Let’s get this out of the way first: Supernatural’s 1944 is ridiculous. It breaks all the basic rules of doing period right: the music cues are generic and obvious, the setting keeps throwing out clichd clues as to the era, and characters either speak in tedious slang, or question comments the hero from our time makes just to remind us of that whole time travel thing. I’d expect this kind of goofiness from, say, the original Star Trek (which, come to think, isn’t a terrible point of comparison), but this is not the kind of behavior I’d expect or condone from a modern, solid (and at times legitimately great) genre series. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say these were lazy choices, but they were awfully convenient ones, and I’m not sure there was any real reason for the time travel, beyond an excuse to throw Eliot Ness into the mix, and getting Dean into that suit. As a straight dude, I have a sneaking suspicion I missed out on one of the main appeals of 1944 for a large part of Supernatural’s audience, but an outfit isn’t really enough. If Mad Men did an episode called “Christina Hendricks Goes To Bikini Island,” I wouldn’t automatically praise it. I’d watch it, sure, but c’mon.
That said, well, note the grade above. Yeah, “Time After Time” was cheesy as hell, and lacked some of the emotional pay-off of last week’s episode, but it had a solid core, and marked a return to the kind of loopy procedural hours that serve as the series’ meat-and-potatoes. “Time” doesn’t reinvent any wheels, but it’s not trying to, and after the heavy duty emotional gauntlet we’ve gone through with Bobby’s death, it’s fun to have something so comparatively straightforward and true ot the show’s basic heart. Meet Sam and Dean; they hunt monsters. So, after an annoyingly pointless in media res opening (I get why the writers jumped ahead for the cold open—they wanted something exciting before the opening title—but that isn’t sufficient justification; it ended up mostly coming across as padding), we see the Winchesters hunting down a bad guy, this time brought to their attention courtesy of Sheriff Jody Mills, Bobby’s former friend. The monster this week: the God of Time, Chronos. Like most old gods, he’s hurting for worshippers these days, which means he needs sacrifices to keep him going. He does this in groups of three, and every time he kills somebody, they wind up mummified. After some detective work, Sam and Dean track down the god, and in the ensuing fight, Dean gets transported with Chronos back to 1944.
Not a bad set-up, and it leaves the rest of the episode with a neat split: in the past, Dean teams up with Eliot Ness (Nicholas Lea, who some of you may remember as the bastard to end all bastards Krychek on The X-Files) to hunt Chronos down, while in the present, Sam teams up with Jody to figure out how to bring Dean back to the future. (heh) “Time” moves at a good clip, and while I felt a little short-changed in some sections, overall, the pacing worked just as it should; the stakes were high enough, what with Dean trapped 68 years before his own time, but they weren’t so high that the episode got bogged down in a lot of emo crap. (Actually, let’s pause for a second: I’m still sad about Bobby being dead, and it’s a little early to know exactly how the show will work without him, but I’ve been impressed at how both of the episodes we’ve seen post-Singer have worked. For once, the angst-balance is just about perfect. Dean is upset and determined to take Roman down, but it hasn’t pit him against Sam, and both Winchesters have acknowledged the loss without being frozen or behaving strangely because of it. Hell, last week even managed to get a rare positive moment for Dean by the end. So far, Bobby’s demise has felt like like a constructive tragedy; it’s being used to motivate character in a non-rut fashion, and I’m a big fan of this.) Lea was fun as Ness, and it was nice to see him getting a chance to play a legitimately good guy; I’m also a fan of Jody, although there’s something weird about her threatening to use the “mom voice” on Sam. Seriously, Kim Rhodes looks maybe ten years older than Jared Padalecki.
While I stand by my above criticisms of “Time”’s somewhat heavy-handed attempts at time travel, I don’t think those flaws really hurt the episode that badly. You never get the sense that anyone working on the show expected us to take this seriously. We get our Untouchables references, we get our goofy phrases, big band music, and, of course, lots of fedoras. As I’ve said many times before, Supernatural can get a lot of mileage out of embracing it’s silliness, and while this episode isn’t quite as funny or energetic as the show is at its best, it was still a lot of fun, and there was a healthy sense of self-awareness running through the entire hour. Dean’s repeated Back To The Future references were great (Chronos, who goes by the name of “Ethan,” uses the “‘Biff’ strategy” from Back To The Future Part II, making money by betting on sports events he already knows the outcome of; and Dean mimics Doc Brown from BttF II/III to send a message to Sam, in way that’s just clever enough that I didn’t care if it was implausible), and his giddiness at working with Ness fit well with the character. Ackles’ propensity to geek out is a trope the show has uses repeatedly and well, and it shows little sign of wearing out its welcome.
For all that, “Time” even manages to work in a little pathos, and it’s here where I found myself wishing we could’ve spent more, um, time. When Ness and Dean confront Ethan, they find he’s got a girlfriend named Lila, and what’s more, he’s not just seducing her so he can kill her. He actually cares about her, and one of the reasons he keeps murdering people is to try and get himself back to her year so he can be with her. For most of the episode, Chronos is a shadowy figure in a trenchcoat, and hearing him try and explain himself to his lover gives the story an angle of melancholy I wasn’t expecting. It’s not a new idea for Supernatural, but it’s inevitable that as a show like this goes on, the monsters become more recognizably human; you can only fight the same snarling sociopaths so many times before it gets old. The very real despair in Ethan’s voice when he talks about the existence he’s had to live was a nice balance to the usual “KILL THE MONSTER” rush. As I’ve mentioned before, I think the show’s more interesting when it acknowledges that dichotomies of pure good against pure evil rarely, if ever, exist, and I appreciate the texture of this, and the way it encourages you to imagine just what it might be like to be a god—to come into being through worship, and then, suddenly, hardly anyone worships you, and you’re forced to find sustenance in other ways.
Plus, there’s the on-going “We have to kill our gods to survive” angle, which never gets old to me. All in all, “Time” is entertaining and brisk, and while there are ways it might have been better, the episode we got was good enough.
- You’ll note that the title at the head of this article is “Time After Time After Time,” which is a cute reference to the great time travel movie Time After Time. The IMDB and my cable guide also refer to this episode with that title. Yet the in-episode title was “Time After Time.” Weird, no?
- Questioning the whys and wherefores of the hunters’ life has been common theme of this show for its entire run, but I like the way those questions have been coming up lately. Not sure what’s new, exactly, but it seems less of a treading-water discussion than it has in the past.
- “Wait, what’s the plan exactly?” “Don’t die.”
- “How does paper beat rock? It’s stupid.”
- “Little more anime, or are you strictly into Dick now?”
- “I’m 12 Monkey’ed no matter what I do, so here goes.”
- Ethan foresees that the Winchesters’ future is full of black ooze. That’s not really a surprise, but it does make you think things are probably going to get worse before they get better.