This review contains spoilers.
If it had to be summarized in one word, Supernatural’s latest episode could be succinctly encompassed by the word “technical.” While entertaining, it’s one of those episodes where the gears and inner workings of the story are all too clear – and perhaps it’s engaging enough precisely because the turnings of those gears are mesmerizing. It’s an episode that brings back some good old season one characters, constructs a story that’s a perfect parallel for the Winchesters’ arc this season, and gently prods at the fourth wall for some decent laughs without blowing up that wall with dynamite – all in forty minutes.
“#Thinman” (yes, with the hashtag, which says something either about our century or how long Supernatural’s been on the air) sees the return of the Ghostfacers, who originally graced the screen in Supernatural’s first season. The beginning of this episode also goes back to the good old scary – there’s just something about a scene of being home alone, looking into the mirror, and realizing that there’s a creepy thing right behind you that’s horror done right. I haven’t found Supernatural that disconcerting for a while.
Naturally, a creepy locked-room mystery is something Dean Winchester immediately heads out to investigate – this time not even bothering to ask Sam if he wants to come along. Following on the heels of the previous episode (congratulations on your continuity, finally), Sam and Dean’s relationship still isn’t mended – a fact Dean doesn’t really know what to do with, or how to fix. It seems like Sam doesn’t quite know either, but that doesn’t prevent him from joining Dean in working the family business.
As they head off on the hunt, though, the Winchesters discover that someone beat them to the crime scene: the Ghostfacers. Last time the pair showed up on Supernatural, they were here for comic relief, in a stylized parody episode that yours truly was never particularly fond of (there’s something really off-putting about shaky camera work). But this return of the duo goes less for the parody and more for the candid (even though there’s some excellent jokes thrown in); they’re here as characters rather than satires, with all of the pathos that comes along with that. The seriousness of their appearance is also perhaps emphasized by the fun fact that they’ve survived longer than the Winchesters. No, seriously, they’ve been alive since season one on a show where everybody dies – including the main characters. They should get a medal, or something.
Plus, the Ghostfacers seem to also have moved up in competence; it turns out that they’ve been researching “Thinman” – this episode’s monster of the week – for a while, and have even written a book about it. They’ve also developed a certain camaraderie, bonding over their work while complaining together about past girlfriends; their partnership is almost as fun to watch as that of the Winchesters, and they make a perfect team – or so it seems.
However much the Ghostfacers have changed and grown up, though, Dean’s opinion of them hasn’t – and neither has his skepticism. After doing everything he can to get the two out of town and pulling some trademark Winchester exasperated looks, Dean moves on to being skeptical about the Ghostfacers’ book because, like a good hunter, he’s not a believer. This prompts a rather engaging debate between Sam and Dean about what myths are and aren’t real in the Internet’s day and age.
In this particular case, though, skepticism turns out to be the way to go, because Thinman really just is another internet meme. And, with this particular fact, the Ghostfacers start paralleling the Winchesters with such painful obviousness that the script almost feels like the final project for a Screenwriting 101 class.
Admittedly, a very good, top-marks-earning final project for a screenwriting class, but which doesn’t change the fact that this episode’s B-plot is the most obvious B-plot in the history of screenwriting ( for those uninitiated, most television episodes are written with two plots: the main story, experienced by the protagonists, and a background, B-plot, that reflects it in some way). The parallels are glaring: Ed lied to his partner and invented Thinman in order to manipulate Harry into staying with him, hunting monsters – in the same way that Dean manipulated Sam into living because he needed him. The inevitable result, of course, is Trust Issues, with capital letters and trademarked by the Winchesters.
Just before that big reveal, the Winchesters share a poignant scene of reminiscence, as Dean recalls the two of them being children, dressing up as superheroes and thinking they could fly – a story that, naturally, ends with Dean taking Sam to the ER, reminding us yet again the caretaker Dean’s always been to Sam. It’s a heartbreaking reminder of the depth of the boys’ connection, in the midst of this impasse in their relationship that’s all over the place.
It’s also clear that the boys see their own problems reflected in those of the Ghostfacers; Ed’s confession prompts Sam to pointedly tell him “Trust me – secrets ruin relationships,” and he really looks like he knows what he’s talking about. In the next second, the camera pans to Dean, again emphasizing the older Winchester seeing his own mistakes staring him in the face – and looking guilty as Hell about it all.
Poignantly interspersed with this scene of confession, Harry’s off in the woods, searching for a Thinman he thinks actually exists, and the shaky camera work, dark woods, and the fact that it’s Supernatural means that this simply can’t end well. In fact, it gets scarier as the revelation that Thinman isn’t real is followed by shots of Thinman being real, constructing a type of creepy born of the fact that you don’t know what’s going on.
Harry gets out alive, though, leading to what Dean would probably call a “chick flick moment” between him and Ed. The scene reads like a copied and pasted reiteration of the confrontation between Sam and Dean but two episodes ago – it really could be either Ed or Dean insisting that them being together is everything, that he “saved” his partner- and it really could be either Sam or Harry that accuses his partner of being “selfish.”
The scene ends with another trademark Winchester line: “I can’t trust you anymore,” Harry tells Ed, echoing Sam yet again. Still, for all the copying and pasting and amateur paralleling, the scene is full of pathos, and for the viewer as for Harry, the result is the same: “I just got punched right in the feels.” (a phrase that makes one wonder just how much time the Supernatural writers spend on the internet – and why they aren’t spending that time reading the Wiki).
Still, feels or no feels, there’s a hunt to finish and a monster to catch, and that’s what the Winchesters head off to do. Predictably, Thinman is a human wearing a mask, and the reveal of his real identity is more than clumsily done: it was more than obvious that the man behind the mask would be the poor waiter that got yelled at in the diner at the beginning of the episode; the incongruous, out-of-nowhere altercation with his manager in front of both pairs of paranormal hunters was like a flashing neon sign that, hey, here’s a character who’s unhappy with his life! And what do unhappy characters on paranormal/crime shows do when they’re unhappy? They kill people! Nevertheless, the choice to make the monster human rather than supernatural is a nice nod back to the first season’s The Benders and the brilliant point Dean made back then: “Demons I get. People are crazy.” It’s a reminder that Supernatural’s always been a show not just about monsters, but about people – and how people can turn into monsters, and monsters can be a little too much like people.
Plus, the revelation that the “monster” is actually a human in disguise, taking advantage of a meme, is a fitting one for an episode that already pokes at the fourth wall. Supernatural’s always been about myths, religions, and legends; it’s appropriated stories, gods, and ghosts from the world over – with the interesting twist that Sam and Dean research the oldest of tales and the most pervasive of myths on that most modern of technologies, the Internet (have you ever noticed how they have WiFi everywhere? Maybe Sam’s tall enough to be an antenna or something). This is an episode that emphasizes the human predilection for myth-making while showing how its methods change through time; Supernatural here blurs the lines between stories told around a campfire long ago and stories told around a virtual, modern-day campfire – while at the same time emphasizing the pervasiveness of those myths, no matter the medium.
The episode ends with yet another echo of the Winchesters’ relationship, as Ed and Harry discuss where they go from here – and it turns out that “it’s complicated.” At this point the parallel’s becoming redundant – with Harry reminding Ed that “you did this for you” in an almost exact echo of Sam’s lines, and emphasizing that people are dead (a rather obvious nod to Kevin’s death, which ensued from Dean’s choices). Once again, the camera work makes a poignant, if obvious, point, as it pans from Harry and Ed standing by their iconic car to Sam and Dean standing by theirs. And, as Harry walks away from Ed, asking for a ride, it’s more than reminiscent of the finale of Road Trip, as Dean walks away from Sam and Cas to atone for his mistakes.
Still, though the entire episode is a big huge parallel, it remains incredibly tight-lipped about where the Winchesters’ relationship is going. Harry seems to have decided that this is one of those things he can’t forgive – but, as Sam pointed out, that’s a decision each person must make for himself, and it’s unclear where Sam’s forgiveness lies. But, this episode is another reiteration that these problems are still at the forefront of the show, another reminder that they just might be going somewhere- and I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that they hurry up and get there so that we can move on to some more fun demon-killing and world-saving and Heaven-unlocking (which, by the way, begs the question of where Cas has disappeared to this time. Again).
Read Anastasia’s review of the previous episode, Captives, here.
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