Thursday, February 1, 2007

Supernatural—Houses of the Holy

The streak continues.

Tonight's episode was penned by Sera Gamble, the co-writer of "Faith", from season one, which had similar themes of faith and holy vengeance. But this episode put a slightly different spin on these themes, to excellent effect.

The episode opens with an unsavory looking woman--we find out later she's a hooker--faced with a televangelist who she can't turn off. (This has got to be one of the scariest damn things I've seen on this show ever.) Later, she's visited by Sam in a mental institution. Sam's looking good in the scrubs, and wants to know why Gloria committed a murder. Turns out she was told to by an angel.

And she's not the first person in town to be incited to commit murder in the name of divine retribution. Dean, sequestered in the hotel because of last week's close call with the Feds, and bored to the point of enjoying the magic fingers at the hotel, doesn't take too well to the angel theory.

As the story develops, the boys discover that the people who were targeted were, indeed, not nice people. One murdered at least three women, while another was a pedophile. Conversation with the priest of the local parish leads Sam and Dean to develop opposing theories. Sam believes they could actually be dealing with an angel, while Dean is convinced it's the spirit of a young priest, Father Gregory, who was killed about the time the murders started.

The Winchesters are set at ideological odds, Sam clinging to the idea that there are powers of good in the world, Dean convinced there's no such thing. Both are stripped heartbreakingly bare as they try to explain why they believe--or want to believe--the way they do. It's more than just stubbornness. Dean's cynicism is directly related to the death of his mother, and Sam's faith stems from a desperate need to believe some power of good can save him from his destiny.

In a predictable but still effective twist, Sam sees the "angel," as well, and is told to stop someone who is about to do something horrible. He's willing to accept this task. Dean, not so much--he parallels proactive retribution with what he's been told about Sam, and is not in favor. Leaving Sam to summon the spirit of Father Gregory (with a SpongeBob placemat instead of an altar cloth), Dean goes after Sam's chosen target. Again predictably but effectively, Sam discovers the "angel" is, indeed, Father Gregory's spirit. But at the same time, Dean sees evidence he can't refute that something more is at work here, possibly even the will of God.

On the surface, the general plot and setup of this episode is pretty basic, and exactly what we'd expect given the circumstances. The theme is faith versus skepticism, which we've seen a zillion times before in various contexts. When characters are made to ideologically oppose one another in this way, it often comes off as forced and pedantic, but not in this case. The plot is layered so well with its emotional repercussions on the Winchesters, and tied in so organically with the existing plot and character arcs, that the final result is more than just a series of plot points, more than just a morality play, but a story that's intrinsically important to the development of both of these characters.

And holy cow--next week's preview...