The thing about Robbie Thompson episodes of Supernatural is that they feel like episodes of Supernatural. Or more accurately, they feel like an episode of Supernatural that fandom would conjure if left to our own devices. Maybe not as freewheeling as in fanfiction (okay, definitely not as freewheeling as in fanfiction), but as close as canon can get. So let’s just say I was pretty excited for this week’s episode – not only was it the end of mini hellatus, but it was a Robbie episode too!
Add to that the return of Bobby and Rufus and I was in fangirl heaven from the first frame. Flashbacks of Rufus and Bobby over the years set up the nostalgia and made me realize just how much I miss having Jim Beaver in my Show. Then, montage over, we’re immediately in the realm of a freaking scary beginning sequence – which, of course, is just as it should be.
That friggen’ hand grab!!!
Me: Crap, no sleep tonight.
Totally worth it though. Kudos VFX team.
Then we get Winchesters together (because that’s an integral part of what I want from my fantasy Supernatural episode, obviously) and Sam reassuring Dean.
Sam: Keep your head up. We’re gonna win this, remember?
Dean’s not exactly convinced, and he’s grumpy about hunting in the meantime until they get some clues about Amara or Cas, but he eventually goes along and puts on his very attractive fed suit.
The boys interview the mom in the hospital, and it’s neither here nor there that the mom has a wife, which is once again exactly how it should be in my fantasy episode.
Little kid in a coma is the worst possible thing for Sam and Dean; you can see from the expression on Dean’s face how much he wants to kill whatever it is they’re hunting and save her. That’s one of those scenes where Ackles doesn’t need a word of dialogue to convey so much emotion it hurts.
Sam and Dean go to the creepy house (whoever owns that house in Vancouver, are you ever going to be able to sleep again after this episode??) and run into the cranky nosey neighborhood watch lady, who tells them “a handful of years ago, two FBI agents came here…”
Cut to the brilliantly captioned shot of Bobby snoozing in the car.
I laughed out loud at that – it’s the kind of quirky little thing that Supernatural often tosses in and it never fails to me make want to start screaming about how much I love my Show and how it’s the Best.Show.Ever.
Thompson, like many of our talented writers, tosses in lots of pop culture references – the hospital is St. Eligius, a reference to one of my favorite shows of the past, St. Elsewhere. And the boys’ FBI names are invariably fun to play with, this time with a Lethal Weapon call back.
Now the fun begins! Stefan Pleszcynski’s directing was excellent, and the editing in this episode was masterful – big kudos to Don Koch for how seamlessly we cut back and forth between the two hunting duos. We see Bobby and Rufus, the grumpy old men of the FBI, arguing about who’s going to work since it’s Shabbat, and Sam and Dean disagreeing about what they’re hunting as they make their way through the house with their handy dandy EMF meters.
Score another one for Thompson – I love those things! Heck, look how beautiful Dean looks carrying one…
Perhaps what Thompson seems to understand so well is that when you love a Show for eleven years, nostalgia becomes a part of the enjoyment. It’s what bonds us together as a fandom, that shared history over the years – just like it bonds every family. Every time something old school makes an appearance, there’s a collective happy sigh worldwide. I love that they’ve never changed the EMF meters in over a decade – they still look as primitive as the first homemade one that Dean proudly showed off to his brother. And damn it, they still work!
The back and forth bickering continues.
Dean: You think Bobby and Rufus wasted time arguing about this?
Cut to Bobby and Rufus doing just that, and Bobby calling Rufus an idjit. Much to fandom’s collective glee.
We get treated to old school grave digging too – in fact, poor Sam and Dean have to dig up two graves. But they do it at night, gorgeously lit by flashlights and moonlight, so we’re not complaining. In fact, we’re thanking Serge Ladouceur for his brilliance.
Dean: There’s gotta be an easier way to dig graves.
Cut to Bobby and his excavator. Once again, I laughed out loud. Also? Even shots of excavators look gorgeous on this show!
It’s not just humor we want in our episodes, though. It’s feeling. Thompson gets that too. Rufus keeps asking Bobby why he was sleeping in his car, and Bobby finally admits he’s been worried – the apocalypse is coming and Sam and Dean are right in the middle of it.
Bobby: I’m worried about my boys.
Rufus: Your boys?
But we know they are. Rufus knows it too. And there’s something in my eye, hang on.
Throughout the episode, we hear one of the main themes of Supernatural echoed by Rufus, repeatedly. Sacrifice, the greater good. Not everyone is gonna be on the bus ride home. Oldest rule of hunting: You can’t save everyone.
Every time Rufus said it, it gave me the chills. We’ve lost so many people, Bobby and Rufus among them. It still hurts. Right here in my living room, it still hurts.
Back and forth we go again, to the hospital, and then back to the motel room, where first Rufus and Bobby and later Sam and Dean sit together at a little table, researching. The scene is shot from overhead – one of the things I love about the Show – and the symmetry works beautifully.
Willie Nelson sings in the background.
The night life ain’t a good life…but it’s my life.
The hunting life. There’s a sadness to that song and to the life, and we know it. But there’s a determination too, an acceptance – and in both the past and the present, they’re not alone. There’s a solace in that, for the characters, and for us as viewers too.
Eventually both duos figure it out – they’re dealing with a Soul Eater, who yanks unsuspecting souls into its nest and messes with their heads, showing them the ones they love the most hurt or dead in order to keep them vulnerable. Ewwww.
The Winchesters have the benefit of Bobby’s description of a previous Soul Eater hunt, which Dean reads to Sam dramatically: Bobby went in, buckshot, guns blazing…
Cut to Rufus as Bobby tries to tell it the same way: No no no, you tell me how it actually happened!
They know each other so well. All of them.
When the Winchesters realize one of them will have to go into the nest, Dean immediately calls “Not it!”, sounding about five years old.
Sam, of course, just rolls his eyes and they rock paper scissor it, and all is right with the world because Dean loses once again.
Dean: We’re never settling anything with this stupid game again!
Oh Dean. Don’t ever change.
In the present, Dean taunts the Soul Eater with his patented “come and get me, you sonofabitch” while in the past, Bobby’s saying “stay away from me, you sonofabitch” – which made me giggle once again.
They’re both knocked down and dragged into the nest, in part because neither Sam nor Rufus can paint in anything but slow motion for some unknown reason. Dean wakes up and sees what he loves the most – Sam – lying dead on the floor. Oh, the look on his face at that moment! I really don’t know how Ackles does it, but you can feel the tremendous anguish Dean feels at that second. He closes his eyes and somehow finds the courage to open them again, and the image of Sam is gone.
Meanwhile, in the past, Bobby feels the same when he sees Sam and Dean lying bloody and broken at the foot of the stairs. Jim Beaver’s choked “Ohgod!” broke my heart.
As the sad people accumulate all around them, it gets scarier and scarier and more and more creepy. Kudos to Zabrina and the rest of the makeup crew, because those lost souls were terrifying. They reminded me of the dead people in the Sixth Sense that Haley Joel Osment can see in the school.
Side note: My son was in that movie (actually I was too, but only for about five seconds) and one day in between filming scenes, I was taking a shortcut through the school they were filming in, most likely on my way back from either craft services or the bathroom. I thought I’d cut through the gym, so I started walking up the steps, and then looked up to see three dead people hanging there! They looked so incredibly real, I screamed and nearly fell backwards down the stairs – and had to explain myself to the crew who came running to see what the hell was going on. But they reminded me so much of those lost souls in this episode, which only creeped me out even more. Good job, Zabrina.
Meanwhile, Sam drags Dean’s unconscious body into the room while he continues to paint the sigil more slowly than anyone has ever painted anything ever before. Because, you know, why hurry, it’s just a Soul Eater ready to consume you…
Soul Eater possesses Bobby in the past and tries to talk Rufus into coming into the nest.
Rufus: Why? So you can show me a bunch of messed up stuff in there while my fabulous body rots out here?
Cue me laughing out loud once again. Steven Williams can pull off lines like that so perfectly – from what Jim Beaver says, only about half of what he says is actually scripted, but they all come out working well anyway so I guess it doesn’t matter! In fact, maybe that’s what makes his character so appealing.
Same thing happens in the present, as Dean’s pretty fanfiction green eyes are replaced by milky white and he confronts Sam.
Not!Dean: Can’t let you finish your finger painting, boy.
Everyone: Damn, that was kinda hot.
Not!Dean tries to tempt Sam into joining his brother in the nest, pointing out that Dean wants to go to Amara, but that the Soul Eater can keep them both safe and together forever. It’s a reminder that is what Sam wants, but Sam’s not having it though. Not like this.
Sam and Dean tangle with some beautifully choreographed fighting, Rufus and Bobby tangle too, Sam eventually smashes a chair over Dean’s very fine ass, and OMG he FINALLY finishes the sigil!
Dean wakes up in the nest, and as the lost souls start to disappear, he sees Bobby on the stairs. Their eyes catch, and you can imagine what that feels like to Dean, who still misses Bobby so much.
Then they fade out.
Rufus runs to Bobby, and in the present, Sam runs to Dean, which makes my fangirl heart about ready to burst with happiness.
Sam: Hey hey, Dean, you good? I got ya.
Sam claps his brother’s shoulder, strokes his hair. Audibly sighs with relief – we can FEEL it. Fandom sits grinning happily.
The thing is, that’s why we watch this show. Sure, we like being scared and creeped out and we love the show’s awe-inspiring beauty and its intricate plot lines and mythology. But that’s not why Supernatural is still on the air going into its 12th season. That’s not why its fans are still passionate enough to win it contests and awards and spend all our hard earned money going to conventions whenever we can afford it (or even when we actually can’t). It’s because we love these characters, and we’re invested – heavily invested – in their relationships. No matter who you ship or whether shipping is the furthest thing from your mind, we’re invested in the relationship that began this show and will carry it through until the end. We’re invested in Sam and Dean. We’re invested in their brotherly love and their love of family – both blood and found. When we go through entire seasons or many episodes where there’s no indication that Sam and Dean even like each other let alone love each other, it doesn’t feel good. It’s like the satisfaction we get from watching this show is drying up, taking all the good feelings we get from watching with it.
Then along comes Robbie Thompson and gives it all back, in celebration of both found family (in Bobby and in Rufus for Bobby) and blood (Sam and Dean together again, gloriously, all episode long). In shared joyous wallowing in nostalgia, because the memories we have in common are what binds us to each other, what makes family the compelling force that it is. The same thing happened with ‘Baby’ and ‘Fan Fiction’ and plenty of other episodes which reminded us of why we’re watching after all this time and still madly in love with these characters and this show.
The other thing that Thompson does that makes an episode like this one so powerful, is that he lets us see the characters’ emotions. We need to know that they feel for each other in order to relate, and to feel ourselves. That can be a difficult thing when we’ve got a bunch of characters who, for one reason or another, are stilted in their ability to actually say ‘I love you’. Most of the time, they’re too concerned with sticking to stereotypes about masculinity to express much overtly – though they all can speak volumes with their eyes and a twitch of their chiseled jaw. But sometimes we need to SEE it and HEAR it, and ‘Safe House’ gave us that.
It’s gruff and grumpy Bobby Singer finally answering Rufus’ persistent question – and we know Rufus won’t give up because underneath their constant bickering, he cares about his friend.
Rufus: What’d you see, Bobby?
Bobby: My boys. Both of ‘em. Both of ‘em dead.
The emotion in his voice, just like his strangled “Ohgod” when he saw the vision of them dead, lets us understand just how much Bobby loves Sam and Dean. He may not be their father, but the shared history we know intimately and his words in this episode remind us that is not what’s important. They are his boys, and his love for them shines brightly amidst all the violence and chaos of their lives.
Even Rufus recognizes it.
Rufus: Forget the oldest rule, Bobby.
It’s an attempt to change the rules they all know, to say that maybe sometimes love trumps everything, even the apocalypse or the Darkness. It’s a sliver of hope, and we grab onto it as desperately as Bobby does.
Of course, he does manage to say he cares back to Rufus, in the way only Bobby can.
It’s a language every fan watching speaks fluently.
Speaking of nods to the past and the power of our shared memories within the canon of the Show, who didn’t gasp out loud when you recognized the bottle of Johnny Walker Blue that Rufus left in Bobby’s car? The same one that Jody and Sam drank after he was gone.
Where the hell are my tissues?
I know some people quibbled with Dean’s brusque phone call to Bobby that prevented him from finishing that entry in his journal, and it struck me that way too at first. But really, that says something about the bond they share. Dean considers Bobby his dad every bit as much as Bobby considers Dean and Sam his boys. Kids expect their parents to be there – something Sam and Dean didn’t get much of from John, and of course they lost their mother early on. Nobody complains more than a child when you have something else to pull your attention away from them for a little while, whether it’s a hunt or a day at the office. The fact that Dean takes their bond for granted, enough to whine and demand? That’s a real testament to how secure his bond with Bobby really is. He sounded just like a kid in that phone call, despite its serious content.
And Bobby? He hears it that way too. Yes, he’s annoyed – we all are when our kids get like that. But he hangs up the phone only half exasperated. The other half is relieved; his boys are all right. They’re still here and they’re still depending on him. Their bond is strong as ever; his fondly muttered “Idjits” lets us know that in no uncertain terms.
Have I mentioned how warm and fuzzy this episode left me feeling? Let me tell you again. Happily.
Because Robbie gets it, he knows how much we love to end an episode with the boys in the Impala, and he doesn’t fail us now. We get to see the family of the little girl reunited (with much of fandom tweeting Robbie to thank him for showing that a lesbian couple and their family can have a happy ending).
Then Sam and Dean have their boys-in-the-car chat, and because this is Season 12 and Dean is allowed to open up and actually TALK to his brother, we get some honesty too.
Sam: What else did you see?
Dean: I saw you, dead on the floor.
I gasped. He told him!! (I feel like I’m saying that every other episode, and let me tell you, I am NOT complaining!)
Jensen has talked a little about the change in Dean this season that’s allowed him to open up to Sam. That Dean was really worried that the things he had done over the past few years – Gadreel, the Mark, becoming a demon – had irrevocably damaged his relationship with his brother. That Sam would never really forgive him, or would never feel the same or have that same bond that they once did. That he had lost that faithfulness from Sam. In part, that’s why Dean is opening up to his brother, understanding that’s what Sam has wanted all along, in an attempt to get their relationship back on track. And Sam has responded with consistent reassurance, showing his love openly – slowly convincing Dean that Sam is there for him every bit as much as Dean is there for Sam. That they’re a team, that they can count on each other. And I, for one, am loving that change.
Sam laughingly asks how messed up their lives are, that Dean seeing him dead is kinda comforting.
For a second, I was like, huh? But I think I get it. You see the one you love the most when you’re in the nest, the thing that would destroy you emotionally. For Dean, now and forever, that is Sam. It’s not Amara, despite her claimed hold on him. It’s Sam. That connection trumps even the hold that God’s sister has on Dean.
And that indeed is a relief! (And perhaps a bit of foreshadowing).
The last scene is exactly what it should be (and what most of us would have written into that fantasy episode I started this review talking about): the Winchesters drive away, Baby’s tail lights disappearing up the road, while the Allman Brothers ‘Midnight Rider’ plays in the background.
Ultimately, ‘Safe House’ was a safe place for us as fans too. It scared us and stressed us and worried us, and we may have bit our nails a little while watching, but in the end it reassured us that the love and trust we count on in the Show is still very much there. If Sam and Dean are together, we all know that they’ll always keep fighting – and that they can bloody well do anything. And that, by extension, makes us feel like we can too.
And that feels really really good.
It also explains why my Tumblr queue was full of gifs and fanart that look like this:
Apologetically, I know this is a long review, but I’m a happy happy fangirl right now, and I want to savor it. Hope you all are too!
Stay tuned for more interviews and con coverage from VegasCon and Seacon – and for more of our thoughts on Supernatural (and more from Jared, Jensen, Misha, Jim and the rest of the best cast ever) check out our books Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls and Fan Phenomena Supernatural on amazon or click the links on this page!
Big thanks to @kayb625 for the pretty caps!
Here’s one more, because….well, just because…