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2.18 Hollywood Babylon: I Just Play The Part, I Don’t Write The Script

This episode of Supernatural won’t have been to everyone’s taste. I’ll admit, I personally prefer the character development and visceral torment of the angst-filled stories, but humor most definitely has its place, too, and I will keep this episode for the lightness of its delightful in-jokes.


Bitter scriptwriter

Conjures ghosts to take revenge:

Beware, network suits!


Hollywood Babylon opened with a cheesy horror film being shot on a soundstage, and a crew member apparently being killed on-set. Sam and Dean turned up on the lot taking the studio tour, abandoning the tour and Dean’s long-desired vacation to infiltrate the set and satisfy Sam’s desire to work as a distraction from his Heart pain. Dean posed as a production assistant and found no evidence of ghosts, while Sam researched the history of the soundstage, discovering that four people had died there messily over the years. They realized that the crew member’s death was a hoax, but hard on the heels of that discovery came the very real death on set of an irritating network representative who had been given to making stupid suggestions for changing the film. All the previously absent evidence, including EMF and EVP, abruptly pointed to the clear presence of ghosts, and Sam recognized the captured spirit image of a starlet who had suicided there. The boys dug up her grave and salted and burned her bones, but a different ghost killed one of the film’s producers. The boys learned that the original film script had been totally rewritten, transformed from an accurate how-to manual on conjuring spirits to an empty piece of C-grade Hollywood drivel, and realized that the original script writer had summoned the soundstage ghosts to take his revenge on the people who had bastardized his work. The boys arrived in time to save the script doctor, but the vengeful writer sealed his own fate when he smashed the talisman giving him control over the studio’s ghosts, freeing them from his control. The ghosts turned on him and killed him for having brought them back and forced them to commit murder. With no further reason to stay, the summoned ghosts presumably departed after the writer died, and our boys walked into the fake studio sunset.


So much for the plot. This time, the show wasn’t about the scary monsters the boys faced from the supernatural world or from within themselves: this time, the focus of the show was the monster of show biz, and the episode triumphed over the monster not by killing or exorcising it, but by making fun of it, thumbing its nose at everything that makes Hollywood, Hollywood. Hollywood Babylon was the Supernatural equivalent of confronting the industry boggle, visualizing it in the most risible possible guise, and shouting, “Riddikulus!” And on that level, the episode definitely succeeded.


Every possible Hollywood cliché made an appearance, from Hollywood being the hotbed of liars (the producer praising the director to his face and then dissing him on the phone, while praising the guy on the phone using exactly the same words he’d given the director, only to insult him after hanging up), through network executives being meddlesome idiots (“Who says horror has to be dark? It’s sort of depressing, don’t you think?” … “How do ghosts hear chanting if they’re in Hell?”), and writers having no control over what producers, directors, and actors do to their creations. Of course, the thing that makes a cliché work is the extent to which it reflects the truth of something, and the truth is that liars, meddlesome fools, and writers as mushrooms (kept in the dark and fed on … you know the rest) actually do proliferate in the film and television business.


This episode was Supernatural having the enjoyable opportunity and outright license to bite the hand that feeds it and that usually keeps it on a leash and disciplines it. I applaud both the CW and Warner Brothers for letting those liberties be taken, especially knowing from multiple interviews just how many grains of truth were buried in those oh-so-overblown clichés. It certainly didn’t hurt that the show’s creators, producers, cast, and crew all let themselves also be held up as targets for ridicule, riffing on the “uncontrollable” McG as producer and director; Kripke’s writing talents as reflected in his script for Boogeyman; Jared’s bottomless pit for food; the ever-present camera accompanying Jensen behind the scenes; production delays for sound problems, fluffed lines, and whatnot; the roles and attitudes of PA’s; and the outright silliness of making a living by screaming on cue while staring at a tennis ball mounted above a camera held bare inches away from your face.


My favorite bits were all the shout-outs not only to those of us watching, but to the folk who make this show for us. How many of the soundstage shots intentionally caught actual members of the Supernatural crew? They certainly showed off their production environment! I loved seeing the water tower from Cross Road Blues featuring prominently in the Hell Hazers II set dressing. And that fake film trailer: from the moment the usual green “This PREVIEW has been approved for ALL AUDIENCES” screen appeared, anyone with a really high quality screen could have realized just how much fun we were about to have, because that little box at the bottom below the customary “THIS FILM HAS NOT YET BEEN RATED” included the additional message, “ALSO, NOT YET WRITTEN, CAST, SHOT, EDITED, OR SCORED”. The credits at the end of the trailer included real Supernatural ones – for casting, music, photography, production design, and direction – along with the fake producer and writer ones. And that they managed to sandwich in clips from The Usual Suspects, Bloodlust, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, and Scarecrow – even before adding in the fake movie posters for “Cornfield Massacre” and “Killer Truck”, with appropriate image clips from Scarecrow and Route 666 – was just sweet fun. The fake movie web site even proclaimed that it was a fake: the URL on display was “ww.hellhazers2.con. Too funny! And that tram tour on the Warner Brothers lot cracked me up, because while it was shot in Canada, the visual effects people put in real skyline and roofline backgrounds from the Warner Brothers lot in California: those studio roofs were unmistakable. Great job! 


I don’t have much else to say about the actual episode. I did like the way it tied into the show’s overall continuity with the reference to Dean wanting a trip to Hollywood for a vacation (shades of the end of Croatoan) and wanting to give Sam a chance to take a break after the grief and agony of Heart. I appreciated Sam being all focused on the hunt while Dean indulged in the rare opportunity to let his fanboy geek side run free and discover that being part of a team was fun. Learning that Dean is as much of a geek in his areas of interest as Sam is in connection with serious research was a delight – and if you question the true extent of Dean’s geek interest in genre flicks, just realize that he recognized the “dead” crew guy based on the man’s tiniest of miniscule bit parts in raggedy-edge productions (Desert Soldier number 4 in Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn [one of the most amazingly bad movies ever made, BTW; don’t ask how or why I saw it, but I nearly choked when Dean named it]; tractor crash victim in Critters III). Walking encyclopedia of movie weirdness, anyone? I also liked that the one ghost the boys had dealt with – the starlet whose bones they salted and burned – did not reappear with the other three ghosts at the end when the writer called upon all the spirits he had summoned to take on Sam, Dean, and Marty. Bravo for keeping to the rules, there. We’d hate to have had a “logic bump” for the suits to gripe about!


I’m now more than ready to return to the heavy-duty emotion we can expect from the four remaining episodes in this season. I’m ready to take on both inner and outer demons and haunts again. I’ve had my laugh and my break – now bring on the real and substantive Supernatural again.

Tags: episode commentaries, eric kripke, jared padalecki, jensen ackles, meta, supernatural

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