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TV Review: Supernatural – “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”

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This week, Supernatural, next week, Fringe; the spring 2010 hellatus is finally over and the last stretch before the end of this TV season has started. Hurrah!

Supernatural is back in fine form, with yet another well-written episode. It made me laugh, it grossed me out, and it made me want to reach into the screen and hug someone (this time it was Bobby) — all the usual ingredients of a great episode. Of course, this episode only being indirectly related to the Apocalypse – we witness the consequences of the Third Horseman’s arrival, the one on the pale horse, without ever seeing him – it was bound to cause quite a stir on fan forums.

But more on that later.

There was a lot of nostalgia in this episode, as if we are made to regret the past, when things were a lot simpler (ah, season one’s innocent looking Sam and Dean). "Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid" is the title of a great 1982 film noir/comedy starring Steve Martin; the episode starts with a heavy B-movie feel. Don’t you miss those? I sometimes do. And in yet another nostalgia-inducing moment, the episode’s first scene is a "Thriller"-worthy one; unfortunately, no one was wearing a red leather jacket, nor was there any dancing involved.

Zut alors, as the French say.

And so a gory, zombie-worthy bloodbath kicked off the episode. The first zombie went after the man who killed him in the first place, which is already pretty atypical; don’t zombies usually just go after fresh human flesh, regardless of whose it is?

And that’s not all; other than that revenge killing, it turns out that he and the rest of the zombies are, well, quite humane, and haven’t even attempted a gory, flesh-eating rampage on the town. And on top of that, the murdering zombie, having exacted vigilante justice, didn’t even get arrested.

So what are Sam and Dean to do? On the one hand, they have a town filled with zombies, who we know need to feed on human flesh. They are so hooked on the stuff that nothing else can usually assuage their hunger.

On the other hand, they are faced with a town filled with people who have been reunited with their recently deceased loved ones. Granted they are not quite as alive as before and sport a delicate overall grey tinge; but they are still the people that they used to be, with the memories intact. And so, broken families are put back together, including the father who gets to see his grown children, the son returned to his parents, and the wife that is returned to Bobby.

Yes, Bobby’s wife is also part of the living dead. Who was killed by him after she was possessed by a demon, and who was cremated and who is back, sporting no more than the telltale grey tinge.

This puts the Winchester brothers in quite a bind, one they have experienced before. Do you guys remember the episode "Bloodlust," the one with the ‘vegetarian’ vampires who thankfully don’t sparkle in the sun? The same ethical dilemma posed itself in "Bloodlust" as it does in "Dead Men don’t Wear Plaid" — are vampires and zombies always monsters? Or can they choose to lead a life that makes them less monstrous? The vampires from "Bloodlust" certainly have been able to; why not the zombies? They might be able to overcome their human flesh lust and become ‘vegetarian,’ no?

By the same token, are humans destined to always be led by their lower, animal nature? Will they be able to band together and help the Winchester brothers fight off the Apocalypse? Or is there a possibility that, as a race, we are going to be able to channel these lower instincts so as to make our higher, spiritual nature shine through as bright as Edward Cullen in the midday sun?

It’s a question that the zombies themselves are wondering about:

Dean: So you are, in fact, a dead guy.
Clay: I don’t know what I am.

And then:

Clay: I can’t believe you were going to shoot me.
Dean: You’re a zombie.
Clay: I’m a taxpayer.

It’s a very interesting discussion on the meaning of what makes a person a person. We have made great strides in the last couple of decades in our understanding that a human being is a human whatever his size, shape, colour, etc (hopefully sooner rather than later prejudices and racism are also going to take a permanent hit). But there are still many areas in which we are uncertain. While we thankfully don’t have to deal with zombies, there are two other situations we do have to deal with and which are strikingly similar to this fictional situation.

On the one hand, we have spiritually dead people, who, while rare, are still terrifying. I’m thinking of sociopathic serial killers, who express no regret at what they did. Are these people humans? Should they be shot as unceremoniously as Dean was planning with Clay?

Then there is the situation, still fictional but potentially achievable, when humans are cryogenically frozen. Are they still humans when they come out of it? If so, why? If not, why not? If souls are always in a state of motion and never of stagnation, does an extended stay in the cooler make the souls of these people better or worse? Or does the cryogenic freezing also freeze up their souls in time?

Certainly not easy questions to answer, are they? Perhaps this is an omen of what is to come — that nothing is either black nor white, but everything is of a shade of grey.

At least in "Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid" the shades of grey became obviously black after five days, when all the zombies ‘turned,’ feeding on their loved ones to satisfy their insatiable lust for human flesh.

It gave way to yet another interesting question: was it worth it, having the five days with their loved ones only to have them transform into zombies and consequently have to kill them?

Sam: At least you got to spend five days with her.
Bobby: Yeah. Which makes things about a thousand times worse. She was the love of my life. How many times do I have to kill her?

The mother whose five- or six-year-old son returned saw him attack and kill his own father, then had to let Sam shoot him (in a very poignant and extremely well done scene). After the townspeople are told the truth, they all realise that their loved ones are going to die again. Thankfully, at least none of them had to do it themselves, but it’s still quite difficult.

And what about Bobby?

For five days, his wife was back. Karen Singer seems like a lovely lady and, to Dean’s delight, she bakes the most amazing pies (of which he certainly had his fill). Bobby, whose guilt at having to kill his possessed wife has never been dealt with, is stuck in a bind: does he kill her again, knowing that she is a zombie? Or does he let her be, even at the cost of his own life?

Dean is so worried that Bobby will not be able to kill Karen were she to turn – which she does, inevitably – that he sneaks back into the house even after he was banned from it. But she turns, and Bobby shoots her, and yet another part of him dies.

In itself, Bobby having to kill Karen again because of supernatural forces is pretty horrible; matters are made worse when Karen, on her deathbed, tells Bobby two things. First, that she remembers how she died the first time, and that he had to promise her to do it again before she turns. And second, that The Horseman didn’t simply raise the dead in this town by coincidence. Nay, rather The Horseman wanted Karen to give Bobby a message: they know that Bobby has been helping the boys, that he is the reason why Sam hasn’t said yes to Lucifer, and this is his punishment and a message at the same time. After all, Karen could be brought back again and again and again, enough times for Bobby to either go mad or stop helping Sam and Dean, both of which would isolate the boys even more.

The fighting is getting dirtier and dirtier, is it not?

This latest turn is quite shocking, to be honest. I never would have thought that the writers were going to so thoroughly isolate Sam and Dean by going for their one constant and solid source of support, Bobby. First his legs; now his spirits. It’s even worse than just killing him off. And Bobby is far from okay, which is the more scary that he is one of the big reasons why the boys have yet to accept Lucifer and Michael’s offers.

This was yet again a great character development episode. Before the episode began, we were treated to a recap, in which Dean’s breaking apart at the end of "My Bloody Valentine" and his turning towards the God he had been adamantly denying all this time was put at the forefront. As a small reminder, that came on the heels of Sam’s most recent demon blood relapse; granted, it was certainly not his fault and he did everything he could under the circumstances to fight it, but it was still a blow to the boys. They only have two constant sources of support left, what with the death of Ellen and Jo: Castiel and Bobby.

And so, one of their last two solid rocks of support has been shaken to his core; what is going to happen now?

Again, as pessimism brews on various fan forums, I can’t help but be quite excited at the recent turn that Supernatural has taken.

First off was the fact highlighted in "Abandon All Hope" that the demons are disunited; there is nothing better than disunity within enemy lines to help one find a weakness, exploit it and, ultimately, defeat the enemy. Then there is the fact that Sam and Dean are more and more isolated; they have no one to turn to other than God, whom Dean has been denying all these years and yet to who he finally turned to in "My Bloody Valentine." And now there is the fact that they are being further pushed into that very corner by Lucifer’s low blow of getting under Bobby’s skin in this episode. It makes me worry about what they are going to do to Castiel.

Another slightly off topic comment I’d like to finish off this review with has to do with something Karen Singer told Dean:

Karen: He’s my husband. My job is to bring him peace, not pain.

I disagree with her view of marriage. It is not her job to bring him peace, nor is it his job to bring her peace; rather, it’s both their jobs to create a household of peace, which implies communication, consultation, and openness. Granted, the circumstances in this episode were extraordinary to say the least, but I just had to put it out there.

After having spent some time on various fan forums the day after the episode originally aired, I once again raise my voice in defence of the recent direction Supernatural has taken. While the momentum towards the final confrontation between the Winchesters and Lucifer has definitely wound down since a sixth season has been announced, it doesn’t make this show any less fascinating to watch. Yes, there is a lot less speed, but it makes for some great character development. I have also been reading about the Apocalypse and Armageddon as described in the Bible and I’m sorry to say this guys, but it doesn’t just happen like that, du jour au lendemain (yes, more French). I have the impression that there is more to these latest episodes than just pulling the inevitable out, and hope to have an answer for you all either before the end of season five, or perhaps as a summer project while we await the return of Supernatural.

But I have to admit I love the fact that there has been so much more character development in the last couple of episodes, and am convinced this is going to make the show’s finale so much more poignant, whenever it is.

And now, I’m off to listen to "Thriller," probably on a continuous loop, for at least the remainder of today and most of tomorrow.

Some great lines:

Dean: You gave yourself your own nickname? You can’t do that.
Digger: Who died and made you queen?

Sheriff: What did you say your jurisdiction was?
Dean: Our jurisdiction is wherever the United States government sends us.

Dean: Who is that?
Bobby: Karen, my wife.
Dean: Your new wife?
Bobby: My dead wife.

Dean: Awesome. Another horseman. Must be Thursday.

Sam: Yeah. I’m going to regret this.

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About Sahar

  • Baronius

    I hadn’t heard about a sixth season. I feel like I’ve been sticking with the show out of loyalty since maybe season four, knowing that everything would be wrapping up. What are they going to do next season, move back to Lawrence and enroll at Central Kansas A&M with Clark Kent? Yeesh.

  • Jim Beaver

    Thanks for a very thoughtful review of perhaps my favorite episode ever. And as to the reader’s question about what will we do in season 6? Well, I like to think of the show as a symphony. The first movement is about to end. In every symphony I’ve ever liked, the second and third movements were new, different, yet an intricate part of the whole, and I’ve never wished one had stopped after the first movement.

  • http://saharsreviews.wordpress.com Sahar

    Baronius: it was announced not too long ago! Needless to say, it has caused quite a divide without the fans. What do you think of S6, now that you know about it? And did you really not like Season 5 at all? As for what is going to happen next season, moving with Clark Kent and having a Smallville crossover could be very interesting ;)

    Jim Beaver: I like your metaphor of a symphony! It also works well to explain why sometimes the action goes up and down; it’s can’t always be either up or down, that’s not how it works.

    Thank you both for commenting!