Stars: Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Christian Campbell, Mishael Morgan, Curtis Caravaggio, Serge Houde
Writers: Brad Buckner & Eugenie Leming-Ross, series created by Eric Kripke
Director: John F. Showalter
Network: The CW, Wednesdays @ 9 PM
Original Airdate: February 21, 2013
Lord (and Prophet of) knows that not every episode of SUPERNATURAL needs to be filled with suspense, pathos or even humor; likewise, not every episode needs to advance the seasonal arc. Indeed, “Man’s Best Friend With Benefits” does resolve the mini-drama begun in “Trial and Error,” with Dean (Jensen Ackles) wanting to die for Sam (Jared Padalecki) and worried that Sam won’t survive the trials that will get them to the Hell-locking information. The resolution might play a lot better if we didn’t want to yell at the screen, “Dean, it’s Season 8! It’s really taking you this long to figure out Sam can take care of himself?!” However, this isn’t the problem.
Sam and Dean get a text from their old friend James (Christian Campbell), a police detective who once saved their lives. However, it turns out the text was really sent by Portia (Mishael Morgan) a woman who spends part of her time as a Doberman Pinscher, or perhaps the other way round. Since Sam and Dean have last seen James, it turns out that, while still a police detective, James is also now a witch, and Portia is his devoted familiar.
James is afraid he’s been murdering people while sleepwalking, and Dean is ready to kill him for it, but after some investigation and a bit of astral projection, it turns out that the real culprit is Spencer (Curtis Caravaggio), a seemingly friendly warlock who resents James because Portia chose to be his familiar. Worse, in Spencer’s eyes, is that James and Portia are romantically involved. In trying to throw Sam and Dean off their game, Spencer gives them flashbacks to their Hell experiences. Dean and Sam nevertheless manage to perform their bloody witch-killing spell, obliterating the homicidal Spencer. James and Portia decide to skip town anyway, as the police think that James may be a killer and the rest of the witch community don’t much like James either.
Dean has an epiphany that Sam can be trusted to handle the trials, Sam is happy that Dean trusts him, the end – well, except for Sam’s nosebleed, which may be related to what we saw Prophet of the Lord Kevin dealing with last week.
There’s nothing about the above scenario that’s necessarily uninteresting, but somehow, it just doesn’t come to life. Maybe it’s that we spend a lot of time with James chained to his bed, having flashbacks to murders he didn’t commit, maybe it’s that Sam and Dean aren’t in the episode all that much, maybe it’s that there’s really only one thing that can be going on, so our curiosity is never very aroused.
There’s also the remarkably icky aspect of James being Caucasian, Portia (in human form) being black, wearing a dog collar and referring to him as her “master.” Do the Powers That Be here think this is funny, are they proud of being “politically incorrect” (otherwise known as deliberately insulting) or is this a case of being utterly tone deaf? Morgan does a fine job as Portia, but since the rest of Portia’s clothes vanish when she’s in her canine aspect, there’s no reason for the collar to be there, nor is there any reason (especially given her description of the witch/familiar bond) to refer to James as anything other than “my witch” or “my partner.” Not to harp on it, but again, remarkably icky.
The episode spends so much time with James and/or Portia that we can’t help but wonder if this is some kind of backdoor pilot, with James being a police detective/magic worker. As an investigator might say, based on this evidence, we don’t really have much to go on as far as whether such a series might work or not. “Man’s Best Friend With Benefits” certainly doesn’t have anything in it to make us feel that Dean has seen something in Sam or even in the overall situation that he hasn’t noticed before that now reassures him, though it is nice to see Sam getting back to his let’s-give-people-the-benefit-of-the-doubt original personality.
We’ll avoid the most obvious pun about “Man’s Best Friend” here, but this episode doesn’t much benefit the audience.
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Article: TV Review: SUPERNATURAL – Season 8 – “Man’s Best Friend With Benefits”