Crossroads Blues is one of those quintessential Supernatural episodes that seems to encompass what the show is all about. It’s scary, creepy, horrible – and at the same time, it has a lot of heart. Sera Gamble is one of my favorite writers, and her early seasons episodes are some of my favorites, including this one. Steve Boyum, who directed multiple episodes, takes the helm for this one.
In the THEN, we revisit the tractor trailer smashing the Impala, Sam confronting his father when Dean was dying, and John’s deal with the Yellow Eyed Demon to bring Dean back. Their father’s death is still weighing heavily on both brothers, and both are probably thinking way too much about the suspicious circumstances under which it occurred, as we go into
Greenwood, Mississippi, 1938. Summer time, blues music playing, a man plays guitar in a smoky dimly lit club. The flashback is filmed in sepia tones, and the whole scene is surreal, haunting.
The man pauses when he hears wolves baying outside, then growling, and we see a woman in the audience growing increasingly worried about him. He resumes playing, startling as we see shadows outside the window, the growling getting closer. The cigarette he’s been smoking falls from his mouth and the man looks terrified as he runs out of the place and down the road in the middle of the night, pursued and surrounded by unseen creatures. The trees shake with their bulk, and we hear their growling and barking. The man drops his guitar and runs, hiding in a deserted barn and locking the doors behind him.
The unseen wolves throw themselves against the door as the terrified man puts a chair in front of it, sobbing. The door breaks finally – and the woman and some other people find the man lying on the floor.
Woman: What happened?
Man: Dogs…black dogs…
Woman: Robert, don’t you die on me!
But it’s too late.
That whole scene is so scary, largely because we never see the black dogs – but we hear them and clearly see how terrifying they are to Robert. Well done, Show, well done.
Back in the present, Sam and Dean are eating at a diner – you can’t get much more quintessential Supernatural than that. I do love the early seasons when the brothers were on the road all the time, living out of their car and cheap motels, sharing diner booths, Sam on his trusty laptop.
Sam finds a mugshot of Dean online and Dean preens, saying he’s like Dillinger or something. Sam warns that it makes their job harder since they have to be more careful, and Dean snarks back that they don’t have anything on Sam.
Dean: No accessory? Nothing?
Sam: Shut up.
Dean: You’re jealous.
(Dean is inordinately pleased about this).
Sam: No, I’m not.
Dean: Uh huh. All right, what you got on that case, you innocent, harmless young man, you?
Their banter is pure brothers, and I love it. I just hope no one in the restaurant is within eavesdropping distance! I’d love to have more outsider pov of the Winchesters than we got in the series, because moments like this would be priceless.
Sam’s research finds a successful architect who fell to his death from the roof of a condo he designed and who blamed wild vicious black dogs for stalking him.
Sam: Authorities are a little confused as to how a wild dog could get past the doorman, take the elevator up and roam the halls of the cushiest joint in town.
The Winchesters aren’t nearly as skeptical, researching the lore on spectral black dogs that may be death omens or animal spirits but are definitely big and nasty. Dean gleefully holds up a picture.
Dean: Yeah, and I bet they could hump the crap outta your leg. Look at that one!
Dean: What? They could!
Sera Gamble knew how to write the brotherly banter, that’s for sure. Dean is so persistent in his making fun, and Sam is so good at employing that patented bitchface to try to shut his brother down (even if he is secretly amused).
The Winchesters, in their very attractive fed suits, interview the dead guy’s business partner, posing as two journalists writing a tribute for Architectural Digest, which makes me laugh now thinking about both Jared and Jensen doing tours of their homes for AD.
Sam has perfected the empathic concerned individual; Dean can’t seem to resist some cynicism in this episode.
The remaining partner guy laughs, rather bitterly, because apparently the dead guy always got the tributes, living a charmed life. An overnight success, in fact.
Huh. The Winchesters know that kind of thing is too good to be true.
Cut to Dean coming out of the Animal Protection Agency building and getting back in the car.
Dean: Secretary’s name is Carly, she’s 23, she kayaks, and they’re real.
Sam eyerolls and so do all of us watching, because early seasons Dean, sigh, but poor Sam persists, asking if he also asked about black dogs. Dean may have a bit of a one track mind but he is never actually ignoring the job, so yes, he checked, 19 calls about dog like things. He pulls off a post it note and adds, “And I don’t know what this thing is.”
Sam: You mean Carly’s MySpace address?
Dean: Yeah, MySpace, what the hell is that? Seriously, is that some kind of porn site?
In 2021 as we did this rewatch, this damn show was on the air so long that it’s come back around to many people seeing the show for the first time also asking ‘what the hell is MySpace?’ just like Dean – but all of us watching actually do remember. In 2006, MySpace was cutting edge social media. Again, quintessential Supernatural. I also love Sam’s amused indulgence over his big brother’s lack of pop culture savvy. Sam got to go away to college and live ‘normal’ for a while; Dean didn’t. And while Sam clearly wants to hold it over Dean’s head sometimes, he’s also aware that it actually bothers Dean, so he just allows himself the amusement and doesn’t shut down Dean’s hopeful grin.
Next the Winchesters, now posing as Animal Control officers, visit a Dr. Pearlman’s house, since she called in about threatening dogs. They speak with the maid, who says the doctor packed up and left, she doesn’t know where. Another person with striking overnight success ten years ago.
Dean (putting the pieces together): Yeah, we know a guy like that.
Dean finds a photo on the fridge of the doc ten years ago at a bar – scribbled on the back, “Lloyd’s Bar.”
Meanwhile, the terrified doctor is hiding in a hotel room when there’s pounding at the door. False alarm – it’s the landlord demanding rent. The doc goes to give him some cash, but when she turns around the landlord’s face is horribly distorted. She slams the door and locks it, even more panicked.
Even in these early seasons, Supernatural’s special and visual effects were done so well that these scenes are genuinely scary and creep me out even now.
Sam and Dean go to Lloyd’s Bar, also known as the Crossroads in Supernatural. It’s an iconic location that I’m sad to say I’ve never visited, but I know lots of fans who have. Of course there’s no Lloyd’s Bar there, but standing at that point where Sam and Dean have stood must be a pretty powerful experience anyway.
Dean notices some specific yellow flowers growing among the weeds, which turn out to be yarrow flowers (Sam knows, because of course he does), used in summoning rituals (Dean also knows, because they are both smart most of the time Sera writes them). The smart boys find the dead center of the crossroads (strikingly easily…) and dig down to find something buried there.
Inside the box are some bones and a jar of something, which Sam says he’s willing to bet is graveyard dirt and black cat bones.
Dean: That’s serious spellwork, I mean, that’s deep south hoodoo stuff.
Sam: Used to summon a demon.
Dean: Not just summon one. Crossroads are where pacts are made. These people are actually making deals with the damn thing – you know, cause that always ends good.
The brothers realize these people aren’t seeing black dogs – they’re seeing hellhounds.
Watching this scene in 2021, knowing what’s to come for Sam and Dean, this scene really hit hard. This whole episode really hit hard. Dean is so against making a deal, scoffing at anyone having a reason to do so – not knowing he’ll be at this crossroads himself not that far into the future. Sam will try to do the same a while after that. And hellhounds will eventually tear Dean Winchester apart as his brother watches helplessly. Oh, boys.
Anyway, they realize that the doctor who’s running “ain’t running fast enough.”
Sure enough, we see Dr. Pearlman huddling on the floor of her hotel room, screaming as something tries to get in the door. In the best horror movie fashion, there’s a lull in the pounding and she looks up – and of course an invisible hell hound leaps through the window and grabs her, invisible claws tearing up her leg as it pulls her across the floor to her death – and to hell.
Back in time again, this time to Rosedale Mississippi, 1930. We’re back at the crossroads, a man burying a sack there, a guitar over his shoulder. The classic Robert Johnson song ‘Crossroad Blues’, for which the episode is named, plays as we watch, the lyrics “I been to the crossroads…” playing – which makes the whole episode so much cooler.
Johnson makes a deal with the demon who appears to make him the best blues man that ever lived, and they kiss to seal the deal so we all understand the lore about making deals and how it goes down.
“Down at the crossroads, baby…” plays in the background.
In the present, Sam remarks that what’s happening is just like the Robert Johnson legend.
Dean: Except that wasn’t a legend. I mean, you know his music…
When he realizes that Sam actually doesn’t, it’s Dean’s turn to be a different kind of culturally savvy. He tells Sam about all the occult references in Johnson’s songs, from ‘Crossroad Blues’ to ‘Me and the Devil Blues’ to ‘Hellhound on My Trail”. Dean repeats the story that we realize we saw in the beginning, Robert dying, hallucinating about big vicious black dogs.
Sam says they need to figure out if anyone else made a deal, but Dean is reluctant to “clean up these people’s mess for ‘em”. He asks Sam if someone goes over Niagara Falls in a barrel, will Sam jump in and try to save them.
From Sam, that one word is enough.
Dean agrees, reluctantly, and they go inside the bar to see if they can figure out whose photo was in that rusty box they dug up. They then go to his apartment, which isn’t exactly the picture of success that the other two were.
Dean: Who knows, maybe this place is full of babes in Princess Leia bikinis.
Sam sighs, longsuffering.
They find a line of black powder outside the guy’s door, when George opens it and tells them he’s not buying anything. He’s skeptical at first when Sam and Dean say why they’re there, then they hold up the picture of him from the box.
Dean: Tell me, you seen that hellhound yet?
Sam: Look, we want to help, please.
George finally lets them in, correcting them that the black powder isn’t pepper, but goofer dust. He gives Dean some in a little sack.
George: You boys think you know somethin’ about somethin’ but not goofer dust?
Dean: Well, we know a little about a lot of things. Just enough to make us dangerous.
It’s true. John taught them a lot, but he didn’t tell them everything and he didn’t leave them connected to a community of hunters who could teach them more. George explains that it’s hoodoo that keeps out demons, and says that maybe it will help Sam and Dean. He’s resigned to his fate, with four minutes left, saying sometimes a person makes their bed and they’ve just got to lie down in it. He regrets asking for talent instead of fame, so he ended up broke and lonely with a lot of unsold paintings. He also feels incredibly guilty because after he summoned the demon, it stayed at the bar for a week, making more deals. He tried to warn people but they didn’t listen – he gives the Winchesters the name of another guy who made a deal too. George tells them to go save someone who wants saving, wanting just to hold the hellhounds off long enough to finish a painting, and sighing, “I’m tired.”
It foreshadows what Dean will say in “Croatoan” when he thinks Sam is infected and he too is tired and wants to give up.
Sam and Dean go to see Evan, the fourth guy who made a deal. He’s already hearing barking outside the window that his wife can’t hear as she gets ready to go visit her sister – something he talked her into. She asks what he’ll be doing and he says sadly “I got some bills to pay.” He hugs her, says he’ll miss her, and we know he means because he’ll be dead before she comes back. As she turns to leave, he gets a glimpse of her face and it’s distorted, cracked open, just like the hallucination the doctor saw before she died.
Special kudos to the VFX team because aaaaahhhh, scary!
Sam and Dean go to see Evan, but he panics when they ask him if he’d been to Lloyd’s ten years ago and slams the door on them.
Dean: Come on, we’re not demons!
Dean kicks the door in. Evan shuts himself into another room, and Dean goes to kick that one in too. Sam grabs his leg to stop him and calmly opens the door with the handle.
Me now: lol
Sam tells Evan they’re there to help him, but Dean is snarky and less than sympathetic, talking about “that genius deal you made”.
Evan: I don’t want to die.
Dean: Of course you don’t – not now.
Sam: Dean, stop.
But Dean doesn’t. He wants to know what Evan asked for – never need Viagra? Bowl a perfect game?
Evan: My wife…
Dean: Right, gettin’ the girl, well that’s worth a trip to hell.
Sam: Dean, stop!
But Evan says he’s right, he made the deal, that he was desperate, his wife was dying.
Dean looks stricken as he figures it out.
Dean: You did it to save her?
You can see the wheels turning, because Ackles shows us all of it. Understanding – and then anger.
Dean: Did you ever think about her in all this?
He accuses Evan of doing it for himself, so he wouldn’t have to live without her – but that now she’s going to have to live without him.
Dean: What if she knew it cost you your soul, how do you think she’d feel?
It’s clear to us – and to Sam maybe – that Dean is talking about how HE feels about John’s sacrifice for him. Sam pushes Dean back gently, pulls him away from Evan.
Sam: Okay, that’s enough.
When they’re in the hallway and away from Evan, he asks if Dean’s all right (because he’s clearly not). Dean defensively says sure, why wouldn’t I be? Then he suggests that he go to the crossroads and summon the demon while Sam tries to hold the hellounds off.
Sam: Summon – are you nuts?
Dean admits maybe a little, but still wants to buy them some time –and Sam probably suspects there are other reasons too.
Sam: No. No way.
Dean asks why, and Sam finally tells him.
Sam: Because I don’t like where your head is at right now, that’s why not. You’ve been on edge ever since we found that crossroads, Dean, and I think I know why.
Dean tries to walk away, but freezes when Sam goes on.
Sam: Dad. You think maybe Dad made one of these deals, right? Hell, I’ve been thinking it, I’m sure you’ve been thinking it too.
Sam’s eyes are watering as he says it, knowing how much it must be killing Dean.
And Dean admits it, that he’s alive and Dad’s dead and the YED was involved. Dean’s life for their father’s soul. He looks devastated saying it out loud, eyes filled with tears.
Just at that moment Evan starts yelling and Dean goes anyway, telling Sam to just keep Evan alive.
Sam watches him go, worried and sad and damn, these boys break my heart.
Dean puts a photo of himself in the box and buries it at the crossroads, and as he rises, a demon in a young woman’s meatsuit appears.
Demon: I know all about you, Dean Winchester… I heard you were handsome, but you’re just…edible.
Me: I mean, I don’t disagree with her, but…
Dean suggests they should “do this in my car, somewhere nice and private.”
Ah, smart Dean.
He offers her a deal – Evan released from his contract in return for himself.
Demon: Well well well. You’d sacrifice your life for someone else’s – like father, like son. You did know about your dad’s deal, right? His life for yours?
It’s the confirmation of what Dean has suspected, and it hits hard. Nevertheless, his competence remains intact as she goes to get into the Impala and sees the edge of a devil’s trap underneath. Good idea, though, Dean!
The pissed off demon comes after him, saying she should rip him limb from limb but she doesn’t want to put him out of his misery.
Demon: Knowing how your daddy died for you, how he sold his soul, I mean, that’s gotta hurt. It’s all you ever think about. You wake up and your first thought is, I can’t do this anymore. You’re all lit up with pain, I mean, you loved him so much, and it’s all your fault – and you blew it, I could have given you what you need.
Dean keeps backing up, looking anguished (and hot as hell). She keeps coming until he’s backed up against a wooden beam as she advances on him. Finally he asks, looking close to despairing, ‘what do I need?’
Demon: Your father. I could have brought him back. Your loss. See ya, Dean, I wish you a nice long life.
She goes to walk away, and he calls after her, telling her to hold on. She pauses and smirks, thinking she’s victorious.
Walking back to where Dean stands looking anguished, she tells him she can give him ten years, a lifetime – that his family can be together again, John, Dean, Sammy, the Winchester boys all reunited.
Dean backs up a little more as she keeps talking, and the demon follows.
I’m so struck by how vulnerable this six foot plus man, a deadly and dangerous hunter, can make himself look – and how completely the demon is fooled by it.
She saunters closer as he withdraws, fighting an internal battle, and then bows his head, seemingly defeated.
Dean: You think you could…throw in a set of steak knives?
She looks up to see a devil’s trap on the ceiling painted on the wood.
Dean: Now you’re really trapped. That’s gotta hurt.
Oh smart smart Dean, with a double devil’s trap trap!
Meanwhile, Sam makes a circle of goofer dust around Evan and tells him to stay inside it. Evan is increasingly panicked, hearing growling all around him.
The doors begin to shake on their hinges as they huddle inside the circle. It gets louder and louder, then suddenly everything is quiet.
Evan: Is it over?
At that, a metal grate in the wall explodes outward, dust flying around the room, as Evan yells, “It’s here!”
We see the claw marks scratched into the floor by the invisible hellhounds, just outside the circle, their barking and growling even louder, as Sam mutters “Dean…”.
Dean threatens to exorcise the demon if she doesn’t let Evan out of his deal, pulling out Dad’s journal and a rosary and speaking in Latin as the demon entices him with “forget Evan, think of your dad…” We get the feeling that Dean is sorely tempted (how could he not be? His dad who he misses like crazy and feels responsible for his death versus a total stranger), but he pushes on.
Back at Evan’s house, Sam and Evan watch as wind whips around the room, blowing papers all over and breaking the goofer dust circle (and blowing Sam’s hair around very attractively).
Sam and Evan run, hiding in a closet as Sam braces himself against the door.
Dean keeps reciting Latin until suddenly we see the demon tell Dean “Wait!”
The demon kisses Dean with more passion than any of us were probably expecting, sealing the deal.
Dean: I usually like to be warned before I’m violated with demon tongue.
She swears that her word is her bond when she makes a deal, those are the rules, and demands he let her go. Dean holds the rosary and contemplates continuing the exorcism, but she convinces him she’ll come back from hell eventually and kill Evan.
He breaks the devil’s trap to let her out.
Demon: You never would’ve pulled that stunt if you knew where your dad is. You shoulda made that deal. People talk about hell, but it’s just a word, it doesn’t come close to describing the real thing.
Dean: Shut your mouth, bitch!
The demon taunts him, Dean growing more and more angry – and more and more anguished.
Demon: If you could see your poor daddy, hear the sounds he makes cause he can’t even scream…
Before Dean can finish the exorcism, she smokes out, the young woman she was possessing falling to the ground, bewildered.
The ending is priceless, absolute quintessential Supernatural.
Robert Johnson music plays, the boys in the impala at night.
Sam says maybe the demon was lying, but Dean doesn’t buy it.
Dean (brokenly): How could he do it?
Sam: He did it for you.
Dean: Exactly. How am I supposed to live with that? He should’ve gone out fighting, that was supposed to be his legacy, you know? Not bargaining with the damn thing. Not this.
Dean is guilt stricken, anguished, and Sam can see it.
Sam: How many people do you think Dad saved, total? Evan is safe because of what Dad taught us. That’s his legacy, Dean. But we’re still here, man. So we gotta keep going – for him.
Dean finally agrees, but Sam has one more question for his brother, looking for reassurance that Dean wouldn’t abandon him just like that.
Sam: Hey Dean, you weren’t… it was all a trick, right? You never considered making that deal, right?
Dean looks out the window, turns the radio up and slams on the gas.
Padalecki captures all of Sam’s vulnerability here – he looks like a little kid, an orphan, desperate for his big brother’s reassurance. And it’s heartbreaking that Dean can’t give it.
The Impala roars into the night.
Oh, the foreshadowing, it hurts…
Because we know Dean considered it, how could he not? He’s torn up with guilt over John making that deal – for him. But he also can’t do that to Sam and leave him behind and alone. It’s only when he’s faced with making a deal FOR Sam that Dean can’t say no.
And then, when we were watching back in 2006, we got a little treat.
Nazareth’s rockin’ ‘Hair Of The Dog’ plays as we get a super badass montage of what’s to come on the show that had become my obsession.
Clips from Croatoan, Ava saying last night I saw you die. Dean firing a gun; Sam firing a gun. Someone else firing a gun.
Sam reaching – for Dean?
Dean bound and gagged.
Dean confessing to Sam that “before Dad died, he told me something – about you.” And Sam, looking increasingly worried, asking the question that none of us knew the answer to.
Sam: Dean, what did he tell you?
I remember watching that again and again, dying to know the answer and wondering if we were – finally – about to get it. There was something incredibly special about watching this show live, not knowing what was going to happen and having to wait to find out. The anticipation was absolute hell – and absolutely delicious. I am so grateful to have experienced that heady thrill.
Stay tuned for more of Season 2 in our Supernatural rewatch!
Thanks to spndeangirl for the gorgeous screencaps.
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