Winchesters Through the Funhouse Mirror: Supernatural’s Thinman

Warner Bros/The CW
Warner Bros/The CW

I’ve had so many different thoughts about ‘Thinman’ that my head is still spinning – once again, I woke up this morning already writing this review in my head, which I suppose isn’t a bad thing (unless of course I was supposed to do something else this morning….cough…work…cough…) There was alot I loved about this episode. In fact, Jenny Klein should expect a tackle hug next time I see her for the Weechesters flashback scene alone (fair warning, Jenny).

I love that we saw some progress with the Mark of Cain story arc, which is a road I’m anticipating going down even as I’m biting my nails about the dark places Show intends to take us. I’ve been theorizing about the Mark and what its impact on Dean has been already, and am intrigued by the possibility that part of what it does is pull the wearer away from those he loves, isolating him from family and turning him away from love and affection and his own humanity, so he can kill without remorse or regret. It’s a punishment more than a gift, influencing those he loves most to turn away from him. And that’s terrifying. One of my favorite themes of the Show is Dean’s understanding of why he and Sam are better together, especially after he glimpses a future without Sam in ‘The End’: “We keep each other human.” It’s true. Sam has repeatedly been the one thing that keeps Dean from going darkside, from becoming the vicious killer that he secretly believes he is. If the Mark can separate Dean from Sam, how close to that internal self image will Dean become?

Already we can see Dean pulling away – he intends to go off on this hunt alone, assuming that Sam won’t want to come with him. At the beginning of the episode, Dean still doesn’t understand where Sam is coming from. (Since Show hasn’t exactly been very forthcoming with Sam’s pov, we can empathize). He’s getting used to being hurt, though, so he’s becoming defensive, pre-emptively walking away from Sam in preparation for Sam walking away from him. That beginning was chock full of meaning, and it left me with a gnawing anxiety about what was to come in the rest of the episode.

Then there was the confrontation with the MotW badguys, which took the anxiety to full-on fear. Watching Dean plunge the knife into that (admittedly monstrous but still human) young man was chilling – we saw Sam’s reaction for a second too, as he catalogs his brother’s coldness. That scene and Jensen Ackles’ face ™ were perfect.

xxx 9.15 killer

xxx 9.15 killer4

I’m bouncing with anticipation to see where this story arc takes us. I’m fairly certain it’s going to rip my heart out, but if that stopped me from watching, I would have bailed on SPN years ago.

And once again in this episode, Show gives us a clear example of how very much Sam still loves and cares about his brother. In fact, Show has been careful to do this in every episode since the brothers’ estrangement, to keep showing us that the love is still there. Sam’s agonized “Nonono, don’t!” and the expression on his face when Dean was about to have his throat cut just floored me with how much anguish was there. I found myself screaming right along with Sam. Kudos, Jared, you broke me. (In contrast, look at Dean’s face, stone cold and calm, like he’s ready to die and really doesn’t give a damn if he does. Chilling). Kudos to you too, Jensen.

Protective Sam
Protective Sam
Resigned Dean
Resigned Dean

I liked that the episode was based off the real ‘Slenderman’ phenomenon, which gave the Show an invitation to go a little meta, one of my favorite flavors of SPN. The beginning was satisfyingly scary and creepy and gory, which is what I expect from the first five minutes of Show, and I sort of wished the monster-of-the-week was “real” just because he creeped me out so much. In the end, though, it was a nice twist that the Winchesters were dealing with monstrous humans again. We didn’t get to see them struggle with that too much in this episode, but hopefully we’ll see the idea come up again. It’s something Kripke was interested in from the beginning – the idea that sometimes it’s humans who are the most monstrous, that what appears to be a monster on the outside might not be, and what doesn’t might be after all. Also, the fact that they were human gave Dean’s swift dispatch of the busboy a gut-wrenching impact (literally, for the busboy) that left me shuddering.

My favorite callback to canon line?

“Sheriff’s on a hunting trip…” I actually yelled at the television “And he hasn’t been home in a few days”. I straight up got goosebumps at that line.

And maybe during this scene too, for an entirely different reason. Sam and Dean in tight white dress shirts with rolled sleeves? Thank you for whoever made this happen – please don’t stop any time soon.


I also like the Ghostfacers, so I was happy to see them back after all this time and all the actors’ convention appearances. I’m kind of glad that Show didn’t go where I expected it to with the Ghostfacers, that instead of comic relief, their story went dark and tragic and ended up painful. I like to be surprised, and that was unexpected. Wester and Buckley proved they can do sad as well as funny – Buckley had me tearing up at the end, as Ed stands there alone and heartbroken and Harry gets into the backseat of the Impala just as broken. The actors did such a great job that I really felt for the characters. Good job all around on that last scene – script, directing, acting, cinematography, everything. It came through with more impact that I would have expected.

Much of the meta on social media, fame and fandom gave the episode some great comedic moments. Travis Wester and AJ Buckley can do humor as well as Jared and Jensen (which is really saying something) so there were many times during the episode that I laughed out loud in the literal way, not the meaning-morphed LOL way. Klein gave the Ghostfacers and the Winchesters some excellent lines to chew on, and according to Jared’s tweets, AJ and Travis ad-libbed some into the script as well, giving viewers some much-needed comedic breaks from the angst that we’ve been drowning in for much of this season. Some of the best lines were clear shout outs to fandom.

“No one cares what they think, they don’t even have a twitter” (Or was this a shout out to the still-twitterless Ackles?)

“I just got punched right in the feels.” (99% of fandom, every Tuesday)

Also that whole conversation about the pronunciation of “meme” was brilliant – because who the hell was sure how to pronounce it? Osric confided that he’s still saying me-me. He he.

Also any dialogue that gets Dean to say “treasure trail” is A plus in my book.

It’s always a risk when Show decides to comment directly on fans, because let’s face it, many of us go hypervigilant when we see it happening, always alert for “what they really think of us.” (Us included, since we wrote two books that aimed to discover exactly what “they” really did think of us!) I still love the meta episodes in which Kripke broke the fourth wall to depict fans on the Show, with such a deft mix of affection and poking fun (at the show, the fans, across the board) – but then there was the episode I’ve excised from canon (something about a wedding…) and it’s easy to see just how wrong this can go. I enjoyed most of the meta in this episode, though the “Let’s keep it going for the fans, they’ll never know” was an exception, sounding too much like a fans-are-clueless comment.

As always, watching SPN along with cast and crew live tweets adds to the fun. You never know who’s going to join in – sometimes even Captain Kirk himself!

@Jarpad: @WilliamShatner, you should be watching Supernatural!!!

@WilliamShatner: It’s DVRing

@Jarpad: Ok…then I can forgive 😉

Sometimes when fandoms collide like that, I just end up staring at my twitter feed and grinning like a fool. Of course Captain Kirk watches Supernatural – my Show is a pop culture phenomenon, damn it!

Jared echoed fandom a few times:

@Jarpad: Oh, Sam and Dean….I hate when y’all argue…

And so did Osric Chau, who was tweeting along

@OsricChau: Brother bonding moment 🙂

All that laughter felt really good – until suddenly everything went from hahaha this is so funny to OMG take the knife out of my heart and the anvil off my foot!

I’ll confess that I’m a little touchy about subtlety. Anyone who reads these reviews knows that I adore parallels, and think that Kripke’s original formula of letting the MotW mirror the Winchesters’ relationship is brilliant. That said, as soon as the parallel starts to feel too on-the-nose, it yanks me right out of the Show. That messes with my viewing experience – and that upsets me. I like the idea of setting up the Ghostfacers’ relationship woes to mirror the Winchesters’, and this morning I’m more okay with it than I was at first viewing, but as I sat there watching on Tuesday night, the parallel seemed so heavy-handed that I couldn’t take it seriously. There was a lot of “Help, falling anvils!” on twitter, and there were some upset fans who took to twitter afterwards to make their complaints known. Then there were fans just trying to get their squee on who took to twitter to chastise those fans, and… well, you know how this goes.

I get both sides – in fact, in this case, I feel like I was on both sides! I get why fans are upset when Show seemingly does something that’s not perfect. Let’s face it, we hold Show to a pretty damn high standard. We want it to be witty and funny and smart and breathtakingly gorgeous and also to make us FEEL, which is a lot to expect (I can’t be the only one remembering what a mistake it was to expect all that in teenage romantic partners…). But we do expect it from our favorite Show. We’re passionately invested in Show’s “success” – that is, when the Show delivers all these things, we feel like it’s a winner. And we, in turn, also feel like a winner. There’s research (yes, legit empirical research, for those of you who are academically inclined) that shows that when a sports team wins, the invested fans of that team experience the exact same rush of endorphins and euphoria that the actual players do. It’s the same for media fans – when we feel like “our” Show is witty and funny and smart and gorgeous and tugging at our heartstrings successfully, then it’s a “win” for us too. But if it seems our Show falls short of the mark, we’re devastated – and then we’re angry at our “team” for not winning so we can have that lovely addictive endorphin rush! As I was watching the first time, I had plenty of euphoric moments, but I felt a bit of that let-down too when the parallels weren’t the subtle sort that I love.

I’m invested in Supernatural, and I watch to get my fix of these fascinating characters and this amazing intricate world I’ve been sucked into over the past nine years. So when something doesn’t quite go the way I wish it would, I need to sit back and figure out why. I don’t want to be that devastated fan sitting in the bleachers with her head in her hands – I want to be jumping up and down cheering and euphoric and eagerly counting off the days until the next “game”. Over nine years, I’ve come to trust Show to take me there about 9 times out of 10, which is a pretty damn good record (better than some early examples of that dating analogy).

Having pondered for two days, and rewatched the episode, I’m still happy about all the things I loved, and I’m alot happier about the parallels. Here’s why: The blatant parallel works for me if I look at it from the Winchesters’ point of view, and in fact the whole episode works well this way. It’s almost like I’m reading a piece of outsider pov fanfic (one of my favorite things in the world) – we’re seeing Ed and Harry through Dean and Sam’s eyes (even when Sam and Dean aren’t in the room with the Facers, it’s like we’re seeing and hearing from the Winchesters’ pov).

Perhaps that’s why the things Ed and Harry say to each other are at times almost a verbatim repeat of what the brothers have said to each other in the past. Many times, it’s literally what Dean and Sam are hearing. The camera angles and perspectives make this explicit – we are watching Dean or Sam watch Ed and Harry. They don’t comment overtly on what they’re seeing and hearing, but we see their line of sight, their concerned expressions, their constant sideways glances at each other to check on how their brother is reacting. We can almost hear the Winchesters’ internal dialogue: “How is he hearing this? Does he think that’s what I’m doing? What I did? What meaning is he taking from what he’s seeing here? Is this where we’re headed too?” I was going to say that I wish they had actually said some of that, but honestly, I don’t. At first viewing, I thought this episode lacked subtlety – watching it this way, the Winchesters say plenty with just those looks. And each one breaks my heart.

xxx 9.15 deany4

xxx 9.15 sam4

The other thing that bothered me about using Ed and Harry as a mirror for Dean and Sam was that the parallel just didn’t work well for me. I mean, the Ghostfacers and the Winchesters have vastly different histories. Ed didn’t practically raise Harry, and they haven’t saved each other’s lives a million times. When Harry accuses Ed of “dragging me away from a normal life” it seems like that could apply to Sam too – except Dean had a real reason for doing so, not a fabricated lie. And he brought Sam back. Sam chose to come with Dean after Jess was killed, he wasn’t tricked. He’s choosing to stay with Dean now (at least as a hunting partner) when he knows the truth about Gadreel.

They also have vastly different missions – the Ghostfacers haven’t been tasked with repeatedly saving the world, after all. They haven’t had to make the kind of impossible decisions with which the Winchesters grapple on a weekly basis. Yes, there are surface similarities in their situations. There’s one partner who desperately doesn’t want to lose the other and deceives them to accomplish that, which superficially fits both duos – or at least fits from Sam’s overt understanding of what happened with him and Dean. Yes, lies were told and people died and the deceived person feels responsible for those deaths. He also feels understandably betrayed and not sure he can keep trusting.

But there are so many differences in their situations, it’s hard for me to see a mirror image. Ed created the Thinman fantasy to keep Harry as his partner; Dean deceived Sam to save his life. There’s nothing keeping Sam from leaving Dean. Ed’s deceit seems mostly selfish, although he rationalizes it as getting Harry away from a life that wasn’t “right” for him – but it’s made fairly clear that’s only a rationalization. Dean’s deceit may have been partly selfish, in that he doesn’t want to be without Sam, but it was also clearly about Sam too. Saving a life is not the same as hey, don’t marry that girl. Both Harry and Sam ended up hurt by the deceit, but Ed and Dean’s motivations were quite different. Ed kept it up for a ridiculously long time simply because he wanted Harry to stay; Dean kept it up reluctantly because Gadreel kept threatening to let Sam die if he didn’t. It wasn’t an intentional gaslighting, though from Sam’s perspective, intent doesn’t matter quite so much when you’re in the agonizing position (again…) of thinking you’re going crazy. But the stakes are vastly different here.

So there I sat, gnashing my teeth and saying “Come on, Show, fandom is smarter than this, you know that” when suddenly it hit me. Maybe the parallel isn’t supposed to line up. What Ed did to Harry is not what Dean did to Sam. Sure, it sounds like it on the surface – and maybe that’s why we got the exactly mirrored dialogue so often – but dig a little deeper, and it’s not a mirror at all. It’s a fun house mirror, with the reflection skewed and imperfect. At first, it looks like we’re supposed to see it as a reflection, because we’re still seeing through Sam and Dean’s eyes – and they are seeing the parallels. They are seeing the mirror image as closer to their own than it really is, because that’s how any of us would view it if the reflection was right there in our faces. But Dean and Sam are smart. They’re almost as smart as the SPN fandom. They’ll figure it out. They’ll see the places where the images don’t line up, where the reflections diverge. They’ll use the mirror in (perhaps) the way it was intended – to see that their own path forward doesn’t have to be the one that the Ghostfacers followed.

Harry’s forlorn comment from the backseat hit home, both with me and with the Winchesters.

“You roll with a guy so many years, you start to think he’s always going to be next to you. When you’re old he’ll be in the rocking chair next to you…”

Neither Sam nor Dean want that rocking chair next to them on the porch to be empty. (And Jenny, be prepared for another tackle hug from me for that image of future!Sam and Dean, which is the ending of some of my favorite fanfics). I can see the wheels turning for both of them. Agonizingly slowly, yes, but this wouldn’t be Supernatural if it didn’t shatter my heart and then drag it through the mud for five or six or twenty episodes. But I can see the glimmers of understanding in both Sam and Dean, and it’s enough to keep me hopeful.

....empty rocking chair
….empty rocking chair

The highlight of the episode, other than the fact that we actually saw some evolution in the Winchesters’ relationship drama (albeit without words), was the glimpse we got into Sam and Dean’s childhood. Every time Show gives us a morsel of backstory, it feels like the most delicious treat imaginable. And this one was perfect, absolutely perfect. It’s in line with all my head canon of how Sam and Dean were as kids, and (as Dean no doubt intended), an illustration of all the countless times that Dean took care of Sam. The image of an injured Sammy balanced on just-a-kid-himself Dean’s handlebars as he races to the hospital left me so emotional I didn’t know whether to squee or sob. Sam wanting to be Batman, following in his big brother’s footsteps always – it reiterates so much of canon history, so many things the brothers have said to each other and been to each other. You can see how emotional Dean is as he remembers, a fond expression on his face (and eye crinkles!)

You can see that Sam has the same fond recollection, affectionately ribbing his brother (like they used to all the time, OMG Show you’re killing me here!) before he schools his face into a more serious expression. Kudos to Padalecki for making it look like Sam had to really struggle to do so.

xxx 9.15 dean remembers3

xxx 9.15 sam remembers

So, in the end, I liked this episode a lot. I don’t know whether the imperfect mirroring was intentional, or if TPTB insisted that the parallels be more on the nose so even a brand new viewer could get it, as they’re apt to do. I prefer to believe the former, because there’s a reason SPN is my tv boyfriend. Show really is smart and witty and funny and gorgeous and makes me FEEL. So I’ll be right here in the bleachers, cheering for my winning team.

PS – Twitter started clamoring for fanart of that backstory immediately, and fandom, as always, didn’t disappoint. If the uncredited one is yours, please let us know so we can credit. Couldn’t resist posting them all, because damn, our fandom is talented.

by desuchieru
by desuchieru
by kikistiel
by kikistiel

xxx 9.15 patronhippienot

Where are those tissues??

So what did you think?? Tell us in the comments!

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38 thoughts on “Winchesters Through the Funhouse Mirror: Supernatural’s Thinman

  • I think you are excusing heinous writing because you know the writer. Anytime a TV show talks down to its fan base like that, it’s a real problem. In this case especially since you know the demographic is far from kindergarten – so the anvils were insulting. The fact that the parallel used exact phrases? Horrendous. Comparing apples to oranges – Ed and Harry to Sam and Dean – as bad as, well, comparing apples and oranges.

    • I really feel that its true that people see things as they are not as the thing is. It did not occur to me even for a moment that I was being talked down to. In fact, I didn’t even think that they were being sickenly obvious about drawing parallels. What I saw was the attempt to illustrate the strength of the bond between these brothers. because these other two people were going through something which was insignificant in comparison to what Sam and Dean had endured just that week. And what these other guys were going through, which was insignificant in comparison to the life and death issues plaguing Sam and Dean, was enough to cause them to ‘break up’, ‘go their separate ways’, ‘change their relationship status to its complicated’. But Sam and Dean who really should have been on “Its complicated” since probably always, are still slogging along together, finding ways to forgive even this. Because Sam tells wotisname that there are things you can forgive and things you can’t, and you have to decide. This guy decides he can’t forgive the other guy for what was essentially his own decision to leave his fiance for him. It was a choice that he made regardless of the lie the other guy told. However, in the end when the other guy asks about the empty rocking chair, both Sam and Dean are unable to say the words that ‘they relate’ because they CAN’T. They can’t fathom letting that bond they have go, and looking forward to that empty chair. Whatever things Sam may have SAID, his actions have been saying the opposite. and that’s what I think the episode was saying to us. That other people might break up over inconsequential shit, but Sam and Dean are truly ‘through thick and thin until the end’. and I for one, found it to be a beautiful thing.

  • This is exactly what I’ve been saying since the episode aired. The parallels were for the boys to see, not us. It needed to be so obvious because, as someone in my timeline commented: “when it comes to each other, sometimes they’re as dumb as a bag of hair” 🙂 And yes, the boys will also see that their situation, while similar, is not identical. That they can (and will) choose a different ending for themselves. I do believe the writers know how smart the fans are, and that nothing happens on Supernatural without a damn good reason (whether we like that reason or not).
    I’m in it till the end, whatever the outcome, because nothing will stop me watching and loving this show.

    • Jilly, I so agree with you. I have no doubt we will see in future episodes how this time may have affected Dean and Sam. Yes, we fans are smart and like you, most of us are “in it till the end.” I have never been as affected by any tv program or movie as I have been by this :little show”, which I attribute to the marvelous acting of Jensen and Jared, the great writing, along with all the behind scenes production work-from sets to locations to the music. I realize because it is on the CW that Emmys are probably never going to happen, but the show deserves an Emmy in just about every category-except “Leading lady in a TV series.”
      Love, love, love this show.

  • I cried once when I saw ep & then now when I read your article
    you mention all the things reallyy well
    agree with u so much in that ghostfacers parallel with Winchesters
    && that ultimate lines… ruined me

  • Guilty of griping on twitter about the anvils/parallels! – but I realized shortly after what was happening was the boys needed to see from other’s perspective a “reflection” of their own situation, even though skewed. The last scene in the car was a wake up call for both of them to really think about what’s happening between them and a start to turning things around…or face the possibility of an empty chair beside them. I want to think Harry opened their eyes to taking the steps to open up and talk, and if their faces were any indication, I believe he did.

    What worries me is the lasting effects of hurtful words said between them up to this point, if they can get past them and become friends again. Brothers who would indeed die for each other without hesitation. They do love each other, but right now don’t like each other very much. These are not our Winchesters!

    I’m anxious to see what effect the mark of Cain will have on Dean. Seems his coldness with killing the busboy was the start of it’s effects, and Sam’s expression when he did was one of wtf though he kept it to himself like he does with everything lately. I also want to see and hear Sam’s POV which has been lacking for years. It’s almost like he’s invisible now and that pains me because Sam is wonderful when he is just our Sam. I miss that guy.

    Thanks for your in-depth review(s). I always enjoy reading them and seeing things I may have missed through your eyes. Helps me put things in perspective when I’m in a tizzy about this little show of ours. 🙂

  • First of all: every week, my SPN watching experience isn’t complete until I’ve read your review and the comments. Only then can I call the episode of the week a done deal and start looking forward to next Tuesday. Which isn’t a bad thing, really.

    Second of all: Fanart makes me tear-up. Such talented people. “I was following you.” Sob!

    Third: I watched the episode and winced as well at the heavy duty parallel construction. But then I started thinking…really. Who else are Sam and Dean going to have to be parallel to? (Or, to whom to be parallel, if you prefer.) Because really, there’s NO one they can talk to besides each other. Castiel is off fighting the good fight and he can’t help the boys sort out their mess right now. And everyone else is dead. (Or Crowley.)

    There IS Jody Mills; she’s still alive, or at least, she was in 9.08, per the wiki. Not sure who else there is who knows the Winchesters and seen them in their past lives.

    I’m probably missing someone. But if I’m not–well, the writers had to trot out SOMEONE for the boys to interact with, and with that in mind, I thought Ed and Harry were actually not a bad choice. Funhouse mirrors may distort but they still cast a reflection, and to that end, story was served. Otherwise, we’d have to sit through a series of flashbacks; that’s already been done this season. And truly, it was more interesting to enjoy a flashback in face time with the boys themselves, just to see their reactions to it. (Break my heart, why don’t you?)

    I’m going to miss the Ghostfacers, though. (Damn it, SPN, you killed another character!)

  • Reading your review this morning was like looking into a mirror of my own jumbled thoughts, lol. You’ve captured practically everything that I loved about this episode, but also the things that bothered me a bit.

    *Not that much ever bothers me… I should publish a disclaimer: there is NEVER a time when I don’t enjoy seeing Sam and Dean on my television screen 🙂 *

    Before watching the episode, I’d heard that there’d been a mixed reaction to it. So I really think I had that on my mind while I was watching it and that is always a mistake for me (but I find it hard to avoid, being in Australia, at work, anxiously waiting to go home to watch… I often peek at Twitter).

    I did enjoy ‘Thinman’, but my initial thoughts were that it wasn’t very subtle with its parallels between the unhappy Ed and Harry versus the unhappy Sam and Dean. But on my second watch, I did take more notice of Sam and Dean’s reactions to the Ghostfacers dramas – and I, too, am hopeful that they’ve taken all of this in to help with their own relationship woes. I also like your conclusion about the funhouse mirrors… it’s very apt.

    After the episode, I was also reflecting on how the Ghostfacers (and Garth), who’ve been used as comic relief in the past, have been given more serious roles this season. On the one hand, it’s great to see these characters evolving, but on the other, I really miss the lightheartedness that they’ve added previously. I’m still not 100 per cent sure how I feel about it, but, once again, I enjoyed the Ed and Harry angsty scenes more on the second viewing.

    Overall, and in the context of the whole season, I think the episode fits well. As you said, “I can see the wheels turning for both of them. Agonizingly slowly, yes, but this wouldn’t be Supernatural if it didn’t shatter my heart and then drag it through the mud for five or six or twenty episodes.” I agree!

    I also remain very hopeful and I’m enjoying the journey we are being taken on.

    There were also a lot of things I loved about ‘Thinman’. The Ghostfacers dialogue was brilliant. I particularly liked: “Stop raining on my rainbow”. I can see myself saying that, lol.

    And, of course, the Weechesters scene! This made me SO happy and SO heartbroken all in the same moment. Is that even possible? It’s up there with my all-time favorite Supernatural moments (which also includes Sam’s Sir Galahad recollection last season). Thanks for sharing the fan artwork. It’s brilliant.

    And thanks for another great review. As ‘editorburns’ said above, “my SPN watching experience isn’t complete until I’ve read your review and the comments”. 🙂

  • Excellent review. I really like the pictures you used to convey your message. I firmly believe you have once again aptly sussed out the big picture. Like others, I initially disliked the heavy parallels but not enough to Twitter-rant. It wasn’t til the next day that I realized that it was mostly a distorted view to push Dean further away. Once again, I’m not sure what Sam took away but I too see the softening on his side.

    Neither brother wants to leave the other. I have great hope for them.

    As I mentioned in my tweet to you, I was REALLY disturbed by Dean’s deliberate killing of the not-so “big bad”. It definitely crossed a line. A second rewatch has me more comfortable that we are supposed to see his actions as wrong. Presuming this is correct, I can live with the storyline and hope Sam pulls him back. It’s difficult to watch.

    My biggest concern is how slow they are building up the story. The math is pretty clear for the rest of the season and I’d really like them to pick up the pace. I’m not sure this is going to be the case. To be honest, this episode had great moments and season-long implications but it’s not one I’m likely to watch start-to-finish multiple times. I’ll watch scenes. But I prefer the pacing of Holy Terror or First Born. The MOTW episodes can be great but this was just not one of them for me.

    My second concern, and I’m sure you’ll relate to this from a Fangasm perspective, is that if it took most of us a second watching to get the distorted mirror perspective, then it was probably too subtle in it’s use of heavy anvils to make a point. I dislike negative fan feedback for my favorite “team” and yet I don’t feel that fans should have to watch twice to get a point. So, as you said, either this was waaaaaaay too “on the nose” or expected the audience to get a perspective that casual viewers are just not going to invest the time into figuring out.

    But I’m with you regarding sitting on the benches here. I’m here till the hopefully not-too-bitter end. I think they have a potentially dynamite story arc going on and hope that it comes together at a good pace the rest of the season.

  • It’s hard to forgive; I like that the show is taking its time with the issue, exploring it from all perspectives, including the tall tale/folktale/meta aspect in this last episode. And lest we forget that humor itself is a perspective, you didn’t mention the moose on the lampshade in the photo you include here.

  • Thank you, Lynn: you’ve given me different eyes to see the problems I had with the episode, and a rationale to permit me to diminish them. That’s a precious gift. I will smish you and promise a tackle-hug for Jenny Klein.

    Thank you. Much love.

  • Ohhhhh, the anvils! I admit to being super ticked about the anvils. I felt like I was being smacked over the head with the parallel & it was just plain unenjoyable.

    I REALLY hope you are right & that there is something else there & we should look deeper into the parallel & that maybe it is a “funhouse mirror”..because I honestly find it slightly insulting that Harry & Ed’s relationship would be compared to Sam & Dean’s. Harry & Ed are BFFs for sure..but Sam & Dean? Really…? I just hate to think that SPN would really simplify & trivialize the brothers relationship & bond that much. I just felt like it was such an unfair comparison.

    Aside from the anvils, I enjoyed the episode. I think Jenny writes some of the best one-liners on the entire writing staff. I also LOVED the brothers reminiscing about their childhood – ah, Batman & Superman! So much I loved about that scene. I loved that they were dressed in coordinating superhero costumes, I loved that Sam only jumped because his big brother jumped, I loved that Dean took him to the ER on his bike. So many feels! I loved how both brothers seemed to get lost in that moment for a minute & all the tension/heartache/anger just faded away. I loved the easy smiles. It was classic Sam & Dean.

    I didn’t like that it felt like tease – that short one minute scene brought me so much joy & made me remember why I have stuck with this show for 9 seasons. And then two minutes later it was all snatched away. It was an in-your-face reminder of what the writers have been withholding from us for far, far, far too long.

    I have no doubt that Carver & the writers have a plan & we are on a journey & there is a set endgame (and it is probably awesome) – but, as cliche as it sounds, if you don’t enjoy the journey..then what is the point? I use to look forward to SPN each week & now I kinda dread it. I consider DVR-ing it & waiting to watch it until I can drink all the wine. And I hate that. We have gone 15 episodes this season without Sam & Dean really being Sam & Dean (Sam was Gad for a lot of the 1st half of the season so we missed out on quality Sam & Dean time) – at least not the Sam & Dean we fell in love with. And the brothers were really at odds for a significant portion of last season. It has just gotten very tedious. You have Jared & Jensen who have the most fantastic chemistry & I feel like that is wasted when they both are just stewing.

    I really think Sam & Dean set the tone for SPN, and when they aren’t working, SPN isn’t working. I guess I just don’t get why Carver has chosen to pit the brothers against each other for so much of his reign thus far. I really felt like something was accomplished in “Sacrifice,” & trusts were voiced & that Season 9 was going to Team Seam&Dean. And it hasn’t been. That is a huge disappointment to me. Sam & Dean working together against outside forces or for a common cause works so well (see Seasons 1-3), so why the need for this brother-vs-brother drama & why for so long?

    I loved the rocking chair line at the end of the episode. I really do think that is both Sam & Dean’s happy ending. I just hope the writers plan to get the brothers there before the series comes to a close. I want to enjoy Sam & Dean enjoying being brothers again.

    • “I have no doubt that Carver & the writers have a plan & we are on a journey & there is a set endgame (and it is probably awesome) – but, as cliche as it sounds, if you don’t enjoy the journey..then what is the point? I use to look forward to SPN each week & now I kinda dread it. I consider DVR-ing it & waiting to watch it until I can drink all the wine. And I hate that. We have gone 15 episodes this season without Sam & Dean really being Sam & Dean (Sam was Gad for a lot of the 1st half of the season so we missed out on quality Sam & Dean time) – at least not the Sam & Dean we fell in love with. And the brothers were really at odds for a significant portion of last season. It has just gotten very tedious.”

      Totally agree with this. I’m not enjoying this journey at all. Even if the outcome is wonderful we’ll have wasted a whole season getting there. And I have my doubts anyway about whether JCs definition of a “healthier” or “more mature” relationship for D&S will match what I want to see. After all this is the writer who decided Sam wouldn’t look for Dean – proving he doesn’t understand Sam’s character or the brothers bond – and called it “mature” – proving he doesn’t know the meaning of the word. I also doubt whether any apparent resolution this season will last into next. The beautiful Sacrifice moment didn’t even survive the hiatus.

      “I really think Sam & Dean set the tone for SPN, and when they aren’t working, SPN isn’t working. I guess I just don’t get why Carver has chosen to pit the brothers against each other for so much of his reign thus far. I really felt like something was accomplished in “Sacrifice,” & trusts were voiced & that Season 9 was going to Team Seam&Dean. And it hasn’t been. That is a huge disappointment to me. Sam & Dean working together against outside forces or for a common cause works so well (see Seasons 1-3), so why the need for this brother-vs-brother drama & why for so long?”

      I totally agree with this too. SPN just isn’t working for me this season. I’m not looking forward to new eps. In fact I’m dreading them. The show is making me feel down rather than being my escape as it always has been. And I just cannot understand what has possessed JC to go down this bro conflict route for 1.5 of the almost 2 seasons he’s been in charge.

      It’s breaking my heart 🙁

      • YES!! It is breaking my heart, too. Maturity? I think a mature relationship recognizes AND accepts individual differences but cares enough to love anyway. I liked what you said about enjoying the journey…

  • Great review as always. I had to work so couldn’t watch until midnight online. I made the mistake of reading some twitter first so I had trepidations after seeing all of the ‘anvil’ comments. After my first viewing I was just plain sad. Hearing Sam’s forgiveness speech and what secrets do to a relationship I was already sinking. Then the rocking chair speech from Harry did me in. I got something BIG in my eye! All I could picture was a split screen of each in their own lonely rocking chair ALONE! The look on their faces. GUH

    However, after reading yours and another good review I realized those boys needed an anvil! Two things going against them to get the picture
    1-they are Winchesters
    2-they are men

    Both of these require anvils sometimes when it comes to relationships. So now I have hope again. Although I have to say that the photos of Dean with the Blade from Blade Runner SCARES me to death.

  • Thanks for a thorough review that addressed what bothered me the most, the anvils falling right and left. Like you, I was at first annoyed and felt like I didn’t get much from the episode besides the cute backstory and the funny one-liners (which Jenny Klein delivered in spades).

    I did a little thinking over the last couple of days, too, and the parallels seemed more like warning signs to me. Sam and Dean have the opportunity to see what their story reflected onto someone else and they can keep going down the path they’re on, or they can decide to make a course correction. Of course, the Mark could, and should (I hope) change everything and is it bad that I want to see Dean go full-on bad guy just so Sam can pull out all the stops to save him?

    I loved the moment Dean went cold and killed the guy. Finally, some clue that all is not right with Dean and it’s not just drinking and depression. If the show can pull it off, I think it would be a great way for Sam to see just how important he and Dean are to each other and that they can never stop being family. I’m excited!

  • Excellent review!! I totally agree with so much of what u say, but of course say it well more eloquently than i ever could. I loved this ep! Thought it had a lot of scary moments than the show has had in a long time! And i was one of the few tht enjoyed the obvious parallels between the Winchesters n the Ghostfacers. I do not think the SHOW believes the audience is stupid. i think they did tht intentionally n wanted to show these parallels through Dean n Sam’s eyes. I had only wished that it was Dean that talked to Harry and Sam talked to Ed so that they could have heard the other’s point of view and got a better understanding of the reasoning behind the betrayals n disappointments. I also wished that Harry forgave Ed in the end to show the brothers it is possible to gt past their own issues and realize they choose to be with each other not out of blood or obligation but out of love, respect n friendship. But that’s just my sappy heart wishing the impossible 😉

  • This review was just perfect! Best line: “Dean and Sam are smart. They’re almost as smart as the SPN fandom. They’ll figure it out.” I like that!

  • Anvils, schmanvils, I loved this ep! Because it got me what I want- the first real step forward to a new, mended brother relationship. One of those anvils hit Dean, and reminded him of what he’s gonna lose if he doesn’t do right, and one anvil hit Sam and reminded him that he doesn’t want to grow old without Dean.

  • I have not been comfortable with the bringing up of what Dean did as a big brother whether it was the cynical Bad Boys or the broken arm story in this episode in a season where he did what he did to Sam. I feel like Sam has had rightful reasons to feel what he does and a softening of the violation as in this review does him a dis-service . I understand the need to have a brothers relationship but if whether it is through a lack of Sam pov or the writers backpeddling where Sam is concerned we end up with a relationship that not only has not moved forward but a Dean who himself has learnt nothing than he has before and it is a Sam that has had to accept Dean as is but a Dean that has no requirement to accept Sam and even respect Sam’s autonomy .

    Dean caused the current rift , it has not been Sam’s perceived unfair , unreasonable reaction to what was done to him . I thought the scene between Harry and Sam where Harry was talking about the betrayal he felt was another example of the writer using a character to represent Sam without taking the opportunity to actual use the scene to have Sam talk. I did not dislike the episode however I have disliked the lazy Sam writing in a season his justified hurt and anger should be explored.

  • Well, I have to say, I got the anvils right from the start. You could just see their faces, and how they checked each other out and you could tell what was going on in their minds. It had to be like that because it was meant to hit THEM in their faces. I really liked it that the Ghostfacers drama got to them and made them open their eyes. Sam is increasingly unable to conceal his true feelings. His surprise and disappointment at Dean going on a hunt without him, his voice and face when he thought the Thinman was gonna kill Dean and his expression in the final scene pretty much say it all. He even said it himself: it’s up to him to decide whether he can forgive this or not and I think for the first time he realized the consequences of not forgiving Dean, will hurt him just as bad. As for the comparison between the Ghostfacers and Sam and Dean, I think just like the anvils, it just has to be comparable enough for Sam and Dean to see themselves in the situation, so I don’t read much into that.

    On another matter, I like the Ghostfacers, I’ve always liked them as characters and it makes me a little sad the way it ended for them, but I certainly hope they too can solve their problems some time in the future and be together again because I saw something of Sam and Dean in them. When they just arrive at the place the Thinman, well, Thinmen more like, were holding Sam and Dean, they stop for one tiny moment to make this “facers” gesture they used to before. To me, that says they’re still them, just like the Winchesters are still themselves when things get tough. That means there’s reason for hope.

    I found the Winchesters in sort of a protective-big-brother mode towards Ed and Harry. That was kind of sweet. And so was the reminiscence moment. Not only for the memory itself and the feelings it triggered, but just because of the two of them, sitting side by side having a snack and a beer and discussing a case. I’m sorry, Sam, but that’s as familiar as it gets. Being brothers is not something you can just turn off. There’s so much more to it than the one thing separating them now and Sam needs to see that.

    Nice episode. I enjoyed it and it left me with a little beacon of hope. Oh, and I join the group who considers your review an important and insightful part of the Supernatural experience 🙂

    • “but just because of the two of them, sitting side by side having a snack and a beer and discussing a case.”

      You bring up a good point.

      On the second re-watch, I noticed something – when the boys first arrive at the hotel room, Sam is set up on his computer by the door/window. Dean is still unpacking/walking around, but when Dean pulls out his own computer, he sets up on the complete opposite side of the room from Sam.

      Next scene in the hotel room, while both still on their own laptops, Sam has moved to the table Dean was at – they are on opposite sides of the table, but they are sharing the table.

      For the reminiscing scene, the brothers are sitting on the same side of the table & sharing one computer screen.

      With all the anvils, I missed this really intentional progression. So bravo for that, Jenny.

      • And then, when Ed goes out for coffee and is listening to Sam and Dean outside their room, it’s pretty obvious there is NO window on the outside wall of their room, there’s just a wall where the window USED to be. (A wall with a decoration on it.) And it’s an interior wall, too, in an interior hallway, when inside the boys’ room there is obviously a window with light that changes according to the time of day (or outside). OOPS!

  • What about the “monsters” in this ep? I keep going back to the really disturbing moment when Dean shoves the knife into Roger and brutally twists it — with a look of such coldness it takes me back to the look on his face when he tortured Alastair. And Sam’s reaction? I think we’re gonna get some discussion between the brothers next ep. Yes!!

  • Wonderful review and analysis as always. I loved the episode, and if I did feel it was a bit on the nose from time to time, I found so much to enjoy in it I could look past that. Your suggestion to look at it from Sam and Dean’s POV is well reasoned. It is sometimes difficult for watchers of a television show, who are often in the position of third person omniscient POV, to put themselves in the positions of the various characters–no matter how good Jensen and Jared are at wordless expression. But the one thing that struck me as significant and not so terribly unsubtle was the fact that the parallels were not used as a the emotional equivalent of CW cream. No rapprochement between the Ghostfacers and none between the Winchesters either. What that says to me is that we have a lot more road to travel–a road with some twists and turns we can’t even see yet–before we reach the intersection where the boys reconnect. Fine with me. I’ll make that journey any time!

    In the meantime, I still want to giggle about the “collection of sticks in the shape of a pile” and adopt as a slogan “punched right in the feels!”

  • Fabulous review, as always. Your thoughts mirror my own, and they didn’t take an anvil to register! However, rather than rehash the unrehashable, I have some thoughts about what’s coming at us:

    The main plot device that has so far been lurking in a very dark corner is the Mark of Cain. This is the big Hitchcockian maguffin we’re all going to get slammed with further on in Season 9. Dean’s humanity is slipping away — as he told Veritas, “I’m a killer, not a father.” The expressions on his face illustrate the increasingly cold winter of his soul as it is slowly revealed. (Sort of like this Winter!) We fans rage at things about the Show that irritate or infuriate us, forgetting that the BIG BOO! is careening toward us (thanks, Jeremy!), and we are all about to be blown back from our viewing screens. (Remember how fandom went ballistic when Crowley was “killed” in ‘Caged Heat?’) In any event, the greatest things about SPN and its best horror roots are its subtlety — Horror and fear are better when they sneak up on us and make us crazy-scared. Supernatural is a master of the subtle, as Jensen pointed out in an interview. It is not ham- or anvil-fisted. We are all, of course, being tortured with this truth at the moment. My intention is to put seat belts on my bed-chair-computer table, stock up on booze, dig out the hankies, and totally abandon myself to this phenomenal show and everyonel, including its FANS, who can’t imagine a world without it!

  • Loved this episode. I thought they got the parallels just right, especially after the cryptic exchanges between Sam and Dean which opened the door for so many ridiculous interpretations. For example, I can’t believe that people think suddenly Sam might not love Dean or wouldn’t go out of his way to save Dean. So people act surprised when Sam acts like he’s concerned about Dean. Of course, he cares. You never had a fight with your sibling? Even Lucifer said, “Nobody messes with Michael but me.” And they were about to fight to the death.

    Sam said ‘some things you can forgive and some you can’t’. Turns out Harry can’t forgive Ed for his betrayal and chose to separate. On the other hand, Sam expressed his displeasure to Dean about his betrayal, Dean said he’d do it again, and yet Sam is still there. Even in this episode when Dean was about to leave without Sam, he stopped him, joined him. That says a lot without saying a word.

    The childhood flashback was so cute & cuddly. When Sam hesitated, it occurred to me that Sam has been following his big brother Dean “blindly” all his life. But this betrayal and all the circumstances surrounding it has suddenly made Sam realize that he and Dean see some things quite differently and now he’s asserting his autonomy. No longer willing to follow “blindly”. Turns out this revelation couldn’t have come at a better time because it appears Dean is headed down a very dark road and Sam will have to pull him back from the dark.

    As a Child Advocate volunteer, when a 9 year old shows up in ER with a 5 year old with a broken arm, I have to wonder where the hell was CPS?

  • I appreciate your Herculean efforts to see the positives Amy, but I thought this ep was beyond awful. One of the poorest in the whole series.

    The brothers are being written so ooc I barely recognise them. The 10 ton anvils falling on our heads throughout screaming ‘look – what’s happening to the ghostfacers is just like S&D’ added no insight whatsoever, were as subtle as a…well…a 10 ton anvil, and were clumsily done. Like you I don’t even buy that the situations were that similar. D&Ss issue was a life or death one. The GFs was just a lie about a fake case so one of them didn’t dump his friend for a girl. Hardly comparable. But unlike you I’m not prepared to excuse this as somehow intentionally obvious or a clever writing double bluff. To me it was just very poor, unsubtle writing.

    The case itself was a sub par Scooby Doo plot. The story was amateurishly constructed. Did the apparently superfluous scene where the manager chewed out the waiter actually fool anyone? If the Thinman was human how exactly did he ‘teleport’ into the girls wardrobe from behind the girl, or into the diner from the car park etc? How could a weedy human hold his own against Dean?

    The D&S bits were as depressing, forced, confusing, lacking in pov and ooc as they have been for 4 eps now. We are just repeating a loop. Some external person (Kevin, Cas, Mrs Tran, the GFs) makes some comment or provides a clumsy point / comparison that we’re meant to associate with the bro relationship; family is everything, you chose each other, cut the drama it’s stupid, some lies are unforgivable yadda yadda. Except you’re left confused by these. They shed no light on what the writers see as truth or how Dean or Sam are feeling. Sam acts like a bitter, grumpy child who doesn’t care about Dean, only to go into blind panic mode when he thinks Dean is threatened. That has happened 4x in the last 3 eps now. Again anvil much? We get it. Sam still loves Dean. But so what if he can’t say a civil word to him, is making no effort to fix things, yet isn’t kicking Dean out either. What does he want? No clue. Why is Dean still there? Again no clue.

    We have seen zero, zilch, nada progress, insight or anything resembling the real characters of Sam and Dean (apart from the tiny scene in this ep where they recalled their childhood) for a long time now.

    On a wider note the pacing is all over the place. We are ramping up to the final act of the season and we’ve been treading (foul, dull, muddy) water for weeks. Are they ever going to mention the Mark of Cain? (You are reading into this ep a link to the MoC that I’m not sure was intentional and I suspect is a stretch). Where is Crowley? What about Abbaddon? What about Metatron, Gadreel, the angel war? Cas has been largely AWOL and disconnected from D&Ss story. It’s been all MOTW plus D&Ss depressing angst-fest for weeks now.

    I know I’m not the only fan who is completely out of patience with this. I didn’t watch 9.14 til a couple of days ago (I thought it was pretty poor but not as dire as this weeks effort). I haven’t missed watching an ep within 2 or 3 hours of live since I started watching the show. I only watched this weeks in the vain hope of some light relief. I am on the verge of giving up and I have been a hugely loyal and passionate fan. I know others feel the same.

    As I say I do appreciate your positivity and believe me I am trying to share it but I think to do that I’d have to have your faith in the writers and in JCs vision. Unfortunately I don’t.

  • I always appreciate your diplomacy and optimism, although I’m not sure that I agree in this case. 🙂

    My initial reaction was to take offense at how the parallel ignored/trivialized the context of the brothers’ lives – as you say, a direct comparison is unfair, Dean’s motivation (saving a life) and Ed’s motivation (to stay ghostfacers) are not in any way comparable. I appreciate your interpretation that this is supposed to be seen through Sam and Dean’s POV (if so, I agree with others that in such an anvilicious episode, this was ironically too subtle to come across in the writing). Even assuming this premise, I still disagree with what specific scenes the writers decided the brothers needed to see.

    The biggest wrong – Dean overriding Sam’s right to self-determination – has not yet been explicitly expressed in the show. Is this going to be ignored, and the problem simplified to “lies ruin relationships”? Some of the more unfair and refutable things Sam said – Dean saving Sam out of selfishness, Dean’s motivation being that he doesn’t want to be alone (this being the accusation that irks me the most – since Dean didn’t exactly have company when he went to hell) – these things were reiterated this episode. The even more unfair accusation of Dean making sacrifices only when he’s not the one getting hurt will probably never be addressed. If the scenes chosen are the things the writers feel Sam and Dean need to hear, I would have to strongly disagree. Both the wrong Sam suffered and the complex motivations for Dean’s mistake have been oversimplified in a way that does not do justice to the characters.

    I am of the opinion that the current arc of Sam and Dean at odds has dragged out way too long. I read a tumblr meta the other day which had some thoughts on why people are not as sympathetic with Sam even though he was wronged: “…consequences are disproportionately more severe in comparison to how other mistakes have been addressed on the show – even though in real life [Sam] would have been completely entitled to his reaction.”* I think this makes sense. This problem has had too much screentime and many of us are just bored and desensitized by this point, when so much is set up in the mytharc with little time left to tie up loose ends.

    *Link to her post:

  • Have read all the posts, considered all viewpoints, and pondered the Dean vs. Sam conundrum; i.e., who (not what) is at fault in their currently dysfunctional brotherhood? Reasons and justifications for this dysfunction are all over the map! Each one of several disparate factions has its own point-of-view. All of them are valid and worth serious thought. Being as fair as I can be, personally, I have to give the heaviest weight to the one thing, the one action or non-action that tipped the brothers’ long-term quirky, shaky equilibrium out of balance. (This done for my own sanity, by the way; I need to vent.)

    Sam did not look for Dean after the explosion in the Dick Roman lab. Sam’s relief at Dean’s absence — dead or alive — gave Sam his escape from the hunter’s life he hated. This is my Ground Zero for why Sam would let Dean die, as he told him, if it came to Sam’s choice.

    More than tragic, more than heartbreaking, this one revelation by Sam to Dean (Sam’s true feelings about Dean’s presence in his life) provides — for me — conclusive evidence that Sam believes he can only have a “normal” life if Dean is gone for good and forever; Sam needs no brother. This truth was the iron hammer hitting the anvil for Dean. Sam’s words cannot now be unsaid.

    [Note: You will recall Lisa’s words to Dean (in “Veritas”) about the sick relationship she thinks Sam and Dean have as brothers. Her anguished words that, “I love my sister, but if she died, I wouldn’t go to Hell to get her back,” echo down the SPN seasons to Sam, who reached the identical conclusion.]

  • Great review as always. I really enjoyed the show but it left me in tears and left me hurting for both the brothers and so worried about what is this mark of Cain doing to Dean. I had so many thoughts and feeling s going into this episode and way after it was over.

  • Loved this article & thanks for including the fan art drawings. After reading your article I felt some of my “grief” fade over the way thinman ended. I was telling the TV “but… Dean saved his LIFE”, etc so you verbalized my feelings so well! Maybe now I can re watch the Thinman episode. I haven’t watched it again because it tore my heart out!

  • I loved this in-depth episode analysis. What a treat! I had a hard time with this episode the first time as well. But repeat viewings of SPN episodes always have a way of getting better and better and you see more each time. That’s one of the 1,000 or so things I love so much about Supernatural!

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