Supernatural Re-watch, S1E2: Wendigo

Second episode of the show to be aired, September 20, 2005. 

Synopsis:

The teaser gives us a park in Colorado – the temperate rainforests of Colorado, of course – where a group of young men are camping backcountry, but not so far back that one of them can’t be sending his daily video home.  Others are playing with their handheld games.  Soon, scaryfast shadow-monster (mmm, cheap effects, chuckles the producer to himself, and fingers his BMW keys), and bye-bye, dude.  Brad, we hardly knew ya.

At least he got a name.

Cut to Palo Alto, and Sam in a nice suit approaching a gravestone marked for his fridged girlfriend (hey, hero’s gotta have a reason to hero, right?).  He’s got flowers.  While he woobies about the pain of surviving her untimely and Sam-related death, a dirty hand rises Carrie-like out of the ground, grabbing Sam by the wrist.

He jolts awake in the Impala.  The brothers bond a bit.  There’s some natter about an old fight that Dad couldn’t finish, and a bunch of young men missing in the back country.  CRASHY-SMASHY TITLES!

At the Ranger cabin, Sam barfs up some exposition for a while, then the Ranger comes in to tell them not to go out in the Very Dangerous Place.  Which, of course, we all know means they’re going to do exactly that.  The boys break it up a little by getting to the family’s place, where they discover it’s a set of orphans who are very close.

More exposition: 23 years ago, and 23 years before, and 23 years before, people went missing in this area.  But hey, there’s a survivor!  Isn’t there always?  You’d think apex predator monsters would be more efficient. It was a grizzly, right?  Right?  And now the survivor is grizzled, too.  Ooh, narrative symmetry.  Nah.

Anyway, That Was No Bear!  Dean’s happy because it’s a solid creature.  The next day, they meet up with the family and their Grizzled Hunter guide, claiming to be rangers in a pretty improbable set of gear.

Cutaway, now, and we find that Tommy is still alive.  He’s hanging from a hook of some sort, alongside one of his friends, when a long, skinny-looking monster comes along and noisily dismembers his friend.

Back to the rescue op, the Grizzled Hunter is being lectured by Dean on how skilled Dean is, and gives Dean a comeuppance with a barely-avoided leg trap.  Dean then has an uncomfortable conversation with the girl of the week, and makes the creepy confession that he’s never honest with women.  Ever.  Dude, that’s not cool, that’s rapey.

Coming on the campsite (damn, you guys are good – one teeny campsite, in many square miles of heavy forested mountains?), they find evidence that it wasn’t a skinwalker or a black dog.  A predator trick draws them from the camp, and takes away all their survival gear while they’re distracted.  Totting up the evidence, Sam realizes it’s a Wendigo – Dean rightly points out that wendigo is a concept/creature/diagnosis from First Nations cultures found in Michigan and Minnesota (as well as here in Ontario and Manitoba), Sam handwaves, blah blah Donner party blah.

Sam makes the “Shit is Getting Serious” speech, and is scoffed at by Grizzled Hunter.  Night falls.  Dean gives the speech we’re going to see for ages in the opener, about with great responsibility comes great privilege, and duty is a feather heavier than a mountain, and all kinds of guff.  Basically: “We’re gonna do monster of the week, and finding dad is the big arc.  Also, there’s a book by MacGuffin, full of Useful Information.”

Once again, the monster gives with the distraction noises, sounding (for me) distractingly like Surak’s voice in the dreadful Star Trek: TOS episode.  “Help me, Spooock, help meee!”  Grizzled Hunter falls for it, and gets himself et.  Oops.

More exposition, gotta torch it.  Monster attacks, scattering the party, and Dean and Haley disappear.  Dean starts dropping M&M’s to leave a trail, and Sam and Ben track them to the entrance to an abandoned mine.  With a bit of good luck, they tumble through a shaft to the pantry, where Dean and Haley are hanging to cure.  They discover ample evidence that plenty of people here have been eaten already, and then – Tommy!  Tommy!  He’s alive!

The way out is a bit more character development: Sam’s the carer, Dean’s the stupidly brave Han Solo-type.  To distract the creatures, he runs off yelling and offering “white meat”, while Sam escorts the wounded out.  The flare guns they find are one-shot, and Sam misses his!  Ack!  They hobble for the exit, chased by the monster, only to have Dean show up just in time to save them, using his flare gun to give us the episode’s only big effect: the wendigo going up in flame.

They fashion a story for the police, and the family goes to the hospital.  Dean gets shot down (not literally) by the expected Girl of the Week – a nice aversion of the trope.

And the hunt for Dad goes on, sorta, in that they’re really kinda just going where he tells them, not so much where he might be.  Guitars and credits.

Analysis:

Dunno about anyone else, but as soon as I saw one of the teaser campers was Black, I was worried, I’ll admit.  There’s a reason it’s a trope.  It would have been so, so easy to avert it, too.  I find it hard to believe that horror-movie veterans would be unaware of this one, so it’s really hard to excuse.

And then, the giant creature in the room: the appropriation.  Oh. My. $DEITY. the appropriation.  As they point out, wendigo (or, more properly, WIIN’digo) is a concept from Ojibwe culture – which makes the Anasazi protective symbols an odd choice, let’s say mildly.  But hey, they’re all one kinda people, amirite? (hint: I am not right).  It’s just a whole big bucket of fail, splashed all over the episode.  The show would have done well to stay away from First Nations material entirely, rather than give it the disservice and disrespect shown here.  It’s not the last time, either.  We’ll have S1E8 coming up soon, Bugs, when they’ll do it again.  At least in that episode an actual First Nations actor got a few lines, and some nice snarky shots at Dean while he was at it.

Honestly, the show tries to include some diversity in the first season in ways that just totally fail, and this is one of them.  The racist truck in S1E13 Route 666 – hello Mighty Whiteys, Sneering Racists, and Noble Lib’ruls! – is another real failcontainership of an episode.  They get somewhat better at this in later seasons, but even to my white-privileged eyes, they get it wrong a whole bunch as well.

Gender-wise, it’s actually not quite as completely awful as some episodes.  Wow, that’s a lot of qualifiers.  But it’s true: the one woman who has a speaking role (Haley; the only other women are unnamed and unspeaking extras in a bar scene) not only gets out alive, but is brave, determined, and not ridiculously useless.  She’s not a backcountry camper, but then not many people are, and she’s not without skills: she can see through the boys’ claim to be rangers pretty soon after they get into the woods, and is clearly a responsible head-of-family person, even as a teenager.  Her younger brother gets the scream-queen role, really, being more frightened, and Sam actually having to restrain him from crying out just from seeing a blurry distant slow-moving silhouette of the monster.  Nice aversion, I’d say.  She’s also dressed reasonably appropriately, if a little lightly, though I wonder at the wisdom of shorts: do they not have deer flies in Colorado?  I know I wouldn’t go hiking in northern Ontario in shorts, let alone in the mountains.

Anyway, since they spend the whole episode out in the woods with the small cast, there’s not a lot of interaction to provide a lot of analysis here.

Conclusion:

Next episode we have Dead in the Water, the third of the show and season.  It’s another MotW episode, and it’s a reasonably good one – save for being the usual Hollywood White town, somewhere in the temperate rainforests of Wisconsin.

S1E2: Wendigo: 2 Pentacles

2/5 for this one.  I think if I were more of a horror-film fan (I’m really, really not), I’d have liked this one better, but this one felt a whole lot like an X-Files episode to me – the one where Mulder and Scully are going to the team-building thing, and stop in the woods to help find a missing person.  And frankly, I think the X-Files did it better.  They just haven’t hit their stride yet, the boys’ personalities are rough and wobbly, the acting is uneven, and the cinematography way too X-Files.  Growing pains, yes, but in the context of the show?  This isn’t a great ep.

Trivia:

Running total of innocents killed by the Boys: 0 (you wait, this’ll go up)

Named women and/or POC (not already dead) who end up dead before the episode’s out: 1 (Brad, the Black man in the teaser)

Marginalized (named) body survival rate: 50%, ½ (Brad dies; Haley lives)

Objectification by Dean: Pretty much the whole catalogue of his interactions with Haley. He even admits it when she calls him on it.

Misogynist slurs:  Dean, 1 (bitch, to the monster)

Aliases used by the boys:  Samuel Cole (Dean, maybe a Colt reference?)

Hint o’ maple:  Veteran Canadian character actor Timothy Webber (Cold Squad, X-Files, Lone Gunmen, about a hundred other things) plays Ranger Wilkinson, around and aboot the ranger shack.  Yes, I know, fellow Canadians, we don’t really say “aboot”, but that’s what they hear it as.  Trust me, I’m a linguist.  A most cunning one.  With a degree and everything.

Anyway, he’s joined by Donnelly Rhodes, another veteran of just about everything, but who does a much better job of hiding his accent.  And I don’t think Callum Keith Rennie needs any introduction: Da Vinci’s Inquest, BSG, Due South, and a host of other appearances on a range of geek favourites.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Supernatural Re-watch, S1E2: Wendigo

  1. “Dude, that’s not cool, that’s rapey.”

    I had to look this up because I didn’t remember the lines exactly. I don’t know if I’d characterize it as rapey. It’s actually too bad predators aren’t that honest. In Dean’s case though it’s certainly bullshit as we later learn in Route 666.

    Oh man, you’re counting the times Dean says “bitch”. That should be interesting … and time consuming when counted with all the times he refers to Sam as a girl or Samantha. It’s not just Dean though. I recall Bobby saying a few things too that were misogynistic.

    Hint o’ Maple: *side-eyes you* If the Canadian HR director at my last workplace didn’t say ‘aboot’ then I have a hearing problem.

    Also, Rush! I’ll always think of Fly By Night as Sam’s song. Here’s why. In the pilot, it’s established that driver picks the music. At the end of Wendigo, Sam insists on driving the Impala, and the song that’s playing as the Impala drives into the distance is appropriately enough Fly By Night — “my ship isn’t coming and I just can’t pretend.” Sam is back to being a hunter, not a law student. Rush is also the most intellectual of classic rock bands, so it makes sense that Sam would be a Rush fan.

    • Hi – sorry to be so slow. The “aboot” thing is called “Canadian raising”, and it happens with two diphthongs (au and ai, or “ow” and “eye”), but only when they’re followed by a voiceless consonant (p, t, k, f, s), and not when they’re followed by a voiced one (b, d, g, v, z). This means that one Canadian can tell whether another said “write” or “ride” even when whispering, because the diphthong doesn’t change even if the whole utterance is devoiced. If two (of most; Canadian raising is also found in some US dialects, in PA and MN largely) Americans try the same whispering experiment, they’d be forced to rely on only the vowel-length (English lengthens “long” vowels before voiced consonants – consider “bead” vs “beat”) to make the distinction while whispering.

      What happens is the first vowel-sound of the diphthong is raised in the mouth – from ‘ah’ to ‘uh’. So the Canadian version of “au” is “uh-oo” instead of “ah-oo”. That’s all it is (same change for “ai”). It’s not quite the same as “oo” all by itself – “about” is pronounced distinctly from “a boot”. If you try and make the diphthong out of your “cut” and “coot” vowels, you’ll make Canadian raising for yourself (or “cut” and “keep” for the “ai” diphthong).

      Scottish has this same phenomenon – and indeed is likely where at least some of it came from in Canada, given the European invasions brought a lot of Scots here – but even more so.

      I do so love language geeking.

      Trivia about Rush: I grew up roughly the same place they did. In fact, I used to babysit for Alex Lifesen’s sister, who lived down my street. Their music is lovely, and Geddy’s perhaps the best rock bassist since Entwistle, but I have a hard time enjoying their love of Ayn Rand. 😦

      And yes, the misogyny count is going to hit maximum gross later in the series, for sure. My main goal with it is to point out how often it happens, and how much we sort of elide its existence because of how thoroughly ubiquitous it is.

    • Yes, language geeking is always fun! I figured it was one of those situations where it sounded like something, in this case ‘boot’, to foreigners but not to other Canadians. I’m a Yankee who lives in Kentucky, and I’ve had to tell other Yankees that my co-worker is saying ‘fire’ because to our ears it sounds like ‘far’ with an extended vowel. My grandparents were from Kentucky, and I’ve always found dialects particularly interesting. You’d have a field day here where they change from county to county.

      It’s baffling to me that there appears to be a lot of Ayn Rand admiration in the entertainment industry in general as her philosophy was considered and discarded pretty quickly by everyone I knew in college.

      Looking forward to more reviews!

  2. A major thought for me watching this episode was “Wow, is it macho posturing time again already?”

    Also, I thought the Wendigo Society:Rocky Mountain Branch thing was sort of a strange choice. As you point out, they even mention that Colorado isn’t the right area, so if we are pretending that the forest they are in could possibly be Colorado (lol, no, nice ferns), why not just pretend it is a forest in the correct area instead? And if we really need a name-check of a culture that DID live in Colorado, why choose one that is so associated with pueblo-building in the southwest, rather than living in the mountains where we are pretending they are?

    Impressions from my perspective of doing a “watch” rather than a “re-watch”: At this point, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to believe Dean’s bad-boy attitude is the real deal and stand in awe of his overwhelming coolness, or if I’m supposed to be reading it as insecurity (maybe Haley’s shooting him down supports this idea, since real cool-guy should obviously “get” the girl?), but it looks like the latter to me. I like Sam better, so far, it isn’t his fault he has fridge-girl as a motivation, and he seems more genuine.

    • Good point, about Dean. I think the early characterization is supposed to suggest that he’s really like that, but as we go along, he becomes more noticeably insecure, rather than posturing. I’m glad they sanded that down a bit, because Super Dudebro Dean would be very annoying very quickly. It also came with a bit of an empathy transplant, leading to the very weird scene of a late series Dean castigating Sam (for Reasons) about not having empathy. Don’t want to spoil that arc, so no more there about that, but it is a bit weird when it happens, and I think it says that your insecurity theory is at least partially operable.

      Sorry to be so slow getting back. Depression blows. :/

  3. I really wish Hollywood would just leave the wendigo alone. They never, ever get the mythos even remotely right. It applies better to the producers themselves than it ever does to the creature that ends up on the screen. Fasting for twenty-three years at a stretch in no way captures the simultaneous hunger/starvation that’s suffered. The wendigo can never be satisfied; it’s the embodied danger of greed and selfishness in a land where cooperation is essential for survival. The stories hold an important cultural purpose.

    Really enjoying this series! I’m so glad you’re doing these.

    • Ooh, thank you, that’s more information than I had about it. I’ll give them this much, at least acknowledging where it belonged helped some. The first time I encountered the concept/story was in an X-Men comic when I was about 12, and I knew nothing about how wrong it was. That came many years later.

      I really hate when people just merge the whole concept of First Nations peoples into a sort of weird melange of wildly different cultures, so that “Indian” becomes this never-actually-existed stereotype of a whole bunch of actual people, many of whom are about as culturally similar as Turkey and Scotland. And the “Anasazi” protection symbols are just…weird, as you note.

      Sorry to be slow! Depression: it’s no fun. You kids out there, don’t be depressed. You won’t like it. 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s