God’s true prophet Chuck
Writes the Winchester gospel;
Lilith comes for Sam.
A man restlessly asleep on his sofa dreamed flashes of images involving Sam and Dean – things we hadn’t seen before. Outside his dreams, the brothers walked into a comic store in the guise of FBI agents DeYoung and Shaw, asking the proprietor whether he’d noticed any flickering lights, scratching noises in the walls, or cold spots. The man laughed that they were live action role-playing the characters from the Supernatural books, a series of books with a small underground cult following about two guys named Sam and Dean who hunted ghosts using fake IDs with rock aliases. From a bin of bargain books in the store, he pulled out the first novel in the series, about a woman in white luring men to their deaths in California. Sam and Dean collected all the books he had and started researching their own case.
At their motel, the brothers discovered that the books contained seemingly every detail of their lives since Dean had collected Sam from Stanford, up to and including Dean dying and going to Hell. When Dean wondered why they hadn’t learned of the books before, Sam pointed out that the series had been very obscure and never sold many copies, and that the publisher had gone bankrupt after publishing about two dozen titles. The brothers didn’t quite know what to make of the books’ small but vocal Internet fanbase.
Seeking out the publisher to learn the real identity of author Carver Edlund, the brothers posed as fans wanting to write an article on the books. The publisher, a passionate fan herself, quizzed them on the details on the books and refused to provide the author’s real name until Sam and Dean displayed their anti-possession tattoos. Convinced of their bona fides and displaying her own tattoo, she sent them to meet Chuck Shurley, the writer.
Chuck – the man from the episode’s opening seconds – was reading the latest pages off his printer describing Sam and Dean walking up to a ramshackle house and ringing the bell … as Sam and Dean arrived at his house, walked up to the porch, and rang the bell. Initially thinking they were obsessive fans, Chuck accepted that they were real only when they told him things that he’d written but never published, including mentioning angels, Lilith, the broken seals, and their own last name of Winchester. Sam posited that he might be psychic, somehow tuned into their lives. Chuck revealed that he had kept on writing even after the publisher went bankrupt, and that his current book was weird in a “Kilgore Trout” Vonnegut way: that he’d written himself into the book, meeting his characters in his house.
Taking time out to discuss their weird situation at a laundromat, Dean read aloud the latest pages from Chuck while Sam loaded laundry into the machines – and in the pages Dean was reading, he was reading about himself in a laundromat reading about himself while Sam did laundry. The words on the page anticipated Sam’s thoughts and reactions perfectly. Meanwhile, back at Chuck’s house, Chuck was slumped over his desk in the throes of an alcoholic nightmare, this time about Sam opening the door in a motel and then turning around to see a blonde woman whose eyes turned Lilith-white inviting him over to the bed, caressing him, and drawing him down to the bed with her, at which point Chuck jerked awake.
Alerted by Chuck that he’d written another chapter, the boys went back to his house, and Chuck warned them that according to what he’d dreamed, Lilith was coming for Sam in an adult host, and would seduce him into sex. Sam ridiculed the idea, but Dean pursued understanding what was going on with Chuck. Chuck explained that his stories always started with him getting a terrible headache that aspirin wouldn’t touch, so he would drink until he fell asleep, and then he would dream. Anticipating Dean’s request to read what he’d written in order to find a way around it, Chuck handed Dean the latest pages. Driving in the car, Sam read what appeared to be nonsense in the upcoming pages involving Dean having an accident with a minivan, seeing stars, scratching at pink flower Band-Aids on his face, and driving the Impala with a flapping tarp over the back window. Despite the incongruous details, Dean maintained that Chuck hadn’t been wrong yet and that they weren’t ready to confront Lilith. He insisted they leave, but they found themselves stuck because the only road out of town was closed by a washed-out bridge.
Stopping at a diner, Dean offered a new plan: since the book pages set them on an intercept course with Lilith, if they did everything opposite to what the book said, they should be able to avoid her. The pages included them fighting, so they wouldn’t argue; contrary to what was written, Sam wouldn’t do research and Dean wouldn’t drive around in the Impala. Sam slyly noted that meant that Dean couldn’t eat a bacon cheeseburger, either, so Dean ordered the veggie tofu burger instead – but the waitress brought him a bacon cheeseburger by mistake. Trying desperately not to argue while still disagreeing, Dean expressed frustration with Sam’s reckless desire to confront Lilith, while Sam expressed frustration with Dean’s choice to hide rather than fight. Dean maintained that he wasn’t hiding, but being smart; picking battles and avoiding the ones they weren’t ready to fight.
Since the book said that Lilith found Sam at the Red Motel, Dean checked them into the fleabag Toreador instead, placing hex bags around the room to block Lilith’s detection. He confiscated Sam’s laptop to prevent research and, since the book said that he spent the day driving in the Impala, decided simply to park her away from the motel instead. As he drove away, the motel’s sign flickered and most of the letters burned out, leaving only the word, “Red.” Finding a spot and leaving the Impala locked, Dean started to walk back, only to see two kids trying to break into the car. Running to stop them, Dean was hit by a minivan, and passed out in the road.
Sam, meanwhile, called Chuck to visit him at the motel, and asked whether he’d had any visions of Sam when Dean wasn’t around. Chuck revealed that he knew about Sam drinking demon blood, but said that he’d never even written it down because he thought it would make Sam’s character unsympathetic, doing something so wrong. Sam admitted that it scared the hell out of him, that he could feel it inside him and wished that he could stop, but argued that he had no choice if it would help him kill Lilith and stop the apocalypse. When Chuck asked if that wasn’t Dean’s job, according to what the angels had said, Sam maintained that Dean hadn’t been himself since getting out of Hell, that he needed help and that Sam wanted to watch out for him the way that he had always watched out for Sam. Chuck asked if he was certain of that, or if the real reason was that the demon blood made him feel stronger, more in control. Sam denied it. Chuck offered his sympathy, saying he knew it was hard feeling as if it all rested on Sam’s shoulders, and when Sam asked if it did, Chuck said that’s where the story seemed to be heading.
Dean woke up in the street, seeing the stars foretold in Chuck’s manuscript in the form of the dangling star earrings worn by the van’s driver, who apologized not only for hitting him but for her daughter having put flowered Band-Aids on his face. He drove back to Chuck’s with a tarp imperfectly covering the Impala’s smashed rear window, and was waiting when Chuck walked in. He accused Chuck of knowing more than he had said about how he knew so much about them, and when Chuck denied it, Dean physically threatened him – and Castiel appeared, telling him that Chuck had to be protected, not harmed, because he was a prophet of the Lord and his books about the Winchesters would one day be known as the Winchester gospel. Chuck confessed having dreamed about Castiel telling him he was a prophet, but said he hadn’t written it because it was too arrogant to be believed. Castiel maintained that what the prophet had written couldn’t be unwritten; that as he had seen it, so it would come to pass.
Returning to the motel, Dean discovered the changed motel sign. Bursting into the room and announcing that they were leaving even if they had to swim, he discovered that Sam had burned the hex bags and refused to leave. He told Sam what he’d learned from Castiel about Chuck being a prophet, meaning that Lilith really would turn up, but Sam insisted on confronting her. He asked Dean outright if Dean thought he would go dark side, and Dean admitted it, saying that Castiel had told him what Sam had done to Alastair, that they knew Sam was using his psychic powers and getting stronger, although they didn’t know why or how. Dean picked up his bag to walk out the door, but couldn’t do it; he threw his bag aside before he stormed out again. At wit’s end, he prayed aloud for help and Castiel appeared, noting approvingly that prayer was a sign of faith. He said that he couldn’t interfere with a prophecy. Dean begged him for help, and when Cas still refused, Dean issued the ultimatum that if Cas didn’t help him now, he shouldn’t ask when the angels really needed him. Cas called him back and said it was important that Dean understand why he couldn’t help, and explained that prophets were protected; that if anything threatened a prophet, an archangel – the most fierce, absolute, and fearsome weapon of Heaven – would defend him. Realizing that if a prophet were in the same room as a demon, an archangel would destroy the demon, Dean thanked Castiel and went to fetch Chuck to confront Lilith. Chuck protested that he hadn’t seen this and wasn’t a fighter, but Dean threatened to shoot him if he refused, betting he’d be faster than an archangel’s defense, and Chuck gave in.
At the motel, Lilith appeared inside the motel room when Sam opened the door to a knock. She broke the devil’s trap he’d hidden beneath a rug, and withstood his attempt to destroy her as he’d destroyed Alastair. She offered him a deal instead. She said that she had learned she wouldn’t survive the apocalypse, that she was fated to die before the good part would start. She offered to stop breaking seals and leave Lucifer in his prison in exchange for both Sam’s and Dean’s lives. Taunting him that self-sacrifice was the Winchester way and asserting that he would prove himself no different from her if he wasn’t willing to sacrifice himself to save 6 billion innocent souls, when he knew she would have to follow through if she made a deal, she got him to say yes, but then said that it would take a lot more than a kiss to seal it. She sat on the bed and patted the spot beside her, drawing Sam to her, and he went – but as he settled on the bed and reached for her, he snatched up the demon-killing knife from the nightstand and struck. She wrestled it away from him just as the door burst open and Chuck and Dean entered, and the room began to shake and fill with light even as Dean proclaimed that she had about ten seconds before the room filled with an archangel’s wrath and killed her. Lilith smoked out of her host and fled, and the light and shaking subsided.
In the car driving away, Sam told Dean about the deal Lilith had offered, and claimed never to have considered it because she would have found a way to weasel out of the deal and all it would have cost would have been the Winchesters’ lives. Sam said that Lilith was running from something and that she was right about not surviving the apocalypse, because he would make sure of that. Chuck, meanwhile, woke from another nightmare to discover Zachariah in his room asking if he’d seen it. Shaken, Chuck asked if everything he had seen was going to happen, and Zachariah asked if he’d ever been wrong yet. Chuck wanted to warn Sam and Dean, but the angel warned him not to try, saying that people shouldn’t know too much about their own destiny. Zachariah said that he would stop Chuck if he tried, and when Chuck, despondent, said that he would kill himself, Zachariah maintained that they would just bring him back to life. When Chuck, despairing, asked what he should do, Zachariah told him to write.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
A show doing meta on itself is always venturing into dangerous territory, breaking the usual walls between the fiction and the viewer, but I thought Supernatural did a good job of it without doing excessive violence either to its own integrity or to the fans. I suspect that the depiction of fans amused most, offended some, embarrassed more, and hurt others, but I think that all those reactions spoke more to what the fans themselves brought to the table than to what the episode did. For the record, I saw myself in the funhouse mirror and laughed out loud.
In this discussion, I’m going to explore the dichotomy between free will and predestination brought into focus yet again by the Winchester brothers and the prophet Chuck; speculate about Sam and Dean; and tease out observations concerning the show and its fans.
I Am The Prophet, Chuck!
From the very beginning, this series has played with the collision between the concepts of choice and destiny, between free will and fate. The show started by asking the question why Mary Winchester burned on the ceiling of Sam’s nursery when he was six months old, because without that singular stimulus, John would never have become a hunter and raised his sons to be the same. When Sam first started exhibiting his powers, which we first began to understand in Bloody Mary and which he finally openly admitted to Dean in Home, we had to ask right along with the brothers what was happening to him and what relation it bore to the events at the beginning of the story. When Sam learned from Azazel’s mouth in Devil’s Trap that the demon had plans for him, he began to fear that he was destined to turn into something evil, and that fear consumed him throughout season two. By the end of that season, in All Hell Breaks Loose, he’d still learned only part of the tale; he discovered that he’d been fed demon blood and given powers to be part of a contest that would determine which of Azazel’s specially altered children would command his demon army, but he didn’t learn what was supposed to happen next because things didn’t go as Azazel had planned. Sam ultimately chose to refuse to play Azazel’s game, and died. Dean chose to bring Sam back by selling his own soul. Jake became Azazel’s chosen tool and opened the devil’s gate, but was killed by Sam. Finally, Dean killed Azazel, leaving the demon army without a leader.
Fate was less of an overt concern throughout season three, except insofar as it concerned the clock ticking on the outcome of Dean’s choice to bring Sam back to life; that Dean would go to Hell at the end of a year. Dean’s fate was one he had brought on himself through his own choice, based on his inability to live without his brother. Dean refused to allow Sam to put himself on the block by exploring the powers that Ruby insisted he still had, and unable to find any other way around the deal, Dean died and went to Hell on schedule, killed by Lilith’s hellhounds.
Season four brought the concepts of fate and destiny back with a vengeance for both brothers. Alone and bereft, Sam turned to Ruby and the reawakening of his powers in order to try getting his brother back, and failing that, to get his vengeance on Lilith. In making that choice, Sam apparently started down a slippery slope of addiction to his powers and to the means of making them stronger. We don’t know what waits at the bottom of that slope, but we’ve been led to fear that it isn’t good. Meanwhile, Dean breaking under torture in Hell also broke the first Seal of the many keeping Lucifer confined, and as we learned in On The Head Of A Pin,, the righteous man who began the apocalypse is the only one who can finish it. Both of the brothers appear to be trapped by fate, to be walking down increasingly predestined roads.
The introduction of the prophet Chuck would appear to suggest that the future is written and the brothers are doomed to meet fates already predetermined. Castiel said, What the prophet has written can’t be unwritten; as he has seen it, so it shall come to pass.
I would submit, however, that choice and free will remain in despite of prophecy, and will play crucial roles in how the story continues. And I offer this episode in support of that argument.
When the Winchesters tried to negate prophecy by doing the opposite of what Chuck’s text said, they were still defeated by events beyond their choice: the only road out of town was blocked, the waitress brought the wrong order, letters on the motel sign burned out to show the predicted name. Those things suggested that prophecy could not be avoided; that their course was predestined and their fate inescapable. However, I would point out that flexibility still remained precisely because (1) Chuck didn’t see everything, and (2) didn’t accurately interpret some of what he saw. Chuck saw Sam succumbing to Lilith’s blandishments and both of them “sinking into the throes of fiery demonic passion” – his vision apparently stopped where Sam got onto the bed, so he didn’t see Sam’s move for the knife and he didn’t perceive that what he was seeing was a ploy, not an actual surrender to desire on Sam’s part. He extrapolated the outcome from imagination, not from divine inspiration or from witnessing it, and thus not everything he wrote was immutable prophecy. Even beyond that, though, I would say the biggest argument in favor of the importance of choice and free will was Dean’s refusal to give up and his insistence, acting on the information Castiel was able to give him, on bringing Chuck to confront Lilith in order to bring an archangel into play. Chuck protested that he hadn’t seen what Dean was describing, that he wouldn’t do it because he didn’t know it would happen. Dean’s insistence, however, made it happen despite Chuck not having foreseen it, and made the end result of Sam’s meeting with Lilith something totally different than what Chuck had prophesied.
Throughout history, stories have warned against relying on prophecy precisely because it can be misinterpreted and is incomplete. Greek myth abounds with stories of people putting their own spin on the vague words spoken by the oracle at Delphi, and bringing about through their own actions the very doom that they were trying to avoid. Neither Dean nor Sam fully invested in Chuck’s prophecy, Dean because he could not give up on saving his brother and Sam because he denied the thought that he could be seduced into sex with Lilith. What Chuck had foreseen did come to pass, but it didn’t mean what he thought it did when he wrote it, and because his vision was incomplete, it didn’t end in truth the way he had expected in dream.
And that could put an entirely different spin on Zachariah’s words at the end of the episode. When he told Chuck not even to try warning Sam and Dean of whatever horrible thing he had seen, saying that people shouldn’t know too much about their own destiny, it came off as a threat, and one emphatically not with the greater good of the Winchester brothers in mind. That may be a misleading impression, however, because avoiding the fatalism and inside-the-box decisions that come with thinking you know what you face may be crucial to the Winchesters making the right choices not to fulfill what appears to be their destiny, the very same way that Dean’s refusal to accept Chuck’s prophecy about Lilith and Sam led him to choose a course of action that changed the outcome everyone had expected. Zachariah intentionally withholding prophetic warning from the brothers might actually help them avoid being trapped by their acceptance of the inevitability of prophecy.
Of course, it’s also possible that Zachariah, by withholding information, hopes to force them down the prophesied path that reflects the desires of Heaven, on the theory that keeping them in the dark won’t give them enough information about what’s coming to formulate an alternate plan as Dean did in this episode. We’ll just have to wait and see.
One last point is that we also don’t know to what extent Chuck was actually foreseeing all the events that he wrote about in the Supernatural novels, as opposed simply to witnessing them. The writers of the Christian gospels were not prophets as the term is commonly used, but rather chroniclers: in contrast to the Old Testament prophets and such individuals as John the Baptist who predicted future events, the evangelists wrote their accounts after the fact. Chuck seems to combine both functions, prediction and chronicle writing, and thus it’s not clear to me how much of the brothers’ past was indeed prophecy – the foreseen truth that had to happen as it did – and how much might have been the product of their free-willed choices that Chuck was simply shown. I emphatically don’t believe that the mere existence of Chuck’s “Winchester gospel” indicates that none of the brothers’ choices were actually free. I would bet instead that the books were a combination of events witnessed and prophecies made, and that we’ll never be certain which was which.
You Think This Is Funny? You Don’t?
The brothers’ differing perceptions were very much on display, and this time, they actually talked about them. The scene in the diner where they both consciously resisted turning their disagreements into an open fight was marvelous not only for the humor of watching them try not to fly off the handle, but for seeing them actually finally connect and speak openly about what they were thinking and feeling. Even after the diner, that connection remained. They were fighting, but still talking.
Their dialogue confirmed that not all information has been shared, however. It confirmed that Sam has still been hiding his demon blood addiction from Dean, and also that Sam didn’t even tell Dean about having killed Alastair; Dean made clear that Castiel was the one who told him that. Sam looked uncomfortable with that knowledge, and yet simultaneously relieved that Dean and Castiel evidently didn’t know anything more; his fear of being found out on the demon blood addiction was palpable.
Sam’s complete lack of surprise or question when Chuck referred to killing Lilith and stopping the apocalypse as being Dean’s job, according to what the angels say, suggested that either Dean or Castiel has told Sam about Dean being the one slated to finish things. I wonder whether that included telling Sam that Dean’s breaking in Hell was the first Seal? I noticed that Chuck didn’t mention it, but Dean hasn’t been keeping much in the way of secrets from Sam since he spilled the truth about his memories of Hell. And I was intrigued when Chuck agreed with Sam, despite his comment about ending the apocalypse being Dean’s job, that the story seemed to be going toward everything resting on Sam’s shoulders. I can’t help but think that everything rests on the choices that both of the brothers make, that they are crucial to each other and both are crucial to the whole.
Chuck, like Pamela before him in Death Takes A Holiday, gently challenged Sam to look at his real motivations. Sam maintained that he had to continue with the demon blood in order to be strong enough to kill Lilith and stop the apocalypse, to carry the burden that he felt Dean couldn’t carry any longer after what had happened to him in Hell. Sam expressed it as the desire to return the favor for Dean having looked out for him his whole life. Chuck agreed that was possible, but asked Sam to consider whether the motive might not be something else – like the demon blood making him feel stronger, more in control. Sam’s immediate and adamant refusal to acknowledge any motive but the altruistic one shouted louder than words just how deeply he is in denial about what he knows at his core to be wrong. Until he realizes and admits that, he’s not going to be able to choose any different course than the one he’s on.
That Sam’s rationale is only an excuse was made clear by the change in Dean this episode. His time off from himself in It’s A Terrible Life evidently worked to let him recover a little from the apathy that permeated him at the beginning and the despair that afflicted him at the end of On The Head Of A Pin: he didn’t lack for take-charge action when it came to trying to protect his brother, and he was firing on all cylinders while trying to think of ways to defeat prediction. The Dean we saw in this episode was the closest we’ve come to pre-Hell Dean so far this season. That said, however, he was still far from healed; the fragility of his hold on confidence was apparent in his pleading resort to prayer. Still, Sam glossing over that positive change and continuing to harp on Dean not being himself and needing help really made it seem to me as if Sam was clinging to his excuse by avoiding seeing that it was becoming hollow.
At least they got into the open Dean’s fear that Sam will go dark side, based just on the things he’s done and even without the knowledge of what Sam’s doing to bolster his power. Dean admitted it, but he also showed the steadfastness of his love by his inability to leave Sam when Sam called his bluff by refusing even to try to avoid the predicted confrontation with Lilith.
Perhaps the most profound flip between the brothers was Dean actually praying for help. We had learned all the way back in Houses of the Holy both that Sam prayed every day and that Dean never had since his mother died, and didn’t believe he ever would again. Sam’s faith has since been beaten down by events and by the discovery that angels are far different than what he believed; Dean, despite events and that same discovery, is experiencing faith for the very first time. Even his belief that angels – well, apart from Castiel and Anna – are dicks didn’t stop him from reaching out in his extremity for something he never sought before because he never believed in it before: the concept of a caring God. In fits and starts and with many setbacks, Dean’s worldview is nonetheless slowly changing to accept faith.
Oh, Check It Out; There’s Actually Fans
The shout-out to the fans in this episode couldn’t have been any more blatant. The comments on there not being many fans for the books went right along with the books-as-show-analogue lines about them being obscure with almost zero circulation, and starting in 2005. Considering that everyone I speak to who isn’t already a fan says that they never heard of the show, and that every time I mention that it’s on the CW, people say that they’ve never heard of the channel and don’t get cable, the audience that the show does manage to pull in every week is nothing short of miraculous, and the episode’s teasing slap at the show’s obscurity landed right on target.
The fan teasing was also dead-on in terms of the most vocal and visible elements in fandom. For fans, they sure complain a lot … there are Sam girls and Dean girls and – what’s a slash fan? It’s unfortunate that the most readily visible elements of any and all fandoms tend also to be the most extreme ones, opening up the whole to ridicule and snark, but as the saying goes, the truth only hurts when it ought, and I saw nothing mean-spirited and much wickedly on-point in the show turning the tables on us, the fans. Considering the knee-jerk, blatantly critical reactions exhibited by a lot of the most vocal fandom elements on such sites as www.TelevisionWithoutPity.com to virtually every announcement about any potential change to the show and to any perceived shortcoming in a script or performance, not to mention the outpouring of vitriol directed at various recurring female characters, that first zinger made me snicker with appreciation. I started writing my reviews at the beginning of season two precisely because I was dismayed at the amount of negative comments on forums bitching about how the show was so different from (read: worse than) the first season and how Sam and Dean were acting out of character, when what I saw was character and story growth and development. The virtual wars and sniping between Sam fans and Dean fans (whatever happened to show fans?) caused me to withdraw from most fan forums. Those jabs in this episode were perfectly on target. I’ll leave the slash alone; that’s a different meta.
While snarking the extremes of fandom, though, the episode also snarked the show’s own failings with equal pointedness and humor, including a couple of the episodes generally classed as the weakest not only by fans, but by the production itself. I’ll never forget the much-loved and much-missed Kim Manners hilariously pantomiming sticking a finger down his throat to make himself throw up when Bugs was mentioned at the Paley Festival, acknowledging mistakes made, and Eric Kripke admitting openly in L.A. that they’d made crucial and fatal errors with the way the writers had handled and used Bela not only in Red Sky At Morning, but as a general matter.
I saw myself reflected through a funhouse mirror in the role of the book publisher, the passionately devoted woman fiercely protective of the characters and emotionally invested in every trivial detail of the books/show, and I laughed out loud. Heck, she even had my two-toned brown/blonde hair! (No, I don’t really think that I was the visual inspiration for that, but the coincidence had me rolling on the floor laughing.) That I actually have a real life separate from the show and fandom (and I wouldn’t display my butt, tastefully decorated or not, to any strangers!) wasn’t the point; the point, well taken, was simply that I love the show to extremes and – like the publisher – am not at all shy about proclaiming it. My fan addiction doesn’t diminish the rest of what I am; it adds dimension and variety to an otherwise pretty mundane life. I’m the first one to laugh at the incongruity of a 50-plus year old professional civil servant waxing eloquent about a television show about two brothers hunting ghosts and demons and trying to prevent the apocalypse, so the show poking fun at my avowed obsession was all in good fun as far as I’m concerned.
I think the funniest tribute to the fans was simply that the episode established that the fiction of Sam and Dean was actually the truth – that the writer was a divinely inspired prophet and his publisher and fans were dedicated to the preservation and spread of a hidden truth. Amusingly enough, even in real life, that is real. Through the fiction of the show and these characters, we get to explore deeper truths about psychology, faith, philosophy, and the human spirit. Sometimes, the writers insert those elements intentionally; sometimes, as with Chuck, they may not realize that what they’ve put into a script, or what the actors have put into a performance or a director has put into a shot, will translate into something more true and more deep that resonates on a personal level with those of us who watch the show, and who then proceed to write meta analyses or engage in discussions that simply use the show as a springboard.
We fans have the last laugh.
Right from the start, this episode was a trip. In place of the customary “Then” montage of past scenes, we experienced a prophecy of our own by seeing a flashing sequence of scenes from the upcoming episode. That was followed by a specialty signature title card using art from the book covers in place of this season’s ominous black flutter of wings. Special title cards are a rare treat, and this one was delightful. The art crew get special props for all the illustrations in this episode, from book covers to posters to the book and fan websites. Adding in the real art from one of the comic books was another bonus.
I enjoyed the script by Julie Siege, both for the variety of in-jokes and for the depth of character development that it achieved. Carver Edlund, LARPing, the episode titles transformed into books, Chuck’s turgid and purple prose (intentionally worse than some fan fiction, truly!), Dean in the laundromat reading about himself reading in a laundromat, the publisher’s transparent passion, Chuck’s reaction to meeting his characters and learning they were real, all of the brilliant one-liners throughout – the script definitely brought the funny. The real joy was that it also brought the characters into beautiful focus, laying out the truth of the lies Sam has been telling himself to justify his actions while also showing how scared he is about losing his brother if Dean were to learn the full truth, and showing Dean having gained back enough of his strength and energy to fight full-out for his brother while still being so close to the edge of losing it all that he turns for the first time to prayer. Watching Castiel find a way to reach out to Dean while not directly contravening his orders, realizing at the same time that divine prophecy might not be quite as immutable as he had always thought, was nothing short of wizard. The episode’s use of the title of the Sesame Street book in which Grover tries to prevent the reader from reaching the end of the book because there’s a monster there, only to discover at the end that the monster is actually Grover himself and not very scary, sets up myriad possible interpretations. Are we getting more scared than we need to be, or is the monster at the end of our book truly a monster – and is it someone we know?
All that said, it’s time for me to do a little of that complaining that’s made us fans so infamous. The script suffered from a couple of major logic holes that really could have used some patch work. First off, unless this town was on an island in the middle of a river, having one bridge washout entirely cut the town off from the outside world made no sense at all. It may be roundabout, but you can almost always get there from here, unless you’ve got coincidence of biblical proportions cutting off all avenues. I’d have added something beyond just the bridge being out, with some comment about the freakishness of the situation. Second, it made no logical sense at all for Dean to have left Sam to go park the Impala somewhere. If the whole point was not to drive the Impala, why didn’t he just leave it parked safely where it already was, right outside the motel room door, and stick around to torment his brother and guarantee that he wouldn’t engage in research or do something reckless? Admittedly, the story had to get Dean away from Sam in order to let Sam connect privately with Chuck, but Dean driving off in the Impala in order to confound prophecy by not driving the Impala was a bzuh? of major proportions. To borrow a line from Hollywood Babylon, that needed an explainer, like Dean being concerned about advertising their location by having the eminently recognizable and traceable Impala right outside their door. Third, given that Sam knew that Lilith was going to try seducing him, why didn’t he put a devil’s trap beneath the bed, or better yet, hidden between the mattress and box spring, to augment the one beneath the rug? Sam’s a smart guy, but his preparation here didn’t really show that. Finally, why was Lilith concerned about the knife, apart from providing a script reason to establish that it would wind up within Sam’s reach? It may be that a direct and on-target heart shot could still kill even a demon of her caliber – Alastair’s line to Castiel in On The Head Of A Pin suggested that, when Cas’s throw went ever so slightly awry – but the knife seems a mostly empty threat to Lilith, and the line just demonstrated that Sam’s move for it was going to be eminently predictable and therefore obviously futile.
Enough with the complaining. The actors were a treat. I really liked Rob Benedict as Chuck, both for our funny introduction and particularly for his marvelous serious scene later with Sam in the motel room. An outsider who already knew about Sam’s demon blood habit but didn’t judge him or rail against him for it was the only character who could have prompted Sam to share what he was feeling. We’ve been missing that all season precisely because Sam is much too afraid of losing Dean’s love and trust completely to be willing to tell him, and talking about it with Ruby would have served no purpose. I could love Chuck just for providing that release valve.
I also enjoyed Keegan Connor Tracy as the publisher, whose name in the script – yet another joke! – was apparently “Sera Siege.” I recognized Tracy immediately as Karen Giles from The Usual Suspects, but the re-use of the actor in a different role didn’t bother me; I guess I’ve seen enough instances of almost doppelganger unrelated twins to be able to write off chance resemblances where the actor provides enjoyment. It did amuse me to realize that this was a repeat pairing of a director and guest actor: Mike Rohl also directed The Usual Suspects, which was his first outing on the show. Katherine Boecher didn’t have a lot of time to work with Lilith, but it was interesting to see Lilith so comfortable and secure in a grown-up body, taking its charms for granted.
Misha Collins brought new dimension to Castiel, particularly in the prayer scene with Dean. Watching his conflict played out on his face, particularly his very real fear of losing connection with Dean colliding with both his knowledge of the immutability of divine prophecy and his continued dedication to duty and orders, was a revelation. Castiel is becoming more emotional by the week, but at the same time, he’s still preserving his angelic essence. He’s making accommodations to remain true to himself and to God even while becoming more and more invested in his human charge, and every step he takes sets up additional conflict within his nature. I can’t help but think that, by the final chapters of the story – whatever they are – his role is going to be far different than what he ever expected. That said, however, I don’t see him falling; I see him defining a new template for what it means to be an angel in the days of the demon apocalypse.
This was a great episode to let Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki open the doors of understanding on both Dean and Sam. In their forced circumstances of disagreeing while trying not to fight, we finally got to see the brothers talking through some of the things that have been festering within them. They didn’t reach resolution, but they became more open about where the bones of contention lie between them. While that was a good thing, it likely means that when those disagreements explode – probably when Dean finds out about the demon blood – the blast will be epic and the shrapnel will slice them both to ribbons. Both of these guys are giving beautifully layered performances every week; I can’t say enough about them, but I keep running out of words.
I like Mike Rohl as a director. His On The Head Of A Pin this season had killer intensity and his complimentary lightness through most of this episode made a nice counterpoint. One sweet little touch I appreciate is that, in his scenes with the boys in the Impala, he doesn’t cheat by taking out the rear view mirror. It’s awkward to shoot around, but he does it. For this episode, I wondered whether his choice of motel location was deliberate, because if it was, he gets major symbolism points in my book. The Toreador in different clothing was The Conquistador of Malleus Maleficarum, which meant that in this episode, Dean getting a drink from the soda machine wound up in a colloquy with an angel about prophecy on the very same turf where Dean getting a drink from the soda machine had his heart-to-heart with Ruby and learned what would happen to him in Hell. And I loved every instant of the laundromat scene, particularly us getting to see both Sam’s and Dean’s faces as Dean read Chuck’s pages. Thank you, Julie Siege, for giving us a scene set in a laundromat, and thank you Mike Rohl for shooting it so well!
The background score by Christopher Lennertz gave me one laugh out loud moment. In keeping with the cheesiness of Chuck’s prophetic books and the meta commentary that the show was serving up on itself, the underscore had its own cheesy self-referential moment when Dean went to fetch Chuck to put him up against Lilith. As Chuck protested that he was a writer, not a hero, Dean gripped his shoulder and gave him the “step up and fight” speech. The score swelled with a heroically stirring and deliberately bombastic build-up to Chuck’s answer – and crashed dead when Chuck flat-out refused to go. Wheee! I also loved the sound crew’s addition of a crow cawing as Dean drove, tarp flapping, to Chuck’s house.
This episode managed the feat of being two things at once: a funny self-referential meta that teased both itself and the fans, and a deep precursor to the drama to come. On most series, the funny meta episode would be just that: a funny meta hour. It’s a brilliant and telling commentary on the nature of Supernatural that the funny transforms into the serious and leaves us thinking deep, dark, scary thoughts about just who exactly is the monster at the end of the book.