Reviews

Every Episode of Supernatural Ranked: 1.07 Hook Man

Lori and Sam bond as victims of supernatural incidents.

THEN

“Hook Man” is one of the nice and tidy Monster-of-the-Week (MOTW) episodes which were common in the early seasons of Supernatural. It was moody, had some decent scares, and played out like late-1990s, early 2000s horror movies like Urban Legend.

NOW

Supernatural MOTW episodes typically featured a character note for one of the two brothers. In “Dead in the Water”, we learned about Dean’s rapport with children. In “Hook Man”, Sam strikes a chord with the witness-of-the-week, Lori. Lori was with her boyfriend when he was killed in a manner consistent with the Hook Man legend. Sam, son of a demon-hunting fanatic, just recently witnessed his girlfriend’s murder by a demon. Lori makes a move on Sam, but he resists, saying it’s too soon after Jess.

Dean teases Sam about his rapport with Lori. It’s partly his way of encouraging Sam to get over Jess, but it’s bigger than that. The difference between the two brothers would not be fully realized until Season 4, when we learn about Mary’s deal with the demon.

Sam sees himself as the victim of a supernatural crime that’s interrupted the new life he made for himself. Dean has long accepted that his life was defined by supernatural interference. He’s devoted his life to helping his father hunt down the demon who killed Mary, and to stop other supernatural interference along the way.

Looking back, a big part of Sam’s seasons-long story arc is about how he comes to grips with the fact that he’s not the victim of the supernatural, but a product of it.

RANKINGS

  1. Episode 1.01 “Pilot”
  2. Episode 1.06: “Skin”
  3. Episode 1.03 “Dead in the Water”
  4. Episode 1.07 “Hook Man”
  5. Episode 1.04 “Phantom Traveler”
  6. Episode 1.05 “Bloody Mary”
  7. Episode 1.02 “Wendigo”
Reviews

Every Episode of Supernatural Ranked: 1.06 Skin

Not Dean

THEN

This episode stood out as a very creepy crossover homage to low-budge 70s slasher and biker films. It even starts with “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly. By the end of the teaser, we’re grossed out by the sight of a bloodied and beaten woman tied to a chair and a fleeing suspect who turns when the cops tells him to stop and reveals himself to be Dean Winchester.

Of course, we don’t expect the star of the show to be a sadist, but, only six episodes in, we don’t know Dean that well, we don’t know anything about the woman, and no one knows about shapeshifters yet. It’s an intense moment of viewer uncertainty that can’t be replicated in later episodes.

NOW

After the opening credits, the show begins in earnest by starting the action one week earlier. Watching this more or less immediately after “Bloody Mary”, it seems Sam pulled back again after seeing the apparition of Jess. He’s constantly on his phone, checking messages from his friends. Dean teases him, which allows the show to highlight the difference between the introspective-yet-social Sam, and the extroverted-yet-loner Dean.

The shapeshifter’s psychic connection to the people they imitate give us more insight into Dean and why he’d never do what we saw in the teaser. (He may be violent, but he’s not a sociopath.) The scene where the shapeshifter takes off Dean’s skin is one of the grossest in the series’ history. Thanks, John Shiban (the episode writer) and Robert Duncan McNeill (the episode director)!

This episode is the first in which viewers see a shapeshifter, and it’s also a first for Sam and Dean. Shapeshifters were obscure lore to them. I miss the days when they were discovering stories were true. That said, shapeshifters as a species have undergone an impressive narrative arc over the 14-year span of Supernatural. They’ve gone from being fiction to Sam and Dean to being sociopathic menaces (in “Skin”), to being kind of sad (in “4.05 Monster Movie”), to almost getting their own spin-off (9.20 “Bloodlines) to actually being helpful (Mia in 13.04 “The Big Empty”).

The episode ends with Dean saying that he wanted Sam to go back to being “Joe College”, but Sam admitting that he never really fit with the posh crowd at Stanford. And so, Sam and Dean both feel like metaphorical freaks, in contrast to the actual shape-shifting freak they just defeated.

NOTES

The original music for this episode was Grade A (including Lynard Skynard, Filter, and Free), while the Netflix substitutes were pale in comparison. The Supernatural Wiki was not able to identify the Netflix substitution for the last song. Does anyone know it?

RANKINGS

1. Episode 1.01 “Pilot”

2. Episode 1.06: “Skin”

3. Episode 1.03 “Dead in the Water”

4. Episode 1.04 “Phantom Traveler”

5. Episode 1.05 “Bloody Mary”

6. Episode 1.02 “Wendigo”

Reviews

Every Episode of Supernatural Ranked: 1.05 Blood Mary

Comforting words from Sam.

THEN

“Bloody Mary” succeeded in freaking me out when I first saw it. Perhaps because of that, I unintentionally missed it during my first all-season rewatch of Supernatural in late 2008, when the show was only 4.5 seasons old. Months later, I was dealing with the disappearance and suspected suicide (since confirmed) of a friend. I decided take my mind off things by completing my rewatch with “Bloody Mary”. The episode was as scary as I had remembered, but what really got to me was Sam’s words to a woman who had been blaming herself for her boyfriend’s death: “You really should try to forgive yourself. You probably couldn’t have stopped it. Sometimes bad things happen.” It felt like Sam was speaking directly to me! I knew that I would probably always have complicated feelings about my friend’s fate, but at the end of a traumatizing day, Sam’s words were a comfort.

NOW

I’ve seen this episode so many times now, the scare has gone out of it for me, but I still admire the episode’s homage to Japanese horror movies like Ringu.

Rewatching the episode this time around, I paid a lot of attention to the “rules” of the haunting, and so did the episode. I now understand why some people don’t like the episode: it really does get spend a lot of time explaining the rules. But the rules made sense. Anyone can look into a mirror and manifest Bloody Mary by saying her name three times, but Bloody Mary will haunt whoever in the vicinity has been keeping a secret about their role in someone else’s death. She seems to ease up when someone confesses their secret.

So when Donna says “Bloody Mary” three times, the ghost goes after the friend standing next to her, Charlie. Bloody Mary chases Charlie around campus. She finds Sam and Dean and tells them that she felt responsible for her boyfriend’s suicide. After that, Bloody Mary leaves her alone. Later, when Sam calls for Bloody Mary, he gets a Bloody Sam reflection that blames him for Jess’s death. Sam’s eyes start to bleed, and Bloody Mary goes after for him. Coming to Sam’s rescue, Dean’s eyes also start to bleed.

For years, fans wondered why Dean’s eyes were bloody. What deadly secret was he hiding? It’s never addressed explicitly in the episode or any subsequent episodes in the series. But knowing only what we know of the first four episodes of Supernatural, I’m satisfied with concluding that Dean’s eyes bleed because he doesn’t feel like he’s done enough to protect his family. I do like the more dramatic theory posited by Dean-girlx on Fanpop that Dean specifically felt guilty about not acting fast enough years earlier to stop the Shtriga, as revealed in episode 1.18, “Something Wicked”.

However, I’m now conflicted about how I felt about Sam’s reaction to seeing an apparition of Jess in the final scene. After solving the case, Sam tells Dean that he’s made peace with Jess’s death, but then he sees her standing on a street corner. Sam reacts with distress, but doesn’t tell Dean. So was the show trying close the door on Sam’s guilt? Was it opening new lines of guilt? Was it saying that Sam would always have to live with complicated feelings about his role (or non-role) in Jess’s death? “Bloody Mary” ended with a lot of conflicting emotions. Maybe that’s just true to life.

NOTES

Recently, Jared Padalecki said one of his favourite sound cues was “Laugh, I Nearly Died” by The Rolling Stones, which played when Sam sees “Jess” again. The original music appears on the DVD, but not on Netflix because the music licensing agreements did not cover streaming. The two song lists are included in the Supernatural Wiki’s episode recap for “Bloody Mary” and other Season 1 episodes.

RANKING

  1. Episode 1.01 “Pilot”
  2. Episode 1.03 “Dead in the Water”
  3. Episode 1.04 “Phantom Traveler”
  4. Episode 1.05 “Bloody Mary”
  5. Episode 1.02 “Wendigo”
Reviews

Every Episode of Supernatural Ranked: 1.04 Phantom Traveler

Homeland Security is watching.

Ah, “Phantom Traveler”, when the Department of Homeland Security was a new thing.

It’s mindboggling to realize that Homeland Security was just over two years old when Supernatural debuted in 2005. There are a lot of parallels I could point out now, but maybe I’ll stick to one generalization: both Homeland Security and the Winchester brothers went into this with the intention of fighting an external enemy, but eventually spent a lot of time fighting internal ones.

I’ve always had a soft spot for “Phantom Traveler”. The episode quilted together a number of things that trigger fear. Besides the Homeland Security reference, the episode leaned on horror-adjacent airplane disaster movies, and threw in a Final Destination-inspired red herring about a supernatural force hunting down people who had escaped death.

It also introduced elements that would become significant to Supernatural‘s short-, medium-, and long-term narrative:

  • The demon knowing about Jess was a hint about Sam’s fate and, reinforced the idea that his character was the vehicle for Supernatural’s mytharc story, just as Luke Skywalker was in Star Wars;
  • Dean’s fear of flying;
  • the use of black smoke to represent the demonic souls; and
  • the idea that saying the word Christo would immediately reveal a demon. (This last point was abandoned when the writers realized that being able to spot a demon instantly would make the Winchesters’ lives too convenient.)

I will also note that, after the teaser, the episode begins with a direct appeal to the non-het male gaze as the camera pans over the landscape of Dean’s sleeping body. Or maybe that was a sly reference to the near-omniscience of demons or the panopticon of Homeland Security. Yeah, I’m sure that’s it.

Notes:

That genius shot was directed by Robert Singer, who made his Supernatural debut with “Phantom Traveller”. He was a producer on the show from day one, and will be there on the last day. The episode was the first of only two episodes written by Richard Hatem (the other was “Asylum”), who went on to The Secret Circle, Grimm, and, now, Titans (I need to watch that).

While checking Wikipedia for the start of Homeland Security, I learned that its creation wasn’t just a massive reorganization of government departments, it was also a major union-busting move: “The plan stripped 180,000 government employees of their union rights.[17] In 2002, Bush officials argued that the September 11 attacks made the proposed elimination of employee protections imperative.” So the agency was a product of a governmental war on itself.

Ranking:

  1. Episode 1.01 “Pilot”
  2. Episode 1.03 “Dead in the Water”
  3. Episode 1.04 “Phantom Traveler”
  4. Episode 2.01 “Wendigo”
Reviews

Every Episode of Supernatural Ranked: 1.03 Dead in the Water

His name is Lucas.

In retrospect, “Dead in the Water” is when Supernatural went from passing its written exam to getting the show on the road. The episode was beautifully filmed by director of photography Serge Ladouceur, with the grain of film and working in his favour. Sam and Dean (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) look luminous and the sheer number and variety of director Kim Manners’ inventive shots made it seem more like a big-screen horror movie than a mid-2000s procedural TV episode.

And yet, it was episodic. “Dead in the Water” is a one-and-done story in which the boys roll into a town where people are dying in water-related mishaps: on open water, at home in a washing basin, and, almost, in a bathtub. But the circumstances were all just a bit too strange and the victims a bit too related for the deaths to be coincidental. Sam and Dean go in looking like the least likely game wardens, but, after confessing that they are not, do finally figure it out.

Spoiler: It turns out that the ghost of Peter, a young boy who was drowned in the lake by two other boys horsing around with him, has been haunting the now-grown men and their children and grandchildren. Justice in the episode is like that of Final Destination: non-judgemental and inevitable. The men have been metaphorically haunted by their actions for decades, but now, when the men are at a phase in their lives when they should be looking at retiring and enjoying life with their children and grandchildren, that Peter’s ghost comes back to haunt them. /End spoiler.

The genius of Supernatural’s early Monster of the Week episodes was sometimes less about the case (although this one was great) and more about developing the relationship between the two formerly estranged brothers. In this episode, Sam marvels at the fatherly instincts that Dean shows towards Lucas, a clearly traumatized child who won’t speak, but seems to be able to predict the future in drawings. Dean won’t explain his affinity for the Lucas to his brother directly, but says to Lucas: “You’re scared. It’s okay. I understand. See, when I was your age, I saw something real bad happen to my mom, and I was scared, too. I didn’t feel like talking, just like you. But see, my mom—I know she wanted me to be brave. I think about that every day. And I do my best to be brave. And maybe, your dad wants you to be brave too.”

Dead in the Water was the first Supernatural episode written by Sera Gamble and Raelle Tucker. The team would go on to write some of Supernatural’s most emotionally and spiritually intense episodes, with an emphasis on characterization and atmosphere. In short, they brought the goth.

I’m only three episodes into ranking all episodes of Supernatural and I’m ready finding it difficult, especially as I’m not allowing ties in the rankings. The pilot had to string together a lot of significant elements to sustain at least one season (and it’s provided story fodder for 15 full, 20+ episode seasons), but “Dead in the Water” was a perfect black pearl.

Notes:

Gamble and Tucker had previously worked together on a short-lived show called Eyes, created by John McNamara.Tucker would eventually leave Supernatural for True Blood. Gamble stayed on and became the showrunner for seasons 6 and 7, and is now co-showrunning several shows, including The Magicians, which she created with McNamara.

For nerd cred, the big guest star in this episode was Amy Acker. I’d love to see her back on the show, perhaps with a grown-up and well-adjusted Lucas (who was originally played by Nico McEown). People who Sam and Dean save turn out okay, right? 😉

Rankings:

  1. Episode 1.01 “Pilot”
  2. Episode 1.03 “Dead in the Water”
  3. Episode 2.01 “Wendigo”
Arts, Reviews

Fringe 2019: Where the Wild Things Fringed

The 2019 Fringe Festival ended before I could post about all the shows I saw!

Although the last shows I saw were sold out for most or all of their runs, none were being held over, surprisingly. They were just lightning in a bottle: blink and you’ll have missed a show that will go down in Fringe annals as one of the great ones. The shows I wanted to make note of are:

Over at 12th Night, Liz Nicholls reported that the Fringe reported record ticket sales for indoor shows. This is great. There were many years where it seemed like the outdoor happenings would overshadow what began as a theatre festival. I was on site for an hour or two for seven of the ten days of the festival, and it looked like street performers were pulling in good crowds, while the beer and wine tents seemed to be doing steady business. Of course, mine was a very small, observational sample, so it would be interesting to know the breakdown of ticket sales and whether performers and vendors felt they did well at the festival.

Personally, I saw a lot of great shows, hung out with friends, and ate well, all without much stress. That’s all I ask from a Fringe!

Arts, Reviews

Fringe 2019: Flora and Fawna Have Beaver Fever (and So Does Fleurette)

I have warm memories of Flora and Fawna’s debut at the Fringe five years ago. Flora (Darrin Hagen) and Fawna (Trevor Schmidt) were in character as 10-year-olds in Girl Guide-like uniforms even before the show began, greeting people in line, handing out little kits that we would later use to make friendship bracelets with the person sitting next to us. The person next to me was a friend of a friend, whom I now count as a friend of my own.

[ASIDE] We decided to go to this year’s show together, but I got there early and he got there just as the doors were closing. The front house manager declared, “It’s a Fringe miracle!”

The title of the sequel, Flora & Fawna Have Beaver Fever (and So Does Fleurette), seemed like set-up of for an hour of double-entendres–and it was! But the play was also about friendship. The first play was about the beginnings of a friendship. This one was about friendship reaching another stage. Fleurette, the scene-stealing supporting character from the original play, is revealed to be moving away (Brian Dooley, who plays Fleurette, moved from Edmonton to Montreal IRL).

The news is a blow to Flora and Fawna, the founders of the NaturElles, a group for misfits (and “no mean girls”!) until they realize that Fleurette can start a chapter of the NaturElle Girls in Quebec!

The original Flora & Fawna play has been produced several times in Alberta, including on main stages and once at a teen camp in Okotoks with three boys playing the girls. The secret to F&F’s success is the characters’ optimism and resilience in the face of social awkwardness, family issues, and world problems that are just entering the girls’ radar.

Each show also features an audience participation portion, in which audience members recruited from the line-up are invited on stage to play summer camp-inspired games. The audience participation games may not be essential to the plot, but they’re essential to the show’s narrative. Flora and Fawna make being at the Fringe seem like being at summer camp, where the people you befriend for a week due to shared weirdo interests can become your friends for life.

Thanks to the whole Guys in Disguise team. As long as they keep making Flora and Fawna shows, I’ll be coming back for s’mores.

Guys in Disguise on Facebook

Arts, Reviews

Fringe 2019: Coat of Many Colours

I’ve always liked Dolly Parton’s music, but never paid much attention to her private life.

Coat of Many Colours explores Dolly’s life and career through storytelling and music. The flex space at CKUA Radio downtown was set up like a concert, with a five-piece band on stage. There were two Dollys: Andrea House and Gianna Reed-Skelton, both dressed in Dolly’s pigtails, plaid shirts, and flannel jeans stage. They made a point of explaining that they were not attempting to impersonate Dolly. Yet, with distinct voices and heavenly harmonies, they embodied Dolly’s spirit, or more accurately, the spirit of Dolly’s songs.

Backing them were two veterans of the Edmonton music and theatre scenes, keyboardist and singer Eric Mortimer and guitarlist and singer Harley Symington, along with Austin, Texas-based guitarist Mitch Watkins, who has toured nationally with Leonard Cohen, Lyle Lovitz, and Joe Ely, and as a solo act.

I had an epiphany about Dolly’s songwriting greatness when House said of one of Dolly’s biggest hits: “You can do ‘9 to 5’ in any style and it still sounds like itself.” (She and the band proceeded to prove the point with a blues version of the song.) Dolly’s best-known songs are characterized by mellifluous melodies and empathetic lyrics. Her insights were gained through experience, some of it heartbreakingly difficult. House and Reed-Skelton told stories with feeling and a lack of sensationalism, taking us through Dolly’s life, from her impoverished childhood, to the night Dolly held a gun to her head at the height of her career.

Kudos to the Starlight Players and director Davina Stewart for bringing such beautiful music from a beautiful soul to the Fringe.

The Stardust Players on Facebook

Arts, Reviews

Fringe 2019: The 3AM Subtext

The Fringe program described writer Matthew Stepanic’s first play as being about casual hook-ups, conversion therapy, and ghost stories. These seemed like material for two or three different plays, but playwright and co-director Stepanic and co-director Olivia Latta pulled it all together.

The 3AM Subtext begins as two young men (Landon Nesbett and Austin White) who had hooked up the night before wake up in the middle of the night. Unable to return to sleep and unwilling to end their tryst, they tell each other ghost stories.

Some of the stories are about spooky experiences, but their remembrances also allow them to contemplate the supernatural metaphorical hauntings. One man is haunted by the memory of a first love who was first lost spiritually to conversion therapy, and then bodily to suicide.

They also spoke of the loneliness that sets in after dates that go poorly, or that go well yet meaninglessly, or that never actually materialize. They talked about being “ghosted” on social media, akin to supernatural haunting. Both are about an absence felt.

Both characters had their reasons for avoiding long-term commitments, but found solace in each other. Their highest compliment is: “I want you to haunt me.”

The show could not be held over because one of the actors (Nesbett) was moving to Toronto for theatre school. I hope the crew has a chance to stage The 3AM Subtext again. The political content is timely (the City of Edmonton just banned conversion therapy), and the emotional content is timeless.

Links to the 2019 Fringe program have now expired, so here are links to Glass Buffalo, which presented the production, and playwright Matthew Stepanic.