There is no doubt that Supernatural’s mid-season finale, “The Executioner’s Song” was a masterpiece. The script, acting, music, sets and direction all combined to create a stunning example of television artistry. The visual and cinematography choices that presented the characters’ conflict were masterfully woven into the story, yet they immeasurably added to the story’s impact.
In part 1 of this visual review, I presented 30 images that focused on specific parts of the human body. I looked at how these images evoked emotion or tension, and foreshadowed the climactic battle between Cain and Dean. In this article, I will examine the use of unusual camera angles, symbolism and desolation to create atmosphere and meaning.
Diverse Angles, Isolation and Being Trapped
Numerous shot of the prison showed us the subject behind bars, i.e. trapped by their fates. Tommy’s tattoo showed an animal caged behind barbed wire just before we saw his face behind bars:
In essence, Dean and Cain were trapped on their own “Death Row”. Cain was dually the executioner to so many victims, and the executed, at Dean’s hands.
Diverse angles, i.e. shooting up or down at a subject often suggests that we judge the person (looking “up to them” or looking “down on them”), or elicits empathy for their dramatic situation. Viewing a subject on a slant creates the impression that something is drastically wrong. This episode used both tactics generously and strategically throughout the story, as shown in these few closeups plus several of the best shots (shown below). All of these shots, plus many others, contained only one subject, emphasizing the foreboding isolation faced by all of the story’s characters.
Notable by their absence were any angled or skewed shots of Sam. Images of him were all straight, direct shots, visually giving him the role of grounding the chaos, or being the only “level head” among confused and lost comrades.
Many of the scenes were desolate or abandoned (e.g the school house), just as so many of the episode’s characters must have felt about their lives. Each had to carry their own burdens, unable to escape or transfer their fates.
Setting the mood for the episode, most of the prison shots combined the emotion of angled and desolate shots with the symbolism of bars:
All these cinematic techniques make an audience feel the pain of desperation, isolation and loneliness in facing our inevitable fates, and eventually, our deaths.
Orange seemed to be the only color that symbolically appeared throughout the episode. Notice the inmate’s clothing and Andrew’s basbetball (both behind bars),
and the candles in the foreground of “hell”:
Cain’s fatal dagger/knife was also prominently shown in several shots, perhaps suggesting its importance to the plot:
One of the reasons this episode was a masterpiece was because it was filled with so many exceptionally good shots! It was very difficult to pick just a few! Here are my choices, though.
#10 The broad shot of the barn enveloped the strength of the epic battle’s climax. Notice how many “bars” are built into the barn’s sidings and roof.
“The Student Becomes the Master”
#9 & 8 The superb lighting and set design framed each of the epic warriors’ singular figures.
#7 Cain’s longing for the Blade and the burning in his heart for its violence was captured in this close-up.
#6 The figure of Cain completely blocks any vision of Dean, showing the ominous inbalance of experience, strength and power of the ancient opponent. The same technique was used at the end of the episode when Rowena’s figure blotted out any view of Crowley, emphasizing her current dominance over his personna.
#5 Dean’s descent from the battle in which he had just become the sole bearer of the MoC is framed by nooses in all directions.
“Your Fate is Sealed””
#4 Surrounded by death, in both nature and human life, Castiel tried to understand Cain’s intentions. The fog added an eerie quality to the forest setting.
#3 The lighting and composition of this still shot of the barn wonderfully set the mood of the showdown.
#2 There was so much meaning in Dean positioning himself outside a supernatural “ring”. He even used the metaphor of stepping into the “ring” earlier when talking to Sam, Cas and Crowley. This was a very powerful shot of Cain locked inside the Devil’s Trap just before Dean also had to take the step into the supernatural world to battle the Father of Murder.
“Standing on the Edge of Destiny”
#1 I just love this shot! Two extremely powerful supernatural beings looked insignificant and small amid the vastness and scale of destruction of human life and nature.
I didn’t truly appreciate the depth and brilliance of the cinematography of “The Executioner’s Song” until I put together this series of articles. I hope they have also helped you see and appreciate another aspect of why this episode so powerfully impacted its viewers. Our sincere appreciation goes out to the amazingly talented Director, Phil Sgriccia; the Director of Photography, Serge Ladouceur; the Location Manager, Russ Hamilton; and the Production Designer, Jerry Wanek.
I would love to hear your interpretations as well! Do you have alternate captions for the best shots of the show? Are there other shots that particularly struck you? Did you perceive the themes discussed here? Please share your thoughts!
Screencaps courtesy of www.screencapped.net