Being on the air for ten years isn’t easy, and every show evolves and grows with time. Supernatural has often struggled in its later seasons, getting bogged down in plots that are too weak to stand up on their own and occasionally forgetting what drew the audience in the first place. This week’s episode, “Halt and Catch Fire,” was a return to the show’s roots; the script could easily have come from Seasons 1 or 2, and that brought a smile to my face. The nostalgia gave the episode a big bump, even if the ghostly subject matter was hokey and unoriginal.
“Halt and Catch Fire” opens with a frat boy being killed via a possessed Siri-style navigation app, which takes control of his truck and drives it off a bridge. The case draws Sam and Dean Winchester to town, where they find themselves immersed in a world of college kids and their electronic toys—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, the works. When a coed is murdered via computer cord and the numbers ‘810’ appear on her laptop, the Winchesters realize that they’ve got a ghost on their hands—one that travels via Wifi signal.
It’s been literally years since Supernatural has had a good old-fashioned ghost story, and it was like shrugging back into a cozy, well-worn sweater for both the show and the audience. Writers Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder have clearly seen Supernatural’s earlier seasons, and the episode is a throwback in a lot of great ways. It was so nice to see Dean eating everything in sight, and hear the brothers bickering back and forth as they tracked down clues. It cracked me that they were using outrageously fake names again (in this case, FBI Agents Grohl and Cobain), and working together to save people and hunt things—you know, the family business.The salt-and-burn ghost killing was extremely common in the first five years of the show, and it’s been sorely missed in these later years. Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles were clearly having a lot of fun treading that old ground again too. In the end, the ghost’s plight helps Dean to realize that he has to let go of his own demons and focus on what makes him happy, which is to fight evil and help people.
“Halt and Catch Fire” isn’t perfect, because it falls back on a horror trope that is dumb and vastly overplayed: the dangers of modern technology. The ghost of the week is seeking revenge on the college kids who killed him in an accident while texting and driving. He’s brought down by an impassioned plea from his widow, via Facetime. It’s a classic I Know What You Did Last Summer scenario, mixed with the 2006 J-horror remake Pulse. While Supernatural has successfully tackled a lot of old horror tropes in its ten years, this particular one falls a little flat, perhaps because the show’s target audience includes the very Millennials that they mock. The vapid students pose for duck-face selfies, say the word “Hashtag” out loud in conversation, and giggle about retweets of each others’ tweets. Needless to say, it’s not the most flattering of portrayals.
While it was amusing that Dean was so hopelessly outdated on technology, Supernatural is smarter than this. And just once I’d like to see a story where social media isn’t demonized as universally awful and useless. I discovered Supernatural thanks to an online group, and the show’s recent success has been, in part, thanks to Nielsen’s recent inclusion of Twitter trends in their ratings data.
I’m a little torn on “Halt and Catch Fire”; while the meat of the story was pretty flimsy and the victims weren’t very memorable (especially compared to last week’s fantastic guest stars), the structure is so wonderful that I’m willing to forgive the weaker parts. Call me a sucker for nostalgia, but being a Supernatural fan hasn’t always been easy for the past few years. We could use more of the good parts of “Halt and Catch Fire”—the classic beats, the funny quips, and the good old ghost stories. If that’s what we get out of Dean’s declaration to return to his evil-hunting roots, then I’m all for it.