Tonight’s episode begins like a lost reel from The Evil Dead. There’s this fellow and a girl in this cabin in the woods, and she’s feeling frisky and snuggly, but the guy, whom she calls Tommy, is antsy and nervous and keeps looking out the window. Finally he explains that there’s something in the woods that’s coming for them, but just as he’s getting ready for battle, he doubles up, blood starts trickling from his ear, and then Karo syrup erupts from every pore and entry point of his face. When the Winchester brothers hear about this, they’re pretty upset: “Tommy” is none other than Tommy Collins, whom the brothers saved from a Wendigo back in the show’s first season. They realize that Crowley is targeted people they’ve saved in the past, so they rush off to save Jenny Klein, whom they rescued from a witch last year, but they’re too late: They find her horribly charred body in an oven. No time to mourn: Their next stop is Sarah Blake, who helped the brothers defeat an evil painting in the first season, and who also developed one of those poignant, doomed crushes on Sam. How bad did she have it? Put it this way: She tells him she misses his Justin Bieber haircut.
Tommy, Jenny, Sarah: Do these names mean anything to you? Do you have halfway vivid memories of who these people are, memories that you don’t need to refresh by pulling DVDs off the shelf or consulting the show’s Wiki page? If you do, you should probably be writing these things, instead of me. In a sense, “Clip Show” really is a clip show: Each blast from the past is accompanied by a little taste of the episode that’s being referenced. But instead of updating us on characters we might like to see again from series highlights, the choices feel random. The most you can hope for is that the producers at least did enough digging to offer return gigs to actors who have medical procedures or court dates coming up and can use the money.
Other aspects of this episode will seem much more familiar to longtime viewers of the series. Cas checked out of the story some time ago, and last week he came back. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Cas has made a habit of disappearing for long stretches at a time, maybe because the odds seem so much more in the Winchesters’ favor when they have their own avenging angel on a leash week after week, but his services are always required as the season winds down to the final confrontation with the Big Bad. But even though Dean ought to be used to it by now, he can always be counted on to be disappointed in Cas, to feel let down, and to complain bitterly about how he and Sam were left in the lurch. In Ken Burns’ Baseball, there’s a story about someone asking Joe DiMaggio, toward the end of his career, why he still worked as hard as he ever did on the field; surely he had earned the right to coast a little. DiMaggio is supposed to have replied that there might be somebody in the stands that day who’d never seen him play before. Do the makers of Supernatural worry that there might be someone tuning in who’s never seen Jensen Ackles act pissy to a humbled, near-catatonic Misha Collins, and that they have to do that scene one more time, just for the newcomers who’ve never had the thrill before?
The other things that Supernatural continues to do, like gangbusters, is set up situations it doesn’t know how to follow through on, and be totally random about the supposed rules that govern its universe and the extent of the characters’ powers, things that, after a while, begin to seriously impair both the show’s ability to generate suspense and the viewers’ ability to give a rat’s ass. Last week, Sam learned that the third trial he has to perform is to “cure a demon.” (Cas has the best line of the night when Sam tells him he has to cure a demon, and Cas, quite sensibly, replies, “Of what?”) Rooting around in the nether depths of the Men of Letters’ clubhouse, Sam and Dean find a room with a demon trap on the floor, chains attached to the walls, and a reel of film. It’s old footage of an exorcism, and Abaddon, the red-haired super-demon (or the red-haired woman whose body Abaddon took possession of) is in attendance. Sam takes one look at the set-up and moos, “Hey, those chains look exactly like the ones in our dungeon!” There’s the other thing that this show continues to do: establish, again and again and seemingly unintentionally, that Sam is an idiot.
The boys track down the young priest who appeared in the film, and he’s now Donnelly Rhodes, working his eyebrows like pistons and giving a real “Let me know when the rehearsal’s over and the camera is on for real” performance. Father Rhodes explains that his senior partner in the exorcism found a way to “cure” demons, i.e., to make them feel bad about their crimes, like Angel on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, so they could make it into Heaven. The boys get the formula—“Now,” says Sam the idiot, without a hint of sarcasm, “all we need is the blood, consecrated ground, and a demon.” So the Winchesters, who ordinarily would be able to walk into the nearest deli and find some half-pint minor demon manning the salami slicer as his day job, decide to dig up the incredibly scary and sadistic mega-demon Abaddon, whom they just beheaded, segmented, and stored away a few months ago, and reassemble her so they can “cure” her.
They get her reassembled, but then she escapes their clutches while they’re taking a very important phone call from Crowley, who wants to brief them on his evil plan. He intends to kill one of their saves every several hours until they give him what they want; this will render their life’s work meaningless, despite the fact that, in addition to saving the occasional individual, the Winchesters have also saved the entire human race from extinction three or four times by now. In any case, when freed, Abaddon decides to take it on the lam instead of killing them, and they’re in too great a hurry to make it to Sarah Blake to worry about her.
The Winchesters lock Sarah up in a room and crawl demon-repellant symbols everywhere, and she feels so safe in their care that she relaxes and talks with Sam about the good old days, even throwing in that doozy about his hair. But then the clock strikes the hour and she keels over dead anyway. The best thing about this scene is that it reminded me of the first great Batman comic I ever read, in which the Joker demands that a clerk at the patent office give him a copyright on fish—it’s a long story—and when he refuses, threatens to kill him at midnight. Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and a phalanx of cops babysit the clerk, but at midnight, the Joker starts pumping gas through a vent, and the clerk drops dead. Commissioner Gordon can’t figure out how the gas killed the one man and left everyone else standing, but Batman only needs a panel to figure it out: At their previous meeting, the Joker must have sprayed the man with some chemical that reacted with the gas that came through the vent. The writers of Supernatural had considerably longer than a panel to work on this episode, and still, the best twist they could come up with was to have Crowley announce, ha ha, you thought you could keep your friend safe if you demon-proofed her home, but I just killed her using witchcraft instead.
There’s one more episode to come before this season calls it quits, and there sure are a lot of loose ends flapping in the breeze. Rather than make any move toward tying any of them up, this episode actually threw even more lines in the water: Besides Crowley’s hit list and the still-to-be-completed third trial, Abaddon is on the loose, and Cas and Metatron have inexplicably been given their own additional subplot: Instead of waiting patiently around the clubhouse for the chance to clear up several unresolved issues with a snap of the fingers, they’re running around trying to cut the heart out of waitress who is the sole living product of a union between a human being and an angel—“an abomination,” Metatron calls her, whose sacrifice will somehow lead to the archangels getting a much-needed timeout. With any luck, this mess will all be resolved next week in a thrillingly fast-paced, carefully thought-out, well-executed finale that will play fair and be true to its own internal logic, and I won’t still be too grumpy about this pointless mishmash to enjoy it.