I enjoyed this episode more than I expected to, based on the commercials I'd seen, which, unless I hallucinated them, included Sam-in-the-funny-farm stuff that wasn't present in the episode itself. Maybe this is a brilliant strategy on The CW's part, and fans of Hart Of Dixie and 90210, if such beings do exist, can anticipate seeing commercials designed to look so awful that they make the latest actual episodes of these shows look much, much better. (This doesn't help me understand what's going on over on One Tree Hill, a show that I have never seen, but that I've always assumed to be some goopy young adult family-values soap. The recent commercials for it make it look as if the leads have taken up vampire-hunting.) Make no mistake—this was a shabby, slipshod, half-assed excuse for an episode, a carelessly thrown-together, sloppily executed collection of contrivances, forced connections, and spare parts, all for the sake of a piece of the Leviathan conspiracy story that didn't do much for me and a final surprise that I could see coming from a mile away. A few of the spare parts were entertaining, though, and nothing even slows Jensen Ackles down. It was a long way from the worst time I've had while wasting an hour of my life this week. Let's see if they put that on the DVD case.
At first, this seems to be their Black Swan-inspired ballet-horror episode, with a scene in which a woman puts on a pair of ballet slippers and dances herself to death, The Red Shoes-style. (Except that The Red Shoes doesn't end with the dancer and her feet on different sides of the room.) This seems to be confirmed when Dean, reacting to the news about the mysterious death, says that he saw Black Swan, twice, a line that stands out partly because you can practically hear the show hissing under its breath, through gritted teeth, “No, of course we're not ripping it off! We wouldn't very well mention it by name if we were ripping it off, would we!?” Sam and Dean follow the news to Portland, where I was hoping they'd go hook up with Mayor Kyle MacLachlan for brunch. In my dreams. Instead, they go the police station so they can check out the slippers, which they have pegged, sight unseen, as a “cursed item.” They arrive just in time to rescue a cop's little girl, who is hanging out in the evidence room and has just put on the killer slippers. I thought they were then going to dig deeper into the mystery of why the cops who work in the evidence room have a bring-your-daughter-to-work day, but I guess they decided that wasn't their department.
The problem isn't just the slippers, it turns out. A wimp named Scott has just buried his mom, whose store included a bunch of cursed objects that she was keeping out of harm's way in her vault, and Scott has freed and sold off these items with unseemly haste. There was a good, tricky scene involving a woman who is impelled to drink boiling water out of her evil teapot, and an embarrassing sequence in which Sam shows up in the nick of time to prevent a woman from being murdered by her little boy, who has been turned temporary psycho by the Mansonoid whispering coming out of their newly acquired collectible gramophone. At one point, someone asks Sam to identify himself, and he says his name is Bruce Hornsby. He must have felt that the case wasn't worth the waste of a cool pseudonym.
The case involves a real-estate shark who's really a Leviathan and her smarmy, unscary Leviathan assistant. The scary one is played by Mary Page Keller, who used to be a winsome twinkler on Duet, the soft-focus romantic comedy that was intended to be the change-of-pace show on Fox's original schedule back in 1987. Somebody must have decided that she was winsome in too soft-focus a way for the brash young network, because after awhile, one of the supporting players, Alison LaPlaca, was promoted to the show's lead, and the whole thing morphed into a different show with some of the same characters, Open House. I enjoyed seeing Keller again, especially since she's blossomed into someone capable of doing full justice to a monster role in bitch-MILF mode. She looks as if she's enjoying terrorizing people, smiling insincerely, threatening her assistant and assorted human beings with death, and even getting her head lopped off with a sword, none of which she ever got to do on Duet, unless I missed a very special episode. Somebody needs to write a role on a camp prime-time soap for this woman, ideally one that's more fun than GCB.
You may wonder about who Scott's mom was, how she came to be standing watch over a safe full of magical, murderous objects, and how the Leviathans knew about them and what they had to do with setting them loose on the population. I know I was wondering these things, but if the writers were curious about any of them, they decided that it would be rude to pry. The objects are just there, because they're needed to get the Winchesters to come to Portland so they can discover the Leviathans and investigate their evil schemes, which don't seem to have anything to do with the objects. They did bump off Scott's mom, but that's just so they could get their hands on her store. In the course of the episode, they bump off someone else so they can get their hands on his store. Their whole mission seems to just be, as Dean puts it, “Wal-Marting mom and pop stores,” which will strike some NPR listeners as about the most evil thing they could be doing just by itself. However, Mary Page Keller's assistant assures the Winchesters that murdering people isn't necessarily part of their standard operating procedure—that was just Mary Page Keller's thing, because she was so “impatient.” As for what the assistant says they're really up to, I'm just going to withhold judgment for now, because I have to believe that the writers think they're going somewhere with this. I'm dying to find out what that might. But I will note that the Winchesters seem ready to give the assistant the benefit of the doubt, which makes me wonder what show they've been watching the past few months.
The sequence that really sums this episode up comes before the big violent showdown. Mary Page Keller sends the assistant out for coffee, and she lectures him for what seems like five minutes about how she likes her coffee and what terrible fate has befallen her assistants in the past when they've failed to bring her coffee that is to her satisfaction. This leads to a scene at the coffee stand, where the assistant and the guy selling him coffee have a lengthy exchange about getting the order right. Meanwhile, Sam is on the road, talking to Dean on his phone, and the show really takes a hammer upside the viewer's head to make sure we get the point that Sam is sleepy, he's tired, he hasn't slept in a while, it's torture, and boy, if he doesn't do something about it, he's gonna zone out and drift into oncoming traffic. So Sam stops for coffee at the same stand as the assistant, who recognizes him and contacts his boss. When a show is confident that it has you in the palm of its hand, that you're hanging on its every word and can't wait to find out what's going to happen next, it knows that it can get away with some little contrivance to get the characters where you need them to be for the next act. It's only when nobody working on a show really has faith that the story they're telling is working for anybody that the writers panic and think, man, we had better take as much time as we need to really justify the hell out of the idea that Sam and the assistant dude would both need to get coffee!
- Dean isn't surprised to hear about the death of the ballerina, since he knows from seeing Black Swan that such people are “toe shoes full of crazy.” After the Winchesters have collared the slippers, the vile things try to seduce Dean, so that, he says, “I'm getting the strong urge to Prince Siegfried myself into oblivion.” Maybe they should have just done a whole ballet-horror episode.