I can’t tell if tonight’s episode title, 99 Problems, is in reference to the Jay-Z song or not. If so, I may have myself a little DVD bonfire. Clever, though, as tonight was the show’s 99th episode. And what a strange episode it was — as if Hookman (or Faith) and The End had an angsty love child in the middle of the Vietnam War. Shut up. It makes sense in my head.
Where you sit on this episode probably depends on where you stood at the end of the last episode. If, like me, you were a little confused about what exactly Dean was forsaking when he threw his amulet in the garbage, this week probably confused you even further and characterization issues abounded. If, on the other hand, you agreed with some of the very good comments last week that the amulet in the trash was more about Dean giving up on Sam (I agree, theoretically, I just don’t think the episode did a great job of conveying it because there a mishmash of themes going on), this episode might’ve worked for you. Again, I’m stuck in the middle on this one, which, unfortunately seems to stem from my general lack of enthusiasm for the Apocalypse storyline, but I’m leaning more towards the “confused” side this week. While the general arc actually showed some progression, I was less impressed with the MoTW elements and characterization, Dean’s in particular.
Let’s start with the Monster of the Week: the Whore of Babylon. Interesting concept, clumsy execution. Not only was Dean hitting on her in a jailbait sort of way (ew), but within about ten seconds of her character being onscreen, I went, “Evil ***! Duh.” The writers are not very good at holding these things close to their chests. So the big reveal there was not so big. The preacher dude was kinda cool, as was Greg Kinnear Lite (the dad), and I was impressed by the townspeoples’ reliability when it came to packing salt rounds. However, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the “grieving mother” character because the issue of the “Devoted Flock” has been dealt with so tactlessly (for lack of a better word) that even I, as someone who’s only experience with religious fervor has been vis a vis western humanities courses, am starting to wonder if there’s some sort of deep-seeded anti-faith issues that the writers are struggling to work out. Because so far, the Devoted have been shallow, selfish, and screwed. Maybe that’s actually the point Kripke and Co. are trying to make: that the people who do believe are the ones who have a really good reason to. But I really wish it didn’t come off as quite so vitriolic.
Also, the Whore got stabbed with a rather phallic-looking stick, yes? Haha, guys. Haha… not really.
Onto arc/characterization. For the first time in what seemed to be a very long time, we had character moving the plot forward, not, well, plot (a.k.a. Heaven and Hell) moving the plot forward. So the premise is that Dean, having given up hope that his Apocalyptic Last Stand will be of any benefit, throws it all away, puts the pedal to the metal, says goodbye to the only thing he was still living for (Lisa/the promise of a better life after hunting) and prepares to give his fiiiiiine meatsuit over to Michael, potentially ending the Apocalypse. But we know it can’t end yet because there are five episodes left in the season. That’s what I get for trying to be practical about this.
So the level of compelling-ness for this part of the story depends largely on how convincing the proposition of Dean giving up hope and making that decision is. Again, if that point came for you, the viewer, at the end of last episode, then that’s awesome. Dean’s actions made perfect sense here. However, even if I’m willing to accept the amulet in the trash as one part “*** you, Sam,” one part “*** you, God,” and one part, “*** it, I’m done,” I still don’t see the events of this episode lining up enough with where Dean was at the end of the last episode to make his position in this episode sensical. I think Julie Siege, who wrote this episode, has trouble writing Dean’s character in general (see: Swap Meat, Fallen Idols), so I can’t say I’m surprised. First of all, if Dean really had lost faith in Sam after the last episode, I would have expected relations between them to be more strained this episode. They didn’t really get strained until Sam stumbled in, drunk (the little extra stumble by the door was a nice touch), and the two had something Monster of the Week-related to argue about. Second, for someone who’s spent the last two seasons fighting against the Apocalypse and lost EVERYTHING in the process, Dean sure rolled over and died quickly. Not even Sam’s betrayal broke him last season, but toss a couple of tender memories his way with a promise of Paradise from an admittedly biased source (the Whore) and he’s all down for ending it by surrendering to the other side, which he knows he can’t trust? I dunno. I’d like to think Dean’s smarter than that. From the stuff I’ve seen from next week (and I’m trying to make this as general as possible so as not to spoil anyone, but we’ve got three sneak peeks here), it seems like these two episodes might work best as a two-parter, so I’m not going to get worked up about Dean’s characterization if it resolves itself logically next week. But right now, I’m just like, “WTF, Dean?”
And he didn’t even say goodbye to Sam. He’s gotta know that the moment he gives in to Michael, Sam’s gonna cave as well.
A final random aside that makes me giggle every time (besides Drunk!Castiel… hee): what is it with the beer beside the car? I mean, when you finish the beer, what are you going to do? Get in the car and drive. Drunk, or at least slightly inebriated. I guess in this Apocalypse, if the demons don’t get you, the drunk drivers will.