"Clap Your Hands If You Believe …" was written by Ben Edlund, and if you're a Supernatural fan, you had high expectations for this episode. I know I did. Edlund is responsible for some of this show's most transcendent moments, including "Wishful Thinking," which featured a giant talking stuffed bear shooting its head off with a shotgun, and "Ghostfacers," which introduced the reality douchebag nerd ghost-hunters. And so much more. Edlund isn't the only great writer on the show, but he has a knack for pushing Supernatural outside its comfort zone, mastering one of the fundamental truths of genre storytelling: The more seriously you take the absurd, the harder you work to follow the ridiculous through to its logical conclusion, the better the story will be.
"Clap" starts with supposed alien abductions, before moving onto its real target: the horrible, horrible world of Fairies. The episode had its share of great scenes and featured a terrific guest-star appearance from Robert Picardo. It handled soulless Sam well, and really, if this plotline continues to be this consistently entertaining, I won't mind if Sam doesn't become a real live boy until the finale. Plus, Dean spent most of the episode in varying stages of exasperation and bemused horror, and Jensen Ackles is rarely more hilarious than when he's called on to play the straight man to a world of wackiness. The episode didn't hit quite the heights of Edlund's best work on the series, as its inventiveness wasn't always consistent, but it was definitely one of the best eps of the season so far, and a great breather from the heavier mythology we've been wading through.
Speaking of mythology, "Clap" had me with its opening X-Files parody, first starting with a cold open that could've come straight out of the earlier series (admittedly, the cold open fits just fine with this series, too, but the location subtitle font and familiar music were a nice touch), and then leading into a title sequence that directly parodied X-Files' moody blacks and whites. It was gleefully nerdy, and while the energy wasn't quite as high for the rest of the episode, that sense of play ran through everything. Connecting alien abduction with fairy kidnappings made a certain amount of sense: Stories of other-worldly forces invading our wold have been a constant in human culture since we first decided there was a "reality" to be invaded. It's just the names that have changed.
The episode doesn't do a ton with this idea, though; the abduction enthusiasts are just joke material (including the hippie chick who's eager to "help" Sam after Dean's abduction), as is the only lady in town who realizes the truth. "Clap" is a weirdly digressive at times. When the Winchesters interview the crazy fairy lady, she convinces them to hang out and finish their tea after they've asked their questions. They do so, and for a moment, it almost seems like something else is going to happen, if only because there's no other real reason for the scene to exist, outside of squeezing a few more drops out of the "crazy fairy lady is crazy" gag. But that's all there is to the scene. Later on, Dean is stalked by one of Picardo's minions, and when he tries to fight back, he inadvertently tackles an innocent little person. Which, again, is funny but oddly lazy. It's necessary for Sam to be alone during the final battle, and Dean's reaction to the situation is priceless, but … midget jokes? I dunno, I was hoping for more fairy microwaving.
That was great, no question. And the bizarre shots of a bunch of small men building watches in a watchmaker's workshop (it can't be that easy to still make a living as a watchmaker these days, can it?) was gratifyingly odd. It could be that Edlund's earlier success has raised standards unfairly high. "Clap" follows the usual Supernatural structure—mysterious attacks, investigation, research, make a plan, have the plan foiled, beat the bad guy with a bit of lore, and then time for the usual Winchester post-game emo-chat—and it has enough terrific touches and dialogue to satisfy any fan, and yet I found myself slightly disappointed by the conclusion. The pieces didn't quite add up properly; whether that was my own expectations, or just the series reaching the glass ceiling as to how good it can be, I'm not sure.
One element that worked without reservation was Dean's attempts to teach Sam I Ain't how to behave like a proper human. Outsider figures are often thrilling to watch, because their freedom to behave logically without getting held back by morality or emotion makes them exciting; even better, the best outsiders (like Spock from the original Star Trek) comment on the absurdities of the human condition, drawing attention to all those ridiculous things in our own lives we've always considered nonsensical but have never been able to get around. That's where Sam is now, and it's pretty much brilliant. He's openly insulting to fools, and when Dean is abducted early on, Sam does his best to do some research, but when that research doesn't pan out, he goes to bed with a cute hippie because hey, it's not like he'd just sit in a dark hotel room brooding all night. After years of a brotherly dynamic defined by, "Dean=pragmatic/Sam=empathetic," the Winchester relationship has changed, and the dramatic and comedic rewards that change is reaping continue to delight. It's not many series that can find a new way to handle old characters this late into its run.
- Before the big conclusion, I was disappointed that Picardo had so little to do. Glad I was wrong about that.
- All right, Picardo was the leprechaun. What was the homeless guy who stalked Dean? And are all the kidnapped first-born sons dead or "servicing King Oberon" forever or what?
- "Better run, man. I think the fourth kind is a butt thing."
- "Have you considered the possibility that you suck at hunting U.F.O.s?"
- "They were grabby, incandescent douchebags, okay?"
- "Probing table!" "God, don't say that out loud."
- "Hey, you're the one who pizza-rolled Tinkerbell, I'm just doing the math."
- Proof that maybe Sam really is smarter without a soul: "It was a deal. When's a deal ever been a good thing?"