Supernatural is fond of cases of the week interrogating weird, semi-specific subcultures. The show’s basic premise lends itself easily to telling a story about LARPers or born-again virgins any given week, since the Winchesters can investigate weird stuff pretty much anywhere in America. (Out of curiosity, have they ever left the country?). And in later seasons, the show has increasingly used the setting as the selling point of an episode rather than a monster, since it’s basically run out of everything that could make a novel and unique villain for a standalone episode. But it’s not like the show is going to delve super deeply into what makes, say, magicians tick, so usually these episodes coast by on surface-level jokes about whatever the target happens to be, putting a bit of a ceiling on their quality. “The Purge,” which takes on two different targets—the worlds of competitive eating and excessive, ridiculous spas—ends up in a weird spot, where the setting initially seems to be the focus of the episode, then just becomes boring.
Start with the eating. When a competitive eater is found dead after a competition, the Winchesters head to Minnesota to investigate. This part of the episode would benefit from some more room to breathe, because it just breezes past the world of competitive eating, which might be fruitful (sorry) in all sorts of ways, making do with Dean’s jokes about eating lettuce to increase stomach size. Sure, this is just a joke Dean would make, but it’s also the most color this part of the plot gets. The two main competitive eaters are caught in a ridiculously soapy story—fighting over one’s wife, a Roma who the Winchesters suspect put a curse on Wayne—but it never really goes anywhere, just punting to the magical weight-loss spa that seems to be connected to the case. More importantly, everyone in this version of Minnesota is obsessed with food, because the two local eaters are minor celebrities and everyone is always eating. The sheriff, Donna, scarfs down doughnuts while talking in a ridiculous parody of a Minnesota accent, actually saying stuff like “You betcha” and “wackadoo” but without any of that Gunderson charm (I’m going to be charitable and assume this was a Fargo nod).
I guess all the Minnesotans are obsessed with food so that they all have a reason to go to the weight-loss spa that provides the main setting for “The Purge.” This is a bit of a weird location, because I’m not certain what it’s supposed to be targeting. Overly intensive spas? Easy weight loss “treatments?” There’s not really enough specificity to get the joke, other than the type-A-ness of the spa’s owners. Sam’s undercover job as a trainer forces him to lead a yoga class, while Dean’s job working in the cafeteria exposes him to the drugged pudding the spa gives clients as a “last hurrah” before their treatment. It’s unclear whether Supernatural is mocking the people who use the spa as a pain-free way to lose all of the weight they’ve put on, especially when Donna recounts how her husband left her because she loved cookie dough milkshakes more than him. These sorts of details hint at different possible targets for jokes, but “The Purge” never actually gets around to making those jokes. Are lazy, unnecessarily mean jokes preferable to blandness?
Anyway, the spa guarantees weight loss in a week with no surgery, exercise, or any of the hard work that necessarily accompanies weight loss. After some more, not very interesting investigating, the Winchesters discover that one of the owners of the spa is a Peruvian fat-sucker, which I guess is a thing? (The fat-sucker story is also a little too reminiscent of the Doctor Who episode “Partners In Crime” for my taste.) But it turns out that, again, the main monster isn’t actually bad, creating the spa to help people while also eating their fat. But Dean’s boss in the kitchen is also a fat-sucker, and the one responsible for the murders because he got hungry or something, even though there seem to be people lined up to get into the spa. This is a pretty mediocre twist, and the episode just kind of peters out from here, not that there was much energy to begin with.
To be fair, there’s some humor here, partially mined from the bizarre situation of the Roma and the competitive eaters. And the introduction of the couple running the spa gets some decent mileage out of their weird touching and a decent martial arts sound gag. Dean being drugged by the pudding is reminiscent of some of the earlier episodes where he’d get caught up in whatever stuff was happening in the case, but like most of this weirdly overstuffed by flat episode, it doesn’t get nearly enough time to land. When an episode is this much of a standalone (there are maybe a couple of sentences about the seasons’ plots), it needs to develop its own internal sources of momentum, and minimal positive notes aside, “The Purge” fails at that pretty miserably.
Probably the biggest disappointment in the episode (besides, obviously, lack of Cas and/or Crowley) is the way it dangles the thread of the jobs the brothers work at the spa. That faux professionalism is also a source of lost potential for resonance with the brothers’ emotional arcs at the moment. Sam now seems to have fully turned on Dean, working with him out of a sense of professionalism but adamant in his lack of trust for his brother, to the point where he tells Dean he would let him die were their situations reversed. Not only does this unnecessarily turn up the Winchester angst levels (though Dean deserves it for acting like an idiot for the first half of the season), it also calls attention to the silliness of their debate over what to do with Maritza, the non-homicidal fat-sucker. Dean initially wants to kill her just because she’s a “monster,” an argument that lasts for less than a minute and just leaves a bad taste the week after the Winchesters debated whether or not to kill Garth—of course, they send her back to Peru. The frequency which the monsters aren’t actually monsters has gotten so high that it also seems like the writers are starting to feel some remorse for all the fictional death they’ve caused. Or maybe they’ve just gotten bored.
- Dean trying to be “honest” with Sam about his awkwardness with girls bugged me. Was he just trying to go for the girl himself? (I assume so.) Sam has proved himself more than capable with the ladies, and it seems like it’d have worn off as a source of ribbing.
- The guy playing the husband was pretty good at being funnily, creepily intense.
- Every week that goes by without Cain showing up again is a week wasted.
- So… Snooki is in next week’s episode. May whatever higher power you believe in and/or Jim Beaver have mercy on our souls.