Last year I had zero feedback on my "Psych" Shitmas post so, I figured it best to double down and go balls deep with Season 5, Episode 14: The Polarizing Express. A buddy of mine used to tease that "Scrubs" was the best show nobody watches. Well it is my opinion that "Psych" is the best show nobody has ever even heard of. If you bring it up in casual conversation, or on a mediocre podcast such as Acid Pop Cult, your friends, or co-host Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon, will softly roll their eyes and indulge you while you explain a plot point or pineapple gag, all the while wondering to themselves, "how the fuck does this virgin have three kids."
As mentioned before, The Polarizing Express is deep in the heart of season 5's run and it is this writer's opinion that at this point in Psych's run the show-runners could get away with practically anything as nobody was really paying attention at the network. The show had a loyal following, had been on for a handful of years, and kept its production costs modest with a nice Canadian tax break. What were they going to do? Cancel it? I think not. No, Psych had found itself in a rare sweet spot among cable shows. And more importantly, they were having fun. This episode was co-written and directed by series star, and producer, James Roday, perhaps the biggest fan of 80s pop culture to find himself in the Hollywood system. It's beyond me why more horror and pop culture fanatics don't pray this guy makes more art. He is essentially a successful version of anyone you'll meet at a con. Wait, whoops, I just solved that riddle. Sometimes you just have to talk yourself through a theory. Am I right?
Where was I? James Roday. Got it. Aside from being a cool dude with a great head of hair, Roday is actually one helluva director, and model American. His episodes always seemed to really go for the Easter Egg quotas for fans to flip out on. The Polarizing Express was no different. In fact, I feel like Roday gets away with so much more as this is his Christmas Carol episode. Before the opening credits wrap you'll see more surprises in the dream Shawn Spencer finds himself in than something with a rather high number of cameos. I can't do all the metaphor work for you. It's late.
So the episode starts out with Shawn finding himself in a bit of hot water. It appears that the local news outlets have gained access to security footage of him breaking into a crime scene to snoop around. The talking heads wonder why a psychic would do such a thing and it looks like the criminal he helped bust is about to walk free. Well, as you can imagine, Chief Vick is not happy. Nor is Henry, Shawn's father, played by the always amazing Corbin Bernsen, who finds himself out of his job as consultant with the SBPD.
Shawn, never one to accept blame, stays a little to late at the Psych Office and begins to doze off while watching television. This is where the fun begins folks. Shawn comes to, but not really, and is confronted by none other than Tony Cox as Tony Cox as Tony Cox in Bad Santa, but if he were still Tony Cox. Still with me? Cuz I'm lost. I love this show!
As we continue through the episode we see that Tony Cox, Shawn's subconscious, is here to show Shawn what life would be like for his friends and family if he had never returned to Santa Barbara. Even though the trips through this alternate timeline are told through Shawn's self absorbed eyes, there is a bit of truth to what Shawn and Tony Cox discover about everyone. Henry would have found himself alone in the latter part of his life. Gus would probably hitch his wagon to a woman that would abuse him for his generosity. Lassie would have ended up with too much power and it would of corrupted his better intentions. Jules would have never found herself being transferred to Santa Barbara and not have had the opportunities to become the stellar detective she has become. But most importantly, Shawn would have never grown up and learn to trust those most important in his life. He would have continued to push everyone away, and ultimately found himself following in his father's footsteps toward a sad, lonely life. Merry Christmas, comedy fans!
Back in the Psych Office, Shawn wakes up with the ability to recall new information that helps him to begin to put together new leads toward catching Czarsky, the episode heavy, but first he must begin his X-Mas Apology Tour '10, starting in Guster with shows in select cities Lassietown, Julesburg, and Henryville. Unfortunately Henryville is sold out and Stub Hub is not accepting calls at this time.
With the third act in sight, all is forgiven and Shawn is back with his pals at the SBPD. Of course there is a suspenseful twist to the episode, which I won't spoil for anyone interested in checking this Christmas classic out for themselves, and the witty charm flies at you faster than Charlie Sheen outrunning Henry Rollins in a high speed chase south toward Mexico.
The thing I love most about Psych is the heart. Many shows give you thrills a minute and laughs a plenty, but it's rare for me to find a show where you want to believe these characters exist in the world and you root for their relationships. Psych has never failed me. I've never been let down by an episode. And their holiday shows, specifically their few Halloween and Christmas episodes, are real high points of the series. The Polarizing Express is no exception, and quite frankly may be the measuring stick that I hold other holiday episodes of beloved series by. I strongly urge you to check it out, even if you've never seen an episode of the series before. Maybe it is not the best jumping on point to offer, but damn it's a solid episode to a pretty fun show.
- Jeremy L. Morrison