Supernatural: It's a Terrible Life
July 29, 2021 5:42 AM - Season 4, Episode 17 - Subscribe

At Sandover Bridge & Iron Inc., Dean Smith, the Stanford-educated, carb-eschewing director of Sales & Marketing, meets Sam Wesson, a cubicle-dwelling tech support guy, and when a series of mysterious suicides point to a malignant ghost haunting the premises, they team up and work together to investigate the case, all the while feeling that something is amiss with who they are and the lives that they are leading.


Sam: Tech support, this is Sam Wesson... okay, uh, did you try turning it off and then on?

Dean: [to Sam who has accosted him in the elevator and told him about his dreams] All right, look, man, I don't know you, okay? But I'm gonna do a public service and, uh, let you know that you overshare.

Dean: [on the Ghostfacers website] I just found the best web site ever. Real actual ghost hunters. These guys are genius.

Dean: We do what I do best, Sammy -- research.
Sam: Okay. Did you just call me Sammy?
Dean: Did I?
Sam: I think you did. Yeah. Don't.

Ed: Next little trick that we learned from those useless douchebags...
Harry: That we hate.
Ed: ...the Winchesters.
Harry: Gun.
Ed: Shotgun shell. Pack it up with fresh rock salt.
Harry: Very effective.
Ed: Very effective.
Harry: Winchesters still suck ass though.
Ed: Affirmative. Suckage major.

Dean: Where do we even get a gun?
Sam: Gun store?
Dean: Isn't there like some kind of waiting period or something?
Sam: I think so.
Dean: Well how in the hell...?
Sam: I don't know man, it seems pretty impossible honestly.
Dean: Right. Back to the video.

Ed: The aforementioned, super-annoying Winchester douchenozzles also taught us one other thing: you have to burn the remains.
Harry: Okay, this next part gets a little gross. Sometimes you might have to... dig up the body. Sorry.
Ed: Illegal in some states.
Harry: All states.
Ed: Possibly all states.

Sam: You know those dreams that I was telling you about? I was dreaming about ghosts then it turns out there's a REAL ghost.
Dean: So you're telling me that your dreams are special visions and you're some kind of psychic?
Sam: No! I mean, that would be nuts.

Dean: You broke into their e-mail accounts?
Sam: I used some... skills that I happen to have... to satisfy my curiosity.
Dean: Nice.

Dean: Holy crap dude.
Sam: Yeah. I could use a beer.
Dean: Oh, sorry man. I'm on a cleanse. I got rid of all the carbs in the house.

Sam: Hey, how the hell'd you know that ghosts are scared of wrenches?
Dean: Crazy, right? And nice job kicking in that door; that was very Jet Li. What are you, like a black belt or something?
Sam: No. I have no clue how I did that.

Sam: We should keep doing this.
Dean: I know!
Sam: I mean it. There have got to be other ghosts out there. We could help a lot of people.
Dean: Right. We could be like the Ghostfacers.
Sam: No, really I mean. For real.
Dean: What, quit our jobs and hit the road?
Sam: Exactly.
Dean: How would we live? You've got to be kidding me. I mean how would we get by? Stolen credit cards, huh? Eating diner food drenched in saturated fats? Sharing a crappy motel room every night?
Sam: That's all just details.
Dean: Details are everything. You don't want to go fighting ghosts without health insurance.


In this episode, Dean and Sam have the surnames Smith and Wesson, respectively. Like the characters' actual surname, Winchester, Smith & Wesson is the name of a famous gun manufacturing company.

Dean Smith's dad is Bob (a.k.a. Bobby Singer), his mom is Ellen (a.k.a. Ellen Harvelle), and his sister is Jo (a.k.a. Jo Harvelle). Sam Wesson's fiancée's name is Madison (a.k.a. Madison Owens).

Early in the episode, Dean, who is on the phone, says "Alright tell me one more time. You said lemon and, what was it, cayenne, and maple syrup? Are you serious? How much did you lose?" This is a reference to a controversial diet/cleanse called The Master Cleanse.

Actual "Ghostfacers" webisodes were created to accompany this season. In the first one, shots of their workshop reveal a dart board with the Winchesters' pictures on it. If "Dean Smith" and "Sam Wesson" had watched all the Ghostfacers' online instructional videos, they likely would've seen those photos.

Dean says, "How creative," and Zachariah says, "You should see my découpage." Dean says, "Gross". Découpage is an art/craft technique which involves gluing bits of coloured paper, leaves, scraps of fabric, etc., to something for decorative purposes. Décolletage, which is what Dean was probably thinking Zachariah said/meant, is breast cleavage or a low neckline that reveals cleavage.

The title of this episode is a word play on the classic Christmas movie It's a Wonderful Life. The ironic twist here is that when George Bailey is removed from his life in the movie, things are pretty terrible, but when the Winchester boys are removed from their lives, they have a better standard of living.

While the Winchesters are living their alternate lives, the filming of this episode is colourful and brightly lit. The boys have even traded in their normally dully hued outfits for yellow polos and sky blue button-downs. The instant Zachariah restores Dean's identity/memories at the end of the episode with a touch, the shading notably goes grayer/dimmer and the lighting dims back to the normal tones of the show's early seasons.

Not only have the angels given the Winchester brothers alternate, separate lives in this episode, but they appear to have swapped the boys' personalities as well. Dean Smith went to Stanford, eats salad and does cleanses, keeps a very orderly apartment, is very ambitious, and claims research is what he does best. Meanwhile, Sam Wesson states he's "destined for something different" (a.k.a. a life spent hunting).

When Zachariah touches Dean on the forehead to give him back his memories. Dean asks "Did I just get touched by a... you're an angel, aren't you?" An indirect reference to the show Touched by an Angel.
posted by orange swan (4 comments total)
I suppose that Zachariah showing Dean just how much of a hunter he is not the worst lesson, and wasn't taught in such a bad way -- Sam and Dean simply had to solve a routine case, and it was made easier for them than it usually is.

The use of the Ghostfacers instructional videos was a lot of fun.

Pretty accurate satirical presentation of corporate existence in this episode, so much so that when Sam and Dean think it's worse than their actual rough lives, it makes sense. I mean, it is.

Do yuppie corporate types even wear suspenders any more? I suppose those blue shirts with the white collars and cuffs are still on the market.
posted by orange swan at 5:49 AM on July 29, 2021

Oh, and Sam doing tech support has me flashing back to one of my own corporate life experience with a company tech support guy, who was located in Austin, Texas.

Me: Hi, my computer is [description of issue].
Tech Support Guy: Try rebootin'!
Me: I have already rebooted my computer three times and it hasn't helped at all.
Tech Support Guy: Try it agin and maybe this time it'll worruk!

I still want to kill the guy.
posted by orange swan at 6:53 AM on July 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

As important as this episode was for Dean, it was a lot of fun for the viewers, skewering just enough of the Supernatural world that we know and have come to expect with keeping certain key elements in place.
posted by sardonyx at 2:28 PM on July 29, 2021

-I don't love this episode, it has a lot of potential and to me feels really lazy, but I do like how immediately Sam and Dean are down to run away and hunt ghosts together. The show spends a lot more time on how they're different, for obvious reasons, but I like that their curiosity and boldness and compulsion to find the scary thing and poke it with a stick are things they have in common. (and fwiw those are all more compelling character-wise than Destiny anyway.)

-The desaturation trick worked better than it seems like it should've, too.

-Madison's number going to an animal hospital is a pretty good joke but you've gotta know right then Zachariah is bad news.
posted by jameaterblues at 8:07 PM on July 29, 2021

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