(This originally appeared on blogcritics.org back in November, 2008. Since then Blogcritics has deleted the entire archive of articles that I wrote for them, so I’m reposting those reviews here. Enjoy!)
What a concept! A horror show where one of the main characters accurately states, “For us everyday is Halloween,” opts to do a Halloween themed episode. Considering the Halloween season is a disastrous time in the Winchester family history, why not dress up the fact that this year isn’t proving to be any better for the brothers?
“It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester” paid fitting homage to the teenage slice and dice horror flicks of the 1980’s. You know, those countless films in which Halloween urban legends were depicted with horrifying gore (like razor blades in the candy) and enough campy teen kills during bad parties to make us wonder how a town didn’t notice the sudden drop in the teenage population. Maybe the motivation behind following that formula in this week’s episode was to confuse enough channel flippers into thinking they were watching Halloween (insert your terrible horror movie here).
Trick or Treat?
Oh, but we knew this was a Supernatural episode. Plenty of the familiar elements were there. Sam and Dean again played FBI agents with the rock and roll names. This week Agent Seger (as in Bob) and Agents Geddy and Lee (lead singer of Rush for those who aren’t educated in such things) were accepted by unsuspecting authorities without question. That’s the second shout-out to Rush this week by the way, for their song “Tom Sawyer” played a big role in the crucial scene of Monday’s Chuck and it was awesome.
The MO started the same as well. Suspicious kill, clue found (hex bag), investigate the lore, give Sam a few minutes of his lecturing mode to educate us on said lore, and of course, talk to the witnesses. It wasn’t until the angels showed up that this episode took a different turn, and that turn was good. If this episode is remembered for anything though, it would be the stunning exorcism in which Sam pushed his abilities to new agonizing limits to rid the world of Samhain, all while Dean watched with the most heart-crushing look of sadness and concern.
In comparing this holiday themed episode to last year’s extraordinary “A Very Supernatural Christmas”, this one fell short. The writing was average and the dialogue standard. However this was written by a new writer, Julie Siege, and considering some of the crap other new writers have put out in the history of this show, this was an acceptable effort. Also average here was the directing. Charles Beeson has directed four other episodes before but they weren’t exactly classics (“Playthings”, “Sin City”). His style isn’t bad, but he didn’t offer anything exceptional either. Plus, a Halloween backdrop doesn’t seem as outrageous on this show like an over-the-top Christmas theme that’s supposed to represent joy not human sacrifices.
The villains didn’t do much for me, nor did the generic teenagers that were this week’s red shirts. One thing that did work very well though was the kid astronaut, whose hysterical glare of revenge at a candy-less Dean resulted in peril for the Impala via an egging. Also, a Supernatural episode can do no wrong these days when angels are involved. Uriel especially made an impression, depicting without a doubt that angels are not fluffy creatures with wings. When Castiel comes across as the compassionate one, you know Uriel is a major baddie.
The Acting Wins
The acting is what pushed “It’s The Great Pumpkin…” into the very good column. Misha Collins again excited us over his firm yet faithful Castiel, and Robert Wisdom introduced the ill tempered Uriel in a fashion that left a frightening and powerful impression. However, it was yet again the incredible and evenly divided moments of ‘wow’ coming from the leads themselves that defined this episode. I tend to remember the acting performances better when Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles are given equal time and allowed to feed off one another. That hasn’t happened too much this season, making me appreciate such moments more.
Jared especially was given some great material to work with this week, as poor Sam’s first encounter with angels didn’t exactly go well. Jensen continued his amazing run this season as Dean went through his first major test from above. Watching both of them react in very different ways to the circumstances of this ‘test’ left a stunning glimpse of what’s to come, and again we are in awe over what these guys can bring to even the most routine of scripts.
Sam’s first introduction to Castiel was adorable, like he was meeting a boyhood idol. That excitement quickly turned to disappointment when the plan to ‘smite’ the town was revealed. As Sam listened in disbelief Dean took defiant control, pulling the “I must be important to the man upstairs” card and refusing to leave town. He won’t see innocents sacrificed and has no trouble telling two almighty angels that. I found that reaction fascinating, for any fear that Castiel has tried to evoke so far doesn’t seem to be deterring him. Dean may believe in God now, but he still draws lines over what is just even if it means disobedience. One wonders perhaps if this is why Dean was chosen for this task. The angels are too out of touch.
In a brilliant scene (once the shock of the egging wore off), a disillusioned Sam questioned all those years of faith while Dean assured him these angels are two jerks and they should keep believing. Dean lecturing on faith? The bible and prayer scene from last week was really him. The fact that this little heart to heart happened in the Impala made the scene all that more special.
We also got what I’m ranking high as a top ten brotherly moment, the climactic standoff with Samhain in the mausoleum. There was no dialogue in that scene, allowing both Jared and Jensen to use their amazing gifts of expression and facial acting to translate the intense toll of the fight far better than words could ever convey.
Despite his own declaration and Dean’s instructions, Sam had no choice but to use his abilities against the “higher pay grade” demon. The knife didn’t hurt him, Sam couldn’t win the physical fight, and Samhain’s plan to rise the dead was already in motion. Sam for the first time had to exorcise a higher level demon, and Jared sold the brutal struggle perfectly. We watched with baited breath as Sam’s usual mojo only slowed the demon, forcing him to dig deeper while his opponent resisted him. While Sam fought, his face twisting all sorts of ways in agony, looking like he was going to succumb any second, a helpless Dean stood in the background, forced to watch the outcome with the rest of us.
Dean’s reaction is different this time and again Jensen just kills us. He isn’t mad. He’s worried. It’s tearing him apart to not only see his brother go through a struggle and not be able to help, but to see how powerful these dark abilities inside Sam are getting. The intense montage showed Sam pushing his limits as the demon inched closer and grew madder, resulting in an intense headache and nosebleed. Black smoke poured from the demon and cascaded to the ground just in time, for Sam had nothing left.
The music in the background depicted the sentiment perfectly as a near broken Sam stared at a saddened and shocked Dean, both very bothered by what happened. Through those mere glances we could tell they realized Sam’s powers can no longer be denied and were sadly resigned that using them was a necessary evil. How do these guys keep managing to blow us away like that with just simple looks?
Touched By An Angel
I loved how Castiel has grown attached enough to Dean to honestly share his doubts. That’s why Misha is so brilliant in this role. Any guy that can generate enough sympathy for an all powerful angel to where we want to give him a hug has done his job well. As for Uriel putting the fear of God into Sam, calling him out near the anniversary of his mother’s and girlfriend’s deaths for using the powers the evil demon that killed them gave him, we felt for Sam and his haunted expression over the no win situation. Chances are further plot reveals are going to show Sam continue to skate along that fine line, because it’s now harder for him to tell right from wrong.
One of the weak spots of the script was the ending. The problem wasn’t the scenes with the angels, which were great, but the order. It would have been more powerful if the last shot featured an unsettled Sam taking in the threat from a wrathful Uriel rather than Dean getting his heart to heart from Castiel. Sam’s talk left a far more urgent and lasting impression.
This episode created more questions than answers and clearly was meant as a vehicle to unfold plot for future episodes. I don’t mind for the possibilities are fascinating. Just what role will Dean have to play for the angels in the coming months? Why was he chosen? What did happen to him in Hell? What about Sam? Did his ordeal in exorcising Samhain unleash more of the darkness inside of him? Will his disillusionment with the angels and increasing power push him toward taking another path, one that he thinks is right but turns out wrong?
Worthy of Mention
There’s a reason why Castiel didn’t shake Sam’s hand. He’s still not familiar with human customs (after all, it has been 2,000 years). Once he took Sam’s hand then gripped it, I took that to be a sign of respect. I think Castiel believes Sam is worth saving, but it’s clear he’s leaving that task up to Dean. The end conversation with Dean fueled a lot of reasoning that Castiel is indeed merciful.
Dean staring at the mask in the school. That triggered something! First Lilith hints Dean remembers everything and now the angels. He’s holding it back, likely a post traumatic stress thing, but he’s losing his fight. When, that happens, I suspect it isn’t going to be pretty.
Sam putting blood on their faces to create a mask, thus hiding from Samhain. Dean’s reaction is much like the one from “Route 666” after Sam’s solution against the racist truck. “You gave it a shot?” He was not impressed. I was laughing.
Dean Winchester, a large bag of candy, and a stake out in the Impala is not a good idea.
Dean killing zombies is awesome. “Bring it on stinky.” This show really needs to do a “Dawn of The Dead” type episode (or “Shaun of The Dead” would be better), where Dean and Sam can blow away a whole slew of zombies.
“The demon ray gun stuff doesn’t work on me.” Ha! Good one Sam. He looked really badass at that moment and I was so proud.
There was quite a bit of nitpicking on the boards about the use of Samhain, who in Celtic lore is not a demon, and on the mispronunciation of the name. As with “Malleus Maleficarum”, some weren’t too happy with the depiction of witches either. I’m not educated in such forms of the occult I’ll admit, but I’m not familiar with most of the bible either yet I know there’s discrepancies there too. The approach of this show has always been “mythology in a blender”. They research various legends, put it all together, select bits here and there and something else results. For anyone that expected a true depiction of the Pagan and Wiccan lore, disappointment was bound to happen. For those of us that tune in each week for entertainment and hot looking Winchesters, we are very happy.
Overall, my grade on this one is a B+, only because of the weaker writing and directing. I give the acting an A. I’m ready for that St. Patrick’s Day episode Mr. Kripke, especially since leprechauns scare Dean. Next week looks like we’re in for something different. As this show has constantly proven, different works.