My Supernatural rewatch from the very beginning (after the entire 15 seasons of the series has aired) continues this week with ‘Skin’. I was excited to rewatch this episode because I remember it as being pretty epic. The music is amazing, there are some super disturbing and dark flashlight-lit scenes that have that quintessential early seasons Supernatural horror movie vibe – and it has two Deans. What’s not to like?
In probably one of the best openings of the series, Inna Gadda Da Vida plays as a SWAT team bursts into a house to rescue a bound and bloodied woman tied to a chair in a dark house. They pursue her attacker, ordering him to freeze and drop the knife. He turns around, bloody knife raised, and we see — to our absolute shock — that it’s Dean Winchester!
He leaps to the ground and gets away. What a beginning!
And then it’s: One Week Earlier
Sam and Dean pull the Impala into a Gas N Sip, another of the Supernatural locations that I’ve been at. This one was on my very first trip to Vancouver in 2007, when Kathy and I traversed the beautiful city with a fellow fan who was also a resident. Every time we managed to find a filming location, we stood there in awe, overcome just to be standing where the Winchesters had, taking photos of what had reverted back to a nondescript gas station. The confused attendants probably wondered what the hell we were doing. It didn’t matter; we were joyful just to be there.
Sam is reading emails on his phone because he’s pretty tech savvy for 2005, and Dean’s feelings are a little hurt that Sam’s not paying him more attention (now that we know how worried about Sam leaving again he was, this and every other scene reads just a little differently – and makes a lot of sense). Dean tries increasingly provocative statements to try to get Sam’s attention, finally landing on “Sam wears women’s underwear” because early seasons Supernatural was subtly misogynistic and homophobic in a way that was probably realistic for who Dean was and how he’d been raised but in 2021 makes me do a little eyeroll. But hey, Dean is not perfect, and that’s one of the things I love about him. Another is how much he evolves over the course of the show.
Sam says he’s listening but also reading emails, and that brings up another source of anxiety for Dean as he realizes who those emails are from. He’s envious that Sam had/has a whole life that doesn’t include him, and friends who are not hunters and never will be. Sam succeeded in getting “out” and I think there’s a big part of Dean that’s proud of him and wants that for him, but there’s another part that misses his closeness with his brother and desperately wants Sam to stay with him and to have his family together again.
Dean: You still keep up with your college buddies? What do you tell them?
(Transparent in its disapproval based in fear)
Sam: That I’m roadtripping with my big brother.
Dean: Oh, so you lie to them.
Sam huffs back that Dean is kinda antisocial, the two of them slinging subtle judgments at each other that keep them still not quite on the same page. There’s still a fair amount of resentment there, for both of them – Sam that Dean bought into their dad’s hunting-is-all-there-is life and Dean that Sam didn’t. The fact that they didn’t have any contact for several years speaks volumes to how much their split bothered them both.
Sam gets an email from his friend Rebecca about their mutual friend Zach, who apparently is accused of killing his girlfriend, though Rebecca says that’s impossible, and Sam wants to go check it out. Dean argues, insisting it’s not their kind of thing – he’s clearly both annoyed and intimidated at the idea of Sam being back with his college friends. Maybe he’ll decide to just stay?
They argue, and then Sam looks up at his big brother with the patented Sam Winchester puppy eyes, and it is all over for Dean.
The Impala peels out of the gas station and does a U turn, heading back the way she came.
Rebecca has a strange story about what happened, including that Zach was seen on security footage going into the house where he allegedly killed his girlfriend, but she insists he was actually with her at that time – so he was in two places at once. Sam convinces her to take them to the crime scene by saying that Dean is a cop, and we see how much in sync the brothers are despite their separation when Dean smoothly goes right along with it.
Dean to Sam: Oh you’re a real straight shooter with your friends…
At the crime scene it’s clear the woman let her attacker in, and they also find out that a week before someone broke in – and stole some of Zach’s clothes. Hmmm. There’s a photo of Sam, Rebecca and Zach, a call back to when he was living another life, and maybe one that’s still pulling at him.
Sam to Dean: So you think maybe this is our kinda thing?
Dean: Nah. But we should look at the security tapes to make sure.
Despite not wanting to buy into it, Dean is starting to get suspicious too. The video shows Zach, whose eyes glow white when he looks up at the camera.
Sam: They say a photo can catch a glimpse of the soul.
Dean: So, a doppelganger?
Smart boys are smart, and I’m here for it.
Meanwhile, a short distance away ‘Zach’ watches a man and woman say goodbye. A while later, the man comes home to find blood on the wall and screams for his wife, finding her tied to a chair, cut up and blooded. She starts screaming when she sees him, begging him not to hurt her anymore. The confused man hears someone still in the house and confronts – a man who looks exactly like him!
Early the next morning – too early, according to Dean, who is grumbling into his coffee about it being 5:30 am – the brothers explore the back of Zach’s house.
These little glimpses of who Sam and Dean are help flesh them out as people we can are about. Dean is adorably grumpy in the morning and I am here for it.
An ambulance roars by and the brothers follow it to check out a neighbor’s house, where apparently another guy tried to kill his wife, though all the neighbors say he was “such a nice guy”.
Dean: Definitely our kind of problem.
The smart Winchesters figure out it’s probably a shapeshifter, which there’s “lore” about in every country. I love how often Sam says lore in early seasons.
Sam: Can they fly? Because otherwise, where did it go, the trail just ends?
Dean: Well, there’s another way to go – down.
Smart boys again. There’s a manhole cover beneath their feet. So they know how to kill it, and they’re back in sync with their plan, though still at odds otherwise. Meanwhile, Rebecca has discovered that Sam lied to her and hangs up on him, angry.
Dean: You lie to your friends because if they knew who you really were they’d think you’re a freak.
Sam: So I should be more like you.
Dean: Gig’s not without its perks!
He hands Sam a gun and into the sewers they go.
Here’s where this episode gets a little bit – okay a lot – disgusting. It’s a creepy flashlight-lit scene once again, as water drip drip drips and the brothers try to avoid the goo that the shapeshifter leaves behind when it sheds its skin. Sam nearly runs into some, and Dean warns him away from “the puke inducing bile next to your face.”
The shifter appears, injures Dean, and Sam goes after him, but he gets away. After a separate chase, Dean reappears and they head back to the car, but we see his eyes glowing. (Cue everyone in the rewatch yelling at Sam HE’S NOT YOUR BROTHER!)
Early seasons Winchesters are SO DAMN SMART though, so we didn’t have to worry. Sam tosses Dean the keys and he catches them left handed when his shoulder had been hurt earlier. Sam confronts him.
Not!Dean: Pull the trigger then…
Sam doesn’t, and the shifter gets the jump on him.
Sam wakes up tied up, backhanded by the shifter.
Sam: Where is he?? Where’s Dean?!
Shifter: I’d worry more about you.
Sam: Where is he???
As much as they push and pull at each other, it’s crystal clear just how much the brothers care about each other. Worry more about yourself does not compute with Winchesters.
The shifter, who downloads some of the memories of the person they’re imitating, taunts Sam with what he sort of knows.
Shifter: The more I learn about you and your family… he’s sure got issues with you… You got to go to college, he – I – had to stay with Dad. You think I didn’t have dreams of my own? But he needed me.
He confronts Sam, gets right in his face.
Shifter: I’m just jealous. Me? I know I’m a freak.
And then he speaks the words that we know now were very true for Dean then.
Shifter: Sooner or later, everyone’s gonna leave me… even Dad ditched me too…
This scene hits even harder now that we know what Dean told Sam in the final episode of the show – that back then, he really was worried all the time that Sam wouldn’t stay with him, that he’d be abandoned. It wasn’t just the shifter expressing its own insecurities, it was an expression of what Dean really felt too. That insecurity is a theme that runs through the entire fifteen seasons, right through when Dean was possessed by Michael; the archangel also said that Dean was afraid that Sam would leave as soon as he had the chance for something better. I kind of love that Supernatural never gave up on its tradition of letting the monsters express those internal insecurities and hang-ups that the Winchesters try to keep inside. It makes me all emotional now knowing that Dean was wrong, that it was Sam there with him at the end, freely choosing how to live his life.
The shifter finally steps away, taunting Sam further, saying that Dean would bang Rebecca if he had the chance, so let’s see what happens. He leaves, and soon after, Sam hears actual Dean’s voice calling to him. The look of relief on Sam’s face is intense, so Dean has to make a joke of it, too much feeling in the room.
Dean: Well, he’s not stupid, he picked the handsome one.
And damn, Ackles in the darkness in so much of this episode, brilliantly lit the way only Serge Ladouceur can, really is a sight to behold.
The shifter’s attempts to seduce Rebecca don’t go very well despite the fact that he looks like Jensen Ackles. He takes it personally when he tries to confide in her about shapeshifters and she asks “So is it like a genetic freak?” The shifter’s rather sad backstory is revealed, “born human but different, hideous, hated, until he learned to become someone else… He’s all alone, close to no one, just wants someone to love him. He’s like me. Everyone needs a human touch, it’s so hard to be different…”
It really is a sad story, but tying people up and torturing them isn’t something you can shrug off and be okay with. Rebecca rebuffs the shifter’s advances (again, despite the fact that he looks like this…)
He attacks her in retaliation, cutting her and tying her to a chair and this is where we came in at the start of the episode.
This episode is a reminder that Supernatural really is a 42 minute once a week little horror show.
It’s honestly a little hard to follow with its time jumps in the dark, but the SWAT team arrives and he gets away and heads back to the tunnels.
We see him shed his skin, which means shirtless Jensen briefly, which everyone appreciated very much – it’s something that remained exceedingly rare in fifteen seasons of Supernatural. For a show with such an attractive cast, that’s really saying something.
Unfortunately the shifter very quickly morphs into something not very attractive, especially when his teeth start falling out of his mouth and OMG I think I’ve had this nightmare.
Jensen has talked about how much he did not enjoy filming that scene, and I kinda feel for him.
Sam and Dean escape and go looking for the shapeshifter, and I’m feeling kind of grateful to the shifter because he’s got most of Dean’s clothes and that means we get Dean in just a thin gray tee shirt and jeans. A rarity on Supernatural, so I am enjoying every second of it.
There’s a little ad lib where Dean steps in a puddle and complains, put upon, “come on!”
They get back to the Impala but the cops are waiting. Sam stays behind to be caught since they’ve seen the Wanted posters for Dean, and Dean takes off.
Sam: Stay out of the sewers alone – I mean it!
Protective little brother.
Dean as soon as he’s out of sight: Sorry Sam, you know me…
Dean finds Rebecca tied up in the sewers and she surprisingly doesn’t freak out thinking he’s about to cut her up because she apparently saw the shifter turn into HER instead.
Unfortunately for Sam, he’s with the Not!Rebecca, who knocks him out and plans to kill him — after turning back into Dean all the better to torment Sam.
Shifter: Murder in the 1st, of his own brother. I’ll be sorry to lose this skin. You should appreciate him more than you do.
I love how the early seasons used the perspective of all kinds of others, from monsters to civilians, to comment on Dean and Sam’s relationship and often help them see the other through different eyes.
Sam gets loose because he’s a badass, slicing his ropes on the shifter’s own knife, and a fight ensues. The shifter calls him “little bro” and Sam lashes out angrily with “You’re not him!”
Shifter: Even when we were kids, I always kicked your ass.
He pins Sam to the ground and chokes him, Sam spluttering and losing the battle, when suddenly Dean bursts in and yells “Hey!” The shifter turns around and Dean shoots him dead.
There’s a poignant moment where Dean locks eyes with Sam as he pulls the amulet from the shifter’s neck and takes it back.
Sam nods, understanding passing between them.
We don’t even know the backstory of the amulet yet, but we already know in this episode that it has significance. To both of them.
Sam says goodbye to Rebecca while Dean listens, asking him if Jessica knew what Sam did. He says no and she replies, “Must be lonely.”
Sam looks over at Dean, then shakes his head. “Nah, it’s not so bad.”
Rebecca: We miss you. Call sometime?
Sam: Might not be for a little while.
It’s subtle, but Dean hears Sam’s response for what it is. That fear he’s carrying that Sam will run back to his friends and his college life are eased just a little. Nevertheless, he’s still conflicted, wanting what’s best for his little brother and also wanting Sam with him.
Dean: Sorry, man, I wish you could just be Joe College.
Sam shakes his head.
Sam: Even at Stanford, deep down I never really fit in… I was a freak.
Dean: Yeah, well I’m a freak too, I’m right there with you.
Sam (smiling): Yeah, I know you are.
I kind of want to flail about how great the dialogue is in some of these early episodes. It’s not spelled out for us, there’s not a lot of exposition, but we understand that this brief conversation tells us so much about Sam and Dean and where they are in their relationship. It’s so rare to have such an in depth and nuanced exploration of a platonic relationship – so subversive to make that relationship the core of the show and spend so much time carefully dissecting it without ever hitting the audience over the head or making the characters seem unreal – I’m just in awe sometimes. And grateful.
“All Right Now” plays as the Impala drives her boys to their next adventure.
Have I mentioned the music in this episode is amazing?
Six episodes in and this is already the most fascinating show ever. I wish I could go back in time and experience it all again for real, but this is the next best thing. Stay tuned next week for Episode 1.07, the equally creepy and scary Hookman!
Pretty pretty caps by kayb625
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