Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 7, Episode 18 of The CW's "Supernatural," entitled "Party On, Garth."
After the previews for "Party On, Garth," it seemed as though a number of "Supernatural" fans were expecting the hour to be all filler, no thriller. And, while the finished product certainly lacked the heart or finesse of some of the season's stronger installments, the final five minutes of the episode elevated "Party On" from a typical Monster Of The Week romp to a game-changer, in terms of the season's direction.
I'm less concerned with dissecting the episode itself, and more interested in tipping my hat to the magnanimous Jim Beaver and the rest of the "Supernatural" cast and crew, who went to great lengths to conceal Bobby's eagerly-anticipated return from us all. One of the most pervasive questions the actors receive at fan events is some variation of, "what's the best prank you've ever played on each other during filming," but Bobby's return -- and the entirely fabricated "Abominable Snowman" movie that was supposedly keeping Beaver busy away from the show -- was undoubtedly the best prank the "Supernatural" family has ever pulled, and on us, no less.
But, as Dean (and many fans) have suspected all along, Bobby refused to let go of his surrogate sons when the Reaper came calling, and he's been looking out for Sam and Dean for months now. All the strange coincidences that have been plaguing Dean -- disappearing beer, handy pieces of lore and a business card that led him back to Castiel -- have been thanks to Bobby's divine intervention. For now, Dean still can't see the other hunter, but that shouldn't last for long. It's just a pity we have to wait until April 20 for that emotional payoff.
This episode spent a lot of time focused on bumbling hunter Garth (DJ Qualls), whom we first met in the fairly atrocious "Season 7, Time For A Wedding!" -- I wasn't recapping the show at that point and Mo was still on a break, but my issues with that episode are too vast to get into here and have probably been touched on far more eloquently elsewhere. Suffice it to say, Garth had the bad luck of being introduced in a highly divisive episode, and unless you were already a fan of DJ Qualls, it's likely that "Wedding" left a sour taste in your mouth, one that may have inadvertently transferred to Garth through osmosis as an unfortunate side-effect.
"Party On" was inoffensive and generally light-hearted (despite all the kid killing), and Qualls' quirky demeanor was enough to provide a sufficient comedic foil for Sam and Dean, although I think his character is retreading ground that the Ghostfacers have already traversed with far more wit and whimsy in previous episodes. Inept/wannabe hunters aren't a particularly new theme for the show (see also: "The Real Ghostbusters") but again, I wonder how many fans are predisposed against Garth thanks to the peripheral content of "Wedding."
The episode contained plenty of throwbacks to Japanese horror -- particularly "Ringu" and "Ju-on" (or "The Ring" and "The Grudge," to US audiences) and while the Shojo ghost was suitably creepy, her menace was considerably blunted by the humor of the episode. Usually, "Supernatural" either does straight comedy or straight horror, and generally manages to pull that delineation off spectacularly, but considering "Party On" had neither the laugh-out-loud hilarity of "Bad Day at Black Rock" or "Changing Channels," nor the concentrated creepiness of "Bloody Mary" or "Family Remains," the episode never really felt like it was firing on all cylinders.
Only episodes like "Mystery Spot" or "A Very Supernatural Christmas" (both written by the near-unparalleled Jeremy Carver) have been able to pull off creepiness or emotional resonance alongside humor, and that was only because the Monster of the Week aspect took a backseat to the relationship between Sam and Dean, or helped to inform it. Here, Sam and Dean themselves took a backseat to Garth's kookiness, reacting instead of acting for the most part.
Still, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki know Sam and Dean so well at this point, they make their jobs look effortless. Ackles, in particular, did a great job with Dean's drunkenness, but neither were given much to do this week -- perhaps purposefully, given the heavy emotional arcs they've been playing for the past few episodes.
ETA: I almost forgot to mention how glad I was to see the show following through with Castiel and Meg's story from last week. I had hoped it would, and felt it was necessary to give the plot a little more weight, but sometimes these things get lost in the drafting process. Seeing the tail end of Dean's call with Meg was a simple enough fix, but I'm a sucker for continuity so I was glad the episode made time for it alongside the ghostly shenanigans. It sounds like Castiel's still in a bad way ("down to the drool") but I'm sure we'll see some progress on that front in upcoming episodes.
"Party On, Garth" isn't one of those classic "Supernatural" episodes that will earn an eternal place on the repeat viewing list, but in terms of providing an unexpected and welcome curveball ending, it's right up there with Crowley's shocking return in last season's "Mommy Dearest," thanks, again, to the returning actor agreeing to having their name hidden from the opening credits to preserve the surprise.
Were you surprised by Bobby's return? Are you glad to have him back? What did you think of the rest of the episode? Weigh in below!
"Supernatural" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW. The show will take a three week break and returns with a new episode on April 20.