“The Vessel” was a powerful, suspenseful story that dramatically advanced the season’s battles against Amara and Lucifer. Its impact on the season, and in fact, Supernatural canon, was completely unexpected.
The title was a clever play on words, referring both to the doomed underwater vessel in which a sacrifice that perhaps saved the world from Nazi domination played out; and Castiel’s vessel, occupied by a scheming and ruthless Lucifer.
“The Vessel” added to the rich history of the Men of Letters, providing another detailed personal story of their role in opposing the Nazis during World War II.
“Henshaw pulled some strings with a Man of Letters in the O.S.S. to requisition an active U.S. submarine to transport Delphine and the weapon back to the states.”
In this one line, the MoL transformed from a secret sect of whispers and lore, to a vast network of individuals, some of whom were powerful enough to alter the course of history. I think that’s a noteworthy expansion of canon. It also adds gravitas to the legacy and caretaker role that Sam and Dean inherited by discovering and occupying the bunker.
Robert Berens made a specific point of thanking the VX team for their amazing underwater shots. He acknowledged that the whole submarine scenario was believable because of their work. I absolutely agree with him. I also want to acknowledge the art department, though. They created a library of history books that Sam studied. The illustrations in those books were amazing, and artistically and convincingly supported Sam’s long explanation on Nazi history. The pages were aged, the print was antique, the pictures were meticulous – I was totally pulled into the 1940s era.
Little details like that made this episode genuine.
This episode was also very convincing because of stellar acting. Mark Sheppard once again demonstrated his amazing talent. He dominated the few scenes in which he appeared, even as he was playing a broken, submissive ‘doggie’. We’d seen none of his torture, yet he convincingly portrayed his plight through grimaces and his kowtowed body language.
I also have to specifically acknowledge Misha’s portrayal of Lucifer. He conveyed Lucifer’s deviance through his eyes and sneers especially.
Switching back and forth between characters mid-scene is extremely challenging. I felt as if I was watching Misha truly deepen his acting abilities for the first time.
Jared and Jensen were equally amazing. We’ll each be drawn to our favorite’s performance, but I am awed by how much they can convey through their facial expressions.
As with last week’s long-awaited honest conversation between Sam and Dean, this story also included an “hallelujah!” moment: the brothers discovering that Lucifer, posing as Castiel, was infiltrating their bunker. That was very, very well done.
I’m so relieved that charade didn’t carry on longer. It was also fantastic to have another strong, smart woman as the center of the episode.
Supernatural benefits and is enriched by this balance.
I haven’t even begun to discuss the many layers and symbolic meanings in this episode. Was WWII specifically used as a reference to the last great enemy the world faced together? Did the French resistance and Delphine symbolize being able to eject a hostile occupation of a sovereign body? Let’s start with the message that permeated the entire episode: strength and power.
The Truth of Power (or The Power of the Truth)
I was so caught up in the drama and suspense of the story that I didn’t hear this thread on first viewing. It came through loud and clear, though, in the second watch. Every character, every scenario, discussed the power needed to battle Amara. First, there were several references to the power of God and Lucifer. Sam alluded to it when he reminded Dean of their desperate situation:
Sam: “”The Hand of God.” I mean, that was sort of a catchall term for several objects he touched on earth in biblical times, but they’re believed to contain traces of His power. Dean, Lucifer’s caged. God’s M.I.A. The only beings strong enough to battle Amara are gone. If we’re gonna fight her, what better way to arm up than with an actual dose of his power?
In a very clever and more subtle move by the writers, Lucifer had the demons retrieve all his possible weapons from his crypts, confirming that Lucifer doesn’t have a ‘secret weapon’ that will magically defeat Amara. It also cleverly conveyed that Lucifer knows he doesn’t have enough innate power to defeat Amara. Crowley learned and voiced that truth, getting Lucifer to admit that all his bravado about being able to defeat Amara was a lie:
Crowley: The truth, sir? You’re not strong enough. You’ve had your weapons delivered. You realize they won’t be enough. If you thought you could beat Amara, you’d be taking the fight to her, right now.
Casifer: You’re right. At the moment, I may be a bit underequipped. Maybe defeating Amara was a bit more of a team effort than I led certain people to believe.
Sam then reminded us of the difference between Castiel’s and Lucifer’s power when he explained the new spell to “Cas”:
“The spell of gathering.” It’s an incantation used to “focus the power of celestial beings” — angels — “against all drawn forms of evasion.” This spell was designed to clear all mystical or occult blockages. I mean, this is highly theoretical magic. It’s never been used before, but it sounds like it could work. … That’s why it’s never been used before. It requires the power of an archangel. Even at full power, you’re not strong enough.
Sam’s subsequent conversation with Casifer about the spell reiterated that power is the currency of their battle:
Sam: You’re not strong enough, Cas. You could get hurt… without a serious boost to your angel power, that spell won’t even work.
Casifer: My strength may surprise you.
Sam: Wait a second. I remember Bobby told me, when you needed strength to retrieve us from the past, you used him to power up.
Moments later, Casifer again referenced truth, even though his “truth” was a lie:
And then when Dean comes back and he finds this place decorated with your guts, I will tell him the truth, Sam.
Beyond individuals’ power (God’s, Lucifer’s, Castiel’s, Delphine’s as a infiltrator, Sam’s as a researcher, Dean as a soldier), the power of weapons was explored. Lucifer knew the conventional weapons from his crypts were insignificant against the Power of God. Sam’s research turned up several alternate weapons. He found a new spell that could be used to erase warding. Another custom brewed spell (‘highly theorethical magic”) that’s never been used before! It’s a reminder of the witchcraft thread and that witches are often needed for spells. The spell is also another important addition to canon that could easily be used in the impending battle. Sam also uncovered the “Hand of God” as a possible weapon against Amara. Casifer filled in some details, confirming that God’s power would work against God’s sister:
Casifer: There were several God-touched objects, but it never occurred to me that any had survived the flood, let alone the 20th Century.
Sam: Do you think we can use it against Amara?
Casifer: It’s perfect.
So this was yet another monumental addition to canon: the Hand of God isn’t the only God-level weapon on Earth. God’s power can be a part of the final battle without God himself having to participate. That’s at least a direction the boys can pursue. Casifer’s comments also suggested these “weapons” may be the key to a possible winning strategy. Delphine explained this new canon further, but was clearly the voice of caution:
Its power is potent and unstable.
Dean: It’s the power of God. Maybe I can use it to save you, save the sub.
Delphine: And your war? You save the ship, get us to the surface, and then what? The power of God will consume you, and you’ll have merely brought the weapon closer to the Nazis’ grasp.
The hand of God didn’t work out as Sam had hoped (which actually I’m a bit dismayed about. A piece of the Arc of the Covenant can only release its power once? Does that make sense to you?).
Sam has a new, and validated, direction for his research now, though.
All this discussion of the new weapons and their use seemed to reveal a “truth” as well: that Lucifer is in fact needed to defeat Amara. Sam assumed this when he justified his historical search to Dean, but Castiel and Lucifer both actually confirmed it.
Assuming Castiel can read Lucifer’s thoughts since they are cohabitating (just as Lucifer can access all of Castiel’s memories), I was overjoyed when Castiel fought his way past Lucifer to save Sam (Go, Cas!) and bring them what might be helpful insider intelligence:
I wanted to be of service to the fight. And only Lucifer can beat her.
Lucifer also seemed confident when he thought he had the power of God in his hands:
We have a common enemy. With this, she will be no problem.
Delphine had previously said that mortals couldn’t wield the weapon and survive (sound a bit like the First Blade?). Maybe Castiel can use it, but given the emphasis on the difference between his power and Lucifer’s, I think the message was that an archangel is needed to channel God’s power.
One more significant addition to canon: the new supernatural warding sigil. It seems the brothers should be etching that all over the bunker! How else would they keep Casifer from just using their front door and walking down the stairs again? It’s power is bound to a person:
It’s spell-bound — to my blood, my heart. Its power lives and dies with me.
Again, spells, hearts (last week’s theme), and power. Delphine bound her life to power its protection, meaning someone has to be willing to sacrifice themselves to keep it working.
I first have to comment on the skillful use of contrast within the script. The sailor who kept interrupting Dean’s end-is-nigh introductory speech to Delphine with basic, everyday human worries grounded the biblical, supernatural plane that has taken over the Winchesters’ lives. The innocent eavesdropper slowly absorbed what was happening, starting with inane details like sports, expanding to impactful matters like world leaders, then grasping his own death and those of his friends.
Accepting that his death was inevitable, he wanted it to have meaning, so he quickly moved to thinking of loved ones, asking when they would be safe from the war. He had only a simple understanding of matters that were much larger than him, but he was still ready to sacrifice himself if it was for the greater good.
Delphine was also willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good. Dean couldn’t bring himself to kill her though, which is an intriguing, and even unexpected, show of compassion overruling his strategic thinking. Is compassion now effecting Dean’s judgment more than it has before? This wasn’t Sam he was saving; it was someone he knew for less than an hour, and someone he knew was already destined to die. His hesitancy struck me as significant, and possibly a clue to the final showdown. He was obviously deeply moved by the sacrifice he “witnessed”.
It seems like something that will brew for a while then alter his reaction to something in the future. What do you think? Delphine dying words were also very troubling if applied to the heroes of our century:
“We are supposed to die. Let us do it with a purpose.”
Death frequently, and recently Billie most emphatically (I still think she’s Death), told the brothers that they are supposed to be dead. Delphine’s sacrifice could very well foreshadow that both brothers will try or need to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Casifer said defeating Amara the first time was a team effort. We have long speculated that subterfuge and betrayal were as much a part of trapping her as was brute force. His admission foreshadows that Sam, Dean, Castiel, Crowley and possibly a witch (and maybe Death?) will all need to team up to defeat Amara, and that more than one may be sacrificed.
“The Vessel” was a complex script that not only decisively dealt with immediate problems, but opened up many new possibilities for the future. It was also immensely impactful visually. I found myself copying nearly every moment of the hour, impressed by its meaningful or stunning cinematography. Here are a few more shots, just to exemplify the incredible direction, lighting, sets and team work that make this episode epic:
I couldn’t possibly cover all the episode’s implications this quickly, so what did you see that I may have missed? What do you think of my observations?