Supernatural clearly uses real locations.

Envy, played by Aaron Paul (oops, I mean Josh Daugherty), strolls into a clothing store in the light of day, and gently touches a shopper, making her go Apeshit. He passes the Sin on through TOUCH. Interesting considering Dean’s immunity to Lust’s touch. Maybe because he’s so sexed-out at that point. Maybe a more sexually innocent man would succumb. Dean’s role-played in his life, had threesomes, ball-gags have been involved … the sky’s the limit. He’ll try anything once. (But not fucking a woman’s ear because that “sounds … uncomfortable.”) Dean – normally so susceptible, especially to women (more on that, oh so much more, later) – shows surprising immunity from time to time along the way of this series. Sam does, too, but that’s explained away easier by the physical reality of demon blood. Dean doesn’t have that excuse. Dean was immune to Amara’s soul-sucking breath, and immune to the Famine Horseman. Even Dean seems surprised by his immunity, since normally – and he knows it on some level – he’s vulnerable. Extremely vulnerable.


Act 3, scene iii

Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger,
But, oh, what damnèd minutes tells he o’er
Who dotes, yet doubts— suspects, yet soundly loves!

Oh, misery!

Poor and content is rich, and rich enough,
But riches fineless is as poor as winter
To him that ever fears he shall be poor.
Good heaven, the souls of all my tribe defend
From jealousy!

6th scene, or: An Onslaught of Burlesque

I’ve written before about Sam’s judgey-ness in regards to Dean’s trolling-for-hookups while they’re supposed to be on the job, and how he always forgets that Dean is able to do multiple things at the same time: question an entire bar about someone’s disappearance AND get the bartender’s phone number. Dean is in a particularly Hound Dog-gy kind of mood in “The Magnificent Seven,” starting with the Doublemint Twins, moving onto Appletini-Jenny, and next week he’ll manufacture a case in order to visit Gumby Girl, and here, he cheesily hits on a woman he’s in the process of questioning in the store. I’m embarrassed for him, the touch on her shoulder, the comforting smile, the Oprah-slogan. No, Dean, no! Then, 5 seconds later, he can’t stop himself from turning his head to watch another woman walk by. He’s on the MAKE. Sam’s reaction is part and parcel of what we’ve talked about before: having to be a witness to your adult sibling’s sexual conquests (or attempted conquests), and how this is not a normal situation for adult siblings but it’s normal to them because Winchester Bell Jar(TM).


It’s not so much what Dean says, it’s the ongoing conversation he’s having with HIMSELF (I went into that at length here) that makes it interesting (and funny. and disturbing). He’s starring in an Awesome Movie about the Awesomeness of Dean Winchester.

The Burlesque is (in part) meant to ward Sam off, to stop looking at him in that pitying way, stop projecting, stop worrying, Dean can FEEL it and he can’t stand it. Which is what happens here. Dean does this huge pantomime of how he doesn’t have long to live – enormous hacking cough – forehead wrinkle at his plight – it’s phony and aggressive as hell and you don’t blame Sam for backing down. Sam’s damned if he does, damned it he doesn’t. These eye-roll moments from Sam are entertaining, but they serve a purpose and they are cumulative. They’re going to play a huge factor over the first part of Season 3.

This is the first time we’ve seen Bobby as investigative hunter, as opposed to Research Assistant, and it’s a lot of fun. I barely recognized him in a suit. It’s great!

What is also great is how Kim Manners chose to shoot it, with the mirror behind them, Bobby doubled up in the reflection, staring away from us but then looking at us through the mirror, Dean facing Sam (and us), Sam’s back to the camera. They’re all on top of each other, even more so with that mirror, their reflections crowding the space. I am obsessed with “mirror moments” in film, and I love how often Supernatural utilizes mirrors. I was in HEAVEN in Season 9 for the mirror moments alone, let me tell you.

Again: “The Magnificent Seven” is not all that gripping as an episode, but Manners knows it, and he’s not slacking off. There’s not one uninteresting shot in this whole thing.


Another thing to notice is how long the takes are. This is a Supernatural staple, and is one of the ways I got hooked into it. Scenes are allowed to play out, people move around, talking, and the camera moves with them, circling around to look this way, that. These long takes connect the characters. You don’t even notice it’s happening because it seems like the only possible way to do it (a credit to Manners and the other directors). But that’s not the case. Each moment, each move, is a CHOICE, and when you pile up the choices one after the other, you see how coherent Manners has made this episode, how much he has connected one piece to the next.

The ongoing thread of the simmering battle between Sam and Dean (“why aren’t you taking this seriously?” “I’m a dying man.” “Oh, right, okay, I’m sorry”) is omnipresent in every scene. It’s all that really matters, honestly. Dean’s handling of himself, and his handling of Sam, skates off the surface of those depths like a pebble catapulting across a pond. He KNOWS what Sam is thinking, and messes with Sam – messes with Bobby too – throwing his death in their faces, forcing them back into disturbed silences because Dean’s reaction is inappropriate, or he doth protest too much, and nobody knows how to crack beneath that facade (which is the POINT of the facade, of course). His glance at Sam that closes this scene out – his “See? I’m working!” – is satisfying. He flirts and works. Business and pleasure.

There are two beautiful shots when the three of them watch the store’s video footage. Boring scene but not how Manners filmed it:



Sam heads down the sidewalk away from the store, and it’s shot from across the street like a stalker. He is being stalked. Ruby, in the foreground, moves across the street and falls in behind Sam. I love my memory of this part of the episode, I remember thinking: Who IS that. What does she WANT? How can I get my hair to LOOK like that?

This is an elegant and creepy little scene, flipping back and forth between perspectives: from behind her so you can see him, from in front of him so you can see her. You get worried for Sam. You also admire his outfit and his jeans and jacket, and the view of him from behind. He looks awesome. But the most effective is when we see the two of them walking towards the camera together.


He senses something. He turns. And Katie Cassidy, bless her, sweeps herself off-camera behind the delivery guy. The disappearance happens ON THE SCREEN. No special effect. It’s like Misha Collins having to hide beneath the camera frame when Castiel supposedly has flown away. I love love love this effect, mainly because I love watching actors deal with fun challenges. And create optical illusions merely by hiding behind a moving box.

7th scene

There is only one thing that matters in the stakeout scene outside the “Old Terminal Pub”: the shadows of raindrops on their faces. That’s it. Nada. Zip. I can barely hear a word they’re saying. And I don’t care. Because LOOK.




Sam: why did you choose to rap on the window, freaking out Dean and Bobby? It’s like he’s 10 years old, clueless as to why the grownups are being so serious. It comes from out of nowhere, especially considering Sam’s seriousness throughout, and I like it a lot. Remember: give the audience what they want, but give it to them in a way they don’t expect.

The bar is evocative and perfect. I know bars like that. Leftover cigarette smoke from the Dark Days when you could smoke in bars. Sickly greenish lighting. It’s a bar that already looks like bad bad news, never mind the fact that it’s currently the location of a Seven Deadly Sin Happy Hour.

What I do like in Isaac and Tamara is the feeling we get of two people who are so close that they don’t even need to talk anymore. They’ve been through the worst of the worst. They have tried to turn their trauma into something useful. All they need to do is look at each other. They are so close they are practically one being. Both actors create that, and they do so in 20 minutes of screen time.

In keeping with the ongoing series-long motif, she reaches out to grab his hands, saying, “I love you.”

He replies, Han Solo-style: “I know.”

There has never been an instance in Supernatural where someone says “I love you” and the response is “I love you too.”


The bar is a sea of white people. The song playing is “Mean Little Town” by the Howling Diablos. (Perfect.)


Now it’s a shame the way they treat you
And it’s a shame the way they break you down
And it’s a shame the way they treat you, baby
But those are the rules in a mean little town.
It’s never pretty, you see the violence in their eyes
See all the hatred when they break you down
It’s never pretty when somebody’s dream dies
But those are the rules in a mean little town.
Now they found a body floating in the river
Must have been some little wino who slipped in and drowned
And all the boys are laughing over at the barber shop on Main Street
That’s the way they do it here in this mean little town
Those are the rules in a mean little town.

I’ve written about my issues with this scene, the language “How dare you walk into our bar?” “You really walked into the wrong place”, the sexualization of Tamara in front of her husband, the emasculation of Isaac in front of Tamara, and then the uproarious laughter as Isaac is forced to drink Drano in front of his wife. There’s something about it that is particularly raw and ugly, even in Supernatural terms. During the Drano section, Manners circles his camera around the action, mimicking the circular formation of the whooping Deadly Sins. There also looks to be some hand-held camera stuff, adding to the jagged upsetting “it can’t be stopped” energy to the scene.

This is a phenomenal shot, by the way.


And this leads me to my next point:

Despite my issues with this scene, Caroline Chikezie is so “in” it that her experience is damn near unwatchable. She goes there. Stanislavsky, the great Russian acting teacher/director/philosopher, said that all good acting starts with the magic question “What if?” “What if this were true?” “What if I was in this situation?” It is with the question “What if?” that you take the leap. Some actors don’t go as deep as they should. They THINK they are really “in” it, but they stay on the surface of the given circumstances. They ask the question but they only accept the answer half-way. Chikezie accepts the answer to “What if?” in her very core. It’s heart-wrenching to watch her.

As everyone laughs, listen for her screams, even if the camera isn’t on her. They are high-pitched moan-wails keening through the air. This is real for her. It’s a terrible sound.

During the gigantic fight scene that follows, Sam drags a screaming Tamara back to the car. It looks like a real struggle. She fights so hard that Padalecki – who has 3 feet and 100 pounds on her – has to really WORK to contain her. That’s not acting. She trusted him enough to contain her without really hurting her, and so with that trust, she was free to just GO. Go as far as she needed to go. It’s a partnership, creating a moment like that. They had to do it together.


There’s a scene in Norma Rae where Sally Field is dragged by cops out of the factory and into the squad car. Sally Field came and spoke at my school. She talked about that scene. The only direction director Martin Ritt gave her was: Do not let them put you in that car. (Of course, the scene as written ends with her being put in the car. You can’t get around that. But in the PLAYING of it, the the actress can’t know the ending of the scene, even subconsciously. You’ve got to FIGHT, even if the actress part of you knows the character will lose that fight.) Sally Field went into that scene with one objective: DO NOT LET THEM PUT ME IN THAT CAR. So when they started dragging her, she fought back so hard she ended up breaking one guy’s arm. This is not to applaud that kind of thing, there probably should have been more safety concerns and maybe even Martin Ritt didn’t know what his direction would unleash. Regardless: if you want to know what it looks like to see an actress play an objective, watch that scene. And beginning directors, take note: THAT’S how you give direction.


And that’s what Chikezie is doing in this scene. Her emotions are expressed through pure objective, and it’s life or death. Even up until the last moment Bobby drives them out of that bar, she’s still pushing up against Sam’s back, screaming out the window. Excellent.

8th scene

Manners starts with the now-familiar from-below exorcism shot, but the camera does this interesting little curve: it starts low, moves up, turns a bit, and then goes back down again so we can see the devil’s trap on the ceiling. The camera move is an Arc shape, like the one standing in St. Louis. A weird complex bit of film-making, with Tamara’s furious voice coming from the next room, the argument happening off-screen.


Not surprisingly, Dean is on board with her plan to go back to the bar. He’s itching to raise more hell. Tamara is such a seething powerhouse that it took me a couple of times through to perceive Sam’s double-layer of alarm in this scene. There’s the obvious plot-driven one (“No, we can’t go back there, there are too many of them”), and then there’s the “story beneath the story” one: sensing Dean’s recklessness, his willingness to throw himself in harm’s way, like he doesn’t care anymore. Dean is always ready to face danger. But this is different, and Sam knows it’s different.

Maybe the Burlesque is the real clue. The Burlesque is fluid. It can serve many purposes. Here, the Burlesque is a reaction to impending death, and Dean seems to not CARE and that is driving Sam crazy. This is really the only thing – the only important thing – that Padalecki REALLY has to play during the episode. Trying to get Dean to settle the fuck down and ACKNOWLEDGE reality is like trying to pin down a jagged bolt of lightning. So it’s fun to watch Padalecki throughout, and watch him try to speak to Dean in a way that will get through to him, speak to Dean in a way that says (without saying it), “I KNOW what is going on.”

Here, Sam shouts at the two of them, but really only to Dean, “It’s suicide!” and Dean snaps back, “So what, I’m dead already.”


The space has a beautiful depth: look how far back it goes. The candles and the grey-ness of the surroundings make their faces stand out like jewels. It’s what we miss in the series once the colors onscreen got prosaic or too bright. We miss how the shadows and the blurred-out backgrounds make the faces “pop”, because honestly what do I care about Plot? I really just care about Faces. Through the faces, we get everything we need to know. It takes great control to create an environment like the one in this scene. Jerry Wanek to his crew: “Okay, find me this list of objects, but make sure none have any bright colors in them. If you find something perfect but it’s bright red, paint it grey or brown or black. Do it by noon tomorrow.”

Bobby and Sam have quite a task reining in Tamara and Dean. Bobby stands in the background, engrossed in some big dusty book, which turns out to be Peter Binsfield’s Classification of Demons (1589). Because of course it is. Peter Binsfield was a piece of work. A Catholic nut-job who was also a ferocious witch-hunter. His more famous work was on how to get confessions out of witches. Lovely. He did not believe in shape-shifting. So that tells you right there that he was CLEARLY a hunter.

Here are the names Binsfield gave the Seven Deadly Sins, for future reference.

Lucifer (pride)
Mammon (greed)
Asmodeus (lust)
Leviathan (envy)
Beelzebub (gluttony)
Satan (wrath)
Belphegor (sloth)

You know the Supernatural writing staff was like, “Let’s keep this shit in our back pocket. We’ll be needing more of this down the road.”

Bobby emerges from the background, declaring that he’s figured out what they’re dealing with and it’s the Seven Deadly Sins. There’s a problem here, and the problem is that I am totally not scared. Jim Beaver gives that line reading all the power that he can – really, it’s the only way to read that line, and it’s supposed to make us terrified, but instead, I’m like, “Oh, come on ….”

Kripke’s snarky sense of humor serves him very well as a writer, because without Dean’s completely inappropriate outburst (“What’s in the booooooox?”) the moment would be the most deadly sin of all: Being too serious for your own good. Instead of looking shocked and terrified and “Oh Noes, what will we do?”, Dean moans, “What’s in the boooox?” (he does a pretty damn good imitation of Pitt’s line-reading, I have to say):

Dean can’t help himself. Dean laughs, assuming that the others will totally know what he’s talking about, get the reference, and also find it funny. His assumption that in the middle of a tense night like this one – a night where someone’s husband JUST DIED – someone will be like, “Oh my God, that’s from Se7en! You’re so funny, Dean!!!” is what makes the moment so hilarious and awkward.


Small shout-out to Serge Ledouceur and his brilliance with lighting, and finding variety in a monochromatic space and also understanding that different faces require different treatments.



My heart hurts it’s so beautiful, especially that second one.

Bobby has to step in and shut Tamara DOWN. And listen … just listen … to how Jim Beaver says the platitude, “I am sorry for your loss.” Goosebumps.


The interrogation scene begins with a comprehensive slightly curving shot where all five characters are seen at the same time: the demon in the foreground, Tamara stalking in, the camera moving to pick up Bobby’s entrance, resting on Sam, and then Dean crosses in front. You guys. This takes planning. It’s beautifully choreographed, looks effortless, and gives an intense sensation of pressure and focus: the four hunters (finally) become one.

Again: the lighting – all candlelight and shadows – is set up to be flexible, to make things look different, depending on the angle, depending on the face.



The lighting is completely different, and yet it still feels like they are in the same space. It has a doubling effect: it’s naturalistic and yet poetic, epic, and – a word I’ve used in connection with Manners’ style before – loving. He LOVES these faces.



Envy has a long monologue, with some howlers (“I like to see people’s insides on their outside” which reminds me of the howler in “Snowpiercer” about the taste of babies. Sometimes it’s best to just leave things unsaid). Considering where the Arc is moving in Season 2, and then Season 3, and then holy shit Season 4, the demon is really explicit in order to make sure those seeds are planted: “You really think you’re better than me!!” Okay, okay. “My name is legion for we are many” and “He who is without sin and etc. and etc.” roots the whole thing in Biblical “lore” and then he goes around the room connecting first Dean then to Tamara to a Deadly Sin. Pretty on the nose, but Ackles, as always, underplays his reaction – he does that little shrugging-with-his-face thing when the demon calls him a “walking billboard of gluttony and lust.” Dean is like, “Yup. Ya got me.” Rookie Tamara on the other hand flips out, which is of course exactly what the demon wants, and Bobby and Dean have to pull her away. Other than that they all wait out the monster-exposition. Never change, Supernatural. Thank goodness there’s so much Beauty to look at.

The effectiveness in the scene lies in the reaction shots. There’s been WAY too much talking going on. At the words “horny, greedy” Dean nods slightly. To himself. (So good). At “you’ll be slaughtered like animals” Sam starts to look pretty … well, freaked out. Each person listening has their own private anxieties. The sequence ends with Dean – who has remained calm and cool – leaning into a Kim Manners closeup where he gets back “on top” of the interaction. He looks like a green-eyed slightly-blank-and-beautiful avenging angel.


Beauty as aggressive weapon. With the added complexity that Dean is sending the demon back to where it came from … a place where he will soon be.

There is a nice moment when Dean, who had taken over, leaves the floor to someone (“Someone send this clown packing”), and Tamara steps into that void. Here, her Wrath is helpful as opposed to harmful. There’s a look of satisfaction and glee on her face that is cathartic and also terrifying. In the final moment of the episode, Sam asks Dean if he thinks Tamara will be okay and Dean says, “Uhm, yeah. No. Definitely not.” You can see why here.

As the exorcism goes down in the next room, the three men have a quickie conference in the next room. I’m already sick of how much language there is in the episode, and I imagine Manners is too because again he drenches the screen in interest. Interest that does not distract, but ADDS, drowns the characters in mood and atmosphere, mostly dark, the light struggling to pierce through.


As much as I’ve said already about the Isaac and Tamara addition, I think it’s very effective to have another body in that space, and her voice coming in from the other room, doing her thing. It provides the atmosphere of collective threat: that whatever is coming will not just threaten our Hearty Trio, but everyone, with hunters everywhere on the front line.

Jared Padalecki: The Power of his Listening, Part 2

Why I love this small scene is because of Padalecki’s work. This is where his Episode-Arc comes into play again, although he’s been playing it all along. I’m more of a fan of the word “spine” than “Arc.” The concept of spine is nothing new, but director Elia Kazan made it the center of his process. I wrote about this concept at length in an early post about Supernatural, and TV pilots in general. Good dramatic action has a spine throughout, but that spine has to go 6 feet deep. The spine needs to be present in every moment, every character has to somehow dovetail into that spine, and the spine translates into: “What do I want?” The spine is always ACTION-able. It is not a concept. It is play-able.

To be a Downer, this has made me realize that one of the issues I am having thus far with Season 12 (and granted, it’s early) is the lack of a spine. Not feeling it. Not feeling it pulsing through each episode. It’s SPOKEN in every episode, but that’s not the same thing.

Good directors always understand spine, and Kim Manners clearly does. So does Padalecki. Deadly Sins are irrelevant to the true spine of this episode which is Dean, and Sam’s reaction to Dean’s predicament and general attitude. Padalecki plays it in every moment, every glance, it is so close to the surface in Sam’s psyche that it seeps out even in moments that have nothing to DO with it. And THAT’S how you play an effective spine. (It’s like when Brando as Stanley Kowalski rapes Vivien Leigh as Blanche, in Streetcar Named Desire. His final line before he rapes her is: “Tiger! Tiger! Drop the bottle top! Drop it! We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning!” And you know it’s true. Because Brando has been playing it from the first moment he laid eyes on that broad. THAT’S a spine: “Take Blanche DOWN and get his wife BACK.”)

Dean appears to be “business as usual”, with the sex and the hunting, but Sam is tuned into the supersonic differences, and in this scene he’s had it.

My favorite line reading (well, there’s another one that’s a close tie) in the episode is Padalecki’s: “You’re insane, Dean. Just forget about it.”

Sam has been waiting to clock Dean on this from the jump. The comment really comes from somewhere. It’s a “firm father” line-reading. A father who’s on the verge of grounding his son for the summer. That’s the spine.


There are some extreme camera angles to highlight emotion, tension: Dean, Bobby and Sam shot from below (echoing a later angle over the grave) staring at the candles, and then Tamara stalking through the three men like a miniature obstacle course, saying, in a flatline right as she gets to the camera: “He didn’t make it.”

The exorcism has exorcised something in her as well.

9th scene

Some Words on Beauty and Suffering. Again, You Ask? Yes. Again.

Now, now we’re really in a Western. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s final stand as enemies amass outside. It helps if the two bandits are so gorgeous that it’s practically an otherworldly experience looking at them.

The final freeze-frame of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”

They make death – self-sacrifice – going out in a blaze of glory – look impossibly glamorous. They make it look as though death like that is what we all should want. You ache to join that freeze-frame, because you would rather be with them than not.

The silent opening of Scene 9 is a beauty and features everything I love: an elegant curving camera move, both men in the same frame at the same time, and two DOOZY focus-pulls. Plus candlelight like molten gold.

The shot starts empty of people, like the lamp-posts shot in the teaser: the camera peeks through a doorway at a wrecked room beyond before moving backwards, into the interior room, and sloping down a bit to pass by Dean, who sits on the floor cleaning his weapon, looking like a watchful determined gold-leaf Archangel. It’d be over-the-top – the candles, the gold, the eyelash shadows, the sultry pose – if the shot wasn’t so much a part of the storytelling. Although, what the hell, it IS over-the-top. Just like Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid are.


I mean, come on.

PUSH that shit to the LIMIT, right? If you have Paul Newman, PUSH it to the edge and then right on over. Push it especially if death is right outside the door.

For the opening of Scene 9 in “Magnificent Seven”: Golden/shadowed/molten-thick beauty – plus a gentle seduction of a camera move – is MADE for depictions of impending death, and the blaze of martyrdom, and I’m still working out why that is. I am now convinced I need to get a Master’s Degree in order to really understand how Beauty/Suffering/Pain not only work together but are the same.

My next quest in this regard (I’m looking for the smoking gun, the smoking Colt, if you will) is to delve (further) into the work of the Aesthetes of the Victorian era. Criminals by law, because of their sexual orientation, folks like Ruskin and Oscar Wilde and Swinburne and Pater and Aubrey Beardsley celebrated the surface of things (beauty) to a degree that was deemed corrupt and decadent at the time (Wilde’s famous comment about his blue china – “I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china.” – scandalized Oxford.) But embracing the surface meant acknowledging just how large a part Beauty (or its opposite) played in our lives, something that the “morality police” of the day – and ours – did not want to acknowledge, since the only thing that was supposed to matter was character, values, honor (our insides – in other words).

Oscar Wilde eviscerated that attitude in two extremely dangerous sentences:

It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

In such words, a civilization’s certainty in itself teeters.

One of Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s “Salome”

It also should be noted that it was illegal for these people to be what they were, the “love that dares not speak its name.” Naturally, love affairs happened anyway (to disastrous results, as Oscar Wilde found out), as well as illicit sex hookups, which – again – being ILLEGAL gave them even more power. A descent into the underworld. A “giving over” of one’s self and identity to that which was decadent. I am speaking in the terms of that era, you understand. Wilde was tormented. He was deeply religious and converted to Catholicism, basically on his deathbed, after a lifetime of attraction to it. Nowadays, it may be scoffed at as “self-hating” or whatever, but no no no, that is a misunderstanding of the attraction. Catholicism held such a huge attraction to him because of the aesthetics of the ceremony. This may sound unbearably shallow, but consider again Wilde’s words on shallow-ness. The aesthetics of the Mass – the Latin, the incense, the candles, the stained glass, the music, the marble statues … all helped contribute to a trance of Beauty and Pain (because in Christianity Beauty and Pain are the same. Literally: they are identical. And in Catholicism it’s put right out front and center with all the statues of Christ on the cross – naked and writhing in agony – hanging above the altar. Catholicism does not bury the lede, as it were.) Putting all of this together – suffering, redemption, blood and spirit, beauty and ugliness – was irresistible to Wilde.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is all about this A to B connection between Beauty and Death. I’m surprised Supernatural hasn’t done a version of that story: it’s so potent with potential for deadly doubles, doppelgängers, the Draw of Death and how Death is inseparable from Eternal Beauty (die young, have a beautiful corpse, and etc.)

I’m reading some of John Steinbeck’s letters currently for another huge project and came across this, in a letter to a friend from 1951, and his words here, as he discusses his plans for the writing of East of Eden kinda sorta gets at what I’ve been trying – ad nauseum – to say.

And so I will tell them one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest story of all – the story of good and evil, of strength and weakness, of love and hate, of beauty and ugliness. I shall try to demonstrate to them how these doubles are inseparable – how neither can exist without the other and how out of their groupings creativeness is born.

Not quite right, but in the ballpark. It doesn’t quite get at what the sensation of inseparability is actually like, but thematically that’s why I try to keep hammering at in my post after post (after post) about Beauty’s centrality in telling this story of Ugliness (and why the show lost so much when it abandoned its devotion to Beauty).

Digressions such as this is why Our Troll called me (and all of us, really) “annoying cunts.” Well, that and the fact that I didn’t idolize Dean Winchester to the degree that she felt I should (if it were up to her, Dean would stand on a pedestal and nothing would ever happen to him.) I’m not being PAID for these re-caps! I am talking about this show in the way I want to talk about it, the only reason I even started writing about it in the first place because none of the fan-writing I encountered talked about it the way I want to talk about it. This is nothing against all of the other stuff that is out there. Much of it is really interesting! Clearly, everyone writes about it the way they want to write about it, and it’s a fabulous testament to the power of the show. But these concepts are the things that interest me, that struck me almost immediately about the series, from the darkly glamorous pilot – and thankfully all of you fellow travelers have found me. To me, questions of Beauty are not digressions, but at the center. ESSENTIAL.


The camera pulls across the room, and Sam appears in the foreground, pouring holy water out of a big clear plastic container (which, incidentally, adds to the “light” in the room in the way that an opaque thermos, for example, would not), wrapped up in his own thoughts. Two outlaws coiling down into themselves, getting into that quiet still space before the final showdown. At some point, when Padalecki feels it’s time, he turns and looks across the room at Dean, and there’s a dramatic focus-pull. It’s glorious. Ackles feels the moment too, and glances up at the right time. Thank you XENU no more words. You don’t need them. After that, there are three one-shots, of Sam, then of Dean, then back to Sam. Sam’s got chilly blue light behind him, bars of shadow. That sort of cool and dark light is perfect for his coloring, his angles. Then we have Golden Boy Dean. The lighting makes it look like he’s already dead and been mythologized endlessly to the point where he is no longer human and his image is part of a romanticized mural on the side of a church. I’m sorry if it seems I exaggerate. Blame Kim Manners. When we go back to Sam, Sam again has that tensed and coiled-up worried look (unlike Dean, who appears almost flat-lined he’s so calm), and then the old-fashioned radio (because of course) crackles to life behind him, its display lighting up, and Sam turns to look.






It’s perfect.

As is the choice of having “I Shall Not Be Moved”, the old spiritual/protest/civil-rights song crackle out of the radio.

I just went and checked my iTunes and I have 8 versions of “I Shall Not Be Moved”:

Blind Roosevelt Graves from 1929
Mississippi John Hurt
Johnny Cash
Mavis Staples
Lonnie Donegan
The Seekers
Public Enemy

Just looking at that list of musicians speaks volumes about the song. The 8th version I own is from the so-called “million dollar quartet” session at Sun Studios in December 1956, an impromptu jam session that included Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and – briefly – Johnny Cash. Sam Phillips had the wherewithal to turn on the tape recorder. At one point, they sing “I Shall Not Be Moved.” The pleasure of hearing Carl Perkins and Elvis harmonize is impossible to put into words.

The fact that they chose this eerie song, with its lyrics of a final stand, as well as its timeless quality, its emanation from another era, from all eras, a song for all people in all tough times, a song of a spiritual nature – there’s a reason it’s been recorded so much – is a perfect representation of the specificity of “The Magnificent Seven” (flaws notwithstanding. Maybe it’s so evident BECAUSE of all of the flaws). The specificity of the choices – how the brothers are filmed, this song, the production design of that unspecified house where they hole up – a house that looks nice and respectable from the outside but is a hovel-time-capsule on the inside … all of this helps PLACE Supernatural in the epic realm, even when the script is not really epic in quality. At its best, the series always remembers it’s an Epic.

Well, Lordy I shall not be, I shall not be moved
I shall not be, I shall not be moved
Just like a tree that’s growin’ in the meadow (down by the water)
I shall not be moved
I’m on my way to glory land and I shall not be moved
On my way to glory land I will not be moved
I’m like a tree that’s planted by the water
I shall not be moved

The scene switches to Tamara, holed up at her lookout, misty light pouring in through the slats. A lonely fierce image. “I Shall Not Be Moved” floats through the air, coming from (seemingly) far far away. We “find” her there. We don’t start off with her, we start off with the thick salt-line on the borders of that space. She’s part of a larger picture.


That shot right there is “epic-storytelling” framing. A shot like that connects the audience – whether they are even aware of it – to every other “last stand” image cinema has given us. It works subconsciously. All such scenes look like a version of this. Stories are told through images, not words. The images are the things that burrow themselves into our DNA. These images act as memories, even though they are not first-hand. It is from that subconscious place where we make our connections. Oh … I get it, so this is like THIS …

The sensation of Deja Vu continues, as Tamara hears the screams of anguish from Isaac outside, and she and Bobby share glances, Bobby’s silent support of her bolstering her up, helping her keep her resolve (not for long. Oh, Tamara.)

Whatever Sam and Dean are doing elsewhere, here – with Bobby and Tamara – and that horrible howl outside – it is as though they are the last people on earth.


Isaac provides the backstory to the tragedy in their past. It should be taught in classes under the lesson-title: “Awkward Exposition and How to Avoid It.” “We swore to each other at that lake in Michigan …” “Remember that night when they came to our house …” Filling us in. Long-time couples don’t talk to each other that way. Sigh.

But whatever he says gets to her anyway and she charges out of the house, breaking the salt-line. Because she became a hunter yesterday. There is a hell of a stunt where the two of them roll all the way down the stairs. It’s incredible. Now all the Vaudeville-Pantomime Deadly Sins stream into the house, up the stairs, and each of our remaining heroes has a standoff with them.

Bobby is confronted by Sloth (C. Ernst Harth) – well, we just have to guess that he’s Sloth because he’s fat – maybe there could have been a more interesting and non-obvious way to go with these Sins? (Hot blonde = Lust, Preppy Murderer = Pride, etc.), who had already had a field day in this weird house that looks so nice on the outside and is a complete ruin on the inside. A metaphor. Whatever the case may be, Jerry Wanek is in High-Baroque mode, and I can’t get enough of all of the details onscreen. There are a lot of closeups in this episode, because it’s the style of the show and it’s Manners’ style in particular, but there is so much detail in the background, stuff that doesn’t even get its own closeup, or dwelt upon in any way. The detail there – the jars, the stained glass windows, the things hanging from the ceiling, the piles of things in the corners – these are all there for texture, and that’s it. But that’s a LOT.

When Sloth is caught in the Devil’s Trap, Bobby pleases me to no end by saying:

Thrilling tense music connects all of the different strands: Dean’s standoff with Lust, Bobby’s exorcism of Sloth, and Sam’s confrontation with three other Sins. Tamara is useless. Where the hell is she? I’m being hard on her, but it just adds to the feeling that the character has no reason to be there except to break the salt-line, and that – for me – is not nearly enough.


Dean and Lust (Katya Virshilas) start their standoff in a boarded-up hallway – did they board everything up? To keep the demons out? Forgive me: I continue to be obsessed with the house. On their initial walk-through, it looked old-fashioned but not a WRECK. Now suddenly bear-traps dangle from the ceilings, and huge shelving units filled with Gross Things in Jars (TM) stand in the middle of the room. Lust takes Dean by surprise, disarming him.

Lust comes at him, with a voracious smile, and please, like Dean hasn’t seen this before? This is another day at the office for him. The look on his face as she backs him down the hallway is the give-away. He knows the drill here. He’s been fending off this kind of assault since he was a kid. It’s almost comfortable for him to be in that zone because it’s so familiar.

Manners does some interesting curly-cue camera movements once Dean and Lust enter the room off the hallway. Close-up on Dean, the camera snaking away from him. Shot of Lust entering, moving towards him, the camera pulling back a bit so that you can see two of her: one in the room, and one in the smudged mirror. I love mirror moments so much, in general, and this is a good one.


Manners does a beautiful job with whatever material he is given. When the material is up to the Manners level of nuance/beauty, the effects reached are almost unbearably powerful. Here, where the material feels like a low-rent Avengers, or a Saturday morning cartoon, he does what he can to mask those flaws. There’s no way he is unaware of the challenges of this script. He does what he can to DRENCH the screen in interest so hopefully we 1. won’t notice 2. won’t care.

Lust gives Dean a nice Pretty-Woman-esque come on, “I’ll be whatever you want me to be, baby” and – since in this case he does know himself well – he stays back, trying to ward her off as best he can.

Jensen Ackles I: Susceptibility and Mystery

Dean’s got that look on his face. A familiar Dean look: an adrenaline surge, and with the adrenaline comes Sex. It’s involuntary. And this … thing, whatever you want to call it … represents a choice on the part of Ackles, and at this point it probably kicks in automatically, and maybe it even happened automatically, but it’s important to remember that this is a choice. Remember: Dean is not written this way. This sort of quality … thing, whatever you want to call it … is not on the page in any way whatsoever. This would continue to be true if Lust were a man. However, and this is key: Dean is susceptible to women. It’s a word I use often. I knew I had written about it before, and with a brief search found it in the “Wendigo” re-cap. Dean grew up in and still lives in a male world. He is not “used” to women being around. You could see that clearly in his initial response to Ellen and Jo. The mere FACT of their womanhood is slightly “other” to Dean, and he finds it impossible to really batten down the hatches against it. Women are Dead Mothers or Sex Playmates to him. They aren’t comrades and friends and buddies. He’s split off from them, AND split off from the part of him that needs women in his life. Not as a girlfriend, but just in general. Ellen looks at him and sees into his heart and sees his pain and Dean finds that kind of glance almost painfully vulnerable. He’s susceptible to it and has no defenses.

There are exceptions to every one of my statements here.

And so, in light of all this, of COURSE Lust appears to Dean as a woman. Not because he’s the Poster Boy of Red-Blooded American Masculinity, but because women are an Achilles heel to him. Sexually, sure, but more importantly, emotionally. His boundaries are porous (always) but especially so with women. I realize that this rather poorly-constructed episode probably doesn’t deserve this level of analysis, but at least I’ve got it all down now for future reference.

This is not a physical fight for Dean. It’s internal. This exists way beneath language, and it’s not something he could put into words, but it’s not a coincidence of course that Lust made a beeline for Dean. (And that Sloth sought out Bobby, and Pride found Sam. You know. This is a Primary Color kind of script.) It’s not just about his sex life, or the fact that the whole episode opened with a threesome (observed by Sam. Ew.) It’s that internal susceptibility that is the most dangerous and that Supernatural will have the most fun exploring.

We saw it most recently in the criminally-truncated Amara Arc. In that particular Arc, interestingly enough, Dean was both susceptible and impervious. Susceptible and impervious, penetrable and impenetrable, sometimes simultaneously: in a nutshell: that’s Dean. How on earth you would even – as an actor – begin to attempt to consciously CREATE a character like that is one of the Great Mysteries of the acting craft of Jensen Ackles and I, for one, prefer it mysterious. Preferring to talk about it as a mystery to be reveled in, as opposed to a mystery to be SOLVED, is not just a personal choice for me. It appears to be an accurate reflection of reality, the reality of the performance, its ambiguities, ambivalence, its silences, its depths. Anyone who says they know what’s really going on in there, “and here’s why and how and what”, anyone who tries to say that they know how it all fits together, is not to be trusted! Every rule has 5 exceptions. Besides, if we knew for sure what was going on in there, the show would not have lasted 12 seasons. This is one of the reasons why some fan chatter is a turn-off for me because that kind of analysis inadvertently (or advertently) obliterates mystery. (Not to mention completely ignores that the character has a sense of humor, one of his most important attributes.) What I’m saying is: It’s the MYSTERY that is the most important part.

Just this morning I read a fascinating article about the mysteries of the Voynich Manuscript, and I couldn’t help it: the final paragraph dovetailed so beautifully with this section, which I was just in the process of writing:

Readers will probably never stop forming communities based on the manuscript’s secrets. Humans are fond of weaving narratives like doilies around gaping holes, so that the holes won’t scare them. And objects from premodern history—like medieval manuscripts—are the perfect canvas on which to project our worries about the difficult and the frightening and the arcane, because these objects come from a time outside culture as we conceive of it. This single, original manuscript encourages us to sit with the concept of truth and to remember that there are ineluctable mysteries at the bottom of things whose meanings we will never know.

It’s the not-knowing that is the most delicious part for me as an audience. And that zone is where ALL the good stuff is. ALL of it.

Over Thanksgiving, Mum, Cashel and I watched Citizen Kane. That film is a perfect example of being built around the concept of NOT KNOWING. The entire film is a quest for not just knowledge, but the KEY – the Abracadabra – that will unlock the secret door to a man’s innermost heart. There has GOT to be a key that will unlock the secret that will then explain what drove him, what made him who he was. His final word before dying:


What does it mean? Was it a woman? A nickname? No one knows! The movie is an archaeological dig into a man’s life. When it is finally revealed what “Rosebud” means (and I wouldn’t DARE spoil it, so please, those of you who have seen it: ZIP IT!!) …

It explains everything.

And it explains absolutely nothing.

Audience members have a very hard time tolerating that ambiguity. Christopher Nolan flatters audiences into feeling smart by presenting different puzzle pieces that all go together. But the more powerful stories do NOT piece together perfectly. There are gaps. And in those gaps is not so much the Truth, but the reality of the human condition. We don’t piece together perfectly. We are incomprehensible, on some ultimate level, to other people, and to ourselves. The fact that Ackles understands this, and withholds THAT MUCH of the comprehensibility of the character, is one of his defining characteristics as an actor.

Jensen Ackles II: Instinct and Inference

What all this shows – the complexity and nuance and silence and contradictions – all visible in seemingly unconscious behavior – is that Ackles works largely by instinct. He’s extremely smart, and he asks all the right questions as an actor when he does his homework in private. He’s technically amazing. He has a wide range of emotions at his fingertips. Blah blah blah. All that’s clear. He’s a good actor. Not up for debate, and not what I’m talking about. This type of emotional expression or non-expression and submersion, the whirlpool of it, the openness and the equal fear of openness, the wordless power of it (much of it would work without any dialogue whatsoever: you’d get the whole story) – all of this surging all over his face, through his body, down to his fingertips … that’s the gift of an actor working in a Zone beyond explanatory language, beyond the capabilities of anyone who wants to “sum it up” or “boil it down”. And THIS – the resistance to any explanation that is in any way final, this wiggling out of a “here is the key to the character” summing-up – is why the character is what he is, and why he is the actor that he is.


I watch more old movies than I do current films. What I am about to say is not an opinion but fact: Directors of “old” movies, the studios, the writers, assumed intelligence in the audience. They did not feel the need to lead the audience by the hand, tip-toeing through land-mines of complexity. Films are a populist art form, but in the “good old days” there is a depth of emotion (maybe because they couldn’t put some of the more unsavory stuff into words: and neither does Supernatural, so there’s a reason I see the connections) and an ASSUMPTION that an audience will keep up and put together the pieces, and fill the gaps. I’ve shown old movies to friends who don’t really watch them. These are smart friends. Really smart. But INFERENCE is something that is lost on them. They can’t put things together. They wonder if something’s missing, they ask a question: “Wait … did they sleep together? Wait … so, they’re losing the house?” There’s a WAY that things are filmed now that doesn’t leave you with ANY doubt about what is happening. Even in good films. These films spoon feed an audience, and – consequently – audiences get dumber. They wonder where the damn spoon is. My sister teaches middle school reading and writing, and has noticed how contemporary children’s literature is as popular as it ever was, even more popular, but the books for kids now – including Harry Potter (and I love Harry Potter) – have an absence of any kind of inference. It’s ALL TEXT. And so these kids grow up to be young adults and then adults who get totally confused if everything isn’t laid out in a neat row, and handed to them. They feel CHEATED. (These are generalizations, but there’s enough truth in them – as evidenced in current film-making and stories – that they’re useful to at least mention, despite the fact that of course there are exceptions to all of this.)

Ackles is very good on specific beats, and punchlines, and emotional progression. All of this is very clear. He’s practically a wind-up doll in his sense of timing. He never fails. BUT, there is a big part of this character that cannot be explained, and cannot be pinned down. There are GAPS. And HE, the actor, knows what’s in those gaps. But we’re left to guess. Ackles works with INFERENCE in a way that very very few actors (today especially) are even CAPABLE of doing. 90% of the character of Dean Winchester is inference. Okay, maybe 80%, but I’m thinking it’s more like 90. I can’t overstate how rare this is. I can’t overstate how much actors – even very good ones – want to be understood. They want their characters to be clear, and understood by audiences, they don’t want to leave any doubt as to character motivation. And some very good work is done by actors when they devote themselves to that kind of clarity (as long as they keep it specific). But it’s lacking. This is an issue with acting training, with directors coming out of TV/film instead of a stage background like they used to, with writers growing up in a literary culture that puts a high premium on clear A-to-B explanations for anything that happens, with the self-esteem culture that congratulates people for … nothing, for just showing up … it’s a mix of factors.

This is why I compare Ackles mostly to actors who are all long-dead. Because he’s working as though he’s in a movie in the 1940s, rich with inference and double-entendre, complex and withholding, expressive and yet mysterious. Cary Grant. John Wayne. These guys are not SUBTLE, and yet they refuse to be pinned down. They’re too big. And there’s too much in them that is not said. It’s why we keep returning to them over and over again.


Needless to say, inference is NECESSARY for any story that is supposed to be epic, or mythic, or meant to tap into a primal human need for Stories. This is one of my issues with Christopher Nolan and the oh-so-serious vibe of his films, most egregiously seen in The Dark Knight. (Nolan fans: I’m sorry! But I cannot and will not go there with you. Hopefully the world is big enough for the two of us.) I wouldn’t care as much if Nolan weren’t so influential (and if his fans weren’t so insane that they sent death threats to anyone who DARES criticize their God’s movies. That’s the real Giveaway.) This kind of thing – lack of inference – is everywhere right now, for all of the reasons I said, and more. A population spoon-fed with unambiguous stories lacking ANY inference whatsoever, stories that provide Morals at the end summing up “what we have learned”, is unable to tolerate complexity – or even recognize it – and when it shows up they blame the MOVIE as opposed to themselves. Witness the outrage in some sectors to the Sopranos finale. Those who were outraged were outraged because of the ambiguity, because the ending refused to tie it all together, to explain, to have some definitive meaning, or even PLOT. To provide the “Rosebud”. The mystery of the “Rosebud” of Tony Soprano (and Tony Soprano has a lot in common with Kane) remains intact, assured by the quick cut to black at the end. There is no “explanation” and people embarrassed themselves by analyzing what was on the screen to support their theory of what happened, when the reality is: it was impossible to know. You’re just GUESSING. (I don’t CARE what Chase had to say later. What is onscreen is what matters. It’s not HIS anymore, it’s MINE, it’s YOURS.) The fan reaction to that final episode of The Sopranos, the inability to tolerate complexity of any kind, is exactly what I am talking about. (A worse tendency is cleverness being mistaken for complexity. See, again, my punching bag Nolan, although Denis Villeneuve is another one, and much worse. There are other culprits but Nolan has had the most damaging influence. I would suggest some of these people who find Nolan’s stuff “deep” to watch some Agnes Varda, some Bergman, some Antonioni. Compared to those filmmakers, Nolan’s “depth” is completely on the surface.)

Working so deeply with inference, as Ackles does, is an instinct. Like an animal has an instinct for what is right, what to do, where to go, what fits and what doesn’t. This instinct is not evident in his work prior to Supernatural, which leads me to believe that the role itself set him free in ways that he couldn’t have anticipated when he first got the pilot script. (I am not basing my reaction on anything he has said, nor do I want to. My reaction comes from what I get from his work onscreen. I’m a critic. What I get from what happens on the screen is what I want to work with, especially in writing. This somehow has to do with allowing the Mystery freedom to roam around untethered, as opposed to pinning it down, checking it off the list as “handled” or “explained”.)

The brothers’ relationship is so symbiotic that in this episode Dean knows all along what Sam has been wanting to say to him, and Dean has done what he can – Burlesque, exhibitionism, intimidation – to ward it off. Not because he’s impatient with people being worried about him, although that’s a part of it. It is because he is so unaccustomed to worrying about himself that the sensation is terrifying. The sensation puts him right up against himself, puts him right into the space of stark self-knowledge. Do you not think you are worth being happy? Having a good life? Being loved by woman/child (coming up next week)? Are you too far gone? And if a woman/child DOES love you, will you even be able to allow it? Or are you too dirty to ever deserve anything like that? (Ad infinitum, a hall of mirrors).

The intractable existential dilemma of Dean Winchester is summed up in two moments from two different movies (which I have mentioned repeatedly in the context of Dean, and will continue to do so):



These moments are two sides of the same coin. They exist decades apart and yet they tell the same exact story. Dean will experience both of these moments countless times over the course of the series (thus far – and it’s one of the reasons why the bunker needs to GO. I am so done with the bunker. The mood there now is altogether too comfy, so the place has ceased being useful and instead is now hurting the show.) These types of moments occur so often for Dean that they can be said to be THE key to the character. And, to loop back to my comments earlier in regards to inference: whatever happens in those powerful moments – in Supernatural and in the two other examples – is NOT SPOKEN. These moments do not rely on dialogue.

Here in Season 3 is our first real glimpse of how just how deep this goes for Dean.

In many ways, the Burlesque has fooled us too. And that, my friends, is Jensen Ackles’ ace in the hole.

Reminder, for the 100th time: 90% of Dean Winchester is not on the page.

I can’t overstate how rare that is.

In most contemporary writing, and therefore most contemporary acting, the ratio is more like 30%. The majority of the character is on the page. But you go back, back to John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant … we move into the 80/90% range again. If I had to boil down the difference between Then and Now, that would be the main thing. The difference is HUGE.

You cannot be told, as an actor, to work the way Ackles does. You either have it, or you don’t. Supernatural represents a relationship between an actor and his character that is unique (at least currently). It doesn’t exist now the way it used to, when John Wayne showed up for 40 years as versions of the same guy, always keeping it very close to his screen essence although there are dramatic differences if you know how to look for it. Wayne did not feel the need to “show his range.” Range is over-rated. Great, you can do a bunch of accents. Big whup. Can you SHOW UP onscreen? Can you bring yourself onscreen? How do you interact with the character? Does something in the character set YOU free? That’s what happened with Cary Grant before he “became” Cary Grant. As long as he was cast as eye-candy, he basically disappeared onscreen, as hard as that is to believe. But once directors figured out he was funny – and it was Leo McCarey, George Cukor and Howard Hawks who saw it – then he became CARY FUCKING GRANT. And everything clicked into place.


And still, AND STILL: we can never ever say for certain WHO Cary Grant was. We can never express without a shadow of a doubt what exactly the Cary Grant persona IS. BOOKS have been written about it. I myself have written 80+ posts trying to express what the hell that genius was DOING onscreen that was so special. And I will never … ever … get to the bottom of it.

That’s the realm in which Ackles is working.

Case in point:


Sexual possibility is the air he (willingly AND unwillingly) breathes. Or, perhaps a simpler way to put it: He IS sexual possibility, end-stop. Whether he likes it or not.

And further than that, I don’t care to say.


Now comes the entrance of the other Sins, and although Manners does this quick push-in to Pride, trying to make it scary (he’s no dummy, he’s doing what he can to help save the thing), I find the whole thing stupid. “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!” It’s too obvious. It’s too literal. It’s a high school talent show. I’m just not frightened by these bozos.

However: LOOK at the lighting around Sam. It is to die for. I swoon.


So okay, it’s dumb, and I barely have interest in plot, anyway, but the whole thing – the cracking of the Devil’s Trap, the fact of the Sins in the first place – is meant to up the ante, so that tough Bobby/Sam/Dean get scared (“This isn’t anything we’ve ever seen before …”), and to increase the urgency to shut it all down. It doesn’t WORK, it’s not creepy enough – it’s just some annoying jackass demons harassing a couple of people holed up in a hovel as far as I’m concerned – but it’s part of setting the stage. It’s not easy to “set the stage” in a show like this. We have to believe that Bobby and Sam and Dean are capable and competent enough to handle whatever comes at them, but we also have to believe it when they get spooked. Not an easy task.

Sam gets spooked when Pride cracks the Devil’s Trap.

Again: Jared Padlecki, in that moment, does ALL the heavy lifting for the not-so-good episode. Jim Beaver and Ackles both have moments like that too, where what is on their faces tells us the whole story, tells it better than the plot does. They are always working on that scene-beneath-the-scene level.

Pride, naturally, stands there and delivers a monologue at Sam. (Oh, Supernatural. They just can’t avoid it.) It’s the first inkling we’ve gotten of how notorious both of the brothers are: they are known by name. The crossroads demon probably roll their eyes at this point, “A Winchester is summoning me. Here we go again.” But it still takes Sam and Dean by surprise when they are recognized, known. ALSO, and this is crucial since it hasn’t gotten any Face Time whatsoever in this episode: Pride knows about Sam, the “Boy King,” and the demon’s plans. As always, Dean’s melodrama takes up all the oxygen in any given room. But Sam’s got a ton of his own plate as well. Think of what HE went through in the last week alone. And now it’s all, “Boo hoo, let’s take care of Dean, and make sure Dean gets to have fun, and not give Dean a hard time …” Uhm, Sam was stabbed, and was dead for three days. Sam learned he has demon blood. Marked from the cradle.

You know. Maybe Sam deserves some time to process, and blow off steam, too?

Winchesters gotta Winchester though, I get it.

So even though I don’t like this monologue, a Demon standing there explaining to Sam why he is “fair game” now – just in case we don’t get it – when … why doesn’t he just swipe his hand through the air and slice Sam’s throat? You know? It’s AWKWARD. It’s like Isaac screaming expository language through the door at Tamara. The cracks show. Regardless, despite all of that: I am thankful this monologue exists because at least SOMEone onscreen is acknowledging that Sam exists outside of the relationship to his brother (my main problem with Season 12 thus far. I’m trying not to be alarmed at how alarmed I actually am.) Up until about a week ago, Sam was a “Boy King,” a Second Coming. More could have been made of this. Guess we can wait until Season 4.

While Pride monologues at Sam, Dean and Lust eat each other’s heads off as he moves her backwards to the artfully placed vat of holy water, complete with floating rosary. Did they set up one in each room? It’s a great effect, and they’ve used it a couple of times, I like it a lot:


and I like that it references a key scene in the 1980s classic, which I enjoyed at the time but now makes my heart hurt because Corey Haim was so adorable:

Still, I’m thinking to myself: “Wait … how did he know he would end up in this specific room with her?”

I should not be allowed time to think ANYthing like that. But there you have it. There’s a sexy slo-mo when he pulls her up out of the water, and her flow of wet hair flying behind her. Supernatural rarely uses slo-mo (and I think the show is stronger for it: no slo-mo falls or runs or jumps. These guys – actors and stunt doubles – do it all in real time, and we watch it play out in real time. There’s enough mythologizing going on already without slo-mo walking away from explosions, and etc.)

All of that being said: The following fight, between Sam and the demons, interrupted by Ruby, suddenly introduces special camera effects into the Supernatural lexicon, and – as with so many things – it’s extremely effective, mainly because they use it so rarely. Here, the fight is slowed down, so you can get a good look at Ruby (and her amazing thick blonde hair swinging around), and her moves, you can get a good look at what happens with the knife, AND it tells you, if you haven’t already received the memo, that Ruby is no ordinary human being. One of the Sins recognizes her too. She’s something ELSE entirely.

And I, for one, was intrigued.


My hair envy continues apace.

Ruby kills Pride and there’s a great moment where you can see the knife, coming up through his chin, inside his mouth, and he makes this gargling sound at the back of his throat. It’s specific. Specifically choreographed fight scenes are one of the many joys of this series.

Ruby and Sam stare at one another over the heap of Sin Bodies. You could not ask for a more beautiful and sexy standoff. It’s almost unreal.



She’s got the upper hand, although Sam, breath heaving, tries to get back on top, to no avail. She’s gone. Her first entrance was thrilling. Her second entrance was thrilling. Kripke et al knew they were going to get a lot of mileage out of Ruby. They knew how important she would be (in the same way they knew how important Meg would be, all the way back in Season 1). You have to introduce these characters in a way that reflects the enormity of their importance.

10th scene

The sight of the “mass” grave with these poor human-vessels lying side by side, dead and bloody, is pretty gruesome. Manners does a nice sudden pull-back, where we suddenly get perspective, and see Sam and Dean standing over the grave with a blasted-out chilly blue sky all around them. It’s a nice perspective-switch. The mood in this final scene, after all the silliness that came before, has a gravitas and a dread that should have been there throughout. You can see it on Jim Beaver’s face when Sam asks him if this is a fight they can win. You can see it on Dean’s face when he stares at Tamara across the field. It’s in the air between the characters. It’s the scene beneath the scene.




Manners has fun with the character-groupings, finding interest where there is little. Sam, Dean and Bobby shot from below, the camera basically in the grave. This angle is used so much in identical circumstances throughout the series that it could become a cliche, but for me, it doesn’t. It’s always a slight moment of contemplation for the hunters, a stillness, a moment where they revert to their individual thoughts, whatever has been going on for them throughout the episode, thoughts they can’t or won’t share, their individual scenes-beneath-the-scenes.


The ribbing Dean gives Sam for being beaten by a “girl” has an edge to it. It’s got some real teeth. It’s not just teasing, and Sam feels the bite of it. Dean’s lack of serious curiosity about her, and the way the Burlesque re-erects itself (as opposed to an attitude of more openness and collaboration i.e. : “Holy shit, that woman had a knife that kills demons. Can we borrow it? Holy shit, who was she, and why was she helping us?”) – leaves Sam, once again, alone.

It is up to Sam to ask Bobby about the demon knife. As Tamara moves past them to her car, Dean – who has already told Sam that no, Tamara will not be okay – is so absent that he might as well get in Tamara’s car with her and exit stage right. Sam feels that.

Sam’s patience has come to an end.

And now

The Scene-Beneath-the-Scene Becomes The Scene

This is where Padalecki’s Listening and understanding of Spine pays off, because no matter what else has been happening – and there’s a lot else that’s been happening – he always has one eye on that Spine, he’s always playing it to some degree. So that when he comes back to it (“You’re insane, Dean. You can just forget about it”), you can feel that he’s re-joining the Nagging Thrum that’s been bothering him all along. That’s what happens here when he stops Dean’s “Let’s go to Reno Burlesque” and says, “I’ve had it.”

When Sam’s “had it,” you’d best step down. The man has the patience of Job. And hair like a Lion-King.


Dean, of course, brushes off Sam’s critique. He tries to Burlesque his way out of it. It won’t fly. Sam is DONE. Still in Burlesque Mode, Dean takes a second to adjust to what he has to say next. The reality starts to sink in for Sam, followed quickly by an upsurge of emotion, anger and hurt and confusion at how Dean could have sold himself so short, how on earth he could have made that deal. (This is part of Sam’s longer Arc that will play out over the next bunch of episodes. Not only can he not understand how Dean made that deal, but he can’t understand Dean’s REACTION to the deal. He just didn’t know how deep this stuff went for Dean. And the concept of a tired big brother, a big brother who’s ready to shuffle off the mortal coil because he’s tired of it all … that doesn’t compute at all.)

It doesn’t help that Dean’s attitude throughout the conversation is something along the lines of:


It’s Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Nothing’s going in, nothing’s coming out. If Sam’s had it, then Dean’s had it too.

The conversation that closes out the episode represents Kripke at his very top-notch best.

Sam: How could you make that deal, Dean?
Dean: Cause I couldn’t live with you dead. Couldn’t do it.
Sam: So what, now I live and you die?
Dean: That’s the general idea, yeah.
Sam: You’re a hypocrite, Dean. How did you feel when Dad sold his soul for you? Cause I was there. I remember. You were twisted and broken. And now you go and do the same thing to me. What you did was selfish.
Dean: Yeah. You’re right. It was selfish. But I’m okay with that.
Sam: I’m not.
Dean: Tough. After everything I’ve done for this family, I think I’m entitled. The truth is, I’m tired, Sam. I don’t know, It’s like there’s a light at end of the tunnel.
Sam: It’s hellfire, Dean.
Dean: Whatever. You’re alive. I feel good, for the first time in a long time. I got a year to live, Sam. I’d like to make the most of it so what do you say we kill some sons of bitches and we raise a little hell, huh?
Sam: You’re unbelievable.
Dean: Very true.

These words loop into the Kim Manners philosophy about giving people what they want in a way they don’t expect. What a pleasure it must be for these actors to play such dialogue. There’s so much complexity to unpack, and so much mystery that will continue to unfold: Dean feels good. He does? What? Dean is tired. That’s been building. It was there in Season 2 as well. This is leading us to Lisa. Sam is up against a Wall like no other. He can deal with Dean. He can deal with slut-Dean, goofball-Dean, angry-Dean, childish-Dean. These are all well-known entities.

But this Dean?

It’s something new altogether.

Supernatural Re-Caps
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96 Responses to Supernatural: Season 3, Episode 1: “The Magnificent Seven”

  1. Erin says:

    YAY!!! I haven’t read it yet. But it’s here. And I’ve had a long day in meetings that have drained my will to live, so this is like crack.

    Thanks Sheila, I love you.

  2. Lyrie says:

    Yes! Thanks for the crack, Sheila!

  3. Sarah says:

    I came here because I’m 4/5 of the way through Krisha, and the tension is literally making me clench my teeth so hard my jaw hurts, so I wanted to re-read what you’d said about it (I have a good memory!)—and lo and behold, Season 3, we have arrived! I’m so excited! I usually don’t find these so quickly. It feels like a big, warm hug!

    I can’t wait to read…but Krisha waits…

    • sheila says:

      Ooh!!! Krisha! Isn’t it amazing?? That turkey-cooking scene! I would love to talk about it with you. It’s one of the movies of the year for me – can you believe that those people are all not actors – they’re his real family members?? I need to see it again.

      I love it when people are excited when I post these re-caps. I work hard on them – and would do so anyway – but it sure makes a difference to hear the “Yays” from you all. Seriously: thank you!!

      Would love to hear your thoughts! This isn’t a very good episode, I don’t think – although I’m open to persuasion.

      Still, I found a lot to discuss!!


      • Aslan'sOwn says:

        This was one of those episodes that I think I’ve only watched once (unlike other episodes that I’ve watched . . . well, a lot more) because I wasn’t really that interested in it, but you pulled out lots of awesome things to notice. BTW, you are so right about that line – “Stop BOSSING ME AROUND, DEAN” in “When the Levee Breaks.” That was a powerfully expressed sentence that jumped out at me too.

        So true about how the show uses the unexpected – I remember being jarred by the difference between the season 2 finale and this; Dean’s attitude shift, his passion, earnestness, and vulnerability to this hard-shelled devil-may-care flippancy, was shocking (perhaps more so because I saw it back to back binge-watching on Netflix not with long months in between.)

        The Picture of Dorian Gray – yes, that would be an awesome episode theme! I remember seeing Ivan Albright’s painting at the Art Institute of Chicago a couple years ago; I was gripped by it.

        I shouldn’t be happy with you — because I stayed up late reading this when I really need to get my rest to deal with my students tomorrow — but I was so happy to see you’d posted this and loved reading your insights.

        • sheila says:

          “Stop Bossing Me Around, Dean” comes from his TOES it goes so deep.

          and yeah – all in all, I don’t think Magnificent 7 is very good – but at least it gave me a platform to pontificate!

          // (perhaps more so because I saw it back to back binge-watching on Netflix not with long months in between.) //

          Me too!! That is a definite difference – would love to hear from people who saw it in real time and what that transformation felt like.

          I remember feeling thrilled – like: “Ooh! I didn’t see this coming!” I love getting the rug pulled out from under me if it makes sense and it’s honest. and of course once I thought about it for 2 seconds, I was like, “This makes total sense that he would make a swerve into this.”

          and then look how much mileage they got out of him not wanting to deal – and how deep that went. Like, it’s not just: “If I get out of the deal, you die” – it’s that he honestly does not know how to say “I would like to live, and please, could someone help me do that?”

          This makes the whole thing way deeper than the plot – it’s psychology. I think Season 3 is one of the strongest seasons.

          What do you think? Favorite season?

          For me, it’s a toss-up between 3 and 4, although each have their points.

          • Aslan'sOwn says:

            //it’s not just: “If I get out of the deal, you die” – it’s that he honestly does not know how to say “I would like to live, and please, could someone help me do that?”//

            It’s one of the things I love about the show because the first statement is awesome showing his determined, heroic sacrifice for a loved one. But the show goes deeper than that: he’s spent his life doing what John says in IMToD: “You know, I put, I put too much on your shoulders, I made you grow up too fast. You took care of Sammy, you took care of me. You did that, and you didn’t complain, not once.” So now he doesn’t know how to speak up for himself, to rebel against his apparent lot in life. And it just kills me because his life is bad enough on the outside — no permanent home, no close friends, no education (a GED), a painful, dangerous job — that it hurts to see how injured he is on the inside too.

            Favorite season? That’s hard. I really, really like season 2; it has episode after episode that I love. (Seasons 3-5 are effective for me too as they all move toward incredible finales: hell, Lucifer, and Stull.) Season 4 is sometimes hard for me to watch because Sam is not the support that I think Dean should have had, coming back from hell and all. Dean was RIGHT that Ruby was bad news, and he was endlessly hassled for his “negativity” toward her, even as he was right about Sam needing his soul back in season 6. It seems that often his gut instinct is right, but he’s berated for his feelings/opinions, and he’s so alone.

        • sheila says:

          Oh my gosh, that painting is so freaky!! I’ve never seen it before! How big is it in real life? It’s overwhelming!

          • Aslan'sOwn says:

            It’s about 3 1/2 ft. wide and 7 ft. high, but since they hang pictures at least 12 inches off the floor, it sort of looms above you, so twisted and decayed, demonstrating the evil that has rotted this man from the inside out, so visually dark. Hanging next to it was another work that was also dark and evocative. The two of them together captured my attention; I could have stood there for hours.


        • sheila says:

          And thank you – as always – for reading (and not getting any rest – ha!!)

          I always appreciate it.

      • Sarah says:

        Well. Krisha. !!! That one will be sticking around in my head for a looooong time. I knew what was coming the minute she opened that oven door, but still, it was so horrific, seeing it play out in all the shocked (and simultaneously knowing) faces of her family…yikes! I keep thinking about it, and it’s been three days. Trey Shultz and Krisha Fairchild should be STARS in my opinion.

        Okay, “The Magnificent Seven”: I remember this one mainly as the beginning of a very brightly-colored season, very different from seasons 1 and 2. Something changed with the filming or camera or cinematography in season 3, I just don’t know what. Episodes like “Bad Day At Black Rock” and even “The Kids Are Alright” stand out as being very primary-color-bright in my memory, and it started here, in the teaser, in the suburbs with the purple smoke columns racing everywhere. I liked that they cast two terrific black actors to play the hunter couple but disliked that they were one-offs, never to be seen again. Bobby’s presence was a welcome thing for me; the big bad Seven Deadly Sins not so much. Ruby’s introduction (or not, since we didn’t know who she was or where she’d come from) was the best thing about it for sure, for me anyway.

        Season 3 is very strong in terms of overall story spine, so it’s easy to love for that alone. Throw in Ruby and Bela, along with some of my personal favorite episodes in the series’ history, and I can’t wait to travel down this path with you! I don’t care if it takes you the next two years! As long as there’s breath left in my body, etc. etc.

        And thank you for reviewing movies like Krisha and Goodnight, Mommy that I’d otherwise be afraid to watch. Somehow, knowing that you saw them, and enjoyed them, makes it okay for me to watch them too. But only in the daytime when it’s bright and sunny outside!

        • sheila says:

          Sarah – It’s been a while since this post and your comment – end of year craziness – but I did want to come back and keep the discussion going when I had a second free.

          It’s end of year for film critics so I’ve had to vote in all kinds of polls and participate in “best of 2016” lists, and I’ve chosen Krisha Fairchild as one of the best performances of the year all along the line. I cannot get that woman out of my head – I only saw the film once and some of those scenes are burned into my brain!

          I agree with you in re: the colors of Season 3. There’s a richness there – consider, like, Supernatural Christmas – that’s a beautifully colored episode. It seems that the colors do have a point – unlike in later seasons where it just seems that nobody cared that they were making a horror show anymore. I just re-watched Kids are All Right for re-cap preparation – and I remember it being extremely bright. But there is a schizophrenic quality to that episode that I didn’t remember: Basically there are two “love” stories happening side by side: Dean and Lisa and Sam and Ruby. Dean and Lisa are in the bright primary colors of the suburbs, while Sam and Ruby’s sections have a more interesting palette – dark reds and golds – seductive. I have no idea if this is deliberate. In these early seasons, it feels like EVERYthing is deliberate (whereas now, I’m not so sure). Deliberate or no, it works story-wise. The story of Dean and Lisa is not a story of seduction. It’s not romantic. The feelings are deep but it’s not romantic. Lisa represents something, which is safety and normalcy and being a parent. So we’ve got colored balloons and green grass and sunlight. The story of Ruby and Sam is a long-game seduction, so the colors there are totally different – and lots of enormous closeups too – so that all we are aware of is their reaction to one another. It’s like we’re inside their heads.

          anyway, just one thing I noticed. In my memory, the whole episode was just a huge Primary Color splash – and not all that interesting – but in studying it, I saw a lot more there.

          // along with some of my personal favorite episodes in the series’ history, //

          Me too. I love Season 3. What are some of your personal favorite episodes?

          • Sarah says:

            Sheila—it’s been a busy, overwhelming pre-holiday few weeks for me, so I totally empathize with taking a long time to get back to these comments! Ditto, ditto.

            Just wanted to mention that, after avoiding it for months, I finally broke down and watched The Witch yesterday, then immediately came here to read your review. I CANNOT STOP THINKING ABOUT THAT FILM. Loved your review, loved the film, but whyyyyyy won’t it leave my mind? ///shakes fist at the sky// Robert Eggers is one to watch, that’s for sure.

            OK, back to our collective reason for living (joking, sorta/kinda.) I, too, remember The Kids Are Alright as being sooooo brightly colored—but of course, it’s the birthday party scenes/general suburbia that stuck with me. That’s interesting about the Sam/Ruby scenes—I’ll have to go rewatch it now just to appreciate that yes, there is still moody, intense darkness and shadow. I really dislike the changelings (evil + kids = nope for me, so you can imagine my horror at the movie I saw yesterday which I won’t name, just because //shifty eyes//), but I seem to remember the scenes of the mother struggling with her changeling daughter as very dark and claustrophobic. So, not ALL bright primary colors.

            My personal favorite episode from season 3 is “Mystery Spot.” The trope of being caught in a time loop is one of my favorites, hands down, from Groundhog Day to The X-Files “Monday” episode, so it was a given I’d love the basic structure. Throw in Kim Manners’ direction and Jared’s tour de force reactions to everything Dean did, not to mention Jensen’s perfect comedic timing, and voila—perfection. I love everything about it, except for one line at the end, when Sam finally confronts the Trickster, and he tells Sam, “You’re like Travis Bickle in a skirt, pal.” The Travis Bickle I get—but in a skirt? Whaaaaaaa? I’ve brought this up to fellow superfans, but alas, no one has a good answer. Maybe you do?

            I also LOVE “Red Sky At Morning” (boys in tuxes, Bela so lovely, ELLEN GEER), and “Dream A Little Dream” (Bobby’s psyche! Dean meeting Dean in his own head! Sam’s sex dream!), and of course, “A Very Supernatural Christmas” chokes me up every time, once I get past Sam’s fingernail being ripped out (SUPER TRAUMATIC FOR ME!)

            I just can’t watch the final episode of season 3. Upon first binge, I just knew they’d find a way to save Dean, and I was horrified when it didn’t happen. Thank God I binged and didn’t have to wait an entire summer for “Lazarus Rising”, also one of my absolute favorite episodes of the series and the one I most often rewatch in times of need.

            Now I must go rewatch “The Kids Are Alright” to check out those Sam/Ruby scenes, and possibly rewatch The Witch, too, because Black Phillip told me too. ;)

          • Sarah says:

            Also: wtf is up with that “too”?

            Autocorrect should be renamed “autoassume”!

          • sheila says:

            Sarah – so psyched you saw The Witch!!!


            I know. It came out so long ago, relatively speaking, and I am still haunted by it. That last scene. The LOOK on her face. I just … words fail.

            I need to see it again – especially since the revelation that the goat was somehow a part of all of it was missed by me on the first viewing.

            Oh! And I’m sure you recognized SPN’s glorious “Death” as the Governor who banished them!! I was so excited to see him. With a face like that, he can only play Puritans from 1632. Or Death. Either one.

          • sheila says:

            // I seem to remember the scenes of the mother struggling with her changeling daughter as very dark and claustrophobic. //

            They are horrific. It’s one of the few times that I watch the show, a one-off episode, and think: “Okay, even though those people have been saved – they will never ever be okay again.” That mother will never be okay again, even though she got her daughter back. It’s chilling.

            (And, of course, that actress appears seasons later as Benny’s great-granddaughter or whatever, the one Dean asks out. Good to see her again.)

            // “You’re like Travis Bickle in a skirt, pal.” //

            Hmm. I had never thought of that. (Mystery Spot is one of my favorite episodes too – in the season and in the whole series). I don’t know what that means. Travis Bickle but … girlie? But how is Sam ever girlie? I’ll have to watch it again.

            I am so glad to hear someone else is traumatized by the fingernail moment. I can’t watch. It’s horrifying.

            I love in Red Sky at Morning when Dean glances at Sam, takes a second look, and states flatly, “You smell like sex.”

            I roar every time. I’m laughing as I type this!

            Season 3 is so good!!

          • Lyrie says:

            //And, of course, that actress appears seasons later as Benny’s great-granddaughter or whatever//
            I also call her Not-Fiona-Apple.

  4. Just so you know Sheila: Whenever somebody says I’m obsessive, I say, “No. No I’m not. There’s this other blogger….”

    BTW: Don’t know if you’ve ever watched the documentary on the standard DVD release of Sturges’ Mag 7, but if not you might like this anecdote from Horst Bucholz. Seems the young Americans where giving him a hard time, mostly through jealousy because they thought he had the best part (and he was a pretty boy Euro they thought had no business in a western). All those years later, he related with great relish that Yul Brynner, the only one in the cast who was nice to him, was continually annoyed with Steve McQueen trying to steal his scenes. So one day he called him over and had him lean in close and said: “You know, Steve, all I have to do to make you disappear is take off my hat.” Apparently, after that, Steve behaved.

  5. Paula says:

    //Ruby does not speak like a normal person. She speaks like an Expert standing in front of a conference hall, racing her audience through a complex Venn diagram Power Point at a quick pace because the Lunch Break is coming up and she needs to get it all in.// YES, I love this description, Sheila! Ruby is one of my favorite characters for this reason, being the “cult leader” she is, and how her arc unfolds. You want to believe so badly she is on the Winchesters’ side (I was invested to the very end, just like Sam). Playing the long con on Sam, always changing things up to be exactly what he needs every step of the way, and Dean seeing through it right from the start.

    • sheila says:

      Paula – I was just as conned as Sam was – although I also had the “I don’t know, maybe you shouldn’t trust her” thing too. But I never saw her final “flip” coming.

      I wonder if anyone else did?

      I got extremely sucked into the Ruby THING. and I knew she was bad for Sam, but boy, I loved the tension she brought to the brothers’ relationship, and the other sides we got to see of Sam because of her.

      • Lyrie says:

        I was so naive. I WANTED her to be for real so badly. I knew she was not an angel (angels are dicks, anyway), but I hoped her feelings for Sam were real. I still think they were, on some level. #IWantToBelieve

        • sheila says:

          Lyrie –

          // I still think they were, on some level. //

          Me too.

          I think she got sucked into something beyond her ability to control. I think she was jealous of Sam being human. His human-ness was attractive to her.

          Doesn’t mean she didn’t then play him like a violin!!

  6. Paula says:

    //at least SOMEone onscreen is acknowledging that Sam exists outside of the relationship to his brother (my main problem with Season 12 thus far. I’m trying not to be alarmed at how alarmed I actually am.) Up until about a week ago, Sam was a “Boy King,” a Second Coming. More could have been made of this.// praise hands

    //The man has the patience of Job. And hair like the Lion King.// snort worthy commentary.

    Great recap, Sheila! You also nailed what I didn’t like about Isaac and Tamara. I wanted so badly to enjoy them (my god, both those actors are so striking and full of potential), but that exposition drags them down.

    • sheila says:

      Paula – thanks! Yeah, I don’t get giving one-off hunter characters so much screen time in a season premiere, when you have Ellen and Jo right in the wings – two people we have history with, so we could feel the threat more – as opposed to just be annoyed that those two keep fucking up the Winchester’s plan. Not sure of the thinking behind it.

      But yes, great casting, and great conception of characters. And the violent pas-de-deux (“I’m pas de done,” sayeth Dean) where Sam drags her into the car might be my favorite moment, just from a pure acting standpoint. She really had to fight as hard as she could – and he really had to work to get her to that car – we’re seeing a real struggle, the two of them totally invested in that make-believe. And I love stuff like that!

  7. mutecypher says:

    The Voynich Manuscript… ah sweet mysteries of life.

    One of Jessa Crispin’s many great paragraphs in The Dead Ladies Project is

    If given a choice between a materialist worldview and an irrational black magic practice, I choose black magic. My first act of free will is to choose to believe in free will.

    Or only slightly closer to the mainstream, Jeanette Winterson’s “I think it would be very foolish not to take the irrational seriously.”

    That manuscript is an appealing lagniappe (my new favorite anagram pair) from the world of sirens, faeries, and esoterica-besotted monks. Choose to believe. Team Free Will, bitchez. I like the theory that our friend John Dee created it. I don’t believe it, but he’s the “every witticism gets attributed to Oscar” guy for “anything weird in the 16th century.” Enochian and the Voynich manuscript.

    Dean lives in the world of taking the irrational seriously. I think Sam wants to make sense of things. Mostly he can. Mostly. I think that’s part of what helps him get reeled in by Ruby.

    And as always, thank you for the extended riff on beauty. Your writing on the topic is insightful and inspiring.

    • sheila says:

      I know – John Dee!! I see his name everywhere now, it’s hilarious.

      Yeah, Ruby presents herself as the key. She has the key, she is the key. That’s got to be very appealing, especially when they’re in such a bind.

      I was thinking last night – I re-watched Kids are All Right last night, just to get in the zone for whenever I can write it up: the whole thing ends with Ruby saying she can help Dean. Ba-ba-BOOM. Like I said, I don’t know how much the actresses were told about that Long Arc – probably very little, if anything. Stuff like that is kept under wraps to avoid spoiler-leakage.

      So that is an interesting challenge to play. How do you suggest that you know what’s going on when you – the actor – does not know what’s going on?

      In the case of Ruby – it totally works, because she is such a world-class liar. She says something and she believes it wholly to be true. She has no self-consciousness or uncertainty. Beneath, she may be all manipulative about it – but she’s not going to let that show anyway. So all the actress needs to do is believe 100% what she is saying at any given moment. Normal people are aware of their little white lies all the time, and have “tells” about their bigger lies – but people whose main defining characteristic is Pathological Liar – don’t have those things.

      That’s why Ruby is such a strange character and brings about such strange reactions – the push-pull thing – you want to believe, she seems so CERTAIN, how could someone that certain be lying?

      People who are honest have a hard time conceiving of someone who could be THAT good at lying.

      so in this case – the actresses not knowing what Ruby was actually up to really really helps the performance, I think. It’s like you get sucked into her web. You don’t know which end is up.

      and thanks in re: Beauty. I really enjoy the Riffing of it.

      • mutecypher says:

        “Dude, you married Ruby?”

        Too funny.

        Alpacas. Just sayin’.

        But back in the normal SPN-and-acting- verse. That really does seem like a challenge to play that you know everything that matters. Not knowing whether your character actually does, or not.

  8. FoxyLady says:

    Thanks for the recap Sheila. You’re spoiling us, just in time for Christmas!

    • sheila says:

      Ha!! I had started this back in November, before I went to Hawaii – or so maybe it was October – and then life heated up and I couldn’t get to finish it until the brief breather I had early this week.

      I don’t really care for the episode all that much – do you? always open to other thoughts! – but this was really fun to write!

      • FoxyLady says:

        Anytime you can spend on feeding our addiction is appreciated!

        I have to agree, not an episode I care for. Though you’ve now captured a new favourite image of Dean, back-lit by candle light. How can these guys look good in any light?

        This episode recap has gifted us with one of your beautiful tangents on the craft of acting. JP’ listening skills has been a revelation to me since I first started reading your thoughts. I inhaled Supernatural season 1-10 in a matter of 2 months and while I was speechless as regards JA, I was less impressed with JP. But the longer I watch (and rewatch), the more I see JP and what he brings to the team.

        The mystery that is Dean Winchester, the instinct and inference of JA . Well, you have a much better vocabulary to express our facination with that. I do find it amusing that I sometimes have trouble separating out who you’re describing when it comes to JA or Dean. Less so with Sam/JP. I think by now these actors must have some degree of split personality issues, they know the characters so well. As you say, only they truely know those gaps that have launched a thousand fanfics.

        • sheila says:

          Hi! Long delay, coming back to this thread now!

          I am so happy to hear from you – and others – that my words on JP’s acting – and his listening in particular – have opened your eyes a bit to the enormity of his contribution. Literally: JA (or Dean – ha!) could not even exist without a partner as strong as that. This is one of the reasons why some of the “poor baby Dean, I hate it when anyone is mean to him” commentary from fans seems silly – because if nobody ever gave Dean a hard time then we wouldn’t have a show – (and, not to be too negative, but that is what is happening all around in Season 12. Look what happens when you lose the sense of interpersonal conflict/resolution/emotion between the brothers. You don’t even have a SHOW anymore.)

          Anyway, thank you for saying that. Sam is such a great character – as great as Dean – but the closer I watch this thing, especially for the re-caps, I am even more impressed with JP’s work, which is often really subtle. Listening doesn’t get enough credit! So I’m happy to try and correct the record.

          // I think by now these actors must have some degree of split personality issues, they know the characters so well. //

          Totally. I was just talking with my friend Mitchell about this. They probably just need to glance over a script once. They know how these guys will respond.

  9. Erin says:

    Okey dokey, I’ve read it now and it was, as I suspected, worth it. This one hit me a little differently though.

    As a dyed in the wool DeanGirl I always relish opening my browser and seeing a new posting, knowing I’m going to get my Dean/Jensen hit that will carry me through but this time I was struck by Jared. You’ve spoken many times about him “actively listening” so I have begun to watch him when other people are speaking, and good lord, that boy can listen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone be so intent on being available for the next situation simply by being engaged in listening to the other person. It genuinely feels like he is absorbing it for the first time. What I’m also finding by watching him is that he has become a mechanism for my involvement in the scene, like I am watching it unfolding through him. If Dean is seen as an unreliable narrator, Sam has become almost an analogue for the viewer trying to decipher the truth in the scene.

    We often discuss Jensen’s comfort with microexpressions and nuance, but I have decided I have done Jared a massive disservice by discounting his ability with the same. I now watch scenes with a much more critical eye with him, I remove noise around him, and watch him play in what is the traditionally negative space of the listener. This has taken me from watching the show, to being part of the show.

    And I think my love of the show is better for it.

    • Jessie says:

      I have terrible news for you Erin. I think in order to double check this you might have to have to watch the whole show all over again! D-:

      • Erin says:

        Oh no Jessie, I think you’re right. I will now pull out my printed (yes PRINTED) pdfs of all of Sheila’s reviews and read them alongside so I don’t miss anything.

        I might be gone some time …

    • sheila says:

      Erin – I so love to hear your new-found (ha!) appreciation of Sam/JP, and how that listening operates and how important it is. My work here is done. Ha, just kidding.

      // I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone be so intent on being available for the next situation simply by being engaged in listening to the other person. It genuinely feels like he is absorbing it for the first time. //

      He really is one of the most available actors I’ve ever seen. And without that availability – JA would not shine as bright. Like, JA’s performance does not exist in a vacuum – it NEEDS that strong listening/opposition/humor – whatever – coming back at it, in order for it to exist at all.

      // What I’m also finding by watching him is that he has become a mechanism for my involvement in the scene //

      So true!! Dean is so obvious sometimes, right? You can see everything on his face. But he also has this whole Burlesque to cover stuff up, throw people off the trail, and sometimes it’s like being hypnotized (definitely one of the fascinations of that character). Sam has a cooler clearer head. AND – as like in this episode – he can see what’s going on beneath, and can speak TO that, whatever it may be. Dean resists, Dean fights back – and here, Dean gives him the “Yeah, I’m selfish, I’m entitled to it” speech – but still: it’s Sam’s willingness to try to cut through the bullshit that even allows scenes to happen in the first place. Because if it were up to Dean, they would never talk deeply about anything ever. Ha! Dean has to be FORCED to open up.

      // I have decided I have done Jared a massive disservice by discounting his ability with the same. I now watch scenes with a much more critical eye with him, I remove noise around him, and watch him play in what is the traditionally negative space of the listener. This has taken me from watching the show, to being part of the show. //

      I love that last thought there! “Being part of the show.” Amazing.

      Very happy to hear of all of this – would love to hear further observations as you move forward in your watching.

  10. Jessie says:

    Bringing a knife to a gunfight, I love this trope! In the last season of Justified there is a really great subversion or modification of it; the bad guy is established as going around setting up encounters with victims where he lays a knife on the table between them, and whoever grabs it first will get to kill the other guy. I won’t spoil it but the resolution where Raylan got the upper hand was so clever and fun and simple it almost had the pleasure of a good riddle.

    Firstly — I get fooled too but the Sloth house is a different location from the crazy place they spend the rest of the episode squatting in. It’s not marked in any way but I’m pretty sure.

    The Weirdness of this episode:

    I’m with y’all, a weaker episode for sure. I think I’ve only seen it a couple of times. At times I struggle with the actors playing Isaac and Tamara; they often seem unreal and their levels of competence and emotional states whip all over the place. Yes, much of their dialogue — blech. But then again — her hysteric “I don’t care” is wonderful. She does get some good moments, thank you for highlighting them.

    I have a strong memory of watching this episode and being baffled and mildly outraged by what was going on. It looked very foreign. Sarah, you hit the nail on the head when you say that it felt like there were too many colours. The sun felt glossy instead of oppressive and washed-out. This has become, of course, a huge problem in these later seasons.

    Similarly, what the hell was going on with the characters?! Dean’s voice is weird this episode, right? Or is it just me? Tighter, higher? In lines like “you got it” at the end. It’s on purpose I know, but it freaked me out on first viewing. (In the same vein Sam’s voice gets lovely and low at times when he’s muttering about Dean’s ridiculousness).

    Like, also: Bobby has HAIR?! I was Alarmed. Ruby! Why do the women always have such perfect makeup? Why was she Jo’s doppelganger? Having heard Rumours about love interests coming in this season I was worried about that this introduction of Super Awesome Fighting Chick was going to drag us down into cliche. Obviously — wrong about her on all counts. Ruby is an incredible character and Cassidy is great. And CORTESE! She made such a huge impression on me that I still have trouble thinking of her as Padalecki. Wonderful character-work aside, she is attractive beyond my capacity to bear it.

    So a shame to start the season with its incredible high points on a weaker note, but Sheila you pull out some really great material here. Thank you so much!

    Suburbia & parallels/set ups:

    I enjoy the concept of the seven deadly sins but there’s just not enough time for them to breathe or to explore how they relate to each of our protags. I find it telling, considering season 4, that Sam’s main sin encounter is Pride.

    I don’t really get why Envy is our primary sin (I’d pick jealousy over envy for relevance to the Winchester relationship), but I do enjoy in the teaser his depressed, envious glance between his neighbour’s gleaming car and his own grotty one. Aaron Paul, ha ha! Total dead ringer. I enjoy the actor’s transformation from his foot-dragging, sag-shouldered, stultifying, dull suburban life to freedom and glee as a demon.

    SO, re this unpleasant vision of suburbia, dealthy familial sloth, and the height of suburban envy being shoe-related, I find it so interesting Sheila that this episode puts you often in mind of Lisa and what she and suburbia mean for Dean. That makes a lot of sense considering how this episode explores Dean and women. Some great connections that I never thought of, thank you!

    At the same time:

    I mean, I’M not into that voyeuristic brotherly stuff, but you do you!
    well, ok! Perhaps because of this I see Tamara and Isaac as commenting more on Dean & Sam than Dean & Lisa. Not the first time a married couple has been used for this purpose of course (and the homoeroticism of buddy westerns, etc). Certainly when Dean so flatly remarks that Tamara will “never” get over the loss of her loved one I think we’re meant make that connection.

    Everyone is pretty bonkers with their Tamara and Isaac overidentification at times. Like when Bobby gets super! intense! and lectures Tamara about making rash suicidal decisions…working out some of his feelings about Dean’s impending death by suicidal deal. Then there’s that weird moment when Isaac says “the family that slays together” and Sam goes, “right, I’m with you there” and plows on with his invasive questioning in this kinda dismissive way? I find that moment almost bizarre.

    (The Doublemint Twins — oh, so everyone’s okaaaaaay with incest when it’s the ladies!)

    Storytelling and Beauty:

    That shot at the start of scene 9! So gorgeous — the floor at that crazy angle. the light. The focus pulls. The complete silence (thank god).

    I am now convinced I need to get a Master’s Degree in order to really understand how Beauty/Suffering/Pain not only work together but are the same.
    Yes please, and report back! Love your thoughts on Wilde, Beardsley etc although I’m not entirely convinced by the Dorian Grey connection; because I think what’s going on with the emotion-states we’re talking about has something to do with purity, or something beyond categories of purity/corruption — looping back to Falconetti.

    There’s something very unbalanced and exaggerated about it. It’s the whole Sam as Nerd and Dean as The One Who Has Fun writ large, turned into something dysfunctional and painful
    This is fascinating as a narrative strategy and as a character’s psychological response. Pretty cool. Although I think this early part of S3 also fixed in some minds Dean the Womaniser.

    Damn, I love the final paragraph on the Voynitch manuscript; gorgeously written. People are meaning-making machines. We couldn’t move through the world without processes of meaning-making. Edward Said calls this a “compulsion” away from the “ugliness” of meaninglessness. But there is a difference between meaninglessness and mystery: we need mystery and there is less space for it these days.

    Going on from that: I looooove your thoughts on JA and inference, ambiguity, holding things back. Re: gaps: something I’ve been thinking about with the show in a kind of scattered way is that for me a lot of its success is because it shifts so much to the layer of repression. Repression on this show being the unrepresentable; the unutterable. I think this is its generic legacies (gothic, horror, westerns, romance, melodrama — these all trade in repression, secrecy, unspeakable atrocity, communication barriers, unbearable intensity of feeling) butting up against its industrial context (network, rating, storylines) and ostensible storylines (two huntin’ bros). Repression IS gap. It is absence. In psychoanalyic terms it requires a forgetting of the forgetting. These gaps are so potent and expressive and seductive; you can put anything in there.

    This is why for instance I only want flashbacks that confuse the issue and create gaps, not clear anything up. If we ever get a Stanford flashback I want Sam to be living in a campus treehouse with Anita Roddick.

    Dean: It’s like there’s a light at end of the tunnel.
    Sam: It’s hellfire, Dean.

    DAMN THIS IS SO GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And so is this recap! I love it!!!!! Thank you!!! And loved reading y’alls thoughts!

    • Bethany says:

      Jessie, re: your comment on incest… I don’t know if it’s purposefully embedded in the show, or if I just have a warped mind from too much fanfiction, but in the recent Asa Fox episode, when the demon says he’s going to reveal the witch twins’ secret, my first thought was, “Oh, they must be sleeping together.” And then the secret was revealed, and I thought, “…What is WRONG with me?” This show, man.

      • Jessie says:

        Ha ha ha! My mind went to the exact same place (or some other reveal like they weren’t related but were a couple) so we can be warped together. The reveal about hidden parentage certainly did fit with the themes of the show. But I think this goes with the concept of unspeakability and repression I was talking about above: the point of demon possession is that things get nasty and gross and humiliating. When the demon started revealing secrets my mind was immediately like: okay, what’s the most fucked up thing that can be said at this moment. So I found the “he was our dad” a little anodyne, even though, as I keep saying, its industrial context, the CW, would never have allowed the reveal to be “we’re fucking.”

        There’s a moment in the S6 Truth Goddess episode where Dean’s talking to Bobby and Bobby is compelled to say something along the lines of “Once I had sex with a–” and Dean hangs up the phone, unwilling to hear. This is what I mean about the things that are not said, and also about how fruitful those gaps are (and how gloriously uncomfortable and messed up the supernatural can make their emotional lives): Bobby’s unwilling reveal would have been one of three things (or more but but these are the obvious): a man, a monster, or a relative. All of these answers would have been relevant to the dynamics of the show. It’s so rich!

        • Bethany says:

          Yes! I found that current to be very strong in Season 6, overall. That episode had the potential to be so dumb, but instead I found it SO FASCINATING, for that very reason – strictly enforced lacuna, all the things unsaid.

          • Jessie says:

            Yesyesyes, Bethany! Lacuna, gap, absence, shadow: all critically important to the show. Loss and trauma being their narrative and psychological expressions. Sam-not-Sam etc. How is John formed around the gap of Mary. How is Dean formed around the gap of Sam during Sam’s multiple absences.

          • sheila says:

            I absolutely love the Truth Goddess episode – I just watched it recently. I think it’s a really good example of just how CLEAR the show can be – while still maintaining mystery/suspense. It was a fantastic way to confirm for Dean that yes – something was wrong with his brother – but still to have all of this unsay-able stuff surging through that room of Truth. The same thing came up when Dean was put on trial by that ridiculous Egyptian god. That episode wasn’t as successful – although it was a pretty good attempt to address what was really important: the relationship between the brothers. This is what is NOT going on – at ALL – in Season 12.

          • sheila says:

            // How is John formed around the gap of Mary. How is Dean formed around the gap of Sam during Sam’s multiple absences. //

            Loss. How it has warped them – but, of course, it warps us all. It’s rather amazing to have an entire show dealing with that. I mean, that’s the real narrative, at the show’s very best.

        • sheila says:

          // So I found the “he was our dad” a little anodyne, even though, as I keep saying, its industrial context, the CW, would never have allowed the reveal to be “we’re fucking.” //

          Yes, I felt that a bit too. I thought it was going to go to: “Okay, so you’re a couple but now – uh oh – you’re actually brother and sister. DOH.”

          I blame Supernatural – they’re the ones who create all these undercurrents!

        • sheila says:

          // Bobby’s unwilling reveal would have been one of three things (or more but but these are the obvious): a man, a monster, or a relative. All of these answers would have been relevant to the dynamics of the show. It’s so rich! //

          Ha! So true.

          The show is best when it allows that ugliness/sick-ness to flow just beneath the surface – and not able to be acknowledged because it’s too gross/weird/upsetting. They all have to pretend it’s not happening in order to just keep going. Or justify what they’re doing – Sam sleeping with Ruby, etc.

      • Erin says:

        Bethany, I think your thought was reflected in most of the fandom. I genuinely went “Really? That’s it?”

      • sheila says:


    • sheila says:

      Jessie – look at me, returning to this, a month later. I needed desperately to distract myself from the horrifying spectacle of Dean playing Words with Friends with his Dead Mama and referencing Snap Chat. I am trying to save myself and keep my spirits up.

      Onto your fantastic and rich comment!!

      // I won’t spoil it but the resolution where Raylan got the upper hand was so clever and fun and simple it almost had the pleasure of a good riddle. //

      I need to get on the Justified train pronto. Especially since my cousin was in it. I am a bad family member!! Also: RON ELDARD. Pitter-pat, hubba hubba, yama hama.

      • Jessie says:

        All aboard the Justified train please, toot toot!

        Justified is one of the most loudly cast shows I know of. By that I mean that the genius-level casting of majors, regulars, recurring, and bits is one of its chiefest pleasures; by that I mean that it is not trying to be quiet about what a deep and abiding pleasure it is to see some of the best actors working deliver dry, hilarious, layered, or absurd dialogue at each other or simply exist in the same space with complementary or competing goals. It pretends to be action-oriented but its twisty talkiness is more intrinsic to its pleasures than any Sorkin show because it points to a richness of character, world, and art, instead of a cleverness of auteur. And actors like Eldard (and my current Favourite In A Minor Role James Le Gros) bring so much to it, so many different kinds of masculinities (and to a lesser but still significant extent, femininities) and even acting styles. I know you’ll love it when you get a chance to check it out!

        And then there are the LEGS (to which Helena can and should testify).

    • sheila says:

      // I get fooled too but the Sloth house is a different location from the crazy place they spend the rest of the episode squatting in. It’s not marked in any way but I’m pretty sure. //

      Okay, so basically, they … commandeer an empty house nearby? Is that the set up? Now I am not remembering what the outside of the Sloth House looks like. And the house they commandeered looked pretty nice on the outside, right? With that nice big porch. So it’s a hovel inside … and now I’m confused again. But I’ll move on!

      // The sun felt glossy instead of oppressive and washed-out. This has become, of course, a huge problem in these later seasons. //

      Sigh. I know. The network won their “it’s too dark” battle. At least we have Season 1, people!!

      // Dean’s voice is weird this episode, right? Or is it just me? Tighter, higher? In lines like “you got it” at the end. //

      I want to hear more about this – I didn’t notice and I usually notice everything about him. I mean, Dean’s voice goes through a RADICAL transformation somewhere around Season 4 – and it’s pretty much stayed there ever since – although I think Season 4, 5, may be the high point of that gruff low gravelly sound – which is so not what JA sounds like in person – and yet to me it feels totally motivated and organic and real.

      // Having heard Rumours about love interests coming in this season I was worried about that this introduction of Super Awesome Fighting Chick was going to drag us down into cliche. //

      Interesting. Since I came into this late – binge-watching it in my own cocoon – I missed out on this kind of inter-season speculation, which I think affected how I responded to it. Was Bela greeted, too, with that sort of worry? That they were trying to introduce a love interest? What was the consensus reaction to Lisa?

      I admit that – racist monster truck and coffee/teapots notwithstanding – Cassie made a deep impression on me, and I was somewhat surprised to see Lisa enter the scene and then take such a huge role. I like that whole Arc very much – and think there’s a LOT in it – don’t get me wrong – but I was like: “But … but … Cassie … will we just never mention her again, or …?”

      I’m going to take your comment bit by bit, if you don’t mind. Less unwieldy.

      • Jessie says:

        Okay, so basically, they … commandeer an empty house nearby?
        Here are the two establishing shots. As for why/how, I honestly have no idea…my best guess is that maaaaaybe Isaac and Tamara were squatting somewhere creepy while researching the Sloth house? None of it really makes any sense. The doll? The 400 candles? The gross things in jars? I guess Midwest Country Style magazine just has a really messed up editorial board and a fervent readership?

        Re: Dean’s voice, not sure if it’s just my ears, or going between current seasons and S3, or if he just had a cold or something. Would be interested to know if others picked up on it. I hear it most in times of greatest “I am fine and I don’t mind,” like the car scene at the start (“well I am in violent agreement with you there”), the beginning of the big conversation at the end (“that didn’t last long”).

        Re: the introduction of female characters. From what I remember, Lisa was obviously a one-off so there was no great angst over her — excepting some disgruntlement over the apparent forgetting of Cassie when we hit season 6. Cassie had made a HUGE impression. But — Lisa was never a love job, and she had a kid. Quod erat demonstrandum.

        Bela was also greeted with some dread or scepticism, not so much for love interest reasons but because — and I think we’ve talked about this previously — her major narrative function for her first few appearances always seemed to be besting or belittling Sam and Dean in a semi-contrived way. She seemed shoe-horned in as “the new amazing female character” — it seemed very effortful, in comparison to old excellent antagonists like Gordon. This is the extra burden female characters always carry and I don’t doubt confirmation bias was at play too. Some viewers (including me) also had a bit of trouble with the artificiality of Cohen’s performance in those initial episodes. But we’ll get to that in due course!

        • sheila says:

          Well, well, the establishing shots make it totally clear, that’s for sure. I don’t think I really looked at the Sloth House over to the right of the frame when they pull into the drive.

          The Gross Things in Jars house has such a pristine exterior for the hovel-like quality inside – it’s all quite bizarre. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – it’s actually kind of interesting.

          Yes, we have discussed the introduction of Bela! I wonder if she were a man would the fans have had such a negative reaction? I don’t say that to be a bitch. I just say that because that scene functions in a similar way to Agent Hendriksen – and Gordon, too actually – but it has that added layer of Female-ness, which Sam falls for hook line and sinker … but it’s really the same thing. A new adversary’s on the block! I like, too, that she wasn’t a new hunter, or an undercover cop … she was something entirely different, an aspect of the supernatural world that I had never considered – and of COURSE a con artist type like Bela would see the monetary opportunity in this world. (I also loved the Long Arc of Bela – her “reasons” for doing what she did. I’m Team Bela, though, in general, so I look forward to the discussions.) I agree that the “extra burden” carried by females comes into play. And the fear that the show will try to shoehorn in a romance … and what if nobody LIKES the girl in question (i.e. Amelia? I loved her, even though I think the filming of those scenes are a particularly low point in the entirety of SPN history – but I am aware of the consensus on her.)

          And yes: Cassie did make a huge impression. It’s actually kind of funny how you can feel that the entire show decided to ignore her existence because they knew the episode was lacking and they didn’t want anyone to go back and re-watch it and invest in it. They don’t know us too well, do they!!

          Charlie was embraced on arrival, I believe? Clearly resistance might have to do with sexual compatibility? Jodie and Sheriff Donna and Charlie are “safe” for a variety of reasons. No hanky-panky possible with them.

    • sheila says:

      // I find it telling, considering season 4, that Sam’s main sin encounter is Pride. //

      I know! I agree! Not much is made of this – and since the 7 Deadly Sins never show up again, it’s not referenced again – but I find it very telling, too. Especially since along with the 7 Deadly Sins comes Ruby – who plays on Sam’s sense of pride in himself (wounded pride), building him up (“It’s always been about you”) – and how prey he is to that kind of talk because of his background, and being underestimated and “bossed around” etc.

      There’s not a lot of subtlety with these Sins – and to me they all seem kind of silly and vaudeville-ish, but there are some interesting ideas buried in there somewhere. Plus, Dean’s resistance to Lust. Kind of an interesting take on it – although (in my view) – the second she shows up, Dean knows he’s susceptible – and backs off, way off from her – He knows himself, and knows he could get sucked into that if he’s not careful. Sam, though, doesn’t seem to have a similar reaction. But that scene isn’t really played for its double-meaning or symbolic resonance – I guess neither scene is.

      It’s a strangely surface-level episode except for that final scene between the brothers.

      • Jessie says:

        I know, the Sins really could have fueled a whole bunch of episodes, like the Horsemen! A shame to waste such a rich concept on such a, as you say, vaudeville-ish execution! And now, of course, demons are so workaday. I love seeing our trio in this episode being frightened at the prospect of a bunch of demons on the loose. Ruby’s knife was such a momentous development at this stage!

        • sheila says:

          // I love seeing our trio in this episode being frightened at the prospect of a bunch of demons on the loose. Ruby’s knife was such a momentous development at this stage! //

          So true. I hadn’t even thought of that. I haven’t been scared of a demon since 2011.

    • sheila says:

      // I do enjoy in the teaser his depressed, envious glance between his neighbour’s gleaming car and his own grotty one. //

      I completely missed this. Love it!

      // SO, re this unpleasant vision of suburbia, dealthy familial sloth, and the height of suburban envy being shoe-related, I find it so interesting Sheila that this episode puts you often in mind of Lisa and what she and suburbia mean for Dean. That makes a lot of sense considering how this episode explores Dean and women. //

      I know – it’s a strange thing, right? The final scene between Lisa and Dean in her hallway is so good – because you can feel the draw Dean feels. Not to Lisa, per se, but to the family unit itself. Like: this is what it looks like and yes, you give up some freedoms to participate, but the rewards outweigh all of that. I’m not sure he had ever considered that before. What I like about Kids Are All Right is that none of that is really clear on the surface – Dean is too busy working the case, and Lisa is too busy being openly annoyed with him (so great – I love that whole thing, NONE of it is the most obvious choice) – and (again) Dean is able to open up to women in a way he can’t with Sam – which is why it’s so important to have women on the show. (S12. Ugh.) He finds himself talking with Lisa in a way he would never report to Sam – I imagine he comes back to the motel room and doesn’t say one WORD about it. And he himself would never ever have suspected that that world would hold anything for him – OR that he would be welcomed into it (as she eventually welcomes him – “why don’t you stay for a while” etc.). Like: Me? Really?

      • Jessie says:

        Dean is too busy working the case, and Lisa is too busy being openly annoyed with him
        These fucking chuckleheads CANNOT move through a world inclined kindly towards them! It is critical that peripheral characters have desires, needs, and worldviews in conflict with the weirdos at the heart of the story. Any subsequent connection thus ends up meaning something (and “resignedly working with enemies” doesn’t count). Oh season 12, what hast thou wrought?

    • sheila says:

      // Perhaps because of this I see Tamara and Isaac as commenting more on Dean & Sam than Dean & Lisa. Not the first time a married couple has been used for this purpose of course (and the homoeroticism of buddy westerns, etc). Certainly when Dean so flatly remarks that Tamara will “never” get over the loss of her loved one I think we’re meant make that connection. //

      Interesting – and this is what happens with all of these different filters for different aspects of the show – I miss stuff. Even if it’s right in front of my face. The comparison you make here makes much more sense than Dean/Lisa – and even though I don’t think it works (i.e. I still don’t quite know why the two of them are here in the season premiere) – the theme they’re going for, and how it will play out over the season, is definitely there in embryo.

      Sam/Dean as married couple. Never as clearly stated as that creepy moment when Jodie says, with ga-ga eyes, “Not everybody has what you and Dean have.” Jodie. Stop. Ha. And Sam’s face in response. Like: “Okay. There is something seriously wrong with this picture.”

      And so it’s interesting here when you consider that Dean is the one facing Death – although Dean and Tamara have more of a connection than Sam and Tamara do. Dean and Tamara are two peas in a pod. There’s a kind of interesting unexpected-ness in that, if they were trying to make the connection between the potential death of Dean. I don’t know – you’ve given me a lot to think about (which is weird – since this episode is pretty surface-level. Not a lot going on underneath, really.)

      Over-identification!! Now I need to watch these scenes again – I am so uninterested in Isaac and Tamara that I missed a lot:

      // Like when Bobby gets super! intense! and lectures Tamara about making rash suicidal decisions…working out some of his feelings about Dean’s impending death by suicidal deal. Then there’s that weird moment when Isaac says “the family that slays together” and Sam goes, “right, I’m with you there” and plows on with his invasive questioning in this kinda dismissive way? I find that moment almost bizarre. //

      Super! Intense! Ha!! So true – a callback to the confrontation in the junkyard at the end of last season!

      And that IS a bizarre moment with Sam! Another moment I kind of skated over – or at least didn’t examine.

      In a way: Sam and Dean are both looking at their future when they look at Isaac and Tamara. This is your life, boys. You are married. Nothing you can do about it. Isaac and Tamara were married before they were hunters – but Sam and Dean are bachelors – so this is IT as far as any of THAT is concerned. Your primary partner is the one who was there with you when it all started – and there isn’t room for anyone else in that. And Sam and Dean don’t “play well with others” either.

      • Jessie says:

        yeah, I agree — Tamara and Isaac are pretty uninteresting and the episode suffers for it. But I’m glad the brother-wife prism gave you some more to think about!

        Your primary partner is the one who was there with you when it all started
        This is a very interesting thought, very evocative of the nature of hunter trauma/lifestyle.

        • sheila says:

          I’m trying to think of an exception to that. Garth is a fly-solo guy and he’s also the only hunter I can think of who didn’t get into it because of some personal trauma. But other than that …

          You become welded to one another by trauma. Interesting, too, to consider that Sam was too young to remember that initial loss and the introduction of evil into his world – so of course he was able to separate from it, he maintained some distance – which impacts the brother-wife relationship. For John – Dean was his primary partner, since the two of them witnessed/endured it head on. Sam then became the little thing that they both had to protect, shield, whatever. John and Dean against Sam. Or FOR Sam, but to Sam, it felt against.

    • sheila says:

      // oh, so everyone’s okaaaaaay with incest when it’s the ladies!) //

      Hahaha!!! So true! It’s so true it’s gross.

    • sheila says:

      // I think what’s going on with the emotion-states we’re talking about has something to do with purity, or something beyond categories of purity/corruption — looping back to Falconetti. //

      Faaaaascinating. We need to talk more about this.

      • Jessie says:

        Yes, it’s so difficult to get a solid grasp of and emerges as much in as what it is not as what it is. I watched Ordet the other day and as beautiful as it and its scenes of suffering are, they didn’t have the same effect….not even those final few frames when Inger’s resurrection plays out on her face (on my read) as ambiguously good/bad.

        Even though I have already christened this film Danes Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, because I am slow, I am only just now struck by the Inger-Mary connection!

        • sheila says:

          Oh man, Ordet. I haven’t seen that one in a long long time. // Danes Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things // hahahaha

          The confrontation with the divine – the awe, terror, hope – Dreyer kept going back to it. He didn’t even make that many films. Belief: what does it mean? How do people believe? Does belief create other things? Or is it the other way around? (Not sure if you’ve seen The Witch yet. There are elements of these questions throughout – it takes place in the paranoid Puritan days – and Julian Richings has a small role! Because of course. You take one look at him and you think: “Mayflower. Puritans. Nutbag religious freaks. Witch trials. Yup.”

    • sheila says:

      // Although I think this early part of S3 also fixed in some minds Dean the Womanizer. //

      I can definitely see this. He is a complete and utter hound-dog this episode. I can’t say I blame him.

      // Repression IS gap. It is absence. In psychoanalyic terms it requires a forgetting of the forgetting. These gaps are so potent and expressive and seductive; you can put anything in there. //

      I love your paragraph around this so much, Jessie – and I love to hear your thoughts on how this show operates: not just its themes, but HOW it does all that. (Or did. Sob.)

      I am with you (on further reflection) about flashbacks that confuse the issue. And I like the thoughts on meaninglessness vs. mystery: so important!! So, for example: “Bad Boys.” Maybe one of the most eloquent and revelatory flashbacks the show has ever done. Talk about moving into a huge gap. But instead of just connecting the dots – it opened up the space in which we understand Dean. We (or I should say I) had to broaden my conception of a character I thought I knew well – and at the same time, it continued to present questions. AND it “made sense” – it didn’t feel imposed or artificial – I never would have thought of Dean as a shy teen – but then of course it made total sense. In a way, the flashback didn’t clarify – it just added yet another layer of complexity.

      • Jessie says:

        It really is extraordinary how counterintuitive-but-right-feeling Bad Boys is! And Dylan Everett — what a great actor. I’d love to see him again. They jumped right into that opportunity to give us something we didn’t expect — and it fits so well too with the harder Dean of After School Special.

        The same with Sam’s vacillation in these flashback episodes (Thundercats catatonia notwithstanding) between wanting in (Just My Imagination) and wanting out (After School Special), being kept from knowing The Secret, his desire for Normalcy, his Running Away. All these contradictions are great.

  11. Bethany says:

    Thank you for another insightful episode analysis! It means the world that you’re still doing these, in spite of your professional schedule which I’m sure is packed. I always look forward to them. I read probably 80% of your posts, but these are the only ones that I’m brave enough to comment on. ;) (Oh, and The Fits, just because that was such a unique experience!)

    I’m glad – or maybe not glad, but at least JUSTIFIED – that you share my opinion on this episode being somewhat underwhelming. That being said, you unearthed several beautiful moments – like that stunning opening of scene 9. I have always loved those “quiet” moments of hunting, subdued and reflective but still packed with an electric anticipation. To me it was reminiscent of that scene in Shadow from Season 1 – packing their bags and loading their guns in quiet solidarity, before the “What if this whole thing was over tonight?” conversation. I don’t know why those moments make me ache with inexpressible joy.

    Sam asking Isaac and Tamara how they got into hunting seemed stunningly tone deaf (in a convenient exposition way), considering what he knows about hunting. Equally baffling, to me, was his response to Ruby’s “I’m the girl that just saved your ass.” Did he suddenly turn into a 13 year old boy? “Well I just saved yours too! (So…there!)” Sam has always had so much to prove, when it comes to his humanity and his innocence – but what I love about his character (and you’ve alluded to it before) is his wholeness, his self-assured security and lack of posturing (in contrast to Dean, who’s constantly posturing, whether he’s aware of it or not). That “comeback” seemed kind of incongruous with what I know about Sam. Why did he need a “comeback” to her at all? Wouldn’t a puzzled head tilt suffice? Sam is a master of the puzzled head tilt. :)


    It is fascinating to me to see people’s responses to Ruby! Apparently I’m in the minority here – but I violently distrusted her from the very beginning! I did NOT want to believe, haha. I could feel the show bringing in an element of “demons are people, too!” (more pronounced in “Sin City,” coming up) and much like Dean, I was not on board. We had a little of that in season 2 with complicated vampires…but complicated demons seemed like a very different, more dangerous shade of gray! Ruby’s “ends justify the means” approach in “Jus in Bello” just cemented my distrust. But then she got a new body! (And a new approach to manipulating Sam. I love how her strategy shifts as she gets to know him more.) And after she remained loyal under torture, I thought I was going to have to suck it up and give up my grudge against her. The reveal in the finale of season 4 was simultaneously shocking and deeply vindicating.

    Season 3 is one of my favorites, writers’ strike and all. Can’t wait for your thoughts on Bela! It was that Bela/Dean scene in “Red Sky at Morning” that brought me to your blog in the first place. :)

    • sheila says:

      Bethany – you’re welcome!! In re: The Fits: I’ve been busy doing end-of-year lists for various sites, and, for me – in a very strong year – it’s the #1 film of the year. I’ll be writing it up for Film Comment. What a film!!

      Okay, onto SPN stuff:

      // To me it was reminiscent of that scene in Shadow from Season 1 – packing their bags and loading their guns in quiet solidarity, before the “What if this whole thing was over tonight?” conversation. I don’t know why those moments make me ache with inexpressible joy. //

      I am so with you on this. That scene in Shadow is particularly superb.

      // That “comeback” seemed kind of incongruous with what I know about Sam. Why did he need a “comeback” to her at all? Wouldn’t a puzzled head tilt suffice? Sam is a master of the puzzled head tilt. :) //

      I know what you mean! I like that moment, though, because it sets up from the get-go that Ruby will be a destabilizing force. Sam will not be able to maintain his SELF in the face of it. I don’t think it’s an accident that she first presents as a blonde (Jess). I kind of like that his comeback is lacking – immature – because she kicks the stability right out from under him.

      I just re-watched The Kids Are All Right again and I had forgotten about that final scene between the two of them. It’s sooooo good. She so has the upper hand, but she flatters him enough to make him think he still has agency. It’s so manipulative – but you can’t really tell it’s manipulative because she’s such a good liar!


      Once I noticed it, it was the only thing I could see! It’s so disturbing! Why is it there? Why is it hanging on its back? What the hell!!!??

      I love to hear your thoughts on Ruby and your response to her! In a way, I feel like my reaction to her was totally from Sam’s point of view, not Dean’s. I was intrigued, I was scared, I felt like I shouldn’t trust her but she is so compelling I started to buy what she was selling. I realize I’m somewhat slow – but up until the very end, I still was willing to believe – with that final scene in the crypt when it becomes clear what Ruby’s game was, I felt totally duped. It was one of those Arcs where it was really fun to go back and re-watch, with my greater knowledge in place.

      Sin City is a great episode. The scene between Dean and the demon is one of my favorites in the whole series. I LOVE her.

      and ha, Bela/Dean. I had been really into the show – but it was JA’s moment in that scene that made me realize – and see – finally – just how brilliant he really is. Like, that was on ANOTHER LEVEL.

  12. mutecypher says:

    //(Also: just once – once is all I’m asking – I’d like to see Lust represented by a man.)//

    I was listening to some Blondie this evening, and the song Call Me came up. Why have a woman sing that in a movie where Richard Gere is the sex object? I could picture Tom Jones doing a kick-ass version. Maybe he’ll get around to it.

    On the other hand, I really like Blondie. And I don’t mind Lust always being a serious babe. Raquel Welch comes to mind. Ah…

    Here’s the long version of Call Me. You get to see Richard exercise upside down, if you like that sort of thing.

    I’ll quote some Roxy Music

    You might as well know what is right for you,
    And make the most of what you like to do,
    For all the pleasure that’s surrounding you

    I wonder if Dean likes Roxy Music. Has he ever lip sync’ed <em<More Than This with Bill Murray?

  13. Michelle says:

    Another amazing recap Sheila!! I finally got to settle down and enjoy it this weekend.

    This episode was definitely not one of my favourites. It does however contain one of my favorite Sam lines and favorite line readings by JP in the entire series. “It’s hellfire Dean.” It’s actually hard for me to put into words why that line utterly delights me the way it does. For one it was indeed the perfect response to Dean’s line about seeing a “light at the end of the tunnel” (Dude you are going to HELL)

    I think it is mostly just the way Jared delivers the line. It wasn’t snarky, it wasn’t angry or sad. In fact it was very calm…almost expressionless, but everything he was trying to convey came through loud and clear. I simply love it. I don’t rewatch that episode very often but when I do I always rewind and watch that end scene more than once.

    • sheila says:

      // “It’s hellfire Dean.” It’s actually hard for me to put into words why that line utterly delights me the way it does. //

      I totally know what you mean, Michelle. It’s a great moment. And greatly played by him.

  14. Troopic says:

    Well I had a comment almost all written and crafted out and it got ERASED.
    My life.

    So anyway.
    As always – thanQ so so much for this beautiful recap! Always such a delight, and I mean it.

    This episode is my least memorable – if at all – from S3 (the next in line of un-memorable episodes is Sin City, actually). The only thing that keeps it alive in my mind are my numerous religious re-watches of the first 4 seasons.
    It is very unremarkable, unfortunately. And for a season opener? That’s a real flop.
    It has some strong(er) moments, but yeah. It kind of flies by very unnoticeable.
    It also damaged Ruby’s introduction a lot. All the good ways in which she was brought in to the story – well, only now I can appreciate them after you’ve pointed them out. And it kind of means that a lot flew under the radar and in the bad way.

    But there is one very, very good thing in particular in this episode: the candlelight scene.
    It is literally my favorite scene of that season. It’s beautiful in ways hard to describe – Dean’s holy martyr look, Sam’s resolve building up. The light. It’s a Rembrandt.
    I adore it. I remember re-watching this scene so many times, just going those few seconds back on my player, trying to SEE all the detail, trying to DRINK up the beauty of that dark, golden baroque. It’s a piece of art, a moving painting. Everything in this episode is excused for the sole existence of this moment.

    Ok, now that THAT is off my chest, I would like to refer to the actual interesting thing I have to offer in regards to your understanding and deciphering of The Winchester Coping Mechanisms.

    It all comes down to the idea of repression, and its effectiveness.
    Also, Sam seems to lean towards the more…. “new-agey” approach of “let it out/talk it out”, while Dean is a stern believer of the old ways – repress till it pass.

    Which brings me to an interesting research that was conducted by one Prof. Peretz Lavie. He was studying sleep and dreams, and he did the next: the research centered around the dreaming patterns and remembering of said dream by survivors of the concentrations camps. Now, that would sound awfully specific, but then – the research took those results and paired them up with a well-being questionnaire done by same people.
    The results were very baffling: the more they DIDN’T remember their dreams – the higher their well-being questionnaires were.

    It contradicted at the time (50s’? I think?) the majorly popular and accepted theory (which is practiced to this day) that goes back to Freud himself – of repressed memories=mental/psychological dysfunctions.
    His research also did an interesting distinction between people who had a single/multiple trauma as opposed to people who suffered a prolonged trauma – basically people who were “traumatized” by an event/s as opposed to people who were living through a prolonged period of “traumatization”.
    It appeared, that, people of the first type – “traumatized” – were better with “”talk it out” treatment, while “traumatizised” people – were better off repressing it, so much, that they almost never or – absolutely NEVER – remembered their own dreams. Which, was probably a blessing.

    In conclusion – the well-being of a person who lived a trauma as a period, were – for the largest and most considerable part – better repressing the hell out of it.

    (Which is why it is so hard to collect eyewitness accounts from the people who survived the holocaust, by the way – they rarely agree to talk about it, and sometimes, when they do – it’s only on they deathbeds. And these people are dying out. It’s a very sensitive matter).

    I have a lot to add on this, but it will turn out very patriotic, so maybe it’s not the place.

  15. Audrey says:

    I’m popping in to say that I absolutely adore your recaps of Supernatural, Sheila. I come in every month or so to reread my favorite posts and catch up on the new ones. I’ve been watching Supernatural on and off since I was in high school and while I know nothing about cinematography, your recaps are super interesting and enlightening for all the details they expose. I always feel like I’ve learned something new. Just wanted to let you know I appreciate your work!

    • sheila says:

      Audrey – it’s been a while since you commented, so sorry – but just wanted to say thank you so much for reading. I very much appreciate it, and am so happy people like visiting here to discuss.

      • Audrey says:

        It’s all good! Two thumbs up, again, for the work you do – I rewatch each episode as you recap them to pick out what you’ve explained. I just wanna say that, while I know this will be way in the future, I am very excited for your recap of the episode Ghostfacers! It’s probably my favorite episode in the whole series for its outward look in on the Winchesters Belljar (TM) as you put it (also for the big boy swear words and the humor). I hope you always feel encouraged in your work, I’ve learned a lot so far and I can’t wait for new posts.

  16. sheila says:

    To all of you lovely commenters who continue to visit this post and leave beautiful observations:

    I will get back to this and respond when I have a bit more time and space. I appreciate you all so much – especially in the dark chaos of Right Now, as well as the disappointment of Season 12 (understatement). Whatever happens from here on out – these early seasons are gorgeous and they are ours, they belong to us to pick apart, analyze, appreciate.

    Thanks again and I will be back! Much here to think about.

    • carolyn clarke says:

      Hi, Sheila,

      Just stopping by to say hi and thank you again for your lovely writing. Between election day and this version of SPN lite that we are suffering through, I haven’t felt the desire to participate as much. But with age comes wisdom. This too will pass one way or another. Be well.

      • sheila says:

        Carolyn – many many thanks.

        I am having the same struggles, actually – I had to write a review the day after the election and it took a Herculean effort to even give a shit, even though I loved the movie.

        It’s not just that “life goes on” – because times are scary and I am feeling such a need to be vigilant/tough and to stay involved (which I am) … but Art helps/heals. So does pleasure – it reminds what is important!

        Thank you so much. You be well too.

  17. Lisa says:

    Sheila and friends, carefully not including your guardian of the corpse-fjord, who actually used the c epithet against a group of (mostly) women over the polite discussion of a fictional character when said polite discussion did not reflect the interpretation of said swallower of the heaven-wheel. :-) This is my first peek out of the warmth and comfort of lurkerdom, so forgive me if I do it wrong. I just felt compelled to come and stand with you guys in support of this type of analysis and discussion.

    If storm-sun’s bale is still reading this blog, and it has been my experience that the seeress’s friendly companions cannot help but continue to read sites which infuriate them for some reason, I want to add another voice and name as we stand together.

    First and foremost, I thank you, Sheila, for your invaluable recaps and commentary, not just about SPN but about everything. I have been lurking for some time and I have learned so much about the craft and art of acting, theater, movies, music, and “fame.” I started reading because you liked my favorite show, and stayed because you pushed me to see SPN from different angles and participate in each episode so differently. As I read all of the comments from you and your merry band, I have howled so much I have spit out my tea, scared the cat and my family, and had literal tears of mirth. Thank you.

    SPN is so lovely, but also has such depth and space for thought and interpretation, if people could look beyond werewolves and pretty boys. It makes me so happy to have found a community who understand this. There is so much meat on SPN’s bones. It’s not just Kripke’s premise, it’s also that JA, JP, Serge, Jerry, Lou, and apparently a boatload of other creative staff and crew, have devoted their focus, skills, and careers to this. There’s a reason we’re in season 12, although if someone in tptb doesn’t have a clue land on them soon I fear for our little engine that could. I wish we could get some show-running and -writing talent, commensurate with the production people, to join and stay. Two of our most senior writers are there doing the nepotism tango instead of, say, writing good episodes.

    Anyway, I’m preaching to the choir here, except for the giant’s wealth sucker. :-) I may be back if I can gin up the courage to write another post, but I just wanted Sheila and all of you to know there are more of us than you know. As a side note, I believe this is the only place I read where there is understanding and compassion for life before and after a diagnosis and how living with issues can deeply influence everything, but we still have opinions and they haven’t ceased being important.

    And as for the moon of dwelling Rungnir, what is a tr_ll other than that? (When I started to write, this has taken some time to work up courage to post, I remembered my lit class and how we would use old lit terms to muddy our discussions and make word-searching our blog posts more difficult. It was fun to get out my Bragi Edda and look at the kennings for tr_ll. Thanks for your indulgence; I had a fun afternoon and I figured you guys wouldn’t mind too much. :-)

  18. Rebecca says:

    I hope you don’t mind that I’m coming along and commenting *years* later, as I watch the show for the first time (also meaning that I skip over long sections of comments which move past this episode)! If you do, tell me and I’ll stop.
    I took the scene in the demon bar a bit differently. I don’t think they were unaware of the racial overtones, I think it was kind of a social commentary, and I’m OK with that. Here’s my read: when the guy says words to the effect of “your kind shouldn’t be here,” the audience has a moment where we still don’t realize he’s a demon, because it’s so similar to human racist behavior. When we do realize, there’s a second of–“wait, why is that even something we can be confused about?” It literally demonizes racist violence, and the fact that we have this moment of ambiguity implicates us in this. We know racists are real and demons aren’t, so why aren’t we doing more to stamp out the former?
    I can see that having moments where the audience confronts the fictionality of the show in mid-scene could be seen as a flaw, since we’re supposed to be immersed in that world, but in this context I personally would give it a pass.

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