I sound like a broken record, but ‘Scarecrow’ is another scary Season 1 episode of Supernatural. That scarecrow was incredibly creepy – and inspired one of the show’s most iconic lines since it was also “fugly”. Kim Manners directed this episode, which means it’s gorgeous and terrifying and heartbreaking simultaneously. I feel like Jared and Jensen cherish every Manners episode so much, since he was such an influence on them and their careers – and on this show. Supernatural wouldn’t have been what it is without Kim.
It was particularly therapeutic to escape into a familiar episode of my favorite show this week, since the Supernatural fandom hasn’t always been a comforting place recently. There’s so much infighting and bullying and policing, I sometimes can’t recognize the supportive community that I discovered fifteen years ago and began researching and writing about. Also, we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic. So what to do? Rewatch the episodes that aired at a time when fandom was a wonderful, supportive place that felt like a refuge and I was falling in love with this incredible show for the first time.
I also needed a reminder that most of Supernatural fandom is still a wonderful, supportive place. I had zoom calls with some of my friends who share my love of this little show, and who I miss seeing at cons and concerts and Supernatural-related adventures. This Sunday night weekly rewatch also helps remind me. This was the best idea ever – thanks to the little group of friends whose idea it was to do this and for inviting me to watch along with them. I knew it would be needed post finale, but I had no idea it would be THIS needed.
We open the episode on ‘Burkittsville, One Year Ago.” A hometown diner, apple pie on the house for a young couple who got lost and then got what they think is lucky – someone to ‘fix’ their truck and send them on their way with helpful directions. Except their car dies as soon as they turn into an apple orchard that looks plenty creepy in the dark. Add to that a gigantic scarecrow looming over them – and then appears to turn its head to watch them as they walk past – and I’m with that girl. Scared!
They hear noises behind them in the orchard and begin to run toward some lights, the scare factor enhanced by some Blair Witch style camera work. The couple gets separated, and as the girl runs, she discovers her boyfriend’s dead body. The giant scarecrow, off its post and pursuing them, approaches as she screams.
This episode picks up right where we left off with Sam and Dean (which I love – the first season is almost spooling out in real time as the Winchesters try to find their dad and their dad tries to find the demon). Sam and Dean are asleep in the motel room when Dean’s phone rings and Sam picks up. (They both sleep as close to the edge as possible, presumably ready to spring into action to have each other’s backs if needed).
Voice: Sam, is that you?
Sam sits up, instantly wide awake.
What follows is a pivotal conversation, Sam concerned about whether John is all right and John concerned about his sons. There is at first mutual affection, John even calling Sam “Kiddo”, but he says he can’t tell them where he is and they’ll have to trust him on that.
Dean wakes up, half sitting up in bed, shirtless, amulet on his chest. I think it’s the only time we ever see Dean Winchester sleep shirtless and that is a damn shame.
Dean: Is that Dad??
Sam realizes that John has gone after the thing that killed their mother, and John says yes, and that it’s a demon.
John: Listen, Sammy, I also know what happened to your girlfriend. I’m so sorry, I would’ve done anything to protect you from that.
He says he’s closing in on it, but won’t let the boys help, saying they can’t be any part of it – that Sam and Dean have to stop looking for him. It’s the only reason he’s calling, we realize.
John: Write down these names. Even us talking isn’t safe.
Sam protests, and John insists he’s giving them an order – to stop following him and do their job.
Dean puts on a shirt (why?), grabs the phone and, like Sam, wants to know what’s going on, but whatever John says to him, it shuts him up fast.
Dean: Yessir. Yeah, I got a pen. What are the names?
Sam still looks angry, but the next morning, the brothers are in the Impala heading for Burkittsville. While Sam drives, Dean relates what their father found. Three different couples who took a roadtrip went missing, disappearing in the same part of Indiana the second week of April year after year.
Sam: So Dad is sending us to Indiana to go hunting for something.
It’s clear from Sam’s tone that he’s furious at being sidelined, especially from the hunt for the thing that killed not only his mother but his girlfriend. Dean, however, is oblivious, even after their little showdown at the Asylum and Sam’s revelations.
Dean is impressed with their father’s hunting skills.
Dean: The man’s a master. Can you imagine what he went through to figure this out?
That’s it, Sam has had it. He insists they’re not going to Indiana, they’re going to California – where the payphone was that their father called from. (And yes, it was a payphone, because it’s 2005).
Dean argues that their dad doesn’t want their help and has given them an order. Sam says he doesn’t care, that they don’t always have to do what he says. That while saving lives is important, he wants one week to get some answers – and some revenge.
Dean: Look, I know how you feel.
I think Dean really wants to, he’s trying hard to put himself in Sam’s shoes, and he genuinely feels terrible about Sam’s grief over Jessica. But it’s the wrong thing to say.
Sam: Do you? How old were you when mom died? Four? Jess died six months ago. How the hell would you know how I feel?
Dean looks stricken by that (and I flinch every time too because, ouch Sam) but he still insists that they can’t join their dad, that he said it wasn’t safe.
Sam: I don’t understand the blind faith you have in the man!
When Dean is hurt, rather than admit it, he lashes out.
Dean: It’s called being a good son!
That was a low blow and Dean knows it. Sam is already carrying guilt about not doing what his father wanted him to do, leaving hunting to go to school, so hearing that from Dean too is incredibly painful. Not only is their Dad not proud of him, it seems, neither is his big brother.
Sam stops the car and gets out, pulling his duffel out of the trunk. Dean gets out too, the brothers confronting each other, both furious.
Dean: You’re a selfish bastard, you know that? You just do whatever you want.
Sam: That what you really think?
Dean: Yes it is.
For Sam, that’s the last straw. He wants his older brother’s respect, and it seems like he doesn’t have it.
Sam: Well this selfish bastard is going to California.
Dean is almost disbelieving. His accusations of selfishness are probably more about the hurt he hasn’t completely gotten past about Sam leaving in the first place as they are about this argument. We know now that Dean felt like he really needed Sam and was terrified he would leave again, so we see him testing Sam again and again, pushing Sam away before Sam can up and go. He did it in the last episode, and he does it again here.
Dean: Come on, you’re not serious. I’m taking off – I will leave your ass, you hear me?
Sam turns around, fixes his brother with an angry glare.
Sam: That’s what I want you to do.
Dean hesitates, rage and hurt on his face. He waits as long as he can, and you know he’s hoping against hope that Sam will change his mind and his heart is breaking when Sam doesn’t. At this point in the show, though, Dean can’t speak the truth – can’t tell Sam how much he needs him. He slams the trunk shut.
Dean: Goodbye, Sam.
I remember that scene hurt the first time I watched it. I couldn’t believe the brothers could be so cruel to each other, and I couldn’t believe that Sam just left – or that Dean let him! If anything, it hits even harder now after the finale. Those will someday, fifteen years later, be the last words Dean Winchester ever says to his brother. Goodbye, Sam.
My heart hurts.
Dean drives off; Sam hitchhikes.
Dean goes to Burkittsville as planned, which might be the same place the Pie Festival in the finale was. Maybe? He pulls out his phone before he gets out of the car, scrolling to Sam’s name in his contacts on his old school cell phone, but he doesn’t call. We know how much he wants to, though.
Dean’s efficiency in gathering intel is reduced by his brother’s absence, something he is perhaps realizing for the first time, allowing him to value Sam as a grown up and an equal – and a competent hunter. Perhaps allowing him to see Sam’s independence as not entirely a bad thing.
He introduces himself to the local café owner as John Bonham.
Scotty: Isn’t that the drummer from Led Zeppelin?
All of us: lol
Dean does not get much from Scotty, other than his grumpy expression.
Dean: Scotty, you got a smile that lights up a room, anyone ever tell you that?
Oh Dean, never change.
Meanwhile, Sam meets a girl hitchhiking – the introduction of Meg, who will be a significant character from time to time across the entire fifteen seasons of the show. She’s played here by Nicki Aycox and will later be played by Rachel Miner.
She plays Sam brilliantly from the start, though we don’t realize it at the time. She hitches a ride with a trucker who refuses to take Sam, saying she doesn’t trust Sam.
Meg: You could be some kind of freak, you’re hitchhiking.
Sam: So are you!
Meanwhile, Dean asks at the café about the couple that went missing. Everyone insists they never saw them, but then the café owners’ niece Emily asks if the guy had a tattoo, and reminds her aunt and uncle that they did in fact stop there.
Dean heads out in the direction the missing couple did, when suddenly his EMF meter in the back seat goes crazy – just as he pulls into the orchard.
Even in the semi-daylight (Supernatural is so deliciously dark in the early seasons), the giant scarecrow is still super creepy. Dean Winchester, being Dean Winchester, walks right up to it and looks up and up and up.
Dean: Dude, you fugly.
Then, again because he’s Dean Winchester, he gets a ladder and climbs right up to get face to face with the damn thing! AAHHHHHH!
He examines the disgusting thing, finding blood on it and a tattoo – that matches the photo of the missing guy. It also has a nasty looking hook for a hand.
Dean: Nice tat.
I admire Dean Winchester’s ability to make a joke when confronting a terrifying scarecrow, gotta say.
Even that screencap freaks me out. I would have had nightmares if I was Jensen.
Dean returns to the town, stopping at the gas station, where Emily fills up the Impala. She tells him a little of her backstory, that she came there at thirteen after losing her parents, and her aunt and uncle took her in.
Emily: Everyone is nice here.
All of us: That is never a good thing in a horror show.
Also, look at Dean being all suave here.
In fact, it turns out that in the surrounding towns, crops are failing and people are losing their homes, but in Burkittsville, it’s like they’re “blessed.”
Meanwhile, Sam’s still trying to get to California, confronted with the reality of rural bus schedules.
Sam: There’s gotta be another way.
Unimpressed clerk: There is. Buy a car.
Meanwhile. both brothers are missing each other but both are too stubborn to make that call. Sam looks at his phone, scrolls to Dean’s number, and almost hits the button.
Then Meg says hi.
Sam’s surprised to see her (way too much of a coincidence in a horror show for sure) but she says he was right, the guy she hitched a ride with was all hands, so she cut him loose. They introduce themselves and settle in to wait for the next bus, which isn’t until the next day.
Meg manipulates Sam into a closer relationship by telling him she’s trying to get away from her family, that though they love her and wanted what they thought was best for her, they didn’t care what she wanted for herself, so she went her own way.
It works like a charm. Sam is desperate for someone to validate him and ease the guilt he’s probably feeling about leaving his family – again.
Sam: I know how you feel. That brother I mentioned before that I was roadtripping with? It’s kinda the same deal.
Meg reinforces Sam’s decision to leave Dean, toasting to living their own lives and nobody else’s with their beer bottles.
Dean heads to the small town café and engages a young couple eating pie, worried they might be the next victims. He orders some pie too (the beginnings of Dean’s love of pie being canon perhaps?) and attempts some friendly small talk, which pretty much falls flat.
Dean: Sundown? To fix a brake line? I could probably have you up and running sooner. It’s just that these roads, they’re not real safe at night. I know it sounds strange but…you might be in danger.
Guy: We’re trying to eat, okay?
Dean: (wistful) My brother could give you this puppy dog look and you’d buy right into it…
In other words, Dean is really missing Sam.
The sheriff appears and escorts Dean out of town (without even getting that slice of pie).
He turns around and heads back as the young couple have their car die in the dark scary orchard. They sense something moving in the dark and it’s once again scary as hell, them screaming ‘Who’s there?’ and running. The scarecrow appears, brandishing its giant hook, and then suddenly Dean is there with a shotgun, telling them to get back to the car. Dean shoots it but that doesn’t stop it, and he runs too.
Guy: What the hell was that?
Dean: Don’t ask.
After that one brother does call the other. Sam talks to his brother while Meg sleeps (or pretends to). Dean insists he can cope without Sam as Sam offers some helpful speculation. Dean has figured out that it’s probably some sort of ritual sacrifice to a pagan god to ensure crops won’t wilt and disease won’t spread. Just requires a young couple every now and then to appease it.
Sam: What god are you dealing with?
Dean: I’m on my way to the community college to ask a professor – since I don’t have my trusty sidekick geek boy to do my research.
Sam smiles. It’s Dean’s way of saying I didn’t mean what I said and I do respect you and appreciate you. And miss you.
Sam: If you’re hinting that you need my help, just ask.
Dean says no, then hesitates.
Dean: Actually, I want you to know, don’t think…
Sam: Yeah, I’m sorry too.
Dean: Sam, you were right. You gotta do your own thing, live your own life.
Sam: You serious?
Dean: You’ve always known what you want and you go after it. You stand up to Dad and you always have. I wish I… anyway, I admire that about you. I’m proud of you, Sammy.
Sam: I don’t even know what to say.
Dean: That you’ll take care of yourself.
Sam: I will.
Dean: Call me when you find Dad.
Sam: (emotional) Okay. Bye, Dean.
Dean’s eyes are wet; Sam’s too. This was one of the first scenes that let us clearly see just how much the brothers cared about each other. Sure, they weren’t on the same page all the time. Sam was pushing to be his own person and Dean was struggling with being okay with Sam leaving again. They both were worried about their father and had no idea what they were up against. But through all of that, scenes like this show that there’s an incredible, deep love there too. What’s really miraculous is that Supernatural doesn’t just gloss over that – it is the backbone of the entire story. This intense, unshakeable platonic love saves the world and the brothers again and again. I’m still in awe of that, fifteen years later.
Sam hangs up, still emotional. He badly needed to hear that Dean was proud of him, and he did.
Also, Kim Manners and Serge Ladouceur gave us some gorgeous close ups in that conversation that still take my breath away fifteen years later.
Meg is watching him, asking who was on the phone.
Sam: My brother.
Meg: What’d he say?
Sam (looking sad) Goodbye.
There’s nothing simple about the way either brother feels about their separation. Dean both hates that Sam left and worries about him being on his own, but is at the same time proud of Sam’s ability to be independent. It’s something Dean feels for his entire life, bringing it up again fifteen years later as he’s dying in that barn – he’s still proud of Sam for his ability to stand up to their Dad and do what he thinks is right.
Sam both wants to be his own person, separate from Dean and from their Dad, but he also wants to be close to his brother and have his back.
There’s so much love there, but as is always the case with love, it’s complicated.
Dean visits the professor, quick to figure out that it’s a Norse god of prosperity that gets energy from a sacred tree because Season 1 Dean is goddamn smart.
Dean: What would happen if the sacred tree was torched? Would it kill the god?
Prof: Son, these are just legends.
Except the professor knows that’s not true, because when Dean opens the door to leave he’s knocked out cold so the townsfolk can all protect their town – and their tree.
Which means we get a Dean tummy shot. Shallow, I know, but this episode has some rare glimpses, what can I say?
The townspeople meet, some of them feeling guilty for “closing our doors and all looking the other way” and feeling like this is different, “this is murder.”
Their rationalization that they are not the ones doing the actual killing is hypocrisy at its best, but they all end up going along – and are going to sacrifice their own niece Emily to be the second part of the pair that is required. There’s a beautiful, distinctive Kim Manners crane shot of the black umbrellas in the rain as the townsfolk come to their decision.
Emily is dragged in, sobbing, begging her Aunt and Uncle “please, why are you doing this?”
The Aunt is steely cold, insisting it’s “for the common good.”
Dean explains to Emily as they’re locked in the cellar that if they can find the first tree, the one the immigrants brought over, and burn it, they can stop the scarecrow.
When night falls, the townspeople return and drag them out and tie them to trees in the orchard. Emily’s uncle seems distraught, saying he’s sorry, he wishes it wasn’t her, but it’s their responsibility and there’s no one else but her.
Emily: But I’m family!
Aunt: That’s what sacrifice means, giving up something you love for the greater good. The town needs to be saved. The good of the many outweigh the needs of the one. (Or something like that, I’ve got Star Trek in my head now). That’s a philosophy the show will examine repeatedly, and sometimes decide it’s that one that matters after all.
Dean retains his ability to coin a memorable one-liner even tied to a tree.
Dean: Hope your apple pie is freakin’ worth it!
Emily asks if he has a plan and he says he’s working on it.
Emily: You don’t have a plan, do you?
Night begins to fall.
At the bus station, Meg tells Sam it’s time to go, but Sam shakes his head, saying he’s gotta go to Burkittsville. He’s been trying to call Dean and unable to get through to him.
Meg: I don’t understand. You’re running back to your brother, the guy you ran away from, because he won’t pick up his phone? Sam, come with me to California.
Sam: I can’t. I’m sorry. He’s my family.
And there it is, Supernatural in a nutshell.
Back at the orchard, Dean is still working on it.
Dean to Emily: Is the scarecrow moving yet?
Someone approaches and they brace for the worst.
But it’s Sam, come to save the day after all!
Dean is beside himself with relief to see his brother.
Dean: I take back everything I said, I’m so happy to see you! How’d you get here?
Sam: I stole a car.
Dean looks even more overjoyed, if that’s possible, breaking into a huge grin, undeniably proud.
Dean: That’s my boy!
It’s not just that Sam came back to save them, it’s that Sam came back to ‘the life’ to do it. He scrapped his California dreams and he stole a car to do it, like the hunter he is. Dean’s grin is blinding.
Dean: Keep an eye on that scarecrow, he could come alive at any moment.
Sam: What scarecrow?
They run to look for the tree that’s the source of its power, but the townsfolk appear and surround them, keeping them penned in for the scarecrow. But, as often happens with unpredictable monsters that people try to control, the scarecrow instead kills the aunt and uncle as the rest of the townspeople run away.
Some kind of karma there for sure.
The next morning, the three return and find the tree, Sam dousing it with gasoline and Dean lighting a branch.
Emily: Let me.
Dean: You know the whole town is gonna die.
They watch it burn. Sam and Dean exchange a look. Job well done.
The next scene is the bus station, the Impala parked and a bus ready to pull out. At first, we think it’s Sam, resuming his trek to California. The first time I saw this episode, I remember my heart clenching, not wanting him to go.
But it’s Emily, headed to Boston. She waves goodbye to the Winchesters.
Sam: Think she’s gonna be all right?
Dean: I hope so. So, drop you off somewhere?
He’s trying to be casual, but you can tell it’s costing him a lot. We know now that Dean desperately wanted Sam to stay, but he’s trying so hard to give Sam the gift of freedom and independence. Trying to do what’s right for Sam, not what’s right for him.
Sam: Nah, I think you’re stuck w me.
Dean: What made you change your mind?
Sam: I still wanna find Dad. And you’re still a pain in the ass. But Jess and Mom, they’re both gone. Dad is God knows where. You and me, we’re all that’s left. So if we’re gonna see this through, we’re gonna do it together.
Not gonna lie, doing this rewatch, I teared up at that moment. It’s so much what the show is about, and so much of what kept Sam and Dean going for so many years. They did do it together, for twenty years, saving people and hunting things and changing the world. And Sam says the words we’ll hear many times over the course of the series right here. You and me. As Dean says in that barn many years later, it’s always been you and me.
Damn it, where are the tissues?
Back on the screen, Dean in Season 1 can’t be as vulnerable and honest as Sam is here – that has to wait until later, which is why it’s so powerful to hear that evolution in the finale.
Dean: Hold me, Sam. That was beautiful.
Sam: You should be kissing my ass! You were dead meat!
The boys get in the car.
Meanwhile, Meg hitches a ride with a lecherous trucker. She smiles and says why don’t you pull over and he grins all creepy and happy, thinking he’s about to get lucky.
Meg: I’ve gotta make a call.
He looks confused when she takes out a bowl instead of a phone, and then everyone watching for the first time was shocked when she reached over and casually slit his throat, catching the blood in the bowl as he bleeds out.
Meg: It’s not that kinda call.
The incredible music cue ‘Bad Company’ starts to play as Meg says a Latin incantation and stirs the blood, saying she could have taken them both (Sam and Dean), why let them go? She pauses, and we realize she’s being answered.
Meg: Yes. Yes. Yes, father.
“Bad company, I can’t deny…” plays as we fade to black.
That was a shocking revelation and a deepening of the mystery of what killed Mary Winchester and what is John Winchester hunting – and how are Sam and Dean right smack in the middle of it? As this episode ends, the brothers are united again and determined to find out.
Stay tuned for next week’s rewatch, the brilliant Episode 1.12 ‘Faith’.
You can remember how special Supernatural is
forever with the books with chapters by the show’s
actors and fans, Family Don’t End With Blood and
There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done. Links on
home page here or at peacewhenyouaredone.com