Standalone episodes are always a mixed bag with this show. You'll usually find an equal number of fans telling you that episodes like "Wishful Thinking," "It's A Terrible Life" or "Hollywood Babylon" were totally brilliant or a big mess. I thought they were all brilliant, but then again, I'm hardly an impartial fan. "The Curious Case of Dean Winchester" falls in that polarizing category of "brilliant-if-you-got-it." This is easily one of the more unique episodes on this show and it offers so many gems.
One major gem comes from the performance of Chad Everett as the 80-year-old Dean Winchester. He must really watch this show for he had Dean down perfect. Every last detail, the mannerisms, the griping, the flirting with the ladies, it's all down pat. What's funny is when all those Dean Winchesterisms are done by an 80-year-old version, it goes from sexy and swooning to cute but pathetic. But that's me getting the joke.
It isn't just Dean's mannerisms though. Chad's chemistry with Jim Beaver is just awesome. Sam might have joked "grumpy old men" but that's exactly what they were — two cranky old guys trying to out bitch one another over who's in the more pathetic circumstance. It's brilliant. In the end, the audience wins.
Speaking of poor Bobby, it's his despair that starts this whole mess. He's obviously not coping well with his new handicapped lifestyle, hinted at when Dean first asks on the phone how he's doing. "Well, I'm just weeping in my Haagen-Dazs, idgit." I would have dismissed that as Bobby being his regular cranky old self too. It's his desperate act of finding the poker game where the chips represent years instead of money before Dean that proves how not alright he is.
Then there's Sammy Winchester, that sly dog. Sam is tasked in a sense to clean up Bobby and Dean's mess and in the process we see a new side of Sam we didn't know existed. He's quite the scheming shark. Not that we're all that surprised either. Sam's always been a quick study and a great liar.
A Curious Case Indeed
Things get rather twisted when Dean goes back to the poker game and bets 50 years, instantly trading in 25 to get Bobby back to normal. Predictably, he loses, and enter 80-year-old Dean, who much to his dismay can't eat those bacon cheeseburgers anymore. The three crusaders in Bobby's new handicap equipped van (I'm going to miss the Chevelle) track down Patrick, the 900-year-old witch with the very sexy Irish accent, played brilliantly by Hal Ozsan. He won't let aged Dean or Bobby play for the needed 50 years to get Dean back to normal. He'll only let Sam do it. Dean and Bobby are both vehemently against the idea since it's perceived that Sam is by far the weakest card player of the three. Sam of course does nothing to correct this perception.
There are a couple of tear-jerking moments, and one comes in the middle of this episode as they strategize what to do next. Bobby wants to play, for his life doesn't matter anyway. He tearfully confesses he's useless and if he wasn't such a coward, he'd have put a gun to his mouth and pulled the trigger the second he got home from the hospital. I adore Chad Everett's heartbreaking reaction to Bobby, because that's exactly how I'd picture Jensen doing it. Sam is a bit more controlled, firmly declaring Bobby will not play and he'll find a way out of this.
Sam enters the game only after Dean and Bobby have a spell to try, thanks to Patrick's unhappy girlfriend. All they need to do is fetch the necessary artifacts while Sam plays. That sets up the very amusing graveyard scene, where an older Dean must dig out a grave since he's the more able-bodied of the two. Yep, it's pitiful. All he does is complain about his aching body while Bobby fires off insults about him being a whiner. It's here that Bobby gets his new nickname, Ironsides. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Dean has a way with pet names.
Sam is tasked while playing poker to get some of Patrick's DNA for the spell. The way this game unfolds is exceptional plotting. Patrick is a highly perceptive old witch and he uses that to get a read on Sam. That's a good indication that he wins because he has a knack for spotting the weaknesses in his opponents. Sometimes he has a heart though, like when he gives an old man 13 years even though he clearly has the better hand. The man just wants to live long enough to see his granddaughter's bat mitzvah.
Patrick thinks he has Sam down easily. He's there even though big brother doesn't know and asks Sam hold long he's going to allow them to treat him like the baby brother. Sam's scowl lets Patrick believe he's right, which essentially allows him to follow his game plan. Sam plays a slow conservative game where he loses a lot, tricking Patrick into thinking he's really in over his head. Sam gets his chance to grab one of Patrick's toothpicks and give it to Dean while taking a break. Patrick's onto Sam though and makes sure he takes a clean toothpick, thus causing Dean and Bobby's spell to fail. The only thing preventing Patrick from choking Sam to death for cheating is Patrick's girlfriend, who confesses she gave Dean and Bobby the spell. Sam has no choice but to finish out the game and this is where Sam's dirty little secret is revealed in brilliant fashion. He's a real master of the bluff.
After Sam wins a key hand through bluffing, he's warned that Dean doesn't have much time, which is Patrick's chance to push the game to his advantage. As the fatal heart attack kicks in for older Dean, Sam plays the panicked brother and goes all in. Patrick plays his hand ready for the kill, two aces, thus giving him a full house. Sam plays up his defeat well, even comforting the crying girlfriend, then calmly shows his cards. Two fours. Considering two other fours are on the table, his four of a kind wins. Sam actually had his head in the game the whole time and took advantage when he could, thus beating Patrick at his own game. That impresses Patrick, who lets Sam cash in his chips for Dean's years back.
I'm still giggling over Dean coming out of the hotel, overjoyed by being back to normal, capping it off with a high-kicking happy dance. I really hope Jensen enjoyed all his time off during the filming of this episode, for he looked rather refreshed doing this hilarious scene. What else made me chuckle is Sam's claim to Bobby he got lucky. Yep, his secret is still safe. Of course Sam has to run off to get that booster shot for the unfortunate case of the clap Patrick gave him earlier as punishment for breaking into his room. So, he didn't come out of this unscathed after all.
There have been many great scenes between Dean and Bobby throughout five seasons, but the closing one in this episode ranked up there as one of the best ever. Dean's predicament showed him what happens when his body starts failing him, not unlike Bobby's recent paralysis. Having that insight gets him to appreciate Bobby's situation more, but he doesn't let Bobby use it as an excuse to quit. This time, Dean gets to talk some sense into Bobby, which is quite a switch from the end of last season. "You don't stop being a soldier cause you got wounded in battle. No matter what shape you're in, bottom line is you're family. I don't know if you noticed but me and Sam we don't have much left. I can't do this without you, I can't. So don't you dare think about checking out. I don't want to hear that again." Sniff! Again, I bow to Jensen and Jim. Bobby agrees and he plays it cool, but the closing shot on his emotional face says it all. It feels good to be needed.
The Other Stuff
The return of the Weekly World News! It's so sad that isn't published anymore. I love how that's the only publication that knows the apocalypse is here. That mirrors Men In Black.
I knew this was a Sera Gamble script as soon as the jokes started flying. They tend to be, in her case, dirtier. What's shocking is one of those big dirty jokes ended up coming from Sam. As they go into the brothel looking for the missing old man, they're expecting a gooey corpse. They hear screaming and come in finding instead a younger man being serviced by two women. "It's gooey," Sam says. Whoa, did Sam say that? I've been accusing the scripts lately of not switching things up and here Sera delivers.
Plenty of funny old people humor. Like the old man turned young. "What's an Xbox?" Or the maid that Dean hit on. "You're just like my grandfather. He hits on anything that moves." Then she gives him an "aww" when he says he's dangerous. There's Sam's initial reaction to older Dean. Dean guesses Sam thinks he looks like the old chick in Titanic. "I was gonna say Emperor Palpatine," Sam answers. Dean can't climb a flight of stairs without getting winded and Sam doesn't hesitate to point that out. Oh, but the kicker — older Dean can't read the numbers on the safe. "It's more like ‘Mission Pathetic'," Sam gripes. Older Dean even pulls a "people our age" line to Sam when trying to talk some sense into him. "Dean, you're thirty."
It's great that the music this week is a great cool jazz piece as they are tracking down Patrick. I like seeing something that we normally don't get work like that.
As usual there are great sound bites. First there's Dean's cover for their uncharacteristically prompt arrival as CDC agents. "A new administration. A change you can believe in." There's also a great line as older Dean is griping at Bobby. "You may be in a wheelchair but I've been to Hell, and there's an archangel there waiting for me to drop the soap."
I really did like the scene with Patrick and his girlfriend as she gave back all her years in chips. She couldn't take immortality anymore after watching her daughter die from old age. It's so well done and I love how this show continues to get such great guest acting. The troubled girlfriend is played by Pascale Hutton. I've seen her in a lot of things, but the one that I remember is Smallville.
My overall grade on this is an A. It's well written, has great pacing, and all the acting, especially guest stars Chad Everett and Hal Ozsan, is top notch. In the end, it's an hour of good fun. That's all I need to come back each week.
I should mention that I have already seen next week's episode thanks to a special preview by invitation only from Warner Brothers. "Changing Channels" is a must see and easily the best episode of the season. It is a mytharc episode and being caught in TV land is a plot that plays out a lot like season three's "Mystery Spot." There's a stunning reveal at the end that cannot be missed. So, I implore if there's an episode you should watch live it's this one. That's all for now! Prepare for an absolutely glowing review next week.