I have just spent the last 40 minutes scrolling through Twitter, basking in the glow of fannish delight and contentment. Out here on the West Coast, we’ve just finished watching “Last Holiday,” Supernatural’s first aired episode since March. Supernatural is back, if only for seven more episodes, but what a comeback! Tonight’s ep was the first of those seven, a sweet, funny, fun episode full of little gifts to fans left, right, and center. I’ll recap first, and then just bathe in the glow for a bit.
BEWARE: This post is super-charged with spoilers for the episode, so if you care about these things, best to close the browser and step away from the laptop.
Odd sounds rouse Sam (Jared Padalecki) from his research. Dean (Jensen Ackles) comes out from the kitchen in an apron, complaining about things breaking down: the plumbing, the heat, and so on. There’s a little bit of a feather-dusting scene*: Jack (Alexander Calvert) hasn’t been out of his room, Castiel is off looking for Amara. Dean rouses Sam to help him do some repairs.
Together, they go down to what looks like a central control room for the bunker’s physical plant—a set I’m not sure we’ve seen before. Giant pipes muscle their way from ceiling to floor and control consoles full of lights and switches line each wall. One console features a couple of big buttons: one labelled Standby and one labelled Reset. Dean, simple soul that he is, hits the Reset button on the theory that if you just turn it off and on again, everything will be fine. Things do, in fact, seem to reboot. The boys go back to what they were doing.
We next see Dean enter his room with a truly luscious-looking burger to discover a sweet-faced, conservatively dressed matron folding his Scooby-Doo “underthings,” as Dean calls them. And we’re off.
A wood nymph in the works
It turns out that this lady is Mrs. Butters (the perfectly on-point Meagen Fay), a wood nymph who has lived in standby mode in the bunker since the late 1950s when all the Men of Letters (MOL) disappeared. Dean’s rebooting the system woke her and the many bits of unexplained technology that litter the bunker, like the map table and the telescope-like equipment in one alcove. It seems her job was as a helper—to clean, cook and do laundry—for the MOL. She thinks it’s 1958. Dean indelicately informs her otherwise, as well as that the Men of Letters she knew are all dead. She is devastated.
When Sam and Dean explain who they are, she says that if they’re anything like the original MOL, then they haven’t had a decent meal or a holiday in ages. They ask her about the function of things like the map table. She explains that it’s basically monster radar. Her magic helps power the whole bunker. The table helps locate monsters and it seems there’s a vampire nest nearby. Dean lets Jack know they’re leaving, tells him about Mrs. Butters, and then goes. Mrs. Butters leaves Jack a sandwich by his door to try to draw him out.
Sam’s got doubts about their new houseguest. But he and Dean find the vampire nest, dispatch the vampires with little trouble, and head back to the bunker.
Reasons to celebrate
When they get back, they discover the place festooned with Christmas lights, a tree circled by an electric train, and Mrs. Butters with a plate full of cookies. “Merry Christmas!” she cries. Dean is giddy, and declares, “We are so keeping her!”
The next morning, Mrs. Butters is the one who’s giddy, serving Sam breakfast, explaining that she can’t wait to give the boys some happiness celebrating the holidays they’ve missed. Jack joins them and Mrs. Butters immediately recognizes him as . . . different. She’s perturbed. Dean shows up in a violet nightshirt and cap—the same one we saw him wearing in the animated episode “Scoobynatural.” It was a Christmas gift and he loves it—”It’s like being wrapped in a hug,” he declares—and inadvertently flashes Sam. Mrs. Butters hands Jack a breakfast smoothie and Dean a glass of tomato juice. An alarm goes off—“We got one!” says Dean—and he and Sam go get dressed. Mrs. Butters, ever ready, hands them bags of sandwiches and sends them off like a mom on the first day of school.
While the boys are gone, Jack helps Mrs. Butters wash dishes and tells her his story. She listens carefully and kindly, but it’s clear she’s got reservations. She offers Jack another smoothie.
Music montage! It’s “Cleaning Up the Town” from Ghostbusters. And between the boys breaking into monster lairs, we see them celebrating Thanksgiving, Halloween (with an array of truly spectacular Jack-o-lanterns), and Independence Day, and they’re having the time of their lives. It’s wonderful to see them happy and enjoying themselves. The montage ends with Dean and Sam bursting into a barn, Dean with a street sweeper and Sam wielding Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer. Our boy is righteous and worthy.
Reasons to worry
One day Jack comes into the library to discover Mrs. Butters poking around the Men of Letters’ files. He asks her for another smoothie and then goes to investigate what she was looking at. He discovers a file about her and a reel of film. The film shows Cuthbert Sinclair—one of the last Men of Letters–explaining that they acquired her from the Thule (a Nazi cohort that investigated magical beings and items). She killed nearly 200 men before she was restrained. Wood nymphs, it seems, react violently when home or family are threatened. Sinclair says that through “experimentation,” the MOL demonstrated to her the worthiness of their cause. Then Jack watches, appalled, as she demonstrates her power—she pulls the head off of a Nazi prisoner and he exclaims, “Son of a bitch!” Dean’s boy, for sure.
Sam, all dressed up—for a Winchester anyway—goes off on a date with Eileen. (Yay Eileen! Maybe Sammy gets the girl after all.) Mrs. Butters tells Dean she fixed the TV in the Dean cave. That gets Dean out of the way. Jack follows Mrs. Butters into the file room/dungeon. He challenges her—“I know what you are”—and she challenges him back. She’s decided he’s a threat and a monster. He twigs to the fact that she has been testing to see if he’s dangerous. She’s been feeding him a weakening spell through the smoothies and she takes the opportunity to imprison him to make the bunker safe.
Dean emerges for a snack. Mrs. Butters tells him that he should eat up—he’ll need his strength so they can go kill Jack. Dean understands this is the price he pays for being pampered and served delicious grilled cheese sandwiches. But Mrs. Butters gets the better of him. She wants to protect the boys and the bunker, and she thinks Jack’s got him brainwashed. She throws him into the file room, too.
The truth about Jack, the truth about Mrs. Butters
When Sam returns from his date, Mrs. Butters tells him what’s happened and that Dean and Jack must be killed. Sam, under the guise of getting his gun, goes to his room and calls Dean. They concoct sort of a plan (it’s sort of amorphous, honestly). Jack offers his help and Dean tells him to stop. Jack, clearly desperate for someone to have faith in him, asks if Dean thinks he’s a monster. Dean admits it’s been hard to forget Jack’s killing his mother, but he also promises to protect him.
Mrs. Butters finds Sam in the library. He tries to use his gun. She stops him, magically binds him to a chair, and decides she needs to teach him about dealing with threats the way Cuthbert taught her: torture.
Dean and Jack break out of the file room. They go down to the control room and hit the reset button. They free Sam. But Mrs. Butters, in a protective rage, is pissed. She’s not going to fail, and she comes after them. Sam explains that Cuthbert tortured her. Dean tells her that Jack can save the world. And Mrs. Butters, confused and grieving over the lost Men of Letters, relents.
It’s all over but the birthday
Mrs. Butters heals Sam and apologizes. They all determine that the best thing is for Mrs. Butters to go back to the woods that she loved. Jack gives her a picture of the original Men of Letters. She explains that without her magic, the bunker will go back into standby mode. She departs.
Jack beats himself up for missing that Mrs. Butters was setting him up. Dean shows up in an apron and presents Jack with a birthday cake. It’s an affirmation of his affection for Jack, even with everything else that’s happened. It’s not a beautiful cake, but it’s a gift and Jack understands. Dean lights a candle and stick it in the cake. Jack blows it out.
Reflections on a wood nymph—and the episode as a whole
I feel like this episode was a perfect way to return to Supernatural: light, funny, a villain who wasn’t really a villain. In the end, Mrs. Butters was well-intentioned but misguided, damaged and dangerous, but ultimately looking out for the boys. And it was so much fun to see Sam, Dean, and Jack looking carefree and being cared for. Like every comedy episode, “Last Holiday” shows off Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles’ comic timing. Dean’s basically 12 years old at heart and it’s fun to watch him give in to his essential goofiness.
We got to see Jack with a milk mustache, looking happy as a cat who got into the cream.
We got exchanges like this one:
Dean: [Jack will] be fine. I mean, I’ve been through worse. Look at me, I’m the picture of health.
Sam: Ignoring your trauma doesn’t make you healthy.
Dean: Yes, it does.
We got our Ghostbusters music montage, which put me in mind of the marvelous Hillywood Supernatural parody from 2018.
We got a glimpse of Sam still in touch with Eileen, even if we didn’t get to see her.
And we learned a little more about the bunker and its functions. The monster radar was a treat. Dean’s looking through the telescope—what Mrs. Butters called the inter-dimensional geoscope—and seeing nothing was a reminder that Chuck’s still out there destroying worlds.
Mrs. Butters, in the end, offered Sam, Dean and Jack a kind of loving they haven’t had much of over the years. It warmed my heart.
The coming attractions for next week’s episode—“Gimme Shelter’’—suggest we’re about to have our hearts broken. It looks like Castiel returns and might even be making a crossroads deal. The preview gives us the idea that truths are about to come out. I look forward to it, but at the same time, I’m worried about the Winchesters and our favorite trenchcoat angel.
*A “feather-dusting scene” is a device in theater where the maid comes out and starts dusting the scenery, talking to herself about what happened before the curtain rose. Supernatural has used this idea expertly over the years to explain character absences, provide background and more. The expression is seems to be so old-fashioned that I could find only one relevant entry for it in the whole Google-verse.
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Janna Silverstein is a writer and editor, an all-round professional nerd living in Seattle with two cats, a really big TV, and lots of books. The pumpkin carving scene in “Last Holiday” makes her want to go out and buy lots of pumpkins right now.