There’s a reason why the 12th episode of Season 2 is so good. Actually there are a few reasons. One, it was written by Ben Edlund. Two, it was directed by Phil Sgriccia. And then there are those two really talented guys who play Sam and Dean.
Edlund didn’t stay with the show as long as I wish he had, but the episodes that he wrote are some of my favorites (as are the episodes he wrote for some of my other favorite shows). Phil Sgriccia was instrumental in shaping the show, staying until Eric Kripke’s new show took him away – and it was a great loss even then.
In ‘Nightshifter,’ the combination of Edlund’s tight, humorous but heartbreaking, quirky writing and dialogue and Sgriccia’s brilliant directing (and Serge Ladouceur’s brilliant lighting and cinematography as always) make this one of those episodes that could be the answer to someone asking for recommendations of episodes that show how special Supernatural is. The whole episode is tense, a mirror of Ronald’s paranoia threaded throughout reflecting the very real danger the Winchesters are in. This time, it’s not just from a supernatural entity, but from all too human law enforcement too. The sense that Sam and Dean are trapped – in the dark bank building, with something dangerous lurking in their midst and something dangerous waiting right outside to invade – sets the dark tone for the whole season as the mystery of the Yellow Eyed Demon and his plans for Sam play out.
It’s also a truly tragic episode, one of a handful that are hard to watch at times. Chris Gauthier’s portrayal of Ronald (and Edlund’s creation of the character) made him achingly real and very sympathetic. He’s a fanboy at heart, and he’s heroic in his own way, risking his life to do what he believes is the right thing and trying his damnedest to ‘save people, hunt things’ just like the Winchesters are doing. We’re rooting for Ronald throughout, and so are Sam and Dean, each in their own way. The contrast in how the brothers try to protect Ronald are telling, deepening our understanding of them – both how different they are and how that contrast often makes them efficient and deadly.
We also are introduced to Agent Henricksen (C. Malik Whitfield) in this episode. He’s another brilliantly written character, memorable instantly. He’s not a bad guy – he’s genuinely a good guy trying to do the right thing, and he’s smart and savvy and wisecracking doing it. The problem is, he sees the Winchesters from the outside and misinterprets who they are and what they’re trying to do. He’s sure they’re the bad guys, and he pursues them like he’s the one who’s saving people. Outsider pov is a popular trope in Supernatural fanfic for a reason – from the outside, if you didn’t know any better, you probably would agree with Henricksen. These guys are clearly dangerous, twisted, downright evil killers. I love that twist, and seeing that perspective so clearly through this character.
And lastly, the ending is one of the best in the series, with a music cue that is absolute perfection.
So, with all that build up… let’s dive into the rewatch…
We get a brief recap of Saving People, Hunting Things and the Winchesters’ previous encounter with a shapeshifter in Season One’s ‘Skin’ as well as a reminder that Dean is a wanted fugitive from Season Two’s ‘The Usual Suspects’ – and then we jump to the present, SWAT teams and cops and local press surrounding a building as a hostage is dramatically released – to our shock, the guy releasing him is none other than Dean Winchester.
That can’t be good.
Director Phil Sgriccia makes it both realistic and an intensely dramatic reveal as police and press all flurry around when they know a hostage is coming out, and the last thing we expect is for it to be Dean yelling at them to get back as he lets the hostage go.
ONE DAY AGO
Sam and Dean working a case in a jewelry store, Sam having a serious conversation with the manager guy and Dean having a flirty conversation with the woman who works there. She asks him what it’s like being FBI and Dean takes the opportunity to play it up – dangerous, keeping secrets. And lonely. Most of all, lonely. It’s clearly effective, but then, how could it not be? This is Dean Winchester she’s talking to.
She offers to do a more private interview later, and hands over her phone number (on a piece of paper because this is 2006).
Dean: You’re a true patriot.
Early seasons Dean is good with the BS and always interested in a hookup.
Sam, on the other hand, is having a much less pleasant conversation with the poor store manager, who can’t understand how an employee he’s known for decades lost his mind and murdered the store’s night watchman.
Manager: I heard him die…
The poor guy is distraught, and I can only imagine how horrible that would be. Dean has the empathy to look guilty when he realizes the kind of conversation Sam’s having, and joins them. He can’t resist waving the clerk’s phone number at Sam though.
The manager informs them that the police took all the security tapes, much to Dean’s dismay.
Dean: Friggen’ cops.
Sam: They’re just doing their job, Dean.
Dean: No, they’re doing OUR job, only they don’t know it, so they suck at it.
He’s not wrong.