Supernatural: Phantom Traveler
May 16, 2021 3:40 PM - Season 1, Episode 4 - Subscribe

A man whom the Winchesters helped in the past calls on Sam and Dean for help regarding a strange recording on the black box of a crashed plane. They soon realize that the demon that caused the crash is picking off the crash's only seven survivors.
posted by orange swan (18 comments total)
 
Dean: [in a new black suit] Man. I look like one of the Blues Brothers!
Sam: No, you don't. You look more like a seventh grader at his first dance.

Sam: [To Dean, who is terrified of flying.] You're humming Metallica?
Dean: It calms me down.
Sam: Just try to relax.
Dean: Just try to shut up.

This is the first "demon" episode. I do not get why the demon had be so hyper thorough about killing all the passengers from that first flight. Did it have a quota or something?

Very run of the mill episode, but Jensen Ackles does give good "hilariously freaked out" face. This is probably the only time we ever saw him freeze up in fear in the entire run of the show.

When Dean is leaving the copy place, he turns around and checks out a young woman who enters the front door just after he's exited it. He's like an unfixed tom that is never not on the prowl.
 
Brian Markinson, who played Jerry, is one of those "Hey it's that guy" character actors. I knew I'd seen him before, but couldn't remember where until I looked it up. Of his long list of credits, I've seen just his two X-Files episodes: "Folie à Deux" ("DIAL AND SMILE!") and "Born Again", as well as Dr. Arnold Rosen in Mad Men (Arnold and Sylvia Rosen lived in the same building as Don and Megan, and Don was banging Sylvia because of course he was).
posted by orange swan at 4:01 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Yes, it makes sense to have a car to transport their weapons, but it was a nice, additional touch for Dean to say that he drives because he doesn't like to fly.

The suits again: why matching black suits? Because that's not weird or suspicious or anything.

I did like that somebody who was aware of the kind of work the Winchester family did called them up again when something strange happened. That's the kind of thing you'd expect to occur.
posted by sardonyx at 7:01 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


called them up again

For sure. It sets up the "fixers" and the sub rosa community that get introduced.

Ah, the good old days of laminated identity documents. Though by 2005, trending towards anachronistic.

Did it have a quota or something?

Not introduced yet, but demons (compared to random feral MotW) are intelligent/ organized and are still on the down low?

I wonder how much of the worldbuilding/ story had been developed by this point?
posted by porpoise at 7:29 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


It may simply have been offended by the survivors' refusal to die when he tried to kill them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:51 PM on May 16


I'm still pretty lukewarm on Wendigo and Dead in the Water (though they have their charms), but I enjoyed this one more than I remembered.

I don't really hold them to fourth-episode worldbuilding but taken on its face, it's pretty funny that there are demons out there like Crowley who want to wear nice clothes and make urbane quips and mack on Jensen Ackles, and then demons like this, who just want to bop around Pennsylvania CRASHING EVERY PLANE THEY SEE.

It's a lot more obvious this early where yes, Sam and Dean were both the main character, but Sam was supposed to be a little more the main character; Dean pulling comedy faces cut while Sam's out wrapping up the A-plot feels like a template of a slightly different show.

Also, I know they spend fifteen seasons going into creepy dark basements and fist-fighting grim reapers and other very scary things, but real talk, with a gun to my head I don't know that I could get on a plane that I knew was going to crash. Some of that is surely down to suicidal overconfidence (they write the whole exorcism out for you! how hard could it be!) but lowkey, for a random MOTW episode this always stuck out to me as one of the gutsiest things they ever do. And possibly look back on years later, in the way many of us look back on dumb shit from our early twenties: with awe and humble gratitude that somehow hundreds of people are not dead.
posted by jameaterblues at 9:30 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


This is the one with Dean's walkman EMF reader! I love that prop, with all the things it implies about his intelligence and skills and poverty.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:37 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


Especially when compared to the higher-tech and expensive-looking one that appears a few episodes later, and is owned by a couple of website running doofuses.
posted by sardonyx at 6:38 AM on May 17


It's a lot more obvious this early where yes, Sam and Dean were both the main character, but Sam was supposed to be a little more the main character; Dean pulling comedy faces cut while Sam's out wrapping up the A-plot feels like a template of a slightly different show.

The way the show was set up, with Dean seeking out Sam because he needed his help, makes it seem like Sam should be the more necessary character, but, for me, that's one thing the show never really did find a good fit around. The show always felt more like it was Dean's, with Sam as the foil more than Sam as the key figure he is sometimes alleged to be through plotting.

It's kinda the Mulder Scully thing, Sam is more the, if not doubter of monsters, the one who threatens the show structure by wanting to leave or change the way they work; the scold, the realist, the "college boy", when the, um, driving element to the show is their travels and Dean's dogged determination.

Sam ends up being more the Abbott to Dean's Costello in both the "fun" bits for being the more serious and self possessed, while Dean is all impulse, which not only makes him more fun, but does make him the more desirable character in a way too, which of course suits Ackles completely. His character may sometimes be wrong, overbearing, annoying and a daddy's boy, but the way he lets his desires dictate his actions makes him easy to respond to because he is who he is so completely all the time, while Sam isn't sure of himself or their mission in the same way. Dean is just sexier, even when he's being a dick, for being so self assured in who he is, while Sam is more reticent and requires more explanatory investment by the show to provide his identity. They try and do give Sam some plot motivation, but the show is necessarily tied to Dean and the car to work, so it can't really balance out satisfactorily for viewers who want to see the show continue the way it started.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:59 AM on May 17


I'm glad that they found the balance they did (or that I perceive they did, given my spotty viewing of the show).

Going back to the start, I feel the way that jameaterblues does: that Sam was meant to be the main character, or at least evolve into it. It's right there with the repeated opening of John telling Dean to get Sam out and protect Sam. Sam's fate is to grow into his role as the key in whatever is happening, and Dean is anointed to be his protector and lieutenant--the secondary and supporting character. He's Horatio to Sam's Hamlet, at least in the beginning.

I feel they play this up with Sam becoming the researcher and the voice of wisdom about all things supernatural, which when you think about it, doesn't really make sense. Dean has been hunting with his dad all this time. Dean has been listening to what his dad has told him (well, to the extent he share information) and soaking it all up. Dean has been gaining the experience of how to proceed in tracking these things down. Yet the minute Sam joins the hunt, he's the expert and the one who understands how all this works. Yes, he has the academic and research skills, but it still seems like an over reliance on Sam's book smarts and a downplaying of Dean's. Sam is starting to ascend into the main character role. As gusottertrout pointed out, Dean seeks out Sam because Sam is vital and Dean can't go on without him.

As I said, I'm glad the show didn't (seem to) go in this as the final direction. I'm happy that they found two strong enough (or compatible enough) actors to play off each other and balance each other, and that the characters were able to evolve to the point where they understood what made each other tick, and they could be equal partners in their quest.
posted by sardonyx at 11:44 AM on May 17


The suits again: why matching black suits? Because that's not weird or suspicious or anything.

The actual homeland security agents who appear at the warehouse just after Sam and Dean are wearing identical black suits.

The black suits in this episode at least look better than the suits Sam and Dean wear throughout most of the series, which always look hilariously cheap and stiff.
posted by orange swan at 1:17 PM on May 17


Oh, I gotta add that this episode called to mind the first episode of Fringe, that other odd little X-Filesesque show, that also started out looking like it'd lean into the connection before veering off on its own wacky course. Glad both shows moved away from the monsters could be anywhere towards keeping the characters more firmly situated within a consistent location context. Not sure how long I would have stuck with Supernatural had Sam and Dean ended up doing a lot of jetsetting.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:25 PM on May 17


I feel they play this up with Sam becoming the researcher and the voice of wisdom about all things supernatural, which when you think about it, doesn't really make sense. Dean has been hunting with his dad all this time. Dean has been listening to what his dad has told him (well, to the extent he share information) and soaking it all up. Dean has been gaining the experience of how to proceed in tracking these things down. Yet the minute Sam joins the hunt, he's the expert and the one who understands how all this works. Yes, he has the academic and research skills, but it still seems like an over reliance on Sam's book smarts and a downplaying of Dean's. Sam is starting to ascend into the main character role. As gusottertrout pointed out, Dean seeks out Sam because Sam is vital and Dean can't go on without him.

That's now how I read the initial conflict between Sam and Dean. I never felt Sam was ascending into being the main character/taking the lead. It always felt like the show was supposed to be about the two of them, and the whole "Sam taking a more nuanced, academic approach to hunting" and "Dean pushing back against that with his greater experience and practical knowledge" thing was just about them learning to work together as a team given their different skill sets and mindsets, and finding an equitable dynamic they'd never had before, either together, because when they were kids Dean had always been the big brother in charge of Sam, or with their father, who was very authoritarian. Dean's mostly right that the monsters are destructive, evil forces that need to be eliminated, but Sam is correct that things aren't always that black and white. And it's partly due to Sam's more nuanced approach that the two of them begin building the alliances with supernatural beings that, combined with the finding of the bunker and all its amazing resources, elevates them into being far more than the run-of-the-mill pair of hunters they are at the outset of the show.

I do think Dean sought out Sam because he needs him, but it's not because he thinks Sam is some unparalleled genius hunter, but because number one he needs a hunting partner given that hunting is fucking dangerous and no one should be hunting alone, and number two, Dean doesn't want to live a hunter's life alone or even with some workaday partnership with another random hunter. Dean needs someone he loves and trusts to live and work with him, and with his father in the wind, Sam is the only family he has left and the only hunter he knows who can fill that emotional need of his.
posted by orange swan at 2:32 PM on May 17


Dean needs someone he loves and trusts to live and work with him, and with his father in the wind, Sam is the only family he has left and the only hunter he knows who can fill that emotional need of his

Yeah, I think that's what the show is aiming for, but it's kinda interesting to think how it might have worked had Sam gone to look up Dean for help after his second little combustion problem. That makes more sense, if you accept the world of the show as a given, but it makes telling the story trickier for putting the effect before the cause in the viewer's mind. It's one thing to establish the idea of hunting monsters as the world the characters inhabit, then provide a, um, spark to send them on their way, but another to first show Sam witness his girlfriend go ceiling bound and then go contact his brother who just happens to be a monster hunter. The latter is more logical than the it just so happens Dean is around when things go kablooey, but gives the audience more space to doubt I think.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:34 AM on May 18


There’s an in show explanation later that the timing of Jessica’s death after the reintroduction of Dean was deliberate as a master plan by Hell. It’s in one of those insanely creepy when you think through the implications episodes where it’s revealed that Brady, his college roommate was demon possessed and set the fire - and Sam’s prom date was possessed, some of his old teachers, etc.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:39 AM on May 18


Heh. Yeah, they liked to tie things together in the later episodes, which is one of the things that makes the show so weirdly enjoyable, after you've almost forgotten something, they dredge it back up for a new go around. Still, they could have kept that and changed the sequence of events in how Sam got back together with Dean. Like Sam doesn't find out dad's missing until after he seeks out Dean so their reunion is more tense for both having reasons to stick together from the start, but not really being ready to trust each other from the get go. Or not, hindsight and all, just a different way to think of the set up.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:04 AM on May 18


I've always thought that the Hollywood tip-off about who the main character was intended to be came in the form of the credits, where (as far as I know) Jared Padalecki's name always came first. They never switched up the order, they never did the two names on on screen thing that some shows do. It's part of the reason why and how I could see the initial framing and pitch meetings as being "Sam being forced back into the hunting world, and evolving to be its best hunter, with Dean at his side offering support in the form of muscle, technical skills and comedy hi jinks." As I said, I'm glad that's not the direction that they actually took (whether by design or by chance).
posted by sardonyx at 9:23 AM on May 18


I don't have an actual link to back this up this so, like, internet-stranger-sized grain of salt, but the thing of the show originally (so in the context of a five season arc) focusing on Sam/Sam's arc wasn't my opinion (or at least I don't think it is), I'm pretty sure Eric Kripke or somebody said something politely to that effect.

(Like I think Kripke's referenced Sal and Dean from On the Road and Luke Skywalker and Han Solo when coming up with the characters, among others, and while none of those map that closely onto where Sam and Dean wound up, I can definitely look at these early episodes and see where that's what they were working with.)

...And I have a lot of other opinions but I think those will be for future comments.
posted by jameaterblues at 8:35 PM on May 18 [2 favorites]


Trivia:

The song that Dean is humming to calm himself down on the plane is "Some Kind of Monster", by Metallica.

When calling Amanda Walker in the airport, Dean introduces himself as Dr. James Hetfield, a reference to the Metallica front-man.

Sam mentions Flight 401, a flight that crashed in the Florida Everglades. The airline really did salvage parts and placed them in other aircraft. While the airline denies any ghost stories, it has been alleged that the dead crew have appeared on these aircraft. The airline did remove all salvaged parts from the "haunted" aircraft.

The airline set was completely still during the crash sequence. The effect of a plane in uncontrolled rapid descent was achieved through clever handheld camerawork.

Sam tells Dean to say God's name in Latin, "Cristo", just as Dean is about to find out if Amanda has the demon in her. "Cristo" is actually Italian, not Latin. The correct name in Latin is "Christus".

There are several aspects of the demon mythology that differ in this episode from the way demons are portrayed in later seasons. The demon smoke resembles a swarm of insects, unlike the more fluid cloud-like appearance in later seasons. In this episode only the iris of the eye is black, later the whole eye will be filled in. The holy water is shown to cause tissue damage to the host, when it is used on the demon; whereas in later seasons, the holy water rises off the host body like smoke and only harms the demon. While performing the exorcism the demon speaks in a strange deep voice; in later seasons demons speak using their host's regular voice. Demons also don't need to be summoned in future episodes as part of the exorcism ritual, in order to banish them back to hell. This is the only instance of a demon using EVP (electronic voice phenomenon); in the rest of the series EVP is a rare ability unique to ghosts.
posted by orange swan at 5:30 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


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