Supernatural left fans with a very uneven episode as the show breaks for a mini-hiatus. “Taxi Driver” is the latest script from Brad Buckner & Eugenie Ross-Leming, a writing team which continually underwhelms. Though this effort is a cut above the terrible “Man’s Best Friend With Benefits,” it’s a case of damning with faint praise. The damage the plot holes do to this story is matched by the damage the story as a whole does to Supernatural’s canon. The saving grace of the episode is the power of the acting from the key players.
The premise of “Taxi Driver” is so flawed, it’s hard to know where to start. Apparently, Crowley can hijack whichever souls he wants, whether or not they belong in Hell. That this goes against the fundamental order of Heaven and Hell and has never been hinted at before doesn’t bother the writers, but does bother me. In other seasons, the King or Queen of Hell couldn’t snatch whoever he or she wanted. People actually had to make poor choices in life or deals with Crossroads demons to end up down under. If Crowley is something other than what has been established about him since his entry in the story, it’s time to make that canon instead of just dropping bombs that go against story logic.
The next issue is how easy it seems to be to break into both Hell and Purgatory. The idea of rogue reapers is a cool one on the surface, but given they work for Death, the writers do need to establish why Death is fine with some of his minions breaking the rules and working as free agents. Death is a greater force of the universe than Crowley, equal to or greater than God in power. Yet his coyote reaper is more afraid of Crowley. In season six, Death quite clearly was not in favour of Crowley and Castiel finding Purgatory or messing around with souls that didn’t belong to them.
Speaking of finding Purgatory, if Crowley knows about rogue reapers who know where Purgatory is and how it connects to Hell, why was he bothering torturing Alphas? Why not just torture a reaper or two? If a mere Crossroads demon in this episode knows the secret of Purgatory, it makes the entire plot of season six ridiculous.
The story ramifications don’t stop there. Castiel grabbing Dean and raising him from Perdition has been a powerful element in the story since season four. But it seems a little less of a big deal now, given that Sam trots in without much incident and without a trace of PTSD, easily locates Bobby and leaves without much more effort than he expends in a typical demon encounter topside. Maybe it’s time to seriously think about rescuing poor Adam.
Of course, Crowley made it rather easy for Sam. I find it very ironic that Crowley starts a scene with one of his demons by growling, “Am I the only one to see the urgency of this situation?” Yet it’s not so urgent that he returns to Hell to find Sam. Nor does it seem to occur to him Sam’s sudden desire to visit the place of his torture might be connected to Bobby Singer, though the hunter is an obvious connection to Sam.
These issues have major story implications; they are well above nitpicks. The story had plenty of nitpickable moments, too, of course. Why would Sam risk leaving his watch as a marker when he needs to know the time to the minute to catch his ride home? Why not something that isn’t crucial to the mission? Why not block the rabbit hole to Hell when he’s done with it? Or is access to both territories now not a big deal? And is Kevin no longer a vegan?
Fortunately, the writers did create moments that allowed the actors to make the most of them. Bobby is a beloved character, and it is wonderful to hear him grumbling away to Sam again. But the episode is so jam-packed with story, Bobby’s plot had to be hustled along, so some of the emotional impact of his return is lost. That’s a shame, given how powerful his death scene was. The writers already made the mistake of bringing Bobby back to diminishing returns in season seven. They need to make the most of Jim Beaver while they have him, which means giving his story room to breathe. So much went on in this episode, it should have been a two parter.
Bobby does make a comment to Sam about his decision not to look for Dean, emphasizing how out of character it was for Sam not to feel the need to investigate his brother’s disappearance. I’ve felt that from the get go. It’s a constant irritant in the development of the season. If there’s more to Sam’s year off, it’s more than time we knew, and if there isn’t, the show should refrain from scratching that itch.
Dean and Benny’s reunion is more successful. Ty Olsson has been a great addition to the cast. A charismatic actor in any scene, he has especially good chemistry with Jensen Ackles. The two actors make the most of that connection as Dean has to ask his friend to sacrifice his life on earth at the same time as he admits he let Benny down when Benny asked for help. Ackles and Olsson beautifully convey the mix of emotions their characters feel.
Both Benny and Dean acknowledge Sam’s uncharacteristic death wish for Benny—and both acknowledge the power of family. Benny understands Dean has to protect his little brother, which makes the vampire family in the way that matters most to Dean. The elder Winchester is a little more resistant to understanding Benny wants to return to Purgatory. But given how much loneliness plays into the vampire’s feelings, Dean’s guilt is understandable. He wants to atone, not say goodbye.
The writers have not used Olsson as much as they could have, which makes it a shame they send him back to Purgatory in “Taxi Driver.” Benny was a welcome addition to Sam and Dean’s expanding world. I’d much rather see more of the vampire than Garth. But at least the door is left open for Benny to be able to return in the future. I hope the writers take advantage of it next season.
Speaking of chemistry, Ackles and Padalecki of course have it in spades. Sam’s successful escape from Hell and Purgatory leads to a wonderful hug between Sam and Dean. The embrace is very different from the one when Dean returned to earth, which has its own issues, but the moment is heartwarming and helps sell that Dean would ask what he did of Benny.
Sam admits to Dean Benny was different from the way he had imagined. He doesn’t apologize for forcing Dean to choose between him and Benny, nor explain why he imagined the worst when Dean said he trusted Benny. His attitude to Benny was such a turnaround from his usual stance on monsters, including Kate this season, more exploration wouldn’t come amiss. Sadly, the writers waste the opportunity.
The stellar acting in “Taxi Driver” rescues the episode from being a write off, but the lack of respect for canon or emphasis on story logic in the writing room this season is hurting the integrity of the overall story. I don’t want to have to dismiss the story so far to accept the story now. To quote Crowley, “Am I the only one to see the urgency of this situation?”