Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pleasant Interlude

James Marsters and Charisma Carpenter

The only criticism I have about last night's episode of Supernatural (7.05, "Shut Up, Dr. Phil") is that, with Buffyverse veterans Charisma Carpenter and James Marsters appearing as the husband-and-wife team of witches Maggie and Don Stark, it would have been impossible for the producers to have delivered a product that would have met my unreasonable expectations. (See TV Guide recap and review with spoilers here).

I wanted more character development and more of a range between the highs and the lows and more Charisma Carpenter and more James Marsters and more scenes with Carpenter and Marsters together and more scenes with Carpenter, Marsters and leads Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles together. Instead we received a perfectly acceptable frothy piece of confection that kept me reasonably entertained for an hour.

Charisma Carpenter. I have yet to see Charisma's recent Burn Notice appearance but I must say she looked sensational in the still shots! She continued to look absolutely stunning in Supernatural, though I can't help but note that whenever a few wrinkles appeared on her face, her close-up would abruptly come to an end. (Shame on me for even mentioning it.)

Charisma's talents were criminally underutilized during her acting career (Buffy and Angel notwithstanding), and we should have been able to enjoy seeing her in a lot more roles this past decade. Fortunately, I think she can still have a wonderful career ahead of her as a highly attractive mature woman. It's up to us to let producers know that we're perfectly happy to see actresses on TV who are in their 40's and beyond.

As far as Carpenter's acting, I was pleased to see just the right element of Cordelia in her performance, without her pushing things too far. Let's face it; we would have been awfully disappointed if Charisma had played a mousy wife and mother. Again, any real criticism I have has to do with the lack of character development. We know that Maggie was a witch who was always in an extremely bad mood; it would have been nice if we could have seen more of her vulnerabilities and been given a chance to fall in love with her good qualities.

James Marsters. Although I usually appreciate understatement, if anything, Marsters could have pushed his performance a little bit more over the edge. However, I was a bit surprised that I found more promising potential with his character than with Charisma's. In particular, I was intrigued with how his character showed up at the very end and swiped the Romanian hex coins that his wife Maggie had planted in Sam and Dean's motel room, and generously saved the brothers from being killed by the mysterious monster/man for good measure. Could that have been a potential bonding moment for the three guys? In keeping with the Supernatural tradition of never being able to create a totally convincing female character, I found myself hoping to see more of Marsters' character in upcoming episodes rather than Carpenter's.

I came into this fully expecting Charisma to steal the show while James played more of a supporting character. The fact that they ended up as equals was a nice added bonus.

Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. What can I say? These guys once again did a great job portraying brothers Sam and Dean Winchester. Unfortunately, there seemed to be an element that everyone was doing little more than marching through the episode from Points A to B. It was obvious that the mere presence of Spike and Cordy was the main plot point, with the rest of the action thrown in as filler material. The script outline seemed to be: investigate a mystery, tell a few jokes, try to duck out of the way of the angry witches, save the day with a few soothing words, cheat death yet once again, tidy up a few loose threads, mix in a little Sam getting all touchy-feely (figuratively) with Dean, The End.

Ensemble, or Lack Thereof. I agree with just about everything Sandra Gonzalez wrote in her excellent review of the episode over at PopWatch. She particularly nailed it when she wrote:
But if you’d tuned in especially excited for the Buffy cameos, as I’m sure many did, I can see how some would think the payoff was minimal. That’s of no fault to anyone specifically — it’s just that as someone who was excited about the event, I would have loved to see more interaction between the guest stars and the main characters.


The best part of the episode — minus the awesome nightmare sequence and the whole bit about Sam running — was watching Sam and Dean interact with the couple. During what can only be defined as the “Dr. Phil” part of the episode, I loved watching Sam and Dean try to help navigate Maggie and Don’s problems and it was a nice parallel to what was going on with the brothers as well. Sadly, this part was only a sliver of the larger episode. More, I say! More!

Okay, maybe I’m being greedy. But in this case, we’re talking about the union of two of the greatest fandoms in the (short) history of genre television — I don’t feel bad about having sky-high expectations. Had we trimmed the subplot about the Forgettable Best Friend, I feel like we could have had a little more time to spend on the main event. In sum, I wouldn’t argue against seeing more Don and Maggie.

My only quibble is that I did not really enjoy the scene with Don and Maggie and Sam and Dean. (Based on early reviews, I seem to be in the minority.) It was a clever set-up, where Sam and Dean were trying to dispense helpful advice while finding out the hard way that it's not a great idea to intervene during the middle of a marital squabble. Unfortunately the scene dissolved pretty quickly into slapstick, where the action went back and forth like a tennis match, with Sam and Dean trying to soothe the married couple, and Don and Maggie taking turns casting mildly debilitating spells on the brothers. I thought the low point occurred when Don (I think) cast a spell that let loose a swarm of bees around Dean's head. Although the brothers achieved their goal of having Don and Maggie patch up their differences, I would have enjoyed the scene a lot more if Sam and Dean hadn't been acting solely out of a sense of self-preservation. Instead of establishing a true rapport with the couple, Sam and Dean were just trying avoid getting killed by Don and Maggie.

James and Charisma in the Future? I mentioned above that I was more intrigued with James' character than with Charisma's character. Having said that, I'm more than willing to sign any petition that comes my way that would ask the producers to bring both of them back for future appearances, particularly since I believe Charisma is capable of delivering a lot more. However, from a coldly clinical perspective, I didn't see anything particularly promising for the future. If the producers want to make the commitment to flesh out the characters and allow James and Charisma to perform to the best of their abilities, I'd be all for it. However, if Don and Maggie would only be brought back as comic relief, then I think I'd have to pass.

Idle Thoughts. I found more of Cordelia in Charisma Carpenter's performance than Spike in James Marsters' performance.

The episode effectively showed that Dean was in a dark place as he grieved over the loss of his friend Castiel and felt remorse for killing Jewel Staite's mostly good brain-eating demon character. I've read in a few places that by not killing Maggie the Witch, Dean had reached a turning point in his character development. If that's what was being presented, then I sure didn't see it that way. If anything, I thought Sam and Dean had decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and that they were lucky to escape with their lives.

Under the "doth protest too much" category, I found a few similarities between what I wrote and what Sandra Gonzalez wrote in PopWatch. Since I honestly didn't see her article until I got towards the end of this post, I opted not to do a massive rewrite.

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