As this season of Supernatural is winding down, now is as good a time as any to take a moment to salute James Patrick Stuart for his solid work as the Big Bad, Richard “Dick” Roman. Stuart is one of those blandly handsome actors you feel as if you’ve seen a hundred times without ever learning his name or being able to quite remember what you’ve seen him in, but you feel that he could play a sitcom dad or a crime-show psychopath with pretty much the same assortment of understated mannerisms and wry expressions. This is what makes him a witty choice to play a monster who’s also a corporate CEO who is not only hard at work engineering the end of the human race, but using the media to spin it as well. Stuart’s most conspicuous role before now was probably on Andy Richter Controls The Universe, where his smooth manner and good looks were used as a joke. His character slid through life without any sign of friction or difficulty; he could get anything he wanted from anybody just by smiling at them. The character of Dick Roman is basically a twist on the same joke. Charming to anyone who doesn’t know him and terrifying to those who do, he can always get his way just by asking for it, one way or another. You have to think that the only reason he’s had to come up with his ambitious plan to render every human being docile and sheeplike through the food additives his company makes is that he can’t be everywhere at the same time.
This episode gets off to a promising start, with Roman first using a TV interview to talk about all the wonderful things that SucroCORP is doing to “keep Americans living longer and tasting better,” then retiring to his boardroom lair to terrorize Kevin, the captive reader of the ancient texts. (Good cop and bad cop in one, Roman takes a two-fold approach in winning Kevin’s heart and mind. He tells him that, if he’ll help him, he’ll use his connections to make sure he gets into Princeton, and also that he won’t tell the people holding Kevin’s mom hostage to cut her throat.) Just when a viewer might be starting to think that there might be a pretty good episode to be gotten from the “A Day In The Life Of Dick Roman” approach, the action cuts to Sam and Dean, holed up in one more motel room, doing their feeble best to figure out what to do next.
One of their biggest problems is Bobby, who has also turned into one of the show's big problems. Last week, it was explained that Bobby wasn’t visible or audible because he was too tired after his strenuous exertions of the week before, which is one way of getting around having to think of something for the ghost to do. This week, a suitably refreshed Bobby announces his presence by materializing being Dean in the bathroom, which sure does raise some awkward possibilities. More awkwardly yet, even though Bobby isn’t always visible to Sam and Dean, they never seem to pass up an opportunity to talk about how concerned they are that he might snap at any minute and become an uncontainable, rogue “vengeful spirit.” Somehow, the fact that we never actually get the scene that the show almost seems to be promising, a scene in which the Winchesters talk this way about Bobby without realizing that he’s standing right next to them and goes batshit.
Instead, there’s a scene in this episode that, like a lot of things in this episode, makes next to no sense: Bobby discovers that the boys are walking into a trap and, having possessed a maid and taken control of her body, rushes off to try to kill Dick Roman instead of making any kind of effort to warn Sam and Dean. Is this an example of what Sam and Dean have been worried about: that being a vengeful spirit will make Bobby unreliable, and kind of a moron? It doesn’t really come across, maybe because, as much as I love Jim Beaver, being wildly emotional and out of control seems to be pretty far outside his comfort range as an actor. As a crusty, unlikely, but ultimately irreplaceable father figure, he's just what Central Casting ordered, but he's almost useless as a ticking time bomb.
The plot involves the need to obtain blood from both Crowley and the “original” vampire—the last surviving “alpha” monster—to coat the weapon needed to kill Roman. The episode trucks along pretty well for maybe half its length, but at a certain point, it starts to sputter. Part of the problem can be summed up by the phrase “necessary evil,” referring both to what Sam and Dean have to do and what the writers are willing to settle for. There’s one scene after another in which the brothers trust someone they patently shouldn’t trust, just because the writers couldn’t be bothered to find a way to get them into the situations they need to be in without having them behave like idiots, and after a while, the dumbass moves begin to add up.
It doesn’t help to balance things out by having the alpha vampire’s goons fail to search Dean properly so he’ll have a weapon on him when he needs it. And it definitely doesn’t help to have Sam and Dean speculate aloud about the vampire’s motives—specifically, why he’s in league with Dick Roman, who is obviously out to screw him—when he isn’t, Dean insists, “stupid.” On a night when nobody is acting as if they have any brains, it’s not a good idea to devote a significant chunk of TV time to assuring the audience that, sometimes, characters who aren’t stupid just do really stupid things. It makes you want to point out, at the top of your voice, that sometimes characters, and TV writers, who do a lot of stupid things are, all assurances to the contrary, every bit as dumb as they look.
- Worst “Whoo-hoo, they let us use the name ‘Dick’ for our super-villain, Standards and Practices trusts us and we’re gonna totally abuse the privilege!” line yet: “What makes Dick so hard to beat?”
- The show is having a lot of fun tying the mass consumption of junk food to Dick’s plan to take over the human race with scarcely a peep of complaint or protest. Taking in the scene after Roman’s food additives have had their way with the local population, Dean says, “It’s like Woodstock. Everybody’s hopped up on the brown acid.” The weird thing is that, even while the writers are giving Dean lines like that, they have to accommodate the fact that this red-blooded American stud only eats, yes, junk food (or “road food,” as he calls it). He’s horrified when Sam suggests that have some fruit and veggies as an alternative to starving to death. He can’t eat that “rabbit food,” he says; “I’m a warrior!” The satire is somewhat undercut by the paradox that the same diet that is turning most Americans into slothful loads enables Dean to perform as a super-charged monster-killing machine. I guess that, in Dean’s case, pie and chips are like beer; he’s been subsisting on nothing else for so that his body has built up a resistance.
- Next week: season finale! I don’t want to rain on anybody’s suspense meter, but the show has been renewed for another season, so it would seem unlikely that the Leviathans will turn Sam and Dean into mincemeat and proceed to take over the planet. Unless the show pulls a Sledge Hammer on us. I could be up for that.