I wasn’t sure I’d do a happy birthday post for my favorite characters this year. Supernatural ended nearly six months ago, and that means the Winchesters haven’t been on my TV screen. But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been in my heart, where I’m fairly sure Sam and Dean will live forever. So even though I can’t watch new episodes, in my heart Sam Winchester is having a birthday, and I want to celebrate!
Over the course of fifteen years, Sam became a beloved character to so many of us, thanks to Eric Kripke who created him and Jared Padalecki, who brought him to life. I was fascinated by Sam and Dean from almost the beginning, and over time, through good times and bad times, that fascination only grew. So here’s a post full of reasons of what I love about Sam Winchester, from the start to the finish (at least temporarily, because I’ll hang onto the hope that we’ll see the Winchesters again in time…) Instead of not doing a post at all, I got entirely carried away and took a trip down memory lane, reminding me of all the reasons Sam is special to me.
One of the reasons Sam Winchester is so inspiring as a character is because he’s been through the kind of trauma and loss that would have most of us flat on our backs and unable to put one foot in front of the other. The first losses come when he’s just a baby – his mother, his home, and his father too – still there but no longer the same man or the same father to his young sons.
Twenty years later, Sam’s at school, with goals and aspirations, kicking ass on the LSATs and planning his future with Jessica. And disaster finds him again, Jessica burning on the ceiling just like his mother did.
The boys hit the road. So young and pretty, so many challenges yet to come.
We experience Sam’s empathy and his strength early on. We’ve followed him on quite a journey in just one year, from the boy who struck out on his own to the boy almost as bent on revenge as his father, and finally to this – the young man who understands that there are things more important than revenge, including his love for his family. Sam goes against his father in a completely different way here, with Sam and Dean on the same page about family and reconnected with each other.
Next up in the Supernatural Rewatch, it’s time for the scariest episode of Supernatural EVER – Bloody Mary! The only episode to leave me and my daughter screaming and clutching each other hysterically on the couch because we were foolish enough to watch this episode in the dark with just the two of us at home. I’m still in awe of you for pulling off so much scary, Supernatural!
As usual, I did this rewatch with four friends over Zoom, because that’s the way we do things in the midst of a pandemic. For this episode, that was a good thing, because I still don’t think I want to watch it all alone! The episode opening is scary right out of the gate. Teenage girls at a slumber party in Toledo playing truth or dare, and of course one of them dares the other to say Bloody Mary in the bathroom mirror three times. The room is dark, lit only by candlelight, and the girl is nervous but peer pressure pushes her to do it anyway. She closes the bathroom door and all of us watching start yelling “Don’t to it! Lie to them! They can’t even see you!” Alas, she does not listen, and honestly, I don’t even like HEARING her say it!
The dad of the house says goodnight to the girls and walks up the stairs, and as he passes by a mirror, we catch a glimpse of a dark figure in it and I literally want to scream, it’s so scary. He looks in the mirror in the bathroom, his eyes begin to bleed, and he collapses. The older daughter comes home later and finds him dead in a pool of blood and screams.
Cut to Sam also screaming, in a well done edit, having another nightmare about Jessica (Adrianne Palicki), who keeps asking him “Why, Sam?” It’s clear at this point in the show that Sam is tormented by his own guilt and sense of responsibility. It’s a common thing with trauma, unfortunately. One of the things that makes trauma and sudden loss so unnerving is that it makes us feel like the world is out of control. By taking responsibility in some way for what happened, even if that makes no logical sense, that allows us to feel a little more in control – and like next time, we’ll maybe be able to stop a future trauma from happening. Of course, there’s the big down side of leaving you with a whopping helping of guilt and self blame, which Sam is dealing with.
Dean, ever the big brother, is concerned. Dean wakes him up and tries to get Sam to open up to him – note that Dean is not really the stereotype of ‘no chick flick moments’ that he pretends to be, from the very start. He knows Sam is struggling and wants to help, but can’t if Sam won’t confide in him.
Dean: Sooner or later we’re gonna have to talk about this.
The brothers visit the morgue, which is also oddly dark and creepy, posing as med students from Ohio State and faced with an unimpressed and uncooperative morgue attendant.
Dean: (under his breath to Sam): I wanna hit him.
Sam bribes him instead, which works.
Dean protests: I earned that money!
Sam: You won it in a poker game.
Dean: (insistent) Yeah!
I love their banter. Dean refuses to feel guilty about how they ‘make a living’, while Sam is still clinging to ‘normal’ and thus judging it. He’s going along, but he’s not fully on board.
Next they go to the dad’s funeral, where younger daughter Lily insists that her father’s death was her fault (the broader theme of the episode, since it’s what Sam is struggling with too). Sam assures her that it wasn’t her saying Bloody Mary three times that did it, since it’s her dad who died. The brothers try to figure out exactly what is happening, since kids play the slumber party game all the time and no one dies.
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.