Episodes like “Taxi Driver” are a struggle for me.  I had the same problem with last season’s “The Born-Again Identity.”  The possibilities are oh so amazing, yet the execution just ends up falling short.  It becomes an internal struggle at review time between my inner TV critic and my inner fan girl.  Those two bitches end up duking in out on my shoulder, and nothing really productive comes from it.  So, I end up flinging them both off with a flick of my finger and then find myself speaking from both perspectives when trying to craft a legible review.   

From a pure fan viewpoint, “Taxi Driver” had plenty of goodness.  There were emotional beats, heartfelt reunions, self sacrifices, and hugs.  There were three great hugs!  The acting was phenomenal, the directing by always reliable director Guy Norman Bee was so visually pleasing, and the VFX was totally wicked awesome (yeah, I’m running short on adjectives).  

From the TV critic standpoint (and a fan who does love continuity), this script was a total mess and the overall production felt very rushed.  Probably because it was.  The plotting was lazy and careless, the plot holes were chasms the size of the Grand Canyon, and any attempts at sound continuity worked for anyone who has only watched the show up through season two.  There were also a few times where the dialogue made me throw up in my mouth a little, but that’s a minor quibble I’ll let go because of the bigger issues.    

The synopsis of “Taxi Driver” was a winner from the word go and my excitement level was high...until I saw who the writers were.  Suddenly, my expectations plummeted into “please don’t make it suck” territory.  It didn’t suck, but it was far from great. I need to look at why, cause that’s what I do.  But first, I’ll plow through the good stuff, then I’ll dig into the deeper analysis about why this episode fell short.    

Inner Fan Girl Speaks

Bobby, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby!  Oh man was he a sight for sore eyes.  It never occurred to me just how much I missed him until he turned around, all worn and haggard, getting the stare down from a puppy dog eyed Sam (wibble!).  It was nice to get Sam/Bobby interaction this time that didn’t involve Sam trying to kill him.  Bobby had Sam’s back too, because he’s awesome.  My favorite part was when Bobby was confronted with two Sams.  “You knew, right?” a nervous Sam asks.  “Took a chance, 50/50,” answers Bobby.  Hee, how cool is that?  Bobby is not only back, he’s in his old form.  My heart broke for him when he realized his only other choice was Heaven.  He misses the boys too.   

   

My big hero of the episode was Benny.  Oh Benny (*sobbing profusely*).  You are a good monster!  Or you stayed a good monster.  All that foreshadowing and hints of his dour fate to come were all avoided by his heartfelt sacrifice for his brother in arms Dean.  That’s true loyalty, and going back to Purgatory with those of his kind was probably the best possible outcome for him, as sad as it was.  Yes, it took a heroic act like Benny’s for Sam to finally come around, but considering his whole jealously/anger over Benny was completely contrived in the first place, I’m cool with Sam leaving Purgatory with the right idea about the gift he got (Don’t shout me down Sam fans, Sam was most grateful for that gift and appreciated the help.  He’ll take it however he can get it).  I’m just glad we can close the door on the whole Sam hates Benny thing for good.  

Dean and Benny just killed me!  Their farewell, not to mention Dean’s tortured soul over even proposing his idea, is the highlight of the episode.  I was overwhelmed by the guilt just pouring out of Dean’s face.  “I owe you.”  “You don’t owe me nothing.”  Meep!  I just about lost it with Benny’s on the verge of tears confessed, “I don’t belong.  After a while, that starts to wear on you.”  I did lose it with their good bye hug and Dean’s broken up, “Thank you.”  I’m not sure how that scene looked on paper, but it excelled far more than the other scenes because the incredible acting was allowed to play out.  Both Jensen Ackles and Ty Olsson understood the stakes and the bond between their characters, and delivered with a sucker punch the urgency and heartbreak that was missing from most of this episode in one gorgeous exchange.   

I wonder if what’s happening with Kevin is from the effects of reading the God tablet.  I also wonder if that’s the same thing that happened to Metatron when he wrote it.  God’s word makes prophets and angels go batty!  I don’t think Crowley has him.  I’m with Ardeospina, that boat was warded against demons, not angels.  Naomi has him.  She did show up immediately after Kevin said he stashed the tablet and wouldn’t tell Dean where it was.  If it turns out Crowley has Kevin, I’m calling a major foul.  Unless Crowley isn’t what he seems and is really an angel.  Hmm, I got to think about this one some more.  

Speaking of Crowley, he’s so at his best when he shakes down a minion.  He knows something is up now, and has the best lines when he’s ranting.  These are my favorites:
  • “Winchester jumbo size is trying to break into the mothership.”
  • “Where’d we get you.  A temp agency?”
  • “Apparently his half has the good stuff, where mine has acknowledgements and about the author.”  

I loved Naomi in this episode, more than I have in any other.  Sure, she’s playing Dean, and her intentions are purely manipulative, but I loved the innocent angel act.  She’s very good.  She knew exactly the right moments to come and help, proving her worthiness by thwarting Crowley and sending Bobby’s soul to Heaven.  I still don’t think Dean will turn against Castiel, but this angel is certainly doing everything she can to make things tough!  

My favorite scene though is the brotherly reunion, and the entire scene in the 100 Mile Wilderness.  Eight seasons now and I never tire of Sam and Dean’s devotion to one another.  It always gets me in the gooey center.  Sam emerges from the ray of light and I haven’t seen Dean desperately hug his brother like that since “All Hell Breaks Loose Part II.”  Again, it’s the acting that sold this.  I was really hoping that the entire scene (and the one before it) would have been slowed down for more dramatic tension, coupled with a building, very emotional score, but alas it wasn’t meant to be.  Not enough time.  Jared and Jensen made it memorable though, which is exactly why this show has made it this long.  Plus, the shot of the night, courtesy of Mr. Bee, comes from this scene.  


Inner TV Critic Speaks 

I’ll warn now, the rest digs into what didn’t work in this episode.  If you’re blissfully happy, thanks so much for coming and this concludes your portion of the tour.  If you’re curious about how this could have been better, then what’s coming is for you!  

My biggest gripe of seasons six, seven, and now eight is uneven episode to episode plotting.  It seems we get episodes that cram a lot of mythology down our throats, then the next week it’s lazy to average filler.  I remember the good old days when big plots were actually given two episodes to play things out.  They were rarely self contained.   Last season I did a whole commentary on that, questioning when did Supernatural become a procedural?  That procedural mentality of wrapping up story lines in one episode really seems to rear it’s ugly head in the second half of the season, when production cycles are shorter.  

This entire second trial should have been a two part epic rescue.  It’s a major story in the mytharc, it’s the brief return of a beloved character that they should have never killed off to begin with (great way to work Jim Beaver back into the show), and it works in the story lines of important secondary characters like Naomi, Benny, Crowley and Kevin.  It’s all good, but not all at once!  It’s like starving yourself for a great dinner all day long and gorging yourself in 15 minutes.  Why did we need an episode about young hunters this late in the season when this whole showdown could have started last week? 

This plot couldn’t have been more predictable.  I call it “Paint by numbers” plotting, something that is only done by rudimentary and spec script writers.  You knew Dean was going to contact Benny the second Sam was delivered to Purgatory.  You knew as soon as Dean proposed chopping Benny’s head off that Benny wasn’t going to come back.  You knew Crowley would kill the Reaper after getting easily the info he needed.  You knew somehow Bobby would go up to Heaven and Sam would complete the trial.  I pretty much had Naomi pegged to coming to the rescue as soon as she introduced herself to Dean.  Everything was too easy and too clean.  

How To Explain Plot Holes 101 

As a fan, you can overlook plot holes, or they can just eat away at you.  Given my review tendencies through the years to focus on details like writing, plot details, and episode construction, I cannot overlook.  Plot holes happen, continuity errors happen, but it is troubling to me that so many happened in one hour.  

Below is a mere exercise of my inner fan girl telling my inner TV critic to “put up or shut up.”  I’m putting up.  How would I have changed inconsistencies if I was the editor of the script? Please don’t take this to be a claim that I’m a better writer, or that this is the way things should have been done.  It’s just me showing how this script could have been tweaked better.  This is exactly the sort of thing that should be happening when inferior scripts are presented, assuming there is time.  Heck, it should be happening even if there isn’t time.      

Plot Hole:  Why did Sam and Dean have to shake down a Crossroads demon?  So that’s all Crowley had to do in season six rather than torture all those monsters?  Consult one of his own cohorts? 

Solution:  Cut that whole part.  Instead, Sam and Dean should have found out about coyotes in the the Men of Letters vault.  Sam finds an old book on reapers.  From a continuity standpoint, that would have made way more sense since reapers are very old and little is known about them.  You realize the last time I made this observation that the Men of Letter’s hideout was being underutilized, it was on the previous Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner episode, Man’s Best Friend With Benefits.  What in the world do these two have against the Bat Cave? 
  
Plot Hole:  So there was a simple portal to Hell through rocks in Purgatory?  After Crowley spent just about all of season six trying to find a way into Purgatory?  And doing this whole sacred ritual during a lunar eclipse, the only time he could have opened the door to Purgatory?   

Solution:  This is the line I would have written between Sam and Ajay:

Sam:  Wait, there’s a gate from Purgatory to Hell?  After Crowley tortured scores of monsters to find it?
Ajay:  Who do you think made it after he figured out where this place was?  He said something about wanting to build his summer home here. 

Plot Hole:  How did Sam find Bobby so easily when there are millions of souls in Hell?  Why was Bobby’s cage unlocked?

Solution:  Simple, he used the tracking spell and/or device he found in the Men of Letters cave.  The unlocked cage can be explained by the scores of Winchester disguised demons coming in all the time to taunt Bobby.  Pulling out keys is a pain, and where else could Bobby go?  

Plot Hole:  Bobby was in Hell how long?  By my count, a year or more.  That’s around 100 years in hell time, as has been established prior (yes, my math might be off, but it’s close).  So why did Bobby look unscathed, like he had been staying in a grungy motel?  Sam’s time in Hell, which was a little more, drove the guy into psychosis (although he was in the cage with Lucifer).  Dean is still haunted by his time on the rack, and he was only there four months.  Even John Winchester in a trail of pixie dust looked worse for wear.   

Solution:   I would have put these lines in when Bobby and Sam were walking through Purgatory, talking about Bobby’s fate:  

Sam:  I’ve got to say Bobby, you’ve come out after a 100 years in the pit in much better shape than Dean and I.  I got to give it to you. 
Bobby:  Honestly, it wasn’t all that bad.  It wasn’t always demon Sam and demon Dean torture.  For the first fifty, Crowley had me waiting in a never ending line.  I learned a long time ago how to keep my mind occupied in long lines because Sioux Falls had the worst DMV ever.  Dumbass.  

Plot Hole:  Scores of angels died trying to rescue Castiel from Purgatory, and Dean from Hell, yet all Sam and Dean needed was to find a coyote?  

Solution:  A change to the conversation between Dean and Naomi.

Dean:  If you’re so trustworthy, why in the world did you send innocent angels to their deaths to rescue Cass, to rescue me from Hell, but all Sam and I had to do was find one rogue reaper?  You’ve got to know about them.   
Naomi:  Fine, I think you humans have a term for it.  It’s called downsizing.  When we downsize angels, we do the right thing and send them to their deaths.  It’s better that way.  They go out warriors.    
Dean:  (rolling eyes) Freaking angels man. 

Plot Hole:  How did Crowley not be able to find Sam and Dean, especially when Sam was in his own backyard?  

Solution:  It’s my contention that Sam and Dean are always carrying hex bags on them to hide them from demons like Crowley.  They obviously aren’t hidden from angels anymore.  Crowley knew where to find them in Maine because he surmised they’d be there.  He probably knows about the portal from Purgatory to Earth.  Of course that logic is completely blown if Crowley turns out to be an angel, but for now that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  

Dean:  How did you find us? 
Crowley:  Your hex bags are useless when you show up at the one place everyone’s already figured out where you’re going to be.
Dean:  Good point.  

Plot Hole/Solution:  Okay, this is more of a big missed opportunity, but just the smell of Hell alone should have triggered some pretty awful flashbacks for Sam.  Sure he could have shook it off and moved on, but wouldn’t have that been some awesome continuity?  Wouldn’t it have shown that he isn’t some sort of super human?  

It’s possible I’m stretching on a few of these, but you get my point.  Just a few lines and plot tweaks could have easily explained these things without taking too much time.  

Another big problem is this busy script couldn’t take time to slow down and heighten some of the emotional elements, not to mention ratchet up the action and tension.  That shows the glaring problem with season pacing.  Shouldn’t some of this drama be moved to other filler episodes, for consistency?  For example, the Kevin side plot with Crowley could have been done last week.  Kevin frantically calls Dean, telling him Crowley was in his head and coming to get him.  The whole drama plays out as a side plot, and the episode ends with Sam and Dean rushing to help Kevin.  Then more time is saved for gripping action in Purgatory and Hell.  

Or, you scrap all this and build out this episode into two parts, like it should have been to begin with.  Young hunter drama is pushed until early next season. 

I hear some of you out there.  “Coulda, shoulda, woulda, didn’t.”  Point taken.  

Ah well, I think the moral of the story is, instead of me trying to figure out ways the episode could have been better, it probably should have been better so to save me all this trouble.  It’s not like I do this every week.  I just hate wasted potential in important story lines, and that’s what we got here.  As I said before, I experienced this same problem last season with “The Born-Again Identity” and I got over it.  Sadly though, I don’t re-watch that one much.  I probably won’t be re-watching this one much either.  

Other Thoughts

“You came, I knew you would.  I’ve been praying for it, forever.”  Was this a shoutout to some sort of movie?   

How can Crowley kill a reaper with an angel sword?  I know Alastair had to use death’s sickle.  Is that lame continuity or something meaningful?  

“When you’re on the king of Hell’s no fly list, you don’t fly the friendly skies.”  Really?  I had to pause this to make sure I wasn’t watching Arrow (just kidding, although that show has a lot of cheesy lines).  

Dean giving Kevin the “suck it up” speech?  I’m not sure how I felt about that.  At least Kevin compensated by taking his pie!  Sorry Dean, but you had that coming.  

Sammy really looked like he was in some awful pain at the end of the trial, especially in the Impala.  I hope they run with that.  We are suckers for Sammy pain.  BTW, hair shot of the episode! 

I’m giving “Taxi Driver” a C+.  Let’s hope the third trial becomes something spectacular.