Supernatural Review, Season 7, Episode 14: “Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magic Menagerie”
Written by Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin
Directed by Mike Rohl
Airs Fridays at 9pm (ET) on the CW
This week, on Supernatural: Sam has fun with clowns, Dean embraces his inner child, and as ever, childhood fears are out to kill everyone.
For the second week in a row, Supernatural embraces the standalone and benefits from doing so. There is a brief mention at the top of the previous week’s events along with a plot-necessitated pay phone (seriously- when was the last time you actually saw a pay phone booth?) and call to Frank reminding everyone of the overall thread with the Leviathans and Dick Roman in particular. After learning that Fred Savage is a Leviathan (What would Winnie say?!?), we move on to the case of the week- death by octopus. On land. This is a nice move- it’s creative and the corpse is effectively gruesome and, by virtue of being the first death, there are no dodgy effects to worry about.
The unicorn later is well realized, particularly the rainbow tail, though the sequence pauses about a second too long making sure you’ve seen the tell-tale horn before continuing along. As for the ball-pit shark, it’s a lot of fun and the choice to have the victim still able to stand up, meaning the pit hasn’t somehow turned to water or otherwise become deeper, is both practical and adds a subtle level of creepiness. It doesn’t make sense. A shark in a ball pit already doesn’t make sense, but a shark swimming through not just the balls like they’re water but the floor underneath as well is even harder to wrap your head around.
None of these compare with the horror of the final attack . However, while this scene is effectively constructed in relation to the attack, it fails in relation to the overall episode and arc of Dean’s evolution. His decision to summon Howard’s fear directly leads to Howard’s death. He has no way of knowing if this will stop the attack on Sam or if, in fact, Howard needs to be alive to undo the spell. Yes, it buys him time, and yes, Howard was a crazy murderer, but the camera doesn’t cut back to Dean at all once the attack is fully under way. We don’t know if he’s horrified or ambivalent, feeling guilty or unaffected. Considering the journey Dean’s been on all season starting with his murder of Amy, not showing his reaction to Howard’s death feels misjudged.
The escalation of the attacks is well paced, starting off screen, then comic and surreal, then all too identifiable (minus the setting), and finally to horrific. The tone of the episode also follows this general arc; it works well. Unfortunately, the structure of the episode, bookending it with Sam and his killer clowns, works against this. The attack on Sam adds tension and momentum to the story, but doesn’t shift in tone as smoothly as the rest of the episode. The clowns never feel like a significant threat. More accurately, they feel like a threat the show is selling as significant, unsuccessfully.
Much of this comes down to Jared Padalecki’s performance and the fight choreography. The beginning is very reminiscent of the opening to “Yellow Fever”, which sees Dean fleeing a Yorkshire Terrier with a tiny pink bow. It’s comic and a lot of fun. However, the fight with the clowns, who are far less creepy than the memorable Rakshasa from “Everybody Loves a Clown”, never progresses beyond this broader style. Sam’s seemingly incompetent in the fight and while he is supposed to be terrified, if anything this should make him more frantic and desperate, not clumsier. That being said, the resolution of the fight, with the clowns exploding into glitter, is hilarious, as is the final scene of the episode.
While Padalecki’s not great in the clown fight, he is a blast to watch throughout the rest of the episode, particularly when he first enters Plucky’s and during his later interrogation scenes. He’s obviously terrible at this (explaining why Dean’s the one who does the real questioning, when push comes to shove), and watching him fumble around is a lot of fun. As ever, putting Dean with children results in a few nice scenes, as this is when he is perhaps his most truthful, and Jensen Ackles has a nice rapport with Jakob Davies as Tyler. The particular standout this week, though, is Michael Beck as Howard, who strikes just the right tone from his first scene on. The set designers and dressers also deserve a lot of credit for making Plucky’s such a fantastic Chuck E. Cheese analogue- everything’s a little too bright, everyone’s a little too cheerful, and the lights are ever so slightly too harsh.
After an incredibly serialized start to the season, Supernatural has switched to standalones the past several weeks and, while the show hasn’t approached its season five high points, it’s been far more consistent and reliable. The standalones tend not to be the best episodes, as they have less to draw from and pay off, dramatically and emotionally, but they’ve also for the most part avoided the groaner moments of the less successful recent serialized installments. If the series can keep the procedural elements and humor while adding in more attention to character growth, it’ll find the sweet spot it lived in for so much of its earlier run. The more consistent it is, the likelier this feels. Fingers crossed.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Did the clowns work for you? Just how much fun must it be to create those ridiculous hotel rooms each week? Post your thoughts in the comments section below!