It’s rare that I find myself really disappointed with a Supernatural episode, let alone two in a row. But yeah, “The Hunter Games” and “There’s No Place Like Home” left me, if you’ll excuse the late-breaking football metaphor, feeling deflated, especially after the way the storyline they have in common has been built up.
And that plot thread is about the Mark of Cain that Dean took on last year. It’s been a good one largely because of how suggestive it is in the context of a show like Supernatural. I mean, the series is about two brothers who spend more time at odds with each other than in agreement. Part of that disconnect has been (early in the series) due to the envy of one brother over the blessings of the other. And finally, one has consistently been presented as more morally upright than the other. So the idea of Dean as the bearer of the curse of the first fratricide is pretty fitting, and it’s come with its own sense of irony since we have also been made to understand that most of the worst things Dean has done to Sam actually involve him fighting to keep his brother alive when it would have been better for everyone else concerned if Dean’s sibling had been allowed to shuffle off this mortal coil.
So the fact that the last two episodes largely dropped the ball on that storyline is frustrating.
In “The Hunter Games,” that failure comes down to two issues. The first is the disjointed and aborted feel of the plot. After all, we don’t really get anywhere in the episode. The boys have hit the wall in trying to find a way to remove the Mark and so Castiel sends to heaven for some unlikely help: Metatron.
From the beginning, this seems like non-starter. After all, what inducement can either the brothers or Castiel offer the Voice of God to help them that wouldn’t be far too dangerous to contemplate? We know the lengths Metatron will go to just to feed his ego: he all but destroyed Heaven and Earth once. So the while the fact that the boys don’t even really have a plan to address this issue is surprising, it’s much less so that the whole episode ends with Castiel returning Curtis Armstrong’s character to his prison with the team no closer, really, to removing the Mark. Yes, there is what is supposed to be some character-revealing dialogue between Dean and the over-reaching angel as the former threatens to torture and kill the latter, but really, neither we nor the boy learn anything new (other than a cryptic reference to the “river ends at its source.”) We’ve hit a narrative dead-end.
Then there’s the bit about Claire. She’s angry, sets Dean up for a hit, and then changes her mind at the last minute for no reason, and wanders back out of the story again. Again, we go nowhere and learn nothing, really.
This lack of direction is then compounded by what is truly beginning to grate: Ruth Connell’s performance as Rowena.
Look, part of what I love about Supernatural is that there is always at least a taste of the over-the-top about it. While it rarely strays into outright camp, it does frequently acknowledge that it’s not meant to be taken entirely seriously, because its writers/producers/etc. never really do. It tells unbelievable stories, yes. But it tells them in a believable way: that is, the actors play it straight for the most part, and it’s rare that a character is not given a real motivation or some sense of authenticity.
And then there’s Rowena.
I don’t know what either the actress or the directors are thinking here. The witch is not a character. She’s a caricature. Okay, so she’s selfish and doesn’t give a fig for her son. Why? This is a show that invests a lot in the psychological makeup of the various characters. But Rowena seems evil and conniving “just ‘cause.” She has no reason and no plan, and the fact that Connell plays her with an over-the-top accent and all the depth of a baddie out of a pantomime isn’t helping. But the very idea that such a person could stand any chance at all of successfully manipulating the king of manipulation (especially since he’s shown no signs of affection for her) just makes every scene between the two of them like nails on a chalkboard. My only hope is that Crowley knows exactly what’s going on and is playing his mom, but if that’s the case, I would expect at least some small hint of that possibility from an actor like Mark Sheppard, and thus far, the King of Hell seems to be going down without even knowing there’s a fight going on.
“There’s No Place Like Home” seemed more promising because it marked the return of Charlie, played by fan-favorite Felicia Day.
Charlie, it seems, has returned from Oz but only in pieces. In order to save Emerald City, we are told (and it is never explained), it was necessary to split Charlie into her “good” self and her “bad” self, because somehow, her bad self has the ability to win the war in Oz. Now her bad side has come back to our world in order to avenge both her selves on the man who killed her parents. Why? Because bad Charlie wants to be reunited with good Charlie. Why? Um…again, no explanation.
Nor does there seem to be any explanation of why Supernatural is remaking the classic Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within.”
Not that Supernatural would generally need a reason. I mean, the show regularly references other geek properties, so such an allusion is hardly surprising. But when the writers do plug in to the larger geek-verse, there are usually winks to what they are doing. And it’s fun.
Neither is true of “There’s No Place Like Home.” Instead, what we are treated to is 42 minutes of being beaten about the head and face with a metaphor. You see, what has happened to Charlie (being split into good and evil versions of herself) is just like what’s happened to Dean. Because…
Okay, beaten about the head and face with a bad metaphor. Because while we are constantly told during the episode that Charlie’s experience is a parallel to Dean’s, it’s just not. Not only was Dean warned about the dangers of the Mark of Cain (where Charlie was obviously kept in the dark by the Wizard), the Mark of Cain did not split Dean into versions of himself. In fact, there’s been zero indication that the Mark is in any way influenced by who Dean was or is.
Whatever the Mark is, it appears to act the same no matter who carries it (which is the only reason that anyone is able to comfort Dean with the idea that Cain was able to eventually find a modicum of peace with the Mark — if Cain could do it, Dean should be able to as well). And there’s certainly no reason to believe that Charlie’s resolution (which is telegraphed at us the entire episode) holds any clue to Dean’s predicament. Dean is hardly in denial of his darker traits — they are some of his favorites — nor is he, as Charlie is, trying to distance himself from them; in fact, he seems eager to return to them the minute he feels he can trust himself to do so.
It just doesn’t work. No matter how much writer Robbie Thompson seems to want it to. One has to wonder if his desire to redo “The Enemy Within” (he even tweeted Will Shatner about the episode) was so strong that it overcame his usually better instincts. That he wasted both Felicia Day and geek-get Paul McGillion (of Stargate Atlantis) in the process is particularly disappointing. Both we and they deserved better.
Perhaps tonight, we’ll get it.