Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Flu-Induced Rewatch: Part I

So I've been suffering from the flu for the past few days, but my fever broke and I'm over the "I feel like I'm actually dying" part of the flu, and into the "fatigued, stuffed-up, sore-throat, Supernatural marathon" part.

I decided to do something weird(ly awesome!) and watch the opener and finale from each season and reflect on how well each one works, how they fit into the season arch and the greater series-wide plot and character development.  Part II is now up, and you can read it here.

Here we go!  (Spoilers throughout! Might go as far as S9!)

1.1 Pilot

As a general rule, I don't judge a show based on a pilot episode.  It's just not fair since there's so much to set up that the story usually suffers.  NOT SO with the Supernatural pilot.  This shit aired in September of 2005 and it still holds up.  The writing is tight all the way through, while Mary's death and the Woman in White are genuinely creepy.  The music and dialogue are all well-done and perfectly establish the mood of the show.  

Some thoughts on the rewatch:

The famous scene of John sending Dean outside with Sam while going back for Mary, this is just a great way to demonstrate his repeated choice to put the memory of her over the safety and happiness of the boys.  And obviously, his penchant for passing his fatherly duties off to Dean.  She was dead, and even if she wasn't - maybe get your 4 year  old and your infant out of the burning house.

When Dean sneaks into Sam's house in the middle of the night and fights him instead of either knocking on the door, or just being like, "Sammy it's me!" it illustrates their communication issues (that we're still working through 9 years later).  By S1 Dean hadn't got over the fact that Sam left him and John for college (he's still working through that mid-S5).  It's a fundamental aspect of their relationship to not talk about that stuff and use irrelevant actions to express themselves.  So for the baby-Winchesters of S1, it only makes sense that Dean felt like throwing a couple punches at Sam in a more or less playful way.  

Dean pulling Sammy out of a fire not once, but twice in the pilot episode really tells us what sort of relationship these two will have.  Sam no longer cares about himself as much as he cares about his revenge (like John), while Dean is still holding on to the family.  

Remember, always rescue your brother at whatever cost, 
since I love him most. (source)
Jensen and Jared have great chemistry in the pilot.  Despite the fact they look nothing alike, they really sell the brother schtick and since that's the heartbeat of the show, we're in good shape.  Dean's attitude is really bolstered up right from his first lines and Sam is defiant all the way through - but neither act is too much.  Over the seasons we see the themes again and again, that Dean's pretty desperately trying to hold on to some kind of family, while Sam is ready to write it off and go start a new one.  They play this dynamic perfectly in the pilot. 

Dean is also super bravdo-y and very sarcastic.  Over time we get to know this is a defense mechanism but JA nails this from the get-go (the scene when the boys are on the bridge, Dean slips from being sarcastic and light-hearted to physically confrontational in a moment's time).  It's great to see how layered their relationship is and that there's a lot of places to go from there.

How it fits into the overall story:

John's choice to mess around with boys by disappearing and leaving orders behind really reflects God's actions with his angels.  Since Dean was always the loyal son who had to learn to question the validity of his father's orders, it put him in a really good place to help Castiel negotiate his rebellion later on.  I want to point out that John's plan for his boys was actually exactly what Azazel wanted too.  

I love this guy so much. (source)
We know that John's a bad father, but really, I think he gave Sam and Dean the best shot he could.  Lucifer tells us in S5 that Azazel kept demons in Sam's life throughout his childhood and adolescence.  John, being the sick-ass hunter he was, would definitely have noticed that.  Also, despite the fact that Mary was estranged from her family, and her parents are dead,  every single relative of hers is a hunter.  How is someone like John Winchester not going to notice that?  What I'm saying is, there's plenty of evidence that John knew Sam was part of something bigger - so he trains both his sons to be warriors and drills it into Dean's head to take care of Sam no matter what.

Back to the father story lines: we have 4 different father figures we can consider together - God, John, Lucifer and Azazel.  Azazel and Lucifer are interesting because they're both fathers and sons, and we get to contextualize their fatherhood that way - specifically how they obey/disobey their fathers, and what they expect of/how they treat their children.

Anyway, all four fathers disappeared and left their kids to follow their murky plans, with questionable commands to be obeyed.  Azazel/Lucifer's "kids" followed that plan best (though they were never "leaderless" since Lilith stepped up to the plate as a mother figure).  Interestingly, it's God and John who leave plans that are morally questionable, which their children choose to disregard.  The act of disobeying and ignoring the plans of the father sets the sons free to pursue their own lives and make their own choices.

With John we could argue that he didn't know the scope of things and therefore didn't know what he was asking - though there's evidence he may have known the "grand plan", or at least that he knew much more than he let on.  With God, you can't really argue that he didn't know the scope of what he asked because he's God, but the archangels talk a lot about his "tests" so it's possible his sons were never supposed to follow his plan.  

It's just really interesting that the righteous thing to do is disobey the fathers (but not when Sam does it) and that we can see the set up for this as early as the pilot.  

1.22 Devil's Trap

I've never felt this was the best season closer, but overall a solid episode.  The car accident at the end is fantastic because, guess what?  This is Supernatural, as soon as you think you're out of the fire, you actually realize everything is about to get much worse.

Some thoughts on the rewatch:

This episode has a really interesting parallel happening between the Winchesters and Azazel's "family." For the record, I've always taken it that Azazel's children are his kids in the religious/supreme leader sense.

At the start of the episode we're hit with the idea that Sam cares more about revenge than his own life, or even really John's.  Dean, however, is so staunchly sure of family being more important than revenge that Sam comes round eventually (and as we see in the S2 opener, so does John).  This is nicely opposite Azazel's family, for whom family is means to an end and the end is all important.  For the Winchesters, and Dean, especially, family is the only thing that matters while they muddle through this nightmare they call life and try to save as many people as they can.  They have none of the comforts or safety of normal people, so the thing Dean won't compromise on is family.

This episode takes us back to the times when Dean, Sam and Bobby actually cared about the host of the demonic possession and didn't want to cause any harm to them.  I actually started this sentence with "oh back to the simpler times..." but that's not true.  Worrying about the morality of each human life was a lot more complex. This was when things were on a very small scale.  It was (more or less) about a family seeking revenge and helping others along the way.  Over time they caught up in something monumental, so they don't sweat the casualties anymore because they're too deep into the fight.

Interesting side note: Dean mentions to Sam that he'd always wanted to be a fireman when he grew up.  This makes sense since he pulled his baby brother from a fire, and it would be a nice, non-hunting way of saving people and fighting things (mostly fires).  This is one of the only times we see Dean admit that he ever allowed himself to envision a life aside from hunting.  Just sorta struck me, is all.


So you DID want an apple-pie life! (source)
Azazel (while possessing John) points out that Dean needs his family far more than they need him. The fans know this is true, but we don't think that's a bad thing.  Azazel views family as a means furthering an end, and though John also loves his boys unconditionally, part of him views family this way too.  I'm sure Dean feels a little ashamed about his "weakness" but, as we'll see time and again, Dean's steadfast love of his family is the glue that holds them all together (and saves the world a couple times).

Watching the scene where Azazel!John says he's proud of Dean for killing a demon and saving Sam's life, I actually felt a little bad for Azazel.  I mean, imagine all the layers of thought and emotion (which are probably all conflicting) that Azazel would have to sift through to figure out what John truly felt about that.  I'm sure John was a little proud of Dean, but he was obviously pissed too.  And John would never say the nice thing he's feeling over the mean thing.  And he would never give a nuanced explanation of his feelings.  So when Azazel went with the nice, fatherly thing he tipped his hand.  Just because Dean is starved for his father's affection doesn't mean he won't find it suspicious.  

How it fits into the overall story:

Dean tells Sam how little hesitation he had in killing the possessed hosts when Sam's life was on the line, he actually says he's a little frightened by what he's willing to do to save his family. This ends up being a driving point for many seasons.  We see Dean make questionable choices again and again.  As I've mentioned before, some of his worst and most morally questionable choices are overriding his brother's wishes in order to save his life.  It's just interesting that Dean would have this self-awareness this early in the series, yet he seems unable to make any changes to what he does.  

When Dean gets that John is possessed, Sam trusts Dean's instinct over his own or over John's insistence. This is another thing we see come up again and again. Sam gives deference to Dean's instincts a lot. Dean was always the emotional, instinctual one, while Sammy was the intellectual one. You could argue he had "instincts" as well, with the feelings/premonitions that his psychic ability gave him but I would argue against that. Sam spent so long fighting those instincts, and even once he started to give in to it, he had reservations and any faith he put into his powers stemmed from his intellectual evaluation of the situation (he tells Ruby he doesn't know if he trusts her, but he's saving people and justifies that their lives are worth it).
"Also, your dad has a secret family.  And a foot fetish." (source
A really important aspect of this episode was that it firmly took us from an individual family seeking revenge, to players in a major event. This is really shored up in S2 with the psychic kids, and then it just grows exponentially until S5, but the show is no longer about a man and his sons trying to avenge the death of their wife/mother. It's great how it's slowly layered in too. We're not told, "Oh, Sam, we want you to eventually be Lucifer's vessel and bring about Armageddon," we're told, there's an end game you don't know about, and you're part of it. 

Another SPN-specific trope is set up here - we see Dean's ability to get through to those he loves while they're possessed. Dean has never been possessed by either angels or demons. He's been dosed by monsters a few times but never full-on possessed. Yet he's made a connection with John, Bobby, Cas and Sam while they were possessed by various entities. He's able to do this because of the intense (and kinda unhealthy) emotional bonds he has with his family. 

Sam's decision to not kill Azazel!John had major consequences. If he had killed Azazel before the gates were opened, Lilith may not have been able to get out and carry on with the plan (it's possible that someone like Alistair would have stepped up and carried out the plan though). I can't help but think that this may have played out differently and Sam would have ended it if John been fully honest with Sam and Dean. So in this action we see both that the Winchesters are going to choose their lives, or the lives of their loved ones over the "bigger picture" and that there' a lot of dishonesty between them which really doesn't do any good for anyone. 

2.1 In my Time of Dying

After almost ten years, this is still one of my favorite episodes.  I don't often have a great eye for directing, but the direction in this episode is amazing.  So well done with Dean being present or invisible in shots, depending on perspective.

This is still the cutest thing ever (source)
Some thoughts on the rewatch: 

The scenes between Sam and John are wonderful, because they give us a really sense of their relationship.  This is important because Dean is really the only one to work through his daddy-issues for the rest of the series. Sam had a much more normal and healthy relationship, plus he had Dean as a secondary father-figure, so it's good that we get this episode to wrap up the Sam/John dynamic for us.

Just to clarify, when I say that Sam had a "more normal and healthy" relationship with John, I don't mean that it was normal or healthy by like, normal human standards.  But, by Winchester standards it totally was.  Sam got to be a kid for much longer than Dean, Sam had no issue rebelling against John, whereas Dean believed that any rebellion against his father was tantamount to harming Sammy.  Either way, I'd argue that Sam has more brother-issues, while Dean has a mountain of both daddy and brother issues.

Dean accepts his fate when he meets with Tessa, but unlike he did in "Faith," it actually takes quite a bit of convincing.  In "Faith" he got that a hunter's life has an early expiration, and felt like his life was no more important than anyone else's.  In fact he was really confused/resented that he lived while others, like Darla from Angel, would die.  But now that his brother and father are both back in his life and now that he knows he's part of a bigger picture, he's just not ready to let go.  What finally convinces him is his refusal to become a ghost, the sort of thing he has hunted. (I have so many thoughts about the Bobby-ghost story line of S7)  

Despite John's apology to Dean about being a shitty father, he then goes on to be the shittiest father ever when his dying words to his son are something along the lines of: "Watch out for Sammy, don't be scared, Dean. But one little note: you're going to have to save Sam- don't ask me from what though - and if you can't save him, and this is very important, you gotta kill him. Okay, take care."

"Wait, what? Also, you smell like leather and gunpowder." (source)
How it fits into the overall story:

Dean starts to address some of his issues with his dad, "I've done everything you ever asked me, now you're just gonna sit there and watch me die, what the hell kind of father are you?" Which is later complicated by John's sacrifice.  It takes Dean a long time to reconcile the fact that John could be a shitty father and still make the ultimate sacrifice to save his son (which Dean realizes after his own deal, is also a shitty and selfish thing to do).  John's death really messed up Dean for a very long time, the affects of which we see well into S8.  It undercut any ability of Dean to normally or healthily mourn his family, Dean spends all his time trying to save Sam from different fates and implicitly expects the same from others.  

This is Dean's second experience with cheating death, so to speak, and first on the other side of the veil.  This is a consistent theme throughout the series (obviously).  I would argue that it actually culminates in S6 when he becomes Death for a day.  At that point Dean gets some glimpse of how rewriting the story for the benefit of the few really screws over the overall plan.  From that point on he had at least some respect for the natural order, but he slowly loses that again as evidenced in S8 with sending Benny into purgatory and into S9 by resurrecting Cas and Charlie.

The doctor says that Dean has "some kind of angel watching over" him - in this case his father.  This is, well there aren't really words for how perfect it is.  At the time of the original viewing it was classic dramatic irony since the viewer knew (and Sam and Dean suspected) that it wasn't a heavenly force, but something more unseemly.

You could also say that John was his guardian angel, but sacrifical lamb would be closer to the mark.  Not only did John actually make a deal with his sworn enemy, he assented to dark, demonic forces snatching his son away from death.  So the angel metaphor gets a little darker when you consider the price of the reward.

Taking this further, we know that Castiel becomes the "angel watching over" Dean. I've said before and will eventually lay out in a post, Cas and Dean fulfill a lot of roles for each other - one of the earliest and most important is the father/son role, which they constantly flip.  So John being seen as the angel, when we know that Cas later becomes an angel, and John's last words to Dean about how Dean was more of a father than John was, that just, well it just tickles me right.

Also, we come to know that the angels on our shoulders are more conniving than gracious, so the boys' instincts about the nature of this "angel" is still spot on.  ALSO - just check out that picture up there.  John's hand is on Dean's shoulder.  The opposite shoulder that Cas uses, but in a pretty similar fashion and location to where Cas gripped Dean tight.  Just saying...shit is right.

2.22 All Hell Breaks Loose Part II

It's a two-parter but I skipped Part I in the interest of time.  Just a great episode, it's really the last of the a certain breed of Supernatural.

Some thoughts on the rewatch:

Something I've always sort of wondered before, but Jake had to be drinking demon blood, right?  And Eva before him?  It seems like the only way their psychic powers would progress so quickly.  It also would explain the change in their temperaments.  Just something I always questioned.

JA's acting is really good.  The scene I'm specifically referring to is the "What am I supposed to do?!!" scene, where he basically kicks furniture while yelling at his dead brother's body and justifies his decision to burn in hell for all eternity in exchange for fulfilling his life's mission of "looking after Sammy."  The scene shows beyond any doubt that Dean's only purpose in life was to protect his brother and honor his father.

Every time a Winchester cries an angel gets its wings (source)

Azazel really messes with Dean's head in this episode.  I'm of the opinion that Sam came back from death essentially unchanged, BUT he is different than he was before.  This is due to the fact that he has some new intel on Azazel's plan, and that it stretched back to Mary somehow.  He started to see how much of a pawn he really was, and that made him furious.  There were new motivations for his personal vendetta, but he didn't let Dean into that knowledge and his change demeanor was scary.

I really love that final scene, the second, "We got work to do." thing.  I can't imagine the series ending any other way.  We've seen time and again that their jobs are never done.  Even if they'd closed the gates to hell, there'd still be monsters and angels a-plenty to deal with.  There will always be work for a hunter, regardless of personal vendettas or missions.  Just a great scene.

How it fits into the overall story:

I hit on it above, but Dean's value of his own life is definitely something that keeps cropping up throughout the series.  This early in it's as easy as a quid-pro-quo for Sam's life, but in later years (S8) we see that Dean actually values Sam's potential at living a life more than he values his own potential (with good reason, Dean can't really have functional relationships, so he can't really settle down).

Though I do think Azazel was mostly messing with Dean, I do think he knew about the need for a  righteous man to spill blood in hell.  I am firmly of the opinion that John could not have been that man.  He didn't have a brother that was suitable to be Lucifer's vessel, so even if he did spill blood, I don't think that would have ignited the seals.  I've never known whether to believe Alistair that John refused to spill blood, as I sort of think he was never given the option.  I mean, Azazel hated John.  And why start the seal-breaking before you even have your Boy King lined up?

No, I'm fairly certain that Azazel knew a righteous man had to spill blood, and that he at least wouldn't want to make that offer to John this early in the game.  All of this is to say - I think Azazel knew he was looking down on the man would break the very first seal on Lucifer's cage.  This also follows that he was ready to kill Dean then and there.  He thought that with Sam back in the ring and Jake out of the picture, the stars were aligning to get Lucifer out of the cage.

And so begins Dean's lucrative career in killing the King of Hell (source)
I've said before that Sam has things happen to him and doesn't get to take much action.  A good case for this is how Dean resurrected him from death, and then gets to kill Azazel, despite the fact that Sam probably had more of a claim on Azazel's life since both his girlfriend and mother were killed, and since he's a pawn in Azazel's scam.  This trend continues (like with Ruby) and is just another dagger in that dangerous relationship of Sam and Dean's where the big brother wants to do any and everything to protect and vindicate the little brother at the cost of Sam's self actualization.  This is part of why I'm so pumped that in S9 Sam is going after Gadreel as I explain my my post on First Born.

3.1 The Magnificent Seven

Not one of my favorites.  It's a solid enough episode in and of itself, but not great for a season opener.

"I dunno, Kripke, this episode is kinda weak."
"Just amp up the sexy hunter stuff." (source)
Some thoughts on the rewatch:

Dean is like, in your face sarcastic and jokey - just not at all genuine.  Also, he's practically suicidal.  This is his coping mechanism, which we're all familiar with by this point in the series, and the fact that he lays it on so thick is a hint of how terrified he really is.  Bobby and Sam know this too, but they try to cut him some slack and pretend like they can't see through his bullshit.

One thing I really hate is how everyone, including the boys, blame them for opening the devil's gates.  Isaac says it, and then Sam and Dean each repeat in this episode and throughout S3.  This is just factually inaccurate.  I know they have a tendency to take responsibility for things they didn't do, but this one is a hell of a stretch.  I mean, they closed the freaking gates, and by sheer dumb luck were they involved at all and able to stem the flow of demons.

The scene at the end where Sam calls Dean on his bullshit is a great new step in their relationship.  They've talked through their issues before but not like this.  This isn't about Sam walking out, or Dean being overbearing, or even about Sam's "freaky psychic whatever." The stakes are much higher.  They're starting to pinpoint the nature of their relationship.  Though they're seeing their issues for what they are, they don't go far enough in resolving it.

Sam calls Dean's a hypocrite and selfish for making the deal.  Dean admits the deal was selfish, but that he felt entitled to do so after all he's done for the family.  That's pretty effed up.  Dean actually feels justified in his choice to sell his soul for Sam's life.  Instead of talking about how insane that is, Sam pretty much gives Dean a pass.  Um, maybe this is why Dean continues to do shit like this?  Just a thought.

How it fits into the overall story:

Dean's issues are all bubbling underneath the surface right now, we get to see him face a lot of that toward the end of the season, particularly in the dream root episode.  The problem is these issues aren't ever resolved, but just revealed.  He doesn't fix anything, he just exposes it and accepts that soon it won't matter because he'll be in hell.  Obviously we know that these issues only get exasperated by his time in hell and plus some messed up new problems he brings back.  But, in S3 we see that he's starting to really lose control of that facade he's kept up so well for the first two seasons.

Ah, Ruby.  Ruby and Cas are two of the best characters where you don't really know if the people helping you are actually helping you or not.  Later, Crowley fits nicely into that as well.  Ruby is introduced as something of a badass protector of Sam, willing to die for the cause that she deems important (killing Lilith).  Which is interesting since Azazel and his children all felt the cause was more important than the family.

Thanks to this knife, Dean can now take on 3 demons alone, while in this episode
4 hunters weren't sure of their chances against 6. (source)

Like I mentioned in the review of "In My Time of Dying" the boys are easily confused when they start to trust outsiders.  The lines of angels, demons, fathers, protectors, devils, they just aren't as clear as one might expect.  It always comes down to the need for the brothers to trust each other and their established family first and foremost, but it's always interesting and worth while to introduce these characters who have vested interests in helping, or manipulating the boys.

I thought it was neat that Sam was matched up with the demon Pride.  That probably is his biggest sin and his pride and secrecy are what really take him off the rails in S4.  Interestingly atoning for that pride comes down to thinking that he could maybe wrest control of his body from Lucifer who, you guessed it! was cast from heaven after committing a sin of pride.  Anyway, it was great foreshadowing and a nod to what Sam's weakness and path will be.

My post on "No Rest for the Wicked" turned out to be very long, so you can find it in Part II which is now up.

Also - please note that I am on cold/flu medication.  Let me know if any of what I wrote is wrong or weird and I'll revise as needed.

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