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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Supernatural: “Southern Comfort”

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This season, Supernatural has really been pushing the road trip aspect of its premise by bouncing all over the map, but tonight, the boys roll into Missouri and set a spell. The location is important, because the story turns on Missouri’s especially tortured history involving its role in the Civil War, and the inability of people generations removed from that conflict to fully move past a bloody, chaotic event that pitted brother against brother. Horror is a genre that thrives on metaphor, but Supernatural is a show that often manages to be pretty literal-minded even when it’s metaphorical, and it turns out the menace is the ghost of a Confederate soldier who really was pitted against his brother, who had opted to enlist on the Northern side. The Johnny Reb in question was so embittered over this that he is now a specter, defined as “an avenging ghost” who “forces you to act on… whatever betrayal you’re feeling.”

Sam and Dean don’t put all this together right from the jump. All they know at first is that a local woman suddenly developed a yen to go for a spin in a car at the very moment when her husband happened to be lying under it, playing mechanic. The best explanation for this is that, back when they were in high school decades earlier, he had a one-night stand with another girl before coming running back to her, which would count as some kind of world record for tending a slow burn unless ghostly possession is involved. Sam and Dean are having trouble focusing; Dean is his usual surly self, but with something gnawing away at him that he’d rather not talk about or even acknowledge, and in their first scene together, his grumpiness pushes Sam to new heights, if that’s the right word, of whiny-little-titty-babydom. Happily, they have the triumphant return of Garth (DJ Qualls) to look forward to, and help steer them right.

The big news with Garth is that he’s taken over the role that Bobby played in the hunter multiverse. When he’s reunited with Sam and Dean at a blood-spattered crime scene, the indelible sound of Kriss Kross suddenly stutters out from beneath his buckskin-fringe jacket, and he excuses himself to take a phone call and offer some advice to a lonely hunter: “A revenant? Okay, you’ll need a casket and some silver spikes. And don’t get bit. No, it won’t turn you, but it’ll hurt like hell.” Predictably, Dean does not take kindly to the idea that Garth—well, anyone, but maybe especially Garth—is supposed to be “the new Bobby.” He gets even testier when Garth puts on one of Bobby’s old hats, which should obviously be inside a closely guarded glass case in the sacred-artifacts wing of whatever is the hunters’ equivalent of the Vatican. Garth can’t even say “Idjit” in a way that meets with Dean’s approval. When Garth and the brothers sit down together for a bite to eat, Garth says “That’s balls!” in exasperation, and Dean hisses, “That’s not how you say ‘balls!’” I was hoping he’d tell Garth that’s not how you’re supposed to chew with your mouth open when your face is in close-up, but Dean doesn’t seem to notice the wads of half-masticated food rolling around inside DJ Qualls’ mouth like socks in a dryer, which goes to show just how distracted he is.

If Dean is livid over Garth’s presuming to step into Bobby’s mud-caked shoes, Sam’s distractedness takes a different form: Every time Garth reaches out and tries to offer him wise counsel, Sam slips into a flashback of Abigail, the girl he left behind. The flashbacks, which seemed halfway inviting last week, are back to being the creepiest thing in the show, and it’s still to early to call whether this is intentional and is meant to signal something terribly not right about Sam’s memories, or if the directors who work on Supernatural just have to go for creepy whenever and wherever they can fit it in. Meanwhile, the specter has gotten a hold of Dean, setting the stage for the big confrontation scene when he turns on Sam and appears ready to blow his brains out. The brothers go back and forth trading accusations for a while. Both have failed the other on more than one occasion. But, Dean insists, he never left Sam to die, and never would have just gotten on with his life and forgotten about him if he’d been sucked into Purgatory. He makes a good point.

In the end, Garth, in his role as the new Bobby, saves the day—with the help of his decidedly un-Bobby-like superpower of a total lack of bitterness and regret, which enables him to mix it up with the specter without getting any of it on himself. Dean accepts that Bobby and his memory are not his and his alone, and the brothers are reconciled to working together and setting their resentments behind, for now. No sign of Kevin on the horizon, though.

Stray observations:

  • Back-story fill-ins: Abigail says she had a husband who was killed in Afghanistan, and Garth went to dental school. He crossed over from one world to the other when he killed the tooth fairy: “Not my proudest moment.”
  • Funniest moment, not just of this episode, but of the season so far: Standing over the skeleton of the Unknown Soldier Of The Confederacy, preparing to burn the bones, Garth suggests that maybe they should say something appropriate for the occasion. Dean pauses, says, “Hey, we won,” and lets the match fall.