Supernatural Gets Serious with ‘Faith’ (Supernatural Rewatch)

Next up on our Supernatural rewatch is one of my favorite episodes, and I’m not the only one. Season 1’s ‘Faith’ deepened our understanding of the Winchesters, and also let us know that this little genre show was about more than monsters. We already knew it was about family too, but this episode had the Winchesters (and viewers) questioning the very basis of what hunting was all about – for the first time, Sam and Dean confronted existential issues like what it means to have faith and whether saving one life justifies taking another. The character of Layla, memorably portrayed by Julie Benz, was one of those one episode characters that stick with you through all fifteen seasons. A tragic character but a heroic one, struggling with her own crisis of faith and caught between her need to accept her fate and her awareness that someone she loves (her mother) might not be able to deal with her death.

That’s the main theme of the episode, and ultimately the driving force of Supernatural right through the finale. Loss is so much about the ability of those left behind to survive the pain of losing someone they loved; something that the Winchesters will struggle with for a very long time, again and again. (Which is one of the reasons I love them so many.) The show confronts death and loss and grief repeatedly, with guest characters as well as with Sam and Dean, whose deep love brings with it a terror of losing each other. I think I relate to that so much because isn’t that something we all feel for the ones we love?

This episode is also beautiful in its own way. The 12th episode in to Season 1, ‘Faith’ is so dark it almost looks like it’s filmed in black and white at the start, Sam and Dean and the Impala as they head out on a hunt, motivation running high because they’re trying to save kids – siblings no less. So you know the Winchesters can relate.

Dean: I want this rawhead extra friggen’ crispy!

They know they only get one shot with these particular monsters, so the tension is high right from the start. Sam and Dean descend the stairs with only the light of their flashlights into the requisite dark damp basement. They rescue two little children, and we know they’re siblings because Dean instructs the little boy to ‘grab your sister’s hand’. Sam gets them up the stairs to safety but something grabs Dean’s leg and yanks him back. He fires his electric stun gun but misses, yelling at Sam to get the kids out of there. Sam tosses his stun gun to Dean, but the rawhead knocks Dean over and he lands in a puddle of water on the floor.

I remember going OH NO at the time, but we already know how strongly motivated Dean is to take this thing out. Dean fires anyway, hitting the monster – but the current runs back through the stream of water to Dean, electrocuting him. He falls unconscious just as Sam runs back down the stairs.

Sam: Dean!

All of us: GASP

What happens next is an iconic scene in Supernatural fifteen years later that we’ve seen many times, one of the brothers cradling the other, the familiar “Hey, hey,” that they always say to each other when trying to convince the wounded one that it’s not so bad (and themselves too), that word repeated and filled with so much love and concern.  It kinda breaks my heart, thinking about all the many times this scene will be repeated, right up to that last time in the barn.

“Hey, hey,” indeed.

Sam rushes Dean to the hospital and tells the cops a plausible story about them hearing screaming and finding the kids in the basement, and for once the cops are on their side.

Cop: Thank god you did.

That’s the good news. The bad news comes from the doctor, who tells Sam that Dean’s heart is damaged.

Sam (fear plain on his face): How damaged?

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Supernatural Rewatch – Kim Manners Brings the Scary with ‘Scarecrow’

I sound like a broken record, but ‘Scarecrow’ is another scary Season 1 episode of Supernatural. That scarecrow was incredibly creepy – and inspired one of the show’s most iconic lines since it was also “fugly”. Kim Manners directed this episode, which means it’s gorgeous and terrifying and heartbreaking simultaneously. I feel like Jared and Jensen cherish every Manners episode so much, since he was such an influence on them and their careers – and on this show. Supernatural wouldn’t have been what it is without Kim.

Kim Manners directing this episode and Jared playing Scarecrow

It was particularly therapeutic to escape into a familiar episode of my favorite show this week, since the Supernatural fandom hasn’t always been a comforting place recently. There’s so much infighting and bullying and policing, I sometimes can’t recognize the supportive community that I discovered fifteen years ago and began researching and writing about. Also, we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic. So what to do? Rewatch the episodes that aired at a time when fandom was a wonderful, supportive place that felt like a refuge and I was falling in love with this incredible show for the first time.

I also needed a reminder that most of Supernatural fandom is still a wonderful, supportive place. I had zoom calls with some of my friends who share my love of this little show, and who I miss seeing at cons and concerts and Supernatural-related adventures. This Sunday night weekly rewatch also helps remind me. This was the best idea ever – thanks to the little group of friends whose idea it was to do this and for inviting me to watch along with them. I knew it would be needed post finale, but I had no idea it would be THIS needed.

We open the episode on ‘Burkittsville, One Year Ago.”  A hometown diner, apple pie on the house for a young couple who got lost and then got what they think is lucky – someone to ‘fix’ their truck and send them on their way with helpful directions. Except their car dies as soon as they turn into an apple orchard that looks plenty creepy in the dark. Add to that a gigantic scarecrow looming over them – and then appears to turn its head to watch them as they walk past – and I’m with that girl. Scared!

They hear noises behind them in the orchard and begin to run toward some lights, the scare factor enhanced by some Blair Witch style camera work. The couple gets separated, and as the girl runs, she discovers her boyfriend’s dead body. The giant scarecrow, off its post and pursuing them, approaches as she screams.

CREEPY.

This episode picks up right where we left off with Sam and Dean (which I love – the first season is almost spooling out in real time as the Winchesters try to find their dad and their dad tries to find the demon). Sam and Dean are asleep in the motel room when Dean’s phone rings and Sam picks up. (They both sleep as close to the edge as possible, presumably ready to spring into action to have each other’s backs if needed).

Sam: Hello?

Voice: Sam, is that you?

Sam sits up, instantly wide awake.

Sam: Dad?

What follows is a pivotal conversation, Sam concerned about whether John is all right and John concerned about his sons. There is at first mutual affection, John even calling Sam “Kiddo”, but he says he can’t tell them where he is and they’ll have to trust him on that.

Dean wakes up, half sitting up in bed, shirtless, amulet on his chest. I think it’s the only time we ever see Dean Winchester sleep shirtless and that is a damn shame.

Dean: Is that Dad??

Sam realizes that John has gone after the thing that killed their mother, and John says yes, and that it’s a demon.

John: Listen, Sammy, I also know what happened to your girlfriend. I’m so sorry, I would’ve done anything to protect you from that.

He says he’s closing in on it, but won’t let the boys help, saying they can’t be any part of it – that Sam and Dean have to stop looking for him. It’s the only reason he’s calling, we realize.

John: Write down these names. Even us talking isn’t safe.

Sam protests, and John insists he’s giving them an order – to stop following him and do their job.

Dean puts on a shirt (why?), grabs the phone and, like Sam, wants to know what’s going on, but whatever John says to him, it shuts him up fast.

Dean: Yessir. Yeah, I got a pen. What are the names?

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OMG You Shot Your Brother! Supernatural 1.10 Asylum

Asylum is a pivotal episode – I feel like I’m saying this about every Season 1 episode as we do this rewatch, but it’s true! It’s also the perfect time to post this rewatch review, because I just finished posting an interview with the episode’s director, Guy Norman Bee. This is his favorite episode of all the many Supernatural episodes he’s directed, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s beautifully directed, gorgeous to look at, and deft in its exploration of the growing tension between the Winchesters.

It’s also one of the scary episodes, which Season 1 had a lot of. Just the idea of a deserted dark asylum with a disturbing history is scary enough, but Serge Ladouceur’s brilliant cinematography and Jerry Wanek’s set design make it even creepier. The episode starts out with the Asylum’s Keep Out sign and cops realizing that some local teenagers have ignored it. The place is apparently haunted with the ghosts of the abused patients, and if you spend the night, the spirits will drive you insane.

Of course, that has never stopped adolescents.

The cops explore by flashlight.

Cop #1: Let’s split up.

All of us watching: MISTAKE!

The first cop ends up in the boiler room because of course he does, and finds the kids – the requisite horror movie false alarm. Meanwhile, cop #2’s flashlight goes out and that is never a good sign.

Then a door opens by itself – also not a good sign.

Sure enough, cop #2 goes home to his wife and blows her away.

Meanwhile, the Winchesters. Sam calls around – and we hear names that will become familiar, like Caleb and Pastor Jim – but no one has heard from their Dad.

Sam: Maybe we should call the Feds…

Dean says no, Dad would be pissed if they did.  Sam is angry, though, saying he could be dead for all they know. Dean insists he isn’t, but that leaves Sam even more frustrated.

Sam: So, he’s what? Hiding? Busy?

Touche, Sam.

Dean’s phone rings at that moment, and he smiles – it’s a text message with coordinates, which means John Winchester is alive. In fact, the place he’s sending them, the Roosevelt Asylum, has an entry in John’s journal.

Sam: This is a job. Dad wants us to work a job.

He’s bitter, resentful that their father is ignoring them and staying away, but makes contact just to send them on a mission. He seems more drill sergeant than dad, and Sam isn’t willing to gloss over it like Dean is.

Dean: Maybe he’s there…

Sam: Maybe he’s not…

This episode is written by someone who I think was a one time writer, Richard Hatem. He gets the complicated dynamic that’s already there between Dean and Sam though, as Dean retorts that their Dad wants them there, and “that’s good enough for me.”

It is not, however, good enough for Sam. And that’s becoming increasingly obvious. Sam goes along, but not all that willingly.

The Winchesters pull a rather brilliant good cop/bad cop thing on the actual cop whose partner died, which works like a charm. It involves Sam giving the asshole reporter (Dean) from the Chicago Tribune a shove and telling him “hey buddy, why don’t you show the guy a little respect”.

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Going ‘Home’ Again: Supernatural Rewatch 1.09

I’m now convinced at this point in my epic Supernatural from the start rewatch that the entire Season 1 was just freaking amazing, but even before the rewatch, I knew this week’s episode was one of my favorites. The aptly named ‘Home’ told us so much about the Winchesters, and is one of the very few episodes that includes Sam, Dean, John and Mary. Just that alone makes me extremely emotional.

I was at a convention once when Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Samantha Smith were both there, with Jared and Jensen, and I couldn’t help but tear up.

Photo: Kim Prior (@PriorStudios)

When you care about the Winchesters, it’s a special thing to have them all together – even if they don’t all interact in this episode. Typical heartbreaking Winchester lives, right?

I’m doing the rewatch with a group of friends (via Zoom, as everything is done in the midst of the pandemic we’re a year into…), so we all settled in to watch with anticipation.

The episode begins with a woman unpacking, having just moved into a new house. Her young daughter insists, as kids sometimes do, that there’s something in her bedroom closet. But this is Supernatural, so the mom’s casual “oh honey there’s nothing in here, look I’ll just open it up and then turn my back on it” does not reassure all of us watching. Instead we all start screaming NOOOOOOO because it’s creepy as hell even though I mostly remembered that nothing happens until later.

Little kid agrees to go to bed, mom hears scrabbling and scratching noises in the basement, and unlike me, decides she needs to go down there and investigate right now. When the lights don’t work for some unknown reason she’s undaunted and continues with a freaking flashlight.

Everyone watching: No no no why would you do that?

Upstairs in the little girls’ bedroom, the closet door slowly opens.

Everyone watching: Why are you just sitting there, little girl? RUN LIKE HELL!!!

The woman in the basement finds an old wooden box and stops to open it up.

Me: Does she think the rats are in there? And if they are, what the hell is she going to do armed with a flashlight??

She pulls out some old photos. Written on the back: The Winchesters. John, Mary, Dean and Little Sammy.

Awwww.  No time for sentimentality though, because a flaming creature walks out of the closet and the little girl screams and then we see the mom screaming from a second story window.

Sam Winchester wakes up from a nightmare.

Later, he keeps drawing the same tree that he saw in his dream over and over, lost in thought, while Dean is looking for cases.

Dean: Am I boring you with this hunting evil stuff?

Sam says no, but continues to pore over the drawing of the tree, while Dean gets increasingly frustrated with the lack of his little brother’s attention.

Dean: A man shot himself in the head…. Three times…

He theatrically waves his arms around, trying and failing to get Sam’s attention, while all of us watching are laughing. It didn’t take long for Jensen Ackles’ talent for physical comedy to make itself known, and it is a joy to behold. All over the world, in 2005, people were falling in love with Dean Winchester because of it.

And with his shaggy haired, intense younger brother.

Sam: Wait! I’ve seen this.

He pulls out Dad’s journal and finds a photo with the tree. And the Winchesters.

Sam: Dean, I know where we have to go next. Back home. To Kansas.

Dean: Okay, random….

Sam doesn’t want to explain further, but Dean has had it with his brother’s repeated nightmares and reticence to tell him what’s going on.

Sam (reluctantly) I have nightmares.

Dean: I’ve noticed.

Sam: And sometimes… they come true

Dean: Come again.

Sam finally tells Dean what he’s been keeping from him. That he dreamt of Jessica’s death for days before it happened.

Dean is clearly rattled, trying to cling to the belief that it’s a coincidence, and that it’s not something to do with their family. He’s tried so hard to regain a sense of control with hunting, and the last thing he wants is to think their family curse is reasserting itself – and that Sam is somehow in the middle of it.

Dean: First you tell me you’ve got the shining and then that I’ve gotta go back home? Especially when I… I swore to myself I would never go back there.

Dean has on the red plaid shirt of doom, and sad violins play as he looks back over his shoulder at Sam and you can see just how anguished he is. But this is Sam telling him they need to go save people, and there’s no way Dean Winchester is going to say no.

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Supernatural Rewatch – With Some BTS Insights on ‘Bugs’!

The eighth episode of Supernatural does not get a lot of love – in fact, it’s one that’s routinely skipped on rewatches or ridiculed for its “bad writing”. But honestly? ‘Bugs’ is a great episode, especially now in retrospect. All those early episodes are frankly amazing, with both the acting and the writing top notch and the cinematography off the charts gorgeous.

Bugs are not my favorite thing, so there are some parts of this episode that are indisputably cringeworthy, but it goes with the territory. The guest stars on this episode are also amazing, especially Carrie Genzel (who wrote a wonderful chapter in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done and would memorably return to the show in Just My Imagination) and Tyler Johnston, who played a young Matt here and would later return as Samandriel.  See the end of this review for some (cringeworthy and also hilarious) behind the scenes insights from Carrie and Tyler about the filming of this episode.

So, what’s not to like?

I watched, as always, with some of my friends and fellow Supernatural fans, via zoom. Which, after a year of the pandemic, is how most of us live life half the time anyway!

The open is, as is often the case, pretty scary – a guy working in a housing development falls down a hole, breaks his ankle and is trapped. While his friend gets a rope to try to save him, he looks around and to his horror hears the sound of thousands of beetles coming for him. He screams for help as they crawl into his ears, his mouth… by the time the other guy shines his flashlight into the hole, guy number one is dead dead dead.

Everyone doing the rewatch: Ewwwwww

Cut to the boys, as always. Sam’s reading the paper in a bar, about the “local death that’s a medical mystery” as Dean comes down the stairs, grinning and shuffling a fist full of bills. I’m struck sometimes now by how carefree early seasons Dean is, despite what they’re already facing. He is genuinely thrilled that he’s won a bunch of money in a poker game or whatever.

Sam: You know, we could get day jobs…

Dean:  Hunting’s our day job. Besides, we’re good at it, it’s what we were raised to do.

Sam: How we were raised was jack.

Dean: Says you!

The brothers are still new to being back together, Dean still sensitive and defensive about the hunting life that Sam left behind and Sam still critical of all the things that he left to get away from.

Also they are extremely distracting because they look like THAT.

The newspaper suggests maybe mad cow disease, which – remember that?

Dean: Wasn’t that on Oprah?

Sam: (incredulous) You watch Oprah?

Ah, the things we (and Sam) were learning about Dean Winchester. So much softness underneath that performatively gruff (sometimes) exterior.

The Impala streaks across some beautiful Vancouver countryside on her way to Oasis Plains. Sam and Dean pose as Uncle Dusty’s never-before-mentioned nephews, rolling easily with the guy’s skepticism and flattering him enough that he forgets about it soon enough. They’re good at what they do; John taught them well. And, as I’ve pointed out many times already on this rewatch, they’re SMART.

They amass some intel, like the guy’s brain disintegrated in an hour or less and that, unlike mad cow disease, there was no sign of dementia, lack of motor control, or anything else weird.

Sam and Dean look down the very deep hole.

Dean: Only room for one, you have a coin?

Sam: Dean, we have no idea what’s down there!

Dean: Okay I’ll go if you’re scared. You scared? Call it in the air, chicken!

Sam: (exasperated) I’m going.

Dean: I said I’d go!

Sam: I’m going. Don’t drop me!

Me: I could sit here and listen to their brotherly bickering and banter all damn day. I miss it so much it makes my heart ache.

That accomplished, they get back into the Impala and pass an open house that’s advertising Free BBQ, and Dean pulls over.

Dean: I know a good place to start. I’m hungry for BBQ, how bout you?

SaM: Free food’s got nothing to do with it?

Dean: Of course not, I’m a professional.

This time the banter is good humored, the brothers gently teasing each other, smiling when the other isn’t looking. Dean looks around at the brand new housing development as they get out of the car, saying that it would freak him out growing up in a place like that, manicured lawns, etc.

Dean: I’d blow my brains out.

Sam: There’s nothing wrong with normal.

Dean: I’d take our family over normal any day.

Both brothers know they’re not talking about Oasis Plains. I really appreciate it now, how neither of them will let it go – they go round and round and round, each stuck in their own perspective of why Sam left and what that means. That strikes me as so realistic – it’s what we do, we get stuck on this stuff, and it gets in the way of our relationships with people we love. I so enjoy watching Sam and Dean struggle with it, knowing that eventually they’ll work it out.

Larry the developer welcomes them to the open house, taking one look at Sam and Dean going house shopping and assuring them that “we accept homeowners of any race, religion, color or…. Sexual orientation.”

Dean: (deadpan) We’re brothers.

Larry: (awkward) Oh.

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