In the midst of turmoil of all kinds and way more stress than most of us hoped we’d be enduring for long periods of time, our comfort shows are even more important. While Supernatural ended its fifteen year run in 2020, the show and its fictional characters are still very much my comfort show, so I’m going back to the beginning and doing a series rewatch from the pilot on – which could keep me busy for quite some time! It’s a way to keep the show alive for me and it’s also a brand new experience, because I’m now watching it through a very different lens than I did fifteen years ago – with the full knowledge of what will happen to these characters for fourteen more seasons. That’s therapeutic for me at a time when I need help dealing with the loss of Supernatural, and hopefully will be helpful to other fans who are also trying to deal. We also put a book out in 2020 about the end of Supernatural and the legacy it leaves behind, with chapters from the show’s actors and fans. We hope There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done and our previous book, Family Don’t End With Blood, with chapters written by Jared, Jensen, Misha and many other actors, will be a help in dealing with the loss too. You can find more information about those books at the end of this article, but for now, let’s go back in time to 2005.
The second episode of Supernatural. How I wish I could go back to that long ago time, when the show I would fall so deeply in love with had just started airing. When the question was, would the show live up to its intriguing pilot?
Spoiler alert: It did.
Wendigo is an iconic episode in part because it is the second one. The first one to be filmed in Vancouver after the pilot was filmed in LA. When Supernatural ended six weeks ago, Jared and Jensen reminisced in an interview about how they felt fifteen years ago when they set off to begin what would turn out to be a fifteen year adventure. The boys – because that’s what everyone would soon come to call them – made the trek north to Vancouver together, road tripping to their new workplace and starting the adventure together, as they would continue it for so long. It makes me emotional now, thinking about how excited and anxious they must have been, in their twenties and taking on the lead roles of a show that would rest on their shoulders.
You did good, boys.
Wendigo was directed by David Nutter, which probably helped maintain the momentum of the pilot and keep the continuity tight. The episode starts out just as scary as the pilot was, in the dark woods of Blackwater Ridge with a couple of clueless guys in a tent as something growls outside and shadowy figures move past the semi-transparent canvas. One of them is played by Cory Monteith, later to be famous on Glee, who is already gone, for real. The sense of how much time has passed since this episode hits hard just knowing that.
David Nutter does a great job of showing the young men’s vulnerability – how much more vulnerable can you feel, trapped in a tent that clearly won’t protect you and unable to see what’s coming for you from outside? We see shadows pass by outside the tent and I already want to start hiding my eyes. Nicely done, Show.
Meanwhile, Sam, looking unbearably young and adorable in a suit, brings flowers to Jessica’s grave. It seems like a tender and sad scene, then suddenly a hand claws its way up from the gravedirt and grabs for Sam. Pretty sure I screamed the first time I saw that. Early Supernatural really was like a 42 minute horror movie each week.
Sam wakes from his nightmare in the car, beside his brother, where so much of early seasons Supernatural takes place.
Dean: Another nightmare?
He’s big brother worried, though Sam tries to shrug it off.
Dean: Wanna drive?
Sam is as astounded as I am watching, because that is not something Dean Winchester offers on the regular – and it’s even more clear now, with the benefit of fifteen years of evidence, that Dean was really worried about his little brother.
Sam insists he’s okay, and on they go, stopping to read actual maps to get to the coordinates their father left them, because most of us didn’t have GPS in our cars or on our phones in 2005. That sense of how much time has passed strikes me again – it’s clearly going to be a theme of this rewatch.
A moment of nostalgia hits me for the Impala’s original license plate. It’s one of the things they brought back in the finale that made me so emotional.
The brothers are smart in the early seasons, easily getting the scoop and an address from the ranger so they can try to track down the missing young men. They’re prickly with each other though, Sam laser focused on finding their dad and whatever killed Jessica, Dean already going down the path of ‘saving people, hunting things’ even if we haven’t heard that phrase yet.
Sam: Why even talk to this girl?
Dean: Since when are you all shoot first, ask questions later?
Sam: (frowning) Since now.
Dean flirts with the girl (Hailey, played by Gina Holden), who admires his car. Sam scoffs.
The show begins its tradition of paralleling the brothers with the guest stars, as we find out that Hailey and her two brothers have lost their parents.
Hailey: It’s just me and my brothers. We keep pretty close tabs on each other.
I nod while watching, because that’s going to be 15 years of the Winchesters. Hailey refuses to be left out of the search, determined to find her brother Tommy, and Dean’s reaction gives us some more insight into what makes him tick.
Dean: I think I know how you feel.
Watching now, I’m a little in awe of how well and how early they set up the dynamic between the brothers, then slowly spooled it out, so that it happened organically and believably. So much of it was there, though, from the beginning.
Sam expresses doubt that Hailey should go looking for her brother, but if there’s one thing that Dean can relate to, it’s being protective of one’s siblings – especially if you feel a bit responsible for them.
Dean: Her brother is missing, Sam. I don’t think she can sit this one out.
Guest stars providing a mirror for the brothers was a constant in the early seasons, and helped us understand them more deeply as the series progressed.
Meanwhile Sam is still super smart, noticing the shadow moving behind the tent in the video is super-humanly fast. They visit the only survivor of a similar past attack, now an old man, and promise they’ll believe him if he tells them what happened.
The thing that got his parents, he says? It got inside our cabin.
His voice is incredulous, all those years later, and chilling.
Old man: It unlocked the door.
Damn. That was the scariest, creepiest reveal, and so well done.
Supernatural already had its signature mix of scary, emotional and funny down by the second episode. Sam notes that the monster is something corporeal, and Dean makes fun of him instantly.
Dean: Excuse me, professor.
They’re still not on the same page, though, as Sam protests the decision to go up on the ridge and help Hailey look for her missing brother.
Sam: What, finding Dad’s not enough? Now we gotta babysit too?
They go anyway, Dean brushing off Hailey’s suspicions about their outfits and lack of supplies.
Dean: Oh honey, I don’t do shorts.
(He’ll break his promise years later for the gym teacher disguise, memorably…)
Early seasons Dean isn’t exactly a feminist, a characteristic that’s mostly played for laughs in 2005.
Dean to Hailey: That’s the most honest I’ve ever been with a woman…. Like, ever.
I hadn’t fallen for the character yet at this point, but Dean was never painted as perfect. He was always complex and complicated and flawed and dealing with trauma that would tank most of us. The show is going to talk a lot about truth and honesty and when it’s a good idea to keep some things from people and when it’s not, wrestling with those ideas right up through the very last season.
The asshole ranger guy who treats Sam and Dean like kids who don’t know anything nevertheless saves Dean from walking into a bear trap and to the Winchesters’ credit, they don’t really hold Roy’s dismissal of them against him – they’re very capable of putting their own egos aside to recognize someone whose expertise can be helpful.
Too bad Roy couldn’t say the same. He goes off by himself, ignoring Sam and Dean advising him not to, and makes fun of their protective circle. But Sam and Dean stay smart, Sam figuring out that it’s smart enough to want to cut them off and Dean laying down Anasazi symbols to keep them safe.
The urgency and sense of danger builds: Tommy is strung up in a dark cave watching his friend get eaten by a monster. I love that Supernatural does horror the scariest way possible imho – we don’t see the monster clearly, just its deformed and hulking shadow as it approaches the helpless victim, silhouetted in the cave entrance. SO scary.
Meanwhile, Sam and Dean are still struggling to get their relationship as brothers back on track and figure out how to work together. It’s that complicated psychological dynamic that pulled me in, so different than most other shows at the time – or even now.
Dean keeps trying to figure out how Sam is doing, with all the anger he can see simmering under the surface.
Dean: No you’re not fine, you’re like a powder keg, man. I’m supposed to be the belligerent one!
The brothers’ struggle to reconnect is hard to watch, because it’s clear that they grew up very close, but unclear what their separation of the last few years did to that closeness, or even to how well they know each other as adults. And that is something that’s tough for Dean to accept, wanting to believe he does know Sam so that he can figure out how to keep their family together.
They both realize by this point that Dad is not there, and in fact, Dean’s starting to think he never was. He holds up their dad’s journal, and his voice gets earnest. Sam and Dean huddle together in the dark, whispering urgently, out of hearing of the others.
Dean: This is why. This book. I think Dad wants us to pick up where he left off. You know, saving people, hunting things. The family business. Dad’s given us a job to do.
Not gonna lie, as that iconic scene played out, I teared up. I didn’t know at the time that that description of who they are and what they do would be so true, that it would define so much of the show. That those would be words that would have so much meaning to the fandom – to me. Saving people, that’s what the show did. That’s what I’ve written whole books about. It’s so odd to watch now, knowing that at the time I had no idea what those words would come to mean. Both Jared and Jensen touch on that in their chapters in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, how the Winchesters are defined by that mantra.
Sam disagrees, saying he’s gotta find their dad, and Jessica’s killer.
Dean: We’ll find them, I promise. But all that anger, you can’t bury it over the long haul, you gotta have patience, man.
Sam: How do you do it?
It’s a genuine conversation between the brothers, as hard as that is for them at the time.
Dean: Helping save other people makes things a little more bearable. Tell you what else helps. Killing as many sons of bitches as I possibly can.
The show in a nutshell, second episode ever.
Sam sits, back up against a tree, contemplating, grappling with sadness and loss and who he is after all the trauma he’s been through. What he wants to do and who he wants to be. It’s a gorgeous shot, Serge Ladouceur already working his magic.
When he returns to the others, he looks resolute.
Sam: I for one wanna kill this SOB.
Dean: (relief clear on his face) Well you know I’m in.
It’s a pivotal moment, that moment when Sam decided that he’s in too, ready – at least for now – to sign onto the family business. It reads even more powerfully now, now that we know how terrified Dean was that Sam wouldn’t come with him or stay with him. How relieved he must have been when he saw that his words had reached his brother.
There’s a bit of exposition, courtesy of the journal, about wendigos being cannibals and how they came to be, and it’s a pretty tragic story. Smart Sam figures out quickly that the thing is luring them, leaving claw marks that are way too easy to follow. Suddenly, as they walk through the woods, blood drips onto Hailey (the same motif repeating throughout the series) and Roy’s dead body falls from the tree above.
Everyone runs, Dean and Hailey getting separated from Sam and younger brother Ben.
It’s maybe the first time we get to hear a panicked Sam yell “Dean!” to no avail.
Luckily both Winchesters are smart in the early seasons, so Dean leaves a trail of M & M’s to follow to the old mine where the wendigo keeps its victims.
Sam grins when he realizes what Dean has done, relief and appreciation of his brother’s ingenuity both apparent in his smile.
They find the cave and, because it’s Supernatural, ignore the warning and walk right in.
It’s a perfect scary setting, dark and damp with the light from the entrance showing the shadowy figure of the monster when we see him at all. Only flashlights illuminate the way as Sam and Ben walk through it – another fixture of Supernatural that starts early on and continues through the entire series, how beautiful and scary Serge Ladouceur can make a scene lit only by flashlight.
It reminds me too of the tunnels set from Season 13 where Sam was temporarily killed by vampires. I was lucky enough to be on set for that episode and to walk through those tunnels and even in real life they were dark and creepy and claustrophobic. The old mine looks the same.
Sam and Ben (Alden Ehrenreich, who would go on to play a young Han Solo) eventually fall through the floor and right into the place where Dean and Hailey and her brother are strung up. You can hear the panic in Sam’s voice when he goes to his brother.
Sam: Dean, hey, you okay?
He cuts Dean down, reassuring him with “I gotcha, I gotcha” the way we’ll hear the Winchesters do a thousand times over the next fifteen years, and then checking on him again, asking “are you sure you’re all right?”
It tells us a lot about the brothers and their relationship – even though they aren’t seeing eye to eye, there’s a deep love there, and it’s not one way. It’s not just the big brother being protective of his younger brother, it’s both of them. It makes their relationship ring true from the start.
Hailey also finds Tommy alive, an equally heartfelt reunion, a mirror of Sam and Dean again.
Sam and Dean are on the same page (and badasses) as they find some flare guns and have one of their first conversations without many words.
Dean: You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin?
Sam: Yeah, I think so.
They split up, Sam getting Hailey and her brothers to safety, Dean trying to lure the Wendigo away from them. You get the feeling that Dean is perfectly content with this, that he’s okay as long as he knows Sam is okay, so he’s fine with putting himself right smack in the line of danger if it will keep his brother safe. Bravado dialed right back up to off the charts.
Dean: Chow time, you freakin’ bastards – that’s right, I taste good!
It’s typical Dean Winchester badassery and bravado, and honestly, it’s no surprise I fell in love with this guy so damn hard.
There’s another moment so scary that I think I was yelling at my TV the first time I saw it, Sam not knowing the creature is coming up behind him and AAHHH and then being a big damn hero and blocking the way, gathering the others behind him.
Dean appears just in time and lights it on fire, and as it flames out, he grins.
Dean: Not bad, huh?
Once they’re safe, Dean quickly returns to his customary bravado.
Hailey: Must you cheapen the moment?
Hailey and her brothers climb in the ambulance, the family reunited.
Sam and Dean lean against the car as the ambulance pulls away.
Dean: Man, I hate camping.
He drops his defensive make-a-joke-about-everything when he sees the look on Sam’s face, though, and is able to be real to encourage his brother.
Dean: Sam, you know we’re gonna find Dad, right?
Sam gives him a soft look, Dean taking down his facade allowing Sam to do the same. For a moment.
Sam: Yeah, I know. But in the meantime? I’m driving.
Dean tosses him the keys, and you know it must have meant so much to him that Sam’s allowing Dean to take care of him a little. Dean knows what would make him feel better – driving his Baby – so that’s the best way he can think of to make Sam feel better too. Classic rock plays, and the Impala roars off down the road.
It’s the way the show ended for the longest time, with Sam and Dean in the Impala driving away down some gorgeous Vancouver road, headed for their next adventure.
I’m envious of my much younger self, who got to watch that ending and know that there was another episode to come, and another, and another and another. Who didn’t yet know how or when the show would end, or how many times I’d cry, or how many wonderful memories I’d make through this show and this fandom. Watching now, I’m smiling, but it’s through a few tears, because I do know now. Now we’re looking back, not ahead, but I’m still so grateful for the incredible journey.
Even in this, the second episode of the 300 plus that will follow, it was clear that this was a show that went so much deeper than the “Monster of the week”. That the Winchester family was full of secrets, with a history full of trauma and loss and carrying the anger that leaves in its wake, and yet full of love. No wonder it pulled so many of us in.
Next up, episode 1.03. Let’s see how one of my favorites, the Kim Manners directed ‘Dead In The Water’, strikes me now. I’ll have the tissues ready…
Caps by kayb625 unless noted
To always remember Supernatural, check out the
books written by the actors and fans about how
the show has changed their lives – Family Don’t End
With Blood and There’ll Be Peace When You Are
Done. Links here or at peacewhenyouaredone.com