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TV Review: Supernatural – “99 Problems”

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You Gotta Have Faith

I hate bringing up an old 80’s cliché, but you gotta have faith. Sure that’s true but what if your faith rests in the totally wrong thing? Do you stick with everything you believe in when times get tough or change your ways out of desperation? What happens when faith is tested and you end up making bad decisions based on the blindness of that faith? In just a mere forty minutes, Supernatural tries to take on those questions while using a device that’s been working so well so far this season, an antagonist rooted in apocalyptic mythology. For such a heavy subject, the lessons learned end up being what we’ve grown to expect for this program – darn right tragic.

Sure, it was established in last week’s stellar episode “Dark Side of The Moon” that Dean was all out of faith. Castiel was despondent too and Sam was trying to hold it all together. “99 Problems” tries to carry on the dire emotional states of our trio and as expected they’re really struggling. But first, there’s no time for crying in the beer. In another great teaser, Sam and Dean frantically try to flee something. Dean pushes the Impala to its limits and Sam’s bloody shoulder tells us something’s amiss. Considering this is a Julie Siege script, something bad must happen to the Impala and she gets that out of the way early when a demon smashes through the window and grabs Sam. Then the Sacrament Lutheran Militia arrives. When a group of holy hollers can extinguish a set of demons quickly with a fire hose, a tank of holy water and a one sentence Enochian exorcism that it leaves Sam and Dean stunned, they must be doing something extraordinary.

Think about it, what would happen if your town was stormed with demons and a local prophet in the form of the preacher’s daughter tells all of you an apocalypse is in full swing? How would you react? Would you do whatever it takes in defense? Who would you put your faith in? God? Better yet, how about the prophet spreading God’s word? The locals face that test, as do Sam, Dean and Castiel. The townspeople do what any good folks would do at first – they band together. They take arms, learn tricks for survival, and rely on one another, that is until their faith is pushed to the limit. When innocents like a teenage boy start dying, priorities begin to shift. The lines between right and wrong disappear.

So, take that and compare it to Dean Winchester. His faith in anything he ever held dear is gone. He’s going through the motions and doesn’t care what happens considering everyone’s going to die anyway. He’s farther along in his spiral than these people and down so low he doesn’t know how to crawl out. Still, despite his lost hope, he knows it’s wrong to kill a neighbor because a prophet says to. He still feels the pain over the loss of innocent lives. He tries not to care, but he does. That makes a so-called faithless Dean more guided than everyone else because he doesn’t have blind faith. He doesn’t hold delusions about resurrecting dead loved ones at the cost of others. Then again, he’s been there before.

Then there’s Sam, who’s losing the one thing he can rely on the most, his brother. He’s juggling trying to find a way to fight and get Dean to stay in the game. He’s desperate to get through, even begging Dean to pull it together. “You think you’re the only one white-knuckling it here Dean? I can’t count on anyone else. I can’t do this alone.” He sees how down his brother is and it’s scaring him.

Sam’s also having trouble with his other lifeline, the missing blue-eyed angel on a bender after his search for God ended in bitter disappointment. Castiel eventually does come around (albeit in an inebriated state) and delivers for Sam with information about the false prophet, aka the Whore of Babylon. Sure, Cas is hurting but something about this town affects him. He does notice that these people are following what they thought were messages from angels and putting their faith in that. His disappointment in himself for letting people down comes through with one simple answer to the reverend, who points out he is an angel when they are looking for a “true servant of God.” “A poor excuse for one,” Castiel answers with regret. Feeling the pain of his bender, he shares his overwhelming discontent for his new found “deadbeat Dad” situation with Dean. So how does Dean manage to go on? “On a good day you get to kill a whore.” Dean seems get through, meaning that neither of them are too far gone.

Two townspeople turn out to be the ones of truest faith, one clergy and one not religious. Both don’t have answers for what’s happening, but still stick with their core beliefs. They aren’t willing to cross the lines for the sake of promised salvation if it isn’t right. Paul, our tragic hero, goes down doing what he believes in. He stands by his neighbors but doesn’t change his ways because some person with visions says he should. He becomes a martyr as a result. It’s interesting how Sam and Dean perceive Paul’s death in different ways. Sam sees it as a line being crossed and a reason to fight. Dean sees the horror of Paul’s death instead of what he died for. That’s why Dean is having doubts. Being tired, frustrated and burned out will do that to a person.

I’m still puzzled by Castiel’s dismissal of all of them being candidates as the one that gets to plunge the branch of the Cypress tree into the she-villain. (I did find his observation “Sam is an abomination” funny.) He doesn’t see any of them as “true servants of God.” Is it possible that they all are and anyone of them could have killed her? Or is there something special about Dean that no one (including us) knows about and that’s something we’re going to find out at another time? Or is it simply he’s decided to say yes to Michael? That’s the fun of being a fan of this show, driving ourselves crazy trying to connect the dots. I personally think there’s plenty more on this to come and it won’t be last time Dean’s status is in question.

Even though Dean gets his “good day,” it quickly turns sour when Dean makes a big decision alone. He abandons Sam and Castiel at the motel (Sam’s frustration over watching the Impala leave is riveting) and tracks down his former love, Lisa (“The Kids Are Alright,” “Dream A Little Dream of Me”). This scene is a little disjointed, despite its sweetness. It makes sense to me that Dean would go to her with knowledge that he’s facing the end, especially since we know how he feels about her from prior episodes, but I’m still trying to figure out what prompted the decision. What is the final “gotcha!” and why go there? Who knows, maybe Lisa and Ben were the reasons he’s been fighting all this time and he’s chosen to let that go.

It Wasn’t All Doom and Gloom

Sure, the week’s brief amount of laughter comes at expense of Castiel’s suffering, but angels in peril is funny. Line of the night goes to Castiel and Sam, when the drunken angel arrives after getting Sam’s message. Sam: What happened to you? Castiel: I found a liquor store. Sam: And? Castiel: And I drank it! It’s also amusing to see the almighty angel struggle with the basic concepts of voice mail. He also figures out the Enochian exorcism spell, translating it as “You breed with the mouth of a goat.” After blank stares from Sam and Dean, he explains. “It’s funnier in Enochian.” Ah, angel humor.

A little hope does come out of this episode too. Dean may have made an internal decision that left us all weeping at the end, but he’s not beyond hope yet. He still can be saved. Sam hasn’t given up either and Castiel isn’t down for the count. He’s battered, broken, yet still fighting. Also, another apocalyptic creature is foiled. It is a good day to kill a whore.

My overall grade, a B+. This is a decent, solid episode that kept my interest the entire time. My biggest criticism is the scenes between Sam and Dean and Castiel and Dean discussing their issues weren’t long enough and didn’t expose enough. I’m also struggling to see where Dean got from point A to point B and Castiel’s state of mind could have also been addressed after the fight instead of him being out for the count. Ah, but that’s what next episode is for. Stay tuned for the milestone 100th episode. I’ve already seen it and NO one who’s ever watched this show should miss it.

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About Alice Jester

  • carlotspeak

    Thank you very much for the review. I’ve been waiting patiently for it. I feel a bit disconnected with Lisa’s part of the story as well. Although I do believe that Ben meant a lot to Dean. As the same as the other child in ‘dead in the water’. There is some longing there for Dean. Not as much for the mother, as comparable for the son, perhaps. I could be wrong. Also as you said it, the time given for the episode is not enough, the emotional wrenching impact that the viewers experienced and the story it meant to tell are ran through in a hurry.

  • carlotspeak – I do apologize for the lateness of this review. My goal is to usually have them out by Sunday nights, but this week there’s plenty going on with the 100th episode and I’ve had to delay this. Thanks for reading and sending comments. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that saw that.

  • Tiecg1

    I liked this ep, but the last scene w/Lisa felt off. But I have always felt that his “thing” for Lisa and Ben was a last resort thing for some normal family, and to show how desperate he had become. He was done with Sam so he ran to his fantasy. I felt robbed when Lisa didn’t say Ben was his son (which I assume he really isn’t), but that’s the only reason I thought she would be brought back into the picture when I saw the “Then” clips. Oh well. But even though it would have probably upset fandom so much more, I would’ve rather Dean run to Cassie, since he really loved her at one point. Or on bringing back Lisa, at least show her with a husband… something to make the scene more awkward for her and Dean (make him seem more crazy for taking such a risk). I understood that Lisa saw the gravity of Dean’s demeanor and became an anti-suicide coach, but maybe she will show up again later, and this scene will make more sense. We’ll see.

    Love the action sequences at the beginning and enjoyed the pacing, although I felt it was weird to see Sam cutting all those possessed beings with “the” knife. Those were people he was killing, right? It seemed a little cold to me: killing innocents and nobody seemed to care. Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess, but it wasn’t their fault they were possessed. They don’t have the tattoos.

  • Tiecg1 – I agree, Sam cutting people with the knife did put me off. I wonder how much that still bothers him.

  • cassi

    Great review Alice, it’s a real solid episode, trying to connect the Moftw with the Apocalypse in a good way, we had worse this season, but my absolute highlight of this episode is definitely Michael Shanks! I’m a huge SG-1 fan and having Daniel Jackson save Sam and Dean from demons amuses me to no end.