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Anastasia can’t help but be disappointed by this week’s Supernatural. Here’s her review of Rock and a Hard Place…
This review contains spoilers.
9.8 Rock And A Hard Place
I think we might seriously have another contender for the worst Supernatural episode ever.
I’ve been becoming progressively more disenchanted with the season after the first couple of episodes (which were excellent). After that, a few were entertaining without being particularly memorable, but more than a few were genuinely sub-par. The biggest problem I’ve been feeling, however, is that the season itself is a little all over the place: after its strong start, it’s alternated a little too much between deep, character-driven episodes and superficial funny episodes to have any sort of coherency. However, I was more than pleased by last week’s episode, with its focus on Dean’s character, which led me to be more than disappointed that Rock and a Hard Place had to be another episode to add to the rather terrible pile.
I’m not even sure where to start criticizing it. With the plot, perhaps? If there was one, for the most part, it felt like just the bare bones of the plot were masquerading as a fully fleshed-out version of one. It’s like watching a play and being unable to concentrate on the story because all the rigging, costume changes, scenery changes, backstage areas, and special effects are so transparent that you just can’t see beyond the things that make the story to the story itself.
The first few scenes I can allow, start like the typical Supernatural episode, and there’s no crime in that. The rest just doesn’t work: for one thing, the Winchesters do very little investigating. They show up, are presented with convenient connections by Sherriff Mills, and plunge into the first lead that comes to mind, riding along on the coincidences that keep popping up. They join a chastity group, after which the episode moves to a painfully awkward sex scene, whose sole reason for existing was to advance the plot through the kidnapping of Dean and his hookup of the episode. This was followed by a few scenes out of a B-horror-movie, as the kidnapped victims attempt to turn on each other in a horror movie cliché. Then, Dean conveniently finds an extra phone, conveniently gets that one bar of service, there’s a train passing by conveniently just as he’s calling, and Sam and Jody conveniently manage to find who’s behind all this by doing some googling. It’s all just so… convenient, with very little that is actually supernatural in all of this. In fact, the only indication that it’s an episode of a supernatural show and not the kidnapping episode of CSI is Vesta’s glowing fingers, which, I must admit, are pretty weak.
The characterisation was equally poor. Dean hardly felt like Dean; he had the maturity of a horny teenager and the depth of a piece of cardboard. First, he decides to go undercover at a chastity group (yeah, okay), where he quickly proceeds to decide that the best way to go undercover and gather information about what monster they’re hunting is to talk about how much he likes sex in a chastity group and make it as clear as possible that he does not belong there. After ingratiating himself with the members of said chastity group, he proceeds to attempt to ingratiate himself with the group’s leader, so that, apparently, he can forego investigating in order to pursue a hookup. Yes, there’s a monster on the loose kidnapping and possibly killing people, but all Dean Winchester is interested in is talking himself into going home with a hot girl and trying as hard as possible to do anything but gather information. Because the Dean Winchester we know always puts sex before saving people. Oh, and add to that conveniently ignoring phone calls from Sam, because they don’t have a monster on the loose and one of them might not be in danger. After the depth and complexity with which Dean was portrayed last episode (where he had desires and regrets and personality and, dare I say it again, complexity), this Dean is… well, he’s not Dean.
In fact, he doesn’t feel like Dean because he feels shallow, but also because he feels creepy. No, he didn’t coerce chastity counselor Suzy into sex, but inviting himself over to her place (an idea she didn’t seem particularly amenable to), going through her things, insisting on bringing up a past she was trying to leave behind, and ignoring her desire to put it behind her, is outright disturbing behaviour. It’s not the Dean we know, who is interested in protecting people, and generally has respect for them as people rather than idealized objects. Plus, that sex scene made about as much sense as a porno, with a dialogue that also sounds like it came out of one. One minute, Suzy’s a character with depth, who has a past she actually made a choice to leave behind because it was, likely, traumatizing (the porn industry is not a nice place), and the next she’s jumping into bed with the first man who comes along because he threw some frankly cringe-worthy lines at her. It’s a one-eighty degree turn that quickly speeds her from being a character to a plot device.
In fact, Suzy is just one of the prime examples of the way this episode was spectacularly good at using people’s life choices as a source of ridicule. In the Supernatural world, sex is cool and sexy (this is the CW, I guess, what can you expect?); ergo, anyone who rejects the “sexiness” of sex gets, by definition, ridiculed. A former porn star apparently can’t actually be interested in leaving behind a former career; an adult woman not interested in sex cannot be anything more than petty or ridiculous. It’s, frankly, disturbing.
In fact, the only aspect of this episode that I’d call in any way likeable, layered, or just more than an obvious plot device, is the interaction of Sam and Jody, as well as their individual characters. Sam’s always had a great rapport with Jody – in the same way that Charlie has always been more of Dean’s friend than Sam’s (they geek out together), so Sam has always been on the same wavelength with the sheriff. And, considering how few friends Sam seems to have, he really needs this one. They have some heartfelt conversations of the kind Sam’s been lacking for a while, which is followed by Jody shining bright as the star of the episode. There was a lot of worry that she’d been killed off in Sacrifice, and I am more than relieved to have her back, alive, witty, and badass. In fact, she’s pretty much the definition of badass: in this episode, she got stabbed, threw some sassy one-liners at the monster, pulled a stake out of her chest, and stabbed said monster with it. (Minor nitpick, though: one does not walk away from a wound like that without medical care. Then again, this is a show where a character barely flinches after getting shot).
The ending scene was another piece of excellence – in fact, it had the potential to be a redeeming feature if there was anything to redeem in this episode. It seems that, finally, Sam has caught on to the fact that something’s not quite right with him – though, tragically, Sam Winchester blames it on himself. The boy with the demon blood, the boy with the guilt, thinks there is something wrong with him, and it is more than heartbreaking to watch Dean torn between the need to keep Sam alive and the need to not cause him emotional pain. It’s a scene that makes it clear that what started in the first episode with the whole Ezekiel endeavor is finally being unravelled (about time), and it looks like the next episode (the mid-season finale) will finally deal with this particular thorny problem of the brothers and the secret angel. I just hope that it’s better-executed than this one. Source
Ladies, gentlemen, and children of all ages – this is the Supernatural I love. This is the Supernatural that make you say “aw” and laugh and then stabs you in the heart until you cry and forget that you ever “aw-ed” or laughed.
I know I’ve said this before but no other episode this season has come as close to capturing the “good ol’ days” as this one has. Now, that doesn’t mean the story was perfect or the most engaging over, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it was the most entertaining hour of television in recent memory, but it was a fantastic case-of-the-week, just-us-two-against-the-world, grave-digging, salt-and-burning, standalone episode that could easily been inserted into the earlier seasons and it would have fit right in. I mean, they dug up a grave and then salt and burned some bones… do you realize how long it’s been since we’ve seen that?!
So without further ado, here are some of Oprah’s my favorite things (from last night’s episode):
It’s always a treat when we get another piece of the puzzle and we get to learn more about our boys before we met them all the way back in season one at Stanford, and this episode was no different. It wouldn’t be our show though, if it didn’t find a way to make it hurt, and that it did.
In this flash back we were yet again reminded that John Winchester was a dick. There, I said it. I know as a fandom we stand on different sides of this fence but my side of the fence is clear: he’s an ass who should have tried harder and done better for his kids. What does better look like? Better looks like an ex-con and former gang member being a better father figure to Dean than John ever was. Those boys had nothing and no one but each other and… okay, I’m going to stop now before this turns into a rant.
On the other side of the spectrum, it was great getting to meet young Dean’s (beautifully played by Dylan Everett) first love, his first kiss, and the life that he’d started to carve out for himself away from the family business. It was a nice fantasy he (and we) knew he wouldn’t get to keep, because he’s job is now as it has always been: watching out for Sammy. More on that later.
2. The Samulet!
This trip down memory lane took place after that Christmas when Sam gave Dean the amulet so sixteen-year-old Dean was wearing it proudly and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t clap my hands and cheer a little bit when I saw it. We all know the significance of the amulet and we’re still reeling from when Den tossed it in the trash as Sam watched.
3. Bruce the Monster Smasher
The case of the week revolved around an emotionally scarred little boy named Timmy (parallels to the Winchesters, anyone?) and his Bruce the Monster Smasher action figure, but really, the beauty of this story was in Dean’s interactions with the boy. Here was Timmy, seemingly damaged beyond repair after losing his mom in a fiery car crash and now unable to let go of her – unable to let go of her memory. This is what was tying her (very angry ghost) to him and she was harming practically anyone who came near her boy. A noble sentiment but misguided to say the least. Enter Dean, his own mother having died in a fire when he was just a boy, and we have someone who’s uniquely qualified to understand what Timmy is going through – but even more than accomplishing that, we’re reminded that Dean is a great father already and all the proof you need sits at six feet four inches tall right beside him in the Impala.
4. “Don’t you dare think that there is anything that I would put in front of you!”
And so we come to the part of the episode that reminds us that Dean and Sam’s codependency was a necessary evil – that they truly had nothing and no one but each other and that Dean has always put Sam first. It’s not his duty or obligation; it’s not even his guilt – it is who he is. Plain and simple.
When Sam realizes that Sonny had helped Dean start a life away from the things that go bump in the night, away from their neglectful father, and away from the family business, it became painfully clear that Dean hadn’t hated his time at Sonny’s Home for Boys… he’d loved it. And only one thing could make Dean walk away from that… Sam. Watching out for Sam. The sacrifices these two have made for each other time and time again are just a testament of their commitment to each other. Sure, they pull at their ropes from time to time and test the boundaries like anyone would but push never has to come to shove before they’re back at each other’s sides. To put it in Dean own words at the beginning of this season: “There ain’t no me if there ain’t no you!”
For which Sam says, “Thank you,” at the end of the episode. But being the emotionally stunted boy he is, all Dean can say is, “I don’t what the hell you’re talking about,” which translates to, “There isn’t a single part of me that would have made a different choice.”
Next week: Sheriff Mills returns and she’s got a case for our boys and it involves them taking a purity pledge and being re-virginized! I’m not going to repeat it here but if you’ve seen the beginning of season four, you know what Dean called it then. I’m looking forward to it! At the very least, we’ll get a chuckle out of it and get to see an old friend again.
This week’s episode of Supernatural started with a “Then” montage of some of the funniest episodes in series history. The choice was deliberate, as “Dog Dean Afternoon” had the premise of an all-time classic: Dean drifts with a dog (to borrow a term from Pacific Rim) in order to solve a crime. Unbeknownst to Dean, becoming Doctor Dolittle also means taking on the characteristics of a dog. That means playing fetch, scratching behind the ears, barking at the mailman, and even sniffing butts! (The spell wears off before Dean gets that urge, unfortunately). Throw in a vegan bakery and a taxidermist who makes Game of Thrones squirrels (I think it was a squirrel), and you’ve got all the ingredients for a top-5 funniest episode. We’re deprived of that joy, however, as two major problems keep “Dog Dean Afternoon” from reaching its full potential. We’ll get to those issues in a bit. Let’s start with what made this episode primed for greatness.
“Dean as a dog” was an idea that had me worried when I saw the previews last week. It seemed like a stretch, but about 15 minutes into this episode, I realized Supernatural is at its funniest when the ideas are completely off-the-wall crazy. Dean’s confrontation with a pooping pigeon ranks up there with the funniest scenes I’ve seen on any TV show, let alone this one. It was so hilarious it even caused Jared Padalecki to break the fourth wall and look at the camera! Also hilarious were the different dog personalities Dean encountered in the pound. Who didn’t love the dog demanding a belly rub from Sam in exchange for information? Sam’s face in that scene said it all. Speaking of expressions, let’s not forget the hilarious looks Sam and Dean had in the taxidermist’s office. You know the ones I’m talking about.
While I’m sad that Sam and Dean didn’t bring The Colonel back to live at the Men of Letters bunker, I’m glad he found a good home at the vegan bakery that Dean claimed was the source of all evil in the universe. Maybe it was meat deprivation? Or the lack of sugar? What also makes me sad is that the dog in this episode was a better developed character than our villain, Chef Leo, who was eating animal parts in an attempt to cure his stage 4 cancer. This episode came to grinding halt when Chef Leo got heavily involved. His confrontation with Dean was totally clichéd and killed the story’s comedic momentum. His death was also hard to watch. It made me feel icky. Dean felt the same way judging by the look on his face. Maybe he was having flashbacks to being torn apart by hell hounds?
Of course, Chef Leo was meant to foreshadow what might happen to Sam with Ezekiel riding shotgun. Handling that kind of power leads to corruption, Dean argued. He’s got concerns and for good reason given the kind of angels he’s met. However, what has Zeke done thus far that indicates nefarious motivations? Remember, for every Metatron and Zachariah there’s a Castiel and Michael. Until something changes, Dean should cut Zeke some slack. He’s already saved Sam twice now and brought Charlie back from the brink last week. Speaking of saving Sam, I had issues with this week’s rescue from a serious throat slash. Are we to assume Sam forgets everything that happens when he’s healed? His face after Zeke healed his neck made me think he’d figured out something was up. But at the episode’s end, he didn’t mention anything his neck wounds being miraculously healed. Alas. I guess we’ll have to wait until the midseason break to see Sam find out the truth. Odds are our cliffhanger is Sam and Dean splitting up yet again. That, or Zeke dragging Sam to Heaven to confront Metatron. I’ll hope for the latter since we’ve seen the former storyline play out half a dozen times.
After a couple standalone episodes, I’m ready to get back to one our major storylines. That looks to be the case as next week we’ll drop in on Castiel and his new job at a gas station. I had hoped for a more ambitious storyline for a now-human Castiel; maybe next week is the launching pad for bigger and better things for him this season. I’d like to see Castiel helping the angels adjust to life on Earth or rallying allies to his side for the coming clash against Bartholomew. Just because Castiel is human now doesn’t mean he has no place with his brothers and sisters from Heaven. His character’s newfound humanity raises the stakes (since he can die now) and forces him to confront the doubts, anxieties, fears, and emotions that humans face every day. It’s meant to supplement his story, not restrict it. I think the writers understand that. We’ll find out for sure next week. I wish “Dog Dean Afternoon” had ditched its villain and played itself more for than laughs than a lame monster of the week storyline. We’ve had more than enough of those. What we need are more episodes to add to this week’s “Then” montage. Here’s to hoping the next funny episode hits the mark.
Line of the week
“Now the question is: are those bleeding hearts actually witches or just hippies?” – Sam
“What’s the difference?” – Dean