The fantasy story that was at the core of Supernatural’s “About A Boy” only worked because the actors who brought it to life made it believable. Let’s look at the nuances in each of their performances.
Lesley Nicol plays the witch, Katja. She’s most famous for her role on Downton Abbey as the cook, Mrs. Patmore. Here, she’s a much different cook. Taken from the Grimm story, Hansel and Gretel, Katja is the witch that cooks and eats children. Nicol makes this witch a memorable one. While she’s only on screen briefly, she makes this character a creepy and disturbing one. There’s a comforting motion in her use of the knife as she chops vegetables that juxtaposes well with her sinister description of how she wants to prepare Tina. Nicol makes Katja gleeful as she talks about putting an apple in Tina’s mouth for instance. There’s also a distaste in her delivery of the line, “Poor stupid Rowena,” as she tells the Winchesters that she’s really here on business. And we can’t help but shudder as she tells the brothers about the way American children taste “buttery.” Once the fight is on, Nicol overpowers Padalecki’s Sam with magic only to find herself overwhelmed by Ackles’ Dean—shoved into the fire. While her witch, Katja, didn’t get to last long, Nicol certainly made a lasting impression in the role.
Madeleine Arthur plays young Tina. She makes this de-aged adult have presence on screen, especially in scenes opposite Everett. Unable to believe that Dean just told her to stay calm, Arthur delivers one of her best lines when she says, “ Stay calm? I’m a friggin’ tween, and you look like some One Direction reject, and we’re in some freaky serial killer basement, I can’t-” It draws laughs, and yet sums up so well so many of those they encounter in other bizarre supernatural situations. Arthur plays an adult trapped in a teenage body well, conveying that this girl isn’t as young as she looks. It comes out in the way she distracts Hansel with the impromptu screaming. While Tina may be scared, Arthur makes this moment seem a little too much, a bit over the top, letting us know that Tina’s doing a lot more acting than actual freaking out. And after we see her rescued, she tells them, “That was crazy. Like psycho crazy, and you do this all the time?” Arthur gives us a mirror gesture of the adult Tina as she puts two fingers to her temple, signaling that she’ll be alright. As she tells them, this is her second chance, and we can’t help but hear the hope in her voice as she delivers this line. And we can’t help but hope that Tina will make good on it, too.
Dylan Everett reprises the role of young Dean Winchester. Instead of playing the role in flashback, Everett presents a thirty six year old Dean trapped in a fourteen year old body. He rises to the challenge well, taking on so many of the mannerisms of Ackles to convey the story. It’s in every nuance—from his body language to the way he says his lines to the presence he has on screen. From the moment Dean looks into the mirror to the last scene before he is turned back, we can see the Dean we’ve come to know in Everett’s performance.
Everett captures the adult Dean extremely well in key moments. When he arrives back to the motel to get Sam and supplies, the way he delivers the line, “Hi ya, Sammy,” is spot on to the way we’ve seen Ackles say it through the years. And when we see him deliver lines such as, “I got no grass on the infield,” or “I bet you never had to say that before,” or “Well, I’m me. I’m old me, but a kid. It’s freakin’ weird dude, and…” we can tell that Everett has spent a lot of time watching and absorbing the way Ackles would say these lines.
We also see it in gestures, such as the way Dean eats the offered (but suspicious) cake, the way he holds his weapon and flashlight as they go to enter the house, and especially in the way he pauses to consider Sam’s comeback, “Big talk coming from the guy wearing Underoos.” Everett replicates the same pursing of the lips, and the head tilt and nod that we’ve all come to know and expect from Ackles. Everett makes an old Dean trapped in a younger body not only believable, but entertaining, too.
Everett has excellent chemistry with Padalecki, that amplifies his performance as the transformed Dean. Seamlessly, he picks up right where Ackles left off, blending the magic we’ve seen between Sam and Dean for ten years. It’s in the way he says his lines with Padalecki. Despite the significant height difference—Everett stands at 5’6” to Ackles at 6’2”—Everett keeps Dean’s “big brother” personality large and ever present. We can see it in how he looks at Padalecki or the sternness that enters his voice at intervals during their discussions. This is clearest when Everett delivers the line, “You wanted me back in the game. I’m back in the damn game.”
Comedically, Everett and Padalecki feed off of one another. It’s not just in their witty banter, either. We see it in the physical size difference—used effectively in crucial shots. As a teenage Dean decides to drive them to the scene, he adjusts the seat, promptly shoving Sam’s knees into his face. While the focus is on Padalecki, we can also see Everett making sure to make this scene funnier by his facial expression as Dean has to relinquish driving to Sam. We also see it in their quiet approach to the house. This comedy is subtle, simply their two distinctive sizes playing off one another for effect. Sam looms large while teenage Dean seems tiny in comparison.
Best of all, Everett manages to capture the deep emotional well that is Dean in this performance. He shows us that Dean is not merely jokes about his reliving puberty or Sam being unable to fit into a tiny space. As they discuss the Mark’s absence and what it would mean to bring it back, Everett shows us well the turmoil broiling inside the elder turned younger Winchester. We can see all the guilt that was weighing heavily on the adult Dean in the beginning come to the forefront in this discussion. And when we see him have to take the hex bag and return to his true age, Everett shows us in one facial expression how painful it is for Dean to realize he’ll have to take back the Mark, too. He’s so afraid he may end up losing it after it being absent for at least a day.
Everett made a teenage Dean a delight to watch, and we’re left to wonder just how else they’ll manage to bring in this younger version of the elder Winchester in the future.
As they start work on the case at hand, Ackles shows us that Dean is cautious about getting back into business—and yet he also gives us subtle comedy here. As they question their first witness, we see him deadpan the lines, “Don’t say it,” and “He said it.” And yet, as they walk away, we see Ackles tense up, conveying Dean’s anxiety about them splitting up on this. It’s in his slightly softer expression and his faraway gaze as he debates their options. Once he settles on going to talk to the locals, Ackles shows us that Dean’s taking some of what Sam said to heart, and deciding to “believe” in himself. That means drinking while he’s there. Once he has the drink, we see Ackles hesitate, almost as if he’s debating following through after all. And once he downs the shot, we see the expression on Dean’s face harden as the Mark starts to hum in his ears. Ackles shows us how powerful and perhaps seductive it is as he grasps his arm, giving us insight into how Dean is feeling in this moment as the Mark starts to pull on Dean with fresh furor.
As Dean starts to bond with Tina, Ackles gives us a rich performance. While in the past he may have tried every line or made any attempt to perhaps get into her pants, instead we see them sharing a quiet conversation and bond over their childhood experiences at the same motel. Ackles makes this memory both seem tragic and treasured in the way he delivers the lines, “My dad was always working so I came up with about 101 different ways to make Mac n Cheese,” and “Add ketchup for spice, tuna, hot dogs, fluff marshmallow mix,” and “Yeah, well, my brother thought it was exotic,” as Dean describes their snowed in stay.
Once the adult Dean returns, Ackles shows us a cold and calculated Dean. He’s forceful in his killing of Hansel, and as he stalks the witch, we can see that coldness settle even further. Ackles shows us that Dean’s not going to be deterred, and that it’s not merely the overwhelming larger size or presence that is making the difference here. He shows it in his hard face and his deliberate actions. The way he stuffs the hex bag into the witch’s throat says everything, stopping her from using any spells. Ackles makes Dean frightening here, and yet it’s different than the other times he’s killed since the Mark. This isn’t about the pleasure—although we can see it in the expression Ackles gives Dean—this is about stopping these two from doing this to anyone else—or for hurting Tina and Sam. Either way, Ackles makes Dean intimidating and powerful in this moment.
After the brothers drop Tina off at the bus station, Ackles shows us the classic Dean humor we’ve come to know. The way he delivers the line, “It sounds like a 80s hairy metal band, you know, lot of hairspray, lot of eye shadow, lot of gee-tar,” draws laughs, but also gives us a classic Dean deflection from the conversation he knows is to come. As he has to reveal the newly returned Mark, we can see a blend of dejection and determination as Sam tells him that they will beat this. Now we’re left to wonder just how they’ll do it—and if Dean will keep on “believing” in himself as much as Sam does.
Jared Padalecki plays a determined and concerned Sam in “About A Boy.” From the moment we see him enter Dean’s room to the last conversation they share alongside the Impala, Padalecki shows us that Sam is driven to help his brother deal with the Mark. As he presents the new case they should take, he is patient and gentle, as if he’s trying to ease his brother out of the cocoon he’s tried to make for himself. As Dean refuses, Padalecki shows us the pent up frustration that we know has to be brewing in the younger Winchester. It’s in how he delivers the lines, “You can’t keep looking at the lore books” and “Charlie forgave you. Why don’t you try forgiving yourself?” Padalecki makes it clear that Sam’s not simply saying these things to get his brother back into the hunt. He’s saying them out of exasperation that his brother would see himself as only the Mark when he knows him to be so much more.
As they get deeper into the case, we see Padalecki play the role of the straight man to the wacky situation the Winchesters find themselves in this week. It’s in his timing and the way he delivers his lines. As they question the homeless witness, he partners well with Ackles in their dual distaste for the alien theory. Padalecki puts his reaction mostly in facial expression as Sam tries to back away from him and follow his brother to their next lead.
After they split up to investigate different angles, Sam realizes Dean isn’t at the bar waiting as he expects. As he makes the phone call, Padalecki shows us Sam’s business like expression morph into one of perplexity and then anxiety as he realizes Dean may not be there—but his phone is. Needing to know just where his brother may have ended up after they parted ways, he demands to know how the bartender acquired it. Normally, Sam would use restraint after being lipped off to, but here, we see Padalecki show all of Sam’s anger explode in one motion as Sam slams the bartender to the counter and demand to know the answer to his query. This isn’t so much about the mouthing off—and it’s not about the phone. Padalecki is telling Sam’s story brilliantly here, giving us an insightful moment into how anxious Sam is about his brother and what might have happened to him. In his actions and the way he snarls his lines, Padalecki conveys to us that Sam is worried that he may have made the wrong choice in leaving his brother to question people at the bar alone—especially now that he also knows that his brother was onto something in connection to the case.
But where Padalecki’s performance really excels in “About A Boy” is in his scenes opposite Everett’s “young” Dean. The moment we see Sam open the door to see his transformed brother, we see Padalecki use comedy to perfection. It’s in his shocked facial expressions and the way he delivers his lines as he’s first confronted with this new and bizarre situation. Padalecki easily makes this ridiculous scenario all the funnier for how he approaches playing Sam here.
Not only does Padalecki convey all of Sam’s shock about his brother’s newest predicament, he also connects well with Everett. Their chemistry is palpable, especially as they set up several different banter sequences that give us moments to laugh at this. It’s in the way Padalecki delivers deadpanned lines such as, “”Dean, I’m way too big to fit in that,” or “Big talk coming from the guy wearing Underoos,” or “That’s enough yeah, no thanks. That’s just called puberty.” While these scenes are different—as Padalecki most commonly shares them with Ackles—we can see him making them as familiar as ever in how he does his side of the banter moments.
Underneath the comedy, however, Padalecki adds another component that makes this performance all the richer. While we’re laughing at all the shocked expressions or the way he whispers the word, “How?” as Sam has to deal with his now younger brother, we can sense panic or fear. It’s capturing not only how Sam feels about this particular situation—but his feelings about the Mark and how it’s changed his brother. Padalecki shows us this layer in the way he glances at Everett’s version of Dean, continually as if to check if the transformation is still in effect.
As they discuss the situation and if they should reverse it, Padalecki shows us Sam’s sorrow at Dean’s suggestion that maybe they don’t. While we know that Sam wants nothing more than to see the Mark gone, he also doesn’t want his brother stuck this way forever, either. While his brother’s there with him in the car—and his mind is still the 36 year old he was prior to the hex—Sam feels a bit disconnected from his brother. The way Padalecki tightens his jaw and glances away from Everett’s Dean captures this well, showing that Sam simply can’t stand by and leave his brother this way.
Once the brothers manage to stop the witch and drop Tina off at the bus, we see Sam confirm these earlier unspoken feelings. The way he delivers the line, “Look, man do I wish the Mark was gone? Yes of course, absolutely I do. But I wanted you back, and here you are and you didn’t Hulk out, I’ll take the win,” captures all of Sam’s emotions beautifully—and having him share them with his brother makes this all the more moving.
While the brothers prepare to drive into the sunset, though, we see Padalecki give us one more great comedic moment—this time with his usual screen partner in Ackles. As the Taylor Swift song plays and Dean does nothing to change the station, we see Padalecki stare agape at his brother—partly in horror and partly in disbelief. Without having to say a word, he clearly asks the question, “Who are you?” And we can’t help but laugh.
Now that they’ve managed to learn more about the Grand Coven, and Sam has reaffirmed that they will indeed beat the Mark, how will Sam go about helping his brother to do just that—and to believe not only himself but their brotherhood all the more?
Best Lines of the Week:
Sam: Not great. Turns out JP was about three days from getting evicted. His landlord said the guy blasted Neil Diamond 24/7, and that his bathroom was quote ‘like staring into the Devil’s butt.’
Dean: I prefer functional alcoholic.
Dean: Really Sam, now? I got no grass on the infield and a girl’s gonna to die. Sorry if I’m not in a chatty mood, look you wanted me back in the game, I’m back in the damn game. Come on.
Dean: And my voice is weird, and I’ve got like nine zits, and I have zero control over this; I mean it’s up, it’s down, it’s up for no reason.
Sam: Yeah sure. I mean you can drink again in what like, seven years?
Sam: Dean I’m way to big to fit in that.
Dean: First time you ever had to say that, huh?
Sam: Big talk from the guy wearing Underoos.
Sam: Look, man do I wish the Mark was gone? Yes of course, absolutely I do. But I wanted you back, and here you are and you didn’t Hulk out, I’ll take the win.
What did you think of the performance this week? Were you convinced?