In many ways, Supernatural is a story about stories. As Metatron says in The Great Escapist, ‘you become gods of tiny, intricate dimensions of your own’. But sometimes SPN comes out with an episode that seems totally cut off from the rest of the series, sealed in its own universe.
Season Two’s Playthings is probably the most obvious example of this, since Sam and Dean spend the whole episode in an oldy-worldy hotel where they are the only guests. Strange details like a doll collection or a wedding dress inexplicably pinned to the wall produce a suffocating atmosphere of femininity. The Winchesters never again find themselves in quite such an enviroment, and the feel of the episode is different from the others- it’s dreamy and poetic, and brings unexpected things out in the Winchesters. Sam gets steaming drunk and tearfully makes Dean promise to kill him. Dean responds weirdly gently.
The only episode that even begins to parallel Playthings is Season Eight’s The Great Escapist, which also contains a gloomy hotel, a tearful Samologue, and Dean playing comforter. In a way The Great Escapist is the counterpart to Playthings- Playthings is where Sam begins to feel the taint in his blood, and The Great Escapist is where he feels he is being ‘purified’.
Yet TGE doesn’t have the same closed-off airlessness to it as Playthings does, probably because TGE also contains scenes of Cas zapping round Biggerson’s. Whereas Playthings revels in claustrophobia, TGE reaches beyond the snow-globe world of the Winchesters in the hotel.
A more recent example of microcosm in SPN is Season Nine’s Slumber Party. This is, if I remember correctly, the only episode that never ventures outside the bunker. (It’s also a perfect example of how the Winchesters can turn even a Game Of Thrones marathon into a bid for world domination, but there’s a discussion for another time.) In Slumber Party, the antagonist comes from inside the bunker. Part of the story’s told in gorgeously filmed black-and-white, making it and Monster Movie the only episodes to use that technique.
Slumber Party is really an episode about choosing sides. A problem is presented- Sam does not view the bunker as home in the way that Dean does. By the end of the episode, his views have changed. He says that he’s sure Charlie will be back because ‘there’s no place like home’. (SPN then named the episode where Charlie returns There’s No Place Like Home. Oh, SPN, we see what you did there.) Crowley appears to side with the Wicked Witch, but then tells the Winchesters and Charlie what she’s looking for. Everybody involved goes home except for Charlie- maybe this was the earliest foreshadowing of her death.
Actually, the earliest foreshadowing of her death was probably that she died in this episode. But I digress.
When the Winchesters are locked into a microcosm over an episode, it invariably brings out strange shadings in their relationships- with each other and with other people. Whatever genre they happen to be inhabiting, it always comes back to the effects that genre has on their bond. SPN is proving that all genres can converge into the same theme.
It went very literal with this in Changing Channels- Sam and Dean found themselves in Grey’s Anatomy a crappy soap opera, a Japanese gameshow, a herpexia ad, CSI Miami a procedual cop show where people wore sunglasses at night… and yet the whole bunch were tied together by the show about their own lives they appeared in (which I will always see as a skit on Scooby-Doo).
This show was about their relationship. The ‘this is about two brothers who loved and betrayed each other’ speech was about their relationship. The whole damn thing was about their relationship.
SPN just can’t help itself. Whatever it does, however crazy it gets, the craziness always has some reflection on Sam and Dean’s attachment. The clincher of The French Mistake- a watermark of absurdity- was Sam saying ‘we aren’t even brothers here, man’. Fan Fiction ended with the broment to end all broments (Sam’s face when Dean hung up the Samulet, I mean, really). Even with Monster Movie, I’m theorising that the shifter and Jamie were a reflection of Sam and Dean (messed up, right?). Playthings… face-grabbing… nuff said.
And Slumber Party ends with Sam and Dean looking at each other like, ahem, this.
If anything, the little snowglobe worlds like Playthings and Slumber Party only highlight the codependency more. I’m pretty sure that that was the intention.
The Wincest guys were probably cackling after that episode. Not sure I blame them.