In the eleventh episode of the fifth season of Supernatural, Sam and Dean take great liberty in going undercover, only to discover that they might actually belong there. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Supernatural.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of ableism, especially in the depiction of mental health, and for body horror because of that thing that they do with the thing.
So, no surprise, but the use of an asylum as the setting in a genre show is something I’ve just sort of come to expect to be a disaster. I didn’t like it when Buffy did it, I didn’t like it when The X-Files used it, and Supernatural isn’t an exception either. There are themes and character moments here that were unexpected and appreciated (and I’ll get to them!), but I think it’s not a good idea to set a story in psychiatric hospital as a joke. I think it certainly contributes to the idea that people who have a mental illness should be laughed at. The setting is full of visual gags that are all rooted in tropes, and until the writers explore Dean and Sam’s own emotional and mental issues, there’s nothing done to subvert any tropes or humanize any of the background characters.
True, there aren’t a lot of background characters given any screentime or attention. We’ve got the woman who kisses everyone (playing right into the trope that every psychiatric hospital has a nymphomaniac there) and then there’s that one person doing pirouettes at the perfect moment so that Dean can suggest that no one in Glenwood Springs is a reliable witness. At the same time, I thought it was clever that this story was inherently about how people are so quick to disregard and disbelieve people with mental illness. That’s why the wraith chose to hunt these people; they knew that no one would consider their claims credible.
It is what it is, and it’s distracting at times. But I don’t think this is the only aspect of this episode worth talking about. This episode gives us one of the only times Sam and Dean have shown up to a new location and immediately told the truth. Granted, that’s how they gain access to Glenwood Springs Psychiatric Hospital, but I thought it was neat that they got a chance to be honest. This is all done in support of Martin Creaser, an ex-hunter who willingly checked himself into the place after… well, that’s not clear. Something happened to him in Albuquerque, and it’s never explore beyond a few lines that reference it. (Jon Gries is super great here, but I’m admittedly biased in his favor because of the story I tell at the end of the video.) And really, that’s the problem with “Sam, Interrupted.” All the cool shit we see is never given much time to develop beyond the surface! What happened to him? What made him believe he wasn’t invincible? I mean, wouldn’t that be a great thing to explore after Sam and Dean just lost two of their only friends?
On the flip side of that, the most compelling aspect of “Sam, Interrupted” is the way the writers bring forth a discussion of Sam and Dean’s real mental health issues. Even though their loss of sanity is caused by the wraith’s poison, that doesn’t negate their own problems with rage or loneliness or anxiety. Dean is taunted by Dr. Cartwright, a hallucination, who forces Dean to examine the extreme pressure he’s put himself under. In a sense, it’s a way for the show to analyze the whole Big Damn Hero thing Dean’s got going on. Is it healthy for him to have never had a long term relationship? To carry the weight of 6 billion souls on his shoulders? To believe that he alone has to save everyone? How do those things act as a detriment to his sense of self?
Meanwhile, Sam’s story is EVEN MORE SAD. The wraith’s poison causes Sam to tap into a long-festering rage that he’s felt for most of his life. And really, that’s not a convenient invention for this episode or some weird retcon. Sam is angry, and that’s an aspect of his personality that we’ve seen since the beginning of the show. He WAS furious with John Winchester throughout season one as he got back into hunting! His desire to kill Lilith was rooted in his anger for her after she murdered Dean in front of him. And after Ruby’s betrayal, it’s easy to see how Sam could still hold on to all that anger.
The problem is that… well, Dean has historically never been the kind of brother to want to go through the difficult and challenging process of unpacking emotional issues, you know? He’s the worst person for this. That’s not to say he’s a bad brother or anything, but look how viscerally uncomfortable he gets when Sam tries to talk about his longstanding rage issues. He’s quick to shut Sam down and order him to bury it inside of him. And y’all, it makes me so SAD. I think Sam could get better or at least learn how to channel his rage if he was able to find a way to talk about it openly and honestly. But, again, it goes back to what I said in the last review about hunters and their lifestyle. They don’t have the luxury of time off or therapy. They bottle this shit up, and they move on, and eventually, they succumb to themselves or to the things they’re hunting.
I also wanted to state that the wraith was goddamn terrifying and a really great monster for this show. I always assumed that they were ghost-like doppelgängers of a living person (or recently deceased person, I suppose), so I liked how they were altered just slightly for this show’s lore. And come on, that whole screw business in the cold open was totally a reference to Eugene Victor Tooms, wasn’t it? AND THE SPIKE. OH MY GOD NO NO NO NO NO NO NOPE. This episode was full of body horror and me squealing and wishing I could hide from all the gross stuff, and honestly, it was fun. This episode in particular went SO FAR. The Q-tip sequence? HAHAHA NO NOOOOOOOOOOOO AND THEN DEAN BROKE HER SPIKE OFF. Actually, I thought that was a really good writing choice??? It was almost like the writers were saying, “WHY DON’T PEOPLE IN HORROR FILMS DO THIS?” That being said, I’d like to forget the imagery of that, but I probably won’t. THANKS, SUPERNATURAL.
Please take care to mind the rules for slurs when discussing this episode. It was very liberal in the use of a number of slurs. This is not to say that there isn’t a place to use them or discuss them or to reclaim them. The rules are there because this is an international forum with a varied community, and it is easier for everyone if we just take care to not use them or to censor them. Thanks!
The video for “Sam, Interrupted” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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