Supernatural 8.19: Along For the Ride on Taxi Driver
Lynn’s review of Taxi Driver, which starts out a bit of a rocky ride, but predictably (because Lynn is a sucker for those glorious broments) ends up kinda mushy. Shocking, I know.
I went into this week’s episode completely unspoiled. There’s something wonderful about watching SPN the way I used to, in the days before anyone (including the network) was paying enough attention to the show to leak spoilers. That innocence should have given me some gasp-out-loud OMG moments when Sam really did manage to spring Bobby from hell, or when Benny came running the second Dean asked for his help. Unfortunately, the dramatic potential of those scenes and others was blunted by a script that seemed to pack three episodes into one, and a playing fast and loose with canon that made me a little dizzy. I probably should at least check out episode writers before I turn on the TV, but I’ve been spoiled by this Show in a different way – I trust it. I trust it to ‘know’ its characters and its history, so I can strap myself in for the ride and just let it take me where it wants. Intellectually, I know that every show is gonna have its missteps, but honestly? SPN hasn’t had that many, even in eight seasons on the air. (I love you, Show, never doubt that).
Being a fan is tough on the weeks in which an episode left a significant portion of fandom dissatisfied. Partly because fandom doesn’t do “dissatisfied” the way the customer service folks in your local department store do it. There are no orderly lines and patient, politely expressed complaints. Fandom is passionate no matter what the emotion, so dissatisfaction is loud and uncensored and nowhere near polite – it can be downright rude and inadvertently hurtful. If you’re one of the fans who watched and turned off the television beaming and full of SPN-love, it’s devastating to get online and have someone “harsh your squee” the second you read someone else’s negative comment. There are times I avoid getting online just to hang onto my happy place for a while after an episode. But half the fun of squeeing is having other like-minded folks to squee with, so that strategy is never very successful for me for too long. Last night some of my fellow fans were upset because their squee had been harshed, and others were upset because they felt the Show had let them down. I empathized with both, because both experiences hurt. A lot.
I’m one of those annoying glass half full types most of the time (just ask Kathy, who will no doubt read this after I’ve posted it and glare at me from three states away) – so let’s get the not-so-good out of the way first, and then I can roll around happily in the things I did like about this episode.
I definitely wasn’t bored, but the episode was a bit too ambitious in trying to cover so much ground, especially with a pivotal and emotional event like the return of a beloved character embedded in it. I’ve been missing the Winchesters having a personal stake in what they’re trying to accomplish, so it was a great idea to invest Sam’s second trial with a very personal motivation – get the boys’ surrogate father out of hell. Marvelous idea! Shoehorning it into an episode where dozens of other things are going on? Not so much. Imagine how it could have been: the suspense of an entire episode in which Sam desperately tries to find and save Bobby, fighting his way through attacks by monster after monster, barely escaping with his life again and again, searching the endless corridors of hell, while Dean waits helplessly on the other side, anguished and terrified. Instead Sam easily dispatches a monster or two, steps into hell, wanders down two hallways, and boom! There’s Bobby. Seemingly none the worse for wear after a year in hell, which utterly destroyed the not-exactly-weak Dean Winchester after four months. There was so much potential in this idea, but the rushed execution took the suspense and some of the emotional impact out of it.
The number of “plot hole fill explanations” posted in every corner of the internet after the episode was telling. I don’t tend to be a stickler about details, but even I was scratching my head. There’s so much handwaving going on, fans are going to take flight soon. Why did Crowley bother torturing Alphas for a whole season if he could have just asked Ajay the reaper? Wasn’t the ‘secret’ of Purgatory the plot of the entire season six? Even Cas raising Dean from Perdition seems to have lost a bit of its gravity, since Sam was able to pop in and out within the course of an episode, and apparently without any residual PTSD from his own time in the pit.
The ease with which Sam liberated Bobby also makes the fact that he didn’t try to rescue Dean even harder to swallow. Which, frankly, was already threatening to choke me to death. Bobby is now the fifth or sixth person to take Sam to task for that, which makes me think that Show still has more ‘splainin to do about why Sam didn’t look for Dean. I really want to trust you to tell me something that will make it all make sense, Show, I do. But can I? SPN used to be amazingly, ridiculously consistent and cumulative in a way that television shows can rarely manage. Every episode built on the ones before it, with most of the building blocks fitting together in a way that still made perfect sense three or four seasons later. Admittedly, that becomes harder and harder to pull off as you have eight seasons worth of blocks mortared together. But I miss that continuity, even if that’s an unrealistic expectation to impose. When the show forgets its own history, I don’t feel safe in its world anymore.
Okay, that’s as much complaining as I can muster. There were other things that kept popping out at me, but I’m perfectly capable of handwaving most of them. *waves dramatically* There!
There were plenty of things I did like. I liked the ambiguity of the ending, for which I will give the writers some big kudos. I love when Show comes to the end of an episode and I’m asking my television “What? What just happened?” That’s good writing, and respectful of the intelligence of the audience. I like having something to talk about with other fans, hypothesizing, tossing around theories. Did Crowley really take Kevin? Was he ever really there? Was it all in poor Kevin’s sleep-deprived, nutrition-deprived, stress-addled brain? Or was Naomi the one messing with Kevin’s head all along? The place wasn’t warded against angels, after all. And the shattered windows looked pretty damn intact to me. Hmmm. Well played, Show. I love when I can say that!
I was originally going to complain that hell seemed to go pretty damn easy on Bobby Singer, considering Dean was impaled on meathooks and suspended in oblivion and who knows what else. Dean and Sam repeatedly coming to visit you? That’s hell? Well damn, sign me up! Then I thought about some of the best fanfiction I’ve read about one of the boys in hell – what was their most excruciating torture? Being confronted with the person they most longed to see and the hope that they were being reunited, only to be disappointed again and again. So I’m assuming that’s what the writers were going for here, and giving that a pass.
The episode, like so many SPN episodes, was visually stunning. Kudos to the VFX guys, to Jerry Wanek’s amazing production team, and to Serge Ladouceur, who we fangirl unrepentantly. I’m usually in the “don’t try to show what your budget won’t allow” camp, but the depiction of hell really worked here. It was creepy and disturbing, images and sounds woven together to create an atmosphere that left me feeling like I just wanted out as soon as possible.
And btw, Purgatory seems to make everyone look good. Must be the lighting. Purgatory!Sam was just as ridiculously hot as Purgatory!Dean, brandishing his made-for-Purgatory weapons and tossing his glorious looks-great-even-in-Purgatory hair. Also the climb up to that portal inevitably results in fabulous shots of the boys’ backsides, which is much appreciated. Please to never stop shooting Purgatory scenes, Show.
The acting was top notch all around. Jared and Jim struck just the right note for their emotional reunion in the midst of an escape from hell, and it was wonderful to see Sam get some quality time with Bobby – it felt healing, like something they both needed, and maybe I needed it for them too. Guest actor Assaf Cohen made taxi driver Ajay seem real even in the few scenes he had, and Osric has pulled off an amazing transformation for the beleaguered Kevin. His exhaustion, depression, and desperation were literally hard to watch – as they should be. Osric landed the humorous lines he was given perfectly too. His deadpan “Unto….that’s how god talks” made me laugh out loud despite the somber circumstances.
And Jensen and Ty knocked it out of the park in their powerful reunion/goodbye scene. At Jensen’s meet and greet at the last con, he talked about the filming of that scene with Ty, saying “The scene took on this emotion that I had not intended, nor did he, and we kinda laughed about it after we did it the first time.” He looked at Ty afterwards and was like, “Wow, did you mean to go there? I didn’t mean to go there.”
Apparently neither of them did; rather the emotions played out organically between the two characters, with both actors very aware of their history and how it contributed to that moment. Jensen went on to say that once they identified it, they couldn’t help but go there, every time. Guy Bee was directing and he came over and told Jensen and Ty how awesome the scene was, and that he hadn’t even seen it on the page. And Jensen said, “It wasn’t there. Sometimes chemistry happens between two characters, and when that chemistry happens, you need to be available for it.”
It’s the same thing that happens often between Ackles and Padalecki. As Jensen has explained it, some actors are so rehearsed in their heads that they’re not available for it – obviously not the case for many of the SPN cast.
I’m sure you know what I’ve saved for last, right? I can forgive a lot of plot shakiness when you give me a Dean and Sam who feel like Dean and Sam, and the brothers both felt right in this episode. Dean wanted desperately to go with Sam, to be able to protect him and help him through the trial; you could see how much it cost him to not be able to. Sam wasn’t dismissive of Dean’s desire to help – he gets it, but he also knows he has to do this alone. And he’s determined to do it and survive. He’s smart, planful, prepared, brave. I believe in his commitment, because that’s Bobby Singer in there, and if anyone can get him out, it’s Sam Winchester.
While Sam is gone, my heart goes out to Dean. If you’ve ever sent someone you love off to do something both important and dangerous, unsure whether they’ll come back (or if you have a child, because it goes with the territory….), you can relate to the anguish on Dean’s face when he lets Sam go. How many times has he lost his little brother, and how much has it cost him? Sam is brave to go in; Dean is brave to let him. I’m afraid for them both, which is exactly how I should be feeling.
Because Jensen makes me believe 100% in how terrified Dean is, the scene between Dean and Benny becomes emotionally gut-wrenching for me as a viewer, just as it is for Dean onscreen. Asking for help is the last thing Dean Winchester ever wants to do – certainly not from someone he pushed away and let down – so I believe in his desperation. I was sure that a tear was about to escape at any second the entire time Dean and Benny were talking – that’s how on the edge Ackles portrayed Dean. That’s the emotional ride I count on this Show to bring me, and it didn’t disappoint.
Nobody will be surprised that the reunion between Sam and Dean when Sam returns safely with Bobby’s soul was the scene that made the entire episode for me. When Ackles and Padalecki are given the opportunity to show the emotion between the brothers openly, they never fail to leave me in tears. It’s the little things both actors do that sell the emotional intensity. The way Dean looks absolutely wrecked when Sam finally appears, like he can’t believe what he’s seeing, that Sam is really back – the way he just stops and looks him over, eyes darting frantically from head to toe, assessing. Is there blood? Is he okay? Anyone who has been through the close-call almost-loss of someone beloved has done that very thing. And then Dean just launches himself at Sam, sweeping him into his arms and clinging so tightly it’s probably hurting the bruised and exhausted Sam. The relief – and the love – are palpable, obvious in the way Dean’s fingers clutch at Sam’s back, the way they both close their eyes to ground themselves, reassurance that they’re really there, back together.
And now I’m sitting here smiling and teary-eyed and madly in love with the Winchesters and their epic love and wondering if we’ll get to see Benny again and if Naomi really was the one who took Kevin, and hmmm. Maybe I liked this episode a little more than I thought. I’m just gonna go watch that hug scene a few more times. Just a few.
What did you think, fandom??