Provenance is a Phil Sgriccia directed episode, and it shows. It’s creepy and scary and memorable in multiple ways, starting out with a close shot of a decidedly creepy old painting in a giant antique frame. A young couple, for some inexplicable reason, just bought it – though the wife has the good sense to say it’s “kinda creepy”. The husband reassures her that he’ll keep her safe, so we’re fairly certain he’s about to die.
Wife: Maybe you’re the one I ought to be scared of…
He is actually kinda creepy and keeps pinching her, but she seems into it and heads upstairs. The old man in the painting turns his head and watches her go up the stairs and OMG that is super creepy!
The husband locks up, sets the alarm and turns out the lights while the wife lights some candles and gets into bed.
“Hurry up or I’m gonna start without you,” she teases, as someone makes their way up the stairs and slowly comes into her room. A gust of breeze blows out the candle and we see her husband just starting to climb the stairs and UH OH that’s not the husband in the room with her…. The clueless husband comes into the room telling her to get the lights, then pauses.
Husband: You smell something?
When the lights come on, his wife is dead on the bed, covered in blood. He falls to his knees, looks up at something we can’t see, and screams.
Cut to a bar and a band playing Steve Carlson’s “Nighttime”, which I wrote about in my recent look back article on some of my early chats with Mr. Carlson, so check those articles out here if you missed them. Here’s what Steve had to say about how that song came to be in this episode:
I had seen my friend Chris, who co-wrote the song, one night at a birthday party and he was dancing using the drink as his prop and I was like, that would be a great beer commercial! We put the song together and I got back and played it for Jensen and he asked me to burn him a copy. He was playing it in his trailer one day and a producer was like oh, who’s that? He said it’s my roommate, Steve, and the producer said, that would be perfect for the bar scene in our next episode. Their people called my people and negotiated it and worked fast to get it in and sign a contract, and the next thing I know I was flying to Boston and it aired. I was on the phone with someone because I couldn’t watch it live and he was watching and telling me oh, it was loud (on the show) – I was going through security and the guy was like, you have to get off the phone, so I threw it in the Xray machine and then grabbed it back and was like, so it was loud? And he was like yeah, and it’s still on! I had it on Tivo but it sucked because I was in Boston and no one I knew had Tivo so I had to wait a week to watch it when I got home – that was the first thing I did!
You can read that full article here fyi:
Anyway, Dean’s flirting with a young woman (Brandy with a y or an ‘i’?) while Sam’s reading in the newspaper about a couple’s throats being slashed. Sam tries to call Dean over and he keeps ignoring him until Sam in exasperation says ‘Come ON’
Dean: I gotta go, be right back…
Sam: I think I’ve got something.
Dean: (leering) Yeah, me too. I think we gotta take a little shore leave.
Sam scoffs, asking Dean what he’s pretending to be today, which turns out to be TV scouts.
Dean: (hopeful) She’s got a friend…
Sam: No thanks, I can get my own dates.
Dean: Yeah, you can – but you don’t.
Dean finally relents, asking Sam what he’s found in the paper. Sam goes through all the reasons this might be their kind of thing – no prints no murder weapons windows locked from the inside… DEAN!
Sam finally gets Dean’s attention for real when he says that their dad noted three murders in the same area of upstate New York in 1912, 1945 and 1970, with the same M.O.
Sam: No one checked the pattern. Excerpt for Dad.
John Winchester was a good hunter, you have to give him that.
Dean: All right, I’m with you. We can’t pick this up til first thing in the morning, right?
He returns to the young woman with a deceptive “talked to my producer, it’s looking good…”
The next morning Sam wakes his brother up from where he’s passed out in the Impala, blowing the horn.
Dean: (grumpy) That’s so not cool.
Sam: Last night while you were…. Out…
Dean: (smirk) Good times…
They speculate that maybe it’s a cursed object, but it will be hard to find since the couple’s house has been cleaned out – but luckily they know where their stuff is, waiting to be sold.
The Impala, dusty from the road, parks next to fancy cars in a lot, including one with a recognizable license plate – and a shout out to creator Eric Kripke!
Sam and Dean (equally road weary) definitely do not fit in amidst fancy food, violin music and well dressed art dealers and buyers. Dean goes for the food because of course he does.
Dean: I’d like some champagne, please.
Sam: He’s not a waiter…
Sam shows off his smarts though, claiming to be an art dealer (who is not on the guest list). Dean does not do nearly as good a job of fitting in – he gets a lot better at this over the course of the series, gotta say.
Dean: We’re on there, Chuckles.
Sam is annoyed at Dean for being so uncouth but his bravado temporarily prevents them from getting kicked out anyway. They manage to find the creepy painting, and a beautiful young woman (Taylor Cole), the daughter of the art dealer, joins them.
Sarah: Fine example of American Primitive, wouldn’t you say?
Sam: I’d say more Grant Wood than Grandma Moses… but you knew that. You just wanted to see if I did.
Smart Sam. Sarah Blake is impressed. I can’t blame her.
Sam: Is it possible to see the provenances?
Sarah’s dad appears and again impresses that they’re not on the guest list.
Dean: Okay, we don’t have to be told twice.
Dad: Apparently you do.
Sam and Sarah share a look, which Dean of course notices.
The brothers return to their motel, where Dean is impressed by Sam’s knowledge of art.
Sam: I took an art history course, it was good for meeting girls.
Dean: It’s like I don’t even know you.
He says it in a flippant way, but it’s actually a pretty good insight into what Dean is still struggling with emotionally. Dean is feeling like the little brother he knew everything about is a stranger, after living an entirely different life without him. And it bothers him, a lot. Dean is shown to be very smart, but he’s not ‘educated’, and his sense of inferiority about that is evident throughout the show’s run but especially in these early seasons.
They turn the key and walk into the motel room and just STOP. It’s decorated like a disco, with disco music playing. The brothers look around.
Sam and Dean (in unison): Huh.
Jerry Wanek told the story of coming up with that fabulous set dec as he talked about the commemorative book of photos he put out recently, saying that they couldn’t wait to see Jared and Jensen’s reaction and then they both just nailed it with their in unison nonplussed “huh”.
Dean wants Sam to ask Sarah out, but Sam says no, that pickups are Dean’s thing (as we’ve seen).
Dean: It wasn’t my butt she was checking out.
Dean notices every little thing like that, half always on the lookout for someone who will make Sam happy and half hypervigilant for Sam leaving again.
Sam is so adorable and shy looking with those bangs, just sayin’.
Dean insists he try to get information from her, saying he should “take one for the team” by asking her out and Sam finally does. He and Sarah go to a fancy restaurant, where Sam ponders the wine list awkwardly.
Sarah: I don’t know about Romeo here, but I’ll have a beer.
That boyish smile…
Sarah Blake was pretty cool. She asks Sam about being pre law and not going to law school, and shares that her mother died a year before unexpectedly, and that really threw her.
Sarah: I went into a nice warm safe shell. But not what she would’ve wanted for me, so… What about you? You’re a reasonably attractive guy…
Sam is evasive, but apparently the date goes well because Sam returns to the motel not empty handed.
Dean: So she just handed the provenance over to you – provenances – and? You didn’t have to do any special favors?
Sam: Get your mind out of the gutter, Dean.
Again with the relationship cheerleading. It’s what he thinks will help Sam heal, but it must be incredibly annoying to poor Sam, who doesn’t feel ready after the very recent loss of Jessica. It’s also Dean’s fear that Sam is going to leave again at any moment, though, so he has to constantly push the envelope to see if this is the time it will happen.
Dean: It’s obvious you’re into her, even I can see that.
Me: Dean omg, give it a break!
They figure out that previous owners of the painting were also murdered, and break into the art gallery or auction house or whatever it is, vaulting over the fence like badasses and running inside, alarms blaring. I honestly don’t know which episode these gifs are from, but I just like watching them spring over fences, so someone let me know if it’s not this one.
They disarm the alarms, again like badasses, and there’s a wonderful montage of Sam and Dean with flashlights, a great music cue playing, showing off what great thieves they are. They find the painting and slice it out of the frame.
Dean: Ugly ass thing – you ask me, we’re doing the art world a favor!
Back at the discarded frame, however, we see the painting reappear while the Winchesters are standing over the original one burning it. I love early seasons Winchesters for their dangerous vibe – if anyone was just observing, they would totally think these two were some kind of serial killers. No wonder that’s a popular fanfic trope!
Also let me say again. That painting – SO creepy!
Back at the motel, Dean makes up a story that he dropped his wallet at the warehouse the night before and they have to go back for it since his fake IDs are in it. Sam is annoyed.
Sam: How do you lose your wallet, Dean??
Sarah appears and surprises them, hoping she’ll see Sam again, but Sam says they’re leaving town and just came to say goodbye. Dean insists they go out and have some fun though, pulling out his (not missing) wallet and giving Sam 20 dollars.
Dean: I’ll go ahead and give you that 20 bucks I owe ya… and leave you two crazy kids alone. I gotta go do…. something… somewhere…
There’s a series of gorgeous gifs showing off the visual artistry of this episode, so please enjoy. I may also have a thing for Dean Winchester’s hands, but that’s not why I’m including this gif. Nope.
Sam shakes his head, exasperated at the constant attempts to fix him up, telling Sarah that Dean was just messing around, as Dean leaves.
Sam suddenly notices over her shoulder, to his shock, that the painting has put itself back into the frame!
Sam: The…that painting looks so good…
I was actually laughing out loud for real, Jared Padalecki’s comic timing was so perfect there, as was Taylor Cole’s dumbfounded expression.
Sam awkwardly tells Sarah not to sell that painting, saying that he’s gotta go and will see her later.
Sarah (confused) So you’re not leaving tonight?
Sam: I guess not.
The boys get into the Impala, slamming the doors in sync (which was a whole gag reel thing because again, this is Phil Sgriccia filming, bless him).
They do some more research at the library, where the adorable librarian, who is clearly a crime buff himself, hopefully asks if Sam and Dean are. He tells them the story of the Isiah Merchant family – the father controlled his family with an iron fist, his wife, his sons and their adopted daughter. Apparently his wife was going to leave him. He was a barber by trade, slaughtered his family with a strait razor and the bodies were all cremated. The little guy is so excited about all this and to have someone to share it with! He gives the Winchesters a copy of the newspaper photo.
Meanwhile, the art dealer dad puts out the painting to sell against his daughter’s wishes. The painting has changed again. CREEPY.
Sam and Dean chat (with Dean in a single layer tee shirt) and try to figure out what’s going on.
Sam: Is this like a DaVinci Code deal?
Dean: I don’t know, I’m waiting for the movie.
Boo. We know Dean reads – let us see it more often, Show!
Sam has also had it with Dean trying to engineer hooks ups for him.
Sam: You keep trying to pimp me out to Sarah – back off!
Dean: You like her and you’re consenting adults…I’m not talking about marriage, Sam.
Sam: What do you care if I hook up?
Dean: Maybe you wouldn’t be so cranky all the time. This Sarah girl would be good for you.
Sam sighs, and Dean gets serious.
Dean: This is about Jess, right? I don’t know what it’s like to lose someone like that, but I would think that she’d want you to be happy, have fun once in a while, wouldn’t she?
Sam: Yeah, I know she would. Yeah you’re right, part of this is about Jess, but not the main part.
Dean: What’s it about?
Both brothers are cracked open and vulnerable here, trying to connect, but Sam pulls away and doesn’t answer. Dean sighs, resigned.
Dean: Yeah, all right. But we still gotta see that painting, so you still gotta call Sarah.
He listens while Sam does, one eye open, rolling his eyes.
Then Sam suddenly sits up and gets serious, asking who they sold the painting to and what’s their address. Sarah must seriously think this guy is nuts.
The Winchesters run off to try to save the hapless new buyer, while I ask myself WHY this painting constantly HAS buyers!
We see an older woman reading, the newly purchased painting in the background. The man in the painting turns his head to look at her as she sips her tea, then takes off her glasses.
And in the glasses we see the reflection of a razor blade…
What a brilliant shot!
Sam and Dean bang on her door, joined by Sarah.
Sarah: What are you guys, burglars?
(I mean, yes, sometimes…)
They finally get in and see Evelyn sitting there but she doesn’t respond to Sarah calling her name, and Sarah goes toward her, while Sam and Dean call out a warning…
Sam: Sarah, don’t!
Evelyn’s head falls back right off her neck, severed. EWWWWW. But so damn well done.
A traumatized Sarah comes back to the motel with Sam and Dean; she lied to the cops and told them she went to see Evelyn alone and found her like that. Who’s killing these people, she wonders.
Dean: Not a who, but a what. You saw that painting move.
Sarah: No, no I was seeing things.
Sam: Welcome to our world. The painting is haunted.
Sarah: You’re joking.
The boys stare at her.
Sarah: You’re not joking. God, the guys I go out with…
All of us watching: lol
Sarah insists on going with them, though Sam doesn’t want her to get hurt, but she insists she’s not going to run and hide even though she’s scared.
Dean: Sam? Marry that girl.
All of us: My god, Dean, give it a rest!
The framing of this scene with all three of them puts Dean squarely in the middle of Sam and Sarah, a visual representation of how much this episode is about not just Sam’s healing from the loss of Jessica but Dean’s simultaneous fear of losing Sam to a relationship and his wish for Sam to have one so he can start that healing.
That night they break into the Merchant family crypt, which is the creepiest thing Sarah (and I) have ever seen.
There’s even an incredibly creepy doll there – that was apparently a thing, a tradition to preserve the child’s favorite toy and put it in the crypt.
Dean: Notice anything strange here?
Sarah: Where do I start?
The dad, it seems, is not buried there, which makes it seem even more like he’s the one killing people. Maybe a little too obvious, actually.
There’s eventually a cute little scene between Sam and Sarah where she has an eyelash and he reaches over and pulls it off.
Sam: Do you mind if I…? Okay, I got it. Make a wish.
She blows it off his finger, and asks if there’s something there between them or if she’s delusional.
Sam: You’re not delusional….
Sarah: But there’s a but coming…
Sam says it wouldn’t be a good idea, that he likes her but when people are around him, they get hurt – like physically hurt.
Sam: With what my brother and I do, it’s… Sarah, I had a girlfriend, and she died. My mom died too. It’s like I’m cursed or something, like death just follows me around. I’m not scared of much but if I let myself have feelings for…
Sarah: That’s very sweet – and very archaic. I’m a big girl, it’s not your job to make decisions for me.
She points out that tomorrow she could get hit by a bus, and that when you shut out pain, you shut out everything else too. She’s right, but Sam says he can’t do it, that the pain he went through, he can’t go through it again.
Dean pokes his head in between them – literally.
First he’s all about shoving Sam at someone, then he’s inserting himself in the middle repeatedly. A lot of ambivalence going on there.
Dean: Am I interrupting?
Sam and Sarah: Not at all.
They know where the dad is buried now, Dean grins proudly, and off they go to salt and burn.
Sarah is every outsider pov in a good fanfic.
Sarah: You guys seem to be uncomfortably comfortable with this.
Sam and Dean: This isn’t exactly the first grave we’ve dug…
Sam pours the gasoline and Dean tosses in the matchbook, adding a good riddance.
They go back to the house and Dean resumes his meddling…. err…. encouragement.
Dean to Sam: I’ll stay here, you go make your move.
He helpfully turns up the music in the Impala as Sam and Sarah get out, the lyrics belting out “I’m in love with a girl I can’t live without..”
Sam turns around looking pissed, making a cut it out motion across his throat, and Dean sighs and reluctantly turns the music off.
Inside the house, though, Sam and Sarah notice the painting looks wrong – and is missing the little girl.
Sam: And the razor.
There’s an evil laugh, and the door slams shut with them trapped inside. Dean runs to the door and tries to break in, but can’t.
Dean: Sam? You all right? Tell me you slammed the front door?
Sam figures out that it’s the little girl doing the killing — the dad was looking down at the little girl this whole time, maybe trying to warn them. Dean keeps trying to break down the door but can’t, and tells Sam to hold on while he “figures something out.” Sam searches for salt, to no avail.
Sam: What kind of house doesn’t have salt? Low sodium freaks!
All of us: OMG I love that line!
Wind blows through the house as the totally creepy ghost of the little girl comes at them holding the razor and dragging the creepy doll.
Sarah (channeling all of us): That is just so wrong.
Sam is smart, grabs a fireplace poker that’s iron and slices through her, temporarily disintegrating her.
The boys are stumped about how they’re going to get rid of her with nothing left to burn.
Sarah: There were antique dolls at the auction…
Sam: Well that’s fascinating, Sarah, but not important right now…
Sarah: They used the kid’s real hair in those dolls.
Sam and Dean (on the phone) in unison: The mausoleum.
Dean drives at breakneck speed back to it while Sam tries to hold off the ghost with the fireplace poker, both Sam and Sarah trying to keep it from cutting their throats, Sam yelling ‘come on Dean!’ Dean bangs on the glass, trying to break into the doll case, finally firing at it with his gun Indiana Jones style. He tries to light his lighter, once, twice, yelling ‘come on come on’ as the ghost girl advances on Sam and Sarah with the razor…
Finally the lighter catches and the doll’s hair burns. The ghost girl goes up in flames, and flames out of the painting too.
Sam ends up on top of Sarah, half awkward half flirty. Dean calls and Sam picks up.
Dean: Sam, you good?
Sam: Not bad.
They figure out that it was the adopted daughter who murdered the family in their beds, and the spirit has been trying to warn people ever since. I’m honestly not super stoked about the ‘it was the adopted child’ trope, but okay, they figured it out anyway.
Sarah tells the workers to take the painting out back and burn it.
Sarah: I guess this means you’re leaving.
Dean: I’ll go wait in the car. See ya, Sarah.
As he walks away, he rolls his eyes, muttering “don’t thank me or anything” – even though he entirely set this up for Sam and Sarah from moment one. In fact, he unabashedly watches Sam and Sarah’s goodbye, and we see them from his perspective.
Sarah: There’s a lesson in this, we all got through in one piece. I didn’t get hurt. Maybe you’re not cursed. Maybe you’ll come back and see me.
Sam: I will.
They part ways, and we see Sarah on the other side of the door, looking sad. There’s a knock and she opens it to Sam there, who sweeps her into a kiss. Dean watches, smiling proudly.
Dean: That’s my boy.
Dean’s so hopeful here, so desperately wants Sam to be okay, to not have Jessica’s death destroy him or destroy the possibility of his happiness. Dean doesn’t see that he too is playing a part in reviving Sam’s hopefulness, so he keeps frantically pushing Sam at women thinking that’s the only way he might be okay. It’s a little heartbreaking. Okay, a lot.
It results in Dean having almost a fixation on Sam’s love life and bending over backwards constantly asking if Sam wants to spend more time with women, and at the same time, dreading that Sam is one day going to say yes, he wants to stay with someone – and stop hunting with his brother. Women like Sarah, who Dean sees as Sam’s intellectual equal in a way he thinks he is not, are both a significant threat and also someone he thinks might truly make Sam happy – always his number one goal.
And Jensen Ackles is so good at the subtle, nuanced acting, that you can see the fear behind the happiness as Dean watches, probably telling himself this is it, Sam will want to stay with her instead of hunting with me.
The Winchesters get in the car and take off, ending the episode like most of the first season episodes end, as the music plays, a continuation of the song Dean tried to provide as a soundtrack for Sam and Sarah.
“I’m in love with the girl I’ve been thinkin’ about, I’m in love but I feel like I’m wearin’ it out…”
(The very aptly titled Bad Time (For Being in Love) by Grand Funk Railroad).
I just published an interview here with composer Jay Gruska, who along with Chris Lennertz, scored Supernatural from start to finish. So much of this show is enriched by the music, and the choice of this song as the Impala disappears up the road is a great example.
Stay tuned for more of our Supernatural rewatch, and more interviews and articles too!
You can hang onto Supernatural forever with
the actors’ own words and memories in Family
Don’t End With Blood and There’ll be Peace
When You Are Done – links here or at: