Supernatural: Why did it have to be clowns?
Clowns. Clown statues. Clown dolls. Clown toys. Last Friday my TV was trying to kill me. Not really of course. The person most in danger was Sam Winchester, as Supernatural revisited his greatest terror in the delightfully titled, “Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magic Menagerie.” The writing team of Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin team up once again to provide a refreshing break from the season’s darkness. As someone who has enjoyed the later few years of Supernatural, I still found myself saying “oh, it’s just like the early years,” with such incredible yearning and joy that I almost began a season two marathon.
Following in the tradition of “Yellow Fever,” also written by the same team, the story isn’t linear, beginning with Sam’s attempted escape from two demonic clowns and ending with a title card that explodes in rainbow glitter. Knowing that all would end with Sam and clowns, the show then provided a 24-style countdown clock, so we could watch with horror as it edged closer to Clown-Day.
This isn’t the type of episode that requires heavy analysis, but instead promotes an enthusiastic response of “my favorite moment was when. . .,” “wasn’t it hilarious when Dean/ Sam. . .,” “I couldn’t stop laughing when Dean said. . .,” and “Can you believe rainbows flew out of that unicorn’s butt?” There are few comedy episodes that can compete with the Ben Edlund oeuvre, but this Dabb/Loflin outing easily rates in the top tier.
It is a playful, joyful episode that takes great pleasure in inflicting pain on poor Sam, and any poor audience member who shares Sam’s clown phobia. (Stop looking at me. I don’t want to talk about it.) Perhaps the best moment is near the end, the time that the boys usually have their emotional and traumatic epiphany while leaning against the Impala (I miss her so) and drinking beer. Dean, staring at his clown-terrorized and rainbow-glitter-covered sibling, cannot stop himself from being overtaken by laughter — full-belly guffawing that we haven’t seen in ages. The entire episode was a glimpse of levity before the darkness returns this week.
There are moments when it becomes clear that Supernatural could probably survive as a clever monster-of-the-week show, stifling the urge to have a season-long narrative arc and adopting more of a quirky procedural template. True, we wouldn’t have the oppressive feeling of doom that comes with saving the world, but the procedural structure seems to work well for CBS.
I’m obviously not completely serious here — emotional trauma and self-sacrifice are hardwired into the show’s DNA — but I wonder if the show wouldn’t be helped by returning to its roots in some respects, to its early X-Files attitude. Sam and Dean have saved the world now for many seasons. Dean mentioned this just a few months ago in a conversation with Bobby. Maybe one way to please loyal viewers, and assuage the ones so recently dissatisfied, would be to lower the stakes. We know the boys can prevent an apocalypse, and I’m sure they’ll stop another one this May, so bringing the peril back to the Winchesters and away from the entire world (especially if next year is the final season) could help satisfy the audience. There’s a reason that people love the threats of the early seasons — it is easy to invest in a storyline that addresses an evil that, while causing collateral damage, is directed at the Winchesters. . .Yellow Eyes, Dean going to Hell, these are clear, direct concerns. Most of the angry comments I’ve read about Season 8 have been from fans who have no investment in the Leviathan threat. They recognize the malevolence, but are unclear as to the actual threat. Returning to a battle where what’s at stake is simply the lives of the Winchester boys (and yes, I know that’s not a minor stake) might reinvigorate the investment of the viewers and allow the writers to put aside the worry of planning another apocalypse.