He’s the writer of some of Supernatural‘s best, and most eclectic, episodes including Ghostfacers, Wishful Thinking, and On the Head of a Pin, and with tonight’s “The Man Who Would be King,” (Pics here) Ben Edlund expands on his Supernatural repertoire by becoming a double-threat – both writing and directing. A little less than a year ago, it seemed like Supernatural was coming to a controlled end; after five years of fighting monsters, ghosts, and demons, the brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) were about to face off against the Devil in a bid to avert the apocalypse. Creator Eric Kripke foresaw that battle as the last for the brothers, but here we are anxiously awaiting not only the end of a whirlwind sixth season – under the creative stewardship of new show-runner Sera Gamble – but also looking ahead to the beginning of a seventh. With recent events, it’s beginning to look like next year might see the brothers square off against … Heaven? After the apparent double-cross by the Winchester’s angel confidant Castiel (Misha Collins), Supernatural fans are as disoriented as they ever have been, and it’s up to Edlund to kick off a three-episode arc that will bring season six’s noir epic of betrayal and deceit to what is bound to be a shockingly enlightening close. We caught up Ben to discuss the future of Supernatural, and his experience on the set.
What led to you having the opportunity to both write and direct ‘The Man who Would be King’?
Last season, towards the end, I asked for the opportunity to direct and they said yes. We discussed both possibilities, I felt more comfortable with the notion of both writing and directing and I’d done that one time before, so they felt more comfortable with that too. It could have gone the other way, and that has happened with other directors — Eric’s [Kripke] directed other people’s scripts.
The majority of your episodes are lighter in tone — Ghost Facers, Wishful Thinking — but you are also behind some of the darker Supernatural episodes, On the Head of Pin in particular; what can we expect from this episode tonally?
Is it by its number in the run predisposed to being more dramatic, when we get around episode 20, 21, and 22 we’re generally not doing UFO’s or fairies because the larger arc begins to land. In terms of darkness, this one is dark to the degree that you are concerned with the fates of our main characters. On the Head of a Pin had a lot of torture, and a lot of real grinding, it had a certain inherit darkness that this one possesses, but this one is more about character and that one had a lot of moments where we were like ‘˜let’s get dark for darkness’s sake.’
What was it like working with the cast and crew for the first time as a director?
They are amazing, as many have said in the past. I know it fully now. It was really good because I’m not a very experienced director, and it’s a very hard show to direct because it’s so ambitious. The writers are relentless with the people up in Vancouver, and they ask a lot for a show that is on a budget like everything else. We’re not shooting in a hospital that we get to go back to every week, we’re making a road movie. It was daunting. The actors have been there, they know their craft, and they know movie making. Jensen’s directed an excellent episode himself, and Jared , all of them really, they know what to do with the camera, they know blocking in a really advanced way, their suggestions are a good half of what took place. So, I was really fortunate because it turned into a very positive creative venture. I brought what I could there, but I learned more than I brought.
The overarching story for season 6 has been less linear than previous seasons, with some pretty sharp turns in direction. Was it always planned out that way, or has there been a lot of course correction along the way?
I’d say in every season there are parts of both. We’ve always done course correction, it’s kind of necessary. When you publish the chapters of the novel your writing before you finish it, there will be course correction. This was set up to be a noir season, and it is. The noir structure is based on sleight of hand, and diversion — it’s really based on moral descents, and the murkiness of the human condition, but structurally it’s supposed to be full of mystery and surprises, and an uneasy feeling, and I think that was delivered. It’s a 22 episode run, and that’s another thing — I think it’s something that naturally has to move into different paces, then takes a breath, and then starts up again. Something that’s nice about that is storylines that feel like they’ve drifted away they are built into history, and when you bring them back they come back with tremendous dramatic force because we are educated as to what they are, and we know they’ve been hanging over our heads. It something that became, structurally, a very interesting playground. Especially in the ones towards the conclusion, more and more of these veils get lifted and you begin to understand the underpinnings of what’s been driving the action for the season. I’d say the episode I’m doing is one of the very first, really big, veils peeling off. It’s not a tell-all, but 20 does do a lot to set us up for the final two.
When Supernatural began, Eric seemed to have this definitive five year plan for the series, and now we are looking ahead to a season seven Has the expiration date been moved up at this point.
In my opinion, and this is my opinion alone, Supernatural would have been an amazing five year thing, if it had ended in its fifth year. That was the first version of the ‘˜novel.’Then we found out that wasn’t happening, and what I came to realize is that it is actually pretty amazing that it didn’t happen because the ramifications of thwarting the apocalypse are that there is no happily-ever-after. Death doesn’t count on our show, so I can’t image cancellation is going to have to be factored in. Every year we look at it like ok, what we want is a shape. We want to have, ultimately, this thing not to peter out but to end, and so we are talking about ‘˜what shape would that be?’. Eric was certain for a while that it would be a five year show, as much because he couldn’t imagine the audience would want it more. Ultimately, we know are agnostic about the notion of the end — and being in agnostic, we’re preparing for it but we’re never certain anymore about whether it ends or not. Toward the end of one season or another we start to look toward if that is likely to be the case. Now we have the great luxury of looking at that as 22 full episodes away, so we’ve already started talking about how it might, but that is more in the department of how it might end versus the other.
Are we ever going to see Chuck again?
If we were going to see him again I’d never tell you, cause that would take the surprise away. Wouldn’t it be nice if he popped up? So, I’ll just pretend that we have no plans — and that pretense might be the truth. Ha, ha — I’m very Chuck like in that regard.
Supernatural, “The Man Who Would be King” airs tonight, Friday May 6th, at 9pm EST on TheCW.