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TV Review: Supernatural – “How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters”

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Oh, Supernatural, what are you up to? “How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters” is an excellent episode, packing in character development for both Sam and Dean, giving us a lovely peek into Bobby’s relationship with the boys, kicking the Leviathan arc into high gear and ending with a horrific cliff-hanger. I loved it—and yet I have concerns on what it means for Supernatural’s big picture.

Before I get there, though, let’s discuss everything that is oh so right. Dean’s arc continues to show the emotional devastation Dean has been living with since season six. As we saw in “Defending Your Life,” he is tired, and not just of skanky cabins in the woods with no heat. He’s tired of his lot in life, of being a hunter in a battle that never really ends and costs him all his human connections.

Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles and Jim BeaverThis angst has been building a long time—Dean’s never forgiven himself for his stint as a torturer in Hell—but it really gained steam in season five when the elder Winchester admitted to himself he had the same kind of dreams Sam had at the beginning of the series. Dean’s version of an ideal life was more blue collar but equally grounded in a nice middle class life with a family. Dean is still reeling from his realization he can never have that kind of family and he can’t even hang on to his friendships from his hunting life. The motto of his existence might as well be “Everyone dies.” For a guy who feels responsible for the people he loves, this is not a helpful motto.

The two connections he has left, Sam and Bobby, know something is up with Dean. Sam turns to the older hunter to touch base about his worries, only to have Bobby tell him he has to learn to let go and live his own life, especially since he has enough on his plate with Lucifer hallucinations. But Sam surprises him.

He feels the SatanVision actually lets him keep his damage in clear sight and therefore under control. It’s a rational way of dealing with a level of damage no one thought he could handle—and it’s typical of Sam that he is able to step back and analyze the situation to access an inner strength. He grew up with inner damage, fearing his own difference and unable to look to his family for help because to him they were part of the problem. Sam is used to dealing with pain he keeps under wraps. Bobby acknowledges Sam’s history when he says, “You always were one deep little son of a bitch.”

However, Bobby knows Sam is right to worry about Dean. The older man can sense Dean’s withdrawal and he knows the pattern: Dean will die if he can’t relight his spark as a warrior fighting what goes bump in the night. And as much as he wants to protect Sam and Dean, most of all Bobby wants to protect himself. He’s outlived too many friends. He’s not prepared to outlive his de facto sons. Oh, the foreshadowing.

Jensen Ackles as Dean WinchesterThe writing of this episode works on multiple levels for all three main characters. Dean’s drug-laced sandwich leads to some really funny scenes as he goes all Zen on everything except his next turducken fix. But his disengaged attitude also represents what Bobby fears is in store for Dean if he can’t get back in the game. Drugged out Dean isn’t much help on the Jersey Devil case and similarly, disengaged Dean won’t last long hunting Leviathans.

On the other hand, Bobby accepts Sam’s explanation of his inner strength. Sam is never tempted by the turducken sandwich. Fast food fixes leading to apathy have little value for him. Unlike Dean, Sam has never been an emotional eater. He engages his intellect when he makes his choices—unless he’s blinded by emotion. Ruby got to Sam when he was blinded by the need for revenge.

Ironically, I suspect Bobby himself will be the chink in Sam’s Lucifer armour. Possibly losing the man who has stood in for a father will likely send Sam into an emotional tail spin—and Sam’s tail spins tend to have big consequences. I think Bobby’s shooting will get Dean back in the game, but will destabilize Sam.

This episode has so much character goodness, laced with both humour and touching moments. I loved the little anecdote about Bobby taking the boys hunting as kids and neither being willing to shoot a deer. Besides reinforcing how much like a dad Bobby has always been, filling in for John when he was obsessively hunting the yellow-eyed demon, it also shows how far the boys have changed from those sentimental lads.

The Leviathan arc is also well served. Dick Roman is appropriately smooth and dangerous, with arrogance oozing out of every pore (when black goo isn’t). I’m curious about the big plan, which obviously involves taking over the world and using a factory farm model to raise complacent people food. The sandwich zombies are scary, while the Leviathan habit of bibbing has the usual “eww” factor we’ve come to expect from this series.

And that leaves me with the cliff hanger:  Bobby! The final sequence was very effective, as I relaxed when the hunter finally jumped in the van. Yet Dick’s final shots were so coolly aimed I had a sinking feeling he would hit something . . . or someone. As a cliff hanger leading up to the mid-season finale, Bobby getting shot is a corker. I cannot believe the writers would kill Bobby. And yet . . .

The next part of the review will deal with pure speculation on my part. I have no knowledge of any spoilers.

Jim Beaver and Bobby SingerMy suspicion is Bobby will die. The description of this season is the Winchesters will lose everything that helped them in the past. Bobby is the last connection the boys have to their usual way of handling enemies—other than Crowley, I guess. Let’s say Bobby is the last clearly on their side connection Sam and Dean have. Killing him really sets the boys adrift, which is where the writers want them to be.

From one standpoint, I see the attraction. It does reboot the story and shake it up. I’m certainly on pins and needles and can’t wait to see what happens in the next episode. Sam and Dean would have to reach out to each other to get through Bobby’s loss and I love seeing relationship development between the two.

But from another standpoint, I wonder about the wisdom of taking away every reference point to the boys’ past history. Supernatural has a very rich back-story at this point. We’ve bonded with several characters who were with Sam and Dean in dire circumstances and those characters opened up story telling. One blush from Jo reminded us she had a crush on Dean, while he viewed her more as a sister, leading Ellen to act as a pseudo-mom to him.

Castiel and Dean bonded over the pain of an absent father, making Castiel’s betrayal all the more poignant, particularly when he hurt Sam. Castiel’s entrance into the story would bring up the idea of forgiveness on both Sam and Dean’s parts without it needing to come out of subtext. The audience can fill in the gaps. We know the history. We have our investment in what we want to happen (in all the many permutations those hopes come in!).

Taking away both Castiel and Bobby in one season takes away so much history that can be referenced without having to write anything on the nose. And to me, referential writing makes richer writing. I like being able to read subtext based on what I know. I like having expectations as soon as I see a character. I don’t really see it benefitting the show to pare Sam and Dean down to, well, Sam and Dean.

I need to be able to imagine their world. Supporting characters serve a lot of functions. They open up the world to more than just Sam and Dean’s viewpoint. They bring out different sides of the boys through their interactions. They move the story forward, and it helps me care about the plot when I care about them.

So, I’m a little worried about taking Bobby away. It reminds me a little of another show I used to watch regularly: House. For the fourth season, the writers decided to shake things up by removing three of the supporting characters, replacing them with three new characters. It turned out, however, that the characters were not easily interchangeable. The audience knew what the old characters wanted from House. They liked to guess what House wanted from them. All the characters’ relationships were rich with subtext.

The new supporting characters had no such baggage to bring with them. Yet they had to fulfill the same story function as the old characters did. The result was the writers creating a deeply emotional arc for one new character (Thirteen) which left most of the audience cold. We hadn’t bonded with her. We didn’t know what she wanted from House or vice versa. She brought no subtext with her. I’m a little worried about the Winchesters existing in a world where none of the supporting characters besides Crowley make me care.

This is all pure speculation at this point, and I am very invested in the story and willing to see where it goes. “How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters” is a first-rate episode. I just hope the writers will recognize the right point to stop taking things away and start adding.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • Gerry

    That’s an interesting perspective!

    If the key players didn’t want another season, though, I wonder why they renegotiated to get one. I’m pretty sure the CW wants another season. SPN has the third highest key demo ratings and on a Friday to boot. It fills the same place Smallville did for the network–the steady performer. Most TV ratings pundits put SPN in the most likely to be renewed category, because for the CW, it’s doing well.

    Maybe the writers are trying to sabotage their own show, but I can’t really see the benefit. I suspect that even if Bobby dies, they can see a way to go on for next season.

    Whether they can convince the fans of that is another question. (-:

    Is Bobby a deal breaker for the majority of fans? He’s not for me on the face of it. I’m game to follow where season seven goes. I’m a little worried about losing so many beloved supporting characters, but I’m ready to be shown the story will continue to gripping and moving.

  • Laurie

    I think it’s both simple and worse. I think it depends if they hear of a renewal for season 8. Bobby will make it if they do.
    But I also think they don’t want a renewal, for whatever reason. So Bobby dies, giving the brothers a huge reason to get the leviathan, and go out in a blaze of glory, saving the world again. Reuniting in heaven would be a nice touch. I wonder if Kripke is in the picture at all anymore?

  • Gerry

    I would love it if that was the scenario the writers go with, too. Take Bobby off the board for a while, but keep him as a playing piece. I adore him, too. Jim Beaver is a marvelous actor who can sell whatever he’s given to act.

    But I have a bad feeling . . .

  • Amy

    I don’t know that they’ll kill Bobby. I really hope they don’t for a lot of the reasons you have stated, but also because I just really adore him. If Bobby is injured to the level he appears to be, that would mean, even if alive, he’ll be out of the game and recuperating for quite sometime, this will leave the boys alone, they won’t be able to rely on his help because he’ll be healing. I think this will throw them together and make them have to believe in and trust each other again because they don’t know if Bobby will ever be able to help them on the level he did. This is my hope at how it pans out. I’ve been desperately trying to remember Jim Beaver’s movements of late…he is on holiday in Japan at the moment sharing with us a lovely travelog. I just think, with doing away with Cas, though is he really gone for good, can they afford to do away with Bobby forever? Take him out of action yes, lose him once and for all, I hope not, because I think that will be a huge mistake.