Just about any opinion of Supernatural these days is unpopular, so I'll state up front I loved "Criss Angel Is A Douchebag." Not just for the title either. This episode excelled in all areas; the writing, the directing, the acting. What puts it above others is though the superb guest acting. Who knew a magic themed episode could be so gut wrenching?
Yes, the story showed another slap-you-upside-the-head parallel between Sam and Dean and the guests of the week. While such parallels are heavy handed at times, this week's managed to give the season plot a huge push forward.
BTW, considering the word is used so much it even made it to the title, I should share the official definition of "douchebag" according to the Urban Dictionary. "Someone who has surpassed the level of jerk and asshole, however not yet reached fucker or motherfucker." I'm sure everyone's grateful for that clarification!
The writer is newcomer Julie Siege, whose previous effort was the decent "It's The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester." She turned out a better script this time. The director is Robert Singer, who has a knack for bringing out the emotional elements of the story. He again excelled in this one. The guest actors are the fantastic Barry Bostwick, John Rubenstein, and Richard Libertini, plus a surprise guest I'll mention later.
There's Magic in Sioux City
It's magic week in Sioux City, Iowa (insert your own joke here). A guy is doing street magic on a city block, turning a balloon into a dove. People cheer (insert your own joke here). Anyway, Barry Bostwick is sitting at a bar playing with cards, while a nice looking brunette bartender is wowed with his skills. I thought only blondes went for older men. She says he's good, while a jerk in a cape sits on the opposite side of the bar, mocking him.
Barry Bostwick shuffles his cards, but flubs it, thus letting us know his skills have grown feeble. Jerk laughs, girl asks for a card trick. Jerk tells us that Barry Bostwick's magic act is "The Incredible Jay." Jay does the pick a card thing, jerk comes over and reveals the card is in his pocket. The bartender tells jerk to leave the old guy alone, and then realizes now she's being insensitive. Jay is hurt.
Next we see Criss Angel, I mean, another magician with black hair, eyeliner, a leather outfit, silver jewelry, and a five o'clock shadow, gliding through the air with flames flying out of his fingertips. You know, a douchebag. Jay and two other old men are watching him, and calling him, a douchebag. Criss Angel, I mean douchebag, has a hissy fit over something the production folks did.
The old men lament over how magic used to be about skill, now it's all flash. Jay notices they're bitter old men talking about the glory days and says "this douchebag isn't the joke, we are." He's playing the main stage, and they can't afford assistants. Jay in his miserable state announces he's doing the "Table of Death." His friends hate the idea, saying he almost killed himself doing that 30 years ago. He doesn't care, at least he'll go out with a headline.
In some lounge where there's about five people in the audience, Jay is clamped onto the table with strong metal brackets. Jay looks at the long spikes over him as if it'll be all over soon. The white curtain is pulled while the two other men freak out backstage. Meanwhile, outside the Hotel Patricia, jerk from the bar is with his assistant. Back to Jay as time runs out. The spikes fall down, but jerk is the one collapsing on the pavement from stab wounds. Jay emerges from the curtain unscathed, and the sparse crowd are marveling while Jay takes a bow. He has no freaking idea what happened. Jerk is dead on the crowd from pooling stab wounds.
Birds of the Apocalypse. They like magic too. That was a pretty long opening, and I'm sure Jensen and Jared both appreciate more screen time for the guest stars this week, and I don't mind because Barry Bostwick, John Rubenstein, and Richard Libertini are amazing.
Criss Angel, I mean douchebag, is now doing card tricks on the street. There are plenty of ladies enthralled with his presence, and I'm ashamed to be part of their gender. Sam and Dean arrive wearing suits, and Dean calls douchebag a douchebag. Sam actually knows who it is, Jeb Dexter. Dean doesn't want to know how he knows that. Neither do I. Jeb goes into spasms, supposedly a demon possession. The crowd eats it up, Dean rolls his eyes. Cards go flying and as Jeb screams for the demons to go back to Hell, one card shows up pinned on the other side of the glass window. Sam gives that little expression that the trick isn't half bad, Dean just blankly stares.
Dean says that was crap as the crowd cheers, Sam defends that not all magicians are that way and it takes skill. This paves way to Dean to bring up Sam's little phase with magic when he was 13. That image in my head thinks that's adorable, especially when we see 14 year old Sam next week. Can you picture Colin Ford with a deck of cards and a wand? How cute! Dean's offended because Criss Angel, I mean douche-, oh Jeb Dexter, is playing with demons in magic when the real thing will kill you bloody. Like the guy who drops dead of ten stab wounds without a single tear in his shirt.
Dead jerk's assistant is packing away his things while Sam and Dean talk to her. They ask if he had enemies and she explains he had lots of them since he stole from other magicians. Like Dean, we're only half listening, because we're mesmerized by the super long silk scarf she's pulling out of the bag. Then she pulls back a cover and there's a cute little long-haired bunny. "There you are," she says. Yeah, I'm always forgetting where I put my live rabbit too. "Did you find anything weird in Vance's stuff, well, weirder?" Well put Dean! She shows them the tarot card found in his cape. The one with multiple swords lodged in a body on the ground. Uh, yeah, that's a clue.
Suddenly Jay is having no trouble with the cards, moving them around like, well, magic. John Rubenstein is at the door, and we learn his name is Charlie. Charlie wants to know how he did it. Charlie doesn't need to reveal they're best friends (even though he does), for we can tell from the instant these two start talking to each other. I have no idea if Barry Bostwick and John Rubenstein have ever worked together before, but together they're natural, like Jensen and Jared. Jay suddenly can pull three aces out of the deck, something he hasn't done in years. Charlie wants to know where the ace of hearts is.
Jay is like a little kid again and he wants to try "The Executioner." Charlie objects, but Jay pleads with him. "Let's not end up like a couple of old farts doing birthdays and bar mitzvahs." They share a laugh and Charlie says it beats dying. Jay doesn't agree, likely because it feels like he's been dead for years. "I would do anything for you, you know that, but I will not watch you die. I'll miss that show," Charlie says. Jay replies, "Nah, you'll be there. You're always there for me." Sniff! That sounds exactly like something Sam and Dean would say to each other. Let the parallels begin!
Jay has Charlie check his pocket, and the missing ace of hearts is there. Charlie is impressed and we can see by his vigor that he's thrilled his old friend is back. With a twinkle in his eye Jay pleads with Charlie to let him do the trick. Charlie smiles and nods and Jay gets excited. Aw, these two are killing me here.
Criss Angel, or since I'm tired of saying the "d" word, we'll call him not!CrissAngel, is griping on the phone that he's doing this lame gig while "Angel's in Vegas doing Cirque Du Soleil." He's doing that because he's a bigger douchebag. Dean arrives, and talks with Charlie and other friend whose name we find out is Vernon. Dean is Federal Agent Ulrich, and I'm thinking that's Lars Ulrich of Metallica.
Not!CrissAngel gripes about doing this "man of the people crap" before the cameras roll and he interviews Jay, calling him Jim. What a, oh you get the point. Vernon says the "d" word again (yes, it's old by now) and Dean agrees. Dean shows the mysterious tarot card and Vernon tells him there's a guy who sells that sort of stuff on Bleeker Street. Dead magician from the opening crossed this guy for fifty grand in royalties about a year ago. Vernon gives the exact address, Charlie tells him to ask for Chief. Oh Dean, you trust old guys too much.
Dean's in a seedy part of town, and I'm sorry, but the alley entrance, the neon sign, the bars on the doors, and the homeless guy rooting through the trash would have been my first clue. Dean tells the guy answering the door he's there to see Chief and the guy is surprised, but lets him in with a "whatever" shrug. They go downstairs to a dank basement and Dean's told not to touch anything. What's there to touch? Dean suspects something is up. A door opens on the other side of the basement and coming out of a red lighted cavernous area with techno music playing is a large guy clad in leather and holding a whip.
I can't recap this next part without letting go of my sides. I fear if I do, my guts are going to spill out from laughter. So, here's the dialogue. It speaks for itself.
The Chief: You are really gonna get it tonight, big boy. (cracks whip)
Dean: There's been a misunderstanding. I, uh, think I've been had.
The Chief: Oh, you ain't been had, till you been had by the Chief. (long pause)
The Chief: Oh, and before we get started, what's your safe word?
Dean: There's been a misunderstanding. I, uh, think I've been had.
The Chief: Oh, you ain't been had, till you been had by the Chief. (long pause)
The Chief: Oh, and before we get started, what's your safe word?
Then"¦just when I can't laugh any harder, Dean throws up in his mouth a little! Oh God, that has to be the most brilliant thing I've seen from Jensen in a long line of brilliant. The boy's got great timing.
Sam's at the laptop in the hotel room and I think he's having a better time than Dean. There's a knock on the door. It's Ruby. Hmm, it's a draw now. Sam isn't happy to see her, claiming he's working a job. Ruby is in doom and gloom mode, 34 seals have been broken and he's in Magic Town USA, blah, blah, blah. Someone's a little pissy. Ruby tells him the angels are losing the war and if someone doesn't do something soon- She can't finish her sentence because Sam objects over that someone being him. He doesn't know where the seals are, he doesn't know squat. He wants Ruby to tell him where to start.
For one, he should stop hanging out in Iowa and go after the one doing the breaking. Cut the head off the snake. Once again she points out Sam is the only one that can stop her. I really need to know if Ruby's yanking his chain, or if that's really true. We know Lilith can't kill Sam, but what can he do to her that no one else can? Why won't you tell us Kripke! I know, you'll pull that trigger when you're ready.
Ah, but now they poke a stick further at my curiosity, to the point where I'm yelling "Stop it!" Sam wants to take out Lilith, and the psychic thing is not what he has a problem with. Ruby knows what he has a problem with, but it's the only way. Well come on Ruby, tell us! Sam adamantly says no, so Ruby pulls the "admit to yourself you like it" speech. LIKE WHAT??? Please tell us? Sam tells her she doesn't know what she's talking about and gives her the defiant eyes. She leaves, spouting how oceans of people are gonna die and he should let her know when he's ready. Sam's got the guilt thing going now, so as usual, she manages to push buttons. Hmm, I don't mind the idea of pushing Sammy's buttons.
I LOVE this next shot. Sam is standing in the lounge with a faraway gaze, obvious that the weight of the world is on his shoulders. Literally. It's little moments like this that really suck me into this show. Dean comes up behind him and mentions he found "nothing I want to talk about or think about." Hee! They go up to the old guys and Dean tries to pull the whole hampering with the investigation crap, but they know he's not a Fed. They con people for a living. So, Sam and Dean pull this lame shit that they're magicians researching the life, and they have a brother act.
Luckily this awkward conversation is interrupted by Jay's act. He does his intro, and then we cut to not!CrissAngel in his hotel room. Back to Jay who's in a straight jacket, a noose around his neck and he's standing on a table. The white curtain is closed, Vernon, Dean and Sam watch with anticipation, and there's a healthy crowd in the room. Jay struggles and while he does that, a magical rope works its way over an unsuspecting not!CrissAngel. It's probably the loud music and the fact the douchebag is too hung up on himself in the mirror.
It becomes clear Jay isn't going to make it. He hangs, then not!CrissAngel hangs. The curtain pulls back and Jay is free, alive and well. The audience goes nuts, Dean is amazed, but Sam knows better. "That's not humanly possible." Yeah, you're always right, aren't you Sammy? Not!CrissAngel is limp and spins from the ceiling fan, dead. Does anyone think Julie Siege's wildest fantasy is coming true here?
Dean is reading stuff on the bed in the hotel room, Sam is at the computer. You know, there have only been two motel rooms worthy of mention this year, "Lazarus Rising" and "It's The Great Pumpkin Sam Winchester." This one has to be the blandest one of the series, ever. It's way too normal. From looking at some of the scenes in the hallway, I'm sensing this was an actual location shoot.
Anyway, this scene breaks my heart, and this is where the episode starts to get rather depressing. Granted it's a good depressing since it involves some nice character development, but it's still sad. Case details are discussed, a usual device in either the motel room or the Impala. Since this is only the third episode in the entire series where the Impala does not appear (the other two being "The Usual Suspects" and "Hollywood Babylon"), it's the motel room. Jay was a big deal in the 70's, but he got old. The theory is Jay is working real magic to stage a comeback, using some type of death transference.
Dean uses the entire tale to quote one of my favorite Who songs (actually they're all favorites), "I hope I die before I get old." That triggers Sam's thought process. "You think we will?" Dean isn't sure what he means. "Die before we get old." Dean cleverly points out "Haven't we both already?" I've been waiting for that to be brought up! Sam clarifies. "You think we'll be chasing demons when we're 60?" No, Dean thinks they'll be dead, for good. How depressing! He asks Sam if he wants to end up like Travis or Gordon. Sam mentions Bobby. "Yeah, there's a poster child for growing old gracefully," Dean says.
Sam's still got something on his mind though. "Maybe we'll be different Dean." Dean thinks Sam has lost it. "What kind of Kool-aid you drinking man? Sam it ends bloody or sad. That's just the life." Sam asks what if they could win. Put an end to all of it. Dean thinks there's something Sam isn't telling him. Yes, that's true, but that doesn't have anything to do with what Sam's asking right now. Sam uses Ruby's "cut the head off the snake" analogy. Dean has THE BEST ANSWER EVER. "The problem with a snake is it has a thousand heads. Evil bitches keep piling out of the Volkswagen."
Sam sadly accepts the answer, and he's going to track Jay, Dean's going to look into the tarot card. At the hotel lobby, Jeb is wheeled out in a body bag, and Dean's rather pleased with himself for pulling the hanged man tarot card. Sam lost Jay because, well, he's a magician. Likely excuse. They go to Jay's room, bust open the door, pull guns on him, and accuse him of killing those other magicians through real magic. They tell him about Jeb, and its news to him. They realize something isn't right.
They have no idea what to do next, so they tie Jay to a chair to talk it over. I love the camera work on this scene. They first show Jay tied up, and then the camera does a full circle around Sam and Dean as they talk. Sam decides they should ask Jay if there are other suspects, but by the time the camera gets to Jay after going full rotation, he's slipped the ropes. "I guess we should have seen that coming," Dean says. You think? The rest of us did.
The dimwitted brothers leave the room to go after him, not thinking to check the closet, which is where Jay is. He calls the police and by the time Sam and Dean get to the lobby, they're arrested. I'm wondering how the police in the time they were incarcerated from afternoon to evening didn't run prints and figure out they're dead fugitives. Ah well, I'll assume cops don't have that type of technology in Iowa, or Sam and Dean has tampered with their prints. Is that possible?
Moving on, since I'm devoting WAY too much thought to that. Back to Charlie and Jay, who are back stage prepping for the next show. Jay tells Charlie what Sam and Dean said. Charlie can't believe he thinks they're right, and Jay doesn't know what to believe. Jay doesn't think he should go on, but Charlie convinces him otherwise since there is a sold out house out there waiting for him. "When was the last time that happened?" Jay gets real sad, and tenderly confesses to Charlie that the other night when he did the "Table of Death", he was going to kill himself. He has no idea how he got out alive.
Charlie reminds Jay what he was like in his day, the best he ever saw. Seeing Jay be on the top of his game again is making Charlie feel young. This might be "manna from heaven" and he can't throw it away. Oh man, these two are really sucking me in. The guest acting on this show this season has been unbelievable.
Jay does the trick to a crowded house, the spikes fall, Jay survives. He takes a bow and there's a scream backstage. Charlie is dead! Fresh stab wounds. Not good. The look of devastation on Jay's face gets me going. You know, the sort of reaction we saw when Sam died in Dean's arms and Dean got mauled to death in front of Sam.
Sam and Dean are free and enter the hotel lobby, thanking Jay for dropping the charges. They want to know why. They're in the bar next, and Jay talks about his lifelong friendship with Charlie. How Charlie got him out of trouble more times than he can count. "He was more than my friend, he was my brother." Remember this. Oh heck, you probably have figured it out already. It's the parallel again. He wants to work with Sam and Dean to find who did this. Vernon is the main suspect, since he's like the only one left. Jay doesn't believe that Vernon could do this.
Dean's next line throws the parallel right in our faces at high speed. "You see the thing about real magic is it's a whole lot like crack. People do surprising things when they get a taste of it." Sam looks at him bothered, hearing the words "demonic powers" instead of "real magic." He wants them to be damned sure, because Vernon is all he's got left.
Vernon meets Jay at the theater, Sam and Dean search his room. "Wow, it must be a magic museum," Sam says. "You must be in Heaven," Dean answers. There's no inappropriate time for brotherly teasing, is there? Back to Vernon and Jay, and Jay doesn't want the headlining gig, because Charlie is dead. Vernon says that Charlie would have wanted him to go on, and Jay throws his accusations. Suddenly someone appears. A young Charlie! What's really cool in is in real life, that's a young John Rubenstein! It's his son, Michael, who goes by Weston but used Rubenstein for this episode. I told you the guest casting in this one was perfect.
Dean sees the posters in Vernon's room, and it all clicks. Back to the theatre, where Jay and Vernon are blown away and Charlie looks hot. He looks a lot like his dad too. Charlie talks about how he used to shill for Barnum and he got a book of real magic. He tried the spells and they all worked. When he got to the end, the spell was immortality. He confesses that he used another spell for Jay's magic and has the "radioactive" tarot cards to prove it. "I used them to give you a gift, and you wanted it Jay. I saw it in your eyes."
He pleads Jay and Vernon to come with him. The second time around will be even better. He's never made that offer before but he's never had friends like the two of them before. Jay won't do it. "Who else has to die so we can live forever?" Vernon likes the idea, but then Sam and Dean arrive to spoil the fun. "I ain't Guttenberg and this ain't Cocoon." Oh Dean, still smarting over that Chief thing? (If no one gets the Guttenberg reference, say so and I'll explain in the comments).
"Immortality, it's a neat trick," Dean declares. Charlie says it isn't a trick and suddenly a noose comes from nowhere, wraps around Dean's neck and he goes hanging. "It's magic," Charlie declares. Sam pulls the gun. Uh, Sam, he's immortal, remember? It isn't going to work. He catches the bullet with his teeth. Sam demands he lets Dean go, takes a swipe at Charlie who disappears, reappears behind him and pushes him onto the "Table of Death." He fastens the latches with his mind, and now Sam is screwed too.
The rope holding the spikes up starts to break. Dean's choking, Sam's got about a minute before he gets impaled. You see, this is the part where Sam's freak telekinesis should kick in. Why has he never honed in on that skill? It would come in handy in times like these. He doesn't have to use it for evil. Instead, he struggles like a bear caught in a trap. Wussy.
Charlie watches with no remorse while Jay looks at him with total sadness. Suddenly Charlie feels something stab him, and blood drips from his shirt. Jay pulls a dagger out of his belly unscathed. He has the death card, Charlie has a card where the wording is freaking obscured by the "13 Fear Is Real" above the CW logo on the right hand side. Whatever it was, it must have meant dagger in belly. "You picked these strangers over me?" A hurt Charlie asks. Vernon is in the background appalled over what Jay has done.
Charlie collapses, Dean falls to the ground and Sam escapes just before the spikes come down. Sam makes sure Dean is alright, and he says he is. Yeah, that's why he's on the ground gasping for air. The camera moves up to Jay, and oh, poor man. He looks like he just killed his best friend. His brother. His world has just ended. Um, foreshadowing perhaps?
The next scene is even more resounding proof as to why Barry Bostwick rules. Jay is back in the bar, completely lost, playing with his cards while having a drink. Sam and Dean come in. Dean wants to thank him, but Jay is not appreciative. "I killed my best friend yesterday and you want to thank me?" Dean doesn't know what to say. Sam looks at him with those sad puppy dog eyes, and asks about Vernon. He didn't want to speak to Jay again after what he did to Charlie. Sam looks very sad now, for the pain this old man is feeling is hitting a little too close to home.
Dean tries to explain that Charlie would have never given up what he was doing and Jay did the right thing. Jay doesn't want to hear it. "You sure about that? You know Charlie was like my brother, and now he's dead, because I did the right thing." Jay stands up now, letting all that anger surface. "He offered me a gift and I just threw it back in his face. And now I have to spend the rest of my life old and alone. What's so right about that?"
Sam takes that last comment hard. They watch Jay leave. The waitress stops him, tells him that he left his cards behind. "Throw them away," Jay says with a crack in his voice. Sniff! The man is broken. Dean, after taking a pause but accepting the reality of what happened, tells Sam he could go for a beer. A nearly broken up Sam declares he's going to take a walk. Dean isn't sure what that's about, but he lets Sam go.
Next shot shows Sam coming up to that sweet yellow Mustang from "In The Beginning." It's parked in an alley. Sam opens the passenger door and leans in. "Okay, I'm in," he tells Ruby and gets in the car. "What changed your mind?" She asks. "I don't want to be doing this when I'm an old man." She nods and drives away.
Whoa, they certainly went for the depressing ending. That's okay, for they had three rather stellar actors to sell it. Of course that last scene with Jay was foreshadowing with a capital F. He had to kill his "brother" because it was the right thing to do. That doesn't make him feel any less guilty or devastated. One has to speculate that the role of Charlie mirrors Sam, and the role of Jay mirrors Dean. Could it be that one day Dean will be forced to kill Sam for the greater good? Maybe, and that's not the first time this show has hinted that. They're teasing us again.
Poor Sammy. The burden he chooses to carry alone. I'd like to think he's protecting Dean with his silence, and that's worth the price of betrayal. As he declared in "Metamorphosis," using his powers are his choice. He won't bring Dean into the decision, but at least he sought Dean's advice before making it. No doubt Jay's miserable outcome cemented Sam's choice, but the words of Dean that it either ends bloody or sad had to be ringing in his head too. It mirrors exactly what Rufus Turner told Dean in "Time Is On My Side," there ain't no happy ending. Sam is now getting it. He needs to see light at the end of the tunnel or die now.
I'm usually pretty generous with my grades of episodes, I'll admit that. They usually come out higher at first, and after a few weeks, when compared against other episodes, my mind usually changes. This one I give an A and stand by it. Sure, there wasn't as much Sam and Dean, but considering the great actors that filled the space, I'm happy with what we got. As a matter of fact, I'm grateful for the world class acting. It's exciting to see that caliber appear on this show.