Supernatural "Bad Boys" Review: In Which the Winchesters Have a Sucky Childhood and No One Is Surprised

By MaryAnn Sleasman

Nov 20, 2013

Supernatural S09E07: "Bad Boys"

In all honesty, as much as I love Supernatural's flashback episodes, they rarely reveal anything particularly new or enlightening about the Winchesters these days, and "Bad Boys" wasn't much of an exception. Dean's life is made of duct tape and disappointment. Sam's is made of superglue and lies. So many lies. Even something as relatively harmless as what Dean was doing for those two random months back in 1995: LIES.

Dean summed it up best when he recalled how the story that he and Douchey Dad John told Sam was simply "the story" until it just became the story—the truth, as fabricated, endorsed, and accepted by the Winchesters. Sort of how big bro is currently forcing the "story" of Sam's survival to desperately enter the accepted Winchester truth zone as well. Good luck with that one; miiiiight want to stop being a freaking WEIRDO about things. "Everybody's fine with heading out to the Catskills?" JEEZ, DEAN, IT'S LIKE YOU WANT SAMMICH TO FIGURE IT OUT. 

Don't we all, though? 

Get with it, Sam, plz thnx.

So anyway, once upon a time in 1995, the Wee Dean lost the food money John left when he abandoned his children in a skeevy motel to go hunt a rugaru, and the Wee Dean decided to shoplift some PB&J. He was caught and taken to a boy's home, and when Father of the Year John Winchester got the call, he left Dean there because John's the actual worst. Also, character-wise, I'm not entirely sure that made sense, because wasn't it partially John's paranoia about ol' Yellow Eyes that made him keep his kids around even though he clearly didn't have time to not be an awful father, what with slaughtering monsters and all? Maybe I'm making that up. It's been nine seasons, yo, sometimes it's hard to remember what actually happened and what was merely discussed with fellow fans on Gchat at three in the morning. 

The late, somewhat great, John Winchester has always been a hard character for me to get behind. As far as hunters go, John was among the best, and he certainly has a claim to being lumped in with the heroes on this show, but he's also one of the most flawed characters on the Supernatural roster and when we talk about how Sam and Dean couldn't have become the men they are today without him, that's a comment that could be taken both positively and negatively. 

"Nobody bad touched me, burned me with their smokes, or beat me with a metal hanger—I call that a win." You guys, my jaw dropped when Dean said that. That's some textbook emotionally abused child rationalization right there. Personally, I've long held the belief that John Winchester was an abusive father... just not in the sense that we tend to default to when we think of how an abusive parent acts. 

Sam and Dean have all the hallmarks of emotionally abused children, but given what we saw in "Bad Boys"—which may not have been mind-blowing, but was still pretty insightful, especially since most of the show's past flashbacks have focused primarily on Sam—Dean's in his mid-thirties and he's still struggling to come to terms with the turns that his life, and by association, Sam's life, have taken. He'll condemn John, then defend him in his next breath. Some part of Dean clearly recognizes the wrongness of the environment he was raised in and the way John acted toward him, as illustrated by the way he's interacted with children throughout the entire series—from that mute kid in "Dead in the Water" to Ben Braeden to Creepy Timmy in this week's episode. Even Dean's interactions with pre-Stanford Sam in other flashback episodes have shown a near-total rejection of the lessons taught at the John Winchester School of Horrendous Parenting. 

At the same time, Dean and Sam are by no means functional, well-adjusted people (because where's the fun in that?) and one of the most telling tragedies that came to light in "Bad Boys" is that we saw how the positive lessons Dean gleaned during his time at Sonny's home have backfired due to their incompatibility with what was drilled into him from the age of four. Did anybody else cringe a little when Sonny told Dean to "Do what's best for you, even if it hurts the ones you love"? Like... maybe stuffing an angel into your unwilling brother in order to keep him alive—without his knowledge—even though he was kind of okay with not being alive anymore and we've been holding our breath for like, seven episodes waiting for the inevitable soul-crushing fallout? 

Dean's compulsive need to keep Sam around stems from his own personal wants, sure, but also from a lifetime of being assigned that very task: He wasn't merely told to keep Sam safe, he was practically programmed to always, always, always put Sam first. Dean's self-worth is so tied up in whether or not Sam has a pulse that over and over and over again he's made terrible decisions with that singular goal in mind—and he'll continue to make terrible decisions because he can't help it. Dean's miserable right now, and a part of him is certainly regretting the whole Ezekiel thing, but he still can't bring himself to face the alternative.

Teen Dean came close, though. He said he wanted to be a mechanic because after you fix the cars and they drive away, they aren't your problem anymore. Dude was so not just talking about cars. Perhaps—and this is just my face making words that may or may not make sense—in some small way that Dean will deny forever, Sam running off to Stanford when he was 18 wasn't actually the worst thing that ever happened to Dean.

Anyway, of course John came to fetch Dean before the big high school dance. Of course he did. Life-ruiner. But hey, at least Dean's teenage crush is still alive. And human. (Sorry, Sam.)

Even though it largely just confirmed an awful lot of what we already knew—that even happy Winchester memories are actually fraught with emotional compromise—"Bad Boys" also, finally, gave us an honest look at what makes Dean Winchester tick. It may not be pretty, and to call it "noble" is to severely misunderstand how emotional abuse and manipulation works, but it is completely human and understandable, and when Dean makes his unfortunate life choices and we all go "WTF ARE YOU THINKING?" I believe that now, we all know exactly what Dean's thinking. 

OMG I'm gonna cry again. #help


– Teen Dean got good grades and made the wrestling team and I can't... stop... crying. The werewolf bruises also really broke my feels. 

– So Sonny taught Dean how to get out of handcuffs with a paperclip, eh? Aww. 

– Welp, I'm never showering again. THAT WAS SO AWESOME AND NOT OKAY. I was expecting more gore with the lawnmower, though. I mean, it was a lawnmower.

– For a second, the fiancé and I thought Sonny was played by Josh Brolin too... but it's actually Blake Gibbons from a bunch of stuff, including General Hospital. Love the 'stache!

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  • abbykessin Jun 15, 2014

    John created a kiler in dean, season 3 episode 10 the true internal feelings of dean pop up."dad new who you really were a good soldier and nothing else." Everytime dean feels worthless johns impact shows. He feels alone, like an abandoned child feels, scared of falure, like all the times he was yelled at for little mistakes like loosing food money at 16 years old. John always acts like he cant care less. John saw only his pain ,growing up fatherless and loosing his wife, and neglegted to see dean was a child who wanted to be loved. Sam was a lucky child to be protected and cared for by a four year old dean. a quote from sam that broke my heart in the premire was, " when i told dad i was afraid of the dark he gave me a forty five"( he ws 9 years old for crying out loud. Also the worst part was he never said this to his children ,I'm proud of you. John new he was a bad parent, caring more about revenge then spending time with his boys. Plus yelling at sam for wanting a normal life was very harsh. I can understand i downside with hunting, watching monsters and humans alike die bloody can really damage thoughts.

    good thing john did :

    -give dean the best car ever 1964 chevrole impala
    -give dean an awsome leather jacket
    - go to hell for dean
    -teach them how to protect themselves
    - provided the how to manuel known as dads journal
    -teach about covering their tracks to aviod the cops.

  • abbykessin Jun 15, 2014

  • RichardCarlso Nov 26, 2013

    I cannot think of the name of the song that was playing when Dean saw Sam playing with the airplane in Baby, but I loved it. That song was right out of season one.

  • Vicky8675309 Nov 24, 2013

    I haven't read through the comments yet so if someone already said then then sorry.

    I do think John (daddy winchester) was a neglectful and in some ways a "bad parent" but look at it from his point of view. He has a job as a hunter which helps save humans (and save the world/humanity) and he is a single parent. There isn't anyone he can trust to protect and raise his kids yet he can't do it all himself. I'm not saying he made all the best choices but he was probably trying to do the best he could....

    I don't watch this show with high expectations, that way I can enjoy it for what it is. I don't think Dean should let Sam just accept death and I don't have a problem with him subverting his brother's potential (was it really his wish or just a fleeting wish) wish for death by having an angel possess him.I wonder if Sam would of done the same thing if that happened to Dean (I hope he would of made the same choice).

    Good review and it made me think. I may not entirely agree with the psychoanalysis of the show but it made me think and had some valid points.

  • KateSullivan Nov 23, 2013

    As I have always had a view of the Winchesters..well this one. John was likely still not right from his time in the military when he met Mary and got that unfortunate intro to the supernatural when he died and Mary began the self sacrificing. Then she was murdered in front of him for his younger son. Dean was the epitome of his mother and so John began relying on him too much. Sam was pretty much exactly like his dad and is really only kind because of Dean. But John was just freaked out and pushedthem both away. Dean took this as his failing. Sam took it as John's. In other words..this just confirms to me that Dean hates this life and would not be it except for Sam. So yeah...very bittersweet talk in the Impala.

  • flintslady Nov 22, 2013

    The more that I watch of this season the more appreciation I have for the first 5 seasons of the show. That's not to say that those seasons were perfect or that some of my favourite episodes didn't come in much later seasons. But what I realized as I watched this last episode, is that Kripke tried really hard not to be redundant.

    This episode had a few good moments (Dean teaching the kid how to shake hands was one), but overall was pointless, and clearly a badly done nod to the movie MAMA. I was saying in a reply somewhere below, that this show is at it's weakest when you can see the disagreement between writers on the screen. Clearly there are writers on this show who hate John, and think that he was an abusive, extreme and terrible parent, and there are those that don't. Dean's character changes so often, (sometimes mid scene), that there are people who no longer see him as a hero. Yes you read that right some people think DEAN is NOT a HERO. Dean is an angry, hurt, stubborn (insert many more adjectives here) FLAWED individual, but there is NO DOUBT, that he is a hero. That anyone doubts this, is completely the fault of the writers.

    The characters have stopped arcing. It's just plot driving the story forward, and that's why it's no longer working.

    Also, I wish this show would stop retconning things to just make us have the feels. Dean loved being a hunter, and there is nothing wrong with that.

    Episodes like this have me reaching for the salt and matches.

  • chrissie0707 Nov 22, 2013

    You took many words out of my mouth and thoughts out of my head. The constant change in showrunner and addition of writers who did not help create and shape these guys (I miss Ben Edlund!) is screwing with what began as a really amazing story and now rarely makes sense.

  • fallensmith125 Nov 21, 2013

    I liked this episode, it was kind of like an old school Supernatural ep.
    It was nice seeing young Dean having a "normal" life (I mean ghost/zombie and Azazel free) even if it lasted just a couple of months. Going to school, making the wrestle team, getting his first kiss all the while not having to worry about his little brother.
    I do like your review, and I too think that John W. was an abusive father. Not physically but mentally. I mean how he put too much pressure and responsibility on Dean's shoulder.
    The only thing that did not fit for me this time, was young Dean's age ( I know some of you've pointed it out before, and I tots agree.Him being an awkward 16 year old in this ep then supposedly a year later he develops into a buffed up ladies man and all, somehow it doesn't seem imaginable to me. Same problem with young Sammy)
    The theme of this ep, reminded me of the movie Mama(a maternal protector figure killing of pple to protect children)
    And the scene where they ended Ruth with the shower curtain, felt so much like Phsyco to me.
    I think that this episode was so much more likeable then the previous ones from this season. Hopefully the writers will continue on this path when they bring Crowley and the rest back.

  • Whedonrules Nov 21, 2013

    Count me among those who thought - Isn't that Josh Brolin? Kind of fun having a ghost chasing episode. (My favorite will always be 'Roadkill' best guest star appearance in the history of the show by Tricia Helfer IMHO.) Young Dean gets an A. I'm thinking Jensen must sit with these kids that get to play him for hours because they all play Dean well; mannerisms and all. Good stuff.

  • Panther927 Nov 21, 2013

    dean is a compulsive liar that it just a second nature to him to lie than tell the truth and even now when he doesnt need to lie to sam about the past he still does.

  • carly-hope Nov 21, 2013

    I forgot, the MoW aspect reminded me a lot of Ghost whisperer, especially with the mom changing from a harpy into Jo look-alike.

    And Dylan Everett was brilliant as Dean, he nailed the little details. I'm glad I wasn't the only one who tought Sonny was played by Josh Brolin.

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