Tuesday, April 10, 2012

CULT TV FLASHBACK: Supernatural: "My Heart Will Go On." (April 15, 2011)

In “My Heart Will Go On,” a sixth season episode of the CW’s Supernatural, the Winchester boys learn that Fate Herself (Kate Walder) is out to kill them.  And even more bizarrely, they learn that events surrounding an obscure, century-old ship called Titanic are also playing a crucial role in a series of bizarre, modern-day murders in Pennsylvania and California.

Supernatural’s riff on the Final Destination film series, “My Heart Will Go On” showcases a number of horrific seemingly “accidental” deaths – in garage workshops and at copier machines – that actually represent the handiwork of Fate.   These deaths are eminently gory, and staged in distinctly Rube Goldberg fashion...very much in the same fashion as the FD franchise.  But here, Death is not the responsible party.  Instead, it’s Fate...dressed like a sexy librarian.

Fate is bummed, it seems, because Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki) helped to avert a global apocalypse, and their allies – including the rambunctious Balthazar (Sebastian Roche)  -- have taken to changing the past, an act which is supposed to be forbidden.  Specifically, Balthazar went back in time to save the Titanic from its date with an iceberg by masquerading as a first mate aboard ship named, cheekily, "I.P. Freeley."  Why did Balthazar save the doomed ocean liner from its appointment with destiny?  Apparently, to spare himself from the James Cameron 1997 movie, the song by Celine Dion, and another Billy Zane movie…

Although sarcastic and silly, Supernatural’s “My Heart will Go On” does probe at least one interesting notion.  Specifically that people living a century later remember the Titanic because it sank.  If the ship had not sunk, it would remain an obscurity, just another ship from a century ago, and therefore nothing special.  And in this alternate universe-type story, that’s precisely what happens.  The Titanic is a ship not of dreams, but of history, forgotten by all because it did not sink on that April night. I enjoyed how the episode played with this idea, with Sam and Dean asking people if they'd ever heard of Titanic, and wondering what the big deal about a "boat" could be.  "Does the name Titanic ring a bell?" represents a common refrain.

I'm not a regular Supernatural watcher, but I also noticed that this episode played with the idea of alternate dimensions in other small, nuanced ways.  In particular, Sam and Dean don't drive an Impala in this reality.  That and other small touches make us aware we've slipped into another universe.  I appreciated the attention to detail, and I'm sure that for longtime watchers, the episode's meticulous attention to continuity paid off richly.

Beyond these nice ideas however, I found this episode of Supernatural to be pretty weak, both poorly written and poorly performed.  One egregiously bad scene finds "circus clowns" (as Fate calls them) Dean and Sam trying to avoid Fate's bulls eye.  To the tune of Blondie's "One Way or Another," the duo walks tenderly down a busy street and is faced, one-after-the-other, with every menace known to man, from fierce dogs...to knife throwers.  It's supposed to be funny, but it's so calculated to be funny that's actually just kind of...dumb.  I mean if Fate were actually after you, would you walk between two knife throwers, of find a way to, you know, go around them?

I have a number of friends who swear by Supernatural, but I’m never been a fan of the series  myself.  I’ve only seen about fifteen episodes in total so I cannot ably judge the totality of the program, but sadly “My Heart Will Go On” only reinforces my initial impressions of the program.  In short, this episode highlights a smug air of self-satisfaction, and isn't particularly scary or smart.   Worse, it seems to have an axe to grind.  Cameron’s Titanic sucked, we hear in the dialogue. Celine Dion sucked too.  Oh and Billy Zane sucked as well.  And the movie is only good because of “Winslet’s rack,” according to Dean. 


Everyone is entitled to their opinion of Titanic, of course, but it remains one of the highest grossing 
films of all time, a multiple Academy Award winner, and an undisputed star in the pop culture firmament.  Supernatural is decidedly mean-spirited and self-righteous about Titanic, but actually provides no substantive argument why the film was was such a terrible thing that it deserves to be wiped from our collective history.  The whole episode represents a bizarre ad hominem attack on the 1997 film, and plays more like sour grapes than effective commentary.

In particular "My Heart Will Go On" eagerly gloms onto the idea -- shared by too many fanboys and girls, alas -- that it is somehow “cool” to hate something just because so many audiences actually love that very thing.  Somehow, that feeling of hatred makes these folks in the minority “special” or better than everyone else, I suppose.  They saw through Titanic after all, and that means they have good taste, right?

Also, isn't it a wee bit disingenuous for the writers here to go after Titanic tooth-and-nail, while crafting, essentially, a total knock-off of Final Destination?  There's a cognitive disconnect between a show that bashes Titanic as a bad movie while at the same time it so knowingly and enthusiastically rips off another popular movie.  If you want to prove that Titanic was creatively bankrupt, showcasing a creatively bankrupt rip-off doesn't exactly make the case that your production is better.  But anyway, according to Supernatural, Titanic really, really sucked.  By inference, I guess that means that Supernatural is totally awesome.

I’m sure there’s an alternate universe where that may be true.  But if this episode is any example, it certainly isn’t the one we’re all living in today.  Accordingly, Supernatural's cult-tv take on the Titanic trope is, with a few notable exceptions, dead in the water.


  1. Supernatural has been derivative throughout its run. Even its theology is derivative; put Islam and Jehovah's Witnesses into a blender, season with a pinch of Seventh Day Adventists and Worldwide Church of God, and set it to puree.

    I couldn't watch it with Milady for a long time, because I was irritated at the use of the Bible yet it was all wrong (dangers of studying eschatology and Christian apologetics for almost 25 years). It finally hit me that Supernatural was playing with me some: their Bible isn't our Bible.

    When done right, having their world subtlety different than "the real world" can work well (it's nearly essential in all supernatural horror stories). When it's done wrong, and Supernatural definitely does it wrong, it just feels like they're making it up as they're going along.

  2. Kentucky Packrat:

    I share your low opinion of Supernatural.

    Every episode I've seen -- admittedly not that many -- is downright awful. "My Heart Will Go On" seemed to labor under the pretension that -- in 2011 -- it's somehow daring, timely or avant-garde to criticize Cameron's Titanic. Like THAT's never been done before.

    The whole thing has a smug, self-satisfied, smarmy air to it. And the joke, of course, is that any writer, actor, producer or director working on Supernatural would have given his left nut to work on Cameron's next project...


  3. I tried Supernatural when it first hit home video and quit after a few episodes. It wasn't that I really disliked it, but it didn't engage me as I'd hoped it would and there just seemed like better television to turn to. With shows like these I do wish I had more time just because they will inevitably have great gems for episodes that I'm bound to miss. I know that I eventually have to revisit Millenium which I also didn't give much of a chance back when it started.