After last week’s cliffhanger, “Right Turn or Left for Dead” opens with Shawn Spencer at a literal crossroads with his girlfriend Juliet, best friend Gus, his dad Henry and the Santa Barbara Police Department. Juliet’s rejection at the closure of “Deez Nups” serves to haunt him – “I feel like a wet piece of toilet paper,” he tells Gus in one memorable scene – and Shawn has no choice but to give his girlfriend the space she desires and leaves Lassiter’s wedding celebration alone.
While taking a cab to Gus’ place, Shawn literally runs into a brutally beaten Swedish woman. The mild concussion he receives in the resultant quick stop serves as a gateway to self-recrimination and doubt, and it causes him to envision a world where Juliet never donned his jacket at the reception, a world where she doesn’t know he’s not psychic and they’re very happy…but a world where the girl he saved shows up on Woody’s slab in the SBPD morgue as a jane doe.
“Right Turn or Left for Dead” hinges on a plot device that’s not often used in weekly television - a multi-act, single episode split continuity. Psych has a penchant for both loopy genre tributes and serious character-driven drama, and “RToLfD”’s central conceit is ideal to a show used to exploring such a complex plot structure without getting overly bogged down in the tangled threads of its own story. Does the episode succeed entirely in entertaining without confusing its audience? Well, things grow a tad murky at the tail end of the show, but an emotional final scene between James Roday’s Shawn and Maggie Lawson’s Juliet keeps the viewer invested in its unfolding events right up to the last Psych Out.
Aside from the strong hook provided by the conflict between Shawn and Juliet, the show throws in several amusing sub-plots that keep its signature sense of humor alive and well and on the screen. The best of them features Shawn and Juliet giving Carlton and his new bride a basset hound, which he first disdains, then takes to carrying around while cooing to it like a newborn child. Keep an eye out for Jeffrey Tambour, who makes another appearance as Juliet’s stepfather Lloyd in one of the continuities.
While recent episodes have re-explored horror and screwball comedy tropes, “Right Turn or Left for Dead” brings the show its first gripping, straight bit of mystery-driven crime since this season’s “Juliet Takes a Luvvah.” One wants Shawn to deliver justice to Elin, and the final twist to her story provides a true jolt.
Still, the MVP of the episode is undoubtedly James Roday, and if he hasn’t already prepared to ship out this episode as part of his Emmy reel, he should do so immediately. Funny, vulnerable, and portraying Shawn’s broken with aching sincerity, it’s hard to take your eyes off of him. Shawn may have had more evenly-written encounters or funnier moments, but that final scene, with his soul lying open and bare for all to see, he has never seemed more poignant.
Overall, “Right Turn or Left for Dead” is a rich experience. There have been complaints aplenty lately from the fandom lately; that Psych has become too dramatic, and that the Shawn/Juliet relationship has either swallowed the show whole or suffered the “unnecessary, show-changing” blow of Juliet’s learning her boyfriend’s secret. I encourage every single one of them to watch the last ten minutes of this episode, where the show spells out for you why Juliet deserved to know the truth, and why withholding the truth from her at this point in their relationship would be utterly ludicrous.
If you like your Psych to lean more toward the comedy side of the comedy-drama median, this won’t be your episode. But if you like your dramady poignant, your mystery sharp, and your humor sweet, then you’ll enjoy “Right Turn or Left for Dead”.