When I heard that Richard Speight, Jr. would be directing an episode, I sent a prayer to God that he’d get a script that was funny, had great visuals, good continuity, great characterization and maybe dealt with the Angels. Sadly, we only really got 2 out of 5 there. Perhaps I should have pointed out that he needed a specific writer?
The episode was full of nice visuals and some lovely horror movie style shots. The scene transition of Sam standing there into Sam sitting in the car was particularly interesting. The episode was a testament to the talent of Speight, but really just made me mourn for the spectacular display that would have been his direction on a better script.
The script was written by one of the more controversial writers on Supernatural, Jenny Klein, who has had trouble with characterization and content in some of her previous scripts. Thankfully, she managed to generally avoid actively offensive content this time around, but the characterization issues with almost all the characters did make me wonder if she’d simply forgotten all character continuity previous to season 9.
The episode saw a new actor, Dylan Kingwell, as 11-year-old Sam. He did a decent job with what he had to work with, but the Sam we saw in the episode was wildly out of character. A boy that later hates hunting with a passion and canonically runs away only a few years later decides at 11 that hunting is the only life for him? The lines in several flashbacks felt more like it was written for Dean and they just swapped the names.
An element that also threw me off was the fact that John had him take a cross-country bus while unaccompanied to meet them for a job. Previous seasons had them mention meeting up with family friends to watch them while John was occupied, and that John was controlling and security-minded. I can buy him leaving Sam alone on the very short term for nearby hunts, but would a guy like that risk Sam taking a bus and never showing up? No, something like that would have had him or someone he trusted picking Sam up from the motel. Probably with a dozen different safe-words he’d have to repeat.
Also, I’m convinced the amount of injuries the guys have been wracking up in past seasons have been catching up with them. Dean got taken down, while alert, by a 2-by-4 wielded by a not-that-stealthy assailant that couldn’t have been that strong and who used substandard rope to tie him up with. If it were me, I’d be claiming previous injuries, just to avoid the embarrassment of being taken down that easily.
The discovery that Sam had his own supernatural guardian at one time was nice. Sully isn’t an angel, but no one is perfect.
It was pleasant to see Dylan Everett as young Dean again. Hopefully, next time we see him, it’ll be a better script.
There were a few continuity bits that they did include that I enjoyed. Dean’s continued buried nerdiness was a treat. I admit to squealing a little when Dean mentioned Totoro. The idea of Dean sitting down to watch Studio Ghibli films is adorable, especially if he watched it with others (my bet is on Cas or Charlie as the film festival buddy).
Dean has progressed to not only wearing the Men Of Letters robes, but also their slippers. It’s fun seeing him settle into his very own nest. He deserves a place to call his very own. I also loved the counselor persona knitted cardigan outfits. They both looked quite spiffy.
The imaginary friends, called the Zanna in the episode, are a diverse type of guardian guides for children. I enjoyed the wide variety of individuals shown. I would like to register a formal complaint against whoever assigns those, as I didn’t have one as a kid and I’d have cheerfully strangled someone for a Mermaid or a Fairy when I was little. I’d also like to know if they can imitate other species, as several kids I knew when I was little had angel imaginary friends. Does that mean there are ersatz sparkly angels wandering around someplace? What do the real angels think about that?
The Zanna with the mullet and the air guitar skill made me laugh. I felt sorry for the little guy he watched over, though, as I got the distinct impression from the discussion of his mom drinking her “grown-up juice” that the reason he loved such a normal-looking Zanna was because the little guy was starved for attention and an adult male figure to look up to. I’m glad that Zanna didn’t die, he’ll be needed.
The shot of the “Manicorn” Zanna reading was cute, but it would have been funnier if he’d been reading a book on child psychology or something. Reading kids’ books just contributed to the overall feeling of the Zanna as extremely innocent and child-like, and made seeing them murdered feel really uncomfortable. They felt more like the children of a group of monsters, rather then the monsters themselves, which was at odds with the “we’re an assistance organization, I’m in management” adult grouping that they’d set up throughout the episode. A slight set of tweaks – like a more grownup-oriented book, maybe one of them texting a status report once the child left – would have gone a long way to making me take the Zanna seriously as a monster species. Almost like a supernatural social worker, since that’s what they seemed to be going for by the end of the episode.
One complaint about the direction of the episode: that flashback of Dean getting clobbered near the end kinda killed the pacing. The flashes of Sam as a kid were alright, as they fit in and weren’t confusing, but that one of Dean wasn’t really needed there. It would have worked better if shown when it actually happened. Considering it was a scripted element, though, I blame Klein rather than Speight.
Overall, the story itself was mild and the new characters were amusing to watch, but the problems in the script made the episode altogether forgettable. The lack of consistency with previous continuity about the characters is a major drawback that offset any gains from the few jokes that actually landed well. The direction of the episode was nice, but that wasn’t nice enough to save it from the issues. Hopefully, the next time we have Richard Speight, Jr. back to direct, he’ll get a script from the better writers of Supernatural.
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