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12 November 2009 @ 08:52 pm
5.08 Changing Channels: As It Is In Heaven, So It Must Be On Earth  
5.08 Changing Channels: As It Is In Heaven, So It Must Be On Earth

Trickster’s TV hell
Is Gabriel’s arm-twisting:
Play your roles to live.


Episode Summary

Supernatural is filmed before a live studio audience. In a cartoon-bright kitchen, Dean turned from the fridge to cheers and applause, regarding a ridiculously tall sandwich and observing he’d need a bigger mouth. The door opened and Sam entered, also to cheers and applause. Both brothers played broad, over-telegraphed humor through a scene making light of the end of the world, revealing Dean’s “research” partner as a bikini-clad sexpot, and devolving into a hilarious set of sitcom-style credits for the episode, complete with silly theme song.

Two days earlier in Wellington, Ohio, in a motel room decorated in a muted, dingy version of the sitcom set, Dean was watching a TV doctor show – Dr. Sexy, M.D. – while waiting for Sam to finish dressing in FBI style. The brothers were investigating the case of a man supposedly killed by a bear that chased him through the woods, smashed through his front door, chased him up the stairs, and ripped his head off. Speaking to his widow, they finally persuaded her to tell them what she really thought she saw: the Lou Ferrigno TV-version of the Incredible Hulk. Putting together the dead man’s violent temper with the discovery at the scene of a Hulk-sized hole in the wall and many candy wrappers, the brothers guessed the man had been killed by the Trickster. Dean looked forward to killing the creature that had so often killed him back in Mystery Spot, but Sam advocated trying to persuade the Trickster to help them stop the apocalypse, reasoning that a hedonistic being able to warp reality could be a valuable ally and probably wouldn’t want to see his playground destroyed. Knowing the Trickster never stopped with only one victim in a place, the brothers monitored the police radio for odd calls, and responded when they heard a panicked call from a cop about a murder at an old paper mill.

They arrived to find the place deserted, with no cop cars responding to the call, and broke into the building carrying wooden stakes – only to find themselves weaponless, wearing scrubs and lab coats, mingling with the characters of Dr. Sexy., M.D. But they weren’t on a television set; instead, the characters were spouting their overblown dialogue in what looked like a real world setting, albeit with soft emo pop background music, treating Sam and Dean as if they were doctors, expected characters in the show’s setting. Sam guessed that the Trickster had trapped them in TV land. When they were confronted by Dr. Sexy and Dean realized he was wearing tennis shoes instead of the TV character’s trademark cowboy boots, Dean slammed him up against the wall and said they knew what he was. Sexy morphed into the Trickster, who mocked them for having broken the world. Sam tried to persuade him to consider an alliance, and the Trickster proposed that if they could survive the next 24 hours in his television game, they could talk. He told them they were already playing, but he wouldn’t reveal the rules. He vanished.

As they interacted with other characters in the drama while they tried to find a way out, they learned that Sam was perceived as a brilliant surgeon afraid of operating again since a patient had died on the table, while Dean was a plastic surgeon resisting doing an experimental face transplant. Irritated, Dean told the husband of the transplant patient that none of this was real and his wife didn’t need anything, and the man shot him in the back. Calling for help and a doctor, Sam found that he had to be the doctor. Not knowing how to use any of the surgical implements but responding to Dean’s urgent order to figure it out, he asked for the tools he would have used to treat Dean in their normal circumstances – a penknife, a sewing needle, dental floss for suturing, and a fifth of whiskey – delivered the order in approved TV-doctor fashion, and fixed Dean up. As he finished the operation, the operating room scene segued into a Japanese game show with the brothers wearing boots fastened to platforms. The host asked Sam a question in Japanese – What was the name of the demon you chose over your own brother? – and started a 20-second countdown. Unable to understand the question or figure out how to respond, Sam didn’t hit his buzzer or answer, and after the announcer gave Ruby’s name as the answer, a ball snapped up on a lever to hit Sam in the nuts as the game show host proclaimed the game’s name: Nutcracker.

The show was interrupted by the arrival of Castiel, who told the brothers they’d been missing for days and he’d come looking for them. Before he could zap them away, however, he disappeared, and the game show host proclaimed in English, Mr. Trickster does not like pretty boy angels. He asked Dean his challenge question, again in Japanese – Would your Mother and Father still be alive if your brother was never born? As the seconds counted down, Sam realized that they had gotten out of the medical show when he had played the role the show expected of him, pretending to be a doctor and operating on Dean, and argued Dean needed to play the game by answering the question in Japanese, even though neither of them knew Japanese. Dean hit his buzzer just as the time ran out, and tentatively said something that at least sounded as if it might have been Japanese, and that the announcer interpreted as “yes.” The announcer pronounced him the winner, and they realized that if they played their roles, they would survive; they just didn’t know how long they’d have to play. The very next one turned out to be a seeming commercial for a drug to treat genital herpes. From there, the brothers went on to continue the opening sitcom scene, in which every line got a laugh even when there was no humor in it.

The set door opened and Castiel entered, bloodied and bruised. He said he’d gotten out, but something was wrong; the Trickster was much more powerful than it should be, if it was a Trickster at all. Before he could say more, an invisible force flung him across the room and into a wall, and the Trickster entered to audience applause. When Castiel stood up, he had duct tape across his mouth. The Trickster greeted him by name, then gestured, and Castiel disappeared like an image digitally erased. Responding to the brothers’ worry, the Trickster told them to relax and said Castiel would survive – maybe. Dean said they were done with the monkey dance and got the point – playing their roles – and the Trickster said the real goal was playing their roles outside, accepting their destinies to become the vessels for Lucifer and Michael. He said they had started it by letting Lucifer out of the box and it couldn’t be stopped, so he advocated getting it over with. Dean asked him which side he was on, Heaven or Hell, and he claimed neither. When Dean maintained he had to be somebody’s bitch, the Trickster lost his temper and slammed him up against the wall. He told them they would suck it up and play the roles destiny had chosen for them, or stay in TV land forever. He snapped his fingers …

… and dropped them into a forensic cop procedural drama. Spotting one character sucking on a lollipop, the brothers parodied David Caruso’s Horatio Caine character as they got into position, equipping themselves with stakes. Dean stabbed the tech through the heart, only to hear the Trickster laughing from the uniformed cop behind him that he’d gotten the wrong guy. Sam stabbed the Trickster from behind and he fell, and the brothers found themselves and the Trickster’s impaled body back in the empty warehouse they’d gone to investigate.

Cleaning up back at their motel, Dean expressed worry about what had happened to Cas, and walked into the main room to find Sam gone. He called Sam’s cell only to be routed to voicemail. Getting into the Impala as he left a message asking where Sam had gone, he heard Sam’s voice inside the car although he couldn’t see anyone. Turning back to the dashboard, he saw the oscilloscope panel from Knight Rider incorporated into the car as Sam simultaneously realized his situation – that he’d become the Impala – and observed he didn’t think they’d killed the Trickster. Sam guessed the stake might not have worked because the thing they were up against might not have been a Trickster; after all, Cas had said it was too powerful. Thinking about how the Trickster had appeared to recognize Cas and how upset it had gotten with Dean when he brought up Michael and Lucifer, Dean guessed what they were up against. Using things from the trunk, he set a trap in a wilderness campground, and then called out to the air that they would do it. The Trickster appeared, and Dean insisted on Sam being made human again first. The Trickster obliged, and Sam dropped the lighter to ignite the ring of holy oil surrounding the Trickster as Dean made the guess that he’d always been an angel. Suddenly, they were back in the warehouse, the Trickster still surrounded by fire that an angel couldn’t pass.

He asked how he’d screwed up, and Sam noted how he’d gotten the drop on Castiel, while Dean mentioned how he talked about Armageddon, saying no one gets that angry unless they’re talking about their own family. He admitted he was the archangel Gabriel, and said he’d left heaven and hidden out as the Trickster because he loved his father and his brothers and couldn’t stand watching them tear each other apart. He maintained that he didn’t care who won, but just wanted it to be over. He said it wasn’t about a war, but about two brothers who loved each other and betrayed each other. He maintained that the Winchesters had been born to their roles: Dean, like Michael, the older brother loyal to an absent father, and Sam, like Lucifer, the younger brother rebelling against their father’s plans. He said one brother had to kill the other, that it had to be on Earth as it was in heaven. Dean said that wouldn’t happen, and Gabriel said apologetically that it would end bloody for all of them because that’s how it had to be.

Dean insisted that Gabriel bring Castiel back, threatening to dunk him in holy oil and fry him if he refused, and Gabriel acceded. Gabriel taunted him with his unsuccessful search for God. Dean announced they were leaving, and as they walked away, Gabriel asked if they were just going to leave him there forever. Dean said they didn’t screw with people the way Gabriel did, and set off the sprinkler system to douse the holy fire. He told Gabriel angrily that this wasn’t about a prize fight between his brothers or some destiny that couldn’t be avoided, but was about Gabriel being too scared to stand up to his family. Outside, Dean asked if Sam thought that what Gabriel was saying was true, and Sam observed that Gabriel had believed it. Neither of them knew what to do next. Dean expressed the wish they were still in a TV show, and Sam agreed.

Commentary and Meta Analysis

The revelation that the Trickster we’ve known since season two was actually Gabriel in disguise was simultaneously delightful and disappointing. It assigns new meaning to the brothers’ previous encounters, but limits the field of players involved in the overall story. In this discussion, I look at the brothers’ roles in the fantasy and the reality, explore free will and destiny, and look at Gabriel as angel and Trickster.

Play Your Roles

The roles the Gabriel Trickster assigned the brothers in their TV hell seemed deliberately to echo their real life situations. For example, I had to wonder during the Dr. Sexy, M.D. segment whether the Sam-doctor’s fear of operating again was a reference to Sam using his powers, with the excuse being offered that the possessed nurse and others who died along the way weren’t his fault because he’d simply been following his destiny; that sometimes, things just happen. Similarly, doctor-Dean refusing to perform the face transplant and getting shot for it might have reflected Dean’s refusal to give himself to Michael, accompanied by the lesson that each time he refuses, he’ll simply get hurt again as Zachariah hurt him before. Their attitudes and actions in the sitcom were gross exaggerations of habits and interests that played particularly on things about Dean that Sam finds irritating and embarrassing, while the questions neither of them could understand in the Japanese game show focused on the lurking resentments and guilt underlying Dean’s relationship with Sam. Sam being cast as infected in the genital herpes commercial while Dean was assigned the off-camera role of narrating all the undesirable side effects of the treatment could have been yet another reflection of Sam literally having been infected by and having had sex with a demon, while Dean’s warnings about consequences went unheeded. Sam being turned into the Impala put him literally in the position of being dominated and driven by Dean – exactly what Sam most resents – even as it made Sam an integral part of something Dean loves and cherishes.

The brothers cooperated well and worked effectively as a team to get through the scenarios and come up with the necessary solutions, but in the process they continued studiously to ignore the elephant of past resentments and lingering guilt in the room. Since they got back together at the close of The End, they’ve been working together determinedly as if all the anger and misunderstandings between them have been resolved, but nothing has been forgotten and little has actually been said. When they did try to address those issues earlier, particularly in Sympathy For The Devil and Good God, Y’All, they were speaking different languages and not really hearing and understanding each other: Dean didn’t want to expose his trust issues, while Sam kept apologizing for the wrong things. I suspect these issues can only stay buried for so long before they cause further fractures. They need to work through their issues if they’re not going to get sandbagged by them later, because if they remain hidden and unresolved, Michael, Lucifer, and others involved in the fight will just use those things against them.

The best part of their interaction throughout the episode, however, was their willingness to trust each other – especially Dean’s willingness to trust Sam – and the demonstration that their partnership has grown stronger even if they haven’t yet resolved all their issues. They argued about their initial approach, with Dean wanting to kill the Trickster and Sam wanting to talk to it, but they never let the argument get personal. Rather than stubbornly clinging to their points, they each gave ground to achieve a compromise. In the Dr. Sexy segment, Dean trusted Sam to be able to do what he had to do, and pushed him to make choices. Dean rolled with Sam’s suggested solution in the game show segment, and followed his lead in the procedural. Sam followed and gave support when Dean took the initiative directly against the Trickster in Dr. Sexy, in the sitcom segment, when he came up with the plan to trap Gabriel in the Knight Rider take-off, and when he dealt with Gabriel in the end. They were working like partners again, playing off and reading each other, and their timing was smooth.

For all their uncertainty at the end when Gabriel proved so unshakeable in his conviction that their destinies were set in stone from the moment of creation, they still turned to each other. I found it interesting that neither of the brothers even seemed to notice Castiel standing behind them. Their decisions, their intertwined lives, are the most important aspects of the game, and I’m encouraged that they turned to each other to share both their doubts and their support.

We Knew It Was All Gonna End With You, Always

Gabriel claimed the Winchesters had been born for their roles in the apocalypse, and that the leaders of Heaven and Hell had known it from the moment God created Earth. He was unshakeable in his belief that the only way to end it was for one of the brothers to kill the other, to resolve the strife between Michael, Lucifer, and God. Dean simply said no, and maintained it would never happen.

Fate and destiny versus free will and personal choice has been a core theme of this show from the beginning, right along with family. Gabriel’s assertion took it to another step, but I still don’t believe the archangel had it right.

We’ve seen from the very introduction of angels that the angels have been conditioned to accept prophecy as truth. What is written must come to pass because prophecy is of God.

We’ve also seen, however, that prophecy has limitations and that the interpretation of prophecy can be wrong. In The Monster At The End Of This Book, Chuck wrongly believed that Sam would have sex with Lilith because he had a vision of Sam and Lilith on a bed. He assumed what would happen from the limited glimpse he had gotten. He hadn’t foreseen Sam trying to trap and kill Lilith, and he hadn’t foreseen Dean coming to get him and take him to the room to force Lilith to flee at the threatened coming of an archangel. Chuck was surprised again in Lucifer Rising to have Castiel and Dean appear in his house, because he hadn’t foreseen it and although he had seen Sam’s eyes going demon-black in the convent in Maryland, he hadn’t seen Dean there, either.

We’ve also seen Zachariah confounded by choice interrupting what he thought was laid down by immutable prophecy. Castiel’s decision to defect from the senior angels and side with Dean in Lucifer Rising wasn’t anything Zachariah had anticipated, and threw a monkey wrench into his plans to use Dean that only got bigger when Cas used his power in Sympathy For The Devil to hide both Dean and Sam from angel sight. Zachariah’s abuse of prophecy in that episode by tampering with Chuck’s visions to lure the hidden brothers to a meeting at John’s storage unit further called the reliability of prophecy into question by demonstrating that a prophet’s visions aren’t necessarily inspired by God, and the prophet himself may not be able to discern whether his visions come always from the same source.

We’re hampered by not having access to the prophetical text the angels are using. We know that their information differs from the biblical accounts, but we don’t know how. Judging from Castiel’s earlier ignorance concerning Dean’s and Sam’s roles, which was part and parcel of Zachariah having hidden from the rank and file of the heavenly host the truth about impatient angels seeking to jump-start the apocalypse, whatever prophetical material Zachariah and Gabriel may be referencing wasn’t widely distributed even in Heaven. I suspect it’s no more clear or complete than the biblical version, however, and that the angels observing it are putting their own spin on what they see exactly the same way we humans do. I think author Anaïs Nin may have described this process best when she wrote, We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

Through many examples of their ignorance and surprise, we’ve seen that angels do not possess the infallibility and omniscience ascribed to God. Their view of the world, like ours, is thus colored by their expectations, assumptions, and experience. Like us, they suffer from observer bias, imposing their own judgments to filter what they see and understand. And also like most of us, they don’t often question whether or not what they’re perceiving is an accurate rendition of what is truly there; they simply accept their view as truth and act accordingly.

And that is why I mistrust everyone who has said to either or both of the brothers, It had to be you. I don’t believe any prophecy says, Dean and Sam Winchester, sons of often-absent John, will be born the vessels for Michael and Lucifer, reflecting the angels in their human souls such that the end of all things shall be precipitated by them and they shall bring about through one killing the other the final resolution of the conflict between Heaven and Hell. Nope: not written that way. But it wouldn’t surprise me to learn there was some prophecy about siblings being born to take on the aspect of the warring angels to finish their battle on Earth, and that opportunistic angels and demons might have meddled wherever possible and necessary to bring about such a pair, with the Winchesters providing the best match yet. Persuading them they can’t resist because it is their destiny or fate pursues the strategy of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I still hold with free will and personal choice being the final determinant of what will happen. And while God may know the answer in advance, standing omniscient outside and independent of time, I would submit the angels do not share that divine view. Even while insisting that Sam and Dean had to play their roles, with one killing the other, Gabriel didn’t pretend to know which side would ultimately win. Zachariah, in revealing the plan to Dean, didn’t profess absolute certainty in the outcome either, instead just observing he was confident his faction would win and bring on paradise. Lucifer clearly doesn’t believe he is foredoomed to fail and be destroyed. With God not in his Heaven, all certainty is fled. Lucifer and Zachariah’s faction, presuming to represent Michael, both contend to win the future through doing battle on Earth, but they are still constrained to need the consent and cooperation of two specific human souls in order for their combat to begin. Dean and Sam can still say, No. The pressure brought to bear may be extreme, the price of choice may be high, and the consequences may be harsh, but the choices are their own.

And I wonder if that might not prove to be precisely why God absented himself: to remove, along with his all-knowing mind and all-seeing eye, the futile sense that the future is fixed and free will nonexistent simply because God, alone of all things apart from time, already knows the choices all will make, even without dictating them. With God’s absence making his own existence uncertain, the belief that whatever he saw must needs be so is shaken, and the freedom of both angels and humans to choose their course and side becomes more real to them. Both sides argue the inevitability of their course, but neither knows the truth of the end; both are choosing their own actions in pursuit of their own goals, Zachariah’s faction seeking to end the age of Man and bring angelic paradise on Earth and Lucifer seeking domination over God’s creation. And individuals even among the angels are choosing their own sides, with Castiel abjuring both Zachariah and Lucifer in favor of befriending humans and seeking God, Uriel having chosen to join Lucifer, Raphael supporting Michael, and Gabriel choosing to absent himself from the fight.

There’s a fascinating section in Milton’s Paradise Lost (Book III, verses 100-134, if you’d like to read them) in which God, speaking to his Son, says that he created both men and angels with free will because without it, they couldn’t have given any proof of true allegiance, faith, or love through their obedience to him, and he couldn’t have taken any pleasure from their actions if their will or reason had simply served necessity, not God. Concerning both the fall of Lucifer and of Man, Milton’s God maintains, they themselves decreed Their own revolt, not I; if I foreknew, Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault, Which had no less prov’d certain unforeknown. In the view of Milton’s God, the free choice itself was the important thing, proving as it would what the individual truly felt and thus providing the reason for joy or sorrow on the part of God in the result.

I’ll be interested to see eventually if God chose to disappear in order to give his creation the full sense of its ability to choose, independent of his presence arguing that here was one who already knew how everything would happen and thus must happen, so that in the end no one of all the individuals in Heaven or on Earth could claim themselves guilt-free because they were bound by destiny. I think God encourages choice. Making the right one is the challenge.

My Own Witness Protection Program

Turning the Trickster we knew into Gabriel was both a good and a bad thing, to my mind. Since it was clear Gabriel was simply pretending to be a Trickster, we do know the real variety are out there somewhere; we’ve just never met one. I wonder if we ever will, because I did think Sam had a point with his idea about the hedonist Trickster potentially being an ally in preserving the world against the apocalypse. That would be an interesting and morally complex concept to pursue, but I think we may now have lost the chance because there is no link between the Winchesters and any true Trickster. I also regret the transformation of the Trickster into an AWOL archangel precisely because it detracts from the former broad sweep of the show’s mythology across multiple cultures, including Norse, African, and Native American traditions, to just the Judeo-Christian one.

Gabriel’s timeline also bothers me, because we don’t know when he decamped from Heaven. Lucifer’s fall – the time when Lucifer, God, Michael, and the other angels had it out and Lucifer and his followers were consigned to Hell – was a long, long time ago, and that was the last time we humans knew of strife in Heaven until very recently, making Gabriel’s satiric description of embattled, apocalyptic Sunday dinners problematic. Gabriel supposedly played the role of announcing the impending birth of Christ the last time angels walked the Earth, only a couple of thousand years ago when God evidently was still in His Heaven. We don’t know how long God’s been missing since then, but it’s been long enough that the angels in Zachariah’s faction lost belief and chose to encourage bringing about the apocalypse.

I can only guess that Gabriel did his disappearing act sometime after God vanished, around the time the senior angels in Heaven – emphatically not including grunts like Castiel – began to debate the merits of jump-starting the end of days. Gabriel’s abandonment of duties assigned by God would be disobedience, but his decision to absent himself and not to support Zachariah’s faction could not be deemed a fall from grace.

I would further guess that Gabriel retained his powers – which we’ve seen are formidable – both because he did not fall from Heaven as Anna did, stripped of grace and power, and because, as an archangel, his powers might have been beyond the ability of other angels to restrict. We know from his own admission that Castiel ranked low in the angelic hierarchy, so it doesn’t surprise me that his superiors could block his access to the power of Heaven when he disobeyed them. Gabriel on the other hand was an archangel, among the strongest beings in creation. I would guess that Zachariah couldn’t cut him off, and that even if he could, he wouldn’t do so unless and until he knew for certain that Gabriel had chosen to oppose him. As long as Gabriel was staying out of the fight, there would always be the chance he might be persuaded to support one side or the other, and he would be a powerful ally.

While I miss the Trickster simply being a Trickster, revealing him as Gabriel puts his previous encounters with the Winchesters into an entirely different light. The interesting thing is that his actions with respect to them remain ambiguous even knowing his identity and what he professed to want. In this episode, Gabriel said he had left Heaven because he couldn’t stand seeing his family at each others’ throats, and just wanted the conflict to stop. He said he took an interest in the brothers because of their pivotal role in prophecy, because they always were fated to mirror Michael and Lucifer and bring about the end of days. He said he hadn’t wanted that to happen, but now that it had begun, he simply wanted it finished.

With that in mind, the ambiguity of Gabriel’s actions as the Trickster becomes even more fascinating. Rather than seeking to prevent the brothers from becoming the avatars of Michael and Lucifer, Gabriel’s previous Trickster encounters with the boys could be seen as targeted toward making the prophecy come true. In Tall Tales, he seemed intent on driving the brothers apart, on making them better mirror Michael and Lucifer by setting them at odds with each other. In Mystery Spot, one could take his intended lesson for Sam as having to be willing to let Dean die, to give up on making sacrifices to preserve his life, so that Sam would be willing to accept Lucifer and kill his brother. On the other hand, both lessons could as easily be flipped to trying to prevent the prophecy if you considered his approach in Tall Tales having been a warning to show the brothers how vulnerable to outside pressure they could be, how being at odds with each other reduced their effectiveness and played into the hands of the opposition, and if you looked at Mystery Spot as a warning demonstrating how each of them being willing to sacrifice himself for the other could result in both of them being destroyed.

Gabriel himself doesn’t seem to have made up his mind about what he truly believes. On the one hand, Gabriel blamed the brothers for releasing Lucifer, bringing about the apocalypse, and forcing him to see his brothers battle to the death; but on the other, he maintained they never had a choice, that they were established as the tools of fate all the way back when the world was first created. Both things together don’t make sense; either they had choices and made the wrong ones, meriting blame, or they were the innocent dupes of destiny, and nothing that happened was their fault. I don’t think Gabriel himself knows what he believes, apart from resenting everything and everyone that made his family life hard to bear and led to him running away.

I wonder if Dean’s final accusatory speech may make Gabriel rethink his course and choose a side, finally realizing that more than two sides exist. Gabriel shares traits with both Dean and Sam. Like Dean, he was in the middle in the family fights, not wanting to take sides but desperately wanting the conflict to stop. Like Sam, he found a way out of the conflict by running away from it, choosing to live his own life his own way in despite of the opinions and desires of his family. Sam and Dean have both grown up: Dean found his precarious peace by creating his own side, and Sam has stopped running. Dean’s challenge to Gabriel to stand up to his family and do something about the situation might prompt him to find a way to use his power to help heal his family rifts.

Production Notes

The broad sitcom humor, overwrought romantic melodrama, and stagey pretend characterization on display in the Trickster’s TV hell parodies definitely reminded me of the many reasons I love this show for all the things it’s not. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed myself thoroughly, laughed in all the right places, and concede it was brilliantly done, but I’m glad it’s not likely to be repeated. As a steady diet, I prefer my Supernatural played for real by our subtle actors in serious scripts with a natural leavening of humor. The deliberate exaggeration in all the parodies was funny, but would wear thin in a hurry.

Jeremy Carver’s script did a wonderful job of setting up all the parody fun while still suggesting relevance to the brothers’ situation. Maybe I’m seeing more here than he intended, but there seemed to be parallels in every one of the Trickster’s setups. I loved seeing the brothers working as a team in both the real world and the Trickster’s TV hell. I particularly liked them finding common ground in their early dispute over whether they should talk to or kill the Trickster; they argued their points, but never got personal or tried to force each other. They’re growing up, and Carver writes them well. And if he wrote the lyrics to the cheesy sitcom show theme, he gets the extra cookie! Otherwise, that cookie goes to composer Jay Gruska, or whoever else was responsible.

Charles Beeson’s direction was a positive delight! I appreciated the way he used the directorial style of each genre piece in the appropriate TV hell – the camera angles and moves were straight out of each of the shows being parodied, from the Laverne and Shirley opening credits to the Grey’s – sorry, Sexy’s – “I love you” mouthed through the operating room glass, and from the CSI CGI stab into the heart to the Knight Rider caressing automotive love for S.A.M.M. the Impala and his driver, Michael/Dean. The parodies were spot-on in directing as well as in script and performance.

My favorite directorial touch, however, was Beeson using the water on the floor in the warehouse to reflect Sam, Dean, and the trapped Gabriel in his circle of fire. Their world turned upside-down, quite literally, and that was brilliant. Also simply beautiful.

Editor Tom McQuade gets applause for the way things cut together. I really enjoyed the transition from the potentially real hospital scene into the Dr. Sexy TV show, including the lovingly careful attention to showing the amorous doctor’s cowboy boots just before shifting the view to Dean watching the show. The teaming between editor and director is always important and it’s hard to tell where one’s input ends and the other’s begins

All of the production crew deserve applause for this one. The two versions of the motel room – the brilliant, sparkling clean, color-saturated sitcom one and the dingy, typically Winchester real one – were superb. Given the Trickster storyline, I was particularly amused to note that the wall outside the real and sitcom motel door was the same panel of decorative brickwork used outside the motel door in Mystery Spot. All of the sets and locations were perfect for their purposes, and the transformation of the Impala into S.A.M.M. was brilliant. The sheer number of sets they had to construct for this was daunting. The color adjustment between the brightness of the TV hell world and the typically bleached color process for the real world was seamless, apart from the intentionally jarring transitions from the apparent fantasy to the warehouse. The morphing of other characters into Gabriel was nicely done. The only effect that sometimes betrayed itself was the CGI augmentation of the ring of fire.

The music was also a treat. The show shares a music supervisor (the person who has to arrange for rights to use songs, among other things) with Grey’s Anatomy – Alex Patsavas – who did a great job of matching the soft emo pop musical style of Grey’s with the Supernatural subject matter for the Dr. Sexy segment. I was amused to hear the first song in that segment referring to spoonbending and mind power, while the last song in the operating room talked about grace and a soul that must have been sent here straight from Heaven! And getting the Knight Rider theme and a Who-sound-alike for the CSI parody was great work.

I always love seeing locations I recognize as places where I’ve been. Beautiful Deer Lake Park figured prominently in the sitcom credits, providing the locales for the tandem bike ride, the football tossing, and the scooter riding, and its Burnaby Village Museum provided the backdrop for Dean’s grease-on-the-forehead maintenance of the Impala. Deer Lake Park was also the location for the Herpexia commercial exteriors.

All the cheesy television parody bits were ridiculously overacted, but since that was an intentional feature of the parody itself, I can’t object to it, except in one instance. We’ve seen Dean be a fanboy before – just think of Hollywood Babylon – but his reaction to Dr. Sexy was over the top at a time before Dean understood that over-the-top performance was a key rule of the game. I don’t know whether that was a choice by director Beeson or by Jensen Ackles, but it felt overdone to me. It was redeemed by his reactions later, especially in the Knight Rider and final real segments, but I found the Sexy scene almost embarrassing to watch. Jared Padalecki did wonderfully with Sam’s discomfort in his various roles, and his Horatio Caine swagger was perfection.

I am curious about the absence of Dean’s silver ring and his bracelet throughout the episode. I think the only other times we’ve seen his right hand and wrist that naked were in Faith and In My Time Of Dying, when he was in the hospital, and The End, when the future Dean was no longer himself. I’ll be looking for them in the next episode, and hope it was just an oversight on the first day of shooting that wound up being maintained for continuity’s sake.

And there’s one more thing that made me laugh. Dr. Sexy actually had a name – his name badge said “Dr. B. Palmer” – but even the hunting nurse and the hospital P.A. system called him “Dr. Sexy.” Even on Grey’s, they don’t page Patrick Dempsey’s character as “Dr. McDreamy!”

The thought that the Winchesters’ dysfunctional family on Earth mirrors the dysfunctional family of God and his angels in Heaven and Hell is frightening, but it also carries hope. If free will exists as I believe it does, then the phrase “As it is in Heaven, so it must be on Earth” may have a corollary: “As it is on Earth, so will it be in Heaven.” Perhaps the angels can learn a lesson from the Winchester brothers about the primacy of love and the ability of brothers to resolve their differences without war. At the very least, perhaps they will learn to appreciate their own free will as Dean and Sam insist on theirs.

We all have free will. What we do with it is our own responsibility.


Sorry this is so late. My overly busy real life is getting to be a very bad habit.
 
 
Current Mood: frustratedfrustrated
Current Music: "Rise Today" by Alter Bridge
 
 
 
historylover29historylover29 on November 13th, 2009 04:05 am (UTC)
First! I've never been first!

Sorry about your busy real life getting to be a bad habit. I know the feeling.

I loved this episode. It was the first since "The End" I've watched multiple times.

I personally loved the reveal of the Trickster being Gabriel. I can handwave it. It explains why the stakes never worked on him and why the guys kept trying them.

I didn't like the sitcom segment, except the second time around, where they were gritting their teeth quoting their lines. But, the CSI Miami, Grey's Anatomy, Knight Rider, genital herpes commercial were all gold!

There is a lot of debate about the questions that Sam and Dean were asked on the Japanese game show, and Dean's answer. It's interesting that the brothers were asked questions the OTHER brother thinks--Dean believes that Sam chose Ruby over him, while Sam believes that John and Mary would probably be alive if he hadn't been born.

Interesting...

I think Dean may have knocked some sense into Gabriel. Gabriel might become a new angel ally, which would be good. I just find it hard to believe that Sam and Dean are the ONLY brothers who have father issues and issues with themselves. So, that explanation didn't work for me.

Also, I think Gabriel vamoosed before God vanished. He probably knows what's going on in Heaven, but he just wanted out. He seems like such a middle child.

Kat
bardicvoice: SAMM Impala by <lj user=talulababy>bardicvoice on November 14th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
Congrats on being first, Kat!

I don't think we've seen the last of Gabriel, and I do hope Dean's slam resonates with him. The guys could use another angel ally, particularly one whose power conduit hasn't been filtered.

Yeah, the whole thing about the brothers having been fated always to mirror Michael and Lucifer didn't scan for me, either. Given the billions of humans who've lived in the interim, they can't be the first to match the emotional parameters.
IsaacSapphire: Paranoiaisaacsapphire on November 13th, 2009 05:31 am (UTC)
The absence of Dean's ring and bracelet might have been deliberate; the Trickster is costuming them and controlling everything here and he's trying to force them into certain roles. If the ring and bracelet don't fit those roles, or even worse, reinforce ones he doesn't want Dean playing, then of course he's going to take them off.
bardicvoice: SAMM Impala by <lj user=talulababy>bardicvoice on November 14th, 2009 12:01 am (UTC)
I might have written it off as Trickster meddling, except that Dean had a naked hand even before they met the Trickster. Makes me wonder! :)
janiebee64 on November 13th, 2009 07:49 pm (UTC)
Changing Channels
Enjoyed your review once again. You never disappoint and I always look forward to it. I agree with as far as the over the top humor in this episode. It was a little much, but given the content of this episode I'm o.k. with it. Your right though, it is not typical Supernatural and I definately wouldn't want to see it every week. Give me angst and slight humor anyday. That's Winchester at its best. I didn't notice the wall, as you mentioned, outside the door of the motel being the same as in Mystery Spot. I will have to go back and look. I guess I was to involved in what the boys were doing to notice. I'm surprised since Mystery Spot is one of my favorites and I have watch it many times. I also loved Sam repeating what Dean said in the beginning about needing a bigger mouth. I thought that was funny, and Jared's timing and voice were perfect. He says he doesn't do comedy well, but so far I have not been disappointed. He needs to try it when Supernatural is over. I think he would do well. Richard Speight, Jr. was superb as the Trickster/Gabriel to and good to see him again. I was wondering when Gabriel would show up. After all he's the only one we haven't heard anything about. We still haven't met Michael either. I'm curious to see who that will be. Take care and I look forward to your next review.
bardicvoice: SAMM Impala by <lj user=talulababy>bardicvoice on November 14th, 2009 12:07 am (UTC)
Re: Changing Channels
Thank you, and glad you enjoy the fun! I love writing these, even when stealing the time gets tricky ...

I agree with you that Jared does comedy better than he thinks he does. He's got good timing, and his delivery is so often spot-on. One of my favorite moments will always be his "I lost my shoe!" in Bad Day At Black Rock. The voice, the face, the dejected shoulders, the stockinged foot - priceless!

I loved Richard Speight, Jr. as Trickster Gabriel. Dang, knew I forgot to mention something in the review! He rocked the role. The moment when he dropped the Trickster persona and pulled on Gabriel? Wow.

Michael's continued absence becomes more and more curious and interesting. Why hasn't he tried to contact Dean? We know angels can touch dreams even when they can't physically find the human, so why not Michael making his own case for Dean to say yes to him? Inquiring minds want to know!
immie_8immie_8 on November 14th, 2009 08:45 am (UTC)
Re: Changing Channels
Richard Speight, Jr. shift from the Trickster to Gabriel was fabulous. I swear, even his voice changed!

And you've definately asked the million dollar question regarding Michael. It'll be interesting to see what the why is behind his absence when he finally does appear. (I'm assuming that he will at one point.)
chiiyo86chiiyo86 on November 13th, 2009 09:31 pm (UTC)
Hey, I'm glad to see you! Sorry to hear that you've been so busy (nothing too bad, I hope).

I loved everything you said about free will vs fate, because it echoes a lot of my onw thoughts. This quote, "We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are." is spot on. The angels see the world in a biased way, and we shouldn't take everything they say at face value.

About the Trickster as Gabriel, I wasn't sure how I was feeling about it when I was watching the episode, but the actor really sold it to me, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. To me, Gabriel has been trying to stop the prophecy when we saw it before - it makes more sense, because if he really thought fate was inevitable, why intervene? As it didn't work, he's desillusioned, but like you I'm not convinced that's what he really thinks. And I hope he'll become an ally in the future!
bardicvoice: SAMM Impala by <lj user=talulababy>bardicvoice on November 14th, 2009 12:15 am (UTC)
Thanks, Elsa! Nothing too bad - just work being nuts, and the never-ending remodeling on my house continuing to be never-ending. I had hopes it would finally wrap up this week, but no luck. There were days I had exactly one chair to sit on, in one room - not conducive to writing! But when I go home tonight (hanging out in an internet cafe at the moment, to give the guys a little more time to work), I should finally find the place put together enough that I'll be able to start unpacking the boxes that I filled back in June. Sixty boxes just of books ... and I finally have most of the bookshelves in place to receive them. Yay!!

I've been thinking about that Nin quote for a while in the context of this fandom. People bitch about what they don't like while others adore the very same thing, and then they fight about who's right when the truth is, there are no absolutes, and both sides aren't speaking about what's there but about what they perceived about what's there. Makes me tired sometimes.

I really enjoyed what Richard Speight, Jr. did with Trickster Gabriel. The total transformation when he dropped the Trickster act and revealed his true self was marvelous. And I really like that everything he did still remains ambiguous. He's an enigma even to himself, I think, and I'll be curious to see where he comes down! I'm with you in hoping he might become an ally, and a valuable one.
yourlibrarianyourlibrarian on November 15th, 2009 04:53 am (UTC)
Sam being cast as infected in the genital herpes commercial while Dean was assigned the off-camera role of narrating all the undesirable side effects of the treatment could have been yet another reflection of Sam literally having been infected by and having had sex with a demon, while Dean’s warnings about consequences went unheeded. Sam being turned into the Impala put him literally in the position of being dominated and driven by Dean – exactly what Sam most resents – even as it made Sam an integral part of something Dean loves and cherishes.

I really like your take on those, yes.

I’ll be interested to see eventually if God chose to disappear in order to give his creation the full sense of its ability to choose, independent of his presence arguing that here was one who already knew how everything would happen and thus must happen

Hmm! Well, that certainly puts a new spin on John's disappearance in S1.
i dream of colors that have never been seenetoile444 on December 12th, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
I can't believe I hadn't commented before! You put into words exactly what I thought and attempted to write in my own review.

The roles the Gabriel Trickster assigned the brothers in their TV hell seemed deliberately to echo their real life situations. For example, I had to wonder during the Dr. Sexy, M.D. segment whether the Sam-doctor’s fear of operating again was a reference to Sam using his powers, with the excuse being offered that the possessed nurse and others who died along the way weren’t his fault because he’d simply been following his destiny; that sometimes, things just happen. Similarly, doctor-Dean refusing to perform the face transplant and getting shot for it might have reflected Dean’s refusal to give himself to Michael, accompanied by the lesson that each time he refuses, he’ll simply get hurt again as Zachariah hurt him before. Their attitudes and actions in the sitcom were gross exaggerations of habits and interests that played particularly on things about Dean that Sam finds irritating and embarrassing, while the questions neither of them could understand in the Japanese game show focused on the lurking resentments and guilt underlying Dean’s relationship with Sam. Sam being cast as infected in the genital herpes commercial while Dean was assigned the off-camera role of narrating all the undesirable side effects of the treatment could have been yet another reflection of Sam literally having been infected by and having had sex with a demon, while Dean’s warnings about consequences went unheeded. Sam being turned into the Impala put him literally in the position of being dominated and driven by Dean – exactly what Sam most resents – even as it made Sam an integral part of something Dean loves and cherishes.

I think "Changing Channels" is perhaps the most sgnificant episode of the first half of S5. I don't think a single line was wasted, not even the vaguely humorous herpexia ad. For example, Sam was shown as infected with something he could manage but never fully make go away...ie.. his demon blood.

What I also really enjoyed was that there was team work and trust between the boys.
immie_8immie_8 on December 27th, 2009 05:22 am (UTC)
Evening Professor,

Well, now that Christmas has passed and the family dinners have all past, I finally have some time to catch-up.

First thing I have to admit is that this episode taught me the danger of overspoiling myself. I had waaaaay too many expectations going into this episode, and it's taken a couple viewings with me trying to push those expectations aside to see how great this episode really was. I'm too much of a spoiler-junkie to quit, but it's actually making me kind of glad that I don't know too much about the future, as much as I'd like to.

Gabriel’s timeline also bothers me, because we don’t know when he decamped from Heaven.

I originally thought that Gabriel had originally left sometime during the war against Lucifer, but after reading your review I realized that that would leave him absent to announce the birth of Christ. (I guess there's always the possibility that in Kripke's universe Gabriel didn't announce the birth of Christ, but I guess only Kripke knows.)

Dean’s challenge to Gabriel to stand up to his family and do something about the situation might prompt him to find a way to use his power to help heal his family rifts.

At the very least, I'm hoping that Dean's speech to Gabriel will make him stop trying to be "Switzerland" and compel him to choose a side. Like Dean, Sam, and Cas, Gabriel is now being challenged to make a choice, and I hope that me makes the right one, and that the next time we see him that the boys have another angelic ally on their side.

...while the questions neither of them could understand in the Japanese game show focused on the lurking resentments and guilt underlying Dean’s relationship with Sam.

This probably was one of my favourite parts of the episode, just because, for me, it shows that the writers aren't finished with the boys issues with each other yet. They probably haven't admitted it to themselves yet, or maybe haven't even realized it, but those resentments and issues are still there, and I'm just waiting for someone or something to poke at them hard enough to make the boys face what the currently invisible elephant in the room.

"As it is in Heaven, so it must be on Earth”

The last thing that I've realized as I've been looking back on the episodes is that not only is the claim that Dean and Sam mirror Michael and Lucifer in their older brother, younger brother dynamics quite a long stretch with more than a few logical holes in it, but that, IMO, Sam's journey as a younger brother actually much closer mirrors the other overlooked younger brother in the series: Castiel. Castiel is the younger brother of the angelic group (making him Michael's younger brother as well); he rebelled (and for a valid reason, IMO), got kicked out, has struggled with faith, he was close to Dean then betrayed him, then when confronted with all the lies he told to himself to justify the betrayal he turned around and tried to make things right, and now is seeking God and, perhaps, redemption for himself.

No it's not a perfect mirror, but IMO, there seem to be so many parallels between Cas and Sam, and with Dean being pegged as Michael's vessel, Cas didn't only betrayed Dean by letting Sam out of the panic room and trying to keep Dean in the green room against his will, but has also in a sense betrayed his older brother, Michael. (This, of course, is assuming that Michael isn't on board with Zach and Raph's plan.) It just really seems like while everyone else is focused on Lucifer and his younger brother story, the angelic other younger brother in the mix has been overlooked, and I'm starting to wonder whether this is deliberate.

Happy Holidays everyone, can't wait to see you all come the new year! :D

immie_8