5.8 Changing Channels
So here’s a question. What do these four things have in common: a giant sandwich, a Greys Anatomy spoof, a Japanese game show called ‘nutcracker’ and Sam Winchester contracting genital herpes? Well, in the world of Supernatural it can mean only one thing. Last night’s excellent episode, Changing Channels, which poured on the comedic patter in bucket loads yet still managed to throw in an additional ‘never saw it coming’ moment. We may have waited since The End for a truly great episode, but Hell, was it worth the wait.
As the title suggests, Changing Channels threw Sam and Dean Winchester into the 2D world of TV-land, where characters act out their roles perfectly and that, dear reader, was the crux of the episode.
For all those with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Supernatural monsters will know there’s only one thing powerful enough to dump Dean and Sam into a parallel universe and that’s the Trickster. he maniacal demigod played by Richard Speight Jr. (Jericho, Band Of Brothers) had his reasons for sending the Winchesters ‘down the rabbit hole’, so to speak, and it was to prove a point. If they could act as sexy doctors and CSI-style detectives, why couldn’t they act out the roles that destiny had chosen for them?
The moral message of the episode managed to reel in season five’s apocalyptic storyline, as the Trickster brings up Sam and Dean’s respective starring roles as Lucifer and Michael. While this idea never expanded beyond the mere mention of the brothers impending “celebrity death-match” it was nice to hear the conversation taking place after so many episodes without it.
And, of course, there was that twist to the tale. While Changing Channels set itself up as an episode designed, for all intents and purposes, to be nothing but light relief filler in a dark season, things took a very unexpected turn halfway through. The angel Castiel (played wonderfully once again by Misha Collins) manages to locate the brothers, only to tell them that the Trickster can’t be all that he seems. And as it turned out, he was right.
In the final few moments, it is revealed that, shock horror, twist of all twists, the Trickster is actually the archangel Gabriel. Having grown tired of his brothers’ constant fighting, Gabriel has deserted heaven, taken on an alias and has found solace in his life as a trickster. This dramatic change up to characterisation worked so well because Richard Speight Jr. was able to portray a very different side to a character whose previous incarnation was light hearted, even verging on goofy.
Speight Jr swerves neatly from playing Gabriel as an aggressive force to be reckoned with to a brooding and downtrodden mess, left standing lonely in a warehouse, drenched in water as the final scene closes. Interestingly, despite his malevolent acts throughout the episode, Gabriel is spared by Dean, making way for, what I personally hope, to be future appearances from one of the most interesting characters in Supernatural’s ever spreading world.
What made this episode so good, in my opinion, was the mix of comedy and drama, which was perfectly timed. While the episode revelled in its comedic nature, it never entered into screwball territory because there was always a dark underpinning. This was no better expressed then in the excellently spoofed ‘Supernatural sitcom’.
The boys find themselves forced to live inside a twee version of their own miserable lives, complete with canned laughter and colourful sets. As the brothers play out their roles, grinning eerily from ear to ear, Dean asks Sam how long he thinks they’ll have to keep up the pretence. To which the younger brother answers in a strained smile, “I don’t know, maybe forever? We might die in here.”
In my introductory guide, I talked about how Supernatural often alludes to classic pop-culture references as well as to its own fan base, something which, in my opinion, makes it far more interesting and intelligent than what it’s given credit for. It goes behind the static requirements of an American fantasy drama and provides its loyal viewers with in-jokes to revel in, adding yet another layer to the series overall.
Changing Channels was just one of the episodes that provided this platform. By the end, I wasn’t even fussed that the brothers still seemed pretty nonplussed about the little matter of an impending apocalypse. We got to spend an hour with Richard Speight Jr, the Trickster came out as Gabriel and Sam Winchester uttered the immortal words, “I have genital herpes.” What more could you ask for?
Well, if you appreciate a damn good episode filled to the brim with pop-culture references and some great comedy acting, as it turns out, not much.
Read our review of episode 7 here. Catch the show on Living in the UK.