Due to circumstances beyond his control, Zack can't be with us tonight. I kind of hate to report that he missed what I think was a pretty good episode, maybe my favorite since the first slam-bang installments that kicked off this season. Those episodes, with the power-mad Castiel spiraling out of control and the introduction of the Leviathon, accomplished something that not every episode of Supernatural has been able to do (and for that matter, not every episode of Lost or The X-Files was able to do)—i.e., make you feel that there's a really good reason for this show tho have its own mythology, beyond giving people something to natter about online and at fan conventions.
Tonight's episode wasn't as enthralling as the best parts of the season opener, and it didn't drop any depth charges that will likely have lasting repercussions. But it managed to strike a rich vein of humor, always one of the show's strongest and most under-appreciated virtues, without reducing the situation to pure silliness and mitigating the threat of a genuinely creepy villain—Leslie Odom, Jr. as "Guy", a very smooth demon who poses as an "event planner" and works the high school reunion circuit, the better to gain easy access to people so hypersensitive to their failings and disappointments that exchanging their souls just so they could rub it in the faces of the people who made their teenage years hell seemed like a pretty good deal. Odom's performance was smooth, too, and seemed to take its inspiration from Sam's likening him to a drug dealer. You could see how skillfully he'd be able to convince his prey that he had only her best interests at heart, and also how much it had to hurt when, having her at his mercy, he dropped the mask and cooed, "You're so pathetic, it actually looped back around to cute."
Longtime viewers of Supernatural might even be able to guess from that line that the prey in question was Becky Rosen (Emily Perkins), the geek girl who became Sam and Dean's biggest fan from reading all their adventures, in religious-vision-inspired paperback novel form, in the show's most meta-textual plot twist, including the episode last season where the brothers were cast into an alternative universe where they were the stars of a TV show and Sam found a YouTube clip of Jensen Ackles from his stretch on Days of Our Lives. Always a little intense, Becky returned to action in the form of a full-blown, obsessive nut case, eager to cut a deal with the devil to make Sam fall in love with her and agree to a quickie Vegas wedding.
The deal she made with Guy involved a love potion—which she preferred to call a "social lubricant"—that worked like a pip, except that it kept wearing off over time, requiring further dealings and also giving Sam the occasional konk on the head with a handy waffle iron. "This isn't the honeymoon I had in mind," she lamented, looking at Sam tied to the bed. "Well, some of it is, but not in this context." (Interestingly enough, the writers felt the need to also have her blurt out the information that, between the dopings and the konkings and everything else, she and Sa, never had gotten around to consummating the marriage. Clearly, it's one thing to have a hero who's still shaky from having spent time literally being tortured in Hell; it's another to even leave open the possibility that he may have had questionably consensual sex while under the influence of the devil's roofies.)
Where the hell was Dean while Sam was chastely roped to the bedposts? Off doing his own thing, letting his crazy brother go to hell his own way, and pretending to think that he was better off without him, unable to even hint at his own feelings, unless they might come in handy while trying to seduce a stripper. Supernatural is set in a fairly complicated complicated fictional universe that tosses together urban legends with Christian folklore about angels and devils and too many conflicting apocalypse fantasies to keep straight, but it's gotten to the point where the toughest thing to keep track of week to week may be whether the brothers are still officially traveling and working together, or how close Dean is to giving up on Sam and consigning him to a room at the nearest laughing academy.
Luckily, Jensen Ackles can play the same scene over and over, grappling with the same problems and mulling over the same questions, and turn on a motivational dime without ever showing a crack in his character's steely resolve. Maybe that's a testament to what you can learn from doing soap operas, but it probably has something to do that Ackles, at his hardest-working, can seem like the natural heir to both Cary Grant and Steve McQueen,, and, when he's not working especially hard, can manage to seem like the real Fonzie. I don't know if Ackles will ever get a better opportunity as an actor than Supernatural, but I do know that, if there were less snobbery about genre entertainment and a low ceiling for critical respect towards anything that airs on CW, for the last several years, the Emmy nominees for Best Actor in a Drama would have been Jensen Ackles and four other guys.
Tonight's episode wasn't Ackles' finest hour, just because most of the plum scenes landed in Jared Padalecki's corner of the set. He did okay with them, though I can't shake the feeling that Ackles would be a lot funnier trying to hold up his end of a conversation with a gag in his mouth. For company, Ackles had D J Qualls as a bounty hunter who believed in taking the direct approach. Qualls, who got to introduce himself to Dean by admitting that he'd expected someone taller, seemed to be having fun with his role, and it was entertaining to see that this geeky little bag of bones knew his trade and had some moves he could bust. At the very end, the reunited brothers suddenly started talking to him as if he was just some loser they'd been carrying, and he took it all in good humor, which was strange; it was as if the show needed to rewrite everything it had already established about his character to explain why he and Dean couldn't ride off into the sunset together. This is too bad, partly because it wouldn't be the worst idea in the world to start building up a new stock of potential helpers who could check in with Sam and Dean from time to time, now that most of the previously established characters who'd served that sort of purpose have been killed off. Good as he is, Jim Beaver is only only man.
- Even Mark A. Sheppard, whose name in a guest cast list does not always cause my heart to expand with delight, was in good form tonight. He had a good scene explaining why he was angry with Guy for buying people's souls and then using a loophole to cheat them out of their promised ten years left on Earth to enjoy their side of the bargain: "Consumer confidence! This isn't Wall Street. This is Hell. We have a little something called integrity." This speech might have been a little too pleased with itself for how cleverly it made its point, but on the other hand. it was nice to have someone clearly explain the rules that ensured a happy ending and the defeat of the bad guy , in a way that, for once, did make perfect sense.
- Trying to reassure Dean while sounding realistic about his mental and emotional state, Sam tells him. "There's still a Denver scramble up here. I just know my way around the plate now." The word "plate" cause me to guess that this was a baseball term, but it turns out that a Denver scramble is actually some kind of omelette. Like all good monster shows going back to The Night Stalker, Supernatural revives all kinds of esoteric terms related to ghosts and ghouls and occult practices, but it's always the sports- and food-related terms that send me to Wikipedia.