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 and Iron Company where their co-workers start killing themselves.
Monster Angels
Timeline Three weeks after Dean gets out of the hospital.
Location(s) Ohio
[[{{{prevep}}}|« Previous Episode]] | [[{{{nextep}}}|Next Episode »]]


In a nice apartment, Dean 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 the office of Dean Smith and goes to work. The day is spent making sales calls and chatting with coworkers and his boss Mr. Adler. As he leaves for the day, Dean enters an elevator and stands next to Sam, 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 labeled Sam Wesson, 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 becomes 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 ten years, Dean could be a senior VP. Dean hesitates, then tells Mr. Adler he is giving his notice. He says that he has decided that this is not who he is meant to be. Adler laughs, and taps Dean on the forehead.

Suddenly, Dean Smith is Dean Winchester again. He stares at Adler, and realizes that he must be an angel. He is: his name is Zachariah. He is Castiel’s superior, and 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.




  • "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: 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.
Dean: How would we live? Come on, you got to 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: Those are details.

Dean: Details are everything! You don't want to go fighting ghosts without any health insurance.
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 sake, 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 Jimmy Stewart 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.
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.
The episode derives tremendous humor from portraying Dean Smith as a polar opposite to Dean Winchester - Dean Smith rather listens to the news than to rock music, drives a Prius hybrid instead of a Chevy, eats salad for lunch and has no beer in his home because he's detoxing.
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.
The Master Cleanse is a real detox consisting of drinking lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup.
Ian: (to Sam) How much D&D did you play when you were a kid?
D&D stands for Dungeons and Dragons, one of the most famous pen & paper role playing games.
Ian: I mean, thank God we got Harry Potter here to save us from the Apocalypse.
Harry Potter is the boy wizard in the eponymous series of books by J.K. Rowling.
The Ghostfacers' instructional video can be on YouTube.
The security guard's death by elevator recalls a similar fatality at the beginning of the first Resident Evil film.
Dean: Like Shirley MacLaine before?
Shirley MacLaine is an actress who is well-known for her beliefs in new age spirituality and reincarnation.
The episode is the third episode in Supernatural that portrays the boys in an alternative universe (see also AU) 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.
Sam attacks his phone with a fireplace poker, mirroring Dean's attack on the Impala in 2.02 Everybody Loves a Clown.
Dean Smith claims 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 his fiancee Madison and gets suspicious when her telephone number ironically directs him to an animal hospital.
Visual: 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.
Visual: 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.


Dean Smith drives a Prius with Ohio plates OTO 29C.
Dean Smith's office is room 2208, and he is the Director of Sales & Marketing.
Dean Smith puts rice milk in his coffee.

Sides, Scripts & Transcripts