I have such fond memories of “Nightshifter.” I remember showing “Supernatural” to my then 16 year old son, who wondered why so much of his childhood was dominated by Mom doing all this work for some TV show. I was writing about the show and maintaining this site on my laptop at every little league and soccer practice or games, school band concerts and the countless other activities he did since he was 4. When he got to high school and lots of his classmates were into the show, he decided to finally watch. We breezed through season one and I got a “not bad.” Season two, okay, until we hit “Nightshifter.” His favorite episode to date. He was freaking blown away. He still talks about how great this episode was. He’s not wrong.
What can I say about “Nightshifter?” This episode makes my top ten favorites of all time. This episode is a wild, nail-biting, thriller of an episode, where it kicks with a big surprise DURING THE FREAKING ‘THEN’ SEGMENT. There’s no time to waste, because a lot happens in a short amount of time.
This is a Ben Edlund masterpiece, making me wonder if this was one of his pitches when applying for the writer’s job before he joined in season two. It’s wildly unique, yet also perfectly blends with the drama of the season, taking the high stakes and bolstering them to the stratosphere. High action and a ton of ass kicking, with some of the best dialogue you will get in any “Supernatural” episode. Win, win, win.
If Edlund could be remembered for one thing on “Supernatural,” it was his entertaining and memorable characters. Ghostfacers anyone? In this episode one of his memorable characters is Ronald Resnick, played brilliantly by Chris Gauthier. He’s a bit of a loose cannon, but he has seen the light. Something wasn’t right with his friend Juan when he came to see him. Oh, let me let Ronald tell it:
The thing I let into the bank . . . wasn’t Juan. I mean, it had his face, but it wasn’t his face. Uh, every detail was perfect, but too perfect, you know, like if a dollmaker made it, like I was talking to a big Juan-doll.
The best part is, Ronald is a conspiracy theorist! He’s not going to let the demise of his friend slide, especially when he saw the eye flare of Juan on camera. Sure we all know it’s a shapeshifter, but Ronald’s research comes up with something else. Mandroid. Oh, this is priceless.
Another great character introduced by Edlund is FBI agent Victor Henricksen, played by the amazing Malik Whitfield. He’s brash, he ain’t taking crap from no one, and he’s not there to play nice. He’s there to apprehend fugitives that are wreaking havoc across the country. This line alone to a cop on the scene told us everything we need to know about Henricksen:
I don’t give a rat’s ass what you do, you can go get a donut and bang your wife for all I care. What I do need is your SWAT team locked and loaded.
This isn’t the last we’ll see of Victor, who doggedly pursued Sam and Dean all the way to near the end of season three. This episode got his character off to a perfect start, making a strong impression and cementing him as a fan favorite.
I cannot say enough about this plot. The slow build from routine case to batshit out of control madness is so amazing, a plotting style which has become an Edlund trademark. At first, this seems like a simple case. Sam and Dean do their FBI thing, talking to the witnesses, etc. Then it’s a routine check of the potential next target, a bank, when all fired up Ronald decides to siege the place and take hostages while Sam and Dean are there. Now they’re trying to find an elusive shapeshifter in a bank while dealing with an unstable but well meaning conspiracy nut with a gun who thinks he’s hunting a Mandroid. Since Ronald locked the doors, now there’s a huge standoff with the police outside, since they think he’s robbing the bank. Then power is cut, making it much harder to find the shapeshifter, which turns out to be able to change much faster than the one Sam and Dean ran into in St. Louis. During all this one of the hostages gets sick, causing extreme tension in a hostage release with the wildly escalating negotiation with the police outside. That’s where Dean, a known fugitive, is caught on TV cameras. Then Ron is shot, and in the confusion the hostages scatter, so finding the shapeshifter is now even harder! Then the FBI shows up. This is no routine FBI visit though. Turns out special agent Hendricksen happens to know all about the Winchesters and is ready to apprehend. That little encounter in Baltimore five episodes earlier got someone’s attention! The Feds aren’t going to negotiate either. They’re storming the building and giving no warning. Dean’s big fight with the shifter happens at the same time that Sam is fighting off the SWAT team as they invade. It’s tense!
All this builds to what I consider to be the BEST closing sequence in the entire series. Two SWAT team members are seen in a parking garage. They approach the Impala. But wait, they aren’t SWAT team members. They’re Sam and Dean in disguise! All this happens to the slow opening refrain of Styx’s “Renegade.” The song stops for a few beats, Sam and Dean sit in Baby stunned, and then Dean utters the classic line. “We are so screwed.” Cue up the music again, right when the big scream happens, and the full throttle rocking part of the song kicks in. Baby drives away. HELL YEAH!!
Okay, perhaps I’ll tone down the fangirling now. Nah, one more time. HELL YEAH!!!! That’s better.
What I love most about this episode though is not only is it exciting and thrilling to watch, but the Winchesters see their situation worsen dramatically without any melodrama. Not a “boo hoo” in the story anywhere. That is how you build tension in storyline. Sam and Dean come to Baby for quick rescue, not tearful comfort. This has now gone beyond an ordinary demon story. Not only are Sam and Dean hunting for truth about the demon that killed their mother, as well as what’s happening to Sam, now they’re high profile fugitives on the run from the FBI. Crap is getting real.
There were two notable parts that really crushed my heart. The first was when poor yet well-meaning Ronald was shot by the sniper. So sad and shocking. He saw himself as a crime fighting hero, so when he jumped into action, he sadly got careless. It’s a shame his childlike belief in the hero conquering all led to his demise. That innocence is what made him such a great character. I loved the bond that he and Dean formed and the huge relief Dean gave him when he learned that it was a monster they were hunting, just not a Mandroid. He wasn’t crazy, well, sort of. He would have made a great hunter and Dean knew it.
The death scene was so well shot and edited. The slow motion, Sam shouting for Ronald to get down but there was no sound, meaning he was too into the moment to hear it, the red light from the sniper and then the shot is fired. The trickle of light in the darkness shining on Ronald as he went down was both cinematically gorgeous and heartbreaking. Dean even gave kudos to lifeless Ronald for tracking down the monster before moving on. He didn’t get a quick and useless send off like so many others. What he did mattered. Huge kudos to director Phil Sgriccia for pulling off this complex script and another amazing achievement from cinematographer Serge Ledoucer.
The second part was when Dean got on the phone for the first time with Victor Henricksen. Dean soon realized this wasn’t an ordinary Fed. This guy had already drawn conclusions about Sam, Dean and John. None of it was good. This is facial acting perfection by Jensen. Dean is desperately trying to maintain control of the situation, but Henricksen is pushing those buttons.
Henriksen: And yes, I know about Sam, too. Bonnie to your Clyde.
Dean: Yeah, well, that part’s true, but how’d you even know we were here?
Henriksen: Go screw yourself, that’s how I knew. It’s become my job to know about you, Dean. I’ve been looking for you for weeks now. I know about the murder in St. Louis, I know about the Houdini act you pulled in Baltimore. I know about the desecrations and the thefts. I know about your dad.
Dean: Hey, you don’t know crap about my Dad.
Henriksen: Ex-marine, raised his kids on the road, cheap motels, backwood cabins. Real paramilitary survivalist type. I just can’t get a handle on what type of whacko he was. White supremacist, Timmy McVeigh, to-may-to, to-mah-to.
Dean: You got no right talking about my Dad like that. He was a hero.
Dean’s steely defense of John on the phone, trying everything in his power to maintain restraint, it’s just brilliant. Talk about a picture saying a thousand words.
Other Stray Thoughts
- This episode features on of the great motel room designs, this time Wisconsin themed. Behold, an homage dairy cows and ‘Schultz’ beer!
The room divider is one of my favorites. I want this in my basement!
- There are so many great lines! How many of us were thinking that Ron was onto something and not crazy when we heard this? Only on this show:
Ronald: Cops said it was some kind of reflected light. Some kind of “camera flare.” Okay? Ain’t no damn camera flare. They say I’m a post-trauma case. So what? Bank goes and fires me, it don’t matter! The Mandroid is, is still out there. The law won’t hunt this thing down — I’ll do it myself. You see, this thing, it, it, it kills the real person, makes it look like a suicide, then it sorta, like, morphs into that person. Cases the job for a while until it knows the take is fat, and then it finds its opening. Now, these robberies, they’re, they’re grouped together. So I figure the Mandroid is holed up somewhere in the middle, underground, maybe. I dunno, maybe that’s where it recharges its, uh, Mandroid batteries.
- I love how Sam’s tough talk to Ronald in the beginning backfired for him:
Sam: Okay. I want you to listen very carefully. Because I’m about to tell you the God’s honest truth about all of this. (Dean smiles, waiting to see what Sam says.) There’s no such thing as Mandroids. There’s nothing evil or inhuman going on out there. Just people. Nothing else, you understand?
Later, when Ronald locks the bank doors:
Dean: Just let me do the talking. I don’t think he likes you very much, Agent Johnson.
Not long after:
Ronald: I knew it, as soon as you two left. You aren’t FBI. Who are you? Who are you working for, huh? The Men in Black? You working for the Mandroid?
Sam: We’re not working for the Mandroid!
Ronald: You, shut up! I ain’t talking to you. I don’t like you.
- I really love this line:
Dean: Yeah, Ron’s game plan was a bad plan, I mean, it was a bit of a crazy plan, but right now crazy’s the only game in town, okay?
- And this is one of my favorite screencaps from the entire series. It was on Ron’s wall. Never trust a cheesehead!
- I also love this screencap too. Phil Sgriccia for the win!
Overall grade, an A+. A series classic. Coming up, more great stuff.