Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 8, Episode 19 of The CW's "Supernatural," titled "Taxi Driver."
Another week on "Supernatural," another Winchester in Hell -- those crazy kids are like moths to the literal flame. I'm of two minds about "Taxi Driver," which had some ambitious ideas and some weighty plot movements to handle, but also seemed to lack the sparkle or gravitas of previous episodes in much of its execution.
While Guy Bee is always a reliably talented director, giving Earth, Hell and Purgatory a suitably diverse (and equally creepy) ambiance, I tend to struggle with scripts from Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner, who (perhaps as a consequence of having written fewer episodes than the other writers on staff) never quite seem to have a grasp of Sam and Dean's characters or the show's trademark pop culture-infused wit. Their dialogue tends to feel a little flat or on-the-nose, which is a shame when you have the assembled talents of Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Mark Sheppard and Jim Beaver (huzzah!) in front of the camera.
Still, while there wasn't the punchiness of an Edlund or Thompson script, I was impressed with how much ground the episode covered in the space of 43 minutes; not only were we treated to glimpses of Hell and Purgatory, an emotionally resonant kamikaze mission from Benny and a meeting between Dean and Naomi, we also saw the return of our beloved Bobby Singer. I certainly wasn't bored throughout the hour, although some of the lazy plotting did irk me.
Firstly: As phenomenal as it was to see Jim Beaver again, a trip to Hell seems like it should've been a season finale-worthy event, something that might've required two episodes' worth of set-up and resolution to truly do it justice. While it makes sense that Crowley did away with the "waiting room of eternal frustration" decor from "The Man Who Would Be King" (Sam would've just had to run down the line calling Bobby's name), much about Hell doesn't make sense, given the show's history. Naturally, on a CW budget, we were never going to see pits of fire and rivers of blood -- and the inhabitants of hell that we did see looked fittingly disturbing -- but there's still a reason why Hell has always worked better as an implicit and abstract location on "Supernatural," rather than a literal interpretation.
While every show requires suspension of disbelief and a varying amount of contrivance to move certain plotlines forward, it seems unfathomable that all Sam had to do to get into and escape from Hell -- supposedly the most horrifying and dangerous place in existence -- was stab a few demons and creep around a few dark corridors. Why was he so chill about returning to the place where Lucifer made him his chewtoy with no signs of PTSD or even a minor flashback? How did he find Bobby so easily? Why was Bobby's door unlocked? Why, when Dean spent four months (equivalent to 40 years) in Hell and began torturing people under Alistair, was Bobby so mentally unscathed after the better part of a year (or 100, in Hell time)? If Crowley had personally prevented the older hunter from reaching heaven because of the role he played in thwarting Crowley's plans, wouldn't the King of Hell have devised a slightly more devastating method of torture than sending in black-eyed Winchesters to taunt him? And how was Crowley, the King of Hell, not only unaware of the fact that there was a living mortal in Hell until he tortured the information out of Ajay, but unable to track Sam down while the hunter was wandering blindly around his domain? We've seen the kind of power the snarky demon has outside of his jurisdiction on Earth -- shouldn't he be slightly more on top of things in his own kingdom?
These aren't small, nitpicky details like discrepancies in dates or lore, these are real gaps in logic that could've easily been explained or avoided with more time and thought. There were a lot of strong conceptual ideas and fascinating dynamics at play in "Taxi Driver," but sadly, it didn't translate to a cohesive whole. (I feel like an Edlund or Carver version of this story would've been one of my favorite episodes of the season.)
While I'm both intrigued (and horrified) by the prospect of what the third trial might be if a jaunt into Hell was considered second-tier, it seems disrespectful of both Beaver's schedule and the intense goodwill the fanbase has towards the character to "waste" an appearance on such a flimsy conceit. Countless angels supposedly died to rescue Dean from the pit, but apparently if Sam had done enough research into rogue Reapers, he could've popped through the back door and retrieved him in less than a day.
While I did enjoy Bobby calling Sam out for failing to look for Dean in Purgatory, it's interesting that the show continues to draw attention to something that the producers seemed eager to downplay in the first half of the season. We still don't have a reason for why Sam didn't look, aside from that he was broken and messed up, but the continued reactions to that information from other characters -- echoing the response of the fanbase -- either make it seem like there is something more to Sam's choice and has been all along (despite what Carver and Singer initially said) or that the writers are retroactively trying to retcon that decision to satisfy the fans. If it's neither, and we're just supposed to surmise that Sam really just chose not to look and didn't think twice about it because of their "non-agreement," that seems like a hornet nest that the writers should avoid poking at. I also hope that Sam's firsthand experience (albeit short and relatively devoid of action) of what Dean experienced in Purgatory will prompt a real apology, or at least an explicit acknowledgment of what Sam left him to face by not looking -- and if this episode hadn't attempted to cram so many plot elements into one short installment, there would've been more breathing room for those kinds of conversations.
Sam's solo quest did throw Dean's inactivity into stark relief this week, and I would've preferred to see him doing more than sitting around cooking for Kevin and giving him "motivational" pep talks the likes of which he's been on the receiving end of far too often. (Ah, the familiar "suck it up, princess" refrain.) I'm hoping that next season's arc will center around the angel tablet and require Dean to complete the accompanying trials for balance, because as Season 6 illustrated, domesticity is a waste of the character.
One benefit of Dean's Susie Homemaker routine was that it allowed him to come face to face with Naomi, who, in true supervillain style, presented herself as amicable, reasonable and helpful, shifting the blame back on to Castiel for his irrational behavior while programmed, and rescuing Bobby's soul from Crowley's clutches to prove how useful she is. Naturally, she conveniently didn't mention her plans for the angel tablet while pointing out that their interests were aligned but, much like Sam and Dean's previous deals with Crowley against foes such as Lucifer, I have a feeling that Naomi will become a reluctant ally for them in the last few episodes of the season, at least as far as closing the Gates of Hell is concerned. I doubt Dean would ever willingly trust her, or give up on Castiel because of her manipulation, but at some point, we know the Winchesters will outlive their usefulness to her, just as they did with Zachariah.
Dean's interactions with Benny this week were as compelling as always, illustrating the depth of friendship between the two, and the story thankfully allowed Sam to get over his inexplicable vampire xenophobia and admit that Benny's not such a bad egg after all. Benny willingly risked himself in a suitably heroic fashion to save one of the Winchesters (and we all know you're not truly a part of the family until you do), so I'm glad that the door was left open for the vampire to return, since Dean also deserves the kind of support system that Sam got to experience at Stanford, and Ty Olsson is an excellent addition to the world of the show. Dean's farewell with Benny and Sam's with Bobby were both perfectly played and gut-wrenchingly moving, and undeniably the high points of the episode.
But where is Kevin? Did Crowley truly find him, kill his mother off-screen and overcome all of his wards to steal him away (after fixing the windows) -- anticlimactic, much? -- or did the prophet have some kind of psychotic break and clean out the place himself? I'm guessing the former, in which case, Sam and Dean will need a very well-placed source (probably not played by Alan Rickman) to clue them in on what the last trial requires ... (ETA: I'm loving the speculation that it was Naomi who stole Kevin, since the boat wasn't warded against angels and we know she has a penchant for manipulating reality. Thoughts?)
What did you think of "Taxi Driver"? Were you glad to see Bobby again, or do you think the show should've let the character rest in peace? Weigh in below!
"Supernatural" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.
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