Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 7, Episode 19 of The CW's "Supernatural," entitled "Of Grave Importance."
After a three week hiatus, anticipation was high for this week's "Supernatural" -- not least because it featured the return of Bobby (Jim Beaver), who met an untimely end eight episodes previously in "Death's Door." The show was operating on two levels with "Of Grave Importance," one being the Monster-of-the-Week case of the spooky Van Ness House, the other being Bobby's ghostly return and the Winchesters' discovery of that fact. Though the two story threads spent a great deal of time intersecting, only one of them really worked for me: the reintroduction of Bobby and Sam and Dean's subsequent reactions to his ghost status.
In the last episode, "Party On, Garth," my main criticism was that the horror aspects didn't mesh well with the comedic elements, which made the whole story feel tonally dissonant. While "Of Grave Importance" did manage to maintain its tone and sense of emotional weight throughout, it failed to fully utilize the potential scares inherent in a haunted-house setting. Since it's so late in the season, I understand why the writers felt the need to reintroduce Bobby and stick him in a ghostly environment in order to teach him the tricks of the trade, but I am a little disappointed that the writers were unable to milk more genuinely creepy moments out of such a fantastic milieu. The only scene that made me jump involved the ghost abruptly screaming before she spontaneously combusted, which relied more on shock than well-built tension.
For those who watch the show purely for the brotherly interactions, I suspect that episode 19 probably left you cold, since Sam and Dean took a backseat to Bobby and Annie's story inside the haunted mansion. While it was a welcome return for Jim Beaver, with a meaty enough arc to make up for the eight episodes he's been absent, we didn't really know enough about Annie, the teenagers, or the other inhabitants of the house to feel much empathy for them, which lessened the emotional impact of a number of scenes. I will say that I was impressed that the casting department skewed a little older in choosing Jamie Luner for Annie -- when I first heard that we would meet a woman that both Sam and Dean had been intimate with, I was expecting some busty blonde twentysomething with little believability as a seasoned hunter; I'm glad the show has learned from past mistakes in that regard.
Luner brought believable grit and attitude to the role, and the moment when she found her body in Whitman's office was particularly poignant. While I'm glad the show didn't play out the moment of her demise on-screen, it would've been nice to have had a little closure, or even a simple moment of interaction between her and the boys -- the cut from Sam and Dean's discovery of Bobby to them leaving the house having torched all the bones felt a little abrupt to me.
So what worked about the episode? Enough that it left me reasonably satisfied, although, like "Party On," it's not going to earn a place on my rewatch list. When it focused on the characters and interactions that we actually care about, namely Sam, Dean and Bobby, the episode gained palpable energy. Beaver perfectly played Bobby's growing frustration at his own helplessness, and the episode's final scenes in and around the car were heartbreaking. The writers were savvy in explaining why Sam's previous attempts to contact Bobby with an Ouija board failed, since he always did it alone while the flask was with Dean. Bobby's frustrations nicely mirrored Dean's own attempts to Swayze various objects and make himself heard way back in Season 2's "In My Time of Dying." I'm also glad that the writers addressed, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, the criticism that Sam and Dean had become too reliant on Bobby's deus ex machina methods of solving every problem for them, with Bobby telling Annie, "Give 'em a moment, they've gotten a little slower since I left." I just hope that Bobby's return won't mean a return to the boys being unable to figure things out on their own, without one of Bobby's books or the man himself pointing them in the right direction -- they certainly seemed a lot more capable and inventive back in the first few seasons, before Bobby became a more integral part of (the admittedly greatly missed, at least from where I'm sitting) Team Free Will.
The script gave Jensen Ackles a little more meat than Jared Padalecki in terms of the boys' responses to Bobby's return, and Dean's reactions in the last few minutes of the episode were utterly gut-wrenching. The Winchesters have spent the past few months mourning the loss of their mentor and father-figure, learning to cope without him, and in the space of one episode, are now faced with the prospect of losing him all over again when this inevitably ends badly.
While Sam, characteristically, is trying to be hopeful and see the silver lining in having Bobby back, Dean has spent all season feeling beaten down and defeated as their few remaining sources of support are systematically taken away, and at this point, it seems clear that he's all out of faith that things could possibly work in their favor. "What are the odds?" he pointed out with obvious weariness, because the odds haven't been in the Winchesters' favor for a long time now. I'm just hoping that something this season can restore Dean's faith, because nihilism isn't particularly enjoyable to watch, especially for a character as formerly vibrant as Dean. I'm not sure if he has the strength to go through saying goodbye to Bobby a second time -- not in his current state, anyway.
Still, even though many of us suspected that "Death's Door" wouldn't be the last we saw of Bobby, I'm intrigued to see how the season plays out from here, and how the writers will resolve Bobby's situation. Are they brave enough to lay the character to rest forever once Dick Roman is defeated, or will they find a way to somehow restore Bobby's body once Castiel is back in his right mind? While earlier seasons were always focused on a predetermined enemy (and as a consequence, very satisfying once Azazel or Lilith or Lucifer were defeated), I'll admit that I do appreciate not knowing exactly where the writers are going this year, since we still don't really know if the boys will defeat the Leviathan or if the story will somehow carry on into an inevitable Season 8. It might not necessarily come off as planned (since last season's finale felt a little lackluster to me) but I'm interested to see where we're being led.
Are you glad to see Bobby back from the dead (sort of)? What did you think of Annie? Share your thoughts on the episode below!
"Supernatural" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.