TV Review: Supernatural, Episode # 4: "Phantom Traveler"
So, it's a little late in the game for Supernatural's twist on this tale, called "Phantom Traveler." Here, the stalwart Winchester boys - Dean and Sam - investigate the crash of an airplane and discover that a passenger who was possessed by a demon was responsible for the downing of the craft. Now, they must board a plane to stop the demon from doing it again, and even perform an exorcism in midair. Putting aside the fact that the number one movie this weekend, Flight Plan, also concerns terror (of a very different sort) on a plane, one can only conclude from "Phantom Traveler" that the creators of Supernatural are intent (or should I say hellbent?) on taking a tour of horror history's greatest hits. Thus far in the run, we've had a ghost story ("Dead in the Water") a monster in the forest story ("Wendigo") and a Lady in White story ("Pilot"), but none of these are as well-traveled as the in-flight horror. One episode (entitled "Hook Man")- unaired so far - is about a Scream/I Know What You Did Last Summer kind of killer.
"Phantom Traveler" really adds nothing to the sub-genre. And it's only mildly scary. This is the Supernatural rut, I suppose, and it doesn't seem to be improving. Each story so far has followed the same woefully predictable pattern: a supernatural event (like a demon-possessed airline passenger), an investigation which requires the Winchester's to imitate Federal agents (here, from Homeland Security), and then a conclusion in which the monster is vanquished. Seeing this play out for the fourth week in a row, I realized how tired the format is, and how desperately the series' needs a twist; a way to break free of it. Horror isn't scary if it's always predictable, and follows the same pattern. Again, I'm reminded of Tru Calling, a flawed series which received bad reviews but was actually far superior to this drama. By the middle of the first season, Tru Calling's writers were going nuts, stretching their badly limited format in ways that, quite frankly, were crazy and inspiring. I loved their leap of faith; I loved their cajones. As a result of stretching their format, the writers made Tru Calling required viewing, just so I could see what they were going to do next. Granted, Supernatural is only in its fourth episode here at "Phantom Traveler," but somebody needs to shake it up.
What would I do? I'd kill one of the leads, and replace him with a more interesting character, probably someone a good deal older. My choice for the chopping block would be Sam, played by Padalecki. He just doesn't contribute much, except earnestness, to the format. If they can't kill him, they need to add a third character, someone who does things differently. I personally think they'd benefit from a partner who is someone like Quint from Jaws. An experienced, colorful old guy who doesn't mince words.
Last night, as my attention waned and "Phantom Traveler" went on its merry but predictable way, my feelings about Supernatural came into clarity. It's nothing but a boy band horror show; it's teen pop. Supernatural is tailor-made for sixteen-year-old girls who nothing about horror TV history. With its hunky but callow lead actors, it's content to recycle old pop tunes (horror cliches) rather than stretch to include any new or revolutionary material.
Supernatural: the Hanson of horror television. If you can enjoy it on those terms, have at it.
One more week before I bail out.