Since my colleague Mo Ryan decided to step back from recapping Supernatural, I'll be pulling double duty between this and its Friday-night companion, Nikita -- at least until sleep deprivation gets the better of me.
The episode before mid-season hiatus ended with one hell of a cliffhanger, leaving our beloved Bobby holding on to life by a thread, with an irritatingly persistent reaper offering him two equally unappealing choices: pass on, or hang around to eventually become an angry spirit, the likes of which he's spent his life hunting.
The show deliberately avoided revealing which option he chose, opening instead with Sam and Dean in the weeks following their father-figure's death. We don't know whether Bobby was buried or cremated, or whether he's potentially brain-dead but being kept alive by machines following his last flat-line, and that ambiguity obviously leaves room for Bobby's return, either in ghost or comatose form, if not a proper resurrection.
A good argument for the former option came with the disappearance of Dean's beer -- a small part of me was hoping that it might somehow be Castiel's intervention, but since we still don't know whether the angel will be returning with his powers intact or as a human or Leviathan, Bobby's overprotective streak seems to be a more likely option. No matter who is looking out for Dean, it's a good thing someone is, since it appears that he's doomed to follow in his father's footsteps, clearly consumed with taking revenge and trying to drown his sorrows in the meantime.
While I've always enjoyed Supernatural for its mythology rather than for its monster-of-the-week episodes, occasionally it's nice to return to what attracted us to the show in Season 1 -- seeing Sam and Dean following leads, putting together clues and making a nostalgic "wall of weird" the way John Winchester used to do.
Although the vetala storyline was the least interesting aspect of the episode, the monsters that the Winchesters were hunting were actually fairly incidental to character development the episode set up, and those moments of growth -- especially for Dean -- were why the episode worked so well for me. Lee and Krissy's story was an obvious mirror of Sam and Dean's childhood with John, with the Winchesters clearly hoping that it was possible for another family to avoid the pain and suffering that they've endured in their quest for vengeance.
A number of episodes this season have delved into Sam's psyche following the destruction of his wall, but Dean's motivations and feelings have been left largely unexplored -- we see the products of all the stress he's under in his drinking and lack of sleep, but he's never coped with his pain by talking it out as Sam does, which means that neither brother can really help the other through their grief this time, short of sticking around for each other and waiting for the inevitable meltdown.
But through his interactions with Frank and Krissy this week, Dean was finally able to address some of his issues, albeit obliquely, and gave us some hint as to his current mental state. Frank's advice -- "Decide to be fine until the end of the week; make yourself smile because you're alive and that's your job... Then do it again the next week" -- frankly sucks, since Dean is once again repressing his emotions instead of dealing with the real issues he's facing. His sharpness when Frank attempted to reminisce about "one time with Bobby" signals that he's still in denial, and their conversation while doing surveillance seemed to hint that Dean still wants to quit the life, but that he feels obligated to keep hunting with Sam so that he doesn't abandon his brother.
Still, despite his protestations, Dean doesn't actually repress all that well; whether it was taking out his pain and helplessness on Sam's face or the Impala's trunk, or selling his soul to bring his brother back in Season 2, historically, he's never been able to ignore his grief for long. For now, he might use it as the fuel to drive him in pursuit of Dick Roman, but as we saw in the gut-wrenching final moments of the episode, he's still having trouble faking a smile through this loss. It really is a travesty that Emmy voters are so resistant to genre shows, because both Ackles and Padalecki have been doing excellent work for years now, and Ackles' nuanced performance in this episode was some of his best this season.
Usually, when it comes to major character loss, we take Sam's grief for granted because he's more emotionally grounded and better able to express himself, while Dean internalizes, but I hope we'll still have a chance to explore Sam's own feelings about losing Bobby at some point. There are only so many minutes in an episode, and both brothers did admit that they'd rather focus on work than wallowing, but since the Sera Gamble did promise that we'll see a resurgence of Sam's hell memories and hallucinations in the second half of the season, I'd like to see a little more insight into his own grieving process then.
Though some fans hate episodes which see the brothers apart, if they're done correctly, they can be a great illustration of how capable both boys are as solo hunters, although the showdown with the vetalas was further proof that family should always stick together, and that the Winchesters are stronger as a team, not at cross-purposes.
If it wasn't for Krissy's preparation, all three of the adults would've been dead, and I was thrilled to see a well-written and competent female character, especially since she was also a child. Some of my favorite episodes have involved Dean demonstrating his rapport with kids, like "Dead in the Water" and "Something Wicked," so Krissy's inclusion definitely strengthened the narrative similarities between "Adventures in Babysitting" and Season 1. Sure, she was a little precocious (she definitely reminded me of Michael in "Something Wicked") but Madison McLaughlin didn't overplay it or make Krissy too screechy, and I bought it when she managed to kill Sally.
It's obvious that Bobby's death is going to reverberate throughout the season, and I commend the writers for biting the bullet (no pun intended) and following through with his death. Opinion was split following "Death's Door," and a number of critics (including yours truly) weighed in on that over at TVOverMind but I found myself sitting firmly on the fence when it came to justifying Bobby's demise and possible return.
On the one hand, the producers admitted that this season would take a stripped down, back-to-basics approach, with all of Sam and Dean's old tricks and hiding places rendered useless. The synopsis for the season even warned that "all [the Winchesters] will have is each other," so we probably should've been anticipating the loss of Bobby and Castiel from the start. Still, forewarned is not necessarily forearmed, and many critics (including Mo) have complained about the increasing bleakness of the Winchesters' world as their allies are systematically destroyed. It might be realistic in a hunter's line of work, but it doesn't exactly make for enjoyable TV.
We genre fans are a passionate, vocal bunch, and though Sam and Dean originally started out like Mulder and Scully or Xena and Gabrielle -- a core pair that weren't about to be written off the show, even if they occasionally died (okay, so Mulder did eventually get written off, let's not nitpick) -- following Season 5, it's probably safe to assume that some fans grew to see Castiel and Bobby as characters almost as integral to the fabric of the show as Sam and Dean.
Team Free Will became the "Supernatural" equivalent of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" Scooby Gang, and no matter how evil Joss Whedon could often be to his secondary characters, we all felt fairly secure in the knowledge that he would never kill off Buffy's besties. Because of that, I can understand why some fans are heartbroken over the loss of Cas in 702, compounded by the loss of Bobby; over the past few seasons, both have seemed untouchable, brought back to life by angelic intervention even when they were messily dispatched for getting in an evildoer's way.
On the other hand, that seeming invulnerability makes a good case for why Bobby had to die at the end of "Death's Door." I didn't bat an eye when Lucifer snapped Bobby's neck in 522, nor when he exploded Castiel like a bag of chunky soup, because I was certain both would be resurrected either by the episode's end or at the beginning of Season 6. The show's creators have always joked that no-one stays dead on "Supernatural," and as a result, death has lost both its sting and its emotional resonance over the past few seasons. "Death's Door" was a perfect showcase, not only for Jim Beaver's under-appreciated talent, but for Bobby's undeniable importance in the Winchesters' lives. It was a poignant, powerful 43 minutes of TV, and to have miraculously restored Bobby to life this week would've done a great disservice to both the character and Beaver, and once again undermined the emotional payoff of the writing.
While Bobby has always provided an important emotional tether for the brothers, giving them both someone to talk to about the things they can't say to each other (especially in Dean's case), I've often felt that Bobby's presence has made the writers -- and by association, Sam and Dean -- lazy in later seasons, since the boys no longer need to research or use their own deductive skills when they can call Bobby up for a book or spell to help them save the day. If Sam and Dean are truly to take a back-to-basics approach more reminiscent of Season 1, it's arguable that Cas and Bobby, who were always around to help the boys out of a jam, had to be taken out of the equation, even temporarily. That's not to say that I don't want to see both characters back at some point -- I adore both, and I'm unspeakably glad that we're soon to see Castiel return, but I also want the Winchesters to remember what made them excellent hunters in the first place, and for the writers to stop taking convenient shortcuts to help the boys solve cases. I think I would've preferred the Leviathans just kidnapping Castiel and Bobby all season, rather than killing them, but I guess I just want to have my supporting cast cake and eat it too.
Now, whether you agree with the show going in that direction will probably be largely dependent on how attached you were to Bobby or Castiel and how much you enjoyed the on-the-road, pure Sam and Dean approach of Season 1. After seven seasons, it's sadly going to be impossible to satisfy the entirety of the show's loyal fanbase, and I'd be interested to know how many of you do feel satisfied with the show's direction and how many of you miss the "Team Free Will" vibe of seasons four, five and six. I've been disappointed with a number of episodes this season, either for pacing or characterization issues, but this week's episode, along with tightly-plotted entries like "Meet The New Boss," "How To Win Friends" and even "The Mentalists" as an old-school case of the week, give me hope that the show is capable of regaining its equilibrium and recapturing some of the spark that got us all hooked on "Supernatural" in the first place.
The line of the week has to go to Dean: "Relax, it's a field, not the Death Star. Dick's at a TED conference -- it's all over the Huffington Post." Thanks for the shout-out, Dean! (Yes, we're totally biased.)
Honorable mentions: "You're one tinfoil hat away from a rubber room."
"I'm a fun guy, I'm actually awesome."
Frank's paranoia always leads to a laugh or two:
"Oh, sure, you're not a Leviathan. Dick Roman's not a Leviathan, Gwyneth Paltrow's not a Leviathan..."
"There's no pill for my situation, sweetie-pop."
"Well then, go out and kill something, or whatever you kids do to blow off steam."
And the most obvious statement of the week goes to Krissy: "Your brother's the size of a car."
"Supernatural" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. EST on The CW.