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I like this episode a lot for the story of the three old friends. Like you said, JBB, VERY layered story and lots packed into one stand alone episode, but I thought they did a great job making it interesting and getting the audience to care for three old kooks in such short amount of time. No doubt MUCH of the reason for that are the three excellent veteran character actors in it! They REALLY bring these characters to life and giving them so much dimension.
You can really “feel” their deep and long lasting friendship. I always LOVED the little bit here they send Dean to “Chief” for info. Such mischievous thing to do for the older guys. Also leaves you wondering how they found out about that club and if they maybe had send each other there as a joke before.
I also enjoyed the clear fun the episode was poking at the overproduced Vegas-style illusionist shows. And the fake rock star mentalities of many of these showy magicians. I guess there is some type of magic act for everyone and none of it competes with REAL magic. All quite clever.
I think the immortality is LINKED to the tarot deck magic. I assumed that Charly made sure the deck was ON Jay each night he performed a death defying trick and he planted the target card on the other magicians who got killed in exchange for Jay’s safety. And at the end when Charly explains it all Jay pickpocketed the deck from Charly leaving ONE card behind, so when he stabbed himself the immortality and target were switched.
Interesting point you make about the possibly planned allegory here. I have a hard time seeing the parallels in this. I understood it more as a warning fable of “careful what you get yourself involved with and cannot control”. Of course, then we have Sam go off and do exactly the opposite at the end of the episode when he joins Ruby but I thought at was a clear sign of now deep she has her hooks in his brain already.
I also understood the conversation between Sam and Dean about “getting old vs dying young” and Sam saying he wished there was a way to end it all and for them to win as another try of Sam to get Dean to see things his way. He wants Dean to agree that going with Ruby and powering Sam up is the only way to go forward if they want to kill Lilith. To me he is trying to get validation from Dean for his choices as well as not wanting to go after Lilith without Dean. NOT saying that clearly and giving up on the argument before it is a real exchange of opinions is yet another indication that Sam is really deep into going down his own path no matter what. It’s really unsettling to see Sam pull back from Dean and only provide half-truths when asked.
I did enjoy this episode, even though it is very melancholy and sadly foreboding.