“#Thinman” builds its story on meta-fictional parallels. We see this best in the reintroduction of Ed Zeddmore and Harry Spangler, aka the Ghostfacers. Their storyline, within the episode, mirrors that of Sam and Dean's on many levels. By examining these parallels, we can see the true story unmasked. By following Ed and Harry's story, we can see several differences between what happens with them and what is happening with Sam and Dean.
Let's examine these meta-fictional parallels.
When we're first introduced to Ed Zeddmore and Harry Spangler in Season 1's “Hell House,” we're introduced to meta-fictional caricatures of Sam and Dean. It's the way Supernatural points and laughs at itself without being insulting or too over the top about it. Ed and Harry hunt the supernatural, they have each other's backs, they're best friends, and they're enthusiastic about their pursuit. As such, they've been used as comedy, parody, and to show another side of Sam and Dean's story without altering the basic tenets of Sam and Dean's story.
As we watch Ed and Harry develop in “Hell House,” we see them easily duped, freak out at the slightest noise, and run screaming from the first sight of Mordichi. They aren't suited for hunting---and that's not even why they're there really. Ed and Harry want to be the next paranormal investigators on TV or in the movies. They want to be famous, and they'll do what ever it takes to achieve it. They run a website ---hellhoundslair.com---calling attention to the Hell House site, and inadvertently take the faked haunting and make it real.
When we see them next, Ed and Harry have assembled a group to hunt the Morton house. They're working on a new documentary ghost hunting project entitled Ghostfacers, and we see the hunt through their eyes and video cameras. Again, Ed and Harry are caricatures. They mirror each brother in many ways, and yet they lack all of the well rounded nature that makes Sam and Dean who they are---they lack the reality that makes the brothers seem like actual people. Ed and Harry run around the Morton house, freaked out by “death echoes.” They spend more time squabbling about Harry kissing Ed's sister than the actual case---all while the real Sam and Dean have to clean up the mess and keep everyone---save Corbett---alive by sunrise.
They're funny representations of reality television gone bad in “Ghostfacers,” commenting on the writer's strike in a meta-fictional device. Ed and Harry may find a way to break through to the dead Corbett by appealing to his attraction to Ed, but it doesn't make them any more real as characters.
This changes in “#Thinman.”
Dean catches wind of a case involving a girl murdered in a locked room. He automatically suspects a vengeful spirit---sending Sam and Dean to Springdale, Washington to investigate. There, they encounter the victim's mother, and she mentions not noticing any cold spots. She tells them that the “supernaturalists” had already been there. The brothers ask who these “supernaturalists” are, and it leads them to the garish Ghostfacers van parked outside the diner.
When we first see Ed and Harry in the diner, they start off as the caricatures we've known since their introduction. They snark at the Winchesters, they dig themselves a bit too deep into a case that might be too much for them, and they're still trying to capture it all on film so they can get famous. Ed and Harry are still making the same quips---especially about meeting a lot of ladies or going on the talk show circuit. They're just as silly and inane as they've always been.
It isn't until we see how uncomfortable Ed is with this case that we start to see a metamorphosis in Ed and Harry. The longer they investigate, and the more deadly it seems to get, the more antsy Ed is to leave it to Sam and Dean. He says to Harry, “Two people are dead -- really dead. And I just keep thinking that, you know, maybe Sam and Dean should just take over.” We can tell that he's hiding something, that he's troubled, and that this isn't as much fun for him as it was in previous cases they've crossed paths with the Winchesters. This case seems to actually bother him. It's not hard to see, especially as he's standing in the victim’s room.
This anxious behavior in Ed isn't unlike Dean's fidgeting during Sam's possession. We can tell that Ed is bursting at the seams to tell Harry something---and yet he's also afraid to actually say it. He wants to “bail” on the case. He would rather take Harry and run before the truth comes out---but after the second murder it's clear that Ed's conscience finally wins out. He has to spill his secret---just as Dean did when he learned the truth about “Ezekiel.”
This is our first meta-fictional parallel in “#Thinman.”
In the first half of season nine, we watched Dean struggle to keep “Ezekiel's” possession of Sam secret. From the beginning, he wanted to tell his brother, but couldn't for fear that Sam would die. The longer that lie had to be told or embellished upon, the harder it became for Dean to keep quiet. Several times, we saw him drop hints and slip up, giving Sam reason to wonder. Dean nearly spilled everything in “Rock and Hard Place,” especially after he had reached the end of his rope. He couldn't lie any more---mostly because he couldn't watch Sam worry that something was wrong with him anymore.
And yet, it isn't until we see Ed burst into Sam and Dean's hotel room that we understand why he's been shifty about this case. It's all fake---and Ed made it up. This is the moment that Ed Zeddmore becomes a real character and no longer a caricature for Dean. He is honest, guilty, and shattered by having to reveal this truth to the Winchesters---but he has to share this with Harry, too. As we watch Ed tell the story about why and how he created Thinman, we see a transformation take place. On one hand, Ed makes us sympathize with him just by how vulnerable he's making himself, and on the other we can't help but feel anger for what he's done to Harry.
What about Harry? How does he meta-fictionally parallel the story? How does he reflect Sam?
Before the secret surrounding Gadreel was exposed, Sam, too, was eager and pleased to be with his brother. He seemed rather content and happy to hunt alongside Dean. He felt secure and certain that they were doing the right thing and working towards something---mostly the reversal of Metatron's spell and towards finding all of Crowley's underlings on earth. There was a purpose and he shared it with his brother completely.
When Sam and Dean decide to go after Abaddon in “Devil May Care,” Dean asks Sam, “Guns blazin'. You with me?” Sam replies without missing a beat, “You know it.” Sam wants to be on the hunt with his brother, clearly.
That changes---at least on a familial level for the time being---after Gadreel is exposed and expelled.
In “#Thinman,” Harry seems rather excited about their current case---when he's not looking up what his ex-girlfriend is doing, that is. On one hand, it would seem that Harry has one foot in and one foot out. He is fixated on what his ex-girlfriend is doing, who she is with, and what “It's complicated” may mean. He doesn't seem to be nearly as gung-ho or invested in the Ghostfacers as he was last time we saw him.
In this way, Harry reflects Sam's flirtations with a normal life throughout the series. He is not sure if it's worth putting everything on hold or getting into dangerous situations anymore. When they started, back in “Hell House,” they had hoped to strike fame fast. In “Ghostfacers,” they had compiled a pilot's worth of evidence and footage---and that too should have propelled them to fame. Of course, in both cases we know that the Winchesters thwarted those efforts, but it's been years now and Ed and Harry are no more famous than when they started---The Skinny on Thinman aside.
It's clear that he wants to try his hand at normal, let this goose chase go, and become something real in the real world. Harry's dancing slowly away from the caricature of Sam at every turn. We're seeing beneath that facade, seeing the real Harry that wants to do something with his life that has real meaning and value---and so far being a Ghostfacer hasn't done it.
Wanting “normal” isn't the issue here for Sam, however. Instead, Sam's issues are with Dean's secret keeping---and with the elder Winchester not respecting his wishes first to complete the Trials and then in the cabin when faced with Death himself. Sam feels that his latest resurrection has cost far too much. It's cost him the chance to close Hell forever. It's cost him the chance to find perhaps some form of eternal peace. It's cost them Kevin---the most painful of these consequences.
On the other, Harry wants to take their success on The Skinny on Thinman and build on it. He believes they're closer than ever to finding the elusive creature. He tells Ed, “I can smell his musk.” Harry wants to keep going---if anything to prove his ex-girlfriend wrong. He wants to prove it to everyone that it's worth it---that what they're doing has meaning. Most of all, he wants to prove that to himself. As the case gets darker, Harry tells Ed, “I'm not gonna wait for someone else to die. I'm gonna find Thinman tonight.”
Unfortunately, Harry finds himself hurt by “Thinman,” giving us another meta-fictional parallel between Harry and Sam.
Harry Spangler, too, becomes a real character when the truth is exposed. While Ed is pouring his heart out to Sam and Dean, we watch the last caricature moment of Harry as he wanders the small woods in search of Thinman. He's as inept and goofy as ever, narrating his search with inane babble. And yet, we can't help but feel sorry for him because we know now that he's been played by his best friend. As soon as we see Ed break this news to him, Harry the caricature falls completely away to become Harry Spangler, the person.
Harry is angry, understandably. He left his fiance, his job, and his chance at a quiet and normal life to go chasing after ghosts and monsters only to have it all be a lie. As we see this punch him in the feels, we see the silly mask strip away to show the shattered man underneath. He's distraught, broken, and bewildered what to do. Sam asks him if he's alright. Harry simply asks him if this is something he can forgive. It's a difficult conversation, and we see Harry become someone we can identify with on more levels as the story progresses.
It is this conversation that sheds light on the situation for Sam. He's said his piece a couple of times now to Dean, but it's clear he hasn't sat down to really think about forgiveness or if he even can. He gives Harry advice---that Harry must decide for himself what he can and cannot forgive---and now he must take it himself. Can he forgive what Dean has done? Should he? Sam is still working through this, but it is possible that he may not have thought about it in these terms without seeing Harry endure a similar situation as him.
But Sam also learns something from seeing Ed, too. After Ed has confessed to Harry, it is Sam that approaches him. He asks sincerely, “How did it go?” and Ed can't muster an answer. His body language and face say it all. Ed is crushed, broken, and despondent by Harry's response. This doesn't mean Ed should be absolved. He did something wrong and he must face the consequences---but Sam has a chance to see in Ed---the meta-fictional representation of Dean---what he might not see otherwise. Separated from the situation---and his own anger---it might give him a fresh perspective to understand why his brother did it---beyond not wanting to be alone or out of obligation. He's seen how Ed's been just as emotionally punched in the feels as Harry has---and Sam can't help but feel sympathy for him.
It's not just Sam that learns something from seeing Ed and Harry's fallout. Dean learned something, too. He watches Sam carefully as he tells Ed that “Secrets ruin relationships,” knowing that Sam's referring to their own. With Ed and Harry's situation, Dean can separate saving Sam's life---the crux of why he did what he did---and perhaps see the situation from a fresh perspective. Seeing how devastated Harry is by this revelation gives him insight into Sam's anger. It may give him a chance to see Sam's side objectively or understand why it's not so much about what was done as much as it is about the breaking of trust. This is a key lesson that Dean must learn here---and it took perhaps seeing this for him to truly realize that.
Now that this truth is exposed, Sam and Dean have to track down whomever stabbed Harry. They have to clean up Ed's mess for him. Ed may have made Thinman up, but he didn't make up whomever is pretending to be it. They have to stop these people before another person is killed. So they track down the clues that lead them to a warehouse and there they are caught by the deputy---who is really Thinman and has been all along.
While Sam and Dean are away, Ed and Harry continue to deal with the fallout. Ed is tired of hiding and running from what he did. He wants to be out there cleaning up his mess---and Harry says, “We can make it right.” It's a glimmer of hope---even if it doesn't last long.
Ed and Harry arrive to find that the deputy and his partner---Roger, the bus boy---are about to kill Sam and Dean. Before they can, they catch the killer's attention and out Roger ala Scooby Doo. Unfortunately, Ed doesn't see the deputy coming and ends up knocked down. They're dragged back to where Sam and Dean should have been tied up, only to find that the brothers have slipped their bonds.
Up until this critical moment, it might have been possible for Ed and Harry to patch things up. The action takes place quickly. Dean quickly muscles Roger's own knife into his chest, killing him. The deputy, knocked aside, stirs and points his weapon squarely at Sam, meaning to shoot him. Ed steps in the way and tries to reason with the man, only to see him shot to death.
Instead of Dean Winchester being the man to make the shot, it's Harry. Not only have two people been killed because of Ed's ruse, not only has Harry been stabbed, but now Harry has had to kill someone because of this lie. It's the last straw, the point of no return for him. The deputy would have certainly killed everyone if given the chance, but for Harry, this is too much to take. He has now killed a man and that is something he can't simply get over.
The greatest meta-fictional parallel we see, of course, is the conversation Ed and Harry have next to the Ghostfacers van. It's nearly identical to Sam and Dean's in “Road Trip,” and “The Purge,” and it's just as heartbreaking. We watch it along side Sam and Dean as they see what they went through with outsider's eyes.
And yet, this is where the parallels also end, revealing the story neatly masked underneath.
Ed and Harry's relationship has clearly suffered a complete breakdown the way we saw Sam and Dean's do in “Road Trip,” and yet it's not quite the same thing.
Let's look at these differences closely.
In the beginning of the episode, as Dean prepares to embark on this case, he tells Sam that he's leaving. Sam asks him about it, and Dean simply asks, “Do you want to come?” Sam is interested, he wants to come with his brother, and he quickly starts to pack up to tag along. Sam may be angry and still dealing with the fallout from what has happened with Gadreel, but it's clear that he wants to be by Dean's side anyways.
It's clear in those two dual conversations. In Ed and Harry's, we see Harry walk away. He decides to leave Ed standing by the van, and he gets into the car with Sam and Dean. In “Road Trip,” it's Dean that has chosen to leave Sam. He banishes himself on his own accord---even though Sam doesn't want him to do so. Sam would much rather stay with his brother---but he won't force Dean to stay.
Sam may have said he wants things to be strictly business between him and Dean---but it's becoming clear that he wants to stay with Dean so they can work on their issues and build a strong foundation to make their brotherhood stronger in the long run. He doesn't want to run away from this. Staying with Dean---working with Dean on hunts---gives them the chance to face things head on. It gives them the chance to fix them---and to continue the purging of what wasn't working while building upon what is.
Sam tells Ed that “Secrets ruin relationships,” and so far we can tell that Dean may have truly started to take this lesson to heart. He doesn't lie about this case. He doesn't try to brush Sam's questions aside. He tells him what he's going to go hunt and lets Sam decide if he wants to come with. He hasn't lied about the Mark of Cain or working with Crowley, either. All of this is a sure sign of hope.
In “#Thinman,” we also see the brothers bond over memories from childhood. Dean tells a story about how when they were kids Sam decided to jump from the shed while dressed like Batman. Sam joins in the reminiscing by saying, “I broke my arm.” They seem closer than ever here, as if all the hurt and anger and pain has melted away---even if it is for a moment. This is something they can build a foundation upon---some common ground not tainted by what has happened.
Sam may be angry and keeping Dean at arms length. He may want to keep things “strictly business,” but it's clear that he doesn't want that to be that way forever. We see that in this beautiful moment. They're fondly remembering a moment in time---a time when there was some innocence in their lives. Sam may have been hurt, but it's almost a normal childhood memory. How many children have broken their arms the same way, thinking they could be super heroes?
The parallels continue to breakdown as we watch Ed and Harry and Sam and Dean's body languages, too. Ed and Harry seem distant in many ways through the episode. Ed's trying to get Harry's attention for most of it---at the diner and at Casey's house. They're not on the same page for much of it, even when Harry's fully on the bandwagon to find Thinman that same night. Instead, it's Ed pulling away.
Sam and Dean, on the other hand, seem to mirror each other more and more this episode than they have even in “The Purge,” or “Captives.” They sit together in some of the same ways, they stand the same way, and their silent methods of communication seem to be stronger than ever as they work the case. The best moment, however, where their body language mirrors one another perfectly is after Harry's shot the deputy.
We see Dean gently rest a hand onto Harry's hands---and a few seconds later after a soft glance between the brothers---Sam rests his hand onto Ed's shoulder. The brothers may be purging things from their relationship---but it seems that they're truly building on the good things.
This doesn't fix everything between them. It's given both of them fresh eyes on both sides of the matter. What Ed did was wrong and selfish---but it wasn't done with ill intent. What Dean did was selfish---but it wasn't done to hurt Sam. Seeing how much this hurt Harry may allow Dean to see why Sam was so angry. Seeing Ed's crushed expression after confessing to Harry may help Sam to understand his brother's motivations a bit more---to empathize more fully.
Harry tells the brothers that he's always envisioned Ed in that other rocking chair next to him. Now, however, he sees that chair as being empty. His best friend won't be there to share the road with him anymore. He'll have to leave that behind---it hurts too much and he's decided to close the whole book. As he describes what he had envisioned his old age looking like, we can tell that the brothers are thinking now of their own situation and less of Ed and Harry's.
They now have to make a choice. If they're going to be partners---if they're going to be sitting in the same rocking chairs when they get old---they're going to have to figure out how to work through their issues. It's a continuation of the process we saw begin in “The Purge.” Sam and Dean can't simply pretend nothing happened. They can't brush it aside or hide behind angry quips. They must work their way through this.
It was imperative that Sam and Dean witness this with Ed and Harry. They needed to see these two endure this breakdown in order to grasp their own. It shows them an alternate path. Harry chose to leave Ed. It would seem, judging by how “#Thinman” ends, that the Ghostfacers have ended, too. What Sam and Dean must do now is decide which path to take.
Do they take the path Ed and Harry have? Or do they continue to work on their problems together? It's up to Sam and Dean if they want that other rocking chair---or in their case, the Impala's bench seat---to be occupied. If anything, it's clear that they learned this lesson by watching what happened with Ed and Harry.
Nicholas Carella played Deputy Tom Norwood. At first, he seemed rather innocuous and a run of the mill police officer that the Winchesters encounter while on the hunt. Carella made Norwood seem an able deputy, if a bit clueless about the real supernatural world. Once Norwood is revealed as being the Thinman, we see Carella flip a switch on his performance. He becomes a much snarkier character, and certainly much crueler. Carella makes Norwood cocky, too. We see this best when they have the Winchesters in the chairs. As the Deputy works to set up their murder film, his annoying whistling seems happy. Carella takes that safe action and makes it edgy in the scene. We can see him puff himself up more and more, showing how Norwood lets being the Thinman really go to his head. Carella really drives this home when he tells the brothers, “I'm the visionary.” Even with his partner subdued and killed, Norwood seems just as sure of himself as ever. Carella shows this in how he tells Ed and Sam that he has enough bullets. The shock on his face as he's shot instead is a fitting end to his character.
Giovanni Mocibob gave us the invisible Roger. When we first see him, he is indeed very invisible. His character is simply a busboy at the diner the Winchesters find the Ghostfacers in, and as we see him come up, he's almost more a part of the scenery than a character. Mocibob seems to play this element up well in this scene. He also garners our sympathy as his boss angrily chastises him in front of all the restaurant guests. Mocibob shows us how this admonish hits home in how he seems to shrink in on himself. When we see him again, as the other half of Thinman, he's no longer invisible nor is he a sympathetic character. He's cruel and psychotic, and it shows all in how Mocibob portrays Roger here. There's almost a glee in how he tells the brothers that he introduced Casey to his knife or in killing his boss. Roger becomes a frightening figure here not so much because he poses a real threat to the brothers but because we can tell that he's become unpredictable. And yet, as we see the Winchesters turn the tables on Roger and the Deputy, as Dean struggles with him and his knife, we see that he's not as badass as he believes. The look Mocibob puts on Roger's face says it all.
AJ Buckley returns as Ed Zeddmore, one half of the founding members of Ghostfacers. In his earlier appearances, Ed has always seemed to be a bit of a caricature, a parody of Dean, and therefore tongue in cheek humor. Buckley has always played that version of Ed well. He has great comedic timing to make Ed's lines hit with punch and wit. Buckley makes Ed seem like a likeable goofball in “Hell House” and “Ghostfacers”. But in “#Thinman,” Buckley makes Ed become a well rounded character, fleshing him out and pulling nuances from the script to make him real. Buckley gives us subtle hints through body language and facial expressions that not all is well with Ed. Once the truth comes out, we see Buckley transform Ed. He puts a lot of emotion into his performance, showing how broken Ed is by having his secret exposed, and how bewildered he is about how to fix it. Buckley makes us feel deeply for Ed here, even if we understand why Harry is angry with him. The last scene with Ed standing by the Ghostfacers van is the saddest. Buckley makes Ed look shattered and small. He puts all of Ed's despondency in his facial expression, and we can tell that the guilt, sorrow, and heartbreak are crashing inside him. It'll be interesting if we ever see Buckley's Ed again, but if we do, hopefully it'll be on a happier note.
Travis Wester reprises the other half of the Ghostfacers in Harry Spangler. Much like Buckley's Ed, Harry has always seemed a bit too much like a caricature to be taken seriously. Wester's always made Harry a loveable if not clueless goofball, and that's no different in “#Thinman”. As the Winchesters crash their booth at the diner, Wester's comedic timing shines. His delivery of the line, “Oh yay, it's the Winchesters,” is masterful. As we learn Ed's secret, we can't help but feel some sympathy for Harry. Wester shows Harry's eagerness well, even if it's a bit tongue in cheek and silly at times. His babbling, “Well, the lore says that Thinman hangs out by trees, and the woods is where trees hang out,” is a fine example of this bittersweet moment. Once we see Harry learn the truth, we see Wester turn up his performance, showing all of Harry's emotions on his face and in his tense body language. Wester subtly shows us Harry's sorrow about what has happened, too. When he tells Ed, “We're going to fix it,” we can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. Wester also shows us Harry's horror at killing the deputy with just one look. His sadness at the end mirrors that of Buckley's Ed beautifully. Hopefully if we see the Ghostfacers again they will have managed to patch things up!
Jensen Ackles shows all of Dean's frustrations with having to deal with the Ghostfacers again with subtle comedy. We see it in his gestures and his tone of voice---Ackles makes it clear that Dean's not requesting they leave, he's telling. His best gesture demonstrating Dean's absolute exasperation with Ed and Harry's meddling is when he shoves them aside as the deputy calls Sam and Dean to watch the video of the diner murder. The way he does it says it all, adding to the humor. His delivery of the line “I will shoot you---bitches,” is spot on priceless. Ackles shows us that Dean's all business on this case---and not just because of the dynamic between him and Sam. It seems that Dean wants to solve this case quickly so that they can get away from the Ghostfacers---or before it kills the Ghostfacers. Ackles shines best in the scene surrounding the childhood story. He shows us the warmth and joy Dean has connected to this slice of their shared memory, captured best in the brilliant smile and fond laugh. Ackles makes us connect with Dean deeply here. Once Ed's confessed, we see Ackles show another side of Dean. He is more thoughtful---and we can see in his expression that Dean is thinking hard about his situation with Sam while cleaning up Ed's mess. Ackles conveys this best by the soft glances towards Padalecki's Sam. We see this again as the brothers listen to Harry talk about how he feels. Ackles makes the looks brief but noteworthy. Ackles showed us Dean's continuing growth best in that final scene.
Jared Padalecki showed us a compassionate and determined Sam. In the beginning of the episode, he is committed to going with his brother, and Padalecki shows this side of Sam best by how he delivers his lines. Padalecki also showed us that Sam---while keeping Dean at arms length---will close ranks with his brother when need be. As they sit with the Ghostfacers in the diner, he's just as intimidating and exasperated as his brother---evidenced best in how he delivers the line, “Okay. We'll bite. What do you think it is?” We see this again when the brothers are captured by the deputy---and Roger. As Roger moves to slash Dean's throat, we see Sam cry out, horrified that his brother might be killed. Much like Ackles, we see Padalecki shine best as Sam and Dean share their childhood story. There's a fondness in Padalecki's voice as he says, “After you jumped first,” and “Well, I didn't know that. I broke my arm.” This moment captures brilliantly all the chemistry that Padalecki and Ackles share. Just before Ed bursts in, we can see on Sam's face this look of sadness as the moment passes---it flickers just briefly, making our hearts hurt just a little. Padalecki also captures all of Sam's empathy when we see him deal with Ed and Harry in the aftermath. It's in how Sam talks to both of them. His tone is gentle, his large frame made to seem less imposing, and his facial expressions convey all of Sam's sympathy for each one. In the final scenes, as we see Sam and Dean listen to Harry's story, we can see the gears turning inside Sam's head---along with some of the buried emotion bubbling back up to the surface.
Best Lines of the Week:
Deputy Norwood: Sheriff's on a hunting trip.
Harry: Okay. I've waited all my life for this. Amazon me, bitches.
Harry: 50 shades of whey too much protein!
Dean: Or Garth if somebody shaved his face off. Big whoop.
Ed: No. We just play Supernaturalists on TV.
Harry: I just got punched right in the feels.
Looks like Crowley needs an intervention when the show comes back!