(This review was originally posted on Blogcritics.org. It is no longer on that site. A copy of the first page of the review can be found here, and it includes all the original comments. I'm reposting here to preserve my history of SPN reviews.).
Like many other fans, I settled on the couch Thursday evening eager for the harrowing drama that this week’s Supernatural promo hinted was coming. I got my wish right away, for the first shot is Dean in a suit, running in the dark of night with full blown terror, the howling of hellhounds on his trail. Oh no, what happened Dean? After warning a hobo of the danger that lurks, Dean’s eyes widen in terror as the creature has caught up with him. The camera pans down, and the identity of the said treacherous beast is revealed.
A Yorkie? With a cute pink bow? Dean runs, and the wide shot shows the little critter’s long scatter across the frame after him. I pause the TiVo to work in my fit of hysterical laughter, because comedy involving cute animals works with me and the joke is on me. They’ve pulled a prank and it’s a good one. A screwball comedy is coming, and what happens next is anyone’s guess.
That seems to be the mantra of season four; leave fans guessing. The first three season’s stories, formula, and overall construction followed a consistency that was entertaining, yet often predictable. None of that in season four. Each one of the six episodes aired so far has been architected and executed perfectly, managing to work in enough twists and heightened drama that has us a jittery mess until next week. Each episode supplies enough breadcrumbs for the trail to next episode, and with the potential path fresh in our minds, it twists in another direction we didn’t anticipate. Best start to a season ever.
This Is Episode Six?
Even the traditional throwaway episode six, which from the last two seasons were the really bad “No Exit” and “Red Sky At Morning”, turned out to be a wild ride that had fans buzzing with delight until the end. Throw in a wacky ending montage, no thanks to Jensen and his study of old Survivor videos, and fans get a rare glimpse of the goofy fun that’s usually reserved for the crew during long days of filming. In other words, a major bonus for us.
“Yellow Fever” is one of those double meaning titles that took this episode into extraordinary territory. “Yellow” means cowardly, turning the normally bad ass Dean Winchester into a quivering mess thanks to a troubling ghost sickness. The other side of yellow is Dean’s greatest fear, Sam willingly turning evil, yellow eyes and all. One yellow was absolutely hysterical, the other absolutely frightening. Yep, this show keeps us on our toes.
This episode often reminded me of “Bad Day At Black Rock” only in reverse, with Sam playing the brother in control of the situation and Dean suffering from the misfortune of the curse. The switch is refreshing, for while we’ve seen several cracks slip in Dean from a dramatic point of view, we’ve never witnessed such an intentional out of character moment like this. Only a strange supernatural disease could take one of the most undaunted hunters and turn him into a total pansy. Jensen proved he’s one of the rare actors that could sell such a switch.
The writing each week manages to challenge Jensen and Jared, taking their characters into adventurous yet plausible territory. The task is especially remarkable this week since “Yellow Fever” introduced two new writers, Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin to the Supernatural creative team. Boy did they get it right. Considering many other writers have flamed out on this show, usually tasked with the throwaway episodes, it’s encouraging to see new blood do so well. Couple this great script with the always outstanding Phil Scrigga as director, and another memorable episode is born.
What Jensen Ackles did in “Yellow Fever” topped incredible, and this comes after a long string of episodes where he’s managed to top incredible each time. Since last season’s finale he’s done nothing but prove his versatility and showcase the fact that no challenge seems to be too great. As any actor will attest, one of the hardest concepts to tackle is comedy, especially when the actor must take his character way out of the comfort zone.
Just follow the bouncing ball of Dean weirdness that flies out of control:
- He becomes fearful of a group of congregating teenagers and walks the other way.
- He fights for composure over a man’s pet reptiles, especially a pair of pythons named Donny and Marie. Donny’s harmless, but the large Marie slides along a petrified Dean because “she smells fear”.
- He won’t go into the motel because the room is on the fourth floor.
- He refuses to take his gun from Sam, volunteering instead to man flashlight.
- In a shot that will be littered on fan videos and icons for years to come, the tense reveal of a cat in a locker pushes Dean to a high pitched screech that rivals any teenage girl in a bad horror movie.
- He runs like the cowardly lion when the ghost appears behind Sam, leaving Sam to deal with the apparition alone, ducking behind the Impala to chug down what’s left of his whiskey.
- He can’t sell the charade of him and Sam being FBI agents, almost breaking their cover. Considering Dean is one of the best liars in the world, we now know how much this bizzaro world is fun.
- He does the best diva hissy fit, putting Tyra Banks to shame, declaring in front of Sam their hunting life is insane and he’s done with it. He even throws the keys of his most prized possession to his flabbergasted brother and walks away.
- He crosses paths with said homicidal Yorkie.
Once our sides are no longer cramping from all that laughter, Dean’s issues grow serious, as does the rest of the episode. It’s no surprise that Dean’s two greatest fears are being sent back to Hell and seeing Sam turn evil. When Sam and Bobby successfully eradicate the ghost causing the sickness and the fears go away, it’s interesting to see Dean’s terror over Sam still linger at the surface. His disturbing vision of Sam with yellow eyes at the end warns us that all is not well and more terror is yet to come.
That lingering fear makes sense. This episode was intended to be a logical continuation of “In The Beginning” and “Metamorphosis”, but the network changed the order of the episodes. “Monster Movie” should have been saved for episode six because the break disrupts the perfect flow between these three. Dean even told Sam at the end of “Metamorphosis” his powers scared him. Now we see how much.
Jared Padalecki wasn’t wasted in this episode either. In a season that has many fans scratching their heads over the lack of Sam, this episode restored that perfect Sam and Dean balance that has been absent from previous episodes (excluding the afore mentioned “Metamorphosis”). Sam got a very unfamiliar role as well, playing the calm, in control straight man that through determined focus and the saintly ability to tolerate Dean managed to save the day (with Bobby’s help). He never once lost his composure or got all weepy or panicky over Dean’s possible fate.
Usually detriment to Dean misguides a frantic Sam from his task, as we saw in episodes like “Mystery Spot” and “Time Is On My Side”. Not here, and his numb approach, especially when he met with Bobby and left Dean behind, could be considered troubling. Considering he’s already seen life without Dean twice, maybe that isn’t the worst fate in the world for him anymore. Yes Sam’s personality changes are subtle, but they’re there.
So why did the disease affect Dean and not Sam? Judging from Lilith’s statement, “you know why”, I imagine that’s a setup for a reveal in the future. The theory was the sickness preyed on those that motivate through fear. Despite Dean’s objections, Sam doesn’t act that way. With humans at least. Sam could also be safe because of the same reason he didn’t suffer from the demon virus in “Croatoan”. He’s immune. That possibility wasn’t explored though, but one thing we know for sure, it isn’t because Dean is a dick.
Other Moments Worthy of Mention
Agents Tyler and Perry! What’s better is the neighbor figured out that those names were from Aerosmith. That’s only the second time in the series that’s happened.
Bobby drove the Impala! He did so roadhauling a ghost nonetheless. Can he get more awesome?
Again, we see parallels between the monster of the week and Sam. A gentle soul that was a victim of unfortunate circumstances. A freak.
The montage back and forth between Sam with Luther and Dean with Lilith delivered just the right amount of tension, even though we knew Sam would get the ghost just in time to save Dean. Dean had to relive his nightmare and chances are it was enough to trigger all those memories from Hell. The return of the creepy girl from the finale didn’t hurt.
“Eye of the Tiger”. That was worth every bit of the hype done by Warner Brothers with their clips over the last two weeks. Another moment we didn’t expect, and it was worth its weight in gold. Jensen rocks, that’s all I can say!
Speaking of Jensen, just look at Dean’s progression in the last six episodes. He’s resurrected from the dead only to find that he’s rescued from an entity he refuses to believe in, then learns he’s been rescued because there are signs of the Apocalypse, then is sent in the past to learn the truth about his parents and brother, then finds his worst fears about his brother are coming true. Throw in the requirement to play a Hollywood leading man in an old fashioned horror movie and then behave like the polar opposite of his familiar character, and I’m sure Jensen is wondering how it’s not the end of the season already. Well done!
We Support You Eric Kripke!!!!!!
As I was putting the finishing touches on this review, a press release from Warner Brothers came my way. A personal message from Eric Kripke himself over some misguided fan reaction. Believe it or not, I wrote the above review before getting this statement. Here’s what it said (warning, contains a spoiler):
“So I've never before responded directly to the fandom's comments about an episode, and I don't plan to make a habit of it, but I couldn't resist dropping in a thought about the episode "Yellow Fever."
Which is this: Dean is not a dick.
None of the writers, or anyone on the creative team of Supernatural, think Dean's ever been a dick, past, present, or future. He's a hero. Dean did NOT contract the ghost sickness because he's a dick. Victims contract the illness because they use "fear as a weapon." Dean asks Lilith at the episode's end, "why did I get infected?" And she cryptically responds, "you know why. Listen to your heart." We, as the writers, probably should have emphasized this mystery more, I take responsibility for that omission. But the point is: the reason he was infected is because of a SECRET he's keeping. A dark secret that will be revealed in Episode 10. And not at all because of any dickishness, implied or otherwise.
Thanks, gang. “
This message makes me both appreciative and angry. I adore Eric Kripke for caring so much and feeling the need to defend a creative decision. At the same token he shouldn’t have to, and those few overzealous fans that raise such issues need to lighten up and see how things play out. If history with this show has proved one thing, there’s always a big payoff. Patience people.
This silly controversy is no different than Dean’s “gay” comment in “Bedtime Stories” or the never ending “Dean is dumb” arguments from last season. I do my best to avoid poisonous attitudes on the boards because they are always limited to a select few, but when it spirals out of control like this, even I hang my head in shame. I picked up on the clues that Dean was carrying a secret so if others missed that there’s the true benefit of the fan boards, a place for constructive discussion and clarification, not griping and backstabbing.
No need to apologize or take blame Mr. Kripke. You and your creative team did nothing wrong. Everyone is doing a fantastic job and fans will be back eagerly next week and the weeks after that to see what you have in store for us. You’ve never let us down before and we know you won’t in the future. As me and most other fans have declared before, “In Kripke We Trust!”
Coming in a few days, I have three clips for next week’s Halloween themed episode, “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester.” It looks like another great one, and no show does Halloween better.