When going into an episode and knowing you're about to watch a ghost story involving a beloved character who is now struggling in the ghost world, fighting to communicate with the outside world, wanting to help and be part of the team when the team won't admit he's there, the possibilities are endless in the way to approach the story. Writers Eugenie Leming Ross and Brad Buckner did pretty well. The premise is certainly perfect. Taking a ghost to a haunted house loaded with ghosts.
I liked "Of Grave Importance" and the episode had some redeeming qualities. There are issues though. When writing a review, how critical and nitpicky do I wish to get about an episode that really was never intended to be a blockbuster, large sweeping tale? My process had me going back to prior seasons, finding a basis for comparison. That's when it hit me. This was season seven's "Playthings." Even the location where this was filmed (and/or studio set) is the same. So I'm changing it up this week. I'm going to throughout this review compare "Of Grave Importance" with season two's "Playthings." What makes them so similar yet so different?
When I first saw "Playthings," I was pretty underwhelmed. The same can be said about "Of Grave Importance." I easily get what both episodes intended, character exposition through one very scary backdrop. Neither really wowed me with their intent. Both were slow at points and didn't flow perfectly. "Playthings" has one unfair advantage over "Of Grave Importance" though. That episode has grown on me over time. I've only had two watches of "Of Grave Importance," and it's been the same okay reaction both times.
"Playthings" for those that don't remember happens after the events of "Croatoan" and "Hunted" in season two. Sam is not in a good place. He's dealing with the guilt of Ava being taken, her fiance killed, and he's facing down his unknown and very scary destiny. All it takes is one innocent to be killed on his watch and Sam falls apart. He gets drunk and in his state makes Dean promise to kill him when the time is right. Poor Dean is left to wrestle with that promise for a few more episodes. Oh, and there's the Sam Winchester slo-mo water rescue. He does save a child, and damn does he look great doing it.
"Of Grave Importance" may be Bobby's story, but it's Dean's as well. Dean doesn't get a redeeming water rescue, but he does get a long overdue shower scene. There's even a towel shot, although it's through a foggy mirror (rats!). Hey, we'll take what we can get.
What's missing from "Of Grave Importance" that "Playthings" has is quite easy. Humor. Sam and Dean are mistaken for a gay couple. Sam - "Well, you are kind of butch. They probably think you're over compensating." Dean puts Sam in a nice embarrassing situation when he tells Susan his little bro is a doll lover and wants to see them. Sam gets drunk (which is actually a very emotional scene), but Dean won't let him live down his hungover state the next morning as Sam's praying to the porcelain God. Dean - "You know, there's a really good hangover remedy, it's a greasy pork sandwich served up in a dirty ashtray." Then there's when they find Rose in the attic in her immobile state. Dean - "You know, she could be faking." Sam - "Yeah, what do you wanna do, poke her with a stick? (Dean nods). Dude you are not gonna poke her with a stick!"
"Of Grave Importance" made me chuckle over the fact that Bobby, Dean, and Sam all slept with Annie in a "foxhole" situation. Then I really died laughing when I read Tim the Enchanter's observation that Annie had to die because she slept with Sam. Other than that though, that subtle humor and brotherly ribbing that dominated the first few seasons has long been gone. Looking back at this episode reminds me how much I miss it. Penalizing "Of Grave Importance" for something that's been missing for a while isn't fair, but it is glaring upon comparison.
"Playthings" also had a much creepier ghost story. It was the tone of the story telling back then. It is slower, a lot more suspenseful in it's plotting, and you really were worried about the danger the family was in. The reveal that Maggie is a ghost is pretty cool. "Of Grave Importance" didn't quite have that "gotcha" and the scenes were too scattered and thrown together to build any type of suspense. For example, the shower scene did not have to be cut back and forth between the teenagers going into the house. Those scenes would have worked much better from a scare standpoint independent of each other. The back and forth ruined the intent of the shower scene (no, that's not wet Dean in a towel). It took away a lot of the emotional impact when learning Bobby was there.
However, "Of Grave Importance" has a far more charming ghost story. We get to see life through the ghost perspective, and it's great that Bobby has a friend on the other side that he has some real chemistry with. "Of Grave Importance" has a very compelling philosophical predicament. Sam and Dean again are faced with a damning moral dilemma. Putting this ghost to rest isn't so straight forward. It isn't natural, but at the same time, they owe Bobby his chance to play out his decision. It's not meant to last forever as we learned through the deteriorating ghosts in the house. But it's long enough. How long until Bobby can rest?
I love Annie, far more than Susan in "Playthings." My husband easily figured out what a lot of others did, she reminds us of Ellen. Spunky, level headed, smart, and you can't hate any woman that slept with BOTH Winchesters. If anything, she's a huge target for insane fan girl jealousy. She manages to work her way through the ghost world, finding an ally in Victoria, and accepting in devastating fashion that it's her time. The scene where she sees her corpse is gorgeous. She could never take her eyes off her body and the camera stayed with her for a good long while, sharing every heartbreaking emotion rushing through her stunned glare as she accepts her fate. Such scenes are so rare these days. Most of the shots aren't slowed down anymore to capture that essential moment, especially with a guest character. I'm more moved by that scene than any others in the episode.
"Of Grave Importance" has one big drawback. The ghost story has a lot of holes in it. I didn't notice a lot of plot inconsistencies in "Playthings." I just didn't like the dolls all that much. Here's a list of what I found in "Of Grave Importance."
- Why can't a reaper visit the house? How were the ghosts stranded?
- How did Victoria manage to show herself to Sam and Dean?
- Why didn't Van Ness kill Sam and Dean after Victoria? Why go with them?
- In "The Slice Girls" Dean speculated that Bobby was in the flask. So why didn't it dawn on Sam then that the flask wasn't around? The writers of this story wrote that episode too, so they had to know that happened. Garth even raised the issue that Bobby was haunting the flask in the last episode. Why was Sam so defiant he checked last week and then only realized this week the flask wasn't around? He's not that slow. There's so much poor continuity in the writing. They have to know we fans keep track of this stuff!
- What happened that made Bobby visible to Sam and Dean at the end? Did Van Ness make him more powerful, or did Bobby already reach that on his own?
All that's left to compare is the endings. "Playthings" isn't as depressing. Susan and Tyler are able to move on, bittersweetly though without Rose, Sam gets a hero hug, but he doesn't let Dean forget about his promise. Then it all fades with the very creepy ending of Rose and Maggie as children playing upstairs. It's classic "Supernatural."
"Of Grave Importance" is crushing. Is it in a good way? Sure. When the case is over Dean can't hold back. What Bobby did isn't natural. I don't think Dean is wrong in feeling that way, but his attitude in this episode is a big turn around from the prior episodes. I assume it means he's had time to think about it. He even said at the restaurant, "Even though I wish we could see him again doesn't mean we should." The problem is, Dean's attitude shift took a lot of us by surprise. We were given the impression from the last few episodes that he was really hoping Bobby was around. I don't like how we weren't able to see him go through the process of getting from point A to point B. That's the kind of character exposition that's been missing a lot in these packed and unfocused scripts of late.
Look at "Playthings." We got to see a how Sam's mindset progressed in that three weeks between that episode and "Hunted." He's spent all that time searching and then out of the blue takes a job from Ellen. Dean's surprised by this:
Dean: I just figured after Ava there'd be, uh, you know, more angst and droopy music and staring out the rainy windows, and, yeah, I'll shut up now.
Sam: Look. I'm the one who told her to go back home. Now her fiancÃ©'s dead and some demon has taken her off to God knows where. You know? But we've been looking for a month now, and we've got nothing. So I'm not giving up on her, but I'm not going to let other people die either. We've got to save as many people as we can.
Dean: Wow. That attitude is just way too healthy for me, and I'm officially uncomfortable now. Thank you.
See, just a few lines to explain how they've gotten to this place. That's what is missing for Dean in "Of Grave Importance." As for Sam, he tries to be optimistic, but at the same time he isn't very convincing. To be honest, we didn't get much from Sam at all this episode. He didn't even eat his taco. He's back to internalizing I guess. I know he's a pragmatist, so he probably knows this isn't right. I hate guessing though. Again, just a few more lines. Both brothers obviously have a lot to absorb and think about. In the meantime though, they have a ghost in their backseat.
So what did we learn from this exercise? I'm not sure really. I don't think I proved that one episode is better than the other, just that both took different approaches that worked in some ways and failed in others. I think "Playthings" is more streamlined in story and focused. I think it's no secret that many of the scripts in season seven haven't been that focused. Are they worse though? Not necessarily. The stories and situations are more complex. For those though that see an episode like "Of Grave Importance" and like it, but can't quite figure out what was missing, sometimes it helps to compare it with an episode of similar vein.
Sam and Dean are very different now for sure. They aren't as close. They're burned out, aren't enjoying the job much and aren't relying on each other for emotional support. Some love that creative direction, some don't. Just like some loved the idea of Sam and Dean having a roadhouse and support network to go to for help in season two and some hated it. I think that a lot of us just want the brothers to be brothers again, and an episode like "Playthings" reminds us what that's like. In terms of family drama though, dealing with a family member that they've painfully lost once and will likely lose again, "Of Grave Importance" wins hands down. You pick which scenarios you prefer.
Overall grade of "Of Grave Importance," a B-. The ghost story is great, but the episode was really light on character exposition and scare factor. It's also pretty light for this far into the season, but at this point, Bobby is back and my happiness over that will get me by.