Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Supernatural: “Shut Up Dr. Phil”

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Someone must have gotten my letter (or read my review last week and owned a time machine), because this week’s episode of Supernatural is indeed a bit lighter than the mopery we’ve been wallowing in for most of the season. “Shut Up, Dr. Phil” has its share of Winchester whining, but the Monster of the Week (or rather, Monsters) part of the story largely junks any potential for guilt-tripping, focusing on a pair of witches suffering from a crisis of faith in the stability of their relationship. And if that wasn’t enough to get hearts pounding, the pair is played by two senior alumni from the Joss Whedon School of Nerd Love: James Marsters, as land developing tycoon Don Stark, and Charisma Carpenter, as Don’s estranged-and-none-too-happy-about-it wife Maggie. Marsters and Carpenter (which sounds like the name of a particularly twee folk-rock band) have the greatest of genre TV geek cred—they were regulars on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a show which, at its best, also mixed humor, horror, and angst. “Shut Up” isn’t quite at that level, suffering some from an uneven tone and the occasional pit stop in Dean Is A Self-Pitying Jackass Land, but it has its moments.

It seems like Supernatural isn’t going to let the Amy-killing slide, as even after last week’s guilt-a-thon, Dean is still hitting the bottle and being pissy. After a night of bad dreams, he busts open the laptop, desperate for a case to take his mind off his troubles (ahh, the always reliable “freaky accidents” Google search), and comes across the strange story of a woman killed by salon hair dryer in Prosperity, Indiana. She isn’t the only odd death, either—another man was boiled alive in his hot tub, and soon after Sam and Dean arrive in Prosperity, a guy gets his eyes shot out by a floating nail gun. To make a long story short, Maggie Stark found our her husband Don was having an affair; she moved out, and now she’s taking magical revenge on everyone she considers responsible for humiliating her and helping Don screw around on the side.

“Shut Up” works best on a parts-are-greater-than-the-whole basis. The episode takes too long to get to its premise, working on traditional MotW lines—first we see a horrifying kill or two, then Sam and Dean get involved, then they start having theories—when it might’ve worked better to try a different approach. After all, we’ve seen witches before on the series (we even get a helpful reminder about them during the “Then” segment at the start of the hour), and it isn’t that difficult to put together exactly what’s going on here. Plus, we’re over a third of the way in before Don shows up, and James Marsters is, quite frankly, too good a resource to hold back for so long. The kills are passable, but too gruesome to be funny, and too goofy to be really scary; they have a certain Final Destination feel to them, and mostly seem to exist because, hey, this is Supernatural, you gotta have people dying ugly or you’re not doing your job. Sam’s attempts to link the case to his and Dean’s troubles, particularly in his ill-advised, “If they can work things out, why can’t we?” exchange that sounds like it was written by a certain part of the show’s fan base, are silly. And while Maggie’s icy fury seems like a perfect match for Carpenter, the energy wasn’t always there.

You know what, though? I mostly had fun with this. Part of that, I’m sure, is wanting to have fun with it. I dig Buffy, and I’m a fan of both of this week’s guest stars, so that when their scenes finally started taking off, I was well-primed for maximum enjoyment. Really, this episode should’ve been entirely about the Starks, since their scenes together were arguably the most entertaining to watch. The final confrontation at the Stark home, as Sam and Dean attempt to play marriage counselors to a pair of supremely irritated, ultra-powerful, 800 year-old magic-users, was a hoot. And I also liked when the Winchesters managed to show up just in time to save the day when Maggie tried to take out Don’s overly chipper personal assistant. Sure, that confrontation scene wasn’t as fast-paced as it should’ve been, and the pacing felt a little like an entertaining but rough improv session; and sure, I wasn’t a huge fan of the actress playing the assistant. But I appreciate the effort put in here. I am very tempted to launch into a diatribe about how the morality at play in this episode throws Dean’s behavior a couple weeks ago into an even more negative light, considering that Sam and Dean seem perfectly happy to let the Starks get off scot-free in the end, despite four gruesome murders. I guess hunters only kill the unsuspecting, defenseless “monsters,” eh? I’m still not looking forward to Sam inevitably learning about Amy’s death. (Also inevitable: He’ll learn about it in the worst possible way, at the worst possible time.) I’m willing to overlook all of that, though, because this was mostly fun. I’m even glad Don and Maggie got away in the end. Every once in a while, it’s nice to have a happy ending, even if it takes a few corpses and a disregard for the sanctity of life to get there.

Stray observations:

  • It makes me sad that no one has managed to develop a TV show around Marsters.
  • If I could give one note to the Supernatural writers, it would be: STOP. HAVING. HEART-TO-HEARTS. Seriously, every time Sam starts bugging Dean about holding something back, or Dean questions Sam about his well-being, I die a little inside. I understand that the Winchesters’ back-and-forth is one the key reasons for this show’s success, but the constant circular arguments are just too much. Save the big discussions for when they really count; you don’t need to through them into ever damn episode.
  • “What are you, Bad Santa?”
  • “There were hearts in my cupcakes!”
  • Okay, I may be reading too much into this, but—Maggie’s friend Sue (the one who loses her head via serving tray) is clearly crushing on Maggie, right? I feel like “You just reminded me, I need to check on the finger sandwiches” is a very naughty joke.
  • “You’re the woman I want to never grow old with.”