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3.03 Bad Day at Black Rock: A Lucky Break?

3.03 Bad Day at Black Rock: A Lucky Break?


John’s cursed rabbit’s foot

Tempts and snares a clever thief:

Will it doom his sons?


Episode Summary


Imprisoned hunter Gordon Walker persuaded another hunter, Kubrick, to hunt down Sam Winchester, blaming Sam for the opening of the devil’s gate and arguing that Sam is a monster who deceived Bobby and other hunters about his true nature. Meanwhile, the Winchester brothers' fight over Sam’s announced intent to try to get information from demon Ruby was interrupted by a call on their dad’s old cell phone reporting a break-in at a storage unit John had maintained outside of Buffalo, NY that the brothers knew nothing about. Investigating the unit, which was booby-trapped against humans and spelled against demons, the brothers found a depository that was an odd mix of weapons, family mementos, and the evil spoils of hunts that John evidently didn’t have any way to destroy, and instead locked away inside curse boxes intended to hold the evil inside. Blood on the floor was evidence that one of the thieves was hit by the booby trap shotgun John had rigged to a tripwire, and the dust pattern on a shelf showed that one curse box was missing.


The boys tracked down the two thieves, Wayne and Grossman, only to discover that they’d opened the box and that Wayne had handled the rabbit’s foot that was inside, receiving the benefit of unbelievable luck. That same luck worked against the boys when they tried to reclaim the box and its contents: Dean dropped his gun, which discharged, and the ricochet took Sam’s gun out of his hands. As they tried to get their guns back, Sam ran right into Dean, knocking him off his feet, and as Dean got back up, he was clocked in the face with his own gun as Wayne scooped it up. Grossman was strangling Sam, up to the moment when Sam’s groping hand closed on the rabbit’s foot – and then everything changed. Sam broke Grossman’s hold and kicked him backward, Dean’s gun jammed in Wayne’s hand when Wayne tried to shoot Sam, and as Dean scrambled back to his feet, Wayne stumbled backward and tripped over his own, knocking himself out on the floor. Grossman, grabbing Sam’s fallen gun and trying to brace himself to shoot, brought a bookshelf down on his own head, knocking himself out even as the gun in his hand sailed free of his grip to land squarely in Sam’s. After the boys left the unconscious thieves, Wayne had a gruesomely fatal freak accident with a beer bottle and a cooking fork; his luck turned as impossibly bad as it had been impossibly good before. The rabbit’s foot had a new owner.


Dean tested Sam’s new luck with scratch-off lottery tickets while Sam called Bobby, discovering both that Bobby knew about John’s secret stash and had built all the curse boxes, and that Bobby knew the nature of the enchantment on the foot: that it was cursed to kill people within a week after they lost it, and that everybody loses it. The good luck part of the deal won the boys free food at a restaurant chain for a year, but when their pretty waitress turned out to be the woman who had hired the thieves in the first place and adroitly picked the foot out of Sam’s pocket with a napkin, everything went wrong. Sam burned himself on his coffee mug, spilled coffee in his lap, lurched to his feet to escape the coffee and took down a waiter with a full tray … and Kubrick and his partner Creedy, the hunters searching for Sam, spotted the photo of the boys winning food on the restaurant’s website, and knew where to take their hunt.


Returning to Grossman, the surviving thief, Dean persuaded him to give information on the woman who had hired them, and the description and her chosen alias were enough to let Bobby identify her as Bela Talbot, a mercenary purveyor of supernatural artifacts. Bobby found her location, and also found a ritual that could destroy the foot and break the bad luck jinx. Dean parked Sam in a motel to keep him safe and went to retrieve the foot from Bela, but Sam’s bad luck meant that the motel was the same one where Kubrick and Grossman were staying, and the air conditioner in Sam’s room caught fire for no reason. Attempting to put out the fire, Sam set his own jacket alight, and then pulled down the drapes and knocked himself out as he extinguished the fire, as Kubrick and Creedy stood outside his window.


Dean outwitted Bela’s pricey security system and faced off with her, learning that her only interest was in making money from the supernatural artifacts that she could find and sell. Although she knew better than to touch the foot and had handled it only with tongs, she wasn’t above using other artifacts; she evidently had used and kept an artifact similar to a Ouija board to interrogate the spirits of people killed by the rabbit’s foot in order to find out where it was, when she’d heard of interest from a potential buyer. During the face-off, Dean picked up the rabbit’s foot and used its luck to escape Bela’s bullets, leaving her place in a shambles from ricochets. Returning to the motel just as Kubrick was planning to shoot Sam, he saved Sam and knocked out Kubrick and Creedy with a pen, a simple sidestep, and a remote control … and the foot.


Performing the necessary ritual in a cemetery after dark, Dean scratched off a last handful of lottery tickets before consigning the foot to the fire – only to be stopped by Bela, who shot Sam in the shoulder to persuade Dean to take her seriously. Ordered to set down the foot, Dean started to comply, and then tossed it at her, triggering her natural reflex to catch the thing. Realizing that she was now cursed, she reluctantly completed the ritual to destroy the foot and left – but not before picking the lottery tickets from Dean’s jacket pocket, leaving the brothers as penniless as usual.




This episode was delightful and hilarious, but with a solid core beneath the laughs. Ben Edlund has a gift for offbeat, off-the-wall humor, and the improbably bizarre streaks of rabbit’s foot luck, both good and bad, were a perfect demonstration of his talent for the absurd. Director Robert Singer pulled off lovely stunt and effect sequences that must have been a positive bitch to set up and nail. Here’s hoping we get to see outtakes on this one in the season’s gag reel, because there must have been some doozies! Creator Eric Kripke was doubtless rubbing his hands in glee at Wayne’s gruesome end by meat fork; knowing exactly what had to be coming didn’t detract from that gross-out one little bit.


Darker things and deeper things lurked beneath the laughter, though. The opening fight between the boys revealed that Sam had admitted to his conversation with a demon, and that her claim to be able to help Dean weighed heavily into Sam’s choice not to douse her with holy water and try for an exorcism, but he denied that she had told him anything else. Sam is still keeping his ever-growing body of secrets about what happened to him as a baby, about their mother having recognized the Yellow-Eyed Demon, and about their mother’s friends and relatives all being systematically eliminated. Dean diagnosed Sam’s basic problem with unerring accuracy – “She knows what your weakness is – it’s me” – but didn’t refuse to follow Sam’s announced strategy of trying to use Ruby to learn more about the escaped demons and their plans for the war.


Almost lost in the fight was Dean asking Sam if he was all right, if he felt okay, and Sam’s irritated response of “Why do you keep asking me that?”  I couldn’t help but flash back to Everybody Loves a Clown, with Sam constantly pressuring Dean and asking if he was okay until Dean lashed out in anger to force him to stop. Now Sam’s the one keeping secrets, and Dean’s the one sensing that something’s not right … and Dean has the added burden of the YED’s niggling question about whether the Sam who came back is 100% pure Sam, and the nightmare memories of Sam possessed and definitely not feeling like himself. It was a brief moment, but it was there – and then it was overtaken by other things, left to hide behind Dean’s eyes.


Sam kept another secret from Dean during the episode, at least for a while. When Bobby told him about the nature of the curse on the foot, Sam didn’t immediately share the information with Dean – not the bit about someone losing the foot dying within a week, anyway. Immediately after Sam lost the foot and fell on his face outside the diner, Dean asked whether his luck was now going bad, and mused, “I wonder how bad?” Sam obviously told him by the time they went back to Grossman’s, but I found it interesting that he evidently hadn’t mentioned what he knew until the curse’s stinger had gone firmly home.


John’s hidden stash was a revelation. Here was yet another secret that he had kept from his sons, and it spoke volumes. After the fire, the Winchesters never really had any home except the Impala, and the car had no room for mementos of the past. John may have conceived the storage area as a safe place for a weapons stash and for hiding dangerous things taken on hunts that he didn’t know how to destroy safely, but he also used it to hold precious memories that he couldn’t carry along and yet couldn’t bear to leave behind. Sam’s soccer trophy and Dean’s first sawed-off shotgun speak to the very different childhoods the two boys experienced even though they were living them together, and I wonder what other things of theirs were in that storage unit? I wonder whether we’ll ever learn.


This episode showcased that John Winchester is always present in his boys, even a full year after he died. Something tells me that John will be a tangible presence for as long as the series lasts, and then some. That makes me feel oddly comforted and satisfied, and still wanting to learn more. We haven’t yet begun to plumb John’s secrets. Why did he never tell them about the storage unit, even after they were grown and could be expected to take measures to keep themselves safe against what was stored there? Keeping it secret while they were children was just common sense, but what was operating in John to keep it hidden once they were grown? What was he afraid of? And had he ordered Bobby not to tell them about it, or did Bobby simply keep the secret on his own, out of habit? On this show, secrets breed.


Last point on the storage unit:  here’s hoping that the boys have relocated everything in it to a new secure and demon-proof location, since Bela knows where the collection was. She might have means to determine what else was hidden there, even though she was smart enough not to take on John’s protections herself but to work through expendable cutouts, and her larcenous soul would clearly be tempted by the collection of curse boxes, if nothing else. I also do wonder if the collection might come into play at a later date, especially if a situation arises where the boys are desperate for something else that Bela has and have to contemplate a trade, even when that trade might release a cursed artifact that they would much rather destroy. This show loves walking fine moral lines …


Bobby was the hidden player of the night. When Sam called, Bobby was working on what looked suspiciously like the Colt. The gun was in pieces on the desktop, and that barrel was unmistakable even though I couldn’t see the engraving on it. And sitting to his left was the box we’d seen back in Daniel Elkins’ house, the storage box built to house the Colt and its special bullets. (Okay, little quibble: the boys didn’t pick up the box when it was there. They didn’t know its significance until they ran into John afterward and he asked them whether they’d seen an antique gun, and Dean mentioned finding the box. So, how is it that Bobby has the box? Did they go back and pick it up? Did Danny Elkins name another hunter – say, Bobby Singer? – in his will, such that Bobby got all of Elkins’ possessions, including the box and the books? Did it mystically appear? I’m just … observing …) Our artificer – our maker of charms against possession and curse boxes to contain powerful evil – appears to be trying to understand the Colt. I’m staying tuned for the next chapter!


Bobby also has evidently been involved in major damage control regarding the public image of the Winchesters. In The Magnificent Seven, Isaac and Tamara were blaming the boys for opening the gate; in Bad Day at Black Rock, Kubrick tells Gordon that word in the hunter community is that Sam checks out as being just a hunter, and that Bobby has been telling people that they did everything they could to stop the gate from being opened. Kubrick’s new hunting partner Creedy also isn’t inclined to condemn Sam out of hand, with no evidence beyond Gordon’s word, given Bobby’s report of events. Bobby swings some weight in the hunter world.


Second-last notes go to Gordon and Kubrick. Gordon is dead-set on killing Sam Winchester, whether by himself or through a proxy, and nothing will convince him otherwise. It was bleakly amusing to see Gordon realizing how insane Jesus-freak Kubrick was in his perception that God had sent him on a mission to kill Sam, without being able to perceive that his own resolve was equally deranged. I’m not that worried about Kubrick, now that he doesn’t have the help of the rabbit’s foot curse making Sam vulnerable, but Gordon is a whole different level of scary.


The final notes, but definitely not the most minor ones, go to Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, because they made it work. Ben Edlund is a very funny writer and Robert Singer has a positive gift for camera work, but this story could have gone over the slapstick edge into farce had it not been for the performances from both boys to sell the humor without overselling the situation. That was a delicate balance delightfully measured! In previous episodes, especially with reaction shots and one-liners, the show has given most of the comedy, particularly the physical comedy, to Jensen, who has nailed it every time. This time, the lion’s share of it rested on Jared, and he did beautifully. Special mention must be made of his hurt “kicked puppy” look on losing his shoe (loved how his stockinged toes curled and uncurled!), the way being told not to scratch his nose immediately led to his nose itching and begging for a scratch, and his disbelieving exasperation at realizing that the air conditioning unit was dying without him even having touched it. Jensen’s look on Dean getting clocked with his own gun and his delivery of “I’m Batman!” are also way up there in the hilarity zone. Both of these guys can do pratfalls with the best of them, and I’m glad we had the excuse to see them show off.


This week, though, I’m betting that we’re going to start down a much darker path. The light fun has always carried a dark edge, and I think the shadows are getting longer. After all, there’s a war on. None of us can afford to forget that. And now that the introductions of Ruby and Bela have been accomplished, it’s time for the season to get down to serious business. It's not for nothing that the last shot of the episode was Gordon repeating, "Sam Winchester must die."


Note: This week, I’ll be up at the “Something Wicked” convention in Vancouver. I don’t know how that will affect my ability to get an episode commentary out the door, but I’ll try! (Although given how late this one got out, you might not notice any difference …) And I’ll plan on blogging about all the Vancouver fun while I’m up there, so stay tuned.

Tags: ben edlund, episode commentaries, eric kripke, jared padalecki, jensen ackles, meta, robert singer, supernatural

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