Opening in rural New York with some kids playing in a barn at night before an old man tries to get them inside to bed; only the dark barn suddenly becomes extremely cold. His torch stops working and his tractor starts up by itself and runs into him, impaling him on the spikey bits at the front (what? Like I know anything about agricultural machinery!)
At the Winchester cave Sam is trying to get a private moment to read an Oz book when Dean gets a call from someone called Sonny calling him “D-Dawg”. Turns out when they were kids, Dean once farmed Sam off on Bobby and disappeared for a while when he was 16 – not on a hunt: but he’d lost the money their dad had left them on a card game and resorted to stealing which ended up with him being caught and him being sent to a boy’s home. Sonny looked after him and he knows what Dean does – and has called him with a problem. It was John, their dad, who decided to keep it secret from Sam.
Which he has – so it’s off to the Catskills. Dean also backwards checks to see if Ezekiel is ok with this – and if he keeps this up there’s no way he’s going to keep this secret.
They arrive at the place and Sam is surprised that their dad couldn’t find Dean there – he could, but because Dean lost the money if he left Dean there. As ever, Dean rushes to his dad’s defence while Sam finds this behaviour highly dubious. They go into the house with a strict woman demanding they remove their boots and Dean has a flashback to his arrival there as a teenager in handcuffs. For stealing peanut butter and bread – and his dad telling the police to let him rot in gaol. (And Dean gave the cop a black eye, of course he would). Sonny notices bruises on Dean’s arms and asks him about them – and young Dean snarks “werewolf did it.” Which doesn’t get any reaction – Sonny seems pretty immune to snark and sass.
Back to the present Dean greets Sonny and notes that the farm is rather run down: the system isn’t interesting in working to turn boys’ lives around any more, it’s happier to just throw them in prison. He tells them what’s been happening – including the tractor running the old man over, lots of flickering lights and noises.
Sam checks the house and finds Dean’s old bed (his name under several layers of labels – and a pentagram carved into the bedpost) and finds Ruth, whose role is rather unspecified, praying for the ghost that is haunting them to leave. She tells Sam the history – the farm used to be owned by Howard and Doreen and Jack (the dead man) worked as a farmhand. Howard got drunk and believed that Jack and Doreen were sleeping together and tried to kill them – Jack escaped, Doreen didn’t and got chopped up with a meat cleaver. Howard recently died – but he swore “revenge” on Jack
In the barn, Dean’s little electronic thing finds a ghost in the area (we haven’t seen that thing in seasons! It’s been a while since ghosts and spooky things were the enemies) and he runs into a boy called Timmy (who I half suspect is a ghost or psychic or something) and he tells Dean he didn’t see anything but how cold it got.
Sam and Dean head to Howard’s grave (nah not Howard, it’s far too early in the episode) for some salting and burning and Sam again questions what was so bad about this place that their dad tried to cover it up – Dean claims not to remember it but it was generally a good place and nothing bad happened to him.
They rather prematurely call it a job done – and Ruth is suffocated by a ghost controlled shower curtain in the bath.
Dean and Sam are at a diner – and a flashback to Dean a month after arriving at Sonny’s and to Sonny taking Dean to dinner after getting the charges dropped (a kid stealing food is a harsh thing to prosecute). He offers to let Dean stay as long as he wants since his dad is nowhere to be found and Dean’s actually doing really well at school. But he does want to know about Dean’s little habits, like carving occult symbols into his bed and lining his room with salt. Dean is reluctant to talk because it’s a “family” thing and he’s loyal – but Sonny relates his experience in a gang and his own foolish loyalty to people he considered his “family” when it did him no good. And we meet Robin, serving in the diner.
Back to the present – and it’s a much older Robin serving again and she doesn’t remember Dean. Awwww and he clearly expected her to. Poor Dean flees the diner as soon as he can and will not talk to Sam about it. Dean is rescued from explaining by a call from Sonny telling them about Ruth’s death. They question Sonny but the only other weird thing he can think of (beyond the deaths and spooky atmosphere) is that Ruth’s rosaries are missing
More investigating, but first Dean has to step in to save Timmy from bullies, after intimidating them into line with his fake ID he asks them about Ruth (she was strict but they weren’t around at the time of death) but they know nothing. He tries to scare them into leaving Timmy alone and tells Timmy to stand up to them and it’ll make them back off (simplistic and so often untrue)
Sam notices the wall of fame – including wrestling sports awards that Dean won when he was at the farm. Outside the two boys who were bullying Timmy are doing some gardening tours (and watching Robin arrive) when the lawn mower makes an odd sound – turning it off and over they find Ruth’s rosary caught in the blades. They try to pull it free while Timmy looks on from an upstairs window holding his action figure - and the camera focuses on the switch on the lawn mower. Oh this is going to be messy. Yes yes it is – blood and whirring blades and a kid starts screaming; and something puts a wrinkly, non-human hand on Timmy’s shoulder.
Apparently the kid will be fine as Dean reports – and Sam has put two and two together and come up Timmy. Apparently Timmy was found in an abandoned building, they never found his parents and he kept running away from foster homes – until Sonny offered to take him in. Sam suspects ghostly possession.
Sam checks the barn again and finds a hidden trapdoor into, what I assume is a hayloft. On the wall someone has drawn a boy and his mother, his mother being in a car accident and then becoming some kind of angry monster grabbing the boy. And Dean runs into Robin – flashback.
To young Dean telling how he doesn’t like travelling around so much but his dad expects it of him – and how he’d love to become a mechanic (and part of what he loves about them is they leave when fixed and are no longer his responsibility – chafing over having to look after Sam at such a young age). And Robin kisses him, making him all flustered.
Brief back to the present where Dean tells Robin they need to get out of there and to trust him; and she snarks back why should she. Yes she does remember him
Back to the past where they’re kissing elsewhere and Dean promises Robin he’s not going anywhere and wanting to take her to the school dance. Yeah these promises were clearly not kept
And to the present where older Robin holds a grudge for him leaving. Dean tries to drag her out – but the door slams in their face and Timmy, behind them, apologises – because he can’t stop it. Which is when more things start flying and breaking. They run through the house ducking things aimed at their head and reach the back door when Sam comes in – and that door is sealed as well.
Dean grabs some salt and throws it to Sam to create a circle of salt to keep Robin safe and Timmy apologises again. He can’t control her – his mother (Sam surmises from the drawings he saw). Timmy tells them about the car crash where his mother died and how she pushed him out of a car window, saving her. When he was alone and scared, his mother came to him and gave him the action figure. Sam tries to take it – and mummy ghost arrives, not happy throwing Sam across the room. Dean grabs the figure and puts it on the stove to burn and Sam puts Timmy in the circle of salt with Robin
But a wind blows through disturbing the salt circle – she’s not being anchored by the salt circle. Timmy is her anchor. Robin breaks and runs to the front of the house – chased by Dean. And the ghost strikes again throwing Dean into a wall then crushing his heart while Robin looks on, petrified. Sam talks to Timmy and distracts the ghost back to the kitchen, trying to convince Timmy they’re not a threat and he has to believe that to call his mother off. Of course that just get Sam the ghost’s attention.
There’s some more pinned and crushed Winchesters and Dean appeals to Timmy, he has to let his mother go, holding on to her is keeping her there and driving her insane – and he has to look after himself even if it hurts the ones he loves (my gods Dean that may be the most hypocritical statement ever uttered anywhere ever). Timmy tells her she has to go – that he will be ok. And she becomes human again – before fading away. Timmy hugs Dean, crying.
Later Robin realises what the family business Dean talked about is. She and Dean end on a high note. Followed by a happy goodbye with Sonny.
Sam asks why Dean left the farm – he assumed when they started this was the worst time of Dean’s life but it’s clear it was one of the best. Dean just says he couldn’t wait to leave and it wasn’t him. And we flashback to Dean nervously getting ready for the school dance (he’s never been to one before) and Sonny telling him that his dad has arrived. John Winchester doesn’t care if it’s a big night for Dean or how much the dance means to him – he has a job and Dean has to come with him. Dean is visibly upset and Sonny offers to let him stay, to fight for him to give him a second chance at a real life. John blows the horn and Dean looks out the window – and sees Sam in the back seat of the car.
He thanks Sonny but says he has to go.
Back in the present Sam thanks Dean for always being there for him, having reached the same conclusion. Dean, being Dean, pretends not to understand.
No, I don’t buy it. I don’t buy that we’ve gone through 9 seasons, spoken to his father and Bobby and neither us nor Sam ever knew about this. I call blatant retcon. But I’m willing to forgive it for the nostalgia
The nostalgia! Oh the nostalgia! Back to the days when a demon was a terrifying, unbeatable force to be avoided and terrified of. Back when the Winchester brothers ran around facing ghosts and burning bones rather than leviathans and demons and angels. This was such an excellent revisit to those times.
It also adds some real texture to Dean’s past. It doesn’t bring us anything new – everything here was already clear. John Winchester was a pretty awful father. Dean was neglected and forced to practically parent Sam at far too young an age. And because of that, Dean has always felt overwhelmingly obliged to look out for Sam and protect Sam, as we’ve seen time and time again (not least of which at the end of the last season). But this did a powerful job of underlining that context, underscoring how long those sacrifices have been happening and how much of Dean’s life has been invested in caring for his little brother – which in turn adds so much extra emphasis on why he did things like kick out Castiel for the sake of Ezekiel. Because, ultimately, at the end, Dean is there for Sam.