“The Real Ghostbusters,” mirrors the first ever direct meta episode, “Hell House,” in almost every way. It starts off with a massive prank—on Sam and Dean. They rush to a hotel because Chuck has sent out an SOS message. Upon their arrival, Chuck is surprised. The culprit behind this prank is their super fan, Becky, the quintessential Sam Girl. She used Chuck’s phone to lure Sam and Dean to the first ever Supernatural Convention.
Much like “Hell House,” at this convention, there is a fake haunting that turns extremely deadly and real. The hotel is haunted by Leticia Gore, who scalped four children in her care when the place was an orphanage. It doesn’t come out until after Sam and Dean have salted and burned her bones that the children she “killed” were the real culprits and evil spirits. To everyone around Sam and Dean, this is just part of the “hunt” put on by the convention organizers. Not unlike both “Hell House,” and “Ghostfacers,” Sam and Dean have to maneuver around people who are ignorant of the real horror in their midst.
To make matters worse, Ed and Harry have been replaced by Demian and Barnes (their names are a shout out to the fans who write for the Supernatural portion of Television Without Pity), two super fans of the series who proceed to play the roles of Sam and Dean. Ed and Harry were subtle doppelgangers and mirrors to Sam and Dean in earlier episodes; Demien and Barnes openly acknowledge that they ARE Sam and Dean’s avatars. They openly start to reenact both the scenes from “Asylum,” and Dean’s speech about having to possibly kill Sam—directly in front of Sam and Dean. It is an uncomfortable moment for both brothers, as they not only have to relive their lives in the books, but now through the eyes of uber fans with little acting ability. Much like Demien and Barne’s predecessors, Ed and Harry, however, they are just as inept and out of their depths. It is a game to them, a chance to win a $50 gift card to Sizzlers, not real.
Dean takes the convention far more personally than Sam does. He is the one most irate and outraged by the display of their lives for these people’s entertainment. He vents to a shocked and surprised Demien and Barnes, after they’ve decided to accompany the real Sam and Dean unknowingly on a real hunt, “No, I’m not a fan, okay. Not fans. In fact, I think the Dean and Sam story sucks. It is not fun, it’s not entertaining. It is a river of crap that would send most people howling to the nuthouse! So you listen to me. Their pain is not for your amusement. I mean, you think they enjoy being treated like-like circus freaks?”
This is a bit of a diversion away from earlier episodes, when it is Sam who is afraid of being the “freak.” Dean has taken this examination of his and Sam’s lives to be an insult. It is indicative of his private nature. His strong response makes both Demien and Barnes pull back, stunned. Demien retorts back, “Ahh, I don’t think they care. Because they’re fictional characters.” He has no idea that he has just said this to the real Dean Winchester.
Sam seems to be just as stunned by Dean’s obvious upset. He follows Dean to the cemetery and proceeds to help Dean with the routine salt and burn they are about to partake in. Demien and Barnes, however, still feel that it is a game, and look for the plastic bones to win their prize. When Sam pulls a real shovel out and he and Dean start to dig, they realize they’ve fallen in with even bigger “fans” than they are.
Dean’s reactions are also a shout out to the term “srs bzns” often said when a fan in any fandom takes their fandom too seriously. Dean has taken the story extremely seriously, something even Sam points out to Demien and Barnes. It’s a total tongue in cheek acknowledgment of the debates that can and do take place on the internet.
Once they burn the bones, after the ghost has attacked Sam, Demien and Barnes, Dean quips, “Real enough for you now?” They might not know that they’re addressing the real Brothers Winchester, but they, unlike Ed and Harry, have respect for them from here on out.
Unfortunately, this does not stop the haunting. It was not Leticia Gore who was committing the murders, but the boys that scalped her own son, after all. She was the only check and balance. Just like in “Ghostfacers,” the hotel is placed underneath a supernatural lock down, leaving Sam and Dean largely weaponless. Their guns are in the car. Demien and Barnes, fresh off their first salt and burn, join up with Sam and Dean, offering their own assistance. Sam and Dean seem surprised, but allow it.
Chuck has spent his time while this is going on holding his panel with the fans. He is in the process of closing when an anxious Sam runs and whispers in to his ear that there is a real haunting. Chuck is panicked, and unsure of what he should do. Sam tells him that he must keep everyone in the room for as long as it takes. Once everyone is walled into the conference room, Sam and Dean, with Barnes and Demien’s help salt the doors. They then split up to try and stop the children. Sam and Dean end up fighting them while Damien and Barnes find a way out to the cemetery to salt and burn the bones.
Unfortunately, the hotel manager who finds the convention to be a waste of time and silly, tries to leave the room. He breaks the salt lines and ends up face to face with a real ghost boy. Chuck, timid and usually cowering, springs into action and slams an iron pedestal through the ghost, demanding that someone salt the doors. This should make Sam feel better because Becky shifts her attention and affection to Chuck, who ironically has spent the entire episode trying to get the girl’s attention.
We watch Demien and Barnes struggle with the salt and burn. They grumble that digging graves look so easy in Supernatural and Demien fights with his lighter, frustrated that Dean seems to get it the first try, something he did in the earlier salt and burn.
Afterward, we see Dean thank Demien and Barnes, asking them their names. They provide them and ask Dean his, who says, “Dean. The real Dean.” They scoff at him, not realizing that they have met their hero. Dean asks them how they met, and once again the issue of Wincest is thrust into the fabric of the show. Demien and Barnes met in a Supernatural chat room, and they are “together.” Dean is shocked and a little uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Becky is breaking up with Sam in favor of Chuck. Sam seems to be relieved but feigns being crushed. He says, “Honestly, I don’t know. I’ll just have to find a way to keep living, I guess.”
Before Dean can leave and rejoin Sam, Demien steps up as the voice for the fans, stating, “In real life, he sells stereo equipment. I fix copiers. Our lives suck. But Sam and Dean. To wake up every morning and save the world. To have a brother who would die for you. Well, who wouldn’t want that?” It’s sums up what the majority of fandom’s view is of the program and provides what is termed fanservice to the fans in a way that is both endearing and entertaining.
Sam and Dean drive away with Becky’s information about Crowley and the Colt. It is another treat for the fans to have a “fan” tell the boys where to go next in their efforts to try and kill Lucifer.
What’s funny about this convention is how far apart and the same it is from real ones. There aren’t any “hunts” at the conventions. There are panels with the various actors, from someone who appears in a single episode to both Jared and Jensen themselves—similar to Chuck’s with the fans asking questions. There are “games,” but only in trivia and there is a brief costume contest. Merchandise is sold at the convention, typically of t-shirts and photos for the actors to sign. The first convention took place in Nashville in 2006. Only 200 fans attended. No actors or writers were present. It wasn’t until Asylum 2007 that the actors started to attend. The neat touch about this episode is that it aired the night before Creation Entertainment’s Salute to Supernatural in Chicago in 2009.
The ultimate “love letter” from Eric Kripke, to the fans, however doesn’t come until we see “Swan Song.” It is essentially his “farewell” to the show as show runner, despite returning to pen the season 6 finale “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” It is the only direct meta episode to not have a prank element, tying it to the others. Chuck, Kripke’s avatar appears here as only a serious character. He introduces us to the Impala upon its birth, starting the story that will end in Stull Cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas. The first owner, Sal, is a reference to the novel On the Road, featuring two characters named Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, for whom Sam and Dean were modeled upon. He, ironically, drives the Impala to give out free bibles and speak about judgment day.
Kripke tells us through Chuck what the whole show has been about all along. It isn’t about demons. It’s not about angels. It’s not about monsters. It’s about two brothers who love each other and will do anything for one another—even if it ultimately means letting go. Dean agrees to Sam’s plan, saying, “You’re not a kid anymore, Sam, and I can’t keep treating you like one. Maybe I got to grow up a little, too. I don’t know if we got a snowball’s chance. But… But I do know that if anybody can do it… It’s you.” It is probably one of the hardest things Dean will ever do, showing in some ways how far he’s come from the Dean we saw break and make the deal in “All Hell Breaks Loose Part I.” It is also a foreshadowing of his leaving a gun next to a comatose Sam in “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” firmly establishing their hard won brotherly equality.
Chuck’s voice over continues, between the action that takes place with Sam saying yes, Lucifer acquiring his true vessel and the subsequent apparent defeat of Sam by telling us the viewers why the Impala is so special. He also foreshadows how each and every memory that it holds is what gives Sam the power to wrestle control back from Lucifer. It might be a car, the “most important object in the universe,” but it’s not the car that’s important. Not really. It’s what’s attached to it, the life Sam and Dean have shared within its black beauty. It is poignant, beautiful, and makes what happen outside of Chuck’s quiet storytelling all the more heartbreaking.
We also get to see a behind the hunts, what happens when Sam and Dean get those few blissful and too far in between breaks. He says, “In between jobs, Sam and Dean would sometimes get a day — Sometimes a week, if they were lucky. They’d pass the time lining their pockets. Sam used to insist on honest work, But now he hustles pool, like his brother. They could go anywhere and do anything. They drove 1,000 miles for an Ozzy show, Two days for a jayhawks game. And when it was clear, They park her in the middle of nowhere, Sit on the hood, and watch the stars… For hours…Without saying a word. It never occurred to them that, sure, Maybe they never really had a roof and four walls, But they were never, in fact, homeless. That’s a good line.”
It is this that tugs on our heart strings more than the agony of watching Sam fall backwards later on, arms outstretched in self sacrifice to his doom in the now open pit. We know how much they have lost, feel the pain, see in these brief flashes what we’ve only been able to imagine mostly before. These two may hunt, live, and die for one another because they were raised to do so, but the real reason they do it is out of love. It is why Sam and Dean win, countering both Lucifer’s quote in “The End,” and again in “Swan Song” when he says, “I win… Well, then I win.” Regardless of whatever Lucifer’s arrogance allowed him to believe, he had lost before the match had even begun. He had lost because the ultimate weapon, love, was not within his understanding or grasp.
No other example of this love is expressed more than when Dean rushes to the site of the epic showdown between Michael and Lucifer at Stull Cemetery. Lucifer, in an attempt to deceive Michael, tries to convince him that they shouldn’t do it. Michael refuses, saying “I am a good son.” This echoes Dean’s earlier sentiments when arguing with Sam about their father. The difference here is that Dean realizes that sometimes being the good son isn’t always the right choice.
What Dean is doing is, as Lucifer wearing Sam’s body says, “a whole new mountain of stupid,” but he has already gone in knowing he’ll probably die. Castiel has warned him emphatically that the only thing that he’ll see is Michael killing Lucifer, and Sam with him. Dean responds, heart broken but resolved, “Well, then I ain’t gonna let him die alone.”
Even though Dean went in to do this alone, for his little brother’s sake, he is not alone himself. We see both Castiel and Bobby join in Dean’s efforts, standing by the brothers, even if one is now the Devil himself. It evokes such powerful emotional responses in the audience because here is the culmination of the show’s catchphrase, coined by Bobby, “Family don’t end in blood, boy.” They are all family, and Michael and Lucifer, long held steadfast in their grudge match over which one their Father loved best, they the Angels or the mud monkeys, simply cannot let go and learn. It puzzles both of them that this interference has taken place.
Castiel, hoping to buy Dean time to talk to Sam, trapped inside Lucifer, throws a holy fire bomb. The only flash that reveals that Lucifer may indeed actually feel something other than rage or hatred towards his brother is when he snaps his fingers, reducing Castiel to a pile of blood and shattered bone. He says, his voice cold and hard, “No one dicks with Michael, but me.”
This is also the trigger for Lucifer to punish Sam, and Lucifer’s undoing. He sets out to kill Dean, pulverizing him by using Sam’s own fists. It must be agony for Sam inside his own body, feeling his fist connect viciously with Dean’s face. Dean, again, stands his ground, even while enduring the blows. He pleads with Sam, saying “Sam, it’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here. I’m here. I’m not gonna leave you. I’m not gonna leave you.”
It’s the sheer strength of their bond that has brought them to this point, when Lucifer is trapped by the glint of sunlight off of the Impala, that important object, the home of the boys. It crushes him, ending his control over Sam’s body. It sums up, so simply and beautifully what Supernatural is all about: two brothers who love each other and are willing to die for one another. Kripke wraps up this beautiful sentiment via Chuck, “So, what’s it all add up to? It’s hard to say.But me, I’d say this was a test… For Sam and Dean. And I think they did all right. Up against good, evil, Angels, devils, destiny, and god himself, They made their own choice. They chose family. And, well… Isn’t that kinda the whole point? No doubt — endings are hard. But then again… Nothing ever really ends, does it?”
His last line here gives us the evidence, right before what will be known as Soulless Sam stands under the lamp light, that there will be more to the Sam and Dean story. It might be Kripke’s “swan song,” but this tale has more to tell. His vanishing reveals the truth we learned back in “The Monster At the End of this Book.” Chuck is God. He’s been with them this whole time, hiding in a humble and timid visage—and he’s in his own way been on Sam and Dean’s side all along, rooting for them to pull out the win. It might be the only “prank” within the entire episode, tying it to the rest of the meta fictional episodes of the series. It most certainly is the ultimate “gotcha” that Kripke could have come up with, too.