Set up as a Halloween themed episode, writer Davy Perez’s ‘Mint Condition’ delivers just that and continues the trend set by Robert Berens with ‘The Scar‘ of being an outstanding episode. The recap reminds viewers that Dean isn’t doing so great since his freedom from being possessed by the Archangel Michael and also serves as an introduction to how ghosts work within the Supernatural setting; and, more importantly, how a Hunter can deal with them. This does rather telegraph that the antagonist is going to be a ghost but it doesn’t detract in any way from the overall enjoyment.
‘Mint Condition’ has a feel to it of ‘classic’ Supernatural, the earlier monster-of-the-week style offerings, but because we are into the fourteenth season of the show these don’t cause groans. Instead they make you feel nostalgic for the days when the odds weren’t stacked so high against the Winchester Brothers. There’s no subplots, no other main characters, just Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) doing what they were born to do: Saving People and Hunting Things.
Events kick off with a lone man working in a comic book store watching a horror-themed TV channel which is marathoning scary films over Halloween. The films focused on for the episode are those in the Hell Hazers franchise, clearly a reference back to the season two episode Hollywood Babylon, and it’s scary looking antagonist the Hatchet Man, David Yaeger (Barry Nerling). Stuart (Kurt Ostlund) we learn is your very stereotypical angry nerd, so much so that if we don’t know one in our own lives we’ve likely encountered someone like Stuart online. He’s told off, over the phone, by his boss Samantha (Genevieve Buechner – returning to Supernatural after appearing in the season one episode Bloody Mary) for getting into a heated argument with a customer over whether or not he could beat up Superman. The whole conversation is reminiscent of the Spaced episode where Bill Bailey’s character fires Simon Pegg’s over a Star Wars disagreement. Stuart is also stealing from the shop, which doesn’t make it that surprising when he quickly becomes the target for the unpleasantness about to occur.
Supernatural is brilliant for combining it’s scary moments with humour, having Stuart be stalked by a Thundercats collectable and then him expressing his panic over the incident in a YouTube video are just two incidences of that in this episode. This is also the link to having the Winchesters come to investigate.
Dean has been locked away in his room ever since his return from Sioux Falls a week ago and Sam is concerned about him. Determined to break his brother out of his slump, Sam brings Dean a case he know he won’t be able to resist. Killer toys. Dean is immediately excited, in that youthful gleeful way that Jensen has perfected, reducing Dean to his own special kind of nerd despite the fact that he’s a weathered Hunter. Sam’s plan works and the two of them head off.
Stuart’s luck takes a turn for the even worse and he ends up in hospital following an attack by a floating chainsaw, which also nearly impales itself in Dean’s head after he looks at a poster of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in Stuart’s room. Dean works out that they are dealing with a ghost and they split up, with Dean keeping a watch over the unconscious Stuart at the hospital and Sam going off to find out who recently died that might have it in for the angry nerd.
Sam’s investigation has him teaming up with Samantha, who Dean earlier referred to as Sam’s female double, and Dean with the other shop owner and Stuart’s friend, Dirk (Aaron Paul Stewart), who has a lot of similarities to Dean including his love of horror films. Both non-Hunters take the news that monsters are real better than most, and each of them step up to the plate when required. With Samantha’s help, Sam figures out that the ghost is the former comic shop owner who recently died and is pissed that Stuart is stealing from the shop, but it’s Samantha who works out that the item the ghost is tied to is the Batman keychain that the keys to the shop are on. Sam also gets to show off both his lock-picking and improvised bomb-making skills, which he explains as coming from having a messed up childhood. He’s not wrong.
Sam is also able to tip off Dean that the ghost is now inside the life-size figure of the Hatchet Man from the Hell Hazer films, despite the severity of the situation this sends Dean even more giddy with childlike enthusiasm. The main reason for Dean’s glee comes from a poignant moment in which he explains to Dirk why he loves watching horror films. For the most part, especially in the eighties style slashers that Hell Hazers is clearly a homage to, in these films the bad guys always lose, beaten by the hero, and it’s this knowledge that makes Dean happy. He doesn’t have that kind of assurance in his everyday life.
Clips from the fictional Hell Hazer film are strewn throughout the episode but they are most clever used toward the end when the fictional events are mirroring the actual events. The security guards in the hospital are watching the female film character getting stalked inside a hospital as the same is happening to Dirk. The episode is also packed with a multitude of horror film and gamer culture references. Puppet Master, The Legend of Zelda games, Fist of the North Star, and at one point we see a full costume for the DC character, the Red Hood. The Red Hood is obviously a call back to when Jensen voiced Jason Todd in the animated film Batman: Under the Red Hood.
Eventually, Hatchet Man is dealt with, the key-chain burned, and Stuart’s life is saved and we’re treated to another wonderful broment in the Impala as the brothers head back home. Dean thanks Sam for getting him out of his funk, and although he doesn’t think he’ll ever get over being possessed by Michael he says he’ll be on board and stop hiding away. We also finally get a confession from Sam as to why he hates Halloween.
Although there has been the gnashing of teeth on social media that the explanation was comedic rather than gut-wrenching, the fact that it comes about from something as normal as an embarrassing incident with a schoolgirl crush makes it all the more endearing. Given everything the Winchesters go through, it’s moments like these that remind us that these men are human beings just like the rest of us with relatable issues. As writers, both Berens and Perez understand what Supernatural is about and they craft great scenes which Jensen and Jared then perfect.
Yet another outstanding episode for season fourteen and I hope the trend continues with the next one.