Supernatural Re-watch, S1E4: Phantom Traveller

Fourth episode of the first season, air date October 4, 2005.  First appearance of demon-as-black-smoke, black-eyed demons, and DIY exorcism.

Synopsis:

We start with a nervous flyer in a bathroom at an airport, where we see a wisp of black smoke (which we’ll pretend later we don’t notice is completely and totally different from every later instance of black smoke demons) entering his eyes (yeah, yeah).  When he boards the plane, he turns black eyes to the flight attendant, but she dismisses it as she carries on working.

Later, in flight, the man stands up and walks to the back of the plane.  One passenger notices him by the door, when the black-eyed man grabs the impossible-to-move handle on the inside of the door, opening it wide.  He is sucked out, and follows the door as it smashes the jet’s right elevator.  The plane goes into an immediate loss-of-control state, and eventually crashes.  There are only seven survivors.

The boys are called in by a phone call from a Pennsylvania air traffic controller, whom Dean and John had helped before with a poltergeist problem.  Sam’s having trouble adjusting to hunting again, having nightmares and angst.  Jerry the ATC has a recording of the black-box voice recorder, which has a voice saying “no survivors” in a weird way – double weird, because seven people survived the crash, including the pilot and the flight attendant we met.  He can’t get them in to see the wreckage, though, as it’s locked down by NTSB.

The boys hit up their local Kinko’s-clone, where Dean puts together some Homeland Security ID for them to use in infiltrating the wreckage warehouse (careful examination of the ID shows that Dean is using one with “Jerry Wanek” as the name – this happens to be one of the crew, the production designer).

They also go to the psychiatric institution where one of the survivors is regaining his equilibrium.  Careful probing turns up the bit about the black-eyed guy who opened the door.  He points out that this is impossible, but he sure as hell thought he saw it anyway.

Dean and Sam speculate that the passenger may not have been human, given his apparently-impossible levels of strength.  His widow says he was a dentist, headed to a convention, and a terrified flyer.  I think this is the introduction of an idea that gets dropped pretty quickly for narrative reasons, that demons could only possess someone if they were weak in some manner when it happened: his huge fear made him vulnerable.

Cue a Blues-Brothers transformation, as the lads get themselves into cheapish black suits, so as to look more the part for their wreckage survey.  Dean introduces us to the idea of the EMF meter, with a bit of clumsy As You Know Bob, and finds a fair bit of EMF signature – meaning spirit activity.  Sam, meanwhile, finds what turns out to be a fair bit of sulphur on the wreckage of the door.  Then, trouble!  Real DHS agents show up, only to find that the boys somehow magically knew they were coming and got away just in time.

Cut to the crashed pilot going up for his first flight after the crash, in a small twin-engine.  Again we get the trope about the demon-vulnerable scared guy, as the black smoke once again drifts in through his eyes (I know).  He gets very cocky, and soon goes black-eyed, before knocking out the other pilot and diving straight at the ground, and then there were six.

Sam checks further, having noticed that the flights both went down 40 minutes in, and finds six more previous flights which crashed 40 minutes in.

When they hunt down the other survivors on the phone, only one of them is still flying: the flight attendant is to take her first flight back on the job tonight, from an airport five hours away.  They try to dissuade the flight attendant from taking the flight, but she won’t go for it.  They have no other choice but to get on the plane with her.  Dean, it turns out, isn’t the happiest flyer ever, and the demon is definitely taking the flight with them.

Another demon-hunting tidbit is introduced here and then quickly forgotten: the whole “demons flinch from the name of god” thing.

Dean gets a good hit off the EMF meter when he spots the co-pilot coming out of the bathroom.  Muttering the (wrong) Latin name for god, the demon goes black-eyed, but heads into the cockpit.

The boys try to talk Amanda into luring the co-pilot back out of the cockpit, and obviously get critical successes on their Bluff and Diplomacy rolls, because even in this post-9/11 age, they manage the task.  This, by the way, is where my suspension of disbelief nosed over and headed for the ground at a high rate.

Confining the dude with some duct tape, Sam starts the exorcism, but the demon starts fighting back – when he gets his mouth loose, he talks some smack about Sam’s dead girlfriend, but they complete the ritual, and the demon leaves him.  Somehow, it possesses the plane, which takes the usual tumble to the ground, causing Sammy to lose the journal with the exorcism ritual in it.  He finally grabs it, shouts some stuff, and the plane is fine.

When the plane gets back on the ground, the boys find out that Jerry found them by calling John’s cellphone, the message on which has been changed to redirect people to Dean’s phone.  They now know that John is alive, but for some reason staying away from them.

Analysis:

Like the last episode, it’s hard to find much to critique here, because the episode is basically a pork (the other white meat) sausagefest: only one named/speaking character is not a white man, and she’s pretty inoffensive as a character – brave, but a little too easily manipulated for my taste.  I know Sam and Dean are superheroes, and one of their powers is their high Diplomacy/Bluff skills (for Sam and Dean respectively), but really, this one just is hard to take seriously.

Conclusion:

Next up is a fan favourite, as well as one of mine: Bloody Mary.

(cue guitars and credits)

S1E4: Phantom Traveler: 1 Pentacle

1/5 – I wonder if I’m being a little harsh on this one, but I just find it way too hard to keep my suspension of disbelief in the air.  Post 9/11, this is just not a very believable episode to have made: we’ve all heard WAY too many stories of planes which made emergency landings because someone whose skin was too brown made an offhand reference to a comedian’s joke bombing, so the idea that two guys could talk a flight attendant into luring a pilot out of the cockpit to be ambushed?  Just…no.  I don’t care how big Sam’s puppy-dog eyes are, I don’t care how cute Dean thinks he is, just…no.  Though the numbers (see below) indicate a much less lethal world for not-(hetero-white-men) in this one, so maybe I am being too harsh.  Of course, it’s hard for the world to be much less lethal for marginalized people than this one, since there simply are almost none to work with.

Honestly, it’s a good thing I found the show watching fourth-season reruns.  I don’t know how long I’d have stuck with this show at this point, if I hadn’t already know there was some awesome coming.  The pacing has improved considerably, but there are still dead zones in the episode: the editing will get much tighter and much better as the series continues.

Trivia:

Running total of innocents killed by the Boys: 0 (they’re doing so much better than I thought they would!)

Named women and/or POC (not already dead) who end up dead before the episode’s out: 0!  A new record!  Of course, the streak continues, with only one named woman character who speaks, and no POC who speak or have names. 

Marginalized (named) body survival rate: 100%!  1/1 (Amanda, the flight attendant, who lives)

Objectification by Dean: 0 again!

Misogynist slurs: And another big zero!

Aliases used by the boys: Wanek (Dean), unknown (Sam).

Hint o’ maple:  Three actors (Kett Turton as Max Jaffe, Daryl Shuttleworth as Chuck Lambert, and Paul Jarrett as George Phelps), plus Vancouver International Airport’s South Terminal, and a few CF and CG tail-numbers on the non-CGI aircraft.

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5 thoughts on “Supernatural Re-watch, S1E4: Phantom Traveller

  1. Yes, these early eps really are mostly monster of the weeks, which is what Kripke had intended the series to be. The characters and their car were a way to move the narrative in and out of those urban myths, but the chemistry between the actors/characters inspired him to make it more. Kind of cool.

    I like the theme of fear running through this ep. We learn in that initial conversation between Sam and Dean that it isn’t just nightmares about Jess that are keeping Sam awake, but also the fear of the hunting life (which Dean tries to deny ever bothers him. Can we just start spelling it Deanial?) Then we find out that it’s fear that allows the demon into the travelers. This does get dropped, which is too bad. I’m trying to think of when we next see demons possess someone. I guess, it’s with Meg. I’d like to think that it was all planned out and Sam’s generalized fear has something to do with his later vulnerability, but I know that isn’t the case. Too bad they didn’t tie that in. I really like Dean’s fear of flying here though. It’s the best suggestion that we’ve had that he isn’t a super hero. He does have vulnerabilities himself — boy, does he. One of the things that I really like about the first three seasons is that they did a much better job of balancing the boys one against the other. Reviewing these eps really makes me sad for what they’ve become.

    • Really good points about the fear thing. I really do wish the ‘demons-can-possess-only-the-vulnerable’ thing would have been kept to, though. It would have given them a possible “if I become stronger, maybe I can de-possess myself” storyline, which, yes, they did use that one time when the possessed guy knifed himself, and led to the brother using it. Which would have been much cooler if it’d been something that had happened before a few times, and maybe tried and failed a few other times, showing the extremity of the act of will it would take to do it.
      For me, Dean’s fear of flying isn’t proof he isn’t a superhero; it’s proof he is, because they’re outlining one of his Power-killers, his weakness, starting with flying. Which, I’ll be honest, I thought when I saw it the first time, they were introducing solely to give them a reason not to be flying, but then they mentioned the guns thing, which also made sense, and let is just be kryptonite again, and not mcguffium*.
      Also, trying to talk in an overall way about this very early stuff without leaking details of what’s coming later is HARD! So I appreciate your staying with it, cause it really is hard to keep from adding the context.

      * The element from which plots are made.

    • Definitely. I think they do settle down about things a fair bit after this first season, when they started realizing that they might have a show that would last a while, and in which therefore canon would become useful and important and also restricting and annoying, all at the same time. I think they did fairly well with not making canonwurst out of it up through S7-ish, at least. I’m not sure I’d have the same confidence making the statement about S8, for reasons bangingpatchouli has written about extensively over at her place.

      Glad to have you along. 🙂

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