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Supernatural Nostalgia — 9.07 Bad Boys

November 21, 2013
Warner Bros/The CW

Warner Bros/The CW

Last night’s Supernatural episode, “Bad Boys”, felt like the Show in Season 1 and 2, when every episode left me literally vibrating with FEELS and bursting with this tremendous creative energy. I wanted to know MORE about what had just happened outside those 42 minutes on my screen. I wanted to dissect every moment and peer into Sam and Dean’s heads and figure out why they did what they did and what they meant by every (nearly unspoken) word and every gesture and every long look. I wanted to read fanfiction and write meta and celebrate Show with everyone else who was blown away like I was. That’s how I felt after last night’s episode. I couldn’t wait to jump onto Tumblr and see the gifs and read the capslocked wails of “CRYING NOW OMG” and scour LiveJournal and AO3 to see if anyone had written an episode coda yet. That’s what Supernatural felt like for me when I fell for Show all those many years ago – that’s what drew me in and took over my life and made me the passionate fangirl that I am. That’s what we wrote Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls about. Thanks, Adam and Kevin and Serge, and Jared and Jensen and Dylan, for bringing all that back.

This morning I woke up remembering a conversation we had with Eric Kripke back in Season 4 when we interviewed him for our books. We were talking about how the Show he created inspired people in turn to be creative, and what it felt like for him to see all the many places that fans had taken his creation. “I take it as a compliment as far as the fanfiction,” he said, “because what we set out in the beginning to obtain is a really self-contained universe in which fans can come and go…so just as in all good universes, you can find new ways to expand and explore other corners of that universe…And the fact that the fans are actually doing that is a good sign – I love it and I welcome it. I wanted to create a universe where we welcome others to come and play.”

We found ourselves smiling while we listened; Eric was smiling too. It was a nice moment, and one that cemented my affection and admiration for both Kripke and SPN. Last night’s episode felt like an invitation to climb into the sandbox and play, and that’s a pretty wonderful thing.

One of the reasons that “Bad Boys” had so much emotional resonance for me was because it evoked the early seasons, both in ‘feel’ and in the familiar tropes it used. SPN has been around long enough for me to get nostalgic for the “old days” and I literally squeed out loud when the boys did an old fashioned salt and burn. Just seeing Sam and Dean digging up a grave, perfectly in sync, and then standing over it, Sam sprinkling the salt and Dean striking those match covers and tossing them in made me gleeful. Yes! This is what my Show is about! (Also it was damn scary at times, with Kripke levels of gruesome. Yes!) I had the same sort of nostalgic reaction when Dean burst in yelling a protective “Sammy!” when Sam was being attacked by the ghost, when Dean pulled out the EMF meter, and when the brothers had a heart to heart in the Impala and then headed off into the sunset. In the early seasons, that’s almost always the way the Show ended, and as soon as it happened, I burst into tears. It just felt so right.

I’d been spoiled for the sort-of return of the Samulet, but I still wasn’t quite prepared for the emotional impact of seeing it on Dean’s chest. It was both wonderful and terrible, because I miss that damn amulet so damn much. Seeing it in the past was almost a tease, reminding me just how much I want it around Dean’s neck again, where it belongs. I might have shaken my fist at the television at that point. Nobody can accuse me of not being animated when I watch SPN.

I know there were some continuity jags – Dean talks about a rugaru in this episode, but doesn’t remember what that is later in a S4 ep – but those sort of details don’t tend to throw me out of the moment. I’m not a stickler for that kind of continuity, though I recognize that fans all watch for different reasons, and for some, that’s a painful thing. I did have a WTF moment when Sam’s recollection was that Dean was gone for two months “lost on a hunting trip”, because I can’t handwave the conviction that if 12 year old Sam had really thought his brother was lost, that would have been a huge trauma for him. Wouldn’t he have expected John to spend the two months frantically searching for his brother? I’m assuming that Sam got a better explanation at the time than the brief bit of dialogue implies, and that whatever John said and did at the time made sense to Sam, even if it clearly wasn’t the truth.

At first, I doubted that Dean would actually stay with Sonny – canon and fanon has always suggested that he was loyal to John and to the family business. But the episode sold me on the reason Dean stayed and made it believable – one, because John clearly wanted Dean to stay there, and Dean knew it and obeyed. Secondly, because the experience turned out to be a formative one for Dean, and I think some part of him knew that from Sonny’s very first interaction with him.

I can imagine that for Dean, the emotional loss of his father (on top of the physical loss of his mother) was not easily healed. John went from being the loving, attentive dad, sweeping Dean up in his arms for a hug, to a detached, obsessed man, overwhelmed with his own grief and the need for revenge. He clearly loved his boys, but was no longer able to show it. For young Dean, losing that affectionate father who was proud of him must have been incredibly painful. So Sonny’s overt expression of caring must have felt like balm to a still-open wound for Dean. A father figure who sees Dean’s strengths and celebrates them, with wrestling champion plaques on the wall and actual words: “I’m proud of you.” How many times did Dean crave those words from John? No wonder he stayed.

Those two months were the closest that Dean ever got to “normal” – more than his time with Lisa and Ben, because he was still young enough to take it all in and to let himself believe he deserved some happiness. Sonny and Robin convinced him of that. It may have been the one time in Dean Winchester’s life that he actually let himself have some happiness (which broke my heart as I realized it, and necessitated additional boxes of tissues at the ready). Still, my reading of the episode is that Dean never really considered his time at Sonny’s permanent. He clearly expected John to come back for him, so he wasn’t grieving the separation from his father and brother, or making a decision about the rest of his life. But he was enjoying that time, and the freedom to be his own person, away from the pressures of hunting and the responsibilities of taking care of his little brother. Yes, Dean defines himself as Sam’s big brother, and I think he loves being there for Sam, but having that responsibility thrust upon him so early must have been difficult – anyone would chafe under it from time to time. Dean knew Sam was safe, and that they would come back for him, so he could let go and just be a teenager for once.

I can see the concern about 16 year old Dean already moving away from idolizing his father, since that seems to take away from his later struggle to do just that. On the other hand, development doesn’t always happen in a steady forward motion – at different stages, we need to believe different things. Dean could have seen his dad clearly for those two months, especially in the wake of his anger at being forced to stay there, yet once he made the commitment to return to the ‘family business,’ he needed to idolize John again in order to be the “good little soldier” we know he was. Perhaps he needed to throw up some denial against the awareness of John’s flaws to do that – people are frighteningly good at denial, and Dean’s defense mechanisms are stronger than most. His later vehement rejection of ‘normal’ – for both himself and Sam – is typical of what people do when they’ve given something up they once loved. In order to live with that decision, the once loved thing is devalued, or even despised. So, I’m giving the episode the benefit of the doubt on that one, just like I’m assuming there’s a lot we don’t know about John’s explanation to Sam for Dean’s absence, so Sam wouldn’t be out of his skin with worry.

Before I talk about the scene that turned me into a wibbling fool, the one quibble I did have with the episode was that young Dean didn’t read as 16. Dylan Everett did an amazing job of playing Dean – he had the mannerisms and expressions down pat, so that even though he didn’t physically look all that much like Dean, I bought his portrayal more than I ever bought previous ones. (Writer Adam Glass tweeted that Dylan watched 5 seasons of SPN in a week to get Dean right – and it shows.)

Icon by tebtosca

Icon by tebtosca

He even mastered Jensen’s signature One Perfect Tear (TM).

Icon by tebtosca

Icon by tebtosca

Though I do admit that seeing Dean with brown eyes was a bit weird.

Icon by tebtosca

Icon by tebtosca

Dylan embodied Dean so perfectly that when I looked at young Dean, I saw Dean, and that’s a tough thing to do. Especially when a young actor is trying to embody my favorite fictional character in the history of ever!

However, as wonderful as Dylan was, he didn’t read 16. I found myself yelling (yeah yeah, probably out loud…) “Wait, Dean Winchester’s first kiss was at SIXTEEN?” For godsakes, even MY first kiss was way before that! Shhh, don’t tell my parents. But seriously, that stretched my belief. Neither canon nor fanon has ever implied that Dean was the type of kid who was that innocent at that age. With all that he’d seen and done, and how parentified he already was, it would make sense that Dean would be more experienced, not less. I get that Dean was in an unusual setting, and that part of what made it healing for him was that it allowed him to take down the walls he’d already built around himself, so he could be real and vulnerable instead of tough on the outside, with that trademark bravado we all have come to know and love. But that would work even better if he was, say, fourteen instead of sixteen.

Imagine my happiness when I read writer Adam Glass’s tweet that he actually wrote young Dean as fourteen, but that they changed it up in ADR because Dylan looked more like sixteen. Whoever made that decision? You were dead wrong. The dialogue and the story were written for a fourteen year old, and they made a lot more sense for a boy that age. (The change also made Sam look way younger than Dean – if Dean was 16, Sam should have been 12 going on 13, and probably not playing with a toy airplane out the car window…) If Sam had been 10, it would have made more sense that John’s explanation of where Dean was for two months was less than informative as well.

My headcanon is now recoding Dean in this episode as fourteen. Timeline be damned!

So, the wibbling. I didn’t cry when Dean got the news that he wasn’t going to the school dance after all – that his “normal” life was over. I didn’t get emotional when he looked at the photo of him and Robin on the wall, and realized he’d have to leave her. But when young Dean looked out the window and saw Sammy in the backseat of the Impala, all tousled hair and being a kid, and his entire face broke out into such a heartfelt smile – that’s when I lost it. The pure joy on Dean’s face when he saw his little brother was overwhelming. It was clear that there was no real decision to make. And Dean has never wavered from that conviction; it’s what the Show has revolved around.

The traditional ending scene, the boys having a heart to heart in the Impala, only increased the emotional impact, as Sam expresses his side of the equation. Throughout the episode, as in some of the best fanfiction, we’ve been seeing what happened to Dean as much through Sam’s eyes as our own – as we understand Dean better, so does Sam. We see the room where Dean slept, the bed with its carved protection symbols, the “Dean W.” still there beneath the names of the boys who came after.

Warner Bros/The CW

Warner Bros/The CW

We see Dean’s bravado for what it is, and we see the truth of Dean’s experience, through Sam’s eyes. So when Sam drops any pretense of teasing and tells his brother “thank you for always being there,” we know why. We know what Sam knows, whether Dean will ever admit it or not. And so Sam’s thanks hit me like another gut punch, as full of love as young Dean’s smile had been at the window so many years earlier. And when Dean says he didn’t stay because it “didn’t feel right,” I believe him. A life without each other has never felt right for either of the Winchester brothers.

So thanks for the trip down memory lane, Adam and Kevin. I’m gonna go see if any of those episode codas are posted yet.

We’re headed for Creation’s #BurCon this weekend – follow us on twitter @FangasmSPN for live tweets and pictures, and if you’re going to be there too, come find us in the vendor’s room with lots of copies of Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls and say hi!

11 Comments leave one →
  1. candygramme permalink
    November 21, 2013 3:22 am

    I think my reaction to last night’s show was pretty much identical to yours. I loved it from start to finish and craved more of it. I wept a bucket load and look like a cabbage patch doll today at work! I’m not like Jensen; I don’t cry prettily. The only thing that was missing – for me at least – was an exchange of ‘Bitch!’ ‘Jerk!’ Writers, please take note.

  2. November 21, 2013 3:55 am

    I agree with the age issue! I was surprised when they said 16, so in my mind, he was 14, too! And I loved the impala scene at the end when Sam said thank you, that just broke my heart! It was awesome!

  3. bjxmas permalink
    November 21, 2013 3:57 am

    I agree, it was a wonderful trip down memory lane with some sweet new reveals about our boys. I’m with you, the canon ‘stumbles’ are noticeable but immediately dismissed as irrelevant because the heart of the episode grabbed hold of me and THAT’s what matters! Adam delivered on the promise of all that Supernatural can be. All the familiar scenes freshly told cemented my love for the episode. I squeeed when they dug up the grave and Dean lit the match book on fire. I smiled when I saw the amulet and I both missed John and tried to think up the justifications he formed in his own mind for the slights he inflicted on his son. I’ll always love John, but I’m not blind to his faults. I am forever grateful that Dean had Bobby and Sonny to temper the demands on his life.

    I love that Sonny was there for Dean, another father figure validating him and gently guiding him down his own path. Dean is John’s loyal soldier, his obedient son and a fierce hunter, but he is also a vulnerable, sensitive boy still trapped in the hell his life became. His strength pulled him through, allowing him to focus on the good, taking care of Sammy and the bond of family. For a guy who always claimed you can’t get close to people, Dean always has. He’s always allowed people into his life and taken comfort from the bonds he forms.

    What I love most about Adam’s script is the simplicity of it and the effortless way small scenes held great impact. Sam and Dean didn’t need to talk about their feelings, Sonny didn’t have to question Dean about what his life became after he left, there was no need to examine and rationalize what happened then or what has happened since. It was understood and the imprint of Dean’s time at the Boys Ranch obviously helped shape him in subtle ways, just like growing up with John or finding refuge at Bobby’s.

    Dylan was brilliant as young Dean. I did cry when he started to cry, loving how open and unashamed he was to be a young man crying for the loss of something he never thought he might have. I love that Dean had two months of freedom, two months to be a boy/young man discovering love and considering his own wants and needs.

    And I love that Sam knows all this and that he is thankful for his big brother’s devotion and sacrifice (which to Dean’s mind is never a sacrifice!). It’s what I’ve been longing for, some Dean care and the proof of Sam’s love and devotion.

    My only request now is for more flashbacks with Dylan. I want to know all the forces that shaped Dean Winchester into the man we all love and admire!

    B.J.

  4. Naomi Maggiora permalink
    November 21, 2013 4:07 am

    Such a great recap of an amazing episode. Dylan did a wonderful job as “young Dean”, and Jensen followed through with the perfect Dean as he always does. The episode did feel like a season 1 or 2 and I loved it. Would love to see more back stories. This show just keeps getting better and better.
    Hope y’all are coming to the cons in DC and Dallas-I would love to meet you, especially after reading your last book.

  5. MariapiaW permalink
    November 21, 2013 12:34 pm

    You just put into words my very heart and soul about this episode. Totally agree with the age thing. Dean seems to be somewhere near 14 rather than 16 and Sam being 10 makes so much more sense too so I will just assume present day Dean made a mistake and he actually meant 14 and leave it at that. Loved young Dean as much as I love him now and loved to see Sam acknowledge just how much Dean has meant to him over the years and probably thinking how different and more difficult his own life would have been without him.

  6. MariapiaW permalink
    November 21, 2013 12:45 pm

    Oh and one more thing. Couldnt help to notice Dean standing up for his father again telling Sam it had been his mistake and none of it his fathers fault. But no matter how flawed John was as a father I still cant bring myself to believe he ever abused them. History actually says otherwise. Remember they talking about it in S1 Bugs and Dean saying his dad had never treated them like Larry when he was telling off his kid. Just saying that part of the story doesnt really fit to me.

  7. Kimmie permalink
    November 21, 2013 1:29 pm

    Really loved the Bad Boys episode. He story was great and everyone did a awesome job. Agree about it being like the earlier seasons. Love seeing the brothers close and working together.

  8. Fritz-the-Cat permalink
    November 21, 2013 4:56 pm

    “You were dead wrong. The dialogue and the story were written for a fourteen year old, and they made a lot more sense for a boy that age”

    I beg to differ.I think that was a very believable 16yr old Dean – much more than a 14yr old would have been. He is confused and emotional and moody at times and cocky – that is much more 16 than 14, I say. The cockiness sold me on 16, because while he could have pretended at 14 as well, he wouldn’t LOOK so cocky. Not enough practise in that age.
    And not everyone kisses younger than sixteen. They were moving around a LOT, he always had Sammy at his side and as his responsibility, he had to take care of his father when he was hurt (or at least he did, don’t know about the “having to”) and in that age, if I remember correctly, the courting-period was longer than as a young adult (meaning 18 and up).
    So I can see it happening that he just never got enough opportunity. I read that it wasn’t actually meant as his first kiss, just that he didn’t kiss many girls before. and yeah, I definitely can see that happening.

    I agree with Sam coming across as a bit too young in that car, but then again – who says that even precocious 12-yr olds can’t behave like little kids in a while? Boys mature a lot later than girls – so it’s possible and I can handwave that.

    I can also handwave Sam thinking Dean was lost for 2 months, because he said that Dad placed him with Bobby during that time and took off – John could have EASILY told Sam that he was looking for Dean.

    And while I first had trouble accepting that John would just leave Dean there… well. Dean didn’t just steal some food and got caught. He gambled away the money for their food, he got caught stealing and by doing that, Sam was ALONE until John could return from his hunt.
    He might have even left a hunt unfinished and maybe people got hurt because he had to hurry back to ensure that Sam was safe.

    I’d be pretty pissed at that boy myself, and in my mind’s eye, when John got the call from the police or Dean himself, he read his son the riot act, then told the officers to keep that boy for a while.
    He might have even needed the time to cool down.

    Which brings me to why he didn’t relent about the dance – because honestly, it’s not that much difference that one night would have made. But it wasn’t supposed to be holiday-camp for Dean, and while it turned out to be a good time, it was still a punishment.

    So while I’m usually not the biggest fan of John, this whole story reads believable and not too ass-holey to me. Because John HAD to rely on Dean (or give his boys up for someone else to raise) if he wanted to continue hunting, since he couldn’t yet leave Sam all alone for too long. And he had to have the puberty out of his boy and make sure he toed the line, otherwise all would fall down. We can argue about the reasons for hunting being good ones, but as it is, he needed a reliable helper.

    And while there was much sadness in Dean having (and partly choosing) to sacrifice a normal, stable life, I loved that Robin told him that he was a rockstar in his own field. That while she thought she hated the diner, she came to love it as it was and chose it herself – even though she probably DID have more choice than Dean, she still chose the family-business.
    There is no shame in that.

    • November 24, 2013 11:44 pm

      I have to disagree with you there that John was right in his anger at Dean. That Dean left Sam vulnerable and alone because he was caught is not on Dean, that’s on John. Sam is John’s son and he should be the one to take care of him. That shouldn’t have been Dean’s responsibility. We don’t know how long John was gone but Dean steals food so Sam won’t go hungry, that made me think that was the reason for him gambling as well. Perhaps he was running out of money and tried gambling as a way of making more money to buy food etc. for him and Sam. I don’t think John can blame him for gambling considering that’s how John made money as well, he’s the one who taught them that.

      He didn’t have to rely on Dean, and he didn’t have to hunt. He could’ve let Bobby take care of them both, like he took care of Sam while Dean was gone. Dean is not a “reliable helper” he’s John’s son, and he should have been allowed to be a kid. Dean is not at fault for Sam being alone, John is.

  9. November 21, 2013 11:08 pm

    This season, with the exception of “Slumber Party,” each episode has been all over the place emotionally–for me, that is. Tuesday’s episode felt a little tired at times, but at the same time I admired the level of detail (reading Adam Glass’s tweets later were great), and I fanwanked that Dean was 14. As it turned out he was supposed to be, which made everything make so much more sense. The actor nailed young Dean!

    My biggest problem is that we learned what we already know. That Dean will always put himself last, no matter what. When he says he wants to be a mechanic because you can fix the car and you’re not responsible for it any more, we know he’s talking about Sam. The last scene with Sonny broke my heart, every time I watched the episode. (I make a point of watching an episode several times before reviewing it.) When Sonny offered to “stick his neck out,” I felt like shouting, “Say yes! Say yes!” But, well, Dean’s smile when he saw Sam sealed the deal. Also, the end with Sam and Dean and the Impala…I don’t ever use the word “feels,” but it was touching and so Winchester in the best way possible.

    Also Bruce saying “I clobber evil” as it melts on the stove, and the Shower Curtain murder will always be tops with me.

    You can find my review here: http://cuddyclothes.livejournal.com/285421.html

  10. dean's_girl permalink
    February 15, 2014 12:37 am

    I couldn’t disagree more; I thought this episode was terrible. It’s only saving grace was Dylan Everett, who made a great young (brown-eyed) Dean. But everything else was all wrong. It felt like John’s actions came straight out of bad fanfic (as if he would ever have let Dean get put through the system like that! When one of their top rules is never to leave a paper trail!) and I didn’t buy Dean’s wide-eyed innocence with Robin for one minute.

    So many embarrassing canon stumbles! Dean’s first love was Cassie – it’s kind of a big deal in S1, and Dean always wanted to be a *fireman* not a mechanic. I felt like this episode was written purely to demonise John – without even adding to Dean’s character growth, so what was the point?

    Sam’s belated realisation of all Dean’s sacrifices for him was too little, far too late. And it didn’t even add anything to his reaction of the truth about Gadreel- he still went off on his high horse and refused to see Dean’s POV. This ep was frankly a huge waste of screentime and I don’t count it as canon. As far as I am concerned, this season is minus an episode.

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