Mansions are no big deal anymore. We all live in them, right? Personally, my mansion is not that great. The elevator runs slow and the east wing is so breezy I can’t possibly set foot in it without a fur stole. See, sometimes mansion life isn’t as glamorous as people think. But what happens after you’ve grown tired of your mansion? You’ve golf-carted all over the estate, you’ve passed out champagne-drunk in every gift-wrap room. What then? Well, grab a candelabra and head to the basement! Explore secret passageways, traverse hidden tunnels, activate those curses, Instagram those catacombs. Basically, when you’ve grown tired of your mansion, look underneath it. That’s essentially what Supernatural Manor has been forced to do now that it’s season nine, and while this week’s newly revealed secret room called “Bad Boys” didn’t particularly expand on the mythology or answer any questions we’d had about these characters, we did get a glimpse into Dean’s life that felt both surprising and enlightening. Which, nine seasons in, is an accomplishment as impressive as landing a helicopter on my mansion’s embarrassingly undersized helipad. Very impressive indeed.
To enjoy “Bad Boys” we needed to accept the premise that a 16-year-old Dean once spent two months at a boys’ home in the countryside where he experienced his first love and developed a deep bond with the man in charge there, but then never once mentioned any of this to Sam in the fifteen or so years since. As far as suspensions of disbelief go, I suppose that’s not quite as extreme as asking us to believe demons are real, but still: After all those long car rides and diner meals and motel hangouts, the Winchesters STILL had secrets they’d been keeping from each other? Okay fine, at this point complaining about Dean and Sam arbitrarily keeping secrets from each other would be like complaining about lack of neighborly etiquette on 227. (Which is a perfect comparison and reference, just FYI.) Arbitrary secrets are just too ingrained in the show’s DNA, to the extent that even now, and after so many other secrets have led to unfortunate consequences, Dean still thinks that keeping Ezekiel a secret from Sam is the best course of action. As viewers, should we reasonably expect Sam and Dean to grow, evolve, or change over the years? Guess not! These dudes are pretty much as trapped in amber as TV characters can be. Which is not a bad thing, necessarily. Amber is pretty!
Anyway: After a ghost drove a tractor into an old man, Dean received a distress call from the fantastically mustachioed proprietor of the boys’ home Dean had once lived in after shoplifting bread. It turned out people had been getting mysteriously killed ever since the arrival of an eerie boy, a plotline that felt like an amalgamation of about three tired plotlines we’d already seen so often on Supernatural. Though the primary paranormal threat (the boy’s overly protective ghost mother) and its resolution (the boy asked her to please stop murdering people) were uninspired enough as to knock a few points off this episode’s overall quality, if we’re being honest: The present-day plotline was never as important as Dean’s coming-of-age flashbacks. For one thing, the actor playing 16-year-old Dean (Degrassi: The Next Generation vet Dylan Everett) was remarkably perfect. Not only in his resemblance to Jensen Ackles, but especially in his performance: A late-episode scene in which young Dean was forced to abandon his new life (and girlfriend) to reunite with his real family could not have been as devastating as it was without Everett’s nuanced, heartbreaking performance. It helped that the scene was yet another in the classic pantheon of Winchester Feels moments: Young Dean seeing his little brother Sam in the car and realizing that’s where he needed to be. Again, the unspoken love between these taciturn brothers is a potentially overdone Supernatural trope, but man does it still work every time.
As for young Dean’s first (?) girlfriend, it should go without saying that this supposedly important figure in his life wasn’t the most fleshed-out character we’ve ever met. An obvious drawback of Supernatural’s (at this point intentional) decision to present most love interests as bland cardboard cutouts is how it devalues the allegedly deep bonds these guys form with them. For example, did anybody even remotely care about Dean’s relationship with Lisa? (Do you even remember Lisa?) The answer is no, nobody cared, and that is because she had absolutely nothing going on except hotness, and, I guess, the ability to produce offspring. Imagine if she were dynamic and unique and memorable! Dean’s angst over their breakup would’ve been compelling rather than frustrating. Oh well. At least “Bad Boys” was consistent in that Dean has a type: Robin was boring both as a teenager and an adult. The episode even went so far as to suggest that career waitressing was her sole purpose in life, as though it were a reasonable female parallel to Dean’s destiny of hunting demons. Fine, at least waitressing is safer than going to hell every couple of years.
Aside from a handful of good scares (like an incident with a jammed lawnmower blade), “Bad Boys” was simply not concerned with telling an original, scary tale of the paranormal. No, Supernatural’s days of expanding mythos or introducing new monsters seem to be mostly finished. Rather than innovating, it’s now focused on deepening or expanding what we already know about this world and these characters, and “Bad Boys” did that successfully. Personally, I would watch an entire series about 16-year-old Dean grappling with werewolves (just kidding, I already do and it’s called Teen Wolf). But yeah: Supernatural is one of the rare long-running serials that hasn’t yet exhausted its flashback privileges. Let’s do this again sometime, show! Just remember to make the present as interesting as the past.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I must retire to my entirely lackluster doubloon vault. Good day.