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Recap / Supernatural S01 E04 “Phantom Traveller”

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Recap of Supernatural
Season 1, Episode 4:

Phantom Traveler
Homeland Security. It's pretty illegal, even for us.

Sam: What is that?
Dean: It's an EMF meter. It reads electromagnetic frequencies.
Sam: Yeah, I know what an EMF meter is. But why does that one look like a busted-up Walkman?
Dean: [smugly] Because that's what I made it out of. It's homemade.
Sam: Yeah, I can see that.

Written by Richard Hatem.

Directed by Robert Singer.

Airdate: October 4, 2005.

An air traffic controller from Lehigh Valley Airport contacts Sam and Dean to investigate a suspicious plane crash.

A passenger who is nervous about flying is possessed by black smoke and seems transformed. 40 minutes into the flight, he opens the airplane door causing the plane to crash.

Dean gets a call from Jerry Panowski, an air traffic controller that John and Dean had previously helped with a poltergeist. He tells them about the unexplained plane crash, and they analyze the cockpit voice recorder and hear EVP saying, "no survivors". In actuality, 7 of the more than 100 people aboard the plane survived. The Winchester brothers interview a survivor and hear about the strange passenger who opened the door. They then impersonate Homeland Security agents so they can examine the crash debris and find sulfur on the emergency exit door handle.

The pilot who had survived the crash is nervous about taking up another plane, until he is also possessed by the black smoke. He takes up a small plane that crashes 40 minutes into the flight. The Winchester brothers realize that a demon is causing these crashes and is now going after the survivors.

The only survivor planning to fly is a flight attendant, Amanda Walker. After failing to stop her from getting on the plane, the brothers board the plane themselves, despite Dean's fear of flying. 28 minutes into the flight, they realize the co-pilot is possessed. With Amanda's help they bind and gag him and douse him with holy water. Sam starts an exorcism, but once the demon has been forced out of the co-pilot and assumes its smoke form, it possesses the plane itself. Before the demon can crash the plane, Sam finishes the exorcism and sends the demon back to Hell, and the plane is able to return to the airport.

Jerry Panowski thanks Sam and Dean for what they did, and Dean asks him how he got his number. Jerry explains that John Winchester's voicemail says to call Dean for emergencies.

Body count:

For this episode = At least 95 humans.

For the series so far = At least 105 humans; 3 ghosts; 1 wendigo.

Tropes appearing in this episode:

  • Arbitrary Skepticism:
    Max: There was...this—man. And, uh, he had these...eyes—these, eyes. And I saw him—or, I thought I saw him...
    Dean: What?
    Max: He opened the emergency exit. But that's...that's impossible, right? I mean, I looked it up. There's something like two tons of pressure on that door.
    Dean: Yeah.
    Sam: This man, uh, did he seem to appear and disappear rapidly? It would look something like a mirage?
    Max: What are you, nuts?
  • Audible Sharpness: A metallic sound is heard when Sam removes Dean's knife from under his (presumably soft and cushy) pillow.
  • Big Bad: The demon causing all the plane crashes.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: The demon.
  • Catchphrase: Before getting down to evil, the Demon says, "Wow. Time really does fly."
  • Canis Latinicus/Ancient Grome: "Christo" is not Latin for "God" but Greek for "The Anointed One" (as in the title "Christ"). Moreover, it should be "Christus" or "Christe".
  • Continuous Decompression: The continuous wind after the airplane door is opened.
  • Death in the Clouds: A demon's been causing plane crashes and the brothers have to find out who it's possessing and exorcise it, before it crashes another plane. Unfortunately, they don't manage to stop it getting on the plane, so the climax takes place on a plane.
  • Demonic Possession: This is the first episode of the series to feature a demonic possessor, which Sam and Dean have to exorcise. The demon is not only capable of possessing humans, but vehicles as well, and before it is successfully sent back to Hell, it almost ends up crashing the plane Sam and Dean are on.
  • Depraved Dentist: Subverted Trope.
    Dean: And you said he was
    Mrs. Phelps: Mm-hm. He was headed to a convention in Denver. Do you know that he was petrified to fly? For him to go like that...
    Sam: How long were you married?
    Mrs. Phelps: Thirteen years.
    Sam: In all that time, did you ever notice anything...strange about him, anything out of the ordinary?
    Mrs. Phelps: Well...uh. [long pause] He had acid reflux, if that's what you mean.
    [Dean and Sam look at each other and leave the house]
    Sam: I mean it goes without saying. It just doesn't make any sense.
    Dean: A middle-aged dentist with an ulcer is not exactly evil personified.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The word "Christo" is never used again. The special effects for demons is also different in future episodes; most notably, only their possessed victims' irises turn black, while in later episodes, it's the whole pupil.
  • Electromagnetic Demons: EVP on the cockpit voice recorder saying "No survivors".
  • Fake-Out Opening: The beach landscape, complete with Hawaiian music, before our traveler lifts his head and the jet roars, revealing that the scene is in an airport.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The demon.
  • 555: If you watched the version of this episode that aired on December 13, 2005, you heard the number 866-907-3235. For a brief period after the episode aired, when you called this number you'd get the following message: "This is Dean Winchester. If this is an emergency, please leave a message. If you are calling about 11-2-83, page me with your coordinates."
  • For the Evulz:
    Dean: This isn't our normal gig. I mean, demons, they don't want anything, just death and destruction for its own sake.
  • God Was My Copilot: Inverted Trope, with a demon co-pilot.
  • Got Volunteered:
    John's voicemail: This is John Winchester. I can't be reached. If this is an emergency, call my son Dean. 866-907-3235. He can help.
  • Hollywood Exorcism
  • Holy Burns Evil: First use of holy water in Supernatural.
  • Homemade Inventions: Dean has built his own EMF reader out an old Walkman. Sam initially mocks the cobbled together look, but it comes in handy when they are able to use it in public without drawing attention by jacking in a pair of earphones, giving the appearance that they're simply listening to music.
  • Leave No Survivors: The stated goal of the demon.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: The demon seemed to take the form of lightning, when exorcised from the plane, and seemed to subject the entire plane to some Harmless Electrocution.
  • Numerological Motif:
    • The planes crash after 40 minutes, which Dean explains as biblical numerology and that the number equals death. The number 40 is used 98 times in the Bible. It usually marks the end of a stage (40 days of flooding, 40 years in the dessert, Jesus' 40-day fast in the desert), and not literal death, but more of a rebirth. However, 40 does correspond to the thirteenth Hebraic letter, mem, and to the Arcane 13 of the Tarot, the Death.
    • Flight 424 leaves from Gate 13.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Sam's exorcism.
  • Our Demons Are Different: The first time we see the Winchester brothers fight a demon. While discussing this one's MO Sam cites Japanese Mythology, where demons cause specific disasters For the Evulz.
  • Regularly Scheduled Evil:
    Demon: How long we been up?
    Passenger: Uh...almost forty minutes.
  • Religious Horror
  • Shout-Out:
    • Dean mentions he saw Sam watching a George Foreman infomercial in the wee hours of the morning instead of sleeping.
    • When Jerry Panowski explains how John and Dean Winchester helped him out with a poltergeist, an eavesdropping co-worker misunderstands:
      Worker: Poltergeist. Man, I loved that movie.
      Jerry: Hey, nobody's talking to you. Keep walking.
    • After buying a suit to look like a Homeland Security Agent, Dean says he looks like one of The Blues Brothers, but Sam reassures him:
      Dean: Man, I look like one of the Blues Brothers.
      Sam: No, you don't. You look more like a...seventh-grader at his first dance.
    • Dean hums Metallica's "Some Kind of Monster" while freaked out about flying:
      Sam: Are you humming Metallica?
      Dean: Calms me down.
    • Dean tells the flight attendant he doesn't have time for the whole "the truth is out there" speech right now.
  • Super Smoke: The demon, when he's not possessing someone. Apparently, even in this form it can cause a plane to crash.
  • Themed Aliases: Dean claims to be Dr. James Hetfield.
  • Tuckerization: The name Jerry Wanek appears as Dean's alias on his U.S. Department of Homeland Security ID. Jerry Wanek is the Production Designer for Supernatural.
  • Urban Legends:
    • While in Real Life a person cannot open an airplane door mid-flight, despite the urban legends about this, it's justified in this case, as it was a demon opening the door. Discussed by Max Jaffe.
    • The stories surrounding Flight 401 are compared to the crash of United Britannia flight 2485 in this episode.
    • The plot recalls some of the World War II Griping About Gremlins.
  • Villains Never Lie: Before being exorcised, the demon claims knowing what happened to Jessica. Dean tries to reassure Sam by saying that demons lie, but...
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Dean doesn't like airplanes.