As I was approaching season 2 I started to have a crisis. There are a number of season 2 episodes that are absolute favourites of mine, ones that I watch over and over, so I thought I was going to have a tricky time deciding which to write up. As it turned out….not so much.
Season 2 is an interesting one because, though I think it has one of the strongest narratives in the series, I’m not in love with the whole psychic children storyline. I didn’t like Max and I’m not that fond of season 1‘s “Nightmare”. I should feel sorry for Max, but I don’t, I’m not sure why. Intellectually yes, emotionally no. I think there’s something in the performance that doesn’t gel with me. Maybe if Max was cast differently or written differently, I don’t know. So the whole psychic children plot got off to a rocky start for me and never completely recovered. The odd thing is; I like the concept in relation to Sam. It’s powerful to think that this family, this family haunted by what turns out to be a demon, who have spent so many years hunting down evil in search of that demon, are now faced with the situation of having someone they love affected by the Demon to the degree that Sam is. Affected on a cellular level. It’s so desperately tragic and desperately sad. For Sam it colours everything moving forward and influences how he sees himself and at times, his actions. For Dean, he’s faced with the fact that the person he loves most, is intrinsically linked to the thing he hates most and boy does he struggle with it. The conflict they both feel, once the secret is finally revealed, is so deep that it permanently scars them, raising its ugly head time and again. In many ways, it shapes their relationship, for good and bad and as we later discover; it shapes their destiny. Of course, they don’t find out the true essence of Sam’s connection to the Demon for some time. Well, Sam finds out at the end of season 2 but Dean not until season 4 and they don’t understand what it all means until season 5, where we also learn Dean’s destiny is tied to Sam’s. Of course it is! Yet what’s happening to Sam and the questions that raises, hangs over the brother’s heads and season 2 like a black cloud. Of course.... John knew something was amiss.
Ah, John. My feelings towards John Winchester are a complex beast. There was a long period of time when I was so damn angry at him for what he did to these boys, the secret he kept and in particular, what he whispered into Dean’s ear. To put that on your son? To not explain to him the nature of what it is he may have to deal with? To just tell him, “Oh and FYI you might have to kill your little brother one day, you know, the one you raised and love more than any other human being on the face of the Earth…” Ok, I’m being a tad facetious, but I was so very angry with him for the longest time. I’ve come to a much more, shall we say, balanced place now when it comes to John Winchester. I think I’ve taken a similar journey to Sam in that regard. I don’t agree with a lot of what he did, I doubt we know half of it, but I have an understanding as to why he chose that path and I know that he was forced into an unfathomable situation and did the best he could. I think reading John’s journal really helped me with that. There’s a lot of tortured grief in that journal. So much love for Mary. So much anger and sorrow peppered with sweet moments where he talks about his children. I may not agree with the road he took, vengeance is a cruel master, but I can, in some way, grasp it. It’s interesting how Sam and Dean have arrived at different places when it comes to their father. Sam, who was so hostile in his memories of how he was raised, has come to accept and understand his dad, as beautifully illustrated in the scene from season 5’s “The Song Remains The Same” when he pours his heart out to the young John Winchester. It’s one of my favourite scenes of the entire series; powerful and understated it’s exactly what Supernatural does best. Dean, who idolised his father, moved to a place of anger, confusion and disappointment and I think a lot of that came from what John put on Dean at the beginning of season 2 and later, in the realisation of what John had put on him his entire life. Then John sacrificed his own life for his Dean’s. It was a selfless act by a father who felt he had no other choice, but what a burden for his boy to carry, a crushing secret and guilt that ate him up from the inside out. How fascinating was it when the brothers were asked the name of the shifter baby in season 6’s “Two And A Half Men”? Dean said Bobby and Sam said John. That was an incredibly telling moment. As we’ve watched them grow and mature over the years, I think the best and worst of John Winchester can be seen in both his sons through their personalities and actions. They’ve followed in his footsteps, to Hell and back, literally. But more recently, I feel we've seen that both brothers have settled in a much healthier place when it comes to their father, as I guess, have I. I feel love for him because he was the boy’s dad. I’m devastated for them when he dies because I know both of their hearts are broken and I’m moved when, briefly, they get to see him again as he breaks out of Hell, because I know they so desperately needed that. Of course, in reality, all of this comes from my love for Sam and Dean and wanting to protect them from so much pain. Anyway, as you can see, like his sons, I have a complex relationship with John Winchester and I’m always reminded of this when I watch season 1 but particularly season 2.
Phew, so now that’s out of my system, moving right along! As I said earlier there are a number of season 2 episodes that are absolute favourites. “Croatoan” for example. Wow, “Croatoan”! This becomes a profoundly important episode later in the series when we discover the true nature of the croatoan virus, what its purpose is and why Sam’s immune, but what I love about “Croatoan” is that tight, trapped, isolated feeling. I feel the same way about “Jus In Bello” and “...And Then There Were None.” It’s that confined space, no escape scenario and how people react to it. “Croatoan” is particularly disturbing because the brothers, on lock-down, don’t know what’s happening or why, just that somehow it’s connected to demons and its effecting humans. I find the moment when Dean shoots the mother who’s become infected, incredibly confronting. He just steps forward and BANG. Shocks the hell out of me every time. Of course Dean’s in a pretty bad place by this stage, off the back of learning from the Crossroads Demon that as he suspected, John traded his soul to save Dean’s life. When everyone thinks Sam gets infected by the demon virus, it’s almost like it’s a relief for Dean to be able to just, hang-up the towel. His brother is going to die, so Dean’s going to check out along with him. He no longer has to face the burden of responsibility he feels for his dad’s death and the possibility of having to kill his brother. I love the scene where Sam pleads for Dean to leave and Dean says, “I'm tired, Sam. I'm tired of this job, this life . . . this weight on my shoulders, man. I'm tired of it.” This weight. You can almost feel the crush. This moment between Sam and Dean makes me ache. Then suddenly, everything is alright and they’re called outside, but Dean’s already shown his hand, leading to the revelation of what their dad said in the moments before he died. Ugh. The audience becomes privy to the knowledge that this virus was a test on Sam’s immunity to it. Such manipulation. This family has been pushed and pulled every which way by these evil bastards. “Croatoan” is so good. And what a cliff-hanger “Dean what did he tell you?” ROLL CREDITS! Noooooooo!
Then there’s “What Is And What Should Never Be” where we get to see Dean experience what a normal life would mean for him, even though it’s through the influence of a Djinn. In amongst all the joy of seeing Dean mow the lawn for the first time and eat a sandwich at his mum’s table, there’s so much sadness because the happy scenes amplify what he doesn’t have, what Sam doesn’t have and what they both sacrifice every day. Then in amongst this supposedly ideal world, he doesn’t get along with the one person who means the most. Sam and Dean are not close in the Djinn’s alternative Universe. I’ve always wondered about that, because if the Djinn were creating a perfect existence for a victim you think he’d dot the i’s and cross the t’s! But as Dean said, the Djinn just granted the wish that Mary never died and the family never took to the life. I love the scene where Dean talks to John’s grave and asks why, even though he already knows, “Why is it my job to save these people? Why do I have to be some kind of hero?” Because that’s who he is. He may think it’s just his job, but saving people, being a hero is who Dean is, it’s who Sam is and both brothers would have made the same decision in this false world, to choose strangers lives over their own happiness. I also love the scene at the end between Sam and Dean where Sam says in so many words, that he’s glad they have each other and that they’re the brothers that they are. He’s so gentle with Dean. It’s a truly heart wrenching moment. I want to wrap my arms around them both.
Oh heys, I think I’m coming to the conclusion I really love season 2! “Born Under A Bad Sign”, “Houses Of The Holy” with an awesome reference to the Archangel Michael, “Nightshifter”, “Heart”, what I think is the creepiest episode of the series “Playthings”. Dolls and a creepy ghost kid and that final scene with the little girl ghosts singing and skipping. Geesh. Insert shiver down the spine here! I never watch that one before bed. Of course it’s also got the painful moment where a drunk Sam begs Dean to kill him. Both brothers are in a pretty shocking emotional state in season 2. Season 2 also introduced my most hated character. Gordon. Oh man, that guy pushes my buttons! And let’s not forget “All Hell Breaks Loose Parts One and Two” which bookend season 2. It all starts with John's deal and ends with Dean's. I always watch parts one and two as a double, because I can never walk away with Sam dead and Dean screaming his name. I always tear up at the beginning of part two as Dean talks to his dead brother. I think of how Kim Manners created a closed set and used blacks to camouflage essential crew and how he himself disappeared into a corner to give Jensen the environment he needed to get to the heart of Dean’s sadness. I think of how Jared said he played as dead as he possibly could because he wanted to help Jensen and Jensen knew he only had a couple of takes in him and I pretty much cry every time when Dean says, “It's like I had one job... I had one job... And I screwed it up. I blew it. And for that, I'm sorry. I guess that's what I do. I let down the people I love.” Even typing it hurts. But for me one of the saddest moments is when Dean shoves Bobby away. There’s such devastation in that action. Bobby’s face and Dean’s sad, broken apology just rips right through me. I always find myself thinking about the scene between the two parts. The scene we don’t see. The one where Bobby comes back to find Sam dead and Dean still clinging to his brother. The one where Bobby has to gently pull Dean away. The one where the two men, in shock, carry the fallen Sam into one of the buildings and tenderly set him down on a bed. It’s powerful stuff when a story can make you fill in the gaps like that. What would have happened had Sam killed Jake? Don’t you always ponder that question? I assume Azazel et al would have found another way to get the brothers to the end game, but if Jake had died…. no dead Sam, no deal, no Hell, no broken seals, no Lilith, no Apocalypse? Could all that pain and so much loss have been prevented if Sam had not shown Jake mercy in that moment? Or what if Dean and Bobby had arrived just 30 seconds earlier? A gal could go crazy thinking like this! But I can never ever not think a whole alternative scenario through after watching the season 2 finale; its outcome had such an impact.
But, none of these wonderful episodes are the episode I chose to look at more closely (believe it or not) because as soon as I put in that first disc, I knew what it would be….
IN MY TIME OF DYING
Ask me on any given day which is my favourite opening episode and I will give you a different answer, but it’s always going to be either, “In My Time Of Dying” or “Lazarus Rising.” Right at this moment, I’m passionately in love with “In My Time Of Dying”. I’ve watched this episode more times than I can count. It’s in my top 5, probably sitting in 3rd or 4th position I guess, though I can never figure that out, it’s like 3 episodes tie for 3rd! I love the introduction of Tessa the Reaper, the notion of how angry spirits are born, Sam fighting desperately to find a way to help his dying brother (I’m sensing a theme here between my season 1 and 2 favourites!), the appearance of the Yellow Eyed Demon in the shape of Fred Lehne and Dean in drawstring pants, a tight white t-shirt and bare-feet. Sorry to bring the tone down so early in the piece, but I mean, how often do we get these boys in a single layer! My apologies; back to the serious subject matter at hand.
“In My Time Of Dying” picks up exactly where “Devil’s Trap” left off, with the three Winchester men, injured in the crushed Impala and Bad Moon Rising playing on the radio. Sam is the only one who wakes up. I’m always haunted by Sam screaming out Dean’s name…yes I may have a little thing for when they scream each other’s name out, pretty sure I’m not the only one. You can feel the fear and confusion that Sam must be experiencing in that moment, not knowing if his entire family is going to live or die. “In My Time Of Dying” is one of only two episodes in which we see the brother’s taken off to hospital by medical personnel, the other being season 7’s “The Girl Next Door” when Dean had to call 911 because Sam’s out cold and a monster broke Dean’s leg. This time around, I assume it’s the poor truck driver who calls for help after he awakens from demon possession to find he’s caused a horrific accident.
What grabs me the most about “In My Time Of Dying” is Sam’s unwavering faith in his brother, that his brother will find a way to recover, or Sam will find a way for him, there is no other option in Sam’s eyes, he will not give up on Dean and he won’t let Dean give up on himself. Though this story is primarily about Dean, I always feel this is Sam’s episode, because it’s Sam who is the link between the living and the dead for his brother. His belief in Dean and his strength in the face of his world crumbling around him always hits me in the gut. When Dean ‘wakes up’ to wander the halls of the hospital trying to make sense of what has happened to him, the first person he calls out for is Sam and as much as John is injured, Sam is solely focused on Dean. Whose heart doesn’t break as Sam stands over his comatose sibling and says, “Dean, you've got to hold on. You can't go, man, not now. We were just starting to be brothers again.” They’ve just found their way back to each other, how can Sam let go now. This is the episode that signals the end of the dream of a reunited family and the beginning of Sam and Dean’s journey together as simply Sam and Dean.One of my favourite scenes is when Sam goes and sees Bobby to retrieve The Colt from the wreck of the Impala. The conversation they are having sounds like it’s about the car, but the conversation Sam is really having is about Dean. “Listen to me, Bobby. If there's only one working part, that's enough. We're not just going to give up on...” Of course, Bobby gets it. Bobby wouldn’t give up either, we know that now.
I love the way the connection between the brothers is demonstrated. You can see that Sam can genuinely sense that Dean is there, somewhere and I don’t put it down to him being a psychic wonder, I put it down to them being so in tune with each other. I’m sure if the shoe were on the other foot, Dean would be sensing Sam left and right. Such relief washes over them both when Sam arrives with the Talking Board and they’re finally able to communicate. They share a moment of happiness there, albeit, brief. Even faced with the news that there’s a Reaper hot on his brother’s heels, Sam doesn’t give up on Dean. “No. No, no, no, um, there's gotta be a way ….There's gotta be a way.”
If you listen to the commentary for this episode you’ll hear, Jensen, Jared and director Kim Manners discuss how they did this scene and other scenes where Dean is in the shot we see, but not in the shot from Sam’s point of view. Basically, Jensen had to leap in and out of shot very quickly, because if you notice, Kim used a lot of 360 degree camera movements in the episode. Swirling around from Dean looking at Sam, to Sam looking at nothing. Swirling around from Dean talking to Sam to Sam looking down an empty hallway. Timing was everything. This technique gives an interesting fluidity to the scenes. This is a beautifully shot and beautifully lit episode. For example, in the scene where Dean confronts Tessa, she’s lit half in light and half in darkness, like a Reaper represents both. It’s also like she’s coming out of the shadows, being revealed to Dean in her true essence. I love the lighting in that scene, it adds to the power of Dean’s realisation as he gasps and shudders under her touch. You know Dean was going to go with her right? If the demon smoke hadn’t hitched a ride with Tessa, I’m absolutely sure Dean was about to say yes to the Reaper, because what other option did he have? You can see it on his face. “So what’s it going to be?” Man, we’ve heard that somewhere recently huh? Just as a trivial aside, have you ever noticed how dirty Jensen’s feet are in this episode? If you haven’t, look next time you watch the scene with the Talking Board (or just look at the shot above).
I find one of the sadder aspects of “In My Time Of Dying” is that even though Dean is in the state he’s in; he’s still trying to be the peacekeeper. His father and brother are at each other’s throat. Sam doesn’t understand why his dad is focusing on the Demon and The Colt rather than on his son, John, as we now know, clearly has other ways to help Dean on his mind. Even when he’s in his ghost form, Dean is trying to stop them fighting, trying to keep everyone together. When he comes to, he’s still doing it as his father and brother start to bicker over his bed. This is how it must have been for him before Sam went to Stanford. This is how it must have always been for Dean. No wonder he turned into the caregiver he became. His job has always been looking out for his brother, looking out for his family, holding them together, even teetering on death he’s trying to hold everyone together. Breaks my damn heart.
But I guess it’s the final moments of “In My Time Of Dying” that pack the biggest punch. We find out that John does, in fact, know the truth about Sam, he’s known for a while, as is revealed by the Yellow Eyed Demon. We are left wondering what on earth this secret about Sam is, as is John’s eldest son when his father whispers in his ear. The scene leading up to this moment is such a moving one. Even though Sam is hell bent on arguing, John softly asks him if they could not fight, something that stops Sam in his tracks. I’m always saddened by the fact that Sam never got his moment with his dad, he went off to get his old man a cup of caffeine. I remember reading that Jared initially thought that Sam should have made more of this moment, that he should have said something or made some gesture towards John as he left the room, but in not doing anything, in not acknowledging that this would be the last time Sam would see his father alive, in just going “Yeah. Yeah, sure” the moment is more powerful and tragic. When John starts saying nice things to Dean, telling him he’s proud, apologising for how he raised him, Dean gets scared. It’s a tender scene between father and son, but it’s heartbreaking to think that these words and sentiments are so foreign to Dean, that he’s instantly frightened and knows that something must wrong. Then John leans in and whispers in his son’s ear and horror and confusion pass over Dean’s face as his father gently smiles and walks away. Hallway. Sam. Coffee cup. Silent scream. CPR. Flat line. Time of death 10.41am. I still cry when John Winchester dies, but I‘m crying for his boys. I’m so desperately sad that they had to go through this final scene all over again six years later, this time with Bobby.
John’s choice to give his life for Dean’s, to make a deal with the Devil so to speak, is a decision that has catastrophic ramifications, because it’s with this single act that the whole kit and caboodle kicks off. This is where it starts for the Winchester brothers. This is where the seeds of their future decisions are sown. They both spend the coming years following in their father’s footsteps, sacrificing their lives and doing deals with devils. Well I guess everything really started with Mary in 1973, but this moment in “In My Time Of Dying” is where it began for Sam and Dean. Kripke says in the season 2 companion: “From the moment John made his decision to sacrifice his life for Dean, that was the first major transgression the Winchester family had in terms of disobeying the natural order of things. There’s an epic thematic of the show which is you don’t play God and you don’t mess with the natural order, because only bad things can result. The Winchester family put themselves on a very dangerous path.” As we now know, 7 seasons down the track, the natural order of things is very important and it can’t be taken for granted. The brothers have disregarded it over and over and look where it’s got them. Only now are we seeing that they’re finally starting to learn the lesson that you don’t play with such things. Somehow, I still don’t think that would stop them when it comes to each other. I love that it all started here. Damn, Supernatural rocks!
So that’s it for season 2! It’s not my favourite season from an arc point of view, but it’s probably the season that contains my highest number of favourite episodes. Make sense of that if you can!
What’s your favourite season 2 episode?
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back soon with season 3!