Heaven’s civil war
Puts bros in bizarro world
Acting out their lives.
As a storm raged at night outside Bobby’s house, Sam, looking for Bobby, learned from Dean that Bobby had gone on a supply run into town to replenish their stock of whiskey. With no warning, Balthazar appeared in the house and started ransacking it for the components of a spell – salt, lamb’s blood, the bone of a minor saint – while warning them that Raphael, trying to draw Castiel out of hiding, had sent assassins against everyone who had helped Cass, including both Raphael and the Winchester brothers. Mixing the spell components, he drew a sigil on the window, and then handed Sam a key, telling them to run with it. Another angel, Virgil, appeared, flinging Balthazar aside with a careless gesture, and Balthazar shouted to the brothers to run, using his own power to blast them out through the window into the rainy night … and they landed, perfectly dry, amid candy glass on a padded mat on the floor of a soundstage surrounded by cameras and crew congratulating them on a good stunt and calling them “Jared” and “Jensen.”
Totally confused, the brothers took stock of the absence of angels and their apparent safety while the TV crew were discovering that something had gone wrong with the signal just at the moment when the boys hit the glass, meaning they’d have to take 95 minutes to reset and then reshoot the scene – which wouldn’t leave time for them to shoot a scene of the boys sitting on the Impala talking about their feelings – or use the footage up to just before the bad part, doing a freeze frame for the scene break, and cutting to black. Pressed for time and resigned to the situation – after all, it’s season six – the director agreed and called for them to move on. An interviewer grabbed “Jared” to do a short on-set interview, to Sam’s confusion shooting right in front of the set of Bobby’s panic room, while a makeup artist whisked “Jensen” away to clean off the makeup Dean swore he wasn’t wearing, only to discover he was. The interviewer, noting Sam had beaten the devil, lost his soul, and gotten it back again, asked what was next for Sam Winchester.
Reconnecting with Dean, Sam explained what he’d learned – that in this twilight zone world, their real lives were a television show that not many people watched, and their names were Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. Exiting the studio, they found themselves on a backlot. Dean was momentarily reassured to see the Impala parked outside, but when a crew member began spattering mud on it, he saw four others beyond it in various degrees of disrepair, including one crashed hulk, and admitted feeling sick, telling Sam he just wanted to go home. Dean prayed to Castiel, hoping the angel would get them home. Glancing through a doorway to a neighboring street set, they saw Castiel standing in the street and rushed to ask him what Balthazar had done to them. A little artificial in his focused intensity, Castiel told them Balthazar has cast them into an alternate reality to protect them from Virgil, a universe similar to theirs in many respects but dramatically different in others. After being momentarily discomfited by Dean concluding they were in Bizarro World, Castiel asked if they had the key, and when Sam handed it over and asked what it was for, Castiel said it opened a room containing every weapon Balthazar had stolen from Heaven. He said Balthazar had given it to them to keep it safe until he could reach them, saying with those weapons, he had the chance to rally his forces. Sam asked what the deal was with all the TV crap, and Castiel looked utterly befuddled as the brothers continued to riff on their fake names – then he looked down at the small booklet of papers in his hands, wondering in a lighter, higher pitched voice if they’d put out new pages. Snatching the papers from his hand, Den realized they were sides, a day’s worth of dialogue from a script, and that “Castiel” was nothing more than an actor named Misha playing the angel. Sam took back the key and the brothers stalked off as Misha laughed about them having punked him and got on Twitter to share the joke with his followers.
Trying to get their bearings and figure out what to do, the brothers saw a fancy trailer with the name “J. Ackles” on the door, and walked inside to find an opulent layout featuring a massive aquarium, a large radio-controlled toy helicopter, a fake fireplace, a widescreen TV playing dailies of Jensen’s footage, and copies of a magazine with their pictures on the cover. Sam found a laptop and proceeded to look up the Ackles identity, discovering he was from Texas and had been on a soap opera, pulling up footage of a scene from Days Of Our Lives with Jensen playing Eric Brady. Trying to figure out how to get back to their own world, Sam observed he didn’t think their prayers were getting through to the real Castiel, and Dean agreed. He proposed reversing Balthazar’s spell to send them back by getting the spell ingredients and drawing the sigil on the same window they’d crashed through before.
On the set, looking for components, they discovered that everything was fake. Observing them, the crew were bemused to see them talking, since the actors didn’t. The brothers tried to leave the studio in the Impala, only to realize that the car, too, was a prop. They asked a production assistant how they were supposed to get out of there, and wound up in an SUV driven by a guy named Clif who asked where he should drop Jensen off. Dean said he’d tag along to Jared’s place, and when Clif asked when they’d started talking to each other, the brothers covered by saying they had to practice acting. They drove past a sign welcoming them to Vancouver, and Dean realized they weren’t even in America.
Jared’s house turned out to be a palatial mansion with a tanning bed in the front room, narcissistic art on the walls, and an alpaca in the back yard – and with Ruby on the balcony, coming downstairs to give Sam a kiss and ask how his day had been. Shock gave way to realization that in this world, “Jared” was married to the actress who had played Ruby, who was on her way out to a charity event and sarcastically observed that “Jensen” had never even been in their house before.
Researching on the web, Sam located a saint’s relic for sale in Mexico. Dean started planning their trip to steal it from the auction house, but Sam, having found Jared’s obviously high limit credit cards, proposed just buying what they needed instead, and arranged to have it shipped to the airport the next morning. Dean sacked out on the couch while Sam wandered the house drinking a beer. When Jared’s wife Genevieve returned from her charity dinner, he asked her if she remembered the earthquakes and disasters that happened the last year, and learned they’d only happened on the show. Telling him he’d been Sam Winchester way too long, she took him up to bed.
Early the next morning, driven by Clif, they picked up the package at the airport before it cleared customs, making Clif think they were into drugs. At the studio, their attempt to set up and run the spell was interrupted by the arrival of the crew for the day’s shooting, and they learned their star status wasn’t enough to get the set cleared and buy them time; instead, they would have to act. In a scene with Misha playing Castiel, the angel’s dialogue explained that Balthazar was no hero, but he knew Raphael would never take him back. To the bemusement of everyone, the lead actors seemed to have lost any acting talent they ever had, blowing take after take and leaving everyone thinking they were drugged out. When the director finally stopped the shoot, the brothers began to set up the spell, using the window in the Bobby’s house set, while the director called the producer to broadcast an SOS. Completing the spell, the brothers jumped through the window, and just crashed to the floor of the set.
Back in Jensen’s trailer, Sam speculated that perhaps the spell hadn’t worked because it couldn’t. He said he’d been researching all night and there was no evidence the apocalypse had happened there, ever, and that monsters, ghosts, and demons were all just pretend. He wondered if this was a world with no supernatural, no magic, at all – no demons, no angels, no God.
Meanwhile, in a motel room set on a vacant soundstage, a red sigil twin to the one Balthazar had used glowed into existence on a window, and Virgil, the angel assassin, crashed through the glass to land in the soundstage.
Later, as the brothers tried to find their way around and bumbled into a brick tunnel set on another part of the soundstage, Dean nearly walked into Virgil, who reached out to kill him – only to discover he had no power. Dean and Sam began to brawl with the angel, only to be pulled off him by the stunt coordinator and a couple of stuntmen who’d been rehearing a fight on a green screen stage nearby. During the scuffle, Virgil snaked the key out of Sam’s pocket, and then ran away. The local production team called down to the main office to report a red alert condition and asked that the show’s creator be sent up to deal with the actors.
That night, Virgil kidnapped Misha as he left the set. Meanwhile, realizing the key was missing, Sam went in search of it while Dean told the director, Bob Singer, that they weren’t actors, but brothers; that they were the Winchesters, and mattered in their world. Singer thought he was having a psychotic break and continued to treat him as an actor. When Sam, unable to find the key, hurried back to say he thought Virgil had taken it, Dean announced that they quit, and the brothers left in search of the angel.
Virgil took Misha to an alley, asking rhetorically how he could live in a place where nothing mattered beyond himself, where there was no magic. Virgil slit Misha’s throat and filled a cup with his blood, using the blood to power his prayer to Raphael. Unknown to Virgil, a homeless man was watching.
The brothers wound up back at Jared’s house to discover Genevieve distraught because Misha had been found murdered in an alley. Checking it out, they overheard the homeless man giving his statement, saying the scary man killed the attractive crying man and then started to pray to Raphael. When they asked him about it, he said that after a while, he heard a voice out of nowhere answer, saying for Virgil to return tomorrow at the place he crossed over at the time of the crossing, and Raphael would reach through the window to take him and the key home. The brothers resolved to stop Virgil, knowing if he got back with the key Castiel would be dead and the apocalypse would happen again.
Virgil, having discovered his lack of power, went to a sporting goods store and collected a handgun and a shotgun. Calling himself the weapons-keeper of Heaven, he knocked out the clerk and simply took the guns and ammunition, killing a random person who made the mistake of walking into the store while he was preparing to leave it.
Back on set, Dean noted that if they dropped Virgil and got the key, they might be stuck in the alternate world forever, since they had no magic to escape it. Sam said they’d figure out a way back, and Dean speculated that maybe Sam wouldn’t be that broken up if they didn’t, given all the good things in his life in this world and the absence of Heaven and Hell. Sam told him not to be stupid, pointing out their friends were back in the real world. Dean said there was no contest between their real lives, where the hits had been coming for Sam since he was six months old, and this one, where he was rich and married to Ruby, but Sam disagreed, saying Dean had been right when he said they didn’t mean the same thing in this world as in their own. Sam said they weren’t even brothers here, and Dean smiled a little and agreed they should get their crazy show back home.
Virgil showed up right after Eric Kripke, the show’s creator, arrived at the backlot, and the angel began shooting everyone in sight between him and the motel set, killing Kripke, Singer, the assistant director, and the stunt coordinator, but missing the director of photography, who dodged bullets like a character out of The Matrix. Sam distracted Virgil to let Dean get close enough to tackle him, and the brothers managed to beat up the angel and grab the key just as a red sigil began glowing on the window of the motel room set. Seeing the glow and knowing Raphael would be reaching through, the brothers tried to run away, but a force yanked them backward through the window.
They landed on pavement outside a real motel with a shattered window behind them and found themselves facing Raphael in a new human vessel, a businesslike black woman. She clenched her fist, making them collapse in agony. As she picked up the key they dropped, Balthazar appeared and said it would open a locker at the Albany bus station. He said he’d needed a modest decoy to make it more convincing. Raphael demanded the weapons, and Balthazar said they were gone, that Raphael was too late. He explained they’d been hidden so well even he had needed time to find them, and sent the Winchesters for a game of fetch with Virgil. Raphael advanced on Balthazar, intending to kill him, and Castiel appeared and told her to stand away from him. Castiel said he had the weapons now, that their power was with him, and lightning flashed to spread the shadows of his wings over the building behind him. Her told her id she didn’t want to die that night, she should back off, and she disappeared. Balthazar wryly observed Cass now had his sword and told him to try not to die by it, and then he too was gone.
Castiel walked to the brothers, gripping their shoulders, and they found themselves abruptly back in Bobby’s house evidently only minutes after they’d left: it was still night and pouring rain outside, the remnants of Balthazar’s spellwork lay scattered on the desk with the empty whiskey bottle, and the window they’d been flung through was still broken. Sam angrily asked if Castiel had been in on it, using them as a diversion, and Castiel noted it was Balthazar’s plan, but he would have done the same thing. When Dean protested that wasn’t very comforting, Castiel asked in exasperation when he would be able to make them understand that if he lost against Raphael, they would all lose everything. Dean angrily shot back that they knew the stakes, but that was about all the angel had told them. Chastened, Castiel apologized and said he would explain when he could, and then disappeared.
Not quite trusting, Sam walked up to the wall of the room and struck it hard, reassured to discover it solid and real. Looking around, Dean agreed it was real, moldy, termite-eaten home sweet home chock full of crap that wanted to skin them, and observed they were broke again. Sam agreed, but pointed out that at least they were talking.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
While this episode played mostly for lovely laughs, giving us wonderfully amusing alternate-universe take-offs on the real behind-the-scenes world of Supernatural as a television series in active production, it also conveyed some steps forward on a major plot for the season and served a very real – albeit inadvertent, from Balthazar’s and Castiel’s perspectives – psychological purpose for the Winchester brothers. In this discussion, I look at Heaven’s civil war and Balthazar’s use of the alternate dimension, and at the brothers’ experience in an alternate universe reinforcing the importance of Sam and Dean in their own world.
Raphael Is After Us All
When Balthazar showed up at Bobby’s, he provided the first information we’ve had on the angelic civil war since Castiel reluctantly admitted he was losing in Caged Heat. We’ve gotten very little information on what’s been going on in Heaven all season. Castiel gave us the bald outline in The Third Man, looked distracted and then simply vanished in response to an awareness of having to leave in Family Matters, and confessed problems without solutions in Caged Heat. I’ll admit to sharing Dean’s dissatisfaction with how little we know about what’s going on in Heaven, despite the importance of the stakes to human life on Earth. Castiel warned all the way back in The Third Man that Raphael’s traditionalist, fundamentalist goal was to put the apocalypse back on track with extremely deleterious consequences for human life on Earth, but that’s pretty much all we’ve learned all season. Even with regard to that, all Castiel volunteered was there was nothing the brothers could do to help him in his fight.
This time, we learned from Balthazar that Raphael, after losing his human vessel in The Third Man to Balthazar wielding the same salt crystal weapon that did for Lot’s wife in the biblical tale of Sodom, had been consolidating his power base in Heaven, with great success. According to Balthazar, Castiel was in hiding, deeply undercover. Deprived of the ability to strike directly against Castiel, Raphael had sent assassins after everyone who had helped Castiel along the way, including both the Winchesters and Balthazar himself, hoping to draw Castiel out into the open. Escaping one assassination attempt, Balthazar arrived on the Winchesters’ doorstep – well, on Bobby Singer’s doorstep – with Virgil in hot pursuit and a plan to use the Winchesters as decoys to deflect the immediate heat and to keep Raphael and his attack dog Virgil otherwise occupied while Castiel and Balthazar reclaimed the weapons Balthazar had stolen from Heaven. After all, as Castiel said in The Third Man, Whoever has the weapons wins the war.
I suspect Balthazar’s choice of alternate world was very deliberate, and had less to do with the discomfiture of the Winchesters – although that clearly appealed to his sense of humor and pique – than with the intrinsically magic-less nature of the target world. As Sam learned, nothing about that world was supernatural or magical in any way: none of the monsters they’d fought were real there; none of the events of the apocalypse from the brothers’ world – such as the earthquakes reported during Swan Song after Lucifer took Sam – had happened anywhere but in the fiction of the show; magic didn’t work, as demonstrated by the magical spell to cross between worlds failing to take them from the inside out; and even a transplanted angel had no power within that world beyond his muscles and physical weapons. Inside that alternate world, nothing supernatural existed at all. I would suspect that made it difficult for Raphael to zero in on it even from the outside to locate and pursue the Winchesters. Clearly, angels could open doorways into that plane from outside of it – both Balthazar and Raphael did just that to send agents through the gate, and Raphael later managed to open a gate to pull Virgil out, although he – she – got the brothers instead – but they couldn’t have done anything more than a human had they been on the inside. Virgil demonstrated that graphically when he tried to attack Dean with angelic force, only to discover himself impotent. I think Balthazar was counting on that aspect of the world to buy the time he and Castiel needed to secure the weapons, or at least to put themselves into bluffing position with the ability to claim having the weapons.
Seeing this alternate world – one clearly neither ours nor the brothers’ – immediately made me think about the scene in the beautiful room in Lucifer Rising when Zachariah said this wasn’t the first world where the angels had presided over a “planetary enema,” and the brilliant moment when we saw Zachariah reflected in a seeming infinity of mirrors suggesting an infinity of worlds or dimensions parallel to our own. I think we saw a very specific one here, one in which the rules were more like our world than the brothers’, where science rules and magic is fiction, but … not quite. I loved that the “fiction” in that world matched the reality in the world of the Winchester brothers, down to the lines in the shooting script actually describing what was happening with Castiel in Heaven, which in turn matched their fiction in our world.
I have to wonder how much of all those worlds is an objective reality, and how much might be shaped by the thought of whoever creates it or opens a gate into it. The circumstances in Supernatural’s bizarro world tracked the brothers’ reality far too well to have been random, which argues to me that Balthazar either selected a real parallel world with knowledge of it and how it paralleled his reality, or he was able to make it real – or make it seem real – by his own efforts. That makes me wonder whether alternate world knowledge or an actual ability to manipulate reality was behind the effects produced by Trickster Gabriel in Tall Tales, Mystery Spot, and Changing Channels when he made things manifest in the brothers’ world. Was Gabriel, like Balthazar and Raphael, using gateways into alternate worlds to bring through what he wanted from some place where it actually existed, was he creating it according to his own rules (which is what Gabriel claimed to be doing), or was he simply making people mentally perceive things that weren’t there, and was the brothers’ entire adventure here really nothing more than their limited, human perception of a battle that actually played out within and between the minds of warring angels? And have the brothers’ various angel-mediated forays across time, from In The Beginning to The End to The Song Remains The Same, been more of the same?
My mind is now sufficiently boggled that I’m going to stop speculating and just sit back to enjoy the ride. I will hope, however, that it brings us more information soon about what’s happening in the war in Heaven.
What Does It All Mean?
There have been five episodes where one or both of the brothers lived through a different vision of their real world: season two’s What Is And What Should Never Be, when Dean experienced a djinn-induced dream of what his life might have been like if his mother had never died and the Winchester men had never become hunters; season three’s Mystery Spot, when the Trickster Gabriel tried to force Sam to accept and deal with knowing he couldn’t save Dean; season four’s It’s A Terrible Life, when Zachariah threw both brothers into different lives to demonstrate that, even not knowing who they really were, they were born hunters; season five’s The End, when Zachariah sought to compel Dean to cooperate by showing him a horrific, hopeless vision of a future where he continued to refuse; and this season’s The French Mistake, where Balthazar sent the brothers simply to be decoys distracting Raphael and Virgil away from Castiel and Balthazar.
The one thing all of these alternate life experiences had in common was that the affected brothers came back from them with a renewed sense of purpose, although not necessarily the one the situation’s instigator intended.
The djinn in What Is And What Should Never Be had just wanted to keep Dean placid while he slowly died. However, realizing that all the people he, John, and Sam had saved in the real world had died in the dream one because the Winchesters weren’t hunters compelled Dean to find a way out of the dream. The vision didn’t make Dean feel any less trapped by his hunting life or any more certain that his life actually meant something, but Sam tried hard afterward to reassure and persuade him that what they’d given up was worth it.
Trickster Gabriel professed wanting Sam to realize from Mystery Spot that he couldn’t save Dean and had to let him go, but that lesson was lost on him. Instead, Sam’s experience of losing Dean over and over again, and then losing him apparently for good, simply reinforced Sam’s determination to save his brother no matter what, because the life he lived without Dean for the perceived six months of the Trickster’s torment was devoid of any emotions but loss and rage and of any meaning but revenge. The glimpse we and Sam got of mono-focused, robotic hunter Sam back then proved to be a frighteningly accurate portent of things to come in season four, and an eerie foretaste of soulless Sam in the first half of season six.
Zachariah had very mixed results from his two attempts to influence Dean by putting him outside himself to give him a different view of events. I would submit he succeeded brilliantly in his first attempt, and failed abysmally in his second. In It’s A Terrible Life, Zachariah set up a situation intended forcibly to rebuild Dean after his experience in On The Head Of A Pin had left him physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually destroyed. Giving Sam and Dean totally different lives and identities and dropping them into a real haunting took Dean in particular away from the trauma of torturing and being tortured by Alastair and of learning he had broken the first seal, and provided both the brothers with the opportunity to rebuild a partnership temporarily freed of the baggage of their past. In the end, Dean – and separately Sam, although Zachariah hadn’t targeted him – turned away from the false life with the realization there was something else important to him that he had to do. When Dean returned to his real life, it was with the different perspective discovered through the false one that what he did mattered, and he couldn’t give it up and still be himself.
Zachariah’s failure in The End was due to his assumption that the only lesson Dean could possibly learn from that dark vision of the future was that Dean saying yes to Michael was the only way to avert the fate he’d seen. Instead, Dean concluded his then-present-day estrangement from Sam was the more likely proximate cause of disaster, since it had left Sam to struggle against and ultimately face Lucifer alone. The very first thing Dean did upon his return to the present was to reunite with Sam, and that simple act changed everything that followed.
Here in The French Mistake, Balthazar tossed the Winchesters into a magic-less, alternate dimension not to teach them anything, but simply to make them into useful decoys to occupy Raphael and Virgil while he and Castiel attended to business. I would submit Balthazar also thoroughly enjoyed both messing with the brothers and putting them in peril, given his resentment of previous interactions with them and their impact on him, but didn’t have any lessons in mind.
The unintended side effect of Balthazar’s plan, however, was once again to make the brothers see their real lives in a different and more positive light. In the two immediately preceding episodes, both Sam and Dean had confronted the latest worst aspects of their real lives – Sam discovering in Unforgiven just how off the reservation his soulless self had been and then getting a taste of his unremembered Hell, and Dean in Mannequin 3: The Reckoning facing the loss of the relationships he’d built with Lisa and Ben and the knowledge of how he’d hurt them – and both of them were left wondering, in the aftermath of a thoroughly unsatisfactory ghost hunt, whether anything they did or suffered mattered at all. Shown a different world devoid of magic where their lives were totally separate, materially successful, and vapidly meaningless, they chose instead to find a way back to their lives of hardship where they were brothers and mattered. Dean’s speech at the end pretty much said it all: You heard my brother. That's right. I said brother. 'Cause you know what, Bob? We're not actors. We're hunters. We're the Winchesters. Always have been, always will be. And where we're from, people don't know who we are. But you know what? We matter to that world. In fact, we've even saved the son of a bitch once or twice. And yeah, okay, here, maybe there's some fans who give a crap about this nonsense ... But, Bob Singer, if that even is your name, tell me this: what does it all mean?
On the surface, this served exactly the same purpose as every other alternate world scenario the show served up in the past: the brothers’ change of perspective got them to rededicate themselves to the things that truly matter to them – being who and what they are, with all that implies. But in one very important respect, this situation was very different, because for the first time, the brothers experienced it, talked it through, and made that choice together. I think that beautifully and intentionally illustrates the new equality and balance developing in their partnership relationship.
In every other alternate world episode, either only one of the brothers had the full experience, or despite sharing the experience, they made their individual decisions separately, without a common agreement. Dean was alone in What Is And What Should Never Be and The End, and Sam was essentially alone in Mystery Spot since Dean remembered nothing every Tuesday and then died apparently for good on Wednesday, leaving Sam to endure six isolated months. In It’s A Terrible Life, they shared the experience and cooperated in the resolution of the adventure, but their real-world split carried over into the aftermath of the ghost hunt when Dean rebuffed Sam’s proposal that they stick together and keep hunting. While they both separately concluded at the end of Zachariah’s little adventure that they each were meant to be doing something else, something more important with more consequence, and took steps to break with the reality they were perceiving, they didn’t reach that conclusion together.
This time, however, they openly discussed and weighed the advantages of the alternate world – money, fame, Jared’s wife, no Heaven or Hell, no apparent danger, and no need to hunt – against being brothers and having lives that, however brutally hard, mattered in a larger context. With virtually no hesitation, they chose in full agreement brotherhood over independence and mission over peace.
That’s a mutual spiritual recharge I think they both desperately needed, and one that will make them stronger as they go forward from this point. And in that respect, I think this episode was anything but fluff and silliness.
Truth in advertising, here: I LOVED this episode! And being the production junkie I am, I ate up every behind-the-scenes moment that let us glimpse how the show is made, despite those moments being layered with joke details setting them apart from our real world as well as from the canon world of the Winchester brothers. Writer Ben Edlund and director Charles Beeson, aided and abetted by the entire crew and all the performers, delivered 42 minutes of absolute joy.
I had two, and only two, little criticisms of the show, and I’ll dispense with them up front, as always. The only thing I didn’t get from the script was a logical reason why, having finally acquired the missing weapons of Heaven and thus the potential upper hand over Raphael and his faction, Castiel chose deliberately to let Raphael escape rather than taking him down when he had the chance. With the stakes being so high and winning the Heavenly civil war so important, Castiel deliberately letting the commander of his opposition escape made no logical sense. I could only think of three reasons Castiel might have done what he did: first, that he and Balthazar were bluffing and Cass didn’t actually have full control of the weapons and their power; second, that Castiel, even having gotten the weapons, either wasn’t sure of his ability to take on Raphael at that particular moment, or believed taking out Raphael wouldn’t have made a dent in the opposition; or third, that Castiel still entertained the hope of being able to convince Raphael to end the conflict without more bloodshed and simply come over to Cass’s side. I hope we learn one or more of those options might have been in play, because otherwise, Castiel letting Raphael escape was nothing more than a tool to keep the civil war storyline running a little longer without much logic behind it. I really don’t think the writers’ room would have made that choice.
The second point that bothered me was it made no sense that Virgil’s “blood phone” would have worked to get a message out to Raphael, given that the whole nature of the alternate world was that it was a place where nothing magical or supernatural worked. I hand-waved that a bit by rationalizing that straight magic didn’t work – witness the failure of Dean’s carefully drawn exit symbol utilizing all the proper spell components – but perhaps human blood and human death could have provided a sufficient power boost to crack even that barrier against magical resonance to carry a message across worlds to Raphael. After all, we’ve been told there’s power in souls beyond what we know, so maybe poor alternate-world Misha’s death was the necessary catalyst for cross-world communication.
And that’s it for the criticism! The rest of this blog rhapsodizes, because this episode was a love letter to all of us fans and made me very happy.
I can’t separate the script from the willingness of all parties concerned, from Eric Kripke and Sera Gamble through all the actors and down to the crew, to enter fully into the joke and parody themselves mercilessly. I loved Kripke being portrayed as an avid writer of schlock horror (Octocobra cracked me up!) and an executive producer more thrilled than appalled that the murder of one of his actors got the show onto the front page of Variety. Kripke has poked fun at himself before – who could forget Kripke in the first Paley Festival panel giving full credit for the brothers’ psychological complexity to Robert Singer, noting that, left to himself, he’d come up with Boogeyman, or approving having Boogeyman dissed as an awful script in Hollywood Babylon? His slow motion, uncomprehending, over-the-top death was a hilarious homage to any number of Western, gangster, and horror films. Showrunner Sera Gamble’s security in letting herself be portrayed as an impotently faceless new entity the actors wouldn’t even recognize was delightful. Similarly, executive producer/director/writer Bob Singer, producer Jim Michaels, director of photography Serge Ladouceur, and first assistant director Kevin Parks (go here to support his upcoming charity ride for the fight against cancer in memory of the great Kim Manners!) all sent themselves up through having the actors portraying them echo resignation with being on season six, dealing with the vagaries of their lead actors, and proposing coping techniques they would never accept in real life. Along those lines, the show’s actual use of a freeze-frame to end a scene (something so cheesy they would NEVER do it!) positively broke me up, and Ladouceur’s Matrix-like ability to dodge bullets just reinforced his reputation as a wizard who could accomplish anything. We did get to see three of the real crew playing themselves: Lou Bollo, the show’s stunt director, even had lines, and according to Guy Norman Bee, the two guys rehearsing the fight beside the Impala on the green screen stage, who then broke up the combat between Sam, Dean, and Virgil, were Mike Carpenter and Todd Scott, the stunt doubles for Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, respectively.
Most of all, the principal actors themselves cracked me up. Misha Collins nearly stole the show with his depiction of alt-universe Twitter-addicted, “attractive crying man” Misha, and playing that Misha playing character Castiel just added layers of hilarity. Genevieve Padalecki, neé Cortese, was a great sport about sending up not only her real-life marriage to Jared, but their well known common interest in animal welfare and environmental causes. Finally, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, playing Sam and Dean discovering that their alt-universe actor personas fit every Hollywood stereotype of artificial, antagonistic, egotistical, self-absorbed, narcissistic prima donnas, also sent up both their own lives and fan perceptions and misperceptions of those lives, including their relative status on the show (Sam: Wow: I must be the star of this thing! Dean, dismissively: Yeah, right...), their permanent fake tans, and the year Jensen spent living in Jared’s Vancouver house. Watching them being extremely bad actors was actually hard for me to do, because I got embarrassed! Sebastian Roche’s Balthazar remains a complex treat, an angel whose loyalty is to himself but who is nonetheless compelled by his own choices and his friendship with Castiel to fight in a war he wanted no part of. I look forward to seeing Raphael in the guise of Lanette Ware again.
The casting on all the guest stars was marvelous! They all resembled their real counterparts enough to be instantly recognizable, even while being caricatures of the real people. Brian Doyle-Murray gave a lovely, weary, put-upon Bob Singer; Micah A. Hauptman positively nailed Eric Kripke’s infectious gleefulness; Garwin Sanford (who previously played Deacon in Folsom Prison Blues) brought the practical humor the real Jim Michaels has displayed at conventions; Jason Bryden looks appropriately lean and trim as real-world first assistant director Kevin Parks; and I laughed at Art Kitching conveying Serge Ladouceur’s bullet-dodging wizardry.
I got a kick out of way too many production details to mention, but one of the first involved the slates – the clapper boards used to mark the beginnings and ends of scenes for the benefit of editors. Every slate bore the name of the episode we were watching, The French Mistake, and all I could think was what fun the real editor, Nicole Baer, must have had, seeing two slates marking every insert take on the “bad acting” scene, one listing Bob Singer as director and the other listing Charles Beeson, and one marking the real take while the other had a fake number! I also laughed over the photos of various show makeup jobs tacked up on the makeup mirror. Christopher Lennertz’s score for the episode laughed at all the jokes right along with us, especially in Kripke’s iconic death scene. The art department outdid themselves with dressing everything in sight, from the exposed sets to “Jensen’s” trailer and the mix of the real – Jared and Genevieve’s wedding photo – to the over-the-top, Andy Warhol-style portraits and the photo-manipulation of cowboy Jared on a galloping horse hanging on the wall.
I’ll freely confess to geeking out over seeing the cameras pull back to reveal much of the expanse of one of the show’s real soundstages, showing the sets consisting of rooms in Bobby’s house, the latest hilarious motel room, and the dead spaces in between that allowed for the movement of cameras, crew, and equipment. Since I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to see the show’s soundstages in person, I relished those glimpses of the overall layout of one of them.
The shot of the brothers exiting the soundstage to come face-to-face with the multiple Impalas – including the hulk of the one totaled by the crash stunt at the end of Devil’s Trap! – gave us our first glimpse of a “KM Studio” sign beside the soundstage back door. Clif Kosterman, the driver and bodyguard for Jared and Jensen (who also played Tiny in Folsom Prison Blues, before being hired for the bodyguard position, but was portrayed by an actor in this episode), tweeted some time ago that the studio had been renamed officially in honor of the late director and producer Kim Manners, and that sign – along with the later gate arch one – immediately brought Kim to mind. I think he’d have been pleased. The bit with them crossing past the Impalas and going through a door onto the backlot was a little bit of deceitful Hollywood North wizardry, because the backlot – the former Watchmen set, now many times redressed – is actually several blocks away from the studio itself.
I have to say, I’m devoutly glad I don’t live in the alt-universe reality of this episode. For one thing, I think alt-world will be missing Supernatural on their television sets, given the cast and crew massacre perpetrated by Virgil! But more importantly, I’m glad I live in this reality, where Jared and Jensen are best friends happily married to lovely wives, the writers, cast and crew of Supernatural are secure and generous enough to mock themselves for our fannish amusement, and real magic – the kind that brings people together from all around the world – happens both in front of and behind the cameras.
That’s my kind of world. And this is my kind of show.
The icon on this post is by mementis. Thank you!
This entry is also available on The Winchester Family Business.