When some of my friends decided that the best way to cope with Supernatural ending and having no more new episodes was to just go back to the beginning and start a rewatch with the pilot, I honestly wasn’t sure I was emotionally ready to do that. I was still grieving the ending of this show that has meant so much to me for fifteen years, and just thinking about it brought a fresh round of tears every time my favorite fictional characters crossed my mind. Could I really go back and see where it all began? Remember a time when I had 326 episodes to look forward to and had no idea where the story would take Sam and Dean – and me?
It was one of those decisions that you make and then second guess immediately, but luckily for me I wasn’t watching alone – I was on a zoom call with three friends who share my love of the show and my grief that it’s over. Who wouldn’t make fun of me if I started to tear up or got emotional over a scene in the pilot that had a call back in the finale. Who get it. If there was any way to dare to do a rewatch, it was with these people. So we made drinks, chatted about the pandemic and the weather and life in general, and then we dove in.
Although I’ve been watching Supernatural from the beginning, I didn’t fall madly in love with it until the beginning of Season 2, and I didn’t start writing reviews until Season 8, so as long as I’m doing a rewatch, I figured I might as well catch up on those reviews I missed. The first seven seasons will be reviews with the benefit of hindsight, while the last eight will be fresh from a first viewing – but maybe that will be an interesting diversity of perspectives. So, from an emotional state still raw and grieving from the finale, here are my thoughts (and a whole helluva lot of feelings) about Supernatural’s very first episode, Pilot.
(Because these reviews are with the hindsight of the rest of the series, spoilers ahead up to and including the finale)
It took me approximately .5 seconds to get overwhelmed by emotion. Toddler Dean leans over his baby brother’s crib and gives him a kiss on the forehead, saying with so much affection, “Goodnight, Sam” and I am immediately thrown back to the finale, grown up Sam leaning his forehead to his brother’s as Dean says a final “Goodbye, Sam” with just as much love, after all these years and all they’ve been through together.
The first time I watched the pilot, this was just a tender scene, a happy family with a baby in a crib and a young boy in his father’s arms, everyone safe and warm and together. I had no idea what was to come, either in the next few minutes of that episode or in the next fifteen years. I had no idea how much the Winchesters would come to mean to me, or how excruciatingly painful it would be to lose them.
There’s such a sense of innocence now, watching the pilot – my own innocence reflected in the innocence of those two little boys, that short-lived peaceful moment before Sam and Dean’s happiness was shattered. From the first five minutes, Supernatural has never been a show about happily ever after.
I remember thinking that the Pilot was scary as hell too, as I sat in my dark living room watching with my three closest friends, one of whom had already decided Supernatural was the next thing we would all be fannish about. She was so sure about that, she brought VHS tapes of the show to our get togethers (yes, VHS videotapes. That’s how long this show was on the air). One of our foursome pronounced the Pilot “way too scary” and stopped watching halfway through; the rest of us stuck it out. Fifteen years later, that scariness still holds up. The show is so deliciously dark in the pilot episode, shot so beautifully, dimly lit by moonlight or flashlight.
We also get so much background in the pilot episode, although it takes barely any time at all to convey and at the time, we don’t realize just how devastating it will be to know what the Winchesters’ life was like before the event that changes everything. We get little glimpses that seem innocuous – toddler Dean’s love for his daddy, the family’s joy in new baby Sammy, John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) a loving father, the sheer normalcy of their lives with hugs and goodnight kisses in a nondescript house in suburban America.
We have no idea that we’re seeing the origins of the trauma that irrevocably shaped Dean Winchester’s life, yanking away his happy childhood and loving family at a time when he was just old enough to always remember, but not old enough to ever make sense of it without heaps of undeserved guilt and unacknowledged longing that would plague him almost his entire life.
Even 15 years later, knowing what’s going to happen, the opening sequence works to put you on edge – the ticking of the clock, the slowly spinning crib mobile, the baby monitor crackling and the hall light flickering. We don’t know what that means yet, but watching it now? It’s all I can do not to yell at Mary, “you know what that means!!”
At the time, we had no clue that she knew (and neither did the writers or Samantha Smith, whop played Mary, so her lack of suspicion about the flickering light seems logical then, but odd now – Mary grew up a hunter, we now know, so she might have been a little more alarmed). Even with that knowledge, the scene works so well, building up the suspense and letting the viewer know that something is just not right. And that terrifying moment after Mary sees “John” leaning over Sam’s crib and starts down the stairs, when she rounds the corner and sees the real John sitting in the living room watching TV and OMG THAT ISN’T JOHN IN SAM’S ROOM!
The pilot is brilliant in its rollercoaster of ups and downs, the look of terror on Mary’s face as she realizes someone else is leaning over her baby – and then John’s pov as he hears her screams and runs up the stairs, bursting into the nursery to find it quiet, Sammy in his crib. For a moment we sigh with relief along with him – even now, even knowing. John looks down at his son, Jeffrey Dean Morgan showing us all the tenderness that will soon be wiped away in John Winchester’s quest for revenge.