The episode was directed by Paul Edwards, another first time SPN director. He's worked on other series and movies, mostly as a camera operator. He juggled the flashback sequences and real time shenanigans pretty well. The art and set folks must have grabbed whatever props they had close at hand because just about everything in the motel had been used earlier this season. ash48 has some of it noted here at the bottom of the entry. There was recycled art at the home of the heart victim's wife and the nursing home. The bank had been used before in Live Free or Twihard. There were a couple of guest stars back to take different roles. Al Gore would be proud.
It was pretty cool to see Mike Farrell (Fred Jones) who played BJ Honeycutt on M*A*S*H, one of my all time favorite shows. Maxine Miller, another veteran actress, was back on SPN as a nicely dotty old lady having a birthday. She had a part on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood back in the early 70's. Back then I would have listed that as my favorite show, followed by Wild Kingdom, Captain Kangaroo, and the Friendly Giant. Maxine was on SPN in Bedtime Stories as the sweetly evil grandma from the Hansel and Gretel story.
I ended up having to wait a bit to finish this so I'm somewhat removed from my initial emotional reaction to the episode. A couple of things stayed with me though. First, steel toed boots do you no good in a situation like this.
It's nice to see a real anvil. To me it feels like there have been a lot of anvilicious (anvillian?...anvilly?) plot points this season, particularly with how Don's story parallels Dean's. The discussion that Cas and Sam have with Fred inside his head about leaving his dream world was fresh from the blacksmith shop too.
At the end here, I had examples of how the filming and color of the Sam flashbacks are so similar to SPN dreamscapes in both lighting and color choices. At the beginning of the episode, when it seems like Sam is going to stay with Amelia, the light outside the windows is really bright and hazy, lighting up the room. It gradually gets darker and a bit less hazy as the episode goes on. There is a lot of orange in the Sam flashbacks.
It's funny that Amelia's Dad says that Sam is a mess because we've certainly seen him looking messier than this. Guh.
The white light is particularly blinding here. Maybe it's hard for Sam to look at it too.
Even the art behind Sam has that overexposed look to it.
Of course, because this is SPN, Amelia has no mother and her father shows up wearing the plaid that Sam would usually have on. Stan is being played by a return actor from Phantom Traveler.
After hanging out with Amelia's Dad for a bit, it's easy to see where she comes by her prickly disposition. Learning more about her life growing up, moving around a lot as the child of a soldier, you can see that she and Sam might have a bit more in common than just loss. I have no problem with Amelia as herself or with Sam finding a woman to be with. Try as I might though, I still can't see Amelia as someone that Sam would have stayed with long term. Friends, yes, but I'm having a hard time seeing a romantic connection. I don't know if it is deliberate or just my reaction, but Sam and Amelia don't have a lot of chemistry (which is weird because Sam would have chemistry with a sign post). I don't mean just sex either. It feels a lot like they are both looking for any port in a storm and once the storm is over, they'll go back out to sea. They're both on the rebound. Right now the show has a lot of the season's storyline tied up in this relationship. There's all this drama and jealousy with Don and Dean and it feels like they're making a mountain out of a molehill. Tempest in a teapot? The show hasn't shown me why I should care if this relationship succeeds. They've told me plenty but I have to be able to see it too and I can't.
Is it supposed to be Christmas in the flashbacks? Those look like Christmas lights on the shrubs outside the window. I don't know where this drops us in the timeline for the lost year. Stan hassles Sam about his life choices, John's military service and tries to get Amelia to move back home. Really? She's in her thirties with her own veterinary practice. On this show, we've seen breakdowns and she's not nearly enough of a mess for her not to be able to get through this.
At this point, Sam appears to be equating Stan with a Lucifer driven hallucination. I don't think Stan is a hallucination but I'm not convinced Sam is really remembering reality here though. Stan's attitude toward Sam isn't all that different from anyone else Sam has cooked up in his head. Sam's subconscious takes digs at him all the time. They've deliberately made Sam look awkwardly big and out of place.
Later Stan offers Sam a beer and opens it like Dean had at the beginning of the episode. Reality is starting to intrude and the light has really changed.
The last little bit when Amelia hears about Don being alive is the least overexposed filming in the flashbacks to this point. Was anyone surprised that Don was still alive? (Is he really alive? Did anybody test him? Where has he been for a year? Soulless, hunting with his grandfather?)
Now even Amelia is in the dark. It reminds me of Bobby dying and the lights gradually going out especially since the last shot of the sequence is a close-up of Sam's face.
Back in the present, Cas has decided to become a hunter and is traveling with Sam and Dean. In the last episode, Cas seemed to be surrounded with sky blue and when Sam and Dean were there, there was some light green too. That seems to have carried over into this episode with the addition of yellow.
And another person refers to Dean as Scully.
Along with the blues, Sam gets a backdrop of green leaves at the beginning.
Cas comes up with a meta for Coyote and Roadrunner.
There's a big dividing line in the floor between the boys and Cas. I don't see Cas so much separated from the boys as from a lifetime of hunting and human nature. It's a pretty big gap to bridge.
The scenes with these guys have a lot of squares in the art and set pieces. Here in the clock, window, bedding, chair back and divider. It's a very similar sort of divider to the ones in a lot of the motel rooms this season.
Does Cas really need to brush his teeth or is he just rummaging around in Dean's bag? Most of the art here is from the motel room in Blood Brother.
The colors and squares carry over to Sunset Fields.
At this point, it's worth your while to go read a meta done by acafenfan over on Tumblr if you haven't already seen it. He's found some really cool things about the games on the table below, especially the chess board in front of Cas and Dean. It adds more to think about with some of the checked patterns in the motel dividers and the floors as well as the NASCAR flags that keep popping up. I'll come back to this toward the end. If those were last season's flowers, I'd be looking for the bunker.
I don't know whether to keep track of flowers anymore. There were red ones behind Dean at the gas station, orange ones on a chair at the orderly's house and in abundance at the home of the widow from the suburbs. Here's another instance of a lot of green trees and leaves, even in the art, and lots more squares. Last season, flowers went with a threat. If anything is being threatened here, it's the widow with those big guys looming and crowding her in. It's probably a relief when the girlfriend shows up so she can get up and move away from the guys. The complicated relationships these people have are another example of life in the suburbs seeming "normal" at first glance but showing something a bit different on a closer look.
The girlfriend is wearing innocent-female-bystander pink. Most of the victims are in blue.
Our little old lady has blue flowers on her shirt.
Even the doctor who shoots himself gets a blue jacket. This is the bit that bothered me a lot. This guy is forced to commit suicide. What happened to the right to a trial by jury? This is a murderer and a thief but the vigilante bit got way out of hand, particularly death by his own handgun. How hard would it have been to knock this guy unconscious and call the cops? After that, I had a hard time thinking it was ok for Fred to just go back to the nursing home even with his mind angelically altered. I was also pretty surprised to find out that John let his boys hang around someone with this much supernatural power, especially long enough for Fred to give them their first beers, evidently at a pretty young age. As if they hadn't had enough problems already.
The crime scenes are similar in the colors and splatter. I like how they used the exploded cake instead of exploded old folks.
The area surrounding the final crime scene is full of interesting details including angel lights, lots of angel lights. This is not the anvil you're looking for. That one is at the bank.
You'd figure Dean would have had enough of climbing through portals with unknown destinations.
Why is this cross here?
Then there's this subtle clue.
When we see the inside of the bank, the art looks warped like reality is at this point.
I love you.
The last bit is all about leaving your dream world and facing reality. I don't think Sam's time with Amelia was a dream but there is a certain dreamlike quality to the way his time there is being handled. Sam and Amelia have a bit of orange in their new house. While Fred is spending his time in TVland, his surroundings also have a lot of orange along with black and white flowers and dead trees. In contrast with all the fresh flowers and greenery at the first victim's house, these don't appear to be living and neither does Fred. The shadows from the blinds look a bit like prison bars.
When Cas moves them inside Fred's head, at first there is a lot of blue in the cartoon landscape.
Then as Fred starts to get drawn out of TVland, the image disintegrates into gray and white snow, visual white noise.
As Cas and Sam start to talk to Fred about leaving his dream world and putting an end to being there, we see test patterns projected all around them. If you're as old as me, the test pattern is probably familiar. I don't think you see them very often anymore. When TV programming was provided by a small number of networks, TV stations weren't on 24/7. Usually the shows would finish up around midnight. The station would play the national anthem with some sort of patriotic picture and then they would put up the test pattern. If the station was having technical problems with a show, they would put it up then too. If the station was off the air, you'd see the snow. When television was only broadcast in black and white, they used one in the US that looked like this.
As technology changed, the test pattern used color bars.
Sam gives a talk about needing to leave a dream world and face reality. From his flash backs, it appears that he knows what he's talking about. Fred and Cas both take it to heart. I think it needs to be said that Fred is an unusual, fictional example of a person living in a nursing home. He's not a patient suffering dementia or alzheimer's or just the effects of old age on the brain and body who will never regain what they have lost. I don't know what happens inside the head with those conditions but it's not a retreat by choice. Fred manages to pull out of his head in time to go save Dean, kill the criminal, and have an angelized lobotomy or whatever. That basically removes him from the board and brings us back to acafenfan's meta. He talked about how Cas, Sam and Dean were all reflected in the positions of the pieces on the chess board on the table in the rec room. He saw Dean as a reckless king, Sam as a queen who had the skills to fight but chose not to and Cas, the pawn who was playing on the wrong board altogether. In light of the chess imagery, the divider in the motel room fits in pretty well looking like a chess board.
It's not the first motel room this season to have a chess board image in it. One that is really noticeable is the one from Southern Comfort that ties in with the NASCAR theme. Chess is a war strategy game and a chess board floor fits in with an episode about the US Civil War. In that episode, Sam ended up being knocked into the corner by possessed Dean.
The next motel that has a black and white checked floor is the one where Cas comes back from Purgatory. Like the pawn in the meta, he ends up being put on the board. The director took the time to film Cas stepping out onto the board.
He ends up right in one of the black squares once he steps out into the room. At the end of the episode, we learned that he was put into play by Naomi. Nobody really knows her role or who her opponent is.
At the end of this episode, Naomi tells Cas that he needs to stay out of Heaven. It seems as though Naomi lets Cas decide what he wants to do with his exile. He could continue to hunt with Sam and Dean but instead, he decides to pull out of the game and stay with Fred, who also removed himself from the board. In the last shot, we see the two of them sitting beyond the chess board and if you look, you can see that the wooden pawn is no longer on the chess board.
Cas is left in a blue chair and it looks like everything is closing in on him.
All caps from homeofthenutty