SPN 9.15: Thinman review
Ghostfacers, Ed and Harry, were back trading barbs and challenges in this week’s “Thinman” [9.15], and while on the surface the self-titled “supernaturalists” were the same arrogant, clueless team as in the past, there was trouble in paradise. Harry was cyber-stalking his ex while Ed tried to distract him with the case. Overtones of early season eight Sam and Dean? You betcha. In fact my initial reaction to this episode was that the parallels were painfully heavy handed, but maybe that’s what Dean needed to begin to see the validity of Sam’s anger and hurt.
The murder of a teenage girl in her locked bedroom led both teams to a small Washington town. The plot isn’t complicated, but it is unusual in what the killer turns out to be. After a couple of murders in what appear to be locked spaces, it was discovered that humans posing as a Slenderman knockoff the Thinman were actually to blame. One was a sociopathic busyboy and the other an attention seeking deputy. I can’t recall off the top of my head when last time the killer has turned out to be an ordinary human in an episode. It’s rare, and in this case intentional, I think.
Although, Ed and Harry first appear to be the same clueless guys, it’s soon revealed that Harry is gung-ho about the case while Ed seems reticent. Maggie and Spruce have left for “normal lives.” That’s exactly what Ed has denied Harry, we discover, when he reveals that he created the Thinman as a way to keep Harry on the team. I was already getting a headache from being beaten over the head with parallels, but Dean is hardheaded, so maybe that’s what it takes. As Sam insisted that Ed tell Harry the truth, Dean was listening intently when Sam said that secrets ruin relationships.
Ed said he’d tell Harry the truth when the time was right, and Dean said the time to do it was now. He seemed to get that the intention to tell the truth didn’t cut it. Maybe he was speaking from experience there. He realized that it wasn’t just that he’d gone against Sam’s wishes in tricking him into possession. Not coming clean and telling Sam the truth about what he’d done, gaslighting him, was a big part of the problem. The longer he waited, the harder it got to tell Sam the truth, but waiting only made his betrayal worse.
Sam and Dean were later lured to a dockside warehouse where they were tazered by the deputy and tied up. They learned that the deputy along with a busboy from the diner where they’d encountered Ed and Harry earlier were behind the murders, and the pair were setting them up as the next murder victims. It was going to be there best film yet. Ed, who’d overheard where the Winchesters were headed, and Harry entered the warehouse and were confronted separately by the killers, but the sneaky Winchesters got the drop on them. In the subsequent scuffle, Dean subdued and stabbed Roger in the heart with the killer’s own knife. The moment was played out very slowly with Sam watching. It was clear that Dean wasn’t acting on instinct or reflex. It was coldblooded.
Then in the final confrontation, Ed acted the hero and jumped between the armed deputy and Sam. He took responsibility for everything that had happened, but it was Harry who shot the deputy with Ed’s gun. The reaction shots in this scene were wonderfully done. First, Dean reached over and lowered Harry’s shooting arm before looking up at Sam and Ed. Sam was standing with his hand on Ed’s shoulder, and Ed looked devastated. I think that Dean got it. Ed taking responsibility didn’t wash the blood from Harry’s hands. Harry emphasized it to Ed later in case anyone didn’t get it. He killed a guy. Sam killed Kevin. Now the parallel isn’t exact. Harry did have a choice. He didn’t have to pick up Ed’s gun and shoot the deputy. He could have tried getting the guy to drop his weapon. Sam on the other hand didn’t act of his own free will. He was being controlled by supernatural force.
What I think is important here is that the events with Ed and Harry happened in quick succession, and Dean was seeing those as an observer. They aren’t even guys he particularly liked. He didn’t have a preference for one or the other, he could be objective about their relationship. They weren’t his friends. So, seeing what happened between them and why without an emotional stake in it, I think, let him relate that to what happened as a result of his actions and why Sam feels such anger and betrayal. The final result – Harry leaving the Ghostfacers team – had to give him pause.
We’ve seen in recent episodes move toward a more black and white way of thinking. He’s been far less compassionate in his judgment that he was, for example, with Benny or Kate last season. In “Sharp Teeth,” Dean wanted to kill Garth’s werewolf family, and he wanted to kill Maritza the pishtaco in “The Purge” as well. Sam had to stop him both times. There has been speculation that it is the Mark of Cain influencing his behavior and making him more ruthless. That’s possible, but this is a long running theme on the show. Dean recognized in “The End” [5.04] that they keep each other human because he saw what he became without Sam.
We have to ask what will happen if, like Harry, Sam chooses to walk away from his relationship with Dean. That takes us back to the question that has been in the background since 8.01 — Am I my brother’s keeper? It’s often framed as “protecting” the family member, but it’s more than that. To what extent are we responsible for our family? For Dean, the question has been about “protecting” Sam, but for Sam, it is about being responsible for making Dean see gray areas and not acting like a coldblooded killer.
Now, I don’t think that Sam should just give in. He shouldn’t sacrifice himself to protect Dean from himself. On the other hand, considering how Sam judged himself for “letting Dean down” in the past, I wonder how he would handle it if Dean did become a monster because Sam wasn’t there for him. Sam isn’t responsible for Dean’s behavior, but with no one there to reflect back at Dean that’s he’s crossing a line, he could become a monster.
And here’s something I have a problem with: Both Harry and Sam emphasized how Roger and the deputy were humans, just guys, and implied that killing them was wrong simply for that reason. That bothers me because the narrative has gone to a lot of trouble to illustrate how monsters should be judged on their behavior, not on their “race” so to speak. Werewolves, vampires, pishtacos – monsters who can live their lives without killing should be allowed to live because they aren’t monstrous. Why should it be then that humans who are monstrous, serial killers like Roger and the deputy, shouldn’t be killed for their behavior? How does Sam justify that double standard? I want them to address this discrepancy in thinking.
“Thinman” leaves the possibility open that Sam may decide that he can’t forgive Dean and leave. At the beginning of the episode, Dean started to go off on the hunt alone. When Sam questioned it, Dean explained the case and asked, “Do you want to come?” Sam said, “On a hunt? Why wouldn’t I?” The better question is, why would he? Why is Sam hunting at this point? They aren’t hunting for Gadreel or Abaddon or trying to find Castiel to help him out with the angel war. They’ve just been going about the family business. So, why hasn’t Sam already left and made a new life? After all, he and Dean have been working as partners, right? Not brothers, not family. I think we get a hint at the real reason in a scene that reminded the boys of what they stand to lose.
While discussing the case, Sam found that the security video of the second death was already viral. Dean began to reminisce about an incident when they were kids that would have been a great viral video – five-year-old Sam dressed as Batman jumping off the shed roof. He’d been mimicking his nine-year-old brother who was pretending to be Superman – “Everybody knows Batman can’t fly,” Dean said. Sam broke his arm, and Dean took him to the hospital on the handlebars of his bike. “Good times,” Dean said with a chuckle, and Sam’s expression showed he agreed, but their smiles quickly fade. No doubt their current situation chased away those good feelings.
In the final scene, Sam and Dean were giving Harry a ride, and Dean asked if Harry was all right. He said, yes, and then no, before adding, “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 and you’re drinking on the porch, he’ll be in that other rocking chair. And then something happens, and you realize that other chair has gone empty.” That’s where Sam and Dean stand. They are on a tipping point of both being alone if they don’t fix things, and the ball is in Dean’s court to do that. It worries me not just for the possibility of Dean becoming a monster, but for the possible threat to Sam being alone as well.
Now, it may be a throwaway line, but maybe not. When Harry was off searching for the Thinman alone, Sam said, “This thing has killed two people, and now Harry is in the woods alone.” The parallel throughout the episode was Harry/Sam and Ed/Dean. If we see Sam as the one in the woods alone being stalked by Gadreel because the dick with wings liked Sam as his vessel way too much. Even though he had a vessel to return to in “Road Trip,” he swore that despite the torture, he’d outwait Dean and Castiel: “I can sit in this chair for years and watch you fail over and over again. I’ve endured much worse than this, Dean. So…much…worse. And I have all the time in the world.” The question is, why? Does Gadreel have some ulterior motive for wanting Sam specifically as his vessel? If Gadreel does want Sam as his vessel, Sam will be safe less if he goes off to live that normal life as Harry has. Do we need to be reminded of what Sam knew in season six? “There is no getting out,” he told Samuel Colt.
So the question now is will the boys begin to work through their issues since Dean is beginning to see the light or will Sam call it quits? There’s nine more episodes in the season. That’s plenty of time for estrangement and its tragic consequences before they begin to reconcile. We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out.