“#THINMAN,” written by Jenny Klein and directed by Jeannot Szwarc, is yet another monster-of-the-week installment in Supernatural’s ninth season.
In this week’s episode, Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) decides to investigate the murder of Casey Miles (Ali Webb); the “selfies” the teen took moments before her death show a faceless figure that Dean thinks is a ghost. Though the brothers are still on the outs, Sam (Jared Padalecki) surprises Dean by insisting on coming along. Soon into their investigation, the Winchesters cross paths with Ghostfacers Ed Zeddmore (AJ Buckley) and Harry Spangler (Travis Wester), who were last seen in “It’s a Terrible Life” (4×17). Ed and Harry inform the Winchesters that they’re not hunting a ghost; they’re hunting Thinman. After another man is murdered and Harry himself attacked, secrets are revealed.
The initial premise of “#THINMAN” is intriguing, and I find the opening scene legitimately creepy. It’s been a while since Supernatural has featured a truly scary monster, and the early scenes of Thinman remind me of “Hook Man” (1×7) and “Scarecrow” (1×11). And when Deputy Norwood (Nicholas Carella) tells the Winchesters that the “sheriff’s on a hunting trip,” he eerily echoes 26-year-old Dean’s statement to Sam, “Dad’s on a hunting trip. And he hasn’t been home in a few days” (1×1). Surely these reminders aren’t coincidental.
The Ghostfacers themselves, who made their first appearance in “Hell House” (1×17), prompt viewers (long-time viewers, at least) to recall the Show’s early years. Not only are Ed and Harry among the few Supernatural characters who have never died, but they also serve as foils for Dean and Sam. I think it’s interesting that Ed and Harry never voice questions about the Winchesters – how their partnership’s changed, what’s happened to them in the interim, or anything. Instead the Ghostfacers seemingly assume that the Winchesters are carrying on as usual. In contrast, Sam investigates them, uncovering their business’s history online, and then Ed voluntarily makes the Winchesters privy to intimate Ghostfacer business. This contrast suggests to me that there’s a connection to be made about assumption vs. reality.
Dean and Sam’s interactions also suggest a connection along these lines. For example, there are moments where the brothers seem almost themselves. They are united in their aggravation towards the Ghostfacers, particularly in the diner. For (very) brief moments in the motel, they have a rapport, which is nice. It seems significant that while Sam is first working at the desk in front of the window, and Dean takes the kitchenette table, by the next scene, Sam’s working at the table across from his brother. The moment that they reminisce about their childhood is also a nice touch. These little moments are underscored by viewers’ knowledge that the two remain estranged.
For me, “#THINMAN” confirms that the rift between Dean and Sam is about more than Dean enabling Gadreel’s possession (9×1), and more than Sam choosing hunting (and Dean) over Amelia (8×10). The Winchesters’ issues go all the way back to the pilot episode, creating a history that’s too much to tackle in a short review. It’s important to note that Dean and Sam’s relationship has generated drama and suspense for Supernatural’s audience, and the show wouldn’t be what it is without the various incarnations of their bond. However, with Dean and Sam well into their thirties, it seems time for the detrimental aspects to be resolved. And as I’ve said in earlier reviews, if the season narrative delivers, if at the end of the characters’ “Who am I?” arcs there is true resolution that yields fresh storylines, then I’ll consider this pain and angst worthwhile. However, if our beloved characters have been flayed open only to be boomeranged back to square one? Well, that will be quite a different story.
“#Thinman” leaves me wondering (once again) exactly how Show plans to negotiate mending Dean and Sam’s relationship. I expected that the Ghostfacers would offer some unexpected insight into the Winchesters’ situation, as they did in their season three episode (3×13). And in a way, they do.
Once Ed tells the Winchesters that he made up Thinman so that Harry wouldn’t leave the Ghostfacers, the episode shifts into parallels so heavy-handed that, were they anvils dropping from the sky, Road Runner couldn’t escape them. (And if Show doesn’t want me making Looney Tunes connections, then Norwood shouldn’t hum “Camptown Races.”)
Sam warns Ed, “Secrets ruin relationships.” A reaction shot from Dean shows that the elder Winchester gets the correlation. And when Ed fully discloses what he’s done, Harry’s understandably upset. He accuses Ed of crashing “the Jenga tower of [their] lives” and preventing his marriage just so they could live “a lie.” Ed’s response? “Well, at least we were living it together.”
Holy $&*#, people.
The mirroring actually intensifies from there, if you can believe it. Ed protests that he’s saved Harry, who counters, “Safe from what? From living a nice life… How selfish can you be?” Ed suggests that they continue their Thinman deception: “Does it really make a difference if we keep it going for the fans? They’ll never know.” Harry responds, “I’ll know.”
While Ed wants them to push through this, to fix the Thinman debacle and go back to being Ghostfacers, Harry doesn’t. He says, “I can’t trust you anymore.” Though Ed acknowledges Harry’s anger, he doesn’t grasp the enormity of the betrayal he’s wrought. When Ed leaves the room for a moment, Sam comes in and speaks with Harry. And if the parallels aren’t glaring by that point, they quickly become blinding.
Harry explains, “None of it was real, Sam. Ed was just pretending. And now he wants me to pretend, like this is just something I can get past.” Sam nods empathetically and says, “I know what you mean. [pause] Look, there are things you can forgive and there are things you can’t.” Harry asks which type of situation this is, and Sam says, “That’s something you’ve got to figure out for yourself.” Before they say anything else, Dean comes in and rather hesitantly (for Dean) tells Sam that he’s got some new information. The Winchesters then head out to figure out what a teleporting monster is doing with a job and a car.
After the Winchesters leave, Ed talks to Harry again in a scene that presents even more parallels. Ed tells Harry, “Before the heartache, before the lies, we set out to help people, right? …So there’s no reason not to get out there and do what we mostly set out to do… I can make this right for the both of us.” Does any of this sound familiar? Harry pauses a moment before telling Ed, “We can make it right.” Ed’s face lights up, and it’s obvious that he thinks they’re on the path to reconciliation.
In the vein of “The Benders” (1×15) and “Citizen Fang” (8×9), the “monster” (or monsters, in this case) are all too human. Norwood has been working with Roger (Giovanni Mocibob) to bring Ed’s “crowd source legend” to life. In Norwood’s terms, he’s the “visionary,” while Roger’s the “psycho.” The duo, who also present a disturbing example of partnership and what a singular mindset can accomplish, prepare to kill Dean first. As we’ve seen in other episodes, despite his anger at his brother, Sam cares: While Dean appears fairly stoic as Roger holds the knife to his throat, Sam protests loudly and struggles to get free of his bindings.
Rather expectedly, Ed and Harry’s attempted rescue goes awry, and they’re taken captive instead. But the distraction enables Dean and Sam to free themselves and take control of the situation. Sam fights Norwood, while Dean takes on Roger. And this is where the warehouse scene gets truly interesting.
“#THINMAN” is yet another episode with no mention of the Mark, and, rather glaringly, no visual reminder, even though Dean has his shirt sleeves rolled up in more than one scene. However, Dean’s fight – if we can call it that – suggests something’s going on: After Dean grabs Roger, allowing Harry to break free, the hunter very slowly forces Roger to stab himself. The camera lingers on Roger’s face as the knife stabs and then as Dean drops him to the floor. I immediately compared this kill to the one in “Family Remains” (4×11), and while the circumstances are certainly different, Dean has (as far as I can remember) always expressed unease at killing humans; he’s horrified when he realizes that Soulless!Sam killed civilians in the line of duty. Yet he looks neither uncomfortable nor horrified as he forces Roger to kill himself. If this scene isn’t a nod to whatever the Mark is doing to Dean, I’ll be surprised.
After the “monsters” have been dispatched, we do get a scene between Dean and Sam reminiscent of past episodes, where they talk for a moment about the case, and their feelings about it. I liked that Dean mentions setting up the crime scene, which is something the Winchesters must do on a regular basis, though we rarely hear about that side of the family business. Sam seems conflicted over the deaths of Norwood and Roger, commenting that the two were “just people.” Dean responds, “People are sick.”
While the Winchesters converse, Harry informs Ed that he helped finish off Thinman because “I wasn’t just closing the chapter, Ed; it was the whole dang book.” These important lines illustrate part of Sam’s current inner struggle. If Harry correlates to Sam, then it seems that the younger Winchester wasn’t entirely truthful in season eight about why he chose pursuing the Trials over Amelia. I’m starting to wonder just what Sam’s “book” is/was – The hunting lifestyle? Life itself? His enmeshed relationship with Dean?
Harry and Ed’s conversation reiterates much of what the Winchesters have said to one another recently – nearly word for word at times (9×10, 9×12, 9×13). Harry tells Ed that too many people have died “because of [Ed’s] crap.” Ed protests, “I’ve done all this crap for us, and I don’t know why you don’t see that.” Harry’s response? “No. You do this for you.”
Seriously, can someone call Castiel to lift these anvils, please?
Like Dean, Ed realizes that just because Harry has worked with him doesn’t mean that things are okay. Stricken, Ed asks, “What does this mean for us?” And Harry replies, “It means…it’s complicated.” Harry leaves with Dean and Sam, and Ed is left behind, tears in his eyes. It’s a sad moment, and I really hope that the Ghostfacers get some resolution; it’s a shame to bring Ed and Harry back only to leave them shattered.
Dean asks Harry if he’s okay, prompting the other man to say, “…You roll with a guy so many years, you start to think he’s always going to be next to you. Like when you’re old, on the porch, he’ll be in that other rocking chair…something happens, and you realize, that other chair is gone, empty. [long pause] You know what I mean?” While neither Dean nor Sam answers verbally, it’s clear from Ackles’s and Padalecki’s facial expressions that, yeah, their characters know exactly what Harry means.
In the end, though, the episode’s heavy-handed repetition of dialogue and situation bothers me. For all the similarities between the Ghostfacers’ and the Winchesters’ relationships, there are individual nuances that shouldn’t be overlooked. For example, though the “Pilot” shows that Dean prefers hunting with Sam, later episodes, particularly “Free to be You and Me” (5×3), shows that Dean recognizes that there is strength in working alone. I also can’t equate Ed’s motives for keeping Harry in the business with Dean’s as they are markedly different. Sam’s circumstances are also different than Harry’s. For these reasons, among others, I feel like it’s more accurate to say that, ultimately, the Ghostfacers serve as a contrast to the Winchesters, drawing our attention to these distinctions.
Sam has a right to be angry at Dean for enabling Gadreel’s possession and lying about it. Both men have a right to be angry for how they’re mutually not handling the current situation as well as they might. Both men have played roles in major, apocalyptic events. Both men have a long history of acting in ways that have damaged the trust between them. So at what point will both men address those issues and work through them, instead of maintaining the current status quo, which alternatively sets each up as resentful and/or irritated at the other. When will both fully realize that while neither can control what the other does, each can control what he does?
Early in “#THINMAN,” Dean questions, “How can something be both real and fake at the same time?” And this seems to be a major question of the season: What is “real” vs. what is “fake”? If the narrative tells one thing but shows another, what should be trusted? If Dean and Sam’s relationship is being reconfigured, does that detract from everything that’s come before? (I’d say no.) At what point are Dean and Sam going to figure out what’s real and/or fake to them?
Sam responds to Dean’s question with the straightforward, “Well, the girl is dead and that’s about as real as it gets.” So if death is the ultimate reality check, then who (or what) has to die (literally or symbolically) in order for things to be set to rights? Is the Mark going to come into play and propel the story forward? What about Castiel (Misha Collins) and the angelic war?
Hopefully, “Blade Runners” will begin answering some of these questions when Supernatural returns March 18th at 9 pm EST on the CW network. Watch the preview here.
- “This House is a Hotel” by The Wind and The Wave is playing as Casey takes her selfies. Its lyrics fit well with the season’s themes.
- Memorable quotations Dean to Harry: “Am I supposed to be impressed with that treasure trail or the lady gun you got hiding in your pants there?” Also, Harry about Dean and Sam: “Fifty Shades of Whey Too Much Protein”
- I laughed (at first) when I realized that Ed is dressed in Dean’s usual look: jeans and layers of shirts. Is Ed’s beard really gingery or is that another echo of Dean
- Okay, Sam will always be the bitchface champion (“Does it look like I’m staying?”). However, pissy Dean is notable too (from “I will shoot you, bitches” to his slapping the counter before stalking out of the police department).
- Did anyone else think that Dean’s lecture to Ed and Harry about the possibility of Thinman is out of place? After all, that was a theory in “Hell House.”
- I *love* the idea of nine-year-old Dean as superman and Sam as batman… but who was holding the camera? Did they have a tripod? That seems unlikely considering that such cameras were luxuries in the late 1980s, though maybe John had one for catching ghosts on film?
- Roger is truly disgusting. He tells Dean that he killed Casey because “She wouldn’t go out with me, so I set her up with someone else. My knife.” If death-by-knife offers a phallic connotation, then Roger’s rating on the creep scale jumps even higher.
- How many fat jokes does Dean deliver in this episode? Especially after he was so receptive to Mol’s story in “The Purge,” these comments seem off to me.
- So, if Norwood and Roger killed Casey in the opening scene, how long was Roger, who’s definitely the one in the photographs, lurking in her room? Or are we to assume he managed to slip in through the closed window while Norwood made a sound downstairs (and Casey turned her back on the room for a moment to see if her mother was home). And are we to assume that Roger moved lightning fast across the room and managed to hide in the closet, anticipating that’s where she’d go? Or was that Norwood? And if that *was* Norwood, who made the noise downstairs? …That scene made more sense to me when I thought Thinman was supernatural.
- I miss the good ol’ days when the MOTW episodes were consistently connected, however loosely, to the mytharcs. On top of not mentioning the Mark, the angelic war and Castiel’s whereabouts were again neglected, which read as annoying (yet could-be-so-easily-remedied) narrative gaps to me.
- Trending terms on Twitter included #THINMAN, #riseofthefacers, and #Ghostfacers.Jenny Klein, AJ Buckley, Travis Wester, Osric Chau, and Jared Padalecki also tweeted. (If I overlooked anyone or any trending terms, please share in the comments below.
- For ratings information, see here.
- What did you think of the episode? Favorite scenes? Problem points? Share in the comments below!