Items that are metaphors tonight: snack cakes, coffee, milkshakes, snakes. Items that are not metaphors: Sam’s ponytail. That thing’s really real.
We open in a sock hop/bebop-looking town, with a $2 Scooby Doo matinee and a quaint soda shop. Clean-cut Conrad begs milkshake waitress Sunny to run away with him, but she refuses. So he bolts, and finds himself in…a modern convenience store.
The startled clerk hands over his cell phone, only to watch the poor Conrad’s head explode. I mean, we all get frustrated when we don’t have any cell service, but that’s just extreme, sir.
At the bunker, nobody’s okay after Michael’s slaughtered, and Cas moves from man to man, worrying about all of them. Jack’s powers are back, but he feels different and isn’t sure how much of his soul is left after vanquishing Michael. He’s also brooding over the gorgon’s snake from last week, concerned it isn’t feeling well.
Meanwhile, Dean’s eating his feelings with Dagwood sandwiches, and Sam’s chasing every case he can so he doesn’t have to picture the bodies of his friends sprawled all over the bunker.
Sam’s itch to be on the move has him heading to Arkansas to explore the head explosion, so Cas offers to accompany him. That leaves Dean to try to reach Jack; after all, he got plenty of practice when Sam was walking around without his sans back in the day.
At the convenience store, Cas asks the clerk if Conrad’s head explosion was more like Scanners 1, 2, or 3, while Sam’s interested to learn that the dead man “had that look” of someone from nearby Charming Acres. (Motto: Where everybody’s happy!)
When they arrive, they find fresh-scrubbed people strolling the streets, heading to bake sales, and generally being gee-willikers wholesome. Cas declares that it’s like The Saturday Evening Post, which he likes to look at after everyone else falls asleep at night because he finds them soothing.
Under the guise of FBI agents, they question a couple on the street, who recommend the milkshakes at Harrington’s and claim not to know what a cell phone is. “Maybe they’re Mormon?” Cas suggests.
At Harrington’s, they’re served complimentary milkshakes by Sunny, whom we last saw kissing Conrad. The owner of the shop is Mayor Chip Harrington, who’s already heard about the flatfoots and suggests Conrad died of an aneurysm. “Oh, no, his head exploded,” Cas announces to the whole shop. “Like a ripe melon on the sun.”
That’s apparently bad for business, so Harrington sends them to Conrad’s boarding house. Cas is disturbed by the Pleasantville of it all, but Sam kind of likes it.
The boarding house matron explains that she only rents to young men—bless their hearts, but the morals of young women living alone, don’t you know! Cas tosses Conrad’s room and finds empty closets, a Bible in the nightstand, and extremely explicit love letters from Sunny under the mattress.
Then Sam surprises him by suggested they kick back for the night, enjoy the boarding house’s pot roast dinner, and get a fresh start in the morning. He has been fighting monsters non-stop and is pretty worn out, after all.
Meanwhile, trouble’s brewing in the immaculate house of the couple they bumped into on the street. Justin Smith’s starting to remember things, like the existence of cell phones and the fact that he has a daughter living in Texas. Suddenly he doesn’t recognize his wife or his whereabouts, and as he runs screaming into the night, his head contorts just like Conrad’s, and then…pop.
The next morning, Cas finds the matron grooving to Dodie Stevens through her earbuds, and when he sets out to find Sam, the same song’s playing at Harrington’s. Is it weird that this might be the creepiest part of the town for me? When Cas asks Sunny for the whereabouts of the “very tall man,” she directs him to the house of the late Justin Smith.
There, the widow Cindy perkily offers Cas a martini and claims no knowledge of Sam’s whereabouts, even with Cas’s helpful description of, “The tall man. Hair? He has beautiful hair?”
Then he goes to sit in a chair and she SCREAMS that it belongs to her husband. When Cas tries to deliver the bad news about his death, she just laughs at his confusion and calls her husband into the room.
And there’s Sam, in horn-rim glasses and a cardigan, that beautiful hair in a cute little ponytail. Even when Cas gets him alone, Sam stays in character, claiming his name is Justin Smith, which prompts Cas to utter a cartoonish, “Oh no,” before asking what the hell is up.
Justin-Sam has had just about enough of that, thank you, and chides Cas for dropping the H-E-double-hockey-sticks. “If you cannot remain civil, you can skedaddle,” he says before tossing Cas out.
Okay, let’s check in on Dean and Jack. Jack’s snake is refusing to eat. Dean suggests bacon, for the sole reason that he likes bacon, and opens a Chinese takeout container, recoiling when he finds two live mice in it. (This is the best possible reaction for that scenario, btw.)
Daddy Dean decides that it’s time for a road trip, so he, Jack, and the snake pile into Baby and set out. Dean’s still trying to get the snake to eat and offers Jack two plastic-wrapped snack cakes to feed it, one angel food and one devil’s food. “I don’t think you have a firm grasp on what snakes eat,” Jack says.
Although Jack assumes most people are scared of snakes, Dean assures him that snakes are cool; it’s just their bite that’s dangerous. Then Jack shuffles the snack cakes around in his hands for an eternity before finally settling on angel food, which visibly relieves Dean.
When they arrive at their destination, who’s waiting for them but Donatello! He and his cozy grandpa sweater usher Jack inside for a visit, while Dean waits uneasily near the snake. I will never not be amused by things making Dean uncomfortable. (Next page: RIP, bacon-shunning snake)
Inside, Donatello recalls how Amara ripped his soul right out of him, then pours cream in his coffee and compares himself to a galaxy: bright and shiny, with an empty black hole in the center. “So you feel bad,” Jack says.
“I feel…nothing,” Donatello replies, explaining that losing your soul leaves you with an absence of pity, empathy, humanity. Then he asks the million-dollar question: “How do you feel, Jack?”
Jack ponders for a bit and says he doesn’t feel nothing, but it’s not the same. Mostly, he doesn’t want his family to worry about him. Seems to me that’s feeling something, right?
Then Donatello offers amazing advice: Think about the best man you knows. For him, it’s Mister Rogers. For Jack, that’s Sam and Dean. So Donatello suggests that Jack always consider WWWD: What Would the Winchesters Do? Worryingly, that answer at least 40 percent of the time is probably “behead something.”
After their session, Donatello tells Dean that if Jack seems okay, he probably is. Oh, but also, don’t forget he’s the most powerful being in the universe, so who knows what’s going on in his head?
All righty, back to Charming Acres. Cas accuses Sunny of being a brainwashing witch and threatens to rip the truth from her mind with his powers, until Harrington rolls up with a posse of menfolk, including Justin-Sam, to claim responsibility.
He explains that the town started to wither when the mill shut down and people moved away or turned to drugs and alcohol. Then his wife died and the modern world kept getting worse and, well, one day he wished that more people would come to the soda shop, and when he stopped by, it was packed.
That’s when he realized he could make people do whatever he wants, and he set out to make everything perfect. He remade the town and gave everyone new names and new lives. The ones who fought it had to be eliminated to protect their home.
This is when we learn that Sunny is his daughter, as she denies sharing any powers with her father. Harrington chases her outside while Cas grapples with the mayoral posse. He knocks out the first two quickly enough, but Justin-Sam pins him down and threatens him with an angel blade.
Cas tells Sam that he knows what it’s like to lose your army and fail as a leader, but emphasizes that the thing to do is keep fighting. If not, you fail those who are gone as well as those who remain.
This argument works, and Sam dramatically rips off the horn rims. They run outside in time to hear Harrington tell his daughter that in this town, he’s God. Cas, who’s met God, hotly corrects him: “God has a beard.” Cas is a quip machine tonight!
Harrington starts to make Sam’s head explode, and Sunny finally unfurls her own power to tell her father to be happy. It leaves him trapped inside his own mind, content in a beautiful world where he can’t hurt anyone.
And that’s the end of the Charming Acres case, but boy, do I have questions about how Sunny lives her life from here on out, what with her having those powers at her fingertips.
Finally, everybody makes it back to the bunker at the same time. Cas told Dean all about Sam’s cardigan, and about the fact that Sam was really happy in Charming Acres. Sam says he knows it wasn’t real but admits it was better than being in the bunker with the memory of everyone they lost. Still, he says he can’t keep running. “This is my home. This is our home.”
Sam needs time, and Dean’s willing to give it to him.
Alone in his room, Jack holds the snake and calls upon his new WWWD motto to figure out how to help the sad animal. Reasoning that the snake misses its friend, Jack offers to help them be reunited…in heaven. The snake turns to ash in his hands as Cas watches from the doorway.
- It’s not the snake you have to fear, it’s the bite. And it’s not Jack you have to fear, it’s all of that power in the body of one gentle being who may not have the best grasp on just what, exactly, the Winchesters would actually do in certain scenarios. May they find a way to fill any black holes in Jack’s center before anything else gets ashed to Heaven.
- Gotta love the new Justin-Sam and Cindy Smith being positively scandalized that Castiel came to call and he wasn’t even wearing a hat. Although can we all agree that the town’s brainwashing would never have let Sam keep his little ponytail? Haircut, stat!
- Mr. Rogers is the best man any of us have ever known. Accept no substitutes.
- Devil’s food, or angel food? Let me know in the comments!
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