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Recap / Supernatural S 04 E 17 Its A Terrible Life

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Recap of Supernatural
Season 4, Episode 17

It's A Terrible Life

Sam: I just can't shake this feeling like I... like I don't belong here. You know what I mean? Like I should do something more than sit in a cubicle.
Dean: I think most people who work in a cubicle feel that same way.

Written by Sera Gamble.


Directed by James L. Conway.

Air Date: March 26, 2009.

Dean and Sam are living very normal and separate lives. Dean awakens to find himself in an alternate reality in which he is a Wall Street tycoon who enjoys health drinks and listens to news radio instead of rock stations. He works at a company called Sandover Bridge & Iron Company, alongside Sam, who's in Tech Support. It seems as if the two do not know each other. Neither has memories of their previous lives.

However, after co-workers start committing suicide at an alarming rate, the two find themselves working side by side to solve the murders.


Body count

For this episode = 3 humans and 1 ghost.

For the series so far = At least 304 humans (of which 5 were witches), 28 ghosts, 22 demons, 10 vampires, 6 changelings, 3 gods, 3 shapeshifters, 3 zombies, 2 angels, 2 werewolves, 2 dogs, 1 crocotta, 1 djinn, 1 rakshasa, 1 rawhead, 1 reaper, 1 rugaru, 1 shtriga, 1 siren, and 1 wendigo.


  • Aesop Collateral Damage: The workers of Sandover Bridge & Iron that died before Sam and Dean figured out how to get rid of the ghost. The haunting is what Sam and Dean would consider a very basic salt and burn, but multiple people die because Sam and Dean's memories have been tampered with and they don't recognize the signs of a haunting or know how to get rid the building of a ghost.
  • Alternate Universe: Nope.
  • Bad Boss: The executive-ghost haunting the office building. His influence makes slacker employees so workaholic that they commit suicide over even small slip-ups.
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  • Black Comedy: The microwave's "ding!* Also an example of Crosses the Line Twice.
  • Cerebus Callback: Sam mentions he called his ex-fiancée Madison and got an animal hospital. What was the name of that werewolf in "Heart"? If we needed any more evidence that Zachariah is a Jerkass, here it is.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Thanks to Zachariah's antics, Dean thinks that Bobby is his father, Ellen is his mother, and Jo is his sister. Meg previously said that Dean sees Jo as a little sister in "Born Under a Bad Sign" (S02, E14).
    • As stated above, Sam's ex-fiancée being named Madison and her phone number rerouting to an animal hospital references the events of "Heart" (S02, E17).
    • The Ghostfacers are still doing their thing, but are doing it slightly better than before, thanks to what they learned from the Winchesters (as they grudgingly acknowledge).
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Despite not knowing anything about their real pasts or each other, Sam and Dean dispatch the ghost handily.
  • Have You Tried Rebooting?: Sam's job as tech support seems to consist of him saying this over and over again.
  • Identity Amnesia: Induced by the angel Zachariah.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: Not the classic "what if our heroes had never been born?" but "what if our heroes had never become monster hunters?" Answer: they'd become hunters anyway, because You Can't Fight Fate.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Mr. Sandover.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: The guard: "Look, I don't have the rest of my life—".
  • Lampshade Hanging: Memory-wiped Dean can't understand how ghost hunters are supposed to get shotguns and ammo on demand (there's a waiting period!) or support themselves while on the road... Yeah. Good questions.
  • Meaningful Name: Dean Smith and Sam Wesson. Like the guns, which of course mirrors the gun-related surname of their real identities.
  • Nested Story Reveal: Inverted. Whereas this trope usually consists of the audience being lulled into believing that the presented story is true before finding out it's fake, this episode presents a story that the audience assumes is fake and taking place in an alternate universe only to find out it took place in the real world with the main characters' memories suppressed.
  • Not Himself: The show has a lot of fun making Dean Smith as different as possible from Dean Winchester.
  • Quit Your Whining: Zachariah's message to Dean.
  • Secret Test
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Dean wears tailored suits and suspenders for the entirety of the episode, including while he's ghostbusting.
  • Shout-Out: The way Sam destroys the phone is reminiscent of the printer scene in Office Space.
  • Stealing from the Till: Ian stealing office supplies from the company.
  • Swapped Roles: Memory-wiped Sam is extremely bored of civilian life and wishes his dreams of hunting monsters could be real, while memory-wiped Dean is perfectly comfortable with life as a corporate exec.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Sam's being plagued by dreams, the name of the company is Sandover Bridge and Iron, the name of the ghost is Sandover whose appearance causes people to breathe out faintly yellow breath, and the company's motto is "Building the Dream". Gee, wonder what's going on in this episode?
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment
  • Understatement: Ed says that tampering with buried corpses is "illegal in some states." Harry corrects him: "In all states."
    Ed: Possibly all states.
  • Ungrateful Bastards: The Ghostfacers learned most of what they know from the Winchesters, but still refer to them as "useless douch-nozzles, who we hate".
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Dean notices that Sam has blood all over his shirt but doesn't ask further questions.
  • Visions of Another Self: Inverted. Sam has dreams of his real life as a hunter while he is brainwashed into being a IT tech.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are
  • You Can't Fight Fate


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