Thursday, I’m In Love
by Sylvia Bond
Supernatural Episode Review – Season Four, Episode 19
“Jump the Shark”
While watching this ep, I promise I didn’t stare at Dean’s ass when he did a backover kip to escape from the crypt. I didn’t swoon over Sam’s noble brow, nor the sweet sweep of Samhair that danced across his eyes when he was tied to the dining room table. I didn’t drool over Dean’s lush mouth, nor at his teeth that seemed extra shiny and impactful this week (I have a thing about teeth), nor did I sit in open-mouthed lust every time the camera gave me a nice long pan of Sam’s legs. I didn’t want to reach out and touch Dean’s silky skin, nor did I long to sidle up to Sam so he could tuck me against his taut self and with his powerful arms teach me how to shoot Dean’s 1911 pearl-handled Taurus. I just didn’t, okay? The ep was too good, too perfect for me to be distracted by mere trifles such as that. Besides, I’m just not that shallow. Really.
The name of the ep comes from the phenomenon known as jumping the shark, which happens when a TV show crosses the line into absurdity, or ignores previous character development to the point of making a mockery of itself for the sake of ratings. As a shout out to this concept, the name of the café where the brothers meet Adam, Oliver’s Café, comes from the point in The Brady Bunch series where a character named Cousin Oliver was introduced to revive the cute, youngster whose innocence and earnestness provide so much laughs. Which is when The Brady Bunch jumped the shark, in my opinion.
Oliver always reminded me of a midget version of John Denver, which wasn’t bad (go rest high, John), but he seemed so out of sync with not just the culture of the show but the look of the kids; early 70’s kitsch clashed terribly with the late 70’s self aware back-to-nature look that Oliver had going on. (Author’s note: The Jump the Shark site, according to Wiki, sold out, and has itself jumped the shark. It’s sad that this game, independent website got absorbed by TPTB.) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumping_the_shark)
Anyway. Show used the reference to make a point about what it was trying to do, in that introducing not just a new character but a new Member of the Family Winchester was coming perilously close to the point where it would be strapping on a pair of water skis and attaching a ski rope to the nearest boat. It was as if Show was declaring that it had a premise so powerful and so tight that it could introduce a new Winchester brother willy nilly, and then snap him back out of existence without so much as a twitch. Show was saying, sharks be damned, I can jump the shark and not fall, Show’s version of stotting. That’s a pretty ballsy thing to attempt, but I’d say that Show pulled it off.
Here’s the plot. Something is digging up dead bodies in Windom, MN, and the boys go to investigate. In addition to finding out about that, they also discover several more interesting things, that living people are disappearing, that this was a case that The Dad yet again failed to wrap up tight because the monsters he was hunting still walk, and that, in addition, there is evidence of Dad Sex and John Winchester’s failure to keep it in his pants.
The evidence’s name is Adam, and is yet another example of the interesting blend that a blonde haired mother of the Rapunzel variety (The Dad obviously has a particular taste for blondes) and a dark-haired father of the brooding Heathcliff variety will produce. I practically failed biology (all those X’s and Y’s, not to mention frogs in formaldehyde), but Adam had The Dad’s dark eyebrows (which Sam has) and long eyelashes (which Dean has), Sam’s mouth, but Dean’s fair skin, and so on. Adam is an interesting plot device, but he dies, so don’t concern yourself with him.
Instead, let’s talk about The Dad. Frankly I don’t blame him for responding to, as Dean puts it, “the grateful chick,” because, seriously, the man seemed too virile to be kept down long. I’m not talking about excusing those carless amorous jerks spreading their seed because they can, I’m talking about a man, lonely on the road, finding some surcease once in a while. So go, The Dad. Besides, it’s nothing Dean and Sam haven’t done upon occasion, and The Dad’s not the only one who might have let “one slip by.”
Besides, upon having found out about said son, The Dad returns to the scene of the crime to interact with his little hidden family. Whether he gets any additional pootie from a single mother, from a series of family photos (there are pictures providing evidentiary evidence all around Adam’s mother’s house showing just how often The Dad was there), we discover that he spent what is known in the biz as Quality Time with Adam. There’s baseball. And fishing. Maybe even camping or Friday night pizza.
I think this is a good example of The Dad reaching for Normal, in spite of everything we saw about him being a single-minded hunter. Without going into that discussion yet again, suffice it to say that for The Dad’s piece of normal, the price was paid and not by him. When he was off catching lake trout with a nice, handy little 15 pound fishing reel, who was looking out for the Wee boys, eh? Okay, maybe they weren’t that wee, Dean would have been around 22 years old and Sam 18, but still.
What I find more interesting than my personal dismay over Sam and Dean missing out on this kind of fun, is the idea of The Dad’s character itself. Images and stories about The Dad are littered through this episode, a little like mini ice floes after a sea bound glacier has calved. I love the fact that this character, two years DEAD, can still participate in the current storyline, in spite of not having any actual lines to speak. But for all the dearth of The Dad in actual eps, he marched into history with those thick boots of his and manages to pop up as a minor player, and continues to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight. Or, to be more mindful of The Dad’s character, to kick at the darkness till it bleeds.
Back to the main story. The issue of Adam being The Dad’s kid is not just a throwaway attempt at introducing the Cousin Oliver aspect of the Lost Brother (always an act that makes a show jump the shark), it’s actually part of the storyline, isn’t that cool? The boys find out about Cousin Oliver, I mean Adam, and then interesting things start to happen.
First, they get to convince each other that they all sprung from the same pair of manly loins, which they do through a series of exchanges that left me feeling like I’d seen pieces of something very real and painful. It’s hard to put into words, but watching Dean listen to Adam tell him about the baseball and the camping was like watching a family argument where you know down to your bones that the problems go much deeper than one sister getting ballet lessons while the other one didn’t. You know that conversation? Even if it wasn’t about ballet lessons at your house, you had something like it, where the issue of who is more loved while not overtly admitted to is demonstrated again and again and again. And then one more time after that. Parents always say they don’t have favorites, but they do.
When Adam blithely tells Dean about all of it, the expression on Dean’s face reflects both the joy at hearing more about The Dad, and the stomach-plummet of dismay that for all Dean did and was for The Dad, he missed out on the Good Stuff. Dean misses his Dad like crazy all the time, and still loves and admires his father, even if he can see the truth about who The Dad really was. Yet, at the same time, Dean wants a piece of what he sees in those photos, the smiling relaxed The Dad with his arm around his boy and a huge speckled trout held up with pride between them, just ready to be filleted and fried in an iron pan over an open fire.
And Ackles sells this to me, like he does everything else. I swear, the guy could probably convince me to flood my basement and make an ice skating rink out of it if he wanted to, he’s got that kind of face. During this scene, he gives me a Dean who is all grown up and understands the reality of who The Dad was. Yet, at the same time, I got this image of a more vulnerable Dean, sobbing his heart out in a dark corner somewhere. It’s pathetically sad to think of, that kid who never felt he was enough of what The Dad wanted, and yet kept giving more. And all of this is presented in Ackles’ face, in the flicker of light and dark in his eyes.
With regard to Adam, Sam and Dean figure out fairly quickly that Adam was protected, as Sam wanted to be and as Dean never was. The problem starts because Adam wants revenge for the death/disappearance of his mother. He figures out pretty quick that the boys aren’t just mechanics (although they are in a way, mechanics fix things, and so do hunters), and he wants a piece of the action. And thus the boys diverge, like two roads in a wood. If anyone says they never saw this coming, they’re stone blind and have been watching a different show.
Sam wants to teach Adam everything he needs to know to protect himself and become a good hunter, so he takes it upon himself to train Adam how to deal with guns and lay down salt. He also he teaches Adam about supernatural lore, and then he delivers the most important message of all, according to Sam. And that is, in order to become a hunter, you must cut all ties to love and family and stability. Hunting isn’t just a job, it is a way of life and everything else must be sacrificed to that end.
Most interesting to note is the fact that Sam is doing everything with Adam that Sam hated The Dad doing with him. I don’t think this represents hypocrisy on Sam’s part as much as it points to the fact that Sam was living in denial when he walked away from being a hunter in the first place. He seems to be really taking to the whole thing rather ell. Rather too well. Dean, on the other hand, wants to continue on with the way The Dad started things, by protecting Adam, by keeping Adam normal, by shielding Adam from the curse of the Winchester family. Even if, as Sam points out, since Adam was born a Winchester, it’s already too late for that.
Later, all battered and bruised by this particular gig, Dean gives his little end-of-the-ep speech, only in this case, it ties in very nicely with what’s been going on. He confesses (like we didn’t already know) that he wanted to BE The Dad, he dressed like him, did everything The Dad did. Then he tells Sam that Sam, without even trying, is more like The Dad than Dean ever hoped to be. Sam takes that as a compliment, and this tells me two things. That Sam is indeed like The Dad if he can’t see what’s wrong with this statement. He marches through the ep like a huge chunk of sea ice, floating and watching and pronouncing, with cold air banking off him like he’s just about frozen enough to attach himself to the sea floor (I did much better in oceanography).
And second, that Dean, for all his being f’d up by his time in hell (a time longer than he’s been alive, it’s occurred to me), is turning out to be the wiser of the two. For all he loves The Dad and reveres him and respects him, it’s not escaped his notice that The Dad was severely troubled by tunnel vision and a less than healthy approach to dealing with grief. Dean proves in this episode that not only does he know how to use his eyes and his experience and his instinct, he understands that the all or nothing I Am An Island way of doing things (yeah, I’m talking to YOU, John Junior) is not the way to be a hunter.
Dean is approaching the altar of wisdom here, if he’s not gotten there already, becoming more stable in the process, and, dare I say it, more like Bobby. Bobby, for all he steals screen time from My Boys, knows that it is what it is and at the end of the day you just have to walk away from it, but in order to do that you have to have someplace (or someone) to walk to. Otherwise you go crazy. Bobby’s not normal (no hunter is) but he’s got ties to normal (by having a house, a mostly regular job, and dogs to care for), and that’ll keep him going long after most hunters would burn themselves out. Like The Dad was, and like I fear Sam will soon be.
Though I am a Samgirl, I do not feel that Show touted Dean at the expense of Sam. It felt more natural for Dean to be more affected by the appearance of Adam than Sam would be. After all, Sam was the baby of the family, he’d had his turn at being protected and loved (relatively speaking); he has his own wounds and issues but they are not about this. The contrast between Sam’s reaction and Dean’s reaction is demonstrated by what they do about Adam; in Sam’s case, he stands tall and cold and starts flinging out orders and directions. Dean might balk at this, but Sam overrules him by continuing to talk as if Dean hadn’t even spoken up. I liked Sam icy like this; I liked watching Padalecki do cold and unbending, doing his version of how John Winchester must have been like.
One of my favorite scenes takes place in the bar. Dean’s gone there by himself to get away from Sam for a while. He’s dressed as an FBI agent. My preference for the FBI garb is due to my admittedly unrealistic romantic view of all things FBI-related, for which I blame Dale Cooper, Fox Mulder, and, lately, Don Eppes, with his sexy little rolled up shirt sleeves. A white shirt, no less. Plain white. Who knew?
Anyway, watch what Dean does here. First, he doesn’t flirt with the bar maid, which he usually might. It’s not that he’s not interested or too tired, but perhaps more that he’s on the job, and they’re be time enough for that later. Second, when he puts out the picture of the Most Recently Dead Guy, it turns out to be the bar maid’s dead husband, and with nary a murmur Dean continues with his questions but slides the offending picture out of the way, so as not to offend. Both of these show that Dean is all business, all grown up.
Third, watch his expression when he learns of yet another connection of The Dad’s to the people in the town. Dead Guy was a deputy, and when he did something right, he admitted he had help from “an expert.” There behind the bar is a picture of the Dead Guy, in his deputy outfit. Close by is a copy of the newspaper article, which has a picture of the crime scene, in the corner of which is The Dad, watching unobtrusively from behind a tree. We’ve seen this image before, but this is an actual newspaper clipping not just a copy of one, so the effect is more immediate, and since Dean is alone (sans Sam), more private and meaningful for Dean. The Dad is obviously the unnamed expert and it is this little moment of hearing this praise about The Dad that is like a little present to Dean; Dean who has remained unswerving in his devotion to John all these years, and in spite of his being able to understand who The Dad really is.
The Set Dressing team did a bang up job. I mean, they always do, but this time, it was perfect. There was the diner, which was a little cheesy and stale with rude wait staff, as it should be. Then there was the motel, which is the same motel just dressed up different; but it’s like a reoccurring secondary character, which, as you know, Show always does very well. Then there’re the little tunnels that Dean gets to crawl through. The first one is a metal heating duct (“Ducts! Why does it always have to be ducts?”) that runs under the floorboards. The other is a dirt tunnel that runs between two crypts.
The metal duct is claustrophobic and twisty, and Dean crawls through this with much flashing of flashlight and much groaning and kvetching, having lost at Rock, Paper, Scissors yet again.(As he does. As he always does. I love it when Show remembers continuity moments like this.) The one made out of dirt is straight and just about the same size. And even though the MOW drags bodies through both tunnels apparently with ease, but Dean’s only got about, oh, one inch to spare on either side. Hey, I’m not looking at his powerful and broad manly shoulders as he crawls through the tunnels, I’m not. I was not absorbed in watching them churn, in watching the pull of his shirt over his arms. No. I was thinking about the plot. Totally.
Then there’re the crypts in the cemetery. Yes, two, two, two crypts in one. There’s the obvious one that some hooligans are suspected of breaking into; five tombs broken and the embalmed bodies gnawed on. Then there’s the less obvious one next door that the cops would never think of checking out because from the outside it looks like it’s still sealed. But using his Hunter Eyes, Dean spots a draft that he follows through the tunnel, a process which I gushed over earlier.
Both crypts look like Halloween at the coolest house on the block, dressed by those people who (God bless them) never grew up and never will and understand that the neatest thing you can do to on a night like that is to make it real. There’re cobwebs and skeletons and brain tissue and who knows what else all over the place. Instead of the neat crypts we’ve seen in the past on Show, or even the crypts that TV gives us elsewhere, which are the tidy, you could eat off the floor and don’t show up as anything but spooky cute, this place is a mess. Dean’s feet crunch bones when he walks. Of course he’s not grossed out, he’s just doing his job, not to mention his experience in hell might have left him a tad inured to the texture. Anyway, I fell in love with the crypt because it looked like the Set Dressers went to town and had a good time with it. And NOT because Dean was ingenious in getting himself out and especially not because he did that lovely kip using the bar he placed in the open window. Nice shots of tight backsides do not affect me at all, no sir, they do not.
While Dean’s trapped in the crypt, Sam is trying to protect Adam from whatever it is. Part of the fun here is the fact that even by the last reel the boys haven’t figured out what it is. And they never resort to calling Bobby! I’m so proud. Anyway, Sam’s doing what he can, but, it turns out that Adam AND his mother are ghouls, and since it’s Thursday, they tie Sam up and start eating him. Sam is tied in a cross position on a table, and where on earth they got a table long enough to accommodate his long legs is far more important an issue than the fact that his legs are gorgeous, I assure you. And about this eating thing, was it just me or did Sam get a Christ-like wound in his lower left side? Yeah, I didn’t think so; the Jesus overtones here were screaming at me.
First aid. Yeah. Let’s chat. I didn’t mind that Sam was applying his own first aid to his leg after the ghoul tried to drag him under the truck. Even though, truth be told I would have liked the camera angle to be a little higher so I could watch his nimble fingers at work. But. Later, the ghouls sliced open Sam’s arms. He’s breathing hard, he’s struggling and calling for Dean (“Dean! Dean!” Ah, music to my ears.) while Dean is busy beating up the ghoul and taking out his angerragegrief about The Dad maybe loving Adam more. All the while, blood is pumping out of Sam’s arms into a fairly large looking bowl on the floor. I’m not saying it was arterial blood, but it was flowing pretty fast from Sam’s arms, and you can die that way.
No rush to the hospital because it would take up too much with non-plotty stuff? Okay then. Why not show us Dean doing the sewing on Sam’s arms, and dosing him with orange juice and maybe a jot of whiskey after? I’m sure Dean would make the nicest little stitches and hardly leave any scar at all. Why, in future eps, the scar would most likely seem INVISIBLE. If I have any beef with this ep, this would be it, the lack of first aid. But that’s me, and it doesn’t detract in any way from my enjoyment of Sam Whumpage or Dean Rescue. (Besides, Sam did look perfectly woozy as he sat up from the table, and there was a brother touching moment or two as Dean wrapped Sam’s forearms in dishcloths. I feel pretty sure that the stitching, as well as more brother touching, did occur, though off screen, much to my dismay.)
In the end, Sam and Dean wrap up Adam’s body in a shroud and dose him with lighter fluid and set him on fire because he was The Dad’s son, and a Winchester, after all, and deserved to be honored as a hunter. Even if he died before even knowing what a hunter was. The gesture only makes sense in Dean’s mind, you see.
Sam’s all for calling in favors from the Soap Angel and having Adam be given the touch of life. Sam likes to mess around with fate, even though part of what he was trying to teach Adam about being a hunter was that sometimes you have to pay the consequences; that Adam is dead is a consequence of The Dad not finishing the job when he was in town nine months before Adam was born. I didn’t mind the confusion here; death and grief do funny things to people. And funerals make them fight over who took out the trash last and who inherits the cookie jar. I’ve seen gang riots on TV that look more civil than a post-wake discussion about just what to do with Nana’s collection of dustpans. (I got her cookie jar, by the way. My sisters are still pissed.)
The episode is just about perfect. It integrated the overall story arc and included the brothers dealing with their growing discord. That is, not dealing with it, but at least we got to SEE them not dealing with it as they snipped at each other in a variety of failure-to-communicate scenes, beautifully rendered and masterfully filmed in all their discordant glory. Then there was the gig of the week, which was a ghoul, a new monster with unpredictable eating patterns and a nasty habit of leaving a mess. And then there was the strong element of The Dad throughout, his footprints as durable as those of the iguanodon in a fossilized coastal swamp bed. Overall, I would give this ep one of my strongest recommends for all of these things, but also for having the classic structure of two brothers on a roadtrip, saving people and hunting things. Be it ever so.
Whenever TV people come up with a premise, it is usually a combination of other premises that have worked in the past. These premises work because they are based on character and story; I’m here to tell you that any show that isn’t based in character and story a) doesn’t interest me, b) isn’t worth my time, and c) does not produce a loyal nor passionate fanbase. Shows that do all of the above are exactly what TV people live and die for. If you are a TV person, you should be so lucky. Alas, a few years into the premise, based on a desire for even higher ratings, someone usually decides to shake things up, to make it new. But remember New Coke? That was a disaster of the first water, and TV people would do well to learn that lesson: Newer is not better, it’s just newer.
People fall in love with a TV show and watch it week after week because it gives them what they need, what they want. When they stop watching your particular show it’s not because the story is old and stale and needs a new coat of paint. It’s because the viewer is done getting what they needed from that particular storyline and pretty much nothing you do is going to help with the ratings.
My advice? Do what you do, do what you set out to do, and keep doing THAT. Don’t mess around with perfection. Which is what Show was for the first two seasons, and now, during the fourth season (and not the last, I’m pleased to note), Show is again. Show has hit its stride. Doing that. Doing just that one thing. Getting the right writing team together, telling the story, letting the story guide the plot. Letting the brothers do what they do, be who they are. Letting tendrils of The Dad seep in like smoke from a distant fire. Letting it BE. More like THIS, please. (And more nekked nudity wouldn’t hurt either, but seriously, compared to good story? Nekked nudity is just gratuitous. Really.)
Sylvia Bond is a ten-year technical writing veteran with too many degrees under her belt to count. She lives in Colorado, but does not ski, preferring instead to spend her money and time at the annual Great American Beer Festival, taking road trips across the United States, and reading historical fiction from the comfort of her fluffy green arm chair. She has been involved in fandom since 1993 and been writing fanfic since approximately 1993. What she finds most amazing about fandom (besides the open heartedness of fans and the sheer amount of creativity) is how visible fandom has become. “In my day,” she says, “we had to hide behind P.O. boxes to get fanfic. But nowadays, people wear t-shirts that shout their affiliation and share their shiny toys on the internet.” It’s a wonderful world.