3.13 Ghostfacers!: Don’t Be ’Facer-Haters ...
Videotape leap year ghosts;
Ed Zeddmore and Harry Spengler, last seen heading for Hollywood at the end of season one’s episode Hell House and now working at Kinko’s, formed a team to film an unsolicited pilot for a new paranormal reality show called Ghostfacers!. They chose the leap year ghost haunting of the famous Morton House as their subject, broke into the derelict mansion at night on February 29, set up video cameras … and captured the presence of Sam and Dean Winchester along with several harmless and bizarrely random “death echoes,” trapped ghosts constantly repeating the moments of their deaths. Having done their homework, the Winchesters knew that the vague legend pursued by the amateur Ghostfacers – that no one managed to stay in the house overnight on leap year night – wasn’t the whole story, and that people who stayed in the house past midnight actually disappeared. The Ghostfacers, including Ed’s adopted sister Maggie, cameraman Spruce, and eager intern Corbett as well as Harry and Ed, refused to leave the house despite the brothers’ warnings.
Just before midnight, Corbett, exploring alone, was physically attacked by a ghost. Responding to his screams, the group found nothing, and then discovered that with the passage of midnight, all the doors and windows had been supernaturally locked down, trapping them inside. Next, Sam disappeared from the midst of the group, leading to another panicked and fruitless search. Overcome with fear, Harry and Maggie turned to each other for reassurance and clinched in a desperate kiss, only to be discovered by jealous and irate Ed. Ed ineffectually attacked Harry until Dean broke up the fight in disgust and continued the hunt for Sam and Corbett.
Sam found himself tied to a chair in a basement bomb shelter, seated at a table bizarrely decorated for a birthday party decades past with the similarly bound Corbett and several crudely preserved corpses occupying the other chairs. He was unable to help as the lonely, psychotic ghost of the house’s last owner, Freeman Daggett, murdered Corbett in front of him by driving a metal spike through his throat, and then put a party hat on Sam’s head before moving to make him a permanent party guest, too.
Meanwhile, Dean channeled his fear into driven research, ultimately realizing from the clues in the house that Daggett, in addition to having a taste for necrophilia and taxidermy, suffered from Cold War paranoia and likely had a bomb shelter concealed in his basement where he could have taken Corbett and Sam. Chasing his theory, Dean and Spruce were separated from the others when the ghost slammed and locked the basement door behind them, and Dean shouted instructions to Harry, Ed, and Maggie to take shelter inside a salt circle and wait. Dean found and opened the hidden vault door to the shelter just in time to save Sam by temporarily dispersing Daggett’s ghost with rock salt shot.
Corbett appeared to the other Ghostfacers as a death echo, repeatedly reliving his brutal murder. After initially freaking out with fear, Ed gradually realized that Corbett wasn’t dangerous and was suffering in his loop, and Harry persuaded Ed to try reaching the human part of the ghost by appealing to and validating Corbett’s crush on Ed. It worked; Corbett became self-aware and stopped reliving his death. When Ed begged him to help the team, Corbett sought out Daggett, appearing as Daggett attacked Dean, Sam, and Spruce. Corbett tackled Daggett, and the two ghosts seemingly cancelled each other out.
Come morning, the team and the brothers emerged from the house. In the aftermath, Sam and Dean watched the footage that Harry and Ed had cut together into their reality show pilot, complete with a tribute to Corbett, and then left – leaving behind a powerful electromagnet that destroyed all the video files, preserving the anonymity of the Winchester brothers.
This one will be shorter than usual. Given that this episode provided an outsider’s view of the boys, since most of it was seen from the perspective of the cameras in the hands of the Ghostfacers, we didn’t have the deeply insightful moments between the brothers that generally fuel my meta discussions, because both of the Winchesters had their game faces on, knowing they were being observed.
I truly had fun with this episode, particularly in its send-up of so-called “reality” programming. I’ll confess up front that I am emphatically not a fan of “reality” shows, so seeing them so delightfully skewered was a gleeful pleasure. I’ll also confess that I wish with all my heart that this episode could have taken its proper place in a full length season, because for all that it made me laugh, I couldn’t help but resent it somewhat for focusing on characters other than Sam and Dean when we have so little time left to spend with them this season and when they – and we – have so much at stake.
That said, however, we got an intriguingly different view of the boys as seen through the eyes of others. We voyeuristic viewers are usually privy to the most intimate interactions between the brothers: we get to see them when they are alone and open with each other, as they never are when in the presence of strangers. This time, however, we were limited to the same brief peripheral flashes of their personal issues that were the only glimpses given to the Ghostfacers – predominantly Spruce filming the dialogue exchange that told him, without explanation, that Dean had only two months left (So ... Is it cancer?); capturing Dean’s desperation when Sam disappeared; and recording Sam’s rescue and the brothers reassuring themselves about each other’s well-being after Daggett was taken out. What we got from those glimpses was very different than what the Ghostfacers perceived, however, because we knew all the context. We learned, if we didn’t already realize it, that the brothers, despite their own increasingly desperate personal case, still subordinated their own fears and needs to the fears and needs of others. They resisted any temptation to reveal their own problems and conflicts to outsiders. We could see those issues clearly through every brief moment only because we already knew they were there. We could understand how they colored every exchange between the brothers, which meant that everything Sam and Dean said and did meant more to us than it did to the oblivious Ghostfacers.
And there was a lot for us to see, even though the Ghostfacers missed it all. In a lovely shout-out back to dialogue from the end of Croatoan ( ‘Let’s go hunt the Morton House,’ you said. ‘It’s our
What we saw most of all, however, was a contrast between the reality we know from the Winchesters and “reality” as perceived by the Ghostfacers. The Ghostfacers, while perceiving themselves as hunters of the supernatural and paranormal, clearly never expected to find anything real, much less anything dangerous. Their belief in the supernatural was a vague thing not encompassing the concept that supernatural forces could actually affect them, at least beyond moving the gauges on instruments or lowering the local temperature. They were out for a lark, having an adventure, and never contemplated the possibility of real – much less potentially deadly – consequences. Their Morton House “research,” as laid out on the whiteboard in Ed’s father’s garage, was laughable in its shallowness, stopping at the urban legend level and taking everything at face value. They were out purely to document and profit from the strange and seemingly unexplainable. They had no concept of taking action to counter it. Their reactions of shock, fear, and surprise, readily followed by excitement and delight upon capturing the first harmless death echo on tape, made that very clear. Spruce, Corbett, and Maggie in particular all watched events unfold through camera lenses, further distancing themselves from reality, while Harry and Ed consciously postured and played to the cameras, totally missing the greater reality beyond them.
The Winchesters, by contrast, did serious research to pierce the urban legend veil and uncover the presence of real danger, identifying and tracing people who had vanished after indicating their intention to stay overnight in Morton House. When they found the Ghostfacers inside, their mission instantly became getting them to safety. When that failed, group survival became the order of the day. They became both protectors and educators, conveying knowledge from lore on death echoes to the use of salt, and trying to preserve life and control fear. Except for Corbett, they succeeded in keeping everyone alive, and their lessons were what allowed Harry and Ed to free Corbett from his death loop and give him the ability to become a hero and save all the rest by confronting and defeating Daggett.
Perhaps the saddest thing apart from Corbett’s death was that in the end, neither their own experiences nor the Winchesters’ example were sufficient to tie the Ghostfacers into reality. Spruce, who viewed everything through a camera and took no other action at all, was the most detached. He never reacted to Corbett’s death or to his own incipient demise as being truly real, not even as Daggett advanced on him after tossing the Winchesters aside; he just kept shooting even as he verbalized his disbelief. While Corbett’s disappearance and gruesome death did have some immediate emotional effect on Ed, Harry, and Maggie, it had no lasting impact on any of them, judging by the video they edited and the attitudes they expressed both in the video and in their group comments afterward. Once they escaped from Morton House, Corbett’s death and his subsequent heroic self-sacrifice to save the rest lost any real meaning beyond simply confirming his own courage and worth, because none of the other Ghostfacers learned any lessons from it or actually grew as human beings. In their video, gleeful at the footage they’d gotten demonstrating that spirits were real, Ed and Harry used Corbett shamelessly, without a vestige of real feeling.
The only one who remained sincerely and profoundly affected by Corbett’s death wasn’t a Ghostfacer, but Sam, who clearly felt the horror and loss of having been unable to save him when he witnessed his murder firsthand and was disgusted by the advantage Harry and Ed took of it (Yeah, I mean, it’s bizarre how y’all are able to honor Corbett’s memory while grossly exploiting the manner of his death. Well done.). And while I wouldn’t have wished for his pain, I was glad to see from his reaction that Sam’s caring core was still intact.
The difference between the Winchesters’ reality and the Ghostfacers’ “reality” were, to my mind, the whole point. The surviving Ghostfacers, confronted with reality, held it at arm’s length and filtered it through cameras and pretentious narration to preserve their personal illusions of courage, truth, and relevance. Even though they lived through it, they managed to make it not matter by turning it into a fiction and dismissing the lessons it should have taught them. Apart from the one meritorious act of striving to break Corbett free of his death loop, they just observed and recorded life instead of fully participating in it, preoccupied with their preconceptions and with getting the view on camera. Seen through the camera’s eye, everything for the Ghostfacers was one place removed from the immediacy of reality. The Winchesters, on the other hand, faced it head-on, accepted it, and moved on, carrying a few more scars as the inevitable result of living. So who are the real “Facers” now?
I’m going to stretch and say there is a bit of meta analysis that could be drawn here. Much of what we perceive as our own reality is secondhand: our news is filtered through the video cameras and commentary of reporters. Seeing many of those images, I’ve often wondered about the impulse that drives a cameraman or camerawoman to keep shooting, glued to the viewfinder, when the reality of the image they’re recording cries out for action rather than the passivity of just preserving the image. It seems that the very act of recording often provides an illusion of distance and prevents the photographer from actively experiencing and responding to what he or she is shooting.
Under those circumstances, I like to think that I would be a
One of the many things I love about Supernatural is its fearlessness. Creator Eric Kripke and his merry band never hesitate when it comes to taking chances and shaking things up. Their various experiments work or fail to different degrees, but their willingness to experiment and to break out of formula patterns keeps the show fresh in ways that most others simply aren’t.
When the Supernatural logo dissolved into static and cleared to reveal Harry and Ed doing their faux Masterpiece Theatre introduction to Ghostfacers!, I laughed out loud and settled back to enjoy the fun. I’ll confess, I was suckered by the pullback on the Ghostfacers! pilot episode credits at the end that revealed that we’d been watching the pilot the entire time right along with Sam and Dean. The frame had been there in plain sight the entire time, especially with the Ghostfacers! logo defining every one of the commercial breaks, but the reveal still surprised me into a chuckle. And I grinned to see the real Supernatural episode credits coming only at the very end of the episode. What deal did Kripke have to broker with the DGA, SAG, and the WGA to get approval for that departure from the norm, I wonder? Episode credits are subject to a plethora of rules, which got discarded willy-nilly right along with every other convention in order to make this episode happen!
Ben Edlund definitely brought the funny with his script, especially with that hilarious theme song, for which Kripke was quick to give him credit at the Creation convention in LA. And speaking of the theme song, it cracked me up that Harry was singing it under his breath to try to keep up his courage while sitting in the salt circle. The riff on “reality” and the writers’ strike was also a particularly nice touch. Who needs writers, when you’ve got guys like us? Talk about a graphic demonstration of the need for writers ... *grin* I want my Eric, and my Ben, and my Sera Gamble and Jeremy Carver and Cathryn Humphris and Robert Singer ...
I’m not a fan of motion-sickness-inducing, amateur hand-held video photography – I treasure the brilliant professional cinematography on this show, with the way it loves the actors, highlights the action, and both reveals and lingers on expressions – but I’ll grant that it was the absolute perfect touch for this one episode to stick cameras and flashlights in the actors’ hands and leave most of the shooting and the lighting to them. There were only a few moments when I caught the use of a steady set-up shot, one not from an actor-held camera but needed to adequately define the scene. Where they were used, they were subtle and unobtrusive but quietly welcome if only to settle my stomach for a moment. Thank you, director Phil Sgriccia! On the whole, the actors did a great job on their shooting, and I give kudos to the guest cast for managing to pull off good performances while also having to hit their lighting and camera marks as videographers. And in retrospect, I have to wonder what it is about Jensen Ackles’ face that makes even harsh and haphazard flashlight beams limn him softly with Thomas Kinkade beauty.
Sound editing on this episode gets its own special mention, particularly for two outstanding moments: hearing the Impala before we saw it and recognizing that throaty engine immediately; and hearing Sam’s flashlight hitting the ground a heartbeat after he disappeared. The use of music was also stellar, with “American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad blaring out of the Impala’s speakers on Dean’s house-casing drive-by (but what happened to the spotlights that used to be mounted on the car? Sam was using a flashlight ...) and with “Hocus Pocus” by Focus providing a suitably frenetic backdrop to the Ghostfacers setting up their “Eagle’s Nest” base camp. And “It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry If I Want To)” joins Barry White, the Captain and Tennille, and “The Lady In Red” on the list of songs/artists I never expected but cracked up to hear on Supernatural. And then there’s the bleeped dialogue with the overlay of that ridiculous skull – judging from the director’s cut clips, more was bleeped than prime-time would actually have required, and since the manner of bleeping was so absurd, it just made me laugh.
I enjoyed the performances by all the guest actors, but most especially Dustin Milligan as Corbett. He had a sweet innocence that shone, even in his awkward and obvious crush on Ed, and the final clip of Corbett included in the video reminded me sadly of the similar tribute to Doyle in the first season of Angel, where his botched but achingly earnest video recording of an ad for Angel’s detective services was all that remained after Doyle found his courage and sacrificed his life for others. Of all the Ghostfacers, Corbett was the one most genuinely caring and alive, betrayed to his death by his own curiosity and enthusiasm, but ultimately determined to help others without thinking of the cost to himself. He was a hero, and deserved a better tribute than the mawkish one served up by Ed and Harry. I can’t help but wonder what happened to his body, and to the bodies of all the other people murdered by Daggett so he would have guests at his party.
Long story short, I had a rollicking good time with Ghostfacers!, but I’m more than ready to return to the intense, angst-ridden, professionally staged close focus on the Winchester brothers that I know and love as the Supernatural standard. Bring it on!
I apologize to all for the extreme lateness of this blog. I had a great week taking care of my Mom, but didn’t even get to see Ghostfacers! until the weekend, and got drafted unexpectedly into a public meeting project the moment I walked back into work. I promise to get my commentary on Long Distance Call out on schedule this weekend, though!