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5.15 Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid: My Job Is To Bring Him Peace, Not Pain

5.15 Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid:  My Job Is To Bring Him Peace, Not Pain
Sioux Falls miracle?
Dead loved ones return to life:
Death comes for Bobby. 
Episode Summary
In Sioux Falls, South Dakota – Bobby Singer’s home town – a father, coach, and friend named Clay Thompson, who had died in 2004, dug his way out of his grave during a violent lightning storm. Later that night, a man named Benny Sutton investigated strange noises outside his trailer, but saw nothing. When the door blew open in the wind, he checked again and locked it, only to see Clay, covered in grave mud, already inside his trailer. Sutton grabbed a shotgun, but it wasn’t loaded, and the dead man strangled him with his bare hands.
Three days later, Sam placed another urgent, unanswered call to Bobby Singer as the brothers, posing as FBI agents, pulled in to a Sioux Falls diner to meet with Digger Wells, who claimed to have seen the dead Clay Thompson climb in through the window of Sutton’s trailer and leave by the door a few minutes later, with Sutton dead behind him. Digger guessed that Thompson was just taking his revenge, since Sutton was responsible for the “hunting accident” that killed him. The brothers’ out-of-place suits in company with Digger drew the attention of the local sheriff, Jody Mills, who questioned what they were doing in her town and insisted on talking with their superior. Sam pulled out a business card and the sheriff called the number, which rang on the phone in Bobby’s kitchen labeled “FBI.” When Bobby answered, the sheriff recognized his voice, hung up on him, and warned the boys to stop whatever plan they had going, telling them Bobby was a menace with a record of drunk and disorderly and mail fraud arrests.
At Bobby’s house, the brothers found the house unusually neat and clean and Bobby surprisingly well groomed. He was evasive about why he hadn’t answered any of their calls, and when they mentioned the case in his virtual backyard, he dismissed it as nothing, saying he’d already checked it out. He discounted Digger as the town drunk and maintained the storms weren’t omens, but just the norm for the season. He said there were plenty of living people with motive to kill Sutton.
Driving back out of town that night, Dean stopped at the graveyard, wanting to check things out for himself. They found newly disturbed earth at Thompson’s grave, and when they dug down to the coffin, found it empty. Breaking into Thompson’s house, they found nothing odd or out of place, just the home of a typical family. Thompson, reacting to intruders, attacked Dean with a baseball bat but folded at the first punch, begging them not to shoot and telling them to take the money in the safe. Apart from grayish skin and reddened, sunken eyes, Thompson looked normal. When they called him by name and Sam pulled the FBI bluff despite their casual attire, Thompson immediately confessed to having killed Sutton because the man had shot him in the back and killed him before. Unable to explain how he had risen from the dead or what he was, Thompson said he’d go with them to jail, just asking that they not wake his children. His wife showed up saying she’d called 911, but he told her everything was fine. As they left the house, Dean pulled his pistol, telling Sam Thompson was a monster, but Sam called him a soccer dad. Before they had any chance to choose an action, the sheriff, responding to the 911 call, arrested the brothers, telling Thompson he could go. When Dean pointed out that Thompson was dead, the sheriff matter-of-factly indicated it didn’t matter.
In the jail cell, the brothers tried to figure out just what was going on, including why the zombie Thompson was so perfectly ordinary, and why the sheriff would simply accept a formerly dead man walking around and ignore him having killed a man. To their surprise, they saw the sheriff being friendly with Bobby when he arrived to bail them out, despite her earlier clear antagonism. Bobby told them she had hated him until five days before, when the dead starting rising all over town. Unable to fathom why he had lied to them when he told them nothing was going on, Dean demanded an explanation, and Bobby said he’d just told them there was nothing for them to get involved in, and maintained that was the truth, saying there were zombies, and then there were zombies. He took them back home with him – and they discovered his dead wife, Karen, cheerfully setting the table despite the pre-dawn hour. She served slices of pie and then withdrew to the kitchen to let them talk.
The boys challenged Bobby, who defended by saying he’d tested her every way he knew how. He said she had no wounds or scars and no reaction to salt, silver, or holy water, and she couldn’t be a classic zombie or revenant because she hadn’t crawled out of a coffin; he’d cremated her and buried her ashes in the cemetery. He said she was one of fifteen or twenty people who rose from that graveyard and gave Sam the list he’d made, including not only his wife and Clay Thompson, but the sheriff’s little boy. When they asked how it could happen, he pulled out a bible and read from Revelation about the Horseman Death, saying the dead would rise as he had risen, of him and through him. Sam wondered why Death would done something so minor as to raise a few people in Sioux Falls, but Bobby had no answer. Dean pointed out that if Death was behind this, then whatever he had brought back couldn’t be good; he told Bobby that Bobby knew what the brothers had to do. Desperate to keep his wife, Bobby told them she didn’t remember anything about her death, that she didn’t remember being possessed or him killing her. He asked them to listen as Karen hummed in the kitchen, saying she had always hummed when she cooked and he’d thought he’d never hear her again. He begged them to let her be, telling them to read Revelation, because it said the dead rise during the apocalypse but didn’t say it was a bad thing.
The brothers retreated to the diner to plan what to do. Dean insisted on guarding Bobby against the likelihood that Karen would turn ravenous zombie, while Sam decided to see what he could learn by checking out all the other people who had returned from the dead.
Dean mounted guard out in the salvage yard, just watching the house, until Karen surprised him there and invited him in to lunch without letting Bobby know. While Bobby dozed in his chair in the library, Karen fed Dean more pie. Dean commented on seeing the kitchen virtually lined with pies, and Karen said that she didn’t know what it was, but ever since she got back, she couldn’t stop baking. She admitted she didn’t sleep, and when Dean offered that, rather than the excitement, it might have something to do with her being dead, she said she knew what he was and that he didn’t trust her; that he hunted things, and she was a thing. She observed that Bobby was lucky to have Sam and Dean looking out for him, but insisted they weren’t the only ones. She revealed that she remembered everything – being possessed by a demon, being killed by Bobby – and said she hadn’t told him the truth about remembering because, as his wife who loved him, it was her job to bring him peace, not pain.
Meanwhile, Sam found a scene of domestic bliss at the sheriff’s house, where the sheriff and her husband sat reading a book with their dead son. Checking the house of Ezra Jones and his dead wife – the first of the dead to have risen in town – Sam saw blood on the threshold and entered the overstuffed, messy house to find the old woman lying in bed apparently prostrate with sickness. At her gesture, he reluctantly approached – and she suddenly flung him aside with inhuman strength to land next to the eviscerated corpse of her husband. Sam fended off her ravenous attack long enough to pull his pistol, put the barrel in her mouth, and pull the trigger, and she collapsed.
Dean challenged Bobby to face the news Sam brought, and Sam emphasized that the risen dead were turning and they had to stop all of them. Bobby refused to listen and pulled a gun on them, demanding they leave his property and saying that if Karen turned, he would deal with it himself, his way. Stymied, the brothers left, but Dean stopped the Impala just outside the salvage yard, troubled by Bobby having chosen his dead wife over his living family. Sam pointed out that they had a whole town to save, but Dean refused to leave Bobby alone, planning instead on going back without Bobby seeing him and killing Karen. Sam realized he would have to come up with a way to save the rest of the town, starting by finding a way to get help from the sheriff.
At the sheriff’s house, Jody and Owen Mills got on the phone with their doctor because their son Sean was suddenly running an impossibly high fever and complaining of hunger. After sending Owen in to the boy with a bowl of soup, Sheriff Mills heard a crash and dropped the phone to investigate, discovering her husband dead on the living room floor and her bloody-mouthed son rooting in his intestines. As the boy began to advance on her, Sam burst in and pulled her out of the house. Agreeing with her that the thing in her house wasn’t her son, he warned her that all the dead would be turning the same way, and advocated finding a place of safety where the living could hole up. Recalled to thinking like a sheriff, she proposed the jail, and then asked how to stop the things. Sam told her head shots, and then pulled his gun to deal with her monstrous little boy. At the jail, they gathered townspeople and distributed guns, and Sam learned to his surprised dismay that Bobby was considered the town drunk, not someone to be respected. Armed and ready, they all waited … and nothing happened.
Bobby – understanding Dean’s proclivities – warned Karen to stay away from the windows. Investigating a crash in the kitchen, he found Karen fallen on the floor, burning up with fever and saying she was hungry. He got her to lie down in his bed, trying to offer reassurance, but she told him she could feel she was turning and looked toward his gun on the desk, telling him to do it, that it would be all right. When he refused, she gently told him that she remembered everything about how she had died. Broken, he said she had to realize why he couldn’t do it again, and she told him that a skeletal man had been at her grave when she rose, and had given her a message for Bobby.
Breaking into the house, Dean was creeping in search of Karen when he heard a shot. Calling Bobby’s name, he burst into the room to see Bobby still holding Karen’s hand, with blood in an arc on the pillow where he’d shot her through the head.
Planning on rejoining Sam in town, Dean loaded ammunition into Bobby’s van, offering to let Bobby sit out the fight. Bobby insisted they get on with it, but noises out in the salvage yard drew Dean out to investigate, and both of them were attacked by zombies. Outnumbered and in the open, they retreated to the house only to run out of ammunition as all of the town’s risen dead pursued them. Dean maneuvered them into a closet and locked the door, but the zombies picked the lock. As Dean used his gunstock as a weapon, Sam and the sheriff arrived, shooting the dead from behind as they remained intent on trying to reach Bobby and Dean. They killed them all.
In the aftermath, Sam oversaw a pyre of all the town’s dead while Dean and the sheriff made sure they’d gotten them all. Devastated by her losses, the sheriff noted the townspeople were shell-shocked, and said that while some had talked to the papers, no one was believing them. The brothers returned to the salvage yard, where Bobby, broken and grieving, watched Karen burn a second time and offered an apology for how he’d treated them. Dean tried to find something positive in the situation, admitting he knew nothing about love but saying at least Bobby had gotten five more days with his wife, and Bobby responded that had made everything worse, saying she had been the love of his life and wondering how many times he would have to kill her. Then he told them he knew why Death had come to Sioux Falls, that Karen had given him the message: Death had come for him because he was supporting the Winchesters, because he was one reason Sam was still refusing Lucifer. He said he didn’t know whether Death had wanted to kill him or just kill his spirit, but he wanted Bobby out of the way. Desperate for reassurance, Sam asked twice if Bobby would be all right, and got no answer.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
This episode was a brilliant tour-de-force for Jim Beaver as Bobby, and worked on every level. We saw much of what Bobby had been before the supernatural devastated his life, and we saw just how far he had fallen before we ever met him. We also saw the dichotomy between Bobby’s status in the hunter world and in the real world. And we learned that the apocalypse is deadly personal not only for the Winchesters, but all of their friends and even anyone they casually encounter. In this review, I’m going to look at Bobby Singer as a man and as the Winchesters’ family, and examine the most subtle Horseman so far on the playing board.
He’s Not The Mild-Mannered Scrap Dealer I Married
From the first time we met him in Devil’s Trap, we knew Bobby Singer as a well-respected man in the hunting community. Dean turned to him for help when John was demon-snatched, and things went on from there. It appears that every hunter we’ve ever met has known Bobby, and the only disparaging comment any of them ever made was Gordon maintaining in Bad Day At Black Rock that Bobby taking the Winchesters’ side meant he had lost his edge. Bobby’s name has been a touchstone for the boys, garnering respect every time it was spoken, so it was a wicked shock when a man in his home town dismissed him as the town drunk and the sheriff wrote him off as a menace best known for mail fraud and being drunk and disorderly.
Our view of Bobby was shaped from the beginning by our acceptance of the hunting world and his role in it. Living reclusively in a run-down house with mostly boarded-up second floor windows in the center of a junkyard isn’t exactly normal behavior, but we accepted it as such because the Winchester brothers did. His packrat disarray – the haphazard piles of books and papers everywhere, the curse boxes in the linen closet, the illegal spell components in the kitchen drawers – just fit perfectly with his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the supernatural and his passion for learning more. He couldn’t be bothered to clean and organize when there was always something more to learn and something more to hunt. The boys accepted it so easily that we never stopped to think his lifestyle might not have always been that way, that there might have been a time when the house was well maintained and separated from the scrap yard and Bobby wasn’t perpetually gruff and scruffy.
We came to understand a bit more in Dream A Little Dream Of Me when we learned that Bobby’s experience with the supernatural began with the demonic possession of his wife, whom he killed in self-defense because he didn’t understand what was happening to her and didn’t know about exorcism. We realized that Bobby became a hunter, learning everything he could about the supernatural, to try to make up for having failed her through his own lack of knowledge, to save other people as he’d been unable to save her. All that made sense to us, and we didn’t think much more about it.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid showed us two other sides of Bobby. First, it showed us something of what he used to be before a demon ripped his life to shreds. We got to see a ghost of the gentle, loving man he’d been when he was married. We couldn’t see the full picture because he isn’t that man any more: he’s seen and done too much and felt too much grief and guilt ever to regain the essence of Karen’s “mild-mannered scrap dealer.” Like Karen, we could see his guilt in his eyes when he looked at her, and feel his yearning for this situation to be real. But even though he couldn’t fully turn back the clock, he was suddenly aware of appearances again, cleaning himself and cleaning his house, trying to reclaim something of what he’d been before.
Second and more telling, I think, we got to see a glimpse of what losing Karen in such a horrible way did to him, and just how far he had fallen from the man he once had been. He clearly wasn’t the town drunk when he was married, but it’s a fair conjecture that he crawled into the bottle after she died, before he started getting a handle on hunting the supernatural. We saw him do the same again after Dean went to Hell and Sam disappeared; who could forget Dean commenting in Lazarus Rising on the population of empty liquor bottles on his desk, and Bobby quietly observing that things hadn’t been easy for any of them since Dean had died? Bobby obviously recognized his weakness and took steps to curb it; we didn’t see him drink anything alcoholic again until Sam was screaming in the throes of demon blood detox in When The Levee Breaks. It remains to be seen whether alcohol will become his crutch again, as it has become Dean’s, or if he’ll be able to hold it together and keep going despite his losses.
The heartbreak of this episode wasn’t just seeing Bobby having to kill the love of his life for the second time, or seeing Sam and Dean realizing that this horror happened precisely because of Bobby’s relationship with them. Part of it came from finally and fully understanding that once upon a time, Bobby had been a respected man in his home town – clean, neat, happy, productive – and forfeited it all in pursuit of the supernatural because of the death of his wife. In that one respect, Bobby holds up more of a mirror to John Winchester than we ever knew. Like John, he became consumed by the hunt and abandoned everything normal that didn’t contribute to the cause, losing his position in normal society and any vestige of respect from the people who had known him well. Unlike John, however, his driving force didn’t seem to be revenge, but rather learning everything he could so he wouldn’t fail anyone else through ignorance as he had failed his wife. Where John was focused on getting revenge for Mary and keeping his sons safe in his shadow, goals that continuously fueled his suspicion of other people and drove him further inside himself, Bobby reached out more to others, becoming the essential hub of a driving wheel of information traveling through a whole network of hunters.
It remains to be seen what losing Karen for a second time will do to Bobby. Lucifer and Death were correct in identifying him as a critical pillar in Sam and Dean’s support structure; now that pillar needs buttressing and support, and the boys – as the focus of what happened – couldn’t effectively provide it even if they had the strength to do so.
We’re His Family!
Bobby pulling a gun on the brothers and telling them to get off his property was a shock to both Sam and Dean, particularly after all they have been through together. Though not related by blood, they are family in every other sense, and Bobby has always been there for them, especially after John’s death. His emotional investment in the brothers seemed much stronger and closer than his friendships with other hunters: I think of his compassion toward Sam during In My Time Of Dying when Sam so desperately had to believe Dean would survive to fix the Impala, his fury with Dean in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2 when he realized Dean had sold his soul for Sam, his adamant refusal to be left behind and explicit claim of being family in No Rest For The Wicked, his desperate joy over Dean’s return in Lazarus Rising, his castigation of Dean for not following Sam in Lucifer Rising, and both his choice to stab himself rather than kill Dean and his extension of forgiveness to Sam in Sympathy For The Devil. The list goes on and on.
But when his beloved Karen came back to him and the boys represented his own unwanted knowledge that the gift had to be poisoned, he chose the desires of his innermost heart even over his love for the Winchesters. Bobby said it at her pyre: Karen was the love of his life. No one else could displace her importance, and the need he felt to keep her had to outweigh any rational argument for killing her. When it comes to the things we love and fear the most, emotion trumps logic every single time. Whether or not he would have shot them had they remained was immaterial; they all believed he might, and none of them wanted to force the confrontation for fear their relationship might be damaged forever. The brothers backing away preserved the future. Bobby ultimately killing Karen owed much more, I think, to her telling him to do it and trying to grant him absolution than to her having actually turned on him. She looked peaceful in death; I don’t think she was a ravening zombie when he pulled the trigger. In the end, I think he killed her out of love, to spare her turning again when she so clearly didn’t want to.
I do think the familial bond between Dean and Bobby is stronger than the one between Sam and Bobby, mostly because Dean’s absolute need for family connections is so much stronger than Sam’s. Both brothers love Bobby and he clearly loves both of them, but Dean’s fear of loss and abandonment made him not just unwilling but unable to take Bobby’s no for an answer. The situation was different here than in Good God, Y’All when Dean consciously put the welfare of the townspeople ahead of his need to try rescuing Sam. This time, he had Sam available and trusted him to take charge and recruit help for the other innocents while he guarded Bobby. He couldn’t fairly have put the burden of others on Ellen’s shoulders in Good God, Y’All because she was in the same situation he was, with Jo at hazard as much as Sam was. Having Sam with him left Dean free to indulge his own desire, which turned out to be a good thing when it became clear that Bobby had been the prime target all along.
That the family bond between the brothers and Bobby will survive this experience was forecast, I think, in Bobby’s attempt to apologize for having lied to them and driven them off. He offered that apology even after knowing – albeit before telling – that all the pain had come to him because of his closeness to them. I suspect it will take a little while before Bobby will be able to bear them being near, but in the end, they all share grief together. I don’t believe Death has broken Bobby. Hurt him heart-deep and badly, but not broken beyond repair by love.
I have to believe that. Bobby is all the family the boys have left, apart from each other. And he’s an integral part of Team Free Will.
On A Pale Horse
Death remains the most subtle of the Horsemen to date. He’s featured openly in two episodes so far, Abandon All Hope and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and after seeing the Reapers gathering where Lucifer raised him, I suspect he had a hand in keeping Reapers from harvesting the souls that Famine needed to eat in My Bloody Valentine, but we’ve still never seen him or his pale automotive horse. I’m certain he’ll appear again and we’ll see him eventually, but I suspect he’ll be the most difficult of the Horsemen for the brothers to defeat.
What Death did in Sioux Falls was unique. The people he returned from the dead weren’t like Angela, the twisted, vicious zombie the brothers had to nail back into her coffin in Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. These people didn’t exude death or plot against the living; they came back as true to life versions of themselves, even if there wasn’t a body for anyone to raise. Initially, they acted as precisely who and what they seemed to be, and only turned into programmed killers after days above ground. It was everyone’s good fortune that, unlike Angela, head shots killed them. That difference in vulnerability didn’t bother me, because these beings were clearly not the same as the one zombie we’d seen before. That difference also supported the wide variation in the lore Sam had recounted earlier about how to kill the walking dead; life brought back by different means evidently could be ended in different ways. Even Sam and Dean demonstrate that; they’ve both been brought back from the dead more than once, and yet remain vulnerable to everything that would normally kill a human being.
Death’s attempt to take Bobby out of the game by either killing him or breaking him speaks eloquently of orders from Lucifer. We’ve seen Lucifer trying to isolate Sam before to break him down and get him to concede; witness the events of Free To Be You And Me and Abandon All Hope. Removing Bobby from Sam’s support structure – and further ensuring Sam would know that whatever happened to Bobby was precisely because of Bobby’s relationship with him – were both things designed to further Lucifer’s cause. Just killing Bobby wouldn’t have had the same effect as emotionally torturing him produced; this situation upped the horror and guilt factor for Sam many times over. That it had the same effect on Dean was a bonus, although Lucifer doesn’t really even care about him.
We know Death the Horseman has power over death. Still, he didn’t raise everyone buried in St. Andrew’s cemetery; only enough to make a point. I wonder if the limited number of the dead he raised here might indicate that, like Famine in My Bloody Valentine, Death needs to draw more power and come up to speed gradually before he can do apocalyptic things on a wholesale basis, or if the relative subtlety arose from Lucifer’s orders. That the zombies Death created were under his programmed orders was evident from their coordinated, single-minded attack on Bobby, up to and including the zombies failing even to turn on Sam and the sheriff as the two proceeded to systematically kill them all. That Death wasn’t in complete control of them was demonstrated by Karen’s awareness of her own situation and her ability to decide when and what to tell Bobby about what she remembered and what she knew.
I’m guessing Death hasn’t reached his full power and potency yet, but the time is moving on. I fear the confrontation that will come when the brothers encounter him face-to-face. They’ve died enough that I don’t think death itself holds any particular terrors for them, but they are still hostage to their fear of personal loss and bad things happening to others they care about.
Production Notes
The first thing I have to note is that this episode aired out of order, and it matters. Jim Beaver tweeted about the change when it was being shot, and Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki confirmed it at the L.A. convention (Jared: We cattywampused the last two episodes. Jensen: Make note of that word...) This episode was supposed to come before My Bloody Valentine, but when the CW decided to move up and extend the February hiatus, MBV had to be moved up in the shooting order for it to air anywhere near Valentine’s Day. I believe it fit in the original order much better in terms of the series’ story arc. Having this story come first would have made Dean’s despair in MBV more real, since this episode took away his confidence in the prop of Bobby’s staunch support, contributing to Dean’s growing sense of abandonment and his crushing sense of responsibility for horrible things happening to the people around him. It also fit with us not seeing Bobby at all in MBV, even though Sam was locked in the panic room in his basement; Bobby not being in evidence to help support Dean tracks with Bobby not having recovered from the blow he was dealt here, and possibly not being able to face Dean’s pain and Sam’s suffering even though he allowed the brothers the use of his home. (The end of MBV also fed better into the beginning of Dark Side Of The Moon, but I’ll get to that in the next review …) Speaking for myself, I will always watch these episodes in the order initially intended, the same way I always move Monster Movie ahead of In The Beginning and Metamorphosis when watching season four.
I love Jeremy Carver’s work as a writer, and will be very sad if his new job on Syfy’s Being Human takes him entirely away from Supernatural. The Karen he created – a self-aware being who really was Bobby’s wife and loved him but also understood that she would become something else, again – was perhaps the most fully realized, compelling one-shot character in the history of the series. Carver gave actress Carrie Ann Fleming a lot to work with, and she delivered on it beautifully. He also provided a brilliant set-up for Kim Rhodes as Sheriff Jody Mills, making her at once a loving wife and mother and a strong, smart, dedicated cop. Both of these women were powerful and wonderful, and I mean both the characters and the actors who portrayed them. And even in a poignant episode fraught with grief and horrible tragedy, Carver brought the humor where it needed to be. The overlap of Sutton’s murder with the matching narration on the nature show was hilarious! I also liked the echoes in his dialogue, with Karen feeding back Dean’s I’m going to go out on a limb here line, talking about Dean never having been in love after Dean used the comment to refer to her apparent fondness for pies. A cute little script touch included the sheriff being named for Jim Beaver’s character in Harper’s Island
Director John F. Showalter is new to Supernatural and relatively new as a director, although his experience as an editor goes back into the 1990’s. His directorial credits include Without a Trace (on which he also was credited as an editor and producer), as well as Threshold, Ghost Whisperer, and Mentalist. I particularly loved how he set and shot the scene in which Bobby was listening to Karen humming in the kitchen, with the focus on Bobby while the open doors behind him caught Karen moving around very naturally as she baked. The camera establishing Dean in the scrapyard, zooming in, and then abruptly panning across to reveal Karen was a wonderful move. I also really loved the way Showalter made full use of the practical set on the backlot for the diner, shooting from inside through the windows to sell the reality of the location by having traffic and pedestrians framed outside. If I hadn’t recognized the set from having walked on the backlot, I’d have bought it as a real place precisely because he shot it to be. And the shot of the boys plunging their shovels into the earth at the graveyard transitioning into an extreme crane shot looking down at Sam standing in the dug-out grave was superb. I think all of these showed the influence of his editing background on his directorial choices.
I can’t say enough complimentary things about Jim Beaver’s performance as Bobby. He made Bobby’s grief, guilt, love, loss, and desperate yearning all viscerally real, something I felt twisting in my own heart. Particularly wrenching were the scenes where he talked about Karen humming as she cooked, and his final scenes with both Karen and the boys. He transmuted his own real life experience with love and loss into something immediate and true for Bobby, and that was heartbreaking.
Carrie Ann Fleming as Karen was his perfect complement, and the energy that passed between them in every scene just sparkled. I also loved her scenes with Dean in the kitchen and the junkyard. Karen’s humor, generosity, and wisdom made it very clear why Bobby fell in love with her, and her compassion rang echoes in Dean. She and Jensen worked together as well as she and Jim did, and I loved her.
Jensen and Jared both brought the goods. Dean’s love and concern for Bobby were tangible throughout Jensen’s performance, and the surprise and consternation on Jared’s face when Sam learned Bobby was considered a worthless drunk were as revealing as his attempt at the end to reassure himself that Bobby would be all right. And whoever had the idea of Dean whistling in the graveyard gets a big thumbs-up from me! (For those of you not familiar with idiomatic English, “whistling past the graveyard” means trying to make light of a bad situation in order to keep your spirits up.)
Jay Gruska’s musical score added to the heartbreak, especially the mourning violins accompanying the scene at Karen’s funeral pyre. We rarely hear violins in the forefront of the Supernatural underscore, but they were perfect here. The theme itself reminded me of Greg Edmonson’s poignant piece for the funeral scene in the Firefly episode The Message; it carried the same weight of sorrow and loss.
The art department and set dressers outdid themselves, as usual. I laughed for the “He who dies with the most toys wins” poster in Sutton’s trailer (I don’t think Sutton won … and doubt that a guy living in a trailer had the most toys!), luxuriated in the beautifully clean and organized interior of Bobby’s home (quite a contrast with the boarded-up second floor windows, peeling gutters, and patchy paint of the exterior), and loved how the backlot set was redressed as the diner, complete with Mount Rushmore mural, paper placemats, jukebox, and the often-recurring sunburst clock.
I have to admit to a few very minor quibbles. One is that Sioux Falls is not a little Podunk town! Admittedly, it’s a lot smaller than major cities in more populous states, but with over 200,000 people in the greater metropolitan area and over 150,000 in the city itself, it’s the biggest city in South Dakota! They definitely wouldn’t all fit in that little jail … Another little twitch was Dean going off to investigate the noise in the junkyard, leaving Bobby alone. When you know there are zombies in the neighborhood, you don’t go looking for the noise; you assume the worst and get set for a fight in the most defensible position you can take. That was too much of a convenient horror-movie trope. I appreciated seeing how well Bobby can still fight – and later on, I loved the way they passed the gun and the fight back and forth – but I didn’t buy Dean, the experienced hunter, leaving him under the circumstances.
Family – both its strengths and its weaknesses – has always been at the heart of Supernatural, and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid reinforced that, along with the message that going against nature is always wrong and will cost you in the end. As the price of the few days’ joy of her son’s return, the sheriff lost her husband as well as her son; pushed to choose, Bobby picked his dead wife over his surrogate sons, but ultimately had to kill her again anyway. The Winchester brothers are paying the price for their own family choices, for all the deals against nature that they and their parents made.
But for all that being a family can be hard and for all that loving makes us hostages to fear and loss, ultimately it’s family and love that ground us and keep us on course. Karen’s love for Bobby led her not only to try to protect him from painful truth, but to make him ultimately see and accept what he had to do. Bobby’s love for the Winchesters and theirs for him may be the only support that keeps all of them going, and the force that helps them find a way through in the end. Our family jobs are to bring each other peace, not pain. We don’t always succeed – family can hurt you worse than anyone else because they’re closest to you, inside your guard – but if we love, we try. And trying counts. 
Sorry this is so late: I really enjoyed the LA con, but it didn’t provide writing time, and work in the real world kicked my ass! Stay tuned for the review on Dark Side Of The Moon; that one won’t be as late as this one was, I swear!

Tags: bobby singer, dean winchester, episode commentaries, jared padalecki, jensen ackles, jeremy carver, jim beaver, meta, psychology, sam winchester, supernatural, supernatural university, theology

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