Just how terrific is Mark A. Sheppard? There was a time, not so very long ago, when I would have tagged this as a trick question, but Sheppard has been playing Crowley long enough to have gotten comfortable in the part and grateful for the chance to do new things with it, and he carries “Blade Runners” in the palm of his hand.
This is especially true of the early scenes, which capture the deposed King of Hell in his fat-Elvis phase: lolling around a swank-looking hotel room, sweating up the sheets with a bodacious-looking (and predictably treacherous) woman demon, and gorging himself on human blood. After feeding time, he grows ever more tremulously in touch with his human side, tearing up while watching Casablanca on TV or eagerly turning the pages of Little Women. At one point, he indulges in his little habit while the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” sprawls across the soundtrack. Sure, it’s a little on-the-nose. But when Lucifer’s understudy is flailing about onscreen and Lou Reed sings that he feels just like Jesus’ son, it’s funny, and the blasphemy cuts both ways.
Sheppard has made the vulnerable, half-human Crowley—the guy who sometimes appears to be sincerely interested in igniting a bromance with the appalled Dean—so engaging and entertaining that it’s not just satisfying to see him keep one step ahead of the demons who get close to him in order to screw him over; it can get a little old to see Sam and Dean never cut him an inch of slack. When Sam continues to treat Crowley contemptuously and shut him out of the decision-making process, and Crowley lists all the things he’s done for the Winchesters lately, it’s easy to think that he’s got Moose dead to rights.
“At least when Cass was human, he was an okay guy,” says Dean, adding that it stands to reason that a humanized Crowley would be “the douche version.” Considering that Cass has been forgiven for having brought down his share of Armageddon, this might be a little harsh, but it’s funny too: It’s occasioned by the sight of Crowley, killing time while waiting for a nocturnal meeting in a park, trying to steal candy from a vending machine. With any luck, when Crowley is ready to wash his hands of the Winchesters and reclaim his throne, Sheppard will get to play scary and threatening, and the brothers will be vindicated in their refusal to find any version of him cuddly.
As much fun as the window dressing is, the main business of the plot is to get the First Blade into Dean’s hand. The time-honored implement is in the possession of Magnus, a reject from the Men Of Letters, played by Kavan Smith of The 4400, Stargate: Atlantis, and Eureka, making a triumphant return to the show after his appearance as “Gym Club Victim” in the season three episode “Time Is On My Side.” Having been ousted from the Men Of Letters shortly before his former comrades were massacred, Magnus now spends his time hanging out alone in some handsome abode whose exteriors are invisible to the outside world, and is himself ageless: No need to explain or think too long about any of this, because, he says, there’s a spell for anything. The First Blade is part of his collection of “supernatural rarities and collectibles,” and he isn’t interested in lending it out. He is interested in keeping Dean and his mark of Cain around, “to complete the set.” Besides, he tells Dean, he does get… lonely. Is there anyone who doesn’t want to initiate a bromance with Dean? (There’s also a woman who the brothers interview in their FBI agent disguises, who’s aroused by the prospect of having Dean “compel” her to answer their questions. Duly noted: It’s not just dudes who crave Dean’s company.)
The heroes vanquish Magnus, and make off with the Blade, though Crowley end sup holding it for them. Aside from the Crowley scenes, the happiest news about the episode may be that, for once this season, the brothers are too focused on saving the world to talk about their issues much, or even make too big a show of how they’re cut off from each other emotionally and not talking. That’s enough reason right there to not complain too much about how swiftly they kill off Magnus, despite the fact that the character has the potential to serve as a gateway to all kinds of questions about the show’s expanding mythology, and Smith is so affably unsettling in the role that it would have been peachy to have him back sometime.
The same cannot be said for Nicole Polizzi, the trivia quiz answer formerly known as “Snooki,” who makes a cameo as a crossroads demon, i.e., “Herself.” Leaving aside the fact that she’s way past her sell-by date even as a walking punch line, she’s too arch to make fun of herself, let alone act, and given the Winchesters’ nomadic existence, busy schedule, and propensity for vanishing into alternate realities for long stretches of time, it beggars credibility that both of them would even recognize her. In fact, it would probably be funnier if neither of them had the faintest idea who she is. It would certainly be a believable vision of somebody’s personal Hell.
- Eric apologizes for not being able to make it tonight, but he’ll be back next week.