Season 10. Wow. It’s shot out of the gate at high speed and with maximum emotional impact! This week’s “Soul Survivor” took us on another rollercoaster ride as the Winchester brothers continued to deal with the aftermath of Dean’s death and consequent resurrection as a demon. I loved every minute “Soul Survivor”. Yes, every last minute.
Episode 3 of the season, was actually shot first. This is because Jensen Ackles directed it, and to ensure he had time to do all the necessary prep a director needs to do, as they have with the past episodes he’s directed they moved this one to the front of the shooting schedule. So there were two things going on here, which were interesting – Jensen’s continued evolution as a nuanced director and the fact that this was actually the first time he had to play Demon Dean. Jensen had to work on this new character both in front of and behind the camera. What an imposing task.
It’s been a joy to see Jensen evolve as both an actor and director over the years. I feel blessed to have taken this journey with him. As a director, this episode must have been the most complex episode he’s had to shoot. The shots through the maze like bunker halls. The fact that there was a lot of Dean in this episode, and a lot of particularly challenging, high energy Dean scenes. I can’t even imagine how daunting that must have been.
The tension in the scenes between the Winchester brothers never missed a beat. The slow push ins with the camera – or maybe that was in post, but it looked in camera to me – made the brother’s conversations feel that much more intimate – if that’s the right word – and added to and ratcheted up the anxiety. The shot choice to have Dean look up – to be shot front on, practically gazing down the camera barrel, almost challenging us – added to the threatening tone. I feel like Jensen's taken a leaf out of the late Kim Manners' book with his excellent use of close-ups. The big shots out on the road, made the lost and failing Cas seem more alone and more vulnerable somehow. But I think, outside of Dean stalking the halls, my favourite shot was of Sam in the hallway talking to Cas, with his brother at a distance, through several doors, bound and semi-conscious. The framing on that shot was not only beautiful, it was powerful.
In my meet and greet with Jensen in Vancouver, he spoke about some of the challenges of shooting this episode. With the bunker hallway scenes, he had to give the appearance of scale to the bunker layout with only and few set ups to play with. He relied on Hitchcockian techniques in how Sam and Dean walked the halls with the antagonist always turning one direction, while the protagonist always turned the opposite direction – he’s a Hitchcock fan by the way. He also spoke about how he had to be particularly prepared for this episode, because he knew as actor Jensen, he was essentially setting up a brand new character in Demon Dean and he needed to be able to hand off his director’s notebook and trust that he’d covered everything, and that his team would be able to work off his notes while he concentrated on performance.
And he pulled the whole thing off magnificently. This was my favourite episode that Jensen has directed. The guy sure has an eye for it. He never ceases to stun me, both in front of and behind the camera.
He’s an awesomely, talented S.O.B.! ♥
If we had any lingering thoughts as to whether Demon Dean retained any of his humanity, “Soul Survivor” blew those away. Actually, I think he made the transition away for his last tenuous ties to humanity during the scene in “Reichenbach”, where he sat at the piano cutting his hand and watching it heal. Prior to that, there was still a hint of Dean in Demon Dean – but in that moment, I think he picked a side. And when he did that, Dean ceased to exist. The Dean we saw in this week’s episode only resembled Dean in appearance – and maybe snappy snark – everything else of Dean was gone. This was both thrilling and terrifying.
In the aftermath of this episode, I found myself pondering why I'd enjoyed the hell out of Demon Dean so much. Sure, he’s smokin’ hot in that evil, uber bad boy way, but what the hell? He’s really awful! Then I realised, it wasn’t that I was enjoying the hell out of Demon Dean, so much as it was that I was enjoying the hell out of watching Jensen play Demon Dean. Watching Jensen chew up the scenery with such aplomb, seeing him do something with Dean that we’d never seen before was an absolute joy! I mean I knew the guy was good, but wowzers! I think that’s why I enjoyed the character of Demon Dean so much…because of the actor.
When Dean was taunting Sam, it reminded me of this conversation from “Born Under a Bad Sign”?
JO: I know demons lie, but ... do they ever tell the truth too?
DEAN: Uh, um, yeah, sometimes, I guess. Especially if they know it'll mess with your head.
What Dean said to Sam was particularly painful, because Dean knew exactly what to say. He knew exactly where to hurt Sam. He knew Sam’s insecurities. He knew what would get under Sam’s skin, and get into his head the most. Demon Dean was trying his hardest to throw Sam off his game. It was the only way he could retaliate in that moment.
When Demon Dean told Sam to let him go, he’d leave Sam alone, let him live his life, he almost challenged Sam with, “What do you care?” He then threw the, if family is all we’ve got, then we’ve got nothing line in Sam’s face. To me, both of these things seemed in direct relation to what Sam said to Dean in “Sharp Teeth” and “The Purge”. Demon Dean was using Sam’s own words against him. Every single barb Demon Dean used was for maximum impact, tapping into where Sam is most vulnerable – as only someone who knows Sam better than himself, could do.
I think Dean’s made it pretty clear how important Sam is to him; I mean, stone number one, nothing past or present, I’m proud of us. For better or worse, Sam is Dean’s everything, which is why hearing Dean say these words, hearing him throw family – something so important to Dean - away, hearing him blame Sam for pretty much every shitty thing that ever happened in their lives on Sam’s shear existence, made Demon Dean’s words hurt so damn much. In that moment, Demon Dean tossed away everything that Dean and Sam held sacred – and tossed it right into Sam’s face. And it was so damn painful to watch. So painful. Man, did those scenes hurt. Because all those things are important to us too. We know the level of love that exists between these two brothers. We know what they’ve done and what they will do for each other. We know how important to each other they are – regardless of what has been said in anger in the past. Over and over they prove their dedication to each other and hearing one of them rip apart everything they believe, everything we believe – whether via an extremely pissed off Sam or a no longer Dean Dean - cuts us, as fans, to the bone! It really, really hurts!
But Sam wasn’t having a bar of it.
I don’t know if I’ve every loved Sam as much as I did in “Soul Survivor”. Watching his strength and determination take over, and how he shook all the nastiness off him and just soldiered on… Argh! I loved him so much! I mean I always love him, but I was loving him sick! Yay Sam! Everything that was thrown at him, and he stood firm. He was beyond awesome in the face of his nasty-ass demon of a brother. The way he was angrily jabbing those needles in – but the way he still panicked when he thought he’d lost Dean - everything was perfect.
In fact, the scenes between Sam and Dean were flawless. Jensen and Jared always excel when they get to bounce off each other – but these scenes were really something special. Jared has done an amazing job at conveying Sam’s strength, determination, sadness and vulnerability through his search for Dean, just as Jensen has done a amazing job of showing the different shades of Demon Dean that have thrown all of us off kilter as we desperately search for any hint of what he once was and grapple with what he might have become. And I never doubted for one second that Demon Dean was going to kill Sam. Never for one second. Beautiful work. If I weren’t typing right now, I’d give the boys a standing ovation!
You know what surprised me? How relieved I felt when Dean was finally cured. Here I was digging Demon Dean like everyone else. As he stalked his brother in the bunker halls…coming after him with a hammer – I mean, A HAMMER! I loved it. It was so scary – probably the scariest the show has ever been, because it was Dean. I loved it and I loved every second of Demon Dean…every single second. But when Dean looked up and his black eyes cleared, I sort of exhaled. I felt like I’d been holding my breath since the end of season 9. Since Dean died and I went into some weird, prolonged, mourning! I mean, I knew it was all going to be okay (Jensen even told me that himself!), I knew Demon Dean would be gone(ish) by the 5th episode – because you can't do a love letter to the fans ep when one of the brothers wants to bash the other’s head in with a hammer! I knew all of this – so I was expecting Dean to be cured in either episode 3 or 4. And yet when it happened, I felt this wave of relief rush over me that surprised the hell out of me. I swear it was like I’d stopped breathing for 6 months! I guess I was just glad to have him back. I do love Dean…
Of course, it’s nowhere over yet for Dean – we know those boys won’t get off that easy! That Mark of Cain is going to rear its very ugly, angry and violent head. Dean’s going to be living on tenterhooks, waiting for something to overcome him again. And let’s not forget Crowley has the First Blade… that is not good at all! Not. Good. I think we have a long and bumpy road ahead and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the Dean we think is gone, makes himself known to us again. But for right now – at least he’s not a demon.
I know some fans were bummed there was no hugging Winchesters and the end of “Soul Survivor”, but I wasn’t. Having them hug after all they just went through would've seemed ludicrous to me and smacked of fanservice (one of my least favourite things). Having Sam as excited as a puppy, going to get his brother food, but then, showing that it’s not all happy times by admitting that he was going to get drunk, felt right. Having Dean feeling awkward about what he’d just try to do and feeling worried that he’d blown it with his brother, and also obviously pondering the aftermath of being a demon, felt right. I liked the hell out of that ending, it was fittingly uncomfortable and I may be swinging out on the breeze on my own here, but a Winchester hug would have felt so out of place after those scenes. And you know me, I love a bro hug. But in this case, I think Show did good and to be honest, a hug never even crossed my mind until I saw chatter about it.
Ooo, I’m naughty…I haven’t even talked about Crowley and Cas! I enjoyed Crowley’s scenes in Hell and his ongoing battle with “is this all there is”! Talk about disenchanted! But I guess, after tearing up the town with Dean Winchester, anything would seem boring! I’m still enjoying Cas and Hannah’s awkwardly burgeoning relationship. I like that Cas has learnt how emotion can cloud your judgement – geeze, I wonder where he learnt that lesson! I’m so very happy he’s fully powered up again, even if it’s only going to be temporary. I wonder what Crowley has planned for Cas – what will be the favour? He’s like the Godfather or something! I was also glad to see Cas show up to help Sam in those final moments of Dean’s recovery. As far as I’m concerned, Sam saved Dean. All of it, every last bit, was on Sam. But Cas is a friend to the brothers and having him not be there at such a pivotal time, and when he was needed and called for, would have felt odd. I saw someone say, Crowley saved Cas, Cas saved Sam and Sam saved Dean. I’ll go along with that. I like that Sam and Cas have become closer. I like it a hell of a lot.
And then there was that teaser! Is anyone watching The Flash? At the end of every episode they do this little teaser about an element of the plot surrounding one of the characters, and I really like how they’re structuring it. It’s almost like a Marvel Easter egg. This felt very similar to me and it made me go, “Ooooooooooo!” And hey, I’ll pass judgement on this new ginger and who she is and what she means to the story when we know more…and not before…because that’s how I roll.
After the episode was finished, I was a little haunted by Dean’s face post Cas telling him to take some time, things are quiet (HA!). Obviously the last thing Dean is going to want to do is take some time! Because that will mean thinking – God forbid. He won’t want to be doing any of that! But as he sort of looked around the room, I started wondering how happy he’s going to be that he’s no longer carefree Demon Dean. Like Cas said, it’s totally understandable why he wouldn’t have wanted to be cured, because not feeling can be a hell of a lot better than feeling too much. It was why Soulless Sam didn’t want to be cured. Though I never got the sense that Sam pined for his soulless days, I wondered to myself if Dean will pine for his demon days. And I think he’s going to be scared shitless that with the Mark of Cain on his arm, one false move and he could go darkside again. I can’t wait to see how all this plays out. How much of what Dean said to Sam will Sam retain? How much of what Sam did – the Lester thing – which, wait I should talk about that I guess. I thought to myself, “Well that’s not TOO bad.” But then I thought, regardless of whether it was Sam’s intent to not have Lester go through with the deal, he preyed on a man who was not only vulnerable, but drunk to boot! He knew this guy was in a dark place and he played that to his own end. Now, he may have intended for Lester to walk away – but – he gave Lester the tools to go and summon a demon whenever he liked. He taught Lester how to do it. I actually think it was a pretty crappy thing to do, to prey on this loser like this. It doesn’t look so bad at first, but in hindsight, I think Sam probably did cross a line, but I think more importantly, Sam will think he crossed a line and how that plays out for both him and Dean will be interesting.
I could go on and on, there was just that much goodness in ths ep. I loved “Soul Survivor”. It was kickass. It was scary. It was upsetting. It was exhilarating. It was so many feels! The cat and mouse through the halls of the bunker had me on the edge of my seat. Those scenes were epically good. EPICALLY. GOOD. Both the boy's moments when they sat and looked at the family photos...MY HEART! I’m happier than I thought I would be that Dean is no longer a demon. I’m excited about the exploration of what that means to him, how what has happened will influence him and what will happen with that thing on his arm! I’m excited about the exploration of where the brothers go from here. I want them to be saving people, hunting things again. Not status quo, not bitch/jerk, but doing what they do best and finding a way to do it together and be relatively happy about it. Relatively. I’m a realist. I like their twisty, gnarly relationship, the ups and downs, and all the drama that brings with it, but I also look forward to seeing them find a little balance in their existence. Just, you know, for something different.
Season 10 is knocking my socks off and one thing I like the best is – I have absolutely zero idea where it’s heading.
Oh, one more thing… Jensen tweeting the episode was the best thing ever! He tweets how he speaks! I loves him. I happened to be home early that day and watched the epi as he tweeted it. I joked to my friend Hazel, that I’d just watched Supernatural with Jensen! Heee! The back and forth between him and Jared and Misha and Mark…so much fun. Damn we're lucky fans! This show. This cast. Lucky.
Thanks for reading my thoughts, let me know yours!