Friday, February 12, 2010

Review: "Supernatural" 5.14 My Bloody Valentine

Well, it's another hiatus for our boys. I always hate TV in the spring, especially with our underdogs like "Supernatural," which is painfully underrated, which competes with "Fringe," is a helluva lot better than "Fringe," and just keeps getting better and better every episode, every moment, and I speak specifically of this week's episode, My Bloody Valentine, which was blessed and cruel and entirely amazing. Last night's was the best ep of "Supernatural" yet. From its very first scene, which shocks and disgusts, I think, in a league beyond any we've ever seen the show approach, to Dean's long-time-comin' prayer in that final moment, My Bloody Valentine contains a certain irreverence, a maturity that truly a very, very good way.

"Supernatural" has never been a show that hands anything to its protagonists, the Winchester boys (which is why I got so mad earlier this season). The writing frequently afflicts them beyond their means to get better, and it forces them to ride out long, complicated roads of maybes and if-only scenarios, before finally yanking the rug out from under them and saying, "Nice try. You're going to doom mankind after all." And in this episode, there is also a sense of degeneration. We're backsliding. Not the show itself, but the characters, who find themselves stewing in the tragic soup of their respective (and joint) emotional baggage--Sam is back on demon blood; Dean has no hunger; Even Castiel has backslid, fallen prey to the hunger of his vessel, Jimmy, who has been gone for a long time now. This sense of degeneration ads yet another layer to the hopelessness that exists at the core of "Supernatural."

Hopelessness, like a nail, has been driven in deeper and deeper up to this point, and we know that it's there and it's going to stay. Unlike in recent episodes (ie: Changing Channels or The Song Remains the Same), the hopelessness in My Bloody Valentine is not directly related to the boys' presumed inability to avoid their destinies as Michael and Lucifer. Instead, it is a hopelessness that has burrowed finally into the human underbelly of "Supernatural"--my favorite part--in which we not only get to see what terrifying, unstoppable monsters lurk in the shadows of the physical world, but also in the fraying psyches of our main characters. Dean and Sam are at the end of their rope. The hopelessness is real now, not just something out there in the world to be stricken down with the Colt or Angel allies or anything like that. It's in the bodies and the minds and the souls of our Winchesters--It's hunger, Famine, which is bodily if anything. Perfect timing for Famine! I think we see this in that last scene. Dean prays, and it's like--Oh my god, it's come to this.

The violent nature of the deaths in this episode alone, I think, is indicative of some deeper interior struggle going on with the boys, especially with Dean. Lovers eating themselves to death? R&J type suicide pacts? I see Jo all over this episode--Dean's loss of appetite rather than increase--for food, for sex. The Black Rider informs us that this is because Dean is already so empty, there's nothing to fill the void, but I'd argue that it's something much more specific than that. Had I written the episode, I would have invoked the Jo card swiftly and incurably. We know how much her death hurt Dean, and how, before that, he was already damaged beyond repair. My only criticism of My Bloody Valentine is this deliberate non-meniton of Jo. Instead, Dean's emptiness is pushed onto platitudes about his shitty, shitty existence, but as I try to teach my beginning fiction writing students: The specific is always much more powerful than the general. Any reference to Jo would have, I think, pushed this episode past the precipice of great and into utterly affecting territory.

Other great things here: We've got Cupid, who is sort of like the Trickster in terms of comic scapegoating, and a lesser moment in "Supernatural" history would have dwelled on him for too long. But here, in this mature and fabulous My Bloody Valentine, it's just enough to break up the terror, and to give Dean an opportunity to say something like, "I punched a dick." This is one of the scarier episodes we've seen from the show. Even some of the images in here, while they might feel familiar, are singularly violent: Sam with a face full of demon blood, Castiel stuffing himself with ground beef, that crumbling old man in the wheel chair, Famine. The way that he reveres Sam Winchester toward the end is horrifying, because we've seen Sam revered before, by demons, by Lucifer. Again and a again, we're reminded of the darkness that lurks within the Sam character, and we wonder, we wonder again and again whether and how he'll say yes to the Devil, and some part of all of us, I think, will not be surprised if (when) he does.

Season five has been so good, I think, because its proverbial demons are bigger and badder than ever--in both the world and the psychology of the show. With My Bloody Valentine, "Supernatural" just got a little bit older, wiser, a little harder than its ever been. Its performances, too, felt mature to me. That bit with Sam assaulting that demon on the street was quick and impacting. Nice chops, Padalecki. Also, I don't want to approach Dean's prayer in the end here, only because I think it's a moment so earned, so expertly achieved that it may need its own post entirely. Have we forgotten about Castiel's quest for God? Or the half-demon child? I don't know. I thought maybe we had, but this last moment has absorbed all of that. Who is Dean talking to here? He asks for help. If this were season three, surely, he'd be talking to his dad. But the boys--they're past that now. He's praying, and to who? God is dead, or so we're told. But I think that God is the literal Deus Ex Machina that this season is sort of waiting for, and I think that, if that's what it comes to, somehow, it will be very, very earned.

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