Supernatural: “Trial And Error”
C+

Supernatural: “Trial And Error”

C+

Supernatural

“Trial And Error”

Season 8, Episode 14

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I’m starting to feel a little disconnected from this show. Last week’s golem episode was promoted as a laugh riot, but not only did it not strike me as particularly funny, it didn’t even seem intended as comic, certainly not in the broad, parodic way that the show often announces that, as Tennessee Williams said backstage when the audience at the premiere of his new play started rolling in the aisles, “Now, it’s a comedy!” I pretty much liked the episode anyway, but I did come away feeling a little confused. And I’m not crazy about tonight’s episode, which really come out swinging with the joy buzzers and the whoopee cushions. It’s as if there was a pile-up on the interstate and the tone that was scheduled for the previous episode arrived a week late.

Kevin is back, and Kevin has never been a million laughs, so I’m inclined to applaud any attempt to treat his plight—the fact that he’s holed up somewhere, friendless and alone, translating the Word of God while sweating it out over the knowledge that every demon in the world is beating the bushes for him—as if it were at least as funny as it is tragic. I don’t know how funny a situation like that really is, but at least it’s a change. Kevin drags the Winchesters out of their new home at the library of the Men of Letters—where Dean, excited about having his own room for the first time in his life, has been reverentially setting out his mother’s photo and his well-worn copy of Led Zeppelin’s first LP—to tell them some exciting news. He’s found a way to seal the gates of Hell forever, which would be a windfall for the show, since it would have to come up with some fresh monsters and maybe even find a way to end a season without a slow buildup to the latest thwarting of the apocalypse. In order to pull this trick off, one of the brothers has to perform three trials. All together now: What is your name, what is your quest, what is your favorite color…

Dean grits his teeth and tries to be philosophical about this. God, he points out, tends to work in “mysterious, douchey ways.” The first step in “God’s little obstacle course” is to kill a hound of hell and bathe in its blood. After everyone agrees that, even for a heaven-sent trial, this is pretty gross, Dean offers up his master plan: The brothers will cast about for someone who experienced such an amazing stroke of good luck ten years ago that they must have cut a deal with the devil, then go seek out these lost souls and wait for the hellhound to show up to collect. Sam being Sam, it takes him about three minutes on the computer to find a family, the Cassitys, who struck black gold, Texas tea, on their pissant Idaho farm on oil-free land a decade ago. Dean and Sam hop in the car, drive to Idaho, and sign on as hired hands with Ellie, the super-hot manager of the Cassitys’ ranch.

Unfortunately, while Dean and Sam are hanging around the rustic location making idle chatter, a hellhound shreds Carl, the affable-loser husband of one of the Cassitys. After Carl is dead, she talks about how happy they were for ten years, and how he was the love of her life, so isn’t it funny how she really isn’t too broken up over his death. Sam quickly deduces that Carl had traded his soul in exchange for his wife’s love. But there’s been so much good luck going on around here that it seems likely that Carl wasn’t the only ticking time bomb with a contract signed in blood stuffed in the back of his sock drawer. Gradually, the other members of the family heave into view, and begin enacting a grotesquely overdone burlesque of a Dallas-style soap opera family, snarling at each other as if about to draw knives. Ellie stands off to the side and briefs Dean and Sam, and us, on who’s who and what’s horrible about each of them. My favorite capsule biography is of one of the tycoon’s daughters: “She had a single on the country charts a few years ago. Then she started hitting the bottle and, well, her last album was a collection of holiday songs. For dogs.”

There are a lot of comic insults, and another bloody killing, before Dean and Sam figure out what’s been obvious since before the first commercial break: Ellie, the only character on view who we seem meant to care about, was one of those who signed a deal with Crowley, though she did it for the best of reasons. (Her mom was sick, she needed a chance to retire to Florida to enjoy what time was left to her, cue violins.)  The best thing about an episode like this is that it gives Jensen Ackles the chance to show the world what a trouper looks like. He gets everything possible out of his comedy lines, whether he’s talking about his plan to “gank Huckleberry Hound” or reacting to Ellie, who thinks he’s cute, tell him, as he’s manning a grill, that she likes a man who knows how to “handle his meat.” Then, when he has to get serious and deliver a very long speech about how he’s going to be the one handling the trials, because he doesn’t expect to make it through all of them alive and it’s Sam who has the long-term future, he throws himself into that and brings it off without suffering whiplash.

In the end, though, it’s Sam who kills the devil dog, and who commits to carrying through the trials, of which a grand total of one has now been checked off the list. That leaves two more trials to be got through, which makes a minimum of two upcoming episodes that will just write themselves, at least as soon as the writers decide what the trials will be. Two words: "Augean stables!"

Stray observations:

  • The best thing about the hellhound attacks is Sam’s description of them: “It’s gonna feel like you’ve taken the brown acid, and it’s trying to kill you.”
  • The show continues to set aside a few minutes every week for everyone to talk about the unseen Garth, and tonight’s show also features extended spoken-word tributes to Kevin’s mom and Crowley, who also remain unseen. I understand that the actors aren’t available every week, and the producers want to remind us that they’re important to the show’s overall scheme. But a few scenes like this, and I start having flashbacks to those episodes of Dallas where everyone kept talking about how Jock was having such an exciting time overseas, but he sure was missed and thank goodness he’d be coming home soon, which he obviously wouldn’t be, since the actor, Jim Davis, had died six months back.

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