Okay, I’m going to be upfront, I was ready to be super underwhelmed by last week’s Supernatural episode “Various & Sundry Villains.” All of the promotion focused on the love spell, and frankly, we’ve been there, done that. In fact, I’m shocked that showrunner Andrew Dabb let this pitch go to script given that he wrote the controversial episode “Season 7 Time for a Wedding”, an episode that I can honestly say has only one truly redeeming quality: Leslie Odom, Jr. was in it.
While this was arguably derivative of that episode, giving this the go ahead was risky on Dabb’s part. It paid off for writer, Steve Yockey, because this love spell outing was much better than the last.
In the opening of this episode we meet the Plum sisters, and I hate to say this, but despite watching this episode three times I don’t actually remember their first names and I could barely tell them apart anyway, so we’ll just call the one Dean “falls in love with” Harley Quinn and the other one we’ll call… Harley Quinn’s little sister? Yeah, sure, why not? Between the cutesy valley girl verbiage and the bloody sledgehammer, I’m sure we were supposed to get an Arkham Asylum vibe off these two. At least, I really hope that was the intention.
I’ll be honest, I was not impressed with these characters and I’m not sure if it was off writing, off casting, or off directing, but they felt really forced. From their overly stereotypical Millenial way of speaking to their overtly blatant mirroring of Sam and Dean (yes, we get it, one is younger and brainy, they other is older and protective, they’re obsessed with their dead mom and it could go badly, was that a hammer they were using or an anvil?) the Plum sisters, unlike their Winchester counterparts, came off as grating. Maybe they were supposed to? Again, I hope so.
I will say that as a horror buff I enjoyed the return of Rowena’s mad dog spell and the demise of the Plum sisters at each other’s hands. I saw a lot of people say it was too much, too gratuitous, too gory. And perhaps it was, but given the movies I regularly watch and enjoy, well, I embraced it.
While I will say I’m glad the love spell portion of the episode was short-lived, it’s always fun to see Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki show off their comedy elbow chops; Ackles with the perfectly timed glibness he brings to Dean Winchester and Padalecki’s Sam Winchester, ever the earnest Abbott to Ackles’ Costello, was subtle, stoic faced gold. Ackles and Padalecki got to play off each other magnificently in this episode; from Dean walking in practically floating on a love cloud, to Sam trying desperately to remind Dean they’ve been down this weird love spell road before, to Ackles’ delivery of “‘cause she’s got a sister”, to their tussle in front of the Impala (though, dang, these boys horseplay hard given the butt dent Sam left on the hood after Dean rushed him) the two actors smoothly show how well they work together no matter the material.
But the star of this episode was Rowena. Her entrance was stellar, and she stole every scene. Ruth Connell is delightful in this role and for the most part (we’ll get to that later) I was glad to see her back because I was sorry to lose her last season, especially in such a cheap, off-screen way. I’m hard-pressed to fall for new characters, but Rowena is one that I really enjoy. Connell was able to give us comedy and tragedy in this episode, going from snark to desperation fluidly. I also have to give Steve Yockey heaps of credit for having Rowena not only ask about Crowley but allowing her to have an outburst about his death. Hearing her say that she’d rather have him alive than to have died a hero hit really close to home given that the lack of Mark Sheppard as Crowley has been quite the gaping hole this season. Take a note from Yockey, other writers, because I’m still waiting for Castiel to ask about Meg…
Speaking of Castiel, he and Lucifer were locked up. Now they aren’t. And like, they had a whole big penis to penis measurement contest and Castiel for some reason tried to hurt Lucifer by telling him that Jack doesn’t even look like him, which… um, Lucifer is in the image of a seasons dead vessel so, of course, he doesn’t look like him. And also, when did you get to know so much about Jack, Castiel? I think maybe the writer accidentally gave Misha Collins some of Sam’s lines to say. If I sound like I was less than moved by any of these scenes, it’s because I wasn’t. The scenes weren’t objectively bad or anything, and not only has Mark Pellegrino has found his footing as Lucifer again, but he and Collins play extremely well off each other. Unfortunately, their scenes simply didn’t mesh well with the “A” plot and the dichotomy crashed the episode’s momentum. Although, I did enjoy both characters reminding each other what untrustworthy, hypocritical screw-ups both have been. Again, I appreciate it when Supernatural is self-aware like that because fallibility gives depth and interest.
Now, you didn’t think I was going to review this episode and not talk about Sam and Rowena sharing their trauma, did you? Because that was a scene that many Supernatural fans have waited years for. In season 11, Sam was forced to not only work with Lucifer, but he had to allow Lucifer into his home, into his room, and wasn’t allowed to voice any grievances about it and while Padalecki did a phenomenal job adding little twitches and moments of tight body language and subtle distance, it was all too obvious that the writers were wary of taking Sam’s trauma seriously because at the time Lucifer was possessing Castiel’s body and the “Cassifer” version of Lucifer was played mostly as a joke throughout that entire arc, nothing but a bratty teenager throwing a tantrum, while Sam Winchester, the boy who had every reason to rip into both Lucifer and God, just stood on the sidelines silently like he was totally fine.
But he wasn’t, he hasn’t been, and watching Sam and Rowena both delve into the trauma and abuse they experienced at Lucifer’s hand was fantastically written and acted. Yockey was able to give the characters just enough for them to convey, through their tone, inflections, and facial expressions how much they were, no are, broken by the Devil himself. Having them both admit to seeing Lucifer’s real face, while giving no descriptive details was brilliant. Both Padalecki and Connell were able to communicate to the audience how horrific it was for their characters without any unnecessary detail. Such a great “show, don’t tell” moment; it’s so much more frightening for the viewer to fill in the blanks. And Sam explaining that it isn’t that he’s okay, it’s that he never gets the chance to fully deal with his trauma because the world is always falling apart was both heartbreaking and much needed, not only for Sam to say it but for the audience to hear it.
At the end of this episode we got to see the other side of the Ackles/Padalecki chemistry, their ability to rip your heart out, when Sam and Dean have a frank discussion back at the bunker about what to do going forward. Dean knowing that Sam gave Rowena the spell she wanted and instead of yelling and belittling him, he’s simply honest and direct with him and doesn’t question Sam when he says that if Rowena played him again, he’ll personally kill her.
It was also good to hear Sam be open with Dean about how defeated he feels, about how he tried to mask that with conviction and hope, but that he can’t fake it til he makes it anymore. And while Dean’s words of encouragement and confidence may seemingly ring hollow to Sam, it’s not because Sam doesn’t have faith in Dean, it’s that right now he can’t see where Dean is coming from. Dean knows, because characters have told him for years, how important he and Sam are, how they keep this world spinning, but Sam has never heard it directly, not from God, not from Amara, not from Death, not from Billie. Those declarations have only been uttered to Dean and then conveyed by Dean to Sam, so Dean knows that they’ll figure out a way, that it’s basically destiny and Sam has no choice but to take Dean’s word for it. I could go on and on about the isolation of Sam Winchester, but that’s an article for a different day.
Overall, this was a mytharc episode done well, slightly overstuffed as most mytharc episodes are, but coherent and well paced with a fantastic blend of horror, levity, and angst. That said, the last thing I want to touch on for this episode is something that was absolutely no fault of the writer, Steve Yockey, but I think is an increasing problem on Supernatural; the element of surprise is gone, as are the stakes. Supernatural was once known as a show where rocks fell, and everyone died. It was also a show where Jim Beaver once hid his reprisal of Bobby Singer by trying to convince fandom that he was in Vancouver shooting an abominable snowman movie so that his return to the show wasn’t spoiled
Fast forward just a few years and the cast, crew, and network PR are spoiling character reveals weeks, even months in advance. Instead of being shocked by Rowena’s return we all went into this episode waiting for her appearance, and while we saw Castiel stab Lucifer with an angel blade; saw the red light go out of Lucifer’s eyes; it’s all for naught.
Lucifer is the focus of the promo that aired right after the episode, and the synopsis for the next episode lays out exactly what he’ll be up to. Even last season finale, no one believed Castiel was actually permanently dead. Hell, it took Mark Sheppard declaring that he refuses to ever reprise his role for fans to believe Crowley was truly dead. No stakes means no emotional payoff. No secrecy means no shock and awe. Take a page from some of the greats, Supernatural, including yourself: what’s dead should stay dead, so kill your darlings and if you must bring them back, stop telegraphing their returns.
Check out this week’s Supernatural Devil’s Bargain trailer above.