Supernatural: “Heartache"
B+

Supernatural: “Heartache"

B+

Supernatural

“Heartache"

Season 8, Episode 3

This episode was directed by Jensen Ackles, and the action and pacing have a snap to them that have largely been absent from the other episodes so far this season. So clearly, it’s a good thing to have someone behind the camera who has a personal stake in just how ridiculous the people in front of the camera end up looking. It also helps that this is a straightforward monster-of-the-week episode, with a monster whose back-story and modus operandi might have intrigued Darren McGavin on the old Night Stalker series. So long as I’m the one making that comparison, it’s a compliment.

The action begins with a fit-looking young man out jogging at night. He is overtaken by an older, much flabbier man who, to add injury to insult, sticks his hand in the fellow’s chest and rips his heart out “like a peach pit.” There have been other reports of people getting parts torn out of them by strangers, and Dean thinks the murders may be supernatural in origin and tells Sam they ought to look into it. Sam balks at this, because the brothers are still supposed to be looking for Kevin, the runaway Prophet of the Lord. But Dean reminds him that they’re always engaged in some kind of grand, ongoing quest, and they’ve traditionally taken time out from those quests to have these standalone adventures, when the need for them has presented itself. If some nut out there thinks it’s just fine to be extracting people’s hearts with his bare hands on the jogging path, that’s not right, and Sam and Dean have a responsibility as hunters to do something about it. The search for Kevin will just have to wait.

Later in the episode, after Dean has found college application information on Sam’s laptop, Sam will talk about how he “took the year off” while Dean was in Purgatory, saying that that he enjoyed it, and when this Prophet Kevin business is cleared up, he plans to hang up his hunting shoes and return to it. Once again, there are flashbacks to the normal life Sam was getting such a kick out of, complete with images of the woman who was such an important part of it, and once again, the flashbacks are so brief and elliptical that the show seems to be signaling that what really happened is more complicated than Sam has been letting on and that he’s keeping something to himself—which is easy to believe, given that we’re three weeks into the new season and he hasn’t really told Dean jack squat.

I’m more concerned about this selective long-term memory problem he’s developed, which Dean is either too embarrassed or too shaky himself to call him on. Sam tells Dean that he finally had the chance to taste “what I never had, a normal life. I got to find out what that feels like.” Remember when this show was brand-new, and the whole starting point for Sam’s character was that he had turned his back on his father’s way of life and had carved out a normal life for himself, complete with a girlfriend and a college career? Presumably, he got a decent taste of normal life while he was getting far enough along in his studies at Stanford to be applying to law school. But either he’s forgotten, or whatever he experienced with the mystery woman and the dog made his previous knowledge of “normal life” seem unworthy even of the name. That must be some dog.

The evil at the heart of the chain of murders turns out to be that familiar mainstay of horror fiction, organ donation. All the murders have been committed by people who received transplants thanks to the beneficence and untimely death of… wait for it… Brick Holmes. Brick Holmes, says Sam, in the tone of a devoted fan. I was hoping for some clips from the porn movies someone with a name like that must have made in the ‘80s, but it turns out that Brick Holmes was actually a famous football player who died in a car accident. Or, as the twentysomething Brick’s aged wife Eleanor reveals, “His Mayan name was Inyo.” Yes, Brick was actually a thousand-year-old Mayan who cut a deal with Cacao, the god of maize, for eternal youth in exchange for a steady diet of human sacrifice.

A warrior-athlete, Inyo kept himself busy throughout the centuries by remaking himself, every few years, as a practitioner of a different sport, with a different name but the same face. At some point, he met Eleanor, and the two of them fell in love, and this led to his downfall; as she began to age, he forsook his immortality rather than face life without her. It’s not clear why he didn’t start offering sacrifices to Cacao in Eleanor’s name, so they could remain eternally young together, but maybe the prospect of living in a world where Tyler Perry can play a brilliant psychological detective chasing Matthew Fox as a cunning serial killer was enough to push him over the edge. The important thing is that a stripper named Randa (Kyra Zagorksy) who received Brick’s heart is now calling the shots and needs to be taken out if the murders are the end. Also that Dean gets to deliver the line, “Brick Holmes a heart eater. Who knew?”

It’s lines like that, in response to a set-up like this, that earn Supernatural its share of love. If the love doesn’t always flow steadily, you can see why in a scene like the Winchesters’ discovery of the room in which Brick stored the mementos of his different identities. It should be awesome—a panic-room crypt devoted to one man’s memories of the physical triumphs of his golden youth, extended all the way back to the dawn of civilization—but instead of being designed to seem surreal and eerie, it just looks like a rec room full of neatly arranged junk. (Sam first takes it for a collection of antique athletic equipment, and it doesn’t even look like that.) But the spirit of Supernatural at its best is still present in the casting of Patty McCormack as Eleanor. Horror nuts remember McCormack for having played one of the first psycho-killer children in movies, in the 1956 The Bad Seed. She’s 67 now, and if anything, she looks younger, but her speech about growing older and having to pass for her eternally youthful husband’s mother has an impact that derives partly from the fact that, in some corner of movie history, Patty McCormack will always be 10 years old.

Stray observations:

  • Jensen Ackles' father Alan, who appeared as a TV newscaster in the last episode his boy directed, actually gets to play a scene with him in this one. Which is nice, too.

More TV Club