TV

Supernatural: Season 11, Episode 23 - "Alpha and Omega"

Jessy Krupa

There were some sparks of life in the season finale, but did anything really happen?


Supernatural

Airtime: Wednesdays, 8pm
Cast: Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins, Mark A. Sheppard
Subtitle: Season 11, Episode 23 - "Alpha and Omega"
Network: CW
Air date: 2016-05-25
Amazon
Crowley: This is desperate, and stupid.

Dean: Well, desperate and stupid is pretty much all we got right now.

Carry on, wayward sons! It's nice to see that no matter how much Supernatural changes throughout the years, one thing doesn't, and that's the spectacularly edited end-of-season montage set to the Kansas classic, "Carry on Wayward Son". Perhaps this year, the song's especially appropriate, considering that's exactly what this week's episode dealt with: carrying on.

After the events of last week's episode, things looked pretty dim. Literally. After Amara (Emily Swallow) dealt a crippling blow to God Himself, Chuck (Rob Benedict), the sun in the sky weakened into an eternal sunset. (Considering how dimly lit the first couple of seasons of Supernatural were, however, this actually came off as a little sunnier than usual.) While Dean (Jensen Ackles), Crowley (Mark Sheppard), Rowena (Ruth Connell), Chuck, and even a Lucifer-free Castiel (Misha Collins) seem content to just wait and drink until the universe ends, it's Sam (Jared Padalecki) who urges the others to quickly think up of a plan.

It's a plan that sounds ridiculous on paper, but it gives the show plenty of opportunities to include some familiar fan-friendly moments. Everyone has to collect enough souls to build a bomb strong enough to blast Amara just as she blasted God. Forget Chuck's theory that both He and the Darkness have to co-exist to make the world right, because He's near death Himself; either both live, or neither can. Sam and Dean travel to a haunted asylum to harvest ghosts in a typical salted shotgun face off. Off-screen, Crowley learns that other demons have taken all of Hell's damned souls and Castiel finds the other angels in Heaven mysteriously reluctant to help.

Finally, we learn the purpose of Billie the reaper (Lisa Berry), a character that has been demanding our attention since the beginning of the season. "When you want souls, call a reaper," she says, before collecting hundreds of thousands of souls from the Veil into a magic crystal, which is painfully placed inside Dean. (This show keeps reminding us about the Veil, another Purgatory-like dimension in which spirits wait for their proper after-life.) Dean will be transported to Amara's location, where he will literally blow himself up in the process of destroying her and saving the world. For some reason, everybody seems perfectly content with Dean's impending death, including Dean.

Amara, meanwhile, sits in an ornate park with a bewildered look on her face. Her character, despite being the series' most physically powerful villain, has been noticeably unpopular with fans of the show. You can't blame the four separate actresses who has played her: they’ve done the best with the ridiculous material they have been given, but viewers looking for a satisfying end to her character arc will be disappointed. After speaking with a random bird-feeding widow (Barbara Wallace), her big confrontation with Dean is cut short by a guest appearance by Chuck. After all of this talk about her motives, her undeniable hold of power over Dean Winchester, and the fact that she is supposed to be the very essence of all that is bad in the world, it turned out that all she needed was some family counseling? She magically heals God, who retrieves the souls from Dean, and the two vanish in a happy swirl of white and black smoke.

Every season finale needs a cliffhanger, though, and Supernatural sort of gave us two. One, Dean finds himself in a dark forest; he stumbles into a clearing and comes face-to-face with his mother, Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith). Is he in Purgatory? Is he a ghost in the Veil? Has his long-deceased mother been brought back to life? Finally, we find out the purpose of the mysterious Lady Antonia Bevell (Elizabeth Blackmore), an English "Woman of Letters" who insists that the leaders of their organization want Sam stopped. She shoots Sam, and are we really supposed to wonder if he's dead or not? After all, he's been choked to death not once, but twice this season. Not to mention, death can't stop the Winchesters; they've got God and the Darkness on their side.

Did the big finale live up to the hype? You could say that it was hit and miss, much like the rest of season 11. The heavily complicated main plot of this season, the destruction of "The Darkness", was a disappointment, but it was frequently pushed to the sidelines in favor of more fun, monster-of-the-week-based episodes. The results have been a mixed bag, giving us some of the best ("Baby", "Into The Mystic") and the worst ("Just My Imagination", "Thin Lizzy") that the series has to offer. Just as the episode's title symbolizes "the beginning and the end", a good season finale closes up one plotline while starting up another. In that respect, "Alpha and Omega" was an unqualified success.

Supernatural will return on Thursday nights this fall.

6
Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

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8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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