Supernatural vs. Women, Part 2 of Whatever Continued: Fangirls, Part II of III
This post is about Becky. (And it includes SPOILERS for just about everything, so y’know, fair warning.)
Becky Rosen, played by Emily Perkins, appears in two episodes in Supernatural Season 5 and one episode in Season 7. She is also referenced, without making a guest appearance, in two more Season 5 episodes.
- “Sympathy for the Devil,” Season 5, Episode 1. Directed by Robert Singer; Written by Eric Kripke.
- “The Real Ghostbusters,” Season 5, Episode 9. Directed by Jim Conway; Written by Eric Kripke and Nancy Weiner.
- “Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!,” Season 7, Episode 8. Directed by Tim Andrew; Written by Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin.
Is referenced in:
- “Abandon All Hope . . .,” Season 5, Episode 10. Directed by Philip Sgriccia; Written by Ben Edlund.*
- “Swan Song,” Season 5, Episode 22. Directed by Steve Boyum; Written by Eric Kripke and Eric Gewitz.
Becky, known by her high school class as “Yucky Becky,” is the ultimate Supernatural fangirl. She writes slash fiction. She goes to conventions. She sends gifts to the series’s creator. Her heart’s desire is to marry Sam and hunt evil things with him. Becky is obsessive. And devoted. Sam and Dean regard her with fear and disdain. And pity. Lots of pity, really.
Single-minded in the pursuit of her fangirl goals, Becky does some morally reprehensible things. Becky is not a good person.
It’s also hard to call her a bad person. Becky is . . . The Fangirl. A species unto herself, who indulges in her baser instincts at the expense of others because that’s what The Fangirl does. Can she help herself? Of course not! Her fandom is a breed of madness.
Becky’s presentation is . . . problematic, at best. Controversial, even, within the show’s actual fan communities.
And I love her.
Much of my love for Becky can be attributed to Emily Perkins’s performance.
Perkins is in it to win it, folks. She imbues Becky with so much energy and intensity that–no matter what Becky is doing or saying–she’s always a joy to watch.
So, even though I’m categorizing this under “Supernatural vs. Women” (Becky’s stories in the show tap into quite a few sexist tropes, and I’m not ignoring that.), this will also be a somewhat positive post. Because I love Becky, perhaps in spite of myself. And because Becky’s presentation, surprisingly enough, may also undermine the show’s male-centered, patriarchal narrative in some interesting ways.
Now, I am not the only one who loves Becky. Or who has noticed that she may undermine the show’s male-centered, patriarchal narrative in some interesting ways. I recommend checking out Judith May Fathallah’s “Becky is my hero: The power of laughter and disruption in Supernatural” over at TWC (Transformative Works and Cultures).
Becky’s First Appearance: SamLicker81
When Becky first appears, Supernatural is ripping off Galaxy Quest. My first reaction was, “How could you?” because Galaxy Quest is the best thing since buttered toast.** Then I realized that it was perfect: Becky’s character is so tied to fandom, to fan reactions and fan recreations that even her introductory scene being a ripoff is thematically appropriate.
Directed by Dean Parisot and written by David Howard and Robert Gordon, Galaxy Quest is a Star Trek parody (and so much more!) that was released in theaters in 1999. It is the best and smartest parody that I have ever seen and it is one of my favorite movies of all time. Also, Alan Rickman is in it. And Sigourney Weaver. And I’m not sure they can even be not awesome. They get their awesome all over the place. And the script is incredible. And it has a lot of interesting things to say about acting and performance and fandom and monsters. ::breathes:: And gender representation and sexuality and philosophy and faith. ::breathes:: Anyway. ::coughs uncomfortably:: That’s enough gushing about Galaxy Quest.***
So, in Galaxy Quest, one-of-my-favorite-movies-of-all-time, Tim Allen plays an actor, Jason Nesmith, who in turn plays Peter Quincy Taggart, Commander of the NSEA Protector on a (cancelled) TV show obviously modeled after the original Star Trek series. Adorable, harmless aliens–from a culture which has no concept of lies, falsehoods or deceptions–watch the TV show’s broadcasts and turn to the intrepid crew of the Protector to save them from a race of much eviler aliens. The cast members of the Galaxy Quest TV show have to assume their old roles to save the day.
The friendly alien race, while not being particularly imaginative, is incredibly good at inventing stuff, and they pretty much recreate every aspect of the TV show. Most notably, the Protector itself.
In one scene, Jason Nesmith and his fellow cast member, Gwen DeMarco, need someone to help them navigate the bowels of the NSEA Protector. Being actors used to flimsy sets and green screens and so on, they know very little about the layout of the show’s fictional spaceship. Which is now nonfictional.
So, Jason Nesmith turns to a fan. Speaking of fans, a helpful fan apparently posted this scene to youtube, so–for the moment, anyway–you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF_6OfgbF7c
Superfan Brandon, who irritated Nesmith in an earlier scene with a bunch of “technical questions” about the ship, tries to defend himself by explaining that he knows that Galaxy Quest is just a TV show.
Brandon: I’m not a complete braincase, OK? I understand completely that it’s just a TV show . . . [continues explaininhg]
Nesmith: [while Brandon talks over him] Hold–hold it! Stop for a second–Stop–wait–It’s all real.
Brandon: Oh my god I knew it. I knew it! I knew it!! [laughs triumphantly]
So, what does this have to do with Supernatural?
In “Sympathy for the Devil,” Chuck Shirley, who writes the Supernatural book series under the pen name Carver Edlund****, needs to get a message to Sam and Dean. At this point, Chuck knows that his ‘characters’ are real. So, he contacts a fan. (And I am including a longer transcript for the Supernatural scene below, because I could not find a helpful, fan-posted youtube clip of it.)
Becky: Oh my god. You’re–you–
Chuck: Carver Edlund, yeah. Hi Becky.
Becky: You got my letters. And my marzipan!
Chuck: Yeah, yeah, um. Yummy. But uh–
Becky: I am your number one fan. You know. [throaty breath] I’m SamLicker81.
Chuck: I’m sorry, you’re–you’re what?
Becky: Webmistress at MoreThanBrothers.net?
Chuck: Oh, yeah, no, yeah, you’re my number one fan! That’s why I contacted you. You’re the only one who’ll believe me. [looks up, warily]
Becky: Are you all right?
Chuck: No. I’m being watched. Not now, at least I don’t think so. But I don’t have much time. I need your help.
Becky: [thrilled] You need my help?
Chuck: That’s right. I need you to get a message . . . to Sam and Dean . . . OK?
Becky: [sighs] Look, Mr. Edlund. Yes, I’m a fan, but I really don’t appreciate being mocked. I know that Supernatural’s just a book, OK? I know the difference between fantasy and reality.
Chuck: Becky it’s all real.
Becky: I knew it!
Galaxy Quest came out in 1999 and “Sympathy for the Devil” came out in 2009, so this exchange looks almost like some kind of 10th anniversary tribute. It’s in Season 5 when Supernatural starts getting really entrenched in the more meta aspects of its universe, so it makes sense that the show would pull from one of the most meta movies out there in its Season 5 premiere. And the fact that the scene in Supernatural is pretty much a rehash of an already existing scene (from a movie about another series with a ‘cult’ following, no less) only adds another delicious layer of metatext. I like that. I also like that, in the Supernatural exchange, super-fanboy Brandon has been replaced with the equally knowledgeable super-fangirl Becky. I like that Supernatural acknowledges the existence of female fans (even if it doesn’t exactly respect them). Heck, I even like that Chuck contacts Becky while she’s in the middle of writing her Wincest slash fiction. (Yes, Sam/Dean slash fiction is called Wincest. The more you know.)
There are a few things that I find significant about this scene, especially when looking at how it presents fangirls and fan communities. The first is Becky’s aforementioned Wincest. This is the only time we see a character writing Supernatural fan fiction, using the characters and universe of the series as building blocks to create a new story. Later, in “The Real Ghostbusters,” two (male) fans will show some skill at improvisation when they roleplay Sam and Dean, but, rather than make a new storyline for the characters, these fans rehash already-existent plotlines, choosing to reenact moments in Sam and Dean’s lives. The success or failure (in their minds) of this roleplay is dependent upon “staying in character.” These fans will not go off-book. So, while the fanboys’ activity is recreative, it is not creative in the same way that Becky’s writing is. At this point in the series (if we accept Chuck’s definition as “prophet of the lord”), Chuck’s own writing is not, strictly speaking, creative either, as his process is limited to writing down what he sees in his prophetic visions. Chuck-the-prophet has control over wording, but he does not create story. Becky’s story may be terrible, but it is, at least, hers. In a way, this makes Becky the only person in-universe to write Supernatural (at least until we hit the alternate universe in Season 6’s “The French Mistake”).
The second thing I find significant is the way that Becky introduces herself to Chuck. Having contacted her, Chuck is obviously already aware of her identity. Nonetheless, Becky feels the need to identify herself as “SamLicker81” and “webmistress at MoreThanBrothers.net.” This is important because it is as close as we get to seeing Becky engage with fellow fans. Presumably, she runs an online community, where she will post her (admittedly terrible) fan fiction, and where other fans will have the option to read it, comment on it and post their own work.
The third thing of note here is that this is the first time we see fandom creating a reciprocal relationship between writer and fan. Becky has sent Chuck letters, and marzipan, and up until now, this has been like sending tributes into a void. Now, however, Chuck has acknowledged her. They are meeting each other face-to-face, if via computer monitor.
There are a lot of positives to this scene.
However. Chuck’s request to Becky is dependent upon the preconceived notion of the fangirl as–as Becky puts it–unable to tell “the difference between fantasy and reality.” In the Galaxy Quest model, Jason contacts Brandon for his expertise: his detailed knowledge of the NSEA Protector, which was proven in an earlier scene. Chuck contacts Becky because she sent him letters. And marzipan. Which certainly crosses a line. Chuck seeks out Becky because she crossed a line, because her behavior was inappropriate, intrusive and suggestive of an obsession. And Chuck needs someone obsessive enough that they can blur the line between fantasy and reality. Because no one else will believe him.
This need for Becky to believe does fit in nicely with the questions of faith that the show likes to raise, especially since Becky is being asked to believe in something for which Chuck offers her no evidence. I get that. I still think that this gentle mocking of the Fangirl could be a little more gentle. Or a little more nuanced. Or something. Maybe it’s the thing about the marzipan that gets to me. (What? Mailing food to strangers is just creepy.)
So, Becky goes out into the world to deliver a message from her favorite author to her favorite characters. And when she finds the Winchesters, she . . . gropes Sam.
My feelings about this are mixed.
First, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way. I am not a fan of the “molestation is funny when it happens to men” trope. It’s one of those role-reversal moves that only seems to reinforce gender stereotypes, and it upsets me. Let’s play the gender-swap game, shall we? Recast Becky as a dude and Sam as a chick. And the fanboy gropes the female character as soon as he sees her. Not on the chest (since the gender-swap would give that a different connotation), but maybe on the shoulder or something. She asks him to stop and he says no.
And yet . . . I cannot help myself. This is hilarious. Maybe it’s the pitch-perfect comic timing when Becky says “no,” maybe it’s the shell-shocked expressions on the boys’ faces. Maybe it’s the simple joy of seeing Sam and Dean Winchester briefly dethroned as the heroes of their own narratives to find themselves no more than characters in another person’s entertainment. Maybe I find it refreshing to see a man, on this show, be treated as an object of desire. (Even though I complained about the gendered role-reversal in this scene only two paragraphs ago. I know. I’m mercurial like that.)
Becky delivers her message and the show continues on. Becky’s message from Chuck turns out to have been a bogus tip in the first place, and we do not see her again until Season 5, Episode 9, “The Real Ghostbusters.”
Becky’s Second Appearance: Fun With Text Messaging
“The Real Ghostbusters” begins with Sam and Dean speeding, in their trusty Impala, to an undisclosed location. Apparently, they received an urgent text message from Chuck telling them that their presence was required as a matter of “life and death.” When they arrive at their destination, however, it turns out to be a Supernatural (the books, not the show) fan convention, and Chuck has no recollection of having urged them to come. It turns out that Becky stole Chuck’s phone–“from his pants”–and texted the Bros. Winchester as Chuck in order to lure her favorite characters to the convention. And thus begins Sam and Dean’s adventure with face-to-face fandom.
Now, this is the only episode in which we get to see Becky interact in-person with fellow real, live Supernatural fans. And what do we get to see and hear her do? She shuts another fan up. That’s it. When another fan criticizes the author on how his characters are always dropping their weapons during fights, Becky shouts out, “If you don’t like the books, don’t read them, Fritz!”
She doesn’t roleplay with other fans, she doesn’t discuss the books with other fans and she doesn’t even take part in the convention-run “ghost hunt” around which the plot of the episode revolves. This is her territory and these are her people. So why isn’t she participating?
As has already been pointed out in that article I mentioned earlier in this post, Becky does have a greater influence on the larger, overarching Season 5 plot than do the other fans at the convention, including the Sam and Dean “LARPers” who are more central to the plot of the episode itself. It is Becky, not Chuck, who can tip off the Winchesters about the location of their missing Colt, because Becky is a “bigger fan” than the Supernatural series’s own writer. Because Becky is a bigger fan than anyone.
When I first saw “The Real Ghostbusters,” I assumed that Becky was one of the convention runners, and that she did not interact with her fellow fans so much simply because she was there in more of an organizational capacity. I like this reading, and it jells with her identity as “webmistress at MoreThanBrothers.net.” Becky, after all, functions within the dual roles of both fan and creator. But, I have no evidence for this reading in the episode proper. Becky talks to Sam and Dean; Becky talks to Chuck. Though she does summon Sam and Dean to the convention–bringing in guest stars of sorts, if ones whose identities must remain hidden–we never really see her do any organizing for it. Mostly, Becky just seems like a glorified audience member, hyper-observant but not truly involved, in spite of the bond she forms with Chuck (which is dissolved by Chuck’s next appearance).
Also, Becky getting suddenly all hot and bothered over Chuck because she sees him fight off one ghost with a shovel? I found that such a weak way of a) getting her out of Sam’s hair and b) “rewarding” nice-guyish Chuck for stepping up to the plate at the last minute. As unhappy as I am with the idea that Checky (or Bucky or Chucky or whatever the kids are calling Becky/Chuck slash) didn’t work out because Chuck “respected her too much,” I’m still pleased that their relationship didn’t take in the long run.
Not least because, if it had, we never would have gotten to enjoy . . .
Becky’s Third Appearance: Introducing Mrs. Becky Rosen-Hyphen-Winchester
The next time Becky shows up, she marries Sam.
“Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!” is in many ways a call-back to “Wishful Thinking,” an episode I hate. In both episodes, Sam and Dean investigate the mysterious phenomenon of people ‘getting what they want’–which, as we know, never ends well. In both episodes, one character uses supernatural means to force another character to fall in love with them. And it’s played for laughs. I find this creepy and upsetting.
But I don’t hate “Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!” the way I hate “Wishful Thinking.” In fact, I kind of like it.
The first and most obvious reason I don’t mind Becky’s mind-manipulation as much as I do Wes’s is the gender-swap. Now, I am not proud of this reaction on my part; I feel that it results largely from my own inundation with the ‘sexual abuse/aggression/molestation is funny as long as it happens to men’ trope, which has been in play, really, since Becky’s introduction. But I can’t deny that on some visceral, culturally-conditioned level, having a female aggressor–with a male victim–softens the blow, at least as far as my emotional reaction is concerned. (I am not sure if this is because I find a female aggressor less threatening or because, as a woman, I feel less threatened since the victim in this case is not female.)
A second and perhaps more valid reason that this episode doesn’t rub my fur the wrong way like its predecessor is that, in “Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!” it is made very explicit that Sam and Becky never “consummate” their marriage while Sam is under-the-influence. All sorts of boundaries are being crossed, and mind-control of any kind is still an extreme violation, but at least there’s no mind-control sex. So, that’s something, I guess. What? “Wishful Thinking” set a really low bar.
However, what I find most interesting and engaging about “Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!” is how it hinges upon Becky’s being a Supernatural “fangirl.”
Because at its heart, the bulk of “Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!” is Becky’s very own self-insert fanfic.
And that’s hilarious.
Becky’s self-insert fan fiction (as she imagines it) goes something as follows: Becky, a devoted fan of the cult novel series Supernatural, catches up with Sam Winchester–her favorite Supernatural character–when he separates from his brother during their annual Las Vegas brotherly bonding week. Sam and Becky see something in each other that no one else does; he recognizes her inner beauty and she cherishes his tormented soul. They have a whirlwind romance that culminates in a Las Vegas wedding attended only by Dean, the last living member of Sam’s family and the only person in his life significant enough to share this special moment with them. Though Sam and Dean will always be close, Sam realizes that the time has come for them to shelve what Zachariah once called the brothers’ “erotically codependent” relationship in favor of a more meaningful, permanent life-bond with a romantic partner. Dean, still clinging to the past, resists this change in their lives, but Becky feels confident that soon he will come to accept that it’s time for Sam to move on. With her.
And, love-potion aside, it’s not so implausible. Each time one of the brothers escapes the hunter’s life and ‘moves on,’ they do so with a romantic interest. Sam was dating Jess at Stanford when the series began, before Dean pulled him back into the fold; Dean settled down with Lisa and Ben while Sam was in Hell; and in Season Eight (which given has not yet been come to pass), Sam will ‘move on’ while Dean is in Purgatory with . . . uh . . . that veterinarian whose name I forget. Sam’s unicorn. So it makes a certain kind of sense that Becky would assume that the next chapter of Sam’s life would revolve around his building a stable romantic relationship.
When Wes turns Hope into his love slave in “Wishful Thinking,” all of her old hopes, dreams and interests go out the window as her new, and only, motivation becomes pleasing her beloved. This doesn’t happen with Becky and Sam, in part because Becky’s motivation is and always has been to fold herself into his life, only changing it in that she takes the place of his brother as his primary emotional support. She wants to investigate cases with Sam and go on hunts with him, and she squeals with delight when Sam shows her that he has made them matching “his and hers” fake ID badges. And she doesn’t do so poorly as his partner-in-crime: she helps him track the latest unsub and, according to Sam, she’s a “pro” at interrogation (er, of the non-violent kind). And even after her manipulations are exposed and Sam is in his right mind again, she still manages to kill a demon before the episode’s end.
Which is a scene I find interesting in its own right. Before Becky makes her first kill (and right after she successfully lures her first demon into a devil’s trap), she exclaims, “I’m awesome!” and is pleased with herself until a look from her victim, Sam, sends her slinking into the background.
And this is hauntingly familiar, because it’s basically a twisted reflection of a scene in the Season 4 finale, when Ruby revealed that she had been playing Sam all along, crowing a celebratory “I’m awesome!” as he watched her, horrified by how greatly he had been betrayed.
And Ruby lived a lie with Sam for months as his demon lover, and was of course played by Genevieve Cortese, Jared Padalecki’s real-life wife. While ‘poor’ Becky could not even manage a short-term relationship as Sam’s fake wife. But both characters (Ruby and Becky) are women who used and betrayed him.
And there’s something in these two scenes, a bizarre resonance that bridges the gap between reality and fantasy, fandom and fiction. Or so it reads to me. Though I often read too much into things.
Anyway, the resolution of the episode is pretty much the collapse of Becky’s fan fiction. Which sends the audience–composed largely of fans, and female fans at that–a mixed message. On the one hand, the writers are reminding their fans that they are aware of their existence; they acknowledge the “fangirl” and her ability to create a space for herself within the show’s (or the books’) fictional universe. On the other hand, this episode looks a lot like an admonition to fangirls: “Leave our stars alone, ladies, for they are not your toys to play with. Don’t be like Becky, who overstepped her bounds and tried to make herself both co-star and co-creator. Remain content in your role of non-participating observer.” Something like that.
This has been rather a long-winded post already, and I don’t have much to add at this point.
But I do think there is something deeply sad about Becky, and it is not necessarily the same thing that the show acknowledges is deeply sad about Becky (her over-dependence on the escapism of Supernatural and her unhealthy obsession with Sam). No, I think that perhaps the deeper tragedy of Becky is that Becky is a fan who knows too much.
This may explain Becky’s odd lack of participation in “The Real Ghostbusters.” Becky can interact with Sam and Dean and Chuck, because she shares with them the knowledge that the Supernatural universe is real. But she is no longer the same kind of fan who can participate in the ‘fake’ Winchester ghost hunt, now that she knows their is a ‘real’ alternative. (The fact that the convention’s fake ghost hunt turned out to be a real ghost hunt after all notwithstanding.) In “Season Seven, Time for a Wedding,” Becky looks wistfully back on her old online Supernatural fan community–the first space in which she ever felt she was understood. But she talks about these “message boards” in the past tense, as if this once-safe space is one to which she cannot return.
And maybe Becky can’t go back. Not now that she has met “the real Sam and Dean.” Or maybe the shift came earlier than that. Maybe as soon as Chuck told her “It’s all real!,” it was already too late to go back. Because even though Becky is the ultimate fangirl, she is also a fangirl-like-no-other, because she knows. And that knowledge separates her from her fan community.*****
Ultimately, I guess I feel that the Powers-That-Be on the show giveth and taketh away, acknowledging the fangirl’s power and complexity even while mercilessly mocking her. Anyway, as the ur-fangirl, Becky plays an interesting role. And even though “Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!” seemed rather like an attempt to write her out of the show for good, the character’s still out there somewhere and could theoretically reemerge. I’m curious to see how and if she’ll be used in the future.
* * *
* I’m getting my info on the show’s writing and directing credits (when possible) from the official CW Supernatural site. However, the official site is missing writing and directing credits for the episode “Abandon All Hope,” so these credits are from IMDb.com.
** I was going to say “the best thing since toast,” which scans better. But then it occurred to me that plain toast isn’t so great.
*** No. No it’s not. It never is. This is a movie even smarter than it thinks it is, and it’s pretty proud of itself.
**** Two of the show’s writers/producers are Jeffrey Carver and Ben Edlund.
***** Though, now that “Pac-Man Fever” has come out and Charlie knows about the books (now online), a new, more “in-the-know” fan community could potentially be created.