So yeah, you knew that they were eventually going to get back to the whole Dean guilt over John thing, weren’t you? “Crossroad Blues” did so in quite a spectacular way. It introduced some very vital lore in the show’s history while digging that knife deep into Dean Winchester’s very fragile psyche, setting him up for some future really bad mistakes. Fun times!
By this time in the series, Sera Gamble was hitting her stride. I’m not sure if she knew, or if anyone knew at the time, that the crossroads demon deal was going to play a major part at the end of season two, essentially changing the course of the rest of the series, but this was an ideal and memorable way to introduce the whole concept. Mingling the case of the week with the still raw Winchesters mourning the death of John was a great opportunity to introduce this vital lore yet push both the mytharc and brotherly drama forward at this crucial part of the season. People are usually pretty bored by episode 8.
For starters, this episode played on the folklore of the brilliant bluesman Robert Johnson, who some said that he must have sold his soul to the devil to be able to play so good so fast. His song titles certainly fueled that theory. That’s a clever shout out to what the show was supposed to be all about, urban legends. But also, some very important parameters were set in establishing the demon deal, rules that had to be followed through the series and mostly were. This became a very important blueprint. A tin box with graveyard dirt, cat bones, and a picture of the person making the deal had to be buried at the center of a crossroads. A crossroads demon had red eyes. The demon will usually offer 10 years before the deal maker is dragged to Hell by some rather brutal hellhounds. The deal was always sealed with a kiss, making Crowley’s deals a few seasons later rather funny.
The signs when a bill comes due were important too, especially for season three’s “No Rest For the Wicked.” The victim hears the sound of a howling dog. The faces of people near them appear distorted and dead like. And of course, they are clawed and dragged away viciously when the Hellhound comes near, but the death looks natural. Okay, that’s very inconsistent from the way Dean died in “No Rest For the Wicked,” but I figured Lilith wanted to give it to Sam good by letting him see his brother die bloody.
Just about any ask could be delivered in demon deal, even impossible ones like bringing a loved one back from the grave. And there we have the rub, aka the catch that opened up a whole new world for this mytharc. It was practically one of those screaming items, “PAY ATTENTION, THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR LATER!” Demon deals since this episode have defined this show and always added a big twist to the story, even when they were stinky like “Season Seven: Time for a Wedding.”
Pop Psychology Quick Analysis - A Lesson in Man Pain
Look. Your dad's supposed to be alive. You're supposed to be dead. So we'll just set things straight, put things back in their natural order. And you get ten extra years on top. That's a bonus.
Talk about building a scenario where Dean’s vulnerabilities are cut open and exposed for all to see in a shocking way. The specialty of a crossroads demon is to dig at those deepest desires and trigger that internal desperation, and oh man, was Dean desperate. His unresolved issues with John were just festering, not subsiding, and the guilt has eaten more away at him since the issue was last visited. He was clearly in over his head when he tried to trap the demon, but he took the risk because he had to know for sure: did John do this for him? Finding out brought him no comfort. I was stunned he was able to stick with the plan after learning the truth.
Dean’s encounter with the crossroads demon was especially dangerous because it planted that seed in his mind of what could be done. He had this new way to save his family sitting in his hip pocket, and it would only come at his expense, which he could live with. Sure, in his pain he wasn’t thinking of how Sam would feel, but that’s already been covered in other reviews, not to mention Sam let that be known a few times.
As a matter of fact, this episode exposed a huge vulnerability in Dean that plagued him the entire series. He took on that burden of saving others, especially Sam, because it was drilled in him since he was four. That burden led to his feelings of low self worth, resulting in reckless decisions that put others before him, and it happened all the way until the end of the show. He could never shake that feeling that he didn’t deserve to be in this world or didn’t deserve a real life. That feeling that prevented him from enjoying family life (season six) and the normal life that John wanted him to have. Instead, he was going to save people and hunt things until the end came, and that’s exactly what happened. His happiness was tied only to assuring that Sam would be able to live his ideal life. So yeah, all that can be seen as early as here.
Crossroads Demon: I gotta tell you. You would have never pulled that stunt if you knew.
Dean: Knew what?
Crossroads Demon: Where your dad is. You should have made that deal. See, people talk about hell, but it's just a word. It doesn't even come close to describing the real thing.
Dean: Shut your mouth, bitch.
Crossroads Demon: If you could see your poor daddy? Hear the sounds he makes 'cause he can't even scream?
That’s why demons used to be fun in this show. They knew how to dig to the core of something, and really mess with Sam and Dean’s heads. That’s what made them really scary, unlike the dumb, campy demons we got later in the show. The fact that Dean made this crossroads demon so mad that he had to hear about John’s suffering in Hell only made things worse. It was a nice starter to the world of Winchesters dealing with demons and their ability to dig deep under their skin. We know this for sure later when Sam had to deal with a few crossroads demons on his own. How many did he end up killing because they pissed him off? At least 3 from what I can remember. Maybe I’ll dig deeper the archives and look when I have some time. (Found it! Looks like he killed three on his own and one with Dean. http://supernaturalwiki.com/Crossroads_Demon. That was a fun exercise).
But I digress. This is all about Dean’s man pain. Which means Sam is back to watching Dean’s man pain and lamenting. Although, even he was a haunted by learning about the demon deals at Lloyd’s Bar. He was thinking about both John suffering the same fate as these people and hoping that Dean wouldn’t take this personally, which he totally did. Sam sold the foreboding the entire episode pretty well, especially in the ending scene. He tried to get Dean to see the good they are doing and their role is to carry on John’s legacy, but Dean is still too lost in grief to see that. Sam was right to be worried, because Dean did end up making desperate decisions because of not being able to let go of all that pain.
I wasn’t a big fan of this episode the first few viewings. I’m not sure why, it just came across as a little too dark at the time. But as I watched it again recently, it was quite an enjoyable hour. Having the perspective of the whole rest of the series really adds insight as to why this was so important.
I was surprised that goofer dust didn’t become a big thing after this episode, probably because it would force Sam and Dean to get into a little hoodoo. That was something they didn’t stray into too much. Too bad.
The invisible hellhound adds so much to the horror. It’s like the boogeyman or the Blair Witch Project, what isn’t seen if often scarier that what is. It heightens the imagination. The sound of that growling dog often triggered quite a bit of terror in the series. I know it gave me the heebee-jeebies. It does help that low budgets drive such tactics.
I love that this episode was filmed in the North Forty Park Reserve in Delta, BC, a very popular place to film TV shows in Vancouver, especially in “Supernatural’s” early years. A lot of the small outdoor buildings like Lloyds Bar or the Roadhouse were built there on the grounds for shooting, only to be quickly torn down. If you ever do a location visit in Vancouver, this is a must see. There are so many scenes filmed there.
Overall grade is a tough one. In terms of my enjoyment level, a B+. In terms of the importance to the series, aka a must see episode, an A. So, meet me in the middle.
Read More of Alice's Supernatural insights! Links to all her articles can be found on Alice's Writer's Page.
Please share your thoughts on this episode and Alice's review below!