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[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]
Tagline: It’s a blast from Dean’s misspent youth when a man who runs a boys home seeks the Brothers’ help.
Recap: Quick recap of Dean’s miserable childhood and the season nine storyline with Ezekiel to that point.
Cut to two teenage boys running from someone who is “right behind us” at night on a farm in Hurleyville, NY. They run into a barn and hide. A younger boy in glasses comes in and tells them to come out. He says the barn is “off-limits” for playing hide-and-seek. But he runs out of the barn when an older man comes in with a flashlight, looking for the boys and saying they’re missing curfew.
The man is cursing them under his breath and shouting at them that he’s going to use a belt on them, when his breath fogs up. Then he’s run over and impaled by heavy machinery that turns on by itself.
Cue title cards and Sam in the Bunker, looking for Dean and Kevin. He doesn’t find them. Just when he’s settling down with a book in the library, Dean’s phone buzzes. Sam answers it and claims there’s no one there named “D-Dog.” Dean comes in right then and grabs the phone from Sam. He tells the person on the phone (“Sonny”) that he will be there as soon as he can and hangs up.
When Sam asks him what’s up, Dean mentions a time they were in New York as kids while John was on a rougarou hunt. Sam remembers that Dean “disappeared” and that John sent him (Sam) to Bobby’s for a few months. When Dean reappeared, John said Dean had been “lost on a hunt.”
Dean now admits that was a lie. What got lost was the Brothers’ food money in a card game and Dean then tried to “buy” Sam food at a local mini-mart by stealing it. Caught red-handed, he was sent to a boys home on a farm in Upstate New York. It was run by Sonny, who knows about their profession and had Dean’s number on speed-dial. Turns out Sonny may have a problem of their kind that they can solve.
When Sam grumps about not knowing about this until now, Dean says he was 16 and has tried to forget about it.
Probably looking like a nut to Sam, Dean asks if Sam is too tired to come along and if “we” are okay with going to the Catskills. Puzzled, Sam says he’s fine (while rubbing his neck and yawning) and wonders why Dean keeps saying “we.” We the audience, of course, know Dean is talking to Ezekiel inside Sam’s head. Apparently, Ezekiel is okay with it because he makes no appearance.
The Brothers arrive at Sonny’s Home for Boys (a handmade sign by the road announces it), which is the large farmhouse in the teaser. As they get out, Sam is confused about how John could have “lost” Dean for two months. Dean says that he didn’t. He found Dean immediately, but then decided to leave him there because Dean had lost the food money. Sam notes that Dean was only 16 and “made a mistake” and Dean tells Sam not to pile on John. Boy, times have changed a bit, haven’t they?
As they sort-of argue by the car, they’re watched by the kid in the glasses from the teaser.
When Dean knocks, a stern-looking woman wearing a honking huge cross answers the door. When Dean introduces them as “old buddies” of Sonny’s, she coldly and judgmentally asks, “Prison buddies?” Sam looks uncomfortable, while Dean says no and repeats his request to talk to Sonny. She lets them in, but insists they take off their shoes, first, because she just mopped.
As soon as she leaves, Sam snarks about Sonny being an ex-con and Dean notes that they are hardly ones to judge. In the living room, Dean seems to realize it hasn’t changed since he was there. He has a rather depressing flashback to being 16 (in 1995), in cuffs, being talked about in the third person by an asshole local cop about being caught shoplifting.
It’s possible the cop is less-than-sympathetic due to Young!Dean having punched him in the eye. He says that when they called John, John said to “let him rot,” but the judge is on vacation and they don’t want a teenager in “county,” so they brought the kid here. Just in case anyone was still thinking that John was somehow even within shouting distance of halfway decent as a father.
This line is especially relevant in light of the 300th episode, but also Dean’s recent comment that whenever Dean irritated/rebelled against him too much, John would “send me away.” And people wonder why Dean was so noncommittal about John’s half-assed apology in “Lebanon.”
Anyhoo, the cop leaves and Young!Dean practically blows him a kiss out the door. But Sonny (who is rocking the most awesome pornstache since Gabriel in Casa Erotica) points out that the cop took the handcuff key. But no matter. He knows another way to get them off.
As he’s unlocking Dean’s cuffs, Sonny notices bruises on Dean’s arms. When he asks about them (strongly hinting that Dean may have been abused by his father, or even the cop), Dean casually says it was a werewolf (referencing Dean’s story to Gordon about “embracing the life” at 16, in season two’s “Bloodlust”). Sonny doesn’t buy this, but he doesn’t push, either.
Dean asks Sonny what the place is and Sonny says it’s a home for wayward boys. They work the farm and learn useful skills. Young!Dean scoffs at this, but doesn’t outright disagree.
Back in the present, Dean smiles.
Sonny comes out. His long hair is now pulled back into a ponytail and the pornstache is graying. He hugs Dean enthusiastically and warmly welcomes Sam. When Dean says the farm looks great, Sonny admits it’s seen better days. The county prefers to incarcerate wayward boys now instead of reform them, so he only has a few there.
Dean quickly suggests that they talk alone, so Sonny asks the stern woman, Ruth, to go check on the boys. She doesn’t look thrilled (and Sonny rolls his eyes a bit at this), but she goes. Sonny then fills the Brothers in on Doomed Teaser Guy’s death. He says he’d never really believed the “mumbo-jumbo you boys are into,” but odd things have been happening of late – flickering lights, scratching in the walls, and so on.
Dean tells him they will investigate. He tells Sam to check the house while he goes out to the barn. Sam looks at the boys’ dorm and spots something familiar – what looks like a pointed star on a bedpost. Pulling several layers of tape off the bedstand, he finds “Dean W.”
He hears an odd whoosh and looks up. Pulling out a ginormous knife, he follows the odd noise to a whispering and finds Ruth kneeling by a bed, praying. Ruth says she knows why they’re there and says she was praying for the “ghost that haunts this farm to leave.”
In the barn, Dean checks out the killer tractor (which Sonny says wasn’t working even back in the day 18 years before when Dean lived there).
Dean hears a strange noise like sobbing and follows it. He enters a part of the barn with a low-hanging bulb that appears to be swaying by itself. When he stops it and turns around, he finds himself confronting the little boy from the teaser, the one with Coke-bottle glasses. They talk, as Dean literally gets down to his level by crouching and shaking hands with him. The boy, Timmy, has a superhero toy that “fights monsters.” After a bit of discussion about what little he remembers of Jack (Doomed Teaser Guy)’s death, which boils down to only remembering that the barn got very cold, Timmy gets concerned and says he has to finish his chores or Ruth will get mad. Dean lets him go. But now he has more confirmation that the MOTW is a ghost.
Back in the house, Ruth is telling Sam some history of the place. She says she worked for (or visited) the owners before Sonny, Howard and Doreen Wasserlauf. Howard was fond of corn liquor, which made him paranoid. One day, he decided that Jack (who already worked at the farm) was sleeping with Doreen and attacked them. Jack escaped, but Howard killed Doreen with a meat cleaver and got life in prison. He died a year ago and is buried in town.
Cue the Brothers digging up Howard Wasserlauf. Sam tries to probe Dean more about his time at Sonny’s. Dean claims he doesn’t remember much, but that no one abused him, so it’s all good. They dig down to Howard and light him up.
Back at the house, Ruth is having a bath to the sounds of “Ave Maria.” We start to realize that perhaps the Brothers have salted and burned the wrong vengeful spirit when the lights flicker and the mirror ices up. Ruth finds her breath fogging right before the shower curtain rips itself off the bar and lands on her. After a pretty nasty struggle (with Sonny trying to break in to help), Ruth smothers under the shower curtain.
At Cus’s Place, Dean is eyeing the waitress, a brunette thirtysomething named Robin, and trying to explain to Sam why he picked this place for a burger. Cue another flashback to Young!Dean and Sonny at the same table. Young!Dean is thanking Sonny for getting the charges against him dropped. Sonny says that stealing because you’re hungry doesn’t make you a hardened criminal, especially if you only do it once. He notes that John has vanished, so Dean can stay at Sonny’s as long as he likes. He’s doing well in school and has made it onto the wrestling team.
Sonny then asks Young!Dean about whether he’s into Satanism because he carved an Occult symbol into his bedpost and puts salt all around his bed at night. Young!Dean also happens to be wearing his horned amulet pretty prominently.
To get Dean to open up, Sonny tells him about his own misspent youth. He was in a gang and his loyalty then ended up getting him 15 years in the penitentiary. He tells Dean that a man should be able to stand on his own two feet and be himself, not just a part of some group. At that moment, teenage Robin shows up at their table and Sonny introduces her to Young!Dean.
Back in the present, Robin comes over to waitress the Brothers. She claims not to remember Dean when Dean tries to jog her memory (though it’s clear she does), then gets called away to another table. Upset, Dean leaves, even as a curious Sam is asking him all sorts of questions. Hmm, some bad blood, there.
Outside, Dean’s brooding is interrupted by a phone call from Sonny about Ruth’s death. They come over and Sonny tells them he couldn’t get through the door. Thing is, it wasn’t locked. “There are no locks on the farm.” Also, Ruth’s rosary is missing.
The Brothers quickly realize the ghost wasn’t Howard. Dean goes to talk to the kids, while Sam stays with Sonny. Dean finds Timmy being bullied in a depression against a cellar window by the two older boys who were hiding from Timmy in the teaser. Intimidating them with his fake FBI badge, he gets a little bit more information out of them about Ruth (even if it’s Captain Obvious that she was a “bible thumper” and a hard task master) and warns them off going after Timmy again. He then helps Timmy out of the hole and tries to give him some advice about how to stand up to bullies.
Inside the house, Sam is surprised to find a “hall of fame” for the house on the wall. Up there, Sonny points out a county wrestling championship for Dean from 1995. Sam is impressed.
Outside, the two older boys are mowing and raking the lawn when Robin shows up with a guitar (Dean had previously mentioned she used to come to the farm with her mother to teach music lessons). One of the boys makes a gross remark to the other about how he’d tap that. The other one makes a gross remark about how she’s too old to be attractive. Charming.
The lawnmower starts making funny noises, so the first gross boy turns it off and flips it over. Ruth’s rosary is caught up in the blades. He starts pulling grass out to get at the rosary as the other boy watches. Timmy, clutching his action figure, watches them from an upstairs window, as he did when the Brothers arrived.
This is a rather tense scene, as you just know that lawnmower is gonna start up at at the worst possible time. And it does. Blood and screaming ensue. But Dean later tells Sam that Gross Boy #1 only had to have a bunch of stitches. Damn. Was hoping for at least a missing limb. No matter. You won’t see either of them again in this episode.
Anyhoo, Sam has been digging into Timmy’s past. Timmy was found in a warehouse all by himself a year ago and has been running away from foster homes ever since until Sonny took him in.
Dean suggests demon possession, but Sam thinks it’s actually possession by a ghost. Dean’s unhappy about the idea of shoving salt down a little kid’s throat.
The Brothers go for another search. Dean tells Sam he’s taking the barn this time. Out there, Sam finds a hatchway up to the barn attic. There, he finds a small hiding place Timmy made. It includes a helpfully detailed, albeit childlike, cartoon strip of Timmy and “Mom,” Timmy and Mom in a car accident, Mom burning up, and Mom pushing Timmy out the window.
Inside the house, Dean finds Robin tuning her guitar and has another flashback to taking lessons from Teen!Robin. She’s asking him where he’s been. Young!Dean says his dad travels a lot for business and wants Dean to go into it, but he doesn’t really want to. He wants to be a “rock star” or a car mechanic. Dean calls cars “a puzzle” and that “when you’re done, they leave and you’re not responsible for them, anymore.” Dayum, that’s sad.
Young!Robin admits her father wants her to run the diner after he retires, but she wants to become a photographer and “see the world.” She then impulsively kisses Dean. This startles Dean, who tries to cover it up by claiming he’s kissed lots of girls before. Robin sees through this and suggests they keep practicing.
In the present, it turns out Robin is there for Timmy’s music lesson. Dean tells her that’s been canceled. He tries to warn her that she needs to get out of the house and she needs to trust him. When she scoffs, he realizes that she does remember him. She’s just mad at him for leaving her.
Cue some more flashback teen kissing to Journey’s “Stone in Love.” Robin worries that Dean will ditch her. He insists he’s not going anywhere and asks her out to the school dance. She accepts.
In the present, Dean tries to explain why he left, instead, then admits there’s no time for it. Grabbing her by the hand, he tries to get them out out the door, but it slams violently in their faces. Timmy appears with his toy and says he can’t “stop it.” Then a vase smashes against the wall behind them as Dean calmly asks him what he’s talking about. More stuff starts smashing around them, so Dean yells at Robin to run into the kitchen. Let’s just say Robin’s sure looking like a believer now.
Sam comes in the back door, but doesn’t realize what’s going on in time (even as Dean is yelling at him not to let the door shut) and gets locked in with them. The Brothers put a ring of salt around Robin and tell her not to leave it. She’s asking Dean what’s going on.
Timmy comes in and now says that he can’t stop her. Sam correctly guesses he means his mother. As Dean stares intently at Timmy, Sam asks the boy what happened. Timmy says there was a car crash in the woods. His mom pushed him out of the car to safety, but burned alive as the car exploded. He ran to an empty building and cried for his mother. She came back and she protected him, but she was different now. She was a ghost.
The Brothers zero in on Timmy’s action figure as being the object tying his mother to the earthly realm. It was a gift from his mom for his ninth birthday. But then a female ghost, covered in burns, shows up and knocks Sam across the room when he tries to get the action figure away from Timmy. Dean manages to grab it (Timmy lets out an anguished cry, since it’s the only thing left he has from his mother) and then burns it on the stove. But though the figure laughs in a sinister way as it burns, its destruction doesn’t free the ghost.
Robin has grabbed Timmy to pull him to safety inside the salt line, but then the ghost begins to blow the line away. Sam correctly guesses it wasn’t the action figure, so it must be Timmy. The Brothers have a quick discussion that maybe Timmy’s mother is trying to protect him, but she can’t recognize what is a threat and what isn’t.
At this moment, Robin snaps and runs out of the room. Dean chases after her, but she then runs smack into the ghost. The ghost slams Dean into the doorjam. Then she apparates into the kitchen and grabs Sam, who is trying to talk to Timmy. Dean runs in and, even though the ghost is also pushing him through a wall, continues Sam’s talk to get Timmy to figure out how to send his mother away.
Dean explains to Timmy that his mother’s spirit heard Timmy’s cry for help and came back to him. But being stuck on the earthly plane is “driving her crazy.” Timmy has to tell her to go away, to let her go. Dean tells him that sometimes, you have to put yourself first (something, of course, Dean would never do, but Timmy doesn’t know that).
Timmy stands up and, with some encouragement from a slowly suffocating Dean, gets the attention of his mother’s ghost. She turns around and holds out her arms to him, but he tells her she has to go away permanently. He promises he will be okay. As the char and rot flake off to reveal the original, human form of his mother, he tells her he loves her, too. Smiling through ghost tears, she vanishes in a haze of light. Timmy runs through the space where she had just been to Dean and cries in his arms. Robin comes in and sees it.
Later that night, as Timmy watches them from the front steps, Robin gets The Talk from Dean about The Family Business. Dean admits that he never became a rock star. Robin allows that she thinks he’s still “pretty rockin’.” She also admits she never thought she’d like staying a small town girl, but she’s actually pretty happy. She gives him a kiss goodbye and then goes in the house with Timmy.
Sonny hugs Dean and says he’ll miss him. Dean says he thinks Timmy will be fine with Sonny. As Sonny leaves, Sam asks Dean how he knew telling Timmy to tell his mom to leave would work. Dean says he didn’t, that it was a “total Hail Mary” (ironic, considering Ruth’s death to “Ave Maria,” on top of the intentional irony involving Dean’s deal with Ezekiel).
Sam admits that going into this case, he thought they would be exploring the “worst part” of Dean’s life, but instead, “it was the best. Why’d you leave?”
Dean hedges a whole lot, calling it only “two months.” He claims that it wasn’t “right” for him, but the longing gaze he gives the house after Sam gets in the car sparks another flashback.
This one is to the night of the school dance. Young!Dean is getting dressed up in a shirt and tie for his date with Robin. Sonny comes in and compliments him. But Sonny has news. John is there to pick Dean up, but he won’t wait. He says there’s a “job” and Dean knows what that means.
Sonny says the home turned his life around and it could turn Dean’s around, too. He’ll fight for Dean (against John, it’s implied), if Dean wants.
Outside, John honks the horn. Sniffling, Dean looks out the window to see Sam in the passenger seat. He turns back and thanks Sonny, but he has to go back to his family.
In the present, Dean finishes staring at the house, at what could have been, and gets in the car. A pensive Sam thanks Dean for always being there for him. Sam admits he’s been a jerk at times. Dean puts on a smile and pretends not to know what Sam means. He starts up the car and they roar off into the night.
I’ve avoided this one for a while, since watching it the first time. I could say I don’t know why, since it’s actually quite a nifty old school salt-and-burn-and-angst episode, but I do. I think I’ve said before that I’m not really a huge fan of the episodes that flash back to the Brothers’ childhoods. These stories are invariably depressing.
Yes, Dylan Everett is good as Young!Dean (though I liked him better in “About a Boy”). Yes, the fact that Dean was able to reconcile with his first love Robin (Cassie who?) was sweet. Yes, I liked Sonny and could never figure out why he never came back. But this was still a tragedy without catharsis because we all knew Dean would always make the heroic sacrifice and go back to his family. And that’s depressing to watch.
I just shake my head at the fans who try to justify John’s behavior by saying “He did his best.” Of course he didn’t, people. He admitted that himself many times. He invariably put his obsession with Mary ahead of the welfare of their children. This was not some compulsion or dropping too many balls that he was trying to juggle in protecting his boys. He intentionally put his children into that life because it fit better with his plans for revenge. He could have done it very differently, and I’m sure his regrets were real, but he created that situation quite deliberately.
Ironically, the same fans who rush to give John every possible excuse didn’t seem nearly as enthusiastic about giving Mary a pass, or even any consideration, when she came back to stay at the end of season 11. People talk a good game about hating the genre trope of fridging female characters, but they don’t respond so well when that trope is negated or even reversed.
By no means am I arguing that the writing for her since she came back has been consistently stellar, but come on, people – there was plenty of crap writing for John, even when JDM was playing him back in the day, that made John even less sympathetic than he needed to be.
But Mary is the parent I see as actually having tried to do her best and that’s why I think her importance on the show rises above the inconsistent writing. She belongs there now, not least as a stinging rebuke to the way her husband and father put her up on a pedestal after her death and used a whitewashed plaster saint version of her to excuse terrible sins against her children. The only people who have (with justice) escaped that rebuke are her sons, who simply didn’t know her any other way.
While her bailing on them immediately after she came back was not the greatest response ever (let alone her misguided sojourn with the psycho LoL), it was very human and did make sense from a psychological point of view. She was confused. She had a lot of trouble connecting with these two strange men and connecting them to the babies she’d been torn from so violently. And she did come back.
She didn’t abandon them or let them down when they were children – she freakin’ died, people. She was murdered. She did let them down as grown adults, but since then, she’s tried to make up for it. So, what we’ve had since the end of season 11 is an actual relationship being (re)built with her sons.
We have seen her attempts to balance her Hunting life with her desire to have a “normal” life as far back as season four. They weren’t entirely successful, but her desire to protect her family from her old life was a real example of “doing one’s best.” Sure, it failed, but the point is that her goals were benign and relatively pure. She was putting her family first. Her keeping secrets was part of that.
John, on the other hand, always put his obsession with revenge over the raising and protection of his sons, and made it clear to them that they were part of the machinery he was using to find the Yellow Eyed Demon and kill it.
It’s interesting, then, that we have two analogues to both John (Sonny) and Mary (Timmy’s mom) in this episode. Sonny, of course, is the contrasting analogue: the Good Dad who praises Dean and gets him interested in healthy pursuits, who encourages him to go after his dreams, and who is solidly behind him 100%. Sonny exists as a foil for John.
Timmy’s mom, of course, has parallels to Mary. She dies in a fire (like Mary) and heroically pushes her son to safety. As a ghost (like Mary), she defends him and watches over him. And Timmy worships her, just as Dean worshiped his own dead mother. She’s even blonde.
But, as with a lot of Adam Glass scripts, the writing isn’t nearly as clever as the author thinks. Timmy has been in the child services system for a year. He says that he was on his way home with his mother when they had an accident and she died in a fiery crash. Everything we learn about him and his mother indicates that they were middle class. He never mentions his father, so his mom appears to have been a single parent.
Even so, Timmy was clearly well-loved and appears to have had a normal life before the crash. So, where are the relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers and coworkers who must have been looking for him and his mother after the accident? He didn’t run away that far – why did no one recognize him when his picture was put up on the internet (and probably on television)? Why weren’t he and his mother reported missing in the first place?
Then there’s Dean. One could argue that the only people who didn’t know where he was, and would be looking for him, weren’t human. But this would require ignoring Sam’s part of the story – that he was sent to Bobby’s for a couple of months. By bringing Bobby into it, the story not only tarnishes John’s character, but also Bobby’s. Supposedly, Bobby just calmly accepted the arrival of John and Sam, without Dean, and didn’t go looking for him. I’d like to have heard that conversation.
Similarly, I found Jack and Ruth’s characters to be so thinly developed that their deaths provided little more than a red herring and a bit of the show’s usual gore. They were stock “mean” characters. Why they were so bitter and hostile toward the kids was never clear. Also, if Ruth’s story is any indication, they should have been around in the flashbacks, if only by mention (Sonny even mentions Jack with familiarity to Dean in passing), yet there’s no sense of recognition from either Ruth or Dean when she meets him in the present.
Jack’s death I could understand, in that he was chasing the kids around and yelling at them. But even irrational ghost logic didn’t explain Ruth’s. If anything, Ruth’s theory that the ghost was the former owner would lead away from Timmy and his mom, so why did Timmy’s mom’s ghost feel threatened?
I liked the young actors in the story (well, the main two – Dylan Everett as Young!Dean and Sean Michael Kyer as Timmy). Kyer didn’t have to do much besides look cute and pensive, and cry, but he did it well. Everett got a lot of Jensen Ackles’ mannerisms and much of Dean’s snarky, outlaw sense of humor. Both Everett and Ackles had good chemistry with Blake Gibbons (Sonny).
The rather perfunctory (but cheerful) love interest (retconned into Dean’s first), Robin, got short shrift in the writing. Erin Karpluk and Sarah Desjardin (as Young!Robin) still managed to establish her as someone Dean would fall in love with and still hold a torch for decades later. If Karpluk looks familiar, that’s because she previously appeared in season one’s “Salvation” as the new mom the Brothers saved from burning alive on a ceiling. Similarly, Timmy’s mom was played by two women – Alika Autran under the burn makeup and Jen Oleksiuk as the memory of the “human” version of her.
There’s a whole lot of “What could have been” in this one. It’s a fairly important piece of Dean’s past, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Sonny again. But the episode itself has a lingering touch of melancholy and pain that doesn’t make it a favorite.
Sam: So, Sonny’s an ex-con, huh?
Dean: What, and we’re angels?
Dean [about his time at Sonny’s]: I don’t really remember. Nobody bad-touched me. Nobody burned me with their smokes or beat me with a metal hanger. I call that a win.
Robin: Who are you?!
Dean: Right now, I’m the only thing keeping you safe.
Dean [to Timmy]: Sometimes, you gotta do what’s best for you, even if it’s gonna hurt the ones you love.
The Kripke Years
The Gamble Years
The Carver Years
The Dabb Years