The second episode of any season is a tough sell. Itâ€™s kind of the red headed stepchild, instantly thrust into the shadows of the often superior (but not always) premiere. Itâ€™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, Iâ€™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 doesnâ€™t.
Wendigo â€“ Season One
Issue: Dead girlfriend, canâ€™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 hasnâ€™t sunk in yet (and wonâ€™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, â€œsaving people, hunting things, the family business,â€ but Sam isnâ€™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 Deanâ€™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. Iâ€™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 â€œboogie man in the woodsâ€ story fell flat, as did the guest acting. The pacing was dangerously slow, but thatâ€™s usually what happens when character profile comes first. We donâ€™t get to see mopey eyes and inner personal torture when chasing a monster through the woods. No, itâ€™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
Issue: Dead daddy
Monster: Midgets, no clowns, okay midget clowns
After â€œIn My Time of Dying,â€ this episode was a bit of a let down. Itâ€™s point is clear, show how Johnâ€™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 neighborâ€™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
Issue: Heâ€™s dying and starting to have some regrets.
This one is my favorite of all the second episodes. Itâ€™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 wasnâ€™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 couldnâ€™t choose because of his duties to humanity. Sure we saw that in â€œWhat Is and What Should Never Be,â€ 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 Jensenâ€™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, thereâ€™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 seasonsâ€™ second episodes. Considering that backdrop is also used to show Deanâ€™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, Itâ€™s Me Dean Winchester
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 â€œLazarus Rising,â€ 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. Heâ€™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! Weâ€™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 seasonâ€™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 itâ€™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 didnâ€™t take long to figure out how much using him worked.
Good God Y’all
Issue: After starting the apocalypse with his mind and losing that power, he wants it back.
Monster: War! (Good God, yâ€™all, what is it good for, absolutely nothingâ€¦)
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 thatâ€™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 isnâ€™t acceptable anymore. However, he knows what happens if he uses that power. He canâ€™t control it and will take it too far. He wants to use it so bad though itâ€™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, Samâ€™s open admission to Dean that he canâ€™t trust himself, shouldnâ€™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 Deanâ€™s outburst in â€œEverybody Loves A Clown.â€ Heck, itâ€™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 isnâ€™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 arenâ€™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 whatâ€™s introduced in the story. While character development is necessary, itâ€™s not something thatâ€™s going to bring out the fans in droves though. Too bad, theyâ€™re missing out.