Nightshifter Review

By John Keegan

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The mark of a strong television series is the ability to tell relatively isolated stories without losing sight of the big picture. Even successful shows like “X-Files” failed on that basic principle. Over the past few years, however, writers like JMS and Joss Whedon have demonstrated that working within a detailed and comprehensive mythology is not as limiting as some producers would like to believe.
Kripke started the show off on the right foot, and the second season has continued in the right direction. In this case, the episode was relative self-contained. One might argue that it was something of a bottle show, but it didn’t follow the conventions of that format in every aspect. Instead, it focused on perception: who is the real monster trapped in the bank with the civilians?

Other writers might have dropped the idea of the brothers as fugitives from the law, using it for one or two episodes as necessary and ignoring it as an inconvenience the rest of the time. This writing staff is using it as a surgical tool. In terms of the story, Dean and Sam have been forced into isolation from the rest of the hunters, thanks to Sam and his ability. This takes away a number of options from Dean, making his promise in the previous episode particularly complicated.

In this episode, the writers pay off a long-standing conceit: how could two young men roam the country with a cache of weapons and a string of fake IDs, in the era of the Patriot Act? Now we have an answer, and a more definitive one than seen in “The Usual Suspects”. Federal law enforcement is well aware of their history, and they are seen as dangerous and amoral predators. They’ve been playing the rogue since the very beginning, but the game is a lot more serious now.

The net effect is that the pressure on Dean and Sam increases dramatically. Any wrong move will draw the wrong kind of attention. Since other hunters would find themselves in the same crosshairs, like Gordon in “Hunted”, they might be less likely to step in and help them, even if they believe in Sam’s ability to resist demonic control. As a result, working each new case should be harder, forcing the brothers to consider the consequences of each and every move.

That would be bad enough, but should Sam begin to slip into darker territory, the resulting attention could be devastating. Dean’s ability to handle Sam’s behavior would be tempered by the need to avoid attention from the law. As self-contained as this episode might seem, it serves to add another layer of complication into the big picture. There’s every reason to believe that the FBI agent featured in this episode will be important to the season finale.

The writers solidify the importance of this episode as a step in the isolation of the Brothers Winchester by tying it directly to “The Usual Suspects”. The audience is reminded by the appearance of another shape-shifter that there was a previous incident that left Dean on the Most Wanted list. That makes it easier to recognize the escalation of their legal situation. It’s a simple but clever way to weave this thread into the overall tapestry.

The character of Ronald was especially important because it gives the audience a new perspective. From a certain point of view, Ronald is a madman spouting about killing a creature hiding in plain sight, tossing out bizarre theories and brandishing major firepower. The hostages have every reason to think he’s crazy, even if the Brothers Winchester know he has much of the situation worked out.

However, from the point of view of the FBI, how do the brothers look? They run around the country, telling people about demons and monsters, violating laws and burial rights on a regular basis. They toss out bizarre theories and carry enough weapons to take down a federal building. Ronald is a minor annoyance compared to the Brothers Winchester, and it’s no surprise that the FBI considers them to be the “monsters inside that bank”.

So the episode accomplished two important tasks. First and foremost, it increased the pressure on Sam and Dean, giving them less room to maneuver as things continue to get more complicated with the growing war. Equally important, there’s a long look at how the brothers are perceived by the world at large. Both ideas challenge the comfort zone of the audience, and the result is a solid and entertaining hour.


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