Built to Be So Gay With
by Sylvia Bond
Supernatural Episode Review – Season 7, Episode 6
The point of this episode is not the plot, for the plot has been done before, many, many times. An example that comes quickly to my mind is a 1977 episode of Starsky & Hutch, ”Starsky and Hutch are Guilty.” In this episode, a lawyer hires lookalikes to pose as Starsky and Hutch on a crime spree in order to discredit their testimony in an upcoming trial. Many chase scenes through the streets of Los Angeles ensue as Starsky and Hutch track down their doppelgangers and prove their innocence in time for the trial.
The fact that Sam and Dean have to pretend to be dead (again) is neither here nor there; you know they succeed in the end, because Show must go on. My point is, the story isn’t new, but how it was told was the marvel that was this week’s ep. The means to an end resulted in such a fine episode that I enjoyed it on many different levels. So I hope to avoid talking about the plot in order to concentrate on the texture.
When the episode opens up, we see Sam and Dean about to rob a bank. The signs are clear: they look edgy, they scout the place out, and they do hand signals to one another. Then the automatic weapons come out, and everyone gets shoved into the bank vault, where Sam and Dean wink at the camera and shoot everyone.
A few ideas occurred to me in quick succession. That Sam and Dean were robbing a bank because they were out of money. Or that they’d shoved everyone in the vault and were going to kill them because they were all demons. Or that they’d shoved everyone in there and were only going to pretend to kill them, in order to draw out a demon or monster or whatever.
Imagine my surprise when it turned out that these are Sam and Dean’s Leviathan Doppelgangers. Their goal is obvious, to discredit Sam and Dean and get them arrested (and worse, get access to them to eat their livers), as per the aforementioned plot. The fun part happens when we espy Sam and Dean’s doubles in a diner. This is a diner that Dean remembers with fondness as having great burgers. His double, however, is dismayed to find that the burger is terrible, and he hates having to do what Dean would do and eat what Dean would eat. Moreover, he’s sure that Dean puts himself in harm’s way only so he can be anointed for sainthood.
Sam’s Doppelganger feels the same hatred for his own form; Sam is crazier than bats in a belfry, and he desperately wants to change places. No way, says Dean’s double, it’s bad enough being Dean. The whole of this scene offers some terrific insight into these characters, because by now, after seven years, they are as complex and mixed up as a soap-opera plot, made up of battered dreams and tattered hearts and fraught inside and out with a sense of woebegone victimization. In short, they’re well on their way to being the perfect bodice ripper, romantic heroines. And yes, I mean heroines, not heroes. They’re desperate to be rescued, preferably by each other.
One interesting scene involves Bobby in the basement of the backwoods cabin where The Gang is staying. His main goal is to torture the Leviathan Minion to the point where said Minion will give up whatever juice it is that Bobby needs to stop the swath of destruction that the Leviathans are wreaking. Except it should be self evident to Bobby that once he’s able to tear down the Minion to the point where he can get information out of him, that in and of itself will demonstrate to Bobby how to kill the rest of the Leviathans.
Bobby has a lot of tricks up his rolled-up sleeves, including batteries, acid, chains, a sharp stick or two, and a machete. He accidentally brushes skin with the Minion, which results in the Minion taking on Bobby’s form. This particular skill of the Leviathan meant that, to me, anyone who walked on screen was capable of being a Double, capable of killing at any moment. But isn’t that always the way with Show? Still, this week, I thought it was very effective.
At any rate, the Minion gives us a catalog of Bobby’s inner workings, the fact that he adores Joni Mitchell, has a lot of Daddy Issues (but then, what character on Show doesn’t), and that, significantly, he reads poetry. The poem that’s mentioned is one called Andrea Del Sarto, and it’s a bungle of dramatic monologue from whence cometh the immortal quote: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
See how interesting this gets, so quickly? I mean, why did Show pick that particular poem, rather than any other? (And there are lots, let me tell you). Show obviously chose something accessible. That is by Browning, rather than by Blake (which would be far more complex), or by Edward Taylor, which would be far more obscure. I mean, who among you as read Housewifery? (English Lit majors, put your hands down.) I figure the resultant choice is because even the most rapaciously literature-resistant dullards have heard of Browning.
Or it could be that the poem was selected because this particular, famous line has some contextual meaning related to this ep, and indeed, the story overall. As in, Sam and Dean might be exceeding their grasp (fighting the unwinnable fight), but that they one day, peace and God willing, will reach their goal, be it an endless open road filled with diners, dives, and drive-ins, or be it a little grey cabin in the west. Who really knows, unless you can ask a scriptwriter why, and then, please let me know. The point is, it got interesting, got me thinking, and that I dearly love to do.
Bobby sends Sam and Dean off to see Frank, which is reminiscent of the time he sent them off to see Rufus. Frank is a Lunatic, which is demonstrated by all the electronic gear he has, how the windows are covered with metal wire to keep everyone out, and by how he greats the boys with a semi-automatic weapon.
Frank is also entertainingly earnest. He promptly gives the boys new IDs and a bunch of advice that they will never take, but which fans have been talking about for years. First, no more shout outs to rock stars on ID cards; they will forever be known as Mr. and Mr. Smith. Second, cash only, no credit cards, because cards can be traced. Third, change cell phones on regularly unscheduled schedule. And fourth, get rid of that car, it’s too recognizable. Naturally, it’s this last bit that Dean balks at, but all of it only makes sense, doesn’t it? If you really want to be off the grid, you don’t use the tools that The Man can use to track you.
And by the way, I love Frank. I mean, LOVE him. He suffers no fools gladly, and you just know he’s got stories to tell. Plus he’s played by Kevin McNally, who plays one of my favorite characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, at least, one of my favorite characters who isn’t Jack, namely, Joshamee Gibbs. The scene with Frank also demonstrates that, for the short time the Feds et al think that Sam and Dean are alive, the Winchester boys are truly on the run. They must stay off the grid if they want to survive, and really, shouldn’t this “cash only, change phones” advice have come to the boys long before this? The funniest part of the scene, for me, was when Frank told them that they would heretofore be known as Mr. and Mr. Smith. I mean, he said it like they were married now or something.
Meanwhile, Bobby struggles with the Minion, to no avail. As you know, The Gang has been hiding out in Rufus’ old cabin, which I have, in past reviews, pointed out as giving me particular joy. But this week, we got to see more of the cabin than just the outside and brief glimpses of the couch. We get to see the cellar, for one, which is done in Spooky Cute, complete with cobwebs and an old kitchen hutch, and various metallic scraps, with plenty of room on the cement floor to torture any kind of creature you could imagine.
Upstairs, we got different angles, from the front door, from the kitchen, from the little TV area, and it struck me at how squalid the place was. I mean, truly squalid. The one couch is ripped and sagging, the other two-seater is ratty, and the TV has rabbit ears for crying out loud. Every flat surface is covered with detritus, from Chinese to-go containers, empty beer and whiskey bottles, unwashed plates and glasses, and who knows how long everything has been sitting out. The Gang has been holed up there for an untold number of weeks (at least three or four) and no one has done any dishes in that time, it looks like. Sure, maybe they rinse them off before they use them, but other than that, it’s a man’s world. I bet you a gazillion dollars, as well, that toilet seat is UP all the time.
Not to mention, in the corner of the fireplace area is a narrow bunk bed, upon which is tumbled a number of moth-eaten, sad, grey thin blankets. I about died when I saw them; it fits perfectly with my image of the Boys as Orphans in the Storm. The implication seems to be that the Boys sleep there, and that Bobby sleeps in the other room, which is off camera somewhere. Not to mention the floor is filthy and there are old batteries and just, honestly, CRAP everywhere you look. I know that the outside of the cabin, when we see it, is stock footage. I know that the inside is a set, but by god, the Set Dressers outdid themselves. This is right up there with the cabin from the end of Season 1 from The Devil’s Trap, all messy and atmospheric, with rust and dirt everywhere.
Then Sheriff Jody Mills shows up, which I enjoyed a great deal. She’s not in trouble this time, but has managed to track Bobby down in order to offer him beer and some home cooking. I like Sheriff Mills because she seems self-assured and clever, and is nice to Bobby. Not to mention, she gets right to work making Bobby a sandwich and cleaning the cabin. It is this cleaning that cleverly demonstrates to Bobby that anything containing Borax cuts like acid through a Leviathan’s skin. Upon which Bobby engulfs her in a huge kiss.
Has Bobby ever kissed anyone before? I don’t think so, not like this. Is she a love interest? If Season 7 ends up being the last season of Show, is Show then attempting to build a relationship for Bobby, so that he, in his turn, can settle down in a little grey cabin in the west? Or, as sometimes happens, will Sheriff Mills be built up and then killed off in some horrible way that makes Bobby cry? I personally think Bobby deserves a reward like having a fine woman like Sheriff Mills in his life, don’t you? I was glad to see the kiss!
Even though Bobby is able to borax the Minion’s body and cut off its head, his only real solution, at this point, is to send the head in a box off with Sheriff Mills, who will dump it in a deep part of the river. The head and the body might be one day able to join up with each other, which indicates that there is no real way, at this point, to destroy a Leviathan. Which is a good thing, because it means that The Gang won’t be able to easily rid themselves of this nuisance. No, this particular Big Bad will follow them all their days and nights. When push comes to shove, of course, Sam and Dean will win the day but in the meantime, I think it’s important for Heroes to have obstacles that they cannot easily overcome, don’t you?
Sam and Dean end up driving an old yellow car. Don’t ask me what kind it is because I don’t know, just that it’s a rust bucket that Dean’s ashamed to be seen in. What makes it worse (for Dean) is that from the rear-view mirror is a Pegasus my little pony-ish thing. It’s yellow. There are rainbows. Dean wastes no time in cutting down the poor wee creature, much to Sam’s dismay; he was probably enjoying it hanging there just for the irritation it would cause Dean. Then Sam turns on the radio. The song is “All Out of Love,” by Air Supply, and Dean, yes, starts singing to it. Badly and obnoxiously. Sam is horrified, and the whole thing is laugh out loud funny.
What I thought was great though, that in the midst of Dean’s singing one of the tunes from his secret, guilty pleasure playlist, was Sam’s insightful discovery that the Leviathan are following a path blazed by Sam and Dean starting in the Pilot episode of Season 1. I have long thought that Sam and Dean get around the country so much that sooner or later they were going to cross their own path. In particular, I fondly thought that both boys would have favorite places they’d like to stay at or favorite meals they enjoyed and would like to have again. In this episode, Dean crows with delight at being
able to eat at a certain diner that has his favorite burger.
But more importantly, Show seems to have stumbled onto something that seemed obvious to fans, that early seasons are a goldmine for characters and ideas. Who’s to say that Sam and Dean shouldn’t hook up with people they once helped? Or that these people might recommend them to others who also need help? And not just once, like in the ep ”Phantom Traveler,” but over and over and over. Besides, I would like Show to revisit what question of what the hell the Woman in White meant when she said that Sam would be unfaithful. When? And to whom?
Hot on the trail of the Doppelgangers, Sam and Dean get arrested by non other than Michael Hogan, who played the complex Col. Saul Tigh on Battlestar Galactica. It was a treat to see him in action, as a clever sheriff who eventually believes Dean and helps the boys to escape, and reports to the Feds that the boys are dead. Sadly, his character, and that of his forensically minded daughter, are slaughtered by the Leviathans.
Last week, at the end of my review for Shut Up, Dr. Phil, I had this to say to express my disappointment that the episode wasn’t more entertaining like fan fiction is: Sam will keep trying and looking as sweet as a soft-bellied kitten while he tries to get Dean to open up. And Dean will look grim and tired and worried that Sam will find out. Which Sam will, of course, and then the brothers will fight, maybe even fist to cuffs. And then one of them will light out for the territories and the other one will have to track him down and find him. And then they’ll be brothers again. Oh wait, that’s fan fiction, isn’t it.
I promise you that I did not have any insights as to the plot of this week’s ep, so I can’t take credit for knowing the future. I avoid reading or watching interviews, I avoid spoilers, I don’t look at titles, even, if I can help it. I simply did not know that my prediction would come true. Oh, sure, I knew the truth about Amy Pond would have to come out eventually, but not like it did. Not with Dean’s Doppelganger sitting so close, so inside of Sam’s space, that he was close enough to kiss or kill Sam, as needed, and as he told the real Sam the truth about what Dean did. (For once the script and the blocking
didn’t dilute the intensity both actors bring to the depiction of their relationship, perhaps because in this scene, Sam is not related to Dean’s Doppelganger.) And certainly I did not know that the first chance he got, Sam would confront Dean and ask him about Amy. (I mean, I did, but not the way it happened.)
Dean has no defense. He did what he did because he thought it was right. Where he went wrong, of course, was to continually lie to Sam about it, a lie which was compounded each and every time Sam would ask Dean what was wrong, and Dean would deny there was anything. So what does Sam do? The first picturesque spot he can find, he makes Dean pull over and then confronts him with it. The light is slanted and beautiful (either sunrise or sunset in Vancouver, B.C.), and it turns Sam’s eyes into green glints and his skin into silk.
He throws his arms wide (a Sam Spread!) and says stuff to Dean that is hurtful but true; this is the part where they fight: I can’t talk to you right now…I can’t even be around you right now…I think you should just go on without me. To which Dean replies, almost calmly (knowing there’s no defense): Alright. Sorry, Sam. Then Sam dramatically gathers his leather satchel and his back pack, and, as they say, lights out for the territories. Naturally, Dean will have to track him down and find him so they can be brothers again. Just like in fan fiction. And even a whole lot like the drama and angst you find in slash fiction.
Which leads me to ask Show, specifically, why they named the title of this episode like they did? It wasn’t a mistake, and it’s not like they don’t what slash fiction is, either. For you kids who don’t know, slash fiction is a type of fan fiction that operates on the very entertaining and sometimes p0rnogr@ph!c idea that two main characters in any given TV show (or movie or book, etc.), or at the very least, the main character and his sidekick, are lovers. And I mean in the sense that they are in love with each other and have sex. They’re not gay; gay literature has a different purpose and audience; in this context, though, they are gay for each other. In broader terms, you can apply Rule # 34: If it exists, there is p0rn of it.
To my mind, Show named this episode “Slash Fiction,” for reasons known only to them, perhaps as a shout out to fans, but there elements in this episode that are prevalent in fan fiction and in slash fiction. Just one example, the my little pony trope that seems to run through so much art and fiction. Or of Dean loving burgers, or of Sam being so smart. Or the lie between them that you know is going to explode in a shower of angst and drama. And when it does, there’s the oft-writ-about idea of Sam or Dean leaving and the other one going after them. That’s not my idea, it’s rife in fan fiction, because there’s nothing more dramatic than love lost and then found again. And afterwards, at least in fan fiction (that is, slash fiction), when they find each other, they have sex. Lots of it. Though I doubt that Show will take it there, for obvious reasons. Which leads me to again ask, why this title? Inquiring minds want to know.