Thursday, March 26, 2009

"It's a Terrible Life"

The last several episodes of Supernatural have been super heavy, so it's natural that this one was projected to be light and funny.

But come on. This is the fandom that counts "Mystery Spot" among its favorite episodes, because of the combination of humor and pathos. So did we really expect this week's episode to be "Hollywood Babylon"?

Oh, wait, that's next week.

Number One, who watches with me, had to go to bed straight after the show, so I couldn't write this up while I watched. So I'm sure I'm going to miss details, and I will likely ramble all over the place. Please fill in the blanks and make corrections in the comments. We're interactive! :)


I was kind of surprised that they launched us right into it. We have no idea what's going on when we see Dean Smith getting ready for work, making himself a latte at home, wearing suspenders, combing his hair flat...and driving a Prius to work.

Dude. NPR.

We see him totally comfortable as the director of sales and marketing, schmoozing it up and--OMG--eating a salad. Getting a master cleanse recipe from someone on the phone...I'm sorry, but even in alterna-world, there is no bloat on that boy.

In the meantime, Sam Wesson (can you believe I didn't GET IT* until long after the episode was over?!) is working tech support. Apparently, the company they work for is full of morons who can't operate their printers. He's friends with a guy one cubicle over. At first, I yelled, "He's the one!" because he wasn't wearing the yellow shirt. I was wrong. But that's later. Ian and Sam are friends, and Ian gets off on listening to Sam talk about his dreams. He finds stuff like, "I saved a grim reaper named Tessa from demons" high-larious. But it's apparently affecting Sam's sleep, because he dozes off over his work and scenes from past episodes his real life flicker through his mind.

Let me pause for a moment to say how delicious Sam is in a polo shirt, even if it is a bit too stiff and loose and I can't believe I'm saying this, but...I miss his hunting clothes. He seems diminished without his boots and the layers that make his wide shoulders look even wider. It's a minor degree, though, really--I mean, how many men tower over cubicle walls like that?


I've only seen Office Space once--Trish, were the recurring images of copiers and papers being faxed and pencils being sharpened a tribute to that movie? How about the phone later? I remember the printer thing, but did he do the phone?

Anyway again.

Sam stares at Dean in the elevator in their first encounter and is sure he knows him from somewhere. Dean blows him off. "Save it for the health club, pal." Later, alone in the elevator again, Sam asks him about ghosts, and tells him he's been having these dreams. Dean seems to have adapted to his new life a little more easily, since he doesn't appear to sense anything amiss, hasn't been having dreams, doesn't recognize Sam one iota...of course, can we blame him? After what he learned?

So there's an employee obsessed with his work, and when his computer freezes and he loses some, he panics, then says he failed the company, then goes and sticks his head in the microwave. Gruesome. Everyone's pretty shaken by it, and suspicious Dean shows his first inkling that he's not like the rest of these corporate drones or even the movers and shakers at his higher level. Then Ian appears in a yellow shirt after having been called up to Human Resources, and he's obsessed with his work. If Sammy was himself, he would have clued in already, but even though he knows it's weird, he doesn't know why or what to look for.

Then Dean calls Ian upstairs and lets him know he filled out the wrong report. Ian gets disproportionately upset, even with Dean's reassurances. He runs to the bathroom, and Dean follows. We get typical ghostie activity: breath-fogging cold, running taps, soap dispensers gone wild. When Ian stabs himself in the neck with a pencil (poetic, considering he'd just stolen a few packs), Dean sees a reflection of an old man who isn't there. After giving his report to the authorities, he calls Sam up to his office.

It took him a little longer than usual, but Sam's clued now. He found the connection between the two employees after hacking their e-mail accounts. Dean calls him on that, he admits to having some skills, and Dean, instead of being corporately disapproving, finds it sweet (as in sah-weet, not awww). Both guys had been called to HR in room 1444--except, as Dean points out immediately, HR is on 7.

Both guys have been working at this company for three weeks. That's coincidentally odd, but hey, it's a big company, and they don't work together, so it's not that much of a coincidence, I guess. They talk about what's going on, and can't help themselves--they go investigate.

They arrive in room 1444 just as another employee, who'd been called up there, is trapped (more ghostie activity, with the monitors in this storeroom all turning on with static) and is about to be electrically altered by the ghost (ref. "Asylum" in season one). The boys get thrown up against the wall and shelves (standard treatment, though they don't know that!) and Dean grabs a huge iron wrench, swinging it through Mr. Ghost, saving the random employee.

Back at Dean's (awesome!) apartment, they dissect their heroism. "How'd you know ghosts are afraid of wrenches?!" Sam asks in awe. He wants a beer, but a gleeful Dean, who is on that master cleanse, has gotten rid of all carbs. I think Sam says something about figuring out what's going on, but I don't remember because I was too distracted by Dean calling him Sammy, and then the following exchange:

Sam: Did you just call me "Sammy"?

Dean: I don't know, did I?

Sam: I think you did. (Both look perplexed.) Don't do that.

Dean: Okay. Sorry.

So they start to do some research. Dean find the best site ever, and it's...Ghostfacers! We couldn't stop giggling at them, but Ed and Harry have learned from those douchenozzles Sam and Dean Winchester, and don't hesitate to give them (insulting) credit. They have a step-by-step approach that Sam and Dean follow.

Sam uses his research-fu to find out the founder of the company is their ghost, who poured everything into the company and said his blood ran through its walls. He also finds that there were 17 suicides around the stock market crash that preceded the Great Depression. Dean reflects that the only time things were that bad He laments his portfolio's losses, and the mind boggles.

Then they collect weapons--salt and iron fireplace pokers--while discussing the impossibility of getting guns they can load with rock salt shells. They take the weapons they can collect back to the office--room 1444 was the owner's original office, before the building was made taller--and start to search the room. But a security officer finds Sam and starts to escort him away. I don't know why, but Ghost Boss stops the elevator between floors, and when the security guy climbs out and tries to get Sam to follow, the elevator moves and chops him mostly in half.

You can tell Sera Gamble wrote this episode. No, a beloved recurring character doesn't die, but she definitely writes the most gruesome deaths. Ick and ugh.

Sam goes back to Dean, who has figured out where the remains are (museum level), but when they break open the display holding Ghost Boss's gloves, he appears and they have to fight him. They delight in their prowess, flinging salt through the apparition and whaling away with their pokers. Every time Sam commends Dean, he goes, "Right?" or "I know, right?" He's such a delight.

While Dean is about to become ghost toast, Sam manages to light the ghost's gloves on fire, and ghost is no more. But back in Dean's office, as they post-mortem the job, things get weird. Sam claims that he is not who he is supposed to be. He's meant for more ("Most people who work in cubicles feel that way," says the guy with the nice office) and he hates his job and his clothes and his last name. He wants them to do this for good--go after ghosts--but Dean wonders about the logistics. How would they get money? Steal credit cards? What about sleeping? Crappy motels? He's not thrilled with the idea, but to Sam, that's all just details.

Sam admits that he's been dreaming about hunting with Dean, that they're friends...brothers. Dean says no way, he has a father, Bob, a mother, Ellen, and a sister, Jo. Even through my glee I found that sad--why not his real mother and father? But it makes sense, because it's things he might have half-wished, and it's foreign to reality, so probably easier to maintain in the illusion. On Sam's part, he moved here after he broke up with his fiancée, Madison, but when he called her number he got an animal hospital. Oh, whoever is doing this has a real sense of humor**.

Well, Dean refuses to buy into Sam's weirdness, and when Sam says he knows Dean, Dean gets all serious, says he does not, and sends him away.

The next day, Sam's staring at his phone, which is ringing off the hook. He finally stands, beats the phone to death, and announces that he quits. That's the last we see of him, and I was a bit disappointed by that. Sam has got to be part of Dean's destiny, and it bothers me a little that whenever Dean is forced to face that destiny, Sam is somewhere else.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

Dean's at his desk, trying to work, but it's obvious Sam has gotten to him. His boss comes in, offers him a big bonus because they're so happy with him, entices him with the possibility of a vice presidency if he works seven days a week, 16 hours a day, for a decade. Dean turns him down. Says he's got other work to do. That he just has to do it.

"Finally," the boss says, putting his fingers on Dean's forehead, and all the color drains out of the world.

Light and color are often symbols of wrongness on Supernatural (ref. "What is and What Should Never Be"). Even when we have sunlight and sailboats ("Red Sky at Morning"), the color is washed out a bit. So it's especially jarring to go from the alterna-reality to real-reality, even as it brings a sense of anticipation, an eagerness that goes along with "here come the answers!"

I have to say something here about the acting in the episode. Jared has gotten a lot of praise lately for how far he's come since season one, and the complexity of his character has given him plenty to draw on (moments like when he was lying to Cole in "Death Takes a Holiday"). But Jensen, who has been amazing since the pilot, once again nails every beat. In the early scenes, there wasn't an iota of Dean Winchester in him. When Sam confronts him and he sends him away, we see some flickers. But when Zachariah (his boss, but in reality Castiel's boss, who doesn't seem to think much of humanity either...but I'm getting ahead of myself again) touches Dean, the weight of Winchester settles over him. He's instantly himself, and his movements, his expressions, change.

At this point, I'm realizing how nice it was to see both boys, but Dean especially, well rested and focused on something mundane. Now it's changed, and it's enough to make you weep. And yet, rejoice, too.

When Dean followed the Hero's Journey Rules and Rejected the Call last week, I wished I was in the room with him to tell him he could wallow for a day, but then he had to suck it up and do his job because for damned sure he was capable. More than. Zachariah's way was better, I guess, though it amounted to the same thing. Dean's strong. Saving people, hunting things, isn't just the family business--it's who Dean is, and he's more than ready to take on his destiny***.

This was all done perfectly, IMO. Sam and Castiel could have cajoled and supported and pushed Dean, tried to convince him he was up to the task, that he had no choice, etc. But they were just too close to him. Dean would never have believed them, or been able to hear what they said through his haze of grief and despair and self-loathing.

But Zachariah was higher up the chain, someone who had the authority and the objectivity to make him hear. Not to mention, the power to not just tell him, but show him the truth. When Dean lived it, it was much harder for him to deny. Plus, the removal of memory sufficient to let him experience the simple ghost hunting job for itself gave him some healing time, some distance he could never have gotten otherwise.

So can Dean do it? Can he face the worst possible fate and make it not happen? It's much, much easier to believe in now.

*Dean Smith and Sam Wesson. Smith and Wesson. Gun manufacturers. Just in case there are people who don't know. I should have. My mother worked for them!

**After seeing the preview for this episode, I'd wondered if the Trickster was behind it. I didn't want him to be, because it's been done before [even though I desperately want the Trickster back!], but this bit of humor fits that guess. Perhaps a bit of deliberate misdirection.

***That was a nice moment when Sam said something about something being in his blood, and referring to destiny, and Dean saying he didn't believe in destiny--their real selves showing through, or a bit of meta-ness in advance of next week's extreme meta episode.


phouse1964 said...

This season is killing me! So many great episodes and the stories are amazing!

I laughed and cringed through it all with glee. The last names. Sam's visions. Nothing and then just a tiny bit of the Dean we know slipping through.

And then, the hope. Again with the Show giving the boys (and us) hope that everything will be alright. What better way than this to bring Dean back in to fight? My heart is breaking yet happy all at once.

Who watched the preview for next week? Anyone? Did you catch the cover of the book?

Anonymous said...

The last names cracked me up! And even though the episode Heart made me cry, I didn't even hesitate laughing out loud when Sam said he tried to call his girlfriend Madison and all he got was some animal hospital. (I love that even though Show drags us through emotional purgatory, it doesn't take itself too seriously to poke fun. Have you guys seen the extended promo for next week over at the CW site? Cracked me up!)

This was without a doubt my very favorite use of the ghostfacers ever. And I think one of the reasons I loved the episode so much was because the boys were working together--even as strangers, they had a better relationship than we've seen in a few weeks. I miss that! But could have done without so much gruesome--ugh. I covered my eyes when the guard was going out the elevator. But when he made it, I lowered my hands just in time to see him reach back in for Sam. Double ugh.

I sensed the balding boss was behind it, but when he came back in with a bonus on paper, I sensed demonic. I was afraid the demons were going to try to get him to sign some contract (with uberscary fine print) and keep him in la la land since we now know he's the only one who can actually stop the apocalypse. But I liked that it was Castiel's boss and the pep talk he gave Dean. It was a good ending, but part of me was wondering how Sam took it when he came back to reality, too. Again, we end with them apart--as opposed to when every episode closed with the two of them together in (or sitting on) the Impala. The division between them is clear even in the show structure!

Cannot wait til next week's.

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. It was too fun. And Nat I couldn't agree more with what you said about Jensen's acting skills. He really shone in this. And I loved when he was "Touched by an Angel" and the color leached out of the world. Really effective. I loved every inside joke and the way they toyed with the things we know and love about Dean -- when he turned the classic rock off in his car I was dying. And, man, did he look yummy is his suits. I mean I prefer his real "work attire," but he's pure gorgeousness. Sigh. And I've always known Jared was huge, but I really became aware of it in this episode. Now if I could just stand next to him to really get a sense of his size. :)

Anonymous said...

I totally want a mock up of those book covers from next week. Even if I did see Fabio on one! Next week is gonna be amazing. Although I can't help make a comparison to Heroes.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Phouse, the hope was SO needed at just this moment, for us of course, as much as the boys.

I died when I saw the first book cover. Even my daughter was cracking up at Fabio.

Tanya, I'm with you on the self-irreverence. I don't know how Sam said that line with a straight face. Ditto about the gruesomeness. My husband, who was the one who originally suggested Number One would like the show, keeps berating me for letting her watch such things. She's not bothered by it--and that's the problem! And yes, the boys working together was such a relief, at least temporarily.

It just struck me--Zachariah could have done it differently, could have just done Dean's life and left Sam out of it, especially after what Castiel saw him do. But he didn't, he made Sam an intrinsic part of the "what you are meant to do" thing. That's encouraging, despite the boys being apart at the end!

Gah, yes, Terri, Dean did clean up awfully nice. :) And I think I forgot to mention--the way the episode was lit, his EYES were so GORGEOUS. It killed me over and over again.

phouse1964 said...

Just another thought because I can't stop thinking about this episode - since Zach had Sam & Dean working together, maybe that was a way to tell them BOTH that that is the way is SUPPOSED to be. They need to work together even if it is Dean's destiny to stop the end.

Speaking of which, I think I might like that both boys have a destiny. It's not just Sam like it was in the first 3 seasons but now Dean is a huge part of "the" destiny.

And if it means we get to see Dean cleaned up and Jared bloody even one more time? I love it!

Anonymous said...

Okay, totally OT, but I'm doing research for Hollyweird and I wish I could find more on on-set visits to the show. Really, I wish I could go visit the set of the show! (I know, don't we all. :) )

Amused by my word verification: refang. That makes my imagination run away.

Bit Of Laurie said...

Hi.. loved reading your detailed analysis of this episode! I usually watch this show with my dad and my teenage brother, who watch it for the ghouls and bloodshed, and I was of course delighted to see Jensen all dressed up and pretty. The latte steaming was hilarious, and so was NPR Morning edition (that's what I do every morning!).

The episode aside, Jensen displayed some awesome acting once again. In addition to the gradual cracks from Dean Smith to Dean Winchester, there was that one moment where Zachariah says "you get to (something) and fornicate with women", and Dean is turned away from Zachariah and facing the camera. He has this expression on his face like "Hmm... you have a point there"... HIL-A-RIOUS!

Anyways, keep up the blogging. I've loved this show from day one, and hope Jensen graduates to other shows or movies so I get to see his acting skills go in different directions.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

maybe that was a way to tell them BOTH that that is the way is SUPPOSED to be

YES! I think you're right.

Terri, I can find some archives for some TV bloggers who all did a site visit in season 2, I think--e-mail me if you want me to look them up.

Thanks, Laurie! I guess your dad and brother got what they like last night, huh? Too much ick for me! And I loved the expression on Dean's face, too, when Zachariah referenced his classic car and fornication and said it's a gift. :) It was a moment of perspective for him. LOL

If you're not aware already, Jensen was in Ten Inch Hero, a NOTHORROR movie that's available to rent at Blockbuster and will be on sale here next month. He was spectacular in it!

Trish Milburn said...

Okay, maybe it's the drugs the doc has me on, but I didn't get the Smith and Wesson thing until I just read your post (hanging my head in shame).

There are what I perceive as shout-outs to Office Space in this. The TPS reports from Office Space are classic, as is the beating to death of the printer that refuses to work -- like the other reports and the poor guy's computer that loses his work in this episode. Plus, just that feeling of drone-dom for people who work in cubicles. Also, there's the thread of stealing from the company.

So many funny moments in this episode -- loved that they were following the Ghostfacers' how-to tutorials. LOL!

I really liked the ending because it surprised me. Didn't see it coming.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Don't worry, Trish, I far outshame you, since, like I said, my MOTHER WORKED THERE. I went to a photo shoot! I have a brochure with my 10-year-old brother featured in it! (He modeled for the photo shoot.)

I just say they did it subtly, that's all. (And I'd swear something I saw with Sam's name on it said Wessen, which is spelled wrong, so....)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Nat. I found all the 2007 set visits and the pics were a big help. I'm still going to hunt down more if I can.

MJFredrick said...

"You get to drive a classic car and fornicate with women." LOLOL-forgot about that line.

Tanya, the demon ending would have been great, too! I covered my eyes on the elevator thing, too.

I saw the cover of the book for next week-looks way fun!

Great write-up!

Bit Of Laurie said...

Oh I just remembered this:

Dean: 'Very creative.'

Zachariah: 'You should see my decoupage.'

Dean: 'Gross. No thank you.'

How funny was that?! LOL.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Yes, hilarious!

Unknown said...

Definitely loved the episode. I'm glad it was a step off from the depressing eps lately (although I do have to say, some of the lines recently have me cracking up. "Uriels the funniest..." was one of my favorites) Anyway... I knew there was something (other than the obvious) about this ep that bothered me. I didn't get it until I read your post, the color was off! It totally threw me. *Slaps head in complete shame* How did I not notice that?!?

I did really like the fact that Sam was a part of Deans realization that he was meant for something more. Dean would never have thought of hunting the ghost without Sam saying something.

I do have to say, after watching it, I have found myself saying "Right" way to much now. Funny how things like that seem to catch on. And did anyone else want to fix Dean's hair? I know everytime I saw it, I wanted to mess up his part. Grr....

Sam was gorgeous in his polo! Although, I thought it was interesting that he was the tech help guy, and Dean was in the "manager-esque" role considering Sam's previous education. Could it be another thing that shows the change in his character? Or maybe I am looking way too much into it.

I cringed when the boys were taking the advice from the Ghostfacers, even though I thought it was hilarious! (Oh yeah, "It's time to do what I do best... Research" had me cracking up! Haha, Dean doing research? On computers? and the salads? lol)

Sorry about the uber long post... I just loved the episode!

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

I didn't get it until I read your post, the color was off! It totally threw me. *Slaps head in complete shame* How did I not notice that?!?

It was one of those subliminal things until Zachariah touched Dean's forehead. But when I watched it last night, Megan's comment that they looked orange made me way too aware of it. :)

I have found myself saying "Right" way to much now.

I know, right?!

And did anyone else want to fix Dean's hair?

It was definitely distracting. :)

and Dean was in the "manager-esque" role considering Sam's previous education.

I think it was probably reflective of Dean's "destiny," which he will need to be in charge of. Sam's by no mean's a grunt in their relationship, but Dean has usually been the leader, so maybe it was a comfort/reminder thing.

Sorry about the uber long post... I just loved the episode!

I am the queen of uber long posts, so bring it on, baby! LOL

MJFredrick said...

I remember thinking the lighting was like a regular show, and when Zachariah touched Dean's head, boom, back to "normal."

Lisa said...

The next day, Sam's staring at his phone, which is ringing off the hook. He finally stands, beats the phone to death, and announces that he quits. That's the last we see of him, and I was a bit disappointed by that. Sam has got to be part of Dean's destiny, and it bothers me a little that whenever Dean is forced to face that destiny, Sam is somewhere else.

I thought this mirrored their real-life attitudes toward being Hunters. Sam has accepted his demon blood and is content to use it to fight evil. Dean, as you said, has refused the call. So, Sam doesn't need to face that destiny since he's already embraced it. I really thought this whole test was mostly for Dean, not so much for Sam.

Great post! Love this blog.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

No, you're right, Lisa, it was a test/message/lesson for Dean, not Sam, but I just hate the growing distance between them and even if Sam wasn't present for the Zachariah speech, I wanted him to be not far away. If that makes sense. LOL So often we don't get to see the aftermath of these big things. Just once I'd like Sam to be nearby.