The Morning After
I realized something rather interesting (at least I thought it was interesting) as I was considering my reaction to Supernatural’s seventh episode of season 12, “Rock Never Dies”. A pattern is emerging in the look and feel of some of the episodes. It’s as if there’s a “thread” in the approach to telling some of the stories this season. Without knowing where the plot is headed, I can’t yet judge if the style foreshadows future developments or simply reflects storytelling preferences of the new head writer, Andrew Dabb and his executive producing partner Robert Singer.
The storytelling style I’m referring to is that of Parody. In both “Rock Never Dies” and “The One You’ve Been Waiting For”, traits and actions were exaggerated to the point of people becoming caricatures of their real life counterparts. If spoilers for next week’s episode are accurate, it sounds like it will be more of the same.
For example, Vince Vincente’s self-absorbed, god-complex was that of a hard rock star taken to the extreme. It reminded me of how some people “over 30” regarded the rock music revolution of the 60s. Its loud bass, head banging rhythms; and free love, drug advocating lyrics were “the work of the devil!” Vincifer’s desire to test the limits of his fans’ devotion, and Roseleen’s “I’ve loved you since I was 16” obsession portrayed the extreme of the star/fan stereotypes. Even the public relations manager’s social media mania, the music producer’s adoption of yoga and meditation, and Dean’s ramble while driving made fun of the stereotypes of LA:
450 miles to L.A. Land of gridlock. Botox, overtaxing, underachieving, smell of sweaty desperation. I mean you can’t breathe. The beaches are toxic. You got dudes in skinny jeans wearing sunglasses inside. Image-obsessed narcissists.
Costumes continued the parody with Sam and Dean in leather jackets over undershirts, Crowley donning sunglasses, Laydheart’s rockers being thrilled with “the girls” that were the “perfect age” in the audience (they were that excited about that tiny venue?), the “throng” of people who were supposedly pushing and shoving to get into a concert yet there was still plenty of room in the place (with sound effects that didn’t match the number of extras hired for the audience) – the whole premise was so ridiculous it had to have been done on purpose, or at least I hope it was.
Undeserved Devotion and the Power of Gods
The exaggerated study of Vincifer in this episode highlighted that this season seems to be ridiculing institutions and people in positions of authority, or those with some type of power, i.e. “kind of famous”. Parents who do more harm than good to their kids, religion which is used to hurt rather than heal, intelligentsia (the British Men of Letters) who use their knowledge to become hard line despots and must be stopped, government leaders who drew the world into war, and rock stars who disregard music and use their fans only to fuel their ego and social/financial power.
Vincifer brought the theme to the surface with his explanation to Tommy:
It’s not about the music. It never really was. You know, rock’s not the reason. It’s just an excuse to worship, to adore. See, humans have always been desperate to put someone or something above them. And let’s face it, God aint’ cuttin’ it these days.
When Vince was planning his concert, he continued the exposition of overtly criticizing societal structures:
I’ve had my fill of the diehards. They already love me. Religion, celebrity, Twitter – it’s all about the same rules. If you’re not gaining followers, you’re losing followers. I want a different crowd tonight. New fans…. I want fresh blood.
(I mentioned the “rules” thread in my “Asa” review. It’s intriguing that it is brought up again this week). All these plot situations were about abuse of power. Even the big revelation in “Asa” about a friend who hung his partner to cover up an accident and save his reputation was about people betraying the trust given to them by those who look up to them or count on them in society.
Wednesday’s visual review for “American Nightmare” highlighted the theme of power. At the time it seemed as if it was a one-time thing, specific to that episode, however, the power theme was visually and orally continued in “Rock Never Dies” through several scenes and quotes:
Lucifer healing Vince’s body: With a little power up.
Music Producer: I moved to the Westside last year. Started daily meditation, yoga, green juice. Helps to keep the ego and the anger in check.
Crowley: There’s a certain prestige to owning a Swift or a Drake.
Music Producer: I know Ladyheart might be a punch line but the band’s got off-the-chart name recognition.
Band Member/Fan Roseleen: We are gonna be famous again.
Sam: Look at this. Rock star biographies, like all off them, from Aerosmith to ZZ Top. It’s like he’s studying how to become famous….Lucifer could be taking over Heaven and Hell right now and instead he’s trying to act out some rock god fantasy?
Vincifer: I’m Vince Vincente, rock god.
Crowley provided the closing quote to expose the theme:
What Lucifer made that woman do has got nothing to do with music. It’s about devotion. You little people wouldn’t understand, but I’ve been a king. Having people look at you like you’re everything, knowing that once they buy in you can make them do anything. It’s intoxicating.
When Vince’s manager/publicist said ”I’ve worked for sexists, racists, even politicians. My job is making saints out of devils”, the thread of insidious authority figures and institutions took on a meta political tone. She bragged about public relations people being able to dupe the “little people”. A few weeks ago we made excuses for the Hitler plot, saying the writing team would never have presumed to parallel their plot to elections around the world. Her comment, though, (and next week’s plot) have me wondering if the commentary isn’t as accidental as we assumed.
Let’s look at some other threads that were brought into clearer focus by “Rock Never Dies”.
Prior episodes in season 12 included several examples of parents who were either clearly insane or overtly labeled as such. While this episode’s only reference to a parental relationship was Dean getting beat by his mom in “Words with Friends”, it did include a variation of the insanity thread.
Roseleen was portrayed as a fan whose “loyalty” went far beyond healthy admiration. Once she became willing to mutilate herself to prove her “love”, it was clear that she has mental health issues that require serious attention. I don’t think she can be clinically diagnosed as “insane” (I’m not a mental health professional) but her example of going too far and crossing lines of normal behavior in the name of love was no different than the insane mom in “American Nightmare” who wanted to kill her whole family so they’d be together in Heaven, or the commandant who wanted to resurrect Hitler from the dead for love of his Fuhrer. This episode makes me wonder if “insanity” isn’t so much the point, as a foreshadowing about people who do unreasonable, unhealthy, literally crazy things in the name of love...
Saving People, Hunting Things
Sam: We’re here to do more than just take a shot at Lucifer. We need to save the people inside too.
“Rock Never Dies” contained a rather distressing revelation that Castiel still believes his only use to is to sacrifice himself to buy enough time for the others to defeat Lucifer. I don't know why he can't accept that "saving people" applies also to angels who are best friends!
I think the most intense moment of the episode came when Sam was contemplating their inability to save all the people. With that very last look from Sam...
...I was absolutely sure he was thinking that there is something he can do to stop Lucifer, because he has done it before. Did anyone else think that? That moment, plus his reminder that the responsibility for Satan being loose was shared by all of them, connected the objective of saving people with Sam's defining desicions in "Swan Song".
Possession / “Swan Song”
In “The One You’ve Been Waiting For”, Sam mentioned to Ellie his history of being possessed by Lucifer, and the story of Sam’s defeat of Lucifer’s possession was retold and categorized as "amazing” by a hunter in “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox”. Dean provided the flashback reference this week when he said,
I doubt they offer intro to guitar in the cage.
Cas then reiterated the callback when he punctuated his punch to Lucifer with “Hey assbut!”
I believe someone is going to pull a “Sam Winchester” and try to sacrifice themselves to recage Lucifer. The only question is who it will be.
In the comments on “The One You’ve Been Waiting For” “Threads” review, Percysowner pointed out the possible significance of the blood transfusion from Ellie, who was the true bloodline vessel, to the commandant, who was a “willing” vessel. That repeated the canon that blood relatives of perfect vessels can be used as “the next best thing”. Once Percysowner called attention to the blood theme, I realized that “blood” had actually been a thread throughout the episode, including references to the Thules’ “Blood Magic”. When I specifically listened for them in “Rock Never Dies”, the references were blatant. First, the lyrics of the song that Sam played on their road trip were “The Bloody Messiah. Give it up to the overlord”, a triple reference to blood, giving up power, and the god complex of people in power. The horrid, disturbing cutting ritual was the most obvious reference to this theme:
Vince: How much do you love me? What would you do to show me?
Vince: Would you bleed? Then bleed.
This is either an unnecessary reminder that the Winchester brothers have indeed bled and died for each other (which I highly doubt) or horrific foreshadowing that either Mary or one of her boys will “bleed” for love of their family.
Crowley's confrontation with Lucifer repeated the theme:
Crowley: What are you doing, Lucifer? You mean nothing to those kids out there. You think they’d draw blood for you? By choice?
Lucifer: Well, I thought I’d at least ask. And if they won’t give it up by choice, maybe I’ll just take it… because it’s fun. Because I can, and because being Lucifer – so much Judeo-Christian baggage. But Vince? He’s famous. Everybody loves him.
(Note the callback to the free will thread).
Blood seems to be the key to stopping Lucifer, whether it’s needed in a spell, underlies a critical relationship, or is what will be spilled in the final battle.
Branding/Burning => Mutilation and Fire
Burning has been a prominent part of most if not all episodes this season. Burning flesh, burning funeral pyres and immolation have made it an unmistakable season 12 thread. I heard one reference to burning in this episode, when Sam asked about Vincifer’s body:
Shouldn’t he have burned through his vessel by now?
I initially identified the theme as “burning” because our introduction to it was a blow torch used to burn Sam’s feet. In retrospect, though, each subsequent episode featured the fire that caused something to burn. That distinction came into focus when the “Rock Never Dies” dialog repeatedly referenced fire:
Vince’s manager said about fans: “Gossip blogs, social media, they’re on fire speculating about the secret reunion show.” and later
Vincifer said of getting the band back together, "Haven’t felt this fired up in ages."
(Note the mention of the reunion thread from the first few episodes of the season)
Sam pulled the fire alarm to clear the concert hall and Dean complimented Crowley on being a human (uh, demon) punching bag to buy them time:
I gotta hand it to you. You said you were gonna draw Lucifer’s fire and you drew some serious fire.
When Crowley said, “You’re messing with hellfire, Russell.” the entire burning theme became clear. It isn’t about burning – it’s about fire, specifically Hell’s fire. The fire is “Hell on Earth”, symbolically Lucifer bringing part of his domain to humanity. Lucifer’s even offered the veiled invitation to “go to hell”.
Besides clarifying the burning fire idea, I propose that “Rock Never Dies” revealed a more subtle, underlying thread as well. I had connected branding as a variation of burning into flesh. It is also, however, a form of mutilating the human body. Sam’s burnt feet, setting people on fire, the wounds of stigmata, whipping deep gashes into the flesh, a swastika that cuts a hole in a chest, and hanging a body after it’s dead are all forms of mutilation.
This week’s images of Vince’s body grotesquely decaying from the inside out (both after his underwater burial and after using his powers) plus Roseleen’s tooth being pulled out by the roots and her “carving” his name into her chest, losing “a lot of blood, cutting “deep” so “there’ll be no fixing those scars” were all body mutilations. Dean's dry humor was also part of the theme:
You ever stop and wonder what kind of sicko gets happy off of watching somebody melonball their own flesh?
So both the fire and mutilation threads have evolved from our initial observations. Are there more examples now that we’ve modified the threads a bit? Where do you think they might be going?
Humans vs Animals
Kevin Parks’ gorgeous animal, Kuma, made a cameo appearance in the lobby!
That was a much nicer insertion of the animal theme than Lucifer’s command to Crowley right before he beat the crap out of him:
Bad Doggie! Sit!
Besides crystalizing the contra-authority theme of this season, I heard a meta layer in this week’s episode. In interviews, the writers have said they were going back to season 1 and 2 basics in season 12. This idea of circling back to the beginning could easily be read into the words of the music producer,
We’re raided, repackaged and resold everything else from our past. Why not give hair metal another shot?
Sam and Dean even referenced the days of old:
When was the last time we were in L.A.? About 10 years ago, doing a vengeful spirit? Man, that’s seems like forever ago, doesn’t it?
Sam: It’s a history podcast.
Dean: Well, I like history… hell, we’re driving a piece of history right here.
Sam: Not that kind of history. It’s a podcast on the history of the Protestant Reformation.
Vincifer’s admission that he’s had his
“fill of the diehards. They already love me…If you’re not gaining followers, you’re losing followers” and wanting “a different crowd tonight. New fans.”
sounded like a message from the writers about Supernatural’s audience. The show’s script even threw in a bit of reality when Vince’s publicist/manager mentioned him making a Buzzfeed list. Every week The WFB’s “Bits and Pieces” news summary points fans to Buzzfeed and other lists about Supernatural, Jared, Jensen, Misha and the show’s characters. I got squeamishly uncomfortable when Roseleen explained her fan worship of Vince, saying
“your voice, your hair, your eyes. It was everything. You were everything.”
Haven’t we all said similar things about Jared, Jensen and Misha? Then the brothers played the part of “stars” by donning leather. Dean said he plays guitar and “pretty much does it all”. Sound like anyone we know in real life?
Vincifer’s last lecture was specifically direct:
This is all meaningless. Heaven, Hell, this world. If it ever meant anything, that moment is past. Nothing down here but a bunch of hopeless distraction addicts, so filled with emptiness, so desperate to fill up the void, they don’t mind being served another stale rerun of a rerun of a rerun.
It’s always risky when the show comments about itself and its fans. As season 12 seems to be critical of established institutions, are they also putting Supernatural into that same category? 12 years is almost an “institution” status in television. Is Andrew Dabb saying something like it’s time to break down this structure and start anew, e.g. end Supernatural and start a spin-off, a “reformation” of the show? Is our loyalty being viewed the same as the crazed fans who hung onto hair rock long past its time? Like with “S7 Time for a Wedding”, I don’t enjoy the show making fun of fans. In fact, parody is not a style I enjoy in general. I prefer to be pulled into a reality and have the message delivered subtly. I don’t like being shown rabid fans, religious zealots, flighty young adults, shallow social media lurkers, or any of the other components of my life that when taken to an extreme result in horribly failed human beings. It’s insulting and uncomfortable and certainly not entertaining, but it is a classic approach to criticism. Only time will tell if season 12 has additional social and political commentary in store for us, or further messages about Supernatural being past its prime. I hope not, on both accounts.... or maybe I'm just imagining things? What threads did you hear?
Dialog confirmed with http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org/
Some screencaps courtesy of http://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/