Television: Commentary On Supernatural 5.03 Free to Be You and Me ..Yet Again

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Ok folks you know the drill here, before we get into my commentary and such on the latest episode of Supernatural season 5, we take a look at the lasted news around the show and the fandom.

The CW is still dancing in the clouds over the continued success of their Thursday night one-two punch of The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural. Here’s what they had to say in the press release dated September 25th, 2009 which came out the day after Free to Be You and Me aired.

SUPERNATURAL Continues to Builds in Key Demos in Season Five. Now in its 5th season, SUPERNATURAL has seen its ratings grow over last season by 27% with women 18-34 (1.4/4), 9% in adults 18-34 (1.2/3) and 8% in women 18-49 (1.3/3). SUPERNATURAL faced tougher competition (against the “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI” premieres), and still retained 92% of last week’s adults 18-34 rating (1.2/3), 100% of its adults 18-49 audience (1.2/3) and 94% in total viewers (2.62mil).

I think if this trend keeps up, we are going to be seeing our Winchester boys in a 6th season after all. Gosh one more year of getting to look at Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles and Mish Collins on our screens, I think we can handle it. well I know I can.

On Thursday the 24th of September 2009 the Supernatural fans over in the twitterverse attempted to get a Supernatural related hashtag into the top trending topics for the day. This time around the hashtag carried a very special message with a very special agenda attached to it. The tag was #rememberkimmanners and it was in tribute to the late Kim Manners who died in January of 2009 after losing his battle with Cancer and to counteract the snub his death received by recently aired Emmys which for unknown reasons left Kim Manners out of its tribute to members of the Entertainment industry who had passed away between September of 2008 and September of 2009. Kim Manners was a driving force on the set of Supernatural and as they have often said, an inspiration and mentor to both Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. Members of the cast & crew have felt his loss on the set of Supernatural, as have the fans that wanted to show support for the loss. Unfortunately the attempt to get the hash tag in remembrance of Kim Manners failed to make it into the top trending topics list. But it was a heartfelt gesture on the part of Supernatural fans and my guess is it was appreciated nonetheless.

Ok so now its time to move along to my commentary on 5.03, Free to Be You and Me and the compelling sense of dejavu it generated for not only myself but apparently other viewers and some fans of the show as well.

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Every memory repeats. Every step I take retreats. Every journey always brings me back to you.”

Those are lyrics to the song “After All”, sung by Cher and Peter Cetera but they seem to sum up the overall impression I got from 5.03, Free to Be You and Me (written by Jeremy Carver and directed by J. Miller Tobin).

At the end of the 9.17.09 5.02 episode Good God Ya’ll we saw Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester mutually, though painfully agreeing that maybe they were better off going in separate directions. That neither of them trusted Sam to be relied on in the heat of a hunt because of his battle with the demon blood addiction. That Dean couldn’t focus on the job if he had to constantly be worrying about Sam. 5.03 Free to Be You and Me which aired on 9.24.09 opens up on where the brothers are after going their separate ways and which brings me to why I think the line from “After All” goes so well with this episode.

Let’s take a look at Sam Winchester first and mainly because in my opinion Jared Padalecki and his work in it owned this episode.

I’ve read a lot of comments along the lines of “Sam always does this, always runs away. We’ve seen this before, can’t the writers come up with anything new.” And people saying that are right, we have seen it before and it’s not necessarily new. Yet, if you look at it, it means that the writers are working hard to give us a strong, consistent characterization. It’s entirely human nature for individuals to repeat behavior patterns over and over again to the same or similar emotional stimuli or situations. That its all too human for us to do the same thing over and over again until if and when we finally realize the behavior is not solving anything. Here we have a Sam Winchester who, while he fully realizes that this time he isn’t running away to try and be normal, he’s still using flight from the situation as a means to deal with it. That tells us he’s still Sam and he desperately wants to stay still being Sam.

What is new about this time around is that Sam is older and wiser. He’s trying to live a lowkey normal life working in a lowkey busboy job and “deny the battle” so that he doesn’t do more harm than good. In the first scenes with Sam Winchester and the appearance of his dead girlfriend Jessica (played by Adrianne Palicki) we see how much Sam longs to just go back to where he was before he knew about demon’s plans, angel’s plottings and his own unholy destiny within them. Jessica (who proves that apparently a woman can be dead and still change her hair style. Honestly it wouldn’t have hurt them to put in hair extensions to keep continuity going now would it) is not only the only woman his heart still belongs to, but also represents everything Sam would like to be able to retreat back to, but wisely and sadly knows he can’t. In the opposite of the spectrum we have the waitress Lindsey (played by Emma Bell) who is trying to draw Sam out of his reclusiveness and back into the world.

In dealing with both situations, Jared Padalecki imbues Sam Winchester with a sense of vulnerability, great sadness and yet a yearning to open up again. Padalecki and the writers show us that Sam is basically a social person who needs human contact and needs to feel like he is doing something good yet is now all too aware of the darkness inside of him that he is doing everything to control. It is that situation that makes this time around for Sam different than any of his previous pattern of running away from a situation. The emotions and the reactions that the writers and Jared Padalecki bring to the table in this episode show us that Sam might be doing the same thing again, but he’s definitely a different person within the situation and is more aware of things beyond what he wants for himself. Sam is starting to see the larger picture and the burden of responsibility that goes with it.

I like that this episode gave Jared Padalecki a chance to show off different sides of his character of Sam Winchester and the different ranges of his own talents as an actor: from the way he can do well timed gentle humor to his strength, grace and agility in handling fight scenes to the outpouring of anger and anguish at the revelation that not only does he feel that he should be carrying all the burden of blame for freeing Lucifer but that he is the chosen vessel of Lucifer as well. As I said this was Jared Padalecki’s episode and he used every moment of time in it to give the viewers an outstanding performance as Sam Winchester.

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Now let’s take a look at Dean Winchester in Free to Be You and Me. I have to be right up front and honest and say my impressions and views on Dean’s part in this episode are mixed as is my views on the performance given by Jensen Ackles whom I normally have no problems with being amazed by.

Just like his brother Sam, Dean is repeating a behavior pattern by going on with “the family business” as usual; denying the battle and his own place in it by pretending it doesn’t exist. Just like Sam he is doing a low-key job and staying under the radar. It’s what Dean did when Sam left for college and John Winchester began slowly withdrawing from his oldest son’s life as well. It’s Dean’s way of trying to retreat back into a safer, more familiar place for himself. Viewers and fans alike have once again stated that this seems to be a retread of the past, nothing fresh or new for the character. Yet again I say that it shows the writer’s dedication in keeping Sam and Dean as humanly real as possible. Real people repeat behavior patterns in reaction to similar situations that evoke them.

However that said, after watching everything and every action that Dean Winchester had in 5.03, I have to say that I came away with the distinct impression that the writers were going to be more about sending Dean retreating back to his behavior in Season 3 and were setting him up to once again go through the stages associated with dealing with heading towards what might once again be an unavoidable fate. That having this storyline cut short for Dean Winchester in season 3 due to the writer’s strike, they might very well have decided to try and play it out in full for Dean in season 5.

Don’t believe me when I tell you this is what I see? Witness Dean in full-blown first stage known as denial.

Dean: Honestly? I’m good. I can’t believe I’m saying that, but I am. I’m… I’m really good.

Castiel: Even without your brother?

Dean: Especially without my brother. I mean, I spent so much time worrying about the son of a bitch. I mean, I’ve had more fun with you in the past 24 hours than I’ve had with Sam in years. And you’re not that much fun. It’s funny. You know, I’ve been so chained to my family. But now that I’m alone… hell, I’m happy.

All through Free to Be You and Me, Dean was trying to make Castiel (played by Misha Collins) fit into the empty ‘Sam space’ in Dean’s life. Trying to pretend that he was having fun leading the angel around like a naïve and trusting younger brother. Yet at the same time I saw Castiel as also representing everything that Dean is trying to run away from; his whole destiny as an ‘angel condom’. In trying to humanize Castiel right down to taking him to a “den of iniquity” to set him up with a woman, Dean was trying to change his own fate. Dean was in denial and it isn’t until the very end after their confrontation with Raphael (played with intensity by Demore Barnes) and the parallels between Castiel’s missing father and when John Winchester went missing are made clear to him that Dean realizes that he can’t make Castiel a substitute for Sam and he can’t change Castiel from who and what he is.

I will admit here and now I didn’t care much for the whole “taking Cas to a whorehouse” scenario. And I also had a lot of mixed reactions to the scene in the alley after they escaped from it before the bodyguards could catch them. All of it felt way too contrived and while I thought Misha Collins did an excellent job in portraying the nervous and uncertain Castiel, I had issues with Jensen Ackles work as Dean in the whole whorehouse segment. Once again I felt he was holding back and not giving his all in these particular scenes and only these. All the rest of his work with Misha Collins in the episode had the same synergy and give and take flow as they had back in season 4. I was particularly mixed in my reactions to Ackles’ work in the scene in the alley. His presentation of Dean supposely being amused and having fun was choppy and uneven with no real depth of feeling to it. I hadn’t seen Ackles do work this unappealing to me in the role of Dean Winchester since way back in the season 3 opener The Magnificent 7.

However this is the exact moment when I began to consider the possibility that the writers were having Dean revisit the stages of dealing with a terminal illness or an unavoidable fate. Then it dawned on me that here was Jensen Ackles doing the same work in conveying the stage of denial that he used in The Magnificent 7 and that in all probability it is Dean who is the “bad actor” when it comes to trying to feign levity he doesn’t really feel and trick himself into believing he isn’t scared or angry. I liked realizing the intriguing and most likely very real possibility that what I am seeing is that Ackles is very good at playing Dean being a bad actor. Something to think about and to maybe give an reason to watch The Magnificent 7 again with a different more open perspective: it might even move it off my “worst ever Supernatural episode” listing. Or maybe not.

On to other things besides the Winchester brothers.

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Last time I saw Mark Pellegrino in his role as Nick in 5.01 Sympathy for the Devil, I wasn’t too impressed with him. This time around I can see why the casting director chose him for the role. The man can practically out “puppy dog eyes” Jared Padalecki who is the master of this emoting through facial expression. There is a earnest softness and sincerity in Pellegrino’s Lucifer that is seductive, almost makes you want to believe and trust him. Mark Pellegrino brings everything to the table that Eric Kripke said that Lucifer would be like in his first presentation to us and to Sam Winchester. Excellent choice.

Scott Michael Campbell was well chosen as Hank the leader of the hunting team that Bobby sends to confer with Sam over the demonic activity going in near the town where Sam has settled in. Jared Padalecki is a very strong screen presence especially when he moves from being gentle, unassuming Sam to strong and don’t mess with me Sam but Campbell held his own. It was fun seeing Jessica again. I liked Lindsey and found her to be a well written, acted female role and wouldn’t mind seeing she and Sam have a little something going on for a bit. And I liked that they are keeping us updated on Bobby and keeping him in play. Jim Beaver is always a welcome addition to Supernatural. Shirtless Sam Winchester is always a pleasant surprise and here’s to hoping there is equal opportunity to see shirtless Dean Winchester coming along in Season 5. Ok it’s just me but the idea of shirtless Castiel is kinda sacrilegious so I might have to close my eyes if that happens. But for those that want it to see, I hope it happens for you!

So I guess in summary, I agree that the writers did have the characters doing some repeating of past actions and reactions, but I felt that in doing so they showed us that Sam and Dean are only human and are still human despite everything they have been through and it’s that humanness that makes them the strong, well defined characters they are and especially for Sam that as he says there is still room for hope.

This coming Thursday October 1st the next new episode of Supernatural, titled The End is set to air on the CW Network at 9PM EST right after the hit CW series The Vampire Diaries. You know I’ll have something to say about it so come on back and check it out. Oh and to protect the spoilerphobes who might want to read this week’s commentary, I’ll be putting all the spoiler information for 5.04 The End in another posting. If you aren’t worried about spoilers than be sure and check it out too.

7 thoughts on “Television: Commentary On Supernatural 5.03 Free to Be You and Me ..Yet Again”

  1. food for thought about Dean, and I don't doubt a bit that Jensen Ackles would purposely make Dean a bad actor. The thought had already occurred to me. And Jared was fantastic. I rarely agree 100% with a reviewer, but I did here:)

  2. A really thoughful review. I like that you could feel how much thought the writer aka you put so much thought in this. Great job! And for the most parts I agree with you.

  3. You know, I never thought about it before, though it did strike me as odd – Jensen's portrayal as Dean in Magnificent 7. Sorta OOC but that's what he was trying to do. False bravado and all that – like Dean's character was trying too hard. And now I realize – he was. The same in Free to Be You and Me. He was trying too hard to have a good time. Forced laughter, forced happiness. Holy Cow! If Jensen can (and probably is) subtlety portraying acting brave or happy when he really isn't, then I am even more impressed in his abilities as an actor. I am in awe & amazed at his range, though not surprised. He's better than 99.9 % of the actors out there. Thank you for this. I like a post that makes me think. And it leaves me agog at Jensen's (even more nuanced) acting abilities. THANK YOU!

  4. What I found a little odd was that Sam was heavy emotional part of the episode (and boy did Padalecki sell it) and Dean and Castiel were the funny part. That's well and good, but I thought even in that part Castiel had some great moments, while Dean really had nothing to do. The scene with Raphael (LOVED that actor by the way) was the most obvious. Raphael and Castiel were a part of this great scene while Dean just kept cracking jokes. For one of the few times ever I just wanted him to SHUT UP.

  5. Completely agree with what you said about the back alley scene. First I was all WTF is that about? Then, after he made the comment about not having had that much fun in years, even though Castiel isn't much fun to begin with, it made more sense. It wasn't Jensen Ackles being a bad actor, it was Dean being a bad actor.

  6. I have to say, everything you said made a lot of sense. You made some good points.
    I agree with the fact that Jensen was trying to make Dean a "bad actor". Because when Jensen was asked about his singing in the show, he has told the fans that he makes Dean a bad singer on purpose when in reality, Jensen is a very talented singer and musician so I think you were right to say that. Dean is going through a tough time without his brother and he is trying to replace Sam with Castiel. But, it's not the same is it?

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