The sixth episode of Supernatural’s second season, ‘No Exit’, was aptly named – aptly for me, personally, at least. Because by the time this episode aired, I was head over heels in love with this show and these characters, and for the next fifteen years (which brings us to 2021 as I write this), there would indeed be no exit. I was a Supernatural fan and would stay that way.
‘No Exit’ was directed by Kim Manners, whose brilliance made every single one of his episodes memorable and the ‘look’ of Supernatural so distinctive. This episode is also personally relevant for me because it takes place in my hometown of Philadelphia, PA. I’m a proud Philly resident, and it was extra exciting to see Sam and Dean be in my hometown even if Jared and Jensen were still filming in Vancouver.
The recap reminds us of that amusing moment when Jo asks Dean if he’s really afraid of her mother, and Dean admits with a nervous smile, “I think so.”
As this episode opens (in Philly), a young woman comes home to her apartment, annoyed by the lights flickering. She doesn’t realize she’s on a horror show, so instead of immediately getting the hell out of there, she calls her landlord to complain. Even when black goo starts to drip onto her and pour out of the light sockets, she does not leave, as all of us doing the rewatch start yelling “Time to go, lady!”
Instead she leans in close to the dripping light socket – and sees an eyeball looking back!
Finally she screams, but of course by then it’s too late. All the kudos, Mr. Manners, for making that scene horror movie levels of scary and creepy! There are so many brilliant shots in this episode – Kim had dramatic sweeping crane shots in some of his memorable episodes, but in this episode he uses these ultra close up very boundaried shots to create a terrifying claustrophobic feel, like evil is right up against you and you can’t escape it. Gives me chills in the best horror movie kind of way!
Cut to the Winchesters discussing a girl kidnapped by an evil cult, snarking at each other in between job related talk.
Sam: Girl got a name?
Dean: Katie Holmes.
Sam (laughing) That’s funny… and for you, so bitchy…
Snarky Sam is the best. Jared Padalecki got a few comedic moments in this episode, and he always uses them so effectively. I don’t know if he thinks of himself as talented with comedy, but he really is.
The brothers park outside the Roadhouse, hearing raised voices and the sound of breaking glass from inside, which immediately attracts Dean’s attention.
Dean: On the other hand – catfight!
They find Ellen and Jo in the midst of a mother-daughter argument that rings true for every mother who has had to come to terms with not being able to keep their child safe 100% of the time, and also has something to say about the way Ellen is raising Jo compared to the way John raised Sam and Dean. Jo insists that her mother can’t keep her there; Ellen counters with a ‘don’t bet on that, sweetie.’ The option of tying Jo up in the basement is not entirely shot down, but Ellen does encourage Jo to leave and do something productive, i.e. go back to school.
What a contrast to how John reacted to Sam’s desire to go to college!
Jo protests that she didn’t belong there, feeling like “a freak with a knife collection”, which is something we know Sam experienced too, no matter how much he wanted to fit in and get away from the hunting life.
Ellen: And getting yourself killed on some dusty back road – that’s where you belong?
At that moment, they see Sam and Dean – whose life has just been vividly described.
Ellen: Guys, bad time…
But Jo tries to pull Sam and Dean in as allies, asking what they think. At that moment we get some more well done comic relief, as a clueless family on a road trip wanders in looking for something to eat. They are the epitome of “normal” in their matching ‘Nebraska Is For Lovers’ shirts, everything the Harvelles and the Winchesters are not. And their road trip is nothing like the one that Sam and Dean are on.
Clueless Dad: Are you guys open?
Ellen: (simultaneously) YES!
The family wanders out to find the Arby’s down the road and I think I laughed out loud the first time I watched this episode. So well done.
Ellen has to take a phone call, so Jo tells the brothers about a young girl in Philadelphia who disappeared, handing Dean a file folder. He tries not to take it.
Jo: Take it, it won’t bite.
Dean (eyeing Ellen across the room warily) No, but your mom might.
He eventually takes the file, which Jo proudly says she put together herself. Seems six young women have vanished, all young blonds, every decade or so. Ellen tells Sam and Dean to take the case, though Jo protests.
Ellen: Joanna Beth, this family has lost enough! I won’t lose you too – I just won’t.
The Harvelles are a mirror for the Winchesters here too, how hard Sam and Dean will fight not to lose each other after all the losses they’ve endured. It’s part of being a hunter and a family of hunters, but I love Ellen as the fiercely protective mama bear who doesn’t want to lose what she has left – her beloved daughter.
It’s the way Dean as the older brother often feels too, willing to do just about anything not to lose Sam – and Sam comes to feel the same way about Dean. It’s the through line of their fifteen year story, laid out right here in early Season 2.
And so Sam and Dean go to Philadelphia, the Impala rolling along with some good music playing – “Mama’s all right, Daddy’s all right…” Love me some Winchesters in Baby and some good classic rock, there’s nothing better.
They check out the woman’s apartment that we saw in the open, EMF meters in hand, until eventually Sam finds the black goo in the light switch that sets off the EMF.
Sam: Holy crap.
Dean: That’s ectoplasm.
And then, predictably, Dean’s mind goes right to where everyone who’s watching goes too.
Dean: Well Sam, I think I know what we’re dealing with here. It’s the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
Sam scoffs with an epic eye roll.
He notes that it would have to be one majorly pissed off spirit, saying he’s only seen that stuff like twice.
Me: When did you see that twice, without Dean?? Weren’t they pretty much hunting together before Sam went to Stanford and then he’s been not hunting? Hmm.
The brothers hear voices coming down the hall, and discover that it’s Jo – surprise! – being given an apartment tour by the landlord, who she is busy charming.
Dean is pissed; he agrees with Ellen that she shouldn’t be here, his own protective nature when it comes to family aligning more with her mom than with Jo.
Dean: What the hell are you doing here?
Jo: There you are, honey. This is my boyfriend, Dean, and his buddy, Sam.
She beams at them. Quick thinking on her part, you have to give her credit.
Sam does not look entirely pleased at this ruse.
Landlord: Quite a gal you’ve got here.
Dean: Oh yeah, she’s a pistol.
He smacks her ass in some kind of retaliation slash flirting, and from this post-finale perspective, that actually struck me as not very Dean Winchester. He’s not always completely respectful of women in the early seasons, but he’s more respectful than that.
Sam is still not entirely pleased by this ruse.
Dean proves himself just as smooth as Jo, though, going right along when the landlord asked how they got into the apartment with a quick and casual, “it was open” and then Jo immediately distracts him so he can’t inquire any more. Poor landlord guy wasn’t any match for three smart hunters. Jo and Dean are still snarking at each other, more like siblings every second (which is where they ended up going with the two characters).
Jo: If Dean-O loves it, it’s good enough for me.
Dean: Oh, sweetie (another smack on the ass)
Jo’s even got the cash to send the landlord on his way – I enjoy that they wrote Jo as so competent, even though she’s new to actually hunting.
Once they’re in the apartment, Sam and Dean clean and load their weapons while Jo and Dean go back to arguing about whether she should be there. Jo lied to her mother and was also smart enough to convince Ash to lay a credit card trail that led to the casinos to throw Ellen off.
Dean: You know, you shouldn’t lie to your mom. Shouldn’t be here either.
Jo: Well I am. So untwist your boxers and deal with it.
(A nice twist…haha, twist…on the sexist ‘got your panties in a twist’)
Ellen calls Dean, saying she didn’t believe Jo’s note about going to Vegas for a second, and demands to know if she’s there. Dean and Jo have an entire silent conversation about whether or not he’s going to out Jo, flawlessly acted by Alona Tal and Jensen Ackles. Sam is framed as the middle man trying to keep the peace – literally.
Jo eventually prevails as Dean gives in. He finally lies to Ellen and says he hasn’t seen her, though it’s clear he’s uncomfortable with it. Ellen’s “you sure about that?” lets us all know that she probably doesn’t believe THAT either.
Manners frames Jo and Dean to show their confrontation, and Jo as the clear winner.
Thank you, Show, for the gorgeous close-ups of these gorgeous people. Mmm.
Jo runs through the facts of the case as they try to figure out what was there before the apartment building, and she keeps flipping a small knife and pacing, while Dean keeps asking her to cut it out.
They decide to search the building, and Dean says he and Jo will take the top two floors.
Jo: We’d move faster if we split up.
Dean: Oh, this isn’t negotiable.
He’s already uncomfortable about having lied to Ellen, and even more determined as a result to keep Jo safe. As they make their way down the dark hallways, Dean hovering, Jo stops.
Jo: So, you gonna buy me dinner?
Dean: What are you talking about?
Jo: It’s just, if you’re gonna ride me this close, it’s only decent you buy me dinner.
Dean is not amused, snapping back “oh, that’s hilarious” and pointing out that she is exactly the spirit’s “type”.
Jo, however, has already figured this out, and suggests using herself as bait.
Dean: I’m so regretting this.
Jo: I’ve had it up to here with your crap – your chauvinist crap! You think women can’t do the job.
Dean: Sweetheart, this ain’t gender studies. Women can do the job fine. Amateurs can’t.
As always, the episode is a glimpse more deeply into the Winchesters’ own situation and feelings, as Dean points out that Jo has options, and that no one in their right mind chooses that life. Jo points out that Dean himself loves the job.
Dean: Yeah, but I’m a little twisted. Jo, you’ve got a mother that worries about you, who wants something more for you. Those are good things. You don’t throw things like that away; might be hard to find later.
Dean’s long-standing sorrow at losing his own mother is clear in his words, as is his ambivalence about wanting Sam back with him hunting but also wanting more for his little brother – and his awareness, even in this early season, that there comes a time when it’s too late to have those things you once thought you wanted.
The horror movie vibe continues as we see Jo standing near a floor grate and a dark creepy hand sliding through the holes toward her legs. Aaaaaaahhhh!
They smell a strange smell that Dean knows is familiar but can’t place, as the mystery deepens. Jo’s EMF meter goes off as she crouches down by the grate.
Dean: Mazel Tov, you just found your first spirit.
This episode really is horror movie scary and creepy, because Dean gets down on the floor and unscrews the vent cover and then STICKS HIS HAND INSIDE to feel around and find what might be in there, grunting with effort as all of us doing the rewatch start screaming NOOOOOOOOO EWWWWWW!
Sure enough, he pulls out some bits of scalp with a clump of blonde hair attached to it. Like I said, EWWWW.
Dean (wryly): Somebody’s keeping souvenirs…
Meanwhile, in another apartment in the building, another young blonde woman comes home and encounters the black goo and flickering lights and once again she does NOT run away immediately in spite of all of us screaming at her to “Run, lady, run!” A crack starts in the ceiling and runs across the length of the room as the woman FINALLY tries to leave, but by that time she can’t get out. The crack reaches another grate and those creepy fingers come through, pulling her down to the floor and into the grate opening. Uh oh.
Back at the rented apartment, we get to see Dean sleeping curled up on a couch in a truly uncomfortable looking position, which I guess is a way of telling us that when you’re a hunter, you sleep when you can and where you can and you shut up about it.
It is, nevertheless, a popular screencap.
Jo: Morning, Princess.
Dean: Where’s Sam?
Sounds about right for Dean Winchester. He groans, rubbing his back, and asks Jo how she slept on “that big soft bed”. Except she didn’t, she stayed up all night working on the case – which begs the question, why didn’t she give Sam and Dean the big soft bed then so somebody could get a good night’s sleep?
Dean offers her his much larger knife to open the papers she’s been opening with her small one.
Dean: Work a hell of a lot better than that little pig sticker you’re twirling around.
Jo gives him a pointed look, then hands him her small knife – it’s got initials on it, W.A.H.
Dean gets it almost immediately, all trace of snarking at her disappearing.
Jo: William Anthony Harvelle.
Dean: Sorry. My mistake.
He takes the larger knife back and puts it away. Nobody understands losing your dad who you wanted to be like as well as Dean Winchester does. The two have reached some understanding, and Jo asks Dean what the first thing that pops into his head when he remembers his father is.
Dean: I was 6 or 7, and he… he took me shooting for the first time. You know, bottles on a fence, that kinda thing. I bullseyed every one of ‘em and he gave me this smile, like…
He breaks off, a soft smile on his face, remembering.
For us as viewers, it’s only one line but it’s an important insight into those moments that shaped Dean into who he is and are still powerful for him as an adult. Pleasing his father – with his hunting skills – at the age of six or seven.
Jo: He must’ve been proud.
He asks her about her father, and she says she was still in pigtails when he died, but she remembers him coming home from a hunt.
Jo: He’d burst through that door like Steve McQueen, and he’d sweep me up in his arms, and I’d breathe in that old leather jacket of his, and my mom, who was sour and pissed from the minute he’d left, started smiling again. And we were…we were a family.
Dean listens, understanding. Sharing that overwhelming sense of loss, that longing for family that Dean feels so acutely.
Jo: You wanna know why I wanna do the job? For him. It’s my way of being close to him. Now tell me what’s wrong with that.
And Dean gets it so much, he can’t argue with her.
Sam comes back then, without the coffee he went out for, but with news that another young woman has disappeared.
The sense of urgency ratchets up for all of them.
Jo figures out that while there was nothing there before the apartment building went up, there WAS something next door. She finds a photo of that building, with bars on the windows. A prison?
Jo makes a call to Ash, and they figure out that they’re next door to Moyamensing Prison, where they used to execute people by hanging them in the empty field next door – that is now the apartment building.
Feeling like they’re finally making progress, they get a list of people executed, which unfortunately is 157 names long.
Sam clicks on one name, forehead furrowed in concentration.
Suddenly he looks up at Dean.
Sam: Herman Webster Mudgett?? Wasn’t that H.H. Holmes’ real name?
Smart serial killer aficionado Sammy for the win!
Sam grins, thoroughly pleased to be going after the first serial killer. Dean is big brother proud. Both Winchesters know his history, because it’s season 2 and they are SMART.
Dean: And his victim flavor of choice? Pretty petite blondes. He used chloroform to kill them…which is what I smelled in the hallway last night.
They also realize they can’t easily burn his body because it’s encased in concrete – and he built ‘murder buildings’ with secret chambers inside the walls where he’d keep his victims, sometimes alive until they starved to death. Horror show. Yep.
But the good news is those young women who recently disappeared could still be alive. The three set out with sledgehammers, ready to break through walls to find the victims. Jo and Dean go together, Jo squeezing past Dean when the passageway gets too narrow.
Dean (groaning): Uhh, shoulda cleaned the pipes…
Dean: (evasive and apparently trying to will down an untimely erection) I, uh, wish the pipes were cleaner.
(All the attempts at sexual tension between Dean and Jo ring really off to me at this point because the show took them down more of a little sister type road eventually, so Jo seems younger than she is supposed to be here.)
Dean again says he doesn’t want Jo going in by herself, but she just continues down the narrow space, finding an air duct and climbing down while she updates Dean on the phone.
Jo: I’m heading down some kind of air duct.
Dean: No no no, stay up here!
She presses on, while Dean has to use the stairs to try to catch up to her. It’s dark and creepy and then that familiar black goo starts seeping out from cracks in the wall.
Jo: Oh god.
Dean (on the phone) What is it? Jo? Jo!
He hears her scream, runs down the stairs and finds where she is behind the wall. He frantically smashes through the wall to find her gone, only her cell phone lying on the ground.
As he turns around, he runs into Sam. Literally. When Sam asks what happened, Dean’s guilt pours out all over the place.
Dean: I wasn’t with her! I left her alone. Damn it!
Sam tries to reassure his brother, saying they’ll find her, but Dean doesn’t believe it.
To make things worse, Ellen calls again, saying she knows Dean lied to her, that Ash told her everything.
Dean: She’s gonna have to call you back, she’s taking care of … uhh… feminine business.
When Ellen doesn’t fall for that, Dean promises they’ll get her back, that the spirit they’re hunting took her. That she’ll be okay, he promises.
Ellen: You promise? That’s not the first time I’ve heard that from a Winchester! If anything happens to her…
She tells him she’s taking the first flight out and then hangs up.
Dean: Damn it!
(I love the way the mystery of what happened between Ellen and “a Winchester” is threaded throughout this episode)
Sam: Don’t beat yourself up, Dean, there’s nothing you could have done.
Dean is truly having a no good very bad day. Luckily Dean’s little brother is smart. He figures out that while the building doesn’t have a basement, there’s an old sewer system under it that hasn’t been used in a long time. Aha.
Off they go, hoping to save Jo.
In the sewer, Jo wakes up in the dark, using her flashlight to look around. It’s an incredibly scary, claustrophobic scene as the flashlight lets her see that she’s not the first person who’s been trapped there – the ceiling above her, just barely above her head, has nail scratches in it.
Alona Tal does an amazing job – almost too good – portraying Jo’s absolute terror, as she struggles to keep some kind of hunter composure in a truly horrific situation. She’s a fearless actor, much like Jared and Jensen and Samantha Ferris too, letting all that emotion show right there on her face. I can feel it too, because she is.
Jo finds the missing girl Teresa confined next to her.
Jo: This won’t make you feel any better, but I’m here to rescue you.
Then they hear the spirit approaching, and both fall silent. In a truly frightening and horrifying scene, we can only see what Jo sees, through the narrow slat in the dark. Suddenly hands come in and grab at Teresa as she screams and it rips off some of her hair.
Again Manners uses the restricted frame of the slats in the wall to evoke that claustrophobic sense of being unable to move or get free or even see fully what is happening to make everything even scarier.
Smart Winchesters to the (eventual) rescue, Sam with a metal detector because, like I said, smart boys. Dean follows, bowlegs very attractive. Sorry, just an observation.
Sam identifies a place that pings the metal detector and Dean starts to dig, his determination clear. (Jared Padalecki still had his hand and arm in a cast from his on set injury).
They find a metal trap door and pull it open, then climb down the ladder with their flashlights – another very cool Kim Manners shot.
As we did the rewatch, we all had to pause here to remember the epic prank that Kim Manners pulled on Jared and Jensen at this point in the episode, dumping buckets of water on them as they were trapped halfway down that hatch that went to nowhere. Jared and Jensen speak so fondly of their time with Manners – he taught them so much, including how to work your ass off and be serious when you need to be, but also how to have a good time on set and establish the kind of relationships that make the long days bearable.
Meanwhile, Jo hears footsteps coming nearer and tries to roll away as far as possible from the opening, but she’s trapped with nowhere to go.
We see a bearded face, ugly teeth, peering through the slats in the wall where Jo knows she can’t get away from him. It’s absolutely terrifying.
Ghost: You’re so pretty, so beautiful…
Jo: Go to hell.
Heavy breathing, and then a hand comes out and strokes over her hair, down her shoulder, as she lies there unable to get away, whimpering. Anyone who has ever experienced unwanted touch cringes with her, horrified.
Once again, Alona Tal is masterful in this scene, again almost too good. You can feel her revulsion, her horror, how disgusted she is – and you can feel her terrible helplessness as she cannot get away.
And then, suddenly, Jo stabs the arm that’s molesting her with her knife, yelling. The spirit screams and disappears.
Jo: How do you like that? Pure iron, you creepy ass sonofabitch!
Everyone who has ever experienced unwanted touch cheers, validated at least for the moment.
Sam and Dean, meanwhile, crawl through the sewer pipes on elbows and knees, through puddles of water and god knows what else. Hunting is not a glamorous job.
But once again Manners makes it a beautiful shot.
Jo and Teresa wonder if the ghost is gone, when suddenly he returns and reaches in to grab Jo again, holding a chloroform soaked piece of rag over her mouth to gag her and saying creepily, “Shhh.”
All of us rewatching: AAAHHHHH!!!!
The Winchesters get there just in time.
He fires and hits the ghost, who flies backwards and disappears again.
Dean and Sam pry Jo out and Sam reassures Teresa that they’re going to get her out too. But the brothers also admit that the only plan they have at this point is the one Dean didn’t like – using Jo as bait. She steels herself and agrees.
I’m not sure why it works – I guess ghosts are just not that smart – so he comes up behind Jo where she’s sitting alone, scared but waiting. There’s the sound of heavy breathing in the dark as he leans over her, ugly, scary, creepy.
Jo ducks and scrambles out, and the Winchesters trap the ghost in a salt circle with a really cool well coordinated plan of shooting at the walls til bags of salt spill in a perfect circle around Holmes. He screams, horrified, as they leave and close the door behind them.
Jo has the last word.
Jo: Scream all you want, you dick, but there’s no way you’re stepping over that salt!
After the commercial (I’m guessing), it’s daytime, Jo and Sam looking down at the entrance to the sewers. Sam asks if the job is as glamorous as she thought it would be, and Jo says that except for the pee-your-pants terror, yeah. More seriously, she points out that Teresa is alive because of them.
Jo: It’s worth it, isn’t it?
Sam: Yeah. Yeah it is.
As always, that little exchange is as much about Sam and Dean as it is about Jo. Sam has struggled a lot with whether this is the life he wants, for good – and this is him saying that yes, it’s worth it. What they do, the sacrifices they make to help other people. It’s worth it to him.
Jo worries about someone finding the sewers or rain getting in and washing away the salt circle that’s containing Holmes. Sam smiles.
Sam: Both very fine points, which is why we’re waiting here.
Jo: For what?
There’s the sound of a back up alarm on a truck and a big cement mixer backs up to them, classic rock playing and badass Dean Winchester driving.
Sam: For that.
Jo: (incredulous) You ripped off a cement truck?
Dean (shrug): I’ll give it back.
They fill the hole with cement, ensuring that Holmes will never get out. Horror show, truly.
The next scene is one of my favorites, the awkward car ride back with Jo and Sam in the back seat like the younger siblings they are, Dean driving, and a murderous looking Ellen riding shotgun.
Dean tries to make small talk; Ellen ignores him. Sam and Dean and Jo exchange awkward glances.
Finally in desperation, Dean turns on the radio, and we hear:
“You’re as cold as ice…”
Ellen reaches over and turns it off.
Dean: This is gonna be a long drive…
When they get back to the Roadhouse, Dean tries to apologize to Ellen, saying it’s his fault and he’s sorry he lied to her, but also saying that Jo did a good job out there and her dad would be proud.
It’s the wrong thing to say to Ellen, and she lashes out.
Ellen: Don’t you say that – not you!
Dean is confused (as are we), as the brothers leave Ellen and her daughter alone to talk.
Ellen is furious that Sam and Dean used Jo as bait, but Jo protests that they were right there backing her up the whole time. Ellen says she shouldn’t trust her life to them, because“like father like sons”, and Jo realizes there’s something her mother isn’t telling her.
We can see that’s true too, as Samantha Ferris gives a great performance as the in-control tightly-wrapped Ellen comes apart, covering her mouth like she wants to stop herself from telling her daughter the truth but knows it’s time to.
Minutes later, Jo storms out, brushing right past Sam and Dean.
Dean tries to empathize, but Jo pushes him away, saying “Get off me!”
Dean immediately bristles and backs off, saying ‘sorry, see you around’. (A little further glimpse into just how sensitive Dean is to rejection).
Jo calls him back, and then she tells him – and us – something that’s shocking.
Jo: Turns out my dad had a partner on his last hunt. Funny, he usually worked alone, and this guy did too, but I guess my father figured he could trust him. Mistake. Guy screwed up, got my dad killed.
Dean: What does this have to do with…
Jo: It was your father, Dean. Why do you think John never came back here? Never told you about us? Because he couldn’t look my mom in the eye after that, that’s why!
Dean looks stricken, as Jo tells him to just leave, get out of there.
I remember being gobsmacked at the time, this big dark secret revealed. The story of John Winchester only gets told in bits and pieces throughout the series, with gaps that will never be filled in, but this is one of the most disturbing. It hits Dean hard, as he tries to keep his dad on a pedestal and his memory alive, still caught up in his own grief so intensely. I feel for him and Sam, and for Jo and Ellen too.
As always, Jensen Ackles shows us Dean’s confusion, shock, and then pain so clearly, all of it right there on his handsome face.
Damn, I love this show.
This was a powerful episode, beautifully directed by Kim Manners and with incredible performances by all four actors. It was by a one time writer, I believe, but well done Matt Witten, wherever you are.
Beautiful caps by spndeangirl.
More Supernatural rewatch coming up soon – stay tuned!
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