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TV Review: Supernatural – “Clip Show”

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Different shows handle the penultimate episode of the season in different ways. Sometimes this episode brings the stories to an emotional climax, with the finale left to reconfigure the pieces and set up the next season. Supernatural, however, is known for its emotional gut wrenching finales, culminating in a cliff-hanger. The second to last episode does the heavy lifting by moving all the pieces into position, which is exactly what “Clip Show” does. What it doesn’t do is tie the plot elements together smoothly to really allow this episode to shine. And that’s a shame, because the individual pieces are intriguing.

Sam, Dean and CasSam, Dean and now Castiel are desperately trying to figure out the third trial. What does it mean to cure a demon? The boys have sent demons back to hell while saving the human soul, but that doesn’t really seem to fit the bill. Some research back at the Batcave leads our heroes to a new kind of exorcism designed to heal the twisted demon soul so it reverts back to its original human state. Sounds like a cure, doesn’t it?

I love the horror trope black and white film sequences and the old fashioned audio tapes. They are suitably atmospheric and sad, as a priest tried to use his purified blood to save demons’ souls. I like the foreshadowing in the first sequence, when the demon spat, “Dead! Everybody you love!” I like the tie of the priest’s purified blood to Sam’s sense of his own purification through suffering. Going to confession does not compare to Sam’s painful burning away of his demon blood. Sam’s blood is a believable reason he will be able to perform this ritual with a power not available to the priest.

Dean voices a few questions I also have: What happens to the poor human soul trapped with the demon soul? Once the demon soul is cured, does it ascend to heaven, leaving the scarred human soul back in control of the body? I hope we find out more about this aspect, so it becomes an interesting exploration of the place of the human soul in Sam and Dean’s often fatal demon encounters, rather than a plot hole.

A bigger issue with this story line is the clunky way it gets the pieces in position. Bringing demon knight Abaddon back into the story is an excellent choice, both because the actress does a great job with the character and because demon knights are an interesting addition to the mythology. The sewing back together of the body is suitably disturbing, though the hand later creeping its way out of the box can’t help but bring up images of The Addams Family, which I think is intentional, but dispells a lot of the tension.

Alaina Huffman as AbaddonThe worst part of this set up, though, is Sam and Dean having to act like idiots to allow Abaddon the space to escape. Having just discovered in the bunker a specially set up dungeon with all kinds of fancy wards, why would the boys not use it to contain Abaddon? She’s an incredibly powerful demon from an order they know nothing about. If the boys don’t want to bring her to the Batcave, then why not at least hedge their bets by placing her in an auxiliary demon trap? Failing even that precaution, why wouldn’t Sam have taken Crowley’s call while Dean kept on eye on Abaddon? These are not the sort of thoughts that help me stay in the world of the show.

Castiel’s story line is a similar mix of highs and lows, with the added issue of not weaving well into Sam and Dean’s plot once the angel’s story heads its own direction. He begins the episode trying to apologize to Dean for his choice to put his loyalty to—if not heaven, then to being an angel—above his loyalty to Dean. Dean does not take betrayal by a friend well, and that’s how he views Castiel’s actions since he flew off with the angel tablet rather than trust Dean with it. Since Cas was unable to keep the tablet safe from Crowley, all he can say to Dean is he thought he was doing the right thing.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Cas has been led astray by good intentions. Last time he went on a human and angel killing spree and the time before that he tore down the mental wall keeping Sam sane and alive. Dean’s time in Purgatory helped him release the anger he felt toward Cas, but the angel’s actions now are pressing those same emotional buttons for the elder Winchester. In his view, Castiel should have learned he can trust Dean, no matter the stakes.

The question of stakes is interesting, as it always is on this show. Cas feels torn between his responsibilities as an angel and his friendship with Dean. But the reveal of the extent of manipulation he’s had at Naomi’s hands should have left him extremely suspicious of calls to angelic duty. Yet he is putty in Metatron’s hands when the heavenly scribe tells him the two of them have to ride to Heaven’s aid and shut the pearly gates so the angels can talk out their differences. Oh, and Cas has to be the muscle since Metatron claims he has none.

Cas’s guilt over killing angels and leaving heaven in complete disarray has been well developed. But I am still surprised at how easily he is persuaded to embark on a quest this huge without talking to Sam and Dean, especially given the state of his relationship with Dean. Yes, Metatron knows the right buttons to push when he reminds Cas the angels are his family. But Cas just had a discussion with his other family about the ways he’s misjudged how to do the right thing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop him from accepting Metatron at face value and deciding to do the trials.

I find this version of Cas a little hard to believe. Last episode he was a complete badass, a thoroughly believable heavenly warrior. Now he’s gullible and awkward and easily led. Even though his scene in the grocery is amusing as he tries to track down that ever elusive pie to secure Dean’s forgiveness, I don’t believe Cas is that inept at passing as human. No other angel has learned so little of human ways. I don’t mind Cas not being familiar with money, but I can’t see why he wouldn’t know to shut a door behind him or what an egg is.

The writers have been guilty in the past of not knowing how to use Cas well and Comic Relief Cas does the character no favours. I love the real sense of being something “other” Misha Collins brings to the role and in small doses I like the sense of being a fish out of water. But taken too far, Cas ends up naked on Baby covered in bees or playing twister by himself. I don’t want a return of that use of the angel.

Curtis Armstrong as MetatroI find it odd he doesn’t have a pinch of the suspicions about Metatron I have. The angel who knows all kinds of secret back ways and is able immediately to get up to speed on the current political situation in heaven seems a little too powerful to be the pencil pusher he claims. I suspect he intends to take advantage of a power vacuum and assume the heavenly throne, with Castiel as his puppet. If so, the plot has a nice parallel to Crowley’s story of taking advantage of Lucifer’s fall to grab power. Sam and Dean persuaded Metatron to take an active part in his story. The danger is they don’t know how his story ends.

That echo of Crowley’s story plays nicely into the King of Hell’s part in Sam and Dean’s story line. Thwarted by losing Kevin from translating the angel tablet and afraid of how far the Winchesters are getting with the demon tablet trials, he decides to go with his strengths and offer the boys a deal they can’t refuse.

Crowley has shifted between ally and adversary to Sam and Dean for several years now, and with that familiarity comes knowledge. He has to figure out what would motivate Sam to back away from his goal, no small task. But he knows the price the boys have paid over and over as they do battle with the forces against them. He knows they have questioned the collateral damage they cause, the loved ones they have lost. The demon is astute enough to know sometimes the boys have trouble looking in the mirror and other days they find it hard to get out of bed. What has always kept them going is feeling they have made a difference.

Mark Sheppard as CrowleyCrowley hits Sam and Dean where it hurts when he mocks Dean’s season one words: “Saving people, hunting things . . . the family business.” He intends to kill every person they have saved, making a mockery of their lives, unless they hand over Kevin and stand down on the last trial. Taking away their reason for living effectively makes their lives hell on earth. Mark Sheppard shines as he delivers a monologue full of charm and menace in a voice over, while the Winchesters frantically try and fail to save Sarah Blake from being hexed to death.

I don’t love the way Supernatural kills its most memorable characters so frequently. Killing Sarah Blake retroactively impacts “ Provenance” as well as the current episode, and several of the writers have done enough retroactive damage to previous seasons through their lack of care with canon. This episode adds its own whack at the past when Crowley claims he found his victims from Carver Edlund’s Supernatural series, even though the second victim is from season seven, well after Chuck exited the story.

But choosing to kill the lovely and warm woman Sam thinks he saved does rock Sam back on his heels, so I will concede the story point, much as I really like Sarah and wish she was still a future option for Sam in a way I never did for Amelia. And Sarah’s loss highlights Dean’s part of doing the trials—keeping Sam’s hope alive and focused.

That does bring up the issue of who is giving hope to whom, though. In “Trial and Error,” Sam told Dean he was no grunt and was the best hunter in the world. He took on the trials to prove to his brother Winchesters are allowed to have hope. I can’t say the way the scenario has unfolded so far really supports that dynamic.

I find it odd the writers have constructed a scenario in which Dean has no active part to play in the myth arc. His emotional story has been very well done this season. Indeed, he is the emotional centre of the show, which meshes well with his personal journey throughout the seasons. Dean’s greatest gift is his ability to love, his core values centred on loyalty and friendship. But the warrior side of him is also important.

Too often this season, the brothers’ stories have been out of balance. Dean’s emotions have had full expression, but ever since he escaped Purgatory, he’s pushed little action outside of Monster of the Week episodes. In contrast, Sam has had no lack of plot, including the myth arc, but has had little emotional exploration of the choices he makes. The brilliant Ben Edlund made a welcome adjustment in “The Great Escapist” to get the stories more in balance, but he doesn’t write often enough to completely right the ship.

With Sam given the demon trials and Castiel taking on the heaven trials, I truly hope next season finds a way to give Dean agency. I love that his character is capable of love and support, but I do not think that should define Dean’s place in the story. I also hope the writers follow Edlund’s lead in giving us a look at what’s driving Sam internally. Both choices will pay off.

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