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Hunter training wheels.
In Canton, Ohio, Cal brought his friend Jim into his garage to admire his find: James Dean’s Porsche Spyder “Little Bastard” race car. While Jim went to fetch his camcorder to document the first time they’d fire up the engine, Cal slid behind the wheel, and then saw his breath in the sudden cold air. Jim heard the sound of a racing engine and an impact, and came back into the garage to find Cal bloodily dead in the car, looking as if he’d sustained a high speed crash despite the car never having moved.
Enroute to investigate the case, Sam questioned why they were doing it when there were bigger and more important things to do, such as find the Colt. Dean observed that they’d spent three weeks hunting the Colt to no avail, and insisted they were going to check out the case. Softening a little, he explained that this was their first case since getting back together and he felt they needed to ease into it, putting the training wheels back on their relationship. Sam, disgruntled, thought the training wheels comment was directed at him, and Dean insisted that wasn’t the case, saying they were both out of practice working together and needed the training wheels as a team. Dean said he wanted this to be a fresh start for both of them, and Sam agreed.
Posing as FBI agents Bonham and Copeland, they met obviously incompetent Sheriff Rick Carnegie, who told them Jim Grossman had been arrested for his friend Cal’s murder because it was obvious he had done it, since he was the only one for miles around. Talking with Grossman, they learned the car was Little Bastard, rumored to be cursed since James Dean died driving it. Grossman said that both he and Cal had been looking for it for years, but Cal found it first. Checking out the car in the Canton Sheriff’s impound garage, Dean hesitatingly crawled under it to get the identification number off the engine, understandably nervous since the first man killed by the putative curse, the mechanic who restored it, died when the car fell on him. Dean emerged unscathed with a rubbing of the number off the engine, and handed it to Sam to research while he went in pursuit of a beer. Sam eventually reported the car to be a fake, one with a prosaic history palmed off as famous.
That night, a Civil War scholar and Abraham Lincoln buff was murdered bloodily in his home, his head exploded as if by a gunshot but with no gunpowder trace and no bullet. The sheriff, desperately searching for a reasonable explanation, posited some professional super assassin. Questioned by Sam in his hesitant freshman Spanish, the man’s housekeeper claimed the killer was President Lincoln, stovepipe hat and all.
Back at the Nite Owl Motel, the brothers both hit their respective laptops for research, with Sam investigating the latest victim while Dean played back the video Grossman had shot of the car. Dean caught a reflection in the hubcap that looked like James Dean, in his trademark red jacket. Sam speculated that, for some reason, famous pissed off ghosts were killing their fans, since he discovered that Professor Hill, the second victim, had written four books on Lincoln, and Dean pointed out that Cal had spent 17 years of his life trying to find James Dean’s car. Trying to figure out why they would be in Canton rather than in places associated with Lincoln or James Dean, Sam discovered the Canton Wax Museum had displays featuring both historical figures. Posing as travel writers and visiting the museum, where Sam revealed his admiration for Gandhi, they learned the museum’s claim to fame was that its displays included real artifacts from the real and fictional people whose images were on display, including Lincoln’s hat, James Dean’s keychain, Gandhi’s spectacles, even Fonzi’s jacket from Happy Days. The curator reported he was working on a new display to attract kids, one featuring popular celebrities.
Planning to come back after hours to salt and burn the remains associated with the ghosts, Sam loaded weapons in the trunk while Dean filled Bobby in on the case. Sam walked in during the phone call, hearing only a snippet as Dean made reference to knowing who was to blame for starting the apocalypse. Sam challenged Dean to explain what he’d said, but Dean refused. At the museum, they tossed Lincoln’s hat into a metal wastebasket, and Dean headed to another room to get James Dean’s keychain while Sam stared down the wax figure of Lincoln. When the doors slammed and the temperature dropped, Sam called for Dean and got his shotgun ready, but the gun was ripped from his hands and he was jumped by the very solid ghost of Gandhi. Dean burst in as Gandhi was strangling Sam, but Sam managed to remind him that Gandhi’s glasses were the key, and Dean ripped them off the wax statue and burned them with Lincoln’s hat. The ghost disappeared.
At the motel, Dean packed to leave while Sam, troubled that Gandhi’s disappearance hadn’t looked or sounded the way torching a ghost usually did, wondered if something else might be going on. Sam said he thought the ghost had been trying to take a bite out of him, not just throttle him, but that would never have fit Gandhi because not only was he a pacifist; he ate only fruit. He argued that something more was going on and the case wasn’t over. When Dean refused to listen, Sam complained that Dean had first dragged him into town and now was dragging him out, and Dean said flatly that Sam wasn’t steering the boat. Questioning how long he was going to be kept on double secret probation, Sam said that he didn’t think their relationship could work any more, not the way it was going. Sam admitted understanding what he had done and said he was trying to dig himself back out of that hole, but Dean wasn’t making it any easier. He said Dean would never punish him as much as he was punishing himself, but if they were going to be a team, it had to be a two-way street. He told Dean one of the reasons he had gone off with Ruby was to get away from Dean, because it made him feel strong, like he wasn’t just Dean’s kid brother. He said they couldn’t fall back into the same rut of behavior they’d lived with before, and one part of that was Dean had to let him grow up.
Their conversation was interrupted by a phone call from the sheriff indicating the weirdness wasn’t over. Heading to the station, they found two girls claiming their friend had been abducted by Paris Hilton. Since Paris Hilton wasn’t dead, they knew they couldn’t be dealing with ghosts. Going back over the records of the previous victims, Sam realized the coroner had reported much more massive blood loss than would have matched their wounds. He did his own autopsy incisions, and found odd round seeds the size of acorns in the dead men’s body cavities. Researching the seeds online, Sam learned that they came from the Balkans, from a forest chopped down 30 years earlier. Local legend said the forest was guarded by a pagan god called a Leshi, a shapeshifter able to assume any form that drained the blood of its worshippers and stuffed their bodies with seeds. Dean postulated the Leshi could perhaps transform into the semblance of a person if it touched something belonging to the person. Sam reported the way to kill it was beheading with an iron axe.
Back at the museum, with Dean suitably armed from the arsenal he inherited from John, the brothers searched for the Leshi. Sam found the entrance to the new exhibit still under construction, a place mocked up to look like the garden of some fancy mansion complete with wax butler. Sam discovered the missing girl, unconscious but still alive, bound to a fake tree. An invisible force yanked the axe from Dean’s hand and buried it in another tree, and the Leshi in the form of Paris Hilton attacked, knocking Dean down and flinging Sam against the pillar of the exhibit’s house.
The brothers woke tied to two more trees in the museum exhibit, with the Leshi honing its Paris nails on a wickedly long knife. Seeing them conscious, the Leshi taunted that it would be good to do the ritual right and dine off them slowly instead of indulging in the quick “fast food” deaths it had taken lately. The Leshi said people had adored it once, but since its forest had been cut down for a Yugo plant, it had wandered hungry and scared, scrounging for scraps, until the best thing ever happened: something triggered the apocalypse, and the Leshi decided that all bets were off and it didn’t have to be careful any more. It found adoring fans frequenting the wax museum, and took what it could get, taking on the celebrity form appropriate to the fan so it could feed off the human. The Leshi chided them about how far humans had fallen, to go from worshipping gods to human celebrities.
Dean observed the Leshi couldn’t eat him because he wasn’t a fan of Paris Hilton, and it responded that it wouldn’t have a problem because it could read his mind and knew who his idol was: his father. Since John had owned the axe Dean carried, the Leshi reached for the axe haft, intending to transform into John so it would have the ability to eat Dean, but Dean broke free of his bonds and tackled the thing. Despite it still being in the form of Paris Hilton, the Leshi was getting the better of the fight when Sam also managed to break free. Grabbing the axe just as Dean landed a blow that flipped the Leshi aside, Sam swung the axe to behead the Leshi. In a moment that felt almost normal, Sam teased Dean about having been whaled on by Paris Hilton.
Packing the car to leave, Dean told Sam he’d been thinking about what Sam had said about Dean keeping too short a leash on him, and confessed that Sam might be right. He admitted he wasn’t innocent in the whole affair, acknowledging he’d broken the first seal, and when Sam quickly excused him by saying he hadn’t known, Dean pointed out that Sam hadn’t known about the last seal either, and neither of them would have guessed that killing Lilith would be a bad thing. Dean said the point was he’d been so worried about watching Sam’s every move that he hadn’t seen what his obvious vigilance and mistrust were doing to Sam, and for that, he was sorry. He asked Sam where they would go from here, and Sam advocated grabbing whatever was in front of them, kicking its ass, and going down fighting, not wringing their hands over destinies they might not be able to change. Dean agreed he could get on board with that, but Sam insisted they do it on the same level. Dean agreed, and then offered Sam the keys to the Impala, asking if he wanted to drive. Sam hesitated, wondering if he was serious, and Dean said he could use a nap. They drove off with Sam behind the wheel.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
To my mind, this was unquestionably the weakest episode so far this season, although the brotherhood aspects of it were its best feature. It advanced the relationship between the brothers in a positive direction, but did an unusually clunky job of getting there. In this single analysis, I’m going to look at Sam’s perspective, Dean’s perspective, and what the differences between them mean for the brothers’ relationship.
You’re Gonna Have To Let Me Grow Up, For Starters
Both of the brothers brought a lot of baggage into the resumption of their partnership, and the strain showed. Still plagued by his own sense of guilt and shame for having been duped by Ruby into killing Lilith and bringing on the apocalypse, and fearing that what Lucifer predicted might be inevitable, Sam saw accusation and blame in many things Dean said and did, irrespective of whether or not Dean actually meant it. For his part, consumed with the need to save both Sam and himself from the future he’d seen and still feeling unable to trust Sam after the way Sam had lied to him and favored Ruby, Dean became even more autocratic than he’d ever been before, riding close herd on Sam, insisting on giving all the orders, and forcing the two of them into the older brother/younger brother pattern of their youth. The joy of this episode was that they pushed through those things to achieve a new understanding and to agree tentatively on a new course of action: trying to approach the fight as equal partners. I fully expect this is going to take a lot more time and effort and see a lot of missteps along the way, but this confrontation laid the groundwork for a healthier future.
This episode began with the brothers having been back together for three weeks, but with their time having been spent in searching for leads to the Colt, not doing active hunting. Their teamwork hadn’t been tested on the battlefield. Not surprisingly, inaction grated on Dean, and he jumped at the chance of an old-fashioned hunt. His interest in pursuing the case was not only characteristic of his impatience with research, but demonstrated one of the key differences between the brothers at the beginning: Sam was focused again only on the big future picture, the main hunt, while Dean still wanted to save people and hunt things along the way. That was the same pattern we saw between them all the way back to first season’s Dead In The Water. By the end of the episode, with his resolution to grab whatever was in front of them, kick its ass, and go down fighting, Sam had apparently adopted Dean’s family business approach to dealing with the apocalypse: don’t obsess over the big picture, but do whatever you can with what’s right in front of you. That was a big change, and one I think will play into the brothers continuing to hunt mundane monsters as well as apocalyptic ones.
We saw from Dean’s behavior how much he had cracked down on Sam following his loss of trust in season four. Dean gave the orders. Dean chose the course. Dean issued the assignments. He was more stubborn and dictatorial than we had ever seen him. He’d always had those tendencies; think back across the seasons and you’ll see them, from things like his “big brother is always right” statement in Something Wicked through his adamant refusal in No Rest For The Wicked to let Sam try to save him using his powers. Dean’s attitude is understandable in the context of the Winchester family, where he’d been not only older brother but also in loco parentis for John all those times John was away on the hunt. We also learned from John’s admission during In My Time Of Dying that Dean had done his best to care for both John and Sam, as if he had tried to fill the nurturing hole left by Mary’s death. Dean’s role with respect to Sam thus wasn’t just an older brother, but a parent, and one of the hardest things a parent has to do is let go and stand back to give a child room to grow into himself by making his own mistakes. A child who isn’t given the chance to stand on his own, even though standing brings with it the risk of falling and getting hurt, never matures into an adult and never realizes his own strength – including the strength to know when to ask for help, something Sam is still trying to figure out.
Before the fractures between them in season four, Dean had been yielding more to Sam, learning gradually to accept Sam – especially in the second and third seasons – as a full partner, not just his kid brother. He still laid down the law on some of Sam’s decisions, most notably forbidding Sam from using his powers to save Dean from his deal, and he couldn’t stop himself from believing that Sam’s welfare was his responsibility, but he had to accept that Sam would have to continue without him once his deal came due. When he made it back from Hell, however, he saw where Sam’s decisions, made in his despair, had led him – trusting Ruby, drinking demon blood for strength, honing the very skills Dean feared – and his knee-jerk reaction was to try grabbing back the reins to control his brother again. That didn’t work precisely because Sam had gotten the feel for making his own decisions and valuing his own autonomy, and because at the time – from Sam’s perspective – what he was doing, exorcising demons with his mind, was working. Sam resented Dean’s flat assumption that Dean was right and Sam was wrong, and Dean couldn’t put his objections into a dispassionate, rational framework that Sam would find persuasive, especially not once addiction colored Sam’s reasoning. Their inability to communicate fed into Ruby’s plan to break them apart.
Dean trying to reassert his parental-style authority now as the basis for the brothers’ reunion was both a callback to the only pattern Dean knew and an indication of just how much he felt he couldn’t trust either Sam or Sam’s judgment after what Sam had done. It had nothing to do with blame for the apocalypse and everything to do with Sam not only having made choices of which Dean disapproved, but having hidden and lied about them. As Sam observed, however, the parental authority mold was already a broken pattern. It wouldn’t work because it would simply trigger all the same old resentments over again, with the same results. With the demon blood and demon powers out of the equation, however, both brothers have a fighting chance to reason with each other and be able to hear each other out. I give Sam full props for having the courage to lay it on the table, and Dean full credit for thinking about it rather than rejecting it out of hand. It took both of them to build that bridge from their two sides of the chasm.
Along the way, both brothers made apologies for some of the ways they’d hurt each other. Sam owned up to having done wrong and understanding that he needed to demonstrate that Dean could trust him again. He’s done a lot in that regard already by adopting his new policy of openness and truth. The secrets he’d kept for the past two years and the lies he’d told to keep them were, in my opinion, the biggest factors driving a wedge between him and Dean. Dean, in turn, apologized for not seeing how he was hurting Sam in being so watchful as to imply that trust could never be regained, and began to open their work relationship to change by asking Sam where they would go from here and agreeing to the equal partnership terms Sam set. More than that: in offering the keys to the Impala and letting Sam drive while he proposed to sleep, Dean made a first tentative overture of personal, emotional trust and support in the most concrete way he could.
There are still things unspoken and unresolved, but these first steps by both brothers laid the essential foundation on which more of their partnership and brotherhood can be rebuilt. I see two more essential things that have to be brought out and resolved before the air can be fully clear, however, one from Sam and one from Dean.
I would maintain that, as part of his growing up (and notwithstanding what Lucifer says), Sam still has to get over thinking that everything is about him. Twice in this episode we saw Sam automatically assume that Dean was criticizing or blaming him. He did it in the car when Dean made the comment about them needing training wheels, and he did it again when he walked in on Dean’s phone conversation with Bobby. Dean’s frustrated exasperation in the car when he emphasized that both of them needed training wheels, not just Sam, suggested to me that this wasn’t the first time Sam had jumped to the conclusion that Dean was needling him when that hadn’t been Dean’s intent. I thought Dean’s refusal to explain what Sam had overheard in the phone call with Bobby was most likely more of the same. Unlike Sam, I didn’t assume that Dean had spoken disparagingly to Bobby of Sam being at fault for starting the apocalypse; I think it’s more likely in fact that Dean was blaming himself, blaming them both together (along the lines of his comment in Sympathy For The Devil that they had made the mess and they would clean it up), or blaming the angels and demons alike. What I read into Dean’s refusal to expound on what he’d said was that, fully as much as Sam was getting tired of justifying himself to Dean, Dean had had enough of trying to justify himself to Sam when it was clear that Sam would impose his own judgments and beliefs on what he thought Dean had said and meant. Sam accepted only grudgingly Dean’s assertion that the training wheels comment was intended for them both; I don’t think he would have believed Dean at all had Dean said his comment to Bobby hadn’t been about Sam, so Dean chose not to waste his breath.
I’m not slamming Sam for doing this; it’s a human thing in which we all indulge. When we feel guilty, embarrassed, or ashamed, those negative feelings are at the top of our minds and we tend to project them on others because they are so overwhelmingly obvious and important to us. We project them most strongly when the opinions of others matter most to us. If we feel badly or uncertain about ourselves, we believe that everyone else must see us that way, too. We walk into a room and get the immediate feeling that everyone there is looking at us and seeing our guilt, our embarrassment, or our shame; we hear a conversation broken off and immediately assume that it was about us, something disparaging that touches on what we think or feel, what we’ve done, or how we look. Most times, the truth is that what is so overwhelmingly obvious to us hasn’t even registered on other peoples’ radar and wouldn’t matter to them if it did. But particularly if their good opinion is important to us, we find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t see the worst of us as we sense the worst of ourselves.
For as long as we’ve known him, Sam has always projected his feelings onto Dean. In the first two seasons, we saw Sam reluctant to tell Dean about his visions and admit his feelings because he was afraid Dean would look at him differently – as he was looking fearfully at himself – and would reject him, and not love or trust him any more. Even after it became clear that Dean wasn’t about to abandon him and had come to his own terms by determining to save Sam, Sam didn’t trust Dean’s love to be strong enough to deal with Sam’s difference. Ironically, it wasn’t the powers or having been fed demon blood as a baby that mattered to Dean in the end; it was Sam trying to hide the things he thought Dean wouldn’t be able to accept. The lies and the secrets destroyed more trust than Sam being a demon’s pawn ever did.
If he’d thought about it, Dean might have realized that he had behaved the exact same way with John. We saw in Something Wicked that Dean believed John had looked at him differently after the night his lapse of duty had nearly gotten Sammy killed. We and Sam both realized, watching Dean admit the pain of the past, that Dean’s perception that John was disappointed in him had driven his determination never to fall short again. What John actually felt wasn’t the point. Dean projected his own knowledge of his failure onto his father’s reaction, and believed that his own crushing guilt was the measure of his father’s disappointment in him. Dean’s need for John’s love and approval fueled every decision he made, everything he believed, everything he professed, right up until he confronted the memory of John within himself during Dream A Little Dream Of Me. When he could see his father’s flaws and understand that he had let those flaws drive his own feelings and his own life, he was finally able to assert himself and claim his own feelings and his own worth in his own eyes. That was a critical moment in Dean’s maturity.
Now it’s Sam’s turn. For most of his life, Dean’s love and approval mattered as much to Sam as John’s love and approval mattered to Dean. Before Sam can see Dean as he truly is and assert himself fully as his own man, he needs to stop projecting his feelings onto his older brother and see what his brother really feels. They’ve both said and meant the words about not blaming each other for their respective parts in bringing about the apocalypse. (Let me interject here that I was absolutely delighted to learn Dean had told Sam about having broken the first seal – never happier to be proven wrong! – but I really hated both that we didn’t get to see that happen and still don’t know for sure when it did. I hope they fix that …) Dean has said and meant the words apologizing for not having seen how he was hurting Sam by the distrust evident in the way he was watching everything Sam did. Now Sam needs to stop assuming that he knows what Dean thinks and feels, when what he’s still really doing is projecting what he’s afraid Dean thinks and feels. Sam was able to accept Bobby’s words at face value when Bobby said he wouldn’t cut Sam loose; he needs to learn to trust that Dean’s heart lies behind his words the same way that Bobby’s heart does, and to stop putting his own doubts and fears in the way.
Dean, for his part, needs to be honest with Sam about his own feelings. He’s been straight up about not blaming Sam for breaking the last seal, but he needs to be as honest with Sam as Sam was with him about the things he does resent, about the things Sam has done that have and do hurt him. As much as Sam resents being treated as a child, Dean resents being treated as an idiot. As much as Sam is hurt by distrust, Dean is hurt by denigration and belittlement. I think it still rankles that Sam more than once dismissed Dean as weak and holding him back. Most of all, however, I think it hurt Dean that Sam didn’t trust in his love. Even when he feared disappointing him, Dean never doubted John’s love; you only had to watch how he walked across the room into his father’s arms in Shadow to see how unquestioning his acceptance was. Dean’s love for Sam was fully as absolute, so I think Sam’s doubt in his love has been a knife in his heart, especially when he’s seen Sam accept Bobby’s love without question.
Dean also has to concede that he can’t control Sam even to protect him. He has to let Sam go and trust that reason will sway him where orders cannot, when next they have a dispute about what’s right and what’s wrong. I suspect he’ll backslide from time to time, wanting to protect Sam even from himself as he’s always tried to do, but I’m confident that not only will Sam call him on it, but that Dean, now, will listen.
This episode felt uncharacteristically clumsy to me in both script and execution. Make no mistake, I enjoyed it nonetheless – even the least of Supernatural’s episodes has a lot to offer – but it won’t be one I return to often except for certain scenes between the brothers. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki did their best work this episode in the early scene in the car, their confrontation in the motel room, and the final scene by the Impala.
As usual, I’ll get my criticisms out of the way up front, and then delve into all the things I liked. Most of my problems trace back to the script by Julie Siege, which surprised me given her earlier stellar work on It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester, Criss Angel Is A Douche Bag, and The Monster At The End Of This Book. I think in the effort to show rather than tell the strains in the brothers’ relationship brought about by Dean’s insistence on being even more autocratic than he used to be and Sam’s hypersensitivity to his own feelings of guilt and shame, the script pushed things a little too far and gave us almost caricatures of the brothers to make sure we wouldn’t miss the point. That wasn’t helped by the flaws and exaggerations in the monster-of-the-week story, from the very cheap laugh of the sheriff being a clueless buffoon, to the eyebrow-raiser of Sam doing an autopsy, to the overplayed importance of getting a rubbing of the car’s engine number, to the Leshi’s weaknesses not being consistent. With regard to the Leshi, if beheading with an iron axe was required to vanquish it, why did its Gandhi incarnation poof into nothing when Dean burned the spectacles? The logic behind monsters in horror films is often either stretched or lacking, and inserting “explainers” into the dialogue comes off as hokey in the extreme (remember Hollywood Babylon?), but this whole monster just smacked of excessive convenience in design, being made to look like a ghost only when it suited the particular moment in the plot and totally irrespective of whether it made sense in the context of the monster itself.
Apart from the story logic issues, the main reason I think this script didn’t work as well as others is simply because there was no organic link to be drawn between the monster of the week and the Winchesters. About the closest it came was noting that John was still Dean’s idol, even though Dean had come to terms with his flaws. This series has excelled at using metaphorical stories to make points about Sam, Dean, and their relationship, and it’s definitely easier to make those points when the situational parallel of a separate plot can reinforce the emotional content of the brothers’ story by pointing up a lesson. If the parallels are too blatant, the stories might come across as dropping anvils, but they definitely make it easier to pull off the “show, don’t tell” thing in an integral way. In this case, however, there wasn’t any remotely cohesive conceptual link between a monster able to take nourishment only from people who idolized it and the currently fragile relationship between the Winchester brothers. Since the Leshi couldn’t be used to make the relationship points, the relationship story wound up being a lot less subtle than the best ones we remember, and that was a structural weakness.
That weakness unfortunately got reinforced by James L. Conway’s direction, the performances, and even some of the technical details. The shot of the blood pouring over the car’s name was beautifully done and appropriately gruesome, but given that Cal’s face was sliced open on the front windscreen, it defied logic and physics that blood would pour over the car’s rear panel. Three unconscious people being tied standing up to trees just by having their arms secured around the trunks behind them at waist level also made no sense. Can you say, all fall down? The brothers being able to squirm free of those ropes in the precise nick of time was silly even for silliness on this show. Sam cutting open a corpse in a coroner’s lab as if doing an authorized autopsy, rooting randomly around inside, and emerging in moments with two anomalous seeds no real coroner had noticed beggared belief; that the script indicated he did it twice went beyond the pale. Dean making quips and not remembering which detail about Gandhi was real while Sam was being strangled was cartoonish, not the brother-protective and capable hunter Dean we know – Dean would have made the jokes afterward, the same way that Sam did on Dean getting trounced by Paris Hilton, but not during the fight when Sam was in danger. And Dean’s exaggerated fear at going beneath the car, complete with him perceiving scary tremors in the car, came straight out of Yellow Fever. Amusing? Yes. Bit much? Oh, definitely yes. Too much was done for the silly, I think, and it came off as over the top when inserted into the whole.
All that said, there was plenty in this episode that I liked. The major part was the brothers coming to terms. I liked Sam challenging Dean on his autocracy, owning up to his own culpability in events, insisting on the chance to prove himself, and telling Dean he had to let Sam grow up; all those things were well done. I also liked the way their conversation got interrupted by the case, giving Dean the time to do what he does best: think things through to avoid making a flip statement, knee-jerk decision, or snap judgment. Dean has always processed things inside his head over time and done his best to change when time and reflection have opened his doors to understanding, and I loved that this script followed that pattern and showed us Dean thinking things through in the background and coming to a decision of the heart. The brothers both having laptops for the first time really brought home that they had been apart. Having both brothers decide to spit in the face of destiny and charge forward without regard for Lucifer, Michael, or anything but their own lives and their own code of saving people was a root-for-the-future moment. I fully expect the path they’ve chosen will still be strewn with rocks they’re going to trip over, but now that they’ve laid their issues out between them, they have a better chance of continuing to talk things through rather than running on wrong assumptions.
Another thing I enjoyed about the plot was the Leshi’s observation that the triggering of the apocalypse was the “best thing ever” from its viewpoint. This opens the door for a lot of supernatural entities to take the opportunistic approach and seek to benefit from the bigger angel/demon war, and that means we can look forward to some variety in monsters and storylines even as the apocalypse unfolds. That also makes even the apocalypse feel more real, because we see that behavior – taking advantage of a bigger conflict to camouflage more venial assaults – in our everyday world.
In many ways, this episode felt like old home week to me, and that was a good thing. Cal was played by Brad Dryborough, who portrayed Madison’s clueless Christian werewolf neighbor Glen in Heart, and the sheriff was played by Daryl Shuttleworth, who played the pilot in Phantom Traveler who survived the first crash and then got possessed and died when he went flying again. Jim was played by Paul McGillion, Dr. Carson Beckett of Stargate: Atlantis fame. And Bruce Harwood, once of the Lone Gunmen from The X-Files, played the professor killed by Leshi Lincoln. The Nite Owl Motel was the 2400 Motel used in Something Wicked, and I’m tickled that I got photos of it while I was in Vancouver.
I thought the stunt casting of Paris Hilton as the Leshi worked just fine. She’ll never win any acting awards, but playing a boastful, talkative parody of herself was within her reach, and she and the boys obviously had a blast shooting that scene. If her casting brought more new eyes to the screen, all to the good; I just wish they’d seen a more even example of how wonderful this show can be. The commentary on our shallow idolatry of equally shallow celebrities was a bit on the nose, but also called into question just how much depth was accorded to religion, since even shallow fandom proved enough to sustain the Leshi.
The production folks get a tip of my hat for the wax figures, especially the Lincoln with which Sam went nose-to-nose; that was a wonderfully creepy moment played to the max by director Conway, Jared’s Sam, and the sculptor of that Lincoln figure. Their fake Little Bastard was a real treat, too, and I loved Jensen’s Dean geeking out over the car; that was definitely in character. And I had to laugh, seeing in the hotel room another variation on the sunburst clock that showed up time and again until Dean destroyed it in Yellow Fever. This one isn’t the same as the dead one, but I’ll be watching for it to turn up in myriad hotel rooms the same way the old one did! The Bonham and Copeland rock aliases were a fun continuation of tradition, and I was delighted to hear yet another notable song make the soundtrack – Jeff Beck’s cover of “Superstition.”
I have one funny story to share on the shooting of this episode. I was outside the location in New Westminster they redressed to be the Canton Sheriff’s impound garage, the place where Sam and Dean inspected the fake Little Bastard, while they were shooting. I didn’t get to see what they were shooting because I was there at night and they had the garage doors down every time the cameras were rolling on their supposedly daytime scene, although I did enjoy standing close to the Impala parked at the curb. Friends of mine visited the garage on a later date and met the owner, who reported really enjoying the shoot. He was particularly delighted that the production crew had cleaned that wall of windows; he said that to do the cleaning, you had to go over a fence and through bushes, so he hadn’t done it in years. He laughed that his daughters, who were fans of the show, immediately grabbed the signed photos the production gave him. Asked about Jensen and Jared, he didn’t know which was which, not being a fan himself, but he said they were both very nice and polite. He chuckled that the taller guy couldn’t seem to sit still, but wandered around the garage between setups and takes picking up and playing with things, while the other guy just sat back and watched him, amused. We could definitely see that happening!
My final production note is simply that this was the shortest episode in the history of the series: including the “Then/Now,” it clocked in at only 38 minutes, 11 seconds of story (not counting end credits and previews). The next shortest, Bad Day At Black Rock, had almost a full additional minute. It’s amazing how much you can do with even 60 seconds of film time; I wish this episode had taken that time to fill its holes, even though that might not have left us with the delicious two minutes of “Soon” previews.
Sam was right in the very beginning when he observed that the brothers had bigger problems than this case in Canton; he was just wrong about what they were. It was the brothers’ relationship problems and their beginning resolution that really made this story matter.
My photos of the 2400 Motel, the real appearance of the garage redressed as the Canton Sheriff's impound garage, and my nighttime shots of the Impala parked at the curb outside the garage are here.