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TV Review: Supernatural – “Shut Up, Dr. Phil”

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This week’s Supernatural is one of the lighter and funnier episodes of the season, showcasing guest stars Charisma Carpenter and James Marsters. The nicely structured story uses the focus on Carpenter’s and Marsters’ characters to reveal just as much about Sam and in particular Dean, while weaving in just a touch of the Leviathan arc.

When the guest stars are this much fun, the writers can play around—and they do. For the most part, it works very well, though I am left with a few questions I hope the writers explore as the season unfolds.

Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as Sam and Dean WinchesterI love the way the episode is bookended with scenes of Sam trying to get Dean to talk. Dean opens the story caught up in a nightmare, no doubt the one he keeps trying to drown in a whiskey bottle. The dream touches on all Dean’s current worries, grief and guilt, starting with Cas walking into the reservoir, skipping to Sam caught up in his Lucifer hallucination and ending with Dean killing Amy. He wakes up reaching for a drink, something Sam has noticed his brother doing more and more.

Dean’s drinking has been building steadily since he came back from hell, but the writers have now put it on the table as one of the issues for season seven. Sam tries to put it on the table as an issue between the brothers, but Dean is not biting. He tells Sam he may be the new improved model, but Dean is still Dean and that means no heart to hearts over what’s bothering him. Not, he insists, that anything is bothering him. “Yeah, okay,” says Sam with just the right touch of skepticism.

Over the years, Sam has been mired in guilt and blame himself, particularly in the third season when he obsessively set sights on Lilith to get revenge for all his losses, especially Jess. And the behaviour of his soulless self in the sixth season was very tough to accept once he had his soul back. But Sam has always been a talker, which allows him to move past the guilt and look to see what he can put right. Whether Dean likes it or not, Sam’s comfortable with chick flick moments, and in Supernatural’s dark world, that’s a plus. Dean, on the other hand, bottles up his feelings, literally and figuratively, until they finally explode.

Dean’s refusal to talk becomes the backdrop behind the main story line, which wisely gives much of the stage to Buffy alumni Charisma Carpenter and James Marsters. The two actors share wonderful chemistry and have a great time with their witchy War of the Roses story line. The amount of time given to the guest stars might have proven problematic, except their issues so clearly mirror Sam and Dean’s.

Charisma Carpenter and James MarstersThe married witches are refusing to talk to the other about their hurt feelings, instead using murderous spells to do the talking for them. When spoiled chicken feet foil the Winchesters’ anti-witch spell, they have to go with plan B—which to Dean’s horror is counselling.

Sam convinces Dean they have to help Don and Maggie repair their marriage by talking about their feelings. As Dean awkwardly implores the powerful witches to notice how much their actions say they care, trying (unsuccessfully) to find a middle ground where he doesn’t touch either one’s hot buttons, the resonance with his own story is unmistakeable. Sam is a little better at the counselling thing than Dean (though not at avoiding Maggie’s wrath), and between the two boys, Don and Maggie drop the defences and admit their real feelings for each other. It would be an “aww” moment, if they hadn’t both just killed several people.

While in some ways this kind of explicit mirroring of Dean’s issues is a little “on the nose,” I understand why the writers were tempted.  To write Dean truthfully, he can’t share what he feels easily, yet he’s already gone to a very dark place early in the season.  This could backfire if the audience does not have empathy for Dean.  The echoing story lines give pointers to Dean’s state of mind without having Dean state it. 

The episode ends full circle with Sam trying to get Dean to open up again. Unfortunately, what he thinks of as his most persuasive question (“We’re good, aren’t we?”) is actually Dean’s hot button. Unlike past seasons, when Dean was struggling with losing his father and later his shame at his behaviour in hell, this time Sam is involved. Sam thinks he is there to support his brother, but Dean knows Sam may turn into prosecutor and judge when he knows about Amy. The last phrase that would lead to Dean opening up is “We’re good.”

The Leviathan season arc was threaded lightly through “Shut Up, Dr. Phil,” with one of the Leviathan minions being dispatched to take out Sam and Dean. While we know the Leviathans can track the boys’ aliases and credit cards, we don’t know exactly how they came by the knowledge. They don’t appear to be all powerful, even if they don’t die easily.

I wonder if we get a hint when Dean phones Bobby. I think it is a bit suspicious Dean has to identify himself as Winchester, even though Dean thinks it is just Bobby joking. Is Bobby actually Bobby? Or is there a Leviathan on the other end of the phone, keeping track of the boys and having access to Bobby’s secrets? Time will tell, I guess.

The Leviathan in a meat suit turns out to be vulnerable to witchcraft, as Don is easily able to drop him, if not destroy him. The boys have a few days to figure out what makes Leviathans tick, and I hope the audience finds out soon as well. The Leviathans started out very scary, but the minions don’t pack as much of a punch. We need to meet the Big Boss soon, so we know what the boys are up against.

I really enjoyed the episode, but the events in “The Girl Next Door” did bring the issue of killing monsters into the spotlight, so I noticed when Dean seemed content to let the witches go. Now, on one hand, he had no choice. The Winchesters were no match. I get that. But I would like to see how Dean feels about letting these killers go. Unlike Amy, they do not have to kill to live. They are human. But also unlike Amy, they are comfortable with killing when they want to and clearly will again.

The light-hearted nature of the story and the likeability of Marsters and Carpenter kept this issue from overwhelming the episode. However, the writers will need to keep in mind how sensitive they have made this topic. I’d love to see Maggie and Don make a reappearance sometime, but this season, it does matter that they kill. Dean’s feelings on monsters do have to be dealt with.

As do his feelings for pie.  Will the poor boy ever get a bite of his favourite dessert? 

 

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About Gerry Weaver