1×04 “Phantom Traveler”

Ah, yes. You know, I’ve come to realize–and after only four episodes, because I’m a quick study–that a Supernatural episode isn’t complete unless it’s either given me a completely new phobia, or has worsened an existing one. Dead In The Water pretty much guarantees that I’ll never go swimming in a lake again; Phantom Traveler pretty much guarantees that my happy self will never, ever, voluntarily get on a plane without the aid of psychotropic drugs and/or sedatives. Period.

But, that much aside, I wasn’t impressed with Phantom Taveler until I watched it for a second time. It wasn’t until I’d seen it, and knew what to expect, that I could actually *watch* the episode for things I’d missed the first time.

Sure enough, after less than ten minutes, I find it. (Actually, it’s about 6:40 through 7:30 on my ep, without commercials.) During the first time I watched this scene, I was paying attention to Sam, not Dean. That was a big mistake. Watch Dean instead. Because when their repeat customer is talking to Sam about the first time he met Dean and Daddy Winchester, Sam is double-taking at Dean, because he can’t believe what he’s hearing. How Dean and John saved this man’s life, how they got rid of the poltergeist, etc. It’s when they turn the corner, both in the conversation and on the film track, that things change.

The friend asks where John is, and Dean answers that he’s wrapped up in another case. The friend continues telling Sam about John and Dean’s last visit, and how John talked about Sam all the time. This friend knew Sam was in college–from John, who reportedly was proud of Sam. Sam is all but jumping up and down to press for more information, but it’s Dean’s reaction that’s more interesting to watch; he’s watching Sam with a look of I told you so, dumbass and unmistakeable love that it’s heartwarming.

We’re also introduced in this episode to Dean’s forgery skills, because he is able to, at the equivalent of your friendly neighborhood Kinko’s, create two Department of Homeland Security badges for himself and his brother. That’s gotta come in handy. (As a side note? My love for Supernatural‘s musical taste was cemented in this episode when a trip to the tailor is backdropped by Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, one of the first hits for the 1960s British rock group fronted by Ozzy Osbourne)

Despite the music choices which thrill me, and the Winchester family drama which never seems to end or get old, the pacing in this episode seems… off. Because the viewer knows the culprit from the teaser, the follow-up investigation seems lackluster this time as the brothers seem to fumble through what it could or could not be causing the plane crashes and other aerial mishaps. In previous episodes, this doesn’t seem to be a problem, but in this case, it makes the episode drag. Not even the too-brief chase at the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) warehouse helps to pick up the pace.

Halfway through the episode is where the pace tries to pick up, and mostly succeeds. The finding of the sulfur residue is a kick in the pants that the brothers need, and the episode too, because it opens up the avenue of research and exploration that ultimately leads them to the answers, but not until after other planes have crashed.

After the second plane crash, in the small town of Nazareth, both the name of the town and one of the plane crash factors seems to put the whole answer together in under a minute, which seems too speedy for the rest of the episode. However, it gets the final act of the plot moving, and leads into the finale of the episode.

Metallica seems to be Dean’s musical obsession of choice this episode; he identifies himself as Dr. James Hetfield from St. Francis Memorial Hospital (James Hetfield is the band’s lead singer) and to calm himself of his flight fear–a fear which I both understand totally and share–he sings a Metallica song to himself. (I think it’s Enter Sandman, but I can’t be sure). The Impala is also explained in this episode; Dean drives everywhere because he has a fear of flying.

The exorcism on the airplane itself solves the pacing problem; from that moment on, things happen at a rapid pace–as they should, when dealing with an exorcised demon–and the episode wraps up on a very satisfying note.

Jensen Ackles is hysterical in this episode, and Jared Padalecki does a *great* job playing the unpanicked straight man to Ackles’ terrified flyer, yet both men sober considerably for the coda when they receive news about their father.

A last amusing thing to note: at the end of the episode, though I believe they’re supposed to be in Pennsylvania? You can clearly see the Canadian Maple Leaf on the tail of the aircraft passing overhead.

Best Line:
Dean: I hate this. I look like a Blues brother.
Sam: No you don’t. Just… like a seventh grader at his first dance.

Dean: Dude, *stow* the touchy-feely self-help yoga crap right now, because it’s not helping!

Dean and Sam chasing the plane-crashing demon

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One Response to “1×04 “Phantom Traveler””

  1. It’s interestng how the writers/directors are able to give us such great characterization of the two brothers with such subtlety. I find that I have to watch these episodes twice to see Sam and Dean’s faces so I could pay attention to their sub-texting. And both actors do a great job of it and I commend the creators for casting them to their roles perfectly.

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