Episode 10×13 or “The One With A Bad Wifi Connection”
So far this season: Dean’s been cured from demonism; Crowley was his BFF; Cas was losing his grace until Crowley saved him; and Sam has done his best to reign in Dean’s homicidal tendencies. Claire Novak has also reappeared and swears she doesn’t need a father figure. And Crowley has a mother?
*Spoilers ahead, darling*
The boys hunt a cyber-ghost. That’s it. That’s the episode.
Gather round, dear Collectors, class is in session.
Think of who you were ten years ago, and think of who you are now. My ten year reunion is approaching and because my Facebook has strict privacy settings, it is likely that most of my classmates will not recognise me or know a thing about who I am now. But I digress. The point is this: a decade can seriously change people. Fictional characters are not exempt from this. If you read a novel that spans several decades, such as Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, you expect the character to change. To adapt. To learn. Dean Winchester is such a character. The Dean we love began as a smarmy womanizer (or at the very least, he had the potential to be one if not the opportunity), and events over the past ten seasons—the death of his father, a prolonged visit to hell, losing Sam, purgatory, etc.—have shaped and molded him into a battle-fatigued borderline alcoholic whose sanity stems from his family and the hunt.
The Dean presented in this episode, however, was not this Dean. Dean’s appreciation for the young coeds in “Halt & Catch Fire” was reminiscent of a season one Dean. Whereas ten years ago, Dean’s casual once-over would have been seen as humorous and in-character, it now seems lecherous and distinctly not-Dean to have the hunter ogle women almost half of his age. In fact, long-time watchers of Supernatural will have noticed several not-Dean moments in H&CF, namely, in the treatment of Dean Winchester and technology. Not-Dean has trouble with new-fangled things like Snapchat and smartphones and Facebook, but Dean has a smartphone, as seen in “Girls, Girls, Girls” when he downloads (and successfully uses) a dating app. Not-Dean is less intelligent than his university-educated younger brother, but Dean can make an EMF meter out of an old tape player and rebuild the Impala from bare bolts.
One of the most important rules for writers is pay attention to continuity. When writing in one episode contradicts knowledge given in a previous episode, it appears to the audience as negligence, that the writer didn’t bother to pay attention to their own show. Such lack of attention leads to simple plots that lack depth and range of emotion, that rely on tired gimmicks for laughs and exhausted stereotypes to carry the story.
This brings me to another important rule for writers which is read your work out loud.This should seem obvious for a screenplay, but the dialogue between Delilah and her roommate was painfully unrealistic and could have been avoided if someone had read it aloud and said, “Crap. This sounds like a stereotype.” This, the writers tell us, is what Generation Y sounds like. We who have been breastfed technology, we can’t help but talk like we type. #ridiculous. So, logically, the scariest ghost story for us should be homicidal technology. #wishfulthinking. The premise of H&CF should be terrifying, but the episode’s pacing placed more emphasis on jokes made at the expense of a generational gap between the Winchesters and college-aged students. The Winchesters have never before encountered a generational gap that was so noticeable that it deserved its own subplot, so why begin now?
In fact, the presentation of Generation Y in H&CF is problematic for several reasons, the first being the horrible assumption that the younger generation is entirely without responsibility. In the flashback scene that shows the fatal car accident, Delilah’s friends say, “It’s not our problem; someone else will call the cops.” Because no responsibility was taken for their action—or inaction as the case may be—three young adults were brutally murdered as a consequence. As a millennial, I vehemently disagree with this portrayal. A generation connected to technology is a generation constantly aware. I would argue that rather than running from responsibilities and consequences, we would be aware that doing so would be futile, because the chances are that it would end up on YouTube anyway. This hyper-awareness of the possibility of internet infamy is a policing of our behaviour, and of the four young adults present at the crash scene, at least one of them would recognise that. This is a generation that records everything, because we intrinsically understand that putting it in writing, or catching it on camera, is proof that it happened. That it exists. Even if they didn’t record the car crash, anyone else with a smartphone could have.
In fact, it takes very little digging for the Winchesters to put together the truth of the car crash, which leads me to one last thing to say about writing: subplots. In “About A Boy,” I mentioned that I’d like to see Sam have a subplot, something to connect and relate to the Mark of Cain story arc, which is Dean-centric. H&CF reaffirms that thought. In season nine, Sam was possessed by Gadreel, yet Dean still had a subplot because he had lied to Sam. In fact, Dean had an entire episode of subplot in “Bad Boys,” an episode that remains one of my favourites in the series. In season ten, Dean has the Mark of Cain, and Sam? He’s there to sing the same tune in varying keys. “We’ll find Cain and get a cure” has been mentioned in every episode since the return from hiatus. Aside from a montage of Dean doing research and a few phone calls from Cas, we don’t see much progress. In fact, although Cas has been absent for the past few episodes, his subplot is stronger than Sam’s because his search for Cain is a story that will propel the larger plot forward. Even his riverboat gambling was a facet of subplot that Sam has not been afforded.
The episode should have been compelling. And scary. And though I am but a humble blogger and should stick with recapping, I won’t. Let’s go back to the most repeated rule of writing: show, don’t tell. Dean says near the beginning of the episode that he wants to give up the search for Cain. Fine, Dean can, but given what we know of Sam’s character, would he have given up so easily? No. Here’s a fix-it: Sam leaves to find Cain on his own, perhaps meeting up with Cas, perhaps not. Dean hunts the cyberghost on his own, and the peace he finds from helping people and working cases is shown to us and not told to us. Both subplots further the larger plot because (1) progress is being made on the Cain front and (2) Dean is atoning for the mistakes he’s made. Bonus: Sam is more than a supportive sidekick.
The episode was problematic for many reasons: pacing, character portrayal, continuity, and overall structure. Thank Chuck we have fix-it fanfics for weeks like these.
Supernatural (and Cain’s angry beard) returns February 17.