“Croatoan” has always been an odd duck for me. The theme of this episode is “important for later.” This was a setup episode, one clearly designed to push events into motion for the next installment, “Hunted,” and beyond. Real action was sacrificed for a character story, namely Sam and Dean, and in reality, Dean. His cagey behavior continued and I do think at the time there must have been a collective, “Get on with it!” regarding Dean’s behavior. The kicker was that even by the end of the episode, the audience was still waiting for an answer.
But all that makes it sound like it was a bad episode. It wasn’t. They take on a subject that usually evokes fear in the horror genre, the virus themed story. You know, the kind of story that usually kicks up the tension a notch. However, we really didn’t get to see much of that tension. It was all in the POV of Sam and Dean who were holed up in a local clinic. That left it mostly up to the imagination of the audience to guess what was going on outside and focus on the drama inside. It certainly is an effective slant of storytelling when you have a limited budget, but did it work? For me, yes and no.
The Visions Still Hurt
You’ll always get my attention each time Sam is found sweating and deeply disturbed on the floor, reeling from another horrible vision. The story can only get more interesting. This time the subject of Sam’s vision is quite different. He sees Dean killing someone tied to a chair, someone who is claiming innocence. This brings a new twist on the whole ‘saving the victim’ thing. Sam knows that this is not his brother’s normal behavior that he’s seeing, yet he wants to believe Dean has a good reason. He still has that kind of faith in his brother. But Sam still needs answers and the visions were always connected to the Yellow Eyed Demon, so off to River Grove, Oregon they go.
It isn’t long before it’s revealed something really nefarious is at work. What if an entire town disappeared because of a demon virus? Communications are cutoff, the road out of town is blocked, and people in the town start acting real weird. Good stuff. The potential was certainly there. The introduction of the Croatoan demon virus plays an important part in the Kripke mytharc (even if we don’t see it again until season five). The tieback to the Roanoke colony was clever too, sticking with the urban legends theme of this show.
The trouble is, there’s the initial creepy visit to the Tanner household and a cool action scene with Dean in the Impala escaping the villagers’ blockade, but after that the action stalls. It all turns into brotherly angst and drama. Sam and Dean ended up being the bystanders, watching the horror in this town unfold, not having any control in the situation. The focus instead fell to Dean’s “carrying a burden” drama, which deflated the whole introduction of the demon virus.
How about we just dig into the real crux of the episode, Dean’s current blue funk. Because, I guess, the boy hasn’t had enough time devoted to his man pain this season.
Dean Winchester’s Man Pain - Take 9 - aka “Oh, What Now?”
Dean is on the edge once again. His behavior could be explained, he’s been erratic all season, but is it that surfacing again or is there something else? Fine, in hindsight we know it’s the latter, but I suppose we have to look at this knowing that the big reveal hasn’t been made yet. Considering he was willing to cross a line, something was definitely up:
Dean: Hey look, man, I'm not happy about this, okay? But it's a tough job and you know that.
Sam: It’s supposed to be tough, Dean. We're supposed to struggle with this, that's the whole point.
Dean: What does that buy us?
Sam: A clear conscience, for one!
Dean: Well, it's too late for that.
Sam: What the hell's happened to you?
Sam: You might kill an innocent man, and you don't even care! You don't act like yourself anymore, Dean. Hell, you know what? You're acting like one of those things out there.
Dean tried to ignore Sam, locking him in the room to carry on what Sam saw in his vision, but ultimately he couldn’t do it because of Sam’s words. This is just one of the many examples through the series of how these two keep each other honest and on moral ground. However, Sam’s intervention does not help Dean’s anxiousness. As a matter of fact, it gets much worse.
Dean: Nobody is shooting my brother
Duane: He isn't going to be your brother for much longer. You said it yourself.
Dean: Nobody is shooting anyone.
Duane: You were going to shoot me.
Dean: You will shut you piehole or I still might.
Sam: Dean, they're right. I'm infected. Just give me the gun and i'll do it myself.
Dean: Forget it.
Sam: Dean, I'm not going to become one of those things.
Dean: Sam, we still have some time.
Sarge: Time for what? Look I understand he is your brother, and I'm sorry, I am. But we got to take care of this.
Dean: Look, I am going to say this one time, if you make a move on him you will be dead before you hit the ground, you understand me? DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?
Dean does the unthinkable, he tells Duane and Sarge to leave and gives them the keys to the Impala! What? HE GAVE UP BABY?? That was a pretty loud declaration that he was going down with the ship, and the motive still isn’t very clear.
Sam: Dean, I'm sick. It's over for me. It doesn't have to be for you.
Sam: No, you can keep going.
Dean: Who says I want to?
Dean: I’m tired, Sam. I'm tired of this job, this life . . . this weight on my shoulders, man. I'm tired of it.
Sam: So what, so you're just going to give up? You're just gonna lay down and die? Look, Dean, I know this stuff with Dad has —
Dean: You’re wrong. It's not about Dad. I mean, part of it is, sure, but . . .
Sam: What is it about?
It’s also a pretty loud declaration that whatever he’s hiding, it’s serious enough where he would rather die that live without Sam. That gives us a hint that whatever John told him to do, he wouldn’t be able to do it, and might take himself out instead if it means saving Sam (hint, hint, important for later).
Sam: Hey man, don't look at me. I got no clue.
Dean: I swear, I'm gonna lose sleep over this one. I mean, why here, why now? And where the hell did everybody go? It's like they just friggin' melted.
Sam: Why was I immune?
Dean: Yeah. You know what? That's a good question. You know, I'm already starting to feel like this is the one that got away.
So why is Dean way more visibly upset about the outcome than Sam? I mean, Sam should be really, really freaked out by all of this. The nurse that infected him indicated that she was waiting for the chance to get near him and the saga ended just a few short hours after that. Sam had to know this was all for him. He only got tearful over the idea of Dean dying, not himself. But, I get it, Sam internalizes. It has to be on the front of his mind though, as well as Dean’s, that seeing good people being turned evil so quickly means that whatever is set in motion might not be within his control. They both should be royally freaked, yet Sam is calm and silent.
Instead of letting it go, which Sam does a lot, he forced the issue with Dean this time. After all, Dean’s behavior is really serious this time if he’s ready to die. In the closing scene, Dean wants to run from the fight instead and avoid whatever he said earlier. He’s ready to lay low, take a break from everything, walk away from the hunting life for a while. Sam isn’t ready to back away from what’s happening, knowing he can’t run from his destiny, so pushes Dean to tell him what’s really wrong. Okay, John told him something and…we’ll find out what next episode.
(A gorgeous and iconic shot on the Fraser river in Fort Langley, BC)
So yeah, like I said earlier, the elements of brotherly tension and drama were there, but much like the demon virus the brotherly story didn’t fully play out. It was a tap dance for the most part until the real stuff happens later.
Other Stray Thoughts
There were also too many loose ends to this story that bother me to this day. Come on, an entire town disappears in modern day USA and no one noticed? There was no fall out from that? It seems weird to me that wouldn’t have been mentioned again. Couldn't Sam have at least read about it on his laptop in one of the next few episodes? Were there bodies left behind, and if there was nothing left behind, what about the doctor? Did she survive or not? Yeah, nagging questions that weren’t ever answered. You’d think the demons would be a bit more sly about covering up this test of theirs without alerting the entire world.
Plus, if this was all done to test Sam’s immunity to the virus, did they wipe out other towns for the other psychic kids? If so, you think everyone would have really heard about that. It didn’t add up why they did this for just Sam unless they thought he would be the leader no matter what. Or, it could be they were priming him to be Lucifer’s vessel, something that didn’t materialize until season five, so that leaves the motive at the time murky at best.
Also, if Duane Tanner wasn’t infected by the virus, couldn’t they also have done a simple check that he was a demon? You know, the whole holy water thing? That would have saved some trouble, or at least saved the Sarge. He could have learned all the tricks of the trade and become a hunter after this himself! Ah well, opportunity lost.
I forgot when watching that this was Sam still unwilling to kill humans at this point, showing hesitation over killing Jake Tanner before knowing he was infected. Ah, moral Sammy. I really missed him in later seasons.
Best line of the episode, one of the greats from the season. It’s inspired fan fictions!
Sam: This is the dumbest thing you've ever done.
Dean: Oh, I don't know about that. Remember that waitress in Tampa?
Another great line:
Sarge: My neighbor... Mr. Rogers, he —
Dean: You've got a neighbor named Mr. Rogers?
Sarge: Not anymore.
I did love when they came out from the clinic at night after the standoff and the entire town had vanished. It was so eerie and creepy and the close up of the “Croatoan” on the utility pole in the town square really hit the feel of the moment.
Overall grade, B. A little light on the action, and the brotherly scenes could have been a little more in-depth, but all in all it moved the demon arc forward, which was pretty freaking important. A lot of Dean’s behavior in this episode is important for most of season two, especially for episode 2.14, “Born Under a Bad Sign.” This is just the start of Dean giving everything to save Sam. It does get very exciting to see how much, but for now, it’s just a small teaser. Next up, things get a bit crazy.
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