(Photo of Ben Edlund by Alice Jester, Comic Con 2011)
Ben Edlund has written many episodes of Supernatural, from the metaficitional in “Ghostfacers,” “Hollywood Babylon,” and “The French Mistake,” the dramatic in “On the Head of a Pin,”, “The Man Who Would Be King,” and “Repo Man,” the comedic in “Bad Day at Black Rock,” and the fantastical in “Wishful Thinking,” and “Clap Your Hands If You Believe.”
Before we examine some of those episodes and his other contributions to the show, let’s have a brief look at who he is, and what else he has worked on.
Ben Edlund was born on September 20, 1968 in Pembroke, Massachusetts. He found great success at the tender age of 17 with the comic book series The Tick, which only ran for 12 issues. It is rumored that he has been working on the 13th installment of the comic for years. It reached cult status and following, and was then made into an animated series.
He has also been involved with another animated series, that runs on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of programming, The Venture Brothers. The show, a parody of Johnny Quest and the Hardy Boys, explores genius Dr. Rusty’s difficulties with middle age while raising his two incompetent sons, Dean and Hank Venture—characters that possibly die and come back more than Sam and Dean Winchester.
(See the YouTube Video “The Boys Never Died”)
He faces an arch nemesis named “the Monarch.” For his protection, Dr. Venture hires Brock Samson, who drives a muscle car and listens to Led Zeppelin (sound familiar?). Edlund wrote three episodes for the parody cartoon, and even gave his voice to one, “Viva los meurtos,” as the character Venturestein.
In television, Edlund has worked on other cult programs. He has written for Firefly and Angel. His episode of Angel, “Smile Time,” earned him a Hugo Award nomination. He also co-produced the short lived Point Pleasant, a series about a girl named Christina—who also happened to be the child of Satan. Seems Edlund was destined to work on Supernatural!
His first episode as writer for Supernatural was “Simon Said,” in which the boys encounter another special child of Azazel. His name is Andy Gallagher, and he has the ability to make others do what he wants by the power of suggestion alone. There are victims being left behind in his wake, but as Sam and Dean investigate, it comes to light that Andy is not responsible for the deaths. Instead, it is Andy’s twin brother, named Ansem, that has been eliminating people close to Andy out of jealousy. He also has the same ability, yet he has managed to cultivate it to be used by simple thought alone.
The episode has some of the funniest moments in season 2. Here, we get to see Sam and Dean visit Ash’s room, to be greeted with the sign “Dr. Badass is IN.” Sam tries to get Ash to talk to them, but it isn’t until Dean says, “Hey, Dr. Badass?” that the door opens. The most awkward and charming moment of the scene is when Ash states, “Well, hell then. Guess I need my pants.”
Upon meeting Andy, we see Dean do the unthinkable: hand over Baby without a second thought. The moment is freaky yet delightful all at once. We know something has to be going on with Andy, but we can’t help but laugh at Dean’s baffled expression as Andy drives away. Most memorable is Andy’s van. Its entrance into the episode is almost as epic as seeing Baby’s revival in the episode “Bloodlust.” The song “Stonehenge” by Spinal Tap provides it soundtrack. They start to search the van, Sam and Dean discover that Andy is very smart in his reading choices, “Hegel, Kant, Wittgenstein, that’s some pretty heavy reading, Dean.” but when Dean picks up the massive bong, and delivers the line, “And Moby Dick’s bong.” we know that Andy may have some strange gifts, but he’s more endearing than sinister.
Edlund also tugs on our heartstrings with his debut into Supernatural. We see Sam and Dean struggle in the aftermath of seeing Andy and Ansem face off. Sam tells Dean, “Right circumstances, everyone’s capable of murder. Everyone. You know, maybe that’s what the demon’s doing. Pushing us. Finding ways to break us.” We feel the pain in this simple dialogue exchange between the brothers, and yet there is a tenderness and affirmation of their brotherhood here. Edlund manages to encapsulate the season’s goal in one statement from Dean, “Doesn’t matter. Look, we’ve just gotta keep doing what we’re doing, find that evil son of a bitch and kill it.”
We see Edlund continue to bring his own quirkiness and blend of drama and comedy to episodes like “Nightshifter” and “Bad Day at Black Rock.” In “Nightshifer,” the boys are confronted with the law in the person of Victor Henriksen while trying to hunt down a skinwalker robbing banks. They befriend Ronald, who is convinced that the bank robber has laser eyes. The sweetness of Ronald’s interactions with Sam and Dean make his ultimate end all the more tragic.
The episode gets some iconic lines, such as Dean’s “I like him. He says “okey dokey.”” and Henriksen’s “And yes, I know about Sam, too. Bonnie to your Clyde.”
“Bad Day at Black Rock” follows the tragedy of the rabbits foot. Unfortunately for Sam, it ends up attached to him. Edlund pulls out the best in comedy with this gem, giving us hilarious moments after the rabbits foot is stolen by Bela Talbot. Sam ends up spilling coffee, falling flat on his face and skinning his knees, singlehandedly taking out all of the furniture at the motel room their thieves stay at, starting his jacket on fire and knocking himself out in the process of putting it out, and finally getting shot. The most iconic moment from the episode is when Sam loses his shoe down into the storm sewer and looks over at Dean with a dejected face and whines, “I lost my shoe.” The other is when Dean comes to Sam’s rescue and takes out Kubrik and Creedy with a pen and quips, “I’m Batman,” to which Sam retorts, “Yeah, you’re Batman.”
From beginning to end, Edlund plays wonderfully with whimsy and delight that offsets the dark deaths such as Wayne’s in the kitchen. We also get insight through Edlund’s tight writing into the sad childhoods of the brothers. While Sam’s memento is a soccer trophy, it is striking that Dean’s is a sawed off shotgun he made in the sixth grade. Edlund knows how to tell the story with heart and soul intertwined beautifully.
Edlund also knows how to incorporate metafiction into the show’s fabric seamlessly. “Hollywood Babylon,” “Ghostfacers,” and “The French Mistake,” are prime examples of how Edlund knows how to make the show self-reflexive. Each episode is daring, outside of the box, and entertaining.
“Hollywood Babylon” explores a movie set being haunted only to discover that the writer of the project had been snubbed, and therefore summoned ghosts to kill. It explores the behind the scenes element in television, from Sam and Dean posing as PAs to producers squabbling with directors over lighting and sound.
“Ghostfacers” removes the viewer from Supernatural by inserting them into a faux reality program. The script, a biting response to the writer’s strike that season, has lines such as, “lazy fat cats,” in reference to the writers and has the episode appear to be entirely shot on hand held cams ala paranormal reality series such as Ghost Hunters. It is self-reflexive as well, due to the exploration of former characters in Harry Spangler and Ed Zeddmore, last seen in season 1’s “Hell House.”
“The French Mistake,” is a blend of the first two, as Sam and Dean are transported out of their own supernaturally filled world to one without magic where they are actors on a TV show. They’re not just actors—they are Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, making a show titled Supernatural. It is a daring and sarcastic examination of the television business as a whole. And yet, Edlund knows how to make it quirky and delightful as inside jokes about the actors and the show itself are tossed throughout its fabric. The most iconic moment has to be the bad acting scene that Sam and Dean inflict on the crew. Seeing Sam play Jared play Sam while bumbling and staring “anywhere but the camera” and Dean playing Jensen playing Dean staring straight ahead with an exaggerated gruff voice is hilarious. As Sam continues to babble the lines he doesn’t know and Dean becomes more and more petrified, the show directors are baffled and press on, leaving the badly acted scene in place.
Ben Edlund states about the writer’s strike and the future of media, “We’re at a point now where the paradigm for media is shifting. We’re going to a new media template – downloads, streaming – I don’t really understand the technology, but what I understand is this, that broadcast television isn’t going to be the medium of the future, it’s just not the way it’s going to work. People will still go to movies, but it won’t be necessary in the way that it was.”
Edlund has embraced that clearly with the metafictional episodes he’s tackled for the show.