1×10 “Asylum”

Asylum actually has a unique premise for Supernatural, and in fact, it’s a premise I’ve only seen one other place, and that’s in the remake of House On Haunted Hill, which was also set in an asylum–come to think of it, that’s kind of what this episode reminds me of. Only I think Supernatural executes the whole “haunted asylum” concept better than House On Haunted Hill.

The teaser itself is cleverly executed; it gives the back story in a few lines of dialog between two cops, one local and one not. The asylum is haunted, kids like to go in, and if you stay the night, the story goes that the ghosts will drive you insane. That’s a great setup, because you know everything that you need to know already and you’ve not wasted a single bit of storytelling or exposition.

And then, just when they’ve done the best teaser… they run into one of the biggest stereotypes in the scary-horror genre, and that’s the Idiot Syndrome. When a fairly intelligent person–say, a trained police officer–does something incredibly stupid–say, go into a possibly-haunted, definitely-outnumbered asylum looking for a bunch of kids while his flashlight is going wonky and doors are opening all alone–and it makes me want to throw things at the screen. I realize people are that stupid, and in reality, I’m all for those stupid people Darwining themselves out of the gene pool, but really. In a smart show like Supernatural, it’s kind of clunky.

We follow the stupid cop home, where he shoots his wife, and then himself, presumably because of something that happened to him in the asylum.

When we get to Sam and Dean, they’re calling the few family friends they have, looking for word on their father, and nobody’s seen him. While they’re talking, Dean’s cell phone rings, and when he checks it, it’s a text message–coordinates, much like the ones that John left for Dean in the journal in the pilot. Dean checks the coordinates, and finds the matching asylum article in his father’s journal. That’s enough for him; he’s ready to go. Sam protests, and Dean overrules him, saying that it’s a job, John wants them there, and they’re going, end of story. Sam is not happy, but gives in.

Little funny fact: Dean introduces himself as Nigel Tufnel to the policeman’s partner. Nigel Tufnel is the name of Christopher Guest’s guitar player character in the movie This Is Spinal Tap. The band, also called Spinal Tap, has released two albums; Spinal Tap and Break Like The Wind.

The good cop-bad cop routine plays out to perfection here, with the bigger Jared Padalecki doing some fairly convincing manhandling of the physically smaller but more personally imposing Jensen Ackles. I have to admit, this is one non-scare that took me by surprise, because when hands appear in the scene and yank Dean out of his chair, I had to wonder who was suicidal enough to lay hands on the man and why he wasn’t fighting back, until they pull back to reveal Sam, playing the “good cop” and throwing “bad cop” Dean out of the bar.

The tactic works, and Sam–who looks about fifteen and is not carded–buys the policeman a beer and gets the information they need.

I wonder if the fence-jumping is one of those stunt scenes the guys do themselves, because Jensen and Jared are both adamant about liking to do their own stunts.

Anyway. Once they get into the asylum, they start exploring the South Wing, which appears to be the nexus of the haunting. Dean teases Sam about his abilities, calls him Hayley Joel–a reference to M. Night Shymalan’s The Sixth Sense, but is sincerely concerned, reminding Sam that ghosts are drawn to the kind of abilities he’s exhibiting.

Apparently Dean is a Jack Nicholson fan. …why does this not surprise me? First he references “my man Jack” in “Cuckoo’s Nest”–that’d be, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Then, he references “my man Jack” again in The Shining–the second time he’s mentioned that movie, the first being in Home, the previous episode. I’m kinda surprised that Dean’s not a Clockwork Orange fan, but that might be stretching it for the teenage target audience.

Sam isn’t as into Dean’s Jack Nicholson obsession as we are, because he wants to know when they’re going to talk about “it.” It being the fact that John isn’t there. Dean says never, because obviously John wanted them there, and they’d pick up the search later. The argument ends with, “Dad gave us an order” and “Are you always going to do what he says?” The unspoken answer? Yes.

Another nifty little fact: In the doctor’s office, Sam is reading Men’s Health–a magazine that Jared Padalecki has appeared in.

In the asylum, they find a name plate–Chief of Staff, Sanford Ellicott, MD. In the hopes of finding out more information, Sam poses as a patient to Dr. James Ellicott, a psychiatrist and seeing as how this is as close to therapy as any of the Winchesters are ever going to get, I would give every internal organ to know how Sam answered the question that Dr. Ellicott asked him; “This brother you’re road-tripping with… how do you really feel about him?”

But, as always, Sam comes through and gets the information about the asylum–the South Wing was the home of the violent patients, there was a riot, and people were killed, including Sanford Ellicott. The hospital was shut down shortly afterward and the other patients transferred.

When we go back to the asylum we find that it’s being searched again, although not by Sam and Dean. A couple of teenagers, a boy named Gavin and his girlfriend, have broken into the asylum to look around in lieu of a real date. Of course they get separated, and Gavin’s flashlight starts going wonky, just like the policeman’s at the beginning of the episode.

When Dean and Sam get there, the spirit activity is making Dean’s EMF indicator go through the roof. They search the hallway together, but Sam separates to go into one of the rooms while Dean goes further down the hall, looking for more activity.

Sam is the first to encounter the ghosts, and he calls for Dean and the salt gun. Dean shows up just in time to rocksalt the ghost menacing Sam, but then Sam notices something odd–and what he notices is what I was referring to at the beginning of this write-up.

The ghost didn’t attack him.

They don’t make much more of a deal about it until later, but if you’re reading this, you’re going to have seen the episode anyway, so I’ll go ahead and spoil the surprise; the ghosts of the patients aren’t the violent ones. They were abused by the doctor–Sanford Ellicott–and the riot was the patients revolting against the doctor and murdering him and the abusive staff. (Much as they did in House on Haunted Hill, to murder Dr. Vannicut and his staff.) Until this point, we’ve never seen benign spirits in the Supernatural world, and frankly, it’s a concept I like.

Dean does a little bit of meta-referencing that I love, and it quite possibly is my favorite Dean-ism of all time. He asks the girlfriend, Kat, if she’s seen a lot of horror movies, and if she has, to remember them. If someone says a place is haunted? Don’t go in.

Sam finds the boyfriend, and finds out that the ghost he saw didn’t try and attack him, either. It just kissed him, and tried to communicate something, but Gavin ran instead of listening. You can almost see the wheels in Sam’s head start turning.

By the time one of the ghosts manages to separate Dean from the girl, Sam’s got it all figured out. While Dean is trying to get inside and help her, Sam is shouting at her through the door that the ghost isn’t trying to hurt her–which is true–and to just face it, because that’s the only way she’s going to get out. She does, and comes out with “137.” That’s what the ghost whispered in her ear, and that’s what they’ve been trying to communicate. Sam and Dean figure out it’s a room number, of one of the asylum rooms, and they go looking for it.

When Kat is safely released, Dean gives Sam the job of getting the kids out safely while he goes and hunts for the room. Dean finds 137, and it turns out to be Ellicott’s office. In the office, Dean finds Ellicott’s secret hiding place, and a journal that details the horrible vivisection experiments he did on his patients–that would be, cutting them apart while they’re still alive, fun things like that.

Dean makes a call to Sam, but the call is so garbled, all we can make out is that something is coming after Dean in the basement, and he needs Sam to hurry. Leaving the rocksalt shotgun with Gavin and Kat, Sam goes off to rescue his brother.

We see the boiler room again, and we realize that the path Dean was on, and now Sam is on, is the same one that our suicidal cop from the teaser was on, and that we’re getting into dangerous territory here. Sam is repeatedly calling for Dean, and the underscore of dark, slightly panicked music is the perfect creepy-ass touch to the scene. Sam’s flashlight goes wonky, and then completely out, as a door mysteriously opens. Shotgun leading the way, Sam enters only to be ambushed by the ghost of Dr. Ellicott, who creepily tells Sam, “Don’t be afraid, I’m going to make it all better” all the while sucking out his brain energy or something equally as glowy.

Only… Dean’s not in the basement. He’s on his way back to the exit, where he expects to find Sam and no kids. Instead, he finds Kat and Gavin, nearly gets his head blown off by rock salt, and finds out that the ghosts have been making phone calls to Sam to lure him down to the basement. Dean follows, and finds Sam waiting for him. Dean details what he found in the log book; Ellicott was experimenting on his patients, and one of the experiments was extreme rage therapy that only made the patient worse and more homicidal, and Dean figures out that’s what the ghost of Ellicott’s been doing, making people so furious they’re homicidal.

While Dean is searching for the hidden procedure room, where he thinks Ellicott’s remains are, the creepy-acting Sam lingers behind long enough to give the viewer no doubt that he is, in fact, screwed in the head thanks to Dr. Feelgood, as Dean calls him. When Dean does, in fact, find the hidden room, Sam’s… well, not quite possession, but I don’t know what else to call it, takes over.

He tells Dean to step away from the door, ranting about how much he’s tired of taking Dean’s orders, and then shoots him point-blank in the chest with two shells worth of rock salt. Ladies and gentlemen? That would hurt like hell.

The next few minutes are painful to watch; Dean is on the floor in agony, chest full of rock salt, and Sam is still standing over him and ranting, calling him pathetic, saying that Dean has no mind of his own, even insisting that he’s fine, just telling the truth for once in his life. He’s ready to kill Dean, and Dean offers him the nine millimeter pistol from his pocket, telling him real bullets will work a hell of a lot better than rock salt. Sam takes the gun, pointing it between Dean’s eyes, and Dean asks if Sam really hates him that much, if he can live with killing his own brother, to pull the trigger. Sam is fighting it, but eventually, he does pull the trigger, only to have the hammer click on an empty chamber; the gun isn’t loaded. Dean manages to take Sam off his feet, and then knocks him out cold, apologizing softly for punching him before going to hunt Ellicott’s bones for salting and burning.

Dean finds the corpse, fetid and crammed in a small storage cabinet. While he is salting it and dousing it with lighter fluid, his flashlight starts to flicker, which we know now means Ellicott is coming. He tries to attack Dean and prevent him from burning the body, but to no use; Dean throws his lighter on the corpse and sends it up in flames, freeing both himself and Sam from Ellicott’s control.

The episode ends on two notes; one, with Dean–as usual–refusing to talk about what happened. Instead, he tells Sam, “I’m not in the sharing and caring mood, I just wanna get some sleep.” The impala fades out, and it fades in on Dean sleeping in the motel room while his cell phone rings. Sam can’t wake him, so he answers the phone himself–and it’s John. The episode ends with Sam going, “Dad?”

Best Lines:
Dean: Let me know if you see any dead people, Hayley Joel.

Dean: The freaks come out at night.
Sam: Yeah.
Dean: Hey. Sam? Who do you think is a hotter psychic? Patricia Arquette, Jennifer Love Hewitt, or you?

Sam: It doesn’t matter what he wants.
Dean: See? That attitude right there? That is why I always got the extra cookie.

Dean: Hey, I got a question for you. You seen a lot of horror movies, yeah?
Kat: I guess so.
Dean: Do me a favor. Next time you see one, pay attention. When someone says a place is haunted? Don’t go in!

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