Sarah: This week’s episode is all about nightmares. Like the kinds urban legends inspire in me. And the sort that we have when our lives feel so fraught that our subconsciousness tries to work shit out while we’re too unconscious to object. So that is my prediction for this episode: scary and fraught. Probably with Family Dynamics Drama.
Dawn: Oh, it’s a mythos episode! While I do enjoy some Monster of the Week, the reason I have been a long-time fan of this show is because of how well (most of the time) the writers handle the overarching mythology of each season. Things are about to get a lot more real for the Brothers Winchester, and they still don’t have Daddy John to help them through. So how will Dean handle the changes little bro is going to experience in this episode? My prediction: not well.
In a continuing effort to theme our gifs, this week we celebrate The Simpsons and the recent marathon of every episode ever on FXX. Let’s do this.
Season 1, Episode 14: Nightmare
Written by: Sera Gamble and Raelle Tucker
The story so far is all about family, family, family. We get flaaaaaaames, how Sam wants to find Dad, and a reminder that Sammy is having some pretty weird shit happening up in his noggin. We also great a great shot of Dean’s very uncomfortable face following Sam’s revelation about prophetic nightmares. We couldn’t get a gif of that, but this works pretty well:
We can’t really blame Dean.
So, we open. No chyron this time. Hrm. Wonder what that could mean. A car blasting “Running on Empty” rolls into the driveway of a suburban home and the camera lingers on a Michigan license plate. The episode’s first Future Deadshirt (Deadshirt!Driver – why are they always D!D? SPN is turning into a valid argument for never driving anywhere ever, unless you’re in Baby) looks back in alarm as the garage door closes, seemingly of its own free will (this is why we should never let our gadgets think for themselves). Then, the car locks itself and turns on, because somebody at SPN has clearly read Christine. The radio starts traveling from station to station as the car fills with carbon monoxide and the driver struggles to escape. He dies, terrified and suffocated. That’s bad.
Suddenly, though, it’s not D!D or anyone finding him. It’s a very confused Sammy, clearly having just woken up. We flash between shots of his face and the awfulness that just happened in a garage somewhere, and we feel about as WTF as Sam does. He sits up in bed, wakes his brother, and is very clear: “We have to go. Right now.”
Dean is confused but this is Sammy, so he gets his fine ass out of bed and the next thing we know, it’s Baby, speeding through the rainy night. Sam is on the phone, using our first Alias of the Week: Detective McReady. Detective McReady has a badge number and everything, and he reports a “signal 480 in progress.” Since he also has a license plate number, it seems the people on the other line are taking him seriously.
Dean tries to convince Sam that this is just a nightmare, just a plain old nightmare like everyone has. But his argument is proved invalid when Sam’s phone call produces a real name and a real address. Dean becomes a lot more concerned when they arrive in Saginaw, Michigan, just in time to see the body bag getting zipped up. Sam looks sad. Dean’s expression is a bit more like this:
After the credit sequence, Sam and Dean work the crowd for info. Happily, Sam has walked up to the most talkative neighbor in existence ever, who tells the boys that Jim was a church-goer who seemed “so normal,” and who died only an hour or two before — right while Sammy was dreaming about it.
Sam wants to know why he’d be having prophetic dreams without getting enough of a chance to do something to stop it. Clearly Scary Demonbits didn’t include any notes on how psychic powers sometimes work. Also, Sam is convinced this was murder of the supernatural kind. Dean is not convinced, but from the expression on his face, it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t give two fucks how it happened, really, because there is something way more important going on — he is worried about Sammy. Very worried. So he tries to hide it by being a dick, because Dean. “You look like crap.” “Nice. Thanks.”
Dean wants to talk to the family. Sammy insists that they’re grieving and won’t want to. But Dean has himself an idea.
The next morning brings our second Alias of the Week – one that is “a whole new low” for them, according to Sam.
Yup, that’s right – the Brothers are impersonating Fathers. And, lo, the world of fan fiction did tremble at the very thought. Even Dawn is thinking back to her Catholic school days in a whole new light.
So Dean (ahem, Father Simmons) and Sam (Father Freely) are the new junior priests over at St. Augustine’s. While Dawn mutters the Act of Contrition to herself for all the things she is thinking about the Winchesters in their priestly vestments, it’s no surprise that Winchester Charm gets them into the house immediately. D!Jim’s brother is pissed and wants fuck all to do with men of the cloth, but his widow (BETH BRODERICK from Sabrina the Teenaged Witch, and lately, Under the Dome) is super thankful.
Sarah: So am I. Beth Broderick is a talented actress with an amazing voice. I hope she is in all the scenes.
Father Dean is thankful for the repast food, which he doesn’t hesitate to sample, much to the chagrin of Bitchface.
“Tone it down,” Sam cautions quietly. Anyway, Mrs. Deadshirt is crushed and confused by her husband’s apparent suicide. She’s more than happy to have her son, Max — who found his father’s body — talk to Father Sammy. Meanwhile, Father Dean asks a bunch of leading questions about trouble with their house, but there’re none of the usual signs — no weird leaks, electrical shortages, or odd settling noises at night. With that line of questioning getting him no where, Dean asks to use the restroom. Sure. Snoop city, here Dean comes.
Father Sammy is also striking out with Max, who looks older than Sam and is also brooding in the creepy way: dead eyes, the whole nine yards. Sam tries to be cute and sympathetic, and Max is having none of it. Max is angry and mourning and therefore immune to Puppy Dog Eyes.
Upstairs, Dean has what looks like a model iPad he couldn’t possibly have owned back in 2006 when this ep originally aired. It’s got all kind of stuff attached to it including what looks like laser beams, but it’s not yet another funky homemade Winchester EMF detector — this time it’s an INFRARED THERMAL SCANNER, ladies and gentlemen, and we’d like to point out how INSANE it is that Dean thinks he is a stupid brother because WTF it has laser beams. Anyway, he sweeps for spooky stuff and finds nothing, then hears someone coming up the stairs. It’s Sam. Who has also found nothing. Looks like they broke out those collars for nothing. Except, you know, our edification.
Back at the MoW, Dean cleans their traveling armory because the Winchesters are aptly named, while Sam tries to figure out what the hell is wrong with the Millers — and himself. Dean is pretty sure there’s nothing supernatural about the house. Sam tries to continue theorizing but something is clearly wrong from the way he keeps squinting his eyes and rubbing his forehead. And just like that, he’s overcome with the world’s worst supernatural migraine. Dean is at his brother’s side in seconds and we discover that just like Angel’s Doyle and Cordelia, Sam is now having visions while awake. This cannot be good.
This time, he’s seeing Deadshirt!Jim’s bereaved brother, Roger, who is enjoying a nice beer in the privacy of his own home. He probably can’t hear the ominous music. Or notice the black shadow that moved across the room. Or see the window open all by itself. Are we about to have our first Deadshirt! by defenestration?
NOPE. It’s way worse than that. Roger notices the open window; he closes and locks it. It unlocks itself and opens again. Nothing about this is good. Also Roger is an idiot, because when your LOCKED WINDOW opens itself, the last thing you do is STICK YOUR HEAD OUT OF IT because now you’ve turned it into a lovely apartment-sized guillotine. Cue massive blood splash.
We focus back on the MotW and Sammy’s desperation: “It’s happening again. Something’s gonna kill Roger Miller.”
Off they ride in the trusty Impala. Sam gets the address; it’s pretty clear that his head is still aching. Dean grumbles about the possibility that Sam will puke inside of Baby, because upholstery. Sam is worried about the possibility that his show is suddenly copycatting the House of Whedon (oh, sorry — that’s Sarah’s fear). Actually, Sam is just flat out goddamn frightened about what is happening to him. It’s nice acting on Jared Padalecki’s part because despite the fucking weirdness that he is dealing with, when he talks he is nothing but a scared little brother wanting big brother to fix it all, or at least explain why it’s happening. Dean is gruff, but determined: “I don’t know, Sam, but we’ll figure it out. We’ve faced the unexplainable every day. This is just another thing.”
Sam isn’t buying it — he thinks this is freaking Dean out. It’s possible Dean hesitated a little too long before denying any such freak out. For all the Winchester Charm when it comes to other people, these two are complete crap at lying to each other. (At least, in season one… )
They get to Roger Miller’s, and Roger is still alive! But they freak him out and he won’t talk to them because he thinks they are crazy missionaries.
So they break into the building by way of the fire escape. Despite some pretty damn impressive climbing skills, they don’t make it in time — they hear the sound of the window slamming on vertebrae and arrive at the bloody evidence. Though how they missed the decapitated head falling down into the street, we have no idea. Sam looks understandably nauseous, but before he can say anything about it, Dean tells him to start wiping down their fingerprints so the cops won’t trace them to the scene. Dean takes a look inside via a non-bloody window and finds NOTHING.
Back on the street, Sam says that he saw something in his vision, some kind of black shape. He is convinced a vengeful spirit is stalking the men in the Miller family. And that’s something the Millers and the Winchesters have in common, according to Sam: “Both our families are cursed.”
Dean is offended. This happens:
It’s adorable in that Winchester Brothers gallows humor kind of way, and it makes us feel like this:
Back into the priest garb! Time to visit Max, who gets the episode’s best line: “Because nothing says ‘I’m sorry’ like a tuna casserole.”
Max invites them to sit down. He’s doing ok, he says, but he starts to get tense and weird when they ask about what it was like growing up in their old house across town, when his family lived next door to their uncle. This is not something Max wishes to talk about, and if his facial twitches and really tense demeanor are any indication, his assurance that his life back then was totally normal and happy is complete bullshit. The brothers know it, too, so they go off in search of answers in the old neighborhood.
And answers they get! A neighbor spills all the necessary expository beans — Max was badly abused by Deadshirt!Jim and Deadshirt!Roger, including breaking his arm a couple of times. And the worst part? The stepmom was “checked out” during all of it. Things were terrible and Max suffered daily after his mother died back when he was just a baby. While Gossipy!Neighbor is chatting with them about how Max’s real mom died, Sam starts to have another vision. This time he sees Max interrogating Mrs. Miller, who never did anything to stop the abuse. Max turns the tables — he terrifies Mrs. Miller when a knife rises from the table and stops a millimeter from her eye. Max is not at all happy and he wants revenge. The knife stabs stepmom right through the eye.
Sarah: And that is going to be my new nightmare tonight. Thanks, SPN. Thanks a lot. EW.
The Winchesters now know that Max is the source of all the badness — Sam has been connecting to him, but he can’t figure out why. He figures they’re alike because they’re both psychic.
Dean is having none of this. He thinks Max is a monster who already killed two people and is gunning for a third. Dean further states Max is no different from any other monster they hunt; he wants to kill him. Sam is having none of THAT. He insists that they can try to reason with Max and tells Dean to follow his lead on this. Dean agrees, but he’s carrying a gun to a psychic gun fight, which can’t possibly end well.
They interrupt Max right before he kills his stepmom and get him to agree to talk with them privately outside. On the way out, though, Max spots Dean’s gun (and we’re back to the House of Early Whedon where guns are never, ever helpful). He freaks, and uses his telekenesis to slam all the doors and windows shut, get ahold of Dean’s gun, and knock his stepmom unconscious. Clearly Max has a way better handle on this psychic thing than Sam. Also, Max is fucking nuts.
Sam tries to reason with the traumatized, angry, psychic teenager who happens to be holding a gun on them. He lets Max know how much he knows about him and all he’s done. He tries to go all Touched by an Angel on Max (the here to help you part, not the God loves you part). Sammy’s charm mojo is mighty indeed, because he manages to get Max to agree to talk calmly with him for five minutes and also to let Dean leave the room with stepmom.
During this conversation, Max is spinning a letter opener on an end table with his mind and it is one of the creepiest things ever. But it’s hard not to feel for Max, especially once Sam tries to get him to forgive Stepmom for what happened to him “in childhood” and Max corrects him to “last week.” That’s when he shows Sam his battered and scarred torso and now it’s a lot harder to not be on Max’s side, even with the murders. Remember when we thought his eyes were dead? They weren’t. They were — they are — tortured.
Max explains that he thought that his powers were a gift, and once his father hit him the previous week, he “knew what [he] had to do.” He wanted to stop feeling afraid of his father, who blamed him for everything, including his mother’s death… since she died in his nursery while he was sleeping in his crib.
Sam and the two of us are all…
Well, holy fuck. Max’s mom died in the same way that Sam’s mom did, under the exact same circumstances, circumstances Max’s dad was all too happy to spout when he was drunk and berating his kid: “He said that she burned up. Pinned to the ceiling.” Max recounts the exact details of Sam’s mom’s death. And Sam tells him it’s real — it was all true. He tell Max the story of Mary Winchester; Max assumes that Sam’s dad was also drunk. Sam thinks the same monster killed their mother.
Sam can’t help but get excited about this — he’s not alone in the world in the way he’s been feeling all this while. “You and I must be connected in some way… This means something, right?” It’s desperate and sort of heartbreaking because everything about this encounter tells us he’s about to be, again. Max doesn’t want to let the brothers hunt down the thing that killed their mothers. He doesn’t want to let his stepmother go. Sam says killing stepmom won’t make Max feel any better. Max disagrees.
Sam tries to convince Max that he doesn’t have to go through this alone. Max’s reaction is to use his mental powers to shove Sam into a closet, and then go after stepmom. He finds her with Dean, promptly throws Dean against the wall via telekinesis, and then shoots him when Dean tries to protect Stepmom. He shoots him right through the goddamn head. Blood splatters and Dean falls.
Oh, thank Crowley for Sam’s visions. Because none of this has happened yet. Sam saw it, but he’s still trapped in the closet, so what can he do? Dude, never, ever underestimate the love these two have for each other. Sam screams “NO!” and MOVES THE DRESSER BLOCKING THE DOORWAY WITH THE POWER OF HIS OWN MIND.
Suddenly, this ep is a game changer.
Just as the scene upstairs is unfolding as Sam had foreseen, he throws open the door with his mind and disrupts the gun before it can kill his brother. Sam tries one last time to convince Max that this isn’t the way. Max agrees…and turns the gun on himself. It’s a horrifying moment, and Sam is absolutely crushed.
Next we see Stepmom, head bandaged, giving the police a statement. She covers for the brothers and breaks down, sobbing about having lost everyone. She really goes to the bat for the boys, though, and it’s hard not to wonder if saving them was a way to assuage a little of her no-doubt overwhelming guilt.
Sam struggles with the conviction that he could have done better. Dean is realistic — there was nothing they could have done, unless maybe they’d gotten there a lot earlier. Like years earlier. And something good has come of this horrorshow — Sam realizes how lucky they were to have their father instead of Max’s. He’s amazed at how differently things could have gone, “all things considered.” Dean agrees.
As they pack up their MoW, he starts to wonder what the demon wants. And he’s starting to think it’s him. Dean is hearing none of it: “This is not your fault; it’s not about you… It’s about that damn thing that did this to our family. The thing that we’re gonna find, the thing that we’re gonna kill. And that’s all.”
Except that’s not all. Sam tells Dean that he moved the furniture away from the door…the same way that Max did.
They’re both unsettled.
But not for long. Dean orders Sam to bend a spoon. Sam can’t, of course. Dean figures it won’t happen again. Sam is worried he’ll turn into Max. Dean reminds him of his one advantage over Max … he’s got Dean for a brother. It’s a pretty goddamn good advantage, from where we’re standing.
Dean tells his brother that he knows where they need to go next…Vegas. For one moment, Sam buys it. The joke diffuses the tension just as Dean had hoped, and Sam heads to the car. But just before Dean closes the motel room door, there’s a telling pause. Dean’s wary. Of Sam.
Sarah’s Final Thoughts: I liked seeing Sam take the lead in this, and that we ended up going on a little journey of discovery with him. I’m nervous that he’s going to end up being a Big Bad in deep disguise, a la the “final five” cylons on the BSG reboot. But in a way, that makes this whole story even better — if the demon Sam is finally battling is the one within.
Dawn’s Final Thoughts: It’s really hard to get my final thoughts out without spoiling, but this episode did a really good job of showing how things are going to become a lot more serious and a lot more personal. Hunters think they can handle anything that gets thrown at them, but they are terrible at interpersonal relationships, and it’s gotta be terrifying to watch your brother developing powers that you’ve been taught your whole life to distrust. Watching Dean learn to deal is going to be just as interesting as watching Sam learn to deal, and I can’t wait to talk about what Dad thinks of this whole thing.
Next week, John Shiban brings us to the creepy backwoods in an episode ever-so-slightly reminiscent of The X-Files infamous “Home.” Plus a little more insight into how the brothers do things, and just how far they will go for each other.