Article in the book ""TV Goes to Hell. An Unoficial Road Map of Supernatural"", edited by David Lavery and Stacey Abbott, ECW Press, Toronto, 2011, pp. 146-160
One of the most singular narrative strategies in Supernatural –especially from the second season onwards– is the rupture of the illusionistic mirror that characterizes traditional fiction. Such a rupture, encapsulated by the term “metafiction”, conforms to an aesthetic mode that, at different levels and purposes, reflects the functioning of the very same fictitious discourse: the author’s identity, critical issues at the reception and production process, or the narrative at the moment of realization.
Grounded in the work of metafiction theorists such as Waugh, Dallenbach or Stam, this article attempts to explain how several episodes of Supernatural fracture the illusionistic glass and reveal the conventions that characterize artistic realism. In order to achieve this, we will sketch an exhaustive cartography of the reflexive strategies that the creators of the series employ: the juxtaposition of diegetical worlds, playful narration, televised narcissism, the self-consciousness of the story, and the breaking down of the fourth wall.
We will start by analyzing the apposition of fiction and reality within Supernatural: narratives that still maintain their formal illusionistic skeleton while implicitly questioning the boundaries of a fantasy world in confrontation with diegetical “reality”. Dean’s daydream in “What is, and What Should Never Be” or Sam’s in “When the Levee Breaks” are examples of this type of narrative.
Afterwards, we will examine another kind of formula, still underdeveloped, which involves breaking the illusionistic mirror in order to make clear that the spectator is being confronted by a constructed story, and narrators that twist the plot, as occurs with the recounting and focalization games in “Tall Tales”.
Next, keeping in mind the narrative exhaustion described by Barth, we will see how the television device turns back on itself in a search for originality via stories that employ the world behind the screen as the thematic seed for innovative story-telling. Thus, “Hollywood Babylon” unveils how the shooting of a horror movie works, “Monster Movie” explicitly recycles the referents of the genre, and “Changing Channels” satirizes other TV-series competitors.
Following the metafictional gradation, the illusionistic glass definitely distorts its own reflection when self-consciousness is brought into play. The capacity that an artistic work has for recognizing its own existence as a fabricated artifice offers the most fruitful and important metafictional ramifications in Supernatural. Consequently, we will detail the semantic overload provided by the intertextual relations (the presence of the cylon Tricia Helfer in “Roadkill”, the allusions to Gilmore Girls, the multiple re-readings of horror movies), the ludicrous cameos (Linda Blair, Paris Hilton), and, lastly, the mise en abyme of the self-same Winchester stories in the borgesian “The Monster at the End of this Book” and the self-parody of “The Real Ghostbusters”.
Finally, we will analyze the breaking down of the fourth wall, the highest degree of metafiction that Supernatural has afforded itself, yet nothing like the aggressive reflexivity described by Wollen. Supernatural uses two strategies to achieve this effect: leeching the format in “Ghostfacers”, where an enunciative device (televised fiction itself) feigns to be something different (a reality show); and the direct appeal to the audience in the extratextual coda in “Yellow Fever”, in which Jensen Ackles parodies his own fictional character.