I think of “Bad Boys” as a kind of back-to-basics episode for Season 9 of Supernatural, a throwback to the first three seasons of the series, when everything felt like Dean and Sam against the world.
And that’s not a bad thing.
I critique Supernatural a lot (or complain about it, depending on how generous a spin one wants to put on my SPN blogging commentary) but I really do love it. If I didn’t love it, I would probably not spend nearly so much time watching it, thinking about it and writing about it. And one of the reasons I love it is that the emotional center of the show is the relationship between two brothers.
And Supernatural has been aware since the get-go that this “bond between two brothers” does not begin and end with the brothers themselves, but is instead inextricably linked to the brothers’ relationships with other people. The shadows (and sometimes, quite literally, the shades) of Mary and John Winchester stretch throughout all nine of the Supernatural seasons, and the tension which arises between the brothers’ “neurotically codependent” relationship and the romantic bonds they try to form is a recurrent theme throughout the series. And I actually find it quite riveting that this bond (or “bromance”) that forms the heart of the show is in many ways an unhealthy one, and the series never shies away from exploring that.
Because complicated relationships are interesting. (And simple relationships are unrealistic.)
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Bad Boys,” Season 9, Episode 7.
“Bad Boys” was written by Adam Glass and directed by Kevin Parks.
I have very little to say about the episode title. I am just very grateful that the theme song to COPS never comes up.
“Sonny’s Home For Boys” is being haunted. Sonny calls Dean to ask for help. Sonny knows Dean because Dean once stayed at his “home for boys,” back when Dean was a boy. The (grown up) Winchester brothers investigate. And that’s about it. This is a oneshot, Monster-of-the-Week type of episode here, people.
OK, so 16-year-old Dean in the flashbacks is probably too old to be called tween, but he’s older than wee!Dean (think “A Very Supernatural Christmas”) and he looks younger than teen!Dean (think “After School Special”), so I’m going with “tween.”
I like tween!Dean. Actually, I like all of the actors who play Dean. Especially “old” Dean, from “The Curious Case of Dean Winchester.” Man, that guy was awesome. I want the showrunners to shoehorn in a reason for him to come back. I like all of the non-Jensen Ackles actors who play Dean because they seem to have actually studied Ackles’s performance and to be taking it into account in their own performances. And that’s nice. It gives a real sense of continuity to the character. (It’s always bothered me a little that actors who play the same demon or angel character [Ruby, Meg, Gadreel] don’t really seem to try to take their cue from that character’s previous “hosts.” I guess demons and angels just borrow mannerisms from whichever body they’re in?) Anyway, this show is eerily good at finding other actors who look like Dean might have at various ages, even if tween!Dean and teen!Dean (who was what, one year older?) look nothing like each other. I guess Dean hit a real heck of a growth spurt.
What happens in the episode
The Winchesters investigate the haunting. People die, but in the end the mystery is solved and everyone not yet dead is saved. As it turns out, the ghost is the mother of one of the home’s resident “boys,” and she can’t tell the difference between actual, deadly threats to her son and people her son just finds threatening (bullies and authority figures). Apparently, saving her own son from the car crash that killed her has left her a wee bit overprotective. Makes sense.
The Winbros convince the kid to convince his mom that he’ll be fine without her, and the ghost does whatever ghosts do in this universe when they decide to stop haunting.
The Brother Feels
But that’s just the plot, and it’s neither terribly original nor terribly important to this episode. I mean, it’s fine, it’s just not the point.
Because this episode is all about the brother feels (link goes to “feels” Urban Dictionary entry). “Feels” is one of those terms that comes up a lot in fandoms and fanfiction, and generally refers to the strong emotions that fans feel about the things they are fans of. The Urban Dictionary entries for “feels” seem pretty apt, so go check those out. An appropriate use of “feels” in a sentence would be, “When such-and-such spoiler happened in such-and-such fandom, then I had ALL THE FEELS.” Putting “all the feels” in all caps is, of course, optional.
What this particular episode of Supernatural provides is a wealth of that subcategory of “feels” called “brother feels,” which is not as popular a term, but which does come up sometimes in discussions of fandoms–especially if one of those fandoms is Supernatural. “Brother feels” refers to those touching and/or heartbreaking moments between characters who are brothers, or who act like brothers. “Brother feels” in the Supernatural fandom does not refer to the romantic or sexual pairing of Sam/Dean known as “Wincest,” though Wincest stories can include “brother feels.” “Brother feels” generally does not have a sexual implication at all; however, “brother feels” and Wincest are not mutually exclusive terms. The more you know, right?
So, while the Winbros investigate the haunting, Sam’s having an investigation of his own. He finds traces of tween!Dean in Sonny’s Home for Boys: a piece of masking tape with “Dean W.” written on it on Dean’s old bed, Dean’s wresting certificate, Dean’s old girlfriend, etc. Sam slowly comes to realize that the months Dean spent in this place constituted the most stable (and, from Sam’s way of thinking, “best”) time of Dean’s young life. Sam also seems to realize that the reason Dean gave this nice, stable life up was so that he could take care of Sam. And, while Sam is learning all of this new info about how Dean almost escaped “the life”, we are privy to Dean’s flashbacks–and yep, that’s pretty much how it went down.
In one of Dean’s flashbacks, John shows up to retrieve tween!Dean on the night Dean’s about to go to the “school dance” with his sweetheart. Sonny offers to fight to try to keep Dean in a stable environment away from a negligent father who leave his oldest son in situations where he has to steal food for his younger brother, and then, when that son gets caught, leaves him to the local authorities as an object lesson about getting caught (WTF, John?). However, when Sonny makes Dean this offer, he also delivers John’s message: “He just said to tell you you* had a job, said you’d know what that means.” And as we all know from Season Two, Dean has always had “one job”: taking care of his little brother.
Teary-eyed-but-stoic tween!Dean hears the honk of the Impala’s horn, and looks out of the window to see his brother playing with a toy jet. He huffs out a fond laugh, politely thanks Sonny for everything, and gives the man who’s been looking out for Dean’s own welfare for the last two months a firm goodbye handshake. Like the responsible young man he is. Which is just … ugh. Remember, kids, the expression is ALL THE FEELS. Right when Dean lets a single tear fall, Sonny pulls Dean in for a–still manly–goodbye hug. And we get a close up on Sonny’s worried expression. Apparently, Sonny thinks that parents who abandon their kinds for months at a time as punishment don’t provide the most supportive and loving home lives. For some strange reason.
This moment really gives you the impression that Dean’s job isn’t just to protect Sam from the things that go bump in the night, but to serve as a buffer between him and their hard, emotionally distant father. If Dean steps back into the adult role of John Winchester’s “good little soldier,” that will give Sam time and space to be a kid–playing with toy jets–just a little bit longer. Remember this little speech from Season 2?:
DEAN: You know, when we were little–and you couldn’t been more than five–you just started asking questions. How come we didn’t have a mom? Why do we always have to move around? Where’d Dad go when he’d take off for days at a time? I remember I begged you, “Quit asking, Sammy. Man, you don’t want to know.”
I just wanted you to be a kid … Just for a little while longer. I always tried to protect you … Keep you safe … Dad didn’t even have to tell me. It was just always my responsibility, you know? It’s like I had one job … I had one job …
— “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2”
And as if all that wasn’t enough to outright flatten the audience members who have any emotional investment in the brothers’ bond (which is pretty much all of them–er, us), back in the present, Sam thanks Dean for “always being there”:
SAM: Dean … Thank you.
DEAN: For what?
SAM: For always being there, for having my back. Look, I know it always hasn’t been easy …
DEAN: I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.
Say it with me now: ALL THE FEELS.
Not many womenfolk this episode! Which I’m fine with. I mean, most of it is set at “Sonny’s Home For Boys,” so there’s actually a, you know, reason for this episode present a rather male-centered world.
However! We still have three female characters! Let’s see. First there’s the overprotective mommy ghost whose life literally revolves around her son’s–because she is haunting him.
Then there’s the older, devout, rosary-wielding Ruth, who serves as a caretaker for the boy’s at Sonny’s Home, and who is offed by the overprotective mommy ghost.
So, of the three female characters, one dies in the course of the episode and one is dead before the episode begins. Hmm. Ratio-wise, things aren’t looking so great for the ladies.
Lastly, we have Robin, who just so happens to have been Dean’s very first kiss. She’s still hanging around, giving boys guitar lessons at Sonny’s Home. Surprisingly, Robin survives, despite being Dean’s very first ever girlfriend! She should get some kind of special award for that, because that is impressive. Of course, we will probably never see Robin again. Which is for the best, really, because if we ever do see her again, then the odds will not be good for her survival.
Behold: the unicorn who survives the episode.
The plot’s neither particularly innovative nor particularly interesting, but all in all, this is a solid, emotionally resonant episode that reminds us why the Winchesters are so easy to love.
* * *
* The transcript at the Supernatural Wikia says “he” here. However, I first heard this line as “you had a job,” and after listening to it a few times, I still read it this way.