Supernatural Season 1’s fourteenth episode, which is called “Nightmare”, initially stumped our little group doing the rewatch from the start (now that the show is at an end). Nobody could remember exactly what the episode was about, with a title that seems like it could fit just about any era of Supernatural. (Yes, we did figure it out fairly quickly though). In fact, the Road So Far reminds us about Sam’s weird dreams, or as Dean puts it, ‘that ESP thing’ – and that sometimes his dreams come true.
That’s what Nightmare is all about – much to Sam and Dean’s dismay.
In the open, a man pulls his car into the garage, and the garage door closes behind him. By itself. He looks back at it, confused, and it’s such a mundane situation that it’s genuinely terrifying. He goes to get out and the car doors lock. He turns off the engine and it starts right back up, exhaust spewing out in the closed garage, the radio flipping stations. The guy panics, trying to get out as the car fills up with smoke, coughing and screaming for help, until he falls over, dead eyes still open.
Sam Winchester wakes up.
It’s a vivid nightmare, and Sam immediately starts calling ‘Dean! Dean!”
He grabs for Dean’s hand, and it strikes me that both brothers sleep on the side of the bed closest to each other, Dean with his hand literally outstretched in the space between them – as though he’s always on alert, just in case his little brother needs him.
Sam: Dean, we have to go right now!
Dean (half asleep): What’s happening?
Dean doesn’t really believe Sam had a vision – he doesn’t want to believe that – but he gets out of bed and into the car anyway. The Impala races down the road as Dean tries to reassure Sam.
Dean: Sam, relax, I’m sure it’s just a nightmare, a normal everyday naked in class nightmare. Why would you have premonitions about some random dude in Michigan?
Sam calls the license plate he saw in; it checks out. Dean is dismayed.
Sam: Drive faster.
Dean does even though he doesn’t want this to be true. Despite Dean’s driving skill, though, they get there too late, just as they’re taking the guy out in a body bag. Sam looks devastated. Dean asks neighbors what happened, and the woman says it was suicide, but it’s hard to believe since the family seemed so “normal.” They found him in the garage locked inside with the car engine running.
Woman: Poor family, I can’t imagine what they’re going through.
The woman who lost her husband sobs, and Sam almost sobs with her.
He walks away and Dean goes to stand next to him, trying to console him, saying they got there as fast as they could
Sam: Not fast enough. Why would I have these premonitions unless there was a chance to stop it? He was murdered by something that trapped in the garage. I don’t know what’s happening, Dean…
Dean: I’m worried about you. Don’t look at me like that – though I gotta say you look like crap.
It’s clear that Dean is more than a little worried, though he keeps trying to cover it up (and cheer Sam up in the process) by making jokes.
Sam, discouraged and confused, says there’s no way the family will want to talk to them, but Dean refuses to give up.
Dean: Yeah you’re right, but I think I know who they will talk to.
Cut to Sam and Dean ringing the doorbell of the woman who just lost her husband – dressed as two of the world’s most attractive priests.
Sam: This is a whole new low for us.
They introduce themselves as Fr. Simmons and Fr. Frehley, which my sister would approve of because she was obsessed with KISS a long time ago. Also, most Supernatural fans at this point start to giggle when this scene happens, because there’s a classic gag reel moment that is universally adored.
I mean, what’s not to like??
It’s not a very effective alias for the guy who answers the door, however, who is the brother of the man who died and doesn’t want to hear it. Dean tries to be priestly while scoffing down mini hot dogs, and Sam admonishes him.
Sam: Tone it down a little bit… Father…
I suspect Jensen Ackles was already regretting his life choices of making Dean Winchester eat so much, ensuring 15 years of Ackles having to consume all sorts of things onscreen. Also why do Sam and Dean look exceptionally gorgeous dressed as priests?
Sam talks to the son, Max (Brendan Fletcher), who found his dad.
Sam: What was your dad like? I know it’s rough losing a parent, especially when you don’t have all the answers.
He’s talking about himself as much as he is Max.
Meanwhile Dean tries to figure out if this really is their kind of thing by suggesting to the grieving widow (Beth Broderick) that with an old house they probably have all kinds of headaches – electrical shorts, odd noises at night…
She looks mystified, saying no, nothing like that.
Dean: Huh. May I use your restroom?
He takes an appetizer with him and heads upstairs with an infrared thermal scanner, looking like a priest-ghostbuster hybrid. An attractive one. Sam joins him and asks if he found anything, but Dean replies “Zip.”
They head back to the motel, which is a perfect example of early Supernatural motel ethos, something that gave the show such a distinctive ‘road’ feel. Jerry Wanek and his team did an amazing job with the set dec and Russ Hamilton in the early years with location scouting to find some of these Vancouver gems.
Dean cleans the guns, which is way more appealing than it should be, and reiterates that nothing has ever happened at the Miller house ever.
Dean: No cold spots, no sulphur scent, nada. Infrared thermal scanner, nothing.
Sam is frustrated.
Sam: So my dream was some sort of freakish coincidence?
As Dean continues to insist there was nothing supernatural about the house (and hang onto the conviction that it was just a coincidence), Sam holds his head, grimacing.
Dean is immediately worried.
Dean: What’s wrong with you?
Sam: Ahhhhhh my head! My head!
Dean’s skepticism vanishes in a wave of big brother protectiveness as he jumps up and holds onto Sam, trying to help. Sam, still in pain, grabs Dean’s shirt with both hands as a vision overtakes him. He sees the dead guy’s brother carrying groceries into the house as a shadow moves past behind him.
His apartment window opens on its own, and he looks puzzled and closes it – while all of us start yelling at him to DO NOT GO NEAR THE WINDOW. Of course he does, closing and locking it. In what is a truly creepy sequence, the lock slowly twists open and the window slides up, creaking. The guy looks freaked as we all yell RUN AWAY RUN AWAY.
Instead he sticks his head right out the open window because now it’s stuck open – which, let’s be real, I wouldn’t do even in real life!
It falls and decapitates him, blood splashing everywhere.
Sam: It’s happening again! Something is gonna kill Roger Miller!
Dean may still be mostly skeptical and just plain scared for Sam, but he goes with it anyway, the Impala speeding through the night. Sam looks and sounds awful, and Dean worries that he’s going to get sick, offering to pull over (to save the upholstery he says, when we all know that’s not what he’s worried about.)
Sam: Dean, I’m scared. Now I’m seeing things when I’m awake? They’re getting more intense and painful.
Dean: You’ll be fine.
(He wants desperately to believe this).
Sam: But why am I connected to the Millers? Why the hell is this happening to me?
I feel for Sam so much here. He’s terrified and lost and it’s out of his control, and he just wants his big brother to make it all right – and Dean desperately wants to.
Dean: I don’t know, Sam, but we’ll figure it out. This is just another thing.
Sam: But it’s never been us. Tell the truth, you can’t tell me this doesn’t freak you out.
Dean: (steeling himself) This doesn’t freak me out.
Shifty side eye to Sam and Dean drives on. They make it in time this time, but Roger refuses to listen to them and goes inside anyway. The Winchesters break through the gate in back, Dean kicks in the door and they vault up to the fire escape like badasses. We get a really cool shot of the Winchesters running up all these metal stairs, filmed with lighting that makes it look almost in black and white. They get there only to find the bloodied window, blood still dripping.
Dean snaps into hunter mode, while Sam appears stunned. Dean tells Sam to wipe down his fingerprints. Sam is so out of it he almost walks in front of a car as they leave, Dean protectively stopping him.
This episode is peak protective Dean, something that helped hook me on the show back in the day.
Sam wonders if Max might be in danger, saying there’s one thing he has in common with these people – their families are cursed.
Dean: Our family’s not cursed, we just have our dark spots.
Sam: Our dark spots are pretty dark.
Dean: … You’re… dark…
Oh Dean, never change.
They try to talk to Max again (which means back to the priest outfits), but he doesn’t give them much even when Dean asks if he remembers anything unusual about his father and his uncle.
Max (sullen) No, we were totally normal.
That’s enough for Dean to be suspicious – and honestly, it would make all my psychologist senses take notice too.
Dean: No one’s family is totally normal and happy. He sounded scared. He’s not telling us everything.
Turns out Dean’s instincts are good. The Winchesters talk to the family’s old neighbor, who says he’d never seen a child treated like Max was, that his dad beat him practically every day and broke his arm at least two times.
The uncle took a swing at him too, he says, and his stepmother never lifted a finger to protect him. The neighbor said he called the police but it never did any good.
He then asks if Sam is okay, because poor Sam is once again grabbing his head. Dean puts an arm around his brother, helping him to the car.
Sam’s vision kicks in, Max’s stepmother chopping food as he accuses her. She protests that “you know I never did anything” and Max says, that’s right, she didn’t stop them, not once. A large kitchen knife floats in the air, aimed at her head, as she pleads with him. The knife lines up with her eye, almost making contact.
Max: You stood there and watched, pretending it wasn’t happening.
Stepmom: I’m sorry!
Max: No you’re not, you just don’t wanna die.
The knife impales her through her eye (because she watched, I’m assuming) though I didn’t see it because I closed MY eyes because EWWW.
Sam: Max is doing it, I saw him. It’s telekinesis.
Dean: He’s psychic? A spoon bender?
Sam says he understands now, that he’s connecting to Max because they’re so alike.
Dean: What are you talking about, he’s nothing like you! Sam, Max is a monster.
Sam: What he’s gone through, it’s not that insane.
They argue over whether or not they should kill Max, with Sam insisting that he’s a person and they can talk to him. Dean doesn’t like it.
Sam: Promise me you’ll follow my lead on this one.
Dean says fine, but that he’s not letting Max hurt anybody else. He tucks his gun in his jeans and they burst into the house.
Unfortunately Max, who Sam was maybe getting through to, sees Dean’s gun and slams the doors and windows, realizing they’re not priests. Maybe not the best idea to bring a gun to an intervention with a psychic, Dean.
Sam: That was a mistake. Just hear me out. I saw you do it. I saw you kill them before it happened.
He tells Max that he’s been having visions too, and that he wants to help.
Sam: Let me try. We’ll get Dean and Alice out of here.
Dean: No way! Sam, I’m not leaving you alone with him!
Sam: Yes you are.
He lets Max know he’s in charge, and asks for five minutes, and Max finally agrees. Dean agrees as reluctantly as Max.
Sam has empathy for what happened to Max growing up, but says it has to stop and he has to let the stepmom go, as Max telepathically spins the letter opener on the table round and round.
Max: Growing up? Try last week! My dad still hit me, just in places people wouldn’t see it. When my dad looked at me, there was hate in his eyes. Do you know what that feels like?
Sam admits that he doesn’t.
Max: He blamed me for everything, for my mom’s death. She died in my nursery while I was asleep in my crib, as if that makes it my fault.
Awareness dawns on Sam, and you can see the shock on his face as he puts the pieces together.
Max: There was a fire… He got drunk and babbled about her burning up pinned to the ceiling.
Sam shares his own story and that his abilities started six or seven months ago, out of the blue, saying that for some reason they were both chosen. For what, Sam doesn’t know.
Sam: But Dean and I – my brother and I – we’re hunting for your mom’s killer and to find answers. You gotta let us go, Max, and your step mother.
But Max refuses, saying he still has nightmares, he’s still scared all the time, that it will never be over if he doesn’t kill her.
Sam: The nightmares won’t end, it’s just more pain, and it makes you as bad as them. You don’t have to go through this all by yourself.
I love that we get to see Sam’s empathy here, and even as he’s trying to find his mother’s and Jessica’s killer, he also recognizes that revenge isn’t necessarily going to make things better – especially when it involves killing human beings.
Sam tries so hard, but Max finally says he’s sorry and locks Sam in a closet, telepathically sliding a huge bureau in front of it. Sam bangs on the door, but he’s trapped.
Upstairs, the bedroom door opens and Max walks in to where Dean and the step mom are, the door slamming behind him. He tosses Dean across the room telepathically and pulls his gun.
Dean stands up, defending the stepmother, but the gun floats in the air across the room and points at the step mom.
Dean tries to intervene, but Max tells him to stay back, it’s not about him. That, of course, is not something Dean Winchester can do, so he steps back into the line of fire.
Dean: You wanna kill her, you gotta go through me first.
The gun fires, the bullet hitting Dean smack in the forehead, blood splattering as he falls to the floor.
It was incredibly shocking the first time I saw this, because we didn’t realize for a moment that it was Sam’s vision. Even knowing what was about to happen doing the rewatch, seeing Dean Winchester get shot in the forehead is hard to watch.
In the closet, Sam clutches his head at the vision, gasping, screaming NO NO NOOOOO! Desperate to save his brother, he moves the bureau with his mind and opens the closet door, racing upstairs to find the vision playing out and Dean about to be shot.
Sam bursts into the room.
Sam: No don’t, please – please Max! We can help, all right? What you’re doing is not the solution, it’s not gonna fix anything.
Max sobs, looks at Sam, and says, resigned, “You’re right.”
Sam starts to smile in relief, and the gun spins and Max shoots himself in the head.
Sam: NO! Max!
Cut to the police, the step mom saying that Max threatened her with a gun, that Sam and Dean are family friends who she called as soon as Max arrived, who tried to stop him and fought with him for the gun.
She sobs, saying she’s lost everyone.
Sam and Dean leave, Sam still distraught, saying he should have said something else, done something else.
Dean: Don’t torture yourself, it wouldn’t have mattered, he was too far gone. You risked your life. Maybe if we’d gotten here twenty years earlier…
Sam: We’re lucky we had Dad.
Dean looks surprised, saying he never thought he’d hear Sam say that.
Sam: Well, it could’ve gone a whole other way after mom. A little more tequila, a little less demon hunting, and we would’ve had Max’s childhood. All things considered, we turned out okay, thanks to him.
Dean: All things considered.
It’s a rosier view of John Winchester than the brothers sometimes have during the course of the show; probably a little too rosy. But Sam’s comparing their circumstances to Max’s, and as much as John didn’t do alot of things right, he did love his sons and never looked at them with the hatred Max endured.
Back at the motel, Sam says he’s been thinking (which Dean tries to make a joke of, saying that’s never a good thing), but Sam says he’s serious. Why would this demon kill their mother and Jess and Max’s mother? What does it want? Is it after him and Max, because they both had abilities?
It’s exactly what Dean is terrified of, so he dismisses it.
Dean: Sam, if it wanted you, it would’ve just taken you. It’s not your fault, it’s not about you.
Sam: Then what is it about?
Dean: It’s about that damn thing that did this to our family – that we’re gonna find and kill.
Dean needs to believe that he can fix this, that he can keep his brother safe. That this isn’t about Sam.
Sam: There’s something else too.
Dean: Aw jeez, what?
Sam: When Max locked me in the closet, I moved it, the bureau.
Dean: You got more upper body strength than I gave you credit for.
Sam: No I moved it. Like Max.
Dean: (reluctantly) Oh. Right. Okay, bend this.
He holds out a spoon.
Sam says he can’t turn it on and off, and Dean asks why it happened.
Sam: I saw you die and it just… came out of me, like a punch, like a freak adrenaline thing. Aren’t you worried, man? That I could turn into Max or something?
Dean shakes his head.
Dean: No, no way. Know why?
Sam: No, why?
Dean: Because you’ve got one advantage that Max didn’t have.
Sam: Dad? Because Dad’s not here.
Dean: No. Me.
He smiles, gives his little brother his best reassuring big brother grin.
Dean: As long as I’m around, nothing bad’s gonna happen to you.
Dean: And now I know what we need to do about your premonitions, I know where we have to go.
He keeps up the joke as Sam protests, saying they’ll clean up, but his face shows that he’s way more worried than he’s letting on as they leave the motel and climb into the Impala, getting back on the road.
I love the dynamic we got between the brothers in this episode, Dean so worried about Sam and not wanting to let on, and Sam increasingly anxious that he personally is somehow at the center of all the strange things happening. It was such a compelling mystery that first season, what was happening with these people who shared a similar tragedy when they were babies and ended up with strange abilities. We were all as drawn into as the Winchester brothers, waiting for the next episode.
Also, Sam and Dean as priests. Yep.
Stay tuned for our next rewatch episode, the very disturbing X-files homage ‘The Benders’ coming up soon!
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