SPN7.14: Plucky Pennywhistle Put the Fear of Clowns in Sam
When Sam’s fear of clowns was first mentioned back in Everybody Loves a Clown (2.02), it was presented as a phobia like Dean’s fear of flying, but in Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magical Menagerie (7.14), I think there are hints that his fear has a concrete cause.
They boys are investigating a series of weird death’s that Dean has linked to kids’ birthday parties at a popular pizza chain. He calls Sam on the phone:
Dean: Hey. You remember a chain called Plucky Pennywhistle’s?
Dean: Really? Could have swore you loved those places.
Sam: No, dude, I hated them. Uh, you would dump me and go trolling for chicks.
Dean: It’s not like I left you in jail. I mean, those places are supposed to be fun.
Sam: Fun? Uh, they’re lame. And they smell like puke. And the ice cream is all grainy.
Dean: All right, don’t have one of your episodes, okay?
Sam stammers and looks freaked out throughout the conversation, and it comes across strongly enough so that Dean senses it through the phone.
The fact that Dean left Sam while “trolling for chicks” suggests that Dean was 14-16 or so, which would have made Sam 10-12. He was old enough that Dean felt comfortable leaving him in a public place that was for kids.
It’s interesting here that Sam first denies remembering Plucky’s but then reveals that he remembers it in detail right down to the vomit smell and gritty ice cream. It has left an indelible memory that is linked to fear. Now, we have to remember that by this age, Sam was aware of the supernatural and that monsters are real, but what sets him stammering and sweating is clowns. It would be helpful if we knew for sure whether Sam feared clowns prior to Plucky’s, but I’m guessing that Dean wouldn’t have left him there if he had been.
Just a lame pedo joke or a hint that there’s more to Sam’s fear of clowns than Dean will ever know? There’s no way to say for sure.
There are two parallels set up in the ep. First, the boys learn about a mom who works at Plucky’s and takes her little boy to work with her, leaving him at a table to do homework, draw on placemats, and eat bad pizza much as Dean left Sam as a kid. Dean sees just how miserable the kid is. Plucky’s is known as a place where bad parents leave their kids even to the employees.
The other parallel is toward the end. It isn’t clear to me how it relates to Sam and Dean exactly, but the guy who is responsible for the deaths has his own fear. When he was a kid his brother drowned. He says he yelled for help but his parents didn’t listen to him that his brother was drowning. Dean throws Howard’s drawing and a figurine of Plucky in the fire and the drowned brother appears and moves menacingly toward Howard, who drops to his knees and begins choking on water coming from his mouth.
I don’t quite know what to make of this, but I don’t think that siblings ever appear on Supernatural that it isn’t supposed to mean something. Although Howard blames the parents for never listening, he seems to take responsibility as well for his brother’s death. Maybe it is as simple as that. We know that John was negligent and Dean felt responsibility for Sam. Perhaps Howard was given an unreasonable responsibility for his younger brother as well.
When Sam and Dean meet back up, Dean apologizes for ditching Sam at Plucky’s as a kid. He admits it was a dick move. Sam just says that fighting the clowns that night had been therapeutic. “What else could a clown ever possibly do to me?” he says. That line sits wrong with me because somehow it feels like he’s left off “that hasn’t already been done.” Maybe I’m making too much of it, but I do feel that there are hints that something truly traumatic happened to Sam at Plucky’s as a kid. We’ll probably never know, and Dean certainly won’t if Sam can prevent it.