Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 7, Episode 14 of The CW's "Supernatural," entitled "Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie."
Choosing to follow a mythology-based or emotionally heavy episode with a light, frivolous one is the "Supernatural" way, and your enjoyment of said filler episode is generally dependent on whether you're a fan of the monster-of-the-week format or wish that the show could be all plot, all the time. I typically fall into the latter category, as a rule, although there are obvious exceptions: when the silly episodes are just so well-written or have such great brotherly moments that you can't help but get swept up in them.
I'd say that the alliteratively-titled "Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie" fell comfortably in the middle of the heap. It didn't have the originality of "Frontierland," but it was no "Mannequin 3," either. Writers Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin seem to find their groove in these quirky, Ben Edlund-lite episodes, and it makes sense that "Menagerie" shares a lot of creative DNA with the duo's first "Supernatural" episode, "Yellow Fever" -- both in concept (a preoccupation with "fear") and execution (some familiar set pieces). It also seemed fairly reminiscent of Edlund's "Wishful Thinking," with its propensity for bringing weird, fantastical creatures to life, but after seven seasons of story, it's natural to expect a little creative overlap.
Where the episode really shone was, of course, in the moments between Sam and Dean. I'm sure I'm not the only one who was simply relieved to see Dean actually laughing again, since he's been doing his best to fake his smiles for the past few episodes, and had very little to smile about in the weeks before that. Just the simple act of Sam scoring him the giant slinky he'd always wanted carried as much emotional resonance -- for me, at least -- as the pair exchanging gas station Christmas presents or bombarding each other with pranks back in Season 1. The two have lost so much in the past couple of years, those little moments of respite are even more deserved (and far harder to come by) than ever, and that was certainly the most valuable part of the story this week.
The imaginative nature of the episode also allowed both Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki to showcase their always-excellent physical comedy. Padalecki generally has less opportunity to flex that muscle week-to-week, but he did a great job of simultaneously selling Sam's terror and making it hilarious to watch. His attempts at intimidating the Plucky's staff during his interrogations were also fairly amusing. Ackles is a pro at exaggerating Dean's machismo and showing off his dorky side, and his slinky obsession was certainly a joy to watch.
It's always satisfying when we're given further insight into Sam and Dean's childhood, and though I'm not sure about the believability of Dean dropping Sam off at a Plucky's to go troll for chicks after the events of "Something Wicked," it does sound like something suitably insensitive that a horny teenage boy might do to his irritating younger brother.
Dabb and Loflin once again hit on Dean's characteristic rapport with kids, and his empathy with Tyler seemed painfully reminiscent of his initial interactions with Ben back in "The Kids Are Alright," (you know, before he turned into a bratty teenager). While he appears to have sworn off women in the wake of his Amazon encounter (although apparently not to the degree that he'd avoid ogling a potentially hot nanny) it's nice to see that Dean's care for children wasn't affected by his murderous daughter.
From a technical standpoint, director Mike Rohl experimented with a few interesting framing devices and camera angles -- I particularly liked the POV shot from the inside of Sam's windshield towards the end of the episode -- but he generally played it safe, occasionally using low or high camera positions to emphasize that feeling of fear or intimidation. I also enjoyed the visual nod to "Jaws" in the janitor's ball-pit shark encounter -- I'm not sure whether the moment can eclipse Sheldon Cooper's legendary "bazinga" ball-pit breakdown in "The Big Bang Theory," but it was still a nice touch. The standout death definitely came courtesy of the unicorn -- if only for the rainbows it seemed to be ... expelling as it galloped away.
There's not a lot to critique in the episode if you take it for what it was: a solid, if unremarkable, respite from the unrelenting angst that the Winchesters have to wade through on a day-to-day basis. There were laughs, pop culture shout-outs (Fred Savage is a Leviathan too?) and some genuine brotherly laughs, with quirky supporting characters and a chance for Sam to face his deep-rooted clown phobia (and end the episode covered in glitter, no less).
What was your favorite moment in the episode? Were you relieved to see Sam and Dean given something to laugh about at last? Weigh in below!
"Supernatural" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. EST on The CW.