It has been weeks since the last new episode of the CW’s Supernatural aired, and fans called this break a “hellatus”. During this hiatus, the network announced that the series will be renewed for another season this fall, and it’s episodes like this one that show us why.
Supernatural has dealt with the dead rising from the grave many times before, but the last “zombie” reference was Season 2‘s “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things”. This episode was more than a mere homage to various zombie films, however, because it had a heart.
The show opened with the usual “scary moment”; a zombie crawling out of his grave in order to break into a house. The irony is that the camera cuts away to a poster of custom cars that says “He who dies with the most toys… wins”, as a man is violently murdered. After the commercial break, we see the Winchester brothers posing as FBI agents, in order to question some guy nicknamed Digger who claims that a formerly dead friend murdered the man. Their meeting is interrupted by local sheriff Jody Mills, who doesn’t believe that Sam and Dean are agents. Usually Dean avoids these situations by giving authorities the number of his “supervisor”, Agent Willis, who is actually close friend and fellow supernatural hunter Bobby Singer. But this is Uncle Bobby’s hometown, so she recognizes his voice as that of the “town drunk”. Sam and Dean then go to visit Bobby, only to find him strangely “smelling like soap” and telling them that nothing is going on there. His suspicious behavior, plus the omens of lightning storms and empty caskets leads Sam and Dean to visit the home of the supposed vengeful zombie. They find him alive, yet pale, and very defensive of his actions. The sheriff arrives to arrest the Winchesters because as Zombie Benny says, “I’m a taxpayer!” After Bobby bails them out, Sam and Dean are surprised to find Bobby’s dead wife, Karen, waiting for them at home. Though she can’t sleep, realizes she was dead, and remembers how she was possessed by a demon that caused her husband to kill her, she just cheerfully shrugs that off and bakes an excessive amount of pies.
This is the part when the current mythology of the show kicks in. Previously, War and Famine, two of the four horsemen of the apocalypse were defeated as the Winchesters tried to avoid the end of the world. Though Bobby realizes that this must be the work of Death (stay tuned for Pestilence), he can’t bear to part with Karen. In an intense scene showing great acting by Jim Beaver, Bobby pleads “please, please…, leave her be”, but admits if she starts to “turn” that he would be the one to put her out of her misery. Dean stays behind, but Sam sets off to find more out. He comes to the home of the town’s first living corpse, an ill elderly woman. After he finds her husband’s body, the woman starts foaming at the mouth and attacks Sam. He shoots her in the head, which apparently kills the undead. It is then that we learn why Sheriff Mills is “pro-zombie”; her son has come back to life. After coughing, running a 111-degree fever, and pleading for food, he kills and starts eating his father. Just as the boy does the slow zombie chase of death towards Jody, she is saved by Sam and his pistol. The two then decide to rid the town of the undead.
Meanwhile, back at Bobby’s, Karen starts feeling ill, but she realizes what is happening. She tearfully tells her husband how she remembers everything and that he needs to kill her again before she turns. She also has a message for him from the “thin man” at the cemetery. After doing the deed, Bobby and Dean head out to destroy the rest of the living dead, but they run afoul of a crazed zombie crowd. Paying tribute to the usual horror movies, the two shoot away before they run out of ammunition and have to hide in a closet. Sam and the sheriff come to their rescue and save the day with their guns.
The show ends with the bodies of the dead being burned, known on the show as the way to prevent spirits from ever coming back. In the front of his home/junkyard, Bobby burns Karen’s body. Dean tries to cheer him up by saying, “At least you got to spend five days with her.” Bobby replies that “made things a thousand times worse”. Finally, Bobby reveals what message Death gave Karen at the cemetery: that Death was after Bobby in order to stop him from helping the brothers in their fight against the apocalypse.
Although it seemingly went by fast, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” was one of season five’s best episodes. It steered away from the juvenile silliness that we have previously seen in the show, yet it still gave us humorous moments and a fresh look at its concept. Next week’s episode could go either way, though, as Sam and Dean goes to Heaven and encounters the mischievous angel Zechariah.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.