Now that’s more like it. Depending on your perspective (and what you want out of the show), “Dog Dean Afternoon” is probably either the greatest Supernatural episode ever or the worst Supernatural episode ever. At the very least, I imagine it’s tough to be neutral about Dean transforming into a dog and hearing Sam get hit on by a dog who sounds like a poor man’s Margo Martindale. I will totally understand if you thought this was a big, terrible mess. But you’re wrong.
Start with the obvious: Dean turns into a dog and talks to animals. This is amazing. Jensen Ackles’ gift for physical comedy has long been one of Supernatural’s strongest assets, and the dog plot is mostly an excuse to see how far he’ll go for a joke. (The answer is pretty damn far.) Over the course of Dean’s walk on the wild side, he gets riled up by a mailman, makes eyes at a very fetching lady dog (hey, the show finally gets to use the word “bitch” in a semi-appropriate context!), and gets into an argument over Styx with a dog. That dog, The Colonel, makes a great bro for Dean. Just having a voiceover while Dean talks to The Colonel (and the other animals) should be reminiscent of the worst sort of talking animal movies, but Supernatural and Ackles lean into it so hard that its weirdly perfect. I mean, Dean actually says “Ruh roh” after he realizes he’s taken on dog characteristics.
The rest of the talking animals are equally amusing, from the asshole pigeon preparing to piss on the Impala to the dogs at the animal orphanage Dean has to interrogate. This scene is probably the best in the episode, engaging in the Winchesters’ typical questioning of witnesses… but with dogs. As funny as this scene it is, it works as well as it does because it also seems like the writers genuinely care about the animals. That respect for the animals carries through the end of the episode, when the spell wears off just as Colonel is about to tell Dean the real reason dogs were “put” on Earth. Pretty much everything about this part of the episode is absolutely ridiculous, and exactly what Supernatural should be doing in its goofier standalone episodes. As the mythology and its associated grimness have slowly overtaken the show, there have been fewer purely fun episodes, which make the absurdity of “Dog Dean Afternoon” a welcome breath of fresh air.
Even beyond the Dean dog story, there’s a bunch of good stuff happening in this episode. There are some really good reversals, using our (or my) relatively low expectations of the show’s intelligence. Take the cold open, which could have easily set up the creepy taxidermist as the villain before revealing him as a kindhearted “artist” cut down by an asshole in a cowboy hat. Better yet, the sunglass-wearing “douchebag” vegan coffee shop owners/SNART cofounders could have been caricatures of animal rights activists but wind up the most sympathetic human guest stars. And as silly as much of “Dog Dean Afternoon” is, some of it is genuinely creepy—particularly a scene of Leo the evil chef eating a cat. Unfortunately, the power of that image is itself undercut by the schlubby, bearded dude who shows up to say, “Dude, you said you were from a perfume company.”
The main thing that keeps “Dog Dean Afternoon” from being a pantheon-level Supernatural, though, is pacing. We all knew going in this was going to be an episode in which Dean turns into a dog, so pretty much everything before then is just killing time until we get to the meat of the episode. And since Dean doesn’t do the spell until a third of the way in, there’s a lot of dead time at the beginning. There’s also some dead time at the end, because Chef Leo isn’t the best villain. At least in theory, Leo’s cancer (and subsequent decision to “break bad”) should make him at least somewhat sympathetic. But instead he’s just smarmy and says things like “Wolf trumps dog” before getting torn apart by the pack of dogs Dean set free (the fake teeth don’t help).
And as fun as this all is, a lot of this animal business raises a whole host of uncomfortable questions. Learning that all animals have a comprehensible language capable of discussing the nuances of classic rock would probably give me pause about continuing to eat them… but there’s no chance Dean is going to up and become a vegetarian, right? And as awesome and ridiculous as Dean eliminating Leo with a pack of dogs is, did the dogs develop a taste for human meat? Did they always feel comfortable eating people? Was Dean into said consumption of human meat? Obviously, these are pretty silly questions about a pretty silly episode of television, but the fact that they jump out is indicative of the way “Dog Dean Afternoon” falls apart a bit at the end, especially since there’s even more Zeke stuff. Dean has to lie to Sam again, and we don’t even get to see Jared Padalecki’s Tahmoh Penikett impersonation. Thankfully, this is kept to a blessed minimum, and it’s not enough to ruin the talking animals. But it is enough for “Dog Dean Afternoon” to occasionally resemble the show chasing its own tail, and not in the fun way.
- Some great names in this episode, especially SNART and the restaurant literally called Avant-Garde Cuisine.
- The Colonel actually calls Dean “Haas.” I did not know this was a thing anyone except my brother did.
- I was ready to make fun of the Winchesters for looking up black eyes, but I would totally do the same thing.