ashkiryn: (namora)
[personal profile] ashkiryn
This fourth episode of Supernatural is...interesting, and weird, for me. It's written by Richard Hatem, and I'll note (since I'm going to talk about this below the cut) that this is the first episode directed by Robert Singer (and the only other episode he'll direct this season is "Salvation").

Now, I honestly don't know relatively how much power a director has in the making of a TV show, especially when stacked against people like the showrunner and creator, Eric Kripke. I just don't have the personal experience with the industry, and thus when I hear the term "director", the only true frame of reference that I have comes from stage theatre. And in theatre, while a good director should listen to the input from all the creative processes that go into the making of the production (i.e. the costume, set, lighting, sound, and prop designer, and if it's a musical, the choreographer and vocal instructor and orchestra, etc), they still ultimately are the Authority.What They Say Goes. And even if they're an ass and tell you to make something work when you've said that it's impossible to do so, you'll still try to find a solution. In theatre, the director is the one who blocks out the stage directions, who give comments to the actors about the way that they would like a scene to be played, who tell the lighting technicians that they want a green gel on Jonny's follow spotlight and a pink gel on Toffee's to help set the scene. The script ends up being more along the lines of guidlines than actual rules---for instance, instead of an actor entering from stage right, the director could change that to stage left instead, etc, etc. The idea is to follow the spirit of the script, but as the director you're still bringing your vision to life, and it's your vote that will settle every matter.

That's how theatre works, and I've been given the impression from watching the special features on Harry Potter DVDs that it works like that for film crews as well. But I honestly don't know how involved Kripke was in episodes that didn't directly have his name stamped on them, and therefore I can't help but picture the director of the episode as a sort of stage manager to Kripke(/Gamble/Carver)---i.e. the second Authority behind said showrunner.

I honestly can't provide much commentary on Robert Singer's directing. But from what I've heard from other sources, he tends to be one of the ones who subscribe to the overly simplistic and binary idea of Dean being the brawn, and Sam being the brains of the duo, even all the way up into season 8. This kind of attitude worries me, because if anything, it shows that Singer isn't really a writer, and doesn't seem to grasp the nuance of these characters, especially as they serve to deconstruct numerous tropes. And that makes me ansty, leaving a good chunk of executive power in the hands of someone who lacks a true understanding of his source material. Plus, it's an insult and damaging to both Dean and Sam as characters, to subscribe to such a limited view of their potential. Sam is no Squishy Wizard and lacking in physical capability, and Dean is extremely intelligent, even if that intelligence is based more in practical applications than in academic achievement.

Therefore, you get odd moments of seemingly conflicting characterization in this episode. Like Sam's discussion with Dean in the Impala after Dean made their fake Homeland Security badges, and how he talks about phantom travelers like he expects Dean to already be knowledgeable on the subject and to keep up with him as he postulates further (and Dean does); but yet Sam thinks that Dean doesn't know what the name of God is in Latin (which I find hard to believe, seeing as he grew up around Bobby Singer, demonology expert).

And of course, then there's Dean's homemade EMF reader, that he made out of an old walkman. Otherwise known as STFU SAM, I'd like to see YOU make something like that and that actually WORKS, Mr. Stanford.

It's easy to explain these inconsistencies as necessary exposition and world-building that the audience needs to understand and anticipate the action. Sam's attitude on the plane is also, at least in part, likely a result of the stress of knowing that, you know, the fucking plane is going to crash and that he needs to stop it and also be strong for his brother and to not leave an emotional chink in his armor for a demon to potentially possess him---and while Sam may not be as outwardly rattled as Dean, I know that, personally, I tend to become severely anal and insist on continuously going over every last detail, and the tendency to think that no one can do a particular job as well as I can at that moment is born from a panic of not being fully in control of a situation, and while thus panicking, it's hard to trust in someone else's capabilities. So, I get that. I also get that Sam's reaction to the EMF reader is Sam being a bratty little brother and the casual condescension from the college-educated to those who didn't, for whatever reason, go to college.

Still, it makes me grump.

But on the plus side, I do love how Sam and Dean showcase different kinds of intelligence, and that both are just as valuable as the other.

Anyway, on to talking about the theme. I found it interesting that this episode was named "Phantom Traveler", especially because it was a throwaway line about the possible monster that the Winchesters were up against. Apart from the obvious, I think the 'phantom traveler' is also symbolic of our deepest fears, the ones that haunt and follow us around, no matter where we may go, and regardless of how much we try to avoid being triggered. This is supported by the fact that the demon chooses as its hosts people who are afraid of flying (though, this does make me wonder about the co-pilot, and what crack in his defense allowed the demon to enter him). And we clearly see that Dean is phobic of flying on planes. But I think that the 'Phantom Traveler' also plays on Sam---after all, what does the demon say to him that disturbs him so much? Two things: foremost, that Jessica is still burning, presumably in Hell, but I also think that it freaks Sam out that this random ass demon---who I don't even think has been in Hell to gossip around the water cooler about the Winchesters, or a part of Azazel's team keeping an eye over the years----knows about him, and about what happened to Jessica, the truth of which very few know about. Attempts to get a clean break and fresh start at Stanford aside, I think that Sam by nature/conditioning is just an intensely private person, and he never tells anyone about anything that he's going through, really. The only people that he shares with are those who he doesn't have to explain to, because they already know and went through the experience with him.

So, this demon/Phantom Traveler (shall I just call him Phantom for simplicity's sake?) is the thematic representation of the characters' innermost weaknesses and fears. Hell, Sam's fears and insecurites re:John are also brought up and highlighted in this episode (see his quiet disbelief that his dad actually talked about Sam all the time and how he was at Stanford and that people could tell that John was proud of him; Sam's a bit less obvious than Dean about it, but Sam still clearly craves his father's approval and respect, and that's something that Sam either thinks he never had, or that he fears he lost when he left for Stanford).

It's interesting to me that faith is what essentially counters the demon's power, as we see demonstrated in Amanda Walker's faith and self-confidence in herself that makes it so that she can't be possessed, and in Sam's exorcism (this is made even more fascinating when you consider that Sam really does have faith and believes in God and angels and prays every day, especially because Sam is typically the one to read out the exorcisms over the course of the series). Fuck, even getting in a plane is an act of faith in and of itself---you're trusting in this machine with your life. Ultimately, Dean is forced to give up control (when the plane started falling, and he was pinned in the back) and believe that Sam was going to save the day, and Sam is putting his faith in Dean whenever Dean's driving the Impala, and in that they're going to eventually find their dad.

Appropriate, then, isn't it---that the episode where you need to have faith to combat your fear and save the day is the one where Sam steps up to the hero plate; especially since the last episode that Sam occupied that role was in "Pilot", wherein the monster was focused on unfaithful men. Hindsight makes this sharper---again, we know that Sam has faith, and that Dean does not.

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