(This review was originally published at Blogcritics.org in 2010, but is no longer there. I'm reposting here to preserve my archive of SPN reviews.)
So what if you held an apocalypse and only three bratty teenagers came? A major dud, that’s what. So, that brings us to the episode review for “Swap Meat.”
The episode wasn’t a total waste, but there’s something to be said about plot holes you could drive the Impala through. The fans of this show are nitpicky and don’t usually suspend believability, so for something this careless to pass through means that Kripke and company desperately needed something to stall the fandom and the network while he and the writers hammer out the still yet to come epic biblical showdown. That’s a sound theory, isn’t it? Yes, I’m clinging onto some hope here.
How do you stall a keen fandom like this? Using Jared Padalecki as a comedic device is definitely one way to go. The problem is, they show Sam in Gary’s life and Gary in Sam’s life. I’m not entirely sure that works. Sure, it does in spots, like Sam caught in that horribly tacky fast food restaurant uniform and the Star Wars shirts or Gary flaunting those gorgeous biceps in the mirror, but wouldn’t we have loved to have seen Jared get to act goofy throughout the entire bar scene? Colton James, who plays Gary, did a fine job but there’s something about drunk Sam played by Jared that just gets the fans going. Who wouldn’t have wanted to see Sam’s body instead in the lair of that dominatrix? We were robbed! I did like Sam talking back to the Dad at the breakfast table though. He had no idea that was abnormal. Ditto for him being unable to break the ropes that he normally has no problem handling.
What about Dean? Sadly, Dean didn’t get to do much other than watch “Sam” with suspicion. He does have one shining moment though when “Sam” accidently backs the Impala into a dumpster after he repeatedly warns “reverse.” The “I’m going to kill you” look is classic! I’ve read the exhaustive debates that Dean should have figured out the body switch sooner. I think he suspected something right away but wasn’t sure what. Plus, you have to admit that a fresh teenager in Sam’s body drinking and picking up women is just too amusing for him. Dean knows Sam doesn’t act that way, but still enjoys watching it anyway. As soon as his life threatened though, Dean takes action. What bothers me more is Dean being unaware that long that the cell phones were missing. That isn’t something he’d let slide. Speaking of messages, how could that be Sam’s voice leaving them? He’s in Gary’s body, right?
However, all this nitpicking isn’t going to justify or help the episode. It’s just a weak effort that brings up some old issues from other episodes. So again we get a bratty trio that uses witchcraft as a means for personal gain. Didn’t we see that in “Malleus Maleficarum?” How about how Gary taking up witchcraft over frustration for having his life planned out for him? Naturally there is a Winchester parallel, a la Sam in “After School Special.” So Sam tells Gary he has a choice, just like the teacher told him as a teenager. Uh, how did that work out for you Sam? That also brings up the whole freewill vs. destiny thing. That’s all fine, but do we really want to see it played out with 17 year olds with the common sense of crickets?
The brotherly relationship is also a head scratcher. Dean asks Sam in the restaurant if he’s open to the idea of a wife and kids. Not shocking, his answer is no. You know, the same answer he gave us in “Wishful Thinking.” Dean is still clinging onto his desire to have them, you know, the same things we learned a few times in season three like in “Dream A Little Dream of Me.” Good to know nothing has changed on those fronts. We also get to fondly remember last season’s “Sex and Violence” when Dean’s secret desire to have a brother to pal around with gets him in trouble. You remember, his desire to do things with Sam like get drunk together and share the same love for music. So how does he bond with Gary here? By getting drunk together and sharing the same love of music. There’s also the bacon cheeseburger thing, which is now very overdone. I won’t go through the list of bacon cheeseburger references but considering Dean doesn’t weigh 300 lbs, I’m assuming that’s not his complete diet.
What does Dean expect though? In the previous episode he smacks down Sam’s long overdue breakthrough, telling him to bury all his feelings. So what happens? Sam is acting withdrawn and burying his feelings. He has no desire for an apple pie life and around Dean it’s all business. He’s also back to doing what he’s always done, like eating salads (I still wish the running gag was around when Sam was never seen eating). Dean through Gary wonders why Sam isn’t outgoing or even lightening up a little? He’s bothered at the end when Sam gives Gary that strange pep talk and then tells Dean he lied? “That kid’s life sucks ass.” Dean doesn’t laugh. I laughed! Dean is bothered by that, by Sam dismissing common family life and by him telling him to turn the music down. Uh, Dean, he’s burying it, remember? Plus he’s acting like himself.
Oh, but none of this compares to the real “WTF?” moment of the episode. Sam doesn’t have to be in his body to say yes to Lucifer? Huh? So all it takes is some little punk to recite some spell in a book and Lucifer gets his vessel? Can the same be true for Dean and Michael? If that ends up being the case, that entire vessel drama has just become cheapened. I hoping that was really just a warning for the Winchesters to be more careful and not something that plays out later. Pretty please?
Overall grade is a C-. We can throw “Swap Meat” into the “at least it wasn’t ‘Bugs’” category. In the meantime, they better beef up the apocalypse pretty soon before there’s no one left to join all the fun.