Last week, “Reaper” finally reintroduced Sam’s father to the fold. Fans cheered, as they had waited a long time to achieve some payoff to last year’s season-ending cliffhanger. And their patience was rewarded with…practical jokes. Not exactly the epic return most of us expected. While the unexpected can be a good, even great thing, I imagine many fans felt the same as me about Mr. Oliver’s return: disappointed.

In fact, Mr. Oliver’s zombie self barely factored into tonight’s episode except as a peripheral character, constantly trying to reconnect with Sam throughout the episode. But Sam had enough on his plate this week to worry about Zombie Dad. Mr. Oliver largely functioned as yet another example of this week’s thematic struggle: nature versus nurture. Think “Wuthering Heights” by way of “Ghostbusters 2” set in a faux Home Depot and you get the gist.

This week’s soul? A wannabe vampire in life, now real vampire in death. Sam and Company dispatch her quickly, in a clumsy-yet-effective ode to Buffy Summers’ Scooby Gang. But the troubles really start when they realize she’s left behind what Gladys calls an IBOH=international intentional birth out of hell. The lads take the baby home, where she’s eventually adopted by newly returned Tony. Ah, Ken Marino: a sight for sore “Reaper” eyes, ye are.

Naturally, the Devil wants a two-for-one deal, which leaves Sam in the awkward position of trying to recapture Stevie (named after Tony’s deceased lover) from an overly protective demon daddy. Ben eventually strikes upon baptism as a way to free the child from the Devil’s grip, but during the ceremony (conducted by Father Gaeta, fresh off his tour on the Galactica) the devil manages to direct Stevie’s stroller into a room containing a portal to hell. Sam apparently convinces the devil that the supposed demon child would do more harm on earth than in hell, but upon “winning” the argument, the Devil throws some cold water on Sam’s good intentions.

See, in the Devil’s mind, nature (read: weakness, depravity, the seven deadly sins, etc) always wins out. Tony, for his part, believes that nurture overcomes nature. And at the nexus of these two viewpoints, standing on a tightrope, is Sam. Tony trusts in his innate goodness, and tells Andi of Steve’s visitation at the end of Season 1. But Morgan makes sure to slither, all Daddy-like, whispering in Andi’s ear that Sam’s simply a ticking time bomb of evil waiting to go off when she least expects it.

All of this, finally, returns us to Mr. Oliver. While the apparent architect of his son’s current situation, Sam nevertheless credits him with any and all good impulses he currently possesses. And so, with Sam’s mother having kicked him out of the house permanently, looks like Mr. Oliver will chill (literally) in Sock’s garage, functioning like an undead Jiminy Cricket while Sam seeks to battle his inner demons (again, literally).

A few more tidbits from tonight’s ep:

  1. Again, while I’m not sure treating Mr. Oliver as comic relief was such a good idea, it was even worse to have Sam blindly and benignly treat his return. Having them reconcile should have taken the majority of this season, not a mere episode.
  2. Sock’s inappropriate feelings towards Kristen returned. Ugh. At least the show had Ben as our stand-in, telling him exactly how skeezy this plotline truly is. Let’s hope that vicious game of racquetball is the end, once and for all, of this plot.
  3. Liked the understated way in which Sam gives Andi explicit permission to run for the hills if she sees something in him evil. I respect that he respects her enough to have that type of moral compass.
  4. Quotes of the week: The Devil: “Looking sharp, Buffy! Looking sharp!” Sock: “No one’s going to wanna breast feed a fang baby!” Ben: “Yea, we’re a power couple.” Sock: “I already named her Magnum P.I.”

Overall, some interesting themes with less-than-interesting execution. The battle for Sam’s soul has always been at the heart of the show, and this episode only served to bring that subtext up to…well, text, I suppose. Mr. Oliver as Wacky Undead Sidekick doesn’t work for me, but hopefully they add some pathos as well as mythos to his return before season’s end.

What did you think about Mr. Oliver’s return? Will Morgan’s plan to poison Andi’s mind work? Does Sam’s biological or ideological father matter more?

Ryan’s off to play some undead badminton over at Boob Tube Dude.

Posted by:Ryan McGee