On last night's Supernatural, our monster of the week was a witch who defied all expectations about what witchiness should be. And Dean learned all about why cheeseburgers cause acid reflux.
In "The Curious Case of Dean Winchester," we took a little detour around the apocalypse to visit a town where young people are mysteriously dying of old age. Bobby grouses over the phone that he's totally useless in his chair, and send the Winchester boys to investigate what might be causing the trouble. Turns out it's a cute, Irish witch named Patrick who is really more of a con artist than a source of infinite evil. He goes around finding marks and using his magic to steal their cars or watches. And sometimes, when he's feeling especially naughty, he holds poker games where each chip represents a year in the life of the players. Win and you get years added to your life (including restored youth and health). Lose, and you grow old super fast and die of a heart attack.
But by the time the boys manage to track down Patrick's poker game, Bobby has beat them there - and already gambled away 25 years of his life trying to turn the clock back on his disability. This is probably the most interesting aspect of this episode, where we finally start to see how desperate Bobby really is. and how little he values his own life as a hunter now that he's in a chair.
Of course Dean risks everything to help Bobby get back those lost years, betting 50 of his own years in a game with Patrick and giving 25 of them to Bobby right off the bat. So Bobby's middle age is restored, but Dean manages to lose everything and emerges 50 years older, as a very grumpy old man with heart problems (from all those cheeseburgers). There are some funny moments of Bobby and Dean grousing at each other, and the actor (Chad Everett) who plays aging Dean does a great job, but there were definitely a few moments where the humor/tragedy mix got a little choppy and awkward.
This was especially true when it came to the story of Patrick, the witch who is (mostly) a good guy, who reveals that he has some scruples when it comes to playing with people's lives. He won't, for example, play against Dean again - he's not a murderer, he says, and therefore Dean's dealt out. And in another scene, we see him letting an elderly man win 13 years from him so he can live to see his granddaugher's bat mitzvah. So what's the deal with this witch? And why does his witchy companion visit the grumpy old Dean and Bobby, giving them a powerful reversal spell that will reset everybody's ages (including those hundreds of years the witches have racked up)?
It turns out the answer is that the witch isn't really that much of a bad guy, as we already suspected. Yeah he does kill people when they gamble with him, but he (mostly) tries not to. He's like one of those lovable con artist/gangster types, complete with zany jazz music, from Ocean's 11 or something. You sort of like him, even when he ages Dean to the point of a burger-induced heart attack.
Anyway, so even though everybody kind of likes Patrick, they still have to stop him. Especially because Dean is trapped in an aging body that makes him burp a lot. So Sam tries to distract Patrick with a game of Texas Holdem, while the grumpy old men do the reversal spell. Unfortunately, the item they snag with Patrick's DNA on it isn't the right one - the witch has figured out their plan, and their spell fizzles. Luckily, however, Sam turns out to be a weirdly good gambler and does a bunch of great bluffs that allow him to earn back Dean's years just as Older Dean is about to keel over from burger-induced death.
Then we get a moment with the nice witches, where Patrick's girlfriend confesses that she can't stand living forever - she's watched her daughter grow old and die, and she can't take it anymore. Her seemingly-legitimate urge to die is contrasted with Bobby's as the episode ends. The witch plays a deliberately losing hand with her lover, thanking him for taking all her years away, and dies gracefully. Meanwhile, Bobby confesses to Dean that his life is worthless, he might as well die, and he's no longer a hunter.
For once, Dean gets to talk sense into Bobby (usually it's the other way around). "Being old ain't no bachelor party," he says. "But you don't stop being a soldier just because you're wounded." We're left with the sense that sometimes when people want to die, it's a legitimate wish that should be granted. (If, for example, you're a witch who has already outlived her natural time on Earth.) But Bobby's wish to die isn't legitimate at all. Not only does he have many years ahead of him, but he's still desperately needed in the dark times ahead. In fact, his bitching about the chair is just that - bitching. And he needs to get over it. Hopefully, at last, he will.