Last night's episode of Supernatural, "Of Grave Importance," demonstrated all the best and worst aspects of this season's take on monster-of-the-week episodes. The worldbuilding was great: With Bobby along for the ride, we got to learn a lot of fantastically interesting things about the (un)lives of ghosts. But at the same time, it was as if this break in the arc had given the writers license to throw out everything we know about Sam and Dean's history.
A cool setup
Let's begin with the best part of this episode, which was having Bobby around and so he could give us a tour of ghostworld. We begin with the boys getting a call from Annie, a hunter pal who is heading to a town nearby to investigate a haunted house. She's just heard about Bobby's death and wants to give the Winchesters some of his old things. Apparently she was an old flame of Bobby's, but in the course of an awkward conversation we find out that she slept with both Dean and Sam too (sadly not at the same time).
At any rate, before the boys can catch up with their badass, lusty pal, she's murdered by a ghost in the haunted house — a ghost whom we we've already seen killing a couple of teens making out on the mansion's decaying sofa, too. When Annie doesn't show up at the rendez-vous, the boys go hunting for her in the house, tailed by Bobby. Though Bobby still hasn't been able to convince Sam and Dean that he's there, he's stuck around and continued to try (and has helped them several times, without their realizing it). Too bad, because Bobby can see what the boys can't: The haunted house is lousy with ghosts. They are practically hanging off the rafters. What are they all doing there?
When Annie's ghost shows up, we quickly find out. The two of them talk to one of the few ghosts in the place who is still coherent, and can actually move things around. Turns out the house once belonged to Whitman Van Ness, the heir to a mining fortune who spent it all, turned the house into a speakeasy and brothel, and then died ignominiously in 1935. Apparently, he spent most of his adult life murdering everybody in the place whenever he could. He managed to pin the murders on his ex-con groundskeeper, but of course the ghost of a former "fancy lady" knows the truth — as do the rest of them.
The ghost who gives Annie and Bobby the lowdown also tells them a lot about ghost rules. First of all, you can only move objects if you are possessed of Zen-like calm (like our ghost infodumper) or are psychotically angry (like most poltergeists are). Also, ghosts who aren't exorcized or killed by Whitman grow old and eventually go crazy. "Ghost Alzheimers," growls Bobby, as he watches one afflicted ghost freak out, scream randomly, and disappear. So being a ghost is basically just like being a person, except it's really hard to move things around. Also, they've got to get the boys to kill Whitman before he does more nasty things to all the ghosts in the house — he seems to be using them to suck up their ghosty essences and make himself stronger.
A little history nitpicking
So all the ghosts in the house were killed by Whitman, during his adulthood when he spent the family money and started the brothel, etc. Given the history lesson we get when the boys go to a local museum, we know Whitman died in 1935 at the age of 40. So let's assume his killing days were probably between 1915 and 1935. And he wouldn't have even needed that speakeasy until 1919, when Prohibition went into effect in the U.S. So that would mean all the ghosts we see should be dressed pretty much like the cast of Boardwalk Empire, with some flappers and 1930s styles thrown in. And yet Victoria, the "fancy lady" murdered by Whitman, is in full Victorian Era regalia, circa 1880s. So are most of the other ghosts we see. Either these people were really into vintage styles in the 1920s, or the costume department decided anything before the Mad Men era was probably long skirts, bustles and corsets.
I will note that the ghost infodumper was dressed in respectable 1920s period gear, and there was one flapper briefly in the background. Still, general harumph for everybody.
Everything that was wrong, in slightly chronological order
So thanks to appropriately-dressed ghost infodumper, Bobby learns to communicate with Sam and Dean by writing in the steam on the bathroom mirror. "Annie trapped in house," he writes, signing the message with his name while Sam and Dean look on in growing horror. So now at least the boys know that Bobby is around and that Annie's ghost is in danger. They just need to figure out what Whitman is up to and burn his bones to stop him.
Here is the first thing that I just don't get: Once the boys realize that Bobby is there, why the 100% horror? I get that they are shocked, and they should be. But they have suspected he was there for a long time, and their fear should absolutely be tempered by joy. Yes, the situation is troubling, but they love Bobby and should be glad to have his help no matter what form he's taken. But they aren't. Nor do they seem to be aware that Bobby is with them all the time, even though they've figured out he's connected to the flask Dean carries around. They talk about Bobby as if he can't hear them, and act surprised every time he does something ghosty.
Here is another thing I don't get: OK, we've established Bobby is a ghost but still around. We've established that Annie is still around. Still, when one of the ghosts tosses a camera with revealing ghost footage on it to Sam and Dean, they act as if this is FREAKY SHIT. C'mon, guys. You are in Ghostville. We've seen you react with calm steadfastness when confronted by Lucifer, demons, and even angry archangels. But a little ghosty action is spooky? Really? Victoria the retro ghost has even told Sam and Dean basically what's going on, and they're still jumpy.
Luckily, despite these two weird issues, we get through most of the third act pretty quickly. Whitman figures out that Bobby and Annie have found the hidey hole where he stashes everybody's bones so he can keep them in the house and burn them when he feels like meting out punishment. There are a few shenanigans where Whitman tries to follow the boys by putting a haunted key in Sam's pocket, but once the brothers have put a few bullets into the key it's useless. Then, just as Whitman is about to suck out Bobby's ghosty soul, the boys burn Whitman's bones at the cemetery. Poof! That was easy. The whole ghost subplot was fun and I liked all the details about how ghosts really live.
In fact, sign me up for a spinoff urban fantasy book series full of ghosts whose rules match the ones in this episode.
There could be Zen movement training sequences, and intense emotional bits where they are coping with senility and stuff. Love it.
And now it's time to process our feelings in a way that makes ABSOLUTELY NO FREAKIN SENSE
I already talked about how the Winchesters behaved in ways that felt really out-of-character in regards to the ghosts in the episode. But then when they can finally see Bobby and talk to him, they really veer waaaaaay off the reservation. Dean is angry with Bobby, calls him "unnatural," and keeps emphasizing that they've never dealt with anything like this before. He even says, "You could be in Heaven right now," as if that's a GOOD THING! Haven't we already established that in Heaven you are trapped all alone in a bubble that reproduces your favorite place and time on Earth? Sure it's pretty. But more importantly, it's lonely and depressing and run by a bunch of militaristic psychos who are teetering on the brink of total social collapse. WHY WOULD DEAN WANT BOBBY TO BE STUCK THERE?!
Plus, that "unnatural" comment? HELLO?! Both Sam and Dean have come back from the dead. One of their best hunting buddies is a freakin' angel, and they've worked multiple times (including in the most recent episode) with demons. And they're questioning whether it's OK to work with the ghost of their friend? Sure, something bad might come out of it. Something bad ALWAYS comes out of everything they do. But why all the judgey judgey about what's natural, when Sam and Dean themselves could be considered revenants? What is going on here? I'm all for mixing things up and changing our characters over time, but this feels like seriously sloppy continuity. I am officially grouchy.