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Production Notes
From a production standpoint, I loved this episode. Sure, I had some basic logic problems with the “changing history” concept, but I found the execution of the idea wonderful, especially in terms of the genuine emotion involved and all the little details that supported the altered timeline.
Okay: my criticisms first, as always. My major problem revolves around the standard difficulty of dealing with the skewed logic of a story built around the way changing history would affect a current time. That's not a fault of the script by the team of Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder; it's an issue with the concept itself, and exists because the immediate present and very recent past are the only things in the story that concern us. The point of changing history, however, is that everything would have changed from the moment history was altered; a change made in 1912 wouldn't have taken instantaneous effect in 2011 just because the instigator of the change chose to make it in 2011. All the things that happened differently in the intervening years would have happened then along the way, including people surviving when they should have died, probably dying differently when they should have lived, and having offspring who should never have existed. There would have been no logic in Fate waiting until 2011 to begin correcting the situation, especially given that we saw Atropos being able to stop time and operate outside of it exactly like the angel Castiel, except that we needed this story to happen all in the present day in order to have it be all about the Winchester brothers and also in order for the pattern of victims to be obvious to our characters. Further, if Fate knew who was supposed to have died along the way as well as who should never have been born, it would have made sense for her to have targeted Ellen, Jo, and any similar others as well as the Titanic descendants and the Winchester brothers as part of righting the overall balance. This paradox was para-doctored.
Beyond the basic time-loop story logic issue, one performance thing bothered me a little. Most times, I have no problem at all with episodes mixing humor and drama; indeed, tragedy and comedy living not just side-by-side but inside each other is one of the things I like best about Supernatural, because that's how it is in reality. This time, however, the difference in how certain scenes were approached and played in order deliberately to play up their humor aspects felt unusually artificial to me. It struck me particularly in the brothers' immediate facial reactions to seeing the lawyer get creamed by the bus – those were deliberately comedic horrified expressions, not the genuine appalled surprise we saw for the boat death in Dead In The Water, for example – and in their intentionally exaggerated “walking-on-eggshells” bit in the “tempting Fate” sequence. While the second one was definitely very funny, it just didn't feel organically real. I don't know whether those were actor choices by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, direction from Phil Sgriccia, or a combination of them all, but it felt just a little off from the norm.

That’s it for my criticisms. I loved the idea of Bobby and Ellen being a couple, and Jim Beaver and Samantha Ferris sold their marriage beautifully as a complex partnership of strong-willed equals solidly grounded in love and mutual respect. All of the emotion between them and among them and the brothers rang genuine, deep, and true. It would have been nice to have seen Alona Tal as Jo, but I can understand a multitude of reasons why that didn’t happen, starting with the difficulty of fully conveying the complex flavor of Jo’s alternate timeline relationship (virtual kid sister, maybe?) with both of the Winchesters in a quick snapshot short enough to fit in a 42-minute episode along with everything else. And with all the stunt and effects work and the music, this had to have been both a tricky episode to shoot and a particularly expensive one to produce, making the expense of another actor difficult to justify. My hat is off to Phil Sgriccia for pulling it all off so cleanly, and to editor Nicole Baer for assembling it into a fun whole. Cutting the “tempting Fate” sequence to the tune of Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” was nothing short of brilliant! I never would have expected to hear Celine Dion in the soundtrack – at least, not until I saw the title of this episode! – but I didn't expect Barry White, Burl Ives, Rosemary Clooney, Joey Ramone, or Chris DeBurgh either, and all have been used to great effect. (Shoot me for a sentimental sap, but I actually liked the Titanic theme song back in the day – at least until it proved utterly impossible to escape! And now I blame Supernatural for me not having been able to stop singing it again … because, speaking as a singer, it is fun to sing ...) Chris Lennertz's underscore also broke my heart at the end as Dean spread a blanket over Bobby. I want that gentle, mournful music cue!
Jerry Wanek, John Marcynuk, and the entire design team get major props from me for this one. Our first clues about things being different were extraordinarily subtle, starting with the set dressing of Bobby's house:  the place was neater and cleaner than most times we've seen it, but not to the almost obsessive extent occasioned by the return of Bobby's dead wife in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. It was simply the well-used but obviously cared-for home of active hunter/researchers, still with books everywhere but not in haphazard piles on the floor, and with subtle feminine touches in the presence of a potted plant and the organized lack of clutter on the kitchen counter. The “B&E Auto” sign was nicely aged to show that Bobby and Ellen's partnership wasn't recent, but had been established for more than a few years, and the photo of the two of them beneath the sign, especially as it contrasted with the photo of Bobby alone beneath the old “Singer Auto” one, packed a real punch. The use of incidental art to reflect the many changes in the world was superb, from travel posters advertising Cuba and Detroit as tourist destinations to the online encyclopedia being styled “Marconipages” in tribute to the inventor of the wireless radio telegraph, whose company employed the telegraph operators on the Titanic. Other lovely Titanic references incorporated into the show included the travel agency being named “E.J. Smith,” since Edward J. Smith was the captain of the doomed ship, and the brothers' motel being the White Star, since the Titanic sailed for the White Star Line. And the bus that killed the lawyer not just carrying one of his “Justice Matters” advertisements on the back, but being on route number 666? Just too good! That death was worthy of the Trickster!

Ivan Hayden's visual effects crew also gets a big shout-out for making the stopped time sequences wonderfully seamless, particularly including such touches as the brothers' blurry reflections appearing in the sheet metal surface of the falling air conditioning unit as they looked up to see it coming down, and the mix of practical and visual effects that sold Castiel's rescue of the brothers from the gas explosion. Everybody involved in all the stunt sequences, especially the boys' “tempting fate” walk, gets an ovation from me for brilliant timing and execution. The transport guys get a nod for putting the alternate timeline Sam and Dean in a showy 1967 Ford Mustang – almost exactly the 1965 Mustang Eric Kripke talked about having in his initial vision of the show, until his car-guy neighbor dissed the pony car as “pussy” and instead sang the praises of the intimidating Impala four-door hardtop with its body-holding trunk! I loved Jensen’s Dean giving the Impala a gentle pat at the end, acknowledging her solid presence.
Apart from my little nitpick on the Dean and Sam humor bits being a little too self-consciously played for laughs this time around, I enjoyed the performances. It was wonderful to see Misha Collins giving us all the layers of Castiel’s conflicted feelings about what he was doing and how he was doing it; seeing him duck his eyes away from Dean’s while agreeing that the Titanic had been all Balthazar’s doing positively shouted that Fate had been right when she’d said Balthazar had been acting on Castiel’s orders, and that Castiel was too ashamed and worried about their reaction to admit to the brothers that he’d been manufacturing souls for his war machine. Sebastian Roché is so obviously having a ball playing Balthazar that his delight translates into the character and leaps off the screen; his reaction to being stopped from killing Atropos cracked me up. And Katie Walder’s very prim, proper, and meticulous Atropos – while a far cry from the usual crone depicted in Greek mythology! – was a superb addition to the overall pantheon of powerful beings. I loved the idea of Fate being unsettled at no longer having a script and therefore not knowing what was supposed to happen, and insisting that she needed to know. In effect, Fate couldn’t live comfortably in a world ruled by free will, and I thought Walder captured that well. In acting terms, she also stood up to both Misha and Sebastian with a confidence that sold her character’s power and strength, and succeeded in putting both angels in their place in a way I think few characters ever could.

For all their inherent difficulties, stories like this one that play with time and reality can change our perceptions of concepts, things, and people we thought we knew.  I think this episode did that in spades.


# Merannoeu 2011-04-22 20:12
Great review Mary as always. I just have one comment. Unless I missed it in your review, there was an incident in season 5 where Castiel knows he is lying to Dean and can't hold eye contact. It had something to do with Castiel telling Dean that he would be with Sammy. I think it was in When the Levee breaks.
Anyway, I recall we did get a glimpse of Castiel being less than truthful before.
Mary, I really appreciate your effort in doing this--I always enjoy reading your work.
# Deborah 2011-04-23 14:44
Thanks, Mary, for another interesting and insightful revuew. I loved this episode, for the closeness of the brothers, for the relationship of Bobby and Ellen, for the humor, and for the heartbreak - unknown by Bobby but known by Sam and Dean. I loved the last scene - Dean taking the book from Bobby and covering him with the blanket while Sam watched with a look of such love and sadness. I so love these boys.

However, like Merannoeu, I think that, while Castiel may not have outright lied to Dean before, he has certainly been deceitful before. I wonder if Dean will ever find out that Castiel was the one who let Sam out of the panic room and set into motion the killing of Lilith and subsequent rising of Lucifer. I realize he was most likely following orders and that it happened before he got all the "free will" lessons from Sam and Dean, but he still did something that he has kept hidden from Dean that in my mind was not alleviated by the fact that he eventually helped Dean get to Sam, but too late to stop the opening of the final seal.

Thanks again for another wonderful review. I look forward to reading your review of Frontierland!
# BagginsDVM 2011-04-23 20:18
I do so love to read your interpretation of each episode, Mary!

I really like your thoughts on the angels' confusion without God present to give them the guidance & orders they were so used to receiving. Castiel does seem to be floundering with his newfound authority; he certainly wants to do the right thing, but hasn't chosen the best of a cabinet of advisors if he is listening to Balthazar now, & perhaps other less trustworthy individuals. I wonder where Joshua has gotten off to in his garden. I wonder if he has heard any more from God? Cas needs to know that God is still out there & still cares, if our angel is to get his focus back. He's learned the value of true friendship in his relationship with the Winchesters, but he's risking a lot of damage to that if he continues lying to them. Will Dean extend his "blank slate" forgiveness to Cas once the truth comes out?

It's fascinating & heartbreaking to think of how things could have been different in averting the apocalypse if the boys truly had had the family support they experienced in this alternate timeline. I love your view of how Bobby & Ellen ended up together. What an awesome couple they made!