The mid-season finale of “Supernatural” was a tearjerker like we’ve rarely seen on this show. Bobby (Jim Beaver), who was shot in the head in the previous episode, navigated the recesses of his memories as his body fought for survival. Meanwhile, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) floundered, fresh out of faith healers and voo-doo priests to call on for help.
The episode ended (spoiler alert!) with Bobby’s last memory fading out and a reaper offering him the choice between going with him and accepting whatever the afterlife offers, or sticking around on earth as a spirit, possibly becoming the type of ghost that Sam and Dean might eventually have to hunt.
Talk about a rock and a hard place.
The cliffhanger ending is par for the course for “Supernatural” mid-season finales; they tend to be harrowing and heartbreaking, though the stakes here are higher than they’ve ever been before. So the question is this: Is Bobby dead?
It pains us to say this, but… we hope so.
To be clear, we think Jim Beaver is a magnificent actor. He is a gentleman and a scholar. He has been invaluable to this show and we’d be sad to say goodbye to him (what do you mean, no more Comic-Con panels?!).
But Friday’s episode gave Bobby a hero’s exit. He fought selflessly for his life — not because he wanted one more taste of Wild Turkey or one more chance to see Sheriff Mills, but because he needed to give Sam and Dean an essential piece of information so that they could do their save-the-world thing again.
“Death’s Door” also added some depth to an already layered character. Though we’ve always recognized Bobby’s love for the Winchesters, his proclamation that he’d adopted two boys was heartbreaking and true. The flashback to Dean’s childhood, when Bobby took him to play catch instead of teaching him to shoot, made it painfully clear that Bobby loved the boys in a way in which John Winchester was never able. John looked at his kids and saw his dead wife, his quest for vengeance. Bobby loved them purely and without obligation or agenda.
The most powerful moment, however, was when we saw that as a child, Bobby shot his drunk, abusive father in order to save his mother. She couldn’t recognize the heroism in Bobby’s fear-driven actions. “This is when you learn that they pretty much never say ‘Thanks,’ when you save them,” he recalled.
And then, just moments later, we saw Sam and Dean say their less than eloquent goodbyes. “Hey, um, Bobby, um, hey. Just… thanks. For everything,” Sam stuttered. Thanks.
As much as we love Bobby and would love to see him become an old grandfather with a bowl of AA chips and a white picket fence, it would be a disservice to the character to give him a goodbye this strong (in performance, writing, and direction)… and then waste it on a miraculous recovery.
Great television doesn’t necessarily make you happy. Great television makes you feel something — anything — strong, even if that feeling kind of sucks. Great television makes you laugh despite the fact that you know the joke was rehearsed. It makes you cry despite the fact that you know the character is a figment of someone’s imagination. It makes you miss a person you’ve never met.
Friday’s episode of “Supernatural” was fantastically resonant; we already want to watch it again to make sure we didn’t miss any of the nuances of Beaver’s performance. It was great television. But if Bobby suddenly wakes up in that hospital and says he’s in the mood for some licorice and a Chuck Norris marathon, it erases the impact of that great television.
“Supernatural” is a show about ghosts and vampires and demons and suicidal teddy bears. It’s not supposed to be realistic. Death hasn’t meant anything to this show in a long time. Everyone comes back. In this episode alone, Rufus and Karen (both of whom have died) returned.
The thing that makes the show strong, though — the thing that’s kept its remaining viewers invested for 7 years — is that the emotion feels real. The relationships feel real. That’s all the audience needs to stick around. If the show gives us an hour like this one and then says, “Psych! Just kidding, everything’s cool,” then there’s no point in staying home on a Friday night to see the ramifications and to see the characters evolve. The audience stops trusting the writers, and the writers stop respecting the audience.
So, tragically, we hope that was the last we’ll see of Bobby Singer (alive, anyway). We will miss him terribly — far more than we missed John Winchester — and the show will carry his influence until it ends. And that is great television.