Sunday, November 20, 2011

Supernatural Season 7 Episode 9: How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters

After an uneven and widely disliked episode last week, Supernatural returned to form this week with “How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters.”

At the start of the episode, we're reminded of how hard Sam and Dean's lives are in the Leviathan era. We see them trying to get power to an abandoned building (a foreclosed house?) where they and Bobby are squatting. Apparently, not only have they had to put aside their beloved Impala and their rock-star nommes de guerre, but since they they can't use credit cards either, they've had to abandon even the marginal comforts of roadside hotels. Dean is complaining bitterly about this, and says that if the world is going down for the count a third time then maybe it's supposed to end.

Bobby and Sam have other things on their mind, though: they've all come to New Jersey to follow up on mysterious killings that may be the work of the mythical Jersey Devil. Local authorities are blaming a rogue bear, but they're not fooling our heroes: bears don't have opposable thumbs with which to hang people in trees. The plan is to suit up the next day to eliminate all the human-adjacent possibilities.

The next day, they meet the local Chief Ranger (yes, who's name is Rick) at a Biggerson's restaurant. He seems disturbingly blasé about the whole thing, including the fact that his own deputy is missing They also encounter an inexplicably hostile waiter, who had me cackling by referring to Dean as a “Ken Doll” and Bobby as a “creepy uncle.” Dean orders the turducken sandwich special—the TDK Slammer--and acts like he's found a new best friend.

Later, the hunters go into the woods. They reminisce about Bobby's time as a more traditional hunter before his wife's death, and about the hunting trips that he took the Sam and Dean on when they were little. This walk down memory lane is interrupted, however, when they come across the half-eaten body of the deputy ranger. The chief ranger comes along, and is still shockingly indifferent...until he, too, gets dragged away by a monster that was hiding in the shadows. Bobby manages to shoot it out of the trees, but too late to save Ranger Rick.

The creature Bobby has killed is not the Jersey Devil but gray-skinned, glassy-eyed human. What ensues, back at the hunters' crash pad, is one of the grosses autopsy scenes ever on the show. Perhaps on any show. The organs are swimming in gray muck, the adrenal glads are bigger than the kidneys (that's bad, if you didn't know) and the stomach is so full of gruesome stuff that I was waiting for someone to pull out a license plate. Dean, inexplicably, is hungry even in the midst of all of this, so the other two reluctantly accompany him back to Biggersons.

While at Biggerson's, however, Sam finally makes the connection between the TDK Slammer and the strange way that Dean and others have been acting. Sure enough, back at the ranch, the sandwich passes it's expiration date in grand fashion...just as Dean is admitting to feeling better than he has in months.

From there, we learn that the Leviathans engineered the TDK Slammer to induce complacency in the masses. The few folks that went all 28-Days-Later on it were the failures of the experiment. The angry waiter that the hunters encountered hulks out, only to be snapped up by the research team before he can hurt anybody. Richard Roman, the Big Daddy Leviathan, is coming into town, so all the turduckens have to be in a row.

The hunters trail a meat truck from Biggerson's to the research facility in time to see the waiter being dragged inside. As the sun rises, they stake the place out, and see Roman arrive. This is where Bobby educates the boys about Roman's impeccable GOP credentials—a free-market-lovin', gun-totin' member of the 1%, this guy.

Bobby splits off from Sam and Dean, only to get caught and brought to the boss. Pontificating in true true comic-book-villain-who-thinks-you're-gonna-die style. Roman says that he's certain that Sam and Dean will come to rescue Bobby. Bobby insists that they're too smart for that, knowing full well that they're not.

Sure enough, Sam and Dean hijack a janitorial truck that's just shown up, and bust in with industrial cleaners blazing. If I were a Leviathan, I'd try to keep my one weakness far away, but that's just me. At any rate, they manage to distract everyone just long enough for Bobby to get away with valuable information, even though Roman seems to be less vulnerable to borax than the others. Roman continues shooting at Bobby as the boys bring around the van, but Bobby dives in and it seems, for a second at least, that all is well. As the episode ends, however, Bobby is unresponsive.

This episode was a great one for Bobby Singer fans (which is all of us, right?), and packs a lot of emotional punch. Not only are there the stories of long-ago hunting trips, but Bobby also gets a one-on-one heart-to-heart with both Sam and Dean. I particularly enjoy his talk with Dean, where he tells dean to find a reason, “whether it's love or money or a $10 bet,” to get his head in the game, or he'll get himself killed. “If you die before me, I'll kill you,” he says. It's such a classic Bobby line, tender and funny and curmudgeonly all at once, and it's the kind of thing that Jim Beaver does so well.

The script even hints at the possibility of a Bobby-less world toward the end. “I've run my race,” Bobby tells Roman. “Could die worse.”

To get right down to the nitty-gritty: I really don't think that Bobby is going to die. It would be a bad decision for the show, both commercially and artistically. The goodwill of the fans has already been taxed to the limit with the loss of Castiel. Besides, Sam and Dean can't face the challenges of the Leviathans without help, and Bobby's all they've got right now. Jodie or even (ugh) Garth might work as a fourth wheel, but there are no close allies waiting in the wings.

You just don't off half your principal cast less than halfway through a season—not if you want another season. Two actors just can't sustain our emotional investment in a storyline that complex, super-talented though they may be. I'm assuming that the powers-at-be at the show do want an eighth season...that may not be a safe assumption. If we loose Bobby, however, I predict that they won't get one.

The next episode, “Death's Door”, will air on December 2, and appears to be all about Bobby's fight for life. I think it would be particularly poignant if it was just about that—nothing magical or supernatural at all. But that's unlikely—between Supernatural and Grimms, hospitals are pretty dangerous places to be in Horror Television Land. A friend of mine foresaw that if “something happened to Bobby,” we'd finally get to see some emotion from Dan. I'd like that a lot, but that can happen without The Worst Coming to Pass.

This also the perfect opportunity for Castiel to reappear from the blue and heal Bobby. Yeah. I'm not the only one who would be in favor of that.

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who observe it. Until we meet again, have good food, party and shop responsibly, and enjoy the company of family, whether blood kin or chosen.

And just say “no” to the turducken.

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