‘The Winchesters’ Pilot Episode Brings Lots of Emotions to a Long-Time Supernatural Fan

I already posted my emotional non-spoilery reactions to the pilot episode of The Winchesters which aired at New York Comic Con, but I also wanted to do a rewatch and a deep dive into the events of the episode itself and the introduction of the younger version of John and Mary Winchester who we know from the original series, Supernatural. As a very very passionate Supernatural fan who watched that show for 15 seasons, I felt both anticipation and trepidation at a prequel kicking off – it was mostly due to the reassurance of people who knew the Supernatural world intimately that I went into watching ‘The Winchesters’ pilot hoping for the best. I was also anxious, though. I am very protective of “My Show” and always will be.

So it was with a lot of conflicting emotions that I watched the series premiere. Now that I’m home and have done a rewatch, here’s my deep dive into the events of the pilot and the characters, familiar and new, introduced in the episode.

It’s a suitably spooky beginning, a dark graveyard and an Indiana Jones-esque character entering a crypt by torch light to slice his palm and draw a blood sigil, opening a stone container to retrieve something – and then run like hell trying to escape from the monster that’s now after him! As Supernatural beginnings go, that’s pretty on point!

And then we’re greeted by a “Welcome To Lawrence” sign and an instrumental music background that’s also reminiscent of what Jensen Ackles likes to call “the mothership”, OG Supernatural. That show used lots of signage to mark the brothers’ travels, so this also feels familiar. Young John Winchester (Drake Rodger) is on a bus heading back to Lawrence, fresh from the war, still rattled by flashbacks thanks to the PTSD he’s brought back with him, and clutching a mysterious letter addressed to him.

Apparently the show had to fight hard for the extra budget to film John’s war scenes, but I think those instincts were good – we need to understand how much impact the violence John experienced had on him, and how much guilt he’s carrying around as a result of not being able to save his comrades. Those experiences are integral to his determination to head down the ‘saving people hunting things’ path, especially the guilt and the subsequent need to save everyone he can. Similar motivations will send his sons down the same path eventually, as we all know.

“March 23, 1972” a familiar voice narrates – it’s no surprise to anyone that it’s Jensen Ackles reprising his role of Dean Winchester. The narration is emotional for any Supernatural fan, but it’s also a bit confusing, because we don’t know who Dean is supposed to be talking to, and it actually sounds like he’s talking to us, the audience – and that he’s somehow savvy about the anxiety fans have had over whether this prequel will mess with established canon. “I know this story might sound familiar, but I’m gonna put the pieces together in a way that might surprise you” seems directed at us, the anxious viewers. Perhaps that’s only for this first bit of narration but it struck me as interesting. I guess we’ll see!

I’m not entirely convinced that we really needed Dean as the narrator, as much as I’ve missed having my favorite character in the history of the universe on my screen. I would kinda like to watch this story as its own thing, and am not sure I need the frame of Dean looking back. But hopefully they worked that into the ongoing story in an organic way that just hasn’t been revealed yet.

Anyway, John does indeed bump into Mary Campbell (Meg Donnelly) just like we’d heard in the original show. It’s a “meet cute” in the tradition of meet cutes, and both John and Mary are likable, but they don’t get that cup of coffee that we heard they did right away. Instead, Mary walks away with a “see ya around, soldier boy”, a cheeky shout out to Jensen Ackles’ role on The Boys as Soldier Boy.

I admit I smiled at that and both her and John’s love of licorice (something their son Dean will later share and which I cannot fathom at all..). Also I love Mary’s bell bottoms! Don’t tell me that bell bottoms aren’t awesome, I remember how awesome they were! I’m hoping fervently that Danneel Ackles agrees with me, because I’m fairly certain she’s the biggest influence on the fashion choices we’ll see on this show.

John’s reunion with his mother Millie (Bianca Kajlich) is frosty to start, which is interesting. Millie owns the gas station and is a mechanic, and she pulls no punches reminding John that from her perspective, “my husband and son walked out on me, so…”

She also clearly adores him as she sweeps him into a welcome home hug.

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Supernatural Rewatch: Supernatural Goes Meta with Hollywood Bablylon

As my friends and I make our way through a Supernatural series rewatch, I am so struck by the quality of these first few seasons. Season 2 is one of my favorite seasons – maybe my favorite of all. There are very few episodes that don’t feel like classics now, and this is certainly one that fits that description. Hollywood Babylon is extra special because it’s the first “meta” episode of Supernatural – something that the show would become known for over its 15 year run.  I LOVED its wink wink nudge nudge making fun of itself and the industry when I saw this episode then and I loved this episode just as much rewatching it now.

Written by the brilliant Ben Edlund, also the mind behind ‘The Tick’, and directed by the venerable Phil Sgriccia, of course Hollywood Babylon was going to be both entertaining and creepy and just plain weird. Which is ALL good in my book!

The opening teaser is a stereotypical horror film, so dimly lit it’s almost black and white, a young woman (Elizabeth Whitmere) with a flashlight searching for her friends in the woods in front of a creepy looking house, the porch swing swaying, scary music playing.

And pretty terrible acting as the woman (searching for her sister, because Supernatural) is deserted by her cowardly male friend and then hears a twig snap behind her. Slowly she turns….and unleashes a bloodcurdling scream into the camera.

That…fades out.

We hear a rather annoyed “cut” and realize we’re on a film set as the camera pans out. She’s been screaming at a suspended tennis ball, which at least partly explains the lack of conviction in her scream.

The meta kicks in instantly, as we meet the director, named McG after the very real producer of Supernatural and many genre shows. He’s as insincere as can be, critical behind her back and then fake oh that was great but let’s do it again and dial up that scream to Tara Benchley’s face. He assures her that the tennis ball will be replaced by a monster and look great “once Ivan and the FX guys are done with it” – an in-group reference to Supernatural’s real life VFX supervisor Ivan Hayden.

For fans who were paying attention, the episode was already leaving us grinning – and I have no doubt it did the same for the cast and crew who were also in on the jokes. Showrunner and creator Eric Kripke has loved playing with meta and in-jokes from the start, and he’s still enjoying doing that on his new show The Boys – and I’m still enjoying it too.

A long-haired crew member named Frank wanders around the set spreading suspicion that there’s some kind of real haunting going on, adding to the fun. At least it’s fun until poor Tara is walking through the fake woods trying to master that scream and is confronted with a dead and bloody Frank up in the scaffolding.

She screams for real, and on the other end of the set, McG happily announces “now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

Enter Sam and Dean and our title card. The meta picks right up again, Sam and Dean on the Warner Brothers studio lot taking the trolley tour that many of us have taken in real life, myself included. Dean is in excited fanboy mode, telling the unimpressed kid next to him that ‘Creepshow’ was filmed over there.

The camera pans up to Sam as the tour guide announces that Stars Hollow is to the right, the setting for the TV show, Gilmore Girls.

Tour guide: And if we’re lucky, we might even catch one of the show’s stars.

Close on Sam, who looks suddenly wary and hops right off the trolley.

The joke, of course, is that Jared also played Dean on Gilmore Girls, so he could have been that star she was mentioning. Poor Dean is upset not to be able to finish the tour, but reluctantly follows his brother. He’s convinced he sees Matt Damon on the lot, undeterred when “Matt” is pushing a broom and insisting he’s probably researching a role while Sam rolls his eyes.  Sam’s trying to work the case while Dean just wants to have fun, saying he wanted to come to LA for a vacation, swimming pools, movie stars.

Sam: Does this seem like pool weather to you, Dean? It’s practically Canadian!

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Supernatural Breaks All Of Ours with Season 2’s Powerful “Heart”

The 17th episode of the second season of Supernatural is one of the best, most emotionally impactful episodes of the series. That’s no surprise when you realize it was written by Sera Gamble and directed by Kim Manners. Together, Manners and Kripke and Gamble shaped Supernatural in essential ways, and the team of Gamble writing and Manners directing was bound to be incredible. Add to that Ackles and Padalecki knocking it out of the park and guest star Emmanuelle Vaugier keeping pace with them every second and you have one of the episodes that fans often use to lure unsuspecting new fans into the Supernatural fold. I’ve seen this episode many times, and it still brings tears to my eyes and breaks my heart a little every time. That’s good television!

The episode begins in San Francisco, an attractive woman named Madison (guest star Emmanuelle Vaugier) laughing in a bar with friends. She blows off some guy Nate who wants her to come back to the office with him, and then sees an even more creepy looking guy staring at her through the window. It understandably freaks her out and she leaves – though walking out into the dark alley to get to her car seems like a bad idea to me, but what do I know? I would have at least had someone walk me to my car!

Nothing happens, though, other than the creepy guy watching her drive away. And some gorgeous Kim Manners mirror shots.

The next morning Madison makes coffee in her office when she notices a smear of blood on the wall – and then more on the floor. She walks with trepidation toward Nate’s office, and we see his hand covered in blood before we see him. When she rounds the corner, Nate is lying dead on his desk, torn apart. She drops the coffee pot, screaming. The pot shatters.

All of us: Now that’s a Supernatural opening if I ever saw one!

It’s pure Kim Manners brilliance, from the way Madison at first sees just a small smear of blood and isn’t sure what it is, to the tentative way she comes closer. The shot of just Nate’s arm and hand, bloody, all she can see as the realization of what this is slowly sinks in, and then the full on shot of Nate very very dead, torn apart and bloody. The close up slow mo shot of the coffee pot dropping and shattering is just perfect. Chilling.

Teaser ended, we cut to the boys, as we always did especially in the early seasons. They view poor Nate’s corpse in the morgue, Sam using his puppy dog eyes to charm the attendant into saying that off the record it looks like Nate was attacked by a wolf.

Attendant: But unless I know that the zoo is missing one of their lobos, I’m going with pit bull. I like my job.

Sam: (smiling) Yeah, I hear you.  One more thing – was this guy’s heart missing?

Attendant: Yeah, how did you know that? I haven’t even finished my report.

Sam: Lucky guess.

These boys though, who could resist giving them the information they’re after? I mean, look at them!

Then we get a little glimpse of Winchesters on the road, iconic in its simple familiarity. Early seasons Supernatural life in motel after motel, sleeping in the Impala in between, is the stuff that fanfic is made of. It warms my heart today, fifteen years later.

Dean cleans his guns as he and Sam discuss a new case – “hookers” murdered in the week leading up to the full moon, their hearts missing.

Dean: Awesome.

Sam: Could you be a bigger geek about this?

Dean’s excited about the prospect of “badass” werewolves, which they haven’t seen since they were kids.

Sam: Okay, Sparky. And you know what? After we kill it, we can go to Disneyland.

Gamble was so good at exploring the dynamic between the brothers – the affection beneath their bickering and teasing especially. Sam and Dean are very different, but at this point in the series, they’re accepting their differences and starting to appreciate each other’s strengths more. Most of the time anyway.

Rewatching this episode now in 2022, we all started giggling as soon as this scene began – because it is also one of the iconic gag reel moments, as Jared and Jensen start bickering just like their characters while Jensen has trouble with the prop gun.

Jensen: I’ve got a line, you moron!

The truly wonderful thing is that there’s just as much affection beneath Jared and Jensen’s teasing as there is Sam and Dean’s. At this point, they had already become brothers on and off set. And that chemistry powered the show for 13 more seasons!

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The Trickster Messes With Sam and Dean for the First Time in Season 2’s ‘Tall Tales’

Tall Tales is one of those episodes that felt like FUN, despite some typical Supernatural monstrous happenings and, of course, people dying. But still, FUN. It was also a great episode to showcase Sam and Dean’s relationship as brothers. For better or worse! And, of course, it introduced us to Richard Speight, Jr. as the Trickster.

The ‘Then’ segment reminds us that Sam and Dean have pranked each other in the past, as brothers do, from Nair in the hair to Dean’s hand stuck to his beer bottle, Sam and Dean taunting each other with “That’s all you got?” and “Bring it on, Baldy!”  And lots of calling each other ‘bitch’ and ‘jerk’ which at this point (rewatching the series after it has ended), just makes me tear up because we know now exactly what those words mean when the Winchesters say them to each other.

Sigh. I miss my Show.

This episode opens with a professor walking to his office building at night, encountering an attractive young woman hanging out waiting for him, inexplicably dressed in a little sundress even though it’s cold and other people have jackets on.

She shows off her legs and he doesn’t notice, and he initially does try to get her to come back during office hours. He’s reluctant to respond to her flirty advances and hero worship until she finally says okay, I should go, and turns to leave. Then he changes his tune, saying he understands what she’s feeling. He shows his true narcissist colors by saying it’s natural, since he’s “somewhat of a celeb around here”. I had to cringe on behalf of professors everywhere when he said that. Nice touch of what his latest book is about though.

He kisses her even as he says it would be wrong for him to take advantage of her, and then… her face starts to disintegrate. Because this is Supernatural. He recoils in horror.

Zombie woman: What, you don’t like me anymore?

Outside the building, a janitor played by Richard Speight, Jr. watches as the professor’s body falls from the window high above, head splattered on the stones in a pool of blood.

Of course at the time that was not newsworthy (the janitor, that is). But now, on rewatch, we all squealed because Richard has joined Supernatural! He will become an integral part of the SPNFamily over the next 15 going on forever years.

ONE WEEK LATER

Sam is researching, as a Joe Walsh song plays on the radio. He’s clearly annoyed at his brother, who’s munching on something on Sam’s bed.

Sam: Dude, you mind not eating those on MY bed?

Dean (as he stuffs more in his mouth and licks his fingers enthusiastically): No, I don’t mind.

Gifs roadtripwithmybrother

Boys. I love how Supernatural always gets it so right. They are such brothers.

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Supernatural Gets Creepy (With Dolls!) in Season 2’s ‘Playthings’

Ah, Playthings. One of the creepiest episodes of Supernatural for me personally, because what is more creepy than an old mansion and a bunch of old incredibly terrifying DOLLS?? Add an equally terrifying little ghost girl and an old woman confined to an attic (plus some gruesome murders) and you’ve got an episode that gives me goosebumps every time. It’s also got some great brother moments between the Winchesters, so at least there’s some respite from the anxiety.

It’s next up on our Supernatural rewatch (it just turned 2022 as I’m typing this), so let’s revisit what made this episode so memorable – and so creepy!

We start out with the reminder that something evil might be brewing in poor Sam, the underlying theme of Season 2 that’s impacting both brothers, Sam terrified that he might hurt someone and Dean terrified that he won’t be able to protect Sam.

THEN

A reminder from Dean that “dad told me something”, Sam’s anguished question “Am I supposed to go darkside or something?” and Dean’s big brother determination to protect Sam no matter what. Then we’re back where we left off, Sam and Dean finding Ava’s discarded engagement ring in a pool of her fiance’s blood.

So very Supernatural.

NOW

The exterior location for this episode is every bit as creepy as the rest of it – an old mansion from the 1930s now the Pierpont Inn. As movers take out boxes of stuff, we learn that it has a rich history in the community, with generations getting engaged or married there, but it’s now up for sale. As the moving guy takes out the boxes, we pan to two little girls sitting at the top of the stairs on the landing watching – and not very happy about the move.

One of them is Tyler, daughter of the owner. The other is Maggie, her imaginary friend – who we already suspect is not exactly a trying-to-be-helpful Sully.

Tyler goes to play with her dollhouse that’s a replica of the Inn, and we pan over shelves full of creepy dolls, including a clown doll that would have given Sam Winchester nightmares (and possibly me also).

The whole episode is brilliantly shot, never fully lit and always looking just a little bit foggy, making the antique decor and dark wood just that much creepier. The creative camera angles add to the feeling that something is amiss here, sometimes looking up and sometimes down but rarely straight on.

Tyler puts a doll in the rocking chair, but when she looks again he’s not there – instead he’s at the bottom of the staircase, head askew.

Uh oh.

Just then, we hear her mother scream. At the foot of the stairs is the hapless moving man, twisted up, head askew just like the doll, in a pool of his own blood and a cracked doll next to him on the floor.

Well done, Supernatural. CREEPY as hell, but well done.

Cut to Sam and Dean looking for Ava, their motel room covered with maps and notes and a missing poster and looking a lot like John Winchester’s motel room might have.  Sam checks with Ellen, but she doesn’t have any leads either. Dean is worried about his brother.

Dean: Sorry, man.

Ellen does share information about the freak accidents that have been happening at the Pierpont Inn, though, and Sam wants to check it out. Dean is surprised. Sam wonders why.

Dean: Well yeah, it’s just, you know, not the patented Sam Winchester way, is it?

Sam: What way is that?

Dean: I just figured after Ava there’d be, you know, more angst and droopy music and staring out the rainy window…

Sam glares.

Dean: Yeah, I’ll shut up now.

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