The fourth episode of Season 2, “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things”, is as creepy as the title suggests, and at the same time undeniably sad. Like almost every episode in the first seasons, the case of the week is a mirror for Sam and Dean and what they’re going through. The death of their father is hanging over them and they’re struggling with it, both of them, and no doubt spending a lot of time wishing their dad was still alive. That’s why the events of this episode hit them hard, and us as viewers too.
Written by Raelle Tucker, who I wish had stayed with the show longer, this is a Kim Manners episode, so it’s brilliantly directed – and breathtakingly gorgeous. The iconic crane shot, the moonlit cemetery, the beautiful Vancouver vista at the end, and of course the ultra close ups of the boys that rival any other beauty Vancouver can conjure.
It’s also the episode that made me fall head over heels in love with Sam and Dean Winchester and Supernatural.
So needless to say, I was excited about getting to this point of our post-series-finale rewatch.
The recap reminds us of John’s death and that Dean is, in fact, not all right, ending with him punching Sam for asking about it. This episode begins with a nice seeming guy named Neil trying to cheer up a sad woman, who pronounces him a ‘good friend’, which is always a warning sign when we can all see within ten seconds that Neil is pining for her.
Guest stars Tamara Feldman and Christopher Jacot are memorable as the doomed Neil and Angela; she is brilliant at being creepy and we don’t know whether to be furious at Jacot’s Neil or feel sorry for him, or maybe a little of both.
Her ex boyfriend Matt barges in trying to explain something, but Angela runs out and gets in her car, distraught, which never ends well. She then makes the mistake of picking up her ex’s phone call while she’s driving at night in the rain and crying and…you can see where this is going. Head on collision, shattered windshield, blood dripping onto the phone, Angela’s dead eyes open and staring while her ex on the phone asks “Angela?”
Creepy creepy beginning of a Kim Manners episode that is true to Supernatural’s horror roots. Look at that shot!
Cut to the Winchesters in the Impala, arguing. Dean says it’s stupid to go visit their mom’s grave, since there’s no body left after the fire.
Dean: It’s just a slab of granite put up by a stranger.
Sam: It’s about her memory, okay? After Dad, it feels like the right thing to do.
Dean pronounces it irrational, they should be hunting the demon, and Sam retorts that no one asked him to come.
Sam: Go ahead, drop me off and go on to the Roadhouse.
Dean: (scoffing) Stuck with those people making awkward small talk til you show up? No thanks.
Dean has absolutely no desire for them to split up, so they both go to the cemetery.
Sam is a little bit smug about that, that Dean would choose to stick together instead of going ahead to a place that is more or less welcoming and even has an attractive young woman who’s into him.
Sam buries John’s dog tags on Mary’s grave, saying he thinks Dad would’ve wanted her to have them.
Sam: I love you, mom.
Jared Padalecki is so good in this scene, and Manners gives him time to really show us what Sam is feeling. He just lost his dad, and like all losses, that new loss brings up the pain of the ones that came before – Jessica and the boys’ mother, Mary. On e of the things that can help us stay connected to loved ones we’ve lost is called an ‘object of connection’. Something tangible that reminds us of them, helps us keep them close. The Impala is that for both Winchesters, and for Dean the leather jacket that was also John’s. The dog tags that Sam brings to his mother’s grave are that too, but he wants to gift them to his mother, for her to have that connection with his father now that they’re both gone. It’s such a touching gesture, and Padalecki shows us the pain it brings back for Sam vividly.
Dean walks through the graveyard, perhaps to distract himself from the grief that his brother is expressing and that Dean is trying to keep at bay. He notices a ring of dead grass around a tree and a fresh grave. Kim Manners gives us one of his signature crane shots as Dean looks around, spooky music playing. There’s a temporary grave marker there for Angela Mason and we realize that everything is dead around it in a perfect circle.
Dean is suspicious. He gets some information from the temporary grave marker and heads back to Sam to share his suspicions.
Dean: Unholy ground maybe? Could be a sign of demonic presence.
Dean: Well don’t get too excited, you might pull something!
Sam: You sure this is about a hunt and not something else?
Sam’s perceptive, and he knows Dean is holding alot in (though he has no idea the extent, thanks to John Winchester’s awful secret that he put on Dean’s shoulders). Dean insists it isn’t.
Sam agrees to check it out though, with a typical Sam Winchester face that is kinda adorable, and they go to visit Angela’s dad, a professor at the local college. They say they were friends of hers and offer condolences, and the grieving professor shows them photos. Dean, still suspicious, picks up a book and confronts the dad.
Dean: This is an unusual book, Ancient Greek… it’s gotta be hard, losing someone like that. It’s like they’re still around…almost like you can still sense their presence. Ever feel something like that?
Sam: (annoyed at his brother) That’s perfectly normal, Dr. Mason.
Sam and his big empathic puppy eyes, relating to this poor man’s grief.
Dean thinks the professor’s hiding something, but Sam thinks he’s just grieving – something Sam understands all too well.
Sam: We never should’ve bothered that poor man, we shouldn’t be here anymore.
Dean: So we just bail without figuring out what’s going on?
Sam: I know what’s going on! This is about Mom’s grave. You wouldn’t step within 100 yards of it. Maybe you’re imagining a hunt so you don’t have to think about Mom – or Dad.
Dean glares at him, then turns away, withdrawn.
Sam: You wanna take another swing? Go ahead if it’ll make you feel better.
Dean: I don’t need this crap. I’m going out for a drink. Alone.
He grabs the keys and goes. And if Dean Winchester is purposely leaving his brother behind, you know he is for real upset. It’s totally unlike him.
Ackles and Padalecki are both so good when the boys are confronting each other, Jared portraying Sam’s concern for his brother and also his frustration that he can’t get Dean to open up to him, and Jensen showing us Dean as a powder keg of repressed emotion – grief, confusion, fear, anger, guilt – that he’s afraid to let out because the terrible secret John left him with might come spilling out too. I feel for both of them so much.
Meanwhile, ex boyfriend Matt is watching old videos of Angela. We don’t know for sure, but it’s implied that Matt wasn’t the best of boyfriends – he had a temper and was controlling – so we’re not all that worried about him. He’s drinking, and Angela is wearing that same frilly white dress that she died in – what is it with women and their white dresses on this show? Some weird vaguely misogynistic stereotype…
Anyway, Matt has a lot of houseplants, which makes me like him a little more, but they all start to suddenly wither and die. To his shock, Matt sees Angela’s reflection on the TV screen, then screams, as blood splatters all over the screen.
Dean does not go to a bar after he ditched Sam; instead he goes to Angela’s place and breaks in. A young woman in her underwear (most young women hang out in their underwear or wear frilly white nightgowns most of the time, you know….) is startled to find him in her house and starts calling 911 (which is entirely reasonable).
That middle screencap is just there for the neck and eyelash porn, as we used to call it back in the day in fandom. Anyway…
Thinking on his feet, Dean comes up with the explanation that he’s Angela’s cousin sent to pick up her stuff.
Dean: Uhh, Alan. Alan Stanwick.
He rolls his eyes at himself, but the woman buys it, especially when he adds…
Dean: How else would I have the key to your place?
He asks the roommate what Angela was really like and she says ‘great, great’ which doesn’t sound all that glowing, but she’s clearly distraught. Then she says that Matt killed himself the night before, cutting his own throat, and that before he died he kept saying that he saw her everywhere, like actually SAW her, like an acid trip.
Yeah, that last one was for the eyelashes. It’s not my fault.
Dean: Any reason Angela would have been angry at Matt?
Roommate: No, why would you say that?
Dean: Just asking…
Back at the motel, Sam is watching Casa Erotica 4 (a tale of two Latin beauties because Sam is probably not as vanilla as Dean likes to tease him about being) on the motel TV, making good use of his alone time (though oddly he’s just sitting on the edge of the bed watching, which is not how this goes in fanfic).
Dean walks in.
I’m sure, living in each other’s pockets as they do, that they’ve surprised each other plenty of times, and I’m sure they both try to make it as awkward as humanly possible each and every time.
Sam: Where the hell were you?
Dean (sarcastic): Working my imaginary case. Angela’s ex boyfriend died last night, slit his own throat… but that’s normal… oh and he was seeing Angela everywhere before died.
Sam: Okay I’m sorry, maybe there is something going on.
Dean is still angry, snapping at Sam that he knows how to do his job no matter what Sam thinks.
Sam, to his credit, quickly gets on board and suggests they check out Matt’s place, but Dean says he already did. Dead plants, even a poor dead goldfish.
He also reveals that he stole Angela’s diary.
Sam: So what do you want to do?
Dean: Keep digging, talk to more of her friends.
Sam: You get any names?
Dean: Are you kidding me? I have her bestest friend in the whole wide world right here.
Thus, they end up at Neil’s house, posing as grief counselors. He says he’s okay, while flies buzz around. He also says that Angela’s death was her ex boyfriend’s fault – she walked in on him with another girl. And if Matt killed himself, it was out of guilt, since she got into her car and drove when she was so distraught about Matt’s infidelity.
That gives the Winchesters a little more reason to think vengeful spirit, though Dean keeps saying he’s not getting that vibe. Dean says they need to be sure, so they should burn the bones.
Sam: Are you high? There won’t be bones, just a wet rotting body in the coffin.
Dean: Since when are you afraid to get dirty?
And so we get grave-digging boys, with Kim Manners making it way more beautiful than it probably should be.
Dean to Sam: Ladies first.
(Yes, early seasons Dean could be a jerk like that, though he probably said it with affection every time.)
They open the coffin – and find it empty.
That can’t be good.
Sure enough, back at Neil’s house, Angela insists she missed him and kisses him. He hesitates, seeming to have second thoughts about whatever he did, but we also know he’s wanted Angela forever – and now he can have her. Sorta.
He kisses her back.
Dean recognizes some of the symbols on the coffin and realizes he’s seen them before – in that book in the professor’s office.
They go back and Dean confronts him, demanding to know what the symbols are, while Sam tries to calm his brother down, with “Dean, take it easy, okay?”
Professor: It’s…an ancient Greek ritual.
Dean: Necromancy, right? Used to communicate with the dead or bring corpses back to life, full on zombie action.
The confused dad says that yes, according to legend, but Dean won’t let it go, his own grief and anger getting in the way
Dean: Look, I get it. There are people I’d give anything to see again, but what’s dead should stay dead. It’s not your daughter anymore. Haven’t you seen Pet Cemetery?
Professor: You’re insane!
(Once again we get an outsider pov on our boys and yes, they absolutely do appear to be insane!)
Sam reaches out to stop Dean, who is so caught up in his own grief and the knowledge of what his father did to try to subvert Dean’s death (and the guilt that’s causing him) that he can’t see what’s right around him, his hunter instincts even blunted.
Sam: Dean, stop, that’s enough – look around, beautiful living plants.
He hustles Dean out, apologizing to the professor for bothering him.
As soon as they’re out of his house, Sam confronts Dean. He’s scared of his brother’s uncharacteristic behavior and just how out of control he seems.
Sam: What the hell’s the matter with you? He didn’t deserve that!
Dean: Sam, I know what I’m doing.
Sam: No you don’t! You’re scaring the crap outta me. You’re on edge, erratic – except when you’re hunting and then you’re downright scary. You’re tailspinning, man, and you won’t let me help you.
Dean (stubbornly): I can take care of myself.
Sam: No – and you’re the only one who thinks you have to! Please, we’ve already lost Dad, we’ve lost Mom, I’ve lost Jessica, and now I’m gonna lose you too?
As upset as Dean is, that gets through to him. Losing family is the worst thing in the world to Dean, and Sam reminds him that it is for Sam too.
Dean: I hear you, okay? I’m being an ass and I’m sorry, but right now we gotta figure out how to kill a zombie. Right?
Finally, as Dean acknowledges that he hears his brother, that Sam has gotten through to him, the tension bleeds out of both of them.
Sam: Our lives are weird, man.
Dean: You’re tellin’ me.
It’s Winchester speak for I hear you, you’re not gonna lose me, we’re in this together. Somehow, watching now after the show has ended, it’s even more emotional. That’s the thing that made this show so compelling for so long and what makes Sam and Dean so inspiring to so many of us. Their lives were weird, and they endured loss and trauma that would flatten most of us – but they were in it together, no matter what. And that made all the difference.
Also I have no clue how anyone can hold a conversation when the person you’re talking to looks like this.
Meanwhile, creepy reanimated Angela tries to keep Neil (who’s suspicious about Matt’s death) on her side.
Angela: Honey, is something bother you? Come, sit down. You always said he didn’t deserve me. You were right. Neil, do you really think I could do something like that?
He says she seems different, clearly uncomfortable, but Angela pushes him down and climbs on top of him, telling him she is different – that she realizes he’s the only one who ever loved her and she’s with him now.
Angela: Isn’t that what you always wanted?
It’s the classic be careful what you wish for, but Neil is so happy to have her in any way, shape or form (even deceased) that he goes with it anyway.
The Winchesters are busy figuring it all out in their motel room, Sam going through the lore about how to kill the walking dead and Dean going through Angela’s diary and figuring out that an entry about Neil “has unrequited ducky love written all over it.” Also he’s the professor’s TA with access to his books.
Back to Neil’s house they go, armed with silver bullets.
Dean: Neil, it’s your grief counselors, we’ve come to hug…
There are dead plants everywhere. Dean heads to the basement.
Dean: Maybe this is where he keeps his porn…
Sam: Look smartass, she might kill someone. We gotta find her, Dean.
[Sidenote: There are videos out there of each season and how many times the Winchesters say each other’s names, and it really is striking.]
Dean also figures out that Angela’s roommate was maybe too broken up about Matt’s death.
Dean: It takes two to have, you know hard core sex.
Sure enough, Angela attacks her roommate and they fight, the roommate eventually stabbing Angela with scissors. She falls to the floor and the roommate panics, leaning over her exclaiming “ohgod ohgod”. But in true horror movie fashion, Angela’s eyes snap open and she grabs the roommate and strangles her, pulling the scissors out of her own chest to stab her.
Before she can, it’s Winchesters to the rescue, and as gunshots ring out, Angela jumps out the window and runs away.
Dean: Damn, that dead chick can run!
Since the silver bullets slowed her down but didn’t stop her, they figure out they need to go by the lore that advises nailing the undead back into their grave beds.
All of us: Ewww
But how to get Angela back to the cemetery?
Sam and Dean go back to confront Neil, dead plants all around, saying we know what you did, the ritual, everything.
Dean: I’ve heard of people doing some pretty desperate things to get laid, but you take the cake. When someone’s gone, they should stay gone. You don’t mess with that kinda stuff.
They tell him that she killed Matt and tried to kill her roommate, saying their blood is on his hands. Dean gets so frustrated that he grabs Neil, shaking him, and we think he’s out of control again, because Sam jumps in.
They tell him that they need to perform another ritual over her grave to reverse the one that he did, and that they think he should come with them, right now, trying to keep him safe. He refuses, though he’s clearly spooked.
Dean: Listen to me, get out of here as soon as you can. But most of all, be cool. Don’t make her mad.
This whole scene is gold – they set it up perfectly, and Dean is brutally effective at scaring Neil. They really are trying to save his life, but he refuses to go with them. Angela, of course, has been listening – which Sam and Dean were counting on. She begs Neil to come to the cemetery with her to stop the Winchesters. Neil says okay, he’ll go get the car, but intends to try to escape. Angela, predictably, is on to him.
Angela: You look nervous. Were you gonna leave me? You were, weren’t you?
She snaps his neck and heads to the cemetery. You can’t trust reanimated dead people, just saying.
The Winchesters get to the cemetery, not knowing whether their plan is set in motion or not.
Sam: You really think this is gonna work?
Dean: No, not really, but it’s the only thing I could come up with.
The scene at the cemetery is beautifully filmed, Sam and Dean loading their guns, barely able to see in the dark. They move like in a dance, circling, guns drawn.
Angela comes up behind Sam and he turns around.
Angela, Wait, it’s not what you think, I didn’t ask to be brought back, but I’m still a person. Please.
Sam shoots her in the head and then runs.
She chases him through the dark woods, tackling him to the ground.
Just in time, Dean fires to get her off of Sam and then she chases him through the moonlit and candlelit graveyard, as he lures her to her grave.
The plan works – she falls in.
In a freaking amazing scene that shows just how badass Dean Winchester really is, Dean slides right into the grave after her and stabs his knife through her, pinning her into the coffin.
Gasping in the moonlight, Dean reiterates his mantra of the whole episode.
Dean: What’s dead should stay dead.
They shovel dirt into the grave, burying her – for good this time.
Side note: This is the popular gag reel scene where Jared splits his pants digging the grave and erupts in laughter, and then Jensen cracks up too as Jared runs off holding his torn pants closed. At some point Jared says the best part about it is Jensen’s laugh, and I totally agree. He throws his head back and laughs with his whole body, and you can’t watch all this without grinning too. Jared and Jensen were young and just starting out this adventure, and the joy they’re taking in what they’re doing is infectious.
Also side note: Jared really did break his wrist during this scene.
Sam: That whole fake ritual thing, luring Angela into the cemetery? Pretty sharp.
Sam: But did we have to use me as bait?
Dean: She had crappy taste in guys, you were more her type.
Sam: I think she broke my hand.
Dean: (more likely Jensen and Jared actually by this point) You’re just too fragile.
This is Sam and Dean getting back onto familiar footing with each other. Dean acknowledging that Sam pushing him to open up is Sam caring about him and wanting to help, and Sam acknowledging that for some reason, Dean is having a hard time doing that (he doesn’t know about the burden John left on him and the need to keep that a carefully guarded secret).
Dean pauses at Mary’s grave, and Sam asks if he wants to stay a while, but he says no.
The boys climb into the Impala and drive away, but that’s not the end of the episode.
Dean suddenly pulls the Impala over to the side of the road and gets out, slamming the door and rubbing at his face the way he does when he’s upset.
Sam gets out too, looking confused.
Dean leans on the car, saying nothing, and Sam comes up to stand beside him, nonverbal solidarity.
Sam: Dean, what is it?
And finally, finally. Dean opens up to Sam. He has wanted to for a long time, suffering the burden of guilt for what John did and afraid that if he does open up, maybe that will come spilling out too, and he doesn’t want Sam to know something that will hurt him so badly. But he wants to talk to Sam and he knows Sam wants to hear it, so he perseveres.
Dean: I’m sorry.
Sam: For what?
Dean: For the way I’ve been acting. And for Dad. He was your dad too. It’s my fault that he’s gone.
Sam: What are you talking about?
Dean: You’ve been thinking it, so have I. Doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. Back at the hospital, my full recovery, it was a miracle. Five minutes later, Dad’s dead, the Colt’s gone. Can’t tell me there’s not a connection there. I don’t know how the demon was involved, I don’t know how the whole thing went down exactly, but Dad’s dead because of me, and that much I do know.
Sam is distraught, has clearly thought about it too but doesn’t want to believe it.
Sam: You don’t know for sure.
Dean’s eyes fill with tears as he struggles to keep it together, and to stay vulnerable with his little brother. It goes against all his instincts, wanting to protect Sammy and never burden him, wanting to be the strong one, the big brother. But he needs to be honest with Sam and he knows it.
Dean: Sam, you and Dad, you’re the most important people in my life.
Dean is barely holding it together, and Sam’s eyes are filled with tears too, listening to his brother’s pain and vulnerability.
Dean: And now… I never shoulda come back, Sam. It wasn’t natural, and now look what’s come of it. I was dead and I shoulda stayed dead.
The mirror of the case itself, that we’ve seen Dean struggle with all through the episode, makes it all so much more painful for Dean. Jensen Ackles absolutely nails it here – I don’t even really have words for how good he is in this scene, how he makes me feel Dean’s anguish so acutely I’m crying too as soon as I watch it again. His chin wobbles as he tries to hold back full-on sobs, eyes brimming with tears.
Dean: You wanted to know how I was feeling. Well, that’s it.
Sam nods, barely holding it together himself but wanting to acknowledge his brother’s honesty and vulnerability.
Dean: So tell me, what could you possibly say to make that all right?
He looks at Sam, tears in his eyes, almost pleading, hoping but knowing that there is nothing Sam can say to make it right, no matter how much he wants to.
That scene was the one that made me fall in love with Sam and Dean Winchester and Supernatural. Until this episode, I’d been watching as a more casual viewer, appreciating the show but not a true fan. I had never gone looking for information online, dipped my toe into the fandom, read fanfiction. As I watched this scene unfold, the papers I was grading literally slipped off my lap and slid onto the floor. The pen I was grading with hovered in the air, unused. I couldn’t believe the vulnerability and complexity I was seeing on my screen from these characters I’d maybe misjudged as stereotypical ‘hunters’.
I turned to my daughter, also casually watching, and said “Ohmygod this is the best show I’ve ever seen!”
Emily: Mom, you’ve been watching this show for over a year, what’s the matter with you?
That was an excellent question. Because as soon as the episode ended, I went online to find other people who were as in love with Supernatural as I now was. My friend Kathy and I spent the next weekend rewatching the entire Season 1 through new fannish eyes, ripping the plastic wrap off the DVD set that I’d been given as a gift but never opened. I wanted to know everything about this show and about these two actors who had managed to make Sam and Dean so frighteningly, heartbreakingly real.
The rest is history.
So this episode will always have a very special place in my heart.
Today, revisiting how it felt to fall head over heels, I miss my show.
Love always, Supernatural.
Breathtaking caps by spndeangirl!
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