Reviewbr> “Of course, the most troubling question is why do these people keep assuming we’re gay?” – Dean Winchester
A series of strange deaths lead the Winchester Bros to the Pierpont Inn, a former mansion now transformed into a failing hotel that has just been sold. They meet the owner Susan, her apparent daughters Taylor and Maggie, and Grandma Rose eventually. Sam notices some hoodoo symbols going down, but the Brothers don’t figure the white bread locals would be into this stuff.
It quickly becomes apparent that we are dealing with a malicious spirit who has become active in the last month. Who is the spirit, what’s with the hoodoo, and what is the common element amongst the guests of the Pierpont who kick the bucket? It all hangs together in the end; a pretty impressive first up effort from director Charles Beeson ensues. Ready to book a room at spook central?
Beeson starts his debut episode off pretty effectively. A white van drives up to a pretty freaky looking old manse, we have the dry ice and back lighting happening for atmosphere, and it’s pretty much on song from the word go. Turns out the guy driving the van is picking up some old toys that the girls Taylor and Maggie no longer play with. Taylor voices disapproval of the imminent toy shortage but is shushed by her mom Susan.
Taylor decides to play with her doll house and one huge collection of scary looking dolls; well okay, that might just be me but I figure there’s something evil about a whole collection of porcelain little people. While putting the (evil and creepy-looking) dolls to bed, Taylor notes one of them is at the bottom of the dollhouse stairs with its head twisted 180 degrees. Cue scream from Mom, no prizes for guessing what happened to the removal guy.
Right from his opening hand, director Beeson, and of course writer Matt Witten, had me by the short and curlies with this stuff. Clearly with 180 degree head turning going down we could be talking demonic shenanigans, but the whole atmosphere doesn’t suit that sub-genre with no brimstone in evidence anywhere. Of course, Sam later discovers the hoodoo symbols about the hotel so that could be the direction things are going in. By mid point of the episode we are sure that there’s a revenant in the mix and Playthings seems to be going in all directions, and this is before we find out about Grandma Rose up in the attic. Surprisingly, by the end credits everything comes together nicely, but the plot took a few twists I wasn’t expecting. It’s been a while since we have had a straight horror story in season two, so I was grinning ear to ear and fully behind a plot that is slightly more complex than what we are used to with Supernatural.
For the most part, director Beeson shoots by the book, but we do get the occasional strange angle, some good use of overhead cam, and some decent panning. Notably in a few scenes, however, there were some wobbles with the camera work which took me right out of the episode. Beeson keeps the atmosphere going, never allows things to bog down, and drives towards his resolution without leaving anything hanging.
Playthings does leave a few question marks hanging. For example, how would a turn of last century entity know how to drive a modern car? But overall there are no glaring plot holes or things coming at you from left field. You get what you are given without any sudden divergence into anything that wasn’t previously shown, though arguably Beeson is going all Argento on us with throwing a huge clue onto the table early and leaving it to the audience to join the dots. Got to like that, superb and subtle handling from the Director right there.
Good old fashion Revenant romp that drives towards it's conclusion without putting a step wrong
The continued humour shines through in this episode, which was a good swing as the mood is pretty dark. We get the continued gay gag going down, with at least two characters surprised that the Winchester boys are brothers and not lovers. Good use of dialogue as Dean tries to comprehend why this is the case. Equally when Dean and Sam manage to convince Susan to let them have a look at the doll collection it’s through Dean assuring her “this one” is heavily into dolls and likes to dress them up. The look on Sam’s face is priceless and you just have to say excellent acting from Jared Padalecki.
Where the episode went slightly off the rails was with Sam coming to terms with what John Winchester had said to Dean; the emotional stuff from Sam didn’t ring true for mine, but I guess it will provide all the motivation Sam needs for the second half of the season. After losing Ava, due to Sam’s sending her home last episode, Sam is going to do everything he can to save as many people as he can. The thinking there is that the more people he can save the less likely he is of turning to the dark side. Got to say I’m not buying into that development and think there’s more to John’s warning than either brother think. Guess we’ll find out during the final few episodes.
Okay, I’m all talked out on this episode, enjoyable as it was, so on with the music. But wait, we got gimped: there was no rock, mullet or otherwise. Not acceptable for mine, so am expecting a whole bunch of tunes in the next episode. Must say in defence of Playthings that the score by Jay Gruska was pretty good, all moody, atmospheric, and good use of wind instruments.
Picked up a couple of references to other horror outings but didn’t pick the plot ripping wholesale from anything else. Grandma Rose in the attic had me thinking of that movie where the family rent a large house cheaply on the condition they look after the old lady in the attic. Sorry can’t recall what that one was called. Equally, when Dean notices Sherwood in the Hotel bar I was definitely reminded of the Kubrick version of The Shining.
I had some fun with Playthings, the episode threw some curve balls, raced down various horror avenues, before finally wrapping everything up with a pretty good resolution. They can bring back director Charles Beeson anytime they want to, the Dude delivers an old style horror outing that suited me right down to the ground. Fun times at Ridgemont High for mine.
Phew, we’re halfway through season two and the Winchesters are still chasing down the “yellow eyed” demon. Thus far the average rating has been 7.4 with three episodes scoring an outstanding 10 from 10. I’ve handed out my worst rating for both seasons with S02E4 Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, (Bob Clark must be rolling in his grave, which is actually pretty ironic really), scoring a low 5 from 10. So guess we’re looking at an uneven second season, hopefully overall things will pick during the second part of season two.
Well worth dialling into Playthings as it’s good old fashion haunted house stuff with a few twists in the tale. For those who haven’t been following the Winchester saga you can happily tune into this one as even though there’s a slight plot arc going down the episode is still pretty much a standalone. Go ahead, make a play date with this episode.