Despair ends the world.
From future loss, one lesson:
Brotherhood is hope.
Exhausted after a long drive, Dean arrived at night in Kansas City, brushing past a sidewalk evangelist on his way into a hotel. Castiel called on his cell phone reporting rumors of the Colt, which he said was Dean’s best shot if he was still pursuing his insane plan to kill Lucifer. Learning where Dean was staying, Castiel intended to pop in, but Dean protested that he was human and needed to sleep for four hours, and Castiel agreed to wait. At 04:15, Dean’s phone rang again, waking him, and it was Sam. Sam reported what Lucifer had said about Sam being his vessel, but Dean was too numb from all the emotional overload of recent events to react much. Sam said he wanted to rejoin Dean and get back into the fight, to stop being a puppet and to hunt down Lucifer not for revenge, but redemption. Dean refused, telling Sam he thought they were weaker when they were together because the demons could use their love and sense of family against them. Sadly and with effort, he said they’d have a better chance of dodging Lucifer and Michael if they stayed apart, and he said goodbye and hung up.
Dean woke up in the same room in daylight, but it wasn’t the same; the room was a gutted version of the place he’d fallen asleep, and the bed consisted of naked springs. Looking out the window, he saw apocalyptic devastation, a neighborhood gutted by fire with trash and dead vehicles in the streets. Exploring, he heard glass breaking, and found a young girl dressed in filthy rags crouching in the street. When he approached, she exploded in mindless, shrieking violence, attacking him with a shard of glass. He knocked her out, and then saw the word “Croatoan” amid graffiti on a wall. Other people began to emerge onto the street, all of them with the zombie attitude he remembered, and he ran for his life. Coming up against a chain-link fence, he was trapped – but an armored personnel carrier rolled up outside and the soldiers poured indiscriminate fire into the zombies through the fence. Diving sideways, Dean escaped into an alley. After dark, he found a way through the fence, and saw on the outside a Croatoan virus hot zone quarantine sign dated August 1, 2014.
Hot-wiring a car, he started driving toward Bobby’s, discovering he had no cell phone reception and the radio was nothing but static. Zachariah appeared beside him in the car reading horror stories out of the newspaper. Responding to Dean’s question about how the angel had found him, Zachariah said they’d been making inspirational visits to fringe religious groups, putting them on watch for him. Zachariah told Dean he would have three days in the future before being returned to his own time, three days in which to see how his refusal to host Michael had affected the world. Zachariah disappeared.
At Bobby’s, Dean found the house deserted and Bobby’s wheelchair overturned with bullet holes and bloodstains on the chair back. Opening a secret compartment in the mantel, he pulled out Bobby’s hunter journal, and found a photo in the back of Bobby, Castiel, and several other men posing with guns by a sign for Camp Chitaqua. Arriving there at night, he found the compound fenced and guarded. Seeing the Impala inside, derelict and stripped, he found his way in to examine the car, and got knocked out – by himself.
He woke up handcuffed to the rungs of a ladder, guarded by the future version of himself. Future Dean noted that he had passed all the usual tests of silver, salt, and holy water while he was unconscious, but was curious that he had all the same hidden toys – lockpicks, box cutters, and the like – where Future Dean kept them. Dean told about Zachariah flinging him into the future, and Future Dean was oddly intent on wanting to talk to the missing angel. As one last test, Future Dean insisted he tell him something only Dean would know, and Dean recounted a sexual encounter when they were 19 in which the girl in question made them try on her satiny pink panties – which they kind of liked doing. Future Dean brought him up to speed on the Croatoan virus having started to hit major cities two years earlier, with the world rapidly going to hell.
When Dean asked about Sam, his future self said there had been a major dust-up in Detroit, and from what he understood, Sam didn’t walk out of it. Shocked and surprised, Dean questioned his future self about not having been with Sam, and Future Dean said that he and Sam hadn’t spoken for five years – meaning the phone call in which Dean had just pushed Sam away had evidently been their last contact in this timeline. Troubled, Dean asked if they had never tried to find Sam, and his future self observed they had other people to worry about. Future Dean departed on a mission leaving Dean still handcuffed, being open about not trusting him and worried about the effect knowing of the duplication would have on his camp of survivors.
Dean pried a nail out of the floor to pick the cuffs. Outside the cabin, he ran into Chuck, who reported on the growing shortage of hygiene supplies. Without his future self’s experience at command, Dean couldn’t give orders, and then ducked a literal attack from one of the camp’s female fighters, Risa, who rounded on him for having spent the night with another woman. Dean asked after Cas, and found him uncharacteristically relaxed in a cabin with four women preparing for an orgy under the guise of opening them to a shared perception of reality. Cas sent the women away, but the moment he looked at Dean, realized that he wasn’t “now you.” Dean told Cas to strap on his angel wings and send Dean back home, but Cas laughed bitterly that he couldn’t do it, and Dean realized that Cas was stoned on drugs or booze.
Leaving Cas’s cabin, Dean saw Future Dean’s scouting group returning, and to his shock and horror, saw his future self unhesitatingly gun down one of his own men after tossing him a beer. In a move reminiscent of John, Future Dean told his troops that when they needed to know why there were suddenly two of him, they would be told, and shoved Dean back into a cabin. He overrode Dean’s protests by saying his team had been jumped by Croats – infected humans – on their way out of a hot zone, and the man he’d just killed had been infected, showing subtle symptoms as they headed back. Dean asked what the mission had been, and his future self opened his bag to pull out the Colt, saying that he’d been hunting it for five years while the demons constantly moved it around. Now that he had it, he intended to use it to kill Lucifer.
At the strategy meeting with Risa and Cas, Dean learned to his dismay that his future self had taken up torturing again to wring Lucifer’s location out of a captured demon. Future Dean laid down a map of Lucifer’s location, right in the center of a quarantine zone. Cas called him on the recklessness of the plan, but agreed to come anyway. Cas asked why Dean was included in the mission, since Future Dean would be screwed if anything happened to his past self, but Future Dean insisted. Cas and Risa left to assemble the rest of their strike team, while Dean pressed to understand why he was being included. Future Dean told him he’d be fine since Zachariah was looking after him, but there was something he needed to see – Sam. Future Dean said Sam didn’t die in Detroit: he said yes to Lucifer, and became Lucifer’s vessel. Dean asked why Sam had done it, and his future self said he wished he knew, but now he had no choice: he had to kill Sam to kill Lucifer. Future Dean told his past self that he needed to see it, that he needed to see just how bad it got so he would do it differently. Future Dean ordered Dean to say yes to Michael, to end the apocalypse before it reached the current point, saying losing half the planet was better than losing it all. He told his past self that he had tried to say yes to Michael after it was too late, but the angels were already gone. Dean, appalled, said there had to be another way, and his future self said that’s what he had thought; that he’d been cocky and never really thought he could lose, but he was wrong. He begged – but then observed despondently that Dean wouldn’t say yes, because he hadn’t.
As the group assembled to leave, Chuck told Dean to hoard toilet paper, because it was gold. The cars pulled out at midnight and Dean rode with Cas, who was taking amphetamines to counter the absinthe. Under a thin veneer of bitter humor, Cas said he was no longer an angel, that his mojo had faded away when the rest of the angels left and he was now mortal, physically vulnerable, virtually human, and essentially worthless.
In the quarantine zone in daylight, the group walked to the sanitarium where Lucifer was supposedly holed up, meeting no demons and no Croats. Future Dean outlined a plan to go into the building to the second floor, telling his team the bad guys would never see them coming, but Dean could tell his future self was lying. Taken aside for a private confrontation, his future self agreed, saying that the whole setup was obviously a trap, but they wouldn’t be in it because he was sending in his strike force as decoys, as sacrifice pawns, while the Deans would slip in the back and take down Lucifer. Angered and sickened by the thought that his future self intended to sacrifice his friends – something Dean would never do – he proclaimed he wouldn’t let it happen. Future Dean sucker-punched him unconscious.
He woke to the sounds of a firefight and saw muzzle flashes up in the building windows. Desperate to help, he ran around back and saw Future Dean on the ground, disarmed, his neck under Lucifer’s foot – and Lucifer in Sam’s body pressed down and twisted, casually breaking Future Dean’s neck, then turning around to greet Dean. Observing that he was a surprise and had obviously come a long way to see this, Lucifer declined to kill Dean again because it would be redundant. He expressed sympathy for how hard it must be for Dean to talk to him in this shape, but said it always had to be Sam. Dean avoided his compassionate touch. Lucifer said Dean didn’t have to be afraid of him, wondering what Dean thought he was going to do, and when Dean speculated about him deep-frying the planet, Lucifer turned in seeming shock to ask why he would do that, why he would destroy the last perfect handiwork of God. Lucifer told his story of being cast down for refusing to bow down to God’s flawed creation of murderous man, but Dean refused to accept it, maintaining Lucifer was like every ugly, evil supernatural thing he’d ever hunted, just with a bigger ego. Lucifer smiled and said he liked Dean, that he saw what the other angels saw in him, and then said goodbye, telling Dean he’d see him again soon. Dean warned that Lucifer had better kill him now, or he would find a way to kill Lucifer, but Lucifer gently maintained that what Dean did wouldn’t matter. Lucifer said he knew Dean would never say yes to Michael and would never kill Sam, and no matter what small details he changed, they would still end up in the same place, and Lucifer would still win. Telling Dean he would see him in five years, Lucifer disappeared – and Zachariah touched Dean, bringing him back to now.
Zachariah pressed Dean to say yes to Michael and avert the future he’d seen, but Dean refused, telling the angel he’d learned his lesson, but not the one the angel had tried to teach. Zachariah, furious, said it didn’t matter, that he had Dean and wouldn’t let him get away again – but in that very moment, Castiel whisked Dean away, landing him on the street corner where he’d waited to keep their appointment. Dean thanked him for his timing and told him never to change, and then pulled out his cell phone to do something he said he should have done before: he called Sam.
The brothers reunited with more than a little hesitation and discomfort. Dean returned Sam’s demon-killing knife and apologized to him, saying he was wrong. Sam asked what had made him change his mind, and he simply said it was a long story, but the point was, even if they were each other’s Achilles heel and could be used against each other, they were all they had, and they kept each other human. Sam thanked him and promised not to let him down. Trying to reestablish a little of their old ease, Dean teasingly agreed that Sam was the second-best hunter on the planet. When Sam asked what they’d do now, Dean replied they would make their own future.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
There’s nothing about this episode I didn’t love. In reaching into the future, it called back into the past, and that consistency is at the heart of what keeps these characters so real and true and growing. In this discussion, I’m going to focus on what the brothers do for each other and the lessons Dean learned from his vision of the future, with a side order of time travel versus dreams and a look at Sam.
More Than That: We Keep Each Other Human
I had to use this as the tag line for this episode because it may be the truest thing ever spoken on Supernatural. When Dean uses “human,” he’s doesn’t just mean “not supernatural.” He’s talking about more than just Sam not becoming a demon or Lucifer’s vessel, and more than himself not becoming Michael’s condom. Dean uses the word to mean all the definitions of humanity, which encompass not only biological but also spiritual and philosophical elements, particularly those that speak to the best characteristics within us as human beings. Webster’s includes in that list “the fact or quality of being humane: kindness, mercy, sympathy, etc.” Future Dean held no more humanity in that sense than Lucifer, and I think that appalling shock of recognition as much as the horror of what had happened to Sam, Castiel, and the world hammered home for Dean the essential lesson that the brothers need each other to be able to survive as themselves.
We’ve seen throughout the series how the brothers have anchored each other to ethical and moral codes intended to preserve the best attributes within them, serving as each other’s conscience and moral compass whenever needed. In the very beginning, as early as Wendigo, the conflicts seemed simple: Dean held to compassion and the mission of saving people, enjoying hunting and killing evil along the way, while Sam focused on revenge for Jess and searching for John to achieve the mission of hunting things, intending to escape the hunting world when his revenge was done. Along the way, however, we quickly saw those roles were fluid, as in Faith and Nightmare when we saw Dean exhibit ruthless practicality in his willingness to kill humans for doing evil things while Sam was appalled by the thought of crossing that moral line. They reinforced each other’s compassion throughout the season, with at least one of them always holding sympathy for whomever they were trying to help and bringing the other along.
In Dean’s downward emotional spiral in the first half of season two we saw hints and flashes of his potential to become Future Dean, including the satisfaction he took in the brutality of vampire hunting in Bloodlust and – very appropriately given the resurgence of the virus in The End – his cold, pragmatic execution of infected Mrs. Tanner in Croatoan. We saw then what Dean could become when an excess of pain, grief, and fury caused him to shut down and withdraw. It scared us and it scared Sam – and it was seeing Sam’s fear that finally got through to Dean and pulled him back from the brink. It was only Sam’s protest that kept Dean from killing Lenore in Bloodlust and shooting Duane in Croatoan.
Dean similarly tried to ground Sam in his own humanity through the first and second seasons as Sam became more and more afraid of his purported destiny turning him into something he wasn’t. Dean was always there – in Home, Nightmare, Salvation, Simon Said, Playthings, Houses of the Holy, and more – to say that Sam was his brother, not a killer, and to promise that he’d be there to help.
Season three saw the brothers flip again as Sam, ever more desperate to save Dean from his deal, deliberately worked to harden himself to choices he would never have made before, like his ready and unexpected conclusion that they would need to kill the human witches in Malleus Maleficarum. The brothers’ disagreement over tactics in Jus In Bello brought that difference to the foreground; Sam considered sacrificing Nancy for the greater good, while Dean – in a marked difference from what he became as Future Dean here – argued that sacrificing innocents would make them no better than the demons they fought. Ruby twisted the outcome of that encounter into a warped demonstration that the greater good required becoming hard and cold and making logical decisions without regard for their human cost to individuals. After Dean died, deprived of the counterweight Dean had always provided, Sam bought into that argument, with its accompanying promise of achieving revenge on Lilith and being able to save possessed hosts. Dean’s return wasn’t enough to overcome the momentum of Ruby’s indoctrination.
In season four, the brothers’ ability to balance each other’s struggles with doing right and staying essentially human fell victim to the secrets between them and the changes within them. Scarred by his experiences in Hell, Dean knew just how much of a monster he could and had become, and feared both falling again and seeing his brother being led down his own version of that path. Sam, meanwhile, bought into the idea that by sacrificing himself he could save the world, and that his pursuit of power was really in the service of a higher goal. Neither of them could hear the other, and both angels and demons took advantage of the split and worked to make it wider.
Dean at the beginning of The End exhibited a lot of the same symptoms we saw in him early in season two. He was exhausted and drained both physically and emotionally, punchy from two many hard hits in way too short a time. Back then, it was being tortured by Azazel in his father’s body, nearly dying, being told to save Sam or kill him, seeing his father die, and realizing that John had gone to Hell for him. This time, it was even worse: unwittingly helping trigger the apocalypse, learning the angels actually intended to bring about the end of the world, seeing Sam walk out on him in anger and fall into Ruby’s trap to free Lucifer, seeing Bobby stab himself to save Dean and wind up crippled, learning he was intended to be Michael’s vessel and would lose himself in the process, and finally agreeing with Sam that they should go their own ways for a while. All of those things happened within a couple of weeks at most. It’s no wonder that he couldn’t react to Sam’s predawn announcement about being Lucifer’s target vessel: he had nothing left to react with any more, especially given his physical exhaustion at the time of the call.
Dean telling Sam they were better off apart echoed the one time Dean had agreed with John on that score, at the end of Shadow, but it most truly reflected what he’d said in No Rest For The Wicked about the demons using their love for each other against them. In Shadow, he spoke John’s party line despite his own longing to have his family together. He repudiated that and spoke his own heart in Dead Man’s Blood when he told both John and Sam that they were stronger together as a family. Only later, realizing what they were all willing to do for each other and how that had contributed to all of them being on paths to Hell, did he start to think like John. He refused Sam’s plea to get back together not out of mistrust or anger, but out of fatalism, pain, and the fear of more loss, and the grief of it showed in every line of his face and body.
Even though he refused Sam and said goodbye, it’s clear Dean never believed he could really make the break permanent or total. His first real question of his future self, once they’d sorted out how he’d gotten there and that the Croatoan virus was exactly as he remembered, was about Sam, showing that Sam was still at the top of his mind. He was honestly shocked that his future self not only hadn’t been with Sam when the big showdown happened in Detroit – whenever that was – but hadn’t even talked to Sam or sought him out for all of the five years difference between them. The thought of the phone conversation he’d just had with Sam having been their last contact was nearly incomprehensible to Dean, and the first true indication – well, apart from the derelict state of the Impala and the absence of his ring – that he and Future Dean were worlds apart.
The more he saw of his future self, the more he realized how inhuman he had become. Future Dean was burned out, empty of compassion, mercy, empathy, love; he had become as focused and obsessed as John, but without the last emotional human link that had allowed John in Devil’s Trap to push free of demonic possession just long enough to save his son. Future Dean’s version of compassion and mercy was simply shooting one of his men without first troubling him with knowing he’d been infected with the Croatoan virus. Future Dean didn’t see or care any more about the pain and loss beneath Castiel’s stoner, love guru lifestyle, or the fatalistic despair underlying Cas’s agreement to go along with the plan. He lied to his team to send them to their deaths without any hesitation or sorrow. I got the sense that he didn’t really have any hope of killing Lucifer in Sam either, but had simply chased the goal of the Colt for too long not to just make the attempt and get it over with. When he told Dean he’d never really thought he could lose, he was already defeated. The look on his face in the second before Lucifer broke his neck held nothing but an admonition to his past self to bear witness to how bad it got.
I’m not at all surprised that the lesson Dean took away from his future self wasn’t that he should have given in to Michael when he had the chance, but that he should never have walked away from Sam. Future Dean had gone so far from himself that it had obviously never even occurred to him that Sam might not have given in to Lucifer if he hadn’t been alone. In his need to deal quickly with the mounting crises of the apocalypse, he clearly hadn’t let himself agonize over choices any more, never realizing he was losing himself with every decision he made in favor of expedience and survival at the expense of compassion and love. He was as gutted and empty as the rusting hulk of the Impala, the symbol that’s always been the barometer of his soul. In an inhuman world, he eventually became an inhuman wreck and saw only an inhuman solution: giving in to the angels and accepting whatever pyrrhic victory they allowed.
Dean had his own history to demonstrate how much Sam did to keep him human, to keep him someone who could bear to look into his eyes in a mirror. He acknowledged it openly in Bloodlust, and whatever has passed since, he hasn’t forgotten. I can only guess that Future Dean wound up overwhelmed by apocalyptic events and never again found the time or faced the pain of looking within himself to realize what was happening to him and call Sam for help. Since Dean was the one who refused Sam, he was the one who needed to see the consequences of his choice while there was still time to change. In calling Sam, Dean chose to save himself. That it may give him the chance to also help save Sam, Castiel, and the rest of the world is icing on the cake, but he had to do it simply to be true to himself, and not turn into the very thing he fought.
We don’t know what finally made Future Sam say yes to Lucifer, but I don’t think the specific stimulus matters any more than which specific torture Dean suffered in Hell just before he broke. Despair is Lucifer’s weapon, and it’s cumulative. Dean eventually broke under it alone in Hell; Future Sam eventually broke under it alone in Hell on Earth. Neither one of them is weak, but both of them are human.
Now we have hope they can stay that way.
The Time For Tricks Is Over
Time travel and time paradox always make my head hurt. We can’t be certain whether Zachariah actually shifted Dean into the future or just gave him a very vivid dream of it, manipulating the situation to suit the lesson he wanted to teach. If it wasn’t a dream, then Zachariah would have had to stay close to Dean the entire time he spent in the future, because the Enochian sigil on his bones would otherwise have blocked Zachariah from being able to find him again after depositing him there. However, even with his debased powers, I would guess stoner Cas could have perceived Zachariah had he been on Dean’s shoulder the same way he instantly perceived that Dean himself was out of time. In Free To Be You And Me Cas was able to sense Raphael’s presence in the house an instant before he actually manifested there physically, so angels were evidently able to sense each other in the world under normal circumstances.
Aspects of that future world seemed suspiciously tailored to the specific lesson Zachariah intended to teach, and threatened angrily to teach again after Dean turned him down. Future Dean concluding so passionately that his mistake was in not giving in to Michael and never even considering – as Dean immediately did – that having broken with Sam was the real proximate cause could have been an indication that Zachariah was controlling Dean’s perception of events. Even Lucifer saying that whatever changes Dean might make wouldn’t matter because he knew Dean would never say yes to Michael and would never kill Sam might have been Zachariah trying to inveigle Dean into indulging his penchant for perversity by doing what an authority figure claimed he never could.
When last we saw time travel in season four’s In The Beginning, Castiel told Dean that he couldn’t have changed what happened. The past, it seemed, was fixed and unalterable, and either Dean had always gone back in time to play the role he did, or the fixed events just shaped around his presence. Castiel showed Dean the past to persuade him to take steps to prevent actions in the future. In The End, Zachariah maintained that Dean could change the future he had seen, which implies the future to be fluid while the past is fixed – but for Dean to have been there, that future had to have happened, making the events we saw of that future part of that future’s past – which should be fixed and unchangeable. Headache, yet?
Past and future are relative to our perceptions of our own lives, and are absolute only within our own minds. Remembering the past and wishing we could change it, and imagining the future and planning how to either achieve or avoid it are things we humans are good at.
But whether Zachariah put Dean into a real or an imagined future doesn’t really matter. The experience was real to Dean emotionally, and the decisions he made based on that experience are similarly real. It speaks to Zachariah’s single-mindedness and human-blindness that he perceived only one lesson Dean could learn and only one choice he could make from what he experienced. Dean’s choice speaks to his humanity, something Zachariah clearly doesn’t understand.
I Won’t Let You Down
We didn’t see a lot of Sam in this episode, but what we saw was key. His call to Dean being at oh-dark-fifteen in the morning suggested he was initiating the contact very shortly after waking from his dream encounter with Lucifer, perhaps as quickly as he could vacate the premises and put some miles between himself and the motel to ensure that, if Lucifer had been able to divine anything about his location, it wouldn’t do him any good. Sam was still freaked out by the realization of his connection with Lucifer, which to me indicates he was still in the very early stages of processing the information.
I loved that Sam immediately told Dean the truth. After all the secrets he kept in seasons three and four, his openness now shows he really is in a different mental place. Asking to come back rather than striking out on his own told me he wanted and knew he needed Dean’s support and recognized his brother’s value – a far cry from the harsh things he’d thought and said about Dean’s weakness after his return from Hell.
His initial statement about wanting to hunt down Lucifer did smack of his revenge plans against Lilith, and I think Dean rightly called him on it, but I liked his response of not wanting to be a puppet any more and of seeking redemption. I think the focus on killing Lucifer may be misplaced – somehow, I don’t see redemption in killing things – but refusing to be used is definitely a step in the right direction.
Their reunion went as it had to, with tentativeness on both sides. Sam flinched visibly when Dean pulled out the knife; trust is still shaky, and fear and uncertainty still exist where once were only love and nearly unthinking partnership. But Dean admitting flat out that he was wrong and saying he was sorry was balm, and Sam’s earnest and heartfelt thanks for being brought back in from the cold bandaged cuts in both their bleeding souls. I hope we learn soon that Dean told Sam about his foray into the future, and that Sam didn’t take hearing about himself giving in to Lucifer as an indication that Dean believes him likely to fall. I hope it will instead fuel Sam’s determination not to give in, and make both of them better able and more determined to stand together against attempts by angels or Lucifer to force either of them to give in to save the other.
The brothers are both still badly off balance with each other and will need to learn to work together to regain their once-smooth integration. Until their trust issues get resolved through shared experience and the knowledge that they really are there for each other again and can both be counted on, they’re probably going to hesitate fractionally at different times for different reasons, so I expect their timing will be off for a bit. I also suspect they’ll have a hard time for a while finding ways amicably to resolve their differences over what courses of action to pursue, given that both of them are leaders and neither will want to be subordinate to the other. This won’t be a smooth road, I’m certain, but they have plenty of incentive to stay on it together. I think the first time Dean sees Sam resist a demon blood buffet without breaking stride will help both of them tremendously, and I hope that happens soon.
We’ll know the brothers are back when they can tease each other again without walking on eggshells doing it. When “jerk” and “bitch” again both just mean “bro,” I’ll be happy.
Script, direction, performance, and production were all off the charts with this episode. I think it will count among my favorites for the entire series.
My little nitpicky things are really nitpicky, and did nothing to damage the episode at all. The major one is simply the Colt, and I loved how Ben Edlund’s script addressed some of my issues even though it left them all still hanging. Dean expressing doubt that the demons would have kept the Colt intact when it has the power to kill demons put the logic question right out there on the table. I’m assuming there’s a logical answer we’ll learn in due course, and that it goes beyond simply needing the Colt to unlock the Wyoming devil’s gate. Why anyone would think the Colt could kill Lucifer is also still out there. Lucifer is an angel, and we (although not the Winchesters) learned from Uriel in On The Head Of A Pin that supposedly only an angel could kill another angel. Uriel might have been wrong, but we haven’t seen evidence of that so far. I am curious about why Castiel evidently hasn’t yet told the Winchesters that it takes an angel to kill an angel, and thus why he would tell Dean that, if he was still set on the insane course of trying to kill Lucifer, the Colt would be his best shot (pardon the pun). We saw that Ruby’s demon-killing knife had no effect on Castiel even when Dean nailed him in the heart in Lazarus Rising. Why should the Colt be different, even assuming Lucifer could be taken by surprise by a bullet the way Azazel was? Was there something unique about Samuel Colt that could have given the work of his hands an unprecedented level of power?
On a visual level – and this isn’t a nitpick, just a funny – I did chuckle at the way Dean’s beer bottle mysteriously disappeared during his phone conversation with Sam. Dean had the phone in his left hand and the beer in his right. He sat down and rested the bottle between his legs, the shot cut to Sam in the car, and when it came back to Dean, the phone was in his right hand, his left hand was on his knee, and he leaned forward far enough that a bottle resting between his legs would have taken a fast track to the floor. Hee!
Ben Edlund seems to write in two veins – crack and high drama – and suits my taste best when, as here, he puts out high drama with a tinge of crack as opposed to crack with a tinge of high drama (think The Tick). I enjoy them both, but the former provides me much more character enrichment and food for thought. His script paid off the second season episode Croatoan to great effect, but made that broad action canvas of Lucifer’s endgame against humanity just the background to a beautiful exploration of Dean, Castiel, Sam, and Lucifer. The humor came in hilarious lines (This isn’t funny, Dean – the voice says I’m almost out of minutes!) and even, heartbreakingly, in the depiction of future Cas as a broken ex-angel using sex, drugs, and jokes as a thin veil for disillusionment, despair, and the ultimate loss of faith.
Speaking of Cas, I give major praise to Misha Collins for two brilliant performances. Future Cas was such a total departure from the angel we know, and yet we could still see who he had been. How Misha made Cas laugh with his face while despairing with his eyes just slew me. You had to laugh at the incongruity of the straight-laced, humanly clueless angel we know planning orgies, speaking idiomatically, and grinning, but at the same time it was so clear there was no real joy in him – except when he observed that he liked “past” Dean – that you had to grieve for what he had become.
Steve Boyum brought cinematic flair to his direction. The whole sequence in the beginning of Dean exploring the apocalyptic world, fleeing for his life from the Croats, and then escaping the military massacre was an emotionally unsettling marvel of crane shots, active angles, quick cuts, and high speed motion. Full props to editor Anthony Pinker for the way all that got put together; it felt like a movie, and the extreme choppiness contributed to the sense of disorientation and panic. Also, having seen the outdoor set where they shot that sequence – more on that later – I was really impressed with the way Boyum staged the action and set up his shots to make you think the area was so much bigger than it actually is. The multiple angles helped sell that by providing visual variety. I also thank him from the bottom of my heart for setting Sam and Dean’s reunion at the very same road beside the trestle bridge where the boys said goodbye to John in Salvation. Seeing Sam’s car coming back from the direction John’s truck had driven away just made the symbolism of the moment all the stronger, and the parallel of John giving Dean the Colt and Dean giving Sam the knife in that spot resonated powerfully. Jay Gruska’s background score contributed a lot as well.
All the scenes combining present and future Dean were nothing short of incredible. Boyum had pulled off this duplication with Jensen Ackles before in season two’s Dream A Little Dream Of Me, but that was for only one scene. This was sustained, and never slipped. I’ve seen a lot of behind-the-scenes features on how certain doubling stunts were done in television and film that clued me in to things to watch for, but this was absolutely seamless.
And that brings me to Jensen. I don’t have enough words to laud his performances here. Even in the tightest closeups where you didn’t have the obvious wardrobe clues to tell them apart, Dean and Future Dean were totally distinct characters and couldn’t be confused. I remember Jensen at the Vancouver convention talking about how hard it had been to do those scenes because, as they say, “Acting is reacting,” and he had nothing to react to when he was pitching lines to himself. Todd Scott, his stunt double, stood in for whichever Dean wasn’t onscreen either speaking or reacting at the moment, to provide the head and shoulder visible in the framing of the shot, but he wasn’t an actor and kept apologizing for being unable to provide the mirroring emotion that Jensen’s Dean would be seeing. (Jensen laughed at the convention that Todd had never done lines before, and after having to deal with three to four pages of dialogue, pleaded “Just throw me off a freaking building; this is torture!”) For all that difficulty in achieving a performance, however, you’d never guess it from what appeared on screen. Where he had a mirror, especially in his scenes with Sam, Lucifer, Castiel, and Zachariah, the interaction was magical.
In Lucifer, Jared Padalecki had the fun of playing someone totally not Sam, and seeing Lucifer’s alien expressions on Sam’s familiar face was creepy in the extreme. There was nothing of Sam in Lucifer’s manner, and that’s a tribute to Jared’s skill. His Lucifer matched what we’ve seen in Mark Pellegrino’s portrayal, that eerie calm and placid certainty overlaid with false compassion. His mild amusement at Dean’s rejection of him made my skin crawl. The difference between Lucifer’s persuasion and Sam’s puppy dog eyes made me miss Sam as much as Dean did. Going from Lucifer to Sam at the end, Jared brought new depth to Sam. His nervousness dissolving into pure gratitude and the determination not to let Dean down were perfect. That’s what we needed to see the brothers together again – apologies on both sides and the commitment to work together, with the love unspoken but clearly there.
The production crew get the rest of my praise, in all departments. The scenes of Dean arriving at the hotel and then going out into the devastation of the future street were all shot on Supernatural’s new back lot: the former Watchmen set, redressed twice for the present and the past. I had the chance to walk that set, and while I can’t post pictures from the inside – those of us who took the location tour in Vancouver were required to sign agreements that we wouldn’t publish photos – I can show you what that set looks like from the outside, in shots taken from the street. It occupies an entire industrial park strip mall block, and comprises one very long block with two intersecting cross streets. We’ll see it again during the season but you’ll have to look sharp to recognize it, because I’m certain it will be thoroughly redressed each time and they’ll use different parts of the streets for various locations. One of the cross streets includes a set of fake brownstone residences with walk-up front steps. There are fronts on the main street easily redressed as bars, shops, hotels (the neon Century hotel sign was lying on the sidewalk when I was there), theatres, restaurants – you name it, the back lot can provide it. Having the back lot accessible will help minimize the impact of the Winter Olympics on shooting, because it’s right down the street from the studio and won’t be affected by the insane Olympic crowds and traffic. It will also save them money, because redressing the back lot costs less than building new. If that means we get more rock music, I’ll be insanely happy.
From my photos of the exterior of the back lot, you’ll also be able to tell how much of what Dean saw out the window was actually generated by the special effects folks, to provide that devastated city skyline. The false fronts on the set only extend up to the second floor in most spots, but the mesh of real and fake was spectacularly done. I also grinned to recognize Riverview Hospital – Supernatural’s “studio 5” – as the location where Future Dean sent his team to their deaths.
I appreciated all the little touches, from the newspaper headlines to the evangelist’s “God is Love” pamphlet, from the derelict Impala to Lucifer’s good-guy-white ice cream suit (very evocative of Constantine and Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer), from Cas’s hippie bead curtain to Chuck’s quartermaster clipboard and toilet paper obsession, from the way Dean’s blue shirt and Lucifer’s red roses popped off the screen in saturated color against the grim desaturation of everything else in the future. The incongruous use of the Contour’s “Do You Love Me” blasting from the soldiers’ speakers while they mowed down Croats with automatic weapons took me right back to the Vietnam years and the way the military often dehumanized the enemy to be able to deal with killing other people by finding ways to see them as not being people at all.
And that was another part of the lesson, I think. War dehumanizes us. When we let that happen – when we allow our differences to make us see each other as being less than human – we become less human ourselves. We lose our capacity for mercy, kindness, sympathy, and love. We lose our ability to perceive and respond to truth. We lose our sense of the value of life and our understanding of the reasons for living. When we become obsessed with the fight, we lose sight of why we fight, of why not just winning, but winning the right way, matters. When that happens, we lose even if we seem to win. We can’t let that happen.
Like the Winchesters, we need to stick together and keep each other human.
The icon on this post is by talulababy. Thanks!
And I really am going to try to start answering comments again. I jsut can't find enough hours in the day!