As I continue my Summer Hellatus rewatch, I constantly run into scenes or episodes that remind me of why I love this show so much. "Yellow Fever" is, without a doubt, one of those episodes for me. I love how comedic it is. On its surface it is a lighter episode and full of laughs. After all, we do start the episode with Dean running from an adorably harmless Yorkie. Then there's the infamous freak out over the cat in the locker. There's so many moments in this episode that make me laugh when I think of them. They're pure comedy gold and a delight. But that's not what really makes me single this episode out. Dig deeper and one sees the real story underneath.
What really struck me most about this episode is Jensen Ackles and his phenomenal performance. He has great comedic timing that seems almost effortless and charming. He isn't afraid to make silly faces or sounds or gestures to sell this to the audience, either. Yet, Ackles can also give us such human drama in his performance that we can't help but sympathize with his character. It's an interesting blend that gives his acting amazing range---and "Yellow Fever" really made that statement for me in this latest viewing. In his performance, Ackles makes Dean's story our story---a very human story that transcends.
Sure, the episode is full of laughs and silliness---after all Dean Winchester---THE Dean Winchester---is afraid to handle his own gun. He instead decides to"man the flashlight." But it is also very serious and dramatic. In many ways it is a retelling of"No Rest For the Wicked"----just without Dean dying or going to Hell this time. We're racing against a 24 hour time clock ticking down to Dean's demise if Sam can't stop it. This time, the younger Winchester succeeds---but not before we see Dean confronted with Lilith. It is this scene that really struck me. Every gesture, every word Dean said meant something---and it was how Ackles said those lines that really made me sit up and pay even more attention.
The comedy is like the candy coating over the drama at its center. Let's first look at how Ackles portrays this aspect of "Yellow Fever." This performance isn't just about getting the laughs---though he does. It's more about showing a different side of Dean Winchester without having to alter his fundamental character so much. Ackles can show us Dean's fears and vulnerabilities underneath the humor. After all, once it's over, Dean can claim it was the ghost sickness---that it doesn't count. Ackles uses the comedy of his performance as a set up for the drama to come later. It's subtle in its nature, which makes it all the more profound. Ackles brings out Dean's inner little boy---equally in playfulness and later in fear.
The case begins innocently enough. Sam and Dean arrive in town starting with a visit to the morgue to find out what might have chomped on the victim. They witness a pretty nasty autopsy complete with spleen juice to Sam's face. It is this moment that Dean is infected---even though he didn't get bodily fluids in his eyes. No. He held the victim's heart in his gloved hands. Whatever is frightening people to death didn't take long to root inside Dean, either. He's afraid of the teenagers standing near the Impala. He's afraid to go faster than the speed limit. As they question a witness Dean is frightened by animals. He doesn't want to stay on the fourth floor. It's too "high," and he insists that Sam get them a room on ground level. Dean sets off the EMF detector and they now have a clue as to why he's suddenly so jumpy. He's haunted---he has ghost sickness, even though neither brother knows what that means.
What Ackles does with this story is amazing. He squeezes every ounce of comedy that he can out of it---and yet that's only the surface of his performance. There are a few scenes that point this out clearly. The brothers are at a dead end, not sure who the spirit could be. Dean sits alone in the hotel room, the ticking clock taunting him. Images of Hell rush him. It's the first real moment when the humor takes the backseat to the growing drama---and Ackles shows us all of Dean's emotions in a powerful way. He does this all without saying a word. We can see his fear in his expression, in his eyes, in his body language. In his tight jaw and the baleful glare he throws the clock, we see the irritation. It sets up the drama that will come towards the end with a brilliant subtly that is sold mostly on his acting here.
As the brothers discuss the case, Dean starts to cough and choke, rushing to the sink. There he coughs up blood and surprisingly a woodchip. It's a tense moment---and emotionally driven. We see real panic in Ackles as he tells Dean's story here. Sure, Dean Winchester is a tough hunter and has managed to emerge from Hell---but that doesn't mean he isn't human. So often we see the outer tough shell. It is his mask that allows him to do his job---and we so rarely get to see it slip. Here, as Dean whines like a petulant little boy, we get a brilliant mixture of tragedy and comedy. He tells Sam, "But I don't want to be a clue!" We laugh---and yet underneath that line Ackles puts in a lot of emotional depth foreshadowing the meltdown to come. It's his skill as an actor that makes this so powerful. It's only when we pause that we see the little lost four year old that Dean once was all those years ago fleeing with Sam from their burning home---and it's right here in this single line.
When the brothers go to the abandoned mill and start to get their weapons out, Dean hesitates. He doesn't want the gun. He'll "man the flashlight." While we laugh at how ridiculous this is---and at Sam's exasperation---we can't help but notice the subtle fear and vulnerability underneath. If that's not funny enough, as the brothers wander into the mill---with Dean making nervous faces the whole way no less---they come across a locker. Sam silently counts to three and opens it, only to let out a cat. Dean starts to scream with fear, the sound sharp. It's one of the funniest moments in the whole episode---punctuated by his line, "That was scary." Even though he's petrified to be on this hunt, Ackles shows that Dean's even perplexed by what sets him off. But when the saws turn on, Dean's had enough and he flees.
Ackles translates the escalating fear for Dean well, building to a crucial and emotional moment. We see it through the comedy---but it's there bubbling under the surface. Dean doesn't want to go into the mill, he has to be absolutely smashed to talk to the cops again---and it's here we laugh because he tells the deputy drunkenly, "You're awesome." When they talk to Luther's brother, Dean is near panic about being caught over using fake FBI badges---even straight to Mr. Garland---and yet Ackles keeps a tight leash on his comedic timing, getting us to laugh at all the key moments all the while setting us up for the first emotional punch to come in the episode shortly after their interview. Dean has reached his breaking point and can't face the ticking clock any longer. He shouts at Sam:
"Us? Right. And that Sam, that is exactly why our lives suck. I mean, come on, we hunt monsters! What the hell?! I mean, normal people, they see a monster, and they run. But not us, no, no, no, we -- we search out things that want to kill us. Yeah? Huh? Or eat us! You know who does that? Crazy people! We...are insane! You know, and then there's the bad diner food and then the skeevy motel rooms and then the truck-stop waitress with the bizarre rash. I mean, who wants this life, Sam? Huh? Seriously? Do you actually like being stuck in a car with me eight hours a day, every single day? I don't think so! I mean, I drive too fast. And I listen to the same five albums over and over and over again, a-and I sing along. I'm annoying, I know that. And you --you're gassy! You eat half a burrito, and you get toxic! I mean, you know what? You can forget it."
Almost without meaning to, Dean is unloading everything he's meant to say since at least "Croatoan." Dean professes to love hunting, to love the life---and yet we know he's been tired. We know that he wants out on some level. It's a natural reaction to the things they've seen and done. Under the guise of ghost sickness, it's okay. After he's cured he can bury these feelings again---and yet we know that it is due to their festering prior that allows for them to explode here. While we laugh at the mention of Sam's gassiness(and in turn Jared's), we're also reminded of just how hard it is for Sam and Dean---and Ackles makes it heartfelt and emotional here as he stomps away.
This speech is one of Ackles best performances within the episode because it reminds us of how human these two characters really are. While we watch them face down monsters and ghosts and demons and other creatures---and sometimes do otherworldly things themselves without batting an eye---they're both still mortals with hopes and fears and struggles. Seeing one of them snap at the breaking point as Dean does here shows us that the fragility often hidden behind quips and stoicism exists and makes them more relatable than ever. Ackles sells that in the tone of his voice and the wide range of gestures he uses to convey Dean's anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion with always facing death head on. It makes for a powerful emotional moment that only smacks us in the face after we let the laughter die away and turn it over in our head.
It's here that the tone shifts more and more towards the dramatic. It's not just about Dean jamming out to "Eye of the Tiger" or seeing him act skittish about everything. As the ghost sickness escalates, it gives us a window into Dean's deepest fears. They're presented in hallucinations here---particularly of Sam going darkside and Dean being unable to stop it. Ackles shifts gears even more, making the elder Winchester's reactions to the hallucination of Sam with yellow eyes traumatic and emotional. He's afraid, yes, but it's not for himself and it's not about Hell---not yet. Ackles shows us that for Dean it's always been about being afraid for Sam. He gets angry and shouts at the Sam hallucination, "No! You get out of my brother, you evil son of a bitch!" Sure, Dean's been ridiculously silly throughout, but underneath he's still Dean Winchester.
But where does Ackles really get to shine? When Dean faces off against his hallucination of Lilith. Unlike "No Rest for the Wicked," we get to see what Dean saw just before being dragged to Hell. Ackles strips all the comedy aside and gives us every ounce of drama here. It starts from the moment Dean picks up the Bible and kisses it in desperation. The act is riveting. This is a man stripped to the bare bones. All masks have fallen away. The only thing left is the vulnerability, the sheer fear that he must relive his death again. As Lilith cheerfully announces her presence, Ackles has Dean flinch and gasp in sheer terror, almost shrinking in on himself. In any other context, seeing Dean Winchester shirk away from a little girl would be comedy---but when that little girl is none other than Lucifer's first creation it is anything but.
Lilith hugs Dean, exclaiming with glee, "Oh, I missed you so much. It's time to go back now."
As she taunts him about remembering every second of his time in Hell, we see the cold mask crumble with each taunt---and as the ghost sickness starts its final throes, Ackles shows us a stunning performance. He already started with the emotional layer---but as he clutches his chest and gasps in unbearable pain it becomes suspenseful. The little boy inside Dean comes out, too, as he pleads with Lilith. Ackles makes the vulnerability resonate in his delivery of the line, "Why me? Why'd I get infected?" As Lilith relentlessly hits him with "baboom, baboom" drawing out the rushing heartbeat already pounding in his ears, Dean Winchester is rendered helpless. The prostrate position adds to this, but Ackles uses his facial expressions to convey that aspect best. We can see fear in his eyes, and his face is softer for it. All of Dean Winchester is laid bare here---trapped in that moment before death.
As the scene flashes to Sam and Bobby's attempt to drag the ghost, we see it come down to the wire---and only after they've succeeded do we see Dean's shuddering gasp back to life. Ackles shows us Dean's disbelief that he's somehow been saved. He glances at his previously scratched up arm and glances around for the specter of Lilith, only to collapse back in stunned relief.
Jensen Ackles managed to make us laugh a lot in this episode (and gave us a stunning encore with his lip synching to "Eye of the Tiger") but really what he did best was tell Dean's emotionally charged story. He built us to that moment facing Lilith carefully. The comedy started absurdly funny---stripping itself slowly to a high dramatic finish that made "Yellow Fever" deeper than a typical comedic standalone. Ackles took the comedy written into the script and presented it with excellent timing and delightful humor. He showed us a much more playful side of his acting that enhanced the story and allowed us to have fun with it. But when it came time to show us the drama, Ackles stripped everything away and showed us not only his ability to shine as a dramatic actor but make his character, Dean Winchester, more human than ever.
One of my favorite scenes is when Dean is back in the motel room after running from the Yorkie. As you mentioned, we see all his terror and irrational fear through Jensen's amazing performance. No one can act so completely with just his eyes, facial expressions and body language as Jensen Ackles can! But what really makes the scene stand out for me is how Dean overcomes his terror and settles down on the couch, long legs stretched out on the coffee table, casually drinking a beer as Sam returns. This is the Dean Winchester I love, a man triumphing over his insecurities and through sheer will and determination showing the world (and Sam) that he is okay. Even when we all know he is not.
Of course it doesn't last long, his brief respite interrupted by the coughing fit and being propelled back into his doom as the clue that will eventually save him.
Then the scene with Lilith. Dean Winchester finally reaching out to God for comfort, picking up the Bible and praying. I love that while Dean is astonishingly brave, even the bravest need help at some point. It was a wonderful way to show that desperation. And nothing is as creepy as seeing that sweet-looking child and knowing how truly awful she is. It was also a very nice remembrance of all the horrendous things that happened to Dean in Hell that he refuses to share with his brother. It allowed us to feel how terrifying that ordeal was, and how his greatest fear might be being pulled back down there.
I love when the writers give Jensen material worthy of his talent. Love when they give us scripts that hit on so many divergent aspects, pulling them all together to really make a point about their lives and who our Winchesters are.
Thanks for reminding me again why I love Yellow Fever so much! Great read!
Jensen Ackles is, to me, an incredibly talented actor who shows Dean's humanity, strength and vulnerabilities to perfection. He did so also in 'Dark Angel'.
A lot of fans thought Dean was out of character in this episode, but I can't agree with that. There is a human being inside of the invulnerable Dean that peeks through now and again. His call to his dad in 'Home' with just a catch in his voice conveyed exactly how he was feeling, and there are so many more of those kinds of moments.
This man deserves an Emmy, and if Emmys were'nt so laughable in ignoring a complete genre, he would have had at least 3 by now
I do believe he can act with the back of his head. I've seen him do it. He continually amazes me!
*Here, as Dean whines like a petulant little boy, we get a brilliant mixture of tragedy and comedy. He tells Sam, "But I don't want to be a clue!" We laugh---and yet underneath that line Ackles puts in a lot of emotional depth foreshadowing the meltdown to come. It's his skill as an actor that makes this so powerful. It's only when we pause that we see the little lost four year old that Dean once was all those years ago fleeing with Sam from their burning home---and it's right here in this single line*
It made my heart fall. I always loved that scene, but I have never looked at it that way, and it is so true! My heart has always hurt for the 4 year old Dean, who's life was changed on that night.
Jensen just rocks everything about Dean. The writers have given him some great material, but Jensen makes them memorable!
To us, he is the best.... he really is the most under rated actor in Hollywood.
One other note about the episode. Padalecki's subtle performance - much of it also shown without words - worrying about his brother, understanding how the illness is affecting him and empathising with him rather than criticizing, supporting him, and racing against the clock to save him - is the other key element to why this episode and whole series is so successful. Two really good actors playing off each other can make magic.
Two of the things that really "get" me in this episode are very subtle things but they pack a huge punch. One of them is when they go to the mill and Dean is "manning the flashlight." As we see them enter the mill Dean is behind Sam and is holding onto his sleeve. This is such a child-like gesture and not the usual strong, brave Dean we usually see. I like the innocence of the action and the safety he clearly gets from having his brother by his side.
The other moment is when they are in the motel room and Sam comes in the door. Dean is sitting on the couch with his feet up drinking a beer and Sam comes in and sits across from him. He too puts his feet up then kicks his brother's foot and says "stop picking at that" to Dean who is scratching his arm. I LOVE this moment. It is one of the best brotherly moments in the entire series to me. It is such a genuine thing to say and the way Sam kicks Deans foot is such an intimate sibling gesture.
These guys....(sigh). ...... BEST EVER!!!!
Loved that moment when the snake climbs onto Jensen's shoulder. The expression on his face was priceless :)
I love how you mentioned that Dean hides his fear well with the beer and the lounging. It's true. Dean is always the big brother, and even when he's terrified out of his head he wants to make sure Sam isn't worried/frantic .
And yes, Dean turning to God is what really made me write this piece. Seeing him grasp that Bible and cling to it for dear life shows that while Dean will deny God's existence mostly, he believes and needs that belief in his darkest hours. It is such a human moment in a series that often delves into the inhuman or supernatural.
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!
Absolutely. Dean is a powerful badass character, and yet we need to remember that underneath that swagger is a man and that he feels fear and pain. It's one thing I love most about "Yellow Fever." We see that, even if it's subtle in nature. Jensen takes it and makes it something beyond powerful and I love what he does for the story here in that acting.
I agree. I pay no attention to the Emmys for this very reason. For a group trying to decide what the best shows/actors/et c is on TV, they sure do a piss poor job by ignoring a whole swath of TV.Personally, I think both Js and the show itself would have won something there by now if the Emmys(or other TV awards programs outside PCAs) bothered to see what "genre" has to offer.
I'm glad you enjoyed that paragraph the most. As I was watching the episode and then thinking about it for my article, that scene really struck me that way. It took a couple rewinds to get it, but when I did it was powerful. It's easy to forget sometimes how fast Dean had to grow up, and when he does show something under that tough guy mask, we realize he never had the chance to deal with things and he's still a little boy deep inside. I'm glad you felt I conveyed that well.
I am also so proud of Jensen for being able to show us that so poignantly---ma king us both laugh and cry all at the same time.
I'm glad you feel I captured Jensen's performance well here. It was a delight to talk about how his performance told the story so well.
I agree about Jared's performance, too. He was spot on, knocked it out of the park when we see him in the hallucination sequences and when we see him tell Dean to stop scratching/etc. I think, for this show, the most magic comes when they are allowed to tell the story together----and we had a good portion of that here.
I agree absolutely. The actors feeding off of one another's skills and presence is what really makes this show magical. Jensen and Jared do such a good job in their performances with either each other or with those they share screen with on the show---and it's fantastic to see what they can do with that to make the words on a page turn into the show we love. I'm glad you enjoyed this analysis of one of those performances.
I also love how Sam keeps telling Dean not to pick at it and scratch. They manage to make these characters so real and full of so many layers that they're really like old friends to us--and what you pointed out in your comment captured exactly why these brothers are so beloved.
Yes. I agree. We are so blessed as a fandom/viewersh ip to have these two actors tell these amazing stories to us every week. I love that Jensen can make one line/scene both funny and sad all at the same time. Sometimes that can come off as campy/cheesy or just simply fall flat. Here, in this episode, we see Jensen make it artful. I'm glad you enjoyed the read.
I think the whole Batman thing went the way it was meant to---not that Afleck is necessarily the choice I would have made. If I understand things, Jensen was asked if he would ever like to play Batman, and he answered, "Yes" because it would be an excellent opportunity to boost his career.
That being said, I agree with you wholeheartedly. While seeing him get bigger fame and acclaim, I don't see a Batman movie matching the caliber of acting he possess as we see him frequently do on SPN, and it's probably better that he didn't get it. I also think, considering the schedule conflicts of still making SPN and trying to film Batman would be far too much to do all at once or in the down time between seasons.
As for Jensen's acting on the show, I think he consistently makes Dean a real person---and it's his skill that makes those words and actions on screen so real, too. I'm glad you enjoyed this look at that aspect of "Yellow Fever."
I'm glad you found this piece to capture the episode so well. I found myself just enthralled by his performance in my latest rewatch---and I had to share that with you guys. It's weird how that episode can make you laugh so hard and then cry. And I found a big part of that was due to Jensen's performance.