Recently I've been working on a retrospective of Season One, a season I've largely ignored from a critical viewpoint due to lack of time. Also recently, I've been on the fan forums seeking lively discussion and have mostly come across griping about character direction and Season Four in general, even though this is by far this best season of the series. So, put those two together, and I've easily got a way to change everyone's perspective.
I'm going to show everyone what a bad episode is all about. I'm going to point out what happens when a horrible script, bad acting, crappy special effects and editing, substandard directing and even poor song choices collide.
It's time to take a gut turning look back at "Bugs."
If anyone thinks that any episode in Season Two, Three, of Four did not measure up, I dare you to sit down for 40 minutes and try to get through this hideous episode without losing your lunch. It didn't work for me, but I went through it anyway for the sake of this review to prove my point; because I'm all about proving points.
You know an episode is bad when the weak teaser is actually the good part of the episode. An unknowing gas company worker falls in a hole at a housing development, one where the homes are huge and fancy (???) so no one working for the gas company can afford them. Come on, this is the pre-mortgage meltdown, where jobless alcoholics are getting loans. Plus the homes aren't all that extraordinary. Anyway, while the other worker goes for help, the doomed man in the hole has his brain eaten by, well, bugs. Thus the name of the title. Of course the bugs worked pretty damn quick to feast on brain and disappear without a trace, but I'm being petty, right?
Maybe, because it all goes downhill from here.
The script is an unmitigated disaster. Somehow, someone thought the backdrop of flesh eating bugs set out to destroy a suburb in Oklahoma would be a great plot device to surface Sam's resentment of his upbringing. Yeah, it all makes sense. Because of bugs, that's why Sam complains to Dean about hustling pool now, considering that's been the family income his whole life. That's why Sam whines about his dad after seeing a bland teenager play with bugs not once, but twice. That's why Dean talks about how great their abnormal upbringing was after seeing a manicured lawn. That's why a five minute run in with bees in an attic all of a sudden gives Sam the healthy new perspective he needs to want to apologize to his dad. The bugs did all that.
Er, no. Any time a + b does not equal c, the script should be tossed.
The dialogue is as flaky as the storytelling, and most of it came from Sam. When interviewing a gas company worker, Sam rattles off symptoms like dementia and loss of motor control. Couldn't he just have asked "Was he acting strange?" This is after all, a dude that works for the gas company, not a doctor. Then Sam meets bug boy and after two sentences says "Well, hang in there. It gets better, all right? I promise." What, they're BFF's now? The "bowhunting" vs. soccer thing comes across as head-scratching petty bitching, as does Sam telling the bug boy his family problems can be solved by going away to college in two years (because that so worked for you Sam). As a matter of fact, just about everything that comes out of Sam's mouth is whiny and annoying. Dean should have kicked his ass.
The bad lines made the poor acting all that more terrible. The actor playing Larry the developer tries too hard, his wife has the personality of cardboard, the realtor Lynda is just plain scary looking (plus she can't act), and the teenage bug dude, just"¦no. Sam compared this kid to Willard? Willard was one creepy mofo (after all, it was Crispin Glover, who's on my wish list to appear on this show). This kid is so insipid the bugs are more interesting. The CGI'd bugs, since the real ones didn't show up on film.
Joe, the old wise American Indian, though stole the freak show. His scene became the gold standard to what happens when bad acting and bad writing collide. Does every American Indian tell a poorly written legend like that? His pauses, his delivery, his storytelling style (I'll tell you what my grandfather told me, what his grandfather told him). It felt like children's story hour at the library. His story is so clichÃ©. Evil white man comes, blood is shed, curse is cast, nature will rise up and of course the legend is very specific on the time frame of when this curse will fall, naturally that night at midnight. Shouldn't that have resulted in some pre-emptive action? No, that just means the family will be cockroach food by then. At this point, I thought a total wipeout from the bugs would be the best case scenario.
However, as bad as the guest actors are, the worst acting performance of the episode came from Jared. If he did an acting job like that on his screen test there'd be no way he'd have gotten this gig. We are so thankful that wasn't the case. None of his daddy issues come across as sincere, most of the time he overdoes the resentment to where he's more annoying than believable, and with the exception of one scene with Jensen (when Dean tells him his dad was watching him at Stanford), his lack of chemistry with everyone drains the life out of every scene, much like the fake man eating bugs. Good thing "Home" was the next episode, for he redeemed himself.
All the blame can't fall on Jared though, considering the pile of crap he was given. I believe at the time he was still trying to find his footing and not experienced enough to do much with really bad material. Also, too many other things went wrong. I gave the disastrous special effects a pass after reading the real stories behind filming this episode. Jensen, Jared, and the actors playing the family had to go into a small set with over 6000 real bees while the crew were in protective suits. After multiples takes which ticked off the bees and getting stung a few times, none of bees showed up on film. They had to use CGI. Still, the spiders coming out of the shower was weak. My six year old son could do better graphics on his computer.
Nothing though, nothing I've blasted so far can match up to the "what the hell was Kripke thinking?" moment, aka the final run in with the bugs. Just look at the half-assed scene construction. At the 34 minute mark, the insects arrive in massive swarms of biblical proportions right at midnight, just like Indian dude said. I know this shot was a homage to The Birds, but visually it didn't work as well. The bugs blanket the house, so Sam, Dean and family have to wait it out until sunrise. By my calculations, that's about six hours. At 36 minutes the bugs come through the fireplace. Come on guys, you check the doors and windows but not that?
So, for those keeping score, bugs are in the house after two minutes. How are they going to last six hours? Go to the attic. Not a bad idea, except after the commercial the scene comes back at the point where they left off. Wouldn't 5 hours, 57 minutes later have been better? At 37 minutes, the bugs are eating through the roof. Bugs get through at 38 minutes. So, Dean fights the massive swarm with a flame throwing can of bug spray? When Jeff Daniels did that in Arachnophobia, he was fighting off one spider. Come on Sam and Dean, where's the cunning plan? Then, at 39 minutes, THE SUN COMES OUT. How in the Hell was that six hours??? Where's my TV brick?
To add insult to injury, I hated Sam's hair in this one. Heck, the music even sucked. Def Leppard plays while Sam waits in front of the bar. Oh yeah, 80's hair metal. I'm feeling it. Then, at the end, a rocking Scorpions tune plays after Sam's less than heartfelt announcement to find his dad? This is not a kick ass ending. We get that crap after we got "Laugh I Nearly Died" in "Bloody Mary" and "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" in "Skin?" It's my theory that in post production, Kripke realized he had a stinker and gave up.
I only found two positives in the whole episode, and both came from Dean. First, the steam shower bit is hilarious, but way too short. Plus Sam is too bitchy in and brings the scene down. Second, Dean's speech about John checking in on Sam at Stanford. The dialogue is okay, but Jensen actually adds emotion (something missing from the rest of the episode) and it's the one part where I didn't want to slap Sam. It's the only scene in the entire episode where I believed the story behind it. I even ignored the fact that they were having that talk while holding a box with Native American bones in it.
So, next time you think you've seen an episode that didn't live up to your standards, pull out the season one DVDs, put on "Bugs" and take 40 minutes out of your precious life to remember what bad television really is. You'll realize how good we have it now, and how that was 40 minutes you'll never get back.