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TV Review: Supernatural – “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester”

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What a concept! A horror show where one of the main characters accurately states, “For us, everyday is Halloween,” opts to do a Halloween themed episode. Considering the Halloween season is a disastrous time in the Winchester family history, why not dress up the fact that this year isn’t proving to be any better for the brothers?

“It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester” pays fitting homage to the teenage slice and dice horror flicks of the 1980s. You know, those countless films in which Halloween urban legends were depicted with horrifying gore (like razor blades in the candy) and enough campy teen kills during bad parties to make us wonder how a town didn’t notice the sudden drop in the teenage population. Maybe the motivation behind following that formula in this week’s episode was to confuse enough channel flippers into thinking they were watching Halloween (insert your terrible horror movie here).

Trick or Treat?

Oh, but we knew this was a Supernatural episode. Plenty of the familiar elements were there. Sam and Dean again played FBI agents with the rock and roll names. This week Agent Seger (as in Bob) and Agents Geddy and Lee (lead singer of Rush for those who aren’t educated in such things) were accepted by unsuspecting authorities without question. That’s the second shout-out to Rush this week by the way, for their song “Tom Sawyer” played a big role in the crucial scene of Monday’s Chuck and it was awesome.

The MO started the same as well. Suspicious kill, clue found (hex bag), investigate the lore, give Sam a few minutes in lecturing mode to educate us on said lore, and of course, talk to the witnesses. It wasn’t until the angels showed up that this episode took a different turn, and that turn was good. If this episode is remembered for anything though, it would be the stunning exorcism in which Sam pushed his abilities to new agonizing limits to rid the world of Samhain, all while Dean watched with the most heart-crushing look of sadness and concern.

In comparing this holiday themed episode to last year’s extraordinary “A Very Supernatural Christmas,” this one fell short. The writing was average and the dialogue standard. However this was written by a new writer, Julie Siege, and considering some of the crap other new writers have put out in the history of this show, this was an acceptable effort. Also average here was the directing. Charles Beeson has directed four other episodes but they weren’t exactly classics (“Playthings,” “Sin City”). His style isn’t bad, but he didn’t offer anything exceptional either. Plus, a Halloween backdrop doesn’t seem as outrageous on this show like an over-the-top Christmas theme that’s supposed to represent joy, not human sacrifices.

The villains didn’t do much for me, nor did the generic teenagers who were this week’s red shirts. One thing that did work very well was the kid astronaut, whose hysterical glare of revenge at a candy-less Dean resulted in peril for the Impala via an egging. Also, a Supernatural episode can do no wrong these days when angels are involved. Uriel especially made an impression, depicting without a doubt that angels are not fluffy creatures with wings. When Castiel comes across as the compassionate one, you know Uriel is a major baddie.

The Acting Wins

The acting is what pushed “It’s The Great Pumpkin…” into the very good column. Misha Collins again excited us over his firm yet faithful Castiel, and Robert Wisdom introduced the ill-tempered Uriel in a fashion that left a frightening and powerful impression. However, it was yet again the incredible and evenly divided moments of ‘wow’ coming from the leads themselves that defined this episode. I tend to remember the acting performances better when Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles are given equal time and allowed to feed off one another. That hasn’t happened too much this season, making me appreciate such moments more.

Jared especially was given some great material to work with this week, as poor Sam’s first encounter with angels didn’t exactly go well. Jensen continued his amazing run this season as Dean went through his first major test from above. Watching both of them react in very different ways to the circumstances of this ‘test’ left a stunning glimpse of what’s to come, and again we are in awe over what these guys can bring to even the most routine of scripts.

Sam’s first introduction to Castiel was adorable, like he was meeting a boyhood idol. That excitement quickly turned to disappointment when the plan to ‘smite’ the town was revealed. As Sam listened in disbelief Dean took defiant control, pulling the “I must be important to the man upstairs” card and refusing to leave town. He won’t see innocents sacrificed and has no trouble telling two almighty angels that. I found that reaction fascinating, for any fear that Castiel has tried to evoke so far doesn’t seem to be deterring him. Dean may believe in God now, but he still draws lines over what is just even if it means disobedience. One wonders perhaps if this is why Dean was chosen for this task. The angels are too out of touch.

In a brilliant scene (once the shock of the egging wore off), a disillusioned Sam questioned all those years of faith while Dean assured him these angels are two jerks and they should keep believing. Dean lecturing on faith? The bible and prayer scene from last week was really him. The fact that this little heart to heart happened in the Impala made the scene all that more special.

We also got what I’m ranking high as a top ten brotherly moment, the climactic standoff with Samhain in the mausoleum. There was no dialogue in that scene, allowing both Jared and Jensen to use their amazing gifts of expression and facial acting to translate the intense toll of the fight far better than words could ever convey.

Despite his own declaration and Dean’s instructions, Sam had no choice but to use his abilities against the “higher pay grade” demon. The knife didn’t hurt him, Sam couldn’t win the physical fight, and Samhain’s plan to rise the dead was already in motion. Sam for the first time had to exorcise a higher level demon, and Jared sold the brutal struggle perfectly. We watched with bated breath as Sam’s usual mojo only slowed the demon, forcing him to dig deeper while his opponent resisted him. While Sam fought, his face twisting all sorts of ways in agony, looking like he was going to succumb any second, a helpless Dean stood in the background, forced to watch the outcome with the rest of us.

Dean’s reaction is different this time and again Jensen just kills us. He isn’t mad. He’s worried. It’s tearing him apart to not only see his brother go through a struggle and not be able to help, but to see how powerful these dark abilities inside Sam are getting. The intense montage showed Sam pushing his limits as the demon inched closer and grew madder, resulting in an intense headache and nosebleed. Black smoke poured from the demon and cascaded to the ground just in time, for Sam had nothing left.

The music in the background depicted the sentiment perfectly as a near broken Sam stared at a saddened and shocked Dean, both very bothered by what happened. Through those mere glances we could tell they realized Sam’s powers can no longer be denied and were sadly resigned that using them was a necessary evil. How do these guys keep managing to blow us away like that with just simple looks?

Touched By An Angel

I loved how Castiel has grown attached enough to Dean to honestly share his doubts. That’s why Misha is so brilliant in this role. Any guy that can generate enough sympathy for an all powerful angel to where we want to give him a hug has done his job well. As for Uriel putting the fear of God into Sam, calling him out near the anniversary of his mother’s and girlfriend’s deaths for using the powers the evil demon that killed them gave him, we felt for Sam and his haunted expression over the no win situation. Chances are further plot reveals are going to show Sam continue to skate along that fine line, because it’s now harder for him to tell right from wrong.

One of the weak spots of the script was the ending. The problem wasn’t the scenes with the angels, which were great, but the order. It would have been more powerful if the last shot featured an unsettled Sam taking in the threat from a wrathful Uriel rather than Dean getting his heart to heart from Castiel. Sam’s talk left a far more urgent and lasting impression.

This episode created more questions than answers and clearly was meant as a vehicle to unfold plot for future episodes. I don’t mind, for the possibilities are fascinating. Just what role will Dean have to play for the angels in the coming months? Why was he chosen? What did happen to him in Hell? What about Sam? Did his ordeal in exorcising Samhain unleash more of the darkness inside of him? Will his disillusionment with the angels and increasing power push him toward taking another path, one that he thinks is right but turns out wrong?

Worthy of Mention

There’s a reason why Castiel didn’t shake Sam’s hand. He’s still not familiar with human customs (after all, it has been 2,000 years). Once he took Sam’s hand and gripped it, I took that to be a sign of respect. I think Castiel believes Sam is worth saving, but it’s clear he’s leaving that task up to Dean. The end conversation with Dean fueled a lot of reasoning that Castiel is indeed merciful.

Dean staring at the mask in the school. That triggered something! First Lilith hints Dean remembers everything and now the angels. He’s holding it back, likely a post-traumatic stress thing, but he’s losing his fight. When, that happens, I suspect it isn’t going to be pretty.

Sam putting blood on their faces to create a mask, thus hiding from Samhain. Dean’s reaction is much like the one from “Route 666” after Sam’s solution for the racist truck. “You gave it a shot?” He was not impressed. I was laughing.

Dean Winchester, a large bag of candy, and a stake-out in the Impala is not a good idea.

Dean killing zombies is awesome. “Bring it on stinky.” This show really needs to do a “Dawn of The Dead” type episode (or “Shaun of The Dead” would be better), where Dean and Sam can blow away a whole slew of zombies.

“The demon ray gun stuff doesn’t work on me.” Ha! Good one, Sam. He looked really badass at that moment and I was so proud.

There was quite a bit of nitpicking on the boards about the use of Samhain, who in pagan lore is not a demon, and on the mispronunciation of the name. As with “Malleus Maleficarum”, some weren’t too happy with the depiction of witches either. I’m not educated in such forms of the occult I’ll admit, but I’m not familiar with most of the bible either, yet I know there are discrepancies there, too. The approach of this show has always been “mythology in a blender”. They research various legends, put it all together, select bits here and there and something else results. For anyone that expected a true depiction of the pagan and Wiccan lore, disappointment was bound to happen. For those of us that tune in each week for entertainment and hot looking Winchesters, we are very happy.

Overall, my grade on this one is a B+, only because of the weaker writing and directing. I give the acting an A. I’m ready for that St. Patrick’s Day episode now, Mr. Kripke, especially since leprechauns scare Dean. Next week looks like we’re in for something different. As this show has constantly proven, different works.

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About Alice Jester

  • Tigershire

    Hi Alice,
    I have a theory about the pronunciation of Samhain – I think the general population wouldn’t have understood the Gaelic and I think that it might have been unnecessary exposition to include Sam educating Dean on that. And Gaelic is one tough language it could have made the episode quite clunky.

    As for the handshake – I agree with you. Cas just didn’t get what Sam was doing at first. I found that whole scene heartbreaking. Seeing Sam crushed – just like any of us would be upon meeting our idols and finding them lacking (or jerks) would be crushed.

    I’d ask when that poor boy is going to get a break, but we can probably guess. :)

    As for the whole scene in the mausoleum – I’m kind of wondering if it wasn’t a test of some sort to see if Sam would wait for Dean to come help him? Perhaps I’m at the point where I’m reading too much into the story but Dean showed up pretty quick after Sam started the whole mind mojo. Granted I assumed that the knife would have worked. It didn’t occur to me that the minor damage it did on Samhain’s arm might have meant it wouldn’t have killed him even if it was plunged into his heart.

    I did, however, find myself saying “no” to the TV while the whole exorcism when on. The show doesn’t scare me but what happens to Sam and Dean sure does.

  • elle2

    Alice, a great evenly balanced review.

    Like you I found the episode ‘weaker’ and looser than expected until I saw that it was indeed a new writer and a director who hasn’t directed any episodes that I remember enough to say, oh, yeah, CB directed that one.

    Weak spot that stands out the most: Sam and Dean writhing on the floor while the witch gave a lengthy monologue (I know, they have to tell the story somewhere but this was so weak it actually took me out of the moment as I watched it) also, Sam and Dean killed the brother with their guns, why didn’t they kill the sister? They still had their guns and as Sam and Dean both showed, they were able to move. A few more minutes when staging that would have shown some simple fixes, knock one of them out, have the witch throw their guns across the room from them…anything.

    Like you I also will watch this episode again because even some of the baddest eps(Yes, Bugs, you’re still there) has good moments and this one added a lot in the moving forward and deepening of the mythology.

    I also appreciated that Sam talked to Dean about his powers, he didn’t just do it and Dean didn’t just order him not to. No, Sam brought it up and while he was reluctant to agree with Dean in the end, he did, in fact, agree.

    For me I think the knife would have worked, it was cutting into Samhain’s arm but the arm doesn’t kill and Samhain had enough strength to get the knife away and fling it across the room (ironically, on my second viewing I saw that the knife actually lay between Dean and Samhain)

    While I was screaming for Dean to run, grab the knife and save Sam I find it so much more powerful that he did not:
    First, it shows how truly frightened Dean is for Sam’s future and for what may ultimately face him (Dean) [Castiel’s words at the end only deepened my concern as well as my desire to see where the SPN crew go with this]

    Second, Dean’s eyes were all about sadness. No disappointment or anger or betrayal just sorrow. He can see this hurts Sam, he knows Sam doesn’t like it [the powers] and it saddens him to realize that he may not be able to stop it either.

    I see this as a tremendous opening for Sam’s character as his powers are truly out in the open and openly discussed by the brothers as a possible weapon against evil, and there is much to develop and fear here.

    Sam and Dean in the Impala discussing Faith and angels, the new writer handled this part expertly. For Dean to harken back to S1 type moments when he encourages Sam and reminds him there’s plenty to not give up on is similar to how he always tried to buoy Sam’s thoughts/emotions about their father [JDM, hope you can make it back again] and I loved it.

    This doesn’t fall into a great episode but it’s solidly good, once again the acting is exceptional and Jared took a difficult scene (stand, hold out hand and make us feel/believe) and sold it completely.

    Castiel I love ya, Uriel, I love to dislike you (and fear you too) Interesting Sam got to see the angel move (wing sounds and all) and Jared’s expression sold what a special effect might have diminished…great job!

  • Elle

    Excellent review, as usual Alice. While this wasn’t as awe-inspiring/world shaking as some (read:most) episodes this season, I did appreciate the use of classic Supernatural formula. And, as you pointed out – the angels make it wonderful. Jensen has really gone above and beyond any past work this season (and that’s saying something, as he’s been great from day one.) The scene between Castiel and Sam was well done. Sam’s reaction was adorable. I also found Misha to be exceptional in this episode, you could really feel his frustration with and unspoken apology for Uriel’s behaviour.

    What I found interesting here, after last week’s hoopla, was the use of the word “dick”. Where I thought it was especially note worthy was at the end, when Sam comments to Uriel – “my brother was right, you guys are dicks” to which Uriel responds (something to the effective of) “Dean should get off his high horse”. Perhaps this is just be seeing continuity where there is none, but there it is anyways.

    Can’t wait for next weeks episode. The preview clips was hilarious!

    Thanks again Alice

  • Huppy

    I enjoyed reading your review, Alice, and the comments already posted. A grade of B or B+ is what I would have given it too, and AVSC is still the better holiday-themed Supernatural episode.

    Dean and Sam and the angels were the best part of this episode. The most powerful scene in the episode was the looks on Sam and Dean’s faces when Dean sees Sam exorcising the Samhain, and Sam knows it. I also enjoyed the conversation between Dean and Sam, when Dean tries to help Sam with his disillusionment with the angels, and by extension, Sam’s faith.

  • heraldtalia

    Hi, Alice.

    I always enjoy your reviews but I did have to comment on something that you loved but that really bothered me, and I’m certain people will roll their eyes and act like I’m overly sensitive, but I’m going to say it anyway.

    I don’t understand how you could have loved the scene with the “chubby” kid. To me, Dean, who I normally adore, came off mean and bullying and it felt out of character for him. Why would he pick on a kid like that? And saying “I think you’ve had enough” after how much he ate in the Impala was just nasty and hypocritical of him. It didn’t bother me as much in “The Kids are Alright” when he commented on the boy who was bullying Ben eating “too many cheeseburgers”, because he was talking only to Ben and that kid was a bully. The astronaut in this episode didn’t do anything wrong at first except get a little pouty that Dean had no candy for him. So full grown adult Dean making a mean-spirited fat joke to a kid he doesn’t even know? To top it off, he looks at the kid like he’s nuts when the kid is clearly hurt by that comment? And that’s supposed to be funny coming from an admirable hero like him?

    I know, I know, it’s just a TV show. But clearly, all of us hardcore fans are emotional about this show anyway–otherwise, why would we be moved to tears by eps like AHBL or NRFTW and why would be be passionate enough to read sites like this in the first place? The fact is, the show does effect us emotionally, and to me, this scene was no exception.

    I am a plus-sized person–to the point where I had bypass surgery just a few months back–and I can’t tell you how painful it is for people like us to see moments like that depicted as funny and even justified. It’s not funny and it adds to the idea that people like me are acceptable fodder for cheap jokes or that complete strangers have the right to mock us for our size and percieved eating habits. I hated seeing that coming from my favorite character in my favorite show.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant. Aside from that one moment, I really enjoyed this ep–I think even more than the general fandom did as the writing and directing in this episode didn’t bother me and it was my personal fave ep of this season aside from the first 3.

    Thanks for letting me vent and I always enjoy your work.

  • http://www.jesterz.net Alice Jester

    Everyone – the full recap is up on my personal site at http://www.jesterz.net. Complete with pictures!

    There’s one big thing I noticed while writing the recap that I missed for this review. When Sam was performing the exorcism, the long shot from Dean’s point of view showed Sam with a stained glass window behind him and two statues of angels on each side, almost like he was at an alter. Strange symbolism, huh? It almost like saying despite his demon powers, he’s got the angels behind him. Could they represent Dean perhaps too? There is a good reason he’s being kept alive.

    Tigershire – Good theory on the pronounciation. I didn’t address that too much because I heard a few different theories and wasn’t sure which was the closest. I’m also not sure if the knife would have killed Samhain or not, but Dean’s hesitation is interesting. Could have Sam’s look been his way of telling Dean to stay away, or was Dean too stunned by what he was seeing. I’m sure if would have jumped into action if he honestly thought Sam was in trouble, but he was giving him a chance to finish it.

    elle2 – I so agree with your weak spot analysis. I even mentioned your point in my full recap. I think the scene was clunky and badly done, but then again for every bad scene in this episode there was a great scene to compensate for it.

    elle – I so agree about Castiel. That man should be a regular. As a matter of fact, I think maybe he should be part of Krikpe’s spin off ideas. Misha would be more than ready for the role.

    Huppy – What you mentioned, those were the parts on the episode that floored me. While the episode as a whole wasn’t stellar, those scenes were. I love being blown away like that every week by at least one scene. This week, there were three.

    Heraldtalia – No, you aren’t being overly sensitive and venting is welcome. I have issues with people harping on one point constantly, but what you said made perfect sense and wasn’t griping in my opinion. I’m plus size too, so I know what you mean. What Dean said was very offensive, especially for a chubby kid. What I found funny wasn’t the comment, but the look of revenge in the kid’s eye. He wasn’t going to take Deans crap. As a mother, I know kids can be scheming at times. Since Dean got a comeuppance(or the poor Impala did), I took it with less offense. If they had left it at that, yes, it would have been worse.

  • heraldtalia

    You’re right. Dean (or the helpless Impala) did get his payback and the kid himself was cute with his devil-glare. :) I feel a bit better now about it.

  • Baronius

    The part with the “chubby” kid – I don’t remember it too well, but I think the rudeness of it was motivated by Dean’s being defensive about eating the whole bag of candy. As for the way they said Samhain, they may be experts in the occult, but they’re just two kids from Kansas who aren’t trained in Celtic pronunciations. I would have said it the same way if I read the word in a book. Good ep, and good review.