It takes a lot of work to make an episode of a TV show. You’ve got directors directing, and producers producing, and best boys, and key grips, and gaffers, all besting, and keying, and gaffing. There’re so many people involved, it’s a wonder they don’t all run each other over trying to get their jobs done. So my hat’s off to a show that can produce good-quality television, and keep the light burning for the fans who watch it week after week.
And I get it, I do, that sometimes a show will have an off week, an episode that didn’t go exactly according to plan, and I’m willing to adjust my expectations to the reality that is. But this week, the ep that Show produced was so very disappointing on so many levels, I came away feeling like I’d been gob smacked. My friend in Alaska always says to me, “You should watch Show with lower expectations and turn off your brain, and that way, it’ll be more fun for you when it sucks.”
Well, that’s fine advice for some, but I can’t exactly do that. Writing these reviews over the years has trained my brain to pay more attention rather than less, and so, yeah, those small details (some not so small) that don’t quite work really get in the way and piss me off. Not only because I feel that Show messed up (and that’s because Show feels like a favored child), but because I’m bothered by it, and I shouldn’t care this much, but I do. And believe me, I tried to find points in Show’s favor this week wherever I could, but it wasn’t easy.
So let’s look at why this week was so disappointing, shall we?
The plot revolves around an Irish he-witch, who has this floating poker game where you get to play with magical chips that either increase or decrease your expected life span. Naturally, the he-witch, having been practicing for a few hundred years (poker was invented in the 1400’s or the 1700’s, depending on your view of the history of the game), is pretty good at it. He’s taken a few lives for his own amusement, so when this comes to the notice of Sam and Dean, they are hot on the trail, trying to figure it out. They arrive in the most likely town, and call Bobby to ask him about it. He’s got nothing, and so they are basically on their own.
It’s not a bad start, because the idea of a magical death-dealing poker game has all kinds of fun handles that you can grab onto and make a story out of. You know, kind of like those ship’s wheels, with all those spokes, except in this case, Show picked the wrong spokes and didn’t really hold on all that tightly, because that wheel just kept spinning out of control.
A large portion of the episode has to do with Bobby dealing with being in a wheelchair. And I don’t mind the episode being about that, in fact, I’ve been expecting something along this line. Anyone who’s had a foot operation or a sprained ankle or anything like that that kept them off their feet for even just a day or two can understand some of what Bobby’s going through. When you suddenly can’t get around, you just about loose your mind. Multiply that by being stuck in a wheelchair forever, and you’ve got a story idea that just about anyone can relate to.
But here’s where it gets whacked. Bobby still lives in his house in South Dakota. He supposedly can’t get around very well because he’s stuck in a wheelchair because his legs don’t work. To what extent his legs don’t work, we don’t really know, because it’s never been explained if he has partial feeling or any movement at all or whether he’s in danger of getting leg thrombosis or atrophied muscles and all those kinds of details that my mind tends to obsess about.
Bobby also lives in a house of stairs. There’re stairs going up to the many rooms above the first floor, and stairs going down to the basement and the Panic Room, so Bobby probably lives on the first floor only. There are even stairs that go down from the front porch, but I assume that there has been a ramp built over the stairs on the front porch, maybe by Sam and Dean, but details, details, let’s move on.
Now Bobby, once he gets off that phone call with Dean (after the conversation where he tells them he doesn’t know anything), grabs his ring of keys, and the next time we see him he is bumping into Dean, who has only just then discovered the location of the poker game.
So check it. Bobby, who has no use of his legs, is able to load his wheelchair up into the van, get into the van, drive an undetermined amount of miles (one assumes there are hand controls on the wheel instead of him using the foot pedals), get to the city, find parking (a miracle in and of itself, because I can bet you a gazillion dollars that Bobby wouldn’t have a handicapped tag on his van, out of pride), get the wheelchair out of the van, get around quickly enough to discover the location of the poker game, play in said poker game, and loose, all before Dean and Sam can even find the game.
It all happens far too fast and without any explanation whatsoever as to how much time had passed between the end of the aforementioned phone call and Dean bumping into Bobby in a back alley. What’s more, later in the ep, Bobby can’t even push himself up a ramp, and Sam does it for him. Then he whines to Dean that he’s not a Hunter because he doesn’t have the use of his legs. Excuse me? What did we just see him do? What about all that other stuff he was able to accomplish? Oh, right, Show puts it off to Magical Bobby strikes again!
So how should Show have handled it instead? Well, Show got it partly right, in that conversation that Dean has with Bobby about what it means to be a Hunter, and how Bobby is family, and how important that is. I liked Dean’s little speech, actually. But what Dean should have done is to point out all the stuff that Bobby had done on his own to get to town and connected that to the rest of the ep, and to make Bobby seem less magical. I hate Magical Bobby and Whiny Bobby with a passion. I like Regular Bobby, tough and irascible, who tries to cut the emo conversation with Dean short by saying, completely in character, “Okay, good talk.”
Then there’s the poker game itself, where we got to observe and observe and (yawn) observe other people playing. We got to watch cards being shuffled, and poker chips being pushed across the table till I thought I was going to go mad. We even got close-ups of chips being pushed across the table, long, drawn out, loving and perfectly focused, needless and uninteresting close-ups of chips being pushed across the table. Lord, it was better than 5-Hydroxytryptophan for falling asleep.
Watching people playing poker is only interesting if you are next in line to play, or if you are observing to learn how to play. Then there’s Celebrity Poker, which is a TV show for people who like to watch celebrities playing poker for charity. I can’t speak for all fans, but the poker playing part of this ep did nothing for me because I am none of those things. Plus, I’m a terrible poker player. I have wild, obvious, and predictable tells and about halfway through the game, I’m like a three year old who wants to do fun things with the chips other than stack them. Like flick them at people. So to me, the poker parts of the ep, which amounted to a whopping one-third of the scant 40 minutes allotted to Show, were insipid.
Okay, moving on. Next comes the Spell. The she-witch, who is the he-witch’s companion lo these many years, decides, for some reason, that she’s had enough, and gives to Dean and Bobby the spell to undo it all. If Dean and Bobby can pull it off, everyone who’s still alive will be automatically reverted back to their real age. Why I can’t understand the she-witch’s sudden motivation (as in why now does she suddenly decide it’s too much?), I’m familiar with that quirky behind the scenes flip of the coin where characters suddenly change their mind, so I let it go.
But meanwhile, please notice that it’s Dean and Bobby she gives the spell to. Here it comes, right? You know I’m totally going to go there: Where’s Sam? It’s the Sam and Dean show, not the Bobby, Dean, and the He-Witch show. But let’s take the SAM IS COMPLETELY MISSING FROM ANY IMPORTANT PARTS OF THE STORY complaint given as read, and move on to the newer issue.
Sam takes off, all on his own, to do something (ostensibly to “find another way out of this”) to save the day. We don’t know what that something is, and even if Sam does, Dean and Bobby certainly don’t, because he doesn’t tell them. There was some early-on discussion of him trying his hand at the poker game, but Dean convinces him that he’s a terrible poker player and he’s not to do it. So while the idea is out there, Dean and Bobby certainly don’t know that that’s where Sam has gone. (They might suspect, but they don’t know.)
At the same time, Dean and Bobby have a spell that will reverse all the premature aging in town, but Sam doesn’t know they have the spell, because he’d exited, stage right, before that happened. (Who knows how long the poker game went on for, but it would take Old Guy Dean about twice as long as Regular Dean to dig that grave, so let’s say eight hours?) Yet somehow, while playing poker and being completely out of contact with anyone, Sam knows that he needs to grab the toothpick that the he-witch was chewing on to give Dean and Bobby a bit of he-witch DNA for the spell. Moreover, when he grabs the toothpick, he runs out into the alley, and mysteriously, magically, Dean is RIGHT there to take the toothpick.
And it gets even more improbable from there! The he-witch reveals to Sam that the toothpick he took had no he-witch DNA, so it won’t work. Then, when the spell goes all haywire and doesn’t work, Dean knows right away that it was the toothpick that was the problem, even though he has no way of knowing that. And I’m not even peeved that Show seems to be implying that Sam is to blame for grabbing the wrong toothpick, because the idea of Dean magically knowing this little fact, with no basis in reality, is totally glossed over.
It’s a huge plot point, because how in the world could Sam know that they needed DNA? And how would Dean know the toothpick didn’t work? Was he wearing his schwami hat or something? I for one, saw no hat, and while Sam might or might not be psychic at this point, Dean definitely is not, so the whole thing became this ludicrous impossibility, and such bad, bad storytelling, it was painful to watch.
I’m a writer, and I know it’s hard sometimes to get all those threads to come together, but this was so obvious and sloppy that I just wanted to get up and turn off the TV. (Yes, I watch the old fashioned way, with commercials.) And why didn’t I? Because in spite of the messy plot, the overlooked plot holes, the excess of focus on poker chips, and totally out-of-character Bobby, I have my loyalty to Sam and Dean. So I stayed, even though I felt like someone was propping my eyes open with toothpicks and had tied me to the couch.
Eventually, amidst sweat and flying Samhair, Sam wins the poker game and saves Dean from dying of a heart attack, even though he’s supposedly the worst poker player ever. He gets almost no credit for this. Instead he marches off, announcing his intention to get a booster shot for a case of “the clap” that the he-witch gave him.
But let’s back up a minute, to the point where the he-witch, in retaliation, said he was going to give Sam a “present” and clapped his hands together three times. Within minutes, Sam is rubbing at his crotch to relieve the irritation that he’s suddenly feeling. From the fact that the he-witch clapped, we’re meant to believe that Dean is able to infer that Sam’s got an instant case of “the clap” (aka gonorrhea), even though Sam has yet to experience frequent and painful urination.
Plus, there are 13 standard antibiotics used to treat gonorrhea in the United States, only one of which is not an oral antibiotic. Also, the clinic that he ends up at is going to want to test him first. Since Sam’s as clean as a whistle (unless there’s some leftover demon germs floating around from that Skank Ruby), the clinic is not only not going to be giving him a booster shot, they are not going to be giving him anything. Not to mention it was magical gonorrhea, so it’s totally gone now, if it ever was there in the first place. Sam, being the intelligent, web-surfing expert that he is, has probably come across this information and knows it. So the whole thing where he flounces out the door was just a plot device to allow Dean and Bobby some MORE alone time, where they could have a meaningful conversation that once again Sam is left out of.
I’d also like to complain about the amount of time that Show spent on the goodbye scene between the he-witch and the she-witch. She’s suddenly decided that she doesn’t want to live forever aiding and abetting the he-witch’s antics, she misses her family, and she wants to end it all. That’s fine, just fine, but Show spent like, an HOUR on this scene, on the weeping and wailing of a secondary character who is about to die. Moreover, when she ages, they did it with CGI. The male characters who die by the sudden onset of aging got a nice, realistic markup job, or a combo of makeup and CGI. CGI is fine, and I realize that it’s a fun toy, but what’s wrong with good old fashioned Max Factor? Her aging looked totally, totally, totally faked, and the whole thing was just a soul-wounding disappointment.
Lastly but definitely not leastly, I take extreme umbrage about the lack of Sam and Dean togetherness. Sam goes off on his own again and again and again (see aforementioned rant) and when he is with Dean, he’s not really connecting with Dean. Where are the brothers, saving people and hunting things? Where are the brothers angsting and squabbling and, yes, dithering? What I got in this ep was not what I came to see, I can tell you that for nothing.
Was there anything good about this ep?
Well, I liked the he-witch. He wasn’t scary or anything but he was interesting. Plus, give me a man with an accent, or even a slight lilt, and I can listen to him read from the phone book and be happy. So there was that.
Then there were the closeups of Sam and Dean playing poker. Now, I know what I said earlier about how boring it is watching people play poker, but again, but if it’s SAM and DEAN playing poker, them I’m just happy to be there to see it. Although, truthfully, Show used a very heavy filter this time around, which totally blocked out the color from those big green eyes the boys have. I’ve seen Show use a filter and still have the boys’ eyes be green, and their lips sweet and lush and pink, so I know Show can do it, it just chooses not to from time to time, just to get back at me for demanding so much.
Then there was Chad Everett. When I first learned that Dean was going to become an old man, and that someone else was going to play Dean, well, you can probably imagine my discontent, my ire, even, and me stomping around complaining to anyone who would listen. No one else can play Dean, and no one else SHOULD play Dean except for Jensen Ackles, you know?
But I’m a fan, and I’m watching Old Guy Dean, and I realize, all of a sudden (gobsmacked again) that he’s being played by Chad Freaking Everett. I mean, I didn’t watch the credits, and didn’t know who was playing who, but there he was. It was HIM. Dr. Joe Gannon from Medical Center! I had quite a crush on him when I was a kid. I thought the actor’s name was cool, I thought the character he played was cool, all morals and high ground, a good, decent guy who could stay chilly and make the right decisions in dicey situations.
And here, he made a really good Dean, though I did wonder why didn’t they just apply some Max Factor and CGI to Jensen Ackles and have a go at it that way? Well, I reckon they must have done some tests and it didn’t work or proved too cost prohibitive or whatever, so they got Chad Everett, who has the height, and the shoulder width, and the strong facial features to pull it off. Everett had the expressions and body movements, and the wry, self-deprecating attitude about his own aging experience that made him feel true and real. So I really liked him in this part, and started to wonder where he’d been, and you know what? He’s given me yet another reason to mosey up to seeing Mulholland Drive, even though anything by David Lynch just creeps me the heck out. So, go CHAD!
I loved the fact that Sam got to save the day. He wasn’t in the ep a lot because once again, he’s being stored in the cupboard like a set of Guest Towels no one is brave enough to use, but when he was there, it was choice. I mentioned closeups of the brothers before, but we really got a lot of eyecandy when Sam was playing poker. He knew enough to play the player, not the game, so he revs up his out-of-my-element and I-am-so-worried-about-Dean expressions and plays them to the hilt. And he’s so sweet and dewy eyed and strong-jawed when he’s like this, it was a joy and a treat to watch, though the scene was not nearly long enough. Though, again, when it’s all over, Sam gets so very little credit for pulling it off. Where were the claps to the back and the glass of beer and the toast to Sam’s success? Nada, ziltch, zip, that’s what Sam got. As always.
I loved the little kick that Dean does at the end, and his unfettered joy at being young again, but most of all, I loved Sam’s Samhair. (You knew this was coming, too, didn’t you.) In preparation for this ep, someone washed his hair. And I don’t mean, just washed it, I mean, they washed it with love. They used good quality shampoo and a cream rinse without any sodium laureth sulfates, and then they used cold water to rinse it out. And then they finger combed it and let it air dry so it has the shine that only virgin hair has. Not to mention those very stunning streaks of auburn and gold running throughout. Just glorious.
Why so much obsession with Sam’s Samhair? With an episode like this, once again played for laughs and leaving out all that I hold near and dear about Show, I must find something to bring me back next week. And the Samhair was pretty much all I could grab hold of.
Sylvia Bond is a ten-year technical writing veteran with too many degrees under her belt to count. She lives in Colorado, but does not ski, preferring instead to spend her money and time at the annual Great American Beer Festival, taking road trips across the United States, and reading historical fiction from the comfort of her fluffy green arm chair. She has been involved in fandom since 1993 and been writing fanfic since approximately 1993. What she finds most amazing about fandom (besides the open heartedness of fans and the sheer amount of creativity) is how visible fandom has become. “In my day,” she says, “we had to hide behind P.O. boxes to get fanfic. But nowadays, people wear t-shirts that shout their affiliation and share their shiny toys on the internet.” It’s a wonderful world.