I have to admit, I had my doubts after watching the first time. It wasn't until after a re-watch the next day that this episode earned its favor with me. Maybe because the second time through I could sit down and actually pay attention to details. I should have learned by now that the only way to watch a Supernatural episode is to put the kids to bed, shut the dogs in the laundry room, unhook the phone, and shush the hubby.
"Long Distance Call" has many merits, but all in all, its purpose was to prepare us for what's to come in the final two episodes of the season. Fans were online very quick to point out massive character and plot inconsistencies, but on careful examination most of this episode made sense. In coming up with an analysis, I found this episode would better benefit from a different format. Instead of rehashing the episode like I've done previously, I'm going to list what I liked, what I disliked, and what things I need to keep in the back of my mind when watching the last two episodes of the season.
What I Liked
Jeremy Carver still owns me. Why? Because I still don't think there's a better writer on the team for putting words into the brothers' mouths. I have been dying all season for Sam and Dean to call each other out about their constant lies, and five minutes in I got my wish. It was every bit as great as I imagined, even complete with patented Sam Winchester bitchface. It's wonderful that Dean finally admitted to Sam that Ruby told him she can't save him. Sam seemed pretty angry about that. It sucks when the shoe is on the other foot. Right, Sam?
We have a Crocatta that's gone high tech. What a great premise, especially to someone in the tech field. Dead loved ones calling on the phone? Phantom IM's on the computer? Ghosts on webcams? That was pretty freaky. Even when John Winchester called, you knew Sam was right, but like Dean, you wanted it to really be him.
Once again, we got several great lines and humorous bits. The tour guide was pitch perfect (And we're walking, we are walking, we're walking, and we're not touching that and we're walkingâ€¦). Also, the slimy phone technician in the phone company basement gave us another great continuity shout-out, bustyasianbeauties.com from "Tall Tales." He also had one of the episode's best lines, "That's what happens when you mess with the phone company, dillweed!" just before taking a baseball bat to the skull. Ah, the price of gloating.
There were many other great quotes, all coming from Dean. "No, we were actually talking about our feelings and then our favorite boy bands." "We've talked to every professor, witch, soothsayer, and two bit carny act in the lower 48. Nobody knows squat!" "The main office mentioned there would be a lunch." (Some may tire of the running food gag with Dean, but I liked that). "Wow, you know you would think a Stanford education and a high school hook-up rate of 0.0 would produce better results that that." "She's using quoting fingers." "Don't get too excited, Sammy. You might pull something." "You go hang out with jailbait. Just watch out for Chris Hansen." However, the other candidate for quote of the night actually came from Sam; "Do you want a poem?"
I'm very, very pleased to see previews for Reaper during the commercials for this episode. That's another often neglected show that deserves its due. For the record, I'd love to see Supernatural and Reaper paired together on the same night. I think they're a good match.
Back to the episode, we got the return of sympathetic Sam, at least with Lainie (not so much with Dean). Not that I don't like Sam's dark direction this season (I love it actually), but to see that side of him again was refreshing. It was like hooking up with a lost friend.
Dean still owns me too. His reaction to the phone calls were genuine and gut-wrenching. His conversation with his "dad" about making the deal to protect Sam was heartbreaking, as was his "I'm scared" confession to Sam. When Dean answered "I don't know" when asked by the man what he was doing in his home, well, Dean just tore me apart. Well played, Jensen!
There was an "Action Hero Sammy" sighting this week, jumping in just in time to pull the boy from the moving semi. Sorry, but that never gets old for me, no matter which brother is saving the day.
Once again, we got another fantastic motel room. This one actually looks like it would be in a motel in that part of Ohio. Lord knows the tacky star symbols on the room divider are on enough garages in this part of the country.
Sam's hoodie made an appearance! When was the last sighting of that anyway? I remember it in season one a lot, but I'll have to go back through season two because I don't remember when I last saw it. I don't remember it all in season three.
The big winner though was the final scene. Just like in "A Very Supernatural Christmas," Mr. Carver captured with brilliance the ideal brotherly moment. Every bit of the ending dialogue was perfect, and the acting as usual was first rate. They shared their feelings, and then Dean broke into his usual bravado before it got too uncomfortable, ending with them sharing a beer and facing uncertainty. That sounds like the Winchester mantra to me. Me tearing up during such scenes was typical too. I'm such a sap.
What Didn't Work
Despite my blind love for Jeremy Carver, the script wasn't flawless. First, I've never been impressed with villains that monologue. Back in my review of "Malleus Maleficarum," I criticized Ben Edlund for using this typical "Bond" tactic of opening up the escapable scenario instead of just blowing someone away. This time it was worse and longer. The villain's calls and M.O. were scary; the villain himself was annoying. Sadly, this also made the situation predictable, and usually this show isn't predictable.
Granted this is the nitpicky, plot-focused writer in me, but the first phone call from John would have been more effective if it happened earlier, before they went to the victim's house and started asking questions. That way, the call would have been more out of left field and built the suspense more. By the time it did happen, it was predictable (noticed repeated use of that word).
Some of the brotherly tension seemed a little forced. When Dean first told Sam about John's phone call, he got upset when Sam suggested that if he calls again to say "hello" even going as far to abruptly leave the room. That scene didn't feel right. Some aspects of the big fall out in the motel room later didn't seem right either, but more on that later.
Why does this show like separating the brothers so much? The only episode that tactic worked well was "The Usual Suspects." Maybe that was deliberate to show how at odds Sam and Dean were in this episode, but that added to the strange feeling. Take for example "Bedtime Stories." They did that case together, and then in the end split up to get a resolution on both ends. That method would have been better served here.
Sam got caught and tied up by the MOTW. Been there, done that, and now for two weeks in a row, he saw another guy killed right in front of him. I did a check and yes, it's been a while since Dean has been captured. Minor nitpick, but interesting how that's been going. The only saving grace was that this time Sam got himself out of it instead of having to be saved.
There was no classic rock. The show must have been short on budget this week, for the episode seemed shorter as well.
Finally, I've been through Milan, Ohio a few times, being a resident of the state. It's smack-dab in the middle of the most flat, desolate, wide open, and boring farm country this state has to offer. It was looking pretty lush in this episode. I know, in Supernatural land, just about everywhere in the country looks like Vancouver.
Open For Debate
Character continuity was heavily tested in this episode, and no scene sparked more debate than Sam and Dean's heated second discussion in the motel room. Sam played the skeptic this time while Dean relied on faith. Yes, that's a role reversal, especially compared to last season's "Houses Of The Holy." Given the circumstances though, it makes sense. After all, Dean's starting to feel desperate, and doesn't believe Sam can find a way out. He's always looked to his dad to make things right, and when John appeared from the beyond, he had to believe his dad would come through. It shows how much blind faith he still has in his father, and it was typical in this case that Sam didn't believe his dad would deliver.
Why does Dean not believe that Sam can save him? At first I thought it was because he's been trying for so long and coming up empty, but there's more to it than that. Dean has always been the one to protect Sam. In his mind, he doesn't see the reverse happening, or maybe doesn't want to see the reverse happen. That's not Sam's job. This question for me still hasn't been answered, so I'll be keeping it in mind for the future.
Sam didn't know how to get Dean to listen to reason, and got easily frustrated when trying. I know that Sam tends to withdraw, but what was to gain by humoring Dean? Dean was obviously troubled by the phone call, and Sam responded by walking away and dealing with the case. The case he didn't want to pursue in the first place. I accept that Sam doesn't want to get Dean's hopes up, but his inability to reach out to help his brother's emotional state was interesting. Maybe because it forces him to look at his own emotional state, which we know right now is wrecked. Either way, it leaves a lot open to interpretation, and the reasoning behind his behavior may never be understood. That won't stop us from hunting for clues though.
I would have expected the calm, cool under pressure Dean, and the emotionally charged Sam from "Mystery Spot" under this circumstance. Instead, we got the opposite. Sam's likely doing what he thinks Dean would do if the roles are reversed. We all know both are terrified inside, and how they'll deal with the end of the contract is now a total mystery. That's good though, because I like to be left guessing.
The biggest question mark coming from this episode though was that it glossed over the fact that Sam is supposed to drop dead if Dean reneges on the deal. "John" even pointed out that fact to Dean on the phone. Why is Dean not concerned about that? Wasn't that the purpose of the deal in the first place, so Sam lives? I don't expect Sam to care, but I can only assume Dean is acting out of desperation at this point. Again, this is something I'll keep in the back of my mind when going onto the next two episodes.
Overall, this episode did seem off from the rest of the season, but then again, maybe it's supposed to. The times are changing and things are getting more desperate, so it's natural that the brothers are going to behave different. This episode was meant to build tension for what is about to come and not move the Dean's deal plotline forward, so anyone expecting such a development was disappointed. For anyone that wanted to see how they aren't dealing with the circumstances well, this episode was a winner.
Grading "Long Distance Call" was difficult. At first I gave it a B-, but after the re-watch, it was upgraded to a B+. No matter what its flaws, it was worth the viewing, and I'll be back for more next week. I implore everyone else to be there watching as well. The ratings for this episode and the last one were series lows. There isn't much more bottom for falling, plus, Dean only goes to hell once. So we think anyway.