The case begins rather mundanely for the Winchesters. It's unusual enough to get their attention and get them involved, but as we see them arrive we start to get a sense that this is a bit weird even by their standards. The taxidermist victim was making his mice into Game of Thrones characters after all. It's a subtle teaser for the strangeness to come.
But when the Winchesters visit a vegan bakery they suspect might be involved in the murder, things really start to take a turn for the weird. They're a bit over the top, almost caricature like, and it adds a layer of wackiness to the story unfolding as things warp. They are the founders of a group called S.N.A.R.T. not unlike PETA or other animal rights groups. They had sprayed the threat on the taxidermist's business, but only to scare him. It turns out that whatever killed him also attacked them, evidenced by their damaged eyes. They tell Sam and Dean that it was done to them by something that hissed, that they think they were maced, and that they kept it quiet since they felt the cops wouldn't be of help.
Since they were hurt, it means that they're no longer suspects. So if they weren't the ones doing this, what or who did?
Before they can figure it out, another gruesome murder has taken place at the local animal shelter. The Winchesters head there to put the pieces together only to find out that once again there were no witnesses. The victim was brutally clawed to pieces---which is unsual considering the taxidermist was constricted and the vegan bakers were poisoned with venom---both traits that belong to snakes. This is a different animal all together.
There is one constant, though. The dog that was at the taxidermist's is also at the shelter. Dean quickly rules The Colonel out by putting a silver coin on the dog and discovers they're dealing with just a dog this time. But that means he's their only witness to these crimes. They need to know what he knows in order to solve what the cops simply can't.
One of the cops is wearing a similar hat to the suspect, and The Colonel becomes vocal quickly. But with the hat removed he falls quiet. Dean tries it on a few times, gauging his reaction and knows they have to figure out just what the Colonel saw. Problem is, neither Sam or Dean can talk to a dog. So they will have to find another way to communicate with him. Sam comes up with a crazy scheme to understand The Colonel and they have Kevin look up a spell.
After Dean downs it, it takes a little bit for it to work and for the fun house effect to take over. It is obvious fairly early on that it is working a little too well when Dean starts to exhibit dog behaviors. He starts to fetch Sam's food wrapper without noticing he's even doing it, he barks ferociously at the mail man, shouting out “You, you, you, you!” Dean scratches behind his ear absently as he talks. It starts off rather subtly, which gets us to laugh and go along for the zany ride to come wonderfully.
On one hand, we have Dean not only taking on some dog like qualities, we have Sam's befuddled responses, trying to adjust to the spell's effect on his brother. It sets up for a great comedic routine for the two of them, too, escalating as we go deeper into the episode. Supernatural always seems to know how to have fun with its story and genre in episodes like these, and this one is certainly no different.
As the brothers go out into the world with The Colonel in tow to complete their case, the effects start to warp things a little more. A pigeon splashes the Impala with its waste. Ordinarily, Dean's complaint would be met with nothing, but here he can understand the bird as well as he can The Colonel. Dean being Dean ends up arguing with it, leaving Sam to try and defuse the situation before everyone starts to report the crazy people.
It's funny on many levels here. How many times have we had a bird relieve itself on our vehicles and feel that they're doing it on purpose? This bird was clearly gunning for the Impala and had no problem with taunting Dean---even enough to shooting the bird off its perch. It becomes even funnier when we see Sam glance around and hold his hands up in apology as he shepherds Dean into the car. He's not sure what he should even say or do at this point and we can't help but giggle at how ridiculous this whole situation is quickly becoming.
And while we're picking on human notions of animal behavior---complete with Dean riding with his head out the window, we see Supernatural isn't above poking fun squarely at itself. Sam and Dean are on their way into the shelter when Dean and The Colonel are stopped by the sight of a pretty poodle. Dean's ogling is teasing his behavior in the earlier seasons as he would skirt chase and flirt endlessly with the female witness or victim. We're even treated with Sam's chiding, “Dean!” to get him to come in with him, which makes the whole ridiculous moment all the more brilliant.
Once they enter the shelter, they learn that there's not much to learn that they don't already know---until a Yorkie gets their attention. It sets up one of the funniest scenes in the episode as Dean quips, “I'm being extorted by a dog.” The Yorkie will tell them everything they need to know, but it will come with a cost. He wants Sam to rub his belly.
And so, they take the little dog out of his kennel and Sam begrudgingly rubs the dog's belly, even to the point of hand cramps. The dog really likes the “big'un” as he calls Sam, and as long as he's getting what he wants, he'll tell them what happened. It's funny because the whole time we see Sam sport one epic bitch face all the while watching his brother have what appears to him a one-sided conversation with a toy dog. It's clear all over his face that he will find a way to get Dean back for this somehow, too.
Sam is the straight man in this situation, despite being the one that suggested this spell. He has to play off of what it's doing to Dean and he does so hilariously in his exasperation, confusion, and amusement. This scene is the culmination of all the absurdity this episode had to offer---and it's another tongue in cheek moment that gets us to laugh at how silly it all is. Sure, it's funny to hear what the Yorkie says, but the gold in this scene is all on Sam's reaction to it. We can't help but find our own amusement at the situation.
Supernatural always plays with the ridiculous in new and interesting ways and this scene is no exception. Even when it is time for them to put the Yorkie back into his kennel, we hear his voice beg Sam to come back and that it was the “best belly rub I ever had.”
As the brothers head to the restaurant the Yorkie mentioned, they discover the office and more clues to what is going on and why. They find Chef Leo's spell concoctions---and another animal to help them. This time it's mice, and they're very vocal.
What makes this part hilarious is how easy Dean accepts talking with the mice. He takes their advice to look in the fridge, and there he finds the gruesome discovery that there are multiple animal organs in it for Chef Leo's many spells. He then asks them why on earth they'd be on the menu---what could they possibly offer to the Chef? They tell him that they have “collapsible spines,” which of course would be a helpful talent in the right situation.
But Sam and Dean aren't alone, and the mice really make it funny here when they start telling each other to shush. The best line here is by far the mouse ironically declaring, “I'm as quiet as a mouse!” It's just the right wacky to be funny.
When we see the case resolved and Dean give The Colonel to the vegan bakers, we get to see last moments of the wackiness. The dog tells Dean, “Agh! I'm gonna be pooping wheatgrass with these two.” But this farewell isn't just funny. It's heartwarming, too. Dean really had bonded with The Colonel, and we hear the warmth in his voice when he tells him why they can't take the dog with. But the punchline here is when The Colonel is about to tell him why dogs are with people---only for the spell to wear off and Dean to be left wondering.
But what lurks under the wacky comedy?
Nature is beautifully terrifying. It is full of wonders that we're still trying to comprehend. For all of our abilities to shape the world around us, there is much we still don't know. There are creatures that have characteristics that we don't have---some frightening and some wondrous. There's venomous snakes and spiders, there's fast animals, and there's animals that can hide in plain sight. All of these animals astound us in their own ways. Their different characteristics serve a purpose befitting their place in the scheme of the ecosystems they reside. Nature, in many ways, is pure.
We have made our stamp on this world in so many ways---with buildings and technology. Our ability to do things like create fire or plow the land or make things allow us to alter the landscape around us forever. We have changed much on our planet simply by existing and creating our civilizations. Our ruins dot the world over as we continue to reshape the world as we see fit. It is our ingenuity that allows us to do these things.
But when we look at the animals, we see what we lack. We don't see at night without light. We don't hear as well or smell as well. We lack claws and fangs. Human beings can't run as fast as other creatures or breathe underwater. We can't fly without our technology. For all that we can do, we are amazed and astounded by what animals can do. It's why we watch Animal Planet or indulge in the annual tradition of Shark Week. Animals fascinate us.
It's fitting that the victims in this case---aside from the taxidermist and shelter clerk---are animals. They are the ones under threat here and they are the ones the Winchesters need to help. The monster is a human one---taking on animal abilities to reach his own ends. It is a twisting of nature, tainting it in so many ways. Chef Leo may have started this out of desperation to defeat the cancer plaguing his body, but what he's turned into is proof enough of what lies beneath this wacky episode's storyline. It is humanity that pollutes here. It is Chef Leo's ego and hubris. It is his pride. He has taken their venom or claws and used them to inflict damage and death on others simply so he can be cancer free a little while longer.
This storyline reflects our darkest traits---how our humanity can lead us to twist nature in yet another new and frightening way. While this may be fictional and mythological here, we can imagine if this were truly possible someone taking this step not simply out of desperation as Chef Leo does here, but because we can. We have an innate need to dominate the earth. In many ways, in our darkest thoughts and imaginings, we are jealous of animals. While we can build the world as we see fit, we will never have what they have. We will never have their speed or sight or sense of smell. We can't help but feel envy---a very human emotion. They have something we desire and we want it. Seeing Chef Leo take that step reveals this clearly.
His twisting of nature is disturbing on many levels. His using the gifts of the snake to constrict the taxidermist is frightening. His taking the cats---including the horrific sight of him swallowing one---show just how gruesome and terrible this would be. There is a sick glee in his actions as we watch him do these terrible things. Chef Leo doesn't care that he's hurting these animals---or the human victims that he eviscerates in his path. He sees this as his right, that there is no reason why he shouldn't exert his will upon those weaker than him. As he tells Dean, “Guess you eat enough predators, you start to become one.” He can rationalize to himself why he's doing these awful things. After all, he can easily wave it aside as they're just animals.
This makes us recoil in horror because we know that somewhere inside we may feel the same way. It's why we've had science experiments on animals and testing labs and more. It's why there's an entire genre of movies dedicated to science experiment monstrosities like Sharktopus or Dinocroc. It's easy to justify taking an animal's life---especially for the pure pleasure of doing so. Chef Leo may have started this to stave off the cancer riddling his body, but he's gone far beyond the simple need to survive.
Animals kill one another in nature, too. They do so to survive. Some are predators while others are prey. It's the food chain at work. It's the manner in which the ecosystems function properly. There's not always a guarantee that the predator will win out---sometimes they starve. What Chef Leo started doing wasn't inherently evil, no. He started it to save himself---to survive. It's what he has done since then that taints him and the animals he uses. He kills not just to survive. He now kills for pleasure---for its simple enjoyment.
Animals don't kill for pleasure---aside from the rare instance such as the legendary Ghost in the Darkness lions. They kill to live. We humans have a tendency to become vicious to one another and to animals simply for its sheer pleasure and reward. It's a dark streak within our humanity---one we must acknowledge and control lest we be controlled by it. It's a twisted glee in inflicting suffering on others. There's many reasons we do those things---mental illness, our own pain, and revenge. Sometimes we simply do it because we can. Cruelty is our enemy and if we allow it to win out, we see the horrific side of ourselves emerge from the darkest corners of our minds.
But as dark as this storyline is---as much as it focuses on our hubris and cruelty---it also shows us the lessons animals can and do teach us everyday. While animals may kill or be killed, they can show us love and patience and understanding. We see this in Dean's interactions with The Colonel. Dean, as we know, has not been a big fan of dogs, especially since his return from Hell. He is against having them in the car. He's not fond of having them near him. At the start, he's begrudgingly taking on this mind meld. He's only doing this for the case so they can figure out what is going on.
And yet, it doesn't take long for Dean to start to sympathize with the dog. Sure, it is shown in funny gestures such as playing fetch or “barking” at the mail man, but overtime we see Dean bond with the dog in a way he might not have otherwise. He starts to see the dog not merely as an animal but as good and worth helping. Sure, the ability to have a conversation may help this matter---allowing Dean to “humanize” the dog in his mind, but at the same time what The Colonel teaches Dean here is to have patience and empathy.
Animals teach us these things all the time. Here, Dean exhibits learning this lesson well. He shows it when he argues for taking The Colonel in with them. He shows it when he sets the shelter animals free. He shows it in his patience with the mice or the fond farewell to The Colonel at the end. Even when we see the flicker of displeasure at having his back seat thrown up in cross his face, Dean forgives it easily.
We witness the flip side of the coin in humanity's relationship to nature and animals beautifully. Dean truly wants to help the animals get this monster that has targeted them viciously. He may be motivated in the end by Chef Leo's attempt on Sam's life, but he was already invested because he saw the animals suffering because of this threat. If they didn't stop Chef Leo, he'd threaten both animals and humans indefinitely.
It is also fitting, that when Chef Leo once again takes on another animal's characteristics, that Dean isn't the one to deliver the killing blow. Chef Leo threatens animals. It's right that they are the ones to deliver that justice. As he chases Dean out of the restaurant, sporting the fangs of a wolf, it looks as if Dean is cornered. He may have taken on some dog abilities, such as sniffing out Chef Leo's cancer or the need to fetch, but he is no physical match for the powered up Chef Leo---at least not without a weapon.
But he's got an advantage having worked with The Colonel. The pack. He gives a shrill whistle, and the dogs quickly turn the table on Chef Leo, killing him brutally. They are protecting themselves and exacting justice. While this may be a gruesome sight---one that makes even Dean shy away in horror---Dean realizes another truth about dogs that he may not have considered.
Loyalty. The Colonel was willing to talk about what had happened to his “best friend” because he was loyal to him. Dean understands this trait. He's loyal and family orientated. While a pack may be different in many ways, at its heart it is a similar concept---and one Dean understands completely.
This episode explored our best and worst qualities in the guise of animals well---giving us pause to how we interact with our world and what we can learn from the animals. We may not be able to talk with them---but we don't need a spell to learn what they are teaching us. We only need to pay attention.
Sometimes comedy is the perfect vehicle to tell us the darker story---and “Dog Dean Afternoon” certainly fit that bill.
Steve Valentine gives us the creepy monster of the week in Chef Leo. His entrance is shrouded in shadow and silence, and we feel uneasy when he is on screen. There's a creep factor in how he presents the animalistic qualities---especially that of the snake. It's a frightening performance when he visits the shelter and walks into the kennel area only to take the cats. Valentine doesn't say a word, and yet we are horrified even before we see the result of his visit. While a lot of it may be special effects, Valentine sells us on it with his body language and facial expression. He really makes Leo the most chilling when he's in the kitchen facing Dean and preparing to eat Sam. His pride and his ego fill his voice as Valentine delivers his lines. And yet, he wisely gives us his character's desperation and fear underneath the cruelty. Valentine made Leo a creepy monster of the week for sure.
Jensen Ackles shines as Dean in this episode. He shows his skill expertly when he has to act against the various animals. There's comedic timing in his delivery, too---especially when he is shouting at the pigeon or arguing with The Colonel. As the voice actor's contributions would be added in afterward, Ackles has to deliver his portion of the dialogue one sided. It's a difficult thing to do, and he makes it look natural and easy. There's a subtle nature that underlies his performance, too. This is shown best in the scene after the spell first starts to work. Ackles doesn't miss a beat as he keeps delivering his lines all the while fetching the crumpled paper. We see this again as he opens the cages in the shelter and when he argues for taking The Colonel in with them. There's an earnestness in his portrayal here as he takes on the challenge of conveying an animal's characteristics. That doesn't mean there isn't a bit of tongue in cheek here. Ackles has fun with the belly rub Yorkie and hanging out the car window. When he has to face down Chef Leo, Ackles makes Dean turn serious as he confronts the latest monster. He is disgusted by Leo's habit. Ackles makes us feel for Dean most, however, when we see him plead with Sam to wake up. There is real fear in his voice and his expression is sorrowful. Even without him saying anything, we can tell that Dean's afraid. As soon as Sam awakes, we see Ackles show Dean's relief in just his facial expressions and body language. We see a genuine affection on Dean's part in Ackles portrayal at the end when he gives The Colonel to the vegan bakery owners. Ackles always knows how to blend comedy and drama just right in his performance---and this episode was no different.
Jared Padalecki plays a brilliant straight man as Sam in this episode. He is amused and bemused by the effects of the spell on Dean---especially as Dean fetches. His delivery of the line, “I don't want this,” is so deadpan and timed just right. When he watches his brother fight with the pigeon, Padalecki shows Sam's reaction perfectly, complete with gestures and facial expressions. As he shepherds Dean to the car, we can't help but laugh as he tries to apologize to those in the vicinity. There's great astonishment in the car ride, too, as Sam has to watch his brother in the car. While we're seeing it through the Impala's windshield, we can see that Sam's just flabbergasted, all by Padalecki's face. Padalecki also sports the classic “bitch face” while rubbing the dog's stomach. His complaints about his hand cramps are delivered with great humor. What's still amazing about Padalecki thus far in this young season is his ability to flip from Sam to Zeke to Sam again, this time all in one fluid motion that goes by almost in the blink of an eye. Even without the special effects, we can tell when Padalecki switches from Sam to Zeke and back again. Padalecki continues to shine brilliantly in this early portion of the season with more to come.
Best Lines of the Week:
Dean: Always knew we'd find the source of all evil in a vegan bakery.
Dean: Hey. You know who wears sunglasses inside? Blind people. And douchebags.
Dylan Camrose: His business is fronted by hunters, and you know how hunters are. They're selfish dicks who define themselves by what they kill.
Dean: Don't make me lick you damn face.
Sam: I don't want this.
Sam: Why are you arguing with the dog about Styx?
It looks like Castiel will be gainfully employed---and sought by yet another angel next week. Will he be friend or foe?