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Supernatural – 9.07 – Bad Boys – Review

Bad Boys brought us to the Catskills, New York, to a reform school for boys where Dean spent two months when he was 16 after getting in trouble with the law. The episode combined Dean’s flashbacks with a current-day ghost hunt and was a return back to basics before the mytharc kicks back in before the winter break.

Just a warning – some fans love the episodes with lots of interaction between Dean and kids. I’m not one of them. I maintain that kids on Supernatural should be the Lilith or The Kids Are Alright kind, and while occasional kid-heavy episodes are OK, the writer for this episode, Adam Glass, writes far too many of them in my opinion. I’m not someone who watches the ABC Family Channel or Disney movies often, so I’m obviously not the audience for his episodes, but I realize other people have different tastes.

With that said, this episode did some things right – it was nice to see an old-fashioned ghost hunt again, the Dean flashbacks seemed to be well-integrated and true to his character, and young-Winchester episodes are usually a hit. But heavy character episodes are usually forward looking. They’re usually inserted for a reason – most often to help us understand something that ties in with a bigger storyline. Which leaves me wondering what exactly was intended by inserting an episode at this time with a message that Dean always takes care of Sam, he has sacrificed, and he has resented those sacrifices.

The portrayal of Dean and his conflicts were true to character and canon. We’ve known since season 1 that it was heavily ingrained in Dean since a young age that it’s his role to watch over Sam, and that Dean has sacrificed to do that. That point has been hammered home every season since. We’ve also seen in season 3 that Dean on a deeper, repressed level resented Sam’s relationship with John and resented what he had to give up for Sam. This episode seemed to revisit that resentment, with lines like, “The best part is when you’re done, they leave, and you’re not responsible for them anymore,” spoken about cars, but clearly about Dean’s responsibilities toward Sam and his family.

Dean dealt with these issues years ago. Why are we revisiting them now? We didn’t learn anything new in this episode. With a big bombshell brewing in the main story arc – that Dean had helped Zeke possess Sam without Sam’s knowledge or consent, and has been lying about it since – this feels like a giant set up to gloss over Dean’s responsibility in the current storyline. This episode seemed intended to send the message that whatever Dean may have done and Sam feels, it doesn’t matter because Sam OWES him. Dean owns Sam.

And this brings me to the next point, which is that since the season opener, which did a decent job in laying some groundwork for Sam’s reaction, there’s been no attempt at additional set up for what Sam’s reaction will be when it comes. In contrast, we’ve had several consecutive episodes of highlighting Dean’s perspective with Zeke, his guilt, the impossible choices he’s facing when his friends keep dying and Zeke is the only one who can save them. Now we have a whole episode showcasing more of Dean’s perspective. But where’s the groundwork for setting up the motivations for Sam’s inevitable reaction? Surely showrunner Jeremy Carver, Glass and the other writers must know by now how Sam will react. If I believed this episode would be balanced out with another episode within the next couple of weeks before we go on winter break that focused as strongly on Sam’s perspective as this one did on Dean’s, I would feel differently, but that seems unlikely. So while another character episode focused on Dean with nothing to balance it out on Sam’s end in a different season would be annoying, its placement right now and the message that seems intended is disturbing.

The Highlights

The episode starts with Dean hearing of a case from an old friend – a fatherly figure at the reform school – about a weird death. How this man, Sonny, knew Dean specializes in the weird is unclear since Sonny never got a clear understanding of the family business in the past, and Sonny brushed off Dean’s strange behavior as Dean dabbling in the occult.

Dean had spent two months at the place after he had lost the family food money playing cards and got caught shoplifting some peanut butter and bread – probably for little Sammy. While there, he had a few weeks of getting away from his abusive parent, who decided to let him rot there, met and kissed a girl, met a “good” fatherly figure who gave him the chance to stay, but sacrificed it all to be there for his little brother. Apparently, Dean was the kid who always wanted to be normal.

The Good

Honestly, my hand kept jerking toward the remote through the whole episode during my first watch in a futile effort to fast-forward (I was watching it real time as it was being broadcast), but as I said earlier, I’m not the audience for this. There were good Dean character moments, and other people obviously enjoyed it, so I’ll let them fill out more of this section in the comments.

It was nice to get back to an old-fashioned ghost hunt. While it’s nice to get some variety, sometimes it feels good to return to basics. The flashbacks felt smoothly integrated into the current-day plot, and the actor cast to play young Dean did a great job in pulling off the nuances of the character.

The Bad

Aside from the issues that I’ve already mentioned, I did not appreciate the continued bashing of John. I thought it was pretty clearly established that John’s toughness on his kids was rooted in a deep protectiveness. He knew the dangers – his family had been ripped apart by them – and he lost sight of the human element in his attempt to protect them. This story would have you believe that John would abandon Dean in a strange place because Dean was misbehaving. That John pulled Dean away the night of the dance because he “had a job to do” I believe, but not that John abandoned Dean to teach him a lesson.

There was also the convenience of blaming a detail that doesn’t make much sense – that the family would lie to Sam about where Dean was – on a dead guy who can’t explain himself (John). Problem solved!

Another nitpick was the officer leaving the handcuffs on Dean because Dean was wising-off. Leaving cuffs on when he knew he wouldn’t be returning any time soon is bordering on child abuse. There were a lot of comments after last week’s episode that the writer was unfair to convenience store workers. This in my mind is much worse. No police officer would knowingly walk away leaving a child handcuffed and hope to keep his job, even if the kid had hit him.

Other nitpicks are Sam grabbing a knife to fight what he expects to be a ghost (are knives made of iron now?), the rugaru hunt in the past when Sam and Dean were introduced to rugarus in season 4, and the age casting of Sam. I know these last two have been exhaustively discussed already in viewer comments, so I'm brushing over them here.

So what did you think of the episode? Let me know in the comments.

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