Supernatural: “The Mentalists”
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Supernatural: “The Mentalists”

Well, those of you who were hoping the show would return to its monster-of-the-week episodes, I hope you're enjoying this. Which sounds a little accusatory, actually, and that's not fair; I was hoping for some prepocedural style storytelling myself, a return to the smaller scope that defined the first few sealskins of the show. It looks like Supernatural has seen fit to grant our wish, as the past few weeks have largely (or, as in the cast of tonight's episode, entirely) put the Leviathan threat on the back-burner. Given that the best episode of the season is still the second, the one where the Leviathan really came into its own, and the show seemed poised on the edge of a new intensity, I can't help but be a little disappointed in the shift, but I'm not surprised. This has always been the way Supernatural does business, and it makes sense. I doubt the show could've sustained the Leviathan threat if it remained focused on that exclusively, and besides, the writers are capable of fun, scary stand-alones. There's no real reason not to split time between the two, and while “The Mentalists” isn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination, it hit the numbers, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Except, well--I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but each new episode starts with a “Then” segment, setting us up with clips from past episodes. (Clips which occasionally spoil what’s about to happen in a new episode, but never mind that right now.) And each time we’ve had a “Then” in the past month or so, feels like, we’ve seen a clip of Amy getting killed. Just in case you’d forgotten. It’s made it harder and harder for me to like Dean every passing week, and “Mentalist” decided to double down on this approach by have the Winchesters confront their issues head on. (Again.) Dean tells Sam he doesn’t have any regrets about what he did to Amy, and Sam is, apparently, okay with this. He tells Dean he was “right,” and by the end of the hour, they’re buds again, with Sam throwing his stuff back in the trunk of Dan’s (stolen) car. I’m having a hard time dealing with this, and I’m not sure how bothered I should be by it all. Because yeah, I was saying just the other week that the best thing for the show to do, having made the dumbass mistake of the Amy murder, was just to get the drama over it done with as soon as possible. Even if it stretches credibility, let’s just pretend the whole thing didn’t happen; if Sam has to find out, find, have him find out, and then have him shrug and move on.

That’s basically what happened tonight, and as it turns out, I’m not really comfortable with it. It’s getting harder and harder for me to like Dean, and that’s a problem. Plenty of the shows I love have difficult to like protagonists (in some ways, that’s one of the hallmarks of the modern drama; a bastard who’s just fascinating enough that you don’t so much mind he’s a bastard), but Supernatural can’t really manage that. A big part of the appeal of the series is that the Winchesters are charismatic, appealing leads, and if you turn one of them into an asshole, that’s a problem. But what really worries me here is that I’m not convinced the show realizes it’s a problem. I’d been assuming that the writers were at least aware that Amy’s death was off the reservation, that it represented a line-crossing that would have to be dealt with in some fashion. Dean’s been drinking too much and acting guilty, which was proof that this wasn’t just another monster kill, to be joked about and walked away from. But going by tonight’s episode, he isn’t guilty that he killed a mother protecting her child; he’s guilty that he had to lie to Sam about it. If this is the show’s actual position, if this is the narrative we’re supposed to accept, I’m not sure I can go along with that. I can accept the constant deaths of supporting characters, the way Dean is constantly throwing “bitch” out (four times tonight!), the parade of generic CW hotties doing duty as this week’s victim/love-interest/someone to be horribly killed. But this may be too far for me.

Apart from that, “Mentalists” was an average motw programmer, full of stuff that’s been with the show from the beginning. We have the cruelly ironic deaths. (Which seem to end after the spoon-bender gets a chest full of silverware; from then on, evil Margaret stops going for the creative and focuses on choking the rest of her victims.) We have the ghost who makes the room get cold, and we have bone-burning, including a standard fake-out with a ghost we think is the villain, but really isn’t. We have (sigh) the pretty-in-a-forgettable way heroine, who takes comfort in Dean’s arms after her friend is killed, and doesn’t quite qualify as a love interest, but nearly. We even have the referential fake FBI agent names. If you dig Supernatural, you probably weren’t going to hate this, but it’s not going to rock anyone’s world, either. Even the twist seemed perfunctory. The ghost and the living guy who was using her to kill mediums to help his career were both actual psychics in a town full of fakes, and they were pissed off because they’d been passed aside for their gifts, while more attractive, charismatic people got all the glory. So, remember folks, ugly people will turn on you the moment they get a chance, because they are bitter. Also, unattractive.

It wasn’t terrible, just basically average, a throwback to remind us that hey, maybe there’s a reason it was a good thing when the show stopped doing so many episodes like this. But the stuff between Dean and Sam really got to me. It’s frustrating when a show’s moral compass shifts in a way you can’t follow, especially a show that I’ve been watching for years. I want to still believe this all remains up in the air, that despite Sam’s sudden change of heart, the Amy Incident will continue to loom over Dean’s head, and that somewhere down the road, it will come back; that there’s a plan at work here, and I just need to trust the show to follow through. But man, it’s harder and harder for me to believe that. (I'm still keeping my fingers crossed, though. If next week does something with all this, I'll be delighted.) I don’t want to sound like a humorless scold, and I cop to taking my fiction maybe a wee bit more seriously than it deserves, but this bummed me out. Dean’s hyper-masculinity has always been one of the series’ best jokes, and one that Jensen Ackles has done a great job living up to. It’s getting harder to laugh lately, though.

Stray observations:

  • For those of you who complained about the convenience of last week’s episode, someone does recognize the Winchesters from the news this week. So at least they acknowledged that would probably happen.
  • “See, there’s fake whoo whoo crap, and then there’s real whoo whoo crap.”
  • “How many crystal balls do you think there are in Lily Dale?” “Somewhere between fifty and all of them.”

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