When Dean admitted to Sam he’d kept the fact that he spent two months at a home for delinquent when he was 16, rather than being lost on a hunt, I was pretty worried about this episode. Oh, good, another Winchester secret! Surely, this boded ill for “Bad Boys,” which would almost certainly contain a ton of not-so-subtle Zeke stuff, possibly even the big Zeke blowup I’ve been dreading all season. Instead, with the exception of one line that you don’t even have to interpret as being about Zeke, “Bad Boys” is a truly standalone episode of Supernatural, focusing on a pivotal time in Dean’s adolescence and the longevity and strength of the core relationship between the Winchesters.
I wasn’t totally on board with the flashbacks at first—this sort of story, by definition, can’t really have any dramatic tension, and besides, we know pretty much everything we’re ever going to know about the Winchesters at this point absent any future character development. But “Bad Boys” strikes a bit more of a contemplative tone, like a really long version of “The Road So Far.” Dean’s relationship with Sonny (Blake Gibbons, best known for a recurring bit on General Hospital and rocking an epic mustache), an ex-con and owner of the home, makes a lot of sense. As his conduct toward Timmy and protectiveness of Sam throughout the episode indicate, Dean is a better man than his own father, and it’s nice to see him warm to a kinder masculine role model who isn’t the admittedly dysfunctional Bobby. Though Dean Everett is mostly flatly mimicking Jensen Ackles in most of his scenes as the younger Dean, the moment he shakes Sonny’s hand to say goodbye is more powerful than any Winchester backstory has any right to be at this point—you can practically see the instant Dean Winchester became a man.
Even the Dean teen love story doesn’t flub too badly. The beats here are pretty predictable, since we know who Dean Winchester is, but it was cute enough to see Dean’s first kiss. And even though we don’t learn much more from those flashbacks, it’s worth it for the conversation at the end of the episode when Robin and Dean reminisce about their teen dreams. The pair bonded as kids talking about wanting to escape their parents’ shadows and avoid the family businesses, only to find themselves still killing monsters and waiting tables nearly 20 years later. Oddly, this isn’t treated with any sense of sadness—Robin is happy running the diner, and of course Dean loves killing things. Sometimes the established path isn’t totally the worst, and Dean’s acceptance of in some ways becoming his father is a nice note of maturity, especially considering what the family business actually is.
The actual case in “Bad Boys” similarly draws its power from particular moments, some of which are more purely thrilling than the show has been in quite some time. The first act runs through the typical beats of a Supernatural episode with a yawn—ghost story, revenge, bone burning, blah, blah, blah, until Bible-thumping home employee Ruth is killed in the bathtub in one of the most tense, visually striking, and genuinely frightening sequences the show has done since season five. Though troubled little boy Timmy appearing to attack the bullies with the lawn mower wasn’t anything special, the shriveled hand of his mother’s ghost on his shoulder sure was. And the effects on the mother’s transformation from shriveled ghost to glowing, relatively normal-looking person were pretty excellent. Cheesy, maybe, but still solid for what the episode was going for.
Timmy himself is easily the worst part of the episode. Sean Michael Kyer (who I gather has been in quite a few genre shows, though I’ve never seen any of the episodes he’s been in) is just wooden for most of the episode. With the possible exception of his attempt to persuade his mother’s ghost to leave, it’s difficult to buy that Timmy has been through any trauma at all, let alone the horror of the car crash he describes. There’s also little to differentiate him from any generic semi-creepy, bookish child (a category I once belonged to). Besides the cookie cutter bullying, his drawing of the crash is taken straight from a dusty tome of “troubled kid in horror story” conventions, without anything to even remotely subvert the trope in the way Supernatural is often skilled at.
The main plot’s adherence to convention and expediency is just a drag, surrounded by excellence. As exciting as the bathroom sequence is, it doesn’t really justify how sleepy the episode is beforehand. Though the final confrontation between Timmy and his mother’s ghost is well done, the way the Winchesters solve the case (including those terrible drawings) doesn’t indicate that they needed to be there at all. And after burning Timmy’s action figure fails to exorcise the ghost, Sam just sort of decides that Timmy is the anchor, causing his mother’s ghost to protect him from any threat, real or imagined, which calls way too much attention to itself as a ridiculous leap of logic, even for this sort of story.
As frustrating as the main case was, I can’t really get too mad at it. Like last week’s episode, “Bad Boys” was a surprisingly effective, small-scale story looking at where one of our main characters’ heads is at. Dean’s commitment to Sam, reinforced by yet another look at the brothers’ shared past, isn’t the most original thing for Supernatural to double down on. But when the main threads this season get moving, their connection (so long as it’s not frayed by some Zeke crap) is probably going to get a bit lost, and it’s really great to have something with no relation to all the angelic and demonic war stuff to make sure we remember the real point of the show.
- Sorry this is way later than usual, had some not very time-negotiable problems with the only thing scarier than horribly burnt ghosts: airline customer service.
- Did I mention how epic Gibbons’ mustache is?
- It took me two hours to fully realize there was no Human Crowley in this episode, which I think says a lot about how much the show has been juggling this season and how effectively, for the most part, it’s done it. Yes I will probably talk about this every week because it’s super impressive.
- One thing “Bad Boys” does (albeit unintentionally) is call attention to the longevity and current age of our heroes. By now, assuming “Bad Boys” takes place in 2013, Dean is 34. If the show makes it much longer, are we going to start getting gags about how he can’t quite keep up? Might he be… too old for this shit?
- Next week: jokes about virgins!