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TV Review: Supernatural – “A Very Supernatural Christmas” (Part One)

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It’s Christmas in July!  What a better way to celebrate than to re-experience, for only the second time, the twisted, gory, heart-wrenching, fast-paced, cynical, and downright brilliant Supernatural version of Christmas.  Kripke and Co. are a bunch of sick bastards, and we love them for it.   

I tried in an exhaustive number of ways to get this review down to a reasonable length, but this episode contained an overwhelming attention to detail.  It’s impossible to overlook enough of the elements that made up one of the most outstanding episodes of the series to get it down to a decent size.  The episode went all out, beyond the usual great writing and acting, it gives us several unique camera shots, extreme set decoration, a brilliant cast of supporting characters, loads of eye catching background details, and even a clever cover story as to why Ypsilanti, Michigan was looking so lush in December.   So, in a first for me, an episode recap will be broken into two parts.  This is part one, part two will follow later.   

The writer of this episode, Jeremy Carver, gives us his first solo script here, and I wonder how many Andy Williams Christmas specials he’s seen in his lifetime (I assume enough to drive him crazy).  As with his other masterpiece, “Mystery Spot,” this script is very diverse, offering snappy and outrageous (in a good way) dialogue; a multitude of jabs at the history of Christmas culture; a progression of scenes going at a wild yet seamless pace that blended laugh out loud moments, powerful emotional ones and very disturbing ones; and a compelling story involving Pagan lore that sucked us in from beginning to end.  Plus, it ruined Christmas.  What could be better?  

The directing on the episode is phenomenal as well, this time coming from J. Miller Tobin.  He’s directed many TV shows, and this is his second go-round for Supernatural.  Considering his first episode was the stellar “Born Under A Bad Sign,” he’s got an excellent track record with the show.  What he did with this episode was nothing short of incredible.  

I knew we were getting an exceptional program the second the old CBS intro “A Special Presentation” popped on the screen.  As a kid, that intro always let me know that something cool, like Rudolph, was coming on, causing me to squeal with glee.  That’s exactly what I did here, too.  The show didn’t waste any time going for shock value either, starting as if we were watching a cheesy Hallmark Holiday special.  The living room décor takes a page straight out of the Christmas edition of Martha Stewart Living, a pleasant flute plays “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in the background, and chubby-cheeked little boy greets his Grandpa with glee, for it is Christmas Eve.  I can picture the director telling these two “ham it up as much as possible,” and boy did they run with it.  

This All-American kid, now decked out in his reindeer jammies, peeks through the wooden rail of the stairs to see “Santa” putting presents under the tree, reacting with wide eyes and adorable, lit up face.  He gets very excited by the thump on the roof, but “Santa,” aka grandpa, knows that wasn’t a good noise.  Some soot filters down from the chimney, and we assume from the creepy music playing that this will be grandpa’s last Christmas.  Judging by his chilling screams, being yanked up the chimney hurts.  Then his boot falls to the floor.  With blood on it.  All while the boy watches.  At least grandpa gave his grandson a Christmas he’ll never forget.   

Cue the special title card, a decked out “A Very Supernatural Christmas.”  Major kudos to the graphics designer on that one.  That right there gave us a hint as to how much effort went into this episode.      

It’s next Christmas, in balmy Michigan, and Sam and Dean talk with a traumatized wife and daughter because dad is missing.  Considering Sam found a tooth in the chimney, chances are he’s reindeer food.  By the way, Sam and Dean in suits make for the best Christmas present ever.  They conclude dad couldn’t have fit up the chimney in one piece, which is pretty accurate considering we saw proof of that in the last Christmas scene.   

Here’s a prime example of what happens when great set decoration and directing collide.   Sam’s researching in this week’s motel room, sitting on a dated forest green leather couch when Dean comes in, exposing the red leather retro table and chairs, ugly green curtains, and loud yellow floral wallpaper.  A standard room so far, right?  After Sam and Dean exchange some theories, we get the full money shot, Dean standing in front of a hokey Thomas Kinkade mural covering the entire opposite wall, instantly throwing him into the center of a cozy holiday picture.  I laughed hard and froze the frame, partly because it’s the most absurd scene you’ll ever see Dean Winchester in, and partly because Jared Padalecki has a Christmas movie coming out one of these days where he plays Thomas Kinkade.  Someone had way too much fun setting this up, and we all win.   

After researching it, the best idea Sam can come up with is evil Santa.  Dean thinks the idea is crazy and reminds Sam there is no Santa, which opens up a nice gaping wound.  “I know, you’re the one who told me in the first place.”  Ouch!  Nicely played Jared, for the resentment feels very real.   

Dean finds out the previous victims visited Santa’s village, and at that point I wondered if Jeremy Carver’s warped childhood involved too many family visits to tacky tourist traps.  Santa’s Village is as awful as we imagined, with the weathered, and in desperate need of paint, entrance topped with an evil-looking Santa, wooden buildings that looked like rotting shacks instead of toy workshops, an unenthusiastic elf and guy in reindeer suit standing among the tacky wooden cutouts of a manger scene that gets banned by most neighborhood associations nowadays, and ugly reindeer made of logs that Amish places try to sell at a premium.  The set designers must have had every one of their Christmas fantasies, real and surreal, come true.   

Dean uses this bizarre backdrop to suggest that he and Sam celebrate Christmas this year.  Sam hates the idea, claiming their Christmases weren’t exactly loaded with “Hallmark memories.”  Are they for anyone?  My memories of Christmas include being bored stiff with my new toys after an hour and nothing but crap on TV, all while the adults broke into the eggnog early.  These were the days before the Internet, DVD’s or even VHS, and my videogame choices were limited Pong.  At least when I get drunk at Christmas now my kids have GameCube.   

Somehow, a goofy reindeer triggers a memory for Sam, he and Dean in a motel in Broken Bow, Nebraska in 1991.  The sign says the Cicero Pines Motel.  Isn’t that the exact same sign from “The Kids Are Alright?”  There aren’t many pine trees in Nebraska either.  This eight-year-old Sam is a drastic improvement the one in “Something Wicked,” but thankfully we get the same Dean.  Sam’s wrapping a gift with the comics page that Uncle Bobby gave him to give to John.  The point is clearly coming across that these boys have nothing, not even a Christmas tree can be found.   

Sam asks Dean questions, which Dean avoids.  How long did Dean think he could do that for?  I have a six-year-old who leaves nothing alone.  Young Sam is uncanny with every mannerism, down to the puppy dog eyes and sorrowful glare.  The scene cuts to adult Sam with the exact same look of despair, and it’s remarkable how they pull that off.  We honestly believe it’s the same person just years later.  Now the editors get the applause.   

Sam and Dean see gross Santa, complete with dirty wig and beard, a limp, and smelling like either candy or ripple, acting shady with children.  They have their anti-Claus. 

Instead of moving on with the investigation, the rollercoaster plotting takes us elsewhere, blowing the whole expositional formula to smithereens in a great way.  A cheery elf interrupts them, asking if they want to escort their child to Santa.  Cue the “Dean throwing Sam in a humiliating spot” scenario, which usually stretches Jensen and Jared into natural goofball territory, often with great results.  Dean tells her it’s a lifelong dream of Sam’s to sit on Santa’s lap, and Sam fails in trying to get out of the lie big time by saying they just want to watch.  Her face sours, she gives the appropriate “ewww,” and once again we have a bit that will be often brought up in “funniest moments” discussions.  Add perverts to the list of stereotypes.        

Sam and Dean stalk evil Santa outside his trailer, and there’s a classic car sighting!  From what I can tell given the back only angle, it’s a mid 1970’s Cadillac Eldorado, and of course, it’s red.  It’s Santa’s muscle car sleigh!  Dean again brings up the Christmas thing and Sam has another nickname to add to his growing list, “the boy who hates Christmas.”  I’m going to have to do a separate list someday of all the nicknames these two have thrown at each other.  They hear screaming coming from the trailer, and go in with guns pulled.  The irony of having to blow away Santa isn’t lost on Sam, but Santa is nothing more than a degenerate porn addict with a huge bong and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red.  Why not pretend to be carolers?  It might have worked if they actually remembered the words to “Silent Night.”  Sam and Dean hopelessly fumble through the song while drunk and stoned Santa laughs at them.  There’s a memory to record in the Christmas scrapbook.    

The episode takes another complete shift, going back to very creepy, and again, it’s done to the maximum.  On comes another ideal holiday home, and this time our innocent child is a sweet, curly haired boy who’s eager to greet Santa.  Except it isn’t Santa, its some dude in a bloody red leather suit who goes upstairs, knocks out mom and drags dad downstairs in his sack.  The bewildered boy, with those huge dark eyes, watches scary Santa take out the kid's dad, step toward him, reach out, and grab a cookie on the plate behind him before going up the chimney.  Yeah kid, I’m stunned too.  Sure, this boy’s scarred for life, but maybe he’s now a prospective hunter.  All hunters got into hunting somehow.   

When talking to the emotional victim, Sam asks “Where did you get that wreath?”  Oh Sam, I know it’s the link to the cases, but couldn’t there have been a better way to find out?  Sam grabs his collar as both Dean and the woman stare at him in stone silence.  “Just curious.”  Ha!  Back at the motel room, Sam delivers the message from Bobby.  “Uh, we’re morons.”  The anti-Claus thing is proven a stupid idea, and Bobby shows he’s really smart by identifying an ingredient in those wreaths as meadowsweet, the most perfect plant in Pagan lore.  Ooh, Pagans!  I got a religious magazine in the mail once that gave exhaustive detail as to why we’re all Pagans for celebrating Easter.  Apparently Pagans love all Christian holidays.  Those people with the wreaths are apparently telling the Pagans to come eat them, and Pagan sacrifices are rewarded with mild weather.  Very clever guys, but Ypsilanti still isn’t that green in December, even with mild weather.  

Coming up in part 2, more prime details from this week’s “short attention span theater” and the happiest cannibals you’ll ever see in your whole life.  Plus, we cry.   

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