Next up in our series rewatch of Supernatural, the fourth episode of season 1, ‘Phantom Traveler.’ I believe this is the first episode directed by Bob Singer, who would remain with the show throughout its 15 season run and be pivotal to its evolution, as a director, a producer and eventually a showrunner. The Season 1 DVDs have an episode commentary by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles for this episode, so from time to time I’ll include some of those priceless comments too. They were so young in Season 1, and still new to being the leads of a TV show, but you can tell that their friendship was already clearly solid.
The show is still dark and scary in Season 1, so the opening sequence is scary too. An anxious flyer prepares to board a plane, then some ominous looking black smoke comes out of a bathroom vent and goes right into his eyes. His eyes turn black, and now he’s calm as ever.
Pivotal moment – this is the episode where we’re introduced to demons, who will become so important to the entire series. VFX may have been more primitive in 2005, but the smoke is actually surprisingly well done – and creepy. The black-eyed man momentarily freaks out the flight attendant, then calmly wrenches open the door hatch and brings the plane down, exactly 40 minutes into its flight.
[Jared: I’m really proud of this episode. Good job, Bob. I really enjoy Sam’s relationship with his brother Dean.]
Me fifteen years later: Me too!
After the opening sequence, we always switch to the boys, and this episode is no exception. Well, boy in this case – Dean is asleep, luckily for us on top of the covers and not wearing multiple layers as is way more usual. Singer, perhaps already understanding that the show’s audience was not the mostly male demographic that the WB was expecting after having laid eyes on Jared and Jensen, gives us a slow pan up Dean’s boxer-and-tee-shirt-clad body. The stills and later the gif of that shot became an instant classic in the fandom, for obvious reasons.
I’ve written about this in several of our books, but the show didn’t just lean into the traditional ‘male gaze’ – in this shot, the show turns the tables, something surprising and a little bit subversive for 2005. It’s also something that fandom has delighted in and one of the things that makes fandom such a different type of community, with different norms – a powerful change from what most of us are used to. Especially then. Okay, I’ll move along. I’m just typing to keep this gif in frame…
A shadowy figure enters the motel room and for a moment we’re all on edge. Dean too apparently – he surreptitiously reaches under his pillow – and then Sam wakes Dean up with a too-cheery “Mornin’ sunshine!”
Dean has adorable bed-head and is worried because Sam still isn’t sleeping well and having nightmares. He bristles and denies it when Sam realizes his big brother is worried, though.
Dean: No, it’s your job to keep my ass alive so I need you sharp!
(Forgive the number of caps of said ass, it’s just a really nice scene. Like, well lit. Yes, that’s it.)