Ah, Playthings. One of the creepiest episodes of Supernatural for me personally, because what is more creepy than an old mansion and a bunch of old incredibly terrifying DOLLS?? Add an equally terrifying little ghost girl and an old woman confined to an attic (plus some gruesome murders) and you’ve got an episode that gives me goosebumps every time. It’s also got some great brother moments between the Winchesters, so at least there’s some respite from the anxiety.
It’s next up on our Supernatural rewatch (it just turned 2022 as I’m typing this), so let’s revisit what made this episode so memorable – and so creepy!
We start out with the reminder that something evil might be brewing in poor Sam, the underlying theme of Season 2 that’s impacting both brothers, Sam terrified that he might hurt someone and Dean terrified that he won’t be able to protect Sam.
A reminder from Dean that “dad told me something”, Sam’s anguished question “Am I supposed to go darkside or something?” and Dean’s big brother determination to protect Sam no matter what. Then we’re back where we left off, Sam and Dean finding Ava’s discarded engagement ring in a pool of her fiance’s blood.
So very Supernatural.
The exterior location for this episode is every bit as creepy as the rest of it – an old mansion from the 1930s now the Pierpont Inn. As movers take out boxes of stuff, we learn that it has a rich history in the community, with generations getting engaged or married there, but it’s now up for sale. As the moving guy takes out the boxes, we pan to two little girls sitting at the top of the stairs on the landing watching – and not very happy about the move.
One of them is Tyler, daughter of the owner. The other is Maggie, her imaginary friend – who we already suspect is not exactly a trying-to-be-helpful Sully.
Tyler goes to play with her dollhouse that’s a replica of the Inn, and we pan over shelves full of creepy dolls, including a clown doll that would have given Sam Winchester nightmares (and possibly me also).
The whole episode is brilliantly shot, never fully lit and always looking just a little bit foggy, making the antique decor and dark wood just that much creepier. The creative camera angles add to the feeling that something is amiss here, sometimes looking up and sometimes down but rarely straight on.
Tyler puts a doll in the rocking chair, but when she looks again he’s not there – instead he’s at the bottom of the staircase, head askew.
Just then, we hear her mother scream. At the foot of the stairs is the hapless moving man, twisted up, head askew just like the doll, in a pool of his own blood and a cracked doll next to him on the floor.
Well done, Supernatural. CREEPY as hell, but well done.
Cut to Sam and Dean looking for Ava, their motel room covered with maps and notes and a missing poster and looking a lot like John Winchester’s motel room might have. Sam checks with Ellen, but she doesn’t have any leads either. Dean is worried about his brother.
Dean: Sorry, man.
Ellen does share information about the freak accidents that have been happening at the Pierpont Inn, though, and Sam wants to check it out. Dean is surprised. Sam wonders why.
Dean: Well yeah, it’s just, you know, not the patented Sam Winchester way, is it?
Sam: What way is that?
Dean: I just figured after Ava there’d be, you know, more angst and droopy music and staring out the rainy window…
Dean: Yeah, I’ll shut up now.
Dean is trying hard to pull Sam’s focus away from the terrible secret he just divulged, trying to move the conversation back to what passes for normal in their lives. Sam has already said he isn’t interested in Ava romantically, but Dean persists because that’s so much less frightening to think about than the alternatives.
Sam admits that he feels guilty because he’s the one who told Ava to go home, so he’s not giving up on her, but he also isn’t going to let other people die.
Sam: We gotta save as many people as we can.
Dean raises an eyebrow.
Dean: Wow, that attitude is just way too healthy for me. I’m officially uncomfortable now. Thanks.
It has the effect he intended; Sam snickers.
Dean is worried all the time about Sam, so it’s his nearly constant mission to put a smile on his little brother’s face, even if it doesn’t last very long.
Off they go to the Inn, the Impala on a wet road cutting through the mist. Dean is happy to see the Inn and its creepiness, because he’s Dean Winchester and not me.
Dean: Dude, this is sweet. I never get to work jobs like this.
Sam: Like what?
Dean: Old school haunted houses! Fog, secret passageways, sissy British accents. Might even run into Fred and Daphne… mmm, Daphne.
Early seasons Dean occasionally said some misogynistic or homophobic things, but his enthusiasm is kinda adorable here. Also the little prescient shout out to eventually running into Fred and Daphne is A+!
Sam, always the researcher, notices a “five spot” on an urn near the front steps. Both brothers know that’s used for “hoodoo spellwork” to ward off enemies because the Winchesters are invariably smart in the early seasons and I am here for it.
Susan, the owner, checks them in and tells them they’re closing at the end of the month. Then she looks the boys over.
Susan: Well, let me guess – you guys are here antiquing?
Dean (going with it): How’d you know?
Susan: (appraising again) Oh, you just looks the type. So, king size bed?
Sam’s eyebrows fly up.
Sam: What? No, uh, no, we’re, we’re… two singles, we’re just brothers.
Susan apologizes, maybe believing them, maybe not.
Dean: What did you mean, we look the type?
She evades the question.
At this point, over a year after the series ended, there’s still controversy in the fandom about what fans will/can/should/are allowed to ship, but the early seasons of the show constantly had outsider pov of the brothers mistake them for a couple. It was played for laughs, with the assumption that of course everyone would know it was a joke, but the dynamic that all those outsiders saw was also there, which made things interesting. (And confusing later, once there was another possible ship and the show tried to tease in a similar way…but that’s another story).
The episode throws a red herring into the mystery with Sherwin, the elderly man who takes the Winchesters’ bags upstairs.
Sherwin: Let me guess, antiquers?
He then holds his hand out for a tip, much to Dean’s annoyance. His family has worked there for generations, he confides, so he’s clearly not happy about the upcoming sale.
Their room at this hotel is a testament to Jerry Wanek and his set dec, with an antique wedding gown hung on the wall like it’s a ghost.
Dean: Why the hell would anyone stay here??
Their research finds that the people who have been killed were all connected to the sale of the hotel, and that somebody there doesn’t want to leave. Susan? Sherwin?
Dean goes to sit down and nearly sinks into the much-softer-than-motel-mattress, much to his comical surprise. Both Ackles and Padalecki are so damn good at physical comedy, and I laughed out loud at this little possibly improvised bit.
Dean: Of course the most troubling question is why do these people assume we’re gay?
Sam (enjoying Dean’s discomfort): Well you are kinda butch. Probably think you’re overcompensating.
Interestingly, while early seasons Dean, as I said, can be a bit homophobic in keeping with 2006 and the intentionally (and fascinatingly) flawed character, Sam is less so. He also never states his own sexuality in the entire run of the show, including in this scene, so do with that what you wish.
While Dean isn’t entirely comfortable with having his own sexuality questioned or assumed, in the early seasons he takes great delight in portraying Sam as “girly” – maybe just because he delights in being the asshole big brother teasing his little brother and unfortunately that’s often done in misogynistic ways in our culture, or maybe as a way of shoring up his perception of his own masculinity. I’m not sure if Sam is pissed about that because he’s carrying around some misogynistic or homophobic baggage too or if he’s just pissed because he knows Dean is trying to get to him.
Case in point, the next scene. The brothers traverse the old hotel, also noticing an urn with that same five point symbol on it. Season 2, consistently smart brothers for the win!
Quick shout out for the ominous camera angles in this episode and the boys in some very attractive single layers. Henley!
They knock on Susan’s apartment door and interrupt her packing, looking over her shoulder at a room full of antique dolls. (Shudder) When Susan is reluctant to let them in, Dean quickly uses what he sees to his advantage.
Dean: Hey, are those antique dolls? Because this one here (gestures to Sam, grinning), he’s got a major doll collection back home. Don’tcha?
Sam: (glaring at his brother) Big time.
When Susan still hesitates to let them in, Dean pulls out all the stops (with the added bonus of ribbing Sam more)
Dean: Please? I mean, he loves them. He’s not gonna tell you this, but he’s always dressing them up in these little tiny outfits and you’d make his day.
He beams at Sam.
Dean: She would, huh? Huh?
Sam: (teeth gritted) It’s true.
It works though; Susan lets them in. Dean slaps Sam on the back as they enter and Sam glares at him again.
Dean looks around at all the dolls and I think he’s thinking exactly what I am.
Dean: Wow, this is a lot of dolls. I mean, they’re nice, you know… not super creepy at all…
Sam notices the doll with its head twisted around in the dollhouse and offers to fix it for Tyler, who says she didn’t do it because Grandma would get mad if she did. And that’s how the Winchesters find out that Grandma Rose, whose toys and dollhouse Tyler is playing with, is up in her attic room not well and not taking any visitors.
I just have to say, what a terrible existence Grandma Rose seems to have! Why can’t she spend her days hanging out in the lobby or something so she has some company?? How about somebody turn on some lights for her?
On the other hand, it works very well in the episode to set up Grandma Rose as someone scary who might be doing some hoodoo.
Sam and Dean decide the mysterious shut-in grandma might be doing just that. Dean suggests Sam go online and see if she has a history – if she’s “whacked somebody before.”
Dean: And don’t go surfing porn, that’s not the kind of whacking I mean!
Sam rolls his eyes. It’s Season 2, and Dean has a one track mind sometimes, what can I say? (And loves nothing more than teasing his brother)
That night Tyler plays with the dollhouse again, having a tea party, after we hear an attorney tell Susan that the seller plans on demolishing the hotel. Uh oh.
We see the attorney sitting on a hotel room bed, and then a doll sitting on a hotel bed in the dollhouse. In tandem, the door of the dollhouse creaks open, and then the door in the real room does the same. When Tyler looks back, the doll is hanging from the ceiling fan in the dollhouse – and the real life lawyer is hanging from the real one, still twitching.
Damn, this episode is creepy.
Dean goes to talk to Susan about what happened. When he returns to their room, Sam is sitting alone in the dark, slumped in a chair after watching them wheel the lawyer’s body away (moping and silently staring out the window just like Dean expected him to do – nicely done, Show).
Dean asks what he found out about ‘Granny’.
Sam: You’re the boss.
Sam: You’re bossy.
He starts to giggle, and Jared Padalecki sells it 1000%.
Sam: And short.
He mutters under his breath, “stupid…”
Dean: Are you drunk?
Sam: Yeah. So?
Dean starts to lecture Sam about drinking when they’re on a case, and Sam veers from laughing to looking devastated the way inebriated people often do.
Sam: That guy who hung himself, I couldn’t save him.
Dean protests that he couldn’t have done anything, but Sam is distraught, saying that’s an excuse, that he should have found a way, that he should have saved Ava too.
Dean reiterates that he can’t save everyone but Sam yells angrily, slamming the table.
Sam: No Dean, you don’t understand, all right? The more people I save, the more I can change!
Dean: Change what?
Sam: (still distraught, leaning into Dean) My destiny, Dean!
Dean gets it then, and I think it breaks his heart, so he tries to get Sam to stop talking like that.
Dean: All right, time for bed, come on Sasquatch.
He pulls Sam up, but Sam is still upset, saying he needs Dean to watch out for him.
Dean: Yeah, I always do.
Sam: No no no, you have to watch out for me, all right? And if I ever turn into something that I’m not… you have to kill me.
Dean tries to shrug it off and wrangle Sam into the bed, tries to turn away, but Sam shoves at Dean, pulling him back to see his face.
Sam: Dean, Dad told you to do it – you have to!
Dean: Yeah, well, Dad’s an ass. He never should’ve said anything. I mean, you don’t do that, you don’t lay that kind of crap on your kids.
Dean is 100% right, acknowledging maybe for the first time that John didn’t always get it right and wasn’t the perfect parent, but Sam insists that he was right to say it.
Sam: Who knows what I might become? Even now everyone around me dies!
Dean: Yeah well I’m not dying, okay? And neither are you. Come on, Sam.
Dean grabs him by the shirt and shoves Sam onto the bed, but Sam resists, reaching back up and grabbing at Dean’s jacket as Dean keeps holding onto Sam’s shirt and they freeze, each desperately wanting different things from the other.
Sam: No please Dean, you’re the only one who can do it. Promise!
Dean looks absolutely anguished. Sam is begging him to do the thing that would be his worst nightmare.
Dean: Don’t ask that of me.
But Sam is just as anguished. He’s a good man, and the idea that he might go darkside and hurt someone is killing him.
Sam: Dean, please, you have to promise me.
Dean can ultimately not deny Sam something he’s begging for. He agrees, though it’s killing him.
Dean: I promise.
He’s overcome with relief, reaching out for Dean and cupping his face, overwhelmed with gratitude and affection, trying to cling to his brother.
Sam: Thank you, you are…
Dean interrupts him, doesn’t want to hear any more, can’t hear any more. He knocks Sam’s hands off him and shoves him down on the bed.
Sam turns over and hugs the pillow, settling in, as Dean watches. He scrubs a hand over his face, emotional and overwhelmed, looking at his little brother who looks incredibly vulnerable in that moment, wondering how the hell he can protect him from something like this.
It’s an iconic and emotionally powerful scene, one that pulls you in and makes you feel the depth of Sam’s fear and growing self-loathing, and the depth of Dean’s love and protectiveness. It goes dizzyingly quick from a lighthearted amusing Sammy-is-drunk scene to a heartbreaking plea that breaks Dean in half. Jared and Jensen sell it 1000% with their willingness to be vulnerable and their comfort with both physicality and emotional intimacy, showing us and not just telling us how desperate both Sam and Dean are right now. And how they really are in this together, with no one else to depend on. I teared up all over again rewatching this scene for the hundredth time. Quintessential Supernatural.
There’s no sleeping for Dean after that, so he goes down to the bar and has a chat with Sherwin – and a drink.
Dean: I’d love to hear some stories (about the hotel).
Sherwin: Boy, you should never say that to an old man.
I kinda love Sherwin and the way he calls Dean “boy”. He shows Dean some old photos of Susan and her mother Rose, saying they’re unhappy to be leaving the only home they ever knew, and wouldn’t Dean be too.
Dean: I don’t know. I never really knew one.
All of us watching: Ouch. Except Baby, of course.
Sherwin also shows Dean old photos of Rose as a child with her nanny.
Dean recognizes the same symbol that he saw on the urns, because smart Winchesters, Season 2.
When he gets back to the room, Sam is puking in the bathroom and Dean is firmly in big brother mode and has no mercy, talking too loudly on purpose and detailing some disgusting sounding hangover recipes to make poor Sam heave again.
Dean: I’ll bet you don’t remember a thing from last night, do you?
Dean is obviously hoping that’s the case.
Sam: Oh, I hate you.
Dean: (grinning and relieved) I know you do.
He also tells Sam that Rose had a Creole nanny who wore a hoodoo necklace. Maybe, they guess, she taught some of that hoodoo to Rose.
Sam: All right, I think it’s time we talked to Rose.
Dean: (making a face when Sam gets close) You can brush your teeth first.
As Robbie Thompson would say, ‘Brothers, man.’
After making sure Susan is out, the brothers break into her room, Sam picking the lock. Slowly they go upstairs to where Grandma Rose’s room is. It’s a beautifully ominous scene, shot through the railings, shadows falling over Sam and Dean.
They pick the lock and go through Susan’s creepy doll-infested room and up to Rose’s equally creepy room, slowly approaching a door at the end of the hall where she’s sitting in a wheelchair staring out the small window.
She doesn’t respond when they call her name, just shivers, and it’s filmed to make it look extra creepy.
Sam realizes that she’s had a stroke and that hoodoo is too hands on for her to manage. Unless she’s faking…
Sam: Yeah, what are you gonna do, poke her with a stick?
Dean frowns but nods.
Sam: Dude! You’re not gonna poke her with a stick!
Susan finds them then and kicks them out, accusing them of scaring her mother. They drive away and Susan tells Tyler she has to pack, and also that she’s too old to have an imaginary friend and Maggie isn’t real.
Maggie to Tyler: I don’t like her…
Sherwin packs up his car and drives off too, leaving just Susan and Tyler. A toy swing set outside the dollhouse starts to swing all by itself, as the wind starts to blow outside where Susan is packing up the car. She notices the swings in the yard moving, alarmed, then the spinner rapidly spinning, and then suddenly her car starts up by itself and starts roaring right at her.
Sam knocks her out of the way in the knick of time and then the three of them go back inside, Susan severely shaken. She asks what the hell happened and Dean asks if she wants the truth – and then tells her.
Susan: You’re insane.
Dean: Yeah, it’s been said.
Outsider pov for the win!
When they find out that Rose had the stroke a month ago and that’s when the killings started, the Winchesters realize that she wasn’t doing hoodoo to hurt anyone, she was doing it to protect them, warding off a malevolent spirit. Then she had a stroke and couldn’t do it anymore.
Susan: I don’t believe this.
Dean: Listen sister, that car didn’t try to run you down by itself, okay? I mean, I guess it did, technically, but…
Sam says that she and her daughters are in danger and Susan corrects him that she only has one daughter, that Maggie is ‘imaginary’.
Sam and Dean have a very bad feeling about this.
Sam: Where’s Tyler?
We see Tyler interrupting Maggie who’s confronting Grandma Rose, insisting that Tyler is going to stay there with her, that they can have tea parties “forever and ever.” Rose is distraught but can’t stop her.
Susan and the Winchesters suspect that something is very wrong and go looking for Tyler. They find the playroom filled with broken dolls. Susan panics while Sam and Dean ask her who Maggie might be. A doll that looks like Maggie watches as Susan suddenly connects the dots.
Susan: Ohmygod, my mom. My mom had a sister named Margaret. She barely spoke about her. She drowned in the pool.
The three run to the pool house, where Tyler and Maggie are on a ledge high above it, Maggie trying to convince Tyler to jump, promising it won’t hurt and then they can be together forever.
Maggie: I can’t leave here and you can’t leave me. Please, I don’t want to be alone.
Dean pounds on the glass trying to break in the locked door as Maggie pushes Tyler into the pool – she falls in, screaming. Dean and Susan go around to the other side where Dean tries to kick in the door but fails, cursing with the quintessential Dean Winchester “sonofabitch!”
Sam finds a big flower pot and pounds frantically on the glass as we see Maggie holding Tyler’s head under the water. In the background, we hear Rose’s voice calling her sister. Tyler stops struggling, and it seems just about too late.
Maggie disappears just as Sam finally breaks through the glass, jumps over the railing and into the pool. Sam grabs her limp body and brings her to the surface – they break the surface together just like Dean did with Lucas in ‘Dead In The Water’.
Dean finally breaks in too and he and Susan get to Sam and Tyler. There are some sad and tense moments, and then Tyler starts coughing, her mother exclaiming “oh thank God, thank God”.
Sam: Do you see Maggie anywhere?
Tyler says no, she’s gone.
Sam and Dean exchange a loaded glance.
And then we see Maggie in Rose’s room, talking to her sister.
Maggie: You’d do that for me? Yes, if you did, I’d let them go. But I don’t understand, you kept me away for so long. I thought you didn’t love me anymore.
There’s a moment between the sisters, Maggie listening to words we can’t hear, and then Maggie caresses Rose’s cheek.
Maggie: Okay, little sister.
When Susan goes to get her mother, she finds her dead.
The sisters, presumably, are back together.
Tyler assures everyone that Maggie is gone and the Winchesters say their goodbyes, Susan thanking them.
Sam says he’s so sorry, but Susan assures them there’s nothing to apologize for, that they’ve given her everything: Tyler.
She turns and gives Sam a big hug.
Dean watches shamelessly because of course he does. And smirks.
Dean: Think you could have hooked up some MILF action there, bud. I’m serious, I think she liked you.
Sam: Oh yeah, that’s all she needs.
It’s Dean’s typical atypical investment in Sam’s love life, but he quickly pivots to something more serious., reminding Sam that he saved the mom, saved the girl.
Dean: Not a bad day. ‘Course, you know, I could have saved them myself but I didn’t want you to feel useless. Feels good to be back in the saddle, doesn’t it?
Sam understands exactly what his brother is trying to do.
Sam: All right, I appreciate it.
He appreciates his brother’s attempts to cheer him up and reassure him, but he also says it doesn’t change what they talked about last night, to Dean’s absolute dismay that Sam actually does remember. Then we get a “BM” scene, as it will eventually be called in ‘The French Mistake’ – a brothers moment with Sam and Dean leaning on the Impala, having a heart to heart.
Dean hedges, saying they talked about a lot of things.
Sam: You know what I mean.
Dean: You were wasted!
Sam: But you weren’t. And you promised.
They head out in the Impala, Dean casting worried glances at Sam.
They drive past the Vacancy sign as the camera takes us back inside the now-deserted house, past the photos on the mantle of Rose and her nanny, upstairs and down the hallway slowly, with creepy music playing.
Back in the house, the sisters are skipping rope together, giggling happily. The Maggie doll looks down on them, serene, as the camera slowly pulls away.
There are many many episodes of Supernatural that mirror Sam and Dean with other siblings, and Rose and Maggie do too, from the lengths they would go to be together and the importance of their relationship to one sibling’s attempts to protect the world from the other’s dark side. That’s what Sam is asking of Dean right now. This episode is a great example of Supernatural as a gothic horror show, from the haunted mansion and macabre murders to the willing-to-do-anything-to-be-together codependent sisters.
It’s also a reminder of just how dark and tragic this show could be, with first John and now Sam asking Dean to make the most horrific promise imaginable, one that goes against everything he is and cares about.
I remember at the time, watching the season live, thinking where will they go from here? Delicious to not know, all that anticipation. I’m grateful I had that – but for this rewatch, I know I’m going to like some of where the brothers are headed. And other parts are going to break my heart. That’s what good storytelling is all about, after all.
(Side note: On one of our trips to Vancouver to find locations, we visited the mansion used in this episode. It wasn’t quite as creepy in the daylight, but I always wonder if the actual owners ever watched this episode. I hope not!)
Stay tuned for more rewatch!
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