A Dose of Reality on Supernatural ‘The Vessel’
From the first frame of “The Vessel”, with the gorgeous sets and haunting Edith Piaf soundtrack, this episode felt like a feature film. Not a rarity with Supernatural, but some episodes have that feeling more than others, and this was one. Every episode of Show is a collaboration, but on this one that collaboration was front and center. Robert Berens’ writing, John Badham’s directing, Jerry Wanek’s amazing sets, the VFX team’s magic, Nicole Baer’s tension-building editing, Serge Ladouceur’s evocative lighting, and of course the acting.
Show has been hitting it out of the park this season with guest stars, and Weronika Rosati was no exception. Her portrayal of Delphine made her courage and sacrifice believable; I bought her totally as a Woman of Letters, and that’s really saying something.
Berens live tweeted the episode’s east and west coast airings, and gave credit to all his collaborators, in keeping with the #SPNFamily tradition.
Berens: There is a special, accumulating intensity to tonight’s Supernatural that really is a testament to nikbaer’s crack editing.
I agree. There were times when I got so caught up in wondering if the sub’s courageous crew was going to survive, I almost forgot to be upset that there were no Winchesters on my screen at that moment. Almost.
He also gave a shout out to Jay Gruska for the music, which added so much to the episode, and to the VFX wizards.
Berens: Amazing to hear @jaygruska adapt his brilliant scoring to a new environment and time period in this episode.
Berens: Also big holy shit kudos to @rotomonkee and the VFX team! Those VFX shots carry so much story and they are beautiful!
Berens also gave kudos to all the actors. He tweeted that one of his favorite parts of the episode is the layered, weary look Sam gives Dean when Sam says ‘be safe’ and Dean asks “when am I not?”. As Berens said, “familiar beat made touching and fresh.” That’s what these actors can do. That scene had such poignancy, just that small exchange between the brothers carrying so much meaning. He also commended Jensen in that last scene.
Berens: And then Jensen Ackles bringing incredible bigscreen gravitas and emotion at the end—and doing it every week.
That’s the thing – they all do it every week! Instead of phoning it in since they’re in Season 11, they’re still caring about these characters and giving their all to bring them to life and continue their epic journey.
Jared gave Misha a shout out at his meet and greet in Houston last week, and I thought he did an incredible job in this episode. Misha made every scene with Sam and Casifer so full of tension – all those little exasperated faces that Misha kept making said so much, always just out of Sam’s eyesight. I confess to really enjoying Misha’s portrayal of Casifer – it’s both hysterical and stomach-turning at the same time. He’s conveying so much with every twitch of an eye or almost-smirk. You can see that Sam is suspicious and somewhat confused, but he’s so worried about Dean and focused on getting him back safely that he’s missing cues that he otherwise probably would not. And Casifer knows that, and takes advantage.
The way he snaps back to sincere, wide eyed Castiel mode? Chilling.
So anyway, I agree with Berens’ kudos all around. Everyone did a fabulous job.
I think I’m getting spoiled by all the conversation between the brothers this season – please, Show, don’t stop!!! I loved the first scene in the bunker, Sam once again busy doing research, Dean once again waking up and joining him.
This time he’s not hung over, but his grumpiness over “the coffee situation” was incredibly adorable. As was Sam’s utterly unapologetic “I drank it.” I laughed out loud. Brothers, seriously.
And the spoiled stuff in the bunker fridge is becoming a thing. Hey guys, I’m happy to do a grocery store run for you if you need supplies. No problem at all, really…
I love seeing Sam’s determination to go after Amara; to hunt down any possible weapon they might be able to get their hands on. I also love Sam speaking French (Ooo la la!) even though I’m skeptical about Dean not being able to interpret it. Or know who Jules Verne is!
I also like their discussion of gender equality (Rosie the Riveter!) and Sam’s eyebrow raised at Dean’s morning beer.
Dean: What? You drank the coffee – what am I supposed to drink, water?
The incredulity is pure Dean. Brotherly banter. Have I mentioned how ecstatic I am to have it back???
Of course, the playfulness of the scene eventually gives way to poignancy as Dean insists that he go to retrieve the Hand of God, much to Sam’s protective dismay.
Dean: I’m the least valuable player.
Ouch. Sam doesn’t like it, and neither do I. But Dean has a point. He knows they need Sam to go after Amara, and Sam knows it too. I do like how he only agrees when Cas promises to keep an eye on Dean.
Sam: You’ll stay by his side the entire time?
Casifer agrees, for his own selfish reasons, and Sam finally says okay.
Sam: Be safe.
Dean: When am I not?
That look Sam gives him, the one that Berens commented on, was so full of meaning. Jared conveyed Sam’s love and fear and protectiveness without a word. Dean, who has died and gone to hell and been trapped in purgatory…when am I not? When ARE you? Safety is a luxury the Winchesters rarely have.
Meanwhile, we take a little trip to hell, where Casifer is playing video games and ignoring his frustrated demon minions – who are all wearing suits and sound exactly like the frustrated angel minions in their quest for direction. I was actually shocked when Casifer pulled Crowley from his pen – seeing how he was dressed, chained, collared, gagged – I gasped out loud. What a change!
We all know Mark Sheppard is an amazing actor, but he blew me away in this scene. No matter how much of a bad guy Crowley is, I think we all have a soft spot for him – and that’s because of Mark’s portrayal. He’s brought a vulnerability to Crowley that makes it impossible to just out and out hate him. So seeing him like that, humiliated and broken, was shocking.
Mark sold that brokenness so well that it made me queasy. Just the way he held himself, shrinking in on himself, crouching to make himself small, rang so true. The way he flinched when Casifer even gestured toward him. It screamed trauma, and it hurt to watch.
And then there were those little glimpses of the defiance that Casifer is smart enough to know is still there. Mark sold that too, just in a few short flashes of emotion that Crowley is working hard to hold back.
Misha gives Casifer just enough of a mean sadistic streak to make him frightening, despite the casual manner and silly faces. You get the feeling that’s all surface, and that what’s underneath is truly dark and evil and terrifying.
Also I love how Lucifer goes into his ‘Cas voice’ to talk to the boys – it’s an actor whose character is also acting, and that’s complicated!
The acting on this Show, I swear.
Also, Wet Cas was kinda adorable.
Casifer: Can’t believe I lost it. Err…him. Can’t believe I lost Dean.
It was fascinating to watch the interplay between Sam and Casifer, as Lucifer becomes increasingly tired of keeping up the façade and it begins to slip.
Casifer: (sarcastic) You’re really bringing your A game, Sam…
Sam is increasingly suspicious, but each time the wheels start turning, Casifer snaps back into character and Sam gets distracted by his determination to save Dean. I found myself becoming more and more tense as the episode went on, until I think I was probably biting my fingernails waiting to see if Sam would figure it out.
The look on Misha’s face when Casifer has finally had enough was priceless.
Casifer is 100% over it.
And poor Sam, wanting to sacrifice himself to save Dean, willing to let Cas tap his grace to save his brother. His horror as he realizes who he’s actually talking to. Misha was chilling in this scene, his resentment at Sam refusing him making him ruthless. I actually screamed when Lucifer reached into Sam’s chest – almost as loudly as Sam did.
Poor Sam ends up on the floor. Again.
I loved the moment that Cas took control back to save Sam – and his heartbreaking reminder to Sam that they need Lucifer to save Dean. That Cas himself is helpless, unable to do it. Oh, Cas. He’s trying so hard to do the right thing, but wow, this is one of the worst well-intentioned decisions he’s made.
Meanwhile, Dean is on a submarine. In a cute little sailor hat and a very fitted shirt. Looking very fine indeed.
Delphine overpowers him despite those broad shoulders, which makes me respect her quite a bit. Woman of Letters indeed! He’s saved from a knife across his throat by the captain.
The sailors pat Dean down, and I manage not to yell at my television screen asking whether they need some help with that.
The guest cast on the sub was fabulous, making those sailors relatable even in the short amount of time we got to know them. Their heroism – and Delphine’s – were inspiring. Especially when the one young sailor began to believe Dean, and with that came the heartbreaking realization that he – and his loved ones perhaps – would die.
“When do we win?”
Dean looks so regretful when he answers. “Years. 1945.”
Caring about the sailors just amped up the tension more as the sub sank downwards, an eerie quiet descending as they went into silent running with the German ship right on top of them. The set itself was beautiful, and the lighting magnificent. I felt like I was right there with them.
Jensen portrayed Dean’s fear vividly in that moment, and I love that he can give Dean that vulnerability.
“What’s happening?” he asks, as everything goes sideways, and damned if I wasn’t biting my nails again. How terrifying would that be, to be stuck on a ship deep underwater, slowly sinking and about to be torpedoed?
Delphine is heroic until the end, using the power of the Hand of God and sacrificing herself in the process.
Delphine: We’re supposed to die. Let us do it with a purpose.
It’s such a Winchester thing to say. Such a Men/Women of Letters thing to say. She does – with some awesome VFX – and Dean is zapped back to the bunker with Casifer, who tosses him across the room and pins him to a wall. We get some smart resourceful heroic Sam, slashing his own hand and painting a blood sigil that sends Casifer away before he can do permanent damage to Dean. Oh, and the Hand of God? Apparently only works once.
Me: You’ve got to be kidding!
Dean leans his head back against the wall, his exasperation clear. Sometimes I really have to wonder how the Winchesters get up in the morning. The constant trying, the price they pay, for so little payoff. And that brings me to the last scene.
On rewatching, I liked the last scene quite a bit. The first time I watched it, however, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. We hadn’t had quite enough time to see Dean develop genuine caring about Delphine or the crew of the sub, so all that emotion just confused me.
“I was just a witness,” he said, but it didn’t hit me at first what that really meant.
The more I thought about it, though, the more tragic this episode seemed. The more tragic the Winchesters’ lives seemed. They try so damn hard – they put their lives on the line, endure all sorts of painful things, watch others be hurt and die – and sometimes, often, nothing comes of it. This was one of those times, and that must be incredibly hard to take.
Dean couldn’t save anyone; he knew they were all going to die. At the eleventh hour, he wants to try anyway, and it’s Delphine who discourages him. She and the sailors accept their fate, with courage and determination. Dean must have been impressed by that, but in a way it must have made his helplessness to save any of them even more painful. What happened in this episode is a painful dose of reality for the Winchesters (and for Cas and Crowley too). About who really has power and who doesn’t, and over what.
Jensen used the word helpless to describe Dean in his meet and greet at Houston, and this episode really made that clear. If there’s one thing that’s very hard for Dean Winchester to be, it’s helpless. He insisted on being the one to go on this mission, feeling helpless in the quest to destroy The Darkness and wanting to be useful in this instead – but he ends up helpless once again. I think a lot of his sadness in the last scene is from that helplessness, that impotence.
Seeing it that way made the whole scene much more powerful.
I also wasn’t quite sure what to make of Dean’s insistence that Cas must not have chosen willingly to be Lucifer’s vessel.
“Not possible,” he says. But why? Cas has made some questionable decisions before, always with good intentions. I guess I was also surprised he made this particular one, though. It seemed pretty clear that it was a bad decision from the jump. Perhaps Dean had just had enough of bad news, and needs some time to digest more. He seemed almost in shock, like he’d hit a wall – I think that’s probably understandable.
I loved Sam’s gentle probing, asking what Dean did on the sub and if he wanted to talk about it. Once again, he accepts Dean’s ‘no’ – but it’s not a shutting down like it might have been in other seasons.
Dean: Story for another day.
He’ll tell Sam, eventually. And Sam knows this. He gives his brother some space, but he claps him on the shoulder as he goes.
I’m here, I’ve got your back. When you’re ready to talk, I’ll listen.
It’s a new way of relating for the Winchesters. And I like it.
Lovely caps courtesy of the lovely @kayb625!
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