As a fan of “Supernatural,” there are certain things I expect each week: crass, dark humor, violent deaths, epic monsters, and of course, a hearty helping of brotherly, visceral angst.  After 135 episodes, I thought the show was done taking my breath away.  And then I curled up on the couch to watch “Supernatural’s” winter finale, “Death’s Door,” and realized that executive producer Sera Gamble and company had found completely new and twisted ways to destroy me.  And I love them for it.   “Death’s Door” was a wistful, beautifully written and acted exploration of the human spirit, the tragedy of death, and a brilliant study in the otherwise enigmatic character that is Bobby Singer. 

The episode began where the last one left off—Sam and Dean careened to the nearest trauma center after Dick Roman had shot Bobby in the head.  This quick scene established their mindsets for the rest of the show, because Sam and Dean were completely panicked, Sam sniped at Dean.  Dean seemed dangerously close to a psychotic break.  Both hunters were far calmer when they had a showdown with the devil.  That’s how bad it is.  I’m not a doctor, but I’ve watched enough “Grey’s Anatomy” to know that you don’t move someone who’s been shot in the head.  But I digress.

In a “CSI”-inspired shot that tunneling down Bobby’s gunshot wound, like a rabbithole to his subconscious, we followed Bobby into his coma-dream and the journey he’d have there.  It started with what was probably the last image burned into his brain: finding the mangled, chewed upon arm of a park ranger from the previous episode.  Bobby, being the cunning curmudgeon that he is, quickly realized or remembered that he was shot in the head, that he was dream-surfing, and that he needed to pass vital information onto Sam and Dean.  He wrote the important numbers down on a pad and tucked it in his pocket for safe keeping.  If you’re a detail fanatic like me, he wrote “454895.” I'm sure the second half of the season will explore exactly what they mean.

When Bobby turned around, Sam and Dean were gone, and he lingered in the doorway of his bedroom, his beautiful un-murdered, demon-free wife laying on the bed in a silk nightgown, obviously ready for a night babymakin’.  All that was missing was the Barry White.  Bobby had stumbled upon a memory, one that he recalled with remarkable clarity, and yet he didn’t recall the thunder that rumbled or the stars sweeping to black.  Ever the hunter, he left to investigate…only to tumble into another memory of one of his first hunts with his mentor and one of my favorite characters, Rufus Turner (Steven Williams).  As Bobby surrendered to the memories, a young boy covered in dirt snatched his arm and said, “God is gonna punish you,”  and a glass of milk shattered on a tile floor. Why do I feel like I'm watching an artsy music video from the '80s?

Bobby headed inside an ornate church where a choir was practicing, but they only disappeared as once again ominous thunder scrawled and the pews shook and the lights faded to black.  Yes, Bobby was face-to-face with a reaper, who declared with a bored glance at his pocket watch, that his time was up. “I can find you anywhere, even in this gin-soaked rat maze,” Reaper warned.

Bobby fled…right back into the living room of his old house, where Sam and Dean were arguing about who was more badass Chuck Norris or Jet Li.  He bypassed that ridiculous waste of time—it’s Jet Li, Dean!—and headed into the kitchen, where his mother, who I was surprised was an attractive, if harried and neurotic, redhead— was setting the table with meticulous precision and fretted about how filthy he was.  Bobby closed those doors and ended up back in the church crypt, where Rufus was schooling a younger Mr. Singer about how to take down a ghost.  The ghost in question was a Lara Coggin’s spirit who’d committed suicide after being left at the altar and sought revenge on “men who break their girls’ hearts.” 

Rufus aimed and swung his sledgehammer with a mighty blow…but it was Bobby’s gurney that smashed through the emergency room doors.  It was one of many slick transitions in decidedly artistly episode that ping-ponged between bleak reality and Bobby’s inner struggle.  And as the ghost bride labeled Bobby a heartbreaker, and plunged her arm inside his chest to return the favor in Bobby’s subconscious, Bobby Singer, the patient, started to crash on the table as the Winchesters watched, stricken and helpless. 

I couldn’t make sense of what was happening, and it was maddening.  By the end of the episode, all of the sensory details—the spilled milk, the frightened boy, that early hunt with Rufus—fit together so seamlessly, it left me in awe.   As Bobby continued with the memory of the hunt that nearly killed Rufus, he figured out its importance.  Rufus (with an early '80s fade haircut and earring) had an out-of-body experience.  “That’s what they mean about your life flashing before your eyes.  Because every time I opened a door there was another chapter inside—the good, the bad, the bloody.”  Bobby surmised, “The way out is through your worst memory.” 

Bobby dove in, starting with the very reason Lara Coggin’s had attacked him.  It’s an ugly memory, where Bobby told Karen he never wanted children.  Wait, what?!  “What does that even mean, ‘you break everything you touch?’  You broke my heart, Bobby, you happy?”  Karen stumbled back, shredding her foot on the broken glass of red wine, and collapsed on the bed, sobbing as if she’d just listened to Adele. 

Even worse, Bobby confessed to Rufus that he killed a possessed Karen just three days later.  “Biggest regret of my life,” Bobby admitted.  “You’d think it was when I had to stab her to death, but no.  All through that, I was thinking, ‘we never got to get past this.’”  Jim Beaver has always been a powerful actor, and he managed to infuse this performance with so many layers and subtle touches, that it was a joy to watch.

My favorite memory was a sweet one of Bobby opting to play catch with a child-aged Dean instead of weapon’s training like John instructed, and then they passed through the doors of the park to join a young Bobby for  that tense family dinner, where he broke a bottle of milk and his father, a violent, white-collar asshole drank too much and shattered dishes.  Bobby closed the door with a dark grimace.  Rufus urged him to explore the exact thing he was running from, but Bobby wasn’t ready.

The pursuing reaper was gaining ground, and instead of fleeing, Bobby decided to fight.  Awesome.

It’s not “Supernatural,” without a little badass Dean Winchester, and this scene didn’t disappoint.  A bookish hospital administer cornered the Dean, Bobby’s next of kin, and instead of hemming and hawing about lapsed insurance policies as both Dean and I expected, he inquired about Bobby’s stance on organ donation.  Dean Winchester, who buries grief behind terrifying fury, flinched and smashed the glass of a display case directly behind his head.  “Walk away from me,” Dean seethed, “now.”  What truly upset Dean is that the he was assured they were doing everything they could to save Bobby, but Dean knew without a shadow of a doubt that no one would work as hard to save Bobby’s life than he would.  No attending physician would live in filthy hotel rooms and vending machine fare, would go to barter their very souls to save his surrogate father.  The rage was just and outright and deeper, because Sam, Dean and Bobby sacrificed their lives to be the miracles in others, and no one could ever return the favor. 

That realization and that fiery brittleness that Jensen Ackles adeptly and painfully created was the first moment all season that I missed Castiel, because if Sam and Dean ever needed an angel in their back pocket, it was now. When Dean stepped outside to take a breath, Dick Roman was parked outside in his town car, smizing from the safety of his limo, and Dean could do nothing but hurl vicious threats at the famous billionaire.  Dick could only gloat.  It was a stalemate, but an eerie one. 

Sam had been standing sentry outside of Bobby’s treatment room, staying apprised on Bobby’s condition.  He was breathing without the ventilator, however, the doctors weren’t sure that removing the bullet was worth the risk.  Sam, who had been the only Winchester standing in the hospital when their father had died in “In My Time Of Dying,” gently tried to get his brother to absorb the reality that Bobby would probably die.  Dean refused,  “we’ve been through enough.”

Sam and Dean are often divided in tough situations, because they’re drastically different, but it was difficult to watch them suffer this trauma separately.  Sam was left once again linger outside of Bobby’s room.  His expression of thinly-veiled despair didn’t shatter my heart, but when he pressed his thumb to the scar in his hand, hoping that his was all a hallucination cooked up by Lucifer only to find that it wasn’t, it was decimated. 

Meanwhile, Bobby attempted to collect the items needed to bind the reaper in his study that was always cluttered with books and herbs and guns and liquor, but he’d open doors to find them empty and move past framed pictures with no faces.  “Cell by cell, that bullet is killing your brain.”  A memory of Bobby bled through this one, where John told Bobby over the phone that he’s not Sam and Dean’s father.

Bobby and Rufus bound the reaper, but he still tried to convince Bobby to go, because he if didn’t, he’d become a vengeful spirit himself, so twisted and mutated, he’d become violent and broken.  “You’ve helped.  You got handed a small unremarkable life, and you did something with it.  Most men like you die of liver disease watching “Barney Miller” re-runs.”  He didn’t surrender, and I finally learn why.  He was worried about “his boys,” and that fear gave him the courage to face his worst memory: the man who beat his mother because he broke a glass of milk, who told him “you break everything you touch,” who scarred him so thoroughly, he never wanted kids of his own.  Bobby rallied back with the fury of a middle-aged father who’d gathered his own knowledge and had clarity and wisdom.  “You died and I was so afraid I’d turn into you, I never had kids of my own.  As fate would have it, I adopted two boys and they grew up great.  They grew up heroes.”

That night, Bobby killed his father to protect his mother from another beating.  Mama Singer, her face bruised and bloody, stared at her son in horror and uttered, “God is going to punish you.”  Bobby reassured his young self that the saved are rarely grateful and darted through another door to evade the reaper yet again. 

Back at the hospital, Bobby’s condition improved enough for surgery and “abrading,” and Sam and Dean were finally able to visit.  No one knew what to say, but Sam awkwardly grabbed his hand and sputtered, “Thanks…for everything.” 

I thought the next scene, where Bobby woke up, wheezing and bravely writing the mysterious numbers on Sam’s hand, was where I’d lost it.  I'd been prepared since the beginning of this stellar episode.  I had the tissues ready.  But I was more proud and touched than anything, especially when gazed affectionately at his boys, offered the barest of smiles and uttered, “idjits,’ before passing out, the monitor flatlining.  I knew Bobby wasn’t going to die, so I was just along for the angsty ride.  It was the next scene that ruined me.  In his mind, Bobby had returned to his home, off to get the beers that Dean had asked for near the top of the show.  “You know why it’s dark out there don’t you?  This house is your last island.  Everything else melted by that bullet.  For your own good, Bobby, let go.  They’ll be okay without you,” the reaper promised.  The coming of the reaper, and Bobby’s brain dying reminded me of The Nothing from “The NeverEnding Story.”  I unnerved me then, too. 

Bobby had saved his best memory for last, and it wasn’t the Winchesters crashing into burning buildings or saving the world.  It was his sons bickering petulantly about their choice in movie snacks with full mouths and light hearts, like brothers and best friends, normal kids who liked action movies and junk food.  He watched them fondly until they faded away, and the reaper asked, “Stay or go?”  And the credits rolled coupled with the ticking of a clock and I was profoundly and unashamedly distraught. 

For the first time, “Supernatural” unapologetically faced the one monster no one can kill, death itself.  And it was as messy and gut-wrenching as real grief is.  Bobby had made peace with his life, his successes and mistakes, and he was ready to go.  I’m still not convinced that he’ll die, but I can’t see how he could come back without some sort of miracle.  If anyone deserves it, it’s Sam and Dean.  My only minor complaint about an episode was that it needed a scene where Sam wrestled with his own anguish, but I’m hoping this will be further explored when the show returns Jan. 6. 

Until then, make sure you vote for "Supernatural," a People's Choice Award Nominee.  If this episode didn't convince you that it deserve some kind of recognition, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles definitely will.  Don't forget to share your thoughts on this episode in the comments!