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TV Review: ‘Supernatural’ – ‘Bad Boys’

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This week Supernatural served up an old school episode, complete with ghosts, grave digging and a brother moment over the Impala. I loved it. It’s not that I don’t love the myth arc, because I do, and I’ll be glad when it kicks into high gear, which it will soon.

But I also love the episodes which advance the themes of the season and explore Sam and Dean in a way that will resonate when they have to face the fallout in the overarching narrative. “Bad Boys” does an excellent job giving Sam a peek into Dean and reminding the audience that Dean too has a complicated emotional life. Last season, Dean was often presented as if his only need is to protect Sam and keep him close, and this episode paints a more nuanced picture—while still keeping Sam at the centre.

The episode had a few canon nitpicks. Writer Adam Glass forgot Dean had never heard of a Rougaru in season four. Young Dean (an excellent Dylan Everett) is beautifully acted, but should have been the fourteen he was originally scripted to be, rather than sixteen, given how much younger he seemed than Brock Kelly’s Young Dean just a year later in show time.

But I can forgive these issues, because the overall story caught me. I loved that it picked up and gave more exploration to past episodes, like “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Dream A Little Dream,” “Something Wicked” and “Devil’s Trap.”

When we met Dean in the pilot, he idolized John and was daddy’s good little soldier, in contrast to Sam’s rebellious younger son who butted heads with his dad. However, we were soon shown that neither characterization was the whole picture.

Sam and Dean argue with their father, John.

Sam and Dean argue with their father, John, in season one. Credit: © The WB/Sergei Bachlakov

Sam learned he shared a hard headed obsessiveness with his dad, while the audience got hints that Dean’s relationship with his father was equally complicated. He both idolized him and resented the way his dad took him for granted. Dean loved his family, but worried they didn’t love him the same way back.  When the Yellow-Eyed Demon possessed John in season one, he taunted Dean by saying, “You know, you fight and you fight for this family, but the truth is they don’t need you. Not like you need them. Sam – he’s clearly John’s favorite. Even when they fight, it’s more concern than he’s ever shown you.”

Dean isn’t able to admit how much anger he has at the way his father forced him to grow up overnight and shoulder adult responsibilities, judging Dean harshly every time he stumbled. In “Something Wicked,” nine or ten year old Dean is left to care for Sam for days, with instructions on how to fight a shtriga if it strikes. When Dean leaves his post to play some pinball, his father holds him accountable not just for putting Sam in danger, but for all the people the shtriga will go on to kill. John Winchester loved his boys, but his obsession made him focus on discipline instead of support.  As he tells them, he became more drill sergeant than parent, until he faced the possibility of losing them.

John tries to reach out to Dean in “In My Time of Dying,” saying, “You know, I put, I put too much on your shoulders, I made you grow up too fast. You took care of Sammy, you took care of me. You did that, and you didn’t complain, not once. I just want you to know that I am so proud of you.”

But John’s attitude is so foreign to his elder son, he can’t take it in. Unlike Sam, he has hidden his issues with his dad for so long, he can’t bring them up to air them. It isn’t until “Dream a Little Dream” that Dean’s buried hurt comes to the surface in a dream.

Dean has a conversation with himself in which he brings up his fear that he was just a blunt instrument to his father rather than a loved son. He allows himself to get angry and shout, “My father was an obsessed bastard!  All that crap he dumped on me, about protecting Sam. That was his crap. He’s the one who couldn’t protect his family. He- He’s the one who let Mom die. Who wasn’t there for Sam. I always was! He wasn’t fair! I didn’t deserve what he put on me. “

Clearly, Dean had as many issues with his dad as Sam did, though they were different issues. Just as clearly, he loved his father and patterned himself after him in many ways, though Bobby Singer was also an influential father figure. In “Bad Boys,” we get the genesis of many of older Dean’s choices and feelings.

In the episode, we learn the shtriga incident was not the only time Young Dean acted his age and made an understandable but poor decision while taking care of Sam. He was cocky enough to gamble and lose the food money John left him, and then try shoplifting food to make up for the loss.

John again focuses on discipline, not support, and allows Dean to be taken into a home for troubled boys while awaiting arraignment. It’s very harsh—but I imagine John felt he had to be able to trust Dean would always be responsible for Sam. He couldn’t allow his elder son to make mistakes, because the cost could be so high. As Dean said in “Dream a Little Dream,” it’s not fair, but current day Dean understands his dad was trying to do his best.

Dean and Sam help Sonny with a case.

Sam and Dean help Sonny, who runs the home for troubled boys Dean ended up in as a teenager. Credit: Diyah Pera/The CW

Young Dean feels abandoned and hurt, though he covers over his feelings with bravado. Fortunately for him, he lands in a caring environment, run by the fatherly Sonny, an ex-con with a good heart. Glass creates a believable alternative life for Dean, filled with child-sized responsibilities and normal milestones like a girlfriend and a high school dance. Taken away from his family by force, Dean is given a taste of a life where he can concentrate on his own goals and feelings, where he can, in Sonny’s words, become his own man.

Glass does a good job constructing a situation that believably makes Dean think seriously about whether he belongs in this life. We learn that he isn’t sure he wants to be a hunter, and that he is trying to please his dad in being so gung ho. This seems a huge change from Dean in the pilot—but only if we take it at face value.

The episode introduces Dean’s first girlfriend, Robin. They bond over their shared doubts about following their fathers’ plans for them. Young Robin is sure she wants to travel and would hate to be stuck in the town she grew up in, running her father’s diner. But present day Robin is happy to run that diner and live in that town. She and Dean have a sweet exchange where they both admit their teenage selves didn’t necessarily have all the answers.

Young Dean thinks he wants to be a rock star mechanic, and we have seen through the seasons that Dean turns to fixing cars when he is stressed. And he kept a bit of that dream of a civilian home alive deep in his heart. John, showing he was not as oblivious as he seemed to his boys’ dreams, knew it was there. In season one, he wished Sam could go to school and Dean could have a home.

We saw Dean dream of a home in “What Was And What Should Never Be” and of a family in “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” He finally got a chance to have that home with Lisa, only to find he doesn’t fit into the kind of environment a family needs. Like Robin, his teenage dreams didn’t reflect the core of who he grew up to be. Dean is a hunter and needs to be in that world. Present day Dean’s dream is to hunt monsters with his brother by his side.

I think Young Dean’s rebelliousness against his strict life of adult responsibilities fits in very well with Dean’s growth through the seasons. Sonny’s home gives him a space where he is free to dream and to try on a different face, which is exactly what he should be doing at his age.

But he is still Dean Winchester, which means his decisions come with a huge price tag attached, and even at sixteen (and the originally scripted fourteen), Dean knows that. Sonny, understandably sceptical about John’s parenting skills, tells Dean his own story. He was loyal to a gang family, rather than trying to be his own man, and all that led to was a stint in jail.

The parallel is not as close as Sonny thinks. Dean’s family fights monsters. The world needs the Winchesters. Dean may be weighing the pleasures of normal life, but he admires the man his father is, despite his poor parenting skills. He believes in the work they do.

And he believes in the charge his father gave him: taking care of Sam. It may be a huge responsibility, but Dean’s greatest gift is his ability to love. Having to choose between Robin and Sam is another unfair choice, but there is no doubt what choice Dean will make. Sam needs Dean and the huge grin that spreads across Dean’s face when he sees his little brother reminds us that we’ve seen through the seasons Dean needs Sam as well.

And that brings us to the present arc and Dean’s huge decision to deceptively manipulate Sam into accepting possession. Dean’s flirtation with normal life is juxtaposed against little Timmy’s murderous ghostly mother who is possessing her son to save him. The parallel with Zeke possessing Sam is clear.

Dean tells Timmy he has to tell his mother to go and that sometimes we have to be prepared to hurt our family to do what’s best for us. It’s the same message Sonny had for Dean and seems also to apply to Sam, who wanted to die and perhaps only chose life to avoid hurting Dean.

The thought that Sam wanting to die is something I should root for doesn’t sit well with me. I know he will feel violated when he finds out about the possession and that Dean will have to accept the consequences of his actions. But will Sam also remember that not so long ago, he wanted to teach Dean about hope when Dean was prepared to die? Will he remember his desire to die was rooted in the distorted thinking that he always let Dean down, that he was a flawed human being and that Dean was willing to give up the Trials to convince Sam how wrong those thoughts were?

I suspect one purpose of this episode was to remind Sam of the sacrifices Dean has made over the years for him and that the protective feelings he has about his little brother cannot be turned on and off. Sam can read Dean better than anyone else, and he knows Sonny’s home offered Dean the kind of change Stanford offered Sam, but Dean chose not to leave him.  The role of older brother is different than that of younger brother, and Sam only now has the distance and experience to see Dean had to give up things that meant a lot to him to keep Sam at the centre of his life, a place that “Sacrifice” showed us is where Sam wanted to be.

All of this emotional exploration is leading straight to Dean’s lie and Zeke’s possession. Dean and Sam are each going to have to define for himself how to be his own man and what that means for their relationship. I suspect Dean’s decision at sixteen that he belongs with his family and Sam’s recognition of the value of that choice will resonate when Dean and Sam have to work through the hurt of Dean’s willingness to override Sam’s consent.  I liked that the story raised a lot of questions without spelling out how the story will play out. Well played, Adam Glass.

 

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About Gerry Weaver

  • sharonally

    I can agree this episode did exactly what it set out to do , whether it was a fair thing to do is another issue. The fact we are getting Dean’s pov and only his and a episode reminding us and Sam of what Dean as giving up not long before it all hits the fan with Ezekiel smacks of manipulation and influencing where the audiences sympathy should lay.

    Sounds harsh ? maybe but the timing of this episode smacks of exactly that. It is Sam the one who was violated who matters in this , and his reaction and feelings should not of been underminded with another Dean-centric episode to again underline his ‘sacrifices’ .

    • Aquarian Star

      I did not think we were getting an episode with only Dean’s point of view. Sam seeing what Dean gave up and what could have been and Sam’s wistful expression in the Impala at the end made me recall Sam giving up Amelia just as Dean gave up Lisa. I do not agree that Sam was manipulated into saying “Yes” to Ezekiel. He was literally dead and had agreed to go with Death only if it was truly his time. Because Sam didn’t want to linger and become a vengeful spirit doesn’t mean he wanted to die. If he truly wanted to die he wouldn’t have listened to Dean/Ezekiel. Sam chose to live. My objection is Dean’s choice to stay silent afterwards. I want him to tell Sam. I see both brothers and their father in a sympathetic light. The fans who don’t aren’t as empathetic and that’s just the way it is.

      • sharonally

        Of course Sam was manipulated into saying Yes , how else would you describe it? was it a true Yes based on truth and knowledge . Dean made a simple choice for himself , he was not prepared to let Sam go so both he and Ezekiel made a decision .
        I think at that point what Sam wanted was irrlevant anyway , the decision had been made for him and how was he going to say no to what he thought was his emotional , pleading brother in front of him . .

        As for the rest this was a Dean episode with the intent to remind Sam what Dean gave up for him and us as well . In any other season I would of perhaps sighed a little but would not feel that this was delibrate in its intent right before Sam learns of Ezekiel .

      • Elisa

        Sam genuinely wanted to die. He let go of Dean, and then Ezekiel assumed Dean’s form to trick Sam into saying yes. Death said that whether or not it was his time was Sam’s choice.

        • Gerry

          The way I read it, it’s yet to be established how sincerely Sam wanted to die. He called Death to him, so he was definitely thinking very hard about it. But he also spent the first part of the episode losing hope bit by bit, after just telling Dean he felt he might as well die because he just let people down. That doesn’t sound to me like healthy thinking coming from a grounded place. I suspect part of the upcoming arc will be Sam evaluating his head space and what he feels now that he has been healed of his Trial injuries.

    • Gerry

      Hi Sharonally! This was a big POV ep for Dean, though I also think Sam’s POV was also explored in a quieter way. In some ways, I think this episode picked up on the exploration of Sam, Dean and Benny from last season.

      Sam’s attitude to Benny last year was surprising to me, given his usual stance that it’s our actions that make us monsters, not our labels. He was so adamant in his dislike of Dean’s relationship with Benny, he made Dean choose between them, which is a pretty huge thing to do.

      I thought the finale did a wonderful job giving us Sam’s POV on that choice. He still worries that he is flawed at the core because of the demon blood and the way he was shaped to be Lucifer’s vessel, and he needs to know Dean sees him the way Sam wants to see himself.

      Because of the way they grew up, Sam sees the proof of Dean’s love in the way Dean puts him number one. At the same time, he pushes against that because naturally he also wants to feel he is an autonomous adult. It’s complicated.

      What I thought got a less nuanced exploration last season was the impact on Dean of having Sam both telling him he doesn’t see Dean as number one for him, while at the same time demanding he push Benny away. And I want to be clear: I think it is completely in character for Dean to choose to break a tie for Sam and that when Sam broke down in the finale and aired his feelings, that he would understand why Sam was so upset about Benny. I am not Sam bashing – the finale was beautiful in what it gave us about Sam.

      But the exploration didn’t show Sam getting a peek into the impact on Dean on giving up Benny because of Sam’s needs. This season, we’re getting a look at the emotions in the finale from a different angle.

      We’re getting the darker side of “Don’t you ever think there’s anything, past or present, I would put in front of you.” We’re meant to be uncomfortable with Dean’s actions. Dean’s uncomfortable with them and I have no doubt Sam will get to air his emotions and that Dean will feel the impact of them.

      But at the same time, Dean’s willingness to put Sam number one is something Sam has been able to take for granted his whole life, because Dean is his big brother and in some ways even parental. He’s relied on being the centre of Dean’s world, even though he’s also resented it.

      I think this episode was meant to give Sam a look into Dean from a more adult standpoint and show him Dean too has had other dreams and that he made a choice to always be there for Sam. Like anything, this aspect of Dean can go too far and has–but the reasons why he did what he did are complicated and nuanced, just as Sam’s reasons for doing morally dubious things have been.

      In the end, I think both guys will grow from the fight to come; it won’t be a black and white discussion. But I also think Dean will have to own that his desire to keep his brother with him hurt Sam and he doesn’t have the right to override his consent. That won’t get left out of the discussion.

      All of which is to say I agree with you that this episode is where it is in the story for a reason. Sam is meant to be thinking about his place in Dean’s life and what that’s meant for Dean–because the storm will break soon.

      • sharonally

        Well that is one way to look at it Gerry by all means . But it neither changes my opinion of this episode or its timing and what it was meant to do . I do not think this episode did Sam any favours in how he is seen or his role in Dean’s life nor in the upcoming fallout.

        Now I would agree with you if this had been later when the brothers were working through the fallout from Ezekiel and they needed to help Sam connect with his brother again , but not now .
        We have had IMO very little on Sam and doing it subtley with him while dropping big anvils with Dean is only going to get Dean seen.

        So while I appreciate your view on this episode and how you saw it .I can only go by my feelings after I watched it.

        • Gerry

          I understand, Sharonally, we all have different way to connect with the show and the characters. I think the second half of the season will be very Sam heavy, as that is often the way the seasons play out. The first half sets up the arcs, but includes lots of standalones that advance character and resonate that way. Second half, the arc goes into overdrive and there’s usually lots of Sam focus.

          I appreciate your thoughts and comments, even if we look at some things differently. I love talking about the show.

  • http://www.henrybuell.com/ Henry Buell

    I love these guys. Always reminds me of growing up with my brothers, hot rods, and chasing ghosts and girls. I was of course the bad boy, haha.

    • Gerry

      Heh, so you’re a Dean guy? I think this series does such a good job of portraying family bonds realistically, both in how much joy they give and how much pain. And in the end, family matters. I love these guys, too!

      • http://www.henrybuell.com/ Henry Buell

        Straight up Dean guy, even down to the car. Hot rods and Harleys were my mainstay. I’ve been as stubborn and pig headed as well, and as for the ladies, well… I’m a happily married man now, but boy did I have my fun on the way here, haha. Founding member of these guys too: http://desertknightsmc.com/

  • Ginger

    Just an excellent review, Gerry. I, too, that this was an episode that moved the Winchester story forward and reminded us of the mytharc in a nice way.

    One thing I like about this season is that Sam’s story is all about Dean, instead of a ‘what’s wrong with Sam.’ Sam’s role has been rather passive, but I, too, expect to see the real Sam heavily involved in the second part of the season, but both brothers will be heavily involved because of their shared storyline.

    I am a fan who has accused the show of trashing John, but you sure gave me a new perspective on that. I’ll be quieter about that from now on.

    I’m not a fan of kid actors, and I shudder when I see Adam Glass as the writer of an episode, because he’s kid obsessed, IMO. That said, I liked all of the actors in this episode. I particularly liked seeing the actress that played Ruth again. I thought she did a great job with a very small role in Family Remains. Both actors playing young Dean and Timmy did a great job, and Sonny was so well cast.

    I dismissed the age thing, because the episode worked and did what it was supposed to do. I thought it was a Dean ‘coming of age’ episode, what with the parallel handshaking scenes (Dean teaching Timmy the ‘manly’ handshake and then his manly handshake with Sonny there at the end after he looked out the window and saw Sam. It was at that point that I thought Dean accepted all of the responsibility John had put on him and committed to hunting. And it was nice seeing Sam, (1) know his brother so well that he never pushed Dean and; (2) as you say, realizing that Dean had hopes and dreams that he gave up — not just for Sam, but because Dean loves Sam and chose that path.

    For the first time in years, I am happy with how the show is writing for both brothers.

    • Gerry

      Hi Ginger, I missed you! Glad to read your thoughts and I agree, I thought this episode really marked when Dean knew he was committed to the life his father had mapped out for him–not because he was forced to, but because it felt right. The life represented by Sonny and Robin had a lot of value, but like the life with Lisa, didn’t fit him, even though he connected so well with people within it. Dean has always been able to connect to people; that’s his gift and makes him a natural leader. But his connection with Sam is special. John put his boys through fire, but in the process they forged a bond nothing yet has been able to break. Here’s hoping the rest of the season keeps that record intact!

  • kaystiel

    I saw Dean saying ‘be prepared to hurt our family to do what’s best for us’ as a statement that Dean is prepared to hurt Sam to keep him alive, because Sam (being Dean’s sole purpose) is what is best for Dean,

    PS – if I had my way, I’d have the writers sit down and watch all 8 seasons of SPN and take notes, instead of relying on staffers to tell them about continuity, because in the last two seasons, it’s really gone by the wayside.

  • Shelby

    I thought this was the best episode of Season 9. It was enjoyable all the way through, we (including Sam) learned some new things about Dean, there were some scary moments and some gory moments, which was nice to see again, it’s been a while for both of these. We’ve never really gotten to get this background info on Dean, we’ve gotten it through the years on Sam, but never really Dean, so this was nice to see.
    I actually don’t think Sam understands Dean or knows what Dean’s life was really like. Sam’s memories and his younger life were protected by Dean. As we learned in the early seasons, Sam was able to keep his innocence longer and be a kid, but Dean had a lot of adult responsibilities put on him at a very young age. As we (and Sam) see in this episode, Dean, when not saddled with those responsibilities, does well, he does well in school, he makes the wrestling team and his good at it, these are things Dean couldn’t do in his “real life” and I think it was important that Sam see not what Dean gave up to come back, but to see what life was really like for Dean.

    Jensen Ackles is the master of subtlety and nuanced performances and this was no exception.