Supernatural S1E6: Skin

by thethreepennyguignol

“Oh no,” My partner groaned, when he saw the name of the writer of this episode pop up on screen (well, what he could see of it beyond our two very enthusiastic and very annoying cats, anyway).

“What? What is it?” I asked, battling Casper away from my dinner with my foot. And, with the sonorous seriousness of a man who knows suffering, he replied.

Him.”

The him in question is John Shiban, my partner’s mortal enemy thanks to the X-Files series he wrote over the last couple of years – Shiban is, in this household, a name we do not speak uncensored. He’s the bane of genre TV’s existence, unbelievably terrible and yet just as unbelievably always around. This episode, Skin, is yet another example of just how baffling his involvement in so much brilliant genre TV actually is.

And it’s an especially unflattering episode to come after Bloody Mary, a story that does pretty much exactly what Skin sets out to do, but much better. Bloody Mary finds a way to weave some backstory and character work into the episode’s antagonist in a way that really helps inform Sam as a person and move the plot along, whereas this…has an evil entity take over Dean’s hot sexy form and, in the cardinal writing sin, just Tell Us What He’s Feeling. It’s typical Shiban fare, artless pot-clanging hitting the lower common denominator in the worst way possible.

I mean, in all fairness, that’s far from my main problem with this episode – while the villain who overtakes unfortunate men’s bodies to murder women offers some exceptionally bad character exposition, it also gives Jensen Ackles the chance to ham it up and do the evil thing that he pulls off so well, and that’s at least mildly entertaining in a panto-baddie kind of way. No, by biggest with this episode is that it underlines one of the biggest problems I think I have with the early seasons of Supernatural: the complete ignorance that any women might actually want to watch and enjoy this, and the ability to treat women like more than sexy punchbags as a result of that.

It’s strange to watch these early seasons of the show, especially this first one, and to be reminded that this was really a show that would survive and thrive on the support and adoration that female fans gave to it – not that men don’t enjoy this show too, but the Supernatural fandom that I’ve encountered online has anecdotally been more women than men. There’s this odd sense of performative damselling of women going on here, and this episode is one of the worst for it – the female victims, beaten and tortured, their unharmed tits in a low-cut top framed in the centre of the shot as they weep and bleed and plead for their lives, sexualized but also presented ripe for a heroic male rescue.

It’s like the show did not at all anticipate that putting two hot dudes at the centre of this story was going to attract women, possibly, and never really considered representing them beyond the unfortunately-coded slivers that we glimpse here and there. that the level of detail and screentime that is given to hot chicks getting the shit kicked out of them in cleavage-flashing tops, and it’s all-round Not It.

I expected about what I got from this episode, it being a Shiban special – it’s clunkily written, filled with unfortunate implications, and generally just isn’t a particularly interesting idea executed in a remotely skillful way. It’s probably at the bottom of the pile for this season so far.

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(header image via Dark Matter Zine)