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.
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.
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).
Voice: Sam, is that you?
Sam sits up, instantly wide awake.
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?
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.”
I wrote an article here on New Year’s Eve about how I’m dealing with Supernatural ending, because I’m still having lots of feelings about the loss of my favorite show ever, especially in the midst of so much stress – political and social upheaval and a raging pandemic. We need our comfort shows more than ever! One of the things that’s helping is going back to the beginning and rewatching from the start. In a way, it’s giving me new content, because watching those early episodes now is completely different with the perspective of knowing how the story plays out and how it ends. I understand Sam and Dean more deeply than I did when I watched these episodes for the first time 15 years ago. At the same time, I’m struck by how well they hold up and how truly ingenious the writing, directing, acting and cinematography was, right from the start.
Today’s episode rewatch is the third one that aired, and the first directed by Kim Manners, who would come to have such a significant impact on the show’s two young stars, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. ‘Dead In The Water’ is one of the most well known episodes, giving us some iconic scenes as well as some of the first memorable gag reel moments. The episode was written by Raelle Tucker and Sera Gamble, who would go on to be showrunner when Kripke departed at the end of Season 5 (and would also helm another of my favorite shows, The Magicians). So, let’s dig in…
The episode opens on a cabin that’s familiar to most fans, and I had to take a moment right away because I now realize that it’s a cabin that I think I’ve actually been to in real life – on one of the location tours given by Supernatural’s locations supervisor for many seasons, the one of a kind Russ Hamilton. I’m notoriously bad at remember things like locations, though, so somebody correct me if the ‘Russ bus’ never in fact visited this particular Vancouver cabin. At any rate, it’s striking, and beautiful in its own way. There is so much atmosphere provided by locations and set dec for Supernatural, making it so much memorable than it would be otherwise.
I don’t think, at the time I first watched this episode, that I realized that the show customarily opens with the guest stars of the week being attacked by the monster of the week, especially in the early seasons. But director Kim Manners does a great job of setting up the sense of foreboding even if you didn’t know something bad was about to happen. The family in the dimly lit cabin is a dad and a sister and brother, with no mom around – because many of the guest characters are parallels for the Winchesters in some way. The girl opts for a swim in the gigantic deserted lake, out there all alone, which seems like a terrible idea even if this wasn’t Supernatural. We see her from beneath, highlighting her vulnerability, as she begins to get scared, hearing unintelligible whispering all around her even though no one is there. Uh oh. It’s scary as hell even before anything happens thanks to Manners, and then whoosh, she’s pulled under.
The lake looks peaceful once again, no sign of the girl. Uh oh.
And then, customarily, the show pivoted to the Winchester brothers, in this case at the Lynnwood Motel, which I’m totally taking as a shout out to me even though I was entirely unknown to any of them at the time. Hindsight. Dean flirts with the waitress, who flirts back, understandably, and Sam cuts that right off with a “Just the check please.”
Dean sighs, put upon.
Dean: You know, Sam, we are allowed to have fun every once in a while. That’s fun.
I’ve known Matt Cohen a long time. I was there for his first Supernatural convention a decade ago – I remember turning to my friend Kathy as we watched Matt try to hug every single fan he met and saying “this guy is a keeper.” I was thrilled when his reception at the cons ensured he would be invited back, eventually becoming one of the Karaoke Kings and an integral part of the Supernatural conventions all over the world. Matt was one of the first Supernatural actors I invited to write a chapter for Family Don’t End With Blood, because I knew he would have something inspiring and moving to say. I was right. The chapter he wrote is candid, insightful and very personal – it describes the way being on Supernatural has changed his life and how his relationships with his fellow cast members has changed him as well. It’s one of the chapters that makes me smile and tear up simultaneously (like all the best Supernatural episodes).
I was thrilled when he returned to the show again to play John Winchester, and perhaps even more thrilled when he became part of the final season of the show – not as an actor this time, but as a director. By then he had already made his own short film, Mama Bear, which he had directed and proved just how talented he was behind the camera, not just in front of it. I loved that film, so I couldn’t wait to see what he did with Supernatural.
I waited until his episode, Gimme Shelter, had aired last month, then we caught up by phone.
Matt: It’s nice to hear your voice.
Lynn: It’s been a long time.
Matt: Too long as far as I’m concerned!
(I think the entire SPNFamily feels that way at this point – we all miss each other! We caught up with family stuff, and how his son Macklin is doing with online learning (great) and then dug into the episode.)
Lynn: I was super excited that you got to direct an episode before the show ends. It seems so right and so special.
Matt: It certainly was special and I feel lucky. This show has given me everything at this point, and for it to give me my first hour of prime time TV directorial debut? I agree with you, it felt right. I felt like I was at home because I knew these people were going to do everything they could to not have me fail.
Lynn: For sure. You’re family.
Matt: And to me, that made me work harder than I’ve worked on anything my whole life, to make sure I could get them out on time and get everyone home and rested and then back to my set again and we could just knock this one out and keep on moving. And that’s exactly how it went. It was a special experience with the most remarkable crew I’ve ever worked with. They were there for me and I was there for them and it was just beautiful. Every day was emotional for me. When I wrapped every single day, I felt that this was part of my eight day goodbye to the show. And it was difficult, you know? I tried not to cry every night.
Lynn: I can’t even imagine how emotional it was for you, after all this time and this being such an incredible, life-changing journey. This was one of those quintessential Supernatural episodes that has a little bit of everything – humor, excitement, and emotion. All of them came together, but it was a complex episode. The emotional moments are probably my favorite things about the show – in this episode, like the scene when Castiel talks about his journey – finding a family, becoming a dad.
Lynn: It struck me that is so similar to what you wrote about in your chapter of Family Don’t End With Blood, about your own journey finding yourself and becoming a dad too. Misha [Collins] was so good in that scene. How did you feel about the episode’s story?
Today is the last day of filming for Supernatural, after fifteen seasons on the air. It took me a season to truly fall in love with the show, but once I did, I fell head over heels – and in fourteen years, I haven’t looked back. Others’ stories are different, but where we’ve ended up is the same. All over the world today, people whose lives have been touched by Supernatural are feeling the loss of something that is so much more than a television show. There’s a collective grieving, a sense of shared overwhelming emotion, that I’m grateful for – one of the most powerful things about fandom is its validation, and I feel that today. There are plenty of people in my everyday life who don’t really understand what a big loss this is, but there are plenty of people in the SPNFamily who do.
At the same time, there’s also a worldwide celebration of a little show that began on The WB and was an unlikely candidate for fifteen seasons and an incredible impact. The show itself and its brilliantly depicted fictional characters have been an inspiration to me, like they have been for so many other fans. For fifteen years, the Winchesters, and soon after, Castiel, have faced seemingly insurmountable odds – and have come out swinging again and again. The ‘monsters’ they’ve faced have been literal, but they have also been figurative: addiction, depression, PTSD, loneliness. Struggles with identity and purpose and finding one’s mission in life. The challenges of family, both by blood and chosen. The very things that we all struggle with are things these fictional characters have faced, again and again and again. And yet, no matter what the challenge, again and again they have persevered. Always Keep Fighting is a mantra for us all in real life, but it has also been the mantra of the show since the beginning. And that has made Sam, Dean and Cas incredibly important to many of us.
The final seven episodes of Supernatural won’t start airing until October and the series finale won’t happen until November 19. But for me, there’s a tremendous sense of loss knowing that today may be the last time that these fictional characters who are so real to me will exist in the world. No, I’m not delusional, but psychologically our attachment to fictional characters who become very familiar over time is significant. We have the same biochemical reactions in our brains when we watch our favorite television show with our most beloved fictional characters as we do when we sit down to dinner with our loved ones in real life. It’s powerful, and especially in stressful times like these, it helps us feel a sense of safety and satisfaction. I am going to miss them so, so much.
I fell in love with Sam and Dean Winchester watching one of the first episodes of Season 2, as Dean broke down and tearfully confided to his brother that he was not all right, and Sam’s anguish at his brother’s pain was equally palpable. I realized at that moment that this show was so much more than its monster-of-the-week episodes, and that these characters had a depth that pulled me right in, hook line and sinker. I realized too that these actors weren’t just pretty faces (though that was a bonus) – they were willing and able to portray that depth, expressing emotions that ran the gamut, just like real life. Their acting sold their portrayals of these characters, just as Jensen and Jared’s real life friendship sold their love as brothers. I will never, I don’t think, feel this way about fictional characters again, as long as I live.
When Misha Collins arrived – whether he expected this or not – Jared and Jensen pulled him into that norm of openness and vulnerability and he rose to the challenge, forging his own friendships in real life and crafting distinct and complex relationships for Castiel and each of the brothers.
Knowing that today those characters will say their last words to each other is hard for me to get my head around. I can’t even imagine how hard it will be for them. Yesterday, on the second to last day of filming, some of the crew tweeted photos of the beautiful Vancouver locations they were filming at, and Jim Michaels and Kevin Parks shared photos of the Impala. I began to tear up immediately, thinking of the actors looking out over the familiar Vancouver beauty. I felt a rush of gratitude that Baby was there with them. They’ll need her comfort, and she’ll comfort them and keep them safe, just like she has for the past fifteen years.
Today will be the last Quote of the Day, the last song, the last whiteboard that Jason Fischer shared with us every day, making us feel like truly part of the family.
Nobody knows how life will go for any of the actors or where each of their roads will take them. There may be a Netflix limited series someday or maybe even a film, but whatever there is, it won’t be exactly this. These actors who have worked together so closely have become brothers in real life. This crew, many of whom have been there since season one, who work together like a well oiled machine and who have been there for each other through births and deaths and marriages and divorces, are family. They have all loved this little show so much, so tangibly, turning down other opportunities to stay loyal to what they built together with Supernatural.
That love and loyalty and care have made all the difference; have made the show what it is.
We put together two books to make sure that we would always remember how special Supernatural is, both to its cast and crew and to its fans. Family Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done have chapter after chapter that attest to the importance of this show, and its ability to change – and even save – lives. More than thirty Supernatural actors and fans wrote from their hearts about what Supernatural and the SPNFamily has meant to them; hopefully the book and its photos and art and personal stories will be a comfort as the show reaches its end.
In their chapters in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, Jared and Jensen both express their deep love for Sam and Dean, and their reluctance to make this a goodbye. I’ve talked to them from time to time over the past year about their feelings on the end of the show, witnessing them go from protective denial and ‘let’s just throw ourselves into this last season’ to a gradual breakdown of that denial and starting to feel the strong emotions that come with that. I know they’re feeling it now, and that there will be tears today. Saying goodbye to their own characters, as well as saying goodbye to each other’s, is going to be very hard. Incredible actors that they are, they’ll channel all those real life feelings into their characters, and that will make the ending every bit as genuine as all those other scenes they’ve done that have broken my heart in two.
It’s the title of Jensen’s chapter in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done. It’s about Sam and Dean, but it’s about Jared and Jensen and Misha and the entire SPNFamily too.
It helps somehow, knowing they’ve been as affected and changed by this show as we have. Jensen went back to the Men of Letters bunker as they tore down what apparently had been Dean’s room a day before, taking us along with him and letting us see his emotional reaction. I’m so grateful to have been along for this wild ride and that even now, at the end, they want to take us along on their journey.
Jensen: Goodbye, men of letters…
I also keep re-watching Jensen’s chat with Michael Rosenbaum, listening to him talk so genuinely about his friendships with Jared and Misha and how he thinks of this not as an ending of Supernatural, but as “let’s hang this in the closet for now, and we’ll dust her off down the road a bit.”
God, I hope so.
I don’t want to think that Sam and Dean and Cas aren’t out there somewhere, fighting insurmountable odds and trying to save the world — and each other. I don’t want to think they’ll never be on my screen again, that their stories won’t continue.
The loss is too big, if I think of it as forever.
For today, I’m sending all good thoughts northward towards Vancouver, and hoping Jared and Jensen (and anyone else who’s there on this last day) can feel it. I know I’ve told them many times, but I hope they really believe it – that these characters, this show, this SPN Family, have changed the world. We’ve made forever friends, discovered creativity we never knew we had, made the world a better place through all kinds of charitable endeavors from GISH to making sure an SPNFamily member had a safe place to live. We’ve been part of a worldwide community that makes us all feel less alone, all sparked by sharing a passion for a little TV show on The CW. We’ve been inspired by the Winchesters, and Castiel, and Jody and Charlie and Bobby and Donna and Ash and Jo and Ellen and Rowena and Jack and so many others to keep on fighting even when we felt like giving up – because that’s what they do.
I can never express my gratitude enough for all that Supernatural has given me.
As they film their last scenes and the words “that’s a wrap on Jared and Jensen” are called out, with a hitch in the voice no doubt, I hope the words of Kim Manners are ringing in their ears today. I hope they know they made him proud a thousand times over.