Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 2.18: Hollywood Babylon

This entry is part 18 of 21 in the series Supernatural Season 2

By Paula R. Stiles

[spoilers ahoy]

Tagline: The brothers are off to Hollywood, where Dean discovers the joys of being a PA and they both find a case on the set of a low-rent horror flick.

Recap: No previously recap. To ominous music, a pretty young woman in a tight shirt and jeans exits a dark cabin at night with a flashlight. She’s calling for her friends, Mitch and Ashley. She’s scared, but trying to be brave as she heads toward a nearby windmill. Somebody grabs her shoulder from behind. It’s another friend, Brodie, and he’s freaking out. She tries to calm him down, but he insists that they’re all screwed and continues in his meltdown apace. Even as she insists that they have to find her sister (probably the aforementioned Ashley), he runs off. She yells after him, then sobs a little, at a loss what to do next. Something rustles behind her and she turns around. She starts screaming, but it doesn’t go well and she revs down into a cough. At that moment, the scene switches to three cameramen standing in front of her with a camera that has a yellow tennis ball on it, a director yells, “Cut!” and reams her out for not doing a better screen. This is a set and they’re filming a horror movie.

The actress’ name is ‘Tara Benchley’ and she’s having trouble getting up a good scream. It seems that the tennis ball (intended to mark where the CGI monster will be inserted in post-production) is throwing her off her game. The director gives her a pep talk then goes off to prepare another take. She sits down in her chair to regroup, but her concentration is thrown a bit by an older guy with wild, hippy hair regaling another actor with tales of a cursed set. The young man is skeptical, but Tara’s looking a little bit as if she believes it; the old guy, “Frank Jaffe”, is that good. Frank insists that he always hurries home after the set is wrapped because he’s sure the place is haunted. After he leaves, the actor laughs it off as insanity. Tara laughs, too, but looks as though she believes it a little bit.

Later, she’s out in a deserted part of the set (which is freakin’ huge), practicing her scream. It doesn’t go well until she hears someone choking and groaning nearby. Thinking it’s a practical joke, she investigates, growing more and more uneasy. So, she’s primed for a freakout when she first has a hat fall from the rafters to the ground in front of her. She looks up and sees two things – a ghost flicker and disappear then, just below it, Frank’s bloody and wide-eyed body lying on the scaffolding. She lets out a good, loud scream, which prompts the director to yell from his spot on set, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

Cue fiery, season-two title cards.

Cut to a cloudy day on a backlot in Hollywood, where Sam and Dean are taking the guided trolly tour. Dean mentions to the fat kid with the ice cream sitting next to him that they filmed Creepshow there. The kid just gives him a fish-eyed look. Sam, who is sitting in front of him, gets all paranoid when he hears the guide mention they’re passing the set of (then-still-running) show, Gilmore Girls, and might run into one of the stars. Jared Padalecki, of course, played an ongoing role on that show as “Dean” before he switched over to Supernatural (Jensen Ackles jumped Smallville‘s ship for Supernatural). As he leaves, the tour guide talks about the set for Lois and Clark, another Superman-themed show like Smallville.

Dean is unhappy that Sam wants to leave the tour and even less happy when Sam wants to go scope out “stage nine”. It seems Dean wanted them to come to Hollywood for a vacation and Sam wants to work a job (the one in the teaser). Dean talks about “movie stars and swimming pool weather” and Sam sarcastically notes that the weather is “practically Canadian”. Seems Dean thought Sam could use a vacay after “Heart” and Sam wants to forget about his werewolf girlfriend by working, instead.

Moving on to the case, Sam says the rumours about Doomed Teaser Set Guy’s death are all over the Internet, with reports that the place is haunted. Dean compares the hunt to a popular modern legend, known as the “Poltergeist Curse“, that was sparked by the deaths of four actors who appeared in the three Poltergeist films (Sounds like a version of “The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb“, which is also the title of an okay B-movie with Casper Van Dien). The version Dean relates links the deaths to the use of real human bones on the sets for the movies. To Dean’s disgust, Sam has no idea what he’s talking about, thus launching an infodump, but once Dean explains the legend, Sam agrees it could be like that.

Dean encourages Sam to bring him up to speed on the hunt. When Sam mentions Tara’s name, Dean gets all fanboy. Seems he has a bit of a celebrity crush on her.

On the set, a sleazy producer (played by genre vet Gary Cole with nasty verve) is telling the director that the film cinematography needs to be lightened up because it’s too dark (a reference to studio complaints that season one was also too dark). When it’s pointed out to him that this is a horror flick, he brightly replies that this doesn’t mean it can’t be a bit more colourful. Glancing over, he sees the brothers walking in and mistakes Dean for a PA (production assistant). Calling him over, he sends Dean off for a smoothie. Dean has no clue what he’s talking about, but Sam (who went to school in California) does. He rushes up and assures the guy they’ll take care of it. As they leave, the clueless producer makes a snotty comment about dumb PAs, having no idea that Dean doesn’t work there. The brothers have their undercover in to the set.

Later, Dean uses a tray of smoothies as cover to check out the scaffolding with an EMF meter. Meanwhile, Tara and the others are doing a take in which her character, Wendy, decides to read Latin from an old book, just for giggles (Somebody has neither read Lovecraft nor seen any of the Evil Dead films): “Contra omnipotentem obsecro hos manes ut iuxtam accedent et fiant voluntas meam vi enoch ego. Contra omnipotentum obsecro cum spiritum iuxta accedent et fatum meum…(I invoke against the Almighty these spirits so that they may come near and do my bidding, from the power of Enoch. I invoke against the Almighty when those of the spirits draw near and my fate….)”

Up in the rafters, Dean finds no EMF, including at the supposed scene of the crime. Later, at the catering table, while people like a short, bespectacled guy (Walter) who is supposedly working catering (because Dean compliments him for the food) pass by, Dean extols the joys of the cuisine to an impatient Sam, who is grossed out by Dean’s eating. Personally, I’ve always found Sam’s fastidiousness about food to be a bit unrealistic. He’s a huge young guy who grew up extremely poor. It doesn’t make sense that he’s such a picky eater.

Sam says he found out that Frank Jaffe was only filling in that day. No one on the set knew him. However, the set does have an ugly history – four people have died violently there in the past eighty years, two of them suicides and the others accidents. Dean decides he’s going to follow up on that…by grabbing a script off a hapless female assistant (who isn’t hot) and approaching Tara, all starry-eyed. When Tara looks up, her startled look and dawning smile indicate she likes what she sees (One would wonder about her if she didn’t).

Dean fanboys a bit and then gets down to business – quizzing her in an awkward way about seeing the ghost and discovering Frank’s body. She’s hesitant at first, but he gets her to tell him what happened. She talks about seeing Frank with blood coming out of his mouth and eyes, and also a “shape”, though she’s not at all sure what that was. When Dean asks her about Frank, she admits that she didn’t know him very well and Dean notes that everybody said that. But then Tara admits she has a hobby – taking Polaroid photos of the crew. And she has one of her with Frank. Whom Dean recognizes.

At “Frank’s” apartment (His real name is ‘Gerard St. James’), Sam gets no joy with confronting him directly, so Dean gets them in the door with more fanboying. Dean remembers every one of the guy’s bit roles in low-budget horror and action flicks. With the right amount of buttering up, St. James happily admits that he was brought in to produce “buzz” by playing a dead guy. The “ghost” was a projection. After awkwardly taking the guy’s brochure for his role as Willie in Death of a Salesman, the brothers make their exit.

Back on the set, the sound guy hears weird growling in a scene where two characters are arguing about whether the chant Tara’s character made in the previous scene brought back spirits from Hell, so they have to do another take. The producer, Brad, questions the director (named after real-life Supernatural producer MG) about the logistics of summoning demons: “How do they hear the chanting in Hell?” The director has no answer to that and thinks it’s a stupid question, tossing it over to the scriptwriter, Marty, who dismissively says they could just “throw in an explainer.” I believe we call that, in print fiction, the “infodump”.

Unaware he’s being stalked, Brad goes off to an isolated part of the set to make a call (despite having his Bluetooth stuck in his ear for most of the shoot). The stalker is a young woman in black-and-white, wearing a bathrobe and sporting rope burns around her neck. When Brad makes critical comments about her “makeup” and turns around to call someone about it, she flickers forward and appears right behind him, touching his shoulder. Yup. She’s a ghost. A real one. When he turns around again, she drops her bathrobe with a sinister smile. Underneath, she’s naked. Mesmerised, he watches her climb up into the scaffolding and follows her. A moment later, in the middle of the filmed explainer about how the demons can “hear the chanting,” because they’ve got “superhearing”, Brad’s dead and twitching body drops through the roof of the house, hanged by a rope. His Bluetooth drops to the floorboards, emitting a busy signal.

This death scene (as well as Frank’s fake death scene) appears to have been inspired by an urban legend about a lovelorn munchkin or stagehand hanging himself onscreen during one of the forest scenes in Wizard of Oz. This appears to have been a mis-identification of a bird figure as a hanging dead body and the studio fostered the controversy over the years.

Cut to another scene in the film, where Wendy enters the cabin and has a reunion with the two people she was searching for in the teaser (These appear to be her boyfriend and little sister). Behind the camera, Marty and one of crew are having a whispered conversation about whether it’s “too soon” since Brad’s “suicide” to continue filming, with little feeling about his death on either side. In front of the camera, Tara flubs a line and asks for a cut, which the director agrees to. Then we see Dean, all geared up as a PA and eating off a plate, bellowing out the news to the rest of the set.

As Dean watches, amused and cynical, the director and writer talk about Tara’s belief that using salt against ghosts is silly and not scary enough. Should they use some other condiment? Marty suggests shotguns, which the director thinks is even dumber. But this doesn’t stop Observant Dean noticing how upset this is making Walter, the food guy he and Sam bumped into at the catering table. He’s muttering about how it’s all wrong and Dean wonders why he’s got such a bug up his butt.

Sam comes in and immediately assumes that Dean has been screwing around (because Dean always does that – wait, no he doesn’t) instead of working, largely because Dean keeps talking over his headset to invisible people. It seems that Dean has already fully assimilated into his new job as a PA on only his second day, and is enjoying it thoroughly. For his part, Sam has been over to the morgue to confirm that Brad is, indeed, a “doornail”. Dean then surprises Sam by having done some research of his own, via the connections he’s already made on set. For example, he’s already sussed out the weird noise that had ruined the take we saw before. When Sam listens to it, they both agree that it’s EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon).

Dean then shows Sam the film footage of Brad’s death, which he got through one of his on-set contacts. Sam notices a female figure in a dress standing in one corner of the room. She wasn’t there during filming. Dean mentions a case of a scene from Three Men and a Baby, where a boy nobody could identify was standing near a window in the back of one scene (It was later determined that this was a cutout figure of one of the actors, which was part of a subplot that was left out of the final version of the film).

After being emphatically proven wrong about Dean slacking off, Sam has another contribution – he recognises the ghostly female. Her name was ‘Elise Drummond’. A Hollywood starlet from the early 1930s, she had an affair with a producer, who then dumped her and ruined her career. In despair and revenge, she hanged herself from the scaffolding on that very set, dropping into the middle of a scene being filmed (The Wizard of Oz story again).

That night, the brothers go out to the cemetery where Elise is buried, to salt and burn her bones. Meanwhile, one of the producers is leaving after a cheerful “You’re kickin’ it in the ass!” (an injoke reference to director Kim Manners) to the director. But later, he’s seen calling another producer, “Bob”, about the director’s performance. After a similarly cheerful sendoff, he hangs up and mutters another curse about that one, too. So, a smiling backstabber, this one.

At that moment, the lights go off. He calls out to the crew (He’s still on the set, in the middle of the woods), but no one answers. As the brothers dig up Elise Drummond, and salt and burn her, another ghost appears to the producer, this time a hideously disfigured man with a split head. At first, the producer thinks it’s a crewmember and asks him for directions out. When the ghost doesn’t answer, he yells at it – untiil it turns around and he sees its true face before it disappears. He tries to run away, but a huge fan turns on, nearby. The treacherous producer is sucked, screaming, into the fan and turned into dogmeat, which splashes onto a nearby white screen.

Cue a cheesy preview for Hell Hazers II: The Reckoning, with the captions: “They never forgive. They never forget. And this summer, they’re coming back again to settle the score…again. From the producers of Cornfield Massacre, Monster Truck and the director of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Hell Hazers comes a new experience in terror: Hell Hazers II: The Reckoning.” There are several injokes here, the first two titles being references to episodes “Scarecrow” and “Route 666″ (as well as a clip from “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things”, which is an early hint of the episode’s MOTW). Kim Manners used to direct the original Charlie’s Angels series. And several of the crew in the credits (like Serge Ladouceur and Jerry Wanek) are real crew on the show. The plot is directly ripped off from the first two Evil Dead films and has the same plot – a group of dumb, pretty teens go to an isolated cabin. They read from an old, cursed book and summon demons from Hell. How dumb are they? They do it twice.

The next day, the director gets out of his banana-yellow car at the set to call all the crew together. He tells them that the set has been shut down while police investigate the murders of the two producers (which means they’re all laid off for the time being). Meanwhile, Sam identifies the producer’s death as being like the one suffered by a crewmember in the 1960s, a Billy Beard. I’m guessing Billy was the one who fanned the producer the night before.

Later, in a production trailer where the brothers are apparently squatting, Sam has been looking through six hours of footage to try to spot another ghost image. Nothing yet (except that Sam has realised that the movie really “sucks”). Dean comes in to report that Billy Beard was cremated. Hmmm. Then Sam gets to the part where “Wendy” is reciting in Latin and realises that she’s reading a genuine necromantic ritual. What’s that doing in the script?

Off the brothers go to see Marty the writer (The fan-chopped producer, Jay, is already getting his name scraped off his door). Pretending to be a fan of the script, Sam asks Marty where he got the ritual. And the truth comes out. Marty wasn’t the first writer. That was Walter, the “PA” Dean thought was in charge of catering. It seems Walter wrote all the rituals and a very out-there script, which Marty hacked to pieces. The “Latin crap” that’s still in the script is all that’s left of Walter’s script and he’s only allowed on set due to a clause in his contract.

So, the brothers get a copy of the original script (called “Lord of the Dead“) – and Dean likes it a lot better. Sam does, too, before pointing out that it reads like a black-magic manual for summoning ghosts to do your bidding. Walter’s a practiced necromancer and their new prime suspect. This would be similar to the necromantic rituals I mentioned in my review of “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things”, where the spirits of those untimely killed can be forced to do the bidding of the living via curse tablets, until the time of their normal lifespans (had they not died before their time) has expired.

On the set, Marty is showing up for a meeting with Walter. After they trade a few insults and Marty mocks Walter’s obsessive attention to detail, Walter lifts a circular talisman, not unlike the one the preacher’s wife had in “Faith”, and starts reciting a slightly different version of the spell Tara had previously recited: “Contra obsecro hunc spiritum iuxta ad facientum voluntatem meum (I invoke this nearby spirit to do my will”).” Rolling his eyes, Marty terminates the meeting and turns to leave. When he comes face to face with Billy Beard, he shrieks in terror and the fan turns on.

This time, we see Billy as he drags his victim toward the fan. Walter taunts Marty, telling him he’s going to find out what it’s like to be a ghost very soon. Then a shotgun blast dissipates Billy and Dean appears over Marty (who is very impressed by this particular PA), while Sam turns off the fan. Furious, Walter temporarily retreats up the scaffolding when Sam comes after him. He’s pretty obsessed, feeling that his years of hard work have been destroyed and sullied by Hollywood (It’s never explained how this Lovecraftian character got into necromancy, not exactly an innocent practice, in the first place). Now he wants revenge on everyone whom he feels wronged him. He has nothing against the brothers, but he won’t let them get between him and his prey (Marty), either. Sam’s statement that it’s only a movie and not worth people’s lives (and his warning that black magic is extremely dangerous to the wielder) has no effect, nor does Dean’s assertion that they have to save Marty, even though they don’t like him very much.

Walter then starts reciting one last spell: “Manes omnes ad me venite (All spirits come to me).” There’s a screaming and the ground rumbles. Then three spirits appear – Billy in the middle, a man in 20s dress with a mangled arm, and a burned woman in a dress (Elise, having been salted and burned, can no longer be invoked). Dean lifts his saltgun as they advance, but then they disappear. Sam abruptly gets tossed across the clearing and Dean runs to him, yelling for the three of them to head for the cabin. He’s not happy to find out that the cabin only has three sides. While Marty is getting himself up to speed with the whole “ghosts are real” thing, Sam has an idea: If the ghosts appeared on film, maybe they’ll appear on the digital camera in his pocket. He successfully guides Dean to shoot two nearby spirits before passing off the camera to Marty and going after Walter, who is scampering around the rafters.

Sam catches Walter when he tries to escape through a side door from the lot. When Sam demands that Walter hand over the talisman, Walter instead smashes it on the ground, so that nobody else can have it. Sam is horrified, but not because he’s in danger. He tells Walter that he’s just freed the ghosts and now they’ll want revenge. The brothers won’t be able to stop them in time. At that moment, Marty and Dean burst through the door and the (invisible )ghosts knock Walter down. As Marty watches through the digital camera and Dean goes for more shotgun shells, the ghosts tear Marty apart.

Cut to a scene from Hell Hazers II, where “Wendy”‘s sister and boyfriend shoot ghosts and drop infodump. The director is very, very pleased with this new addition to the script, while Sam is disgusted with what Marty’s done with his knew knowledge of life after death. Marty is unrepentant. And Dean is busy. Notice how Tara was missing from that scene? That’s because she and Dean are sharing an enthusiastic afternoon quickie in her trailer. Sam arrives just in time to see Dean walking out, looking very satisfied, and Tara appearing in a bathrobe in the doorway, looking equally satisfied. She tells him he’s “one hell of a PA.” As Dean scores a last bit of free food, and eyes up one last pretty girl, the brothers exit in the rain past a fake sunset into a real one…maybe.

Review: Supernatural has been hit-and-miss with its frequent assault on TV’s fourth wall. This early Ben Edlund entry is more hit than miss, though it falls into the middle, along with last week’s entry, in terms of fan love. I’m surprised more people haven’t recognised that it’s an homage to Sam Raimi and the Evil Dead series. As such, yup, we’re back in Mythos territory, albeit in the hinterlands and by proxy. We’ve got the obsessed necromancer, the cursed book, knowledge that is dangerous even to possess (let alone invoke), all Mythos golden oldies. And we’re back in the territory of GrecoRoman necromancy and spirit manipulation that was plowed so viciously in “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things”.

This is also the third episode of the show that I ever watched. As I’ve noted, the first one I saw was “No Exit” and I nearly didn’t come back. “Houses of the Holy” came up next and I liked it a lot, but hey, that could have been a fluke. “Hollywood Babylon” cemented my opinion that I needed to go down the local Blockbuster and start renting season one, starting (fortuitously) with the disk containing “Faith”, “Scarecrow”, “Home”, and “Asylum”. And it’s all been out into the cornfield since.

The center of the plot is a movie within an episode: A group of idiotic young people use a spell that starts to pick each one of them off. It turns out to be a movie called “Hell Hazers II: The Reckoning“. The screenwriter is pissed off that his beautifully researched tale has been ripped to shreds and turned into a low-budget teen screamer. Eh, okay. Maybe I’m old and jaded, but as long as I get paid (Have you seen how much they pay for a script that gets made into a film?) and can move on to other projects, I could probably live with that. Plus, as Dean points out, the guy is a dangerous and unstable amateur (Lovecraftian theme ahoy), who is using real black magic as a way to get ahead, first to make his story more “authentic” (thus inadvertently creating the movie version of a cursed tome) and then to get petty revenge on those he feels has wronged him by turning his “masterpiece” into an abomination. Never mind that his masterpiece was an abomination.

The ghosts are also really creepy. Some nice evocation of Hollywood haunted legends, there. I might have liked to have seen a bit more of them, but it was nice to see a better follow-up than in “Long Distance Call” (which I reviewed last week). In this case, the initial mystery had a better connection to what was really going on. Well, that and Ratner does a good angry little writer guy.

The episode has an interesting twist on the brothers, a little similar to “Everybody Loves a Clown”, in that Sam and Dean find themselves in a group of decidedly odd and self-absorbed people. Sam then finds himself being treated like a freak for real (or at least a geek) and doesn’t like it one bit, while Dean settles into his temporary role as PA with eerie grace. It’s almost like watching a lion fade into the grass. Such an irony that he is used as a model at the end for the movie’s new take on magic and those fighting it – with saltguns. Even more ironically, it’s white magic, this time.

Less successful is the parody of Hollywood producer types and the mockery of Brad’s literal interpretation of the horror movie rules. First off is the cynical satire on Hollywood. Wink-wink-nod-nod satire about Hollywood always strikes me as a bit boring. It’s like the hooker trope in Canadian cinema. I mean, yes, the first of those films were compelling and sad, but ultimately, just how many indie flicks can you put out about drug-addicted transients on the Downtown East Side of Vancouver before it gets old? Especially when you consider that such films are loaded with self-inflicted wounds and self-involved characters.

It’s the same here, though at least I found it more amusing in “Hollywood Babylon” than the tired North Hollywood retread of it in “The French Mistake”. My main problem with it that Edlund has a tendency to write one-dimensional caricatures in his comedy episodes who then overstay their welcome far past the punchline. In this case, I thought Marty, in particular, should not have survived the episode. I didn’t like him and didn’t get enough depth or even comedy from him to want to see him prevail (even if I thought Walter was completely off his rocker and needed to get a life). This was particularly annoying because, while Dean’s turn as a PA was an extended and hilarious joke that kept on giving, we had so much of the producers and director yakking at each other that I started to wonder who this Sam Winchester guy was. Aside from playing straightman to Dean, tossing in some infodump, and verbally tackling Walter at the climax, Sam really didn’t get much to do in “Hollywood Babylon”. And considering he’d been living in California for years not long before the episode, that seemed like a lost opportunity.

Then there’s the whole author-insert rant about horror movie rules. Now, is Brad an idiot? Absolutely. But he does have a point – even fantasy (and that includes supernatural horror) must have internal rules which it follows in order to work. The show’s problem, which has come up again and again, is that it often doesn’t follow its own rules, thus confusing the audience and lowering a tolerance for plots that don’t appear to be going anywhere, or worldbuilding that isn’t signaled with heavy loads of infodump, or characters that don’t start off on the right foot. See, if you stick to your own rules, then you imply a whole lot more and get away with it because the audience can reliably infer what’s going on.

The show’s other problem is that the Hell Hazers director (here representing the showrunners) doesn’t understand why Brad is an idiot because there are excellent answers within the mythology itself to Brad’s question. For a simple start – Hell is not generally considered by theologians to be a literal place but a metaphysical one. As such, both Hell and Heaven are connected to the earth in ways that make it easy for their denizens to hear the doings on earth, including invocations from mortals. Depending on the theology, Heaven may be nearer (GrecoRoman) or farther (abrahamic) from earth than Hell. Heaven is way up there in the sky while Hell is not so much six leagues under as immediately underfoot. So, yeah, the demons in Hell can hear an invocation because they are not distant at all. In some very significant ways, they are close as the closet, as the next room, and can hear everything you say. That’s the real reason why they are so dangerous.

Where does this come from? It comes from mythology, theology and folklore. I’m guessing I’m one of the very few here who’s actually taken Patristic Latin, but I’m sure some of you have heard of Church Fathers like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, who spent a lot of time dissecting these questions with scientific precision. Yes, somebody actually thought these things through, in addition to the general consensus attained in folklore by people who came up with these stories to explain their world and why it worked. Magical systems don’t exist in a vacuum.

Another possible answer could have been that using a sacred language like Latin to invoke beings is perceived as especially dangerous. This is because it’s strong magic, in and of itself, and perverting sacred language (which should be white magic) to black-magical ends has a massive backlash. Using Latin to address a demon is a lot like adding kerosene to a fire – or clanging a dinner bell practically in a demon’s ear.

In other words, dismissing the need to have these rules make sense within your story is as dumb as being overly literal about their interpretation. There are perfectly good answers you can use that are much more persuasive than “It’s only a movie/TV show.” Would Brad have been smart enough to get any of that? Unlikely. But since the whole thing was a double stab at clueless producers and the part of the audience that expects a little consistency in the show’s worldbuilding, it’s disingenuous to use a fictional character’s built-in, strawman stupidity as a copout.

In the end, it’s a funny romp through Hollywood, with some sharp jokes and some satire that falls flat. Also, the movie-within-an-episode format works very well (Hell Hazers is both hilariously bad and entirely plausible as something you might see on “Syfy’s most dangerous night of television”) and half the Supernatural crew must have been laughing and cringing at the various PAs Jensen Ackles channeled in “Hollywood Babylon”. Finally, the episode produced a classic blooper for the reel from the scene at the end when Dean comes down the steps of Tara’s trailer (and Ackles falls right out of frame in the blooper): “I’m like a cat; I always land on all fours.”/”You’re one hell of a PA!”

Fun lines:

Sam: Dude, you wanted to come to LA.
Dean: Yeah, for a vacation. I mean, swimming pools and movie stars. Not to work.
Sam: This seem like swimming weather to you, Dean? I mean, it’s practically Canadian.

Dean: So, this crew guy, what did he – did he die on set?
Sam: Yeah, rumours are spreading like wildfire online. They’re saying the set is haunted.
Dean: What, like Poltergeist?
Sam: Could be a poltergeist.
Dean: Nonono, the movie Poltergeist. [off Sam's blank look] You know nothing of your cultural heritage, do you?

Dean: What’s a PA?
Sam: I think they’re kinda like slaves.

Sam: So, what do you think?
Dean: Well, I think being a PA sucks, but have you seen the food these people eat? I mean, look at these things – they’re like miniature Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. They’re delicious!

Brad: If the ghosts are in Hell, how do they hear the chanting?

Dean: Hey, we gotta go check out Johnny Ramone’s grave when we’re done here.
Sam: You wanna dig him up, too?
Dean: Bite your tongue, heathen!

Sam: Maybe the spirits are trying to shut down the movie because it sucks. ‘Cause, I mean, it kinda does.

Walter [to Marty]: We could’ve gotten it right for the first time ever in this whorehouse of a town…but you tore it to shreds.

Marty: You are one hell of a PA!
Dean: Yeah, I know.

Dean [sarcastically quoting Bruce Willis in Die Hard while he loads a salt shell]: Come to the coast. We’ll get together. Have a few laughs!

Marty: I cannot believe there’s an afterlife!
Dean: Oh, there’s an afterlife, all right. But mostly, it’s a pain in the ass!

Sam: You find out there’s an afterlife and this is what you do with it?
Marty: I needed a little jazz on the page.

Next Week: Wishful Thinking: For Boxing Day, we cover a season four episode in which Sam and Dean investigate a town where wishes come true.

On January 6: Adventures in Babysitting: Sam tries to help a soiled dove with a truck stop problem, while Dean babysits a young girl, the daughter of a missing hunter [Ian Tracey].

You can watch (or download) this episode, in standard or HD definition, on Amazon.com.

About Paula R. Stiles

Paula is not at all paranoid about government conspiracies after six years in EMS, two years in Africa for the Peace Corps, a few summers with the Park Service, and ten years studying the Knights Templar. She's seen governments in action. They couldn't cover up a toy picnic table, let alone evidence of alien visitation. Writes about science for fun, history for money, and zombies for the company. You can read her sober-as-a-judge book about Templars in medieval Spain, Templar Convivencia, on Amazon. You can find her homepage at: http://thesnowleopard.net.

Paula R. StilesRetro Recap and Review: Supernatural 2.18: Hollywood Babylon

7 Comments on “Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 2.18: Hollywood Babylon”

  1. shamangrrl

    I really enjoyed this one, and I really enjoyed watch JA enjoy himself in this one. You could see that he was having a blast, and that always carries over into the feel of the episode. Some parts were silly, but overall, this one really worked for me. I even enjoyed Sam in this one, because it seemed to me that he was floundering, as much over having to “work” on the movie, as over Dean’s ease with fitting in. And I always find that funny, because while Sam often doesn’t seem to think much of Dean, when push comes to shove, Dean is the one who fits better than Sam, and I get a perverse enjoyment everytime Sam gets slapped in the face with that fact.

    Comparing this one to future “humorous” episodes, I also like the fact that it was balanced in it’s treatment of poking at both fans and industry folk. I felt that balance got further out of whack with every humorous episode, until the last several left me cold and quite annoyed. I love the show, but I’m not a basement dwelling freak with no social skills, less than a firm grip grip on reality, and an unhealthy obsession with the guys. I feel that the rips against the fans have become increasing mean-spirited and personal.

    This one was a joy, and definitely made it to my rewatch list.

  2. Ginger

    I think I need to watch this one again to understand all that your recap entails. I honestly don’t remember it that well. This, though, pinpoints what I mean when I speak of SG’s inadequacy as a showrunner:

    “The show’s problem, which has come up again and again, is that it often doesn’t follow its own rules, thus confusing the audience and lowering a tolerance for plots that don’t appear to be going anywhere, or worldbuilding that isn’t signaled with heavy loads of infodump, or characters that don’t start off on the right foot. See, if you stick to your own rules, then you imply a whole lot more and get away with it because the audience can reliably infer what’s going on.

    While I realize this was a problem even with EK, it’s just more apparent nowadays what with the characters being all over the place as the plot requires and combined with all the other problems that seem to have a bright glare to them.

    I didn’t particularly like this episode the first go-around, but found it better on the rewatch. Didn’t this one immediately follow that wonderful “Heart” episode? I remember liking Dean, and how he immediately fit in, and I kind of liked how they made fun of the producer/directors. I did like the movie within concept. Like Shamangrrl, I always like it when misfit, quick on his feet Dean is the one who readily adapts to any situation, while Sam is just uncomfortable.

    Excellent review, Paula. I’m going to watch this one again and re-read this recap. What can I say besides I didn’t mind this one and it certainly wasn’t a slap in the fans’ faces like Becky in Time for a Wedding. I’m still not over that piece of work.

    1. Paula R. Stiles

      @shamangrrl
      Ackles looked as if he was having more fun than a barrel full of drunk monkeys. Just goes to show that you have to watch yourself with talented actors, as they’re like children–you don’t know when they’re watching you and what they might pick up from your behaviour. Writers do it, too, but it’s somewhat easier to explain it away in a book.

      @Ginger
      In Gamble’s defense (yeah, again), plotholes build up over time and it can be hard to fix inconsistencies in worldbuilding, without clearing the decks completely, in the seventh season. And I remember Kripke not only admitting, but bragging, as early as season three that he didn’t keep the show mythology consistent from episode to episode, didn’t care, and even resented the dead weight of it.

      There are other things Gamble certainly is responsible for, but even if she didn’t have her own showrunning issues, the legacy she got from Kripke would already be messy enough.

  3. Eva

    You were right about Ian! Now I need to find the hours to watch all seven seasons of Inquest, and then City Hall. And also Sanctuary. This might actually entertain me for months. Thank you very much, Paula. I feel like such a horrible Canadian that I didn’t really look into Inquest (although I guess I might have been too immature to appreciate most of it at the time).

    Anyways, this episode was really fun the first time I watched it. It’s surprising when I look back on the other episodes I did enjoy over all of SPN’s seasons, and they were usually the less joyous ones. But Dean’s happiness was just so infectious, and it was amazing to watch him as a PA and quickly ascending the PA foodchain. He would have probably made it to director if they stayed in Hollywood. I wasn’t very scared of the plot, those ghosts were all gore and very little creepiness.

    Sam had almost no good lines here. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t think he has a sense of humour, but it seems a shame to make him so dour all the time. He’s very hard to like if he won’t at least give a big, non-sarcastic smile with his whole face. Towards Dean. And then they could both be happy! It would be great if Sam could get a sincerely happy episode without any weird, unpleasant undertones. That would make him so much more relatable for me. And the bloopers sometimes are more hilarious than what Sam actually get to do, so that’s just not fair.

    They did go overboard with all the chatter between director and producer and whoever the other people were. I was honestly not interested in these people who I couldn’t find it in myself to care about very much. Whatever PA duties Dean got up to was way more interesting. Sam should have had more screentime away from Dean. Sam being uncomfortable about the whole thing and struggling with Hollywood would have been hilarious.

    1. Paula R. Stiles

      @Eva
      Hehehe. Another convert. [rubs hands together and cackles with glee]

      I thought Sam got a couple of good lines, but he was largely not in the episode, which seemed a bit odd after all the talk at the beginning about how he needed a hunt to distract. Yeah, the hunt sure distracted him, all right – right off the screen! As for the producers and Marty the Writer, I didn’t care about any of them. They appeared, they acted like jerks, and they either died or got rescued. At least Walter was entertaining. I could have used a bit more of him and Dean the PA, and a bit less of the tired Hollywood cliches.

      The bit where the director was saying, “Only I get to say ‘cut’” was funny. I bet if Dean had stayed there another day, he’d have ended up directing the whole thing and the film would have been that much better for it. He was that insidious.

  4. Lily

    Hollywood Babylon was not one of my favorite episodes, but it did have its moments. Dean is a very quick learner and so resourceful, which seems to annoy Sam to no end. I’m not a huge fan of episodes that attempt to break the fourth wall, but JA made the episode most enjoyable with his childlike enthusiasm and his love for horror flicks. Thanks for the recap, Paula! Happy Holidays to all!

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