It was time for a spot of grifting for the brothers Winchester this week, as their desperation to find their wayward Nephilim saw them pulling off a heist for a mysterious demon benefactor.
With Cas and Lucifer at Asmodeus’ mercy (unbeknownst to the boys), Mary stuck in the Apocalypse world with Michael, and Jack off the grid, the Sam and Dean fell into temptation when the new King of the Crossroads, Barthamus, offered them a spell for locating angel-human hybrids in exchange for their help in robbing the vault of a man named Luther Shrike. A vault which required the blood of a man who’d been to Hell to open.
Half of the spell was proffered up front so that Sam could verify its authenticity, while the missing passages were promised on delivery of a chest containing something belonging to Barthamus, and currently locked in Shrike’s vault. Cue much soul-searching about getting into bed with demons, some entertaining sidekicks called Smash and Grab, and an episode which can only be described as ‘Supernatural does Ocean’s Eleven. With a side of Indiana Jones.’
Only tenuously linked to the main season arc, this episode was an amusing diversion ahead of the mid-season finale next week. Yes, the boys took the job to help them find Jack, but mainly “The Scorpion and the Frog” served to highlight the things Supernatural still does really well. Crossroads demons and the humans who sell their souls to them will always be fascinating, and Sam and Dean doing cool stuff together is the bread and butter of the show. We also got some excellent peripheral characters, which – when it has a mind to be – Supernatural is pretty good at delivering.
Sure, we’ve been there before. Luther was painted as a sadist and a murderer, ruthless in his ambition to collect supernatural artifacts at any cost but, in actual fact, the trunk in question contained Bart’s bones, which Luther had procured to barter himself a new deal when he had been dragged to Hell. It seemed that Barthamus had taken his soul in return for saving Luther’s terminally ill son, but when the boy drowned in an accident, the crossroads demon denied plausibility and collected anyway.
Luther was interesting and kind of tragic, having been to Hell himself, and now doomed to a life of immortality as long as he stayed on his own property. Admittedly, I liked the idea of him being a collector and a psychopath before the typical ‘but he only did what he did for the love of family’ trope kicked in, but his scenes with Sam were compelling and mildly uncomfortable to watch (in a good way). Grab was a fun demon thief, arch and camp, and I was very sorry to see him dispatched so easily.
Alice (aka Smash) was just the right side of quirky. I loved her unimpressed air even as she devoured Dean with her carefully blank eyes, and I am really glad she survived this outing as I’m interested in her backstory and how she came to sell her soul to Bart. It was super refreshing to see Dean have chemistry and banter with a woman without it being sexualised, and his burn on her flowery Doc Martens made me laugh out loud.
The episodic title refers to the fable, in which a scorpion persuades a frog to carry it across a stream on its back, arguing that should it sting the frog, they will both drown. But before they are safely to shore, the scorpion stings the frog anyway, telling the hapless creature that it can’t help its nature. This title clearly refers to demons, but it also rings true of the boys, and Castiel, and perhaps foreshadows what’s to come with Jack and Lucifer.
Interestingly, the brothers didn’t come out of this episode particularly well. Bart killed Luther, but he seemed prepared to honour his deal with the Winchesters. His points about Luther not reading the fine print were absolutely valid, and for all we know, Shrike truly did have it coming! Bart, like the scorpion, was upfront about the nature of what he was, and the boys were the ones who welched on the deal, thus throwing away their best chance of finding Jack. Sure, their actions saved Alice from a life of servitude, but they were the ones who put her in danger from her employer by shifting the goalposts, and, again, we have no idea how ‘innocent’ she really was in the grand scheme.
So, while this was a really fun episode, showcasing the boys working together at their smoothest and wittiest, the climax kind of undermined everything that went before. The Winchesters sacrificed their best chance at finding Jack (which they’ve been trying to do unsuccessfully for weeks) all because of some misguided (and pretty inconsistent tbh) moral code. In a nutshell, it was an hour which brilliantly summed up the very best and very worst traits of Supernatural, a show which after thirteen years continues to thrill and baffle in equal measure!
Final Grade: B-
+ Jensen Ackles got a chance to show his comedic chops to full effect. His hesitation to put his hand in the hole was cringingly, universally familiar and hilarious. Who knew Dean was afraid of spiders?
+ Sam quietly telling Dean ‘don’t get dead’ and Dean responding ‘you too’ is how the Winchesters say ‘I love you’ when they have to go their separate ways and it’s what I live for.
+ Some great writing and one-liners in this episode, and a nice bit of meta with the Game of Thrones reference, as Richard Brake also played The Night King.
– I really liked Bart. I was expecting him to become a recurring character in the Crowley mould of special ‘frenemy’ to the boys, but alas, he seems to be gone. What a waste.
– The burning of the spell seemed really clumsy from a blocking perspective. Everything happened too slowly. Bart had ample time to stop Alice striking the lighter, Sam could easily have grabbed the spell from Bart before it caught fire. Everyone suddenly became dumb for the sake of plot and that’s always wildly irritating.
Extra Thought: Sometimes I mourn the pace at which the show steams ahead without giving time to things I’d like to see explored in more detail. The little tidbit about King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba was super enticing, but that’s probably the last we’ll hear about it. That could be a whole season in itself!!
What did you think? Did this episode make you want to do the hustle, or, like Dean, did you get the needle? Sound off in the comments, or over on Twitter!