Metaphors and parallels have run through Supernatural throughout its existence. The episode "Scarecrow" is a metaphor about the so-called apple pie life and how it isn't everything as it's cracked up to be. "Heart" and "Metamorphosis" are metaphors for Sam's growing destiny. Castiel's season 6 trajectory parallels Sam in season 4. Dean's attempt to live with Lisa and Ben parallels Sam's attempt to do the same with Jess. Jess's death on the ceiling parallels Mary's.
"Shut Up, Dr. Phil," is a mixture of both. The metaphors here run from the obvious to the extremely subtle. The parallels are striking for what they parallel and how they differ.
The case focuses upon the Starks, a married couple that happens to be struggling due to an affair. They also happen to be witches, and in the process are taking the town out with them in their anger. This is what brings the Winchesters to the town to investigate.
Don Stark, the husband, had an affair with the victim, Wendy. The brothers discover that his wife, Maggie, is a witch. She is punishing everyone involved with her husband's business development project. In the process, she discovers that Don could be potentially having another affair with his assistant, Jenny. This only infuriates her further.
The obvious metaphor here is that these two are not talking. Sam spends the episode trying to coax Dean into doing the same---and by episode end the witches have reconciled by doing just that. Sam, again, tries to get Dean to open up afterward, only to be shut down. This is an issue the brothers must resolve between them, but Dean's stubborn streak with not talking things through is rearing its ugly head.
Maggie's assistant Sue is also a metaphor. She stands in as a Ruby like character, whispering into Maggie's ear against her husband. If they can get rid of Don, they'll be happy and able to do whatever they want. She's the biggest road block for Don simply talking it out with his wife, too. Sue is a brown noser and says exactly what Maggie wants to hear at the right time to sway her. She builds Maggie's ego up while tearing Don down. Don hates her emphatically and confronts Maggie about her, stating, "The fact is, none of this was my fault! Maybe if you'd been around a little more. But between the art and the charity and that evil bitch Sue, I was edged right out of your life."
In an odd way, the inedible cupcakes Jenny makes is another metaphor for Dean's inability to ever eat his much wanted pie---also featured in the episode itself. Maggie has hexed them, making them have beating hearts inside, choking Jenny. Hearts are metaphors as well, standing in for the supposed love affair Maggie suspects is going on.
The style of this episode is where the parallels begin. It runs like an old school episode from seasons 1 and 2 to mid season 3. The boys are on the case, stopping the baddies while the big bad is on the move. We see the Leviathan skulk throughout, tracking Sam and Dean down. Much as the demons did in seasons 1 and 2, they are communicating by cell phone, traveling towards them, and their motives are largely masked in mystery. It really wasn't until the end of season 1 that we really learned why Meg and Yellow Eyes had targeted the Winchester Family---and so the Leviathan's motives are hidden at this stage. It can be assumed that their knowledge received from possessing Castel that they know that the Winchesters are dangerous.
It's a stripped down feel for the show, taking it to the basics while keeping the deeper layers.
Before the Brothers Winchesters get to Prosperity Indiana, though, we see Dean struggles with nightmares. He watches Castiel walking into the lake, Sam struggling with his hallucinations of Lucifer, shooting at nothing, and the killing of Amy, the kitsune---only to wake up alone. He grabs a bottle to push these aside and goes over to the table to look up information on the next case they'll investigate.
His behavior---and the acknowledgment of the empty bed---harkens back to Season 4. When Dean had been raised from Hell, he had similar nightmares, struggling with his time downstairs. He had often woken up from one of these to find Sam gone. It would seem that his ability to shove these aside and ignore them has lost its foothold. The nightmares might be different than in the past, but they are back full force. As he did in season 4, Dean copes the only way he thinks he can: by pushing it down and by drinking heavily.
He is also struggling and shutting down much the same way that he did after John's death. He has never truly mourned their father---and now the fresh mourning of Castiel has thrust this old issue back into his face as well. This season has been bringing back older and unresolved issues and putting a new spin upon them. This is yet another one that we're going to see weigh on Dean's mind. It won't be surprising if Dean has a break down as he did in "Everybody Loves a Clown" at some stage in the season. What will be the ultimate target of Dean's wrath---especially since the Imapala is already repaired?
Yet, there is a stark difference here that is being subtly slipped in under the viewer's nose. As Dean gets hits on the next case, Sam jogs by the window and enters the hotel room, out of breath. He may have not been in bed when Dean woke up from his nightmares, but unlike in season 4, Sam hasn't run off to make a secret meeting with anyone. In fact, since he is not distracted by Ruby or demon blood or anything else, Sam can focus his attention on his brother as he didn't then. He does this primarily for two reasons.
First his concern parallels his concern for Dean in both seasons 2 and 3. Dean is behaving exactly as he did after their father's death in season 2. This time he is mourning Castiel. Sam knows that Dean does not grieve well and is hyper aware that his brother is floundering. Sam keeps trying to draw him out, asking, "You know, one more thing. What's going on with you?"
In Dean fashion, he shuts him down.
Sam focuses intensely on Dean to combat his own struggle with Hell. In "Hello, Cruel World," Dean tells him to make him "stone number one," and it would appear that Sam is doing just that. Take away Ruby, the demon blood, the revenge pact against Lilith, and Sam really can do things over with Dean. This is, despite being the one freshly plagued by Hell memories, his chance to make right what he felt he did wrong in season 4.
Along with his attempts to get Dean to speak, he calls out Dean's drinking. Again, hyper aware of Dean's state, he is concerned. He snaps at him, "Really? From a freaking flask? What are you, bad Santa? On the job?"
Sam is worried and rightly so. Dean is a powder keg waiting to explode.
After they manage to get the Leviathan into the car for transport, Sam tries to tease Dean into talking again. He says, "I'm talking about whatever you're not telling me about. Look, Dean, it's fine. You can unload. That's kind of what I'm here for."
In season 4, when Sam tried to do the same thing sporadically, Dean would shut him down. Dean is no different here. He pushes him away again with just a glare. The question is, will Sam give up on getting Dean to open up to him as he did in Season 4 (despite Dean's confession to the fact that he had tortured others while downstairs) or will he continue to pursue the matter? If only for his own sanity, Sam must. If Dean is to be his foundation stone to build his reality upon, he must have Dean solid himself.
Especially now that it would seem a weakness in the Leviathan has been revealed. Don arrives to pull the hex coins Maggie left behind to kill the brothers, only to end up using his magic on Chet, the Leviathan that had been stalking Sam and Dean all episode. It is the first time anything has been effective against these creatures, even if it is temporary. Now that they have him, the question is how do they hold him and what can they learn about the enemy while they have him? It would seem that the Leviathan are determined to eliminate the Winchesters, and unlike the demons before them, they have no plans to use them for anything. The brothers are in their way and that is all there is to it.
It's interesting, and brings up another parallel, that that the Leviathan is hurt by electricity. Don's spell seemed to be electrocuting Chet, after all. It's also what was found to be effective against the worm that the Mother of All created in "And Then There Were None..." Is an electric weapon the weapon of choice to at least stop the monsters?
Dean shoots the Leviathan in the chest, only to have the bullet expelled. Its obvious that this is another tool being taken away from them. They still don't know that credit cards are no longer an option. Their preferred weapons of knives and guns are ineffective. Salt and holy water is meaningless. But now that they have the clue to something that at least slows the Leviathan down, they may have a chance to actually stop them.
It's apparent, by Don's disgust, that the Leviathan are a threat to all in Supernatural. Even as old as he is, he doesn't know what to make of them, either. It's not hard to imagine that witches, vampires, demons, and other monsters are all in danger from these creatures, not just humans or the Winchesters.
This episode dabbled repeatedly in the gore, and it was somewhat of a treat---even if it made me never want to necessarily eat a red velvet cup cake again. It really brought out what Dean hates most about witches---feeling that they are messy creatures. This episode seemed to relish in the gross out factor from the hearts in the cupcakes, the nail gun in the porta potty, and the dead guy in the Leviathan's trunk. For being on network television, they most certainly got away with quite a bit.
The guest stars, both from Buffy, were standouts this week. Charisma Carpenter and James Marsters bring us vivid and dynamic characters in Don and Maggie Starks. They seemed to fit into the Supernatural fabric easily. Their bantering behavior and chemistry underscored and contrasted nicely with their gruesome feud. They played off of one another well, and their wit was sharp. It's not hard to imagine that these two might come up again later on in the season as allies against the Leviathan. I found them to be highly entertaining and fun. They both seemed to capture the tongue in cheek and playful nature of the show very well. If they should come back as allies to the Winchesters somehow, I hope to see them continue the banter and the playfulness---without as much gore.
The actress who played Jenny was a scene stealer when those cupcakes turned sour on her. If any quote seems to be rocketing around the most from this episode, it is her "There were tiny beating hearts in my cupcakes. There were hearts in my cupcakes, hearts in my cupcakes! That's never happened before! Hearts in my cupcakes!" She was an innocent in every way in this episode, and when confronted for a potential affair with Don, her obvious confusion and disgust was hilarious. She just happened to be caught up in the feud unknowingly.
We've seen Chet the Leviathan, played by Sean Owen Roberts, a few times this season already. He seems really snarky and creepy in many ways. I am reminded a bit of the first Meg by having those qualities. He's not the big leader by any means, but he is most certainly determined. I can only imagine what might happen with his role now that he's a captive---depending on how long they can actually hold him without getting killed. I like how sharp and witty he is---even if he seems a bit of a dullard in some ways really. He follows orders but really doesn't seem to have the cunning Meg had.
Jensen was a combination of a ready to hunt Dean and a struggling Dean. He was the one looking up the hunt information---not Sam after all. His one liners were highlights again and the flash of the real Dean, trapped under his guilt and depression, shows that he's not unreachable. He sells us a closed off Dean well at the beginning and end, yet gives us this spark that there is hope that he can crawl out of the hole he's dug for himself. It's not hard to draw another parallel here that he has created his Hell this time rather than simply recovering from his actual Hell experience. If anything could give Dean a bit of a spark, it is a witch hunt. I feel that we got a bit of a glimpse of that here through Jensen's portrayal this week.
Jared gave us a concerned and determined Sam. I felt his frustration each time he tried to coax Dean into talking. I also liked seeing how Jared shows that Sam is most certainly Dean's partner through and through. He knows that Dean's hiding something and he's worried, and I felt that, too. I sensed from his performance that the longer Dean pushes Sam away the more it is likely that he may slip at some point back into his hallucinations. He is hanging on tight to his brother here, and Jared kept showing us that by insisting that they talk or that Dean not drink so much.
This episode played a lot with parallelism and metaphor. It looks like next week will bring in yet another parallel with the boys being put back on the FBI's Most Wanted list after the Leviathans take their form to commit crimes. What's wrong with two Sams and two Deans? I'm not complaining!