As Season 2 neared its end, Supernatural aired one of its most innovative episodes, ‘What Is And What Should Never Be’. Written by Raelle Tucker, who I wish we’d had longer on Supernatural, and directed by Eric Kripke himself, this 20th episode of the season was a brilliantly done episode that asked the provocative question, what if the Winchesters were never hunters and lived a “normal life”? But of course, because this is Supernatural, it’s a dark and twisted version of that question and its surprising answer.
The ‘THEN’ sequence is a flashback to the very beginning, John and Mary and four year old Dean living a happy “normal” life, then the fires, Mary and Jessica, with a reminder that Sam was headed to law school once upon a time. Then a reminder of Dean’s headspace at the time, as he and Sam argue.
Sam: I’m not gonna just ditch the job!
Dean: Screw the job, man, we don’t get paid, we don’t get thanked, only thing we get is bad luck!
He’s not wrong, especially with what they’ve gone through recently, in prison and with Agent Henriksen on their tail. As this episode aired, Dean was questioning everything, including the job that has been his identity, that he’s sacrificed so much for. Inevitably, there had to be times when he wanted out, even if he felt guilty about that desire, as though he was letting his father down. But Dean is only human, and this episode is a brilliant reminder of that, and of the hopes and dreams and wishes beneath the often stoic surface.
Needless to say, Jensen Ackles portrays all that so vividly that this episode is both painful as hell and impossible to look away from. He has talked about how hard this one was for him, because it took away what Jared and Jensen had relied on for two seasons – the bond between Sam and Dean. Jensen felt destabilized not having Sam’s partnership for Dean to count on, and couldn’t wait to finish filming – just like he would later feel about the Soulless Sam arc which also took “our” Sam away from Dean. That destabilized feeling totally works, though, as Dean himself is thrown by the sudden changes in his world and in his relationship with his brother.
Dean driving down the road in the Impala – which has a new license plate! I remember at the time grieving for the original Kansas plate KAZ2Y5. It seems like a little thing, but the Impala was already vastly beloved by the fandom, so it hurt us almost as much as it probably hurt her boys to change the plate. CNK80Q3 Ohio it was, until the end of the show.
Sam is back at the motel, worried that a cop car outside is coming for them, even though they changed the plate and ditched the credit cards they were using. That’s a toll that their newfound visibility took on them, constantly worrying more than they ever had about being caught by law enforcement as they tried to do their job of ‘saving people, hunting things’. It’s another reason for Dean’s discontent, as everything that they’re trying to do – to help people – is getting harder.
The cop car eventually drives away and Sam breathes a sigh of relief.
Dean, as always, keeps his game face on, saying nothing to worry about.
Sam: Yeah, being fugitives? Friggen’ dance party.
Dean (grinning): Hey man, chicks dig the danger vibe.
Half of Dean’s game face is to bolster his little brother, the other half he tries to believe himself.
They’ve been trying to figure out where a bunch of victims disappeared to, Dean driving around and Sam researching. Back at the motel, Sam says that he’s figured out what they’re hunting – a djinn.
Dean: A freaking genie? You think these suckers can really grant wishes?
Sam says they’re powerful enough, they’ve been feeding off people for centuries and are all over the Koran.
Sam: But not exactly like Barbara Eden in harem pants.
Dean (with a wistful look on his face): My God, Barbara Eden was hot, wasn’t she? Way hotter than that Bewitched chick…
Sam (annoyed): Are you even listening to me?
The whole conversation is priceless brotherly banter, with early seasons Dean constantly distracted by his libido and early seasons Sam constantly trying to get him back to concentrating on the job. It was 2007, and we all knew that Dean never actually sacrificed any part of doing the job – and Sam knew that too.
The conversation is also amusing to revisit in 2023 because does anyone watching on Netflix now actually know who Barbara Eden was or that Bewitched was a show that also had a hot woman with powers? I am old enough to know, but Sam and Dean were going back a ways even in 2007 to bring up television shows from the 1960s before they were born! (I imagine they watched a lot of reruns while left in motel rooms as kids though).
Dean decides keep driving and searching for the djinn’s lair, saying he saw a place that fits its MO a couple miles back. Sam is instantly worried – it’s never a good idea for the Winchesters to split up, as we all well know!
Sam: Wait no no no no, come pick me up first!
Should have listened to Sam, Dean!
But Dean goes on alone. The Impala pulls into a dark alley, full of the “atmo” smoke that they used so often in the early seasons. (The first time we visited the Supernatural set, they had gotten a little carried away with it and it took our transport van a bit longer to come pick us up while they cleared it out – there were alarms going off as we talked to the PA on the phone!)
He walks into an abandoned office building or storage warehouse, past an old fashioned typewriter.
His spidey senses tingle and he grips his knife as he goes, flashlight searching the room.
Then we see him walk by the Djinn’s bald head and it is CREEPY and SCARY as hell omg. This scene was so well done, the cinematography gorgeous, the barely visible figure of the djinn looming in the background where Dean doesn’t seem him – but we do. Well done, Kripke!
Suddenly the djinn attacks, grabbing Dean by the throat, forcing his blue hand onto his forehead as Dean’s eyes roll back. Ackles is so good at scenes like this; you can see the moment that Dean loses the battle, his expression going blank and his eyes vacant as the djinn puts him under.
It’s horrifying and terrifying in its realness.