Born Under A Bad Sign is another one of the pivotal episodes that solidified my passion for Supernatural in such an intense way that the show would get under my skin and just stay there for – well, its over 16 years and counting now, so who knows how long? Forever?
In the “Then” we get a reminder that demons can possess humans, and of Sam and Dean’s recent agonizing conversation by the fence, Sam terrified he’s about to “go darkside” and warning his brother that if he’s not careful, “you will have to waste me someday” and Dean equally terrified he won’t be able to save Sam.
That’s where Sam and Dean are when we get to the “Now”. Dean is frantic, on the phone with Ellen after Sam has apparently gone missing.
Dean: I’m losing my mind here….I’ve called him a thousand times, there’s nothing but voicemail. I don’t know where he went or why, Sam’s just gone…
His phone shows another call and Dean cuts off to answer it.
Dean: Sammy? Where the hell are you? Are you okay? Hey hey hey, calm down, I’m on my way.
The impala roars away from under a bridge. I bet Dean broke every speed limit along the way to get to his brother.
Sam hangs up the phone and we see his bloody hand on the floor as he waits.
A while later, Dean rushes into a motel, hurrying down the hallway, still frantic. He bangs on the door and it opens, so he pushes it slowly open, calling his brother’s name. He finds Sam sitting still, blood on his shirt, head down.
Dean’s panic increases as he sees the blood and he drops to the floor, trying to push Sam’s shirt out of the way to see how badly he’s hurt. Dean is wide eyed, terrified for Sam.
Dean: You’re bleeding, ohmygod.
Sam sounds completely out of it, traumatized beyond being able to express any emotion at all. He tells Dean that he doesn’t think the blood is his, says he tried to wash it off. That he doesn’t remember anything.
I have to say that both Padalecki and Ackles played that scene incredibly well – I could feel Dean’s panic acutely, and Sam’s utter confusion and despair (making Meg a pretty great actress also!). They are both primed for these emotions already, Dean so worried about Sam’s fate and Sam convinced he could go dark side any moment.
The next day, Dean comes back to the motel after asking around. Sam checked in under the name Richie Sambora. Dean tries for some levity.
Dean: Of course, I think the scariest part about this whole thing is the fact that you’re a Bon Jovi fan.
As if he isn’t!
Sam is not amused, and also is incredulous that apparently no one noticed him walking around covered in blood.
Dean is still in relieved mode, just so grateful Sam is alive.
Dean: You’re okay, that’s what matters.
Sam’s not so sure, afraid he hurt someone or he’s turning into what Dad warned Dean about.
Dean: Hey whoa whoa, come on man, let’s not jump the gun here.
It’s a striking example of how much Sam is Dean’s priority; he refuses to believe that Sam is in any way evil, determined to find the explanation of what happened. They set out to retrace Sam’s steps of the past week, Sam seeming to recognize a storage unit – and producing a key from his pocket. Inside is a beat up VW Beetle, which – cool car, imho.
Dean: Oh please tell me you didn’t steal this!
There’s a knife with blood on it in the backseat.
Sam: You think I used this on someone?
Dean: I’m not thinkin’ anything.
Dean refuses to consider that, cannot conceive of a Sam who would do such a thing. His faith in his brother in this episode is unshakeable. He finds a pack of cigarettes on the backseat too – proof, he says, that it couldn’t have been Sam. But when they follow a gas station receipt to the place, the store clerk definitely remembers Sam – and not fondly.
He yells at Sam to get out.
Clerk: Jerk comes in yesterday, stinking drunk, grabs a forty from the fridge and starts chugging.
Dean is incredulous.
Dean: This guy? Drinking malt liquor?
Clerk: Not after he whipped the friggen’ bottle at my head.
Dean: THIS guy??
Clerk: What, am I speaking Urdu?
I think I laughed out loud – A plus guest actor!
Sam tries to apologize but the guy isn’t having it, and Dean tells him to go wait outside. The clerk also insists Sam was smoking. Dean is totally confused, but pulls out his wallet and pays the clerk off, asking the clerk to do him a favor and tell him which way the guy went.
Clerk: Oh, do you a favor? Well, that is what I live for.
Who could actually resist those eyes though??
A+ acting once again to the guest actor playing the clerk.
The boys drive through the night, Dean still worried. Sam instructs Dean to turn down a side road, and despite everything that’s going on, Dean trusts his brother and does.
Floodlights and security cameras come on as Dean knocks on the door. They find an alarm box broken and go in with their flashlights, finding the house wrecked. Beautifully lit flashlight scene, a Serge Ladouceur specialty.
They find a body on the floor, throat cut, eyes staring.
Supernatural got away with a serious amount of horror in the early days.
Sam and Dean both look horrified, and Sam immediately says that he did this, he knows he did.
Dean refuses to believe it and Sam starts to get agitated.
Sam: What else do you need? How else do you explain this?
Dean: Look, even if you did do this, I’m sure you had a reason, self defense, or … he was a bad sonofabitch, something!
Sam asks for Dean’s lockpick and opens a secret room – it’s an armory.
Dean: Holy… either this guy’s the Unabomber…
Sam: Or a hunter. Dean, I think I killed a hunter.
They watch the security tape, Sam and the guy fighting, Sam punching him, then dragging him into camera range and cutting his throat.
Dean looks distressed watching, recoils as Sam slices the guy’s throat and then straightens, looking at Sam in shock.
Sam finds a letter addressed to Steve Wandell as “Dear Dad” and seems to contemplate the loss, traumatized again.
But then Dean snaps out of it and snaps into action. He is a man driven to protect his little brother at all costs. He erases the tape, grabs the guy’s computer and smashes it to the floor, stomping on it for good measure.
Dean: Wipe your prints and then we go.
Back at their hotel, Dean plans their escape, telling Sam he has to snap out of it, but Sam insists that he murdered Wandell, that for the last few weeks he’s been having “these feelings.”
Dean is instantly concerned.
Dean: What feelings?
Sam: Rage, hate… and I can’t stop it. It just gets worse, day by day, it gets worse.
Dean softens, all empathy.
Dean: You never told me this.
Sam: I didn’t want to scare you.
Dean: Yeah, well, bang up job on that.
It plays into all Dean’s worst fears, his worry that Sam will go darkside and he won’t be able to save him, his Dad’s words ringing in his ears.
They argue about whether Sam’s fate is out of his control, because the Yellow Eyed Demon has plans for him, or whether, as Dean says, no one can control you but you. They get increasingly heated in their argument, Dean yelling at Sam to shut up and Sam insisting that Dean needs to stop him.
Finally, Sam hands him a gun, shoving it into his hand.
Dean looks at it aghast, refuses to take it, insisting that whatever it is, Sam can fight it, that they’ll figure it out.
(Me now: That is what the Winchesters always say to each other and it makes me cry now every damn time)
Sam says no, he can’t fight it, not forever. He reminds Dean of his promise, pleads with him that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, doesn’t want to hurt Dean. (Does Meg know that because she’s possessing Sam? Hmm)
Dean stares at the gun in his hand, emotional, saying he’s tried so hard to keep Sam safe.
Sam: I know.
Dean shakes his head, deciding.
Dean: I can’t. I’d rather die.
He puts the gun down, and Sam (Meg) suddenly drops the act and picks it up, pistol whipping Dean and knocking him out.
Sam (coldly): You won’t. You’ll live to regret this.
Sad music plays as Dean lies on the floor, face down, unconscious, and Sam walks out.
I remember at the time it was SHOCKING. We didn’t know that Sam wasn’t Sam, that he hadn’t been Sam that whole damn time! Nicely done, Show, nicely done. And nicely done, Jared Padalecki, whose acting is off the charts brilliant in this episode.
Dean wakes up to the landlord pounding on the door, staggers up and asks to use the man’s computer.
Clerk: Now why would I let you use my computer?
Dean went through a lot of cash in this episode.
He goes through an Oscar worthy explanation of trying to find his son Sammy who snuck out of the house to go to a Justin Timberlake concert without his insulin. I think Dean was for real upset enough about Sam that the person believes him and activates the GPS on Sam’s phone – he’s in Duluth, Minnesota.
Dean: Yeah, that is a long way to go for a concert…
The humor intermixed with so much fear and pain in this episode is quintessential Supernatural.
In Duluth, Sam finds Jo working in a bar just as it’s closing time. She does not look all that happy to see him, asking how he found her, and more importantly, “where’s Dean?”
That pisses Sam/Meg off, as he says that Dean couldn’t make it, and that while they didn’t part on the best of terms, that’s why he’s here – to see if they can “square things up”.
Jared Padalecki is masterful in this scene, making Sam look so menacing, even bigger than he usually is, towering over Jo – the directing here plays that up.
He takes off his jacket and makes it look both sexy and scary as hell, radiating menace and a combination of barely concealed lust and aggression. He channels Sam’s charm and easy smile for Jo’s benefit, but every time Jo’s back is turned, we see how he’s really feeling and it’s chilling.
Why no one has cast Padalecki in a villain role I can’t imagine. Also? Stupidly hot even when it shouldn’t be.
Jo comments on a burn mark on his arm, but he shrugs it off, saying he had a run in with a hot stove.
“Sam” tells Jo he doesn’t blame her for how she feels about his dad, that John was obsessed, consumed with hunting – but that was his father, not him.
Jo: What about Dean?
Sam: Well, Dean’s more like my father but…
He realizes then that Jo is more interested in Dean than in him, and laughs bitterly.
Sam: BOY, you’re really carrying a torch for him, aren’t you?
The anger he was hiding is obvious now, and Meg!Sam is so different than Sam. He lays a hand over Jo’s and she makes a face, tries to pull away, but he doesn’t let her. He’s saying he cares about her a lot, but that gesture is one that many people can recognize – it’s possessive, a warning. That small gesture is so brilliant, and so chilling.
Sam: I could be more to you, Jo.
Whether it’s Meg’s desire or she’s channeling some simmering jealousy there between the brothers, I don’t know, but it comes out both menacing and ringing true.
She tells him he should leave and he says okay, but then grabs her from behind, forces her against the bar as she yells at him to get off her. Jo tries to grab a beer bottle to hit him but he slams her hand onto the bar and the bottle shatters.
He pins her against the bar as she screams “Sam, no, please” and then he knocks her out, bending to creepily brush the hair off her face.
Sam: It didn’t have to be this way…or maybe it did.
He smiles and it’s downright evil.
When Jo comes to, she’s tied to a post and the juke box is playing The Doors. Sam taunts her, tormenting her with a knife right in front of her eye, stroking her face with it. Jo is brave as shit, doesn’t even flinch as she says “You’re not Sam.”
He makes her tell him the story of how her dad died as she knows it, Sam cruelly interjecting that John “dangled Bill like meat on a hook”.
He leans in, asks “then what?” and he looks so disturbingly eager, sauntering around, moving like Meg now, seductive. I’m mesmerized by how NOT Sam this is, how different in every way.
Jo recounts that John got too eager and jumped out too soon, and the thing they were hunting killed her father.
Sam smirks, leaning in, taunting her. He says that she doesn’t know the whole truth.
Sam: You see, Bill was all clawed up, was holding his insides in his hands. He was gurgling and praying to see you and Ellen one more time. So my dad killed him. Put him out of his misery like a sick dog.
Jo sobs, accusing him of lying.
Sam leans in even closer, singsongs in her ear “My daddy shot your daddy in the head…”
The Meg!Sam and Jo scene, and later the Meg!Sam and Dean scene are both incredibly intimate, the characters physically close and the emotion so strong it’s practically spilling off the screen. Padalecki and Alona Tal are fearless in this scene, an undercurrent of sexual tension alongside the hatred ratcheting up the intensity. The same thing happens with Meg!Sam and Dean later, with Ackles and Padalecki equally fearless, the physical intimacy disturbing but compelling as it’s entangled with the physical and psychological torture both times.
I remember watching this episode when it aired and getting so absorbed that I didn’t even realize how much time had gone by, and was left feeling like I’d run a freaking marathon. Where did a little show on the CW get actors like this and a script like that?
When Jo asks why he’s doing this to her, Sam’s all business suddenly, telling her matter of factly that she’s bait, just like her father was. As he gags her, Dean bursts in, gun aimed at Sam.
Sam puts the knife to Jo’s throat.
Sam: I begged you to stop me, Dean.
Dean asks him to put the knife down, jaw working, the two in a stand off. Once again, the emotion pours off the screen. Because Meg is possessing Sam, it feels like everything the demon says and does is ambivalent, a struggle. Sam’s guilt, his fighting underneath, combined with Meg’s jealousy and resentment and hatred, and the spark of her attraction for maybe all three of them. And Dean, so desperate to save his brother, so torn apart by what’s happening to him.
Sam: I told you, I can’t fight it! My head feels like it’s on fire, all right? Dean, kill me, or I’m gonna kill her. Please, you’d be doing me a favor!
Sam is increasingly desperate as Dean stands frozen. He throws his arms out, inviting Dean to shoot him.
There is a depth of sadness and agony in Dean’s eyes that takes your breath away, thanks to Ackles’ ability to show you every ounce of it.
Dean (anguished): No Sammy, come on.
He lowers the gun, turning away even, as Sam advances on him, accusing.
Sam: What the hell’s wrong with you, Dean? Are you that scared of being alone that you’d rather let Jo die?
Dean suddenly turns around and throws water on Sam – holy water. Sam/Meg hisses as it steams off his skin.
Dean: That’s holy water, you demonic sonofabitch!
Eyes black, Sam leaps through a window and runs away. Dean frees Jo, then leaps through the window to go after Sam.
Jo: He was possessed?!
We get a delicious little scene next that could have been longer (just like it could have been for the demon Dean story line many seasons later) where Meg!Sam and Dean stalk each other in the dark on the docks, taunting each other and getting off shots as they try not to get shot themselves. It’s a Winchester game of cat and mouse.
Dean demands to know who the demon is, realizing that it’s been in Sam this whole time.
Meg!Sam: You should’ve seen your face when you thought he murdered that guy – pathetic.
Dean: Why didn’t you kill me? You had a dozen chances.
Meg!Sam laughs, saying that would’ve been too easy, where’s the fun in that? That it was a test to see if Dean could be pushed far enough to waste Sam.
Meg!Sam: Should’ve known you wouldn’t have the sack.
(This plays a bit differently in 2022 after the series has ended and we know that Chuck has been trying to accomplish the brothers killing each other for a very long time – but just like every single time, it doesn’t work).
Dean promises to make the demon pay, enraged on behalf of his possessed brother.
Meg!Sam: How? You can’t hurt me without hurting your brother. I think you’re gonna die, Dean. You and every other hunter I can find. One look at Sam’s dewy, sensitive eyes and they’ll let me right in their doors.
Sam finally gets a clear shot and shoots Dean, knocking him into the water. Meg!Sam looks over the edge and sees nothing. He smirks.
I remember at the time being like what the hell?!
After the break (because I ‘m sure there was one there), Jo searches the docks for Dean with a flashlight, calling his cell phone. Brave as hell, that girl was. Alona Tal plays Jo with both the tremendous courage that the character clearly had, but also the vulnerability of a young woman confronted by a man twice her size and out to hurt her. I always liked the character, partly because of Tal’s ability to show both sides of Jo.
She finally hears his cell phone ringing below the docks and finds Dean lying at the end of a ramp, just waking up.
Dean (barely conscious): Where’s Sam?
Jo helps him up and Jensen makes it look real, staggering and almost falling several times, grunting in pain.
Jo takes out the bullet as he groans and she admonishes him not to be a baby. He takes a drink.
Dean: God, you’re a butcher.
Jo: You’re welcome.
Jo points out that Dean can’t help his brother if he’s bleeding to death, and he sits still long enough for her to gauze tape his wound. She asks him how he knew that Sam was possessed, and Dean admits he didn’t.
Dean: I didn’t, I just knew that it couldn’t have been him.
Dean’s faith in his brother is even stronger than maybe we knew. He might be worried about Sam, but he is 100% behind him. He knows his brother, and refuses to believe there’s a chance he would somehow go dark side. Jo insists that she should come with him to look for the demon, especially because she’s wondering if some of what the demon said is true. Dean says no, and if she tries to follow him he’ll tie her right back to that post and leave her there. That this is his fight.
She finally gives in, tossing him a bottle of pills for the pain.
Dean: Thanks, I’ll call you later, okay?
Jo watches him leave.
Jo: No you won’t.
Jo is also smart. She may have had a thing for Dean (understandably) but she also knows it was one sided.
We know she’s right.
Dean tries to call Bobby Singer to warn him that Sam might be headed there, but we see Sam cut the phone line before it can ring and then knock on the door. Uh oh.
Bobby is seemingly happy to see him, inviting him in as everyone watching holds their breath. Meg has got Sammy’s irresistible smile down pat.
Bobby: Where’s Dean?
(Poor Meg!Sam, everyone is constantly asking him where Dean is – it’s a testament to just how weird it is for the brothers to be separated).
Sam: Holed up somewhere with a girl and a twelve pack.
Bobby is no fool though – he gives Sam a beer laced with holy water, and as they toast to John and Dad, Sam chokes and falls to his knees, demanding to know what he did.
Bobby: A little holy water in the beer. Sam never would’ve noticed. But then, you’re not Sam, are you? Don’t try to con a con man!
Love me some badass Bobby Singer!
He punches Sam in the face and knocks him out. When he comes to, he’s in a devil’s trap and Dean is slapping him across the face to bring him around.
Meg!Sam gives Dean an almost flirty look, a combination of hatred and a hint of thwarted desire making this scene powerful from the start.
Sam: Dean…back from the dead. Like a cockroach.
Dean throws buckets of holy water on the demon while Bobby starts reading an exorcism.
Dean: See, whatever bitch boy master plan you demons are cooking up? You’re not getting Sam. You understand me? Cause I’m gonna kill every one of you first.
At first it seems to be working, then Meg!Sam starts laughing.
Sam: Oops, doesn’t seem to be working. See I learned a few new tricks…
Meg!Sam starts chanting in Latin as Bobby realizes there’s a binding link burned into Sam’s arm to keep the demon locked inside Sam’s body. The fireplace roars, wind blows, the ceiling cracks and the devil’s trap is broken.
Sam: That’s better.
The demon, black eyed, looks down, then sharply to the left. Bobby goes flying. He jerks his head to the right, and Dean goes flying too, the holy water flask falling as he grabs his wounded shoulder in pain. Sam breaks free and stalks across the room to stand over Dean.
He kneels and grabs Dean by the front of his shirt and hauls him in, punching him brutally.
Dean grabs Sam’s shirt and just hangs on as Sam torments him, hitting him repeatedly.
Sam: You know when people want to describe the worst possible thing? They say it’s like hell.
Sam: There’s a reason for that. Hell is like…well, it’s like hell, even for demons.
Sam: It’s a prison, made of bone and flesh and blood and fear.
Sam: And you sent me back there.
Dean, bloodied and sagging in Sam’s grip, sneers anyway.
The demon says no, not anymore – now I’m Sam.
Another punch, and then Sam leans in and hauls Dean even closer, gripping Dean’s shoulder over the bullet wound and squeezing as Dean groans, holding Sam’s wrist as he tortures him. They’re locked together, Dean not really able to fight back.
Sam: By the way, I saw your dad there, he says howdy. All that I had to hold onto was that I would climb out one day and that I was going to torture you, nice and slow, like pulling the wings off an insect.
Dean flails, tries to dislodge Sam’s hand, but he digs in again, then grabs Dean by the head, a parody of affection, and leans in even closer.
The scene is strangely intimate, hard to watch but unable to look away from.
Sam: But whatever I do to you, it’s nothing compared to what you do to yourself, is it? I can see it in your eyes, Dean. You’re worthless. You couldn’t save your dad and deep down, you know that you can’t save your brother. They’d have been better off without you.
Even the behind the scenes pictures from this episode show the intensity of the scene, as Padalecki and Ackles make it look frighteningly real.
Sam pulls his arm back for another punch, but Bobby grabs it and sears the binding mark with a hot poker from the fireplace. Sam screams, then black smoke pours out of his mouth and disappears up the chimney.
Sam falls and looks around in confusion, grabbing his burnt arm.
Sam: Did I miss anything?
Dean punches him in the face, then falls back with an eyeroll as Sam holds his face, still confused.
That was an ad lib that Ackles and Padalecki added, and it totally seemed organic and genuine to me so that doesn’t surprise me. The ad libbed moments are inevitably some of my favorites. Poor Dean – and poor Sam!
The boys nurse their wounds for a short while at Bobby’s, icepacks on Sam’s arm and Dean’s face.
Sam: You really look like crap, Dean.
Dean: Yeah, right back at ya.
Bobby asks if they’ve ever heard of a hunter named Steve Wandell, murdered in his own house.
The brothers exchange a look.
Dean (evenly): No sir, never heard of the guy.
Bobby: Good, keep it that way. His buddies are looking for someone or something to string up and they’re not going to slow down to listen to reason.
He gives the brothers each a small metal charm to fend off possession, since the demon is still out there.
Bobby: This’ll stop it from getting’ back up in ya.
Dean: That sounds vaguely dirty but thanks.
Bobby tells them to be careful and I love that he’s becoming a father figure to them already, protective and smart and nobody puts anything over on him.
The boys drive, the Impala cutting through the night, REO Speedwagon playing. Sam is troubled, saying he was awake for some of the possession and had to watch himself kill Wandell, watch the light go out in his eyes.
Dean is empathic, saying that must have been awful.
Sam: That’s not my point. I almost carved up Jo too, but no matter what I did, you wouldn’t shoot.
Dean is unrepentant.
Dean: It was the right move, Sam. It wasn’t you.
Sam: Yeah, this time, but what about next time?
Dean: Sam, when Dad told me that I…might have to kill you, it was only if I couldn’t save you. Now if it’s the last thing I do, I’m gonna save you.
Sam is quiet and after a minute, Dean chuckles.
Sam: Dean, what?
Dean: Dude, you – you like, had a full on girl inside you for like a whole week.
He chuckles again, and Sam starts to smile too.
Dean: That’s pretty naughty.
The Impala drives down the road, the brothers back together again.
Beautiful caps by spndeangirl
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