Spoilers (as in point by point summary) for Death Takes a Holiday
Okay, love for Kripke and all, but DUDE! This was the latest in the continuing series of episodes where I ended up depressed after. In fact, I think they should do away with the annoying commercials for Arby's they kept showing (the one with the guy styling his hair with a burger? ugh) and just do ads for, you know, Lexapro, Effexor, Zoloft... Of course, rant notwithstanding, I still thought the episode was fairly well written/acted and had some interesting character moments.
We open on a scene with two guys discussing fantasy football as they step onto a dark street--the only relevant bit here is the would-be mugger who gets startled into shooting one of the guys. Point blank. In the heart. So it would be rather shocking that said shooting victim didn't die, except that I already knew the title of the ep, so no big surprise there.
Flash to our boys in one of the ubiquitous diners they like to frequent (pie!) and Sam saying he got a tip from Bobby (who I wish was getting more screen time!) that there was a Wyoming town where people were mysteriously not dying. Although, somewhat amusingly, IMO, there have only been two non-deaths. Doesn't it take three to make a pattern? But Sam elaborates that, of the two, one was clinically dead when he got up and walked out of hospice and the other was aforementioned shot-through-the-heart (and you're to blame) guy. Sam immediately posits that it's probably something dark (ie demonic deals) and that they should make tracks.
It's here that, to me, Dean seems to get reeeeeaaaaal uncomfortable. He sits like a lump while his brother heads toward the door and when Sam turns back, Dean snips, "You sure you want me to go? I wouldn't want to hold you back." (See: siren-induced sibling brawl in 4.14 "Sex and Violence".) Now, maybe it's just me, but I think that Dean picking a fight here wasn't anger at his bro but at himself (guilty conscience) because what Sam's suggesting brings up a point we've mentioned here on the blog before. In the Supernatural mythos, hell isn't just populated by baddies, but people who were desperate enough to try to make deals (e.g. John Winchester, Dean Winchester...). So I wonder if perhaps Sam didn't get Dean thinking about those poor deluded fools who make deals (perhaps to gain more time with their loved ones, e.g. MARY Winchester) and end up somehow paying later. What if some of those types were the very souls Dean was "happily" torturing in hell?
Or maybe I just read waaaaaay too much into it. But Dean still radiates that guilt that's been a central part of his character ever since he admitted to Sam that he definitely remembers his time down under.
The brothers visit one of the "miracle" survivors, their cover being that they are bloggers for the Lord. (Fairly hilarious, but nothing beats the time they showed up as grief counselors: "We're here to hug.") In this scene, we get our first example of how much the brothers have changed places. Remember back when Dean was a jaded hunter who didn't let pesky stuff like emotions get in the way of the job, and Sensitive Sammy was his contrast? Yeah, not so much anymore. Sam asks, somewhat tactlessly, "Been to any crossroads lately? Talked to anyone with black eyes? Maybe red?"
Our intrepid heroes conclude that perhaps the reason no one's died here in the last 10 days is an absence of Reapers, which leads them to an asthmatic kid (the last death in town). It's Sam's idea that they do a seance in the cemetery to just ask the kid what he knows, and Dean (again, the erstwhile jaded hunter who thought nothing of traveling the world in the Impala and doing whatever necesary to gank monsters) observes that it's "whacked" how matter-of-factly they do things like try to raise spirits in the cemetery. Well, yes, Dean. It's like he's just chimed in for a chorus of the same song Sammy was singing when we first met him. In fact, they go on to argue about bringing back the Reapers, with Sam contending that they're a "natural" order that must be maintained and Dean getting indignant over the irony (Yeah, Sam. See the title of your show). Dean points out that being a Winchester is all about cheating death, so what makes them so special? (I could give him a list, but I don't think that's what he's talking about.) Anyway, Sam is borderline condescending when he points out that this IS their life and Dean can't be Joe Plumber, no matter how much he wants to be normal. Which brings us full circle to the pilot episode where Dean thinks it's ridiculous that Sam wants to go off and marry Jess and live the life of Joe Normal. (BTW, as you can probably tell, I was not so much with the Sam-love this ep, but Padalecki was doing a GREAT job. He could be cold and distant and morally detached, and then he'd smile at something or make a comment and it was like seeing the old Sam, which only underlined how much his character has changed.)
Their cemetery fun is interrupted by Allistair and when we first met the demon, I thought he was a little over the top in a handlebar mustache, mob-boss, too campy to be truly spooky way. But because they've made him so distinctive, I think it's easier for different actors (possessees) to play him and be recognizable. Dean gets knocked out immediately, but then Sam uses some of his mojo to drive him off. And let me just say, Sam when he goes to that dark exorcism place? He DOES look spooky. It can't be easy to be that hot and that chilling.
Seance thwarted, the brothers decide to visit the spirit plane to talk to the kid, via the help of grouchy and reluctant psychic, Pamela Barnes, who we first met in the season opener Lazarus Rising. Frankly, can you blame her for being grouchy and reluctantly? When Bobby first brought the boys to her for help, she ended up blinded for her troubles. (And, um, she ain't gonna end up much better after assisting them in this episode.) Once they become ghostlike, we see a bit of characteristic--or what used to be characteristic--sibling behavior. Dean can't resist putting his hand through Sam (much, as it seems, my kids can't resist poking at each other whenever we're driving somewhere).
Sam: "Get out of me."
Dean: "You're such a prude."
Well, actually he's NOT. There were one or two times in early seasons he actually did come across as a little...well, prissy (don't kill me, Samgirls), but that was before he was doing female doctors up against walls and having smoking sex with demons. Our boys--and their relationship--are nowhere near what they were in seasons 1, 2, or 3. Which was evidenced earlier when Sam lied about Allistair running and Dean called him on it, telling Sam he could keep his little secrets but to at least not treat him (Dean) like an idiot.
Even more so than most episodes, this was one was rife with the pop cult references, including "ghost" Dean making plans to "feel up Demi Moore" and, after they gently break the news to the spirit kid that he is, in fact, deceased, he snarks back at them, "Yeah, thanks haley Joel, I know I'm dead." Love it!
The "black smoke" took the Reaper who first came for the kid (apparently, sacrificing two reapers in a ritualistic way on a certain night will open another seal) but now another Reaper has come to collect: Tessa. Who you may remember (although Dean initially did not) from 2.1 "In My Time of Dying." She's come for the kid, although she agrees not to reap him yet until they can sort out what's going on with Allistair. But, to sort that out, they need the kid's cooperation. Sam offers to talk to him and when Dean asks what his brother plans to say, Sam responds, "Whatever I have to." Which he does. He baldly lies to the kid, promising he can stay in the house with his family forever and doesn't have to go into the light if he helps. Liar! And so unlike the Sammy we once knew. It would have been Dean taking the Machiavellian approach and Sam fretting over it. Oh, I feel sad now.
But then there's a great scene where the kid is trying to teach them to use their ghostly powers that cracked me up. Especially when Dean makes a Mr. Myagi reference, and the kid asks blanky, "Who's Mr. Myagi?"
After the scary old man reaper is--what? killed? you can kill death?--dispatched and another confrontation with Allistair, the boys do at least manage to save Tessa. But Sam gets yanked back into the corporeal plane because Pamela the pyschic is being attacked. He arrives to send a demon out of a body, but not in time to keep Pamela from being stabbed. (Honestly, it's no wonder she hates helping these guys.) Clearly a mortal wound, or, at least, it will be, once Tessa gets back on the job.
Meanwhile, Dean squares off with Allistair, who calls Dean "angsty." Angsty! Need anymore proof that the brothers have completely switched roles? But then Castiel shows up, which apparently results in the capture of Allistair (which I'm probably not spelling right, but at least I'm consistent). Then Dean has to go with Tessa to explain to the kid that Sam lied (and then conveniently fled the plane before having the tough discussion). There's a semi-poignant moment where Tessa explains that the kid will be doing his grieving mother a favor by removing his spirit from the house, then he walks into her for a hug and disappears in a bright flash of light. (Seriously, why did they send creepy Reaper after him in the first place instead of the pretty soothing one?) But then the writers RUIN it by having Tessa go completely cold and insist that there is no "better place" and Dean knows it.
COME ON! Even on Buffy, which got darker in its last two seasons, there was a heaven (of course, her meddling friends did her psychological damage by yanking her out of it, but not my point.) Where's the balance, show? We have demons galore--but the angels are cryptic at best, occasionally fallen and, well, I'm not sure the word I want to use for Uriel is appropriate for this blog. We have a torturous unthinkable hell, but there's no heaven? We're missing the contrast, the balance the, dare I say, natural order of things :-) I'm curious to see if there's a light at the end of this season's darkness or if that's something we'll work toward next season. (Unless, horrors, we just get even darker next season and get one of those Angelesque apocolyptic endings, which, NO! These poor boys deserve better. And if the show's mythos already includes a God and angels, why not a heaven? So now the boys have nothing to work toward? Nothing to look forward to after a life of battling evil? Unfair!)
Dean awakes in time to see that Pamela is dying and lamely offers that she's, "going to a better place." To which she calls bullshit. Then she hugs Sam goodbye, except what she's really doing is telling him that she felt the darkness in him and that if he's rationalizing his new powers by telling himself he has the best of attentions, well, bullshit to that, too.
And then credits. And Tanya staring miserably at the screen going, Gah.
What about you? What do you think of the boys' role reversals and the growing sense of impending doom? Well-written and intriguing, or enough already, we need more eye of the tiger end credits to keep us from crying ourselves to sleep after the eps?