5.07 The Curious Case of Dean Winchester: They’re My Years, I Can Do What I Want
Best years of your life:
Stake them on a game of cards;
Live young or die old.
A woman chuckling over the Weekly World News saw her husband hurry into the house and bolt upstairs. Taking refuge in the bathroom, the young man saw himself aging rapidly, and crashed backward into a cabinet as his heart gave out, and his wife screamed when she discovered him. Posing as investigators from the CDC, the brothers checked the body in the morgue, and Dean called Bobby to confirm that he was right and it definitely was a case. He noted there was only one body, but more than the usual number of missing persons, and Bobby said he had a hunch they were connected. Before hanging up, Dean asked Bobby how he was doing, and he sarcastically said he was crying into his ice cream.
Checking the most recent of the missing persons, senior citizen Cliff Whitlow, the brothers learned that his late-working Tuesdays were a cover for his weekly visits to the same room in a hotel with pretty girls and hourly rates. Dean, amused, said he hoped he had that kick when he was Cliff’s age, while Sam observed neither of them were likely to live that long. Going to check the room, expecting to find a recent corpse, they instead found a young man active in bed with two girls. Recognizing a tattoo on the man’s arm as a match for one they saw in a photo of Cliff and finding his wallet on the dresser, they confronted him, posing as investigators hired by his wife. Begging them not to tell his wife, Cliff explained he’d met a young man named Patrick with an Irish accent in a bar, who invited him to play poker using years instead of money for his bets. When he ended the game winning against the house, he discovered he’d gotten younger in years by the number of chips he’d been up. When they asked where the game was, Cliff said Patrick told him he liked to move around and never stayed in one place long.
Calling Bobby to fill him in, the brothers learned there was plenty of lore through hundreds of years about a traveling card player who could give back the best years of your life if you won, but would age you if you lost. Dean said he and Sam would have to split up to canvass all the bars in town looking for the game. Thinking about the possibilities after hanging up the phone, Bobby grabbed his van keys and left home.
At the end of a fruitless day of searching, Dean checked in with Sam – who’d also had no luck – on his way into one more bar. Telling Sam it was his turn to pick up dinner when they both headed back to the motel, Dean braced the bartender for information on a poker game, and this time heard about a place behind the bar. Heading back to check it out, he ran into Bobby coming out of the place, and learned that Bobby had found the game but hadn’t stopped it; instead, he’d played, hoping to gain back years and escape the wheelchair, but he’d lost 25 years instead. He began to age in front of Dean’s eyes. Appalled, Dean went in and confronted Patrick, who was working on enticing another man at the bar with a pretty woman. Drawing Patrick aside, and learning that he’d stolen the man’s watch, Dean threatened to shoot him if he didn’t restore Bobby’s years, but Patrick was amused rather than scared. He told Dean he could play for the years, and Dean agreed, over Bobby’s protest. Informed that buying into the game took 25 years, Dean told Patrick to make it 50. Patrick chanted over the chips and pushed them to Dean. Counting out 25 of them, Dean told Patrick to cash them out for Bobby, and when the witch chanted over them and they burst into flames, quickly turning to ash, Bobby rapidly returned to his normal age. Patrick taunted Dean with his need to win those years back.
Later, Sam returned to the motel with burgers and drinks, only to see an old man walk out of the bathroom. He pulled a gun before realizing that the old man was in fact Dean, who admitted to having lost in the game with the witch. Bobby arrived to trade barbs and warn Dean about things he couldn’t do any more – including eating bacon cheeseburgers – and then offered the guess that the aging had to do with the poker chips carrying some form of enchantment. Bobby said he remembered every word of the spells the witch had chanted over the chips both when he presented them to Dean and when he cashed in the ones to return Bobby’s lost years. The three decided to try finding Patrick’s chips and stealing back the 50 years Dean had lost. On their way out of the room, Dean met the maid delivering towels and turned on his customary charm, only to be compared to her amorous grandfather.
Watching the bar from Bobby’s van, they saw Patrick hit and seemingly killed by a speeding car, only to get up and drive away in it while the driver ran for help from a nearby construction crew. They followed him to an apartment high rise and waited until they saw him leave again, then went in. Discovering the elevator broken left Bobby out of the chase, but Sam and Dean climbed the stairs – Dean slowly and with great effort – and broke into the apartment. Dean found the wall safe, but his failing eyesight and hearing complicated his attempt to open it, and Sam pushed him aside to get it open and reveal the chips. They were caught in the act by the woman who had been in the bar, revealed as Patrick’s accomplice, who used power to hold them and began strangling them before Patrick abruptly returned and told her they were harmless. He told them to take the chips if they wanted because the power wasn’t in the chips, but in him: a 900-year-old witch. Dean offered to play again, but Patrick said he didn’t have enough years left to buy in again, and maintained he wasn’t a murderer. He offered to let Sam play, but Dean immediately objected. Patrick let them go, telling Dean he should have taken better care of his heart. He said Dean’s situation was punishment enough, but told Sam he couldn’t let him leave without a parting gift, and slowly clapped his hands three times. Observing Sam’s genital discomfort as they left the building, Dean realized the witch had given him a case of the clap – gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease.
The next morning, still trying to figure out a course of action, Sam offered to play, but Dean objected. Saying he was a better card player than Sam and Bobby was better than he was, and both of them had still lost, Dean said Sam wouldn’t be good enough to win against the witch’s hundreds of years of experience. All three of them made the point that winning at poker wasn’t just knowing the game and playing the cards, but playing the other guy. Bobby argued that he had played the guy and knew his style, and could take him. Dean and Sam both objected that Bobby didn’t have enough years in the bank, that he would die if he lost, and Bobby lost his temper, asking savagely just what he was living for. Angrily observing that his paralysis made him useless just as the apocalypse began, he maintained that he was old and used up, and he wasn’t a hunter any more; that he was worthless, and if he wasn’t such a coward, he’d have killed himself when he got home from the hospital. Appalled, Sam insisted that he wouldn’t let Bobby play, that there had to be another way out of this and he would find it.
Returning to their motel room without Sam, Dean and Bobby found Lia, Patrick’s companion, waiting for them. She handed them what she called the most powerful reversal spell they would ever see, something they could use to reverse all of Patrick’s magic and restore normality for everyone who had ever played him and was still alive. She admitted it would affect her as well as Patrick, saying she looked good for her age. When Bobby doubted her, saying what she was doing didn’t make sense, she said she had her reasons, and fingered the silver locket she wore on a chain around her neck. She told them to act fast because they would be leaving the next day.
Sam went to see Patrick at the bar, discovering him playing poker with an elderly Jewish man, and saw Patrick deliberately throw the game to let the old man win 13 years. Smiling, Patrick told Sam the old man would live to see his granddaughter’s bat mitzvah. Perplexed, Sam asked what he did it for, and Patrick smiled that he was a nice guy, then asked what he could do for Sam. Sam told him to deal.
Meanwhile, Bobby and Dean were collecting the ingredients needed for the spell, with Dean digging open a murderer’s grave to get his jawbone. Dean grumbled constantly about his aches and pains, while Bobby taunted him for complaining all the time.
Watching Sam’s careful, deliberate style of play, Patrick talked to needle him, saying he liked Sam and that Sam’s heart was clearly in the right place. He claimed intuition giving him insight into his opponents, and teased Sam, asking if his big brother knew he was playing, then observing that he didn’t think so. Trying to prod him, Patrick noted he was trying to clean up Dean’s and Bobby’s mess, but they still wanted him to sit at the kiddie table. When Sam asked if his armchair psychology routine usually worked, Patrick laughed that Sam should tell him, since he was the one who was losing. Sam, meanwhile, watched Patrick intently, following every movement of the toothpick Patrick constantly chewed on. Some time later, when Sam was significantly down on chips but still not out, Lia arrived and kissed Patrick, and Patrick, tossing down his toothpick, suggested a little break.
Sam burst out of the bar’s back door to find Dean and Bobby waiting with the van, having collected all but one of the essentials for the spell. Revealing that his turn at the poker table was actually part of the overall plan to implement the spell, and that he was playing with no expectation of winning just to keep Patrick distracted from the main event, Sam offered the toothpick as the missing piece of the spell: some of the witch’s DNA. He returned to the game to continue to keep Patrick occupied while Dean and Bobby worked the spell, and Dean, worried, admonished him not to lose. Walking back to the van, Dean gripped his left arm, feeling pain. Bobby completed the spell, with the toothpick the last thing added to the fire, but nothing happened. Even as they realized the toothpick didn’t have Patrick’s DNA, Patrick was confronting Sam during the game, asking if his toothpick was the one Sam had meant to give his brother, and revealing he had used sleight of hand to substitute a virgin one. Telling Sam he didn’t like cheaters, Patrick reached out with his power and gripped Sam, choking him, saying he’d tried to kill them, but Lia grabbed his arm and said she was the one who had given them the spell and he knew why. Angry, Patrick demanded Sam keep playing, intending to punish him.
Bobby and Dean returned to Patrick’s apartment to try finding something else with his DNA. Up in the room, Dean saw a used wineglass on the table and headed for it, but suffered a heart attack on the way. Sam, who’d cautiously played the percentages throughout, suddenly put the bulk of what he had in the pot, leading Patrick to tease him about being transparent and to say that if he had the monster hand Sam obviously did, he’d play it cagey to build up the pot as much as possible, not give himself away by betting too eagerly too early on. Patrick folded, yielding the pot to Sam … who showed his worthless cards and revealed that he’d just successfully bluffed Patrick. Patrick, surprised, praised the bluff and said if he had time he could make a real player out of Sam. Sam said he had time, but Patrick said Dean didn’t; that Dean would be dead in minutes. Sam tried to get up, but Patrick held him in place, saying that the game wasn’t finished until he said it was. Desperate to get to Dean, Sam played then with reckless speed, making Patrick observe that when it was about his brother, he got so emotional his brain flew out the window. Watching the cards on the table, Sam went all in to force the game to end. Patrick objected, telling him not to do that, saying there’s poker and then there’s suicide, but Sam said that since he couldn’t leave until the game was over, Patrick should play the hand because the game was over. Patrick apologized, laying down aces full, and Sam was surprised to see Lia crying for his apparent loss. Then he revealed that he had the winning hand: four fours. Patrick praised his play, and when Sam demanded he cash in the chips for Dean, Patrick agreed with pleasure. Bobby saw Dean dancing his way out of the building, restored to his proper age.
In the aftermath, Lia forced Patrick to play against her, telling him she’d buried her daughter as an old woman and couldn’t do it any more, living contrary to nature. She said she thought she could, but just wasn’t cut out for it, and although she loved him, she missed her family. When he said he didn’t think he could do it without her, she smilingly observed that he’d gotten along for many years before he’d met her. Clearly distraught but yielding to her wishes, he dealt the cards. She went all in on her very first bet and lost, and thanked him as she rapidly aged.
Sam told Bobby that he’d won purely by luck, and then left to get a booster shot to clear up his STD. Dean had a heart-to-heart with Bobby, apologizing for calling him an idiot and telling him he wasn’t useless. He said Bobby didn’t stop being a soldier because he got wounded in battle. He told Bobby he was family, that he couldn’t do this without him, and he didn’t ever want to hear suicide talk again. Awkward with the emotion of the moment, they both agreed to move on and pack up the van, and Dean restored the balance by teasing Bobby, calling him Ironside.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
While Dean’s aging was played mostly for laughs, there were some quiet and poignant things going on beneath the surface that spoke to more changing attitudes between and within the brothers, and that also gave insight into Bobby’s state of mind. In this discussion, I’m going to look at what Dean learned from getting old, how and why Sam reacted as he did, how Bobby is coping with his losses, and why I think the brothers didn’t destroy Patrick in the end.
Hope I Got That Kinda Kick When I’m His Age
Something very interesting happened with Dean in this episode: even before he aged and got young again, he got his hope back. It was quiet, it was subtle, and it wasn’t explained, but it was there and it had a lot to do with how Dean dealt with the whole situation.
All the events of his life notwithstanding, I would submit that Dean is by nature a positive person. No matter how much he grumbles and complains about inconsequential things, his approach to life has almost always been to make the most of whatever hand he’s been dealt. It’s in his nature to look on the bright side and take whatever affirmative action he can. We saw that as far back as Wendigo when he admitted how screwed their family was but told Sam he found solace in helping others and took satisfaction in killing monsters. With big victories and traditional dreams of long term happiness pretty much always out of his reach, we’ve seen him consistently take delight instead in the little things, enjoying every opportunity for any joke, smile, laugh, or pleasurable experience from food to sex to steam showers to his brother’s company, without spending much time worrying about the big picture or the lack of a shining future.
There have been exceptions. John’s death, especially combined with his secret orders about Sam and the realization that John had sold his soul to buy Dean’s life, put Dean into a tailspin he couldn’t correct until he reached the simple conclusion that he would save Sam, period. Sam’s death took away any desire he had to live and led to his decision to sell his soul. When he finally admitted both to Sam and himself just how scared he was to die and go to Hell, he lost any real sense of a future and just clung to the conviction that Sam would survive. When he returned from Hell, once he began recovering his memories, he was overwhelmed by his guilt and shame. Most recently, he’s been beaten down by the immensity of the apocalypse and the bleakness of having no future but struggle against impossible odds.
And yet, and yet ... walking toward the hotel room Cliff Whitlow used for his amorous trysts, Dean joked about hoping to have Whitlow’s sexual drive and stamina when he got that old. He was thinking of having a future despite the apocalypse and the hunt, and he could imagine himself being old and still randy. Sam held up the mirror of Dean’s own words in Criss Angel Is A Douche Bag, saying it wasn’t likely either of them would live that long, but even Dean’s acknowledgment of that evident truth didn’t take him back down the dark road he’d walked in Criss. He and Sam seemed to have changed positions from that episode, with Dean considering having a future and Sam being the downbeat realist.
Even when he found his 30-year-old mind inhabiting an 80-year-old body, he didn’t lose that insouciant optimism. Yes, he grumbled and moaned about his aches and pains, but he also kept going with his customary dogged determination and took pleasure wherever he found it. For the first time I can remember, he played the “I’ve been to Hell” card in a one-upmanship game, putting it firmly into the past of his experience as something horrible he’s intentionally not allowing to destroy the life he’s living. It’s as if he can’t really contemplate the world ending even though he’d seen it on the verge in The End.
I think that part of what is going on is the resurgence of Dean’s natural optimism, his coping mechanism against giving up. The lesson he took from The End was the importance of keeping his family together, not chancing letting Sam fall to Lucifer out of loneliness and despair. Sam being with him contradicts that ugly future and provides cause for hope. I think another aspect is that Dean – and Sam as well – have both been working very hard and very deliberately to pretend everything is all right between them in order to make it so in truth. While things have appeared relatively seamless on the surface, strongly echoing the season one days of their relationship, I think (and hope) that may be a deliberate façade both of them are perpetrating. We’ve seen the cracks of last season’s wrecking still there, for example in Dean’s hesitation and ghost of suspicion at the end when Sam said vaguely that he had to go out before admitting treatment for his embarrassing, witchcraft-induced STD was the reason, and in Sam chafing at Dean’s immediate refusal to let Sam make his own adult decision to play for the same reasons Bobby and Dean had. The brothers have carefully danced around and not openly acknowledged the distrust and resentments that still lurk between them, I believe in the hope that out of sight is out of mind, and out of sight long enough may translate into dead and gone, but I get the sense those things are just waiting to flare up again when the right circumstances break the scabs open.
On a different track, the most amusing thing for me about Dean being both 30 and 80 at the same time was that it reflected a psychological truth. As we get older, even as we see ourselves change in the mirror and feel those changes in our muscles, organs, hair and skin, we don’t really see ourselves changing within our minds. Ask any elderly person how they visualize themselves in their mind’s eye, and you’ll learn the most common response is a much younger version of themselves. Our minds pick the image and sense of ourselves we find most comforting or most true and stick with it despite the passage of years changing the external reality of our appearance and our physical capabilities. Dean making a play for the maid and forgetting she would see an old man was really no different than her grandfather flirting with every pretty girl. Growing physically old doesn’t change who we think we are, although it can shock and surprise us when we confront the discrepancy between our internal assumptions and external reality.
I suspect Dean’s experience of being himself in an old body gave him a new appreciation for how Bobby must feel, as a strong, active, self-reliant man suddenly trapped in an unresponsive body unable to do the things he consciously and unconsciously expects from experience to be able to do. I believe that gave Dean insight he had lacked before and made his attempt to reach out to Bobby at the end stronger and more successful. And finally, in one last gesture of optimism for a future, seeing Dean put down the cheeseburger at the end gives me hope that he might indeed have hope of living to old age, and of being healthy when he gets there.
So, When It’s About Your Brother, You Get So Emotional Your Brain Just Flies Right Out The Window
Patrick wasn’t quite right in what he said. That line was demonstrably true of Sam back in Mystery Spot; we saw him become so fixed then on the desperate need to save Dean that he couldn’t see or think through the clues in front of his face until Dean pointed them out. When Dean died again on Wednesday, we saw Sam lose himself in the quest for revenge, a portent of what would happen in truth after Dean died in No Rest For The Wicked.
This time, however, we saw Sam keep his head. Patrick had observed the dynamic between the brothers when he caught them breaking into his safe – big brother giving orders and assuming control, younger brother chafing against restrictions and protective assumptions – and used them to needle Sam, trying to keep him wrong-footed and off base. Having seen the brothers’ relationship in action, Patrick shrewdly guessed that Sam had gone behind his brother’s back in order to play for his life. Last year, that would have been true. This year, however, truth prevailed, and Sam was playing with Dean’s knowledge – just not for the reason or with the goal Patrick assumed, with the result being that Patrick’s sly digs weren’t actually rattling Sam. Sam’s mannerisms were built on his previous behavior, though, when he would have been irked at the thought of Dean and Bobby dismissing his abilities, and Patrick bought them, at least until he noticed Sam’s fixation on his toothpick and guessed a plot to destroy him.
It wasn’t entirely clear from the script why Sam had to play Patrick. Pursuing some other mark might have kept Patrick occupied while the brothers combed his apartment for something holding Patrick’s DNA. Given that Patrick and Lia were living together, anything they found might have been hers rather than his, however, so pursuing a sample direct from the source did make some logical sense.
It was clear from the discussion at intermission that Sam’s playing served two purposes: obtaining Patrick’s DNA, and keeping Patrick distracted from the spell casting by Bobby and Dean. Sam actually winning back Dean’s life wasn’t anticipated, not because Dean didn’t trust him, but simply because they all acknowledged that Sam didn’t have the experience to match either Dean or Bobby at poker, and both of them had lost to Patrick’s 900 years of practice. When Dean asked him how it was going, Sam’s agitated How do you think? was the clear admission not only that he was losing and nervous about it, but also that Sam gradually losing was what they had all expected, meaning that his strategy had to be to stall and keep the game going as long as possible. His pattern early on of small bets and cautious calls wasn’t just the nervousness Patrick thought, but a deliberate choice to spin out the game to buy Bobby and Dean the time to act.
When Patrick angrily set out to punish Sam for the attempt to kill him by forcing him to stay in the game and deliberately taunted him with the information that Dean was dying, Sam’s distress was real. His desperation to get to Dean before Dean died was real. His lack of concern for his own life was real. But even in his terror of loss and fear, he didn’t lose his head. He realized the chance he had when Patrick dealt the hold cards and he saw the two fours, but the elation that must have surged through him never showed on his face. He held to what he needed to do to get Patrick to bring the game to an end. If Patrick had delayed, Dean would have died before the game was over and the chips were cashed out to restore his lost years.
Sam has definitely grown enough not to make some of the mistakes he did before. Watching him was a joy and delight.
Watching Sam interacting with old Dean was also fun. Sam didn’t treat Dean any differently; his brother was still his brother, apparent age notwithstanding. I don’t believe that either of the brothers really considered Dean’s situation to be a permanent one; they both automatically assumed that they had to find a way to reverse the aging, and that they would succeed. Sam’s amusement at Dean’s predicament wasn’t callousness, but simply the usual response to their very unusual lives. I found it instructive that Sam’s amusement decreased and his concern and worry increased as time went on and Dean’s situation didn’t resolve.
The issues and tensions are still beneath the surface of the brothers’ relationship, but the love is also there, everywhere.
Just What Am I Living For, Anyway?
Bobby’s anger and despair were not what we’ve come to expect from this most level-headed of hunters, but they pretty accurately reflected a realistic reaction to his life-changing injury. Even apart from the factor of the apocalypse, the simple but devastating truth that he couldn’t do many of the things he’d always done would depress even the most optimistic and accepting of people. No matter how pragmatic and accepting a person may be, there will always be times when the load feels too heavy and hard to bear. I’d find Bobby’s portrayal unrealistic and out of character only if he didn’t have plenty of moments, especially this recently after his injury, when he thought about ending it all rather than living with his limitations.
From all that we’ve seen of Bobby over the years of the series, we’ve known him as not only a wise and seasoned researcher, but a strong, vital, independent, and self-sufficient man. He’s run his own very physical wrecking business right along with his supernatural hunting information clearinghouse, and we’ve seen him saddle up and ride to the rescue at the ring of a phone.
Now his legs won’t obey him and he can’t even more freely throughout his own house. He’s made practical accommodations – the bed on the first floor and the unfamiliar neatness of his books, replacing the haphazard piles we saw before, clearly show deliberate adaptations to his new condition, and ones that took help to achieve, as does the wheelchair lift-equipped, hand-controlled van – but all of those took help. We know that he built his own things before – remember his casual dismissal of having built his demon-proof basement room on a free weekend? – but needing help is a new thing, and not one easy for his pride. He can’t even get to his panic room now, not with stairs in the way.
For someone who was always independent and able to help himself and be of help to others, it’s shaming to need help. I’m not surprised that Bobby can’t see how vitally important he still is, when his limitations are much more apparent and jarring to him than the intellectual and experiential abilities he can simply take for granted. He is still the information master among hunters, but being a brain trust isn’t nearly as viscerally satisfying as being the hero whose fighting skills visibly save the victims. Watching others fight and take risks when you can’t step in and help is frustrating.
One speech about how important he is to Dean and Sam won’t be enough to counteract the depression, but I hope it’s enough for Bobby to cling to until he can accept that he is still vital to others and to the cause. Dean was adamant about not wanting to hear Bobby ever again contemplating suicide, but I think he was also pretty open about wanting to help and being willing to be a sounding board for frustrations and needs; just not about checking out and leaving Dean and Sam alone before their time.
Bobby has accomplished a lot since his injury. We’ve always seen him alone, so it’s clear to me that he finds it hard to accept the company and help of others, especially if he thinks it’s motivated by pity. He’s clearly had help – that bed didn’t get set up or the books neatly piled on their own, and I’m betting the unseen but essential ramp outside his house leading up to the porch door was built by Winchesters – but he’s equally clearly done a lot on his own, probably starting with arranging and customizing that van. He needs to learn, as old Dean did, that his limitations don’t preclude him from being effective, vital, alive, and important to others.
I Gotta Say, I Kinda Like The Guy
Patrick is one of the few monsters of the week to survive his appearance. I don’t see that as being at all out of character for the Winchesters, however. Patrick, whatever his abilities, was human, and the brothers have long held with the morals in which they were raised that their enemies were evil supernatural things, not humans making choices.
Patrick was presented as a character entirely painted in shades of grey. He played cards for years off people’s lives, and benefited from those years to the tune of having lived for some 900 years so far. We learned in Malleus Maleficarum that witches – in Supernatural’s version of lore – gained their power through making deals with demons, so their powers are something supernatural and are rooted in evil. But Patrick made a very unusual witch in that he’s been alive for 900 years – 900 years in which the demon that empowered him hasn’t yet been able to collect on his soul. Whatever deal he struck, Patrick was clever enough to gain the advantage and keep himself out of Hell.
The rules on his game appear simple. If someone challenges him, it seems he has to play; he couldn’t refuse Lia. Once the game begins, however, it doesn’t end until he says it’s over. We saw him determine the moment to let the elderly Jewish man win and free him from the table with new years to spare; equally, we saw him pin Sam to his seat until Patrick said the game was done.
Patrick obviously isn’t obligated to play to win. He’s a scoundrel, thief, and rogue – we saw that with his theft of the car and the watch, and his goading Sam to play – but he’s honest and upfront about the stakes and the rules. He doesn’t force anyone to play, although he clearly played the percentages and incentives. He deliberately threw the game to let the old man win, and I don’t think that was just for Sam’s benefit; he genuinely felt for the old man and wanted him to win. He wouldn’t play Dean when he knew Dean didn’t have the years to spare; he explained that he wasn’t a murderer, and I think he meant it, although he played it close. In his challenge match against Sam, he started playing for the fun and satisfaction of it, then went for anger and revenge when he realized Sam had tried to kill him, but wound up honestly pleased with the success of Sam’s bluff and with the artistry behind Sam’s win. When he said he’d restore the years to Dean with pleasure, he meant it. Sam had been a worthy opponent, and in the end, honor prevailed.
Dean saw a lot that he liked in Patrick. Patrick had style and flair – something Dean enjoys and respects – and no matter what he put Bobby and the brothers through, he had his own honorable code. And in the end, despite his power, he was human. Dean and Bobby would have killed him with the reversal spell in their attempt to save Dean’s future and life, but without that immediate goad, that self-defense rationale, wiping out Patrick would have been murder. It would have restored years to all the living who had lost them, but it would also have taken years from those who had won. Given Patrick’s vast experience, how many of those who won from him were ones he’d let win, like the old man?
In the end, I think the brothers left him alone and alive out of their own sense of honor, fair play, and humanity. Patrick was self-serving, but not truly evil.
And I do wonder what he did after letting Lia go. Yes, he’d lived for a long time without her; I got the sense Lia was part only of his last hundred or so years. But he’d had love, and had to give it up, and after that, I wonder how much pleasure was left in the game for him.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we never saw Patrick again, or if the next time we saw him, he wasn’t human any more. He’s tasting some of the same despair he inflicted on Sam, and that Bobby experienced, but he doesn’t have the Winchester/Singer support structure to lean on.
Most of this worked, although some of it didn’t. The casting of guest performers was positively inspired, and all the performances sold a somewhat scattered story. The makeup and effects crews outdid themselves with the combination of old age makeup and CGI aging effects transitions on the young man in the teaser, Bobby, and Lia.
I’ll get my grumbles out of the way early, as usual. I think I read more into the script than was actually there, mostly courtesy of the wonderful performances director Robert Singer drew from Jim Beaver, Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Hal Ozsan as Patrick, and the delightful Chad Everett as old Dean. The Patrick and Lia story, however, just didn’t jell. Our first glimpse of Lia offered no clue that she was at all troubled by her existence. Lia giving Dean and Bobby the spell to stop Patrick came out of nowhere as a plot point of convenience and also did violence to her claim to love him, since the reversal of all his magic would have taken away his stolen years and killed him, too. Because no real groundwork had been laid for it, the scene when she explained her reasons only to Patrick and pushed him into making her age and die just felt contrived. Perhaps if we had been given a sense that Lia had only just buried her daughter and had seen hints from early on that her pain had immediacy, and that she recognized hunters as offering her a way out, her decision to end her unnaturally extended existence would have rung more true. I don’t know whether that was included in the original story by Sera Gamble and newcomer Jenny Klein and just didn’t make it into the Sera Gamble script, or if it got cut for time along the way, but as the episode aired, we didn’t have enough reason either to believe her or to care about her. The actors played it well, but the script just didn’t give their feelings any dimension. And since Bobby and the Winchesters never knew Lia’s reason for acting against Patrick, there was no lesson in it for them to learn either, making the Patrick and Lia story one without consequence on the Winchester canvas. We could make up parallels about Patrick having to let go of the woman he loved, or Lia choosing to accept the natural order rather than unnatural magic, as mirrors for Sam and Dean needing to be willing to stop sacrificing themselves to hang on to each other and the rest of their diminished family, but without a real connection to the Winchesters, those links would be empty.
There were also some glaring plot holes, starting with why neither Dean nor Sam simply gave back one more year to Bobby when they had the chance. Dean could have burned 26 years instead of 25 at the start of his game, or Sam could have told Patrick at the end to cash in all but one of his chips for Dean, and the last one for Bobby. One year should have been enough to restore Bobby to his non-paralyzed self, and Dean certainly wouldn’t have grudged that loss from his own lifespan. I can appreciate that Kripke and company did not want to provide an easy way out for Bobby and the boys, erasing the heavy consequences of their fight against evil, but there needed to be some explanation for why neither of the brothers took that one simple little step. This might have been the opportunity to unveil the knowledge that Bobby’s paralysis was due to Zachariah’s incurable angelic spite, not to Bobby having injured his spine when he stabbed himself to save Dean, or maybe there was some moral lesson in not benefiting from witchcraft because of the demonic origin of the power – but instead, there was nothing except an obvious blank.
Dean and Sam breaking into Patrick’s apartment was also problematic. We were given no clue as to how they knew which rooms were his; that was a big building. And had I broken into a set of rooms and discovered candles burning everywhere, I’d have looked for another occupant before deciding I had the place to myself, but Sam and Dean never questioned why Patrick would have left myriad candles alight. That error, I’ll lay at director Robert Singer’s door. Patrick’s conveniently abrupt return didn’t bother me that much – the “North Stairs” sign did suggest there were probably “South Stairs” as well, and he could as easily have forgotten something as been summoned by Lia. I did notice that the episode gave no hint of the location of the city where the game was being played, and when Bobby got there so very quickly, I pretty much assumed it had to be in South Dakota not all that far from the salvage yard, so that convenience didn’t trouble me that much. However, it would have been nice had the show given us that information up front through the simple expedient of providing a location card the way most episodes do.
Enough of the negative. Getting into what did work, I have to applaud all the performances. Veteran actor Chad Everett as old Dean was wonderful! Whoever cast him for the role – Robert Singer, perhaps? It would fit – was genius. He had the right physical build and the right look, and he did his homework, nailing Jensen Ackles’ Dean mannerisms perfectly right from the first “Dude!” and downcast, embarrassed eyes. I never doubted for a second that I was seeing Dean on screen. A young actor in age makeup still has too much physical strength and solidity to really sell being 80 without a lot of help, and the hours of makeup and the amount of CGI needed to pull off the illusion effectively would have been impossible on a television schedule and budget, so I don’t think it would have been feasible to have Jensen do the old age role with conviction. I’m glad I got to see Everett in this role instead, bringing his wickedly good comic timing and touch to his exchanges with both Jim Beaver and Jared Padalecki, and brilliantly conveying Dean’s pain at hearing Bobby’s despair. His chemistry with the other actors made for great reactions. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I loved him back in his days as Dr. Joe Gannon on Medical Center, and he hasn’t lost any of his skill or appeal in the years since.
Hal Ozsan’s Patrick was wonderfully morally ambiguous. As an antagonist, he was very much in the same mold as the Trickster: clever and appealing, not good, but not precisely evil, either. Jim Beaver really sold Bobby’s despair and impotent anger. We’ve had only brief glimpses of Bobby since he was crippled so there hasn’t been much opportunity to build the picture of how he’s been coping, but what little we’ve seen – the subtle changes in his house, with the gradual picking up and ordering of his books to clear the floor for his wheelchair and the positioning of a bed in his living room, and the bleak, lonely, silent stillness of Bobby in his wheelchair every time we’ve pulled away from him – all contributed to his explosion here. His amusement at seeing Dean discomfited by being old was welcome leavening for the depth of his loss not just of his legs, but of his sense of independence and worth. And that final look on his face said louder than words that he’s not yet out of the slough of despond, despite Dean’s attempt to impart the conviction that he’s still important and needed, with a lot yet to offer.
We didn’t get a lot of Jensen’s Dean in this episode, but what we got was prime, from his immediate determination to save Bobby to his glee at getting his youth back to his heart-to-heart with Bobby at the end. Jared got the chance to shine as Sam, especially throughout the card game with Patrick when he first sold the idea both to Patrick and to us that Sam was playing behind Dean’s back and without his knowledge, apparently backsliding into the behaviors that had driven the brothers apart last season. His fixation on the toothpick was my clue that Sam’s apparent sneaky disobedience was actually a ruse, and I cheered when he broke outside at the intermission to reveal that his playing was with the full knowledge and consent of Dean and Bobby, and a key part of the plan to defeat the witch. The rest of the game, with him first playing his successful bluff, then becoming truly desperate at the thought that Patrick would keep him from reaching Dean before he died, and finally hiding the realization that luck had dealt him a winning hand, was masterfully portrayed.
In terms of direction, I loved whatever Robert Singer did to get those sterling performances from his cast. His choice to play Patrick’s recovery from getting hit by the car entirely off the faces of Sam, Bobby, and old Dean was really fun. I enjoyed the jazzy underscore by Chris Lennertz, especially leading up to Sam and Dean breaking into Patrick’s rooms.
The production crew kept the apocalypse in view even in this monster of the week story with the Weekly World News headline about experts agreeing that the apocalypse was here and we just didn’t know it. I already mentioned the age makeup and the impressive use of CGI transitions between the makeup stages to convey the rapid aging process. In terms of locations, I was delighted to recognize the Supernatural backlot – the former Watchmen set used in both The End and I Believe The Children Are Our Future – as the setting for the stunt with Patrick being hit by the car. I loved Bobby’s hand-control van with the wheelchair elevator; along with all the touches to make living space in his home, it demonstrated just how well Bobby was succeeding in making practical adjustments to his new situation, no matter how jagged his emotional state was. Those things fit with his self-reliant, independent nature, and made the areas where he couldn’t compensate and needed to ask for help all the more glaring and painful.
Bobby, Dean, and Sam all claimed that they could do what they wanted with their lives, spending them however they wished, but the truth was that their lives belong not just to them, but to each other. And that’s also true of all of us.
We’re family. We belong.
I'm sorry this is so late; my home remodeling went seriously weird. I think I have evenything back on track, but it really made me ill-suited to write. I'll do better from now on.