Psych, “The Polarizing Express” and “Dead Bear Walking”

Anytime there are two new episodes of Psych in one night, that is a good night. And even though last night’s double-shot, “The Polarizing Express” and “Dead Bear Walking” were not particularly great episodes of the series, there is definitely something interesting going on with Psych that I figured would be worth talking about a little bit here.

I love Psych, but my only frustration with it is how Shawn is written. I get that the series is supposed to be a comedy, he’s a goofball, etc., but in previous seasons, the finales would often make it seem like there was a turning point for him, and then bring it right back to the normal Shawn the next season or whatever. I know a lot of that has to do with the USA formula where big moments happen in the final minutes of finales or mid-season finales, but at a certain point, I kind of hoped that Shawn would grow up, just a bit.

And this summer when it seemed as if that were happening during “Shawn 2.0” and “One, Maybe Two Ways Out,” I suspected it was just usual USA mid-season ramping up. That’s what these damn series do. I never thought Shawn would continue on this path of slightly maturation and I never thought he and Jules would finally give it a shot. Well, the first episode back proved me to be wrong on the second count and although neither of these episodes is that great, they actually do make some headway on my first concern about Shawn.

Even after “The Polarizing Express” ended, I didn’t suspect anything substantial would happen. sure, Shawn kinda-sorta saw that he needed to treat people better, especially his dad and Gus, but I mean it was a Christmas episode with a “It’s A Wonderful Life”-style story. These things happen in every series at a certain point, and even during those bits, Shawn wasn’t taking things too seriously. At the end, he had kind of smartened up a bit, particularly in reference to Gus, and it was a nice little moment. But again, that’s one self-contained episode. I did not expect it to carry over.

And somehow, it kind of did. “Dead Bear Walking” is one of the goofiest episodes Psych has done this season, but the cases with animals are always kind of fun. Everyone loves polar bears. The documentary framing device led to predictable, if not enjoyable territory, but by the episode’s end, there was Shawn, doing something really nice for Lassie. It’s not as if Shawn has ever really hated Lassie and has certainly done some nice things for him in the past, but in “Dead Bear,” he actually takes note of an emotional situation and does his best to make sure Lassie looks good in his younger sister’s eyes. S1-S3 Shawn would have not done these things.

Thus, Psych seems finally willing to show us a Shawn that while often goofy and immature, is still not a complete idiot. And more importantly, he is smart enough to recognize when the people around him need his help or support, which is not something you could always say about him. This is a nice development and something the series should continue to pursue, particularly because it has also been so willing to let Gus be a complete goofball himself lately. It’s not as if Gus and Shawn have completely changed roles or anything, but the series has done a nice job of showing how they’re respective personalities and qualities are actually rubbing off on the other.

Of course, the fact that these two episodes weren’t overwhelming good might poke a hole in my desire to see Psych make Shawn more like a human being instead of an unaware joke machine. I think these episodes might just be part of the balancing act the series is going to have to work on moving forward, but I hope the writers continue to let Shawn actually develop because it’s surprisingly interesting to watch. It’s not great art, but it’s a nice little development for a series that hasn’t really changed at all in five years.

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