I’m not sure what it was, but “The Gamblers” just didn’t resonate with me. Perhaps my patience has bottomed out. Maybe it’s the seasonal affective disorder. Or maybe it’s the fact there’s nine episodes left in the entire series and we’ve gotten nowhere. They’re still stalling with flimsy plots.
Judging by all the glowing reviews on this site so far, I guess I’m going to go against the grain with the other reviewers. I thought that “The Gamblers” was rudimentary, pedestrian, and overall lackluster. In other words, safe filler. I’ll admit, I didn’t have high expectations. The entire premise didn’t hold a lot of water with me. Sadly, after watching, it barely reached the low bar I had given it.
I get it. Everyone likes those episodes where the brothers are together, working together, etc. I like those episodes and this one delivered in that aspect. Everyone likes something that has a “classic feel.” Again, I can’t fault this episode for that. But I couldn’t get past the contrived notion of why Sam and Dean were in this mess in the first place. In my review last week, I dismissed the whole idea that Sam and Dean were “normal” as part of the surreal/absurd theater that was pushed by the creative team in “The Heroes’ Journey.” I still stand by that, because the whole notion was even more ridiculous this week.
The Goddess of Luck
Sam and Dean get to play pool for their lives, souls, luck, humanity…I really couldn’t discern which. We can just say all of the above and call it even. The problem here is, there is no situation of jeopardy that can be taken seriously anymore with this show. I was not feeling the high stakes, the tension, the danger, etc. Somehow I knew Sam and Dean would come out of this just fine. Even the winning by losing fake out didn’t impress me. The strengths were in the character dynamics, but it’s one we’ve seen countless times before.
(Dean bitchface for the win!)
How are Sam and Dean not heroes? So their luck has shifted a little. That didn’t change anything about who they are or how they act. Sam at least tapped into that early, commenting in a nutshell that they needed to just make little adjustments in life, like Dean changing his diet. Dean wasn’t buying it though, so off to Alaska they go. I almost turned the TV off right there. It was Castiel and Jack’s story that kept me watching, although that was more to figure out where they were going with it.
I resented how desperate Dean was during this entire ordeal. The whole “man, we need this” like their lives depended on it (?) and the fact that he was so desperate he stole luck from a dying cowboy then did nothing about it. That is not the Dean Winchester I know. The fact that he only turned around after Sam made a stand made him look weak and shallow. It can be disputed that it’s typical Dean, but shouldn’t by now there be some character growth? This is a complaint I have made before. While I’m truly proud of our Sammy for seeing that something was off and taking a stand, this is also not a surprising turn with his character either. He’s always been the practical one and nothing changed here.
Despite the very flimsy pool hall premise (Sam and Dean were hardly Fast Eddie Feltons in this setup), Fortuna herself did present some interesting information. Gods were created by Chuck to basically be the scapegoats when things went wrong. From what we’ve seen through the series, a lot of these Gods still believed in their power and importance despite their shrinking profile. Just for all of you, I went through an excruciating exercise and read through the entire script of one of the worst episodes of the series, “Hammer of the Gods.” It’s relevant though, because that is one of the few episodes that addresses the existence of other Gods. All of them in that episode deemed themselves more important that the “Judeo-Christian Apocalypse” and they believed in their different destinies. I found this quote that best captured that (you’re welcome).
Kali: Your story. Not ours. Westerners, I swear. The sheer arrogance. You think you're the only ones on earth? You pillage and you butcher in your God's name. But you're not the only religion, and he's not the only god. And now you think you can just rip the planet apart? You're wrong. There are billions of us. And we were here first. If anyone gets to end this world, it's me.
So, did the Gods’ attitude change after Lucifer came in and obliterated a few of them? It doesn’t sound like it. Even before that, like the Pagan Gods in “A Very Supernatural Christmas,” several of these Gods “assimilated” and went small scale with their ambitions. What I saw with Fortuna was exactly that with sour grapes. Another bitter God that decided to mess with human souls in hiding just because she could. She may have helped Sam and Dean with their luck, but all that did was take them back to where they were. That just didn’t boost my mood.
Jack’s story at least made some sense. I’m glad the timing of his return was properly explained. He’s in a weakened state and there’s not a lot of angel grace to go around these days. Granted, why he couldn’t have picked up some juice in the empty where all those dead angels are resting was a question I asked, but maybe when angels die they are depleted of grace. Curious, where does it go then when they die? Into the wind? Since these are questions that have never truly been answered by the series, I give it a pass.
The choice of going after the Grigori is inspired. They are the useless form of angel that rob people of souls, so who better to steal from? But eating their hearts? That’s the answer? Will he go after the Cupids now too? I just thought it was all a bit primitive, not to mention gross given his special abilities. But, that’s what Death said to do, so who was Jack to question? Without enough defined lore, I must again give it a pass.
My favorite part of the entire episode was the reunion of Castiel and Jack. No one was hit harder by Jack’s demise than Castiel and his total relief over seeing him revived was a long welcome scene. I still see Castiel going down in the end, and it will happen as some sort of sacrifice for Jack so he can save the world. If he does go out, at least he’ll have that comfort that Jack goes on. Okay, I love Sam and Dean seeing him too, especially Sam. Quite a happy look on his face! Dean's skeptical look is good as well.
(It's a gift horse Dean, take it!)
(Gorgeous lighting on this shot)
Jack’s mission from Death is to kill God? I know it was mentioned all the way back in season five that Death will reap God someday, but how does that bring the balance to the universe? Is Jack expected to fill that role? Will the goodness of his human mother let him be a merciful instead of vindictive God? Is Death getting that from that library of hers? What I want to see is Sam have a nice talk with Billie about what Chuck showed him. How do they reconcile the rise of darkness? If that doesn’t happen, then Sam’s ordeal with Chuck was pointless (aka another infuriating red herring). But I’ll be patient and wait until it all plays out before I make judgements. Like I said, I’m just getting a little tired of waiting.
What’s really happening here is after painting the super hopeless situation for the entire season so far, Sam and Dean are now finding allies to help them in the fight against Chuck. That happened two fold in this episode, with Fortuna and Jack. Both had very different impacts but in the end, left me wondering what will truly be helpful and what will end up being the giant, smelly fish. In the meantime, we spent two episodes going through a flimsy plot that basically told us what we already know, Sam and Dean are heroes. What a news flash. At least last week we got some well done art house cinema in return. If anything was different, the brothers finally got awarded for their bravery. In a nutshell though, one step back, one step forward. They’re stalling for no good reason other than they are out of ideas on how to play this out.
(The faces of disappointment)
That’s all I really have to say about this episode. For the rest of the review, I’ve invited back and old friend who has just spent the last few months exploring another long running CW series that was coming to an end this season. Perhaps after this perspective, you will see why I’m growing increasing frustrated with time wasting filler as “Supernatural” concludes.
The Red Headed Monster
Hey, talk about a resurrection! Yes, I’m back! These are different times for the monster. My anger management training has gone superbly and I’m calmer in my dismay these days. Sure, maybe it’s just plain old resignation, but welcome to the new me.
I’m here to talk about a topic that has been burning in my brain since last Monday. I have been watching with great interest the final season of “Arrow.” After all, that is another long running, flagship show for The CW that was ending and they were studio buds with “Supernatural.” How would “Arrow’s” approach to the end mirror or stray from “Supernatural’s”?
Turns out, I really enjoyed the final season of “Arrow”. That’s kind of miraculous considering I gave up on the show back in season six. These episodes weren’t spell binding thrillers by any means, but they were satisfying. Why? It was the chance to tie up several loose ends and give Oliver Queen that chance to say goodbye to those that have meant something to him in the last 8 years, while still pushing the plot to the dramatic conclusion.
Why did it work so well? First, they only had 10 episodes in the season, and 7 episodes before the big Crisis of Infinite Earths crossover (spoiler alert, Oliver Queen dies in episode 8 as part of Crisis). With that type of pinpoint focus, there wasn’t a lot of time for filler. Granted, it still sometimes dragged a bit, or got very ridiculous with some of the resurrections (Yao Fei???) but it wasn’t plentiful or egregious. It didn’t make me question, “Where the f*** are they going with this???” It was pretty obvious. Oliver had to exercise old demons, with his children in the future and return visits to Russia, Lian Yu and Nanda Parbat. All of that was necessary for him to move forward with his final redemption. In the end Oliver Queen got the true heroes’ send off, best case scenario given his dire existence. The end was technically inevitable from day one. The story doesn’t end happy for a lifelong vigilante, but it can end heroically.
As I see the cavalcade of returning guest stars, I do believe that “Supernatural” is trying to follow that same formula in a way, but so far it isn’t quite living up to the task. For one, “Supernatural” has 12 more episodes than “Arrow.” Instead of that emotional, season long farewell where Sam and Dean come to terms with old ghosts, the plots this season have been all over the map and often an agonizing chore to watch. Instead of seeing clearly where this is going, it’s often leaving me underwhelmed to angry that final episodes are being wasted like this. Honestly, they should have only given “Supernatural” a final 10 episode season like “Arrow”. We would have gotten a more fluid and snappier story. As it has been the case for several seasons now, I feel like they are stalling until they can cram all the action into that last few episodes. It’s very disappointing that this is all happening at the end. I hoped for better.
I do concede however that “Arrow” has one unique dynamic, hopes of a spinoff. Episode 8.09 was the planted pilot. Whether that was enough to go to series was hard to say, but that episode and the final one successfully bridged the gap between past, present, and future. Everyone was feeling the aftermath of Crisis, took time to remember their friend and everyone said their goodbyes before moving forward. Given the lack of spinoff potential, and no children to carry on the legacy of Sam and Dean a la “Arrow,” “Supernatural” must end differently. Perhaps that’s one reason why the build up is so confusing. The inevitability isn’t there. That’s exactly why I have reservations that “Supernatural” will get that satisfying conclusion. That’s why I’m having trouble watching this season.
Overall grade, a C+. Sorry, it just didn’t do much for my increasingly anxious mood. Nine episodes guys. Make them count.
Screencaps were provided by the most awesome Raloria. Check out her live journal page at Raloria@livejournal.
As a bonus, here's my favorite shot of the episode, courtesy of Raloria's awesome contributions.
Thematically, this has to mean something!
Read more of Alice's insights on Supernatural! Reviews on every episode of the series are on Alice's Writer's Page and in WFB's Episode Guides!