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In the first part of this profile, we discussed Robbie Thompson's non-Supernatural projects and his debut episode, "Slash Fiction." We examined his ability to tell human stories within the frameworks of the science fiction genre---and how that helped him to write rich scripts for Sam and Dean. In this part, we'll look at his other episodes, talk about how he brought the adorable Charlie Bradbury to life, and look at his best lines and pop culture references.
Thompson's second episode, "Time After Time After Time" continued the witty dialogue and pop culture references while exploring a human story within the supernatural. It also wrapped its story around Sam and Dean's bond in an effective and moving way. The episode throws Dean back to 1944 after he launches himself on the time god Chronos before he can complete his time jump. Unlike previous time travel episodes, there's no definite out---no certainty that Dean can return to the present in 2012. Thompson uses this situation to his advantage to tell a compelling and moving story both for the Winchesters and for the villain, Chronos. As added bonus, we see him throw in a familiar figure from history---Elliot Ness.
First, Thompson blends a great deal of current pop culture with 1940s slang. Dean, sticking out like a sore thumb as he chases Chronos into the busy street, quickly ends up captured by the police. There he's accused of being everything from a "Jerry," to a "kraut-muncher." Obviously, they suspect him of being a German spy---which he's not. Luckily for him, someone has taken interest in the stranger that burst onto the scene. It's none other than Elliot Ness, the very man that took down Al Capone. For genre fans, we were afforded the guest star in Nic Lea, known best for his role as Alex Krycek in The X-Files.
Thompson really has fun with this---making Dean's pop culture understanding of the period both endearing and hilarious. He begins to hero worship Ness immediately, quoting with a boyish reverence the movie The Untouchables only to be rebuffed by his hero. We even see Dean mutter to himself after dropping the film's most famous line, "Because that's the Chicago Way," that he'll "Never watch that movie again." When they question the bookie, he tells them he's no "stoolie," or informant, and not to "snap their caps" or get angry. The slang is certainly different. It also clashes with Dean's own slang. It baffles Ness as to why Dean thinks everything is "awesome," and he questions him, "How does that fill you with awe?"
Dean not only has to navigate language barriers. He has to change his clothes. Ness calls him a "bindlestiff," meaning he thinks the hunter looks a bit like a hobo. Dean doesn't get it and responds in a fluster, "Stiff your br bin what?" The wardrobe change allows us to see Dean transformed. Gone are his worn and faded blue jeans, his t-shirt and green jacket. Gone are his work boots. Instead, he comes out in a proper 1940s suit with shiny shoes and fedora to match. Even his hair is slicked down. It leaves him looking sleek, professional---but still dangerous. In this outfit, Dean exudes elegance that compliments him well. And yet he's still Dean underneath, captured by the novelty of his new clothes. We're seeing just how language and culture shifts over time---how some words and clothing can go out of style and be replaced by new---and how what is familiar to one can be utterly foreign to another.
Thompson is also pulling from a popular genre from the period: film noir. The episode most certainly follows that pattern. Our villain, Chronos, is a flawed anti-hero in many ways with a fatal flaw in the "femme fatale," Lila. It's this framework that allows for Thompson to make this villain sympathetic for the viewer and give his story humanity that it would otherwise lack. We can't help but feel a bit sorry for Chronos as he is tossed about time like a ship drifting aimlessly in the middle of the ocean. He has no choice in this. As his worshipers have dwindled and he has lost control over his powers, he has become a victim of what was once his gift. All Chronos wants is to be with Lila, and he will do whatever it takes---even killing three people at a time---to do it. He tells her, "I-I used to wander, but now I have you." That doesn't excuse him, however, and we know that much like most film noir lead characters he is doomed.
Thompson also shows us the other side of the story well---pulling the brotherly bond into the equation. The case was originally brought to the Winchesters by Sheriff Mills. She heard about the case and figured it was a "tune you boys tap to?" After Dean disappears, she feels obligated to help Sam get him back, and we're afforded another layer of human story laced with the spell work and time travel in Thompson's script. The Sheriff is an anchor that Sam can rely on as he struggles to get Dean back. Having someone like Jody with him also allows Sam to show vulnerabilities---something he might not have done had Dean remained in the present. Sam drives himself hard, working with little sleep or care for his own well-being to find the information he needs to return Dean to 2012. It takes Jody telling him to go to bed or she'll use her "Mom voice" to make him pause and rest.
Jody also can address some of the grief that the brothers haven't quite about Bobby. She finds a bottle of liquor that Rufus left for Bobby after losing a bet, and Thompson gives her one of the most human lines in the episode, "It's weird, huh? It's like their life's a big puzzle. You just keep finding pieces of it scattered all over the place." It allows for Sam and Jody to bond, to become something more than partners trying to figure out how to save Dean. They form an emotional, platonic connection that takes the story to a human height, reminding us that we can't face the most difficult tasks in life alone---nor should we.
As Sam tries to follow Jody's order, he gets down on the floor and fluffs his pillow---only to spot his name etched into the woodwork within eyeshot. In 1944, Dean decides to pull another Back to the Future trick, and tucks a letter inside behind the crown molding he popped off. That's of course after he's done some fast talking to the home owner to let him in. He uses the ruse of being part of the â€œDepartment of Homeland Termite Invasion,â€ which might be a nod to Thompson's work on Woody Wood Pecker! With the letter safely tucked, it's in Sam's hands to find it. He does, and he rushes down the stairs with boyish glee. The brothers may be years removed from one another, but they're still working together. Dean has provided the date they need and information on what Chronos is doing in the past---and with who. He tells Sam that Chronos is "banging some chick named Lila Taylor" and they now have a lead to follow, someone to ask.
The joy Sam experiences is short lived, considering Lila tells him and Jody that Chronos---or Ethan as she knew him---had "choked the life out of that man," meaning Dean of course. They may get him back to the present, but would they get him back alive?
Dean, meanwhile, must continue to work the case alongside Ness. They need to find a weapon to kill Chronos and they must stop him from killing his third victim before it is too late. Thompson makes use of Dean and Ness's time together well---they have a conversation about why they do what they do. Dean asks Ness, "So, now, w-who died in your life and made you a hunter? " Ness scoffs at this and retorts, "Who died? Nobody died, you morbid son of a bitch. I started doing this 'cause vampires were turning folks in Cleveland. " Dean admits that he's not sure why he's doing this anymore---that he used to do it because his father did it and then because it was the family business. Ness pooh poohs that, telling him "So enjoy it while it lasts, kid, 'cause hunting's the only clarity you're gonna find in this life. And that makes you luckier than most." It's perhaps what Dean needed to hear, even if it took time to sink in.
Once they track Chronos to Lila's house, they end up separated, Ness facing the time god first. Dean enters the house, trying to find Ness only to encounter an angry Chronos. Ness holds Lila hostage, forcing the time god's hand. He either is exposed as the monster he's become and stops killing or Ness will kill Lila. Unfortunately, Dean doesn't have such leverage, and it is Dean that Chronos turns his vast anger on---choking him. But it is also the very thing Dean needs so he can follow the summoned god back to the present. Once back, Sam and Jody start to attack, getting Dean away from Chronos until Sam can deliver the killing blow.
Thompson had fun with various pop culture, film noir, and witty dialogue in "Time After Time After Time," but what he did best was tell us a moving story about two brothers.
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