Warning: Writing exercises and extreme nerdity ahead. You have been warned.
So in commenting to part 21 of the SPN Retrospective, the ever lovely but deadly njspnfan* said in reply:
Using Castiel’s mental powers in 9.10? Umm… I think Sam was occupied by another angel at the time; might have made it difficult.
As I was writing a reply, I realized this would be a great writing exercise and example of how following rules of logic and storytelling can lead to better scenes.
Reminder: We are talking about episode 9.10 of the series. This is where you wonder if the writers got kind of lazy because they went with the most recent call back of the series (S8 instead of drawing upon
So, let’s imagine my job is to write this episode of the season. I have had no input on the previous ones, so I can’t backtrack and adjust things that lead up to this point. (note also that the following are going to be far more structured than my usual, actual processes)
Set up: Characters have captured Gadreel who has been running around with Sam’s body. On scene: Dean, Castiel, Crowley. Supplies? Can be anything from Impala, or bunker if we load up before capture. So functionally limitless.
- Gadreel has Sam, we want Gadreel out.
- Want to keep Sam, so no stabbing with angel blade. — Could be a source of drama as angel blade would be “last option” if Gadreel about to escape. Possible source of anguish for Dean, so let’s keep it in mind.
- Obvious solution: Angel exorcism spell that was established in episode 4.16. — A little too easy, deprives the episodes of some drama. Any way for it to not work?
- Ah ha! Episode 2.14 revealed that there’s a trick demons can do to “lock” themselves in a body and prevent exorcism. So let’s reveal that angels have a similar deal (but different symbol). And Gadreel has hidden it on Sam’s very bones (like Castiel did to both boys in 5.01, revealed in 5.02). It would be too much trouble to try and get an xray to locate where the brand is to remove as well as giving Gadreel more opportunities to escape, so they have to try something else.
- Conveying this could even have a bit of levity as it’s revealed Crowley doesn’t know the angel repeal spell and is eager to hear it. Castiel and Dean have to figure out how to try it without letting Crowley learn. Some minor hijinks and character clashes for a bit of levity before the seriousness.
- How about a call back to what Gadreel did in episode 9.01? Castiel uses his mind meld to bring himself and Dean into Sam’s mindscape. — But that could still be too short and easy. Can this be spiced up?
- Throughout the season Gadreel has “suppressed” Sam and is doing so now. Can angels just shut off the minds of their hosts? If yes, that drains all drama from Gad’s plea of “Don’t tell Sam” as if Sam was anyway close to forcing Gad out, Gad can just shut him down. — So let’s do a reveal. Angels don’t “shut down” the mind as much as craft illusions to distract the host.
- This gives us a set up for an Inception-like battle in the mind. — What if we made the whole episode a mental trip? Can we have Dean trying to save Sam but get caught up in the illusions as well? Can Gadreel & Castiel fight each other via the illusion’s form? What if we start with Sam & Dean in a seemingly “monster of the week” episode. Similar to episodes 2.20 and 5.08 only we don’t start with the framing device (so more like episode 6.22) thus the audience has to figure out along with the characters. Then we reveal backwards that this is all to try and get Sam to kick Gadreel out as well as what happened previously with the capture and effort to solve the possession problem. Discuss with show producers how feasible this is.
Now yes, I’m biased, but be honest, wouldn’t you find the above possibility just a bit more interesting and fun to watch than the episode we actually got? We can even make it exclusively take place within the bunker to increase the maze-like quality of the mind screw and make a bottle episode to save some $$$.
But let’s say the show runner is insistent on Crowley getting inside Sam this episode (since everyone else has). Ok.
- Same with above, only we shorten it that Gadreel “locks out” Cas & Dean from reaching Sam by setting up a mental maze to keep them out. We can establish that while Gadreel is a bit naive and too trusting at times, he can be very clever when actually trying.
- Crowley offers to go in Sam and get him out. — But how would double possession work? Given angel states, it seems like Gad could just burn up Crowley.
- Let’s have Castiel point this out so Crowley replies he’ll need a distraction. Repeat of before, with Cas & Dean going in via Cas’ mind meld while Crowley possess Sam the old fashioned way.
- Pay off with Sam realizing what’s going on and finally taking control.
- We can also settle some canon here. Sam used to drink demon blood, would that affect Crowley’s possession efforts? Does having once held Lucifer affect Gadreel? Idea: Reveal that had Sam still had demon blood within him Crowley would have been more powerful on the mental landscape but the trials have purified him of all of it. So the advantages are all on Gadreel’s side to heighten tension in the mind setting. Also settle that Sam’s experience with Satan has given him the strength and experience to kick out any other angel, if he’s made aware.
- Can we also have Crowley potentially considering on staying within Sam too? Only for him to be kicked out as well? Let’s debate with other writers on whether to establish that after all these experiences, Sam is strong enough now that he can’t be possessed by anything unless he grants permission.
And a lot of the above ideas could be filmed on the cheap in case the show is in need of a bottle episode.
Anyway, end result is still the same, Gadreel is out of Sam and Sam is now mad at Dean. All that has changed is the path the story took to get there.
That’s the frustration I find so often in the later seasons. With Kripke’s era, if you play the “what if we did…” game, you’ll usually find yourself reaching the same idea as we got, or something probably unfilmable, or something that’s, at best, marginally better if not worse than what was actually put on screen. With Carver’s era, it so often comes across as the worst first draft that anybody turned in. That had the writers put in just a moment’s extra thought and consideration into the script, something much better would have blossomed easily.
Pick episodes you dislike and give it a whirl. In the comments even, that would be fun. Or if you really enjoyed my ramblings – what is wrong with you? – I mean, you can pick another episode and ask me to “treat” that one in a similar manner.
*yes I know the name is probably “New Jersey – Supernatural fan” but I can’t help but read it as “ninja supernatural fan.”