harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,

SPN Review: "Phantom Traveler"


Season 1, Ep 4

'Phantom Traveler'

Written by: Richard Hatem
Dir by: Robert Singer

Blurb: A plane reservation is a ticket to terror when a phantom traveler forces a jet into a crash landing. Knowing the phantom is on another flight, Sam and Dean board to attempt an in-air exorcism.

Scene 01: We open our episode on an island paradise, which looks fake, for good reason. Although we hear eukelele music and waves crashing, the scene is static... the waves unmoving. A man's head comes up into frame, as if he just awoke and we hear the roar of a plane and a woman's voice over the loudspeaker. The static ocean is, of course, just a mural and the man is in the airport.

Scene 02: Our gentleman goes into the men's room, where he washes his face. Another man comes out of the stall and notes the man at the sink. He asks him if he's a nervous flier, which is so. The guy mentions the slim chances of dying in a plane... our guy isn't comforted.

From the vent, we hear soft whispering and out flows a stream of black CGI dots. The man notices this and naturally is a bit WTF about it.

Alas for him, and everyone around him now, the black dots from Hell easily enter his eyes.

Scene 03: Aboard a flight, Chuck the pilot and Amanda the stewardess greet one another warmly. They begin to board the flight. Unshockingly, our guy is among those boarded. Amanda greets him, and he responds, but there is something not right about his eyes that takes her aback. But there are other passengers boarding and besides, she couldn't have seen what she thought she saw, right?

Commentary: Actually, the black eyes effect makes me think of Betazoids. Is Deanna Troi actually a Hellspawn? [You Troi haters need not answer, it was a rhetorical question.]

Scene 04: United Britannia Airlines seems to have smooth skies. Our-guy-who-isn't-anymore asks the woman next to him how long they've been up. The answer is 40 minutes and he makes a pun, which I won't repeat because it's obvious and bad.

He excuses himself to the aisle and walks back to the rear of the plane. He smiles at a guy as he walks past, and this guy also notes his weird black eyes the way Amanda did.

Not-really-our-guy walks to the rear door of the plane. He shares a smirky glance at guy-he-passed and then reaches for the door handle of the plane. Guy-he-passed yells what he thinks he's doing, and he looks over his shoulder and smiles with the full black-eye effect. He easily opens the cabin door (in reality this wouldn't happen due to air pressure against the door... it would be extremely difficult to get the door to open... but he could be using demon-strength).

Our-guy is yanked out of the plane, as the cabin door is torn away. It flies into one of the tail wings, damaging it in the background as in the foreground our man yells and flies into the camera.

Commentary: Ugh, nightmare fuel. It is more than obvious that Our-Guy was returned to the control seat after the demon forced him to open the cabin door, so that he was entirely aware that he'd been blown out of the plane. Sadistic. Yeah... (sarcasm mode) THANKS A LOT, for having the actor twist in midair enough for us to see his horrified face.

Scene 05: Obviously aboard the plane, all hell breaks lose as it depressurizes and flies out of control due to the tail damage. Amanda struggles down the aisle to an open seat and straps in as the plane falls in an uncontrolled descent.

In the cockpit, the pilot and co-pilot struggle with gaining control, but both have a very clear "OH SHIT" expression (especially the co-pilot, who's actor can really give the wide-eye in terror look even with the oxygen mask in place).

Amanda gets an oxygen mask on and waits for the ground to meet the plane....

Commentary: This scene is very well shot, including the CGI plane and the actor being blown out. It's extremely (in fact, it's a bit too) harrowing, for a weekly tv show & I give kudos here to the way they pulled it off.

Scene 06: Following this horror, we're given EYE CANDY. Yay. This would be in the form of the camera's loving gaze up Jensen's underwear and T-shirt clad body as he lies face down in bed in profile.

Commentary: Blatant pandering. I'm appalled. (*read this as entirely, transparently, unconvincing*)

A large shadow comes into the room as Dean snaps awake. [We get tense music, but we can also tell it's just Our Sam... I say that qualifies as a false scare.] Dean is just reaching for whatever weapon he has stashed under his pillow, when Sam makes his presence known with coffee.

Commentary: More fan-service, as our camera view gives us a shot up Jensen's thighs.

Being only 5:45am, Dean is less than pleased, but he's also more worried than mad. The fact Our Sam is there so early, after Dean had heard him watching TV at 3am tells him that Sam hasn't been sleeping. With some prodding, Our Sam admits to being plagued by nightmares still about Jessica. He also tells Dean that it's partially all of the hunting stuff, too -- he had forgotten the stress that comes with always being on the look out for monsters.

Commentary: Oh, I bet you thought I was going to include screen-cap of Jensen, didn't you? Sorry. I've no doubt that Our Sam and Dean (after his Gorgeous Dean phase begins in earnest) will get plenty of naked torso capping.

Dean's cell rings, interrupting their discussion. The phone call is from a number Dean doesn't recognize and he doesn't recognize the caller's name until he's reminded that his father and him helped this guy out sometime pre-series. His name is Jerry and he works at the airport. He asks for Dean's help with another problem, unrelated to his previous poltergeist experience.

Scene 07: They both go to PA. Jerry chats with them and apparently during the poltergeist investigation, he came to know the Winchesters. He mentions to Sammy that he'd been at college and he also mentions how John had often spoken of him with pride. Which, considering how much they fought and how John wasn't keen on his leaving, comes as a complete shock to Sam.

Jerry also mentions that he tried to reach John first, before calling Dean, but couldn't reach him.

Scene 08: Jerry has gotten ahold of a copy of the data flight recorder from the downed jet and he's heard something that makes him believe it is right up Dean's alley. On the tape is what could be the sounds of the system crashing due to the damage the plane was suffering during the decompression... but it could also be the loud growls of some sort of entity.

Jerry goes on to report that 7 people survived the crash of the flight, including one of his friends. Chuck was the pilot onboard during the disaster.

Sam and Dean decide to investigate on Jerry's behalf.

Scene 09: Outside a copy place, Sam waits for Dean and then complains about how long he took in there. It turns out that he has been using the fake-ID skills to create Homeland Security identification, so that they can get through the NTSB to inspect the plane's wreckage for clues.

When they've settled into The Impala, Sam updates him on what he's found. Sam has enhanced and cleaned up the audio from Jerry's copy of the recorder to find distorted voices. One of the messages is "no survivors".

They discuss the phenomena of omens and death spirits aboard planes and ships, including the famous haunting case of Flight 401. They review the list of survivors, and Sam tells Dean he wants to talk to Max Jaffe first, because if there was something unusual going on aboard the UBA, he saw it.

Scene 10: The reason Sam believes he is their best bet, is because he spoke to Max's mother, and found out that he's checked into a Psychiatric Hospital. After resisting their questions for some time, Max finally admits to the man with the black eyes and what he thought he saw about the man opening the emergency exit door. He does bring up how impossible it would be, due to the pressure holding the door shut.

Sam asks about the man vanishing, thinking ghosts, but Max tells him he was a passenger sitting in front of him.

Commentary: So, here is where I'm going to knock the episode a little bit, despite liking it very muchly. The way we're seeing so much of Dean and Sam's investigation and the music being played in the background to heighten the 'creep factor', this is playing like we're supposed to be as mystified as our brothers by the lack of signs that we're dealing with a haunting aboard the doomed flight. Except, we already know it wasn't a ghost because we saw the entire sequence leading up to the crash.

The problem here, is that we've been given (a partial) answer, so Max is relaying information we already know. This isn't bad in itself, but because of the way it was filmed, we're ahead of Sam and Dean on this not being a ghost tale and Max isn't sharing anything that we don't already know. But, we're also being cued to consider this an odd mystery since our brothers don't know what is going on... but there isn't a mystery to this point. The only thing we don't know is what exactly the Black Dots of Doom are.

Now, this is a minor detail in the story, but it's about viewpoint: The filming suggests that we should be saying, "Wait, this isn't a ghost?! Oh, man, what could be going on then?"

But, since we already know it isn't a ghost because of what we already saw, we're not in on the flummox with Sam and Dean. I would really hate to lose the opening scene, just because of how great the work was to pull it off, but I do think we maybe should have started out slower with Jerry calling Dean about a crash that looks like there may be a supernatural cause, and then see the actual crash sometime later (maybe after the boys figure out what is really happening, as their putting together what must have occurred) as a flashback. That way, we would be with Sam and Dean of hearing the flight recorder and thinking "this is a ghost on board", only to find out that it was a person with black eyes and then we too would be, "Oh! Well, damn, if it isn't a ghost, then what the hell happened up there?"

Scene 11: Sam and Dean's next stop is at the home of the passenger who supposedly opened the emergency door, which Dean insists couldn't happen by a person. Sam suggests a creature in human form who would have the strength, but they don't have any idea of what it could have really been.

During a discussion with our guy's widow, it ends up that George seemed like your average, normal, well-adjusted guy who didn't like to fly, had acid reflux and was a dentist.

With this a dead-end, Dean decides they have to inspect the wreckage. Sam agrees, but not dressed in jeans.

Scene 12: Off to a suit shop to get kitted out in business wear.

Scene 13: The suits, badge and fake ID work as expected and they're let into the warehouse where the plane reconstruction will be taking place. Dean does a sweep with a home made EMF detector and he gets a hit off of the emergency door handle. They find a substance on the handle and Our Sam scrapes a sample into a collection dish.

Scene 14: But, in the meantime, the actual Homeland Security detail has arrived. The Actual Homeland Security duo are not at all happy to hear that "fellow agents" already arrived and they, along with the armed security men, rush into the hangar to find out who is impersonating their agency.

They arrive just after Sam and Dean's exit, stage left out of a secured outer door. Our brothers then have to sneak off the grounds without being waylaid and taken into custody.

Scene 15: We leave our brothers behind, for Chuck the Pilot. He's still having some emotional issues in the aftermath of the crash, but wants to get back in the pilot's seat.

He's joining his friend in his small prop plane to face his fear. Unfortunately, as he's sitting in a lounge preparing himself to go back in the air, we see the Black Dots of Possession stream out of a duct nearby. Poor Chuck, Fate's bitch.

Scene 16: Back with Sam and Dean, they've gone to Jerry with their sample. Jerry, instead of explaining he isn't a chemist which is why he works at an airport, is able to explain that they have sulfer. Dean and Sam both know that demonic possession can leave behind sulfer traces, but neither have ever heard of a case where a possessed person is able to take down an airliner.

Scene 17: Back at the Little Airport of Bad Tidings, Chuck and friend ready to board their flight. Chuck's entire demeanor has changed from reluctant nervousness to get behind the controls to enthusiastic grinning.

Scene 18: On board the plane, Chuck asks how long they've been up, which turns out to be about 40 minutes... the same as when Black Dots used to be George. He also makes the same corny joke (oh, okay... "Time really does fly" ... I told you before it was bad).

Chuck then sends the little plane into a power dive right at the Earth. Friend yells at him, but Chuck uses his elbow to knock the guy senseless. Chuck deliberately crashes the plane.

Scene 19: In their motel room, Sam and Dean do that vague research that involves lots and lots of books and drawings that groups such as theirs get their answers from (also, The Scooby Gang). Dean is a bit taken aback because supernatural hunters don't usually involve themselves in demon-hunting. This is bigger than he's used to and wishing that John was there for help.

Dean gets a call and it is Jerry. He shares the news that Chuck was killed shortly before in another plane crash.

Scene 20: Sam and Dean rush to Nazareth.

Commentary: Which was a really pointless scene of the Metallicar. It is literally a few seconds long and then we jump back to Jerry's office with another sample. Owtch to the scene transition handling, here.

Scene 21: *whiplash* Back to Jerry's, where he confirms that the brothers have brought him another sulfer sample. Dean and Sam discuss the situation and wonder if Chuck had been the demon's target the entire time. Sam has a more disturbing theory, however. He says that in the last decade he's found multiple flights that have gone down exactly 40 minutes into the flight... just like Chuck's last flight... and just like United Britannia's crash.

This suggests that Chuck was more of a double-victim, rather than a final target. Sam reminds Dean that the EVP from the jet's recorder stated 'no survivors' and this suggests some bad news for the other six survivors of that jet crash.

Commentary: Two things here as well: Jensen's freckles are just visible in the band of light on his face, so he suddenly brushes into Adorable Jensen. And, we see Dean lick his lips, which is something that Jensen will do often and seems to be an acting quirk to reflect "Dean is thinking/concentrating".

Dean's lip-licking allows him to realize the demon is after the survivors of the jet crash (yeah, duh, thanks).

Scene 22: In the Impala, we find out Sam has used 'survey guy' trickery to check on the other passengers from the jet and he reports that none of them are going to be flying anytime soon. The only one not accounted for, who could be a flight target, is Amanda the flight attendant.

According to Amanda's sister, she is to fly out on her first return to the air that evening. Sam and Dean are five hours out from her intended take off, but Dean assures Sam that they're going to make that flight.

Scene 23: They do make it, with thirty minutes to spare. Dean has her paged with a courtesy phone. He pretends to be a doctor and reports that her sister was in a minor car accident, but Amanda calls bullshit, because she happened to have just spoken to her sister five minutes ago and she is home cramming. Ooops.

Amanda asks if this is a friend of her troubled boyfriend, which Dean goes with and tells her that Vince really, really needs to talk to her. But she tells him to tell Vince to call her when she lands and hangs up the phone, so that didn't work either.

Commentary: And, at least Dean lies relatively smoothly this time, which is better than when he tried it in 'Pilot' ... wait, I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Scene 23: At Gate 13 (wow, not obvious), we see the Ol' Black Dots o' Crash-making come out of the ductwork. It apparently doesn't see who it is after, because it quickly retreats back behind the grill.

Scene 24: In the airport, Dean dammits at not stopping Amanda from boarding. Sam decides on Plan B... getting aboard the flight and performing a mid-air exorcism. Dean reveals that he's really hating this plan, as he's deathly afraid of flying (well, it's probably more a fear of smashing at a high rate of speed into the ground, and considering the plot of this episode, it's kinda hard to argue that it is a phobia).

Sam offers to go by himself, but Dean points out that the plane is going to crash. Which, of course, is why Sam gives him earnest gaze... he has to do this, but Dean doesn't if he just can't. Dean struggles.

Scene 25: But, ultimately, he decides to get on board with the plan (literally -- Hah!). Fortunately, somehow, they're able to buy a pair of tickets less than 20 minutes before take off and still make it through airport security with a bunch of anti-demon crapola.

Dean does a lot of white-knuckling (in which he's Adorable Dean, again, despite the lack of freckles) and Sam is all amused, wide grinning (in which Our Sam is always dreamboaty).

Dean gets as close to mouthing 'shit' as they can get away with as they take off.

Scene 26: Sam and Dean discuss how to proceed with finding a possessed person and performing a full on exorcism on a crowded plane. They guess that Amanda may be the possessed as she surely has a mental/emotional weakness the demon can take advantage of, with this being her first flight back. Dean has holy water, but Sam suggests being more subtle that splashing her. He reminds Dean that if she has the demon in her, she'll flinch at the name of God.

Dean goes to talk to Amanda and ascertain if she's the one they need. Sam reminds him, to his irritation, that he needs to say it in Latin for it to work. As Dean heads back, the plane hits turbulence, not adding to his ease of mind about this whole thing.

Commentary: I actually considered at this juncture that they could have written Dean as the possessed. He's definitely got an emotional chink in his armor to be exploited, but then I quickly dismissed that because he wouldn't have brought Holy Water, if so. But then I reconsidered, because he only told Sam that it was Holy Water. Now, I'm hoping Dean is pulling a fake-out freak-out and he's the one that was possessed while Sam was off buying the tickets... (it's been too long since I've seen this one, so I really do not remember who the demon is controlling).

So, Dean speaks to Amanda and slips in Christo in a way that makes her think he's weird, but she doesn't flinch. (And, since Dean was able to say it, I'll assume he isn't possessed, either.)

He returns to his seat and updates Sammy. When there is more turbulence, he has another freak out at Sam, but his brother tells him the more agitated he gets the more open he becomes to demonic possession so he needs to get ahold of his fear (I love strong Our Sam).

Sam shares with Dean the ritual that he's found (WAIT, he's just NOW finding the exorcism?) that will force the demon to manifest, so that they can then banish it.

Scene 27: So, before they can cause the demon to reveal itself, they have to already know where it is hiding. Dean walks through with his EMF/MODIFIED WALKMAN looking for a ping.

Commentary: Okay, these scenes get a bit draggy as Dean isn't very subtle about waving that thing around and SLOOOOWWWWLLY walking down the aisle. Sam does a hand on the shoulder thing to him for an out-of-place jump scare and they discuss how they're not finding anyone possessed when you'd think Dean's mind would immediately jump to the cockpit if the scanner isn't going off in the body of the plane.

The EMF conveniently goes off, as one of the cockpit crew exits the control room. [And, Sam is really going to ask, 'What? What is it?' ... THE DEMON IS IN THE GUY WHO JUST LEFT THE COCKPIT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE, is what it is... moron.]

So, Dean mutters 'Christo' again, as Sam... for Lord only knows what reason, continues to stare at his brother as if he didn't notice the cockpit crewman in front of them and tie it into the EMF lighting up like a Christmas tree (Oh, so much not liking this scene).

The crewman (pilot, co-pilot or navigator... I can't tell), flinches and gives us and Dean a black eyed glare. Unfortunately, while the brothers are standing agog, he goes back into the cockpit and locks the door.

Scene 28: Sam and Dean rush back to Amanda in the rear of the plane to explain they need to get onto the flight deck, despite the fact that this seems unlikely, to say the least. They have 12 minutes until the crash-time, according to the demon's prior schedule.

Sam and Dean's intenseness causes Amanda to hesitate, and then she reveals the man that made her so uncomfortable (the unfortunate George) with the weird eyes. They convince her to get the co-pilot to come out of the cockpit, without going into specifics as to what they think is going wrong.

Scene 29: Amanda does her part, and the boys are able to knock the co-pilot down, tape his mouth shut, and pour holy water on him that causes him to smoke and burn.

Our Sam starts up with the Latin. But, the demon isn't just going to lie there moaning. He's able to throw off Dean momentarily and tear the tape from his mouth. This lets him bring up the horrible way that Jess was killed, and he assures Sam that she's still screaming.

Dean jumps back on co-pilot and yells at Sammy to continue. Although the demon knocks the book from Sam's hands, the damage has been done by the spell and the Black Dots are forced from the co-pilot's mouth. But remember, this is only part one of Sam's ritual... the cloud is able to make a quick retreat to the plane's airduct.

Scene 30: Sam and Dean rush into the aisle to recollect the book with the ritual, when the plane takes a sudden fall in altitude, sending everyone tumbling around and screaming.

Dean is trapped against the rear of the plane, but Sam is able to crawl to the book (which actually looks like John's book, now that I look at it, from Pilot) and start the second chant to banish the demon. In the meantime, the jetliner is in a power dive, making it possible that even if the demon is banished, the flight is already doomed.

As Our Sam completes the chant, a bolt of celestial lightning hits the plane. The pilot is able to level the flight in time.

Commentary: So, we're left thinking, "Yay, Our Sammy for your gift with rituals!" Yeah. Not so fast... but that's for future episodes....

Scene 31: Back at Gate 13, the flight has obviously turned around and returned to the take off airport. The co-pilot is telling the investigators that he doesn't remember anything that happened on board... he doesn't even remember leaving the terminal.

Amanda is speaking to an FBI agent about what happened on board and she whispers a 'thank you' to the boys, but obviously leaves mention of them out of her testimony so they can slip away.

Scene 32: As they leave, Dean asks Sam if he's okay... and he's not. The fact the demon knew about Jessica has him deeply shaken. Dean tries to assure Our Sam that the demon read his mind and told lies to distract him. We can tell that Sam is only half-buying the explanation (and not feeling much better even if it was true).

Scene 33: Back with Jerry, our brothers have filled him in on what happened. Dean asks Jerry how he got his cell number in the first place, as the phone is only about 6 months old. Jerry tells him he phoned his dad's cell and a message directed him to Dean's number.

Scene 34: Later, outside of the airport, Sam and Dean talk about their father. Sam tells Dean that he's tried John's number dozens of times and it's been out of service. In the meantime, Dean tries to the number himself. They do hear John referring anyone with an emergency to Dean, which makes Sammy teary.

Commentary: Oh, puppy-eyes Jared... how manipulative... how effective. He and Alyson Hannigan should just get onscreen together and cry. Watch the world drown in collective viewer tears.

Also, Jensen's freckles are back, so Adorable Jensen makes a return cameo.

Our Weepy Sam quickly turns to Our Pissed Sam. This whole John not contacting them thing, when Jess' killer is out there is really getting to him.

Commentary: Yes, the John Winchester absence plot does take a bit long to resolve, but I'm satisfied with it ultimately, because we find out why he's spent so much time trying to avoid Sam and keep him away from whatever John is investigating in Season 2. It goes a long way in explaining his being, frankly, a douche-hat throughout this first season. Plus, it saves his being a MacGuffin from giving the impression that the writers just didn't know what to do with him and so was just stretching his absence out (which may still have been the case, I don't know).

Sam gets back in the car and waits for Dean. They take off on the road again... and again, with no actual destination in mind....

The Good: Well, that opening plane decompression is some serious business... especially hearing and seeing George scream after he's blown out of the plane... *shudder*.

I really love the character continuity for Sam not getting over Jessica's brutal killing.

I like the black-eyed demons and the way they're handled with minimal makeup (economical for the production, of course) but still giving a threatening demeanor. Part of this is the decision to make sure that even Dean has never dealt with them before.

I like the pretty mean-spirited feeling of this episode. They had Chuck the pilot survive, just to get possessed and then crash his friend's plane killing them both later. And, they had Amanda survive one crash, just to nearly get killed a month later in another. That's pretty dark.

Jared really nails his scenes when he's upset about Jess, and the way it turns to anger at John in the wrap up.

The Bad: The CGI demon-dots-of-possession are... CGI-ish in the worst way.

The visit to George's house was really an empty scene. It added nothing to the story, didn't reveal anything valuable and wasn't emotionally affecting enough to make the diversion worth it.

Yeah, the flash of the Metallicar heading into Nazareth, just to jump cut away without doing anything there. Pointless AND clumsy.

I hate the scene with Dean and Sam standing outside the cockpit when the EMF goes off for both the obviousness that the demon is in the cockpit, which both boys should have already considered and for Sam's utter cluelessness/lack of attention.

Other Thoughts: I'm surprised and just a bit disappointed that Amanda wasn't in the episode more because I really liked her and the actress portraying her. I'm not sure how they could've reworked the script to accomodate her a bit more, but I'd rather have seen more of her character than Jerry.

I'm just appalled at the way Jensen was used for fan servicing in the beginning (more, please)... just appalled... (MORE PLEASE!).

I do wish that the opening scene aboard the plane was later in the episode for the explantion in commentary involving the mystery, but even moreso, because it is such an intense scene that the talky bits following it are like hitting a brake on a speeding car. I like the episode, but nothing else (including Sam and Dean battling the demon on board the last flight) can match that intensity.

The Score: I like this episode a lot, especially the dark undertones and of course the interaction between Dean and Sam. I think the script could have used a little bit of reworking, especially with a few of those scenes that were completely useless.

3.75 out of 5


Tags: supernatural season 1 reviews

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