Supernatural Review, Season 7, Episode 7: “The Mentalists”
Written by Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Directed by Mike Rohl
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on the CW
This week, on Supernatural: The Universe just won’t let Sam and Dean quit each other, Ellen makes her voice heard, and pretenders shouldn’t play with Ouija boards.
Supernatural has been on a bit of a run, smartly balancing horror and comedy, and that trend continues this week. However, “The Mentalists” succeeds where most of the other episodes this season have failed, with its emotion and look at the Sam and Dean relationship. It also manages to succeed despite the absence of Bobby; Jim Beaver has long been one of the strongest assets to the series, and it’s easy for episodes without him to feel somehow lacking. It’s not a particularly standout episode, but it’s one that feels increasingly solid upon further reflection. Strong seasons rarely consist of nothing but showstoppers. Episodes like this are what build the foundation, moving characters to where they need to be, setting the stage for the big moments yet to come.
There is one tiny, frustrating bit of dialogue marring this otherwise solid episode. “Psychic” does not mean “telekinetic”. That’s genre vocab 101 and writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker should not have made the mistake, particularly when they cite Supernatural’s previous psychics, Pamela and Missouri, in the same episode. Pamela and Missouri saw the future or divined answers from the spirits. They didn’t throw things around the room. Jimmy Tomorrow’s line describing himself as a “real psychic”, punctuated by his demonstration of telekinetic abilities, is incredibly annoying, at least to this nitpicker.
Johnny Sneed is good as Jimmy, as are the rest of the guest stars, but the standout is Jennifer Koenig as Maggie Fox. Her demented smile as she moves in on her victims is memorable, to say the least, and Fox is one of the most threatening ghosts in the series’ run. It’s always fun when Supernatural throws some actual history in with the ghost stories, and this week has several examples. The Fox sisters are based on the historical figures responsible for the birth of Spiritualism in America (in fact, Sam and Dean should probably have at least heard of them before), and Lily Dale, New York became the center of the Spiritualist movement when the childhood home of the Fox’s was moved there in 1916. Kate and Maggie’s sister Leah doesn’t get a shoutout, and perhaps she would have been more interesting as the warner, but regardless, this bit of real world parallel allows for detailed specificity that fleshes out the world-building and makes this episode a bit more fun.
Not that it needs much help. Only Supernatural seems to enjoy death and gore so much, taking evident glee at the teaser’s death by Ouija board and the later death by forks. As the stakes and emotional investment rise, the threat becomes mundane and far less theatrical, as Maggie switches to strangulation for her attack on Camille. Acker and Blacker provide plenty of scares and get a lot of comedic mileage out of the phonies, not to mention Lily Dale’s café (nice to see the events of “Slash Fiction” get a mention, however briefly), but as previously mentioned, what makes this episode stand out are the dramatic beats.
“The Mentalists” features, if memory serves correctly, Sam’s first intentional human kill. It’s a quiet moment, wonderfully underplayed. A look of sad resignation on his face, Sam makes his decision and moves on. Jared Padalecki plays this, and Sam’s subsequent conversation with Dean, well, with a mixture of sadness and world-weariness tinged only slightly by doubt. The rest of the season will tell if Dean’s words to Sam are true, that he doesn’t regret killing Amy, but it’s nice to see these two morally questionable moments for the characters paralleled in their matter-of-factness. Both men have gone down dark paths before, but those were telegraphed and consisted of big moments. This time, the decisions are quicker and the cost less evident, as Sam and Dean become increasingly hollow and disconnected (if that’s even possible, in Dean’s case).
This is the first time Cas, and the effect of his betrayal, has been mentioned in quite a while, and every word carries the ring of truth. Sam and Dean’s relationship has never healed from Sam’s season 4 trip to the Dark Side and after losing Cas in much the same way, it’s no wonder Dean is broken. Previous episodes have dealt with this by showing him drinking and being angsty, but here, after a few much-needed words from Ellen, there’s a level of panic to Jensen Ackles’s performance. The rapport this season has been built upon Sam needing Dean’s help, but really, Dean is the one having trouble keeping it together. This feels very much like an extension of the revelation from “My Bloody Valentine” that Dean is so empty that even Famine can’t hurt him. Hopefully the fact that it’s addressed means that some development, and one assumes recovery, is on the way. While Sam seems surprisingly well-adjusted, considering Lucifer is hanging out in his head, it’d be nice to get Dean back to his old happy self, if that’s even possible anymore. The episode ends on a much-desired note of understanding between the brothers, and with next week’s, “Season Seven, Time for a Wedding” promising hijinks and humor galore, hopefully this semblance of trust will stick, at least for a while, and we can enjoy the main relationship without drama and angst weighing this otherwise enjoyable series down.
What did you think? Who else would like to see Ellen back, regardless of how epic a retcon it’d require? Like the Buffy/Sandman shoutout? Post your thoughts below!
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