I feel like I say this for every episode in the first couple seasons of Supernatural, but I love this episode SO much. Creepy, a mystery that you can’t easily figure out, more insight into the brothers – and their father. In this episode, you understand just how far Dean will go to save Sam, and just how deep the bond between the brothers runs. Which makes eventually learning about the impossible thing that John asked of Dean all the more heartbreaking. I love the way the first two seasons spooled it out, so slowly, teasingly. I was on the edge of my seat all the time and it was glorious.
Now, doing this rewatch in 2021, this episode also hits a little too close to home, when the words “a demonic virus” don’t sound so far fetched. That just adds to the ominous feel of the episode.
Saving people, hunting things – John telling the YED “I’ve known for a while” – a reminder of Sam’s visions, the demon having plans for kids like him. We see John whisper to Dean, Sam ask him at the funeral pyre, ‘Did he say anything to you?’ and Dean’s “no”. We know it’s a lie, but we still don’t know what those fateful words were, as we’re reminded that neither Sam nor Dean is handling the loss of their father well.
In surreal slow motion, the visuals distorted, Dean loads his gun and opens the door to a lab. A young man is tied to a chair, pleading with Dean “no, no, I swear it’s not in me, please don’t” as Dean sets his chin.
Dean: I got no choice.
He twitches, raises the gun, fires.
Sam wakes from a vision, gasping, in a motel room. Dean comes in, holding a six pack, chewing on some beef jerky.
Night, the boys in the Impala, trying to figure out what the vision meant. Sam’s sure it happened in Oregon because he noticed a poster with a picture of Crater Lake before he saw the guy tied to the chair. Dean’s having a hard time making sense of it, but he knows by now to trust that Sam’s visions are to be taken seriously.
Dean: And I ventilated him?
They argue about what might have led to it, Sam saying that Dean thought there was something inside the guy.
Dean: Well, all our weirdo visions are always tied to the YED, so was there black smoke? Did we try to exorcise it?
Sam: No. You just plugged him, that’s it.
Dean’s defensive even about the vision.
Dean: Well I’m sure I had a good reason – I’m not gonna waste an innocent man.
Sam glances toward Dean, saying nothing.
Dean: I wouldn’t!
Sam: I never said you would!
It’s an argument over something that hasn’t even happened, but it gives us some insight into the tension still simmering between Sam and Dean. Dean is worried about Sam’s visions and what might be happening to him (especially in light of what John said to him, though we don’t know that yet) and Sam is worried about Dean, who’s on edge and volatile (partly because of the burden he’s carrying that John put on his shoulders). No wonder they’re sniping at each other.
They eventually give up the brotherly bickering and continue to Oregon, driving past the sign that Sam saw as they pull into a small town.
As we were doing the rewatch now many years later, it dawned on us that the demon may have been sending Sam those visions in order to lure him there, which had never occurred to any of us when we were watching it way back in Season 2.
Sam sees the guy with the gun who was in his vision, tells Dean “he was there.”
They approach Mark and say they’re looking for the guy who Dean supposedly shoots, describing him and saying he’s not in trouble, they just need his help to find someone else. The guy is reluctant to talk to them, but Dean is smart and notices a tattoo on his arm that gives him an in.
Dean: I think maybe you know who he is – Master Sergeant.
They bond over John’s being in the corps, and Dean reels off his dad’s company with unmistakable pride. I forget sometimes how proud Dean was of his dad, especially in these early seasons, when John was a hero to Dean – someone he tried his best to emulate. In later seasons, he comes to see both his mother and his father with a more nuanced lens, as we all have to do, but he’s so young here and that journey is still a while off.
We also sometimes don’t get to see just how smart Dean is – he is not only perceptive enough to notice that this stranger was in the Marines, but he knows how to use it too. He’s convincing, drawing on his own genuine feelings of pride in his dad to connect with Mark. And it works. Mark tells them where they can find Duane. As they’re heading to the car, Sam notices a word carved into a telephone pole: CROATOAN.
When Dean doesn’t seem to recognize it, Sam prompts him.
Sam: Roanoke? Lost colony? Ring a bell? Dean, did you pay any attention in history class?
Dean (lightbulb going on) Oh yeah, shots heard round the world, how bills become laws…
Sam (exasperated) That’s not school, that’s Schoolhouse Rock!
Dean (shrugging): Whatever.
Sam gives us some exposition about the lost colony of Roanoke, and Dean actually does remember that all they left behind was a single word carved on a tree: Croatoan.
Side note: Dean was never encouraged to prioritize school at all, so it’s no wonder most of his education is a practical one. Though I’m glad they did eventually let him remember Roanoke.
Dean is now worried, especially because of all Sam’s visions being tied to the YED, so he tries to call Bobby or Ellen for backup, only to find his phone and Sam’s have no signal. (That was much more believable in 2006, when phones often didn’t, much to everyone’s constant annoyance). Because it’s 2006, they also try a handy dandy pay phone, which have pretty much disappeared. I have so much nostalgia for this show as it is, and when things like that appear, it only makes it more acute. That too is dead, unfortunately.
Dean: I’ll tell you one thing, if I was gonna massacre a town, that’d be my first step.
The boys head to Duane’s house, a cabin in the woods that is a popular Supernatural filming location, with a “Born To Fish; Forced To Work” sign outside. Duane’s brother answers the door and says he’s not there, and both he and the dad get evasive when Sam and Dean ask if Duane’s mother is home.
Dean’s eyes though – no wonder fanfiction has such over the top descriptions of them!
Dean: That was kind of creepy, right? A little too Stepford?
Sam: Big time.
The brothers have good instincts.
They go around back, ducking down under the windows. Inside, the mom is gagged and tied to a chair. As Sam and Dean watch, the dad cuts the son’s arm. Dean draws his gun as they drizzle blood onto her.
The Winchesters kick in the back door, shooting the dad, but the son jumps out the window and runs away. Sam aims his gun at him, but doesn’t shoot.
I love the framing of so many of the shots in this episode, making good use of curtains and blinds and some of the unique locations in and around Vancouver. Robert Singer directed, his touch as distinctive as Kim Manners in shaping the show throughout its entire run.
The Impala screeches around a corner with the injured mom in the car as the boys take her to the town medical clinic, Dean carrying the dad’s body. The woman from Sam’s vision is there, which makes the whole scene ominous. Mrs. Tanner sobs that one minute they were her husband and son, the next they “had the devil in them”, and Sam and Dean exchange a meaningful glance.
Outside, they argue about Sam not taking out the other brother.
Sam: I hesitated, Dean, it was a kid.
Dean: No, it was an it. Not the best time for a bleeding heart, Sam.
They’re still not on the same page about that, clearly.
Dean goes to find help, leaving Sam behind. He claps his brother on the shoulder and leaves – but doesn’t get far. He finds a car stopped on the road outside, blood splattered on the windshield and the seats, the glass blown out, and picks up a bloody knife on the road. He drives a little farther, only to encounter a roadblock of men with guns, including Jake Tanner. One of the armed men leans into the car and suggests that Dean get out and they’ll talk a little.
Dean: Well, you are a handsome devil, but I don’t swing that way, sorry.
Man: I’d appreciate it…
Dean: Yeah I’ll bet you would.
Me: I mean, who wouldn’t?
He puts the car in reverse and floors it, dragging the guy along for a bit and then driving away.
A little while later, he’s stopped by the first guy he met (Mark) blocking the way, armed with a rifle. They have a stand off, each insisting they’re not infected, before finally deciding to proceed together.
Mark: My neighbor, Mr. Rogers, he…
Dean: You’ve got a neighbor named Mr. Rogers?
Mark: Not anymore.
They drive each pointing a gun at the other.
Dean: Well, this ought to be a relaxing drive.
Meanwhile, the doc finds something odd in Mr. Tanner’s blood – sulphur.
When the doc goes to examine Mrs. Tanner, she suddenly attacks with a scalpel. Sam jumps into action and knocks her out with a fire extinguisher like the badass hunter he is, luckily.
Dean and Mark return with the bad news that he couldn’t get to a phone, while Pam the nurse laments that they’re all going to go crazy and Dean says he feels like Chuck Heston. Hah.
Sam tells Dean that he thinks it’s a virus, spread by blood to blood contact.
Dean: A demonic virus?
It turns out John Winchester had a theory about Croatoan being a demon of plague and pestilence.
When they all realize that Mrs. Tanner is infected, Mark says they need to take care of it, and things get serious. Dean pulls out his gun.
Dean: You sure she’s one of them?
Sam nods, anguished.
Dean trusts Sam; he steels himself, then fires.
This whole episode is intensely claustrophobic, the characters watching the outside world through the blinds on the clinic’s windows, which adds to the sense of being trapped and is a vivid reminder that Supernatural is indeed a horror genre show.
We watch as Sam sharpens a knife, Dean loads a rifle, the boys exchanging solemn glances in the dark room.
Sam: We’ve gotta get out of here, get to the Roadhouse, somewhere, let people know what’s coming.
Dean: Yeah, good point. Night of the Living Dead didn’t exactly end pretty.
Luckily the Winchesters are smart. Sam figures out how to manufacture some explosives from the medical supplies and chemicals in the clinic. When Duane pounds on the door, they let him in – and Sam and Dean realize he’s the one that Dean shoots in Sam’s premonition. It amps up the tension even more, because neither we nor the brothers know whether Duane is telling the truth about where he was or not.
Duane: Has anybody seen my mom or dad?
Dean: ( to Sam) Awkward…
The brothers disagree about whether they should just shoot Duane, Dean saying he’s not happy about it, but it’s a tough job and Sam knows that.
Sam: It’s supposed to be tough, Dean. We’re supposed to struggle with this, that’s the whole point.
I love how the show is evolving exactly along these lines, struggling with the shades of grey and moving away from the black and white just like the Winchesters are.
Sam stops Dean from going after Duane.
Sam: You might kill an innocent man and you don’t even care! You don’t act like yourself anymore, Dean. Hell, you know what? You’re acting like one of those things out there!
Dean tries to push past Sam, and when Sam tries to stop him again he pushes Sam against the wall and locks the door behind him.
We see the events of Sam’s premonition start to play out, Duane begging and swearing “it’s not in me” and Dean muttering, “I got no choice.” He’s struggling though, Sam’s words ringing in his ears.
He finally lowers the gun, cursing. Sam got through to him after all.
Four hours later, Duane’s blood is still not showing infection, so they all agree to untie him. Sam asks why Dean didn’t shoot him, saying they’re going to have to talk about it, but Dean deflects.
Sam goes to get something and suddenly Pam attacks him, locking him in and pinning him to the floor. She slices Sam across his chest and then slices her own hand and puts the bleeding palm over his wound just as Dean frantically kicks the door in and shoots her.
Sam, still lying on the floor, reaches up for Dean, as he must have reached for his brother’s hand a million times, and Dean reaches down to help him up – but Mark pulls him back, warning that Pam bled on him, and that Sam has the virus now.
For a second, Sam breaks my heart – he looks so hurt and shocked that Dean didn’t pull him up, his big brother who he can always count on.
Then he realizes the truth, and Sam yanks his hand back, both brothers looking stunned and horrified.
Dean refuses to accept that Sam is infected, asking the doctor to check his wound again and again. Mark is sure, though.
Mark: You know what we have to do.
Dean: Nobody is shooting my brother!
Even Sam tries to convince his brother, asking for the gun so he can do it himself.
Dean: Forget it.
Mark: Look, I understand he’s your brother and I’m sorry, I am. But we gotta take care of this.
Mark pulls out his gun and Dean whirls on him, as intimidating as Dean Winchester has ever been.
Dean: I’m gonna say this one time. You make a move on him, you’ll be dead before you hit the ground, you understand me? I mean, do I make myself clear?
I cannot imagine anyone in the universe going up against Dean Winchester when he’s defending his baby brother. The fierceness with which Dean is determined to protect Sam is vividly evident in this scene, established as a central theme of the entire series.
Dean gives Mark the keys to the Impala and tells him to go.
Mark: What about you?
Sam: Dean, no. No. Go with them. This is your only chance.
Dean says no again, trying to make a joke of it, saying Sam’s not gonna get rid of him that easy. Mark and the doctor leave.
Doc: Thanks for everything, Marshals.
Dean: Oh actually we’re not really Marshals…
He locks the door after they go.
When they’re alone, Dean faces Sam, who’s tearing up. Sam pleads with him, Dean, don’t do this, just get the hell out of here. Give me my gun, and leave.
Dean: For the last time, Sam. No.
Sam: (angrily) This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done!
Dean tries to make a joke again, but Sam doesn’t go along, saying he’s sick and it’s over for him, but it doesn’t have to be for Dean, that Dean can still keep going.
Dean: Who says I want to?
He leans against the desk, takes out his gun with a sigh.
Dean: I’m tired, Sam. I’m tired of this job, this life, this weight on my shoulders, man. I’m tired of it.
It’s utterly heartbreaking – I remember watching it live and sobbing, stunned at the lengths that Dean was willing to go to in order to try to keep Sam alive.
Sam protests, asks him what it’s about, if it’s about Dad, and Dean seems about to tell him more when the doctor returns, saying they’d better come see something. They walk outside, to find nobody else anywhere, the entire town deserted, everyone vanished.
There’s a shot of the telephone pole with the one word, ‘Croatoan’, carved into it.
The next morning, the doctor finds Sam’s blood is still clean, though no one can understand how he wasn’t infected. The Tanner family’s blood samples are now clear also, no trace of the virus or the sulphur.
Duane and Mark head out of town, and Sam and Dean do too, but they’re still mystified about what just happened.
Sam: Why was I immune?
Dean: Yeah, you know what, that’s a good question. I’m already starting to feel like this is the one that got away…
As Mark and Duane drive away, Duane asks to pull over, saying he’s gotta make a call. When Mark points out there’s no phone out there, Duane says he has it covered, pulling out a knife and slashing Mark’s throat. It pours into a bowl and he swirls it around until he reaches someone on the other end.
Duane: The Winchester boy definitely immune, as expected.
His eyes are black.
The last scene of this episode is one of the most iconic of the whole series. Dean and Sam park the Impala near a river, leaning against a distinctive fence drinking beers. Sam wants answers, and knows that Dean has been evasive. Dean, for his part, is being eaten up by the secret he’s keeping – what John told him. And so are we, the audience who’s watching live!
Dean tries to deflect when Sam says he’s going to keep on asking, that Dean can’t pull that crap with him.
Dean: I don’t know, man, I just think we maybe ought to… go to the Grand Canyon… or Tijuana… Or Hollywood, see if we can bang Lindsay Lohan… I just think we should take a break from all this. Why do we gotta get stuck with all the responsibility, you know? Why can’t we live life a little bit?
Sam: Why are you saying all this?
Dean tries to turn away.
Sam: No no no, Dean, you’re my brother, all right? So whatever weight you’re carrying, let me help a little bit.
Dean says he can’t, he promised – he promised Dad. He looks anguished, unable to even look Sam in the eye. Sam starts to realize there’s something very wrong, and so do we – my stomach dropped even doing the rewatch, there was such gravity to the moment.
Dean: Right before Dad died, he told me something. He told me something about you.
Sam looks terrified, but he wants to know.
Sam: What? Dean, what did he tell you?
I remember that moment, how desperately we ALL wanted to know what that secret was that Dean has been carrying. After this episode, we had to wait an entire month for the next one, which was excruciating!
This episode had such an impact on us that on one of our first trips to Vancouver, Kathy and I made a fan pilgrimage to the iconic fence by the river – which turned out to be alot harder to find than we’d anticipated. Along with two other local fans, we searched most of the day, finally finding the location close to midnight. In the pitch black darkness, sans flashlight, we clambered down the hill to the river, joyous at finding the fence – until someone with a very large flashlight showed up. The local police.
Our explanation about needing to find a specific fence…because it was where something important happened…was met with blank looks, until one of them finally rolled his eyes and said with all the disdain you can imagine, “Oh. Fans.”
Guilty as charged. We enjoyed the fence and reliving that emotional moment anyway – and also found the quaint little town that stood in as the clinic. It was a freezing cold night and I was tired and chilly when we got there, and a woman at the coffee shop insisted on making me a mug of hot tea even though the shop and everything else was closed.
I miss Vancouver.
Stay tuned for the next episode, as the mystery of the ‘special children’ (and Sam) deepens, and so does the bond between the brothers.
Until then, we’re celebrating the one year anniversary of Supernatural’s series finale – look for a giveaway coming soon!
Beautiful caps by spndeangirl!
You can always remember Supernatural
with the books with chapters by the show’s
actors and fans, Family Don’t End With
Blood and There’ll Be Peace When You Are
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