This one starts out pretty well. A wizened old guy who dresses like Robert Crumb walks into a Chicago bank and asks to see his safety deposit box, whose number is “one.” (“One?” says the young woman with the keys. “If memory serves,” he says.) He opens the box, which contains—hey, says the woman, is that a bone? “Not just any bone, my dear,” he says, and takes his leave, though not before splattering the walls with her blood. (There’s no indication he has any violent intentions toward her until she asks, just as he’s about to leave, if there’s anything else he’d like. Maybe I’ve been watching this show too long, but I felt that she deserved whatever she got for having given him an opening.)
He shows up again in the episode’s big set piece, an auction of rare and precious relics along the lines of Michelangelo’s sketchbooks and a complete 12-issue run of Big Numbers. (The walls are decorated with runes and symbols to force the various demons and angels there to behave themselves, and mere mortals such as the Winchesters are required to unload their weaponry at the entrance. There’s a good moment when Dean tries to release his grip on his serrated knife and can’t quite get the message to his fingers; he looks as if he were being forced to leave his penis with the bouncer.) Robert Crumb is there to bid for the hammer of Thor, using the bone and—holding up a bloody paper bag—“five-eighths of a virgin”—but our heroes are in attendance because the tablet featuring the word of God is on the auction block. The first item for sale has starting bid of “three tons of dwarvan gold.” Meanwhile, Dean is combing through what he has in his pockets and wondering if he can sweeten the pot by throwing in his Costco membership.
This stuff is pretty choice, and so is the fact that the mysterious figure putting on the auction is a heavyset guy in a tracksuit, suggesting that he’s not so much a powerful supernatural entity as the otherworldly equivalent of Bobby Baccala. But it turns out that the real major guest character of this episode is Kevin’s mom (Lauren Tom); Kevin refuses to continue questing for the tablet until he’s seen that she’s all right, and after they’ve been reunited, she insists on joining the road trip. The show itself doesn’t seem sure how it wants the audience to take the character. It feels as if there ought to be something funny about this middle-aged lady—who seems to have just spent the past year hanging around her house fretting, wondering what’s become of her son as demons have taken possession of the bodies of everyone around her—running down the road with the Winchesters on the way to their next rendezvous with whatever’s just crawled out of hell.
But the show doesn’t seem sure where the humor really lies in that, and at the end, she performs an ultimate sacrificial act that doesn’t really do her son any good but leaves her racked up anyway. The upshot is that Mom, sacrificial gesture and all, is kind of a drag. Aside from the ending, her big scene comes in a pawnshop, where the owner has valuable information he is reluctant to impart and is unimpressed with threats of violence. She gets him to knuckle under by deducing that he recently got the “piece of Eurotrash crap you call a car” in a business trade and doesn’t hold the registration, and then working out just how much he’d owe in unpaid taxes if somebody were to report him to the IRS. Nothing perks up a supernatural-action show like some math.
There are also more flashbacks to Dean’s time in Purgatory; this time, they include a glimpse of Misha Collins as Castiel, and it looks as if this thread is going to play out throughout the season, with the details of what happened to Cass, and how Dean presumably failed him, getting the slow reveal and Cass playing Snowden to Dean’s Yossarian. We also get to see that Dean really enjoyed killing demons in Purgatory, as well as, once again, just how good Jensen Ackles is at whole-heartedly playing an emotion such as taking pleasure in killing without losing his direct connection to the audience. When Dean carries over that kind of behavior to his hunting, such as when he roughs up a guy in police custody to get him to talk or has no compunction about killing an innocent person who has a demon inside, Sam looks at him as he can’t understand when his brother turned into such a ruthless bastard.
But Dean has always been a ruthless bastard, and Sam was wringing his hands over it back in the first episodes. He’s had time to get used to it, and one of the main plot threads from the past couple of seasons involved Sam himself becoming more of a ruthless bastard, and how much that had to do with the temporary loss of his soul and how much was just what happens to hunters if they stay alive long enough. It’s as if the writers miss writing those kinds of scenes but decided to mix things up by having Sam wonder at Dean’s capacity for cold-blooded viciousness, instead of the other way around, even though it doesn’t make much sense.
- When Crowley shows up at the auction and Sam urges Dean to hold his temper, Crowley sneers, “Listen to Moose, Squirrel.” Considering that Rocky was always the brainier and more cautious of the two, and Bullwinkle the one who got the action going, shouldn’t that really be the other way around?
- When the bidding for the tablet is just starting to get crazy, Crowley puts up the moon. Seriously, the King of Hell has official title to the moon? Crowley insists that he does: “Think a man named ‘Buzz’ gets to go to space without making a deal?”
- Crowley also offers to trade Alaska for what’s on the block, but the auctioneer just laughs at him: “Palin and a bridge to nowhere?” Remember a couple of years ago, when gratuitous Sarah Palin jokes were at least topical? Now they just stick out in a way that brings the action to a screeching halt. Unless the auctioneer is referring to Bristol Palin, in which case I have to wonder how much overlap there is between Supernatural fans and people who hate-watch Dancing With The Stars.
- It can’t be easy to overact being suddenly impaled through the chest with a hurled object—because what reaction could seem too extreme a response to having something like that happen to you?—but one of the bit players in the climactic brawl manages it.