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Supernatural: "Mommy Dearest"

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(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s Second Opinions Week at TV Club.)

In 2006, no television show was more important in my life than Supernatural. Yes, I realize this makes me sound like a crazy person. But hear me out. It was summer, I was unemployed and bored, and I came across a repeat of the pilot on the WB (RIP). Brothers killing monsters seemed more appealing than real life, and it turned out it kind of was, and thus my sweeping Winchester love story began. No, not because the brothers are hot – although it didn’t hurt – but because of the insanely fun combination of scares, snark, classic rock and genuine family bonds that informed the entirety of the first two seasons.

It’s not hard to see how different the show is now from when it began. Sure, it mostly looks the same (although the cinematography and score changed slightly in season three, which I still lament), maintains the same tone and structures episodes in the same fashion, but it is a very different storytelling animal. What once was an almost insular show about one family’s fight of good vs. evil has exponentially grown in scope with each passing year, culminating last season in apocalypse and defeating the devil himself. With each passing year and each tightening of the noose around Sam and Dean’s collective necks, my interest in the show wanes in direct proportion. It might just be me, but I miss the days when the stakes were less about the fate of the world than the fate of this really messed up family.

This season has been almost a struggle between the two different Supernaturals, one of the past and of the present. The past in that, whether by design or by accidental ineptitude, the season’s overall thru line has never been entirely clear. First we had Sam-less, which was a heck of a lot of fun but ultimately kind of forgotten. Then we had Crowley and the Alphas (oh, and Samuel’s gang, but never mind them because they’re all dead now), and now we have Eve. It’s often felt like a season without a rudder, which would be fine if more of the individual episodes in the middle stretch had been better. Still, although we’re only a few episodes from the end, it seems like we have our bad guy for the season, and that guy is…Cas? Not that this isn’t interesting, because it’s probably the most interesting thing that's happened since Sam lost his soul, but a little heads up next time, maybe?

Here’s how we got to this reveal: Now that our merry gang of four has the phoenix ash, they need to track down Eve and give her a good dose. Friendly vampire Lenore (Hi Lenore!), who Eve’s presence has turned less than friendly, leads them to a town in Oregon called Grants Pass, which is perhaps the most annoyingly titled town of all time. I keep wanting to put an apostrophe in there, even though I know why it doesn’t belong. When they get to the town all hell has broken loose, with Eve turning everyone into a hybrid monster army which Dean awesomely names Jefferson Starships, “because they’re horrible and hard to kill.” Heh.

While Cas is torturing Starships to find out Eve’s location, Dean and Sam save a pair of young brothers from being turned. Dean is adamant they save these kids, and it’s very much a reminder of who the Winchesters used to have time to be. You get the sense that Dean feels if he can just do this one thing, and do it well, everything else that he has to do in his crazy life just might make a little more sense. Of course saving the kids wasn’t going to be a victory, that’s not how this show rolls, especially in the last few unrelentingly Winchester-crushing seasons. (Also, they taught us long ago that children are evil and not to be trusted.) So after Dean and Sam return the kids safely to their home and meet up with Eve, they learn that the kids weren’t so innocent after all and are actually little monsters themselves.

Here, my friends, is where we come to Eve. Zack has harped on this, and I don’t want to continue the pile on lest we become broken records, but the actress portraying Eve is just horrible. Even by CW standards, her charisma is practically nonexistent. Things take an upswing when Samantha Smith takes over, but it’s still a disappointingly bland character who, as it turns out, is not so much our big bad as our big bad plot point. You see, Eve was only turning humans to right the injustice of Crowley kidnapping and torturing her children (the Alphas). Oh yeah, and Crowley? Still alive and kicking, and more interested in the fuel of the souls rather than Purgatory itself. Eve wants the Winchesters to work with her, but Dean has other plans and tricks her into attacking him and taking a big old bite out of his phoenix ash-spiked blood. Clever, Dean!

So in the end, Eve is dead and Crowley is alive. Which we know because Cas meets him at the scene of Eve’s death, so Crowley can “clean up his messes” again, implying Cas is the one doing all the things Crowley is taking hits for (or he is at least doing it on Cas' behest). I must admit, I enjoy the idea of Cas as a dark force but it other than a hint or two the last few episodes this seems to be coming out of nowhere. It doesn’t help that I genuinely have no idea what he’s doing, but I suppose that’s what next week is for. What are he and Crowley doing with the Alphas? More essentially, what are they doing with the souls? All of this must be his way of fighting Raphael, but as this has been a fight that’s entirely taken place off screen it’s mighty hard to wrap your head around.

There’s a way to tell a story where a protagonist is keeping a dark secret from everyone, including the audience, but that sort of thing takes careful planning and even more meticulous execution. We’re three episodes from the end, and we just started getting hints of it, what, last week? Perhaps there will be a time where we can look back at specific moments during the season and see how it all snaps into place, but as of now it is hard to feel like we’ve been subject to a long con when there doesn’t seem to be much of a con to speak of. Still, Cas is a great character and has spent most of the season off doing, well, I guess we're about to find out. Whatever happens, Misha Collins will surely do his best with the material.

Having been entirely negative for far too many words, I must admit I did mostly enjoy the episode. It was rather predictable (other than Dean spiking his blood, which I thought was a nicely revealed surprise) but had the familiar rhythms of a well-constructed episode of Supernatural, and the jokes landed. Especially nice was Sam and Dean’s relationship, which has fallen back into that easy brother chemistry the actors do so well. Still, let’s call this episode what it is: setup. Next week is when the real test of the season begins.

Stray observations:

  • Since this is likely the only chance I’ll get to write about Supernatural in this venue, I feel a strange need to confess my season preferences: 2 > 4 > 1 > 3 > 5. Whew, I feel better.
  • Nice to see Amber Benson again. Of course, she’s dead now, because God forbid they keep a decent recurring character alive for once.
  • I feel like Eve shifted into Mary just so Dean could have a valid reason to call her a bitch. Let the word go, Dean.
  • The use of Jefferson Starships as shorthand was highly effective, and amusing every time. Bonus points for using it on the soundtrack as well.
  • What was Sam going to say about Cas? Perhaps he remembers something about Cas from when he was Sam-less. Should be interesting.
  • Supernatural got renewed for a season seven! I…don’t know how to feel about that, honestly. I do know the meta episodes are going to become so meta Jensen Ackles might just walk right out of your television set and brush your hair or something. So we have that to look forward to.
  • “Cas, get out of my ass!” “I was never in your…”
  • “Well. I was expecting more Zombieland, less Pleasantville.”
  • “Well now it just looks like you’re pooping.”
  • “I have a, uh, painful burning sensation.”
  • “Pardon me for highlighting their crippling and dangerous empathetic response with sarcasm.”
  • “Beat me with a wire hanger, my answer’s still no.” And, we have an episode title.
  • “We gotta take you on more monster hunts.”