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The episode had a serious flavor with a sweet undertone. Questions about life, death, afterlife, and the natural order of things percolated throughout its fabric, but what makes Supernatural stand out time and time again from the pack of other genre shows is the heart that beats soundly at its center. The ghost hunt that took place on the surface only gave the real story underneath: that of love.
Bobby loves his boys---and they in turn love him. Its tangible in the fabric of the scenes they share together---and those they don't. Bobby hated being left behind in the motel room, until Dean remembered his jacket holding the flask. The love here flows both ways. Sam even expressed an almost relief when he realized that the reason his spirit board hadn't worked is because he had done that without Dean---and the flask. The living and the dead missed each other here, all the while being together all along.
Really, when it comes down to it, this show is more about love than it is about monsters or demons or angels. It is more about the human connections we possess with our families---and as Bobby famously stated, "Family don't end in blood, boy." Each person in their close family is connected to them deeply, and Bobby is closer to Sam and Dean than anyone else. "Of Grave Importance" proved this again and again, showing it in little actions from Bobby writing on the mirror to his affectionate "Idjits" when the boys took a bit longer to figure out a clue.
Love is the thread that ties them together---and it is that love that will keep Bobby sane.
The episode also harkened back to "In My Time of Dying," several times. We see it in Dean echoing Bobby's spirit. While at the hotel, Bobby tells the boys, "Let's get rolling," and Dean says a second later, "I say we get rolling." It comes again after Bobby writes on the mirror when he says that they need to get back to the house and Dean echoes the same sentiment a moment later. It's not unlike when Sam mirrored Dean's statement about "finding a hoodoo priest and laying some mojo" on him in that earlier episode. Sam admitting to attempting to contact Bobby through a talking board also brings back the scene in that episode where he used an Ouija board to do the same with Dean, a spirit at the time.
Antonio Cupo played a sinister but suave Whitman Van Ness. He seemed to be the good ghost admonishing the bad ghost when he shouted at Dexter, but as it was revealed that he was truly the villain here, all of that fell away. Cupo showed Van Ness's relish in destroying those that threatened his secret. As he would attack another spirit---or the living---a wicked smile would cross his lips to make his actions that much creepier. Cupo showed Van Ness's cunning in slipping the key into Sam's pocket and the glee upon seeing Bobby and Annie trapped in the house as he rode away. His smiles were chilling and cold, amping up the effect. When he is snapped back to the house by the boys, his anger is in his face and it is a frightening moment when he shouts, "Is this how you repay my hospitality!"
Elysia Rotaru played a convincing Victoria Dodd. Her "fancy lady," stayed trapped in the time period from which she died. Rotaru kept the mannerisms in place well, showing distaste at the word "hooker" and stating calmly that in her day they partook in "polite conversation." Rotaru made Victoria sympathetic. She also showed how accepting she was of her fate---and how even in death she valued her survival, even if she lost it in her desire to gain freedom.
Jamie Luner played Annie with a tough as nails and sophisticated flair. It's a shame Annie met her end so soon. Her no-nonsense air and can-do attitude made her instantly likeable. One couldn't help but feel sad for her when she came across her own corpse and realized that it was true. A look of sorrow crosses Luner's face, drawing the viewer instantly in to her pain. Luner knew how to make Annie shoot straight from the hip. She played off well against Jim Beaver's Bobby as their chemistry belied the friendship---and more---these two characters had in life. Annie also showed acceptance, and Luner provided that in facial expressions and soft vocal tones alone.
Jensen Ackles showed a grieving Dean well. He has been reeling since "Death's Door." Ackles shows it in the way Dean handles the flask. It is with a strange reverence and love in the action. He also shows Dean's struggles with Bobby haunting him. Convinced by Sam, Dean feels that it is mind tricks and nothing more. He believes this until Bobby writes the message. Ackles has Dean switch gears, then, almost enthusiastically following the clues his father figure has provided. After the case, we see Dean's grief flare into a different light when he expresses his concern for Bobby's future. His voice grows soft as he talks to Sam, and Ackles makes it vulnerable. We also sense an uncertainty from Dean in that last scene. Sam's hopeful question plants the seed of doubt and nags at him. And yet, he can't accept the hope with the final line of "It can't end well." Something says that Bobby may just accept that challenge and prove him wrong.
The gentle and hopeful side of Sam emerged in Jared Padalecki's performance. It came in facial expressions and tone of voice. As the brothers debated about Bobby's possible presence, it is Sam that gently tries to coax Dean into the long process of letting go. He urges that Dean put the flask aside, that it is only causing Dean pain. Padalecki makes sure that Sam comes off as soft spoken and unobtrusive on Dean's grief, yet full of concern. He expresses hope, even if he knows the truth before they learn it, about Annie. Padalecki's performance is subtle. He makes each line land with impact. He also provides one of the comedic moments as he reveals that he and Annie had "gone Hemingway" while he hadn't had a soul. Padalecki makes it come alive with an uncomfortable facial expression and awkward tone.
Jim Beaver shined in this episode. He showed all of Bobby's feelings effortlessly, with simple vocal cues and body language. We saw his frustration when Sam and Dean didn't respond. Familiar catch phrases that are dear to the fans rolled off his tongue with ease. Beaver makes Bobby real. As the episode progressed, we saw Bobby's doubts about his choice, only to be refuted by his firm statements that he had to help Sam and Dean. Beaver demonstrated Bobby's tenacity and drive. Even in death, Bobby couldn't "quit the life." Beaver also showed Bobby's love for Sam and Dean in simple gestures. Upon realizing that the vengeful spirit had slipped its keys into Sam's pocket, therefore tagging along, while his flask was left behind, Beaver shows Bobby's anxiety. He isn't concerned for himself---it is his boys that he worries about. More than anything, Beaver takes a gruff character and makes his inner truth shine through brightly.
Looks like next week the Winchesters will make a stab a playing match maker for none other than Dick Roman!