[Sorry for the delay in getting this online.  I was in NYC and am just now catching up with things.]

I would like to think that it is a high compliment to say that Jensen Ackles’ directorial debut felt like a strong, dependable addition to the Supernatural canon.  I never for a moment felt that I was being dragged out of a show I love by a first-time director intent on playing with form and showing off tricks.  Ackles demonstrated his love for the show by allowing what works to work.  At Comic-Con, he mentioned that when he said he wanted to direct an episode, the producers chose one that was light on Dean, which Ackles appreciated.  I really felt like it was a solid debut, and wouldn’t be surprised if they let him get behind the camera again.

I’m sure at this point you’re thinking that I never dislike an episode of Supernatural (not true) and if I was reviewing the show last season I might have some choice words about a few episodes, but I cannot lie. . .loved. . .this . . .episode.

Sure, it’s a bit disconcerting to have most of our time spent with Bobby rather than Sam and Dean, but I found it a refreshing break.  Besides, Bobby is family — like your favorite grumpy uncle/father-figure who you always take for granted and then wish you knew more about.  Bobby, whose life we only really see when it intersects with the boys, finally receives love from the writers, who offer us an illuminating look into the daily travails of our beloved hunter.  Unless you don’t like Bobby.  Which would be weird and wrong and I don’t want to consider it.

The episode starts one year ago, just after the apocalypse has ended.  On the telly, a newscast (with the voice of Jensen Ackles’ father, Alan) shows how violent storms in Galveston, Texas have suddenly dissipated, leaving behind still waters and cloudless skies.  Nice to have a brief mention of what happened in the world after Sam took a swan dive into hell.  The camera pans over to Bobby, who is casting a spell to summon Crowley, because now that the world has been saved, Bobby wants his soul back.  Crowley’s cocksure posture and jaunty conversation reveal what we all could guess — he’s going to weasel his way out of restoring Bobby’s soul.  Not shocking because firstly, it’s Crowley, and secondly, as we learned last week from Balthazar, souls are powerful currency.  And apart from learning that Crowley is still a tosser, we are also treated to a cool moment where we discover that the contract for Bobby’s soul is literally inscribed on his body. . .even his naughty bits.  Noted: Crowley is in charge of hell and Castiel is helping run heaven.  What happened to Lucifer and Michael?  I’m assuming you don’t kill an archangel, but maybe I’m wrong?  My theology background isn’t that up to date.

Now, one of the reasons that I found this episode to be a nice bit of sorbet after some delightfully heavy, gravy-laden episodes is that the cutscenes with Sam and Dean felt so normal — so very pre-apocalypse.  Their small portion of the narrative began behind the bushes in a playground, in daylight, with kids around, playing, while Dean is digging his hands through the open chest cavity of a dead body, finding a large claw.  The conversation between Sam and Dean, albeit brief, reflects back to an earlier time — just hunting, no concerns about hell, souls, and meat suits.  Stymied by the claw, which was unlike anything they had before encountered, the boys call Bobby for help.

<begin seemingly random discussion>
In season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there’s an episode called “Out of My Mind.”  In it there’s a scene with Willow and Buffy discussing college and the studying experience:

Willow: I don’t know. You’ve been studying … really a lot.
Buffy: I’m trying. But they’re really piling on the reading, and Giles fills any free time I have with extra training … I’m starting to think this working hard is hard work.
Willow: Isn’t it crazy like that?
Buffy: I thought it was gonna be like in the movies. You know, inspirational music … a montage, me sharpening my pencils, me reading, writing, falling asleep on a big pile of books with my glasses all crooked, ’cause in my montage I have glasses. But real life is slow, and it’s starting to hurt my occipital lobe.
</end seemingly random discussion>

This scene has always stuck with me, primarily because I wanted school and work to actually be just like that montage.  And what followed with Bobby reminded me of this moment.  Because what we see is just how much Bobby works to keep everyone’s lives intact and how difficult it is to quickly get the research done that Sam and Dean always need.  So we’re presented with the inversion of the typical tv/movie montage, where we get to see what actually happens to Bobby after Sam and Dean hang up the phone — because it’s not just the boys who take Bobby for granted, the audience does also.  This working hard is hard work.

Bobby downloads a picture of the claw that Dean sent to him — Dean sends the pic via camera phone; Bobby receives it via dial-up (gleeps!).  (It might have been funnier if the picture had actually taken a while to load — no dial-up service I know of could have downloaded a picture that quickly!)  Dean says he needs the info ASAP.  Bobby tries to protest that he has business other than helping the boys, but Dean will have none of it, telling Bobby to “kick Bo Derek out of your bathtub, we got a case here.”

Once again proving that the Supernatural crew knows how to choose music, Bobby’s montage is set to the Kenny Rogers song, “The Gambler,” which feels just about perfect.  Bobby does some research at his house, but doesn’t have enough info.  He gets into his car, waves to his pretty neighbor who clearly likes him, drives to the library in Sioux Falls, which is closed, breaks a window, falls in, gets the book, car won’t start, returns home at 1am, does research while the clock ticks past 5am, pounds coffee and no-doze, and then calls Dean during daylight hours to tell him he’s hunting a lamia — a monster that normally isn’t found outside of Greece.  Dean, of course, is chowing down on a burger, refreshed after what we assume was an evening filled with sleep, and once he finds out what he and Sam need to do to gank the lamia he hangs up the phone without even thinking of thanking Bobby.

Turns out that during this research adventure Bobby has had a demon trapped downstairs — one he is torturing to find out Crowley’s name.  A torture interrupted by his relatively new neighbor, Marcy, who brings him her famous ginger-peach cobbler and drops many hints that she would be interested in having a date night.  Preoccupied, Bobby gently pushes her away to get back to the task at hand.  It’s nice to see Bobby through the eyes of a neighbor, given that we really see him as the father figure to Sam and Dean.  Returning to the torture. . .it would seem that in the same way spirits can be vanquished by salting and burning their bones, so too can demons.  After discovering that Crowley’s true name is Fergus MacLeod, and that he’s now in charge of hell, Bobby dispatches the demon.

But his quest is again pushed to the side as he is quickly called into the service of hunters.  That phone bank of governmental agency numbers that the boys give out when their various personas are called into question isn’t just used for them; it’s a service that Bobby performs for a variety of hunters, even very thick ones like Garth.  On top of that, Rufus shows up at his door, a dead okami in his truck needing to be buried — a monster usually not found outside of Japan.  Rufus was really quite comical in this episode, showing a side of himself with Bobby that we haven’t seen in his interactions with the boys.  Then again, maybe it’s post-apocalypse hunter relief.   Turns out that Rufus has some connections that might help uncover information on MacLeod/Crowley and after the burial Rufus departs.

In the continuing comedy of errors,  an FBI agent and local sheriff Jody Mills, first seen in the episode “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” knock on Bobby’s door, looking for Rufus, at the same time that Dean has called Bobby in a panic because the knife to kill the lamia couldn’t be consecrated quickly enough, as we seen when the camera pans down to a dead priest.  In the background Sam is being thrown around the room in a scene that once again felt to me like the old Sam was hunting with his brother.  While Bobby tries to deal with the agent in his living room, he also gives Dean instructions for killing the lamia, under the auspices of providing his mother with a recipe for roast.  Ha!

After a few more hijinks, Bobby discovers that the okami is far from dead — always remember to stab one seven times rather than just five — and when Rufus alerts Bobby to the fact that the okami likes to kill single women, at night, in their beds, Bobby makes a beeline for Marcy’s house.  Once there he kicks in the door, scares the hell out of Marcy, and engages in an epic battle with the okami that ends up with both Bobby and monster crashing out the bedroom window, fighting across the yard, and ending up at the wood chipper, which eats the okami and sprays out its blood onto a shocked Marcy, who is of course wearing a white nightgown.  Naturally Marcy, who professed to loving scary movies, no longer wants a date with Bobby after a monster went all Carrie on her nightgown.  Poor Bobby.  It also reinforces the idea that hunters can’t have successful relationships.  Except for Dean.

Then we have what is quite possibly the best scene of the episode.

Dean, in one of his typical moments, calls Bobby from his motel room, while Sam stands outside talking on his cell phone (I’m guessing to the Campbells?).  Dean, morose, expresses his worry about Sam, saying there’s just something not right about his brother.  In a moment that we don’t normally see, Bobby hears this and rolls his eyes.  Dean goes to continue, but Bobby’s call waiting beeps and he tells Dean that he has to take the call.  Dean is extremely annoyed.  Bobby clicks over.  In the continuing slapstick adventures of Rufus, we find that he has stolen a signet ring belonging to Crowley’s son Gavin — yes, Gavin MacLeod, a captain of ship, but probably not The Love Boat — and is now being pursued by police.  And while Bobby implores/commands him not to swallow the ring. . .gulp.

Bobby clicks back over to Dean and explains that he has to go — something important has come up.  Dean, more than a little petulant and passive-aggressive says fine but that Bobby is being “a little selfish,” adding “it’s not all about you.”

Bobby flips.  He tells Dean to get his brother.  And what follows is so brilliant that I transcribed it — even though a transcription does no justice to Jim Beaver’s delivery.

Bobby:  “Sam, Dean, I love you like my own, I do, but sometimes, sometimes, you two are the whiniest, most self-absorbed sons of bitches I’ve ever met. I’m selfish? Me? I do everything for you. EVERYTHING. You need some lore scrounged up, you need your asses pulled out of the fire, you need someone to bitch to about each other, you call me and I come through, every damn time and what do I get for it, jack with a side of squat.”
Dean: “Bobby.”
Bobby: “Do I sound like I’m done. Now look, I know you got issues, god knows I know. But I got a news flash but for you, you ain’t the center of the universe. Now it may have slipped your mind that Crowley owns my soul and the meter is running and I will be damned if I’m gonna sit around and. . .be damned. So how about you two sac up and help me for once.”
Sam: “Bobby all you gotta do is ask.”
Dean: “Anything you need and we’re there.”

It was awesome sauce.  Not only because it was hilarious to see Sam and Dean chewed out like they were Bobby’s own sons, but also to watch Sam’s face when Bobby mentioned that he was there when they needed to bitch about each other.  That moment where he looks at Dean, knowing that he hasn’t been bitching, and Dean’s shamefaced and silent acknowledgment that well, yeah, he was bitching about Sam was priceless.  Again, it was also a fantastic inversion of what we normally see.  In a typical episode all of my sympathy would be with Dean, who carries far too much guilt and far too many burdens.  But in this instance, knowing what Bobby has been going through, it was aggravating to hear Dean’s childish tone with Bobby.

So Bobby calls on Sheriff Mills for help with Rufus, which is really a nice touch, showing a continuing relationship for Bobby beyond that of Sam and Dean — or other hunters.  Mills says that she can under no circumstances help extradite Rufus, that it would involve calling in too many favors, but she shows up at his door, Rufus in tow, and gives Bobby an hour with the prisoner.  In a funny moment, Rufus hands over the ring to Bobby, who says that he’s going to boil water in which to put the ring.  Rufus looks askance and queries, “Why?”  Maybe if it’s come out of your own bowels it’s not as gross?  Blurgh.

Now Rufus believes that Bobby is going to summon the ghost of Crowley’s son, using him as a trade for Bobby’s soul.  But once Bobby summons Gavin, it’s clear that there’s something else afoot.  And when Crowley is summoned, he thinks the same thing as Rufus.  However, Bobby is smarter than that, and in a nice scene of comeuppance, turns the tables on Crowley, explaining that he didn’t bring forth Gavin as a trade, but as a tool for gleaning information.  The most significant information being the burial place of Crowley’s bones — bones which, at that moment, have been dug up and are ready to be burned by Sam and Dean — who have gone international.  Crowley, beaten, erases the contract, restoring Bobby’s soul, and leaving in (at Bobby’s insistence) the clause about Bobby’s paralysis being cured.  After this he beams himself to Scotland to collect his bones.

Dean is more than ready to burn the bones anyway, but Sam stops him, saying that Crowley might “be a dick but a deals a deal.”  I’m trying to decide whether this was portentous or not.  It did, however, result in a classic Crowley moment where he pushes past Sam and exclaims, “I don’t need you to fight my battles, moose.”  Heh.

And after a moment of bonding between Sam, Dean, and Bobby (via speakerphone), as Dean drives, badly, down a Scottish road, the episode ends.  Or as Bobby says, “let’s roll credits on this chick-flick.”

All in all an interesting diversion from our normal Sam/Dean experience.  Given Bobby’s significance to the show, it seems about time.  Something that we’re obviously going to hear more about is that monsters are not behaving according to their own traditions — first the djinn, then the shifters, now the lamia and okami.  Given that this week is an episode with the Campbells, maybe we’ll find out more regarding these developments.

A few more favorite things:

  • If Dean’s go to phrase is “son of a bitch” then Bobby’s is definitely “balls.”  And I liked the moment when Crowley continued the “balls” trend by saying “bollocks.”
  • Loved that Rufus is also known as Luther Vandross and Ruben Studdard.  Also liked his line to Bobby: “woodchipper. . .that pretty much trumps. . .um. . .everything.”
  • The clever interaction between Marcy and Bobby when she gushes that she loves scary movies and asks him, “Have you seen Drag Me To Hell?” To which he responds, after a pause, “Trying to avoid it.”