The eighth episode of Supernatural does not get a lot of love – in fact, it’s one that’s routinely skipped on rewatches or ridiculed for its “bad writing”. But honestly? ‘Bugs’ is a great episode, especially now in retrospect. All those early episodes are frankly amazing, with both the acting and the writing top notch and the cinematography off the charts gorgeous.
Bugs are not my favorite thing, so there are some parts of this episode that are indisputably cringeworthy, but it goes with the territory. The guest stars on this episode are also amazing, especially Carrie Genzel (who wrote a wonderful chapter in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done and would memorably return to the show in Just My Imagination) and Tyler Johnston, who played a young Matt here and would later return as Samandriel. See the end of this review for some (cringeworthy and also hilarious) behind the scenes insights from Carrie and Tyler about the filming of this episode.
So, what’s not to like?
I watched, as always, with some of my friends and fellow Supernatural fans, via zoom. Which, after a year of the pandemic, is how most of us live life half the time anyway!
The open is, as is often the case, pretty scary – a guy working in a housing development falls down a hole, breaks his ankle and is trapped. While his friend gets a rope to try to save him, he looks around and to his horror hears the sound of thousands of beetles coming for him. He screams for help as they crawl into his ears, his mouth… by the time the other guy shines his flashlight into the hole, guy number one is dead dead dead.
Everyone doing the rewatch: Ewwwwww
Cut to the boys, as always. Sam’s reading the paper in a bar, about the “local death that’s a medical mystery” as Dean comes down the stairs, grinning and shuffling a fist full of bills. I’m struck sometimes now by how carefree early seasons Dean is, despite what they’re already facing. He is genuinely thrilled that he’s won a bunch of money in a poker game or whatever.
Sam: You know, we could get day jobs…
Dean: Hunting’s our day job. Besides, we’re good at it, it’s what we were raised to do.
Sam: How we were raised was jack.
Dean: Says you!
The brothers are still new to being back together, Dean still sensitive and defensive about the hunting life that Sam left behind and Sam still critical of all the things that he left to get away from.
Also they are extremely distracting because they look like THAT.
The newspaper suggests maybe mad cow disease, which – remember that?
Dean: Wasn’t that on Oprah?
Sam: (incredulous) You watch Oprah?
Ah, the things we (and Sam) were learning about Dean Winchester. So much softness underneath that performatively gruff (sometimes) exterior.
The Impala streaks across some beautiful Vancouver countryside on her way to Oasis Plains. Sam and Dean pose as Uncle Dusty’s never-before-mentioned nephews, rolling easily with the guy’s skepticism and flattering him enough that he forgets about it soon enough. They’re good at what they do; John taught them well. And, as I’ve pointed out many times already on this rewatch, they’re SMART.
They amass some intel, like the guy’s brain disintegrated in an hour or less and that, unlike mad cow disease, there was no sign of dementia, lack of motor control, or anything else weird.
Sam and Dean look down the very deep hole.
Dean: Only room for one, you have a coin?
Sam: Dean, we have no idea what’s down there!
Dean: Okay I’ll go if you’re scared. You scared? Call it in the air, chicken!
Sam: (exasperated) I’m going.
Dean: I said I’d go!
Sam: I’m going. Don’t drop me!
Me: I could sit here and listen to their brotherly bickering and banter all damn day. I miss it so much it makes my heart ache.
That accomplished, they get back into the Impala and pass an open house that’s advertising Free BBQ, and Dean pulls over.
Dean: I know a good place to start. I’m hungry for BBQ, how bout you?
SaM: Free food’s got nothing to do with it?
Dean: Of course not, I’m a professional.
This time the banter is good humored, the brothers gently teasing each other, smiling when the other isn’t looking. Dean looks around at the brand new housing development as they get out of the car, saying that it would freak him out growing up in a place like that, manicured lawns, etc.
Dean: I’d blow my brains out.
Sam: There’s nothing wrong with normal.
Dean: I’d take our family over normal any day.
Both brothers know they’re not talking about Oasis Plains. I really appreciate it now, how neither of them will let it go – they go round and round and round, each stuck in their own perspective of why Sam left and what that means. That strikes me as so realistic – it’s what we do, we get stuck on this stuff, and it gets in the way of our relationships with people we love. I so enjoy watching Sam and Dean struggle with it, knowing that eventually they’ll work it out.
Larry the developer welcomes them to the open house, taking one look at Sam and Dean going house shopping and assuring them that “we accept homeowners of any race, religion, color or…. Sexual orientation.”
Dean: (deadpan) We’re brothers.
Larry: (awkward) Oh.