(This was originally posted on Blogcritics.org in 2008. It is no longer on that site. A copy of the first page of the review with all the original comments can be found here. I'm reposting here in order to have a full archive of my reviews.)
Once upon a time, before there was an exciting fan convention in Chicago that completely dominated some of our lives, a somewhat epic and mind-boggling Supernatural episode aired. One that people in New York and New Jersey as well as other places (Mississippi?) couldn’t see until Saturday thanks to the NFL.
As I went back to write the review, I vaguely remembered the episode involved drunken Sam angst and hot demon monkey sex, but the rest was a blur. So I had to force myself to sit down and re-watch “I Know What You Did Last Summer”. Yeah, that was tough. I’m back up to speed now and now that everyone has had a chance to see the episode, let’s review what we’ve learned.
I'm preparing everyone right now. I loved every bit of this episode. This will be a gush fest, especially over Jared's performance, the writing of Sera Gamble, and the directing of Charles Beeson, who can finally put one in the masterpiece category. It was all top notch and I'm about to tell you why, because that’s my job.
Sam focused episodes are always polarizing and get various factions of fans all in a twist. The problem is that Sam is a morally ambiguous character who often struggles with crossing fine lines. He’s not easily understood. Throw in a completely broken and hopeless Sam whose repressed emotions are consuming him and stuff’s going to happen that ain’t right. That doesn’t make the drama any less compelling or fascinating to watch.
So, aside from Sam’s controversial but sorely welcomed back story, what else made this episode so great? For one, the weaving between past and present events is brilliantly executed. The story is easy to follow and the pacing quick, so by the end I couldn’t believe it was over. Two, the introduction of Anna with her angel hotline and the visit from a demon earning the top executive pay grade upped the stakes of the apocalypse to scary new levels. Third, the story can’t go wrong with couple of vengeful angels thrown in at the end. We’ve got one very nasty situation and a frustrating “To Be Continued.”
There’s an incredible amount of detail in the directing this week which I’ll focus on in my full recap, but it’s noticeable from the opening shot. The long shot on Anna’s far away glare, looking upward, with just the right amount of light is almost angelic. I’m sure that’s the point. The tone set is anything but angelic though. It’s fearful, ominous and brilliantly done, and Julie McNiven deserves much credit.
If there’s a down side, Dean is pushed to supporting player. Normally I don’t like that, but considering it’s the first time that’s happened all season (compared to multiple times for Sam) and we got some great backstory, I’m letting it slide just like with “In The Beginning”. I loved Dean’s approach with Sam this time. He made a heartfelt and rational plea to get Sam to talk after being his normal antagonistic self during the road trip. He calmly listened to Sam’s story and didn’t get angry, with the only thing bothering him being Sam’s “too much information.”
Sam’s A Mess
Let’s cut to the chase. Sam’s spiral after Dean’s death is stunning, difficult to watch, and portrayed in devastating yet believable way. His scenes will be the bulk of the review, for they left the greatest impact.
How fitting that an argument in the Impala over Sam’s BFF Ruby triggers the first flashback? You know Sera’s writing this. Sam’s at the crossroads on his wits end, digging a hole with his hand. His movements are uncoordinated and he staggers to get up, plus the whiskey bottle in his hand gives the not so subtle clue what sort of state he’s in. The camera moves to the overhead shot, and just like with Dean and the cross with Lazarus Rising, we see Sam’s shadow along with the crossing post. He’s at a crossroads, literally and figuratively. In the few seconds that Sam waits, we see a full spectrum of emotions; despair, desperation, confusion, then anger and frustration. We even get the return of the puppy dog eyes!
Even the makeup team deserves huge recognition, for Sam looks awful. This mirrors the desperation that Dean had in "All Hell Breaks Loose Part II,” but Sam is edgier, angrier, and more out of control. He’s a time bomb ready to go off and his visit verifies the point Ruby made later, he doesn’t want to live as long as Dean is dead.
His violent outburst at the man-in-a-suit Crossroads Demon (good thing Sam didn't have to kiss him) reveals the intense rage inside, and this is one of the fine examples of how much careful preparation Jared put into this. He let out enough fury to scare us, but still managed some restraint. The Crossroads Demon tells him "We’ve got everything exactly the way we want it." I wonder what that means? In the meantime, Sam hits his worst case scenario when his proposed deal is turned down. The sound of the swiping knife as the shot fades back to the Impala hints he took out yet another Crossroads Demon in anger. Last time they’ll talk to him.
Another example of the great directing is when the hum of the engine and the sound of windshield wipers compliment Sam’s silent struggle to talk to Dean, all seen through the watery windshield. It’s a sobering way to close out the scene. As with last week, these brothers still can’t share their burdens.
The flashback scenes keep building from that, as no detail is held back in highlighting Sam’s descent. The camera is titled when Sam staggers back from the crossroads, accenting his uneven frame of mind. We can only speculate what he'd have done to himself if Ruby hadn't shown up. Ruby threatens to kill him and he welcomes it, defiantly challenging her through his crazy eyes and open arms. I caught that glimpse of concern from Ruby just before she stabs the other guy. Even she feels bad for Sammy! I do question if she was really planning on saving Sam or made the snap judgment at the last second. Right now that’s open for debate.
Sam’s barely functioning, proven by his vacant stare and red puffy eyes when driving the Impala. I hope the Impala isn’t coasting on fumes like he is. He’s not interested in Ruby saving him if she can’t save Dean. Still, he can't be too far gone for he forces Ruby to free the hot secretary she's occupying. Jared’s on fire so far and we haven’t even gotten to the good stuff.
Even when Ruby comes back occupying a freshly dead coma patient, we see how much Sam is hurting. Normally he’s reserved and doesn’t give away much emotion. Here, he’s letting enough slip where we see all that inner agony. You know, the glassy eyes, the rough edged voice, the constant sneers and the pissed off attitude. Sure he usually shows those things, but rarely at once. Again he has lack of regard for himself when doesn't hesitate to use his "psychic stuff." Dean isn’t there, so his wishes don't matter anymore. All Sam has on his mind is revenge.
Umm, gotta pause here, because that pale blue undershirt that Sam put on when talking to Dean is just dreamy. He should wear brighter colors more often. Ahhh….
Anyway, when Sam fails in his first try to exorcise a demon, getting a debilitating headache and nosebleed in the process, I adored the brilliant back of the head shot of Ruby killing the demon, leaving the full focus on Ruby's bitter face. "Not funny." Aww, she does care for Sam.
Okay, here it comes. That controversial scene, the one that people don’t realize is Sam’s breaking point. If you carefully examine the detail, it’s a well done scene. Subtle shots from the camera catch the repeating elements; the devil’s trap scratched so Ruby won’t get caught, Sam dropping the shovel on the table, showing they just buried the victim. We can’t see Sam’s face until Ruby tells him it’ll get better, referring to his grief and not the powers. He turns around, chasing the aspirin with whiskey, and we see how bad he is. He can’t take anymore. His pain is now beyond bearable, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Ruby wants to help and mentions Dean, getting a sharp reaction. Again Sam has the rapid mood swings, going from sarcastic to evasive to angry to teary to fearful in thirty seconds. “Sam, you’re not alone.” I guess kissing him is one trick Dean’s never tried. At first Sam accepts it, but pushes her away. He knows it’s wrong. She follows him across the room, knowing that she needs to persist, for that’s the only way to get through to him. After all, a demon knows how to push the right buttons, and boy did she. The right touch here and there, and he caves.
Wow, whoa, woo, geez…that was so, wow. I need a few minutes. Demon sex is pretty animalistic and raw, isn’t it? Does it surprise us though that Sam likes it rough?
Anyway, back to the point. This was nothing more than a moment of weakness for Sam when he was most vulnerable. He desperately craved comfort and human contact, but mostly he needed the emotional release. He knew it was wrong, but he didn’t care. He wanted to feel something again other than all the pain. What I want to know is if this keeps going or not, or if it was a one time thing. The motel scene in “Lazarus Rising” suggests there’s more and if that’s true, then Sam’s actions go far beyond one weak moment.
Sam’s relief is short lived, for the chance to get Lilith pushes him over the edge. It’s time for his kamikaze mission, and nothing’s stopping him. Ruby is dead on when she tells Sam his wish to get killed isn’t what Dean died for, but Sam with his usual temper slams her against the wall and puts the knife to her throat. In that state, I think he would have done the same thing to Dean (in “Salvation” he actually did). I guess were back to that inner rage thing. Man, he’s all over the map.
Luckily, there’s a turning point from rock bottom. Nothing like a trap to change your perspective. Ruby saves him, then Sam comes back and saves her, using his adrenaline high to kick in the Hand of Demon Doom (no, I’m not calling it the other thing). His head hurts and his nose is bleeding, and Ruby’s concern over his pain seems genuine to me. He’s okay though and the look in his eyes shows a fighting spirit that has been absent so far. Sam explains to Dean that Ruby got through. Um yeah, I’m not exactly sure Dean would have used the same methods Sam (quiet you slashers!).
What about Ruby? What are her motives? Does she truly care about Sam, or is this all a mind game? After watching the facial reactions, I’ve concluded she really cares for Sam. Granted, there still might be a greater plan at work and she might someday have to choose her loyalties, but if I didn’t know better, she has feelings for Sam. She’s obviously manipulating him, but for now, the motives stay unclear. Genevieve has grown on me. She’s getting better.
To be continued???? Damn you…er...Sera Gamble!
“Like in the bible?” “Kind of. Same bottom line.” Thanks Sera for clarification that you guys are following your own way with the mythology.
Sam and Dean are hustling pool? Together? That’s the first time we’ve seen that and I like it.
The Impala looked awfully shiny for driving three days across country. So in the middle of an investigation, Dean took it to be washed and waxed?
The statue had bleeding eyes. “Bloody Mary” reference!
“Don’t you recognize me? Oh, I forgot, I’m wearing a pediatrician.” Great line from our new big bad demon, Alistair.
Sam and Dean jump through a glass window together. Cool! I’ve been dying to see that on this show. Jensen and Jared at the con mentioned that in real life if that had happened, they’d be far worse off than a little banged up.
You gotta love Sam’s ability to stitch himself up and his tricks for popping back a dislocated shoulder. Both Jensen and Jared were perfect in selling how much pain both were in. No sugar coating there.
You know, “six months earlier” and “five months earlier” are fine, but I only need it once. Repeating it during the same flashback after coming back from commercial wasn’t necessary. I got it.
“Now I feel dirty…Skip the nudity please.” Speak for yourself Deano!
I loved Dean’s half assed apology to Ruby for saving Sam. “That was awkward.”
No grade from me! This is part one, and I just cannot judge it until I see part two. I’ll give Jared an A+ though. Playing a low, broken, nothing left to live for unstable drunk is not easy. Especially when Sera Gamble writes it (I kid, I love Sera’s ability to torture Sam). Clips for part two coming Wednesday.