This review contains spoilers.
6.1 Shawn Rescues Darth Vader
Over the past five seasons, there have been relatively few episodes of Psych where the mystery has been the main point of interest. Far more common are those episodes in which the gimmick-of-the-week (a term that inevitably sounds more disparaging than it is meant to) is the focus of attention. Whether it’s send-ups of other shows and genres designed to make a TV-troper squeal with childish glee (most notably in Dual Spires, the much-lauded homage to Twin Peaks, and the Hitchcock mash-up Mr Yin Presents…), or instead mysteries set around the formula ‘Shawn and Gus become…’ (be that drag racers, bounty hunters, babysitters, stuntmen, or whatever), there’s a danger as the show enters its sixth year that these gimmicks will have to become ever-more farfetched to really make their mark.
Shawn Rescues Darth Vader, then, is rather a strange choice for the series to return on. It’s very much a gimmick episode – in this case, ‘What if Shawn and Gus had diplomatic immunity?’ – but surprisingly little is made of it. Yes, there are a couple of well-placed lines that stem from the idea, not least Shawn’s unsuccessful attempt to commandeer a Prius and his general uselessness at identifying and repeating foreign accents. But given Steve Franks’s taste for full-on parody, the fleeting Lethal Weapon 2 reference (while well-timed and entirely welcome) seems remarkably restrained.
Similarly, the mystery itself never really feels like it gets off the ground, and the whole thing ticks along with some guff about an old murder case, a foreign exchange program and a miscarriage of justice that might not have been so miscarriagey after all before reaching a satisfying (if uninspiring) denouement.
It’s rather a shame that this week’s big-name guest star, Malcolm McDowell, doesn’t really get much of a chance to flex his comedic muscles here, as fans of his recent turn as the deliciously eccentric Stanton Infeld in Franklin & Bash will no doubt attest.
However, Kurt Fuller’s recurring role as Woody the Coroner picks up a lot of the slack, with our first real demonstration of just what a weird little fellow he can be, appearing just about the right amount to ensure that his character doesn’t feel overused and strange just for the sake of it. Whether or not the writers will be able to keep this up for next week’s episode, in which Shawn, Gus, Lassiter and Woody will apparently wake up after a wild night out thinking they might have killed someone, is another matter.
So if the gimmick is barely featured, the mystery is fairly standard and the special guest isn’t really given much of a chance to shine, what is there to make Shawn Rescues Darth Vader worth the watch?
In short, it’s Lassie and his attempts at unearthing the truth with his trusty lie detector, after it was accidentally revealed to him in the closing minutes of last season’s finale that Shawn and Jules were an item. While it shouldn’t really come as any surprise that a man who would train his son to have an eidetic memory in an attempt to turn him into a supercop would also teach him how to beat a polygraph, there’s still a genuine sense of wonderment at how Shawn is going to get out from under Lassie’s questioning with his little scam intact.
That, coupled with Maggie Lawson’s adorably happy smile when Shawn drops the L-word with nary a twitch of the needle, puts this week’s effort firmly into the category of a character-driven episode. Although there are no major developments on offer, Psych has always been at its best when it lets us see how the relationships between Shawn and Gus and their police colleagues unfold – and it’s fair to say that any middling mystery would have been worth the wonderful sequence when Lassie hooks himself up to a polygraph to make it crystal clear to Shawn just what will happen if things with Juliet go down the tube. Truly, it’s a master class in giving comedy threats, and Timothy Omundson comes away with many of the week’s best moments.
As for the grand old Psych tradition of inserting a pineapple into every episode, I have to admit this one has me rather stumped. The best I can come up with is a plate of bright yellow cubes in the kitchen as Shawn sneaks his way through the house right at the start, but it’s a bit of a stretch (and no, despite what internet messageboards might have you believe, the decorative bauble on the bottom of the stairs is most definitely not a pineapple). If any sharper-eyed viewers out there have a better solution, please let us know in the comments.