This review contains spoilers.
9.5 Dog Dean Afternoon
A few times a season, Supernatural does one of those wacky, slightly crackpot episodes that makes you question the writers’ sanity. Dog Dean Afternoon was obviously slated to be one of those. It begins with a montage of some of the craziest episodes the show’s done, from Yellow Fever and Changing Channels to all the ridiculous times it’s broken the fourth wall. At first glance, it reads like a plea to viewers to be more open-minded about the crazy that’s coming, an insistence that perhaps sometimes we shouldn’t take this show so seriously. I raised my eyebrows skeptically.
But, surprisingly, this episode wasn’t as crazy as it wanted to be. In fact, by Supernatural standards, it was rather sane, and though it had a number of glaring problems, it was also entertaining – even if it rather formulaically followed the Supernatural recipe for a standard Monster-of-the-Week episode.
The first part of that formula dictates a good old-fashioned scary opener of the kind that made Supernatural’s first season such a wonderful work of horror. It’s the usual: a late-night scene, mysterious sounds, darkness, and a poor innocent soul (or not) killed by a dastardly monster as blood splays against the wall. It’s exactly like every other scary opening we’ve seen on Supernatural, and also the kind of scene that seems to have been missing lately.
This is followed, as per that same formula, by the Winchesters remarking unusual goings-on and deciding to investigate them. Their first scene in the episode is pretty much an exact copy of the opening scenes from the last two episodes. No, really, it’s like they copied and pasted from the previous scripts, because Sam and Dean have almost literally the exact same conversation they’ve had in the two previous episodes: Dean thinks Sam should sit it out, Sam feels fine, Dean doesn’t have a good excuse to offer for why a seemingly perfectly healthy Sam should do nothing, Sam doesn’t notice this is strange. Aside from the fact that they’ve literally already had the same conversation three times now, there’s also the fact that Dean continues to look like a bit of an idiot.
Look, I enjoy Sam caring about Dean, because I know he does. That’s who he is: he cares for the people he loves, perhaps a little too much. What I enjoy, however, is a nice balance between his affection and his brotherly antagonism. I don’t enjoy a Dean that seems to want to protect Sam from life, but a Dean that allows him the freedom to actually live – a Dean that I know exists, a Dean I’ve seen before. But, Alas.
Next in the formula comes the investigating, with the fake IDs, the cheap FBI suits, and Dean’s clever quips. This doesn’t last too long before our experienced hunters decide that the most efficient way for them to solve their newest case is to try putting a spell they’ve never even heard of before on themselves. As a premise, it’s a bit flimsy: I, for one, don’t buy that they wouldn’t have done a bit more investigating first. After all, since when are the Winchesters so amiable to mysterious witchy hoodoo anyway? But sure, let’s go with that, in the name of humor.
As far as the crazy humour aspect of this episode goes, it varies. The first scene of Dean acting dog-like is actually unexpectedly funny, and I say this as someone who hates crude humour and dumbing down characters for the sake of laughs. Sure, I’m not too happy about Dean’s character being used for comic effect in that way, but I can’t help that I laughed. Plus, it helps that Jensen Ackles nailed that scene, with Jared Padalecki playing off him perfectly to create a two-person comic scene. Then again, there’s a few fairly uncomfortable scenes, too – Dean Winchester being attracted to a poodle is disturbing no matter how supernatural your show is. Overall, it’s a hit-and-miss combination of humor.
Thankfully, however, the comedy doesn’t dominate the episode. Instead, there’s both strong characterisation and that warm brotherly companionship that I fell in love with. Sam and Dean work together as a perfect pair, their business-like hunting partnership completed by their humour and amused exasperation at each other’s quirks. Yet each brother also holds his own as a character: Dean is a clever and inventive hunter, who, despite his newly-found dog instincts, is able to concentrate on the case and make a number of his trademark quips. “I always knew I’d find the source of all evil in a vegan bakery,” he comments. Me too, Dean. Me too. Meanwhile, Sam’s also a combination of intelligence and an ultimately humorous saint-like patience.
The climax of the episode, however, is both lacklustre and rather…holey. Sure, I’ll accept that eating animal hearts gives you their powers, though the villain’s reasoning for it is a bit of a stretch for the imagination. What I have more trouble with is forgetting the existence of the deus-ex-machina that is Ezekiel long enough to believe what’s happening.
Sam gets hurt (again). Ezekiel fixes him – but only so far as to heal his injuries, but not, it seems, to prevent him from actually dying. In fact, it appears that Ezekiel only really makes his presence known to, well, make his presence known – but when the prime opportunity to save the conveniently-unconscious Sam presents itself, well, that’d be too convenient for the script. Instead, Ezekiel presumably watches from an unconscious Sam’s body as his own source of survival nearly gets destroyed. It’s a scenario that becomes more ridiculous because one of the greatest concerns that’s been voiced about Castiel as a regular on Supernatural is that he’s too powerful to make the story interesting (something I’ve never believed, but that’s neither here nor there). Now Castiel’s human, a fact which interestingly coincides with him being a season regular, and while his character gets to fill in the role of comic effect, Ezekiel gets to be the powerful angel putting plotholes in the storyline.
The final scene of the episode is also both hit-and-miss. It starts on an interesting note: the two Winchesters, having a heart-to-heart by the Impala. Over the years, the brotherly talks by their beloved car have become a staple of the show that, like so much else, we’ve seen so rarely lately. It’s nice to have it back, along with all its foreshadowing glory: Dean statement that “Chef Leo” was possessed by something he couldn’t control reads almost like a gloomy prediction minutes after Ezekiel made his presence known yet again. Still, I continue to wonder (as I’ve done for episodes now) how long that’ll last: Dean continues to make readily transparent excuses for Sam’s magically-healing injuries, and Sam, it appears, is still letting it go. Ah well, it wouldn’t be Supernatural if they weren’t hiding things from each other, because our characters apparently never learn.
In the end, the episode has its strengths, it has its weaknesses, and in combination, the result is unremarkable. It’s certainly not bad, but when the season’s all finished up, I have no doubt that it won’t stand out as anything more than a standard case with a few laughs and a few holes.
Read Anastasia’s review of the previous episode, Slumber Party, here.
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