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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Supernatural: “Reading Is Fundamental”

Illustration for article titled Supernatural: “Reading Is Fundamental”

After a string of episodes that were largely mishmashes of the underdeveloped, the half-baked, and the ill-conceived, tonight Supernatural served up a messy hour that was, at least, a fun mess. It also earned major points for sheer weirdness. Weirdness can be a useful leavening agent during scenes like the opening, which introduces us to Kevin Tram, an Asian-American high school student and stressed-out overachiever who, alone in his bedroom at night, forces himself to take a break from practicing the cello to have a panic attack over his prospects for getting into the college of his choice. I half expected the words “Written By Pierce Hawthorne” to flash on the screen. (It was actually veteran Supernatural hand Ben Edlund who did the deed, and directed it, as well.)

What is this nervous ethnic stereotype doing in the show? It turns out that he’s the “prophet” who is fated to serve as “keeper of the word,” and his historic mission is activated when Dean and Sam crack open the artifact they liberated from Dick Roman last week, a slab of rock that Dean calls “a caveman Lego.” When Dean starts whacking at it, the sky above him rumbles, and he turns to Sam to ask, “That sound like somene saying, ‘No! Wait! Stop!’ to you?” Sam nods that it does, which Dean, naturally, takes as a sign that he’s doing the right thing. When he finally frees a carved message in an unknown tongue from the rock, the skies light up, all the near-term pregnant women in the vicinity give birth, and Kevin gets a sudden attack of the glowing-gold-eyes , which causes him to skip school the next day and borrow his mom’s car to go in pursuit of something, guided by his own heavenly inner GPS.

It turns out that he’s headed for the same place that the Winchesters are going: the hospital where they left the catatonic Castiel, who has also been awakened by the cosmic vibrations set off by the brothers’ actions. The Winchesters get there first and reconnect with Meg and a refreshed and pleasantly dazed Cass, who has been much changed by his long weeks of quiet time and visions of hell. “I don’t fight anymore,” he says, “I watch the bees.” He’s no longer a Christian warrior fit to lead the armies of a holy war, but he’s not entirely useless, either. For one thing, he’s able to identify the writing on the tablet as the work of “God’s scribe,” one Metatron. Even Castiel can’t translate the words, but for one reason or another, Dick Roman wants it, and Kevin, who meets the Winchesters when he arrives and does what you know he’s going to do when Sam wanders away from the tablet and we’re treated a long, loving close-up of it lying on the floor unguarded, is meant to protect it.

Osric Chow is a welcome addition to the cast as Kevin, and Rachel Miner’s super-dry Meg provides a smart contrast to some of the heavy emoting going on around her, but this is really Misha Collins’ episode. This is the second consecutive appearance in a row in which he’s had to play Castiel as a basket case rebuilding his identity from the ground up—maybe the third in a row, if you count Castiel’s steady descent into power-tripping madness just before he disappeared for most of this season. There’s a classic moment in an earlier Supernatural episode, from just around the time that Castiel had begun to respect Dean enough to want to be more like him, when he saved the day by wasting a bad guy but kind of destroyed the moment by yelling a pathetically lame insult as he did it. (Was it “butt-face?”) Here, the newly conflict-averse Castiel just wants to pass for one of the guys. He pulls his own variations on crude, dumb jokes, and is touchingly confused when everyone is too stunned to laugh. He also remembers everything he did wrong, and is ashamed of himself, but wishes he could just get his hand slapped and move on. There’s an insanely sweet moment, alone with Dean in the hospital lounge, when Dean asks him if he understands what he’s done, and Cass meekly, tentatively holds up a game board box. The word “SORRY!” leaps out as if it were in a word balloon above his head.

The lonely, nocturnal atmosphere at the hospital feels so right for the action (and the reflective, funny non-action) that unfolds there that it’s almost a shame that the heroes have to get back on the road, so they can get back in trouble. It would be easier to ignore the mechanics of the show kicking back in if there had been a plausible, logical pretext for what kicks off the final, climactic round of twists ‘n’ violence, but instead, Meg just up and leaves the cabin the heroes have barricaded themselves in, so she can run into a couple of Crowley’s demons and appear to cut a deal with them, just so she can then kill them and demonstrate that she really is as loyal to our heroes as she’s given every indication of being. Fortunately, even this business is so confidently directed that the plot holes can be overlooked while you’re watching it. According to IMDB, this episode is the third hour of TV that Ben Edlund has ever directed: The other credits are last year’s awesome Supernatural episode “The Man Who Would Be King” and the beyond-awesome Angel episode Smile Time. I wish he’d get behind the camera more often.

Stray observations:

  • If this were an episode of Ringer, the title would be, “What Are You Two Jackasses Doing With The Word Of God?”
  • Castiel’s idea of small talk: “You know, we weren’t sure at first which monkeys were going to make it. No offense, but I was backing the Neanderthals, because their poetry was just amazing. It’s perfectly in tune with the spheres. But in the end it was you guys, the homo sapien sapiens. You ate the apple, invented pants…”
  • Castiel’s other idea of small talk: “Did you know that a cat’s penis is sharply barbed along the shaft? I know for a fact that the females were not conulted about that.”
  • It’s a nice touch that, when Kevin finds that he can read the unfamiliar, probably otherwise untranslatable “word of God,” it hurts a little. (He compares it to reading with someone else’s glasses.)
  • Castiel to Sam: “You seem troubled. Of course, that’s a primary aspect of your personality, so I sometimes ignore it.” That’s almost the kind of joke that Darin Morgan used to include in his scripts for The X-Files: a “just kidding” swipe at the series’ cliches that’s so disrespectfully acute that, for a few seconds, it threatens to deliver a death blow from which the how may never recover.
  • Less successful is the scene in which a Leviathan makes fun of Dick Roman for having chosen to be called “Dick.” The problem with this joke is that it basically confirms that we haven’t been imagining it: The show really has been acting as if it expected everyone in the audience to double over laughing whenever the name “Dick” has been invoked. I was much happier when I could tell myself that this wasn’t the case and it was just my own weird issues that made me believe this was so.
  • No sign of Bobby this week, but Dean and Sam confirm, in a throwaway exchange, that he’s there. It’s just that the events of last week were so taxing on him that he apparently can’t be seen by them, or us, until he “recharges.” You see what I was going on about a couple of weeks ago, about how conveniently arbitrary the rules governing ghosts seem to be?