I can’t believe we’re already up to “Bad Day at Black Rock” in the repeats list. It seems like the finale was just yesterday. Oh, it was, because I watched it again for the hundredth time. Is it September yet? No? Okay, I guess I’ll kill time with this review.
Be prepared, this is a long one. Why? Because this episode gave me the opportunity to carefully examine all the elements required for compiling a brilliant piece of comedy. There’s far more to comedy writing, directing, and acting than we realize. It requires precise timing, proper wording, consistency, expressions that sell the funny more than a piece of dialogue ever will, and a clever plot to weave through all the madness.
I can only imagine that when the idea of a rabbit’s foot as the foil was pitched, the assignment went to Ben Edlund because of his gift for taking something simple and creating a complex situation that spirals out of control (see last season’s “Nightshifter”). He must have dusted off the manual “How To Write Great Comedy” because all the rules are here. First rule is to pick the type of humor, and he wisely chose what often works with this show, dark humor, but introduced that in combination with something that had never been done with Supernatural before — perfectly timed physical comedy. Granted a writer doesn’t sell physical comedy alone; much of that credit goes to the stunt coordinator, the director, and the actors, but to see this done so well after trying it for the first time, his risk obviously paid off in gold.
The first few scenes of the episode are there for story exposition. It’s Gordon Walker! You know, the vampire killer, the one who sliced Sam’s arm and dripped his blood on a vampire, the one who tried to kick Dean’s ass, the one who tried to take out Sam with an air rifle, the one who tied up Dean and tried to kill Sam with booby trapped hand grenades, then a knife, and then with two guns blazing before getting arrested thanks to Sam’s anonymous tip. So, is anyone surprised that Gordon wants Sam dead? The scene also introduces another hunter, Kubrick, who isn’t buying the whole “Sam Winchester is the Antichrist” deal, but then again, we aren’t either. Nonetheless, he’s been tasked to find the boys, because “Sam Winchester must die.”
Next we get what becomes a familiar scene in the next few episodes, Sam and Dean arguing in the Impala. I’m actually with Sam on this one. They need a demon on their side in a demon war, plus I like Ruby.
Dean: “You’re okay right, I mean you’re feeling okay?”
Sam: “Yes I’m fine, why are you always asking me that?”
Trust me, Sam, get over it, because Dean ain’t going to stop asking anytime soon.
They discover John has a storage locker outside of Buffalo. I knew he traveled a lot, but tell me, if you were going to put a storage locker somewhere, would you pick Buffalo? I would put one somewhere, oh I don’t know, halfway between New York and California. My random throw of a dart on the map comes up with St. Joseph, Missouri. I wouldn’t put it in a place that forces a drive along a large polluted lake on a thruway that costs too much money and is as dry as toast. Yes, I’ve done the drive from mid-Ohio to Niagara Falls a few too many times.
We see Kubrick’s home on wheels, and this scene highlights a well used part of comedy writing, exaggeration. Ben Edlund is gifted with this tactic. The whole “Jesus freak” thing gets hammered throughout the whole episode, and I found every bit of it funny. “Don’t play with my Jesus.” A great self-mocking line for Mr. Edlund, because yes, he’s going there. The figurine and the velvet picture of Jesus on the wall were nice touches, as were the eye-rolling bumper stickers we get later. It’s like I’m at my mother-in-law’s place.
Awww, John kept Sam’s soccer trophy and Dean’s sawed-off shotgun. He was a proud pop. Too bad the boys never got to see it when he was alive. Oh Dean, you’re actually shocked that your dad kept secrets from you? Uh, have you paid attention to your brother lately? Like father, like son. They see a curse box is missing from John’s supernatural toxic waste dump and we meet the bumbling idiots who stole it. One is wounded from John’s booby trap, and both already distrust the person who hired them. Knowing that all their animosity was centered at Bela, they’re not as dumb as I made them out to be. They open the box to find a rabbit’s foot and wounded guy picks it up. Even though his luck immediately changes for the better, I’ve already got him pegged as this week’s red shirt.
Here is where the story and character introduction ends and the wild and crazy ride begins. Sam and Dean easily find the thieves because their license plate was on the security camera, so they barge in and we are treated to one of the best choreographed stunt scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Dean’s gun is knocked out of his hand, it goes off, and the bullet ricochets and hits Sam’s gun, knocking it out of his hand. Sam goes for the gun, gets pushed into Dean, who goes flying like he’s been hit by a Mack truck. Yeah, that’s what I would expect when colliding with such a big guy and I wonder why it hasn’t happened before. Sam gets tackled and lucky dude accidentally knocks Dean out while raising his gun. All this happens in perfect split second action, and reading about it is pretty boring.
I do have to stop here to question something. Sam, who’s getting choked on the floor now, goes for the rabbit’s foot? Did he think there was a claw on it or something that could take this guy’s eye out? We don’t get to ponder that, though, because the foot gives him superhuman strength and he pushes the guy off like he was a feather. Unlucky dude points Dean’s gun at Sam and pulls the trigger, but the gun misfires. He steps backward, trips on a broken coffee table and knocks himself out, and this is where Jensen and Jared finally get to show off their comedic prowess. They exchange priceless confused glances before the other guy goes to shoot with Sam’s gun, but books from above fall on him and knock him out, and Sam’s gun goes flying right into his hands. To whoever put that scene together, I cannot find the right words to give it justice. Awesome, brilliant, ingenious, all that jazz. A lucky break indeed. This scene gave us another element of great comedy that dominates this episode, perfect timing.
Before the scene ends though, we get brilliant comedy that a script alone can’t sell. Both Jensen and Jared delivered simple lines in a way that had me rolling hysterically.
Dean: Is that a rabbit’s foot?
Sam: (gazing at said object in his hand with confusion) I think it is.
Dean: (confused as well) Huh.
I question if Jensen and Jared could have pulled off this episode in season one. This script required impeccable timing, and I suspect they both delivered so well because of their comfort level with each other. There were tons of little nuances which, when put together in the right way, created something extraordinary, and without the superior acting from these two, it wouldn’t have worked.
Who wouldn’t go out and buy lottery tickets if on a lucky streak? In perfect character, Dean enjoys the good fortune while Sam looks a gift horse in the mouth. Immediately we find out Sam is right though, when the bungling idiots come to. I know this is a funny episode, but did it have to be that obvious that the guy was going to bite it when he put the grilling fork in the dish drainer spike side up? One trip on a beer bottle, and yep, the red shirt is done.
Dean is still cackling over winning lottery tickets while Bobby berates Sam on the phone for touching the foot. Tell me, if Bobby tells you that losing the rabbit’s foot results in death, would you put it in your pocket? Oh sure, Sam, that will never fall out or get lifted. Dean isn’t worried, because they’re up fifteen grand and Bobby will find a way to break the curse.
This next brilliant sequence was a glaring example of how delicate the plotting in this episode was, and how that attention to detail resulted in a big payoff. Sam and Dean enter a restaurant, and they’re the one millionth customer! Fanfare ensues, balloons, a big banner, and Dean smiling for the camera while Sam looks disturbed as hell. See, Sam angst can be funny, too! We then see the hunters in the RV debating over a place to eat, but I dismissed that quickly because I’m doubled over in laughter from Dean getting an ice cream headache. Even Sam laughed, and he doesn’t laugh much in this episode.
We meet Bela, and I never caught before how much Sam was enamored by Bela at first. That would explain the sex dream later in the season (still cringing). Cue a killer line from Dean, “Dude, if you were ever gonna get lucky…” but almost immediately Sam spills his coffee, jumps up, and slams into a guy with a tray. Dean is properly befuddled, “How is that good?” and a very bothered Sam checks his pocket and finds the foot is gone. (No, we didn’t see that coming!) Bela leaves with the foot, and we get an abrupt face plant from Sam in the parking lot, complete with skinned knees. I was surprised that worked so well coming from a guy who’s 6’4”. Most big guys are pathetically clumsy. Dean asks, “So now your luck turns bad?…I wonder how bad?” and it all comes together as the other hunters see the Winchesters on the restaurant’s website. It’s bad! We got a bit of everything in that sequence; Funny Dean, clumsy Sam (twice), both brothers ogling a beautiful woman, balloons and confetti, and bizarre plot twists all in three minutes.
Oh, but there’s so much more! We get another classic comedy vice, the power of threes. Sam gets another great clownish moment involving a power cord, a boom box, and a floor lamp all crashing to the ground with him. The three elements made that bit far funnier than if he had only tripped on the cord. We also get some more great delivery with Dean’s deadpan, “Sam, you okay?” while Sam replies in pain, “Yeah, I’m good”. Because Dean doesn’t coddle Sam or freak out through all his misadventures, that keeps things funny.
Then, we get treated to one of the funniest scenes in the entire series because it plays on yet another golden rule of comedy, maximize the impact. It’s supposed to be a simple plot exposition scene, Bobby calling Dean with news about how to break the curse. While Dean and Bobby try to figure out the identity of the thief, we don’t care because all eyes are on Sam’s simple yet hilarious struggle with gum on his shoe and a broken sewer grate. We’re wondering why Dean isn’t keeping a careful eye on Sam, but that thought is immediately addressed by Bobby’s “Look out for your brother, you idjit.” It’s too late though, and now a deflated Sam must deal with the ultimate humiliation. “I lost my shoe.” Poor sad puppy is funny, too! Why hasn’t Jared done comedy before?
I won’t question Dean’s judgment here because the results of leaving Sam alone were too precious. The shot of the Impala rolling by the Jesus RV told us this was about to get good. “Don’t even scratch your nose.” Of course we knew Sam would do it! His contorted facial expressions before that though, all I can say is no one should believe Jared when he says in interviews he doesn’t do comedy well. The camera plays with us here as well, panning out to show Sam sitting in the chair in this outrageous motel room of blue floral wallpaper, black wrought iron circles, and a giant red circle on the wall behind him. The absurdity of the whole situation slams us in the face, and I love absurdity.
We go to Queens and this is the only part of the episode I didn’t like. I never liked Bela, and this scene made me hate her. A great thief? Who cares? She and Dean didn’t have any chemistry, and this was where I wished he put a bullet through her brain, thus righting a big season three wrong. Ah well, considering this is the re-watch, I know it’s not happening.
Sam, Sam, Sam. This late in the episode and we get yet another brilliant physical comedy sequence that showcases why Jared should be doing this more often. He’s innocently sitting in the chair, twiddling his thumbs, and watches the air conditioner start smoking. The reactions are great, first the frustrated “Oh come on, I didn’t even-” then he apprehensively goes to investigate, so naturally it bursts into flames, which gets a more intense reaction. He puts out the fire with the bedspread, sighs in relief, and then his arm bursts into flames. Who knew being on fire could be so funny? Sam uses the curtain to put out the flames, and takes himself out with a falling curtain rod. This scene worked not only because of Jared’s hilarious spectacle but also from the quirky, organ-based music playing in the background. I rarely notice the score, but I did here.
Dean tussles with Bela, and Sam gets duct-taped to a chair. This rapid fire progression still won’t slow down! I’m still dying over Creedy’s line about watching Sam take himself out. “It was like watching Jerry Lewis ride a stack of chairs.” I have to keep hitting pause and rewind because my laughing is preventing me from seeing what comes next. Kubrick delivers, “I’m on a mission from God.” A Blues Brothers reference! Man, I love that film. (The original, not the half-assed sequel. Who thought it was a good idea to make one without John Belushi?)
The rule of consistency is still working its brilliant magic this late in the episode, too. The action sequences and the way everything is unfolding still has us howling. Dean has the foot, and Bela misfires one bullet after another while Dean joyfully leaves. Why is it that Sam looks better with tussled hair while beaten and bloody? Anyway, Dean saves his brother with a grin and the knowledge that “today is my lucky day.” Dean flings a pen into Kubrick’s gun, much to the delight of both him and Sam with its awesomeness. Creedy rushes him, but misses and runs into the wall, and Dean takes out Kubrick with the remote. I didn’t think I could laugh hard anymore, but the suavely delivered “I’m Batman” from Dean, with a less than amused and still bleeding Sam duct-taped to the chair saying, “Yeah, you’re Batman,” sent me into the final fit on the floor that had me screaming uncle!
The next scene sadly broke the consistency and dampened the comedic brilliance. Sure, it was funny Dean wouldn’t burn the foot until he scratched some more lottery tickets, but Bela was not funny. Her shooting Sam was jarring and unexpected. I gasped in fright and the mood was broken right there. Dean even broke the bravado he kept up all episode, which is the reaction I’d expect him to have if Sam was shot, but it didn’t fit with his attitude up to this. The scene recovers a bit with Dean tricking Bela into catching the foot, thus forcing her to burn it, but Sam squinting in pain in the background still isn’t funny. By the end though, with Dean’s fantastic and well-timed “son of a bitch” along with Sam laughing and we get a proper conclusion to this strange story. Apparently, Jared laughed on accident because Jensen ad-libbed the line and they left it that way. The best accidents are happy ones.
The final scene shows that even Gordon thinks Kubrick is nuts with the “God led me to him” stuff, but Sam Winchester must die, so he’ll let it slide. See you in “Fresh Blood”, Gordo! That’s when you learn how dangerous Sammy really is. If I compare this with the other comedy episodes, this one gets the grade of an A. Against other season three episodes though, an A-, and that’s only because Bela irritated me. Next comes “Sin City” and I actually liked that one, so the positive reviews keep coming!