6.04 Weekend At Bobby’s: Story Of My Life
With help from his friends,
To regain his soul.
This episode was a treat and a delight, pure and simple. I already know it’s one I’ll watch again in the future with warm pleasure and a lot of contentment. Solid script, great performances, lovely direction, wonderful effects: what’s not to like?
In this discussion, I’m going to explore the concept of demons as a variant of ghosts, look at the corporate structure of Hell, and address two lessons we learned from Bobby’s experience about asking for help and being aware of others.
You’re Nothing But Ghosts With An Ego
Back in Roadkill, Molly asked what happened to spirits whose bones were burned, and the brothers admitted they didn’t know. Sam said John had told them it was like death for ghosts, but we’ve never known whether ghost souls were simply released finally to be sent on their proper way to Heaven or Hell, or – having already once refused to accompany Reapers – whether they had lost their one chance at a proper afterlife and wound up being destroyed.
During In My Time Of Dying, Tessa told Dean he had only one chance to choose between moving on or remaining a spirit. We’ve been given reason to guess that’s not entirely true, at least where a spirit given another chance moves ahead on its own: for example, witness Molly, Father Gregory from Houses Of The Holy, or even John Winchester escaped from Hell in All Hell Breaks Loose Part 2, each of whom vanished peacefully into light after letting go of the world. The spirits we’ve seen burned, on the other hand, vanished in fiery torment, either suggesting destruction rather than transition or possibly implying they were destined for Hell because of the things they’d done whether before or after death. I suggest that latter possibility because the fire effects on burning ghosts were similar to the ones we saw on exorcised demon smoke as it sank into the floor after Sam pulled it out of human hosts in such episodes as Lazarus Rising and Metamorphosis, so Hell may have been their common destination. To my mind, the jury’s still out on what happens to ghosts when their bones or linking artifacts are burned.
Judging from what happened to the crossroads demon Bobby burned, however, it seems clear that burning a demon’s bones does something other than simply sending the demon back to Hell.
I’m frankly surprised it took this long for someone to explore whether demons could be banished like ghosts by burning their bones, but I’m not surprised that it worked. Ever since we learned in Malleus Maleficarum that all demons were human souls transformed by their time in Hell, I think there’s been potential to consider demons as similar to ghosts in some respects. I do wonder why we never heard Bobby, the brothers, or any other hunter at least speculate about whether the “myth” of burning bones to dispel a demon could actually work once we and they knew all demons had once been human.
That said, I still don’t think knowledge of the efficacy of demon bone-burning would have had any impact on the story to this point. While we now know Bobby was right to say demons are just ghosts with ego, they are still different from ghosts in many ways that make them intrinsically harder to deal with. The key aspects from my perspective are age, identity, and geographic range. Let me explain.
Through all of Supernatural’s ghost stories from the pilot on, we learned ghosts tend to appear in their own human forms and are generally linked to places as well as to their physical remains or personally significant artifacts. All those things make them relatively easy to identify. The challenge has usually been a combination of figuring out the identity of the ghost and either learning where they were buried or figuring out what other physical thing was still linking them to the world. With those two questions answered, dealing with the ghost was usually routine; burn the bones or the artifact and the ghost was gone. Only unique situations – for example, the brutal dragging death of the ghost in Yellow Fever having spread his remains over an area too wide to permit their destruction – led to the need to develop a new strategy (fear, in that case) to banish the ghost.
Demons present a very different challenge. When Ruby told Dean in Malleus Maleficarum about demons being made from human souls in Hell, she noted the process could take centuries. Having already been outed as a witch who’d sold her soul, she admitted it happened “back when the Plague was big” – which would have made it around 1347-1350 A.D.. Lilith and Azazel were both far older than Ruby, dating all the way back into human prehistory. Even knowing something about their identities, finding any of their mortal remains would have been impossible. Their burial sites would have been unknown, and even if a spell could have located them in lands far away from the
Also unlike ghosts, demons aren’t tied to places where they lived or where their artifacts turned up, nor do they appear in their own guise. They can go anywhere in the world and wear any human as a host. That contributes to making them hard to identify. Further, most of them seem to hide their true human names, often assuming the name of their current host. The demon we’ve known the longest we still call by the name of the first host we met her wearing, all the way back in Scarecrow: Meg. Similarly, the female demon in Sin City responded to the name of her host, Casey, without ever revealing her own, and the demon who’d initially acquired Ruby’s soul for Hell is still known to us only by her human host’s name, Tami. While some demon names were recorded in lore books, matching the lore to a specific demon wearing a host body or responsible for an event has been a vanishingly rare event. Bobby did it with the Seven Deadly Sins in The Magnificent Seven, and while it took him over twenty years, John finally managed to identify Azazel in time to summon him during In My Time Of Dying. Adding these things together, the chance of being able quickly to identify any specific demon, much less also locate and burn that demon’s mortal remains, would be extraordinarily small, about on a par with winning the lottery without having bought a ticket.
Because of all this, I don’t think it would have made any difference to Dean’s soul-selling deal or to the course of the aborted apocalypse if our heroes had ever before discussed or tried to test out whether the semi-mythical lore on burning demon bones held any truth. I don’t see any way they could have learned the true identities of the myriad demons they confronted, much less obtained any of their remains. It was Bobby’s great good fortune that
If I’m Being Honest, It’s Been Hell
Supernatural’s cosmology differs from Milton’s and the Bible’s in that Lucifer hasn’t been the effective ruler of Hell for eons, having been imprisoned by Michael in his invisible, unreachable cage after his rebellion. We learned from Casey in Sin City that none of the demons she knew had ever even seen Lucifer, and she accepted both his existence and his responsibility for having created demons purely as matters of faith. With Lucifer unavailable, I infer Hell was ruled by a succession of demons, controlled by whichever one could gain the upper hand.
The oldest and strongest demons knew and remembered Lucifer – Lilith and Azazel being cases in point – but we learned in Lucifer Rising that Lilith herself was imprisoned in the deepest corner of Hell and that Azazel, long dismissed by others, had been obsessively searching for his father until he finally succeeded in finding the route to the cage. Clearly, Azazel was inspired and changed his status once Lucifer gave him the mission of engineering Lucifer’s freedom by triggering the apocalypse; I’m guessing Azazel embarked on a hostile corporate takeover, set himself up as Hell’s manager, and put into play all the necessary elements to accomplish Lucifer’s plan. Casey referred to Azazel as their leader, a tyrant, the one with the plan, and noted chaos followed his death as different demon factions squabbled for control or simply went their separate ways.
In Malleus Maleficarum, Tami talked about a new power rising in the west, and we learned definitively in Jus In Bello that Lilith was that power. She ran the show until the moment she sacrificed herself to open the final seal. Lucifer himself didn’t emerge as the direct CEO of Hell until he was freed from his prison in Sympathy For The Devil, and while he ran things for a year, once Sam dragged him back into the cage in Swan Song, his corner office was vacant again.
Ambitious, intelligent, enterprising
It strikes me that the situation in Hell is curiously similar to the one in Heaven, and has been for at least as long as God has chosen to absent Himself. In both cases, the titular head is missing, and different political interest factions among middle management are struggling to exert control over corporate direction and actions. With Zachariah now dead, we know of at least two groups contesting in Heaven – Castiel’s and Raphael’s – but I suspect things in Hell are even more chaotic, with substantially more factions pulling in a far higher number of different directions.
The one thing I’m certain of is, we haven’t seen the last of
I’m Not Real Good At This ‘Asking For Help’ Thing
Perhaps the most important lesson Bobby learned in this episode was simply that sometimes, you have to ask for help and let the people who care about you respond, and doing so doesn’t make you any less strong and capable in your own right. Bobby presented a classic case study, because the people who are most accustomed to providing help to others are often the ones who find it hardest to need and ask for help in their own turn. It’s a pride and duty thing, as well as a control one.
As we learned from the first moment we met him in Devil’s Trap, Bobby was everyone’s “go to” guy and was comfortable in that role; it affirmed his knowledge and value and gave him satisfaction and validation. He was the one Dean turned to for help when John was taken, and the one who provided what both John and Sam needed as they dealt with the fear of losing Dean. Then he stepped firmly into the role of foster father to the orphaned brothers. He was always there, always ready, and even if he didn’t know the answer, he provided safe harbor and unfailing acceptance. We learned he held a central hub role in a whole network of hunters: the friends of murdered hunter Steve Wandell asked him for information he didn’t provide in Born Under A Bad Sign, Ellen sought him out for help when the Roadhouse was destroyed in All Hell Breaks Loose, Tamara and Isaac recognized and listened to him in The Magnificent Seven, and Creedy spoke of him with respect when talking to Gordon in Bad Day At Black Rock. From the moment we first saw his bank of fake cover phones in Sex And Violence, I wondered how long he’d been using them and how many hunters relied on him to provide them with cover, because those phones clearly weren’t there just for Sam and Dean.
Needing help – and particularly not being able to do something on his own – clearly made Bobby feel diminished. We saw that several times in season five, most notably in The Curious Case Of Dean Winchester, when he revealed just how deeply his physical handicap ate at his sense of self-worth. I suspect that, as his handicap initially tied him more firmly to his house and prevented him from taking part in the action, the phone bank and his research skills took on even more importance and helped him come to terms with his loss by providing steady reinforcement of the idea that he still served a purpose and provided value – that he was still needed, not just needy. Over the course of season five, we saw him gradually regaining his sense of propose and worth and expanding his efforts to become more mobile and vital. I suspect other hunters still continuously turning to him for information and cover help while dealing with the apocalypse – as well as Sam and Dean still loving and relying on him – contributed immeasurably to his ability to do more than just survive, because they validated his continued existence when he desperately needed that kind of recognition and affirmation.
Still, as this episode demonstrated graphically, there are things too big for any one person to handle alone, and when we run into them, we can’t simply trust that others will know both that we need help and what specific help we need. Expecting someone simply to divine your need and provide the help unasked, and being disappointed if they don’t, may be a human trait, but it isn’t fair to them or to us. Grudgingly, Bobby asked Rufus for help; reluctantly, he turned to Sheriff Mills. And finally, angrily, he turned to the
His relationship with Rufus was clearly one of favors often swapped and understanding simply assumed, to the point where their one-upmanship was virtually a game. Bobby reluctantly conceded points for having to ask for help, while Rufus delightedly balanced the scales of their ongoing match. With Sheriff Mills, the situation was different. Her understanding of him had changed dramatically with the sobering events of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and he laid down the marker not only of that situation, but of how much more she had never known about what he had done for the town and the world. Despite that, it was very much a personal appeal, and she ultimately responded on the personal level, putting her career on shaky ground for him. Of them all, she went the farthest and took the biggest chance, because her life is still grounded in the normal despite what she’s seen. She did what Marcy – for whom all of this was shockingly new, since she hadn’t been around for the
Finally, there were the Winchesters. Bobby’s telephonic attack went overboard in truth, because in more rational, less emotionally charged moments he’d be the first to admit the brothers loved him dearly and had come through directly for him before, notably in Dream A Little Dream Of Me and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, but in the heat of the moment, feeling put-upon and overwhelmed, hyperbole was understandable. (On the flip side, while Dean calling Bobby selfish was the one dialogue line in the script that didn’t ring true to me, I was willing to grant Dean the exaggeration to express his lingering resentment of Bobby having kept the secret of Sam’s return to life, so – enough said. We all exaggerate when our core emotions are involved.) What was unreasonable was his seeming expectation that the brothers should have known about and already done something to deal with his demonic deal situation, or at least to know that’s what he was dealing with. It wasn’t clear from the story context that they even knew Bobby’s soul was still in the wind, not returned as
The important point was that the moment they understood the situation, both brothers were more than willing to drop everything and leap to Bobby’s aid, no questions asked or objections raised. Dean even swallowed down his phobia of flying, something he’d done only once before when his choice was to face fear or let Sam potentially die alone taking on a demon in midair in Phantom Traveler. If Bobby needed any proof of their love and caring, or of his value to them, he got it in spades. And he wouldn’t have, if he hadn’t in momentary fury swallowed his pride and put his cards on the table, finally laying out what he wanted, needed, and truly feared. If he hadn’t laid himself open and made himself vulnerable, he wouldn’t have won his bet against
When we need help, we need to admit it and ask for it. Only if we do that can we win.
You Ain’t The Center Of The Universe
This episode demonstrated two core truths I believe we don’t think about often enough. First, we’re each the star of the show of our own life, a story that’s all about us all the time, while simultaneously playing anything from guest-starring roles to non-speaking or bit parts in the lives of others who similarly play such parts in ours. Second, we rarely think about others’ lives except when and as they intersect our own, and even then, we see them from our perspective, not theirs. We see other people in the context of the roles they play in our lives, which form only the smallest part of their full stories. We form our expectations of them based on those roles, and we take for granted that they’re going to continue to play those same roles the same way. We see them through the filter of what is important to us, which often isn’t what’s most important to them in the same moment. I would submit that clash of perception is often at the heart of our disagreements with others, and it’s only when we consciously make the effort to perceive things through their eyes and understand the impact they are feeling from the common events in our intersecting stories that the arguments evaporate and our relationships progress.
Supernatural stars the
In this episode, we saw all the characters coming from their very different viewpoints to interact on the same events. For Bobby, the main concern was his soul, with his awareness that the clock was ticking and Hell was in the offing unless he could find a way out of the deal. Everything else was ancillary to that gnawing fear. Marcy, ignorant of the supernatural, was focused on her budding romantic interest in getting Bobby to notice her. Dean was feeling overwhelmed by his upset life, torn between conflicting desires involving wanting family and needing to protect family, fears and anger about the changes in his brother, and simultaneously wanting peace and needing to hunt. We haven’t been cued in yet to what’s going on in Sam’s heart and mind, but we already know he’s not feeling any of the conflict that’s raging in Dean, and his current focus seemed to be just on hunting nonstop. Rufus was focused on his hunts and problems of the moment. Sheriff Mills was coping with her career being all she had left of her pre-apocalypse normal life, and integrating her revised worldview into a new normality that included covering for the supernatural. Crowley was frustrated with his unappreciated efforts to control Hell and get demons to accept his view of what to do. Absorbed in their own concerns, each of them was irritated whenever someone else’s story impinged on their own needs: Bobby resented being taken away from his demon interrogation to solve other people’s problems, Dean resented being put on hold when he was trying to get counseling, Sheriff Mills refused when asked to risk the last thing she had left, Crowley expressed his displeasure at being repeatedly summoned and confined.
In each case, however, when the people who cared about Bobby became aware of his needs, their attitudes shifted from irritation to the desire to help: concern for Bobby trumped other issues at least for the moment because they cared about him and they understood what was important to him. That was pronounced in the case of the Winchesters and Rufus, who understood the whole; it was less so in the case of Sheriff Mills, who wasn’t aware of his soul deal, but nonetheless realized that something critical to Bobby was at stake.
Marcy and Crowley, on the other hand, who respectively didn’t know and didn’t care about Bobby, remained enclosed in their own stories and concerns and reacted only as the circumstances affected them. Wholly discomfited by her unnerving, bloody encounter with the supernatural and an aspect of Bobby she never had guessed, Marcy declined further contact; Crowley simply found himself forced to fold a losing hand and yield the soul pot to Bobby, trumped by the hand Bobby played.
The important thing for me here really was the two-fold lesson that, first, we can’t expect others simply to understand what’s most important to us at any given moment because (a) they don’t see the world through our eyes and (b) they may not be able to see past the most important things already in the forefront of their view to the different one that’s most apparent to us, and second, getting irritated with them because of that serves no purpose and simply makes the disparity worse. This ties in to my previous discussion on needing and accepting help; we each have to be willing explicitly to ask others to see what we see and understand how we feel, and be willing to do the same for them. But it also goes further, because to really be able to communicate effectively with someone else, we need to understand what role they think we’re playing in the movie of their life. If we think we’re a major guest star while they think we’re a bit player or just an extra, both we and they will be disappointed and never truly connect.
While we all have solipsistic tendencies to think ourselves the center of the universe and to believe the rest of the world exists only while we think about and perceive it, Bobby had the right of it: our multiple simultaneous viewpoints define the universe together, and it’s our shared reality that matters. We need to make the effort to understand how we all combine if we’re going to work together, live together, and succeed.
Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin have been hit or miss for me since they joined the show a few seasons back, but this – like their earlier Dark Side Of The Moon – was definitely a super hit out of the park! On the miss side, my problems with their scripts have come mostly through their frequently sophomoric humor slipping over the line into making characters, particularly Dean, caricatures rather than characters, and their continuity has sometimes been sloppy (having Dean in their prequel comic series hunting vampires? Oops.). This episode, however, was a lovely balance of character work, story advancement, historical connection, and scintillating humor. Everything always starts with the story and the words, and this episode joins the list of my favorites precisely because they got both of those things so very right. Bravo, guys! Keep it up! There were too many great lines to quote, the links back to things in the show’s history provided tasty continuity (Rufus and scotch, Dean and flying, Rufus stealing the ring from the same museum featured in Red Sky At Morning, Bobby and ... everything), and the clear, positive resolution of the story of Bobby’s pawned soul was very satisfying.
On his maiden run, I thought Jensen Ackles did a superb job as director. He’s had some great teachers and role models over the years, particularly including Kim Manners, Phil Sgriccia, and Robert Singer, and he did them all proud. His comedy timing on scene transitions between actors was impeccable. From a technical perspective, I loved the way his shots kept things in context – choices like the pan up from the dead priest to Dean on the phone to visually explain without words why the original lamia-killing plan didn’t work, and the over-the-shoulder shots during the three-way conversation between Bobby, Crowley, and Gavin to connect the points of their triangle positioning. I was particularly amused by his cuts in the scene where
I was on the Monday Creation location tour in August hosted by Russ Hamilton, Supernatural’s location manager, which included four of the locations Jensen shot in this episode: Derby Reach, used as Marcy’s house (it had earlier been used as the Tanner house in Croatoan, just shot mostly from the other side!); the park across the street from the Derby Reach house, used to create the Scottish cemetery; the Albion Ferry pier, shot as the bridge on which Bobby met Sheriff Mills; and the nondescript building right beside the ferry pier, redressed into “Donna’s Hwy Diner Truck Stop, Open 24 Hours” (which I’m guessing was Jensen’s tip of the hat to his mother Donna’s home cooking!) where Rufus stopped on his way to Andover. Having seen those spots, I have firsthand respect for Jensen’s ability to frame and range his shots to control the elements the cameras and the audience would see. At the
The only thing that didn’t quite work for me in visual storytelling terms was the big reveal near the end of the episode that Bobby had been using the crossroad demon’s bones in his earlier torture interrogation. That wasn’t the fault of how it was shot, though. It simply was just such an obvious conclusion to draw based on what we already knew about the link between human spirits and their mortal remains and about demons being human souls warped in Hell that I immediately jumped to it long before the script took us there. I did notice how deliberately we weren’t being allowed to see what Bobby and the demon saw as we went through the interrogation the first time, and I bow to Jensen’s skill in double-shooting that torture scene from the slightly different perspectives of concealing and revealing the bones and the demon’s fate.
I also give him props for capturing all the essential inset shots – little detail things like Bobby’s hand connecting with the woodchipper control button or picking up each specific phone on the wall, or opening a shot with a pan across the map of Scotland laid out by the phones – that were so key to showing story points so nothing would need to be said. Editor Anthony Pinker did a spectacular job of placing those shots precisely where and when they needed to be to visually establish the details while keeping the pace of the story clipping along – and I loved what he did with the separate montages of Bobby researching and constantly fielding phone calls! – but Jensen first had to decide during the storyboard process what specific shots he would need to make particular points about the story or the action clear to a viewer. A director and editor make a team to set the logic and adjust the pace, and that teamwork sang here. Mind you, this is part of every director’s job; I’m just incredibly pleased that Jensen got all those details so very right on his first break out of the gate. What’s even more remarkable is that Russ said he “made” every day – in other words, he got every single shot he’d planned to get in that shooting day – something rare in a first-timer and not always achieved even by the most experienced.
Kudos also go to the superb coordination among director, makeup, and visual effects folks. A lot of these shots were complex pieces requiring the blending of practical effects (for example, fire being wielded by an actor) with makeup additions to another actor during the scene (scorch marks come to mind) that would later be overlaid by CGI (prickles of fire licking from bones under the skin). To make that work, camera moves and shot timing needed to be planned and precise. I really loved the lamia fight scene, in which we never saw the monster but only one glimpse on the wall of its CGI shadow, like the daevas in Shadow. Jared Padalecki threw himself around (his face-plant into the pillar was particularly hilarious!), Jensen directed himself throwing powder at nothing and cannibalizing a gas line, and we bought that something else monstrous and solid was there (and burned up!) despite never seeing it at all. That was a classic! It also demonstrated the gift of saving money on the episode budget, since they didn’t need a monster design or a stunt performer to play the monster.
All of the performances in this episode were more than solid. Tasked with carrying the show, Jim Beaver rose to the occasion with conviction, humor, and grace, delivering on everything from his amusingly awkward reaction to Marcy’s romantic interest through his frustrated emotional outburst at being taken for granted once too often. Bobby’s discomfort with the very idea of needing to ask for help was tangible, as was the focused intensity of his willingness to torture a demon – something he’d been uncomfortable with in other days before the personal stakes were so high. Jim Beaver sold every moment of Bobby’s weekend.
The scenes between Bobby and fellow grumpy old hunter Rufus were all gems, as delivered by Jim and the wonderful Steven Williams. Those two could carry their own spin-off show! I really enjoyed Jennifer C. Aspen as Marcy; alas that Bobby’s love life appears doomed. I was delighted that we got to see additional development by Kim Rhodes of the character of Sheriff Jody Mills. Other than the situation with Dean and Lisa, this is the first time I can remember that the show has returned to a non-hunter character who’s had to deal with the supernatural and then move on with real life seen through different eyes, and I like it. In some odd way, bringing these characters back and letting us see how they’ve changed and settled in to life within the framework of the show lends the show itself more of a feel of reality. In
I also love Mark Sheppard’s
Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles had only small parts to play on-screen in Bobby’s story, but they nailed them, as usual. They gave solid performances for their new director! And I wondered about Sam’s parting shot in protecting Crowley by stopping Dean from burning his bones and observing that a deal was a deal; we still don’t know what was involved in Sam’s escape from Lucifer’s cage in Hell, and all the deal stories so far this season involving both angels and demons could be a hint that something similar might be involved. We’ll just have to wait and see.
All the little details of the production fit. Using Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler” as the theme for Bobby gambling against Crowley and ultimately winning was wizard, and I enjoyed Chris Lennertz using themes in the score that dated all the way back to the pilot to bring things full circle in the end. The visual effects were great, including all the practical and CGI fire work and the glimpses into
My parting shot on this episode is simply the observation that I think we all have a Bobby or two in our lives: the people we go to and rely on, the ones who are always there for us and who we always expect will be there. I don’t know about you, but after watching Weekend At Bobby’s, my first impulse was to think about my Bobbys and try to see the world through their eyes, to figure out what they might want or need, and then do something to make sure they know I don’t take them for granted.
Think about doing the same, hmm? Tell them this: You know the way you’re always there for me? Well, I’ll always be there for you, too. Just don’t hesitate to ask, in case I’m just not looking in the right direction at the right time. I promise to look the right way, and see you standing there.
Sorry this is so late; real life and Microsoft problems, I'm afraid. Think I'll be hunting a Mac soon ...
Since I broke LJ on length again, you can find my episode summary over here.