Next up on our Supernatural rewatch is one of my favorite episodes, and I’m not the only one. Season 1’s ‘Faith’ deepened our understanding of the Winchesters, and also let us know that this little genre show was about more than monsters. We already knew it was about family too, but this episode had the Winchesters (and viewers) questioning the very basis of what hunting was all about – for the first time, Sam and Dean confronted existential issues like what it means to have faith and whether saving one life justifies taking another. The character of Layla, memorably portrayed by Julie Benz, was one of those one episode characters that stick with you through all fifteen seasons. A tragic character but a heroic one, struggling with her own crisis of faith and caught between her need to accept her fate and her awareness that someone she loves (her mother) might not be able to deal with her death.
That’s the main theme of the episode, and ultimately the driving force of Supernatural right through the finale. Loss is so much about the ability of those left behind to survive the pain of losing someone they loved; something that the Winchesters will struggle with for a very long time, again and again. (Which is one of the reasons I love them so many.) The show confronts death and loss and grief repeatedly, with guest characters as well as with Sam and Dean, whose deep love brings with it a terror of losing each other. I think I relate to that so much because isn’t that something we all feel for the ones we love?
This episode is also beautiful in its own way. The 12th episode in to Season 1, ‘Faith’ is so dark it almost looks like it’s filmed in black and white at the start, Sam and Dean and the Impala as they head out on a hunt, motivation running high because they’re trying to save kids – siblings no less. So you know the Winchesters can relate.
Dean: I want this rawhead extra friggen’ crispy!
They know they only get one shot with these particular monsters, so the tension is high right from the start. Sam and Dean descend the stairs with only the light of their flashlights into the requisite dark damp basement. They rescue two little children, and we know they’re siblings because Dean instructs the little boy to ‘grab your sister’s hand’. Sam gets them up the stairs to safety but something grabs Dean’s leg and yanks him back. He fires his electric stun gun but misses, yelling at Sam to get the kids out of there. Sam tosses his stun gun to Dean, but the rawhead knocks Dean over and he lands in a puddle of water on the floor.
I remember going OH NO at the time, but we already know how strongly motivated Dean is to take this thing out. Dean fires anyway, hitting the monster – but the current runs back through the stream of water to Dean, electrocuting him. He falls unconscious just as Sam runs back down the stairs.
All of us: GASP
What happens next is an iconic scene in Supernatural fifteen years later that we’ve seen many times, one of the brothers cradling the other, the familiar “Hey, hey,” that they always say to each other when trying to convince the wounded one that it’s not so bad (and themselves too), that word repeated and filled with so much love and concern. It kinda breaks my heart, thinking about all the many times this scene will be repeated, right up to that last time in the barn.
“Hey, hey,” indeed.
Sam rushes Dean to the hospital and tells the cops a plausible story about them hearing screaming and finding the kids in the basement, and for once the cops are on their side.
Cop: Thank god you did.
That’s the good news. The bad news comes from the doctor, who tells Sam that Dean’s heart is damaged.
Sam (fear plain on his face): How damaged?
Doctor: We’ve done all we can. We can try to keep him comfortable…we give him a couple weeks.
Sam: No, no, there’s gotta be something you can do!
Doctor: We can’t work miracles.
Sam tears up as he goes to Dean’s room, but you can tell he’s already determined to do just that.
Dean, looking weak as a kitten, nevertheless tries to make jokes and put on a brave face for his little brother – about the fabric softener teddy bear in a commercial, no less, who I don’t think deserved his “hunt that little bitch down.”
Dean: Looks like you’re gonna leave town without me. You better take care of my car or I’ll haunt your ass.
Sam: Not funny.
Dean: Come on, it’s a little funny.
Sam is not having it, so Dean gets serious.
Dean: Sam, it’s a dangerous gig. I drew the short straw. I know it’s not easy, but I’m gonna die, and you can’t stop it.
Sam: Watch me.
This scene – this whole episode – hits so much more deeply now after the finale. Sam couldn’t do it then, wouldn’t. The brothers had just reconnected, just found each other again, just started growing close again. Sam wasn’t willing to lose Dean, and Dean felt the same way. And while Sam certainly didn’t hurt anyone else knowingly in this episode in order to save Dean’s life, he was pretty desperate to do so. Fifteen years later, in that barn, Sam still wanted to do whatever it took to save Dean’s life, but both of them knew by that time that there is always a price to pay. Dean understood even back in Season 1 that hunting was a dangerous gig, as he says in this episode. He never wanted to die, but he always knew it was a risk, and so did all of us watching. By the finale, Dean had experienced satisfaction and contentment and happiness, and felt a sense of what we call generativity – he’d made a contribution to the world and he’d loved and been loved, and while he was not ready to go and certainly did not want to go, he could go in peace. He was able to convey that to Sam, and Sam was able to let him go even though it clearly tore him apart. He was able to go on without him this time – to do what neither of them could do fifteen years before. It makes me tear up just thinking about it. What an incredible journey, so full of meaning.
Sam calls John, who of course doesn’t answer, and leaves a message that Dean is sick and the doctor says there’s nothing they can do. Sam goes on to say he’s not giving up, that he’s gonna do whatever it takes to get him back.
It’s heartbreaking that John doesn’t pick up or return his call, when Sam has just told him that his son is dying. We’ll head canon that he doesn’t actually get the message I guess, but….ouch.
Sam hangs up and there’s a knock at the door, and to Sam’s surprise, it’s Dean, looking weak and unwell but determined to get back to his brother and out of that hospital. It’s all he wants, back in Season 1, and it’s still true in Season 15 – to not die alone, but with his brother. Damn. I apparently need a lot of tissues for this review.
Sam: What the hell are you doing here?
Dean: I checked myself out. I’m not gonna die in a hospital where the nurses aren’t even hot.
Sam: This laugh in the face of death thing, I can see right through it.
Dean: You’re not gonna let me die in peace, are you?
Sam: I’m not gonna let you die period.
Dean collapses into a chair, but he manages a weak smile. At this point, he’s not very sure how Sam feels about him, or whether Sam really wants him there, so Sam’s determination to not let him go must be pretty powerful to hear.
This episode, and especially these couple of scenes where Dean is weak and hurting, were a revelation to Season 1 Supernatural fandom. Fanfiction often takes the strongest, most invulnerable of characters on the outside (like Dean) and explores their soft squishy vulnerable insides – this episode did a little of that for us. There was immediately a Live Journal community called “Hoodie Time” that sprang up, and lots and lots of hurt/comfort fanfic that took a deep dive into what it would be like for a character like Dean to not be strong for once, and instead to experience being dependent and needing comfort. From here on in, a hoodie – especially a gray hoodie – in Supernatural fandom carried connotations of being hurt and needing comfort.
Also, Dean Winchester is just as hot in a gray hoodie as in a leather jacket, all dark eyes and pale skin and freckles. Okay, back to the review, apologies for the distraction.
I remember telling Sera Gamble about the Hoodie Time community back in the day, and her just nodding like she totally understood.
Anyway, the boys head to Nebraska, where Sam has found a ‘specialist’. A big tent pitched in a muddy field on a cloudy, dark and rainy day. Sam runs around to the passenger side to help Dean out of the car, reassuring him with “I gotcha.” Dean shrugs him off because of course he does, realizing they’re at a faith healer.
Dean: Man, you’re a lyin’ bastard. You said we were here to see a doctor.
Sam: I said ‘specialist’. Maybe it’s time to have a little faith, Dean. How can you be a skeptic with the things we see every day? Maybe God works in mysterious ways.
At that moment, an attractive young woman named Layla (Julie Benz) who’s also hoping to be healed walks by and says hello, and Dean turns on the charm even if he doesn’t really feel up to it. It’s ingrained in his persona at the time, and also a performance to reassure Sam.
Dean: Maybe he does. I think he just turned me around on the subject…
Layla questions, if Dean’s not a believer, why is he there?
Dean: My brother believes enough for the both of us.
Sam really does. He drags Dean to the front, so they can be seen, Dean protesting the whole time with “this is ridiculous, get offa me” and Sam being solicitous, protectively helping Dean into his chair.
Look at Sam, he’s so hopeful, so desperate for a way to save his brother.
Dean says something cynical about this being about people’s wallets (out loud) and the Reverend hears him, laughingly warning that he should watch what he says around a blind man. He picks Dean to come up and be healed, much to Layla and her mother’s dismay, and to Dean’s annoyance.
Dean: Maybe you should just pick someone else.
Reverend: I didn’t pick you, Dean, the Lord did.
Sam: Dean, get up there!
He’s reluctant, but Sam is so hopeful that Dean can’t really say no, so up he goes.
Dean: I’m not exactly a believer.
Reverend: You will be, son. You will be.
He puts his hand on Dean’s head and his eyes close. Dean sinks to his knees and Sam is half out of his chair, protectively, as Dean falls down, seemingly fainted.
Sam rushes up.
Sam: Dean! Say something!
We see what Dean sees then, a shadowy creepy figure behind the Reverend, then Dean’s miraculously healed.
A trip to the hospital the next day confirms that there’s nothing wrong with his heart. “Stranger things happen,” the doctor notes, saying that out of nowhere the day before another young man had a heart attack and died. Dean is suspicious, though Sam clings to it maybe being a coincidence.
Sam: Can’t we just be grateful the guy saved your life and move on?
Dean: It felt wrong. For a second I saw someone, an old man… maybe a spirit. I’ve been hunting long enough to trust a feeling like this.
Sam finally agrees that they should investigate, so Dean visits Roy the Reverend and his wife Sue Ann and Sam looks into the young man who died. Roy says he woke up blind and was diagnosed with cancer. They prayed for a miracle, but he fell into a coma. Then he woke up and was cured, the cancer gone.
Sue Ann: And his flock just swelled overnight…
Hmm, Sue Ann. Relevant much?
Dean questions, why save him? (This is a theme Dean will return to later when Castiel also saves him – and realizes that Dean doesn’t think he deserves it.)
Roy: The Lord guides me. I looked into your heart and you stood out from all the rest.
Dean: What did you see?
Roy: A young man with an important purpose. A job to do. And it isn’t finished.
I loved that line at the time. The Kripke era of Supernatural was all about the Winchesters being in a sense the chosen ones, their family and their story all tied up in the larger mytharc, their fight as much a fight against ‘destiny’ as against monsters. I sort of hate that what we learned about Chuck later altered that sense of purpose, warped it so now I have to wonder, was that important purpose to amuse Chuck more than anything else? I don’t want that to be the answer. Not going there.
Meanwhile, Sam finds out that the young man who died was an athlete, a swimmer. A man who worked at the swim club where he was practicing describes him as running like something was after him before he died, but there was nothing there. The clock at the swim club is frozen at 4:17 pm.
Sam: Was that the time he died?
Guy: How’d you know?
Dean runs into Layla and her mother as he’s leaving Roy’s; they are being refused help from the Reverend once again. Her mother glares at Dean, asking him why he’s even there, he got what he wanted. Dean finds out that Layla has an inoperable brain tumor and probably has six months to live, as her mother asks, ‘why do you deserve to live more than my daughter?’
As much as I feel for Dean here, I also feel for Layla’s mother. I think about my own daughter and how I’d feel if I thought there was a chance, but something was standing in the way. This episode really gets to me; that says something about what good television it is.
Sam and Dean meet back at the motel, and Sam confirms that something really is going on.
Six people over the last year have died, and each time the victim dies of the same symptoms as Roy heals someone else of. As the Winchesters figure it out, Roy heals someone else, and a woman jogging in the woods runs away from the creepy old guy as a familiar song starts to play. The scenes of Roy healing someone are juxtaposed brilliantly with the woman in the woods, the music amping up the tension. This is one of my favorite scenes of the entire series!
Roy: Pray with me, friends?
Dean: You never should’ve brought me here. Some guy is dead now because of me!
Sam says he’s sorry, still confused about how the Reverend is doing it.
Dean: Oh, he’s not. Something else is doing it for him, the old man I saw onstage. There’s only one thing that can give and take life like that. We’re dealing with…
The music changes, and we recognize the song.
Dean: … a reaper.
“Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays as the reaper kills the jogger and Roy heals an old man.
Me: BRILLIANT! Damn, I love this show.
Sam and Dean are both smart as hell and know all the lore, and quickly figure out that you can only see a reaper coming when it’s coming for you. Sam remembers that there’s a tarot cross in the church that must be black magic to bind the reaper.
Sam: That’s like putting a dog leash on a great white.
Dean suggests they stop Roy, and when Sam asks how, he says grimly, “you know how.”
Sam: We can’t kill a human being. We do that and we’re no better than he is.
Dean: You can’t kill Death.
All of us watching post finale: Well…..
Sam goes to Roy’s house to look for the binding spell book, while Dean has to stall Roy to keep him from healing anyone else. Sam finds the book on the shelf by the lack of dust in front of it (because, again, smart) and figures out that they’re killing people who they think are immoral – like an “openly gay teacher” according to a newspaper clipping. (It’s 2005 after all so newspaper clippings are a thing.) The next target looks like the same guy who has been protesting outside the tent.
Sam tells Dean that he’s got to keep Roy from healing anyone. Of course, who has Roy called up to heal finally? Layla.
Dean tries to talk her out of going up, but she says I’m sorry and follows her mother to the stage.
The healing starts and Roy puts his hand on Layla’s head, while in the parking lot Sam finds the protestor guy screaming for help. In desperation, Dean yells “fire, everyone out” and Layla doesn’t get healed. He feels terrible, and then worse when Sam tells him it didn’t work, the reaper is still coming.
They realize it’s not Roy; someone else is controlling it. Sue Ann.
Dean tries to stop her, but she starts yelling help me help me and the police of course throw Dean out. The spell is interrupted though, so the protestor guy is saved. For now. The cops “escort” Dean out, Sue Ann saying they can let him go, the Lord will deal with him.
Cop: We catch you around here again, we’ll put the fear of God in you, understand?
Dean: Yessir, fear of God.
I do love you, Dean Winchester.
Layla is distraught, asking Dean why he did that, and of course he can’t explain. She says goodbye, and he wishes her luck, feeling guilty and undeserving and saying she deserves it a lot more than he does.
Another healing begins, to Sam and Dean’s dismay.
Sam finds the creepy altar Sue Ann is using, with bones and human blood, and the binding spell for trapping a reaper. Dean says he can understand Sue Ann trying to use the binding spell to keep the reaper from Roy – to keep from losing someone you love – which reflects what Sam has done in this episode and what both Sam and Dean will do many times in the future. But the brothers realize that now she’s using it to kill people she thinks are doing “bad” things. Isn’t this a relevant and topical story for 2021?
Dean: God save us from half the people who think they’re doing God’s work.
Me in 2021: Relevant.
Sam goes to the basement to destroy the altar, while Dean distracts the cops, who must think he’s absolutely psychotic at this point.
Dean: Hey, you gonna put that fear of God in me?
He runs, they follow. He avoids them easily.
Sam finds the altar, which now has a photo of Dean on it, crossed out with blood. Sue Ann appears and locks Sam in the basement, saying that she gave his brother life and she can take it away.
Sue Ann: The Lord chose me to punish the wicked, and your brother is wicked. He deserves to die and Layla deserves to live.
Uh oh. Also, wicked Dean Winchester is not sounding like an entirely bad thing in my book.
In the parking lot, Dean sees the lights go out, and as Roy heals Layla, Dean sees the reaper coming for him.
The reaper touches his head and he falls to his knees, groaning.
On the stage in the tent, Layla falls to her knees as Roy touches her head to heal her.
Just in time, Sam manages to get to Sue Ann and grab her cross, throwing it down and shattering it.
The healing that was happening for Layla stops, and she opens her eyes, confused, as her mother looks on in tearful horror.
The reaper stops attacking Dean and turns away.
We see him in front of Sue Ann, smiling. He puts his hand on her and reaps her instead.
Sam walks across the parking lot; Dean staggers back to the car.
Sam: You okay?
Dean: Helluva week.
Understatement! But then again, every week is pretty much like that on Supernatural.
Back at the motel, Dean questions whether they did the right thing, saying it doesn’t feel like it.
There’s a knock at the door and Layla comes in; Sam called her, saying that Dean wanted to say goodbye. Knowing, clearly, that his brother was mired in guilt and needed it. The Winchesters are so much more emotionally attuned at this point, neither of them hiding their feelings as much as they initially did.
Sam: (smiling a little) I’m gonna … go.
Dean says he’s sorry that the healing didn’t work, knowing, of course, why.
Layla: I’m okay. Really. I guess if you’re gonna have faith, you can’t just have it when the miracles happen. You have to have it when they don’t. God works in mysterious ways.
She lays her hand on his face gently, says goodbye.
Dean: I’m not much of the praying type, but I’m gonna pray for you.
Layla: Well there’s a miracle right there.
The episode is so appealing in a narrative sense, with that ending feeling spot on. I remain in awe that the show introduced so many of its pivotal themes so early on, and then continued to explore and expand on them throughout its entire 15 season run. No wonder I stuck with it for all those years too.
What did you think of this episode? Is it a favorite for you too?
Stay tuned for our next rewatch – episode 1.13, ‘Route 666’ with its killer truck!
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