Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Supernatural's one-off women

The thing that really struck me on my first watch of Supernatural, was the female supporting characters.  I'm used to shows that treat their one-off supporting characters as disposable cliches at worst, as one dimensional at best.

This show though, it's really male.  It's a story about brothers, masculinity and family.  There's seemingly not a lot of space in it for women, yet within Season 1's supporting cast it's generally the men that get sacrificed for the plot and the women who survive.

If you've read my earlier posts you'll have deduced that season 1 follows a monster of the week format.
In Wendigo a woman is searching for her brother, lost in the woods.  Dead in the Water features mysterious drownings, we are led through the town by the Sheriff's daughter.  In Bloody Mary we meet a woman who is being stalked by Bloody Mary.  Hook Man gives us a preacher's daughter with sexual hangups.  Asylum has a male/female couple in a haunted hospital.  Scarecrow gives us a young woman in a town full of Vanir worshippers.  I can't be arsed to list the rest but you get the gist.

The thing these women have in common is that they all learn about the monsters under the bed, and while it scares them, obviously it scares them, they cope with it.  They accept it, they don't freak out, they figure out how they can help the brothers and carry on with life.  I expected them to be flat, and screamy, and not much use to be quite honest.  Instead, on the whole they are courageous and resilient.

This treatment changed in season 2, (bearing in mind on my rewatch I'm only on episode 8) where the supporting characters were usually male.  That makes me sad.  On the other hand we get to meet Ellen and Jo who are AH-mazing.  The Usual Suspects gives us a female cop who is just as capable as the season 1 supporting women.

I really want to read a fic where all these supporting women are in a bar, a few years after they first met the brothers.  They are mostly living a normal life, maybe they've killed a few things themselves, and they are chatting and catching up with the other women about the brothers and the cases where they met.  Some will get outrageously drunk, some will be snarky.  They'd gossip about the brothers and compare notes.  It would be such fun and we would get some brilliant outsider point of view stories.

I want this.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Supernatural: Se2 Ep 5 - Simon Said

Spoilers ahead, plus discussion of non-consensual sexual relationships and invading people's privacy with telepathy.
I am discussing the episode not from an in-story viewpoint, but from a real world viewpoint, looking at the mechanism of how things were filmed and the culture of the show and TV industry at the time.
In this episode the brothers meet another psychic kid, Andy.  Andy is portrayed as a good guy. He's totally average, has friends, doesn't stand out at all.  In a high school show he would be the nerd loser type, with a couple of close friends, who never gets the girl but is fundamentally a decent person.  A bit like Buffy's Xander, but less good looking.  Compared to the Brothers Winchester he's short and scrawny, he has none of their charisma and glamour.  He's got a van with a painting of a Barbarian Queen riding a polar bear on the side.  He's that sort of dude.

We find out he has telepathic powers - he can make people do things.  For example, give him their coffee, let him into the police records department, borrow their car (Dean's car, for reference), and tell him whatever is on their mind.  Sam is the only one immune to his powers.  We see that Andy reads philosophy, he talks about the ethics of telepathy (a bit), he says he has never used to harm anyone and that he has certainly never used it on his possibly-girlfriend, Tracey. 

Andy has an evil twin, Webber, who is using his power to force people to commit suicide, in order to persuade Andy to become close to him.  Webber is clearly the bad guy, and Andy is positioned as the friendly telepath who harms no one.  He's certainly not positioned as a danger to anyone.

Now here is the start of my point.

So, with all that in mind, I find it interesting that in the first scene where we see Andy, he's leaving an attractive woman's flat in the morning, with the implication that he has had a one night stand with her.  It's not explicitly stated that is what has happened, but given the show's attitude to sexual relationships (hello Dean), and our cultural understanding of a bloke leaving a woman's flat first thing in the morning, wearing a happy grin, I think we can assume that Andy and unnamed woman had a lot of sex.

Andy is presented as a sort of lovable loser.  An everyday guy who becomes the secondary hero in the episode (the Winchesters being the heroes obvs).  All the cues indicate that this sort of guy is not usually successful with women.  So how did he have this one night stand?  I guess we assume that he used his telepathic powers to get this woman into bed.

That's a bad thing.  That's rape.  If telepathy were real, there would be laws about it, stating that using telepathy to get sex is rape.

Now my point.

Given that Andy is portrayed as the good guy it's astounding/interesting to me that this particular opening scene with him was filmed in the way that it was.  The episode goes to such pains to show us that Andy is basically a good guy, using his power in a harmless way.  I wonder if no one picked up on the implications of the one night stand scene, or if someone did but was ignored.  It just screams of everyday sexism and this stuff just not being on the writer's or director's radar.

It was filmed in 2006, I don't feel that there is much excuse for being ignorant of gender politics back then, but I accept that many people were.

I think of how the supporting women in season 1 were portrayed, how they were mostly supporting characters but were given agency, proper roles and were treated with respect, as characters and actresses.  I see that changing in season 2, mostly due the show moving away from a monster of the week episode, but that we get recurring female characters in the form of Ellen and Jo (who in my opinion are truly magnificent).

I wonder what sort of atmosphere it was on set, I wonder how the women involved in the show (n any capacity) felt.  Was it noticed and ignored, did it feel like yet another micro-aggression, did any of the men notice it and feel uncomfortable with it.  How did the set culture compare to other American TV shows being filmed at the time.

I have no answers, I'm just curious.

Note - I feel it needs to be said that the episode, and to some minds the whole show, doesn't examine the abusive nature of telepathy - in that most sensible emotionally literate people can figure out that using mind manipulation powers on other people is a pretty awful thing to do.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Supernatural - heroism

Just a few thoughts that keep rumbling around my mine about the show.
Spoilers ahead.
It becomes apparent in the later seasons, that the brothers are honest to Gods heroes.  To paraphrase the Slayer's epitaph, they saved the world a lot. In Se1 though, they seem more like ordinary folk, not heroes so much, as two guys just doing a job.

I like that they aren't ever superheroes, they don't get magic powers (nothing long lasting anyway), they don't get power rings, they aren't superhuman, they aren't bathed in space beams, they can't do more than normal people can.

They have been brought up to shoot guns, hunt demons, do research, learn theological sigils and basic magic.  But they are ordinary people in ordinary bodies.  For the record, I don't think Sam's pshychic powers count as a superpower.

When they stumble along the riches in the Bunker they don't suddenly know everything, they still have to research, they've just got a comfortable base to do so from.  To be honest, they deserve a nice home, though the lack of natural sunlight would irk me. I bet it pisses Sam off too.  And Dean, though he might not ever admit it.

The brothers don't expect to live a long life.  They do what they do out of a sense of duty and responsibility, and because it's the right thing to do*.  They are intensely moral (until it comes to saving the other one from death or torture, then, ignoring those few episodes after the Trials, the rest of the world can go swivel).  To hazard a guess, they expect to die in their 30s or 40s. Most hunters get killed by something awful before they get old.

The thing about the brothers though, is that the older they get the harder they are to kill, because older hunters have got to be older hunters because they are very good at not dying*.  Or not staying dead in these two's case.  So in all likelihood they are going to get older and better and will die at a ripe old age of something boring.  Hopefully in each other's arms.

To get back to the original point, these are ordinary folks, like you and me, with specific training to be sure, but really just like you and me.  We could do what they do, if we tried hard enough and gave up enough.  That's an attractive quality in a protagonist.  It's more believable than Batman.

* Spot the Discworld references here.

Supernatural Season 2 recap, eps 1-3

I'm writing these recaps to get my head straight about the show, note down foreshadowing and interesting throwaway scenes or dialogue.  Don't expect many insightful comments.  These posts are totally for my benefit.
Spoilers ahead.
So while Season 1 was setting up the show, having the brothers trace their Dad, and finding a way to defeat the yellow eyed demon (later discovered to be named Azazel), Season 2 is about the psychic kids and Azazel's plan for them.  The finale neatly sets up for season 3 too but I won't write about that just yet.

Episode 1 - In My Time of Dying.
I think all the opening episodes of Supernatural are good, but this one is just pure gold.  There is not one wasted second of it, it's a powerful and emotive storyline.

After season 1's finale, John, Dean and Sam are in hospital.  Sam is mobile, John is more damaged, but Dean has had a horrific brain injury and he's dying.  We meet Tessa, the second reaper of the show, and she tries to persuade Dean to go with her.  John is scheming, doesn't tell anyone what he's planning, but then goes to Azazel and trades the colt and his life for Dean's.  John dies.

Notable points about this episode - the cast seem really, really settled in their roles.  It's smooth, seamless and every single bit of it works.
Dean says 'You can't kill Death'.  Spoiler - many years later he does.  And now I'm dreaming of rewatching the 4 horsemen episodes.
Bobby tells Sam he doesn't want to tow the impala, that it's ruined, but Sam won't let him.  This doesn't feel in character for what we know of Bobby later.  Nevermind.
Tessa is possessed by Azazel at some point and we see the reaper's true form.  I'm not sure if this ever happens again.
In a really heartfelt scene John apologises to Dean for being a shit parent.  Irritatingly enough this forces me to reconsider my view of John's parenting.  But then just before he dies he whispers something in Dean's ear, we don't find out what it is until much later in the show, but it brings us back to his shit parenting.

Episode 2 - Everybody loves a clown
This has the brothers first trip to the Roadhouse, giving us Ellen and Jo and providing me with two more on-screen loves.
This episode really drives home how much Dean doesn't talk.  It's been touched on before but this ep, with the aftermath of John's lonely, Hunter's funeral with just his sons in attendance, made a point of it.  We also see how cut off form other Hunters Sam and Dean are.  John really didn't clue them into the network that much, apart from Bobby.
The demon is this episode is a Rakshasha, posing a s a clown to get close to children and kill their parents.
Dean is busy fixing the Impala, and then after Sam tries to Talk to him, Dean smashes it up. that's how he's showing his grief, and it's another powerful scene.  It's one that stayed with me throughout the whole 15 seasons, and as such, was another one I'd pegged as happening much later on.

Episode 3 - Bloodlust
Finally, we have the right sort of music in the opening credits.  I remember this episode relatively well.  It's got Gordon the unbending Hunter, and Amber Benson as a vampire.  Benson's performance is magical.  She's just draws you in, she's wonderful.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Supernatural Season 1 recap

So, Supernatural again.  I remain obsessed.  I have had obsessions throughout my life, when I fall for something I fall long and hard.

As a wee girl it was ponies and horses.  As a teen it was music. Then piercings for a few years (alongside the music), then bonsai trees for a a year-ish.  Then my love affair with comics started and lasted, well, it's still there.  It just got sidetracked by my often mentioned grief.  Grief which is still there.

The comics fan in me is still there too, it's just fired into different avenues. I no longer buy lots of weeklies (as if I even could at the moment, since the fucking pandemic has stopped all distribution of weeklies for the foreseeable future), but I read Tiny Titans and other age appropriate comics to my darling rainbow son, and we play at superheroes and it's absolutely marvellous.

I'm pretty into my crochet and yarn too, but it's not an all living all breathing fannish obsession for me, it's more than that. It's a need to be creative, it's a way to calm my mind, it's a practical thing to do and it's soul soothing.  As well as exciting and giddy and fun.

I guess Supernatural is my new fannish obsession. I've watched a lot of telly since we had our second, and I've enjoyed a lot but only Supernatural has clawed it's way into my very being.  I have a section in my filofax dedicated to notes and thoughts about the show.  It's under the section called projects.  I'm such a fucking nerd.

I started making notes about the show from season 7, and now I'm rewatching my favourite episodes so I can understand them more and delve into the mythos more.  And seperate it from all teh fanfic fanon I've devoured.  Fanfic rambling belongs in another thread.


Season 1. I wrote about the Pilot, Wendigo and Dead in the Water already.  What will follow is ramblings about the remaining season 1 episodes, plus Phantom Traveller agai, for some reason.  Spoilers, obvs.

Ep 4 - Phantom Traveller.  I thought this was a much later episode where Dean and Sam died in a plane crash and got resurrected.  It wasn't.  It did show us Dean's fear of flying though (I relate man, I really do).  Although not explicitly stated, it's the first time the boys come across a demon.  Again, I had assumed they knew about demons prior to this, but they really didn't.  I think there just weren't many demons on earth at this point.

Ep 5 - Bloody Mary. Ahh this one is sooo good!  The Bloody Mary Legend is taken, expanded upon, details are created and it just works so, so well.  It's scary, and creative and it's got mirror magic in it.  I have a note that Dean has good eyebrow action in this episode.  Dean has enough of Sammy's guilt.  Sam cannot see that Dean has ever done anything wrong. There is much angst.  This is a really good setup for the brothers' angst and love and adoration of each other.  I'll likely explore that in another blog post, along with Wincest. And fanfic.

Ep 6 is Skin. I watched it, I got a bit bored.  Even with all the Wincest implications.  It reminded me of an X-Files episode.  Shapeshifters are not my cup of tea at this stage in the show.

Ep 7 is Hookman. It's a very strong episode, and feels like the show has settled into it's groove.  the music so far has been pretty awful though.  All modern American college rock stuff. It's not what Dean listens to.  I have been told that this is because I'm watching on Amazon Prime and Amazon don't have the rights to the proper music.  Not sure how that works but hey.  Poor show Amazon, poor show.

What is interesting here is that the lady is hitting on Sam, not Dean.  Dean is set up to be a womaniser, but isn't actually all that successful up to now. We don't see him actually scoring with any women, but he's shown as a letch.  Later seasons show us that he is nearly always successful, and that he treats women with respect, but at this point in the show it could have gone either way.

Ep 8 - Bugs.  A Native American takes no shit from Dean.  There's lots of insects.  Folk think the brothers are a couple.  This is a fun episode.  Not the strongest, but fun.

Ep 9, Home, I skipped. Although I probably shouldn't have as it's big on the brother angst and their relationship.  John turns up at the end, apparently.

Ep 10.  Asylum. I didn't watch this one either.  I have very little thoughts on it.

Ep 11 - Scarecrow.  A pagan themed horror story with the Norse vanir.  This is so up my street it's practically set up home with me.  I found the depiction of the Vanir initially insulting, but as I thought about it more, it felt right.  Yes they are the agrarian Gods, but no one said farmers should be nice.  Farmers deal with a lot of shit, they see the violence in everyday life and they know what the results of a good and bad harvest is.  Bring prideful, selfish, bloodthirsty Gods into that and of course they will demand these bloody sacrifices.

Sam leaves Dean for the first time on screen (Stanford was off screen) and it does read like a couple's break up.  He meets Meg. Who I dislike.  Also notable for Sam going to save Dean before the girl. Wincest innit.

Ep 12 - Faith.  Dean get electrocuted and nearly dies.  Sam takes him to a faith healer to fix him.  We meet a reaper for the first time.  I stopped this 15 mins in as I couldn't be arsed. Bad fan.

Ep 13 - Route 666.  It's a possessed truck!  Possessed by a racist who is killing the people who killed him and covered up his murder in the 60s, the murder that happened because the racist was murdering the black folk.  The racist also set fire to a church which killed a children's choir, so predictably I went a bit squicky at that.  Overall though, a great episode.

My notes say that I started developing a crush on Sam around this episode.  Dammit, I'ma  Dean girl!  I've clearly read too much slash.  Other notes for this state that...
- Cassie is Dean's love interest in this, she's an ex of his, he had a an actual relationship, Gods alive, and she's OK.  The actress could have done with some better material, but she did OK with what she had.
- There is minimal drinking at this point. By season 6 Dean is clearly an alcoholic, but here, they don't drink so much.
- Sam is allowed to drive the car.
- The way they get rid of the truck is pretty inventive.  I approve.
- There's a good slashy moment in the car at the end.  All the looks, IIRC.

Ep 14, Nightmare. This kicks off the psychic kids storyline.  I've always felt like this storyline had something lacking at the start.  It's a bit piecemeal. I can't quite put my finger on it because actually this episode works pretty well. I think I find the way that Sam reacts to Max and delivers the exposition jarring.  It's a bit too much telling us how things are rather than letting the story show us. Maybe?  Hats off to whoever decided to put the boys in priest garb, because they look very attractive in it.

Ep 15 - The Benders.  Really fucking creepy. Gave us the 'Demons I get, people are crazy' line.  That sets the tone for the rest of the show.  Dean's voice is now gravelly, and not the weird breathy thing that it was in the earlier episodes.  Dean is notable for looking basically the same here as he does in season 15, minus a few crow's feet.  Whereas Sam looks totally different.

Ep 16. Shadow. I skipped this. Turns out to be the one where John comes back (and no doubt continues being a fucking horrendous father) and Meg gets revealed as a bad guy.  I just don't like this Meg.  The actress just doesn't do as much with her as the second Meg actress did.

Ep 17 - Hell House.  It's the Tulpa bringing Mordechai to life, and it's the ghostfacers.  Another group I could have sworn came in much later in the seasons.  Dean is being delightfully butch in this ep.

Ep 18 - Something Wicked. I skipped this because it was about sick children.

Ep 19 - Provenance.  About a a haunted painting.  Glorious.  Wonderful.  One of the best of the season.  Sam gets laid, Dean doesn't.  See  my earlier point about how Sam gets more women than Dean.

Ep 20 - Dead Man's Blood. It's the first lot of vampires on the show.  The brothers didn't know vampires existed beforehand.  The colt is introduced, the vampires seem like they've been pulled out of Buffy and John is back.

Ep 21 - Salvation - this was mostly overshadowed by my hatred of John.  I have no other notes.

Ep 22 - Devil's Trap, the finale.  I love the idea of a Devil's Trap, but am constantly bemused by how they always manage to get the demon in the trap. Sam draws a trap on the car, much to Dean's temper.  Azazel possesses John temporarily, and JDM does a great job of acting Azazel.  The brothers argue about their actions and how they should take deal with Azael.  Then the final scene is a demon ramming the family off the road and they are all knocked out and bloody.  Dun dun DUN.

The opening song was not Kansas' Carry On My Wayward Son and for that Amazon deserve to be beaten.  If it's their fault.

It's a good first season with some truly great episodes in. I am very much looking forward to re-watching season 2.