The second episode of any season is a tough sell. It’s kind of the red headed stepchild, instantly thrust into the shadows of the often superior (but not always) premiere. It’s the episode that most people either DVR, choose to download at a later time, or just skip altogether and wait for the DVDs to come out. Expectations are lower. Considering they offer some of the best character defining moments, I’m not sure why. 
 
Second episodes are the ones where the profiled characters are put into a tricky situation and fewer of us watch, sometimes with a microscope, examining reaction.  It's supposed to give viewers that glimpse into someone's head, or at least get us speculating on what is going on in said character's head.   I found myself after watching "Good God Y'all" going back and comparing all the Supernatural second episodes from each season. I found that even though the stories have changed, the formula hasn't.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
 
Wendigo – Season One
 
Focus: Sam
Issue: Dead girlfriend, can’t find dad. 
Monster: See the title? 
 
After being intrigued by the action filled pilot, this slow folding episode with small bursts of suspense tries to do what any good second episode in a new series does, build off the basic character definitions in the pilot.   Sam has just come off the trauma of losing Jessica and is suddenly t h rust back into the life he never wanted. It hasn’t sunk in yet (and won’t for another season) that this is a permanent change and he must adapt .  Nope, it all becomes about "finding Dad" and getting his revenge so he can go back to ignoring the family.  Dean sees the writing on the wall, “saving people, hunting things, the family business,” but Sam isn’t eager to embrace that life.  Even Sam's optimism at the end came across half hearted. 
 
Jared was still trying to find his footing at this time and had no clear idea of who Sam was. Heck, even Kripke admitted they didn't have a good grasp early on about Sam. This was long before the days when Sera Gamble took a stronghold of Sam and gave him an undeniable voice. By the end of "Wendigo" Sam's identity was still a total loss to me, as was the direction these boys were headed. 
 
This episode wasn't a total loss, for it show ed off more of Dean’s cockiness and his knack for saving the damsel in distress. He also got to play tough guy with the Wendigo, a character trait that people adore in their action heroes.  Dean at this point made a fast impression and started gaining fan girls in droves.  I’m so glad to see his character evolve from that though .  His macho behavior was amusing for maybe four episodes.  The brotherly chemistry really shined in this as well, something the show learned to build on later in the season.
 
Wendigo failed because it was unable to keep the critical episode two balance of story and character exposure.  T he “boogie man in the woods” story fell flat, as did the guest acting. The pacing was dangerously slow, but that’s usually what happens when character profile comes first. We don’t get to see mopey eyes and inner personal torture when chasing a monster through the woods. No, it’s those long pensive moments in front of the campfire that show off those.  By the time those long pensive monents hit though, many had changed the channel.
 
Everybody Loves A Clown
 
Focus: Dean
Issue: Dead daddy
Monster: Midgets, no clowns, okay midget clowns
 
After “In My Time of Dying,” this episode was a bit of a let down. It’s point is clear, show how John’s death is affecting the boys. Did it work? Yes, and no.  Yes on Jensen's part. He exemplified here what we started seeing of Dean later in the previous season. He's tough on the outside but inside he's crumbling. Jensen had gotten by this time real good at selling vulnerability.   The ending tirade of a crowbar and the trunk of the Impala truly gave us a striking look into Dean's headspace. He is not okay.
 
Heck, even Jared does a good job with Sam's grief, being more open about how not okay he is. Unfortunately, the lack of balance continued. Everything else just seemed off. The killer clown story wasn't anywhere as disturbing as it should have been. Clowns are scary as hell but the one at my neighbor’s party was creepier than what we saw. The only bonus was the "Sam being afraid of clowns" jokes it setup. Also, while this was the ideal episode to introduce the roadhouse, those scenes just managed to slow an already sluggish episode to a crawl. 
 
The Kids Are Alright
 
Focus: Dean
Issue: He’s dying and starting to have some regrets.
Monster: Changelings
 
This one is my favorite of all the second episodes. It’s the first second episode written by Sera Gamble whose had this writing slot ever since.  Considering this episode followed a very weak season premiere, luckily there wasn’t that much pressure to measure up. It did anyway.
 
The selling feature of this episode is obvious, Dean and his glimpse at a family life.  The life he always wanted, but couldn’t choose because of his duties to humanity. Sure we saw that in “What Is and What Should Never Be,” but to see it applied to his real life had a different impact. Dean bonds instantly with Ben, the son of his ex-girlfriend and the idea of being a dad, given his new found perspective on life, sits well with him. When Dean finds out for sure that Ben isn't his son, naturally he's disappointed, but Jensen’s understated delivery of that disappointment is amazing. Dean turns down Lisa's invitation to stay and just about ruins us with his "this is my life." By season three both Jensen and Jared have their character's vulnerabilities to a science but Jensen really got us here by showing a side of Dean we'd never seen before. It's refreshing and really humanizes his character. 
 
Anytime you feature a horror story with creepy kids, there’s some awesome potential there. This strong horror story about kids terrorizing their moms added the balance that had been missing in the first two seasons’ second episodes.  Considering that backdrop is also used to show Dean’s coming to terms with dying and regrets in life, this seemingly strange combo works.  Throw in a visit for Sam from a mysterious woman that knows all about him and the reveal she's a demon, struggles for the upcoming season are now defined. This should have been the season opener. 
 
Also, Sam Winchester + flamethrower = Win.
 
Are You There God, It’s Me Dean Winchester
 
Focus: Dean
Issue: The dude was rescued from Hell by an angel. His mind is a little blown.
Monster: Some really pissed off spirits
 
When this episode happened, our minds were still blown by the Angels thing. There was no way this episode was going to live up to “Lazarus Rising,” which was top ten all time worthy. This Dean focused episode forced him to deal with doubts that have plagued him the entire series and have been well documented. He’s forced to accept that Angels and God are real. He also has to wonder if he was rescued from Hell by an act of mercy. That freaks him out. Duh! We’re freaked out ourselves. His crisis of faith in this one is far different though, for just the mere presence of Castiel means he can't deny no longer because he can't see. Is this earth shattering for Dean? Heck yeah.
 
The rising of the witnesses was an intruging way to introduce the breaking of the seals, thus hitting the ground running with the season’s theme of the race to the apocalypse. Other than giving Bobby, Sam and Dean a major guilt trip over people who have died in their presence though, the lashing out by the angry spirits didn't amount to much. Also at this time, both brothers were hiding some pretty big stuff with each other; Dean about his time in Hell and Sam about using his powers and Ruby. It wouldn't have hurt if those secrets were at least hinted to one another, even if they were small hints. Foreshadowing I think it’s called.   
 
As for second episodes, the formula is down pat by now. An intense plot, new mythology to swallow, and of course, intense angst for at least one of the brothers. Considering this episode introduced the panic room and the breaking of the 66 seals so that Lucifer could walk free, it played a much greater role than other second episodes in this series. Plus Castiel rocked again. It didn’t take long to figure out how much using him worked.  
 
Good God Y'all
 
Focus: Sam
Issue: After starting the apocalypse with his mind and losing that power, he wants it back.
Monster: War!  (Good God, y’all, what is it good for, absolutely nothing…)
 
Here's a changeup over the last three years, a Sam focused second episode. Considering how weak "Wendigo" was in terms of character development, what we get here is the polar opposite. It was brilliant. Sam knows exactly who he is this time and it scares the hell out of him.
 
Oh, but it isn't just Sam. All the characters are being put through the ringer, as even the two secondary characters are brought to the forefront. Bobby isn't taking being paralyzed well and Castiel is definitely not adjusting to life being cut off from Heaven. Castiel is frantic, desperate, angry, but determined in his faith. He will find God and they'll fix it. He's not about to entertain Dean's doubts. "I didn't ask you for your opinions." He made a huge impact even though he was only in one scene. His journey for this season is set. 
 
Dean also is going through some rough times. His trust in Sam is so shaken they can't even fetch supplies together. He's being forced out of his comfort zone and can't rely on the support he's gotten in the past from Sam or Bobby. He's on his own. In one episode he lost his precious amulet, his brother, and almost his car. All that he holds near and dear aren't there anymore and it's time to let go. He can only rely on himself.
 
Clearly though, this episode is the fallout for Sam and his addiction issues. It turns out demon blood is the vice, not the underlying problem and that’s what he painfully realizes in this episode.  His underlying lust for power and need to save the human hosts possessed by demons is far more overwhelming than he thought. Going back to killing with the knife isn’t acceptable anymore. However, he knows what happens if he uses that power. He can’t control it and will take it too far. He wants to use it so bad though it’s haunting him, something that War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, pointed out to him (yes, Sam tied to a chair is worth watching the episode alone). 
 
More importantly, Sam’s open admission to Dean that he can’t trust himself, shouldn’t be hunting and the mutual agreement that they should part ways delivers a powerful punch so far not seen in an episode two since Dean’s outburst in “Everybody Loves A Clown.” Heck, it’s one of the more powerful scenes of the series period. Sam leaves, Dean watches, we cry. It wins!       
 
Now, going back to the balance thing, the showdown involving the townspeople precipitated by War isn’t exactly the most intense or engaging battle, even somewhat wasting appearances by Ellen, Jo, and Rufus. Considering this is the apocalypse though, the showdown is very appropriate and they aren’t wasting time in getting things going. Compared to other second episodes, it measures up very well. It could even be considered the best of the five, but is open for debate. 
 
So, in five seasons the character dimensions have gotten more complex, the stories more intricate, and the writing and acting has grown by leaps and bounds.  The second episode still mainly belongs to the characters though, no matter what’s introduced in the story. While character development is necessary, it’s not something that’s going to bring out the fans in droves though. Too bad, they’re missing out. 

Comments  

Amanda P.
# Amanda P. 2009-09-19 00:32
I felt that seasons 4 and 5 had the best 2nd episodes compared to earlier seasons. I also though that season 3's 2nd episode was perhaps a little more enjoyable than its premier.
But I absolutely loved Season 4's 'Are You There God, It’s Me Dean Winchester' I was all sorts of excited to see older characters come back, and as angry spirits. It was awesome.
This season's 2nd episode was just as great, started off with the issue with Bobby that we have to now get use to, Castiel's mission to find God, oh and the now solved mystery of Dean's necklace; now ending with the jaw dropping heart wrenching separation of the brothers.
I really look forward to future episodes after watching the last one.
staceycp
# staceycp 2009-09-19 09:36
very interesting article alice and im very curious at which episode was it where you got more of a clear picture of sams character and the feeling that he started to understand and grasp him?

as with dean i feel jensen grasped his character perfectly straight off the bat. although by the time 'home' came he started understanding dean more and fleshing out the layers. by the time something wicked came around [one of my personal favourite comfort episodes] i think he had fully found a picture of who dean was.
Randal
# Randal 2009-09-19 11:51
If forced at Colt-point to pick, I'd have to say that Are You There God? is the best of the second episode lot, but The Kids Are Alright has some classic moments - how can you not dig the facial contortions when Dean starts wondering if Ben is his kid, and the heartbreakingly (go to hell, spellcheck) understated bit between him and Lisa near the end.

I enjoyed Everybody Loves A Clown, but yes, the actual clown was far less frightening than it should have been.
Karen
# Karen 2009-09-19 14:49
I would have to say “Good God Ya’ll” then “The kids are Alright”.
“Hey God….” Was good but it was Megs monolog to Dean that put me off.
I just found Nikki’s performance was too whiney for me.

As for “Everyone loves a clown”, the clown wasn’t that scary for me, but my daughter, who was 16 at the time was terrified. I actually had to pause the show until she got it together. I think she had a flashback of the movie “IT”. When she and her cousin were 7yrs old they snuck the movie into her room to watch it. They both figured they were old enough and brave enough to watch the movie. They were fine thru out the day, but when bedtime came. Ha! Confession time! All of a sudden someone wasn’t as brave as they thought.
For about 2 weeks, she wouldn’t go to the bathroom without someone standing outside the door. They didn’t sneak any movies after that. Of course most of the movies on my shelf found them selves in a different spot.

Sorry for the story. I just can’t watch the “Clown” episode without thinking about that time.
Bevie
# Bevie 2009-09-19 15:31
Good analysis Alice.

Though I have to say that I am a lot easier to please than others here. LOL!

I just love Wendigo. Yes, I said it. I adore Dean in this episode and never tire of repeat viewings of it. Also, Everyone Loves a Clown. Love the humour in this episode alongside the angst of the boys, and Sam poking and prodding at Dean until he explodes and takes it all out on his baby. So much going on beneath the surface. (Don't tell anyone, but I really don't watch this show particularly for the scary stuff. Maybe to begin with, but the two boys took priority long ago. That's why I can enjoy Bugs. Ha!)

The Kids are All Right just breaks my Dean loving heart and I just want to hug him as he takes his leave of Lisa and Ben. And who's to say that Ben is not his son? Was Lisa telling the truth or perhaps she didn't want the complications of a late arriving daddy at this point in her life.

Are You There God is the one on the bottom of my list even though I did enjoy it. Everything is relative. Really loved Dean and Castiel's conversation at the end.

As for Good God, well if I ever get to see the whole show (yes I did miss the end like others on here. Damn cable company!) I'm sure I'll love this one too. After all, what I did see I liked a lot. Glad to see Ellen with the boys again. Thanks Alice for the clip of the last of the episode. Though I missed the last 15 minutes of it. That clip made me tear up and I can't imagine how devastated Dean is, and Jensen's face just projected such pain and misery. God! I hope they can be reconciled sooner than later as I really can't take it the way it is now, even though I know it had to happen. Poor boys!
Andrea
# Andrea 2009-09-19 17:34
I had chosen the ending scene in When the Levee Breaks as the saddest in the whole series but Good God ending is a very strong competitor. It was past heartbreaking. Yet everything about this scene was so perfect. The actors did an amazing job - as usual - conveying brother love and pain. Even the Samhair looked fabulous!How can two guys be so beautiful and so incredible actors at the same time? Also the body language said loads. Dean's awkwardness at saying goodby because he could barely keep from breaking. Sam's expressive back as walking away. This scene is an instant favorite.
kripke owes us a super reconciliation to compensate for this. With a HUGE hug, maybe some tears and all sorts of love expressions. So far we had only 3 big hugs - AHBL2, MYstery Spot and Lazarus Rising. If we are to count one Hug for each season, we are two Hugs behind the schedule. So Kripke, please, take notes.
Suze
# Suze 2009-09-21 05:11
I didn't mind Wendigo but then I started watching in the middle of the series then went back to the start so the shonky characterisatio n didn't really fuss me ( also I hate camping so any new excuse not to go is welcome! )

The clown one was a bit lame MOTW-wise but had some good brother moments and Ash ( I have a soft spot there because he reminds me of some guys I used to know back in the day ... Idiots to a man, but very sweet ) Mind you, it also has Twit-girl Jo so that marks it bottom of the league for moi.

"Kids" had lots of lump in throat moments with Dean and Son-of-? Pryo-Sam ( pwhoor! ) and possibly the most scary little girl in all SPN history so that one rocked along nicely, but the dead-bod-hit-pa rade in S4 was my absolute favorite, although I do think Ron was being a bit harsh blaming the boys for getting him shot ... He was bouncing up and down pulling faces in front of half the SWAT teams in the western hemisphere so he was sort of asking to get perforated if you ask me ...

Good God y'all had some really awesome bits ( the end did me in completely ) and moved the story on in fine fashion ( although I really hope that Cas doesn't find God, actually having some real big guns on their side would leach all the drama out of the Winchesters V's Everyone else saga ) There were one or two Eh? WTF? moments but on the whole it was fab ... There had better be one absolute humdinger of a reunion scene to make up for that parting, I had to go to work and I spent all morning trying not to grab random strangers and sob brokenly onto their shoulders!
Narcissus
# Narcissus 2009-09-22 21:59
I think that what's happening is that Supernatural is getting better and better by the season. The earlier season's are great in their own way, but we're getting too spoiled by the quality of the latter seasons to enjoy the earlier ones anymore. It's like getting fat off Cadbury's and Hershey's and then going back to the lollipop from the corner store. As much as I love part of season 3, all of season 4, and so far season 5 too, I also enjoy the earlier seasons for what they are, and sometimes I even prefer the simplicity of the good ol' times.
I have to be honest though, I never really understood Sam until Good God, when War virtually had to spell it out for me. I think that's why watching Sam kinda scared me in the past, because I didn't really know what was going on underneath all that brooding. But Dean, we all knew from the get go that he has a gooey marshmallow center :-)
Maithreyi
# Maithreyi 2009-10-04 02:27
Wow, that's an interesting analysis.

Despite the oodles of character-focus we get in these "second-episode s", I have no affection for any of them (except, maybe, "Good God, y'all" because that final scene makes me cry each. And. Every. Time. Oh, and the "spirit in the sky" sequence! I will never tire of watching that) because the accompanying plot is so weak I have little interest in revisiting the episode.

"Wendigo" was interesting when I was first starting out on "Supernatural" - maybe now, spoiled by the wealth of skillfully done characterisatio n of the past few seasons, the episode falls a little flat (and, as you said, the pacing issues), but I adored it back then. It might have been "Bloody Mary" that got me hooked, but "Wendigo" was the episode where I got interested.

I was probably the most disappointed with ELAC -being an Indian, I was looking forward to when Supernatural would tap into some Hindu mythology - rich with its own unique nasties - and their final interpretation of the "rakshasa" was disappointing to say the least - a clown that eats kids? Seriously? And, at one stage, 4.02 had me despair for Season 4, before, thankfully, we got the best season on Supernatural so far. Like you said, the episode is always going to end up awkward - matching up to the premier, fleshing out what was going to happen in the rest of the season, moving the characters forward.

I also find this discussion about "understanding Sam" interesting. For my part, I adored the character from the get-go. To me, he seemed like a fiercely independent man who loved his family but was not tied to it. I kind of loved that he had ambitions of his own, and broke free of his family's hold, to make his own destiny, to live his own choices. Despite that, when Dean comes calling about their father gone missing, he agrees to help him. Here, I thought, was a guy I could identify with.

As the season went on, I felt Sam's need for authority and control made their appearance regularly - most notably in "Asylum" - and those issues were blown and developed into something that was part of the cause for his "fall" in Season 4. With Sam one always got a sense of layers, of secrets within facades, plans within plans ("a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a taco", ha!) and he lets go of those secrets very grudgingly, always a little afraid of what people - notably, Dean - would think about them, because he himself was so creeped out by them. He only lets go of those tidbits when there is no choice, or to manipulate to get what he wants - the revelation about his "premonitions" in "Home" so he could convince Dean to have them go to Lawrence, for instance It is true that the character sometimes suffered from poor writing in the first couple of seasons, but the characteristics are there, the stuff that made him into what we see now. From the beginning he gave me this impression of a time-bomb waiting to go off, waiting for the right impetus. I think episodes like "Mystery Spot" showed exactly the inherent darkness in Sam, what a dangerous combination that his own human flaws and his decidedly supernatural powers and "destiny" made - and Season 4 built upon that. A diehard Sam girl as I am, Season 4 was thrilling in terms of what was happening to Sam. And then there it was, laid out beautifully in "When the Levee breaks" - what exactly all those glimpses we got of Sam all these episodes added up to.

Dean, I adore. I've heard Sam being described as more "emotional", more ready to "share and care", but that's only when he's getting Dean to open up, very rarely it's about himself. And Dean does open up. Every time. Sometimes with tears and the long speeches-of-woe under bridges, sometimes in other ways, but Dean as a character is so much more open, compared to his brother, it is so much easier to pick up his thread. It may be a reason I've never really connected with Dean - he just seems so larger-than-life.

Just my, uh, two cents. I'm loving this site - with the Internet my only source for "Supernatural" (nobody else watches it where I live, woe!) it's nice to participate in such rousing discussion of this show that I have irrevocably fallen in love with. Keep up the good work!