Supernatural S1E10: Asylum

by thethreepennyguignol

Of all the episodes of this first season of Supernatural, Asylum is the one I’ve been looking forward to most.

I wish I could say that it was because of the deep and resonant emotional themes, or the amazing cinematography, or the subtle yet effective reworking of a classic urban legend or something, but I can’t – I love this episode because it’s just a tremendously fun and well-conceived slice of excellent horror television, and that is always going to hit me right in my yes bone.

When I first starting watching Supernatural, it was because of the promise of horror. And, while there have been a few good genuinely spooky outings this season, Asylum is by far and away the best. It comes from a time before everyone was so horror-literate that no character could fart without making a self-referential meta-comment about it, when horror stories were still just, for the most part, delivered straight, and that’s where I fell in love with horror.

It’s a simple set-up; haunted, abandoned hospital with a dark past contain the spirits of less-than-satisfied patients as well as some very questionable doctors, and ends up influencing the people stupid or unlucky enough to wander inside. So much of this season so far has been set in A House or A Forest or some other generic location that Asylum has a really gritty, nasty feel to it; there’s something about those once-sterile backdrops turned into grimy, dank grossness that really ooks me out (and also serves as the setting for one of my favourite horror movies ever, Grave Encounters, which does a great job expanding that premise into a very entertaining feature if you’re looking for something else similar to this one). Something that was not helped by one of my best friends giving me an in-depth tour of the medical history museum that he works at while I lightly held back my vomit.

Sam, Dean, and two hapless teens (one of them played by Nicholas D’Agosto, who has had a career before and after 2010 but who to me will always be That Guy From Final Destination 5) spend a night in the asylum after the brothers are sent there by their father. And there’s just some really fun horror stuff here: the ghosts are unsettling and serve as a good bait-and-switch for the real antagonist of the physician who treated them, while the special effects actually stand up reasonably well, or at least well enough that the fun plot overrides too much notice of them. Jared Padalecki gets to do his Evil Sam bit (which I am always more convinced of than Good Sam, for whatever that says about his acting talent), and the oppressive, winding walls of the asylum make for a brilliant and genuinely creepy setting. I wouldn’t say this is exactly a re-working of classic folklore as much as a really great version of it, but I’m not mad about that at all when it’s delivered in this slick a package.

Now, I would be remiss to skip talking about John this week, after his huge presence in Home last time around. Because he’s present in this episode again, and particularly, as an antagonist for Sam. He’s pissed this week – pissed that John is still so absent, even after they returned home that week, pissed that they’ve been searching for him for half a year and have still gotten no close to finding him (as far as they’re concerned, anyway). And, like another great episode this season, Bloody Mary, the machinations of the monsters this week allows for us to get a little deeper into Sam’s psyche.

After a botched attempt at treatment from the g-g-g-ghost doctor, Sam turns on Dean. Dean represents everything that’s changed in Sam’s life that he never wanted to change – the loss of his partner, the absence of their father, and their continued fight against the supernatural with seemingly no end in sight. Dean hands Sam a gun and tells him to shoot if he really hates him that much – and Sam does.

Or at least, he tries, but the gun isn’t loaded. But still – what a moment for this show it is. Though Sam is influenced by the spirit, it’s clear that this isn’t all coming from outside forces. It would be a traditional move to have him point the gun at his brother and then dramatically overcome his possession and reclaim himself, but he doesn’t. He straight-up tries to kill Dean. The anger at his father expressed at the start of the episode is starting to sour, and that’s always the most interesting version of Sam.

Anyway. Asylum is great. Dean is bisexual, obviously, because he can light a zippo with one hand, and that’s that on that. But overall, this episode is just a reminder of how hard Supernatural can come out swinging with the horror stuff when it really wants to, and I, for one, am always here for that.

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(header image via IMDB)