Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 7, Episode 20 of The CW's "Supernatural," entitled "The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo."
It's "Supernatural" custom to follow emotionally heavy episodes with lighter installments, but in the right hands, even an episode laden with humor can propel the mythology forward. Such was the case with the witty, quippy "Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo," confidently scripted by Robbie Thompson.
Thompson has fast distinguished himself as the MVP of Season 7's writing staff -- though he's a newcomer this year, he's already written two of the strongest episodes of the season: "Slash Fiction" and the phenomenal time-travel story "Time After Time." Ably assisted by first-time director John MacCarthy (who has served as First Assistant Director on 15 episodes of the show since Season 2), Thompson's script was full of energy, balancing humor and pathos in a believable fashion, and nailing the Winchester brothers' inimitable voices in a way that some of the more established writers still struggle with.
While I'm certain that MacCarthy's choice of non-linear narrative and "24"-esque split-screen effects probably didn't work for everyone, I found his directorial decisions to be engaging, and in-keeping with the tone of Thompson's script. There were plenty of amusing character beats that were well-served by the flexible direction -- Felicia Day's entrance (and subsequent elevator dance) to "Walking On Sunshine" springs immediately to mind.
I find it interesting that "Tattoo" worked so well for me this week after I was left cold by "Party On, Garth," which, at least superficially, shared some similarities with this week's episode. I think my dislike for "Garth" stemmed from the episode focusing more on a Monster Of The Week hunt than a mythology story, and because that episode felt tonally imbalanced when switching between horror and humor --something that Thompson apparently doesn't have a problem with. While certain scenes in "Garth" seemed unnecessarily long or convoluted, "Tattoo" seemed to have a sharper sense of pacing, which helped the hour fly by for me.
Then again, as with "Garth," perhaps your enjoyment was meted according to your appreciation of Felicia Day instead of DJ Qualls, since the episode did place the narrative focus on Charlie rather than Sam and Dean. While I wouldn't describe myself as a die-hard fan of Day (having only seen her in her Whedonverse projects), the character was sufficiently three-dimensional to make me care about her fate and want to hang out with her. Still, I can understand viewers who might've been eager to spend more time with Sam and Dean so close to the finale, especially since the last three episodes have all seen the boys taking something of a backseat to secondary characters. (I wonder if the writers were trying to script Sam and Dean light in deference to Jared Padalecki's impending fatherhood -- while I was scheduling my set visit, I was warned that he might have to dash off at a moment's notice in case his son made an early appearance.)
Geeky "Charlie Bradbury" was a wonderfully welcome addition to the roster of strong female characters on the show; made all the more distinctive not just because of her sexuality, but because she actually survived the episode. It's both realistic and sensible to add a canonical lesbian into the mix -- especially given how certain subsets of fandom seem to react to the inclusion of heterosexual women in Sam and Dean's lives -- and Dean's attempt to guide her through flirting with the security guard was an inspired moment.
The episode was a veritable cornucopia of nerdy references, homages and easter eggs -- so much so that it would be almost impossible to list them all. Some of my favorites included Charlie's Hermione Granger fixation (and Sam's equally geeky "Harry Potter" knowledge); her "Lord of the Rings" Arwen laptop background; her Han and Leia "I love you," "I know," exchange with her co-worker; Dean's "Veronica Mars" reference; "What the frak is a Leviathan?"; the "Star Wars" bobbleheads; "I was drunk, it was Comic-Con," "We've all been there," and Charlie's sassy Vulcan farewell, to name a few. Feel free to chime in with your stand-outs in the comments. I also enjoyed seeing the boys shake things up by revisiting their penchant for unusual disguises -- it was great to see them dressed as ground crew at the private airfield when they switched out Dick's package for a Borax bomb.
The episode was not without its minor niggles, however. Having Bobby pop back in to info-dump on the Winchesters only lends credence to the "deus ex machina"/exposition criticisms that have been leveled at the character for the past few seasons. Frank's handy automated email and the tracking device on his hard-drive also fall into that category, although the character is so canonically paranoid that at least it makes narrative sense.
On the other hand, I am interested in Bobby's ongoing struggle with the vengeful side of his new form. He certainly proved that he can still make himself useful as a ghost, but that those darker impulses are clearly too tempting to ignore. It seems fitting that, just as Sam and Dean have struggled with their own dark sides -- demon blood addiction and hell-inspired torture, respectively -- the past couple of seasons have allowed the show's two main supporting characters, Castiel and Bobby, to explore those facets of their personalities too. We didn't see too much of it with Castiel (although it was enough to be chilling), but it seems that Bobby's anger will be an ongoing concern in the lead-up to the finale. I wish we'd had another scene with Bobby to explore his feelings of remorse -- or lack thereof -- for breaking Charlie's arm, but perhaps we'll see that carry through to next week's episode.
We also got to see a lot more of Dick this week (get your minds out of the gutter). While Dick is lacking the gravitas and obvious menace of Azazel or Zachariah, I do appreciate that the writers are trying to switch things up and offer us a villain unlike anything we've seen before. The slick, charismatic one-percenter is a timely antagonist, although I'll admit, the "Soylent Green" endgame doesn't exactly fill me with dread the way the apocalypse or Dean being sent to hell did in earlier seasons. It's a far more insidious plot, in that it plays on modern fears of big brother surveillance and businesses or governments conspiring against the general population, but now that the show has been to hell and back, I think it's natural to expect that nothing else will quite measure up to the impact of Eric Kripke's original five-year plan. I'm hoping the season finale will surprise me on that front, of course, because I'm sure there are potential outcomes that I never could've predicted, but for now, I remain ambivalent about the grandeur of Dick Roman's nefarious scheme. I did enjoy the mock SucroCorp ad, even if it wasn't quite as hilarious as the variations we saw back in "Changing Channels."
Overall, "Tattoo" was an engaging and enjoyable hour, one that was buoyed by Felicia Day's spunky, geektastic performance -- I hope we'll have the opportunity to see her again next season.
What did you think of "The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo"? Did you enjoy Felicia Day's performance, or would you have preferred to see more Sam and Dean? Weigh in below!
"Supernatural" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.