Supernatural: Season 1, Episode 6: “Skin”


Directed by Robert Duncan McNeil
written by John Shiban

Dark doubles are a recurring theme in Supernatural. What is more frightening, more eerie, than to think of there being another one of you out there, someone who looks like you, who maybe even shares your DNA, but is definitively not you? One of my favorite films of all time, The Double Life of Veronique takes this concept as its main topic. Veronique grows up feeling like she is missing something, a part of herself. Supernatural looks at this again and again, sometimes through actual monsters like “doppelgängers” or “shape-shifters”, but other times through dream-sequences (which sounds dreadful on the face of it, but these dreams are some of the best episodes in the series), or “magic”, where they are catapulted into the future or the past of their own timeline.

Sam and Dean Winchester are split off from parts of themselves. Sometimes being split off is a necessary byproduct of a violent life where you’ve seen a lot of shit. Splitting off means you actually survive. They are split from their their past selves, the little boys/babies they were when their mother was killed and Dad went off the rails (and, ironically, being split like that means you never get past it, PTSD in a nutshell). Sometimes it is their “road not taken” selves, the men they would be if that original trauma had never occurred. Sometimes they are confronted with their future selves, or with their dark-side selves. And in one episode, terribly, the brothers are basically cloned and then proceed to go on a killing spree across the country. This brings their split-off selves into terrifying Kafka-esque territory, where the bureaucracy amassing its powers against you is too powerful to fight. How on earth can you explain that that killer seen on all the security cameras is not actually you, when it looks like you, has your fingerprints, your DNA?

Episode 5 in Season 1 gave us our first taste of “the double”, fitting for an episode all about mirrors. Sam has been keeping a secret so successfully that his blood-hound brother hasn’t picked up on it, and Sam himself seems to forget periodically that that secret exists. The only time it rises up to confront him is in his nightmares, there every time he closes his eyes, and then in the final confrontation with his steely double in the mirror.


Episode 6, called “Skin”, takes that idea and runs with it, only this time it is Dean who is compromised, doubled. It’s a fascinating inversion of what we expect, especially when we consider that this episode represents the final remaining thread between Sam and his old life, a thread that needs to be cut. I am glad that the creators at Supernatural realized that there would be unfinished business there, that Sam’s world at Stanford was a full one, and Jess wasn’t the only component. There would be friends and fellow students, people who loved Sam, who would wonder where the hell he had gone.

Dean, as we know already, or we certainly guess, has no friends. None. The only people he’s “let in” in his past have been women (although at this point in the series we don’t know that). We’re only 6 episodes in and it’s already difficult to imagine Dean palling around with a bunch of guys, being part of a group in any way. While Dean seems gregarious, and weirdly extroverted, he is also truly solitary. (One of the things I absolutely love in later episodes is how Dean, even with his weirdness, can fit in everywhere. Throw him into a situation where he is a PA on a Hollywood movie? He becomes King of the PAs in an afternoon, murmuring “copy that” into his headset as though he’s been doing it all his life. Throw him in prison? Within a day he is running a cigarette-trading business and up on all the gossip “in the yard”. Have him suddenly be a high school gym teacher? He wears a freakin’ headband and shouts at one troublemaker, “Walk it off.” Dean may be a freak, but boy can ADAPT.)


(This goes back to one of the primary inspirations for the character of Dean Winchester, and that’s Dean Moriarty, in On the Road, based on real-life guy Neal Cassady. Neal Cassady acted as an erotic/inspirational muse for a generation of men. He lived in the “real world”, unlike the writers he inspired, who came from intellectual backgrounds. Cassady was the “guide”, the questioner, the one who showed them all the way. That’s what muses do. They are whatever you want them to be. He seemed to inspire intimacy, he worked with his hands, he was basically pan-sexual, grease under his fingertips, and a magnet for awesome-ness. People were just drawn to him. And yet … he was also quite alone, as most “stars” are. Josh Lucas played Neal Cassady in the recent film Big Sur, which I thought had a lot of problems – but Lucas really captured the “vibe” around Cassady, the light, the magic, the sexiness, and what he provided for those looking on, those who were close to him. Dean Winchester is that kind of guy. It’s a blessing and a curse. People leaned on Neal Cassady, they looked to him for sustenance, inspiration. Who did Neal get to lean on? Who was there for Neal? In some ways, Dean’s attachments go to the core of the earth, but in other ways he floats through space with no grounding mechanism whatsoever. Sam, on the other hand, can’t avoid being grounded, due to the secret withheld from him about what happened to him. Anyway, these are all interesting concepts, having to do with Destiny and Fate and Free Will, and it is the massive engine on which Supernatural runs.)

Robert Duncan McNeill directed “Skin”, and he is an actor as well as a director. He also directed “The Great Mentalist” from Season 8, where the boys track down Metatron. Writer John Shiban is a powerhouse. He’s written a lot of Supernatural episodes, and he’s also a co-producer, and his career, in general, is the stuff of dreams. One look at his resume and you wonder what “Let Me Only Work On Hit Shows” magic this guy might be conjuring.

So let me talk about the look of the episode. These are just my impressions and I welcome other points of view, because I’m basically just making shit up based on visual cues. Each episode has a subtly different look and feel, although the baseline is the same, that baseline being moody, dark, evocative. Episode 5 had a grimy unwashed colorless look. The brothers were scruffy and sleep-deprived, the Impala was dusty, and every interior had pockets of darkness so dark no light could penetrate. Episode 6, on the other hand, has a sort of fuzzy glamour to it, a gleam.


Perhaps this is because it is Sam’s view of the life he left behind, the group of friends, the intimacy, the sense of belonging: all these things have now been sacrificed and in Episode 6 he really gets that memo. And so the look here is sexy, still dark, but glamorous, a dark romantic gleam. The Impala is clean, it shines and reflects, the guys look more beautiful here than they have in any other episode (some of the shots set up ONLY to enhance the beauty), and the lights are flattering. Artificial. There’s even a scene in front of a fireplace, where we see Dean in a way we’ve never seen him, and will rarely see him, because romantic fireplace scenes are not his milieu. We are asked to linger on his face, his profile, his lips. The glamour-puss lighting doesn’t suit him, and it’s destabilizing to our idea of him (which, of course, is the whole point of that scene.) But it’s a glimpse of a Dean that Might Have Been, a self-pitying Dean, a sexually aggressive Dean, a Dean who thinks sex is owed to him, especially since he’s “opened up” about how hard it is to be “different”. It’s smart that in that awful scene Jensen Ackles is filmed the way he would be filmed if he were in a night-time soap, like Dynasty. Give me scruffy bruised-eyelid sleep-in-his-eyes Dean over that blank-faced Pretty Boy who feels entitled to things. And, as Jessie pointed out in a comment on an earlier post: Dean Winchester is buried in clothes at all times. T-shirt, flannel shirt, big leather jacket. If you want to see him naked, the show so far has not obliged. Here, in Episode 6, the creators oblige the audience. And the scene is fucking terrifying and horrible. A really fun and vicious moment where the creators of the show implicate you in what you want from them. “Fine, you want to see his hot bod? Here it is. Happy now? No, I didn’t think so.”

And finally: the monster they track down in Episode 6 is a shape-shifter, a slimy creature who can inhabit another human being’s skin, creating an exact replica. Sam needs to shed his skin. The Stanford skin, the “normal” skin. A more literal script would have made Sam be the one who was inhabited, who had to deal with his own double, but Supernatural is not literal. The Monster of the Week story connects with the Brothers Arc story in ways that are disturbing, suggesting rifts of resentment between the brothers that have clearly been hinted at so far but not explored.

Episode 6 starts to explore it.

St. Louis, MO
The teaser is a showstopper. It’s violent, it’s sexual, it’s dark, and, unlike other teasers, it doesn’t ease us gently into the set-up before the violence, the calm before the storm. This teaser plunges us directly into the storm. In a dark apartment, a woman is tied up in a chair, and she is caked in blood. She is crying, all as a dark figure wrestles with her. Meanwhile, from outside, a SWAT team circles the building, makes entry, and trots down the hallways, guns pointed, red laser beam tracking in front of them. What we see is clearly sexual in nature, even though there isn’t an actual rape going down. The woman is tied up, gagged, and a man hovers over her hissing at her to shut up. The music is grinding metal, “Good Deal” by Mommy and Daddy. The SWAT team enters the apartment and come across the bloody woman, who helplessly points to the next room. Once in there, they see a dark figure hunched by the balcony, clutching a bloody knife, ready to flee. “FREEZE,” yells one of the Terminator-looking SWAT guys, and the figure freezes. In the spotlight-glare from one of the major guns trained on him, we see that it is Dean Winchester.


1st scene
One Week Earlier
The Impala pulls into one of the ramshackle gas stations the series loves to celebrate. No gleaming Mobil stations for them. Dean rattles off their itinerary, but Sam is engrossed reading some emails. Technological development alert: he’s got a little stylus. Dean realizes Sam is not paying attention so he says, to try to break through the wall, “Sam wears women’s underwear …” Sam says, still engrossed, “I’m listening.”


I just must point out, because I can’t help myself: Dean often makes fun of Sam for things that HE actually does or has done. Being tough is obviously placed on a high premium for these guys, because their lives are so violent. Soft-ness is not only not encouraged, it’s dangerous. Making fun of someone for not being manly is obnoxious and reductive, but in the Winchester context it’s more like “You shut up” “No, you shut up” stuff, wrestling in the back seat as little boys. But what I want to point out is that in the masterpiece episode “The End”, from Season 5, Dean Winchester reveals a story that only he knows, he has never told anyone. With all the bad shit he has done, it is THIS that he keeps a secret. And the only reason he feels free to reveal it is that it is his “future self” he is talking to, and it’s a story that only the two of them would know. When Dean was 19, he was fooling around with a girl (and of course he remembers her name), and she made him put on her “pink satiny panties”, and that isn’t even the secret: the real secret is that he liked it. And the way Jensen Ackles plays that moment, with the camera right up in his grill, is phenomenal, because, in a way, he has never seemed as tough as he seems in that moment. Admitting what he likes. And fuck anyone who would judge him for it. He’d punch you in the face if you brought it up to him, even in a teasing way, but he is not ashamed of that memory, even though he keeps it private, and no one can take it away from him. This is why I keep saying that Jensen Ackles is carving out a very interesting space for himself with this character, a space that has something to say about masculinity and how we define it. He is creating freedom with this character, a bit of breathing room, even as he’s the toughest motherfucker on the planet. That’s WHY what he is doing is so interesting. Obviously, Season 5 is a long way away from this moment in the Impala when he teases Sam about wearing women’s underwear. But the script has a way of looping back on itself, so you can make these funny connections. In “Mystery Spot”, another favorite episode, Dean and Sam sit in a diner, and, Dean, who is trying to throw Sam off (Sam being wrapped up in his Groundhog Day experience) starts saying random sentences designed to be unexpected and out of the ordinary. And one of the things he says is, “Sam Winchester cries during sex.” Now, it’s a stupid comment, a mean-spirited tease, and part of the whole “You’re a big wimpy girlie-man” thing they have going on between them as brothers. But again, Dean is making fun of Sam for something that he has actually done, and something we have never seen Sam do (and something we would have a hard time picturing Sam doing. But Dean? I can picture it, no problem. You can bet Lisa experienced it, at any rate.) The love scene with Anna in Season 4 starts with a conversation between Anna and Dean which ends up with Dean in tears and kind of just goes on from there, from tears to the bed (or the back seat of the Impala). It’s not a sex scene so much as it is an encounter where Anna tries to heal Dean’s pain. Seriously, Dean. I think it’s NOT Sam who likes to wear women’s panties and cries during sex. But thanks for trying to deflect attention from your own completely-okay proclivities, which, by the way, 1. say nothing about your sexual orientation and 2. do not take away from you being a “real man”.

Moving on.


Sam is disturbed. He’s received a message from Rebecca, a friend from Stanford. This, alone, is enough to give Dean pause. Why do you still keep in touch with those people? Duh, because they’re my friends. Dean is skeptical, over-it, and realistic. How does Sam explain his life to these people? Sam says he tells them he needed time off after Jess and is on a road trip with his brother. “You lie to them,” says Dean. “No,” says Sam, “I just don’t tell them everything.” Dean says, “Yeah. That’s called lying.”

No, it isn’t, Dean. It’s called boundaries. We already saw in Episode 5 how the fact that Sam has a secret completely destabilizes Dean’s sense of the world. Secrets are bad. Not telling people EVERYTHING is akin to lying. Taken to its extremest end, this is a very dangerous attitude, one that totalitarian governments abuse, justifying it with, “If you’re innocent then you should have nothing to hide.” Of course Dean does have a point: the “road trip” with his brother is a lifestyle choice, and what he is “up to” is so dangerous and weird and freaky that NOT telling people is extremely strange, it’s like you’re not letting them in in the major information that they would need to evaluate you. The brothers argue this out at the gas station. Dean says you can’t get close to people, doing the job they do. He’s being pretty obnoxious. Sam, still drawn into the email from Rebecca, shares with Dean the contents. Rebecca’s brother, Zach, who had also been a friend of Sam’s, was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend. She insists he didn’t do it, but the cops have an airtight case. Dean leans in the window, listening, that mysterious necklace hanging in view, the necklace which won’t explain itself for another two seasons. Ahhh, continuity.


Dean listens to the sob story and his comment cracks me up: “Dude, what kind of people you hanging out with?”

Sam, though, knows in his gut that Zach didn’t do this. Zach was his friend. He would not be capable of murder. Dean, in a good Gotcha moment, says that maybe he knows Zach as well as Zach knows him. Meaning: not at all. Sam insists they change the itinerary and head to St. Louis. Dean refuses at first. It’s 400 miles away. This also doesn’t sound like “our kind of thing”. Sam just glares up at Dean, and the next thing we see is the Impala peeling out of the gas station, turning around, running a stop sign, and heading off in the opposite direction, all as the camera pulls up to snarkily show the sign hanging in the lot.


2nd scene
A door opens to reveal Sam and Dean standing there. The door has been opened by Rebecca (Amy Grabow), Sam’s friend from Stanford. What’s interesting about the angle of this shot, and how it’s set up, is that Amy (when we finally see her) gets the full glare of the light on her face, and Sam and Dean, the leads of the damn show, are covered in shadow. They look like ill-omens standing there (as indeed they are). Rebecca is a blonde, with pale skin, and she’s filmed accordingly. She practically glows, every time the camera is on her. Sam and Dean, near her, in every scene, look like gloomy shadow-selves. It’s one of those minor (and yet major) stylistic choices that place Sam and Dean in the underworld, the outlaw world. They may be the “heroes” of the show, but the show does not illuminate them in a romantic glow (which would be really gross, if you think about it). The only way their hero status works is through constant under-cutting. The way they are filmed here helps do that.



That’s weird lighting. It’s counter-intuitive lighting. It’s not how “stars of episodic television” are usually lit.

Rebecca is shocked to see Sam, and they embrace, all as Dean kind of pants on the periphery, smiling, acting like the bizarre human being that he is, especially when in the presence of a woman. He assumes, it seems, that one look at him will make Rebecca see how AWESOME he is, way better than his brother. But he’s awkward. What a shock. Sam remains focused on Rebecca, saying, “We’re here to help,” and she invites them in.

3rd scene
The home is palatial, filmed in a sort of glamorous soft-focus palette, the surfaces gleaming, the decorations exquisite. Dean and Sam, in flannel and jeans, hulk through the pristine environment and you can practically smell them, the B.O., the motor oil, the unwashed T-shirts. Rebecca tells them she’s taken a semester off to deal with her brother’s situation. This is her parents’ house, they live in Paris for half the year, but are heading home for Zach’s trial. She offers the brothers a beer, and Dean lights up, only to be shut down by a warning look from Sam. We are not here to party, Dean, is basically the message. Poor Dean.


Rebecca tells the story of what happened. Zach came home to find Emily tied to a chair, beaten and bloody. He called 911 and the cops promptly arrested him for the murder. There’s footage from a security camera showing Zach entering his apartment building right before the murder. But Rebecca swears that he was over her house at that time, watching football and having some beers. (Rebecca spends a lot of time in this episode offering people beers. Girl might want to look at that.) “So the only way Zach could have done it if he was in two places at the same time.”

Sam asks if they can take a look at the crime scene and this is obviously a strange request from someone who was just a buddy from law school. Sam explains that Dean is a cop. Dean can’t help but gild the lily, saying, “Detective, actually.” Dean looks on at his little brother interacting with a friend and his expression is unreadable. Maybe cynical. How can this girl even call Sam her friend when she doesn’t know the most important facts about him? But it’s just a glance. However, the entire thrust of the episode is in that glance.


She leaves the room and Dean lays into Sam about all the lies, but really his issue is that this seems pretty straight-forward, no monsters involved, why is this our problem?

4th scene
Dean, Sam and Rebecca go to visit the crime scene at Emily’s apartment. It’s still taped off with yellow crime-scene tape. Rebecca is nervous, and Dean, throwing the bullshit at her, assures her it’s all right because “I am an officer of the law.” The apartment is filmed in eerie panning detail (hats off to the prop department who get these details right, time and time again: the scattered deck of cards, the Georgia O’Keefe print on the wall, the photos, the random scattered fruit, everything blood-stained. It FEELS like a crime scene.)


They’re breaking in in broad daylight, which they would never do in later seasons where they are strictly nocturnal. The joint is still completely blood-splattered, wouldn’t there still be cops around? Or at least one on guard? Dean skulks around, looking at everything, and Sam questions Rebecca about the police’s theories. In filling them in, she reveals that someone broke into the apartment the week before “and stole some of Zach’s clothes”, but the police think it is unrelated. I think the St. Louis police department needs to re-think their investigative tactics. How on earth could that not be related?


Dean notices the next-door dog barking at him ferociously. Dean and dogs do not mix, anyway (can anyone say Hell Hounds?) Rebecca mentions that the dog used to be so nice, but it changed, for some reason, after Zach’s murder. Dean’s brain is now working on overdrive, he’s got the spidey-sense going on. But he can’t let Sam win too easily, and when Sam says, “So do you think now this is our kind of problem?” he says, “No, probably not.” There’s a very nice moment when Sam is drawn to the refrigerator, where Zach has put up a picture of him, his sister and Sam, arms around each other, happier days. What must Sam be thinking? It was, what, two months ago that they were all together? That he was that guy with the big smile? I love the pinup girl right next to the photo. It saves the shot from being sentimental, and puts it into the world of Off-Kilter Weirdness.


Dean mentions that he wants to look at that security tape, and Rebecca confesses that she stole it off the lawyer’s desk. She had to see it for herself. Dean is impressed by her criminality. If he was a cop, would he be so enthusiastic? Not a word of scolding? The camera zooms in on the picture of the fridge, focusing in on Zach in the middle. That then bleeds into Zach (aka Shapeshifter Zach) in the next scene.

5th scene
Zach sits on a bench watching a husband say goodbye to his wife outside their house. The husband is going on a business trip, the wife is clearly saying she’ll miss him. They kiss affectionately. Husband drives off and then we see hot wife walking back into the house in slo-mo, which is always a bad sign. But what happens next to Zach’s eyes is an even worse sign.


Jeepers, dude.

6th scene
Back at Rebecca’s glamorous parents’ house, she queues up the security footage of Zach entering the apartment building. She tells Sam and Dean that some expert has verified the tape’s authenticity. Dean may be pretending to be a detective, but honestly, these two guys are incredible investigators, and the show often highlights that just by how they look and listen. They see things other people don’t see. If you read reports from homicide detectives, they can often tell at a glance that a crime scene is staged. They often can’t put their finger on it, but the hair on the back of their neck stands up, screaming, “FAKE.” Dean and Sam have senses like that. I love when it is shown through telepathic glances, meaningful pauses, the way they look at one another over the heads of the victim. It’s great. The show can get quite TALKY, especially in the third act, but they make up for it for all of this brooding/thinking going on in the first and second. Just to point out the lighting once again, and the framing: Sam is deep in thought watching the footage, with Dean and Rebecca blurry in the background. Then we cut to Dean and Rebecca, and she, as I mentioned, is right in her key light, her blonde hair practically glowing, while Dean, the supposed hero, is half in shadow. It’s beautiful-looking, lots of information being given through the visuals.



Sam’s sharp eyes catch something on the footage, and he asks Rebecca if they could take those beers now, and maybe some sandwiches too. Once Rebecca is gone, Dean, who knows something is up, looks at Sam, and Sam queues up the footage to the moment when Zach passes underneath the security camera. Thank goodness Zach looked DIRECTLY INTO THE CAMERA, otherwise then where would we be?? Zach, who looks like Zach, stares into the camera and his eyes blaze white. We’re one step ahead of you, Sam and Dean, we already saw those janky-looking eyes when he was stalking that nice couple. Dean, whose job it is to shoot down Sam’s theories (just to test their viability), says maybe it’s a camera flare. Sam brings up the belief that photographs can capture a person’s soul, and maybe Cujo back at the house saw White-Eyed Zach and that’s why he flipped. And, in a great example of efficiency (which also, incidentally, reveals character), the brothers theorize what it might be:
Sam: Maybe this is some kind of dark double of Zach’s. Something that looks like him, but isn’t him.
Dean: Like a doppelgänger.
Sam: Yeah. That sure would explain how he was two places at once.

In three lines you are not only caught up on what the hell might be happening (and it’s a tricky concept – doppelgängers??) but you are also reminded of the brothers’ vast experience in the supernatural arena. The script is subtle with this, but it’s important: it never forgets that these guys were trained in all of this by their dad since they were children. They know what signs to look for, they know how to interpret said signs. When the brothers are truly baffled by something, it stands out.

The camera zooms in on the White-Eyed Zach on the television, and it is a reminder that that monster is still out there.

7th scene
Creepy scene. Upsetting scene. Husband we saw leaving for a business trip comes back to his house. The house seems too quiet to him, and he calls out for his wife. “I called. Why didn’t you answer?” (and it’s a small script thing, but I liked it, the anxiety in it: his wife is much younger than him, and I project all kinds of anxiety onto the situation, which is then confirmed in that one nervous question. We only see these two for a minute of screen-time, but some thought has been given to who they actually are.) So Mr. Nervous Husband walks through his shadowy silent house. He sees a blood stain on the wall. He then comes across his wife, tied up, and bloody. But this is the worst part, when she sees him, her HUSBAND, she freaks out, pleading, “Please don’t hurt me anymore!!” Contemplating the reality of that is awful.


He, horrified, upset, goes back out into the house to look for who did this and Shapeshifter-Husband emerges from the shadows behind him, white eyes gleaming, and the Husband has a moment of total disorientation as he stares at … HIMSELF … before the Shapeshifter smashes him across the face.

8th scene
It’s 5:30 in the morning, as Dean, gulping down coffee, reminds Sam multiple times. Sam insisted that they go check out the alley behind Zach and Emily’s apartment, Sam’s theory being: the cops wouldn’t have even checked back here because they assumed that the killer never left the apartment. Dean is barely awake. (Jensen Ackles Sleepy Behavior Alert.) Dean gets the theory but he still doesn’t get why they had to wake up so early. Sam skulks around the alley, looking at everything, for what kind of clue he isn’t sure, all as Dean leans on the hood of the Impala, drinking coffee, still back in the motel room in bed in his mind.


Sam finds a blood splatter on a telephone pole, and Dean, who has not moved from his spot, says, “The trail ends. I don’t see anything over here.” He will only look around where he is currently propped up. That’s the extent of his searching capability at “5:30 in the morning”. Suddenly an ambulance, sirens blaring, races through the alley. Sam and Dean exchange glances. Because clearly that ambulance has to do with “our kind of problem”, although I’m not sure how that works.

9th scene
Crime scene chaos around the home of Husband/Wife we saw. Dean and Sam stand there, watching the baffled upset husband be led out in cuffs into the police car. A small crowd has gathered. This scene has that “dawn’s early light” look, the shadows still deep, but a golden light starting to pour into the alley, making weird effects, creating golden nimbuses around people’s heads. Continuity tracking, in terms of light quality, is one of the most complex, difficult, and important parts of filming anything. You film a scene and it’s bright sun, you take a break, you come back to film more, and suddenly the clouds have appeared. How do you handle this? (I love the moment in Husbands and Wives when Juliette Lewis stares out the window of her parents’ penthouse and says, “It was so sunny earlier. Where did all the clouds come from?” That’s one way to handle the situation! Just admit it upfront!) This sort of continuity-in-exterior-light-slash-weeather has to be especially challenging up in Vancouver, where there is so little sun. But that actually helps, because Supernatural‘s look is not a sunny look. It’s better if most scenes are grey and semi-rainy. But here, we do get the sense that we have gone from “5:30 in the morning” to about 7 a.m. You know, with natural light like this.


Dean and Sam ask a woman what happened, and she says the man tried to kill his wife. Tried, then? He didn’t succeed? He tied her up and beat her, and this woman, a neighbor, is so baffled. She says she would watch him say goodbye to his wife in the morning. “He seemed like such a nice guy.” That’s what they all say. But in this case, it happens to be true.

10th scene
Back in the alley (“just you and me, We’re going bowlin’ till half past three”), Sam looks through dumpsters, scanning the scene for more clues, this time having to do with the gentleman just led away in handcuffs. Dean, who had been talking to the cops on the scene, returns to Sam with more Intel. The husband, apparently, had been in his car, on his way home, when the wife was attacked. Yet another example of a man being in two places at the same time.

Two details:
See how the people in the background have that glow around their heads. That is early-morning light, and is just one of the ways in which Supernatural is totally on top of the details. (Except for what I believe is a continuity glitch later in the episode, where it’s day, when it should be night. You can’t bat 1,000 every time.)


Secondly, as Dean reports this new information to his brother (and Dean has clearly woken up, the coffee having done its job), he is subtly triumphant and proud, and even does this weird little “Look how awesome I am” gesture/dance-move (?) right in Sam’s face. It’s not even commented on, Sam doesn’t react to it, and it’s not dwelled on – this is clearly just Ackles’ choice for the moment, improvisational, intuitive. It’s weird, and goofy, and charming, but I see more going on there, something that connects us to the deeper thru-line of the episode, which is the resentment that is (possibly) there between the brothers. We feel we understand Sam’s resentment of Dean. Dean the bossy big brother, Dean the one who pulled him out of Stanford and back into the life. But what about Dean? How does he feel about his role in the family dynamic? Did Dean have other dreams? Did Dean ever want to do something else? This will come up, big-time, later in the episode. And that weird little “Look how fucking smart I am, Sammy” dance-thing he does has … maybe … a little bit of insecurity in it? He needs his brother to think he’s smart. So far, all we’ve seen in this episode of Dean is Dean being righteous with Sam. Dean knowing what’s right, Dean scolding his brother for lying. But maybe something else is going on there, and I think that little goofball dance-move/gesture he does right AT Sam is a “tell”. You want to know why I think Jensen Ackles is one of the best things going right now? It’s because of details like this. No one is telling him to act like that, behave like that, no one directed him to do that. It’s all him.

Sam is trying to put together the two events, Zach and Husband. “Two dark doubles attacking loved ones in exactly the same way …” Dean, on a roll now with his awesomeness, says, “Could be the same thing doing it too.” Sam is struck by this, says, “Shape-shifter?” (Again, when the show reminds us of their expertise … Heartcrack.) And now it is Dean’s turn to rattle off the “lore”, whereas usually that is Sam’s job. “I’m guessing we’ve got a shape-shifter prowling the neighborhood,” is Dean’s assessment. Sam, filled with thought, says, “Let me ask you this. In all the shape-shifter lore, can any of them fly?” Why do I love so much the fact that Dean is suddenly “Lore Man” and Sam is the one playing catch-up? What I like about this short scene is we see how well the brothers work together, how their roles/strengths sort of flow back and forth. There isn’t one Alpha Dog here, there are two. We may assume that Sam is the brainiac, because he has a laptop, but that would be a mistake. That would be selling Dean short.

So Sam has found the blood splatters in the hallway and then the trail vanishes. Maybe the shape-shifter flew up into the air? Dean has another idea. Maybe the shape-shifter went down, and the brothers both look down at the sewer grate beneath their feet which is, naturally, belching up steam.

11th scene
Sam and Dean climb down the ladder into the sewer system which is gorgeously dank and wet and dark. It won’t be the first time we see them crawling through such awful underground spaces. The sewer tunnel runs right down the alley behind the houses of both Zach and Husband. And here is where we come upon the gross reality of what Shape-shifters do. Dean points to something on the floor. It’s a gooey slop of skin that has been ripped off, with a slimy ear. It’s disgusting. Sam looks like he’s gonna puke.

12th scene
Dean digs around in the trunk of the Impala, saying, “If there’s one thing I learned from Dad, there’s only one way to kill a Shapeshifter.” Sam grins, and he’s a cool-hearted badass again, “Silver bullet to the heart.”


Sam’s gentleness and his caring heart are a true part of him, and that was the part that was nurtured at Stanford. But, just as we should never underestimate Dean and how smart he is, we should never underestimate Sam’s cool head and capacity for violence, when necessary. How on earth would sweet Rebecca deal with this Sam, watching his brother load up his gun with silver bullets, with a grin on his face like it’s no big deal?

Speak of the devil. Rebecca calls Sam. The jig is up. She told the cops that they went to the crime scene. Smooth move, Beck. She also told the cops about Detective Dean Winchester, and the cops ran a check and of course came up with nothing under that name. She is trembling with anger and upset, telling him that they may have screwed up the case for her brother, by tampering with evidence.


She doesn’t understand why her friend, her helpful gentle friend, Sam, would lie to her. Sam, of course, cannot explain. She hangs up on him.

Eavesdropper No-Boundaries Dean says, “I hate to say it but that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”


Dean’s pretty righteous here. Sam is upset, and Dean says, “Hey, man, like it or not, we are not like other people.”

13th scene
Sam and Dean are back down in the sewers. It’s gross and gorgeous.


No talking for a while, just searching. We see the flashlight beams cutting through the dark, the puddles on the floor, we peek at them from overhead in the tunnel. It’s all silence and dripping water. Then, they come across another gooey remnant of skin stuck to a horizontal pipe. Sam, again, looks like he’s going to hurl, and I don’t blame him. That is some nasty shit. Then, suddenly, Sam’s flashlight reveals Mr. Husband, now with white eyes gleaming, standing right behind Dean. Shapeshifter punches Dean, who falls back against the wall, hurting his arm, and then the monster flees, as Sam shoots after it. We see him darting off into the murky shadows.

14th scene
It’s night now (when did that happen?) and we see the Shape-shifter haul himself up out of the sewer grate and run off into the darkness. Sam and Dean are hot on his trail, coming up soon afterwards. Dean is injured. I love how Sam emerges from the sewer, holding a gleaming gun, and there’s an extra walking by, it’s in a public park, and the extra doesn’t even look over. Yeah, because seeing a tall filthy gun-wielding man crawling out of the sewer is a totally everyday experience. Dean and Sam look around wildly (I love how they are placed in completely reverse lighting), and decide to split up in their search.


Then we get some beautiful nighttime shots of both of the brothers in their respective searches. This is what I mean when I say the episode looks glamorous. There is also the fact that this is the first time we are really in an urban area, which is filled with so many noir possibilities in terms of reflection/shadow/gleam. Dean takes the alleyway and Sam takes the street. We see the crowded city street from Sam’s perspective, and it all looks romantic and beautiful, with street lamps and cobblestones and happy window-shoppers, but in this context it all turns into a nightmare. That’s what noirs do.





The brothers meet up at a street corner, having come up with Nada. And from here on through the next scene at the car, watch Jensen Ackles. Watch how he is and is not Dean. It is SUPER subtle. Also, watch Jared Padalecki. What he is doing is subtle, too. They don’t let us in on it, these guys are professionals, they are able to keep their cool in crisis situations and not give too much away. But Sam, and I believe it’s from the moment they meet up on the sidewalk here, has a sense that something is not right. As they cross the street, the headlights of an oncoming car flash Dean Winchester’s eyes to white, and it’s horrible. I remember being confused when I first saw the episode: so … how does it work now? Where is the actual Dean? Is the Shape-shifter inside the real Dean? Or are there now two? Good thing I’m not a hunter. I’m slow on the uptake.


15th scene
They approach the Impala. It is dark. Here is what I see is happening. The Shape-shifter is now Dean, and we learn (in a bit) that once you have taken on the person, you can download their thoughts, their personality, their quirks, so that the disguise is damn near perfect. In this small scene at the car, Dean/Shape-shifter has the over-it arrogance down, he’s not freaked out or spooked, he’s kind of cool and tough. But maybe he’s over-doing it. It doesn’t “seem” right. Dean is tough, but he’s not really “cool”. He’s more “hot”, his emotions running high, his adrenaline pounding, his sense of urgency overriding everything. That’s why he’s good in a crisis, although sometimes reckless and self-sacrificing. I don’t know, there’s something about where Jensen Ackles places his voice in this small scene, the register, the tone, that is “off”. It is, and is not, Dean. Nobody would pick up on it at first glance. But Sam, of course, knows him better than anyone.

So there’s a cool moment here. Dean asks Sam for the keys to the trunk. Sam gets them out of his pocket, and hesitates. Hesitates before throwing them over. Then, he says, and it seems to come from out of nowhere, but it doesn’t, it’s a test: “Hey. Didn’t Dad face a shape-shifter in San Antonio?” The whole scene, on both sides, is played with a vast cloud of plausible deniability going on. Nobody could “clock” either of them on what they were actually doing, and Sam here truly seems like he is asking a genuine question. And cool Dean says, “No, that was Austin, a thought-form, a psychic projection, remember?” Which has all kinds of interesting subtleties in it, in terms of “projecting” out into the world the neuroses in your psyche, your thoughts, which is really what goes down later in the episode. Sam smiles a little bit, shakes his head, as though how could he forget? And it makes me wonder: did Shapeshifter Dean get it wrong? Does Sam know that’s not how it went down? You can’t really tell from either side, and that’s why Supernatural is a good show and not a dumbass beat-you-over-the-head show. Then Sam tosses the keys to Dean, who reaches out and grabs them with one hand.

This reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in Inglourious Basterds in the beer hall, when Michael Fassbender’s double-agent gives himself away by holding up three fingers to the waitress for three more beers.


Only he does it the English way, not the German way. That’s the “tell”, that’s what gives him away. Great scene.

We don’t see anything weird about how Dean grabs for the keys (at least I didn’t), and Sam doesn’t immediately pounce. He moves off to the front of the car, and we stay with Fake Dean, who basically drools over the grubby arsenal he sees in the trunk. That is when Sam re-emerges behind Dean, pointing a gun at him.


Dean’s response is: “Dude. Chill.” Nope. That’s not Dean. Sorry, Shape-shifter. Sam says, “You grabbed those keys with your left. Your shoulder was hurt.” Not-Dean shrugs: “It’s better. Whaddya want me to do, cry?” Nope. That’s not Dean. But Ackles isn’t overtly monstrous. He’s enough like Dean to make the whole scene unstable, uneasy, upsetting. At one point, Dean says, “Dude, you know me!” and Sam says, “Don’t.” Because he does know Dean, and the fact that this creature looks/sounds so much like Dean is terrible, and will he be able to shoot it? What if he’s wrong? What if he’s just paranoid?

But no, Not-Dean then quickly pulls out a tire-iron from the trunk, smashes Sam with it and then stands there, looking down at the body of his brother in a way that only be described as totally chilling.


Great little scene, love how it was written and filmed and acted, keeping its cards close to the vest until the last possible second.

16th scene
Sam wakes up, with ropes tied around his neck, wrists, and he is in a candlelit dark space, clearly underground in the sewer system, with dripping water and other atmospheric nastiness. But all the candles make it look almost romantic, which is super-sick. A figure is moving around in the background, and we see it is Dean. Or the Shape-shifter who looks like Dean. And watch how Jensen Ackles moves as the Shape-shifter. It’s different, it’s tighter. Dean,in his real life, moves like a big kid. He’s loosey-goosey, his head tilts to the side in an almost delicate thoughtful way, and his hand gestures are expressive and funny in and of themselves. When he puts on a suit, he looks like an awkward kid making his confirmation. Now it can’t be denied that Ackles is gorgeous, and a lot of gorgeous men (especially actors) are put in roles where they are required to be cool, suave, confident. Dean Winchester is none of these things. Ackles is a leading man but he moves funny, and by funny I don’t mean “weird”, I mean “comedic”. It’s one of his aces in the hole, if not THE ace. (I go into that ad nauseum here.) Shape-shifter Dean may look like Dean but he doesn’t have the guy’s moves down. This is all on Ackles to create. Hats off.


Shape-shifter Dean stalks over to Sam, and they stare at each other for a while, and then Dean back-hands Sam across the face, leaving a red mark on his cheek. Sam wants to know where Dean is, and Shape-shifter won’t answer. Now we come to one of the Big Talking Scenes that Supernatural features, usually as we move into the third act. It gets to be repetitive, because how often would freakin’ monsters take the time to explain themselves and their motivations to those who want to hunt them? However, this kind of Big Talking Moment has a long tradition in cinema, if you watch any crime film in the 1930s, 40s, you usually get a big “And here is why I done what I did” moment, usually when a gun is trained on the sucker.

But this scene is interesting. Because although what we are looking at is a Shape-shifter, what we see is Dean Winchester. And even though it’s a monster, he starts to actually comment on the relationship between the brothers, what he has gleaned from being inside Dean’s skin for all of half an hour. And here is where things get super-intense. The ground beneath the brothers starts to shift here, and it will keep shifting, precariously, through this and future episodes. There are things they can’t talk about. There is vast ground in their past which is damn near radioactive. Growing up in a traumatic situation, riddled with abandonment and violence, can obviously bond people together, and it has here. But it also leaves them with so much they cannot discuss. It’s too hot to handle. It destabilizes the equilibrium, and Dean (in particular) NEEDS equilibrium with his brother. It is a MUST. The monster senses that and starts to wreck the landscape, planting seeds in Sam’s head that will start to grow and blossom in awful ways in coming episodes. I realized, the first time I saw this scene, how much I had invested in these two guys, and in their relationship. It was painful to see that be threatened.

And yet, on the flip-side, the bond between the brothers is almost too close, based in neuroses and shared trauma, and they’re grown men and it wouldn’t be a bad thing if they realized they were separate from one another. This is what the final scene in Episode 5 was all about. The anxiety of being separate was planted in Episode 5, and here, it explodes. And I, the audience member, am implicated because what I WANT to see is not healthy. Because as an adult, a grown woman, with siblings, and relationships, and boyfriends, and all manner of other people in my life, I know that being separate is an important part of being an adult. Any relationship that looks like Sam and Dean’s is bad news. I, myself, vanish in a puff of smoke when anyone clings to me like that, or demands that I not be separate. But watching the show, it’s like I revert to that primal fear of separation, and I just want the brothers to be okay, on the same page, be nice to each other, stop fighting, blah blah blah. It’s one of the reasons why the show hooked me in the first place. I could tell the subversive psychological level on which it was working, and how it expressly involved me. It’s a hell of a hook.

In the third act in “Skin”, we start to get these really glamorous shots of Dean, warm and glowing, fire lit, candlelit, his skin glowing golden, and all that romantic nonsense. This is not how “Dean” has ever been filmed in the show, and it’s not the look of the show at all. But it is the look of the Shape-shifter, at least its internal processing, as he tries to understand the relationship he has stepped into by inhabiting Dean. You’ll notice that when “real” Dean come back into play, he is NOT lit in this lushly romantic way. Sam, in the background, tied up, is in a cold blue and black sort of light, and Dean, in the foreground, overwhelms us with this candlelit profile. It’s almost embarrassing. You want him back to his grubby self.



In a way, what has happened is that the Shape-shifter, in inhabiting Dean’s skin, sees the brother’s relationship through Dean’s eyes, and casts himself as the romantic misunderstood one, something that Dean may feel but keeps under wraps, because, as I said, equilibrium is more important to Dean than anything else. He will move MOUNTAINS to avoid rocking the boat. And in a later scene, with Rebecca, the Dean-Shape-shifter casts himself as a lonely freak, a misunderstood Quasimodo who just wants a little loving. So of course the Shape-shifter is filmed in a romantic golden way, it is how he sees himself. It’s gross. Dean has problems, but he does not romanticize his own damage. Jesus Mary and Joseph.

As the Shapeshifter Dean talks to Sam, he pulls out gleaming knives (he does this later, too, in the final confrontation), and once you’ve seen the whole series you can’t help but think of Dean’s torture-tutorial in Hell and how he stands over his awful weaponry in that terrible room with Alistair.

Family may be hell, as creator Eric Kripke said about his concept for the show, but it is also sacred. And Shapeshifter Dean, by trying to open up rifts and cause trouble, is messing with something that is sacred.

He says, “I swear, the more I learn about you and your family … I thought I came from a bad background … ” He is then bombarded with what seems to be an internal tape-recording of Dean’s conversations, memories, and he winces with the power of it. Once the seizure passes, he looks over at Sam and says, “He’s sure got issues with you.”

Now the truth starts to come out. Is it Dean’s truth? Or is it the monster just messing with Sam? We saw in Episode 4 the demon sneering about Sam’s dead girlfriend and Dean assures Sam that these things lie. Yes, they do, but they often take out the inner core of something, the hidden truth, and expose it in broad daylight, making it look even more awful than it actually is. We all, as human beings, live with internal contradictions and unresolved issues and we do the best we can, most of the time. And having “issues” with someone doesn’t have to be this big Dealbreaker, but it is with Dean and Sam, whose equilibrium is always a fragile thing, especially now when they are just getting used to working together as grown-ups without Dad. The Shape-shifter senses that vulnerability and goes right after it.


It is difficult to picture real-life Dean expressing resentment towards their upbringing, especially not this early in the game. The Winchester Way is sacred. But private thoughts have a way of percolating, and to monsters/ghosts/demons, nothing is too private. So the Shape-shifter expresses something that maybe we have guessed Dean to feel, but maybe not. Dean seems okay with who he is, with what he’s doing, the way he says to Sam in the earlier scene, “We’re not like other people.” He seems okay. There is a suggestion here, put in the mouth of a monster, that no, Dean is NOT okay.

“You got to go to college. He had to stay home. I mean, I had to stay home. With Dad. You don’t think I had dreams of my own? Dad needed me. Where the hell were you.” That sounds pretty true to me. “Deep down, I’m just jealous. You got friends. You could have a life. Me? I know I’m a freak. And sooner or later everybody’s gonna leave me. You left. Hell, I did everything Dad asked me to, and he ditched me too. No explanation, no nothin’. Left me with your sorry ass.”

Sooner or later everybody’s gonna leave me.

I’ve written before about Elia Kazan’s work with script analysis, and his in-depth concept of “spines” and how spines work. There is the spine of the piece as a whole, the screenplay, the play. Each character has its own spine, that somehow dovetails with the spine of the whole (even walk-on characters fit into that overall spine). And then, each moment, each beat, has a spine, which can be defined as: “What does this character WANT in this scene? And what is he willing to do to get it?” “Spines” can (and must) be boiled down into a sentence. You don’t need to go on and on about it. It’s not a term paper. A spine is something you can PLAY. It is not theoretical, it is not a CONCEPT. It is action-able. Think of it in terms of objective. I had an acting teacher in grad school who said, “Every scene is either Fight or Fuck. So if you get stuck and you don’t know what to do, pick one of those objectives, play it, and see where that gets you.” He was known to call out from the audience to lost actors, flailing about in a scene up onstage, “FIGHT OR FUCK. PICK ONE.” And 10 times out of 10, the scene would start POPPING. Spine and objective are usually very close, although objective changes and morphs as the story progresses. Objective is: “what do I want?”

The Shape-shifter, in almost a casual moment, speaks Dean’s spine, his deepest fear in a bald and naked way that Dean would never put into words, although his every action, his every objective in almost every scene, illuminates that spine, and the correlative objective: Keep those I love near me. No one must be allowed to leave.

He is afraid that everyone will leave him. He is not dumb. He is afraid of this because everyone HAS left him. Sammy leaving to go to college was not just infuriating and a betrayal of the family business. It was sheer abandonment. That is how Dean reacted to it. Remember the scene in a later episode when they “go to Heaven” and every single part of Sam’s heaven DOESN’T have to do with the family. Sam’s heaven is all about the moments he escaped, got out, was free. Dean is nearly in tears as he begins to realize the pattern. “The best day of your life was when you went to Stanford? That was the WORST day of my life.”

It’s all the more perfect that this soliloquy is put into the mouth of an untrustworthy monster. We’re as upset by it as Sam is. How much should we take as truth? Sam seems swayed, and keeps saying, “You’re not my brother”, almost as a mantra to remind himself.

Echoing a comment from Real-Dean earlier, Not-Dean says that this sucky life is “not without its perks”, which means “little Becky”. Monster says, “You know Dean’d bang her if he had the chance.” In general, except for the “whoo-hoo, yeah, gimme a beer” moment, Dean has totally behaved himself with Becky. He has not hit on her, or moved in on her, or even said anything inappropriate or flirty. Which, for Dean, is saying something. You can tell that Dean wants to flirt, because he’s Dean. But he keeps it under wraps. The Shape-shifter reveals the pretense, and again, it’s a betrayal. You can THINK things all you want, what’s the harm? Here, we can see the harm, when those thoughts are brought out by an unsympathetic creature. So the Shape-shifter insinuates that he’s gonna go give “Becky” a call, which … really? Would a monster really lay down his itinerary like that to his main adversary?

17th scene
Knock, knock, knock on the door, and we see Becky descending the circular staircase in the dark, the intricate iron-work and skylight making crazy creepy shadows on the wall and on her.


Now. I may be reading too much into it, but that staircase/lighting/ominous feeling reminds me of that famous shot in Suspicion, with Cary Grant carrying the glowing glass of milk (they put a lit-up lightbulb in the glass, by the way, to get that effect).


Now, come on. Is that just a COINCIDENCE?

I choose to believe it is deliberate, and so to Serge Ladouceur (cinematographer) and Jerry Wanek (production design), you have my deepest admiration and gratitude. Skin is very Hitchcockian, in every respect, ANYWAY, so it’s nice to see a visual nod to one of Hitchcock’s films.

Rebecca opens the door and there is glamour-puss Dean. She wants to slam the door in his face. He is apologetic, he just wants to make things right.


Again, there’s something not right about this Dean. I mean, of course we know that, but watch the behavior, and think of Ackles working all that out for himself, and how he would suggest “other-ness” while still being, you know, Dean. There’s a level of manipulation here that is “not Dean”. This guy knows he’s hot, and uses it. Now Dean does, too, but it’s way more unconscious in the real Dean. It’s almost innocent and friendly (I’ve gone into this before: Dean is a compulsive flirt). But Fake Dean is “posing”. And, even worse, it works on Rebecca. Real Dean, who we know is a bad bluffer and bad liar, might have been so awkward and intense that Rebecca would have slammed the door in his face. But Fake Dean charms his way in.

18th scene
Back in the Shapeshifter’s candlelit romantic dank-grubby hideaway, Sam struggles to wriggle out of the ropes holding him, and as he does so, he hears a groan from the darkness over to the side. It is Real Dean, and God, are we glad to see YOU. Man! Beautiful moment that gets me every time, we hear grumpy Dean call out, “That better be you, Sam, and not that Freak of Nature” and Sam, so relieved he can barely stand it, starts laughing.


I am not sure how the clothes work here: I think what has happened is the Shapeshifter has taken Dean’s two outer layers (Dean always wears three): the jacket and the flannel, and has left Dean in the T-shirt. But pants? We’ve seen the piles of clothes crumpled in the sewer alley. What’s going on? Why isn’t Real Dean naked? Or is Shapeshifter Dean wearing Zach’s pants? Or Husband’s pants? I need to check in the later scene. The entire world hangs in the balance until I answer that important question for myself. Whatever the case may be, Real-Dean is now in a T-shirt, with no outer layers. It’s weird, it makes him look naked. We’ve gotten used to his bulked-up layered appearance already. And it also, to be honest, creates a Disturbance in the Force, for me. Because he has a slamming body, kind of big and jock-like, with a bow-legged walk and broad shoulders, and you never freakin’ SEE the damn thing in the series. So you get a glimpse of it, and I join the Objectification Brigade in Dean Winchester’s life, where all people do is skeeze out on him and yearn to penetrate/devour/get inside there. It’s sick, but it’s Supernatural‘s world and I’m just living in it.

Exhibit A.


Dean Winchester, cover up those dirty pillows!

And notice: no necklace.

As Dean wrestles out of the ropes, Sam says, “He went to Rebecca’s looking like you,” and Dean’s reply is perfect, “Well, he’s not stupid. He picked the handsome one.” That’s the Dean we know, joking, but also objectifying himself, because that’s how he rolls. How could he help it?

19th scene
Big scene now with Fake-Dean and Rebecca. Rebecca, who, half an hour ago, hated Dean Winchester’s lying ass has somehow now made a fire, served him beer, and is asking him questions.


As Fake-Dean explains to her about what “Shape-shifters” are there is a weird blank-ness to his expression, the blank-ness of the predator lying in wait, the blank-ness of the practiced psychopath. I’ve written extensively about “the blank face” in acting and how much it fascinates me. Just a couple of examples: Alain Delon in Le Samourai, Sissy Spacek in Badlands. Blank-ness is, perhaps, the hardest thing to play for an actor, because actors are trained to bring emotions OUT, not hide them completely. But the actors who can do it – Alain Delon, Robert Mitchum, a few more – are absolutely TERRIFYING onscreen, in a way that even openly violent characters can never be. Because blank-ness is impenetrable. Blank-ness represents a lack of something, human-ness, empathy. This will become the main thrust of Season 6, when Sam walks around without a soul for half the season. I will be getting into that in much detail, and it’s one of the reasons why Season 6 is one of my favorites. Because it’s all about blank-ness and what it means, and what it signifies, and all of those questions about Be-ing and Feel-ing and what the soul means, and what it means to be a human being.

Both actors, Ackles and Padalecki, are wonderful at portraying warmth, empathy, hot emotions, urgency, humanity. They both are great with self-deprecating stuff (any person who never shows a strain of self-deprecation should be treated with suspicion and caution), and great with making fun of themselves. It’s why they are so endearing. But when they are also given the opportunity on the show to play “blank-ness”, or predatory silence, they are equally as good. Both of them would play wonderful villains. Think of how Ted Bundy, handsome, disarmed his victims. Both of them would be so good, and so terrifying, at that. And Ackles is terrifying here. And yet all he’s doing, at first, is sitting and talking with her. He’s not acting weird, or like a psycho. But something is missing, something is WAY off. Gavin de Becker would be all over “little Becky” for letting this guy in.

Rebecca refers to the Shape-shifters as “genetic freaks” (I haven’t counted but I think this is the third time the word “freak” is used on the show), and a flash goes over Fake-Dean’s face. You can tell he doesn’t like that. And then he subtly starts to turn on the pity-party. He’s trying to get her to see it from the Shape-shifter’s point of view.


“Maybe this thing was born human but was different. Hideous, and hated. Until he learned to become someone else.”

Now, I’m no Rhodes Scholar, but I think we could also read into this something about how Dean feels about himself. His “hey, man, that’s the breaks, but we can’t have friends” thing seems pretty genuine, but at what a cost. What a price Dean has paid.

20th scene
Back in the Sewer Lair, Sam and Dean are still struggling out of their ropes, and as they do so, they try to piece together the Shape-shifter’s M.O. Sam says how weird it was, that the Shapeshifter seemed to have downloaded Dean’s “thoughts and memories” (which is interesting and revealing: although Sam knew he was dealing with a monster, he seemed to take those words as Truthful somehow. He doesn’t seem pissed, more interested in how that could occur. Interesting.) Dean’s comment to this is: “You mean like a Vulcan mind-meld?” which, Love. Basically, is all I have to say. The question really is why the Shapeshifter didn’t just kill them, and Dean wonders if it’s because to keep that “psychic connection” alive. They crawl out of a grate, and Sam says they should head over to Rebecca’s and also call the police, and poor Dean, who, again, looks naked in just a T-shirt, puts the kibosh on that: “You’re gonna put out an APB on me!” Good thinking, Dean. They run off down the alley, and it’s moody and dark as hell and I love it.


21st scene
Back to Shape-shifter Dean’s pity party. He’s still yammering on in his creepy blank way. He’s so compelling as an actor, and so beautiful to look at, that you get sucked into it, for the sheer beauty factor. This is how the series uses him, this is how Jensen Ackles uses himself. It’s not enough to be handsome. You have to have consciousness and awareness behind it. Rebecca listens to the sob story being told to her, supposedly, by Dean Winchester, who is empathizing with the Shape-shifter’s position. But again, the episode wants you to make those connections with real Dean.

“It’s funny. I kind of understand him. He’s all alone. Close to no one. All he wants is for someone to love him. He’s like me.”

It’s yukky, though, because you can tell that Rebecca is not really into it. She can sense he’s coming onto her, and her body language is eloquently saying “No.” Real-Dean is a master at reading body language of this nature and never pushes himself in where he isn’t wanted. Never. Well, he does give a false name and often a false profession, but he doesn’t push himself physically or emotionally on women. It’s just not his thing. He hits up good-time girls up for a one-night fling, and he has good radar for that stuff and wants things to be easy and fun, not tricky and difficult. So to see Fake-Dean putting on these weird pity-party moves AND to have the girl kind of squirm in response is awful.

The camera loves all over Ackles in this scene, leering at him from every angle, behind, over his shoulder, from the front, and profile. The series usually treats him more straightforwardly. This scene is how beautiful people are usually treated by the camera (more often women than men). It is sheer objectification. Usually when a film objectifies someone like this, it is a reflection of how the other characters (or character) in the scene see that person. In my first post about Jensen Ackles, I referenced Lana Turner’s famous entrance in The Postman Always Rings Twice.


Everything else in the film stops in order to ogle her entrance. And we get that how we are seeing her is how John Garfield is seeing her. We are meant to be dazzled, because he is dazzled. And we linger over her so long because he can’t look away.

But in this scene in Supernatural, we have a character being made love to by the camera (Ackles), and the other character in the scene is grossed out. Now you don’t see that often, and it is completely creepy.


I mean, really? And Fake Dean turns up the heat, saying to her, “Everyone needs a little human touch …” a sentence it is 100% impossible to imagine Dean Winchester saying. Fake-Dean reaches out to touch her, and she basically cringes backward away from it, telling him he needs to leave. All kinds of fascinating things happen on Fake-Dean’s face in response to the rejection, all overlaid with that blankness of entitlement. I am very glad that Jensen Ackles was chosen to play Dean Winchester, a character where he can let his Freak Flag fly, and be romantic and emotional and hilarious and goofy and tough… because if Dean Winchester hadn’t come along he very well may have cornered the market in playing creepy Preppy Murderers. He’s good at it. He manages to be extremely menacing with just a licking of the lips, or a pause.

Fake Dean then leans over and whispers something in her ear, something clearly filthy because she pushes him away from her and screams, “You are disgusting!” She makes the mistake of saying, “What’s wrong with you?” which is like lighting his fuse. Things start happening very quickly. She runs to the phone to call the police, and there is a strange moment he has with himself, where you can see he is almost calming down the fire inside of him, a little blip of a pause, before he turns and stalks right over to her, grabbing the phone and throwing it across the room. She starts screaming and he screams back, right in her face. She trips on the phone wire, and falls, and he pounces on her, and there’s a violent fight between the two of them, with her screaming and him wrestling with her, shouting at one point, “Give me your hands!” – as though she is supposed to cooperate with her attack. He starts wrapping the phone cord around her wrists.

Side note: Supernatural is one of the only shows on television which regularly features violent fights between men and women. And not of the normal variety, where we see a man batting a woman around. Granted, the women in Supernatural are usually demons or monsters, but there’s something super-cool about seeing even little old ladies getting to do a FIGHT SCENE with strapping young guys like Ackles and Padalecki. And it becomes completely normal to see a woman punched in the face, so I guess that’s kind of sick, but you’re like, “Damn, that demon-bitch deserves it.” Fight scenes like this are usually strictly man-on-man territory. Here, the girls get to punch and kick and throw knives and choke people, and it’s fun, actually. I’m just thinking of being a young actress and getting a role on Supernatural. Normally, you play ingenues. But you go up to Vancouver, and you play an ingenue but you play an ingenue possessed by a DEMON and so you get to do something you never ever get to do in your career and that is have a knock-down drag-out fight where you are stronger than the man. I don’t know. I like it. It must be so much fun for these guest stars to do that. They even have fist fights with little old ladies and small children on occasion. What a hoot for the actors.

Not that that is what is going on here. Rebecca is a human being and it is completely terrible watching Dean Winchester, someone we now love, treat her so violently.

22nd scene
Rebecca is covered in blood, gagged, and tied up. Fake-Dean is off in the shadows, getting out a gleaming knife, telling her she’s such a nice girl and that makes this harder. We’re coming back now to the scene we saw in the Teaser.

I have a question: who the hell called the SWAT team? Did I miss something? Didn’t Real Dean put a stop to that?

Rebecca is screaming and Dean leans in over her, shhhh-ing her, again making her cooperate in her own murder/whatever-the-fuck.


Fake-Dean knows he’s trapped, so he leaves her and goes into the next room, sexy-pants throbbing music starting (totally unlike Dean Winchester’s regular song-list which doesn’t go past 1982), and that’s where the SWAT team eventually find him, hunched by the balcony holding a bloody knife. Instead of dropping the knife, he tosses it into the chest of one of the SWAT guys, whose gun goes off, and in the ensuing melee, Shapeshifter-Dean jumps to the ground off the balcony, as the whole team open fire behind him. The music is rising now, actually driving the scene, which now brings us down into the Monster’s Lair, where he is by himself, and we get to see Jensen Ackles strip down, only now, dammit, we don’t want to see it because the context is totes gross.

The music adds to the atmosphere. Unlike shows like, say, Miami Vice, which had a really music-laden show, with heavy driving music accompanying their car chases, Supernatural usually keeps it simpler. There is a “soundtrack”, of course, the classic rock/metal stuff that comes out of the Impala radio, and also a couple of key themes used during tense or emotional scenes. But other than that, we don’t get music like the way we get it in this scene, which almost feels like a music video.

The Shape-shifter staggers down the dark tunnels of the sewer, with rats in the foreground, and he is now struggling. He is grunting, and the sounds don’t sound human. Or, they sound … well. Sexual. But he’s injured, he needs to shed this skin. So he does. And what we see is Ackles peeling off his T-shirt, our first glimpse of torso, him falling to his knees, bare-chested, writhing in what looks like agony as he pulls off the skin, but agony is close to ecstasy and the throbbing music is pounding, and it’s all insanely provocative. We see closeups of the body-parts shedding themselves and it is the grossest the show has gotten thus far. We see his fingers start to swell, and his fingernails slowly pop off. We get HUGE closeups of his agonized face. And then, the worst part, especially for me who has recurring nightmares about my teeth falling out, gigantic closeups of his teeth wiggling free from his gums. I’ll be honest. I can’t look at it directly.



Except … totally not.

The scene ends with him peeling off his own skin, in a gooey splattering mess.

23rd scene
Dean and Sam, heading to Rebecca’s, are stopped dead in their tracks by a wall of televisions alerting the populace that a Manhunt is in progress for a man suspected of killing three people. There is a police sketch of Dean. It’s surreal. Dean is more irritated than anything else: “That’s not even a good picture of me!”

This St. Louis escapade will come back to haunt Dean in later seasons. The Winchester boys do something wildly illegal almost every day, what with flashing fake badges, and all that, but it is this moment that refuses to go away. It’s on his record, he’s wanted for murder in St. Louis. It will be part of the case being built against him by the FBI. It’s pretty cool, albeit very stressful, but I am very glad the show deals with the real world enough to know that these guys would run the risk of getting into big BIG trouble.


Sam and Dean, hurtling down a dark alley to Rebecca’s (and Dean steps in a puddle and his annoyance is so real, like: THIS, TOO? I gotta deal with THIS, too?), and Sam is trying to find a bright side to the situation but all he can come up with is “ATTEMPTED murder” – at least he didn’t kill her. Dean is outraged: “First thing I’m gonna do is find that handsome devil and kick the crap out of him.” This is PERSONAL, that was my FACE, my BODY, how DARE he use it. Example #1 of 2,000,000 of Dean being taken over/susceptible/penetrable/vulnerable. Sam’s got his own issues, and his temptations are, in many ways, much darker. But it’s poor Dean who is co-opted time and time again. Those monsters just love that “skin” of his. They can’t wait to get in there. Dean shivers with the grossness of it all.

LOOK at the beauty of this shot.


Dean wants to go right back down into the sewers and Sam reminds him, again, that they have no weapons. He is not frustrated with Dean, or angry, he gets it, but he has to keep his cool because his brother is flashing his dirty pillows all over the place, totally losing it. I don’t know why they didn’t think of this in the first place but it occurs to them that the weapons are in the Impala, which the Shape-shifter obviously stole. They decide to go over to Rebecca’s to see if the Impala is parked near there.

Maybe my favorite moment in the episode is here. It’s all in the tone. It’s simple as hell. But it’s so brotherly. I can practically hear one of my sisters talking like this to me.

Dean: “The thought of him driving my car …”
Sam (starting to walk): “All right, come on.”
Dean: “It’s killing me.”
Sam: “Let it go.”

So real.

The brothers run down the alley and see the Impala, parked there, and it’s filmed in a way to look both sexy and intimidating. It’s a hell of a car.


Dean is relieved that “she” is okay, and they both start to go for the car, when cop cars pull in all around them, lights flashing. It seems to me that Dean and Sam were not too smart here. You are going to pick up your car, which the cops will think is the attempted murderer’s car. You walked right into this one, boys. They do this again and again through the series. They seem to regard cops as necessary evils, not too smart, definitely not on the up-and-up about what is really going on. They see themselves as the REAL law-enforcers in this great nation. Beautiful Sam, brave Sam, cool-headed Sam, tells Dean to run, he’ll hold the cops off, and “meet me at Rebecca’s!” Dean is launching himself up over a nearby fence to disappear into the night. Sam yells after his brother, “Stay out of the sewers alone!” Dean’s reply comes back, “Yeah, yeah.”

The cops approach Sam, guns drawn. How the hell did Sam get out of this, by the way? We never find out.

24th scene
It is now … morning? Blue sky? I am confused by the timeline. Dean, looking scary as hell, loads up his gun standing by the trunk of the Impala, saying to himself, “Sorry, Sam. You know me. I just can’t wait.”

25th scene
Dean travels through the sewer tunnels … while, what, Sam is in lockdown? What the hell is the timeline here? He comes across slimy chunks of skin on the floor, probably his own skin, and comes across another candlelit area, with what looks like trophies from the Shape-shifter’s victims, watches and things. He sees a figure draped in a blanket, and runs to it, finding that it is Rebecca, confused, staring up at him. Hmmm.

26th scene
Sam sits on the couch at Rebecca’s drinking a beer, and we now know that there are two Rebeccas running around, and the Rebecca that Dean rescued is the real one and whoever is talking to Sam now, and (of course) plying him with beers is the Fake one. She paces behind him, talking about the Shape-shifters, asking, “How do you stop it?” handing him another beer. Liquoring up your 6’4″ victim?


Sam says, “Silver bullet to the heart,” and Rebecca, with a note of steel in her voice, says, “You are crazy” and smashes him across the back of the head with her beer bottle (so many beers, Rebecca), knocking him flat. Her eyes gleam white.

27th scene
Dean works to get Rebecca untied. I’m still a bit confused. This is the real Rebecca. The last she saw of Dean, he was attacking her in her own house after demanding sex. Why isn’t she scared of him? What am I not getting about the timeline? Anyway, Dean is asking her what happened, and she, in tears, tells him she was knocked over the head while she was walking home and woke up in this place, just in time to see the creature turn into her.


After ascertaining that she can walk, he urges her to hurry because “Sam went to see you.” So, honestly, this makes me think that the bright-blue-sky scene of Dean loading up his gun was a continuity glitch. It’s all supposed to be happening on the same night. Moving on.

28th scene
Sam is now tied up at Rebecca’s, and the Shape-shifter that had been the bottle-wielding Rebecca is now Dean. The scene starts with a creepy closeup of a white bra, and some straggly blonde hair, basically meant to suggest that that is the skin/clothes of Rebecca that the Shapeshifter just shed. There’s a sexual component there, why show the bra otherwise? (“Sam wears women’s underwear.”) The fluidity of this creature, its ability to morph into either gender, and to work its sexuality either way, has already messed with the brothers’ minds. And with every other victim, Zach’s girlfriend, the hot wife.

Now comes the kick-ass third act confrontation between Sam Winchester and a creature who looks like his brother. There is a phenomenal fight scene that goes down here, and since there are so many huge fights on the show I’ll be getting into their effectiveness as we move forward. Ackles and Padalecki do most of their own stunts, and so these fights have the intimacy of a real struggle. You can tell it’s them. The choreography is innovative, it’s not just two guys “sparring”. The architecture is used, whatever is around is used as a weapon, doors/chairs/whatever … in the “Cain” episode recently, Dean, in a desperate moment, wrapped a nearby dishtowel around a demon’s neck and used it to catapult her across the room like a shot-put. That’s some good and fun choreography.

Shape-shifter Dean is pulling out knives, saying, “Murder in the first? Of his own brother? He’ll be hunted for the rest of his life.” Which ends up being true, in all kinds of ways. Sam is tied up next to a pool table, as the monster casually strolls around, pouring himself a drink, and examining his collection of knives. We get a huge monologue here (typical), but again, because it’s Supernatural, and because the show really isn’t about monsters, it’s about the relationship between the brothers, it works. The Shape-shifter says, “I must say. I will be sorry to lose this skin. Your brother’s got a lot of good qualities. You should appreciate him more.” Ackles does not play any of this menacing. He plays it casually, almost good-naturedly, which is even more frightening.

Sam, of course, isn’t going to just lie there and accept that he’s a goner, so he kicks the Shape-shifter suddenly, and, with the knife sticking out of the pool table, severs the ropes around his wrists. Now comes an AWESOME fight. The pilot started out with a fight between the brothers, but they haven’t gotten physical with one another since. They will have much worse fights later, where they practically kill each other. But this one, which involves pool cues, hanging lamps exploding, a collapsing book case, and these two awesome freakin’ action stars going at it … what can I say. Sheila has a soft spot for good fight choreography done really well.



They also have the ability to make fights seem real. The punches hurt them. They’re out of breath. They grunt. They take a second to think. It FEELS improvisational, dangerous, and it looks like it hurts. This is so challenging. It takes so much work. Neither of them are actually punching each other (I know this is Acting 101, but I appreciate it. It’s hard to d0 and it’s hard to do well.) Fake-Dean finally pins Sam on the rug and starts to choke him, when Real Dean bursts in, shooting Fake-Dean twice. Fake-Dean’s death is a masterpiece, almost balletic, and it’s clearly a stunt-guy but whoever he is: Ku-DOS.

Sam lies on the floor, heaving for breath, and Dean slowly approaches his now-dead doppelgänger. Rebecca rushes to help Sam, and Dean, looking freaked out beyond BELIEF, his eyes basically bugging out of his head, stares down at his own dead body. It is impossible to read what he is thinking.


Then he reaches out and grabs the necklace off the hateful creature, and there’s a small closeup of the necklace as he rolls it up to put in his pocket. One of those minor details, but it has such a huge payoff when we learn what that necklace represents. And THEN, even later … what happens to the necklace, and the part it plays! Bah. I keep hoping it will re-surface.

NECKLACE SPOILERS and CONJECTURE: Yes, we saw Dean throw it in the garbage and we saw Sam’s pained expression. But the camera cut away after that. Who’s to say Sam didn’t go retrieve it out of the garbage to give it back to Dean at an appropriate moment? He very well might have. We just weren’t privy to it. This is Supernatural. They do shit like this all the time. I hope it’ll come back. Maybe even in an End-Game final episode way. If it does happen that way, I would like a prize of some kind, just putting it out there.

29th scene
Out in front of Rebecca’s parents’ house, Dean spreads a map out on the hood of the Impala, already with one foot out of there. It’s time to be getting on the road, like, yesterday. Sam and Rebecca stand talking on the front steps, and the framing is eloquent. Dean is so far away. In some of the other episodes, the “goodbyes” with the victims who have needed their help is close and personal. Not here. Dean is remote. Separate.


Rebecca is still processing the fact that 1. Monsters are real and 2. Sam hunts them down and kills them. Also, that he hasn’t told anyone, that no one at school knows. She asks, “Did Jessica know?” It’s hard for him, you can tell, to admit that Jess hadn’t known. The guilt he feels about being unable to protect her. It’s all there. Rebecca says, and here, without knowing it, she’s echoing the Shape-shifter’s pity-party monologue, “It must be lonely.” But Sam is a Winchester. Sam does not complain, Sam does not pity himself, certainly not in front of outsiders – which, suddenly, Rebecca is in this scene. Sam toes the family line here and he does so happily, because Rebecca is not one of them. He’s gentle about it, but it’s definitely a door closing in her face. He doesn’t reply “Yes, it is lonely” or “It’s really hard”. Instead he says, “It’s not so bad. Anyway, what can I do? It’s my family.” It’s a fascinating moment, considering where he’s come from, and the journey he’s gone on in the last 5 episodes. He’s already like another person. And you know what? It suits him. But we’ll get to that in a second. This is all on Padalecki to suggest, and show, and he does it.

Rebecca gives him a hug saying how much everyone misses him, and Sam hugs her back, saying, “Me too”, but you can feel that even though he is embracing her, he is now as separate from her as Dean is. He knows it. It is a terrible knowledge.


And when Rebecca asks him to keep in touch, you can see the hesitation. He won’t. He can’t.

Sam comes back to the car, and at first his body language is awkward and gangly, like he’s a Shape-shifter himself, un-used to his new skin, but by the time he reaches Dean he’s tall again, and even takes a moment to tease Dean, pretending that the cops are now blaming Dean Winchester for Emily’s murder. He’s so good at the tease that Dean’s jaw drops for a second before he realizes Sam is just taking the piss. It’s an amazing transition: from that front stoop to the car.

It’s over.

That life is now over.

30th scene
“All Right Now” blares, as we get a killer overhead shot of the Impala tearing through Middle Earth.


And, as happened with Episode 5, what “felt like” the last scene – the goodbye with Rebecca on the steps – is not actually the last scene. There is one more. Think of it: if we had ended there, with Sam’s regretful goodbye, and the teasing snark with his brother, it is my opinion that the show would have been far too un-ironic and lacking in depth. It would be more interested in preserving the tough-cool status of the brothers, as opposed to being interested in what is REALLY going on between them. It makes a difference. This last scene, in the Impala, is the necessary Coda. There is a little bit of “here is what I learned” going on, but by this point Supernatural has earned our trust enough to allow that.

What is interesting here is that it is Dean who starts talking. He says he’s sorry, and Sam is confused. Why? “I really wish things could be different. I wish you could just be Joe College.” I love that that line is there because it directly contradicts the Shape-shifter’s resentful monologue, but we’re still not sure: there HAD to be some truth in the resentment shown, right? Also what is interesting is that when Dean says he wishes things could be different, it is always about what this life has done to SAM. Never about what it has done to HIM. It will take a LOT for him to admit that this life has been hard on him, too, and when he does admit it, it’s so painful that there’s basically no catharsis. He’s too traumatized. There will be other moments in the series when Dean expresses regret that Sam couldn’t have the life he wanted, there’s a sense there that Sam SHOULD have gotten out, as awful as it would have been for Dean. But why not Dean? Why is he so un-interested in his own happiness? It doesn’t even seem to register.

Sam finally admits something, that he never felt like he fit in at Stanford anyway. Sam “not fitting in” and how he could never “fit in” will become the key plot-line through Seasons 2 and 3, and hell, it’s still going on. Sam would assume that it was because he had such a weird upbringing, but of course there’s more to it. It’s a pretty big admission for Sam, especially to his brother, who has been so rude about the college buddies and how he needs to cut ties. So to see him move from that gangly front-stoop to the Impala is to see him actually decide to become himself, his real self. Just throwing that out there. Dean says that Sam didn’t fit in at Stanford because he was a “freak”, and Sam laughs, insulted, and Dean says, “I’m a freak too. I’m right there with you.”

Winchester family on lock-down.

Dean’s regret at the end of Episode 6 is that he’s bummed he’s leaving town. “How many chances am I gonna have to see my own funeral?”

Dean, don’t ask questions if you don’t want an honest answer.

But it’s eerie, a little bit, and it’s eerie the way Dean says it. That death-wish hanging over him, still maybe a little flipped out at having seen himself dead like that. He just killed himself back there. How can he wrap his head around THAT.

And Sam, cord really cut now with that old life and its old associations, looks over at his brother, and then laughs.

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70 Responses to Supernatural: Season 1, Episode 6: “Skin”

  1. Melissa Sutherland says:

    I knew Robbie McNeill (as he was then known) when he first arrived in NYC. He was around 23. A friend of my friend Jason McA. He was adorable and a really good actor. I’ve followed his career since he segued into directing and producing. He’s done so well and I am really happy for him. And I bet he’s still adorable! So nice to find him here.


  2. rae says:

    /One look at his resume and you wonder what “Let Me Only Work On Hit Shows” magic this guy might be conjuring./

    Supernatural’s world would suggest a hell of a deal with a crossroads demon..

  3. Helena says:

    //I am not sure how the clothes work here://

    Maybe it’s a nod to the Incredible Hulk – whatever happened, the Hulk’s trousers always stayed on.

  4. Helena says:

    The ‘death wish’ thing is just fascinating. It comes up again and again in Season One, and (among many other things) it sets up such a rich conflict between the two major pillars of Dean’s existence, which is ‘the job,’ (and I’d hazard the most important bit of the job description for Dean is “saving people”, without which being a hunter would be wretched) – and loyalty to family, with protecting Sam being right on top of the to-do list there. In many ways job and family are synonymous for Dean, but they also haveto come into conflict with each other because doing the job can destroy the family at any moment. In Heart, (for which I am really looking forward to your recap, one of my favourite episodes of Series 1,) you see him waiting to die for someone else who isn’t Sam, and the moment is never commented on, never discussed.

    I guess that brings me onto another thing I like about Supernatural’s modus operandi regarding its characters, which is to take something away from them and explore what happens. In this episode the shape shifter latches onto one thing about Dean, his neediness, casting the other aspects of his character into sharper relief by their absence. In Yellow Fever they take away his alpha male courage, in another they take away hunting and all that entails, including his relationship with Sam … For Sam they take away his soul – his moral compass, his ability to love, the need to do the right thing etc … Sometimes these tactics are woven explicitly into the narrative arc and sometimes I feel that the scriptwriters go, whoa, let’s all just take a little detour here, let’s look at this for a moment.

    • sheila says:

      Helena – your final paragraph is so insightful!! (Well, it all is – but that one in particular). Yes! The show could seriously just be “kill monsters” but it’s not – it’s this meditation/exploration of psychology and need and love and family – and every episode somehow taps into that, and then they draw it out – over episodes, seasons, looping back, circling down … It’s also a great series to RE-watch, because it keeps secrets from you and then going back, you can see how they set all this up so carefully.

      None of this would work if they didn’t have such superb lead actors, who are “in on the joke”. This isn’t Dukes of Hazard (which I’m not knocking). But, you know, that stayed on the surface of things. Supernatural goes DEEP.

      “Heart” is incredible. One of the best episodes.

      • sheila says:

        I re-watched a couple of the first episodes of Season 8 yesterday – after I did all my Ebert stuff – yay, multitasking! – and Dean’s warrior-mode and PTSD-mode is fascinating – He misses Purgatory, because it was pure there. There was nothing to do but fight. It suited him.

        It’s tragic, though. JA suggests the tragedy of that, of his character, without PLAYING it tragically.

        • Helena says:

          Ah, Purgatoristan. I’ve only watched season 8 once (!), and gallopingly fast, but it is striking how limited and shut down Dean’s options seem to become in terms of openness to human relationships, possibilities for the future etc. And I won’t get to see Season 9 for quite a while, so no idea how anything pans out. Don’t know if it’s a good sign, but he is cast in an increasingly parental role – maybe that’s quite hopeful.

          I was only partly joking in a previous posts where I said Dean might end up in a monastery. (And now imagine the rest of this comment in small letters, not to be spoken out loud. Put this down to my literary/catholic background.) I haven’t really got my head around the really ontology/arc of the whole angel/demon/battle in heaven thing that the Winchesters become involved in, so have to qualify the following, but there’s something about the Winchesters’ story, and by this I mean Dean’s rather than Sam, which has the quality of a medieval allegory. Here’s a holy sinner who fights demons, goes to hell, is redeemed, is adopted by an angel, goes to Purgatory, with a glimpse of Heaven thrown in on the way. Only two more letters to that name and it would be Dante (really, just kidding.) And the church calendar is peppered with saints who are returning warriors who repent of sins through miraculous visions and become hermits/saints. And I apply this thinking to Dean’s character rather than Sam’s, who goes through so many of the things Dean does, but to whom the word sinner just doesn’t attach. It does to Dean, because he’s such an avowed, self confessed and upfront sinner. And he has such a need to be – more than forgiven, I think the word is shriven. I’ve no idea what the endgame will be – it certainly won’t be along these lines ;-)

          • sheila says:

            In re: Purgatory. You’re right about Dean’s shutting down. You can SEE it in his body language and face. That Season 5 episode I keep mentioning – “The End” – shows a Dean in the future who is almost completely shut down. He’s a hell of a warrior but warmth/openness has been smashed out of him. The commentary track to the episode is fascinating – they were talking about how they just didn’t have the budget to actually create an Apocalypse – so they wanted to “suggest” it by going into the future where it was a done deal. This was our “taste” of it. And the great Ben Edlund wrote the episode, and he said in the commentary track that they wanted to show a Dean was “emotionally truncated” – a wonderful phrase.

            And even though the brothers averted the actual Apocalypse – we are now 5 years later in the series, the time at which “The End” would have taken place – and here we are, with an emotionally truncated Dean. It’s his Destiny – Apocalypse or no.

            The series is really dealing with that now. They’re really putting Dean front and center. Couldn’t be more psyched about it.

          • sheila says:

            The whole “shriven” concept you just introduced gives me goosebumps. I think there’ something there, definitely.

      • Helena says:

        Yes. I tried not to say much about it, as I’m really trying to wait for the recap for that conversation :-) (I think my other favourite Season 1 episode is the one with the cannibals and the lovely female police officer.)

        A couple of other things that strike me about this episode. Firstly, and this is just a minor thing and this might be just me, this is the first episode where I really can’t muster much interest in the ‘victims’, by which I mean mainly Becky. I mean, there are disposible (and disposed of) characters in previous episodes, but generally the MO has been to have someone someone sympathetic as ‘victim.’ The stewardess in the plane episode is a case in point, and it’s a tribute to scriptwriters and actress that the short time she has on screen makes such an impact. But Zach and Becky, I can’t summon the slightest concern, really, despite the extreme jeopardy into which her character is placed ( I don’t dig that her character is tied up and abused, btw, I’m not saying that at all.) She’s just really blond and bland. I actually feel more concerned about the husband who returns to find his wife beaten up. Is it just me?

        Secondly, Dean as monster. I think one of our first exchanges about Supernatural was about how the monsters, especially in Season One, are so often these monstrous manifestations of human need (and I love your comments here that although we can all hold secret damaging thoughts and feelings about people, they don’t always have to be dealbreakers – until they do become dealbreakers, that is.) There’s so much to unpick about how they have to deal with becoming what they have been trained to hunt, and being hunted themselves (and the cannibal episode kind of is about that as well as being monstrously frightening comment on the Winchester family.) And it’s kind of genius how it’s being set up, that this monstrous aspect of Dean appears in the world – in an busy urban setting, no less, the ‘normal’ world, and in the world of old friends – and it’s the point at which the brothers’ existence really catastrophically collides with the system. The first few episodes are like this little pastoral idyll, but in an urban setting all hell breaks loose.

        Sorry, that was a bit more stream of consciousness than intended. but I’m multitasking :-)

        • Jessie says:

          jumping in here, hope you don’t mind. I find Becky and the oddly-bearded-and-35yo-looking Zach kind of bland too. Although I think the actress is great in that Becky and Not-Dean scene.

          Re: monsters. The idea of the shifter being rejected by society. It’s like the giant crocodile in the sewer (Hi, Tall Tales!). You can try to flush this stuff, but that just makes it worse. There are a few Winchesters who could stand to learn this lesson.

          So monsters, the domestic, the everyday, and those nasty things we put away into our dark reflections (doubles, as it were). Seeping up between the floorboards. It’s a precarious life we lead. Slippery.

          The show makes that stuff literal, and Sam and Dean know how to deal with it. But they can’t deal with its thematic obverse. That is so cool. It is so cool of the show to do that. I love it.

          • Helena says:

            Great jump.

            Thematic obverse. It’s all about the thematic obverse.

          • sheila says:

            Jessie: in re: your comment about monsters:

            Love it. Yes, the reality of it (which would have most of us shrieking for the hills) is easy to deal with for Sam and Dean once they nail down the monster they are tracking. But thematically, they just get all bolluxed up with what each encounter brings up.

            I agree: so cool of the show to go that route. It SO might not have gone that way, it SO might have been ONLY about two hot brothers fighting monsters. And I certainly wouldn’t have cared about it at all.

        • sheila says:

          I love the observation that, yes, this is the first time they are in an urban setting, which is very different for them, somehow. It highlights their separation from all of those happy window-shoppers who get to have leisure time and live in oblivion. I mean, they are just so far away from ever being able to join that sidewalk crowd.

        • sheila says:

          I didn’t click in with Rebecca or Zach either – and I think the lighting of her had something to do with it. The sister in Wendigo (hiker shorts and all) is filmed in a very straightforward way and she’s super-pretty and interesting – but she’s not romanticized – she’s just a part of the episode. I think it was a deliberate choice, to have Rebecca kind of glow like that – but the emotional underpinnings of the character weren’t there for me – I only got who she was through SAM, if that makes sense. It is Sam’s response to her that makes me give a shit about her and her brother. I am seeing her through his eyes.

          Sorry – responding to all of this piecemeal. Hopefully it will make sense!

    • sheila says:

      Helena – have you seen this past week’s episode yet? It’s killer. And really goes right at the heart of that Dean conflict you mention in the first paragraph of your comment. It’s the most explicit the show has really gotten about what the problem between the brothers really is, and the final shot of Dean, looking lost and hurt, almost floating in space, is devastating. His absolute incomprehension at how to be alone, how to separate himself from Sam, how to parse out the job and his relationship to Sam …

      I can’t be more thrilled that the series has really decided to tackle this – head-on – building up that tension, the ongoing conflict – and Sam’s insistence that this is about Dean, and Dean’s broken-ness.

      And that they are TALKING about it. The last three episodes have been amazing in that respect.

      Dean seems so broken, and Sam seems so complete. I mean, there was one line about roofies in the last episode – and Sam is shocked that Dean even knows what they look like. “How you do NOT know what they look like?” Dean says. And he’s been drugged and he looks like SHIT, and there’s all this backstory there, his promiscuous lifestyle, and the risks he takes there – worrying about roofies is usually the territory of women or gay men – but Dean sleeps with so many people and there’s usually alcohol involved, so he’s trying to be safe about it – but still, it’s a depressing scenario – And the risks in his limited personal life alongside the risks he takes in his job – and you just love the guy but you freakin’ WORRY about him. I wrote about that in one of the earlier posts about the show – I can’t remember which one – that the show is set up to have you really worry about Dean Winchester, which is strange, because you don’t WORRY about Charles Bronson, you don’t WORRY about Clint Eastwood. And he’s as tough as those guys, but he’s also amazingly fragile.

      The show is really really “going there” with that right now, in the last 4 episodes, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

      • Helena says:

        I don’t even know what a roofie is. :-(

        Wow, Season 9 sounds really interesting. But I really won’t get to see it for a while – I have no idea if it’s being broadcast in the UK, so … keeping my fingers crossed I can get the DVD later this year.

        • sheila says:

          Oh – it’s a date-rape drug. You slip it in someone’s drink, and they basically black out while remaining conscious – and then you can do whatever you want with them. It happened to a friend of mine. She woke up in her apartment, not remembering the night before – some guy bought her a drink and that’s the last she remembered. She’s pretty sure he raped her and she has no memory of it. My blood boils.

          It’s horrifying. It makes the whole “let me buy you a drink” form of flirtation something to be wary of.

          • Helena says:

            That’s ghastly. I’m so sorry your friend went through that.

          • sheila says:

            I am not sure if Supernatural also appears on Amazon Instant Video over there – I don’t have television, so I watch the current season’s episodes the day after on Amazon.

            Anyway, Season 9, so far, is fascinating. One of the funniest episodes yet – where Dean, through some spell, basically becomes a dog. Crying with laughter watching JA fetch things and not know why he’s doing it, he just feels compelled to pick things up and bring them back to Sam.

            But in the last 4 episodes, the Brothers Arc has become the focal point. It’s been gripping!!

          • sheila says:

            I know. It was so awful, I wanted to kill the guy. But she really had no idea who it was. I am pretty sure Jeffrey Dahmer roofied his victims.

      • Jessie says:

        The roofie comment was like DING DING DING. Of course he knows. And not because he would use them. But because he needs to protect himself from them. Just part of his life. And Sam, who was at college for four years, has no clue.

        • sheila says:

          Totally Ding Ding Ding. Dean is no dummy. How on earth would he have missed the memo that he is “prey” out there? Everyone and their mother and their monster objectify him, and drool over him, and he also sleeps with … everyone … so he needs to protect himself.

          I love the line though – “You think I want to wake up in a bathtub with my kidneys missing? In Chechnya?”

          It was the way he broke apart the sentence – making “in Chechnya” its own thing – that is so funny. So classic Jensen Ackles line-reading.

          • Jessie says:

            I think I have rewatched him deliver the line “Oatmeal? Yeah, I wish. No we got something that’s tofu over there, I don’t know – what is that? It’s a pancake. It’s tofu.” about a hundred times now. It is pretty much the most perfect thing I have ever seen.

          • sheila says:

            hahahaha I know – there are so many words there and it’s so hilarious how he does it. And he is so cranky. Imagine running into that energy at a New Agey spa. Hilarious.

          • Jessie says:

            ha ha, yeah. Right from the start he is pitching his energy there all wrong. So out of place. Sam never really fits. But that superficial stuff comes so easy to him. Dean is too sincere to fake sincerity.

    • Jessie says:

      Oh wow, what a great observation about the way they structure those episodes and arcs around a lack.

      PS: Do you mean Heart in season 2 (werewolf) or Faith in S1 (faith healers)? I love both those episodes a ton. And The Benders is in the top three of S1 for me. Love that female cop so much. Supernatural can really deliver sometimes with the female cops. Linda Blair, Sheriff Jodie, the Marg Gunderson homage in the latest episode.

      • Helena says:

        Oops, I meant Faith – thanks, Jessie!

        I feel I need to say awesome post from Sheila, great comments from Jessie. So much to respond too. And we still don’t seem to have talked about everything yet.

        • Helena says:

          I liked Faith also because it begins to tackle the question of belief – in the pandemonic world of the Winchesters I was interested to know about the brothers’ personal faith. (Dean being an atheist is yet another example of how the guy is pathologically solitary.) Should I have been surprised that forensically minded Sam actually prays? But it’s interesting how the writers take a few steps towards the question of the existence of God in series 1 and 2 – firmly sidestepping it – before bringing it to the very fore in Season 4.

          • Jessie says:

            Yeah, Faith and the Houses of the Holy make an intriguing pair in light of what happens later.

            Dean being an atheist is yet another example of how the guy is pathologically solitary.
            I love this comment in light of the episode at hand, but I would almost turn it around going forward, as he begins to collect allies in a way that Sam cannot.

            Then again, if God is the name of the Father, I suppose we cannot call Dean an atheist! In fact he pretty much has two Gods, which we’ll start to see at the end of S1.

        • sheila says:

          Faith is amazing. If you think about it, and I’m not sure if I have the timeline of episodes right – that’s the first time there isn’t an actual “monster” they’re dealing with. It’s more of a magical phenomenon, a spell.

          GREAT episode. And Dean saying to the girl with cancer, “I’m not the praying type, but I’ll pray for you.”

          It brings me to tears. Beautiful episode.

          • Helena says:

            Well, there’s a reaper, I guess. But you can’t destroy reapers.

          • Helena says:

            //Then again, if God is the name of the Father, I suppose we cannot call Dean an atheist! In fact he pretty much has two Gods, which we’ll start to see at the end of S1.//

            Great comment. But doesn’t he lose faith in Dad, too? Or at least seriously question his faith?

            Which episode is Houses of the Holy? I’m not very good with the titles.

          • Jessie says:

            Oh man, I hope the version you guys have been able to watch has Don’t Fear the Reaper on the soundtrack. It’s another iconic moment. It works so well visually and aurally; but also the way the meaning folds back on itself like a fan, because yes, you should fear the reaper — but you shouldn’t as it’s someone else controlling them. And when we eventually meet a reaper, she’s not so bad. But then we meet The Reaper, and he is Terrifying.

          • Jessie says:

            Old Testament John doesn’t care if you believe in him or not! He has his hooks in you regardless.

            Houses of the Holy is the one with the first appearance of an angel, in season 2; I guessed that was the one you were referring to.

          • sheila says:

            Right, there is a Reaper. It feels different somehow than the other encounters, though – not as cut-and-dry. Speaking of a reaper, I love Tessa. I love that actress’ performance – she’s in, what, 3 episodes? When Dean admits to her that he’s been “missing her” for a year …

            put a fork in Sheila, I’m DONE.

      • Helena says:

        What are the other 2?

  5. Jessie says:


    I love the urban streets and alleys of this episode. They look and feel great. But I can’t handle the difference in the way Rebecca’s shot at times. I get why it’s done like that but it just feels clumsy and cheap to me (prob because it reminds me of soap-opera lighting, although it’s not nearly so bright and flat). I don’t think Supernatural ever went to that gold-limned soft-focus place at any other time. Maybe Mary, in Dean’s head.

    In the broadcast and DVD versions of this episode, the soundtrack to that opening scene is the first (IMO) iconic Supernatural Soundtrack selection: In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, in this context rendered sleazy and creepy, and that rising organ line turns the reveal of Dean into a super-intriguing mystery. Does your version also miss out on Filter’s Hey Man Nice Shot in the repeat of this scene and when he peels off his skin? It works, the bassline is great, but the vocals are a little too modern for me.

    You can bet Lisa experienced it, at any rate.
    oh shit, that’s heavy.

    Not telling people EVERYTHING is akin to lying.
    We just got done seeing this mindset, um I wanna call it catastrophisation but it’s not really, that Dean has when it comes to his family? Same happens in the latest episodes: the second Sam tries to add a little nuance and boundary to their relationship Dean is like HOLY SHIT THREAT LEVEL MIDNIGHT REJECTION INCOMING REPEAT REJECTION INCOMING ALL TARGETS WILL BE DESTROYED.

    I love the blocking in that scene where they meet Rebecca so much. It reminds me of when Dean first meets Jess. The way he asserts himself (in this episode, it’s kind of silly cause he’s so tiny behind Sam). Hi, I’m DEAN. Yeah, this is my face, and I’m just going to push in here cause I’m kind of uneasy about your relationship with my brother.

    I am not really into cars, but ugh, the Impala grumbling to a stop in front of the camera (at five-thirty in the morning) is so sexy.

    How convenient they pull up next to the Most Obvious Blood Trail That’s Ever Been Left at Eye Height On a Telephone Pole.

    That sewer set is so gross. It must be a set but they make it feel extensive. It looks like a location. Maybe the tunnel sections are. Such great construction and dressing and lighting.

    I can’t tell you how much I love that Sam twigs to not-Dean immediately. I love it when Sam is smart and competent, and it was a good move not to draw it out. It would be cheap as a reveal or twist, and the more interesting stuff is going on with their feelings and the theme, not the “can he tell it’s not Dean” plot.

    And I, the audience member, am implicated because what I WANT to see is not healthy. A thousand times yes — especially to the first half of the show. I am also cling-averse and you describe how I was hooked perfectly. And of course, like any good romance, it’s about passion (erotic, filial, platonic, whatever) and emotional stakes. Supernatural reaaaaallly stacked the Dysfunction deck with passion and emotional stakes. Having said that I think it extremely wise for the show to start resolving these issues, as it seems to be doing now.

    Great notes on how the shifter is lit.

    I am pretty amazed at how clearly JA was able to indicate not-Dean only six episodes in. And not just not-Dean; but not-Dean-pretending-to-be-Dean-with-all-Dean’s-memories-but-his-own-agenda-and-issues.

    Why isn’t Real Dean naked?

    The Not-Dean and Rebecca scene. That little lip-lick thing is so creepy. I mean it’s gorgeous. But it’s so gross. The same with the intense control of the walk over to grab the phone and the intimidating scream he does at her when she screams. Preppy Murderer is such a good category for it.

    Ha ha, Dean stepping in the puddle is in contention for best thing about this episode.

    If that necklace doesn’t come back, oh my god. Heads will roll. Just thinking of it in a pile of rubbish in the middle of a tip. Insupportable. It’s like when a character is reported dead. No body, not dead. The necklace is not dead!

    Love that note about the walk from the stoop, and how it’s blocked so that as Sam grows large in the frame Dean turns and shrinks away — not in a measly way, just in a natural give-and-take.

    Thanks again for such a great read!

    • Jessie says:

      oh dear, sorry for the length, and for the swearing! I am just kind of bouncing off of what you’re putting out there. I’m taking my cues from Dean apparently.

      • sheila says:

        // I don’t think Supernatural ever went to that gold-limned soft-focus place at any other time. Maybe Mary, in Dean’s head. //

        Yeah, Mary sort of shows up in a soft golden glow – not the fuzzy back-lit soap opera stuff we have here. You’re right: this looks different. Doesn’t quite work.

        Yes, my version has both of the songs you mention. Both really are way more modern than we normally get in the series – and the stripping-down scene feels like some kind of nightmare music video.

        // oh shit, that’s heavy. //

        hahahaha But you KNOW it went down that way from time to time! That’s the Dean she had in her life for a year! When she’s possessed by the demon, she refers to him as a “C-minus Lay” which – Ouch – and maybe it’s a lie, but I’m thinking there’s some truth to it too. Not that being all emotional during sex is a bad thing, but Dean was clearly a wreck, and she had to deal with Wreck Dean.

        // The way he asserts himself (in this episode, it’s kind of silly cause he’s so tiny behind Sam). Hi, I’m DEAN. Yeah, this is my face, and I’m just going to push in here cause I’m kind of uneasy about your relationship with my brother. //

        Exactly. He’s asserting the hierarchy – and Rebecca is like, “umm, I don’t care about you. I care about Sam.”

        Dean is weird – he has no friends. He doesn’t really get it.

        // How convenient they pull up next to the Most Obvious Blood Trail That’s Ever Been Left at Eye Height On a Telephone Pole.//

        hahahaha. I know. Again, the St. Louis police force leaves much to be desired.

        // I love it when Sam is smart and competent, and it was a good move not to draw it out. //

        Exactly!! Sam just takes the “thought form” correction, nods, “Oh, that’s right” and walks out of frame. And if you watch JP’s face, he gives nothing away. Because Sam wouldn’t either. so good.

        // Having said that I think it extremely wise for the show to start resolving these issues, as it seems to be doing now.//

        Yup. It’s time. The buildup has been perfect – sometimes frustrating – and sometimes it feels like the series is looping back over territory they already covered. But Season 9 so far is taking us, tentatively, into new ground. Good good good.

        // the lip-lick //

        Right??? If Real-Dean did that, it would be sexy as hell. But Fake-Dean doing it, you wonder why Rebecca isn’t already leaping off the couch to run away from him. It’s “off”.

        // If that necklace doesn’t come back, oh my god. Heads will roll. //

        It HAS to come back. We cannot be the only fans who are waiting for its re-appearance. What do you want to bet that when they filmed that episode where Dean throws it out – they actually did film Sam retrieving it out of the garbage – but didn’t put it in the episode, just keeping it in their back pocket for when they would need it?

        • Jessie says:

          I’m glad you get the right soundtrack! I still get tingles thinking about moments like “Renegade” at the end of Nightshifter.

          Yeah, Lisa was a gem to be willing to go through that for someone. Someone sitting in your house all day saying to your face I’m here and all, but I wish I didn’t have to be, and I like you second best.

          But Season 9 so far is taking us, tentatively, into new ground.
          Yup. I said elsewhere when people were complaining about another boring Sam-Dean conversation about feelings, like, what are you even watching? What’s going on now is UNPRECEDENTED in their relationship. It’s a good development, and I hope against hope that the narrative doesn’t put them back into the same old situations.

          We are definitely not the only ones counting down the days until the necklace reappears. And yes, I can just imagine them filming that just in case. OK Jared, you’re taking the necklace out of the bin and you’re angry. Ok, this time you’re thoughtful. Let’s try one where you’re laughing. Ha ha, silly Dean. Ok, now do one where you’re possessed.

          • sheila says:

            hahahahahaha Right!! Covering all the bases for when the time comes.

            and yes, Jeez, the Brothers is what the show is all about – and they have never ever spoken in this way before to one another. So clearly. I can’t wait to see next week’s episode to see how Dean processes Sam’s last line. I am sure it will be all kinds of effed up, because it’s Dean. But he’s so shattered by it maybe there’s a possibility for him yet, something new opening up.

  6. Helena says:

    ‘The whole “shriven” concept you just introduced gives me goosebumps. I think there’ something there, definitely.’

    The thing is, I still don’t know quite what to make of the – what is the right word? theological? religious? cosmological? – world the show posits. I really don’t. They’re too clever to limit it down to Christian theology, but that nonetheless underpins all most all of post Season 4 plot and character arcs. Angels are dicks, demons can have feelings, there’s heaven, hell and purgatory as actual places you can go to. God is off on a road trip somewhere. It’s enough to drive an atheist mad.

    Is Dean still an atheist by the end of Season 8?

    • sheila says:

      I mean, he says to Cas, in Purgatory, “I prayed to you every night.”

      I don’t know what he believes, and I think he still feels too dirty to actually ask for help from any higher power, but he prays to Castiel. He calls it that by name.

      He does seem to accept that there is a God, because all of the angels keep talking about him as though he is real – but belief in him in any strictly religious way – I don’t think so.

      Season 9 is getting even more Biblical. Old Testament Biblical. I won’t give it away. :) Dean is somehow fitting into the Genesis story – which had already been set up really seasons before – with him being a “vessel” and a chosen one and the sword of Michael and all that – pretty crazy for a guy who doesn’t believe at all. He seems to relate to God as “just another deadbeat Dad”, who needs him.

      • Helena says:

        //I mean, he says to Cas, in Purgatory, “I prayed to you every night.”//
        In the way that people would pray to their patron saints or local deities or local virgin who would look out just for them. Nice.

        • sheila says:

          Right. It’s one-on-one, it’s not theoretical.

          In Season 4, though, doesn’t he basically look up at the heavens and call out for help in the junk yard? It’s an amazing moment, and forgive me, I’m not remembering where it stands in the timeline.

        • Helena says:

          Haha, ‘local virgin’ is such a Freudian slip …

  7. Tabaqui says:


    I’m reading these as a sort of happy wallow, what with the negativity a certain faction of fandom has about Show right now. So, I’m sorry, I can’t get brainy, I’m just enjoying.

    A note, though, on the timeline. After the SWAT people chase shifter-Dean off, you’ve got to assume that she goes to the hospital, she answers questions, she makes a statement/fills out a form. That takes a *long* time. So it’s totally conceivable that it’s daytime when she finally gets to go home, and that the boys have been laying low (Dean) and talking to the cops (Sam) all this time.

    My big quibble is that they apparently let the victim of a horrific attack – and said attacker is still on the lose – *walk home by herself*. She should have had a squad car take her home (or a detective) and there should be a car patrolling her street and/or parked outside her house. Or, even better, she should be at a hotel, since her house *and* her brother’s house are still crime scenes.

    But the time-jump doesn’t bother me.

    • sheila says:

      Tabaqui – hello again! Very happy to provide a place for a “happy wallow” (love the phrase).

      I stay away from the negativity. It bores me. It also seems to come from a place that I personally don’t relate to – which is fine, I don’t have to relate to everything – but the whole “I’m a Sam girl, and therefore I hate anything that makes him feel bad” or “why did that bad thing happen, it makes me feel so terrible” and etc. – I realize that many of these viewers are probably quite young. I do not judge them. At ALL. I adore their emotional investment. I WAS those people when I was younger. Power to the fangirls! But I’m not at that place anymore in my life – and to me, good stories are all about “bad things” happening and seeing how the characters deal with said bad things. I understand the investment in the show that that other kind of conversation connotes – but I’m interested in more serious commentary about the nuts-and-bolts of story and how the whole thing is put together. I love conflict. Conflict = great drama.

      It’s still rather amazing to me that the whole thing pretty much holds together after 9 full seasons. That warrants some serious analysis. It’s not always great, and sometimes the cracks show, but all in all – it’s a hell of an accomplishment.

      You may be right in re: blue sky/daytime/timeline. But it still feels like a continuity glitch to me. Maybe they had filmed those scenes you describe and then realized they didn’t have the time for them, as sometimes happens. Usually they’re pretty on point with their timeline.

      And definitely: “Hey, girlie, let me untie you here in this dank sewer prison and set you off on your merry way. Have a nice night!”


  8. Tabaqui says:

    I feel the same way. I get *why* some people are/have been negative, but other people’s hate baffles me, and I just…don’t have time for that. It’s much more fun and stress-free to be over here in the ‘love’ zone.

    The nuts and bolts are *fascinating*, especially to the uninitiated outsider, and it’s particularly satisfying to have things brought to our attention that we wouldn’t have really *got*, simply because we, as casual (or not so casual) viewers don’t have the vocabulary to describe what we’re seeing/feeling.

    Plus, you’re ‘up’ on all the seasons including the current one, so it’s awesome for someone with a good memory to see the connections the show was making even way back in season one.

    I think the most satisfying thing to me about Show is that, even nine seasons later, sometimes Dean or Sam *regress*, and they *still* fall back on an action or attitude or emotion they had in season one. That’s *real*. That’s family. Sometimes when I’m with my brothers or sister, we act like we’re single digits because *that’s how it works*, and nine years of undiagnosed PTSD (totally agree with that), trauma layered on trauma, mental breakdowns and physical calamity…. We’re lucky the boys aren’t curled up and rocking in a corner.

    So for Dean to retreat to ‘I’m the big brother and what I say goes’ or Sam to retreat to ‘Why won’t you respect my choices’ makes 100 percent sense. Our childhoods are something that, in a lot of ways, we never grow out of.

  9. sheila says:

    Without dwelling too much on it – what the heck are people upset about? Could you boil it down? I get the feeling the fandom is divided up into factions – does it have something to do with that? Or do people not like Demon Dean? (I love Demon Dean already. Cannot waiiiiiiit to see what he does with it.)

    Anyway – I’m just not up on what is going on. I stay away from it – but I am curious.

    I, too, love the regression. It’s totally real. It’s another reason why it’s so good that they’re BROTHERS – and that it’s not just a buddy show. You can’t hide from your siblings, like you say. You can be an adult, but suddenly you feel like you’re 4 years old wrestling over a Christmas present. They’re not perfect. They’re not articulate. They’re not like, “Okay, so here’s what I’m feeling and here’s why I’m feeling it.” Too much writing is like that anyway – good writing has all of that going on underneath but the characters don’t say it. Or they try and they fail. Or they pick a fight instead. It’s awesome. I’m endlessly fascinated by the brothers’ dynamic. Season 9 was so rich for me that way.

  10. Fred says:

    It is now July, 2018 and I’ve found these reviews/analysis of Supernatural and I’m so excited (and disappointed that I didn’t find them sooner) as I feel I relate to you on a spiritual level. It’s uncanny how you nail down what I am feeling about these episodes. With season 13 just ending I hope you continued doing this projected, I haven’t looked beyond the season 1 tag, I’m too afraid it just ends. While that would be a shame it would be totally understandable given the fact that the show has had 287 episodes as of the end of season 13. (Wow, I think that means the last episode of season 14 will the 300th…)

    Anyway, I probably won’t comment on most of these and I may skip around a bit as I am eager to see what you think of my favorites, like skin. So yeah, I randomly decieded to do a complete rewatch of the series and I found myself thinking about easy and open Dean felt in the beginning, but yet at the same time did not have the emotional depth or maturity he develops later in the series. Not to say he wasn’t deep in the beginning, there was just a lot of posturing and bravado, although even that was more of in pursuit of deconstructing the archetypical masculine hero. I also found myself astounded how he’s effectively been brainwashed by his father. I KNEW that, and I’ve seen the series, especially the first 8 seasons (after which I started watching live) many times. However, before I decided to do a full rewatch I was watching random episodes from seasons 10-13 since I haven’t done a full rewatch since before season 10, many of the most recent seasons I’ve only seen once and I realized that Dean is now very aware of how totally fucked up their childhood was. How their father was not really a good Dad. Oh sure, he loved them, and tried to protect them, and all that, but Dean has come to view their father I think more as Sam does. I don’t think John ever beat Sam, but there are several points in the series were Dean does not say directly that John beat him but it is implied and alluded to, for example when Sam ran away while Dean was supposed to watch him. He also put an insane amount of pressure and responsibility on Dean when he was barely out of elementary school and probably earlier. He was an alcoholic, regularly was heavily intoxicated in front of his children. Abandoned his children for weeks on end. Anyway, you get the point. What really drove home for me that Dean really does *Get It* in regards to their father was when he was talking to his Mother after her return. She talks about how good a father John was and a lot of things happen on Dean’s face all at once. It looked like he wanted to dispute that, wanted to tell her how abusive John was, and then it looked like was practically having a flashback, then it looked like he was stomping that down after deciding his mom does not need to hear that after just coming back… all of that happened in I would say 1-3 seconds. So yeah, its crazy to have just rewatched that and now be back to Dean being to tin soldier who just winds up and follows orders. It’s actually scary what happens at the beginning of ‘Asylum’, Dean shuts down and looks like a robot processing information when they finally talk to John on the phone.

  11. Ifer says:

    Hi! I’ve just started watching this show, after many years of hearing other people obsessing over it. I wasn’t sure how much it would live up to the hype – but so far I am really enjoying it! I’m going through chemotherapy at the moment, and sometimes I get pretty bad brain fog and I just can’t focus on work, so it provides a nice bit of escapism while my mind sorts itself out.

    Anyway, I wanted to comment and say I’m really glad I came across your recap articles! I’ve taken to watching an episode each night, and then coming to read your take on it afterwards. It’s really interesting to read your insights; these articles are so in-depth, which I love.

    I’ve been really impressed with the show’s general aesthetic – I work as an artist, so I always find myself analysing the composition of shots, the lighting, the colours, whatever I’m watching. But it’s fascinating to read your thoughts on the actors, how well they know their characters and build them up through little details in their performances. I’m a pretty casual watcher of TV and film, I don’t spend a lot of time analysing shows beyond the visuals; I recognise when a performance resonates with me, though I can’t always put my finger on why. But then you put those thoughts into words, and it’s very satisfying! It’s also exciting to note how often you refer to foreshadowing for later seasons, and how events in these early episodes have repercussions that last a long time; so many shows lose their way after the first season, so I am reassured that this one has apparently been well thought out!

    I know I’m very late to the party, but I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate you taking the time to write and share these. I feel like they really enhance my experience of watching the show!

    • sheila says:

      Ifer – hello! Sorry for the delay – I always love hearing from people. Glad you found my re-caps – and so glad you like them and are finding what sounds like a needed escape in the show (and best of luck to you with chemotherapy).

      // I work as an artist, so I always find myself analysing the composition of shots, the lighting, the colours, whatever I’m watching. //

      I’m exactly the same way even though I’m not an artist. But you’re so right – composition is so important – and these early seasons everyone was on the same page about it.

      I wonder where you are at in the series now? I hope my foreshadowing doesn’t give too much away. If so, I’m sorry and I should probably watch that moving forward!! Let me know how it’s going, what you’re liking, not liking. Especially since the show closed down ahead of the finale because of the lockdown … it’s so nice to get back into that world.

      Best to you – and thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  12. Lyrie says:

    Unearthing old posts! As I’m re-watching, I’m re-re-reading your recaps – out of order because some were re-posted and I have one tab open on my phone, on on my laptop, one on my tablet… Supernatural obsession, full on!

    // When she’s possessed by the demon, she refers to him as a “C-minus Lay” which – Ouch – and maybe it’s a lie, but I’m thinking there’s some truth to it too. //

    I was SO happy to see this, because I was going to talk about it anyway! In the more recent post where we’ve been talking about SPN, I said new things strike me as I’m re-watching. That’s one of them, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that moment and all the talk about Dean’s sexuality/sexualization/objectification (and it’s also so fun to contrast what JA does now with Soldier Boy and his character in Big Sky).
    Maybe I had read your comment about Dean making fun of Sam crying through sex/wearing women underwear before and it informed how I viewed it, maybe I had come to a similar conclusion before – I can’t really tell, many discussions here have become so completely a part of how I experience the show! But I know that it was very clear to me early on that some of these things he was saying were his own things, that he was trying to distance himself from. I mean, the example of wearing pink satiny panties and liking it is so obvious that when you re-watch Mystery Spot, it’s impossible not to see it.

    So two things, one: I absolutely LOVE that he does it again in season 9! Emotional continuity! In The Purge, when he’s so hurt by Sam being his own person, he tells him something like “I’ll interrogate the hot gym instructor, cause you get weird around women, just saying the truth.” First, wow, “just saying the truth” or however he puts it – has he ever been that passive aggressive before? He is so, so lost, it’s almost unbearable to watch – even with the hot beard. But also: ha ha, no Dean, you’re the one who’s awkward as fuck 80% of the time. Sam is never flirting – never initiating it, at least – and he’s just kind and professional, usually. You’re the one creating a whole bunch of very avoidable complications, just because of… who you are.

    And second, that C-minus lay thing. It goes by so fast, but I LOVE his reaction so so much. He’s taken aback and a little hurt, and yes, we know demons lie, but we know they also take great pleasure in fucking with the truth, and his reaction says it all. Which makes sense, because he must have been such an absolute mess. Even without the terrible grief and PTSD (which is disorienting enough to castrate anyone, seriously), I can’t help but think that domesticity would have thrown him off his game anyway, even just a little bit. And so I love that Ackles chose to react the way he did. He always made choices that made his character more vulnerable, more of a fuck up, more complex. It’s such a brief moment, it would have been easy to scoff or to focus on the fight to come – but no, let’s go with the hurt of what is being implied.
    I love him.

    And since we talked about An Angel and A Demon Walk Into My Brother, I’ve also been thinking a lot of Sam’s history of sexual assault (and the fact that anything in that sentence makes sense is just… oh, Supernatural). The difference between the two brothers, Dean so penetrable, Sam corrupted but something unshakable in who he is, and the different kind of impacts – it’s been resonating with me in a new way, helping me see parallels with my own life in a messed up way.
    I don’t think I really paid attention to the joke in About a Boy, about “the devil’s butt”, for instance.

    So many thoughts!

    • sheila says:

      Lyrie – this is so interesting!! this is such a rich subject. Dean’s sexuality. a never-ending source of fascination. and that is SOLELY because of what JA brought to it. Think about the cocky one-dimensional (albiet entertaining) hotshot in the pilot. the rest was all JA.

      // I mean, the example of wearing pink satiny panties and liking it is so obvious that when you re-watch Mystery Spot, it’s impossible not to see it. //

      Wait … remind me … what about Mystery Spot shows the pink satin panties aspect?

    • sheila says:

      // You’re the one creating a whole bunch of very avoidable complications, just because of… who you are. //

      hahaha so true. My favorite example of this – even though it doesn’t have to do with women and/or sex – is Frontierland. Dean tries too hard. Sam just IS. Dean wants so badly to be seen as “part” of that Deadwood world but everybody recognizes he’s just a weirdo visitor. Nobody blinks an eye when they look at Sam.

      People always do a double-take when they look at Dean. Including monsters. now what is it about him? why? it’s not just his looks. I would say it’s the trauma (TM). It’s all over him, and it emits its own signals – people pick up on it. You could see it too when he’s a demon – that poor sad girl he’s with. In his normal life, Dean is kind – and – weirdly – he’s sort of drawn to stable women. He can connect with them. He likes capable women. Jo. Lisa. He’s not a user. He’s not a manipulator. He’s not afraid of women. I don’t know, there’s still something here I might not be getting … but when he’s a demon, suddenly it’s like the trauma that’s beneath is now operating in manipulative ways, and he’s drawn to him a sick needy woman who doesnt mind that he treats her like shit. Like, that was NEVER who Dean was as a regular guy, as fucked up as he was.

      // And so I love that Ackles chose to react the way he did. He always made choices that made his character more vulnerable, more of a fuck up, more complex. //

      YES. I absolutely love the moment you mention.

      • Lyrie says:

        Not Mystery Spot, I got my stuff mixed up, it’s in this episode Dean talks about wearing women underwear – in MS he talks about crying through sex. Oh Dean!

        //I would say it’s the trauma (TM). It’s all over him, and it emits its own signals//
        I love that you don’t attribute that to his looks only, or even just his behaviour. A few years ago a couple of studies showed that non autistic people reject autistic people after just a few seconds of interaction, without knowing why they do it – or that they do it. The autistic people hadn’t said or done anything wrong, nor anything visibly autistic. Across ages, and based on audio and/or visual cues – meaning that the same interactions in writing wouldn’t have elicited the same reaction. People who are attuned to behaviour, we know those things happen, but so many people dismiss it that it’s nice when it’s scientifically demonstrated. All that to say that yes, I agree, there is just something about him that screams FREAK and people react to it without knowing it – in all sorts of ways. Trauma, but I’d say his specific brand of trauma, too, because it fucks his sense of identity so much.

        And when that keeps happening whatever you do anyway, it also makes sense that you’re going to flirt anyway, or be confrontational anyway or do whatever – “Scotty, you have a smile that can light up a room”, said by “John Bonham” at the beginning of Croatoan is one of my favourite in the whole show – because you have very little sense of what a normal conversation is supposed to look like.

        //when he’s a demon, suddenly it’s like the trauma that’s beneath is now operating in manipulative ways, and he’s drawn to him a sick needy woman who doesnt mind that he treats her like shit. Like, that was NEVER who Dean was as a regular guy, as fucked up as he was.//
        Would you mind expanding on that? I’m not sure I completely get what you mean.

        Those episodes where he’s a demon… He’s pretty ambivalent about that – he’s enjoying some things more, but it looks like he’s also lost some sort of comfort he used to have and I’ve been wondering if it’s not just a new way his self-loathing comes out – he hates his whiny self pitying self so much, it feels to me like he’s just being mean to her as a way to be mean to his human self. The same way he trashes the Impala – “it’s just a car”. So dismissive of what makes him him.

        I love that we can read so much into this, ha ha! And that interpretations vary so much – I keep seeing stuff from fans that I just do not understand at all – but that’s what makes it fascinating!

        • sheila says:

          Lyrie – after a delay, I’m back.

          Very interesting, the thoughts and research on autism! The supersonic signals humans give off and how we perceive these things through our own biases – even if we’re not conscious of it.

          Dean disturbs the molecules on an unconscious level – some people don’t even know what they’re reacting to. Although others – like Scotty (lol) – know EXACTLY what they’re reacting to and rejecting.

          // All that to say that yes, I agree, there is just something about him that screams FREAK and people react to it without knowing it – in all sorts of ways. Trauma, but I’d say his specific brand of trauma, too, because it fucks his sense of identity so much. //

          Yes – it’s the lack of boundaries thing. Dean has no boundaries. And even his boundary-less-ness is boundary-less. He lacks boundaries with his car, with his sandwich, with memory foam. With a serape. You know? He’s intimate with the WORLD, even with all his toughness. It’s such a potent mix and that’s ALL JA.

          and his looks have something to do with it – but not all. He’s a head-turner for sure – and I think that really adds to the disturbance he causes. It’s fascinating to watch such a beautiful-looking man be constantly rejected. lol

          And Dean as demon: Dean wasn’t a player – and he didn’t mess with girls’ minds the way a player does. He wasn’t love-em-and-leave-em. He didn’t go out of his way to make a girl feel like shit. He was a pussy-hound but an APPRECIATIVE pussy-hound. (This was what Dabb could not understand. and all the Tumblr-people who called him “toxic masculinity” and “macho”. I realize everyone has different opinions but I just don’t understand how you could watch SPN and “get that” from what JA was doing.)

          So I think demon Dean – along with so many other things – threw off the shackles of caring about other people’s feelings, including hookups. And in so doing, of course you attract women who get sucked into that cycle.

          I’m not sure. I wish we had Demon Dean for longer!!

          // he hates his whiny self pitying self so much, it feels to me like he’s just being mean to her as a way to be mean to his human self. //

          I think this is a great observation.

  13. Jenna says:

    I love that this SPN discourse has started up again, I always love the takes here better than anywhere else!

    I’m just chiming in because I have thoughts about demon Dean, and specifically his relationship with Anne Marie. The beginning of season 10 is so interesting to me because Sam and Cas, the ostensibly “good” characters look terrible, and are doing terribly. Cas is literally dying and Sam is just off the reservation desperate to find Dean and fix him and it’s led him to some dark places. Meanwhile demon Dean is glorious, he is healthy and beautiful and while a little bit of an ass, he is shockingly well behaved for a demon. Even his scenes with Ann Marie, where he’s being kind of an asshole, “like don’t get attached, I’m just passing through on my way to Australia,” I mean Ann Marie works in a dive bar in the middle of no where North Dakota, I get the feeling from her scenes that she knows the score. I feel like Dean is being an asshole to keep HIMSELF from getting too attached. I didn’t get the sense that Anne Marie was needy or weak, see again waitress in North Dakota dive bar, and clearly whatever is between them has been going on for a little bit, it’s no one night stand.

    Demon Dean is free, he is free in a way that Dean has never been, and anyone who has ever grown up and realized they can in fact eat cookies for dinner knows that being free is scary, because there is no one there to check your worst impulses. The only thing demon Dean has to consider before doing anything is himself, his own desires. He is immortal, full of bloodlust, and no longer concerned by his human sentimentality, so the fact that he only kills other demons, or that one pervy guy who clearly deserved it is INCREDIBLE. So I think when he is being an ass to Anne Marie, it’s to remind himself to not go too far into this because he CAN do whatever he wants including becoming too attached or too involved and then you’re murdering people in the parking lot for her honor or whatever and that’s maybe TOO far and not “cool” anymore. If any of that makes sense?

    I loved demon Dean so much and I really wish that particular story arc had been drawn out a little longer!

    • Lyrie says:

      Jenna, thanks for joining in! I was kind of feeling bad for re-opening all those SPN drawers here on Sheila’s blog, but our hostess doesn’t seem to mind, it is fun! :) (thank you, Sheila)

      //I feel like Dean is being an asshole to keep HIMSELF from getting too attached. //

      Really? Interesting, I don’t really see it! I’m not saying you’re wrong, just to be clear – I enjoy hearing others’ takes and consider things from different angles.

      //I didn’t get the sense that Anne Marie was needy or weak//

      Me neither, not at all. She is self aware too. But she does seem to have some issues with boundaries and self esteem – hence my seeing her as a mirror for human Dean.

      // Demon Dean is free, he is free in a way that Dean has never been […] The only thing demon Dean has to consider before doing anything is himself, his own desires. //

      Right, I think I see what you mean, totally. I’m not sure he’s completely free, though, because he doesn’t accept fully his new status – until he Cole pushes him, maybe. I find the idea that he’s freed from shame and guilt and so he is available to get attached interesting, though.

      //I loved demon Dean so much and I really wish that particular story arc had been drawn out a little longer!//

      Me too, so much! It would have been interesting to see it play out. Although it keeps us wondering, and projecting and discussing is also part of the fun.

    • sheila says:

      Jenna – hi!! Going through comments now, catching up on the last week. I love Demon Dean too – I so wish he had stuck around longer.

      // I feel like Dean is being an asshole to keep HIMSELF from getting too attached. //

      I hadn’t thought of this – but I really like it. This goes to the boundary-less comment I made above although I hadn’t put the two together. Dean has no boundaries with women. I know we’re not supposed to talk about Cassie (or Bruno) but … a couple nights with her and he was in love and he spilled the beans. He has a one-night thing with Lisa and years later he comes to find her and … we all know what happened after THAT. Sam is more often the one who loves and leaves – it’s like Jess was the only woman for him and after that … he just doesn’t care enough to stick around. But Dean is a mush-ball.

      The show wasn’t really about their love lives – although I do remember complaining in the last 3 seasons that nobody appeared to be having any sex whatsoever and how does that even make sense … But it’s interesting to consider the Demon Dean thing in the context of his other relationships. You’re right – it wasn’t a one night stand. And even with his one night stands, Dean got all intimate. I mean, he felt some sort of emotional obligation with the Amazon for impregnating her (only in a SPN discussion would that sentence make sense). The good thing about at least including some of these one night type stands in the action was the opportunity to deepen the characters – look at what happened with About a Boy. I had to re-think everything! it worked!

      // So I think when he is being an ass to Anne Marie, it’s to remind himself to not go too far into this because he CAN do whatever he wants including becoming too attached or too involved and then you’re murdering people in the parking lot for her honor or whatever and that’s maybe TOO far and not “cool” anymore. //

      Totally makes sense – especially since the “conception” of Dean as a demon was so specific. Karaoke, partying, not giving a shit – which must have seemed like heaven to the obligated Dean. And so going apeshit on that guy … hmmm, is that human Dean still in there somewhere? He’s connected to this woman somehow – almost against his will or on an unconscious level?

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