Last month was both Stroke Awareness Month and the one year anniversary of the publication of Family Don’t End With Blood, the book written by the cast and fans of Supernatural. So this is a perfect time to chat with Supernatural actor and Louden Swain frontman Rob Benedict (Chuck/God) about the powerful chapter he wrote in the book. In his chapter, Rob takes us through every tension-filled moment of the stroke he had while at a Supernatural convention in Toronto several years ago and how the SPNFamily got him through it. I knew when Rob sent me the story to include that it was going to make readers cry (in a good way) and that it was going to inspire people – but I didn’t know that it was going to literally save lives.
That’s exactly what happened though.
At a Supernatural convention this spring, a fan approached the vendor table for Family Don’t End With Blood and said she had something to tell me. I’ve heard so many wonderful stories about how the stories shared in the book have inspired someone to keep going, or given them the courage to make changes in their lives, or helped them feel okay being who they are for the first time. When the fan standing at my table got emotional, I expected to hear a similar story.
“The Supernatural fandom and this book,” she said, “saved my life.”
Not in the way I expected, however. Patty Barbera had read Family Don’t End With Blood, and Rob’s chapter, in which he shares his experience having a serious stroke at the Toronto convention, had really stood out for her. Shortly before the convention, she was getting ready for bed when her hand started to go numb. The numbness slowly moved up her arm, and then there was a pain in the back of her head and her whole right side went numb. The right side of her face began to droop. She began having trouble speaking. Because she had just read Rob’s chapter, which details what happened during his stroke, Patty immediately realized she was having a stroke. She screamed for her husband, and they drove to the hospital – where a CT Scan showed that she was indeed having a stroke – the type referred to as a “TIA” or mini stroke. Even more alarmingly, her scans showed that it was not the first one.
As she told me her story, she began to cry – but they were good tears. She was healthy enough now to attend the convention and thank Rob herself (and has since made remarkable progress and is almost fully recovered)
“If I hadn’t read this book, I probably would have ignored everything and went to bed, most likely damaging my brain. But because of this book and Rob’s story, I’m back to my old self with minimal damage,” Patty said.
I felt my own eyes well up, and we shared a few tissues together.
Patty’s powerful story was a reminder of why we all wrote Family Don’t End With Blood – we wanted to make a difference. The actors who wrote chapters and the fans who wrote chapters all wanted to share their very personal stories in the hopes that others would be inspired and impacted by what they wrote.
That was certainly the case for Patty with Rob’s chapter. Shortly after I met Patty, I sat down with Rob to ask about why he wanted to contribute to the book and what the response has been to his story. In keeping with the important messages of Rob and Patty, we’ve included a summary of the warning signs of stroke at the end of this article – you can read the entire account of Rob’s very emotional experience in his chapter of Family Don’t End With Blood.
Lynn: You wrote a really personal chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood, taking readers through every moment of your experience when you had a stroke at a convention several years ago. What made you want to share your story?
Rob: It’s almost easier for me to express myself through writing. And I felt the need to re-visit the experience and take all of it back into my consciousness, and to try to account for what happened. In my recovery I read an amazing memoir called Brain On Fire, in which the author Susannah Calahan tracks her own journey through a debilitating virus that attacked her brain. I was inspired by that. I am inspired to put all of this in a book someday, but this chapter was a place to start. It was incredibly therapeutic.
Lynn: Was it challenging to be that personal and share your own vulnerability?
Rob: Not really – I mean the fear of getting too personal is always a road block, but it’s one I like to push out of the way. I do it a lot with my song lyrics. At times, singing my songs is like reading my diary out loud. It’s terrifying! BUT I am motivated by that fear. I dare myself to speak the truth. I think there’s something incredibly confident, or robust, about expressing one’s own insecurities and fear. I’ve said it before on stage when I sing songs like She Waits, but there is something about this fandom that makes me feel safe to express myself. I feel like there’s an unspoken connection, especially by the end of a convention weekend. So I did also feel that when I wrote this – that it wouldn’t fall on judgmental ears.
I’ve watched every Season finale except for Season 1 live when it aired – I love watching it live with so many other fans, because it’s always a time of great anticipation. This year it was overshadowed a bit by the CW Upfronts being the same day, which for Supernatural fans meant lots of great footage of Jared, Jensen and Misha but also the confirmation that the Supernatural spinoff Wayward Sisters was indeed not picked up. Nevertheless, in spite of their disappointment, the entire cast of the spinoff took to twitter to show their support for the show that brought their characters to life. The fact that the Wayward Sisters characters were included in the Road So Far recap seems to suggest that there were lots of people who, like me, thought the spinoff was going forward. Seeing them in the season recap just made me more emotional – and believe me, I was already there.
Thursday also kicked off Wizard World Philly, where I had several Supernatural panels, so that meant I got to watch the finale with my friend Alana King (@_KingBooks_). Alana does Supernatural reaction videos after most episodes, so we decided to film one during the finale. Let’s just say that I never realized how…. dramatic…I am while watching Supernatural. (This is probably a surprise only to me.) But hey, this was the season finale after all! I think I can be forgiven.
Alana set up the video camera and we settled in on my couch to watch, both of us bouncing with that unique mix of anticipation and abject terror that Supernatural finales always bring. We and pretty much the entire fandom were a little bit spoiled in that we knew that Jensen Ackles was going to be playing a different character by the end of this episode. When that was first announced (for some reason I can’t fathom because WOW would it have been nice to be shocked and surprised by that reveal), speculation was mostly that Dean would be the archangel Michael. After all, Dean is “the Michael sword”, his perfect vessel. In Season 5, he repeatedly refused to allow Michael to possess him, but perhaps AU!Michael would find a way? Then there were some articles that insinuated that no, it wouldn’t be Michael, it would someone we hadn’t seen for a long time. So Alana and I went into the episode with a lot of “OMG who is it gonna be??”
The first notes of Carry On Wayward Son always make me emotional, but this time we began with a bit of Winchester history instead – and then Rowena in the backseat of the Impala.
Rowena: Boring… Is there music?
Carry On Wayward Son begins to play and Alana and I turned to each other grinning. What an awesome beginning! Well played, Show!
‘Let The Good Times Roll’ was penned by showrunner Andrew Dabb, as per tradition, and directed by showrunner Bob Singer. Once the episode itself begins, Sam is explaining the state of the non-AU world to some of the new inhabitants, using an old school pin board and sounding very smart indeed. Once he’s finished his recap, Bobby scoffs.
Bobby: The ice caps are melting, a movie where a girl goes all the way with a fish wins Best Picture, and that damn fool idjit from the Apprentice is president? And you call where we come from apocalypse world?
Alana and I laughed and then felt a bit depressed because wow, Bobby, good point. (Except the movie, but maybe that’s just us)
Sam gets a call from Dean, who just says “Hey Sammy, got something” and then Sam, Dean, Cas and Jack are…hunting? I was totally confused. There was no sense that there had been a time jump so I didn’t know if they thought Lucifer was in that cabin or what the hell they were doing. There’s a bunch of werewolves hanging out there and honestly they don’t seem to be hurting anyone and one even makes the exact same joke that Dean just did about Kardashian preferences and I keep thinking about Garth as the foursome swoops in and kills them all. I mean, I know, werewolves, but….anyway, that was a weird scene.
Me: I guess they’re teaching Jack to hunt? Saving people, hunting things, the family business?
Alana: (shrugs – aka I got nothin’)
Back at the bunker, Dean and Sam have a hallway conversation about Jack’s progress.
Dean: The kid did great. Hey, you remember when you asked if we could stop it? All the evil in the world? If we could really change things? Well, maybe with Jack, we can.
Sam: Maybe you’re right. But then what will we do?
Dean: (holding up his beer) This. A whole lot of this. But on a beach somewhere, you know? Can you imagine? You, me, Cas, toes in the sand, couple of them little umbrella drinks. Matching Hawaiian shirts, obviously. Some hula girls.
[I wondered if that was partly an ad lib, since for the Supernatural convention in Hawaii earlier this year, Jensen did in fact buy him, Jared and Misha matching Hawaiian shirts…]
Sam: You, talking about retiring? You?
Dean: If I knew the world was safe? Hell, yeah. And you know why? ‘Cause we freakin’ earned it, man.
Sam: I’ll drink to that.
It sort of breaks my heart to hear Dean allowing himself a little bit of hope that they might finally get the upper hand. Because this is Supernatural, so you know that hope is about to be horribly shattered.
Dean hears a sound from Jack’s room and goes in to investigate, waking Jack from a nightmare.
Jack: I’m sorry.
Dean: You don’t have to apologize. I have ‘em too, all the time.
Jack: What do you see?
Dean: Depends…mostly people I couldn’t save.
Oh Dean. He is always so tormented by his failures, and has such a hard time remembering all the good he’s done in the world, all the people he HAS saved.
Dean sits down on the edge of the bed and is so gentle with Jack, reassuring him that he is strong but that everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect.
Dean: But we can get better. Every day, we can get better. I don’t know what you went through over there, I know it was bad. But we’ll figure out a way to deal with it. Together. You’re family, kid. And we look after our own.
I think it’s rather brilliant how the Show has managed to give the Winchesters and Cas a son, which is not something I anticipated. But all three of them have come to love Jack and to think of him as a son, as family. I loved this glimpse of Dean as a parent figure, because it’s always been such an integral part of him. He raised Sam, was mother and father as well as brother – and it’s clear that has been a defining part of his identity. Having the chance to do that with Jack is something I think Dean takes to naturally – once he finally decided that Jack was not going to go darkside. I love Jack’s quiet nod as he accepts what Dean says as genuine. Alexander Calvert was superb in this episode – but more on that later.
At some point in here, we went to commercial and I muted the television, only to quickly umute it when Alana and I noticed who was on screen.
Alana and me: GIL MCKINNEY!!!
A+ product placement, CW.
And back to our Show. Mary and Bobby are strolling through a rainy Vancouver woods that does not look at all like Kansas, but their conversation is kinda adorable. Ketch is apparently off doing his Ketch thing (and Mary seems to have gotten past her awful history with Ketch, oddly), and Rowena and Charlie are roadtripping.
Bobby: Ginger trouble.
It’s clear now that indeed there has been a time jump, because the AU people are “settling in”. Bobby included. He looks kinda shyly over at Mary.
Bobby: I like it here…
There’s a bit of flirtation going on between Mary and Bobby, which is…interesting. I’m not opposed to it, though I wonder what Jeffrey Dean Morgan will have to say about it when he finally returns to the show for the last episode (no, I have no idea if this will happen, I just like to believe it).
Their romantic interlude is spoiled by a trail of blood on the ground, because this is, after all, Supernatural – and no one gets to be happy for more than 0.5 seconds.
It’s Maggie from the tunnels (who half of fandom didn’t remember and thought it was a brand new character).
Jack clearly feels responsible and guilty as they ask a friend of Maggie’s what happened, trying to figure out how she was killed. Turns out there was a boy named Nate from the convenience store who Maggie had a crush on and snuck out to meet the night before…
Anddddddddddd poof! Jack is gone.
Me: Oh no, he’s going after Nate.
Sure enough, Jack finds hapless convenience store clerk Nate and pins him up against the wall.
Me: Wait, how do we know that’s even Nate? What if that’s not Nate?? What does it say on his name tag? OMG I think it says George! That’s not Nate, it’s George!
Alana: (deadpans) It’s Nate.
Cas, Sam and Dean show up (very quickly so the convenience store must be in the bunker’s backyard, which is handy for beer runs) and try to stop Jack. Jack tosses poor Cas off like he’s not even there and ignores Sam and Dean. So Dean pulls out his gun, and shoots him.
Me and Alana: What the hell, Dean??
Sam: (silently): Same.
Jack: (dropping Nate) You shot me!
Dean: To get your attention.
Remind me never to ignore Dean Winchester. (Like that is even the remotest of remote possibilities, says everyone who has ever met me)
Jack is distraught and feels even more like everything he does is wrong. He runs out of the store. Cas tries to follow, but Dean holds him back and tells him to let Jack go.
Poor Jack wanders the nearby woods in anguish.
Jack: I keep hurting people…
He’s so angry with himself, so frustrated and feeling so guilty, that he erupts in self hatred, punching himself as he asks over and over, “why do you keep hurting people??”
It was so heartbreaking I had to grab Alana and cry out “Jack OMG Jack” repeatedly. Poor Alana.
Luckily we are both big Jack fans, so we pretty much got upset together. Once again, Alex Calvert absolutely killed it in this scene – he made it 100% believable that Jack was feeling all those emotions and was overwhelmed by them. It’s exactly what people do when they have no way to deal with self hatred, and it’s horrible to watch.
Back in the convenience store, an ear splitting sound paralyzes Sam, Dean and Cas. And ME! Alana and I had the volume turned up to about 80 on my television so we could hear it on the video, and that meant that our ears were in almost as much pain as the characters onscreen. Ouch!
Dean grabs Sam and the three of them run outside just as the windows of the store blow out. Michael makes a grand entrance, leaving Sam and Cas on the ground.
Dean runs behind the car and throws open the Impala’s trunk and quickly lights a holy oil bomb and throws it at Michael, giving them time to get in the car.
Me: Run faster!!
They get away as Michael stands behind a line of holy oil that’s about ten yards long.
Me and Alana: Um, how come he couldn’t just walk around it?
No time to conjecture, because Lucifer has also come through the rift and appears to Jack. Jack is understandably confused, since Sam told him that Lucifer was dead (which I’m sure he assumed was the truth).
Lucifer: Sam’s a big fat liar, and a bad person. And freakishly tall, so…
He tells Jack that Sam left him behind, which clearly disturbs Jack. Then he goes on to pretty much tell Jack everything he wants to hear, the way any master manipulator would. You need me…we’re not human… we can escape our past and our sins and start over…
Of course that’s seductive for Jack – he is desperate for a do over, so he can make up for his perceived wrongs and failings. Lucifer plays on that, and also on Jack’s youth and naivete.
Jack: What do we do?
Lucifer: We leave… explore the stars, the planets, the galaxies…
Jack: Like Star Wars?
Me and Alana: Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!!
Lucifer: (taking advantage of every opportunity) Want a light saber? A Wookie?
He calls Jack affectionate nicknames like ‘buddy’ or ‘kiddo’, again playing on his longing for his father’s love – a universal thing that seems to persist even when people know that their parent is unable to give it.
And Lucifer does it – he wins Jack over. But first, Jack wants his dad to bring back poor dead Maggie. Lucifer is reluctant. He says it’s not a good idea, that people sometimes come back…different.
Jack: Sam didn’t.
Lucifer: Well, Sam has always been different….
Me and Alana: Damn right!
Sam proves that his “different” is awesome by being smart enough to ask Maggie more about her attack. He’s so gentle as he’s questioning her, so empathic. Both Winchesters, in this episode, are a mix of totally badass when they need to be and strikingly gentle with others who are hurting. Sam knows how disconcerting it is to be dead one minute and then alive again the next, and his conversation with Maggie reflects that understanding. And because of that, Maggie does share what she remembers.
Maggie: I didn’t see his face…but I saw his eyes…
Me and Alana: Lucifer!
The boys try all avenues to figure out where Lucifer is, including “putting Jody on it” – another reminder that the Wayward Sisters characters are staying prominent in the Supernatural universe – and Cas attempting to get information from Angel Radio, which apparently is just static. Not helpful.
There really is never a dull moment in this episode, because Michael (who woke up and walked around that line of holy fire) breaks down the door of the bunker without much trouble. Perhaps he let himself pause behind the holy fire because he knew that he could just stroll into the bunker anyway?
Michael seems to be the kind of guy who likes to put on a show (is it something with archangels?), because Asmodeus got into the bunker too but much more quietly. Michael not only blasts the door open and flashes all the lights, but he theatrically floats down to the floor instead of using the stairs. Christian Keyes can totally pull off dramatic and makes Michael a figure of some majesty (and some fear), which I really appreciate. Inexplicably, Sam and Dean start shooting at him and Cas tries to angel blade him – both of which they had to know weren’t going to do a damn thing. I guess it felt better than just standing there though.
I loved the small moment when Sam tells Mary to run and take Maggie out of there, and Mary looks at him incredulously.
Mary: What?! No!
Me to Alana: Yes! Good response, Mary! I like that she didn’t want to leave her boys behind.
Michael, again going with the theatricality, physically beats up Sam, Dean and Cas even though I’m sure he could have killed them all instantly. With Cas and Sam incapacitated, Michael picks Dean up by the neck and begins to slowly choke him to death, telling Dean that he should be honored to be the first soul that Michael has taken in this new world.
Michael: I could’ve done this quick, but I wanted to enjoy it.
Dean, almost unable to speak, nevertheless chokes out a typical Dean response.
Dean: As Shakespeare once said, eat me, Dickbag!
Oh Dean, I do love you. Defiant til the end. And kudos to Andrew Dabb for putting in that line of explanation, so I didn’t have to wonder why Michael was conveniently dragging it out long enough for something to intervene.
Meanwhile, Smart!Sam is trying desperately to save his brother’s life as Dean is slowly asphyxiated. On his knees and barely able to speak, Sam prays to Jack, telling him, “we need you.”
Jack and Lucifer are having a bonding time looking at the stars, with Lucifer already making some missteps talking about how he’s planning some “improvements” to the world, when Jack hears Sam’s prayer.
Boom! He’s back in the bunker, eyes glowing, hand raised and facing Michael.
Jack: You hurt my friends…my family…
And just like that, Jack takes Michael down.
Me and Alana: Whoa, Jack can do that??
Lucifer (watching from safely behind Jack): Whoa.
Michael falls to the floor, yelling at Lucifer: We had a deal!
Jack immediately starts to realize that the lovely father-son bonding story that Lucifer spun for him may not be quite true. He demands to know what Michael meant, and Dean and Sam fill in the blanks, telling Jack that Lucifer killed Maggie and what he plans for humanity. Lucifer of course denies it, trying to pull Jack back to his side, but Jack has way more power than any of us suspected. He stretches out his hand toward Lucifer, and as Lucifer’s eyes turn into glowy starbursts (very cool, VFX wizards!), Jack demands that Lucifer tell him the truth.
And he does! Lucifer confesses that he killed Maggie.
Lucifer:… So I crushed her skull with my bare hands, and it was warm and wet… and I liked it…
Jack is horrified.
Jack: You’re not my father, you’re a monster!
Lucifer, realizing that his ploy has failed, breaks into a ROAR of pure rage. He knows he’s lost and he is probably also realizing that Jack is so much more powerful than him that he wouldn’t have had the upper hand for long.
And in that moment, we see once again the true face of the devil.
The show chose to portray Lucifer as an almost likable character at some points in this season. At times, I’ve complained about that, questioning whether a redemption arc was coming and very much opposing that. In a recent episode, Lucifer seemed truly hurt in his conversation with Gabriel, so much so that a tear slipped out – and Gabriel was no longer there, so it wasn’t even a ploy. I’m still a little confused about that. I felt like my emotions were being manipulated at the time, and I didn’t know what to make of it or what to expect from the rest of Lucifer’s arc this season.
Now that it’s all played out, I think I’m going to give Show the benefit of the doubt and say that it was brilliantly done. There’s a thing that psychologists recognize called ‘parallel process’, which means that sometimes the things that are challenging your client in their lives start playing out similarly in the therapy relationship. I feel like that’s sort of what happened here. Lucifer, the master of all master manipulators, lured me in at the same time as he lured Jack in. I started to doubt whether all of him was evil, or if at his core he was a wounded being who despite the horrible things he’d done (because I could never put those aside), genuinely wanted a relationship with his son. I started to doubt, and of course that’s exactly how a master manipulator gets under your skin.
The beauty of Lucifer’s arc playing out that way is that in this episode, when Lucifer shows his true nature and his true colors once again, I felt a small version of that same sense of betrayal and foolishness and fury that Jack felt. It feels horrible to be played, to be fooled. To let yourself start to believe in someone’s good intentions and then to find out that they were just using you all along. In this episode, as Jack learns the awful truth about his father, my own emotions about that betrayal made witnessing Jack’s pain all the more powerful. So kudos to Mark Pellegrino and to the writers for taking me on that unwanted journey, because even when it’s unpleasant, that’s good storytelling.
Once Lucifer gives up the pretense of wanting to be the good guy, he returns to the sadistic, cold, cruel being that he was when we first met him. I was horrified by how he treated Jack, how quickly he turned on a dime and showed absolutely no remorse. Not even a lingering ambivalence when it came to his son, which I couldn’t help but see as the same as the coldhearted rejection of so many parents of abandoned or abused children. I literally sat there with my hand over my mouth in horror. And again, as much as I hated that feeling, that is good story telling. I CARE about Jack, so it was excruciating seeing his father turn on him.
Lucifer: I tried with you… I told you what you wanted to hear, man. We could’ve been better gods than Dad.
Lucifer denigrates humans, and Jack protests that he too is part human.
Lucifer practically spits the next insult at him: You’re too much like your mother.
It’s so clear what he’s doing, how he’s already labeled Jack as “other” so he can destroy him. So that any real affection he did have for Jack is eradicated. It was so painful to hear, because for Jack, who is struggling with his identity development and figuring out who he is, his own father just rejected him as an unworthy, unlovable, worthless person. It happens in real life too, and it’s no less heartbreaking.
Lucifer makes the rejection explicit. And devastating.
Lucifer: I don’t want you, I just need your power.
Me: OMG, Jack!
He slices Jack’s throat and steals his grace, leaving Jack weak and helpless.
Sam, who really does love Jack as a son, leaps forward to try to save him.
Cas tries to intervene, and is thrown to the floor.
Lucifer, Jack and Sam disappear, leaving Dean yelling “Sammy!” again, to no avail. He looks devastated.
Me: OMG what just happened?!
Dean: What just happened?!
Me: That’s exactly what I just said!
Michael (crumpled on the floor): The devil won.
Archangels are the shiftiest most manipulative dicks ever, because I think Michael knows just how to goad Dean into doing something he might regret.
Michael: Lucifer has all the power now. He’ll kill the boy – and your brother. This is the end…of everything.
Anyone who knows Dean Winchester even a little bit knows that is the thing to say to get Dean to do whatever it takes to stop that outcome. Sam is in mortal danger, and Dean has proved again and again that he will go to the ends of the earth to save his brother. Jack, who Dean considers family, is in danger. And to top it off, the whole world will probably be ending. How can he NOT do something?
Dean looks anguished, and Jensen Ackles shows us every moment of his agonizing decision. When he turns his gaze to Michael, you can see Dean’s resolve – and his heartbreak.
Dean: What if you had your sword?
Castiel: Dean, no!
Michael is the only one who looks suddenly a lot less hopeless. He regards Dean like he’s looking at the thing he wants most in life.
Michael: Oh I know what you are.
Of course he does! He probably knew all along.
We get a flashback to Season 5, Zachariah and then Gabriel telling Dean that he is the Michael Sword – that Sam and Dean were always meant to be the perfect vessels for Lucifer and Michael.
I usually don’t like flashbacks because I remember the show too well, but in this case, I thought the flashback really worked to emphasize the gravity of this decision. Dean refused so many times, for so long, and now he feels he has no choice. It was also a wonderful feeling of the show circling back around and remembering its own past, which was powerful – it made it all seem like a destiny that you can’t outrun, and that felt BIG.
Cas again begs Dean not to do it, but Dean whirls around, his expression desperate.
Dean: Lucifer has Sam! He has Jack! Cas, I don’t have a choice.
He tells Michael this is a one time deal, and that he’s in charge.
Me and Alana: This isn’t gonna end well…
I think everyone knew that, but I also thought that it was totally in character for Dean to make that decision in that moment, and for him to at least try to make it on his terms.
Meanwhile, in a beautiful church (which is where epic things often go down in Supernatural) Lucifer flings poor Sam around, punching him ruthlessly and leaving him helpless on the floor. There are alot of caps of this moment floating around for some reason…
Lucifer drops a weak and helpless Jack right on the stone floor without a thought, so carelessly it made my blood run cold, then punches Jack just as brutally as he did Sam – with his fists and with his words.
Lucifer (with disdain): I can make more kids…
Sam tries to intervene, and Lucifer scoffs at him.
Lucifer: Daddy Sam coming to the rescue.
Alana (screaming from my couch): He’s more of a dad than you ever were!!
The dialogue in this episode, I swear – OUCH. Kudos Andrew Dabb, it really cut.
Archangels all seem to share that love of drama and theatricality, and more than a little dash of sadism and hubris, because Lucifer also does not opt for a quick death for Sam or for Jack (who he may want alive to keep drinking from…) Instead he tosses an archangel blade onto the floor between them and sets up a mini Hunger Games contest, telling them if one of them kills the other, he’ll give the survivor a chance to stop him from remaking (ie destroying) the world.
This scene was so well done and so tense that Alana and I screamed through most of it, clutching each other and yelling NO NO NO NO NO and various other exclamations as Jack and Sam faced each other. Sam finally picked up the blade, which made me terrified that Sam was just going to kill himself so Jack could live.
Me: NO NO NO Sam, what are you thinking? What is he thinking? OMG Sam, what are you thinking?? Use your words!!
(Yes, I unfortunately know just what I started babbling because alas, it’s all on Alana’s youtube episode reaction video…)
Sam hands the blade to Jack.
Sam: Kill me. You can stop him, Jack.
Jack looks horrified – so do Alana and I.
Jack: No, I can’t beat him. But you can.
Now Alana and I are screaming NO NO NO NO JACK WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOOOOOO!
Jack looks at Sam, his face heartbreakingly sincere and open, full of emotion (because Alex Calvert effing rocks)
Jack: I love you. I love all of you.
And with that, he stabs himself with the archangel blade.
Me and Alana: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
I would have preferred something other than “I love you” – it would have been more powerful if it conveyed that sense in another way. One of the things I loved about Supernatural from day one is that Sam and Dean never had to use those words to show each other how they felt. Bitch-Jerk is a million times more powerful than “I love you” and a lot more in character, and it didn’t seem entirely organic when Jack said it either. I don’t think Cas needed to say it out loud either when he thought he was dying – they know. That’s what makes it so emotional. I wish they would use both those three words and the “family” designation more sparingly to preserve the impact, but maybe that’s just me.
As Jack tries to impale himself with excruciating slowness, the church is lit up in a flash of blinding light, and Jack pauses with the blade only a little in. They all shield their eyes, and across the room, we are all open mouthed at what we see.
Michael!Dean appears, and slowly and majestically his black wings unfurl behind him. It was such a gorgeous shot, Dean’s familiar bow legs juxtaposed with those angelic wings. Jensen plays it perfectly, right down to the roll of his shoulders as the wings slowly unfurl.
Dean: Hiya Sammy.
And so we know that it is in fact Dean.
Then we get an epic fight scene with Rob Hayter’s always amazing fight choreography. Show tackled a huge undertaking by having the fight occur not only on the floor of the church but near the ceiling, which was strikingly high up. I can’t imagine how much work that was for both Ackles and Pellegrino, who had to be in harnesses and wires and still remember their fight choreography – or for the crew who had to film it and make it look believable. I appreciate that they wanted to make it epic, and it was, though I have to admit that wire work often throws me out of the moment. I mean, we do know that Ackles and Pellegrino can’t fly, so obviously we know there’s wire work happening, but I was distracted by the mechanics of it. I would have preferred that same epic fight on the ground, but I guess it makes sense that archangels don’t feel earthbound.
The backdrop of the beautiful stained glass windows and the arched roof of the church made this a truly spectacular scene, so kudos to all the set dec and VFX and many many crew who made it look like it did.
Lucifer, with the help of Jack’s grace, gets the upper hand and I really wasn’t sure how it was going to go for a while there, which I did enjoy. His sadism once again lets him take it slowly to savor the moment as he punches Michael/Dean repeatedly. Dean is near unconscious, his head lolling backwards, when Sam picks up the archangel blade and calls to his brother.
Even near death, Dean hears his brother call his name and that Winchester ability to be in sync, honed over all those decades of fighting together, kicks in. Dean’s hand finds the blade Sam has tossed up into the air and wraps around it just as his eyes are starting to glow white.
He plunges the blade into Lucifer.
Lucifer drops Dean, who falls to the floor, and Alana and I watched open mouthed as Lucifer flames out – literally. Flames shoot from his eyes and mouth and his wings start to burn. Again, so many VFX kudos! He crashes to the floor, the outline of his singed wings spread out behind him.
Me and Alana: OMG
Sam and Dean share a moment of unbridled joy and relief – they effing did it. They killed Lucifer.
Dean: Holy crap.
Sam (grinning): You did it.
Dean: (starting to smile too): No. No we did it. We did it.
They grin helplessly at each other, Sam nearly doubling over and laughing with the sheer power of the relief he’s feeling. Jared Padalecki has taken us right along with him portraying Sam’s trauma at the hands of Lucifer and his resulting PTSD, his struggle to cope with and survive it, his empathy for others who have also been traumatized, and finally his tremendous relief at vanquishing his abuser and securing a sense of safety for himself. His acting has never been more nuanced or more powerful than in telling this part of Sam’s story, and I’m so grateful. It made this moment incredibly powerful.
Let me pause a second to say that Dean’s line correcting Sam to emphasize that they did this together was very important – to Sam, I’m sure, but to the fandom. The story of Sam and Lucifer goes way back, and is the main reason most of us could never have been on board with a redemption arc for Lucifer. The damage he did to Sam, the cruelty with which he tormented him and broke him, was too much, too horrible. So many of us wanted to see Sam have this win – to see Sam finally best his abuser and end it. On the other hand, I’m very aware that Dean was traumatized by the extent of his brother’s trauma, and thus holds a special hatred for Lucifer and a burning desire to see Sam’s abuse avenged and to know that Sam no longer feels vulnerable with Lucifer still in the world. Dean, I don’t think, has ever forgiven himself for not being able to keep Sam from plunging into the Cage with Lucifer – for not being able to keep him safe. So for both brothers, killing Lucifer was a monumental victory. They did it TOGETHER. And for me, that made it even more satisfying.
I am also happy with the way this played out because it allowed the full circle of Dean becoming Michael that they averted in Season 5, but it also made Sam just as integral a part of the victory over Lucifer as Dean. I’m going to assume that the reason the entire world wasn’t obliterated in the process once Michael and Lucifer finally had it out had something to do with Lucifer not being in his proper vessel (Sam). Otherwise that whole terror over their showdown having to be averted or else apocalypse now doesn’t make much sense.
I’m not sure exactly what Jack is feeling, because the rollercoaster of emotions he’s been on in the last few hours is…well, I have no idea what it is actually, because WHOA. But he’s still standing, and he’s with the Winchesters, so that’s good.
Alana and I were grinning at each other too, and we all savored that 0.5 seconds of happiness for… well, 0.5 seconds.
Joyous moment comes to an end as Dean doubles over.
Dean: (anguished) We had a deal!
He straightens, and Sam knows immediately. We all know – because somehow Ackles looks not at all like Dean suddenly.
Michael!Dean: Thanks for the suit.
You know what broke me? The way Sam hangs his head as he realizes his brother is gone. To go from that moment of joy to this devastation in such a short amount of time must be … again, I don’t even know. It reminded me of the end of Season 7, when Dean disappeared and Sam had no idea how to get him back. I felt Sam’s heartbreak then, and I felt it again now.
In some ways, I feel like Season 13 was a season of the Show trying to fix some blunders of the past. The killing off of Bobby and Charlie were arguably significant miscalculations of fandom’s affection for those characters, and the AU seems to have afforded a way to bring them back to this world (in AU versions, admittedly, but those versions seem to be getting more and more like the original versions every day). Sam moving heaven and earth to find his brother would make up for the hit-a-dog-and-shack-up-with-Amelia story line that neither Jared Padalecki nor most fans enjoyed. This time Sam has Cas and Jack with him, so hopefully that means he won’t hit a dog and stop looking – that was perhaps my least favorite story line ever because of course Sam would look for Dean.
Which brings us to Season 7 and Dean lost in a different kind of way – inside Michael.
Back at the bunker, Mary and Bobby return to find a devastated Castiel. That close up on Misha Collins’ face as he sits there faced with the knowledge that of course Michael will not keep his side of the bargain, and that Dean is lost to him, was so well done – it hurt to see the pain in his eyes. Cas turned his back on Heaven back in Season 5, it was so important to him that Dean not say yes to Michael. This must be a terrible blow, although I suspect there’s also a part of Castiel that understands why Dean did it. Jack is like a son to him too, after all.
We end with Michael suited up all Peaky Blinders style strolling down a city street. I almost expected something from Saturday Night Fever to play, but instead we get Michael!Dean looking around in wonder at this big world full of possibility – which does not bode well for humanity. Or Dean.
I wish they had ended there, with Michael!Dean looking around curiously. It was so obvious to everyone that Michael was 100% in control, and we didn’t need any further evidence.
As cool as the blue glowy eyes are, I didn’t need to see them. And why we got a close up, then a freeze frame, then a zoom in on the freeze frame, I don’t know. Alana, film maker that she is, immediately was like ‘What the hell?!’
I’m not gonna go on about it, because it was one small thing, but I wish we could have left it out and not diluted the impact of the possession with that last shot.
So that’s the set up for Season 14. Jensen Ackles has said that he had some input into the wardrobe for Michael!Dean, so I can’t help but think that Ackles’ love for Peaky Blinders was influential – and that the actor is probably loving the opportunity to dress up and stretch his acting muscles by playing a different character. On the other hand, nobody loves playing a character as much as Ackles loves playing Dean, so I think he would miss it if the Michael!Dean story line goes on too long. I’m in agreement that the Demon!Dean story line ended way too soon (as are Jared and Jensen), but that was an exploration of Dean and his psyche – he was still Dean. If Michael is in complete control, that means Dean isn’t really on our screens for a while, and I wouldn’t want that to be the case for too long. I’d love to see Dean’s battle to take back control, though, so I hope we’ll see that – and that would mean we’d get some of both Dean and Michael.
We don’t honestly have a clear idea of what Michael even wants, other than the typical villainous “I’ll make over this world and it will be better than it ever was” which invariably means the opposite, and I think he mentioned something about “purifying” which is never EVER a good thing. I mean, he’s clearly not a nice guy, having tortured Mary and Jack and countless others – but I’m not sure what his plan is. For now, he just seems to want to wear stylish clothes and enjoy a world that doesn’t look quite so apocalyptic.
I’m also looking forward to seeing Sam look for Dean this time (unlike Season 8), and to seeing what lengths Sam and Cas and Jack will go to in order to get him back. We’ll get more exploration of Sam and Castiel’s relationship, and also of Castiel’s bond with Jack. All those things are good, but I will probably be longing for them to be reunited with Dean too. I guess that brings me right back to the power of parallel process, doesn’t it?
I am so grateful that Supernatural is still on the air and still telling stories that I’m invested in – I feel incredibly lucky that this is the Show I fell for so many years ago. A big thank you to the amazing hard-working cast and crew who bring the show to life week after week, year after year.
Stocking up on tissues now for Season 14. Who’s with me?
Caps by @kayb625, who has been a rockstar all season grabbing screencaps of all those moments that make this show so special. Much love and gratitude!
After my epic review of last week’s episode, I’ll try to make this one more concise – which I realize isn’t saying much with the bar that low. Exodus, the penultimate episode of Season 13, began with a lengthy recap, which caused me to start encouraging my television to “come on, get to it, we know what happened last week!”
I suppose it’s possible that someone forgot that Sam Winchester died in the last episode and that Lucifer brought him back and that he has just now walked into the rebel camp – where Sam sees Mary alive and Dean sees Sam alive. But I don’t know that person.
I do love that they pick up right where they left off, which doesn’t happen often enough and which gives the episode an extra sense of urgency and immediacy. Sam hugs Mary, who he’s been trying desperately to get to all season, and Dean stares at Sam over Mary’s shoulder like he almost can’t believe it, with a soft “Sam?”
As soon as Sam and Dean have a moment alone, they both need to reconnect after the intense emotions each has experienced – Dean’s devastation at losing Sam and Sam’s shame and guilt at being brought back by Lucifer and bringing him to the camp.
Sam: I’m sorry about all this.
I held my breath, waiting to see what Dean would say and my heart breaking for Sam – who has absolutely nothing to be sorry about but is always ALWAYS worried about disappointing his big brother.
Dean: Are you good?
Sam: I’m alive, yeah.
Dean: Well then you’ve got nothin’ to apologize for.
Me: OMG YES!
Dean pulls Sam into a hug, wraps him up so very tight, and you can see the moment when Sam lets go of that guilt and self-blame and just leans into it, letting his brother hold him. Realizing that it’s okay, that all Dean cares about is that Sam is alive and well and that’s all that matters.
This week’s Supernatural episode was one of those episodes that everyone had a strong opinion about – but, as often happens in this fandom, not necessarily the same strong opinion. The one thing that everyone did agree on was that the acting was off the charts incredible – and nobody was left unemotional, that’s for sure.
For me, I think the emotions were especially complex because I was fortunate to be able to watch some of the episode be filmed, including some of the most intense moments. I thought that maybe, since I had already watched those horrific moments when Sam dies and Dean has to watch it, maybe it wouldn’t hit me so hard when I saw it onscreen. But no. It just meant that I got all emotional watching them film it, and then got emotional all over again watching the final product. I knew that Jensen and Jared had killed it in those scenes, but I don’t even have words for how much they broke my heart now that I’ve seen the episode.
So I agree with everyone else – the acting was off the charts. There was plenty to love about this episode, but there were also some things that bothered me, so here’s a bit of both along with a few behind the scenes tidbits.
The opening scene starts right in with the heartstring tugs – a scene of domestic family bliss, Cas and Jack and Mary and Sam around the table and teasing Dean about eating too much pizza, Mary saying she and John called him “our little piglet”. (This is Sam’s perspective, so it makes sense, but I’m pretty sure Dean’s love of food is a result of the deprivation that came after Mary died). Then Sam and Mary having the heart to heart that Sam has longed for, finally hearing Mary express her faith in her sons, how she knew they’d save her and they did. It’s Sam’s most wished for fantasy come to life – and of course it’s a dream.
Break my heart right at the outset, why don’t you? I sort of wanted to employ my dream interpretation skills, because that’s what psychologists do sometimes, but I’ll try to stop myself (would I just be psychoanalyzing writer Robert Berens? Hmmm. Tempting, Bobo…). I did love that in Sam’s fantasy, everyone is teasing Dean – it’s such a little brother fantasy. And everyone is together, family by blood, family by choice. Everyone is safe and happy. Oh Sam.
First quibble though – does Sam really sleep fully clothed in a long sleeve shirt even?? Really??
I am loving the lead up to Supernatural’s Season 13 finale. With four episodes remaining, this week’s ‘Unfinished Business’ kept up the momentum and continued the work of bringing the team together who will try to save the world (from AU Michael or Lucifer or the both of them). We’ve now gotten rid of Asmodeus to clear off the playing field a bit, and by the end of this episode Castiel, Gabriel and Rowena will all be in the bunker with the Winchesters getting ready to save Mary and Jack (oh, and the world).
Richard Speight, Jr. directed this episode, which wouldn’t be OMG AMAZING in itself since he has already directed multiple episodes. What makes it OMG AMAZING is that Richard ended up directing an episode in which he also is the featured guest star! They assign the directing schedule early on, so originally they didn’t know Gabriel would be getting an origin story, or that this would be it. When I sat down with Richard earlier this year after his first directing foray for Season 13, he knew he’d be directing episode 20 but had no idea what it would be. Turns out it’s one that stars his own character, Gabriel! Not one to be easily discouraged, Speight opted to do it anyway. He must have worked his butt off, but he pulled off a tour de force performance as not one guest character, but TWO – Gabriel and Loki!
Two of Speight’s previous directing outings have been favorites of mine, especially Season 11’s ‘Just My Imagination’ and Season 12’s ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’. The latter was beautifully directed and scored, the title and the music and the directing choices a loving tribute to Quentin Tarantino’s films. That was writer Davy Perez who wrote the nod to Tarantino, but Richard told me in an interview at that time that he then knew he could pick up the momentum and roll with it.
Richard: …I decided oh, I can totally go stylized with this, we’re gonna go cinematically stylized, and I can dive in and keep fanning the flames in that direction. So that led to a lot of Western themes that I put in there, and to a Western score that got put in…. I’m a big Sergio Leone fan, and it felt like there was a lot we sort of pulled from that.
‘Unfinished Business’ also lent itself to being cinematically stylized, from some of the filming choices to the set dec to the awesome music score by Jay Gruska that really set the episode apart. Gruska apparently composed original music even for Gabriel’s kazoo solo, which was perfect for the alley fight scene – and also worked as an homage to Supernatural actor and Richard Speight good friend Rob Benedict’s band, Louden Swain (fans who love the band join in with a kazoo chorus on one of their best-loved songs). Gruska’s score was integral to the cinematic styling of this episode, making some of the pivotal scenes more memorable.
In some of the previous episodes he has directed, I’ve been impressed with the beautiful cinematography and lighting and asked Richard about it. His appreciation for director of photography Serge Ladouceur’s talent makes their collaboration a particularly striking one. In War of the Worlds, for example, he said that he’d almost over-shot the sequence with Lucifer in the hanging cage being tormented by Michael because it just looked so cool! Read more →