Supernatural is back from hiatus and it’s brought REO Speedwagon with it. With a montage set to “Riding Out the Storm,” the highlights of season seven thus far are a virtual showcase showdown between the brothers Winchester and the series’ new villains, the Leviathans—an ancient and oily scourge lead by the half-weatherman, half-Tremors snake lookalike Dick Roman (James Patrick Stuart). The recap finishes where we left off in December, with father figure and baseball cap enthusiast Bobby (Jim Beaver) using his dying breath to give his favorite idjits, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles), a mysterious set of numbers.
As someone who’s been watching Supernatural since its first season was in summer repeats on the now defunct WB, the death of Bobby was an unwanted but inevitable event. With this episode, all hope of a last-minute reprieve is lost. But what irks me—and I hope others as well—is that Bobby Singer didn’t die because he took a bullet to the brain. Bobby Singer died because of lazy writing.
Does a character sometimes deserve better than its creators can manage? Sure, it sounds existential and subjective, especially with a fictional creation not your own. But watching Sam and Dean angst over Bobby’s demise, I should have been angry at the monster that killed him, not at a writers’ room somewhere in Los Angeles. This season and the last have been particularly guilty of abusing the Bobbyus ex machina. Have a problem? Call Bobby for [insert spell/tome/verbal thrashing here]. Of course he became overused. No one wants 30 minutes of Sam and Dean at the library every episode, but self-sufficiency goes a long way.
The first episode of 2012, aptly titled “Adventures in Babysitting,” doesn’t open with a bang or a whimper, but with a hooker dressed like she just walked off the set of The Nanny circa 1993. Said prostitute is being watched by a man, who’s either a serial killer or a hunter, judging by the big knife on his belt. His identity as a hunter is soon confirmed, however, then he’s attacked by a woman sporting slitted snake irises and gnarly fangs. Cue Supernatural’s oil spill opening title card.
Back at Bobby’s backwoods cabin, the words “Week One” appear on screen followed by the Winchesters sitting in silent man pain. Eventually “Week Two” and “Week Three” appear, but instead of pulling a Bella Swan, the boys actually spend their time investigating the numbers Bobby left them. As the clues lead nowhere, Bobby’s cell phone receives a call from a girl looking for help, and while Sam goes off to see if he can find her, Dean searches out techno wiz Frank Devereaux (Kevin R. McNally) for answers about the numbers.
The rest of the episode consists of Dean and Frank sniping, and Sam finding Krissy (Madison McLaughlin), the shrewd teenage daughter of the hunter gone missing. Sam, of course, eventually gets himself kidnapped too, forcing Dean to come to his rescue while unwillingly dragging along Krissy, who is awesome and needs her own spinoff called The Facts of the Afterlife.
If Supernatural’s creative team is intent on starting over, on stripping the Winchesters of their safety net (they offed not only Bobby this season, but angel Castiel as well; though Dean’s mysteriously MIA beer in this episode leads me to believe it won’t be long before we see Cass again), why then does the first episode without its Bobby-crutch have the Winchesters running to yet another mentor figure to solve the case?
Would it really have been so hard for Dean or Sam to deduce that the numbers they had were coordinates, just minus the last digit? Would it be that unimaginable that they—used to working with coordinates because of their military father; who sent them nothing but coordinates the first season—might think to add one last number to their set of five digits just to see what permutations they could come up with?
Frank is a fun character, and McNally (of Pirates of the Caribbean fame) a great actor, but his inclusion in this episode was indolent. They didn’t need Frank to come up with a coordinates-discovering algorithm when Dean could have done the same thing with a pen and a Post-it Note.
Supernaturalhas always had problems with writing itself into corners with plot points too good to be true (the Roadhouse, the Colt, Bela Talbot). It also loves overindulging in a good thing. What initially started as cute Meta jokes reached a climax last year when Sam and Dean were transported to an alternate reality and into the bodies of “Jared Padalecki” and “Jensen Ackles” (ugh). And let’s not forget just a few episodes back, when Sam married fanfiction-writing superfan Becky (seriously, of all the names…) in Las Vegas.
Executive Producer Sera Gamble talked about bringing a more boots-to-the ground approach this year, but with the introduction of the seemingly unstoppable Leviathans (and too many Meta-themed jokes), the story is too ambitious (and ridiculous) for a season wanting to get back to its bucolic Americana roots. With a dozen more episodes to go, Supernatural doesn’t have much time to prove that killing Bobby was more than a stunt. If the writers want to get back to the “saving people, hunting things—the family business” mantra of season’s one and two, they’ve got a lot of work to do, and fast.