Although this week’s episode of Supernatural was a major departure from any other episode we’ve seen this season, it’s hardly the first time the show has played around with form. Pour yourself a cocktail, put some jazz on the record player, and let’s dig in.
After a brief recap reminding everyone who the players are and where they are–and most especially, what the boys are now tasked to do–we open on a beautiful monastery in Malta. An unknown man sneaks into a sanctuary filled with holy relics before setting his sights on a skull in an ornate glass case. He breaks the case and is about to make off with the skull before he’s stopped by a nun. I suppose the fact that she didn’t pull some sort of otherworldly stunt should have clued me in that this was no ordinary episode–if a word like “ordinary” could ever be applied to this show! Instead, our thief clocks the nun in the head before apologizing in Italian and leaving.
Meanwhile, back at the bunker, Sam and Dean are running into dead ends regarding their search for ingredients for the spell to open the portal to the alternate universe. Dean mentions briefly that Castiel is in Syria “dodging bullets” trying to obtain fruit from the tree of life. Glad we at least hear where he is, rather than being left to wonder! And since their “favorite” archangel is nowhere to be found, they decide to try and find the blood of a holy man. Sam has found a dealer on the internet who specializes in holy relics, so they take off to investigate. And right when Dean decides he’s had enough of cold pizza, that was the signal that things were going to go in a very different direction.
Cue the lounge music and the martinis as Sam and Dean meet Margaret Astor, an antiquities dealer who they hope can help them find the blood of a holy man–or in this case, a saint. She takes an instant liking to Sam, moving quickly to flirting and hand-stroking while Dean rolls his eyes. I’m not sure which I enjoyed more, Sam turning on the charm or Dean’s hilarious reactions! Margaret sends the boys to one Mr. Richard Greenstreet, a rather pompous and pretentious man who says he does have the blood they want but refuses to sell it to them as he can tell they don’t have the “small fortune” he paid for it. Instead, he offers to give them the blood if Sam and Dean can track down an item that Greenstreet wants–mainly the stolen skull from the opening scene. Greenstreet says the thief was working for a mob boss named Santino Scarpatti. Sam is reluctant, but Dean agrees.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t pause for a moment and wonder about why Sam is bothered by theft all of a sudden. It’s not that he’s bothered about going up against a mob boss; he laments that they’re reduced to theft in general. But I’m sorry, has Dean been the only one running credit card scams all these years? It gives a nice opportunity to reinforce the idea that the world’s not perfect, and neither are Sam or Dean. But otherwise, it felt a little out of character.
Sam’s sleuthing skills lead them to the identity and the location of our thief, and they head over to his hotel room only to find the room tossed and the thief dead. They don’t get much further in their investigation before they’re interrupted by someone with a gun and a badge. He has Sam and Dean handcuff themselves to a radiator while he searches the tossed room. When he leaves, Sam produces a set of keys and frees them, giving a nice moment for Dean to praise Sam for “always being prepared – you’re like a boy scout!” Once free, they head back to the car, and on their way out we see a brief shot of another mysterious man peeking out from behind a newspaper. The plot thickens. Sam and Dean are met by a couple of Scarpatti’s goons, who take the boys in at gunpoint — driving Baby themselves, no less! (That death glare from Dean was intense!) Our mystery man watches from the shadows as the Winchesters and the goons drive away.
This is the moment where it becomes absolutely clear just what the theme of this episode is, with opera music blaring on a stereo, and an older man stroking a cat in his lap for pete’s sake! If you hadn’t picked up on the Godfather-esque tone before now, you couldn’t miss it in this moment. Scarpatti sits the boys down and makes them an offer they can’t refuse. You see, Scarpatti had hired the thief to steal that skull for him, and he wants it. Says Greenstreet, who he sees as a rival, doesn’t have the reverence for these artifacts that Scarpatti does. Scarpatti offers to pay the boys to find the skull for him, with the idea that Scarpatti will give them enough money for them to buy whatever they needed from Greenstreet.
Now working for the mob, Sam and Dean head back to the hotel where Scarpatti’s guy was murdered. Dean creates a diversion while Sam searches the room. He has just enough time to find a mysterious piece of paper before our mystery man clocks him in the back of the head. (Also? I’m kind of glad they took the time to address the fact that Sam’s taken a lot of blows to the head lately. I really wouldn’t mind this trend come to an end.) They find the mystery man on the ground with a head injury of his own. They sit him down to find out where the mysterious piece of paper went, only to find that the man has lost it. We do learn that this mystery man is Father Lucca Camilleri, a priest from Milan, tracking down the skull in order to buy it back from the thieves.
There’s an interesting moment here, where Father Lucca asks the boys to consider what they would do if something they loved, something they saw every day was suddenly gone. Sam answers right away, that they would try to get it back. Lucca laments his failure to do exactly that, but when Dean tosses back a line about how screwed up the world is, Lucca replies that that’s all the more reason to put in the effort to change it. “The world will never be perfect,” he says. “But if good men do good things, it can be better.” It’s been a while since Dean and Sam have had an honest-to-goodness pep talk from someone, and goodness knows they’ve needed it. I hope in particular it gives Sam enough of a boost to find some hope again, as we know he’s been struggling in recent episodes.
In fact, Sam offers to find the skull for Lucca instead of Greenstreet. Sam, true to his nature, wants the good guy to win this one. Miraculously, Lucca remembers the entire number on the missing piece of paper, which turns out to be a tracking number for none other than the skull, packaged and ready for delivery. It’s picked up by the fake cop from the hotel, who the boys trail to…guess what?…an abandoned warehouse. Suddenly, all the key players in this episode have converged in one spot, including Margaret Astor, who is revealed to be the one who had Scarpatti’s thief killed. Turns out the fake cop was working for Margaret, who also invited Greenstreet to the party, perhaps as part of a bidding war over the skull. Let the showdown begin!
As Sam sneaks in to crash the party, Dean and Father Lucca listen in over the phone. One of my favorite things in Supernatural is when the show tackles issues of faith, and in particular, how Dean wrestles with faith. It doesn’t happen often–most likely to avoid getting too preachy–but when they go there, they do it very well. Lucca is visibly nervous, but maintains that God will protect them. Having met God in person (another amazing episode), Dean politely maintains that God doesn’t care about them. It was heartbreaking enough when Dean didn’t believe in God; it’s somehow worse knowing that he’s seen God face-to-face, and is still left wanting. Lucca insists that “all good things are God’s things” and that what Sam is doing is a good thing. This brings the audience’s perception of Sam wonderfully full-circle from “the boy who drank demon blood” to someone who is basically doing God’s work. Talk about a long-form story arc!
Sam crashes the showdown with Lucca’s case of money in hand, prepared to buy the skull from Margaret. Dean and Lucca take their cue to join the party, as Greenstreet and Scarpatti realize they’re being double-crossed. As negotiations begin, more double-crossing happens as Greenstreet attempts to buy off Margaret’s assistant. The bullets begin to fly (including a great shot of Dean with a gun in each hand, looking especially badass) while Lucca prays outside. The action slows as a Gregorian-style chant plays under the action, and when the smoke clears, nearly everyone’s been shot–including Lucca, who jumped in toward the end and was grazed by a bullet. Greenstreet is miraculously unscathed, but not unharmed for long as he admits to Sam and Dean that he never actually had the blood they were looking for. Everything the boys did for the entire episode was for nothing, which earns Greenstreet a knockout punch from Dean.
As the episode nears the close, Sam and Dean accompany Lucca to the airport. Sam mentions that he’d been reading about Lucca, and asks what an Apostolic Protonotary Supernumery was? Apparently this lengthy title was bestowed on Lucca by the Pope, for his good works. Lucca says that the Pope called him un uomo santissimo or, “a most holy man”. Ta-da!
Back at the bunker, Sam laments how much evil there is in the world, and how no matter how many monsters they fight, there are always more. He’s clearly tired, and we know he has been for most of this season, which unusual for Sam and his “never say die” attitude. He asks Dean, very poignantly, if he thinks they could ever really change things. Dean muses over his answer for a moment, before saying simply, “I have faith.” And that line alone made the entire episode for me.
I will say, I think I would have gotten into the whole mobster vibe if this episode had been shot in a nice grainy film noir style, not too unlike the season four episode “Monster Movie”. And having to keep track of all the new players in the story as it developed kind of reminded me of the much-maligned “Bloodlines” episode, and not in a good way. But I’m a sucker for Sam and Dean being lifted up by someone for a change, and I’m definitely a sucker for Dean as a man with faith. Plus, I love Amanda Tapping’s directing style, though that may partially be because I’m also enjoying her work on other shows lately. This episode didn’t move the overall story along all that much, but it was kind of a cathartic path for the brothers, and a fun opportunity to switch genres as this show has done a number of times before. What other show can pull this off so well?
And speaking of genre switches, check out the trailer for the next departure coming up this season…Scooby Doo!