Admittedly, when I saw the trailer for this episode I was unsure what to expect. Clowns, while not a fear of mine, are kind of creepy and I just generally don't like them. The other episode featuring clowns, "Everybody Loves a Clown" isn't on my all-time favourite list so that gave me pause when coming to Plucky. I'm happy to say I was pleasantly surprised and in fact, loved this episode.
Plucky was classic "Supernatural" from start to finish and a brilliant standalone in the company of "Bad Day at Black Rock." It's surprising that Ben Edlund didn't have a hand in writing this episode, because his style came through at some moments. Throughout the episode, opening moment to end credits, I never stopped laughing.
So, what exactly made this episode so great? It set a good pace, kept up some of the suspense (but we knew Sammy wasn't in really danger from those clowns, it was just great to watch them pummel him with flower-seltzer and glitter) and had some pretty creative monsters.
Vamptopus, Unicorns and Sharks, Oh My!
We open the episode on Sammy running from clowns and, after a technicolour exploding ink title card, flashback to 60 hours prior, where Dean is crammed into the world's smallest phone booth communicating in ridiculous code with Frank. Maybe it's because I haven't been in a phone booth in over 10 years, if not more, but that was small, no? I just kept imagining Sam wedged into that thing - he'd never have escaped! After the phone call, there is a brief follow up from last week with Dean and Sam wondering about the location of the Amazon tribe and finally deciding to take a case in Kansas when there are no leads left. Dean is a bit gun shy about women, boos and bars after last week to Sam's amusement.
A quick comment on Dean's statement to stave off the alcohol: Dean was in high spirits through this episode and genuinely happy at points. Even Sam acknowledged this (though not to Dean) at the end when Dean was laughing at Sammy's sparkly outfit. It was good to see him this way and maybe, just maybe, he learned a bit of a lesson last week. Who knows how long it will last, but it is certainly refreshing to see him so happy.
In Kansas we have murder by vamptopus and another by a unicorn. Finally! The Supernatural writers were able to bring us a unicorn in a non-jump the shark, my pretty pony way. I love the rainbow coming out the unicorn's ass too, a throwback to Dean's line in Houses of the Holy: "There's tons of stuff on unicorns to, in fact I've heard they ride on silver moon beams and shoot rainbows out of their ass." Hats off to the makeup department for the suction marks on the first victim because that is something we've never seen on Supernatural before and it was very well executed. Wouldn't you have loved to be a fly on the wall in the pitch meeting for this episode? "Okay, so we have this guy who was killed by a giant octopus and the next guy, he's gonna get smoked by a rainbow-pooping unicorn. Then Sam is going to be glitterfied by some clowns. Questions?"
The boys begin to investigate the victims and it isn't too long before they wind up at Plucky Pennywhistle's Magic Menagerie, the Supernatural answer to Chuck E. Cheese, and various other incarnations of kid's play world. Personally, the idea of setting foot in a place like makes me nauseous, not only for the seizure inducing sounds and colours; but also because large groups of yelling children makes me want to jump off the nearest ledge (it's not that I don't like children, I just don't like many of them in a confined space hopped up on sugar and making noises like dying cats). So, I can appreciate Sam's aversion, as well as Tyler's, to such a place.
The extra characters in this episode were all equally colourful, from the little octopus drawing girl to Tyler's mom to Howard. I feel more and more the episodes of this season are harkening back to past years where the characters of the week were characters that I came to like/know in the forty-two minute window.
Sam vs the Clowns
This is not news but Jared Padalecki deserves major kudos for his comedic efforts. The expressions he pulled when Dean told him to stake out Plucky's, the look on his face at the clowns in Plucky's and the interrogation scenes with staff were epic. It takes great talent to actually have the viewers feel the blood drain from their faces just because Sam is faced with the task of going to that child-haven, adult hell.
The writing in this episode was perfect as well. If I didn't know better, I could have placed this episode in season three very easily. All the characters felt right and the dialogue was tight. I admit I struggle with the idea of Dean dropping Sammy at one of these places to "troll for chicks" simply because it seems very out of character with what we know about young Dean (especially after the whole shtriga incident) but that was a minute focus, so I won't dwell.
Many of the things Sam did this episode had tears running down my face. One of my favourite moments was toward the end. Sam goes to get out of the car, tough hunter expression on his face only to see a clown standing in front of him; suddenly his expression is unabashed terror - so funny!
The opening of this episode, with Sam cowering behind the car and reassuring himself that "if it bleeds, you can kill it" was Sam's answer to Dean vs the yorkie back in "Yellow Fever," but even better. I imagine this episode will be likened to "Yellow Fever" in a number of ways, not the least of which is playing with people's fears as a way to kill them. Now, I liked "Yellow Fever" a lot but this episode was much better. Where "Yellow Fever" took us to a place of near ridiculousness with Dean's fear, Sam was much more subtle and specific in his fear, and for that reason all the more fun to watch. Particularly because Sam is so often (to quote Jared from Nashcon 2012) "the straight one" to Dean's "swashbuckling" antics. Sam doesn't often take the pratfalls, but when he does we are in for a great show.
Also like "Yellow Fever," the victims of the imagination-deaths in this episode were "bullies" in one form or another. I can appreciate that these parents who yell at their children or neglect them at a particular instance may appear bad to the casual observer, one can only imagine how frazzled some of them are, or overworked, etc. So in this instance, "bully" is loosely applied by the crazy worker Howard. Interestingly, like Dean in YF, Sam became a target because he wasn't a nice guy during the interrogation.
This episode reminded me of a "Charmed" character (I'd say episode, but he was involved in a few) known as Barbas, the demon of fear, and when the episode began I wondered if it was the adults whose fear was being played against them. Somehow it was better that it was the children's fears, because they were so much more irrational. Seriously, what child is afraid of a unicorn with rainbow-butt? I wondered too if Sam would have to get over his fear and by fighting back, he'd defeat the clowns and render them powerless. I like the sparkle explosion even better though.
Dean got to play the role of creepy 30-something guy watching the children while Sam played "bad cop" interrogator. Any chance to watch Dean interact with kids is great, because he's so good with them. He's also a giant child himself, as evidenced by his pursuit of the giant slinky. I enjoyed when he scared off that kid from the skeet ball game Tyler wanted to play. This kid reminded me of a Ben meets Todd amalgamation.
There was a nice moment between Dean and Tyler where he explained things from a non-kid perspective about his mom: she was overworked and stressed out, not simply being mean. Dean said he could relate to Tyler because John dragged him around a lot as a child. Hmm. Kinds of apples and oranges there, but it worked well enough. This kid seemed fairly intelligent but nevertheless laserbeam-eyed robots were his nightmare. And giant robots at that. Ah, Ronald Resnick - you and your mandroid theories would have gotten on well with this child. There was a nice moment toward the end when the child apologized to the mother for his behaviour (after some prompting by Dean) and the mother lit right up. It's nice to see a family moment not laden with gore and horror on "Supernatural" for a change.
Dean was a different person this episode. For the first time in a while, there were no shots of him tipping back a drink (maybe coffee) and they ate something other than burgers this time around too! Overall, Dean was lighter; joking about spawning an evil child and having a lot of fun with Sam's clown fears. It was good to see him smile and make snarky remarks throughout the episode - old Dean, hello!
So, while Sam was being, and I use the term lightly, tortured by green-haired, red-nosed, floppy-footed monsters, Dean had the task of dealing with Howard, whose primary issues stemmed from his brother drowning when he was a child. That is a long time to harbour a grudge and believe your parents were responsible for the drowning of their child because they, allegedly, didn't listen when Howard yelled for help. These are either the worlds coldest parents or Howard is very damaged. Given that he paints little clown statues I'm going with the latter assumption.
When Dean tossed the clown and Howard's picture into the fire and Howard's brother appeared, I wondered Howard had actually been using a ghost, inadvertently, to get the killings done. I'm pretty sure it was magic, but the appearance of the brother certainly gave me pause. On that note, the one other issue I have with this episode (again it's a tiny one) is how did Dean break the spell? Did he let insane hoodoo working Howard die by drowning? And did that end magic because he was the one doing it? Did he tip the fire pit thing over? I'm a little fuzzy on how exactly this came to pass, but it's hardly a major thing in this overall fantastic episode.
Laughter All Around
So, we end the episode with Sam ready to blow out of town having faced his fear. He tells Dean that clowns couldn't possibly do anything worse to him than has already been done, so why fear them at all? We have a good brotherly scene here, where Sam takes pleasure in seeing Dean genuinely laugh (it made me think of Free to Be You and Me when Dean said to Cas he hadn't laughed like that in a really long time) at his sparkly clown encounter and then presents him with a giant slinky, to Dean's everlasting delight. Dean of course had a gift for Sam too - his clown fear sobriety chip - a creepy doll. Judging from Sam's expression, he's not entirely over that clown fear either.
After ending on such a high note, I don't even have to see the preview to know it's all going to hell next week. Having seen the preview, it's all that and more. As a standalone episode, this was fabulous: it was entertaining, sharply written and well acted. No complaints from this happy viewer!
What did you think fellow viewers?
Bonus question: what irrational fear did you have a child? Mine was bizarre and stemmed from my parents love of Star Trek: TNG which gave me nightmares about green (don't know why, don't think they were green in the show) Ferengi dissecting my family.