Just last week I was complaining that I hate Old West episodes, but Supernatural managed to make it (mostly) work this week in "Frontierland." After all, who could say no to a meeting between Sam Winchester and Sam Colt?
The episode starts back in 1861 with some pretty hilarious Western-style credits and the promise that eventually we're going to see Dean in a gun-fightin' showdown with some badass in a tiny town. And then we're whirled back to the present with one of my favorite intertitles ever:
48 hours earlier (And 150 years later)
Bobby and the Winchester brothers have broken into the Campbell family library, looking for clues to how they'll kill the Mother of All. Apparently, according to one journal, they need ashes from a dead Phoenix. But how will they get that? Luckily, there's a copy of Samuel Colt's journal, complete with a pentagram burned into its leather cover (hello - Supernatural swag idea!). Turns out that Colt killed a Phoenix with his magic gun back in 1861.
Which is when Dean decides they need to go back in time, the way they did when Cas sent them back to the 1970s to meet their parents. But Sam thinks there's something else going on. Dean just wants to get back to the Old West - "You have a fetish!" Sam accuses. Apparently Dean loves Clint Eastwood movies so much that he's even watched the chimp trucker ones. But let us pause to reflect upon this . . .
Dean has a Western fetish
Really? The same way Tom Paris has a fetish for 1950s cars? Because that makes me have bad holodeck episode flashbacks. Which apparently somebody in the writers' room was eager for me to have, as Dean helpfully points out that their strategy for getting the Phoenix ashes will be to "Star Trek 4 this bitch." To which Bobby says he only watches Deep Space Nine. REALLY? I thought Bobby only watched soap operas and reality TV.
Forward to the past
So Cas is going to have to send the boys back to the past, but not before some angel they've never met before shows up and tries to do Cas' job for him. She introduces herself as Rachel and yells at the boys for wanting Cas to take time away from leading his army to wipe their noses. Just as she's really getting pissed off, Cas shows up with a new haircut and tells her to let him do this.
I'm sure some fans really liked the whole "we're in the Old West, which we fetishized, but actually it's not awesome" bit but I thought everybody in the show was trying way too hard. There were the requisite jokes about how real-life saloon hookers would have been covered in syphilis sores, the whisky sucked, and there would have been horse shit everywhere. Back in the future Bobby even cracks a Deadwood joke (Bobby was on Deadwood, so this is fan service-o-rama). Dean calls himself Clint Eastwood (of course) and everybody in the town makes fun of the stupid Western outfit Dean bought at a fetish store to wear on his time travel trip. Sorry, but jokes about how the Old West is not like movie cliches are themselves cliches.
The one moment worthy of Supernatural is when we meet our Phoenix - who turns out not to be the bird from Harry Potter and mythology, but a monster who can't die and has the power to kill other people with fire. Just as Sam and Dean arrive in town, they see the Phoenix being hung. And then he comes back from the grave in a ball of fire to get revenge on the townsmen who hung him. Turns out one of his accusers raped and killed the Phoenix's human wife, and then blamed the Phoenix for his own crime. So yeah, these guys are scum and the monster has a good reason to go all flamey on their asses.
Still, the boys have to kill him to get those ashes.
Sam Winchester, meet Sam Colt
I really quite liked the whole sequence where Sam meets Sam, and they both have last names that come from nineteenth century gun manufacturers. Sam Colt turns out to be an Old West version of Bobby, a hardened Hunter who has seen too much and just wants to quit.
"I'm Sam Winchester, and I'm a hunter from the year 2011," Sam says, and shows Colt his Blackberry. And Colt basically shrugs. He's seen so much that "a giant from the future with some magic brick doesn't exactly give you the vapors." Nice line. Sam shows Colt his own diary, which totally reminded me of that episode of Doctor Who where the Doctor refuses to look in a diary that describes his future because "it's spoilers." Obviously, Colt doesn't give a crap about spoilers, so I'm liking this guy more and more.
And eventually he does give Sam his Colt, so that Dean can shoot the Phoenix in a pretty good showdown.
But wait - there's an awesome Cas subplot that is annoyingly underplayed!
C'mon folks - couldn't we have cut out some of the hooker jokes and gotten more about Cas' "dirty little secret" that Rachel is so pissed about that she stabs him with her angel stick? There's a whole angel fight about who knows what - all we know is that Rachel says Cas has a secret, and Cas says "I have to defeat Raphael." And then she stabs him and he's really wounded but manages to kill her with his angel stick in the end. And then teleport to Bobby's for safety.
To get the boys back to the future, Cas is going to need to heal up, and fast. That's when we get the second-best line of the episode (after the brick line from Colt). Cas says to Bobby that he'll need his soul. And when Bobby starts to get the scowly "why do I always have to fork over my effing soul" look, Cas looks pained and says, "I need you to let me touch it." Nothing like a little homoerotic soul stroking humor to make me forgive everybody for the Old West misfires.
But when the boys arrive from Deadwood, they are empty-handed - there was no time to grab the ashes. Luckily Sam Colt left them a package of Phoenix ashes in the post office and somehow it stayed there for 150 years and now it's being delivered. Ooookay. At least, as Bobby points out, "I didn't get a soulonoscopy for no reason." So true. I feel that way pretty much every day.
And now it's time to process our feelings
Hell yeah I need to process my damn feelings! Balls! I'm left with burning visions of Tom Paris piddling around with 1950s cars in my head, and no closure AT ALL on the whole Cas vs. Rachel thing.
Why does Cas need safety? Why is he fighting with his lieutenant? What is his dirty little secret? Did he actually resurrect the Mother of All to help win the war? What the hell?