“I kind of hate the meta-stories” Dean Winchester tells us near the beginning of Supernatural’s 200th episode, “Fan Fiction.” From his viewpoint as a character who is interrogated in such episodes, it’s not difficult to see his point. Few of us like to have everything we think we know about our world and ourselves turned on its head and subjected to the scrutiny of someone not living it. But to observers, rather than players, meta-episodes are usually less threatening and sometimes more inspired. It just depends on how it’s done. “Fan Fiction,” on its surface, is precisely what it claims to be about: a high-school theatre student, inspired by the supposedly fantastical Supernatural works of Carver Edlund/Chuck Shirley, rewrites the ending of season 5/beginning of season 6 of the show, unhappy with the idea of the Winchester brothers taking separate life paths. She turns her idea into a musical (and let’s be clear, this is no “Once More with Feeling”) which she begrudgingly gets permission from her school’s drama teacher to stage. And though we never really learn what happens in Act 2 of her production, we are told it includes spaceships, robots, and ninjas. And Dean becoming a woman, if only for a little while. When first the drama teacher and then later an actress go missing, the latter seen kidnapped and possibly killed by a scarecrow (by the writer/director Marie—Katie Sarife), Sam and Dean investigate as FBI agents Smith and Smith (“no relation”). Eventually, they discover that Marie’s work has captured the attention of the muse Calliope (Hannah Levien) who works to help bring such endeavors to fruition, guarding them by use of living versions of the text’s creatures, all so she may eventually eat the authors. Not necessarily one of Supernatural’s best monsters of the week and an extremely uncomplicated plot measured on the same scale. But as anyone who has participated in the fan fiction culture of any smart canon will tell you, it’s rarely the storylines that are the most interesting part of such fan-created narratives. Instead, it’s the questions that are raised and the assumptions (often of the more mainstream audience, but occasionally of the primary canon-producers themselves) that are challenged. Good fan fiction thrives on deconstruction, both acknowledging the author and proving that he/she is not immortal. Of course, if such stories were as dry as most literary theory, any audience would be extremely small. Luckily, fan tales are, like the works that inspire them, a democratic phenomenon. In general, the good and more entertaining stuff rises above the rest, thanks to community publicizing and sharing, and even becomes a secondary or tertiary canon. There is good fan fiction out there. And while the plot of “Fan Fiction” may be weak, that doesn’t mean it’s not pleasurable. The story itself isn’t meant to compel. Instead, it sets up a series of great moments which deliver a message that would be nearly impossible to otherwise communicate to the audience. Most of the best moments belong either to Dean (Jensen Ackles) or Marie. Which makes sense, really, as they represent the producers of the canon and the consumers/reproducers of it. For Dean, then, these moments are either attempts to assert the authority of the primary text (like when he tells Marie the “true story” of what’s happened to the Winchester brothers since the point at which her own interpretation branches off) or reaction shots (and Ackles does some great comedic work here) when his character is confronted either with Marie’s own takes on what he sees as his stories or knowing winks to the common discourses going on in the fan community Marie represents. For Marie, on the other hand, it’s when she gets to insist that his own version—which she prizes as no more authoritative than her own—is more laughingly implausible than her musical one (and to be fair, as a fan, attempt explaining the last five years of Supernatural to anyone, and you’ll get to watch them try to hide their amusement at your enjoyment of such a shark-jumping story) or when she gets to voice those self-same speculative discourses with a deadpan delivery that drives home the point: we only see these things we talk and write about because they are there; it’s not our fault if you have less control of your narrative than you’d like to pretend. It’s risky creating this tension the way they have. After all, Marie is a high school student we’ve never met and Dean is one-half of the driving force of the narrative. Unless skillfully handled, such a dynamic would, unintentionally or otherwise, dismiss a good and very faithful part of the audience—a part that has kept Supernatural afloat for a decade. It would be easy to make such dedicated and often stigmatized fans the butt of the joke. But writer Robbie Thompson is up to the task. This doesn’t mean that we never laugh at Marie or her stage manager Maeve (Joy Regullano). We do. But it’s the laughter of self-recognition, for the most part, and it’s never cruel. If anything, it is Dean who is consistently undercut by the humor (ironic since Ackles himself expressed serious misgivings about the episode) and, with him, those who own the intellectual property that is Supernatural. Some fans have described “Fan Fiction” as a valentine to the audience, and particularly to the re-producers within that audience. But I think it does a disservice to use that word to describe what creator Eric Kripke, writer Thompson, or director Phil Sgriccia are doing here. Nowadays, we generally associate valentines with one of two behaviors: thin, cheap, cliché cards handed out to everyone in a group (and therefore an empty gesture), or beseeching and almost smarmy missives to “silly” women moved by such things (and easily seen as just as empty). “Fan Fiction” is neither. Instead, the episode mimics the dialogue that is always going on between the creators of the canon and the re-makers of that text—whether the latter write stories or just talk around the water-cooler. The difference is that “Fan Fiction” never insists, even slyly, that while all this is good fun, the former will always be more authoritative and real. It humorously, but still seriously, allows the criticisms of the audience to stand and, in some cases, even undermine the work of the show’s producers. It recognizes that Marie may never have the budget that Kripke enjoys, but that her version is still legitimate. “You keep writing, Shakespeare.” Dean tells Marie. “Even if it doesn’t match how you see it?” she challenges him. “I have my version, and you have yours,” he acknowledges. And if there were any inference of a patronizing tone, Thompson clarifies immediately as the cast of Supernatural: the Musical begins to sing their own version of the television series’ de facto theme song “Carry on Wayward Son.” It’s not only a charming, heartbreaking cover of the Kansas song, but it drives the point home. We are perfectly fine—even deeply moved sometimes—when a performer covers a song created by another band or singer, even when that performer takes the kinds of liberties these girls do with their rendition. Why then, do we regularly stigmatize fan fiction writers who do the same to a television or movie text? And if we were still too dense to get it, Thompson gives us one more chance to understand the attitude that he (and, one assumes, his fellow writers) has about the writing and interesting theories some of the show’s fans have produced over the years. Throughout the episode, we have heard that Marie and Maeve have been hoping/fearing hearing from the “Publisher.” After the curtain comes down, the Publisher steps forward to reveal that he’s seen the play and, despite Marie’s protestations that it fails to live up to the source material, approves, “Not bad.” But this is not the judgment of some anonymous editor. It turns out that the Publisher is not only the man established by the canon as Eric Kripke’s in-show alter-ego Chuck Shirley. He is also the character that fan-created lore has long held to be the one individual missing from this series about the epic struggle between Heaven and Hell. He is God. It is hard to imagine a clearer blessing on the creative work of fans than that. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response Supernatural 10.20 & 10.21 - Psycho Drive-In May 13, 2015 […] it kills Dean (or worse, more likely). Along the way, we have had some really good episodes. “Fan Fiction,” “Girls, Girls, Girls,” and “The Things They Carried” certainly stand out. But even on a […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.