How did Supernatural get a fake herpes commercial on the air? How did Supernatural manage to end all its storylines without ending the show? Check out two exclusive excerpts from Supernatural's season five companion, on "Changing Channels" and "Swan Song."
We're happy to be able to feature two excerpts from Supernatural: The Official Companion Season 5 by Nicholas Knight, published by Titan Books. Here are the sections on the classic episode "Changing Channels" and the fifth season finale, "Swan Song." Find out how the show's creators came up with the idea of putting Dean and Sam in a sitcom, and how Eric Kripke managed to stage a Sergio Leone-esque showdown between Lucifer and Michael — and why Castiel's "death" was a last-minute decision.
"The clear winner for my favorite episode of Supernatural, period, is ‘Changing
Channels'," states creator Eric Kripke. "Of anything we've ever done on Supernatural, it's the closest approximation of my true sense of humor, which is to say, juvenile. I just loved it. On top of that, to have it not just be an exercise in whimsy, but have a solid and unexpected mythology reason for it, really grounded it.
"The idea originated with Jeremy Carver," Kripke continues. "He began by saying,
‘This pitch is stupid and you're not gonna wanna do it, but I'm just going to say it so that I can get it out of the way. I wanna do Supernatural as a half-hour sitcom. We'd have the laugh track and a whacky neighbor and two goofy monster-hunting brothers who live in a motel and all the wackiness and adventures they have.' My initial reaction was, ‘I love it! We have to do it. But they can't live in a sitcom for the whole episode, so let's figure out other TV genres we wanna have fun with.' We knew we wanted to parody CSI and Grey's Anatomy, because they were our timeslot competition. They're such monster hits, so I always say we're the Japanese businessman cowering for cover beneath Godzilla and Mothra. We're just trying to dodge debris. So it felt right to take out a slingshot and take a few shots at those shows.
"Then Ben Edlund said, ‘We really should do a herpes commercial and build it into the show as if it's a real commercial.' We became enamored of that idea, but the network said, ‘We want to make sure everyone knows that's still part of the show and they don't change the channel or fast-forward on their TiVos or whatever.' We said, ‘But that's the entire point - it rewards people that are paying attention.' The network got really nervous, but we stubbornly insisted on doing what we were gonna do.
"Then we were talking about the shows we loved as kids in which the cars were characters, so we thought, ‘We should do Knight Rider, except that Sam is the car.' We were like, ‘How much crazier can this episode get?' but it always found a way to get one notch crazier. I think the Japanese game show just came out of a desire to watch the guys get hit in the balls. Purely juvenile."
"I was so happy during the nut-cracker scene," says Jensen Ackles with a laugh, "because generally Dean gets the brunt of all the physical practical jokes, and it was nice to actually have Sam get it." In fact, when they filmed the game show, Jared Padalecki was "extremely nervous. I was standing in those ski boots with that big metal bar there, and Lou Bollo showed me how far it would go - but I still put a cup on! I grew up playing football, so I've been hit there before with a cup. It doesn't feel good, but it doesn't make you throw up like getting hit without it. I was definitely nervous, but it was pretty funny."
"When we did the game show I was crying with laughter the whole time," concurs director Charles Beeson. "We got the crew to do the laughter and the ‘oohs' and ‘ahhs', which gave the whole thing life." Editor Tom McQuade would have loved to be in the audience for that, saying, "I hope nut-cracker goes down in TV history! "That whole episode was a hoot to cut," adds McQuade. "Tears were rolling from my eyes from laughing." Composer Jay Gruska also found the whole episode "hysterical. Writing that theme song as if it was a 1980s sitcom theme was an incredible amount of fun," he says. "You gotta love the sitcom!" exclaims Richard Speight Jr. "How many times have we watched terrible sitcoms on TV and thought, ‘Who's laughing at this? Who did they put in the audience?'
"I had some friends who'd never seen the show, so I told them to check it out," Speight continues. "Well, ‘Changing Channels' opens with a really weird, goofy spoof of sitcoms, so my friends found it completely confusing!"
Then again, it could have been even more confusing. Who knows what else went through the writers' minds? "We kicked around a number of things," says executive producer Robert Singer, "but we didn't want to overdo it and make it such a joke that there wouldn't really be room to tell a story in there. There were plenty of other things we could've mocked. Imagine if the show had opened on a spoof of Emeril Lagasse banishing angels with Enochian sigils drawn in pork blood, shouting his trademark, "Bam!"
"You get to do things on this show that you'll remember for a long time," Singer concludes. "‘Changing Channels' was one of them."
"The pressure's always on when you're doing a season finale," points out Jensen Ackles, "because they're always the big climactic ending to not only a storyline or whatnot, but to the season itself. After shooting twenty-one episodes it's like running a marathon and then being asked to sprint the last mile. There's a lot of pressure, and I think that raises the level of creativity and raises the bar as far as what people are doing. Like, for the scene with Dean and Sam talking on the hood of the car, I did two takes and I was happy with what I'd done, but being the final episode, I thought, ‘You know what? Let me do one more,' and that ended up being the better of the three. So I think that added effort and that added desire of making this a special episode is definitely something cool."
Something else that's cool is creator Eric Kripke's knack for predicting - or possibly controlling - the weather. "Eric wrote this big sequence with Michael and Lucifer at Stull Cemetery, and any way you scheduled that, it was at least three days' worth of work," says director Steve Boyum. "Plus, Eric wanted a specific consistent Sergio Leone look to this thing. So we searched and struggled to try and find a wide open enough space that we could actually shoot this in and have it be within our field of permitted work areas. Just on the weather forecasts alone, I thought, ‘Am I going to get three days that match? In Vancouver, in March, what are the odds of that?' The odds are so weighted against you. In the week leading up to those three days - we had a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday scheduled for the Stull Cemetery - the forecast varied where it was going to be rain one day, sunny two days, then sunny two days and rain one day, and it kept veering back and forth and back and forth. It all takes place in ten or fifteen minutes, so you can't have it raining in one minute and then not in the next. But it ended up being three consistently cloud-clear days, which was unthinkable. It's just the luck of Eric Kripke to pull this off."
As amazing as the Stull Cemetery scenes turned out, Boyum says, "The mirror scene with Sam and Lucifer is my favorite scene in ‘Swan Song'. I cracked the mirror very specifically so that the vantage could move from one part of the mirror to another part to another part. That helped me tell the story, because the camera operator did a great job of putting Jared wherever we wanted his image to be in that mirror. I just thought that the whole scene was creepy and weird and unnerving."
The most unnerving part of the episode was probably when Castiel exploded, which was payback from Lucifer for Castiel throwing a Holy Fire Molotov Cocktail at Michael. "They were gonna have Misha Collins chuck it at me from really far away and try to hit me in the chest," Jake Abel recalls, "and I was like, ‘Um, I don't feel comfortable with this.' So they moved him in closer, and thank God they did because the bottle would not break. It was sugar glass, but they have these double-paned ones so that you can throw them without them shattering in your hand, and it just wouldn't break on my chest. It's in the gag reel, so it was worth it."
"That scene has a certain kind of quirk to it, because I just didn't want everything to feel so heavy," says Kripke. "Michael and Lucifer were having conversations about fate and destiny, and I just had this instinct to puncture it, so Dean plays Def Leppard, and Castiel's dying words are calling somebody ass-butt. I just wanted to take the stink off the pretension as much as I could more than anything.
"Other than that, it was about giving it stakes. In the original outline, Cass did not actually die. I think Lucifer did that little hand wave and Cass goes flying into a tree and he's knocked unconscious, but it was one of those things you discover as you're writing it. As I was writing it I said, ‘He just burned Lucifer's brother and Lucifer would kill him! So it was very natural to me that Lucifer's going to snap his fingers and Castiel will explode. For Bobby, the same thing. You gotta make this feel like it's got weight. Sure, he does get an angelic get-out-of-jail-free card, but in the moment of the action, you can't pull your punches. You just have to go for it."
Executive producer Phil Sgriccia agrees. "It was good to have that moment of, ‘Whoa, we're clearing house,'" he says. Jim Beaver certainly "wasn't shocked" that they finally killed Bobby. "I think I secretly thought maybe I'd be the one character who never got killed off on the show," Beaver says. "But dramatically, it was a strong choice. I wasn't surprised or relieved to be brought back to life, because it's beenclear to me for a long time that the producers have no intention of losing Bobby's character for long, unless they've got a really, really good reason. My job is to make sure they never have such a reason."
Almost as shocking as the deaths of Castiel and Bobby was the brutal beating that Dean suffered at the hands of his possessed brother. Ackles was glad that it was Padalecki and not some other actor opposite him in that scene. "It's always good to go up against him during fight scenes because we know each other so well," he says. "My left eye was closed, and I couldn't see his right hand punching me, but he helped me by saying that he was going to lead with his right shoulder to indicate that the punch was coming and that's why I reacted accordingly. If I was doing that [scene] with a guest star that would never have occurred to them."
"Jensen was such a trooper," says Boyum of the scenes where Dean's face was all bruised and puffy. "He was in that prosthetic makeup for probably six hours, and he had cotton in his mouth simulating the puffy cheeks, and he had blood in his mouth and everything else. He's so good at bringing tears when he needs to, so the hardest thing for him was the tears building up behind the prosthetic that was over the closed eye. They had to keep going in and opening it up and letting the tears drain out."
Fortunately, Castiel fixed Dean up, having been resurrected new and improved by God. The big question though is: Is Chuck God? "We didn't want to give a hard and clear answer," says Kripke. "I think you can draw your own conclusion. We did try to raise that possibility. We tried to ask that question in a way that didn't get too pretentious. We wanted to raise the question and give a provocative possibility. We weren't interested in any character ever saying, ‘Well, that's because I'm God.' We presented a little twist, and people will make of it what they want."
"My character starts the season declaring, ‘I'm going to find God,' notes Misha Collins. "I kind of rolled my eyes at that, thinking, ‘How are they going to do that?' Like, ‘Really? God?' Then they kind of resolve that in the last episode. I'm pretty impressed, actually. The episode delivers. In the writers' room, they actually were like, ‘You know what? We're going to do the Apocalypse!' I would have thought, ‘You know, maybe we shouldn't do the Apocalypse. That's kind of daunting.' But they did it!" Similarly, Beaver says, "When we got the scripts for the last episode, I confess I read it thinking, ‘How are they going to do this?' I got through it and thought, ‘This is an incredible wrap-up for this season.' It's a great plotline, and innovative in the extreme, which is what I expect out of Eric. It's audacious. The arc ends brilliantly, I think. I'm always shocked at how well they get themselves out of corners dramatically."