With all of the angels, trials and the King of Hell, it’s hard to remember when Supernatural used to be a simple show about ghosts and monsters. This week the show feels like a season 1 episode with the boys fighting a ghost and dealing with Dean’s psychology that goes all the way back to the first episode.
Flashbacks show Dean at 16 when he was arrested stealing food for Sam. Papa Winchester decided it was best to ship him off to a boys’ home run by a guy named Sonny for a few months. At first he was a punk, punching cops, but he quickly found a decent life. He did well in school and became a championship wrestler. Sonny proved to be a great surrogate father, taking the time to treat teen Dean like a man.
Teen Dean also had an adorable first love with Robin, a guitar teacher’s daughter who gave Dean his first kiss. If my math is right, this means Sam was younger than Dean when he had his first kiss with Amy Pond.
The most revealing moment, however, is when teen Dean told Robin about wanting to be a rock star or a mechanic when he grew up. He loved cars because they come into the garage, you fix them up, and then they leave. It seems clear to me that this is a not-so-thinly disguised commentary about Dean’s resentment over being forced to take care of his little brother, sacrificing his own hopes and dreams for the sake of his family.
The flashbacks end the night Dean was going to take Robin to a school dance. Unfortunately, Papa Winchester showed up that same night to pick him up. Dean clearly didn’t want to go, but he looked out the window and saw little Sam in the backseat playing with a toy plane. In that moment, teen Dean became a real man (illustrated by the manly handshake with Sonny). He accepted that family comes first and he will have to sacrifice happiness or normalcy to be the big brother he needs to be.
It’s simultaneously sweet and heartbreaking. Dean loves his kid brother so much that he gives up his own dreams. Perhaps the show knew I was starting to question Dean for lying to everyone in his life this season, so we needed this episode to remind us of everything he gave up for Sam. Dean has always done everything for his brother.
The Ghost Story
In the present, Sonny calls Dean to help with a ghost at the boys’ home. It’s refreshing to see all of the old trademarks that this show used to be about. The air gets cold, lights flicker and someone dies. The Winchesters dig up a body at the cemetery before salting and burning it. Ah, the good old days, burning an innocent body by mistake.
Even the tense attacks feel retro for the show. Two young kids are doing chores when something gets caught in the lawnmower. The one kid reaches in to unclog it and the show brilliantly builds to the inevitable moment when the blades turn on and the kid’s hand turns to ground beef.
After a few red herrings, the obvious suspect is a nerdy little boy named Timmy who Dean takes a shine too. He has an evil-clobbering action figure which seems like the anchor for the ghost, but it’s not. The ghost is Timmy’s mom who died in a car crash while saving him and now she’s still trying to protect him from anyone who might be a threat. In order to stop her, he needs to take control and tell her to leave because he can take care of himself now.
This is totally season 1-style Supernatural. The ghost story has definite parallels to Dean’s personal story, whether it’s in the way she protects her son or the simple similarity of a mother being burned alive.
In the end, as they drive off, Sam takes a minute to thank Dean for everything he’s done. Sam saw glimmers of the life Dean led at the boys’ home and is smart enough to figure out that Dean gave up a happy, normal life to help his little brother.
Dean, of course, acts like this is no big deal. We know that it is. It’s the biggest deal. It’s the premise the entire show is based on, from that opening scene in the pilot (which is recapped before tonight’s episode) of John Winchester handing baby Sam to Dean and telling him to keep him safe. Sure, Dean has literally died to save his brother, but this episode shows where it all started, when Dean made the choice to give up everything for his kid brother. That’s Dean’s greatest sacrifice.
Next week on Supernatural: Sheriff Mills calls the boys to fight dragons, which means they must sign a purity pledge and pretend to be virgins. Dean may have fought Lucifer, but pretending to be a virgin will be his most difficult battle.
(Image courtesy of the CW)