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Supernatural 9.15 "#Thinman" Review: Through a Mirror Darkly

    This week’s episode of Supernatural, “#Thinman,” was written by Jenny Klein and directed by Jeannot Szwarc. It marks the return of the Ghostfacers, Ed Zeddmore (AJ Buckley) and Harry Spangler (Travis Wester) who we haven’t seen since the appeared in an online video in season four’s “It’s a Terrible Life.” In this appearance, they are a lot less for comic relief and a lot more for holding a mirror up to Sam and Dean. The episode is well written and pays detailed homage to Ghostfacer history. The episode also features one of the creepiest opening sequences that the show has seen in quite some time.

    The opening scene plays on a number of my own personal long held childhood fears – right down to a recurring nightmare I had as a kid in which louvered closet doors played a major part. I think it’s a pretty universal fear to be freaked out by suddenly seeing someone standing behind you who you didn’t know was there, whether it’s in a mirror or a picture. Kudos to both Klein and Szwarc for pulling that scene off so well. A quick acknowledgement of Jerry Wanek and his team for creating yet another memorable motel room – I loved the gigantic wooden Paul Bunyon on the wall!

    I wasn’t a big fan of the Ghostfacers’ first appearance in “Hell House” in season one, and for a long time that was my least favorite episode in season one. For me, at the time, the humor pulled me out of the show. However, if you are a fan of Supernatural, you have to be a fan of the lengths to which the show is meta – commenting on itself – and the degree of bravery the show has with experimentation. By season three, the next appearance of the Ghostfacers, I was solidly a fan of those two elements of the series. Elements that make it great television quite apart from the terrific acting week in and week out of the two leads, Jensen Ackles (Dean) and Jared Padalecki (Sam), and the core story of the brothers.

    This episode, however, manages to do both as Ed and Harry are clearly meant to be a reflection of what is happening with the brothers. Ed is clearly meant to be a reflection of Dean, right down to the flannel shirt and green jacket that Ed is wearing and the beard that they are both now sporting (though Dean’s is pretty light this episode, no doubt in deference to the duct tape scene at the end...). Harry is the one wanting out of the life and even wears Sam’s signature hoodie under his jacket.

    As the episode opens, Dean is about to leave on a hunt. The brothers clearly aren’t talking as Sam has no idea what Dean has been up to. Dean admits that he has no idea what his brother is thinking anymore, so he wasn’t sure if Sam was interested in going on the hunt. Sam is clearly irritated at Dean’s jumping to this conclusion and doesn’t hesitate to pack up to go on the hunt. This scene is clearly echoed later in the episode when Harry surprises Ed by wanting to go with him to “make it right” and catch the bad guys.
Even the blocking in this scene has Sam/Harry vs Dean/Ed

    We catch up with Ed and Harry before Sam and Dean do. Ed is excited about new Twitter followers while Harry is obsessing about his former girlfriend Dana possibly being in a new relationship. Harry is distracted by her at a couple of points, but in general, Ed’s deception about the Thinman has become Harry’s major focus. Are we to see a parallel to Sam’s relationship with Amelia and his wanting out of the life? Harry tells Ed that he’d planned on getting married, and Ed responds that he saved him from a boring life. Ed has built his life around his relationship with Harry in much the same way as Dean has built his around Sam. In fact, Ed echoes Dean’s words when he says that everything he’s done has been for them, and Harry echoes Sam’s words when he tells Ed that Ed’s done it all for himself. Harry and Ed seem to have as little understanding of each other as Sam and Dean have of each other right now.

    Dean doesn’t want to admit the Ghostfacers might be onto something, and he certainly doesn’t want to admit that they figured it out before he did. I had to wonder if part of Dean’s anger toward the Ghostfacers at first wasn’t also a bit of jealousy that they seem to have as strong a partnership as ever while Dean and Sam’s is a mess. When they first arrived in town and there was a clear link between the blogging about the Thinman and his appearance, I immediately thought of the Tulpa in “Hell House.” When Dean didn’t immediately go there, I was worried – clearly needlessly! – that Klein was going to drop the ball on picking up this thread. I loved that we revisited that! I also liked that we revisited “Ghostfacers” in a couple of ways. First we do find out what happened to Spruce and Maggie. Spruce left to create a start up business and Maggie joined the roller derby – both left for more “normal” lives. Naturally, Ed and Harry don’t tell Sam and Dean that. We also get the footage of Harry hunting the Thinman shot in the same way as “Ghostfacers” with the handheld camera. The episode did a terrific job in integrating all these past elements.

    The episode also does an interesting job of examining what it means to be an outsider. Ed and Harry are clearly the geek/nerds who aren’t noticed by mainstream society. Dean calls them “fame whores” and they’ve always been interested in creating fans and a having a following through their original movie to their websites and now their book. Roger (Giovanni Mocibob) and Deputy Norwood (Nicholas Carella) are also social outcasts who met in a bar and discovered their mutual interest in conspiracy theories. They piggyback off of Ed and Harry’s fame, in much the same way as Ed and Harry used Sam and Dean’s expertise to get their own start.

    Roger taunts Dean with the fact that he’s such a pretty boy that he could have no idea what it’s like not to be noticed. He tells them that he and Norwood were never noticed even in their small town. Sam and Dean have always had to operate outside of society, however, and are really just as much outcasts as the other two pairs. I thought the choice of Norwood for the deputy was a nice reflection of the Thinman being made out of wood. In the end, the desire for fame has a negative consequence for both Ed and Harry and Roger and Norwood. In a way, I felt this portrayal of those on the outskirts of society was disturbingly negative and reminded me of the treatment that Becky got in “Season Seven: Time for a Wedding!”. On the other hand, there is perhaps more at play here.

    The episode features a number of great scenes. Early in the episode, Ed relates Dana’s bizarre habit of asking Harry to bring her cream puffs with no cream. Clearly the cream is the best part. When Ed goes to confess to Sam and Dean that he’s created the Thinman, he describes himself and Harry without the Thinman – any real supernatural credentials – as simply puffs. Deep down Ed knows that the cream of their relationship is their shared commitment to the Ghostfacers and once that is gone, they have nothing left. Dean wasn’t wrong to call them fame whores as Ed worries about losing their followers and even wants Harry to keep up the ruse. Sam immediately tells Ed that he has to tell the truth, that “secrets ruin relationships.” Dean agrees and tells Ed to tell Harry right away. Unfortunately, the truth is what ruins Ed and Harry’s relationship. Harry responds to the truth by telling Ed he can’t trust him anymore. Ed begs Harry to tell him what he needs, but Harry won’t tell him. This is a nice mirror for Sam not being particularly clear to Dean – or at least Dean no longer having any ability to read his brother. Perhaps it is actually a step forward at the beginning of the episode that Dean at least is no longer making assumptions about what Sam wants or reading in what Dean wants Sam to want.

    Sam is able to talk to Harry, further solidifying the obvious parallel between them as the wronged half of the partnership. Harry tells Sam that he feels like he’s “just been punched right in the feels.” Something many viewers can relate to! Sam commiserates that there are some things you just can’t forgive. Even though Harry can’t forgive Ed, and it seems Sam can’t forgive Dean, neither can just forget about the other. Harry kills Norwood to save Ed, and Sam freaks out when Dean is about to get his throat slit. The entire scene is put in motion by Ed’s selfish act of creating the Thinman to dupe Harry into continuing the Ghostfacers, and it results in Harry’s loss of innocence. This can certainly be seen as a parallel to what Sam and Dean are going through as well. However, Dean also saves Harry by killing Roger and Ed saves Sam by jumping between him and Norwood, so there is some redemption for all the characters.

    There were a couple of things I really liked about the final confrontation scene. Ed and Harry do the Ghostfacer salute just before they break up to save Sam and Dean. I loved Ed butchering the pronunciation of meme. I also liked Dean asking Roger and Norwood if they were engaging in some kind of twisted cosplay. Fandom in all its many incarnations is such a part of their vernacular now!

    The final scene in which Harry splits from Ed and bums a ride in the back of the Impala is also a powerful one. Harry says what Sam and Dean have both been thinking. “You run with a guy for so long that you think you’ll always be together.” That you’ll be sitting on a porch in side by side rocking chairs when you’re old and suddenly one of the chairs is empty. This is certainly one vision of how the brothers might end up. It’s certainly the vision that Dean has had – when he hasn’t been certain of an early death. Both Dean and Sam look thoughtful and unhappy as they realize how much this echoes their own feelings. Both Wester and Buckley give excellent performances, but I really felt for Ed in the final shot we have of Buckley with the one perfect tear as he watches his world drive away in the Impala.

    I have, of course, saved what will no doubt be the overwhelmingly favorite scene of the episode for last. Dean and Sam reminisce about their childhood. As always, Dean clearly savors the memory of their childhood adventures with Sam playing Batman and Dean playing Superman, ending in Sam breaking his arm. Once again, apparently, Dean has lead Sam into danger that resulted in Sam being hurt. Dean is clearly proud of the fact that he then drove Sam to the ER on the handlebars of his bike, playing protector and caretaker. Even Sam is transported by the memory and smiles fondly at it. Will memories like this be enough for Sam to find it in him to forgive his brother? It seems at this point to be unlikely.

    My final comments are saved for Dean in this episode. For the first time, we see him deliberately kill a human – something they have previously always avoided. Dean shows absolutely zero remorse, and it is only Sam that is troubled by the fact that they’ve just killed two humans. Once again, Ed echoes Dean’s sentiments when Harry tells him how disturbed he is that he just shot and killed someone. In fact, Harry almost echoes Sam’s words from previous episodes – “too many people have died for your crap.” Both Ed and Dean say they were bad guys and dismiss killing them. They’ve become judge and jury. Dean has often said that Sam acted as his conscience. Is he now without one? Is this an effect of the mark of Cain? Are we simply to see Dean as clearly the “bad guy”?

    I’m not sure that in the end the episode has a clear message for us, but it certainly draws provocative parallels between Harry and Ed and Sam and Dean. I felt this was a different incarnation of the Ghostfacers than we’ve seen before – more serious – so I’m curious as to whether people liked this new tone or not. What did you think of the episode? Did you feel this helped to work out any of Sam and Dean’s issues? Were you as troubled as I was by Dean so slowly and deliberately killing Roger? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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