In any filmed story, there are actors that convey that story to the audience. Those actors need not always be human beings. In the season 11 episode “Baby,” the primary actor is none other than the ’67 Chevrolet Impala herself. It is through her lens that we see the story—a day in the life of her existence as the Winchester’s mode of transport and so much more. So, in this “Performing the Story,” let’s look at how Baby tells her own story and illuminates so much on Sam and Dean’s.
In the beginning, we are treated to her view of the boys washing her to perfection. There’s a soapy film as they wipe sponges over her and discuss the current trajectory of their search for the Darkness. While the car itself says nothing and doesn’t move, there’s an odd contentment that emerges as the scene continues. The brothers are having a rather mundane discussion. Sam’s flustered by Dean’s attire—shorts—and to that Dean’s response is, “It’s a free Bunker.” There’s also an eagerness to get back out on the road—to put this garage behind them for awhile. It’s in the sound of that water spray wiping all the suds away. Baby is ready and primed to do her primary function—transport the brothers to the next case.
As they head out, the brothers have rather standard road conversations. Sam’s stashed his own smoothies into the cooler, replacing some of the beer. Dean protests, wanting to know where the rest of the beer is. Sam replies, “Under the smoothies.” They’re debating how far they want to go that night when stopped in front of a roadhouse. Sam taunts Dean, “I mean, even Swayze wouldn’t come to this roadhouse.” Dean retorts, “Okay, first of all, never use Swayze’s name in vain. Okay? Ever.”
The car transitions into her first role—as a sanctuary. There’s an ease in these moments as Sam and Dean become just two brothers on the open road on an epic American road trip. They may be on the way to a hunt, but these interludes between have nothing to do with monsters or cases as much as it is family and brotherly bonding. They’re sharing one another’s company in the intimacy of their car—and she’s sheltering them, taking these private moments into her frame and interior. She’ll cherish these memories as she adds them to the years of them built up through their travels. Baby is just as much a part of this conversation—even if she’s not human. Her engine purrs throughout the scenes, that comforting and always present sound that plays as accompaniment to the Winchester’s lives. She’s no mere background noise. She’s truly just as much in the moment as they are.
As she’s left to sit vigil outside the roadhouse, there seems to be a patience in the angle used. She’s simply staring at the roadhouse waiting for her passengers to return—or is she? As Dean comes out as dawn breaks, it seems that Baby has had her own action vicariously. It’s not the first time nor will it be the last that a Winchester takes a girl to the backseat bench, but this time it comes with its own amusements and trinkets left behind. It’s not often that a dalliance in the car is shown without it leading to other violence or discord between a brother and their romantic squeeze—consider Anna for instance. It’s almost quaint as Piper looks for her hairpin. The moments she shared are left to the audience’s imagination—and yet as proud as Dean is about the dalliance, there’s a seeming pride in Baby at this, too.
Even more, the car seems to relish joining in with Dean’s teasing of Sam. He slips that cassette tape in and Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” blares over the speakers, taunting the younger Winchester. Even so, it turns into another friendly brotherly moment—an ease of rapport that Baby wants to have linger for as long as possible. There’s a joy in Sam joining in on the singing—even if it started as a way to poke fun at him. There’s a sweetness to the gliding ride as they continue on their trek to Oregon to stop another supernatural murder. They’re certain this case won’t amount to anything—they can bask in one another’s company—all three of them—and enjoy the journey getting there. All of them do with relish.
She’s taken to a steak house while the Winchesters fuel themselves—but Baby won’t stay idle for this meal. Instead, she’s allowed to let loose a little at the hands of the valet. Dean is reluctant to let her keys go, but as the young woman pulls away, she crows to her friend on the phone, “Spider caught a fly. I repeat, spider caught a fly.” Baby has shown her muscle in the past certainly. She’s shown her mettle and her toughness and her own Winchester brand of resurrection when hope is lost. So often, we only see her as transport in episodes. Here, we’re reminded that the 1967 Chevrolet Impala is indeed a muscle car and has the engine to back it up. She’s sleek and menacing. She’s able to hide bodies and weapons and has a black finish that intimidates other cars on the road. While the young valet behind the wheel isn’t as expert at handling her sheer power, we can see Baby enjoy the dough nuts as she spins and the tires squeal. Her engine roars with it as the girls giggle and whoop with delight at the display. Even the song played, singing, “live fast, die young, bad girls do it well ” fits Baby, too. To others, she’s that “bad girl” on the road, even if the brothers know better.
After all, the Winchesters showed us that softer side of Baby. Their ability to find refuge in her counters her menace—matching them perfectly while giving them the shelter they need in times of darkness. It is this car they dream about—as Sam does when confronted with “John.” It’s the same car Dean dreams about—tied to a normal life that Sam and Dean will never have. He tells Sam, “’Course I do. It’s usually the same one, too. We’re all in the car, I’m sitting in the driver’s seat, and Dad’s sitting shotgun. But there aren’t any shotguns, and there’s no monsters, no hunting. There’s none of that. It’s just, he’s teaching me how to drive. And I’m not little like I was when he actually taught me how to drive. I’m sixteen and he’s helping me get my learner’s permit. Of course, you’re in the back seat, just begging to take a turn. We pull up to the house — the family house. I park in the driveway, and he looks over and he says, ‘Perfect landing, Son.’ …I have that dream every couple of months. It’s kinda comforting, actually.”
The brothers are each on their own bench-seat, stretched out and relaxed as they discuss these dreams and their hopes and fears. Baby cocoons them, keeping the night out. There’s a hush inside the car as she listens to their intimate secret sharing. There’s a reverence in the way the brothers lounge in her interior. Baby has just as much impact in these scenes as the brothers themselves. She is no mere setting as they discuss these deep things. She’s there—as she’s always been—giving them that safe space to open up and relax the caution so used in the outside world. Even if she’s a vehicle and a setting, there’s a sense in all the angles, the shadows on her interior walls, and the smallness of the space the brothers share that Baby wants to protect them from everything they’re heading towards. She knows all too well that their job is dangerous and will leave them banged up.
That’s something she also experiences first hand, too. As the brothers start to put the case together and check out a dumped body and pick up a victim, the fight begins in earnest. Dean, while on the phone with Castiel, ends up ambushed by the Deputy—the one both brothers believed to be stupid and out of the loop. Even while blood spatters over her glass and bodies start to dent her black frame, there’s almost an audible sigh as the car has to listen to Castiel drone about what these creatures could be. The phone sits on her dash as he monologues about whispers and solar eclipses and what weapons may work on them. Baby has far more interest in the action taking place in front of her as Dean battles the Deputy viciously. He’s firing his gun, chopping with his machete, and depositing a head on her windshield. The ghoulish sight of the monster’s still living head takes up so much of a frame only to be whipped away by a windshield-wiper at Dean’s behest. In many ways, the gesture makes Baby appear just as indignant or disgusted by what has just happened. A monster is usually dead, end of story at that stage.
While Sam and Dean try to help one of the victims, she turns on them. A fist fight breaks out in the backseat as she subdues Dean to take the wheel. The expansive bench-seat able to let a Winchester stretch out the night before suddenly constricts to a tiny space. The battle tosses and turns as they each get an upper-hand until she’s managed to land a few stiff punches and claim the driver’s seat, leaving Sam in Baby’s dust. For this, she’ll take a bullet to the rear-windshield, another body blow as they work the case. Once Dean wakes, he realizes that the Deputy will soon be made whole, their former victim chanting, “I can make this right; I can make this right; I can make this right; I can make this right; okay. See? I fixed it. You’re okay. ” Baby’s frame doesn’t become harsh or off putting in these scenes as the monster of the week assumes her control. Instead, she continues to shelter Dean, providing him with what he needs strewn about her floor. It is the hairpin from Sam’s fling that will help him get out of his cuffs. He’ll use the change in the Hello Kitty purse left by the valet’s friend to finally subdue the monster.
But not until Baby’s had another crash. Knowing that not only is his life in danger or that Sam’s in danger elsewhere, Dean knows that Baby is, too. They can’t hope to stop anything until he can regain Baby. To do that, he’ll have to do the unthinkable. Once he’s no longer cuffed, he makes his move and shoves the wheel, forcing the car to careen into cones and barriers, coming to a stop. It shatters the windshield and twists Baby’s nose as she takes a direct punch to the face. Even this action flows in concert with Dean’s will—the car so used to one driver after all these years. It may knock the occupants silly for the moment, but to try and wrench themselves free of these “Nocturnes” it’ll be necessary. The hiss of her radiator as it busts adds to this.
Another battle breaks out in the bench-seat as Dean must finally end the alpha. He takes that coin-purse provided by his car and takes a gamble that the pennies it contains will be good enough to pull this off. After all, it’s not as if he has the time to verify if these pennies were minted pre-1982. Dean shoves them down the alpha’s throat and holds them in before using the car door—creaking hinges and all—to re-decapitate the monster for good this time. The alpha’s former ally turns true victim and she is told to get back in the car as Dean tries to coax Baby into heading to Sam. The engine protests, turning over and misfiring and groaning. While she may have been willing to take the body blows direct to protect a Winchester, there’s no saying Baby won’t raise a fuss when it’s over, too. Dean sweet talks her and as soon as she roars back to life she earns her reward. The chemistry between Dean and Baby appears in the simple gesture when Dean kisses his fingers and taps the dash in gratitude. There’s glass shattered everywhere, blood spattered, and dents peppering all over, but they’re still alive and that’s what matters.
As Dean pulls up to the farm house, through her broken windshield we can see the children wait for their mother—a firm reminder that all of this bleeding and fighting and denting and crashing means something. Baby aided the Winchesters in another fight against the supernatural trying to destroy people’s lives. She stood with them, gave them transport, sheltered them, gave them refuge for their deepest secrets, and got just as down and dirty and bruised as they did.
Dean prepares to turn her towards the open road. He states that they should head home to the Bunker, but Sam has other ideas. He remarks, “You know what? We are home.”
As the engine roars, the episode closes. It’s a fitting end that Baby gets to open and close an episode devoted to her. Her performance proved that she is far beyond simple prop, setting, or vehicle. She is, as Chuck so eloquently put it, “the most important object in the universe.” With this performance, Baby proved it and so much more.