Supernatural: Season 1, Episode 3: “Dead In the Water”

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Directed by Kim Manners
Written by Sera Gamble & Raelle Tucker

Kim Manners died in 2009. He was such a huge part of helping to create the Supernatural aesthetic, both as a director (of some of my favorite episodes, including this one and “Mystery Spot”), and executive producer of the series. I think the series still misses his presence. He was meticulous. Careful. Imaginative. A real artist and collaborator.

And Sera Gamble and Raelle Tucker are a writing team on the Supernatural staff, responsible for some of the best “Dean Winchester episodes”. Gamble, of course, has gone on to executive produce the show, and Tucker is story editor, and the roles keep morphing and shifting. But this is the first time we get a glimpse of what is to come from this talented writing duo.

“Dead in the Water” is a mini-masterpiece, and in lesser clumsier sappier hands, it would have been cheesy beyond belief. But seen through Kim Manners’ moody eyes, it becomes a meditation on grief and trauma and death. If Episode 2 was really about Sam, and Sam having to let go of Jess and let go of the life he thought he would have, then Episode 3 is about Dean, being put in a situation where he actually ends up feeling his own trauma. Dean Winchester is so seemingly in control of himself (and this is all balanced by the almost raw vulnerability of Jensen Ackles’ acting), that he is nearly always blindsided by emotions he doesn’t approve of. This behavior could get so tiresome in another actor. But what can I say, the guy’s a star. Point a camera at him and something interesting always happens.

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As happened in episode 2, the “case” they come upon deals with a ruined family. The episode is filled with water images: sometimes the water is black and opaque, sometimes it is clear and limpid and you can see through it. It’s like looking at your own past. Sometimes it’s all shadows, and sometimes stuff comes up out of the deep at you. You are ambushed. The show puts PTSD on the table, with the young traumatized child they meet, but of course we are encouraged to make the connection to the brothers. The trauma for Dean of losing his mother and witnessing her burning up was not “handled” or “managed” by the surviving parent. At least not in a caring way. It is interesting to note that when Dean finally does talk about his childhood here, he talks about his mother, not his father.

Season 1 is all about the search for Dad. But missing Dad is more of an issue for Sam, who has unfinished business with the man. Missing Mom is Dean’s territory. Sam never knew his mother. Dean did. Season 5, Season 6, Season 7 … we’re still going deeper into that trauma, learning more about it. The show is so elegant with this stuff. It could be maudlin. It could be cheap. It isn’t.

Teaser

The white letters of the black screen tell us we are in “Lake Manitoc, Wisconsin.” The color palette of the episode is stark and almost monochromatic. Everything is dark green, grey, pale white, or black. You can count on one hand the times that a bright color shows up in this episode:
1. In the teaser. The girl we see is wearing a bright blue track suit. This is a visual cue as to what will happen to her, and what she will represent.
2. Worn by the beautiful and talented Amy Acker, who plays Andrea Barr. She is always dressed in soft pink, or white. Colors work on us in subconscious ways. We may not even realize it.
3. Andrea Barr’s son, Lucas, spends his time coloring, and he uses colors that are banned from the palette in the rest of the film, i.e. in the real world. Lucas’ drawings burn with reds and blues and yellows.What he is drawing is the past. They are left out of the frame deliberately by Manners and team in the present.

The episode opens in a dark kitchen. Bill Carlton, the father (Bruce Dawson) sits at the breakfast table, and is pretty much lost to the world. Behind him are his two teenage children, Will (Troy Clare) and Sophie (Amber Borycki), teasing each other, maybe pretending that something isn’t wrong with Dad. Sophie goes out to take a swim, their house being right on the lake.

There are a couple of references in the plot line of Dead in the Water, one being Jaws obviously, something unseen stalking humans from beneath the water. There is also (as we’ve seen in the other two episodes before this one) a Deliverance thematic tie-in, only this time not having to do with male rape but with a dam upriver. That dam will not be repaired and so in a short time this lake will disappear, as will the small tourist town around it. The elegiac tone of the episode is both familial and cultural. Families are disappearing, and this world we see before us is disappearing.

Sophie dives into the water of the lake. The water is black. Manners was so in charge of how he wanted that lake to look. No bright blue or green water, even though the sun is shining. He wanted it black, and it is black. We see her from below, swimming above us, in a terrifying series of shots.

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What happens next is almost a shot-by-shot reconstruction of the famous opening scene in Jaws.

1st scene
Episode 2 ended with Dean assuring Sam that they are going to find Dad. And here they are, in a crappy motel right on a busy road with 18-wheelers zooming by. There’s a coffee shop in the motel, and that’s where we meet up with Dean, sitting at the counter, going over the obituaries in a local paper.

A quick note on the upcoming scene. It’s the only time the “search for Dad” comes up, which sets it apart, and starkly, from the episode that came before where the search for Dad overshadowed almost every scene. Also, it’s supposed to take place in a crappy coffee shop, frequented by truckers. Most of the scene is done in intense closeup, from Sam to Dean and back, and so we don’t see much of the space, but what we do see dovetails into the style and mood of the whole episode.

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Doesn’t look like any crappy breakfast joint that I’ve ever been in, with the Venetian blind shadows on that interior wall, stretching off down and to the side. Supernatural is not supposed to be kitchen-sink realism. The coffee shop is a cold room, they both still have their jackets on, the light is the cold white light of morning. Both of these actors are better in natural light. Or maybe it’s just my taste. They’d be gorgeous if they were covered in garbage, but I like them both best in moody natural light, I like them with shadows on their faces, I like it when they’re not flattened out by artificial lighting and makeup. It’s easier to control what you’re doing if you use a ton of stage lights and put everyone in makeup that reflects what you want it to reflect. But filming these two guys in mostly natural light (albeit controlled and harnessed) is an art and it’s at a very high level in “Dead in the Water”.

The waitress interrupts Dean’s close reading, and she is a smiling blonde wearing Daisy Dukes, because of course that’s what she would be wearing. It’s Dean Winchester’s world and we’re just living in it. He is literally frozen like a statue staring up at her, and if Sam hadn’t come along, I certainly don’t think it would be beyond the scope of possibility that he would have followed her back into that short-order kitchen to get a little sumthin-sumthin going on for himself.

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Sam arrives, interrupts Dean’s reverie, immediately figures out what is going on, and says, “Check, please” to the waitress, sending her on her way. Poor Jared Padalecki is often saddled with these more prudish reactions to his brother’s sluttiness, cock-blocking him left and right, but it becomes this ongoing theme in their relationship which is mined for its comedy. Dean, picking up the thread of the conversation in Episode 2 about how this search for Dad may be a “long haul” and you have to kind of settle into it, says, “We’re allowed to have fun once in a while.” He points at Ms. Daisy Dukes in the kitchen and says, “That’s fun.”

Interestingly though, a moment follows, just a flicker on Dean’s face, where you know that he suddenly remembers that his brother lost his girlfriend, like three weeks ago. Dean has no idea what it’s like to bond with one person, but maybe he needs to put his cock back in his pocket right now and maybe Sam’s not ready to have fun of that kind. It’s a brief whisper of an expression, and it launches us into the next moment.

Dean brings out the newspaper where he has circled the obituary for Sophie Carlton. He fills Sam in. The girl just disappeared into the lake, and her body was never found. It was the third drowning this year. Sam is surprised to hear they buried an empty coffin for Sophie, and Dean shrugs, “Yeah. They did it for … closure, or whatever.” The word “closure” sounds weird coming from him. He has no idea what he is talking about. Foreshadowing though, subtle, you would totally miss it if you weren’t looking for it.

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Sam, whose anger in Season 1 and some of season 2 is more of the passive-aggressive variety (he is still intimidated by his brother, and Dean is such a powerhouse it’s hard to stand up to him), says to Dean that “people don’t just disappear. Other people just stop looking for them.” Dean treats this like tha standoff that it is, and hunkers down: “Is there something you want to say to me?” Sam is angry about how they’ve lost the trail for Dad, and they don’t seem to be looking for him anymore, and shouldn’t they spend their time looking for Dad? (Thankfully, this is the only time the search for Dad comes up in the episode. They already covered that ground in Episode 2. The mention of it here does help us keep that seasonal thru-line in mind.)

Dean is pissed off on a bunch of levels. He’s pissed that Sam doesn’t want to go investigate. Dean’s in charge of this racket. He’s also pissed off at Sam for suddenly being “Ohhh, noooo, where’s Dad??” Sam ditched the family. Sam walked away from Dad. “I was the one who was with him for the last 2 years while you went off to pep rallies.” Oh stop whining, tough guy. There’s a lifetime of anger and abandonment behind those words, not to mention a hint of the fact that Dad was a rough guy, and Dean took that directly on the chin by living in close contact with him all those years. HE’S the one who had to put up with Dad, deal with Dad. Sam opted out, so Fuck YOU, Sam.

It is at this point that Ms. Daisy Dukes strolls by again, and, in a flash, Dean gets distracted and peeks past Sam to watch her sashay by. It’s so ridiculous and beautiful. Sam then has to speak sharply to get Dean to focus again. Humorously, it seems to be Dean getting distracted by the waitress that is the deciding factor for Sam. Fine, let’s go to Lake Manitoc, and let’s go right now.

If you stopped every time Dean wanted to hook up with some broad you’d never get anywhere.

2nd scene
The Impala tears across the landscape, all as Ratt’s “Round and Round” plays. Ratt’s “Round and Round”. I love this show. We certainly needed to hear a little “Round and Round” after the gloomy standoff of the first scene.

3rd scene
The Impala pulls up in the driveway of the Carlton lake house. I would totally lock the doors if I saw that monster car coming to call. Will Carlton, the teenage son, opens the door to his house. Dean and Sam stand there, holding up fake badges, Dean introducing themselves as “Agent Ford, Agent Hamill, from the US Wildlife Service.” Naturally, Dean is “Agent Ford” and Sam is “Agent Hamill”. Remember, Eric Kripke had conceived of these guys as Han Solo/Luke Skywalker archetypes (along with some other reference points). There’s another Star Wars reference in this episode but that is to come.

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Dean, Sam and Will walk down to the shoreline, where Mr. Carlton is seen in the distance, sitting on the dock, staring out at the lake. The scene oozes mood and atmosphere. Sam is asking Will questions about his sister drowning and if he saw anything. Sam’s vibe is so gentle here, and yet so insistent, that it doesn’t even seem like he’s questioning Will at all. Sam would have made a great trial lawyer. Jared Padalecki does beautiful and subtle work in this episode. What we are seeing, in a very understated way, is Sam coming into his own. Dean is more cut-and-dry, usually, with the victims. He wants to get to the truth and if emotion comes out of the victims he is usually embarrassed and doesn’t know how to handle it, so he just waits it out, saying, lamely, “I’m very sorry.” or whatever. But Sam is able to sit with people’s grief and disorientation. He is not afraid of it. He is okay being in the presence of it. As I said in the Episode 2 re-cap, Dean doesn’t really have boundaries, in spite of the fact that he is a Tough Guy. Stuff gets in, it’s what makes him awkward, it’s what can make him impatient or gruff. It’s also, incidentally, what makes him a friendly lay, someone who leaves the ladies smiling and with no regrets. Here, though, we get a glimpse that the lack of boundaries is the very thing that makes him gruff and tough: He has to clamp down on anything “getting in”. He’s vulnerable and he knows it. We also see, in this episode, that Dean’s lack of boundaries is the key to his humanity, to who he is, it is his greatest asset. Remember that seasons later Bobby will say to him, “You’re a better hunter than your father ever was, and you’re a better man.” Dean balks at that, but it’s true.

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There are a couple of repeat shots in the episode showing Mr. Carlton on the dock, with the trees reflected in the lake beyond. This is Kim Manners and cinematographer Serge Ladouceur at their very best.

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4th scene

Dean and Sam, still posing as wildlife service officials, stop off at the local sheriff’s office to ask some questions about the drownings. Sheriff Jake Devins is played by familiar TV actor Daniel Hugh Kelly (guy has been on everything). Also, perfectly, he was in Cujo, back in the day, and Cujo is referenced often in Supernatural, not to mention the awful Hell Hounds which make everyone blanche with fear when they appear. The Sheriff is a helpful guy, and very upset about all of the drownings. He is the one who informs Dean and Sam about the dam upriver, and how the Feds won’t repair it. He assumes, of course, that “Agent Ford” and “Agent Hamill” already knew about all of this, because, duh, they work for the Wildlife Service. Dean and Sam bluff, “Oh yes, of course, the dam, right.”

This informative meeting is interrupted by Andrea Barr, played by the wonderful Amy Acker, entering the room. I know Amy Acker is well-known and beloved to television audiences, but I am in love with her performance as Beatrice in Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (my review at Roger Ebert here), one of the best film’s of last year. I am happy when she shows up in anything.

Andrea Barr is the sheriff’s daughter. When she enters the room, Sam and Dean stand up to greet her.

Now let’s talk about shot construction. I hope this isn’t boring. But it helps tell the story without words, and any time a director/actors can do that, it’s worth pointing out and understanding how it works and why.

So. We’ve seen enough of Dean to know that he gets distracted by women, and he seems to feel compelled to hit on all of them, just because. It helps pass the time, first of all, it’s fun, and it breaks up the monotony. Also, there’s the fact that women don’t factor in his life at all as a regular thing. He’s still sort of gob-smacked by their existence. He knows, too, that it doesn’t take a lot of work to get what he wants if he just puts it out there. He’s not vain, not really, but whatever, his sexuality is out there, it’s visible to the world, he’s objectified by everyone, anyway, he probably gets hit on all the time. By men and women alike. He doesn’t complicate it, the way Sam does, by worrying about feelings and such things. So when he wants something, he goes after it. If he strikes out, he doesn’t take it personally and moves on, can’t fault a guy for trying. (I love when he gets shot down by “Kali” in “Hammer of the Gods” (season 5). He doesn’t even hit on her, he just stops dead in his tracks, staring at her, his mouth full of food, and says “Hi.” Her response is: “No.” He fumbles, sort of grinning, “I was just …” She says again, “No.” He’s embarrassed and trying to swallow his food and bumblingly tries to explain (with no anger), “Lady, I was just …” Once again: “No.” She could not be more clear. Dean practically whispers in response: “10-4. Copy that.” And slinks away. And I die laughing.)

Andrea walks in the room. Everyone stands up, the camera pulling up to get everyone in the same frame.

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Dean’s eyes give her a quick once-over. And then he steps forward into the breach, holding out his hand, a big friendly smile on his face.

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It’s natural for him, he is not awkward, although everyone else is. That’s all one take.

Then there’s a medium shot of her smiling at him, shaking his hand. A medium shot is not a closeup. We are looking at her from Dean’s point of view, seeing what he sees. If it were a huge closeup of HER, we would know that we are supposed to be inside HER head.

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Next shot, holy cow, we are basically up Dean Winchester’s nose.

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It’s enormous. It’s almost too much. It’s almost too obvious. I winced the first time I saw the episode. Yuk. But on repeat viewings, it works better. A closeup like that is always psychological in nature. Sometimes television directors use closeups like that because they are efficient. A closeup like that gets the job done. Tells you where to look and gives you point of view and perspective. But Supernatural is more artfully put together, more film-ic, so that a closeup like that really means something. Especially smack-dab in the middle of a rote introduction scene. Back the hell UP. Dean is not leering at her, or swaggering, that’s not his style, it’s more of an open appreciative “Hello, Woman Person” smile, which is then interrupted by the Sheriff saying something in the background, and the camera quickly switches focus (same take), bringing the Sheriff into clarity and leaving Dean a blur in the foreground.

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My problem with a lot of found footage stuff these days is that these people swing the cameras around desperately searching for the moment. It takes time and thought to CREATE a moment like the one I just described (which, bah, takes up less than one second of screen time), but it’s worth it. It tells you so much.

Also, once you’ve seen the episode, you know that that giant closeup of Dean smiling at her in that soft open way is a red herring. It is playing on our expectations (“oh, of course, okay, Dean will be crushing on her the entire episode”). The show itself is messing with us. Because it has no intention of going down that expected road. SUCKAZ.

From behind Andrea, a small boy appears. Dean sees him, and says, “Oh hi! What’s your name?” Andrea introduces him as her son, Lucas. (Phone call for Star Wars.) The kid scurries away. Father and daughter share a concerned look, the scene is suddenly fraught with trauma and history leaving everyone silent. But it’s important to notice Dean’s behavior toward the child. He is immediately drawn to the kid. He probably just thinks he’s being nice to a little rug-rat, who happens to be the son of the Woman Person he is crushing on, but considering the way the episode unfolds, that’s not just it. He doesn’t even know what he’s reacting to. Not yet. This will have reverb that will last SEASONS, when you consider what happens at the end of Season 5 and into Season 6. I won’t say anymore. It’s just that this is our first glimpse of Dean Winchester and kids. And it happens almost invisibly, it’s super subtle, but it is obviously a conscious planting of the seed.

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Dean and Sam are a bit taken aback by the clear trauma hovering around little Lucas and his mother. The Sheriff will only say that “they’ve been through a lot.” Nobody says anything else. Sam and Dean head for the door and then Dean can’t help himself. He asks Andrea if she can recommend any reasonably priced motels. She says to try the Lakefront Motel, two blocks down the road. Dean never takes his eyes off her and asks if maybe she can walk them there, he would really appreciate it. Please take a second to notice Sam’s visible eye roll in the background. It makes me laugh out loud. I love Jared. Dean is acting so obvious and everyone knows it but he obviously does not care. How are you ever gonna score if you don’t put yourself out there? Come on, people.

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5th scene

Andrea, Dean and Sam walk across the street. She is charging ahead of them, and Dean basically scurries along at her side, trying to make conversation. It’s desperate. He means well. He says, “Lucas is a cute kid.” No real response, so Dean decides to then say, as if to himself, in a thoughtful philosophical manner, “Kids are the best, huh.” Sam laughs out loud. See above comment in re: loving Jared. Dean throws him a desperate shrug, like, “I’m trying, what else am I supposed to say? Leave me alone.” Brothers!

It’s behavior like this that made me love this show. I could give a Ratt’s “round and round” ass about demons. It’s BEHAVIOR that is the hook for me.

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Andrea, who is surrounded by a tragedy and we don’t know what it is yet, is not so lost to the world that she doesn’t perceive that this guy in the leather jacket that is two sizes too big for him is hitting on her, obviously, and she decides to put him out of his misery once they reach the hotel. She turns to him and says, “Must be hard, huh?” Dean obviously thinks that she is about to say something flirtatious and flattering, like, “Being a member of the Wildlife Service” or “Being on the road all the time”, so that he can then be stoic and sexy in response. You can see Dean sort of open up to receive whatever flirty comment she’s about to throw at him, and instead she completes her thought with, “With your sense of direction never being able to find your way to a decent pick-up line.”

And then she walks off, calling over her shoulder, “Enjoy your stay.”

How much do we adore Amy Acker?

Dean is visibly embarrassed and Sam looks down, way down, at his brother and says,
“‘Kids are the best??’” Dean protests, “I love kids!” And Jared Padalecki’s condescending tone in the next line is hilarious: “Name three children that you even know.”

Dean can’t.

6th scene
Motel Room alert! Here we are inside the Lakefront Motel! Dank and moldy, busy wallpaper, and, of course, dark as hell, because Supernatural never turns the lights on.

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Sam sits at his laptop doing research on the drownings in the lake, of which there have been many, going back years. None of the bodies were recovered, and there are no eye witnesses to a “monster”, unlike with a phenomenon such as “Nessie”. It takes a while, almost the entire episode, for Dean and Sam to figure out what they are dealing with here. Sam comes across a newspaper article about a “Christopher Barr” and the name rings a bell for Dean. Yeah, dude, that was the last name of that woman you were just hitting on for two blocks. But it only becomes clear when the newspaper page loads, and we see a grainy black and white photo of Lucas, wrapped in a blanket, staring traumatized into the camera. Sam reads the article out loud, and they learn that Andrea’s husband, Christopher Barr, drowned in May. He had been out in a boat with his son Lucas, and Lucas held onto a wooden platform and wasn’t rescued for two hours.

Small side note: The original music for this episode is superb. It’s a melancholy simple piano, mournful and sometimes eerie. It shows up in the scenes having to do with Lucas, and it shows up in the scenes that Dean has with Lucas. It is what binds them together.

As Sam reads the article, Dean draws back, and the camera stays on his face as he listens. It is the most important shot in the episode, maybe even in the season. Without that shot, everything that follows wouldn’t be possible.

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It’s the trauma in Lucas that rises up from the depths of Dean’s subconscious. There is no way that Dean would sit down and chat with Sam about what he went through as a kid. It’s too hot to handle, too painful. He does a lot of things in life to AVOID feeling things. But, as I said, he has no boundaries, as much as he tries to create a bulwark. And it’s not just a feeling for Lucas that gets through, it is what connects them. Dean says (and it’s a credit to Ackles that it’s not too much): “Watching your parents die isn’t something you just get over.”

From this point on, Dean doesn’t pay Andrea Woman-Person any attention, at least not any further than listening in his capacity as an investigator. Sam takes over that relationship, standing by her, talking to her, and Dean is all about the kid. Dean never takes his eyes off the kid. Dean needs to connect with that kid. Of course to find out what the kid saw out there on that lake, but not just for that reason. The script gets pretty explicit on connecting these two characters – Dean and Lucas – and it’s beautifully written, but it needed a gentle hand, in terms of direction, acting, and mood. If there were sweeping strings and tearful hugs between man and child, it would be like any other Tough Guy Bonds With Child storyline, and it may be effective but it wouldn’t vibrate with freakin’ tragedy like this episode does. Supernatural almost tiptoes towards its points.

7th scene
I would show this next scene to young directors just starting out in their careers as an example of “how it should be done”, as well as an example of the virtue of “Keep it simple, stupid.” Don’t do too much. Choose camera moves in service to the story. This is not camera work that calls attention to itself, although there is a time and place for that. Here, you barely notice it, but the way the camera moves is giving you emotional information that helps you invest, that clicks you in to that “spine” I keep mentioning, from Elia Kazan’s work on script analysis.

The music cues are also eloquent, subtle, and timed perfectly with those small camera pans, so that the end result is almost a keen of grief and trauma that nobody can speak of but which pulsates beneath the surface.

And I haven’t even MENTIONED the acting. None of those camera moves and music cues would have any resonance whatsoever if Jensen Ackles didn’t bring it like he did.

Andrea sits in a park, watching Lucas coloring at a bench across the way. Dean and Sam show up beside her, and she looks up, surprised to see them, and of course assumes that Mr. “Kids Are the Best” is coming in for a second try. Dean goes off to say hello to Lucas, and Andrea says to Sam, laughing, but serious underneath, “Please tell your friend that this Jerry Maguire thing he’s doing won’t work on me.” Sam, gentle, gentle, Jared Padalecki at his best, says, “I don’t think that’s what this is about.”

Now we come to the guts of the scene. Dean and Lucas.

Some things to watch for: Dean actually doesn’t know any children, and he has lived his life trying to forget what it felt like to be so weak and small and helpless. So his first moments dealing with Lucas are so awkward and he’s trying so hard that sometimes I want to fast-forward the scene. It’s uncomfortable. Dean squats down next to Lucas, and as he does so, he laughs. For no reason. Maybe Dean thinks that you’re supposed to show children that everything is happy, and you’re happy, so in that case, here’s a little meaningless laugh. It’s so vulnerable especially when Lucas doesn’t respond. Lucas never looks up from his coloring in the entire following scene.

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After his meaningless “I am a safe and happy grown-up” laugh, Dean kind of just sits there, not sure what to do next. His smile, at first, is that false too-bright smile that awkward adults use with kids. Another type of man would say, “Listen, kid, it’s time you knew there were a lot of dark evil things out there. The sooner you know it the better.” John Winchester was that type of man. That was John Winchester’s advice to his traumatized 4-year-old son. You would think that Dean might go there automatically. But it doesn’t even seem to occur to him. As I said, this is his vulnerability, his humanity. Dean flounders. He looks around and catches sight of all the little plastic army guys that Lucas has lined up alongside his pad of construction paper. (SEASONS later, army men will come back into play in a very personal way. I love it when the show remembers, when the show loops us back, filling in blanks.) So Dean thinks maybe he should talk about the army men? Is that how you talk to kids? He picks one up, saying, “I used to love these!” Then poor Dean starts playing with the army man, pretending to make it shoot and then fall over and die. It’s embarrassing to watch and you ache for it to end.

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Dean, his eyes never leaving Lucas, taking in the behavior, the coloring, says, “So Crayons are really more your thing, huh.” No response but Dean nods as though Lucas has responded, and says, “That’s cool. Chicks dig artists.” Dean, stop it. He can’t though. He’s trying to be supportive. Dean flips through Lucas’ finished drawings, we see a couple of drawings of a big red bike. He asks if he could draw with Lucas for a while, he’s a good artist too. Moving slowly, almost tentatively, like he doesn’t want to alarm Lucas, he picks up a pad of paper and a Crayon and sits next to Lucas on the bench.

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And as he starts to draw, focusing down on the pad, he starts to talk, and as he starts to talk, he remains focused on his drawing, only throwing a glance or two down at Lucas throughout. He speaks casually, lightly, and yet the way the music has begun again, that mournful piano theme, and the way the camera places Dean in the frame, surrounded by that dark green-black background, stirs up the depths of what is really happening, you know what it is REALLY about. It’s as explicit as this show gets. And every pause, every shift of tone, every glance … is simple, underplayed, and filled with subtext, unspoken thought, buried pain. Seriously, Ackles is magnificent.

You know I’m thinking you can hear me. You just don’t want to talk. I don’t know what exactly happened to your Dad but I know it was something real bad. I think I know how you feel. When I was your age I saw something … Anyway. Maybe you don’t think anyone will listen to you or … believe you. I want you to know that I will. You don’t even have to say anything. You can draw me a picture about what you saw that day with your Dad on the lake.

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We’ve never seen this Dean before. The series was smart to dole him out in small doses. If we got this Dean in the first episode, you would have gagged with the idolization of him. Or I would have. It would have felt manipulative. But they held Dean back. Maybe that’s part of seeing him solely through Sam’s eyes, and Sam’s memory of him as the protector, the tough unafraid guy. Dean is revealed slowly, layer by layer. Sam is our “way in” to him.

Dean decides, after his speech, to gently leave Lucas alone. Before he goes, Dean gives Lucas the drawing he just did, with four stick figures on it. Dean points out each family member, and watch Ackles get ambushed by the words “That’s my mom.” It’s the kind of acting I love best. It comes out of the reality of the moment, and it is surrounded by other moments, as such emotional ambushes often are. It is PART of the scene, it is not underlined or pointed out, we don’t get a teary self-congratulatory closeup, or anything AWFUL like that. It appears to be totally spontaneous on the part of Ackles. Like, suddenly, in the middle of a normal moment, Tough Guy wants to burst into tears, and he’s not a burst into tears kind of guy, so he clamps that shit down, like, where the hell did THAT come from?

Dean gets up and walks away, looking back over his shoulder at Lucas. We then see a gorgeous closeup of the army men surrounding Dean’s drawing of his own ruined family. Think of the resonance of that image when you consider where this series is going. It’s amazing. Poetic.

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And then, into the frame, we see Lucas’ hand, slowly pick up the drawing, hold it up, and stare at it with no expression on his face. It is the first time he has put down the Crayolas.

Sam is talking to Andrea about Lucas when Dean walks back over. Andrea is telling Sam that the doctors have told her that Lucas is having a PTSD reaction to what happened to his dad. Before his dad’s death he was full of life and rambunctious and now all he does is color. What I love about the subtlety of this final moment of the scene is how it is Sam talking to Andrea now, interviewing her, getting answers. He does a better job of it too, probably, since he’s not hitting on her. Dean listens, though, and says to her, “Kids are strong. You’d be surprised what they can deal with.”

Suddenly he’s Dr. Spock. But we know what has happened. He’s thinking of himself, he’s seeing himself in Lucas, he identifies. God, this would be dreadful in the hands of a team who wanted to pour syrup all over it. This episode, though, is truly mournful.

As they chat about Lucas, he approaches from across the playground, holding a piece of paper in his hand. His mother greets him with, “Hi, sweetie …” and then stops dead, when Lucas stands right next to Dean, and holds up the piece of paper to Dean. This child actor is very talented and has been sensitively directed. He does not look up at Dean, he stares down at the ground, holding up what he drew.

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Everyone is stunned. The drawing is of a green house with a red roof. Dean holds it, looking at it. He doesn’t understand it but he understands that Lucas is telling him something. He looks down at the kid and thanks him and Lucas then walks away. The adults all just stand there. And then we get a shot of Andrea looking at Dean with something like awe, another one of those shots early on in the series where we see Dean or Sam from the outside, what they must appear like to other people. They are a closed system, as brothers. They give false names, flash false badges, and tell lies throughout every episode. They keep secrets. But there are these moments, when the truth of who they are, is revealed to outsiders, and we get these brief glimpses of what they must seem like to the baffled grieving people they are trying to help.

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8th scene
You knew the Lady of the Lake wouldn’t just stop with one body in the episode, right? Back at the Carlton house, which is the darkest house on the planet, Mr. Carlton sits in an armchair, literally frozen with grief. It’s a devastating shot. Young Will Carlton peeks his head in, and says, “Dad, you’ve got to eat something.”

Supernatural is about parents who abandon their children, by dying, by checking out, by not respecting/protecting the childrens’ innocence. In Season 5, Dean openly refers to John, a bunch of times, with contempt and rage, as a “deadbeat Dad”. In Season 1, he’s still in thrall to his Dad, but those ties are starting to loosen. In that brief moment with Will at the doorway, we are seeing the burden placed on Will Carlton, whose father’s grief has filled the house, perhaps leaving no space for Will to do his own grieving! He is now the care-taker of his father.

Will goes into the pitch-black kitchen to make dinner. In the pitch-black. Because this is Supernatural.

The second you see the kid chopping up potatoes as the water pours into the sink beside him, you know he’s dunzo. We see the water start to run black. Suddenly the sink starts backing up from the pipes below and black water churns up into the sink, filling it quickly. Will, of course, does not know that he is in a mini-horror-movie and so he plunges his hands into the black water to pull out the stopper. The lighting is great. The blackness of the kitchen makes the faucets gleam silver, an image that will return in a later scene.

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Unfortunately, Will is pulled into the sink, something holding his head down, or pulling on him from below, and despite his mighty struggle
1. Comatose dad doesn’t hear a thing from the next room
and
2. He dies, his face floating in the black water.

9th scene
What follows is a pretty stock “brothers hash out what kind of creature they are dealing with” scene, that takes place in the motel room. Sam bursts in and informs Dean that Will Carlton just drowned “in the sink”. So it’s clearly not a Nessie type of thing happening. Dean says, “Water wraith, maybe?” You know, and it goes on in this way. But, as is typical of the show in its earliest days, the scene is filled with shadows, blackness crowding in on each face, the light doled out sparsely and carefully. The framing is opposite, with Sam and Dean sitting on the ends of their beds, Sam looking at Dean, which is into the darkness at the back of the motel room, and Dean looking at Sam, which is into the light from the window. So you get all kinds of interesting visual stuff to feast your eyes on.

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People are most interesting on camera when they are listening and thinking, not when they are speaking. That is what this scene is about even with all the dialogue. It is watching the brothers process thought. So the water that is killing people is coming from the same source, the lake, and the lake is going to disappear so that’s why the body count is going up. But what’s the connection to Bill Carlton? Sam has been “asking around” – because of course he would – and Lucas’ father was Bill Carlton’s godson. Dean is already putting on his shoes.

10th scene
Dean and Sam tower over Mr. Carlton, who is sitting motionless on the dock. Sam takes the lead, as he does throughout this episode, but it’s the way he takes the lead that is so interesting, and so in contrast to the raging Alpha Dog we saw exploding in Episode 2, where he was ordering everyone around. Something happened to Sam in that night in the woods in Blackwater Ridge, he turned a corner. Jess is gone. His future as a lawyer is on hold or gone. He’s here, he’s in the now, and these people need to be questioned, and I know how to do this. I am good at this. It’s natural to me.

All of this is unspoken, it’s not in the dialogue. It’s just Padalecki’s sensitivity to the material.

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I also think that Sam senses that Dean is somehow incapacitated by this case. Dean is connected to it in some way that Sam can’t sense yet. So someone needs to question these people, and so he’ll do it. Mr. Carlton is like Lucas, lost to this world. All he says is, “My children are gone. It’s worse than dying.”

As Sam and Dean walk back to the Impala, Dean realizes that the drawing Lucas gave him was of the Carlton’s house.

11th scene
Dean and Sam stand in Andrea’s house, asking if they can talk to Lucas. The camera angle is totally Horror Movie Playbook, off-kilter, and from down near the ground. It certainly gives what is a stock scene a sense of tension, but on another level: the camera is placed at Lucas’ eye level. He’s not present in the scene, but visually he IS.

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It’s great to see the two brothers and their different energies here. Again, Sam is gentle and yet insistent. “We think something’s happening out there, we think other people are going to get hurt …” Dean, on the other hand, is straight-up urgent, forthright, truthful. “If you think there’s any possibility that something else is going on here, then you need to let me talk to your son.”

12th scene
Lucas sits on the floor in his room coloring, the camera circling around him, on his level, evoking the circles he draws in his drawings, the big black whirlpools. Dean, Sam and Andrea appear in the doorway. Dean, tentatively enters the room, and again, squats down onto Lucas’ level. Lucas doesn’t look up.

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And here’s our second mini-masterpiece scene, involving Dean and Lucas. Dean, again, is the only one who has lines. The first scene in the park happened without any witnesses. Now there are witnesses, Sam and Andrea. What we get here is a closeup of Dean on the floor, talking to Lucas, with Sam blurry in the doorway beyond. And then, on certain lines, the focus will shift, and suddenly Sam’s face is clear and Dean’s is blurry. Jensen Ackles, again, is superb here, but it’s the listening of Jared Padalecki, the concerned and almost surprised listening, that helps the scene really land.

This is the emotional guts of the show. It is in moments like this that Supernatural knows what it is REALLY about.

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The switching of focus in the middle of a take cuts down on the number of edits and cuts, which works in an invisible way on the audience. Hopefully you are never aware of it. Most of TV is quick cuts, closeup to closeup. Why? Because it’s the most efficient way to tell your story. Switching focus in the middle of a take also lets air into the scene, it relies HEAVILY on the actors being in the moment. They aren’t just holding their good stuff back for their own personal closeup. Everyone has to work together to create the scene.

As Lucas colors, Dean stares at him, trying to figure out what to say, how to say it.

What he says is:

I wanted to thank you for that last drawing. But the thing is … I need your help again. How did you know to draw this? Did you know something bad was going to happen? Maybe you could nod Yes or No for me. You’re scared. It’s okay. I understand. See, when I was your age I saw something real bad happen to my Mom. And I was scared too. I didn’t feel like talking. Just like you. But see, my mom, I know she would have wanted me to be brave. I think about that every day. And I do my best to be brave. And maybe your Dad wants you to be brave too.

I mentioned earlier: I find it so interesting that to Dean it is MOM who would have wanted him to be brave. It’s NOT Dad, the choice you might expect, considering Dean’s dad taught him to face scary monsters and be strong and all that. No, it’s MOM that Dean goes to. This is never even commented upon in the episode, but Dad is almost irrelevant to Dean at this point. I think it all may still be a muddle to him, and I don’t think even he is clear what is happening to him here, except that he knows he identifies with Lucas, but it gives us a chance to reflect on all of these dynamics and traumas. Wonderful writing.

When Dean finishes talking, Lucas looks up and they make eye contact for the first time. Dean looks like he is afraid to breathe. Lucas holds out a drawing to Dean. It is of a white church and a yellow house.

13th scene
Dean and Sam barrel along in the Impala, looking at Lucas’ drawing and talking and arguing about it. How the hell are they gonna find a yellow house that matches the description? Underneath this scene Billy Squier’s “Too Daze Gone” plays.. First of all, they’re listening to Billy Squier. Let’s just take a moment to appreciate that. I certainly do, since I still have the Billy Squier album I bought in 1983. Second of all, as happens so often in the show, the lyrics are filled with weird subtext as background. You have to know the song to understand why it was chosen.

Too daze gone, too daze gone
I’m broke down, insufferable
My mind is on the blink
It’s later than you think
And I’m too daze gone

Couldn’t raise my head just to save the day
I do my penance, try to keep the world at bay
Outta sight, outta mind, ills you don’t expect to find
I learned my lesson a thousand times too
Don’t make no impression, one thing I can do

So apparently Lucas only started being able to draw like that after his dad’s death. I love that Sam is not afraid of seeming nerdy, even though his brother makes fun of him for his useful information constantly. Sam says “There are cases where children who went through a traumatic event and blah blah blah …” Sam focuses on the distinctive white church in the drawing and surmises that it shouldn’t be hard to find. Dean makes a wisecrack about Sam being a “college boy” which lightens the mood and then gives Sam the bravery to talk about emotions. Which goes over as well as you would expect.

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Sam: “You know, what you said about Mom … You never told me that before.”

Dean is suddenly all tight, his eyes gone hard and flat, overlaying it all with a sort of casual vibe that is 100% unconvincing. “It’s no big deal.” Sell that shit to someone else, Dean Winchester.

Sam keeps looking over at Dean and Dean groans, “Oh God. We’re not gonna have to hug or anything, are we?”

Story is not run on resolution. Story is run on conflict. The conflict within these guys about their own past, their own emotions, and each other, is what keeps this story going.

14th scene
Welcome to the very first creepy-ass church featured in Supernatural.

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There will be many many many more. If you see a church in Supernatural, it’s gonna look creepy as hell. We even get a lens flare thrown in here.

It is interesting, though, considering where the series goes. Dean clicks with a kid, who is somehow stirring up shit about his own past. The kid leads him to a church. Now, of course they really need to go to the yellow house in the picture, and they do, but the church is how they found the house, and I can’t help but think that this is just a tiny glimpse, the veil drawing back a bit, on Dean’s journey through Seasons 3 and 4, into the more celestial and spiritual aspects of his life. The advent of Castiel, the discovery that Sam prays every day, and Dean’s sudden heart-wrenching prayers in Seasons 4 and 5 after saying repeatedly that he doesn’t believe, that angels are dicks, and God is even worse, he’s a sadist, so fuck him he’s just another deadbeat dad. But here we are, in the third episode of the first season, and a child leads Dean to a church?

Come on now. It looks too obvious written out like that, but it’s not obvious in the playing of it!

Sam and Dean are let into the yellow house across the street by a Mrs. Sweeney, a little white-haired lady (Bethoe Shirkoff). She lives in the second darkest house on the planet. Sam and Dean don’t even know what they’re looking for at this point. There was a little boy with a bike in Lucas’ drawing so they sort of fumble around asking if a little boy lives here and in asking that question they stumble upon a tragedy. It is also interesting that in this scene, Dean does the majority of the questioning. Sam asks people questions about the lake and the thing in the lake. Dean’s job is Lucas and the little boy in the drawing. Kids, in other words. Time stopped for Dean when he was 4 years old. He doesn’t know any kids but suddenly, what the hell, he’s all about kids. 35 years ago, Peter, this woman’s son, did not come home from school. He just vanished with his bicycle. There’s a great shot of the kid’s school picture in a frame, and then the focus shifts and we see her reflection in the glass.

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HOW things are put together really interest me. I’m sorry if it doesn’t interest others! But it’s in these elegant stylish details that stories are told, and Supernatural is so good at it.

As she tells the story, Sam notices a bunch of army men on a nearby table and nudges Dean to look. Dean stares down at them. Dean sees an old photo placed in a mirror frame of two young Eagle Scouts, and he turns the photo over and reads the writing on the back.

15th scene
Bill Carlton sits in his chair on the dock and talks to the lake. “You’ve taken everything. Everyone. I think I finally know what you want.”

Suicide and whether or not to check out will become more explicit in later seasons. Dean is basically an alcoholic in season 6 and 7. Trying to numb himself out or hurry his end? Bobby keeps a gun in his drawer with one bullet, and every day he knows that it’s an option, to end it all. Dean is normally very offended by suicide and self-destructive behavior. He always thinks there’s a chance, as long as you’re alive, to make things better, to make things right. And yet, throughout the series, he signs up for self-sacrifice, sometimes for noble reasons, but sometimes because he does not think his existence has any worth. It’ll be a struggle.

16th scene
Dean and Sam hurtle the Impala back to the Carlton house and have a thankless scene, very well played, where they urgently re-cap for us what they have learned, in case we don’t get it yet. The picture Dean saw was of Peter Sweeney and Billy Carlton in 1970. What if Bill killed Peter back then? If so, then Peter would be “one pissed-off spirit” and would go after everyone Bill Carlton loved.

17th scene
Sam and Dean pound towards the Carlton house calling out for the man, and then Dean notices Mr. Carlton heading out into the lake alone in an outboard motor. An ominous sign, and the music bursts into play here, percussion, insistent, frightening. There is a great shot of Dean and Sam racing down to the shoreline, staring out at Mr. Carlton as he chugs away into the water.

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They stand at the end of the dock, shouting and gesturing for him to come back, and suddenly, the boat is tossed up out of the water, flips, and sinks, taking Mr. Carlton with it. For a low-budget show, it’s a very good effect.

18th scene
Sam, Dean and the Sheriff walk into the Sheriff’s office, where Andrea and Lucas are sitting. Lucas is rocking back and forth, and she is trying to comfort him. She greets them with, “Sam! Dean! What are you still doing here?” and her father balks at that. “First name basis?” Something’s different with the Sheriff, the energy has shifted. Andrea confronts her father about Bill Carlton’s drowning, and wants to know what is going on. Is something going on with the lake? The Sheriff is angry, these are drownings, he’s got other things on his mind, and a small argument ensues, which has no point, but gives us a chance to home in on Dean, who stands there, staring down at Lucas.

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The Sheriff tells his daughter to go on home and Lucas suddenly, panicked and trembling, races at Dean trying to hug him and hold onto him. It’s heart-wrenching, and Dean’s reaction to it is heart-wrenching. Andrea tries to hug her son, but Lucas is reaching out to Dean, and Dean is telling Lucas it’s going to be okay, and he’s putting his hand on the kid’s head, but it’s tearing him up, the whole thing. For a Fix-It guy like Dean, this is fucking awful. Andrea leads Lucas out, and Lucas never takes his eyes off Dean as he walks away. Dean looks devastated. He doesn’t even know what is happening, but it doesn’t matter, that kid is a fucking mess, and what is going to happen to him?

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Once they’re gone, we get the second half of the scene which is where the Sheriff informs the two bozos that he did some research and he knows they are not from the wildlife service. And either he will arrest them right now for impersonating federal officials, or they can get out of town and never come back.

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19th scene
Great shot of the Impala pulling up at an intersection, it’s obviously a crane shot, starting up high, the car pulling into the frame below, and then the camera swoops down to the car’s level, and around the passenger side to stare in at the Winchester brothers.

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Sam, in a bored voice, says, “Green.” Meaning: why aren’t you going? Dean turns right. Sam says, in a bored voice, “The Interstate is the other way.”

The way Dean behaves in this episode is not at all surprising once you’ve seen the whole series, but it is surprising the first time around. The show sets him up as a badass, a tough guy, a can-do guy. He is, but he’s got all this other stuff going on, strong pulls of warmth and tenderness and pain. This is our first glimpse, and really it’s Sam’s first glimpse too.

20th scene
Back at the ranch, Andrea draws a bath. She takes a bath in a dark room. She also is unaware that she is in a horror movie, apparently. The water is clear and beautiful. She gets into the tub, the water still running. This obviously is going to end really well!

21st scene
Tension building as we approach the final section of the episode. We’re back in the Impala now and the guys are arguing. Or, no, that’s not true. Sam is arguing, to the brick wall which is his brother Dean. Sam thinks that once the lake creature got Bill Carlton, it should be satisfied, the case should be over. Why are they going back? Dean can’t get the thought of Lucas’ panic at the police station out of his mind. Dean says, “I just don’t want to leave town until I know that kid’s okay.” There’s this crazy silence, and then Sam asks, and he sounds truly honest, “Who are you? And what have you done with my brother?”

Considering Supernatural‘s tendency towards demon possession and shape-shifting, where someone LOOKS like the person you love, but they really are DEMONIC FREAKS, that’s a pretty funny line.

Dean tells Sam to shut up, but he says it almost in a joking way, almost a “shaddup”. It’s a tough guy response, he can afford it. Yeah, whatever, I’m worried about the kid, I’m still the toughest guy in the room, and I am not turning this car around.

22nd scene
The worst shot in the entire episode for me, in terms of my own fears/phobias, is of Amy Acker’s feet sticking up by the faucet, the water running clear, the rest of her body out of frame. And suddenly, the water runs black, with accompanying horror-movie percussive “AHHHHHH” music.

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Black water fills the tub and her eyes are closed so she’s oblivious and it taps into any taking-bath fear you may ever have, of something being IN THERE with you, or something coming OUT of the faucet. It’s so awful. Then of course, she opens her eyes, sees the blackness, starts screaming, and then begins the battle royale. Something is gripping her from below, and brave Amy Acker thrashes and screams and tries to haul her leg out of the tub before being pulled back down. Her nudity is protected, but it’s a close call, and it took a lot of guts and trust to really go there with this scene. She does a hell of a job.

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Outside the bathroom door, Lucas stands, head down, mouth open in a silent scream, pounding on the door

Cut to Sam and Dean at the door, Sam still arguing that it’s late, is this a good idea? Suddenly the door is flung open and Lucas is there, staring up at them in absolutely aghast horror. Poor Dean. They race into the house after him. Water is now pouring out from below the bathroom door and pouring down the stairs. The choreography of the following scene is phenomenal because it feels like utter chaos, but it had to be so well-planned in order that
1. no one got hurt
2. Amy Acker wasn’t completely nude on camera
3. the child was protected, extra-super-careful about that

There is so much going on but we never lose track of it. At the bathroom door, Dean takes Lucas and passes him off to Sam, before he proceeds to kick down the door. Dean then leaps back to hold onto Lucas and keep him from going in, and keeps holding onto him as Sam goes in and wrestles Andrea out of the tub. It takes some doing. That thing does not want to let her go. Dean struggles with Lucas in the doorway, and finally Sam pulls her out, and they fall on the floor in a heap. Poor lady. Without a stitch on in front of two strangers and her son. Good times.

But the placement again is eloquent. Sam holds onto her, and Dean clutches Lucas. That’s where the episode was going from the get-go.

23rd scene
The sun is rising, and Sam questions the traumatized Andrea, as Dean looks through scrap books and photo albums in the next room for some clue of what the hell is going on. Andrea thinks she’s going crazy and breaks down. She says that she heard a voice in the water saying, “Come play with me.” Padalecki is so beautifully lit here.

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Throughout, Sam’s energy is patient and gentle and insistent, Dean’s energy is also patient, especially with Lucas, but it’s more jagged, more involved, more full of heat. Both actors are totally on top of what they need to be playing in a larger thematic sense. It’s a beautiful portrait of opposition and teamwork.

The pieces start to come together. Dean brings a photo album back to Sam and Andrea. He found a picture of the Sheriff as a kid with his Eagle Scout troupe. The same Eagle Scout group we saw at Peter Sweeney’s house with Billy Carlton. So the connection the spirit has isn’t just to Bill Carlton, it’s Bill Carlton AND the Sheriff. Andrea doesn’t get it. What does her Dad have to do with this? In the middle of this scene, Lucas appears in the next room and stares out the back door. Dean, like a homing pigeon, zooms in on him. Whatever is going on with that kid is his business.

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Lucas leads them (or, really, it’s just Dean he leads, everyone else follows) outside to the yard and stands in a specific spot. Dean never takes his eyes off Lucas the entire time, tells Andrea to take Lucas back to the house, and Dean and Sam proceed to dig up the area and pull out the red bike Lucas has been drawing over and over. Suddenly, the Sheriff is there, holding a gun on them. “Nobody move!”

The final confrontation in Supernatural, usually involves a long monologue. It’s a bit of a cliche by now, they fall into it often. You know, the brothers are finally face to face with the monster, and suddenly we get a long monologue from said monster about why the monster is doing what it is doing. Dudes, just decapitate the damn thing and go get a drink!

Dean is trembling with anger at this point, not just for Lucas, but for the little boy 35 years earlier. Dean is on the side of vulnerability, not strength, he’s on the side of innocence. What did you do to Peter Sweeney? Andrea runs up wondering what the hell is going on.

This is also the first time we hear about what to do with the remains of a body: salt the bones and burn them. This becomes so rote with the show that by the end of season 1 it is totally normal, almost prosaic, to see two men digging up a grave, opening a coffin and setting a skeleton on fire. You’re like, whatevs. Salt and burn, yawn.

I love Dean’s line: “Tell me you didn’t just let him go in the lake.” Yes, he needs the bones in order to finish this thing, but it’s also the indignity of what happened to Peter that pisses him off. You can feel that pain, that those two Eagle Scouts would just let another human being disappear into the lake like that, that that old woman they met had to live not knowing what happened to her son for 35 years. Dean may not be a believer but he knows that cemeteries hold a purpose, and “closure … or whatever” is important, and this is bullshit, this Sheriff is bullshit.

Andrea forces her dad to deal with her and once they make eye contact, you see the secret rise up out of his face, you see him admit to it in his expression before he even confesses. He and Bill Carlton held Peter under the water just to tease him. They didn’t mean to kill him. They let the body go and it sank.

Dean tries to take over, telling Andrea and the Sheriff that they need to get away from the lake NOW, but it’s too late, Andrea gasps as she sees Lucas on the dock reaching out over the water.

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The perspective there is so creepy. It is the perspective of the spirit of Peter Sweeney.

There’s an army man floating in the black water and Lucas is reaching out for it. Now why would he do this? When he, of all people, knows how scary the lake is? My sense is he is giving an army man back to the lake, in the hopes that it will appease the thing down there. A gift. An offering. A black arm reaches out of the water and pulls Lucas in.

The group races to the shoreline screaming for Lucas, and watch Dean surge ahead of the Sheriff to get to the dock first. This is HIS gig. A creepy child’s head is poking above the water, and the Sheriff gets a glimpse of it, and you see the realization of what is happening dawn on his face. Dean and Sam do some kick-ass dives into the water, which I could watch on eternal repeat for about 47 minutes straight. An awesome and tense sequence follows, Andrea on the dock, Dean and Sam repeatedly diving down into the blackness trying to find Lucas. Sam keeps yelling for Andrea to stay on the dock. The camera is handheld here, and Andrea keeps dashing out of frame, adding to the chaotic anguish of the event.

Meanwhile, the Sheriff, having glimpsed the spirit of Peter, takes matters into his own hands and strolls into the lake, talking out to Peter, offering himself up to the spirit. You know, these scenes sound ridiculous out of context, and the effectiveness of the entire THING depends on getting good actors to play these really out-there scenes with total commitment and belief. Kelly is heartbreaking here. He is afraid, but he knows he did wrong, and he knows that this is the only way to stop it. Sam and Dean see what is happening, and start screaming at him to get out of the water.

Another Jaws shot, and this time we get our first real glimpse of the spirit that has been causing all this trouble, and I have to say, it’s terrifying.

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Dad is pulled down, and we get a Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic view of the Sheriff going down into the blackness.

Sam and Dean keep diving for Lucas. Sam emerges, and shakes his head at Andrea. Now we move into slo-mo, with a more symphonic score, emotional and big. We see her screaming in anguish, in slo-mo, the sound dropping out. And finally Dean emerges, like Nessie himself, gripping an unconscious Lucas in his arms. Again, to make this scene come across, with this grown man and this CHILD in the water … working with children always being tricky … it’s quite amazing.

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Dean gasps for breath, but in the final moment before the scene goes black, almost the very last second, Ackles throws his own head back in what looks like anguish.

24th scene
Dean loads up the car outside the motel and the way he throws his duffel bag you know he’s pissed off. Sam says, “We can’t save everyone.” The show is leading us to believe that Lucas is dead. Normally Supernatural doesn’t play “Gotcha!” tricks like that (although it plays many other tricks) and it’s a bit cheap, especially when we see Andrea and Lucas, who is alive and well, crossing the street to say goodbye. It’s the only glitch in the episode. Although it does give us a glimpse of how hard Dean takes it when he “loses” someone, even someone like the Sheriff. He honestly does believe it is his job to save everyone.

Lucas is holding a tray of sandwiches that he made to give to them for their drive. Dean takes it from him, and please watch what Dean does once he has the sandwich tray in hand. That’s all Ackles, man. It’s a tiny moment, it’s happening half off-frame, but it tells us so much about him, it’s so damn real!

Sam and Andrea have a sensitive little talk about “how are you doing now” and “what are your feelings” and Sam is good at this stuff and Dean would suck at it. Andrea says, about her dad, that he loved her and he loved Lucas, no matter what he did, and “I have to hold onto that.” John Winchester hasn’t come up since the first moments of the episode. As a matter of fact, he is noticeable in his absence. But here, SHE is the one who basically tells Sam what it is he needs to do, and how he needs to think about his Dad, and she doesn’t even know she’s doing it. It’s left subtext. That’s how deep themes work in good scripts.

While Sam and Andrea discuss emotions and feelings, Dean is in the process of teaching Lucas, who is speaking again, how to shout, “ZEPPELIN RULES” and then high-fiving him for his accomplishment.

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If the show had given them a big hug and some tears, I am sure everyone would have played it beautifully and it would have been touching. But it’s MORE touching to leave things unsaid. It’s MORE touching to have this be the bond, the way they connect. Lucas actually smiles after high-fiving Dean, and there’s a second where you can see Dean doesn’t know what the hell to do. He looks lost. He looks stirred up. He is sitting on something, some huge river of emotion, and instead of letting it out, or expressing it, or whatever whatever cliche, he pushes it down, and sort of whacks Lucas gently on the chest, saying, “Take care of your mom, okay?”

Fascinating. Resonant on a lot of levels considering what happened to Dean’s mom.

And of course, so unfair to Sam, Dean gets the kiss from Andrea. I know, I know, it makes sense, Dean was the one who really did do the “Jerry Maguire thing” with her son, and Sam isn’t ready anyway, and all that, but still! “Kids are the best” guy gets the girl!

Dean, so taken up by Lucas, has completely forgotten his crush on Andrea, and stands to hug her in a friendly way, looking awkward and adolescent about it. She leans in and kisses him, just a soft sweet kiss, wiping all thought out of his head, and he stares down at her contemplatively, actually remembering that she exists and that he had a huge crush on her, like, 24 hours ago, and a lot has gone down since then. He almost visibly shakes off the moment by barking, “Sam, move your ass” and going off to get into the car.

Mother and son wave, as the toughest-looking car on the planet peels off down the two-lane blacktop.

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28 Responses to Supernatural: Season 1, Episode 3: “Dead In the Water”

  1. Jessie says:

    Hello!

    Love all the little resonances you pick up on — never noticed before how the army men repeated! Or Dean’s little gag with the plate, super cute.

    Time stopped for Dean when he was 4 years old
    Yup. In the picture he drew for Lucas, his family is from a fantasy time when Mom and Dad were still alive, but Dean and Sam were older — not too old, though. Sam is still just a little kid. Sam will be, for way, way too long, just a kid in Dean’s head.

    Oh my god the start of that scene in the park is excruciating.

    Glad it wasn’t just me who found those super closeups almost too intense! Looking at all these caps after I just watched the latest episode has made me realise just how much flatter and brighter the lighting is these days. I mean, I knew it had changed, but wow.

    • sheila says:

      I know, it’s kind of a bummer – the lighting is brighter and more colorful now, and, dare I say, a tiny bit cheesy? These guys are best in shadows, with gritty light hitting their faces. The show is so un-realistic and fantastical that having this dark moody almost super-realistic light works better to counter-act the supernatural stuff. If the lighting goes all crazy and music-video-ish, then we go off the rails, there’s no anchor.

      And interesting, right, I hadn’t picked up on the fact that he doesn’t draw Sam as a baby, but a little kid. Dean is all messed up – the trauma of his own timeline.

      • Jessie says:

        Yes, the look of the show is in constant peril of cheese these days :-(

        • sheila says:

          As well-acted as that scene was in the recent episode with Sam being tortured by Crowley and Cas and Dean talking over to the side – the lighting made it look like a glam-rock music video circa 1984.

  2. Maureen says:

    Another great post, Sheila! So now I am watching the episodes before AND after I read what you have said. I may be on the verge of becoming a bit obsessed.

    “HOW things are put together really interest me. I’m sorry if it doesn’t interest others! But it’s in these elegant stylish details that stories are told, and Supernatural is so good at it.”

    I love that you talk about this-because these details are what makes this show head and shoulders above so many others. I don’t know much about the technical aspects of shooting scenes, but I am aware when these little touches move me. Well, I am sure they are not little, because they take effort to produce, but they are often so quick, blink once and you miss it. The small moments are often the ones where I get the most enjoyment, and I adore that you pick up on all of those.

    It is funny, I never thought that Lucas might be dead, I always thought they were referring to the Sheriff. I watched this again last night, and I replayed that look on Dean’s face several times. Not sure if this sounds right, but I feel like it was a “I’m so relieved it comes out as pain” look.

    Both lead actors are amazing, but Ackles really does get me with his “soft” eyes. His face is so damn expressive-I don’t know how he does it. He reminds me of Kyle Chandler in Friday Night Lights-he can say more with his eyes than most actors do with a pages of dialogue.

    That scene in the bathtub-it scares the crap out of me each time I see it. Amy Acker is incredible, the way she struggles to hold on, and the sequence you described-Dean kicking down the door, grabbing Lucas-Sam trying to drag her out of the tub, harrowing!

    • sheila says:

      Maureen – I’m totally with you on it being about the small moments. I started out this show not knowing much about it. The pilot impressed me, it was scary, and both actors are super appealing. Not just their looks but their acting – what they were creating. But almost immediately I realized that it was in those granular details, the LISTENING, the small jokes, the shared silent expressions, that the show really shines.

      The creators could have lost sight of the fact that why we give a shit about demons and any of it is because of THEM, the BROTHERS. If the creators didn’t keep re-investing in that relationship, if they took it for granted … then we wouldn’t care. The show would be dunzo.

  3. rae says:

    I’m with Maureen on double watching. Usually I remember most of what you’re talking about and replay it in my head in short segments, but I’m rewatching for the continuity of it all, and to see afresh the things you’ve mentioned. There’s so much detail in their work in the episodes, and in your recaps. The intricacies you point out related to score, and camera work, and lighting, not to mention subtleties in theme and acting, etc. — I love it! Maybe I’m too easy to please, but I find it all incredibly interesting.

    Something that jumped out to me when rewatching the episode was young Will Carlton’s comment about his sister: “She was a varsity swimmer. She practically grew up in that lake. She was as safe out there as in her own bathtub.” First time through, that line didn’t phase me at all. Now, having seen the episode multiple times, it gives me the creeps, what with Andrea’s bathtub scene.

    • sheila says:

      Rae – Love that people are re-watching – fun!!

      I missed that bit of foreshadowing with the “bathtub” line!! Nice!

      So it’s not about the lake as a body of water – it’s about the WATER.

      // Maybe I’m too easy to please, // No shame in that. We’re in the same boat. :)

  4. Machelle says:

    You’ve pointed out so well, Sheila, how the relationships matter. In lesser procedurals, there’s the main “victim” who is only relevant in getting the leads moving in one direction or another. There’s no indication where they came from–if their parents were divorced, if they’re an only child, if they have a roommate, unless it’s a plot point. But in Supernatural, those relationships matter. A boy and his mom. A grandpa who wades in to save his grandson. The siblings of last week. These events don’t happen in a vacuum, they affect people, and that raises the stakes for those within the show and those of us watching.

    • sheila says:

      Totally. Without those internal stakes, the stakes that end up resonating for the brothers, it would just be a procedural.

      I can’t remember who said this in a comment – but each “case” changes them in some way, alters them. They are MARKED by what they are doing. This is also not always the case with episodic procedurals where each episode stands alone. It’s rare to have a “stand-alone” situation in an episode.

      One example I can think of of a “situation” that exists only in one episode and is never developed is the whole prank-thing that they do with each other. I wish the writers had developed that and re-visited that. It stands out – if this was an ongoing practical joke war between them since they were kids, why doesn’t it ever come up again? I get it, the Apocalypse is serious business, so who is gonna mess with itching powder and the like? But still! Also, the Winchesters could use some lightening up. It gets pretty grim. Whoopie cushions serve a purpose. :)

      Supernatural doesn’t feel like an episodic at ALL because of the way it uses those underlying thru-lines and themes.

  5. Helena says:

    One thing I enjoy about this episode is how the character of the Sheriff rings a change on the older male ‘in charge’ or authority figures who’ve appeared so far, (the sheriff in the pilot and Roy in Wendigo.) He’s not a macho alpha male, but a concerned father and diligent professional. That bit of his character, I think, is authentic, although eventually he pulls rank on the brothers after the death of Bill Carlton when the past seems finally to be catching up with him. But the way he delivers the lines telling the brothers (or Sam, essentially) to get out of town, voice just getting lower and quieter, is great, as is the finisher ‘That’s what I’d choose.’

    • sheila says:

      Ha – right, and they both cower down at that tone. So not what we expect of them, but they’re like, “Uh, yeah, we’ll be heading out of town right now, Big Guy.”

      He’s almost in the same position as Dean, in a weird way – he’s lived his life not acknowledging that thing he did in the past. But here it is, coming up to take over his life. Of course he did a bad thing, and Dean was just a victim – but I love that the performance doesn’t tip its hand to us. He honestly seems like a good man. And, he is. He fucked up back then. It’s complex. If the guy had been telegraphing “I am a villain and the key to the whole thing” the episode wouldn’t have had that tension.

      But you’re right; Sam and Dean dealing with MEN is often more interesting and illuminating than dealing with women. You can see the Sheriff assert his dominance and Sam and Dean both silently accepting it.

  6. Helena says:

    Yup. Screwed up terribly – and so you could read him as having tried to compensate or make amends ever since. I mean, he’s the sheriff. And the weird, or rather cool stroke is that he is quite a sympathetic character, and doesn’t come across as an overt hypocrite or villain, just a guy with a secret that poisons everything. He’s the ‘conflicted father figure’ in an episode where, as you pointed out, the uber-conflicted dad John Winchester has ostensibly receded into the background.

    • sheila says:

      Right and Sam and Dean are looking for a father figure. He’s a pretty good one (well, without the murder in his past.) It’s funny, how they both just cow down under his authority even though Dean, in particular, senses that something isn’t right.

  7. Helena says:

    And, bit of a tangent here … you’ve seen Seven Samurai, right?

  8. Helena says:

    Just the way my mind works ;-), but you remember the final scene in Seven Samurai where the villagers are planting rice and Kambei the samurai leader ruefully says words to the effect of ‘they’ve won and we’ve lost again’ … reminds me of Wendigo’s final scene where the brothers are looking at the reunited family in the ambulance and wondering if they will they ever find dad. They should be triumphant, but they’re not.

  9. Hops says:

    Just started watching Supernatural today. I just finished season one episode 3. And I find myself completely confused as to why they didn’t tell the missing boys mother what happened to him 35 years ago? Can anyone answer this question for me?

    • sheila says:

      Sam and Dean don’t really hang around after they solve cases. They make big messes and then hit the road.

      Maybe Amy Acker’s character filled in the grieving mother. One would hope so.

  10. alison says:

    I’m rewatching during hiatus, and I really appreciate your recaps. I know nothing about film-making, but your explanations of the technical aspects of creating mood through lighting and especially camera shots and angles is fascinating. Thank you so much for these recaps.

    And Billy Squier!! One of the reasons I love Supernatural so much is the music. On my eighteenth birthday I saw Billy Squier open for Foreigner in Detroit. The memories this show brings back!

  11. sheila says:

    Alison –

    // On my eighteenth birthday I saw Billy Squier open for Foreigner in Detroit. //

    That sounds like the best thing ever.

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting. The way things are put together are often so much of why whatever it is works so well – I’m fascinated by cinematic choices, and SPN really is at the top of the game here, even with a low budget and an insanely tight shooting schedule.

  12. Lythea says:

    “One example I can think of of a “situation” that exists only in one episode and is never developed is the whole prank-thing that they do with each other. I wish the writers had developed that and re-visited that. It stands out – if this was an ongoing practical joke war between them since they were kids, why doesn’t it ever come up again? I get it, the Apocalypse is serious business, so who is gonna mess with itching powder and the like? But still! Also, the Winchesters could use some lightening up. It gets pretty grim. Whoopie cushions serve a purpose. :)”

    This is another example of how, for me, the interior world of the show and the exterior world of the fandom interact so interestingly. I wonder if the reason this question never occurred to me is because I’ve been so aware of the ongoing fandom obsession with the pranks Jared and Jensen play on their fellow actors.

    But I certainly agree with you on the larger point that they could do a lot more comedy and I’d be delighted. They’re just so good at it. I laugh way more at the incidental comedy in Supernatural than at most things that set out to be comedies from the beginning.

    • sheila says:

      // I laugh way more at the incidental comedy in Supernatural than at most things that set out to be comedies from the beginning. //

      You and me both!

      It is SUCH a funny show, and you would never know that from the posters and advertising. It was the humor that was the real hook for me.

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