This episode, number 18 in the show’s first season, takes place in Fitchburg Wisconsin, which is now familiar to me not because I’ve ever been there or am likely to ever go there, but because this is a pivotal – and painful – episode.
We start out with a child saying their prayers, the dad tucking the little girl in with an affectionate “goodnight, monkey puss.” The little girl asks if her mommy is coming home and the dad says no, she’s at the hospital – with her sister. The dad leaves and turns out the light, and from the little girl’s perspective as she looks around her room, it’s like every time you’ve ever woken up at night in the dark and heard odd noises and your imagination has run away with you.
Sometimes this show does the scary and the horror so damn well, showing you just enough and not too much.
The wind howls, blowing at the window, lashing shadows of tree limbs against the glass as the little girl watches, frightened. She leaps out of bed and throws the curtains closed, but they’re transparent unfortunately. The tree branches almost look like hands as they creep along the glass…and then we see one branch actually IS a hand! It’s incredibly creepy and scary as it opens the latch on the window and the wind chimes in the bedroom rattle in the breeze. A shadow looms over the bed as the little girl hides under the covers. She screams, and the shadowy thing opens its gaping mouth…
Rock music plays as the Impala races down the road, and I remember in these early episodes, I’d just sit and grin every week when “the boys were back.”
Sam and Dean disagreeing about their dad like they often do – John threw a wedge between them again and again just by being John and raising them differently.
Dean: Are you sure you got the coordinates right? Dad wouldn’t have sent us coordinates if it wasn’t important, Sammy. Maybe he’s gonna meet us there.
Sam: Yeah, because he’s been so easy to find.
Dean: You’re a real smartass – I’m sure there’s something there worth killing.
When Sam continues to protest, Dean insists that he’s making the decision.
Dean: Because I’m the oldest, that’s why!
He smirks, unseen by Sam, but we all can see that he’s well aware of what he’s doing and that it’s not really valid. As much as Dean knows he’s the older brother and puts stock in that, he always respected Sam’s intellect and skills. And Sam’s little smile shows he kinda knows that too.
They roll into Fitchberg and Dean brings Sam a coffee, perhaps to make up for that comment. Sam asks what time it is, pointing out that school is out but there are no children at the playground. They talk to the one mom there and she says it’s a shame, all those kids getting sick… (And btw it’s the actress who will play the angel Hannah in later seasons, Erica Carroll! If you’ve read There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, Lee Majdoub writes about also playing Hannah — as a non-binary character).
Also I’ll never get tired of seeing that iconic leather jacket again, with that perpetually popped collar.
Dean watches the one young child at play and his face darkens – he’s always very affected by something happening to children, and this episode helps explain part of why. Sam and Dean go to the local hospital to investigate, where Sam protests the ID that Dean provided for him.
Sam: Dude, I’m not using this ID!
Dean: (feigning innocence, which he is decidedly not): Why not?
Sam: Because it says bikini inspector on it!
Before Sam can finish his protest, Dean grabs him by the shoulders and spins him around to face the receptionist, advising him to just be confident. Of course, Sam’s luck being what it is, she asks to see his ID. Dean snorts in the background, enjoying the hell out of his brotherly prank; Sam glares at him. And both Jared and Jensen kill it with their subtle humor.
If looks could kill…
I love that they are such brothers in these early seasons, looking for opportunities to rib each other. You get the feeling that Dean is still all about making Sam laugh whenever he can too, aware that he’s still affected by Jessica’s death.
They head upstairs, and Dean sees an elderly woman in a wheelchair. When she turns to look at him, her eyes are white and creepy. Guest casting on this show, always top notch – as is makeup.
They meet with the doc, who’s surprised that the CDC somehow found out, but Sam and Dean are smart in Season 1 and have a ready answer that “some GP called Atlanta.” The doc says the kids aren’t responding to the antibiotics, that it’s like their bodies are wearing out. A nurse says it’s weird the way it spreads, working its way through families, one sibling after another, only the children getting sick. They talk to the grieving dad, who says he knows he closed the window before he put his daughter to bed, but it was opened somehow.
Sam: It will be a while before that guy goes home.
Smart Winchesters go to his house and check out the little girl’s bedroom. There’s no EMF, but Sam notices the open window.
Sam: You were right, it’s not pneumonia.
There’s a very creepy hand print on the window sill, and Sam wonders – what the hell leaves a hand print like that?
We see the look on Dean’s face then – shock and recognition – and get our first flashback. The same hand print in a photo, John cocking his rifle and preparing to head out on a hunt, leaving his much too young sons behind in a tacky motel room.
I was so thrilled any time we got a flashback and a glimpse into the Winchesters’ early lives. It helps so much to understand who they are today, and I’m endlessly fascinated by who they are and eager to know more.
Have I mentioned the guest casting? Because Ridge Canipe was spot on as young Dean, with the same emotional vulnerability that we see in Dean even grown up and hardened on the outside at times.
John gives Dean instructions, and clearly not for the first time: Anyone calls, don’t pick up. If he calls, he’ll ring once and then call back.
Dean nods, impatient.
John: Come on, dude, look alive, this stuff’s important.
Dean: We’ve gone over it a million times, and you know I’m not stupid.
John is undeterred, saying it only takes one mistake. Dean recites that he should call Pastor Jim if needed, and lock the windows and doors.
John: And most important?
Dean: Watch out for Sammy. I know.
John leaves with a shoot first, ask questions later, and a heartbreakingly young Dean locks the door behind his dad, looking sad. A maybe four year old Sammy watches cartoons, young enough to be oblivious to how wrong the whole situation is. And we flash back to the present.
Dean: I know why Dad sent us here. He’s faced this thing before. He wants us to finish the job.
He swallows hard, clearly upset.
Sam knows something is up from the jump, senses Dean’s introspection and that something doesn’t add up. That’s how far they’ve come in getting to know each other since they’ve been back to hunting, all their years of having only each other when they were kids making a bond that deepens again quickly.
Back at the 2400 Court Motel, one of my Jerry Wanek favorites, on a rainy night, Dean casually explains some of what the thing is, saying it’s like a witch, he thinks. Sam says he’s never heard of a shtriga and it’s not in Dad’s journal.
Dean: Dad hunted one, seventeen years ago. You were there, you don’t remember?
Sam: No. If Dad went after it, why’s it still breathing air?
Dean shrugs and says it got away, but Sam is suspicious, knowing his brother well enough to know something is up, and asking Dean what else he remembers.
Dean insists he doesn’t remember anything else, saying “Nothing, I was a kid, all right?”
So true, and so relevant.
They check in at the motel, a young kid asking them if they want a king or two queens in a rather iconic Supernatural scene from the early years where the brothers were constantly mistaken for a couple and it was a running thing on the show.
Dean: Two queens.
Kid: (glancing at Sam waiting, skeptical) Yeah right…
Dean: Funny, kid…
The kid’s mom appears, laughing it off with “Oh yeah he thinks so.”
The running joke makes sense in the context of the complicated relationship the show is setting up between the brothers. The show painted their relationship as platonic but uniquely intense from the get go, and underlined that repeatedly for the audience to ensure that we became completely fascinated by the Winchesters. (And remained so!)
Michael goes to take care of his little brother, and Dean watches him pour milk for the younger little boy. We zoom in on his face as he remembers a similar scene from his own childhood (we get lots of these dramatic zooms in this episode, but I’m not gonna complain when they look like this…)
Flashback to the long ago motel, Dean pouring milk for little Sammy as he asks when their Dad will get back. Dean has cooked Spaghetti-Os on the little stove, which is heartbreaking because HE is so little, but Sam is a typical four year old and protests that he doesn’t want that, he wants Lucky Charms.
Dean: There’s no more.
Sam: I saw the box.
Dean: But there’s only enough for one bowl and I haven’t had any yet!
Sam gives his big brother the puppy eyes that apparently have been working on Dean forever, and Dean relents and pours him a bowl of Lucky Charms, impulsively dumping the Spaghetti-Os in the trash because he’s like eight years old and that’s exactly what an abandoned stressed out eight year old would do.
Sam pulls the prize out of the box and offers it to his brother and both of them are seriously breaking my heart.
Flash forward to the present, Dean lost in thought, sad music playing in the background in case it wasn’t already sad enough (it was).
Sam’s researching on the laptop and he says that Dean was right, that a shtriga is an Albanian witch that feeds off the “spiritus vitae”, the breath of life or the life force. That fits, since the doctor said it was like the kids’ bodies were wearing out. It prefers children and is invulnerable to all weapons.
Sam is wearing the whippet shirt, which is well known in the Supernatural fandom, by the way. It’s one of the more distinctive pieces of clothing either of the brothers wears in the show.
Dean: No, that’s not right. She’s vulnerable when she feeds. If you catch her when she’s eating and blast her with consecrated wrought iron.
Sam: How do you know that?
Dean: (evasive) Dad told me, I remember.
Sam finds out that it uses a human disguise when not hunting, often a feeble old woman. They also realize that the hospital is dead in the center of where kids have gotten sick.
Dean: When we were at the hospital, I saw an old woman.
Sam: (hiding a smile) An old person, huh? In the hospital? Wow, call the coast guard…
Dean: Listen, smartass, she had an inverted cross on the wall!
They go to the hospital that night, walking in sync as they often do, and burst into the old woman’s room with guns drawn. She’s still sitting in her wheelchair as Dean slowly walks up to her and leans in to see her, almost right in her face. She suddenly turns her head, yelling ‘Who’s there?! You trying to steal my stuff?”
Dean nearly has a coronary, and Jensen is hilarious in that small moment, making the most of it. The woman insists she was “not sleeping, but sleeping with my peepers open.”
Dean facepalms. Literally.
Woman: And fix that crucifix, will ya? I’ve asked four damn times already.
Just a small scene, but so well done.
Back at the motel, the young brothers whose mom owns the motel are sleeping. Outside it’s windy again, branches against the window, and once again that creepy hand unlatches the window and opens it.
In the morning, the Impala pulls up to the motel, Sam still laughing about the “sleeping with my peepers open” and Dean insisting it’s not funny. Sam is thoroughly enjoying getting a chance to rib Dean in this episode, and I’d put money on the fact that Dean is secretly enjoyment Sam’s enjoyment.
Sam: Oh man, you should’ve seen your face.
I love every chance we have to see the brothers teasing each other and having fun – we didn’t get nearly enough of those moments in fifteen yeas!
Dean notices Michael sitting forlornly on a bench and goes over, always attuned to kids not being okay.
Asher sadly says that his brother is sick and it might be his fault – he should’ve made sure the window was latched. Dean recognizes big brother guilt when he hears it.
Dean: Listen to me, I can promise you, this is not your fault, okay?
Michael: It’s my job to look after him.
Dean nods, understanding completely, while Sam watches. The brothers are still learning so much about each other, and about how each of them conceptualizes their relationship. And for Sam, he keeps understanding more and more what their childhood was like for Dean as the older brother who constantly felt responsible. We learn in this episode that it wasn’t just young Dean’s imagination, either.
Michael begs to go with his mother to see little brother Asher, but she instructs him to turn on the No Vacancy sign, flustered and upset as she gets ready to head to the hospital. Dean steps in to help them both.
Dean: Hey Michael, I know how you feel – I’m a big brother too. But you gotta go easy on your mom right now.
He insists on giving the mom a ride to the hospital, a sad music score underlining the tragedy of what’s going on – and of what went on in the past too.
Dean turns to Sam before he gets in the car, determination written all over his face.
Dean: We’re gonna kill this thing. I want it dead, you hear me?
Damn. Do not mess with Dean Winchester when he’s this angry? Mmm.
Sam researches on old fashioned microfiche at the library where the Winchesters spent so much time in early seasons. Dean calls with bad news from the hospital that the kids aren’t doing well, and Sam has bad news too as he looks at old newspapers. Same thing happened around the time their father was at a different town, and before that every fifteen to twenty years, always a new town, and it goes on for months. Sam traces it way back to a place called Black River Falls in the 1890s, and then stops in shock.
Sam: Whoa. I’m looking at a photo now. One of the people is Hydecker.
The same doctor that Dean is looking at in the present.
Sam: This picture was taken in 1893.
Dean hangs up, looks positively murderous when he looks at Hydecker, the doctor seemingly tenderly stroking a sick child’s forehead, the distraught mother trusting him to save her child when he’s the one killing them. Dean barely holds it together; you can viscerally FEEL how much he wants to just pull out a gun and shoot him.
He returns to the motel and Sam instead.
Sam: A doctor is the perfect disguise.
Sam also is surprised Dean didn’t waste him on the spot.
Dean: (through gritted teeth) That sonovobitch! I wasn’t packing, which is probably a good thing because I probably would’ve emptied a clip on him anyway. Tonight he’ll come after Michael.
Sam wants to get Michael out of there, but Dean has another idea – to use him as bait.
Dean: Dad didn’t send me here to walk away.
Sam: He sent US here.
Dean shakes his head.
Dean: This isn’t about you, Sam. I’m the one who screwed up.
Sam doesn’t understand.
Sam: How is it your fault? You’ve been hiding something from the get go. Since when does Dad let something get away? Talk to me, man, tell me what’s going on.
And finally, Dean does. Even though he’s fighting through debilitating guilt that he’s repressed for a very long time, he opens up to Sam and tells him the truth. Damn, there was so much evolution in these characters just in one season, so much growth in their relationship. Don’t ever tell me they didn’t change in 15 years, they did – and it wasn’t easy for them.
Dean tells the story: Fort Douglas, Wisconsin, third night in this crap motel room. I was climbing the walls, needed to get some air.
In the flashback we see Sam asleep, and a heartbreakingly young Dean in charge. He locks the door and goes to play video games in the motel office right across the parking lot. When the motel owner tells him they’re closing up, he reluctantly walks back to the room. He sees the door to the bedroom cracked open and, alarmed, slowly approaches, picking up the shotgun their Dad has left a small child with. He raises it to shoot, cocks it, and the Shtriga attacking Sam looks up.
The determination on little Dean’s face here, the terror that he refuses to let stop him – and he’s so young! I love this character so much.
Suddenly John is there, yelling for Dean to get out of the way. He shoots the thing, but it gets away, escaping out the window. John runs to Sammy, cradling him protectively as a sleepy Sam asks what’s going on.
John: You all right?
He kisses Sam, strokes his hair. A traumatized Dean comes in, looking shaken, not even sure he should come in and join his family, eyes wide as saucers.
John glares at him, asking what happened, and Dean looks even more stricken.
Dean: I just went out…for a second… I’m sorry…
John: WHAT? I told you not to leave this room, not let him outta your sight!
The look he gives Dean is burning, and Dean tears up, guilty and stricken.
And yes, John was probably overloaded on adrenaline and looking for someone to take it out on, guilty himself even if unconsciously for leaving his two young kids alone and vulnerable. But Dean doesn’t know that. All he sees is John loving and comforting Sam, and telling him that this is his fault; he screwed up. He was more traumatized than Sam at that moment, and desperately needed his father’s comfort. Ouch.
In the present, adult Dean continues the story, looking as guilty and stricken as he did then as a little kid.
Dean: Dad just grabbed us and booked, dropped us off at Pastor Jim’s three hours away. The Shtriga was long gone, never resurfaced til now. Dad never spoke about it again, and I didn’t ask. But he…uh… he looked at me different, you know? Which was worse. Not that I blame him. He gave me an order and I didn’t listen – and I almost got you killed.
It’s Sam’s turn to look stricken, realizing in that moment that he hasn’t understood his brother’s need to blindly follow their father’s orders at all.
Sam: You were just a kid.
Dean: Don’t. Don’t. Dad knew this is unfinished business for me, sent me here to finish it. It’s gotta get close enough to feed. Believe me, I don’t like it, but it’s gotta be the kid.
Sam doesn’t want to use Michael as bait, but he goes along with Dean asking him if he’s willing to be.
Dean, fresh off telling Sam the truth, tries the same approach with Michael, saying that the same thing attacked his brother once too. Michael saw it the night before, but says he thought it was a nightmare.
Dean: I’d give anything not to tell you this, but sometimes nightmares are real. We need your help. We can kill it. Me and him, it’s what we do. But we can’t do it without you. It’s gonna keep hurting kids unless we stop it.
Michael refuses and leaves, and the brothers lament that went crappy – unsurprisingly.
But they’ve underestimated both Michael’s love of his little brother and Dean’s ability to get through to people. There’s a knock at the door.
Michael: If you kill it, will Asher get better?
Dean: Honestly, we don’t know.
Michael: You said you’re a big brother. You take care of your little brother? Do anything for him?
Dean: Yeah, I would.
The camera is on Sam, listening and realizing just how true that is, and how much of Dean’s identity is tied up in that.
Michael: Me too. I’ll help.
Dean looks at Sam for his agreement, and Sam nods. A small moment but shows vividly how much they are becoming equal partners, and how much Dean does not treat Sam like a child anymore. They set up a night vision camera and instruct Michael to stay under the covers and then roll off the bed when Sam and Dean come in with guns to shoot it. Michael is understandably concerned but Dean reassures him.
Dean: We won’t shoot you, we’re good shots. But the gun shot will be a lot louder than in the movies. Cover your ears and don’t come out til we say so. You sure you want to do this? It’s okay, I won’t be mad.
Have I mentioned how much I love Dean Winchester? He desperately wants this chance to get the Shtriga, but he puts the child’s feelings and wishes first anyway, respecting him in a way that his own father often couldn’t or didn’t.
Also this is an aside, but I had forgotten that Dean warned Michael about how loud the gun shot would be because it wasn’t relevant to me at the time. But this time when I heard that line I had to smile, because it brought back a very fond memory. When I was on set for the filming of ‘Beat The Devil’ in Season 13 (the one in the tunnels), there’s a fight scene in the tunnels where Dean fires a gun. Even though obviously it’s not loaded, the sound I guess is the same. I have no knowledge of guns whatsoever and Jensen likely assumes that – he very generously warned me to cover my ears because gun shots are way louder than most people think they’ll be. And he was very right!
So I had to take a second to smile when Dean was just as considerate to Michael.
The brothers stake out Michael’s room as the wind picks up outside his window and they watch through the closed circuit camera.
Sam: Hey Dean, I’m sorry.
Dean: For what?
Sam: You know, I’ve really given you a lot of crap for always following Dad’s orders. But I know why you do it.
Dean has to deflect, Sam’s understanding and empathy hitting way too close to what he very much wants from his brother – and what he needs to start healing from the past.
Dean: Oh god, kill me now.
Just then, the Shtriga appears at the window, creepy as ever, Michael watching as it slowly opens the latch and the window. He lays there staring at it, Sam and Dean with guns at the ready.
Dean softly cautions Sam to wait, saying not yet, not yet. The thing advances on Michael, the camera glitching a little, Dean holding steadfast. Michael whimpers in fear (fabulous acting from this young actor, Colby Paul) and the thing opens its mouth to feed – the Winchesters bust in and Michael rolls, and Sam and Dean shoot it together, many times.
Dean: Michael, you all right?
He says yes, and Dean tells him to just sit tight as he walks over to check and see that the Shtriga is dead. In the best horror movie fashion, it most definitely is not, getting up and grabbing Dean.
Sam yells his brother’s name and tries to distract it, and it knocks Sam down and pins him to the floor, opening its mouth in a last ditch effort to feed on him – again. The Shtriga grabs Sam’s face, opens its mouth and forces Sam’s mouth open, starting to drink his essence, thinking Dean is taken out. But Dean manages to raise his gun.
He shoots it and this time he gets it. For good.
Dean: You okay, little brother?
Well, that’s the show right there, isn’t it? Oh, my heart.
Sam gives a thumbs up.
Dean shoots the Shtriga again, and again.
Bang bang bang.
Its essence oozes out as it lies on the floor and Dean tells Michael it’s okay to come on out. Michael looks as proud as Dean feels.
The next morning, the Winchesters are packing up when the Mom comes by. She says Asher is going to be fine, and so are the other kids. No one can explain it –it’s a miracle, some other doctor said, since Hydecker wasn’t in.
Mom: He must have been sick or something.
Sam and Dean: Yeah, must have.
The mom takes a grinning Michael to see his little brother, and Sam and Dean finish packing up the Impala.
Dean: Too bad.
Sam: They’ll be fine.
Dean: Not what I meant. I meant Michael. He’ll always know there are things out there in the dark. He’ll never be same, Sam, you know?
Sam says sometimes he wishes he could have had that kind of innocence. The brothers share a look over the car as they watch the mom and Michael drive off.
Dean: If it means anything, sometimes I wish you could too.
He means it with every fiber of his being, and Sam needed to hear it. The brothers are more on the same side than ever now, with a new understanding of each other that helped them get there. They get in the car and rock music plays as they pull out, Ozzy Osbourne singing about the ‘Road to Nowhere’ — “I’m still looking for the answer, I’m still searching for…”
The search continues as the Winchesters drive away.
God, I love this show.
Stay tuned for more Supernatural rewatch, and more interviews and articles as we celebrate May, the birthday month of Family Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done (and check out our giveaway of both books on Twitter too!)
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26 thoughts on “Supernatural Rewatch – Something Wicked (And Heartbreaking)”
I love this episode. Definitely Top Five of Season One for me. The brother moments are put front and center. I too enjoy getting the flashback episodes. Kudos to the casting department, always on point. The way the show goes back and forth between young and present day Dean is seamless. The way Ridge and Jensen both play Dean is fantastic. There is no disconnect, I believe he’s one character. Also episodes like this when Jensen gets to show Dean in all his vulnerability and emotionality are wonderful to watch and at the same time it breaks my heart.
So agreed! The directing, the casting, the acting – all top notch. Young Dean absolutely breaks my heart, and when we flash forward to the present, Jensen has the same expression on his face. Amazing!
Kudos to Daniel Knauf who was a one and done writer who was also behind the excellent and unusual TV show Carnivale, anyone who loves great character writing should check out both seasons of that show. Daniel got to the very essence of Dean and solidified the brotherly relationship in a sensitive and raw story of loss of innocence, Michael paralleling Dean in many ways, even without the disruption of the MoW.
The child actors were so believable and well cast.
I wish we had more stories from Daniel, he gives this story so many layers and it says probably more about Dean’s character, strength, love and morality than is says about what John did or didn’t do. To say everything Dean became was down to John’s actions is to do Dean disservice. Dean was a remarkable little boy who went from mute traumatized child to Child carer in a very short time, pulling together the remnants of his life to start over, a thing done repeatedly over the years. Dean tells us during the monologue over Sam “Dad didn’t even have to tell me, it was just always my responsibility” his choice, not one entirely made for him, Dean understood way beyond his age the enormity of what happened, even if he didn’t have the words or the emotions to cope.
Dean was more than resilient though, gradually he took the full weight of responsibility for the physical and emotional well-being of his family, doing such a successful job he made their family more than the sum of its parts. Sam got to Stanford a confident reasonably well balanced young man on a full ride. John became a renowned and very successful hunter, non of that would have been possible without Dean.
The things Dean achieved didn’t stop there, after everything that happened to him, things could have gone a while other way, but he found his calling, saving people. Unlike his father who was driven by anger and vengeance alone, Dean found his peace in helping people, honouring his mother, caring more for the victims than the hunt itself, as is so beautifully demonstrated here when he tells Michael it’s ok if he can’t help. Dean’s modus operandi so different to John’s, giving explanation and understanding , where non was offered to himself.We see that innate kindness even later in life as Dean chatted with Lilith when he believes her to be a victim, how caring, soft and patient he is.
In so many ways Dean had much in common with the Samurai of old, living his life in service to his family, honour bound to them by love defending them fiercely with everything he had, Dean crested his own code of ethics that always kept the victims of random unpredictable evil at the heart of his work. Dean provided justice for those victims in a way the law could not whilst also dispensing mercy with that justice, ensuring all kills were quick and clean as we later see, as much as Dean hated monsters for what they’d done to his family, he was disgusted at Gordon for toying with Lenore before attempting to kill her and later, even as hardened as he was, we see that mercy when Ketch wants to torture a vampire, Dean wanted the job done right. It wasn’t an easy line to navigate, sometimes he got it wrong, but he always acknowledged it and accepted with no excuses.The mindset of taking ownership of your mistakes starts right here in this episode, before Dean was even a full grown man.
At his core Dean was both a Protector and a Warrior and lived his life accordingly. John may have put him on the Way of the Warrior, but at every fork in the road, Dean always chose the hard way, willingly putting others, not just his brother, ahead of his needs at great cost. A warrior accepts death in battle as honourable, seeks no reward, because of what they have done, they do not expect to go to Heaven. Ultimately this is Dean’s mindset when he does accept death he’s momentarily surprised to be in Heaven, humble and modest to the end. There’s a great quote from the movie the Seven Samurai which Dean might have been familiar with that says “This is the nature of war:By protecting others, you save yourself. If you think only if yourself, you’ll only destroy yourself” and that sums up Dean, if he’d not been a hunter he’d have found some other altruistic calling, a firefighter perhaps, it’s what he tells Sam he wanted to be. Dean was engaged in a battle with evil and never backed down, his protective nature wouldn’t allow it. Despite all the pain and trauma, Dean found his calling and became so more than the sum of his damaged parts through his work, so much more that his father made him, because of his own repeated choice not to look the other way. Dean was a remarkable, brave, inspiring man who people chose to follow, who made ripples around himself that affected others, made them reach to be better versions of themselves, like Castiel, Crowley, Benny and even Rowena who grudgingly became better “For Dean”.
John made bad choices no doubt, he did some inexcusable things, but he was an inexperienced father of just four years with a distraught traumatized mute toddler and a baby who possibly wasn’t even weaned. John had no real father figure losing Henry, his family such as we are shown, was the military so he really was not equipped to help Dean at all with his mental or emotional needs, honestly, I expect few if us would be. Back then children didn’t have the same kind of mental health services, so where was he to go to get Dean help that wouldn’t result in Child Services involvement? Keeping the brothers together, giving Dean small goals, jobs to do probably brought him out of his shell, perhaps John believed at first that he was helping and just continued down that path until he realised too late how much he’d made Dean a soldier? Perhaps the difference between how he raised Dean and how he raised Sam wasn’t any kind of favouritism, but actual acknowledgement he did wrong by Dean, that he was trying to course correct himself with Sam in a way it was too late to do with Dean?
There was, unfortunately, a temptation which John seemed to fall into of leaning too heavily on Dean because he was so competent, it was evident from Sam’s abscence of fear or any kind of reaction to Dad going away. By the time Sam was rising 5 , it was normal for him to be home alone with Dean and he trusted in Dean to give him everything he needed.
Dean provided all the practical and emotional support and Sam was fully attached and already manipulating Dean like a normal child might, trying to manipulate a parent. All sense of normality for Sam hinged on Dean’s well being, it was so ingrained Sam sometimes didn’t notice what Dean did or the extent he did it too, his intellect still recognised John as the father figure, yet emotionally he was bonded to Dean and visa versa, which set them both up for troubles later trying to establish the balance as brothers and co-workers, rather than child and carer.
They lived the same life, but experienced it so differently. In every way that mattered, Dean was Sam’s father which complicated things so much for them. Alongside Dean having invested his all in their relationship and not being able to let go of responsibility for Sam, Sam on a subconscious level , feared life without Dean in it somewhere spinning around him like a satellite and he would do whatever it took to keep that arrangement, whilst consciously trying to individuate. So much of the series hinges in the push pull effect of their issues set up because of, effectively, losing both parents in the house fire. We know this because Dean tells us “Dad was just a shell” John their father was clearly often absent, even when he was there, supported by the fact little Sam doesn’t even get up out of the chair to say goodbye or give John a hug when he leaves. The one thing they were always unanimous on “It was always you and me”
Both Winchesters were on this massive voyage of change and discovery, just getting past a traumatic and sad childhood, a damaged father, a life without a firm home or any continuity of education, or friends, never mind the interference of the celestial powers that be. They did so well to make something good out of the poor hand they were given.
Marion, that was one of the best analyses I have ever read about the family dynamic of the show and specifically the character of Dean. I’m so impressed! You’re a brilliant writer.
Damn woman. You could write a Ph.D thesis on Supernatural with that wonderful in depth analysis. Kudos!
He,he, can you tell just how much I love this show?🙂
Marion- Your analysis is brilliant. I love your understanding of Dean and what/how he ticks. So spot on. Do you have a blog, LJ or anything else out there where you have shared your thoughts on other aspects of the show. I would love to read them. Thanks for these thoughts. Something to definitely read again and think about as I rewatch the show.
Hi Evelynw62, I’m glad you enjoyed my lengthy ramble. I don’t blog or anything else, but you’ll find me hanging out here for Lynn’s post watch reviews.
It’s a sort of symbiosis thing with my comments, Lynn will mention something that sets me on a particular chain of thought and off I go.
I can’t deny, Dean has a special place in my heart, he was my way into the show, a kindred spirit and the character I most connected with, whom I find endlessly fascinating. Now all is said and done, I enjoy trying to connect the dots.
I doubt I’ll ever tire of talking about the show, there’s so much to explore, so much to love.
And that right there is why I miss Dean Winchester so much and why I don’t think any other fictional character will inspire me and captivate me quite like he has done for 15 years. I was just saying some similar things, especially about Dean’s different motivation for hunting things, ie. the saving people part, on a youtube panel yesterday. Your analogy about him being the Warrior is apt, and part of why the finale and his death made sense to me. Not that I wasn’t devastated by it, but it made sense for him and he found meaning in it at the end. Making something good out of the poor hand they were given indeed – something good for all of us!
I believe “Saving People, Hunting Things, Family Business” were entirely Dean’s words and completely Dean’s take on his world, a way he made sense of the chaos around him. Dean is a uniquely special character who saw the world through a different lense, and that saying incorporated and United both sides of him, Protector and Warrior.
Aw, thanks Shelq, this is the end result of my watching the early seasons in a bubble, unaware of fandom at large with only my own thoughts. I can tell you I do worry about Dean like he is a real person and every rewatch something new pops into my mind. Dean will resonate with me FOREVER.
I do still have so much to say (sorry, not sorry 🙂) Thanks to Lynn creating such a welcoming blog, I now have a lovely space to share my thoughts.
(Thank you Lynn, for being such a gracious host)
Thank you all for such incisive comments on what IMHO is an utterly pivotal, revealing and heart-breaking episode. Somehow I didn’t realize until reading this that it was so early in the show’s history (late Season One).
I am going to respectfully disagree with one thing. I think that the boys were older than stated. If the original incident was 17 years ago, and toward the end of Season One, Sam would be 23 or close to it, that means Sam would have been 5 1/2 to 6 and therefore Dean would have been 10 or 10 1/2. And, that is how old the (amazing) child actors look to me in this episode (I am an experienced nanny/pre-school teacher, so I have some background in gauging children’s ages). Either way, they were far too young to have been left alone even once, let alone over and over.
When did Michael realize that Dean’s little brother to whom he kept referring without naming him was in fact Sam, his hunting partner? Was it not until the end when Dean says “little brother” to Sam, or did Michael figure it out earlier?
Also, this is at least the second character we have met called Asher (the other was an elderly Jewish man in the much-later episode involving gambling with years of one’s life) and then of course there was Ash from the Roadhouse. Is there any connection? In any case, it is an unusual name, and a Hebrew name (meaning “happy”) and I wonder if it is a name connected to someone who works on the show.
Its possible Michael fell into the same presumption many others did, with Sam and Dean being quite physically dissimilar, Sam being dark haired, Dean fairer and especially with Sam being the taller of them, that they were not blood relatives, reading the familial bond incorrectly and didn’t understand until the end.
Of course there’s always the possibility that Michael was just being a smart alec, trying to bait Dean to amuse himself and show he was the man of the house ( something Dean himself probably would have done when he was that age)
I don’t know about the name Asher specifically, but the show has a history of using names of crew and family members as recognition ( see the wall of missing persons in the Pilot for example. They were all working for the show)
I don’t remember what my own kids looked like at those exact ages, so maybe they were a little older – they seem heartbreakingly young to me at this point! I’m not sure Michael did figure it out before then, I don’t think we see any indication of that until it’s made explicit. I don’t recall any crew with that name, but I love that they use some distinctive names that come from all backgrounds.
Every time the tree branch blows in the wind and causes a shadow my shade, I recall this episode. Traumatized?
Understandable – so well done!
John got there so perfectly in the nick of time, my head canon always held that he had used both boys as bait. That he didn’t really leave—just let Sam and Dean think he was gone, and then hung around, waiting to get the shot.
This is still one of my favourite episodes -in the early seasons. Scary monsters, parts of the boy’s pasts being revealed, some much needed humour, and smart Winchesters.
One thing I disagree with, Lynn (unusual) “and how much Dean does not treat Sam like a child anymore.” Even up to season 5 Sam was still resenting Dean treating him like a kid. Fallen Idols was when Sam mentioned it and wanted to be on equal footing. But the rest of your recap was dead on.
Also, the 2400 Court is a real motel on Kingsway in Vancouver. Obviously, the room isn’t the actual interior but the place does exist-I stayed there. 😆
You’re right that there are times when Dean falls back into treating Sam more like a kid, but it’s inconsistent – and mostly based on emotional reasoning. His logical side absolutely knows and trusts Sam as an equal, I think. I still think that’s one of the coolest motels they used – hopefully I’ll experience it myself someday!
Three quick things.
I re-watched this episode just now. When Dean first tries to talk Michael into being bait to catch the entity that attacked Michael’s kid brother, Dean nods slightly/briefly toward Sam when mentioning his own younger brother; Michael may or may not have caught this. But Michael surely realizes exactly who the two hunters are to each other after Dean vanquishes the shtriga in the act of (again after 17 years) trying to steal Sam’s life force, because Dean says, “You OK, little brother?” directly to Sam, when Michael is nearby.
Also, I noticed this . . . in the flashback scene in which John is preparing to leave for several days and admonishes Dean to never take his eyes off Sam, John finishes up by calling Dean “my man.” I’m sure that John meant no harm — but what a terrible burden to lay on a kid who is at most 10 or 11 years old!
Finally . . . what are the chances that Michael and Asher became hunters themselves when they grew up in emulation of Dean and Sam — just as Asa Fox did in homage to Mary?
Given the life they had, I would think Dean and Sam would have hopes that Michael and Asher were never drawn into the hunter world and that did have a good future. Later they actively try to dissuade young people like Claire and Krissy to not rush in, to keep their opinions open.
Dean actually has quite strong views on children being involved in hunting, probably directly due to his own experiences , he tells Jo in the season 2 episode No Exit ” My Dad started me in this so young…., I wish I could do something else” later in the series, he’s obviously distressed Krissy is back hunting when he thought she was out and later still, he tries hard to discourage Patience Mosley from getting involved being totally blunt, not holding back.
You’ll get no argument from me. FWIW, I feel sure that Mary WInchester never expected or wanted Asa Fox to choose the hunter lifestyle, but he did.
Totally agree with your thoughts Mazal HaMidbar, I suspect the Hunter life often calls to those people who are minded to help anyway, the ones who seek a satisfaction in more than material things.
Elliott Ness is a classic example, already a member of law enforcement, he hunted not due to personal vendetta or some tragedy, but he because he became aware of the supernatual and his duty and desire to help people kicked in, because he could.
What a great follow up it would have been to revisit Michael and Asher in late seasons! I didn’t notice John saying that to Dean – ouch!
Because in “Carry On” the showrunners were tying back to Season One, they COULD have written that episode such that the telephone call Sam took on Dean’s old phone was from Michael (whom I judge to have been about 14 in “Something Wicked” and so therefore around 29 by 15:20) . . . but did not.
We know that Jack did not wipe out paranormal evil on Earth . . . so presumably Garth, Claire, Jody, Donna (and possibly Michael and Asher . . . and maybe even Dean 2.0) and others still “carry on” with hunting to this day.