Reaper's biggest fault is that it so often takes the path of least resistance, story-wise. (Sorry, broken record here, but it's okay because we're going to end up someplace nice.) There just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of urgency to anything, especially considering the circumstances, and too many promising plot threads have been broken by shoulder-shrug resolutions. We can excuse it by saying "that's just the kind of show this is," but I'd argue that the laid-back nature can go too far, regardless of the style. You keep hoping for some kind of pay-off, some kind of lasting conflict and it just sort of floats away.
Which is why Morgan is such a welcome presence on the show. (See, toldja.) We don't get as much of the Devil as any of us would like, but having his son around—the son who embraces his lineage, even though he spends most of his time just being a likeable asshole—makes for a decent second prize. It gives Sam a solid foil to play off of; his ongoing irritation at the way everybody can't stop loving Morgan is great (I think I like Sam most when he's annoyed), as is the way the Devil keeps putting them in competition against each other. I'd say "The Home Stretch" is about two-thirds of a really good episode, and a big part of why it works is that the Morgan/Sam rivalry finally gets pushed to the next level. By the end of the episode, we have multiple changes in the status quo. Too soon to see if those will go anywhere, but at least it's a start.
The Devil has decided that it's time to stop screwing around. (Or at least he's decided to tell Sam and Morgan that it's time to stop screwing around.) He claims he's tired of the various ways they keep on disappointing him, so he draws the line: whoever catches this week's soul will get the official title of Second-in-Command, the Devil's Earthbound representative. The loser gets stuck in permanent flunky-mode, just another punch clock jockey struggling to get by.
Clearly, this is not a contest Sam wants to win. He's made it perfectly clear that he's not up for helping the Devil destroy mankind, and the threat of second place sounds an awful lot like just sticking with the way things are. He offers Morgan his help, but Morgan is a hard sell. Apparently, being an untrustworthy bastard means you see an untrustworthy bastard wherever you look. (In his defense, given who his father is, that's probably just a smart self-defense mechanism.) Funny thing is, he keeps coming back to Sam almost in spite of himself. Maybe it's his apparentincompetence at anything requiring labor, or maybe it's something else—this whole competition looks an awful lot like yet another scheme to force Sam a few steps down the road to damnation, and Morgan's conveniently timed paranoia is awfully suspicious.
Doesn't mean he's not hedging his bets; the first time the two come up against the SotW, Morgan manages to switch out Sam's fire extinguisher vessel for a real fire extinguisher, with predictably hilarious results. The Devil isn't amused. He gives another speech about how disappointed he is, and then informs Sam that the current Soul is working on building a portal to Hell. Which means Sam can't just sit back and let Morgan keep screwing up—he's gotta step in and make sure the job gets done, or else people are going to die.
Bunch of other plotlines running around during "Stretch." Sock's attempts to seduce a mourner at a funeral he crashes were tedious and repetitive, and the outcome was sadly disappointing. (Huh. She's got a boyfriend. Wow, all that work for nothing.) It was cute that it eventually became sort of relevant by the end, what with Sock and Ben managing to con just the right amount of cash to help Sam solve his problems, but every time Sock went to another service for a teacher he never knew, I reached for the remote. (And then I stopped because I remembered I was working. Curse you, dream job!) Like I said, two-thirds of a good episode, but that one third was a drag.
The Ben and Nina romance hit another snag this week, with Ben's evil-sensing grandma not exactly warming to Nina's demon-ness. This one was sort of blah as well, but the ending, with Ben breaking up with Nina, should provide us with some drama in the weeks to come. I like the chemistry the two have, but Ben's behaved like kind of a moron for two episodes in a row now. Whatever Nina's threatening him with, he's got it coming at this point. (I don't care how much Pilates Grandma does, given a choice, how is this even a question?)
And there's Alan. On Andi's encouragement, Sam and the gang track Alan down at the cemetery, and use various forms of encouragement to convince him to spill the beans on how he got out of his contract with the Devil. Taking him to the racetrack doesn't work—actually, it almost works too well—but when they offer him a chance to expand his horizons by moving to Vatican City, the only city in the world built entirely on consecrated ground, Alan agrees to tell everything. His secret: the Devil has a huge ego (duh) and he likes to play games. If you challenge him at something you're good at, and if you manage to beat him, he has to let you go.
But wait—there's more. Alan has one last crucial piece of info that he refuses to part with till he's free and clear. That doesn't stop Sam from celebrating his imminent release. Seems a little premature; not only does he not know the final condition, what the hell is he good enough at to beat the Devil? (Given this show, probably a video game.) I guess he just needs the good news. He and Morgan managed to send the SotW back to hell, destroying his portal at same time, but in a stroke of bad luck, Sam ends up being the one to make the final push. The Devil, who claims to know all about his realm, declares Sam the winner, stripping Morgan of his goodies and banning him with ten dollars and a bus ticket. Morgan isn't happy at all about this, and Sam is just a little closer to being what he hates.
You can't really blame him, then, for trying to enjoy some success, even if that success hasn't happened yet. He sees freedom down the line, and Andi is making out with him again; maybe it's a good time to cheer. But Alan hasn't reached the promise land yet. Before his plane lands in Rome, mechanical problems force them to make a quick pit stop. In Las Vegas. And there's a hundred dollars in chips for everyone for the inconvenience. There's a reason the Devil is vain, y'know? And it's not because he lets loose ends go.
- Funny how the Devil's way of breaking Alan is an awful lot like Sam's.
- What was up with the waittress at the diner? She kept coming back, I thought it was going to be significant somehow. Only it wasn't.