The writers try to play down the squick factor of James having sex with Portia with a scene where she lectures Dean on the bond she has with her witch. But given she’s wearing a dog collar, calls James master and can’t refuse a direct command, the squick factor is never far away. And since I don’t much care about James or Portia, that matters.
But those issues pale in comparison to how obvious it is to spot the bad guy. Buckner and Ross-Leming try to lay some red herrings with Philippe LeChat and the homicide detective, but from the moment Spencer is introduced, he may as well have a sign pointing to him with “Villain” on it, a la “Hunteri Heroici.” He not only appears shifty and untrustworthy, the hints he likes Portia are applied with a trowel. I found it very hard to believe Sam and Dean would take his word about witch powers unquestioningly. I don’t love the convention of the calls to Garth, but even that would have worked better than Sam and Dean looking naïve.
At least the episode has a few scenes where Sam and Dean discuss the decision made last week for Sam to do the trials. I was uneasy with the idea of only one brother doing the trials, as that makes it more difficult to service both leads’ stories. Not to say it’s impossible, of course, just harder than if the boys either jointly did the tasks or alternated them. But the way the choice played out in “Trial and Error,” my doubts were allayed.
Writer Andrew Dabb wisely avoided pitting the brothers against each other over the issue of competence. With boys only recently coming together after half a season of strife, the show doesn’t need to torpedo their shaky reconciliation already. Instead, Dabb deepened the exploration of the boys’ bond and the theme of free will.
Dean’s argument for taking on the trials is that whoever does them is fated to die in the end, as the past has shown them. Since one of them has to die, it may as well be him, because the only way he sees out of their life is in a body bag. Now that he knows Sam sees something different, he’s moved past his hurt and will support his brother the best way he knows how—by sacrificing himself for Sam’s happiness.