This review contains spoilers.
10.6 Ask Jeeves
Given how strong the 200th episode, Fan Fiction, was, I was a little worried that what followed it might be a dip in quality, particularly if we were swiftly dropped back into Winchester angst immediately. Instead, Ask Jeeves opts for the comedic approach and it makes for a great follow-up as the boys find themselves in a real-life version of Clue (Cluedo for us UK residents). Bobby’s old phone receives a message from the estate of Bunny Lacroix, a wealthy lady with one of those big houses adorned with a Beethoven doorbell. Cases are lacking so Sam and Dean head across to New Canaan, Connecticut where they swiftly become embroiled in family squabbles and the odd murder or two. Or four.
The Clue-esque aspects ensure that pop culture references come thick and fast, not in the least from the board game itself as Dean makes his way through the various iconic weapons during his search of the house. There’s even a brief nod to Tim Curry’s character, Wadsworth, in the film adaptation and whilst it might not have been as slapstick as that movie, the funny moments came thick and fast throughout the episode. The decapitated body outline was as near-perfect a sight gag as they come.
The score also worked particularly well this week, given the murder mystery homage that characterised Ask Jeeves. Jay Gruska has worked on just over half of Supernatural’s episodes during its time on air and he’s adept at transforming his work to fit the various styles non-mytharc episodes often embody, including fan favourite Monster Movie. Here, the score takes on the jazzy, playful stylings of murder mystery shows (particularly the clarinet of Diagnosis Murder) that works well with regards to the upper class setting as well as being suitably discordant for the presence of the Winchesters within in it.
It also helped that the supporting cast of Bunny’s money-grabbing family were all excellent, especially Gillian Vigman and Debra McCabe as the gruesome twosome of Heddy and Beverly, keen to get their claws into Sam or Dean. The script afforded them some brilliant lines and they seize it with relish, sending up the kind of WASPish families that so often appeared in programmes like Murder She Wrote (also referenced here). Naturally, it wouldn’t be a complete homage without the scene where everyone gathers together and tries to suss out the killer and their motive. It’s easily the best moment in the episode and the supporting cast shine as Sam and Dean attempt to go about their investigation without actually telling them a shapeshifter is involved.
The opening ‘Then’ scenes of the more eclectic monsters that the boys have faced over the seasons, as well as clueing us in to the more comedic atmosphere, also allowed the audience to start guessing which one would feature. A shapeshifter seemed the most obvious given the style of the murders. Though monsters-of-the-week have featured in the later seasons too, it’s the first time for a while that a recent episode captured the atmosphere of the early seasons when the show was more defined by those individual episodes than its mythology. It helps that the episode sees Dean fixing his car and ends on another classic song with Bob Seger’s Travelin’ Man. It’s what Dean has been wanting to get back too as well – ‘saving people, hunting things’ – and the show feels all the better for returning to that.
However, Ask Jeeves is not without its connection to the wider story of what’s happening with Dean since his return from the demonic brink. When killing the shapeshifter, Dean doesn’t stop with the one bullet, emptying more rounds into the dead body without really needing to and stopping Sam dead before another heartfelt conversation. Dean turning into a demon set the tone for a recurring theme across the season, questioning the differences between heroes and monsters. Dean established that himself when Sam was attempting to cure him, pointing out that his brother’s methods to save him weren’t all that heroic. Sam points to it again here when he pleads with Olivia, stating that ‘being a monster is a choice.’
The monsters we’ve seen so far this series have been victims of circumstance rather than choice from Dean himself to Kate the werewolf and Olivia the shapeshifter this week and its muddying the waters somewhat for Dean. Throughout the series, his definition of ‘monster’ has been pretty clear cut and has often been a source of conflict with Sam when the pair fight over saving or killing someone (Jewel Staite’s Amy for example). Now Dean has crossed to the other side and returned, that line gets a whole lot blurrier and the show is playing with some interesting personal dynamics as we progress further into its tenth season.
The personal approach has really strengthened the opening to the tenth season and despite my issues with how quickly Dean returned to being human, the quality of the episodes since has been excellent.
Read Becky’s review of the previous episode, Fan Fiction, here.
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