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.
I’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.
Jensen 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.
The 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.