Saturday, 31 October 2015

Episode Close-Up: Supernatural (2005 - ): 4x07 It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester

© The CW | Source: The Winchester Family Business
USA; 42 min.; horror, fantasy, drama
Series Creator: Eric Kripke
Director: Charles Beeson
Writing: Eric Kripke, Julie Siege
Cinematography: Matthew J. Lloyd
Cast: Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Misha Collins, Robert Wisdom, Don McManus, Ashley Benson, Kirsten Robek, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Luisa D’Oliveira, David Ingram

"You know, back in the day, this was the one night you kept your children inside. Well, tonight you’ll all see what Halloween really is.” – Witch 

Happy Halloween, BSPeeps! What are your plans on the creepiest of holidays? Going to a costume party? Trick-or-treat-ing through the neighbourhood? Or simply having a movie night watching horror classics of old and new? Whatever you’re up to, make sure that you’ll have a bloody good time and enjoy being scared out of your wits. And take it easy on the candy. Nah, I’m kidding. Eat it all up – no regrets.

In today’s episode close-up, I’d like to have a look at a show that has always leaned on the darker side of things. Ghosts, demons, witches, vampires, werewolves and more otherworldly creatures usually roam the scenery, and a whole bunch of urban legends has been at the centre of this TV series – at least in the first three seasons. The talk is of Supernatural, the show in which the Winchester brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) travel the US countryside in order to fight evil forces and unusual occurrences.

For Halloween, it is only fitting to pick out the show’s very own Halloween-themed episode, called “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester“, from the fourth season. Its original air date was on the 30 October 2008, and now I’m gonna find out whether “The Great Pumpkin” still has the potential to make it onto the definite to-watch list of a more modern Halloween-loving crowd.

Set on the day right before Halloween, the very beginning of the episode is more than promising. In a kitchen of a small town family home, we see two young parents stow away some candy for the upcoming Halloween night. When the mother (Kirsten Robek) takes the couple’s baby up to the bathroom to clean the toddler up, her husband (David Ingram) cannot resist opening the candy box and snitching one piece for an early treat. His delightful chewing is interrupted quickly, though, because he seems to have bitten onto something, well... unusual. The camera perspective changes and we look out of the man’s mouth, seeing that a razor blade is stuck in the upper part of his gums. He succeeds in pulling it out, blood flowing into his mouth. However, there’s not much time for the shock to sink in. The man starts to cough up two more blades, falls to the floor, twitches. When the wife returns from upstairs, she finds the blood on the floor and her husband lying in it – dead. This is exactly what any fan of Halloween and gory horror could hope for. The urban legend of manipulated candy that will bring death to all the unsuspecting holiday celebrators is incorporated into a bloody, disturbing filmic start. It’s gross and crude and perfectly frightening.

© The CW | Source: The Winchester Family Business
A couple of scenes later, a teenage girl (Luisa D’Oliveira) dies while bopping for apples at a costume party. Some supernatural power seems to hold her under water and, on top of this, the water seems to boil up very quickly, burning the girls entire face. Another Halloween-ish nightmare come true.

Of course, all these occurrences alert Sam and Dean, who quickly find out that the deaths are caused by a very old witch who’s trying to raise the demon Samhain with a few neat blood sacrifices. After some researching, Sam informs us that, hundreds of years ago, Halloween wasn’t a festivity of joy and harmless spooking around. People wore masks to scare off Samhain, or tried to appease him with blood or harvest sacrifices. Since on 31 October the line between the living and the dead is said to be the thinnest, Halloween is usually the night in which Samhain would terrorise humanity by raising other demons, ghosts and even zombies. Fortunately, Sam tells us, he was exorcised some time ago. So now the two brothers have to stop the wicked witch from luring him back out of hell.

So far so good. “The Great Pumpkin” succeeds in establishing a nice Halloween setting by presenting us with a small town in midst of its final holiday preparations. The houses are decorated with pumpkins and ghosts. Dressed up kids trick-or-treat through the streets and pre-Halloween parties are in full swing. The gruesome deaths occurring during typical Halloween activities, namely eating candy and apple bopping, create an effective chill within me. It’s something that could really happen to all of us. I also like how the show presents us with the pagan roots of Halloween and gives us a short yet informative look behind the rituals we usually perform on this holiday. Additionally, there’s the usual banter between the brothers with Sam scolding Dean for eating too much candy (how absurd!) or not taking the Halloween-ish dangers seriously. For the first twenty minutes or so, the episode really is good fun.

© The CW | Source: Rebloggy
Then the angels appear. I know, many fans of the show enjoy archangels Uriel (Robert Wisdom) and especially Castiel (Misha Collins) and their talk of apocalyptic damnation. They enjoy seeing the show turn from a family-centred drama with subplots inspired by urban legends to a melodramatic tale of, literally, Biblical proportions. But, to be honest, my interest in the show has decreased significantly since the apocalyptic subplot has emerged. Well, basically, I stopped watching in the middle of season 5.

“The Great Pumpkin” pretty much illustrates my dislike for the angelic takeover. As soon as Castiel and Uriel arrive, the dynamics of the episode become entirely different. What happens to be a fun, creepy, interesting little story in the beginning becomes a tale with much more sinister undertones. Granted that Sam and Dean always have had to fight evil forces and that most often lives have been at stake, things have gone into the direction of ultimate gloom and doom, of world’s end, of a fight between God and Lucifer themselves when the angels were introduced. The quirky charm of the show is sacrificed for a much heavier and more bloated subject matter.

In this episode, the raising of Samhain isn’t just a normal wickedness planned by a mean, old hag. No, the angels seek the Winchesters to tell them that summoning the Halloween demon is part of the 66 seals that prevent Lucifer from rising. So, should Samhain walk the Earth again, Lucifer is one step closer to wrecking humanity. The whole episode is no longer genuinely Halloween-centred, it’s just another puzzle piece in a Biblical face-off. To make things short: I long for the days when Supernatural was more grounded, and not so grave and, well, boringly, pious.

© The CW | Source: Supernatural Wikia
In the end, angels or no angels, Sam and Dean manage to find the witch or, as it turns out, witches that seek to bring back Samhain. The brothers are a little late, though. Samhain rises and starts to bring back the dead with him. In the showdown, taking place in a vault, Dean has to fight ghosts and zombies who begin to climb out of their resting places. This is the moment when the show resorts back to its original, slightly campy fun.

In a different part of the vault, Sam uses his demonic powers to exorcise Samhain, even though the angels have warned Sam to never ever, ever, ever use those powers again. At this point in the show, the younger Winchester brother is pretty much on the brink of breaking bad. We know that the use of his special skills – given to him by a demon when he was just a little baby – makes him ruthless, blood-thirsty, evil. The show is obviously aiming at a conflict between demonic Sam and angel favourite Dean, so destroying Samhain is not just about making Halloween child-friendly again, it’s about – yawn – the apocalypse and stuff.

I admit that I always enjoy the conflicts between the two brothers. So setting Sam and Dean up against each other, apocalyptically or otherwise, is pretty great. The look on Dean’s face in this episode, when he sees Sam using his powers again, is wonderful. It’s a mixture of ‘Oh no, not again! What are you doing?’ and ‘Poor Sammy, you go to such a length to protect us all from the wicked Halloween demon.’ Dean’s realisation that Sam is willing to always sacrifice a bit of his soul in order to save the people around him is indeed a special and heartfelt moment.

© The CW | Source: Music In The Dark
“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester” starts of nicely. It’s properly Halloween-ish and fun to watch. When the episode tries to root the Halloween plot inside the apocalyptic subplot, things start to fall flat for me. The angels annoy and bore me. Their talk of Heaven and Hell annoys and bores me. Fortunately, the final showdown between Sam and Samhain can make up for some of the angelic snooze-fest. But still, I can’t deny that at this point in the show, Supernatural is slowly but certainly beginning to exorcise my love for it. Excuse me while I spend Halloween weeping in a corner for a bit. Until someone brings me candy. Lots of candy. 


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