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Supernatural: "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid"

Illustration for article titled Supernatural: "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid"
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I don't scare as easily as I used to. This is a good thing, because for a while, everything scared me. Like Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes type everything. I've lost some of the mystery in my life, and some of the excitement, but I'm willing to trade that for being able to sleep most nights. The only problem is, those few things that do scare me are terrifying in a way that goes right down to the bone. One of those things is losing the people I care about. I've never been in love, not the kind that matters, but just the thought of finding that someone, of finally getting that part of my life right, only to have them die—and really, one of us will die, that's the hell of it. It's hard to imagine anything worse than being broken that way. 

Plot-wise, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" wasn't anything revelatory or new. Dead people come back, are pleasant enough for a while, then turn on their loved ones, as zombies are wont to do. But I'd say this is one of my favorite episodes of the season, because familiar or not, this one had a good solid punch. Part of that is finally having Supernatural back after the hiatus; it's just fun to see everybody back to doing what they're paid for. Even taking that into account, though, "Plaid" was strong: the script was sharp, managing to be serious without tipping over into the grimness that's been dogging the series ever since Sam started sucking down demon blood. The action climax came together nicely. And, most important of all, Jim Beaver held everything together, taking a potentially melodramatic concept and giving it real weight and melancholy.

Like I was saying, losing the love of your life is so scary I'm surprised more marriages don't involve bubble wrap and duct tape. Here's poor Bobby, stuck in the wheelchair while Sam and Dean go angsting their way through creation, and one more, his wife Karen comes home. Only, Karen's been dead long time, because Bobby killed her after she was possessed by a demon, then had her body cremated. He runs this "new" Karen through all the familiar tests, but as far as he can tell, she isn't evil, and she isn't an illusion. So he welcomes her into her home, and she starts making pies. Only, Bobby isn't an idiot. He knows this is going to go badly, and even trying to convince the Winchesters that it'll all be fine, that hey, it's a crazy world, sometimes the dead just come back because they've got nothing better to do, you can tell he doesn't believe his own lies. Even in a world where ghosts are probably and Hell is definitive, there are some rules that just never get broken.

It's a strong conflict, and it's one that never fails to move me when done well. I love the drama of impossible choices, and while it would've been interesting if "Plaid" had gone in a different direction, if the rising dead hadn't just reverted to type for the shotgun-packed finale, there's something to be said for playing it traditional. In the same way that some jokes become funnier on repetition, tragedy gains power from its audience knowing the punch-line in advance. Every happy moment between Bobby and Karen, every time Karen seemed open and friendly and entirely sane, I could tell the same lies Bobby was obviously clinging to. Maybe this time would be different. And then, when it turns out not to be different in the worst possible way, I knew it was coming and it surprised me anyway.

Am I over-selling this? Probably. Like I said, I'm a huge sucker for this sort of thing. But even if Bobby's dilemma didn't move you, "Plaid" was still good, with some great dialog, and the sort of myth-building the show hasn't done in a frustratingly long time. Sure, we've heard all about angels and demons and so forth, but it's nice to learn a little more about the most important human characters, because once they have a past, they seem more real. And the subtlety with which Bobby's back-story came out here was satisfying. No huge revelations, but finding out he was something of a son-of-a-bitch when he was younger, and that the locals still consider him the town drunk, was cool.

There wasn't a ton going on with the Apocalypse problem, apart from Bobby getting a push from Death to give up on the Winchesters. (Said push being the kind with stabbing and/or flesh-eating.) It's probably safe to assume that the threat of the End of the World isn't going to change Supernatural's basic approach to storytelling. Just as in other seasons, we'll get bits and pieces of the main story from time to time, but the stuff won't really hit the fan till we move into the last few episodes of the season. I still have problems with this, the big one being that by raising the stakes to such an absurd degree, the show seems to be calling attention to its biggest limitations, but I'm also willing to accept that things are how they are. If we can keep connecting to the characters in simple, heartfelt ways—ways that don't require dialog that keeps saying "Man, everything sucks so hard" over and over again with slightly different words each time—I won't have much to complain about.


Stray Observations:

  • Yeah, the picture up there is from an earlier episode. Once again, the arcane rituals of press sites elude me.
  • The title is a reference to a fun Steve Martin movie—it's a send up of film noir, with Martin interacting with clips from classic detective and crime movies.
  • I loved how Bobby and the Sheriff actually conspired to keep the zombie problem hidden from the boys. It's always fun when characters you trust lie.
  • That looked like a lot of pies.
  • Sam: "Yeah, I'm gonna regret this." And he totally does!
  • Bobby: "She was the love of my life. How many times do I have to kill her?"