There’s a reason why the 12th episode of Season 2 is so good. Actually there are a few reasons. One, it was written by Ben Edlund. Two, it was directed by Phil Sgriccia. And then there are those two really talented guys who play Sam and Dean.
Edlund didn’t stay with the show as long as I wish he had, but the episodes that he wrote are some of my favorites (as are the episodes he wrote for some of my other favorite shows). Phil Sgriccia was instrumental in shaping the show, staying until Eric Kripke’s new show took him away – and it was a great loss even then.
In ‘Nightshifter,’ the combination of Edlund’s tight, humorous but heartbreaking, quirky writing and dialogue and Sgriccia’s brilliant directing (and Serge Ladouceur’s brilliant lighting and cinematography as always) make this one of those episodes that could be the answer to someone asking for recommendations of episodes that show how special Supernatural is. The whole episode is tense, a mirror of Ronald’s paranoia threaded throughout reflecting the very real danger the Winchesters are in. This time, it’s not just from a supernatural entity, but from all too human law enforcement too. The sense that Sam and Dean are trapped – in the dark bank building, with something dangerous lurking in their midst and something dangerous waiting right outside to invade – sets the dark tone for the whole season as the mystery of the Yellow Eyed Demon and his plans for Sam play out.
It’s also a truly tragic episode, one of a handful that are hard to watch at times. Chris Gauthier’s portrayal of Ronald (and Edlund’s creation of the character) made him achingly real and very sympathetic. He’s a fanboy at heart, and he’s heroic in his own way, risking his life to do what he believes is the right thing and trying his damnedest to ‘save people, hunt things’ just like the Winchesters are doing. We’re rooting for Ronald throughout, and so are Sam and Dean, each in their own way. The contrast in how the brothers try to protect Ronald are telling, deepening our understanding of them – both how different they are and how that contrast often makes them efficient and deadly.
We also are introduced to Agent Henricksen (C. Malik Whitfield) in this episode. He’s another brilliantly written character, memorable instantly. He’s not a bad guy – he’s genuinely a good guy trying to do the right thing, and he’s smart and savvy and wisecracking doing it. The problem is, he sees the Winchesters from the outside and misinterprets who they are and what they’re trying to do. He’s sure they’re the bad guys, and he pursues them like he’s the one who’s saving people. Outsider pov is a popular trope in Supernatural fanfic for a reason – from the outside, if you didn’t know any better, you probably would agree with Henricksen. These guys are clearly dangerous, twisted, downright evil killers. I love that twist, and seeing that perspective so clearly through this character.
And lastly, the ending is one of the best in the series, with a music cue that is absolute perfection.
So, with all that build up… let’s dive into the rewatch…
We get a brief recap of Saving People, Hunting Things and the Winchesters’ previous encounter with a shapeshifter in Season One’s ‘Skin’ as well as a reminder that Dean is a wanted fugitive from Season Two’s ‘The Usual Suspects’ – and then we jump to the present, SWAT teams and cops and local press surrounding a building as a hostage is dramatically released – to our shock, the guy releasing him is none other than Dean Winchester.
That can’t be good.
Director Phil Sgriccia makes it both realistic and an intensely dramatic reveal as police and press all flurry around when they know a hostage is coming out, and the last thing we expect is for it to be Dean yelling at them to get back as he lets the hostage go.
ONE DAY AGO
Sam and Dean working a case in a jewelry store, Sam having a serious conversation with the manager guy and Dean having a flirty conversation with the woman who works there. She asks him what it’s like being FBI and Dean takes the opportunity to play it up – dangerous, keeping secrets. And lonely. Most of all, lonely. It’s clearly effective, but then, how could it not be? This is Dean Winchester she’s talking to.
She offers to do a more private interview later, and hands over her phone number (on a piece of paper because this is 2006).
Dean: You’re a true patriot.
Early seasons Dean is good with the BS and always interested in a hookup.
Sam, on the other hand, is having a much less pleasant conversation with the poor store manager, who can’t understand how an employee he’s known for decades lost his mind and murdered the store’s night watchman.
Manager: I heard him die…
The poor guy is distraught, and I can only imagine how horrible that would be. Dean has the empathy to look guilty when he realizes the kind of conversation Sam’s having, and joins them. He can’t resist waving the clerk’s phone number at Sam though.
The manager informs them that the police took all the security tapes, much to Dean’s dismay.
Dean: Friggen’ cops.
Sam: They’re just doing their job, Dean.
Dean: No, they’re doing OUR job, only they don’t know it, so they suck at it.
He’s not wrong.
Early seasons SPN was not at all copaganda, the Winchesters’ disdain for law enforcement pretty clear. The Winchesters are far from cops, closer to the bad guys than the good guys technically, and that added to their isolation. They really did only have each other, and that insularity made the series unique and the family bond between the Winchesters that much more powerful.
They investigate another similar hit, of a local bank, same M.O. as the jewelry store, and go see the security guard on duty when it happened, who was beaten unconscious by the long-time teller who suddenly pulled off a heist and then killed herself. I take a moment to appreciate the boys in their fed suits and long coats walking up to Ronald Resnick’s porch on the rainy Vancouver evening.
As soon as they knock, a glaring porch light comes on, half blinding them. Ronald is a little paranoid.
Ronald asks to see their badges, and finally lets them in when they say they read his statement.
Ronald (hopefully): You’ve come to listen to what I’ve got to say?
Dean: Well, that’s why we’re here.
His house is papered with articles and pictures of aliens and conspiracy theories.
Ronald insists that the teller, Juan, wasn’t the one who robbed the bank – that who or what he let into the bank that night was not Juan, that it wasn’t his face because every detail was perfect, too perfect.
Ronald: Like I was talking to a big Juan doll.
Sam (deadpans): A Juan doll?
I snorted. Jared Padalecki nailed that line and Sam’s expression so perfectly.
Ronald insists it’s happened multiple times, that the Chinese and the Russians have been working on these creatures – part men, part machine, like the Terminator.
Dean (fanboy smile): Like the one from T2?
Ronald is absolutely gleeful that they might be believing him.
Ronald: Exactly! Not just a robot, more of a … a Mandroid!
Sam (incredulous): A mandroid?
Ronald shows them the security tapes he copied, in which Juan’s eyes show as lens flares in the camera like the shapeshifter they encountered before. Sam and Dean exchange a look.
Ronald: See? He’s got the laser eyes!
Ronald lays out all his theories about the mandroid, including a map of where he might be underground and where he might strike next, and then Sam says he’s going to tell Ronald the truth. For a second, Dean and Ronald both look hopeful about that, and then Sam dashes their hopes.
Sam: There’s no such thing as mandroids. It’s just people. Nothing else, you understand?
Ronald is crestfallen. Dean is also a bit crestfallen – he thought Sam was going to tell Ronald the actual truth.
Ronald kicks them out, Dean still looking confused, Sam determined. He takes the tapes on his way out.
When they get back to the motel room, Sam asks Dean if he’s pissed at him or something, because as much as the Winchesters don’t always want to talk about their feelings, they are both very good at picking up on how the other is feeling at any given moment.
Dean: Nah, I just think it’s a little creepy how good of a Fed you are… “remand” the tapes? You could’ve thrown the guy a bone, he did some pretty good legwork there.
Sam: A mandroid?
Dean: Except for that part. I liked him, he’s not that different from you or me, people think we’re crazy too.
Sam reminds Dean that Ronald isn’t a hunter and if he tried to go up against a shapeshifter, he’d get torn apart.
Sam: Better to stay in the dark and stay alive.
Dean uses Ronald’s map and theory to try to trace where the thing is while Sam watches the tapes, catching the eye flares.
Dean: I hate those friggin’ things.
Sam: You think I don’t?
Dean: Yeah well, one didn’t turn into you and frame you for murder.
It’s as close as Winchesters get to referencing the PTSD they must constantly be battling. Dean figures out there’s one more bank on the sewer route the shifter is probably using, and that night they visit it, wearing coveralls as Security Service technicians. A guard shows them to the branch monitors and they settle in to watch the security footage.
Side note: Sam and Dean look good in every damn thing they wear. Including those coveralls.
The guard asks if they need anything else and Sam says no, they’ll be in and out before he knows it.
Guard: Okie dokie.
Dean (smiling): I like him, he says okie dokie.
I love how Dean is so easily amused in the early seasons. Despite the fact that he’s a ruthless hunter, there’s a playfulness to him that makes him seem about ten years old sometimes and it’s so enjoyable to watch.
Of course, he still agrees that if okie dokie man is the shifter, they’ll follow him home and put a silver bullet through his chestplate.
Dean: Got any popcorn?
On the camera footage, the security guard’s eyes don’t have any flares.
Dean: Well, it looks like mister okie dokie is… okie dokie.
As Sam keeps talking, Dean zeroes the camera in on an attractive woman’s butt.
Sam: Dean, we’re supposed to be looking for eyes!
Eventually they do find a guy whose eyes flare, and then they see on another camera something that stops them from going after him – Ronald, breaking in and locking the door with a padlocked chain so no one can get out.
With a gun.
He fires at the ceiling, telling everyone to get down.
Sam and Dean head toward the main floor where Ronald is.
Dean: And you said we shouldn’t bring guns…
Sam (annoyed): I didn’t know this was gonna happen, Dean!
Dean: Just let me do the talking, I don’t think he likes you very much, Agent Johnson.
Sure enough, when Sam and Dean show up and try to tell him to calm down, Ronald is not calm.
Ronald: You! Get on the floor now!
Dean: Okay, okay we’re doing that. Just don’t shoot anybody – especially us.
Ronald accuses them of being FBI – or of working for the Mandroid.
Sam: We’re not working for the Mandroid!
Ronald: You shut up, I ain’t talking to you – I don’t like you!
Dean: Told you.
Sam: Fair enough.
Ronald has one of the other hostages frisk them, and they find a knife in Dean’s boot. Sam gives him a look.
Dean: What? I’m not just gonna walk in here naked!
Ronald puts the knife into the safe deposit box, as Dean protests and tries to convince Ronald to let the hostages go. Ronald says no, that nobody’s going to stop the thing, so he has to do it himself. Dean says they believe him, that’s why they’re there.
Dean: You’re holding the gun, boss, you’re calling the shots. I just want to tell you something. Come here.
When Ronald leans in, Dean quietly tells him it’s the bank manager, that they saw his eyes – and that they have to get him before he changes into someone else.
Ronald is skeptical, but he finally agrees to take Dean as a hostage and go after the thing.
Dean: Look at me, man, I believe you. You’re not crazy. There really is something inside this bank.
It’s the absolute truth, and so it rings true and is enough to get Ronald to go along with Dean’s plan – which, smart Winchesters!
They put everyone else in the vault, including Sam, Dean making eye contact with an apologetic look.
Once the door is shut, one of the bank employees turns to Sam.
Sherry: Who is that man?
Sam: He’s my brother.
Sherry: He is so brave!
Dean and Ronald walk through the bank, Dean now acting as the leader and calling the shots, Ronald smiling that someone believes him finally, relieved that he’s not nuts and that this is real.
It’s kinda heartbreaking.
Suddenly Ronald slips and falls – on a shapeshifter’s discarded skin.
Ronald: WHAT THE HELL IS THAT??
Dean: Oh great, now it could be anybody.
He explains to Ronald that it’s a shapeshifter, who has human drives, in this case wanting money. He also finds a silver letter opener on a desk, relieved since that’s the only thing that can hurt them.
Outside. a police helicopter circles overhead with a search light, and a huge SWAT team gathers, armed men swarming out of a van. There are news crews all over as the police are putting fences up. They’re surrounded.
The detective in charge orders them to cut the power.
Dean: Damn it, no no no no!
Ronald is surprised the cops are there.
Dean: You weren’t exactly a smooth criminal about this, Ron. You didn’t even secure the security guard.
Ronald starts to hyperventilate.
Dean: Now there’s no way of telling who the shapeshifter is. It’s not looking good, Ron.
They both hear a noise.
Meanwhile, back in the vault in the dark, Sherry is still talking about Dean.
Sherry: Has your brother always been so wonderful? He’s like a real hero or something.
Sam (longsuffering): Yeah. Yeah.
The door opens just then and it’s Dean.
Sherry: Ohmygod you saved us!
But Dean just puts a few more stragglers into the vault and says he needs to talk to Sam, shrugging apologetically at Sherry’s disappointed expression.
Dean gives Sam an update and says he’s going to do a sweep of the place so they have everyone together and then play a little game of find the freak. He hands Sam the silver letter opener.
Dean: Stay here and make sure Ronald doesn’t hurt anybody, okay? Help him manage the situation.
Sam (pissed): Help him manage? Are you insane?
Ronald looks over at them, alarmed. Dean gives him a grin and a thumbs up to try to keep him calm as Ron wanders right into the light, making himself a target.
I remember getting anxious as soon as that happened. I like Ronald.
Dean: Ron, out of the light!
Dean agrees Ron’s game plan was a bit crazy but right now crazy’s the only game in town. He slaps Sam on the shoulder and heads out.
Sam sighs, longsuffering again.
Sam: Hi Ronald.
Sam opens up the vault so the terrified people in it can breathe, and while he’s doing that the phone rings and Ronald just picks it right up, almost eager for the attention.
Ronald: No, I’m not a bank robber… kind of a crime fighter…
Sam: Hang up!
When he doesn’t, Sam hangs it up for him, exasperated.
And then the somewhat elderly security guard starts having chest pain. Poor Sam. He knows it could be a trick, but an innocent man could also be having a heart attack. One of the other people in the vault keeps goading Sam, saying the man is dying. Hmmm.
Meanwhile, Dean walks through the darkened building with a flashlight – it’s beautifully filmed once again, tense and scary as he looks for anything that might be out of place.
He sees a ceiling tile that’s shoved aside (because his powers of observation are about a billion times what mine would be) and pokes it with a coat rack. Suddenly it gives way and a body falls to the floor – the guy who has been trying to convince Sam to let the heart attack guy out and go with him!
Dean pulls Sam aside and whispers to him, while the shapeshifter stares at them and probably figures out they’re onto him. Sam takes the guard out of the vault, saying he doesn’t need the shifter’s help.
Then Dean asks if he can talk to the shifter for a second. They make eye contact, both of them looking equally dangerous and determined.
Shifter: You got the gun man, I mean whatever…
But then he suddenly gets the jump on Dean and escapes.
One of the most memorable parts of this episode – and hands down the most upsetting – happens then, as Ronald starts to run after the shifter, putting himself back in the light.
In slow motion, Sam sees the red laser sight dot on Ronald’s back, shouting at Ron to get down, but it’s too late.
Dean watches, falling back in shock as Ronald is shot in the back and the bullet goes right through him, blood spraying as he falls down dead.
I remember gasping out loud the first time I saw this, almost disbelieving. It was that shocking.
Sam joins Dean ducking down behind a counter, both rattled by Ronald’s death.
Sam: (determined) Take care of the guard, I’m going after the shifter.
Dean is especially upset. He crawls over to Ronald’s body, taking his gun, as some very sad music plays.
Dean: Sorry, Ron. You did a real good job tracking this thing, you really did.
He helps the guard out the front door, assuring him that it’s going to be all right, shocked by the number of cops and media outside the door when it opens. It’s the scene we saw in the opener, as the guard pleads with them not to shoot and Dean curses and yells at them all to get back.
Dean: We are so screwed.
Meanwhile, Sam’s turn to roam the dark halls with a flashlight and look beautiful doing it. He kicks in a locked storeroom door and then finds Sherry and a few other hostages in the hallway. He tells the people to go back to the vault, saying they’re in danger.
Sam finds another shed skin, to his dismay, and calls Dean to update him.
Dean: God, it’s like playing the shell game. It could be anybody. Again.
Dean rounds everyone up while Sam continues searching. Again it’s a suspenseful scene, lit only by Sam’s flashlight as he opens doors and sneaks around corners, where there could be a shifter waiting for him.
Outside, a car with its siren blaring arrives and the detectives frown.
Detective: Crap, the Feds are here.
It’s Victor Henriksen, portrayed by the amazing C. Malik Whitfield, one of the more memorable characters in Supernatural’s long run. The local detective complains, guessing that the Fed is gonna say that he’s the lead dog now but “I would just love your full cooperation”.
Henriksen: I don’t give a rat’s ass what you do. You can go get a donut and bang your wife for all I care. What I do need is your SWAT team locked and loaded.
Detective: Listen, Agent, something’s not right about this, it’s not going down like a usual heist.
Henriksen: That’s because it isn’t one. You have no idea what you’re dealing with, do you? There’s a monster in that bank.
Dean puts the hostages back in the vault, where Sherry is disillusioned with her former crush.
Sherry: I thought you were one of the good guys.
That’s the theme of the episode, Sherry, you just don’t know it.
He tells her his name and assures her everything will be all right and it will be over soon, and locks the door as the phone rings again.
Dean answers and says he’s not in the negotiating mood right now and Henriksen interrupts, saying it’s his job to bring him in – alive’s a bonus but not necessary.
Dean is caught off guard.
Dean: Whoa, kinda harsh for a federal agent, don’t you think?
Henriksen: Well you’re not the typical suspect – are you, Dean?
Dean looks shocked.
Henriksen: I want you and Sam out here unarmed or we come in. And yes, I know about Sam too, Bonnie to your Clyde.
Dean takes a moment to grin, pleased at the comparison.
Dean: Yeah well, that part’s true.
Henriksen goes through everything he thinks he knows about the Winchesters, finishing with “and I know about your dad”. That does not go over well with Dean.
Henriksen: Ex Marine, raised his kids on the road, cheap motels, backwoods cabins. Real paramilitary survivalist type. I just can’t get a handle on what kind of whacko he was. White supremacist, Timmy McVeigh, tomayto tomahto…
Dean interrupts, instantly incensed. His whole demeanor changes, shut down and deadly.
Dean: You got no right talking about my dad like that, he was a hero!
Henriksen gives him an hour and then hangs up – and then tells his men they’re going in in five minutes! Poor Dean.
The detectives are skeptical, saying they haven’t hurt anyone and they can’t risk the lives of all those people.
Henriksen: Trust me, Dean’s a greater risk to them than we are.
Detective: This is crazy.
Henriksen: No, crazy’s in there and I just hung up on it.
I can’t help but love the character of Henriksen even in this episode when he’s entirely not on the boys’ side and has the completely wrong conception of them. And Dean’s right, as long as Henriksen thinks they’re the enemy. They’re screwed.
Back in the bank, Sam opens a closet door when he sees blood leaking out, and a partially dressed Sherry falls out with her throat cut.
Sam: Damn it.
He fills Dean in and they open the vault and tell the version of Sherry who’s in there that they’re going to let her go as a show of good faith. She’s scared and reluctant, so of course we think that’s because she’s the shifter.
Dean: I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist.
Sam makes sure she sees the glint of the silver knife, and she finally comes with them.
When they get to the dead woman on the floor, to their surprise, Sherry starts screaming hysterically.
Dean: Is that community theater, or are you just naturally that good?
Sam: This is the last time you become anybody, ever.
Sherry promptly faints.
Sam and Dean exchange a confused look.
Then Dean shrugs and straddles her to stab her.
Sam: Wait…what’s the advantage of this plan?
Smart Sammy, always thinking with that big brain of his.
And he’s right, because suddenly the supposed dead body next to them opens its eyes and grabs Dean, strangling him. They fight as poor Sherry comes to, muttering Ohgod Ohgod as the fight goes on, which was all kinds of hilarious. I love when Supernatural uses that kind of dark humor and they all pulled it off perfectly.
The shapeshifter gets away as the SWAT team starts making their way through the dark building, red lasers and flashlights in the dark, once again the scene full of suspense. They find Sherry in a hallway and let her out, and then find Sam, who takes two SWAT guys out just as Dean finds the shifter and starts fighting it.
Some of the shifter’s skin comes off in his hand and it gets in two kicks to the crotch and a few to the face before Dean finally manages to stab it with the silver knife. It’s a disturbingly filmed scene, oddly sexualized with their faces inches apart and its hand on his face as it slides to the floor.
Predictably, that’s when the SWAT guys come in and find him leaning over what looks like a stabbed woman.
The Winchesters really have no luck.
When the show comes back from commercial (if you were watching it live), we see Henriksen in the building as the SWAT team goes through the whole building, calling “Clear” and finding the few bodies that are there. One cop finds the shapeshifter who still looks just like Sherry.
Cop: I’m telling you, I just walked her out of the bank! She must have a twin sister or something…
The team tells Henriksen that the building is secure and the Winchesters are gone, but he finds it hard to believe, ordering them to “tear it apart!” The cop says he doesn’t think that’s necessary, however, and shows him a closet with two men handcuffed on the floor, wearing only their shorts.
We don’t see their faces and I remember that when I watched the episode live, I was momentarily confused. I at first thought they were Sam and Dean, and then slowly realized that no, Sam and Dean were actually escaping at that moment, wearing the hapless SWAT guys’ uniforms.
One of the best music cues of the series starts playing, Renegade by Styx, the lyrics saying “Oh mama I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law” as two SWAT officers, faces covered, run up the stairs and into an upper level parking garage. They get into the Impala and take off their helmets and pull off their masks, revealing that it’s Sam and Dean.
Who a) are so effing smart in the early seasons, pulling this off.
And b) are so effing gorgeous that the close ups we get of them as they reveal themselves just about knocked me onto the floor. Like literally.
They’re out of breath, the gravity of the situation weighing on them.
Dean: We are so screwed.
Sam nods as the Impala screeches out of the parking lot, the lyrics following them. “The jig is up, they finally found me…I’m a wanted man…”
As the Impala pulls out of the garage, “Oh mama I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law” plays again and then cuts off abruptly.
I remember feeling as gobsmacked and worried as Sam and Dean were. How the hell were they going to get out of this one??
In the middle of Season 2 as I watched for the first time, I couldn’t wait to find out. Now a year after the show ended as I write this, I’m so grateful that this episode that I’ve watched so many times can still leave me breathless. That’s really saying something, isn’t it?
Beautiful caps by spndeangirl
You can read the Supernatural actors’ memories
of the show in their own words in their chapters
in Family Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be
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