"The Real Ghostbusters," mirrors the first ever direct meta episode, "Hell House," in almost every way. It starts off with a massive prank---on Sam and Dean. They rush to a hotel because Chuck has sent out an SOS message. Upon their arrival, Chuck is surprised. The culprit behind this prank is their super fan, Becky, the quintessential Sam Girl. She used Chuck's
Much like "Hell House," at this convention, there is a fake haunting that turns extremely deadly and real. The hotel is haunted by Leticia Gore, who scalped four children in her care when the place was an orphanage. It doesn't come out until after Sam and Dean have salted and burned her bones that the children she "killed" were the real culprits and evil spirits. To everyone around Sam and Dean, this is just part of the "hunt" put on by the convention organizers. Not unlike both "Hell House," and "Ghostfacers," Sam and Dean have to maneuver around people who are ignorant of the real horror in their midst.
Dean takes the convention far more personally than Sam does. He is the one most irate and outraged by the display of their lives for these people's entertainment. He vents to a shocked and surprised Demien and Barnes, after they've decided to accompany the real Sam and Dean unknowingly on a real hunt, "No, I'm not a fan, okay. Not fans. In fact, I think the Dean and Sam story sucks. It is not fun, it's not entertaining. It is a river of crap that would send most people howling to the nuthouse! So you listen to me. Their pain is not for your amusement. I mean, you think they enjoy being treated like-like circus freaks?"
This is a bit of a diversion away from earlier episodes, when it is Sam who is afraid of being the "freak." Dean has taken this examination of his and Sam's lives to be an insult. It is indicative of his private nature. His strong response makes both Demien and Barnes pull back, stunned. Demien retorts back, "Ahh, I don't think they care. Because they're fictional characters." He has no idea that he has just said this to the real Dean Winchester.
Sam seems to be just as stunned by Dean's obvious upset. He follows Dean to the cemetery and proceeds to help Dean with the routine salt and burn they are about to partake in. Demien and Barnes, however, still feel that it is a game, and look for the plastic bones to win their prize. When Sam pulls a real shovel out and he and Dean start to dig, they realize they've fallen in with even bigger "fans" than they are.
Dean's reactions are also a shout out to the term "srs bzns" often said when a fan in any fandom takes their fandom too seriously. Dean has taken the story extremely seriously, something even Sam points out to Demien and Barnes. It's a total tongue in cheek acknowledgment of the debates that can and do take place on the internet.
Once they burn the bones, after the ghost has attacked Sam, Demien and Barnes, Dean quips, "Real enough for you now?" They might not know that they're addressing the real Brothers Winchester, but they, unlike Ed and Harry, have respect for them from here on out.
Chuck has spent his time while this is going on holding his panel with the fans. He is in the process of closing when an anxious Sam runs and whispers in to his ear that there is a real haunting. Chuck is panicked, and unsure of what he should do. Sam tells him that he must keep everyone in the room for as long as it takes. Once everyone is walled into the conference room, Sam and Dean, with Barnes and Demien's help salt the doors. They then split up to try and stop the children. Sam and Dean end up fighting them while Damien and Barnes find a way out to the cemetery to salt and burn the bones.
We watch Demien and Barnes struggle with the salt and burn. They grumble that digging graves look so easy in Supernatural and Demien fights with his lighter, frustrated that Dean seems to get it the first try, something he did in the earlier salt and burn.
Afterward, we see Dean thank Demien and Barnes, asking them their names. They provide them and ask Dean his, who says, "Dean. The real Dean." They scoff at him, not realizing that they have met their hero. Dean asks them how they met, and once again the issue of Wincest is thrust into the fabric of the show. Demien and Barnes met in a Supernatural chat room, and they are "together." Dean is shocked and a little uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Becky is breaking up with Sam in favor of Chuck. Sam seems to be relieved but feigns being crushed. He says, "Honestly, I don't know. I'll just have to find a way to keep living, I guess."
Before Dean can leave and rejoin Sam, Demien steps up as the voice for the fans, stating, "In real life, he sells stereo equipment. I fix copiers. Our lives suck. But Sam and Dean. To wake up every morning and save the world. To have a brother who would die for you. Well, who wouldn't want that?" It's sums up what the majority of fandom's view is of the program and provides what is termed fanservice to the fans in a way that is both endearing and entertaining.
What's funny about this convention is how far apart and the same it is from real ones. There aren't any "hunts" at the conventions. There are panels with the various actors, from someone who appears in a single episode to both Jared and Jensen themselves---similar to Chuck's with the fans asking questions. There are "games," but only in trivia and there is a brief costume contest. Merchandise is sold at the convention, typically of t-shirts and photos for the actors to sign. The first convention took place in Nashville in 2006. Only 200 fans attended. No actors or writers were present. It wasn't until Asylum 2007 that the actors started to attend. The neat touch about this episode is that it aired the night before Creation Entertainment's Salute to Supernatural in Chicago in 2009.
The ultimate "love letter" from Eric Kripke, to the fans, however doesn't come until we see "Swan Song." It is essentially his "farewell" to the show as show runner, despite returning to pen the season 6 finale "The Man Who Knew Too Much." It is the only direct meta episode to not have a prank element, tying it to the others. Chuck, Kripke's avatar appears here as only a serious character. He introduces us to the Impala upon its birth, starting the story that will end in Stull Cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas. The first owner, Sal, is a reference to the novel On the Road, featuring two characters named Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, for whom Sam and Dean were modeled upon. He, ironically, drives the Impala to give out free bibles and speak about judgment day.
We also get to see a behind the hunts, what happens when Sam and Dean get those few blissful and too far in between breaks. He says, "In between jobs, Sam and Dean would sometimes get a day -- Sometimes a week, if they were lucky. They'd pass the time lining their pockets. Sam used to insist on honest work, But now he hustles pool, like his brother. They could go anywhere and do anything. They drove 1,000 miles for an Ozzy show, Two days for a jayhawks game. And when it was clear, They park her in the middle of nowhere, Sit on the hood, and watch the stars... For hours...Without saying a word. It never occurred to them that, sure, Maybe they never really had a roof and four walls, But they were never, in fact, homeless. That's a good line."
What Dean is doing is, as Lucifer wearing Sam's body says, "a whole new mountain of stupid," but he has already gone in knowing he'll probably die. Castiel has warned him emphatically that the only thing that he'll see is Michael killing Lucifer, and Sam with him. Dean responds, heart broken but resolved, "Well, then I ain't gonna let him die alone."
Even though Dean went in to do this alone, for his little brother's sake, he is not alone himself. We see both Castiel and Bobby join in Dean's efforts, standing by the brothers, even if one is now the Devil himself. It evokes such powerful emotional responses in the audience because here is the culmination of the show's catchphrase, coined by Bobby, "Family don't end with blood, boy."They are all family, and Michael and Lucifer, long held steadfast in their grudge match over which one their Father loved best, they the Angels or the mud monkeys, simply cannot let go and learn. It puzzles both of them that this interference has taken place.
Castiel, hoping to buy Dean time to talk to Sam, trapped inside Lucifer, throws a holy fire bomb. The only flash that reveals that Lucifer may indeed actually feel something other than rage or hatred towards his brother is when he snaps his fingers, reducing Castiel to a pile of blood and shattered bone. He says, his voice cold and hard, "No one dicks with Michael, but me."
This is also the trigger for Lucifer to punish Sam, and Lucifer's undoing. He sets out to kill Dean, pulverizing him by using Sam's own fists. It must be agony for Sam inside his own body, feeling his fist connect viciously with Dean's face. Dean, again, stands his ground, even while enduring the blows. He pleads with Sam, saying "Sam, it's okay. It's okay. I'm here. I'm here. I'm not gonna leave you. I'm not gonna leave you."
His last line here gives us the evidence, right before what will be known as Soulless Sam stands under the lamp light, that there will be more to the Sam and Dean story. It might be Kripke's "Swan Song," but this tale has more to tell. His vanishing reveals the truth we learned back in "The Monster At the End of this Book." Chuck is God. He's been with them this whole time, hiding in a humble and timid visage---and he's in his own way been on Sam and Dean's side all along, rooting for them to pull out the win. It might be the only "prank" within the entire episode, tying it to the rest of the meta fictional episodes of the series. It most certainly is the ultimate "gotcha" that Kripke could have come up with, too.
It starts with Sam and Dean alone in Bobby's house, when Balthazar appears, frantically looking for items in Bobby's spell pantry. He babbles about The Godfather endlessly, saying that Raphael is cast in the role of Michael Corleone, ready to eliminate all of his enemies. In reality, it is Castiel that is really Michael Corleone, revealed at the end of "The Man Who Knew Too Much." He hands Sam a key, telling them to guard it and run. He pushes them towards the window he has drawn the sigil on, shoving both Sam and Dean through into the meta verse. This is where the fourth wall shatters both literally and figuratively for the viewers---and for Sam and Dean.
Sam and Dean decide
They end up in Jensen's trailer, complete with a TV running in the background, running the season 4 gag reel. This selection is perfect, because both the real Jared and Jensen wink at the audience from it, letting them know that they are in on the joke being played. It goes by while Sam and Dean are trying to piece together just who Jensen Ackles is, and for the first time, we see Jensen's prior roles being brought front and center---particularly a clip from his stint on Days of Our Lives. This is bothersome to Dean, and much the same way he slams the lap top shut in "The Monster at the End of this Book" in disgust, he does so here as well. This is everything Dean is not, after all.
Walking into Jared's house, Dean quips, "Nice digs, Jay-Z." It is a garish, over the top, and ornate house. It also makes Jared seem like an egomaniac, considering all of the pictures of him on display throughout. It's another joke, the only actual photo from Jared's real life is that of his wedding photo with Gen. Seeing Gen makes both brothers freeze, as to Sam and Dean she is Ruby---someone who is dead, killed by Dean. Dean is stunned and calls her "Ruby," to which Gen complains that "'Ruby.' right. That one never gets old." The joke here is about Dean and Ruby's animosity towards one another.
When they get their package of a bone of a lesser saint, everyone starts to speculate what is going on between the two. Sam and Dean's behavior is in character for them, as they're used to doing illegal things to reach their goals---in this case to go home. For the cast and crew, they're pleased to see Jared and Jensen talking and working together, even early on set, but they don't understand what they're really up to. Misha is disturbed when he asks Sam what's in the box and Sam replies, calmly, "I bought part of a dead person." Sam's patience seems to be wearing thin with being "something called a Jared Padalecki."
Unfortunately for the brothers, the spell fails, proving that Sam was right to think something was different about this universe. It doesn't have any magic. They probably can't go home. In fact they might be stuck here. Before they can really do anything about this, Virgil, a very real threat has emerged from their universe into this one. He brings back the Godfather element, dressed much like a mobster, ready to execute Sam and Dean. This no magic problem comes in handy for the brothers, and they set out to beat Virgil to death, stunning everyone around them. This is not acceptable behavior for this universe, and they don't realize they've signed their own death warrants by stopping Sam and Dean from finishing the job.
Dean speaks for the fans, all while thumbing his nose at them, in one fell swoop when he states, "You heard my brother. That's right,I said "brother." 'cause you know what, Bob? We're not actors. We're hunters. We're the Winchesters. Always have been, and always will be. And where we're from, people don't know who we are. But you know what? We mattered in that world. In fact, we even saved the son of a bitch once or twice. And yeah, okay, here, maybe there's some -- some fans who give a crap about this nonsense."
Dean is starting to question if they should return home, saying, "Yeah, but here, you got a pretty good life. I mean, back home, the hits have been coming since you were 6 months old. You got to admit, being a-a bazillionare, married to Ruby, the whole package. It's no contest."
Sam, this time, speaks for the fans, in his reply, "No, you know, you were right. We just don't mean the same thing here. I mean, we're not even brothers here, man."
The meta fictional elements of Supernatural run even deeper than this analysis can provide. It has many threads, both direct and indirect, but looking at these direct meta episodes reveals a lot not just about the show, its cast and crew, and its genre, but about story telling itself. It's also something not seen often in television because it is risky, something again Supernatural has never shied away from. It's certainly one of the more creative endeavors on television, stripping away the curtain to reveal the machinations beneath the surface. Rather it is a serious or comical look behind the curtain, it provides us insight into why it is we tell stories, how we tell stories, and what those stories ultimately mean. For anyone who is interested in how to approach writing, this is a good place to look.
It's hard to imagine them having the capacity to top the over the top nature of "The French Mistake," but I think I have just the idea. Send Bizarro Jared and Jensen into Sam and Dean's universe and see what happens. They shouldn't be talking to one another, just as they were reputed to be. Let Bizarro Jared and Jensen be as egotistical as possible, but force them to find a way to survive by relying on one another. Sam and Dean being there to help keep them alive is optional, but do give them Bobby Singer, who will whip them into shape right quick---and besides, they're used to answering to a Bob Singer anyways. This gets the real Jared and Jensen out of having to play themselves "straight," and keeps with the pranking and tongue in cheek nature of all the direct meta episodes of the series. When they finally find their way home (if they don't get themselves killed) make everyone around them stunned at their newly found friendship and new attitudes---all because they have new understanding into thee fictional characters they portray on TV.
Who knows what direct meta treat awaits us in season 7?