When I first heard about the plot gimmick for this week's episode—Sam and Dean combat a demon that's only visible to the drunken eye—I was hoping for something like the Supernatural equivalent of the Jackie Chan movie Drunken Master II, in which Jackie plays a hero whose fighting ability improves when he's at least half in the bag, so that when he takes on half of Hong Kong, he has to keep refueling even as his movements simultaneously become both wilder and more deadly. The Winchesters on a drunken monster hunt—it sounded promising, in an all-out slapstick-horror way. What can I say? If what I was fantasizing about was the promising way to go with this premise, and Supernatural, in its infinite wisdom, chose to do this with it instead, maybe I ought to just make my own show and leave these good people out of it.
The episode marks the return of D J Qualls as Garth, who we met last November, in the episode about Sam marrying his fan-fiction stalker. The idea behind the character—who uses the names of black music legends as aliases and favors new jack swing in his car's music system instead of the Winchesters' allegiance to classic rock—is that he's a gawky little guy who lacks social skills and muscle tone, but to the brothers' eternal astonishment, he gets the job done. It's not a bad joke, and I seem to remember thinking it worked okay in the wedding episode. Maybe it's run its course, or maybe it's just slipped its moorings, the way Kramer on Seinfeld gradually mutated from someone whose odd yet effective behavior had an underlying logic to it that was based on his indifference to things like hypocrisy and social convention into someone who, week after week, was simply going to do the weirdest thing the writers could think up for him to do.
All I know is that when Garth, in that earlier episode, dropped his mask while questioning someone and was frank about what he and Dean were looking for, and it worked, it was both funny and a taste of a character whose working methods might be different from Dean's, and might even be incomprehensible to him, but that were based on a set of instincts that were just as solid. Here, when Dean takes Garth along with him to talk to a little girl who's in shock after seeing her mother eviscerated before her eyes, and Garth pulls out a sock puppet and starts talking in a voice that's as irritating as anything this side of Roger Rabbit, it's not funny and it doesn't make much sense. Once again, Garth's instincts are meant to pay off—at the urging of "Mister Fizzle," the little girl opens up and starts singing like a canary. But I don't buy it. It just seems like an excuse to weird Dean out by having an illogical, failed sick joke turn out to be, in Garth's hands, a valid child therapy technique. (The scene feels that much off because of the editing, which cuts to a close-up of Mister Fizzle whenever he has a line. We never see Qualls and the puppet in the same shot when the puppet is "speaking," and it's jarring. It makes one wonder if D J Qualls has a special contract in his clause stipulating that a stunt man has to step in and do his funny voices for him.)
The story involves a company that makes Thighslapper Ale—a product that Dean proclaims a drink for douchebags, apparently just on the basis of the name, and the fact that Dean eventually samples the product and proclaims it first rate doesn't really knock any holes in his argument. People in the vicinity of the plant are getting shredded, and Garth, who's on the case and thinks he understands what's going on, calls in the Winchesters to back his play after he gets a look at the latest dead body and decides that it looks "less evil spirits, more monster chow." Garth and the brothers trail the problem to the ale company, whose founders had recently shafted their partner, who subsequently killed himself. Before he died, though, he sicced a demon on them—the aforementioned viewable-only-when-plowed demon, a shojo, which Dean labels a "Japanese booze monster."
So there is an Asian influence on this episode after all, only it's Japanese horror instead of Hong Kong action. This, for my money, is the last straw and the final, crushing disappointment. Not that I have anything against Japanese horror flicks, but it's depressing to see how Supernatural has been reduced to skimming the most obvious elements of other people's recent genre hits and trotting them out again without demonstrating any special emotional connection to them or doing anything very original with them. At the exact same time that Fringe was going crazy old-school in an ambitious way, with a big, hulking monster with quills and wings and a Bigfoot growl, Supernatural's shinto is the same glowering wraith with long, stringy tresses that we all remember from Ringu and The Grudge. The first couple of times I saw this figure in a movie, it creeped me out, but now, it just makes me want to yell, "Wash your hair!"
Supernatural doesn't borrow the image to parody it or make any comment on it; It just assumes that the audience will accept that, like George Romero's lumbering, flesh-eating zombies, it's such a genre standard that it's now in the public domain. (The days when no movie studio but Universal could imitate the makeup for the James Whale-Boris Karloff Frankenstein monster, even though that was what every monster movie lover knew Frankenstein's monster was supposed to look like, feel like eons ago.) I wouldn't go on about it, except that, here, the demon's secondhand appearance feels like an inadvertent acknowledgement of how tired everything about the episode feels, and maybe how tired the show itself is getting. It doesn't help that Sam, early on, specifically references The Ring when talking about having been cured of his madness by passing it on to Cass. It's a face-saving speech, of the "We wouldn't go out of our way to mention this thing we're ripping off if we were actually ripping it off, so we must be paying it homage" variety.
The final disappointment comes when Dean doesn't get drunk for his big encounter with the shojo. It's explained that he's such a boozehound that getting drunk might be too much of a project for him, but the upshot is that we're robbed of the chance to see Jensen Ackles, the best physical comedian (as well as the best everything else) in the cast, making the most of what remains a pretty good slapstick premise. Instead, it's Sam who gets plastered, with the result that he becomes comically inarticulate, despite the fact that Jared Padalecki talks somewhat better than he moves. Dean, meanwhile, has determined that the shojo can only be killed with "a samurai sword consecrated with a Shinto blessing," so, during the commercial break, he finds a samurai sword, and then has the blessing done in an alley behind a Japanese restaurant by one of the chefs. (Carl Kolchak used to cut corners like this, but we had to cut our monster hunters some slack back in the pre-Internet age.)
Armed with his magic sword, Dean, who's sober enough to swing his weapon but can't see the monster, dispatches it thanks to the direction given to him by Dean, who's drunk enough to see the target. It's a decent idea in theory, though in practice, it looks like a reward challenge on Survivor. At one point in the fight, we get to see the real reason that the show doesn't want Dean to get drunk. It's so that he's sure of what he's seeing when he loses his sword and it comes sliding across the floor right back to him, which Dean takes as evidence that Bobby's ghost is there and looking out for him. This is confirmed at the end when we actually get to see Bobby, looking forlorn because his boys can't see him and keep convincing themselves that he really isn't there after all. It really puts a lump in your throat to see him standing there, and to know that thanks to the durable bonds of loyalty and unconditional love, Jim Beaver is continuing to get paid. This no doubt explains why it's with this otherwise negligible episode that Supernatural takes its leave of us for a three-week vacation before it barrels to this season's finish line. It kind of needs the break. I know I do.