One of Supernatural’s central tenets is that the life of a hunter is short. It’s something we’ve been told over and over for seasons now, and in practice, it’s never quite rung true. Which is not to say that we haven’t seen plenty of hunters getting ganked, but too often, the mortality rate of the ghost-killing business is used as a way to pile still more angst on the miserable lives of Sam and Dean Winchester. By now, whenever Dean gets that mopey look and starts talking about how there won’t be any happy endings for him, it’s hard to get too worked up. But in concept, this isn’t a bad idea at all. It helps raise the stakes for the heroes (the life they’ve chosen/been forced into isn’t a lark), and it gives an increased sense of urgency to everything they do. And for someone like Bobby Singer, the short life span has been hanging over his head like a cloud since the first episode he walked onto the show. He’s survived longer than most any other hunter we’ve seen, because he’s smart, and because he tries not to stick his neck out any more often than he absolutely has to. But he’s loyal to Sam and Dean, and with the world in chaos and other hunters dropping like flies, Bobby has gotten more and more directly involved with the day to day business of killing beasties and saving the day. Sooner or later his luck was going to right out. And tonight, it did.
“Death’s Door” picks up immediately after where “How To Win Friends And Influence Monsters” left off, with Sam and Dean discovering that not everyone made it out of the Leviathan fight intact. Bobby has a bullet in his brain courtesy of Dick Roman, and as the Winchesters rush to get their wounded friend to the nearest hospital, Bobby wakes up inside his own head, surfing various memories of his past while he slowly realizes the problem. He’s dying, and the damage to his grey matter is closing him off from his past and his future. A reaper shows up in his memories to tell him its time to let go, and move on--he’s earned it, after all. But Bobby isn’t ready to give up just yet. He knows something about Dick Roman’s plans that Sam and Dean need to know, and before he shuffles off this particular mortal coil, he needs to wake up long enough to pass on one last piece of advice. Maybe, like the reaper says, Bobby’s done enough for the Winchesters, and the world, but by now, helping his boys (and he does consider them his) is so ingrained it’s not even a choice. So he picks up a memory of Rufus from one of their earlier ghost hunts, and he goes on a quest to find the way out. Only, according to Rufus, the exit door is hidden inside Bobby’s worst memory. And Bobby’s got a lot of bad memories to chose from. (This is a clever narrative device, by the way; even though it lets us know the basic structure of the episode in advance, it also means we’re going to stick around to see just what that worst memory is, as well as giving us enough rules to know what the stakes are.)
After a disappointing mini-run of episodes this fall, Supernatural has managed to re-discover its grove in the last couple weeks, and tonight’s episode was a gripping, even beautiful note to send us into the Christmas hiatus. While I’m very sad to see him go (and a little worried what his absence will mean for the reast of the season), Bobby Singer’s final repose is as good a grae note as the character could’ve hoped for, giving over most of the hour to a look at what drove him to be the man he was, and what kept him from being the man he might’ve been. This wasn’t the funniest ep the show’s ever done, and I can see being bothered by just how serious everything got if you’re just in this for the laughs and the grossness. But unlike the angst-ridden dreariness we’ve had to slog through in the past, “Door” was as much interested in catharsis as it was in dredging up old wounds. Bobby was on the run from the reaper, but the occult element here was minimal, as the story was more focused on human drama than the, well, supernatural. A handful of scenes featured Sam and Dean worrying in the hospital (and squabbling with everybody’s favorite Dick), but the lion’s share of the ep was devoted to Bobby and his brain. It was a nice change of pace.
It was also a great showcase for Jim Beaver, who quite possibly is the best actor to ever appear on Supernatural. Beaver has done a great job of anchoring the show whenever he appeared, because he looked like what you’d imagine a hunter really ought to look like; not Sam and Dean’s model good looks (which isn’t a knock against either actor; their appearance has long been one of the show’s selling points for a large part of its fan base, and both Ackles and Padelecki do good work, and show a gratifying willingness to mock themselves whenever possible), but a rumpled middle-aged guy who wouldn’t seem out of place panning for gold in the old west. There’s a dignity to Beaver, a sense of lived-in decency that pervades nearly ever role I’ve seen him in, and that dignity helps make even the corniest moments in tonight’s episode work. We see Bobby with his wife, both when times are good and their last fight three days before she’s possessed; we see him bonding with a young Dean over a game of catch in the park; and we see the abusive father who ruined his childhood. This last bit is the trickiest to pull off, because it could’ve seemed cheap or exploitative or even redundant; this series has already done more than its fair share of daddy issues stories. But it works, again, mostly because of Beaver. First it’s horrifying when we know what’s about to happen; then it gets worse when the hitting starts. But Bobby steps in and gets pissed off, and that helps undercut the grimness of the scene, reminding us that this all happened years ago. When young Bobby shots his dad to protect his mom (who turns around and tells him “God will punish you for what you did”), it’s miserable, but grown-up Bobby isn’t so horrified that he can’t step in and reassure his younger self that everything will be okay.
Even better, while Bobby’s childhood experiences soured him from having his own kids, he eventually realized that his life would be better with sons in it, which is how he basically came to adopt Sam and Dean. Their father/son relationship has gone largely unspoken, so it’s nice to hear Bobby come right out and say it tonight, if only in his mind, before he leaves them for good. I’m not sure what Supernatural will look like with Bobby gone. There really isn’t a supporting cast left anymore, and the few good guys outside of the Winchesters who haven’t been killed were more closely connected to Bobby than Sam and Dean. On the one hand, no Bobby means there’s no one to call to provide easy answers to tough problems, which could be good for tension; on the other hand, without Bobby around to call them “Idjits” when they’re being stupid, who knows how miserable the Winchesters might get. We’ll have to wait until next year to find out, but until then, there’s reason to hope. Supernatural has had some terrible character deaths in the past, but “Door” hit all the right notes. It’s in the look on Bobby’s face at the end, watching the boys--his boys--joking around on the couch. There’s a lot of darkness on this show. It’s good to remember the light sometimes, right before it goes out.
- Admittedly, they may find some way to bring Bobby back. If they don’t, I’m almost hoping the show ends after this season. It’d be a shame to go on too long without him.
- “What’s going on with your head?” “I got shot in it!”
- Dean thinks Chuck Norris could kick Jet Li’s ass. Dean is an idiot.
- “Kids ain’t supposed to be grateful! They’re supposed to eat your food and break your heart, you dick!”
- See you next year!