Supernatural Season 1’s fourteenth episode, which is called “Nightmare”, initially stumped our little group doing the rewatch from the start (now that the show is at an end). Nobody could remember exactly what the episode was about, with a title that seems like it could fit just about any era of Supernatural. (Yes, we did figure it out fairly quickly though). In fact, the Road So Far reminds us about Sam’s weird dreams, or as Dean puts it, ‘that ESP thing’ – and that sometimes his dreams come true.
That’s what Nightmare is all about – much to Sam and Dean’s dismay.
In the open, a man pulls his car into the garage, and the garage door closes behind him. By itself. He looks back at it, confused, and it’s such a mundane situation that it’s genuinely terrifying. He goes to get out and the car doors lock. He turns off the engine and it starts right back up, exhaust spewing out in the closed garage, the radio flipping stations. The guy panics, trying to get out as the car fills up with smoke, coughing and screaming for help, until he falls over, dead eyes still open.
Sam Winchester wakes up.
It’s a vivid nightmare, and Sam immediately starts calling ‘Dean! Dean!”
He grabs for Dean’s hand, and it strikes me that both brothers sleep on the side of the bed closest to each other, Dean with his hand literally outstretched in the space between them – as though he’s always on alert, just in case his little brother needs him.
Sam: Dean, we have to go right now!
Dean (half asleep): What’s happening?
Dean doesn’t really believe Sam had a vision – he doesn’t want to believe that – but he gets out of bed and into the car anyway. The Impala races down the road as Dean tries to reassure Sam.
Dean: Sam, relax, I’m sure it’s just a nightmare, a normal everyday naked in class nightmare. Why would you have premonitions about some random dude in Michigan?
Sam calls the license plate he saw in; it checks out. Dean is dismayed.
Sam: Drive faster.
Dean does even though he doesn’t want this to be true. Despite Dean’s driving skill, though, they get there too late, just as they’re taking the guy out in a body bag. Sam looks devastated. Dean asks neighbors what happened, and the woman says it was suicide, but it’s hard to believe since the family seemed so “normal.” They found him in the garage locked inside with the car engine running.
Woman: Poor family, I can’t imagine what they’re going through.
The woman who lost her husband sobs, and Sam almost sobs with her.
He walks away and Dean goes to stand next to him, trying to console him, saying they got there as fast as they could
Sam: Not fast enough. Why would I have these premonitions unless there was a chance to stop it? He was murdered by something that trapped in the garage. I don’t know what’s happening, Dean…
Route 666 is an interesting episode. It’s not a fan favorite, and the whole ‘killer truck’ thing doesn’t entirely work for me. Up until this point in Season 1, Supernatural had pulled off being pretty damn scary, and this episode tries hard with lots of the big truck looming out of the mist, but when it revs its engine and puffs smoke it just ends up looking a little silly.
That said, there’s a lot to appreciate in this episode. It tackles some serious themes that weren’t seen in media that often in 2005, calling out racism overtly and not within some sort of monster metaphor. That was a rare thing in 2005, certainly on the WB. It’s also one of the relatively rare episodes where one of the brothers has a relationship that feels real and understandable. I’ve often said that Jensen Ackles has chemistry with just about everyone and everything, but he definitely did with guest star Megalyn Echikunwoke. I wasn’t really in the fandom in Season 1, so I don’t know what the fan reaction was to Cassie at the time, though I’m guessing the idea of Dean Winchester being ‘taken’ in any way, shape or form was not a welcome idea. I’m also fine with the show concentrating on the brothers, but I really liked the way Cassie and Dean’s relationship was explored in this episode. Once again, it gives us a chance to see Dean’s vulnerability. Faced with the loss of the only other person who had shared and really understood his life when Sam went to college, Dean opened up to Cassie — and was reminded that most people would not understand the kind of life he lives. That must have made being on his own even harder. Knowing how hurt he was by the break-up, it makes his insecurity with Sam once they’re back on the road again even easier to understand.
The open is the scary truck chasing after a car in the dark somewhere in Cape Girardieu, the radio gone staticky. The driver, a black man, skids to a stop and suddenly the truck is right in front of him, ramming into the car, windows shattering, until it drives him right off the road in a fiery crash. The truck pauses for a minute, ‘breathing’ hard through its exhaust pipe, and then drives off.
I think it’s the anthropomorphizing that makes it not work for me – before that part, it was scary, and also disturbing as the guy is killed in a more realistic way than most of the deaths on Supernatural.
Cut to the Winchesters, Dean on the phone and Sam reading a map finding a route to Pennsylvania.
Dean: Problem is, we’re not going to Pennsylvania.
He says he just got a call from an old friend whose father was killed the night before, and that it might be their kind of thing. When Sam questions it, Dean says she never would’ve called if she didn’t need them.
Sam has good instincts already when it comes to his brother.
Sam: And by ‘old friend’ you mean…
Dean: A friend that’s not new.
Sam’s surprised to find out that Dean dated someone for more than one night, and Dean is evasive, uncomfortable with his carefully constructed devil-may-care persona being called into question, with Sam of all people.
Sam quickly figures out that she’s calling them and saying it’s their kind of thing because she knows what their kind of thing is, and then he’s angry.
Sam: How does she know what we do?
Dean doesn’t answer, but that’s answer enough.
SM: You told her. You told her? The secret. Our big family rule no. 1 – We do what we do and we shut up about it. I lied to Jess and you go out for a few weeks with a girl and tell her all about it?
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.
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.
This is an odd anniversary to commemorate, but it’s an important one. It sounds melodramatic, but two years ago today my life changed significantly when I got the news that Supernatural was ending. If you haven’t ever been a passionate fan of a show or a film or a book series or a band, you may not understand. If you have, you probably do.
Two years ago today, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins told the SPN Family that Supernatural was coming to an end after fifteen seasons, with tears in their eyes and real emotion in their voices. I still have trouble watching that little video message, but I’m forever grateful that they cared enough to tell us themselves.
So on this March 22, two years later, I thought I’d share what I wrote in the Introduction to the book we put together to remember how special Supernatural will always be, with chapters from the actors and the fans about what Supernatural has meant to them, There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done.
I’m just as emotional looking back on that day now as I was when I wrote this…
There are certain experiences that happen in our lives that we will never forget. Psychology even has a term for the memory created by this kind of experience: a flashbulb memory. When something happens that shakes our world especially profoundly, the brain encodes that moment differently, and more vividly, than it does our everyday memories.
Back in the day, a flashbulb was a cube that sat on top of your camera and went off to illuminate a scene you were capturing with a photo, freezing it in time forever (it’s now just a light on your smartphone). Our brain, when it records a flashbulb memory, does something similar: it freezes the important, sometimes upsetting moment in time forever. The sights, the sounds, the smells, and the emotions of that moment are all preserved deeply. The memory doesn’t fade like other memories, or lose its emotional intensity. Instead, it remains as clear and vivid as if it happened yesterday. We remember the clothes we were wearing, or exactly what we were doing or thinking, or who we were talking to. We remember our initial shock and then the moment when our emotions kicked in.
Most often, flashbulb memories are about world-changing events like September 11 or shocking personal news. But they can also be things you wouldn’t expect. Sometimes, something is so important to you that the news of its impending loss hits hard enough to freeze the moment in time. I think that’s what happened to me on Friday afternoon, March 22, 2019, the moment I found out that Supernatural would end after its fifteenth season. That might seem like an odd thing to be preserved forever as a flashbulb memory, and it’s certainly not equivalent to world-changing events, but that’s not how our brains work. When something is important, it’s important. And for many people, myself included, this little television show that lasted for fifteen seasons is personally and emotionally important.
When I first heard the show was ending, I was volunteering at the Project Fancare table at Lexington Comic-Con, surrounded by copies of Family Don’t End with Blood and fellow fans. Project Fancare is a nonprofit that gives fans a forum to talk openly about how television and film and books and all sorts of fandoms have helped them get through tough times, and why that’s a good thing. I had just finished talking to a woman who stopped by to tell me what Family Don’t End with Blood and Supernatural have meant to her.
As the woman walked away, my friend Kim leaned over and said softly in my ear, “You need to take a break. Take your phone and go to the bathroom and watch the video that Jensen just posted.”
That’s all she said, but instantly I knew. I knew from the genuine emotion in her voice, and the concern for me that I could hear there. I knew because there’s a part of me that had been waiting for that news and anticipating it and knew it was coming sooner rather than later. My stomach instantly fell and my brain kicked into survival mode, blocking all my emotions and making me feel oddly calm even though intellectually I knew I wasn’t. I can vividly see the table in front of me, the books spread out there, and the woman walking away. She was wearing one of the first Represent “Always Keep Fighting” T-shirts and she had bright red hair and a bag with the protection symbol on it. I can see it like it’s a photo frozen in time—as brightly as if lit by a flashbulb—and I can hear Kim’s voice and her words like she just finished talking, even though it’s now many months later.
I stood in the alcove by the bathroom in the giant convention center and pulled out my phone and found the video—and as soon as I saw their faces, before they even started speaking, there was no doubt in my mind. Jared, Jensen, and Misha are extraordinary in how open they have been with their fans, and I could see all the emotion they were struggling to contain before I ever hit play to listen to the message. I am forever grateful that I got to hear it from them.
Things are different in the Supernatural fandom than they were two years ago. I’ve been dismayed at the animosity and bullying toward other fans that sometimes seem worse now than when the show was actually airing, something I have to admit I didn’t expect. But I’ve also been encouraged by the kindness and support that most fans continue to show for each other. And I love that the Supernatural cast have made it clear that their love for the show and for their characters and for the fandom is not going anywhere.
While a global pandemic has made it impossible for most of us to see our fellow fans or the actors, with conventions and concerts all on hold, I’m grateful for all the zoom panels and Instagram lives and interviews and every other piece of content we’ve gotten from the cast that I miss so much. It eases the loss and makes me feel like we’re all in this together. I’m grateful for all the myriad fanworks that this incredibly creative fandom puts out there to share, from the prettiest gifs to the most heartbreaking youtube videos to fanart and fanfic that can make me cry or smile all day. I’m grateful for every playful bit of fun I run across and every supportive bit of conversation. It reminds me what fandom – especially this fandom – is all about.
I’m grateful for everything and everyone that keeps the SPNFamily alive. And I’m still hopeful that we haven’t seen the last of Supernatural.
Next up in our Supernatural Spring Break celebration, the There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done book club also chatted with Julie McNiven, Supernatural’s Anna and another contributor to the book. I love what her chapter has to say about how Anna inspired her and how the show and the fandom have done the same. She also had some heartwarming things to say in her chapter about filming Anna and Dean’s love scene in the Impala’s backseat, and how Jensen Ackles helped her ‘find her light’.
Here are some excerpts from the book club discussion. I neglected to explain to her that the book club was on Discord, so Julie was laughing as she sat there with her ring light ready – sorry, Julie!
JMN: Hi Everyone!
BC: The chapter was beautiful.
Lynn: Julie, you wrote your chapter more than a year ago (unbelievably) – how does it feel now to have Supernatural for real coming to an end?
JMN: Sad…but it’s been over for me for a looooong time so it feels almost unbelievable that it’s still on. It really goes to show how great this cast and fandom is!!! I’m also excited to see what my talented group of SPN friends will do next!!
BC: It’s a recurrent theme that this cast and show and set have been so different than all others.
BC: Did you ever expect for the fandom to still care about you or your character even years after her last appearance? What is the most surprising thing about that??
JMN: I NEVER expected for Fandom to care about me after my death!!! That has been the gift that keeps on giving. I’m so grateful that y’all tune in to Doom Patrol and cheesy Christmas movies to support me!!!!
BC: Anna was a complex character. Did you enjoy the challenge of playing a character that went from lost to (being) such a badass? (In response to the Christmas movie comment:) I’ve loved Matt Bomer since White Collar!
[I mean, what’s not to like about Matt Bomer? Also Doom Patrol is a great show]
JMN: This was my favorite part about playing Anna and I’d be lying if I said I was totally fine not getting one more chance to portray her…I wonder how the Empty changed her? Matt (Bomer) is a dream. So kind and an incredible acting partner.
BC: The behind-the-scenes glimpse of the how-to of intimate scenes in your chapter was eye-opening. [In which Julie writes about the challenges of the backseat scene with Jensen Ackles] I’m so glad you had a positive experience on the SPN set. Have you been able to maintain that control and self-agency on sets after that, or is it still a challenge? I would like to think we’re all moving forward along those lines, but sometimes the pace seem glacial.
JMN: I’ve been able to maintain that control but it definitely helps when the co-star is supportive and protective! They have “intimacy directors” on set now…this is new and I have yet to experience it but I think that it’s a great move.
BC: I think that a lot of people who find someone like Jensen incredibly attractive would find it easy to do this type of scene, but I think it would be so difficult and terrifying. I love that you told your story so that we see a positive way that it can be done, while highlighting that it’s not the fantasy some might have about this.
JMN: Truly, that’s the LAST thing on an actor’s mind…it’s very choreographed and does not FEEL sexy or anything.