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[personal profile] galathea
Dog Dean Afternoon by Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder is a rather silly episode, that borders on (and sometimes crosses over into) the embarrassing and crude, and as such I have my fair share of problems with it. However, there is also an interesting casefile, amiable Sam and Dean interaction and some minor developments on the Ezekiel front, so the episode is not a total loss. In some respects, it even has an 'old-school' vibe, which I always appreciate, but sadly much of that appreciation was buried under the more ridiculous parts of the plot.



Dog Dean Afternoon is one of those episodes where little changes would have made a huge difference to my enjoyment of it. I mean, at the core of the episode is a good old-fashioned monster-of-the-week case with a rather interesting premise, one that even resonates with Sam and Dean’s current Ezekiel situation, and if the writers had refrained from adding the whole 'Dean talks to animals and assumes dog traits' subplot for comedic purposes, I think the episode would have turned out really decent. As it is, though, said subplot mars the overall positive picture of the episode considerably, mainly for two reasons. Firstly, the animal voiceovers are terrible. The voices not only do not fit the animals, but are also caricatural in nature, which undermines any emotional investment on the viewer’s part. And the fact that the animals simply stare at Dean, while they are supposedly having a conversation with him – unlike in the movie Babe, for example, where the animals are mimicking actual speech via animation – does not help the silliness of the scenes either. Secondly, almost as soon as Dean’s animal mind-meld spell takes hold, the writers completely overplay the way it affects him. I mean, the initial scene, where Dean cannot help himself and repeatedly 'fetches' a balled-up piece of paper is actually pretty cute, because it is subtle and plays in the background of Sam and Dean’s conversation. However, after that, the scenes quickly turn awkward (the mail man) or tasteless (the female poodle), and thus squander any humorous potential. If the writers had handled the storyline with a little more nuance or a little less explicitly – for example, instead of hearing the animals’ part of the dialogue, we could have just seen Dean’s reaction to it, which would have been hilarious – I think this storyline could have worked. But well, subtlety is not the strong suit of the current creative team.

Sam: "Trust me, Dean, I feel good."
Dean: "Well, that’s great and all, James Brown, but you’re still recovering from the trials. I think you gotta pace yourself, you know. The sooner you can heal –"
Sam: "Yeah?"
Dean: "I just want you back to your old self."
Sam: "I am, Dean."


If I look past the 'talking animals' part of the episode and focus on the brothers’ monster hunt instead, the episode is rather enjoyable. There is a great sense of camaraderie and affection between Sam and Dean, and their team work is easy and smooth, all of which conveys that they are in a very good place with each other at the moment. And even though I know the current closeness between them is built on a lie of omission, I cannot help but relish it. It is noticeable, however, that the uncertainty of Sam's situation is starting to get to Dean. I mean, Dean’s incessant inquiries about Sam’s well-being, his reluctance to go on a hunt, as well as his suggestion that Sam should take it slow so he can heal from the trials, do not really make sense at this point. After all, this is not their first foray into the field since Sam’s 'recovery'. Their cases these last couple of weeks may not have been conventional hunts, but they were cases nonetheless. Not to mention that Sam looks like the very picture of health, so Dean’s worry and caution come off as somewhat over the top. However, in conjunction with his admission that he just wants Sam to be his old self again, it suggests to me that, slowly but surely, Dean begins to develop doubts about Ezekiel. It has been weeks, and Ezekiel does not show the slightest inclination to leave Sam’s body, so it is not surprising that Dean feels on edge. Still, from Sam’s perspective, Dean’s overly protective demeanour, as well as his rather evasive answers whenever Sam questions himself or Dean, should set off Sam’s alarm bells, but either he is oddly oblivious to his brother’s weird behaviour or he overlooks it on purpose.

Now, while I cannot rule out that Sam’s apparent obliviousness is simply a defence mechanism that allows him to pretend that, for once, everything is okay in his world – it could also just be lazy writing, of course – I tend to think that Ezekiel himself is the reason for his cluelessness. Firstly, we know that, whenever Ezekiel takes over, Sam has no awareness of it. After all, when Ezekiel withdrew from his impromptu conversation with Dean in I’m No Angel, Sam simply continued talking as if nothing had happened. It seemed he had no sensation of losing time or missing parts of his discussion with Dean. Secondly, Ezekiel makes no secret of the fact that he deliberately alters Sam’s memories in order to prevent him from becoming aware of his presence, and I doubt he limits his interference to moments where he is in control of Sam’s body. He might have erased/changed a lot more than Dean (or we) are aware of. Thirdly, I think it is entirely possible that Ezekiel influences Sam’s general frame of mind as well, either consciously or in form of an unintentional character bleed, resulting in Sam’s current contented mood. I already suspected after Sam’s odd claim of being happy (Devil May Care) that maybe Ezekiel’s influence on Sam is more extensive than he lets on. For example, he could easily lull any suspicions Sam might entertain regarding Dean’s weird behaviour. Obviously, Ezekiel is not always completely successful in his manipulations – he should have erased Sam’s memory of Chef Leo asking him what he is, for instance – but maybe that is a side-effect of his own weakness. All in all, I think Ezekiel has a major impact on Sam’s perception, so I do not find it particularly surprising that Sam does not catch on as quickly as he would normally do.

With all that in mind, I think it is difficult to discern how much of Sam’s feelings and thoughts are actually his own at the moment and how much of them are Ezekiel’s. Granted, Sam seems like himself most of the time and there is no mistaking Ezekiel’s odd speech patterns or his posture for Sam’s, but still. We do not have any actual clues as to what is happening with Sam, and how (or if) his sense of self is affected by Ezekiel’s presence. In that context, it is interesting to note that, when Dean desperately tries to rouse his unconscious brother at the end of the episode, he addresses Sam by his name as well as Ezekiel’s, only to settle on a 'whoever the hell you are', which seems to suggest that Dean started to harbour insecurities about his brother’s identity, to some extent at least. It ties in well with his earlier statement that he just wants Sam to be himself again. Moreover, Dean clearly transfers his observation that Chef Leo was possessed by something he could not control, and that it was only a matter of time before it completely took over, to Sam’s situation as well. Taken together, all these little moments over the course of the episode leave me with the impression that Dean’s trust in Ezekiel’s benign intentions begins to waver, and his attempt to appease Sam’s worries that something might be wrong with him comes off like an attempt to reassure himself that he made the right call when he trusted the angel. Only time will tell, I guess, but I think the chances that things with Ezekiel will work out are pretty slim at the moment.

That all being said, the fact that Ezekiel has to perform a miracle healing/resurrection every single episode is not only getting really old at this point, it also makes Sam and Dean look pretty incompetent – Ezekiel sure must wonder how Sam managed to survive this far – and I really wished the writers would come up with something a little more original for Ezekiel to do. I mean, we know that angels have a lot of different abilities, so the writers could create any number of scenarios in which Ezekiel would be forced to use his powers. Now, I assume Ezekiel using his powers is a narrative tool for the writers, as it provides them with a legitimate reason for drawing out the possession storyline over a longer period of time. After all, it has been established that, every time Ezekiel uses his powers, he is weakened, which gives him the perfect excuse to remain within Sam. That is why I am not particularly bothered by the writers’ frequent use of Ezekiel as an angel-ex-machina, only by the lack of variety in which they employ him. By the way, I know a lot of fans feel that is makes little sense for the writers to use Ezekiel in this fashion, when the godlike nature of angelic powers has always been the main argument against Castiel’s more permanent position at the brothers’ side. However, I think the fact that Ezekiel and his powers are the actual storyline sets him apart from Castiel. Besides, Sam’s angelic powers are temporary; once the storyline is resolved, things will go back to normal.

Random Notes:
  • I am a tad annoyed that, once again, the writers throw consistent characterisation out the window in Dog Dean Afternoon. It is a minor transgression this time, but still, it bothers me. See, ever since Dean’s gruesome death at the hands (or rather teeth) of hellhounds in No Rest for the Wicked, he has been portrayed as wary, if not fearful of dogs. In Man’s Best Friend with Benefits it was even outright confirmed that he does not like dogs – but there is no trace of that dislike in Dean’s behaviour here. Of course, once he is under the influence of the shaman spell a change in attitude is to be expected, but he acts amiably towards 'the Colonel' before as well as after the spell, too. Sam, on the other hand, who has always been depicted as a dog lover, does not seem to react with particular interest (or insight) to the various dogs they meet over the course of the episode. And since I already mentioned the hellhounds, given that Dean himself was ripped to shreds by a pack of hellhounds, the manner in which he brings Chef Leo to justice, namely to sic a pack of dogs on him and allow them to tear the man apart, comes off as especially tasteless, if not somewhat out of character.

  • As I mentioned before, the monster-of-the-week plot offers some interesting parallels to Sam and Dean’s situation with Ezekiel. I mean, just like Dean tried to prevent Sam’s death by allowing a living supernatural being to enter his brother’s body, Chef Leo tried to stave off his own death by quite literally taking the essence of other living beings into his body. I daresay the fact that Chef Leo is ultimately consumed by the very supernatural forces that are supposed to save his life serves as a parallel to Sam’s (possible) future fate as well. Of course, the main difference between Leo and Sam is that the latter did not choose said fate, instead it was Dean who chose it for him. In that context, I find Dean’s question if Leo’s power over other people’s lives makes up for what he lacks in his own rather poignant. Ultimately, Dean’s choices are not that different from Leo’s. He chose his own and Sam’s well-being over the well-being of other people, both when he decided to abort the trials and (probably) when he allowed Ezekiel to possess Sam. Dean, too, exerted power over somebody else’s life, when he violated Sam’s right to self-determination. Granted, Dean is not a cold-blooded murderer, but the consequences of his choices yield similar results, and he carries the responsibility for those results, he admitted as much in Devil May Care. Is Sam’s life worth the possible casualties resulting from Dean’s choices any more than Leo’s life was worth the casualties resulting from his choices?
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