A good villain goes a long way. The third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is widely considered one of the show’s best, and there are a number of reasons why, but one of the most memorable is that season’s Big Bad, the Mayor. He was effective because he was distinctive and entertaining to watch; the show had already had some terrific bad guys before his appearance, but the Mayor stands out, because he’s not angst-driven evil, or blatantly malevolent, or even the snide, sarcastic psychosis that defined, say, Spike in his early years. The Mayor was chipper, friendly, deeply square, and good at his job. He was also a murdering, vicious monster, and the contrast between his surface behavior, and his intentions, made him tremendously fun to watch. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that Dick Roman, the billionaire currently serving as meat tent for head of the Leviathan, is quite up to the Mayor’s standards, but after “How To Win Friends And Influence Monsters,” I’d say he’s pretty close. Same ball-park, at least, and that’s good news indeed for a show that needs as much focus as it can get these days.
After mostly dodging the Leviathan issue for the past few weeks, “How To Win” re-embraced the season’s main villain, after a twenty minute opening that did a good job of throwing off the scent. Sam, Dean, and Bobby are living off the grid, taking cold showers and holding up in abandoned houses to avoid getting tracked. But they’re still hunters, and they’re still working cases, so when campers start turning up eaten alive in the Pine Barrens, our boys are on the case. Eventually, we learn that the “monsters” here are ordinary people who’ve been turned hyper-cannibalistic after getting drugged by a Leviathan scientist trying to drug the population (via turducken sandwiches) into complacency, but to its credit, the episode doesn’t show its hand till at least a full act into the episode. I wasn’t hugely surprised when the real answer became clear, but I don’t think I exactly saw it coming, either. More like, this was an episode about people getting eaten, and I knew the Leviathan were totally into that, so, hey, why not connect the two?
“How To Win” is well-paced, with a lot of great dialog and a minimum of angst, although we do get some of that. One of the show’s longest running (and not entirely funny) gags is the way the leads are constantly talking about how wimpy or silly it is to discuss feelings, and yet, when they have some downtime between spraying bad guys with chemical solvents, it seems like they’re capable of doing nothing but overshare. So we get the usual chats, although thankfully, this time it’s between Sam and Bobby, and Dean and Bobby. Jim Beaver’s inherent dignity and grouchiness tends to give these conversations more weight than they deserve, and his attempts to figure out what’s going on with Sam (short answer: he’s crazy, but he appreciates knowing exactly how he’s crazy) and Dean (short answer: he may be passively suicidal?) work well enough. They also set up a cliffhanger ending, in which Bobby gets shot while they’re escaping the bad guys’ clutches. I honestly don’t know if the character will live or die when the show comes back in two weeks; even more confusing, I’m not sure whether I want him to live or not. I mean, sure, as a fan, Bobby’s a terrific character, and the show would suffer without him around, but at the same time, it would be a strong narrative choice that would put the Winchesters even more on the run from an enemy that seems to have them hopelessly overmatched.
We’ll just have to wait and see, I guess. Thankfully, after the past couple weeks, I have a bit more faith in the waiting and seeing part, because the show seems to have gotten back on the right course. Whatever my problems with Dean and his stabbing-tendencies, the biggest problem was always the way the death of Amy threatened to once again send us down the rabbit hole of brother recrimination and general pissiness, a hole the series has spent more than enough time in over the years. Now that Sam has accepted what’s happened, things seem a bit more mellow, even if neither Winchester is on exactly what you’d call an even keel. I’m willing to accept putting Amy down as yet another in a long line of morally questionable killings in an irritatingly black and white world if it means we can cut down on the break-up threats.
Because when you cut down on the break-up threats, there’s more room for other, far more fun stuff. Like the fact that Dean eats one of the Biggerson’s poisoned sandwiches, and spends much of the first half of the episode stoned out of his gourd. Or getting to see Bobby acting like an actual hunter-hunter during the brief sojurn into the woods when we’re still thinking this is all going to be the work of the Jersey Devil. (Or else the Russian that Paulie and Christopher failed to successfully execute, way back when.) Or, like I said at the beginning, good ole Dick Roman. It’s not enough that the show manages to work in seemingly hundreds of dick puns whenever the character’s name comes up (and they’re all done with a subtlety that almost seems like restraint; nobody’s underlining anything, it’s just assumed that we’re all fifth graders at heart, and we’ll catch gags like “The Rise Of Dick”). Dick himself is exactly the kind of threat the show could use right now, up-beat, to the point, and very, very smart. Admittedly, nearly every bad guy on Supernatural is defined to at least some extent by a willingness to apply sarcasm in threat form, but Dick is just different enough to stand out. All in all, this was a fast moving, suspenseful, and frequently hilarious hour of television, and at one point, the guy who looked like a Just For Men hair model had to eat himself. Not a bad way to end a week.
- Big thanks to Phil for covering for me last week!
- Hm. Dean’s still hitting the sauce pretty hard. I wonder what’s got him so bent out of shape. It’s not like it’s the end of the world or anything.
- “Sounds kinda mixed up.” “Yeah, kinda like it should be fighting a Japanese robot.”
- “That didn’t really make sense, what you said.”
- “You don’t shoot Bambi, jack-ass. You shoot Bambi’s mother.”
- “You’re bibbing me?”