Winchesters in Leather! Supernatural’s ‘Rock Never Dies’
This is a drive-by review, written from the family vacation last week, where I couldn’t actually watch Supernatural as it aired. Of course, I couldn’t entirely stay off twitter either, so I knew that a) I was probably going to enjoy the episode and b) Sam and Dean are wearing leather. And someone mentioned Dean in eyeliner. What???? Why was this the episode I had to miss??? I then spent the next day biting my nails and trying to find it on amazon or hulu and wondering when the hell the new episode finally appears on the CW app. Finally youtube allowed me to buy it, much to my tremendous relief. Because, Sam and Dean in leather!
I may as well start with the things I liked about the episode, because Sam and Dean in leather is one of them. I loved the scene with Sam and Dean and the publicist. Of course they kept their identity as brothers – the American Oasis, brothers who rock together. Oh Dean. I’m really not sure how that publicist chick didn’t just say yes to Sam and Dean on the spot because hello?! Sam and Dean in leather!
The opportunity to eavesdrop on Sam and Dean as they’re driving is always a treat. Apparently Robert Berens gave Ackles and Padalecki a free pass to improvise during some parts of this episode, including Sam and Dean’s drive to LA. I asked Jensen about it and he said that he actually went on for quite some time in that scene, lampooning the LA culture that he and Jared obviously know quite well. Land of gridlock and botox, dudes in skinny jeans wearing sunglasses inside (which Dean and Crowley both adopt), and then ending with the ad libbed “I do like the yoga pants, though.” I think we’ll see a lot more of that scene on the gag reel – at least I hope we will!
Dean is, for once, the one who wants to talk, while Sam is happily engrossed in whatever he’s listening to in those earbuds. The brothers are in a good place in Season 12, easy with each other like they used to be. Dean doesn’t pretend he doesn’t want his brother’s attention; in fact, he asks for it outright.
Dean: I’m tryin’ to talk to you here…
Then he gamely agrees to listen to whatever Sam happens to be listening to. Only when Sam refuses does he finally yank out the earbuds – and we all get to hear a little Rick Springfield. Or I should say a little Ladyheart.
Sam’s refusal to let Dean guilt trip him about listening to it was one of my favorite parts of the episode. His insistence that he’s done apologizing for liking what he likes reminded me of my own struggle to stop apologizing for liking what I like – this particular show. That’s one of the themes of our books on fandom, that constant pressure to justify one’s passion for something, especially if it’s something like a rock band or a genre television show. At times I’ve justified that passion with a “but it’s research, this is what I study” rationalization, which is exactly what Sam does here. Ladyheart is part of the case, so surely it’s an acceptable thing to listen to.
Sam: Study up, Dean. It’ll grow on you.
It grew on most of us. In fact, because Supernatural is awesome, they’ve already put out a Ladyheart music video (kudos to Berens and musical genius Jay Gruska) sung by Rick Springfield himself!
We got more brotherly teasing, which I’m rapidly becoming accustomed to having back as part of my show. Do not take it away again, Show! Dean teasing Sam about liking ‘hair metal’ was amusing, and the ongoing cucumber water back and forth was also priceless.
Dean: it’s a vegetable.
But later, it’s Dean who’s happily drinking it down.
Dean: What? Shut up.
So very Sam and Dean, it could almost have been ‘Bitch.’ ‘Jerk.’
I also liked the little glimpse we got of how Mary is faring, and how her relationship with her sons is progressing too. Dean playing Words With Friends with his mom was both heartwarming and amusing, especially since most of the fandom knows that the cast really was obsessed with that game several years ago. I love that Dean and his mother are finding a bridge to each other, that Dean is giving her space but not pushing her away and that Mary is finding that space but still staying connected. Also it seems Dean’s handle for everything has to have 67Impala in it.
So I liked Sam and Dean doing their LA thing, and I liked the Team Free Will Plus One foursome working together against their common enemy. I can’t help but love Cas and Crowley together. Misha and Mark are hysterical, both of them with their perfect deadpan delivery. Their relationship is getting interesting, with Cas the longsuffering partner who is longing for some space — his sarcastic ‘yay’ when Crowley noted that they’re together again made me laugh out loud.
Season 12 has been an interesting one for Crowley too. His moments of break-through humanity, when he sounds a little like a hurt and petulant four year old, always get to me. I love that the two of them were ready to sacrifice themselves to give the Winchesters more time, and that Crowley wasn’t bullshitting – he had the bloodied face to prove it.
I have to say, that surprised me – Crowley hasn’t been portrayed as a threat this season, but he hasn’t entirely been an ally either. This time, he showed his willingness to ‘take one for the team’ and he backed it up. I think Sam and Dean were as surprised as I was by that turn of events! I wonder where Crowley’s story line is going this season (and very much hope for more reluctant emotionality between Crowley and his mum).
I’m never entirely clear on what Cas and Crowley can and can’t do as far as powers or healing, but I love that they both had a chance to be heroic in this episode. Also, Cas gets one of the best lines of the night when he defends his trenchcoat by saying that at least he doesn’t look like a lumberjack. Got those boys right into leather jackets – good work, Cas! (And no, I’m not spelling it Cass even if Berens’ script had to).
Winchesters (again in leather) trying to shut down the Ladyheart show was also a much appreciated scene. Feel free to keep showing me Sam Winchester holding the club doors open with those broad shoulders of his when the devil himself is trying to close them! *fans self* And we had a moment of brotherly protectiveness too, with Sam helping Dean up off the floor as they finally face off with Lucifer.
I’ve been a big fan of Rick Springfield’s portrayal of Lucifer all season, so I was thrilled to see him back for one more episode. He is just the right combination of terrifying and yet still kind of hot, with a touch of batshit crazy.
His ruthless treatment of his number one fan, and the casual way he snapped the necks of so many of the people around him was chilling. We eventually find out that what’s really going on with Lucifer is a long standing problem on Supernatural – daddy issues once again. God apologized, which is what he’d been waiting for, but then he didn’t stick around. That abandonment doesn’t sit well with Lucifer, and he’s just going to take it out on whoever the hell he pleases. There’s something pretty terrifying about that, as you can see by the looks on the foursome’s faces.
Out Lucifer goes, on to bigger and badder things, leaving Vince dead on the floor and looking much the worse for wear.
The more complicated part of ‘Rock Never Dies’ was its commentary on celebrity, fame and fandom. Vince rightly identifies the lure of wanting to be adored, and the lengths to which people will go to have some of that power. LA stands in for modern culture – people concerned only with themselves, obsessed with power and influence and willing to compromise whatever ethics they may have had to get more of it. Crowley’s affinity for LA and the fact that he fits right in only highlighted the depravity. It was a pointed commentary, and one that I enjoyed.
There’s also a parallel to fandom, as Vince talks about the human pull to find something or someone to adore. That’s probably true, and not necessarily pathological, relevant to religion as well as to fandom. The episode also comments on how that adoration can be manipulated — Vince and his publicist go on to point out the power of social media to manipulate that relationship. When the one who’s on the receiving end of all that adoration is amoral and driven by old wounds that only feel better when a million people are screaming your name, that’s a dangerous situation. Vince Vincente possessed by Lucifer was pretty much a dead on accurate depiction of a narcissist with a lot of power, as Dean rightly realizes. It was timely when Berens wrote it certainly, but it may be even more timely now.
I generally like it when Show goes deep. One of the things that makes Supernatural endlessly fascinating to me is its willingness to engage in social commentary and to sometimes even be subtle when doing so. There were a few times in this episode that I was a little uncomfortable with the fandom parallels – like the fan who carves Vince’s name on her chest and remains desperate to get to the concert even after he demonstrates his lack of caring. Fans are often judged critically for the lack of reciprocity in fan/celebrity relationships – the fan knows everything about the celebrity, who doesn’t know (or presumably care) that the fan exists. That’s the so-called ‘parasocial relationship’ that we write about in Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls and Fandom At The Crossroads. That woman epitomized the one way relationship, and Vince’s derision of his fans – especially the most passionate “diehard” fans – also struck me. They are categorized as “a bunch of hopeless distraction addicts desperate to fill up the void”. Again, this could be read as a parallel to fandom, whether it was intended that way or not; certainly a favorite television show can be a welcome distraction from real life and many people have found a sense of community and belongingness through fandom.
The idea that “it’s about devotion – once they buy in, you can make them do anything” is repeated several times. There’s a lot of emphasis on having the power to manipulate simply because you’ve secured someone’s adoration or devotion. That may be foreshadowing something coming up this season, but it also could be read as a commentary on celebrity culture and the ease with which those who are adored can manipulate fans. The publicist shamelessly creates buzz for her client by manipulating his fans, happily proclaiming that she “makes saints out of devils” for a living. In the current atmosphere of fake news and constant cover ups, that was a chilling statement.
The last scene was chilling as well, Crowley and Cas bruised and bloodied and Sam looking heartbreakingly sad.
Sam pushes back against the idea that celebrity and fandom are only negative, pointing out that not only was Vince a person, but he meant something to a lot of people. Sam’s discouraged – he tells Dean that they’re not winning, they’re just losing slowly.
Dean, god bless him, isn’t having it.
Dean: And we will stop him. We will. That’s what we do, man.
In other words, Always Keep Fighting.
That’s why I love this show.
Caps by @kayb625
A big thank you to my SPNFamily for your support and messages about the loss of my dad. We call ourselves family, but it’s at times like this that I realize how true that is.