There are few things more satisfying than watching a new episode of your favorite show with a bunch of people who share your passion. I was in Minneapolis for a Supernatural convention last Thursday, so of course, I was looking forward to watching the show with fellow fans.
After a few minutes of panic upon finding out that my hotel didn’t even carry The CW, I took to twitter to see if anyone would take pity on me and invite me over to watch. In a city full of fans, that took about ten seconds, so when 7 pm rolled around, I was happily curled up on the sofa in the honors floor suite of some friends’ hotel. We had crackers and cheese and wine and soda and the free buffet that nobody else was apparently interested in – and then the lovely man in charge of the suite kept making us sandwiches and bringing them in for us to try! Ever have those sort of moments when you’re sure that life is too good to be real? This was one of them.
Davy Perez is one of my favorite Supernatural writers, and the previews for ‘Mint Condition’ suggested it would be a fun Halloween-horror-movie-themed episode, but you never know. It turns out, this episode was even more fun than I expected, and an especially good episode to watch with fellow fans. The episode also had some underlying messages that weren’t just there for the fun, which made it a multilayered and sometimes surprisingly meta episode as well.
Perez knows his horror movie tropes, that’s for sure. The episode opens in a comic shop, jam-packed full of superhero lunchboxes and action figures and posters, including one for “Hell Hazers,” the film being made in one of the show’s first meta episodes, Hollywood Babylon. I adore when the show references its own history, so that made me squee out loud for the first time in this episode but definitely not the last. The television in the comic shop is tuned to Shocker TV. On screen, Hatchetman says his signature line “time to slice and dice,” and then the young guy working at the shop turns it off – and proceeds to stuff a brand new Thundercats Panthro figure into his backpack.
Everyone in the room: Uh oh.
We quickly learn that Stuart isn’t exactly a model employee and in fact is given to angry outbursts and ugly and stigmatizing name-calling. Especially when someone accuses him of being weak, as in not being able to beat up Superman.
When I watched this episode live, it was like being taken on a rollicking rollercoaster ride along with my friends, and it was pure joy. On rewatch, the darker themes came through, including some commentary on troll-infested internet culture and the messages about masculinity that can end up being so toxic. Stuart’s barely contained rage when someone threatens his ideas about masculinity (ie, you should be strong enough to beat up Superman or you’ll be a virgin for your whole life) is scarier than most horror tropes in the midst of so much real life violence springing from similar fears and rage. It comes out in Stuart’s treatment of a customer, his outburst at a delayed pizza delivery, and even in his berating fellow players and storming off in the midst of a Fortnite game online. Stuart, for me, hit a little too close to reality for me to stomach him easily. Or feel much sympathy!
But back to the show. Angry Stuart, kicked out by his roommate and back to living in his mother’s basement, regards his stolen Panthro figure. And then it TURNS ITS HEAD!!!! I legit screamed – look, I admit I have a bit of a thing about dolls and figures coming to life. Too many horror movies as a kid perhaps, but OMG there is nothing more horrifying than thinking that’s a possibility. Following the classic horror movie protocol, Stuart leans in close and ASKS the Panthro what it’s doing.
Everyone in the room: NOOOOO! RUN AWAY!!
Of course he doesn’t, and the fierce little (possessed) Panthro beats the crap out of him with its little nunchucks. SO creepy!
Back to the bunker, where Dean Winchester is sprawled out on his bed, socked feet up on the nightstand, head on a pillow watching television and eating pizza. Let me repeat. Dean Winchester is sprawled out on his bed. The camera doesn’t exactly do a slow pan as in that early season’s episode (you know the one, black boxers, tee shirt…) but it’s a nice visual, just saying.
There’s a Hell Hazers III movie ad, which again makes me squee with continuity joy, and then Dean’s Hatchetman marathon continues. Dean repeats the tag line along with the film: “Time to slice and dice.”
Everyone in the room: Fanboy Dean!!
One of my favorite flavors.
Side note: Those socks have chopsticks and takeout boxes on them, and say “SEND NOODS,” much to Jensen’s amusement, he said.
Dean: Oh wow.
Sam: What? Oh. Yes, I shaved.
Half the people in the room: Nooooo!
Other half of people in the room: Yessssss!
Dean: I mean, it’s so smooth…it’s like a dolphin’s belly…
Except he says it soft like “bell-eh” and it’s just so very Sam and Dean, so it made me smile.
Sam shakes his head, indulgent, and pulls up a chair, gently admonishing Dean for hiding out in his room for the past week. Dean protests that their house is full of strangers (which I hate as much as he does), but Sam knows his big brother and casually mentions a case. At first Dean is skeptical, but when Sam plays him a video of Stuart describing his attack by a “killer toy” saying “Panthro kicked my ass,” Dean’s eyes go wide.
Dean: Thundercats? Seriously??
And off they go. (Another nod to canon and show history, since Sam and Dean have been seen watching Thundercats as kids)
When next we see Sam and Dean, they’re on their way to the comic shop – dressed as the consummate nerds. Except on Sam and Dean Winchester, that’s just another way of saying that Jensen and Jared look HOT AS HELL. Short sleeve button-up shirts never looked so good. Sam even has a pocket protector.
I had to squee again when we see that the comic shop has a life size Red Hood figure (which Jensen Ackles posted a photo of on his Instagram during filming, and then wore a full out cosplay for Halloween which just about broke the internet). That was a lovely meta shout out, since Ackles voiced Red Hood for the animated feature. There’s also a poster for “House Of Wax,” the horror movie that Jared Padalecki starred in.
There’s also a fun parallel that goes on in the comic shop, with Dean teasing Sam that Samantha the shopkeeper (in a flannel shirt with longish brown hair) is like his twin.
Dean: Soft, delicate features…luxurious hair…
Everyone in the room: Mm hmm…
They even brush it back at the same time.
Sam gives it right back, saying “If that’s me, that’s you over there” and pointing to Dirk, the other shopkeeper and bona fide geek fanboy. Dean protests that they have zero in common, then proceeds to geek out over a life-size figure of Hatchetman.
Dean: (as joyous as someone coming out of their first photo op with Jensen, Jared or Misha at a Supernatural convention) David Freakin’ Yeager! Dude, I need this, how much?
Sam: (deadpan) Yeah, nothing in common…
Alas, Hatchetman is not for sale, but Dean’s absolute glee is so refreshing.
Both Dirk and Samantha are established as nerds in addition to Stuart, regulars at game night and with an encyclopedic and passion-fueled knowledge of the things they’re fannish about. If Samantha and Dirk (and Dean) weren’t written this way, the episode would have veered close to stigmatizing fans with only Stuart as a representation. As it is, I’m not quite sure why his two friends are so fond of Stuart, but I’ll trust they have their reasons – maybe just that fans don’t give up on other fans and tend to have big hearts when it comes to understanding each other’s imperfections. But having Samantha and Dirk be both geeky and smart and caring and heroic makes the representation of fandom a lot more positive.
Dean can’t help but blurt out that he wants some vintage Hot Wheels when Samantha asks if she can help them, which gave me some nostalgic feels for little boy Dean playing on the floor of some motel room with a McDonald’s freebie and wishing he had a set of Hot Wheels like that kid at school did, and a fancy carrying case to show them off in. Sniff.
Samantha is established as both smart and savvy right away, a subtle eyeroll giving away the fact that she doesn’t quite buy their obvious rockstar aliases. Genevieve Buechner did a fabulous job with this role, making Samantha a memorable character even in the little bit of time we got to see her. She gives Sam and Dean a bit more information on Stuart, including that he’s an internet troll and is now living with his mother.
Dean: (mutters) Of course he is.
That’s a fanboy stereotype, and I tend to bristle at fannish stereotypes, but in this case, Stuart is unlikable enough that it didn’t irk me as much as it might have. I mean, I wouldn’t want to be his roomie!
Sam and Dean, still in their attractive insurance dudes outfits, visit Stuart at his mom’s. She makes them apple cider in a cat mug and a superhero mug (which Dean quickly grabs for himself). Oh, and did I mention that Dean is now wearing glasses??? That was enough to make most of us in the room gasp out loud and then grin from ear to ear.
Sam gets to show off his knowledge of internet culture, and Dean gets to be clueless, which makes for a very Sam and Dean conversation when Stuart says he was playing Fortnite.
Dean: (looks to Sam)
Sam: It’s a video game.
Wordless Winchester conversation is the best.
Stuart: I dumped goth girl before we MIRLed.
Sam: Met in real life.
Dean: Why do you know what that means??
Stuart eventually kicks them out none too gently, his anger problem resurfacing. Sam and Dean wait in the car, Sam refusing to tell Dean why he’s always hated Halloween. Eventually the mom comes out and gets in her car, and the boys realize she’s going to drive right past them – they both slowly lean sideways to get out of sight with the most hilarious expressions on their faces.
Jensen and Jared said that they watched this episode together last week when it aired in one of their trailers, and when they got to that part they laughed so hard – that was an ad lib that they did just as a joke, and they were surprised and overjoyed to see that it made it into the episode! No wonder it was such a funny scene.
Smart!Sam does some research and figures out why Stuart is trying to recant his story of being attacked by the Panthros figure, and we get more underlying commentary. Seems when he posted his video, the online trolls dogpiled in the comments. Trolls with avatars like BroGamer and Trans4ormersLvr call him “Panthro’s bitch,” berate him for probably living in his mom’s basement (which he is) and predict he’ll be a virgin for the rest of his life. Again, negative stereotypes about fanboys, and also the sort of ugly accusations that try to shame men for not performing masculinity correctly. That’s the source of a lot of Stuart’s rage, and we all know what can happen when that rage gets out of control.
Dean: Gotta love the internet, where everyone can be a dick.
At that moment, Stuart runs out screaming and bloodied. Sam helps him while Dean goes in, gun at the ready. He’s dressed in the world’s ugliest jacket and should look ridiculous, but somehow he just looks hot anyway.
We get to see Stuart’s basement room, covered with horror film posters, and just as Dean is admiring a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” poster, a chainsaw flies across the room and embeds itself in the poster. Nicely done meta moment, Davy Perez!
Dean stays with Stuart in the hospital while Sam goes back to investigate, which brings us a scary scene with lots of horror movie vibes. There’s no light, so Sam explores in the dark, and the whole time I was expecting one of the many figures in the room to come to life and attack. Sam was initially nervous too, berating himself with a muttered “Nice, Sam, smooth…” as he stumbles as a result.
Look, Sam, I don’t blame you. It was scary in there!
Meanwhile, Dean bonds with Dirk over their shared love of horror films.
Dirk: (surprised) What are you doing here?
Dean: Keeping an eye on Stuart.
Dirk: Stuart must have awesome insurance…
Dirk gives us our first glimpse of Stuart as something other than a dick, saying that when Dirk’s dad is awful, Stuart lets Dirk stay with him.
Dirk: He has his stuff, but we all do. He’s my best friend.
Dean and Dirk recite the dialogue from the horror film playing on the hospital room TV simultaneously, and both can name all the films in the series. I absolutely love that Dean is a fan and the de-pathologizing that it does when one of the lead characters is allowed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the movies he’s fannish about. So if Supernatural fans also aspire to have that level of knowledge, clearly there’s nothing pathological about it!
This episode was a gift in terms of gaining some insight into the Winchesters growing up, which I always appreciate more than I can even put into words. Dean explains to Dirk, who he recognizes as a kindred spirit in some ways, why he loves horror movies.
Dean: Growing up, it was nice to check out every once in a while. I like to watch movies where I know the bad guy’s gonna lose.
Well, hell. Of course he does. That makes so much sense. It’s an escape for Dean, and also brings a sense of mastery that he rarely gets from his real-life horror movie of a life. This little commentary is so rich, and one of the more serious themes running through this fun-on-the-surface episode. Coupled with Sam’s dismissal of horror movies because “our life is a horror movie,” Dean’s use of these films as a coping strategy makes so much sense. In reality, that is part of why we all watch scary movies – and scary television shows like Supernatural. We don’t have control of so much that’s terrifying in our real lives, so it feels good to lose yourself in a world where the heroes eventually do prevail, and where they “always keep fighting.” I loved Perez’s meta-commentary on fandom and Supernatural in this episode.
Sam leaves Stuart’s room eventually (phew!) and visits the comic shop to see Samantha. She tells Sam that Jordan, the shop owner, recently passed away, and that he had fired Stuart for stealing before he died.
Samantha: What’s that?
Sam: Umm… it’s a carbon monoxide detector…
Samantha: (as it goes nuts) Is that bad?
Sam: Pretty bad…
This whole exchange was hilarious. Jared Padalecki’s comic skills are under appreciated sometimes, and they were in full view here as Sam awkwardly maneuvers to get Samantha out of the shop without telling her there’s a ghost in there with them. Hatchetman appears before he succeeds and knocks poor Sam out.
Samantha: You’re not from an insurance company, are you?
Sam: Not exactly.
OMG, we all laughed out loud.
The resourceful ghost of Jordan has locked them in the shop with a door that’s shatterproof glass, so Sam and Samantha have to get creative. Sam McGyvers a bomb out of cleaning fluids in a freaking Scooby Do lunchbox (more meta nods, thanks Davy!)
As the doors blow out, Sam and Samantha crouch behind a desk and then peek up over the top.
Sam and Sam: COOL
Samantha: Where’d you learn that?
Sam: (deadpans) I had a messed up childhood.
I adored the playful mirroring that went on in this episode. It’s a classic Supernatural trope from the Kripke days, using guest characters to mirror the Winchesters, and I enjoy the hell out of it.
Sam calls Dean to give him the heads up about Hatchetman aka Jordan, interrupting Dean and Dirk gushing over the goriest horror movie deaths (which, gross!)
Dean (ecstatic): Hatchetman is coming here?
Sam: Well, not literally but…
As Dean talks to Sam, Hatchetman walks toward Dean through hospital corridors – on the TV screen in Stuart’s hospital room! So deliciously meta.
At the first sign of doors opening and closing and lights flickering, he doesn’t.
A chase deliciously full of horror movie tropes ensues in the dark and deserted hospital (a trope referred to repeatedly throughout the episode), Dean stopping to break open the fire box and then realizing he can just open it to arm himself with a hatchet. Dirk proves himself a geek with courage by standing up to Hatchetman trying to save Stuart and Stuart’s mom, then swears and runs away. And all this time, the hospital guards sit watching the Hatchetman film on television instead of their monitors – where a Hatchetman in real life is trying to take out Dean, Dirk, and Stuart! It’s absolutely priceless, and we were all enjoying every second, alternately screaming and then laughing as people trip on nothing to fall on their faces and run in slow motion. It’s all so well done, with Amyn Kaderali directing brilliantly and everyone bringing their A games.
Dirk eventually runs to the morgue, which is never a good idea in a horror movie. [And we get a very meta preview for All Saints Day III – The Reckoning]. Hatchetman pops up from a slab because OF COURSE he does, and Dean confronts him, keeping Dirk safely behind him.
Dean: You can let this go and go into the light…. Or I can send you there.
Hatchetman hits the button on his coveralls that says “Time to slice and dice” and Dean grins.
Dean: I was kinda hoping you’d say that.
For the fourth Season 14 episode in a row, we get a fight scene. This one included Dean deploying some handy dandy bedpans, though I’m not sure why those were in the morgue, come to think of it. Eventually, Hatchetman flings Dean to the ground and raises his axe. Dirk proves his bravery again by stabbing the ghost in the back, giving Dean time to get up. But soon Hatchetman immobilizes Dirk and has Dean in a stranglehold.
Sam: Dean, the keychain!
Dean digs it out and tosses it to Sam, Samantha suggests ethyl alcohol as an accelerant, and they burn the keychain, though it seems to take forever. Poor breathless Dean keeps making gestures of hurry up hurry up, and Ackles’ comedic talents made all of us laugh out loud. Poof, Hatchetman goes up in smoke and Jordan goes on to wherever.
Dean: Thanks, man. You got me out here because you wanted to get me outta my funk, to get me a win, and you did. So, thanks.
Sam: I admit it didn’t go exactly like I planned…
Dean: Hey man, I just went toe to toe with David Freakin’ Yeager, and it was awesome!
Sam: It wasn’t really…
Dean: Don’t ruin this for me.
It’s a light moment, but it’s also a serious one between the brothers.
Sam: You gotta stop hiding out in your room. I get it why you’re doing it, I do. But Michael…you said yes for me. For Jack. For family.
At this point, everyone in the room started screaming “YESSSSS” because everyone has been waiting for someone to tell Dean that and it felt SO good to hear it.
Sam: And what happened after, just because Michael was wearing your face doesn’t mean any of this is on you. I don’t blame you, no one blames you. You gotta stop blaming yourself. Please.
Dean listens, and I think he hears Sam. He insists he’s not gonna get over it, but also allows that Sam is right, and promises not to stay holed up in his room.
Dean: Whatever you need, I’m there. All right, Chief?
There’s also a subtle commentary on Dean’s difficulty adjusting to having everyone at the bunker and Sam’s new leadership role running through the episode which reappears here. Earlier in the episode, Sam gets a call from one of the AU hunters and Dean quips “I don’t know who that is.” The AU hunters all call Sam “chief” and see him as the leader, and Dean doesn’t really know his place. To his credit, he’s trying to let Sam know that he’s on board, and that he too respects Sam as a leader.
Sam responds to Dean’s uncharacteristic openness by finally telling him why Sam hates Halloween. Sixth grade crush, Halloween party butterflies, puking all over while bobbing for apples.
Yep, that’s enough of a nightmare to make anyone hate a holiday!
Dean: That’s great!
Of course it’s not, but that’s Dean’s way of trying to take the sting out of a painful childhood memory. Thank you, Davy Perez, for yet another glimpse into the Winchesters’ childhoods. I love knowing about Sam’s sixth grade crush and his anxiety, and I love that big brother Dean came to rescue then too. He comes to the rescue again now in a different way, determined to replace that memory with one that might make Sam smile (even if it’s with an eyeroll).
Dean: Next year, we’re doing Halloween right. Matching outfits. Batman and Robin.
Dean: Bert and Ernie? No, that’s weird…
Dean: Shaggy and Scooby! Rocky and Bullwinkle! Turner and Hooch! Ren and Stimpy! Thelma and Louise…we just put it in drive and go…
We don’t get to be sure, but I’m pretty certain that Sam is finally thinking about Halloween and smiling. We all were too.
There’s a nice little horror movie meta ending, the security guards finding a hatchet and a hammer and a life-size Hatchetman figure on the floor of the morgue, uttering one last “Trick or treat.”
This episode was an absolute treat for me and my friends – it was an hour of pure fun, made even more special because we got to share it. Mint Condition felt like old school Supernatural – Sam and Dean in the Impala, dressing up to play a part, saving the day by being the geeky smart heroes they are, and then sharing some real talk in Baby. I screamed, I laughed, and I got a little misty-eyed once or twice. This is the show I fell in love with, and I’m still in love with fourteen seasons in.
I think I might have gotten a little emotional at some point in the episode and live tweeted my undying love to Davy Perez. Sorry, Davy. But not really.