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Supernatural 8.14 "Trial and Error" Review: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

            To begin this week’s review, I want to say a huge congratulations to both the cast, crew, and entire production team of Supernatural for an early ninth season pick up. Jeremy Carver has really re-freshed the show and the CW announcing the pick up so early is a real vote of confidence. 
             This week’s episode of Supernatural, “Trial and Error” was written by Andrew Dabb and directed by Kevin Parks. Parks has been with the show since the first season as the 1st Assistant Director on all odd-numbered episodes and has earned the name “Parksepedia” for his encyclopedic knowledge of the show. His directorial debut put that knowledge to excellent use. The episode had the look and feel that Supernatural fans have come to expect, but really harkened back for me to the grittier, darker tones of Kim Manners. Leads Jensen Ackles (Dean) and Jared Padalecki (Sam) delivered excellent performances in an emotionally charged script, and I’m sure that those performances were only enhanced by having a director they were comfortable with and had confidence in. I’m sure that Parks will be filling the director’s chair a lot more in future.
            A quick shout out to Jerry Wanek for the great work on the sets. In particular, I was struck by the contrast between Garth’s disgusting houseboat and the bunker. Anyone else notice that the door to the bunker makes it look like a hobbit hole? Dean’s room is a nice reflection of himself, but it is also a recurring theme: Dean’s quest for a home.
            There were lots of shout outs to Supernatural history. Kevin (Osric Chau) remarks that “God works in mysterious ways” which is exactly what Layla (Julie Benz) says to Dean in “Faith”. I was really happy to see them remember that goofer dust is an important protection against demons and hellhounds which we learned about in “Crossroad Blues”. Also like “Crossroad Blues”, the crossroads demon – who delightfully, turns out to be Crowley, himself – didn’t settle for just the soul who summoned him, but stuck around for as many as he could get. It was an interesting twist that none of them knew they only had ten years or that they were going to Hell. Seems like that could be a loophole in their contracts. However, there are multiple hellhounds in town to collect multiple souls. It might have been a nice touch if they had also remembered that Dean had been killed by hellhounds and has looked nervous if not downright scared in the encounters with them since. 
            The season seems to have built to this point. This episode sees Sam stepping into a guardian-like position. He seems to be the only one with a healthy perspective on what they are doing while Dean is simply hunting without regard to his own or anyone’s (other than Sam’s) safety in mind. Sam tries to get Kevin to slow down, while Dean provides him with uppers and painkillers so he can keep going. Dean’s time in Purgatory trained him to live very day like it’s his last, while Sam learned there was more to life, a light at the end of the tunnel. I did think it was more than a little inconsistent, however, that Sam is clearly identified as the Man of Letters, the scholar, if you will, and he tells Dean that Dean’s the best hunter he knows, yet Sam is the one “chosen” to do the trials because Dean fails to kill the hellhound and fails the test.
             Ackles delivers an amazing performance as he tells Sam to stay in the house because Sam living to a ripe old age is the only happy ending Dean can see for himself. It’s a lovely moment as Dean once more falls back on the prime directive to keep his brother safe. However, going forward, it does also seem like we’ve fallen into the familiar pattern of Sam having a purpose and Dean’s purpose simply being to follow behind and make sure his brother is safe.
            One final shout out to Kevin Parks for the final scene. The tight focus on the brothers really enhanced the heightened emotions of the scene. This was Padalecki’s scene to shine in as he pleads with Dean to try to fight to stay alive, to find the light at the end of the tunnel with him, and for Dean to see his own worth. Good luck with that Sam...
            I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great work done yet again by the VFX team: Mark Meloche, Grant Lindsay, Ryan Curtis, Christopher Richardson, Trevor Chong, Steve McLeod, Kevin Genzel, Derek Rein, Werner ten Hoeve, Mladen Miholjcic, Jason Macza, Adam Williams, and John Marshall. Highlights of tonight’s episode would be Sam’s arm being infected, Dean demoning-out, and of course, the hellhounds themselves – finally made visible through the use of super-charged Clark Kent glasses.
            This episode was an interesting blend of monster of the week – hellhound – and the overall mytharc of the season as we seem to finally be moving toward closing the gates of hell forever. I’m betting that going forward that half of the tablet the Crowley has is going to prove a significant roadblock, however. What did you think of the episode? Let me know in the comments below. I’m anticipating that there is going to be a lot of discussion about the fact that only one brother is really getting to do the trials. I know I have a strong opinion about it myself. Please respect everyone’s right to their own opinion and try to keep responses from becoming personal. Thanks in advance.

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