Friday, February 10, 2012

Catching up on Supernatural Season 7: Episode 11, 12 & 13

I know it's been a while since I last posted, but I've been dealing with an injured foot and other things. (I also went to my second Supernatural convention last week, and it was awesome.) At any rate, I'd like to catch up by recapping the last three episodes.

Episode 11 - Adventures in Babysitting

In this episode, Sam and Dean deal (and refused to deal, respectively) with the fallout from Bobby's death, and hunt a pair of vampire-like creatures called Vitala. The creatures (who are in the fine tradition of Hot Monsters of the Week) have kidnap a hunter, and his teenage daughter seeks out Bobby's help and ends up enlisting the Winchesters. This episode was kind of "meh" for me, honestly. The plot isn't very complex, and the stakes never feel very high. One thing I did enjoy was seeing the boys interact with a female who wasn't an adult--who was too young, in other words, to be into them. The biggest take away was Frank Deveraux coming into his own as part of the Winchester's support team. Unsurprisingly, the writers are having to dull Deveraux's initial rough edges just a little to make him tolerable as a recurring character. (When he calls you an idiot, he means it.) I'm not crazy about Frank's "smile even when your heart is breaking"advice to Dean, but by the end of he episode, Dean sure seems to be taking it.

Episode 12 - Time after Time

After the "meh" of "Adventures in Babysitting," this episode is pure joy. Dean gets sent back in time tot he 1940's by Chronos, the god of Time (who is killing people, because apparently that's what the gods of antiquity do.) He meets Eliot Ness, and lots of sharp suits, Untouchables references, hero worship and fish-out-of-water gags ensue. Of course, in the end, Sam is able to get Dean back, with help from a message Dean cleverly leaves carved inside the house where Sam's staying.

I should mention that Ness was played by Nicholas Lea, of X-Files fame, who it was wonderful to see again on Supernatural and Once Upon a Time in the same week. My very favorite part, though, was seeing Sheriff Jodie Mills step forward to help Sam. Have I mentioned that I love Sheriff Mills? Have I mentioned that Kim Rhodes knows several forms of stage combat, and needs to be given something to do other than mop? If Jodie and Frank are the two new sidekicks, I can deal with that. My only question is: which one's Cas and which one's Bobby?

Episode 13 - Slice Girls

This is the one I don't really want to talk about. It's an easy candidate for the both the worst-written and most sexist episode of Supernatural ever. Dean has a one-night stand with a woman who turns out to be an Amazon. In this version, the historical Amazons were turned into monsters by the goddess Harmonia. They grow to adulthood quickly, and have "no use for men" except for breeding--which, of course, means that the men they breed with turn up dead, because women with no long-term use for men are evil, right? Apparently women should be willing to be used however a man sees fit (long or short term), but prepared to be cast off, but also be torn up enough over being cast off to feed the guy's ego. Normally, I wouldn't complain about any episode where Jensen takes his shirt off, but the tone of this one is just ugly. There's also no surprise at all to the reveal that it's the Amazon daughters who do the killing--unless, in this case, they get offed by their uncles before they get the chance.

Supernatural, ease up on the appropriation of mythology, and also on the conventionally attractive sex-pot white-chick villains.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Season 7, Episode 10: Death's Door

I know—once again, there's nothing quite like waiting until just hours before the next episode to review a prior episode. But this time, can you blame me? “Death's Door”, the last episode of Supernatural before holiday hiatus, was one of the most powerful hours of television I've seen. It takes time to properly mull over.

In the episode, a dying Bobby Singer, trapped within his own mind, flees a Grim Reaper. He's knows his time is limited, but he has to get back into his body just long enough to give important information to Sam and Dean. The deceased hunter Rufus is in his mind with him. Rufus explains to Bobby that “the only way out is though”--he has to go through his worst memories to get back to his body. In this way, we learn that Bobby and his late wife had a heartbreaking argument about raising children just days before she was possessed by a demon, and that Bobby killed his own father to defend his mother when he himself was just a child

There are just two things that bother me about this widely-loved episode.

The first has to do with Rufus. I love Rufus as much as anyone, but I always had a problem with the way he went out. In Season Six's “...And Then There Were None,” Rufus tells Bobby that he will never forgive him for what went wrong on their hunt in Omaha. (Bobby Singer's Guide to Hunting indicates that Bobby was responsible for the death of Rufus's daughter.) This angry assertion is jarring, because it runs counter to the jovial banter that the two had been enjoying. Moments later, Bobby, who is possess at the time by a parasitic monster dubbed the Khan Worm, murders Rufus.

It felt like the subtext of Rufus's death was that Rufus doesn't have a right to his opinion about Bobby, This becomes even more uncomfortable when you consider the racial dynamics involved,. Race is also why—as happy as I was to see Rufus again—I cringed to see him bending over backwards to help the person' who's body killed him. Don't get me wrong, Rufus is a great character—funny when need be, badass when need be, as all the best Supernatural characters are. That's part of why he deserved a better story arc. And while I love the fact that he's a Black Jewish redneck, I feel like the show asks us to laugh at that, as if there weren't probably people who were all of the above (okay, at least two of the above.) I'm not even sure how Bobby is able to interact with him, since Rufus's spirit has moved on and they never discussed Rufus's near-death experience in life.

My other complaint is with the way Dean Winchester is being written at the moment. This is not a complaint about Jensen—he will always make the most of whatever he's given. But the losses have been mounting up for Dean—Lisa and Ben, Castiel, even the Impala. If he was ever going to break down, I would think it would be now. We have seen him cry before, and those have been some of Supernatural's most moving moments, in large part because of their rarity. Bobby has earned Dean's tears, but what do we get in “Death's Door”? Dean punching the wall when a guy tries to talk to him about organ donation. Let's face it, at this point, Dean punching a wall is just another day in the office...and this is not another day in the office.

Worst of all, when Sam tries to get Dean to talk about how he's feeling, Dean shuts him down. This leaves Sam hanging, with no one to talk to about what he's going through. I actually felt sorry for Sam, and that's not something I could have foreseen ever happening at the end of Season Four.

None of these concerns, however, dull the overall power of the episode Bobby is able to face his own demons, and revives long enough to give Sam and Dean a series of numbers that will prove a key to the Leviathans' plans. I can't imagine any Supernatural fan who didn't tear up as Bobby confronted his projection of his father, challenging the idea that he breaks everything he touches. 'I adopted two boys, and they turned out great. They turned out heroes.” Sam and Dean also have some hilarious walk-ons, bickering with each other about the relative merits of different action heroes and movie foods.

As “Death's Door” winds down, the darkness encroaching on the landscape of Bobby's mind mirrors the shutting down of his body, in a poignant metaphor about the death that comes to all of us. The Reaper who's been hounding him asks him if he wants to stay or to move on, but you get the idea that it's the equivalent of last call at a bar: “you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.” As Bobby's memories fade, his last pleasant memory is of Sam and Dean, at home with him on a rare night of relaxation.

We're left not knowing how Bobby answered the Reaper's question. Presumably we'll find out soon enough. The show tends to bring back whoever they want, whenever they want, but as several friends of mine have stated, Bobby's departure feels more final. I honestly think that would be a good decision for the show; but if that happens, I still believe that Castiel needs to come back, or someone else needs to step in to help the Winchesters with their formidable foe. Castiel needs to come back at least once, in any case, for closure's sake.

If this is, in fact, Bobby Singer's final call, he is sure to live on in the hearts of Supernatural fans. Thank you, Jim Beaver, for years of top-notch acting (even though I still expect flashbacks), and thank you Bobby for all that you did for our boys.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Supernatural Season 7 Episode 9: How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters

After an uneven and widely disliked episode last week, Supernatural returned to form this week with “How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters.”

At the start of the episode, we're reminded of how hard Sam and Dean's lives are in the Leviathan era. We see them trying to get power to an abandoned building (a foreclosed house?) where they and Bobby are squatting. Apparently, not only have they had to put aside their beloved Impala and their rock-star nommes de guerre, but since they they can't use credit cards either, they've had to abandon even the marginal comforts of roadside hotels. Dean is complaining bitterly about this, and says that if the world is going down for the count a third time then maybe it's supposed to end.

Bobby and Sam have other things on their mind, though: they've all come to New Jersey to follow up on mysterious killings that may be the work of the mythical Jersey Devil. Local authorities are blaming a rogue bear, but they're not fooling our heroes: bears don't have opposable thumbs with which to hang people in trees. The plan is to suit up the next day to eliminate all the human-adjacent possibilities.

The next day, they meet the local Chief Ranger (yes, who's name is Rick) at a Biggerson's restaurant. He seems disturbingly blasé about the whole thing, including the fact that his own deputy is missing They also encounter an inexplicably hostile waiter, who had me cackling by referring to Dean as a “Ken Doll” and Bobby as a “creepy uncle.” Dean orders the turducken sandwich special—the TDK Slammer--and acts like he's found a new best friend.

Later, the hunters go into the woods. They reminisce about Bobby's time as a more traditional hunter before his wife's death, and about the hunting trips that he took the Sam and Dean on when they were little. This walk down memory lane is interrupted, however, when they come across the half-eaten body of the deputy ranger. The chief ranger comes along, and is still shockingly indifferent...until he, too, gets dragged away by a monster that was hiding in the shadows. Bobby manages to shoot it out of the trees, but too late to save Ranger Rick.

The creature Bobby has killed is not the Jersey Devil but gray-skinned, glassy-eyed human. What ensues, back at the hunters' crash pad, is one of the grosses autopsy scenes ever on the show. Perhaps on any show. The organs are swimming in gray muck, the adrenal glads are bigger than the kidneys (that's bad, if you didn't know) and the stomach is so full of gruesome stuff that I was waiting for someone to pull out a license plate. Dean, inexplicably, is hungry even in the midst of all of this, so the other two reluctantly accompany him back to Biggersons.

While at Biggerson's, however, Sam finally makes the connection between the TDK Slammer and the strange way that Dean and others have been acting. Sure enough, back at the ranch, the sandwich passes it's expiration date in grand fashion...just as Dean is admitting to feeling better than he has in months.

From there, we learn that the Leviathans engineered the TDK Slammer to induce complacency in the masses. The few folks that went all 28-Days-Later on it were the failures of the experiment. The angry waiter that the hunters encountered hulks out, only to be snapped up by the research team before he can hurt anybody. Richard Roman, the Big Daddy Leviathan, is coming into town, so all the turduckens have to be in a row.

The hunters trail a meat truck from Biggerson's to the research facility in time to see the waiter being dragged inside. As the sun rises, they stake the place out, and see Roman arrive. This is where Bobby educates the boys about Roman's impeccable GOP credentials—a free-market-lovin', gun-totin' member of the 1%, this guy.

Bobby splits off from Sam and Dean, only to get caught and brought to the boss. Pontificating in true true comic-book-villain-who-thinks-you're-gonna-die style. Roman says that he's certain that Sam and Dean will come to rescue Bobby. Bobby insists that they're too smart for that, knowing full well that they're not.

Sure enough, Sam and Dean hijack a janitorial truck that's just shown up, and bust in with industrial cleaners blazing. If I were a Leviathan, I'd try to keep my one weakness far away, but that's just me. At any rate, they manage to distract everyone just long enough for Bobby to get away with valuable information, even though Roman seems to be less vulnerable to borax than the others. Roman continues shooting at Bobby as the boys bring around the van, but Bobby dives in and it seems, for a second at least, that all is well. As the episode ends, however, Bobby is unresponsive.

This episode was a great one for Bobby Singer fans (which is all of us, right?), and packs a lot of emotional punch. Not only are there the stories of long-ago hunting trips, but Bobby also gets a one-on-one heart-to-heart with both Sam and Dean. I particularly enjoy his talk with Dean, where he tells dean to find a reason, “whether it's love or money or a $10 bet,” to get his head in the game, or he'll get himself killed. “If you die before me, I'll kill you,” he says. It's such a classic Bobby line, tender and funny and curmudgeonly all at once, and it's the kind of thing that Jim Beaver does so well.

The script even hints at the possibility of a Bobby-less world toward the end. “I've run my race,” Bobby tells Roman. “Could die worse.”

To get right down to the nitty-gritty: I really don't think that Bobby is going to die. It would be a bad decision for the show, both commercially and artistically. The goodwill of the fans has already been taxed to the limit with the loss of Castiel. Besides, Sam and Dean can't face the challenges of the Leviathans without help, and Bobby's all they've got right now. Jodie or even (ugh) Garth might work as a fourth wheel, but there are no close allies waiting in the wings.

You just don't off half your principal cast less than halfway through a season—not if you want another season. Two actors just can't sustain our emotional investment in a storyline that complex, super-talented though they may be. I'm assuming that the powers-at-be at the show do want an eighth season...that may not be a safe assumption. If we loose Bobby, however, I predict that they won't get one.

The next episode, “Death's Door”, will air on December 2, and appears to be all about Bobby's fight for life. I think it would be particularly poignant if it was just about that—nothing magical or supernatural at all. But that's unlikely—between Supernatural and Grimms, hospitals are pretty dangerous places to be in Horror Television Land. A friend of mine foresaw that if “something happened to Bobby,” we'd finally get to see some emotion from Dan. I'd like that a lot, but that can happen without The Worst Coming to Pass.

This also the perfect opportunity for Castiel to reappear from the blue and heal Bobby. Yeah. I'm not the only one who would be in favor of that.

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who observe it. Until we meet again, have good food, party and shop responsibly, and enjoy the company of family, whether blood kin or chosen.

And just say “no” to the turducken.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Supernatural Season 7 Episode 8: Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!

Okay, I'll admit: I knew, very generally, what this episode was going to be about, but I didn't see it coming.

“Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!” begins, we see Dean chatting up a cocktail waitress at a strip club. He's confiding in her about his hypothetical friend, whose hypothetical brother had been going crazy for a while, then took a turn for the better. Then they took their hypothetical annual vacation to Las Vegas, and the hypothetical brother hied of on his own to go camping. Wow, Dean! That stinks. I hope she can give you some advice to pass onto your...ooh, I see what's going on.

As Dean is spinning his tale of woe, however, he gets a text from Sam, telling him to report to a location a few blocks away, and wear a suit. It's a wedding chapel, and Sam hands him a boutonnière as soon as he steps in the door. (Pink is for loyalty? I've never heard that Sammy, but if you say so.) It turns out that Sam has had a whirlwind (as in, almost literally getting engaged over lunch) romance with...Becky?!?!

Yup. That's right. Becky, the obsessed fangirl of the Supernatural books by Chuck Shurley, prophet of God. Becky, who had delusions of being romantically involved with Sam and can't seem to keep from sexually harassing him. Becky, who doesn't seem to know how to be alone, and dated Chuck for a time.

Needless to say, Dean doesn't think this adds up. In a game effort to be supportive, he does buy the happy couple a waffle iron, but it's the most skeptical waffle iron ever.

Dean soon has bigger fish to fry anyway. Two people in town have gotten their fondest desires, only to die in accidents soon afterwards. Could it be a crossroads demon? That's usually a ten year time-frame. Maybe it's a witch! Either way, Dean's concerned that Becky is next. With Sam working the case with Becky (I can't believe I had to write that), Dean calls Bobby. Bobby can't make it, but sends in a local hunter named Garth as backup.

Becky takes Sam to her 10-year high school reunion, mainly to show off to the people who bullied her back when. She also introduces Sam to her friend Guy...who is also her supplier for the love potion she's secretly using. Becky continues to dose Sam, but it seems to wear off more quickly each time. When the potion leaks out into her purse, she hits Sam over the head (with the waffle iron!), drags him to a cabin owned by her parents, and ties him up.

By this time, Dean and Garth have a break in the case. They meet a very surprised new CEO, who reports that CEO-ing is not his dream, but boy, is the Missuz happy. They save said Missuz from a falling chandelier moments later, and she finally cops to a deal with a crossroads demon. Cut back to Becky, and...oh, wait! Guy is also the crossroads demon, and is offering her an unheard-of twenty-five year deal to have her husband without having to use the potion.

Some of the scenes that pass between Sam and Becky are too painfully awkward to relate. Suffice it to say that thank God, their marriage is, consummated. (I did have to laugh, and give the girl props, when she admitted that she'd imagined tying Sam up “in a different context.”) She returns to cabin after Guy's offer, and Sam tells her, “you're better than this.”

Sam's argument must have persuaded Becky, because she helps trap Guy so that Sam, Dean and Garth can confront him. He admits that he made a bunch of deals around town, then had another demon kill the clients so he could collect early. After that demon is dispatched, Crowley shows up, looking better in a beard than he has any right to. He explains that he's been keeping the demons off the Winchesters' backs so that they could hunt Leviathans, and will continue to do so if they hand over Guy. After all, who will want to make a crossroads deal if they hear that Hell doesn't hold up it's end?

Unsurprisingly, the hunters give Guy to Crowley. The episode ends with the Rosen-Winchester marriage annulled, the remaining crossroads deals broken, and Sam and Dean parting ways with Garth.

There are a lot of problems with this episode.

First of all, there was some icky gender stuff. I know, I know...I love the show, but it was ever thus. It was just particularly obvious this time. The two men who made deals with Guy were asking something for themselves: one won the lottery, and the other went pro as a baseball player. Both of the deals offered to women—Becky and the CEO's wife—had to do with relationships. Women want things, money and fame-type things, for themselves too, I promise.

Just in case there wasn't enough gender-fail, the writers made sure to work in some racism and ableism. After Dean saves her, Garth tells the CEO's frightened wife that he's going to send her to a “triracial paraplegic sniper”. This is clearly an attempt to milk disability and race for humor. Is the idea of a multiracial sniper who ends up paraplegic, but is still a badass, really so unthinkable? (ETA: the more I think about it, i would watch the hell out of that show.)

I should say something about Becky calling Guy a “Wiccan” early in the episode. It feels kind of beside the point, since he's actually a demon, but the writers should realize that Wicca is an actual religion. It's true that there are people who try things—like love spells—that are wrong by the lights of that religion; but for those who believe in magic, it's a morally neutral tool, no more inherently evil than a gun.

It seems like the only people we see using magic on Supernatural are “witches” (who are always bad) or hunters. Just once, I'd like to see good witches...or just ordinary people, practicing earth-based faith and using magic for protection, healing and blessing. Then again, if the show's going to get it wrong, perhaps erasure is better.

Then there's the fan issue. You know I had to go there. I know that this episode is about the unethical actions of one person, but it's hard not to feel an undercurrent of contempt for the fans. Many Supernatural fans have in common with Becky that we like to look at pretty boys while enjoying well-crafted, scary, action packed stories. And yes, some of us are shy, geeky, formerly-picked-on or unlucky in love. None of that means that we confuse fantasy for reality, or are willing to hurt anyone. What we are is worth millions of dollars to the show, in ad revenue, retail, and convention profits.

What no one online has asked so far, at least that I have seen, is how Becky even knew that Sam and Dean were alive. As far as the American news-viewing public was concerned, they'd been gunned down a few weeks ago after going on a killing spree. That isn't addressed or even acknowledged. Either Chuck is still writing or Becky doesn't watch the news, but neither of those thing were established. This plot hole is big enough to drive the Impala through.

There are a few good things about this episode. It addresses the issue of consent; Becky realizes that if she really loves Sam, she'll take his "no" for an answer. There's also a somewhat hollow nod to the idea that there's someone out there for everyone. (It's true! Sam says so!) Unfortunately, all of this is buried under the hot mess.

Hopefully next week's episode will be better. If they are really hunting the Jersey Devil, it could potentially be the most awesomely X-Files flavored episode since “Clap Your Hands if You Believe”. For the long term, though, I will say this: if Garth joints Sam, Dean and Bobby while an actress trained in four kinds of stage combat is left to keep mopping the floor, I won't be happy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Once Upon a Time, Season 1 Episode 3 - Snow Falls

The third episode of Once Upon a Time may be my favorite so far. It's certainly my favorite with regard to the fairy-tale sequences. In “Snow Falls”, we get to see how Snow White and Prince Charming met. In Storybrooke, he emerges from his coma to become a player in the action, but things quickly take a heartbreaking turn.

Henry convinces Emma to ask his teacher, to read to John Doe, a coma patient at the local hospital. John Doe is Prince Charming, Henry explains, and he needs Snow White to help him remember who he is. Emma relays Henry's request to Mary Margaret, claiming that if nothing happens, it will disabuse Henry of his fantasies.

I still can't get a read on where Emma stands on the whole “everyone here is really a fairy tale character” idea. It seems like one moment, she's reassuring Henry that she believes him, and the next minute, she's reassuring someone else that she doesn't. Either way, she wants to see what happens between Mary Margaret and John Doe, too.

What happens is that John Doe least long enough to reach out and grab Mary Margaret;s arm. Needless to say, Mayor Regina (a.k.a. The Wicked Queen) is very nervous about this news. That's why the audience gets nervous too when John Doe is missing the next morning.

In flashbacks, we see Prince Charming through the woods in a carriage with his fiancee, who is appropriately shallow and selfish enough to allow the audience to root against her. His family jewels (no, really) are stolen by a hooded highway robber, who turns out to be...Snow White! He recognizes her from the "wanted" poster and everything....apparently “Snow White” passes for a bandit name in Never-Never Land. At any rate, she makes off with the goods, and he returns later and captures her. There was n heirloom ring among the things that she stole, and he of course needs it for Unlikeable Fiancee.

At this point, Snow White is not yet keeping house with dwarves (although they do get a shout-out), but rather using dangerous, ugly bridge trolls as fences. They get the ring back, with some mutual life-saving and bittersweet bonding. Meanwhile, I snicker every time Charming (whose name, it turns out, is James) says “jewels”. The flashbacks end with Snow White and Prince James Charming returning to their respective lives, at least for the moment.

I kind of enjoyed the kick-butt outlaw Snow White that we saw in this week's episode. The only thing is, if the name “Snow White” is supposed to indicate innocence, robbery doesn't seem very...well, snow-white. It's almost as if Ginnifer Goodwin is playing two different characters. While Snow is cynical about love, Mary Margaret speaks longingly to her Obligatory Mr. Wrong about marriage and family. Yes, she goes on one bad date, if only to prove to us that she's not a nun, but that there's only one right person for her.

The story that Snow tells Charming helps to bridge the gap between Outlaw Snow White and the one we're more familiar with. Apparently she was driven into the forest and took up a life of crime when the Wicked Queen offered a reward for cutting out her heart. This was in retaliation for for Snow ruining her life. Only a huntsman got close to the prize, though, and he couldn't do it. My money says that the Huntsman is now the sheriff in Storybrooke.

I'm guessing that as the pre-Curse storyline unfolds, it will be Prince Charming's love that breaks through Snow White's understandable cynicism, and for which she now pines. If nothing else, seeing Goodwin and Dallas together again showed me that I wasn't imagining things during the pilot: they have tremendous chemistry. What I'm still curious about is how Snow White ruined Regina's life. She even admits to Charming that she did, although she doesn't say much else. The writers are still teasing us with this information.

Back in Storybrooke, security cameras reveal that John Doe wandered off his own, but wandered off into the forest. This is better than abduction by mayoral minions, but still far from ideal. The sheriff, with Henry, Emma and Mary Margaret in tow, find him collapsed by a creek. Mary Margaret revives him with a kiss, bringing things full circle rather nicely from the kiss-of-life that appeared in the pilot episode.

With John Doe safely back in the hospital, Emma, Henry and Mary Margaret are relieved and hopeful...until the Regina produces an estranged spouse for him from thin air. Mary Margaret looks on devastated as he hugs the woman uncomfortably. Emma confronts Regina, telling her that nothing about this adds up. “What do you think I did?” Regina asks her. “Cast a spell on her?” Well, now that you mention it...

It's a testament to both the writing and the acting on the show that this episode's final twist really does have quite an emotional impact. Once Upon a Time has me invested. I look forward to learning more of what happened before, and seeing what happens in Storybrooke as well.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Supernatural Season 7 Episode 7: The Mentalists

This week's episode of Supernatural took place in the real-life town of Lily Dale, New York, which actually does have the world's highest per capita concentration of mediums. As the story begins, Dean comes into town in a “borrowed” car, to investigate the deaths of two high-profile psychics. He runs into Sam in the local diner, Good Graces, and they agree to put their differences aside long enough to work the case.

This is the sort of “monster-of-the-week” story that the show thrived on in it's first and second season, before things got all Book of Revelations. Most fans will cop to missing this sort of stand-alone episode, even if they also enjoy the great cosmic story arcs. In “The Mentalists”, the psychics (two of which die after the Winchesters show up) are being hunted by the ghost of a Lily Dale founder, Margaret Fox, who gives them visions of their deaths before, well, causing them. In life, she was overlooked in favor of her less gifted but flashier sister, Kate. Margaret, in turn, is in the thrall of a local shop owner who is bitter because his predictions are just too punk rock for the paying public.

Also in keeping with earlier seasons, there is a conventionally hot damsel in distress. Melanie Goldman is the granddaughter of one of Margaret's victims, but ends up as a target herself. Perhaps she's aware of how much being involved with Sam lowers your chances of making it through the episode, because she takes a shine to Dean instead. “I wish I'd met you on a better week,” she tells him, as they part without so much as a kiss. “I wish I had better weeks,” he replies.

There are some great moments in this episode. At one point, the curator of the city museum relays a message from Ellen Harvelle to Dean: he had better open up about what's bothering him of she will kick his tail personally. Even after death, Ellen's just awesome. Then there is the Whedonverse shout-out, when the shop owner describes a pendent as an “Orb of Thessaly”. Presumably this is a a play on “Orb of Thesulah”, a magical device from Buffy and Angel. After all, this is the same show that brought us the Serenity Valley Convalescence Home. And Let's not forget the affirmation that the waiter from Good Graces gives Dean, free with his meal: he is a “virile manifestation of the Divine”. Dean girls like myself will, at this point, be both cackling at Dean's discomfort and thinking “Well, I really can't argue with that.”

There may even have been an allusion to something happening in real life. In tracking down the buyer of an ash wood altar, Sam bursts in upon a New-Agey lamaze class. I can't help but wondering if this was inspired by Jared Padalecki's recent announcement that he and his wife Genevieve are expecting their first child. For those late to the party, the happy parents-to-be are requesting that fans make donations to St. Jude's Hospital instead of sending them presents.

Toward the end of “The Mentalists”, Sam and Dean finally discuss the dead kitsune demon in the room. It as about time, too...this particular storyline neither could nor should last much longer. It didn't drag on for too long, though, and I like the way that it was resolved. Without admitting that Dean was right, Sam concedes that he might have killed Amy too if he hadn't known her. And without admitting that he was wrong, Dean admits that Cas's betrayal and Sam's dangerous, delusional behavior may have figured into his decision at the time. Poll the home audience next time, guys—we could have told you all of this!

One of the most intriguing parts of Friday nights' viewing was the teaser for the next episode. I knew there was going to be a wedding, but my money was on Bobby and Jodie. Apparently the groom is...Sam? And I'm not sure who the bride is, except that it's NOT Jodie (that would just be odd) and some fans online seem to think that it's a character who's been on the show before. We'll see! Just wondering which alias they're registered under.

Friday, November 4, 2011

One Upon a Time, Season 1 Episode 2: The Thing You Love Most

It's only two episodes in, but I'm really digging Once Upon a Time.

In “Everything you Ever Loved”, the battle of wills between Emma and Regina continues. Just as interestingly, we see in flashbacks how Regina came into possession of, and prepared, the evil spell she cast.

One of the most notable scenes was the most awesome woman-against-woman magical battles I've ever seen. When Regina goes to steal the curse from her friend Maleficent, another evil sorceress, the two fling each other around in a fashion that would make Gandalf and Saruman proud. (It's worth mentioning that here too, Maleficent is the witch from the Sleeping Beauty story.) It's both jarring and poignant when, after such a violent confrontation, Regina says, “I can't kill you. You're my only friend.”

That fight is far from the only badass moment in this episode. In one scene, Emma cuts a huge branch off of Regina's prized apple tree, to prove her determination to stay in town. (How do you like them apples?) Between the “soft violence” in things like Gossip Girl and the passivity in things like Twilight , it's rare these days to see a female character do something so tangible and last without involving a gun. (Not that Emma doesn't know how to use those, as we saw in the pilot.)

To make a long short: in our world, Regina manages to get Emma locked up again, this time by framing her for stealing records from Henry's therapist. The therapist, Jiminy Cricket, may be conscience personified, but Regina still has him under her thumb. Ms. Blanchard (who, you will remember, is Snow White) bails her out. This happens after Henry shows her pages torn from the back of Regina's storybook, which explain the events of the curse and Emma's birth, and they form an alliance. (In one of his few believably kid-like moments, Henry dubs their plan to break the curse “Operation Cobra”. It's perfect, you see, because it has nothing to do with fairy tales!) Regina tricks Emma into seemingly disavowing Henry's beliefs where he can hear her, but by the end of the episode, they had smoothed things over.

Back in the land of fairy tales, we see Regina steal the curse from Maleficent and then gather the ingredients—and helpers—that she needs. The recipe for the spell includes locks of hair from “those with the darkest souls”, so you can imagine the motley crew she assembles. In spite of also including the heart of Regina's prized childhood pony, the spell fizzles. She makes a bargain with Rumpelstiltskin, who explains that the spell must include the heart of the thing she loves most. Soon after, we learn that the kindly old man in Regina's retinue, who seemed like a servant, is actually her father. She murders him, just moments after he warns her that some power is too dark to mess with. This turn of events both raises the moral stakes of the story and gives Lana Parrilla a chance to add lots of nuance to her character.

There are other things worth noting about this episode. The visuals of the flashbacks? Are still awful. These scenes may be filmed for 3D viewing, but they look cartooney and terrible, even though those parts of the story are enjoyable. Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) is entertaining as the magic mirror. The show is also trying to drum up some kind of flirtatiousness between Emma and Sheriff Graham, but so far, they don't work together quite as well as Snow White and Charming.

The two memorable themes in this episode are the idea that the hero never believes that they are the hero at first, and that power has a price. Once Upon a Time has gotten me interested enough that I look forward to seeing what happens next.