Episode Title: "Plucky Pennywhistle's Magic Menagerie"
Writers: Andrew Dabb & Daniel Loflin
Director: Mike Rohl
Previously on "Supernatural":
At night, Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) runs for his life as an evil clown chases after him. Sam flees into a warehouse and he barricades the door, but not only does the killer clown get in, he is soon joined by a second clown who comes up behind Sam. Sixty hours before that, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) get an update from Frank about Leviathan activity before heading to Wichita, where a man has apparently been killed by some kind of vampire octopus. At first the Winchesters are convinced that the man's wife killed him by summoning the creature, but they aren't sure how or why.
After speaking with the family nanny, the Winchesters learn that the murdered man's daughter, Kelly attended a birthday party at Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie on the day of her father's death. When Sam goes to question Kelly about what she saw, he notices that she has drawn an octopus-like monster on the sidewalk outside of her house. Hours later, a man runs from a unicorn that fatally impales him before rainbows fly out of its butt. In the present, Sam is overwhelmed by the clowns and he tries to shoot them. But the bullets have no affect and they start beating the crap out of him.
Thirty six hours ago, Sam and Dean investigate the unicorn murder victim and discover that his son was also at a birthday party held at Plucky's. Sam also mentions that he always hated it when Dean dumped him at Plucky's while trying to pick up girls. Dean then teases Sam about his ongoing phobia of clowns. Sam goes to the Plucky's and meets an overly friendly employee named Howard Michael (Blackman Beck) and a put-upon attendant named Libby, who is forced to watch her young son Tyler (Jakob Davies) during her shift at the restaurant, despite his obvious unhappiness about being there.
Sam also notes a wall where kids are invited to draw their worst fears and he silently notes that Kelly and Billy's drawings are missing. The manager, Jean Holliday (Jennifer Spence) introduces herself to Sam and provides him some background on the man who was killed by the unicorn. Afterwards, Sam is approached by the janitor, Saul who wants to speak with him about what he saw after closing. But that night, Saul is killed by a creature in the balls that behaves like a shark. Having already confirmed that Billy drew the unicorn, the Winchesters realize that someone else's fear was used to silence Saul before he could blow the whistle on them.
In the present, Sam continues to be beaten down by the clowns until he grabs a tire iron and defends himself. Four hours before that, Sam decides to go back to Plucky's and play the "bad cop" solo while Dean watches the employees and pretends to be a patron. During Sam's awkward interrogations, Dean befriends Tyler and tells him to ease up on his mother. Dean also becomes obsessed with winning a colored slinky he once owned as a kid. Eventually, Cliff the mascot runs away rather than speak to Sam, causing both Winchesters to chase after him. Cliff turns out to have been involved with a meth lab, but he also reveals that there is a subbasement in Plucky's that the Winchesters initially missed.
While Sam goes to protect Tyler's mother, Dean breaks into the basement and finds a bizarre setup run by Howard, who explains that he uses each child's fear to free them from parents who don't put their interests first. When Dean tears up Tyler's robot sketch, Howard simply uses another drawing to send a monster after Sam. Hence, the two killer clowns attacking Sam "Right Friggin' Now." As Sam fights for his life, Dean listens to Howard's deluded ramblings and learns that his brother died from drowning years ago, as depicted in one of the drawings on his wall.
Dean throws the drawing into the fire, triggering the spell and sending Howard's dead brother after him. Once Howard dies from drowning as well, the clowns attacking Sam explode into confetti and disappear. Shortly thereafter, Sam returns to Plucky's, where Dean laughs hysterically at his confetti-covered clothes. Dean also apologizes for "psychologically scarring" Sam by leaving him at Plucky's years ago, but Sam says that their current case was therapeutic. But Dean can't resist teasing Sam one last time by giving him a Plucky doll after Sam gives Dean the slinky he wanted.
Despite some very funny moments, "Plucky Pennywhistle's Magic Menagerie" makes a strong argument that "Supernatural" might be better served by shorter seasons. It's not that I don't appreciate some laughs or the way that the show occasionally mocks itself. But this episode was pretty pointless in the long run.
However, when the jokes worked, they really worked. The countdown with Sam and the evil clowns played like a twisted "24" parody, and the "Jaws" moments in the playground balls was inspired. I think Sam or Dean once mentioned something about angels existing alongside unicorns with rainbows flying out of their butts. And it finally happened here, in one of the oddest callbacks I've ever seen. The onscreen caption, "Right Friggin' Now" was also a great joke when the action caught up to the present.
The downside to all of this wackiness is that the villain was unspeakably boring. That's been the problem all year on "Supernatural." We've had the lame Leviathans, Dick Roman and the God of Time (that sounds like an '80s cover band). And now Howard, a middle aged man murdering parents because he was passed over for a promotion. The only way that was going to work was if Dean's confrontation with Howard was hysterical and if Blackman Beck was a comic genius. Neither of those things turned out to be true.
Weirdly, the rest of the guest stars came off better than the main villain. It was good to see Jennifer Spence outside of the late "Stargate Universe" and the guy who was playing the mascot was really amusing. It would almost be worth it to revisit Cliff in a "Breaking Bad" inspired episode, as alluded to here. Tyler and his mother turned out to be too underdeveloped to care about, although Jensen Ackles was good playing off of the kid. Jared Padalecki also had some fun moments while Sam struggled to maintain his bad cop persona and when he was losing his fight against the clowns.
I did like the brief nods to continuity, including Dean swearing off hot girls after the Amazon debacle last week… and then ignoring his own vow once he had the chance to talk to the nanny. I didn't mind the humor of "Plucky Pennywhistle's Magic Menagerie," but I think it would have been even better if it went for the throat with its humor and didn't let up. As it is, the episode had some really great comedic moments loosely tied together by some mediocre scenes at best. And as mentioned earlier, the lackluster ending didn't do anyone any favors.
Crave Online Rating: 7 out of 10.