SUPERNATURAL: SEASON 1



1.1: Pilot - 1.2: Wendigo - 1.3: Dead in the Water - 1.4: Phantom Traveler - 1.5: Bloody Mary - 1.6: Skin - 1.7: Hook Man - 1.8: Bugs - 1.9: Home - 1.10: Asylum - 1.11: Scarecrow - 1.12: Faith - 1.13: Route 666 - 1.14: Nightmare - 1.15: The Benders - 1.16: Shadow - 1.17: Hell House - 1.18: Something Wicked - 1.19: Provenance - 1.20: Dead Man's Blood - 1.21: Salvation - 1.22: Devil's Trap




1.1: Pilot

Written by Eric Kripke
Directed by David Nutter

“Scary stories” don’t scare me very much. Beyond the typical instinctual reaction of jumping at a sudden noise and visual flash, scary stories don’t get a rise out of me at all. “The Exorcist”? Didn’t bother me at all. I was more fascination by the psychological side of the story than frightened by the concept of demonic possession. It’s easier to disturb me through unnerving concepts than to scare me with ghost stories.

That said, I have a deep and unending interest in the “paranormal”. I love exploring the possibilities that lie outside of what many consider to be “normal”. It’s not so much that I buy into the typical explanations for these phenomena, because much of the time, it comes across as an artificial construction of “fact” designed to give order to the unexplained. But what I find interesting is the very fact that these anecdotal experiences are so prevalent. One can pass it off as purely psychological, but if something is unexplained, is that really a conclusion that can be made?

The old adage is that there is no such thing as the “supernatural”, only those things that science cannot yet explain. These anecdotal stories evolve into urban legend and arcane lore as time passes and the line between reality and fantasy blurs. Unlike a lot of series out there, where phenomena are questioned or analyzed to death, this series revels in the idea that these urban legends and stories are all grounded in some basis of fact.

I have to say this: the writers don’t try to make this series too deep, and they emphasize their hunt for their prized demographic. For all that, this is very entertaining escapism. The world of “Supernatural” doesn’t have to be convincing from a “real world” point of view. The hook is that there’s the “real world”, and then there’s all this other insanity that is kept nice and quiet, handled by semi-professional outlaw “hunters” who use conventional weapons to combat supernatural threats.

The two leads make for convincing “brothers with issues”, and part of the fun is working out how deeply screwed up these guys are. Given their history and father, it’s no surprise. When Daddy disowns you for wanting to be a lawyer instead of outlaw paranormal hunter, there are perhaps some psychological matters to be dealt with. The pilot gives me hope that this will be explored somewhat as the series progresses. Once the “coolness” is established, there’s no reason to avoid a little reflection.

For a pilot, there’s a minimum of intrusive exposition, which is a nice touch. The back story is shown, not explained, and that’s always a good way to start. While I’m sure that many will be unnerved by the deaths that bookend the episode, I found it more interesting in terms of how this unknown entity might eventually be tied to the family. Clearly, it’s targeting these people directly; it seems way too coincidental otherwise.

It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve had a thing for Sarah Shahi since she was Jenny on “Alias”. She’s gorgeous, without a doubt, and she pulls off this role well. The producers were going for the hotness, and they got it. Clearly men and women both had something to enjoy. I wish the effects were a bit better, since they weren’t always convincing, but this was a pilot and the effects may not be typical of the series as a whole. But that’s a minor area of improvement.

I’m usually hard on pilot episodes, because they tend to serve two very different functions and don’t come together well as a result. This is an example of a very good pilot. I didn’t need to know much to get into the concept, and the producers convinced me that the series is worthy of being at least a guilty pleasure, should it be devoid of anything more than style. Not everything can be “Lost”, after all, and sometimes, that’s enough.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 7/10


*****
1.2: Wendigo

Written by Eric Kripke, Terri Hughes Burton, and Ron Milbauer
Directed by David Nutter

So I think I get the formula for this series. Two relatively hot brothers run around hunting down paranormal legends, running into hot young women of various natures in the process, while doing everything possible to maintain a certain sense of style. I have to say, as impressed as I was with the pilot episode, I was wary of the actual series itself. I wasn’t sure how well the writers would be able to pull it off.

Surprisingly, I think I liked this episode even more than the pilot. Granted, there were a lot of elements lifted from the “X-Files” episodes “Detour” and “Darkness Falls”, but within the framework of this series, it worked rather well. If Mulder or Scully had expressed such a cocky sense of experience when dealing with the experts, it would have come across as disingenuous. In this case, I expected nothing less.

I’m a guy, and so the characters of Sam and Dean needed to be more than hot actors posturing for the camera. While there’s an awful lot of posturing going on, I’m getting the sense that a lot of that is intentional. Dean, for instance, could come across as simply arrogant. Instead, there’s an undertone of desperation in how he must constantly put forward this “cool” image. It’s those scars that work for me, just like the ones that are fresh behind Sam’s eyes.

In a lot of ways, this is the second half of the pilot, because this is where the character motivations take shape. I hope the characters continue to mention their parents and Jess regularly, if only to maintain that these brothers are more than just badass outlaws. It may be contrary to the mission statement, but I want a sense of the psychological baggage that would drive someone to consider this a legitimate career path.

This is where the series is giving me something “Prison Break” currently lacks. While I can get into the deep psychological issues of the main character of “Prison Break”, that series is set in the “real world”, so plot contrivances are a lot harder to forgive. This series is firmly entrenched in a fantasy world where one must, before an episode starts, accept that all these paranormal legends are real. A lot is forgiven when the typical rules are immediately set aside.

In terms of the central concept of the episode itself, I remember the Wendigo more from Marvel Comics of the 1980s than folklore, but I enjoyed seeing this take on it. I wasn’t particularly frightened at any point, and if I wanted to quibble, I might mention that getting into the Wendigo’s lair was just a bit too easy. If the Wendigo was as clever and powerful as the brothers suggest, none of them would have survived very long once they were revealed as a possible threat. In fact, if the Wendigo was intelligent, it would have made damn sure that anything capable of lighting it up was out of commission.

Of course, this is “monster of the week” in its purest form, and it wouldn’t be much fun if the brothers were eviscerated in the second episode. Doubtless, they will survive under far more questionable circumstances in the future. But this second episode was even more enjoyable mindless entertainment than the pilot, and unlike a lot of mindless television, there’s an effort to present the material with true style and confidence. This may be my pick for sleeper hit of the season.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10


*****
1.3: Dead in the Water

Written by Raelle Tucker and Sera Gamble
Directed by Kim Manners

I’ve been impressed with this series so far, but the real test of any series will come after the first couple of episodes. The pilot is all about establishing premise, and the second episode is typically taking the ideas from the pilot and reshaping them into an ongoing format. After that, it’s all up in the air. Take “Threshold” as a good example: the first two hours were promising, but the third hour didn’t meet the same standard.

I’m happy to say that “Supernatural” hasn’t had the same problem yet. I think this is because it’s not trying to be something more than it is. Whatever opinions I had about the format before haven’t changed after this episode; if anything, those opinions were solidified. The continuity remains at the character development level, and if the characters themselves still feel like mysteries themselves, that’s all the better.

This episode says a lot about Dean, and I love the way that Jason gets to play with his range. He’s been criticized in the past, and while I certainly understand those criticisms, I can’t help but feel a certain something from the character and Jason’s portrayal. It’s not anything extraordinary, but there’s a sincerity there. I mentioned before that there’s a lot happening in Dean’s head, and that his scars drive his choices, and that’s definitely the case here.

Dean throws off a lot of charm, and it works for the ladies. Then again, it’s hard not to want to charm and woo Amy Acker! But his cool exterior and faux-James Dean attitude betray a number of psychological hang-ups and self-recrimination. It’s clear that Dean feels like he let his parents down, and he’s trying to make up for it. It’s probably a lot more complex than that, and perhaps that’s why I like the character so much. The writers could have just made him cool and confident; instead, he’s still, in many respects, the child he was when his mother died.

Sam is mostly kept to the background in this episode, serving the purpose of pushing Dean’s buttons when necessary to reveal what’s hidden. That works well enough in this case, but it does expose some of the weaknesses in the actor’s range. After reading some comments about Jared in several reviews and such, I took a moment to review some of his scenes in this episode. He was rather wooden at times. Hopefully the next episode will focus on him and his character can be defined by something other than a desire to find Daddy and be done with it all.

As for the actual “case” in this episode, I liked it. It was unusual, especially since it broke slightly from the pattern established in the first two episodes. This was closer to something out of the “X-Files” in its early days, when Mulder would be chasing something hinted at in newspaper clippings. This makes sense, given that not every incident will be traced back to some legendary source. To be honest, I would have preferred if the ghostly form of the original victim hadn’t shown up, but I understand why they did it.

It’s still early, but I find that this is ranking rather high on my list of new shows, which is ironic, since many other reviewers forgot it was also in the running. I still can’t tell if “Invasion” will live up to its potential, and “Threshold” still has time to settle out, but this is three solid episodes in a row with minor complaints. I only hope the ratings are good enough for the network!

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10


*****
1.4: Phantom Traveler

Written by Richard Hatem
Directed by Bob Singer

After three strong episodes to start the series, this episode seems to slip a bit, at least from my point of view. I find that my enjoyment of the series is now firmly rooted in the exploration of Dean, especially since Sam is showing very little in terms of a distinct personality. It might actually be a flaw of the series that the writers will be correcting over time, but I’m not entirely sure that staging Sam as the “straight man” to Dean is the best move.

Dean (Jensen…see, I can remember his name!) is the more dynamic brother, and his scenes have been one of the highlights of the series. As I mentioned before, the elements that are supposed to be scary don’t really bother me, so I’m in it for the disturbing psychological places that these situations take the characters. In this case, it brings out Dean’s fear of flying. That was probably the best part of the episode, but in too many other cases, I didn’t feel like the story was all that interesting.

In general, I did think it was interesting that Dean and Sam were essentially forced to act like terrorists in order to save the passengers on the plane. If less time had been spent on trying to generate sympathy for a guest character that we didn’t know or have reason to care about, more time might have been available to explore that angle. As it was, the timing in the plot required the flight attendant to go along with what they were doing on a relatively poor argument.

There were the token connections to their father and Jess, but overall, the story didn’t move forward very much. I was under the impression that this was supposed to delve into Sam’s psychology a bit more, and if that was indeed the case, there’s reason for concern, because I didn’t get much out of it. I get that Sam is shutting down a lot of emotions in response to the changes in his life, but the resulting flat affect is not at all conducive to his performance.

As I mentioned in earlier comments, one of the drawbacks of the “monster of the week” format, where the focus is rather narrow, is that the audience interest will come and go with the overall interest in that narrow topic. I personally didn’t get much out of the whole “plane crash” scenario, so for me, I needed to find something else in the episode to make up for it. Maybe that exposed some of the weaknesses of the character dynamics at this early stage. Quite possibly, it’s just that I didn’t favor this episode.

One interesting aspect was, as usual, the connection between folklore and reality and the idea that these brothers are running around with a book filled with exorcism rituals, among other things. I keep thinking of what would happen if the wrong person got a hand on that book! This is probably the episode closest to taking a “real world” situation and applying the “Supernatural” concept to it. Perhaps that was part of the problem. I liked the previous episodes where they were operating more on the fringe of society, which in this case, they couldn’t do.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 7/10


*****
1.5: Bloody Mary

Written by Eric Kripke, Terri Hughes Burton, and Ron Milbauer
Directed by Peter Ellis

Another week, another good episode. I recently caught up with my review schedule (between “Serenity”, work, and RL issues, it wasn’t easy), and as it happens, I reviewed the second episode of “Night Stalker” just before this, so it was fresh in my mind. There’s a reason I think this series is superior, and it has much to do with the style bright to the table. Both series have strong “X-Files” pedigrees, but where “Night Stalker” goes for the ultra-serious scares, “Supernatural” goes for the mixture of wit and cultural relevance.

One aspect I really liked about this episode was the strong connection between the urban legend and the development of a “real world” history. The brothers are chasing down legends in this underbelly of the “real world”, this unseen side of society, and so the overlap between the “real world” and their lives should be distinct. That’s where I thought the previous episode slipped a bit; this one came together a lot better.

I also liked the snippets of folklore that were connected to the legend, such as the idea that ghosts or spirits can be trapped within a mirror and bound to it. It’s that mish-mash of accumulated lore that gives the series’ mythos so rich and unusual. It’s not like every episode is based on a single version of a single legend; the brothers routinely accept that different aspects of various legends might intersect in a specific situation. It makes the characters look like experts, which they should be.

What didn’t work for me entirely was the connection to Sam and the whole Jess situation. Sam is still the weak link of the story, and while this is clearly meant to be character development for him (why else bring up the pre-cog question?), Jared just doesn’t have the same depth that Jensen brings to the table.

But the whole idea of Sam’s pre-cog ability, if it’s real, could tie in nicely with the idea that there’s a family history with the entity responsible for killing their mother and Jess. It would similarly explain why this family has been “hunting” in the first place. If there is a connection between the family and the paranormal, going back generations, then it would make sense that multiple connections exist.

That could be an early indication of the season/series arc structure. Why does Sam see Jess? Has she become some kind of guardian presence, some symbol of his desire for redemption? Or has she become something else, subsumed by the entity that killed her? It seemed like more than just a case of Sam seeing things for psychological reasons.

This series is working (to the point of getting a quick full season pickup) because unlike many of the new shows, this one has found itself very quickly. It really had its pieces in place from the pilot, and while there’s still room for improvement, it’s not as though the series has fundamental issues. Sure, this episode retreads a couple of ideas from “The Ring”, but it works within the story and the style of the series itself.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10


*****
1.6: Skin

Written by John Shiban
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

In my comments on earlier episodes, I mentioned that Dean was becoming a far more compelling character than Sam. After this episode, I still feel that this is the case. What’s more, I think the writers are beginning to recognize it. This is ostensibly Sam’s episode, delving into his world and his emotions. Yet what I took away from it was a better sense of Dean’s issue with Sam and his previous life.

Sam was the one who escaped, and for that reason alone, Sam should have a lot of internal conflict with his current situation. He thought he had escaped his past, and it came back to bite him. Intersections with his old life are almost impossible, because he has to lie to them, and there’s an inevitable barrier of deception.

Jared plays the character as someone trying to contain his broiling emotions behind a flat affect, which can work if there’s sufficient acting ability. Think of Edward Olmos on “Battlestar: Galactica” and how clearly he can communicate with just a minimal shift of facial expression. Jared doesn’t have that, and so what is meant to seem like an extreme bit of conflict doesn’t necessarily shine through. Contrast that to Jensen’s ability to convey an entire story with one smirk, and there’s a huge difference.

It wouldn’t be so obvious if there were several lead characters, but this is a two-man show. Jared and Jensen need to carry the story forward on a roughly equal basis. Unless, of course, the writers play Dean as the lead character and Sam as the “straight man”, which is where I think the scripts are slowly but surely going.

This is an example of where the exception proves the rule. Take the focus off Dean and place it on Sam’s world, and it’s just not as much fun. That’s why it was far more interesting to hear all the things that Dean felt about Sam, and why it would have been better to hear a lot more. One can feel for Dean and get a sense of how wounded he really is. Sam, for all that his world has turned upside down, doesn’t connect as quickly or easily with the audience at large.

This is another episode with a lot of similarities to old “X-Files” episodes. In this case, it’s a much darker take on the concept in “Small Potatoes”, right down to the shedding of skin on a regular basis. I found that less interesting as a result, but I did find the darker side rather intriguing. I always go for the more psychological aspect of a story, and in this case, the brutality of the skinwalker betrayed a deep psychological deformity.

Also interesting is this ongoing hint that many aspects of the “supernatural” involve a component of telepathic ability, or more broadly, memory appropriation. Not only that but there seems to be a sharing of information, perhaps indicative of a common source of memory or, more disturbing, a hierarchy dictating how to react should the Winchesters came calling. It doesn’t just make this episode more interesting by allowing Dean’s hidden issues come to light; it also adds flavor to the overall mythology.

While the direction was strong and the intent of the story was quite clear, I’m not sure that they took the concept far enough. Also, no matter how hot Sam’s friends might have been (or unusually thin), they simply aren’t compelling. Jess was never all that interesting, even with that costume in the pilot, and Mandy is equally bland. Then again, the women are almost always eye candy, so perhaps that’s not so important in the end.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 6/10


*****
1.7: Hook Man

Written by John Shiban
Directed by David Jackson

I’ll be honest. When I saw the promo for the Hook Man, I was a bit skeptical. I’ve never really taken to that legend, and it felt like an early grab for ratings, given how often it’s been used as a theme over the years. But it didn’t take long for the concept to win me over, because it wasn’t treated like something above and beyond the norm for the Winchester brothers. Instead of a stunt episode, this was a solidly dark tale.

Normally, the hot women on this show are little more than skinny eye candy. Even Amy Acker was tossed out for show, with very little character to work with (leaving aside commentary on her acting). Jane McGregor, on the other hand, blew me away. Her role still wasn’t overly complex, but since her psychology was at the center of the story, Lori and her interaction with Sam was critical to the episode’s success. I’ve never seen this actress before, but I was impressed at how quickly she could turn on the hotness.

Speaking of Sam, I wasn’t nearly as disappointed in his character as I have been in the past. I don’t know what the difference was, exactly, but I found him to be a bit more fleshed out in this episode. I think part of it was his interaction with Lori. He was clearly attracted, but also all too aware of his own personal history. It worked for me, even if it wasn’t the strongest character development in the world.

Oddly, Dean was probably less interesting in this episode than in any previous installment, which is probably due to the focus on Sam. In the previous episode, I noticed that Dean was carrying the episode, despite the focus on Sam and his past history. This time, Sam managed to carry the story forward, and Dean punctuated the story with his personality. Like I said before, I was a little surprised by that.

The Hook Man effects were fairly well done, especially for television, and I really liked how the legend was translated into the world of “Supernatural”. It’s that intersection of regional “history” with the accumulated legendarium that is so appealing. While some might feel that it demystifies the legend, it serves as a simple hook (no pun intended) into the central premise of the series’ mythology: all legends and stories have an origin.

This episode was also laced with lots of continuity nods: the constant references to Sam’s college experience, Dean’s lack thereof, the search for their father, etc. It gave an episode with plenty of stand-alone elements a certain serial mystique. While I usually go for serialized storytelling, this series is working its style well enough to overcome that. This episode is another good example of why.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10


*****
1.8: Bugs

Written by Rachel Nave and Bill Coakley
Directed by Kim Manners

If there’s one thing that never fails to leave me with that creeped-out feeling, it’s swarming bugs. I seldom have nightmares (scary things rarely scare me), but I’ll admit, swarming bugs would qualify. It’s that sense that there’s nothing you can do but pray for survival, because there’s no way to fight back. So this was an episode that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to, if you know what I mean.

This was more about character than the bug invasion itself, which is the preference, from my point of view. The bugs were actually incidental to the main thrust of the episode, which might explain why the resolution of the bug invasion was somewhat lacking. That had to be the fastest midnight-to-dawn transition ever seen. Also, I find it hard to imagine that the spiritual bug swarm, which had previously run amok during daylight hours, would simply disappear with sunlight. Killing humans on the land seemed more to the point of the actual curse, despite the time limit.

Anyway, that didn’t bother me so much, because I was too busy enjoying the tension between Sam and Dean. Previous episodes focused on Dean’s bitterness with Sam and the idea that Sam left the family behind. Sam has never hidden his feelings about their father and his very different personal philosophy, but now the writers have shown us how that colors his impressions of family in general.

Dean does a great job of clamping down on his resentments, even if he uses that negative energy in less than perfect pursuits. Dean runs deep, however, as his handling of Sam’s emotional state demonstrates. If Sam’s point of view has been covered rather well, we’ve seldom gotten to hear their father’s side of the equation. Either Dean has a twisted perspective on how things went down before Sam left home, or Sam is a bit too good at holding on to bitterness and anger.

I’d vote for something in between, since Dean tends to romanticize the whole “hunting” to compensate for the lack of much else in his life. Sure, Dean believes in what he’s doing, but one gets the sense that much of his life is distraction. Distraction, in this case, from the fact that he didn’t have what Sam had: the potential for something more. Dean had to focus on his family, so when Sam didn’t, it was a betrayal.

This episode did stray from the typical format in the sense that the primary guest character was not a nubile young woman with an eye for one of the brothers. Sure, there was the realtor, but she was a minor aspect of the overall episode, almost like a token attempt to stick with the style of the series. While the series could do with occasional episodes like this without the eye candy, I personally think that it’s part of the style and concept, and it does much to establish and reinforce Dean’s escapist psychology.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 7/10


*****
1.9: Home

Written by Eric Kripke
Directed by Ken Girotti

This episode was billed as the “biggest event of the year” in the promos, which is actually rather amusing. After all, few people beyond the faithful would have any concept of why this episode is important to the series. This is probably one of those rare instances where an arc episode is less effective than a simple stand-alone tale, if only because the stand-alone episodes have less pressure to deliver.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I prefer long-term and seasonal arcs because of the depth of character development that they provide. A more episodic approach does not prevent that kind of exploration, but as seen on a series like “X-Files”, it can lead to inconsistent character portrayals as characters act in accordance with specific episode demands, not long-term consistency.

This series has been better than most at finding a happy medium between the extremes, and this episode has a lot of disturbing moments just from the perspective of a haunting. Tying it to the overall season arc is perhaps a bit extraneous. Like the previous episode, the return home works best in terms of the insight to the characters. Dean shows a remarkable vulnerability, and Sam is even more driven than usual.

The brotherly dynamic is really coming through. Dean deals with the world superficially and hides his vulnerability and lack of real mature growth behind a mask of expressive bravado. Sam seems to connect with people on a more substantial and empathetic level, but he tries to hide the source of that empathy behind a mask of stoicism. While Dean is more approachable as a result, the writers are doing a good job of giving Sam equal personality.

As strong as Missouri was as a character, the “family” connections were probably the weakest aspect of the episode. It was too easy to guess that Mary was still in the house, for instance, and that was one of the weaker moments. The point of the episode seemed twofold: to show that their father is still hunting down the entity that started it all, and to show that Sam’s abilities are becoming more prevalent.

If I have any sense of where this is going, I expect that this hunt for the entity will culminate with the end of the season, probably coinciding with a reunion between father and sons. I have no idea how that would turn out, but that probably means one or two more “arc” episodes between now and the end of the season. In this case, I’m only with that, because the stand-alone cases give the writers a chance to flesh out the brothers and their psychology, which has become a surprising source of depth for the series.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10


*****
1.10: Asylum

Written by Richard Hatem
Directed by Guy Bee

One vice I have (beyond being a genre television junkie) is paranormal subject matter, even if I can see right through it. And by this I mean the current foray into “ghost hunting” shows. They range from the more professional fare of “Ghost Hunters” to the absolute farce of “Most Haunted”. There’s a certain degree of entertainment to be had, to be sure, and part of that is the inherent creepiness of an abandoned building with questionable history.

The writers clearly borrow from that source material in this episode, especially in terms of production design. I have no idea if this was filmed in an actual abandoned building with that level of disrepair, or if this was one rather impressive set design, but the atmosphere was perfect for the premise. Having seen plenty of footage of abandoned asylums and what not over the past few years, I thought the episode looked genuine and that helped tremendously.

As the season progresses, the dynamic between Dean and Sam becomes stronger, and the actors are growing in those roles by leaps and bounds. One element of the series that I can’t stress enough is the complex and realistic depiction of two brothers with differing philosophies. Dean is the kind of son that wants to become his father in nearly every respect, and Sam is the prodigal son who wants to determine his own destiny. There are layers and layers to that conflict, most of which defy generalization, and that’s the heart and soul of the series.

It’s that conflict that drives the episode. Without it, it’s a fairly standard concept: haunted house with a deadly reputation, frequently by stupid teenagers looking for a thrill, finally gets investigated. Hilarity ensues. It plays out in the by-the-book fashion in more than a few scenes, right down to Dean lecturing Kat about learning from horror films while ignoring the most basic of signs of activity.

This is one area where the writers sometimes stumble. Dean and Sam are supposed to be experts on dealing with the paranormal, based on years of experience and instruction. Most of the time, they actually sound like they know what they’re doing. So why would they act so surprised and clueless when their flashlights suddenly don’t work…a time-honored sign that a theoretical entity is drawing energy?

The writers also take the easy (if logical) road of having Dean and Sam caught between protecting stupid teens and themselves. Dean and Sam rattle off a dozen reasons not to be alone in the asylum, and yet they split up anyway. Gavin and Kat were largely to blame. As annoying as they were, I must admit, they reminded me of myself and my friends in high school, rushing where angels fear to tread just to see what would happen. (And yes, that included “ghost hunting”, though not at all scientifically!)

Had that been the extent of it, the episode might have been a nice, atmospheric tale with too many clichés. But this was not about the haunting itself. It was about Sam’s resentment, and the vast amount of anger he transfers from his father to Dean, all because Dean tries to be just like their father. The writers have done one hell of a job of exploring all the negative emotions that the brothers try to keep back, establishing them consistently enough that those emotions will seem authentic when they are finally unleashed.

Which, I believe, is the point of having John contact them at this stage of the game. The writers have made it clear that Sam and Dean still see this as a temporary arrangement, especially on Sam’s part. In that respect, they are operating at an uncomfortable equilibrium. Adding the stressor of their father to the mix, even just phone contact, will push them out of balance. And ultimately, Sam and Dean must conclude that they need to keep working together. The process of getting to that point has taken another big step in another solid episode.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10


*****
1.11: Scarecrow

Written by John Shiban and Patrick Sean Smith
Directed by Kim Manners

It’s been a long time since a new episode aired, and absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder. Dean was even more enjoyable of a scoundrel this time around, and Sam managed to intrigue me with his choices. Both brothers continue to demonstrate a complex psychology of pain and regret, which gives this series an emotional depth. Considering that this is another episode with a relatively standard approach to a horror film staple, it really was all about the characters.

That includes John Winchester and Meg. As these two characters step into the picture, the series’ premise complicates in some interesting and unexpected ways. The executive procedures have the pedigree to make it work, and by establishing a credible and stylized basis for things that would otherwise seem cliché, the writers make the idea of warring generations of good and evil a fun prospect.

There’s a “sins of the father” mystique inherent to the show’s premise, so I’m not surprised that Dean and Sam will find themselves at war with the children of their demonic tormentor. Is this an indication that Meg’s father was a human at one point, and that he struck back at the Winchesters as a spirit after death? Or was Meg’s father always demonic?

Nearly all of the indications thus far suggest that the entity that killed Dean and Sam’s mother targeted the Winchesters specifically. Just the fact that they are a family with a “hunting” tradition could have explained that, but the conflict appears to be more personal. If it is all about a generational conflict playing itself out, then the problem isn’t solved by eliminating the entity that killed their mother. It also becomes a question of convincing the current generation, Meg and her likely siblings, to lay down arms and stop fighting someone else’s fight.

That appears to be what Meg was ordered to do: find a way to break up the brothers and stop them from being an effective team, thus making them more vulnerable. Meg was clearly raised to hate the Winchester brothers, even if she’s very good at hiding it through charm (though the writers did make her true intentions a little too obvious). There’s still much to learn about Meg and her parentage, but if the writers keep their feet on the ground, it should be very interesting.

It’s good that Sam’s solo adventure had more going for it, because it helped the character explore new ground. Dean’s solo adventure, while fun at times (complete with gorgeous young woman to rescue!), also felt rather mundane. The overall idea of an older generation sacrificing the younger generation to preserve their own status quo did seem to resonate with the revelation at the very end, but it certainly wasn’t a strong metaphor.

Casting was also a mixed bag. Meg seems to have the charm and presence to play the distaff opposition to the Winchesters, and Emily was just plain gorgeous. But I wasn’t at all pleased with the one scene with William B. Davis. Why bring in such a credible guest star for a scene that could have utilized anyone with equal effectiveness? Contrast that to his appearance on “Stargate: SG-1”, and there’s no contest. But that’s a minor complain for an episode that had plenty going for it.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10


*****
1.12: Faith

Written by Raelle Tucker and Sera Gamble
Directed by Allan Kroeker

It’s amazing how this show can pull you into a relatively simple and straightforward story. I was very busy coming into this episode (the “24” premiere week is always nuts for me), so I started the episode while cleaning up. Roughly an hour later, I realized that I had made little progress. Believe it or not, it wasn’t my semi-obsession with Julie Benz, either!

No, this time, it was my fascination with Dean’s enormous feelings of guilt, and how much was running beneath the surface. Sam made a value judgment for his brother that speaks volumes, and I’m still not sure that I’ve considered all the possible interpretations of that decision. It’s rather clear what Dean’s interpretation is, however, and it just might make their relationship more complicated.

There’s some indication that the episodes are being aired out of the intended order, but I don’t think that it’s been as obvious or damaging as it could have been (in the sense of a series like “Firefly”, for instance). I see a fairly consistent progression of the character exploration. Sure, the rift between them in the previous episode might have evolved out of this series of events more naturally than out of “Asylum”, but it all hangs together very well.

More to the point, Sam had come to realize just how important Dean is in his life by the end of “Scarecrow”, and that plays a crucial part in his decision to save Dean’s life through questionable means. Even after the truth about the Reaper was revealed, Sam didn’t show much remorse over the cost to save Dean’s life, though his actions clearly demonstrated a desire to prevent further loss of life.

Dean, on the other hand, demonstrates a very different distinction between the morality for the sake of family and the morality for the sake of strangers. In essence, he buys into the idea that the Winchesters have devoted their lives to fighting the darkness for everyone else, and that means self-sacrifice. Dean is deeply affected by the realization that someone had to die so he could live, and that is likely to have future repercussions.

In terms of the actual plot, as I said, it was very simple. Faith healers annoy me on a scientific level, but I do find that they provide intriguing examples of how faith and belief work within an individual. It was somewhat predictable for the healer to believe in his own ability, while the truth was far more sinister, but I liked some aspects of the lore involved.

One thing that took away from the episode was the somewhat cheesy depiction of the Reaper. It looked like they were going for something like the Gentlemen from the “Buffy” episode “Hush”, and wound up with something more suited to a cereal commercial. That took away some of the enjoyment for me, but as usual, the focus on the brothers’ psychology and mental state is my primary interest.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 7/10


*****
1.13: Route 666

Written by Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner
Directed by Paul Shapiro

I’ve never been a fan of the whole “evil car” concept. I get the basic concept: stylish vehicle becomes weapon of mechanized death. It taps into the fear of the machine, the tool that turns on its creator. The thing is, it’s a little cheesy. It’s been done to death, and while the whole idea is that this series takes horror and urban legend staples and gives them a shiny new coat of paint, not every concept is going to work well.

Perhaps the writers were worried about the same thing, because the story is as much about Dean and his past as it is about the literal “monster truck”. I find it interesting and somewhat revealing that Dean would have little issue with a bi-racial relationship. It perfectly complements the fact that he perceives the true enemy as being the demonic entities that plague humans regardless of racial considerations.

Of course, that also allowed for some commentary on race relations over the years, which was a bit simplified for my tastes. If the area was so racially divided just a generation earlier, in that part of the country, the likelihood that bi-racial relationships would be tolerated is fairly low. Like it or not, there are large swaths of the country that still hold on to the prejudices and “traditions” of racism, complete with the same level of violence and arrogant cowardice.

It may be that this relative harmony was something that the Mayor set in motion, based on his own morality and common sense. But the writers didn’t quite communicate that (at least, from what I recall), and so it feels more like a social message than a logical plot point. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make it seem like the setting of the episode was designed to tell the audience how the world should be, rather than how it is (with a supernatural underbelly).

Imagine, for instance, a subset of the community that knows exactly what’s happening, and chooses to keep the truth hidden to achieve their own goals. It doesn’t mean that this subset had to be overtly racist, but that an underlying prejudice could be revealed when the opportunity presents itself. I was waiting for that to happen, and while it would have been a cliché of sorts, it might have been more substantial that the somewhat idyllic present offered in the episode.

All that said, I loved the dynamic between Dean and Cassie, and it revealed that he and Sam do share (to varying degrees) a desire to find someone outside the family. This helps add something more to Dean’s resentment towards Sam; for a little while, at least, Sam got to have his girl. Of course, that muted Dean’s typical attitude, which is not the ideal situation!

Also non-ideal was the horrible acting job for Mrs. Robinson’s monologue. The intent of the scene was clearly to gain the sympathies of the audience, and while the story and images were aligned with that cause, the acting was so bad that it pulled me out of the scene time and time again. Nor was I particularly sold on the resolution to the crisis. Because those two critical moments didn’t help overcome my initial aversion to the “monster truck”, this episode just didn’t strike me as one of the better efforts.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 1/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 5/10


*****
1.14: Nightmare

Written by Sera Gamble and Raelle Tucker
Directed by Phil Sgriccia

I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the previous episode, but the writers turned things around with a very compelling mythology episode with plenty of interesting implications. More to the point, they did it by focusing almost entirely on the two leads, instead of tossing in another “Babe of the Week” to hold the interests of the audience. The writers had confidence in the strength of their concept and story, and as such, that confidence was shining through in nearly every scene.

I still don’t think Jared is the best actor in the world, but I like where the character is going and how he’s tackling the challenge. The series started out with strict lines between the normal and paranormal, but now that the lines are blurring in a major way, Sam’s abilities could have come across as incredibly silly. Instead, there are shades of the issues that came up for Cordelia on “Angel”. Sam may have visions, but those visions are not a pleasant experience, and they don’t always give him a chance to change things.

The interesting part is the connection between the demonic entity that killed Sam’s mother and Jess and the abilities that he began exhibiting just before the start of the series itself. The fact that Max started showing telekinetic abilities around the same time period takes the situation to a completely different level. Forget my earlier theories about the Winchesters having a family secret; the whole battle is a lot bigger than that now.

The nature of that connection is at the heart of the series’ mythology: which came first? Did Sam and Max (and who knows who else) always have this latent ability, and is the demonic entity trying to attack, eliminate, or perhaps control humans with paranormal abilities? Or is the emergence of paranormal ability a consequence of exposure to the entity, some odd kind of spiritual balance kicking in? I would find the latter theory less conventional, but I suspect that the former theory is the one with stronger evidence.

This episode not only gives Sam and Dean a huge chunk of information about the entity they are hunting, but it also provides Sam with one of those classic “there but for the grace of God” moments. Sam may believe that his childhood was fairly screwed up (and, in fact, it was), but it could have been a lot worse. Max was pushed to the breaking point, and everything that happened in this episode is the result. John Winchester may have started a very strange family tradition, but it also gave Sam a very strong moral compass, keeping him on the straight and narrow.

I didn’t see the connection between Max and the entity coming, and that scene of revelation was quite impressive. Sam’s expression was beyond stunned. And while I could see Max’s suicide coming well before it happened, the moment itself was staged very well. In fact, the entire episode was well-constructed, with a relatively simple situation spiraling out of control. I like the fact that the episode gets resolution but much is left unresolved; it speaks to the impact of the episode on the series as a whole.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10


*****
1.15: The Benders

Written by John Shiban
Directed by Peter Ellis

I just have to say: I love this show. Even when they don’t quite hit the high mark they’re aiming for, I have to give them credit. This episode was drenched in atmosphere, and while the story was a little thin, it once again boiled down to the psychology of the two brothers. Specifically, in this instance, Dean’s emotions regarding Sam.

For all that Sam annoys Dean to no end, Dean also feels an incredible amount of responsibility for his welfare and survival. From my perspective, this ties back into “Scarecrow”. Dean has a lot of issues with Sam and his notions of duty and responsibility to family, but he’s not about to leave Sam to the dogs. It’s nothing particularly new, but I consider the depth of relationship between Dean and Sam to be similar to the nuanced and complex relationship between Mulder and Scully on “X-Files”.

Speaking of “X-Files”, a lot of buzz surrounded this episode, claiming that it was some kind of thematic follow-up on the “X-Files” episode “Home”. It may be an obvious correlation, but I’m not entirely convinced that it’s correct. Both episodes involve apparent in-bred families with a strong desire to protect family traditions, but beyond that, there are some rather stark differences. More to the point, this episode isn’t simply about shock value, which “Home” was essentially designed to achieve.

There’s an interesting theme to this episode (and really, it keeps coming up throughout the entire series), and it’s all about family. Dean and Sam debate the interests of family duty all the time. In this case, they run up against a family with hunting traditions of their own, but with a distinctly less pleasant impact on the rest of the local population. There’s also the connection between Dean and Kathleen, which is all about protecting a younger brother. Family is at the heart of everything, though attempting to draw parallels between the Winchesters and the Benders is a relatively shallow comparison.

Where the episode didn’t succeed, with the exception of Pa Bender, was in the portrayal of the supposedly in-bred children. Frankly, they looked like relatively pretty people slathered in dirt and grime to look more rugged and uncivilized. Also, considering the fact that the whole point of the exercise was to grab people, hand them a weapon, and then hunt them down, the hunts were rather simple in scope. It was a mild version of “The Most Dangerous Game”, since they did little more than toy with victims that practically killed themselves!

Despite the weaknesses, it was a fun episode with some nice character exploration for Dean. Dean’s genuine emotions don’t come to the surface very often, and as usual, when they do, it betrays just how much that tough and sarcastic exterior is designed to hide. I find it compelling to watch Dean struggle with those emotions, and so this episode delivered on that level.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10


*****
1.16: Shadow

Written by Eric Kripke
Directed by Kim Manners

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say, and in this case, it is more than a little true. The Brothers Winchester are finally confronted by one of their enemies, and it’s not pretty. (Well, in point of fact, it is pretty, even if I’m not a big fan of the short-hair look.) The final act does threaten to derail the episode somewhat, but overall, this advances the story in some interesting directions.

I like the fact that Sam was attracted to Meg, because Dean is usually the one with the leering eye. (Evidence: that babe of a bartender!) Where Dean seems to go for the looks and the one-night stand, Sam is attracted more to the emotional resonance. Meg told him everything he needed to hear when they first met, and it left him vulnerable as a result. Even though he kept his head in the game for the most part, that attraction clearly kept him off balance.

Meg is a complicated and powerful adversary, and part of me wishes that she had remained a more subtle enemy. She doesn’t give away much in this episode, other than the fact that John is the main target and the sons are considered good bait, but there’s no chance of complicating the relationship between Sam and Meg after this episode. Sure, there will be lingering attraction and references to such, but Sam won’t remember her as someone he had strong feelings for and then lost.

The first half of the episode is very well done, especially the banter between Dean and Sam. I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions, and as usual, Dean was the one who made it happen. From a comedic point of view, Jared is a great straight man, and it allows Jensen to throw out his dialogue with near-perfect timing.

But as has been the case since the beginning of the series, the psychological aspects of the relationship provide some of the best material. Dean can’t stand the idea that Sam wants to go live his own life once the battle is apparently over, and Sam can’t understand why his broad definition of family dynamics isn’t enough for Dean. Add John to the mix, and it’s scarred emotions all around.

Speaking of scars, the physical damage incurred in this episode would definitely result in some, which leads into my main issue with the episode. The idea of invisible “shadow” killers is interesting, and I like how they linked it with a deeper mythology, but aspects of it annoyed me. For one thing, a symbol that simple wouldn’t be so unique, since religious iconography tends towards basic and enduring patterns. But more to the point, the legends speak to savage, relentless killers, and they seemed to hold back a bit too often, especially when the story needed a break to move forward.

The concept of the demonic entity itself would seem to suggest that the blinding flare was a stop-gap measure only, and as such, these things should be hunting John, Dean, and Sam into the future. I’m not sure that’s going to happen, because it’s not practical. Sooner or later, the brothers will need to find a way to kill the demons and move on, or the situation becomes untenable from a storytelling point of view. Time will tell, but for now, I can’t help but think that the writers waved their hands at the ending and hoped the audience would buy it.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 3/4

Final Rating: 8/10


*****
1.17: Hell House

Written by Trey Callaway
Directed by Chris Long

I’m not sure if it was adjustment to the new night, or my mental state due to a bad sinus cold, but this episode didn’t really do it for me. Even the banter between the Brothers Winchester didn’t really strike me as particularly substantial. I like the fact that they can relax enough around each other to pull pranks, but since I prefer the more conflicted psychology between Sam and Dean, I wasn’t as interested in the wacky.

I also wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of mocking “ghost hunters”. I will be the first to admit that there are a lot of people running around out there with no clue what they’re doing when it comes to investigating unusual phenomena. Many probably look and act the way the characters in this episode did. That’s all well and good, except that I got the distinct feeling that the writers were portraying all paranormal investigators as geeks without a clue.

From a personal perspective, I happen to listen to a few podcasts with established paranormal investigators and I’m quite the fan of “Ghost Hunters”, which is a show based on the investigations carried out by TAPS, a group with strong credentials and integrity. So the point is that many of the jokes fell flat for me, which in turn made it hard to get into the spirit of the episode.

I completely admit that this is a personal issue, and I’m not so subjective that I can’t see the good aspects of the episode. I liked the idea of a phenomena that was driven by collective belief, something which could tie into the overall mythology in some interesting ways. It puts a new spin on how the writers have been treating urban legends thus far. Instead of revealing the true phenomena behind all the legends, this episode presents the empowerment of an entity through the collective “urban legend” generated in absence of any particular trigger.

The implication is that the entity troubling the Winchesters may not be what it appears. It’s easy to assume that the entity existed independently of the Winchesters prior to killing Mary, but is that necessarily the case? If the Winchesters didn’t have a history of interaction with the paranormal prior to that incident, was there something that they did, completely without realizing it, that brought the entity into viability?

That’s what I like about this series: it started out as a relatively simple premise, and in short order, the mythology has expanded to cover some unexpected territory. And it resists the urge to slip into self-parody too quickly, which would hurt the series tremendously this early in its existence. Even “X-Files” waited until the third season to poke fun at itself directly; it works far better if the self-awareness is kept within controlled limits. This episode is more light-hearted, and in ways I didn’t really enjoy, so I hope the focus returns to something more thrilling in the next episode.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 0/4

Final Rating: 6/10


*****
1.18: Something Wicked

Written by Daniel Knauf
Directed by Whitney Ransick

I wasn’t particularly pleased with the previous episode, mainly because the direction of the humor wasn’t to my taste. This episode was a lot more along the lines of what I was looking for, right down to the exploration of Dean’s complicated relationship to Sam. Dean operates from a deep sense of guilt in this episode, and we finally get a look at the Winchesters on the road.

I think my favorite parts of the episode took place in the past. We got to see Dean as the not-so-dutiful son, bristling at the command to watch over the younger, less capable Sam. Considering Dean’s almost obsessive desire to protect and maintain family, it’s a nice bit of contrast. What child doesn’t occasionally wish that siblings would disappear and no longer be a responsibility?

It also highlights just how screwed up childhood was for Dean and Sam. They were running around the country from place to place, dealing with demonic entities and a father whose idea of education was unique, to say the least. It’s surprising that Dean and Sam were able to function in normal society at any level. (In fact, more flashbacks focusing on that very topic would be a nice touch. Maybe in the second season?)

Those flashbacks explained the depth of guilt that drove Dean in this episode. It made the episode a lot more interesting. Sure, the creature in this episode was pretty damn neat, and it was disturbing to think of something that would victimize children to such a degree. I usually don’t like it when writers take the easy way out and place children in peril to generate cheap drama, but in this particular case, it was a logical extension of the central concept.

I actually don’t have a lot more to say about this episode. It was a good, solid story with a great (if admittedly non-subtle) look at Dean’s childhood. I think I was equally excited by the previews for the final episodes of the season. Things look like they’re going to get intense, and that’s just the way I like it!

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10


*****
1.19: Provenance

Written by David Ehrman
Directed by Philip Sgriccia

Believe it or not, despite months of raving over how the formula for this series is executed to near-perfection, this was the first time that I got my wife to watch an episode. Sometimes it takes that outside perspective to provide a more objective point of view. After all, this is a Sam-centric episode, and I typically find them less interesting.

My wife, on the other hand, felt that the writers really brought the creepy, and she found a lot of the more familiar elements to be quite engaging. That’s an interesting point, because even if this wasn’t the most exciting episode from my point of view, my wife really liked it. That could be a good sign for the series, because she’s basically the “fresh audience”, someone with no context stepping into the series at an odd moment. The episode was good enough to pull her in, so it’s always possible that others could do the same!

Anyway, in terms of the episode itself, I felt that Sam was a lot more expressive this time around, but it still wasn’t particularly convincing. Part of the problem was the guest actress. The plot required the audience to care about the chemistry between Sam and Sarah, and frankly, there wasn’t much of that on-screen. Taylor Cole is an incredibly gorgeous young woman (especially with that shiny lip gloss!), but her line delivery didn’t sound quite right, and her interactions with Jared were often painful.

Conceptually, Sarah serves an important function. Sam needs to move past his grief over Jessie’s death, even if he continues to do whatever possible to find and eliminate the demon responsible. As Sarah said, she has every right to decide whether or not to risk her own life. As someone once said, “to live is to risk”. Sam doesn’t want Sarah to risk herself, but in the same token, he’s avoiding risk of his own. He doesn’t want to open up because he might be crushed if he loses someone again.

Dean was mostly in the background in this episode, unfortunately, but he was still a lot of fun. In essence, Dean felt that Sam needed to get laid and loosen up, and the sentiment is not completely wrong. Dean may be the loyal soldier, but he’s also living life. He has regrets, but he doesn’t live them each and every moment. He’ll find a way to have a good time wherever he is, and even if his methods are often deplorable, at least he’s making the most of his unusual situation.

I’ve said before that the creepy stuff doesn’t really bother me, since there are far more disturbing things in the real world, but I’ll admit that the picture effect was quite nice. It didn’t do much for me, but as I said, my wife found it rather unsettling. I suppose that’s all the producers could ask for. If we do see Sarah again, however, I hope that Taylor’s chemistry with Jared is more impressive and the reunion is more meaningful than I would currently expect.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 0/4

Final Rating: 6/10


*****
1.20: Dead Man's Blood

Written by Cathryn Humphris and John Shiban
Directed by Tony Wharmby

I’ve been waiting for this episode all season: the moment when John and the boys have enough time to air the past grievances and let it all hang out. And this episode didn’t disappoint. I love it when characters confront each other and none of them are particularly without fault. It’s even better when everyone has a valid point underneath it all.

The fact is, John and Sam are probably too similar to ever get along for very long. And Sam brings up the one thing that prevents either of them from giving up control over what’s coming: they’ve both lost the woman they loved to the demon they’re chasing. John may have been doing it for longer, but for Sam, the pain is more raw for being so recent. Sam resents the idea of being left out of the chance for vengeance.

John, of course, doesn’t want to lose anyone else in his family, which is a completely understandable point of view. But the fact is, his sons are grown and have the right to decide on their own. (This attitude makes the previous episode more relevant, since it helped establish Sam’s similarity to his father.) Even Dean, the dutiful soldier, isn’t too happy with the idea, and points out that John has been having it both ways.

The implication is that John wanted his sons to deal with the issues he couldn’t while on the final hunt, and should John fall, at least someone would still be out there to take the next shot. Dean and Sam eventually come to a common conclusion: they all stand a better chance of success working together. And of course, that was the point of this episode.

John needed to learn how to share information and give his sons the chance to make their own decisions and suggest their own alternatives. In short, he can’t treat them like children anymore, even if he still feels responsible for them. Dean needed to recognize the difference between being strong support without straying into blind obedience. And Sam needed to recognize that living his own life doesn’t mean he should turn his back on the needs of his family. Of course, all of that is generalization, since the characters don’t quite get to the point where they make amends.

As far as the main threat in the episode, I thought they were a lot of fun. I wasn’t looking forward to “cowboy goth” very much, but I have to admit, they made it work. Especially when it came to the women! That said, the final act was a bit of a mess, since the three Winchesters had to survive relatively intact, despite being outclassed in nearly every way. But how better to prove the potency of the Winchesters when they work together?

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 7/10


*****
1.21: Salvation

Written by Raelle Tucker and Sera Gamble
Directed by Robert Singer

I love mutli-part finales. In fact, shows like “Farscape”, “Battlestar: Galactica”, and “Lost” delivered massive season finales for the same reason that this is a huge event: it’s almost impossible to wrap up a season arc of any weight in the space of an hour. It’s all about delivering a more complex resolution. A good show will use a big finale as a serious moment of transition for everyone involved, and there’s every reason to believe that “Supernatural” is following suit.

Better yet, everything that happens in this episode is the direct consequence of what has come before. Dean’s character has taken quite the turn, to the point where he will openly question his father when the circumstances warrant. And Sam’s abilities, long sitting on the sidelines, flare up in a logical manner that hints at possible answers to the demonic riddle. This seeming predictability takes nothing away from the plot itself, because sometimes it’s even better when you see the train wreck coming.

Someone on the writing staff must have loved “Serenity”, because Meg’s tactics are practically textbook Operative moves. Want to force the enemy to come out of hiding, derailing his intentions in the same moment? Start killing off every ally and making sure that consequence is communicated. I liked Meg a lot more in this episode. Maybe it was just the fact that she delivered her dialogue with a bit more decadent and seductive evil, but I also think the writers took pains to avoid lines that were too cheesy.

Another show might have used this penultimate episode as pure setup, with very little in the way of actual confrontation. But this is “Supernatural”, so that’s not quite the way it works. Sam has his vision, John chooses to make a seriously stupid gamble, and in short order, things go straight to Hell. As useful as it was to force Sam and Dean to face off against the demon alone, as a nice bookend to the season arc, John’s decision doesn’t quite make sense.

As much as the “risk death to save my friends” mentality might be understandable, it doesn’t mesh well with John’s insistence that this be the end of the conflict. Frankly, if John is willing to put his sons in danger (and then ignore it when it seems that one of them is dead) to ensure that the demon is destroyed, then why wouldn’t he be willing to sacrifice some of the other hunters? As harsh as it might sound, if the demon remains but the hunters live, how does that help anyone? On the other hand, if the demon is killed at the cost of some of the hunters, the tradeoff is more than justified. (After all, Meg can only kill a few in the time before the demon is confronted!)

But things don’t go as planned, of course, so there’s plenty of time to see how it will play out in the actual finale. The demon is still out there, but Sam and Deam have broken the pattern. How will that change the situation? Meg and her apparent brother have John, and it’s not looking good for him, though John could be used to draw out the brothers. All in all, a great start to what should be the season finale. Let’s hope CW makes the right call!

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 3/4

Final Rating: 9/10


*****
1.22: Devil's Trap

Written by Eric Kripke
Directed by Kim Manners

Season finales can be a tricky thing, especially when there’s no prevailing indication that the series will be renewed. The writers need to bring the season arc to a relative close while preparing for the possibility of a season to follow. In this case, the challenge may have been more than the writers and producers were capable of handling.

Actually, the first three acts of the episode were a logical extension of the previous episode. As obvious as it was, I never picked up on the idea that Meg was actually a human being possessed by a demon. Just that little piece of information is enough to make sense of some of the season arc elements. It also points to the most obvious direction for a final confrontation.

Like the previous episode, Meg wasn’t nearly as annoying as she’s been in the past. The exorcism scene was a nice touch, because it allowed Dean to show the darker side of his personality. Dean is right to be concerned about his lack of remorse for causing the deaths of human beings. He was already seeing himself above and beyond normal human society, and this would be a big step towards becoming the very thing he hunts. (In other words: when you obsess over the enemy, you can become the enemy.)

Once it was clear that the demons were jumping around in human hosts, not unlike the concept from the film “Fallen”, I was certain that the main demon would end up in John Winchester. It’s just too predictable a plot twist. More to the point, it’s like most standard Western tales: the sons metaphorically killing the father to become men themselves. In this case, there’s actually a compelling reason to kill John, if it can kill the demon in the process.

The episode builds towards one hell of a confrontation, but the final act just didn’t work for me. It all came down to Demon!John tossing the brothers against a wall and delivering a monologue to cover the exposition necessary to explain a few things. So now we know that Mary and Jess were targeted because they would have gotten in the way of whatever plans the demon had for Sam. But wasn’t that already apparent?

Far worse was the idea that John would assert some measure of control at the most convenient moment for the story. While it might have been predictable for Sam’s abilities to kick in at that moment, at least it would have been consistent with what has been revealed previously. By having Sam’s success at getting to the Colt come through a plot contrivance, the integrity of the story was compromised.

The producers promises on several occasions that this wouldn’t become another “Lost”. While I don’t see an issue with having a deep, long-term mythology, there are ways to ensure that one door closes and another opens. “Buffy” and “Angel” used to do it all the time by blocking out a season arc that would end in the finale. The final act could have played out to end this arc very easily, if Sam had killed Demon!John and brought that story to a relative close.

Instead, the story is left wide open by Sam’s decision not to sacrifice John to kill the demon. This leaves a great deal unresolved. While the psychology of the Winchesters is the most impressive aspect of the series, and that’s more than enough of a reason to keep the conflicts raging and evolving, it’s just not very satisfying. And that’s especially true in light of the final scene.

Frankly, that kind of quick accident has been overdone in the past few years. It makes sense that the demon would find a way to strike back quickly, since there’s still one more bullet left for the Colt. And this leaves the season with a grim cliffhanger. But it’s equally obvious that the situation was staged for a relatively easy resolution in the second season premiere. Without that resolution, the series would end (assuming no pick-up) with one hell of a downer ending!

My biggest problem is how little was actually resolved. Sam’s abilities were probably connected to this idea of demonic possession (it really is strongly suggested), but after so much build-up, they didn’t seem very important when the time came. If Sam’s abilities flared up when Dean was in danger before, why not now? In fact, the demon’s goals are only generally addressed.

This may have been a matter of heightened expectation. “Supernatural” has been building towards something big for a long time, and the previous episode raised the tension even higher. It felt like all the pieces were there for a stunning finale, but the writers chose to leave the big fireworks for a potential season premiere instead of an assured strong ending.

So now we are left to hope that the arc actually comes to a conclusion in the season premiere. Unfortunately, that all falls within the mess that is the CW merger. One would think that the series is a dead lock, given the strong critical buzz and the lack of any competition in the genre at the moment. But it hasn’t killed in the ratings, which is never a good sign. Will those references to a sneak preview of “season 2” on the DVD extras turn out to be valid?

Even if the plot didn’t quite plan out as definitively as I had hoped it would, the acting was incredibly strong. Jensen and Jared have really grown comfortable in the difficult psychological space inhabited by these characters, and it shows. I would have expected this episode to be about Sam, but in the end, this was a lot more about Dean and his motivations. Which, in retrospect, makes sense, given that the previous episode had more of a Sam focus.

This is the part where I would usually launch into a discussion about the season as a whole, but I’m doing things a little differently moving forward. The “Supernatural” post-mortem (so to speak) will be the main focus of this week’s episode of “Dispatches from Tuzenor”, a new podcast started as an expansion to the written reviews conducted every season. That episode should be up after the weekend, so I invite anyone interested to drop by. (It’s also available on iTunes.)

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 3/4

Final Rating: 8/10





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Email: entil2001@yahoo.com