By P.S Griffin
“Plush” is probably the best episode produced to date by the writing duo of Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder. It manages to be funny, zany and helluva scary. The direction by Tim Andrews did a great job of giving this episode a unique look with a lot of close framing and long shots that made the most of the surreal creep factor provided by the masked kiddie themed killers.
The episode also introduced our standard mytharc anvils, a well utilized reference to Sam’s canonical fear of clowns, Dean getting his geek on, and Dean and Donna appreciating each other’s mad skills. Oh and yeah. According to the Winchesters Donna is a bona fide hunter now. Actually beneath the sunny exterior Donna is surprisingly comfortable with a machete, an astute detective and smart enough to know when to call for backup. Yep. She’s definitely hunter material. Too bad Garth no longer provides cellular lore support for the next generation.
The weakest part of the story was the ghost tale designed to deliver heavy plot anvils. No surprise really since this is the writing team that gave us the wretched ghostly revenge tale of “Halt and Catch Fire”. This episode centers around the vengeful ghost of a children’s entertainer wrongly accused of pedophilia before being murdered because he was different. Sadly even the man’s sister mistrusted him and allowed two area rednecks and bigots to dispense rough justice. The sister has given away her brother’s many costumes out of guilt and anyone donning one of his masks becomes possessed. The brother’s ghost wants brutal, bloody revenge for how he was treated. Reminds me of a certain dark lady named Amara betrayed by her brother.
Pedophilia is a strange topic to be blithely sandwiched into a monster of the week backstory. Yes obviously it is a reference to Michael Jackson on one level; however, I suspect that the choice was made more to suggest something regarding Amara’s backstory since the plethora of the wrath of the wronged cases encountered this season parallel Amara and her I Spit on Your Grave tour of America whilst looking for her brother. Having seen the teenaged Amara attempting to entice Dean in all of her barely pubescent seductive glory, I confess I am wondering exactly what God was afraid his sister would do to his children. Did He think she might corrupt their innocence? Maybe the heavenly host owes their junkless state to daddy’s illogical paranoia.
Oh maybe the writers just fell in love with the phrase “Chester the Molester”. The false pedophilia charges of “Chester the Molester”, besides being both salacious and tone deaf in ways reminiscent of that other writing duo, actually hampers the story from the perspective of logical world building. If the sister mistrusted her brother’s intentions towards children she would never have let him live with her and her son. If she trusted her brother, she would never have trusted those obviously small-minded, bigoted, uninvolved bros to handle the situation, and she never would have believed their lies. This is a big and annoying logic fail.
So Chester was done in by erroneous assumptions that became rumors. This reminds me of therumors which were spread about the big bad Darkness who apparently is so EVIL it must be spelled out in all capital letters. Except she’s not evil or even bad really. Just very mad and occasionally hungry for souls. A growing girl has to eat indeed.
As problematic as the human backstory to the monster of the week case might be, the actual nuts and bolts of the haunting, possession by a collection of masks imbued with Chester’s DNA, makes for some memorable mask faced killers. The horror comes from the juxtaposition of cartoon masks; a bunny rabbit, a placid jester, a big smiled clown and Bambi; committing vicious blunt force trauma with lots of blood spatter and carnage. The cinematography does an excellent job of capturing both the surrealism and horror of the murder tableaux.
This scenario also provides the set-up for a lot of funny one liners including references to Bugs Bunny, Roger Rabbit, Woody Woodpecker and Killer Clowns, the later being a reference to “Killer Klowns from Outer Space”, the exact type of sensational grindhouse fare that this season is mining for content, sensibility and style. The murderous clown that slices the coach and grapples with Sam looks to be cut from the same circus cloth as those infamous killer clowns.
The Winchesters have showdowns with each possessed mask wearing innocent including a comically staged strangulation of Dean and a tense elevator encounter between Sam and the Killer clown during which Sam musters the courage to disarm the malicious spirit and pop him one with a length of rebar. Sam’s encounter with the killer clown is obviously meant to symbolize him overcoming his fear of returning to the cage. Although it’s very welcome to see Sam heroically overcoming his fears, I am just not behind his current desperate impulse to be the one and only special chosen world saver, especially if he’s delusional enough to believe that Lucifer is the answer.
Both Chester and Donna are mirrors for Amara. Chester was betrayed by his sister because he was different and she feared for her child. His anger at her betrayal and his unjust murder has turned him into the kind of vengeful ghost that won’t stop killing per his attacks on Donna, Sam and Dean.
Donna is yet another wronged woman fighting for acceptance and respect like Amara. Still angry about the way she was treated by her ex-husband, she verbally chastises her subordinate,another Doug the cop, and bristles at the idea that she is less physically capable than a man. She also takes Sam’s constructive council very poorly, telling him to mind his beeswax. Poor Sam, shouldn’t he be old enough to know that professional ladies are very capable and often do not take kindly to men telling them what to do. Donna also expresses dismay at the Winchesters’suggestion that she play the damsel in distress that was overpowered by the perp in order to to cover up for letting the innocent possession victims go free.
Donna clearly represents a strong and capable professional woman and is therefore a positive mirror of the feminist themes that are inherent to Amara’s story. She’s refused to let the slings and arrows or outrageous men keep her down; instead of seeking revenge for the wrongs she’s suffered at the hands of men she has continued on and just kept on grinding, albeit with teeth gritted some of the time. You go girl!
The sister’s story of facing her worse fear yet making serious mistakes because she was panicked, desperate and had started to lose trust in her brother is a mirror for Sam in both seasons 10 and 11, and probably God himself who betrayed his sister. Last season we saw Sam lose faith in Dean; this mistrust clouding his perspective and driving him into a series of unfortunate very dumb, desperate choices. Voila! Enter the Darkness, our newest seasonal antagonist and even a bigger threat to the brother he was trying to save. Oops!
Now in season 11 he’s on the verge of making a proverbial deal with the devil because he so badly needs to fix things and he desperately wants to be the one to fix things. Poor Sammy needs to believe that God is still a card carrying member of the Special Sammy fan squad. Of course God never was a member, just Dean.
The only thing slowing Sam down this time is the fact that he doesn’t have some honey tongued demon strumpet cheering him on. He already is miffed that Dean not only is incredulous at Sam’s suggestion that his visions mean God wants Sam to go to the cage (note that neither Winchester bring themselves to utter the “L” word). Dean knows that once again Dean is right and Sam is dead wrong. He emphatically says NO: “Sam, no. No, okay. I don’t know if these visions are coming from God or PBS or what. But we’ve been down that road. Anything having to do with that cage is — it — it’s suicide. And you of all people know that. So, no. Just…Not gonna happen”. Inherent to Dean’s response is kinds of WTF incredulity. Seriously, how big a dupe does Sam have to be to release the devil twice… or how full of himself. Really it takes both traits to screw the world.
Of course Dean said NO multiple times to removing the Mark too and look how that turned out.A fact the writers seem to be whispering in our ears with their pesky anvils. The world’s worst sister laments to the world’s most angst-ridden brothers about the power of fear: “Fear cripples you. It makes you do nothing. Or worse… It makes you do something that you regret. I should’ve trusted my brother.” And Sam should have trusted Dean. And one senses that perhaps God should have trusted his sister.
Fear got Chester killed. Fear caused Sam and Castiel to mistrust Dean and remove the Mark regardless of the consequences, and it is looking like God’s fear caused him to betray, sacrifice and imprison his sister.
Donna delivers some anvlicious dialogue during her first salt and burn (so long creepy bunny mask): “That kid was innocent. I mean, if the mask was cursed, then he was just a puppet, right? He was a victim, too”. So then the Darkness’ anger about being sacrificed, betrayed and banished was transferred through the Mark to the Mark holder. I guess that makes sense except for the fact that Amara isn’t kill crazy at all.
There’s still a lot of confusion about the Mark of Cain in general. Death says that the Mark was corrupted by the Darkness. Okay. But why did it turn humans into demons. If it was Lucifer that created the first demon wouldn’t that mean he corrupted the Mark too. So confusing this Mark business.
The episode starts and ends with brotherly moments. It starts with Dean agog at Sam on his knees praying to God for help with understanding his visions. Dean is astonished that Sam thinks God is helping… that God would even care enough to help. He’s probably wondering what Sam has been smoking to forget the Apocalypse or season 4 so completely. Dean, always the devil facto leader of Team Free Will, tells Sam to “count on us”. Of course much like his earlier arc in season 4, Sam’ s hubris and need to make up for whatever with a great gesture is simply more compelling than Dean’s conviction, Dean’s truth and Dean’s always sound advice.
The episode also delivered on the budding friendship between Dean and Donna. They get each other, she continues to impress him with her hunting prowess, and the two of them namedrop enough food references to feed me for a year. Dean’s wild hare joke was priceless. It’s a rare someone to appreciate Dean’s fabulous sense of humor.
Donna is slowly losing her zaftig miss sunshine sparkle. I have to assume that originally her character was written so over the top to play up the homespun Minnesota schtick because of the success of the television adaptation of “Fargo”. Although she was originally introduced as one of the show’s tone deaf efforts at humor, the character has developed into a serious character who has been annointed by the Winchester s as part of their hunting family. It’s time to stop the diet references and jokes. Let Donna become a badass addition to the show who is too busy being lethal to supernatural baddies to worry about her weight. The lady does cross fit for goodness sake. She’s absolutely fantastic the way she is.
Charmelo and Snyder excel at broad humor, black humor and puns. This episode thrived because of their comedic spark. They also excel at writing believable dialogue for the brothers. I appreciated the attention to canon. However, they need to put more effort into the monster of the week world building. I loved the concept of the haunted masks. I hated the gratuitous use of the pedophilia backstory. It was light years better than “Halt and Catch Fire” but nowhere near the level of “Ask Jeeves”.
It’s true that sexual perversion and the combination of sex with blood and horror are staples of grindhouse/exploitation films. However I don’t want to see child abuse unless I am watching a CBS police procedural in which the predator ends up in jail, reviled for his abusive actions. It’s worth noting that the spectre of child abuse was also raised in “Thin Lizzie” through the character of Sidney and Lizzie Borden’s theoretical backstory. Happily that episode didn’t
mine the theme for comedic purposes. Instead “Thin Lizzie” treated the subject like the horrible crime it is.