Who Threw Momma on the Ceiling?
Analyzing Supernatural’s Primal Scene of Trauma
By Carol Poole
Here is how the series Supernatural begins, with its own origin myth. It’s a dark night, late autumn. A big, comfortable-looking house doesn’t seem to know it’s being stroked by spooky shadows of bare tree limbs. Inside the house we see a young family just brimming with its own goodness and na¯vet©. Mom, Dad, and four-year-old Dean are saying good night to baby Sam in his crib.
Already the show has begun to use one of its favorite tricks: studding each scene with pop-culture references. Sam’s bedroom is a stock set of the genre, the scary nursery where the mobile spins for no apparent reason while the music slides off key. Supernatural’s opening scenes are so saturated with familiar tropes that one doesn’t expect to see anything exactly new here. But maybe we don’t care. Such scenes draw audiences again and again, if only because, as Sigmund Freud discovered, people have a way of needing to repeat certain experiences endlessly. Supernatural winks at the viewer with knowing references that say we have all been here before, while at the same time asking us to care as much as ever.
When the foreshadowed bad thing happens it’s as scary as you’d expect, but there is something new about it. In the dark nursery room, just above Sam’s crib, Mom is splayed across the ceiling. Victim of a gravity-defying demon, she grimaces in terror while blood drips from a gash in her abdomen. A few moments later she bursts into flame. The fire burns …