As Season 2 neared its end, Supernatural aired one of its most innovative episodes, ‘What Is And What Should Never Be’. Written by Raelle Tucker, who I wish we’d had longer on Supernatural, and directed by Eric Kripke himself, this 20th episode of the season was a brilliantly done episode that asked the provocative question, what if the Winchesters were never hunters and lived a “normal life”? But of course, because this is Supernatural, it’s a dark and twisted version of that question and its surprising answer.
The ‘THEN’ sequence is a flashback to the very beginning, John and Mary and four year old Dean living a happy “normal” life, then the fires, Mary and Jessica, with a reminder that Sam was headed to law school once upon a time. Then a reminder of Dean’s headspace at the time, as he and Sam argue.
Sam: I’m not gonna just ditch the job!
Dean: Screw the job, man, we don’t get paid, we don’t get thanked, only thing we get is bad luck!
He’s not wrong, especially with what they’ve gone through recently, in prison and with Agent Henriksen on their tail. As this episode aired, Dean was questioning everything, including the job that has been his identity, that he’s sacrificed so much for. Inevitably, there had to be times when he wanted out, even if he felt guilty about that desire, as though he was letting his father down. But Dean is only human, and this episode is a brilliant reminder of that, and of the hopes and dreams and wishes beneath the often stoic surface.
Needless to say, Jensen Ackles portrays all that so vividly that this episode is both painful as hell and impossible to look away from. He has talked about how hard this one was for him, because it took away what Jared and Jensen had relied on for two seasons – the bond between Sam and Dean. Jensen felt destabilized not having Sam’s partnership for Dean to count on, and couldn’t wait to finish filming – just like he would later feel about the Soulless Sam arc which also took “our” Sam away from Dean. That destabilized feeling totally works, though, as Dean himself is thrown by the sudden changes in his world and in his relationship with his brother.
Dean driving down the road in the Impala – which has a new license plate! I remember at the time grieving for the original Kansas plate KAZ2Y5. It seems like a little thing, but the Impala was already vastly beloved by the fandom, so it hurt us almost as much as it probably hurt her boys to change the plate. CNK80Q3 Ohio it was, until the end of the show.
Sam is back at the motel, worried that a cop car outside is coming for them, even though they changed the plate and ditched the credit cards they were using. That’s a toll that their newfound visibility took on them, constantly worrying more than they ever had about being caught by law enforcement as they tried to do their job of ‘saving people, hunting things’. It’s another reason for Dean’s discontent, as everything that they’re trying to do – to help people – is getting harder.
The cop car eventually drives away and Sam breathes a sigh of relief.
Dean, as always, keeps his game face on, saying nothing to worry about.
Sam: Yeah, being fugitives? Friggen’ dance party.
Dean (grinning): Hey man, chicks dig the danger vibe.
Half of Dean’s game face is to bolster his little brother, the other half he tries to believe himself.
They’ve been trying to figure out where a bunch of victims disappeared to, Dean driving around and Sam researching. Back at the motel, Sam says that he’s figured out what they’re hunting – a djinn.
Dean: A freaking genie? You think these suckers can really grant wishes?
Sam says they’re powerful enough, they’ve been feeding off people for centuries and are all over the Koran.
Sam: But not exactly like Barbara Eden in harem pants.
Dean (with a wistful look on his face): My God, Barbara Eden was hot, wasn’t she? Way hotter than that Bewitched chick…
Sam (annoyed): Are you even listening to me?
The whole conversation is priceless brotherly banter, with early seasons Dean constantly distracted by his libido and early seasons Sam constantly trying to get him back to concentrating on the job. It was 2007, and we all knew that Dean never actually sacrificed any part of doing the job – and Sam knew that too.
The conversation is also amusing to revisit in 2023 because does anyone watching on Netflix now actually know who Barbara Eden was or that Bewitched was a show that also had a hot woman with powers? I am old enough to know, but Sam and Dean were going back a ways even in 2007 to bring up television shows from the 1960s before they were born! (I imagine they watched a lot of reruns while left in motel rooms as kids though).
Dean decides keep driving and searching for the djinn’s lair, saying he saw a place that fits its MO a couple miles back. Sam is instantly worried – it’s never a good idea for the Winchesters to split up, as we all well know!
Sam: Wait no no no no, come pick me up first!
Should have listened to Sam, Dean!
But Dean goes on alone. The Impala pulls into a dark alley, full of the “atmo” smoke that they used so often in the early seasons. (The first time we visited the Supernatural set, they had gotten a little carried away with it and it took our transport van a bit longer to come pick us up while they cleared it out – there were alarms going off as we talked to the PA on the phone!)
He walks into an abandoned office building or storage warehouse, past an old fashioned typewriter.
His spidey senses tingle and he grips his knife as he goes, flashlight searching the room.
Then we see him walk by the Djinn’s bald head and it is CREEPY and SCARY as hell omg. This scene was so well done, the cinematography gorgeous, the barely visible figure of the djinn looming in the background where Dean doesn’t seem him – but we do. Well done, Kripke!
Suddenly the djinn attacks, grabbing Dean by the throat, forcing his blue hand onto his forehead as Dean’s eyes roll back. Ackles is so good at scenes like this; you can see the moment that Dean loses the battle, his expression going blank and his eyes vacant as the djinn puts him under.
It’s horrifying and terrifying in its realness.
Cut to an old horror movie in black and white on the TV – appropriately enough, of a monster carrying a woman. The title card?
What Is And What Should Never Be.
I love when Show is innovative!
Dean wakes up, shirtless, next to a seemingly naked woman wrapped in a bed sheet like people on TV always are.
He’s confused, gets dressed (unfortunately) and wanders out into the living room, trying to call Sam.
Sam, who was answering texts on his Blackberry and reading a law book when he got the call, is immediately worried, asking what’s going on?
Dean: I don’t know, I don’t know where I am…
Fun facts: Chris Cooper was prop master on Supernatural at the time. When Kathy and I were writing for Supernatural Magazine (and writing Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls) we went to set to do some interviews, including with Chris. He was absolutely lovely and incredibly knowledgeable. Also, I had a Blackberry that looked just like this and hated giving it up because I loved that it had an actual keyboard – I was so much more accurate on that thing! Sigh.
Dean says something about the djinn attacking him and Sam sighs.
Sam: The gin? You’re…drinking gin?
Dean is annoyed, not understanding what’s going on or why Sam doesn’t know what he was doing, snapping “No, asshat, the djinn, the scary creature, remember? It put its hand on me and then I woke up next to some hot chick.”
Sam (snorting) Who? Carmen? Dean, you’re drunk, you’re drunk dialing me.
Dean protests that he’s not drunk, wants Sam to stop screwing around, but Sam hangs up saying see you tomorrow.
He sighs and shuts his law book and all of us viewers wonder what the hell is going on…
I will say that even this version of Sam looks a little bit fond as he hangs up on his brother though.
Dean picks up the mail on the table, seeing that it’s addressed to Carmen Porter and him at an address in Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence? Now he’s really confused.
Just then Carmen comes in, asking him what he’s doing up, assuming he’s having trouble sleeping. Dean tries to play along, figuring out her name must be Carmen at least.
She offers to “see if I can do anything to help” if he comes back to bed, and kisses him before she goes back to wait for him.
Dean goes with it, offering a hopeful smile to Carmen even as he must be internally going WTF?
Look at that face! This was the time in Supernatural when Jensen sometimes looked about five years old, and it really works in this particular episode, as we’ll see.
Dean looks through the framed pictures in the house of him and Carmen and then picks up one and gasps.
He drops it and the glass shatters.
The next thing we see is Dean driving up to his family home – which at this point in the series is emotional for US to see too. Dean looks dumbfounded but achingly filled with hope too.
He walks up the door, knocks and rings the bell until the light comes on and Mary Winchester opens the door.
The look on Dean’s face is so full of shock and disbelief and love, it brings tears to my eyes too.
Mary: What are you doing here, are you all right?
Dean: I…I don’t know…
He literally cannot take his eyes off her, but he’s also still a hunter. He asks her – demands really – to know what she always told him when she put him to bed.
Mary: I told you angels were watching over you.
That convinces Dean; you can see his relief and joy when he knows it really is her somehow, impossibly.
He grabs her and hugs her, a little boy desperate to have his mom.
She’s worried about him, but he assures her he’s just happy to see her, nearly sobbing as he says it.
Dean: You’re beautiful…
He haltingly tries to figure out what’s going on, what the life he supposedly lived here was like.
Mary says no, there was never a fire there when he was little.
He sees photos of John and Mary with Sam and Dean as little kids.
Of himself in a baseball cap, at prom. Sam graduating from high school. Most of us fans recognize the photos are real ones – of Jared and Jensen.
We can see Dean’s reflection in the photos as he looks at a life he didn’t live – the one that the Yellow Eyed Demon cheated them all out of.
There’s an old photo of John Winchester playing softball.
Dean smiles, saying his Dad on a softball team, that’s funny.
Mary: He loved that stupid team.
Dean notes the past tense.
Dean: Dad’s dead? And the thing that killed him was…
Mary: A stroke, he died in his sleep…you know that.
Mary: Excuse me?
Dean stammers that it’s great he went peacefully (knowing what happened to his father in his lifetime). Mary assumes he’s been drinking and offers to call Carmen, but Dean begs to be able to stay there, with her.
Dean: I…I miss the place.
God, Dean, breaking my heart. He sits on the couch, looks around, and looks up at his mom like a little boy.
She pats his face, kisses his forehead, and he leans into it, so hungry for his mother’s love and affection, needing more so badly.
Even when Mary pulls away, Dean’s eyes are still closed and he leans forward, wanting more – a whole lifetime of being deprived of his mother’s love leaving a chasm that can’t be filled with a few moments of her affection. God, I wanted that for him in that moment too.
This episode is so well done, and it rips my heart apart. Jensen Ackles kills it, showing all Dean’s longing. Jensen has said this episode was really hard for him, that it made him feel unmoored to have Dean and Sam not on the same page, he was so used to playing Dean alongside a Sam who was his partner and had his back. But he did a great job of it anyway, maybe channeling some of his own feeling lost right into Dean.
He goes to sleep with the framed photo of John and Mary behind him, beaming at Sam’s graduation.
He wakes up on the couch the next morning, eyelashes a mile long, and calls Sam because of course that’s what he keeps doing. Even in his perfect wished for world, Dean needs Sam. He gets voicemail.
Side note: Forgive me for the number of caps in this post, I just could not get over how unearthly beautiful the boys are in this episode. Those eyes and those lashes and those lips! Not to be shallow, but wow. No wonder I fell so hard for this show at the time! (Okay that was only a small part of the reason, but not an insignificant one…)
Anyway, Dean can’t reach Sam but he wants to figure out what the hell is going on. Instead, he goes to a local university and pretends to be in a professor’s class so he can ask him about djinns. The professor says that a lot of Muslims believe the djinn are very real. Dean asks about the wish part, if the professor thinks they could really do it.
Professor: Uh, no. You understand these are mythic creatures, right?
Dean says sure, but persists in asking – if you had a wish but you never said it out loud, that a loved one never died, or something awful never happened…why would the djinn grant that wish? In self defense? Is it not really evil?
Professor: Son? Have you been drinking?
Dean: Everybody keeps asking me that!
As he’s leaving, he opens the Impala’s trunk, to find only some trash and Playboys instead of the trunk full of weapons that should be there.
Dean: Who’d a thought, baby? We’re civilians…
Suddenly a woman appears across the street, staring at him. He almost gets hit by a car trying to get to her, but she disappears.
It’s the first hint that this is far from utopia and all is not as it seems, but as much as Dean already has his suspicions about what might be going on here, he also just wants to escape into the relationship with his mom that was stolen from him. And who can blame him?
Dean returns to his childhood home, enjoying the sandwich his mother made him like he’s never had a sandwich before in his life, talking with his mouth full to tell Mary that, to her amusement.
Ackles shows us just how beyond wonderful this is for Dean – truly what he’s longed for his entire life – to have that first four years of his childhood back, when life was “normal” and he was the beloved child of John and Mary and she made him sandwiches. Imagine having that all yanked away from you at the tender age of four, and never having that kind of caretaking and TLC ever again. Dean must have wanted to savor it forever, and Ackles shows us that.
Even in that utopia, however, he’s missing Sam, asking Mary where he is, since he’s been calling and can’t reach him. She assures him that Sam will be there soon, and Dean is practically glowing.
Dean: Good, I’m dying to see him.
Shout out to Samantha Smith in this episode too. She brings back Mary and lets us get to know her a little this time. And while she has no idea what’s going on with her son, you can see her love for him in all the small gestures. The way she touches him so tenderly, the fond looks on her face.
Mary is confused about Dean’s wanting to eat sandwiches in her kitchen, asking why he’s not at work, which Dean quickly covers with having the day off. He then glances out the window and asks to mow the lawn and Mary reacts like any mother would react if your grown son asked to mow your lawn – hell yes but why??
Mary: You’d think you’d never mowed a lawn in your life.
Dean cocks an eyebrow like, well…
“What a wonderful life…” plays as Dean happily mows the lawn.
He can barely wrangle the mower (having apparently never used one) but loves every minute of it, waving enthusiastically to the neighbor, who waves tentatively back like okay weirdo while the garden gnome watches him.
Fandom happily watches him too, striding along pushing his mower like it’s some kind of treat. Can he come do my lawn next?
He sighs with satisfaction when he’s done, enjoying a beer.
I can’t think too hard about the logistics and logic of this episode or I get all tangled up. Dean knows it’s not real – sort of? He knows he hasn’t mowed a lawn before, he knows he doesn’t remember Carmen, he doesn’t know that he and Sam don’t get along so that will be a shock to him. He knows that Mary hasn’t been in his life. Where does he think he is, before he finally figures it out completely? An Alternate Universe? A dream? Does it just feel so good that he doesn’t question it for a while?
And why does the Djinn create a fantasy world – out of Dean’s mind and memories and wishes – where he and Sam, who means more to him than anyone, don’t get along? Is that Dean’s deepest fear, so it plays out in this fantasy? Or does the djinn just make a mistake and get that part wrong? I’m guessing the djinn just puts you in a dream state and keeps you there, perhaps accessing your most fervent wish, and your dreams go where they go after the initial wish that it takes from your mind – in Dean’s case, the wish that his mother never died. But if you think about all the things that happen (and don’t happen) in Dean’s fantasy world, it’s confusing as hell.
Anyway…as Jared and Jensen and Misha have said many times, don’t pull the thread…
Sam and Jessica drive up and Dean is incredulous to see Jessica, who he hugs so hard she has to tell him she can’t breathe.
Dean to Sam (with a huge grin): Look at you, you’re with Jessica, it’s a – I don’t believe it!
He’s so excited he’s babbling, asking where they came from and then haltingly putting it together – Stanford… law school, I bet…
Sam sighs, looking disappointed: I see you started off Mom’s birthday with a bang as usual.
Dean has no clue what day it is, asking wait, that’s today?
Sam looks even more disappointed, that not only is Dean drinking but he forgot their mom’s birthday. Poor Dean. His fantasy is already deviating from anything close to perfect.
Both Jared and Jensen are so damn good here. Jared creates a Sam who is recognizable and yet clearly not “our” Sam. He’s judgmental, clearly done with his big brother after too much water under the bridge. And to those of us who were already heavily invested in the brothers, that was incredibly painful. As it was to Jensen too!
You can see the moment Dean figures out that something is very wrong here, that Sam is way too quick to think the worst of him. Ouch.
They go to a fancy restaurant for dinner where the asparagus bundle does not look awesome to Dean, and he watches Sam and Jessica kiss with a soft smile on his face.
Carmen, meanwhile, is worried about Dean and says that later they can go get cheeseburgers, so his fantasy partner is pretty on par at least. Dean is very willing to go along with that part too, understandably.
Jessica and Sam also announce that they’re engaged, everyone getting up to share hugs, Dean looking on proudly. This is another wish he’s always had, for Sam to be happy – though he’s struggled with thinking that happiness might not be from hunting alongside him. In this reality, he can just be happy for Sam, and his big brother pride shows on his handsome face.
Mary is wistful, wishing their father was there.
Dean: Congratulations, Sammy. I’m really glad you’re happy.
He shakes Sam’s hand; Sam looks at him in confusion.
Just as they’re about to have a nice brother moment, however, Dean sees the mysterious girl across the room behind Sam. His eyes shift away from his brother and then he takes off, leaving Sam even more confused – and probably annoyed.
When he turns around, all of them are staring at him like he’s nuts.
Back at Mary’s house, Sam asks Dean what all that was about, and Dean says he’s sure it’s nothing. Sam and Jessica say they’re ready to turn in and say goodnight, and Dean is immediately like what, already?
Dean: Wait a second, come on, it’s not even 9 pm yet, let’s go have a drink or something.
Sam puts him off, clearly not wanting to.
Dean: Come on, man, look at us, huh? We both have beautiful women on our arms, you’re engaged, let’s go celebrate.
Sam is annoyed; asks to talk to his brother alone for a second.
Dean smiles at first, hopeful that Sam wants to connect with him, but Sam asks accusingly what’s gotten into him, what’s with the whole warm fuzzy ecstasy trip thing. It’s painful to see Dean’s face fall.
Dean: I’m…happy for you, Sammy.
Sam (confused): Yeah right, that’s another thing – since when do you call me Sammy?
He then gives Dean the painful news that they don’t talk outside of holidays. Dean looks stricken, almost in disbelief, slowly realizing that things are not good between him and Sam, like at all.
Dean: We don’t? Well we should, I mean, you’re my brother.
For Supernatural fans, that says it all, and Sam’s response hurts me as much as it hurts Dean.
Sam: “You’re my brother”? That’s what you said when you snaked my ATM card, or bailed on my graduation, or hooked up with Rachel Nave, my prom date…
Dean tries to cover, tries to make a joke of it, saying oh well, that does sound like me, I’m sorry about that.
Again, I get a little stuck on what this episode is really trying to say. Is this Dean’s subconscious feeling guilty about the times I’m sure he really was an asshole when they were younger? Did he really miss Sam’s graduation? I find that very hard to believe, from the canon we have. But maybe this is Dean’s nightmare, exaggerating all the times he’s worried he didn’t do enough to be both brother and parent to Sam. Either way, it hurts.
Sam is evasive, saying it’s okay, he’s not asking Dean to change, it’s just that they don’t really have anything in common.
This is so painful to Dean that he protests, saying yes they do – hunting.
Sam: Hunting?? I’ve never been hunting in my life, Dean!
Surely that’s Dean’s subconscious fear still worried that what Sam really wanted was NOT to hunt, but to have a “normal” life with Jessica. And that makes this whole episode hurt so damn much.
Dean is stunned by what Sam said, haltingly still trying to make it right.
Dean: Yeah well, we should go sometime, I think you’d be great at it.
Sam tells him to get some rest and walks away. Dean looks after him longingly, and my heart aches for him. A wish suddenly gone very wrong.
Later that night, Dean is still looking sad, as Carmen brings him a beer.
Dean: Sammy and I, we don’t get along…
She says they just don’t know each other very well, and Sam doesn’t know what he’s missing.
Dean is determined to fix things with Sam, make it up to him – to everyone. He tells Carmen he feels like he’s been given a second chance, and he doesn’t want to waste it.
So it seems like he does know this isn’t the life he was living, but at this point he wants to stay and thinks he can change its course. But what does he think this is? A dream? An Alternate Universe? I still don’t really know.
Dean and Carmen kiss, then she breaks away saying she has to get ready for work on the night shift. Dean covers, trying to figure it out, then smiles when he realizes he’s dating a nurse.
As much as Dean is optimistic about fixing things with Sam and grateful for Carmen, though, everything changes when he sees a news headline about it being the anniversary of the crash of Britannia Flight 424 – the one that the Winchesters stopped. Except apparently they didn’t, and all those people died.
He does a quick internet search, finding out to his horror that all the people they saved, in this timeline, were not saved at all.
And then he sees the mysterious girl again. He throws open the closet in the bedroom and for a moment has a flash of people long dead, hanging by their wrists.
When he turns around, the girl is trying to talk to him. She looks worse every time he sees her, ramping up the sense of urgency and desperation that Dean doesn’t want to feel, that keeps pulling at him to leave his fantasy world and do his job. Then she disappears again.
Confused and now distraught, Dean goes to the graveyard and finds his father’s grave. He tearfully confides to his father that everyone they saved is dead, and that means he knows what he has to do – but he doesn’t want to. A part of him wants to stay in this fantasy world, even if it isn’t perfect.
Dean: I know what you’d say, go hunt the djinn, he put you here, it can put you back…your happiness for all those people’s lives, no contest, right? But why is it my job to save these people? Why do I have to be some kind of hero? Mom’s not supposed to live her life…Sammy’s not supposed to get married? Why do we have to sacrifice everything, Dad?
Tears glisten on his face.
He wipes the tears, sniffling as he turns around and walks away.
It’s a beautiful Vancouver shot of the graveyard next to the river in the dark, one of those shots that made Supernatural so breathtaking. And Jensen’s performance takes my breath away too – the conflicting feelings, the anger and sadness, the hurt, and then the stoic determination, because he knows what he has to do and he’s going to do it.
So he does know, by that point. He knows this is a djinn fantasy, or at least he’s pretty sure.
Cut to Mary’s house, a shadowy figure breaking in and Sam sneaking down the stairs with a baseball bat – a callback to the pilot when Dean broke into Sam and Jessica’s place.
We see Sam on the stairs, stealthily creeping down…
Sam almost whacks Dean with the bat, but Dean gets the upper hand and throws Sam to the floor.
Dean: That was so easy, I’m embarrassed for you.
They’re in the same position as they were in the pilot, and everyone watching gets the reference. I’m surprised he didn’t say “Easy, tiger…”
Dean says he was looking for a beer, callback again, but in this version Sam turns on the light and asks with anger, “in the china cabinet?”
We even get the brothers in silhouette confronting each other, an iconic pilot moment.
Sam assumes that Dean broke in to steal their mother’s silver; Dean says okay, you want the truth? And then gives Sam a believable lie, that Dean the black sheep owed someone money and was stealing the silver.
Sam: I can’t believe we’re even related.
That hits hard; you can see Dean almost flinch to hear that from Sam.
In fact, I think I might have flinched too.
Dean: Sam I’m sorry, I’m sorry we don’t get along and I wish to hell I could stay and fix it, but I gotta do this, people’s lives depend on it. Hey, tell mom that I love her. See ya, Sammy.
He turns back around to look at Sam and their mother’s house and all the things he dreamt of and didn’t get to have, a small regretful smile on his face – and then, because he’s a big damn hero, he walks out the door anyway.
Sam looks worried, though.
I love that even this Sam, whose Dean had done some pretty shitty things, when it comes right down to it, he cares about his brother. In every universe and alternate situation, you can’t change that about Supernatural.
Favorite scene of the episode? The next one, when Sam shocks Dean – and me – by getting in the car.
Dean: Get out of the car.
Sam: I’m going with you.
Dean: You’re just gonna slow me down, this is dangerous, you could get hurt.
Sam: Tough. And so could you, Dean. Look, whatever stupid thing you’re about to do, you’re not doing it alone and that’s that.
Dean (confused) I don’t understand, why are you doing this?
Sam (sighing): Because you’re still my brother.
Sam: What….what are you calling me a bitch for?
By this time, I’m always laughing – it’s so perfect, the term of endearment that WE all know, but to anyone else (like this version of Sam), it makes no sense.
Dean: You’re supposed to…say ‘jerk’…
I love that scene because in a way, we’ve missed OUR Sammy as much as Dean has, and now we get a glimpse for the first time of the Sam we recognize. The one who has his brother’s back no matter what. And it feels so good, like such a relief, that I’m giddy with it. Jared does an incredible job in this episode portraying a Sam who is not exactly the Sam we know and love, so when glimpses of our familiar Sam come through, it is absolutely joyous.
Also, look at him! Those puppy dog eyes and floppy bangs and cute pert little nose – he’s adorable.
They drive, more familiarity. The Impala may have a different license plate, but she’s still Dean’s baby.
Interesting too to think that this is Dean’s subconscious again. Maybe deep down, even though he worries about it, at this point in canon he does know that Sam loves him, no matter what.
As they drive, Sam asks Dean what’s in the bag on the seat and Dean says nothing, so Sam grabs it and opens it – to find a container of blood.
Sam: What the hell is this?
Sam: I can see that it’s blood, Dean, what the hell is it doing in here?
Dean: You don’t really wanna know.
But Sam does, so Dean explains he needs a silver knife dipped in lamb’s blood to hunt a djinn. This is also a favorite part of the episode, almost an outsider pov of Dean because Sam is everyman here, not a hunter, not part of this insane world that the Winchesters inhabit. And to an outsider, Dean Winchester looks very insane -and very dangerous – indeed.
Sam: Okay, stop the car. Look, I wanna help you, I really do, but you’re having some kind of psychotic break so I just…
Sam starts dialing his phone and Dean unceremoniously rolls down the window, grabs Sam’s phone and throws it out the window.
Sam’s face – Jared Padalecki’s acting – are so perfect that I could watch that moment a million times and laugh every single one of them.
Sam: What the hell was that, Dean? That was my phone!
Dean grumbles that he’s not going to a rubber room – and that “we’ve got work to do”.
Sam insists he doesn’t want Dean to get hurt and Dean scoffs about Sam protecting him and says sit tight and try not to get them both killed. “Mr. Saturday Night Special” plays on the radio and it struck me suddenly, is that why they call the Saturday night concerts at the Supernatural cons that? Hmmm.
Look at those two beautiful beautiful boys…
They pull up to the same warehouse that Dean was checking out initially, Sam having fallen asleep in the passenger seat just like our Sam does. Dean shines a flashlight in his eyes obnoxiously to wake him up because of course he does, they’re still brothers in this fantasy after all.
They look around, Sam trying to convince Dean there’s nothing there, that they should leave, that Carmen is worried about him.
It’s even more scary than the first time we saw Dean in the warehouse, because we know what’s in there now! Once again the cinematography and the sound and the look of the place just adds to the tension.
Then there are some weird sounds and Sam starts to get worried too.
The spell at least partly broken, now Dean can see the bodies hanging from their wrists, needles in their arms and bags of blood being collected from each of them.
One of them is the woman Dean kept seeing, her eyes open but unseeing.
Dean: it’s her.
Then the djinn appears, soothing the woman, who has started to cry and ask where her dad is.
He tells her to sleep, nuzzling at her creepily, and she relaxes again, hanging limply from the ropes as he takes a sip of her blood from the bag. Ewwwww.
Sam and Dean watch, hidden – then Sam gasps and the djinn hears them, but they manage to get away.
This is a particularly confusing part of the story, because Dean is both still in the fantasy with Sam and also seeing what’s really in the warehouse and the djinn. How is that possible? No clue, but I’m going with it.
Dean has started to figure it all out at this point.
Dean: She didn’t know where she was. She thought she was with her father… What if that’s what the djinn does? It doesn’t grant you a wish, it just makes you think it has.
As Dean stares at a light bulb in the ceiling, we can see flashes of Dean also hanging by his wrists, as he figures it out.
Dean: What if I’m like her, tied up in here someplace? What if this is all in my head?
It’s like he’s having a lucid dream now – which, if you’ve never had one, is really freaky because you are IN it but you also know you’re in it. And just like Dean eventually does, you can wake yourself up from the dream intentionally, often by jumping off a cliff or something like that.
Dean realizes they’ve been given some kind of supernatural acid to cause hallucinations and then the djinn slowly feeds on them, keeping them passive. Sam keeps trying to talk him out of it.
Dean: I’m catatonic, I’m taking all this stuff in, but I can’t snap out of it…
Sam tries to pull Dean out of there with him, but Dean resists, saying he doesn’t think Sam is real.
Sam protests, grabs Dean and demands to know if he feels real, saying they need to get out of there.
Is this a djinn manipulation? That if someone is about to wake up, the fantasy switches to try to keep them in it? Hmmm.
Dean pulls out the silver knife and says he knows one way to be sure, because if you’re about to die in a dream, you wake up. (This does work with lucid dreaming, at least for me).
Sam: You’re gonna kill yourself!
Dean: Or wake up, one or the other. I’m pretty sure…like 90% sure… but I’m sure enough.
He gets ready to stab himself, and then Mary and Carmen and Jessica appear, asking why he couldn’t have left well enough alone, that he was happy.
Dean looks torn. He knows it’s not real, and now they admit it, saying it doesn’t matter – that it’s still better than anything he had.
I want to protest, that’s not true! But in some ways, if it had been real, that would have been true.
Mary: We’re a family again. Let’s go home.
Dean protests that the djinn will drain him in a few days, but Mary says it will feel like a lifetime in the fantasy. She strokes his cheek, reminds him that he’ll have love and comfort and safety.
He leans into her hand, craving her touch and love so much, wanting to stay.
Jessica: You don’t have to worry about Sam anymore, you get to watch him live a full life.
Carmen says they can have their own family.
She kisses him tenderly, more of that love and comfort that he’s so craving.
Sam adds the final plea.
Sam: Why is it our job to save everyone? Haven’t we done enough? Give me the knife.
Dean looks terribly conflicted, looking from one of them to the other, but then he squares his shoulders and says he’s sorry, plunging the knife into his stomach.
Sam: Dean! Dean!
For a moment, it looks like Dean has made a fatal mistake, as he looks stricken and blood gushes from his mouth.
Sam looks at him in shock, calling his name. And then, suddenly, the spell breaks and it’s Sam calling his name in the real world as Dean hangs there, motionless.
Sam is frantic, shaking him, saying “Oh god, come on, hey, wake up, wake up damn it!”
(The brothers always say “hey, hey” when one of them is trying to save the other and it makes my heart warm every time).
Dean finally manages to open his eyes and see Sam.
Dean: Ahhh Auntie Em…there’s no place like home…
Sam: Thank god, I thought I lost you for a second.
Dean says he almost did, as Sam pulls out the needle and cuts the ropes to free him.
Suddenly the djinn appears behind them and Dean calls out a warning to his brother.
We get badass Sam Fucking Winchester fighting the djinn, but it knocks his knife out of his hands and goes to attack him, holding up its blue hand, getting closer and closer…
Dean struggles, trying to break the remaining ropes, desperate to save Sam.
He finally succeeds and stabs it, killing it. We see the blue light go out of its eyes.
Dean turns to the girl, thinking it’s too late. I’m emotional that it’s Dean, back to doing what he does best – saving people, hunting things.
To his shock, they find she’s still alive and they cut her down. She falls into Dean, who reassures her “I gotcha, we’re gonna get you outta here, okay? I gotcha.”
It’s a Jensen thing to say, probably an ad lib, and it rings so true.
Back at their motel with its awesome Jerry Wanek set dec and room divider, Dean sees an El Sol ad in a magazine with a woman who looks just like Carmen on it, explaining where he got the image of her for his fantasy world.
Sam gets a phone call that the young woman is going to be okay, and asks Dean, what about you? You all right?
Dean clears his throat before saying that yeah, he’s all right.
Dean: You should’ve seen it Sam, our lives. You were such a wussy.
Sam laughs a little.
Sam: So we didn’t get along then, huh?
He wonders why, since it was supposed to be a perfect fantasy, but Dean says no, it wasn’t. It was just a wish – for their mom to live. So she didn’t die and they never went hunting.
Dean: And you and me, we just never…. You know.
Sam (soft): Yeah well, I’m glad we do.
Dean looks at him.
I don’t even know exactly what they mean, maybe they don’t either, but whatever it is? I’m glad too. So glad I can’t even describe it.
Sam: And I’m glad you dug yourself out, Dean. Most people wouldn’t have had the strength, would have just stayed.
Dean sighs, “Lucky me… you had Jess, Mom was gonna have grandkids.”
Sam points out that it wasn’t real.
Dean: I know, but I wanted to stay. I wanted to stay so bad. I mean, ever since Dad died… all I think about is how much this job’s cost us…we’ve lost so much, sacrificed so much…
He looks incredibly sad, questioning everything, even his reason for being there at all. He’s ashamed of having wanted to escape to that life, where he had a mom and a brother who was safe and happy and a woman who loved him. He feels guilty for what he said at his father’s grave, of how much a part of him didn’t want to come back. Ackles lets us see every one of those nuanced emotions, and they’re gut wrenching.
As always happens with the brothers, when one of them is too far down, the other is there to buoy them up.
Sam: But people are alive because of you. It’s worth it, Dean, it is. It’s not fair and it hurts like hell, but it’s worth it.
They share a look, Dean still sad but thoughtful, Sam there for him. Having his back, like always. No matter what.
God, I love this episode.
Brilliantly written, brilliantly acted, brilliantly directed. It hits even harder today, as I’m rewatching it in 2023, thinking about the long long journey these two boys will go on from this point out and how much this episode showed us about what it cost them.
There will never be another show like Supernatural, not for me anyway. I’m so grateful to have had it for so long.
Gorgeous caps by spndeangirl/raloria
Stay tuned for more of our Supernatural rewatch!
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Jared Padalecki and many other Supernatural
actors with their personal thoughts on these
amazing characters and their experience
on the show and with the fandom in Family
Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be Peace
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