5.22 Swan Song: I Got Something To Say
Lucifer takes Sam;
Dean and the car bring him back.
Promises break hearts.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
There was a lot to process in this episode. Initially, I felt simultaneously devastated, satisfied, and slightly annoyed; in retrospect, the satisfaction has grown and the annoyance has vanished. In this discussion, I explore the roles of Dean and Sam in ending the cycle of co-dependent Winchester self-sacrifice; the apparently shared identity of Kripke, Chuck, and God; the possible fates of Sam, Adam, Lucifer, and Michael, combined with guesses about the meaning of it all; and where we might go from here. Pour a drink; this will take a while.
You Gotta Promise Not To Try To Bring Me Back
This episode really was the culmination of the journey we’ve been on since the show began, and it had everything to do with the brothers’ relationship and nothing to do with angels, demons, Satan, or the apocalypse. Oh, the apocalypse was the catalyst, but the core of what happened was this: Dean grew up enough to acknowledge Sam fully as his own man and to respect, support, and honor Sam’s decisions, without in any way diminishing his love for, trust in, and acceptance of his brother; and Sam accepted responsibility for his part in uncaging Lucifer and resolved with all his courage to face his fear of the darkness within, willingly sacrificing himself to set things right and save the world. In the process, Sam was initially overwhelmed by Lucifer, but Dean’s stubborn refusal to leave him to face his fate alone, together with their shared lifetime of brotherly love embodied in the Impala, gave Sam the strength to turn the tables on the devil and consign him back to the Pit, taking Michael along for good measure. Dean couldn’t have caged Lucifer on his own, but Sam absolutely couldn’t have done it without him. Dean enabled Sam’s triumph over fear and the devil through his trust and steadfast love, while Sam, by manipulating Dean’s honor to give him a purpose, committed Dean to living on if he survived the fight. And when Dean finally acceded to Sam’s wishes, accepting his brother’s choice and following his orders to make a new life for himself, the Winchesters’ ruinous cycle of sacrificing their souls for each other was finally broken.
It’s because of that last element that I think the ending with Dean going to Lisa, as Sam had wanted, simply had to be in order to complete the story. All along, but especially in Mystery Spot, No Rest For The Wicked, In The Beginning, and Sam, Interrupted, we've been told and shown that the Winchesters' co-dependent, vicious circle of self-sacrifice for each other had to stop; that their inability to accept mortality, move on, and let each other go when they died was the root of their constant loss and even endangered the world.
Mary started it when she made a deal In The Beginning to bring John back from the dead, and innocent baby Sam paid the price. John's obsession with revenge for Mary's death facilitated the unhealthy co-dependence of his sons by forcing Dean to become parent as well as brother to Sam as John’s focus turned to hunting. Given their closeness, Sam was willing to do anything to save Dean in Faith, and while he didn’t realize at the time the price would be another man’s life, he couldn’t be sorry afterward he’d made that choice; he apologized for the guilt Dean felt about living because of an innocent man’s death, but Sam understandably couldn’t regret having his brother alive and well. During In My Time Of Dying, faced with Dean slipping away, John sold his soul – and the Colt Azazel needed to open the gates of Hell – to buy back Dean’s life. That fed Dean's guilt and exacerbated his lack of self-worth, and when Sam died in All Hell Breaks Loose after his triumph over evil in refusing to play Azazel's game in Cold Oak, leaving Dean bereft, Dean sold his soul to bring Sam back, unknowingly snatching him back from Heaven (as we know now from Dark Side Of The Moon) and setting him up to be tempted by the darkness again, this time to fall. Finally understanding the folly of it, Dean tried to stop the cycle then, forbidding Sam throughout season three to use his powers or do anything to break Dean’s deal, telling him to live instead. Despite that, after Dean died, Sam tried to make a deal to trade places with him anyway in I Know What You Did Last Summer, and when that failed, he ran down the darkest road he could find – awakening his powers and augmenting them with demon blood – in search of a way to bring Dean back or avenge him. Along the way, he got so caught up in the power and the rage that he didn't stop even when his brother was miraculously returned in Lazarus Rising, and ultimately he was manipulated into releasing Lucifer.
In Swan Song, Sam redeemed himself by accepting responsibility for his mistakes and his part in releasing Lucifer, and by steeling himself to face fear and temptation, determining to set things right the only way he knew how: by willingly giving up his life not just for his brother, but for the world, to take down the devil. In a perfect flip of conversations he had with Dean in season three (Bedtime Stories and No Rest For The Wicked come to mind), he insisted that Dean accept his sacrifice this time and let him go, and not take a chance on potentially negating it and releasing Lucifer by trying to get him back.
In the immediate aftermath of the climactic battle, I think God brought Castiel back both as a reward and because He had work for him in Heaven, after the way Castiel had proven himself in his own test. I think Castiel used his new powers to bring Bobby back of his own volition, not at God’s command, simply out of respect for him and as a help for Dean. I know it seemed unfair for Dean not to be given anything more than a physical healing and for Sam to be trapped in a cage in Hell with Lucifer, but Castiel gave what he could. I think God took no direct hand then because the brothers’ test and journey wasn't complete. Not then, not quite yet. The last act of the fight – Dean’s second crucial role – wasn’t over.
I believe the cycle of Winchester self-sacrifice wasn't broken until the moment Dean made and followed through on the truly hardest conscious choice of his entire life: to accept Sam's decision and death and honor his insistence that Dean live, and try to live in such a way that he might someday be happy. In turning to Lisa and Ben and forcing himself to go on into a new life despite his grief and pain, Dean did what Mary, John, Sam, and even he himself had always failed to do before. I don't think it was any accident that Sam appeared on that street corner immediately after Dean had roused himself from empty grief just enough to at least pretend for Ben's sake that things were normal, taking the first concrete step that said this time, he wouldn't try to get Sam back. I think the figure under the dead streetlight was 100% pure Sam, and I think his return was both his and Dean's reward for both of them choosing rightly in their tests.
And I don't think that either the image of Dean half-heartedly and disconsolately living with Lisa while Sam was caged in Hell, or the lingering suspense of "is that really Sam and what happens next?" were the way the story was originally intended to end, either, had this been the ending of the series. Kripke’s original ending might have been the blaze of glory one with both brothers sacrificing themselves together to take out Lucifer, with their allies left dead on the battlefield while the world was saved without ever knowing it, but I don’t think so. Despite writing a running horror movie, Kripke’s a humanist at heart. (And I do believe he wanted early on to preserve the ability to make a movie later ... *grin*) I think Kripke would have taken things a little bit further to reunite the brothers and probably end with them continuing to hunt, with the "We've still got work to do" line coming out more happily than it did before, perhaps with the potential for them to figure out how to keep friends and possibly family while hunting.
Or, he could have left us with Sam trapped for eternity with Lucifer in a cage in Hell and Dean brokenly trying despite his own desire for oblivion to live up to Sam’s wishes for him, with the clinically depressing lesson of the show being that peace and freedom can never coexist: that forfeiting peace is the price of being a hero and for Dean, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.
I choose not to believe that. And so, I loved what Swan Song did in terms of its resolution of the Winchesters’ story, and found it satisfying.
But not over.
Endings Are Hard
From the moment he appeared in The Monster At The End Of This Book, Chuck was clearly an avatar for Eric Kripke, and since Eric Kripke created Supernatural and laid out its storyline, it’s fitting that at the end, we apparently saw Chuck/Kripke as God, vanishing when the original main story Kripke had laid out came to its natural end even as Kripke handed off the showrunning future of Supernatural to Sera Gamble. There’s a pleasing symmetry there.
With that said, however, my personal theory is that the Chuck we saw wasn’t always God. I do believe the neat-as-a-pin, white-shirted Chuck we saw disappear at the end was indeed Kripke/God, but I think he was just borrowing Chuck’s form to put the finishing touches on his manuscript while the real, human Chuck slept off his latest vision and writing binge.
I have a few reasons for thinking this. One major one is simply my personal taste: somehow, I just don’t see God constantly playing the part of slovenly, nebbishy Chuck with his booze, bad prose, geeky social ineptitude, and phone sex. I do believe God has a sense of humor – after all, He reportedly created us – but to inhabit Chuck fully would have been to carry that to extremes.
My other reasons are practical. The most obvious one concerns the god-finding amulet. In Good God, Y’All, Castiel requisitioned the amulet from Dean because, as he said, it would burn bright in the presence of God. However, Dean had worn it in Chuck’s presence in The Monster At The End Of This Book, Lucifer Rising, and Sympathy For The Devil, with no visible effect. That’s not absolute proof, however. Since Joshua told them in Dark Side Of The Moon that the amulet wouldn’t help them find God even though He was on Earth, it may have been that Castiel’s information about the amulet was simply wrong, or that God – being, hello, God, and powerful that way – simply blocked it from working when He didn’t want it to reveal Him.
But that brings me to my third reason for thinking the Chuck we saw was mostly, really Chuck, a fallible human chosen to be a prophet and a conduit for God’s word, rather than simply a disguise for God Himself. In Sympathy For The Devil, Zachariah subverted Chuck by giving him a false vision to send Dean to his father’s storage container in search of the Michael sword, simply so Zachariah could get his hands on Dean. While God could, yes, have been Machiavellian in the extreme and played along with Zachariah to give his middle-management angel enough rope to hang himself with, something about that situation – God personally, knowingly, deliberately lying to Dean – just makes be balk at the idea.
So until Kripke tells me otherwise, I’m going to go with my thought that the Chuck we saw throughout the fourth and fifth seasons was a purely human man chosen with humor to be God’s correspondent, and that the uncharacteristically urbane Chuck we saw in his final scene was the only time God actually borrowed his aspect directly. Maybe someday we’ll see the human Chuck confessing he got so totally blitzed after the grief of writing about Sam’s sacrifice that he doesn’t remember actually typing the last few pages of that Swan Song manuscript and really wishes he did, because they were good ... I would laugh. And buy Kripke a drink, if I ever met him again.
I Just Can’t Figure Out The Point
Lucifer complained to Michael that he couldn’t figure out the point, asking why God created him to be the way he was if God didn’t want the devil to exist, and why he and Michael should have to kill each other according to the terms of God’s inexplicable test for them. Chuck/Kripke/God said at the end that he thought this had been a test for Sam and Dean, and they’d done well by making their own choice, choosing family.
I think this was much more than a test for Sam and Dean. For the purpose of the manuscript of Chuck’s Supernatural novel and the Winchester Gospels, Sam and Dean would of course be the focus, and their choice would be the one that mattered. However, I don’t believe the whole thing, from the setup for Lucifer’s initial rebellion in human prehistory through the events of this last season, was staged purely for the purpose of testing two particular humans who would be born in 1979 and 1983. I think the focus was much broader. I think this was as much a test and learning exercise for the angels as it was for the Winchester brothers. And while the Winchesters passed their tests, saving humanity in the process, I think the angels are a split decision and their test is still underway.
In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Lucifer made the same argument he did here about God being omniscient and thus obviously having made him purposefully to fall and become the devil for His own purposes. God’s view as expressed by Milton was that He gave His creations freedom of choice, and the simple fact of His knowledge of how they would choose didn’t affect their freedom to choose. In other words, His act of creation didn’t predispose or predestine the things he created to choose a certain way. Their choices were all their own, unaffected by God already knowing the outcome. For God, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle does not exist.
Lucifer cited God’s will as his excuse for the things he did, claiming nothing that happened was his responsibility since all of it lay at God’s door in making things the way He did. In almost the same breath, he entreated Michael not to fight, but to have both of them simply walk off the chessboard and refuse to play God’s game – an ironic approach, given he was arguing simultaneously that all of them were simply God’s pawns doing whatever God had programmed them to do with no real choice of their own to make. Michael called him on that dodge, but Michael was no more honest than Lucifer because he also disclaimed responsibility for his own actions, in his case hiding behind having to obey his orders and fulfill his destiny. Where Lucifer claimed his choice wasn’t his fault because he simply acted as God had made him, Michael claimed he had no choice because he was an obedient son and their roles were ordained in prophecy. In making excuses and putting the responsibility on God rather than affirming they were making choices to do as they did, I think both Lucifer and Michael failed the test.
For all that Lucifer and Michael had held themselves up as mirrors of Sam and Dean, this showed just how badly flawed their reflections actually were. There were times along the way when Sam feared he was doomed by destiny, irrevocably changed by having been fed demon blood as an infant – made into a helpless tool by Azazel as Lucifer claimed to have been designed to be the devil by God – but in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 1 and again throughout season five, Sam made his own decisions, took responsibility for what he did, and rejected being typecast. And while Dean had always defined himself as the obedient son, falling back on his orders as defining the right and only course, he had developed a mind of his own long ago and rejected or adapted his father’s orders when they conflicted with what he believed was necessary and right. He did it to John’s face for the first time all the way back in Dead Man’s Blood when he sided with Sam, disobeyed John’s orders, and came to his rescue, and then flatly told John he’d been wrong to think they were stronger apart. He did it again in Born Under A Bad Sign when he finally made peace with John’s parting words by deciding he would save Sam no matter what, and thus wouldn’t have to think about killing him. Sam and Dean accepted responsibility and acknowledged they were making their own choices, their own decisions. Sometimes they were right and sometimes they were wrong, but when push came to shove they chose to do what they believed was right not because the decision was made for them, but precisely because the decisions were theirs.
In that respect, both Castiel and Gabriel showed themselves to be different from Lucifer and Michael. Like the Winchester brothers, Cass and Gabe made their own choices based on what they thought was right and accepted both the responsibility for and the consequences of their actions. I think they both passed God’s test, and after seeing Castiel brought back from death, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Gabriel was similarly rewarded. Both of them would make good teachers and leaders for others of their kind, and I think that recruitment may be part of what’s going on.
I think part of God’s plan may be to make angels understand and acknowledge that they, like humans, have free will and the responsibility of choice. I know Anna had maintained back in Heaven And Hell that angels were required to have absolute faith, be emotionless, and be perfectly obedient or be destroyed, but even her own situation demonstrated she was an unreliable narrator, and everything we learned about factions in Heaven bore that out. In the very beginning, Lucifer chose to disobey God, so free choice was obviously part of the angel creation from the start. That choice had consequences – Lucifer was caged in Hell in a hidden place behind 666 seals – but the punishment wasn’t simply for making a choice, but for making a prideful and evil one not just to disobey God, but to warp and destroy His creation of humans out of jealousy and spite. Other angels who chose similarly – Uriel in his disgust for humanity killing those in his garrison not of like mind, and Zachariah in his impatience for paradise choosing to initiate the apocalypse to wipe out most human life and hasten it along – earned their punishment. Others like Raphael, who apparently followed along out of despair and confusion at the absence of God, might still be salvaged and learn hope and a better way even as Gabriel did. And I think God’s plan may even extend to granting demons – who are, after all, simply fallen humans – the chance to acknowledge that they, too, may be able to choose again, and differently this time.
Lucifer and Michael, however, demonstrated their positions and attitudes were set. I doubt that being caged together is going to change them; I wonder if Michael attacked even as they both fell, determined to have his fight, or if they both found themselves powerless within the cage. Lucifer’s prison had been crafted to hold him hidden and incommunicado until Armageddon arrived. It may not have been designed with two angels at war in mind, but I suspect the cage would hold even against their power. We learned from Casey in Sin City that she and all the other demons she knew had never even seen Lucifer, believing in him as a matter of faith, so wherever his cage had been, the demons couldn’t see either it or him. We learned from Azazel in Lucifer Rising that he had searched for millennia just for an access to the cage, and it took the slaughter of an entire convent of nuns simply to insert a speaking tube and get a message across. I think it’s a fair bet the cage is similarly hidden now, so neither demons nor angels would have access to it. I don’t know whether, as before, it’s secured behind another 666 seals, but I don’t think anything is getting out of it unless it’s extracted by God. And that is a large part of why I believe Sam is 100% Sam, and returned to Earth literally by the grace of God, not through Lucifer’s power or any demonic or angelic activity. I just hope Adam might have been accorded peace in Heaven.
But Nothing Ever Really Ends, Does It?
The ending of this episode clearly wasn’t the scene Kripke has said he always knew would be the last scene of the series; it couldn’t be, since the show is continuing. I sneakily hope we’ll see that scene someday when the series does come to an end, and that it might be the one I expect: the brothers tossing weapons into the Impala’s trunk and agreeing with each other that they still have work to do, ready to drive off the darkening screen into our lives and the treasure house of our memories.
But that’s not going to happen yet. We have a whole new season to await as we debate the meaning of our final glimpse of Sam under the darkened streetlight and speculate about where the story will go from here. I don’t usually do much of that in these reviews, but I’m going to this time. What follows here are just my thoughts sparked by the story to this point and Chuck’s narrative saying the farewell between Dean and Bobby was the last Dean would see of Bobby for a long time. Since the CW released a description of season six at the network upfronts this week before I finished this blog for posting, I do know what got said there; I was amused that some of the general outline bore a bit of resemblance to my thoughts here. If you’re not into speculation, just skip this section and scroll down to the production notes header.
First of all, I believe the Sam we saw at the end was 100% Sam, free from Hell and Lucifer and demon blood addiction, and this discussion assumes that to be true. I don’t see any narrative logic in Sam coming back as anyone other than himself. The show’s story was never about Lucifer, and the devil is part and parcel of the apocalypse storyline, which is done and over by all accounts. I think hangovers from it will endure – there are still many demons loose on Earth who don’t want to be forced back to Hell, for example, possibly including some who might like payback for Lucifer’s fate or their own (Meg, anyone?), and with angels still not knowing what to do in the absence of God, they may also be in the mix (and in purely practical terms, I don’t see the CW letting go of the wacky walking chemistry that is Misha Collins with the boys!) – but I believe the story of Sam coming to terms with and conquering the darkness within himself is complete. We don’t need reruns.
Given I’m right in my assumption that Sam is really Sam, I could see many different roads the story could take. The one and only route I would truly hate to see the writers take would be if they had Sam – seeing Dean dutifully following through on his reluctant promise – unilaterally deciding not to tell Dean he was back in the belief Dean would be better off without him because he thought Dean wouldn’t feel free to choose to abandon the hunting life if he knew Sam was alive and hunting again. I would hate this for two reasons: first, because it would be beyond cruel for Sam to leave Dean suffering in the belief his brother was still trapped in a cage in Hell with Lucifer and Michael just to leverage him into a normal life; and second, because it would indicate Sam hadn’t really learned or understood anything either about what his brother truly wants or needs, or about the wrongness of making a decision for someone else adult and capable on the arrogant assumption you knew better than they what would be best for them. I do not believe Sam could possibly be so clueless or so unspeakably cruel, not after all they’ve been through together. The last few episodes of this season hinged on their shining love and respect for each other, on their mutual need not to disappoint each other in the things that really mattered, and I think it would be a gross mistake not to acknowledge that. The only way this scenario could make any emotional sense to me would be if Sam wasn’t really Sam, and I’ve already gone through some reasons why that in and of itself wouldn’t make any sense to me. Mind you, I really don’t believe the Supernatural writers would go this route; they know better. I hope. If they don’t, they would deserve all the lumps and bruises Dean would mete out to Sam the moment he learned the truth of his deception.
Almost any alternative that began with Sam immediately revealing his reprieve from Hell to Dean would work for me. The one that would seem to make the most sense in my eyes based on where the characters wound up at the end of season five would see Dean, freed from the crushing burden of grief over Sam’s loss but still carrying all the accumulated fatigue, resentment, bitterness, and anger of his years of constant sacrifice and pain, deciding he’d had and given enough and was finally entitled to a normal life with the chance of happiness and love. Dean’s journey from seasons two through five was one of growing disenchantment with the hunting life as the emotional toll he paid just kept getting higher. He had a brief reprieve after being brought back from Hell in season four – recall his rededication to his “mission from God” in Monster Movie, for example – but that gradually dissolved in the realization of how callously he was being used by Heaven as nothing more than a tool in the angels’ hands and a seeming pawn of God. I think Sam, on the other hand, might see his own salvation from Hell not simply as a reward for his willing sacrifice but also as the validation of his much-tested, quiet faith in God and the charter of a renewed obligation to do the right thing by saving others. From seasons two through five, we saw Sam losing his resonance with normality and becoming more focused on hunting even as Dean’s heart went wistfully in the opposite direction. With the way the brothers have constantly switched roles throughout the series, it would be very fitting to have their roles at the beginning of season six be the absolute reversal of their roles at the beginning of season one: Dean trying to live the normal life while Sam found his true vocation in the hunting one.
I like the idea that the brothers might initially be able to accomplish this without either thinking it abandonment or betrayal by the other, as they would have once before. By the end of season five, they had acknowledged each other as equals, responsible for their own decisions and both capable of taking the lead. Dean accepted Sam’s choice on the “caging Lucifer” plan and followed through; Sam earnestly believed Dean merited a life of peace and love after all he had done for so many years. I think Dean would always worry and be conflicted about Sam walking into danger without him, but I also think he might finally be willing to trust in Sam’s proven skill and strength to do the job perfectly well on his own. Choosing to live their own separate lives would be a challenge but wouldn’t have to lead to estrangement, not if they both agreed on giving each other space while still staying in touch and close.
Of course, the best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley. After his adrenaline-fueled, always combat-ready existence, Dean would be a fish out of water in a normal life, living in one place with regular hours and a repeating sequence of duties among people who literally have no frame of reference to understand even remotely what he’s been through. He’s a war veteran to the nth degree with brutal scars ripped through his psyche. And however much he may have dreamed wistfully of having a loving family of his own, real people are far more messy and complex to live with and adapt to than idealized dream images. While I’m certain Dean would give his best honest effort to adapt – our Dean doesn’t do things by halves, after all – and would particularly feel responsibility to do right by Ben, I don’t think an attempt either to honor Sam or truly to take on a normal life by integrating with the Braedens would work. As I said in my commentary on 99 Problems, Dean doesn’t really know Lisa and Ben as people, and Lisa, rather than truly being the love of his life, is mostly a symbol of what he thought he wanted and could never have. The real woman, while being grateful for what Dean did in saving both Ben and her in The Kids Are Alright, is also obviously a strong-willed and independent individual. While I believe Lisa’s concern and care for Dean are real, she took him in because he was broken and she was compassionate, worried, and grateful, not because she truly loved or needed him. We saw in The Kids Are Alright that her attitudes and Dean’s about how to raise Ben were not congruent; she was appalled that he’d taught Ben to physically fight a bully. Their social structures are very different, and I think all of those strains would most likely just get worse over time. I suspect when the need to return to the hunt arose – perhaps through a plea for help from Bobby? – Dean might be as much secretly relieved as openly reluctant.
For his part, I think hunting alone would prove lonely and wearing for Sam, as well as a dangerous echo of bad days when Dean was dead and his choices went awry. Particularly if he got wind of things targeting Dean and those he loved, he would have incentive to try bringing Dean back into the hunt not just for Dean’s own safety and the security of the civilians he cared about, but because a brotherless back is uncomfortably bare and vulnerable to attack.
There are many, many different ways this could go; this was just an exploration of one, to guess how things might change and yet remain the same. I think there are plenty of opportunities for rich storytelling, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where the writers take us, whether it tracks any of my speculation or not.
Is it September yet?
This episode was creator Eric Kripke’s swan song as showrunner for Supernatural, as he is giving up showrunner duties to Sera Gamble while he focuses on new projects. Kripke is credited with the script from a story written by Eric ‘Giz’ Gewirtz, a newcomer to Supernatural who has just a handful of credits mostly as a writer, designer, or director of video games for Star Wars, Star Trek, and Lord of the Rings. I do believe Kripke successfully did what he had originally wanted to do with the Winchesters’ story, although – as I noted earlier – I don’t think this ended with the final scene he’s said he’s known since they started shooting the pilot. Hopefully, we’ll get that scene at the close of the very last episode, whenever the series comes to its eventual end. Still, I loved Swan Song for itself, and credit for that began with Kripke.
I laughed when Chuck/Kripke/God grumbled about endings being hard and the fans always bitching, and there always being loose ends hanging amid the expectation that everything would add up to mean something. Personally, I don’t think any of us needed to be told the heart of the story was a test for Sam and Dean that they passed by having chosen to do the right thing and stand by each other, but I didn’t mind him saying it. His plaintive cry from the heart about the fans always bitching was priceless and pure Kripke, and I sympathize. Supernatural has a diverse and vocal fan base with passionate, committed loyalties, and everything Kripke did that pleased one group invariably pissed off another. There’s no way he could hope to win the hearts and minds of all, and I think all he ever really wanted to do was to share with us this story he so passionately loved in the hope we would love it too. Eric, if by some miracle you ever read this, know that I love it, and while I have in the past and will in the future point out things that didn’t work for me, I’m not going to bitch.
Steve Boyum’s direction and Serge Ladouceur’s cinematography and lighting had some particularly lovely aspects, wonderfully brought out by Anthony Pinker’s editing. The shots of the young boys playing in the car had the same artless, grainy home-movie Super-8 feel as the footage of original owner Sal taking possession of the car in the beginning, pulling us into the past with something that looked as if it had been shot then by an amateur hand capturing intimate, unrehearsed family moments, the memories spouses, parents, and siblings inflict on family and friends and tease each other about forever. The scene with the brothers and the Impala in Bobby’s scrapyard quietly rocked. The brothers were positioned side by side, physically together and united even as Dean looked more away from Sam than at him as he tried to say things he was uncomfortable with, only stealing sideways glances just to stay in contact and sense how Sam was reacting until he’d gotten through his piece. He didn’t look Sam in the eyes until he asked straight up if this was what Sam really wanted, and he held the look until he’d gotten Sam’s entire answer. At the same time, Sam faced him directly and watched him quietly through the whole speech, taking it all in with open acceptance. Positioning, body language, eye contact – everything together conveyed the unity and sincerity of their emotion.
Another set of scenes I particularly loved for the way in which they were shot were the mirror conversations between Lucifer and Sam, especially using the reflections in the broken mirror in the theater to capture Sam, fractured in mind and severed from control of his own body, and contrast him with perfectly self-contained, in-control Lucifer. I can’t say enough for Jared Padalecki’s performance there, playing against himself as two very distinct characters. Jensen Ackles has had that opportunity twice, in Dream A Little Dream Of Me and The End; I loved seeing what Jared did when presented with the same kind of situation, and enjoyed the excellent use Boyum made of the mirror and its cracks in accentuating Sam’s disassociation from his physical self. And given the way the show has most often used mirrors to reveal the truth of things, I loved that we saw Sam’s raw soul in the mirror, not Lucifer’s smooth and serene face, and that we saw Sam’s reflection – not Lucifer’s – in the car window at the cemetery.
My last directorial comment comes for the absolutely wonderful complex single shot at the end that starts from a view through the window at Dean, Lisa, and Ben, then pulls back and up in a swooping crane move to put the streetlight in the frame along with the image through the window as the light flares and goes out, and then drops down in the same shot with no cut to come behind Sam and show him looking in through the window. That was delicious camera work.
Music is a huge part of this show. The opening montage to “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas has become a tradition I hope we never lose. And while I’m not a Def Leppard fan, I’ve got to say “Rock of Ages” was the perfect choice to use for Dean crashing the angels’ party, especially with that opening line oh-so-appropriately proclaiming “I’ve got something to say.” No shit, Dean, and great choice, Kripke! And a super shout-out goes to whoever put the hand-written label on the tape that Dean shoved into the player. My friend raloria froze that image and revealed the name written on the tape: “Kick It In The Ass.” Way to pay tribute to the late Kim Manners, folks; and now I have something in my eye.
As much as I loved the appearance of the classic rock, however, the music winner of the night for me was Jay Gruska’s underscore, especially the achingly sad piano accompanying Dean and Sam’s conversation in the scrapyard, serving along with strings and abstract voice as the only sound of Sam’s final sacrifice, and running beneath the whole sequence of Dean’s departure from Bobby and arrival at Lisa’s. That music sometimes echoed the “Dean’s Family” theme Gruska has used often before, but took it in new directions both sorrowful and resolute. I want those three cues on a recording even though they will always make my throat close up and my eyes tear.
And speaking of the underscore, I also loved the daring and the resulting emotional effect of using nothing but rushing wind and then silence under the montage of memories, and making wind the signature sound of Stull Cemetery even before Sam opened the vortex into Lucifer’s cage. The plains states are known for wind that never stops; there are stories of homesteaders who were driven insane by the incessant wind, and it just fit so well. And using no music but only crickets, wind, perhaps a distant dog, and thunder under Sam watching the house at the end just magnified the unsettled feeling his unreadable expression produced. The sound crew on this show is nothing but brilliant.
So are the visual effects people. Special mention goes to the light in Lucifer’s eye changing it to Sam’s, the shot through the car window showing both Sam’s reflection and the green plastic army man in the ashtray, exploding Castiel, and the two scenes with the opening of the vortex into Lucifer’s cage. Blending the special visual effects with the practical elements of wind and debris bolstered the unreal elements so much I couldn’t see the difference. The only visual effect that didn’t come off perfectly for me was the shot of Sam and Adam actually falling into the black – the edges crumbling earlier were perfect, but something about the heart of the vortex itself and the two of them falling in didn’t quite make it. But that is a very tiny quibble. Also tiny was my wondering how Castiel exploding managed to spatter only Bobby’s face with blood, without also dousing his vest and jeans with blood and bits. Splashing the costume as well as the actor would have been a continuity nightmare, but the visual effect of the explosion was so big that I expected chunky soup fallout.
Misha Collins and Jim Beaver both sold the despair that came with the realization of the end of the world, Mark Pellegrino terrified as Lucifer already knowing the plan, and Rob Benedict pulled off both Chuck and Kripke/God, but this episode belonged to Jared and Jensen. Jared plays evil very well, and in this episode he also captured the subtle flavor of what Pellegrino had done as Lucifer. The mirror scenes were wonderful, and the whole exchange of glances with Jensen’s Dean in the cemetery as Sam looked from his brother to the vortex and back again just killed. Finally, I had to wonder how many expressions Jared tried on for that very last scene at the end before settling on the very unsettling one he actually used. Jensen was heartbreaking in Dean’s honesty in the scrapyard, in his steadfast refusal to leave or stop reassuring Sammy, and in his utter devastation at knowing Sam was gone. The whole graveyard scene was hard to watch both for the brutality of the beating Lucifer delivered to Dean, and for the intensity of emotion between the brothers as Sam stuck to his decision and Dean was left to mourn.
While this was Kripke’s swan song as showrunner, I hope he’s going to remain closely connected with the show. Sera Gamble has been part of the show from the very first year and I love and trust her work, but the show is Kripke’s firstborn and I hope it never loses the touch of his hand, or of Robert Singer’s. I thank Kripke from the bottom of my heart for creating Sam and Dean and the passionate joy that is Supernatural. . I don’t know where the story will go from here, but I’m definitely along for the ride and impatient to hit the road.
Just the other evening, I heard a speaker say that having responsibility is good because it means you have the ability to make things happen. It may not be on my shoulders to save the world, but I think I have the responsibility to make it better. I’ve been learning that lesson from the very best: Sam and Dean.
Sorry this is so very late and very long, and thanks for reading! I’ll be doing episode commentaries again when season six premieres. I hope to do a little fanfic during the summer, and maybe a few other things potentially of interest, so feel free to hang around if you like. Otherwise, I’ll see you in the fall!
Link back to Part One: Episode Summary only