Ah, “The Usual Suspects.” This is one of my happy episodes. This is “Supernatural” at it’s finest. An opener that caught our attention from the word go, Smart Sam, cocky Dean, a brisk plot, a mystery that kept us guessing until the end, just so much goodness. It was a standalone, having little relevance to the mytharc other than it continued the events from St. Louis in season one’s “Skin.” Remember the days when the writers built new plots based on existing ones that were actually effective, entertaining and made sense? Okay, I concede, keeping up continuity is a little easier in season two of a series.
After the heaviness of season two up to this point, it was nice to fall back to an entertaining story that wasn't burdened by what happened before it. There was no deep exploration of characters dynamics, no overwrought family arguments, just two guys doing their job and doing it well. What made this episode so extraordinary though is how Sam and Dean spent most of the episode apart, but were still in perfect stride together. No doubt they spent all those long hours in the Impala together working on their stories.
The writer for this episode was Cathryn Humphris, who only wrote a few episodes for “Supernatural,” but they were often ones I really liked. She has a particular gift with dialogue and in this episode, she really knew her inner Dean and Sam Winchester. It was obvious they were in a really tight spot so Dean did what he did best, deal with everything with some well timed wise cracking. Sam had some really great zingers too, especially during his interrogation scenes.
The guest casting was rather inspired too, bringing on Linda Blair, most famous from The Exorcist, to play the role of Detective Diana Ballard. She was fantastic. For someone experiencing their first encounter with the supernatural, Detective Ballard jumped into action pretty well and took everything that was happening in stride once she embraced the idea that Dean and Sam were telling the truth. Their partnership was truly delightful. She and Sam made a great team when investigating the murder site. I adore that she even let them go, telling them she would sleep better at night if they were out there doing what they do best. What a smart woman.
I’ve struggled though trying to do a traditional review on the episode. After all, this was just light hearted, standalone fun. Instead, for the rest of the review, I’m going to share other random thoughts about the episode. There’s plenty of random to love!
- Oh, the lines in this episode! Let me share my favorites:
Sam: I needed some time off. To deal. So I'm taking a road trip with my brother.
Diana Ballard: How's that going for you?
Sam: Great. I mean... we saw the second largest ball of twine in the continental U.S. Awesome.
Dean: My favorite kind. What do you think, Scully? You wanna check it out?
Sam: I'm not Scully, you're Scully.
Dean: No, I'm Mulder. You're a red-headed woman.
Dean: My name is Dean Winchester. I'm an Aquarius. I enjoy sunsets, long walks on the beach, and frisky women. And I did not kill anyone. But I know who did. Or rather what did. Of course it can't be for sure, because our investigation was interrupted. But our working theory was that we're looking for some kind of vengeful spirit.
Dean: Pee break? So soon? You might want to get your prostate checked.
- I love how Sam kept trying to keep his sympathetic face going while he and Dean visited Karen as insurance agents. Dean went off script asking if Tony had experienced anything weird (Uh, it's just, our, our company's very thorough) and Sam had to keep switching between his concerned face and ‘Dean, cut it out’ face. That’s what I love about these early episodes, the free wheeling fun between the brothers. They seemed like they were having a lot more fun back then.
- Oh man, how I miss the days of the elaborately decorated motel rooms. The second motel Sam was found, the Aardvark, was an especially visual masterpiece. The furniture is what sold it.
- Does anyone remember the old 1970’s TV show “CHiPs?” I do! This episode had a lot of shoutouts to old TV shows and movies from the 1970’s, probably because of Linda Blair guesting. Pete Sheridan did resemble Erik Estrada a bit. Leave it up to Dean to come up with such a perfect put down! That got him a nice slam against the wall.
Detective Sheridan: You arrogant bastard. Tony and Karen were good people, and you're making jokes.
Dean: I’m not joking, Ponch.
- My favorite part was with the public defender, who had to go between Sam and Dean.
Dean: Hey, thanks for the law review, Matlock. But. If you want to help me... I need you to see my brother.
PD Kraus (hands Dean’s note to Sam): I hope that's meaningful. But I'd like to discuss your case now.
Sam: Sure thing, Matlock.
PD Kraus: You two really are brothers, aren't you?
- I loved that the MOTW was a death omen who wanted to warn victims rather than seek revenge. This little twist made it an above average ghost story, someone finally beyond the veil that wanted to do something good. The clue of the anagram was inspired. Not only did that add to the creep factor with the endless repeating “Dana Schulps,” it has the nice twist that communicating beyond the veil is not an easy thing to do.
- The starburst clock! I wonder what happened to that thing.
- This is one of the coolest shots in the series. That is all.
- Jim Rockford! Love the alias. That’s another callback to a 1970’s show, “The Rockford Files.”
- Was I the only one that thought that Sam taking a sledgehammer to a brick wall with a hand in a cast might not have been the best idea? No? Okay, just me I guess.
- I noticed the ending of the episode was filmed under Kim Manners’ tree. It was filmed at the North Forty Park Reserve in Delta, BC, as was the scene in Lloyd’s Bar for the next episode, “Crossroad Blues.” Many scenes in season 2 were filmed at this park, including all the Roadhouse external shots.
- Sam and Dean’s closing lines was a great acknowledgement to their guest star:
Sam: Nice lady.
Dean: Yeah, for a cop. Did she look familiar to you?
Sam: No, why?
Dean: I don't know. Anyway, are you hungry?
Dean: For some reason I could really go for some pea soup.
Overall grade, an A. A series classic in my book. Up next, things get serious again.
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