Davy Perez’s “Breakdown” was the Supernatural episode I had been waiting a long time for; good ol’ fashion, bread and butter standalone creepfest. True horror. Something we see so little of in Supernatural these days.
It’s interesting because as Supernatural has aged it seems the content has gotten brighter and lighter, less grunge and grit. So when an episode pulls from classic horror tropes, standard serial killer norms, modern takes on kidnapping, human trafficking, and the dark web and somehow manages to make the fact that monsters are a part of it not only tangential, but more importantly, the least disturbing part of it all. That’s a winner in my book.
Supernatural has dabbled with the idea that humans are the real monsters before. Sometimes it works, like in “The Benders,” and sometimes it falls a bit short, like with “Repo Man.”
That said, Perez manages to run along the lines of the former in an episode that is technically nothing but cliches (creepy religious red herring dude, skeevy gas station attendant, music that is dichotomous to the gory scene unfolding, the corrupt law enforcement agent, the whole shebang). Yet he made it work by embracing all of it without smacking us in the face because in the world Sam and Dean live, none of those things are the cliches and certainly not all at once.
There are also some nice nods to several great disturbing movies in this episode; Jeepers Creepers, Se7en, Reservoir Dogs, the Saw franchise mixed a generous splash of You’re Next, The Silence of the Lambs, and probably others that I’m currently overlooking. Writer Perez and director Amyn Kaderali managed to make these come across as actual homages, not cheap rip-offs.
Look, let’s shove the elephant to the front of the stage and address Sam. For a long time now the writers have ignored Sam’s POV. So I’ll admit that while Sam has a lot to be stressed and depressed about having him suddenly so upset about everyone they’ve lost, including Kaia (whom he barely knew), felt a little out of left field. Had this outburst come after, well, anyone else’s death, it would’ve felt organic, but Kaia? Why is she the “breakdown” catalyst?
It was also odd to see Sam be the one reluctant to help someone just because this isn’t their kind of case. I’ll be honest, if someone were to challenge me to a debate I could definitely make the argument that Jared Padalecki was playing the role of Dean at some moments.
Not that it was fully out of character, just… a bit forced maybe? I assume it’s set up of some kind, but at this point, it was off. I’ll also fully cop to the fact that he’s not wrong about the hunter lifestyle; I’ve always said that the Winchesters should be far more isolated from friends and family (blood related or honorary) than they allow.
Maybe this is Sam pushing back against Dean’s tendency to label everyone family within minutes? I have to admit, I wouldn’t hate that, but I do need more as to why. So, on one hand, it was good to see and hear Sam actually going through some shit and talking about it; on the other hand, it was slightly without context.
As for Dean, hi Dean, it was good to see you again, it’s been a long, LONG time. This Dean (Jensen Ackles) was quick on his toes, focused on the case, determined and smart, exploring alternate avenues of research, a compassionate ear for Doug, an intuitive nurturer making pancakes for his little brother, and the hero who saves Sam in the knick of time. I grow so tired of one-note Dean, he’s either barking and growling while moping or laughing inappropriately with food hanging out of his face. And while both of those are facets of Dean and have their place, he’s more than that. Kudos to Perez for that balancing act.
And of course, we gotta discuss Donna. So fun fact, when we first learned that Briana Buckmaster would be the only one from the potential Wayward Sisters spin-off featured in episode 13.11 “Breakdown” I said, in multiple conversations over the subsequent weeks, that this episode was going to exist primarily to take Donna from a 2D caricature to a fully fleshed character. Even last week when I wrote my review of 13.10 “Wayward Sisters”, as I typed how Donna was little more than a schtick, I knew this week I’d likely have to expound on that.
Notice that I didn’t say “retract”.
Because I don’t. I stand by what I said in that review. This episode is the fifth time we’ve seen Donna, and it’s taken this long for her to have some true dimension. We’ve seen glimpses at more since her first episode, but last week’s outing erased any progress the previous three episodes had made. Thankfully, writer Davy Perez gave her the depth that had been stripped from her and more.
I also called it on this episode that would have her pulling back on the accent. And I was right. I’ve said it before, Briana Buckmaster sells the hell out of the character, but this was the first time where I felt she was doing more than selling, she was embodying.
The scenes of Donna interrogating the pastor was fantastic. Briana managed to remain fully in character while adding nuances of what makes her a sheriff; showing us how good she is at her job, and how cunning and observant she can be.
We also got to see her heart break when Doug admits that while he respects what she does and thinks she’s a hero for doing it, he just can’t. It was refreshing to see a male character be so humbled and respectful of a female character that is essentially braver than he is while in no way trying to change or manipulate or degrade or baby her. Kudos, Perez, that was subtly crafted.
What I’m saying, delicately, is that this is the backdoor pilot we should’ve gotten. Not only is it absolutely absurd that they had to make a random excuse for why Donna called Sam and Dean instead of Jody; a good backdoor pilot should enhance a character, showing them as strong and vulnerable, not borderline infallible like everyone was in Wayward Sisters.
The Supernatural creative team has gone back and forth about whether there were three, two, or one backdoor pilot(s) for Wayward Sisters. I’d say there were five: “Ladies Drink for Free”, “Patience”, “The Bad Place”, “Wayward Sisters”, and “Breakdown”. Of the five, only “Breakdown” hit home for me.
Maybe I was wrong, maybe what I said about Donna not being sustainable was premature. I’ll admit to that. I do think I’d prefer her popping up on Supernatural once a season to seeing her week to week, but that’s neither here nor there.
All in all, “Breakdown” had 92% of what I want out of an episode of Supernatural;: brothers being brothers while brothering, actual horror, side characters written to enhance the brothers independently and as a unit instead of dumbing them down, and Dean stopping at nothing to rescue Sam. And pancakes.
And hey, who wouldn’t spend half a mil on Sam Winchester’s heart?
Check out the Supernatural 1312 Various & Sundry Villains Trailer above, and check out Lynn’s review of this Breakdown episode.