I was going to post a couple of my favourite shots from the episode and as I was looking for the screen caps I noticed a visual theme running through the episode. I've always like Guy Bee's visual story telling. He made some wonderful choices in the way he framed his shots and used a recurring visual element.
Geometrical visual themes can often be seen in Supernatural. We often see the use of circles (Dean crawling out of hell, Sam falling into hell, the ceiling fan in Bobby's panic room, to name a few. Lines are also often used - I particularly love how the bunker is full of crossing lines.
This episode also used a lot of lines, this time in the shape of bars. At first I didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary, but the more I looked the more I came to realise the deliberate choices the director had made.
We open with Dean's nightmare. During the episode the bars behind Dean aren't particularly clear - it all goes by so fast. But looking at a still of the scene we can see that Dean seems to be trapped in a room that there's probably no escaping from. Strong visual meta, considering the nature of the Mark.
It really wasn't until I spotted this cap (below) that it became clear that bars (and prisons) we've being used to tell the underlying story. It's interesting that of all the scene that could have been selected from The Three Stooges, one featuring a room with bars was chosen.
The establishing shot for the Youth Centre shows long, bar-like windows. Naturally, there are bars on the windows, but I find it particularly cool that the long windows create very large bars.
I love this shot. The composition is beautiful. Claire is made to look very small in this sparse space. The punching bag is the only splash of colour. I love the pattern on the wall created by the windows.. There's not only bars on the windows, but on the walls and the floor. She's surrounded by them. Many of the scenes in the youth centre capture the shadows created by the bars beautifully.
Even the office has subtle bars in them.
This is probably one of my favourite shots in the episode. I adore the way its framed, the use of light and colour, and the window full of bars behind Sam. Very noir-ish.
The bars in hell are very curious. The pattern that appears in the cell is a mess of scattered lines. We never see the source of this light, so I am assuming it's above them. It seems to be an outside light source but I'm not sure how that would work in hell. Either way, it's gorgeous.
Love how the patterned light separates the prisoners.
The stairs in the background add another layer of lines - enhancing the sense of being trapped.
Crowley's window has bars and so does that chair in the background.
Even the costumes feature bar-like patterns. It might suggest that this character is as trapped as the other characters we've seen behind actual bars.
Checked tablecloths are not necessarily an unusual choice for a restuarant, but I think it's a deliberate choice here. They could have had bare tables or used plain tablecloths. Even Castiel a tie had stripes. I wonder if Claire's hair is making a statement also?
This scene doesn't particularly feature obvious "bars", but I had to include it because it's such a great shot. It could be argued that the posts on either side on the room and the wood paneling add to the feeling of the prison that the episode seems to have been making. The front door of this house also feature bar like windows.
We can each read into that what we will. Personally, I think it's a statement about how each character is trapped by circumstances that were initially outside of their control, but during the course of their life's journey they made choice that have brought them to a place of being trapped in some way. Or it might simply create a subtle statement about the lack of freedom many of the characters experience in this episode.