Last week’s Supernatural included the most implausible fake FBI identity of all time, but over the years, there have also been a few others that no one should have ever fallen for.
In Supernatural, going undercover is a necessary part of the hunter’s life, in order to gather information about the work they’re doing in secret without straight-up breaking and entering. Since very early days, Sam and Dean’s practice of adopting a celebrity name – most commonly that of a classic rock musician – as a fake identity on a case has been a part of the show’s legacy, and has made for some great little Easter eggs as well as insights into the boys’ tastes. However, given how unsubtle some of their name choices are, I’m actually surprised that more people don’t call bullshit on these so-called FBI agents.
The badly-suited Fed cover remains their most reliable option, as it allows them to sail into town and assume jurisdiction over the local police force, getting exactly what they want, but sometimes, a different approach is necessary. In addition to their most common guise (they’ve pulled that one off over 100 times) the Winchester brothers have posed as — just to name a few — doctors, park rangers, grief counselors, priests, reporters, U.S. Marshals, janitors, technicians, prisoners, patients, personal trainers, and family friends of victims, in order to get close to a case.
Yes, sometimes they do get caught out or checked up on — a huge part of Bobby Singer’s role in the hunter community was to act as the supervising officer who took calls confirming that the “agents” all over the country were legit — but it’s very rarely the name itself that gives them away. Some of them really aren’t fishy at all — either a fairly common name, especially when not part of a duo (Agent Weller, Dr James Hetfield) or, when the names themselves are related, they’re obscure enough to not be significant to someone not directly looking out for a connection — Raimi and Campbell, for instance.
Occasionally someone does pick up a reference — one of Dean’s favorites, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, was directly caught out, though he still continued to use it six times throughout the series, and Sam and Dean’s use of Agents Tyler and Perry got them an innocent ‘Just like Aerosmith!’ but usually, even if a name is recognized, their status is not questioned. In fact, the only person who’s every truly shredded their fed cred at first glance was one of Charlie’s Moondoor LARPers – to the point that Sam and Dean had to pretend that they, too, were cosplaying.
This little habit of theirs is well-known inside the supernatural-savvy community — whether that’s their enemies, their allies, or even fans of the Carver Edlund books – Sam and Dean are once mistaken for Supernatural fans by a comic store owner who recognizes the rock alias trick and the ghost-querying questions, and they’re told to ditch the celebrity shout-outs when Frank Devereaux helps take them off the grid after Leviathan impersonators turn them into America’s Most Wanted — hence season 7 being light on both the aliases and the Impala.
However, the most significant student of all things Sam and Dean is always Castiel, and last week’s Supernatural episode “The Foundry” saw him using this practice to go out on his own and search for Vince Vincente, the rock star who Lucifer is currently inhabiting. He ditched the trench and actually had a very nice suit – far better tailored than anything Sam or Dean own – but the name he’s chosen to use while interrogating people about Vince’s whereabouts? Agent Beyoncé. Yeah.
When Crowley, also tracking Lucifer, finds Cas, he makes a crack about being Agent Jay-Z, but as they proceed on the case, they actually successfully continue to use those identities. Yes, they get a door slammed in their face, but it’s not because of the name — in fact, it’s the opposite, given that Vince’s sister Wendy starts panic-dialing him, stressing about the feds – Agent Beyoncé and Agent Zee — on her doorstep. Not even Knowles and Carter! Agent! Beyoncé! And their investigation succeeds, with minimal use of powers! Crowley teleports into a room after the door is slammed and Cas “senses” that a woman was recently healed – given her abandoned wheelchair and recent use of legs. They actually achieve their aim, hunter-fashion, under the names BEYONCÉ AND JAY-Z.
Over on the Winchester family hunting trip, Mary uses a rather more deft cover — she names herself Shirley Partridge, the widowed mother character of The Partridge Family fame, and Sam and Dean are Agents Cassidy and Bonaduce – as in David Cassidy and Danny Bonaduce, the actors who played the sons in The Partridge Family. It’s still pretty obvious, but it’s a clever mix-n-match, and it’s leagues ahead of Castiel and Crowley. On one hand, I’m thrilled that Cas is succeeding at traditional hunter tricks, because I very much want him to choose to become human at some point. But on the other: there is no way on Chuck’s green earth that they should have gotten away with this.
Nothing will ever take the top spot away from Agent Beyoncé, but there have been a few times where Sam and Dean themselves have successfully used celebrity aliases that really should have raised more suspicion. Here are the worst offenders.
- “Dead in the Water” — ‘I’m Agent Ford. This is Agent Hamill.’ Ford — as in Harrison — could be common enough, Hamill — as in Mark — is less so, but you’d be hard pressed finding anyone in the Western world who’d hear those names together and not immediately assume that it’s a Star Wars reference. You’d at least question the coincidence, surely, even from — what was it? Oh yes — the U.S. Wildlife Service. Later, in “Lazarus Rising,” when Dean calls Sam’s cell provider in order to track his phone, Sam’s account is registered as Wedge Antilles — even less likely to fly on official paperwork, or with a customer service rep.
- “Nightmare” — ‘Good afternoon, I’m Father Simmons, this is Father Frehley.’ Oh, the sacrilege. This is Gene Simmons and Paul “Ace” Frehley from KISS, and I feel like they’re a big enough presence in the pop culture zeitgeist that these are truly household references, particularly side-by-side, not to mention that Catholic priests generally don’t go by surnames – it’d actually be Father Gene and Father Paul. Sam uses Frehley again as an FBI agent in “The Purge,” and Dean chooses another KISS member — Peter Criss — to partner him. They’re forced to re-use these aliases when they’re recognized by Donna Hanscum in “Hibbing 911” — getting risky!
- “Bedtime Stories” — ‘I’m Detective Plant, this is Detective Page, we’re with the County Sheriff’s Department.’ Look, it’s probably unreasonable for a victim to get suspicious of every member of the authorities arriving on the scene to purportedly help them, but no matter how whacked out I was, I’d flag this one immediately and I’m not even a fan of the band. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin would obviously be a popular choice for the Winchesters, but the combo is too identifiable – it’s one of those things people just know via osmosis. Maybe not as widespread as I imagine, though, because they pull these out again in season 5.
- “Sam, Interrupted” — ‘You were referred to me by a Dr. Babar in Chicago.’ So this one wasn’t an alias they gave themselves, but a fake medical reference, in order to get Sam institutionalized at a mental health facility. It shocks me to this day that they got away with it — I fully expected the resident doctor to kick them out on their asses. He even calls them on the alias immediately — ‘Isn’t there a children’s book about an elephant named Babar?’ but I guess their story about starting the apocalypse and hunting demons — all perfectly true, of course – was enough to make him truly believe they were delusional enough to keep under observation.
- “Hunteri Heroici” — There’s no direct quote introducing all three of them together, but over the course of the episode it’s revealed that Dean, Cas and Sam are posing at a nursing home investigation as Agents Crosby, Stills and Nash respectively. Really, guys? This is a total Moscow rules situation here — once an accident, twice a coincidence, three times a pattern. I don’t even know what the ’60s supergroup Crosby, Stills and Nash sounded like, conceptually, but much like Peter, Paul and Mary or Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the phrasing of their oxford-comma’d names is a part of the permanent consciousness, and surely moreso for the middle-aged doctors and cops they meet who would have been young in this band’s heyday.
- “Pac-Man Fever” — ‘Special Agent Hicks, this is my partner Special Agent Ripley.’ The boys use fictional characters way less frequently than they use the names of real people, with good reason — movie references tend to be a lot more widespread, even to casual viewers, than behind-the-scenes information. Yes, you and I know may that Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, but I’d say at least 50% of the general cinema-going audience for a Captain America film don’t know the lead actor’s name. Using the aliases Hicks and Ripley from the Alien franchise — which was both hugely successful upon release and has been a cult classic ever since — for Charlie’s first undercover case is extremely risky, particularly with her initial inability to sell herself. A present day equivalent would be walking in calling themselves Agents Max and Furiosa. No one would buy it, and I’m shocked they bought this.
- “Devil May Care” — ‘Agents Stark and Banner, FBI.’ Come. On. Do I even need to dignify this one? Though, an AU in which Dean and Sam were Tony Stark and Bruce Banner wouldn’t be much of a stretch — an abrasive, overcompensating, needy emotional wreck and a peaceable, well-meaning, intellectual health nut with a ruthless, raging core? Yeah, I can see it. Winchesters, assemble.
- “Stairway to Heaven” — ‘Agents Spears and Aguilera? FBI? Your partner said you’d be along.’ This is one of only two times that Sam and Dean’s aliases have been both based on women, but their self-chosen ones (Nicks and McVie, of Fleetwood Mac fame) are perhaps slightly more appropriate than Britney and Christina. This is why we don’t generally let Cas drive the bus. Ever since Metatron gave Castiel the knowledge of several thousand years of human literature, his dalliances with pop culture have improved from “zero” to “incredibly hit-or-miss.” He knows plenty of things, but he has no idea about the context or significance of any of it. For example, he knows that Sam and Dean usually choose the names of popular musicians for their fake IDs. Oh, Cas, you beautiful tropical fish. Hashtag you tried.
- “There’s No Place Like Home” — ‘I’m Special Agent Gabriel. This is my partner, Special Agent Collins.’ You could easily swing either of these on their own but combined they become too obvious, especially as Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins of Genesis are now cross-generational easy listening radio-friendly favorites. Sam and Dean use tons of references that any rock fan would pick up on in a heartbeat (Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, Marc Bolan of T. Rex, Joe Strummer and Shane MacGowan of The Pogues, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth) but that admittedly may totally pass for the majority of civilians. But these? They’re at risk of being caught by everyone from grandmas to Glee fans.
- “Halt & Catch Fire” — ‘Agents Grohl and Cobain.’ Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl of Nirvana. Each of these surnames are both unusual-sounding and iconic in their own right – Cobain for his death and legacy and Grohl for his continued success with the Foo Fighters. Paired together, they’re stand-out levels of inconceivable. Perhaps Sam and Dean have a generation gap on their side – anyone born between 1965 and 1990 would have to know the significance of these names, but someone a lot older — or younger, like the college kids in this episode – may not twig.
The promo for this week’s episode “American Nightmare,” in which Sam and Dean will investigate an off-the-grid religious cult, offers us at least two costumed moments in addition to their FBI suits — a comfortable, conservative knit sweater ensemble and a return to the Catholic priest cassock. Given the three separate undercover identities that the episode promises, I can’t wait to learn which new aliases brand-new Supernatural screenwriter Davy Perez may add to Sam and Dean’s collection. Osterberg and Reed? Isaac and Boyega? Styles and Tomlinson? The possibilities are endless, and all more plausible than Beyoncé.
Which Winchester celebrity alias has been your favorite over the years?