It always makes me nervous when a drama, especially a supernatural one like The CW's Supernatural, involves a dog. Even if the title of the episode has "Man's Best Friend" in it, it's rare those furry, four-legged buddies actually survive to have a happy ending. Sam (Jared Padalecki) may have saved a dog during his "year off," but he ultimately left it. And in the past, the dogs we have met have been hell hounds, or overprotective neighbors who just happen to turn into the family pets, or werewolves of sorts. "Man's Best Friend with Benefits" dealt with the middle rung of that crazy ladder, as the dog in question actually turned into a woman-- but only after Sam had bonded with it (perhaps feeling some guilt over the dog he left behind? I know I think he should have!). The episode dealt more with the recurring theme of the Winchesters having to choose to help something they would normally simply "put down," so to speak, which with nothing new to add, was just a way to kill time and feel useful while the Winchesters waited for Kevin (Osric Chau) to get them word on the next trial.
In this particular case, though, the dog was actually a "familiar," a witch's companion, splitting her time between human and animal form, and she brought the boys bad news: one of their old buddies, who had helped them on a previous case, became obsessed with alchemy and witchcraft and was now at a critical point of practice. During the day, he worked as a homicide detective, and at night, he started experiencing terrible side effects of witchcraft-- because as we all know, magic always comes with a price-- and all this familiar wanted the boys to do was put aside their "ignorant bigotry" to help their once-ally.
But the thing was, we hadn't seen this guy before, so it made it harder to care about him. The bias against this guy wasn't really ignorant, if you ask me. He chose to become a witch, to dabble in dark arts about which he knew the consequences, Dean (Jensen Ackles) said it best. So giving him the benefit of the doubt to help him get to the bottom of whether he was actually killing people or not seemed like a courtesy they didn't have to extend, especially considering this is so small in their laundry list of problems. Maybe I just have a trigger-happy mentality, especially after everything I've seen on this show, but whether or not another witch was controlling him into thinking he killed people, actually using him to kill people, or none of the above, it's still witchcraft, and witchcraft is bad. There's no gray area here. Have we learned nothing in eight years!?
(For those who are keeping score, this particular witch actually was innocent. But another witch was the "doer," doubling his crimes by framing James, so...witchcraft still = bad, just like I said.)
I was oddly fascinated by the idea that familiars and their witches could communicate telepathically, that they're more like peers than masters/property. They're each others' companions, sure, but they look out for each other, not in a one-sided way, which is really how any good dog/owner relationship goes, but few dive deeply enough into to discuss aloud. I'm a dog person, that's no secret, so those little details spoke to me on a personal level. But then it got really weird and uncomfortable with the sex. What originally seemed so sweet became gross. They ruined the one thing that was at least unique about this episode-- okay, it was maybe more unique with this detail, but not in a fun way.
And the fact that this other witch was setting James up because he was jealous over his sexy time relationship with his familiar? Made it a little bit ickier.
The majority of the episode, dealing with whether or not this particular witch's dreams of murder were just dreams or something more and the chaining-him-up method to keep strangers safe until they knew the truth was just redundant. Shades of Madison, for sure, but then couple that with how quickly he advanced in his career with witchcraft on his side, and it reminded of the crossroads demon deal returned to just last week. It was very talk-heavy, too, with the confrontation with Spencer at the end, in which he attempted to get into the boys' heads, feeling kind of tacked on, with the defeat too quick and easy.
"Man's Best Friend with Benefits" was fine as a stand-alone episode, an interesting hodgepodge complete with a perfect wrap-up brother heart-to-heart in the car on the way out, but it wasn't interesting enough not to keep the mind from wandering, wishing the episode would also check in on Kevin, even if all he was doing was more "morning routine" of 5 a.m. calls, hot dogs, studying, and now, I assume, pills.
Additional Remarks: The fact that Dean doesn't really like, let alone understand, dogs is a major point loss for him. Major. Not cool, not cute. And since he refrained from bestiality jokes, not like him. While Ackles infused his usual brand of humor through Dean's facial expressions, this episode was written differently than usual. It had a much more serious tone than was necessary, especially by comparison to others around this episode. James Pizzinato's Drexel could have provided some much needed humor, but he was sadly underused here, too.
Supernatural airs on The CW on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m.
Want more Supernatural news and reviews? Follow LA TV Insider Examiner on Twitter!