Posts tagged Bobby Singer

Are you still watching Supernatural? Part One

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Are you still watching Supernatural? 

If not, you should be. Season 8 is a welcome return to form.

Then: What went wrong.

Supernatural took a lot of hits when Eric Kripke left after season 5. There was uncertainty amongst the ranks for while fans were happy to see the Winchester duo continue their adventures, there was a sense that with Kripke’s vision basically complete, anything afterwards would struggle to maintain the standard of prior Supernatural seasons.

The naming of Sera Gamble as the new showrunner put many minds at ease, mine among them, as she had not only been with the show from the beginning, but was one of their best writers. I would argue that Gamble was the most significant in terms of emotional resonance. Gamble had a clear understanding of the Winchester boys, and the support system they built, and could incorporate powerful revelations and lachrymose catharsis that in other hands would have been overwrought or ineptly composed. Furthermore, in a landscape where there is a dearth of female showrunners, especially in the sci-fi/supernatural/fantasy genre, it served as a progressive appointment.

How I wish I could sit down with Sera Gamble and find out what exactly happened over those two years. I would love to know what discussions were had in the writers’ room and what pushed her to make some of the choices she did over those two seasons, because the missteps were grave. While soulless Sam was not a favorite storyline for many, it did give Jared Padalecki a chance to move his character beyond the emotional loop he had become burdened with, and it provided the writers with yet another opportunity to torment Dean – his arc seemed to become some form of torture porn. Is there something we can do to make Dean even more depressed, hopeless, and isolated? Yes? Then let’s do it. The Leviathan storyline, which had so much potential, was rendered impotent until the final episodes of season 7. While stripping the Winchesters of everything that had given them a minimal sense of security – friends, a girlfriend and her child, a home base, and the beloved Impala – it was the fumbling of the Bobby narrative that felt like the most egregious miscalculation.

As I wrote at the time, while I wasn’t, as a fan, pleased with the decision to kill Bobby, I felt it was a bold move on the writers’ part. Bobby had become more integral to the mental health of the Winchester boys than any other character on the show. Killing him destabilized everything – for the boys, Bobby was the only thing left to lose besides each other. And the Gamble-penned episode, “Death’s Door,” was a gorgeous eulogy to a beloved character. Jim Beaver owned that hour and illuminated just how much Sam and Dean were his sons, even if not by blood. The episode was a tribute to the character, the actor, and the show itself, because it is a rare thing to be able to weave that much emotion into a narrative that also focuses on reapers and leviathans. It was a template for how to send-off a beloved character.

And then they brought him back. For no reason. Only to “kill” him again a few months later. Everything that happened with Bobby as a ghost was superfluous to the narrative arc. The only reason would be to show how when you don’t leave with a reaper, you begin to turn into a vengeful spirit. But we already know that. In one of the series’s best episodes, “In My Time of Dying” (2.01), Tessa the reaper explains to Dean what will happen to him if he doesn’t go with her – how he’ll remain on Earth and become the type of thing that he’s grown-up hunting. The audience doesn’t need Bobby alive to make that point. Making Bobby a ghost doesn’t bring about catharsis, but rather negates the beautiful work that Gamble had done in the winter finale of season 7. Something was going on in that writers’ room and I wish I knew what it was.

In the next piece, I’ll explain exactly what new showrunner and longtime Supernatural writer Jeremy Carver is doing so right, and how he’s infused the show with a vitality it’s been sorely lacking.

The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo

Supernatural: The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo

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“The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo” is a great addition to the collection of mythology episodes that Supernatural has developed over time. The episode, written by Robbie Thompson (who penned this season’s “Time after Time” and “Slash Fiction”), fully embraces the Leviathan threat, brings Bobby back into the action, and throws in Felicia Day as a genius hacker who can handle herself with both the Winchester boys and Leviathans.

Guest appearances by “it” actors can sometimes be a crapshoot. Will they be so recognizable as a personality that they can’t blend into the show’s narrative? Can they perform seamlessly with the show’s existing cast? Day fit into the Supernatural team perfectly. In fact, I was rather hoping that she could continue being the resident hacker for the boys as they continue with their quest to bring down the Leviathans. The character of Charlie Bradbury is a natural fit for the Day persona. A gifted computer expert who is drawn towards Hermione and Wonder Woman and has a fake sword at home that she uses for protection, the character is a more secure, less inhibited, version of Cyd from The Guild. Add to that an easy chemistry with Sam and Dean and Charlie could easily become part of Team Winchester.

The episode is also filmed well. Utilizing a variety of split-screen techniques and a non-linear narrative that helps signal the Ocean’s Eleven heist the team is working on, the episode gives us tension and humor at the same time. For all the threat that Dick Roman brings – and it’s a terrifying one – we also get Sam coaching Charlie into entering the building by inspiring her with Harry Potter plotlines. (Which then leads Dean to call Sam “Dumbledork,” but wouldn’t the knowledge of Dumbledore then make Dean just as dorky?) There’s also the magical moment of Dean teaching Charlie how to flirt with the guard blocking access to Roman’s office. (“This never happened.”)

Beyond adding Day’s awesome presence to the episode, the main point of “Tattoo” is to finally clarify the Leviathan’s main plan – they want to become the dominant species on the planet with humans as the main food group. It’s not a great surprise, as this was hinted at early on, but the development of the plan has advanced quite quickly. There is also a hint to some kind of artifact – Dick’s Indiana Jones style archaeology digs have resulted in the discovery of a block of mud. Okay, it’s obviously more than that, but for now, all we can see is a block of mud – is it a weapon? A tablet? A talisman? That’s sure to come out in the following episodes, but, for now, Roman wanted it and the boys have stolen it.

I’m still trying to assess the Leviathan threat. There’s a clever analogy underlying everything, where we can easily make the argument that the Leviathan menace already exists on this planet, just without the supernatural motif. Bobby calls the Leviathans the 1%, living off the cattle of humanity – a human species turned into livestock with fast food, processed food, laziness, and complacency. Couldn’t we already make that case for America? Aren’t we made complacent by being spoon-fed propaganda narratives where we never question the veracity of the reporter, the writer, the politician? Don’t we hear daily about the plague of apathy induced by the amount of sugar and toxic substances ingested through our food sources? Aren’t the Leviathans simply a supernatural manifestation of the dangers explored in documentaries like Food, Inc.?

It’s a good, solid threat. We’ve seen the Leviathans take everything from Sam and Dean (gods damn I want that Impala back), and now it’s been clearly delineated how they will gain access to the bodies of almost all Americans. I think what I want is more about the Leviathans. I want some of that mythology – give me something to chew on and dissect. I want to know their history in more detail. What back-story have the writers constructed in their writers’ room? I want to know what the Leviathans fear (though I’m sure that’s to come) and what they lust after (beyond humans as food). Do Leviathans dream? The writing crew skillfully conjured up a big bad in Lucifer that went beyond what we, as the audience, brought to the “text” with our existing intimacy with the devil. They gave him a voice – evocatively portrayed by both Mark Pellegrino and then Jared Padalecki – that wooed us, made us believe in his pain, his frustration, his desire for change. That’s what I want to see in a Leviathan story. I thought “Tattoo” was a brilliant episode, but it made me realize how much I wish this plotline had extended throughout the season, serving as a more fluid underbelly to the standalone episodes.

One final narrative note: We got to see the beginnings of vengeful spirit Bobby. While that emotion is understandable, as explained by Dean, it is also the start of a path towards disaster for Bobby’s future, as articulated by a very worried Sam. I really do believe that Bobby’s journey should serve as an underpinning for season eight, which was just officially announced. Eliminating the Leviathan threat can soothe the vengeful spirit, and then the Winchesters can turn their focus to helping him find peace.

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Random Notes:

“She’s kinda like the little sister I never wanted.”

Dean’s Veronica Mars reference reminded me of how much I miss Veronica Mars.

Did anyone catch the Better Off Ted reference? When we got the fake commercial for SucraCorp, all I could think of was Veridian Dynamics. Apparently, that’s what the writers were thinking about too. When Charlie opens up Frank’s file on Dick Roman and all the images are flashing on the screen, there’s one shot with Dick, in a picture on the right of the monitor, smiling (notable only because it’s so creepy), and a shot on the far left of Jay Harrington – or should I say, it’s a picture of Ted Crisp (played by Jay Harrington) standing in front of a podium at Veridian Dynamics. This is a great comparison – an evil corporation that tends to do terrible things to human beings all in the name of progress, using advertisements to lull you into thinking that the company is only concerned with your well being and the future of your friends and family. Veridian Dynamics is the precursor to SucraCorp and maybe Dick Roman has taken over the body of Ted Crisp. So it’s a parody of a satire. . .how postmodern.

Of Grave Importance

A Supernatural Quandary

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Hey Supernatural fans, long time no see.

I’ve been in a bit of a quandary about the show as of late. In fact, after spending so much time during the first half of the season defending show decisions and offering a “just wait and see” attitude, I’ve come around to the criticisms of many viewers who feel that the show has lost its way. If anything, the past four or five episodes have simply brought that point home rather depressingly.

And I’ve been thinking, perhaps my own high expectations for the show have caused this disconnect. At a fundamental level, Friday nights with the Winchester boys are still an enjoyable experience. It’s not that the show has suddenly become something that panders to the masses. Yet, and I’m obviously speaking for myself here, there was the potential to do something transformative with the season and it simply hasn’t been capitalized on.

The Leviathan threat has not carried the power or menace of a yellow-eyed demon, a Lucifer, Heaven’s power-hungry angels, or even a soulless Sam. The potential was there, as the Leviathans have taken everything from the Winchesters, but these monsters have been on the back burner for so long that they are a muted threat. Unfortunately, by saving the true impact and menace of the Leviathans for the final episodes of the season, what has come before has felt adrift. There has been a loss of momentum, and in the same way that the stand-alone episodes during season five felt dissociated from the arc of the apocalypse threat, the independent episodes of season seven, while entertaining, add to the confusing narrative digression.

As I wrote in December, killing Bobby was a brave move. After the loss of Castiel and the Impala, it was the final step in breaking Dean (and of course, to a lesser degree, Sam). It seemed as if the show was really taking a relatively nihilistic approach to the Winchesters’ life and future. More than that, it demonstrated a show willing to anger their fans for the innovative evolution of the show’s traditional narrative.

But it turns out that’s not the case. Both Bobby and Castiel are back – although not in their original fighting form. The fan in me is glad, especially with last week’s return of Bobby. It felt right and natural to have him there helping the boys, even if it was in ghost form.

In some ways, I feel that Dean is a mirror for potential audience reaction. Dean has mixed feelings about Castiel’s return. While Castiel is alive, he has yet to be a substantive presence (though I imagine he is back to help with the Leviathan threat).  Castiel gets to return for another deus ex machina save, allowing his mind to take the place of Sam’s broken brain, allowing Winchester healing to happen.

Then there is Bobby. Dean’s declaration that Bobby’s return is just not natural was most likely intended to provide narrative and emotional tension. Yet it also highlights a narrative problem. “Death’s Door” was a beautiful episode. It was a glorious goodbye to a character much beloved by the audience, and clearly the writers. It was a Sera Gamble masterpiece of sentiment that demonstrated how Supernatural transcends the limiting appellation of genre show and could reach towards the moments of brilliance found in our most acclaimed television. But it turns out it’s not a goodbye. It is an episode that will lose some of its power on a rewatch.

Bobby’s return is wonderful, but simply serves as a reminder that Supernatural is escapist fun, not Mad Men or Fringe, and that maybe trying to analyze it as such does the show a disservice.

Having said all of that, I’m looking forward to seeing how the Leviathan threat plays out, since it’s almost impossible to predict what’s going to happen, as we have almost no information about them. But. . .there’s the promise of Felicia Day.

My other thought is that the return of Bobby potentially gives us an arc for season eight – a season that, while not yet greenlighted, is said to be an assured thing. Trying to prevent Bobby from becoming the decaying, mentally traumatized ghosts seen in “Of Grave Importance” provides the series with a more immediate purpose. Rather than focus on a threat to the world, the Winchesters can focus on saving someone closer to home. The seasons with a more localized threat tend to be tighter and more emotionally resonant.

"Slice Girls" Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW

Supernatural: The Slice Girls

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"Slice Girls" Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW

“The Slice” Girls is a perfectly serviceable episode of Supernatural.  It was an enjoyable one, but in the greater arc of the season there is little that it moves forward.  It’s clear that the writers, Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner, are providing an inversion of the Amy Pond storyline from earlier in the season — giving Dean a moment of hesitation in killing a monster while Sam ends up pulling the trigger — but was it a necessary inversion?

As always, Ackles and Padalecki act the hell out of the material they are given, elevating a rather mediocre script, and director Jerry Wanek makes some interesting shooting decisions, especially during the Lydia/Dean seduction scene in the Cobalt Room.  That said, there were some jarring moments that didn’t feel true to the characters, and there’s yet another hint that Bobby might actually be the ghost haunting the boys.  I’m still hoping that will not be the case, as it seems a decisive misstep, not only because of the type of man Bobby Singer was, but also because the audience knows just what happens to souls left behind — thanks to the Eric Kripke penned season two opener, “In My Time of Dying.”

Sam’s moment where he mocks Dean for keeping Bobby’s flask felt out of character.  What in the world would make Sam think that Dean would ever carry around a picture of Bobby as a memento?  Of course he would keep the flask; that pays homage to both Dean’s character and his relationship with Bobby.  The argument for this random moment could be that Sam is worried about Dean’s drinking, but it is disingenuous that Sam would criticize Dean for his choice of keepsake.  Sam has historically expressed his concern about Dean’s drinking by doing just that, simply stating his concern about Dean’s drinking.  Sam is the brother who can talk about emotional things — Dean’s the one who blows it off and changes the subject.

At its core, the biggest failing of the episode is that the situation with Dean and his daughter is not a true mirror of the Amy Pond episode.  Will Dean leave this episode with a stronger sense of the complexity of killing monsters?  No.  This is not a monster, this is his daughter.  Yes, it’s only been his daughter for three days, but killing Amy Pond and killing Emma is nowhere near the same thing.  The relationship between the characters is different.  Emma was part of Dean — they shared a bloodline.  Amy Pond was a long-lost acquaintance, reliant on Sam’s good nature and trust.  Or at least, if I were Dean, this is how I would argue that killing Emma was not analogous.  Besides, Dean has learned this lesson before — season two, episode three, “Bloodlust,” written by Sera Gamble.  Dean knows things aren’t black and white; he knows it’s situational.  When Dean is upset, when his world is completely askew, he behaves rashly.  When Dean behaves rashly, monsters end up dead.  It’s still unclear why this lesson is the one that he has to learn over and over and over.

The need to put Dean in a situation that teaches him about his behavior and choices prevented the episode from capitalizing on what it could have been.  There was much more material to be mined from the fact that Emma was the only Amazon to have hunter blood running through her veins.  There were hints, initially, that she was rejecting the Amazonian indoctrination.  It turns out that this was simply a way of tricking the viewer into believing she wouldn’t kill Dean, but it could have been much more profitable to make her a living and unknown quantity in the Supernatural universe.  Instead, we get more Dean-torture-porn.  While Ackles is a master at manifesting the incredible pain and suffering of his character, at this point it feels like the writers’ room is simply coming up with ways to emotionally torture him.  It’s like living through the “Mystery Spot” episode, except that Sam doesn’t wake up every morning with all of the events of the previous day erased.

Here’s hoping that clowns usher in a stronger Supernatural experience.

Adventures in Babysitting

Supernatural: A Hunter’s Life

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Yo-ho, yo-ho, the hunter’s life for me. . .

If there’s been an underlying theme to the Supernatural episodes of the New Year it’s this: if you’re a hunter, then you live and die as a hunter. You can’t escape the life, and you can’t survive it by wallowing in the misery that it creates.

“At Death’s Door” left us with the cliffhanger of whether or not Bobby chose to go with the Reaper, and “Adventures in Babysitting” seemed to point to Bobby having made his final departure. However, early on, there was a possible hint of things being not quite settled when Dean discovered that his beer was empty, with neither Sam nor himself having consumed it. One can only hope that this will eventually point to something else. While not having Bobby around leaves a gaping wound not easily healed, it makes the Leviathan threat even more potent.

The Leviathans are an odd “big-bad.” Their end game is unknown. We don’t have a sense of what the Winchesters are fighting against or how they can even possibly win. While it was unclear how they were going to fight Lucifer and Michael to stop the apocalypse, it was an easier mythology to grasp. Leviathans are simply an unknown quantity, which can be frustrating for viewers. Yet as an evil, they are made more potent by the loss of almost all allies for the Winchester brothers. Previous enemies have been fought with the assistance of their father, Bobby, Ash, Ellen and Jo, and of course Castiel. This season finds the Winchesters weakened. We might not know exactly what threat is posed, but we have two characters now stripped of everything they’ve relied upon. No identities, no father figures, no mentors, no angel to bail them out. Plus, as we’re reminded in almost every episode by its absence, no Impala. Every action seems futile — it’s a darkness that the Winchesters have never really had to experience.

Yet not all hope is lost. As we see in “Adventures” and “Time after Time after Time,” there are relatively new friends that remain, for now. Frank serves as a new, not as fatherly, much more paranoid, fount of information — one who even teaches Dean computer tricks that render Sam jealous. Thanks to her loyalty to Bobby, Sheriff Jody Mills also shows up, not only to give the boys a case, but also to offer a helping hand when things go awry. Are they as significant as Bobby and Castiel? Of course not. But they are tiny sources of light in a life that is now very, very dark for the Winchesters.

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It would have been very easy to spend the first episode post-Bobby focused solely on vengeance, which is actually what I thought they might do. Of course this comes into play — Dean is consumed with taking down Dick Roman and discovering what the numbers that Bobby inscribed on Sam’s hand mean for the Leviathan quest. So much so that in “Time” he lies to Sam, pretending to be watching anime porn when he’s really researching Roman’s life. Yet this shifts slightly when presented with a secondary job — a missing hunter. In any other episode this would just be another case of the week, but, given all that has just happened with Bobby, it serves to highlight the fragile life of the hunter and the children that are raised in that lifestyle. For reasons intimately tied to their own pasts and compounded by the recent loss of their own father figure, Sam and Dean want to help Krissy, the young daughter of the missing hunter. Sam wants to save her the pain of losing her father, while Dean hopes that she’ll escape the life, finding an outlet like Sam originally did. Yet, in the end, it’s Krissy who saves them all — eagerly and happily. When you’re born into the life, it’s hard to escape the pull of that life.

Frank serves two purposes in this episode. Firstly, he discovers that Bobby’s numbers are coordinates that point to a parcel in Wisconsin (“a field, not the Death Star”) recently purchased by a subsidiary of Dick Roman’s company. Furthermore, it’s a field surrounded by Roman’s surveillance equipment, which Frank can tap in to, of course. Secondly, he gives Dean some advice. “Quit.” Of course Dean’s not going to quit and he scoffs at the idea of leaving his brother. So Frank tells him to do what he did:  “Decide to be fine till the end of the week. Make yourself smile because you’re alive and that’s your job. And then do it again the next week.” “So fake it,” Dean replies. “I call it being professional. Do it right, with a smile, or don’t do it.”  Though watching Dean try to smile at the end of the episode was both painful and slightly creepy.

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“Time After Time After Time” (one hell of a second 2012 episode) continues to push the idea that it’s time for Dean to leave his melancholy behind and accept who and what he is. It just happens that this advice comes from Eliot Ness. (Was anyone else mightily excited to see Nicholas Lea? I miss Alex Krycek. Also, Lea and Duchovny clearly both take the same anti-aging serum.)

Thanks to a tip from Jody Mills, Sam and Dean start chasing down a monster who leaves behind drained, mummified corpses, only to find out, once Dean gets transported back to 1944, that they’ve been fighting Chronos, the God of Time (played by Jason Dohring — oh how I miss Logan Echolls).

Overall it was a solid episode, marred only by a terrible acting job by a bit player who took his role as “medicated” witness a bit too far — someone needed to reign in that community theater overacting. Also, it would have been great to have more time with Lea and Dohring, solid guest stars who were great when they were onscreen but simply weren’t onscreen enough.

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The scenes in 1944 were entertaining, especially watching Dean interacting with hero Eliot Ness. Anachronistic language and clothing, plus Ness as a straight-man foil, was a great distraction from both the Leviathans and Bobby’s death. And Dean looks mighty fine in a tailored suit. But the episode still brought back the hunting theme, as the salient moment from 1944 is the conversation between Ness and Dean while they’re on a stakeout outside a diner where Chronos’s hangs out.

Dean, waxing morose about how the hunting life has lost meaning since everyone keeps dying, is confronted with Ness’s forthright and unsympathetic response.

“Boo-hoo, cry me a river you nancy. Tell me, are all hunters as soft as you in the future? Everybody loses everybody and then boom, one day your number is up, but at least you’re making a difference. So enjoy it while it lasts kid cause hunting is the only clarity you’re gonna find in this life, and that makes you luckier than most.”

The other significant moment occurs at the end of the episode, as Chronos is dying. In his final throes he looks at Sam and Dean and prophecies what’s to come.

“Wanna know your future? I know your future. It’s covered in thick black ooze. It’s everywhere. They’re everywhere. Enjoy oblivion.”

Mission, purpose, re-dedication to the hunting life? Hopefully sorted.

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Favorite moment:

Dean: “Awesome.”
Ness: “How does that fill you with awe?”

Death's Door

Supernatural: Death’s Door

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Apologies for the delay in posting this. I made the mistake of reading too many fan comments (on other sites) after the airing of the episode and found myself a bit disheartened by the proliferation of people emphatically stating that they would NEVER watch Supernatural AGAIN because of Bobby’s death.  I have now pledged NEVER to read the internets until after I write reviews.  So I took a break, stopped taking Supernatural hatred personally, and re-watched the episode.

After watching “Death’s Door” (multiple times), I was left with two thoughts.  One, that Sera Gamble knows how to deliver an emotional, powerhouse episode, and two, that this was Jim Beaver’s finest hour.  Combine these two things and you end up with the strongest episode of the season, if not one of the strongest of the series.  It also highlighted how much Supernatural would benefit from Gamble writing more episodes.  I know that’s impractical, given her role as showrunner, but her episode draws unintentional attention to the weakness of some of her current writing staff.

“Death’s Door” was a heartbreaking episode, but a perfect way to send out a character who is beloved in Supernatural fandom.  Of course, we never saw Bobby’s answer about whether he would stay or go, but it would be a grave misstep to have him remain behind.  Bobby knows, as all hunters do, what happens to those people who make the choice to remain in limbo, trapped between worlds, forever.  It makes little sense for him to make a decision that transforms him into that which he hunted.  If he does, then it better be for a damn good reason.  There’s been a lot of backtracking in good television shows lately, as they refuse to commit to the hard path of killing off a character.  Bobby’s death is a bold move and this should stand as his final hour.

It’s an episode that dissects the emotional life of Bobby Singer.  We see his close ties to Rufus, which was wonderful to watch.  We’ve seen them in tandem before, and it’s always been entertaining, but it was nice to see Bobby with his hunting partner.  So often we see Bobby only in relation to the Winchesters – keeping them in line, guiding them down the right path, providing information gleaned from his books – and it was good to see him in action with the person who was probably the closest thing to his best friend.  And in an inversion of the typical Bobby Singer experience, it is Rufus who helps guide Bobby towards a resolution — who explains that to find his way out of the darkness, out of dying, he must find a door, and that door will be in his most traumatic memory.  Oh, and also, Bobby needs to evade the Reaper who is trying to collect his soul.

Every memory that Bobby experiences in these last life moments in some way involve fatherhood.  Whether it’s a fight with his wife, who he desperately loved, a memory of the Winchester boys, or a glimpse back into his dark childhood, everything intersected around the concept of, the struggle for, what makes a good father.

One would imagine that Bobby’s traumatic memory of his wife, which Rufus even mentions, would be the moment he had to end her life.  It isn’t.  It’s a fight — a fight in which Bobby confesses that he doesn’t want kids because he breaks every thing he touches.  This is immediately negated by a memory of taking a very young Dean out to play a game of catch when John had instructed Bobby to make Dean practice shooting.  It’s the type of moment that plays out in different iterations throughout the episode, as we see Bobby playing the role of father to the Winchesters.  And it’s not that the audience didn’t already know this, but seeing the trio in moments of peace, acting like a normal family, this is what makes Bobby’s death even more tragic — even more poignant.

It’s also no surprise to discover that Bobby’s most feared memory involves the boy (a young Bobby) who has been tailing him through his various recollections.  Taking a page out of Flatliners, Bobby must relive the darkest moment from his childhood, where he saves his mother from his abusive father by killing him.  His mother, unable to support the act of the child who protected her, condemns him.

Even with all of this, what truly stands out in this episode, as one would expect, is the tie between Bobby and the Winchester boys.  We watch as Dean and Sam struggle with the news that Bobby is on the brink of death.  Sam, who realize that survival is unlikely cannot do anything but mourn and try to make his brother understand the bleakness of the situation.  Dean does what Dean does best — pretends that everything will be fine — that Bobby can fight back.  Yet cracks show.  When a hospital administrator approaches Dean about organ donation he almost gets a punch in the face.  The pain in this scene is palpable — far beyond the broken glass and bleeding knuckles.  A pain that feeds into Dean’s subsequent interaction with Dick Roman, who is lurking outside of the hospital in his Towncar, pleased with the outcome of his gunshot.  Assuming Bobby does die, this is our first glimpse of what vengeance looks like — our first glimpse of a Dean recharged, with a mission, with a new found purpose beyond just saving the world.  Dick laughs off Dean’s threats, reveling in his seeming immortality, but there is a moment, when Dean spits out “you’re either laughing because you’re scared or you’re laughing because you’re stupid,” that Dick looks nonplussed.  He seems taken aback and just slightly scared.

Yet, it’s Bobby’s episode and his love for the Winchester boys shines through in almost every scene.  Even as the Reaper explains that Bobby’s brain is dying, that the bullet is destroying him, his goal is to get to Sam and Dean, to tell them what he found in Dick Roman’s office.  So as Bobby works through the trauma of his youth, we are given a scene with the boys, where they say goodbye in case Bobby doesn’t make it through surgery.  Well, Sam does.  Bobby revives, and it seems that he might recover, and in these final moments he does two things — gives them the numbers from Dick Roman’s office and calls them “idjits” one last time.  Then flatlines. (sob)

It’s powerful stuff — sad, traumatic, painful.  It’s a glorious send-off to a beloved character.  And Sam and Dean look broken, just broken in the hospital.  It ends with Bobby’s final memory — the last thing saved in a dying brain — it’s a scene of peace with Dean and Sam, as they gather to watch a movie, drink some beer, eat some popcorn, and bicker over licorice, “little chewy pieces of heaven.”  We’re left with the Reaper asking Bobby whether he will stay or go as the credits rise.  So yes, there is a possibility that he will choose to stay — and it’s the one false moment to the episode — leaving the viewer on a cliffhanger.
I guess we’ll see what the new episode brings. . .
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Possibly the best moment of the episode — this scene with the Reaper trying to convince Bobby to give in to death:

“Bobby. . .you’ve helped.  You got handed a small, unremarkable life and you did something with it. Most men like you die of liver disease, watching Barney Miller reruns. You’ve done enough. Believe me.”

“I don’t care.”

“Why?”

“Because they’re my boys.

(sob)

Supernatural_Trio

Supernatural: Friends and Monsters

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Well. So. . . .that happened.

Caveat: I don’t watch the show live, so please don’t mention anything in the teasers for the next episode – all of my speculations are based solely on what has been seen in the episode. I say this only because I don’t know if the teasers for this week point to what happened to Bobby and I don’t want to know!

This was a great episode for misdirection. Written by Ben Edlund, who has become known for bringing the funny to Winchester life, and a beginning that mocked glamour campers (glampers), it seemed as if this episode would follow the past few, being light on mythology and heavy on humor. At the very least, I thought we might be seeing Supernatural pay homage to the first season episode of The X-Files entitled “The Jersey Devil.”

Initially it was heavy on humor. Dean’s love of food, somewhat reminiscent of Brad Pitt’s character Rusty in Ocean’s Eleven, is always good for a laugh or two, especially when it involves reaction shots of Sam and Bobby. When that food, a Pepperjack Turducken Slammer from Biggersons, turns out to be tainted and results in a stoned Dean, it becomes hilarious.

A stoned Dean meant a Dean who really doesn’t care about much of anything. “I’m not that worried about it.” Seeing this guilt-free Dean was a momentary relief, except that it was caused by the funky chicken in the TDK Slammer. “If I wasn’t so chilled out right now, I would puke.”

Of course it ended up being so much more than tainted food and a stoned Dean – it was the Leviathans. That actually was a surprise. Our doctor friend from earlier in the season is using humanity’s sloth and obsession with fast food against them, turning them into TDK addicts, slowing their metabolism, causing weight gain, and dampening their emotional range, making them complacent and unaware. Unfortunately, for the baddies, the concoction results in some people turning hyper-violent, like our poor Biggerson’s waiter Brandon, who early on tries to bait Dean into fighting him. (Dean is too stunned to really fight back.)

Yet it wasn’t Dean’s consumption of the “formula” that we needed to worry about. We should have known that Bobby was the one in peril. The scene where the boys reminisce with Bobby about their childhood adventures with him, the fact that Bobby is smack-dab in the middle of the action with the boys (unlike his usual role of mentor and guide), Bobby’s affectionate take on Sam always being a “deep sum-a-bitch,” these are the more subtle clues that jump out in a re-watch. Yet it’s when Bobby chastises Dean for his “everything-is-doomed” attitude, ending with the admonishment of “You die before me and I’ll kill you,” that it became blatantly apparent that bad things were on the horizon for our beloved Mister Singer.

The final crisis, with the boys and Bobby facing off against head Leviathan, Dick “friggin’” Roman, had Bobby making more than a few lucky escapes, with escape and peril so densely plotted that there wasn’t time to feel relief, only an escalation in tension. In the closing scene, when Bobby runs to the van with Dick Roman on his heels, there is a brief moment where you think, “of course Bobby escaped any real danger. . .Supernatural can’t kill Bobby,” only to realize that the fact that the camera won’t show Bobby means that something is wrong – that something being a hole in his head.

So the real question is whether Supernatural will really kill off Bobby. Can they do it? I’m of two minds here. If the show was truly brave – truly headed down the path of despair that I discussed in my last article – then they would do it. They would leave Dean with nothing but a brother with a fractured brain. But I don’t think they can do that. I’m not necessarily saying that’s what I want. The fan in me wants Bobby alive to the end. I can’t imagine the show without him – as I’ve said before, he’s now the third Winchester – the surrogate father. However, the part of me that loves dramatic narrative feels that Bobby’s death would take the boys to a point that they haven’t experienced before – a place where they have nothing and no one. In the battle of good vs. evil, it’s the place where most heroes have to go.

This is all complicated by the real-world problem of season eight. If the cast and crew have decided that they don’t want another season, that this should be the end, then the writers have so much more creative license to bring about an end game. But if there is a season nine on deck, then you have a problem getting rid of Bobby. The writers and audience have invested so much in the character, that giving Sam and Dean new people in a new season will prove difficult. The Supernatural audience is passionate and problematic. The response to Cas’s “death” has been vocal and not really that unexpected – although the level of vitriol spewed against Sera Gamble is a bit distressing. I’m not sure that the writers have enough support from the fan base to kill off Bobby Singer – unless it’s the final season. Even then. . . .

Maybe Bobby can be an angel.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As this was a Ben Edlund episode, there are a ton of great moments. So many that I could probably just cite the entire script. Here are some of my favorites:

Brandon’s nicknames for our trio are hysterical – Big Bird, Ken Doll, and Creepy Uncle. Awesome.

Bobby: “Brandon’s got his flair all up in a bunch.”
“You don’t shoot Bambi jackass. . . .you shoot Bambi’s mother.”

Dean: “It’s like the perfect storm of your top-three edible birds.”
“Man I liked Rick.” (if only for the reaction shots of Sam and Bobby)
“I think you pissed off my sandwich.”
“You know now it’s all making sense. Remember when Crowley kept going on about hating dick? I thought he was just being general but, [pointing at laptop] psish!”

Random Politician: “Roman is ruthless, but good-looking. I think he’ll make a great candidate.”

Dick: “Sam, that is not how we communicate from a place of yes.”

How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters

Supernatural: Despair

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Despair.  I think it’s the emotion hardest for an audience to embrace — especially if that emotion extends over many episodes or, to the audience’s chagrin, an entire season.  It’s this word, this feeling, this thought, that is driving season seven of Supernatural.  It is what I believe to be the concept most frustrating for the discontented in the audience.

I’ve been thinking about this after reading Mo Ryan’s article on aoltv.com about what Supernatural needs to do to rescue its stumbling season.  Now I find Ryan to be a refreshing and incisive critic, who can be a passionate advocate for television shows, yet I read this article, paused, and wondered if I was watching a different show than everyone else.  Then I thought I must be giving Supernatural some kind of pass simply because I feel like, after seven years, that the Winchesters are part of my weekly life — in a weird way they are like TV family (exactly how I felt about LOST).  You spend so much time watching and re-watching that their story becomes interwoven into the fibers of your very being.  Then I wondered if it was even possible to be critical of something that you love — in the same way that I refuse to listen to any negative comments about William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, was I simply incapable of applying rational thought to a show that I love?

No, that wasn’t the answer.  There are instances in this website where I have critiqued the show or negatively reviewed an episode.  It’s not that I can’t find flaws with Supernatural — don’t get me started on their problems with female characters — but clearly something is happening.  If you look at responses to reviews, the audience seems overwhelmingly unhappy.  Some of you were generous enough to give me your thoughts, which demonstrated that there are satisfied viewers who probably aren’t speaking up in blog comments.  Yet there were also a few responses that pointed to issues that I’ve seen elsewhere.  These concerns tend to revolve around Castiel and the season’s seeming lack of purpose, as, for many, the Leviathan arc seems too amorphous to create an invested audience.

This is why I circled back to the concept of despair.  Ryan asserted that by taking everything away from the boys, they have nothing to fight for, no reason to go on (I’m badly paraphrasing).  I would argue that that’s exactly the point.  We’ve seen them with purpose, with a specific goal that they’re fighting towards (killing Azazel, saving Dean from Hell, stopping the apocalypse, restoring Sam’s soul), and Gamble could have easily followed that template.  Instead, as KimberlyFDR pointed out, Gamble started her tenure as showrunner by adopting a darker tone.  This shouldn’t be surprising.  Gamble has historically written the episodes that delve deeply into the emotional fragility of the boys.  She consistently pushes past Dean’s bravado to explore what makes him a depressed, martyred, fan of the drink.  As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam, her episode “What Is and What Should Never Be” provided the first, tragic look at what drives Dean — and it was horrifically sad.  So the tone of the new seasons shouldn’t be a surprise at all.

I would argue that last season was the setup for Sam and Dean hitting rock bottom this season — the setup for complete despair.  Ideally, this season, the boys would be left with no one.  And if this was a novel, Bobby would also have been a fatality, perhaps the Leviathan would have ensured his end.  However, I don’t think the show can kill off Bobby — not without a complete fan revolt — or at the very least not until near the series finale.  We’re at a point, after seven years, that following the traditional Supernatural template is not the best option.  Exploring despair, exploring what happens to our Winchesters when they have nothing but each other to fight for — now that’s meaty.  The vague threat of the Leviathans?  I would bundle that up with the concept of despair.  The boys barely understand what they’re fighting, only knowing, once again, that it’s a threat that could destroy the world.  Yet as a result of their despair — and really, it’s Dean’s despair — the day-to-day is rote.  Rote in a way that highlights how much they have lost and how far they have fallen.  How do you survive when you have nothing?

One of the darkest periods of the show was when John Winchester died.  It’s the event that brought Dean the closest to this despair — his character now is a reflection of his character then.  Brooding, excessively drinking, refusing to see beyond the black and white of the situation, seeking some kind of solace through the destruction of monsters.  It was all there.  But the quest for vengeance — for killing Azazel — is what brought him back, after just a few episodes, from the abyss.  In the present, that vengeance is missing.  The enemy is scattered, can spread easily, and is almost impossible to kill.  Not only that, the Leviathans are smart, strong hunters.  There is no respite from running because they consistently and quickly track the boys down.  Or, in an even worse case scenario, make life almost impossible for them by shifting into their forms.

Can’t you just feel it?  When you think about what they’re currently going through?  No home, no place of safety, no Castiel to act as a deus ex machina, no easy way to identify or kill their foes — it’s despair.  It’s their darkest moment.  And it’s incredibly difficult to watch.

Yet none of this means there’s something wrong with the show — it just means it’s progressing in a way that makes the audience uncomfortable.

During this past season of Breaking Bad, another fantastic critic, Tim Goodman, whose thoughts I appreciate and often disagree with, wrote about his concern with how deconstructing every episode prevented critics/viewers from just sitting back and enjoying the ride.  That because we don’t let the arc happen without trying to anticipate or second-guess the writers, we can’t fully appreciate what the show is trying to do.

I think it’s an interesting point.  And while I’m not comparing Supernatural to Breaking Bad, I do think that we take such ownership of a show, that it’s oftentimes difficult to let the arc happen without feeling like we’re being betrayed in some way.  Isn’t part of the magic letting a show take us somewhere that we haven’t anticipated?  Isn’t it the responsibility of art to force us to examine and explore emotions and situations that might make us feel uncomfortable or distressed?

This is the darkest place the Winchesters have ever been.  They have no one.  They have nothing to hold on to but their skill as hunters.  Their entire world is destabilized — so much so that they don’t even have control over their own bodies, their own stories.  The Leviathans can inscribe a reality for them by assuming their own shapes and personas.  It’s taxing to experience this with them, but it’s a fascinating journey.

The Girl Next Door

Supernatural: The Girl Next Door

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Welcome back to season two!  Okay, not really, but “The Girl Next Door” brought back the Sam and Dean personality types that dominated that season.  This Ackles directed episode wasn’t at all what I thought it would be, being less about the Leviathans and more about giving us another emotional starting point with the boys.

The question of Bobby’s well-being addressed almost immediately, the episode then dispatches of the Leviathan problem it set up last week.  This season is about the boys being on the run, without a stable home base, so while the Leviathans didn’t really play much of a role in the episode (beyond the teaser), they are a tension underlying everything – they have the means to pursue the Winchesters and they are, for now, impossible to kill.

The central narrative illuminated an episode from Sam’s past – when in 1998 he helped his Dad and Dean (who were off screen) hunt down a Kitsune, a monster who must feed on the brains and pituitary glands of human beings.  For the flashbacks, the Supernatural casting crew has brought back Colin Ford, who truly is an apt young Sam – he captures Padalecki’s emotion and mannerisms perfectly.

Past and present Sam are looking for the same Kitsune, a girl named “Amy Pond” (nice), who is played in the present by Jewel Staite (who wasn’t given enough to do).  Young Sam accidentally finds young Amy while doing research at the library, eventually saves her from bully boys, and once back at her house discovers that her mom is the Kitsune on a killing spree.  Amy saves Sam’s life by shoving a knife through her mother’s heart.  Present Sam, recognizing the Kitsune pattern in a modern day series of slayings, goes after Amy, with the intention of finally stopping her murders.

And here is where we get the Sam that we’ve seen over the years, but nowhere more apparent than in the season two “Bloodlust.”  In that early episode, Sam was the one to prevent the slaughter of Lenore and her vampire crew, believing that the things we call “monster” don’t necessarily have to be evil.  In “The Girl Next Door” we have a similar situation.  As children, Sam lets Amy escape, before the arrival of his father and brother – and we all know John Winchester would have killed the girl.  Then, as adults, he chooses to let her go again.  Amy, who now works as a mortician where she can acquire brains and pituitary glands from corpses, needs fresh meat for her dying son, Jacob.  Three kills later and he’s cured.  She begs for forgiveness and understanding, and Sam gives it to her.  He walks away.

And he walks right into the fist of Dean, who is pissed at being left behind with only a note and no Impala.  Sam explains the case, including the events of the past, and says that he let Amy go, that he knows she won’t kill again.  He begs Dean to trust him – and Dean says yes, that maybe it is the time to finally trust.

It’s not surprising that Sam and Amy would form a bond:  both are pushed around by domineering, emotionally abusive parents; both want a life different than what they have; both fear that they will become their parents.  Given Sam’s past – given his understanding of monsters – it’s no surprise he allows her to live in peace.

What is a surprise is that Dean agrees.  Or does he?

I’ll admit it.  I bought into Dean’s lie.  I thought it was an interesting character development for Dean, that after all this time he’d finally let Sam make a decision like this, though, granted, he did let Lenore live in “Bloodlust.”  (Yet that was more related to his realization that Gordon Walker was insane than it was related to Sam’s thought process.)  What I wasn’t prepared for was the resurgence of season two Dean – the Dean in “Bloodlust” whose discontent and turmoil led him towards the hunter dark side – led him to become more like Gordon Walker — the no option Dean.

Is this what we’re seeing here?  A resurgence of the Dean who can only see the black and white of a situation?  A Dean who refuses to apply human exceptions to a demon/monster/freak?  A Dean who is so self-loathing that he cannot see the possibility for change in others?

Well, it’s the Dean we have in “The Girl Next Door,” as he shows up at Amy’s motel room and, despite her protestations, kills her.  Only to turn and see Jacob watching.  Now, Dean doesn’t kill the boy, although Dean makes Jacob promise not to kill another human being for food – a promise to which Jacob ominously replies, “the only person I’m going to kill. . .is you.”  Is this our Chekhov’s gun?  Is Jacob being introduced into the story only to come back later and do just that?  Or is this a moment where we see a monster born?  Does the death of Amy only ensure that instead of a normal life, Jacob will turn into the creature that lives by his appetite?

I really thought “The Girl Next Door” was going to be an episode dedicated to Sam, but the last few minutes made me realize that it was actually to bring us to a depressing realization about Dean’s state of mind.

Side notes:

Ackles did a great job directing.  There were a few moments that took me out of the episode – the camera angles when Bobby was running out of the hospital and when the morgue body was being pulled out on a slab – but overall fantastic.  In fact, his use of flashback was effective, especially the ease with which we slid between times – very fluid and precise.

Love that Biggerson’s is becoming a running joke – and the Winchester eatery of choice.  I guess their year of free food is probably finished though.

The nacho cheese scene?  So gross, even though we don’t really see any of the actual consumption.

Also, it seems very right that Bobby and Dean would become enmeshed in telenovas.
D: “Dude…Ricardo.”
B: “What happened?”
D: “Suicidio.”
B: “Adios, ese.”

Hello Cruel World

Supernatural: Hello, Cruel World

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Just as the 7th season premiere began in the same moment that we left the Winchesters in the 6th season finale, so this episode began where the last left off, and I’m guessing the same thing will happen on Friday.  I usually don’t read responses to a Supernatural episode until after I’ve crafted my review, but I caved this week and I’ve seen some negative responses to these cliffhangers.  Frankly, I love it.  As a narrative technique it builds tension.  We see that there’s not a second of the Winchester’s current lives that can be glossed over — the audience needs to experience every moment with them.  In so doing, the events become even more epic.  True, this means we haven’t really had a stand-alone episode, but it highlights the seriousness of this new threat.  With this Friday’s episode we’ll have had four concurrent episodes addressing the Castiel/Leviathan big bad.  I can’t think of a time where the Supernatural team gave us back to back to back to back episodes that dealt with the season’s main arc.

Yet unlike “Meet the New Boss,” which catapulted the show forward with narrative developments, “Hello, Cruel World” really moved pieces into place for the next installment.  We gleaned some basic information about the Leviathans, enough to prove that they’re more terrifying than other monsters — there’s a reason they were trapped in Purgatory.  Hints were dropped that there is a “boss” — someone/thing that appears demanding, intolerant, and unwilling to brook idiotic choices (like eating a high school swim team) that threaten to expose them to the populace.  As monsters, they are constantly wailing about their hunger — human organs seem to be the food of choice — which reminded me of various X-Files monsters, “the wire” in the Doctor Who episode “The Idiot’s Lantern,” and George Costanza’s mother.  Once the Leviathans have abandoned Castiel’s body, exploding into a reservoir that serves as drinking water for the local area, they can then inhabit whomever is unlucky enough to come in contact with their fluid form.  It’s a form that, again, is straight out of The X-Files — the black oil.  Like the dark, liquid Leviathans, the “black cancer” in The X-Files had the ability to enter a human and take possession of their body, exhibiting a sentience and a need to communicate.  As we see in “Hello, Cruel World,” the Leviathans use their form to enter innocent humans via water fountains, sinks, and any other water pathway that seems viable.  They also have the ability to transfer bodies, as is the case when the Leviathan trapped in the body of a child (another creepy kid casting coup for Supernatural) assumes the body of a surgeon.  However, the transfer itself is odd.  The child grabs the arm of the surgeon and then the camera angle changes, showing the event in silhouette, hidden behind a room divider, as it appears that the child/Leviathan steals the flesh from the surgeon, and in draining him becomes him.  This would make it seem that there are multiple options for Leviathan movement, making them difficult to keep track of and kill.

Oh yeah, and they might be Terminators.  Okay, not literally, but as we see, they are, as of right now, seemingly impossible to kill.  Dropping a car on one, bursting his vessel and leaving its black oil form spread on the tarmac does nothing — it re-forms.  Like I said, Terminators.

For all of this, the true thrust of the story is about what Supernatural does best, exploring the relationship between Sam, Dean, and Bobby.  And pain.

Sam doesn’t hide his hallucinations from his family, letting them know exactly what he’s seeing, telling them precisely what Lucifer is saying to him.  The story reaches its apex when Sam, thinking he’s leaving Bobby’s house with Dean, ends up at a warehouse with Lucifer, who is pushing Sam to the brink of madness.  When Dean finds him, he doesn’t have the power to sway Sam with emotion.  I’m fascinated that this moment received critical backlash.  The argument being that Dean, of all people, should have been able to convince Sam that his life with him was real — that Lucifer’s appearance was madness.  Yet that’s exactly what *cannot* happen.  Lucifer is a part of Sam’s brain — a manifestation made possible by the broken wall in his head.  The result of this is that Sam/Lucifer knows exactly what Dean’s arguments will be — hence the moment in the episode where Sam tells Dean exactly that — that Lucifer knows what Dean is thinking.  The only way to convince Sam that the life he’s living is real is to inflict pain.  With eyes full of compassion, Dean shoves his fingers into the gashes in Sam’s palm, and as Sam gasps Lucifer flickers.  The more pain, the more Lucifer dissipates.

Pain.  Sam’s mental trauma is a manifestation of his horrific memories from Hell.  The questions remaining are how that brain will heal, if it can, and what the impact of this broken wall will have on the season.  Dean, however, is dealing with the pain that we’ve seen since season one — how to keep his loved ones safe.  Yet, Dean can’t keep people safe.  Sometimes the demon/monster/angel/devil that they have to fight is simply too powerful.  Bobby, calling Dean on his crap, speaks for the audience when he tells him there’s no way he’s okay with the loss of Castiel (not that long, in Supernatural time, after the loss of Ben and Lisa), who was more like family than friend.  In this moment, when Bobby is reminding Dean that he’s there — that he’s there to support Dean whenever he needs it — we have a clear foreshadowing that something is going to happen to Bobby.  In fact, the note I made during this scene, not knowing what was yet to come, was that losing Bobby might be the thing to push Dean over the edge.  Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Supernatural, it’s that Dean’s life can never be easy.  His pain is deep, visceral, constant and his guilt drives the show.

More pain.  Reminiscent of the loss of Harvelle’s Roadhouse in season two’s “All Hell Breaks Loose,” the boys find Bobby’s house burned to the ground, tearing a place of stability (their home) away from them.  Even worse, Bobby has disappeared, and there’s a Leviathan there who knocks Sam unconscious and breaks Dean’s leg, leaving us with the boys in an ambulance on the way to a hospital teeming with Leviathans.  Quite the cliffhanger.  Can’t wait for Friday, which should be filled with more of Dean’s suffering.

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