SUPERNATURAL SEASON 8: GRADING SEASON “GR8″ – PART 2

Returning for part two of the Geekiary review of Supernatural Season 8, we’re going to be applying the Supernatural Report Card once more to the middle episodes of the season using our Supernatural Report Card. The SPNRC rates 23 specific areas of plot, script, cast useage, production, performance, characterization and satisfaction to offer a grade (A+ to F) for every episode of Supernatural, letting us quantify our response to each episode, and weigh flaws and merits.

So, what’s our progress report so far? The first seven episodes of the season were clearly uneven, bouncing from a high of 94 to a low of 61, netting the season start a B- grade of 81% overall—solid, but not necessarily “GR8.”

Now we’re heading into the middle of the season, where new plots are developed, our storyline advances into the trials, and we have a solid cast of secondary characters to choose from. How will these episodes compare?

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Hunteri Heroici: Season 8, Episode 8

Written by Andrew Dabb, Directed by Paul Edwards

We get our nod to the mytharc at the start, with a reference of Kevin and Linda Tran going to Garth’s safe-houseboat following the events of “A Little Slice of Kevin,” but there’s no further advancement of the tablet plot. The episode plot itself was unique and interesting, with the cartoon deaths drawing our boys across the country on Cas’s first case as a hunter, and even the subplots were moved along with Amelia and Cas’s ‘debriefing’ visit showing that all is not right in Heaven still. Dean and Sam both featured evenly in this episode, so full marks there, and the full four points for on secondary characters as Castiel plays in heavily, with Naomi and Amelia also making appearances. We’ve got a full cast of episode characters, and Fred is an interesting addition to the backstory. We’ve got women aplenty, and they all not only make it out alive, but play their parts in the story as named characters. Detective Glass was competent, sassy, and treated respectfully: full marks on the minority score. Once again, though, our monster/villain score is going to be knocked down a couple of pegs: the real monster is once again human, Doctor Mahoney, and he doesn’t make it out of the episode alive. More on that later.

ImageUnsurprisingly for the ‘Looney Tunes’ episode, full marks for humor, and it had a fair amount of drama with Castiel and Dean’s “talk” and his later speech to Naomi. My point taken off there is for the “my dead husband is not really dead, current boyfriend!” melodrama of the Sam/Amelia story—I’m just not enamored of this tangent soap opera. The horror aspect was there in exploding hearts and the psychological fear of losing your sense of reality, and wondering if they had just exploded a table full of elderly ladies with dynamite cake, but softened greatly by cartoony methods. We got bucketloads of emotion from Dean and Cas, and I suppose Sam and Amelia and her father (I won’t detract there), and we got a good nod to continuity with the jumper being a Roman Enterprises investor—but since when did Cas need the glowy hand to heal a bullet wound? Are we demon smiting here, or is this more of the angel showing off for Dean, like moving the anvil? I’m going to assume Cas is showing off, but I shouldn’t have to headcanon these things, SPN. Also, wasn’t Cas at partial power last episode, and having trouble in general? Are we inconsistently whumping the angel because you don’t know how to handle his abilities?

Pacing was choppy. Sam is spacing out every five minutes at the most random phrases, and dragging us with him. We had some beautiful shots, though, and the cartoon special effects were novel and amusing, and we had an array of well-developed sets. Also giving full credit for music with “Ode to Joy” and cartoony background music to set the mood. Cas seemed off in a few places (written for laughs), but overall Misha knocked the emotional scenes out of the park and Jensen was spot-on with Dean. Jared’s just not selling me on any chemistry between Amelia and Sam, or on the transitions. My issue is with characterization once again: since when would they be alright with killing the human, that easily, to the point where Dean would try to shoot him and they wouldn’t flinch when someone else did? There are also a few places played for laughs that seemed out of character, with a few of Dean’s lines and the level of ineptitude they’ve given Cas, but generally forgivable on the overall with the one-off humor episode with just a few points shaved off.

Score: 85/100, B

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Citizen Fang: Season 8, Episode 9

Written by Daniel Loflin, Directed by Nick Copus

This is a strong subplot episode, with no real nod to the overall mytharc: Amelia and purgatory references take center stage this time, with an episode plot revolving around Benny and the disagreement between the brothers on how to handle the vampire. So, heavy involvement from both boys, and from the secondary characters including Martin, Amelia and Benny. Elizabeth was named and played into the plot and survived. . . but was damseled to drive Benny over the edge. We saw minority background characters on sets, so I can’t particularly dock the episode. Our villain was ostensibly the vampire, but that lasted moments; for the most part, it was Martin. Great drama, not a lot of humor (why is the pie always gone?), but good horror. Continuity was a mixed bag: we get Martin and pie and Dean Man’s Blood, but we have BAMF vamp-nest clearing Dean taken out of the running by one vamp not long after, undoing all of his post-purgatory super-hunter ability from this point on.

ImageWeird cuts once again threw off the pacing, but we had great moments of cinematography (Benny washing his hands and the blood spreading through the water, for instance). Special effects included the vamp-outs, and I wish I could give extra points for music with use of Creedence Clearwater Revival and two other songs as a bonus.

On the cast performance, Ty did a stand-out job building Benny, Jensen was great, but Jared once again isn’t selling me on what Sam is feeling with Amelia, and neither Martin nor Amelia did much for me. “Lay down your arms, you unholy thing” may be worse than “Well, I AM evil, after all” from the vamp in Blood Brothers. Is there a requirement for one horrible, and horribly delivered line per Benny episode? Can we fix that? Characterization bothered me again: first, Sam wordlessly ditching Martin, a fellow hunter, in the woods on a vampire hunt seemed very out of character for him, even if he did believe Amelia was in danger. Dean had his butt handed to him by one vampire after living a year in Purgatory hunting every day, and still looking sharp enough to take on a vamp nest solo once Benny was captured in their last episode together. Overall, the bro-fights are killing me, detrimental mischaracterization is always my pet peeve, and travelling the eleven hours from Louisiana to West Texas in no time flat for dramatic timing of cuts made me roll my eyes and there’s just not a space on my report card otherwise for “Please use Google Maps next time, I suspend my disbelief enough thanks.”

Score: 78/100, C+

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Torn and Frayed: Season 8, Episode 10

Written by Jenny Klein, Directed by Robert Singer

This was a solid plot episode all the way through: we’ve got the mytharc front and center, the Naomi/Heaven subplot, a strong episode plot of rescuing Samandriel, and we introduce the angel tablet (though I don’t think anyone was particularly surprised by its existence, were they?) We also use all of the cast to great effect: Dean and Sam carry the story together, Cas forces a temporary truce on the perpetual brofighting (thank you, bb), and we get Kevin, Samandriel, Benny, and for the last time (maybe) Amelia. Kevin is our minority representation, Amelia and Naomi are our women, and Crowley is still the most compelling ongoing villain on the board.

ImageWe get two breakups (well, a friendship and a relationship, but I’m counting it: you’re welcome, Denny shippers) providing the drama, along with brofights, but I’m deducting a point for the most melodramatic statement combined with hilarity inducing zoom ever with “Holy mother of sin there’s an angel tablet,” because. . . well, obviously. We had ambush and some early Castiel deadpan for humor, but it went by quick and didn’t all gel, but horror and emotion were there in spades. Two points of contention on continuity, and not small ones: Where are Samandriel’s burned-out wings (it’s practically a signature of Supernatural, too) and how the heck is Castiel finding them with the branding on their ribs? Don’t make me headcanon an excuse for this too, SPN, just find a way to explain this because it’s not just minutia, it was necessary to get them through season 5 and onward.

The episode was fast paced and never dragged, it gave us some great effects with the burning (and exploding) bush and the flashes to Cas’s memories, and we got to see the safe-houseboat, as well as several other developed (and dramatically lit to great effect) sets. We got “Katmandu” in the opening, and dramatic background music, so my only real complaint in production is the “are you ready for your closeup, Mr. Crowley” moment of pushing in suddenly on Mark for the cheesiest line of the episode. I don’t think I was supposed to laugh hysterically there, but I did.

Overall, it was a decent performance from the cast tonight, with the drawback of the much-mentioned melodrama and the flat Amelia scenes, but we got a few great moments from our boys too. For characterizations, we started out with Sam once again giving ultimatums, Cas once again being turned into a pawn of Heaven after years of trying to pull out of this rut, and Dean’s “mom” jokes to Kevin, so I wasn’t entirely pleased. However, it was a good episode overall, and compelling otherwise.

Score: 88/100, B+

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LARP and the Real Girl

Written by Robbie Thompson, Directed by Jeannot Szwarc

We get our mytharc nod out of the way early, with a couple of brief nods to the Amelia subplot, but overall this is an episode with a self-contained story that keeps our attention and involves both leads (I’ve heard complaints that Sam was sidelined, but as he was shown researching with Gholandria in the tech tent, shown fighting, shown getting the case. . . I don’t see it. People just wish he’d been on screen more with Charlie, and she’s such a great character that I suppose I can’t blame them). We get our eclectic bunch of LARPers and a hilarious sheriff for our episode characters, Charlie and Gilda for women, and I’m beginning to wonder if I don’t just want Robbie Thompson to write women for us overall. There wasn’t much to speak of for minority representation save background characters (everyone was in costume, I can’t doc much), but our monster of the week was an eBay warlock.

ImageWe had drama, humor in spades, horrific deaths and big emotion and the boys actually making up and acting like brothers again, which made me cheer. Only fault I have in script is in the fairy lore: it’s not consistent with what we saw in “Clap Your Hands If You Believe.”

The pacing was spot-on, the camerawork was solid, the visual FX included the eye-bleeding Belladonna victim and the change from guns to feathers, both nicely done, and Moondoor itself was a beautifully constructed ode to LARPing with costumes, sets and props. The episode featured “China Grove” and bagpipe music, both of which I enjoyed.

Jensen and Felicia gave us fantastic nonverbal geeking, and Jared gave us a subtle performance as Sam slowly slipped out of his post-Amelia moping and accepted hanging out with his brother. I loved Dean’s closet geek getting the spotlight again, I loved Sam being brotherly again, and Charlie Bradbury’s character voice was unsurprisingly spot-on from her last, under Robbie Thompson again. I enjoyed “LARP” start to finish and was glad to see Supernatural keeping Charlie as a recurring character.

Score: 95/100, A

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As Time Goes By: Season 8, Episode 12

Written by Adam Glass, Directed by Serge Ladouceur

A cold-start in the past strips the episode of any need to place itself, meaning we have a story without any mytharc reference that could slide into any place in the season. However, the episode plot and the introduction of the new Men of Letters subplot made up for the lack of story-arc advancement, and both boys played into the episode evenly. We had none of our usual secondary cast, but our episode characters of Henry and Josie/Abaddon were compelling. Female characters, we had the introduction of a compelling female villain with Abaddon. While we had the girl in the comic book store killed for her t-shirt and for information, and Larry’s wife was possessed to get information from Sam, it wasn’t necessarily any more or less senseless and gruesome than the other deaths—but we did have three women possessed by demons then killed, and however badass I found Abaddon to be she did end the episode with a bullet in her skull and her meatsuit chopped into steaks. As of this review I know it’s a temporary condition, so I’m not going as harshly as I otherwise would. This gets my “Did they have minorities?” one point, because. . . yeah. It seemed pretty whitewashed, but at least it wasn’t overtly racist, I guess. And Abaddon wins all the points for villainy.

ImageThe episode was dramatic, in the family sense with the introduction of Henry and in classic Supernatural sense in it was a tightly plotted piece of television. There was humor as well, with their grandfather Houdini-ing them into cuffs, Abaddon’s new t-shirt, Dean’s snark and the Mayans being wrong after all. We had horror in spades, with some solid gore as well, and the emotion was provided by family as well: Dean having to choose between his grandfather saving his father’s childhood, or saving Sam’s life. Our one hit in script was continuity: John has said that his father was a mechanic, and in season five when Dean travels back in time, he sees John ask about his father, respond with a smile, and agree to pass a message on to him. We can headcanon this as a step-father, but again: we shouldn’t have to. That said, we have the journal, we have talk of John in general, and we have an explanation for Cupid matching Mary Campbell and John Winchester up, so I’m docking one point only from continuity, and none at all in the entire production aspect.

They had great pacing to drive the story start to finish. They used subtle shaky camera when they needed tension, which worked well without being distracting. Abaddon’s powers were very well done in effect, and we all took notice of it. They built sets through two timelines, and they gave us “As Time Goes By” in haunting music box. Overall, I thought the cast nailed it, the script was solid, and I left the episode happy to see them building on the mythology of the show and giving us a new aspect of SPN to consider.

Score: 87/100, B+

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Everybody Hates Hitler: Season 8, Episode 13

Written by Ben Edlund, Directed by Phil Sgriccia

We get our mytharc mention as Dean returns from checking on Kevin and the tablet progress to the Men of Letters bunker, which gives us our MOL subplot as Sam digs into the legacy their grandfather left them. The episode plot is solid and developed, and both boys are featured equally, though despite tossed-in mentions we see none of the other recurring cast: half points there. Aaron and the Golem as established as episode characters with their own overlapping storyline to the boys’, so full points there and for minority representation. We also have the two witnesses to the spontaneous combustion as our female characters, so while not entirely overwhelming, it’s all fair. Our monster of the week, though. . . Nazi Necromancers. I found it difficult not to laugh at the cliché. Are we planning to let Dean dress up as Indiana Jones next? (Actually. . . keep that thought in mind, SPN. I’m okay with being Kripked here, we’ve done worse.)

ImageWe had drama, most notably with Sam poisoned.  We got our humor (personal favorite of “Ow! My spleen” even beat out bacon and gay thing and whether or not Dean and Sam are psychotic, but that’s just me), and we had emotion, and there were no breaks in continuity as the episode build on the last with the Men of Letters bunker. I can’t fault the episode for production, either: pacing was fast without being choppy, I enjoyed the subtle tension building with the cinematography, like the pan-by with the camera in the library, showing us the low-lighted villain while Sam crept on, and we had spellwork and a golem for effects. The Men of Letters bunker, even discounting the historical sets, is rich and detailed. I really hope to see more of it in the future. And Ella Fitzgerald’s “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan” was a beautiful touch to introduce us to the MOL bunker, and “Sunny Side of the Street” left us feeling positive about the new setting as the episode closed.

Our two leads gave another excellent performance, and I enjoyed the episode’s guest stars, both of whom I would love to see reprise their roles later. We had a couple knocks to characterization of the brothers again, though: once again, we are seeing Dean being written as dumb for laughs (which bothers me, always), and as much as I snorted at Sam warming his hands over the burning corpse it didn’t necessarily ring true. Overall, however, I was pleased with the episode. . . even if there were Nazi Necromancers.

Score: 94/100, A

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Trial and Error: Season 8, Episode 14

Written by Andrew Dabb, Directed by Kevin Parks

We finally see actual progress on the demon tablet arc, with the first trial of the season–fourteen episodes in on a mytharc plot introduced in episode one. So, full points there but some bewilderment looking back on how the story has been plotted. The episode itself is strong, and we get our nod to the Men of Letters subplot, but we also manage to stick Dean into a supporting character role in this arc; is it too much to ask that they can have an equal partnership?

Kevin plays heavily into this story, setting the boys on their path, and our episode characters are the hapless victims that the boys have to save from their own deals, but they’re. . . interesting, I suppose. We have a fridging, a woman pressed into marriage by a man she cared nothing about’s demon deal, and Ellie. Not going to comment much there, I realize I am biased because the actress spoiled the outcome of the trial in an early tweet, so my issues are entirely in the Cassity family. I enjoyed getting to see Growley, best friend to the king of hell, before we splattered her all over Sammy.

ImageThe script was fairly well balanced: we had drama with Kevin and the trial, a bit of humor from Ken Dolls and handling meat, and the horror is there with the Hellhound and maulings (we’re still not over Dean’s death and hell stint). We get two speeches between the brothers, giving us our emotion again, and solid continuity both in the hound and the goofer dust. I’m not going to detract for it, because I’m hoping they explain it at some point, but the Dean demon face was either a stroke of continuity brilliance or a plothole in desperate need of patching over, and it’s too soon to tell.

The pacing was good, and I was just happy to see movement overall, so full points. We had some great shots including the Hellhound special effects, and points on props and costumes for putting our boys in glasses. Very Clark Kent. We had the family theme, and “I Touch Myself”–not exactly my last night music, but I won’t judge someone else’s last night on earth.

As for the acting, the boys gave a great performance and if it were just on them I would give full marks. But Ellie. . . I really wish I had better things to say about her performance, or Amelia’s before her for that matter, but the acting standard on the show is high with these two leads and they just aren’t carrying it. Meanwhile, the entire Cassity family was played like a Jerry Springer episode. Once again this season we have Sam wandering off from people in the woods, this time people he’s supposed to be guarding. Dean, meanwhile, tossed uppers to a kid, to Kevin, and that just seems. . . very off. There’s playing through the pain, and then there’s that. Him wanting to sacrifice for Sam, though, is very Dean. It was a good episode, but I was soured on the idea that we’re going to be plot-sidelining one of our two leads from this point out in the main mytharc.

Score: 87/100, B+

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Man’s Best Friend with Benefits: Season 8, Episode 15

Written by Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming, Directed by John Showalter

Dean offers to take over the trials, and then we dive into the episode plot. It could have been interesting. It could have delved into familiars, a familiar aspect of witchcraft for most TV watchers and readers. Instead, it was lackluster and problematic. We had no subplot advancement to soften that plot blow, but on the plus side both boys were under-used evenly as they told the story of the episode plots.

ImageThe episode drama was the witchcraft mysteries, which failed to inspire, and the tablet conversation. Our jokes were bestiality, visual humor with the dog, and did little to amuse me. On the plus side, we had some horror in the deaths and bloodied clothes and such, and we got our continuity nods in witchlore and the Benny and Kate versus James debate. . . but I deducted points because half the episode this retconned in character just confuses the audience and felt clumsy.

Pacing dragged. We got elevator music in the bar. The production otherwise was good. We had our mentions of the secondary characters, we’ve got episode characters that drive the story. We’ve got a jealous witch that is frankly uninspiring a visit. Now we’re going to reach the portion I had serious problems with. The episode stuck a collar on a beautiful woman, on a person of color, and had her following around a white man calling him master and . . . ugh. Supernatural. No. No. No points for women or minorities. Ugh.

Overall, this was my least favorite episode of the season. I attempted to keep it fair: the boys acted well, James didn’t, and they once again played Dean dumb for laughs and Sam juvenile for drama (“I’m done if you’re done”). But it earned its failing grade.

Score: 59/100, F

Our finale starts now. . . how will the rest of our season shape up? Check back for part three, coming soon. Meanwhile, how did your grades compare to ours? Download the SPN Report Card Blank and grade along!

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