Episode 20 in this show has always been a bit of an odd duck. It’s meant to be the warmup to the big climax that is coming. There have been huge classics like last season’s “Don’t Call Me Shurley” or what I call a true masterpiece of the series, season six’s “The Man Who Would Be King.” Then there’s the quirky fun episodes like “The Girl With the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo,” and “Pac-Man Fever.” There’s also the fandom dividing episodes like “The Rapture” and “Angel Heart.” Don’t forget the total disaster too, aka season nine’s “Bloodlines.”
So where does “Twigs and Twine and Tasha Banes” fall? It falls in the “acceptable time filler” category along with “Dead Man’s Blood,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “The Devil You Know.” No, it wasn’t the most uplifting hour, but I strangely liked this one. At least everything after the 24 minute mark. It got off to a really slow start, but once Sam and Dean went into the dingy basement of death, things picked up.
Welcome back Richard Speight Jr. to the director’s chair! I still wish TPTB would find a way to bring Gabriel back, but that’s just another item in a super long line of wishes. We gained a director so that’s something. This was a considerably darker outing that the light hearted, “Just My Imagination” but from a tone perspective, he really sold the story. The details put into the look and feel captured the emotional moments perfectly without feeling like overwrought drama. The suspense and creepiness of the evil witch and her stick figures was a big highlight. It felt real, as real as sci-fi can be. Not a campy mess in sight. Even the two stories together felt the same in terms of mood and style. I’ve really learned to treasure what goes into tone anymore since the show’s feel has been very off this season, especially when shifting between plots. This was the show's strength in the early seasons and it's sorely needed for this era of character based stories. So yes, when a good effort like this comes along, I notice.
Thanks to the directing, there were some strong emotional beats to the episode. I like the choice to sell Max's grief by focusing long and hard on his initial reactions when he found his mother and later sister. The man's world was crumbling and I felt every bit of it. It certainly justified his head space at the time he made his desperate decision. That's a much better outcome than scratching our heads with a "WTF?" over something a character does at the end with no logical build up to that moment. There was plenty of warning and the payoff was grand.
Although, I do have a nitpick, and one I haven’t made in a while. This was supposed to take place in Rock River, Wyoming, right? Or at least near there? Did anyone notice how the river was in a picturesque landscape of mountains where a major river met the ocean? Yeah, that’s not exactly the wide open plains of that part of Wyoming. I will concede though that parts of Wyoming do have large mountains, but Rock River doesn’t and the seascape was a bit hard to swallow for a land locked state. Another unconvincing choice was the large Victorian house surrounded by trees of the Pacific Northwest. They really would have done better if the state was Oregon. Research!
Wonder Twins Power Activate!
This episode managed to carry on the whole family and legacy theme this season. Now we get to know the Banes family, aka the witches/hunters (or it is hunters/witches?) from "Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox." In the heavy handed parallel category we have Max, the child that embraced his mother's life and hunts bad witches using magic. He's our Dean Winchester of the story. Then there's Alicia, who hunts, but uses her natural abilities like the brains in her head and her sensibilities toward others. You know, gut instinct. She is the Sam Winchester of the story. Alicia dies (just like Sam did in season two) and Max bargains his soul to bring her back, like Dean did when he used his powers to bring back...wait a second...SAM had the powers!! Remember show? Yeah, I didn't think so.
I was less excited about Max and Alicia returning when I first read the synopsis, but the story turned out to be pretty good. No, it wasn’t a barn burner. Once again, action took another back seat. I think that makes about 21 episodes in a row. But for the most part these two have a personality and connect with the audience. No, it's not the kind of spark we get from Sam and Dean, but they're not the Lassiters from "Bloodlines" either. They seemed genuine even though Max has that wicked magic thing going. Imagine if Sam had embraced his powers and was able to use them while hunting with Dean for good instead of evil? (*Smiles over the idea of Sam's powers actually getting the story line it deserved. Oh the possibilities that could bring! We might even get resolution over how they went away without a single explanation. Now I'm giggling happily over what could have been! Yes, yes, powers!! Sam could be a total badass like in “My Bloody Valentine.” How sweet would that be? I’m sorry, what are you saying? Review? Oh, right.*). BTW, wet Sam hair alert!
Sam and Dean had that discussion about the next generation of hunters a couple of episodes ago and conveniently by design, here's Max and Alicia. This is their origin story, since every new writer's homework assignment is to create their own "Supernatural" spinoff. Max and Alicia's story turns out to be just another sad twist on the Sam and Dean story, or just about any hunter. They suffer a tragic loss of their influential parent who had disappeared on a hunting trip. In the end, tragedy strikes and one does something desperate to save the other. If anything, this story will continue off camera and will have it’s own tragic consequences because of family decisions made. There will be pain. There will be epic moments of triumph and sacrifice. There will be laughs and tears. There will be utterly asinine writing of plots and botched characterization. It’s full circle! It’s the new generation!
No wonder Dean was able to accurately sense that Max would not be okay with Alicia's death and would do whatever it would take to bring her back. Even with his powers (I mean seriously, how does Max get to have powers?) it wasn't enough for Max to save his family. He wasn't a guy that was willing to hear words of comfort. Things got very real and he wasn't going to let something like death stop him. Huh, the main character of a story embracing his powers and struggling with the potential corruption of those abilities to bring his sibling back from the dead without telling her the truth. Sounds like an epic story that would sell! Throw in a magical amulet and we have something truly amazing! Fine, I'll stop the passive aggressive messages of long held bitterness now.
The Bitch is Back
Let's go to the, oh crap, the British Men of Letters. Ugh. Umm, Mary beat the crap out of Ketch! That was cool. I think Mary's message to Dean was sweet and too little too late. It's time to plan Mary's demise. The rest was filler that didn't distract from the main story too much until the end. Aww man, they brought back that annoying you now who in a short and tight skirt? Didn't TPTB figure out that Toni wasn't popular because she was a terrible villain? Not diabolical, just plain bad. Also, what does Lady Toni think she's going to get from Mary? She'll find out she was dead for 35 years and knows nothing. Mary certainly knows squat about Sam and Dean. No, Mary will be used for leverage to get to Sam and Dean and will be the sacrificial lamb. Sorry, but I'm still waiting for the "big twist" here. It's only episode 20! To say the BMOL story has not progressed well is an understatement.
The Red Headed Monster
This theme of legacy and the new generation has got me thinking, and it's time to have a candid talk. Jeremy Carver’s show “Frequency” was cancelled today. Eric Kripke’s new show, “Timeless,” is on the brink of cancellation. Both guys have already started other shows and seen those end as well and yet “Supernatural” keeps going.
So what’s my point? There’s no doubt that “Supernatural” is a phenomenon that can’t be explained and has defied all expectations (and much, much more), but while “Supernatural” was running this season against “Frequency” and “Timeless,” could it be argued that it was the better show? Critically, the answer is no. But we all know there’s more to a show than critical acclaim. The fans have to want to watch it.
“Supernatural” primarily lives today because it’s a cash cow for it’s studio, not because of it’s quality and bold storytelling. The idea is to just keep it even and going as long as possible. There’s no directive to push the envelope and go for big stories. The other shows were picked up last year because they brought something different to the table and were believed to offer something new to their network lineups. That is the very reason that “Supernatural” was picked up by the WB back in 2005. But to say that SPN is taking risks now would be very delusional. It’s going through the motions.
This is the double edged sword of a fandom. “Supernatural,” which many can argue is a lesser quality show, is surviving because of fan goodwill. That is the difference between those new shows and “Supernatural” - the built in fan base. It’s really hard for new shows to get off the ground when they’re going against programs that are staying on the air because of a loyal fanbase. Now, I’m not saying that “Frequency” and “Timeless” were deserving of getting new seasons based on what we were given, but remember when “Supernatural” struggled at first? It took a while for it for find it’s footing. In today’s landscape, it would have been cancelled before that happened.
I’ll admit, I didn’t catch onto “Frequency” and I haven’t had a lot of time for “Timeless,” but one show cancelled today that I’ll miss is “No Tomorrow.” I really liked it. It was light and refreshing and I loved the characters. It wasn’t heavy, buried in mythology, and it actually delivered uplifting messages about taking life for granted week after week. Live your life like there’s no tomorrow. It makes your life better and everyone else's around you. I called it the “anti-Supernatural.” Sadly, it’s time slot after “The Flash” was hardly ideal. It never found the right audience. It also premiered during our disasterous fall presidential election. I think the show if given a chance could have gotten even better. Most SPN fans I talked to didn’t give the show a chance at all.
In these themes of legacy and new generations and Sam and Dean have been relegated to supporting players. It’s almost like they’re prepping us for a changing of the guard in the future. But honestly, would you adopt a spinoff just because TPTB want it? Could you watch a “Supernatural” show without Sam and Dean? The one attempt at spinoff failed (granted due to a super lame concept, poor writing and bad characters), but also fans don’t seem to be open to other ideas. These writers haven’t been doing “Wayward Daughters” any favors but “Ghostfacers” never took off beyond web series and that was well done.
It’s hard for fans to grasp that “Supernatural” will end in a season or two and chances are very good a spinoff will not carry on it’s legacy. The end is coming faster than we think. The question is, are you ready to say goodbye? Do you think the show has run it’s course? Are you enjoying “Supernatural” as much today as you did back in the earlier seasons? Should it keep going just for the sake of going? Do you feel some guilt as a fan for enabling TPTB to carry on with mediocre to bad stories week after week? Is “Supernatural” taking you away from enjoying other shows? Personally, I’m sick and tired of watching a show that seems sick and tired. But I’ve made it this far, not making it to the end would seem silly. I just hope that end will come sooner than later, just for the sake of good television. Shows shouldn’t be pushed beyond their prime.
Overall grade, a B-, mostly because the beginning was too slow for my liking. Take away Lady Toni, this might elevate to a B+. I'm really hoping the stakes and action pick up for the final three episodes of the season, but I drink when I'm bored too! It's a win no matter what. Until Thursday!