4.14 "Sex and Violence" - "Super Bobby" working phones from home
The first two seasons of Supernatural introduced a beloved recurring character named Bobby Singer. Played by the talented actor Jim Beaver, in only six episodes Bobby was quickly accepted as both a father figure to the Winchester brothers and an endless source of supernatural hunting knowledge.
4.02 "Are You There, God? It's Me, Dean Winchester" Bobby continued to be an invaluable source of supernatural knowledge (with really outstanding looking books!)
Very little was known about Bobby's life before Sam and Dean frantically pulled him into their hectic world, though. Based on the solid foundation that had been laid in the prior year, seasons 3 and 4 focused on expanding Bobby's character. The number of episodes that included Bobby doubled, allowing more time to be spent on Bobby's relationship with the Winchesters, his life before meeting them, and his life as an active hunter. This exploration of Bobby's personal history enriched his story and deepened even further the brothers' reliance on their most trusted friend and ally.
Bobby and the Winchesters
During the first interaction between Bobby and Dean in season 1, Dean reminisced that Bobby had threatened to "blast [John] full of buckshot" the last time they saw each other. That was all that had been offered thus far about Bobby's history with the Winchester family. With the series renewed for a third season, though, the writers began to create references to earlier interactions between this group of hunters to fill in more of their background. For example, in "Bad Day at Black Rock" (3.03), Bobby nonchalantly mentioned that he built the Curse Boxes for John and knew about John's storage locker. Despite its casual tone, this was actually important information about Bobby and his history with the Winchesters. First, it established that Bobby was a more experienced hunter than John, or at least that he had more specific hunting knowledge than John, since Bobby was able to build a protective vessel that presumably John didn't know how to build. It also drew the parallel that John had used Bobby as a resource just as Sam and Dean were now using him. This was the first clue that there was a great deal more to explore about Bobby's talents and experience.
The most touching addition to Bobby's history with the boys came later, in an episode that didn't even include him. In "A Very Supernatural Christmas" (3.08), flashbacks revealed that the boys had known Bobby throughout their childhoods. Young Sam referred to Bobby as Uncle Bobby, and admitted that Bobby had given him an amulet as a Christmas present for John (the amulet that Sam then gave to Dean). In the flashback, Dean was 12 years old and Sam was 8, so clearly Bobby was already a close, trusted and loving presence in their lives while they were growing up. This memory also implied that Bobby may even have been a more attentive father to Sam than John. Besides giving Bobby a 15 year history with the brothers (Dean was around 27 years old and Sam was about 23 when they reentered Bobby's life), these flashbacks also created one of the most poignant moments of character development for the young brothers, showing just how much they depended on each other for love, friendship and emotional development even as children.
While these two additions to Bobby's prior dealings with the Winchesters enriched history, other episodes in seasons 3 and 4 more fully developed the present day paternal relationship Bobby had with the boys. In "Mystery Spot" (3.11), Bobby didn't stop trying to connect with Sam when Dean was killed in the alternate time line. In "No Rest for The Wicked" (3.16), Bobby worked tirelessly to find a way to free Dean from his deal, and he delivered what may be the most quoted, classic Bobby line of the series:
Bobby: Do I look like a ditchable prom-date to you?
Sam: No, Bobby. Of course not.
Dean: This is about me and Sam. OK? This isn't your fight.
Bobby: The hell it isn't! Family don't end with blood, boy. Besides, you need me.
This outright admission that Bobby was now Sam and Dean's family might be considered Bobby's formal transition from symbolic father figure to presumed immediate family. Another transformative moment then came in "Lazarus Rising" (4.01) when Bobby first saw Dean resurrected from the dead. Bobby reached out and hugged Dean, which was the first familial hug shown between Bobby and one of his boy:
4.01 "Lazarus Rising" The first hug we see between Bobby and Dean
The last two episodes of season 4 pushed Bobby's relationship with the boys even further. Bobby first challenged Dean about his decision to do a ˜cold turkey" detoxification of Sam in the panic room, and then Bobby brazenly berated Dean for stubbornly refusing to reach out to Sam after he escaped. Dean would only have allowed this kind of confrontation from someone he loved and respected very much. During their conversation, Bobby also admitted about Sam that I love that boy like a son. The family bond between these three main characters was explicitly stated and accepted from this point forward.
Bobby's Personal History
With the relationship between Bobby and the brothers firmly established, the writers began to explore Bobby as an individual. His persona as an indestructible mentor and reliable problem solver was about his constant value to Sam and Dean. In contrast, "Dream a Little Dream of Me" (3.10) gave the first glimpse of Bobby as a vulnerable human being. Notably, the episode's first shot of Bobby had him undressed (i.e. in his sleeping attire), without his layers of hunters clothes and for the very first time when he was "off-duty", without his baseball cap.
3.10 "Dream a Little Dream of Me" A rare shot of Bobby as a vulnerable man, symbolically depicted without his hunters uniform
In this significant progression of his character, roles were reversed and Bobby was shown needing the boys help. This episode also provided critical information about Bobby's past, i.e. how and why he became a hunter. Reliving probably the worst nightmare of his life, it is revealed that Bobby was once married and that he killed his wife when she became possessed by a demon.
3.10 "Dream a Little Dream of Me" Bobby scared by the nightmare of his dead wife
Bobby was only saved when Dean was able to reach through Bobby's human reactions of fear and guilt and bring him back to his present day reality of burying, or accepting, his past. In a later episode (4.02), when Bobby was attacked by victims he was unable to save earlier in his hunting career, he was again shown as guilty and imperfect, plus it showed his long-term baggage of being a hunter.
Season 4 continued the exposition of Bobby as an approachable, flawed individual. His admission that the collection of empty liquor bottles helped him deal with Deans death ("Lazarus Rising") showed a lonelier, more depressed man than had been shown before. It also paved the way for later showing a dependence on alcohol that rivaled and/or encouraged the boys intake of liquor! These human characteristics helped give Bobby more depth as a character and expanded the stories that were able to be told about him.
Bobby as a Hunter
Seasons 3 and 4 may have made Bobby more human by giving his character more vulnerability, but his personal fragility was counter-balanced with a more active hunting role. In fact, season 3's opening episode, "The Magnificent Seven", was based on a hunt that Bobby identified. In this case, Bobby called Sam and asked for the boys help. The mid-season episode "Dream a Little Dream of Me" took Bobby's hunting one step further. Besides baring Bobby's past sins and present weakened condition, this expos showed Bobby independently pursuing his own hunt. Significant to the definition of his character, he was portrayed hunting, versus being solely a behind-the-scenes resource. Ironically, Bobby was tricked and rendered unconscious because he was working alone in the field.
The transformation from researcher to an independent, capable hunter was visually, maybe subliminally introduced when his expertise was expanded beyond translating texts to fixing guns early in season 3:
3.04 "Sin City" - Bobby test fires the Colt
Creating curse boxes and rebuilding guns might have been the first clues to another new trait for Bobby's character. As a car mechanic, it should have been obvious that Bobby was comfortable using tools. A crucial expansion of the intersection of hunting and mechanical inclination, though, was the big revelation that Bobby had built his own demon-proof Panic Room. This important refuge from demons was the centerpiece of "When the Levee Breaks" (4.21) and several later episodes. It was an ingenious combination of hunting knowledge and practical building ability. It became the teams first bunker in their fight against evil.
4.02 "Are you There, God? Its Me, Dean Winchester “ A great view of the new, fully furnished panic room, complete with Bobby's pin-up
In "Yellow Fever" (4.06), Bobby's talents were further expanded, when it was revealed that he was fluent in other languages, in this case, Japanese. This clue to Bobby's impressive talents was a teaser that would be explored in later seasons.
The introduction of Bobby's hunting history also allowed a wealth of new characters to be introduced to the story. To name a few,
- Tamara and Isaac (3.01 The Magnificent Seven)
- Bela Talbot (3.03 Bad Day at Black Rock)
- Rufus Turner (3.15 Time is on My Side)
- Pamela Barnes (4.01 Lazarus Rising)
Once Bobby's network was known and accepted, the next logical step was giving Bobby a role in supporting or at least interacting with all these new hunting tangents. "Sex and Violence" (4.14) capitalized on this opportunity by expanding Bobby's role beyond individual hunter or personal librarian to the Winchesters. Bobby's kitchen was suddenly transformed with a junction of phone lines representing FBI, various police departments, US Marshalls, etc., and the alias Mike Kayser was born.
4.14 "Sex and Violence" - Bobby's phone bank
Bobby could now be not only an alibi and valuable resource to the Winchesters, but also to the mysterious network of hunters working the field.
Seasons 3 and 4 clearly took advantage of the roles established for Bobby in his first year, i.e. explaining mythologies and storylines and exploring Sam and Deans characters, but they added a rich back story and an active and vibrant current life for him as well. If Sam and Dean were the center of the supernatural universe, Bobby's history, network, hunting experience and expanded support activities populated a large portion of that universe. He was here to stay... at least for a while.
Don't stop here! Keep reading! Part 3 - Enriching Bobby's Character (seasons 5, 6, 7 and 8)