4.17 It's a Terrible Life

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Title It's a Terrible Life
Episode # Season 4, Episode 17
First aired March 26, 2009
Directed by James L. Conway
Written by Sera Gamble
On IMDB It's a Terrible Life
Outline Dean Smith and Sam Wesson work for Sandover Bridge & Iron Inc. where their co-workers start killing themselves.
Monster Angels
Timeline January 20-23, 2009
Location(s) Ohio
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In a nice apartment, Dean Smith wakes up, dresses in a suit, and drinks coffee. He goes outside and starts his car, a silver Prius. The radio is set to a rock station, and he quickly changes it to NPR. He drives to work at Sandover Bridge & Iron Inc., where he enters his office and goes to work. The day is spent making sales calls and chatting with co-workers and with his boss Mr. Edward Adler. As he leaves for the day, Dean enters an elevator and stands next to Sam Wesson, who is wearing a tech support shirt. Sam looks at Dean and asks if they know each other. Dean doesn’t think so.

The next day, Sam, sitting at a cubicle, answers phone queries about broken computers. He talks with fellow worker Ian, a nonconformist who refuses to wear the tech support uniform and steals office supplies. Sam tells Ian about his dreams, in which he hunts things. For some reason, Dean Smith appears in these dreams. When Sam shares another elevator with Dean, he asks him if he thinks about ghosts, or if he ever has strange dreams. Dean says no, and informs Sam that he “overshares.”

Back at tech support, Sam looks up supernatural creatures on the internet while answering more inane computer questions. Ian comes over to say that he has received a message summoning him to the HR department. They share a joke about stolen office supplies, and Ian heads off to the meeting. Sam overhears another worker, Paul, talking to his computer. Paul is agitated; the computer froze and all his work for the day has been lost. Sam tells him not to worry too much, but Paul is driven and keeps trying to restore the files.

Late at night, after everyone else has left, Paul still frantically searches for the lost work. At last, he gives up, saying that he has failed. He heads to the break room, opens the microwave, jams broken plastic forks into the safety latch, and sets the timer for ten minutes. He then sticks his head inside. Screaming and smoke follow.

The next morning, both Sam and Dean are present as the body is carried out of the break room. Independently, they each look at Paul’s employment file and discover he was planning to retire in two weeks. Sam mentions this to Ian, but he refuses to be distracted from his work. Ian is wearing the tech support shirt, and working feverishly.

Ian receives a message ordering him to speak to a manager, and he goes to Dean Smith’s office. Dean tells him that a form Ian filled out had minor errors, and needs to be fixed. Ian becomes distressed, apologizes, and moans that he has failed the company. Dean tries to reassure him that it is an insignificant error, but Ian runs out of the office. Dean follows him to the men’s room, where Ian is staring at himself in a mirror. Their breath becomes visible, and all the faucets in the room turn on. Suddenly, Ian pulls a pencil out of his pocket and stabs himself in the neck. Dean rushes over as Ian gushes blood. Dean catches a glimpse of an old man in a mirror, but no one else is in the room.

Ian’s body is removed while Sam watches and Dean talks to security. Later, Dean calls Sam up to his office. Dean asks who Sam is, and Sam says that he started at the company three weeks ago. This is the same time that Dean began working there. Sam realizes that Dean saw a ghost, and says that he believes the two suicides are ghost-related. Dean says that his instinct is the same. Sam tells Dean that both Paul and Ian had been summoned to HR, room 1444, not long before their deaths, and afterward they each became obsessed with serving the company. They decide to go to the room in question to look around and discover another tech support employee inside being attacked by a ghost. Sam kicks in the door and Dean swings an iron wrench at the ghost. It disappears.

At Dean’s apartment, they do research. Relying on the Ghostfacers website, they search for the identity of the ghost. It is the late P.T. Sandover, the company’s founder, and he is creating model employees out of unwilling workers. Room 1444 was his office. While Sandover was cremated, they assume some part of him remains in the building. With salt and fireplace pokers they return to the room to look around.

Sam is spotted by a security guard, who takes him to the elevator while Dean continues to look around. The television screens in the elevator go to static. The elevator breaks down, and the guard climbs out. He leans back in to help Sam out, but a sudden jerk of the elevator decapitates him. Sam manages to get out, and Dean calls him with instructions to go to the 22nd floor where a pair of Sandover’s gloves are kept. As they reach for the gloves, they are attacked by Sandover’s ghost. After a struggle, Sam manages to burn the gloves and the ghost disappears.

In Dean’s office, they talk about the experience. Sam suggests that they quit their jobs and fight ghosts instead. Dean says it wouldn’t work, that they would have to live off of diner food and stolen credit cards, and that they’d have no health insurance. Sam admits that Dean is in his dreams about hunting, and that he believes this is not their real life, that something has been done to them. Sam says that he knows Dean, and that this life isn’t him. Dean orders Sam to leave, saying that Sam knows nothing about him.

The next day at work, Sam uses one of the fireplace pokers to beat his ringing phone into pieces. He announces that he quits. Dean is working in his office when his boss, Mr. Adler, comes in. He talks to Dean about his work and his future, offering him a bonus and telling him that if he works seven days a week for eight to ten years, Dean could work his way up the company to be the senior VP of Sandover's Eastern Great Lakes Division. Dean hesitates, then tells Mr. Adler he's giving his notice. While Mr. Adler was left confused as to Dean's decision, he explains that he has other work to do, realizing this is not who he's meant to be. Mr. Adler chuckles in response, and taps Dean on the forehead.

Suddenly, Dean Smith is Dean Winchester again. He stares at Mr. Adler, and realizes that he must be an angel. He introduces himself as Zachariah; Castiel’s superior, who after the revelation of Uriel's betrayal, felt the need to get things back in order, namely Dean's attitude. He planted Sam and Dean at this company without their memories so that Dean could realize that he is a hunter through and through. While Dean may be hung up on Hell and his family and the potential Apocalypse, his life is better than it could be. While most people don't do much besides digging their own graves, Zachariah also notes that the Winchesters make an actual difference by saving people from monsters, and all the while, driving across the country in a classic car and sleeping with women. Noting the hunting life as more a gift than a curse, the angel asks a silent Dean whether he's ready to be who he really is and accept his role.




  • "A Well-Respected Man" by The Kinks
(plays over the opening Dean montage)
  • "Hollow" by Brian Tichy
(The rock music that briefly plays on Dean's radio and interrupts "A Well-Respected Man")


Sam: Do I know you?

Dean: I don't think so.
Sam: I'm sorry, man. You just look really familiar.

Dean: Save it for the health club, pal.
Sam: What do you think about ghosts?

Dean: Ghosts?
Sam: Do you believe in them?
Dean: Uh, tell you the truth, I've never given it much thought.
Sam: Vampires?
Dean: What? Why?
Sam: Because I've been having some weird dreams lately. You know what I mean?
Dean: No. Not really.
Sam: So, you've never had any... weird dreams?

Dean: Look, man. I don't know you, 'kay? But I'm going to do you a public service and let you know that- that you over-share.
Sam: Okay, listen. What if these suicides aren't suicides? I mean, what if they're something... not natural?
Dean: So you're telling me that your dreams are special visions, and you're some kind of psychic?
Sam: No. I mean, that would be nuts.
Dean: Should we go check this out?

Sam: Like, right now?
Dean: No, no, it's getting late. You're right.
Sam: I am "dying" to check this out right now.

Dean: Right?!
Sam: I could use a beer.

Dean: Oh, sorry, man. I'm on the Cleanse. I got rid of all the carbs in the house.
Sam: Hey. How the hell did you know that ghosts are scared of wrenches?

Dean: Crazy, right?
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 way.
Sam: No. Well, look, it's more than that. Like, I don't like my job. I don't like this town. I don't like my clothes. I don't like my own last name. I don't know how else to explain it, except that... It feels like I should be doing something else. There's just something in my blood. Like I was destined for something different. ...What about you? You ever feel that way?
Dean: I don't believe in destiny. I do believe in dealing with what's right in front of us, though.
Sam: Alright. So, what do we do now?
Dean: We do what I do best, Sammy. Research.
Sam: Okay. ...Did you just call me 'Sammy?'
Dean: Did I?
Sam: I think you did, yeah. ...Don't.

Dean: Sorry.
Ed: First— Salt. It's like acid to ghosts.

Harry: Burny acid.
Ed: Not LSD.

Harry: No. It's a bad trip for ghosts.
Ed: Next little trick. We learned this from those useless douchebags—

Harry: That we hate.
Ed: The Winchesters.
Harry: Gun.
Ed: Shotgun shell. Pack it up with fresh rock salt.
Harry: Very effective.
Ed: Very effective.
Harry: Winchesters still suck ass, though.

Ed: Affirmative. Suckage major.
Harry: You have to burn the remains. Okay, this next part gets a little gross. Sometimes... You might have to... dig up the body. Sorry.

Ed: It's illegal in some states.
Harry: All states.

Ed: Possibly all states.
Dean: You gotta be kidding me. How would we get by? With stolen credit cards? Huh? Eating diner food drenched in saturated fats? Sharing a crap motel room every night?

Sam: That's all just details.

Dean: Details are everything. You don't wanna go fighting ghosts without any health insurance.
Dean: Okay, what are you trying to say? Are you saying that my family isn't real? Huh? That we've been injected with fake memories? Come on.

Sam: All I know is, I got this feeling in my gut, and I know- I know that deep down, you've got to be feeling it, too. We're supposed to be something else. You're not just some corporate douchebag. This isn't you. ...I know you.

Dean: Know me? You don't know me, pal. You should go.
Zachariah: Dean, Dean, Dean. Finally.

Dean: What the hell? Why am I wearing a tie? My god, am I hungry.

Zachariah: Welcome back.
Zachariah: Believe me, I had no interest in popping down here into one of these smelly things. But after the unfortunate situation with Uriel, I felt it necessary to pay a visit, get all my ducks in a row.

Dean: I am not one of your ducks.
Zachariah: Starting with your attitude.
Dean: So, what? This was all some sort of a lesson? Is that what you're telling me? Wow. Very creative.
Zachariah: You should see my decoupage.

Dean: Gross. No thank you.
Zachariah: I know, I know. You're not strong enough. You're scared. You've got daddy issues. You can't do it, right?

Dean: Angel or not, I will stab you in your face.

Zachariah: All I'm saying is it's how you look at it. Most folks live and die without moving anything more than the dirt it takes to bury them. You get to change things. Save people, maybe even the world. All the while you drive a classic car and fornicate with women. This isn't a curse. It's a gift. So for God's sakes, Dean, quit whining about it. Look around. There are plenty of fates worse than yours. So are you with me? You wanna go steam yourself another latte? Or are you ready to stand up and be who you really are?

Trivia & References

The title is a play on the title of the 1946 Christmas movie It's a Wonderful Life, in which George Bailey is about to commit suicide on Christmas Eve, when a guardian angel comes and shows him in flashback how important he is to the people in his life and the town he lives in.
The radio station Dean tunes into is an NPR station 91.7FM which is Cincinnati Public Radio, 91.7 WVXU.
Dean Smith & Sam Wesson's surnames are a reference to Smith & Wesson, the largest handgun manufacturer in the United States. Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson had two companies, the first of which was financed in part by Oliver Winchester and was eventually reorganized into the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
Dean's outfit, complete with white collar, blue shirt and patterned suspenders, evokes clothing worn by uber-boss Bill Lumbergh, one of many references to the 1999 cult comedy Office Space. It is also reminiscent of Gordon Gekko the quintessential "Greed is Good" '80s business man in the 1987 movie Wall Street.
The company name, Sandover, is likely a reference to The Changing Light at Sandover, an occult-focused epic poem by James Merrill in which he claims to communicate with angels and spirits.
Dean: Oh I hear you. No, I haven't been to the gym in ages. Carrying a little bloat around myself. It's a sedentary lifestyle, my man, no two ways. —All right, tell me one more time. You said lemon and—what was it? Cayenne and maple syrup, are you serious? How much did you lose?
The Master Cleanse is a real detox consisting of drinking lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup.
Zachariah's alias in this episode, "Mr. Adler," may be a reference to Steve Adler of the rock band Guns N' Roses.
Sam: Okay. Well did you try turning it off and then on?
This line is a standard first response in IT support, and was used in the British series The IT Crowd.
Sam's co-worker Ian Johnston's surname may be a reference to the machine gun, continuing the theme.
Ian: There's a MILF there, Sam. I just know it. Maybe even a G-MILF.
"MILF" is crude slang made popular by the 1999 movie [American Pie].
Sam: I dreamt that I saved a grim reaper named Tessa from demons.

Ian: Classic! How much D&D did you play when you were a kid? Oh, my—okay, so you—rescuing the Grim Reaper. That's—you're a hero. I mean, thank God we got Harry Potter here to save us all from the Apocalypse.

D&D stands for Dungeons & Dragons, the most popular pen & paper role-playing game since its release in 1974. Harry Potter is the boy wizard in the eponymous series of books by J.K. Rowling.
Dean: Crazy, right? And nice job kicking that door too. That was very Jet Li. What are you, like a black belt or something?
Jet Li is a Chinese actor/martial artist.
Sam: No. I have no clue how I did that. It's like...we've done this before.

Dean: What do you mean, before? Like Shirley MacLaine before?

Shirley MacLaine is an actress who is well-known for her beliefs in new age spirituality and reincarnation.
Dean: Perfect worker bees, exactly. So devoted to the company that they would commit harakiri if they failed it.
Harakiri, or seppuku, is the Japanese practice of ritual suicide traditionally performed by shamed samurai.
The security guard's death by elevator recalls a similar fatality at the beginning of the first Resident Evil film.
Dean: Wait, did I- Did I just get touched by a- You're a-
The end of that sentence is a reference to the '90s TV series Touched by an Angel.
Zachariah: You should see my decoupage.

Dean: Gross. No, thank you.

Decoupage is the art of decorating an object by gluing colored paper cut-outs onto it.


The opening montage introducing "Dean Smith" is inspired by the opening to the movie American Psycho, where we follow Patrick Bateman's morning routine.
The episode is the third episode in Supernatural that portrays the boys in an Alternative Universe setting. In 2.20 What Is and What Should Never Be Dean falls under a djinn's spell and finds himself in a world where his mother hasn't died and his family doesn't know of monsters and how to hunt them. In the episode 3.11 Mystery Spot Sam relives a Groundhog Day-like universe in which Dean dies every day under strange and inevitable circumstances.
The color filter that usually darkens the picture and makes every Supernatural episode a bit grainier and bleak looking isn't used for most of the episode, but it comes back just when Zachariah touches Dean's forehead and reawakens his memory. This effect is used throughout the series, including during the transitions in 2.20 What Is and What Should Never Be.
The episode derives tremendous humor from portraying Dean Smith as a polar opposite to Dean Winchester. Trivia in this episode differentiating Dean from his usual self include:
  • Drives a Prius hybrid with Ohio plates OTO 29C instead of the Impala
  • Listens to NPR in the car rather than rock music
  • Director of Sales & Marketing (room 2208)
  • Watches Project Runway
  • Eats salad for lunch in the office instead of burgers at diners
  • Has no beer in his home because he's on a strict detox diet
  • Puts rice milk in his coffee
  • Likes doing research
Despite Sam Winchester being a terrible artist (as shown by his attempt at a police sketch in 3.05 Bedtime Stories), Sam Wesson displays artistic talent in his doodles of the monsters from his dreams.
When Dean looks up the file of the tech support worker who's just died, Paul's manager is listed as "Mary-Ann Liu."
Dean Smith claims that he went to Stanford, that his father is "Bob" (Bobby), his mother's name is Ellen and he has a sister called Jo. Sam, on the other hand, talks about breaking up with his fiancée Madison and gets suspicious when her telephone number ironically directs him to an animal hospital.
Many of the name plaques in the tech support cubicles are members of the crew. The one behind Sam reads, "George Neuman". The ones on either side of him read, "Tim Dagley" and "Terry Ewasiuk". The one next to Paul reads, "Louis Holz."
The Ghostfacers' instructional video can be viewed on YouTube.
Sam attacks his phone with a fireplace poker, mirroring Dean's attack on the Impala in 2.02 Everybody Loves a Clown.
Mr. Adler's forename is Edward. It can be seen on a plaque opposite Dean Smith's office.
Zachariah (posing as Mr. Adler) offered Dean a $50,000 bonus. (Source)
John Hainsworth, who played P.T. Sandover, also played a sick elderly man that gets healed by Roy Le Grange in 1.12 Faith.

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