Before we get into this recap let’s talk about the “Previously”. The only thing it was missing was a clip from After School Special, because what is a flashback without a flash of Brock Kelly? Aside from that, this “Previously” was basically might as well have been called “That’s it, that’s the show”.
And now the “Now”.
Upstate New York. Adolescent boys running around at night, tripping over their own feet while trying to escape from… another boy who is way smaller than them. They aren’t scared; they’re just playing that version of Hide-and-Seek that’s really Hide-because-we-don’t-actually-like-you-and-Seek. The boy they’re hiding from, Timmy, is searching the barn for them when a grown up actually appears. The adult, Jack, yells out that the boys need to pack it in and get indoors, they better beat their feet or he’s gonna beat their butts. His threat dies on his lips as the air turns frigid and the dormant tractor parked nearby turns on. He screams as it bears down on him, driven by no one. He stops screaming when it picks right through him like a bail of hay.
In the bunker, Sam is having one of those rare moments to himself and does what any 30 year-old, red-blooded male does when faced with this place all to himself: he picks a worn copy of The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum off the bookshelf and sits down for a page through. His story time is interrupted by the buzzing of a phone. Remember when Dean’s phone played Smoke on the Water instead of just vibra-buzzing? Song ringtones should become a thing again.
Sam is pretty sure the person on the other end of the call has the wrong number, because no one named “D-Dawg” lives there. Except that he actually does. Dean Winchester comes bounding through the room to take over the phone call. After he hangs up, Sam naturally wants to know what that was all about. Dean refreshes Sam’s memory about the time they were 11 going on 12 and 16 years old and spent two months apart; Sam at Bobby’s and Dean apparently lost on a hunt while John went off on a Rugaru hunt, but what really happened was Dean in all his teenage invincibility and arrogance lost the money John left them for food in a poker game.
He’s gotten way better since then.
He shoplifted some sandwich fixings because job #1 is make sure you follow the care and feeding of Samuel Winchester rule book. Unfortunately, teenchester Dean was not as slick as he is now, got pinched and ended up at a halfway house for delinquent boys. Now Sonny, the guy that ran the farm, needs Dean’s help. Which means that Dean has kept in touch with this dude, behind Sam’s back all this time. Sam wants to know why no one told him before now, Dean says that it was their dad’s idea to lie and eventually the lie became the truth.
Okay, now hold on. Let’s set aside the fact that up until a few years ago the boys had never heard of a Rugaru and now suddenly John was hunting one almost 20 years ago and neglected to jot in all down in the journal his sons have studied front to back, lather-rinse-repeat since season 1? Whatever, I’ll let that slide. What I can’t wrap my head around is that we’re supposed to believe that Dean was MISSING ON A HUNT at 16 and super smart Sam Winchester, who already had a gun to protect himself from the thing in the closet, just accepted that? Never mind that Sam and Bobby never once acted like they lived together for two months in the spring of ’95. Somehow, Sam spent 8 weeks cooped up with Bobby and Bobby’s fantastic collection of books, but what? Forgot? Blocked it out? And don’t even get me started on Dean using his real first and last name and John allowing it.
Anyway, the swing up to the Kaaterskill Falls region to see what’s going on. Sam is confused, their dad could track anything yet he couldn’t find his son at a farm down the road from Allegra Goodman, but Dean corrects him real quick: John knew where he was and left him there to learn his lesson. Sam is about to rage against the machine, but Dean stops him; he lost the money, it was his lesson to learn, his peg or two to drop down from.
As they discuss this outside the farmhouse Timmy, the be-speckled odd-duck, creepily watches them from an upstairs window. Because that’s what children do in the horror genre.
The woman that answers the door when they knock, Ruth, isn’t really sure what to make of them. Dean says they’re friends of Sonny’s, which for her translates to prison thugs. She lets them in reluctantly, but not before making them take their shoes off at the door. No way she’s letting a couple of ex-cons muddy up her floors. Sam is unimpressed with the newly acquired inference that Sonny’s done a tour or two behind bars. Dean pulls him back, considering they were previously wanted by the FBI (twice), have run credit card scams for years, murdered people and played their respective parts in the apocalypse they hardly have a sock-footed leg to stand on.
Upon entering the living room, Dean spies an old, ratty couch and stares off into the distance in its general direction. Flashback to teenage Dean, cuffed and sulking on the same couch. The deputy that dragged him there says his dad won’t come for him, they can’t keep him in county because he’s a minor, but the judge is on a fishing trip and hasn’t been home for a few days, figures Sonny’s Boy Depot would be a good parking place for the kid. I’m sure the pulsing black eye he has might also have something to do with him not wanting to babysit his snarky charge. He does get the last word, so to speak, because he leaves Dean handcuffed and walks away with the key. No worries, Sonny can pick a lock before you can say Sam Winchester is the best lock picker in the lower 48.
While he frees Dean from is shackles he spies a trail of bruises running up and down Dean’s forearms and wrists; concerned he asks if the officer did it, Dean scoffs. He asks if his father did it and Dean puts that assumption directly to bed. In an unusual flash of honesty Dean tells Sonny a werewolf did it. Sonny doesn’t press the subject. Dean wants to know what kind of a place this is, Sonny tells him it’s for boys like him to learn the value of hard work and responsibility. Huh. These are hardly new concepts to Dean take-your-brother-outside-fast-as-you-can Winchester.
The flashback fades out to adult Dean with a fond half-smile threatening to emerge. Sonny comes in, a little more weathered and leathered, but still the same dude. He’s wearing plaid, so he’s gotta be good people. He gives Dean a run down of Jack’s death and tells them that weird stuff has been happening around the farm: flickering lights, slamming doors, all the classic haunt markers. The brothers split up, Sam upstairs, Dean to the grounds.
Dean heads out to the barn to give it a once over with his trusty EMF meter. The detector definitely detects, but despite Dean’s taunting, no ghosts appear. He does, however, find Timmy quietly lurking around. Dean asks him what he’s doing in the barn alone and Timmy explains that he and his caped crusader action figure, Bruce the Monster Smasher, are monster hunting. Dean accepts this. What he doesn’t accept is the weaksauce handshake Timmy offers up upon introductions. Dean can’t let this kid go out into the world with a wishy-washy nice to meet you and teaches Timmy how to shake hands like a man. Good advice, Winchester. The beautiful thing about Dean Winchester is he’s pretty much always been tough and at the very least fringe level cool, but the thought of mocking a frail oddball like Timmy never even crosses his mind.
Meanwhile, Sam is poking around upstairs and finds an old bed with familiar sigils carved into the bedposts, he crouches down and sees that Sonny gives the boys that stay there a sense of ownership by labeling the beds with masking tape strips with their names on them. Sam starts pulling strips off and eventually he gets what he was looking for: Dean W.
He doesn’t get much time to mull it over before his inner ghost detector pings, but it’s just Ruth. She’s praying. Praying that the ghost that’s haunting them will move on. Well that saves Sam from having to convince her or lie to her. Leave it to a catholic to already believe, that’s how we roll. She tells Sam about the old owners of the farm, how the husband went all Mahogany on midnight meat train on his wife because he thought his wife had been sleeping with Jack. The guy spent the rest of his life in prison. The rest of his life has ended and as far as is concerned he came back from the grave to end Jack’s.
That night, while the boys head to the grave in question for a good ol’ salt and burn, Sam’s inquisitive nature takes hold again and he asks Dean why their dad would want to lie to Sam about this time in Dean’s life, was it really that bad. Dean shrugs it off, no one snuck into his bed unwanted at night, no one gave him a Bender family Christmas present and no one gave him the mommy dearest motivational treatment so as far as he figures it was a win-win-win.
Ave Maria plays while Ruth takes a nice, warm, relaxing bath. When the air goes cold and the plastic curtain asphyxiates the life out of her it’s way less nice. Sonny hears her screaming and tries to barge in to help her, but the door won’t give. So much for that salt and burn.
Sam and Dean, none the wiser at this point, stop at a diner on their way out of town. Sam says he’s fine with a quick stop at the Shakeshack, but Dean insists on them getting the best banana pancakes on the east coast. Pretty sure the pretty waitress might be part of an ulterior motive. Sure enough, we get a flashback of teen Dean and Sonny celebrating Dean’s one-month anniversary on the farm. He’s doing well, Sonny has some concerns about Dean carving occult symbols into his bedposts and being shady about his past, but he’s getting solid grades, has a place on the wrestling team. Stability looks good on him. The young waitress that comes to take his order seems to think so, too.
In the present, Dean is making some serious eyes at the grown-up version of Robin the waitress. She’s drawing a blank. He gives his name and she dimly recalls him being one of the many, many boys to cruise through Sonny’s over the years. Dean reminds her that he used to get guitar lessons from her mother. Yeah, well, so did a lot of boys. In fact it influenced Robin so much that in memory of her mother she does the same.
Swing and a miss and a miss and a miss, Winchester. Thoroughly embarrassed, Dean bolts. Sam, ever the smug little brother totally wants the story, but Dean remains mum. Thankfully, he’s saved by the bell, it’s Sonny calling to tell them about Ruth. Great for Dean, kinda a bummer for Ruth.
Sam and Dean head back to the farm to see what they missed. The only info Sonny has is that he couldn’t open the door despite there being a no lock rule on the farm, which must be really fun for a bunch of hormonal teenage boys, and that Ruth’s ever present rosary is missing. Dean goes off to question a few of the boys and finds them bullying a cowering Timmy. Knowing what it’s like to take care of a geeky lil boy, he regulates on the two and gives Timmy a few pointers on how to stand up to the Johnny Lawerences and Fred O’Bannions of the world.
Sam takes a guided tour of the place and finds Sonny’s wall o’ achievements. On that wall is a certificate for Stone Cold Dean Winchester – Wrestling Champ. You think you know a guy. While Sam rolls this over in his brain Regina George and Nancy Downs are tending to then lawn. Guess what turns up in the mower blades? That’s right Ruth’s rosary. Guess who’s dumb enough to stick his hand up in the blades and make hand salad? Right again. And if you guessed Timmy was watching from the window give yourself yet another pat on the back. Speaking of pats on the back, why is there a corpse-y hand on Timmy’s shoulder?
For our next flashback, Dean walks into the living room and sees present day Robin tuning her guitar while she waits for Timmy to come start their lesson. He remembers sitting on that same couch, telling Robin how he had dreams of becoming a rockstar or a mechanic (that sound you hear? The sound of millions of Dean Winchester headcanons getting validated). Dean tells her that cars are amazing things, complicated puzzles that you put together and then send off into the world never to think about again. Sounds kind of like hunting in a way. He tells her that he doesn’t want to go into the family business and she commiserates, she doesn’t want to take over her father’s diner.
Dean also remembers Robin giving him his very first kiss. Maybe that’s why he thinks he’s Batman…
Dean pulls himself out of the memory and tells Robin he doesn’t have time to explain but she needs to trust him that she has to get the hell outta dodge. Now why would she trust Dean Winchester again? Dean is pumped that she remembers him, because man, what a blow to a guys ego that your first love doesn’t remember making out with you constantly for like a month straight? That’s like six years in teenager time.
Once again, he reiterates that now is not the time for a round of I-bailed-on-you-and-this-is-why and tries to usher her out of the house, but whatever’s got its grip on Timmy isn’t not on board with that. The temp drops, the doors jam and Timmy is sorry but he can’t control it. Sam rushes in to explain what he discovered in the barn, but Dean just wants Sam to get out to safety, too bad the door slams shut in Sam’s face trapping him inside with the other three. Quickly they sprinkle salt around Robin and try to figure out what to do.
The darkness, the flickering lights, the frozen breath, the EMF meter, grave digging, salting the earth, burning the bones, the seasoned and toasted grave not being the real culprit, Dean’s amulet. It’s like 2006 all over again and I just want to roll around in it forever.
Sam knows that the ghost is Timmy’s mother. Timmy tells them that his mom died saving him from their car crash, she pushed him out right before the all shark vs. oxygen tank. He was alone and scared and his pain called out to her spirit and she’s been protecting him from danger ever since, but being dead and bitter has really done a number on her sanity and she’s just punishing people left and right, pretty soon she’s going to off someone just for telling Timmy “thanks” instead of “thank you”. Timmy’s gotta let her go, has to make her understand that he can take care of himself and that she can rest. It’s hard, and Dean gets that, but he tells Timmy sometimes you gotta hurt the ones you love in order to look out for #1.
Which is interesting on a few levels. For one, it kind of brings Dean selfishness about Sam to the fore. Making sure Sam is safe and alive isn’t just about taking care of Sam, Dean will do whatever it takes, even if the risk is hurting Sam or being hurt by Sam to keep Sam around. Because that’s what Dean wants. On the other hand we also learn that Sam was the reason Dean chose to leave the farm when John finally came for him. Sonny was willing to fight for Dean to stay, and let’s be real, with the way the writers have ret-conned John’s character over the past couple years Sonny would have had one hell of a compelling case. But as Dean gazed out of the window, school dance ready and full of young love, all he saw was his little brother hanging out the Impala window in oversized flannel and that was it. He said it best himself, there is nothing, past or present, that he would put in front of Sam.
As they leave the farm, it all falls together for Sam that this wasn’t a punishment for Dean, this place had been salvation. This was the place that would have set Dean on a path of normality. And he gave it up for Sam. Then, now and always. Not only does Sam get this, he appreciates it and appreciates Dean all over again.