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5.10 Abandon All Hope ...: Last Words? (Part Two - Meta Commentary and Production Notes)

5.10 Abandon All Hope …: Last Words?


Hunters die to learn

There are things the Colt can’t kill:

Satan raises Death.

Commentary and Meta Analysis

This episode brought the war home forever. I will mourn Ellen and Jo right along with Dean, Sam, and Bobby, but I will also celebrate who they were and what they did. In this discussion, I’ll explore the Harvelles’ story; Lucifer displaying his true colors; Sam and Dean’s brotherhood; Castiel’s changing limits; angels, demons, and time; and the role of the Colt.

This Could Literally Be Your Last Chance To Treat Me Like An Adult

For all that Ellen and Jo Harvelle appeared in only a handful of episodes, we learned a lot about them and saw their characters develop a story arc all their own. Jo in particular changed over time, growing into a more mature and interesting character than the girl we first met in season two’s Everybody Loves A Clown.

Let me start by saying that I loved Ellen from the very beginning, but thought the writers initially missed the boat with Jo. I guessed early on that Jo had been redesigned before we saw her, and the redesign didn’t work for me for several reasons.

Some of us met Jo before the second season actually started. Some fans may remember that when the first season DVDs came out, they included one special feature in which the sixth disc, if used in a computer’s DVD drive with access to the internet, launched a version of the official Supernatural show website containing exclusive content that couldn’t be accessed without the DVD in the drive. One feature on that website was a page full of supposed hunters’ journals in blog form, which evidently were going to be unlocked gradually as the series progressed. That website was never fully developed, however, and I would guess that happened for two reasons: resources (both staff time and money), and the even more important realization that resources created for the website might limit the flexibility desirable for the development of the TV series itself. My conclusion on that latter score is largely due to Jo, because Jo’s journal was the first one we got to read, but the Jo of the journal was a very different character than the one we met in the show. The journal’s content established her as a year younger than Sam, a girl who wanted to be just like her dad and hunt, and – in a significant departure from the TV version – someone who had gone on occasional hunts with other experienced hunters beginning when she was eighteen, although she had never gone solo. The journal established a romantic relationship between Jo and a young male hunter named Rick who disappeared on a hunt. Jo’s online journal also had the number 4747 – which we saw in the episode In My Time Of Dying as the room number where Dean had his heart-to-heart with Tessa – featuring as an important clue in a mystery left by her father, something never to be resolved. Some of the journal’s content changed early in the second season, evidently as decisions were made to change the tenor of things. For example, Jo’s website journal initially mentioned John as one of her hunter “uncles” and indicated repeated visits, but all references to John were deleted along the way. So were all references to her ever having gone hunting, and the main entry concerning her boyfriend Rick. The journal entries terminated – according to their recorded dates – in June 2006, when Jo was twenty-one and shortly before she would have met the Winchester brothers. (You can still find the journal entries – including deleted ones – on the Supernatural Wiki: http://www.supernaturalwiki.com/index.php?title=Jo%27s_Blog.)

Two things, however, didn’t change between the journal and the show. Jo’s journal established Ellen’s protectiveness and her refusal to condone the idea of Jo hunting, and also showed Jo increasingly chafing at her mother’s controls. One of the last entries included the observation that Jo loved her mom, but her mom wouldn’t let her grow up.

When we first met Jo in ELAC and Simon Said, the character was clearly intended as a potential romantic interest for Dean. She fell flat for me in that regard both because she came off as being far too immaturely young, petulant, inexperienced, and naïve to be any true match for Dean, and because Dean, trying and failing to deal with the immediate combined impact of his father’s death, his growing realization that John had sold his soul to buy Dean’s life, and John’s imperative that Dean save Sam or face having to kill him, simply wasn’t in the right headspace even to see a girl, much less to form any meaningful relationship. Over the course of the series, however, the relationship between Dean and Jo evolved in a very different way, and one that worked better for both characters, at least to my mind. The “younger sister” vibe that emerged in No Exit seemed more comfortable for Dean to deal with at the time, and Jo’s adult recognition and resigned acceptance at the end of Born Under a Bad Sign that Dean wouldn’t call and didn’t reciprocate her feelings marked a major development in the maturity of her character. Her experiences in No Exit and Born Under a Bad Sign seasoned her, fear and loss teaching lessons Ellen had tried to protect her from learning, and ironically suited her potentially to emerge later as a character who could have grown organically into a love interest. We regrettably didn’t see much of her in Good God, Y’All, but her teaming with Rufus reinforced the impression she’d started to project in Born Under a Bad Sign of someone taking responsibility for herself and learning to make the hard choices. It also showed her working competently as a hunter.

Ellen’s protective streak and her desire to prevent Jo from hunting showed up first in Simon Said, when she deliberately sent Jo out of the room on a spurious errand before confronting the brothers about the relationship between their hunt for Andy and Sam’s own circumstances. Ellen giving away Jo’s hunt in No Exit was an even more blatant demonstration of her attempts to keep her daughter safe by wrapping her in cotton wool. Telling Jo about John’s involvement in her father’s death to drive a wedge between Jo and the Winchesters was another part of her campaign to keep Jo from hunting. Unlike John Winchester, Ellen had happily sent Jo away to school, but after having lost her husband to hunting, she couldn’t bear to take the chance of the same fate befalling her daughter. As the events of that episode demonstrated, however, all her protectiveness led to was Jo’s rebellious decision to strike out entirely on her own, leading to the setup for Born Under a Bad Sign. The good fortune hidden in that parental loss was that Jo wasn’t present when the Roadhouse was destroyed in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 1.

We don’t know how long after the loss of the Roadhouse and the opening of the devil’s gate the mother and daughter hunting team reunited. Ellen said in Good God, Y’All only that she’d been hunting with Jo for a while. She told Sam she didn’t believe Jo could hack the hunting life, but said if she was going to do it anyway, she would keep an eye on her.

I would submit that Ellen was wrong about Jo’s capability. The Jo we saw in Good God, Y’All and Abandon All Hope was a much more seasoned, saddened, and mature young woman than the cocksure girl we first met. She knew the stakes, she knew the odds, and she no longer blithely assumed that she would always win and survive. I don’t think Ellen gave Jo enough credit for having learned those lessons and being able to make those decisions, and I believe that denial grew out of Ellen’s deep fear of losing her daughter. I think, in a way, Ellen didn’t want to acknowledge that Jo had grown up and chosen the hunting life not because of her earlier romanticized notions, but because it really was her calling, her vocation. Admitting that mature choice would have meant accepting that this wasn’t just a phase Jo would grow out of when she grew up, and that Jo’s would be a hunter’s life – harsh, brutal, and probably short. Every parent wants their child to live a long and happy life; I think Ellen was trying desperately to persuade herself that, given enough time, Jo would change her mind and choose to be normal and safe.

In the end, Jo knew she was dying and wanted her death to have meaning. Buying the brothers time for a shot at killing Lucifer was a worthy goal, and that their attempt didn’t succeed doesn’t diminish what Jo accomplished. Not the least of it was seeing Ellen acknowledge her as a grown-up, and still fiercely love the woman she’d become as well as the daughter she’d always been.

Ellen and Jo also offer yet another interesting reflection of Dean and Sam. In many ways, Dean has always been as much a parent as a brother to Sam, given their mother’s untimely death and their father’s frequent absences. I think the dual nature of their relationship partially fueled their unhealthy codependence, and I think Dean, because of it, has suffered some of the same blindness concerning Sam as Ellen has with Jo, for some of the same reasons. Both Ellen and Dean have had to find new approaches to deal with the independence and choices of their “child,” even when they didn’t agree with those choices. They’ve both needed to give them space to grow up to find and be themselves, not holding them back or trying too hard to keep them safe, to keep them dependent and obedient as they were when they were children. At the last, Ellen succeeded with Jo. Despite the pain and grief of losing her, Ellen honored her decisions and followed her lead. Dean is still working on that with Sam, but their exchange in Bobby’s house before the mission – with Dean teasing Sam about finally having trust issues with a demon and with Sam ironically thanking him for his support – shows the effort is still ongoing. Dean followed Sam’s lead on letting Sam come along, despite believing it was the wrong choice, and that was part of the process.

Ellen’s decision not to leave Jo but to die with her echoed Dean’s decision back in Croatoan, and I think it would still be Dean’s choice if the situation came around again. Dean couldn’t bear the thought of living with Sam dead; that’s precisely what led to his decision in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2 to sell his soul and get his brother back. Had he not made the demon deal, I think he’d have done what Bobby clearly feared back then: committed suicide one way or another. That much, I think, hasn’t changed.

Jo grew up, and Ellen acknowledged it and gave the praise that was her daughter’s due before they died. It’s up to Sam and Dean to do the same.

I Don’t Understand Why You’re Fighting Me, Of All Angels

Confronting Castiel and Sam, Lucifer showed his true colors. With each of them, Lucifer tried to dress himself in their thoughts to make them believe they were alike, and tried to persuade them to yield to him. All he proved, however, was how very much he is the master of lies, changing what he says to appeal to each listener. Even as he speaks one piece of truth, projecting apparent honesty, he shades it to make it work for him.

We know from On The Head Of A Pin that Castiel remembers Lucifer from before the Fall; we saw the memory in his eyes when Uriel challenged him to remember Lucifer’s strength and beauty. We’ve also known since at least Heaven and Hell that Castiel was low on the angelic powers totem pole, a soldier with many superiors above him, including Anna and Zachariah.

Lucifer’s approach to Castiel emphasized the difference in their ranks. Lucifer recalling Castiel’s name was reaching for something unimportant and barely noticed. He praised Castiel’s loyalty when Cas, trying to protect the Winchesters, lied about having come to town alone. He touched on how alien this human world was to both of them, asking Castiel what it was like to have traveled in a car. And then he tried to draw parallels between them to get Castiel to join his side, pointing out that both of them had rebelled and been cast out of Heaven, and trying to make the case that almost all of Heaven wanted Lucifer dead, and if they got what they wanted, then Castiel would become angelic enemy number one in Lucifer’s place.

Lucifer conveniently left out all the differences between them. Lucifer rebelled against God; Castiel rebelled against angelic bureaucrats who had put themselves in the place of God. Lucifer disobeyed a direct command of God; Castiel, trying to be faithful to God, disobeyed orders from angels he’d come to realize were acting outside of God’s commands. Appreciating Castiel’s loyalty in speech, Lucifer demonstrated how much he despised the concept of loyalty in his dealings with his faithful demons, playing on Meg’s devotion and using and expending demons to suit his convenience.

Similarly, in dealing with Sam, Lucifer echoed things we’ve heard Sam say in an attempt to emphasize the similarities between them. Knowing the importance of the brother relationship between Sam and Dean, he cast his relationship with Michael in the same mold. To make the description all the more pointed, he pulled words right out of Sam’s mind, echoing lines we heard Sam speak to Dean in episodes including Asylum (I have a mind of my own) and Simon Said (So now I’m a freak?). He dared Sam to contradict him, asking, Any of this sound familiar? and Sam couldn’t deny him outright because Sam had said and felt those things and more, and guiltily knew it. What Lucifer artfully left unsaid, however, was the love that has always connected the brothers. We don’t know how Michael feels, but Lucifer’s hate is apparent; between the Winchesters, however, the human resentments pale in comparison to the love at their core.

Even while Lucifer attempted his seduction of Sam, however, he revealed through his contempt for everyone else that Sam is nothing more than a means to an end for him, and he didn’t seem to care about the mixed message. He dismissed the deaths of the town’s men, women and children as nothing, and the destruction of the demons who obeyed him and sacrificed themselves at his command as less than nothing. He excused his actions simply as being necessary. While Sam used the same excuse during his downward slide into demon blood addiction, his eyes have been opened since then and his recent choices have reflected his essentially moral core – telling the truth to Jesse and refusing to contemplate killing him in I Believe The Children Are Our Future, for example.

There are many more differences than similarities between Lucifer and those he courts. Lucifer’s lies come in how selectively he uses the truth.

Haven’t We Learned A Damned Thing? If We’re Going To Do This, We’re Gonna Do It Together

The debate about whether or not the Winchesters are stronger when they’re together went another round in this episode. Dean tried to get Sam to sit it out, arguing that bringing Lucifer’s putative vessel right to the devil wasn’t a smart idea, but he yielded to Sam’s insistence that they stay together. For what it’s worth, I think Sam was right; they are stronger as a team. They can be used against each other, but I think they’ve learned enough to know where to draw the line: witness Dean refusing Zachariah in Sympathy For The Devil even as the angel broke Sam’s legs and cut off his breathing. Seeing and hearing his brother suffering was agony, but Dean understood the stakes as he hadn’t back when he sold his soul for Sam in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2. He knew what Zachariah was trying to do, and he refused to yield no matter the cost not just to him, but to Sam.

As long as the brothers stay together, they can reinforce each other. Their arguments, when they manage to keep them not personal, tend to bring both of them clearer vision. It’s when they’ve been alone that each has been most vulnerable, in part I think because each of them was reaching for a support that was no longer there. We saw it most clearly when each of them died, leaving the other bereft: they both made bad choices in their desperation to reconnect. I think they’re sadder and wiser, now.

The strains underlying their relationship are still there, but this time, the brothers acknowledged them a bit, even going so far as to joke a little. There was still an edge on both their voices as Dean commented on Sam having trust issues with a demon coming better late than never, and as Sam ironically thanked Dean for his “continued support.” Dean’s resentment of Sam having chosen a demon over him is still there, as is Sam’s resentment of Dean not trusting him, but the two of them letting that back out into the open is essential for them finally addressing and resolving their issues. Being able to tease rather than argue or be silent is only step one, but at least it is step one.

That they aren’t fully back together and healed came out most of all when, just before taking on Lucifer, Sam asked if Dean had any last words. Dean thought about it, but with too much potentially to say, simply settled on, I think I’m good. The look on Sam’s face told me he was looking for something more, some reassurance or inspiration, and in the past Dean would have instinctively known and given him what he needed. This time, he couldn’t – there were too many options, and many of them might have concealed emotional land mines that wouldn’t have been there before demon deals, demon blood, and hidden truths. And Winchesters have never been given to declarations of love and forgiveness, or pretending to hope they don’t feel.

So – What Can You Do?

In this episode, we saw Castiel realize the loss of another aspect of his angelic power; he lacked the ability to kill the Meg demon in its host. Castiel had been able to do that before, at least for run of the mill demons – remember Cas in the body of Jimmy’s daughter killing her captor demons in The Rapture, for example – and had only been impotent when confronting the very powerful Alastair, whose demonic stature evidently exceeded Castiel’s angelic power ranking. Black-eyed Meg should have been no challenge.

Until this episode, we hadn’t seen Castiel attempt to execute a demon since he was brought back from death in Sympathy For The Devil, so we don’t know whether he’s been missing this power ever since then or whether he’s experiencing a gradually increasing loss. The future Castiel of The End reported the dissipation of all his angelic abilities when the other angels gave up and left, but it wasn’t clear how quickly it happened or whether there’d been a steady drain the longer he remained cut off from Heaven that simply accelerated when all the angels disappeared.

Others of his abilities remained intact, particularly his ability to transport himself instantaneously across distances and to move things telekinetically. If he’s experiencing a gradual erosion of power, one has to wonder when he’s going to try to travel and fail to move, or when he’s going to experience pain from an injury to his host body, or when he’s going to be unable to move through time.

There are many aspects of angelic power about which we know nothing. Castiel drew Dean up from Hell and put his soul in a body miraculously free of scars despite Dean’s body having been ripped to shreds and buried to rot, but once Dean was back in that body and walking the Earth, Castiel couldn’t heal him again after Alastair nearly killed him in On The Head Of A Pin. That happened before Castiel’s rebellion against his superiors, so the reason for it is unclear. We’ve only seen Castiel able to restore the body of his host, but not to heal another person.

Even while trapped inside the ring of holy fire, Castiel was able to affect the outside physical world, manipulating the pipe bolts with his power. That’s consistent with Raphael’s ability while trapped to affect the weather and implode the window in Free To Be You And Me, with the ability of trapped demons like Meg and Casey to generate wind and earth tremors and affect fire outside their devil’s traps in Born Under A Bad Sign and Sin City, respectively, and with Sam and Dean’s ability, while trapped in ghost form, to telekinetically affect the chandelier in Death Takes A Holiday. Devil’s traps and holy fire bind the body and spirit, evidently, but not the reach of the mind – something to remember if Lucifer ever gets trapped.

There’s Only Five Things In All Of Creation That That Gun Can’t Kill

All the human lore we know about the Colt came from John in Dead Man’s Blood, when he said the legend was Samuel Colt built a gun that could kill … anything. We saw a hint of truth to the legend in that episode when John used the gun to kill Luther the vampire, despite the lore that said vampires could only be killed by beheading. We learned in Devil’s Trap both that the Colt could kill demons, when Dean saved Sam by shooting Tom, and also that simply being hit by a bullet from the gun in a non-fatal location wasn’t enough to kill a powerful demon, when Sam shooting the possessed John in the leg wasn’t sufficient to kill Azazel, although it did disrupt the completeness of the demon’s control over its human host. In All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2, however, we saw the true potency of the Colt twice: first when Jake used it as the key to open the devil’s gate, and second, when Dean surprised and fatally shot Azazel.

After that last bullet made by Samuel Colt had been fired, the gun seemingly lost its value and virtue. Bobby studied it, trying to figure out how it worked and restore its potency, but he failed until Ruby came to his assistance in Sin City. We never learned how Ruby – and more recently, Crowley – knew the secret to making bullets that would work, or why – apart from using every device she could to get Sam to trust and work with her – Ruby restored the Colt’s ability to kill supernatural things in the first place. We also never learned the origins of Ruby’s knife, or how and why it could kill demons. That the knife was less powerful than the Colt was suggested when it failed to kill either Castiel in Lazarus Rising or Alastair in I Know What You Did Last Summer, but the knife is still even more a mystery than the Colt, since we know nothing about it.

We learned the Colt’s major limitation in Malleus Maleficarum when Sam failed to kill Tami. We saw that an alert demon could avoid death by using its telekinetic power to stop a bullet in midair. A bullet that couldn’t hit couldn’t kill. Azazel could doubtless have done the same if he hadn’t been so sure of himself and so dismissive of Dean that the realization of his error cost him his moment, much as Sam’s change of target from heart to leg had surprised him in Devil’s Trap. That demonic ability to freeze a bullet in midair was doubtless why Dean chose to shoot a hellhound rather than Meg in Abandon All Hope; he knew Meg, forewarned, could have avoided being shot, while his unexpected choice instead to shoot at the hound standing beside her – something he knew from seeing its pawprints in the water – caught her by surprise.

Given all we knew about the Colt, it wasn’t unreasonable for the Winchesters to believe it might have worked on Lucifer, if only they could get the necessary instant of surprise to prevent a telekinetic defense. Sam provided the distraction, Dean got the surprise, and Lucifer went down. That he got back up again was only the first shock. The second was his statement that there were only five things in all Creation the Colt couldn’t kill, and he was one.

I say that knowledge was a shock for two reasons. One was that we’d never learned anything about the nature of the Colt after hearing John describe its origins and the legend that it could kill anything. We’d seen it work and we’d seen it fail, but we never knew the why of either, and neither did the boys or Bobby despite all their searching when they were trying to figure out how to make it work again. We learned it had another purpose that legend had never told when Azazel revealed it was the key to open the crypt in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2. Where one such thing was unknown, there was always the chance there would be another. Hearing that there were only five things it couldn’t kill opened the doors of speculation.

But the second reason Lucifer’s statement came as a shock was simply that Lucifer knew the limitations on the Colt when apparently no one else did. Lucifer had been imprisoned in Hell for millennia, and the demonic plot to free him didn’t open even a communications channel until Azazel broke through to him in 1972 (shown in Lucifer Rising), so how did he know about a human tool crafted over a hundred years earlier in the American West? The demons Ruby and Crowley knew enough about it to have crafted ammunition that would work in it when Bobby, the most learned human hunter we know, had failed in that task, but apparently even Crowley didn’t realize it wouldn’t work against Lucifer. It’s theoretically possible that Crowley, whether realizing it or not, was part of Lucifer’s deeper game, and was intended to give the brothers the Colt precisely to use its failure to deprive them of hope, but I believe Crowley was genuine in his desire to have Lucifer killed and Lucifer was genuinely surprised to see the Colt in Dean’s hand.

I also believe Castiel was genuine in his ignorance about the Colt’s inability to kill Lucifer. He initially objected to Dean’s “insane task” of killing the devil, believing that to be impossible for anyone other than God or Michael, but even he concluded in the present-day portion of The End that if Dean’s human plan could succeed at all, the Colt would be the only human-capable weapon that would have a chance. I don’t think he was misleading the brothers, but I don’t think he knew any more about the weapon than they did. And although Uriel proclaimed in On The Head of a Pin that only an angel could kill another angel, and Alastair admitted the demons’ ignorance of any way to kill an angel, Anna had intimated in Heaven and Hell that there were weapons that might work, when she told Sam that there was nothing they could get to right then. I think it’s possible the Colt might be able to kill angels other than Lucifer, and that some in the angelic hierarchy – including Anna – might have known that.

At this point, I really want to know the full origin story of the Colt, including what – or who – inspired Samuel Colt to create both it and the devil’s gate it could open, and why the original number of bullets was capped at thirteen. Was Samuel Colt – assuming he was human – being (a) manipulated by Zachariah’s faction to create the tools necessary to bring on the apocalypse, (b) inspired by God, (c) lured by demons, or (d) something else? Was demon blood required for the manufacture of the Colt’s bullets, and is that why Ruby and Crowley could make them? Does Bobby now know the process and have the ability to make more ammo, or did Ruby keep the essentials to herself? Why is the devil one of five things in Creation the gun can’t kill, and what are the other four? Might the four be the Horsemen, and the gun’s inability to kill them simply a reflection of humanity’s inability ever to do away entirely with Satan, Death, War, Pestilence, and Famine? Are there things that could kill those five beings, or can they only be limited and chained? Could Death’s scythe – which we saw Alastair using in Death Takes a Holiday, assuming Alastair was telling the truth about the blade he was using to kill Reapers – kill what the Colt couldn’t, or would it be bound by the same mortal limitations? (I’m assuming, by the way, that the Colt can’t kill God because God, by definition, is outside Creation since S/He was the Creator.)

The Colt continues to be a mystery. It still has its uses – we’ve seen it work on hellhounds, vampires, and surprised demons, and have reason to believe it would be potent against most things, providing a bullet can hit them – but it’s clearly not the magic answer to the brothers’ dilemma about how to stop Lucifer and the apocalypse.

I Think It’ll Happen Soon. Within Six Months. And I Think It’ll Happen – In Detroit

Lucifer’s final comments to Sam about his belief that Sam would say yes to him within six months and that it would happen in Detroit was a scary callback to the events of The End, where we learned from future Dean that precisely that had happened. One has to ask what significance both Detroit and the six month timeframe have. (Yes, I know the practical, real-world significance of the timeframe: hello, season five finale! Not what I’m talking about, here …)

One event within that six month timeframe will be Holy Week, culminating in Easter, the Christian celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. I can’t help but wonder whether some of the events on Lucifer’s apocalyptic timetable involve perversions of Christian celebrations, and if so, whether Good Friday and Easter may figure into Lucifer’s calendar. I’ll be watching.

I haven’t a clue about the apocalyptic significance of Detroit. I’m guessing that, like Carthage, it is the suitable location for some major power ritual, but the what and the why escape me. I’m sure the brothers will debate the possibility of just staying away from Detroit, but I think Lucifer, as the one on the offensive, has more ability to dictate the time and place of confrontations than the boys do. If the stakes are high enough, the brothers might not be able to refuse the chosen battlefield; what they have to be able to do, however, is not be forced into predictable strategy and tactics.

My real qualm with hearing Lucifer calmly predict Sam saying yes within six months in Detroit was the echo from The End and the sense of inevitability that reinforced. And that makes me wonder. We know from In The Beginning that angels can travel through time, at least into the past, and make others experience what happened then. We can suspect from our Dean having reunited with Sam, unlike the case of the future Dean we saw in The End, that either the future isn’t fixed or that Zachariah had made him experience just one possible future; we don’t actually know whether angels can go both ways in time, or whether the real future is exclusively the province of God.

If Lucifer retains the angelic ability to travel in time, that could explain his knowledge of the Colt: he could have been there to see its making, even though he didn’t escape from Hell until this year. And if angels can actually go both ways in time, even if the future is not singular and fixed and they can simply see the likely ways things may play out, then it’s possible that Lucifer has seen something of the same future that Zachariah shared with Dean.

If I had to guess, however, I would think that angels can’t see the future; that only God is that fully independent of time. From all the things that Castiel, Uriel, and Anna said during last season about their long and lonely sojourn watching Earth, I believe that angels experience linear time the same way humans do. Everything that Zachariah has said about wanting to bring about the apocalypse and get through it to paradise wasn’t phrased as if he’d seen it happen, but only that it was prophesied. Angels believe in prophecy, in destiny – and yet, Lucifer doesn’t see his defeat as inevitable, but rather considers himself able to triumph. For both sides to believe they are able to win, competing prophecies or interpretations of prophecy must be in play, or multiple versions of reality must exist in which different outcomes occur.

My head hurts.

Production Notes

They kicked it in the ass on this episode. Kim Manners would have been proud.

Ben Edlund’s script was another in his series of emotional winners. Phil Sgriccia’s direction and Anthony Pinker’s editing were marvelous. I particularly loved Crowley and Castiel disappearing through the columns supporting the highway in the beginning, and the flip of that same concept and technique used to reveal first the anti-angel symbols on the wall at Crowley’s, and later, the still riot of Reapers in the town that only Castiel could see. All the bits emphasizing Castiel’s angelic translocation – disappearing from the columns, being inside and then outside Ellen’s SUV, transitioning from the street upstairs into the building – were not only niftily handled, but served to lay the foundation for understanding how he whisked the brothers away from Lucifer at the end. Conveying the presence of the invisible hellhounds through their visible interactions with the real world – splashing through puddles, knocking things over, breath stirring hair – was beautifully done. Using the security camera footage on the gate at Crowley’s wasn’t just creative; it established for the guards that Jo was alone, showing the limits of the security coverage area to help reinforce the surprise of Sam’s and Dean’s appearance. I loved the touch in the script of Bobby shooting the group photograph, especially given the way the other characters treated it as an unsurprising, grumpily inevitable event. It tied in seamlessly with the group photo Dean found in Bobby’s journal in The End – another Edlund script – when he was trying to figure out where to go. We’d never seen Bobby do the camera thing before, but with these two episodes, we’ve been presented with a whole new aspect of Bobby as not just a premier researcher, but as the preserver of hunter family memories. Makes you wonder what other photos are in albums around Bobby’s house …

The deserted streets of Carthage were mostly the Supernatural backlot, redressed again to look different from the other times we’ve seen it this season. The exception was the street with the Carthage Sheriff’s office where Sam and Dean met up again with Ellen and Jo; I didn’t recognize where that was shot, but it wasn’t the backlot.

The production crew get full marks especially for the redressed backlot streets. One fun detail involved the missing persons posters: I know that Leslie DeHaan has been an office production assistant and assistant production coordinator on the show; I can only assume that Roberta Hagen also has a connection to the show, or did in the past. If they’re not working for the show now, the “missing” posters might be a fun message sent to them by the crew! I’d like to know the story there … I also loved the touch of the marquee reading “Jesus Saves” and the “Anti-God Is Anti-American” flag painted billboard. Bobby’s ham radio call sign – KC5FDO – is a real one, by the way, from Beaumont, Texas, although it was cancelled back in 2006 and thus is no longer active.

The episode had great sound. The surround sound on the hellhounds was particularly effective. The incidental score was wonderful, from the use of “Everybody Plays The Fool” by the Main Ingredient while Crowley waited for the boys to show up, to Santana’s “Oye Como Va” under the scene at Bobby’s house. Jay Gruska’s underscore was beautiful and even haunting in spots, especially the mourning piano under Jo’s farewell.

All of the performances were nothing short of superb. Samantha Ferris as Ellen and Alona Tal as Jo both gave their best performances ever in an episode. I’m going to mourn Ellen and Jo for a long time precisely because these actresses made them so very human and so very real. I enjoyed Jo’s “last night on Earth” teasing with Dean, and the way her decision not to give him a romp in the hay demonstrated how much she had grown up. Ellen’s breakdown and determined recovery broke me, and Jo – well, the richness, humor, and complexity of her relationship with Dean and the hints at all the things that eventually might have been but never were made for something truly bittersweet. Samantha included a note in her blog (http://samanthaferris.net/) that adding Kim Manner’s signature expression – Kick it in the ass – to her parting line to Dean wasn’t in the script, but was a suggestion from Brad, one of the camera guys. That was inspired, and hearing that line was when I lost it.

Jim Beaver’s Bobby moved beyond the limitations of his wheelchair during the radio conversation with Dean. His frustration at not being able to join the fight was palpable, but he held Dean together with just his voice. He couldn’t have done more if he’d been physically present, but I’m not sure he realizes that. This war has cost him dearly, and I fear what the bitterness of losing Ellen and Jo will add to the burden he’s already carrying.

On the demon side of the house, I enjoyed the further development of Rachel Miner’s Meg, and absolutely loved Mark Sheppard’s Crowley. Miner is getting to play Meg as she evolves, which is interesting to watch. Meg had begun as Azazel’s loyal “daughter” back in Scarecrow and Shadow, but after her exorcism back to Hell in Devil’s Trap, had returned in Born Under A Bad Sign as a solo player out for revenge on the Winchesters. We saw in Sympathy For The Devil that Meg had become a convert to Lucifer because with his return to Earth, demons could dream again. Converts are often the ones most adamant and extreme in their faith, and Miner presented that with Meg. However, it was plain from her reaction to Castiel’s words that she knew Crowley; it will be interesting to see what effect learning about Crowley’s distrust of Lucifer may have on Meg’s faith in the future, when she combines it with his wholesale sacrifice of loyal demons to achieve his ends. I’m confident we’ll see her again; the holy fire was a bar and bane to angels, not demons, although I’m sure it hurt her. And speaking of Crowley, Mark Sheppard dominated the screen and brought a lot of interest and complexity to our independent demon. Sheppard is always a joy to watch, and I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing Crowley again, although I expect him to be on the lam from Lucifer.

Misha Collins continues to impress as Castiel. He was funny doing shots with Ellen, strong in his confrontation with Lucifer, and devious with Meg. His surprise at his inability to destroy the Meg demon, followed so swiftly by his calculation in throwing her down and using her body to bridge the fire, took him from almost-human to non-human in an instant. I loved seeing Castiel connecting with humans other than Dean, and look forward to more interactions with Sam and Bobby, and others.

Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles both brought the goods. The brothers’ conversation at Bobby’s managed to convey both how far they’ve come in terms of being able to disagree without fighting and how far they still have to go to be able to resolve all the negative emotions still between them, all with facial expression, body language, and tone of voice. Jared let us see Sam’s struggle with his loathing of Lucifer and fear of succumbing to him. Jensen gave us Dean on the verge of breaking down under fear, grief, and the pressure of command responsibility: his interaction with Bobby on the radio and his farewells to Jo and Ellen were heartbreaking in their intensity.

The final scene of this episode was among the most bleak in memory. Bobby and the brothers had no words to convey the depth of their grief and loss. Burning the group photo wasn’t just a stand-in for the traditional hunter salt-and-burn funeral for Ellen and Jo: it was a valediction for them all, the living as well as the dead. With Death on a rampage and no apparent way to stop Lucifer, the temptation to abandon hope and yield to despair is overwhelming.

And yet, and yet: a photograph can be reprinted. The Angel of Death has been confined before. Lucifer has been imprisoned before. Castiel still searches for God. And life, painful as it is, still goes on.

And while there’s life, there’s hope.



And -- that's a wrap for episode commentary in 2009! I hope to be back with fic before the show starts airing again, and I truly hope that the insanity in my life calms down a little so I can be more timely with these posts. Happy Holidays to all!!
Tags: ben edlund, castiel, dean winchester, episode commentaries, jared padalecki, jay gruska, jensen ackles, meta, misha collins, phil sgriccia, psychology, sam winchester, supernatural, supernatural university
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