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TV Review: Supernatural – “Party On, Garth”

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I’d like to have been a fly on the wall when the Supernatural show runners swore their writers, producers and cast to secrecy about the big reveal in this episode. Blood rituals must have been involved to have kept the secret in this age of the internet and the paparazzi. The payoff this week was huge, as (spoiler alert!), Bobby unexpectedly returns to our heroes’ story, to great rejoicing, but, for me at least, with just a hint of unease.

Jim Beaver isn’t the only returning actor, of course: D.J. Qualls reprises Garth, the odd yet oddly effective hunter. And I have the same sense of happiness laced with a hint of unease about him. “Party On, Garth” works on many levels: as a lighthearted episode, as a bigger introduction to Garth, and as a continuation of Sam and Dean’s grappling with grief. But each level has some aspects that trouble me.

DJ Qualls as GarthI’ll start the same way “Party On, Garth” does, with the man himself. We first met Garth in “Time For A Wedding,” and it wasn’t the best introduction to a new supporting character. D.J. Qualls as always was fine. He gives a lovely quirky touch to his characters and his Garth had personality. Part of his character is to appear like the polar opposite of Sam and Dean’s intrepid hunters. Garth lacks their physicality and air of hardened experience. I got the impression last time we were supposed to realize Garth had his own strengths, but there was little time to establish that in the busy and flawed episode.

The writers give Garth his due this time and he gets a grand entrance as he exits his car in slow motion, on his way to salt and burn a body. This Garth knows his way around ghosts and appears to be a rare example of a reasonably content and grounded hunter. He’s got a girlfriend and as long his motel has a hot tub, he’s a happy puppy. He also knows when he’s out of his depth, so when he realizes he doesn’t know who or what has been killing teenage boys in town, he calls Dean for help.

What ensues is a chuckle worthy case as Sam, Dean and Garth realize they are dealing with a Japanese shoju, an alcohol spirit who can only be seen when drunk. The story is a riff on J-Horror like The Ring, a movie Sam references when he tells Dean how guilty he feels about passing his trauma on to Castiel.

Jared Padalecki as Sam WinchesterJensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and D.J. Qualls are great fun as Sam, Dean and Garth spend the episode either getting drunk or battling hangovers as they track the shoju. Garth gulps one beer down and is loaded, while Sam wonders whether Dean can even get drunk anymore, given how much he drinks every day. Turns out the answer is yes, and drunk Dean is as adorable as high Dean was in “How To Make Friends and Influence Monsters.”

“Party On, Garth” is enjoyable as the boys and Garth try to unravel who set the vengeful shoju to kill the children of the owners of a local brewery. But I think it suffered a little from the same syndrome as the Bela arc did in season three. In that arc, Sam and Dean often felt like supporting characters in her story and rather inept ones, at that. In this episode, Sam and Dean spend more time reacting to Garth than controlling the story.

The brothers are not inept, thank goodness, but the writers need to find a way to integrate Garth without inactivating Sam and Dean. Characters like Ellen, Jo, Ash and the Trickster were memorable, but always supported the Winchesters’ story, not the other way around. I have great hopes for Garth, because he’s a quirky attractive character with talents that complement Sam and Dean’s. He’s perceptive and intuitive. I trust the writers will find a good balance on how to use him.

As so many of this season’s episodes do, “Party On, Garth” has an underlying story tying into the season’s emotional arcs for Sam and Dean. Both boys are still dealing with grief over Bobby. Dean allows himself to feel his grief. He’s always been the emotional Winchester, going with his gut instincts, and those instincts are whispering that Bobby may be a ghost. When Dean gets even more evidence at the brewery his instincts are on track, he calls out to Bobby in a lovely scene, showing Dean’s hope and Sam’s pity.

Sam has had far too much on his plate to properly grieve Bobby and his approach is very different from Dean’s to begin with. Sam has always been very guarded with his emotions, leading with logic to keep himself grounded. He misses Bobby as much as Dean does, but he has been the one to insist they find different experts to take Bobby’s place. He sees himself as a realist and as he was unable to contact Bobby through a spirit board when the first odd event happened (Dean’s disappearing beer), he thinks he and Dean are suspecting Bobby’s presence because they want him so badly to still be around.

Sam’s explanation makes sense and he convinces Dean. What Dean does not realize is Sam’s grieving process is blunting his instincts. When Sam used the spirit board to contact Bobby, he didn’t know Bobby’s spirit seems to be tied to his flask, which Dean has. Garth showed the flask triggers EMF readings. But Sam is as reluctant to believe as Dean is not to believe. Neither one wants to set himself up for more pain.

Jim Beaver as Bobby Singer and Jensen Ackles as DeanThe ending of the episode beautifully illuminates the grief the boys feel as they talk themselves out of believing Bobby is there—while we get to see in fact Bobby is there. And while I don’t want to speak for “the fandom,” I feel confident there was much rejoicing when we heard that much missed, “Balls!”

I love that Jim Beaver actually concocted a fictitious movie to explain why he was flying in and out of Vancouver. I bought his story lock, stock and barrel and am so relieved he is not actually starring in a sketchy film about the Abominable Snowman. Bobby’s return was a complete surprise and that makes good drama. I am stoked to find out where this is all leading.

The Winchesters have lost so much this year; it is time they got some support back. Castiel is damaged, but back, and Bobby is dead, but back (I love this show!). Both characters bring talents the boys can use and back story the writers can use. But most importantly, they love Sam and Dean. Their relationships with the boys give hope in a very grey world.

So with all this good stuff, why do I have a faint feeling of unease? It’s because I have so many questions on how and why Bobby’s spirit is still around.

I know there were some folks who questioned how Castiel could transfer Sam’s trauma to himself last episode. I have no problem at all with the writers creating the rules concerning the supernatural in this story. There is no concrete evidence concerning angels, so the writers can imagine what they like.

However, once rules are established for a world, they have to be followed to maintain internal logic. Many rules have already been established in this show concerning ghosts. Sam and Dean have been salting and burning bodies for six and a half seasons and it’s always worked to send the ghost on. I will need to know why the ritual didn’t work with Bobby. Is it because Dean focused so much of his grief on the flask, giving the spirit something to latch on to? I’m not saying I can’t be convinced. I am saying I want this bend in the rules explained so I feel the internal logic is intact.

That’s not the only quibble, though. I also wonder what the end game is in bringing Bobby back as a ghost. I miss him terribly, but I still need his return to work for the story overall. Supernatural’s writers usually find a good balance between self-aware humour and taking the genre seriously. I’m not thrilled at the idea of Bobby as a friendly ghost helping Sam and Dean solve cases on an ongoing basis.

On the other hand, I’m even less thrilled at the idea of GhostBobby going mad and Sam and Dean having to hunt him down. I’d much rather keep the goodbye I already made to the character in “Death’s Door.” Again, I’m not saying I see no way Bobby’s return can work, but I am a little uneasy about it.

But I will save that unease and trust the writers because I am so happy to hear “Idjit” again.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • nikka

    usually when the body has been cremated and there is still a ghost, it is usually tied to something that was important, in this case Bobby’s flask.

  • Gerry

    Hi Nikka, thanks for commenting! That’s my guess, too. It’s just that in the Supernatural, a ghost has always had to have something from its corporeal body left behind (usually hair). I just want the show to acknowledge they need to amend the lore–unless I’ve forgotten another case where just an object worked, which is possible. (-:

  • B Thompson

    In the episode where Bobby dies, he chooses to stay to be with the brothers and not move on. He has a conversation with his reaper regarding this. As Garth said, just because a body is cremated doesn’t mean that the spirit can’t remain here on earth.

  • Dee

    Great recap. I can think of two episodes that could back up why Bobby’s ghost didn’t, or couldn’t, move on. In The Usual Suspects, the ghost was a victim of a crime and couldn’t rest until her killer was brought to justice. She disappeared when the ‘unfinished business’ was taken care of. Secondly, in Hook Man, the hook was considered a part of the Hook Man and even though it wasn’t a body part, so to speak, it was an integral part of who it was.
    Perhaps either Bobby thought the boys were his unfinished business, or the flask was truly a part of who Bobby was.
    Also, I’m right there with you as far as Bobby’s ghost is concerned. I wouldn’t like it at all if he returned only to have Sam and Dean have to hunt him down to put him to rest, nor would I like it if the only reason they brought Cas back was for a quick fix for Sam. Hopefully the writers have more respect for them than that. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

  • Gerry

    Great to see all of you here! Thanks so much for the conversation.

    B, I know Bobby was deciding what to do in Death’s Door, so he could decide to remain behind. But the Reaper did say it would turn him into a crazy ghost, so he should leave. My impression was the boys salted and burned Bobby’s body to make sure he couldn’t be that kind of ghost–why else would they give him a hunter’s funeral?

    Then again, Dee, you’re right–there have been ghosts who needed to stay behind for unfinished business and I can see Bobby thinking taking care of Sam and Dean is his unfinished business. I’m not sure how he will escape turning mad, though. Tess told Dean he would, if he stayed.

    I really don’t want the boys to have to hunt Bobby. I’m also not sure how they would, as they’ve already salted and burned him.

    With this discussion, though, I can imagine a story line where Bobby leaves voluntarily once he thinks he’s accomplished what he stayed for, which would be something to do with vanquishing Leviathans. I’d be down with that.

  • Aris

    The Winchesters don’t hunt ghosts that aren’t harming anyone. Actually they don’t even hunt monsters unless they’ve hurt someone or that the chances of that happening are pretty high.

  • Gerry

    Hi Aris, I agree, the brothers hunt ghosts who are hurting people. My niggle on the subject is that it’s been a consistent theme on Supernatural that staying behind as a ghost eventually drives the ghost mad and mad ghosts do need to be hunted. That was Tessa’s argument to Dean when he didn’t want to leave and that was the Reaper’s argument to Bobby on why he should leave. Since Bobby hasn’t, I would like the show to deal with what that means, given its own lore. I could be down with a lot of possibilities, I just want the continuity to be there.

    I really really don’t want the boys to have to hunt Bobby’s ghost because he goes mad–I would rather he stayed dead and I got to keep my goodbye in Death’s Door. So I hope that isn’t the possibility the show goes with!