Episode: Supernatural 5.12 – “Swap Meat”
Original Air Date: January 28, 2010
For awhile now, fans of the show have been asking for a body swap episode. I think it’s for the fact that Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki are great comedic actors, and seeing the two take on the each other’s respective roles would have been hilarious. What we got in “Swap Meat” was half of that, plus questions about whether these two really should be working together again and an interesting Descartean (I could be reaching here with this. Gimme a break — this episode was so boring, I actually switched between it and Archer for the first half hour. Yes, I thought it was bad, but not as bad as killer bug swarms, racist trucks, or conventions where the fans are idiots) aspect stuffed in there toward the end that fully grabbed my attention in an essentially throwaway episode.
So. Body swapping. Hilarity is sure to ensue.
Junior warlock, Gary, overhears Sam and Dean discussing their current case (poltergeist in the house of a former “babysitter” of theirs — which was totally more interesting and something I could have stood to see more of). Good news for him, he thinks, since apparently there’s a demonic bounty on Dean. Gary swaps bodies with Sam to move in and kill Dean, but starts to like living as the youngest Winchester (as evident by the gun show he was putting on for himself in the mirror) and isn’t sure he wants to go through with the killing. Dean is pretty awesome sometimes. Eventually, Gary’s little Junior Coven members try to cash in on the demon bounty and fail miserably. Everyone is returned to their original bodies, and those who didn’t get a demon-possessed hand shoved through their chest get to go home and continue living a normal life. It was a Season 1 episode wrapped in Season 5 dysfunction, and there lies the problem for me as a viewer.
There were some funny moments at Sam’s expense (Gary!Sam telling that cougar at the bar he would “LOVE to have the sex” with her, and Sam being referred to as “sasquatch,” to name a few), but they weren’t enough to carry the show for me. At this stage in the story arc (or considering what the story arc consists of), is a one-off, “funny” episode fitting or appropriate? Far be it from me to presume to know how to write a television show; this is merely my frustration as a viewer not enjoying a series that has ranked up there with my favorite shows of all time. I have consistently enjoyed the funny eps for what they are in the past, but this is The End. The Apocalypse. Time to nut up or shut up, boys, not time to jaunt around having laughs. Am I the only one thinking that? Of course, I know on an intellectual level, you can’t have the Winchesters fighting Lucifer every single episode of the season. However, at the rate this season is going, the end of the world has absolutely no urgency or terror to it. It’s turning out to be more like peanut creating an irritating turd in an otherwise regular day.
It was sad to see Sam so willing and accepting of his lot in life at this point that he didn’t even test the waters out while being in Gary’s body. I mean, Season 1 Sam probably had wet dreams about being in Gary’s “Ivy League” family, yet all Season 5 Sammy can do is leave messages for Dean to realize that he’s not in his own body anymore (though why he didn’t call Bobby or Castiel is odd), and try to figure out what kind of witchcraft Gary is into. Sam has changed so much, in fact, that he has absolutely no problems lying to Gary about how awesome he has it. It feels like a complete role reversal, where Sam is the steeled, “everything is black and white” hunter, and Dean is the one considering how this affects the rubes involved and how to minimize their pain. This begs the question: Will he eventually be this accepting to Lucifer?
On the flip side, we got Dean’s seemingly obliviousness or active ignorance of Sam’s odd behavior while occupied by Gary. This one could go one of two ways with me. On the one hand, it felt somewhat insulting to the eldest Winchester (and the fans if the writers expected us to buy it) to have him spend as much time as he did with Gary!Sam and not notice right off the bat something was wrong that needed investigating. On the other, Sam has been all over the place emotionally throughout the entire series. With what happened after the last episode, I could kind of buy Dean just letting Sam act goofy even if his gut was telling him something’s not right. The Winchesters are notorious for their dysfunction, but can they afford not to be extra cautious with each other at this juncture? In their line of work, yeah, the minute Sam was eating cheeseburgers and talking about Master Chief (when do the brothers have time to play Xbox?) Dean should have been cutting him with silver to check for shapeshifters or something. It really shouldn’t have gotten as far as backing the Impala into a dumpster and making it with some random broad in a bar.
We all wanted them back and working together like they had been in the first two seasons. Well, they’re back together, but the comraderie isn’t there anymore. Feels like a case of “be careful what you wish for.”
I’d say the one interesting thing this episode brought up was this Descartean mind-body problem when the demon took over one of the Junior witches. Like I do when speaking of religious topics, I’m going to give a disclaimer before this: I’m not a philosophical expert. This is merely based on my basic, 101 knowledge of the subject.
Descartes took the side of dualism when looking at the mind-body problem (there’s an immaterial thing — the mind — inhabiting our material body; that immaterial thing drives our body around much like we would a car and isn’t connected at all to the body). According to the demon, after it figures out Sam isn’t in his “meat suit” anymore, this seems to be the school of thought at work here. Sam’s meat suit is “empty” and ready to be the vessel of Lucifer without having to go through the hassle of convincing Sam to give himself over.
The mind is what makes you who you are, and if we go with Descartes’s take on the mind-body problem it’s easy enough to separate the two of them from each other since they are already two separate entities. The problem with that goes back to the unsatisfactory explanation of why Sam and Dean have been chosen as not just a vessel but the vessel for their respective angels (i.e., it just had to be them). If it always had to be Sam for Lucifer and Dean for Michael, this would lead one to believe that it’s because of what makes Sam Sam and Dean Dean and not their empty bodies. If they’re so special, it seems to me that they would be that way because of something more than the sacks of flesh their minds drive around. Hence, the the mind being absent from the body doesn’t feel like it should be acceptable for as the perfect vessel. If it has nothing to do with the mind that inhabits the body, just about any Tom, Dick, or Harry should work since we aren’t really that different from each other on a biological level.
Again, I could be reading way too much into an offhanded comment by a low-level demon in an episode that had absolutely nothing to do with the overall mytharc of the show. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been guilty of over-thinking this show. I guess I could have just questioned why Dean didn’t notice ALL of the mobile phones they carry (including John’s) were gone or why when he finally checked his messages all of them were in Sam’s voice and not Gary’s voice and kept it all simple and such. Luckily, next episode looks like Back to the Future II so there should only be a huge discussion on the paradoxes of time travel in that review!
Rating: 2.5 / 5 Stars