In the sixteenth episode of the eleventh season of Supernatural, Dean and Sam track a case that the Grumpy Old Men of Letters once tried to solve. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Supernatural.
I think season eleven of this show is, for better or for worse, about nostalgia.
Something clicked towards the end of this episode as I was watching. True, “Safe House” is a clever, thoughtful and creepy exercise in nostalgia, one that reminds me – and probably all of you – of how entertaining Rufus and Bobby were. These Grumpy Old Men of Letters are evidence of a time when Supernatural was doing a lot of cool shit, so that’s what I mean about “for better or for worse.” I enjoyed this episode a great deal, and it also made me feel a lot of weird things about the state of Supernatural as a whole.
Let me first say that the editing for this episode, directed by Stefan Pleszczynski, is unreal. Every time it happened, I felt like I was watching something magical. It is accomplished seamlessly, and I got to a point where I couldn’t even guess when it was going to happen. The more rapid the cuts became, the more I felt like this episode was barreling toward a stellar ending. It’s a brilliant way to build tension! Yet this was done so well not only in a technical sense (THAT CUT WITH THE FLASHLIGHTS WAS SO INCREDIBLE), but also in terms of the writing. Robbie Thompson really knows how to treat these characters with respect and love, and that made “Safe House” a treat. Rufus and Bobby are a perfect vehicle for comedy, but Thompson doesn’t ignore the possible to use this parallel storyline to shed light on what the WINCHESTERS are doing. Yes, there’s a repetition of themes and dialogue here, but it helps to flesh out the experience of being a hunter. (And gives some neat insight into season 4, too!) These two men went through a lot together independent of the Winchesters, and I do appreciate that we get to see another side of them. Granted, you’ve still got a number of invocations of the Winchester name to help build angst, but I understood them. I knew why Bobby behaved as he did.
On top of that, the case itself isn’t quite repetitious, since Rufus and Bobby didn’t actually solve it the first time around. The mystery was well-executed; the Soul Eater is one of the most horribly creepy things on this whole show; and the remnant souls, wasting away in the Soul Eater’s nest, was hopelessly sad. The make-up was incredible! And Dean, sacrificing himself briefly to save that family, witnessing a dead Sam, AND LOCKING EYES WITH BOBBY? Why don’t you just push me off a cliff? Wait, no, you’re gonna wait until the moment where Sam envelopes Dean in a hug and says, “I got you,” and then you’re going to shove me off that cliff. Again. Look, the point is that “Safe House” treads in a lot of the emotional baggage that many Supernatural fans have found compelling again and again. The pain of sacrifice, the calculations for the greater good, loyalty, the lengths hunters will go to protect and save others and their refusal to take care of themselves along the way… you get the idea. When Sam pulls Dean close to him, it’s not just a momentary sign of affection after a harrowing journey; that scene relies on the years of affection we’ve seen between these two. It’s a chance for Sam to remind Dean that after all these years (and after all their recent troubles), he’s still Dean’s best friend. When Rufus expresses concern for Bobby after discovering him sleeping in his car, we know that this refers to Bobby’s desperation during this specific time in his life. And we know that despite how cantankerous Rufus can be, he actually adores Bobby and wants the best for him.
So I enjoyed this episode. I generally enjoy Robbie Thompson’s work on Supernatural. Yet I realized how much of this season relies on the past, not in a sense of grand serialization but in calling back to great things. We get a moment with Metatron, but it’s not as entertaining as when he was first a villain. The Darkness calls back to the mythology of God without us seeing him. “Baby” and “Beyond the Mat” and “The Devil in the Details” and “Don’t You Forget About Me” and “The Vessel” each contain nostalgia within them. I liked quite a few of these, but I’m realizing now how much this show depends on the past instead of creating a new future. Knowing there’s a twelfth season now, I want Supernatural to just do something new. I want it to rush into a bold new future rather than just namecheck the past. Again, I’m not saying this because I disliked “Safe House.” It was honestly one of the best episodes this season! I just think if Supernatural wants to stay relevant, it needs to do something new.
The video for “Safe House” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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