The problem with a string of amazing episodes like the last few Supernatural ones is that, inevitably, sooner or later one comes along that doesn’t quite live up to your (admittedly heightened) expectations.
‘Man’s Best Friend With Benefits’ had a snazzy title, but most of what came after that had me scratching my head. To my disappointment, I didn’t reach for the box of tissues that I’d strategically placed close at hand even once. Though I did contemplate offering one to poor bleeding-from-the-mouth Sam at the end.
Why the disappointment? It’s part and parcel of being a fan, really. Being a fan is all about passion, and for the most part, that’s a very good thing. Being passionate about something makes you feel alive, engages your mind and your emotions and your body (hey, we’re talking about Jensen, Jared and Misha here…). It’s healthy to care about something, whether we’re screaming in joy or gnashing our teeth in frustration. If there’s one thing that Supernatural fans have never been accused of, it’s that they don’t care. Oh, we care. A lot. Sometimes, though, all that passion sets the bar pretty damn high for the thing you care about. When other shows have a meh episode, I shrug and change the channel or skip ahead on the DVR. When SPN has a meh episode, it’s a lot harder to let it go. That’s the price of passion – when it’s good, it’s very good. But when it’s not, it freaking hurts. It’s like the difference between an acquaintance turning out to be sort of a jerk and your best friend (who you depend on to always be there for you) letting you down. The first is annoying; the second is devastating. Passionate fans are buoyed by the Show’s success and proud of its quality. We feel good when it’s good. We quoted some pretty interesting research in Fandom At The Crossroads about the way fans’ emotions are inextricably linked to the things they fan. If their favorite sports teams win, the fans’ endorphins rise just as high as the actual players. The same thing happens to me when SPN is amazing – it’s a high, and that’s addictive. But you know what they say about withdrawal. No wonder sports fans have been known to hurl insults (among other things) after a loss – SPN fans take to the internet to do the same.
Some of what made this week’s episode feel like a let down was simply its proximity to last week’s. Last week I was on the edge of my seat for most of the episode, screaming at the television and then searching frantically for that box of tissues. This week the only time I addressed the tv was to ask it incredulously, “Wait, why is she suddenly wearing a negligee?” Hey, I can understand that having your partner chained to a bed can be a turn-on, but probably not when you’re in the midst of trying to figure out if he’s a murderer. Not exactly the sort of thing that puts you in the mood. But whatever, to each his own. As usual, it wasn’t the MOTW stuff that really caught my attention — but even if I’m watching for Sam and Dean and Cas, most of the time I do manage to at least care about the other characters. This time, that was a struggle. The guest actress did a good job with Portia, but the whole subservient-woman-of-color-in-a-collar-calling-a-white-man-master distracted from her performance. I didn’t particularly care whether James lived or died, and the Winchesters didn’t seem to care much either.
There were some good moments. Sam getting adorably flustered trying to convince Dean to allow a stray dog to spend the night, and Dean acquiescing easily once she’s a beautiful woman, did make me laugh. What was Dean actually agreeing to there? Obviously the writers are reading too much fanfic. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be reading much of the good stuff, or they’d be a little more familiar with familiars – and more importantly, they’d know that Dean was familiar with familiars! Which brings me to my biggest problem with this episode. Last week, Sam pronounced Dean a genius (kicking off a round of embarrassing squeeing in my house). This week, Dean’s never heard of a familiar and can’t quite seem to figure out what the word ‘intimate’ means. What?? Who was that guy? Surely that can’t be the man Sam called the best hunter out there and a genius to boot.
The last scene, on the surface at least, was right up my alley. The brothers talking about what was really going on between them. Dean voicing his realization that they made it through the repeated traumas of their lives by “hanging together”. He says it outright: “I trust you Sammy.” The problem with that speech was that the root of Dean’s struggle to come to that trust seemed to be his questioning Sam’s actual ability to do the trials. Dean’s reluctance being a result of his protectiveness of Sam, which seemed to be the explanation in the previous episode, makes sense to me – Dean doesn’t want Sam to die. But the last episode made it clear that Sam is more than competent, and clear that Dean knows it. Dean’s reasoning this time didn’t ring true, or seem consistent with last week’s progress. Sam’s conclusion that Dean can only trust himself didn’t quite ring true either. Perhaps Sam doesn’t want to remember Dean’s speech about trusting Benny (and I can’t blame him). But the boys’ seemed to come to a better understanding of each other in the last episode than they’ve had in a while, so their inability to ‘get’ each other here is puzzling. I did find it in character that Sam would hide the toll the trials are taking on him from Dean. He wants to keep Dean’s trust, and he never wants to be a burden, as I imagine he might have felt at times during their childhood, as Dean took care of his little brother when he was just a kid himself.
One step forward, two steps back, Show. I guess that’s how it goes. And if this were any other show, I’d be fine with that. But I know how good you can be, and I know what it feels like when you are. I admit it, I’m addicted to that feeling. So c’mon Show, gimme!