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Supernatural: “Man’s Best Friend With Benefits”

Illustration for article titled Supernatural: “Man’s Best Friend With Benefits”
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Sam and Dean check into a motel. Dean goes on a beer run, and Sam opens the door to find a dog wearing a red collar patiently waiting to make his acquaintance. The dog ambles into the room and jumps on the bed, making itself thoroughly at home. Then Sam steps outside and sees Dean approaching. “Before you get pissed off,” Sam tells him, “I want you to know that it isn’t my fault. She just showed up at the door, didn’t track in any mud, just wanted her belly scratched. I figured, maybe she could stay the night, and maybe we can try to find her a home tomorrow.” He swings the door open, and sitting on the bed is a beautiful woman wearing a red collar. Okay, sure, says, Dean, she can stay the night…

“Man’s Best Friend…” isn’t as manic and strenuously wacky as last week’s episode, and I can’t tell you how relieved I am that we get to take a break between installments of the Three Labors Of Sam Winchester storyline. But it’s another disappointing episode, and it’s even more frustrating than last week’s dud, because it points in some interesting directions but still blunders down a dead-end path. That opening scene is too typical; there might be a way to play this sequence of events for a laugh, but Sam’s speech, laboriously setting up a punch line that the viewer can see coming from a mile away, goes on so long that it has you whimpering.

The dog-lady is named Portia, and she is the familiar of a male witch, James Frampton, who is a homicide detective in St. Louis. He and the Winchesters are old pals; back before he made detective, he helped them out on a case, and what he learned about the dark forces that are going on around us all the time weirded him out so badly that he began to dabble in magic, which he uses only for good: As a cop, his clearance rate is, like, 100 percent. But he’s been having nightmares in which he “goes ripper” and kills people, shredding them with his bare hands, and the people from his nightmares are actually turning up dead. James is distraught and filled with dread and self-doubt, his own colleagues are prepared to drop a net around him, and Portia has summoned Sam and Dean, hoping they can help. Dean is torn. He remembers James fondly, but he doesn’t like witches, dude.

There are some effective glimpses of James’ dreams, a funny scene of Dean trying to fit in at a witches’ social club that recalls the closeted witch subculture of Bell, Book, And Candle—“I’m a Wiccan,” he parrots idiotically to anyone who looks at him. “From Detroit.”—and an actor named Curtis Caravaggio is very creepy as a warlock named Spencer, who is way too obviously the bad guy behind it all. (The creepiness does at least make his being the chief villain seem inevitable for reasons beyond plot convenience.) However, the whole point of the episode seems to be the romantic, sexual love between James and Portia, which is forbidden in witchy circles. It even seems meant to come as a surprise to the audience, though like everything else in this episode, it isn’t a surprise at all. Did no one notice that the title kind of gives it away?

At one point, Sam compliments Dean on his restraint: It’s been 12 hours since the brothers learned the true nature of James and Portia’s relationship, and “You haven’t made one bestiality joke.” This actually seems less a matter of polite restraint on Dean’s part than confusion: He really doesn’t seem sure how he feels about things, and so doesn’t quite know how to proceed. That’s how the whole episode feels. Portia and James generate some heat when they’re snuggling in bed together, with James chained in place so that he can’t get out and eviscerate people. But the episode feels as if it started out with a dirty joke, told by someone who at some point decided it wasn’t funny: Heck, they’re such a sweet couple. I’m not even sure why it would be taboo for witches and their familiars to be knocking boots. It seems like the most natural supernatural thing in the world, and how grossed out are people who are using the mystic arts to mess with the natural world really meant to be over the “sometimes, she’s a dog” factor? “Man’s Best Friend…” could be subtitled “Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That.”

Stray observations:

  • Sam tries to feel out the detective investigating the case, to see if he harbors any professional jealousy toward James. The cop ain’t having it: “This place is run like a dogsled,” he says. “No stars, just grunts. One mutt goes lame; another one pops up and slogs through the slush.” I propose setting this to music and making it the official TV Club writers’ anthem.
  • James, suggesting that he use astral projection to check out how things at going at the police department: “A witch can go to places without having to go to the place.” Dean: “What, like phone sex?”
  • James Frampton is only the latest in a string of Supernatural characters who are introduced as having a back story that overlaps with that of the brothers, and whose experiences with them are referenced as if this episode were a sequel to a previous episode, from which we might be expected to remember these people. But, as with those previous characters, this isn’t really the case, and James, like Portia, has never appeared on the show before. I’m not suggesting there’s anything dishonest about this, but now that’s happened a couple of times, I do wonder why, when the show tells a story about the brothers reconnecting with someone from their past, they don’t bring back a character from a previous episode. You’d think it would firm up the mythology a bit. And with more than 160 episodes in the rear-view mirror, how many possible situations can the writers come up with that somebody from a previous adventure wouldn’t be a good fit for?