Ah, good old repressed American culture. We’re so very obsessed with sex, but we’re terrified of it. Like many human cultures, we want to enjoy it, but we believe we have to carefully control it. And so we hedge it round with ridiculous rules. We demand women adhere to strict modesty standards in the vain hope we can keep the boys in line (while teaching the boys to ignore all the rules, of course, because having sex with girls is how they prove they’re men). We even come up with horror stories to teach the kiddies that if they give in to their hormonal urges, they’ll die.
That’s what the Hook Man’s for. He’s there to keep young people away from Lover’s Lane. At the beginning of this episode, we see a randy young man getting fresh with the virginal preacher’s daughter. We see him die for his immodesty – a nice departure from our cultural habit of punishing the woman for the man’s inability to heed the word “no.”
In the urban legend, the Hook Man is an escaped serial killer, a dangerous mental patient, or both. The girl who, upon hearing the news of the homicidal escapee, insists on fleeing rather than just locking the doors and having their fun, saves the day. It’s how the randy couple ends up with a hook on their door handle rather than in their tender flesh. In this episode of SPN, the Hook Man isn’t a corporeal being, but the spirit of an 1860s preacher who, enraged by all the immorality going on in the red light district, went on a spree and murdered thirteen prostitutes. And he’s hung around beyond death to fight against carnal sins. People can’t flee him because there’s no warning over the radio that he’s coming. The only way to survive is never to sin in the first place.
But he’s just a symptom now. The real disease is the one Reverend Sorensen, almost-victim Lori’s father, is spreading. He’s preaching the same old sermon to his daughter. Moral and sexual purity are all. Her sorority house is a den of corruption. He’s trying to drag his daughter away from it, while she wants freedom, even while she manages to refrain from drunken debauchery. She resisted her boyfriend (and he died for trying to corrupt her). She resisted her roommate Taylor, who urged her to unleash her inner hot chick (and died for trying to make Lori sexy). Everyone around Lori who shows the slightest sign of impurity according to the Reverend’s rules dies.
The boys find out that the Hook Man has been cleansing the town for over a century, and as a spirit, he’s always involved with men of God. In 1932, he killed on behalf of a clergyman (who was then blamed for Hook Man’s murders). In 1967, it was a seminarian who unwittingly unleashed him and paid for his crimes. Both holy men had, like Rev. Sorensen, preached vigorously against immorality. We see that when you invoke the wrath of the Hook Man, his crusade blows back on you.
There’s a nice warning to the moral majority, eh?
Anyway. Like many a morality policeman before him, the Reverend turns out to be better at preaching than practicing. The man who says we should abhor sexual sin and keep ourselves pure is having an affair with a married church member. Funny how those men who scream against illicit sexytimes the loudest are often the guilty ones, innit? The higher their volume, the greater their sins are. I can name so many just off the top of my head: Josh Duggar. Bill Gothard. Doug Phillips. Jack Hyles. Jim Bakker. And that’s not even touching the endless parade of Republican politicians who’ve howled about sexual immorality, only to be caught engaging in it.
In this case, the twist is that the Reverend’s daughter believes him. She believes you should keep yourself pure, and if you sin, you should be punished. And the Hook Man is more than happy to deal out that punishment.
The thing is, the spirit doesn’t have discernment. It can’t say, “Look, kid, dressing in sexy clothes isn’t a capital crime. Boundary-pushing boyfriends who haven’t crossed the line into sexual assault can probably benefit more from a crash course in consent than a hook to the head. And hypocritical fathers are gross, but an affair between two consenting adults isn’t the most terrible thing. Maybe instead of death, try public exposure?” It’s morality is, like fundies who haven’t yet been caught doing naughty things, starkly black and white. Do wrong and die. Poor Lori now thinks she’s done wrong, even though this murdering moral crusader isn’t what she intended when she thought people deserved to be punished. Since she’s judged herself a sinner, the Hook Man comes for her.
He is a metaphor for taking purity too far, for punishing ourselves and each other too harshly for failing to live up to impossible standards. In other stories, he’s seen as a warning against sex. In this one, he’s a warning against judging others too harshly, and against repressing our sexual selves too much. He’s an example of what happens when our moral outrage goes too far.
Which is pretty awesome symbology for a bro show.