SUPERNATURAL 7.14: “Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magical Menagerie”

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear from the outset: I am not afraid of clowns (coulrophobic). I don’t like clowns, but I am not afraid of them. I think they’re creepy and I don’t understand why some people find them funny, but I am not afraid of them.

However, Sam Winchester of The CW’s SUPERNATURAL is afraid of clowns. Big time. Forget being locked in a cage with Lucifer in the pits of Hell; at least it wasn’t a clown! Well, it was only a matter of time until Sam finally had to face that primal fear and fight a couple of clowns. With pipe wrenches. Who hasn’t had that nightmare, right?
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The CW served up a couple of new episodes of NIKITA and SUPERNATURAL tonight, and watching them reminded me of what I’ve been missing: action drama and a big dose of fun. NIKITA showed more originality with its story, but nothing beats the chemistry of the Winchester boys – even when they’re separated by 68 years.

The big development on NIKITA is that Oversight was about to kill everyone in Division with a secret failsafe protocol using VX gas to murder everyone. But Nikita (Maggie Q), Michael (Shane West) and Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) managed to turn Sean (Dillon Casey), who told them about the gas. But before they do anything about it, Percy (Xander Berkley) put a plan of his own into motion to have the Guardians take out Oversight – just as Amanda (Melinda Clarke) was about to drug Percy into a permanent coma.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 9/18/09

Today saw the final installment of GUIDING LIGHT, and while I’m sure many others will pen far more eloquent eulogies, I can contribute a small personal note about what GL has meant to me professionally. Back when she was playing GL’s Marah, Lindsey McKeon was the very first soap opera actress I ever interviewed. I remember that she was quite charming, and I got a nice feature piece out of it — as long as I remembered to spell Lindsey with an “E.” She popped up a few months ago in prime-time, on SUPERNATURAL, so talking to me did not ruin her entire career!

All these many years later, I was charmed by the (tragic) happy ending to GL’s 72-year saga. It was a brave choice to give everyone a happy ending. Yes, even Alan’s death turned out to be all for the best. I can’t help thinking that the blustery cigar aficionado would have loved ending up as a pile of ashes. I was most happy to see Josh and Reva wind up together. Sure, Jeffrey was left in limbo, but I like to think of him out there somewhere, endlessly pursuing Edmund; happy in his own way. But not as happy as the denizens of Springfield. Rick saved a patient — and got the girl!

While I join all GL fans in mourning the passing of a historic series that practically defined “soap opera,” at least it was a good end. I could take a page from Dylan Thomas and “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” but I am at peace with letting GL “go gentle into that good night.”

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Supernatural 5.1: Oh, hell yeah!

Hell of a way to kick off the fifth season of SUPERNATURAL – coming out guns blazing, letting us have it with both barrels. I was sold right from the opening recap featuring highlights from last season set to AC/DC’s driving “Thunderstruck.” Pretty audacious, Eric Kripke, to remind people how high you set the bar with the exciting fourth season.

The new year picked up right where the finale left off, with Lucifer emerging from hell. But viewers were knocked off their feet right along with the Winchester brothers when they were instantly teleported to an airliner to witness the Adversary’s escape from the air. Let’s talk about Lucifer for a moment. Clearly, he is the Big Bad for this season (Could there be a bigger bad? Pipe down, you Elder Gods in the back; as indifferent cosmic beings, you don’t count as “bad.”), but as the episode title indicates, creator Kripke may be demonstrating “Sympathy for the Devil” this season. Kripke clearly has not forgotten that Lucifer is not a demon – he was the very first angel. As Lucifer’s spirit looked for a body to inhabit, he chose a scarred man named Nick who lost his family to a madman’s bloody rampage. And Lucifer, of course, considers himself a victim of god’s tyranny. So we will see two damaged psyches inhabiting that body, one of whom is the most powerful angel ever. Lucifer is even more terrible in aspect than the archangels!

And how about those archangels killing Castiel? No sooner had Misha Collins’ name been flashed on the screen as a third-billed series regular than Chuck revealed that Castiel had been capped by his fellow angels. Well, no way Cas was destroyed, right? Well, he wasn’t. Castiel made a terrific heroic entrance, just when Dean needed him most. Cas now seems to be some kind of independent operator, but whatever his deal, he certainly was not on the side of the angels. This little mystery should keep the audience on tenterhooks. But like last season, when we had to wait weeks to learn how Dean had escaped hell, and longer still to discover what had happened to him there, I’m betting it will be a long time before we understand Castiel’s new status quo. I have my own theory, and if I turn out to be correct, it’s gonna be a mega-cool reveal!

Bobby going all black-eyes and taking out Dean was a shock — as was Bobby surviving stabbing himself with Ruby’s blade — but perhaps Kripke’s bravest move was going so meta with the fangirl who writes Wincest. Forget the hordes of hell and the heavenly host, Kripke could be really tempting fate by baiting the fanfic community! But she did help the brothers, so it was ultimately a positive portrayal.

And, like I said, one helluva season premiere.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/15/09

SUPERNATURAL’s season finales always deliver — from the shocking wreck of the Impala at the end of season one (Okay, yeah, the Winchesters were inside…) to Dean being dragged to hell last season — and this week was no different. You could say it was one hell of a finale. Sam messed up big time, and now the ultimate Big Bad, Lucifer himself, has been set free to loose the Apocalypse on Earth. One good thing, tho. If this doesn’t teach Sammy to listen to his big brother, nothing will! I really liked how it was shown that everything since the very first episode was leading up to this point. This is what Azazel, the Yellow-eyed Demon, was building toward… making Sam the instrument of Armageddon. Sam became so powerful that he could torture demons; and so cold-hearted he could drink the blood out of a demon’s human host to build up his powers.

While Sam was executing the demons’ game plan to perfection, Dean got a front-row seat for the angels’ counterplan, which was to…let it all happen. Huh? Zachariah told Dean that the heavenly host sees the Apocalypse as just another fight, “and we like our chances.” The angels think that licking Lucifer in a fair fight will pave the way for paradise on Earth. And the human race? Collateral damage. Eggs and omelets, and all that… Oh, and “God has left the building,” so it’s up to Zach and Castiel and…Dean. The angels hit on the bright idea of using Dean as their Holy Warrior instead of anything so prosaic as an archangel. Yes, the same Dean who was, 10 minutes earlier, encouraging Cass to rebel against the plan. The same Dean who unwittingly set the entire Armageddon process in motion. (There was a nice symmetry to Dean starting the process and Sam completing it, doncha think?) Next season will be all about the battle with Lucifer. And since next year is the last for stars Jensen Ackles (Dean) and Jared Padalecki (Sam) as well as creator Eric Kripke, anything can happen to the Winchester boys.

The season finale of BEING ERICA delved into the enigmatic Dr. Tom just a bit. He didn’t haul out a single quotation, which made him much more palatable to me. Erica wanted to tackle her biggest regret: not being able to stop her brother from dying in a fire. It was a classic (or, if you prefer, cliché) time-travel trope: Can you save a life? Should you? Are some people meant to die? Of course Erica broke her non-interference pledge and stopped saved her sibling’s life. This angered and frustrated Dr. Tom. Yes, he displayed elements of an actual personality. Sure, the universe corrected itself by killing Leo farther up the timestream, but the damage was done. Erica learned to accept the inevitable, and Dr. Tom was replaced by Nadia, a new therapist. She is a seemingly cold-hearted bitch in a starkly antiseptic office that was the antithesis of Dr. Tom’s cluttered warmth. Will there be a second season?

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/8/09

As of this week, John Locke is large and in charge on LOST. He strutted through the Others’ village like a conquering hero — or the returning king that he is. When Richard Alpert noticed the change in Locke’s demeanor, John said, simply, “I have a purpose now.” Well, he certainly has direction at least. He solidified his control over the people by insisting on confronting Jacob rather than accepting his orders, sight unseen. Hmmm, what happened to the “man of faith” who was so willing to accept the word of others? Seems like John has grown up. Now he wants a reason to follow Jacob. And he’s going to give his people a reason to follow him instead of the disembodied Jacob. Locke slapped down Ben by noting, “The Island told me. Doesn’t it tell you things?” That was in connection with Locke’s impeccable timing in sending Richard to meet John’s time-traveling self.We saw those events from John’s perspective in the season premiere. Now we know how Richard knew to treat a gunshot wound, and why he gave Locke the compass. The episode ended with John leading the Others on a mission not just to find Jacob, but to kill him. “I’m starting to think John Locke is gonna be trouble,” Richard Alpert said. “Why do you think I tried to kill him?” Ben replied. Jack, meanwhile, as apparently taken up Locke’s mantel of faith. He decided that detonating the bomb is the reason most of the Oceanic 6 were sent to 1977. In other words, it’s their destiny. He has no reason to believe Faraday’s wild theories, other than Daniel’s death — which proves the past can be altered. (Or can it? It appears that Faraday always died in 1977 — even if he existed in the future — so nothing was actually changed.) So Jack is taking just the sort of leap of faith that Locke was known for. Jack was determined to change the past in the hopes of undoing all the tragedy that happened since Flight 815 crashed. But, “It wasn’t all misery,” Kate suggested, “Enough of it was,” Jack replied.

Sawyer and Juliet were enduring misery back at the DHARMA Initiative, where Radzinsky insisted on torturing LaFleur (Sawyer) to find out where Kate went. Radzinsky went so far as to declare himself the new leader of DHARMA. We know the fate that awaits Radzinsky: creating the blast door map and editing the orientation film before blowing his own brains out. This is clearly the beginning of his madness. Of course, it’s not like his buddies are any better. You can bet Sawyer will have a word with Phil about hitting Juliet. Because Dr. Chang believed Faraday’s journal — and because Hurley cannot lie effectively ( “Dude, we’re from the future.”) — he ordered the island evacuated. Sawyer bartered a trip aboard the submarine, Galaga, for himself and Juliet. Sawyer resolved to use his knowledge of the future to get rich by doing things like buying Microsoft stock and betting the Cowboys in the 1978 Super Bowl. How about that “Good riddance” sneer before boarding Galaga? Next week is the two-hour season finale, which will set the stage for the final season of the series. We have to figure we will see the Incident — unless Jack stops it. But maybe detonating Jughead causes the Incident by making the impending release of electromagnetic energy even worse?

I liked that SUPERNATURAL was super-talky this week; I could even have done without the fraternal fistfight at the end, but I guess the-powers-that-be felt like they needed to add some action. I was totally entertained by Castiel acting in mysterious ways, Anna getting dragged back to heaven, Alistair being all sadistic, and Sam’s mom dropping by. Not to mention how Jared Padalecki got to stretch some acting muscles and emote. I really bought the sibling rivalry between the boys. Will Lucifer himself cameo in next week’s season finale?

Y’know, when words are bleeped on SOUTH PARK, it’s frakkin’ hilarious. When words are bleeped on SOUTHLAND, it’s just … well, desperate. Like, the-powers-that-be are putting on airs: “Oh, we’re an edgy cop show with gritty, realistic dialogue, but The Man, over in Standards & Practices, he won’t let us express ourselves.” In reality, SOUTHLAND is more like the second coming of ADAM-12 than THE SHIELD.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 4/3/09

ER officially wrapped after 15 seasons this week, but for me the series ended six or seven years ago. (Whenever another editor mentioned ER, I could always be counted on to crack, “Is that show still on?”) I lost interest in the revolving door staff and the numbing sameness of the cases, and sweeps stunts, etc. While all that may have been completely realistic, it failed to hold my attention. Plus, graphic depictions of medical procedures? Not my thing. I tuned in for the finale to see a sea of faces I knew only from promo spots dealing with the usual assortment of “colorful” ailments. And then who should appear but Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine — as a devoted husband who could not bear to let his terminally ill wife go — and GILMORE GIRLS’ Alexis Bledel. She played another in the endless line of bright-eyes and bushy-tailed residents tossed into the ER meat-grinder. My advice: She should have directed her piercing blue eyes toward optometry instead of emergency medicine. Lots of familiar faces have been dropping in for self-conscious cameos, so the episode felt like a victory lap. But I have to admit the very last scene, with the phalanx of doctors ready to treat the victims of yet another disaster, nicely evoked the idea that “life goes on.” I liked that “ending” much better than closing the hospital or some other grand gesture. The realistic ending was apropos.

SUPERNATURAL tread dangerously close to a certain kind of reality with a story in which the Winchester boys discovered that a writer was publishing their adventures as novels that had their own fan following. This introduced the boys to fandom and the myriad flavors of fanfic, including the erotic fiction that some segments of fandom produce. Note to SUPERNATURAL: There is such a thing as too meta. I know some folks who felt their toes were stepped on during all the shout-outs, but I personally enjoyed this episode a lot. Chuck Shirley, the novelist in question, turned out to be an honest-to-God prophet: one charged with delivering wisdom from on high by writing the books that will become known as the Winchester Gospels. That’s why he knew so much about the brothers’ adventures. A very similar story was done on STARGATE SG-1 in 2005: In “Citizen Joe,” THE SIMPSONS’ Dan Castellanetta (Homer) played Joe, a barber who experienced the adventures of SG-1 through their eyes and thought he was making up stories about fictional characters. An alien artifact was blamed for that psychic bond, not the word of God. The angel Castiel had a small but pivotal role this week, as he found a crafty way to thwart the Will of God without actually rebelling! And who thinks we will see an archangel by the season finale? We saw Dean actually pray for God to save Sam this week, so all bets are off. Consider this: Since Cass appeared after Dean asked for divine help, was the angel’s archangel gambit actually the Will of God, as opposed to a subversion of it? Sure, it appeared that Cass was sent to tell Dean that no help was available for his brother… but it could have been a crafty plot. Folks are always saying the Lord works in mysterious ways…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 3/20/09

This week’s installment of SUPERNATURAL was a game-changer in the war between the angels and the demons. And that’s not just hyperbole — the plot really was changed by the shocking revelation that the demon hordes were not responsible for the murders of a half-dozen angels. It was one of their own! Heaven drafted Dean Winchester (DAYS’s Jensen Ackles) because they needed him to go where angels fear to tread — both literally and figuratively. For example, he and brother Sam (GILMORE GIRLS’s Jared Padalecki) were able to enter a building that barred angels with magic, and this week Dean was asked to torture the captive Alistair. Castiel wanted Dean to extract the secret of the angel murders. Resorting to torture was bad enough, but the act required Dean to call upon skills for inflicting pain that he honed in Hell. And that meant confronting the shame of what he did. Dean agreed to become a tormenter in order to curtail his own suffering. When fallen angel Anna questioned how God could possibly want Dean to torture a captive, Castiel insisted, “He’s doing God’s work.” But the way Misha Collins played the line, Castiel did not believe it. Can torture ever be a good thing? (Hey, that’s the same question 24 has been asking all season.)

Even as Dean was accessing horrible parts of his past, Sam was giving in to his thirst for demon blood. The devil juice has been supercharging Sam, but can those tainted powers really be used for good? That’s pretty much the same question Dean was wrestling with. But regardless of whether he can control it, Sam’s power is awesome: Where Dean’s torture fell short, Sam’s psi powers forced Alistair to confess that the demons were not murdering angels ; they were just taking advantage of the situation. Then Sam actually killed Alistair — a shocking move that put the fear of God (so to speak) into Cass! And that set Castiel to thinking… and then figuring out that his partner, Uriel, had betrayed him. “The only thing that can kill an angel is another angel,” Uriel growled, revealing that he was jealous of God’s love for humanity. So Uriel put in motion a plan to bring about the Apocalypse, which would raise Lucifer and burn the Earth to a cinder. And Castiel was worried about having doubts about God’s plan before! Dean was similarly devastated to learn his true role in the angels’ game: He set the Apocalypse in motion when he gave in to his dark side in Hell. Dean was consumed with guilt that his weakness was going to bring about the end of the world. But — in exactly the kind of irony that always happens with mystical prophecies — the man who started the Apocalypse is the only one who can stop it. Castiel realized he needed Dean, and noted, “It’s not blame that falls on you, Dean. It’s fate. You have to stop it.”

I have given SUPERNATURAL major kudos before for tackling questions of Good and Evil, and…wow, the show is not flinching at really delving deeply into the subject. I am astonished that they are so directly addressing the topic of God’s policy of non-interference in the affairs of Earth. Is God still interested in us little people? The God on the show appears to allow dissent in the ranks of the heavenly host, and even let Uriel commit murder! Which is another brave move: depicting an angel — one cited in the Hebrew Bible and painted by Leonardo da Vinci, no less — as defying his Father. Yes, Uriel is often used in literature (See John Milton’s Paradise Lost for one example.), but it’s definitely a bold move for TV. And what about the heroic angels — Castiel is depicted as doubting God and seriously mulling disobedience. And Cass was rescued from Uriel’s wrath by Anna — a fallen angel! SUPERNATURAL has not been so daring as to portray God himself. Yet. Maybe they’re just holding something back for the season finale. Talk about a “special guest star”!

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 3/13/09

Another Friday the 13th… that’s two in a row so far for 2009. For the non-triskaidekaphobic (or even paraskavedekatriaphobic — those who fear Friday the 13th itself) among you, let’s look at The CW’s SUPERNATURAL, which was notable for bringing back two characters with faces familiar to soap fans: Lindsey McKeon (ex-Marah, GUIDING LIGHT) as Tessa the Reaper (from way back in the season two premiere last year, when Dean was mostly killed in the car crash); and DAWSON’S CREEK, 90210 guest Traci Dinwiddie as powerful psychic Pamela Barnes. In addition to those old friends, SUPERNATURAL brought in frequent STARGATE player Christopher Heyerdahl as the new manifestation of demon kingpin Alistair. Also along for the ride: Alexander Gould (Shane, WEEDS) as a dead kid.

The episode was called “Death Takes a Holiday,” and the plot paralleled the 1934 Fredric March movie of the same name (which was remade in 1998 as the horrid Meet Joe Black with Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins), in which Death took on human form, so people stopped dying. On SUPERNATURAL, Alistair kidnapped the local Reaper, which meant people in Greybull, Wyo., stopped dying. Alistair’s cunning plan was to open another biblical seal by slaying two Reapers; the disappearance of the Wyoming Reaper brought Tessa to town, where she ran into Sam and Dean, who were investigating the lack of deaths. The brothers realize the only way to see Reapers was to become ghosts themselves, so they summoned Pamela to teach them astral projection. Now, there were a lot of laugh lines and a ton of TV and movie references, but my favorite combination of those elements came when Dean realized that his ghost form would be able to interact with live humans, and he blurted out, “I am so feeling up Demi Moore!” Just as Patrick Swayze’s character tried to do in the movie Ghost.

The boys foiled Alistair’s plot, but “winning” meant that folks had to start dying again when Tessa resumed reaping souls. Dean complained to the angel Castiel, who reminded him, “To everything there is a season” (quoting Ecclesiastes 3:1). When Dean demanded to know why he was allowed to cheat Death (repeatedly), Castiel growled, “You’re different.” So what’s with Dean? I would love to see Tessa again, as McKeon played her as very sympathetic and appealing. She seemed full of empathy for the souls she was culling; but she was also clear-eyed enough to realize that there is an order to things. Tessa gave him several pieces to the puzzle of what’s going on with the season’s umbrella plot of a war between heaven and hell. Dean thinks he was given a second chance by a merciful God, but Tessa warned him, “There’s no such thing as miracles.”

For that matter, what’s with Sam? He is now so powerful that he can banish Alistair from a body with a gesture. Then he lied to Dean about it. Then he flat-out lied to Cole in order to get the boy to help them. How ironic that the blind Pamela saw right through him: “If you think you have good intentions,” she whispered to him, “think again.”

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 1/23/09

I have been waiting all winter for BURN NOTICE to return to USA for the second half of its second season, and it was worth the wait. Former spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan, ex-Dwayne, ANOTHER WORLD) survived the bomb planted at his door in the midseason finale — but only just barely. The story wasted no time propelling the wounded Michael directly into a car chase, and then he was back to his old tricks in no time: While running for his own life, he took time out to save a man from committing suicide! Michael’s brush with death really affected him this time. He decided to stop running and surrendered to Carla (played by Tricia Helfer, Six, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), and the two of them got into an uncharacteristic screaming match. We never saw Michael get so emotional last season; normally he is as cool as the other side of the pillow. But there he was shouting at Carla, demanding, “I want my life back!” But Carla clearly had her own problems. She was back on her heels (and not the fashionable Jimmy Choo kind); she seemed to be on the run from someone (probably the people who tried to blow up Michael), losing her power (running out of henchmen) and clearly frightened. Still, a hero is a hero, and Michael took the case of that would-be suicide, who was despondent after being taken in a medical scam. The fake-drug operation involved head baddie Rachel, played by Stacy Haiduk (ex-Hannah, ALL MY CHILDREN), and her enforcer, Todd, portrayed by Graham Shiels (Cody, GENERAL HOSPITAL; Liam, TRUE BLOOD). In contrast to tough-guy Cody, Todd had a practical streak for avoiding physical harm during interrogation. In one of this week’s “how to” spy lessons, Michael explained to viewers the methodology behind effective torture: “Violence perceived is violence achieved.” Meaning, it’s better to keep your victim scared and guessing what you’re going to do rather than having him screaming in pain from actually doing it. Sam intimidated Todd into talking by cutting his own finger with a big knife. (Which is typical of this show: Sam was the one who ended up needing a Band-Aid after “torturing” a guy. Another cool thing we learned is that chlorinated water conducts electricity well enough to short out listening devices — which is why Rachel insisted on meeting Michael and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) in a hot tub. In addition to foiling surveillance, the scene also gave Haiduk and Anwar an excuse to show off their rock-hard abs in a bikini catfight. Did I mention I’ve been waiting all winter for this show to come back?

You know I would never miss an episode of SUPERNATURAL that featured a magic tarot deck! Barry Bostwick played the Incredible Jay, a washed-up magician who appeared to be using real magic to stage a comeback. A death-transference spell keyed to tarot cards was helping him survive fatal stage tricks by…er, “transferring” the death to someone else. In the first case, Jay was able to survive being stabbed by sharp spikes because a rival magician suffered the wounds after being slipped the 10 of Swords tarot card, which depicts a man pierced by…well, 10 swords. The 10 of Swords is the closest thing to a card that predicts physical death. (Remember, the actual Death card refers to a transformation and/or change in circumstances, not physically dying.) After Jay survived an onstage hanging, another rival was found hanged to death with the Hanged Man card nearby. Interestingly, The Hanged Man (which shows a man hanging upside down, suspended by his right foot) indicates that a person will receive knowledge/achieve a goal only after a great hardship. In other words, it has nothing to do with death, even though it features a guy hanging from a noose. Even more interestingly, the show chose to use a version of the tarot known as the “Rider-Waite” deck, however, they could have selected the “Tarot of the 78 Doors,” a deck in which the Hanged Man is illustrated by a magician hanging upside down to perform a water escape! Jay’s fellow magician Charlie was revealed to be using the spells on Jay without his knowledge. Charlie died holding the Magician card, which can indicate a charlatan or deceitful person; Charlie certainly was a con man! In the end, it was unclear if the cards themselves were powered or just the means Charlie used to focus his spells; probably the latter, otherwise Jay never would have left them with the barmaid, right? Talk about a tip!