By Paula R. Stiles
Tagline: Sam and Dean investigate a town where wishes come true.
Recap: Nearly-minute-long recap of Dean’s hellpain and connection to the angels (Hey, remember when that was important?). Cut to a young woman showering in an absolutely enormous gym shower room (At our gym, we have individual shower stalls, not some set-up that looks straight out of Caged Heat). In the dark. Who showers in the dark? A young man materialises behind her (Again, we have opaque shower curtains at the gym and not uselessly clear glass) then disappears as she turns around. While she wraps a towel around herself and goes out to the sinks, an invisible hand wipes the steam from the glass on the other side of the shower door, the better to see her clearly as she…towels her hair.
Footprints pad across the floor, but the woman still hears them. She calls out to whoever is there and gets no answer, but when she tosses her hair towel away to thin air, it lands on an invisible head. The invisible head then says, “Hello, Mrs. Armstrong,” in the voice of an awkward teenage boy. Unsurprisingly, she shrieks.
Cue title cards.
Cut to Dean in a restaurant, downing shot after shot of some amber liquid that looks like apple juice, but is a whole lot stronger (in the story, of course. For Jensen Ackles, it was probably apple juice) and growing increasingly irritated by an aggressively cheery waiter who seems to have popped some happy pills before coming to work. Dean is in the middle of an intense fight with Sam. Sam is pissed off that he had to find out from the Angel Uriel that Dean remembers being in Hell. Dean denies remembering any such thing, calls Uriel a liar, and adds some heavy hints that it’s none of Sam’s business, either way.
After seeing off the whacked-out waiter and rolling his eyes at a young girl in tight clothing, Dean gets Sam onto a safer track – a new hunt. Sam says there’s nothing much going on there and Dean seems to agree with him…until Sam mentions a possible ghost sighting that knocked the woman in the teaser down some stairs at a public gym. Upon hearing the words “women” and “showers” uttered in the same sentence, Dean is immediately on the case. Dean’s enthusiasm over such a simple, hound-doggy thing amused me, as Ackles always makes him unthreateningly sexy/funny (as opposed to creepy and gross) whenever he’s thinking he’s going to get laid (even though the ongoing fidgeting, irritability and substance abuse throughout the scene are also classic PTSD). Hey, if the writers of this episode can be shallow, I can be, too.
In Concrete, Washington, Dean drops Sam off at a Chinese diner called “Lucky Chen’s” (which looks an awful lot like one I’ve passed by in Delta, BC). Inside, a guy played by guest star Ted Raimi (Joxer!) is entering with a pretty brunette who is literally all over him. Meanwhile, Sam is already at a table with Not-So-Doomed-This-Episode Teaser Gal, Mrs. Armstrong, who is telling him about her ghost experience for the true-life ghost story book he claims to be writing, “Supernatural“. She chalks it up to being psychic, but Sam is more skeptical (seeing as how he was still pretty psychic, himself, at this point in the show). She does remember one odd thing, though, that piques Sam’s interest and didn’t appear in the news story – the ghost wasn’t hostile. It apologised to her and helped her up after she fell down the stairs running from it, begging her not to tell its “mother”. She wasn’t pushed. She also seems a tad interested in Sam. Jeez, what is up with hot, married brunettes and their interest in banging Sam in restaurants?
Later, Sam meets Dean at the bathhouse/gym (which looks awfully small, if that’s what it is), where Dean is reading a paper on the steps. We get a quick look at a newspaper headline of a man, George Neuman, who just won $168 million in the lottery. Dean expresses his disappointment at finding no EMF or other signs of ghostly activity in the health club, while Sam admits that Mrs. Armstrong seemed like a bit of a crackpot. As they walk away, a kid being chased by bullies races past. Dean yells after him, “Run, Forrest, run!”
The brothers start to twig to a possible actual hunt in a conversation between a nearby cop and a fisherman, who is claiming he was tossed around by Bigfoot. The cop thinks it was just a bear, but the brothers (after introducing themselves as out-of-uniform FBI agents) get the fisherman to show them where he was grabbed. While musing that Bigfoot is a “hoax” and maybe the townsfolk are high on an LSD prank in the water, they are startled to find a footprint that definitely does not belong to a bear. They follow its tracks across a small footbridge to a nearby liquor store that has been ransacked of its girly mags and its “girl-drink” liqueurs. While the brothers investigate and Sam’s not looking, Dean palms a bottle of whiskey for himself. Sam finds a large tuft of brown fur.
The brothers go outside, sit on a bench together and try to reason it out. They just end up more confused until they see a little girl ride past on her bicycle, accidentally dropping a copy of Busty Asian Beauties. She rides up to the back of the store on her bicycle. She’s carrying a box full of porn mags and booze bottles, which she leaves on the steps with a note saying, “Sorry.” Intrigued, they follow her home in the car. Dean makes a crack about Harry and the Hendersons (a pretty terrible film about a family that adopts a Bigfoot after hitting him with their car on a road trip) as they go up the steps.
When they knock on the door, a little girl answers. After she admits that her parents aren’t home, and that her “teddy” is sick, Dean quickly talks himself and Sam in through the door by claiming they’re “teddy bear doctors”. Up the stairs they go, where she lets them into a room in which a gigantic brown teddy bear is watching the news, drinking and…I do believe he’s jerking off. When he yells at her to close the door, she does. The reaction from Dean, especially, is just priceless. This is a pretty short description because you really have to watch this scene to appreciate the absolutely twisted humour and subtext going on – and the comic performances. Ackles’ face seems to be rubber the whole episode, Sam excels at playing the bemused straightman, and whichever casting director found that little girl was a genius. There are so many ways this very-borderline scene could have gone so wrong, but yet, it doesn’t.
The little girl, Audrey (who is just precious in a really funny and creepy way), admits to the brothers that she always wanted a living teddy bear, so she wished for one at a “wishing well”. But what she got was (as Dean puts it later) a “bipolar nutjob” and now, she doesn’t know what to do. Neither do the brothers. Dean goes into the room to talk to the bear, which completely freaks him out, as he goes in trying to be cool and comes out looking shellshocked). The brothers then get out of Audrey that her mother wished she and Audrey’s dad were in Bali (so that’s where they are now), as well as the location of the wishing well. It’s at Lucky Chen’s. The brothers tell Audrey to go stay with a friendly neighbour and return to the restaurant. As they walk up to a small fountain with a happy buddha behind it, they see the bullied kid, Todd, throwing a coin into the water and leaving.
The brothers try to figure out what to do next. Dean gets the idea of ordering “a footlong sandwich with jalapeno” and, immediately, a delivery guy walks in with one. While the same guy from before is being fed Chinese food by his besotted girlfriend, Dean eats the sandwich and the brothers work things through. Somehow, everyone in the town is having their wishes come true. Dean figures that the lottery is part of it; Sam adds in the couple nearby. When Dean says it seems like a jerky thing to do, to reverse people’s wishes, Sam warns him that there is always a “price tag”. So, they have to find out what’s behind it, since whatever the spell is, it’s probably not harmless.
The owner of the place comes over and tells Dean he can’t eat “outside food” in the restaurant, so Dean pulls out one of his fake badges and threatens the guy with health code violations for a “rat infestation”. This gets the restaurant temporarily closed and the brothers an in to have the fountain drained. Still not convinced that the spell is evil, Dean tempts Sam with the idea of wishing for something like going back to his old life, but Sam insists it’s too late. The only thing he wants now is Lilith dead (Bet he wishes now he could take that one back!).
Here’s an odd thing – Dean never wishes that he had never gone to Hell, not even with the proviso that Sam lived, anyway.
Dean then finds an odd, ancient gold coin in the bottom, which he can’t get out, even with a pry bar and a sledgehammer (When the restaurant owner protests, Sam threatens him with a nonexistent health regulation). Instead, the sledgehammer ends up in splinters. The brothers determine that the coin is magical and is protecting the well. Sam takes a rubbing of the coin and hands it off to Dean to research, then goes back to the women’s health club, where the invisible guy, having learned nothing from his previous experience, continues to stalk women. Sam grabs him and gets a red-headed, naked teen who can turn the power on and off. Sam calls him out on having made a wish to turn invisible, just so he could be a peeping tom, then orders him to remain visible and go put on some clothes.
Across town, Dean is walking down the street when he sees the bullied kid (whose eyes are have dark circles under them, as if he hasn’t slept) chasing the bullies, who look scared. He even threatens Dean. Afterward, Dean gets food poisoning and returns to the brothers’ motel to be sick. It turns out the sandwich was contaminated with E coli. When Sam returns, a woozy Dean admits that the wishes “turn bad.” Even so, he’s done his homework on the coin. It’s from Babylon and it’s “cursed”. Dean found a legend online about it, which says that it was created by the cult of a Babylonian dragon goddess of primordial chaos, Tiamat. The first wish “turns on the well.” After that, anyone who makes a wish by throwing a coin into the well gets it, but the wishes always go terribly wrong. Some of the towns where the coin has been turned on have even been completely destroyed. The only way to turn it back off is to “find the first wisher,” the person who turned the coin on, get that person to take the coin back out, and turn it back off that way.
Meanwhile, the giant teddy bear tries to shoot himself, but all that comes out of the back of his head is fluff, so he freaks out.
Back at the motel, Dean is whimpering his way through a dream of Hell when Sam wakes him up. Dean immediately goes for a shot of booze. When Sam calls him on it, and asks him again about Hell, Dean deflects him with getting back to the hunt. Reluctantly, Sam says he’s looked at all of the wishers they know about and can’t find the first one. Glancing through the paper, Dean finds the couple from Lucky Chen’s – Wesley Mondale and Hope Lynn Casey are getting married after knowing each other a month. That’s the earliest one by a country mile.
At Wesley’s house, he’s napping through the credits of Captain Blood when Hope comes in with an entire cooked chicken that she made just to make him happy. Uncomfortable with her manically devoted behaviour, Wesley tries to suggest that she start doing things that used to make her happy (and not just him happy), but this only confuses her, turning her alternately suicidally hysterical and then amorous. The weird scene is broken up by the doorbell. It’s Sam and Dean, pretending to be florists for the wedding. While Hope goes off to find her patterns, the brothers talk to Wesley, discovering he has a coin collection and intimidating him into admitting he dropped the coin into the fountain.
After Hope returns and starts making out with an uncomfortable Wes right there (in response to Dean asking her how she met Wesley), the brothers watch in creepy fascination (literally putting their heads together). When she goes into the kitchen (eavesdropping, unbeknownst to the three of them), the brothers get Wesley to admit that he got the coin from his grandfather, who had found it while a soldier in North Africa. The grandfather had warned him about its powers and never to use it, but in a fit of despair after the old man died, Wesley did. When the brothers threaten him if he doesn’t come back with them and reverse the spell (to which Hope reacts in horror), Wesley is at first defiant – until Dean pulls out his pistol.
On the way back to Lucky Chen’s, Sam grills Wesley on his unhealthy relationship with Hope and Dean accidentally runs over Invisible Boy (who, frankly, deserved even worse), while Wesley complains that the brothers don’t understand how he feels because they are good-looking and fortune smiles on them. Predictably, the brothers think this is hilarious. Sam just tells Wesley that their lives suck and Dean says they have to fight for what little they have, already. In an interesting twist, the brothers don’t bother to appeal to any sense of altruism of heroism Wesley might have. Instead, they tell him bluntly that nobody ever gets what they want, that everyone goes through life miserable, and that he just needs to suck it up and do the right thing.
As they enter town, all hell starts to break loose, with the bullied kid, Todd, knocking over a car with his bullies in it, using his superstrength (Having apparently watched a few too many Superman movies, he keeps screaming, “KNEEL BEFORE TODD!”). It seems Todd found out about the well from Audrey. This could be just the progression of the spell, but more likely, it’s a defense mechanism within the spell to prevent the first wisher from reaching the well. When Dean goes off to deal with Todd, his gets his ass kicked, even as he tries to first reason with and then restrain the kid. Meanwhile, Sam strongarms Wesley to the restaurant, but is struck dead by lightning out of a clear blue sky, right out of his shoes. Horrified by all the increasing chaos (which the brothers were just warning him would happen), Wesley goes inside and discovers Hope standing by the well. Terrified of losing their “love”, she wished Sam dead.
Wesley (who is the only one unaffected and unharmed by the spell, as if it can’t touch him) finally understands what the brothers were trying to tell him and takes the coin out. At that point, Todd loses his superstrength and Sam comes back to life, while Hope completely forgets what she’s doing there or who Wesley is. She walks away, leaving Wesley heartbroken.
After Wesley hands the coin over to Sam and the brothers melt it down, everything reverts. Audrey’s bear turns back into just a toy bear (though with a big patch on the back of his head) and her parents return from Bali with sunburn. The lottery ticket is ruled a fake. And so on. Dean does get a little happy wave of thanks from Audrey, though. Todd also gets sort of a happy ending – despite being nearly throttled, Dean is still generous enough to pretend that Todd is still superstrong in front of the bullies, so that they’ll never bother him again.
Before the brothers leave, Dean finally admits to Sam that he remembers Hell, every bit of it, but refuses to give Sam any details. He says that it won’t help because it is stuck inside his head forever and it can’t be healed, so he doesn’t want to discuss it, anymore. Then he walks away down the long pier. After a moment, Sam follows him. At a distance.
Review: Despite a story possessing a nastier heart than a rotten, moldy apple with a zombie worm in it, “Wishful Thinking” is a twisted fan favourite – and deservedly so. Maybe I’m just a very sick individual, but I laughed my ass off the entire time that bipolar teddy bear was onscreen, including Dean’s totally weirded out reaction to it and its attempted suicide. Some of the other stuff is a little uglier. Ben Edlund and Lou Bollo’s treatment of the “relationship” the hero/villain of the story has with Hope is questionable, to put it kindly, since it’s basically magical roofie rape, though at least Wesley is suitably and poetically punished by having her forget all about him, while she is given some merciful amnesia about the whole thing (Not that I’m thrilled by the show’s ongoing use of that misogynistic TV genre trope of giving female characters amnesia just to get the writers out of a plot corner). The young kid who is going around peeping at women in the shower is also beyond creepy, but…oh, hell, that’s the whole point. This is intentional Non-Con City. And it’s not as though male characters haven’t been roofied, either. Like, oh, Sam in “Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!”.
The writers seem to be telling us that, not only would the contradictory nature of the wishes and their evil (well, more chaotic than specifically evil) source cause all the wishes to turn bad, most of them would involve exploiting and screwing over somebody else, anyway, or at least giving into very dark motives, like seeing revenge on a bunch of bullies. So, it’s not a terribly big surprise that it all goes so horribly wrong for all of them. The karmic nature of such curses in horror stories makes it inevitable. There’s just no such thing as a free lunch in horror.
Even the little girl’s innocent wish to have her teddy bear come alive so she can have someone to hang out with never takes into consideration how the newly alive and sentient creature might feel about it all. That she’s innocent (derived from a Latin word that literally means “not knowing”) of the ramifications of her wish doesn’t make the wish any less harmful, just as her parents didn’t intentionally seek to abandon her (let alone end up in the vacation from hell) when they wished for a trip to Bali.
In the context of all this, Dean’s great-sandwich-turned-very-bad is easily the most benign of the wishes involved (and it’s a huge, perhaps intentional, irony that nobody ends up permanently dead at the end of the whole exercise). Sam’s is one of the darkest, but he never actually makes it, so points to him for that. I’ll admit that’s a bit of a stretch when you consider that this episode immediately leads into “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, but since Sam, here, is very little like the way he is in that episode, and I like both the writing of “Wishful Thinking” and Sam’s portrayal in it far better than either thing in “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, I’m willing to give Sam an extra pass or two in this episode, just for that. The dick who will later what he finds out here, and at the end of “Heaven and Hell”, is not present in this episode. Thank God.
This is the first episode where we find out that Dean has a very serious and non-magical drinking problem, though it’s not the first episode in which that problem was introduced. That was “Yellow Fever”. But “Yellow Fever” wrapped it up inside Dean’s general ghost sickness and we were not given a definitive answer about his drinking until this one. In this one, he’s pretty out of control.
He’s also very funny and oddly heroic, getting in some great one-liners (and expressions) and “saving” a little kid from some bullies, the effects of the curse and the kid’s own darker nature (“KNEEL BEFORE TODD!”). That doesn’t change the fact that he’s very ill and that “Wishful Thinking” consequently ends on a very dark note, with Dean shoving Sam away via a corrosive confession and walking off, Sam too cowed to do more than walk several steps behind (though he does follow Dean). This is emphasised most strongly in the parallels between Dean and the teddy bear. The drinking, the predilection for porn, the obsession with feeling guilt and angst over all the evil in the world, the inability to just end it all (because he’s effectively immortal)…sound like anybody we know? Yeah.
Watching this episode, I’m struck once again by how I can easily buy that Dean is mad as a hatter, even on his best days, but I can’t buy at all that Sam is crazy, even when he’s hallucinating a full-out flashback to the Cage. While Sam certainly has his issues and self-delusions, I can’t buy the madness angle. Maybe it works best here to look at legal definitions of insanity, where, in order to be ruled innocent by reason of insanity, you have to be so delusional that you have no clue what you did was wrong. There’s such a thing as “temporary insanity”, but if you look up how many people get off (i.e., end up in a mental hospital instead of jail), even when they’re broadcasting permanently from Mars, you’ll see how a few high-profile cases have seriously skewed the perception of the real-world odds of winning such a defense.
Sam is not (and never has been) that delusional. The hallucinations are always temporary and when Sam comes out of them, he would know that whatever he did under their influence to some innocent would still be wrong. Innocent through temporary insanity? Sure. But Sam always knows that there’s a thin line between killing a monster and killing a human. And even when he was going after Lilith (or drinking demon blood, whether by the flask or the gallon), he knew, deep down, that those warnings he was getting from everyone were true and justified, that there was no way it would end well. He just kept telling himself that the ends justified the means. As creepy as it sounds, that’s not insane – it’s just human nature.
Dean, on the other hand…hoo boy, where to start? How about the fact that Dean never had the acculturation that Sam, John and even Mary did, where he was clearly shown that one should question killing monsters that looked human. John trained that out of himself and deliberately never raised his sons to learn the difference (What’s amazing is that they did not grow up to be either psychopaths or sociopaths). Sam learned it from other humans in his big desire to be “normal”. Dean has always been so far off the reservation that he has no clue about the difference. He has had to teach it to himself, slowly and painfully, through experiential learning that often involved the deaths of those human-like monsters. Yet, we also know that Dean operates out of a very strong moral centre, one far stronger than that of other humans (or even non-humans), in which he attacks human-like monsters out of a desire to protect innocents and the helpless. So, he’s not evil. Far from it. But he’s not sane, either. If you or I turned into a monster and threatened humans, he’d kill us without very much intestinal discomfort over how human we did or didn’t look. We’d only need to be dangerous and non-human (and these days, even humans can end up dead if they’re dangerous and outside of human law enough). That makes Dean very dangerous to those around him and that’s why he’s not sane, whereas Sam (Lucifer Road Show, regardless) is. Sam instinctively recognises the difference, the line, and always has. Dean has had to teach this basic human reality to himself and is not likely to intuit it the way most humans do, ever.
Looking at “Wishful Thinking”‘s mythology, I think the curse itself is very clever and pretty-well-researched in a way that makes the spin sound logical (Albeit not quite in line with the mythology, it’s something you’d expect from the Mythos-like acolytes of an ancient goddess of chaos). Granted, it could have been explored in more depth, and the incidental connection to the Chinese restaurant was disappointingly vague, what with all the shenanigans with the wishes being shoved in and not always clearly linked to the original mythology of the curse. Not to mention, the great focus in Chinese mythology on luck. But you could say that of just about every one-shot MOTW in this show.
It’s also nice to see such a very ancient goddess invoked. Tiamat is one of those primordial gods that may or may not represent an older pantheon, now discredited by either being killed off as part of the old order or recast as demons in the new one. In this case, Tiamat was a dragon goddess of the ocean who represented chaos (She was also a demiurge – a creator god). Marduk, the king of the gods in Babylonian mythology, fought and killed her, then made the world out of her dismembered body. So, throwing a coin into a fountain (earth and water) and invoking her would be pretty powerful mojo, especially in a town on the ocean.
Finally, there’s Ted Raimi as Wesley. The show doesn’t always write to get the full value out of its stuntcasting, but in this case, it works very well. Raimi, like Canadian actor Rick Moranis, is frequently typecast as a wimpy, nebbishy guy, but he’s really quite a talented actor. Wesley is almost completely unsympathetic on paper, whining out this or that excuse about why he magically roofie-raped some poor girl who didn’t even know him, but Raimi turns it around with some adept subtext of genuine discomfort about how this wasn’t at all what he had in mind. He just wanted Hope to see him and appreciate him and love him for himself – not to be obsessively attracted to him to the point of misery for them both. He also brings genuine emotion to the scene where Wesley talks about his grandfather, so that we really do believe Wesley misses the guy and made a stupid decision, in part, out of grief and loneliness. And even though I wanted to smack Wesley a couple of times, and thought it fitting that Hope completely forgot about him, I still felt badly for Wesley at the end because the kicked-puppy look on Raimi’s face was so affecting.
Plus, he had good chemistry with Ackles and Jared Padalecki. On the one hand, I didn’t care much for Wesley and don’t see exactly how they could bring him back. On the other hand, I do wish they’d bring Raimi back, because I bet he’d be fun.
Sam: Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t remember a thing from your time down under.
Dean: I don’t remember a thing from my time down under. I don’t remember, Sam!
Sam: Here, look at this – up in Concrete, Washington, eyewitness reports of a ghost that’s been haunting the showers of a women’s health facility. [Dean spits out his beer.] The victim claims the ghost threw her down a flight of stairs…I can see you’re very interested.
Dean: Women…showers…we gotta save these people!
Mrs. Armstrong: I’m a natural sensitive.
Sam: I can sense that about you, Candace, that whole…sensitive thing.
Dean: Gotta say, I’m pretty disappointed.
Sam: You wanted to save naked women.
Dean: Damn right I wanted to save some naked women!
Sam: Every hunter worth his salt knows Bigfoot’s a hoax.
Dean: Maybe somebody’s pumping LSD into the town water supply.
Sam [seeing an unknown track]: That…is a big foot.
Dean: Amaretto and Irish Cream. [Bigfoot]’s a girl-drink drunk.
Dean: [Maybe Bigfoot is] some kind of alcohol-o-porno addict. Kinda like a deep-woods Duchovny.
Dean [to a little girl with a big problem]: We’re teddy bear doctors!
Audrey: All I ever wanted was a teddy which was big, real and talked. But now he’s sad all the time – not “ouch” sad but “ouch in the head” sad – says weird stuff, and smells like the bus!
Teddy Bear: Whyyyy?! Why am I here?
Audrey: For tea parties!
Sam: How…I…how are we gonna kill this damned bear?
Dean: How? We shoot it? Burn it?
Sam: I dunno. Both?
Dean: We don’t even know if that’s gonna work. I mean, I don’t want some giant, flaming, pissed-off teddy on our hands.
Dean: What would Sammy wish for?
Sam: Lilith’s head on a plate. Bloody.
Restaurant Owner: Hey, hey, hey! What is this? You’re gonna break my fountain!
Sam: Sir, I don’t wanna have to slap you with a 44-slash-16, but I will.
Dean: The wishes turn bad, Sam. The wishes turn very bad!
Sam: The wishes [from the well] get twisted. You ask for a talking teddy –
Dean: – you get a bipolar nutjob.
Hope [robotically to Wesley]: I love you more than anything!
Wesley: Aren’t you the guys from the health department?
Sam: And florists on the side.
Dean: Plus FBI. And on Thursdays, we’re teddy bear doctors.
Wesley: I wished that [Hope] would love me more than anything.
Sam: And how is that going? Does that seem healthy to you?
Wesley: Well, it’s a hell of a lot better than when she didn’t even know I was alive.
Wesley: “Be careful what you wish for.” You know who says that? Good-looking jerks like you guys, the ones who got it so easy because you happen to be handsome.
Sam and Dean together: ‘Easy’?!
Wesley: Yeah. Women look at you, right? They notice you?
Sam: Believe us, we do not have it easy.
Dean: We are miserable. We never get what we want. In fact, we have to fight, tooth-and-nail, just to keep whatever it is we got.
Todd: KNEEL BEFORE TODD!
Hope: I love you more than anything.
Wesley: Stop saying that – STOP.
Hope: But I do. More than me. More than life.
Next Week: Adventures in Babysitting [New Episode]: Sam tries to help a soiled dove with a truck stop problem, while Dean babysits a young girl, the daughter of a missing hunter [Ian Tracey].
You can watch (or download) this episode, in standard or HD definition, on Amazon.com.