There are rules, you know. It's one of the reasons that Sam and Dean Winchester can do what they do, one of the reasons why they aren't both dead in a ditch somewhere, torn to shreds by an anonymous, unkillable monster. The forces of darkness and magic are chaotic influences on the real world, but they also have inherent limitations, and that means there are rules, and that means you can stop the bad guys. Eventually. One of the things that's slowly been developing on Supernatural is a concept that was a big part of what made Angel and Buffy so cool: that the rules also mean that we can live alongside some witches and warlocks and what have you. That not every magic user has to wind up burned at the stake. In order to stay interesting and develop, the show has had to change it's initially black-and-white approach to demon hunting to something suspiciously resembling gray, and that's a good thing.
"The Curious Case Of Dean Winchester" starts like any other episode, with a victim dying horribly, and Sam and Dean arriving to investigate. Here, it's a 25 year old who drops dead of apparent old age. When the brothers investigate, they also find a former senior citizen de-aged to his studding years, tangled in a three-way at the local brothel. (Well, he was paying for one of the girls, anyway.) There's a "man-witch" named Patrick who's been running a very special kind of poker game, one where you play for years, not money. And not everyone wins.
Straight-forward enough, right? Bobby shows up, gets sucked into a game because of his feelings of inadequacy over not being able to walk, and he loses 25 years. Dean, believing himself to be a bad-ass poker player, tries to step in, and while he manages to get Bobby back his time, he ends up losing his own, for a combined total of half a century dumped on his shoulders at once. (By the way, considering he's 30 in "young" mode, the guy ages remarkably well.) Interestingly, old Dean isn't Jensen Ackles in age make-up, but an actual different actor, Chad Everett. It works, as Everett gets Dean's mannerisms nicely, and the switch is actually pretty funny. The old age jokes are predictable, but well-done, and the pay-off, that Dean's brush with mortality makes it easier for him to understand Bobby's frustration, is worth it.
At this point, you'd expect Sam and Dean, with Bobby's help, to find some way to take Patrick down and restore order to the world. The problem is, Patrick hasn't really done anything wrong. He doesn't lie to people about the nature of the game, he doesn't cheat, and we even find out he's got a soft spot for the elderly, folding winning hands to make sure they go home happy. He's got a hot girlfriend, Lia (man, all the good-looking women on this show look exactly the same somehow), but she's not held in his power or tricked. In fact, when Sam and Dean break into Patrick's apartment to try and steal his poker chips, Patrick is actually lenient on them, giving Sam the clap and Dean, well, nothing.
What I liked about "Curious Case" is that it never backed down from making Patrick a not-bad guy. When Lia gives Dean and Bobby a reversal spell, I figured, okay, that's how this was going to play out; they'd manage to pull something off last minute reversal, and the episode would climax with Patrick getting his own ugly make-up treatment. But it didn't go that way at all. First Pat sees through Sam's attempts to distract him while Bobby and Dean are at work, and then Sam manages to win the big poker hand, restoring Dean to his youth. (This wasn't the world's most original sequence, but it worked on me, anyway. I dunno, it's just very satisfying to see Sam kick some ass, although, like he tells Bobby later, it was really just a matter of luck.)
Once Dean is back to normal, he and Sam leave Patrick alone. Patrick doesn't get a comeuppance, because he doesn't deserve one, but he is punished. Lia plays a game against him (again with the rules; it's never explicitly stated, but I'd assume Patrick has to play anyone who wants to play), and she loses, because she wants to. She's been with him for a while, and she misses her family. Much like Sam's win, and like Dean reminding Bobby that he owes it to the boys to stick around, this isn't exactly deep, but it's heartfelt, and not something I expected to see on the show. I appreciate this sort of texture in genre shows. Patrick lives to fight another day, and our heroes don't seem too broke up about it. They aren't out to exterminate magic in the world, just make sure things don't get out of hand. As a lifelong fan of magic, I can't help but approve.
- "It's like Grumpy Old Men." "Shut up!"
- While Sam's big win is sort of a fluke (beating trip aces with four of a kind isn't something you can control), the fact that he stayed in the game so long shows he's not an idiot. He even manages to successfully bluff Patrick.
- "It's like 'Mission: Pathetic.'"