Convention ghost games
Teach real-life brother lessons,
Wake a true haunting.
Driving all night in response to a text message from Chuck noting a life or death situation at a small old hotel, the brothers arrived to see three other vintage black Impalas in the parking lot and to learn that super-fan Becky had borrowed Chuck’s phone without his knowledge to summon them to the first annual fan convention for Chuck’s Supernatural books. The fan group was small but dedicated, full of fans dressed as the brothers and as other characters from the books, and the programming included live action role-playing of a haunting at the convention hotel based on the hotel’s real history as a one-time orphanage where a woman had reportedly killed four children and herself.
During a question and answer session with the fans, Chuck revealed to the Winchesters’ dismay and the fans’ delight that, with the backing of a wealthy Scandinavian investor, he was going to start publishing more of the Supernatural books, picking up where the novels had left off with Dean in Hell and introducing angels to the story.
Bracing Chuck in the bar after the Q&A, where Chuck was trying to get Becky’s attention only to be derailed by her infatuation with Sam, Dean said the brothers couldn’t waste time with all the other essential things on their plates – finding the Colt, hunting the devil – and when Chuck protested he hadn’t been the one to call them, Sam clarified their objection was to more of the books. Chuck admitted he had no other talents and wasn’t even a good writer, and needed the books to survive. Their conversation was interrupted by a scream, a woman claiming to have seen a ghost – the beginning act of the ghost hunt role-playing. Becky handed Sam a copy of the game setup, saying they would win. One of the convention organizers, playing the role of a hotel employee, told the gamers about Leticia Gore, the woman who had run the orphanage that previously occupied the building, who reportedly had murdered four children and committed suicide with a butcher knife exactly a hundred years before. Seeing and hearing two role-players repeating as dialogue the brothers’ exchange when Dean first told Sam about John telling him he had to save Sam or kill him, the brothers decided they needed a drink before departing.
Elsewhere in the hotel, another gamer met a woman playing the role of Leticia Gore, who told him she’d been buried in the basement. Shooting her with his toy shotgun and complaining when she didn’t disappear the way ghosts in the books did when shot with salt, the gamer headed away to meet his partner, only to encounter the real ghost of a little boy in the hall who complained that Mrs. Gore didn’t let them have any fun. The gamer found himself suspended in midair and slammed between the walls of a room until another ghost – this one really of Leticia Gore – appeared, saying “Naughty, naughty!” The force holding the gamer evaporated, dropping him to the floor.
In the bar, Dean hit on the girl playing Leticia, who initially blew him off but reacted differently when she stopped to look at him, observing that unlike the others who had hit on her, he didn’t seem scared of women. Their chat was interrupted by Alex, the gamer who had met the ghost, arguing with his gaming companion that they should get out of the hotel because he’d met a real live ghost and gotten the crap beaten out of him. Guessing the haunting was real, Dean bribed a real hotel employee, learning that the gaming story about Leticia Gore was true, right down to the murder/suicide having happened exactly a hundred years before. The brothers didn’t notice two of the other gamers listening in as the real desk clerk told them the murders were committed up in the attic. Up in the attic, the brothers saw the ghost of one of the murdered boys, who said his mommy loved him, and then revealed he’d been scalped.
The eavesdropping gamers, trying to find the attic, met another of the boy ghosts who pleaded with them to help him because Mrs. Gore never let them have any fun. Thinking the ghost was just another actor and following where he pointed, they discovered an old map hidden behind a photograph hanging on the wall.
Contacting a member of the local historical society, Sam learned that not only had Leticia Gore butchered four boys: one of them was her son, and she had scalped him. Overhearing the two gamers who had found the map mentioning a cemetery on the grounds, Sam proposed joining forces to join the bones. The gamers agreed, insisting that they would get the prize and would get to be Sam and Dean, demoting the real Sam and Dean to being Rufus and Bobby. Enroute to the cemetery, hearing the gamers delivering dialogue straight out of the brothers’ confrontation in Asylum, Dean snapped, saying the gamers weren’t Sam and Dean and asking why they would choose to be them. Dean said angrily that the Dean and Sam story sucked, that it wasn’t fun or entertaining, but a river of crap that would send most people howling to the nuthouse. The gamers maintained that Sam and Dean wouldn’t care because they were fictional characters. Dean stalked off, and Sam covered for him by saying he took the story very seriously.
At the cemetery, they found the graves of all four boys and Leticia. The gamers, looking for the game’s bones somewhere on the ground, were appalled when Dean began to dig up Leticia’s grave. When he broke open the coffin to reveal her real bones, the gamers concluded the brothers were nuts – up until the ghost of Leticia attacked, flinging Sam aside and sticking her spectral hands into the gamers’ chests. Dean scattered salt and fuel and lit her bones, dispersing the ghost, and asked if that was real enough for the gamers.
Drinking in the hotel bar on Dean’s money, the frightened, nonplussed gamers asked how the brothers had known how to do all that, and Sam, exchanging a glance with Dean, said they’d read the books. Believing the danger over, the brothers sought out Chuck, and Dean insincerely wished him luck with the Supernatural books. Trying to leave the hotel, however, the brothers found all the doors and windows locked tight, and realized the haunting wasn’t over. Hearing a scream, the brothers found the Leticia actress fleeing a room, telling them not to go in. Going in anyway, they found the ghost of Leticia’s son, who asked them why they’d sent his mother away and explained that she hadn’t been the one who scalped him. Too late, they realized the other three little boys had been the murderers and that Leticia, losing control and murdering them in turn when she saw what they had done to her son, had after her own suicide remained as a ghost to control and limit the depredations of their angry spirits. No longer restrained, the boy ghosts brutally murdered a critical, opinionated convention guest, a European man costumed as the Hookman, and the boys arrived on the scene only to find his scalped body.
Sam ordered Chuck to keep the convention guests occupied in the main activity room while Dean persuaded the hotel staff to join the events. Realizing the boy ghosts had been frightened only of Leticia, the brothers salted all the doors to keep the group safe, and then sought out the woman who had played the LARPing role of Leticia Gore to persuade her to reprise the role in an attempt to rein in the boy ghosts. The two gamers who now knew the truth asked to help, saying that even though they were scared, they wanted to do it because it’s what Sam and Dean from the books would have done. The gamers went with Sam to try breaking out of the hotel, digging up the boys’ graves, and burning their bones as Dean backed up the Leticia actress in her attempt to con the ghosts into stopping. The actress distracted the boy ghosts enough to let Sam and the gamers open the doors just enough to let the gamers out, but the jig was up when the actress’s cell phone went off, revealing her as an imposter, and Dean told her to run. The boys attacked Dean, but Sam returned in time to save him, and they fought in earnest against the ghosts as the gamers furiously dug up the boys’ graves. One of the hotel staff, impatient with Chuck’s stalling, opened a door to the function room and breaking the salt line, and Chuck – rising to become heroic to Becky’s amazed delight – dispelled the ghost with the iron base of a microphone stand and ordered the door salted again. The other two ghosts got the better of the Winchesters, holding them down and threatening to scalp them, but the gamers succeeded in salting and burning all the bones in time to save the brothers.
In the aftermath, with the police investigating the murder of the European fan at the hotel, Dean thanked the two gamers, finally learning their real names: Barnes (Sam) and Demian (Dean). When they asked his name. Dean told them he was the real Dean, but they didn’t believe him, laughing it off as a joke, as he played along. Demian told him he thought Dean had been wrong earlier when he had gone off on the brothers’ lives being miserable, and that Dean had missed the point of the Supernatural story. Demian explained that he and Barnes lived boring lives in boring jobs, while Dean and Sam woke up every day to save the world, each knowing he had a brother who would die for him. Demian asked who wouldn’t want that, and Dean had to concede the point. Commenting that Barnes and Demian didn’t make a bad team themselves, he asked how they knew each other, and they said they’d met in an online chat room and now were more than friends; they were partners, in the gay sense of the term. Discomfited by the homoerotic subtext but ultimately cheered by the rest of their attitude, Dean left. After dealing with Becky’s declaration that she was now with Chuck and no longer in love with Sam, and telling Chuck that the brothers were emphatically not all right with Chuck publishing any more of their lives in book form, Sam turned to leave, only to be stopped by Becky telling him about a detail he’d missed in Chuck’s books: that when Bela stole the Colt, she had given it not directly to Lilith, but to a demon named Crowley, Lilith’s right hand man and possibly lover. With a new lead on the weapon, Sam returned to the Impala to find an oddly cheerful Dean waiting on him. They hit the road.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
I don’t have much meta commentary to offer on this episode because the episode itself was entirely meta. It was fun and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t have a lot to say to me other than the obvious. I saw one key message, however, and it was a uniformly positive one: that what the brothers stand for is important, and when it’s recognized, it has power over hearts and minds.
Because It’s What Sam And Dean Would Do
Dean and Sam have lived hard lives full of sacrifice, fear, pain, loss, grief, and anger. Encountering the LARPers pretending to be the Sam and Dean of Chuck’s novels, Dean couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be the Winchester brothers and was angered at their pain being considered entertainment.
Barnes and Demian, the LARPers, gave Dean a different perspective when they explained first why they were willing to help against the ghosts, and later, why they were drawn to the Winchesters’ story as portrayed in Chuck’s books. When they first volunteered to help, they confessed that they were terrified about confronting the ghosts, but people were in danger and helping them despite fear and pain is what Sam and Dean would have done. I don’t think it had ever occurred to Dean that he and Sam could actually inspire anyone, and yet these unlikely and disparate fans wanted to be just like them enough to aspire to real life courage. The strong hint was that others in the fandom might have done the same had they learned the truth, suggesting that Sam and Dean could have more allies even against the apocalypse than they ever knew or guessed would be possible. At the end, telling Dean he didn’t think Dean really got what Supernatural was all about, Demian explained that Sam and Dean not only had a worthwhile purpose beyond their own lives, but someone who cared for them beyond all else, and that was valuable beyond measure.
In numerous other episodes, we’ve seen that the boys’ lives have included precious few rewards. They hide what they do from most people, so there have been few situations in which even the people they saved thanked them for their trouble. This episode was significant precisely because it gave them a totally different perspective on their lives from people who read about them and believed them to be not only heroes, but role models worthy of emulation. Barnes and Demian shared that with Dean, and it’s a certainty given the new openness between the brothers that Dean would have shared it with Sam once they hit the road, right after Sam shared his news from Becky about the demon named Crowley with the Colt.
In the midst of the burgeoning apocalypse, with the world getting darker on all sides, this light of faith and belief was a crucial one potentially to help sustain the brothers when all other hope appears lost. They learned from this experience that what they do not only has meaning to others, but can inspire them to action and heroism even in the most unlikely of ways. The brothers need allies in the fight; this episode showed them they have allies they never even imagined who can be more valuable than they would ever have thought.
Dean was reminded of the value in having not only something to fight for, some larger purpose to serve, but in having a brother willing to die for him. His cheerfulness at the end came from being reminded that despite all else and beyond all expectation, he still has the two things in life most important to him: his family, and the ability to save other people. His life has worth and purpose, and most importantly, it has love.
I think one message of this season is getting back to basics, including family, and this episode did that with an unsubtle vengeance. In the midst of a classic, “look beneath the surface” salt-and-burn ghost story very reminiscent of season one’s Provenance, we met gamers pretending to be Sam and Dean who effectively were showing Sam and Dean how important it was for them to be to each other the brothers they had always been despite what they’d been through, and who succeeded in saving the day precisely because they supported each other in pursuing the mission even while recognizing their own weaknesses – Demian admitted his fear, and Barnes admitted his sickness at what they were having to do, but both continued in despite of it all because they had each other to rely on. I think Dean learned that lesson, and I have no doubt he passed it on to Sam.
I enjoyed this episode, but I’m more than ready for the funny stuff to be over and the main apocalyptic action and character development to resume. I look forward to the fourth wall going back up and to staying firmly on my side of it, watching the brothers’ story unfold without intrusive meta commentary on fandom being insinuated into the script.
The script by Eric Kripke, from a story by Nancy Weiner, had a lot of delightful touches, particularly including snippets of dialogue from both this story and from other episodes included not just in the mouths of gamers, but in the dialogue from the ghosts. It included in amusing fashion a lot of the criticisms and suggestions real fans have spouted concerning the show, from the repetitious plethora of creepy child monsters to the brothers constantly losing their weapons in fights. It poked on-target commentary on fans who fight with each other over their views and opinions on episodes of the show and elements of performances and production design. In using as character names the online handles of two well-known commentators from Television Without Pity (Barnes and Demian), it had fun kicking down the fourth wall and pulling the fans inside. It also had some glaring weaknesses, however, particularly including the seemingly tacked-on deus ex fan of having Becky spouting at the end a critical piece of information fortuitously recalled from one of Chuck’s books to set up the premise for the next episode (here’s hoping the boys found copies of all the books and will pore through them on the road from here to there in order to pick up any other nuggets they might have missed …), and the unresolved question about why Sam and Dean would have stayed in the first place once they realized how they had been deceived into coming. There was some lazy storytelling on display there, although I did appreciate the very real-world reflection that a dedicated fan will often be more focused on detail continuity even than an author and creator.
James L. Conway’s straightforward direction kept everything clear up until the end, when we saw Barnes and Demian digging up only two graves. I think the pile of bones they torched was meant to suggest they were burning all four of the boys’ skeletons, but it’s hard to imagine they could have dug two graves each in the apparently short span of the fight between Sam, Dean, and the little boy ghosts. We saw only two of the ghosts poof into fire and ash, which really begged the question about exactly what happened to the last murderous boy – the one last seen being dispersed but not destroyed by the base of Chuck’s microphone stand – and Leticia’s ghost son.
I really enjoyed Rob Benedict’s portrayal of Chuck. Becky the super-fan, on the other hand, was embarrassingly overdone. Mind you, I have met ardent fandom “Beckys” in real life and been just as embarrassed by their over-the-top, gushing cluelessness, so this isn’t a comment on the actress; it’s purely and simply my complete discomfort with the character. Becky was just too on the nose for my taste, and really hope I don’t see her again. I felt the same after Sympathy For The Devil, so at least I’m consistent.
The production crew get accolades for all the fannish delight, from the merchandise and book covers (laughed to see “cover Sam’s” flowing locks having been shortened from the first time we saw the first book cover and poster in The Monster At The End Of This Book; did Fabio object to his Sam-clone??) to the costumes and disguises on all the convention-going fans. All those images were hysterical! My single favorite moment, though, was seeing the three Impalas lined up together in the parking lot. I was beyond delighted to have gotten two Impalas in the same shot in pictures I took back on location with I Believe The Children Are Our Future; I might have totally lost it in full-on Becky fashion if I’d gotten three!
Chris Lennertz’s background underscore was full of jokes and humor, playing exaggerated themes to match the action. Listen, for example, to the scene in which Becky told Sam she and Chuck had found each other. One piece of cinematography that really caught my eye was most likely accidental, but beautifully striking; the rainbow light reflections off the car’s roof at the end as we saw Dean smiling to himself, one of the vanishingly few moments of pure unadulterated Dean happiness we’ve seen this season. I still missed Dean’s ring and bracelet, though. The evidently ad-libbed outtakes from Chuck’s Q&A that aired at the end were a scream, and I hope we might see more on the season five DVD.
While the show poked gentle fun at fandom and its excesses – the obsessive interest in minute details, the nitpicking criticism, the polarizing disagreements between differing opinions, the juvenile crushes and sometimes embarrassingly inappropriate behavior – its ultimate message about fans and fandom was a positive one. In the episode, fans rose to the occasion and saved the day both through acts of courage and generosity and by intelligence and ratiocination. LARPing fans Barnes and Demian understood the message of humanity and the importance of family from the Winchesters’ story, and created supportive emotional connections with each other that would never have happened but for their shared interest in the books. Together, they did the right thing despite fear and hardship in order to benefit others because that’s what their heroes would have done. Despite her silly fixation on Sam and generally immature behavior, Becky’s focus on and dedication to the books and their characters led to the disclosure of valuable information that will ultimately advance the brothers’ goals.
And so it has been with real-life Supernatural fandom. Fans have found each other through sharing the experiences, trials, and travails of the Winchesters. They’ve made new friendships bridging cultures, nationalities, religious beliefs, age, gender, and educational backgrounds. And they’ve banded together in the name of the show and its stars to make a difference for others through charitable works, demonstrating a generosity of spirit and pocketbook to each other and to total strangers through multiple charities in ways that have taken the lessons of the show out into the real world.
I’m happy to have connected with all of you, and to be part of Supernatural’s subversive mission to make the world a better place through the power of fandom. We do get what the story’s about, and it’s not angels, demons, ghosts, or monsters; it’s the families we’re born to and the families we build. It’s love and trust and the willingness to tell the truth and do the right thing even when it’s scary and hard. It’s supporting each other through the rough patches and making the most of what we’ve got, finding the joy and purpose in our own lives so we can make life better for others.
That’s Supernatural. And that’s us.
Not a long one this time, but still late. Sorry! My house is almost finished -- I started moving back in this last weekend, unpacking boxes -- but work is still nuts. Hopefully I will do better this week, and then turn to fiction during the hiatus. I'm backlogged on stories!