SPN10.13: “Halt & Catch Fire” Review
Supernatural returned to its roots with a vengeful spirit hunt in “Halt & Catch Fire,” but writers Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder gave it a new techno twist. Dean was at his best protecting the lone survivor while Sam used his brilliant mind to figure out that the ghost of an accident victim was haunting the local wifi. It was a fast paced and enjoyable plot. As with the past couple of episodes, there was no interwoven plot, which allowed more focus on the lead characters both together and with side characters.
What worked less well for me was the humor, which came primarily from reducing Dean to a techno-doofus and his eating habits. More than once, Dean was shown to be clueless about navigation apps, social media, and deleting things from the internet. This is the Dean Winchester who built an EMF meter from an old Walkman and erased the Ghostfacers computer files with an electromagnet. He learned a hack from Frank Devereaux that Sam didn’t know. He had a translation app on his phone and was on a dating website. Dean isn’t technically clueless. It wasn’t funny because it wasn’t slightly true.
The other source of “humor” was Dean’s eating. If folks got a chuckle out of noodles dangling from Dean’s mouth, okay, but in the previous two episodes, Dean was trying to modify his behavior. He was eating healthier and drinking less just as he was striving and beginning to control the effects of the Mark of Cain. Certainly, falling off the health food bandwagon can’t bode well for Dean’s state of mind. So, there was really nothing funny about the way Dean was shoving everything from crousookies to taquitos in his face, and Sam was definitely not laughing. He had to have seen the change in behavior as emblematic of a deeper issue as well.
Speaking of taquitos, the boys initially thought that the vengeful spirit was that of a Marine who killed his brother using his truck. When Sam asked if Dean would do something like that, Dean replied he would if Sam stunk it up with taquitos. First of all, I can’t see healthy eater Sam choosing to eat taquitos in the Impala. I imagine that this “joke” was supposed to refer back to Sam putting an iPod adapter in the Impala and letting Riot ride in it. Dean wasn’t pleased with those things, but the joke fell flat for me if that was the reference. It was reaching.
The plot involved a string of deaths of a group of college students whose irresponsible use of electronics while driving led to the death of a high school teacherThe teacher’s vengeful spirit began picking them off by traveling into their phones, laptops, and wifi speakers. . [Remember, kids, don’t text and drive or a ghost will strangle you with your laptop cord.] When the last of the group, Delilah, finally came clean about what happened. Dean stayed with her, and they bond over guilt. Dean confessed to her that he had made too many mistakes to count, and he was trying to do everything he could to set things right. He told her she had to seek real forgiveness.
Meanwhile, Sam arrived at the dead teacher’s house and told the widow, Candace, that it was an emergency that he talk to her. She wasn’t surprised. Turned out she knew her husband was a ghost. She was happy to have her husband back at first, but he changed, she told Sam. He would become silent and disappear; when he returned he was different, focused … on revenge. Sam said in the last episode that he wanted Dean back so it’s no stretch to think that Candace was a parallel either as foreshadowing or a warning to Sam. This section of the episode was paced poorly, I thought. Sam arrived almost breathless. It was an emergency, but then he and Candace took time to look at her computer and sit down in the living room for a chat. I understand that Sam’s interaction with her had more than surface meaning, but it could have been shot to feel less leisurely since they were in the middle of a hunt and time was of the essence.
In the end, love won out. Sam got Candace on the phone, which Delilah held to the spirit throttling Dean, and Candace was able to talk her husband into stopping his vengeance killings. This may harken back to Collette being able convince Cain to stop killing. It is another suggestion that Dean is going to go off the rails and Sam will have to try to stop him.
In the final sequence, Sam and Dean drove Delilah to Candace’s house so she could seek the kind of forgiveness Dean had talked about and find some peace. Dean told Sam that his peace was helping people and he was done trying to get rid of the Mark of Cain. Sam’s response was to ask if Dean was giving up. Dean said “no,” but made it clear that he had no hope of removing the Mark. He just wanted to help everyone he could before the end. It came across as fatalistic as his speech in “Trial and Error” when he talked about dying with a gun in his hand – just one step away from suicide. I couldn’t help but think of the promise he got of Cas to end him if he went dark.
Despite all the support and forgiveness he got from friends, family, and strangers in the previous two episodes, Dean does not appear to be moving in a positive direction, but while one might imagine that what he needs is to stop fighting – something he’s been doing his entire life – the foreshadowing in “Halt & Catch Fire” and the title itself suggests that Dean is spiraling downward again.
Although I enjoyed the hunt quite a lot and the way Dean’s story was handled, it was the poorly written humor that marred this episode for me. The funniest line for me was Sam saying that Castiel had discovered riverboat gambling. I don’t need to see it. Just the thought is humorous. Sam and Dean were Agents Grohl and Cobain. The writers can do grunge as well as classic rock, and one can only hope that everyone watching got that reference. And the best line was Sam saying, “We’re all just a bunch of electrical impulses, right? So whenever Andrew died, his must have just switched to a different current.” Sam has seen souls, but he can make the connection between science and spirituality.