Friday night's Supernatural, "Time After Time" was basically a giant excuse for Dean to dress up in a 1940s suit and spout references to The Untouchables. That's right - it was another time travel episode, which brings American history according to Supernatural up into the twentieth century. Guess who was a Hunter in the 1940s? You'll find out, though it might make you groan - but no more than you'll already be groaning over the anime smut jokes.
I love that Supernatural not only has its own alternate version of Judeo-Christian legend, but an alternate version of real-life U.S. history too. We've already learned that Sam Colt, inventor of the famed pistol, was a secret Hunter who crafted a special pistol so powerful it could bring down Lucifer himself (though sadly it didn't). We also know there's an alternate future where Sarah Palin becomes president and the world ends. And now, filling in a crucial gap, this episode supplies us with an alternate history of mob-busting Cleveland cop Eliot Ness. Turns out that Ness had a secret career as a hard-bitten Hunter, who got into the life after finding out that vampires were turning people in Ohio.
The loneliness of the unworshipped god
We find all this out when Sheriff Mills calls Sam to tell him that mummified bodies are turning up in Cleveland. Turns out we're dealing with one of those "god who used to be worshipped but now has almost zero followers and therefore almost zero power" deals. The god in question is Chronos, played tastily by Jason Dohring (Logan from Veronica Mars). Most of the time Chronos jumps around in time, but if he wants to determine where he goes, he needs three human sacrifices to start his timey wimey motors. The mummified bodies are what he leaves behind.
The kink in all this is that somehow Chronos managed to find a woman he loved, in 1944. Every time he's yanked away from that year, he has to suck the life out of three people to get back. It just so happens that his latest victims are in 2012. When Dean tries to stop him from murdering his last victim, Dean is swept back in time with Chronos. He finds himself on a 1940s street, gun in hand, and is immediately whisked to the police station where he meets Eliot Ness. Then two of them track down Chronos, while Sam and Mills try to figure out how to bring Dean back to the future.
I'm sorry, but there were too many references in this episode
OK look - I don't mind zany references. In fact, I think one of the many things we all love about this show is the way the writing is laced with pop culture jokes. But "Time After Time" went too far. First, there was the ongoing joke about Dean watching anime, or what Sam calls "smutty cartoons." At least, Dean used to watch anime, but now all he does is read stories online about head Leviathan Dick Roman. "You gonna look at more anime or are you strictly into Dick now?" Sam asks. Alright, that was actually funny. Hur hur.
Then there's the reference in the title of the episode, to the awesome 1979 flick Time After Time, about H.G. Wells time traveling to the present day to stop Jack the Ripper. And all the references Dean makes to The Untouchables after he meets Ness. THEN there are all the references to the Back to the Future series - Dean references a "Biff Strategy" when he finds out Chronos is making money by betting on games where he knows the outcomes. Then Dean uses the Doc technique to communicate with future Sam by leaving a letter for Sam to behind a wood panel in the building where the brothers are crashing. Alright, already! Enough with "that's the Chicago way" and Back to the Future III!
To clarify my problem with these references: I don't think they're bad per se, but their inclusion in the story felt rote and mechanical. Occasionally I felt like the writers couldn't come up with funny dialogue, so they relied on these references instead. Which often does work on this show, but felt too forced in this episode, especially after so many callbacks to the same pop culture sources.
A few cool things about 1944
1. In the mid-twentieth century, apparently the Bobby-esque Hunter is a grumpy, super knowledgable older woman who gave me powerful nostalgia feelings for the Ida robot in Middleman (I know - another reference). Also, I have to admit that Eliot Ness as a drunken Hunter is just plain cool, especially when he tells Dean to shut up about his inner sadness, which is always good advice. We know he'll get to process his feelings with Sam later, anyway.
2. Any excuse to see Logan again is fine with me.
3. The scene where Sam and Mills are racing against time to set up their time-jump spell while Dean and Ness are trying to kill Chronos is extremely well done, with good pacing and a great capper moment. After Sam stabs Chronos, he tells the boys that he's seen their future and it's "covered with thick black ooze." He adds, "They're everywhere - enjoy oblivion."
And now it's time for us to process our feelings
Sam and Dean don't get a chance to share what they're thinking about American history and their gloopy future, but we do know that they have a bond that transcends time. Also, Dean understands that anime is an art form, and that Back to the Future is one of the few time travel series that makes sense. Somehow that doesn't make me feel much better about this episode.